Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Get Ready for More Bloggy Goodness

Last Thursday, our overlords informed us that they are shutting our portion of the empire down and laying us all off -- over 200 people. Wheeeee.

Don't really have time to write at the moment, so perhaps more about that in a future post. You see, I have until end of day tomorrow to tie up all the loose ends, finalize everything, square everything away clear out my desk and turn in my magnetic ID card. I've got more work to do now than I've had in months.

But as of X-mas day, I will suddenly have nothing to do and nowhere to go, able to coast for at least a little while on a reasonably decent -- all things considered -- severance, and that means mucho blogging-o.

Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

But for all my regular readers: my job loss is your bloggy gain! Or will be soon.

If you have any specific requests... things you'd like me to write about, issues or problems you'd like me to address... feel free to send 'em my way.

Happy happy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Someone Made My Invention

A long time ago, I had an idea to generate electricity by harnessing the kinetic energy of people moving through doors. I didn't patent it or nuthin' but I did eventually write about it in a blog-post here. And now, a little over a year later, the thing is for reals! Woo hoo! Of course, it took the Dutch to actually make the thing. We really need to take a page from their book. Several pages really. Maybe the whole book. I, personally, would like to see our 'New Amsterdam' adopt many more of the ways of original Amsterdam. It would be better for all concerned.

Anyway, seeing as how the nifty door thing has magically appeared in the real world (or, the Netherlands anyway) about a year after I wrote about it, here's another thing that really needs to exist, which I don't have the resources to make myself, but which the Dutch could certainly show us the way toward creating/using on a large scale (more of a technique than a "thing") and if they do it a year from now, well, better late than never...

This idea came to me on September 11th, 2001. As you may recall... there were these two really tall skyscrapers, with massive fires raging on upper floors. Firefighters who arrived on the scene went into the buildings from the ground, dragging their gear up the endless flights of stairs, climbing against the tide of people fleeing, which must have slowed everybody down in both directions. They helped many people escape the towers but continuing upward, and upward to put the fires out proved futile. The buildings collapsed. They all died -- over 300 of the bravest individuals our society is ever likely to produce, faced with an impossible task which became a suicide mission, all because of an inappropriate response to a specific problem. How do you put out a massive fire on an upper floor of a skyscraper, hundreds of feet in the air? Conventional firefighting techniques were never intended for such a thing. Men carrying hose from a ground-based pump, up 90 flights of stairs -- simply not right for the job. It's not a matter of good or bad. Only a matter of finding the tool or technique that best fits the situation. You don't use a claw hammer to remove a splinter from your finger and you don't use tweezers to pull a nail out of a board.

The right tool for this particular job would have been a small fleet of water-tank equipped helicopters.

Now, obviously, these already exist. Planes too. They are used primarily to help put out forest fires, wildfires in places with no fire hydrants, etc. They fill their tanks by scooping from lakes, rivers or the ocean, then fly over the fire and drop tons of water quickly. They can also drop other types of chemical fire-retardants which, as I understand it, would've been better than water for combatting the WTC fires, since they were caused by jet-fuel. Still, water would've been better than nothing, as it could have dissipated much of the heat which is assumed to have caused the failure of the steel support beams of the towers -- unless you believe, as some video evidence seems to suggest, that there were explosive charges already in place throughout the buildings.

Regardless. Why doesn't NYC have, say, ten of these firefighting aircraft? Five even. Last I checked, this town, with so many especially tall structures, is built on a bunch of little islands. Lots of water within easy reach of just about all the skyscrapers. It would be perfectly easy to deploy such helicopters to any part of town, at a moment's notice, all filled up and ready to go.

Perhaps even better than having them repeatedly scoop up water, fly to the scene and drop it, the helicopters could be equipped with extremely powerful on-board pumps and massively long hoses that could unspool and either attach to a hydrant, or simply dip an anchored end into the river. You suck water up continuously and spray it at the fire without ever having to stop to refill. If it's the dead of winter and the river is iced over, you build a heating element into the anchor end of the hose, melt your way through the ice to the water underneath, and pump away.

