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Tech Wake-Up: Climate Science, Student Engineers, Magical TSA, Water for Oil, and New-Tech IC

By Mark Devlin

May 29, 2012

Myth Busters: Climate Science Edition?

Myths are all around us, like the one’s about avoiding eggs to control cholesterol, or the absolute need for every human to down 8 glasses of water a day. (There’s some interesting, related debunking going on over here at Lifehacker.)

The issue of climate is always super-heated—usually, with ICBMs and depth charges being brought along by both sides to most debates. Here’s an interesting article at Ars Technica with the headline “Accusations Reveal that Climate Science Is Money-Driven Reveal Ignorance of How Science Is Done.” Nah. Not contentious or anything.

Here are a couple of clips from that one to kick things off (with links intact)…

Although the argument displays a profound misunderstanding of how science and science funding work, it's just not going away. Just [last] week, one of the sites where people congregate to criticize mainstream climate science once again repeated it, replete with the graph below. That graph originated in a 2009 report from a think tank called the Science & Public Policy Institute (notable for using the serially confused Christopher Monckton as a policy advisor).

The report, called "Climate Money: The climate industry: $79 billion so far—trillions to come" (PDF) and prepared by Australian journalist Joanne Nova for the Science & Public Policy Institute, claims to show how money has distorted climate science. There are several aspects to this argument, but we'll start with the money itself.

There’s no shortage of allegedly factual sources telling the world how scientists have manipulated climate data which, to me, makes the Ars piece as questionable as anything else in the climatic science field. (Just Bing ‘scientists caught manipulating client data.’ Even NASA and, later, its Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have been involved.)

Readers know my position on this one, and I’m not here to rile things up yet again. If you’re into climate science, you might want to add the above-linked Ars Technica article to your bag of argumentative tricks no matter which side you’re on.

While I (really) don’t want to start a ***storm, I lament that truth—any truth—is increasingly and stunningly difficult to scientifically, logically, and definitively define, let alone identify. Truth, these days, does clearly seem paid for—which is unfortunate for us all, on any side. As one of my several heroes says, “Follow the money.”

Hey! That’s a Happy, Positive Start to a short, post-holiday week, eh?

Better Mousetrap Could Save Lives

One of the reasons I love this job is the related, inherent opportunity to challenge my aging brain cells with interesting things, and those things aren’t always of an engineered nature. For instance, about 1.5 million children in developing countries die annually due to dehydration. Also interestingly, the problem’s not just a lack of water, but crude control of fluid delivery to children in hospitals—sometimes, staff is so minimal that the IVs can’t be monitored—which which can lead to death by under- or over-hydration.

Here’s a heartening way that engineering, however, does tie-in to that reality—thanks to this article at Phys.Org.

Several Rice University freshman, calling themselves Team IV DRI, have invented a better IV control that functions similarly to a mousetrap… 

Requiring no electricity, the mechanical device has, in testing, dispensed fluids within 12 milliliters of the desired volume in increments of 50 milliliters. It also requires no human intervention after initial setup and is expected to cost only $20.

Students enthusiastically working on this kind of stuff tends to give one more hope for humanity.

TSA Wants $3M for Magical* Equipment

According to this article at macnn

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may purchase up to $3 million in Apple hardware over the next three years. Up to a thousand Macintosh and a thousand iOS mobile devices purchases are planned. The Apple equipment has been declared to be "critical to meet a variety of operational, programmatic, and mission-specific requirements" by the TSA.

The TSA argues that only OSX and iOS devices will fit the bill.

More detailed justification info indicates that ‘many of the 106 government-written mobile apps are only available on iOS.’

I say give ‘em the $3M—if and only if the TSA would then be able to more quickly get us though airport security queues. IF they get the $3M and can’t speed things up, well, then each and every one of them must forever surrender their magical devices.

* The late Steve Jobs, during the introduction of the first-gen iPad, called it “a truly magical and revolutionary product.” Since then, all Apple products have been universally declared to be ‘magical’ devices.

Could Water Substitute Oil in Industry?

According to this brief at CrazyEngineers, a team from Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging believes that water could be a replacement for mineral oils in operations such as drilling, milling, turning, and grinding. (Interestingly, the piece calls oils a finite resource, implying that water as a resource will forever and infinitely be available. Hmm.)

The trick isn’t in the water itself, but a bio-polymer additive that is said to increase water viscosity up to 40 times while reducing environmental impact, improving anti-corrosive properties, and giving water the lubricity of mineral-based lubricants. The stuff’s called BERUFLUID, which in July of 2011 won the first German raw material efficiency prize, according to this reference.

Internal Combustion: The New Hotness

Major automotive industry supplier, Delphi, has already demonstrated a new-tech engine—similar in some ways to a diesel, but it’s fueled by gasoline—that could (maybe…hopefully) improve the fuel economy of gas-powered cars by 50%.

According to this article at MIT’s Technology Review, diesels are more efficient (40-45%) in using fuel energy, while gas-fueled counterparts lag behind at about 30%.

When the new-tech engine is started or operated at low speeds, diesel-like combustion ignition of the gasoline takes place. Also, for example…

…the researchers found that if they injected the gasoline in three precisely timed bursts, they could avoid the too-rapid combustion that's made some previous experimental engines too noisy. At the same time, they could burn the fuel faster than in conventional gasoline engines, which is necessary for getting the most out of the fuel.

While even such a design could be hybridized with batteries and motors, a 50% increase in efficiency pretty much eliminates the need for the related, added costs and complexities of a hybrid.

Go with God, brave Delphi engineering soldiers.

Have a great week…

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