Saturday, March 31, 2007

Carbon Footprint of a Bag of Potato Chips

To measure Walkers' carbon footprint, the Carbon Trust, on our behalf, has calculated the carbon footprint of a standard packet of Walkers Cheese & Onion Crisps.

The final carbon footprint calculation is 75g.

The flow-chart on this page shows exactly what percentage of our carbon footprint is expended at each stage:

1) 44%: Our raw materials: Potatoes, sunflowers and seasoning
2) 30%: Manufacture: Producing crisps from potatoes
3) 15%: Packaging our crisps
4) 9%: Distribution: Bringing our crisps to you
5) 2%: Disposal of the empty packs
I really like this idea of putting the carbon footprint on every day items, so you can get a feel of the embedded carbon in them.

I also like the breakdown in stages as it lets you know that the raw materials have the majority of the impact and therefore probably the best place to try and reduce emissions. I think many people would have thought that the manufacturing and distribution were the main culprits, and this lets you see that raw materials have an even greater impact than both of them combined.

The 75g number is ultimately the key value on the label, but without something to compare it to, it is not that interesting on its own. Hopefully in the future other potato chip manufacturers and food producers will also label their products so you can choose a low carbon product. Off hand, the only thing I can think of to compare it to is a gallon of gasoline which has around 9 kg of emissions, so one bag of chips is around 1/120 of that.

via Walkers via Food System Factoids


Friday, March 30, 2007

The Cutest Most Disturbing Video You Will Ever Watch

Never before have I used both the words cute and disturbing to describe something, but watch this video on hatchery chickens and tell me if you don't agree.

You will be laughing and saying ahh while at the same time feeling something is seriously wrong with this picture. It is like something out of The Matrix (or should I say The Meatrix). Hard to imagine that close to 9 billion chickens are born like this every year.


9 Billion Chickens Born a Year in US

I am reading The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter which alerted me to this article Human Diets and Animal Welfare which looks at how many animals are being born each year in the US. I found this chart particularly interesting.

Born per year (millions) Percent of all born Lifespan (years) Life-years per year (millions)Kg protein per life-yearLand use (m2) per kg protein
Broiler chickens 8,680 92.27 0.12 1042 1.8514
Broiler breeders 46 0.49 1.3 61
Layer chickens 259 2.76 1.3 337 1.5922
Turkeys 274 2.91 0.3 84
Hogs 101 1.07 0.6 59 16.490
Breeder sows 1 0.01 5.0 6
Beef cows 36 0.38 2.5 89 17.8 245
Dairy cows 9 0.10 5.0 45 234 24
Veal calves 1 0.01 0.27 0.3 -
Total 9,407 100.00

These numbers just blew me away. Almost 9 billion chickens a year born in the US! To put that in perspective, there have only been 100 billion people that have lived throughout history, so in 11 years there are more chickens born in the US than there have been people that have ever lived on the planet.

9 billion chickens works out to 30 chickens per American per year. I thought there was no way that could be right, but then I checked out this USDA report that states there were 35 billion pounds of chicken produced and consumption of 85.8 lbs per capita in 2006. That works out to .25 lbs of chicken a day every day for every American which makes 30 chickens a year seem plausible.

The 9 billion chickens born a year makes the 46 million cows born a year pale by comparison. And yet even that is over 10 times the 4.1 million humans born in the US each year.

The article also raises the interesting ethical and environmental question of whether you should be trying to minimize the number of sentient beings you are killing vs. minimizing the amount of land that you are using.

I have always thought the goal should be to minimize the amount of land. The preferable choices would then be chicken, eggs and milk (smallest number in the Land use (m2) per kg protein column). But, if you want to minimize the number of killings then you should go for milk and beef (largest number in the Kg protein per life-year column). I have meet some Buddhists who favored this approach. Ironically I met these Buddhists in India where it is illegal to eat beef.