This is too obvious not to exist. It might be expensive to create, maintain and deploy. It would require teams of pilots and firefighters with highly specialized training, which, again, would be costly. But compared to the loss of life and property of a 9/11? A bargain at any price! Without it, the next massive fire that takes place on a high floor of a skyscraper will be just as impossible to counter as the WTC fire was, and more brave men and women will die needlessly. But with such an obvious system in place, they would at least have a fighting chance.

Look for a Dutch company to start up such a program in a year or two.

Instant Holiday Classic

This double-plus-good video entitled "The Seven Levels of Christmas" was created by my friends Lem Huntington and Sean Kaplan, and is certain to worm its way into the creamy center of your mind where it will incubate, gestate, hatch, mature, and then, on the day of destiny it will leave the nest of your head to take its act on the road, whereupon you will know the bittersweet yin-yang fulfillment of parenthood at its most harrowing [cough] rewarding.

HOWEVER: I recommend you do not watch this video unless your cerebral cortex is properly coated in at least one (preferably more than one) fortifying scheduled substance. Should you watch it in your raw, unaltered state, you run the risk of being forever tormented by a recurring nightmare in which you are a space alien trapped inside Bill O'Reilly's reptillian sub-consciousness, struggling to make sense of his twisted mundanity on a level he himself is far too chickenshit to face.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The View

Recently, for my job, I've been researching various "green" technologies, learning about the cutting edge science and newest thinking on many fronts in the battle to create a sustainable way of life for modern humans.

I've also inevitably run across some naysayers, climate-change deniers, people who can't be bothered to go green or think it will be too difficult (especially now that the economy is in the toilet), or who simply don't want to change what they currently have/do, no matter what the consequences.

One example of this, which I find particularly frustrating, occurs around the question of whether or not, and where, to install large, utility-scale wind-turbine electric generators. Some of the places best-suited to this clean technology are at high unobstructed elevations, the tops of rolling hills and so forth, places which can be quite scenic. There are people who can't bear the thought of marring the view of such currently unspoiled natural places with obviously man-made distracting structures -- giant spinning propellers on sticks.

Now, my personal opinion is that these wind-turbines, spinning slowly in unison on a distant hill, mountain or plain, or just off the coast in the ocean, are actually quite aesthetically pleasing. But I'm also a big fan of unspoiled nature and can understand how people would prefer the view of the ocean or local mountain range sans turbines.

The problem is that these people aren't basing their aesthetic preference on enough reality.

Reality, as we humans typically experience it, consists of all this physical space around us. But it also has this other dimension, a "fourth" dimension if you will. Something called "time."

Time, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is that aspect of reality responsible for making us miss our flights. It is also the reason why the number of candles on your birthday cake keeps increasing. And as it turns out, it isn't separate from space. Space and time are actually one thing -- spacetime -- and this makes all sorts of nifty things possible, like...

- motion
- music
- stories
- growth
- evolution
- coincidences
- boredom
- getting the pizza for free

Of course, spacetime (and thus, time) is ultimately an illusion, but that's not relevant to this discussion.

What IS relevant to this discussion is that the folks who prefer the hilltop with no windmills, are only basing that preference upon a regard for space. They're completely ignoring time. As such, they think that the choice they have to make is: "should we go with the view of a lovely unspoiled mountain, or should we opt for the mountain with a bunch of annoying spinny things on it?"

But when you add time back into the equation, the real choice turns out to be between a view of a mountain with a bunch of spinny things on it, versus a view of a barren worldwide hellscape.

Now, just how MUCH time it takes to become the lifeless hellscape is impossible to determine, but if current trends persist, it could happen relatively soon. How relatively? Well... in terms of my relatives: my parents won't live to see it, but my niece and nephew absolutely will. Absolutely.

So, if you know and care about any humans whose next birthday cake will have fewer than, say, 25 candles on it, you owe it to them to take the long view of the scenic view.

Monday, December 8, 2008


This simple and surprisingly lyrical little video was brought to my attention by my friend Brian Pollack. Thanks Brian, and congrats on finishing J-school!


Flying from Sam Fuller on Vimeo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Repeal Day

Today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. In commemoration, read this.