April 11th, 2009


Desired website: Google Environment

I was thinking this morning about my next car. I'm hoping that my good old Camry gives me a few more years, mostly because I have a specific car I want, that isn't available yet: an optional-plug-in Prius. That is, exactly the current Prius, but with a plug in *addition* to the gas engine, so that I can get the range of the gas engine when I need it, but can run off the plug for short-range commuting. (Yes, I know that you can retrofit this onto the car, but I generally feel more secure when it's built in from the factory. Toyota is working on it, but it sounds like it'll be a couple of years before it's ready for prime time.)

But that led me to wonder: how sure am I about the relative merits about the electric vs. gas? I mean, yes, there are oft-cited statistics like "120 MPG equivalent" when you plug the car in -- but surely that's a gross oversimplification. From an *environmental* perspective (I'm not talking about cost here), there are lots of confounding factors that have to be taken into account. For example, what is my electricity mainly based on? Wind vs. coal makes a dramatic difference in the environmental impact of my electricity, and finding out the actual percentages isn't simple. (Yes, I can tell the power company "I want green electricity", but that really is just influencing the mix, rather than giving me entirely greener-based power.)

Moreover, there's another oft-cited statistic, that half of all electricity is lost in transmission. I *assume* that the amount of loss is proportional to where I am, though -- that there's a big difference if I'm 1000 yards from the power plant, as opposed to ten miles away. (Physics types should please tell me if that assumption is incorrect.) But I haven't the slightest clue how long the wires are between me and the nearest power plant, much less how the other plants in the grid factor into that. Figuring out how much electricity is being lost getting to *me* is quite difficult even to approximate realistically, and I would expect that to make a significant difference in the actual environmental footprint of this theoretical plug-in car.

So I find myself wishing for a website that would allow me to give the location of my house, and which would produce a *realistic* estimate of what my electricity looks like environmentally. I have no idea what the business case for such a website would be (and heaven knows, I don't expect it to be simple to write), but with awareness of environmental issues on the rise it seems like it ought to have a market. If Google wants a next project for their "organize all the information in the world" push, that might be a worthwhile thing for them to tackle...

Surviving the dumb transitions

Today's project was one of those silly Windows hassles: I decided that, five years after Applied Messaging ceased to be Applied Messaging, and 18 months after the company entirely ceased to exist, I really ought to stop having this laptop think that it was named "mwaks-lap1.appliedmessaging.com". It's been toddling along ever since the company died, pining for its domain controller, hoping someday to synchronize with the network, never quite getting to do so. But that's been getting in the way of networking at home (in particular, our new desktop didn't want to talk to a non-workgroup machine), so I decided to deal.

It was a rather tense process, and frankly I almost screwed up. Fortunately, it occurred to me *before* rebooting the machine that, if I didn't create a local account on the laptop itself, I'd never be able to log into it again; had I not thought of that, this post would be *much* crankier. I couldn't find a way to transition the old mwaks@AMC account over to a local one, so I created a new mwaks2 just on this machine, and that, blessedly, seems to have worked. (Of course, the fingerprint reader on this machine won't let me register one of my fingers for the new account, because it's already registered for the old one: need to figure out if I can remove the old finger from its records.)

Now I just need to transition all the data over. Nothing's been lost per se, since I'm switching from one admin account to another, but since it thinks I'm a completely different person, all those configuration settings need to get copied over. Fortunately, this is fairly straightforward for the important programs (like Firefox). And it *is* finally able to talk to our desktop machine, so yay...

Review: Monsters vs. Aliens

Tonight's date was over to the IMAX in Reading for MvA. Summary: not deep, but fun.

The movie is all science-fiction cliche, knows it, and revels in it. While the ubiquitous ads only give away the first third of the movie, suffice it to say you're not likely to be surprised by much here -- the plot is *entirely* predictable three steps ahead.

That said, though, it's a great ride. The writing is crisp, and things zing along at a quick pace. The characters are all appealing, even the over-the-top-and-out-the-roof alien villain. (Not to mention Stephen Colbert as the President.) It turns out to have a strong viewpoint character: Susan, the white-haired giant woman in the ads, played by Reese Witherspoon, who is quite clearly the protagonist. (And is playing roughly the same character as Elastigirl from the original Doom Patrol comics.) Indeed, from a comic-book point of view, this movie comes across as nothing quite so much as the birth of a superhero: watching her grow into her very large skin is much of the fun of the story.

The animation is as good as one expects these days, and the 3D is remarkable: it gets the gimmicks out of the way early on, and then settles in to just doing it really well. I traditionally have problems with 3D glasses, but it was seamless here -- the effect worked well enough that I could mostly just experience it, rather than *thinking* about it. And this is a movie that benefits from the IMAX: in every respect, this movie is *big* (indeed, "big" is a recurring theme -- Susan is far from the biggest thing in here), and the big screen suits it well.

Overall, while it's not one of those cultural-event movies that you *must* see, it's well worth the outing. Funny and smart enough for the parents, nice enough for most kids. Recommended.