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27 March 2012

Operating systems and philosophical users

Small details lost in the rhythm of the days. The many things that a small number cast to the very end of the daily news roll can tell. The following Ubuntu release is coming out in about one month; expectation is growing, especially because this will be a Long Time Support version, in principle somewhat more solid than regular releases, where developers always like to experiment a bit. These days I try to follow the Ubuntusphere a bit closer, in anticipation of what may be in the menu for the 26th of April.

It happens that another piece of software is making some fuss too. It is called Humble Bundle, a set of computer games wrapped in a somewhat childish package. Childish is also a synonym for simple, which permits these humble games to run on toy like gadgetry such as smart-phones. This bundle is not open source, not even free, but you can pay for it whatever you feel is right, and even choose to direct part of your payment to charity.

25 March 2012

Net Energy and Time: a critical review

This essay was originally written between December of 2010 and February of 2011. Soon after it was submitted to The Oil Drum, where it underwent a long process of review that greatly improved it; nevertheless it was archived without being ever published. Since its content could have had a negative impact on the scientific career of the folk mentioned, I decided to keep it at bay. One year on it seems now the time to bring it to light.

“Net Energy and Time” is the title of an article by Nate Hagens and Hannes Kunz that attempts to assess how the lifetime of an energy system impacts its EROEI (a digest of this article was published by TheOilDrum). The main objective was to include stochastic risk in EROEI analysis – random or otherwise unpredictable events that may affect the expected output of an energy system. Considering a series of risks of this kind, Nate and Hannes slashed future energy returns, in a way proportional to the system expected lifetime. In parallel, future energy inputs were too reduced as a function of lifetime. The results of this analysis where markedly favourable to Fossil Fuels and especially negative for those systems that require most of the capital investment upfront, as is the case of many Renewable Energies.

This is a review of the “Net Energy and Time” article, pointing the factors that lead to such conclusions.

23 March 2012

Something new - Dive

Once in a while I like to listen to dotcomradio. Not only because it is a creation of a friend back from Portugal, but also because if features mostly simple and soothing vibes that go very well with work and certain states of mind. The music there is mostly new stuff, but always outside the main stream, making it even the more interesting. But this week the unexpected happened, out of the blue came this song that forced me to leave everything else I was doing and search relentlessly for its title and author. The offending track is below the fold.

21 March 2012

An old kind of gilt

Last week some very interesting news surfaced in the UK. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the government member responsible for the budget, whom in the continent we call Finance Minister, has presented some alternative ideas for the financing of his government. George Osborne of his name, seems to be interested in issuing government debt instruments, called gilts in Britain, of 100 years maturity. Rare, though nothing unheard of. But Mr. Osborne seems willing to go even further and commanded his staff to study the issuing of infinite maturity gilts. This simply means that such instruments cannot ever be redeemed, they perpetually pay interest to their holder. The media both in Britain and the continent reacted with bewilderment to the news, showing their usual struggle to cope with out of the ordinary news.

16 March 2012

Staring at the abiss with Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman was in Lisbon last week to receive three honoris causa PhD and openly advise Greece to leave the Economic and Monetary Union, something taken as a smooth advice to Portugal in the same direction. This is something that can only be accomplished by using the Lisbon Treaty mechanism to leave the EU. One must simply acknowledge this reality: many people would like to see the shattering of the Eurozone and the EU. Some of them wish it for pure xenophobic reasons; others would take it as the ultimate proof that the social state doesn't work. Others simply do not want what they see as a direct concurrent to the US dollar ever to succeed. And others still, simply do not understand the EU, and particularly the Eurozone. I like to think that Krugman, someone who contributed so much to Complexity Science, one of the fields on which I do research, falls in the latter class.

10 March 2012

My new search engine of choice: DuckDuckGo

Google has been my web search engine of choice for some 15 years. The first time I used it I was overwhelmed by the cleanness of the interface, the lack of advertisements and the quality of the results. Up until then I had a list of 3 or 4 search engines that I used for different purposes, sometimes with not at all satisfactory results, even when combining them together. Google proved to be an able search engine, no mater what thematics, and I joined the ranks of its followers. Ever since I have been consuming many of its other products: I was an early adopter of GoogleMail, of GoogleCalendar (back in the day when it would spread the panic with random service down events) and of Chromium. Though I'm pretty happy with these newer services, it is interesting to note how those characteristics that made me adopt Google unconditionally as a search engine are mostly gone today.

05 March 2012

Trouble with OpenStreetMap

I'm a big fan of OpenStreetMap (OSM), a collective effort to map the world on a voluntary basis. The idea is simple: anyone possessing a georeferencing system can collected data on the various features of their neighbourhood or the places they travel. This data can then be committed to a central repository and made available to everyone else in the world. With time the OSM data base has achieved a remarkable extension, detailing many parts of the world, especially the most populated of those. This data is also served freely by several instances around, you can try it at the project website OpenStreetMaps.org.

For some time I have been using the OSM data as base layer for the web GIS applications I work with, taking advantage of handy libraries like OpenLayers facilitate their use. Especially during prototyping it is quite convenient, but even in later stages can be useful as well, considering the amount of data it provides for some places: buildings, cultural sites, transport infrastructure and more. Recently I employed OSM data on a European wide project focused on urban planning and the outcome was quite unexpected.