Category Archives: WEB, TECH, GADGETS

Battery Fires Reveal Risks of Storing Large Amounts of Energy

Battery Fires Reveal Risks of Storing Large Amounts of Energy: Scientific American.

STORAGE RISK: Storing large amounts of energy, in batteries or other devices, inherently poses risks — but also offers benefits. Image: Mariordo/Wikimedia Commons

People still need electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, which is why renewable energy developers are increasingly investing in energy storage systems. They need to sop up excess juice and release it when needed.

However, storing large amounts of energy, whether it’s in big batteries for electric cars or water reservoirs for the electrical grid, is still a young field. It presents challenges, especially with safety.

The most recent challenge first appeared in May, three weeks after a safety crash test on the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors Co.’s plug-in hybrid. The wrecked vehicle caught fire on its own in a storage facility, raising questions about its lithium-ion battery.

Last week, after a series of additional side-impact crash tests on the Volt battery, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched what it called a “safety defect investigation” into the risk of fire in a Chevy Volt that has been involved in a serious accident.

Problems have also afflicted spinning flywheels, which allow power plants and other large energy users to store and release powerful surges of energy. In Stephentown, N.Y., Beacon Power’s 20-megawatt flywheel energy storage facility suffered two flywheel explosions, one on July 27 — just two weeks after it opened — and one on Oct. 13. The company declared bankruptcy earlier this month.

In Japan, sodium-sulfur batteries at Mitsubishi Materials Corp.’s Tsukuba plant in Ibaraki prefecture caught on fire on Sept. 21. It took firefighters more than eight hours to control the blaze, and authorities declared it extinguished on Oct. 5.

NGK Insulators Ltd., the company that manufactured the energy storage system, said it is still investigating the incident’s cause and has halted production of its sodium-sulfur cells, which are installed in 174 locations across six countries.

“Clearly, storing large amounts of energy is difficult from a physics standpoint; [the energy] would rather be somewhere else,” said Paul Denholm, a senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

He explained that energy naturally wants to spread out, so packing it into a small space like a battery or a fuel cell creates the risk of an uncontrolled energy release like a fire or explosion. Similar issues come up with mechanical storage, whether it’s water behind a dam, compressed air underground or spinning flywheels.

Some storage risks are ‘grandfathered’
However, these risks are not unique to storing electricity. Fossil fuels, which are technically forms of stored energy, pose plenty of problems in their extraction, refining, distribution and delivery.

“We basically have grandfathered these risk factors. Gasoline catches on fire all the time,” said Denholm. Electrical energy storage systems aren’t inherently riskier than petroleum or natural gas, according to Denholm, but their risks are different.

The NHTSA shares Denholm’s assessment when it comes to cars. “Let us be clear: NHTSA does not believe electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than other vehicles,” said the agency in a press release earlier this month responding to the Volt fire. “It is common sense that the different designs of electric vehicles will require different safety standards and precautions.”

For batteries, the main issue is how they control the heat they generate. “What you really want to avoid is cascading failure,” said Denholm. “A failure of any one of those batteries is not a huge event, but if you don’t have proper thermal management, a failure in one battery can cause failure in another.”

This condition, known as a thermal runaway, happens when a cell fails and releases its energy as heat. This heat can cause adjacent cells to fail and generate heat, as well, leading to melting materials and fires.

Controlling temperatures is relatively simple when the batteries are in a fixed location, say, next to a wind farm, but it becomes harder when they are placed in a car or bus.

“The biggest thing that people become concerned about [for batteries in cars] is the ability to be able to tolerate abuse,” said Joe Redfield, principal engineer at the Southwest Research Institute, a nonprofit engineering research and development group.

In a car, a battery is exposed to a wide range of humidities, temperatures and electrical loads. All of these factors influence the battery’s reliability, and if they get too extreme, they can cause a thermal runaway condition.

New problem for firefighters
The problem is compounded by the fact that newer lithium-ion batteries store more electricity than other electrochemical storage systems. “The lead-acid battery has been around a long time” and is a mature technology, said Redfield. “The energy levels of lithium-ion batteries are much, much, much greater than that of lead-acid storage.”

This becomes a major problem for firefighters and first responders in the event of an accident involving lithium-ion batteries. Water can’t always be used to extinguish an electrical fire, since water can conduct electricity.

In addition, in the case of a thermal runaway, it’s usually not the batteries that catch fire but their fumes, though lithium itself is flammable. Even after the fire is extinguished, the batteries can still generate tremendous amounts of heat and reignite fumes, hampering rescue efforts.

One solution is to separate batteries into modules, making it easier to isolate a failed battery from the rest. Another trick is to have a master kill switch, a mechanism that quickly disables the electrical system and discharges the batteries.

The Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association are working together to train firefighters and rescue workers to identify these switches in vehicles and grid storage systems as well as in how to respond to battery fires, according to the NHTSA.

Redfield said that the best way to prevent such incidents is with a battery management system that evenly distributes electrical loads and controls temperatures. “It’s not just for safety; it’s primarily there to provide performance and battery life,” he said.

