Archive for February, 2010

How technology is helping rebuild places like Haiti

[tweetmeme] The greatest perils of modern human life is the reaction to “Acts of God”, no one knows when these will actually happen and however ready we humans seem to be to react to these earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes etc, we never seem to be ready enough. Haiti and the earthquake there has just proved it even more. Scientists are working all over the world to actually come up with a solution for early warning solutions, while that seems to be eluding us; there is another aspect of this problem that technology is really helping with, and that is rehabilitation and rebuilding, and they are doing it in a way that is ecologically sustainable.

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Containerization has revolutionized cargo shipping. Today, approximately 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide moves by containers stacked on transport ships. The humble containers are now moving not just goods, but are getting to provide safe housing and quick. Shipping container architecture is a form of architecture using steel intermodal containers (shipping containers) as structural element, because of their inherent strength, wide availability and relatively low cost. There are inherit advantages to this soltuion if using shipping containers, Strength and Durability, Modular,  Transport, Availability and the obvious, Cost . The other side of the coin is actually that there is a downside which are, Temperature inside the cabin, Building permits to use this might be a problem, and others. However in places like Haiti where massive rebuilding needs to happen and quickly, these seem to be what the doctor ordered.

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Researchers at Clemson University are scurrying to figure out how to turn their project, known as SEED, into a way to contribute emergency housing to Haiti right now. SEED was initially conceived as a way to utilize some of the estimated 30 million shipping containers that were languishing in ports all over the world by turning them into homes for victims of hurricanes in both the Caribbean Islands and the United States. The design from SEED optimizes the usage of the container where it is simply cut in a few strategic places to allow for airflow and light while it is still in the port, then transported to the site for further modifications such as a coated with ceramic paint for insulation and fitted with wooden shipping pallets that act as “pods” for bathing and cooking.

Additionally, the containers are augmented with another surplus item: 55 gallon drums fitted with an interior slip to protect against leaching. On the roof of the container they become the real “seeds” of the project” filled with dirt and planted for “emergency food restoration.” Christensen says other surplus items such as old tires can also be made into raised beds for growing food.

Interestingly, the idea of using Shipping containers for housing has been around for a long time, in fact its very pracical usage is the Data Centers, Google maximizing the usage of these. Well housing is not something new as well, in fact if you scout the web, you will really find awesome examples of these containers. Check out some awesomely designed examples below:

all terrain cabin 10 Brilliant, Boxy and Sustainable Shipping Container Homes

mobile dwelling unit

port a bach 10 Brilliant, Boxy and Sustainable Shipping Container Homes

12 container house 10 Brilliant, Boxy and Sustainable Shipping Container Homes

If you are interested more, you could check out these great lists with more of these shipping container styled housing designs :

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Everyone is an expert …

[tweetmeme] We all have our little areas of specialty. My sister can tell you all about public speaking. My very good friend can yap at you for hours about project management. I can make computers do stuff and find sort of interesting information online. Specialties, you see. You probably have one or two of these yourself, isn’t it ?

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A popular idea exists among engineers that we call the DRY principle, which stands for Don’t Repeat Yourself. When we’re implementing a piece of functionality in one place and then find that we need the same piece of functionality in another place within the engineering we are trying to achieve, the best practice is to draw it once and make it accessible to the entire site engineers. There are several reasons this is a good idea, but the big two are that the more times you do the some thing, the more likely you are to make a mistake and engineering the same thing twice is a waste of time and effort. Same is true with email. I can’t count the number of occasions I’ve described the difference between Interfacing and Integration to coworkers and curious barroom chums. My IT Friend has been asked about fixing computers, many times. Part of being an “expert” is sharing that knowledge with other people, right?

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So why in the hell do we keep writing the same 4-paragraph email to every joker who asks us about our specialty? If there were ever a case for having a blog, this would be it in my opinion – a place where you can write out those long-winded essays about the best way to make sheer kourma or draw a perfect circle or even whats the easiest way to learn excel. Whatever your particular flavor of knowledge happens to be, surely there are more people that are interested in it than the one dude to whom you just spent the last hour composing the email in question.

