Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cyborg Pigeons

Scientists with the Robot Engineering Technology Research Center of east China's Shandong University of Science and Technology say they implanted micro electrodes in the brain of a pigeon so they can command it to fly right or left or up or down.

The implants stimulated different areas of the pigeon's brain according to signals sent by the scientists via computer, and forced the bird to comply with their commands.
Next time you think a pigeon is following you, it just might be.

via Wired


Monday, February 26, 2007

Progress of Science

“Max Planck tells us in his Autobiography that he does not believe that science progresses by the self-correcting action of minds. Rather, he thinks, the new ideas are promoted by the young as being new and especially theirs, and the old men with the wrong ideas eventually die off.”
—Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment, New York, 1964, 15.
Hopefully sometime I will get around to writing why I think humankind as a whole might not be served by people living much longer lives. But, this quote gets to the heart of my idea.

via Leowong2004


Friday, February 23, 2007

Michael Crichton on Charlie Rose

Interesting interview of Michael Crichton on Charlie Rose. He starts off talking about how he doesn't believe that it should be possible to patent genes. He might be correct, but I found is argument oversimplified. These letters to the editor do a good job explaining why it might be a good idea to keep the ability to patent them.

He then explains his position on global warming. I agree with lots of what he is saying. I think we need independent verification that the climate models can accurately predict the global temperature over the next 10 years before law makers unquestioningly use their predictions for policy. I also agree with him that a carbon tax is a good idea (although unlike him, I can't claim to have supported it for 25 years). And I also agree that overall Gore is a good guy, but his dire predictions of rising sea levels in an Inconvenient Truth are not what the mainstream climate scientists are predicting (at least not in the IPCC).

And if you want to see how Crichton's views have changed over time, check out all of his Charlie Rose interviews.


Interesting Articles of the Week

Kaiser launches genetics study sending detailed surveys to its 2 million adult members asking about their habits, family medical histories and many other factors that influence health. In a second phase it hopes to start next year, Kaiser will ask members to donate genetic material through cheek swabs or blood draws.

USDA Projects 31% of US Corn for Ethanol in 2016.

In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert.

Is Citizenrē too good to be true? I blogged previously about their service to allow people to rent solar panels. Now Wired investigates if this company is possibly a scam.

Part II and III of a father's attempt to "hack his child's brain" are now available.

Remember the great fear of offshoring? I always thought this was overblown, and from the lack of press coverage over that last couple of years, I think I was right.

The Australian government announced plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs.


Oil Curse

I support a gasoline tax for many reasons, but probably the biggest reason is to stop the oil curse in developing countries. This article in Financial Policy in Focus is a nice summary of the problems that go along with oil "wealth" in such countries.

The lived experience of oil-exporting countries over the past several decades tells a story which differs radically from the promise of petroleum. When taken as a group, all "rich" less developed countries dependent on oil exports have seen the living standards of their populations drop--and drop dramatically.

For most countries, including Algeria, Angola, Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Peru, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Trinidad Tobago, this development failure has been very severe, plunging real per capita incomes back to the levels of the 1970s and 1980s. For a few, most notably Nigeria and Venezuela, the failure to develop has been catastrophic; in these cases, real per capita income has plummeted to levels not seen before 1960. In Nigeria, which has received more than $340 billion in oil revenues, more than 70% of its population lives on less than a dollar a day, 43% lack sanitation and clean water, and infant mortality is among the highest in the world.

Even more worrisome, the gap between the expectations created by oil riches and the reality produced is a dangerous formula for disorder and war. Countries that depend upon oil exports, over time, are among the most economically troubled, the most authoritarian, and the most conflict-ridden states in the world today.
What makes it even more insidious is that things might actually look better at first.
Initially, oil development seems to work--at least for some time. Especially at the beginning, petroleum exploitation provides positive outcomes; per capita income may soar and financial accounts look startlingly favorable. Initially, the record shows petrodollar spending in most oil-exporters led to increased employment opportunities (especially in construction), generous pension plans for some, better nutrition, health, and infrastructure development. Telecommunications, paved roads, railways, and power-generating capacity increased considerably. In the few cases where oil-exporting countries have very small populations and very large oil reserves, (e.g., Brunei or the United Arab Emirates), these gains have been sustainable for some time.

