Sunday, April 26, 2015
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Nashua;41.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/novc.png;2015-04-26 05:34:00

State's first public bitcoin vending machine is in - can you guess? - yes, Keene!

gg0424bitcoinmachine

A Lamassu machine, from their website - with smartphone for size comparison.

Lamassu, the New Hampshire bitcoin-machine firm, says that a thrift store has installed only the second public bitcoin vending machine in northern New England, and the first in New Hampshire. Can you guess what city it's in?

Ah, Keene. If you didn't exist, our libertarian selves would have to invent you.

Here's an item about it from the news/advocacy site Free Keene.

Study says autonomous cars would be used more, and thus might increase gas usage

One of the environmental advantages cited for autonomous cars is that they'd reduce the number of vehicles needed. Most cars and trucks are parked most of the time, but if they could be sent hither and yon by themselves, they could do the work of many vehicles.

The drawback? They might actually increase fuel use because there would be less incentive to make those trips efficient. Or so, at least, says a new study, as reported by Bloomberg News:

In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.

What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

It's an interesting argument. Pretty hypothetical at the moment, of course, but interesting.

In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.

What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

- See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150424/NEWS24/150429484#sthash.xLLF7qWe.dpuf

In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.

What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

- See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150424/NEWS24/150429484#sthash.xLLF7qWe.dpuf</</

Only one caller said my GMO shown on NHPR today was 'whitewashing'  

I hosted the NHPR call-in show The Exchange this morning with two researchers to discuss genetically modified organisms and genetic engineering in general. I've found that it's harder to make lame quips hosting a radio show as compared to hosting Science Cafe in person, which might be a good thing ... although I did get to compare gene sequencing with disco lights.

One caller, as you 'll hear if you listen to the show (it's here on the NHPR website), accused the guests of whitewashing problems, and another was concerned about links with - yes, you guessed it - autism. But I think in general we got some real information across.

Incidentally, the show has been planned for a while, so it's sheer coincidence that it came out the day after Chinese researchers announced the first confirmed performing genetic engineering on human embryos.

Electric unicycles and scooters - can they out-Segway the Segway?

Slate does a comparison test of four motorized scooters and self-balancing wheels in hopes to tackle the last-mile problem of commuters - getting from, say, the train station to the office without taking an extra half an hour to malk, or mucking up a sweat.

The conclusion: Motorized scooters do pretty well, if you can overlook the Segway-ish dorky factor. The other stuff, not so much.

It's a fun read - check it out here.

That flying car they're building in Woburn? It's going to miss deadline and budget (surprise!)

I've long been enamored with the Terrafugia flying car (or "roadable aircraft," the term they used to prefer) being created in Woburn, Mass. It's just so gorgeous, even if the whole idea of a flying car is kind of silly.

The company talked for a while about maybe starting production this year, but I haven't been holding my breath, so I'm not surprised to read in Endgadget that it's still a couple of years away. Weight issues are tough when you try to match the safety requirements of a car with the flying requirements of an airplane, and regulatory issues are complicated, too.

I'm also not surprised that "the estimated price seems to have climbed a bit from the $279,000 projection, as he said the company is targeting between $300k and $400k," as Endgadget reports.

The best part of the piece is this let-your-free-flag-fly comment from a reader:

I am beyond tired of seeing my dreams get crushed to death by regulatory bull crap! "It doesn't meet the weight requirements, bleh". Do you KNOW what that kind of crap does to innovation!? That's one of the reasons WHY we don't have flying cars! Just give me the vehicle and let me assume full responsibility for it, and then screw off! ... The wright brothers didn't have to put up with this crap!

I hope he doesn't live too close to me. I don't relish the thought of having somebody overhead who thinks weight requirements in aircraft are "bull crap."

Congress finally say yes, it can support 21st century equivalent of Mom and apple pie

From my point of view, one of the most extreme examples of last year's Congressional partisan stupidity was the failure to pass a no-brainer of a bill giving incentives for energy efficiency in buildings.

Maybe things are improving: The bill, co-sponsored by NH Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, passed the Senate and the House yesterday. The bill is narrower than last year and makes some things voluntary, which means it will be less effecitve, but at least it's something.

