Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Powaaaaaah!

So apparently all of our emmisions based power problems have been solved! Basically there is a company called Bloom which has created a fuel cell technology that uses combustible material, and a bunch of oxygen, to make power... sans emissions. Now that's a pretty tall claim [not as tall as the routine claims that people have broken the laws of thermodynamics] but no small accomplishment none the less, assuming they've actually done it that is.

If legit, this tech will address one of the biggest hurdles left to clear in order for our societies to transition to emissionless communities, base load. The idea between base load is this, throughout the day, in a given cities power network, demand for electricity with fluctuate throughout the day. In Perth for example [and most of the rest of Australia] our peak usage tends to be in the afternoon in summer, when people come home, turn on the computers, tv, electric ovens, and most importantly of all, and air conditioners [one of the most inefficient technologies around], where as in the early hours of the morning, when all the lights and appliances are off, the demand is significantly lower. Base load is the amount that a power company must supply to a customer, on the fly, so that things don't go dark.

The upshot of this is that most of the large scale clean production systems we've got at the moment [read: wind and solar] are simply fantastic as long as it's not a windless night. The way that our societies are organised, if the power just suddenly goes away it's more than merely inconvenient, it can have disastrous effects. On this point a lot of the hippies will cry out about how our behavioral patterns are the variables that need to change, and then everything will be honkey dorey. While I agree that our society could be a lot more engaged in the cause and effect involved in every day behavior [people who keep their houses at anything below 27 really shit me off] unless the hippies have figured out a way to mobilize a whole society into drastic behavioral change, we're going to have to go about it in a different way, and that means base load.

This is where the Bloom energy servers come in. The company spokesmonkey purportedly hopes that in 10 years homes will be able to buy their own fridge sized bloom box for about 3 grand USD. Supplying energy from anything that's combustible [like say, house biowaste and sewage]. 10 years is a long way away though, and if it's available in 10, that means that large scale adoption wont be in for another 10-15 so we're looking at somewhere in the 30's before the tide actually reverses direction. Which, by almost all accounts, is a probably a wee bit late. So what options do we have in the mean time to reduce our reliance on emission based based load generation? Well, we've got a few options.

Augmentation. This means pretty much what it sounds like, and to a certain extent, is starting to be rolled out at the moment. This is things like the traditional wind turbines and Photovoltaic solar panels. These are fairly easy to integrate into the existing power grid simply working the opposite to what happens when you turn on a blender. Instead of the system registering that a tiny bit more power needs to be supplied, it registers that a little less does. You've also got solar-thermal, which simply heats the water used in the power stations [which are normally just steam engines, essentially] which then has to be heated up less by the coal or gas or whatever, meaning less emissions. "But Ben, why have we not already started augmenting our grids?" I hear you ponder. Good question. One reason for the lack of take up of wind generation has actually been the green movement, believe it or not. There has been many a bearded man and dreadlocked lady the world over that have stopped wind turbines sullying their rolling mist laden vista's [personally I think wind turbines are very pretty and kind of hypnotic, like zamboni machines.] As for the rest, it's expensive, and we live in a society where the "benefit" in cost benefit analysis needs to also be measured in dollars. Social benefits having notoriously low dollar values.

Nuclear. I just heard the collective gasp of every one of my enviro mates, but hear me out. Nuclear reactors, as we are familiar with them, are a joke. It takes more money to refine and transport the fuel for them than they actually produce, and in terms of how long they need to run to produce the amount of power used to build them [a standard metric one can use when comparing power generation methods] we're looking at a time scale of around a decade; wind turbines are about 2 years.

