Archive for November, 2010

I received this press release and wanted to share it since we’ve reviewed their products in the past. Mike

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We’re Southern Stars – formerly the mobile products division of Carina Software. As a Carina customer, you’re receiving this notice regarding our mobile astronomy products and plans for the holiday season.

SkySafari is a universal app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

SkyVoyager is now SkySafari

Our award-winning SkyVoyager iPhone app has been renamed – SkySafari 2.0 is only a month old, and it’s our highest-rated version ever! SkySafari adds a gorgeous new Milky Way display, fast OpenGL graphics, support for new telescope types, and a host of new features that you’ve requested. For more information, click here.

SkySafari 2.0 is a free update for owners of SkyVoyager. If you’re not yet a SkySafari owner, or have a friend or child with a budding interest in the night sky, there isn’t an easier – or more affordable – way to get started in astronomy. SkySafari puts 2.5 million stars, hundreds of astronomical images, and an astronomy field guide written by experts, into your pocket for the price of a pizza – or a cup of coffee:

SkySafari Lite Intro version $2.99
SkySafari Pro version with telescope control $14.99
SkySafari Expansion Pack Adds 2.5 million stars to SkySafari $2.99 (regularly $4.99)

All prices are in US dollars. From now until the end of 2010, the SkySafari Expansion Pack is on sale at 40% off! Click here to purchase from the iTunes Store. And while you’re there, check out…

S&T SkyWeek

Sky and Telescope magazine chose Southern Stars, and SkySafari’s engine, to power its SkyWeek app! Check out S&T SkyWeek on the iTunes Store. It’s an interactive, mobile version of S&T’s weekly “Sky at a Glance” column, and the simplest way to stay informed about the changing events in the night sky.

SkyWire is an Apple-approved accessory.
Requires iOS 4 or later.

SkySafari, meet SkyWire!

SkyWire, our brand-new “Made for iPod” accessory, works with SkySafari to turn your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch into a 21st-century telescope controller. It’s the simplest and most affordable telescope control solution available for any Apple mobile device! Plug one end into your iPhone, and the other into your telescope controller’s serial port. Voila! You’re ready to drive your telescope anywhere in the night sky.

SkyWire requires zero configuration, and unlike other “iPhone serial cables” advertised on the internet, you don’t have to jailbreak your device to use it. SkyWire ships in mid-December, 2010. You can reserve one today at special pre-release pricing of $79 (USD), along with free shipping or a free telescope serial cable. Click here to do so.

In fact, Southern Stars offers two different telescope control solutions for your iPhone, iPad, or Pod Touch! SkyFi, our award-winning wireless telescope controller, is still available, but selling out quickly. To order, click here.

The Moon gets its holiday colors four days before Christmas this year.

Enjoy December’s Night Sky

As the holidays approach, keep your eye on the crisp, clear winter skies. This is a great time to catch the fading Andromeda Galaxy, the sparkling Pleiades, or the wispy Orion Nebula.

And mark your viewing calendar for the night of December 20th – 21st. This year’s winter solstice features a total lunar eclipse – a holiday spectacle ideally timed for hundreds of millions of viewers across North America. A “christmas eclipse” this good won’t happen again for many years – don’t miss it!

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

This post is my response to some of the supposed experts that claim scientists are wrong about global warming. I lack the credentials to speak with authority on global warming, however I trust experts from the scientific community more than ignorant politicians or political movements or big coal/oil.

The past 4 years I’ve heard a lot of things about global warming that surprise and concern me. Being skeptical is fine, but changing or ignoring information that disproves a position is wrong. This is an informal top ten list of reasons I heard or read by people who claim “Scientists use falsified or modified data about global warming, because scientists…”

  1. just want to continue to get research grants.
  2. lack the ability to interpret data as well as regular people.
  3. don’t really believe in G-d because he wouldn’t let us wreck our planet.
  4. really only have temperature data since the 1950s, and tree and ice cores don’t mean anything, so how would they know?
  5. at “my” church don’t believe it, so those other scientists are wrong!
  6. want to look important and attract members of the opposite (or same) sex.
  7. are out to get big coal/oil. Anti-business, plain and simple. Drill baby drill.
  8. actually believe in evolution and refuse to accept the earth is less than 10,000 yrs old. Carbon dating is just wrong!
  9. really faked the moon landings.
  10. are tools of them liberal democrats!

Based on my own experiences with them, this is my top ten list to respond to the list above: “Scientists…”

  1. are ethical people and well aware their papers are subject to peer review. Credibility is everything to a scientist, and not many would continue to get grants if most or all of their peers continually reject and refute their findings.
  2. are better equipped (and more knowledgeable) to interpret scientific data than people lacking a scientific background. Please, child!
  3. have and lack religious beliefs, just like other professions. I believe there have been things like the black death plague in the middle ages, the holocaust in the 1940s, the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons for the 50s to today – G-D did not prevent them. Being a scientist does not mean one must deny the existence of G-d.
  4. use tree cores and ice cores that date back hundreds and thousands of years to track and interpret weather data.
  5. are not proven wrong because one or two people with a similar background disagree with the entire scientific community. I’ve known people who claimed to be Christians that were horrible and mean-spirited – I do not interpret that to mean all Christians are bad (or wrong) because of the behavior of a few of them. I’ve also met a number of nice people who were Hindus and Muslims – that does not mean there are no bad Hindus or Muslims.
  6. are not attention-seekers. They seek verifiable answers to questions, not pick-up lines to use at a local bar.
  7. understand the need our society has for power systems. I’m not saying some members of the scientific community dislike big oil/coal. I’m saying the position of a few does not dictate the position of every one of that profession. And I believe that many people living on the Gulf coast do not agree with the political byline of “Drill Baby Drill.”
  8. believe in evolution, a 4.54 billion year old earth, and G-D. And yes, carbon (and potassium/argon) dating is quite accurate. I agree with those positions. There is not an inherent incompatibility of scientists and religious beliefs. I’ve met some scientists that had strong religious beliefs as well as scientists that were atheists – the job does not dictate religious affiliation or the lack of.
  9. believe America had the technology and desire to send astronauts to the moon in the 60s and 70s. I agree. Those men were brave to undertake such a dangerous flight, and it is an insult to them and their families for people to deny their accomplishments.
  10. are democrats, republicans, independents, and none of the above. Just as with other professions, some scientists have liberal-leaning while others are politically conservative. Political orientation should not be used to change science or history.

There are a few more posts on this site about global warming doubters – if that subject interests you then check out this post.

The list of global warming doubters has dropped over the past 5 years, but there are still some that want to voice their opinions that they know better than people with the education and credentials to discuss the topic.

I apologize if I offended anyone, because that is not my intention or desire. I get tired of hearing or reading opinions of people who fear conspiracies “they alone are smart enough to recognize.

In an open society, people are free to have their opinions, but that does not mean spreading false material because the truth conflicts with a political agenda or religious beliefs. An open society does not mean people are free to attempt to intimidate or insult others that disagree with cherished/uninformed notions or religious beliefs.

And finally, the tactic of not stating your position and trying to use half-truths and internet innuendo to undermine the opinion of another person is not the act of a smart, kind, wise person. It is the act of someone who realizes their own position is undefendable. It is the act of someone that fails to see that their approach alienates and does not convince another of the validity of their opinion. When one desires that they or their opinions be shown respect, they better be willing to show the same respect to people that do not agree with them. Respect is a two-way street.

To sum it up. Free speech and open discourse – good. Distorting data, lying about data, or stifling inconvenient truths – bad.

Just my 2 bits.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Astronomy Buffs might want to check out the Galaxy Zoo site to lend an amateur hand to astronomy research. The concept of this site is similar to other Internet-based corroborative research projects, many people work together to analyse information. In this case the information concerns astronomy.

Galaxy Zoo is a part of the Zooniverse Project which is an organization that used the time and eyes of volunteers to analyze information that a computer cannot deal with.  There are a number of projects currently going on in the Zooniverse. In the Galaxy Zoo project one answers questions about an image of a galaxy they are shown. In the Moon Zoom project, one answers questions about moon surface images. The newest project is one called “Old Weather” where you help classify information about weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I.

The human mind, believe it or not, still surpasses the computer’s abilities when it comes to analyzing images. You can look at an image and say it has this or that feature, even though the image itself doesn’t fit any of the classical standard shapes. I guess the best example of this is security words used on some web sites.  They present a word or set of numbers rendered in a weird blobby way. Few computers are capable of deciphering what the letters are, but a real human would see it in an instance. So this site takes advantage of our amazing cognitive abilities, by showing the images to several “organic” computers and letting them provide information, and then organizing the answers so that research scientists can makes use of the data. Pretty neat!

The information asked for is pretty basic. You aren’t expected to have any background on the subject. You are simply asked to look at an image, and answer some basic questions about it or make some comparisons. What is so cool about this is that the Internet gives the people doing scientific research access to thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of eyes which reduce an almost insurmountable project to analyze millions of images to a simple project. Now that I think about it, it’s almost like the Matrix Movie universe….

All the projects below provide links to papers written using the data of the project, Blogs with more information about what is happening with that project, and more. Which is a great way to see how the information you have helped create is being put to use.

In the Galaxy Zoo  project, you are shown an image that is part of a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged with the robotic telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.  You then answer some simple questions about what you see. The questions are simple enough that even a person with only a very basic understanding of Astronomy can answer them. For instance the first question set is to determine what you are looking at, is it a smooth galaxy, one with features like spiral arms or a disk, or is it simple an artifact (some smudge, or defect that the computer through might be a galaxy but obviously isn’t).

Then based on your first answer, other questions are asked. The second set of questions is always the same for the same first answer. Your answer might lead to subsequent question sets. The question paths are always the same, the more you experience the site, the easier it becomes to move through images they provide. It really isn’t very difficult to answer the questions and you might be the first person ever to see this particular image! Although, I am sure several different people see the same image, giving a project to cross reference any one answer. In half an hour of looking you will go through quite a number of classifications.

The information provided by members is analyzed and organized and then made available to research scientists to help the do research and study the workings of the universe.

