Category Archives: Technology and Society

Thursday Afternoon At The Space Power Tech Workshop

OK, it’s after lunch, and we’re about to watch a video about what the Army hopes it will be doing in space in the year 2035. We’re being told it’s not classified in any way. Nor does it discuss cost or difficulty of what we’re about to see…

It seems to be a CGI movie depicting rapid redeployments of advanced satellites (using something that looks a lot like QuickReach). It shows convoy routes planning a “virtual corrider.” Mobile user ground stations are deflecting attempts at GPS jamming. A “near-space platform” geolocates a terrorist unit. Noncombatants are identified, the house is surrounded, and the perps captured. The space vehicles depicted are dirty and gritty like the tanks. Like Serenity, in fact. Showing overhead imaging for battle damage assessment. “Understand First.” “Act First.” In other words, get inside their OODA loop.

Pretty cool.

Anyway, Jay Penn is up now, describing five different powersat concepts that Aerospace has been working on. This was work done for Joe Howell at Marshall and John Mankins at NASA. It consisted of a lot of system/subsystem level trades for comparisons and as inputs to technology roadmaps.

Showing several different concepts, the most different of which is called a “Halo”, which has a central transmitter surrounded by what seem to be mirrors for light concentration. But he’s going too fast for me to follow. A flurry of charts showing trade analyses and relative costs.

Some of these concepts imply flight rates of 5000/year. Notes that 40% of the global economy is energy. The best costs they could get to for kW-hrs was about eight cents, which isn’t bad. One of their concepts is a laser system that is very scalable (480 satellites for 1.2 GW). It uses a layered approach, with pump-laser diodes, microoptics, and a radiator on the back. Output beam is about a thousand nanometer wavelength. He thinks it the most promising architecture of those considered.

Now Paul Jaffe is reporting on a study on space-based power that was performed by the Navy Research Lab. In the beginning, they encountered a lot of skepticism within the lab. Their approach was to look at it in the context of providing Navy/Marine power needs. Study looked at military applications only. They supported the AFRL requirements workshop in July, and are working with NASA on the ISS demo.

They had three findings. First, the concepts are technically feasible, they seem relevant to military needs, and safe power beaming is restricted to large immobile sites. Wireless power transfer is necessary for SBSP, but it’s a research area in its own right. No consensus among experts as to best concept. Economics and political priorities will be important, but this wasn’t examined by NRL.

They also found that NRL has some key capabilities in many of the technologies (I’m shocked, shocked…).

The third was that different operational scenarios will require different technologies. Large-area applications can use microwave, but applications requiring higher power density will need lasers. Delivery of energy directly to individual end users, vehicles or small widely-scattered nodes isn’t currently practical.

They recommended continued NRL funding, but got the impression when they briefed the director that he still considers other energy areas more promising until more of the risk is retired.

A question from the audience brings up the point that DoE seems to be missing in action, considering that they’re supposed to be interesting in, you know…energy. There needs to be more of an outreach from other agencies to them to get them involved, particularly if DoE is supposed to be putting together new positions for an incoming administrations.

Another speaker from NRL, Michael Brown, follows with a talk on space structures issues. We have a long way to go from seventy meters (the current longest structure) to kilometeres in scale. Showing examples of ultralight space deployable beams.

Sorry, my eyes are glazing over (also a little sleepy after lunch). Structural analysis is not my bag. Showing concepts for trusses. Showing concepts for automated orbital assembly.

A break, a break, my kingdom for a break…

[Update after the break]

I’m not paying much attention to the current talk which is about wireless power in a deployed base in environment. The speaker said, perfectly deadpan (and he was probably quite serious), “we can’t introduce anything into a war environment that is unsafe.”

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.”

Jordin Kare (formerly of Livermore) is giving a talk on various space applications for lasers, some in space, some ground based with space relays. Optics are cheap, don’t generate much heat, don’t weigh much, none of which are the case for lasers, so keep lasers on the ground and put the optics in space.

