Running on Sunshine

Solúcar PS10 es una planta solar termoeléctric...

Solúcar PS10 es una planta solar termoeléctrica por tecnología de torre, la primera en el mundo explotada comercialmente. Solucar PS10 is the first solar thermal power plant based on tower in the world that generate electricity in a commercial way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am interested in cars, nice cars.  I’d particularly like a new Jaguar F-Type, an orange one, if anyone’s feeling generous.  I’m telling you this in case you think this post is in some way biased.

I’ve just read yet another article about another designer with “eco” credentials planning a zero-emission or in this case emission-free car.  This one was a hydrogen powered car but others have been fully electric.  I have a little issue with the idea that these cars have zero-emissions.  It’s a case of semantics.  Petrol, diesel and hybrid cars have a pipe at the back that makes you cough like you have a forty-a-day habit if you wrap your lips around it, electric and hydrogen cars don’t, hydrogen cars even put water back into the environment, combining the hydrogen with oxygen in the power production process.

All good yes?  Well, apart from indirect emissions.  Electric cars are charged from the mains which at the moment requires mostly fossil-fuel powered generation.  Hydrogen, although common in the universe has to be extracted here on Earth and that takes…  electricity, fossil-fuel, etc.

I’m discounting the environmental impacts of building the cars in the first place as even the advocates of these technologies don’t deny that.

The thing is that cars won’t be truly zero-emission until we can generate power widely without emissions.  Some nations are fortunate to have abundant geothermal or hydroelectric power resources but for the rest of us we need to look elsewhere.  Nuclear power is still controversial, though the technology is still being refined to be safer in the long-term and new thorium reactors can even use previously created waste plutonium.  Personally, for cars at least, I think hydrogen is the way forward and another emerging technology is the way to make it.  In hotter countries such as Spain large solar power stations (see above) have been built that focus the sun’s immense power onto arrays of receivers which can be used to heat water to drive generators and generate electricity.  If you use that electricity to power a plant that creates hydrogen then the power created from the Sun’s energy is portable beyond the locality of the power station.

To places like this where we’re enjoying our couple of weeks of sunshine.

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The Nature of The Town That I Live In

English: Sinks in the public toilet of the Cas...

English: Sinks in the public toilet of the Castle Terrace Parking Garage in Edinburgh, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other evening I looked out of my window and saw a lad stood on the pavement below, apparently waiting for someone.  Seconds later another appeared from the archway inside which are the entrances to our apartments, he was clearly buttoning up his trousers having used our front doors as a public toilet.

It’s increasingly common today for this to happen – on homes, shop doorways, alleyways – and I’ve often wondered how they’d feel if I was to, for example, follow them home and piss on their doorstep.  “What the f*@k you doing?” he’d shout, “that’s my front door.”  To which I could reply “well you pissed on mine, I thought I’d return the favour.”  I wouldn’t because the sort of inconsiderate moron who thinks it’s ok to piss on someone else’s front door would react as only an inconsiderate moron would; not understand the point and lash out violently.  It’s not worth the hassle.  The thing is that often you’ll see people come out of the pub opposite, walk fifteen metres towards the town then piss on the wall or doorway of the workshop across the road from our building – as my folks would say “you should have gone before you came out.”

A few weeks ago as I was driving to work (which I rarely do) I got to the end of our street and as there was traffic approaching I stopped, I glanced in my mirror to see an idiot screech to a halt behind me.  He then started waving his arms at me, gesturing that I shouldn’t have stopped, to move, I could see him shouting “GO ON, F**CKING MOVE” – no doubt trying to impress his girlfriend with how he could order other drivers around.  I gestured at the car that was at that point passing in front of me and that would have been, if I hadn’t stopped, impaled in my driver’s door.  Later the same day another driver pulled out in front of me and I had to slam my brakes on, that driver started mouthing off at me because he’d stopped too, as though it was my fault for being there.  Finally, the next day I got shouted at while walking because I’d had the audacity to use a pedestrian crossing and made the driver stop.

This afternoon I went out onto the balcony to read for a while in the sunshine and saw two men from one of the houses along the street dropping numerous bags of cans and beer bottles into the large bins that are for the use of the eleven apartments of our building, they are usually overflowing by collection day so the last thing we need is other peoples’ rubbish too.  They disappeared back into their own garden before I could say anything but a neighbour from our building was driving out of the car park as they came back to put more rubbish in our bins – walking past their own in the process.  He asked them nicely not to use ours and they walked towards their own, inevitably though as soon as he’d gone they turned round and put the rubbish in our bin, muttering something about my neighbour and saying “it’s not like they’re not big enough.”  I said that they fill up quickly but they ignored me too.