But greater and greater rent-seeking undermines these positive outcomes. As economies grow more dependent on a depleting resource, as these resources are mismanaged, and as growth declines while demographic pressures grow, oil exporters move from exhilarating booms to painful busts. The volatility of oil prices--the rapid fluctuation from $8 to $35 per barrel and back, further undercuts efforts to turn oil wealth into other more permanent forms of sustainable development.
Just another reason to cut back on gasoline usage and support electric cars.


Traffic Congestion Costs over $70 Billion a Year

Following up on my previous post Improving Traffic Lights Could Save 17 Billion Gallons of Fuel a Year, Winning the Oil Endgame throws down some additional fat traffic knowledge.

Traffic congestion in 2001 wasted 3.6 billion hours and 5.7 billion gallons, worth $70 billion, in 75 U.S. urban areas.
Those are some big numbers, and that is for just 75 urban areas.

So what can we do about it?
Full adoption of incident management, signal coordination, ramp meters, and electronic toll plazas on all major roads in 75 U.S. metropolitan areas’ would have saved 0.95 billion gallons of the 5.7 billion gallons of fuel wasted by congestion in 2001. Adding a modest amount of advanced routing technologies, and a small part of the potential offered by a diverse additional technical portfolio described in Technical Annex, Ch. 8, would have saved another 0.5 billion gal/y in 2001. This 1.45-billion- gallon saving potential in 2001 matches ITS America’s 2002–2012 goal, scales to 1.68 billion gal/y (0.9% of total oil consumption) for all highway vehicles in 2025, and is our Conventional Wisdom case.
A plan to take back 1.7 billion gal/year. I like it.

Any way to get even more?
We also considered six other major technologies that could save between 17-plus and 45-plus percent of the fuel otherwise wasted by congestion. These include signal priority modeling for bus rapid transit and trucks, intelligent cruise control, very close vehicle spacing, vehicle classifiers, routing algorithms, and agent-based computing infrastructure, all described and referenced in the final section of Technical Annex, Ch. 8. Some of these measures are relatively costly, so we assume only the cheapest one-fourth of the whole portfolio, whose composition will vary with local circumstances. When deployed along with the Conventional Wisdom technology suite, those least-cost additional technologies round out our State of the Art IHS portfolio. Estimating its fuel savings and costs is particularly difficult, so rather than simply adding up the savings from every option, we conservatively estimate the impact of any subset to be twice the total of the Conventional Wisdom portfolio; the actual savings could be far greater.
3.4 billion gallons a year, even better. If that isn't enough for you, there are even more ideas over at Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

Ok, this is sounding good. How much is it going to cost?
The costs of both IHS portfolios assumed here are unknown but probably modest, and are at least an order of magnitude smaller than the societal value of driver time saved. (Recall from p. 38 that 2001 congestion cost ~$70 billion per year.) The net cost of our partial IHS portfolio is therefore at worst zero and is probably strongly negative. However, the lack of reliable cost figures doesn’t matter because we’ve already credited IHS with helping to offset rebound (p. 41), so it’s not in our oil-efficiency supply curves. If it were, it would probably reduce the average cost per saved barrel.
Less than $700 million to fix this up and give us back part of our $70 billion in wasted time? Lets get started.

I should also mention that Winning the Oil Endgame book is available as a free .pdf download. Makes it easy to copy a segment of the book for blogging purposes. It also gives me a chance to say that it a great book and if you don't feel like reading the whole thing on your computer, you can go buy a copy.


Power Consumption of Game Consoles

In case you were wondering which next generation game console is the most energy efficient, as the graph shows, the Wii wins hands down. It uses less than 1/10 of the energy of an XBox 360 or a Playstation 3. The Wii is one efficient little box, using less than 20 Watts (that would be less than 1/5 of the energy of a 100 Watt light bulb for those of you that have a hard time doing fractions in your head).

On the other hand, for some reason the Wii is one inefficient little box when it is turned off (see graph below). If you have the Connect 24 enabled, it uses almost 10 Watts when it is "turned off". Ironically, this means if you play for just one hour a day, a Wii actually uses more electricity (23 hrs * 10 Watts + 1 * 19 = 249 Wh) than a Xbox (23 * 2.5 + 1 * 186 = 243.5 Wh).

