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     Volume 7 Issue 3 | January 18, 2008 |

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Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Imran H. Khan

The Latin poet, Persius Flaccus, was the first known author to use these famous saying “Necessity is the…” in literature, circa 50 A.D. As he used it, “the stomach is the teacher of the arts and the dispenser of invention.” It's true that when push comes to shove, the human mind comes up with some form of solution. Others like Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, "Necessity is the mistress and guardian of nature." William Shakespeare in his world famous drama Julius Caesar wrote, "Nature must obey necessity," and the English dramatist, William Wycherly, in 1671, used it in what we have come to know today, “Necessity will produce the indicated invention.”

Every invention seems to have some necessity. Take for instance this Turning Lamp. Invented by designer Seungchan Lee, this is a revolutionary design that blends a lamp and a PC; two items that aren't usually associated with each other. I still can't think what was going on through the inventor's mind when he came up with this. The computer sits atop a lamp stand that still has its power-pull-cord, allowing for the PC's power to be controlled by simply pulling on the cord. With an OLED screen on each face of the PC, each of the four sides can act as their own screen, allowing four users to do their own thing. The screens themselves can display pictures, music, weather, memos, aquariums etc. Being completely wireless, the Turning Lamp is controlled by a compact folding touchscreen keyboard and a pen style mouse. This invention will surely be a turning point for all computer lovers.

Just the other day I got myself a PQI i810 intelligence drive. I was thoroughly impressed with its miniature size (the size of my thumb nail) and its gigantic space (2GB). The next day, Korea took the USB fad to its next level and made their credit card USB-compatible. Not only can you wave this thing in front of a register, you can plug this into your computer to make online purchases as well. It saves you the trouble of either remembering your credit card number or reaching for your wallet every time you want to buy something. I still can't wait to see what else they will think of jamming into those little memory contraptions.

On the topic of innovative contraptions, check out this fancy boat fueled in part by 'Human Fat'. The idea came from an engineer cum sailor from New Zealand who feels this human fat is the ultimate renewable fuel. Pete Bethune, a former oil exploration engineer, is so committed to proving biodiesel is a viable alternative to fossil fuel that he and two other Earthrace crew members underwent liposuction. Together they stripped more than 2.5 gallons of fat from their bodies, which produced almost two gallons of fuel - enough to go 9 miles under optimum conditions. Circumnavigating the world - a 27,600-mile journey - is the ultimate maritime challenge, and this is the second time Bethune and his crew will attempt it. The first ended disastrously in March when Earthrace collided with a fishing vessel off the coast of Guatamala which left one fisherman injured and another lost at sea. This time, however, Bethune remains undeterred and still hopes to accomplish the feat and Bethune hopes to do it in 65 days. Using some human fat as fuel is a gimmick to garner headlines; the 78-foot-long Earthrace is fueled entirely with biodiesel and Bethune says it emits 78 percent less pollution than conventional diesel vessels. "The vision of a world using fuel produced from sustainable sources is an idea whose time has come," he said. "By demonstrating the power, reliability and environmental safety of biodiesel, Earthrace is committed to transforming this vision into reality."

It's no secret that diesels are more fuel efficient than gasoline engines and advancements in refining and engine technology have made them cleaner than ever. But some people may be surprised to learn diesel cars can be less polluting than hybrids. As Popular Mechanics notes in its current issue, diesels aren't the loud, sluggish and filthy engines they were in the 1970s, it has seen tremendous advancements, ranging from "ultra-low" sulfur fuel to sophisticated emissions control systems. Today, even a large sedan like the Mercedes Benz E320 BlueTec emits 80 to 90 percent less pollution than old-school Mercedes diesels and offers a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy over its gasoline counterpart. Diesels can be quick, too - Honda's Accord i-CTDi topped 133 mph and the Audi R10 has been dominating endurance races for years. As we step into a new era, auto industry analysts say that clean diesels will make up one-third of the domestic market by 2020 and half of all hybrids sold will be diesel-electric models.

At the climate change meetings in Bali, the small western Pacific island nation of Palau offered to be a testbed for space based solar power. Although the price of space based solar power is still prohibitively high for general use, there may be special cases where its unique ability to deliver energy directly to where it's needed with zero carbon emissions could be quite appealing. One such niche markets may well be this island nation. The main concept is a satellite in low earth orbit that would be able to beam enough power down as it passes over every day to power 1,000 homes. The beam would at first be sent to a power station on one of Palau's uninhabited islands and provide direct current that could be used to charge batteries. The project will need a fund of $800 million.

Space based solar energy has long interested NASA and others in the space community because solar energy is eight times stronger in space then it is after it has passed through the atmosphere. Although it is not the silver bullet for climate, it is hard to imagine that we won't eventually utilise space based solar power, especially as the price of launching things into space comes down. Larger systems could be placed in geosynchronous orbit that stay over a single point on Earth continuously and beam down 5 gigawatts of power. This is twice the output of the Hoover Dam The power would be converted to microwaves for beaming down to Earth. The beams would be "no more powerful than the energy emanating from a microwave oven's door."

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