Tweets to be archived for history

23/04/2010 Leave a comment

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

About a month ago I wrote how much of our digital records were being lost to history,  For that reason I was very pleased to read that Twitter are donating their digital archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress.

This archive is not an insignificant amount of data.  It is suggested that some 50 million tweets are sent every day, from people around the world.  Twitter are going to donate all public tweets since Twitter started in 2006, to the present.  This will be several billion tweets.  They include the first ever tweet, from the company’s co-founder and the tweet posted by President Obama about winning the election.  This move is very much in line with the Library’s record of gathering the accounts of ordinary individuals throughout their history.

The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today the Library holds more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office and websites of Members of Congress. In addition, the Library leads the congressionally mandated National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations.

They are to be applauded for their efforts, and lets hope that other national libraries are doing the same, or much of our history stored in digital format will be lost forever.

Categories: Internet, Media

A fast electric scooter

22/04/2010 Leave a comment

Electric Scooter

Electric Scooter

This scooter not only looks good, but also packs a punch.  The punch is from 28 batteries which supply 3.84 Kw which will get you to 113kph (70mph).  It is made by the American company ZEV, and the ZEV7000 will give, on average, a range of  between 50 and 70 miles.  This makes it an ideal option for commuting.

The company claims that the 240 newton-metres of torque from the motor deals with hill climbs, and delivery is by a three-speed automatic transmission.  It can be fully charged for as little as 7 pence.

However, with all electric vehicles the problem arises after two years when the batteries start to fail to deliver the same power and need replacing.  Before considering a similar purchase, it is worth sitting down with a spreadsheet and factor in all the costs over the lifetime of your ownership.  I am a big fan of LPG vehicles, having used them since 2001.  However, in time, if all the pundits are correct, scooters such as these will be powered by small fuel-cells.  This will greatly reduce the weight, allow for zero level of pollution, but begs the question where will all the hydrogen come from?

Categories: Energy, Technology, Transport

High-speed rail in China

21/04/2010 Leave a comment

Chinese High-speed Rail

Chinese High-speed Rail

As we all become more conscious of our carbon footprints, train travel as an alternative to air travel is becoming increasingly popular – where it is available.  In Western Europe, in particular in France, the  Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV)  has allowed people to travel at speed –  the fastest scheduled rail journey with a start to stop average speed of 279.4 km/h (173.6 mph) on the line from Lorraine to Champagne.  However, this record has been surpassed by the Chinese CRH service on the Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway in 2009.

The Chinese trains have clocked peak speeds of up to 394 kilometers per hour (or 245 miles per hour). They have also recorded an average speed of 312 kph on several occasions.

The line in question is a 968-kilometer line linking Wuhan, in the heart of central China, to Guangzhou, on the south eastern coast.  The trains being used are Chinese developments of Japan’s Shinkansen and Germany’s InterCity Express high-speed trains.  The implementation of the high-speed trains has cut the previous time of ten and a half hours, to less than three hours.

What makes the Chinese line different from those found in Europe and Japan, is that in Europe we tend to adapt older tracks, whilst this one was designed from the ground up for very high-speed operation over hundreds of kilometres.  Bridges and tunnels, as well as the concrete bed beneath the track, have been designed to safely rocket passengers around, through, or over any obstacles that would otherwise force the trains to slow down.  In America, yet to build high-speed rail links, they hope to benefit from the Chinese developments, especially the new track beds.  The first of the American high-speed links will be a 790-mile system in California, linking San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacremento.  The California High Speed Rail Authority believe the system will reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions by nine million tons by 2050, since high-speed rail is three times more efficient than flying, and five times more efficient than driving per passenger mile.

The Chinese believe that their High-speed rail is a clean way to boost the expansion of China’s transportation system which is expected to more than triple to five billion passengers per year by 2020.  These lines are seen as preferable to further expanding reliance on imported oil for cars and airplanes.  It can’t be bad for the environment either.

Categories: Technology, Transport

NOT the iPhone 4G

20/04/2010 Leave a comment

Acer 521

Acer 521

After all the fuss about today’s Gizmodo story about the yet-to-be-released iPhone 4G ‘found’ in a bar, and the accompanying conspiracy theories, here is a story about a real product.

The Acer 521, at first glance, appears to be yet another Netbook.  What makes it different is the fact that it appears that it will not use the ubiquitous Atom processor, but will use the AMD Nile V105 processor.  This processor is a single-core processor, operating at 1.2HGz.  It has a total power draw of 9 watts, which makes it efficient for an AMD chip and supports DDR3 memory.  Tests will show it performs compared to the Atom.  It will also have ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225, the letters ‘HD’ indicating the HD playback capability.  It remains unclear whether it will support 720p or 1080p HD video.

