Onkalo, long term planning

How would you like to be the Project Manager on a construction project that is due to run through 2100? That’s what they’re doing 300 kms Northwest of Helsinki at Onkalo, a long term storage facility for highly radioactive nuclear waste. It’s a timely topic of discussion. While the uncontrollable spewage from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico from BP punching holes in the earth in search of oil, the Finnish Nuclear authorities are working on a place to keep the spent fuel rods confined and out of way, a trash bin, once full, we hope to forget.

Graphics from Poisiva project brochure

The crypt, 500 meters down in the bedrock granite that makes up most of Finland, will be sealed up sometime after 2100 when it’s full to capacity. Because it’s radioactive waste and will stay dangerous and lethal for a very long time, the design spec requires the storage facility to remain closed and impervious to breach for 100,000 years.

One hundred thousand years. Think about that. Put that to scale. The pyramids were built 4,000 years ago. The first cave dwellers popped up around 30,000 years ago. As Michael Madsen, director of Into Eternity, a documentary film about the project put it, “The human species as we know it today is believed to have existed for approx. 100,000 years.”

Planning for this timeline brings with it all kinds of challenges:

Geological changes predict another ice age within that time so in order to maintain the integrity of the tunnels, they need to be designed to withstand the weight of the anticipated two mile thick ice sheet.

Tomb raiders from future generations also need to be taken into consideration. Refined plutonium is valuable and a core ingredient for nuclear weapons and a valuable target turning this tomb into a treasure. If you think what happened to the pyramids when gold was discovered there, keep future generations out will be a challenge indeed.

It’s an anthropological puzzle. How do you look ahead thousands of generations and figure out how to keep people away? Do you post “No Trespassing” signs everywhere? If so, in what language? Or, is it better to forget this place, leave it unmarked and forgotten? When you lock it up, what kind of locks do you build? Who keeps the key? May this creepy trailer to Madsen’s film will do the trick.

A review of Into Eternity by the New York Times leaves us with this thought:

As a species, we are good at forgetting. So maybe the best, ultimate, defense against people messing with Onkalo would be simply to forget that it is there. The best way to keep a secret is not to let on that there is a secret at all.

But what about the ethical duty to warn those future generations with some kind of marker that would survive the scouring of Finland by glaciers and evolution of language? If, in fact, the canisters are rediscovered a few hundred years or a few thousand years from now, we can imagine our descendants’ reaction at having been left such a nasty surprise.

Of course, we ourselves could be surprised, like the peasant who found Qin’s army. One joke that went around the Onkalo project for a while, according to Mr. Madsen’s film, could have come straight from a novel by Arthur C. Clarke. What if, the team thought, the first thing it found when it started digging were canisters left by somebody else?

N900 PR 1.2 – Like Christmas Day

I’ve been playing around with the most recent upgrade to the Nokia N900 and it really is like Christmas. There are so many little tweaks to the core OS that it really is like having a new phone again. Geek Christmas.

After reading about Jason’s experience, Skype video calling  was the first thing I tried. Skype chat has been running on the phone since I got it but it’s nice to know that I can run video chat as well when the fancy strikes me. I called around to a  few people in Finland and the video and voice quality was surprisingly good over 3G. Google Video chat is supported as well but the quality on Skype was much better.

Droid theme

Instead of reading all the coverage, I thought I’d just poke around for a few days and see what I found. Here are the highlights:

  • The browser now officially supports portrait mode. No need to hack it and you’ve got basic navigation on the bottom to so you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between landscape and portrait.
  • In Settings > Text Input there is an option to add a virtual keyboard. I later read that it was there before.
  • No need to use the Sym key to enter numbers! A longpress will use the alternate number or symbol.

You’ll definitely want to add the extra repositories to the Application Manager (here’s how) to sample all the cool projects folks are working on. Do this at your own risk of course but anyone with an N900 knows that right? Some new apps to recommend that I need to add to my Software for your N900 page:

  • grr – quick and easy Google Reader app.
  • gTranslate – app that uses the Google Translate service
  • gPodder – podcatcher client
  • WordPress – blogging client

One note, BarrioSquare, the FourSquare client for the N900, fails on this release. You can get it working again, just fire up vi and edit a single line in barrioConfig.py and modify a single line. Fixed in the latest update of BarrioSquare!

One of the coolest apps I found was eSpeak, an opensource text to speech reader. It has controls for amplitude, pitch, speed, and other controls that you can tweak to get it sounding ok but what I thought was really cool is that not only does it come with a bunch of languages including Esperanto (!), it also can read your text is one of seven English accents.

Here’s a clip of the West Indian accent reading a popular email newsletter. See if you can guess which one.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The N900 is a tinker’s delight. There is so much you can do with this little box. You can root it, run xterm, install the latest Chrome browser. Check out the Instant Community prototype built by some students in Tampere along with Nokia Research, peer-to-peer disposable social networks.

Oh, and I should say the basic phone software improved, the sound quality seems better to me and I also get the feeling that performance has been optimized to improve battery life.

[Humor] Sponsored Conversations

What do you get when you combine speech recognition, contextual advertising, text-to-speech software, and a disruptive business model? A phone that’s free as long as you are willing to listen to advertising.


New Google Phone Service Whispers Targeted Ads Directly Into Users’ Ears

Don’t laugh, the idea has been kicked around before. But why stop there? You could link the price of the monthly contract to selected offers. Some other ideas,

  • Use GPS to verify check-ins at certain locations. As long as you’re at that location, long distance calls are free. Mom, I know it’s noisy at this bowling alley but as long as I’m here, this call is free.
  • Use 2D barcodes to redeem mobile coupons that unlock discounts. Buy a Big Mac and get 1000 text messages free.
  • Track coupon history for special offers. Feeling sick after that Big Mac? There’s a gym right down the road from you. Why not stop by for an orientation?

The mind reels.

Unfortunate Truth

Where Does Oil Come From?

With reports of large plumes of underwater oil making their way to the Louisiana coast, it now appears that the Gulf Oil spill will be much worse than imagined.

The image above is from the wonderful site, Fake Science.

For more on someone who’s doing something about the cleanup, listen to my friend Alex Wise interviewing Lisa Gautier, co-founder of Matter of Trust, an organization that collects scrap hair from barbershops and uses them to make specialty booms to soak up oil.