Thinks that GEO is still the best place, for relay optics so that no tracking of moving satellites is necessary. Also less gravity gradient. But GEO implies big optics. He prefers diffractive optics, using thin sheets of materials with vacuum vapor deposition of metals to make a fresnel lens. It is insensitive to out-of-plane displacements, while mirrors are orders of magnitude more so. They can be lightweight, rolled up, folded. Shows a five-meter example made of panes of glass built at Livermore a few years ago. he thinks that a twenty-meter lens can fit on a Delta IV. Thinks that he could get by with six tons in GEO with relay system as opposed to thirty tons if the laser is place in orbit. Notes that NASA has looked at a similar system with a relay in L1 for powering a lunar surface base from the earth. Talking about using such systems to power electric propulsion vehicles, so they don’t have to carry the mass of their power supply, both for earth orbit and earth escape missions. Agrees with Jay Penn on approach of using laser modules, if you really want the lasers themselves in orbit.

[Friday morning update]

I’ve continue here.

Back On The Air

Live, from the space solar power conference in sunny Lake Buena Vista, FL, under the ever-watchful eye of Mickey.

I have power, I have wireless, I’ve had my proteinless continental breakfast, which seems to be riguer at these aerospace conferences, and I’m ready to blog. Session overview will start in a few minutes.

[A few minutes later]

Omar Mendoza of the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) is keynoting. He is head of a new energy and environment office. One of the things that they’re working is biofuel from algae, but they see space-based power as a potential breakthrough technology for meeting military power requirements in an environmentally friendly way. Purpose of this conference is to identify technology gaps that must be filled to make it a reality.

Anticipate that early next year the incumbent president will be asking what the military is doing in the way of energy, and they want to have a roadmap ready to present to the new CinC, whoever it is.

Lt. Colonel Ed Tovar of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab now giving a history of the recent activities, including the space power studies performed last year by the National Space Security Office, and the interest that it seems to have aroused. Has gotten interest from environmental groups, energy companies, utilities, Congress, etc. Idea of tying energy to aerospace technology seems appealing. He tells people that this is something that justifies the exercise of due diligence to determine its potential. Talked about introducing John Mankins with a smart guy at NSSO, and had them get into a numbers battle over lift requirements, and that is the kind of activity that he wants to see continue. Two major thrusts: initiation/continuation of studies (much deeper and broader than NSSO report) and develop a roadmap for a demonstration strategy (space-space, LEO to ground, eventually from GEO). Terrestrial power beaming already happening as shown by the Hawaii test. Idea is to generate power in a permissive environment, and provide it in a “less permissive” environment. Wants to use structure and power available at ISS to do in-space demos, and has talked to people at NASA Ames and JSC about coming up with plans for a wireless power transmission demo at ISS.

Notes that Hawaii experiment didn’t just demonstrate technology, but they flew aircraft through the beam to characterize it, determine environmental effects, density, efficiency, etc. See it as a form of “soft power” that can help avert conflicts in the twenty-first century. He wants to make this technology a “comma” in the national debate, when energy companies and presidential candidates talk about energy options. “wind, solar, biofuels,…energy from space.”

Joe Howell of Marshall coming up next to talk about NASA’s technology roadmap.

Oops. Nope. Neil Huber of Concurrent Technology Corporation (CTC) is giving a summary presentation of military requirements, based on a workshop in July. They gathed power requirements for military units at various levels (person, squad, deployed unit, base, etc.), and determining that 3-5 MW is a prevailing military need. Purpose of this workshop is to come up with a rough roadmap.

They also have intangible requirements (strengthen intel, protect critical bases of ops, etc.) Of eight of these, six of them could be satisfied by power from space.

SSP could support the joint force attributes required by strategy if energy can be provided to the force at relevant levels. Could be a game-changing capability. It would be nice not to have to carry batteries, or deploy diesel generators and their fuel.

