Friday, February 27, 2009

Salt batteries could power coastal cities?

New Scientist:
"...[R]ather than constructing a huge barrage or dotting the river bed with turbines, Veerman and his colleagues at Wetsus, the Dutch Centre for Sustainable Water Technology in Leeuwarden, believe they can tap energy locked up in the North Sea's saltwater by channelling it, along with fresh water from the Rhine, into a novel kind of battery.

"With a large enough array of these batteries, he says, the estuary could easily provide over a gigawatt of electricity by a process they've called Blue Energy - enough to supply about 650,000 homes.

"'Salinity power' exploits the chemical differences between salt and fresh water, and this project only hints at the technology's potential: from the mouth of the Ganges to the Mississippi delta, almost every large estuary could produce a constant flow of green electricity, day and night, rain or shine, without damaging sensitive ecosystems or threatening fisheries.

"One estimate has it that salinity power could eventually become a serious power player, supplying as much as 7 per cent of today's global energy needs...."

Why Tom Zarek Was Right

Tom Zarek: Underserved by the otherwise excellent writers.

Most of the anti-Gaeta sentiment I've heard is empty chatter, calling Gaeta "a coward" or "power mad" or "a weasel." Gaeta knew less than viewers know about Cylons, and from his perspective, indeed, from any logical human perspective of a character in the story, the mutiny and coup were logical responses to:

a) a tyrannical presidential-military clique that based its pursuit of Earth on what was originally a flat-out lie

b) the centralisation of power in an unelected president ruling by cynical religious manipulation which drifted into self-deluded fundamentalist zealotry and a messiah-complex

c) an Executive who nearly succeeded in stealing an election

d) a miltary strong-man who himself overthrew civilian rule, ruled by nepotism, undermined criminal inquiries he himself launched, and made clear he would overthrow any government he opposed

e) a civilian-military clique of master-race Capricans that once threatened to execute striking workers and the wife of the union leader, and

f) a proposed alliance with a hostile, artificially-intelligent model of humanoid robot which had successfully exterminated 99.999% of humanity.

Gaeta was a hero, and all the moreso because his actions were unselfish in intent and result. He won't be remembered by former comrades--or by viewers--as a hero.

He'll be, like
Dune's Dr. Yueh, condemned for all time as a traitor even after attempting to serve his people and defeat the enemy, while narcissistic genocide-enablers such as Gaius Baltar will be literally worshipped by a gun-toting harem of hallellujah-chorusing cultists.

Felix Gaeta: A hero who will be cursed forever.

I'd say the series, in one of its very few blunders (the other being the chummy post-murder threat relationship between Tyrol and Roslin/Adama), failed the character of Tom Zarek, who in the end rose to nothing more than the image he presented to most viewers: that of a ruthless, vicious, power-seeking, raving terrorist.

Even the genocidal Cylons have been given more nuance that Zarek was given, which is in part why so many viewers (from what I can tell, the majority) support freaking Cylons (who liquidated humanity and oppressed the survivors in a concentration camp, further reducing the surviving population by a quarter) more than they give Zarek credit for anything.

Ron Moore's excellent podcasts suggest he had more sympathy for Gaeta and Zarek than ever made it to the screen (especially in Zarek's case).

Robert Farley wrote the following excellent post on the blog Lawyers, Gun$ and Money. It's an excellent argument, and one that neatly sums up most of my pro-Gaeta argument, while adding elements I hadn't thought to include. Impressive.

Talk about the civilian authority being in bed with the military....

"The following is a Letter to the Editor from 'Concerned Colonial Citizen', regarding the prospects of a permanent alliance between the Colonial government and the rebel Cylon. It is titled 'Why Tom Zarek Was Right'. The letter is spoileriffic.

"'I oppose permanent alliance with the Cylon, and believe that Vice President Zarek and Lieutenant Gaeta were correct to resist the Adama-Roslin military-political clique. Here is why.'"

Does this look like a face that respects civilian authority?

Climate future: 6.99 billion people to die?