In the Moon Zoom project, there are two programs  to take part of. In one, you are shown an image of  the moon’s surface, (take from those created by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), then asked to locate craters in this image, bolder traces created by the impact, exploration hardware, and other interesting features. This project uses some interesting tools to help you click on and define the objects that you see in the image.  Another part of this project is called: “Boulder wars”. In this study you are shown two images, and choose which has the most boulders.

Again the information provided by members is analyzed and made available to scientists studying our Moon. The information created by this project is used to study the moon, its age, the effects of impacts and more.

The newest Zooniverse offering a is the Old Weather project. This project seeks to pull weather data out of log books of a variety of ships that sailed around the time of World War 1.  Participants are presented with a digital copy of one page of a log book. You locate the date, location, and weather information written on it, and enter this information. The log entry might also provide some other observations, which you can point out, but mostly they don’t.

The information you pull from these log books help climate scientists create a profile for the weather at sea during this part of history. Having a better view of history makes it easier to create wether trend profiles that can more accurately predict the future and analyze climate changes over our history.

I personally like the idea that I can spend some of my free time, or time when I am forced to cool my heals, to help further our knowledge of the universe. I applaude this project and hope that many of our readers take the time to participate.

By Harry Babad, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction 

Read about my paradigms views, prejudices and snarky attitudes at:

https://mhreviews.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/the-greening-continues-a-column-intro-may-23-2010/

The materials I share in the articles that follow come from the various weekly science and environmental newsletters to which I subscribe. When I have time, I also check a variety of energy related and environmental blogs. In addition, I subscribe to New York Times, Time Magazine, The Economist, Business Week, Wired, National Geographic, Smithsonian – all which I skim for articles of interest. I also pick up items from Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists, when the provide reference I can check,

Some of what I chase is called out in publications by the libraries of the Pacific Northwest [NewsBridge], Sandia, Argonne and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, which are managed by the US Department of Energy. Other articles I found interesting come from technology feeds from the, Discover Magazine, various international energy and green advocacy groups as well as The American Association for the Advancement of Science from the American Nuclear Society magazine Nuclear News is a source and for chemistry related news Chemical & Engineering New from the American Chemical Society.

Article selection (my article – my choice} are obviously and intentionally biased by my training, experience and at rare times my emotional and philosophical intuitive views of what works and what will not… But if you have a topic I neglect, send us feedback and I’ll give it a shot.

Since my tid-bits are only a partial look at the original article, click on through the provided link if you want more details, as well as <often> other references on the same topic(s).

I’ll continue posting articles for your comfort and anger in the next few months. I never respond to flaming, but will take time to provide evidence in the form of both primary technical and secondary {magazine articles} references for those who ask. However, most of you can reach out and Google such information for your selves. Coming soon; ‘my call on global warming’, and 13 reasons you hated nuclear power, for reasons now disproved. But if you’re a true believer, then unsubscribe to our blog – none can change your mind but a disaster and that might not wake you up to seeming realities proven by fact not faith.

…and while you’re at it, Help Stamp Out Nucleophobia and Raise You Sci-Tech IQ

Doc.

Titles, As Usual, in No Formal Order, The New Snippets

  • Black Is the New Green – Photosynthesis-based fuel
  • Hydro Power Without the Dams: Ontario Invests in Free Flow Underwater Turbines
  • For Those Near, the Miserable Hum of Clean Energy — Noisy Wind Turbines Attract Complaints
  • The Big Potential of Micro Nukes — Moving Van Sized ‘Modular’ Nuclear Reactors for Your City and Mine
  • New Coal Plants in China, India Built Under UN Clean Development Mechanism
  • Hydrocarbons and Geothermal Energy — A silent minority report
  • Kiss My Ash: How King Coal’s Lobbyists Are Undermining Coal Ash Regulation — Coal ash dumps a ‘time bomb’ for Michigan and other water
  • Toxic Sludge From Hungary Spill Coats Villages, Threatens Danube — Another unintended environmental consequence

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Black Is the New GreenPhotosynthesis based fuel

Lilac Amirav is breaking a sweat trying to do what nature has been doing effortlessly for some 3 billion years. She and 30 or so colleagues at the Helios project are trying to build miniature machines that re-create photosynthesis, the process by which green plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide and produce energy. In a leaf, the product of this reaction is the sugar molecule, which serves as a kind of biological battery: All the plant has to do is break sugar’s chemical bonds, releasing the energy it needs to sustain itself. Amirav’s goal is to tweak this process to better suit the energy needs of a world population that by 2050 is expected to reach 9 billion, a growing percentage of which will want to drive their own cars. She and her colleagues at Helios, a joint project of U. C. Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, want to build an artificial leaf that drips ethanol, or some other alcohol, which you could pump right into your gas tank.

New energy technologies have never been in greater demand. With consumption growing, oil supplies often tight, and the world in a warming trend, the search is on for better energy sources—clean coal, safe nuclear reactors, and more far-reaching ideas like artificial photosynthesis.

Automobiles (transportation) pose a particular problem because they require a portable source of energy that can deliver a concentrated punch, a quality that sunlight does not possess. But the status quo is unacceptable. Tailpipe exhaust accounts for some 20 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide; an economic recovery could easily cause the return of $140-a-barrel oil.

The scientists at Helios—and at a growing number of labs around the world doing related work—could revise those equations. Photosynthesis consumes carbon dioxide. If we could pull carbon out of the air and use it to wean cars off fossil fuels, that would go a long way toward reducing humankind’s production of greenhouse gases without impeding technological progress.

Check out the references and see how the studies of nanotechnology-based materials is being pursued to duplicate, and perhaps make more efficient what is commonplace in our natural biological world. We have a long way to go. But judging from the progress at Helios, and other projects, we getting closer to both understanding the science and capturing it to create an alternate source of transportation fuel, one more closely linked to today’s sunlight rather then that captured in now buried plants during prehistoric times.

By Fred Guterl, Discover Magazine October 20, 2010

http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jun/20-black-is-the-new-green

More References

There are all sorts of approaches to creating fuel from sunlight, avoiding the potentially energy wasting  ‘GO Trap’ by not collecting electricity. Not that making electricity from sunlight is either good or per se bad, it’s the bottom line for total lifecycle cost per gallon of gasoline energy equivalent including green house gas emission related costs, that counts. Here’s a taste – Google On.

Artificial Photosynthesis — From Wikipedia, (October. 10, 2010)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_Photosynthesis

Helios Project — Lawrence Berkley National Labs Solar Energy Research Center. http://www.lbl.gov/LBL-Programs/helios-serc/index.html

Artificial Photosynthesis: Turning Sunlight Into Liquid Fuels Moves A Step Closer — ScienceDaily (Mar. 12, 2009) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090311103646.htm

Getting to the Hydrogen Highway Via the Nano Road, by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, August 20, 2009. http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2009/04/20/hydrogen-highway-nano-road/

Water Oxidation Advance Boosts Potential for Solar FuelScienceDaily (Mar. 18, 2010http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311141207.htm

Hydrogen From Sun And Water, by Mitch Jacoby’s in Chemical & Engineering News, AUGUST 10, 2009. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/87/i32/8732notw.html

Bio Solar Energy Conversion-Artificial Photosynthesis — Beckman Institute of the California Institute of Technology {Undated} http://mmrc.caltech.edu/BB/photoconversion.html

How Artificial Photosynthesis Works by Julia Layton.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-tech/energy-production/artificial-photosynthesis.htm

Also Check My Early September Greening Article

Fuel From The Sun <—> Water + sunlight = fuel by Stephen K. Ritter Chemical & Engineering News, 88(27), July 05, 2010

http://pubs.acs.org/isubscribe/journals/cen/88/i27/html/8827sci1.html

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Hydro Power Without the Dams: Ontario Invests in Free Flow Underwater Turbines

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could generate clean power from rivers without having to dam them? That’s what Verdant Power is trying to do with its free flow turbines (which we’ve covered in the past on this site: “Lunar Power” comes to New York and NBC Coverage of Wave and Tidal Power).

The Cornwall Ontario River Energy Project – 15 Megawatts — The province of Ontario is investing C$2.2 million into a project to demonstrate the feasibility and commercial viability of using free flow turbines to harness some of the St. Lawrence River’s kinetic energy and turn it into electricity.

This project is for 15 megawatts, enough to power 11,000 average-sized homes, but Verdant estimates that “there is enough potential power in the water currents of Canada’s tides, rivers and manmade channels to generate 15,000 MW of electricity using its technology”. That would be about the equivalent of 15 big coal power plants.

But we have to wonder… Did they pick Cornwall just because they could make a really cool acronym? The Cornwall Ontario River Energy (CORE) Project.

How Does a Free Flow Underwater Turbine Work? Very simply, it works like a wind turbine, but the blades are moved by a water current instead of by the wind. “The turbine blades rotate slowly allowing fish to pass through safely with minimal environmental impact.” Of course, the impact won’t be zero, but if we consider that Ontario is currently getting a good amount of its power from coal plants, this definitely looks like a step in the right direction.

One key difference with wind turbines is that free flow hydro turbines are not visible, so the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude shouldn’t be a problem. Another benefit over wind power is that hydro delivers power more predictably.

Read the article to discover the potential use of tidal power Tidal Power in the East River in New York City
 Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project (pdf) in New York City’s East River. Also check out the potential for The Future of Free Flow Hydropower Turbines. It’s probably still too early to know how cost-competitive this technology will be. What we do know is that there won’t be a clean energy silver bullet, so it is important to keep improving in that area even if other types of renewable energies are ahead right now (wind, solar, and even wave power).

By Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada Broadcast on 04-14-08

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY (alternative energy) — http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/verdant-power-free-flow-underwater-turbines-hydro.php

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For Those Near, the Miserable Hum of Clean Energy — Noisy Wind Turbines Attract Complaints

Oh brave new wind — The law of unforeseen consequences!

Inalhaven, Me. — Like nearly all of the residents on this island in Penobscot Bay, Art Lindgren and his wife, Cheryl, celebrated the arrival of three giant wind turbines late last year. That was before they were turned on. In the first 10 minutes, our jaws dropped to the ground,” Mr. Lindgren said. “Nobody in the area could believe it. They were so loud.”

Now, the Lindgrens, along with a dozen or so neighbors living less than a mile from the $15 million wind facility here, say the industrial whoosh-and-whoop of the 123-foot blades is making life in this otherwise tranquil corner of the island unbearable.

