Thursday, February 28, 2008

UV coating on thin film solar cells

You might have read about a UCLA team that's developed a way to reduce UV degradation of thin film solar cell systems. They claim a patent for a "photon converting material" that converts UV into a lower-energy wavelength light. Yeah, it's actually just a fluorescent dye. Adding fluorescent dyes to CCDs has been common practice to increase the terrible efficiency of CCDs in the UV. I can't see what new non-obvious thing here needs to be patented.

This is the sort of thing a smart journalist needs to ask questions about, instead of taking a press release at face value.

Telecom immunity

The president insists that Congress pass his preferred version of the domestic spying bill, with telecomm immunity, saying "The companies were told by government leaders after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “that their assistance was legal and vital to national security,” the president said. “Allowing these lawsuits to proceed would be unfair.”

Let me get this straight. Both sides of Congress passed a FISA extension bill, the difference being the House version doesn't have retroactive telecom immunity. Both would keep the ability of the NSA to conduct warrantless spying in America. Because Bush refuses any scenario but getting everything he wants, including telecom immunity, the extension expires and the NSA chief claims Americans are in danger because of it. But they then blame the expiration on those who correctly separate the extension from the immunity issue!? What twisted illogic is that? I can't understand why people buy this.

If telecom assistance was legal, as the president says, then the companies have nothing to fear from a lawsuit. Then why give them immunity? Senator Kennedy says the same thing, in an amazingly coherent argument:

And Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said the president was using “the specter of terrorism” to push his own agenda.

“If the telecommunications companies didn’t break the law, they do not need immunity,” the senator said. “If they broke the law, the American people deserve to know the size and scope of their lawbreaking. Adhering to the rule of law would not ‘aid our enemies’ — it would uphold the very principles we are fighting for. The President’s position has nothing to do with protecting Americans and everything to do with sweeping under the rug illegal activity by his administration and his corporate partners.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

The dealie

I'm still attempting to purge myself of a cold I've had for a week and a half, and the cold and snow isn't really helping.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Amtrak to begin random screening

Schneier calls it right: security theater. No defined threat, only to "make people feel safer". The right to travel really has been destroyed in this country. An excuse that many people had for airport security was if you didn't like it, you could take a train. Well, can you now?

I can't find the released video that Amtrak put out of officers searching a train, but it really shook me to the core--it didn't feel safe to me. It felt like a police state, with the searchers fingering the triggers on their automatic weapons as they searched a peaceful train with no actual threat.

The reality is Amtrak may have actually been a viable replacement for short-haul airplane flights, at least if high-speed rail had been put in more places in the country, but with intrusive searches and stupid policies, now the airlines and Congressmen must be happy to continue their attempt to destroy the rail infrastructure in America.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

USA 193: it won't come down immediately

There is a big misconception in the media reports about the attempted kinetic attack on USA 193 that may happen tomorrow night: it won't come down immediately after being shot. Instead, the fragments of the satellite will continue to orbit. Atmospheric drag will greatly increase on each fragment, but it's certainly not coming down immediately over Canada as everyone says. At least some of the commenters on this Wired blog mention that.

But, it appears its perigee is at the northernmost part of its orbit (if I'm reading the orbital elements right), which is right after the interception. I bet they are thinking an orbit or two later it will come down over the northern Pacific.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Polaroid to stop making instant film

The end of another era in photography. Did you know Kodak stopped making black and white paper two years ago? The difference between that announcement and Polaroid's is that there is no other manufacturer of instant film. You can still get black and white paper from a multitude of vendors like Ilford and Oriental. Shake 'em while you still can.

Old polaroid passport camera from the library

Maroon article on campus lights

New lights dim club's stargazing

The new lights have created extensive light pollution in the local sky, a phenomenon that occurs when light scatters off air molecules. As a result, distant stars and galaxies disappear in the uniform glow of the overlit sky. Dean Armstrong, a longtime RAS member and University staff member, recalls a time when the stars were more easily visible from Ryerson.

“We used to show galaxies as part of a standard observation,” he said. “We don’t do it anymore. Either people can’t see them, or they’re just unimpressive.”

Located immediately below the Ryerson telescope, the new lights have brought the hurt home. A new light installed last week shines directly on the dome topping the telescope, and many others shine directly into the sky surrounding it.

Claims that these lights are shielded and only hit the first 25 feet of the facade are false. Here's a few images:

Do these lights only hit the first floor? No. View from the six-story roof.

The inverse view, lighting up the turret.

Blinding glare around the corner of Ryerson

Coverage of "shielded" light extends to nearly the zenith.

This light directly hits the dome and is much brighter in person.

Additional images at

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ISS passes for Chicago

If the Shuttle launches as planned in a few days on the 7th, the ISS will be positioned for good viewing during the time the Shuttle is near or docked with the space station, which is three days after launch, and until it undocks 10 days into the mission.

In other satellite news, the decaying spy satellite might be visible to you in the morning before it deorbits.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Making dull technology pretty

I run a copy of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (data release 5). It sits on two large SQL servers and a single blade web server. I needed some images of the servers so I spent a little time yesterday glitzing them up as much as rack servers can be glitzed and photographed them. Here's a link to the images.