Electrics get high marks in crash tests

“As the operating temperature increases, the lifetime diminishes dramatically. You want to ensure the longest battery life, and if you achieve that, then you’re clearly in the safety limits of the operating environment,” he added.

Overall, Redfield expects that energy storage systems will help increase renewable energy use and curb fossil fuel dependence in the United States. The bumps along the road are significant, but they do not result from an inherent flaw in the idea.

“Failures in new technology have almost always been the result of design shortcuts that were made in putting the new technology into progress. Every now and then, you have some uncharted territory — things we haven’t seen before — but typically, they are few and far between,” said Redfield.

“It really is going down the same path we’ve gone down many times before. We don’t need to make the same mistakes we’ve made with liquid fuels.” After the earlier testing, NHTSA gave the Volt a five-star crash test rating — the agency’s highest — and it did the same for Nissan’s all-electric Leaf.

Meanwhile, a second testing agency, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, has given the Chevrolet Volt a “G,” the highest safety score possible, after side crash tests on the front, side, rear and rollovers.

Research by an affiliate of the insurance group, the Highway Loss Data Institute, estimates that overall chances of being injured in a crash are 25 percent lower in hybrids because their large batteries make them heavier than similar gasoline-powered cars.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

Raindrop Tracker Point to Better Environmental Awareness

Go with the flow : Nature : Nature Publishing Group.

It might seem impossible to get lost in the modern world with its ubiquity of digital maps, but there is more than one way to be lost. Truly knowing where you are goes beyond pinpointing your position. It means knowing where your water comes from and where it goes, where your electricity is generated and where your rubbish ends up. It means being aware of what plants and animals live nearby and what kind of soil lies beneath your feet.

For example, an undergraduate at a rainy Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, can use his or her smartphone to instantly calculate a route to the nearest Starbucks coffee shop. But chances are that he or she remains ignorant of how the rain flows through the city on its way to the White River, the Mississippi and, finally, the Gulf of Mexico.

Enter Raindrop, a phone application that combines sewer and watercourse maps with the software that makes getting a caffeine fix so easy. Tap the map and watch the path of a single raindrop flow from your location through streams, culverts and pipes into the river. The app, due to launch next month, was funded by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and put together by a team led by ecologist Timothy Carter at Butler. It is currently limited to Indianapolis, but similar efforts could be designed for other cities.

A better appreciation of watercourses and other hidden networks can only strengthen human connections to ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles and resource flows, and will arguably make people more likely to support science and environmental causes. Making available the data that science and society produce in these innovative ways can help people to find themselves — even if they had no idea that they were lost.

Will Touchscreens cause a viral epidemic?

Touchscreen dilemma: Will they cause a viral epidemic? | ExtremeTech.

Earlier this week, as I fondled my Windows 8 Samsung tablet and tried to make a hands-on video, I cursed often and loudly at the smudged and greasy screen. Underneath those gray smears a beautiful super AMOLED screen was simply gagging to be seen.

Then, this morning, I was reading some about a company called Visual Planet that can turn any surface into a touchscreen using a transparent, few-millimeter-thick nanowire film. These “touch foils,” as Visual Planet calls them, can be up to 167 inches wide (4.2 meters) and are perfect for turning large TVs or projected images into a touch interface.

There’s no doubt that touchscreens make interaction easier — anyone, including two-year-olds, can manipulate a touch interface — and the concept of touch-interactive walls and shop windows and tables and mirrors is enough to make me dribble with futuristic anticipation. But just for a moment… just imagine living in a world where almost every surface has been smudged by dirty, chubby, probing fingertips. I go nuts if someone even threatens to touch my LCD screen… and yet Microsoft and Visual Planet assure us that we’re moving towards a world where every display should be touched?

Purell Hand SanitizerWe already live in a society where people avoid touching handles and rails and carry around hand sanitizer… and yet we’re meant to happily share an interactive shop window or bathroom mirror with 5,000 other shoppers? I’m not a germaphobe, but I would certainly recoil from a touchscreen that’s covered in excreta or the remnants of a McDonalds meal. Perhaps you’ll get a free tube of sanitizer with every purchase.

Then there’s actual computer usage. There’s no denying that Windows 8?s Metro-style Start screen is a touch- and gesture-oriented interface, and Apple’s OS X is almost certainly moving in a similar direction — but where does that leave graphic designers? Am I meant to poke and slide around the Metro interface… and then edit photos with a greasy screen? I’ve already had an experience where I thought a flyspeck of crap on the screen was part of a photo, and that’s only going to get 100 times worse with touchscreen desktops and laptops.

