Friday, February 25, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

It's very interesting to think about cases in which "progress" causes people to abandon a technology before it's perfected. For instance, with the advent of fuel-powered ships, sailing ships became outdated, which meant that there was no longer a compelling economic reason for people to continue improving the technology.

Now, as a fascinating and inspiring post over at Alternative Energy Blog explains, people are taking a new look at sails, and figuring out how to make them more efficient:

Modern windships can...take advantage of new technologies and materials that weren't available in the days of sail. Wind tunnel tests on different types of rigging and sails quickly showed the Danish team how poorly traditional sails perform....So the Danish team came up with an alternative that exploits materials borrowed from the aerospace industry. Using high-performance steel for the masts does away with the need for stays to hold them upright. The sail itself is made of fibreglass, with a profile like an aircraft wing. Flaps on the sail's trailing edge generate extra thrust when extended, but can be retracted to minimise aerodynamic drag - important when using engine power alone. Wind-tunnel tests showed this design to be twice as efficient as the sails on a traditional windjammer.
Even more promising is the SkySail, a sort of giant kite which harnesses the stronger and more reliable winds that prevail about 1500 feet above the ocean:
SkySail's largest version, with an area of 2000 to 5000 square metres, will generate propulsive power equivalent to a large ship's engine....
One wonders how many other common technologies from past centuries could be improved, given the knowledge we've gained in the interim. (I can't help daydreaming about possible applications for oversized wind-up motors and clockwork.)

AEB goes on to describe solar ferries, gravity-powered planes, and other remarkable things. Be sure to check out the links at the end!


echidne said...

This is not quite the same thing, but I wonder if we should go back to building the way we used to, by understanding weather and the environment much better than we have done for a while now. For example, my house (from 1930) is built to take maximum advantage of the weather by the way the rooms are positioned and even by the way the original trees and so on were planted. The porch has a continous air flow through it in the summer, whatever the temperature happens to be, and the conifers protect me against the northern side in the winter, whereas the trees on the southern side are deciduous so they shade in the summer but let the light through in the winter.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

When we moved up here to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington from the bay area in California, we looked for house with a lot of south facing windows. We knew that we would face the cloudiness of long winters, and thought that most builders in the northwest would have tried to take advantage of any southern exposure-- for both heat and light. But almost every house we saw was situated on its lot in the least efficient manner. It was if the sun's transit did not exist or was unknowable. We found a house that was different in style from what we thought we'd buy, but it was stunningly well sited and oriented. Now, whenever the sun bursts through the clouds on a long winter day, it fills our house with light. Yes, understanding the weather and environment would be great way to build houses.
Rexroths Daughter

Anonymous said...

surfdork from Atrios:

Reading about these technologies gives me hope that no matter what, some of us will survive, we won't completley descend into barbarism.

I know that sounds heavy. I just read a few posts on Atrios about "A Canticle for Liebowitz" and think about thecnologies that could persist after the world goes to hell.

Speechless said...

Yes indeed, it has crossed my mind temp du temps that they never really did plumb the depths nor glean the full harvest of the 8 track tape there was a technology abandoned...

Phila said...

Echidne, I'd go a step further and say there's a lot of old "foolishness" we could stand to revisit...architecture, agriculture, any number of things. But definitely, proper siting reduces heating/cooling costs quite a bit.

Surfdork, if it gave you hope, then mission accomplished!

Speechless, the best thing about 8-tracks is that you can open the shells, cut the tape into two-inch loops, put it back on the spools, and have four tracks of haunting looped music that'll play 'til the oxide flakes away. There's no feature like that on the iPod, yet...nothing that lets you turn awful music into great music with a few flicks of a razorblade...

Rmj said...

Technology has certainly done great good.

But it ain't always the answer.

This is OT, sort of, but it struck me this morning, and I thought of your blog. NPR ran a story about scientists in Sri Lanka studying the ecological effects of the tsunami (or was that yesterday? 'cause I heard another one after that). Anyway, they went expecting an ecological disaster, but didn't find one.

They found damage to coral reefs, all right, but not from the tsunami. From pollution, human activity, etc., yes; the tsunami, no. In fact, had the coral reef not been so damaged by human (read: technological, in the modern sense) activity, the effect of the tsunami on land would have been much less. Mangrove groves, too, would have been a buffer, but they were removed long ago.

Then there's the technology that allows us to build huge hotels on the shore line. A park on Sri Lanka, on the side hit by the tsunami, showed no damage. Where hotels stood (and other buildings), there is rubble. Build inland, and leave the natural barriers in place, as the scientists said, and you don't need to spend billions on a warning system.

Guess what will happen? "Technology" will "triumph" again. And warn us. It won't prevent the same damage, the same loss of materiel, etc. But it will save lives.

More would be saved without it, of course, but, we don't do things that way.....

Wayne said...

I really appreciate this periodic Hopeful posting. It's so darned rich, as are the comments, that I have to sit and read and search before I can comment substantively. This particular one deserves more attention from me and after the sun goes down it will get it.

The trouble is, which gets priority - this one or the one dealing with motivation?