Moral of the story, buy the Wii and turn the Connect 24 off when not needed.

via hardCOREware.net via Engadget


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How Much Energy Does an Elevator Use?

After listening to the author of the Long Emergency speak of how we are running out of oil and that buildings over 7 stories were going to go away because we wouldn't have the energy to run elevators, I wondered how much energy it took to run an elevator. I think this guy is a quack and history will prove him wrong, but I still wanted to know if there was anything to what he said.

When I found this Otis Elevator Energy Use Calculator, I decided to investigate.

1) How much electricity does a typical high rise apartment dweller use in elevator trips in a month?

Assuming you are traveling 20 floors, making 2 round trips a day you would use 5.8 kWh a month (calculations below). At $.07 a kWh this would be $.40 worth of electricity. To put that in perspective, my refrigerator uses approximately 52 kWh a month and the average home uses 888 kWh a month or 153 times as much. So it is not very much.

2) How much electricity is used per round trip, per floor and per km?

Per round trip (20 floors): 100 Wh. This is about how much a desktop computer and monitor use running for 30 minutes.

Per floor (one direction, 3 meters): 2.5 Wh. That is approximately 1/2 the amount of energy it takes to recharge a cellphone battery.

Per km: 800 Wh. To put this in perspective, the Tesla Roadster electric uses 110 Wh per km. A counter weighted elevator is therefore about 1/7 as efficient as the Tesla Roadster per km. Then again the elevator goes up and down while the Roadster travels on flat land.

3) Does reducing your use of elevator trips make sense?

For health reasons, probably. Walking up a couple of flights of stairs a day is good excerise and your heart will be happy with you. But in terms of reducing energy usage for environmental reasons, not really. There are many other things that are much easier to do that would have bigger impacts. Changing 3 100 W light bulbs to CFLs would save more electricity than the typical apartment dweller going cold turkey on elevators.

If you were to walk up and down 3 flights of stairs instead of an elevator, that would save 15 Wh a day or 450 Wh a month. That would be enough to power a 37" Plasma TV for 3 hours. It is something, but not much. If you wanted to save energy, you would be better off trying to walk or take public transportation to work.

If living in a high rise in a dense urban environment allows you to save more than 1 gallon of gasoline due to decreased driving, the elevator usage more than pays for itself in energy savings.

After all this analysis, I am left with the same thought that I had when I started this, elevators don't use much energy and that Long Emergency guy is seriously bonkers.


Data was gathered from the Otis Elevator Energy Use Calculator. They use the following assumptions:

1) Residential Building:
- Each user performs 2 runs per day (up and down);
- Each run, as a rule, corresponds to half of the elevator's total rise;
- Each floor, as a rule, is 3 m. high;
- In part of the runs, the elevator does not spend energy
As I understand it, each run is an up and down so this means there are 4 single leg journeys a day. I believe this assumes that you are the only person in the elevator each time you take it. This might over estimate the total as sometimes you share a ride. On the other hand, sometimes you are on the ground floor and the elevator has to travel many floors to get to you, so this would under-estimate the total. Hopefully they more or less cancel each other out.

I entered the following values:
Car capacity: 20 people
Number of stops (including main entrance and basements): 41
Total population of the building: 1000 people
Number of elevators that serves this population: 1
There are many types of elevators that it calculates for:
Variable frequency type controller - Gearless machine (Current technology): 5777 kWh/month
AC type controller - Geared machine and Hydrolic (Old technology): 8888 kWh/month
Gen2™ elevator system - Machineroomless (Latest technology): 4493 kWh/month
I chose to go with the current technology, but numbers can be adjusted accordingly.

As 1/1000 of the people, one persons total comes to 5.777 kWh a month. Since the run corresponds to 1/2 the total rise, 41 stops means that you travel 20 floors (from the 1st to the 21st), which is 60 meters. 5.8 kWh /60 trips (2 trips a day * 30 days a month) = .1 kWh /120 meters (double for up and down)= .8 Wh a meter = 800 Wh a km.

