Daily Archives: October 22, 2007

Hydrogen`s role in a nuclear renaissance


Nuclear energy is key to establishing a hydrogen-powered rail corridor in Toronto, says Greg Naterer, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).

A big issue with hydrogen, he says, is that 96 per cent of what’s produced in the world comes from fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, through a process called steam reforming. This results in greenhouse gases and other emissions.

The rest largely comes from a more expensive process called electrolysis, which is the use of electricity to separate water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Electrolysis has the potential to produce emission-free hydrogen, but only if the source electricity is itself emission-free – that is, it must come from wind, solar or hydroelectric generation. Nuclear power, if you ignore the radioactive waste, also fits the bill, and this has turned the nuclear industry into a big hydrogen-economy supporter as a way of boosting its own self-proclaimed renaissance.

“A hydrogen economy doesn’t make sense if we’re using fossil fuels to generate the hydrogen, so we need a method that doesn’t use fossil fuels,” says Naterer. “And right now hydrogen from electrolysis is too costly because it has to compete against other fuels.”

As research chair in advanced energy systems at UOIT, Naterer is leading a 24-member team that’s exploring a method of producing lower-cost hydrogen from the waste heat of nuclear plants. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago and universities across Ontario are also participating in the research effort.

Some have argued that surplus electricity from the overnight operation of nuclear reactors could be used to produce hydrogen, but UOIT and its research partners have their eye on a more economical approach. Instead of using nuclear power directly for electrolysis, they plan to use the waste heat from a nearby nuclear plant to extract hydrogen from steam.

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Toronto likely to approve new taxes


Toronto Council is likely to approve two new taxes later today, according to Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone. “I think that the mayor’s compromise is going to pass – that’s my sense, absolutely,” said Pantalone, who represents Ward 19 (Trinity Spadina). “From the discussion, that’s clear what’s going to happen. The opponents are disheartened.”

Pantalone made the comments after council broke for lunch today, in a debate that council has voted to continue until a vote tonight. The debate concerns the imposition of two new taxes – a land transfer tax and a vehicle registration tax – which together will raise $175 million next year.

That number is much reduced from the original package councillors voted to defer in July. That would have seen the city take in $356 million. But a compromise put forward by Mayor David Miller earlier in the day reduces that substantially this year, by among other things exempting first-time homebuyers of homes under $400,000 and grandfathering purchase agreements signed before the end of the year from having to pay the new tax.

Pantalone said the compromise, combined with the newfound support of the Toronto Board of Trade, has tipped the balance in what was an evenly divided council in the mayor’s favour.

Will the vote be close?

“It depends on what close means,” he said. “Does it mean one vote? It will be more than one vote. Is it unanimous? I don’t think it will be unanimous.”

However, it became clear that the tax package’s opponents were losing momentum.

Ward 34 (Don Valley East) Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, one of the most vocal opponents of the tax plan, didn’t move a single motion when he stood up to speak.

“Let me say to the mayor – these taxes are yours,” he said just after the lunch break.

But the delay that we had has worked well to taxpayers’ advantage. We have been told for months that these are necessary. But miraculously, it seems that we can do nicely with $50 million less. This is either a modern day loaves and fishes story or the fact is that this city is a management-free zone.”

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Vista and 100 Reasons Why Everyone’s So Speechless


“I wasn’t a big fan of the “Wow” campaign around Windows Vista. But its newest incarnation — 100 Reasons Why Everyone’s So Speechless — might be even worse.” Who is working at the marketing department for Microsoft? Why do set yourselves up for easy jokes?

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How Miller found his new groove


Seeking support for the vote on tax plan, the mayor discovers consensus. It was meant as an innocent political observation. It sounded like a lot more.

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Microsoft agrees: Windows is a “really large bloated operating system”


We’re seeing signs that Microsoft is rethinking its monolithic approach to not only the mass-market Windows operating system but the entire family of Windows products from servers down to CE-based embedded devices. While newly minted Windows head Steven Sinofsky continues to play his cards close to his chest, we’re seeing signs that Microsoft is rethinking its monolithic approach to not only the mass-market Windows operating system but the entire family of Windows products from servers down to CE-based embedded devices.