They are among a small but growing number of families and homeowners across the country who say they have learned the hard way that wind power — a clean alternative to electricity from fossil fuels — is not without emissions of its own.

Lawsuits and complaints about turbine noise, vibrations and subsequent lost property value have cropped up in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among other states.

There’s lots more, check it out. To paraphrase an old quotation, ’no new energy form goes without punishment. {Doc.} Is this super NIMBY or an acoustic cover up? Only time and measurements will tell; but there are lots of European based articles on this subject. Just Google <European Windmills + Noise>

By Tom Zeller Jr., New York Times, Published: October 5, 2010 — http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/business/energy-environment/06noise.html?_r=1&nl=&emc=aua1

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The Big Potential of Micro Nukes Moving Van Sized ‘Modular’ Nuclear Reactors for Your City and Mine

The race is on to develop refrigerator-size reactors that could power small towns or plants

David H. Freedman comments that I’m standing 20 feet from the brightly glowing core of a laboratory nuclear test reactor the size of a moving van, and the Geiger counter next to me is going nuts. But no worries, I’m told. The light, visible on a nearby monitor hooked up to a camera inside the reactor, is not from nuclear fission; it is harmless emission from electrons zipping out of the core and shedding their energy into the water that surrounds it. And the stream of particles eliciting the shriek from the Geiger counter is not from the reactor at all. Just for a giggle, the reactor manager has placed the detector next to a Fiestaware cup, which happens to be one of many everyday items that are mildly radioactive. He keeps it on hand to tease visitors.

I am actually getting less radiation here than I would on the beach or in an airplane. You’ll have to forgive the folks at Oregon State University’s Radiation Center for having a little fun. Nuclear power fell into a long funk after the partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979. All new nuclear plant construction in the United States came to a halt, and before the industry could recover, the 1986 reactor breach at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine seemed to seal the fate of nuclear power in this country. Now the technology is hot again—this time in a good way—because it produces virtually no carbon emissions and it backs us away from the turbulent politics and economics of oil.

OSU’s nuclear engineers are basking in that glow. While the industry was in deepfreeze, they were pressing ahead with one of the most promising emerging technologies in energy: micro-size nuclear reactors, fully functional power plants a good deal closer to the size of the test reactor I’m standing near. It is a far cry from the standard nuclear plant—the size of a small town, cranking out enough electricity to power a major city—not to mention the even bigger plants going up in China and France. To say China’s aim of 60 GW of new nuclear in operation by 2020 is ambitious is an understatement. By speaking with the people at the centre of this project, both government officials and executives from the foreign firms that are supplying the technology ,and after analysis by international experts at the Energy Social Media Blog several documents  reports how China aims to achieve this goal. <See reference>

Given the economies of scale in the power industry, why would anyone want to go teeny? “There are economies of small, too,” says Jose Reyes, chairman of OSU’s nuclear engineering department and chief technology officer at nearby NuScale Power, a commercial spin-off of the department. For one thing, Reyes explains, miniaturized nuclear plants are small enough to mass-produce, driving down costs, and they can be shipped just about anywhere by truck or boat, even to locations that are off the grid.

For one thing, Reyes explains, miniaturized nuclear plants are small enough to mass-produce, driving down costs, and they can be shipped just about anywhere by truck or boat, even to locations that are off the grid.

Also, micro nukes can be designed to run a long time without maintenance or refueling. They could be sealed like a big battery and buried underground for as long as three decades (30 years), so terrorists could not get into them and nuclear waste could not get out. A spent micro nuke could simply be plucked out of the ground and shipped whole to a waste-processing or recycling facility anywhere in the world (e.g., China or France); the old one could be swapped out for a new one, cartridge-style. In contrast, a conventional nuclear plant requires several years of customized design and construction, and at the end of its life several years more are needed to dismantle it and decontaminate the massive site around it.

Toshiba, Hyperion Power Generation, Sandia National Labs, and TerraPower—a company underwritten in part by Bill Gates—also have downsized nuclear reactor concepts in the works. Micro nukes are more reliable than wind power, cheaper than solar, and much easier to operate than conventional nuclear plants. Initially, micro nukes are likely to be installed in clusters as safer, simpler replacements for existing commercial reactors that need decommissioning. But in the coming decade, small-scale (nukelets) like NuScale’s may well eclipse solar and wind as the green energy of choice, bringing plentiful electricity to billions of people who lack it and possibly powering individual neighborhoods within cities.

Read about the OSU’s one-third-scale test version of the NuScale reactor, which is being extensively studied as the basis of the next design stage before going to licensing and commercialization, abroad if not in the USA.

OSU houses a one-third-scale test version of the NuScale reactor, faithful to the real thing except for electrically powered heating rods that stand in for the radioactive core. Operating since 2008, the uncomplicated-looking contraption seems like the sort of thing you would expect to find at the back of a small brewpub. But the device runs like a top, sending a copious river of steam into the air above the building. (Reyes nixed a student scheme to dye the steam green and hook it up to a train whistle.) NuScale plans to submit its design to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in early 2012. The NRC is expected to take at least three years to approve it, due to a backlog of applications at the agency and to the newness of micro nuke designs. Still, that is probably a few years sooner than most other micro nukes can expect to get the nod; the NuScale reactor’s light-water technology is quite similar to the industry-standard approach with which the NRC is intimately familiar.

To speed things up further, NuScale is initially marketing its micro nukes in bundles of 12 set up to replace existing nuclear power plants—which means that the company will not have to wait for approval of specific sites, since the go-ahead for safe siting will already be in place. Having an installed base of safely operating reactors should make it easier to win approval for selling the units individually or in smaller bundles later on, Reyes contends. “We’ll learn a huge amount about building and running the reactors every time we produce a batch of 12,” he says. NuScale is in active discussions with several utility customers.

Sticking with proven light-water technology has some downsides, Reyes acknowledges. To keep the water from boiling and losing it’s heat-transferring properties, light-water reactors cannot run at the high temperatures that are most efficient for producing power. And even at lower temperatures, preventing boiling requires high pressure. In the unlikely event that an overheating core causes a reactor breach, the pressure could potentially cause an explosive venting of radioactive gases into the environment.

To get around these problems, Japan’s Toshiba and Hyperion Power Generation of Santa Fe, New Mexico, are pushing rival micro reactors. Their versions, which have been in development for more than a decade, use circulating molten metal—sodium and lead bismuth, respectively—as coolants and heat conduits instead of water. Without the risk of water boiling, the reactors can run at higher temperatures, producing enough heat to extract hydrogen from water for use in fuel cells. And if one of these reactors melted open, a very unlikely event, there would be no venting, just a well-contained hot mess underground.

There are more references about the potential for, and advantages for micro (Small-Scale) nuclear reactors

Article by David H. Freedman; photography by Nicholas Eveleigh, from the June 2010 Issue of Discover Magazine, Posted November 22, 2010. — http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jun/05-the-big-promise-of-micro-nukes

Additional References

Nuclear Power in China: How the Red Dragon Will Lead the World by Penny Hitchin — Published: Oct 1, 2010 in Power Engineering World Wide — http://www.powergenworldwide.com/index/display/articledisplay/4114678000/articles/power-engineering-international/volume-18/issue-9/features/nuclear-power-in-china-how-the-red-dragon-will-lead-the-world.html

A Preassembled Nuclear Reactor, By Kevin Bullis in MIT’s Technology Today — http://www.technologyreview.com/printer_friendly_article.aspx?id=22867&channel=energy&section/

IEER/PSR: ‘Small Modular Reactors’ No Panacea for What Ails Nuclear Power, PR-Canada.Net – PR-CANADA.net , by the Canadian The IEER/PSR  Group, October 01, 2010  — http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ieerpsr-small-modular-reactors-no-panacea-for-what-ails-nuclear-power-104024223.html. And the ‘Makhijani  and Boyd’ Factsheet cited therein.

<Note the group objects to government subsidies for nuclear power but not for coal, oil, or other energy forms –Doc. – If you want more information about the unfocused inapplicable use of technical data and innuendo found therein, drop us a note.>

Small Modular Reactors, From Wikipedia, Updated October 23, 2010. — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_Modular_Reactors

Global Energy Needs: Defining a Role for a “Right Sized Reactor”, by Dr. Thomas L. Sanders, President of the American Nuclear Society, March 2010. — Presentation notes, personal communication to doc_Babad.

Experts Found Wanting By Stephen Heiser: Russians Go To Sea With Reactors, We Go To Water With Wind Mills?, by Stephen Heiser in Nuclear Power Industry News, Jul 28 2009. — http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2009/07/28/experts-found-wanting-by-stephen-heiser-russian-go-to-sea-with-reactors-we-go-to-water-with-wind-mills-1722.aspx

Small Nuclear Reactors Are Becoming Big

Business, by Jeremy van Loon and Alex Morales in Bloomberg Business Week, May 20, 2010. — http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/10_22/b4180020375312.htm

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New Coal Plants in China, India Built Under UN Clean Development Mechanism

Twelve companies are set to fund 20 “efficient” coal-fired power plants overseas in exchange for the right to continue producing their own emissions at home.

The Guardian (UK) has the story and explains it all, but the justification is that the new plants would be more “efficient” than older ones, and would be paid for by carbon offsets that British and European companies bought instead of cutting their own emissions.

Here’s the real crux of the problem: if Medupi is allowed to sell offsets, the Guardian continues, “It would be able offset all the emissions from a major new coal power station in the UK, effectively allowing the British government to meet its carbon-reduction targets by subsidizing a plant in South Africa that would have been built anyway.”

Check out CDM-Watch (Check the Reference) to learn more about criticisms of the Clean Development Mechanism from people who follow it regularly, and about what can be done to fix it.