There is no denying that touchscreen interfaces enable new swaths of society to use computers — and like the commoditization of fresh water, electricity, and the internet, that is undoubtedly a good thing. There’s simply no way that touchscreens, in their current, easily-smeared form can work, though. Are we all meant to carry a microfiber cloth and some non-alcoholic cleaner in our pocket? Should shops and offices retain the services of an official Screen Cleaner who toddles around with a bucket and squeegee? Maybe you’ll even be able to get your tablet de-smudged for a couple of dollars at some red traffic lights or in a parking lot…

No, realistically we need a new touchscreen technology that can clean itself — or rather, a new kind of glass that is smear-resistant, or capable of shaking dirt and grime off, in the same way that camera sensors can clean themselves using ultrasonic motors. Or, perhaps by government mandate, we could all wear a “touch glove.” There would be fines for poking with an unprotected finger, of course — but on the flip side, I would jump at any chance to walk around looking like Michael Jackson.

We Need a Materials Taxonomy to Solve the final steps in the recycling chain | ITworld

Want to be a billionaire and a hero? Solve the final steps in the recycling chain | ITworld.

Want to be a billionaire and a hero? Solve the final steps in the recycling chain

Your challenge: Develop a usable taxonomy of parts and materials so that products can be safely and profitably devolved.

By Tom Henderson  Add a new comment

 

You can buy that cool tablet today, and its useful life is probably three years on the outside. Something new and cool will be available in 2014 (no pre-announcements here, just predictions) and you’ll want to buy it. Perhaps you’ll use a vendor’s trade-in program to do something with the old one — after you’ve conveniently moved the data to your new machine. We hope.

[DEMO 2011: EcoATM recycles gadgets, gives cash | IT recycling charities need your monitors]

There’s a huge opening for someone to get rich, developing a usable taxonomy of parts and materials so that products can be safely and profitably devolved. The way you do it is clear: find a method to describe parts in such a way that they can be taken apart and recycled or safely disposed of. The avalanche of tech products is unlikely to stop, and we expect even less time with them before the new thing arrives to tempt us.

You bought. Someone now has your old machine, with its data removed. What’s done with it is then, is something ranging from devolution to landfill fodder. Inside the derelict are a number of precious metals, and depending on the battery technology, a lump of lithium, nickel, and/or other metals. Many smaller bits inside will become reduced to smaller and smaller bits until they’re either disposed of in a pile (in the ocean, landfill, etc.) or smelted and separated into base elements. It’s an inefficient and labor-intensive process. Plastics can be reused, as well as the stickers and box that an item arrived in.

Lots of derelict products are shipped to SE Asia, where the labor cost of this inefficient process helps compensate by being comparatively low. It also leads to huge piles of ex-computer gear parts that pollute the groundwater in hideous ways. People are poisoned in the scavenging process, not to mention the evil piles of computer dung that are nuclear waste without the isotopes.
What’s needed is a way to mark directly, every part in a machine. Some parts will be more lucratively recycled. Importantly, those parts that are environmentally damaging, or those that require special devolution processes can be aggregated so that they don’t cause interim pollution, and recyclers can benefit from scale of devolution of hazardous materials.

Today, we use primitive marks to denote very basic (typically plastic) product composition. We have hazardous materials markers and identification and other markings to identify objects that can be either recycled or are hazardous/dangerous-to-handle.

My suggestion: use advanced barcodes to identify everything by a recycling mark that can be rapidly identified for devolution. The marking doesn’t have to be on an easily visible area, but it needs to be revealed somehow. The marks can be tiny, almost microscopic, yet recognized by modern bar code scanners. They could identify either specific categories of product materials, or by actual part number.

In the first case, generic markers can identify tens of millions of generic product identifications, making devolution and separation into elements for recycling vastly simpler than it is today. Specific identification then differentiates subsystems and elements that need specific handling requirements, or perhaps have vendor/manufacturer-specific (even mandated) devolution processes (including rewards).

Another reward potential is that most consumer and industrial products could benefit from the same marking scheme that would permit rapid and accurate product devolution. Junkyards across the world are full of unidentifiable bits and pieces of products gone by, ranging from building cranes to old Volkswagens to refrigerators and no one knows what this stuff is. There are various tests for precious metals (often using primitive magnets) and certain plastics, but many materials aren’t easily identified. So they rot, rust, and ooze back into the environment. Materials identification methodologies won’t be tough to deploy, and a government mandate seems unnecessary because the motivation to make money from recycled materials exists now.

If we don’t do this, then the chances of high-efficiency recycling becomes reduced vastly, and piles of useless and hazardous ex-computer junk become taller. Just as every bill of materials includes parts and sources, we could devolve products when their lifecycle is over systematically. What’s needed is an agreement to employ this methodology to the production process: deproduction. The devil of the details will come. Barcodes exist. Now we need a product identification taxonomy, a method to affix material markings, and a database access method that tells the devolvers how to make money.

Inflatable Sat antenna fits in your backpack

One Per Cent: Inflatable antenna you can stick in your backpack.

Jesse Emspak, contributor

Dish.jpg(Image: GATR Technologies)

A big issue in setting up satellite communications networks is the antennas – it takes time to set them up. In the wake of a big disaster cell networks can be damaged when the towers fall and take months to repair. For television crews and military units carrying a rigid satellite antenna can be a serious logistical problem, as even a metre-sized dish is quite heavy and difficult to transport.

