Powered By The Sun: Visualizing Swanson’s Law

solar_power1For decades, solar power has been dogged by two undeniable problems that have prevented it from replacing fossil fuels as our primary means of energy. The first has to do the cost of producing and installing solar cells, which until recently remained punitively. The second has to do with efficiency, in that conventional photovoltaic cells remained inefficient as far as most cost per watt analyses went. But thanks to a series of developments, solar power has been beating the odds on both fronts and coming down in price.

However, to most people, it was unclear exactly how far it had come down in price. And thanks to a story recently published in The Economist, which comes complete with a helpful infographic, we are now able to see firsthand the progress that’s been made. To call it astounding would be an understatement; and for the keen observer, a certain pattern is certainly discernible.

PPTMooresLawaiIt’s known as the “Swanson Effect” (or Swanson’s Law), a theory that suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity. Named after Richard Swanson, the founder of the major American solar-cell manufacturer named SunPower, this law is basically an imitation of Moore’s Law, which states that every 18 months or so, the size of transistors (and also their cost) halves.

What this means, in effect, is that in solar-rich areas of the world, solar power can now compete with gas and coal without the need for clean energy subsidies. As it stands, solar energy still accounts for only  a quarter of a percent of the planet’s electricity needs. But when you consider that this represents a 86% increase over last year and prices shall continue to drop, you begin to see a very trend in the making.

What this really means is that within a few decades time, alternative energy won’t be so alternative anymore. Alongside such growth made in wind power, tidal harnesses, and piezoelectric bacterias and kinetic energy generators, fossil fuels, natural gas and coal will soon be the “alternatives” to cheap, abundant and renewable energy. Combined with advances being made in carbon capture and electric/hydrogen fuel cell technology, perhaps all will arrive in time to stave off environmental collapse!

Check out the infographic below and let the good news of the “Swanson Effect” inspire you!:

swanson_effectSource: theeconomist.com

Drone Wars: New Promises, Same Problems

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)The practice of using UAV’s as part of a targeted strategy in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen has become so frequent that its come to characterize the Obama administration’s handling of the “War on Terror”. Reaction to this policy has been increasingly critical, due in no small part to unanswered questions surrounding civilian death tolls and the rapid escalation of deployment. In response, the Obama administration announced this past week that the surge is at an end.

In a speech made to the National Defense University in Washington on Thursday, Obama emphasized that from now on, the use of UAV’s would be in the hand of the military instead of clandestine intelligence organizations such as the CIA. He also indicated that the rules for launching the strikes would be stricter. For instance, there must be a “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed, and the strikes are to become less frequent.

predator_profileWhile Obama would not declare an end to the war on terrorism, he did offer to work with Congress to constrain some of his own authorities for waging it, which may include the creation of a court modeled on the secretive one used by the NSA to oversea the surveillance of suspected foreign agents. He also expressed a preference to constrain “and ultimately repeal” the broad latitude of warmaking powers granted in the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), an act that was created in 2001 by the Bush administration which is considered the wellspring of the “War on Terror”.

And above all, issues of legality are to take a backseat to the moral and ethical implications raised by ongoing use. Or as he put it: “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”

Naturally, a great many questions remain. In addition to how drones will be used in the years to come to combat terrorism and militants, there’s also questions surrounding their use thus far. Despite pledges made by Obama that changes will be made, the history of the program is still shrouded in mystery. Fittingly, Bloomberg Businessweek created a map to serve as a reminder of the scope of that program, calling it the first ever “comprehensive compilation of all known lethal U.S. drone attacks.”

drone_map

It should be noted though that the numbers represent an estimate which were compiled with the help of the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Sources in Washington apparently offer a wide range of numbers, and the State Department remains hush hush on the issue of casualties. However, the estimates presented in this infographic still present a stark and sobering picture:

  • Yemen: at least 552 killed between 2002 and 2013. The site of the first ever drone strike in 2002.
  • Pakistan: at least 2,561 killed between 2004 and 2013.
  • Somalia: at least 23 killed between 2011 and 2012.

drone_map1Naturally, it is hoped that Obama’s promise to curb the use of drones represents a renewed commitment to comply with international law, treaties and human rights. However, what was apparently missing from the speech was an indication about how easy it will be to get information about strikes that are made in the future. According to the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, who provided live analysis of the speech, Obama’s speech didn’t address the issue:

One of the big outstanding questions is just how transparent the Obama administration will be about drone strikes in the future. Will administration officials begin to publicly confirm strikes after they happen?