Article by Rachel Cernansky at Planet Green.com, July 15, 2010. — http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tech-transport/new-coal-plants-china-india-built-under-un-clean-development-mechanism.html?print=true

Check the added detail at:

Rich Countries To Pay Energy Giants To Build New Coal-Fired Power Plants. The UN’s Clean Development Mechanism to use European carbon offset credits to subsidize 20 ‘efficient’ coal plants in India and China. Article by John Vidal, environment editor guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 July 2010. — http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/14/un-carbon-offset-coal-plants

CDM-Watchhttp://www.cdm-watch.org/ (Scrutinizing Carbon Offsets)

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Hydrocarbons and Geothermal Energy — A silent minority report

Geothermal power is probably the lowest-profile renewable energy option we have. It doesn’t get nearly the attention that wind and solar power do–even from me–although it has been quietly cranking out about 0.4% of the US electricity supply for many years. That roughly matches the expected output of all the wind turbines likely to be installed here this year. I’ve commented previously on the striking similarities between geothermal exploration and production and the processes and risk profile of oil and gas exploration & production, but I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned a small but potentially important overlap between the two: geothermal heat extracted from the fluids produced from oil and gas wells. The potential contribution of “geothermal hydrocarbon co-production” (GHCP) might not be as large as from conventional hydrothermal reservoirs or engineered geothermal systems (EGS), but this approach has the advantage of capitalizing on additional energy from a source that’s already being exploited.

In its report on the US geothermal industry earlier this year, the Geothermal Energy Association listed five projects involving GHCP and related efforts to tap the mechanical energy of high-pressure gas reservoirs, or geopressured fluids. The Department of Energy has recognized this potential and provided partial funding for several of these projects under its stimulus programs. GEA also cited an estimate from Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Energy Program that GHCP from the onshore Gulf Coast region alone could provide up to 5,000 MW of reliable power. That doesn’t include the potential for using the large volumes of produced water in new or abandoned wells to tap the energy of higher-temperature rock formations underlying the hydrocarbon reservoirs using engineered geothermal systems (EGS).

There’s more — Check it out.

Article by Geoffrey Styles, The Energy Collective, November 9, 2010. — http://theenergycollective.com/geoffrey-styles/46900/hydrocarbons-and-geothermal-energy

Geothermal Industry Interim US Market Update, October 22, 2010 b y the Geothermal Association. — http://www.geo-energy.org/pdf/reports/Geothermal_Industry_Interim_Update_October2010_Final.pdf

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Kiss My Ash: How King Coal’s Lobbyists Are Undermining Coal Ash RegulationCoal ash dumps a ‘time bomb’ for Michigan and other water supplies, environmentalists say

The dangers associated with waste from coal-fired power plants got some attention last month when a billion gallons of coal ash spilled from a storage pond in Tennessee, contaminating surface waters with arsenic, mercury and lead. Michigan has plenty of its own problems stemming from coal ash contamination, regulators and environmentalists say, but because the ash is stored underground the problems have largely gone unnoticed. Stored in unsecured landfills, coal ash can leach toxins into groundwater, endangering the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, which contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

The dangers associated with waste from coal-fired power plants got some attention last month when a billion gallons of coal ash spilled from a storage pond in Tennessee, contaminating surface waters with arsenic, mercury and lead. Michigan has plenty of its own problems stemming from coal ash contamination, regulators and environmentalists say, but because the ash is stored underground the problems have largely gone unnoticed.

Stored in unsecured landfills, coal ash can leach toxins into groundwater, endangering the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, which contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

There’s a lot more here…check it out and read the referenced report. By the way, I wonder why these ‘green’ reporters in Michigan and Tennessee didn’t mention just how radioactive <it’s like Low-Level Waste> these unregulated ash piles are …but what a bit of uranium, thorium and radon more or less among friends.

Doc Sez what I report here is old news – problems with coal ash have been recognized since at least before 2008, as referenced below.

Article by Eartha Jane Melzer The Michigan Messenger, January 16, 2009http://michiganmessenger.com/11691/coal-ash-dumps-a-time-bomb-for-michigan-water-environmentalists-say

Referenced Report in the Article

DeSmogBlog and Polluter Watch present: Coal Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [a pdf]. This report reveals that between October, 2009 and April, 2010 industry representatives held at least 33 meetings with White House Office of Management and Budget staff–at least 4 months before the first public hearing on the proposed ruling on coal ash was held on August 30th.

More References

Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger, by Alex Gabbard, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, February 5, 2008. — http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html

Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste, By Mara Hvistendahl, Scientific American,  December 13, 2007. — http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

Metals Pollute Waters Near US Coal Ash Spill: Group By Timothy Gardner

Reuters, NEW YORK | Fri Jan 2, 2009. — http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5013BO20090102?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews

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Toxic Sludge From Hungary Spill Coats Villages, Threatens Danube — Another unintended environmental consequence

A red-tinged toxic sludge has been winding its way though villages in Hungary this week – the result of a metal plant reservoir that burst its banks in Ajka. The images have been both striking and shocking and local residents are growing more vocal in their distress over the disaster. Rescue workers continued clean-up efforts in villages already coated in the waste and the European Union called for action to prevent the flow from reaching the Danube River.

“This is a serious environmental problem,” EU spokesman Joe Hennon told reporters. “We are concerned, not just for the environment in Hungary, but this could potentially cross borders.” At least four people have died and 120 were injured when the reservoir of an alumina plant about 100 miles from Budapest broke Monday, sending a wave of solids loaded, hazardous liquid sludge into nearby villages. Injuries included chemical burns from contact with the waste. Hundreds of people have evacuated the area. Hungary has declared a state of emergency in three counties and said the clean up could cost tens of millions of dollars and will take at least a year. Click the link and read on…

While the spill itself has now been contained at the plant, she said, authorities are trying desperately to keep the waste from reaching the Danube. Workers are pouring plaster into the Marcal river, which feeds into the Danube, to try to bind the sludge, reported the Guardian, and have used other chemicals to try to neutralize its extremely alkaline pH.

Article by Talea Miller, PBS News Hour, October 6, 2010. — http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/10/toxic-sludge-from-hungary-spill-coats-villages-threatens-danube.html.

Also check: http://www.bullfax.com/?q=node-company-head-arrested-over-sludge-torrent-hungary for related stories. Although Sludge flood like Hungary’s unlikely in US according to regulators and experts, this has not yet been well documented. Think of the coal ash releases described earlier in this blog or other liquid ‘slag’ sumps.

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Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

Sources & Credits: — Many of these items were found by way of the links in the newsletter NewsBridge of ‘articles of interest’ to the national labs library technical and regulatory agency users. NewsBridge is electronically published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, in Richland WA.  If using NewsBridge as a starting point, I follow the provided link to the source of the information and edit its content (mostly by shortening the details) for information for our readers. I also both follow any contained links, where appropriate, in the actual article, and provide you those references as well as those gleaned from a short trip to Google-land. Obviously if my source is a magazine or blog that the material I work with.

In addition, when duplicating materials that I cite, I do not surround each bit of quoted text with quotation marks, the only place I keep quotes intact is where the original article ‘quotes’ another source.  Remember, when Doc sticks his two bits in, its in italics and usually indented when it more than an added word or clarifying phrase.

Closing Remarks, Quips or Quotes

In my humble opinion — The energy density of conventional agricultural or urban waste, particularly when subtracting the energy to collect & prepare it for use is minuscule. High density-energy is our future requirement – not cardboard and poop.

‘G-d won’t allow global warming,’ congressman Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), who is seeking to head Energy Committee, says. I wonder what the representative would say about the plagues during the middle ages, the AIDS epidemic, The big one due off of the west coast, Hurricane Katrina and worse, or the Holocaust and African genocide.

Before G-d we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein.

Finally, a Greening Tid-Bit From my world-traveling sister who is a European history addict:

An environmental law almost implemented in Germany – by the Third Reich — The water intake for any communities drinking water must be located downstream of the nearest factory effluent outlet. Even the Nazi’s could not get this law ‘implemented’ – Carl Holder – Energy Consultant

May your world get greener and all creatures on Earth become healthier and more able to fulfill their function in this Gaia’s world.

Harry, aka doc_Babad

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Previous Greening Columns

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

I’ve been an amateur astronomer many years, and my schools taught that our solar system has 9 planets. Back in 2005, CalTech Professor Mike Brown discovered Eris, a Pluto-sized planet 9 billion miles from the sun (twice as far away as Pluto) and about the same size as Pluto. This discovery raised the issue of the definition to accurately describe planets. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) met in 2006 and decided the criteria that determines if a body is a planet (original text available from the IAU website) is:

A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

In the words of the IAU, Pluto and Eris fail to qualify as planets and so they are now classified as dwarf planets. I went to the Wolfram Alpha website and did a search on dwarf planets and received a list of 5 that includes Pluto:

There is a lot more information about the dwarf planets than is shown in this screen capture. Stop by the Wolfram site and check it out here. You might also notice that 1 Ceres, formerly viewed an asteroid in the asteroid belt, is now listed as a dwarf planet. I can handle promotions better than demotions.

Why rehash old news? Because there was a new article by Mike Wall that was published yesterday at Yahoo News (see it here) that asks if the decision to classify Pluto as a dwarf planet is correct based on information we have today. A nice piece (also by Mike Wall) provides new information on Eris’s size and it is available at Space.com’s website.

Personally, I think we should reclassify Eris and Pluto as planets. Maybe there are more Pluto-sized bodies further out in the Kuiper Belt. So what? If we can reclassify an asteroid in the asteroid belt, why can’t we add more planets when they are discovered?

What do you think? Should Pluto be returned to the list of planets in our solar system? Chime in if you have an opinion.

Here is a picture of Pluto as it would appear if you were on Charon, a nearby moon:

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Neptune Facts:

  • Location: 8th planet from the sun
  • Size: 4th largest planet in our solar system
  • Orbit: 30.06 AU
  • Orbital Period: 164.79 Julian Years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 30.1 AUs *
  • Diameter: 49,532 km
  • Discovered: 1846 by Adams and Le Verrier
  • Atmosphere: Hydrogen, helium, methane
  • Moons: 13, Triton is largest (radius = 1350 km)
  • Interesting facts: it has rings, internal heat source
  • Total number of moons: 13 (Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Galatea, Larissa, Proteus, Triton, Nereid, Halimede, Sao, Laomedeia, Psamathe, and Neso)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Neptune

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

I enjoy using astronomy software to explore the universe, and lately I’ve concentrated on some of the planets in our solar system. I’ve already covered Jupiter and Saturn, so this post covers another gas giant in our solar system. Neptune is the 8th (and last) planet in our solar system. Neptune is the 4th largest planet (in diameter) and is around 30 times further out from the sun than Earth.

