Monday, July 31, 2006

Health in Old Age Determined by Age 2

“What happens before the age of 2 has a permanent, lasting effect on your health, and that includes aging,” said Dr. David J. P. Barker, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southampton in England.

It is a world that obsesses Dr. Barker. Animal studies and data that he and others have been gathering have convinced him that health in middle age can be determined in fetal life and in the first two years after birth.
Interesting. For all the news on which foods to eat to prolong health, it might be more important what your mom was eating when she was pregnant and what she fed you when you were a baby.

via NY Times


Land Needed to Run Entire World on Solar Power takes a look at how much land would be needed to power the entire world with solar cells.

Solar power systems installed in the areas defined by the dark disks could provide a little more than the world's current total primary energy demand (assuming a conversion efficiency of 8 %). That is, all energy currently consumed, including heat, electricity, fossil fuels, etc., would be produced in the form of electricity by solar cells. The colors in the map show the local solar irradiance averaged over three years from 1991 to 1993 (24 hours a day) taking into account the cloud coverage available from weather satellites.
I like this because it gives you a good perspective as to how much space would be needed. Looked at this way, it does not appear to be that much land at all and all of the land he suggests is desert.

Location / Desert Desert Size /
Irradiation /
W m-2
Area required /
Africa, Sahara 9,064,960 260 144,231
Australia, Great Sandy 388,500 265 141,509
China, Takla Makan 271,950 210 178,571
Middle-East, Arabian 2,589,910 270 138,889
South America, Atacama 139,860 275 136,364
U.S.A., Great Basin 492,100 220 170,455

Now all we need is for the progress ratio to kick in and get solar panel prices down so that solar electricity is cheaper than burning coal. Hopefully sometime around 2023 if not sooner.

via via Wikipedia


Sunday, July 30, 2006

More Yahoo Most Viewed Photos Juxtaposition

God I love the photos that show up in the Yahoo Most Viewed Photos.

What would make this alpaca hide his eyes in terror?

Could be his most viewed photo companions...

Japanese mail order bride. Sumo culture, they pay by the pound.

Is that really Pam Anderson or did David Lee Roth get a bad boob job?


Friday, July 28, 2006

Interesting Articles of the Day

TV can save your life. Teen uses Discovery channel tip to escape alligator attack.

Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time.

Wonkette’s Ingredients for a Successful Blog.

Salmon catching bears fertilize forests with the partially eaten carcasses of their favorite food.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

How Much Research is Being Done in the World?

I was curious how much research was being done in the world, and this excellent UNESCO Science Report 2005 answered most of my questions. Of particular value are these two tables on the number of researchers and money spent throughout the world.

Why is research important? It is the key to improving human prosperity and solving the major issues of the 21st century. Tackling the energy, environmental, agricultural problems in the world all require research. Discovering medical breakthroughs and coming up with new and improved forms of communication require research. There is also the value of advancing human understanding of the world and universe just for its own sake.

Why is it important to look at it in a global context? Because most advances from research benefit all of humanity. If a researcher creates a better cellphone in Japan, or a better plasma TV in Korea, or a new breakthrough drug in Switzerland, or a faster microprocessor in Silicon Valley, or new software from Redmond people anywhere in the world will be able to take advantage. My future standard of living and the technologies available to me is determined more by the total number of researchers in the world than just the number of researchers in the US.

As of 2002, there were 5,521,400 researchers worldwide. That comes out to 894 researchers per million people and .193% of all jobs were research positions (based on 2.85 billion world workers). Ironically, there are 5,544,000 people in Bangalore, India, so conceivably all research positions in the world could be outsourced there. :)

$829.9 billion was spent on research which translates to 1.7% of world GDP or $134 spending per person.

In the US, we have 1.26 million researchers or 23% of the world's researchers. There were 4,373 researchers per million people and .872% of 144.4 million workers were researchers. $290 billion was spent on research and development, 35% of total world spending. We spent 2.8% of GDP on research or $1,006 per person.

Comparing the 1.26 million US researchers to the rest of the world, Asia had 2.0 million, Europe 1.8 million, all Arab countries 39,700 (with a population the same as the US), and Sub-Saharan Africa 30,000 (with a population twice that of the US).

What is optimal rate of researchers in the world? I don't really know, but I think we could use a lot more. If whole world had the same rate of researcher per million people that the US had, there would be 25 million researchers, or 5 times as many. If research spending was at the US rate of 2.8% of GDP, total spending would be $1.3 trillion or 1.6 times as much. If research spending was at the US rate of $1,006 per person would go to $6 trillion or up 7.8 times.

Imagine how much faster discoveries would occur if we had 5 times as many researchers. How much sooner would be be able to move off of oil? How much quicker would the speed of the Internet increase? How soon would we cure cancer or be able to get brain implants? How much more environmentally friendly would our products be?

What we need is a UN campaign to have 25 million researchers by 2025.


5.7 Trillion Hours Worked in 2005

I was wondering to myself the other day, how many total hours were worked last year in the entire world?

According to this report by the International Labor Organization: at the end of 2005, 2.85 billion people aged 15 and older were in work. If we assume they each worked 2,000 hours a year (I don't know how good of an estimate this would be, some work part time and others much more than 40 hours a week, hopefully they cancel each other out) that comes to 5.7 trillion hours worked in the world in 2005.

That is a huge number that I have a hard time even comprehending. Imagine all that was accomplished and created in that effort. Imagine all of the food that was grown, the products that were manufactured and the services that were rendered.

Another interesting point is that table 5 shows the breakdown in employment by agriculture, industry and service sectors. Today there are 40.1% in agriculture, 21.0% in industry and 38.9% in service. The trend has been that the amount of agriculture workers is going down and service workers are going up. Next year for the first time in the history of the world it is likely that more people will have service jobs than agricultural jobs.

