Friday, November 24, 2006

Dark Cloud for the Silver Lining

We've been hearing for months and as much as a few years now about how supercharged the economy of China is. Apparently it is not enough to absorb all the college students needing jobs when they exit university.

A tide of more than 30,000 students with polished résumés and high hopes surged into a job fair here [...] After years in which graduates were ensured of a good job in the fast-growing economy, the number of degree-holders has outstripped the number of jobs, and the guarantees have evaporated.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Rigors of Professional Journalism

As a long time resident of Los Angeles, I used to be an avid reader of the Los Angeles Times. In fact, I grew up reading it during the period under Otis Chandler when that newspaper became world class. I am grateful to the paper of that era for the education it gave me.

I am sad now for the depths to which the newspaper has sunk.

I could go on at length about the problems in management and content, but let me make just one example now. For many years one of the Times' travel writers has been Susan Spano. Ms. Spano was not one of my favorite writers, but then travel writing doesn't usually have the weight of other sections of the newspaper so her fluffy, poorly crafted pieces that included little to no observational insights about her destinations did not matter much.

A few years she apparently talked her editors into letting her move to and work from Paris. Ah, what a deal. I could be persuaded to write a few blog posts a week and a travel piece once a month or so if I got the opportunity to live in Paris as a writer. One might expect that giving an aspiring writer the chance to work in Paris would produce something - better quality in writing or at least enthusiasm about the place. But one might be wrong.

I long ago stopped reading Ms. Spano. When I saw she had some pieces about France I began following her ramblings again, but her writing had not improved. I suppose I could say I was disappointed, but that wouldn't be right because my expectations of her were already so low that there was no room to disappoint. Or so I thought, until now.

In the few years that she has been living and writing in Paris, her output has seemed to increase in frequency but decrease in quality. Today's blog post though is utterly devoid of redeeming qualities, and is a superlative example of what an absolutely talentless reporter and journalist this person is.

After about three years of living in Paris as a writer, she posts the plaintive question to her readership: "Who is Marianne?"

Actually, let me quote her from

"Does anyone know why France is called as Marianne? Who was she anyway?

It strikes me as perfect that the country is known by that name, while American is Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam and Marianne should get cozy instead of wrangling over genetically engineered food and how to handle the nuclear threat posed by Iran."

I had to post a reply. I'm not proud of it, but neither am I ashamed of it. I feel a bit disgusted that I am actually wasting thirty minutes of valuable time writing about this, but it is truly a shame that the Los Angeles Times, formerly a great newspaper, continues to keep this person on the payroll when it simultaneously cuts more and better writers from its home offices and bureaus.

Here is my reply.

Is this a serious question? And from a purported reporter who has lived in France for - what is it now - three years? A five second trip to Wikipedia will tell you that Marianne is the symbol of the Revolution, and it will tell you ever so much more.

I find it uttely astonishing that a journalist and reporter has to ask this question of the readership. I doubt that a French reporter would have asked the same question about Uncle Sam after living in this country for three years.

I guess it's not just American schoolchildren who are ignorant and uninquisitive.

And from what I have read elsewhere, this blog does not print comments that are less than favorable, so I guess this comment is likely to die in cyberspace.

Quelle irony, that this should be my fifth post to the Euphoriac blog and it should be such a pathetic thing.

But the truth of the matter is that Spano is known to not post critical comments to her blog, so I wanted to get this comment on the record in a place where she can't sweep it under the rug and I can have some small proof that she has been called on her utter ignorance and lack of reportorial capacity.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

First entry in viJournal


Sunday, September 17

First entry in viJournal is just a test to see how it works. Downloaded and installed v1.7 into /Applications and wrote the author (Jeremy) an email asking about whether to install to /Applications or ~/Applications for best use on multiple machines by a single person but multiple accounts. Will see what happens as I save this (and how he replies).

A nice thing about this application (viJournal) is that it will automatically post to a weblog space on either LiveJournal or Blogger. So I'll test that too.

