IEEE Spectrum Online: A Blogging Sampler

PHOTO: randi silberman

For those of you who haven’t yet spent much time on IEEE Spectrum’s Web site (http://www.spectrum.ieee.org), we thought we’d bring to your attention some of the interesting stuff that’s being discussed in our blog, Tech Talk (http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/techtalk). We’ll be adding lots of new bells and whistles to the site in the coming months, and blogging (by staff members and industry experts) will be greatly expanded. Here are some excerpts from recent postings. Visit! Comment!

Things You May Not Know About Numbers

23 February

Senior Associate Editor Steven Cherry looked into a Web site that wants to have something nice to say about every integer from 0 to 9999.

Now this is what makes the Web special.

Erich Friedman, an associate professor of mathematics at Stetson University, in DeLand, Fla., has a page called ”What’s Special About This Number?” (http://www.stetson.edu/~efriedma/numbers.html). It’s a list of interesting facts about some of the numbers from 0 to 9999.

Here are a few examples: 5 is the number of Platonic solids; 6 is the smallest perfect number; 7 is the smallest number of faces of a regular polygon that is not constructible by straightedge and compass; 8 is the largest cube in the Fibonacci sequence.

Did you know that 38 is the last Roman numeral when listed alphabetically (”lexicographically” in math lingo)? Or that 40 is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order? Or that 727 has the property that its square is the concatenation of two consecutive numbers? I sure didn’t.

Friedman doesn’t find an interesting fact for every number between 0 and 9999, but he does for 2849 of them, which is remarkable. Best of all, he is asking people to eâ''mail him (efriedma@stetson.edu) if they know of a distinctive fact about a number that hasn’t made his list yet.

We have a suggestion for the number 2600: it’s the number of nuclear power plants needed to equal the energy contained in 1 cubic mile of oil--which happens to be the amount the world currently uses ­annually. And 200 is the number of Three Gorges Dams it would take, and 5200 is the number of coal-fired plants needed. You see, Spectrum ’s editors are almost as obsessed with numbers as Friedman. [ Editor’s note: For proof of that principle, see ” Joules, BTUs, Quads--Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in the News section of January’s issue.]

Eyes On The Automotive X Prize

28 February

Automotive Editor John Voelcker got an early view of the competition for the X Foundation’s latest prize.

As everyone in the auto industry will tell you ad nauseam, cars are different. It’s a brutally competitive, capital-intensive, globe-spanning business, and these days, consumer tastes change faster than tooling cycles. So, how do you spur radical cuts in energy use and carbon dioxide emissions? Throw money at it! At least, that’s the theory behind the Automotive X Prize (http://www.xprize.org/xprizes/automotive_x_prize.html). It’s the latest privately funded competition to encourage technology innovation in a variety of disciplines, all courtesy of the X Prize Foundation.

The foundation’s previous competitions each had a fairly clear goal: to create the first privately developed spacecraft that launches successfully, for instance. The AXP is proving--well, different. And it brings with it some challenging questions: How should you weight the goal of reducing carbon emissions against that of lowering overall energy consumption? How do you compare energy usage among vehicles powered by gasoline, regular diesel or biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, natural gas--and electricity? Whose grid do you use to measure the greenhouse gases produced by generating that electricity? Should you take life-cycle energy consumption into account? And so on.

Mark Goodstein, the AXP’s cheerfully energetic executive director, took the classic approach. He invited two dozen world experts into a windowless conference room to air their views for a day, carefully moderating the discussions to prevent bloodshed. The decisions from this Energy Efficiency Working Group, held 9 February in Pasadena, Calif., will feed into the final set of rules for the Automotive X Prize, which are to be released 4 April at the New York Auto Show. I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the proceedings, but we’ll have a full story online the day the rules come out. [Editor’s note: In the meantime, check out Voelcker’s latest story, ”Top Ten Tech Cars,” in this issue.]

The editorial content of IEEE Spectrum magazine does not reflect official positions of the IEEE or its organizational units. Please address comments to Forum atn.hantman@ieee.org.

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