Space-centric beamed power could provide stability of operations (no concern about having a fuel convoy intercepted and disrupt ops). Nice to be able to quickly redeploy power from one area to another. Could have been very useful after Katrina or Ike, or after the tsunami.

Services had an official requirement to reduce fossil fuel use, and this could play into that. Many DoD bases dependent on fragile and vulnerable commercial power infrastructure–this could make them more independent and robust. 2005 Energy Policy Act mandates that DoD installations transition to green technologies. needs vary from 3kW for a person to 9 MW for a brigade (varies among services). Giving a few examples. Watts for a soldier with his equipment, with heavy batteries, ranging up to 80 MW dedicated to propulsion for a destroyer. ONR testing 35 MW superconducting electric motor.

Air Force has more a better understanding of their requirements, but can’t really keep up with the slides (this will be available later, probably on line). Notes that Marines have a very high AA battery requirement. Bottom line: could reduce deployment footprint and logistic footprint (reduced fuel convoying, which is also a dangerous activity). Could provide more stable, enhanced operations at all levels. 3-5 MW seems to be near-term critical number.

In Q&A, Colonel Paul Damphousse is relating experience from Iraq, where it was more dangerous to be on the road than in the air, and pointed out how nice it would have been to put down spot beams in remote areas rather than convoy fuel. In response to a question, Huber notes that fuel in the field can cost anywhere from $50 to $200 per gallon, after shipping it to the front (particularly by air). Makes this a much more attractive market for a high-cost (at least technology) like this.

OK, now Joe Howell is speaking about the NASA technology roadmap. His talk is based on work done in the last ten years (mostly from 1998-2002). Showing slide of classic reference SPS/Rectenna system from the 1970s DoE/NASA studies. Required huge launch capacity. Showing very complicated chart of complexity of all the factors that go into whether or not SPS makes sense. Topic seems to come up every fifteen years or so. Now showing potential requirement to get CO2 reduced–need 40 TW of carbon-neutral power generation to reduce and stabilize at twice pre-industrial levels. When “peak fossil fuels” will occur remains without consensus–how much energy R&D needed for insurance policy?

Now getting back to more recent studies. Still have rectenna farms and large structures in orbit, but much more thin-film concentrators, lighter structures. Showing X33/VentureStar as transportation paradigm of the era. Also showing hypersonic vehicles, two-stage reusables, smaller systems with high launch rates. Studies were based on $200/kg launch costs. Still couldn’t close business model at that cost. Showing modular solar-electric concept to transport large space systems to GEO.

He has an eye chart of the technology areas that have to be advanced. Next chart focuses on state of near-term PV technologies–stretched-lens array, thin films, etc. Also showing solar concentrators that have actually flown in space (Deep Space 1). Need a much higher pointing accuracy for these types of systems, which makes the rest of the system more of a technical challenge.

Getting into microwave beam safety issues now (earlier had related the honeybee studies performed back in the seventies and eighties). Has the classic power density chart that shows it’s not a problem, but people still don’t believe it (just like the people who won’t live near power lines). Showing roadmap of demos laid out to 2021, but funding dried up about 2003. Has a chart showing growth of spacecraft power requirements over last quarter century–steady increase up to tens of kilowatts. Needs doubling every five and a half years. Describing solar panel architecture trades.

Overall, this strikes me primarily as not a coherent story, or one put together for this meeting–just a lot of pre-existing charts with historical results from various periods. Probably useful for people unfamiliar with the field, though.

Future needs–sandwiched options, collect on the front, beam out the back, 50%+ conversion efficiency. 5 km transmitter 80%+ efficiency, ten GW system, installed cost $2/watt. Need self-assembly, higher strength/weight materials, higher-temp solid-state devices, need to look at lasers as well as microwaves, but as always, need much lower transportation costs.

In other words, nothing new.

