Nicholas Brown

Nicholas Brown, a writer on Cleantechnica and Gas 2, has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. He is also interested in developing energy-efficient technologies. Follow him on Twitter: @Kompulsa. Like Kompulsa's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/kompulsaofficial

Jul 302014
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I know how it feels to struggle to see your television display, computer monitor, or to have to wipe your glasses off repeatedly. This is terribly annoying and one day, you may finally be able to stop doing this!

Instead of wearing glasses prescribed for you so you can watch tv or use your computer, why can’t doctors just prescribe a tv with a corrective screen/lens for you and be done with it? That isn’t necessary, a new corrective display technology could actually adjust itself based on your prescription to enable you to see it clearly without glasses.

The mere thought of being able to lie on my bed and watch TV without my glasses pressing against my pillow or twisting makes me ecstatic! The technology, which is under development by Microsoft, UC Berkeley and MIT engineers achieves this using an image-altering algorithm,  and a light filter which alter the light from each pixel to alter how it is received by the human retina.

This corrective display technology works not only for people with (relatively) simple vision problems correctable with glasses or contacts, but it could hold the key to correcting or ameliorating more serious vision problems which glasses can’t resolve.

Who knows, maybe a new wearable camera with corrective display technology like this could provide a live feed from tiny cameras to two of these advanced corrective displays positioned in front of the eyes.

Apart from that, according to Mashable (the source):

‘There are still challenges to work out. For instance, the technique depends on a person’s focal length; the technology researchers tested requires whoever’s using it to keep his eyes still or that software tracks head movement and adjusts the image accordingly. Brian A. Barsky expects this won’t be much of a problem, though, saying that when we look at a display that doesn’t look right, we tend to naturally move around to improve the focus.’

Barsky co-authored the research paper for this technology, and Gordon Wetzstein said that it could take years to develop a real-world prototype for people to use.

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Jul 292014
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Thermal imaging technology enables you to see heat, cold and warm air leaks, insulation flaws, creatures, through some things, and even temperature differences. A recent FLIR One case for iPhones is one thermal imaging technology that can do this. The device shows you the heat radiated by objects, not the objects themselves.

FLIR One thermal image. A cyclist in the dark.

A FLIR One thermal image of a cyclist. You can see various things in the dark with this technology. Image Credit: FLIR Systems.

However, this is enough for you to spot the objects and follow them.

The device weighs 3.9 ounces (a small price to pay for this awesome capability) and has a runtime of 2 hours using its internal battery.

Other practical uses for this include the detection of overheating electronics, malfunctioned electronics, and engine issues. Thermal imaging systems display hotter objects with more red, and cooler objects with more blue. Organisms are generally pink-red, and objects which don’t generate heat are blue.

The reason this is so helpful to electronic repairs is that electronics often contain hundreds of parts, and that is too many for a technician to individually remove, test, and reinstall. Thermal imaging enables you to simply look at them and determine which parts are cool (if they are supposed to be warm, then they probably died, or their power source died), and which ones are too hot (some electronics become extremely hot because they died).

Apart from that, according to Mashable:

‘FLIR Systems even envisions users sharing thermal images on social media using one of the company’s three apps. FLIR One TimeLapse (show heat changes over time), FLIR One Paint and FLIR One Panorama. We can’t wait to see the first set of Thermal selfies.’

Wow! Have you ever seen a thermal selfie? That doesn’t sound like something I would like, but, to each his own.

All fun stories must come to an end, and unfortunately, this device costs a whopping $350. Maybe you should just buy a $30 thermal leak detector, or a Bushnell Night Watch Infared Monocular for as little as $162.

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Jul 282014
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Brainstorm Project

The operation and maintenance (O&M) cost of solar-power plants is very low compared to that of fossil-fuelled power plants in general, and this has had a significant impact on the energy market in some regions (such as Texas, United States). The article pertains to that effect and how it could apply to solar-powered planes (especially passenger jets).

Solar-powered planes (which are electric) don’t require fuel (unless they’re hybrids), therefore, the only other recurrent cost incurred by the planes is maintenance (apart from employee wages and salaries). Longer trips increase fuel consumption as well as wear-and-tear on traditional fossil-fuelled jets, so longer trips tend to attract a higher fee.

