Monday, May 30, 2005

Cambodian Villagers Power Up With Biogas

At the centre of the experiment is a device called a biological gas digester – or biodigester – which converts a by-product of manure into cooking gas. The technology has taken hold in other countries as a way to generate gas or electricity, and now an independent development group is hoping to spread it to Cambodia’s poor rural people.

Brendan Boucher, the Australian co-ordinator for the non-profit Cambodian Rural Development Team, which is financed by donations from abroad, introduced the project last year in Tamoung.

Now, Som Chhear's biodigester not only provides him with free cooking gas, but also with nutrient-rich effluent – organic fertiliser – that “keeps my vegetable garden green for all seasons.”

Human and animal waste is flushed through the toilet into a plastic “digester” tube 10m long and 1.5m in diameter that sits in a ditch under a thatched roof. At the far end, a knee-deep trench collects liquid residue for use as fertiliser.

A PVC pipe attached to the tube’s midsection channels methane gas emitted by the manure mix into a plastic storage bag in the house, from which it is fed into the stove. Each unit cost about 400,000 riel ($100) to set up.

Boucher says biogas units are part of an integrated development package of water wells, fish ponds, vegetable gardens and training in farming methods, all meant to bolster food security. About half of Cambodia’s 13 million people live on less than 4,000 riel ($1) a day, so many families are at the mercy of nature for their sustenance. The entire package for Tamoung village cost 540,440,000 riel ($13,511), which was paid by the Australian government.

Twenty-five biodigesters were installed, serving 30 of the village’s 130 families.

His family has been using the new technology to generate power for four months.

“Sometimes, we even use the power from the generator to operate our karaoke machine and sing for fun,” he says.
Nice, nothing quite like using animal feces to fire up the old karaoke machine.

I remember being out trekking in the hills of Thailand and staying at a hill tribe village. While everything seemed primitive, I wandered over and found a guy who was hooking up a laptop to some speakers and a microphone for a little karaoke night.

I like this idea of using the human and animal waste to create methane. I am not quite sure that the economics of this project work though. $100 to buy sounds cheap in the US, but at $1 day of income, this is a 1/3 of a year's wages. So this is like buying a new car in the US.

I wonder why you couldn't just have one of these devices per village, where you train one person to collect all of the animal waste and then capture the methane. He could then sell the methane to people who wanted it. A small business would have the advantage of making it easier to capitalize the system and allow one person to become an expert at it.

via The Star Online


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Argentine Town Hopes Wind Equals Windfall

The town gets more than half of its electricity from four windmills, two of which began operating three weeks ago. Last month, a small village nearby was designated as one of five places in the world that would be powered solely by alternative fuels as part of a U.N. pilot project. And in June, Pico Truncado plans a grand opening for the first wind-powered hydrogen production plant in Latin America.

The isolated town is in the perfect position to catch the eastbound winds that consistently pour over the Andes and build to speeds of 40 to 70 mph.
I like the idea of using windmills in a town where the wind blows at that speed. Seems like a great place to put windmills and where it has the best chance of being economical.
The town has begun to sense the potential benefits from its invisible resource. This year, an Argentine oil company announced it was launching feasibility studies for an internationally financed, $19 billion wind-powered facility that would export hydrogen around the world.

"It was a very democratic decision," said Juan Carlos Bolcich, president of the Argentine Hydrogen Association and the director of the facility. "At town council meetings, the population said, 'What's going to happen when our natural gas is depleted?' "

The German government agreed to help finance the installation of two new windmills in 2001. Two years later, the town decided to stake its future on the wind, announcing that it would spend $500,000 to partly finance the construction of the hydrogen production plant.

Despite predictions that hydrogen could be a feasible replacement for petroleum, significant hurdles remain. The technology to generate hydrogen is fairly expensive, and creating a method to transport it as well as building networks of hydrogen filling stations would add significantly to the costs.
This part of the story I am not so keen on. I am not a big believer that economic decisions should be made democratically. This reminds me of the story in Michael Moore's Roger and Me movie, where the city of Flint(?) saw that GM was pulling out and that they needed a new source of income. So they decided to invest in tourism and built motels and a museum and themepark around the idea of building automobiles. They were all convinced it was going to be a success, it had to be a success because otherwise people would not have jobs and have to move. But, some how the idea of a automobile museum just didn't catch on and the whole thing was a huge economic disaster.