There was no mention of this in the speech, and it is telling that the president did not mention the C.I.A. at all. It seems quite certain that past operations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are not going to be declassified anytime soon.

Also, moving operations from the C.I.A. to the Pentagon does not automatically mean that the strikes will be publicly discussed. The Pentagon is carrying out a secret drone program in Yemen right now, and it is very difficult to get information about those operations.

So… promises to curb the use of drones have been made, as well as promises to create some kind of oversight for future operations. And this does seem consistent with many of the criticisms made about the ongoing war on terrorism, specifically the Bush administrations handling of it and how his reliance on special executive powers were unlawful and unconstitutional.

But until such time as information on how these strikes occur and who is being killed, the issue will remain a contentious and divisive one. So long as governments can wage war with automated or remote machinery and kill people without transparency and in secrecy, will this not constitute a form of illegal – or at the very least, a very opaque – warfare?

Sources: wired.com, fastcoexist.com, businessweek.com

GOT Infographic: The History of Robert’s Rebellion

House-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-29965891-1920-1080

Things have been getting weird around here lately. For some reason, people over at other sites have been reaching out to me and offering cool and funny infographics. It’s like they think that I’ve got some kind of following or something. Well, if it keeps me getting stuff like this, I plan to let them entertain this notion. And my followers, whoever you are, can consider yourself the lucky recipient of what they pass on.

Consider this new infographic, courtesy of connectyourhome.com. For fans of Game of Thrones, be it the books or the miniseries, this helpful illustrated and annotated table provides a breakdown of the history of Robert’s Rebellion. For those who are not familiar, this rebellion is what made King Robert ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, and were seminal to the plot of the story that followed.

Rhaegar-Targaryen-Lyanna-StarkThings begin in this timeline with the tournament at Harrenhal, during which Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped Lyanna Stark, the betrothed of Robert Baratheon. They then escalated when Rickard and Brandon Stark – Ned Stark’s father and uncle and the men his youngest boys are named after – travelled to King’s Landing to demand Lyanna’s return. However, “the mad” King Aerys accused both men of treason, burns Rickard and has Brandon strangled.

Aerys further demands that John Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie and Robert Baratheon’s gaurdian, to deliver the heads of Eddard (Ned) and Robert to him, since their fathers were apparent traitors. Instead, Arryn allies himself with Robert and Eddard and a rebellion is declared. House Tully, with is joined to house Stark through the marriage of their eldest daughter (Catelyn) to Ned, joins them as well.

Battle_of_the_TridentAnd of course, a series of battles follow, culminating in the Battle of the Trident where Rhaegar is killed and the royal army is routed. The rebel army marches on King’s Landing with the intent of laying seige. Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, rides there and tricks King Aerys into allowing his forces into the city, and then sacks it. Jaime Lannister, who is then ordered to murder his own father, slays King Aerys and the rebellion is at an end.

Robert Baratheon is crowned king and marries Tywin’s daughter, Cersei Lannister, to seal his control over the realm. The last of the Targaryens are murdered or forced into exile, the two that are publicly known of are Viserys and Daenerys. Ned rides to Dorne where his sister was being held in the Tower of Joy, where he finds her dying and agrees to honor her last wishes.

And that’s what brings us to the first book and/or season with the laying of all the major threads, with the exception of all that stuff involving the White Walkers and the Wall. That stuff goes back… further! But don’t trust my executive summary, go to their website or check out the infographic below:

got-infographicNot only is it a very interesting breakdown of the plot that predates events in the main story, I think it also confirms something that’s been batted around various GOT forums. For some time, people have been wondering about the true identity of John Snow’s mother. Some people have theorized that he was in fact Lyanna and Rhaegar’s love child, and that she asked Ned to keep him safe by keeping his identity a secret.