Some other interesting world wide stats:
The unemployment rate was 6.3% which translates to 191.8 million people
The labor participation rate was 61.4%
Between 1995 and 2005 the global labour force grew by some 438 million workers.
520 million made less than $1 a day
Nearly 1.4 billion made less than $2 a day

Why is this important? As the world becomes more globalized, if it is becoming the Flat World that Tom Friedman talks about, then workers in the US are now competing for jobs with people throughout the world. It may no longer make sense to look at the US job market by itself without also looking at the global job market. Software developers in the US are now competing for jobs with those in India. Car manufacturers are competing with those in Japan, and Europe. Textile manufacturers with those in China and Vietnam. Understanding the US job market might now require understanding the global job market.

Wages have not gone up as expected in the US during this business cycle. This might be due to the fact that workers are now competing with workers throughout the world. If so, the economic models that just look at the US economy to predict wage growth are no longer valid. The global unemployment rate might be more important in understanding wage growth in the US than the US unemployment rate. In order to raise the wages of the poor in the US, we might have to raise the wages of the poor in the entire world.


Why I Love Elephants

I love them because they share the best and worst traits of humanity.

On the positive side, they appreciate Mozart, like to paint, and grieve and mourn lost ones.

On the negative side, they get drunk on go on rampages and can get post traumatic stress disorder causing them to become mass murderers.

And of course I love anything that you can attach high tech to.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nice Rats, Nasty Rats: Maybe It’s All in the Genes

Scientists in Russia are trying to determine what allowed animals to be domesticated. They are breeding rats and foxes for tameness. They are then going to try and find the genes responsible.

One possibility is that a handful of genes — perhaps even just one — underlie all the changes seen in domestication. A structure in the embryo of all vertebrates, known as the neural crest, is the source of cells that constitute much of the face, skull and pigment cells, and many parts of the peripheral nervous system and endocrine system. If the genes in the neural crest cells were delayed just a little in coming into action, a whole range of tissues could be affected, including the maturation of the adrenal glands that underlies the first fear response of young animals, Dr. Fitch has written.
Can't wait to see what they find out.

via New York Times


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cost of Stabilizing Carbon Emissions

I had taken a stab at what it would take to make the world carbon neutral a little while back. Looks like others have made similar estimates.

In 2004, for example, the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration analyzed a carbon-cutting plan advanced by Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman, which aimed to stabilize greenhouse emissions. The energy administration estimated that reaching this target would cause U.S. GDP to be 0.4 percent less than it would otherwise have been in 2028. Since GDP was projected to grow by 90 percent between the time of the study and that year, this meant that the nation could address climate change and still experience growth of 89.6 percent over the period.

In 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most prestigious authority in the field, carried out a similar exercise . It calculated that stabilizing carbon emissions at an acceptable level -- defined as slightly higher than today's -- would cause world GDP to be 4 percent lower than it would otherwise have been in 2050.
None of those seems particularly high to me. I don't get why people believe a carbon tax would cause serious damage to the economy. If these estimates are close to being correct, the impact to the economy seems pretty minimal, especially considering the costs global warming could bring.

via Washington Post


Interesting Articles of the Day

Albert Einstein revealed details about his mistresses to his wives, made bad financial investments, and was plagued by doubts about his relationship with his two sons according to a trove of more than 3,500 pages of letters, papers, postcards, and other documents unsealed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The use of loud Barry Manilow music to drive away late-night revelers from a suburban Sydney park is getting on the nerves of nearby residents.

The Brooking Institute looks at the Ghetto Tax that makes it so expensive to be poor.

How to Cut Government Waste. Intestesting idea. As a way to lessen the impact of lobbists and pork spending, you have a bipartison commision make a recomendation and just allow congress to vote up or down on the whole proposal.


Schizophrenic or Cellphone?

There is this little game that I like to play when ever I am traveling on public transportation in the city. When you hear people talking to themselves, you have to guess if they are really talking to another person or not. I call this game: Schizophrenic or Cellphone?

Turns out that I am not the only one who plays this game.

On K Street, a guy in a tie screams at the air: "Who do you think you are?"

In Dupont Circle, a woman downing dainty bites of a muffin ponders, seemingly to no one, "Ummm, no." Then, more confidently, "No."

Outside the Capitol, a dapper suited young man circles a patch of sidewalk, stabs his pen at a notebook and jabbers whispered words to the ground.


Or cellphone?

Used to be that we knew immediately: The phones were, at first, way too big to miss. Then we learned to spot the subtler signs -- the hand cradled to the ear, the chiropractically problematic crook-necked shrug, the dark wire dangling down the chatterer's neck.

But now --
This game would make a great routine for a late night comedy show. If you see it on Leno, Letterman or the Daily Show, remember you heard it here first.

via Washington Post


Friday, July 21, 2006

Who Killed Resuscitated the Electric Car?

Tesla Motors, that's who. They have created a slick 2 seat speedster that is 100% electric. It goes 0-60 in 4 seconds, gets 135mpg equivalent, costs about $.01 a mile, goes 250 miles per charge and sells for the bargain basement price of just $80,000.

I was thinking to myself the other day, why can't a new car company be created that outsources all of the manufacturing and just focuses on R&D and sales? Then, lo and behold I read this article and find a company that is doing just that. This setup would allow for a new car companies to be spawned that could focus on niche markets using new technologies. It is similar to the electronic companies that outsource all of their manufacturing to Flextronics and just focus on a few things like R&D and sales. Instead of being a big bloated company like GM that has turned into an insurance company providing retiree and medical benefits to millions, you could be a small nimble company that just focuses on getting new cutting edge technology to the market.

What really impresses me about this car is its efficiency.

"If you took the energy in a gallon of gas and used it to spin a turbine, you'd get enough electricity to drive an electric car 110 miles," he says.
I hadn't realized that the internal combustion engine in a car was so much less efficient than a power plant. In the graph it shows that the "wells to wheels" efficiency of this car is twice that of the Prius and 3 times that of a fuel cell vehicle. Hydrogen powered cars are so '90s, bring on the electric battery powered cars. With an efficiency like that and performance to match a sports car, this seems like a winner.