So this part about creating hydrogen is a bit concerning to me. As I have stated multiple times, I am not a big believer in the hydrogen economy. It is just too bad that you can't just transfer energy down a copper wire, that would make things so much easier. Oh wait, you can do that! Instead of hydrogen, why not just export the extra electricity generated? Seems like that would be easier to do and just as beneficial environmentally if it helped to reduce coal burning electricity plants elsewhere.

And how exactly are they going to transport the hydrogen, in a bunch of Hindenburgs? Notice how this article has no numbers as to how much energy is lost in the transformation to hydrogen or how much the hydrogen would sell for, or how to transport it? I really think you want to transport energy as a liquid. They should figure out a way to turn the electricity into methanol or another easy to transport liquid that then could be used in vehicles. With methane if you put it under pressure you can get liquefied natural gas and transport it that way. But I believe you need a much higher pressure to do that with hydrogen.

via The Seattle Times


Friday, May 27, 2005

Where Does Your Tax Money Go?

Good article by PARADE Magazine that looks at the national budget.

Total US Spending for 2005: $2.5 Trillion

Largest sources of Income:
$894 billion from Income Tax
$774 billion from Payroll Taxes
$226 billion from Corporate Income taxes
$427 billion or more from Borrowing (this is how much we are borrowing if you don't believe in the Social Security Trust fund. If you believe that it is real and that the government can borrow money to itself, then you should add another $150 billion to this number or $577 billion)

Largest sources of Spending:
$527 billion for the Military
$521 billion for Medicare and Medicaid
$519 billion for Social Security
$321 billion for debt payments
$200 billion for other social programs


Fat Knowledge Search Rankings

I was getting a couple of comments from people I didn't know, so I hooked up a site meter to see what kind of traffic I was getting and where it was coming from.

Turns out lots of people are coming in via searches on Yahoo and Google. I have been having fun seeing what people are searching on and where I rank.

I have been getting mad love from the search term "homesourcing". This is the way most people are coming to my blog. I am was actually ranked #1 now #2 on Yahoo (which once again makes me wonder how good a search engine Yahoo really is). But, I am also #14 on Google so that is some serious cred.

I am ranked #1 on Yahoo for "how much gold is there in the world" so that is cool. I also am was ranked #1 on Google for "Industry Brains 16W", but that doesn't mean much because that search means nothing.

I am embarrassed that I am was #5 on Yahoo for "us foreign debt". This is really scary, this is a real topic that should have tons of good webpages on it. I felt much better after finding out I don't make the top 60 on Google for this term.

I am stoked that I am #3 on Google for "Pimped out volkswagen golfs", #16 on Google for "megadorks", #4 on Yahoo for "japanese kamasutra" (might have helped that I misspelled this as one word), #3 on Yahoo for "shot down in a blaze of glory" and #4 on Yahoo for "hate something change something honda".

On the more serious side of searches, Fat Knowledge ranked #6 for "hydrothermal vents lifeforms" (this was from the Netherlands, where Fat Knowledge is almost as huge as David Hasselhoff, but we also get a 9 ranking for this term in the US), #20 for "ethanol from biomass from corn", #19 for "Art of Questioning" and #27 for "are viruses alive".


Masterbation Viagra makes you go Blind

Turns out that its not spanking the monkey that makes you go blind but rather Viagra.

From ABC:

There are 38 reported cases of blindness among users of Viagra, four among those using Sialis and one using Levitra.

The US Food and Drug Administration is discussing labelling with the drugs' manufacturers.

Ophthalmologist Howard Pomerantz says the loss of sight is permanent.
Tough call, loss of eye sight or of the erection. Well I guess there is always braille and seeing eye dogs.


Agriculture is not Natural

I see a lot of shopper that want to buy "natural" food. But, I just don't get it. Too often "natural" means whatever the state of technology was when one was born. Natural for humans is to be hunter gatherers not farmers. The Australian Aborigines lived for 30,000 years in this way and probably could have continued to live for another 30,000. Maybe instead of looking for natural food, we should revert to our "natural" hunter gather lifestyle. Is this possible?