Neptune was discovered in 1846. It has a predominately hydrogen and helium atmosphere, with traces of methane that help give it a blue hue. Voyager 2 flew by it and took loads of pictures back in 1989.

This is a screen shot taken with Starry Night Pro 6 today:

There is a lot of data about Neptune in Starry Night, or you can select Starry Night’s “Info” tab and select “LiveSky.com” beside the “Extended Info” field to get data on Neptune from Wikipedia.

This is a screen shot of Triton (taken with Starry Night today), the largest of the 11 moons of Neptune:

Here is a picture of Neptune as it would be seen looking west on Triton – perhaps from the window of a visiting spacecraft:

This is an excellent screen shot of Neptune taken with the Red Shift 7 astronomy software:

This is a screen shot of an image of Neptune (magnified to 400%) retrieved with Mathematica 8:

There is more data available on Neptune using AstronomicalData (introduced in Mathematica 7), which returns properties on planets, moons, stars and galaxies. Check it out at the Wolfram website.

This is an image of Neptune from NASA‘s website:

There are many sources for astronomers – amateur and professional – besides telescopes. In this age of the internet, we has so much data available that formerly was only found in libraries. Take some time away from television and video games and explore the wonders of the sky. You have the ability and resources, you just need the motivation to see that space is more than Star Wars and Aliens.

=====================

Updates

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period, Average Distance from Earth Information.

2-14-2011 – Added names of all moons.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Vendor: United Soft Media Verlag GmbH
Price: $11.99
E-Mail: info@usm.de
Product Site: http://www.redshift-live.com/en/

Introduction

RedShift is an astronomy application for the iPod touch/iPhone/iPad. This program offers the features you would expect from an astronomy title and has a couple of useful unique options. It also makes use of the device’s built-in compass to act as an information window to the sky.

This is the second Astronomy app for portable devices that I have reviewed here. So I am going to make references to my previous review of Distant Suns for comparison reasons. Redshift has all of the basics. You tell it where you are located and it will show you the sky, adding labels to identify the objects. You can increase or decrease the Field Of View (FOV), using a gesture. Tapping on a star or other object will provide more information about it. The program includes a huge database of objects, but is more designed for naked eye viewing of the sky then as an assistant for telescope viewing.

Getting Started

When you first start Redshift, it loads and then plays a neat animation of your view, moving from a point off the earth and flying down to the location you have set as your home location. Then the sky is filled with stars. When you D-tap on an object seen on the screen, a red hued information bar appears on the top providing links to the program’s built in database of information, a link to the Wikipedia entry for that object, a rocket icon that lets you take a “flight” to that object, and a lock for locking the object in the window. The Wikipedia link is pretty neat, the Wiki page for the selected object opens in a window over the app screen. Whatever information and pictures the page has can be scrolled to. You can click on the links within the Wiki page, to see even more information. Essentially you are using a very basic web browser within the application. To return to the view of the sky, there is a “back” button. The biggest issue with this feature is that there is no way to navigate back and forth between pages in the simple browser window. The Wiki page offers links to lots of information. When you click on one, it loads the page. But Redshift provides no means of getting back to the previous page. The “back” button only brings one back to the main Redshift window. This makes a potentially terrific educational feature simply a good feature.

Another really cool feature on this information bar is a link to the devices compass feature. If you touch it, arrows on the screen direct you to move the device back and forth and up and down, until you are facing the object! So not only can you look at the simulated sky, but you can use the application to actually find where an object is in the real time sky. Making this a truly terrific way to learn how to identify what is up there. If you don’t select an object, and turn the compass on, Redshift will show the sky you are facing with names and constellations shown – a neat tool.

Side note: I didn’t have a compass device when I did my previous review of Distant Suns. I now have an iPad and can make use of its compass. Distant Suns also makes use of the device’s compass, and I will make an effort to include extra information in the previous review.

There are some options for labeling the sky in Redshift, although not as many as I would like. You can change the star density up and down using a slider, which decreases and increases the magnitude of stars that show as a dot. Another slider increases or decreases the density of labels displayed on the screen.  But this mostly affects stars. Other types of objects are in the database, but Redshift doesn’t provide symbols or labels to show their location unless the field of view is small enough to show the object. If you go to the extreme density of labels, some deep space objects will appear, but the screen is way to cluttered with information to be of use. Which means Redshift isn’t a good choice for locating objects that require a telescope to see.

However, the objects actually there. Some larger objects, like the North America Nebula, can be seen graphically on the screen, and a label for it will appear if the FOV is small enough. I know other objects are represented because, as I was perusing the sky of Redshift, I saw a pixel flicker. I thought there was a defect in the program, so I tried to figure out what was causing it. It turned out to be the crescent nebula. The program was trying to represent the image of the crescent nebula with one pixel, as the angle of view to the object changed, the light of the image changes, so the one pixel representation flickered. When I shrunk the FOV down enough, a very nice image of this nebula appeared then grew. All deep space objects in Redshift are represented by photo-realistic images, which can be see when the FOV is small enough.

Redshift offers basic search features for locating objects that might not be visible, or that you might want to see a better image of. There is a feature called “Observatory” which lets you choose from one of four categories (Solar system, Stars, Constellations, Deep Sky) to search in. Selecting one provides an alphabetical list of well-known objects. Selecting an object first centers the sky on its location then changes the FOV until the object is visible. There is also a magnifying glass icon on the screen that lets you enter a text string to search for an object. You can search in any of the four categories or all of them. A history of your recent searches is kept so you can return to them. The text search is useful, but it is very basic. It browses names rather then looking for keyword matches. For instance, when searching for the Saturn nebula, you enter Saturn, and see two hits, one for the planet and one for the nebula. However, if you are looking for the little dumbbell nebula, enter the keyword dumbbell won’t find it, but entering “Little” will.

The photo-realistic image of the sky is very nice and this makes it easier to compare to the real sky. If you take it out at night and are concerned about night vision, Redshift has a button to instantly enable night vision, giving everything a red hue, which should not reduce your night seeing abilities while still being readable. You can also turn on or off the effects of daylight, giving you the ability to see what is going on in your day sky. A few images are provided to fill in the area below the horizon, which show to occlude the space below the horizon. If the Daylight effect is off, this image is translucent, allowing you to see through it. Markers on the display the altitude and azimuth of the screen center.

To zoom in on a part of the sky, or in more astronomy parlance, to change the FOV, you use the pinch and expand hand gesture. You can also use the rocket ship feature to zoom in on a particular object. It the object is a planet, you can simulate an orbit of it, a very nice effect. Zooming in is a lot of fun, but zooming out, back to the standard FOV using gestures is a bit of work. Luckily, there is an icon on the screen to restore the display. One issue I had with this feature is that it restores both the time and the view. I often find myself considering this evening’s sky at lunch. So I set the application’s time to evening and poke around a bit. When I use this button to return, I have to remember to reset the time to the evening, or I will find myself perusing the daytime sky! I know they can reset the view without resetting the time, because a simulated rocket flight to an object offers a reset which doesn’t reset time, just the view.

Redshift can make access of the devices location services and compass. If you let it, it uses location services to determine your location on earth. Since I am new to the iPad and I have the base model, I am skeptical about the function of its GPS. Luckily, RedShift used a neat model of the earth, showing a dot on the image of the earth representing your home location, as well the Lat/Long. Between the Touch and the Pad, Redshift has me somewhere in the vicinity of where I live, which is a whole lot more accurate then say, choosing the nearest major city, which is many miles away. You can also zoom into the image of the earth, and if you know your relative location, tap on the image to set it.

Conclusion

The only thing that I find lacking in programs like this is real time event information. For instance it won’t tell you the name of that satellite you see flinging across the sky, but more importantly, it can’t be used to help you find that neat comet that is there either. While I realize keeping track of thousands of satellites might be an issue, this program has a lot of power and should be able to at least offer some information about current events, things to see, and interesting conjunctions. There is no need to keep track of events that are not currently happening and all it would require would be to download somer data on a regular basis. That’s my wish for Redshift!

Overall Redshift is a pretty good astronomy application. I like some of the features and the image it shows of the sky is very nice. It is a good choice as an astronomy title for your device. It worked flawlessly for me. You won’t go wrong if you decide to give this a try. Personally, I don’t put this on the top of the list astronomy apps I have tried. Not because there is a problem, it’s my overall experience and preferences. I do like this program and give it a very good rating!

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Wolfram Research (http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica)

Hardware Requirements:

  • CPU:
    • Intel Pentium III 650MHz or faster for Windows/Linux
    • Intel CPU for Macs
  • Hard drive space – 4 GB
  • Memory – 512 MB (1 GB recommended)
  • Internet access

Operating Systems:

  • Windows – 7/Vista/XP/HPC Server 2008/Server 2008/Server 2003
  • Mac OS X – 10.5 and 10.6 with Intel CPU
  • Linux – Ubuntu 7-10/Red Hat Enterprise 4/CentOS 5/Debian 5/openSUSE 11

Price:

  • Standard New License $2495/GBP 2035/EURO 3185 (download or shipped media)
  • Standard Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Academic New License $1095 (download or shipped media)
  • Academic Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Student Regular New License $139.95 (download or shipped media)
  • Student Annual $69.95 (download only)
  • Student Semester $44.95/starting at GBP 20/EURO 29 (download only)
  • Student Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Home/Hobbyist New License $295.95/GBP 195/EURO 295 (download only)
  • Home/Hobbyist Upgrade $99 (available as of 01/02/2011)

Network licenses offer discounts and special pricing is available for use in education, government, and non-profit organizations.

* Upgrade pricing varies depending on version owned.

Introduction to an on-going review

Wolfram released version 8 of Mathematica on November 15, 2010, and it is similar to the version 6 update where there are many enhancements and improvements over the previous version. This review will be ongoing – I will revise and add to it as I become more familiar with the product and so I encourage readers to periodically check back to see updates to the material.

BREAKING NEWS (4-27-2011)

Wolfram released an update to Mathematica 8, version 8.0.1 is now available. Click here to see our post on the new version of Mathematica.

BREAKING NEWS (3-8-2011)

I was informed by Wolfram’s PR firm on 12/01/2010 that the Player plug-in for interaction with Wolfram Demonstrations will not be available before January, 2011, and the plug-in would support the latest versions of all major browsers on Mac/Windows, including Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera on both platforms, and IE for Windows. Under Macintosh, the plug-in requires that you run the installer in the disk image–i.e., copying Mathematica.app is insufficient to set it up.