Enter GATR Technologies, which has designed an inflatable 1.2-metre satellite antenna that can fit into a backpack and be carried by a single person. The company’s antenna looks something like a beach ball. It is a double-layered sphere with one layer a nylon mesh and the other made from sail material. The antenna is in the centre.

The receiving dish divides the sphere’s interior into two chambers and by applying pressure to one chamber you can push the antenna into a parabolic shape. The company already sells a larger, 2-metre version but this one is small enough to fit in an airline’s hand luggage area when folded.

GATR’s director of marketing, Dean Hudson, said the military is the major customer, though the company also hopes to get some interest from television crews who don’t want to go through the trouble of packing an entire satellite-link system up when they travel to areas without roads.

Wind and wave farms could affect Earth's energy balance

Wind and wave farms could affect Earth’s energy balance – environment – 30 March 2011 – New Scientist.

UPDATE, April 6: This article has elicited a considerable amount of interest, and some criticism. We always welcome discussions of the stories we publish. Some readers felt the original headline (Wind and wave energies are not renewable after all) was misleading, so to address these concerns we have changed it. We have also been made aware of a wider debate about Kleidon’s research that we did not address in the original article: we will continue to follow this issue and report back on what we find.

Editorial: The sun is our only truly renewable energy source

The idea that we can draw endless supplies of clean energy from the wind and waves just doesn’t add up

WITNESS a howling gale or an ocean storm, and it’s hard to believe that humans could make a dent in the awesome natural forces that created them. Yet that is the provocative suggestion of one physicist who has done the sums.

He concludes that it is a mistake to assume that energy sources like wind and waves are truly renewable. Build enough wind farms to replace fossil fuels, he says, and we could seriously deplete the energy available in the atmosphere, with consequences as dire as severe climate change.

Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, says that efforts to satisfy a large proportion of our energy needs from the wind and waves will sap a significant proportion of the usable energy available from the sun. In effect, he says, we will be depleting green energy sources. His logic rests on the laws of thermodynamics, which point inescapably to the fact that only a fraction of the solar energy reaching Earth can be exploited to generate energy we can use.

When energy from the sun reaches our atmosphere, some of it drives the winds and ocean currents, and evaporates water from the ground, raising it high into the air. Much of the rest is dissipated as heat, which we cannot harness.

At present, humans use only about 1 part in 10,000 of the total energy that comes to Earth from the sun. But this ratio is misleading, Kleidon says. Instead, we should be looking at how much useful energy – called “free” energy in the parlance of thermodynamics – is available from the global system, and our impact on that.

Humans currently use energy at the rate of 47 terawatts (TW) or trillions of watts, mostly by burning fossil fuels and harvesting farmed plants, Kleidon calculates in a paper to be published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. This corresponds to roughly 5 to 10 per cent of the free energy generated by the global system.

“It’s hard to put a precise number on the fraction,” he says, “but we certainly use more of the free energy than [is used by] all geological processes.” In other words, we have a greater effect on Earth’s energy balance than all the earthquakes, volcanoes and tectonic plate movements put together.

Radical as his thesis sounds, it is being taken seriously. “Kleidon is at the forefront of a new wave of research, and the potential prize is huge,” says Peter Cox, who studies climate system dynamics at the University of Exeter, UK. “A theory of the thermodynamics of the Earth system could help us understand the constraints on humankind’s sustainable use of resources.” Indeed, Kleidon’s calculations have profound implications for attempts to transform our energy supply.

Of the 47 TW of energy that we use, about 17 TW comes from burning fossil fuels. So to replace this, we would need to build enough sustainable energy installations to generate at least 17 TW. And because no technology can ever be perfectly efficient, some of the free energy harnessed by wind and wave generators will be lost as heat. So by setting up wind and wave farms, we convert part of the sun’s useful energy into unusable heat.

“Large-scale exploitation of wind energy will inevitably leave an imprint in the atmosphere,” says Kleidon. “Because we use so much free energy, and more every year, we’ll deplete the reservoir of energy.” He says this would probably show up first in wind farms themselves, where the gains expected from massive facilities just won’t pan out as the energy of the Earth system is depleted.

Using a model of global circulation, Kleidon found that the amount of energy which we can expect to harness from the wind is reduced by a factor of 100 if you take into account the depletion of free energy by wind farms. It remains theoretically possible to extract up to 70 TW globally, but doing so would have serious consequences.

Although the winds will not die, sucking that much energy out of the atmosphere in Kleidon’s model changed precipitation, turbulence and the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. The magnitude of the changes was comparable to the changes to the climate caused by doubling atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (Earth System Dynamics, DOI: 10.5194/esd-2-1-2011).

“This is an intriguing point of view and potentially very important,” says meteorologist Maarten Ambaum of the University of Reading, UK. “Human consumption of energy is substantial when compared to free energy production in the Earth system. If we don’t think in terms of free energy, we may be a bit misled by the potential for using natural energy resources.”