From Our People, Our Resources:

According to historical and ethnographic studies, the density of hunter-gatherer populations has ranged from an estimated 1.15 inhabitants per square kilometer for the Amerinds of pre-conquest western North America, to 0.15 inhabitants per square kilometer registered in the 1960s among the Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of Botswana in southern Africa.
The earth has 148.94 million sq km. At 1 inhabitant per kilometer, the earth could support 150 million people or 1/40 of our 6 billion population. This is about half the US population. Now, I am totally cool with switching back to the hunter gather lifestyle, but I don't think we are going to be able to convince the 5.85 billion people that need to leave the earth that it is such a good idea. So we are stuck with agriculture.

Agriculture is in no way a "natural" state for the environment. When scientists look into when climate change started to occur, it did not start with the industrial age, it started in the agricultural age when forests were cut down and replaced with farms releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere.

In Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel he shows how all of the grains we currently eat (and that are the heart of agriculture) did not evolve naturally but rather were manipulated by humans for the properties that make them good crops.
The oldest corn cobs are barely more than half an inch long, but Mexican Indian farmers of A.D. 1500 already had developed six-inch cob, and some modern cobs are one and a half feet long.
There is no such thing as a crop that has not been manipulated by humans in some way.

So lets drop the "natural" tag, and instead try to create the healthiest tastiest crops in the least envirornmentally damaging way. By this I mean lets grow crops that minimize: soil erosion/degradation, pesticide use, water use, total land under cultivation, and energy required for fertilizer and transportation to market, while maximizing how good they taste and how healthy they are to eat.
If we are genetically modifying our crops so they help the above metrics, I am all for it. We have been genetically modifying our crops through selective breeding since agriculture began. If we can use these techniques to make our crops less environmentally damaging, healthier and tastier, lets do it.

Then there are the tricky ones. If we can use fertilizer which requires fossil fuels (or in the future renewable energy) to create, but can triple crop yield so that we need only 1/3 the amount of land (and could therefore set aside the other 2/3 for forests or land for nature) should we do it?

If crops grow much better in the tropics but then would need to be shipped 2,000 mile north for the consumers to eat them, should we do it? Transportation via cargo ships averages about 600 ton-miles/gallon depending on size. Sending 1 ton 1,800 miles takes 3 gallons of fuel. Yes, there will be energy spent to transport them, but it could be that the increased crop yield in the better environment more than makes up for it.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Black Market Organ Trade is Baghdad's New Growth Industry

Ali Hameed quit his job as a taxi driver because he no longer felt safe on Baghdad's streets. Increasingly desperate for money to help him get married, he hit on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity - selling one of his kidneys.

Last week, in a shabby ward in the city's Al Karama hospital, he lay bandaged on a bed, one kidney lighter and $1,400 (about £765) richer after a three-hour operation.

With unemployment in Iraq at about 60 per cent, the chance to earn money by touting body parts is a more calculated risk than, say, becoming a $150-a-month rookie policeman at the mercy of suicide attackers.
Couple of thoughts here. Isn't the standard way to make money off of your body with blood and sperm? And I bet they can use some blood in Baghdad.

Second, I would think that there are lots of "recently deceased" in the greater Baghdad area that would allow for a bountiful supply of second hand body parts. Or maybe Paul Bremer never got around to adding the organ donor box to the Iraqi driver licenses. In hind sight that might of been a good thing to have gotten pushed through.
As news of the black market trade has spread, however, wealthier transplant "tourists" from around the Arab world have started flocking to Baghdad, attracted by the rock-bottom prices.

If car bombs, kidnappings and robberies are a deterrent, the price compares favorably to the $5,000 cost of a kidney on the black market in Turkey, or $3,000 in India. In Iraq, the operation itself typically costs $2,000.
You know as attractive as a price as that is, I still think I am going to spend my surgical tourism dollar in Africa. Call me a snob, but I like my carnage organic, with the lions and the gazelles. This human carnage just seems artificial and doesn't do it for me.

via Telegraph


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

La Vida Robot

This is a great story about 4 high school students from the mean streets of Phoenix taking on the best from M.I.T. in the national underwater bot championship. I highly recommend this inspirational article.

via Wired


Friday, May 20, 2005

Horses vs. Cars

After reading about switchgrass I realized that there was another form of transportation that also runs on grass: horses. Which made me wonder how horses would compare with cars in "fuel efficiency".

Caveat: Everything I know about horses is courtesy of a 5 minute Google search that gave me this site and this pdf. So these numbers could be way off.