As of today (3/8/2011) Mathematica Player and Player Pro have been replaced by the CDF (Computable Document Format) Player, which is available for download from Wolfram. The Mac OS X version includes plug-ins for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. The Windows 7/Vista/XP version supports the same browsers as the Mac OS X version, but includes support for IE. The Linux version currently is a desktop application – browser plug-ins are currently under development.

Click here if you want to test whether you already have the CDF Player installed.

Mathematica users that want to publish MM6 and 7 Notebooks for Player can still do so, using Wolfram’s online service.

RELEASE DATES FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE VERSIONS OF MATHEMATICA 8 (Updated 3/30/2011): Per Wolfram’s PR, Mathematica 8 Japanese Edition was available on 1/20/2011, and Mathematica 8 Chinese Edition was available 3/23/2011. Mathematica 8 Spanish Language Kit will be available in early 2011 (Unlike fully localized editions, this plug-in kit localizes the interface (menu, palettes, error messages) but not the documentation)-still no release date as of 1/20/2011.

Getting Started

I downloaded the 1 GB file from Wolfram and installed it on my 2.26 GHz dual core Macbook laptop, where it took up nearly 2.9GB for the installation.

Tip! If you have an older version of Mathematica already installed, rename the executable by appending the version to the file name, so that older version is not overwritten during installation of version 8. NOTE: Wolfram’s PR firm confirmed this was intentional in an email to me I received on 12/1/2010.

The initial version 8 screen is shown here:

The Welcome screen is new – better organized than earlier versions.

First, the new browser plug-in

One of the first things I wanted to check was the new browser plug in which comes with the software. Be aware that the new Mathematica 8 Player was not available when this product shipped in mid-November, so people strictly using the player will need to wait to test this added functionality.

This was seen while using a Safari plug in – Mathematica launched Safari even though I already had Firefox running. I now have the list of browsers that will have this plug in (see Very Important Notes below). I suspect user demand will drive the plug in release for other browsers.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL BROWSER PLUG-IN INFORMATION (12-02-2010)

Busy day yesterday, but I received more information from Wolfram’s PR about the browser plug-in that I want to share with you. Per the PR contact:

“The browser supports notebook content in two modes.  The first mode is a full-screen mode, which you can easily see right now by going to any web page which hosts a notebook file.  For example, go to demonstrations.wolfram.com and, for any demonstration, click “Download Live Version.”  This will work for any notebook linked on any website (so long as the web server isn’t configured to override the MIME type, at least).

The second mode is an embedded mode.  For example, you could embed a Mathematica Manipulate output in a regular web page.  Right now, we only have one public example of that, which is shown as part of the installation here:

http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica/plugin/success.html

I tested the first mode this morning by going to Wolfram’s Demonstration Project page and went to the Physical Sciences/Earth Sciences/ Meteorology page and checked out the Sea Level demonstration (contributed by Herbert W. Franke):

I selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and saw this in my browser as the plug-in loaded:

The first time I used the plug-in in Firefox (ver 3.6.12) I had to reload the page to see and use the demonstration. The demo was accessible within my web browser and I could manipulate the controls just like working within Mathematica.

Next (because I’m currently working on a Genetic Programming project) I checked out the Order of Operations Tree demonstration (contributed by Sarah Lichtblau) and was able to change the formulas to use for the tree:

Finally I went to the Physical Sciences/Astronomy page and selected the Bump Map of Mars (contributed by Yu-Sung Chang) and selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and was able to manipulate the controls from the browser:

I rotated the planet and saw Olympus Mons (as well as the three smaller shield volcanoes that make up the Tharsis Montes region below it). Nice detail in the demonstration – not as much detail as I’d prefer, but still usable to show geological features of the red planet.

NOTE: Two times when I tried to open demonstrations (including Bump Map on Mars) they did not display properly: there was a gray box in place of the demonstration. Both times I reloaded the browser page and it fixed the issue each time. I am using Firefox 3.6.12 on a Mac running OS X 10.6.5 and did not test on another browser or operating system, so I informed Wolfram’s support about the issue – they were unable to reproduce the problem.

Moving on beyond the browser plug-in

Time to get back to our review of new Mathematica features. I started the software and did a spot check to verify previous functionality. I periodically use Mathematica to gather astronomical data and so I tested the AstronomicalData function. I produced a table with the 8 planets names and images:

This function provides extrasolar system data as well as planetary information and is my favorite function from version 7 – still works fine. The version 8 documentation says that this function was improved in this release – an email from Wolfram’s PR firm explained that this function was only enhanced in the ability to access data from Wolfram|Alpha.

OK,  lets take a look at the new features in Mathematica 8.

New Features

1. Free-form linguistic input/Integration with Wolfram|Alpha

Free-form linguistic input is a fancy way of saying that you enter content using plain English and still get results. Nice. When I saw this feature during the demo for this release, I understood the rationale. Wolfram is helping new users start using their software before they need to learn all of the aspects of the software’s programming syntax.

I opened a new notebook and entered “= radius neptune/earth” to test this functionality – I just wanted a comparison of the size of Neptune versus Earth. The results I saw are below:

I like this, because it provides both the solution to the query plus the equivalent Mathematica syntax. This test also demonstrates the Integration with Wolfram|Alpha functionality as it retrieved the data from Alpha.

Wolfram’s decision to add the ability to retrieve data from Wolfram|Alpha right into notebooks is appreciated. For some excellent examples of notebooks from Wolfram, check out this link.

A Quick Overview of Wolfram|Alpha

My previous post shows the integration of Mathematica with Wolfram|Alpha, Wolfram’s computational knowledge engine. Since I never reviewed that new service I want to mention it now. I went to their website and did a few searches. I first search was requesting data on extra solar planets this is what I saw:

It took a lot of scrolling to go down through the list of data returned by this search, and I saved the data as a PDF for future reference. I believe this was always available since Wolfram|Alpha was made available, but this was the first time I used it and I like what I see.

My next search was to see if real data agrees with the pseudo-experts that deny global warming and this was the result:

After looking at the graph, even thought I’m no expert I’d have to say it appears that the temperature on our planet is increasing after all.

I like having internet access to scientific and technical data without needing to be concerned about the validity of that data. I would reference Wolfram|Alpha if citing from it, but I would never use data from Wikipedia in a paper. On back to the review of new features in the software.

2. New algorithms for real time image capturing

During the demo, Jon showed how easy he could configure Mathematica to act like a security system by enabling his web cam and utilizing the ability of Mathematica to only send updated images when he moved. This is important for people doing image analysis for security identification systems as well as pattern recognition.

For one test I used the built-in camera of my Macbook (although you can specify a different camera for input) to capture a picture of my alma mater t-shirt using ImageCapture to produced a picture in the notebook. This was the Mathematica screen:

I could save the image in my notebook to a free-standing file in a number of different formats including JPEG, JPEG2000, GIF, etc. Not a major feature but still useful.

Mathematica can capture a single image or record a series of images. Consider how companies could take advantage of this feature. A company using 12 web cams to cover their warehouses need to handle the constant bandwidth of 12 signals, which also requires one or more people to stare at the screens looking for movement, If the only time a camera sends a signal is when something moves, no signals are transmitted so no transmission bandwidth is needed and this changes a dedicated task to a side job for an employee. This is my favorite enhancement so far during my evaluation of this software.

3. New Import and Export Formats

The 26 new import/export formats are:

There are a lot of new import/export formats to test, so I’ll test the C and ICS import/export functionality to save time for assessing other improvements. Why? I already expressed an interest in exporting C, and I have my old Palm Pilot LifeDrive with years of data that I want to move to a more modern (and supported) hardware platform.

4. Automatically convert Mathematica programs into C code

I like writing C and now Wolfram lets you take a Mathematica program and directly convert it into C code for free-standing or integrated use. Nice. No, very nice! During the demonstration I asked about converting programs into object-oriented code (C++/C#/Java) and was told that decision was market-based. Wolfram does sell a C++ solution called MathCode C++ which is compatible with Mathematica 7, but not (as of 1/20/2011) listed as compatible with version 8. If enough users request it then it could happen in a future release. Wolfram didn’t promise this would happen, but they do listen to customer suggestions so let them know if you too would like to see support for object-oriented code generation.

Important Note (3/7/2011)

I spoke with Wolfram’s PR dept on 1/20/2011 and they said that the MathCode C++ is on the list for updating to Mathematica version 8 compatibility, but they do not have a date when we can expect that update. They did say they don’t have any known issues with MathCode C++ and Mathematica version 8. If anyone reads this post and has seen problems with this combination, please let us (and Wolfram) know.

I also requested a list of add-ons being updated for version 8 – the coordinator said all add-ons are being tested for compatibility with Mathematica 8, but there is no date when that testing will be finished.

MathCode C++ is still listed as Mathematica 7 Compatible as of 3/7/2011.

5. Dynamic Library Loading

Incorporate external C and C++ libraries, which is nice for developers integrating Mathematica with other lab systems. Mathematica can share data with external libraries using LibraryLink functions to pass integers, reals, arrays, strings, Mathematica expressions, as well as pass messages.  Sweet.

6. Enhanced 2D and 3D Graphics and Drawing Tools

The primary area where Mathematica 7 stood out over version 6 was the enhanced graphics capabilities. Version 8 has enhanced scaling and surface texture mapping for 2D and 3D images. In truth, a picture is worth a thousand words and improving the way Mathematica represents data is much needed. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess this enhancement was based on user feedback, so it does pay to speak up.

Version 8 also has enhanced illustration and drawing tools, which may not beat Photoshop or Illustrator, but they do enhance the quality of work that can be done within Mathematica so this enhancement is a time saver. I do wonder why it took this long to add an easy way to align drawing elements, as that has been a part of most graphic packages for a long time. A new color picker is nice, although I am more inclined to use my browser plug-in or Photoshop for that functionality.

7. UI and Usability

The look-and-feel seems the same between versions 7 and 8, although text processing is improved in version 8. There is a new Custom Style dialog or you can select (and preview) a style using the Format/Style menu options. It is simple to use the supplied styles or create a new one. Something I didn’t see was a way to use external styles from other external word processing products like Word – couldn’t find a menu item or a place on the Classroom Assistant to import styles (but there is a menu option to import stylesheets). If the capability to import or use external styles doesn’t exist yet, it would be one of the enhancements I’d like to see in release 9.