Update: I found this post on AskPablo about energy use of elevators. He puts the energy needed to travel one floor at 1.5 Wh. This is a bit lower than my 2.5 Wh estimate, but in the same ballpark.


Air Traffic Management Efficiency = Environmental Responsibility

"Every minute of flying-time that we can save, reduces fuel consumption by an average of 62 litres and CO2 emissions by 160 kilogrammes. Governments are quick to make vacations more expensive with new taxes in the name of the environment. But they are slow to improve the infrastructure. It’s about time they realised what a difference a minute can make," said IATA Director General and CEO, Giovanni Bisignani.

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that there is 12% inefficiency in air traffic management globally. That means up to 73 million tonnes of wasted CO2 emissions and nearly US$13.5 billion in wasted costs," said Bisignani.

"IATA’s work to optimize 350 routes in 2006 yielded 6 million tonnes of CO2 savings. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. We see issues in all continents. The approach to Hong Kong is up to 25 minutes longer than it needs to be. Flying from Sao Paolo to Lima is 9 minutes too long. Johannesburg to London is 10 minutes too long. And flying to Manila from Japan has 5 unneeded minutes. Optimizing routes should not be a battle. It’s a win-win situation for the passenger and for the environment," said Bisignani.
If we can reduce CO2 emissions while making air flight faster, that seems like a no brainer.

via IATA via Green Car Congress


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Computer Servers Use 1.2% of Total US Electricity

I have written before how server farms are replacing aluminum refining as the major users of cheap electricity. This report looks at the extent of server energy use.

Total power used by servers represented about 0.6% of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2005. When cooling and auxiliary infrastructure equipment are included, that number grows to 1.2%, an amount comparable to that for color televisions. The total power demand in 2005 (including associated infrastructure) is equivalent (in capacity terms) to about five 1000 MW power plants for the U.S. and 14 such plants for the world. The total electricity bill for operating those servers and associated infrastructure in 2005 was about $2.7 B and $7.3 B for the U.S. and the world, respectively.

Aggregate electricity use for servers doubled over the period 2000 to 2005 both in the U.S. and worldwide.

If power per server remains constant, those trends would imply an increase in electricity used by servers worldwide of about 40% by 2010. If in addition the average power use per unit goes up at the same rate for each class as our analysis indicates that it did from 2000 to 2005, total electricity used by servers by 2010 would be 76% higher than it was in 2005.
And these numbers are probably an underestimate as they don't take into account networking equipment and tape backups. It also doesn't include Google as they don't use server class machines in their server farms (ironic isn't it). If you include Google they estimate it would raise the total worldwide electricity use by servers 1.7%.

There are 10,306 servers in the US and 27,282 in the world (US has 37% of the world's total). This works out to 1 server per 30,000 Americans. The servers use 45 billion kWh of energy per year in the US and 123 billion kWh worldwide. This works out to 150 kWh per American.

via Business 2.0 (.pdf) via ecoIron


Monday, February 19, 2007

Bionic Eye Restores Sight to the Blind

A bionic eye that can restore sight to the blind should be available commercially within two years, scientists behind the revolutionary technology announced yesterday.

The artificial retina has been cleared by US regulators to begin trials on between 50 and 75 people suffering from two of the most common causes of blindness, opening the way for millions more to benefit from similar implants in the future.

If the research progresses well, a device could be on the market early in 2009 at a likely cost of about £15,000, said Mark Humayun, Professor of Ophthalmology at the Doheny Eye Institute, part of the University of Southern California.

An early version of the prosthetic retina has already been fitted to six patients with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative and incurable eye condition that affects 1 in 3,500 people. All have recovered the ability to detect light and motion, and even to make out large letters and to distinguish between objects such as a cup, a knife and a plate.

The second-generation device that is now starting trials should provide even better vision, as it contains 60 light-sensitive electrodes, compared with 16 in the previous model.

More improvements are expected within five to seven years with a 1000-electrode implant that will enable previously blind people to recognise faces, Professor Humayun said.

The bionic eye consists of three elements. First, a miniature camera worn in a pair of dark glasses, which transmits images to a radio receiver implanted near the patient’s eye.