Government data plus profit motive equals - maybe better kitchen cabinets

My Telegraph column this week is about one of a number of companies trying to build a business based on available government data - in this case it's BuildZoom, which accumulates data about building permits in an area so that homeowners can see what local contrators have done. It hopes to make money in the business-to-business arena, analyzing data and selling analysis to contractors, insurers, Realtors and the like.

Zillow (which crunches public data about house sales) is probably the best-known example of this overarching business idea. These firms seem like a good example of private industry improving public information for profit, benefitting both them and us, the public.

Here's the column.

No sign of other civilizations' waste heat in 100,000 galaxies 

A search of 100,000 nearby galaxies - for certain definitions of "nearby" - showed no heat signature that by some suppositions would inevitably be associated with advanced civilizations.

The research, funded by the Templeton Foundation (which gives some people pause), was based on the classification system developed by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev: A Type 1 civilization would harness all the energy of its home planet whereas a Type 2 uses all the energy of its star, perhaps by building a Dyson sphere around it. A type 3 civilization would be capable of using all the energy of its galaxy, presumably by encasing all its stars in Dyson spheres.

Salon titles their article about the research "The Universe is a Lonely Place." That might be overstating it a bit; this research isn't definitive - because nothing's definitive about the search for life, as the Salon article notes, quoting Dyson himself:

"Our imaginings about the ways that aliens might make themselves detectable are always like stories of black cats in a dark room,” Dyson says. “If there are any real aliens, they are likely to behave in ways that we never imagined. The WISE result shows that the aliens did not follow one particular path. That is good to know. But it still leaves a huge variety of other paths open. The failure of one guess does not mean that we should stop looking for aliens.”

Norway's going to kill FM radio and go all-digital; no plans for U.S. to follow suit

In January 2017, Norway will begin to turn off FM radio in that country, requiring everybody to use DAB (digital audio broadcasting), a European standard. DAB can send a lot more signals over a given spectrum than analog FM; it's also more robust with regard to signal interference.

The story at Radio.no (spotted via Slashdot) says that while Norway is the first to set a switch-over date, "several countries in Europe and Southeast Asia are in similar processes, choosing DAB-technology as the backbone of future radio distribution."

Presumably the U.S. will do this at some point, although the wikipedia article about DAB points to a possible problem: "DAB uses a wide-bandwidth broadcast technology and typically spectra have been allocated for it in Band III (174–240 MHz) and L band (1452–1492 MHz), although the scheme allows for operation almost anywhere above 30 MHz. The US military has reserved L-Band in the USA only, blocking its use for other purposes in America."

Some big investors getting worried that fossil fuels might be a financial risk

We're avoiding the dull topic of politics today (see previous post) but we're not going to avoid another dull topic - finance - because it's important.

As FierceEnergy reports, "Institutional investors representing nearly $2 trillion in assets have called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to push for better disclosure by oil and gas companies of critical climate change-related business risks (carbon asset risks) that will "profoundly affect the economics of the industry." "

In other words, some big-money folks are getting nervous that oil and coal, and maybe even natural gas, might not be the road to easy riches that has been assumed for decades. If that thinking spreads and it gets harder for the funding to pull burnable dinosaur remains ("carbon asset" is the more formal term, but I like mine better) out of the ground, that would do more for a transition to renewable energy that all the scolding in the world.

There are five main reasons why investors are concerned with the current state of disclosure for fossil fuel companies. Those include oil prices, demand, stranded assets, physical risks and the growth of renewables.

Some existing unproduced coal reserves will become stranded assets due to declining demand, pollution and efficiency standards, and competition with natural gas and renewables. In the oil and gas sector in the coming years, new investment in high-cost, high-carbon assets could be stranded as global demand for fossil fuels slows.

"Stranded" is a scary term for investors in utilities and energy (Seabrook Station fought over "stranded costs" for years) but stranding carbon is a necessity if we have any hope of not destroying the world.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.

ggScienceCafeSidebar

Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, May 20

TOPIC: Trains: An old technology that keeps getting newer.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).

PAST TOPICS:

2015:

April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? March: How roads are designed. February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.

2014:

November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

2013:
November:
Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

2012:
November:
"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

2011:
Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"

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Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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