Archive for March, 2008

Weather Engineering in China

March 31st, 2008 No comments

The 2008 Summer Olympics in China are a big deal…no doubt about that. The Chinese have gone done a huge amount of work in preparing for what’s often considered the greatest sports gathering on the planet. New venues have been built, the city is being cleaned up for its guests, and athletes all around the world are tuning up for their moment in the sun. And the Chinese hope that it will be sunny, but if not they have a plan…

The Chinese are going to control the weather.

According to this article published recently at, the city’s branch of the national Weather Modification Office has prepared a three-staged plan for helping guide Mother Nature in the right direction.

First, Beijing’s Weather Modification Office will track the region’s weather via satellites, planes, radar, and an IBM p575 supercomputer, purchased from Big Blue last year, that executes 9.8 trillion floating point operations per second. It models an area of 44,000 square kilometers (17,000 square miles) accurately enough to generate hourly forecasts for each kilometer.

Then, using their two aircraft and an array of twenty artillery and rocket-launch sites around Beijing, the city’s weather engineers will shoot and spray silver iodide and dry ice into incoming clouds that are still far enough away that their rain can be flushed out before they reach the stadium.

Finally, any rain-heavy clouds that near the Bird’s Nest will be seeded with chemicals to shrink droplets so that rain won’t fall until those clouds have passed over.

Given that August is typically part of the rainy season in Beijing, with daily chances of rain exceeding 50%, the Chinese government would seem to have its work cut out for it. Doubters of this sort of science might point to our own inability to control the weather, but these facts may indicate the Chinese have a jump on the rest of the world:

The Chinese began experimental weather engineering in 1958 to irrigate the country’s north, where average yearly rainfall compares with that during the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and sudden windstorms blasting down from the Gobi desert have made drought and famine constant possibilities. Today, the People’s Republic budgets $60 to $90 million annually for its national Weather Modification Office. As for the return on this investment, the state-run news agency Xinhua claims that between 1999 and 2007, the office rendered 470,000 square kilometers of land hail-free and created more than 250 billion tons of rain–an amount sufficient to fill the Yellow River, China’s second largest, four times over. Furthermore, while Qian’s weather engineers in Beijing have been testing their capabilities for the past two years, the Chinese say that during the past five years, similar efforts have already helped produce good weather at national events like the World Expo in Yunnan, the Asian Games in Shanghai, and the Giant Panda Festival in Sichuan.

Most eyes in the world will be on the athletes competing in China in August. But, for a few scientists and other meteorologists across the world, their eyes will be in the sky…and they hope to not see any rain.

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Boston Dynamics’ "BigDog"

March 26th, 2008 No comments

It seems that Boston Dynamics, "an engineering company that specializes in robotics and human simulation," has created the most advanced quadruped robot on Earth, called "BigDog." Here is the video that can be found on YouTube:



Quite honestly, this thing is amazing. I have never seen a robot move with the precision, and "normalcy" that this one does. It walks exactly like a dog. The freakiest moment of the video, though was when it was slipping on the ice, and trying to recover it’s footing. At that moment, it looked more like a real animal than a noisy robot. I think these guys have their finger on the pulse of the future, and we’ll be seeing quite a few of their creations on the battlefield, as the project was funded in part by DARPA.

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Cool Google Gadget : gpicsync

March 21st, 2008 3 comments

Some of my Twitter pals showed me this today:

GPicSync automatically inserts location in your photos metadata so they can also be used with any ‘geocode aware’ application like Picasa/Google Earth, Flickr,, etc.


  • automatically geocode your photos (in the EXIF header)
  • use a GPS tracklog in the GPX format or NMEA format (multiple selection possible)
  • Support elevation data if present in the tracklog
  • create a Google Earth KML file to directly visualize the geocoded photos and track in Google Earth
  • create a Google Maps file to publish your pictures and track on the web (more)
  • Automatically associate audio or video files in Google Earth and Google Maps
  • create a Google Earth KMZ file (containing your geolocalized pictures and tracklog).
  • add additional geonames and ‘geotagged’ metadata (for automatic tagging in Flickr for example) and create an automatic IPTC caption (more)
  • manually write latitude/longitude in a picture EXIF or a selection of photos
  • handy tools integrated (Time correction tool, EXIF reader, GPX inspector, rename pictures with date/location,)
  • supports Jpeg pictures and main RAW files format (more)
  • software available in English, French, German, Italian, traditional and simplified Chinese, Catalan, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and Czech (see translations)

This looks pretty cool! The next time I’m out geocaching, or taking pictures in the wilderness, I plan on creating a track file with my GPSr, and then later merging them together. It’d be cool to come back to a location some years later and take a comparison picture.

