Tuesday, February 28, 2006

US Energy Flow

I found this .pdf (or click on the image for a larger version) from Lawrence Livermore National Labratory to be very instructive. Turns out that of 98.5 Quads of BTU energy the US used in 2000, only 34.3 of them were in the form of useful energy while 57.8 of them were rejected energy (and 6% is used for non-fuel items like plastics). So around 60% of energy is lost in conversion to electricity, conversion to moving our vehicles and other loses.

Because of the 80% loss in converting gasoline to movement, transportation uses 25% of energy inputs, but only accounts for 15% of useful energy. Also interesting to note that more energy (28.1) is lost in creating electricity, than is lost in transportation (21.3).

Good picture that helps you visualize where the US gets our energy from and where it goes.


Americans Are Open to Gas Tax Rise

Eighty-five percent of the 1,018 adults polled opposed an increase in the federal gasoline tax, suggesting that politicians have good reason to steer away from so unpopular a measure. But 55 percent said they would support an increase in the tax, which has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, if it did in fact reduce dependence on foreign oil. Fifty-nine percent were in favor if the result was less gasoline consumption and less global warming. Twenty-four percent of those polled said they would support a higher federal gasoline tax if the new revenue was used to help fight terrorism, and 28 percent would go along with a gasoline tax increase if, as an offset, their income taxes or payroll taxes were lowered.
It's all in how you sell it. But, reducing dependence on foreign oil and global warming are the reasons I would want the gas tax, so this sounds good to me. Anyone want to bet that the Democrats are so incompetent that the Republicans will be able to steal this issue from them?

via New York Times


Little Ice Age Caused by Plague

From around 1500, Europe appears to have been gripped by a chill lasting some 300 years.

Pollen and leaf data support the idea that millions of trees sprang up on abandoned farmland, soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

This would have had the effect of cooling the climate, a team from Utrecht University, Netherlands, says

The team found an increase in cereal pollen from 1200 onwards (reflecting agricultural expansion), followed by a sudden dive around 1347, linked to the agricultural crisis caused by the arrival of the Black Death, most probably a bacterial disease spread by rat fleas.



Earth Hurtles Toward 6.5 Billion

The planet's population is projected to reach 6.5 billion at 7:16 p.m. EST Saturday, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and its World Population Clock.

"Malthus would be astonished not only at the numbers of people, but at the real prosperity of about a fifth of them and the average prosperity of most of them," said demographer Joel Cohen, a professor of populations at Rockefeller and Columbia universities. "He wouldn't be surprised at the abject poverty of the lowest quarter or third."

Cohen estimates that if we want to support individuals indefinitely -- allotting each person 3,500 calories per day from wheat and 247,000 gallons per year of fresh water -- the planet has room for only about 5 billion people.
Greens like to talk about the Precautionary Principle, the idea that if the consequences of an action are unknown, but are judged to have some potential for major or irreversible negative consequences, then it is better to avoid that action. I believe that population growth is the worst offender of this and the most unsustainable activity that humans are undertaking.

I think we are at a stage where we can only do 2 out of the following 3:
1) Iradicate world poverty
2) Protect the enviroment
3) Increase the population of the world

via Wired News


New Apple Products

Amazing the creativity over at Engadget of people making mockup pictures of what they think Jobs will release next. Not sure I agree with the winner, but overall it is impressive what people can whip up.

via Engadget


Monday, February 27, 2006

Super Battery

The M1, based on the same lithium-ion technology used in your cell phone and laptop, is the first product from MIT spinoff A123 Systems. Cofounder Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials science professor, succeeded in shrinking to nanoscale the particles that coat the battery's electrodes and store and discharge energy. The results are electrifying: Power density doubles, peak energy jumps fivefold (the cells pack more punch than a standard 110-volt wall outlet), and recharging time plummets.

A123's real target, however, is your car. Chiang says A123's cells could lighten a Toyota Prius' 100-pound battery by as much as 80 percent and help boost any hybrid's performance. The quick recharging time - the M1 takes five minutes to reach 90 percent capacity - plus high peak power also would be ideal for plug-in versions of gas-electric vehicles.
Sounds pretty good. Doubling of power would be great. I would think obvious applications would include laptops, iPods and cellphones. But they don't mention them on their list of possible applications. So, I wonder what is up with that. Also curious as to how much these will cost. Appears to be a big step forward for battery technology which is key for the mobile electronics and plugin hybrids.

via Wired


Chad's Oil Riches, Meant for Poor, Are Diverted

Looks like the experiment of the World Bank trying to insure that the goverment of Chad uses its oil wealth for the benefit of its people is turning into a failure.