BUT

There is a new kind of reactor that has been developed. It's called a pebble bed reactor, and it addresses the bulk of the issues that are raised with conventional nuclear reactors. The basic principle behind the difference between the two kinds of reactors [there's actually about six kinds, but I'll try and keep this simple] is that in conventional reactors all of the safety measures and technology is in an effort to stop the nuclear reaction from running away and causing a melt down [most of the handful of reactor accidents or near accidents have been caused by a broken water pump, or cracked pipe, or something else that normally stops the nuclear reaction from melting through the floor]. Pebble bed reactors are exactly the opposite, all of the systems are in place to ensure that the nuclear reaction is maintained, so should one [or all] of the systems break, the nuclear fission stops, and the plant [and one would presume everything it's hooked up to] goes dark. The material used to power these plants are the "pebbles" mentioned in it's name. They are graphite balls about the size of tennis balls with particles of fuel material [like Uranium] in it. The balls get stacked together and their proximity [in really large numbers] to one another creates the nuclear fission. Because the balls are immensely less potent they are passively safe, meaning you can be near them without you body melting, which also means they are much less of a headache to move around the place. Since they don't need to be cooled down with fluid the plants don't produce anywhere near the amount of waste that conventional ones do.

But all of this is a moot point, because I said the word Uranium, which is enough of make any argument to the left completely moot. I give mad props to the green movement for bringing all these issues to the public's attention over the last 30 years, but man it'd be really cool if they could get out of their own way for a while so we can actually get some stuff done.

So we come back to these Bloom energy servers. The basic principle behind them is a technology called solid state fuel cells. I had not heard of this method of power generation before now, and I'm not sure I can simplify it adequately [not helped by the fact that bloom is being very hush hush about how they work] but essentially, it seems to be like a kind of ceramic battery that takes a fuel, and turns it into electricity, with significantly less emissions. But here is the kicker, in the same way that an electric motor [which if spun by an external force] is also a generator, so to if you feed power into the bloom boxes [say from your house's solar panels or wind turbine] that power can be stored, like a giant battery. This is the truly significant implication of the Bloom Energy Server. Never before have we had a viable way to store enough power to keep things entertaining us into our social coma's when the wind and sun go away for a while.

We have possessed the tools to be a lot further along the road to sustainability than we currently are for quite a while now. The real crime is that when the stakes [and water levels] rise, the rich whiteys like my and most of you will all be fine. We have the money and resources to adapt to whatever comes our way [humans being far and away the most adaptable creatures] but all those poor uneducated schlebs... well, if any of you watched the film "chlidren of men" you'll know where we are heading.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Linkpost!

When times be slow, I serve up the finest finds in my slow traverse of the digital frontier.

lets start out with some light entertainment.


Via 4chan

So, something that I learned from reading Jurassic Park, and then later studying Biology at Uni, is that evolution is kind of a lot like life in general, everyone always struggling and inovating to stay in exactly the same situation. In biology this is called the Red Queen effect. The example used to explain it to me was giraffes and African thorn bushes. Now a few thousand generations ago, giraffes didn't have long necks and tongues, and the thorn bushes were low to the ground and thornless. To avoid getting eaten by every wandering herbivore the bushes grew up out of reach, so the giraffe developed it's long neck. The tree's were all like "awww hell no" so they developed some seriously bad ass thorns, to protect their leaves, to which the giraffes were like, "pfft please, I'll just evolve myself a bitchin' tongue."

Anyway, the thing that got me thinking about it all was this article over at engadget that was talking about how the UK cops [read: custodians of the most surveilled country in the world] caught a perp with an automated flying drone equipped with IR camera. How long do you suppose it will be before some nefarious people hack that drone the way they did with the Predators used by the US military, you now, the ones with missiles.

So it turns out that the anti-piracy peeps have shut down what would have to be one of the only law abiding music blogs around. Yet another savvy move sure to win you the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised market who already have no moral qualms about stealing your product.

A very very cool article about a middle class family that sold their home, bought a smaller cheaper one, and donated the rest of the money to charity. Maybe there is hope for a post-consumer culture. Now, when's the iPad come out?

Speaking of radical fiscal moves, read this article about a rogue economist in New Mexico and his ideas. He's my kind of crazy.

On the topic of social activism, feel like helping people be private on the internet? You should run TOR. It's a kind of organic proxy server network that will help hide people from anyone trying to find them. Such as Iranian bloggers speaking out against their government, for example.