The three issues I see with this car before major adaption are: battery power, charging time and price.

It uses lithium ion batteries like in a laptop computer. Wonder what happens when you get in a wreck? It takes 3.5 hours to recharge when connected to a special 220-volt, 70-amp outlet. Hopefully some of the new lithium ion batteries will help the amount of power they can hold and reduce the charging time.

The other major problem is price. I think the battery has a lot to do with that, and the new batteries will help out there. Hopefully this industry will have a "progress ratio" greater than that of the solar industry so we can see production of these cars greatly increase while the price comes down in half hopefully in 10 years. And this Wired article states they are planning on launching a sedan in 2008. If they can keep the range where it is, lower the recharging time, and decrease the price (by like 1/2) I think the sedan will be a winner.

Short term I like the biofuels to help us out in reducing oil usage. Long term I like these battery powered cars. This looks like the start of an electric battery car market that will grow exponentially and have a substantial market share in 30 years or so.

There were also a couple of good writeup in AutoBlogGreen (with video) and Green Car Congress.


Landor Associates Study on Consumers and 'Green'

A new study conducted by branding firm Landor Associates, shows that fifty-eight percent of the general population surveyed considers itself "Not Green Interested." These self-proclaimed "non-green" individuals do not care about environmentally friendly practices, including recycling, corporate social responsibility, or natural and/or organic ingredients.

The study, which was conducted among 510 males and females ages 18 and over, identifies that twenty-five percent of the respondents consider themselves "Green Interested," meaning that while this group is concerned about the environment, it is not active in its defense. The remaining seventeen percent surveyed are, in fact, "Green Motivated," meaning that they feel it's very important for a company to be Green. The Green Motivated individuals do base purchase decisions on whether or not a brand reflects Green behavior in its packaging, ingredients and corporate actions.
17% of those surveyed were Green Motivated and an additional 25% Green Interested. Not quite a majority, but then again better than the 30:3 ratio

via Landor News


Competitive Relaxation

Simmer Down Sprinter is a two player, sit-down, arcade style video game I designed and programmed in which players compete to move runners around a track. The game is controlled by player’s bio-feedback. The more relaxed the player becomes, the faster the runner moves around the track. Essentially it is a game of competitive relaxation.
Quick, relax harder!

via Steve Lambert via Boing Boing


Exmocare: Vital Signs and Emotion Monitoring

Exmovere LLC unveiled a Web-based Bluetooth-enabled biosensor wristwatch dubbed "Exmocare," which is designed to help provide elderly care assistance for individuals 65 years of age and older. (You know, for those "I've fallen and can't get up!" moments.)

Exmocare allows family and other caregivers to monitor an elderly individual's physiological and emotional health status in from afar, and get this--in real-time! The "wearable sensor system" offers automated reports on the elderly individuals' vital signs including pulse, heart rate and motion. It can also assess up to ten different emotions including relaxed, worried and agitated.

For caregivers who place higher priority on work and play than on face-to-face interaction with Grandma and Grandpa, Exmocare offers an "Exmonitor" program for Windows PCs. The program "allows you to effortlessly monitor your loved one from your Windows taskbar at home or at work," according to the company Web site.
Cool concept. I like the idea of being able to monitor your vital signs and emotions at all times.

Unfortunately, it looks like they need a Apple makeover on the aesthetics. It looks like a clock radio that you put on your wrist. Does it have a snooze button?

It is a good idea for monitoring the elderly, but it seems like this could be so much more (well assuming they make it into a more attractive watch).

I don't know how well the emotion sensoring works (and I am a little skeptical how well it does), but if it works well there are all sorts of cool applications you could do with it. First, you could track your own emotions throughout the day. You could see how much time you spend in various states of mind. How much time did you spend today in a relaxed state vs. a worried state vs. an agitated state? Now you will know.

Second, imagine if everyone in your work or all your friends had one of these on. What if you could monitor the emotional state of everyone you knew from the Windows taskbar? Ready to go ask your boss about a raise? Better check his emotional state before I head over to his office. Hmm, one of my friends has been worried all day long, wonder what is wrong. Ok, maybe this would go a little far and go into the TMI category. But lots of possible applications with this one.

via Gearlog


Guide Owners Discourage 'Casual Flying'

I was whinning previously about how Greens put too much emphasis on SUVs and Hummers and not enough on air travel. Turns that only applies to this side of the Atlantic. Over in the UK, the Greens have figured it out.

Now the founders of the Rough Guides and Lonely Planet books, troubled that they have helped spread a casual attitude towards air travel that could trigger devastating climate change, are uniting to urge tourists to fly less.

Mark Ellingham, the founder of Rough Guides, and Tony Wheeler, who created Lonely Planet after taking the hippie trail across Asia, want fellow travellers to "fly less and stay longer" and donate money to carbon offsetting schemes. From next month, warnings will appear in all new editions of their guides about the impact of flying on global warming alongside alternative ways of reaching certain destinations.
Solid move. I especially like how they display the emissions cost of the round trip flight for each destination. Just making people aware of the impact and having them put it into the calculus of choosing their destination is a great step to take.

via The Guardian


Thursday, July 20, 2006

UK Carbon Swipe-Card Plan

Following on my idea for an environmental rewards card, I read about a similar idea being undertaken in Britain.

Under the scheme, all UK citizens from the Queen down would be allocated an identical annual carbon allowance, stored as points on an electronic card similar to Air Miles or supermarket loyalty cards.

Points would be deducted at point of sale for every purchase of non-renewable energy. People who did not use their full allocation, such as families who do not own a car, would be able to sell their surplus carbon points into a central bank.
I am intrigued. I like the concept, but wonder how exactly it will work. The first thing I don't get is who forces you to actually swipe the card when you make a purchase? Will you not be able to buy gasoline (or any other product) if you don't have the card? Otherwise it seems like it is pretty easy just not to use the card and keep your points.

