Northern Lights Fail, but Tiny Lights=Progress

March 9, 2012 0 Comments

Well, the much talked about solar flare turned out to be a bust. We were lucky enough to have clearing skies after midnight last night but I did not see any northern lights. I even turned our skycam to the north and recorded the sky but to no avail. It there were some faint northern lights, I probably would not have been able to see them anyway because the full moon was out. I mentioned a couple of different times for people to not get their hopes up too high and I am glad I did. The space weather forecasting biz is in its infancy. The energy from a solar eruption/flare streaming toward the earth morphs and changes before it reaches us so even some of the biggest flares that seem to be pointed right at the earth end up fizzling out or only delivering a glancing blow.

Something that I would really like to see fizzle out is the clock change this weekend. Yes, you guessed it, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is this weekend, although it doesn’t “save” anything. In fact, every year, we find out more bad things about this dumb archaic practice. Check some of my past blog posts about the subject here and here. This year, research shows that heart attacks increase by 10% after the clock change and it leads to less productivity at work. So now, other than being a pain in the you-know-what, causing us to waste a lot more energy, creating more traffic accidents, and increasing depression, it ruins productivity and kills people (heart attacks). What more do we need to know before ending the madness. About the only remaining reason to move the clocks forward in the Spring is so that more people can enjoy more daylight after a typical work-day during the Summer. I get up in the morning to enjoy the outdoors in the Summer so I would rather not change the clocks. Other countries around the world are dropping DST because it is dumb. When will the U.S. drop it? I don’t know. 

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When discussing alternative energy and a more efficient energy future, most people focus on the big things like transportation and manufacturing, but where energy usage is growing the fastest is in computing. Data centers that hold all of our online information are huge energy “hogs”, and growth in the industry is likely to continue. It is good to know, then, that even in the smallest of places, energy efficiency is increasing.

The electronic chips that power our computers and gadgets are not only getting more efficient but are starting to use light instead of electrons for many of the computational and data transmission tasks. Light signals use a lot less energy and create a lot less heat. The key invention that will help continue this trend is miniature lasers. APIC corporation recently announced a germanium based laser that could fit well into the conventional silicon computer chip manufacturing process, Altera is using fiber optics instead of copper interconnects to transmit information between chips, and IBM has recently created the most efficient terabit per second optical transceiver. The computer servers sitting in huge data centers are getting smaller and more efficient as well. Just think of how much more efficient the computing centers will be once they are running on light instead of electricity.

The New Apple Data Center

Producing energy for the data centers has been a big concern but we have seen some progress in this arena as well. Many big computer and Internet companies are turning toward alternative energy and even locating their data centers near alternative sources like hydroelectric dams. In Apple’s case, they are planning to build a big solar array at their new North Carolina data center. I am not a big fan of Apple products (even though I know they are good) because I can’t tinker with them, but I will give the company kudos for planning some solar power for their data center. Now we just need to convince them to spend more than a little spec of their $100 billion cash hoard on alternative energy.

So if you hear depressing news stories about how we are wasting energy and burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow and that we are destroying that “tomorrow”, just remember that progress continues.

Have a pleasant weekend! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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