I have to go through Heathrow on my way back home, and will have to use the full body scanners.
Well, I feel safer already. Via Boing Boing

So, this could revolutionise the world. I like it when that happens.

It's not often you have access to genuine emotions here on the morally parched and forever cynical internet. But this photo essay about various peoples "one's that got away" bucks the trend. Both beautiful and sad, like so many things.

For all you cats who like sex, drugs, and combinations of the two. Here is an incredibly detailed feature article written in the 60's that details the sexual experiences of one woman havign sex on 7 of the most prominent drugs at the time. Now that's romance lit I can get into [Via Dangerous Minds

Finally, a new tradition, I'm going to end each post from now on with two pictures, one will be the album that I'm listening to at the moment, and the second will be some random pic chosen from my "interesting pictures" folder.


Amon Tobin - Foley Room


Friday, February 19, 2010

Freestyling

So, I'm catching the subway [aka, metro] here in Helsinki for the first time, and I get this brutal sense of deja vu. I'm looking around myself thinking 'have I dreamed this before, is there a movie or something that has scenes down here. And then it hits me, like a bright orange train.

I'm a muh-fuh-ken freestyler, yo.

For those of you too young to remember world and its pop culture way back in 2000 [A historical epoch where one had to maintain constant vigilance for Sharptooth]. Freestyler was a number one hit around the world by a band called Bomfunk MC's. Trust me when I say that if you had a TV or radio in the year 2000, you know this song. Trust me further when I say that at 13 and in possession of a fresh love of electronic music, [a worse combination than antibiotics and booze] these guys were the bomb.

I now present, for your nostalgic pleasure, a series of stills from the videoclip, with a corresponding photo I took this afternoon

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Great Internet Firewall

I don't normally indulge in serious analytical discourse here on the blog [no, that's saved for warm nights with friends on the porch] prefering instead to offer snide, well timed, witticisms of no real value beyond entertainment. The topic of the Rudd government's proposed internet filter and more importantly, the discussion in the public fora surrounding the proposal, is so far from the mark, and so loaded with misleading ideologically driven misinformation [which is likely nothing more than ignorance masquerading as authority] that I felt the strong urge to contribute my tiny voice to the fray. Hopefully raising the level of debate at least a little bit.

Lets talk first about the main actors in this cascade failure of policy. The man at the front of the plan would be Ye old' K-Rudd. As much as I'd love to pause for a moment, and take stock of all the wonderful things that Mr. Rudd's government has done thus far since taking the scepter from Johnny Howard [which I was rather chuffed with at the time] that will have to wait for another blog post. Suffice to say that Kevin has had a stint at the helm of a government so obsessed with using the spin mechanisms of the media to make it look like they're achieving something that they actually forgot to achieve anything.

Lets not forget the other melodious weasel in this charade of authority though, Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digial Economy Stephen Conroy. This is a man who follows in the fine example of so many in his position before him of being an almost farcically ignorant person at his job, the crucial difference being though, never before has his ministerial portfolio been so important. If our nation is to come even close to moving onto a post-industrial society, his job is at the forefront of that change. There are certain aspects of governance that require a person must have more knowledge than how to simply be a politician. We tend to expect the finance ministers, for example, have a bloody good working knowledge of economics. Why then, do we entrust the communication portfolio to people you just know would be calling someone else up about how to program their new DVR.

That's not to suggest that Conroy is merely inept. Oh my, no. This is the man who just recently had a lovely ski holiday with Kerry Stokes before handing the networks back a cool $250M [Thats a quarter of a billion dollars in lost government revenue, just so we're crystal clear] in decreased license fees... it's not often I will back a Liberal call for investigation, and even less likely if it comes from the mouth of Tony "Shit Eating Grin" Abbot, but seriously, double yew. tee. eff.

But let us forget, for just a moment, that these two stooges are bad at their jobs, and focus on why this plan is, for lack of a better phrase, wrong in every conceivable way. The implementation of this supposed firewall wouldn't be easy for a government with the resources and control of... oh, lets say China, let alone the laughable capacities at the disposal of the Australian Government. Lets have a look at some of the results of the 2008 filter trials by Australian Communication and Media Authority [ACMA], an institution I've spent my entire media degree being taught is laughably inept.

Of the six filtering systems tested, only one [the least accurate] had what was deemed an acceptable level of performance [speed sacrifice], only cutting access speeds by 2%. The rest of the filters decreased speed by 22-86% and one dropped the speed by a fifth when it wasn't even turned on. Significant problems were found with both under-blocking [letting sites on the blacklist through] and over-blocking [blocking the wrong sites]. Most crucially of all though, the tests only simulated a client trying to access sites through the filter one on one, however the governments plan is to have two tiered filtering, one blacklist for the kiddyporn and what not, which no one should be able to access, and then a second one that will protect all the fragile young minds in Australia, that adult users can [supposedly] opt out of. If that's all a bit confusing for you, think of it like this, decrease your internet speed by between 20 and 80 percent, then take that decreased speed, and decrease that by further 20-80 percent. All for the low low price of $81 million. Jeez, Bargain right?

And all of that was just for the average folk, Joe Q. Citizen and Jane R. Public.

Let me be very very clear here, people who want get around this filter, will be able to.

Very easily.

Let's take the example of child pornographers, this is not a group of people who indulge in their fantasies by googling "kiddie porn". There are very few web portals that will happily point you to a nice website offering you up a bunch of child porn for free, this is not how the system works, friends. The people who trade the overwhelming majority of this material do so through communication channels that have absolutely nothing to do with web sites. I'll explain what I mean.

The world wide web, and the internet, are two wholly different things. The WWW is websites, as we know them, hosted around the world, Yahoo, Google, Facebook etc. The internet however is much, much, bigger than that, it encompasses all communication across this global network of interconnected computers. Things like IRC, Usenet, FTP, the list goes on, I assure you. All of these systems allow for information transfer that can get around the proposed filter with minimal effort.

All of which any dodgy internet dude worth his salt will already be doing, to speak nothing of proxies, IP spoofing, TOR's and all the other hacking tools one can use to really get up to mischeif.

Then there is the list of sites itself a list which the government has openly admitted it has no intention of ever sharing with the public. Fortunately for us, and prophetically for this whole moronic scheme, the list was leaked, twice. I don't know how many of you looked at the list when I was originally leaked in '08, but I did, I also saved it [just request it in the comments if you want to have a look, I'll email it to you] and while just over half of them are child porn portals, that which is left is mostly pornographic, I don't really understand why we're blacklisting them.

BDSMfetish.net? since when is being into bondage, an activity between consenting adults, worthy of censorship? Bodyjapan.com, this one is less surprising I suppose, I mean we did refer to East Asia as "The Yellow Peril" on the governmental level in the post WW2 era, it's only been two generations after all, you have to give that shit time to settle, right?

Ishotmyself.com!? For those of you unfamiliar, Ishotmyself is a "porn" site in which Australian girls are given a digital camera to take home and told to take some sexy pics of themselves, in exchange for this they are given a modest sum [from what I recall it's a few hundred dollars]. Now I know this because some of my friends have done this. Hell, some of the people reading this have probably done this [I'd love for you to leave a comment if you have]. On what level is the government saying that this should be protected from the public? The photo's are taken by the girls themselves, or by someone they feel very comfortable with, and they have complete control over the artistic direction and composition of the shoots. Fuck people, this is head and shoulders healthier than the pornographic material available in the bloody service station.

and of course, the addition to the list that has stirred up more animosity for the government than any other, 4chan.

I wont bore you with the finer details of the site and it's ethos, but you know how the government's websites were attacked a little while ago? That was 4chan organised under the collective "Anonymous". These are the same people who helped make Scientology illegal in France. Make no mistake, the attacks on the government so have been a very simplistic and hastily put together affair by their usual standards. "Anonymous" is a group who's technical limitations and hacking capacities have no leash, and can never really be known. This is not romanticisation either, this is a group of decentralised individuals who have no leadership what so ever. Anyone can "join" or start a movement, be it an attack, protest, or MEME. If this filter plan gets implemented, it will be forever plagued by an unending stream of low level, essentially untraceable [because of how these measures work, each individual contributes to little, they cannot by persecuted or prosecuted] attacks and maladies, put forth by people who derive more pleasure from sticking a wrench in the works of institutions they deem unsatisfactory than they do from viewing the very material they are being ineffectively restricted from.

