Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Mini nukes

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I haven’t spent much time in t he nuclear power cheering section of late — mostly because it creates a lot of stuff that might be useful to terrorists — but this sounds undeniably cool:

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. ‘Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,’ said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. ‘They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.’

Deal claims to have more than 100 firm orders, largely from the oil and electricity industries, but says the company is also targeting developing countries and isolated communities. ‘It’s leapfrog technology,’ he said.

The company plans to set up three factories to produce 4,000 plants between 2013 and 2023. ‘We already have a pipeline for 100 reactors, and we are taking our time to tool up to mass-produce this reactor.’

I’m officially changing my position on expanding nuclear power from “opposed” to “open-minded.”

Written by Jasper

November 9, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Because life’s too short for commercials

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I’ve been a big fan of TiVo since signing up four years ago. It’s hard to imagine sitting through TV commercials again. But I just did something that feels a bit like moving from a Mac to a PC — a move I was forced to make about eight years ago when I changed jobs after a decade of very contented Macintosh use — I just switched to Big Cable Company’s own DVR product and unsubscribed from TiVo.

The problem for me is TiVo’s reliance on third party technology for programming updates. Unlike with the cable company’s DVR service — which automatically provides the DVR with programming information — TiVo has to get the programming information it relies on via the use of either a phone line or an internet connection.

Now, I suspect plenty of the people in TiVo’s target market — youngish, technofilic, upmarket urbanites — also happen to be well represented among the growing throngs who don’t bother with landline telephone service. But this hasn’t presented most of them with a problem vis a vis TiVo programming downloads because the vast majority of such people also have internet access. And that includes me, too. Or at least it used to.

You see, Jasper recently acquired office space. And the office in question is very close to Jasper’s home (let’s put it this way, it can be ten degrees outside in the Boston winter and I sometimes don’t bother to wear an overcoat on my way to work). So, given the fact that I obviously need a broadband line for work, I decided to save the 500 bucks a year that maintaining a separate web connection for my apartment would cost me. Although I wouldn’t be shocked if I break down in a few months and re-order home internet service, for now I’d rather pocket the cash, and paying the extra $40 or $50 a month for a second (home) internet connection really seems like a waste — kind of like paying the extra cash for a separate line to a room upstairs when I’m already paying for it downstairs (yes, my office is almost that close to my home, but unfortunately not close enough for me to be able to pick up a wireless signal).

The only other alternative, of course, would be to try steal bandwidth from a neighbor for the two or three times a month required to keep my TiVo service up to date. But I can’t find an unencrypted signal bring myself to be such a dishonest neighbor.

So for now, I’m going with the product from the big, impersonal, evil, monopolistic provider. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Then I read this. Who knew?

UPDATE: Fuck. This has got me scared.

Written by Jasper

February 20, 2008 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Technology, Television

Planes, trains and automobiles

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Ross reacts to Huckabee’s pander to suburban voters proposal to double the width of I-95:

…America’s transportation infrastructure simply hasn’t kept pace with our population growth, our average commuting time has tripled in the last twenty-five years, and our country needs those extra lanes of traffic. Families need them. Businesses need them. Suburban and exurban voters – the swing vote in elections these days – need them. I understand all the “bridge to nowhere”/Big Dig fears on the porkbusting right, but his is an issue that a sensible pro-business, pro-family Republican Party ought to own – particularly since transportation earmarks, which blossom in the absence of a concerted strategy for improving national infrastructure, are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Ross’s thoughts got the inevitable thread going on the evils of the automobile, and the superiority of trains. But I’ve tended to be of the opinion that choosing between the two is, well, a false choice.

I’m all for congestion pricing, carbon taxation, and sundry other schemes to account for externalities and reduce cost shifting. It seems to me however, that to a large extent, we need not choose between better highway infrastructure and more and faster trains. We can have both, given a sufficiently robust financial commitment.

Now, obviously not every part of the country is a suitable candidate for inter-city fast trains. And not every part of the country needs major highway improvements, either. But my sense is the denser parts of the country need and could make use of both. Because the thing is, in many of the parts of Europe that have excellent rail service (I’m thinking Germany, the Low Countries, Britain, France), they also have superb highways.