Positives

  • Tons of new features and enhancements. I like how the free-form linguistic input will help newcomers learn the correct way to enter Mathematica syntax, and I like the integration with Wolfram|Alpha. I should add that internet access is a necessity if you want access to Wolfram’s dynamic data.
  • Modest hardware requirements – very little needed in the way of processor, system memory, and disk storage space.
  • I love the new Home license, introduced in version 7. One of my previous complaints was the price of this software precluded many home users from buying and using it. The college I attended for undergrad courses did provide current students with a free 1 year licenses for Mathematica and that did influence my decision to go there. I was pleased to learn the school I’m attended for graduate classes also offers a free 1 year license to current students, but eventually I will no longer be attending classes and appreciate being able to afford to buy this useful product when I complete my degree.
  • Improved image capturing and analysis. Capture a single image or a sequence, where sequences can consist of an image that changes over time. The version 7 release was heavily oriented towards working with graphics and I’m pleased to see they continue to improve that aspect of the program.
  • C code generation from Mathematica programs. (Note: I will test this and post my findings during this review-the fact that Wolfram provides this functionality means a lot to me).
  • Integration with external libraries is huge for multiple system environments. A big plus in my eyes.
  • Technical support response is excellent. I contacted them 3 times during my review and they were prompt in responding and helpful.

Negatives

  • No longer support for OS X running on PPC Macs. This bothers me considering the modest hardware requirements for this upgrade. The problem for most Mac users is that Macs continue to run well even when they are replaced by newer and more powerful computers. I understand other vendors like Adobe made this same business decision, but my 20″ G5 PPC Mac works fine even though it lacks an Intel CPU and now I have to restrict it to version 7 of this software.
  • I also saw that Solaris is no longer in the list of supported operating systems and that is a shame. I didn’t install Mathematica 7 on my Sun workstation but feel others in academia use Suns as well as Linux and would like to see it continue to receive support. I also believe that the Mathematica Player was not supported for Solaris, so perhaps Wolfram felt they did not hear enough from Solaris users when release 7 was released to be a valid reason to drop support for version 8 of Mathematica on Solaris.
  • While it supports creating new styles for text processing, it does not appear to support importing or integrating with external styles. I hope I’m wrong – let me know if I missed that and I’ll correct this review.

Conclusion

Very, very positive so far, and strongly recommended as a new or upgrade purchase. It will take awhile to cover all the improvements and additions in this version of the software, so my final conclusion when come when this review is finished.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

I just saw a presentation on version 8 of Mathematica, the newest update to this powerful product used in a wide variety of industries, and I am impressed. There are a ton of enhancements and I will be covering the new release here and for Software Latest. For now, check out the official Wolfram press release:

=============================================================================

Wolfram Research Introduces Unique Concept of Linguistically Controlled Computing

New Mathematica 8 Integrates Wolfram|Alpha – One of More Than 500 New Features

November 15, 2010—Wolfram Research today announced the release of Mathematica 8, the latest version of its flagship computation, development, and deployment platform that introduces the breakthrough concept of linguistically controlled computing. Integrating technology of Wolfram|Alpha, the Mathematica-powered computational knowledge engine, makes it possible to enter math or data calculations in plain English and get immediate answers or start an extensive analysis.

“Traditionally, getting computers to perform tasks requires speaking their language or using point-and-click interfaces. One requires learning syntax, the other limits scope of accessible functions,” said Stephen Wolfram, CEO and Founder of Wolfram Research. “Free-form linguistics understands human language and translates it into syntax—a breakthrough in usability. Mathematica 8 is the start of this initiative, but already it is making a real difference to user productivity.”

Free-form input is a new entry point into the Mathematica idea-to-deployment workflow, but Mathematica 8 adds a major new endpoint too: generation of C code and standalone executables. Using Mathematica, organizations no longer have to rely on separate tools for prototyping and deployment, but can complete the entire workflow with one integrated tool.

“It’s amazing that you can start with free-form linguistic input, model or prototype, and end up with a high-performance standalone program or library…all within Mathematica 8’s comprehensive workflow,” said Tom Wickham-Jones, Director of Kernel Technology at Wolfram Research.

Even with these major enhancements at either end of the workflow, the most significant additions in Mathematica 8 are the more than 500 new functions in many new and extended application areas, including:

  • Probability and statistics: largest collection of statistical distributions and automatic high-level solvers including parameter estimation
  • Software development: built-in GPU support, automatic code generation and linking, multicore parallelism, and standalone code deployment.
  • Engineering: integrated control systems and wavelet analysis
  • Graphs and networks: extensive built-in support for the new science of networks
  • Finance: built-in option pricing solvers, financial indicators, and charts
  • Image processing: enhanced image analysis capabilities, such as feature detection

“In all of these domains, you will find dramatic depth of coverage,” stated Roger Germundsson, Director of Research & Development at Wolfram Research. “The functions are designed to work together seamlessly across different domains which allows combining them in new and innovative ways.”

“Rather than build individual spikes of functionality provided by traditional specialist tools, Mathematica‘s concept is based on building up the complete mountain range,” said Conrad Wolfram, Director of Strategic Development at Wolfram Research. “It’s this broad functionality across a wide area that enabled us to build state-of-the-art application areas such as statistics and probability so quickly for Mathematica 8.”

Availability

Mathematica 8 is available immediately for Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X, Linux x86, and compatible systems. More product details are available on the Mathematica website: http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica

=============================================================================

Notes:

1. I reformatted the content of the release for this site, but did not modify any of the material.
2. Not all Mathematica products are being updated today. The Home and Student editions will be updated soon – stay tuned here for more information.
3. I am writing an ongoing review of Mathematica, also available on this site, which covers new and interesting existing aspects of this software. Please check back from time-to-time as this will be one of my larger and more in-depth reviews.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction:

One of the two thing I dislike at the Holiday, read that gift  giving season, is not knowing what to give my Macintosh using friends, that’s not just an out of the catalogs gift.  The other is that I’m always short of cash and figuring what nice vs. chintzy (cash limits) is a hassle.

The Gift That Works for a Year or Three — Or at least until your OS changes so it can’t be supported.

What I started doing late last holiday season and will continue to do this year is to give my friends a CD of selected Shareware/Freeware items that seem most suited to their computing needs. I have several reasons for doing so.

  • The gift is both useful and personal 
  • The cost is as large or as small as you can afford.
  • That you share tools that will either increase the friend’s productivity or enjoyment if the tool shows you took the time to care!

Most of my friends aren’t software/shareware junkies and miss out on the kinds of goodies identified in Dan Frakes’ Macworld’s Gems columns, one of which I’ve linked to; or the items I surf for and occasionally review found on the MacUpdate site:
http://www.macworld.com/article/145043/2009/12/gemsoftheyear.html
[http://www.macupdate.com/%5D.

So what do you do, beyond trying to understand how your friend(s) 
use their Macintosh?

Think About and Get Downright Personal — In Their Faces —

  • Are they newbies, Wintel transplants, experienced users or experts?
  • Are they focused on productivity (writing or creating graphics and other media), media collection, running a business, surfing for fun and perhaps bargains, gaming or what ever?
  • What software do they already own and use. Are there add-ons/alternatives that they would enjoy exploring (e.g., Photoshop filters?)
  • Are big name commercial products out of their reach so they would welcome having most of a name brand products features at a much lower cost (e.g., OpenOffice vs., MS Office, or PDFpen Pro or Adobe Acrobat.)
  • Are there applications [toys] out there that would either enhance their present productivity, add features and alternative ways to enhance what they routinely do?
  • Provide them with toys that pleasure them or just open their eyes to new world of working on/with the Macintosh?

Don’t forget to consider the lower cost commercial products  such as Photoshop Elements or Bento, which are better than Apple’s iPhoto or paying for the full-fledged version of FileMaker Pro. If you get the down loadable version, they can be included on your CD.

How Do You Create Personalized Mac-Gift Package for Your Holiday Gift Recipients?

Congratulations, you’ve done this the hardest tHiMk part!

  • All the rest is just a bit of application collection,
  • Prepay Pay a license fee (if shareware) for them as needed,
  • Collect some summary information of the particular application (I use the descriptor from either MacUser or the developers site, and
  • Put all this plus the appropriate links in a unique folder.

Fancy or plain, there are tools to customize folders some of which I’ve previously described. You might include some in your gift. As noted previously my favorite icon tools are Folder Brander and iconCompo.

  • Gather these individual software items up in a burn folder. I use Toast, but Apple’s tools are just fine!
  • Add a short or long note, some pictures of you and yours or you and them together that you’ve taken.

Burn Baby Burn

Then create a pretty label for your gift. I mostly use Belight Software’s Disc Cover or Smiles DiscLabel, both great programs that I can’t choose between.

Final Thoughts

Yes, creating a purrfect Shareware gift CD has a trade-off. It’s personal, and by definition meets your budget but also takes tHiMk time.

PS:
A Possible Complication — Depending on how the software developer licenses’ their product, you may have to register it your friends name / eMail) etc. I usually get around this by dropping the developer a note to see if ‘gifting’ the item causes any registration problems.

Sidebar Notes:
Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

 

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

The Java Developer Mailing list has been buzzing about Apple’s recent announcement to deprecate Java. Apple even statied it would not include Java in the next version of OS X (Lion, due the middle or end of next year). Bad news for Java developers, educators, students, and businesses that rely of Java and prefer to use the Mac.

