Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-09-08 22:34.
In my previous post, I noted that I had not done many night panoramas of Burning Man. I thought I should outline just why they are such a challenge.
To shoot at night, you need a time exposure, typically a second or more. You can capture lights and fires with far less, but if you want to capture the things illuminated by those lights and fires, you need a long exposure. Having both the light source and the illuminated subject in a shot is like shooting into the sun. There are a few things you can do to get away with a shorter exposure, but they don’t work well for this sort of work.
- You can bump the ISO on your camera. If you do that, you make the picture more noisy. This ruins it when you try the next technique…
- You can apply curves in photoshop to brighten the shadows but not brighten the highlights, which tend to be much brighter than the shadows, because they are the light sources themselves. But if you used high ISO, you will immediately highlight the noise. You can’t do both.
- You can be tricky about how you do your curves. I recommend first using colour range select to mask out the actual light sources and areas near them (highly feathered) and then do your curves so you are not brightening the area right next to the lights at all.
- You can use a fast lens, wide open. But if you do this, you will get a shallow depth of field, meaning that if the foreground is in focus, the background is blurry, or vice versa. Problem is, for panoramas, trying to capture a large sweeping area, shallow depth of field is not a good idea. My daytime panos are shot at f/8 or f/11.
So you’re stuck with a long exposure. Right away that’s going to cause a problem with moving things, notably people and vehicles. There is simply nothing you can do about this with a long exposure, unless you can command the world to stop.
- I like to shoot panoramas from up towers, to capture the whole city. But towers at Burning Man are rarely built super-stable. They are usually scaffolding. If other people get on them, they wobble. That ruins almost any length of exposure.
- Over the years, the only really stable platforms have been the man, when he was a pyramid, and the Black Rock Refinery of 2002. Other platforms would be stable if I could get them to myself, but that’s hard at Burning Man.
- A boomlift can be good if you get it to yourself. But nobody on the boomlift can even shift their weight while the shutter is open.
- In the dark, it’s easier to make mistakes, like leaving autofocus on. Or if you are doing manual focus, it’s much harder to do it. The autofocus often doesn’t work, and your eyes may not have something good to focus on either.
- If what you are shooting is lit by fire, then the lighting is going to change form one frame to the next!
Now it gets worse. Since a full panorama like I take uses 36 shots, to get a perfect pano, every single one of them must be good. And that’s not going to happen. So you tend to take each shot 2 or 3 times, and hope that one of them works out. Problem is, the longer you wait between moves of the camera, the more likely something in the scene is going to move between frames, causing a blending problem.
You can check on the camera screen if the shot came out, but that’s very time consuming and just makes the moving car problem even worse. I have wished for some time that cameras had a review mode that was “Show me a full 1:1 pixel zoom of the region of the photo with the highest contrast and sharpest edges.” If that region is blurry, you know your photo is blurry. If that region is not your subject, you know you had bad focus. A button to cycle through the sharpest edges in the photo would help confirm this.
Some Nikon cameras had a mode to do this automatically — take 3 photos, and save the one with the least blur. I wish that mode appeared on my cameras.
So all in all, it’s a wonder they work at all sometimes. This year I had high hopes, because one crew built an 11 floor tower out of giant steel I-beams. But it wobbled a great deal at the top with all the constant traffic. It didn’t wobble as much on lower floors, but sadly at night they put up a giant screen and projected rather uninteresting photos onto it. The combination of the screen, and the projector light shining right at you, made photos from the stable levels impossible.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-09-08 15:52.
Back from Burning Man and still dusty, here are five large panoramas to give you a sense of it.
This year was great fun as always, this time in our own small Esplanade camp, rather than with Camp I Am. The main downside this year was the horrible playa conditions — think dust, including drifts that made it very difficult to bicycle in most places, and even my new art car was difficult to ride in a number of places, especially deep playa. It also meant whiteout dust storms on Monday, Saturday (delaying the burn) and Sunday. Nothing too bad but certainly frightening for newbies.
