Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday
Thanks to the holiday this week, my visit to Boxcast didn’t materialize, and extra holiday work (the bill-paying kind) kept me from making any excursions, too.
However, there was no shortage of thought-provoking news from the world of science and technology, and a conversation with a colleague gave me an idea for a holiday-related tidbit as well.
The speed of sunlight
First up is a throwback to a couple of weeks ago with some solar-powered news out of Chile. The Solar Cars Atacama Rally featured 20 teams taking place in a race amongst vehicles fueled entirely by the sun, with zero carbon emissions.
The race in Chile took place over 870 miles in the Atacama Desert, which has some of the highest solar radiation rates in the world. The route travels past both volcanoes and snow-capped peaks in the Andes Mountains and takes place on paved commuter roads, not a closed track – to the surprise of many standard motorists. The top cars can reach speeds close to 90 mph, but nonetheless are required to obey Chilean speed limits during the race.
“Chile is the best place in the world for solar radiation so that’s why we wanted to come here,” says Abdulrahman Alkhatib, a Saudi driver for one of the world’s leading teams from Tokai University in Japan.
“You don’t have power steering and the car is extremely light so one gust of wind can blow you off track,” he said of solar car racing in general. “You’re very close to the ground so you see the bumps and curves in the road very late and you have to react quickly.”
The Tour de Sol in Switzerland marked the first-ever solar car race, in 1985, and the sport has grown since then, with similar races taking place all over the world. Universities are often involved with these races, encouraging their engineering students to participate in order to further develop their technological skills, but anyone is able to join, and some corporations as well as high school students have raced in the past.
The cars, which convert sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic cells, have of course improved immensely over time. Early cars saw speeds in the teens and the cells have essentially doubled in efficiency since those days.
Since the cars used to compete in solar racing are the cream of the crop, akin to traditional racing’s Formula 1 vehicles, this gives another great example of the viability of solar energy for travel. These vehicles, which rely solely on direct solar-to-electric cells are proving more capable all the time, which gives a hopeful light to the possibilities for more widespread use of electric vehicles in our everyday lives – something i definitely hope to see more of in the next few years.
And Leandro Valencia, the Atacama Solar Rally director, feels the same way. “I think we’ll start to see more electric cars on the streets of Chile and elsewhere in the world within the next three years.”
Blazing fast Cleveland
Starting in January, Cleveland’s Health-Tech Corridor will be on its way to providing the fastest commercial Internet service in the country with a 100 gigabyte-speed fiber optic network. The “Cleveland Super Gig” will be able to give users upload and download speeds 300 times faster than national averages.
The $1 million project involves laying fiber optic cable from Playhouse Square’s Idea Center to Case Western Reserve University but will not require streets to be dug up – something drivers will be more than happy to know. Most of the cost of the project is underwritten by the federal government, and nonprofit OneCommunity is leading the effort. OneCommunity provides broadband and high-speed Internet services for schools, hospitals and government in Northeast Ohio.
“The commercial Internet is being reinvented in Cleveland,” OneCommunity chief executive Lev Gonick told gatherers last Friday at a press conference to announce the plans that are helping to revitalize Cleveland as a hub of innovation.
A new report from the Pew Research Center, nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C. that provides information on social issues, public opinion and demographic trends, showed poll results checking on what Internet users know about technology and the web. You can take the quiz yourself on their site; i scored 8 out of 12 – better than 81.8% of the public but still…i’d better brush up on my tech knowledge if i’m gonna keep writing about this stuff!
Without spoiling the answers in case you participate in the poll, i am happy to note that i knew what Moore’s Law was and that i understood the net neutrality issue. As to the relationship between the Internet and the World Wide Web, what the first browser service was and one of America’s technology leaders, i dropped the ball there.
Most respondents proved in-the-know when it came to common technology terms and questions about some of the bigger technology platforms, but were unfamiliar with several underlying concepts related to technology and its recent history.
Answers across age groups were not all that different, with younger users more apt to correctly answer social media-related questions while older respondents were more aware of technology-related issues.
Educational groups showed the clearest results, with a direct correlation between level of education and overall percentage of correct answers.
Analytics all a’Twitter
Tweet analytics given directly inside your tweets is something Twitter is starting to test with a ‘view analytics details’ button on the mobile app. It must only be on certain accounts though, because mine doesn’t include the option. But it’s something i would definitely use to see things like impressions and engagement rates, the percent of people who expanded a tweet and more.
The Twitter Analytics platform provides the data, which up until two seconds ago i had no idea existed (thankfully that wasn’t a question on the Pew poll!)…and i just got lost looking at that for 15 minutes. Looks like i’d better up my game :-\
Does one thing that a spider can
A team at Stanford University developed hand-sized silicone pads that keep their adhesive strength at all sizes that play on the attractive and repulsive forces between molecules coined van der Waals forces. The pads allow a roughly 150 lb person to successful scale vertical glass walls in the same manner as a gecko lizard.
The project was done in collaboration with Darpa, whose Z-Man program works to develop climbing aids for soldiers inspired by biological organisms. The Stanford team’s research, as well as a video demonstrating the above image, is available through The Royal Society.
East side science
A video posted to YouTube on Nov. 17 from the user account of Marko Vovk shows a walkthrough of an abandoned observatory in East Cleveland. Vovk is a civil engineer and inspector, and his channel has videos of several abandoned places in the Cleveland area, edited together with some factual text overlaid on the footage.