So, try this out. Next time you’re tapping out 2 single-spaced pages to your Aunt describing how to set up her mobile for some function, consider emailing it to something like Posterous instead; then, fire Aunt Gertrude a link to the page. Now, not only will your Aunt have all the related knowledge her head can tolerate, Google will probably stop by and maybe send some other interested parties your way. And the next time somebody hits you up about it, you need only send them a link to that thing you already wrote instead of retyping the same email all over again!

With the amount of knowledge that exists among those still running around this planet and the amount of email that gets routed around the world every single day, I’m guessing that we could all take advantage of this at least occasionally. If you do it, I’d love to hear about it and maybe grab a nugget or two of whatever speciality is kicking around in your head!

How to mess up your computer ?

[tweetmeme] A lot of “IT Guys”, including friends of mine have been helping most people around with information regarding how to save the computer crashes, Data, Operating System management etc. But there is definitely one thing that we cannot help do, and that is prevention. As the saying goes “Prevention is better than cure”.

Keeping this in mind I wanted to put together a list of everyday things that might mess up your computer, without any more bullshit, here are the 9 things that you should do if you want to mess up your computer.

  1. Surf the Internet without a Firewall : Many internet users mostly at home plug their computers right into their cable or DSL modems and hop onto the Internet without realizing that they’re putting themselves at risk from viruses and attackers. Every Internet-connected computer should be protected by a firewall; this can be a firewall built into the broadband modem or router, a separate firewall appliance that sits between the modem/router and the computer, a server at the network’s edge running firewall software, or personal firewall software installed on the computer (such as ICF/Windows Firewall built into Windows XP or a third-party firewall program like Kerio or ZoneAlarm). One advantage of personal firewalls on laptop computers is that they’re still with you when you take the computer on the road and plug into a hotel’s DSL or cable port or connect to a wireless hotspot. Just having a firewall isn’t enough, though. You must also be sure it’s turned on and configured properly to protect you.
  2. Neglect to run or Update Antivirus and/or Anti Spyware programs : Let’s face it: Antivirus programs can be a royal pain. They’re always blocking some application you want to use, you often have to disable them to install new software, and they have to be updated on a regular basis to do any good. Seems like the subscription is always expiring and prompting you to renew it–for a fee, in many cases. But in today’s environment, you can’t afford to go without virus protection. The malicious programs that AV software detects–viruses, Trojans, worms, etc.–can not only wreak havoc on your system but can spread via your computer to the rest of the network. In extreme cases, they can bring down the whole network. Spyware is another growing threat; these are programs that install themselves on your computer (usually without your knowledge) and collect information from your system that is then sent back to the spyware program’s author or vendor. Antivirus programs often don’t address spyware so it’s important to run a dedicated spyware detection and removal program.
  3. Install and uninstall lots of programs : There are so many freeware and shareware programs made available as Internet downloads by their authors. We know we all do it, but some users even install pirated software or “warez.” The more programs you install, the more likely you are to run across ones that either include malicious code or that are poorly written and cause your system to behave improperly or crash. The risk is greater with pirated programs. en if you install only licensed, final-release commercial software, too many installations and uninstallations can gunk up the registry. Not all uninstall routines completely remove program remnants and at the least, this practice can cause your system to slow down over time. You should install only the programs that you really need, stick with legitimate software, and try to minimize the number you install and uninstall.
  4. Keep disks full and fragmented : One of the results of installing and uninstalling lots of programs (or adding and deleting data of any kind) is that it fragments your disk. Disk fragmentation occurs because of the way information is stored on the disk: On a new, clean disk, when you save a file it’s stored in contiguous sections called clusters. If you delete a file that takes up, for example, five clusters, and then save a new file that takes eight clusters, the first five clusters’ worth of data will be saved in the empty space left by the deletion and the remaining three will be saved in the next empty spaces. That makes the file fragmented, or divided. To access that file, then, the disk’s read heads won’t find all the parts of the file together but must go to different locations on the disk to retrieve it all. That makes it slower to access. If the file is part of a program, the program will run more slowly. A badly fragmented disk will slow down to a crawl. You can use the disk defragmenter built into Windows (Programs | Accessories | System Tools) or a third-party defrag program to rearrange these pieces of files so that they’re placed contiguously on the disk.Another common cause of performance problems and application misbehavior is a disk that’s too full. Many programs create temporary files and need extra free space on the disk to operate. You can use Windows XP’s Disk Cleanup Tool or a third-party program to find and delete rarely used files, or you can manually delete files to clear space on your disk.
