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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Meteorologists have confirmed it repeatedly, these last few days, and our photovoltaic panels agree: 2018 was a sunny year! In fact, during their stay on our roof only two years produced more electricity: 2010 and 2011 – which are not accidentally the first years after the installation.

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Climatologists have been saying for a long time that climate change will manifest itself through more extreme weather. I suppose warmer and dryer summers here in Europe are an example of that, just like droughts in Syria and California, no?

 

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In an MIT Technology Review website article titled “The day I tasted climate change” James Temple describes the rather grim reality of living in a region where wildfires are becoming more and more frequent.

Climate change doesn’t ignite wildfires, but it’s intensifying the hot, dry summer conditions that have helped fuel some of California’s deadliest and most destructive fires in recent years.

I’ve long understood that the dangers of global warming are real and rising. I’ve seen its power firsthand in the form of receding glaciers, dried lake beds, and Sierra tree stands taken down by bark beetles.

This is the first time, though, that I smelled and tasted it in my home.

In 2016 we had a short vacation on the island Madeira. Although the wildfires there had already been put out weeks before our arrival, we could still smell the soot and the burned landscape… and that was enough to scare us of being close to such fires.

James Temple is much more knowledgeable on climate change than me, and his conclusion reads as a dire warning, unfortunately:

When I started writing seriously about climate change a little more than five years ago, the dangers largely seemed distant and abstract. Without realizing it, most of this time I’ve carried along an assumption that we will somehow, eventually, confront the problem in a meaningful way. We don’t have a choice. So sooner or later, we’ll do the right thing.

But after two years closely reporting and writing on clean energy technologies here, it has slowly dawned on me that, well, maybe not. While we absolutely could accomplish much of the necessary transformation with existing or emerging technologies, the sheer scale of the overhaul required and the depth of the entrenched interests may add up to insurmountable levels of inertia.

While I’m still remaining optimistic about humanity’s ability to cope, a little voice in the back of my head now questions that optimism…

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From I wish it weren’t a Republican versus Democrat thing”: Wildfire photographer Stuart Palley on climate change and California’s devastating blazes:

“We see [climate change] happening, but unfortunately the political leadership, even when they acknowledge it, aren’t acknowledging the reasons why it’s happening. And it’s getting to the point where I’ve gone from thinking that I want to document what’s going on to being frankly terrified that after only six years working on this project I’ve seen the changes starting to accelerate”

The Sand Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest Saturday July 23rd, 2016 under triple digit heat. The fire had burned 20,000 acres by Saturday evening and was 10% contained as firefighters battled low humidity, shifting wind, and high temperatures. An unknown number of structures were lost. Click on the picture to read the whole article on DP Review

We can only hope that 2019 brings real solutions to the problems that are already reshaping our world.

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A few days ago, Voyager 2 did what Voyager 1 did a few years ago: to boldly go where no Man has gone before! If ever there was a moment to quote Star Trek, this is it.

Click here to see NASA’s video about this event

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Interesting news for everyone concerned about the world’s energy future:

Universities in the United States, Germany and elsewhere are testing the concept of “dual use farming,” as some advocates call it, where crops grow below canopies of solar panels. They are finding they grow just fine — and, in some cases, better than crops in full sun.

The article “How land under solar panels can contribute to food security” on the Ensia website details a few of the studies. One study explains how bees in Minnesota benefit from the state regulation that promotes pollinator-friendly environments, even under solar panels. Another study shows that the decrease in agricultural productivity is largely compensated by the electricity produced by the panels. Of course, putting the panels on a high structure increases the cost of such installations substantially, and no large scale experiments have yet been started to confirm the current results.

The Fraunhofer Institute’s agriphotovoltaics research facility in Germany features solar panels tall enough for farm machinery to operate beneath. Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer ISE

Perhaps we need to replace those metal frames with some sort of photovoltaic trees, in order the realise a real “agrivoltaic” future? Current “solar trees” are designed for an urban environment; surely a country variant could be constructed as well?

Anyway, transforming the energy landscape of the world is increasingly urgent. According to the MIT Technology Review, “At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system“…

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The Science website has an extensive article on the life and writings of an academic of Czech descent: “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy“.
I guess I’ll have to read at least a single book of Vaclav Smil – perhaps Bill Gates can suggest a good title to start with?

Now, Smil says, the world faces its fourth energy transition: a move to energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide, and a return to relying on the sun’s current energy flows, instead of those trapped millions of years ago in deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas.

The fourth transition is unlike the first three, however…

You should at least read the article, if only to get confirmation that there is no simple solution to the world’s energy problems of today (and the near future)…

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One of the (many) computers in my home is a venerable Apple Macintosh SE/30. No, it’s not a Mac, it’s a Macintosh; if want to call him by name, you have to use “SeseSeko”. I haven’t booted that machine in many years, so I don’t know if I would fare better than Stephen Wolfram a few days ago…

Mr. Wolfram wanted to use an SE/30 to demonstrate the first version of Mathematica. That version 1 was published on June 23, 1988, exactly 30 years ago. As Mr. Wolfram notes, it’s quite unusual for software packages to live that long (especially in the personal computer space, of course). So he has a good reason to celebrate this anniversary – congratulations!

(Click on the image to go to Stephen Wolfram’s blog entry about this anniversary)

Wolfram speaks of “computational intelligence”, and I think he does so to distinguish his approach from “artificial intelligence”. Mathematica isn’t called that just for fun: it’s a product for computation in the widest sense of term. I know that I have long wanted to “play” with it, but I must admit that I either did not have the money to buy a computer powerful enough to run it (when I was a student and a young father), nor did I have much time to dedicate to a single program – I have been busy with computers and programming for forty years now, but always in al exploratory way, and never really dedicated to a single item…

Anyway, where is Mathematica going? Does it still have a future? Absolutely, says Stephen Wolfram. In his view, the story of Mathematica and the Wolfram language is only just beginning!

If one looks at the history of computing, it’s in many ways a story of successive layers of capability being added, and becoming ubiquitous. First came the early languages. Then operating systems. Later, around the time Mathematica came on the scene, user interfaces began to become ubiquitous. A little later came networking and then large-scale interconnected systems like the web and the cloud.

But now what the Wolfram Language provides is a new layer: a layer of computational intelligence — that makes it possible to take for granted a high level of built-in knowledge about computation and about the world, and an ability to automate its application.

And of course, now I’m starting to wonder – will SeseSeko still boot just like it did eight or nine years ago, when I even managed to connect it to the Internet and run a very old version of Netscape on it?

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