The article also makes the surprising case that raising chickens actually increases the number of living sentient beings. If you left one acre of land to nature there would be fewer sentient beings then if you used the same amount of land to raise chickens. If your goal is to maximize the number of living sentient beings (a similar idea to My Pro-Life Agenda), and if the life the animals lived was worth living (not at all clear in the current factory system) then raising chickens is actually preferable to leaving the land to nature. But, if this was really your goal, you are better off still if you become a vegetarian and then use the extra grain to feed smaller sentient beings like mice. I have a hard time seeing how creating a world maximizing the number of living mice is an optimal one, but maybe that is just me.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Corruption and Income

Most clearly, poverty and bribery go together. But which causes which?

Mr Wolfowitz's crusade at the World Bank is based on the idea that corrupt countries fail to develop. But several countries in Asia have grown rapidly at a time when cronyism was common, including Indonesia and South Korea in their time. Today's most conspicuous example is China with its explosive growth. Polls consistently show that corruption is the top complaint of ordinary Chinese. From time to time the Chinese government executes particularly egregious offenders, to no apparent avail. And yet foreign investors cannot pile into the country fast enough. Although most economists agree that corruption slows development, a corrupt country is nevertheless capable of rapid growth. Countries may be corrupt because they are poor, and not the other way round.
That is an interesting question. I had thought that corruption caused poverty. But, China is a major counter example. Hopefully future research will look into which way the causation arrow points.

via The Economist


Interesting Articles of the Week

Stephen Colbert was right: "Guts" actually do affect our emotional response

MIT is making its entire curriculum available online for free.

Why is a minute divided into 60 seconds
, an hour into 60 minutes, yet there are only 24 hours in a day?

How to take a power nap.

Scuba diving without air tanks.

Pot Prisoners Cost Americans $1 Billion a Year.

Tough bug reveals key to radiation resistance.


Average U.S. Home Receives 104.2 TV Channels

YEAR # of Channels # of Channels Viewed % of Available Channels Viewed
2006 104.2 15.7 15.1%
2005 96.4 15.4 16.0%
2004 92.6 15.0 16.2%
2000 61.4 13.6 22.1%
1995 41.1 10.1 24.6%
1990 33.2 n/a n/a
1985 18.8 n/a n/a

In 2006, the average household tuned to 15.7, or 15.1% of the 104.2 channels available for at least 10 minutes per week.

The average U.S. TV home has 2.5 people and 2.8 television sets.
The average number of channels has increased from 41.1 in 1995 to 104.2 in 2006. While I believe there is extra value in having all of these extra channels, I wonder how you would quantify it and how large it is?

This really gets at the heart of what the benefit the long tail is. How much value does extra choice give to consumers? How much better is having access to 40,000 DVDs through Netflix than hundreds at your local video store? How much better is having access to millions of books at Amazon over thousands in your local book store?

I wonder whether the standard economic statistics we look at captures this increase in choice. When you are comparing standard of living in 1995 to 2006, does it take into account the greater selection of content we have available? If you paid $40 a month for 40 channels in '95 and now pay $40 a month for 100 channels in '06, how much has the real value of the cable service increased? I would hope that the cost of living measurements would capture this, but I am not sure they do.

I also find it interesting that if you look at the number of channels viewed, it has slowly increased from 10.1 to 15.7. But, the % of channels viewed has gone down from 24.6% to 15.1%. So while people actually are getting more channels that they value (they are watching an additional 5.6 channels for a 50% increase), they feel like there is less on TV that they like. This leads to the call for ala carte pricing, since the average viewer sees so many channels that they aren't viewing. What most viewers don't understand is that nobody watches most of the channels, and to save money on ala carte pricing, they will have to view less than the 15.7 channels the average viewer watches.

via Nielsen Media


Cortisol, the Brain and Happiness

Findings from Davidson’s lab clearly suggest that a sense of well-being should not be considered as the simple absence of disease or depression, but rather as the presence of a distinct profile of emotional reactivity and emotion regulation characterized by a pattern of unique neurobiological substrates. Moreover, these patterns of brain function appear to influence peripheral biology in ways that may be consequential for health.

Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. It is triggered whenever we feel threatened, but prolonged exposure can increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and suppress the immune system.

“We have found that individuals who show very effective regulation of negative emotions also show a more adaptive pattern of cortisol release,” explained Davidson.

