Steampunk Stirling cycle engines

When Jos de Vink retired from a career in computer technology in 2002, he began casting about for an engaging project. His neighbor, a passionate model builder, challenged him to design a working hot air engine driven solely by the heat of a tea or wax light.

De Vink produced a trial engine using the principles of the first hot air engine built by Robert Stirling in 1816. He displayed it for his model club and at a model exhibition in the Netherlands and, encouraged by the response, began to build more.

By 2010 he had created about 27 engines and began construction on several Stirling low temperature difference (LTD) engines that can run on the warmth of a human hand.

“De Vink designs his engines from scraps of brass and bronze from a scrap dealer,” writes Art Donovan in The Art of Steampunk. “The machines demonstrate the possibility of moving large objects using little energy and show different drive techniques used by hot air engine builders for the past two centuries.”

Thanks, Ursarodinia

The psychology of irrational fear

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Last week Sen. Rand Paul, a doctor, laid out the threat of Ebola in America thusly, to CNN: “If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party, they’re contagious and you can catch it from them.”

That statement is, of course, not true, unless the person is symptomatic, in which case he or she would not be up for hummus and chardonnay. But it’s not as untrue as what Georgia Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, also a medical doctor, wrote to the CDC:

“Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”

If Gingrey were to consult a map, he might be relieved to find that West Africa is several thousand miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border. And that, Ebola being what it is, someone in the throes of the hemorrhagic fever would be unlikely to muster the strength to fly to Mexico and then sprint through the South Texas desert…

It’s a big time of the year for fear. Not only is it Halloween, a holiday more recently known for sexy hamburgers but originally famous for its spookiness, but also because the U.S. has had four (now one) cases of Ebola diagnosed on its soil. Maybe it’s the combination of the two that helps explain the abundance of ridiculous statements like the above in recent weeks…

Of course, Ebola is partly a stand-in for our ongoing collective anxieties, ever simmering and child-leash-purchase inducing. In calmer times, we might instead be wringing our hands over gluten, swine flu, or that illegal immigrants are coming here to “steal our jobs.”

A recent survey from Chapman University found that Americans are most afraid of walking alone at night, identity theft, safety on the Internet, becoming the victim of a mass shooting, and having to speak in public.

The study also found that Democrats were most likely to be worried about personal safety, pollution, and man-made disasters. Republicans, meanwhile, had the highest levels of fear about the government, immigrants, and “today’s youth.” It also found that having a low level of education or watching talk- or true-crime TV was associated with harboring the most types of fear. Despite the fact that crime rates have decreased over the past 20 years, most Americans, the survey found, think all types of crime have become more prevalent…

RTFA. A compendium of silliness we get to view every day of our lives in what is reputed to be the leading modern nation on this planet. I’m more certain of the silliness than the leadership part.

Thanks, Mike

Retailers who don’t want Apple Pay have already been hacked

MCX hacked

You can’t make this stuff up.

MCX, the retailer consortium behind Apple Pay competitor CurrentC, has already been hacked, according to an email sent out to those people who have signed up for, or downloaded, the CurrentC app…

A spokeswoman confirmed that the email is real.

MCX, which is a consortium of dozens of retailers including Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s and CVS, say that no other information has been taken but that the investigation is continuing. The “unauthorized third parties” were able to access email addresses of people who were part of the app’s private beta testing program as well as email addresses of people who simply signed up to access the app when it launches publicly…

MCX confirmed this morning that its member companies have promised to only support CurrentC. MCX was formed in large part to create a mobile app that would persuade shoppers to pay through their phone with their checking account or store-branded plastic. The retailers’ goal here was to cut down on the transaction fees it has to pay banks and credit card networks on traditional credit card purchases. That is likely a big reason why it opposes Apple Pay, which supports those traditional cards.

But the hack now raises big questions about whether shoppers will trust CurrentC app with their sensitive financial information when it launches; the app asks for users’ social security number and driver’s license information if they want to link their bank account with the app. The app does not currently let users pay with their traditional credit card accounts, though an MCX blog post published this morning said it would eventually support credit cards, though it didn’t provide details on which kinds. Until CurrentC launches, customers shopping at MCX stores will be left with the choice of using cash or traditional magstripe cards which have proved to be easy to clone.

By banning Apple Pay, which is built into the new line of iPhones, merchants are choosing to ban a more secure payment method. Apple Pay customers can use a wide range of credit and debit card accounts to make purchases. Users have to authorize a transaction by pressing their finger against the phone’s fingerprint sensor. The phone then sends payment information to a store’s checkout equipment, though it comes in the form of a stand-in string of characters known as a token and does not include an actual credit or debit card number.

Our household has already switched over to ApplePay. More than anything, we love the anonymity and security. No one gets to see our credit card number. Not even our name.

Ship rides on air bubble blanket to reduce emissions


Mv Harvest FrostPhoto credit: MHI

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has announced the delivery of the first of three post-panamax bulk carriers to achieve energy efficient operations through the use of an air bubble lubrication system.

The recently delivered bulk carrier, MV Harvest Frost, is the first vessel of its size to use MHI’s proprietary Mitsubishi Air Lubrication System (MALS), which reduces the drag between the vessel hull and seawater by blowing air bubbles produced at the vessel bottom. MHI says that use of the system has been proven to help Harvest Frost achieve a 27% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to conventional bulk carriers, exceeding the target figure of 25%…

The MALS system uses special blowers to blow air from the vessel’s bottom, producing small air bubbles that cover the bottom of the hull like an “air-carpet,” reducing friction between the hull and seawater during navigation. The system was developed by MHI with support from ClassNK, and has already been adopted in module carriers, ferries and other ships constructed by MHI, the company says.

Harvest Frost also features a new bow shape designed to reduce resistance, while shallow draught facilities help the MALS achieve its target energy savings. For propulsion, an innovative system is adopted that effectively converts the main engine power into propulsion power by positioning fins forward of the propellers and placing special grooves in the propeller boss cap, according to MHI.

As much as I search and read about energy improvements in transportation, I admit this is the first I’ve heard of this system. Obviously it’s moved through pilot testing to production. This is one of the largest vessels utilizing the system.

I’m impressed. Significant savings from one of the least fuel efficient transportation modes around.