First up is a streamlined microkernel codenamed MinWin, around which a re-engineered Windows line will be built. Described as “the Windows 7 source-code base”, in reference to the successor to Windows Vista which is slated for a 2010 release, MinWin strips back the current NT-based kernel to the barest of bare metal.

“We’ll be using this internally to build all the products based on Windows” said Microsoft engineer Eric Traut, when he slipped the first public glimpse of MinWin into a demonstration of Microsoft’s virtualization technology at the University of Illinois last week.

After loading multiple versions of Windows from the original 1.0 release through to NT 4 – including Windows ‘Bob’ which earned a few chuckles from the audience and which Traut described as “not necessarily Microsoft’s proudest moment!” – Traut fired up an additional VM session to load MinWin, which he called “the core of Windows 7, the Windows 7 source-code base”.

Eye candy, begone: MinWin is so lean that even the Windows flag on the splash screen is rendered using ASCIIEye candy, begone: MinWin is so lean that even the Windows flag on the splash screen is rendered using ASCIIYou can forget about eye candy – the prototype microkernel doesn’t even contain a graphics subsystem in its current build, so the startup screen flashed a Windows flag created with ASCII characters.

You can also forget about almost every other other creature comfort of a modern operating system. Microsoft has ditched the lot in orde to get MinWin down to the point where it takes up 25MB of hard disk space and runs in 40MB of RAM.

“A lot of people think of Windows as this really large bloated operating system, and that may be a fair characterisation, I have to admit” Taut said. “It is large, it contains a lot of stuff, but at its core, the kernel and the components that make up the very core of the operating system are pretty streamlined.”

“It’s still bigger than I’d like it to be, but we’ve taken a shot at really stripping out all of the layers above and making sure that we had a clean architectural layer there, and we created what we call MinWin. About 100 files make up the system in total, compared to the 5,000 files that make up all of Windows.”

While Taut stressed that MinWin was an internal-only project which “you won’t see us productising, but you could imagine this being used as the basis for products in the future.” He later elaborated that “we’ll be using (MinWin) internally to build all the products based on Windows. It’s not just the OS that’s running on many laptops in this room, it’s also the OS used for media centres, for servers, for small embedded devices. It’s used in a lot of different ways, and this will provide the opportunity to move into a lot of different areas.”

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How to replace Windows completely with Ubuntu


We all know how far open source software has progressed, but has it come so far to not only challenge Windows, but replace it? Can you really install Linux and open source software in place of Windows, and want for nothing?

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Why I’ve moved from Vista to Ubuntu 7.10


“Have we reached the beginning of the tipping point? I think we may just have.” Since the late 90s I’ve dabbled with Linux, but there have always been compelling reasons to return to, or stick with, Windows. No more, for two reasons: Vista, and Ubuntu 7.10 (ala Gutsy Gibbon).

“Through all this time I have looked forward to each new version of Windows either because I expected it to be more stable, add better hardware support, or correct problems in some other way.”

And now onto Ubuntu.

I’ve been through dozens of Linux distros over the years and while I have wanted to like them, I’ve always found myself a little disappointed in some respect or other. No more.

Ubuntu has the slickest installation I have yet found in any OS.

Ubuntu makes it supremely easy to install extra software packages.

Ubuntu has a wonderfully useful and responsive 3D desktop, in the shape of Compiz Fusion. Ubuntu is fast, and is like a fresh breeze blowing through after my weeks of gazing at Vista, waiting for something to happen.

Ubuntu generally works just fine on my Santa Rosa laptop. I had to spend some time figuring out how to get Compiz Fusion working, but even that is relatively easy.

The other reason that Ubuntu does it for me is that over the past 12 months I’ve found myself increasingly using non-Microsoft products. Google Docs is usually open in a browser Window, OpenOffice.org has been on my home and work machines for some time now, and while I still use Outlook, I find Evolution quite useable. Even for those applications I use that are not available on Linux – such as Mindjet’s mind-mapping software – I find there are often quite suitable alternatives with some degree of file compatibility.

Of course this is just my experience, and this is just Ubuntu. Yet I have had a look at SuSE 10.3 which seems to be equally able, and this is not to even mention Apple’s Leopard OS which is due later this week and which can be relied upon to deliver a ‘wow’ factor that people have simply failed to see in Vista.

Have we reached the beginning of the tipping point? I think we may just have.

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