A standard horse weighs about 1,000 lbs and eats 2% of its body weight in dry feed a day or 20 lbs. The Pony Express horses worked 25 miles a day. Assuming that a horse can average 25 miles a day every day, that works out to a horse going 1.25 mile/pound of feed.

To give the cars their best chance I will go with the Prius and its 50 mpg fuel economy. From the switch grass post we know that 1 ton of switch grass can create 33 gallons of gasoline or 1 gallon is created from 2,000 lbs / 33 = 60 lbs of switchgrass. 50 mpg / 60lbs per pound = A Prius goes .83 miles/pound of switchgrass.

So the horse comes in 50% more efficient than the Prius. I am really surprised that the car is even that close. Of course you have to feed the horse for the entire day and only a small portion of that energy goes to transporting humans vs. the car that only uses energy when running, so that works out to the car's benefit. If you were to have 2 people in the Prius vs. 2 people on two horses, the Prius would actually take the lead. And there are other issues in this comparison as a horse can only go 25 miles a day, and only at 9mph which wouldn't really cut it for modern transportation.

Now lets look at this it terms of how much land would be required to support the energy, the transportation "footprint". For the horse 20 lbs * 365 = 3.65 tons a year. At 5 dry tons per acre yield of switchgrass (see previous post) that works out to .73 acres/year footprint for a horse.

For the Prius, lets assume you drive 12,000 miles a year at 50mpg = 240 gallons. At 165 gallons per acre, this comes to 1.45 acres/year footprint for a Prius. So the footprint for a Prius is just about double that of a horse.

Interestingly, I was watching a Modern Marvels (still the best show on television) a while back and they stated that tractors allowed farmers to get rid of approximately 23 million draft animals. To feed them took 80 million acres of pasture and 80 million acres of crop land. I am not quite sure the date on this but I believe it would have to be early 1900s. 160/23 = 7 acres per animal, which is 10 times what I estimated for my horse. I am not sure how to reconcile the order of magnitude difference. This Modern Marvels also said that fertilizer allowed crop yields to triple, so maybe that is part of it. It is also interesting that we used to set aside 160 million acres for draft animals, and now some are proposing using 140 million acres for switchgrass to create biofuel for our vehicles. The more things change the more they stay the same.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Switchgrass for Ethanol has a very interesting report: Growing Energy: How Biofuels Can End America's Oil Dependence (.pdf)

In it they talk about growing Switchgrass to create ethanol (and possibly some biodiesel). I had never heard of Switchgrass before. Basically it is a type of grass native to North America that grows to about 5-10 ft tall. Compared to using corn to create ethanol, Switchgrass would create much more ethanol per acre. It would require having a processing plant that convert cellulose to ethanol (see previous post).

The report states that with current technology, farmers could grow 5 dry tons/acre/year of switchgrass in the US. Current cellulose to ethanol conversion has a yield of 50 gallons (energy equivalence of 33 gallons of gasoline due to ethanol's lower density) per ton. One acre of switchgrass therfore yields 250 gallons of ethanol or 165 gallons of gasoline a year.

Switchgrass also has many positive environmental benefits as well. It causes less soil runoff, uses less fertilizer and has deep roots which sequester carbon below the ground. Also it is more friendly to birds and other animals than current crop fields.

This report then goes and makes some predictions which seem pretty audacious, but plausible given previous technology gains elsewhere. They predict that in the next 45 years we could increase yield from 5 to 12.5 tons per acre, and increase the output per ton from 105 gallons of ethanol from 50. So one acre would produce 1,312 gallons of ethanol. They believe this could be produced for $.39-.69 a gallon, and could then be sold to customers in a price range of a $1.00 a gallon.

They believe the US could create 108 billion gallons of gasoline from 114 million acres in 2050. That along with major increases in fuel economy would allow the US to be energy independent. 114 million acres is a big number (given that currently farm and rangeland in the US totals 700 million acres), but they believe that they can use 30 million acres that are currently in grass as part of the Conversation Resource Program. They also believe that land that is growing soybeans (73 million acres) for animals could be switched over as the switchgrass also produces a good amount of protein.

Not sure how realistic any of these assumptions are but to my novice eye it does seem plausible. And even if it doesn't get that far, it still can make a major dent in our energy imports and co2 emissions.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

5%, 25%, 50%

When I am thinking about the US's role in the world I like to keep 3 percentages in mind: 5%, 25%, 50%.