Fortunately we had some good news today. Apple and Oracle announced the OpenJDK project of OS X. Click here to read Apple’s press release on their site. Weigh in with your opinions as to this news.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Saturn Facts:

  • Location: 6th planet from the sun
  • Size: 2nd largest planet in our solar system
  • Orbit: 9.54 AU
  • Orbital Period: 29.44 Julian Years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 9.58 AUs *
  • Diameter: 120,536 km
  • Discovered: 1610 by Galileo
  • Atmosphere: 75% Hydrogen, 25% helium
  • Interesting facts: visited by Pioneer 11, Voyage 1&2, Cassini. it has rings, internal heat source.
  • Total number of moons: 61 (Tarqeq, Pan, Daphnis, Atlas, Prometheus, Pandora, Epimetheus, Janus, Aegaeon, Mimas, Methone, Anthe, Pallene, Enceladus, Tethys, Calypso, Telesto, Polydeuces, Dione, Helene, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion, Iapetus, Kiviuq, Ijiraqm Phoebe, Paaliaq, Skathi, Albiorix, S/2007 S2, Bebhionn, Erriapo, Siarnaq, Skill, Tavros, Greip, S/2004 S13, Hyrrikkin, Mundilfari, S/2006 S1, Jarnsaxa, Narvi, Bergelmir, S/2004 S17, Suttungr, Hati, S/2004 S12, Bestla, Farbauti, Thrymr, S/2007 S3, Aegir, S/2004 S7, S/2006 S3, Kari, Fenrir, Surtur, Ymir, Loge, and Fornjot)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Saturn

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

One of my favorite hobbies is astronomy, but I’m currently without a decent telescope so I take advantage of computer software and the internet to satisfy my desire to explore the heavens.  I have two favorite astronomy packages – Starry Night and Voyager – both are loaded with features and very good for people with passing interest in the stars and planets, as well as more serious hobbyists.  Right now I am testing and reviewing Redshift 7, another astronomy package for Windows, and I’ll post my review here as soon as my evaluation is complete.

This evening I started Starry Night up after booting my Macbook and took a quick jaunt to Jupiter and Saturn. My last astronomy post dealt with Jupiter, so let me discuss Saturn tonight. Saturn is a gas giant, is the second largest planet in our solar system, and is the 6th planet from the sun. Most people know about the rings surrounding Saturn, which are made of ice and rocks.


As you see at the left of the screen, we’re looking at the Starry Night Find tab and see some data about the planet and moons. If we want more data then we need to switch to the info tab and select the More Options button.

Quite a few options. If you need more information about this gas giant, select the Extended Options button, which launches Safari and looks for information on Saturn in Wikipedia.

Now for a view of Saturn as seen from the surface of Enceladus, the sixth largest moon of Saturn and one of only three outer solar system bodies (in addition to Io and Triton) where we have been able to observe an eruption:

When I think of the first astronomy program I used on a computer (an open source program), I am amazed and pleased how far this genre of software has evolved over the years. Instead of sitting out in the cold and hunched over a textbook to glean data about dim astronomical bodies, we can learn about the planets and stars in our classrooms, homes, and as we travel.

The current generation of people in high school and college will have the opportunity to travel into space on one of the commercial space craft now being developed. I imagine that same generation will be able to travel to the moon and maybe even to Mars. If this interests you even a little, take the time to set aside time spent watching TV or playing games and see some of the wonders in the skies above you. The images of planets and stars now available to people is impressive, and what you see now may be something you see in person in the future.

I should also mention that people using iTunes should check out iTunesU. Professor Nemiroff at Michigan Technological University has posted all of his lectures for PH1600, a college-level introduction to astronomy. They are informative, easy to watch, and absolutely worth the time to download and view. There are other astronomy courses at iTunesU, so take the time to check them out.

Until then, be well.

=====================

Updates

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period, Average Distance from Earth Information.

2-14-2011 – Added names of all moons.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

A few months ago I wrote a short piece how a Scottish non-scientist named Chris Monckton has been traveling the globe denying global warming using unverifiable or misrepresented facts. Professor John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering posted a point-by-point rebuttal to one of Monckton’s presentations at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota and Monckton was furious, insulting the Professor (whom he called “a parboiled shrimp”), the university (he called a “half-assed Bible college”), and the head of the university (Father Dease). While insulting the school and university professionals associated with Professor Abraham, Monckton has threatened to sue the professor and the school for defamation. Seems odd that someone publically insults others chooses to insist that he is the one being defamed, doesn’t it?

A new story from Susan Alexander (a writer at UST) addressing this issue was released yesterday. Susan’s piece was well-written and it helps bring the public up to date on the situation with Monckton and global warming. Please go here to read it.

IMHO, the biggest skeptics about global warming seem to either be non-scientists, meteorologists, politicians with a political agenda, or the oil industry. It seems most scientists, including climatologists, agree global warming is very real. Many former skeptics now accept global warming is real, is impacting life on our planet, and feel it must be addressed now before it has too dramatic an effect on the people of our world. Even Monckton can use Wolfram|Alpha to generate graphs like the one below:

I know I’m merely a computer scientist (not as science-focused as a degree in classical studies), but that graph looks like it is climbing, not dropping, during the past 100 years. To reproduce this graph for yourself, click here.

Monckton is entitled to his opinions, but it seems rather odd that a man without climate-related academic credentials is trying to take on a tenured professor with credentials and knowledge. As for me, I think I’ll side with Professor Abraham and accept global warming is a real threat to our species.

A larger concern is that newly elected conservatives are threatening scientists that speak up about global warming. A good article on this was recently published in the Star Tribune. Go here to read it.

For a link to Professor Abraham’s rebuttal to Monckton’s feeble attempt at rebutting the good professor, check out this blog.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

IntelliJ IDEA (http://www.jetbrains.com/idea/)

Introduction

I’ve been using IntelliJ IDEA since version 9.0.0 and really like this IDE. I wrote a review about the 9.0.2 CE (click here to see it) and  IntelliJ was kind enough to let me evaluate the Ultimate Edition for 3 months. I used it and Eclipse (www.eclipse.org) at the same time on my last undergrad project of using Java to write a C compiler. I liked using the J2EE-enabled functionality, the C programming functionality (which was present in 9.0.0 CE but no longer in versions 9.0.1 CE and 9.0.2 CE), and the overall speed (startup, execution, and shutdown) of the IDE.

I felt it was much easier to use Ant in IDEA 9.0.2 UE than in Eclipse, and the overall startup and execution speed was also better in IDEA than Eclipse. I really appreciate how IntelliJ organizes the options in all four borders of the IDE – very easy to become familiar with the organization. I also have to give IntelliJ kudos for their tech support and sales support – they really listen to their customers.

Don’t get me wrong; I love using Eclipse. I just find IDEA Ultimate Edition (the commercial one) to be more fun and easier to use when coding than Eclipse. I don’t feel that way about the Community Edition (the free one), because so much functionality I need (web, C) is disabled. I do like that JetBrains gives educational discounts – I’m a student and like whenever companies realize that and help us cash-strapped folk. Another kudos to JetBrains.

I understand IntelliJ’s business decision to provide more functionality in their commercial product, but do web development for a living and I can’t ignore the cost and wide-spread preference at most of my clients for Eclipse. I also should point out it was much easier for me to find Eclipse plug-ins than IntelliJ, which was a shame.

IDEA 10 Coming Soon

Good news for IntelliJ IDEA IDE users – version 10 is coming soon and there are nice features for both editions of this powerful development environment. I received an email about the pending release and wanted to share some of that content with you, our readers, since our IDEA 9.0.2 CE review is in our top ten most commonly-read reviews since it was posted in July of 2010, so I wanted to post some of the new release information I recently received from JetBrains:

==============================================================================

IntelliJ IDEA v10 will feature a faster environment and improved performance, as well as new GitHub integration and XML completion features. More details on the next version are available here:
http://www.jetbrains.com/idea/nextversion

For our free Community Edition users, we are pleased to introduce the addition of the Android development plug-in beginning with version 10. More information on this is available on the IntelliJ IDEA blog here:
http://blogs.jetbrains.com/idea/2010/10/intellij-idea-10-free-ide-for-android-development/

==============================================================================

I want to encourage the programmers that follow our blog to download version 10 upon release. I think the XML completion support in the UE (commercial) edition and the Android support in the CE (free) edition are excellent enhancements. A lot of developers on the Mac OSX Java Dev List like and use IDEA, and their comments are what prompted me to give it a try and it was absolutely worth taking the time to use it.

My recommendation: Download the CE, try it out, and if you like it better than your current IDE then you can see if your company will pay for UE licenses. It might be worth the effort to contact JetBrains and ask for a time-limited eval of IDEA UE to demo to your employer – I can’t say JetBrains will or won’t provide one, but it is still worth the effort to ask if you like the CE version.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

The football team at my university (University of St. Thomas) completed their first 10-0 season. Undefeated in any league is huge – well done Tommies!

For more info, go here.

Basilisk Games Announces the development of “The Secret of Fathamurk”, an extended adventure for Eschalon: Book II

Indianapolis, IN – September 3, 2010 – Basilisk Games, Inc. today announced the development of an add-on adventure for Eschalon: Book II called “The Secret of Fathamurk”.

“This expansion for Eschalon: Book II will add 5-10 hours of new gameplay for fans of the game,” said Thomas Riegsecker, Lead Developer of the Eschalon series. “Better yet, we’re not charging players a dime for it. If you own Eschalon: Book II you will have access to this new content free-of-charge with the 1.05 update.”

Eschalon: Book II is available now for Windows, Macintosh and Linux based computers. “The Secret of Fathamurk” expansion will be included in the 1.05 update coming this October. Current owners need only to download the updated game to have access to this new content. The final release date for this update will be announced on the Basilisk Games website. Visit http://basiliskgames.com for more information.

About Eschalon: Book II

Eschalon: Book II is the sequel to 2007’s hit independent role-playing game, Eschalon: Book I. Continue your journey across massive outdoor environments and deep into twisted dungeons as you seek to uncover the mystery of your past and who is behind the menace that threatens all of Eschalon. No experience with the first game is needed to enjoy this second chapter in the Eschalon trilogy. More information on the game and links to the demo and video trailer can be found online at: http://basiliskgames.com/eschalon_book_ii

About Basilisk Games

Founded in 2005, Basilisk Games is an independent game developer located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company’s mission is to produce compelling old-school computer role-playing games for gamers who still remember what great computer RPGs used to be about: “Single-player. Turn-based. Stat heavy. Story driven.” Visit Basilisk Games online at: http://basiliskgames.com

Contact Info
For press inquires and review copy requests, contact us at: info@basiliskgames.com

NOTE: I added this press release, even though it was sent last month, because I reviewed this game in July and a lot of people come here to check it out. This RPG game is a lot of fun, is well-written, and is a bargain when downloaded.

The FAQs about the enhancement are here.