This by no means spells the end for renewable energy, however. Photosynthesis also generates free energy, but without producing waste heat. Increasing the fraction of the Earth covered by light-harvesting vegetation – for example, through projects aimed at “greening the deserts” – would mean more free energy would get stored. Photovoltaic solar cells can also increase the amount of free energy gathered from incoming radiation, though there are still major obstacles to doing this sustainably (see “Is solar electricity the answer?”).

In any event, says Kleidon, we are going to need to think about these fundamental principles much more clearly than we have in the past. “We have a hard time convincing engineers working on wind power that the ultimate limitation isn’t how efficient an engine or wind farm is, but how much useful energy nature can generate.” As Kleidon sees it, the idea that we can harvest unlimited amounts of renewable energy from our environment is as much of a fantasy as a perpetual motion machine.

Is solar electricity the answer?

A solar energy industry large enough to make a real impact will require cheap and efficient solar cells. Unfortunately, many of the most efficient of today’s thin-film solar cells require rare elements such as indium and tellurium, whose global supplies could be depleted within decades.

For photovoltaic technology to be sustainable, it will have to be based on cheaper and more readily available materials such as zinc and copper, says Kasturi Chopra of the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi.

Researchers at IBM showed last year that they could produce solar cells from these elements along with tin, sulphur and the relatively rare element selenium. These “kesterite” cells already have an efficiency comparable with commercially competitive cells, and it may one day be possible to do without the selenium.

Even if solar cells like this are eventually built and put to work, they will still contribute to global warming. That is because they convert only a small fraction of the light that hits them, and absorb most of the rest, converting it to heat that spills into the environment. Sustainable solar energy may therefore require cells that reflect the light they cannot use.

WikiLeaks wars: Digital conflict spills into real life

WikiLeaks wars: Digital conflict spills into real life – tech – 15 December 2010 – New Scientist.

Editorial: Democracy 2.0: The world after WikiLeaks

WHILE it is not, as some have called it, the “first great cyberwar“, the digital conflict over information sparked by WikiLeaks amounts to the greatest incursion of the online world into the real one yet seen.

In response to the taking down of the WikiLeaks website after it released details of secret diplomatic cables, a leaderless army of activists has gone on the offensive. It might not have started a war, but the conflict is surely a sign of future battles.

No one is quite sure what the ultimate political effect of the leaks will be. What the episode has done, though, is show what happens when the authorities attempt to silence what many people perceive as a force for freedom of information. It has also shone a light on the evolving world of cyber-weapons (see “The cyber-weapon du jour”).

WikiLeaks was subjected to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which floods the target website with massive amounts of traffic in an effort to force it offline. The perpetrator of the attack is unknown, though an individual calling himself the Jester has claimed responsibility.

WikiLeaks took defensive action by moving to Amazon’s EC2 web hosting service, but the respite was short-lived as Amazon soon dumped the site, saying that WikiLeaks violated its terms of service. WikiLeaks responded via Twitter that: “If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books”.

With WikiLeaks wounded and its founder Julian Assange in custody, a certain section of the internet decided to fight back. Armed with freely available software, activists using the name “Anonymous” launched Operation Avenge Assange, targeting DDoS attacks of their own at the online services that had dropped WikiLeaks.

With WikiLeaks wounded and its founder in custody, a section of the internet decided to fight back

These efforts have so far had limited success, in part due to the nature of Anonymous. It is not a typical protest group with leaders or an organisational structure, but more of a label that activists apply to themselves. Anonymous has strong ties to 4chan.org, a notorious and anarchic message board responsible for many of the internet’s most popular memes, such as Rickrolling and LOLcats. The posts of unidentified 4chan users are listed as from “Anonymous”, leading to the idea of a collective anonymous campaigning force.

This loose group has previously taken action both on and offline against a number of targets, including Scientologists and the Recording Industry Association of America, but the defence of WikiLeaks is their most high-profile action yet. Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, said of the attacks: “We believe they are a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets.”

The “public” have certainly played a key role. The kind of DDoS attacks perpetrated by Anonymous are usually performed by botnets – networks of “zombie” computers hijacked by malicious software and put to use without their owner’s knowledge. Although Anonymous activists have employed traditional botnets in their attacks, the focus now seems to be on individuals volunteering their computers to the cause.

“I think there are two groups of people involved,” says Tim Stevens of the Centre for Science and Security Studies at Kings College London. The first group are the core of Anonymous, who have the technological know-how to bring down websites. The second group are ordinary people angry at the treatment of WikiLeaks and wanting to offer support. “Anonymous are providing the tools for these armchair activists to get involved,” says Stevens.

The human element of Anonymous is both a strength and a weakness. Though the group’s freely available LOIC software makes it easy for anyone to sign up to the cause, a successful DDoS requires coordinated attacks. This is often done through chat channels, where conversations range from the technical – “I have Loic set to 91.121.92.84 and channel set to #loic, is that correct” – to the inane – “please send me some nutella ice cream”.

There are continual disagreements about who and when to attack, though new tactics also emerge from the chat, such as Leakspin, an effort to highlight some of the less-publicised leaks, and Leakflood, a kind of analogue DDoS that attempts to block corporate fax machines with copies of the cables.