The second thing I am curious about is how they will actually calculate carbon. Is it just fuel you consume directly? Or will they try and calculate how much carbon was emitted to grow your food, build your computer or light the building of your doctors office? Seems like there is lots of carbon emitted indirectly from purchases and you should account for it.

I like putting the emphasis on the consumer to make the choices, but I wonder how well this system will work in practice. Definitely one to watch.

via The Guardian via TreeHugger


The Environmental Rewards Card

Lots of grocery stores offer an reward card, which tracks all of your purchases and gives you a discount on some of them as an incentive to use it. I would love to see Whole Foods (or other similar type of stores like Co-ops) offer a reward cards that instead of offering discounts it would allow you to login to a website and view the social and environmental impact of your purchases (of course discounts are find by me as well).

When you got home, you could login to the site and it would offer a Quicken like tool to track your impact on to the environmental and society based on your purchases. For example, it could track the environmental footprint of the products, the carbon emissions, the acres and gallons, the average wage of the employees that worked on the product, or any other information that would be valuable.

It would allow consumers to compare products on their social/environmental impact rather than just on price and quality. Right now if one product costs $5.00 more than the other you don't know why. With this tracking card, you figure out if it is because the company is paying higher than average wages, or they are producing the product in a more environmentally friendly way.

This website tool would also allow consumers to take a look at their yearly impact from shopping (how many acres did it take to grow my food, how many gallons of gasoline, how many tons of carbon dioxide, etc).

From Whole Food's perspective they are giving you an incentive to use the rewards card, which would make them more popular and cause a higher percentage of patrons to use it. This will make the data mining that companies like to do that much more valuable. It also allows them to attract the hard core social/environmental customer who wants this data but can't get access to it elsewhere. And that type of customer is willing to spend more for the high end socially responsible/environmentally friendly products. And by capturing this information it gives ordinary customers (who aren't willing to spend the time to view this stuff online) the impression that Whole Food's is serious about the social/environmental stuff and makes the customer feel better about their purchases.

Whole Foods would need to collect the data and store it in a database to allow this to work. It would require them to have all of their suppliers provide this data. By collecting the data, suppliers would become more aware of their impact and hopefully try to improve their products.

My hope would be then that other stores would attempt to compete with them on this and all reward cards would track this data. Hopefully they would all use a common format so you could aggregate all of your purchases into one Quicken view to see the impact of your total consumption.


Cool Video on the Solar Power Industry

This is a really interesting hour long video on the solar power industry. It takes a look at where it came from and where it is going.

I was curious if there was a Moore's Law for solar cells. Turns out there is. Prices are cut in half every decade (as opposed to microprocessors which double their processing power every 18 months). In 1979, photovoltaic cells could be produced for $30/W. In 2002 they are at $3/W in 2012 they are estimated to be at $1/W and in 2023 at $.65/W.

The market size of the photovoltaic industry has also grown 10 times every decade (which would be a growing of 25% a year). The speaker talks of the "progress ratio". I had never heard of this before, but he states that for every cumulative doubling of solar cell production, the prices go down 19%. So every 4 doublings leads to the prices being cut in half.

By 2012 he estimates that the industry will be price competitive and no longer need any subsidies for home installations. By 2023 he thinks that solar can compete as power plants in deserts.

In 2006 the photovoltaic industry actually used more tons of silicon than the microelectronics industry. In 2005 1.8 Gigawatts of solar cells were sold, up from 1.1 in 2004.

All of this leads me to believe that long term solar is going to be a big player and it is only a matter of time (probably 10-20 years) until it becomes economically competitive. Is it worth it to subsidize the industry so that we get to that point sooner? I don't know, but I think so.

via TreeHugger


Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index ranks countries based on ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered. It is an interesting concept that is calculated by multiplying life satisfaction by life expectancy and dividing by ecological footprint. (Also the map they display is using this cool DIY map technology).

I like the idea of trying to calculate such a number, but this is done in such a simplistic manner that the actual results it comes up with are highly suspect. Alex over at World Changing has a very nice analysis of the index and its issues. I would also add a couple.

First, the second highest rated country is Colombia. Yes that's right, a country besieged by drug violence is somehow the second best place to live. I don't see it as a country to be modeled for happiness, well being and ecological soundness.

Second, while I like the concept of the Ecological Footprint, I have some issues with the actual calculation of it. If you take a look at this Excel spreadsheet of the data, you notice that most of the US's footprint is due to energy usage. How exactly do you convert oil or nuclear energy usage into an amount of land? If you read the methodology, they take the total amount of energy and divide it by the amount of land needed to grow fuel crops (in particular roundwood). But we are unlikely to actually make that replacement. Instead we will replace fossil fuel usage with solar and wind power. So, why not figure out how much land would be required in solar panels to generate the same amount of energy (see previous post)? And since that land could be deserts, ocean or built up land (cities or roads), it would use land that is not currently being counted as usable land. This would raise the size of the footprint available for all individuals. The US's energy usage could actually be produced in a sustainable way if we just switched over to solar and wind.

The current Happy Planet Index has its issues, but a more accurate and refined version of the Happy Planet index would be a very valuable tool.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Interesting Articles of the Day

The Netflix Guilt of holding on to a movie that is critically aclaimed but somehow you are never in the mood for.

I hate to go all Cosmo on you, but you have to take this 13 question quiz on sex. Sorry to give one away, but who knew that male and female penguins are the same, um, down there?

14 year old boy sees with sound. This comment on digg is too funny:

"Blind since age 3, Ben Underwood skateboards, shoots hoops and plays video games. How does he do it? Just like bats and dolphins"

I've never seen a bat or dolphin do any of those things...
Scientists are beginning to use real-time fMRI as a form of neural feedback to teach people to consciously improve their attention and possibly give people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) a drug-free way to improve their symptoms.


