"That you may ruminate"

Posts Tagged ‘engineering’

…On Fire and Ice.

Posted by Steve on March 1, 2009

To hell with the Robert Frost poem, I’ve found something far more interesting: making fire from ice.

There’s a story behind this, that begins with me wondering how I can learn to make a bow and arrows by hand. This lead to me finding out about PaleoPlanet, where someone posted an illustrated message about making fire with lenses carved from ice. A quick search on Google turned up an even more comprehensive source, as Wildwood Survival has a multi-author, multi-part guide to the process.

An upside to being temporarily unemployed? Once it quits raining on… Tuesday… I’ll be able to try this out with all my free time!

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…On Another Funny Headline.

Posted by Steve on October 26, 2008

Purple Tomatoes Extended Lives of Cancer-Prone Mice. This has made me laugh. As it turns out, the mice are cancer-prone because they’re lab mice developed to lack some cancer-preventing gene, and the tomatoes are purple because they were genetically engineered with the genes responsible for creating the pigment in blueberries, black raspberries, and various flowers. That pigment being also an antioxidant, the whole point was to up the antioxidant content of tomatoes – hence the health benefit for the cancermice.

All in all, though, the headline, “Purple Tomatoes Extended Lives of Cancer-Prone Mice” just comes across as silly nonsense.

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…On New Urbanism.

Posted by Steve on October 19, 2008

In his alernate history novel 1824, the writer Eric Flint has a character (one Zachary Taylor) musing about the ever loathsome John C. Calhoun. To wit:

It sometimes seemed to Taylor that John C. Calhoun’s madness had no limits. Had the former senator from South Carlina suffered from simple dementia, the dementia itself would have conscribed his sphere of action. But Calhoun’s disease was a mania, more than maniacalism as such.

So – Heaven grant mercy – it possessed theories. Notions. Schemes. Delusions of certainty, and convictions that were unshakable in direct proportion to their lack of bearing on reality.

I absolutely adore that last sentence. It’s a wonderful sentence: charming in its wording, and applicable to so, so many living people.

Like Peter Calthorpe, Andrés Duany, and their disciples in the Congress for the New Urbanism. Any group that calls for the rejection of functional classification is suffering from “delusions of certainty, and convictions that [are] unshakable in direct proportion to their lack of bearing on reality.” Ditto any group that thinks “context sensitive design” means you put road diets everywhere, regardless of what the context actually is. Ditto any group that thinks having streets operate at LOS F is going to improve the pedestrian experience and increase pedestrian activity, as if threading your way between gridlocked cars as you listen to their idling engines and inhale their exhaust is somehow more pleasant than the alternative of flushing them out of the area quickly while waiting an extra twenty seconds for your turn to cross the street.

Theories and notions have no place in the design of the built environment. Dogma has no place in the design of the built environment. Philosophy has no place in the design of the built environment.

In short, architects have no place in the design of the built environment. Especially as regards any more of the built environment than the facade and interior layout of a single building.

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…On Some Awesome Shit.

Posted by Steve on September 9, 2008

The City of San Antonio, Texas, has just given the world yet another reminder of how much unadulterated awesomeness engineers impart to the world. In this case, it looks like it was mainly environmental engineers:

“The citizens of San Antonio produce about 140,000 tons of biosolids each year,” said SAWS Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse. “Treating these biosolids generates an average of 1.5 million cubic feet of gas a day – that’s enough gas to fill seven commercial blimps or 1,250 tanker trucks each day.”

That’s right. The San Antonio Water Service has signed a contract with a company in Massachusetts giving the company 20 years of access to the sewer treatment facility, and more importantly to a certain raw material there. The company gets to install processing equipment on-site to collect the methane, and the water service gets a 12% cut of the methane sales.

They’re collecting and selling natural gas that’s been refined from human excrement! Take that, biodiesel! In your face, cellulosic ethanol! Your appointment’s been scheduled with Dr. Kevorkian, corn-based ethanol!* This is awesome!

Seriously. Sewage is about to be, at least in one city in Texas, nigh unto 100% recycled. How cool is that? Very cool, that’s how cool. They’re turning shit into something useful!

*Corn-based ethanol (more specifically, mandates and subsidies for its production and distribution) really does need to be taken out back and shot. The only way I can think of for one policy to do a more thoroughly destructive job of simultaneously harming the environment, the economy, and the U.S. and world fuel, water, and food supplies would be to pump petroleum directly onto cropland and light it up. Subsidizing corn to the detriment of other foods’ production and pricing is harmful enough, but subsidizing corn that – after it’s grown through the extensive use of land, water, and fertilizer – is going to get refined – at high energy cost – into a fuel that burns less energetically than gasoline, so you can use it to cut gasoline… can you even do a cost-benefit analysis for something that has no benefits? It’s bad energy policy, bad environmental policy, bad economic policy, and bad food policy.

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…On Lasers.

Posted by Steve on August 16, 2008

Boeing put out a highly uninformative press release on Wednesday regarding the first full systems test of their Advanced Tactical Laser project for the U.S. Department of Defense. Basically, an updated version of the Vietnam War-era AC-130 that uses a megawatt-range laser instead of a 105-mm howitzer.

It isn’t clear to me how a giant laser mounted on an airplane’s going to be a useful weapon, since it seems like being on as inherently jittery a firing platform as a plane is going to interfere with the precision that’s part of the reason for developing this system, but it’s definitely a cool weapon. It’s a friggin laser beam!

Lasers… is there anything they can’t do? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a fiber optic cable, but each fiber is no thicker than the lead for an automatic pencil. There’s a laser shooting down each fiber. A laser no bigger than automatic pencil lead, and it’s transmitting phone conversations and the internet. Then there’s laser eye surgery. I remember a newspaper ad in Atlanta: you could get laser eye surgery for like $600 an eye. Lasers help you see! Lasers have industrial application: you can weld with them, and you can cut metal with them. And now… you can assassinate tanks with them. Lasers are just cool.

They’re also entertaining, as anyone who’s ever been to a laser show can attest.

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