These chat channels are also occasionally knocked offline by DDoS attacks. Some blame “the feds”, but could governments – US or otherwise – actually be involved? (see “Are states unleashing the dogs of cyberwar?”)

The US Department of Defense’s recently launched Cyber Command has a dual remit: to defend US interests online and conduct offensive operations. Cyber Command is meant to defend .mil and .gov web domains, but do commercial websites qualify too? “Is PayPal really that important to national security that the US military would have a role in defending it?” asks Stevens, who also teaches in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. “The US doesn’t have an answer to that particular conundrum, and they’re not alone – nobody does”.

Is PayPal so important to national security that the US military would have a role in defending it?

The difficulty comes in assessing whether DDoS attacks are an act of cyberwar, a cybercrime or more akin to online civil disobedience.

Individual LOIC users may not even be breaking the law. “All that DDoS does is send the normal kind of traffic that a website receives,” says Lilian Edwards, professor of internet law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK. “That has always been the legal problem with regulating DDoS – each individual act is in fact authorised by the site, but receiving 10 million of them isn’t.”

It’s hard to say what will happen next. Anonymous might continue its attempt to cause as much disruption as possible, but it could just as easily become fragmented and give up. With no leaders or central structure, it is unlikely to be stopped by a few arrests or server takedowns but may equally find it difficult to coordinate well enough to have an impact.

More worrying is the prospect that more organised groups may follow Anonymous’s example. If that happens, who will be responsible for stopping them – and will they be able to?

Read more: Are states unleashing the dogs of cyber war?

The giant Skylifter airships which can carry buildings hundreds of miles

The giant Skylifter airships which can carry buildings hundreds of miles | Mail Online.

  • Invention could see disaster-relief centres dropped into remote areas

Giant balloons that can carry loads over long distances could one day even transport entire buildings.

Australian firm Skylifter is developing a piloted airship that will carry up to 150 tonnes more than 1,200 miles.

They hope that the vehicles could one day carry rural hospitals and disaster-relief centres to remote areas.

See video of the prototype below

Skylifter balloon

Up and away: An artist’s impression of the 500ft Skylifter balloon which would be able to carry heavy loads over hundreds of miles

The airship's design means that it is extremely easy to steer, according to the Australian firm behind it

Steady as she goes: The airship’s design means that it is extremely easy to steer, according to the Australian firm behind it

The airship has been designed as a disc rather than a conventional cigar shape, which the developers say makes it easier to steer and carry heavy loads under different wind conditions.

Measuring 500ft across – the size of a football stadium – it will move using propellers which can be adjusted to change direction while the heavy weight of the load hanging underneath keeps the airship steady.

And the payload it carries will be 700 times that of a heavy cargo helicopter.

skylifter

One small step: A scaled-down prototype of Skylifter, which its developers hope will one day carry a 150-tonne payload to remote areas

skylifter
skylifter

High hopes: The firm plans to launch a full-sized prototype, nearly 150ft wide, within the next three years

Skylifter has already produced a prototype called Betty which is just under 10ft across and can carry just over a pound in weight.

It has also produced a 60ft-wide prototype of the balloon design itself, without an engine.

The firm plans to launch a full-sized prototype, nearly 150ft wide, within the next three years.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1317510/The-giant-Skylifter-airships-carry-buildings-hundreds-miles.html#ixzz11bqwD9w8

‘Longreach’ Lifebuoy-Firing Bazooka Wins James Dyson Award

‘Longreach’ Lifebuoy-Firing Bazooka Wins James Dyson Award | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.

The Longreach Buoyancy Deployment System has just won the James Dyson Award. Its dull name rather obscures just how cool it is. The Longreach is a bazooka that fires life-belts up to 500-feet, targeting drowning-victims and saving their lives.

Using the Longreach, a rescuer can remain safely on ship or shore and deploy multiple life-belts at the press of a button. The “Rescue Packages” are made from expandable foam, and stay in fireable bullet shapes until they hit the water, whereupon they puff up into a circular buoyancy aid with a gap at one side. The resulting device also has lights so rescuers can find you in the dark.

The system is designed to be small and reliable, and as foam is used instead of inflateable tubes, puncturing at any stage is impossible. The launcher also comes equipped with flares so the operator can light up the night to better target victims. The Longreach is about to go into field tests with Surf Life Saving NSW, Australia.

The James Dyson Award, run by the inventor of the see-through vacuum-cleaner, was created to “encourage and inspire the next generation of design engineers.” It also has an insanely simple, and yet extremely difficult brief: “Design something that solves a problem.” The Longreach certainly does that.

LONGREACH Buoyancy Deployment System [James Dyson Award]

Read More http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/longreach-lifebuoy-firing-bazooka-wins-james-dyson-award/#ixzz11bpbJJsi

Top 10 Survival Tools

HowStuffWorks “Top 10 Survival Tools”.

