The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Around the web 1/29/2011

Credit: Missouri Department of Conservation

Mountain lion in St. Louis County! — This doesn’t happen too often. A night-time wildlife camera captured a mountain lion in suburban St. Louis, less than ten miles from our home. We’re a little more used to opossums, raccoons, deer, and wild turkeys around here.

I don’t worry too much about mountain lions when hiking in Missouri. I’ve never seen one in the wild while hiking in the West (I’ve lived in Montana, Utah, and Colorado), but I suspect they have seen me.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mountain lion spotted in suburban St. Louis.

From the Missouri Department of Conservation: Chesterfield sighting confirmed to be a mountain lion.

Yellowstone Supervolcano eruption NOT imminent — From National Geographic: Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells. The ground within the Yellowstone Caldera has swelled upwards up to ten inches (25 centimeters) as magma slowly intrudes into a magma chamber 10 kilometers beneath the surface.

“At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption,” said [University of Utah geologist] Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

“But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren’t so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we’d have been a lot more concerned.”

Apparently, intrusion into the magma chamber is somewhat cyclical:

Based on geologic evidence, Yellowstone has probably seen a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation over the past 15,000 years, and the cycle will likely continue, Smith said.

Surveys show, for example, that the caldera rose some 7 inches (18 centimeters) between 1976 and 1984 before dropping back about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) over the next decade.

IBM Supercomputer wins Jeopardy — The 1997 computer victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov was nothing compared to this one. Chess is complex, but the logic of chess is nothing compared to the complexities of language as expressed in the TV gameshow Jeopardy. reports that the Watson supercomputer defeated two Jeopardy champions at the game, which means that the computer could understand the nuances of the categories and questions (actually the answers). The author believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will operate at human levels within two decades, and adds “I for one would then regard it as human.” He continues, “By the time the controversy dies down and it becomes unambiguous that nonbiological intelligence is equal to biological human intelligence, the AIs will already be thousands of times smarter than us.”

From PC Magazine: Why IBM’s Jeopardy Victory Matters (three parts) by Ray Kurzweil.

My questions:

  • Is there more to being human than being able to process information? (The Christian answer is “yes.” Humans are created in the image of God, and some things such as genuine emotions just cannot be programmed.)
  • How long will it be until someone falls in love with a computer? Until someone gets married to a computer?
  • What will stop the Episcopal Church or ELCA from ordaining computers as pastors? (Too bad these denominations don’t require baptism by immersion; that would prevent computers from being eligible for ordination).

HT: John C

Ski Joring Championship — Huh? From the Billings Gazette: World Ski Joring Championships in Whitefish.

The event involves horses and riders pulling a skier who navigates a course with a series of jumps and gates.

Somehow I missed that in the last Winter Olympics.

Stairs are more fun — I almost always take the stairs at work, rather than the elevator. I figure that I climb about 40,000 feet per year, which is more than climbing Mount Everest. But the stairs at work are not this fun…

Grace and Peace

January 29, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Fun, Geology, Montana, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Renewable by 2030?

From National Geographic: Going “All the Way”: With Renewable Energy?

In a world where fossil fuel provides more than 80 percent of energy, what would it take to go completely green? Could the world switch over to power from only the wind, sun, waves, and heat from the Earth in only a few decades?

The article explores what it would take to get 100% of the world’s energy needs by 2030, and looks at a few of the obstacles. The researchers highlighted in the article propose doing all of this without reliance on biofuels or nuclear energy.

I believe that we must switch to renewable energy sources, and the sooner the better. Our present over-dependence on fossil fuels is bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and bad for national and world security. The solution isn’t “drill baby drill,” and it isn’t just sitting around and letting the market take care of our problems (the market tends to be rather blind to the future on things like this). We need energy policies that have our great-great-great grandchildren in mind, not just the next election.

Here are a few of my thoughts and questions:

  • Why try to go 100% without biofuels?
  • Why try to go 100% without nuclear? I’m not a huge fan of nuclear energy, but recognize it as a useful transitional energy source.
  • Being that wind/solar/waves/geothermal only account for 3% of our energy now, is it realistic to aim for 100% renewable by 2030?
  • For a more realistic target, could we aim for 50% (or some other number) dependence on renewable energy sources by 2030?
  • Many of these renewable technologies require other resources that are in short supply, such as rare earth elements. What will the negative consequences of a rapid move to 100% renewable be? (And what are the negative consequences of the status quo?)