This particular video caught my eye after a friend shared it on Facebook. While watching the five minute clip, i thought of how often Cleveland has gotten a bad rap and been the butt of jokes so many times, but how the more i discover about this city i grew up in the more it impresses me. This was a facility doing cutting-edge research with top of the line technology for its time, and now it’s just a shell of a building. Although, i will admit as a fan of graffiti and street art, it was cool to see all the tagging that had taken place inside.
There were some plans at one point to repurpose the structure into housing, but if you ask me, why not revive it as a research facility? If Cleveland is truly becoming a national innovate hub, why not rekindle the spark that is already here in places like this?
Holiday comic book gift guide
i learned the other day that one of my colleagues, a fellow geek who plays Magic: The Gathering as well as several other geeky enterprises, has been delving into the world of superhero comics courtesy of her boyfriend. She just completed Batman: The Killing Joke and we shared a chuckle about turning the flashlight off.
With Black Friday looming ahead, she told he how they were heading to the local comic shop early that morning to take advantage of a big sale there, and as an avowed lover of superhero comics myself i excitedly recommended a slew of them to her.
So i figured, with the gift-giving season now upon us, i’d share my recommendations here as well for anyone unsure what to get for that geek in their life. Now, personally i’m a digital comics guy through-and-through these days, but even if i weren’t i’d still recommend trade paperbacks rather than single issues since my bag-and-board collecting days are far behind me. That being said, here’s my list of trades that i believe anyone who loves, once loved or may one day love comics would be happy to have on their shelf (or on their tablet):
- She-Hulk (2014): i’ve mentioned this book more than once on The Long Shot. Since it is now canceled after following issue 12 in December, the whole series ought to be available in two trades at some point – they’re typically six issues collected. The book tells the story of Jen Walters and her superheroic alter-ego She-Hulk as she struggles to get her own law practice off the ground. The team of writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido, with awesome covers by Kevin Wada, crafted tales that were fun and intelligent with the right amount of action over the past year. Books like this are always my favorites, since they do such a great job of showing these classic characters i enjoy so much, but as real people and not just superheroes. These are the kinds of stories i enjoy the most, and this is one of the best examples of them.
- Superior Foes of Spider-Man: another awesome book that just met the chopping block, with its final issue #17 hitting the stands just this week. Superior Foes pulled me in immediately from the start, providing more than a couple of literal laugh-out-loud moments in every issue. One thing that did bother me about this entire series, i’ll admit, was the characterization of The Shocker – one of my absolute favorite villains – but the way it wrapped up i suspect they kind of had planned all along for him (even if it hadn’t gotten canceled). The series follows the misadventures of a gang of supercriminals and their constant backstabbings and betrayals while planning and executing heists. The story winds down on a bit of a syrupy note, but i’ll forgive that because the ride there was so much fun (and because i’m a bit of a sap myself).
- Moon Knight (2014): Issues #1-6 from Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey were absolutely stunning. Cinematic in scope and story, these six issues showed Moon Knight in all his crazy glory and did a terrific job of setting a new status quo for this classic character. An earlier 12 issue run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev was also terrific, and perhaps both that and this years first six issues would make great bookend gifts. This one is still ongoing, with a new creative team, but i was too saddened by the departure of Ellis and Shalvey to continue.
- Silver Surfer (2014): Singing the praises of Mike Allred is nothing new at The Long Shot, and i implored readers just last week to go get this book. If you’ve never read a comic book in your whole life, you will still enjoy this series i promise, if only for the artwork alone. But the sweet story developing between the Surfer and Dawn Greenwood, plus the emergence of the Surfer’s board as a real character, are worth the cover price alone.
- Hawkeye: this ongoing series has been a critical darling for years, and i just recently got into it myself through the first few collected editions. Hawkeye has never been a character i thought all that much of, but by taking him out of being surrounded by gods and incredibly powerful allies in the Avengers and placing him in dangerous real-world-esque situations, he quickly became one of my favorites. i’ve always had a soft spot for heroes who get the crap kicked out of them, and this is not unusual for ol’ Clint Barton. His supporting cast is strong too, including residents of his apartment building that he bought out from under some Russian mobsters to keep them from evicting everyone onto the street.
- Red Rocket 7: Going back a few years, this book is written and drawn by Mike Allred and is my #1 favorite comic book story of all time. It is essentially the secret history of rock-and-roll and how it developed thanks to some alien intervention. i’ll leave it at that.
- Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby: Going way, way back to the King of comics, there’s a bunch of trades out there for this one. Mister Miracle is a longtime favorite of mine thanks to his outrageous costume (i know – i usually don’t like costumes), wacky dialogue and off the wall powers. But what i most enjoy is how he adventures with his wife, the super strong Big Barda. They’re the sweetest couple in comics if you ask me (told ya i was a sap).
* * * * *
Thanks for reading the fifth Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!
Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.
Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Dec. 5 and i’d love to see you here! Hopefully my visit to Boxcast will pan out, and i will also continue to try and reach Chris Stuckmann whose terrific videos keep me entertained and informed – i would love to speak with him about his work and life and share it here.
Week in Geek also be appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).
Thanks for reading!