There are many different situations that could lead to a survival scenario, and any of them could happen to you. It’s not always the extreme skier that’s gone off course or the trail runner that’s been injured in ­the middle of the wilderness. Your vacation tour group may have accidentally left you behind. Or maybe y­our car has simply run out of gas on a desolate stretch of wintery road. The question isn’t whether you could find yourself alone or stranded in a potentially life-threatening situation. It’s whether you’d be equipped to deal with it.

Having a well-stocked emergency kit in your car is a good place to start if you’re taking a road trip. If you’re camping or hiking, you’ll want some survival supplies in your pack. The old saying holds true — it’s better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. On the following pages, we’ll walk you through the 10 items that should go in every survival kit.

10. Compass and Map


You thought something out of the ordinary was in order for this year’s vacation so you opted for an adventure tour in the Australian outback. It was all dingoes and kangaroos until your tour group pulled off without you after a lunch break. Now you’re stuck with a ration of water, a map and the compass your best friend got you for good luck. It seems like good luck may be headed your way after all — with these scant supplies and some modest orienteering skills you should be able to find your way back to the safety of your camp.

Compasses work by using a magnetized pointer along with the Earth‘s natural magnetic field to calculate direction. If you have a compass and a map of the area you can pinpoint specific locations and get wherever you need. If you’re stuck without a map, but you still have your compass, you can at least get going in the right direction. Now that GPS is on the scene, compasses have taken a back seat. While a GPS may be better at pinpointing your exact location from any spot on Earth, it requires something you won’t be able to provide in a worst case scenario — a charged battery. In this case, the compass that relies only on the Earth’s magnetic field is a better alternative.

9. Fire Starter


In a survival scenario, a fire provides many things — warmth in the cold, heat to cook food and purify water and a potential rescue signal. It also gives you security and light in the dark, both of which help your mental outlook. This goes a long way toward your bid to survive.

In addition to a first aid kit, any backwoods hiker or car camper should pack a small fire starting kit. After you get a waterproof box, pack it with at least two lighters, some weatherproof matches, a flint and a small magnifying glass lens. Here’s another good tip — buy a package of sparklers and cut the stems off. They make excellent emergency fire starters for moist leaves and kindling. Use the magnifying glass lens to concentrate the sun’s rays into a fire starting beam of light and heat. Couple the flint with a stone to make a spark. On camping trips, practice starting fires using your kit. It’s fun and could even help save your life.

8. First Aid Kit


You were careless on your hike and slipped from the trail, leaving you bloodied and bruised. The cut on your arm is pretty deep and you know your ankle is sprained. It’s times like these that make you glad you were prepared and packed a well-stocked first aid kit. Hikers, bikers, cross country skiers, hunters, climbers and weekend car campers should all keep a first aid kit. It’s also a good idea to keep one in your car for emergencies.

It’s just as important to know what to pack. Begin with a supply of medications and wound-cleaning solution — anti-bacterial ointments, alcohol, peroxide, pain reliever, antacid, aspirin and anti-histamine. You should also have some tweezers, gauze, bandages and eyewash on hand. If you’re diabetic or know you’re allergic to something like beestings, be sure to keep emergency supplies of these remedies in your kit. Pack some hydrocortisone cream for rashes and burn ointment in case there’s a fire mishap. It’s also a good idea to pack a travel-size first-aid manual to provide instruction for any accidents that may

7. Mirror


A mirror may be a vanity item for some, but it can also help you survive a worst case survival scenario. If you’re able to find food, water and shelter then you’re giving yourself a leg up survival-wise, but you still need to find rescue if you want to make it home. The trick to this is packing a signal mirror, something no survivalist would be caught dead without.

Any old small mirror will work for signaling, but companies actually make them specially suited for this purpose. These are typically made of something besides breakable glass, like Lexan. Some of them float or have nylon ties you can use to strap them to your backpack. Size isn’t important here — even a small 2 by 3 inch (5 by 7.6 centimeter) mirror flash can be seen from 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. Signal mirrors work best on clear days with direct sunlight, but you can also use them on overcast days. Not only that, but you can reflect headlights, flashlight beams and even bright moonlight for rescue.

6. Flares


If you land in a worst case survival scenario you need to do two things — stay alive and find rescue. If you’re cast away like Tom Hanks and you can’t signal for rescue, then you may as well get used to talking to that volleyball. While smoke signals are a legitimate form of emergency signaling (three quick puffs) people aren’t exactly on the lookout for them. A signal mirror is an option, but if you want an unmistakable signal that no plane, helicopter or ship will miss, you need to go with a flare.

There are many different types of flares to choose from. Some require a gun and shoot into the sky. Others are handheld and emit a red flame that you hold and wave over your head. Many car emergency kits come with flares, so check your trunk if you’ve crashed your car or run out of gas in a desolate area. The same goes for ships and planes, so search any wreckage you come across for rescue flares. If you really want to go high-end, you can spring for a laser flare. It casts a beam that can be seen day or night up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. They cost about $250, but you can’t put a price tag on your safety.