A $4.2 billion oil pipeline has generated $399 million for Chad since mid-2004, but the spending of the money has been seriously marred by mismanagement, graft and, most recently, the government's decision that a hefty share can be used to fight a rebellion.

And now the approach, once envisioned as a model for the development of other African countries, seems to be on the verge of collapse. In recent weeks, Chad seriously weakened a law that dedicated most of its oil revenue to reducing poverty and reneged on its deal with the World Bank. In response, the bank suspended all its loans to the country.

What is happening in Chad, a Central African country twice the size of France, is an important test of the idea that international institutions like the World Bank can influence governments of poor countries to spend newly tapped riches on their people instead of using the money to further entrench themselves in power.
The oil curse strikes again. The idea that oil money can help impoverished countries, that it can help the average people improve their standard of living, is highly suspect. But, as Wolfowitz points out, would things be better if the World Bank wasn't involved? Don't know, but I doubt it.

via New York Times


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Calif. Bill Would Bar Toxins in Cell Phones, iPods

California would require manufacturers to phase out the use of hazardous materials in making cell phones, iPods and other electronic devices under a bill introduced by a state lawmaker.

The bill unveiled on Thursday by Assembly Member Lori Saldana, a Democrat from San Diego, would apply to any electronic or battery-operated device. The bill, which was introduced on Wednesday, would require manufacturers to stop using the substances in devices sold in California by 2008.
This is important with all the e-waste being created. If it passes in California, it will force most manufacturers to change their way. Hope it passes.

via Yahoo! News


$2 Gas Tax

All of a sudden, Bush is on an anti-oil kick. While I will remain sceptical until I see what he actually does, I have to give him kudos for at least bringing the issue up and spending his time giving speeches on it. He is looking at some Fat Knowledge favorites like fast neutron reactors, plugin hybrids and switchgrass ethanol (though, in the short run it will be corn ethanol which is more of a way to turn coal into liquid energy rather than solar power, see post). But, so far he is asking for easy things. No sacrifice required. No discussion of trade offs.

The number one thing he needs to do to show he is serious it to add a $2 gas tax. I was glad to see this write up in the NY Times. CAFE standards are good, but as this Congressional Budget Office report shows, a gas tax is even better to reduce gasoline usage. Ideas like giving hybrids tax breaks and access to HOV lanes sound good, but I fear that they will just allow for hybrid SUVs (can you wait until there is a hybrid Hummer?) that get lower gas mileage than standard compact cars.

SUPPOSE a politician promised to reveal the details of a simple proposal that would, if adopted, produce hundreds of billions of dollars in savings for American consumers, significant reductions in traffic congestion, major improvements in urban air quality, large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and substantially reduced dependence on Middle East oil. The politician also promised that the plan would require no net cash outlays from American families, no additional regulations and no expansion of the bureaucracy.

As economists often remind their students, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So this politician's announcement would almost surely be greeted skeptically. Yet a policy that would deliver precisely the outcomes described could be enacted by Congress tomorrow — namely, a $2-a-gallon tax on gasoline whose proceeds were refunded to American families in reduced payroll taxes.

At today's price of about $2.50 a gallon, a $2-a-gallon tax would raise prices by about 80 percent (leaving them still more than $1 a gallon below price levels in Europe). Evidence suggests that an increase of that magnitude would reduce consumption by more than 15 percent in the short run and almost 60 percent in the long run. These savings would be just the beginning, because higher prices would also intensify the race to bring new fuel-efficient technologies to market.

The gasoline tax-cum-rebate proposal enjoys extremely broad support. Liberals favor it. Environmentalists favor it. The conservative Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker has endorsed it, as has the antitax crusader Grover Norquist. President Bush's former chief economist, N. Gregory Mankiw, has advanced it repeatedly.
Time to get out there and convince people that a gas tax is, as Tom Friedman called it, a Patriot Tax and the most important thing we can do to end our addiction to oil.

via New York Times


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dreams Deferred

As if these maladies were not enough, we now also know that pre-industrial families commonly experienced a "broken" pattern of sleep, though few contemporaries regarded it in a pejorative light. Until the modern age, most households had two distinct intervals of slumber, known as "first" and "second" sleep, bridged by an hour or more of quiet wakefulness. Usually, people would retire between 9 and 10 o'clock only to stir past midnight to smoke a pipe, brew a tub of ale or even converse with a neighbor.

