Month: August 2016

Remembering David Bowie

The Second Volume of 47 – 16: Short Fiction and Poetry Inspired by David Bowie is here!

Writers, poets, and artists share their memories of Bowie. My short story, The Meditation Center at the Corner of the Dark Dao Universe, about accepting and/or cheating death – is included.

All proceeds from the sale of this book in print and digital are being donated to Cancer Research and Cancer Care.

Many thanks to writer/editor Chris Thompson for putting this awesome idea together!

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Using a Sponge to Generate Steam

Bubble wrap, combined with a selective absorber, keeps heat from escaping the surface of the sponge. Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

How do you boil water? Eschewing the traditional kettle and flame, MIT engineers have invented a bubble-wrapped, sponge-like device that soaks up natural sunlight and heats water to boiling temperatures, generating steam through its pores.

The design, which the researchers call a “solar vapor generator,” requires no expensive mirrors or lenses to concentrate the sunlight, but instead relies on a combination of relatively low-tech materials to capture ambient sunlight and concentrate it as heat. The heat is then directed toward the pores of the sponge, which draw water up and release it as steam.

From their experiments—including one in which they simply placed the solar sponge on the roof of MIT’s Building 3—the researchers found the structure heated water to its boiling temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, even on relatively cool, overcast days. The sponge also converted 20 percent of the incoming sunlight to steam.

The low-tech design may provide inexpensive alternatives for applications ranging from desalination and residential water heating, to wastewater treatment and medical tool sterilization.

The team has published its results today in the journal Nature Energy…

… In their new design, the researchers settled on a spectrally-selective absorber—a thin, blue, metallic-like film that is commonly used in solar water heaters and possesses unique absorptive properties. The material absorbs radiation in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum, but it does not radiate in the infrared range, meaning that it both absorbs sunlight and traps heat, minimizing heat loss.

The researchers obtained a thin sheet of copper, chosen for its heat-conducting abilities and coated with the spectrally-selective absorber. They then mounted the structure on a thermally-insulating piece of floating foam. However, they found that even though the structure did not radiate much heat back out to the environment, heat was still escaping through convection, in which moving air molecules such as wind would naturally cool the surface.

A solution to this problem came from an unlikely source: Chen’s 16-year-old daughter, who at the time was working on a science fair project in which she constructed a makeshift greenhouse from simple materials, including bubble wrap.

“She was able to heat it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, in winter!” Chen says. “It was very effective.”
Chen proposed the packing material to Ni, as a cost-effective way to prevent heat loss by convection. This approach would let sunlight in through the material’s transparent wrapping, while trapping air in its insulating bubbles.

“I was very skeptical of the idea at first,” Ni recalls. “I thought it was not a high-performance material. But we tried the clearer bubble wrap with bigger bubbles for more air trapping effect, and it turns out, it works. Now because of this bubble wrap, we don’t need mirrors to concentrate the sun.”

The bubble wrap, combined with the selective absorber, kept heat from escaping the surface of the sponge.

Read more at:

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Scientists Built a Robot Octopus

But, really, it’s a good thing…

“The struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” explained Wood in the Harvard news release. “This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs.”
The robot is mostly 3D printed, and afterwards its body is inlaid with channels that both power and govern its movement. That movement is pneumatic, powered by gas derived from hydrogen peroxide, the robot’s fuel. It pushes fluid through the limbs, inflating them — and if it were only that, it would still be impressive.

But the key bit here is that the microfluidic network is cleverly designed to feed back on itself, shutting down the inflation of one limb and starting the inflation of another in a predetermined sequence. It does its thing (such as it is) on its own, without any need for the researchers or environment to provide power or guidance.

Read more of Harvard’s Octobot is the first autonomous machine to be made with all soft robotics

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Earth 2 – Far but so Close

Could Proxima Centauri be our Interstellar Gateway?

[R]umor has it that there’s a possible “Earth 2.0” orbiting Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star that’s right on our cosmic doorstep. Located only 4.25 light-years away, Proxima is believed to be gravitationally bound to the binary star system Alpha Centauri, a system that has also undergone much scrutiny for its exoplanet potential.

To have an exoplanet with any Earth-like qualities so close to the solar system would be an incredible stroke of luck, considering that the most Earth-like exoplanet discovered so far is Kepler-452b, which was announced last year to much fanfare. The kicker is that this alien world is 1,400 light-years away. Barring any huge science fiction-esque strides in interstellar propulsion, it’s highly unlikely that such a distant world will get a whiff of humanity any time soon.

But a hypothetical planet orbiting a star only 4.25 light-years away? That doesn’t sound so bad.