5% - percentage of people in the world who live in the US
25% - percentage of world oil that the US consumes
50% - percentage of world spending on defense that the US spends

Other percentages are fairly close:
6% of total land on earth
21% of total world GDP
50% of total spending on health care

To generalize, the US has about 1/20 of the total world space and people, consumes 1/4 of the world's resources (as well as produces 1/4 of total output), and spends 1/2 of the world's expenditures on defense and health care.


They’re Grrrrreat!

How wrong is that? Humans aren't supposed to be breast feeding other species.
Just imagine if the opposite occurred. What if little human children were drinking the breast milk of another species for breakfast. What if they had a bowl filled with sugary grains and doused with another species breast milk. Nobody would stand for that.


Life at the Top in America Isn't Just Better, It's Longer

Interesting (but really long) article that compares how 3 people in different classes differ after having a heart attack. While the upper class man does much better than the middle class man who does much better than the lower class woman, the reasons for it are many. It is not just that the upper class man has access to better health care, it is that he can more easily switch to a healthier diet and exercise, that he can switch his job to one with less stress, that he has supportive friends and family. The lower class woman on the other hand has only friends and family that smoke and eat fatty foods. She quits smoking but then starts eating more to compensate. Then she decides that she needs to lose wait so she follows a diet that she read in a magazine. She is from Poland and her English isn't that good, so she can't always understand what the doctor is saying.

While it first you might think it unfair that those that are in the upper class are healthier and live longer, after you read this article you realize that this problem cannot be easily solved by doing something like universal health care. Universal health care would probably help those on the bottom, but it won't give them the will power to stay on a health diet and exercise regiment, it won't give them the support of friends and family required to make major changes in their lifestyle, it won't give them the curiosity and drive to read up on the internet about their particular situation and how best to treat it.

via New York Times


Blood-Powered Fuel Cells

A Japanese research team has developed a fuel cell that runs on blood without using toxic substances, opening the way for use in artificial hearts and other organs.

The newly developed cell in the size of a tiny coin is able to generate 0,2 milliwatts of electricity, enough to power a device that measures blood sugar level and transmits data elsewhere, the group said.
Very cool. Powering real time body diagnostic devices sounds pretty good. But really, I can't wait until the day that I can recharge my cell phone by eating a candybar and having my glucose powered fuel cell recharge it. Or maybe by then the cell phone itself will be implanted in my body as well.

via IOL via Boing Boing


Monday, May 16, 2005

Subscription Overload!

Call it the digital-lifestyle tax. If you want to be plugged in - to the Web, music, TV, movies, news, and phone networks - you have to pay. And pay. And pay some more. How much will all those subscriptions cost you? Almost as much as a car payment.
Of course here at Fat Knowledge we believe you should just substitute the subscriptions for the car payment. We are big fans of the subscription economy. Instead of building your library of music or movies, instead just get a subscription to somebody else's library. Better for the environment and better selection for yourself. Instead of buying stuff, buy access to other's creative work.
Cable or satellite TV (Comcast gold package): $87.94
Broadband Internet access (SBC DSL): $19.99
Voice-over IP phone service (Vonage Premium Plan): $24.99
Mobile phone and data service (Cingular): $39.98
Satellite radio (Sirius): $12.95
Streaming music service (Rhapsody): $9.95
Mobile headlines (SPOT watch): $9.95
DVR service (TiVo): $12.95
DVD service (Netflix): $17.99
Online news site (Salon): $2.92
Online game (X Box Live): $4.17
Total: $ 243.78
Yup, that looks about right. The thing about all these subscriptions is that they require your attention in order to consume them. So unless you are a crazy multitasker who is playing a little Xbox live while talking on the phone while surfing the net with music and TV on in the background, the more you use of one of the subscriptions the less you use of the others (since the amount of time you have to consume is fixed).

via Wired Magazine


Friday, May 13, 2005

New Theory on Beginning of Life

So, I am sitting back and watching the tele, channel surfing between various shows when I stumble on Bill Nye on the 100 Greatest Discoveries on the Discover Channel HD. He is talking to a scientist who deals with the lifeforms on the hydrothermal vents on the bottom of the ocean or black smokers, that run through the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans like the stitches on a baseball. This ecosystem has fascinated me ever since I rented a DVD from Netflix created by Blue Planet on it.

