Bad Weather That You Won’t See

Spring is coming. Today the temperature in Philadelphia could rise to 70º F, the warmest day since last October. The sky now is blanketed in a cover of soft white clouds. There is a warm front rolling over us.

The clouds are nothing like the towering thunderheads typical of summer, though — not that I want to rush the change of seasons, but I like thunderstorms.

At their most intense thunderstorms are awe-inspiring, but even a modest storm is fascinating to watch. When I think of an ‘electrical storm’ I envision lots of lightening and the accompanying crack and rumble of thunder.

Although such weather can be very damaging locally, it is nothing compared to the invisible (unless you live at the poles) storm forecasted in a Space.com article titled: Catastrophe Looming: The Risk of Rising Solar Storm Activity. The havoc that a huge solar storm with accompanying coronal mass ejection could have might entail over $2 trillion and 10 years of recovery efforts.

Why dwell on such an apocalyptic scenario on such a pleasant pre-spring morning? Well — I read the article on a 3G-enabled iPad currently attached to a wifi network and a bluetooth keyboard. There is a Nexus One Android phone in my pocket, and I’ve already checked my email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts more than once today. Plus, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following the news reports from the network-assisted uprisings in the Middle East with a lot of interest.

One big belch from the sun and all of those things I’ve come to associate with a Friday morning in a local (but globally connected) coffee shop would end — wiped out by very bad, invisible weather.

The point is not to fret over something that no one has control over and that may not happen in my life time (although it is quite possible that it will). The point is to appreciate the inter-connectedness that has been woven into our electrified modern lives — while we still have it.

Sprouting everywhere like mushrooms – Trash Compactors

Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher
Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher

Last July I blogged about a small test the city of Philadelphia was running with 3 solar-powered trash compactors ( Solar-powered Trashcan Test ). Cool idea, I thought, but I did not hear anything else about them. Then over the last three weeks I’ve started seeing them everywhere. Even better — they are now paired up with recycling bins. Clearly, I missed this article on May 1 on Philly.com: Hot idea: Solar-powered trash crushers. There will be 500 of these “Big Bellies”, as they are called, distributed around Center City. 210 will be paired with recycling bins (see picture above).

This is great news for a city that has long been plagued by litter. I’ve come to realize that most (okay, many) Philadelphians will use a waste basket. In truth, the 700 wire baskets with plastic liners that are being replaced were really a  main part of the litter problem. Those baskets were often overflowing, and since they had no tops the wind would often pluck light stuff out of them and spread it down the streets. Sometimes a strong gust would completely lift the liner out of the mesh basket and dump everything out. Yet now, nothing will escape the ‘big bellies’ once they have a hold of it, and compactors offer a lot of advantages for a cash-strapped city hoping to clean up its act:

The compactors require fewer collections, which saves the city on fuel for sanitation vehicles and frees up workers for other tasks, officials said.

They also hold up to 200 gallons of trash, compared with the 55-gallon capacity of a regular wire trash basket.

Because of that capacity they require five weekly collections, compared with the 19 for a regular trash basket. That means only eight workers will be assigned to collect litter baskets, compared with the current 33, said Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson. (Philly.com)

The presence of the recycle bins in high traffic areas, like Rittenhouse Square, will also serve to remind and encourage folks to do just that — recycle. It is easier to do when it is made so convenient.

Former Mayor (and current PA Governor) Ed Rendell made huge strides in rejuvenating Philadelphia. I moved to the city the year before he was elected and I saw the progress first-hand. Now, current Mayor Michael Nutter seems ready to take it to the next level.

See also:
Philly Brings on the Big Bellies
Philadelphia Begins Rollout…
Solar Trash Compactor Firm BigBelly Raises $3.2 M

Arriving at Warp Speed – Invisibility

The ‘communicator‘ from the tv show Star Trek is a reality now, i.e. the cell phone. That I can grasp. What I find incredible is that another technology, one I figured might never be a reality, has now materialized as well: the invisibility cloak. The AP released a story on Aug. 11 about Berkeley scientists’ successfully cloaking a three-dimensional object: Scientists closer to developing invisibility cloak. So what’s next? Transporters? Man, that would be cool! No more waiting in airport security lines and worrying about delays or lost luggage. I predict that if air fares continue to climb and if all the new a la carte fees are taken into account it will soon be economically feasible to develop and build transporters. Maybe by 2010 I can have myself beamed over to Beijing to check out all those really cool buildings they’ve created for the Olympics.

A Prestige Heckler

You know your conference has hit the big time when Robin Williams steps up from the audience to fill the dead air during an embarrassing, show-stopping technical glitch.

Those are the words of Kim Zetter of Wired reporting from the TED (Technology, Enterainment and Design) conference taking place in Monterey, CA.
How great would that be? A free 10 min., impromptu performance from Robin Williams? Originally, he stood up and shouted from his seat when a technical problem caused an awkward delay in the proceedings just as Sergey Brin of Google was being introduced. When the crowd recognized who he was, Williams was invited on stage and let it roll for about ten minutes. Wish I’d been there. Check out Kim’s article linked above.