  5. Open all attachments : Some folks just can’t help themselves: Getting an e-mail message with an attachment is like getting an unexpected gift. You just have to peek inside to see what it is. But just as that package left on your doorstep could contain a bomb, that file attached to your mail message could contain code that will delete your documents or system folder or send viruses to everyone in your address book. The most blatantly dangerous attachments are executable files–those that run code–with extensions like .exe, .cmd, and many others (see http://antivirus.about.com/od/securitytips/a/fileextview.htm for a list of file extensions for different types of executables). Files that aren’t themselves executables, such as Word .doc files and Excel .xls files, can contain embedded macros. Scripts (Visual Basic, JavaScript, Flash, etc.) aren’t directly executed by the computer but are run by other programs. It used to be that you could assume plain text (.txt) or graphics (.gif, .jpg, .bmp) files were safe, but not anymore. File extensions can be spoofed; attackers take advantage of the Windows default setting that doesn’t display common file extensions to name executables something like greatfile.jpg.exe. With the real extension hidden, it shows up as greatfile.jpg. So the recipient thinks it’s a graphic, but it’s actually a malicious program. You should open attachments only when they’re from trusted sources and only when you’re expecting them. Even if the mail with the attachment appears to come from someone you trust, it’s possible that someone spoofed their address or that their computer is infected with a virus that sent the attachment to you without their knowledge.
  6. Click on everything : Opening attachments isn’t the only type of mouse click that can get you in trouble. Clicking on hyperlinks in e-mail messages or on Web pages can take you to Web sites that have embedded ActiveX controls or scripts that can perform all sorts of malicious activities, from wiping your hard disk to installing a backdoor program on your computer that a hacker can use to get in and take control of it. Clicking the wrong link can also take you to inappropriate Web sites that feature pornography, pirated music or software, or other content that can get you in trouble if you’re using a computer on the job or even get you in trouble with the law. Don’t give in to “click mania.” Think before you click a link. Links can also be disguised in phishing messages or on Web sites to appear to take you to a different site from the ones they really point to. For example, the link might say http://www.safesite.com, but it actually takes you to http://www.gotcha.com. You can often find out the real URL by hovering over the link without clicking it.
  7. Pick the wrong passwords : That brings us to another common mistake that can expose you to attacks: picking the wrong password. Even if you don’t belong to a network where the administrator forces you to select strong passwords and change them regularly, you should do so. Don’t pick passwords that are easy to guess, such as your birthdate, loved one’s name, etc. Longer passwords are harder to crack, so make your password at least eight characters long; 14 is even better. Popular password-cracking methods use “dictionary” attacks, so don’t use words that are in the dictionary. Passwords should contain a combination of alpha, numeric, and symbol characters for best security. A long string of nonsense characters may create a password that’s tough to crack, but if you can’t remember it, you’ll defeat the purpose by writing it down (where an intruder may be able to find it). Instead, create a phrase you can remember easily and use the first letters of each word, along with logical numbers and symbols. For example: “My cat ate a mouse on the 5th day of June” becomes “Mc8amot5doJ.”
  8. Ignore the need for a backup and recovery plan : Even if you follow all these suggestions, an attacker may crash your system or your data may be corrupted or get wiped out by a hardware problem. That’s why it’s essential that you always back up your important information and have a plan for recovering from a system failure. Most computer users know they should back up, but many never get around to it. Or they make an initial backup but don’t update it regularly. Use the built-in Windows backup program (Ntbackup.exe in Windows NT, 2000, and XP) or a third-party backup program and schedule backups to occur automatically. Store backed up data on a network server or removable drive in a location away from the computer itself, in case of a natural disaster like flood, fire, or tornado.Remember that the data is the most important thing on your computer. The operating system can be reinstalled and so can applications, but it may be difficult or impossible to recreate your original data. Nonetheless, you can save time and frustration by backing up your system information too. You can create mirror images of your disks using popular ghost or clone programs. This will allow you to restore the system quickly instead of going through the tedious installation process.
  9. Plug into the wall without surge protection : Here’s one that actually can physically destroy your computer equipment, as well as the data it holds. You may think your systems are in danger only during an electrical storm, but anything that interrupts the electrical circuit and then starts the current back again can fry your components. Something as simple as someone turning on an appliance that’s plugged into the same circuit (especially a high voltage one such as a hair dryer, electric heater, or air conditioner) can cause a surge, or a surge may be caused by a tree limb touching a power line. If you have a power outage, you may experience a surge when the electricity comes back on. You can protect your systems against damage from power surges by always using a surge protector, but it’s important to be aware that most cheap surge protectors will survive only a single surge and need to be replaced afterward. An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is better than a surge protector; it has a battery that keeps power flowing smoothly even when there’s an outage, to give you time to gracefully shut down.