Cortisol is naturally higher in the morning and reaches a low point just before bedtime. According to Davidson’s findings, individuals who show the highest levels of well-being and most effective emotion regulation are those who also show the lowest levels of cortisol at night. The ability to automatically regulate this stress hormone may play a critical role in mediating the health consequences associated with high degrees of happiness.
Now I want to get a hold of a device that allows me to measure my cortisol levels to see how I stack up every night.
Davidson’s research also shows that positive and negative emotions produce activity in very different paths of the brains. It turns out that one place the blue bird of happiness likes to roost is the left prefrontal cortex.

Research reveals that people experiencing anxiety, anger or depression show the most brain activity in the right prefrontal cortex, just behind the forehead. Those experiencing positive outward-reaching emotions show more activity in the left prefrontal cortex. What’s more, people seem to be predisposed genetically and through their experiences towards being either more left-brained or right-brained, that is, more cheerful or sad.
Gives new meaning to the old left brain/right brain debate.
“We discovered that when expert practitioners meditated — and our subjects had between 12,000 — 62,000 hours of meditation each over the course of their lives — there were major, observable changes in the brain, some quite unusual. We saw the production of certain rhythms over extended periods of time, minutes, even hours. In normal individuals, these patterns occur very episodically and last only seconds. What we observed is the brain getting reorganized. We are using these findings to identify long-term end points achievable through intense practice.”
62,000 hours, wow that is a lot of time! But I guess it is all relative.

I remember watching Charlie Rose interview Mark Cuban and Mark said he needs to read 4 hours a day to keep up with the latest in technology. I thought, hmm I'm not quite there, but I could definitely see myself doing that. Then the next day Charlie interviews Yogi Sri B.K.S Iyengar and he said that he does 4 hours of yoga a day. I thought, wow, how could anyone do 4 hours of yoga a day? Seems like a big waste of time. So, I guess it is all about the perspective with which you look at it.

via Daily Planet via Happiness and Public Policy


Monday, March 26, 2007

Fact or Fiction?: Living People Outnumber the Dead

The human population has swelled so much that people alive today outnumber all those who have ever lived, says a factoid whose roots stretch back to the 1970s. Some versions of this widely circulating rumor claim that 75 percent of all people ever born are currently alive.

In 2002 Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a nongovernmental organization in Washington, D.C., updated his earlier estimate of the number of people that have ever existed. To calculate this, he studied the available population data to determine the human population growth rates during different historical periods, and used them to determine the number of people who have ever been born.

To calculate how many people have ever lived, Haub followed a minimalist approach, beginning with two people in 50000 B.C.—his Adam and Eve. Then, using his historical growth rates and population benchmarks, he estimated that slightly over 106 billion people had ever been born. Of those, people alive today comprise only 6 percent, nowhere near 75 percent.
100 billion people have lived over the last 50,000 years. Wow.

The joke in China is that if you are 1 in a million there are 1,300 people just like you. Looks like if you are 1 in a million there have been 100,000 people just like you in human history.

via Sciam


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Genetic Studies Endow Mice With New Color Vision

Although mice, like most mammals, typically view the world with a limited color palette – similar to what some people with red-green color blindness see – scientists have now transformed their vision by introducing a single human gene into a mouse chromosome. The human gene codes for a light sensor that mice do not normally possess, and its insertion allowed the mice to distinguish colors as never before.

The new abilities of the genetically engineered mice indicate that the mammalian brain possesses a flexibility that permits a nearly instantaneous upgrade in the complexity of color vision, say the study’s senior authors, Gerald Jacobs and Jeremy Nathans.

Trichromacy is dependent on three types of photoreceptor cells in the retina that preferentially absorb lights at different wavelengths. These are known as cone cells and each type contains a particular kind of light-absorbing sensor protein. Short-wavelength-sensitive (S) cone cells are most sensitive to blue lights, medium-wavelength-sensitive (M) cone cells are most sensitive to green lights, and long-wavelength-sensitive (L) cones are most sensitive to red lights. When light strikes the retina and activates the cone cells, the brain compares the responses of the S, M, and L photoreceptors, and it is the brain’s assessment of their relative levels of activation that we perceive as color.

