Video of Bill Stone, the maverick cave explorer and diver, from TED

Bill Stone, modern adventurer, exibits a rare combination of intelligence, courage, and vision. Below is a video of his presentation at TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design).

Link: TED | TEDBlog: To the depths of the Earth … and beyond! Watch Bill Stone on TED.com

Bill Stone, the maverick cave explorer and diver — who has invented robots and rebreathing equipment to let him plumb Earth’s deepest abysses — talks about his efforts to build a robot to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. …he’s also planning to mine ice, on Earth’s own moon, by 2015. (Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 17:55)

Read more about Bill Stone on TED.com.

A Historical View of Immigration

John Michael Greer describes cultural migrations and the reasons they occur, from a big picture, historical perspective. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Völkerwanderung

German historians of the 19th century coined a useful word for the age of migrations that followed the fall of Rome: Völkerwanderung, “the wandering of peoples.” Drawn by the vacuum left by the implosion of Roman power, and pushed by peoples from the steppes further east driven westward by climate change, whole nations packed their belongings and took to the road. The same thing has happened many other times in the past, though not always on the same vast scale. What makes it important for our present discussion is that we are likely to see a repeat of the phenomenon on an even larger scale in the fairly near future.

The first ripples of this future flood can be seen by anyone who travels by bus through any rural region west of the Mississippi River, as I did a few days ago. Stray very far from the freeways and the tourist towns, and in a great many places you’ll discover that culturally speaking, you’re in Mexico, not the United States. The billboards and window signs are in Spanish, advertising Mexican products, music, and sports teams, and the people on the streets speak Spanish and wear Mexican fashions. It’s popular among Anglophone Americans to think of this sort of thing as purely a phenomenon of the Southwest, but the bus trip I’ve mentioned was in northwestern Oregon. There are some 30 million people of Mexican descent in the US legally, and some very large number – no one seems to agree on what the number is, but 8 million is the lowest figure I’ve heard anyone talking about – who are here illegally. As the migration continues, a very large portion of what is now the United States is becoming something else.

There’s been a great deal of angry rhetoric from all sides of the current debate about immigration from Mexico, of course, but very little of it deals with one of the primary driving forces behind it – the failure of the American settlement of the West. The strategies that changed the eastern third of the country from frontier to the heartland of the United States didn’t work anything like as well west of the Mississippi. Today the cities, towns, and farms that once spread across the Great Plains in an unbroken carpet are falling apart as their economic basis crumbles and their residents move away, while most of the mountain and basin regions further west survive on tourist dollars, retirement income, or specialized cash crops for distant markets – none of them viable economic bases once cheap energy becomes a thing of the past. Like the Mongol conquest of Russia or the Arab conquest of Spain, the American conquest of the West is proving to be a temporary phenomenon, and as the wave of American settlement recedes, the vacuum is being filled by the nearest society with the population and cultural vitality to take its place.

This isn’t an issue unique to America. The same thing is happening right now in Siberia, where Chinese immigrants are streaming across a long and inadequately guarded border and making the Russian settlement of northern Asia look more and more like a passing historical phase. It’s a very common phenomenon when the reach of a powerful nation turns out to exceed its grasp. In a showdown between military power and demography, demography generally wins.

Foyle’s War: Great TV

Foyle’s War combines history and mystery in a mix that is entertaining and educational. I highly recommend it, especially since excellent movies have become scarce. We record it on the DVR from PBS and watch it instead of going out to a movie. I wish they could produce more than four episodes per year!

Here’s an overview from Wikipedia:

The programme is set during the Second World War in Hastings, England, where Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) attempts to catch criminals who are taking advantage of the confusion the war has created. He is assisted by his driver Samantha "Sam" Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell).

Foyle, a widower, is quiet, methodical and very observant and is frequently underestimated by his foes. Many of his cases concern profiteering, the black market and murder. Foyle often comes up against high-ranking officials in the British military or intelligence services who would prefer that he mind his own business but he is tenacious in seeking justice.

The stories are largely self-contained. There are some running strands, mainly involving the career of Foyle’s son Andrew (played by Julian Ovenden), a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, or Foyle’s continuing relationships with cameo characters.

Here’s the description of the latest series, shown in the US in the Mystery! slot on PBS.

Foyle’s War, Series IV      TV PG
Airing Sundays, June 17 through July 8, 2007 on PBS
(Check local listings; dates and times may vary)

Foyle’s War returns to Mystery! with the admirable Michael Kitchen in his usual top form…
— The Wall Street Journal

Mystery! presents four new episodes of one of its most acclaimed detective series. Set along the South Coast of England in the 1940s, Foyle’s War stars Michael Kitchen (Reckless, Oliver Twist) as the no-nonsense Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, the straightforward sleuth who fights his own battles on the homefront while war rages across Europe.