Puush for simpler speling perzists

When "say," "they" and "weigh" rhyme, but "bomb," "comb" and "tomb" don't, wuudn't it maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound?
I couldn't say it any better. Why spelling is a skill that you need to get good at is beyond me. Spelling should follow from the sounds. If you know how to speak, you should know how to spell. The fact that there are contests to see who can spell the best reflects just how poorly English was designed.

I am a horrible speller. If it wasn't for the Google Spellchecker, this blog would be loaded with spelling errors. But really, I think the fact I am a bad speller reflects more on the idiocy of how English words are spelled then of me personally.
"It's a very difficult thing to get something accepted like this," says Alan Mole, president of the American Literacy Council, which favors an end to "illogical spelling." The group says English has 42 sounds spelled in a bewildering 400 ways.

In languages with phonetically spelled words, like German or Spanish, children learn to spell in weeks instead of months or years as is sometimes the case with English, Mole said.
I have read that dyslexia is more common in English as well due to its complexity.
It's been 100 years since Andrew Carnegie helped create the Simplified Spelling Board to promote a retooling of written English and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to force the government to use simplified spelling in its publications.

Carnegie, Dewey, Roosevelt and Shaw's work followed attempts by Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster and Mark Twain to advance simpler spelling. Twain lobbied The Associated Press at its 1906 annual meeting to "adopt and use our simplified forms and spread them to the ends of the earth." AP declined.
Those are a lot of smart minds that thought we need to fix up this language of ours. Is it too much to hope that the Gates Foundation will pick up the gauntlet as part of their drive to improve education?

via CNN


Why Solar is the Long Term Energy Solution

I really like how this image from The Skeptical Environmentalist puts the various amounts of energy in perspective.

Amount of energy in Exajoules (10^18 Joules or EJ):

2,895,000 annual solar radiation
        8,960 total resources of oil
      17,280 total resources of natural gas
    114,000 total resources of uranium
    185,330 total resources of coal
           630 yearly amount of potential wind power
             90 yearly amount of potential hydro power
        1,260 plant photosynthesis
           400 annual human energy consumption

The amount of solar energy is enormous. 7000 times the amount of energy that humans currently consume. 13 times more energy comes from the sun each year than is stored in all fossil fuels currently in the ground! The sun gives of the equivalent of a 180 watt bulb perpetually lighting up every single square meter on the Earth. The tropics receive 250 watts per meter vs 100 for the polar regions.

Photosynthesis in plants only captures 1/2,300th of the total solar energy that reaches the earth. Green plants exploit on average 1-3% of solar energy that touches them compared to 15-20% for solar panels. Total agricultural biomass production from stalks and straw, making up half the world's harvests in mass, only constitutes about 65EJ.

A square area in the tropics 469km on each side (.15% of Earth's land mass) with solar cells of today's efficiency could supply all our current energy requirements. With an average solar influx of 300 W/m2 and an efficiency of 20%, 219,961 km2 of solar cells would produce 416 EJ. This could be in Sahara (which would take up 2.6%) or out at sea. At 40% efficiency you would need a square 330km on each side. This is a lot of area, but I believe it is possible.

The cheapest photovoltaic cells have become 3 times as effective since 1978 and prices have dropped by a factor of 50 since early 70s. The key to the transition to solar power will be the economics. The quicker the price drops, the quicker we will start using more solar power.

Short term I see fossil fuels (and coal in particular) being used more, but long term (next 50 years) I see a transition to solar energy as the dominant source of energy.


Friday, July 14, 2006

BP Kongsberg Underwater Image Competition

Cool deep water photography over at BP Kongsberg. I especially like the microscopic ones. This stuff looks like they are from another planet. Then again we do more exploration on outer space then we do on the deep sea, so in a way they are more foreign to us.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Key to Increasing GDP? Move Away From the Equator

One thing that I noticed when looking at a map of the world is how the farther you go away from the equator, the better the economies are. You can see it graphically on this map (or check out this slightly different (and huge) map that shows it more clearly).

I was curious how latitude correlated with GDP per capita (calculated via PPP), so I was glad to see this post over at The Audacious Epigone where he calculated it:

Economic transparency/corruption index: .68, Distance from the equator: .67, Births per woman: -.81, Life expectancy: .85
Now I can see why having fewer children, having a longer life expectancy and having less corruption would raise GDP, but being farther away from the equator? I don't intuitively see that. And yet it is correlated almost as strongly as corruption.

I'm not sure exactly why this is. Maybe when it is ungodly hot, people just don't like to work. Or possibly, diseases are worse around the tropics than at other latitudes. Or it could be that the key grains of agriculture: wheat, rice and corn grow better at the higher latitudes. Or maybe, if you are in a tropical area like Hawaii, the idea of sitting on a beach is much more appealing then maximizing wealth. Only when you get to cold areas do you have nothing better to do but build your economy.

Whatever the reason, it makes it that much more impressive that Lee Kwan Yew was able to transform Singapore into a first world nation given how it is so close to the equator.


Great White Riding

Ever since my formative years watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, I have always had a thing for the sharks, and in particular the Great White.

First there was viewing Great Whites from boats. Then came cage diving with them. Then viewing them while riding in a underwater scooter with a metal cage for protection. Then scuba diving in a team with just pokers for protection. Then snorkeling with them without protection.

And now: Great White riding. Pioneered by Andre Hartmann, while snorkeling with Great Whites, you can actually hold on to their dorsal fin and have the shark take you for a ride. There is a great video of this in Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Adventures Sharks at Risk episode.

I used to want to go cage diving with the Great Whites. Now, I want to ride one.


Fool Mother Nature, Fix Warming

Using geoengineering, the large-scale manipulation of the environment, to combat global warming has been proposed by scientists like Lowell Wood at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

He argues that simulating a volcanic winter -- the cooling that follows major volcanic eruptions like Mount Pinatubo in 1991 -- is the most practical approach to managing global warming.

"It appears, of all the things I have heard discussed, to be the most economical and readily implemented," Wood says.

