Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shared Google Reader Items, 6/20/2009

It's that time again: let's take a look at my favorite shared items from Google Reader for this week.

High-flying kites could power New York [Mongabay, via Slashdot; the original article won't load for me in Chrome, which is almost bad enough form for me to not link to it]

I love ideas about "free" energy--not the crazy, fake kind, but the kind where we find way to use energy that's already there to be harvested. These two stories definitely fall in that camp. The first one presumably steals a little gas to get the power, but, since the customers would be slowing down already, it's probably gas that would be used anyway. The second would take a lot of work to set up, but I love the image I get in my head trying to envision a city powered by kites.

Twitter had scheduled downtime for maintenance this week. That downtime was going to be during the day in Iran. Iranian protestors are using Twitter (among other things) to organize, so the US State Department asked Twitter to move the maintenance to the middle of the Iranian night. Mostly what I love about this is the chance (however slim) that Twitter (and other Web 2.0 sites) could help end the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was interesting, for example, to hear a discussion last night (I think on Rachel Maddow) about how when Iran cracked down way back in 1999, they could cut protestors off from the world, but not so much in the 21st century. It's a strange world when things can be this different this quickly.

I had read about insect detectors several years ago. In short, insects have amazingly good senses of smell (way better than dogs), and can be trained to react to the presence of certain smells (the example I read about was sarin gas, the stuff used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack). But in the example I read, the insects were put into boxes, and their movements would set off the detectors. This article is about taking that process way to the next level.

In the new scheme, the twitching associated with the insects finding their target scent is detected by a chip mounted on the insect, and information about this can then be sent to other insects. Combined with systems that have already been developed by DARPA (is there any surprise that all of this is funded by DARPA?), the insects in the cohort could even be remote-controlled to help map whatever chemical they're being used to detect (for example, to find a perimeter around a gas release, and/or find the source if it's a chemical that doesn't affect insects).

Other than pissing off PETA, I can't come up with a down side of this research. I love this stuff.

It's sad that it has to happen, but I loved the idea of shrinking Flint when I first heard about it. Basically, Flint is bigger than it needs to be anymore. The factors that led to Flint's growth (primarily the large number of GM plants that were once there) are gone, so the city is now larger than its industry can support. Many houses are empty, and that means garbage, buses, and police have to travel through a lot of empty areas to get to residents. The idea is to move the people in the outlying areas closer to the center of the city, and turn those empty areas into parks and such. It's a big change, but, since it will reduce crime and presumably increase property values, residents seem to support it.

Dan Kildee, the treasurer of Genesee County (which includes Flint), came up with the idea, and outlined it to Barack Obama while Obama was campaigning. Kildee has now been approached byt he Federal government to apply the idea to other cities that have lost the support to remain as large as they are.

Virgin Galactic has broken ground in construction of the spaceport they'll use to launch commercial space flights. Construction has begun on the world's first spaceport. When this thing is done, it is officially The Future. Glee!

A team at UC Boulder found the shoreline of a 3-billion-year-old lake on Mars, which was once 80 square miles and 1500 feet deep (the article says that's roughly equivalent to Lake Champlain, but Champlain is more than 5 times that area; Champlain isn't as deep, though, so I guess the total volume might be equivalent). More interestingly, they found deltas surrounding the basin, indicating that the lake was probably long-lived. And if there was water for a long time depositing material into deltas, we may have just found a very good place to look for evidence of life on Mars.

That's it for this week. As always, leave any comments on these or any of my other shared items below.

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