5. Survival Knife


In 1982, Sylvester Stallone burst into movie theaters as John Rambo, former Green Beret and survival master. Watching the movie “First Blood,” young boys everywhere witnessed the ultimate tough guy sew a cut on his arm shut with a needle and thread stored in the handle of his jumbo survival knife. The knife that Rambo put on the map in 1982 is still a hot item today with outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and fisherman.

Most survival knives are the same. They have long blades with serrated edges on one side and a hollow handle. Tucked inside the handle is a small survival kit with matches, fishhooks and line, a compass, and sometimes even Rambo’s famous needle and thread. When it comes time to buy your survival knife or any knife, you get what you pay for. A cheap knife will have a dull and breakable blade. Once you have your knife you’ll want to custom pack the handle depending on your needs. Waterproof matches and a small flint are good ideas, along with some water purification tablets. The fishhooks and line are good to keep on hand for emergency angling, but the needle and thread are really just the stuff of movies. You’d do better to replace them with some pain medication.

4. Multi-tool


Discovery Channel’s “Survivorman” Les Stroud wouldn’t be caught dead without one and for good reason. The name says it all — multi-tool. Swiss Army knives are the favorite of Boy Scouts everywhere, with their tiny saws, pokers and toothpicks. While the little red pocket knife can come in handy, it’s no match for the modern multi-tool. There are many kinds, but the “Leatherman” multi-tool is probably the most widely recognized. They gained popularity in the 1980s, but since then the Leatherman and other multi-tools have come a long way with the myriad options to choose from.

Your standard multi-tool is comprised of two halves joined by a pair of pliers in the center. Depending on which one you opt for, you’ll have a number of options. They typically weigh between 5 and 10 ounces (141 to 283 grams). Most will come with flat and Phillips head screwdrivers, pokers, saw blades, and bottle and can openers. Some models come with scissors, serrated knives, metal files and Allen wrenches. When it comes to aiding your survival chances, you should probably go with one that has the most knife blade options. Allen wrenches are nice in a workshop, but they won’t help you filet a fish.

3. Snakebite Kit


The great outdoors is all fun and games until you have a rattlesnake attached to your calf. Although snakes are afraid of humans and will do their best to avoid you, they’re a reality that you should be prepared to deal with. Snakebites are no fun and depending on the species, a bite can bring on anything from nausea and cramps to death. Because of this potential danger, if you’re heading into the woods for a hike or camping trip you should have a snakebite kit on hand.

You can go one of two routes here in buying one that’s pre-packed or getting a waterproof container and packing your own. Unfortunately, many pre-packed kits are filled with items that aren’t suited for properly treating a snakebite. Kits that contain scalpels, and constrictors are not good because these items don’t support the correct first aid procedures for snakebites. Scalpels can actually get the venom into your bloodstream faster and cutting off the blood flow with constrictors is very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Look for kits that have suction extractors instead. If you buy a pre-packed version or pack your own, add some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pills, pain killers and an emergency whistle. If you get bitten, you may become weak and immobilized, so the whistle may be your only call for help.

2. Water Treatment


If you get lost or stranded in the wilderness, the one thing you’ll need to live, above all else, is drinkable water. Humans just can’t live without it. You might be able to live a few weeks without food, but without water you’ll be lucky to last a few days. For this reason, you should bring along more than one way of purifying water on any trek into the wild.

Water filters are your best option and they come in all shapes, sizes and prices. Some are no bigger than a large drinking straw. Other pump models screw onto your water bottle and can filter up to 100 gallons (378 liters) without needing a new purification cartridge. These models work fast too, filtering about a quart of drinkable H2O in just a few minutes. Just to cover your bases, you should also pack some water filter tablets in your pack. They’re typically iodine or chlorine pills that dissolve in water to make it OK to drink. The water may not taste great, but it’ll keep you alive. Think ahead and pack the pills in different areas in case you become separated from your backpack. Keep the filter in your backpack and your tablets and emergency filter in a waist pack or even carry them on your person.

1. Machete


Imagine yourself stuck deep in the overgrown belly of the Amazon rainforest. You’re lost and have no food, no means of transportation but your own two feet. Your equipment consists of the clothes on your back and your trusty machete. It may not sound like much, but if you have some basic survival skills and use your noggin, the machete may be all you need.

Survival experts will tell you that a machete is the most versatile tool you can have in the wilderness. It can be used to cut a trail to civilization where there is none. You can use it to hack down bamboo, vine and palm fronds for the frame, support and roof of a shelter. If you’re on an island or in the jungle, green coconuts provide drinkable milk and edible fruit as long as you have a machete to cut into them. You can also use it to cut down fire wood or as a weapon against dangerous predators. You’ll need food too, and a machete can be used to sharpen a spear for hunting or fishing. Use the area of the blade close to the handle for whittling and carving. Use the fat section of the blade for hacking and cutting. The front tip is the way to go when you need to bore a hole or stab something. Any way you cut it, a machete is a valuable survival tool and should be strapped to your backpack or on your hip if you plan on venturing into the wilderness.

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