This ecosystem is unique because it is not based on the sun's energy to sustain life but rather energy from the earth's core. The bacteria down there use chemosynthesis and use hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals as enjoy sources rather than the bacteria and plants on the earth's surface that use photosynthesis to capture the energy in sunlight. The thermal vents ecosystem supports clams and sponges and fish all from this bacteria that can make use of the chemical energy in methane, hydrogen sulfide and other chemicals.

But, I knew most of that before I watched the show. Then the guy starts blowing me away. First he says that there is more biomass (total weight of the biological matter) that exists in these deep water hydrothermal vents then the rest of the world combined! The amazing thing is that no one knew these hydrothermal vents supported life until 1977. So until 1977 we were completely ignorant of over 1/2 the life on the earth. Really makes you wonder what else we don't know.

Then he says that it is possible that life on earth started in these deep sea hydrothermal vents rather than on the surface. It makes sense because this is a stable environment that would have been easier to start in vs. the surface where the sun only shines for 1/2 the day. I also find it ironic that they always refer to this environment as being "toxic" due to the hydrogen sulfide and methane and high acidity. That's right, the place where all life potentially began was in a "toxic" environment.

Then he says that scientists are now looking for life on other planets in areas similar to these hydrothermal vents. One of the moons of Saturn has such an environment, and possibly has life. That is pretty mind blowing stuff. Scientists don't even know about this until 1977 and now we know they have more biomass than the rest of the world, it is potentially the origin of life on earth, and it could allow life on other planets to exist. Wow!


Emails 'Pose Threat to IQ'

The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis, according to a survey of befuddled volunteers. The average IQ loss was measured at 10 points, more than double the four point mean fall found in studies of cannabis users.

Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep.

The most damage was done, according to the survey, by the almost complete lack of discipline in handling emails. Dr Wilson and his colleagues found a compulsion to reply to each new message, leading to constant changes of direction which inevitably tired and slowed down the brain.
That does it. I am going to get away from the computer and go light up a fat one. Better for my brain.

via Guardian Unlimited


Wednesday, May 11, 2005


In Tom Friedman's book The World is Flat, he talks about all sorts of "sourcings": outsourcing, insourcing, open-sourcing, and homesourcing. Homesourcing is talking a job and allowing people to do it at their home. Friedman takes the example of Jet Blue where their reservation agents are Mormon housewives living in Salt Lake City.

I like this trend. As Americans spend more and more time working, now more can spend those hours at home. For working parents I think this is much better for families. Also from an environmental perspective this is a big win as offices are horrible. First you have to build them. Then you have to use all sorts of energy to run them. Then you have people commuting to and from them each day. The more people that work at home, the better it will be for families and the environment. And any job that can be "digitized" can be homesourced. So tons of jobs are available for this type of transition.

The Seattle PI did a nice write up on the trend.

More than 100,000 U.S. workers now field customer service calls from home, according to a recent report by consulting firm IDC. During the next two years, one of every 10 U.S. call centers is likely to shift at least partly to home-based agents, according to another report by consultant Gartner Inc.

Some dub it "homeshoring."

It's not as cheap as offshoring, the shift of operations to countries with pools of low-paid but well-educated workers. But companies bent on cutting costs also see home agents as a way to avoid some of the consumer complaints common to overseas call centers.


GE Will Double Spending on Ecofriendly Products

Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt will announce plans in Washington, D.C., today to double its research and development spending in the next five years for "cleaner products" including jet engines, power generation and locomotives, the company said in a statement.

General Electric, based in Fairfield, Conn., expects the spending increase to double sales from businesses that use wind turbines to create power, treat water and reduce greenhouse-emitting gasses. The push is part of a company-wide program called "ecomagination" that also includes goals for the reduction of greenhouse gases by General Electric facilities and increased energy conservation.

General Electric, the world's largest maker of turbines for power plants, locomotives, jet engines and medical imaging equipment, has its products measured by GreenOrder, an environmental consulting firm.
Great to see that GE has made the environment such an important priority. Even better to see that this is something that they think their customers will want. This GreenOrder company looks interesting.

via Seattle PI


Monday, May 09, 2005

Biomass-to-Ethanol Bacteria

A genetically engineered E. coli bacteria that produces fuel ethanol from biomass waste such as corn stover is being used as the basis for a commercial ethanol plant currently under development.