I’ll post more observations later, but here are a few for now:
- An art car is great, and the car I inherited generated praise everywhere we went. Felt a little guilty taking it sometimes, but you can’t explain to everybody that you didn’t build it.
- Next time, I’ll bring 3 spare air filters, though I don’t think it will be this dusty again. A snorkel on the air intake might also help. Plus, I think I would like to convert to battery power for the lights, though that will be a major operation.
- With the big red ATM sign I bought, the ATM got a lot more traffic and we handed out almost all the playa money.
- The phone, as usual, worked poorly for the first few days because the network never seems to work out in the outer city for some time. But it got some pretty giant lines, and heartwarming stories. We need to make a logbook.
- The photo wall is getting too big. It documented 9 years this time (I removed 2001 since the photo is not that remarkable) and shrunk many others. I need to take a new approach, or get help building it, or both.
- The theme went off OK, if anything the response was too wussy. Lots of flags, and while there was protest art it was not at all edgy or shocking as one might have expected. Most people stayed away from the theme, by and large. Not a failure like the Green Man but not a grand success like the Floating World.
- Next year’s theme, Evolution, looks more promising.
- While there are lots of quiet spaces, I never seem to find them. I left Camp I Am in part because most of what was left of art there was going to involve loud music (live, and good quality, but still loud) and that’s not compatible with my phone. Instead we got Entheon (which promised no music dome) playing very loud music in their non-dome right behind us, and Bomb Squad’s mobile music platform stayed at home more nights than it left. Sigh.
In the panorama collection this year are two rather interesting ones. One is a shot of the temple burn. Because I am in the crowd, the view behind me shows the clear faces of the people watching. Solemn, still, some crying. It says a lot.
Another shot, my largest single panorama to date, is a shot of the whole city, up close, from the tower of Babel. The tower 11 stories tall, all-steel construction, in the deep playa. The highest viewpoint built to date. Even with the steel beams, it was not stable enough for a photo at night at the top, and they blocked the ability to take photos from lower levels with a screen.
Update: I’ve added one of the temple.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2008-08-21 19:14.
It’s amazing how much preparation is required for Burning Man. Or at least if you are crazy like me and plan to spend 11 days there, have 4 art projects, manage a new camp and still survive.
Unlike most trips you have to pack for, there is a paranoia about Burning Man packing that makes us overdo it. There are no stores, so if anything breaks or is missing, and you need it, you’re going to do without. If it’s so important that you must have it, it’s probably 5 hours of travel (if you can even move your vehicle) to Reno and back. Only basics are available in Gerlach. Sometimes you can find on-playa nice people who can help but there is no system for that, so you can’t depend on it. So you start taking a lot of stuff just in case. And as the deadline approaches you toss in stuff you don’t really need, just in case. Stuff you already packed and forgot.
Then after you inventory you realize you need to buy some things. Shopping for obscure things in the real world is very time consuming, but at this point online shopping isn’t available. If you can’t get it, you’re stuck, though since we started having internet, it’s been possible to get friends who are coming up later to help you. One year we helped a friend who find by Reno that she had left her tickets in San Francisco. With a rush of people helping, we got them to her in 5 hours.
Every year at this time we ask “is it worth it?” but by the end, we’re ready to do it all over again, and are making new plans.
This year I will be driving an art car. The car was built by two friends I met at Burning Man. Unfortunately, one of them lost a battle with cancer, and his wife is not ready to return, so I inherited the car. It’s pretty amazing, and gets comments everywhere it goes.
I will be at 3:45 and Esplanade, with the photo wall, American Dream Automated ATM Machine, Phone Booth and Art Car. Drop by if you’re there.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-08-18 21:22.
NBC has had just a touch of coverage of Michael Phelps and his 8 gold medals, which in breaking Mark Spitz’s 7 from 1972 has him declared the greatest Olympic athlete, or even athlete of all time. And there’s no doubt he’s one of the greatest swimmers of all time and this is an incredible accomplishment. Couch potato that I am, I can hardly criticise him.