My Theory

The distance of a given flight in a solar-powered plane could affect the cost of travel far less than it would in a fossil-fuelled one due to the lack of a fuel cost. Only the maintenance cost, as well as the working hours of flight attendants and pilots would be increased.

I should note that airlines might still set airfare based on distance.

Potential Implications

The cost of fuel affects our decisions profoundly in multiple ways. We can’t work too far away from home, or regularly shop at distant malls/plazas. We can’t just casually fly to Australia or Europe for a meeting, as that wouldn’t be feasible for most people.

This means that if the non-existent fuel cost of solar-powered planes influenced airfares as much as it could, the cost gap between long and short-distance trips would shrink substantially. If airfares aren’t too high, people could end up making far more trips around the world to countries that they would otherwise have never seen in their lifetime (for example: More Americans may visit Australia, Korea, New Zealand, and other geographically distant countries), increasing the likelihood of international business ventures, tourism, greater family unit, and even the creation of new families internationally.

This is a purely theoretical article forecasting what the future of aviation may have in store for us. This article is apart of Kompulsa’s Brainstorm Project, which aims to spark discussions on important issues we all face today. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Jul 272014
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An elongated fire was detected on Jack’s Hill in St. Andrew, Jamaica. I took the following photographs between 6:00 PM and 7:20 PM (EST).

Photos of the July 27, 2014 fire on Jack’s Hill, St.Andrew, Jamaica. Credit For All Images: Kompulsa.

 

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Jul 262014
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I’m not saying that your smartphone is unsafe. Many things can cause harm if used carelessly, but today’s smartphone technology has more power (and heat) crammed into a smaller package than ever. Today’s smartphones get hot very easily.

This means that you should not smother them in any way that could prevent them from cooling off (pillows included, but cases are not). Recently, a girl was awakened by the smell of her Samsung Galaxy S4 burning a hole in her pillow. The phone was so badly burned that it was unrecognisable.

More Details About This Samsung Galaxy Fire

The theory is that the phone overheated, causing the battery to swell and start a fire (the battery was definitely swollen). Overheated lithium-ion batteries can ignite, which is why they should be shut off immediately if you sense that they are overheating.

This could have been a case of thermal runaway, which is a chain reaction of heating events.

Samsung warns in their manuals that you are not to smother your smartphones, as that poses a risk of fire and explosion.

This might happen to laptops as well, as they can become extremely hot under some circumstances. For example: Laptops may fail to go into standby mode due to poorly designed technology or operating system malfunctions. This happens so often that you should always check your laptop to ensure it is in standby mode before putting it into a case because it will generate far more heat when it is on, causing the inside of the case (which is almost certainly not ventilated) to become extremely hot.

Ideally, I would recommend shutting your laptop down completely if you are going to put it in a case, as laptops can also wake up spontaneously while in the case, causing severe overheating, and possibly a fire or battery explosion.

Video Source: Fox 4 News – Dallas Fort Worth on Youtube.

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Jul 252014
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A smartwatch is a form of wearable technology that connects to your Android or iOS phone/tablet and it may offer features such as dialling from the watch, caller ID, receive e-mail, other notifications, and more.

It’s very convenient to simply look at your arm if there’s a notification, or for GPS directions instead of reaching into your pocket and (sometimes) struggling to get your phone out every one of the hundreds of times it vibrates per day. This may be the reason that watches have held their place as the number 1 timekeepers, despite the fact that the mobile phones which nearly everyone has are equipped with built-in clocks. Wearable smartwatch technology is easier to access because it is already right there on your arm.

Now for the dark side of smartwatch technology: It can easily cost hundreds of U.S. dollars, is equipped with small screens, and is yet another device that you’d have to plug in to recharge. A smartwatch doesn’t require the minuscule amount of power that a conventional watch that tells only the time does. It has to have a much more powerful CPU, a bright LCD or OLED colour screen which has to be backlit more frequently than a conventional watch, wireless connectivity, and of course: a clock. This has presented manufacturers with the challenge of battery life.

There are many different kinds of battery technology, some of which could facilitate great battery life.

