On Virgin America’s new planes you can build a private playlist from the 3,000 on-board MP3s, play Doom, watch satellite TV, chat with other passengers or order lunch, all from the seat back in front of you. The computers that make this possible run Linux, booted over the network from one of the three servers at the back of the plane. Artur Bergman of O’Reilly Radar has a more detailed description of the experience, and a Flickr photoset with a bunch of cool pics.
Retired engineer Louis Michaud makes small tornados in his garage, but he wants to build them miles high. It works like this: route a nuclear power plant’s cooling pipes through an especially constructed building. Use big fans to blow air over the pipes. Use baffles and retaining walls to shape the hot air into a vortex. Put turbines in the path of the resultant tornado and recapture the energy that would otherwise be lost as waste heat. The idea without all the journalistic fluff of the article linked above is described on Michaud’s website, complete with diagrams. [digg]
Howard Waldrop is a brilliant, iconoclastic and thoughtful writer. His prose is as dense as depleted uranium, and as intricately constructed as DNA. He’s blogging at Not A Journal, the blog of the crew behind Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. His first essay is a typically Waldrop-ian journey from Rozerem to beavers to the opening of the American west and the Civil War.
The art of setting and trimming sails has a long and noble history, but when you think about it, it’s an art that exists because of fundamental flaws in the technology. Sails are fixed to a few basic positions that must be carefully tended to translate the impetus of wind into forward motion. Dan Tracy, “an enthusiastic sailor and fisherman from Mount Desert Island, Maine,” took a page from the kiteboarder’s playbook and attached a really big kite to a trimaran. Flying a kite lets him catch higher, steadier winds, from a wider variety of angles, to power his boat. Check him out on your next visit to Hawaii. [treehugger]
A company called Powerset will be making a new natural language search technology available to the public in September. If the company’s claims are true (as credulously reported in the Technology Review), their search technology will be fundamentally different than the many algorithms that have been used in the past. Instead of developing results based on word and synonym matching, Powerset’s technology teases out the deep linguistic structures embodied in the search queries and in the searched text to make both more accurate and less obvious connections. Points to Powerset CEO Barney Pell for admitting that:
There was not one piece of technology that solved the problem… but instead, it was the unification of many theories and fragments that pulled the project together.