(We are of course watching the Olympics in HDTV using MythTV, but fast-forwarding over the major bulk of it. Endless beach volleyball, commercials and boring events whiz by. I can’t imagine watching without such a box. I would probably spend more time, which they would like, but be less satisfied and see fewer of the events I wish to.)
Phelps got 8 Gold but 3 of them were relays. He certainly contributed to those relays, may well have made the difference for the U.S. team and allowed it to win a gold it would not have won without him. So it seems fair to add them, no?
No. The problem is you can’t win relay gold unless you are lucky enough to be a citizen of one of a few powerhouse swimming nations, in particular the USA and Australia, along with a few others. Almost no matter how brilliant you are, if you don’t compete for one of these countries, you have no chance at those medals. So only a subset of the world’s population even gets to compete for the chance to win 7 or 8 medals at the games. This applies to almost all team medals, be they relay or otherwise. Perhaps the truly determined can emigrate to a contending country. A pretty tall order.
Phelps one 5 individual golds, and that is also the record, though it is shared by 3 others. He has more golds than anybody, though other athletes have more total medals.
Of course, swimming is one of the special sports in which there are enough similar events that it is possible to attain a total like this. There are many sports that don’t even have 7 events a single person could compete in. (They may have more events but they will be divided by sex, or weight class.)
Shooting has potential for a star. It used to even be mixed (men and women) until they split it. It has 9 male events, and one could in theory be master of them all.
Track and Field has 47 events split over men and women. However, it is so specialized in how muscles are trained that nobody expects sprinters to compete in long events or vice versa. Often the best sprinter does well in Long Jump or Triple Jump, allowing the potential of a giant medal run for somebody able to go from 100m to 400m in range. In theory there are 8 individual events 400m or shorter.
And there are a few other places. But the point is that to do what Phelps (or Spitz) did, you have to be in a small subset of sports, and be from a small set of countries. There have been truly “cross sport” athletes at the Olympics but in today’s world of specialized training, it’s rare. If anybody managed to win multiple golds over different sports and beat this record, then the title of greatest Olympian would be very deserving. One place I could see some crossover is between high-diving and Trampoline. While a new event, Trampoline seems to be like doing 20 vaults or high dives in a row. And not that it wasn’t exciting to watch him race.
More Burning Man packing…
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-08-18 15:26.
Photographers constantly debate about jpeg. Should they shoot in RAW or JPEG, for example. RAW preserves everything, but is much harder and bulkier to work with, so you will see serious pro photographers, who you think would always vote for the “never throw away” logic of RAW, tell you they work mostly in JPEG. I’m one of them. I use raw only for shots with high dynamic range, like night photography, and often shoot RAW+JPEG to work with the JPEGs and pull the RAWs if you need it.
If you do work with JPEG, you still want to avoid editing with jpeg — loading, changing and recompressing. Most people go to TIFF at that point, or PNG, because for the few photos you will actually work on, the space issue is minor, and TIFF can be used in almost all software that uses JPEG.
There are a variety of tools that will do a lossless rotate of a JPEG. If you have a JPEG that was shot in portrait mode, they will rotate the picture and create a new jpeg without loss of information. That’s because JPEG compression breaks your photo up into little 8x8 blocks and loses data within those blocks. However, you can rotate those blocks at no loss in a picture which, like most, has dimensions that are multiples of 8.
Still, sometimes there is a temptation to do other edits on a file you have in jpeg, such as crops, touch-ups with the clone or healing tool and such. To assist that, a photo editor could support mostly-lossless jpeg editing. If, when saving a picture back, any particular 8x8 block of pixels has not changed since the original, write it back exactly as it was. For bonus points, handle rotating of such blocks, too. For other blocks, you must recompress, though you could arrange to always recompress at a quality level which will provide minimal loss.
Strictly, this would require crops to be on block boundaries. I think people might tolerate that. Alternately, one could do a special crop which creates an image with a small white or black border to allow the crop lines to be anywhere. If the user insists on cropping out those, the crop will no longer be lossless, and they should switch to tiff or png.
This requires a photo editor that is aware of the jpeg structure behind a photo, so it may not be trivial. But it would be handy.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2008-08-15 19:09.