This then sends a signal on to a tiny silicon and platinum chip, about 4mm square, that sits on the retina. The chip’s electrodes stimulate the ganglion cells that transmit visual information to the optic nerve and onwards to the brain, which can then construct a visual image.
Good stuff. If they are able to go from 60 to 1000 in 5 years, that is an increase of 75% a year. If they can keep that up for an additional 14 years, they get to 2 million electrode implants that give you 1080p HD resolution. Once we get there, sign me up baby!

via Times Online


Tesla Motors to Build Electric Sports Sedan

Tesla Motors will build its new automobile assembly facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Construction on the 150,000 square foot plant will begin in April 2007, at the latest. The New Mexico plant will be the company’s first assembly facility in the United States, and will produce the WhiteStar, an upcoming four-door, five-passenger all-electric sports sedan.

The first cars will roll off the assembly line in the fall of 2009, and Tesla Motors will produce at least 10,000 cars each year. The vehicles will cost $50,000 for the standard model or $65,000 for a premium model with greater performance and range.
This is all part of Tesla's Secret Master Plan. Looks like they are shooting to release their sports sedan in fall of 2009. Not quite the 2008 they were hoping for earlier, but not that far off.

10,000 is a nice size to produce and a couple of magnitudes of order higher than the 100 Roadsters they are rolling out this year.

$50,000 is a good price decrease from the $100,000 the Roadster, but still pricey for sports sedan. Then again if you are only paying $.01 a mile for electricity rather than the $.10 a mile you pay with $2 gasoline and a 20 mpg car, the extra cost might pay for itself over the lifetime of the car.

The key thing for me is the range the batteries will get. If it is close to the 250 miles of their Roadster I think this vehicle will be a big winner in the marketplace.

via Green Car Congress


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jevons Paradox

In economics, the Jevons Paradox is an observation made by William Stanley Jevons who stated that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase, rather than decrease.

In his 1865 book The Coal Question, Jevons observed that England's consumption of coal soared after James Watt introduced his coal-fired steam engine, which greatly improved the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen's earlier design. Watt's innovations made coal a more cost effective power source, leading to increased use of his steam engine in a wide range of industries. This in turn made total coal consumption rise, even as the amount of coal required for any particular application fell.
I just finished reading Winning the Oil Endgame. While I thought the ideas on how to conserve oil were good, I wondered if Jevons Paradox would come into play. As cars became more efficient with oil, would this lead to people driving larger cars and driving further offsetting any oil reductions? Seems like you need a tax on gasoline as well to overcome Jevons Paradox.

via Wikipedia


Interesting Articles of the Week

Does the world have enough lithium to allow us all to drive electric cars?

A father attempts to hack his child's brain to help with his sensory processing disorder.

Viruses, not prions, may be at the root of diseases such as scrapie, BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), researchers say.

Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker supports oil or carbon emissions taxes to combat global warming and says the argument that they would ruin an economy was "fundamentally false."

GTC Biotherapeutics is among several companies worldwide perfecting the art of "pharming" -- genetically modifying animals to churn out drugs for disorders like hemophilia and cancer.


Free roads are anything but free

Historically, we've spent billions on roads and provided them for free. This approach has given us endless traffic jams, because as any former Soviet commissar can tell you, if prices are too low, endless queues follow. Our free roads end up being anything but free, as massive congestion causes us to pay with time instead of cash.

Tolls should be used to charge people for the congestion they create. If I drive during peak hours, I slow everyone else down. Congestion-based tolls help us make the right decision about when and how often to drive. Granted, if we just raise tolls on major highways like the turnpike, then we push people onto the already crowded side streets. Knowing that, London Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003 introduced a congestion charge throughout much of his city. That led to an 18 percent reduction in traffic and a 30 percent drop in congestion. The change made the city more livable, especially for lower- and middle-income residents who rode buses.
I hate traffic, and would definitely be willing to pay tolls to avoid it. Even more so if the toll money could be used to offset other taxes I pay.

via Boston Globe


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Fastest XP Prank Ever

Genius, I love it!

via Metacafe via Digg


Monday, February 12, 2007


Omnifone, a British mobile music company, is unveiling a new music service Monday aimed at cell phone users who crave music while on the go, in the first of what is expected to be many challenges against Apple Inc.'s upcoming iPhone and its ubiquitous iTunes Store.