BC International plans to build a 30-million-gallon biomass-to-ethanol plant in Jennings, La, based on the genetically engineered bacteria. The plant, due to be operational by the end of 2006, will use sugarcane waste as the main feedstock.
I love this stuff. Toss a couple of genes from yeast into a bacteria and now all that left over agricultural waste that used to be burned to get rid of it can now be turned into a useful form of energy.

via Green Car Congress


Relax to Win Sensor

The game is based on the concept that the more you relax, the more you will achieve in the game.

In order to realize the concept, Philips Design designed a device to measuer the player's galvanic skin response and sends the data by wireless connection to a PC or cell phone screen. To play the game, simply slide it between any two fingers and relax. You see yourslef on screen as a friendly dragon; the more you relax the more your dragon will float and eventually fly. the mesh-like textile material contains sensors but is soft to the touch.
Cool stuff.

via Royal Philips Electronics via BoingBoing via Gizmodo


Saturday, May 07, 2005

One Man's Way to Better Schools

Interesting take on schools by George Will.

The idea, which will face its first referendum in Arizona, is to require that 65 percent of every school district's education operational budget be spent on classroom instruction. On, that is, teachers and pupils, not bureaucracy
Wait, we currently spend more than 35% on school bureaucracy? Isn't a good ratio for a non-profit about 10% of spending goes to administration? Over 1/3 of school money is going to administration? That seems really high.
Nationally, 61.5 percent of education operational budgets reach the classrooms. Why make a fuss about 3.5 percent? Because it amounts to $13 billion. Only four states (Utah, Tennessee, New York, Maine) spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in classrooms. Fifteen states spend less than 60 percent. The worst jurisdiction -- Washington, D.C., of course -- spends less than 50 percent.
Wow, those are crazy numbers. In Washington DC over 1/2 of all school money goes to administration. Wow.
Much of the reallocated money under the 65 percent requirement would go for better pay for teachers, which is wiser than just adding more teachers. Chester Finn, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that, while the number of pupils grew 50 percent in the past half-century, the number of teachers grew almost 300 percent. But if the number of teachers had grown apace with enrollments, and school budgets had risen as they have, teachers' salaries today would average nearly $100,000 instead of less than half that.
Interesting point. Surprising that in the last 50 years pupils grew by 50% and teachers by 300% and yet it sure seems like class sizes have gotten bigger. Don't know how to reconcile that.
Under the 65 percent rule, Arizona, which spends 56.8 percent in classrooms, could use its $451 million transfer to classrooms to buy 1.5 million computers or to hire 11,275 teachers. California (61.7 percent) could use its $1.5 billion transfer to buy 5 million computers or to hire 37,500 teachers. Illinois (59.5 percent) would transfer $906 million to classrooms (3 million computers or 22,650 new teachers).
I don't know enough about education to know if this 65% rule is a good thing or not, but it sure strikes me that 35% is a ton to spend on overhead.



Pope's Old Car Sells on Ebay

Pope Benedict XVI's former car has sold for nearly a quarter of a million dollars after an Internet auction that saw bids rocket in the space of a few hours.
Sweet, I want to pick up that pimped out pope mobile and drive around in the bullet proof glass cocoon.
The highest winning offer for the 1999 model metallic grey Volkswagen Golf when bidding closed was just under 189,000 euros (244,000 dollars).
What the fuck? Volkswagen Golf, that isn't what the pope drives around in. Everyone knows the pope has a pope mobile. Who the hell would pay $250,000 for a Volkswagen Golf?
The new owner is an online casino that has paid high prices for novelty auctions in the past.
Oh, an undisclosed online casino. I would guess that would mean (see previous post on the monkey). And now the media is on to this gig to get free press and they won't even mention them by name in the article. Well at least they got a car that the previous pope drove.
In fact Ratzinger likely never drove it. According to Roman Catholic Church sources, he does not have a driving permit.
Alright now this is getting ridiculous. Why would the pope have a car if he can't even drive? And how can you grow up in Germany with the Autobahn and not learn to drive? I mean no speed limits, what kind of 16 year old would pass up that opportunity?

via Yahoo! News


Friday, May 06, 2005

IT in the Health-Care Industry

Good article trying to figure out why the health care industry uses so little IT with all sorts of interesting stats and figures.