Given enough density, it makes economic sense to have both great highways and great trains. In America we’re simply too averse to a robust, well-funded public sector for there to be a realistic chance at emulating our across-the-pond cousins.

Written by Jasper

January 25, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Our long national nightmare is finally over

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Thank God. What a serious buzz killer this has been.

Written by Jasper

September 17, 2007 at 8:36 pm

The ever littler big three

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Matt Zeitlin goes on a rant about the awfulness of Detroit’s products:

American cars, for the most part, are an inferior product.  They also have the potential to destroy the world.  At the low end, their Japanese (and ever Korean) competitors are cheaper, better designed, more fuel efficient and have better technology.  While the Ford Focus is one of the better low end American efforts, it is only popular overseas and is still beaten out by a comparable Civic at home.  Comparable Ford and Chevy’s to Corey Spaley’s favorite, the Honda Accord simply can’t compete with it’s higher gas mileage and superior design.  When American companies try to make more expensive, performence cars — like the Mustang GT, they are inefficient, overpowered brutes.  The GT has a lame 65 hp/liter, which pales in comparison to similarly powered Japanese cars, which manage to get around 100 hp/liter (Subaru WRX STI and Mitsu Evo).  Though the GT has an aluminum engine block, American companies have been late to using anything besides heavy cast iron in engine blocks.  Not to mention the poor gas mileage, 15/23 highway city.

Okay, Zeitlin, I’ll see your rant and raise you one: nobody ’round these parts under the age of 50 seems to even consider buying American (save in the USV category). I actually kinda like the new high end caddies, but not much else.

I’ve long been of the opinion that plain old marketing and branding bears a lot of the blame for Detroit’s decline. Look at one pretty successful Japanese automaker, Honda. They’ve got, like, four or five principal models that account for the bulk of their sales. Compare that to General Motors, which has, like, 30 or 40 to choose from. I mean, hello!?! Can you say “dillution of brand”? Has it really occurred to nobody in Detroit that a strategy that made sense in 1957 doesn’t work anymore? They’ve literally had decades to study their own decline and formulate strategies to reverse it. If I were dictator of GM I’d rename the company “Chevrolet”, I’d get rid of most of their divisions, and I’d cull the models down to a number comparable to what Toyota or Honda have to offer.

Modern, busy consumers simply can’t wrap their very harried brains around the dozens of possible models that GM can sell them. Thing is, it’s a total waste anyway, because anybody with an IQ over 70 can plainly see that the “Pontiac” and “Buick” and “Chevrolet” (or Pymouth, Dodge and Chrysler, etc) versions are pretty much the same product. Their lack of respect for the intelligence of the car buying public is simply astonishing. If ever there existed a firm that deserved to go out of business (and doesn’t deserve a dime of public money should the need arise) it’s General Motors, closely followed by Ford and Chrysler.

Written by Jasper

August 28, 2007 at 5:48 pm

Deep thoughts

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Those environmentally-friendly light bulbs are cool, I guess, and they’ll save us all money in the long run. But I’ve noticed sometimes they simply don’t fit your average lamp. Which means I’ll have to continue to buy the old fashioned variety light bulb. Ain’t no way I’m getting read of all my light fixtures just to save a planet.

Written by Jasper

August 23, 2007 at 9:01 pm

The biggest reason Iowa shouldn’t be first

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Thus saith John Stossel:

Clinton, Romney, Barack Obama and John Edwards not only believe ethanol is the elixir that will give us cheap energy, end our dependence on Middle East oil sheiks, and reverse global warming, they also want you and me — as taxpayers — to subsidize it.

When everyone in politics jumps on a bandwagon like ethanol, I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with it. And there is…

The claim that using ethanol will save energy is another myth. Studies show that the amount of energy ethanol produces and the amount needed to make it are roughly the same. “It takes a lot of fossil fuels to make the fertilizer, to run the tractor, to build the silo, to get that corn to a processing plant, to run the processing plant,” Taylor says.

And because ethanol degrades, it can’t be moved in pipelines the way that gasoline is. So many more big, polluting trucks will be needed to haul it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Jasper

May 23, 2007 at 7:19 pm