Ok, this is something I have to believe somebody else has thought of, but I haven’t seen it, so I thought I would ask readers if they have, and if not, to put it forward.
Everybody has a socket wrench set. The wrench heads tend to come with a square hole in the top, typically 1/2” or 3/8” square, into which the square drive from the ratchet inserts. There are sometimes spring-locks to keep it in place.
However, when you have a nut that’s going on a long bolt, you can’t use a standard socket as the bolt won’t fit inside. So you need to get a “deep socket” head, which may be able to handle the long bolt. Yes, you shouldn’t have such long bolts, and perhaps should saw off the end, but in reality this happens in places where that’s not easy or worthwhile. You can’t have just a deep socket set, because that’s bigger and heavier to carry around, and may not fit in various confined spaces.
The problem is that the drive is a solid square pin inside the wrench head. If the drive were able to grasp the wrench head from the outside, like a standard nut, then you could have an “extender” which could make any of your sockets a deep socket. To do this, the top of the wrench head would not be round, as it typically is, but hexagonal. In fact, your “extender” could simply be another, larger wrench from the set which fits around this hex head. Or you could have a small number of extenders in various sizes, and in extreme cases, multiple extenders. The extenders might do well to also have spring locks like the current drives do, to hold elements in place for you.
One could also have a thin hex shell embedded in the socket, the way lockable lug-nuts do, but that would not be as strong. Of course, one could try to do a whole new type of driver which is hollow, but the existing drivers are so well standardized now (there are not even metric versions) that I doubt it would get much adoption.
While we’re on this topic, here’s another idea. Organizing socket wrenches in a case is a pain. They often fall out and it’s hard to put them all back in the right place. I’ve seen colour coded sockets (fairly good) and laser etched numbers that are easier to read, and cases that try to bind the wrenches so they won’t fall out as easily. Realizing that the outside does not have to be round, I wonder if we could have patterns at the nut-end of the wrench that make it easy to slot how they go into their case. Perhaps just a couple of bumps or notches, so that no wrench can go in the wrong slot, even a slot for the wrench that is just a bit bigger.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2008-08-12 16:27.
I’ve just returned from Denver and the World Science Fiction Convention (worldcon) where I spoke on issues such as privacy, DRM and creating new intelligent beings. However, I also attended a session on “hard” science fiction, and have some thoughts to relate from it.
Defining the sub-genres of SF, or any form of literature, is a constant topic for debate. No matter where you draw the lines, authors will work to bend them as well. Many people just give up and say “Science Fiction is what I point at when I say Science Fiction.”
Genres in the end are more about taste than anything else. They exist for readers to find fiction that is likely to match their tastes. Hard SF, broadly, is SF that takes extra care to follow the real rules of physics. It may include unknown science or technology but doesn’t include what those rules declare to be impossible. On the border of hard SF one also finds SF that does a few impossible things (most commonly faster-than-light starships) but otherwise sticks to the rules. As stories include more impossible and unlikely things, they travel down the path to fantasy, eventually arriving at a fully fantastic level where the world works in magical ways as the author found convenient.
Even in fantasy however, readers like to demand consistency. Once magical rules are set up, people like them to be followed.
In addition to Hard SF, softer SF and Fantasy, the “alternate history” genre has joined the pantheon, now often dubbed “speculative fiction.” All fiction deals with hypotheticals, but in speculative fiction, the “what if?” is asked about the world, not just the lives of some characters. This year, the Hugo award for best (ostensibly SF) novel of the year went to Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union which is a very clear alternate history story. In it, the USA decides to accept Jews that Hitler is expelling from Europe, and gives them a temporary homeland around Sitka, Alaska. During the book, the lease on the homeland is expiring, and there is no Israel. It’s a very fine book, but I didn’t vote for it because I want to promote actual SF, not alternate history, with the award.
However, in considering why fans like alternate history, I realized something else. In mainstream literature, the cliche is that the purpose of literature is to “explore the human condition.” SF tends to expand that, to explore both the human condition and the nature of the technology and societies we create, as well as the universe itself.
SF gets faulted by the mainstream literature community for exploring those latter topics at the expense of the more character oriented explorations that are the core of mainstream fiction. This is sometimes, but not always, a fair criticism.
Hard SF fans want their fiction to follow the rules of physics, which is to say, take place in what could be the real world. In a sense, that’s similar to the goal of mainstream fiction, even though normally hard SF and mainstream fiction are considered polar opposites in the genre spectrum. After all, mainstream fiction follows the rules of physics as well or better than the hardest SF. It follows them because the author isn’t trying to explore questions of science, technology and the universe, but it does follow them. Likewise, almost all alternate history also follows the laws of physics. It just tweaks some past event, not a past rule. As such it explores the “real world” as closely as SF does, and I suspect this is why it is considered a subgenre of fantasy and SF.
I admit to a taste for hard SF. Future hard SF is a form of futurism; an explanation of real possible futures for the world. It explores real issues. The best work in hard SF today comes (far too infrequently) from Vernor Vinge, including his recent hugo winning novel, Rainbows End. His most famous work, A Fire Upon the Deep, which I published in electronic form 15 years ago, is a curious beast. It includes one extremely unlikely element of setting — a galaxy where the rules of physics which govern the speed of computation vary with distance from the center of the galaxy. Some view that as fantastic, but its real purpose is to allow him to write about the very fascinating and important topic of computerized super-minds, who are so smart that they are as gods to us. Coining the term “applied theology” Vinge uses his setting to allow the superminds to exist in the same story as characters like us that we can relate to. Vinge feels that you can’t write an authentic story about superminds, and thus need to have human characters, and so uses this element some would view as fantastic. So I embrace this as hard SF, and for the purists, the novels suggest that the “zones” may be artificial.
The best hard SF thus explores the total human condition. Fantastic fiction can do this as well, but it must do it by allegory. In fantasy, we are not looking at the real world, but we usually are trying to say something about it. However, it is not always good to let the author pick and choose what’s real and what’s not about the world, since it is too easy to fall into the trap of speaking only about your made-up reality and not about the world.
Not that this is always bad. Exploring the “human condition” or reality is just one thing we ask of our fiction. We also always want a ripping good read. And that can occur in any genre.
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2008-08-02 14:35.
There’s a bit of an internet buzz this week around a video of a law lecture on why you should never, ever, ever, ever talk to the police. The video begins with the law professor and criminal defense attorney, who is a good speaker, making that case, and then a police detective, interesting but not quite as eloquent, agreeing with him and describing the various tricks the police use every day with people stupid enough to talk to them.
The case is very good. In our society of a zillion laws, you are always guilty of something, and he explains, even if you’re completely innocent, and you tell nothing but the truth, there are still a lot of ways you could end up in jail. Not that it happens every time, but the chance is high enough and the cost is so great that he advocates that you should never, ever talk to the police. (He doesn’t say this, but I presume he does not include when you are filing a complaint about a crime against you or are a witness in a crime against others, where the benefits may outweigh the risk.)
Now fortunately for the police, few people follow the advice. Lots of people talk to the police. Some 80% of cases, the detective declares, are won because of a confession by the suspect. Cops love it, and they will lie (and are permitted to lie) to make it happen if they can.
But since a rational person should never, ever, under any circumstances talk to the police, this prevents citizens from ever helping the police. And there are times when society, and law enforcement, would be better if citizens could help the police without fear.
What if there existed a means for the police to do a guaranteed off-the-record interview with a non-suspect? Instead of a Miranda warning, the police would inform you that:
“You are not a suspect, and nothing from this interview can be used against you in a court of law.”
First of all, could this work? I believe our laws of evidence are strong enough that actual quotes from the interview could not be used. To improve things, you could be allowed to record the interview, or the officer could record it but hand you the only copy, and swear it’s the only copy. It could be a digitally signed, authenticated copy, which can never be taken from you by warrant or subpoena, or used even if you lose it, perhaps until some years after your death.
However, clearly if the police learn something in the interview that makes them suspect you, they will try to find ways to “learn” that again through other, admissible means. And this could come back to bite you. While we could have a Fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine which would forbid this, it is much harder to get full rigour about such doctrines. Is this fear enough to make it still always be the best advice to never speak to the police? Is there a way we could make it self to assist the police?
I will note that if we had a safe means to assist the police, it would sometimes “backfire” in the eyes of the public. There would be times when interviewees would (foolishly, but still successfully) say “nyah, nyah, I did it and you can’t get me” and the public would be faced with the usual confusion over people who are let free even when we know they are guilty. And indeed there would be times when the police learn things in such interviews and could have then found evidence, but are prohibited from, that get the public up in arms because some rapist, kidnapper, murderer or even terrorist goes free.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2008-07-29 19:08.
There are a variety of tools out there to help recover stolen technological devices. They make the devices “phone home” to the security company, and if stolen, this can be used to find the laptop (based on IP traceroutes etc.) and get it back. Some of these tools work hard to hide on the machine, even claiming they will survive low level disk formats. Some reportedly get installed into the BIOS to survive a disk swap.
This has always been interesting to me, but it seems like something that could be used to track you against your will. I don’t know how all the different products work inside — they are deliberately obtuse about some parts of it — but here’s a design for one that you could perhaps trust with your privacy.
- When setting it up, you would create a passphrase. Write it down somewhere else, as you need it for recovery.
- Every so often, it will make a DNS request of a magic DNS server. In the request will be embedded a random number, and an encryption of the random number based on the passphrase.
- Without the passphrase, these requests mean nothing to the tracking company. They don’t know who made the request
- When your device is stolen, you give the tracking company your passphrase
- When a request comes in, the tracking company checks it using the passphrases of the devices that are currently reported stolen. If it matches, bingo.
- In a match, return a DNS answer that says, “You’re stolen. Do the stuff you should do.” That answer is of course also encrypted with the passphrase.
- At that point, the device can do complex traceroutes, take photos with its built in camera, record audio, you name it.
If there are a lot of stolen laptops in the database, the search could be sped up one of two ways:
- The random number isn’t random, it’s the date. The site can then pre-compute all the codes it is likely to get from stolen laptops that day. Changing the date on the computer won’t help, as that just means a little more CPU on that particular request.
- Include an 8 or 9 bit hash of the passphrase + date. That can reduce by a factor of 256 or 512 how many phrases you must try. This identifies you a bit but if the company has lots of customers you are fine.
Note that DNS requests tend to get through just about any firewall other than a firewall deliberately tuned to block sneaky DNS requests.
This system could be integrated into a BIOS or right into an ethernet card. However, since it is the high level OS that does DHCP etc. you need a bit of network layer cheating to do this right. I presume they already do that.
You can also run the DNS server yourself, if you are so inclined. It’s not that hard. But this system lets you trust a 3rd party as they learn nothing about you as long as they have lots of customers.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-07-21 11:35.
Last weekend I had a great trip to Wyoming, staying in Jackson for a bit and then into Yellowstone with a Cody side-trip.
As always, tons of photos and a new gallery of panoramic photos of the area. My last trip to Yellowstone featured poor weather and a very early (low quality) digital camera so I was pleased to photograph it again.
Check out my Gallery of Panoramas of Wyoming
One thing that was different: In the bookstores at both parks there were books on how to photograph the park. This was something quite new, and is an artifact of the great rebirth of photography that digital cameras have brought. Often when I enter an area I will ask the locals for the good photographic spots. These books answered those questions, and did more — told me when to visit the spots, or where to go at certain times of day. For example, the book told me I would get a rainbow at 9 am on upper Yellowstone falls from Uncle Tom point, and indeed I did. (It must be timed for summer.)
Everybody shoots Old Faithful — here’s the crowd around it at sunset:
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2008-07-17 17:36.
Last weekend I attended a small gathering in the Grand Tetons where Boone Pickens came to promote his new energy plan. The billionaire oilman is spending $56M of his own money per year on ads for this plan, and you will see them if you watch ads. Otherwise they are at his Pickens Plan web site.
