May 142010

I have managed to get my blog working with the Android WordPress application, and want to try it out with some photos. These images are from the experiment that I was working on this afternoon. I can already see that I’m going to like this application.

For anyone interested in technical details (or having difficulty with their own blog) the fix simply involved recompiling PHP with the xmlrpc use flag.

Nov 082009

Since beginning my participation in BOINC volunteer computing back in August, I’ve had processes running on my computer most of the time that it’s been sitting idle. It seems that I’ve been accumulating credit at a faster rate than many others, as my “rank” has steadily increased. As of today, I have accumulated more credit than 75% of all BOINC users – which places me in the top quarter!

Boinc Stats - over 75%

Unlike the “live” stats image back in my first boinc post, this one is static as a celebration of this milestone. If you’re interested, you can read a much more comprehensive summary of my activity over at BoincStats.

Nov 042009

After a very frustrating few months with my webserver not coping at all, I finally replaced it with a decent machine. Now we have much more processor speed, and more than 10 times the RAM.

Already this page is definitely faster, and I hope that it will be able to operate more consistently from this point. I think I have managed to import essentially all the content that previously populated this blog, but if you find any glaring omissions feel free to let me know.

Aug 282009

About a fortnight ago Clansi drew my attention to a Sydney Morning Herald article about volunteer computing with BOINC. The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) allows research teams to set up projects where anyone can get their computer to help with number-crunching. One of the most famous projects is SETI@Home (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).

The BOINC client gets computational jobs to do from the project server, and works on them when it notices that you are not using your computer. Participants all over the world create an giant distributed “super-computer”, and idle computers do something useful.

I decided to try it out, and installed the client on my laptop about a week ago. I’ve been very impressed with the way that it does its stuff in the background, and have not had it interfere with any of my computer usage. It’s even smart enough to know not to run when I’m operating on battery power!

I’m participating in the Spinhenge@home project, which is researching “nano-magnetic molecules”. This field is somewhat related to my own research.

Here is a snapshot of my statistics so far:

My BOINC statistics

Jul 292009

Although I’ve recently upgraded the machine that I use as a webserver, it is still quite an obsolete machine. I’ve been having lots of trouble with the MySQL database (backend for this website) dying, and I’m quite sure it is a memory problem.

A quick web search led me to this good summary of low-memory configuration options for MySQL and Apache. I’ve tried some of the suggestions in my.cnf, and we’ll see if it makes a difference.

Jun 142009

The poor old Toshiba Portege 3110CT laptop that I was using as a webserver turned out not to be up to the task. It would regularly run out of available RAM, and shut down the database server that provides the guts of this website. Luckily for all of us, I was recently able to obtain a hand-me-down “upgrade” for this laptop.

So here we are, back on air again at . Hopefully more reliably connected than we have been for the last few months.

I have tweaked things a bit, as you may notice. With the change of hardware, I did an upgrade of my WordPress installation. I’ve also switched to a new theme, and at the moment it has a very minimalist appearance (which I like quite a lot, to be honest). I may have a go at “colouring it in” over the next little while. More importantly than appearance, however, is the fact that this new theme is easier and more efficient to use.

Mar 042009

Last night I attended the most recent of the public lectures in the Australian Academy of Science’s series “Australia’s Renewable Energy Future”. Dr Steve Schuck, Manager of Bioenergy Australia, spoke about biomass as a renewable energy source. His presentation slides are available, and are worth looking at if you want more details.

Bioenergy is chemical energy stored in biological systems. an obvious example is wood, which can be burned for heat (for example). Burning biomass like this does release carbon into the atmosphere, but it is carbon which has only recenly been captured from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. This is fundamentally different from fossil fuels, which release carbon that has been out of circulation in the biosphere for a long time.

Bioenergy makes up about 11% of the global energy consumption. Systems range from internal wood combusting fireplaces used for heating individual homes, all the way to massive powerstations that supply electricity and heat to cities. One of the largest biomass-capable powerstations in the world is the Avedøre-2 power plant in Copenhagen, which is able to “supply district heat to about 180,000 homes and provide electricity consumption for 800,000 households.” Continue reading »

Aug 192008

I have discovered 2 very cool things this week which indicate just how mature and mainstream OpenStreetMap has become. The first is an OSM routing service demonstration that seems to work well and gives beautiful output. A nice touch is being able to export the route as a gpx track that can be uploaded to a GPS device.

The second thing is a fantastic example of what OSM has to offer. Flickr, the amazingly popular photo-sharing site, has wonderful tools for geo-tagging photos and then browsing interesting photos by their position on a map. A week ago, coinciding with the start of the Olympic Games, Flickr introduced OpenStreetMap coverage of Beijing to their geotagging map. This was not just done for fun; the fact is that the OpenStreetMap of Beijing is far more complete than the Yahoo map (which is used by Flickr for the rest of the world).

Interestingly, this reveals a remarkable symbiosis between OSM and Yahoo. A while ago Yahoo agreed to let OSM contributors freely use their aerial imagery to trace features. This enabled people to contribute significantly to the OSM project even without a GPS device, and a lot of OSM data has been obtained this way. Now Yahoo (who own Flickr) are able to use the OSM dataset to enhance the geotagging service that they provide. Yet another example of how opening up access to information invariably leads to win-win outcomes.

Jul 152008

As a sort of birthday present for myself, I’ve spent the last few days climbing the steep-at-times learning slope of upgrading my WordPress installation.  The difference is barely noticable as you browse through this site, but it will make it much easier for me to roll out a number of exciting new features in the coming weeks.

I found this advice on WordPress backups and this quick guide to upgrading WordPress particularly useful and easy to follow.  Luckily, the upgrade process went smoothly and I didn’t need to use my backup.

Jan 242008

Over lunch today I read a short news report in Nature about origami and mathematics. The article reports on a recent presentation by Taketoshi Nojima that describes folding a surprising range of “tubes, conical shells, circular membranes, movable/shape-changeable models and highly rigid 3-D cores” from flat sheet materials. Scroll through to the last few pages of the presentation manuscript to find pictures of some very serious origami indeed.

An example is this “pine cone” that neatly folds flat. This sort of research could lead to applications ranging from foldable drink bottles to “light sails” and antennae on spacecraft. Continue reading »