Targaryen children were being murdered at this time, after all. And saying it was his own love child somehow seemed more humane to the boy and his mother’s memory. Sure, it was a blow to Catheryn to believe her husband was coming home with a bastard born of an indiscretion. But Ned was a man of honor, a boy’s life may have been at stake, and a sister’s dying wish is a sister’s dying wish!

So thanks connectyourhome! And if you got any more, don’t hesitate to send them along. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I enjoy them 😉

How to Ninja Proof a House

ninjahomeinvasionFrom the good people who brought you “How to zombie-proof a house” comes the latest in sensible real-estate planning. This time round, it is how you go about protecting your home from ninja intrusion. Using a full-page infographic with multiple panels, which you can check out here, all the countermeasures you will need to know are listed.

Combining ancient know-how with modern technology, these counter-measures include:

  • Squeaky floors
  • Security cameras
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Maze-like hallways
  • Powerful ventilation
  • High-tech locks
  • Facial recognition software
  • Smart floors
  • Gravel Yards
  • Steel walls and ceilings
  • Tall and curved outer walls

ninja.jpgWhat impresses me about all of this, aside from the time and thought dedicated to it, is how well it merges knowledge from feudal Japan with modern home defense systems. For example, feudal barons who feared assassination during Japan’s Sengoku (or “Warring States”) Period would have rooms in their fortress built with long wooden panels that would ensure they would squeak when stepped on. These were often combined with trap doors to ensure that anyone skilled enough to slip inside would find themselves in a jam quickly!

Gravel yards placed at intervals throughout their estates and round, vertical walls were also popular tricks to ensure easier detection and to give ninjas a harder time of getting inside. And of course, narrow, winding hallways also ensured that a single or group of infiltrators would have a harder time finding their way and could be ambushed when they came around a corner.

Cyber Ninja Artart, alphacoders.com
Cyber Ninja Artart, alphacoders.com

Combining all this with the latest in alarm systems, biometric locks, facial recognitions software, security cameras, environmental controls and fire sprinklers, you’ve got a pretty handy arsenal with which to fight off skilled assassins and masters of stealth. And  let’s face it, modern ninjas have no doubt updated their repertoire to take advantage of the latest in tech as well, which would most likely include night vision, thermal imaging, flashbangs, airgun grappling hooks, and possibly even knock-out gas.

Were ninjas to become a credible threat to our safety and well-being, this is undoubtedly the kind of database we would want to consult. And as we all know, ninjas are cool! When zombies go the way of vampires and witches, aka. become somewhat of a tired cliche, I’m sure these guys will be in line to become the next big craze!

Ninja Games

Envisioning The Future of Finance

BrightFutureA few times now, the website known as Envisioning Technology has snared me with their predictive posters. First there was their “Emerging Technologies” infographic for the year of 2012. That was followed shortly thereafter by “The future of health” and “The future of education“. They even took a look at popular dystopian and apocalyptic scenarios and asked the question “Should I be afraid“?

And now, in their latest infographic, they’ve tackled the future of finance. Looking at the financial industry as a whole, they attempt to gauge its readiness to technological change. While looking at trends that are likely to influence the very notion of value in the coming decades, they ask the question “are [organizations] paying enough attention to the imminent changes that will define the future of society or if they are running the risk of letting accelerating change vanquish existing business models?”

And as usual, the information is presented in an interconnected, multi-layered fashion. Dividing all aspects of the financial sector into the categories of Data, Automation, Security, Disintermediation (i.e. removing the “middle men”), Crowds (crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding), Mobile technology, Currencies, and Reputation, potential technologies are then listed based on whether or not they are under development, likely to be in development in the near future, or are currently being overlooked.

Take a gander and see what you think. As usual, its packed full of interesting concepts, speculative reasoning, and a ton of statistical data. And be sure to check out the website in case you have yet to see their other infographics.

Source: Envisioning Technology

The Future Of Education

Hi all, and welcome to the third and final installment in the “Envisioning Technology” series. Today, it’s the “Future of Education Technology” that’s up for all to see. Much like their speculative work on Future Tech and the Future of Medicine, they present us here with an infographic that shows the interrelated fields of educational technology and how growth in one will inevitable lead to change in others.

On the one hand, we see a gradual transition from the Classroom (i.e. traditional educational environment) to the Studio environment, where a peer and group dynamic becomes the focus, rather than classic teacher-student transmission. In the final environment, learning becomes Virtual, divorced from any specific geographical context – i.e. it happens wherever you are, not just in a classroom or academic institution.

Also, through an incorporation of various education and education-related technologies, six steps are discerned within this process. As usual the entire process is traced from the present day to 2040, with many of the necessary technologies already in existence or in the process of development.

As a teacher, I was rather fascinated to see this, as it illustrates much of what was being espoused when I was still in teacher’s college. Back then, the concept of the post-modernist classroom was all the rage, even though there were many who insisted that this movement had passed.

Intrinsic to the concept was the deconstructing the traditional learning paradigm and even the classroom environment. Openness was the new rule, individuation the new philosophy and building on a student’s existing knowledge and experience, rather than simply handing them the curriculum and evaluated their assimilation thereof.

Naturally, many of us felt the same about all the concepts and ideas that were being thrown at us, in that they seemed highly idiosyncratic and theoretical. Missing from just about all the articles, studies and lectures we heard on the subject was mention of how this was to be done. Lectures on applied technology and new methods, on the other hand, seemed much more effective. Whereas the theory seemed to be commenting on trends that were happening, or still needed to happen, these lectures seemed to be showing us how.

Kind of makes you think… and in a way, I’m reminded of what men like George Orwell said. In 1984 (Goldstein’s Manifesto, to be specific), he claimed that the advent of modern industry and education had removed the basis of class distinction and elitism. By the 20th century, when totalitarian philosophies emerged, humanity was closer to the state of true equality that Marx predicted than ever before. Granted, that road has been fraught with bumps and attempts at subversion, but the general trend seems pretty clear.

Perhaps we’re seeing something of the same thing here with the emergence of IT and what people like Foucault, Derrida and Habermas predicted. The breakdown of singular standards, the opening of discourse, the plurality of perspective and opinions. Perhaps they weren’t just speaking off the cuff or stuck in an esoteric bubble. Maybe they were just picking up on trends which were yet to come to true fruition.

Makes me think, at any rate. But then again, that’s the point isn’t it?

Envisioning The Future of Health Technology

My thanks, yet again, to Futurist Foresight for providing the link to this fascinating infographic, which is the work of the good people at Envisioning Technology. People may remember this website from their work on “Envisioning Emerging Technology”, an infographic from a previous article which addressed the likelihood of interrelated technological developments in the coming decades. As a trend forecasting studio, compiling information and predictions into reports and tables in pretty much what these guys do. What a cool job!

In any case, here we have a table representing the future of health technology, as predicted by ET. Diving their findings into the fields of Augmentation, Biogerontology, Diagnostics, Telemedicine, Treatments, and Regeneration respectively, they attempt to show how small advancement in the near future will branch outwards to more radical ones in the not-too-distant future. The rough dates correspond to their previous graphic, starting with modern day research and culminating in 2040.

And of course, the infographic also shows how developments in all these fields over time will be interrelated, corresponding to different sub fields and becoming part of the ever-expanding field of advanced medicine. These sub fields include:

  • 3D Printing
  • Big Data
  • Cryonics
  • Life Extension
  • mHealth (health services supported by mobile devices)
  • Remote Virtual Presence
  • Neuroprosthetics
  • Sensors
  • Sensory Augmentation
  • Synthetic and Artificial Organs

Some inventions that are predicted include the Tricorder, 3D printed organs, artificial limbs, artificial eyes, cryogenic freezing, gene therapy, AI therapists, robotic nurses, robot surgery, implanted sensors, and exoskeletons. Wow, tricorders, really? In truth, I am often alarmed at what will be possible in the near future, but knowing that advancements are around the corner that could make life a lot healthier and happier for so many people gives me hope. Until next time!