Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spice Your Kitchen has Urban Accents

About a year ago, I came across this collection of spices at HomeSense. Finding the right spice blend has always been a quest for me, and when I saw this collection from Urban Accents, it provided a new opportunity to try out yet another "delicious" recipe.
It was a hit. The 4 pack included rubs for Pork, Chicken, Fish and Beef.
The Pork and Chicken blends were not bad, but definitely not original.
The Beef and Fish rubs are amazing.
So amazing, that I panicked when I found out that HomeSense no longer carried them. After a few emails to Urban Accents, I managed to find a local distributor. That distributor was in Oakville Ontario. Spice Your Kitchen is owned by Francois and Therese Boukhaled. Therese was very helpful. I loaded up on Urban Accents spices, just in case. Spice Your Kitchen has a large selection of spices, rubs and sauces, as well as numerous kitchen supplies and gadgets. I write this blog entry, because I noticed that the website for Spice Your Kitchen was poorly designed. No keywords, no meta tags at all. My little blog entry should help "The Google" get the message out on "The Internets".
Spice Your Kitchen is located at 2530 Sixth Line, just south of Highway 5 on the West side. There is a small mall and they are located in unit 12.
If you like cooking, and like spices, go here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ontario Science Centre Host. The Eighties.

Smokin Nitrogen
Originally uploaded by Carl Bachellier.
I have been scanning some old pictures from the early 80's. A time when I was a Host at the Ontario Science Centre. I guess I did turn out to be somewhat of a rocket scientist! Maybe I'm just visible on the web because I am so passionate about computers, but I don't see other people from my past out there. I don't see people participating. Just spectating. No other pictures of Hosts out there. Maybe it's time to start a trend.

My first desktop computer experience was at the Ontario Science Centre.
The OSC used Apple II computers at the time. Many hours were wasted playing Lost Treasures. Just before I left, they were buying Lisas and I saw my first computer politely announce, "that it was now safe to shutdown". During one show on computers in 1982, I discovered my first flight simulator. It was probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars at the time, it was amazing. You could pilot a 747 and fly to the end of the world. In 1983, the scenery would run out before the fuel and you literally fell off the edge of the world. That was when I knew my love affair with computer would continue. Now I build custom, high performance computers just to run the latest version of X-Plane. A 60 Gigabyte installation these days. Truly unbelievable.

Perhaps my fellow science types never fully participated in the World Wide Web. Perhaps anonymity is just an accident. With sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Blogger, I am surprised that there are not more of the Hosts online. Maybe there are, and they just haven't surfaced. I would encourage my fellow Hosts to get a blog. Get some pictures up on Flickr. Start participating.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto refuses demotion. Stays planet.

Today in Prague, a group of astronomers decided that Pluto should lose its status as a planet. They didn't really give a very good laymens answer except to say that Pluto's oblong orbit takes it well outside the boundaries of the other planets in the Solar System. What does that mean? Pluto can stay at my place.

If Pluto is a planet, then it defines the outer boundary of the Solar System. Pluto is round and has two moons. It orbits our Sun, so it's a planet. It seems a bit harsh for astronomers to start making claims about a celestial body that they know very little about. Now we have them demoting it. Planet comes from a Greek word "planetes", which means wanderer and is defined as an object in orbit around a star that is not a star in its own right. The word planet doesn't really have a precise definition. It's one of those words that we use to describe something in general. Unless the International Astronomical Union has decided to change what the word planet means, they have absolutely no authority to change the the staus of Pluto. As of today, Pluto is still not a star, and it still orbits around a star. This makes it a planet.

Is this what astronomers do when the sun comes up? Is this the bureaucracy of star gazing? I can't imagine a group of people getting together and discussing the validity of a planets status. Pluto is a significant part of the twentieth century having been discovered in 1930. Pluto has always been a mystery planet and has no doubt been the inspiration for a great number of science fiction movies.

Pluto was a planet in my Grandfathers day, my Fathers day and mine. Of course it is a planet. At the very least, it defines itself as a planet because it has been part of the Solar System for 75 years.

Astronomers are obviously burdened with the growing bureaucracy that comes with any organization. Why is it when something becomes mainstream we need a a group of experts to stand around and write rule books? These people always complicate things. The people who refuse to to be held back by rules of physics, rules of math, rules of business, are the true innovators.

The ones standing around, writing rule books and thinking up conference dates are the ones not doing anything. It would be nice if they stopped interfering with the peoplethat do.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Outlook Express Identity problems

I have seen this problem several times. Outlook Express allows you to set up unique identities so that more than one person can use the same program to check their email. Unfortunately, if one of the identity files becomes corrupt, you can lose all of your email.
Microsoft makes it extremely difficult for a novice to backup their email. Where is my email? Where indeed. It is buried away in the hidden application support folder and named using a long, incoherent, alphanumeric code. It is very infuriating, even for a power user. There are many sites that offer methods of backing up your Outlook Express mail, but if an identity becomes corrupt, you will never make it past the second step of the process. The best you will be able to do is open another mail program and import the primary identity. That's it. One identity.
So this advice is purely to prevent the problem. Stop using Outlook Express immediately. It is great when it works, but when it breaks, your mail is most likely gone. An expert can get it back, but it will cost you. Upgrade to Outlook. Too bad they couldn't come up with a better name, but the "non-express" version is the best way to go. The biggest advantage is that it is better at exporting your mail to a .pst file. Store this on a CD or removable drive. As for identities. Stop using them. Instead, learn how to set-up a new user on your computer. Then, when you want to switch identities, simply switch users instead. This gives each user their own computer, documents folder, music folder, etc. The Outlook Express identity system is a shortcut, and a bad one.
If you insist on using Outlook Express for multiple users, do it by creating new users in the control panel. Not identities. This way, each user can use their own copy of Outlook Express. One identity file. Fewer problems.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Fuel Farming and ethanol