What’s more, if (and that’s a big IF) there is an exoplanet with a few Earth-like qualities orbiting Proxima Centauri, its existence could transform the way we look at the stars. We might start to see interstellar space as a challenge we can aspire to physically explore rather than the impenetrable void it currently is.

Moon before Mars before Proxima?

What Would Teddy Do?

What Would Teddy Do?

Brooklyn hipsters meet the living dead – my short story won Honorable Mention in Liberty Island’s “Summer of Love” contest!

Dawn was naked and sweating, trying to hold an Amazon warrior pose. I was sketching her, my pencil like a wisp of wind following the curls of her hair, the gold light dancing on her round belly, the curve of her toes. This was all I’d ever need, a beauty that blocked out the rude noises of the real world.

“Peter!” she shouted.

I jumped. My eraser bounced across my lap, followed by my pencils. I tried to grab them but instead smeared the drawing. Ruined.

“You really don’t hear a thing I say!”

I was about to get mad, but then my bones started to ache. I could feel when she was going to cry the way an old mariner senses rain. If I said anything contrary, the tears would pour down.

“I just told you I quit my job!”

“Oh, heck.” I said, gathering up my pencils “Why’d you do that?” If it wasn’t for her job slinging Kombucha at Cafe Bliss, we’d never make the rent…

Read more What Would Teddy Do?

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Cheesy Meatballs with Sauce and Spaghetti

Before cooking

2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning mix
1 pound lean ground beef
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg
Some fresh basil leaves
1 (24 ounce) jar meatless Pasta Sauce
12 ounces spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving


1. Heat up the olive oil and fry the garlic until browned. Add the red pepper and italian herbs. Cook until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with white wine or chicken broth.
2. Combine ground beef, bread crumbs, egg, and cheese in a medium bowl. Add the garlic. Mix together.
3. Use an ice cream scoop to portion into 8 or 9 meatballs.
4. Pour 1/3 of the sauce into the pan. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce. Cover them with the rest of the sauce. Put basil leaves on top. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about ten minutes. Turn the meatballs over, cook over medium heat until cooked through. (about 15 more minutes.
5. Ladle some of the sauce over hot pasta and toss to coat. Serve with more sauce and the meatballs with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

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Moroccan Fish (recipe)

Not mine, but this is a better picture

1 lb tilapia (fillets)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into long thin strips
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 large garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, cut into large pieces (my son doesn’t like cilantro, so I used some thyme and oregano from the garden – parsley is also a good substitute)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tbs Trader Joe’s Stuff (mixed spices) you could also use a mixture of some paprika, a little thyme, oregano and garlic powder
1 14 oz. can roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large deep skillet, heat the oil over medium heat – Add the chopped garlic, onion, carrots and peppers. Cook for a few minutes until soft. Add the spices (zatar, Joe’s stuff, cilantro/herbs and ground black pepper to taste) Cook until fragrant. Deglaze the pan as necessary with white wine.

Turn down the heat. Add the tilapia filets and pour the tomatoes over them. Bring to a boil, spread the tomatoes evenly over the fish and then cook over low/med heat until the tilapia gets white on the outside. Flip the fillets over, coat them with tomatoes, and cook until you can cut the fish into quarters with a soft spatula and the fish is white inside. (I never time these things but it’s probably about 20 minutes). Throw in or drink any white wine that might be left and add the lime juice.

Serve over quinoa, rice or couscous

First Seven Jobs

Baby sitter
Office Help
Counter help, Zaro’s bakery, Grand Central Station
Hat/Coat Check Girl, Sardis
Waitress at a Jazz Bar
Portrait Artist
Real Estate Appraisal (Wordprocessing, IT, Appraiser)

The Result of a Collaboration Between Disney and Dali

The film tells the story of Chronos, the personification of time and the inability to realize his desire to love for a mortal. The scenes blend a series of surreal paintings of Dali with dancing and metamorphosis. The target production began in 1945, 58 years before its completion and was a collaboration between Walt Disney and the Spanish surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí. Salvador Dali and Walt Disney Destiny was produced by Dali and John Hench for 8 months between 1945 and 1946. Dali, at the time, Hench described as a “ghostly figure” who knew better than Dali or the secrets of the Disney film. For some time, the project remained a secret. The work of painter Salvador Dali was to prepare a six-minute sequence combining animation with live dancers and special effects for a movie in the same format of “Fantasia.” Dali in the studio working on The Disney characters are fighting against time, the giant sundial that emerges from the great stone face of Jupiter and that determines the fate of all human novels. Dalí and Hench were creating a new animation technique, the cinematic equivalent of “paranoid critique” of Dali. Method inspired by the work of Freud on the subconscious and the inclusion of hidden and double images.