Grace and Peace

HT: The Green Life

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Technology | , , , | 7 Comments

Arthur C. Clarke and GPS

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was not only one of the first persons to conceive of geostationary communications satellites, he may have also been the first to come up with the idea of the Global Positioning System (GPS). From the Winter 2010/2011 issue of ArcNews: Rendezvous with Reality — Arthur C. Clarke Sees the Future.

Author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke was known worldwide for his science fiction writings, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama, but he was also one of the most important visionaries of the last century-most notably, he originated the concept of the geostationary communications satellite in 1945. In 1956, however, Clarke wrote a letter to Andrew G. Haley, president of the American Rocket Society, where he described one potential use for a geostationary communications satellite, to create a “position-finding grid whereby anyone on earth could locate himself by means of a couple of dials on an instrument about the size of a watch”-what we now know as GPS.

The print edition of ArcNews contains a copy of the origin letter along with a transcription. Here’s part of what Clarke wrote:

My general conclusions are that perhaps in 30 years the orbital relay system may take over all the functions of existing surface networks and provide others quite impossible today. For example, the three stations in the 24-hour orbit could provide not only an interference and censorship-free global TV service for the same power as a single modern transmitter, but could also make possible a position-finding grid whereby anyone on earth could locate himself by means of a couple of dials on an instrument about the size of a watch. (A development of Decca and transistorisation.) It might even make possible world-wide person-to-person radio with automatic dialling. Thus no-one on the planet need ever get lost or become out of touch with the community, unless he wanted to be. I’m still thinking about the social consequences of this!

I like that: “No-one on the planet need ever get lost… unless he wanted to be.”

For some reason, the PDF version of ArcNews has a couple of advertisements on page 27 in place of the article on Clarke.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Note that the link to Global Positioning System above takes you to a U.S. Government site written in Chinese. A sign of the times.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | Geography, Maps, Technology | , , | Leave a comment

Airplanes of the future?

From FoxNews: NASA Shows Off Planes of the Future

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2011 Posted by | General, Technology | Leave a comment

Bad fish, bad Wikipedia

I use Wikipedia quite a bit, mainly for getting public domain images for classroom PowerPoint lectures. I occasionally run across vandalism, such as this:


That is the entire article on “Fish.” I guess that is what you get when you have a “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

Ninety percent of the time, Wikipedia is pretty good, but I look forward to whatever eventually replaces “Wikipedia” as a better, massive online source of information.

Grace and Peace

February 28, 2008 Posted by | Technology | 1 Comment

Shooting down a spy satellite

An animation of last week’s spy satellite shootdown is available from Analytical Graphics.

February 26, 2008 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

All the computer I’ll ever need

mac.pngSpeaking of 1980s computer technology, I wrote my thesis for my Master’s degree on the first Macintosh computer, which came out in 1984. It had an internal 3.5 inch floppy drive, and no hard drive. I remember thinking, “I can write a report, edit it, and even draw pictures. What else would I ever want to do?” And I could do it with style; the PC guys in the office were staring at green or amber text on their little screens. I guess I can do more on my present PC laptop or iMac desktop, but that first Mac (it wasn’t mine, it was the Geology department’s) was wonderful.

Grace and Peace

August 8, 2007 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Tried and true

My laptop computer, with a recent repair to its internal power supply, is running well. It does what it needs to do: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, internet browsing, Google Earth, so I am happy. It is coming up on four years old, which is old for a laptop.

I guess NASA might feel the same way about the computers that control the space shuttles, as the computers are vintage 1980s! But they work. Here’s a few quotes from Space Shuttles Bound to Technologies of the Past in the Washington Post:

The shuttle fleet’s IBM computers have been upgraded once — in 1988-89.

The five main computers that run each shuttle have a memory of about 1 megabyte apiece, McDowell said. Today’s most basic home desktop computers come loaded with 20,000 times as much and have Pentium processors.