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Nokia : The Morph Concept

March 19th, 2008 No comments

Ran across this amazing flash concept demo of the Nokia Morph concept today. Using nanotechnology, the researchers at Nokia have started working on some very amazing concepts in wearable, usable devices. According to the web site, Morph concept technologies might create fantastic opportunities for mobile devices:

  1. Newly-enabled flexible and transparent materials blend more seamlessly with the way we live
  2. Devices become self-cleaning and self-preserving
  3. Transparent electronics offering an entirely new aesthetic dimension
  4. Built-in solar absorption might charge a device, while batteries become smaller, longer lasting and faster to charge
  5. Integrated sensors might allow us to learn more about the environment around us, empowering us to make better choices

I found the video they did of the concept absolutely amazing, and, provided it was affordable, I’d buy the device in an instant. You should really check this out.


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GPS Receivers : Gadgets or Real Technology?

March 18th, 2008 No comments

I was thinking today about my Garmin 76CSx, and got to thinking about whether GPS receivers (often called GPSr), are more gadgets than real pieces of technology? As GPSr’s become more and more prevalent in the marketplace, they will mature to a point where we can do things wirelessly, accessing the Internet and getting data we need on the fly. Sooner or later something like the iGPS will debut, and we’ll have more GPS functionality in the palm of our hands than we ever thought possible before. At that point, is the GPSr just a cool gadget, or an honest-to-goodness piece of technology? I think my GPSr, in all it’s basic glory, is an amazing piece of technology that stands on it’s own with the basic functionality : showing me where I am on the earth. If you think about it, being able to know almost exactly where you are on the earth at any given time is pretty amazing. Couple that with something like Geocaching, and you get very cool technology helping you engage in a very interesting sport. It just blows my mind how cool it all is!


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Thought Experiment #6 : Parfit’s Teleporter

March 16th, 2008 1 comment

The last of our Thought Experiments from Wired magazine beams us across science as we consider Parfit’s Teleporter:

Philosopher Derek Parfit is famous for basing thought experiments on sci-fi. In 1984, he envisioned a teleporter malfunction, like the one that made two James T. Kirks in an episode of Star Trek. Teleporters annihilate every particle in you, then rebuild them from scratch. What happens if the original isn’t destroyed? Which is the real you? Parfit says both. Evil Kirk would disagree.

All I know is that I don’t want to see Evil Kirk doing Priceline commercials…it’s hard enough to watch Good Kirk doing them now.

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Thought Experiment #5 : Galileo’s Balls

March 15th, 2008 No comments

The second to last in our look at Wired magazine’s Thought Experiments. Today we consider Galileo and his…um…balls:

Contrary to what you teachers told you, Galileo Galilei likely did not drop balls from the Tower of Pisa; he conducted the gravity experiment in the laboratory of his mind. his 16th-century peers believed heavier objects fell faster than light ones. So Galileo imagined a heavy ball attached by a string to a light ball. Would the light ball create drag and slow the heavy one down? Nope, he concluded, they would hit the ground simultaneously.

How could you possibly come to that conclusion without actual scientific observation? There are all sorts of conclusions to scientific problems I can come up with in my head, but all need empirical observations to prove.

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Thought Experiment #4 : Schrödinger’s Cat

March 14th, 2008 No comments

We’re halfway through the interesting set of Though Experiments from Wired magazine. We continue with Schrödinger’s Cat and the concept of state:

A cat is trapped in a box with radioactive material, a Geiger counter, and a mechanism rigged to release poison if a particle decay is detected. According to Erwin Schrödinger, the cat exists in two probable states. But that doesn’t track with reality (cats are not both alive and dead). Proposed in 1935, the postulate illustrates that some quantum concepts just don’t work at nonquantum scales. Also, that Schrödinger was a dog person.

I am a cat person, so I object to Shrödingers use of cats in this postulate.

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Thought Experiment #3 : Searle’s Room

March 14th, 2008 No comments

The third of our Though Experiments from Wired magazine has us contemplating artificial intelligence in Searle’s Room:

A man sits alone in a room. Someone slips paper with Chinese writing on it under the door. The man doesn’t read Chinese, but with a set of instructions he’s able to manipulate the symbols and respond. To an observer, the man appears to understand the language. Philosopher John Searle devised the scenario in 1980 to make a point about computers. CPUs, like his man, lack comprehension and thus can’t have humanlike intelligence.

Chew on that for a bit the next time you think you’re computer is out to get you!

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Thought Experiment #2 : Einstein’s Light Beam

March 13th, 2008 No comments

Continuing on with the Though Experiments from Wired magazine, we have Einstein’s Light Beam:

When he was 16, Albert Einstein daydreamed about chasing after a beam of light until he caught up to it. At that point, young Einstein reasoned, the light wave would appear frozen. The problem : This was impossible according to the thinking back in 1895. Somehow, this little glitch lead Einstein right to the theory of special relativity. Lost? Don’t worry. Physicists still debate exactly how this mental exercise got him there.

For me, the lesson here is to never stop thinking, no matter how impossible your thoughts are!

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