Things Worth Talking About, Part 1

Okay, as promised, Part 1 of a rundown of some of the interesting things going on in the world these days.

  • Shane comments on the most obvious story, at least to me, which is Rafael Nadal’s victory over Roger Federer in yesterday’s 6+ hour epic Wimbledon final.  There’s so much to say about this match, and, in other ways, not that much to say at all.  For years, I have enjoyed watching Federer play, especially at Wimbledon.  His grace, the way he always seems to be in place two steps before the ball gets there.  I didn’t really have a chance to see the great serve-and-volleyers, like McEnroe, play at their peak, but I think Federer comes close.  At the same time, it’s been a joy watching Nadal come on the scene.  His game is more power than grace, more speed than balance, more evolutionary than throwback.  Plus, check out these guns:

Nadal\'s Guns

I mean, seriously – those are the arms of a tennis player?  Good grief.  Anyhow, last year’s Wimbledon final was the greatest tennis match I’ve ever seen, right up until yesterday’s.  It’s been a real joy watching these two all-time great players trying to hold each other off and one-up the other.  With Federer not winning any of the first 3 majors of the year, including his absolute de-pantsing in the French final, it does feel like a bit of a torch-passing, but I’m confident that he still has a win or two left in him, and I would not be surprised to see him hoist the gold cup instead of the silver plate in London next year.

  • The Creative Capitalism blog is up and running.  A very interesting site, inspired by Bill Gates’ speech at Davos.  It rather defies summation, but I’ll do my best.  Gates discusses the inherent weaknesses in capitalism, in particular its inability to deliver the most necessary goods to the poorest and most needy.  He suggests a reordering of the basic ideas of corporate capitalism to put in place some external rewards for better social behavior on the part of corporations.  It’s an interesting read.  Way too much content to start taking up at this point, but if you are inspired to learn a little more, try reading here, then here, then here, then here.  That should give you a flavor of the dialogues, both pro and con the idea of a new capitalism.
  • Via Kathy G (but of course, you already knew about this, because you’re reading her blog, right?  If not, stop reading this crap and go thence with all due haste!) comes news that Thomas Frank, of What’s the Matter With Kansas fame, has a new book coming out, titled The Wrecking Crew.  Some short quotes from the book over at Shakespeare’s Sister, but the gist is that, after explaining to us how the Republicans have cynically used social issues to get in power so as to implement their highly reactionary economic policies, now Frank will tell us how miserably the Republicans have failed at the job of actually governing the country.  Money quote:

Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident; nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. […] Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. […] The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job.

  • I’m inherently leery of nanotechnology.  Especially coming from Rice, which, as the home of Richard Smalley, discoverer of buckyballs, was the breadbasket of nanotechnology, I’ve been hearing about all the amazing things that nanotubes are going to deliver for almost 15 years now, with nary a marketable product yet.  Still, when I read about stuff like a new nanowire breakthrough in solar technology, with theoretical efficiencies of up to 40 percent, I can’t help but get a little bit excited about it.  They’ll have to do a lot more to prove anything before I’m going to shell out cash for my solar-powered artificial lawn, but it’s still exciting.
  • Finally, keeping with the environmental theme of the last item, a reminder that, back in the early days of the 21st century, over a billion dollars in developmental funds led to the creation of concept diesel-electric hybrid cars which got in the ballpark of 80 MPG.  This program was dropped, in lieu of a lot of chatter about the future of automotive transport, hydrogen fuel cell cars.  To me, this is a fantastic example of the political aphorism that ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good.’  Imagine where we would be if Detroit had kept working to develop these cars, especially if we could have put a few billion more dollars into the program by, you know, not invading a foreign country which posed us no particular threat back in 2003.  Eventually, yes, we will have a power grid consisting of local microsolar systems that collect residential incident solar power and store it by electrolyzing tap water into hydrogen, which is then put in your car when you park it for the evening.  But that’s a damn long way away – for now, there is simply no energy source out there that generates enough overage to make the quantities of hydrogen needed to significantly replace petroleum as a fuel source.  But we, for the moment, still have plenty of petroleum left, and plenty of cars on the road.  If we could, right now, be replacing 17 MPG SUV’s with diesel-electric fantasticars, wouldn’t that been a pretty sweet first step?
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2 Responses to Things Worth Talking About, Part 1

  1. Regarding the nanowire stuff…

    It’s true, they’ve been twiddling with nanotech for solar applications for years now… And the GaAs nanowire stuff is exciting because it’s boosting efficiency and decreasing cost. But I wonder how much cheaper they can be? When you’re using these inorganic molecules, fabrication costs are generally pretty high (I’m not sure of the specifics of these GaAs nanowires) because you’re basically having to melt a metal(like) thing in order to get it into the shape and purity you want.

    The folks using organics (basically, stuff with hydrogens and oxygens in it, which can be dissolved in a solvent and then just ink-jet printed out onto plastic substrates) are absysmally inefficient (around 3-5%) but they’re so much cheaper that they make up in price what they lack in efficiency. So, I think it can be a red herring to just look for which cells are most *efficient* instead of which are *cheapest*. Here’s a link to the same kind of idea (they call it a nanocarpet) for ZnO nanowires in a solar cell.
    http://tinyurl.com/66mnk5
    They do the same sort of thing with blending buckyballs into dissolved plastics and coating them out on a plastic sheet. Great stuff. I would be surprised if they don’t manage to make it into a commercial product in 5 years, but, then, that’s what I said 5 years ago….

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