Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Larry Burchett and the TomCat Mark II

Larry Burchett is the main man behind B-Rod or Custom, makers of the TomCat Mark II production hot rod. When the prototype TomCat was under development, I was asked to render some drawings for the dash layout.

This was to make life a little easier for the machinists. Previously, I wasn't a guy who got very interested in cars. Airplanes and boats were more to my tastes. But I love building things, props, models, you name it. And when I clapped my eyeballs on the production which goes on at B-Rod, brother you better believe I was excited. All the plugs, molds, modelling compound, painting gear, fiberglass and welding that was going on just set my imagination running wild with visions of what all one could build. To have all those toys at your disposal -- goodness me -- oh the wicked little creations I can dream up in my head.

The TomCat has evolved a bunch since nearly a year ago when I first met Larry. The prototype has been completely overhauled into the TomCat Mark II, which was recently seen at SEMA. The TomCat Mark II features a 350hp fuel injected small block Chevy engine, mated to an automatic transmission. Everything from the chassis to (yes indeed) the dash is custom built from the ground up. Six color choices with matching leather interior make it sharp and stylish. If you've got a love of hot rods, or just great design, visit B-Rod or Custom.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

New Apollo Space Artwork on ebay

I've got new paintings of the Apollo LM Antares and the Apollo 11 CM up for auction on ebay. Bigger versions of the paintings and details are available there.

Hydrogen Extraction Improvements,1282,65936,00.html

WIRED has an article about a company using a photoelectric process to extract hydrogen from water at a much higher efficiency than electrolysis. Nanotech plays a big part in the process which is touted at 10% efficiency, and doesn't use expensive materials like palladium. This development matches my instincts about how technology in the next quarter century will largely grow as a result of advancements in materials science.

My friend Les Jones points out correctly that hydrogen is not a fuel unto itself, but rather just a transfer medium. The idea that petro and coal are "real" fuels just because you easily dig them out of the ground and burn them however, is in my opinion a tad flawed. Gooey or compressed carbon from dead dinosaurs and prehistoric plants is not a fuel unto itself. They also are energy storage mediums. The difference is that they were infused with their potential energy endothermically by means of a single thermonuclear source located 96 million miles away.

Hydrogen does in fact burn, just like dead dinosaurs and peat, but it does not come with an endothermic front-load. Currently that is achieved by a more than equal expenditure of energy and materials. The techniques include the sacrifice of raw materials such as iron and acid - refinement from fossil fuels (which ironically contain goodly amounts of hydrogen) - or electrolysis. Electrolysis has traditionally been seen as carrying the best prospects for mass production of hydrogen since the separative power could by provided by the sun, hydroelectric and so forth - but it still requires expenditure of precious materials like palladium. Without an advancement in extraction efficiency though, hydrogen would never be competitive with fossil fuels or even synthetic fuels from plants since its production is so expensive. A big improvement in efficiency from new materials science could change that.

Even when (not if) hydrogen extraction achieves 10%+ efficiency, it still faces many challenges for widespread implimentation. The main ones are from infrastructure. I don't think safe handling of hydrogen is anywhere close to the bugaboo that some people say. Numerous methods of storing it in non-cryogenic and non-reactive containers have been developed in the past few years. And it is no more explosive or dangerous than gasoline. Getting hydrogen dispensers installed in gas stations and getting them fueled would be a challenge for making cars run off of it. A early place one might expect to see such use could be the autobahn. Germany is not a large country, so distribution methods are more easily tested there. The roads are built to high tolerances allowing for safer transport, and service access exists at regular intervals. That might be the kind of place you'd see an experiment with hydrogen - especially considering German automakers are more serious about it than others.

Eventually we will see hydrogen used in many aspects of day to day life. In fairness to critics it will always work like a battery, just a storage medium for front-loaded energy via extraction. But it will be a clean battery, and new advancements in materials science may make that process efficient enough to be competitive. Time will tell.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Blogging and financial health,1284,65912,00.html

Wired has an article up concerning people's employers getting upset over the contents of their blogs. Mainly it's in regards to direct references to the employer. Depending on the particular situation, I can understand both employer and employee concerns. It isn't right for an employer to clamp down on private speech -- I don't know how many examples of that there are in the current Blog world. Yet likewise, employees should understand that for most companies, a dividing line exists between expressing your own views as an individual and expressing them as a representative. The obvious exception would be acting as a voice of conscience if the company were engaging in illegal activity or unfair labor practices and so forth.

The employee's risks (setting aside honest dissent) are promotional and social barriers, with possible job loss. The employer's risks include liability such as slanderous things an individual may say which may affect a company by implication - loss of competitive information or security info. I've been writing articles and snippets for the web for 10 years now, and my long-standing practice has been to completely separate commentary I make on behalf of a company, and confine my personal comments to appropriate venues. For instance, on this website I only identify my employer as a transport industry R&D firm. I don't mean that to sound like subterfuge. It's simply factual, but carries no baggage. People know what I do, but there's no direct relationship between what I write here and what I do for my dayjob.

I'd say the biggest hazard blogging and other web activities make to your job however, is simple cyberslacking. My advice there is to self-monitor before somebody starts monitoring for you.