According to David Bates, the head of general medicine at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and an expert on the use of IT in health care, the industry invests only about 2% of its revenues in IT, compared with 10% for other information-intensive industries.

According to the Institute of Medicine, a non-governmental organisation in Washington, DC, preventable medical errors—from unplanned drug interactions, say—kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people each year in America alone. This makes medical snafus the eighth leading cause of death, ahead of car accidents, breast cancer and AIDS.

HP's Mr Miller reckons that redundancy and inefficiency account for between 25% and 40% of the $3.3 trillion the world spends on health care every year, and could be eliminated with proper IT. A study from a clinical research centre at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire reaches a similar conclusion, estimating that a third of America's $1.6 trillion in annual health-care spending (as of 2003) goes to procedures that duplicate one another or are inappropriate.
If my math is correct, the US has $1.6/$3.3= 48% of the world's health expenditures with just 5% of the world's population. That's mind blowing.
Also in February, a statistician of the health department in Palm Beach County, Florida, inadvertently e-mailed a list of more than 6,000 HIV carriers to all employees of the department.
Doh! Damn Reply vs. Reply All.



Its the Oil, Stupid

A line from the "Saving Iraq From Its Oil" made me think:

Vicious fights over the distribution of resources often result. These battles are often portrayed as ethnic rivalries, when in fact they might actually be simple fights to monopolize wealth.
Could the fight for oil revenue be the true reason for the Iraqi insurgency? Hmm, Shiites in the south have oil fields. Kurds in the north have oil fields. But the Sunnis have no oil fields in the west of Iraq. Most of the Shiites and Kurds have bought into the new government while the insurgency is mainly Sunnis.

Iraq pumps about 2 million barrels of oil a day. At $50/barrel that comes to $100 mil a day or $37 billion a year. With that kind of money at stake there is plenty of incentive to fight for a piece of it.

While the foot soldiers in this battle truly believe they are fighting for religious or ethnic reasons, those higher up are motivated by the oil wealth (similar to how no American soldiers are over there to fight for oil, but it was a crucial reason why the decision was made by the Bush administration).

Although you never hear this motivation for the insurgency reported in the media, I think it has a lot to do with it. Everyone is talking about Islamic Fundamentalist and ex-Baathists, but really I think there are a lot of people in this insurgency that are just motivated to get a fat piece of the oil revenue pie.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Saving Iraq From Its Oil

Heard about this Foreign Affairs article (pdf) in Tom Friedman's The World is Flat book. Then I saw the authors on Charlie Rose last night.

Oil and mineral wealth can be bad for growth and democracy, since they tend to impede the development of institutions and values critical to open, market-based economies and political freedom: civil liberties, the rule of law, protection of property rights and political participation.
Lots of really interesting examples and insights on this topic. I highly recommend reading this.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

At Dartmouth, Advanced Wi-Fi

This sounds pretty sweet.

A major wireless convergence project that has taken Dartmouth's phone, cable and wireless systems and condensed them into one Wi-Fi network. The switch, which started in 2001 and will be complete with the wireless cable rollout this fall, includes the addition of 1,400 wireless access points and 24,000 wired ports across the campus of the 236-year-old college, the first in the country to completely integrate its communications systems into a wireless infrastructure.

The first phase of the cable rollout will put the school's cable television system online. After that, students, professors and anyone else on the overall network will be able to make up his or her own "channel," showing movie clips, video projects or presentations with cable-quality video.

Students will be able to catch the latest episode of MTV's "Pimp My Ride" or any other television show anywhere on campus - including in class.

Dartmouth standardized its wireless protocol and increased its capacity by uniting two versions of wireless, 802.11b and 802.11g, on its central server, both of which can be retrieved anywhere off campus with wireless access and a Dartmouth computer or port.

College officials said that Dartmouth saved $2.07 million by updating and condensing its current system instead of replacing it, and saves nearly $1 million annually on maintenance, cabling and salary costs.
Not clear to me how exactly they are getting cable TV over wireless. Is it VOD, or is it still broadcast based where you have to turn to a channel (and therefore still need a Tivo). And how much total bandwidth do they have? Can every student really be watching a different channel at the same time and not bring down the system? But very, very cool not the less.

via New York Times