Others remained in bed to pray or make love. This time after the first sleep was praised as uniquely suited for sexual intimacy; rested couples have "more enjoyment" and "do it better," as one 16th-century French doctor wrote. Often, people might simply have lain in bed ruminating on the meaning of a fresh dream, thereby permitting the conscious mind a window onto the human psyche that remains shuttered for those in the modern day too quick to awake and arise.

The principal explanation for this enigmatic pattern of slumber probably lies in the nocturnal darkness that enveloped pre-industrial households — in short, the absence of artificial lighting.

In fact, during clinical experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, human subjects deprived of light at night for weeks at a time exhibited a segmented pattern of sleep closely resembling that related in historical sources (as well as that still exhibited by many wild mammals). The subjects also experienced, during intervals of wakefulness, measurably higher levels of prolactin, the hormone that allows hens to sit happily upon their eggs for long periods.

These elevations of prolactin reinforce historical descriptions of complacent feelings at "first waking" and, back then, probably helped calm people's worries about the night's perils. Prolactin is also what differentiates segmented sleep, with its interval of "non-anxious wakefulness" that nearly resembles a meditative state, from the tossing-and-turning insomnia we medicate against.
Interesting. I had no idea that people used to have a first and second sleep. Never heard of the prolactin hormone either. Wonder if the levels of prolactin are affected by meditation.

via New York Times


San Francisco to Recycle Dog Crap

Within the next few months, Norcal Waste will begin a pilot program under which it will use biodegradable bags and dog-waste carts to pick up droppings at a popular dog park.

The droppings will be tossed into a contraption called a methane digester, which is basically a tank in which bacteria feed on feces for weeks to create methane gas.

San Francisco -- named after Saint Francis, patron saint of animals -- has an estimated 240,000 dogs and cats. The animal feces make up nearly 4 percent of residential waste, or 6,500 tons a year.
Not quite Cow Fart Tycoon numbers but why not? And while we are at it, why not use the energy and nutrients in human waste as well? I guess there is always the do-it-yourself approach.

The best part of this story is looking at the titles via Google News:
Harnessing the power of dog poo
Dog pooh a gas
Green group scoops pooch poo for power
Fido, go produce some electricity
San Francisco seeks to unleash the power in dog droppings
City goes to the dogs for a new source of power
San Francisco Turning Poop into Power
Powerful smell, powerful energy source?

via Sun Times


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blogs to Riches

Good article over at New York Magazine about blogging. Takes a look at what it takes to turn blogging into a full time job. I think that blogging, newspapers and magazines will more or less morph into each other in the next 5-10 years.

“We could make a living at this. I mean, we’ve got the circulation of a good-size magazine—better than a good-size magazine. And our overhead is much smaller.” Or as Shirky puts it, “The Boing Boing thing is, they have more readers than Wired and yet they have a part-time staff of five. That’s the new math.”
The one thing they don't talk about is how much time people are spending reading blogs vs. newspapers, magazines and books.

Via New York Magazine


Monday, February 13, 2006

LA Cops Fight Car Chases With GPS Devices

With that street-cop psychology, Chief William J. Bratton unveiled Thursday a new and decidedly strange weapon in the LAPD's effort to halt high-speed pursuits.

It is an air-propelled miniature dart equipped with a global positioning device. Once fired from a patrol car, it sticks to a fleeing motorist's vehicle and emits a radio signal to police.

A small number of patrol cars will be equipped with the compressed air launchers, which fire the miniature GPS receiver in a sticky compound resembling a golf ball, for four to six months as a trial.

There were more than 600 pursuits in Los Angeles and more than 100,000 nationwide last year. Critics have long questioned the wisdom of police pursuits because they can endanger bystanders and officers.
More GPS madness. This sounds like a good use of the technology. Little big though. They need to get it down to "spidey-tracker" size.

And I wonder if the police department took into account the loss of revenues now that "Greatest Police Chase Video #XX" will no longer be able to be sold.

via LA Times


Pigeons get Backpacks for Air Pollution Monitoring

The 20 pigeons will be released into the skies over San Jose, California, in August.

Each bird will carry a GPS satellite tracking receiver, air pollution sensors and a basic mobile phone.

Text messages on air quality will be beamed back in real time to a special pigeon "blog," a journal accessible on the Internet.

Miniature cameras slung around the pigeons' necks will also post aerial pictures.
Damn, the pigeons are going to have a better cell phone than me. I love the idea of giving animals GPSs, as they did with the elephants and the great whites.