Most mammals, including mice, are dichromats, possessing only S and M cone pigments. As a consequence, they can distinguish only a fraction of the wavelengths that can be distinguished by humans.
I while back I was reading an article about how eye sight works in various animals and found it fascinating. I hadn't realized that birds have much better color eyesight than humans. Instead of being dichromats or trichromats, they are actually tetrachromats having 4 different photoreceptor cells. And beyond seeing just "visible" light, they also can see in the ultraviolet spectrum. Some women actually are tetrachromats as well. Although they can't see ultraviolet light, they see more distinct colors when looking at a rainbow.

If this experiment is a success, I say lets start making tetrachromat humans. And lets give them the ability to see in the UV range like birds. My only concern is I am not sure what this would do to viewing TVs and computer monitors. They simulate all colors by using just red, green and blue light. I don't know if this would goof up the way we view TV as it might take a different blend of red, green and blue (and maybe a new UV frequency of light) to create the appearance of yellow or purple for our new eyes.

via physorg


Most Dangerous Drugs

In research published Friday in The Lancet magazine, Professor David Nutt of Britain's Bristol University and colleagues proposed a new framework for the classification of harmful substances, based on the actual risks posed to society. Nutt and colleagues used three factors to determine the harm associated with any drug: the physical harm to the user, the drug's potential for addiction and the impact on society of drug use.

Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was Ecstasy.

Tobacco causes 40 percent of all hospital illnesses, while alcohol is blamed for more than half of all visits to hospital emergency rooms.
It makes no sense to me why alcohol and tobacco are legal and marijuana is illegal for the reasons stated in this report. I think basing drug policy on this framework makes a lot of sense.

via MSNBC and The Scientific Activist

And can I mention how stupid the Washington Post's headline on this was: Study: Alcohol, Tobacco Worse Than Drugs? As if alcohol and tobacco aren't drugs. Maybe I will cut them some slack and assume that the title was originally 'than illegal drugs' and the illegal was cut out because it was too long.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

SolarMission Solar Tower Video

SolarMission Technologies (OTC: EVOMY.PK, ASX: EVM.AX) and its Australian subsidiary, EnviroMission Limited produced this 5 minute video about its early pilot plant in Spain. It is an older video (2000) but gives a basic understanding of the solar tower concept. The designs have changed and technologies added, but it gives an introduction to the solar tower concept.
I don't know how the economics of this work out (and whether it is competitive with PV and other solar technologies), but I was amazed to find out that it allows plants and grasses to grow beneath it in what was before a barren desert.

via Energy Blog via TreeHugger


New Solar-Powered Phone Unveiled

Called the 'Light-Energy Mobile Phone', it is a relatively slender clamshell with an 84 x 47.6 x 0.8mm solar panel built into the flip side. This provides the handset with a remarkable 25 minutes of talk time from just 40 minutes of charging in sunlight, it can be charged with indoor light when no direct sunshine is available and even candlelight. Best of all, Hi-Tech Wealth told me that if left on standby, the handset is theoretically self sufficient.

As for the practicalities of putting such a handset on the market Hi-Tech said the panel is encased in toughened glass and would stand up to all the rigours of a regular mobile. It also claimed the panel has a low manufacturing cost.
Cool. Reminds me of solar powered calculators. How great would it be if you never had to plug in your cellphone to recharge ever again?

Can't wait to find out more specs on how much it would cost, how durable the panels would be, and how much electricity they would generate.

via TrustedReviews via TreeHugger


Interesting Articles of the Week

Great overview of the Solar Industry, where it has come from and where it is going, in the Economist

Carbon dioxide levels threaten oceans regardless of global warming.

The Genetics of Nicotine Addiction

Malaria-Resistant Mosquito Developed

Investors Managing $4 Trillion Call on Congress to Tackle Global Climate Change


Monday, March 19, 2007


The "tipping point" will arrive when the capital cost of solar power falls below $1 (51p) per watt, roughly the cost of carbon power. We are not there yet. The best options today vary from $3 to $4 per watt - down from $100 in the late 1970s.

Mr Sethi, the chief executive of the Swiss start-up company Flisom, believes his product will cut the cost to 80 cents per watt within five years, and 50 cents in a decade.

It is based on a CIGS (CuInGaSe2) semiconductor compound that absorbs light by freeing electrons. This is then embedded on the polymer base. It will be ready commercially in late 2009.
Never heard of this company Flisom before, but I think thin film solar cells (NanoSolar makes them as well) show a lot of promise, and if they can hit the price numbers they are talking about, it is a company to watch.

