Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are you a reporter or a doer?

I don't know about you, but I found this article about Bill Nye collapsing during a presentation at the University of Southern California a little disturbing.  Bill passes out and the only action by his audience is to tweet about it?  Sounds to me like he was lecturing to a bunch of twits.  If I were in the audience, I know posting something about it would be the last thing on my mind.  The first thing I would want to do is find out if he was OK and call for help.  What would you do if you were in this situation?  Do you want to be making news or reporting news?  If the behavior of these students doesn't change the last thing you may hear is, "You're choking?  I'll give you the Heimlich just as soon as I finish this tweet."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Has the future arrived yet?

I was reading an article in today's Chicago Tribune about two scientists who developed a roach motel type of compound for capturing and trapping nuclear waste. They developed a sulfide that traps cesium ions allowing for safe removal of radioactive cesium. Neat stuff. According to the article this new compound still needs further development as it currently uses gallium, a very expensive metallic element, but they think they can have a workable product in three or four years. This made me start thinking. What happened to all of those great scientific breakthroughs we've read about through the years that were supposed to change the world as we know it?

When I was in high school, the big scientific breakthrough of the time was superconductors. Everyone was playing around with these ceramic disks that became superconductive when placed in liquid nitrogen. You could then place a small magnet above the disk and it would float above the disk regardless of which pole was facing the superconductor. If you gave the magnet a little spin, it would spin almost indefinitely, or at least until the liquid nitrogen dissipated allowing the ceramic disk to heat up and loose its superconductive properties.

At that time the scientific community was a buzz with the future of superconductors and the promise of room temperature superconductors that would change the world as we know it. There was talk about how this breakthrough would revolutionize power transmission, allow for supper powerful computers, make electric cars a reality, and popularize maglev trains; and all this technology was only five to ten years away. Well, here it is, twenty years later and none of those things are a reality. The only places I hear about superconductors are in MRI machines and super colliders such as the ones at CERN and Fermilab.

What other amazing breakthroughs can you think of that we have yet to see? How about fuel cells that would allow you to power your laptop or cell phone for days off a small vial of alcohol? What about optical computers so powerful that today's super computers seem like something from the 1950's, or holographic storage that will allow you to store a near infinite amount of data on a tiny piece of holographic film? The reality is that most breakthroughs take years or decades before they become a reality in our everyday life. Most of the inventions that change our lives come in small evolutionary steps, rather than a big revolutionary change. We don't realize how much our lives have changed until you look back and try to remember when a portable computer weighed 20 pounds, when cell phones could only make phone calls, you listened to music on cassette players that could hold at most only two hours of low quality audio, or you needed a camera and film to take a picture and you had to wait an hour to sometimes months (depending on when you dropped off the film for processing) before seeing the photo.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How marketing and greed created a wasteful lazy society

I was just watching a commercial for the Swiffer Wet Jet which made me think about a topic that's been festering for quite some time. That topic is how wasteful and lazy the average American has become. As an example, the Swiffer Wet Jet advertises how instead of using a sponge that can get filled with germs you start with a clean pad every time. Isn't this wasteful? Every time you mop the floor you throw a pad in the garbage instead of using a sponge which can be used many times, all because of a fear of germs. If you look around your home you'll find many products that are now disposable that used to be reusable. Are all these disposable products really needed, or will a non-disposable product work just as well?

Regarding laziness, have you noticed how many things we have today that use engines and motors that used to be human powered? Push mowers have been replaced by gas and electric powered lawn mowers, snow shovels have been replaced by snow blowers, hand drills, screwdrivers, saws, and even hammers have been replaced by battery powered tools, and the list goes on and on. Granted all of these "modern conveniences" allow us to do much more with a lot less work and in a shorter amount of time with fewer people, but all of these devices allow us to avoid hard work by polluting the environment, whether in the form of emissions from small gasoline powered engines or pollution from electricity generation and batteries that contain heavy metals. At the same time the weight of the average American has gone up and unemployment has become a major problem. If we really care about the environment and ourselves, maybe we should go back to doing things the way we used to do them before all these modern conveniences.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mother Nature gets big boost from EPA

The Chicago Tribune reported today that The Environmental Protection Agency will spend $2.2 Billion over five years to clean up polluted water and beaches, restore wetlands, and fight invasive species in the Great Lakes. The push is being called The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan. Developed by 16 federal agencies, the plan seeks to heal the Great Lakes ecosystem from 150 years of abuse. Included in its goals are to prevent the release of 45 million pounds of electronic waste, 45 million pills of unwanted medicine and 4.5 million pounds of household waste from the Great Lakes basin by 2014.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Do you know where your food comes from?

I finally watched the movie Food, Inc. Great film that everyone should watch. A large part of the beginning of the movie, which is on meat production, I already knew about. What was really eye opening was the second half of the film which was on agriculture and politics. It's really amazing that nearly the entire soybean industry is controlled by a single company who forces farmers to raise their genetically engineered soybeans or puts them out of business. The other shocking thing was people in government positions that are supposed to help protect the average American from unsafe food practices were lobbyists for the exact companies they are supposed to protect us from. I guess P. J. O'Rourke was right, "When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators."

This is a great film that I encourage everyone to watch. You can even download it as I did strait from Amazon. My basic take on the film is that fast food and factory produced foods, everything from soda pop and ketchup to hamburgers and french fries to chicken and beef you buy at the supermarket, is kept at artificially low prices due to a farm bill that subsidizes products such as corn and soybean and greatly benefits big business. Because of this these products are pumped full of corn syrup that lead to poor diets and obesity. Chickens are pumped full of antibiotics and raised in crowded unsanitary conditions where they grow so fast they can't even carry their own weight for more than a few seconds. Cattle, who evolved to eat grass, instead are fed corn, which is unhealthy for the cattle and has a poor environmental impact since feed and manure from corn fed cattle have to be shipped great distances.

If you really want to make an impact try to buy organic or sustainable locally grown foods. Do as I do and cut soda out of your diet and replace it with water. Drink pure juices that aren't pumped up with corn syrup. And finally, take a stand and get involved. Push for healthy lunches in schools, tell congress that food safety is important to you, and finally, learn where your food really comes from.