Friday, February 29, 2008

Peace, Love and Nuclear Power

This week I heard for the first time about another proposed approach for fusion power called Dense Plasma Focus. Its unorthodox proponent is Dr. Eric Lerner, long time leftist and cosmological contrarian. He is best known among physicists for his 1991 book The Big Bang Never Happened. Suffice it to say he's not a creationist, however!

Lerner was invited to describe his concept at a Google Tech Talk last fall. This was the same venue that previously hosted Dr. Robert Bussard, whose talk described another approach to fusion power called inertial electrostatic confinement.

The major powers (Europe, Japan, the U.S. and other partners) are sinking billions and billions of dollars into the ITER project to achieve break-even fusion power generation using a tokamak reactor. In contrast, alternatives have a tough time getting any funding at all. It seems to me that whatever the prevailing opinion among physicists about Lerner and Bussard's chances for success, we could afford to siphon off a few million just to see if the long shot bets will pay off. There's no question in my mind that the Real Answer to our energy woes and to global warming is nuclear power, particularly fusion.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Alf's Toothbrush

Why do toothbrushes these days look like they're from outer space? And why do they change the styles every five minutes? If you find a toothbrush you like, I guarantee you will never see one like it again at the store. What you will find instead is the strangest collection of oddly shaped brushes imaginable. And just like the old joke about G.I. uniforms, they only come in "too sizes". There's too large and too small, of course. But don't forget too long, too thin, too fat, too flimsy, too heavy and too garish. My current toothbrush has these strange green rubber bristles around the exterior and feels like you are brushing your teeth with rubber bands. Enough! All I want is a nice, boring toothbrush that works.

I guess this stuff sells toothbrushes or they wouldn't bother. Right now somebody, somewhere is picking out a toothbrush based on how many different colored bristles it has. I guess.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Geek Offroading

Did you see this video? Carnegie Mellon is developing autonomous vehicles for the military. It's called the Crusher. There's no human on board. This thing drives itself and can climb four foot walls. You can see more videos on CMU's web site.

Gotta love DARPA. They have all the cool toys, don't they?

Monday, February 25, 2008

World's slowest rocket truck

I don't think they were wearing their seat belts...

Honda Customer Service

I just have to give a quick, public "thank you" to the folks at American Honda's customer service organization (1-800-999-1009). Our '99 Odyssey van needs a new transmission and Honda is picking up 100% of the parts and labor cost, even though the van has a wee bit over 100,000 miles and is about a year past even the extended warranty period. We own two Hondas and we have faithfully taken them to the dealer for all the maintenance and repair work for years. They say they want to take care of their loyal customers and they are putting their money where their mouth is. Even better, just a few months ago they picked up about 70% of the cost of a new catalytic converter for the same vehicle. The converter is only warrantied for 80,000 miles so we were 17,000 miles over the limit!

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Classical Sax

Yesterday the incredible saxophonist Otis Murphy was at University of Houston's Moore School of Music teaching a master class. My lovely wife had the opportunity to hear his solo recital. She was invited by a friend of hers who teaches saxophone there.

I always think of jazz when I think of the saxophone, but there is a classical side of the instrument, and Otis Murphy is an absolute master. We bought the CD. No question. You can listen to a preview here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fiddlin' Bill Hensley

Now we're being told to Google ourselves as a security measure -- to see what might be on the Internet about us. Come on, guys, admit it! We've all done it just out of curiosity or vanity.

The first time I Googled myself was a real challenge because it was about ten years ago and Google didn't even exist. There were only a handful of hits. Some grad student in Kansas who was a tornado chaser, just like in the movie Twister. A doctor in Australia. A local politician in Florida somewhere.

Not long ago I tried again and I have found my connection with greatness! Fiddlin' Bill Hensley of Tennessee. Must be a family connection somewhere. My great grandfather came out of Tennessee and staked a claim in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Bill was a pretty tough character. When he was 75 he killed a man in a drunken gun battle and was sent to prison for murder. But boy could he play that fiddle. You can listen to a little bit of his music here.

Latest stealth technology

This cracked me up:

The Lighter Side of Geekness

I finally took the plunge into the blogosphere about a year ago when I created Believer's Brain to record my deepest thoughts, such as they are. I have a very narrow concept of what is appropriate there: focused commentary on the intersection of belief and culture, with pieces about 800 words long.

It's time to have more fun. Serious pieces of longer length will continue to appear on Believer's Brain when the muse strikes. But I've been wanting to have a place to share my other interests, as well as the little tidbits we all come across online that we'd like to pass on to our friends. So here it is: Geekspiel.