These sites are the really prominent ones that I know and have picked out of the first 10% of the list as I scanned it. Extrapolate from that and we're looking at many, many sites that are blocked because some conservative person doesn't like them, and we'll never know about it cause the list is secret.

Really? is that the kind of place we're going to be in?

A quick summation. If the filter is brought in, it will not stop the people who want to view material from viewing it, it will inconvenience the Australian internet population [all 17 million of us] when they are not trying to view restricted material, it is technically flawed and allows material through that it should not, and stops material it shouldn't, and finally [and by far most troublingly] the blacklisted material is to be kept secret, unavailable to the public, and in no way open for review at any time.

I beg you, I implore you, please please please do everything in your power to stop this happening. We are essentially instituting a kind of thought crime prevention filter, the fact that it wont work is a moot point, the fact that we as a public are willing to sit here and complacently take it is far too much for me to bear. This is worth protesting, there will be actions in every major capital city soon, you can find information out about them here

I will leave you on a hugely prostituted quote that nevertheless holds merit in this situation.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It is only through the inaction of the intellectually active community, through it's self assured knowledge that surely surely that sort of thing could never happen here, could never happen to us. That we will lose more than we ever wanted to.

//Edit: If you've liked this, thought it helped you understand what was going on, or indeed anything else, please push it out to as many sources as you can, friends, news aggregators, other better known blogs, etc etc. This isn't about increasing my profile but about making people aware.

//Another Edit: A commenter on this left a very very cool link giving much more depth and scope to the issue than I have, if you still have questions, I would make your way here

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We Danced For No Reason But To Dance


So it's Friday afternoon, I'm sitting down in Soc&Kom eating lunch, minding my own business, when Felix comes over to chat. We had a typically male conversation.
"Hey, Ben."
"Hey Felix"
"What are you doing tonight?"
"No plans man."
"You should come out to a rave with us"
"O.K."

about four hours later, I was here



As you can see, and kind of hear [sorry about that by the way, I couldn't be bothered lugging my DAR there to get good audio] it was a pretty wicked affair. On the bill were 2Many DJ's, who like most mashup acts, are a boatload better live. They were supported by a few other local acts including Huoratron [Seriously, click on that link] who pretty much slayed the dance-floor by the end of the night.

Friday night helped me remember why a person goes out. When you live on the western side of Australia, it's very easy to forget why seeing music live is fun. Most good international acts will be playing in a festival setting, and if you don't have backstage passes being at a festival kind of sucks. You have to contend with a Mardi-gras-esque parade of people on the train-ride to unconsciousness, with all your favourite stops along the way. Weepy-girlsville, I-Think-I'm-A-Standup-Comic-But-I'm-Actually-Just-Annoyington, Messed-Up-Solo-City, Teenybopper-In-Thongsworth, and probably my very favorite stop I'll-Fuckin'-Smash-Youseleigh.

Lets say though that you do go to a dedicated event for electronic music in Perth, no festival atmosphere there right? Well, yeah, you don't have the legion of Southern-cross-sporting centurions, you've got a different breed of criminal, underage crack head ravers. Now, I should make it clear that "ravers" are not a sub-culture I have any significant beef with. I refer specifically here to the methed out 14-22 yearolds that have used so much crack their faces are starting to give up the battle.