New Scientist: "Alligators basking off the English coast; a vast Brazilian desert; the mythical lost cities of Saigon, New Orleans, Venice and Mumbai; and 90 per cent of humanity vanished. Welcome to the world warmed by 4 °C.

"Clearly this is a vision of the future that no one wants, but it might happen. Fearing that the best efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions may fail, or that planetary climate feedback mechanisms will accelerate warming, some scientists and economists are considering not only what this world of the future might be like, but how it could sustain a growing human population.

"They argue that surviving in the kinds of numbers that exist today, or even more, will be possible, but only if we use our uniquely human ingenuity to cooperate as a species to radically reorganise our world.

"The good news is that the survival of humankind itself is not at stake: the species could continue if only a couple of hundred individuals remained.

"But maintaining the current global population of nearly 7 billion, or more, is going to require serious planning."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Kwabena Boahen on Artificial Intelligence, Monique Maddy on African Entrepreneurship

FM 88.5 Edmonton worldwide
6 PM Mountain Time

Although five centuries of economic and social exploitation have slowed African technological development, they haven’t stopped it, and that’s partly because people such as Dr. Kwabena Boahen continue to be fascinated by the possibilities of science and technology.

Boahen is a Ghanaian-American computer engineer working to create artificial intelligence by mimicking human brain functions inside machines.

He holds a PhD in Computation and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology, and has received numerous awards including the Sloan Fellowship for Theoretical Neurobiology from Cal-Tech, a Young Investigator Award from the US Office of Naval Research, and the US National Institute of Health Director’s Pioneer Award.

Boahen aims to decode how the properties of neurons, the brain’s communication network, allow consciousness to exist.

As an engineer, Boahen uses silicon integrated circuits to simulate neural computations, combining the perspectives of electronics and neurobiology. He led a team in the development of a silicon retina that may restore sight to the blind, and a self-organizing microchip that mimics the developing brain’s self-wiring.

Currently a researcher at Stanford, Boahen spoke at the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference in June 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania. The video is

Liberation Entrepreneurship?

As the materially richest, and perhaps the most exploited continent on the planet, Africa requires extensive, broad-based economic development to meet the physical and social needs of the peoples of its 53 countries.

Many Western approaches are essentially charity: making givers feel like saviours, while undermining local attempts at economic development.

While there’s no doubt good intentions and compassion are involved in paying foreigners to work as engineers, doctors, technicians, construction workers and teachers across the Motherland, clearly local development is far better served by paying decent salaries to engineers, doctors, technicians, construction workers and teachers who are citizens so they can serve their fellow citizens in their home countries, staunch the brain drain, pay taxes into their own national coffers, and spend their consumer dollars, build businesses and develop unions at home.

International trade deals and regimes which undermine African economic development are the source of much of Africa’s misery. When Africans and others abroad develop trading relationships based on mutual profit, instead of exploitation or patronising misconceptions of African realities, Africa as a continent will progress.

One woman who lives by such principles is Liberian entrepreneur
Monique Maddy. Educated in England and the US, she holds a Master’s Degree in Economics and Development Studies from the Johns Hopkins University, and an MBA from Harvard Business.

Maddy has worked for the United Nations Development Programme on development issues in Angola, the Central African Republic and Indonesia.

"She’s the founder of Adesemi Communications International, which “finance[s], build[s] and operate[s] low-cost wireless telecommunications services in developing and emerging market countries.

"Adesemi built the world’s first fully integrated wireless ‘virtual’ phone network, a platform consisting of public payphones, voicemail and pagers, and targeted at low-income consumers [which] received widespread recognition and extensive international press coverage for its innovation.”

Maddy is the author of Learning to Love Africa: My Journey from Africa to Harvard Business School and Back, published by HarperCollins, and an Executive Board Member of the
Brick Project, an online global school initiative that promotes global awareness among secondary students.

In tonight’s presentation, Monique Maddy discusses corporate and philanthropic failures to advance African development, and contrasts them with the entrepreneurial heritage of the Mandinka, a people with extensive trade and finance networks across the continent.

