Saturday, February 21, 2009

Selling the car and living without it.

This post was also made on the CalendarBudget forums (CalendarBudget is an online google-like calendar that lets you enter all your expenses and incomes into a nice graphical interface that will visually help you plan for your budget and future! Don't forget to enter that you were refered by please!)

If, like me, you have a car that you are not using to go to work (I take the Train and subway in the morning) but rather only take it for groceries and family visits and such, then I might have an idea for you.

My car is a Ford Focus 2002, and because I had a bad credit when I rented it (16.25% interest on 4 years!) and I'm a "new" driver, my total costs just for the car and insurance is $330.00. Add to that the gas (around $80 a month) and various/varying maintenance costs, I guesstimate my total monthly cost of this car is just about $500.

That is, obviously, a lot of money to be throwing away on something I only use on the weekends, and I've been looking to sell the car at a price just high enough to cover the rest of the car loan and be done with it. But what would we now use for groceries and trips?

Quite simply, rental services like Budget and Enterprise offer vehicles that can cost around $50 for a 24-hour period with unlimited mileage. Enough for larger groceries, shopping, visiting parents, etc. Even with the cost of filling up the gas tank, a lot of money is to be saved. On alternate weekends, either smaller groceries or having things delivered (at what, $5?) makes this a very good way of saving money.

If you live in an area that does offer "proper" public transit systems that can take you to work in less than an hour (train is even better, just sit down, read a book or watch a movie on a DVD player or laptop... that's the life!) then this is definitely something to consider to be cutting costs!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Forcing the "minorities" - why?

I've been throwing around some thoughts in my head lately about how people view racism and minorities in the world, and I finally found some example that I could base myself on and stem from to give a better picture of my thoughts (it doesn't always come out right).

The basis of the thought is that Racism isn't about giving priorities TO the minorities anymore than it is about denying it to them. If you want to indicate to the people around you that you're against racism, you don't need to go out of your way to show it - all you need to do, in essence, is to just ignore the skin color, language (to a certain extent) and religion of others around you, and that's enough.

Things that really bother me is when it seems that we, as a society, are obligated to force minorities into our groups in order to be socially acceptable. A blatant example is reality shows and talent shows (canadian idol for example), who always seem to have what I call the minority "tokens". Each year, you'll notice that there is at least one "token black" and most likely one "token asian" that will be selected by the jury to be part of the "winners". I'm not saying that these people don't have talents because that would be a lie. What I'm saying is that if we were to completely ignore the fact that these individuals are black or asian to start with, maybe they wouldn't have been part of the selection and someone else would have been. Or maybe there would be 3 or 4 black individuals in the selection for all we know - but it's almost always only 1, no more, no less. That has got to be by design.

Another example is when the management of any company "notices" that the visible minorities are underrepresented when compared to the national average in their organisation. Management generally calls these "shortfalls", as if they had failed to meet their quotas of "token minorities" and something has to be done about it to become socially accepted. Again this isn't saying that we should not have black people as employees, far from that. The thing is, it just shouldn't be counted at all, one way or another. If anyone, regardless of their origins, qualifies for any position then by all means give them that position. If they don't qualify, then they just don't. If your management feels the need to sort their candidates by "normal" and "visible minorities" because they absolutely want to hire at least one of each of the minorities to get their tokens... That becomes a social problem just as much as sorting them to get rid of them.

The problem doesn't only apply to visible minorities either - this can be said as much vehemently about women in social groups and workplaces, where large companies get criticized for the lack of women in mid and higher management groups. Yes, some of them are all about the big boys not wanting any women in their ranks, but that's only a minority of them. It is my opinion that in most of these cases, it's just because the women in those companies just don't have the necessary qualifications (though they would most likely deny it).

I hope this post eventually shocks someone enough for them to reconsider using affirmative action and racial quotas in their hiring (or acceptance) policies, because that was my goal.