Question: how do we map the NASA quick-look study to the military requirements we just heard? 3 MW isn’t really practical for microwave systems because they don’t work for the wavelength. SPS size wasn’t drive by power requirements so much as aperture size. Wouldn’t lasers be better, given recent advances in solid-state devices? Howell notes that a LEO demo could be scaled down considerably for microwaves, and that lasers have issues with clouds, etc. Trades still need to be done. He notes that all of the work presented was to address the need for baseload power, and hadn’t considered these new military requirements. Bruce Pittman of Ames asking about potential applications for lunar bases. Could they beam from L1 to the lunar surface? Howell notes that Seth Potter (Boeing) will be talking about this later in the meeting. Competition for going into shadowed craters is nuclear. Jay Penn of Aerospace notes that he’ll be going into the economics this afternoon, in response to Bruce’s question about how close to closure they came.

Taking a ten-minute break now.

[A few minutes later]

Ron Clark of Lockheed Martin giving a talk now titled “Space-based Solar Power Gap Analysis–Solar Dynamic and Hybrid Launch Approach.”

Key to SBPS: increase revenues and lower costs (duh…)

Has an alternate solution motivated by premium-priced power applications such as shale extraction, remote locations and forward basing. Whenever senior people are briefed, we can show progress, but they still say “it’s still too tough,” based on the technology gaps. Have to come up with compelling plan that closes gaps and changes perceptions. Have to raise revenue above the grid (need $0.20/kW-hr). Need launch costs of $500/kg, and need to reduce spacecraft manufacturing costs to $1000/kg.

Identified apps where current technology may be good enough: peak power, industrial power and forward deployment/nationbuilding.

Notes that emphasis to date has been on photovoltaic (I would note that Brayton cycles were considered in the seventies, but they weren’t the reference baseline). He thinks it’s time to take another look at solar dynamic. Thinks that cost of space hardware is coming down not only due to technology advance (mass/function drops by factor of two every eight years, which translates to reduced costs), but also from economies of scale, which would apply to a system like this. Iridium experience shows that cost can come down a lot, particularly when one works closely with suppliers and reduces supply chain friction. Cost/kg can drop from $100,000/kg for one-off, and a hundredth of that for thousands. Sees launch costs as coming down as well with growing use of reusability.

He’s positing a “hybrid” launch system with reusable suborbital first and second stage, that meets with a medium earth orbit (MEO) electrodynamic tether as a skyhook. Reduces ETO delta V to 5.5 km/s. Identifying specific technology gaps associated with these systems. Looking at on-orbit assembly gaps. Not competitive with coal-fired power plants at current technology maturity level. Need system-level demos of specific technologies that would support SSPS assembly.

A lot of work has been done with a Closed Brayton Cycle (for topping, with Rankine for bottoming) that can have 50% net power conversion efficiency. Gaps here consist of long life, weightless operation, radiators, large inflatable collectors, and space-rated alternators. Thermal radiators are a particularly immature technology for this high-temperature application.

Also need efficient DC-RF conversion. Some new solid-state devices may offer very high (~90%?) efficiency. Need to consider orbits other than GEO. Trade and location will be driven by mission need. MEO might be the right answer for some applications. he sees highest technical risk in MEO tether and payload transfer, and on-orbit assembly cost reduction. Thinks that all risks are tractable, w

In questions, Keith Henson notes that shipping assembled satellites to GEO would be pretty hard on them, due to radiation and debris.

Now Mack Henderson from JSC (who I sat across from at dinner last night) is presenting a concept for a space-based solar power demo at ISS. Goal is to use existing hardware to do a demo in 2010. Have been coordinating with a number of organizations, at DoD (NSSO, AF Security Forces, AFRL, Army Research, NRL), DoE, academia, industry (Raytheon, L’Garde, Boeing,LMSSC/MDR/PWR and SAIC) and help from Futron. Still looking for a DoE liaison–they seem to be focused on terrestrial.

