Monday, March 31, 2008


Ever thought about electricity? Probably not often. For most of us in the states, if you plug the appliance into the socket, it works, and if you flick the light switch up, the lights turn on.

I've been thinking about how it's made. Yes, without somebody else's work, if you flicked on the lights, nothing at all would happen. There are no free lunches in physics, and electricity is no exception.

All of our power comes from a magnet. Somewhere, there is a power station, which has a big loop of wire, probably made out of copper, which connects to the wires going to your house, apartment, or business. Inside that loop, there is a very large magnet, that almost, but not quite, fills the loop. The magnet is mounted on a rod that allows it to rotate around the axis of the loop. If you spin the magnet, the wires develop an electrical charge, the energy of which flows down the wire to you.

Okay, how do you spin the magnet? I mean, gerbil power plants aren't too common, right?

You use steam. Engineers in the mid to late 1800s discovered that you can push with steam. Much of the technology developed during that time used that principle to get work done, like trains, massager, and (this is a very long story that you can ask me about later) dildos. Because of the prevalence of steam as an energy transmission medium, the late 1800s are known as the steam era.

Okay, so you're shoving the magnet around with steam to make it spin. Where do you get the steam from? Steam doesn't just come from nowhere, right?

You boil water. The only power generation techniques that don't boil water are hydro power, and that involves the shove of water trying to flow downhill, conveniently blocked by the magnet-in-the-loop. So the water, pulled downhill by gravity, shoves the magnet into spinning, and wind power, in which wind shoves blades into rotating, and the blades spin a rod, that spins a magnet.

Everything else makes heat to boil water. Coal power works by burning coal to boil water, oil involves burning again, bio-power has been proposed in which wood would be burned. Power by burning must, of course, remove the smoke and ash from the process before it smothers the fire. Nuclear power produces heat by splitting atoms, changing a small portion of the atom's mass into heat. The heat boils water.

The ultimate power source would be antimatter. We have a lot of garbage laying around that no one would mind if it was destroyed, and a piece of matter the size of a small candy has enough power to fly a plane completely around the world several times. (Planes use a ridiculous amount of energy to stay aloft, by the way.) Enough matter to power a large city for several years would fit in the tiny wastebasket under my desk. The whole world could be powered for several years from the mass of a car.

Unfortunately, antimatter is very volatile stuff. It explodes if it touches regular matter, and so far can only be contained magnetically, and then only if charged. The process to produce it is ludicrously expensive. For the price required to produce the small candy's worth of antimatter, you could buy enough gold to completely cover the earth.

Since this is not an option, the next most promising technique is plasma arc gasification. This involves heating garbage with an electrical arc, which rips apart the atoms. As it cools back down, yes, it boils water. Also, some of the condensation resembles gasoline insomuch as it could power an engine. It was developed as a waste disposal technology, as it is so much cleaner than just burning the garbage, but it has been noticed to provide more electricity than it uses once it gets going.

Fusion power would also be great. With fusion, technicians would maintain a toroidal star that they constantly extract energy from. Hydrogen from water would power this star, and it would give off helium. The mass of helium would be less than the mass of the input hydrogen, so the energy comes from mass. Unfortunately, stability is a problem with fusion. Fusion operates at extremely high temperatures, so the star has to be prevented from touching the floor, which it will happily burn right through if allowed. Most existing fusion reactors can only safely be operated for a few seconds, or require more energy to maintain than they produce. Scientists have claimed commercial fusion power to be 50 years off....for the last 50 years. Serious roadblocks.

I'm going to recommend plasma arc gasification and nuclear power for now. Plasma arc gasification uses up waste that people pay to get rid of as it is, and nuclear power produces electricity with about my weight in waste per year. The waste could be recycled, technically, but we don't for political reasons. Could nuclear waste be plasma arc gasified? Probably.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Economics is one of those fields that really makes my head hurt, as it consists of a million little transactions that add up to huge patterns, and small things that seem insignificant are nonetheless critical to figuring out the pattern.

Economics is also part of the 2008 United States Presidential election. Various ideas are being pushed by various groups, and candidates are trying to weigh in with ideas of how to decrease unemployment, reduce inflation, and raise the standard of living in the United States.

Diversity seems to be the key. If there are many different products and services in the market, then the production of these goods will encourage the hiring of many people to make the products and perform the services, and these people will be able to pay for other goods and services in turn. This hopefully becomes an exponential cycle, unless diversity stops growing. At some point, people feel they have all the goods and services they can afford, and buying slows, hiring slows, and a depression momentarily grips the market.

How to increase diversity? People need ideas. I suggest science funding as a way of producing many new ideas, at least some of which will inspire a brave entrepreneur to start up.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Island Hopping

A number of places in this world have a lot of money and a lot of population, but no room. This tends to make the people miserable, as the rent increases continuously, everything gets crowded, and other problems occur because of the high population. Some of these places can no longer expand, because the surrounding land is owned by other entities. In particular, I think of New York City in the United States, whose surrounding land is owned by New Jersey, Yonkers, and Pennsylvania, and also Japan, an island nation with territorial arguments with Korea, China, and Russia. Japan especially suffers from crowding, since it has half the population of the United States, but is smaller than even the state of California in area. According to Wikipedia, California is 423,97 km^2, while Japan is merely 377,873 km².

For the crowded places on earth that have the money to deal with it, I suggest a land-filling policy, as most of these places are costal. The Netherlands have reclaimed 1/5th of their land from the ocean, so I know this is do-able. While it is possible to reclaim straight from the shore, many shore constructions were built because they were close to the shore, so to preserve land values, this technique should be used to create new islands.

After the site has been selected, workers should construct a caisson, a watertight pressurized tube, and install a pillar in the ocean. This should be done around the entire parameter of the would-be island. The watertight part can be removed when the pillars are fully constructed, and may or may not be recyclable, depending on how the construction and removal works. The pillars should all have notches facing each other. A large metal or plastic sheet of considerable thickness is placed between the notches, forming a water-tight seal. When the water is pumped from the center, this leaves a giant hole in the sea.

The hole should be filled with, at first, cheap materials. Especially garbage. Garbage should be readily available from any overcrowded area. Middle layers can even contain toxic waste between layers of cement. When the hole is almost filled, the top layer should be filled with only soil or compost, as this layer will directly be used by the inhabitants of the new island. It would also be wise to put a subway system, underground wiring, or water pipes, as appropriate, in this layer.

Finally, when the surface has been reached by the dirt layer, the island is avaialble for construction. Developers should move in and build large, high density apartments and businesses, and construct a means of transportation to the rest of the city, by bridge, subway, or ferry. Finally, everyone moves in, having more room to grow and build.

I recommend that New York build to the east or Northeast in the Atlantic to avoid the possibility of claims from New Jersey, and similarly recommend that Japan expand east into the Pacific to avoid conflicts with Korea.

I estimate this method to cost $5 million per square kilometer.
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