Maddy also addresses the obstacles of corruption, inefficiency and bureaucracy she faced in her work as an entrepreneur.

Maddy spoke at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, on March 14, 2006. The video is

Ribbon Rouge Africentric fashion show - March 6

For an exciting night of music, fashion and social justice, come out to the fourth annual Ribbon Rouge fashion show at the University of Alberta’s Dinwoodie Lounge.

Ribbon Rouge features outstanding continental and global African entertainment and Africentric fashion by local designers. Musical performers will include Politic Live, Krystle Dos Santos and Nufsed.

Tickets are on sale across campus at HUB, SUB, and CAB, $12 in advance, $15 at the door. The event runs Friday, March 6 from 6 until 10 pm at Dinwoodie Lounge in the U of A Student Union Building, and is sponsored by the Kamit African Caribbean Society.

All proceeds will be donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. For more information, call 780-965-8045. That’s 780-965-8045. Or email

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

*BSG* fans... *Caprica* available April 21... on DVD?

"If you're still wondering when Caprica, the long-awaited Battlestar Galactica prequel, will finally air on TV, you'll have to wait until 2010. However, you'll be able to watch the two-hour pilot a lot sooner.

"In a unique move, the network will release the two-hour pilot of Caprica on DVD April 21 of this year. Fans will be able to get a special sneak peek at the series on the DVD, which will also include special behind-the-scenes featurettes."

The Caprica trailer is here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A new Battlestar Galactica movie! Yay! Except....

Rumours are that Universal has given Glen Larson the chance to make a new BSG movie based on his original story. Read about it here, here and here.

It's an awful thought. The original, while interesting for its allegory of Mormonism, was a poor Star Wars-knock off that has aged very poorly in terms of content and style (although visually, its production design was outstanding and still deserves credit--it was one of the best-looking SF series ever.

Of course, it may be just a rumour or Glen Larson floating a balloon to gauge support. Stunningly, there are many people who hate Ron Moore's BSG and love the original. Of course, almost half of the US population supported the illegal US invasion and occupation of Iraq or thought that Saddam Hussein was connected with 911, so why not?

My friend Dan figures that it helps if we imagine Larson BSG as a revisionist, sanitised version of the "real" (Moore) BSG done by the descendents of the survivors of the Cylon Holocaust. I call Larson's take MSG.

For what Dirk "Caveman" Benedict thinks, check out this rightwing webdump and the comments by the revanchists who hive there.

Spike Lee Calls for NY Post Boycott

Democracy Now! reports today: "In other media news, protests are continuing outside the New York Post over the publication of a cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee.

"On Friday, filmmaker Spike Lee called for a boycott of the newspaper and urged athletes and entertainers to shun the paper’s writers. NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous has called for the ouster of cartoonist Sean Delonas and editor-in-chief Col Allan.

"Lloyd Riddick: 'I was in the Air Force six-and-a-half years. I’m seventy-four years old. I’ve been through hell for this country, including when they stationed me in Biloxi, Mississippi. And that was in 1954.
"And you could go into a store and look at a pair of pants and hold them up against you, but you couldn’t try them on, because a white man had to try that pair of pants. I know racism. You could hold a hat up over your head, but if it touched your head, you had to buy it. I know racism.'”

Good for Spike Lee. I saw the cartoon. Disgusting and outrageous. And the quickest way to put the pressure on the post, other than by an advertiser boycott (unlikely, given the advertisers) is to turn off the tap on content. I'm all for criticising Obama's policies when they deserve criticism (and praising them when they deserve it). I'm 100% opposed to racist smears against him.
Here's the NYP's fake apology, as delivered by the London Telegraph:
That's not an apology. That's telling people who were offended by their blatant bigotry, "Too bad you were wrong in understanding our point." Here's an apology: "We were wrong. We should not have printed that cartoon. We understand that the cartoon, in the context of American history and culture, is bigoted. We won't do it again. We caused pain. It was our fault. And we're sorry."