Category Archives: Engineering

Links o' the day 20/11/08

China’s output per head of population is smaller than Albania’s. Except China could probably buy swathes of the planet.

Wooly mammoth DNA decoded. Am I the only one who wants to see this species roam the Earth again?

A gallery of the greatest conspiracy theories.

Prices at Dubai’s Palm developments are down 40% to a paltry $2.7m.

Vive la France (in digital library terms at least).

It seems 21% of Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean on a map. On the plus side, 94% can find the US.

The fakir who was buried alive for 40 days.

Energy islands

It is one of those ideas that is so obvious it is difficult to imagine why somebody did not think of it sooner: a floating rig that collects wave, solar, thermal and wind energy.

One of these hexagonally-shaped islands could generate 250 megawatts (enough power for a small city), Michaelis said. Even more power is possible by mooring together several Energy Islands into a small archipelago that could include greenhouses for food, a small harbor for ships and a hotel for tourists.

Although the focus is on using the other technologies to help ocean thermal energy conversion, I think the idea could have plenty of merit even without this. It won’t be cheap, at about $600m per energy island, but it could pay for itself through desalinisation or aquaculture.

It would be important to ensure that such facilities do not interfere with marine life: with so many fish species already threatened, it would be stupid to run the risk of further depopulation (although I confess ignorance of fish stocks in tropical waters). There are also a great many dead zones in world waters, and I would be concerned that the pumping up of so many nutrients could create new ones; I’m sure such possibilities will be dealt with if such projects get funding.

It’s also unclear how far offshore these islands would be: too close, and public opinion will be against populating pretty sea views with technology.

Moroccan merge

The Moroccan cities of Rabat and Salé are inching ever close to becoming one, a project 800 years in the making if you’re feeling poetic, two years if you’re feeling realistic.

Either way, it’s a fairly huge undertaking and an indication of how urban sprawl and economic necessity can bring about major changes in the demographic and political spheres. It isn’t one absorbing the other through growth and authority — I’m sure we all know at least suburb that has become part of a city proper in our lifetimes — but an indication of how highly the government considers having a capital that’s big enough to compete on both economic and prestige fronts.

And what interests me as well is that Morocco either had an inkling of a global recession, or were simply prudent enough to cover the possibility: it has a $3.25bn emergency fund in case investors pull out of the project.

Morocco broke ground on the US$4 billion Bouregreg project in 2006 and plans to complete major work in 2010. New breakwaters have appeared, the estuary sports a new marina and corniche, and the grinding of heavy machinery echoes through Rabat as workers lay rails for a tram system spanning the river.

The river flats will be covered in swish new houses and business parks, and resort hotels will stud the coastline. UAE firms Sama Dubai and Sorouh Real Estate are supplying investment and building expertise, but the government promises Moroccans that their capital will not become a Gulf-style megalopolis.

I’m not sure if it will be called Rabat or Bouregreg, after the river that flows between the two cities. I’m just fascinated by urban transformation.

It’s not the first example of cities merging — there’s Budapest — but it’s one of the bigger ones in recent history, perhaps even the biggest if my memory is accurate. I also like motivation behind it; whereas Budapest was formed from three cities to be the capital of Hungary, in Morocco it is a natural progression, as the two cities are quite intertwined as it is.

Hallowe'en links and more

Hallowe’en pumpking carving with robotics (Slashdot, pic via there as well)

Looking for a Hallowe’en scare? Try the latest video games (Reuters)

Ten horror hoaxes that spooked the masses (The Daily Telegraph)

DIY Hallowe’en projects (Lifehacker)

Researchers build “haunted” room (BoingBoing)

And now time for some music.

The Misfits – Scream


Lordi – Hard rock Hallelujah


Cradle of Filth – No Time to Cry


And a horror of a different kind: Jan Terri – Losing You


Space talk

NASA is making all the right noises, with its chief, Michael Griffin, again asserting that space exploration is key to human survival. Good luck getting the cash for that one.

His vested interest is apparent and, given the environmental damage that has been wrought to Earth, he may have a point. But then again it’s NASA’s 50th anniversary, so we should expect him to promote the overall endeavour.

“As we move out in our solar system, expanding human presence, we can’t prove what we will find will be useful.

“It was understood in Columbus’s time that if voyagers discovered new lands they would find valuable things. We can’t prove today that we can exploit what we find to the benefit of humankind.”

However, in the long run, Griffin believes “human populations must diversify if it wishes to survive.”

To be fair, he has a point. The greater the number of human populations, the greatert the chance that the species will, in some form, survive. The Moon is the obvious candidate, followed by Mars; you don’t have to be a science-fiction fan to figure that out. Though conditions will be far from luxurious, at least to begin with, even a few thousand people on each body will aid our ultimate chances of survival.

Complete terraforming is well beyond our grasp, although for a snapshot of something we could do regarding the Moon, read Moonseed by Stephen Baxter. Kim Stanley Robinson’s substantial Mars series is a hard science look at the transformation of the Red Planet.

Closer to terra firma, Griffin is also adamant that he does not see China as a competitor in space exploration. He may come to regret his words, which come the same week that China prepared for its as China launches its riskiest orbital mission yet, including its first space walk.

It would not be in Griffin’s best interests to praise the Chinese project, even if it could eventually see the Asian nation launch and complete its own space station in the near future. The space walk is pivotal for developing the expertise to snap the thing together.

Links o' the day

The next Microsoft. Robert Cringely looks at “where Google is screwing up, why, and what they should do about it”.

‘Cool City’ to save 60% of its energy. A Japanese team wants to build an environmentally sound city in the UAE.

VerseDay: The macabre and fantastic in verse. I’ve never linked to poetry before, so get it while it’s going.

How to argue productively. It’s possible, apparently.

Make your own lifesize Jabba the Hutt. Oh come on, who hasn’t wanted this?

And the Super Mario theme, remixed for your hardcore pleasure: