Tuesday, April 28, 2015
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Nashua;48.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/ra.png;2015-04-28 01:09:32

Bitcoin's underlying technology - could it power a stock exchange, rather than a currency?

Many people, including me, think bitcoin's real value is not as a currency that the nasty government doesn't control, but as the demonstration of how peer-to-peer technology can created trusted exchanges without a central authority overseeing that trust. (There's no bank or credit card company saying "yeah, I'll back this up" - just the system known as the block chain.)

Now the founder of Overstock.com, which has been a bitcoin-accepting pioneer, thinks that system can create a stock market without a stock exchange - a peer-to-peer system for financing corporations. Overstock's CEO Pastrick Byrne has filed a request with the Secruities and Exchange Commission, reports Wired in this article.

Using cryptographic algorithms, these machines would mathematically verify all trades and record them in an online ledger that anyone could examine at any time, much as the worldwide bitcoin network verifies and records the exchange of money. Byrne and Overstock have long complained of loopholes in our existing stock markets, and he believes that technology can help shore up these holes.

Interesting idea. Would it be more or less open to manipulation by crafty traders, I wonder?

Formula Hybrid contest (colleges build, race hybrid cars) at NH Speedway

The annual Formula Hybrid contest, in which colleges build and test their hybrid racers, gets under way today at the N.H. International Speedway. Thursday is the endurance event, which is the big deal, but there are lots of techy events before that, including competitions of acceleration (to take advantage of electric engines' torque) and design.

Here's the schedule.

Founded and run by the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth since 2006, Formula Hybrid takes place each spring at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. The competition is part of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Collegiate Design Series. Basically, it's a spin-off of the long-running SAE series in which colleges build traditional racing cars.

Boston farm in a shipping container; Maine mill in a prison; robots working the fields  

A few not-really-related agricultre items today:

I have noted in past posts the possibilities - and concerns - of indoor farming, growing plants on shelving under specially tuned LED lights. The idea, made possible by LED improvements, brings the possiblitiy of local produce to the inner city, and all-winter greens to the Northeast, although there are questions about whether it's really very "green" because of all the electricity needed by the lights.

I hadn't realized that there's an ongoing version in Boston. It's called Corner Stalk, and it operates what it says is the equivalent of a four-acre farm inside a shipping container in East Boston. They like the term "controled environment agriculture", by the way. The project has expanded from one container growing basil to five growing various leafy greens, and it has been accepted by the Boston Public Market, a huge indoor farmers market - which is a big deal for finances, as the Boston Globe notes.

As I noted fbefore, I can't imagine this catching on in new Hampshire, because we have too much open-ish land close to population centers. But you never know.

Up in Maine, a flour mill opened in a former Maine prison is booming, but it has trouble finding enough organic grain to meet demand, reports the Bangor Daily News.

And finally, what about robots working the fields - even doing delicate, complicated things like picking strawberries? It's become a possibilty.

State's first public bitcoin vending machine is in - can you guess? - yes, Keene!

Lamassu, the New Hampshire bitcoin-machine firm, says that a thrift store has installed only the second public bitcoin vending machine in northern New England, and the first in New Hampshire. Can you guess what city it's in?

Ah, Keene. If you didn't exist, our libertarian selves would have to invent you.

Here's an item about it from the news/advocacy site Free Keene.

Study says autonomous cars would be used more, and thus might increase gas usage

One of the environmental advantages cited for autonomous cars is that they'd reduce the number of vehicles needed. Most cars and trucks are parked most of the time, but if they could be sent hither and yon by themselves, they could do the work of many vehicles.

The drawback? They might actually increase fuel use because there would be less incentive to make those trips efficient. Or so, at least, says a new study, as reported by Bloomberg News:

In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.

What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

It's an interesting argument. Pretty hypothetical at the moment, of course, but interesting.

In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.

What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

- See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150424/NEWS24/150429484#sthash.xLLF7qWe.dpuf

In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.

What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

- See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150424/NEWS24/150429484#sthash.xLLF7qWe.dpuf</</

Only one caller said my GMO shown on NHPR today was 'whitewashing'  

I hosted the NHPR call-in show The Exchange this morning with two researchers to discuss genetically modified organisms and genetic engineering in general. I've found that it's harder to make lame quips hosting a radio show as compared to hosting Science Cafe in person, which might be a good thing ... although I did get to compare gene sequencing with disco lights.

One caller, as you 'll hear if you listen to the show (it's here on the NHPR website), accused the guests of whitewashing problems, and another was concerned about links with - yes, you guessed it - autism. But I think in general we got some real information across.

Incidentally, the show has been planned for a while, so it's sheer coincidence that it came out the day after Chinese researchers announced the first confirmed performing genetic engineering on human embryos.

Electric unicycles and scooters - can they out-Segway the Segway?

Slate does a comparison test of four motorized scooters and self-balancing wheels in hopes to tackle the last-mile problem of commuters - getting from, say, the train station to the office without taking an extra half an hour to malk, or mucking up a sweat.

The conclusion: Motorized scooters do pretty well, if you can overlook the Segway-ish dorky factor. The other stuff, not so much.

It's a fun read - check it out here.

That flying car they're building in Woburn? It's going to miss deadline and budget (surprise!)

I've long been enamored with the Terrafugia flying car (or "roadable aircraft," the term they used to prefer) being created in Woburn, Mass. It's just so gorgeous, even if the whole idea of a flying car is kind of silly.

The company talked for a while about maybe starting production this year, but I haven't been holding my breath, so I'm not surprised to read in Endgadget that it's still a couple of years away. Weight issues are tough when you try to match the safety requirements of a car with the flying requirements of an airplane, and regulatory issues are complicated, too.

I'm also not surprised that "the estimated price seems to have climbed a bit from the $279,000 projection, as he said the company is targeting between $300k and $400k," as Endgadget reports.

The best part of the piece is this let-your-free-flag-fly comment from a reader:

I am beyond tired of seeing my dreams get crushed to death by regulatory bull crap! "It doesn't meet the weight requirements, bleh". Do you KNOW what that kind of crap does to innovation!? That's one of the reasons WHY we don't have flying cars! Just give me the vehicle and let me assume full responsibility for it, and then screw off! ... The wright brothers didn't have to put up with this crap!

I hope he doesn't live too close to me. I don't relish the thought of having somebody overhead who thinks weight requirements in aircraft are "bull crap."

Congress finally say yes, it can support 21st century equivalent of Mom and apple pie

From my point of view, one of the most extreme examples of last year's Congressional partisan stupidity was the failure to pass a no-brainer of a bill giving incentives for energy efficiency in buildings.

Maybe things are improving: The bill, co-sponsored by NH Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, passed the Senate and the House yesterday. The bill is narrower than last year and makes some things voluntary, which means it will be less effecitve, but at least it's something.

Government data plus profit motive equals - maybe better kitchen cabinets

My Telegraph column this week is about one of a number of companies trying to build a business based on available government data - in this case it's BuildZoom, which accumulates data about building permits in an area so that homeowners can see what local contrators have done. It hopes to make money in the business-to-business arena, analyzing data and selling analysis to contractors, insurers, Realtors and the like.

Zillow (which crunches public data about house sales) is probably the best-known example of this overarching business idea. These firms seem like a good example of private industry improving public information for profit, benefitting both them and us, the public.

Here's the column.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.

ggScienceCafeSidebar

Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, May 20

TOPIC: Trains: An old technology that keeps getting newer.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).

PAST TOPICS:

2015:

April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? March: How roads are designed. February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.

2014:

November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

2013:
November:
Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

2012:
November:
"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

2011:
Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"

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Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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