Not that anyone reads this, anyway.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ways of producing electricity

If you're a physicist, I suggest you turn back right now. I'm not, and I don't have much more knowledge than the masses about thermodynamics and physics in general, so this won't sound very interesting to you. As always I'm using my blog as a random thought generator and I decided that after my little post about new technologies, I'd continue in that general area and talk about ways of generating electricity (or "energy").

Up to very recently, I had always thought that there were really only 2 ways of creating electricity: Turning a dynamo, and solar power. You might start to say "wait, there's nuclear, wind power, hydroelectricity"... But all of those - all that are in use today outside laboratories at least, are all just the same: you use some sort of naturally-occurring force to turn a turbine which gives you electricity - it's all about kinetic energy (except solar, obviously).

I remember when I was younger, I thought that nuclear energy was harvested by turning the actual radiation directly into energy through some method I didn't understand. When I learned that it consisted of creating heat, boiling water, and using the steam to turn a turbine, I was crushed and realized how stupidly primitive our energy creation methods really are - imagine, using the awesome power of nuclear reaction - radioactive waste and all - just to heat up water! Later, I kept hoping that someone, somewhere would come up with the real solution, of harvesting the actual reaction into energy directly.

Today, it seems that my earlier thoughts and later hopes are finally turning into reality. This is precisely what prompted this post. So I will outline here the truly different methods I have found of generating electricity.

This is all about spinning a "dynamo" to convert mechanical energy (generally rotation) into electricity by use of magnets (this is where I say "I told you so". The specifics are too complex for me to me). This encompasses more than you think. Hydroelectricity uses water pressure to spin its turbines, wind power does the same with, well, wind. Nuclear energy is used to boil water into steam which, again, turns a turbine. Some fossil-fuel power plants do the same (boil water) while others burn the fuel in generators like your car engine. Even hydrogen fuel cells are the same, burning hydrogen and oxygen and producing water (cleaner, but still the same). Finally, bioreactors use energy stores in biomass (human and animal waste, plants) to create methanol that, you guessed it, is burned to turn an electrical motor.

Solar Energy
This is the first energy alternative to "turning a rod" that has been in use in larger scale. Solar power relies on the sun's radiation to "excite" electrons in the panels which become energy (again, layman's terms). Solar power is free, renewable, but not very efficient (around 10% efficiency, they say, though 10% of what I have no idea) and very dependent on weather conditions.

Thermal Energy
The first time I ever heard about this was when visiting a home depot, as odd as that might sound. I was watching a display for a slow combustion wood stove and on top of it was a small piece of metal with a fan attached to it, with two wires going from the fan motor to metal parts underneath - with no other electronics visible. A clerk told me that it "simply" used the heat from the stove to turn the fan, needing no battery or other energy source... It didn't sink in at the time (took several day of sub-conscious though to realize) that this was another source of electricity. A bit of research shows me that it's called (obviously) thermoelectricity and is created through thermogenerators. Oddly enough, this seems to be only slightly less effective than solar power (5-10%) and I'm surprised we don't hear about it very often. After seeing that fan on the stove I started to imagine all sorts of uses for it, from the heat generated by house roofs to something bigger - using earth's own magma heat to produce massive energy. It looks like we're not there yet, though I hope research is coming along that will soon give us something viable.

Radioisotope thermoelectric generator
Ah, finally, the shining moment of this post. A relatively recent New Scientist article (march 2008) says that it's now possible to use nanomaterials to turn radioactivity directly into electricity. Though according to them (and wikipedia) this has been used in the past, mostly for space probes and satellites. This is my dream come true. As far as I can understand it, you basically place radioactive material inside a capsule of nanomaterial, plug in the wires, and bingo, you have a battery that will last just as long as the radiation does!

Do you know of any other meants of electrical generation i've missed? Please comment on it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

People who mix religion with technology...