I watched a Nova program on global dimming due to particle pollution and thought to myself, if global warming ever got to a drastic level we could always just shoot sulfur particles up in the air. Looks like I am not the only one who has thought of this. This article is similar to the How to Cool the Planet Maybe article I blogged about a while back.

More radical ways to counteract global warming in the article.

via The Detroit News

Update: Just found this article at Nature where Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen is suggesting injecting sulphate particles into the layer of atmosphere that starts about 10 kilometres above the ground.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Lost Mac Ads

The Lost Mac Ads from VH1. Too funny.


A World of Chlorophyll

I love these maps over at NASA's Earth Observatory. This one looks at global chlorophyll patterns.

Click here for a supersized version. Also, don't miss this cool area where you can create your own animations from the data they capture. Well except the animations didn't work for me when I tried them. But I emailed them so hopefully they will be up and running soon.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Google Suggest Gets Suggestive

For a good time, type "ple" into Google Suggest.

Now the bowl for keys at the front lobby of Google all makes sense.


Interesting Articles of the Day

Man trades a red paperclip for a house.

Geneticists sequence part of the Neanderthal genome and determine they didn't pass any genetic material on to modern humans.

Cellphones are helping to improve the economy and standard of living of war torn Congo. Ironically, the metallic ore coltan is needed to make cellphones, and is being mined by slaves in the Congo to fund the war.

David Galenson sees two different types of creativity: conceptualists and experimentalists. Conceptualists (like Picasso, Mozart, and Orson Welles) peak early, creating their masterpieces at a young age. Experimentalists (like Mark Twain, Alfred Hitchcock and Beethoven) bloom late, doing their best work after lifelong tinkering.


How To Save the World: Bolton v Gore

Two years after Bjorn Lomborg came up with his Copenhagen Consensus and but just one month after I wrote about it (coincidence? I think not), the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton (not to be confused with Michael Bolton or Wilford Brimley and no, that's not a "Got Milk" photo), decided to do a similar exercise.

Too often at the UN, said Mr Bolton, “everything is a priority”. The secretary-general is charged with carrying out 9,000 mandates, he said, and when you have 9,000 priorities you have none.

So, over the weekend, Mr Bolton sat down with UN diplomats from seven other countries, including China and India but no Europeans, to rank 40 ways of tackling ten global crises. The problems addressed were climate change, communicable diseases, war, education, financial instability, governance, malnutrition, migration, clean water and trade barriers.

Given a notional $50 billion, how would the ambassadors spend it to make the world a better place? Their conclusions were strikingly similar to the Copenhagen Consensus. After hearing presentations from experts on each problem, they drew up a list of priorities. The top four were basic health care, better water and sanitation, more schools and better nutrition for children. Averting climate change came last.
I agree that prioritization is important, and this was a good exercise to go through. I think it is a little misleading to say climate change isn't important just because it isn't a priority for the UN as the changes that would need to occur to go after global warming: gasoline tax, carbon tax/cap and trade system, research funding for alternative energy and carbon sequestering, are not really in the jurisdiction of the UN. On the other hand, I would agree that right now the places you can get the most bang for your buck helping the world are health and education.

via The Economist


Wal-Mart and Fair Trade

Wal-Mart is getting into Fair Trade? Wasn't Wal-Mart the reason Fair Trade got started in the first place?

Supporting fair trade presents a paradox for Wal-Mart. It is a tacit admission that there is a point at which no more efficiencies can be squeezed out of the system without harming the people who make it work. Fair-trade beans are sold at a minimum of $1.26 per pound, compared with the world average last month of 90 cents. But Wal-Mart is still determined not to pay more than it must.

It's part of the new corporate philosophy outlined by chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr.: "Doing well by doing good."

At Wal-Mart, executives say a rebirth is occurring inside their no-frills headquarters. "Sustainability" and "trend-right" have entered the corporate lexicon alongside "everyday low prices." Chief executive Lee Scott drives a Lexus Hybrid.
Interesting. More power to them. I have always been impressed by Wal-Mart's use of technology to improve efficiency, but I have questioned whether their relentless drive to lower prices also came at the cost of the environment and workers wages.

Would I buy Fair Trade products at Wal-Mart? Probably not. My big grip with them is that they should pay their workers a similar wage to Costco or union grocery store workers. If they raise their wages, then I just might.
Pereira's co-op depends on Bom Dia and Wal-Mart for fair-trade prices. For most fair-trade farmers, finding a willing buyer is the most difficult part of the process. About 35 to 45 percent of fair-trade-certified coffee is actually sold at fair-trade prices, according to TransFair USA. The rest goes for market value, indistinguishable from regular coffee.
Huh. Who decides who gets paid the fair trade price and who gets the regular price?

via Washington Post


A Power Grid for the Hydrogen Economy

Interesting new idea for distributing electricity without losses and hydrogen through a new power grid.

Ten years after the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity, a technical study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) concluded that with liquid nitrogen as a coolant, a five-gigawatt DC "electricity pipe" could compete economically with a gas pipeline or conventional overhead lines for transmission distances of 800 kilometers or more. Two of us (Grant and Starr) developed the idea further in papers that explored how ultracold hydrogen--either liquid or supercritical gas--might both chill the superconducting wires and deliver energy in chemical form within a continental-scale system.

The Super-Cable we have designed includes a pair of DC superconducting wires, one at plus 50,000 volts, the other at minus 50,000 volts, and both carrying 50,000 amps--a current far higher than any conventional wire could sustain. Such a cable could transmit about five gigawatts for several hundred kilometers at nearly zero resistance and line loss. (Today about a tenth of all electrical energy produced by power plants is lost during transmission.)
Such a grid would also help with intermittent energy from renewables like solar and wind, as the hydrogen in the lines could be used like a battery to store the energy.
The Super-Grid could go a long way, too, toward removing one of the fundamental limitations to the large-scale use of inconstant energy from wind, tides, waves and sunlight. Renewable power plants could pump hydrogen onto the grid, rather than selling electricity. Alternatively, baseline generators could monitor the rise and fall in electrical output from these plants and might be able to use electrolysis to shift their electricity/hydricity blend to compensate.