I really again wanna remind you all that, well there are tools that are available for going about fixing your computer and I will come through with it, in later posts. But for now, this is your list of things not to do 🙂

Bloom Box another Indian Invention set to change the world

By saying its an Indian invention is going to sensationalize the whole story. I would like to clarify however that, the Inventor of the device is an Indian who used to work at NASA, K R Sridhar. Can the name be more Indian ? lol. However  last week he had a public launch of this invention the “Bloom Box”, which can produce (hold your breath) Clean Energy. I did mention in an earlier post that the tech with the most growth expected is Power Generation. And its no surprise that I am getting to see more development on that front.

Whats the big deal you ask ? Especially since you can find a lot of information these days on ‘Eco Tech” websites. Well A brick sized device in the corner of your house can generate enough energy to run your house. Yes, you read that right, and whats its main ingredient ? Sand. You know that a technology has the most potential when you can boast of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell and the heads of Google and Walmart at its launch. Even more unlikely, the firm in question makes what some may regard as a less than sexy clean energy device.

According to Sridhar, a single cell can produce about 25W, enough for a low-energy lightbulb, and a stack of cells the size of a brick will power an average home. A single Bloom box, a unit the size of a chest freezer and which contains several stacks of fuel cells, will produce 100KW, enough for 100 homes. The box consists of a stack of ceramic disks coated with green and black “inks.” The disks are separated by cheap metal alloy plates. Methane (or other hydrocarbons) and oxygen are fed in, the whole thing is heated up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, and electricity comes out. Bloom estimates that a box filled with 64 ceramic disks can produce enough juice to power a Starbucks.

So Here is what makes this technology so exciting :

  • The Bloom Energy Server is made out of fuel cells, or electrochemical cells. A single fuel cell consists of an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte stuck between the two. As fuel flows in through the anode side and an oxidant comes in over the cathode, a reaction is triggered that causes electrons to move into the fuel cell’s circuit, producing electricity.
  • The Bloom Energy Server isn’t actually a server–that’s just a PR buzzword. In actuality, it’s a distributed power generator. Each “server” produces 100 kW of power, consists of thousands of fuel cells, costs between $700,000 and $800,000, and pays for itself in three to 5 years based on an energy cost of 8 to 9 cents per kW hour.
  • There are many different types of fuel cells. Some of the more popular ones include methanol fuel cells, hydrogen fuel cells, and zinc-air batteries. The Bloom Energy Server consists of solid oxide fuel cells, which are attractive because they can be made out of low-cost materials with high energy efficiencies.
  • The cells can run on a variety of fuels, including traditional fuel, natural gas, biomass gas, landfill gas, and ethanol.
  • Until now, technical challenges have stopped solid oxide fuel cells from being commercialized, but the company’s cells (“sand” baked into ceramic squares that are coated with green and black inks) supposedly have overcome most of the issues. Bloom’s Web site has a great animation showing how solid oxide fuel cells work.

Bloom Energy

  • One of the biggest problems with solid oxide fuel cells is their temperature requirement–the ceramic squares only become active at extremely high temperatures (up to 1800 F). That means Bloom’s cells will have to prove that they can remain durable under the stress–already, the company has had to come out to replace cells at eBay’s installation, which has been running for just 7 months. In general, Bloom expects that its fuel cell stacks will have to be switched out twice during the device’s 10 year lifespan.
  • Bloom’s device generates electricity at 50% to 55% conversion efficiency. In comparison, solar generally produces power at between 10% to 15% efficiency. But unlike solar panels, the Bloom Energy Server produces CO2 as a byproduct. According to the Energy Collective, “CO2 emissions when running on natural gas would be just under 0.8 pounds/kWh, which compares favorably to electricity from central station coal-fired plants (2 lbs/kWh) or natural gas plants (roughly 1.3 lbs/kWh) and the national average for on-grid electricity (around 1.3-1.5 lbs/kWh).” If the box runs on landfill gas or biogas, it produces net zero carbon emissions.
  • Eventually, Bloom hopes that a scaled-down version device can be used in homes. A residential Bloom Box would produce 1 kW of power and cost approximately $3,000. But that probably won’t happen for at least 10 years.

What if tattoos were changeable … ???

I mentioned how I am finding it difficult to decide on a tattoo, and in my quest to find a great design had led to dead ends so far. However, the quest is still on.

One of the biggest fears is the fact that, we need to know what it looks like, I mean it might look good on paper but in reality it might not really look that good. So well we can turn to technology then, I mean its there to make our lives easier. Fortunately, computer graphics artist Loic Zimmermann has developed a program that will allow users to get a look at what a complex design might look like on a 3D figure. If this technology catches on, the possibilities for pushing the art form are obvious. What if you can check on the tattoo and what it would look like before trying it on ? Well here is the answer to that question.

The biggest fear in getting a tattoo is the it might sound like a good idea at that time, but then later it might not really represent you as a person. Technology is the way to go, Phillips the guys who gave us nearly every consumer electronics device (prototypes at least) have a solution to this as well. A prototype of the Skin : Tattoo from Phillips is here. Check out the video below.

Philips Design examined the growing trend of extreme body adornment like tattoos, piercing, implants and scarring. The Electronics Tattoo film expresses the visual power of sensitive technology applied to the human body. The film subtly leads the viewer through the simultaneous emotional and aesthetic transformations between two lovers. Check out the Phillips Design Webpage here.

Another solution is detailed at New Scientist, here is the article below :

If you are planning to express your undying love for someone with a tattoo, you might want to wait a little while before going under the needle. New inks that are safer to use, and far easier to remove should you have a change of heart, are set to be launched next year.

The US Food and Drug Administration has no standards for the safety of dyes used in body art. Carbon black, metal salts and other compounds more commonly used in printing or car paint are among those used. Heavy metals and other toxic chemicals in these pigments can seep into the lymph system, says Martin Schmieg, president of the company Freedom-2 in Philadelphia, which is planning to introduce a range of dyes that have already been approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics, food, drugs and medical devices.

Such dyes have not been used in tattoos before as they are readily absorbed by the body. To get round this problem, Rox Anderson at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has developed a way to encapsulate the dyes in protective polymer beads just 1 to 3 micrometres in diameter. This is small enough to allow them to be injected into the skin and absorbed by skin cells to form a tattoo.

The pigment can be removed with a single laser treatment. This splits the beads open, dumping the dye into cells where it is absorbed. The tattoo then quickly fades away, in stark contrast to standard tattoo pigments. Applying a series of up to 10 laser treatments can usually bleach them, but only half of tattoos can be completely removed.

Check out the article in New Scientist here.

Why is it better to pretend that you don’t know anything about computers.

Most IT guys have been in this position. I totally understand where this is coming from. I am sure there are a lot more techie guys around who agree with me also.

Why it's better to pretend you don't know anything about computers

Find more interesting madness at the Oatmeal.

How Many Germs are on your Mobile Phone

Currently, there are 1,258,320 germs living on your cell phone

That’s the equivalent of 252 toilet seats!

I got this really ridiculous number from The Oatmeal after taking a funny stupid test. Get yours here.

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