Friday, August 31, 2007

Super computer for $2500. Cheap enough for you?

Geeking out here just a little, 26 gigaflops/second for 25 hundred bucks.  Microwulf.    Homepage.  Frickin' cool!

The Geekster Phantom

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Solar powered remote WiFi!

News article today about a new start-up selling solar power solutions for off grid applications like WiFi and security cameras.  Solis Energy is the company.

A small US startup has announced technology for running Wi-Fi routers in remote places using only the power of the sun.

Among the first round of products from Solis Energy is the Solar Power Plant, touted as being capable of supplying 12, 24 and 48 Volts DC for use in stand-alone applications such as surveillance cameras and outdoor Wi-Fi.

Comprising a large solar panel connected to a generator unit, the system claims to be able to power such devices for up to seven days without sunlight to recharge its batteries, hence the out-sized panels. In normal use, power stored during the day keeps the system running at night.
They have a couple more interesting things, like a power tap for running wifi routers off street lights.  Cell phone and cable companies better get the lead out or wifi/Voip is going to eat their lunch.  Bring on the fiber optic-to-home installs.

In other news, San Francisco discovers that wifi alone does not a dollar make.

Mayor Gavin Newsom's high-profile effort to blanket San Francisco with a free wireless Internet network died Wednesday when provider EarthLink backed out of a proposed contract with the city.

The contract, which was three years in the making, had run into snags with the Board of Supervisors, but ultimately it was undone when Atlanta-based EarthLink announced Tuesday that it no longer believed providing citywide Wi-Fi was economically viable for the company.

And no wonder.  Get this:

In January, the city agreed to a deal in which EarthLink would have paid the city $2 million for the right to build, install and run a free Wi-Fi network and to partner with Google to provide Internet service. People could have paid $20 per month for a faster connection.

In other words, its hard to make money off "free" internet service when you have to pay two million bucks for the privilege AND pony up all the equipment, installation and insurance etc.  Funny how this San Francisco socialism fails every time its tried.
Better idea, the city steps out of the way and lets private companies rent or buy space to put their routers, and doesn't try to dictate to them how it will all be paid for.  They'd end up with two or three competing wifi providers insead of one monolithic Soviet-style piece of crap.

They'll never do it.  No wifi at all is better than cheaper/faster capitalist wifi.  For the poor.

The Phantom

Sunday, August 12, 2007

more brilliance!

Today is a good day for cheap, clever hacks!  Check this:

Until now, determining the mechanical properties of these thin films was either an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, requiring powerful microscopes to view the films, or scientists examined composite structures and made uncertain assumptions. This new research will give scientists a simple way to access the material properties of most thin films.

"As we delve more into the nanotechnology, it becomes increasingly important to know if the material properties of ultrathin films differ from their properties in the bulk," said Thomas Russell, a program director in the Polymer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. "Everyday we see examples where a material's dimensions can change its properties. Aluminum foil is flexible, whereas a bar of aluminum is not. But what happens when a film's thickness approaches molecular dimensions" These experiments give us a simple, inexpensive way to measure mechanical properties of films that are only tens of nanometers thick."

Russell and his colleagues use a low-power optical microscope to observe what happens when they place a tiny drop of water on thin film as it floats in a Petri dish of water. The "capillary tension" of the drop of water produces a starburst of wrinkles in the film. The number and length of the wrinkles are determined by the elasticity and thickness of the film.

In some of the materials studied, the wrinkles in the ultrathin polymer films vanished with time, unlike the skin of a dried fruit or the crumpled hood of your car after an accident. This vanishing provides insight into the relaxation process of an ultrathin film by yielding information on the way polymer chains move in the highly confined geometry.

That's clever.  :)  And a kid can do it in the basement too.

The Phantom

What makes glass... glassy?

Today's piece of  gear head geeky brilliance, a rig for watching teeny weenie particles with a video camera.  Why?  To see why glass is the way it is, of course!

"One idea for why glass gets so viscous is that there might be some hidden structure," says Weeks, associate professor of physics. "If so, one question is what size is that structure""

The Emory Physics lab began zeroing in on this question two years ago when Hetal Patel, an undergraduate who was majoring in chemistry and history, designed a wedge-shaped chamber, using glue and glass microscope slides that allowed observation of single samples of glassy materials confined at decreasing diameters.

For samples, the Emory lab used mixtures of water and tiny plastic balls Ð each about the size of the nucleus of a cell. This model system acts like a glass when the particle concentration is increased.

The samples were packed into the wedge-shaped chambers, then placed in a confocal microscope, which digitally scanned cross-sections of the samples, creating up to 480 images per second. The result was three-dimensional digital movies, showing the movement and behavior of the particles over time, within different regions of the chamber.

"The ability to take microscopy movies has greatly improved during the past five to 10 years," Weeks says. "Back in the mid-90s, the raw data from one two-hour data set would be four gigabytes. It would have completely filled up your hard drive. Now, it's just a tiny part of your hard drive, like a single DVD."

Emphasis mine.

Glass, crazy glue and a microscope, and you can test the theory that's been bugging people for years.

This gets an Official Phantom A1 Awesome award for doing science with no money.  NASA take note.

The Phantom Cheapskate