The two most common type of mobile device batteries are in the lithium-ion family: lithium cobalt and lithium polymer. 180 Wh of energy can be stored in each kg (2.2 pounds) of lithium-polymer batteries, while roughly 100 Wh of energy can be stored in a kg of the cheaper lithium-cobalt batteries. This means that lithium polymer batteries will provide smartwatches with longer runtime.

Lithium-polymer batteries are trounced by newer technologies such as that which facilitates Panasonic’s NCR18650B cells, which can achieve 243 Wh/kg, or lithium-sulfur batteries (not on the consumer technology market) which can achieve 400 Wh/kg. Imagine the battery life you could achieve with those.

Mobile device developers are not only moving towards more energy-dense lithium-ion technology, but they are also improving the efficiency of their devices substantially, so to end this story: Battery life won’t be a huge issue. Wearable smartwatch technology such as the Pebble Steel can already last a week on one charge.

Learn more about the various battery technologies and energy storage in general via the pages linked in the menu above.

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Jul 242014
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A Chinese company named Goophone (which has a history of making knockoff phones) has created its own version of what might be the iPhone 6, and it will go on sale August 1, 2014. Goophone named it the i6.

The i6 will be equipped with a 1.4 GHZ processor (instead of 2 GHZ like the Goophone 5S offered). Features that common to both the i6 and (rumoured) features of the iPhone 6 include an auto-focusing rear camera, a front fingerprint sensor. It is offered in two colours: black and white.

According to Mashable:

‘It’s also difficult to say exactly how closely the i6 resembles its Apple original, as designs for the iPhone 6 leaked earlier this year proved to be fake. An exact release date for the iPhone 6 has also been hazy, after rumors that a smaller version would debut in August were squashed. It is now widely anticipated that both the 4.7-inch will hit the market in September, while a larger 5.5-inch model could come in the months ahead.’

Goophone also made an imitation of the Samsung Galaxy S5, which is a high-end smart phone, and one of the greatest competitors to the iPhone line. While there are many competitors to the iPhone product line, the greatest ones do not blatantly imitate it as Goophone did. The greatest competitors (from a quality standpoint) include the Blackberry Z30, the Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S5, Amazon Fire phone, HTC One, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 1320, Nokia Lumia 930, and the Motorola Moto G.

However, the best competitors to the latest iPhone product lines are the Amazon Fire phone with its 2.2 GHZ quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 4.7″ HD display, dynamic perspective, and more, the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Nokia Lumia 930 with its 2.2 GHZ quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, and the HTC One M7 with its quad-core 1.7 GHZ processor.

These competitors are just as good, and are probably a far greater threat to Apple than Goophone’s imitations (even the almost-identical i6), because people trust Samsung, Nokia, etc to construct high-quality smartphones, Goophone isn’t exactly a household name.

Main Source: Mashable.

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Jul 232014
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Originally published on Green Building Elements By Nicholas Brown.

R.K.Pachauri, an internationally acclaimed environmentalist who chaired the IPCC, said that India urgently needs more green buildings, an especially radical departure from conventional building design.

He said:

“There has to be radical departure in the construction of new buildings. There is a change in culture which has impacted the consumption of energy, water and other resources. Our rating system has taken stock of buildings and we have prepared a knowhow to get truly green buildings, during an interview with IANS.

“Our climatic conditions should be kept in mind, and that should determine the kind of insulation you have in the buildings. Also, for example, in the hills solar energy will be a very good resource; windows must be solar. The GRIHA prescribes just that, Pachauri maintained.”

The GRIHA is the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment from The Energy Resources and Energy Institute (TERI).

He also said that most of the buildings that are projected to be built by 2030 haven’t been constructed yet. In my opinion, this is a window of opportunity to mandate more environmentally sound construction practices to make 2030 a year that they can look back on today’s designs.

Aren’t Green Buildings Expensive?

Not necessarily. There is a right and wrong way to do everything, and environmental conservation is no exception to this rule. There are many affordable ways to improve building energy efficiency such as the use of power strips to cease the power consumption of appliances in standby mode, light-colored roofs, white curtains to block out sunlight on hot days (dark curtains absorb sunlight, so its best that they are white), the use of fans instead of air conditioners. the use of fans with air conditioners at low settings, the use of less toxic materials to construct buildings, and much more.