This Netbook the netbook will have optional Bluetooth 3 support and a compact charger with interchangeable plugs called MiniGo. The battery is supposed to be good for up to 7 hours.  It will have 1GB RAM, 160GB or 250GB hard disk drive and runs Windows 7 Starter Edition.  The 521 will be launched in June.

Categories: Computing, Gadgets

Force fields become a reality

14/04/2010 2 comments

Force Field

Force Field

The use of force fields to protect space craft has long been a feature of sci-fi and a way of explaining how the goodies can live to fight another day despite meeting overwhelming odds.

A British company working in the defence industry, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), has developed a new system to protect vehicles which some are calling a ‘force field’. This is not the first time this company has exploited this idea.  In tests in 2002 the company demonstrated how a tank could come under repeated attack from rocket propelled grenades, but by the deployment of an electric field it was able to carry on with just minor damage.

The new system detects an incoming projectile and dumps the charge from a large supercapicitor in to the metal plating on the outside of the vehicle.  This forms a very strong electromagnetic field.  So strong that it is capable of repelling the incoming projectile.  The key to the system is timing, as the charged field must be deployed just prior to impact.  It is hoped that this system will allow the heavy conventional armour on military vehicles to be dispensed with, thus making them lighter and more maneuverable.  The Ministry of Defense has set the target of a 70% reduction in weight.

Categories: Military, Technology

Scientist sees the light

13/04/2010 Leave a comment

Solar Panel

Solar Panel


In the course of one hour, the Earth receives more solar energy than the entire planet consumes in a whole year. 

Little of the energy is harvested in the form of solar energy.  Conventional solar panels use semiconductor materials and the energy gathered is some five to six times more expensive than that which has been generated by fossil fuels or hydro-electric power.  Teams around the world have striven to develop a solar cell which could be produced inexpensively and which is efficient, in energy terms. 

Professor Benoît Marsan and his team at the Université du Québec à Montréal have focussed their research energies in the development of a electrochemical solar cell.  Their work was inspired by research of the 1990s which looked to generate energy in a way similar to plants, ie photosynthesis.  This involved placing a liquid electrolyte between the anode and cathode, composed of a porous layer of nano-particles of a white pigment, titanium dioxide, covered with a molecular dye that absorbs sunlight, like the chlorophyll in green leaves.  However, such approaches quickly showed that the materials used were highly corrosive, the dense colour inhibited the transmission of light, the photovoltage was only 0.7 volts and the platinum cathode was expensive. 

Profesor Marsan appears to have produced a satisfactory solution to these ‘challenges’.  They have created new molecules to form the electrolyte, and the gel produced is transparent and importantly non-corrosive.  They have replaced the platinum cathode with cobalt sulphide, and the result is a more efficient, cheaper, more stable solar cell which should be easy to produce.  Would it be too much to say the future looks bright ?

Categories: General Comment

Moore’s law gets a boost

12/04/2010 Leave a comment



In 1965 Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, suggested that the number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year from the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 until 1965 and predicted that the trend would continue “for at least ten years”.  In 1970 Douglas Engelbart (co-inventor of the mechanical mouse) of Caltech coined the phrase “Moore’s Law”.   In 1975, Moore altered his projection to a doubling every two years.  There is a  popular misconception, that he predicted a doubling “every 18 months”.  However, which ever version of the Law you ascribe to, it has held up over the decades

The challenge has been that of physics, and the increasing difficulty of increasing the density of transistors on the integrated circuit.  It seems that help may be on hand.  In 1971 Prof Leon Chua, at Berkeley, suggested that having two separate devices in a computer, one to store data and one to process data did not make sense.  He suggested memristors (transistors with memory), and that there was a conceptual symmetry  between the resistor, inductor, and capacitor, and suggested that the memristor is a similarly fundamental device.

He compared this theoretical device to the synapses and axons in the human brain.  With their use we can re-think the architecture of computers, allowing “brain-like computers” to be developed.  Such computers would be more energy efficient, would be less computational wasteful and could replace today’s flash memory.  Research by a team at the University of Michigan has already shown that they can store twice as much as an equivalent sized flash memory, and that they can be stacked to form three-dimensional arrays (theoretically in stacks of thousands of layers) .  It is hoped that this memory device will be ready to come to the market in three years.

It is the longer-term future (6 to 10 years)  for this device which is most exciting.  Currently, processors have transistors which are as small as 22 nanometres.  Memristors have been made as small as 3 nanometres.  It is the memristors compatibility with existing transistor-based technologies which will allow rapid implementation using today’s materials and chip fabrication plants.  This will allow Moore’s Law to continue for several decades to come.  HP who are developing the technology believe it has the ability to “turn the computing world upside down”.

Categories: Computing, Technology