Archive for November 14th, 2013

The Sun is Acting Strangely

November 14, 2013
History of sunspot number observations showing...

History of sunspot number observations showing the recent elevated activity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Glenn Reynolds linked to this story at Slashdot.com about the puzzling behavior of the Sun. I wrote something about the worrisome lack of solar activity since the last cycle almost two years ago and it does not look as if things are getting any better. The Sun ought to be approaching the maximum point of its eleven year cycle but so far this maximum has not amounted to vary much.

 

“Robert Lee Hotz reports in the WSJ that current solar activity is stranger than it has been in a century or more. The sun is producing barely half the number of sunspots as expected, and its magnetic poles are oddly out of sync. Based on historical records, astronomers say the sun this fall ought to be nearing the explosive climax of its approximate 11-year cycle of activity—the so-called solar maximum. But this peak is ‘a total punk,’ says Jonathan Cirtain. ‘I would say it is the weakest in 200 years,’ adds David Hathaway, head of the solar physics group at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Researchers are puzzled. They can’t tell if the lull is temporary or the onset of a decades-long decline, which might ease global warming a bit by altering the sun’s brightness or the wavelengths of its light. To complicate the riddle, the sun also is undergoing one of its oddest magnetic reversals on record, with the sun’s magnetic poles out of sync for the past year so the sun technically has two South Poles. Several solar scientists speculate that the sun may be returning to a more relaxed state after an era of unusually high activity that started in the 1940s (PDF). ‘More than half of solar physicists would say we are returning to a norm,’ says Mark Miesch. ‘We might be in for a longer state of suppressed activity.’ If so, the decline in magnetic activity could ease global warming, the scientists say. But such a subtle change in the sun—lowering its luminosity by about 0.1%—wouldn’t be enough to outweigh the build-up of greenhouse gases and soot that most researchers consider the main cause of rising world temperatures over the past century or so. ‘Given our current understanding of how the sun varies and how climate responds, were the sun to enter a new Maunder Minimum, it would not mean a new Little Ice Age,’ says Judith Lean. ‘It would simply slow down the current warming by a modest amount.'”

 

I’m worried. We could be in for another Little Ice Age, which really wouldn’t be much fun at all. Wouldn’t be ironic, though, if all the carbon dioxide we are emitting was the only thing keeping the glaciers from moving south again? I think I read a science fiction book about that once.

 

 

 

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The Future of Fast Food

November 14, 2013

While automation has eliminated many jobs in the manufacturing sector of the economy, so far the service sector, especially the fast food industry has remained labor intensive, employing hosts of young and unskilled workers. That may be changing, however. Perhaps the future of fast food can be found at Bolt Burgers, a new restaurant in Washington D. C. What makes Bolt Burgers a little different is that when the restaurant opens, the process of ordering and getting your food will be as computerized and automated as possible. The Washington Post has the story.

No restaurant in D.C. has been better outfitted for the iPhone generation than the forthcoming Bolt Burgers. It is a restaurant full of screens — touchscreen systems for ordering your food and making your drinks, tablets at every table, and a 16-foot-wide projected TV screen to watch while you wait for your order.

You can order food without having a single interaction with another human being, which, for millennials who prefer texting and online ordering through Seamless to picking up the phone, is a major plus.

Michael Davidson, Joe Spinelli and other partners at Bolt Burgers are banking on it. When the 3,200-square-foot restaurant opens by Thanksgiving at 1010 Massachusetts Ave. NW, they’ll have put more than 18 months into perfecting the computer systems behind Bolt, a concept they plan to franchise.

There are several ways to order a Bolt burger, and one of them can be done from your office. An online pre-ordering system will allow customers to order in advance for both take-out and dine-in: Give the server your order number when you arrive and, if all goes according to plan, your food will be at your seat within 10 minutes.

If you haven’t pre-ordered, a server will present you with a table number if you plan to dine in. Use that to place your order at one of the touchscreen kiosks, or through the touchscreen tablet at your seat.

One of the technological centerpieces of Bolt Burgers is a no-flip burger grill. The device can cook a six-ounce burger in exactly three minutes, to the exact same level of doneness every time. It can make 1,200 burgers an hour. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Clayton. “I have the confidence that the guy at the grill will hit a button and get a perfect burger every time.”

The restaurant’s opening, in approximately three weeks, will depend on getting all of its systems up and running. “There’s a lot of complicated electronics that have to work,” Davidson said. When Bolt opens, it will seat about 80 people indoors and about 40 on the patio. It’s located in an area near the D.C. convention center that doesn’t yet have much competition — until the restaurants in the new Marriott Marquis open, at least — but is at the intersection of daytime workers, evening residents and out-of-town guests.

I don’t expect to see McDonald’s or Taco Bell doing anything like this soon. The costs of retooling and automating their restaurants would, at present, be far greater than any benefits they might gain from reducing their workforces. That could change if well meaning activists manage to have the minimum wage increased or making fast food restaurants pay their workers a living wage. Then,we could see a lot more places like Bolt Burgers opening up. I know that trying to make a living on $7 an hour is not much fun, but it is better than making $0 an hour, which might very well happen. It is not enough to be well meaning. You have to consider consequences.

 


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