The London-based company, founded in 2003, said its new MusicStation will be an "all you can eat" service that will let users - in Europe first, but with plans to expand elsewhere - download new songs from dozens of major music labels for a weekly cost starting at 1.99 pounds, or about $3.88, per week.
Very cool. I have been waiting for such a service for about 10 years now. Basically this is Rhapsody, only you can download the music on your cellphone wirelessly.

Not sure if there are extra charges with cellphone data plans. Hopefully this will make it state side in a year or so. More details here.

via Wired


Intel Details Teraflops-Capable Chip

The world's biggest chipmaker said Sunday it developed a programmable processor that can perform about a trillion calculations per second, or deliver a performance of 1.01 teraflops. It accomplishes this feat while consuming 62 watts of power when the chip is running at a frequency of 3.16 gigahertz.

A similarly powerful supercomputer in 1996 at Sandia National Laboratories took up more than 2,000 square feet, used nearly 10,000 Pentium Pro processors, and consumed more than 500 kilowatts of electricity.

Technology experts praised Intel for devising a clever way to get 80 core calculating engines onto a single slice of silicon.
via Wired


Friday, February 09, 2007

Importing HTML Tables into Excel

I must have missed the memo, but you can drag and drop an HTML table into Excel. Very handy!


Thursday, February 08, 2007

How Many Gallons of Gasoline in a Barrel of Oil?

If you save 1 billion gallons of gasoline, how many barrels of oil does that translate into?

There are 42 gallons of oil in an oil barrel, so I first thought that there would then be 42 gallons of gasoline in a barrel as well. But as I looked into it it quickly became more complicated that that.

Oil is complex mixture of hydrocarbons (mostly alkanes) of various lengths of which only some are of the length that make up gasoline. It is also turned into diesel fuel, jet fuel, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics. Since gasoline doesn't make up the whole barrel, it then seemed like a good idea to figure out what percentage of the barrel was turned into gasoline.

About 10% of the product of the distillation of crude oil is a fraction known as straight-run gasoline. That would mean that a barrel of oil would produce 4.2 gallons of gasoline. It also depends on the type of oil, as Venezuelan crude yields little gasoline (about 5%), whereas Texas or Arabian crude yields about 30% gasoline.

Given the differences I took a look at what the average barrel of oil produces. American Petroleum Institute reports that 1 barrel of oil produced 19.4 gallons of gasoline per barrel based on average yields for U.S. refineries in 2000.

They also report that

The total volume of products made is 2.6 gallons greater than the original 42 gallons of crude oil. This represents “processing gain.”
Hmm, so maybe instead of thinking about 42 gallons per barrel I should start with 44.6. But, I digress.

The EIA tells us that in 2005, 20.8 billion barrels of oil and 9.16 billion barrels of gasoline (385 billion gallons) were consumed. That gives us a ratio of 18.5 gallons per barrel. The EIA also tells us that 69% of petroleum use is for transportation, and while I found that factoid interesting enough to let you know, it doesn't pertain to the current analysis so we will keep moving.

If straight-run gasoline only makes up 2-13 gallons per barrel, how did the average get to 19.4 or 18.5? That lead me to read these really interesting articles on oil refining and cracking. Using catalysts, heat, steam and or hydrogen complex organic molecules (e.g. kerogens or heavy hydrocarbons) are broken down into simpler molecules (e.g. light hydrocarbons) by the breaking of carbon-carbon bonds in the precursors.

From Chevron:
Today, some refineries can turn more than half of every 42-gallon barrel of crude oil into gasoline. That's a remarkable technological improvement from 70 years ago, when only 11 gallons of gasoline could be produced.
So it looks like using cracking you can turn 1/2 of a barrel of oil into gasoline or 21 gallons.

Or maybe even higher as Cars.com reports:
More than half of the gasoline used in the United States today is produced by cracking, most by a fluid catalytic cracking process that uses alumina-silica gel powders as catalysts.

By combining all of these processes, 100 liters (26 gallons) of crude oil can yield slightly more than 100 liters of gasoline.
100 liters of crude = 100 liters of gasoline, that would get us back to the 42 gallon mark.