For example, every 70-kilometer section of Super-Cable containing 40-centimeter-diameter pipes filled with liquid hydrogen would store 32 gigawatt-hours of energy. That is equivalent to the capacity of the Raccoon Mountain reservoir, the largest pumped hydroelectric facility in the U.S.
One issue I have always had with the hydrogen economy is that you lose lots of energy in creating the hydrogen. But, they claim that nuclear plants can create the hydrogen at the same efficiency as electricity.
Next-generation nuclear plants can produce either electricity or hydrogen with almost equal thermal efficiency. So the operators of nuclear clusters could continually adjust the proportions of electricity and "hydricity" that they pump into the Super-Grid to keep up with the electricity demand while maintaining a flow of hydrogen sufficient to keep the wires superconducting.
Overall sounds pretty good, so what is the catch?
The investment will undoubtedly be enormous: perhaps $1 trillion in today's dollars and in any case beyond the timescale attractive to private investment.
Yikes! Some interesting ideas though, and maybe a limited version will prove to be economically feasible. Also, this image of the evolution of a supergrid gives you a good picture of what they see changing.

via Scientific American


Monday, July 10, 2006

YouTube from 1903

Today marks the official day that I have come to expect that YouTube will have any video clip that I would ever want to see. I had a similar moment with Google a few years ago when I came to expect that I should be able to find the answer to any question that pops in my head in less than 5 minutes. If Google doesn't deliver I am sorely disappointed. Now YouTube has raised its game to such a level that I am putting it in the same league.

I was reading this article on Tesla, and it mentioned:

If AC power supplanted DC, however, Edison was poised to lose fortunes in patents. Thus the battle was begun, with Edison electrocuting animals–mostly stray dogs and cats–to show the “dangerous nature” of AC. He even electrocuted an ill-tempered elephant named Topsy from Coney Island’s Luna Park, and filmed the execution for posterity.
So my first thought was, damn, that's messed up. He electrocutes an elephant and wants to film it. My second thought was, I totally have to watch that. After a quick search I found it on YouTube. This has to be one of the earliest films ever made. If YouTube has this, I see no reason why it shouldn't have all other video clips that has been made since then that I would want to see.

And if you haven't checked this out yet, Digg has a cool video section where you can find some gems every day. I guess for some reason you have to have an account with Digg to check that out while it is in Beta, but it is worth it.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Good Thing He's Not a Scorpion

A mouse rides on the back of a frog in floodwaters in the northern Indian city Lucknow June 30, 2006.
Reminds me of the fable of the frog and the scorpion.

via Yahoo News


Interesting Articles of the Day

Scientists Testing Vaccines to Help Smokers Quit.

Demand for organic food outstrips supply.

Same Genes Act Differently in Males and Females.

Donors to charities act differently than normal consumers.


Natural Resources and Corruption

Interesting map looking at corruption and mineral/oil dependence. In general I think that natural resource wealth makes corruption much more likely. The map seems to go along with that theory, but it isn't clear cut. There are some countries with good governance and mineral wealth and those with corruption without it.

via WRI via Al Fin


Family Trip to Japan vs. Hummer Indy 500

A couple of good articles in The Economist about aircraft greenhouse gas emissions. I have never understood why Greens don't more of an emphasis on decreasing aircraft travel. I guess in a way it seems unimportant:

In some ways, the airlines are an odd target for greens. They produce only around 3% of the world's man-made carbon emissions. Surface transport, by contrast, produces 22%. Europe's merchant ships spew out around a third more carbon than aircraft do, and nobody is going after them.

Within transport, aviation accounts for about 13% of co2 emissions. Its contribution to total man-made emissions worldwide is said to be around 3%.
But then you read this:
One reason is that high-altitude emissions are probably disproportionately damaging to the environment. The nitrogen oxides from jet-engine exhausts lead to the formation of ozone, another greenhouse gas. Contrails are also suspected of enhancing the formation of cirrus clouds, which some scientists think adds to the global warming effect. The IPCC estimated that the overall impact on global warming of aircraft could be between two and four times that of their CO2 emissions alone, though there is no scientific consensus about the size of this multiplier.

Friends of the Earth commissioned a study from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to work out what growth of 6.4% a year (its average through the 1990s) would mean for Britain over the next 40-50 years. It concluded that the total CO2 discharges from air-traffic would soon offset all the reductions in carbon emissions scheduled under British government policies to comply with Kyoto. The European Commission (presumably neutral on such matters) accepts that, by 2012, the growth in aviation would offset more than a quarter of the reductions that its richer members hoped for.
So, airplane travel has 2 to 4 times the impact on global warming as their CO2 emissions alone, and the growth in air travel is expected to offset all the reductions in carbon emissions that Britain is undertaking. Now it seems important. As they sum up eloquently:
What this means is that the eco-conscious European consumer who jets off for a series of weekend breaks is destroying his day-to-day carbon parsimony. You can buy a hybrid car, switch to low-energy light bulbs in your house and eat locally grown organic food. But the dozen daily decisions on which you base your husbandry are trivial compared with the handful of yearly choices about that holiday or this business trip.
I would love to see a "vacation locally" green campaign that talks about the CO2 emissions that occur from long flights. There seems to be a lot of anti-Hummer Greens but not many anti-frequent flyers Greens, and I just don't get this (as I wrote about before). It is like they believe emissions from flying don't count.

Depending on your assumptions, traveling by aircraft isn't even the most efficient way to travel as this graph shows. And that doesn't even take into account that people typically travel much farther when they travel by plane.

To put the impact of flying in perspective lets compare a family trip to Japan with a Hummer Indy 500.

A round trip flight from LA to Tokyo (or London) is a little more than 10,000 miles round trip. Taking a family of four on a vacation to Tokyo uses approximately 800 gallons of fuel and emits 8 tons of CO2 (using Climate Care for the estimate). If you use the fact that airline emissions have 2 times the impact on global warming as those emitted by cars (and this is on the low end of the estimate), this is the same as 16 tons of CO2 emitted by cars.