Three stories of the attitude of so many people today, they’ll do what they like regardless of what anyone asks, other people’s feelings or whether they’re in the wrong.  In the end they just have no respect for anyone at all.

(The title is from a song by Indigo Moss)

24-Hour Party, People?

pub

pub (Photo credit: Pretty/Ugly Design)

It’s been ten years this months since I moved into this apartment and eight years since pubs were allowed to open pretty much when they liked as long as the council let them.

I have mixed feelings about this, I enjoy a good night out as much as anyone else.  Ten years ago in this town we had pubs that shut at eleven and two clubs you could go to afterwards, I went to one of them every friday night, then across to the chippy for some food then wandered home.  Good times.

Now we have pubs open till two in the morning and no clubs, at all, just a dancefloor in the corner of a couple of pubs usually serviced by a mobile disco that is far too loud for the venue.  It just isn’t the same experience.

Then there’s the noise problem.  24-hour drinking was meant to stop people bingeing at ten to eleven, getting totally slaughtered and being anti-social on the way home.  It doesn’t seem to have reduced the fighting, or the shouting or the kicking down of walls it’s just moved it to two o’clock in the morning.  If I’ve been out myself it doesn’t bother me I’ll fall asleep anyway but when, like last friday, I need to be up early the next morning it’s a pain in the proverbial to not be able to sleep until gone two in the morning because of the noise of people screaming at each other outside the pub opposite followed by people walking home from town screaming at each other.  It’s even worse in summer because you have to keep the windows shut to reduce the racket and as such can’t sleep anyway.  It’s a lose-lose situation and you wake up next morning, ten minutes before you’ve got to get out the door and feel lousy.

Ten years ago I could leave my windows open in summer and be asleep before the loud-mouths returned from the clubs, or simply join them if I could afford to wake up at eleven the next morning but now it’s not so simple and with every passing summer I’m less convinced that the experiment has worked.

An Object Choice

NYC - MoMA: Philip Johnson Architecture and De...

NYC – MoMA: Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries – Digital Compact Disc (Photo credit: wallyg)

I have always generally stuck to buying CDs for music except for some recent digital download-only EPs and singles but the other day I was made to wonder why.

I’d been looking at an album that was available as a normal version and a deluxe version.  The deluxe had just three more songs but cost £17 as opposed to the normal version that had dropped to £5.  I thought I’d just go without the extra tracks and bought the £5 one.  All fine except that I’d noticed that there was a link to “download the MP3 version for £4.99” on the deluxe edition yet I’d still bought the physical CD of the normal version for 1p more.  At first I was fine with this but then began to feel confused, I felt a bit daft for buying the CD when by downloading I could have had more for the same money – was the plastic and paper really worth it?

I could have cancelled the CD, downloaded the MP3 but I still didn’t.  I’m still at the stage where I only feel that I have a copy of the music (or book) that I can keep forever if I have a physical copy – for me it’s not even about the cover artwork or the booklet as I hardly ever look at these.  But this experience, the doubt, showed me that even I’m accepting that the future of media is becoming more digital, increasingly virtual, that with digital booklets having the actual CD is less important than the music itself.

In many ways it’s better this way, content you effectively license can be accessed anywhere you can log into your account, a copy can be downloaded to your computer if necessary and even burned onto an old-fashioned disk.  Should the worst happen you don’t lose your collection.  It’s also more convenient to buy and store.

I’m still not so sold on ebooks though, I still like a paper book I can safely read in the bath but I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the waterproof Kindle Touch.

And as for my MP3 quandary, it turned out that the download wasn’t even the deluxe version after all so the decision was entirely virtual, ironically.

Give Me Shelter

Afghan Former Refugees at UNHCR Returnee Camp

Afghan Former Refugees at UNHCR Returnee Camp (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

Refugees the world over being looked after by the United Nations currently only have basic tents to call home, often for years, and these structures that provide little protection from cold and heat and it’s for this reason the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) has recruited our favourite flatpack furniture maker to bring things into the 21st century.

The Ikea Foundation’s designers have come up with a framework which is covered by lightweight insulated panels which reflect daytime sunlight and retain heat at night.  They can be put up in a matter of hours and last up to three years.

The shelters are to be tested in Ethiopia next month and the UNHCR is looking to incorporate solar-charged lighting in the design.

Click through to Gizmodo UK for pictures of the shelter.

[Ikea via Gizmodo UK and Fast Company]

Ad-Free or Not Ad-Free, That is The Question

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

The home of my other creative endeavour is over at Flickr, a site that many say has been left to stagnate under the ownership of Yahoo mainly because it didn’t become the kind of social network that Facebook is.  The thing is that it started out as a photo sharing site and it still is, the recent makeover improved how your photostream was presented to viewers and in general it was still doing its job as an online portfolio of photos.