In Winning the Oil Endgame, they take another approach, comparing the amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline with that of a barrel of oil. A Barrel of oil equivalent has 5.8 million Btu of energy vs. 115,000 Btu for a gallon of gasoline. This gets you up to 50.4 gallons.

While I like this valuation method, energy would be lost converting all the oil into gasoline. I think the cars.com value stating that it is possible to have a 1 to 1 conversion is a better estimate.

So there you are. After all this analysis, we are back where we started. A barrel of oil can produce 42 gallons of gasoline. If the US could cut reduce consumption by 1 billion gallons of gasoline, that would translate to 24 million barrels of oil.

Update: Commenter Tom asks whether drilling, transportation, refining and distribution are accounted for in the estimate. No they weren't. The best estimate I could find for energy loses for these is from a Wikipedia reference to a Department of Energy "Petroleum refining and distribution efficiency factor" of 0.83. I tried to figure out how that number was calculated but failed. But, assuming it is an accurate estimate for drilling, transportation, refining and distribution, then 17% of total energy is used for these purposes. Taking the 50.4 gallon number (based on total energy of a gallon of oil) * .83 = 41.8 gallons, which is pretty darn close to the 42 gallon number.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007


PlanetTran uses Priuses to provide an alternative to the traditional taxi, limo or airport shuttle service, and costs about 30% less than a “black car” limo. The company uses real-time online booking and vehicle monitoring, and provides in-car WiFi access.
Prius Taxis with WiFi, cool!

via Green Car Congress


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.
Who says men are afraid of commitment? While only 49% of women of married, 53% of men are, a 4 point differential. If that was the difference in an election, it would be a blow out. The facts don't lie, and the facts say men are married at a higher rate then women.
In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.
That is amazing that Asian women are married at twice the rate that black women are.

via NY Times


Now That's a Lot of Coal

Amazing stat of the day courtesy of Big Coal:

The average American consumes about 20 pounds of coal a day.
That is incredible!

I figure I ingest less than ten pounds of food and water a day, so as an average American I consume over twice that much in coal.

A pound of coal can be turned into roughly 1 kWh of power, so 20 lbs of coal could light a 100W lightbulb for 20 hours. All told, the US uses over 1 million tons of coal a year.


Human Skin Harbors Completely Unknown Bacteria

It appears that the skin, the largest organ in our body, is a kind of zoo and some of the inhabitants are quite novel, according to a new study. Researchers found evidence for 182 species of bacteria in skin samples. Eight percent were unknown species that had never before been described.

The researchers analyzed the bacteria on the forearms of six healthy subjects; three men and three women. “This is essentially the first molecular study of the skin,” says Dr. Blaser. The skin has been, he says, terra incognita, an unknown world that he and his colleagues have set out to understand much like explorers.

This research is part of an emerging effort to study human microbial ecology. Dr. Blaser’s laboratory has previously examined the bacterial population in the stomach and the esophagus. “Many of the bacteria of the human body are still unknown,” he says. “We all live with bacteria all our lives and occasionally we smile, so they’re not that bad for us.”
I love this research on the bacteria that live with us. But I have to say I am surprised that they were able to find unknown species of bacteria growing on us. I just assumed that science already knew of all the species of bacteria that lived with us. And if we didn't I assumed there would be tons of labs looking into this rather than just 10.

It seems to me that that these bacteria could have a big impact on the health of their symbiotic partner (that being us). Or as the doc puts it:
The most numerous cells in our body are microbial—they outnumber our cells 10 to 1. The body has microbes native to the body, including the skin, and these populations change according to how we live, he says. “Ultimately what we want to do is compare disease and health,” says Dr. Blaser. Keeping bacterial populations in our body stable may be part of staying healthy, he says.
Yeah, I want to know what kind of zoo I should be keeping for optimal health.
The six individuals differed markedly in the overall composition of the bacterial populations on their skin. They only had four species of bacteria in common: Propionibacterium acnes, Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum, Streptococcus mitis, and Finegoldia AB109769.