One curious coincidence... The programmer of this software is a writer in England, and also a techie. Just after sending the email to him I started on my next task - sorting through Science News posts - and looked at a book review by Ivars Peterson about Scarlett Thomas, a writer in England who has just written a book about crypto and therefore incorporating mathematics. Not much of a coincidence, but there it is.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

CPSLO takedown

I have taken down the details of the proposed reconstruction of OSX infrastructure as the client has apparently lost interest.

Monday, April 17, 2006

SPV-Nuc smackdown

Photovoltaic electrical power generation is not increased by filtering for multiple wavelengths so as to "yield many times the output current of the most sophisticated cells now available". If you look back to your solid state and semiconductor physics you'll remember that holes (electrons) in the n dopant are kicked loose by photons and attracted towards the p dopant causing current. But the energy required to kick loose the electron(s) is a quantum or multiple thereof.

Photons in the lower wavelengths simply don't have the energy (the photoelectric effect is what Einstein got his Nobel prize for), and most wavelengths in the upper bands are not the right frequency. The action requires a specific frequency or multiple thereof. Anything else doesn't qualify. So you can DQ anything below (about) yellow - which means yellow, orange, red and lower (near-IR and IR).

Wavelengths in the green, blue, violet and soft UV are next, and they do the job of sufficiently energizing electrons to allow them to migrate from n to p. Wavelengths shorter and harder than that, the mid- to hard- UV, are blocked by atmospheric absorption so don't even reach the cells. Thus your input is limited to the range of green to soft UV in the mid-500 nanometers to just shorter than 400 nm.

But keep in mind that the wavelengths have to be a multiple of the quantum required. Not just any old photon will do, there has to be a je ne sais quoi between the photon (doing the courting) and the electron (being receptive). If the photon doesn't have the juice then the electron isn't gonna dance.*

Solar photovoltaic cannot and never will approach the power densities that nuclear can produce. In fact it will never even get close. SPV produces a few electron-volts (eV) per event, or a few volts per unit, and nuclear produces a few MeV per event, with a much higher event density, and a few megawatts per plant.

Furthermore, the best efficiencies achieved by the most exotic solar photovoltaic semiconductors are on the order of <20%, and the affordable substrates are about 10% efficient. It would require tens (if not hundreds) of square miles of PV to produce the electrical power that comes out of a nuc reactor. That land then becomes essentially useless for anything else. And the production required to make the cells would be staggering (include the dopants, steel, etc.)

Yes, more energy density can be produced by solar concentrated into thermal driving steam turbines, but these are still only millionths of the capability of nuclear. And neither photovoltaic nor thermal are worth much in the high northern or southern latitudes.

Nuclear waste is a real problem, but it can be dealt with well engineered solution, e.g. Yucca Mountain. (Storing rods in onsite ponds is not a safe or long term solution, btw.)

Nuclear power can be engineered well to be reliable and safe. Many countries do it, and most do it well. Burning petroleum to push millions of people back and forth in single-user vehicles with hundreds of horsepower per person is so ridiculous that words cannot describe. That petroleum they throw away into the atmosphere is too valuable as raw material for production of plastics, or as fuel for vehicles that truly need portable fuel (ships, planes and trucks).

Increasing energy efficiency - especially in building materials and buildings - is a valuable and necessary step, but only part of the solution in that they reduce the demand for new energy manufacturing plants. Bringing new energy plants to society is just as necessary as population grows and energy needs expand.

The reality is that the world has large energy needs in both existing societies (Western world) and emerging markets (China, India). Burning petroleum will heavily increase atmospheric CO2 (and CO and methane) loading and will accelerate global climate change in a manner that is orders of magnitude more damaging and dangerous to the planet (both civilization and nature) than the problem of nuclear waste disposal.

To close, I am deeply aware that the battle lines of this argument are drawn, and that most people on the "green" side are comparable to religious zealots in their commitment to solar and against nuclear. It is unfortunate that they cannot be realistic about both the challenges and the solutions. As we see, there are some (Patrick Moore, Stewart Brand, James Lovelock) who can see the alternatives and make a decision based on realistic alternatives, but there is simply no arguing with those for whom sheer belief is the only illuminating factor.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Back in the saddle

Whoever it is that keeps banging on the password reset - it's been changed and this apparently abandoned blog is back in service. Thanks for your attention.