If you had 32 Hummers (at 10 mpg) run the Indianapolis 500 (for a total of 16,000 miles driven), they would emit 16 tons of CO2.

Most Greens would be aghast at the idea of a Hummer Indianapolis 500, but would have only nice things to say when told of a family going on a Japanese vacation. And yet their impact on global warming is about the same.

Now I understand that if you do want to go to Tokyo, there is really no other way to do it but fly. On the other hand, if you are driving a Hummer you can substitute with a more efficient vehicle. But, you do have a choice on where you take your vacations and if you are serious about reducing fossil fuel usage then the distance of your destination should be taken into account. Substituting a family trip to Disneyland rather than a trip to Tokyo saves 8 tons of CO2 from being emitted. Changing from an SUV that gets 20 mpg to a Prius that gets 40 mpg, only saves 3 tons of CO2 a year (assuming 12,000 miles a year). The location of your vacation destinations is likely the most important environmental decisions you make all year.


Gaylords and Ass Clowns

I highly recommend Urban Dictionary for looking up phrases that you have heard but don't really know what they mean.

I was listening to Dane Cook's hilarious bit The Chicken Sangwich the Heckler and the Kabbash the other day and in it he calls someone a gaylord. Now, as a kid I often heard this phrase bandied about but I never really knew what it meant. Thanks to Urban Dictionary, I now have a proper definition:

The ultimate which nothing can outmatch. In using Gaylord you are saying somebody is essentially the Ruler of all Gays.

A Gaylord is a about 100x10^999 times more insulting than all of those words combined. Unlike many other definitions claim, Gaylord cannot be beaten by "fuck you" or any other insult.

Gaylord is a classic insult used many centuries ago, but recently has become lost in time...fortunately it is slowly being brought back into everyday use.

Random Guy 1: Dude, fuck you to the max...and SUCK IT!!!

Random Guy 2: You're such a GAYLORD...Hail the ruler of all gays.

Random Guy 1: Shit, I just got served
Another term I heard floating around was ass clown. This could be my all time favorite definition of any word:
One, who, through the fault of his parents conception, is a skid mark in society's collective underwear.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

5%, 25%, 50% Revisited

I had written earlier that when I think of the United States' place in the world, I like to keep 3 percentages in mind: 5%, 25%, and 50%. I have since found a couple more, so here is the updated list.

5% numbers
4.6% of world population (298 million of 6.5 billion)
6.2% of land on earth (9.63 of 148.94 million sq km)

20% of world GDP ($12.3 of $60.7 trillion)
23% of world prisoners (2.09 of 9 million)
23% of world carbon emissions (5.8 of 25.2 billion tons)
25% of world oil consumption (20 of 80.1 million bbl/day)
30% of all foreign college students study in the US (583,000 of 1.9 million)

45% of world automotive CO2 emissions
48% of world health care spending ($1.6 of $3.3 trillion)
48% of world advertising spending ($286.4 of $602.4 billion)
49% of world military defense spending ($518 billion of $1.07 trillion)
51% of the top 100 universities in the world
55% of the Nobel prizes in science from 1950-2003 (185 of 334)

And one bonus percentage:

66% of world spending on legal services


Self Driving Car can go 150 MPH

The day of self driving cars is coming sooner than we think.

But now German car giant Volkswagen has turned fiction into reality by unveiling a fully automatic car which really can drive itself - and at speeds of up to 150mph.

It can weave with tyres screeching around tricky bends and chicanes, and through tightly coned off tracks - without any help or intervention from a human.

The GTi has electronic 'eyes' that use radar and laser sensors in the grille to 'read' the road and send the details back to its computer brain. A sat-nav system tracks its exact position with pin-point precision to within an inch.

The car can then work out the twists and turns it has to negotiate - before setting off at break-neck speed through a laid out course on a test track.
via Daily Mail


Interesting Articles of the Day

Train your spouse like an exotic animal. Sounds degrading, but it isn't.

Number of wars in world at new low in 2005.

To stop seizures, neurosurgeons perform hemispherectomies where they remove an entire hemisphere from the brain. If done on young children, the remaining hemisphere can learn to do double duty and the patients can live a more or less normal life.

Tuangou, or team buying, aims to drive unprecedented bargains by combining the reach of the internet with the power of the mob. It is spreading through China like wildfire.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Mo Money Mo Problems

More happiness research showing that attaining more money doesn't lead to more happiness.

Finally, the researchers examined data from a nationwide Bureau of Labor Statistics survey on how people with varying household income levels spend their time. These data show that people with higher incomes devote relatively more of their time to work, shopping, childcare and other "obligatory" activities. Women surveyed by the researchers in Ohio associated those activities with "higher tension and stress." People with higher incomes spend less time on "passive leisure" activities such as socializing or watching television, which the respondents viewed as more enjoyable.

According to the government statistics, men making more than $100,000 per year spend 19.9 percent of their time on passive leisure, compared to 34.7 percent for men making less than $20,000. Women making more than $100,000 spend 19.6 percent of their time on passive leisure, compared with 33.5 percent of those making less than $20,000.

"Despite the weak relationship between income and global life satisfaction or experienced happiness, many people are highly motivated to increase their income," the study said. "In some cases, this focusing illusion may lead to a misallocation of time, from accepting lengthy commutes (which are among the worst moments of the day) to sacrificing time spent socializing (which are among the best moments of the day)."
via News@Princeton via Greg Mankiw Blog


The 30:3 Ratio

London strategist, Wendy Gordon, calls this the 30:3 ratio. "Thirty percent of people claim to be concerned about the environmental and ethical integrity of products and services they purchase and yet only three percent translate this attitude into behaviour," says Gordon, who is the author of a booklet, Brand Green: Mainstream or Forever Niche?
Other interesting insights on Green branding in the article.

via Red Orbit via WorldChanging