Pickens’ thesis is that the most ruinous thing in energy is the 700 billion dollars per year the USA spends importing oil, a number destined to go up to a trillion. He thinks the price will continue to rise, simply because demand now exceeds supply, and that supply can’t be radically increased — ie. he believes in the Peak Oil thesis. He doesn’t seem to mind burning the fuel so much as importing it, which is giving trillions to other nations at U.S. expense. He is happy to support any domestic oil production, such as offshore, as good because it reduces the import numbers, but doesn’t think these are long term solutions.
His main goal is to get cars off of oil and onto domestic energy. He thinks the best way to do that is with LNG (liquid natural gas) or compressed natural gass cars. He says they have been far cheaper than gasoline for some time — half the cost — but that this was not enough to make people care enough to switch. Any new fuel has a chicken and egg problem when it comes to fueling infrastructure, something that Robocars solve, by the way.
To do that, he needs to take natural gas from the power grid. NG produces 20% of U.S. electricity. So he is promoting wind and solar. The wind in a high-wind corridor that runs up the center of the country, the solar in the sun-belt (the southwest and California.)
It’s an interesting plan, and he points out that whatever flaws you may find in it, at least it is a plan, something that’s been lacking for some time.
That said, some notes:
- Getting power from the wind belt is not easy. In spite of what you may think, there is no national power grid, and certainly no infrastructure to power the coasts from the middle. This would have to be built, and would be very expensive. Pickens admits this. New technology of high voltage DC transmission could help.
- I’m not sure that adding wind power would free up NG for cars. I think we would just use more electricity if you increase the supply. That’s what we do.
- Indeed, from a pollution standpoint, we would be far better to shut down coal plants when the wind/solar comes online, but we won’t, because it’s cheap. Only moving cars to NG (or electric or other domestic energy source) reduces oil imports.
- Pickens is buying a pretty old-school marketing campaign with his spare millions. We all thought he could have done it for far less with clever use of the internet and a more modest TV budget.
- The 700 million isn’t all bad, of course. The largest source of imported oil is Canada. Saudis are #2 and Mexico is #3. Venezuela is #4, though it recently switched from from a friendly ally to an unfriendly.
Still, it’s good that Pickens will get people talking about this. NG for cars is already a reasonably popular fleet fuel. New extraction technologies have opened up a lot of new sources of NG of late. Of course, burning NG still emits CO2, though not much else, once refined to more pure methane, it’s the cleanest fossil fuel.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2008-06-25 20:18.
On short notice, we’ll be having a pre-Canada Day “BYOF” (Bring your own Fireworks) party at our Pacifica place on Sunday, June 29.
Because Pacifica has so much fog to keep it moist, they allow “Safe and Sane” fireworks at private homes, and on the beach. On July 4, many hundreds will crowd the beaches, and it’s quite a sight, but we’re going to cheat and hold it on Sunday, 2 days before Canada Day (July 1.)
We’ll gather and socialize starting about 2:30pm, order in some Pizza or Chinese and other snacks around 6:30, watch the sun set over the ocean at 8:30 and set off the fireworks sometime after 9 pm.
Ok, I’ll admit it. “Safe and Sane” fireworks are sometimes a bit underwhelming. They don’t look like the picture. But it can still be fun. On the 4th, people try to set off bigger fireworks, and they run away and the police try to get them. Cops even set up a holding pen on the beach. We won’t get that, though.
About a BYOF: Key to a good BYOF is not having too many of those “combo boxes” which have a lot of little fireworks. There are only so many different ones and you end up with a lot of repeats. We don’t ask folks to spend much money, but it’s better to spend it all on one firework (or something that’s fun when repeating like sparklers) than on a combo.
There are fireworks vendors all over Pacifica, including 2 that have set up just a short walk from the house, near Manor and Highway 1.
If the crowd is small, we’ll set off at the house. If larger, we’ll do and expedition to the beach, which may involve carpools. (There is a walkable beach, but the cops want people to go to Rockway and Linda Mar, at least on July 4.)