Apart from that, the use of other “expensive” environmental conservation products and ideas such as reverse-cycling air conditioners, inverter refrigerators, tankless water heaters, and insulated glazing saves money in the long run. Opting for an inefficient low-priced building designsis like sweeping dirt under the rug. It will cost you in the long run, and a building is a very long-term investment, so it really should be built for the future.

Source: India.com.

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Jul 212014
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The 2014 Greylock Hackfest kicked off on July 19, 2014 at the Medium headquarters building in San Francisco, California, and brilliant minds showcased their new technologies to a panel of five judges. The judges were Pooja Sankar (founder and CEO of Piazza), Gerald Fong (he has two Greylock Hackfest wins under his belt), David Sze, Daniel Clancy (VP of engineering and product design at Nextdoor), and Josh McFarland (the CEO of TellApart).

The 2014 Greylock Hackfest/hackathon in San Francisco

Wizzy’s presentation at The 2014 Greylock Hackfest in San Francisco.
Image obtained with thanks from Dave Fontenot.

The top ten technologies showcased at the 2014 Greylock Hackfest were:

  1. Wizzy: This app adds a random song to each video you record. You won’t know which song was added until you share the video.
  2. Copycat: This automatically plays songs you refer to on Spotify.
  3. Tabspace: This can render a 2D graph of the tabs you are browsing in.
  4. LangYouTalk: This can translate phone conversations to other languages in real time.
  5. Standby: This can automatically preload popular content from some of your favourite websites including reddit and more, so that you can browse them offline when you’re travelling or in a remote region.
  6. MDFS: A cloud management system that automatically converts and uploads your files to multiple cloud services to safeguard them against data loss.
  7. WhenDo.io: A plug and play hardware development system aimed at making hardware development easier.
  8. Hyperink: This will stream video of you drawing, and hide your hand (as well as everything else in the background).
  9. Cumulonimbus: This is a distributed cloud file system that stores your data over multiple cloud services. It enables you and others to edit them, but stay in sync.
  10. Sense.js: This enables websites to take advantage of devices’ accelerometer, motion, and gesture data, a major step forward for website functionality.

My personal favourites were LangYouTalk, Sense.js, and Standby. If LangYouTalk is accurate, it would be a tremendous breakthrough as people currently must have a person translate for them during voice conversations. Sense.js enables websites to achieve functionality which I have never seen. This may enable websites to adjust their layouts to fit screens based on whether they are in landscape or portrait mode, to play games using gestures, and much more!

The Winners Of Greylock Hackfest 2014

The winners of the 2014 Greylock Hackfest were:

  • First place: Copycat. The grand prize winner gets to play the Hacker Cash-omatic game,collect as many $100 USD bills as they can, and meet Ev Williams, David Sze and Josh Elman.
  • Second place:WhenDo.io. The second prize is a Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter.
  • Third place: MDFS. The third price is a GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition, a waterproof camera designed for sports enthusiasts.

Source: Dave Fontenot, the founder of Hackmatch’s live report of the event.

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Jul 172014
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Originally published on Cleantechnica By Nicholas Brown.

Inside China, a global leader in renewable energy investment, lies Yingli Solar, the largest solar company in the world, a major sponsor of the World Cup, and the first renewable energy as well as the first Chinese company to sponsor the World Cup in 2010. Sponsors typically fork out $50 to $100 million to put their names on display at this event. A Climate Desk reporter got inside Yingli for a tour inside this growing company.

Interviewees at Yingli Solar said they are so successful that their production capacity and value doubled every year from 2004 to 2013. Yingli’s staff count stands at a whopping 30,000 members, according to Zhao Zelin, the Global Sales Director of Yingli. That is 30,000 green jobs helping to carry the economy forward!

Yingli Solar is based in Baoding, which is currently facing particularly high levels of smog, which the video host found ironic. However, one drop can cause an enormous ripple. Yingli Solar could be considered that drop, as they are successfully providing more and more smog-reducing solar panels. The success of the solar industry will surely help Baoding to reduce their smog levels in the future.

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