Now I know it might seem like I'm casting judgement from my ivory tower here, decreeing that only I, and people like me, should be allowed into events; that shabby paedestrian riff raff? Well they can just stay out side thank you very much. Nothing could be further from the truth though. What I'm looking for in my ideal crowd is a bunch of people who are there to enjoy themselves and contribute to the atmosphere by doing the very simple task of not being a complete jerkoff. You wanna come, take drugs, and shake your booty like it's going out of fashion? Sweet. You wanna roll in with a bunch of your home boys and roll around talkin' shit and laughing, power to ya. You wanna stand in the corner all night saying nothing and chin-stroking? straight up dawg. It's when your shit, starts being someone else's shit, that you should really re-evaluate what's going on.

Friday night was was like some kind of dancehall utopia after what I'm accustomed to. The tragically hip kids were dancing with the ravers, the big macho ice-hocky players funking down next to the queers, and not in the whole night did I see a single fight, nor a rough expulsion by the bouncers [and trust me, I was looking]

I wonder how we can port this to a west Australian audience?

anyways, here's the pics I took that night that I like. Click on the slideshow to be taken through to the picasa album. [I'm the one with the beard, for all the cat's reading who don't know me personally]



Thursday, February 11, 2010

Step One: Become A Murdoch Endorsed Blogger... Step three: Profit!

Woo!

The fallout from being involved in the Murdoch blogging competition of last year [which that horrid wench Jess Eaton won (a note, I'm a friend and fellow radio dork with Jess, so I'm allowed to call her a horrid wench, also, a slattern, trollop, scarlet jezebel, and a fast young woman)] is that I'm now an "endorsed" Murdoch blogger. This means I get traffic to my blog and a $200 voucher to the Murdoch bookshop...

I'm so going to buy a lifetime supply of the greatest pen in the world.

Now, I don't normally indulge in "rants", but I gotta vent on a particular issue. Like so many issues in a students life, it has to do with Centrelink [Australia's welfare organisation, for my international homies]. I'm in Finland at the moment, on a special international exchange, a situation that makes Centrelink more than a little antsy. I had to get the chair of my program back home to write a letter about what the GEJI scholarship is to be used for. Once obtained, I called up Centrelink on skype to see how I can email it to them. The following conversation is virtually verbatim.

"Hi, my name is Ben Ainslie, I was wondering what the email address is to mail you guys a document that you need from me"
"You have to fax it."
"No but it's been given to me via email. So if I could just send it to one of you guys..."
"We don't do that."
"But... why not?"
"Because it's so easy to forge things on the computer."
"..."
"Sir?"
"I'm sorry, I was just thinking about how to respond to that. You guys want me to print out this digital document, and then fax it, because that will be more secure?"
"That's correct."
"*The sound of my brain doing a backflip and then exploding* may I have the fax number that I can call from Finland?"
"Oh, uh, I don't think there is an international fax number, just try the normal one."
"Thank you for your help"

So now I've got to track down a fax machine in Finland. To put this in perspective, the fax machine was created in a time when the graceful pterodactyl still gyred in the skies. From what I understand it was invented sometime after fire, and some time before the concept of universal suffrage.

Now, I've never used a fax machine before. Ever. Do you put the document in first and then dial, or the other way round? Do you have to listen for an automated message that will ask you a series of riddles, of progressive difficulty? And where am I going to put the virgin blood that no doubt powers these arcane devices... not to mention that my voodoo dancing skills have really lapsed in the last few years, ya know?

And I have to find one of these machines in Finland. This nation is the home of the most successful mobile telephone manufacturer in the world, Nokia. Ancient telephonic instruments don't exactly hang around in this country, I'm basically looking for a telegraph bipper in the headquarters of Google.

What I love most of all though, is the mental image of some dank, pipe laden, basement in the bottom of a shabby building. Dark ranks of hulking facsimile machines spewing out an unending stream of documents attesting to the voracity of the work ethic of Branden McGee's and Dwayne Paulsons's. Shuffling gholum like attendants ripping off segments of feed and filing them in some kind of cavernous storage centre.

I found one though, and a man [who no doubt has his own industry specific honorary title, like Deacon, or Headmaster] tasked with the negotiation required to manipulate this foul device, and we managed to get it humming and whirring to our collective bidding, the parlays with the ancients having taken place.

Seriously, fax machines, you guys are dicks.