Today though something odd has happened and the Flickr community as a whole is not happy.  Me included.  The facelifted interface had a nice grey toolbar across the top, it was all very clean and modern looking, very professional, but today something else appeared, a lilac bar – referred to now by forum members as the Y! Barney Bar – displaying links to other Yahoo sites and services.

As many commenters have said it looks like something from a nineties website, wedged between your browser’s chrome and the elegant Flickr interface, a distracting layer of pink nougat taking up screen space and cheapening the experience for your viewers.  The thing that has annoyed most people though is that many of us pay to have an ad-free interface both for our own use and for those viewing our photos but this amounts to an advert for Yahoo’s services, driving viewers to the ad-land that is Yahoo’s main site, to gather more revenue.  Yahoo staff have said that “The idea is to make it easier to access other places in the Yahoo! network and make visiting Yahoo! pages a more seamless experience.” and that it brings your photos to a wider audience.  If that’s the case add another menu item to Flickr’s own toolbar not this monstrosity.

Many users have pledged to leave altogether if it’s not removed immediately but most think it’s unlikely because Yahoo are copying Google’s trend of having the toolbar at the top of everything, but at least Google’s bar fits in.  What you’re paying for on any site like Flickr or our home here at WordPress is the avoidance of your content being juxtaposed with adverts which may detract from what you’re trying to say or the aesthetics of your site, to make it feel like your own space not part of a larger corporate behemoth, that is what the Yahoo bar makes Flickr feel like – just a part of a search engine and internet portal, it takes the shine off the presentation, makes it feel less special.

Some commenters have said that at least this hasn’t happened to the sites of our blogging brethren over on Tumblr – but as Yahoo haven’t had much time with its new purchase as yet perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

[Flickr Forums]

Tracing Lost Tech

MSI laptop computer

MSI laptop computer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve had the ability to track, locate and remotely disable stolen cars and vans for a while but attaching the tracker to your laptop just wasn’t practical but now, thanks to our increasingly connected world it’s becoming possible.

Today it’s inevitable that, unless it’s stripped down for parts, a smartphone, tablet or laptop will connect to the internet somehow and it’s then that modern tech can call home for help.  Smartphones can be equipped with apps – iPhones have the Find my iPhone feature which can be used to track and remotely wipe a stolen, or lost phone – for Android you have apps like Where’s My Droid, Android Lost and Plan B all of which can be used to find and wipe them too.  All of these apps have varying features but they include providing GPS coordinates, alarms, taking photos with the camera, activating the ringer (in case it’s nearby) and preventing apps being changed – in case someone has stolen it and tries to get rid of the tracker.  Plan B is different in that it is installed to the phone after it’s stolen – you download it to your phone via the web access version of the Play store and once installed it sends its location to your Gmail account.  This last one made possible by the cloud integration of devices these days and being able to send to your device rather than loading things onto it.

For laptops you can do similar things with apps like Prey which can track your device via IP addresses, you can view webcam shots to try to identify a culprit or location, you can lock the computer remotely, change wallpaper, display warnings and notices and wipe browser data, which is fine unless the thief has already wiped the computer.

Digital cameras can be located roughly by searching for their serial numbers online.  How this works is that if someone takes a photo with your camera and uploads it to a photo sharing site or anywhere else that preserves the metadata – all the information on which camera and lens took the photo and what settings were used – then you should be able to find it by matching the serial number stored in the photo.  Again it will only provide clues as to who has your gear, the police would have to approach the website hosting the images to get any details of who uploaded them.

Information from all these sources can be provided to the police to investigate, it’s never wise to try to track down the person who has your gear, sometimes it could work out bad for you or you might end up accusing someone who innocently found or bought the thing.

One thing to remember is to mark gear if possible with your phone number – never your home address as this can show a thief that A) you have expensive kit in your house and B) you’re not at home right now, and they know where you live.   On cameras and phones take a picture of a piece of paper with your phone number and possibly a message saying that if they’re reading the message it means that the device has been lost or stolen and asking them to contact you – a thief would delete this of course, if they noticed it.

Another tip is to photograph all your kit, log the serial numbers and store this information securely both online and printed if possible, again this can help to locate, identify and most importantly return your tech to you.

As many people have said though, as the chances of getting the actual device back are often slim, the best use of most of these apps is simply to wipe or disable the device, making it either unusable to the thief, making their life difficult, or at the very least removing your personal data – which could in so many ways be more valuable to them which is another good reminder to set a strong login password on your PC too.

Updated:  I’ve just been sent a link to an entertaining tale of why you shouldn’t steal a hacker’s computer – it’s worth a watch, even if you’re not a techy person and shows how even not having a login password can have it’s uses [YouTube]  Many thanks Alasdair.

[Lifehacker has more advice here]