December 27, 2013

Astronomical Numbers and Climate Change

“There are 1011 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.” ― Richard P. Feynman

Photo Alan Fitzsimmons

One wonders what the Nobel-prize winning physicist may have said about today's US debt, which is counted in the 1013 dollars, or a hundred times more than there are stars in galaxy. One suspects that this "citizen scientist" would have some sharp remarks on the low acceptance in the US of climate science.

The argument against starting that fight sooner rather than later has always been that the amounts of money that need to be spent are daunting.

December 24, 2013

The Car of the Future

Fans of Star Trek have delighted in the Audi ad that pits old Spock (Leonard Nimoy in a Mercedes CLS 550C) against young Spock (Zachary Quinto in an Audi S7 hatchback). The CLS is portrayed as old-school luxury, while the S7 is presented as a 23rd century starship. In the end, though, both are trumped by the self-driving Audi TTS (developed at Stanford).

"The Challenge"

Speculation abounds, as it has always, about what the car of the future looks like. "The car of the future will be electric. Powered by fuel cells. By hydrogen. By a small on-board nuclear reactor. It will look all curvy. It will look like a Lamborghini, only more 'space age'. It will be self-driving. It can fly."

Personally, I have no truck with the looks of the future car. I don't care if it looks like a box car. Or rather, perhaps I would prefer it to look like a box car (more on that below). Here is CelloMom's vision of our future transportation - or perhaps more appropriately called wishful thinking.

December 14, 2013

Snow, Ice, and Your Tires

You know you're in trouble when it's been snowing, you're out on the road - and more than half of the other vehicles on the road are snow ploughs.

Photo by SPQRobin

Under those conditions the wisest thing to do is to stay at home. Build a snowman or an igloo with your children, bake bread, make some slow food, settle with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate while your children shovel the driveway. Enjoy the day. Take a vacation day if you have to. An employer that requires its employees to struggle their way into work under unsafe road conditions is not a good employer.

If you absolutely must go out into the great white world, remember that your tires are your best friends, more than they usually are.

December 5, 2013

St. Nicholas Storm

The storm that has hit the northwestern coasts of Europe today is starting to be known in the Netherlands as St. Nicholas Storm, or sinterklaasstorm (like the Germans, the Dutch also love to string their words together. Back when telegrams were priced by the word, it was cheaper that way).

The KNMI, the Dutch equivalent of NOAA, has called code red, which means you should stay indoors unless you have real business outside. On the coast, winds up to 11 Beaufort are expected, pretty high even in wind-blown Holland. Some flights have been cancelled. Train traffic has been stopped in the northern half of the country. There are reports of cargo trucks being blown over.

This is terrible news for Dutch children, who are eagerly awaiting a visit from St. Nicholas, their patron saint who, as legend has it, makes it to the Low Lands by steam boat, and tours the country's roofs on his white horse on the eve of his saint's day to distribute sweets and oranges from Spain.