I am still waiting until for them to toss em on a couple of whale sharks so that I can be guaranteed to see one when I go diving, but I am sure it is only a matter of time.

via Yahoo News


Now That's What I Call Red Eye

Nike has teamed up with contact lens maker Bausch and Lomb to create performance-enhancing contact lenses called MaxSight. They're a tinted version of daily disposal lenses for athletes that reduce glare and improve visual acuity.

They block nearly all the sun's damaging UVA and UVB rays just like sunglasses, but their optics can also give athletic performance a boost.

The lenses come in amber for sports like baseball and tennis where the wearer must separate fast moving objects from the background, and grey-green for sports like golf, where the background environment is what’s visually important.

The lenses make objects appear sharper by eliminating 90 percent of blue light -- the primary component in "visual noise." Then, in a process Nike calls "light architecture," MaxSight manipulates the brightness and hue of the remaining light transmitted through the lens. The result is improvement of visual acuity. The seams on baseballs are sharper, images in shadows are more clear, and every blade of grass has definition.
And the amber lenses turn your eyes red. Too cool.

via Wired News


Friday, February 10, 2006

More Teen Boys Smoke Marijuana than Cigarettes

These articles are all about how girls use more drugs than boys, but what I found more fascinating was that there are more boys that started to use marijuana than cigarettes.

Among the same age group, 730,000 girls started smoking cigarettes in 2004, compared with 565,000 boys, and 675,000 girls starting using marijuana, compared with 577,000 boys, the survey found.
In Columbia's latest survey, 42 percent of teenagers reported they would have no trouble purchasing marijuana in a day. "That's 11 million kids."
I am curious as to what the number would be for cigarettes. Probably higher.

Amazing that more boys are using an illegal drug than one which is legal (once you hit 18). This supports my idea that we should do to marijuana what we did with tabacco: make it legal, tax the hell out out it and use the money for anti-drug education and rehab.

via Washington Post and Seattle PI


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sony (E-Book) Reader

The CES show had lots of products, but not much that seemed new. Almost everything was an improvement on early versions, larger TV screens, smaller phones, more GB in the MP3 players, etc. The one new product that got me excited was the Sony E-book reader. I know that there have been other ebook readers, so this isn't really a new product, but this is the first iteration that appears to actually be usable as a book replacement.

As the Gizmodo reviewer put it:

It is the first e-reader that seemed like I could sit down and spend hours on without experiencing eye strain.
I can't wait for it to hit the market. Computer screens are nice, but I can't stand to look at them for hour after hour to read a book. This new (well fairly new) e-ink technology hopefully is the answer.
Instead of rows of glowing cells, e Ink® microcapsules actually appear as either black or white depending on a positive or negative charge determined by the content. The result is a reading experience that’s similar to paper - high contrast, high resolution, viewable in direct sunlight and at a nearly 180-degree angle, and requiring no power to maintain the image. In other words, it's a screen that, like you, is well read.
The one issue I had heard about the e-ink before is the amount of time it takes to go from page to page. The Sony site doesn't talk about it, and no review mentions it, so I am not sure if this has been worked out or not.

There are 4 reasons I am excited about this product:

1) Save Trees
It will be great to no longer require the service of fallen trees to satisfy my voluminous appetite for the written word. No more need for paper to view the content of newspapers, or magazines (well maybe I still need those until it deals with color) or books. No more atoms required, just the bytes of the content. Of course this brings up a new issue of e-waste created by the book reader itself. Hmm, wonder which is worse. Hopefully some environmentalist type will do a little comparison to ease my mind.

2) Easier to read than a computer screen
I hate looking at a computer screen for hours a day. It will be great to be able to download news, blogs and .pdfs to this device to read. Hopefully I will be able to read for hours a day and not get any eye strain. And of course, I can't read my computer in bed, so being able to do so is a big plus.

3) Portable and Light Weight
I know that PDAs currently fit this bill, but there is no way my eyes can handle reading off of that screen for hours a day. It will be great to go on vacation and load it up with 5 books and not have to deal with any extra weight. It will also be nice to load a newspaper into this and read it on the bus, rather than having to deal with newspaper folding issues.

4) Content Available Immediately from Anywhere
I have heard of people who go to bookstores, find a book they like and then go home to buy it on Amazon for less money. I am the exact opposite. I go to Amazon and figure out which books I like based on the reviews. But then I don't the patience to wait the 3 days it takes to get it in the mail. Instead I go to the local bookstore to pick it up.

I would also like to sync this thing every night and get the latest from all the blogs and newspapers I follow. Then throughout the day I can read them wherever I happen to be.