Weather: Pleasant. The fog is just burning off now at 2:30! This webcam will show you.
Also, after about 3:30pm try the partycam which is also capturing a time-lapse movie of the day.
Traffic: Do note that due to the Gay Pride parade in the morning, there will be extra traffic in downtown SF and heavier use of transit.
The party is at 231 Manor Dr. (& Perry), in Pacifica CA. Here are maps and directions. Street Parking is plentiful.
Note: This is a vacant home recently renovated by Kathryn’s mom for eventual sale. Treat it nice please! Not much furniture, which is good for a party.
Check this page before the party for any updates. Dress Canadian (ie. a cold day at the beach.) If we go to the beach, I’ll update here, and can you call my cell (408 313 BRAD) after 8:30 for details if you are not on the web.
If you would like in on dinner food, RSVP is appreciated. It may be BYOF, but I will provide snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. You can BYOB for Alcohol.
You can RSVP in one of the following ways, but please pick only one:
- On Facebook, if you are a member at this event page
- Via E-mail to party at mail.4brad.com
- In the comments here, if you like
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 15:01.
This special chapter in my series of essays on Robocars describes a fictional week in the Robocar world, with many created examples of how people might use Robocars and how their lives might change.
If you haven’t been following my essay on Robocars, this may be a good alternate entry to it. In a succinct way, it plays out many of the technologies I think are possible, more about the what than the how and why.
A Week of Robocar Stories
This ends this week-long series of postings on the Robocar essays. Though I have some new sidebars
already written which I will introduce later. I realize this set of essays has been more longer than one typically sees in the short-attention-span blogosphere, but I think these ideas are among the more important and world-changing I’ve covered. I hope I’ll see more comments from the readers as you get more deeply into it.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:57.
You may have seen in earlier blog posts my discussion of the energy efficiency of U.S. transit. I started that investigation because as I learned how inefficient most transit systems are (due to light loads outside of rush hour,) I realized that ultralight electric cars, enabled by Robocars, are more efficient than any transit system. Who would take transit if a fast, comfortable, efficient vehicle will take you directly from A to B? This drives chapter eight, about:
The end of urban mass transit
(This one gets the people who think they love transit, rather than loving efficient transportation, in a tizzy.)
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:53.
For part seven of my series on Robocars, I now consider the adjunct technology I am calling Deliverbots — namely robot driven trucks and delivery vehicles, with no people inside. These turn out to have special consequences of their own. Read:
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:50.
For part six of my series on Robocars, consider:
When can robocars happen?
I discuss what predictions we can make about how long the Robocar future will take. While there are many technological challenges, the biggest barriers may be political, and even harder to predict.
We don’t seem to have the Jetson’s flying cars yet. What goes wrong with these predictions, and can we figure it out?
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:47.
For part five of my series on Robocars, it’s time to understand how this is not simply a utopian future. Consider now:
The Downsides of Robocars
Every good technology has unintended consequences and downsides. Here I outline a few, but there will be more than nobody sees today. I still judge the immense upsides to be worth it, but you can judge yourself.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:45.
Robocars will suggest a great number of possible changes in the way we design and market cars. I now encourage you to read:
Automobile design changes due to Robocars
The big green benefit of robocars comes in large part from the freedom they offer in redesigning the automobile, in particular the ability to specialize automobiles to specific tasks, because they can be so readily hired on demand. Or to specific fuels in certain areas, or for sleeping, and much more.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:42.
For part three of my series of Robocars, now consider:
Roadblocks on the way to Robocars
A lot of obstacles must be overcome before Robocars can become reality. Some we can see solutions for, others are as yet unsolved. It’s not going to be easy, which is why I believe an Apollo style dedication is necessary.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2008-06-23 14:39.
In part two of my series on Robocars, let me introduce:
The Roadmap to Robocars
Here I outline a series of steps along the way to the full robocar world. We won’t switch all at once, and many more limited technologies can be marketed before the day when most cars on the road are computer driven. Here are some ideas of what those steps could be — or already are.