Goal is to provide measurable power from space to ground, have it safe, and show that it is scalable, within the budget and schedule. They want to validate efficiencies over several types of paths. Raytheon is working on a system with 6 K-Band traveling wave tube amps. They’re expecting to receive power on the ground on the order of 20 milliwatts from 600 watts transmitted, using Goldstone for the receiver, though other options are being considered. Each beaming experiment will last about ten minutes with about a hundred seconds of maximum power. They’re foreseeing a 27-month program for about $55M, hoping for a May 2010 demo.

Already a letter of intent from Gary Payton and Bill Gerstenmaier–NASA will do space segment, DoD will do ground, and help with money. Also provide TWTs, use of AFRL facilities and Tyndall, and help with roadmap. NASA fives a Shuttle ride, berth on ISS, money, use of DSN dish at Goldstone, and project engineering, with support from Raytheon and Texas A&M.

Benefits of concept are near-term launch capability, services available at ISS including humans present. Compared to doing a separate satellite on an EELV–would save hundeds of millions. Biggest risk is schedule. Asking for authority to proceed from NASA HQ next week.

Jay Penn is concerned about the low transmission efficiency of the proposed experiment, and suggests a laser for much better power transfer. It really is amazing that you can only get 20 milliwatts from 600 watts using that monster dish at Goldstone. It just shows how important aperture size is at that microwave frequency (2.45 MHz). It is being pointed out that there are already demos of low-power microwave power beaming from space–it’s called comsats. It’s determined to take this discussion off line.

Question: what will we learn from this demo and how will it help future designs and concepts? The answer wasn’t clear.

Colonel Damphousse points out that there is DoD support for this, and he appreciates the comments. We shouldn’t be focused on how many milliwatts or microwatts are being transmitted–beam characterization is important to allow us to scale up later demos. It has to be looked at as a first step, because we aren’t going to get billions for a 10 MW demo right now.

Bruce Thieman of AFRL is talking now about spacelift costs, and the implications for space solar power. Currently at $4000/lb to LEO, are only going to get to $400/lb with what’s currently funded. Current costs are high, vehicles are unreliable, with long call up. Goal is much faster turn around, much higher reliability and lower costs. Everything is currently horrendously expensive (a lot of dispute about his chart that has Shuttle costs at $450M–it’s got to be closer to a billion per flight these days). Showing commercial launch systems–SpaceX, ULA, AirLaunch, Microcosm and others, including Kistler–old chart). Even COTS vehicles can’t get costs below $1500/lb or so (Taurus 2 calculated to be $2000). EELV is in the $3400-4300 range.

Showing chart that says that reusable lower stage expendable upper stage hits a near-term sweet spot in cutting costs by about half. Still $300-$400/lb. Can’t do better until fully reusable, and that needs launch rates of forty or more a year. The reusable first stage is designed for a 48-hour turnaround. Long-term goal for fully reuable systems is four hours. Want to eventually see a thousand flights per airframe.

Talking about suborbital now. Most important thing that they will do is drive up launch rate and learn about operations, and high turnaround rate. They are a very important community. Showing classic chart of that shows energy costs to orbit–translates into a ticket price to orbit of $76 (about 38 cents a pound). Question is how to bring launch rate up. If we can bring satellites down to $300/pound to build, we could build more and launch them more often, and refresh technology more often as opposed to GPS, which is a fifteen-year satellite, mostly driven by launch costs. Have to change the culture of the satellite community, which will require initial drops in launch costs.

Now Richard Fork (UA, Huntsville) is giving a paper called “Adaptive Network for Power and Information in Near-Earth Space.”

His challenge was to come up with a way to use lasers for power, but not a weapon. Proposes a “quantum secure” laser-based network to support both power and information transfer from space. Looking into laser-based power and “intelligent cyber-secure adaptive networks.” Have to figure out a way to keep people from “hacking” the lasers. Sees it as an enabler for space solar power.