It would also be nice when you are traveling overseas and there is a limited selection of English books. Now you have access to all content no matter where you are. From what I have seen, I am not excited about the selection or prices at the Sony book store but I hope that will improve. Or better yet, maybe Apple will make an iBookPod.

More details from the Sony website and the Engadget Review.


Superbowl Ads

What were the best ads from the superbowl this year? Turns out that there were many different way to rank them: voting on the internet, voting as they were watched, number of times they were viewed, (and my favorite) how the viewer's brain reacted.

If you haven't seen them yet, you can watch them all over at Google Video.

Viewer voting at spotbowl.com:
1. Fed Ex - Caveman
2. Bud Light - Hidden Fridge
3. Bud Light - Grizzly Bear
4. Budweiser - Junior Clydesdale
5. Bud Light - Employee Incentive

The Tivo rankings based on the number of times the ads were watched:
1. Ameriquest - Friendly Skies
2. Ameriquest - That Killed Him
3. Budweiser - Streaking Sheep
4. Fed Ex - Caveman
5. Michelob - Touch Football

USA Today's Ad Meter Ranking based on voting as people watched them:
1. Bud Light - Hidden Fridge
2. Budweiser - Junior Clydesdale
3. FedEx - Caveman
4. Sierra Mist - Airport Security
5. Bud Light - Roof Top Fix-it Guys

The UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center ratings based on how the brains of viewers reacted:
1. Disney - NFL Dreamers
2. Sierra Mist - Airport Security

More explanation as to how they did the ranking (click the link for pictures of people's "brains on ads").

Our results show that the overwhelming winner among the Super Bowl ads is the Disney - NFL "I am going to Disney" ad. The Disney ad elicited strong responses in orbito-frontal cortex and ventral striatum, two brain regions associated with processing of rewards. Also, the Disney ad induced robust responses in mirror neuron areas, indicating identification and empathy. Further, the circuit for cognitive control, encompassing anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was highly active while watching the Disney ad. We consider all these features positive markers of brain responses to the ad. In second place, the Sierra Mist ad, activated the same brain regions but less so than the Disney ad.

However, the three biggest flops seem to be the Burger King ad, the FedEx ad, and the GoDaddy ad.
In case you were wondering how much your time is worth to the advertisers, here is my breakdown. Each 30-second time slot cost $2.5 million. There were 91 million viewers. For each commercial they are paying $.27 per person that watches it. For each hour of commercials that one person watches, that comes to $3.30. Not quite minimum wage, but then again these ads are a whole lot more fun to watch (then again, maybe not).


Oil Graft Fuels the Iraqi Insurgency

Today's sign that oil "wealth" leads to corruption, mafia sytle organized crime, fighting and war.

Iraqi and American officials say they are seeing a troubling pattern of government corruption enabling the flow of oil money and other funds to the insurgency and threatening to undermine Iraq's struggling economy.

Senior officials in Iraq's Oil Ministry have been repeatedly cited in the Iraqi press as complaining about what they call an "oil smuggling mafia" that not only siphons profits from the oil industry but also is said to control the allocation of administrative posts in the ministry.

The former oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, told the London-based newspaper Al Hayat late last year that "oil and fuel smuggling networks have grown into a dangerous mafia threatening the lives of those in charge of fighting corruption," according to a translation by the BBC.
But don't worry, we are training the Iraqi army so that they can handle this.
An Iraqi Army battalion commander Mr. Juburi hired was arrested recently and accused of organizing insurgent attacks on the pipeline, said a high-ranking Iraqi official who is close to the investigation. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the indictment. It is not clear whether Mr. Juburi knew that the commander was helping plan the attacks, the official said.
What, the new Iraqi army can itself be corrupt? Doh.

via New York Times


Balloons Could Take Cell Signals High In The Sky

In North Dakota, former Gov. Ed Schafer is backing a plan to loft wireless network repeaters on balloons high above the state to fill gaps in cellular coverage.

To cover every square mile of North Dakota, it would take 1,100 cell towers," Schafer said. "We can do the whole state with three balloons."

If successful, the hydrogen-filled balloons could be drifting across the stratosphere above North Dakota this summer, providing cellular coverage at a tiny fraction of the cost of building cellular towers.

Knoblach said the balloons cost about $55 each. Schafer said it costs about $250,000 to build one cellular tower in North Dakota, and many remote areas don't have enough customers to pay for it.
Cool idea. Could also be good for 3rd world where building infrastructure is tough and people live in remote locations.

via Seattle PI