Series IV finds Foyle and his team tackling a brutal death on an American Army base, uncovering secret government research after a biological warfare experiment goes awry, investigating the murder of Sgt. Milner’s estranged wife, and probing the clandestine world of weapons development.

Google.org launches alternative energy initiative RechargeIT.org

On June 18, Google.org is launched a new project to create a smarter energy future: cars that plug into an electric grid powered by solar energy. I am very hopeful that the mindpower concentrated in Silicon Valley can revolutionize energy production just like they have computers and networks.

Excerpts from the official Google Blog are below.

Link: Official Google Blog.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (“plug-in hybrids”) can achieve 70 -100 miles per gallon, quadrupling the fuel economy of the average car on the road today (~20 mpg). As we demonstrated at today’s event, plug-in hybrids can sell power back to the electric grid when it’s needed most through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology

As you may know, one of Google.org’s core missions is to address climate change. In the U.S., transportation contributes about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions –- with more than 60 percent of those emissions coming from personal vehicles. By accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrids and vehicle-to-grid ("V2G") technologies, this new project, RechargeIT.org, aims to reduce emissions and dependence on oil while promoting clean energy technologies and increasing consumer choice. Linking the U.S. transportation system to the electricity grid maximizes the efficiency of our energy system. From these efforts, we believe the environment will benefit — and consumers will have more choices to fuel their cars.

We’ve been working with Google engineers and Hymotion/A123Systems to build a small fleet of plug-in hybrids, adding an external plug and additional batteries to a regular hybrid car so that it runs on electricity with gasoline (or even better, biofuels) to extend the driving range for longer trips.

Since most Americans drive less than 35 miles per day, you easily could drive mostly on electricity with the gas tank as a "safety net." Our goal is to demonstrate the plug-in hybrid and V2G technology, get people excited about having their own plug-in hybrid, and encourage car companies to start building them soon.

In the preliminary results from our test fleet, on average the plug-in hybrid gas mileage was 30+ mpg higher than that of the regular hybrids. In conjunction with Pacific Gas and Electric, we also demonstrated the bidirectional flow of electricity through V2G technology, and have awarded $1 million in grants and announced plans for a $10 million request for proposals (RFP) to fund development, adoption and commercialization of plug-ins, fully electric cars and related vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. (Here’s the full release.)

As for Google Inc., today the solar panel installation we announced last October is now producing clean, renewable electricity for our Mountain View, CA headquarters.

The system will offset peak electricity consumption at the solar powered offices and the newly constructed solar carports have charging stations for the plug-in hybrids. At 1.6 megawatts — with an electricity output capable of powering approximately 1,000 average California homes — the Google project is the largest solar installation on any corporate campus in the U.S. to date, and one of the largest on any corporate site in the world. To see how much electricity these panels are producing right now, visit our new performance monitoring site.

To learn more about the initiative, we encourage you to explore the rest of RechargeIT.org.

The First Square Mile and Rural America

Rural areas need broadband so that people like me can buy some land, build a home, protect the land from being subdivided or monocultured, and put some money into the local economy.

Information workers can stop the extinction of the small farm — if we have broadband connections to do our work and stay connected with our friends and families.

Bob Frankston is a technology expert who has a mission: the First Square Mile.

Link: FSM – The First Square Mile, Our Neighborhood

Telecom is about services delivered over the last mile. Our connected neighborhood gives us the opportunity to discover the unanticipated. Instead of waiting at the end of the last mile we should look within our first square mile and see the possibilities, not just the choices offered.

Today’s underserved rural communities may provide the test beds we need. They may not have "broadband" but they do have phone service and those copper wires have a high carrying capacity if you use the right electronics. Today those wires are not available because the FCC Universal Service Fund (USF) collects billions by adding a fee for legacy phone service and then uses the money to assure that the wires are used for phone service. I should say wasted since that can leave each wire running at one millionth of its potential capacity. If the community had real ownership and honest and transparent funding it could use those wires to jumpstart neighborhood connectivity. While traditional DSL service is fairly slow we can use back to back DSL units to extend the reach and new technologies to run each wire at 100mbps or more.

The state regulators and commissioners have an opportunity to play a leadership role recognizing that their mission has changed. They can and must serve their community rather than presuming that anything good for the service providers is good for the community. It isn’t true because the telecom model serves the mythical average and not any of us. With analog signaling we may have had to subsume our individual needs to the restrictions of the technology but digital technology frees us from having to have a special wire for each purpose. Bits are just bits.

As long as we think of networking in terms of being at the last mile of a service delivery pipe we will have to settle for what happens to arrive. If we look at the first square mile around us — our neighborhood we will get the opportunity to be participants who can meeting their own needs while also contributing to the common good.