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Over the weekend, SpaceX managed to make history by being the first commercial company to put a payload into orbit around Earth. 

The Falcon 1 lifted off the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific on Sunday, lifting a 165 km dummy payload into an elliptical orbit around the planet. This is the fourth attempt after a number of high-profile failed launches. 

Although putting an object in space is no big deal nowadays, it’s still a big milestone because it heralds in a much more competitive, cheaper, efficient and fast-moving era in space exploitation.

The possibilities? Space tourism, space mining, zero-g manufacturing, and faster travel from one location to another on Earth. The downsides? More space junk and advertising.  When will the McDonald’s Golden Arches or a big Coke bottle grace our evening and morning skies, I wonder? Sooner than we might think, I expect. The day when billions of LEDs are implanted on the Moon, creating the largest dynamic TV display in history is on it’s way..

I’m not sure about you, but my blog account is stuffed with a ton of half-finished draft postings that have yet to see the light of day. Among them are the following: 

1) A thought that if business people are looking towards technology for the answers to their business problems, then they are looking in the wrong place. Technology has already provided most of the big benefits. It’s all about strategy and process now.

2) Googlehoaxing: an idea, born out of a Bigfoot story some weeks back, that people might start making serious money by staging a hoax (no matter how pathetic), publishing it on the Internet and benefitting from the AdWords revenue.

3) A poem, written after waking up at an ungodly hour and looking at an unflattering image of me in the mirror. I haven’t given up yet, but it’s painfully slow.

4) Some thoughts about the practical management of risk on projects. Project management is all about managing risk, and yet the mechanisms in place for doing it are often woefully inadequate. I have some thoughts on this.

5) Mass-customisation and prison: is tailor designing a sentence for your personality, background and genetic make-up the future of criminology?

6) A somewhat conflicted article on the importance of consumer trust to Google. I’m not sure if this one will be published any time soon.

That’s a sample. There are plenty more.

Am I alone in having all these limboed postings floating around? Do you have any postings that have somehow got lost in the Drafts section your Blog?

I’m like a little kid at the moment. I’ve just recieved an iPhone and I have been busy over the last two days tinkering around with it. It’s an incredible little box of tricks.

The basic features of the phone are excellent, what with touchscreen and GPS and the Accellerometer etc.. However, what makes the phone really stand out are the huge number of apps that can be downloaded for it. I have downloaded a few games, installed planetarium software, turned it into a remote control, and I am writing this posting from the new WordPress app despite the fact that I have no connection to the Internet.

And no, I haven’t yet made a phone call with it…

Over the past few years, I have developed a habit of skepticism, which perhaps could be described as the careful use of critical thinking in the face of extraordinary, supernatural or highly unusual claims. So, if I hear someone talking about healing crystals or angels or UFO’s or homeopathic cures or divine miracles, my immediate reaction nowadays is disbelief.

Skepticism is not something that comes naturally to me. I have a relatively trusting nature, so for me, skepticism is hard work. I’d love to believe – I really would – it’s just that alarm bells go off in my head which can sometimes make for awkward situations in otherwise polite company. 

So, when I hear about people using the phrase “at first I was skeptical, but..” in the context of “witnessing” something such as a UFO or a miracle cure or some other such nonsense, it’s become clear to me that these people doesn’t know the first thing about proper skepticism. Most people simply don’t realise the extent to which they can be manipulated or deceived by false arguments, hidden prejudices, partial evidence and statistical anomalies.

My journey into skepticism has been a long, but highly rewarding journey. In my teens, I read Martin Gardner’s “Fads and Fallacies“, which presented the other side of Homeopathy, Biorythms, UFO claims and Scientology. Much later on, I read Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” and his “baloney detector kit”. Around the same time, I came across James Randi’s website with his million dollar challenge. I developed a keen interest in identifying logical fallacies and exposing urban legends using Snopes.com. More recently, I have become a keen subscriber to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid and the superb “Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” podcasts.

In the light of a media culture that seems to thrive on feeding mistaken notions rather than challenging them; in the light of a world where sophisticated marketing techniques are employed by all manner of cults and fringe groups; and in the light of multi-million industries peddling all manner of snake-oil cures, maybe it’s not too late to bolster our skeptical abilities. 

I would recommend the above books, websites and podcasts if you are interested in learning more.

The last ones, I promise. I’m sending them up because I had a camera at just the right time when I was passing by Lime Street Station yesterday evening.

That’s St. Georges Hall in the foreground, and if you look carefully, you will see a second arc just above the main rainbow. 

Cool, huh?

The city is a quite a building site at the moment. It might have something to do with being the European City of Culture this year.. Seriously though, if Cork 2005 is anything to go by, it will look really swell in 2 years time.  

The city is dripping with history. There are many fantastic 19th Century buildings throughout the city centre. I was particularly taken by the Pumphouse on my way into the Liverpool Maritime Museum.

My first presentation at an academic conference is over. I think I did a good job of it. The audience were clearly engaged throughout my presentation and I got a lot of relevant questions at the end.

I tried my best to do as good a job of it as I could. I avoided bullet points as much as possible. I added many relevant photos throughout the presentation. I started my commentary with a strong “wake up” statement which was well memorised in advance. I positioned myself outside the lectern and into the audience, using eye-contact to connect with them. I used a narrative style to tell a story. I relied heavily on my passion and interest in the subject to bring it alive, and I brought the story to a close by relating it in some way to how I started my presentation. It helped that my subject rocked!

If there were any areas to work on, I would love to interject a little bit more humour into my presentation style. It’s a fantastic tool that really helps to build up a rapport with your audience. Those to whom it comes naturally have a precious gift that shouldn’t be belittled. I also had some technology issues (porting my presentation from a Mac to a PC was much trickier than expected. However it was all resolved before the presentation. 

My Toastmasters training and my keen interest in blogs such as Presentation Zen really came to the fore today.

Liverpool Waterfront by petecarr

Taken by Pete Carr

I’m flying out to Liverpool tonight, attending (and presenting at) the Logistics Research Network (LRN) conference. Should be fun. I’ve never been to a conference like this before and I have little idea about what to expect. 

 

Oh my.

A big breakthrough was announced last month by researchers in MIT that may dramatically increase the importance of solar cells as a major source of energy. Up to now, there has been no easy way to store solar energy. The immediate availability of sunlight pretty much dictates how much power you have at any time. As soon as the sun goes down your immersion heater starts to cool down and your solar powered car grinds to a halt.

Meanwhile, nature has been busy mocking us. All around, efficient natural solar factories are at work converting the sun’s heat into chemical energy and storing this energy away for use at a later time. These conversion factories are known to the rest of us as leaves.

Taking a leaf (ouch) from nature, the MIT researchers have discovered a chemical mechanism (a catalyst) that can be used to extract oxygen from water at room temperature. Another catalyst is then used to extract hydrogen from water. All you need to trigger the reactions is electricity (from a solar cell for example). Both gases can then be safely stored away for later use. To create usable energy later on, you recombine the two gasses in a device known as a fuel cell.

Cheap, reliable, clean solar energy generated from within your home. Your house as a power station and as a refueling station. No need to wire your house to a power station. According to the scientists, we might see changes happening in as little as 10 years time. It will be interesting to see how it works out. 

Then again, this is Ireland. Now, if you could extract energy from rainclouds you might get somewhere..

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