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Of Marines and Sunbeams

28 Sep

Photo via Flickr

It’s going to be (almost) all sunshine for a US Marine company currently gearing up to deploy in Afghanistan. In a historic first, they’ll be powering much of their gear with solar energy, which could cut their fuel consumption in half, reports Wired’s Danger Room. Seems the brass was pleased with the results of a test this summer where the unit ran much of a mock Forward Operating Base on sunbeams.

It’s not that the Pentagon has gone all tree-huggy. Their very practical motivation is cutting costs and saving lives. Each soldier in Afghanistan uses 22 gallons of fuel a day, and delivering each gallon to the war zone costs between $300 and $400. And those convoys make great target practice for the Taliban. Plus, it’ll help the Pentagon beat Pepsi and Intel in the race to America’s top user of renewable energy.

The Military’s Incredible Hulk

14 Jul

Tiny article, great picture, seriously badass machine.

Read all about it in less time than it takes to trigger a landmine:

Bikers of Montreal

14 Jun

Grabbez-vous un bike!

So elegant and practical they made me want to weep for joy on a recent trip: these are the public bicycles of Montreal.  Available to everyone, any time. You find one of the many stations around town where the bikes are kept, swipe a credit card and for less than the price of a bus ride you’re off on a merry two-wheeled ride. When you get to where you’re going, you just park the bike at another station and forget about it.

Bike-sharing is such an obviously good idea that even in carjacked America, more and more cities are starting similar programs. Minneapolis just launched theirs last week, and Washington DC is set to increase the size of theirs by a factor of nine. They’re not necessarily easy to do right, though. The New York Times reports that 80 per cent of the bikes in Paris’ fleet of 20,000 have been stolen. Montreal’s Bixi system seems to have figured out a better way, though. Minneapolis and DC are using the Canadian-designed bikes and parking apparatus. Because who knows more about bicycling than people who live in a country that’s 90 per cent frozen tundra?

And here's how you pay

Let Convicts Make Calls, They Break Fewer Laws

26 May

Not someone you want calling you. Photo: Wired

Last year I did a piece for Wired about cell phones in prisons – how they’re being smuggled in by the thousands and are being used for literally everything from calling Mom to ordering murders. Prison reformers opined that the best way to beat the problem is to make it easier for inmates to call their loved ones more easily. In most lockups, their only option is artificially overpriced collect calls. Cheaper legit calls would reduce demand for smuggled mobiles, goes the thinking, and the result would be fewer handsets floating around for bad guys to use for evil ends. Well, according to Nebraska correctional authorities, it’s true. As the Omaha World-Herald reports,

State Corrections Director Bob Houston said Nebraska has made it so cheap for prisoners to use the regular prison phone system that there’s no monetary incentive to smuggle in phones.

Only six cell phones were confiscated from Nebraska inmates during the past year, Houston said. He attributes the low number to a decision made years ago not to seek profit from inmate phone calls.

In Nebraska, inmates pay only 50 cents for a local telephone call on the regular prison lines….By contrast, Iowa charges $2 per local call.

Safer prisons, happier moms – but sad news for phone companies, which rake in millions from overpriced inmate calls.

Sensory Overloader

26 May

Eye candy in the form of a short piece I’ve got in the new Wired. When you really need a good look at the interior of a 30-foot-high human brain,  or to watch the movements of subatomic particles blown up to the size of Volkswagens, you need the Allosphere, a three-story-tall aluminum sphere with a catwalk running through the center and six hi-def 3-D video projectors that spray 360-degree images onto a spherical screen. Worth checking out just for the visuals.

This is your brain in the Allosphere. Courtesy UC Santa Barbara.