OK, so he’s talking about direct solar-laser conversion, and using lasers for launch (ablative). I don’t see how it relates to his summary of the talk, though. Has a chart of bullet points, not particularly related to each other, including one on asteroid deflection with lasers, the last one of which is “Main need is for a well managed program.

All is lost.

Time for lunch.

[Update a couple minutes later]

OK, not quite. Now he’s talking about quantum secure links again. Conclusions: need for both microwaves and lasers. Lasers alone offer highly directionsl efficent long-range power delivery. They alone offer a “quantum-secure” info network. And intelligent quantum secure power network can be designed an implemented within time frames of interest.

OK. Whatever.

[Update after lunch]

I’ve started a new post for the afternoon session.

Probably Just Scurvy

So, what is the cargo of this Iranian ship headed for Somalia?

Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill “within days” of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died…

…This was also confirmed by Hassan Allore Osman, minister of minerals and oil in Puntland, an autonomous region of Somalia.

He headed a delegation sent to Eyl when news of the toxic cargo and illnesses surfaced.

He told one news publication, The Long War Journal, that during the six days he had negotiated with the pirates, a number of them had become sick and died.

“That ship is unusual,” he was quoted as saying. “It is not carrying a normal shipment.”

The pirates did reveal that they had tried to inspect the ship’s cargo containers when some of them fell sick — but the containers were locked.

Osman’s delegation spoke to the ship’s captain and its engineer by cellphone, demanding to know more about the cargo.

Initially it was claimed the cargo contained “crude oil”; later it was said to be “minerals”.

And Mwangura has added: “Our sources say it contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals.”

The symptoms described could be possibly caused by chemical weapons, but the pirates claimed that they didn’t open the locked holds (though the holds could have leaked as well). But the symptoms also match radiation poisoning.

But why would the Iranians be shipping WMD of any kind to Somalia? For transhipment elsewhere overland? And if it is radioactive, is it the material for a nuclear weapon, or a dirty bomb?

It will be ironic if it turns out that pirates caught what the CIA didn’t (assuming, of course, that they haven’t been tracking it).

[Late afternoon update]

Marlon McAvoy emails:

‘m a Radiation Protection tech at ORNL. Was formerly a member of the DOE’s RAP (Radiological Assistance Program) team, originally tasked and trained mostly for transport incidences, but which was reprioritized after 9-11. Just wanted to offer an observation, which might be old news to you two science geeks.

Skin burns were also reported in this incident. These are normally more associated with beta than the far more penetrating gamma radiation, but there’s no way these guys could have gotten beta burns without close exposure to actual, unshielded radioactive material. Gamma can certainly burn the skin, but in which case the victim has sustained an enormous dose and will absolutely die from it, unless the exposure was tightly collimated over a small area.

So, my guess, this seems much more likely to be of chemical rather than radiological origin. But if multiple guys did receive 500+ rem (Roentgen equivalent man) of gamma radiation, our spooks will have no difficulty determining it. We have civilian instrument packages that can map minute fluctuations in background radiation levels; a poorly shielded gamma WMD would look like a magnesium flare to whatever is used by the intelligence community.

Whether they can or should let us civvies know is, of course, another question.

It is indeed.

A Blast From The Past

Ben Bova has a piece in the Naples News that could have been written thirty years ago. In fact, it’s exactly like stuff that he (and I) wrote thirty years ago. The only difference is that I have experienced the past thirty years, whereas he seems to be stuck in a seventies time warp, and I’ve gotten a lot more sober about the prospects for a lot of the orbital activities that were always just around the corner, and probably always will be:

An orbital habitat needn’t be a retirement center, though. Space offers some interesting advantages for manufacturing metal alloys, pharmaceuticals, electronics components and other products. For example, in zero-gravity it’s much easier to mix liquids.