Harvesting fuel
Ethanol fuel has been getting quite a bit of attention lately due to the recent price jumps in gasoline. It is actually a technology basically abandoned almost 100 years ago due to a cheap and plentiful resource called oil. Henry Fords Model T was built to burn ethanol so that farmers could make their own fuel from corn. Ethanol is grain alcohol, and almost all gasoline sold today is comprised of 10 percent ethanol (E15).
The United States imports a little over 60 percent of its oil which translates into one-third of the U.S. trade deficit. Canada is the largest supplier at 20 percent, the Middle East provides slightly less than that, Nigeria, Venezuela and Mexico round out the rest of suppliers producing over 10 percent each. There are several other countries contributing less than 5 percent each of the total demand.
Converting to a home grown fuel alternative has a positive economic effect. A trade deficit reduction will strengthen the dollar and the economy, farmers have a crop in high demand, ethanol production is a domestic industry producing jobs, and fuel prices become less dependent on the price of crude.
Ethanol is produced by fermenting sugars, Enzymes convert starch into sugar, and then yeast converts these sugars into ethanol. I am more than curious about how governments will deal with people who decide to build a still to make "fuel".
Ethanol producers have also found ways to convert other cellulose materials into ethanol. Wood chips and grass clippings for example. E85 is 85 percent ethanol and 15% gasoline. This is being produced now, but there are a few roadblocks to overcome. For one, our fuel distribution system is all about gasoline, and we all know what that means. However, I am hopeful that governments have a better understanding of what the people want, and that legislation will prevent unwanted interference. Although it may seem surprising, there are quite a few states that have E85 gas stations. Minnesota is by far the leader with over 200 stations, whereas Texas has 4 and Washington D.C. has none.
E85 can't be used in just any automobile. You either need a Model T, or something built quite recently. Almost all vehicles built after 1990 can use 20 percent ethanol without ill-effects.
E85 has corrosive properties that damage rubber fuel lines, and untreated metal engine parts. New FFV or Flexi Fuel Vehicles incorporate special nitrate coatings on the engine parts to prevent engine failures. E85 is about 40 percent cheaper to buy, but nothing comes free. If you get 30 mpg on gas right now, that equates to 20 mpg on ethanol. It's high octane rating of about 110 doesn't have the same kick as regular gasoline.
Is ethanol the future fuel? I don't think so, but I think it will become a competitive alternative for the next 20 years or so. It is quite an exciting time for inventors. There appears to be a stream of energy innovation going on. Hydrogen, solar/battery, ethanol, what's next? Energy technology is no longer under the control of large corporations. The world is open to new energy sources, and each of these solutions require new ideas to make them work. Now that's something to think about.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Convergence of new technologies

Every once in awhile there is a significant leap in technology. The dawn of the twentieth century dealt with the convergence of many new technologies at once. Electricity became common in homes, the first automobiles appear, and radio is changing the way we communicate. I imagine that sales of oil lamps and horse carriages are also seeing a decline. Will we see this kind of change again? Is it far away? When I was in University, I rented a typewriter from a busy leasing and repair business in town. That business is long gone and I don't think I have seen a typewriter in quite awhile.

I think the next big leap will occur in the energy sector. Not oil, but electricity. The politics of filling your gas tank will make the oil industry a wild card for a few more years, but electricity, now there's an industry that can flourish much more easily.
Recent developments in solar cell technology have seen two important breakthroughs. A lower cost per panel, and a higher electricity output per panel. It seems to be following the model of computers. Every iteration produces a faster and more efficient system while lowering cost.

Solar panels use highly purified silicon in a process called photovoltaics. Silicon is classified as a semiconductor. By itself, silicon is actually a good insulator and resistant to electrical flow, but by "doping" and changing it's properties, it can be forced to accept either a positive or negative charge. When you place a negatively charged plate of silicon over a positively charged plate, an electrical field is produced allowing the flow of electrons. This is electricity. The focus of most research has been to improve the efficiency of translating light into electricity, and doing it using smaller and smaller panels.
There are solar panels under development today that use low cost, low grade silicon as a source for the panels. The interesting part of this research is that the solar energy itself converts the low grade silicon into ultra pure silicon and as the panel ages, it's efficiency goes up. Given the leaps in solar conversion efficiency over the last five years, it is not unreasonable to expect that solar panels may become the "shingle" of choice in 10 to 15 years. The roof area of a typical home will be able to convert enough solar energy to run everything in your house----for free.

This technology leap is inevitable. What will happen to us as a society, as an economy? Will going wireless now mean that the power lines strung all over the planet will slowly disappear? Are we getting too emotional over issues such as nuclear and coal power plants? Maybe they will just go away like the horse and carriage. If every building has the capacity to generate its' own electricity, it is only reasonable to assume that technology for storing energy will also advance. Necessity is the mother of invention. How will the economics of energy independence affect society? How do you tax consumption? Recharging your hybrid at home will really mean something when it doesn't cost you anything.
Will the political landscape of the world change when energy is taken off the table? There are so many unknowns. I have a feeling that a convergence of technologies is just around the corner. When the President of the United States starts promoting alternative energy a few days before a drop in gas prices, something is in the air. Solar energy is on a collision course with fossil fuels. Cheaper energy sources always win. In the early days of the 20th century, there were people in their 30's and 40's with vivid memories of a world lit by gaslight and streets full of horse buggies. 30 and 40 year olds today remember typewriters and a world without Internet.
I wonder what it will be like to look out on the horizon and not see power lines? Hang on, I think we're going to leap again.