I know I just posted (actually I wrote that other post yesterday and just re-edited it before posting today) but I just had to point this out specifically. Googling "future technologies" gave me this as a second result (I think):

These guys call themselves the "Future Technology Company" or "Future Technology Group", whatever however they want to put it. Take a look at the link - that page is full of religious references like "The First Sacred Ray: The God Will" and "Discover the secret of the seven vowels"... But they mix that in with "How Google uses electronic books" and "Download GWBasic for Windows" and say how their company is behind "ProveIT" which helped clear the Y2K bug!

I mean, for frak's sake, if you're going to sound like you're providing information about technology and software, and you're religion, do you really think posting things like "You see, this Universe, as well as all of Creation ..." and "You all long to live in a world of Love and Light .." will give you any credibility?

Do it on your own time, start a religious-loving-freak blog with tips on how to connect to non-existing and fictional gods, but keep it off your goddamned (ooh, pun) techno-oriented website!

I mean, come ON!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Technologies that make me weep for joy!

I thought about doing a little post about a few "new" technologies that make me weep for joy when I think about how they can impact our lives, and hoping they will be available to us in the next 5-10 years. Actually, some are already in existence but either aren't marketed or still in "beta".

Nokia Morph
This first one is all about nanotechnology and according to some googling, some of those nanotechs are a reality - it's just putting them together that would be the challenge. Solar recharging, shape morphing, particle analyzing and such, some are already in the works and other are out there!

Wiimote Coolness

Johnny Lee has awesome concepts about how to use a simple Wiimote and some IR LEDs. Cheap whiteboards, multitouch in-the-air interaction, and most interestingly - headtracking. Add on to that some 3D polarized glasses and you get something akin to true holographic technology - and it's available today (if only companies with money actually caught on to that power....)!

The Perfect Car:
Another thing I've been dreaming about is creating the perfect electric car. It might not be much to say, but current actual technologies are way farther than what we might be told by the mainstream (see this post). In that spirit, I've collected some nice cool things to put in an electric car so that it would be accessible and just so cool everyone would want one.
  1. Batteries: A company in Texas, EEStor (wikipedia), is currently developing some awesome batteries that would be used by Zenn Motors for a new line of vehicles, but we hope will soon be available for others to use. 4-6 minutes charge time for 400km range at a top speed of 130kmh? Anyday now!
  2. Suspension: This one has had a prototype for years but comes from an unusual source: Bose (yes, the speaker maker) has created the Bose Active Suspension (aka Electromagnetic suspension). The link being that electromagnets are used both in speakers and their system, but whatever. The videos say it all, it's the coolest suspension ever, and requires less power than air conditioning. Not too shabby!
  3. Regenerative breaking: Everytime you break, your battery can recharge, giving you even more range as well as discarding the use of break pads. Yes, that means it's less expensive in the long run. Wikipedia Article.
  4. InWheel Electric Motors: Having one engine for all 2 or 4 wheels is so passé in my book. Give me individual power for each wheel (with integrated regenerative breaking in most concepts) and you've got a winner.
  5. That's it for ground-breaking technologies, but add to that things like climate zones, ajustable seats, cruise control, DVD player in the back and other comforts... and you'll start seeing what I would love to build. If I were anything like an entrepreneur, I would definately try to get these technologies together myself into "the best electric car ever", but I don't have that type of charisma :P
Cyborg Suit:
Japanese guys have an active imagination, but when they pull something from that imagination and put it in real life, they can be a force to be reckoned with - especially if they can lift 10 times their weight! It's interesting to note that the name of the suit is "HAL" (they didn't tack on the "2000" thankfully) and the company making it is Cyberdyne (yes, they had Terminator in Japan).

The Dishmaker:
You still have to wash them, but... How about having all your dishes created when you need them, and no longer needing to stack dozens of plates, bowls, semi-bowls and all variations in your cupboard? The dishmaker creates all of that using memory-shape acrylic, so you can create your dish, use it, clean it, and then restore it to its flat shape to store within the device. Future prototypes will probably be faster, smaller, and be able to make other useful things like glasses.

That's all for now. I may have more later on as I google around this stuff.