The testing of processors and computing equipment is extraordinarily rigorous, Carr and others said, and NASA has always placed reliability ahead of speed. A home desktop computer that crashes once a week is merely annoying, but a failed computer aboard a space shuttle could be catastrophic.

Computer chips and other components are subjected to intense bouts of radiation testing, and the software that runs the shuttles may be among the cleanest programs ever written.

Paradoxically, one reason that newer computer chips are superior — they pack more components and circuits into smaller spaces — can make them more vulnerable in space. A single cosmic ray, a stream of high-energy particles in space, might damage a large number of transistors in a densely packed chip, while previously it would have damaged only a few, McDowell said.

I suppose the space agency is caught in a bad position. If they upgrade, and then a shuttle has problems, they’ll say, “We should have stuck with the tried and true 1980s technology.” If they don’t upgrade, and then a shuttle has problems, they’ll say, “We should have upgraded.”

For me, I hope my laptop makes it through another year.

Grace and Peace

August 8, 2007 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Shift Happens — The world is going to change a lot in the near future

Technological changes in our society tend to be exponential rather than linear. Some examples of this include:

  • The density of transistors on integrated chips doubles every 24 months.
  • Hard drive capacity increases about 40% per year (do you remember when that 20 MB hard drive seemed huge?)
  • Computer RAM has gone from kilobytes in the 80s, to megabytes in the 90s, to gigabytes in the 00s.
  • Etc…

What does the future hold? Check out the short video Shift Happens.

How will we as Christians respond to the technological changes that await us? What is the potential for good? What is the potential for evil?

(I thank Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle for this link).

Grace and Peace

March 1, 2007 Posted by | Future, Technology | Leave a comment

Stewart Brand, builder of the world’s slowest computer

There’s an interesting story in today’s New York Times about a man named Stewart Brand. Brand was the publisher of the original Whole Earth Catalog, and an early leader of the environmental movement.

Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and embrace genetic engineering.

I was particularly intrigued by this:

Mr. Brand’s latest project, undertaken with fellow digerati, is to build the world’s slowest computer, a giant clock designed to run for 10,000 years inside a mountain in the Nevada desert, powered by changes in temperature. The clock is an effort to promote long-term thinking.

Taking a look at the NYT article just for a peak at his clock will be worth your time.

The thing I like about his clock project is its long-term perspective. Our energy and environmental policies tend to be very short-term; a decade at the most. At times, we need short-term solutions to problems, but we also need long-term solutions. What energy policies will keep us going for 100 years? 1000 years? 2000 years? Coal certainly won’t do it. Neither will fission-based nuclear power (which Brand advocates). Uranium, too, is a limited natural resource. The long-term possibilities: solar, wind, fusion (will it ever work?), and technologies that we might not be even dreaming about yet.

(Yes, I know that Christ could return tomorrow. But he could conceivably wait another 2000 years as well. We don’t know, and need to live as if he could come back on either timescale).

Grace and Peace

February 27, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Technology | Leave a comment

Giant excavator

This 200 meter (600 foot) long excavator looks like something out of Star Wars. I got the image from Astronomy Picture of the Day, November 22, 2006.

Here’s the description from APOD:

The machine pictured above is a bucket-wheel excavator used in modern surface mining. Machines like this have given humanity the ability to mine minerals and change the face of planet Earth in new and dramatic ways. Some open pit mines, for example, are visible from orbit. The largest excavators are over 200 meters long and 100 meters high, now dwarfing the huge NASA Crawler that transports space shuttles to the launch pads. Bucket-wheel excavators can dig a hole the length of a football field to over 25 meters deep in a single day. They may take a while to cross a road, though, with a top speed under one kilometer per hour.

And the description from Wikipedia:

Especially large bucket-wheel excavators, over 200 meters long and up to 100 meters in height, are used in German strip-mining operations, and are the largest earth-movers in the world. These tremendous machines can cost over $100 million, take 5 years to assemble, require 5 people to operate, weigh more than 13,000 tons, and have a theoretical capacity of more than 12,000m³/h. Specifically, the RB293 bucket wheel excavator manufactured by MAN Takraf is recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest land vehicle.

Grace and Peace

November 23, 2006 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment