Tag Archives: technology

Megatons to Megawatts

Here’s a program that you’ve likely never known: Megatons to Megawatts. Under this program, currently 10 percent of total electricity in the United States is generated using fuel from Russian nuclear warheads. Who knew! The program, which was signed in 1993 by George H.W. Bush, has resulted in the equivalent of 17,500 nuclear warheads (and counting) being down-blended into low-enriched uranium for American use. 

Russia has received $8 billion for its uranium, and both countries have also agreed to eliminate 38 metric tons of plutonium through encasement or reprocessing. When the program ends in 2013, a total of 500 metric tons of HEU (high enriched uranium from Soviet era warheads) will have been converted into LEU (low enriched uranium).

Sources: The Seattle Times; Wikipedia


Concorde Afterburners

Something cool I learned in class this week: Did you know that the Concorde is the only civil airliner with a ‘military style’ afterburner system? It was installed to produce more power, providing 6,000 lb of thrust per engine at take off (creating a lot of extra noise as well).

(Source 1 2)

Video: GE on Energy & Dynamic Braking

I love physics, and I love high-speed cameras, and this video combines both of those into one demonstration of how you can recapture energy normally wasted in braking. It’s the concept of regenerative braking, and it essentially takes energy that is normally dissipated during braking (in cars, trains, etc) and harnesses it to be used again. GE calls it dynamic braking and focuses on its use in trains, but it’s commonly used in hybrid vehicle designs as well. The video doesn’t address any technical parameters, but it’s still interesting and informative.

Found via FlowingData [original article]

Census Data: New York Times Mapping America

Back in December (it seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?), the New York Times released a set of interactive online maps representing data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, based on samples from 2005 to 2009. The corresponding article points out some interesting observations about the data, including trends in foreign-born populations, ethnic segregation, and education. But it’s well worth a few minutes to look through the interactive maps, to check on your hometown(s) or some of the major cities. I took a few screenshots while I was browsing and attached them below.

Here are New York and Chicago mapped for the distribution of racial and ethnic groups. In the cities, the divides between different neighborhoods seem surprisingly clear.

Here is a view of the West of those people with master’s degrees or higher. Besides the usual concentration around the cities, there are other less obvious concentrations, like this spot in Wyoming.

This view of Albuquerque illustrates the map for change in median home value since 2000. Blue are declines while gold are increases in home value, and different parts of the city have certainly seen different market climates in the past few years.

Here’s Chicago again, this time showing household income distribution. Again, the cities and urban areas tend to show sharp divides in different levels, and there is a distinct divide between the richer North side and the rest of the Chicago area.

[ Original NYT article ] “Immigrants Make Paths to Suburbia, Not Cities” – New York Times
[ Interactive Maps ] “Mapping America, Every Block” – New York Times

Varying Sizes

The Genetic Science Learning Center over at the University of Utah has an excellent way of looking at the relative scale of different things, all the way from a coffee bean down to a Carbon atom. Pull the slider all the way to the right to reduce yourself to an atomic scale:

Picture 1

(Click the picture for the link.)

Auto-Tuning and the Universe

In case you’ve never heard of auto-tuning, it’s a process where audio recordings can be adjusted for pitch, usually to disguise mistakes. It’s also being used to take recordings such as interviews, news reports, speeches, etc. and morph them into a more musical version.

This is the coolest auto-tuning project that I’ve seen. It’s called “Symphony of Science” and it features a cast of science greats, including my two heroes Richard Feynman and Bill Nye (along with Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson), essentially talking about the enormity and awesomeness of the universe.

Sometimes the auto-tuning can sound a little odd, so here are the lyrics:


[deGrasse Tyson]
We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically

I think nature’s imagination
Is so much greater than man’s
She’s never going to let us relax

We live in an in-between universe
Where things change all right
But according to patterns, rules,
Or as we call them, laws of nature

I’m this guy standing on a planet
Really I’m just a speck
Compared with a star, the planet is just another speck
To think about all of this
To think about the vast emptiness of space
There’s billions and billions of stars
Billions and billions of specks

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
But the way those atoms are put together
The cosmos is also within us
We’re made of star stuff
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself

Across the sea of space
The stars are other suns
We have traveled this way before
And there is much to be learned

I find it elevating and exhilarating
To discover that we live in a universe
Which permits the evolution of molecular machines
As intricate and subtle as we

[deGrasse Tyson]
I know that the molecules in my body are traceable
To phenomena in the cosmos
That makes me want to grab people in the street
And say, have you heard this??

(Richard Feynman on hand drums and chanting)

There’s this tremendous mess
Of waves all over in space
Which is the light bouncing around the room
And going from one thing to the other

And it’s all really there
But you gotta stop and think about it
About the complexity to really get the pleasure
And it’s all really there
The inconceivable nature of nature

Found via the ever interesting Mental Floss blog.

A 15-link post

It’s that time again. My Firefox bookmarks have piled up again! What better way to clean them out than to make a blog post?

1. 15 Useful Google Chrome Plugins — One of the things on my backburner is getting around to trying out the new Google Chrome, which I have only heard good things about. Another reason to try it out is this neat list of plugins, which cover a pretty wide base of tasks!

2. If you have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, did you know it is possible to have more options than “.com”? If you tap and hold the “.com” button, it will bring up options for “.edu”, “.org” and “.net”. Thanks to A New Mac Tip Every Day for this little nugget of information.

3. I don’t think I’ll ever have to resort to this (and I hope you won’t either), but thanks to some creative – and bored – biologists on an oceanographic research vessel, here is a handy guide to brewing your own beer in a coffee maker. Naturally, it uses only materials commonly found on a modestly sized oceanographic research vessel.

4. From the Dot Earth blog on the New York Times website, here is an article on Obama and ‘Generation E’ in Arizona. It’s an interesting discussion on sustainability and the program at Arizona State University. An excerpt:

Arizona, to many, seems eminently unsustainable, but that is an overly simplistic (linear) view… I am often asked how there can be a city in the desert, to which I reply that is exactly where virtually all of the original cities in the world were established! … In a strange way Arizona has some of the most advanced and effective water management systems largely because it is obvious that if we didn’t this place would not work at all. That does not mean we haven’t made lots of mistakes here in terms of urban layout, resource use, etc. This all makes us a really exciting test case and one that may have more to say to the developing world (where rapid urban growth is the norm) than a city like Portland — which has a strong sustainability consciousness, but has more to say to a European city (that isn’t listening) than to where the real challenges are emerging.

5. Leon Trotsky Totally Looks Like Colonel Sanders – it’s true!

6. There is a phenomenon emerging called “sleeveface”, generated by this website. It defines itself as: “one or more persons obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s) causing an illusion”. Here are two of my favorites, or check out this post for more.

7. The 10 Smartest and the 10 Stupidest iPhone Apps – It amazes me how incredibly creative some of the applications can be – like Tipulator, Level, and LogMein Ignition. But advanced technology is always accompanied by people who would rather waste time creating an application that farts.

8. Speaking of cool apps for the iPhone, how about this one, which groups all of your rewards cards for grocery stores (and I presume other types of stores as well)? It’s a great way to reduce clutter and to keep all of your cards in one handy spot!

9. Another Mac tip: did you know that you can select text and drag it on top of the TextEdit icon in the Dock, and it creates a new document using that text? Yea, me neither. [Link]

10. There is an excellent blog post over at NPR.org pointing out the surplus of male characters in Pixar movies (and princesses in Disney movies). It’s called “Dear Pixar, From All The Girls With Band-Aids On Their Knees”. An excerpt:

Well, the whole big world has a lot of little girls in it, too. And not all of them are princesses — and the ones who are princesses have plenty of movies to watch.

And even many of them who do aspire to be princesses are mixing their princess tendencies with all manner of other delicious things. Their tiaras fall off when they skin their knees running at top speed; they get fingerpaint on their pink dresses; they chip their front teeth chasing each other in plastic high-heeled shoes.

There’s nothing wrong with the movies you’re making; I’m sure your princess movie will be my favorite one ever. I’m just saying, keep them in mind, those girls in Band-Aids, because they want to see themselves on screen doing death-defying stunts, too. You’re making some of my favorite movies in the whole world right now.

11. Did Conan model his new Tonight Show set after Mario Brothers? The picture is pretty convincing.

12. If you’re a fan of The Office, like me, then you’ll enjoy this compliation of the Top 5 Dwight Moments. The only thing is that they didn’t include my favorite Mozart and Butch Cassidy quote, which unforunately I couldn’t find on Youtube either.

13. In case you missed Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University this week, this article includes a great set of excerpts which are grouped by topic, as well as a video of the full speech for you to watch. But if you decide to watch it, then get comfortable, because the video is 55 minutes long.

14. My brother sent me this link to a documentary called “Throw Down Your Heart”. It follows Bela Fleck on a trip to Africa, and his interaction (or more accurately, his banjo’s interaction) with the people there. Check out the trailer. I think it’s going to be a great film, buoyed by great music.

15. And in case you find yourself with too much time on your hands, maybe you can get into the business of creating stop-motion videos as wedding invitations. Check out this video that a couple made to invite people to their wedding. It’s really creative (especially the GPS part) and must have taken a ton of effort!