Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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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If you like light shows, you may want to have a look at this record-breaking show of drones in China: “EHang Egret’s 1374 drones dancing over the City Wall of Xi’an, achieving the Guinness World Records“.

(Click on the picture to watch the video on YouTube)

This is probably just the beginning of what will be possible with drones in the near future.

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Our national meteorological institute claims that June 2018 was a month with above-average sunshine (in number of hours of sunshine), but the electricity production numbers of our solar panels do not reflect that. We got only about 92% of our average production – but at least that’s not the worst score in the June history of our installation ;-)

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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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May 2018 will deserve a special note in the diary of Belgian meteorologists. It was almost the warmest May since a long time, and luckily that also means that we had lots of sunshine. And sunshine means solar electricity production, of course: our panels produced 108% of the average of the past 8 years.

I do note that even of really sunny days (by which I mean: days with a fine blue sky from sunrise to sundown) the production never went higher than a notch over 13KWh. That is a bit disappointing, since May 2012 for example gave us up to 16KWh. It’s been a while since I had a look at the installation (I don’t inspect my roof that often ;-). I really need to go up there and clean the reflective foil underneath the panels – after all, Solyndra claimed that the foil was one way to boost the number of electrons reaching the tubes containing the photovoltaic cells.

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It cannot be repeated enough: “There is No Middle Ground on Encryption” says the EFF. Specifically: the so-called “backdoors” requested by government can only weaken the encryption used, basically rendering it vulnerable to malicious attacks. The legal arguments put forward by the EFF are, of course, specific to the USA, but similar cases can certainly be built in many other countries. And the other arguments only fail to convince those who don’t know what they’re talking about… So let’s spread the word: no backdoors!

Source: Shutterstock

Also interesting is the fact that the general conclusion from a 1996 (!) study (also quoted by the EFF) still remains pretty valid:

It is true that the spread of encryption technologies will add to the burden of those in government who are charged with carrying out certain law enforcement and intelligence activities. But the many benefits to society of widespread commercial and private use of cryptography outweigh the disadvantages.

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April 2018 was an exceptionally warm month in Belgium, according to the local meteorological services. But “warm” does not equal “sunny”. In fact, April 2018 was almost the April with the least sunlight in the history of our panels – only April 2012 was a bit darker. And 82% of the average is nothing to boast about…

The good news: today is a fine, sunny day – much better than yesterday!

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