Think of mixing a salad dressing. On Earth, no matter how hard you stir, the heavier elements sink to the bottom of the bowl. In zero G there are no heavier elements: they’re all weightless. And you don’t even need a bowl! Liquids form spherical shapes, whether they’re droplets of water or industrial-sized balls of molten metals.

Metallurgists have predicted that it should be possible in orbit to produce steel alloys that are much stronger, yet much lighter, than any alloys produced on Earth. This is because the molten elements can mix much more thoroughly, and gaseous impurities in the mix can percolate out and into space.

Imagine automobiles built of orbital steel. They’d be much stronger than ordinary cars, yet lighter and more fuel-efficient. There’s a market to aim for.

Moreover, in space you get energy practically for free. Sunlight can be focused with mirrors to produce furnace-hot temperatures. Or electricity, from solarvoltaic cells. Without spending a penny for fuel.

The clean, “containerless” environment of orbital space could allow production of ultrapure pharmaceuticals and electronics components, among other things.

Orbital facilities, then, would probably consist of zero-G sections where manufacturing work is done, and low-G areas where people live.

There would also be a good deal of scientific research done in orbital facilities. For one thing, an orbiting habitat would be an ideal place to conduct long-term studies of how the human body reacts to prolonged living in low gravity. Industrial researchers will seek new ways to utilize the low gravity, clean environment and free energy to produce new products, preferably products that cannot be manufactured on Earth, with its heavy gravity, germ-laden environment and high energy costs.

Cars made of “orbital steel”?

Please.

But I guess there’s always a fresh market for this kind of overhyped boosterism. I think that it actively hurts the cause of space activism, because people in the know know how unrealistic a lot of it is, and it just hurts the credibility of proponents like Ben Bova.

Good Old Reliable

As is often the case, I agree with Glenn. They can have my land line when they pull the phone from my cold dead fingers.

Cells are simply not reliable enough for me to use them for everything, though I put up with it on a trip (when we were with T-Mobile, my cell phone didn’t even work in the house). I wonder how many kids who have grown up with cell phones for voice and texting take their idiosyncrasies and unreliability for granted, because they don’t have that much experience with a reliable and clean line? Plus, during the hurricanes, when all else failed, including power, cell service was out, but I always had phone service plus DSL on my land line. It allowed me to stay on line, by using a laptop and a voltage inverter plugged into the car.

The technology may continue to improve to the point at which I no longer feel the need for a land line, but we’re nowhere near it yet, in my opinion.

Getting Better

The latest installment of “Better All The Time” is up at The Speculist. It’s all pretty good (I found sensation in a bionic arm without sensors fascinating), but I liked this:

Hey, did you notice? The world didn’t end! We get so used to the world not ending that sometimes we take it for granted. But in honor of our not being sucked into a giant black hole or blasted back in time to when our entire universe was nothing but diffuse particles, the Times Online has compiled a list of 30 other time the world didn’t end.

If you like that sort of list, keep this in mind: those thirty days are just a tiny, tiny subset of the total number of days in which the world has not ended. In fact, we are (and I hope I don’t jinx it or anything by pointing this out) batting a perfect 1000 on that score.

Yeah, every day, they tell us the world won’t end, and it doesn’t until one day it does. Which sucks. And there’s no one around to say “I told you so.”

The Latest In Medical Transplants

Eeeeuuuuwwww…:

… Patients who come into the hospital with suspected pneumonia now get an antibiotic within six hours, instead of four hours previously, to allow more time to assess the need for drugs.

One controversial strategy: fecal transplants. For one patient with recurrent C. diff, Kettering suggested a stool transplant from a relative, to help restore good bacteria in the gut. But Jeffrey Weinstein, an infectious-disease specialist at the hospital, says the patient “refused to consider it because it was so aesthetically displeasing.”

To say the least. Though some kinky folks might get off on it. It’s certainly a simple procedure compared to a heart or a kidney.

Some might argue that a lot of folks in Congress have already had the procedure done, except it was transplanted to the wrong location, considerably north of where it was supposed to go.