Almost three-quarters, or 71.4%, of the total number of bacterial species were unique to individual subjects, suggesting that the skin surface is highly diversified in terms of the bacteria it harbors, according to the study.
That is amazing to me that each person could have their own individual types of bacteria. But, the study was only of 6 people, so I don't think you can draw that conclusion yet.

via Newswise via Al Fin


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mothers Interfere at a Cellular Level

Ever worry that you are becoming your mom? New research shows that this may be more than a figure of speech.

This form of maternal meddling is called microchimerism. A mother's cells can endure until a child reaches adulthood and perhaps throughout life. But scientists do not know exactly how common microchimerism is. It is detected more often in people with autoimmune conditions, which has led to the suggestion that the maternal cells could trigger those diseases. But healthy people have them too, seemingly with no ill effects.

he technique found maternal cells in about half the diabetics' samples, but in only about one-third of the healthy siblings' samples and in less than one-fifth of those from the unrelated volunteers. Moreover, the microchimerism was not only more common but also more pronounced in diabetics. Dr Nelson found that diabetics with maternal cells tended to have more of them than did non-diabetics with maternal cells. Why?

In the second half of the study, Dr Nelson examined the pancreatic tissue of four dead boys, one of whom had been diabetic. Specialised cells within that tissue, called islet beta cells, make insulin. Usually, by the time diabetes is diagnosed most islet beta cells have stopped working. Dr Nelson wanted to know whether maternal cells had made their way to the pancreas, especially in the diabetic child, and, if so, what they had done there.

To her surprise, she found female cells (presumably from mother) in all four samples. Furthermore, these cells had transformed themselves into the insulin-producing islet beta cells. They also produced insulin, demonstrating that mothers do indeed interfere at a cellular level.
Very interesting. But, how much do you want to bet that this discovery will be used as a plotline on CSI?

via The Economist


Lab-Grown Diamonds

For years, De Beers, the world’s largest purveyor of natural diamonds, argued against the acceptance and GIA grading of lab-grown stones. But since 2003, synthetic diamond production has taken off, driven by consumer demand for merchandise that’s environmentally friendly (no open-pit mines), sociopolitically neutral (no blood diamonds), and monopoly-free (not controlled by De Beers). As a result, Gemesis, the leading manufacturer of gem-quality diamonds (see “The Diamond Wars Have Begun,” issue 11.09), has expanded operations rapidly. Three years ago, the company had 24 diamond-producing machines; now it has hundreds - matching the cash-value output of a small mine - and is turning on a new one every other day. “At this point, we operate like any other mine,” says Clark McEwen, COO of Gemesis. “We produce rough diamonds in our machines and sell to distributors who do the cutting and polishing.”
I like the idea of replacing diamond mines with diamond factories for the reasons listed above.

Of course, if this is really successful, it will drive down the price of diamonds. But, the whole reason diamonds are popular is that they are expensive and make for an easy display of wealth. When diamonds become cheap they will no longer fill this role and some other more precious (meaning rare and expensive) gem will take its place. And odds are that new gem will have the same problems that diamonds currently have, and we are back to square one.

On the other hand, if the carbon comes from someone special, then maybe the diamond will have more sentimental value that no other gem can match.

via Wired


Why Do Good? Brain Study Offers Clues

People may not perform selfless acts just for an emotional reward, a new brain study suggests.

Instead, they may do good because they're acutely tuned into the needs and actions of others.

Heuttel's team had a group of healthy young adults either engage in a computer game or watch as the computer played the game itself. In some sessions, the computer and participants played for personal gain, while in other sessions, they played for charity.

The researchers used high-tech functional MRI (fMRI) to observe "hot spots" of activity in the participants' brains as they engaged in these tasks.

"We went into this experiment with the idea that altruism was really a function of the brain's reward systems - altruistic people would simply find it more rewarding," he said.

But instead, a whole other brain region, called the posterior superior temporal cortex (pSTC), kicked into high gear as altruism levels rose.

The pSTC is located near the back of the brain and is not focused on reward. Instead, it focuses on perceiving others' intentions and actions, Huettel said.

"The general function of this region is that it seems to be associated with perceiving, usually visually, stimuli that seems meaningful to us - for example, something in the environment that might move an object from place to place," he explained.
via CBC News via DailyGood