In fact the whole solar industry is looking good.
Mike Splinter, chief executive of the US semiconductor group Applied Materials, told me his company is two years away from a solar product that reaches the magic level of $1 a watt.

"We think solar power can provide 20pc of all the incremental energy needed worldwide by 2040," he said.

Michael Rogol, a solar expert at Credit Lyonnais, expects the solar industry to grow from $7bn in 2004 to nearer $40bn by 2010, with operating earnings of $3bn.
Those are some serious growth numbers. I need to take a look and see what companies are likely to take advantage of this growth and then invest in their stocks.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Midlife Happiness Crisis

Economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew Oswald find that happiness follows a U-shaped age pattern.

Analyzing data from these surveys, Blanchflower and Oswald found that for both men and women in the United States and throughout Europe, happiness starts off relatively high in early adulthood, then falls, bottoming out on average around age 45, and then rises after that year and on into old age.

In this study (as in others), people are happier than their poorer counterparts if they have more income. How does the effect of income on happiness compare with the age effect? In the United States, the steady decline in happiness from age 16 to age 45 has an effect that's larger than a 50 percent reduction in income—that is, happiness varies more as people get older than it does if you compare significantly richer people to poorer ones. And, equivalently, the 15-year upswing in happiness that follows age 45 is stronger than the upswing that tracks doubling of income. For Europeans, the age-based happiness rise that's equivalent to the effect of doubling income occurs between ages 35 and 70.

The authors also find that over the last century, Americans, both men and women, have gotten steadily—and hugely—less happy. The difference in happiness of men between men of my generation, born in the 1960s, and my father's generation, born in the 1920s, is the same as the effect of a tenfold difference in income. In other words, if my father had little money compared to his contemporaries and I have lots of money compared to mine, I can still expect to be less happy. Here, curiously, the European pattern diverges. Happiness falls for the birth years from 1900 to about 1950, and generations born on the continent since World War II have gotten successively happier.
via Slate


Flying High on a Broomstick

From the book The Botany of Desire:

Witches and sorcerers cultivated plants with the power to "cast spells"--in our vocabulary, "psychoactive" plants. Their potion recipes called for such things as datura, opium poppies, belladonna, hashish, fly-agaric mushrooms, and the skins of toads (which can contain DMT, a powerful hallucinogen). These ingredients would be combined in a hempseed-oil-based "flying ointment" that the witches would then administer vaginally using a special dildo. This was the "broomstick" by which these women were said to travel.
Huh, didn't know that.


Mind Games

How would you like to rearrange the famous sarsens of Stonehenge just by thinking about it? Or improve your virtual golf by focusing your attention on the ball for a few moments before taking your next putt on the green-on-the-screen? Those are the promises of, respectively, Emotiv Systems and NeuroSky, two young companies based in California, that plan to transport the measurement of brain waves from the medical sphere into the realm of computer games. If all goes well, their first products should be on the market next year.

Both Emotiv, which is based in San Francisco, and NeuroSky, of San Jose, think they have cracked these problems. Emotiv recently unveiled a prototype headset that has a mere 18 electrodes. Moreover, no gel is needed for these electrodes to make a good contact with the headset-wearer's scalp. Emotiv claims that its system can detect brain signals associated with facial expressions such as smiles and winks, different emotional states such as excitement and calmness, and even conscious thoughts such as the desire to move a particular object. It will not say precisely how this trick is done, but it seems to work well enough to make a virtual character in a game mimic a player's own facial expression, as well as permitting that player to move things around just by thinking about it.

According to Nam Do, Emotiv's boss, those applications are most likely to be single-player computer games running on machines such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. In the longer term, though, he thinks the system will be ideal for controlling avatars (the visual representations of players) in multiplayer virtual worlds such as Second Life.

For Stanley Yang, the boss of NeuroSky, even 18 sensors seems too clunky. His firm's technology has reduced the brainwave pickup to the minimum specification imaginable—a single electrode. Existing versions of this electrode are small enough to fit into a mobile phone and Mr Yang claims they will soon be shrunk to the size of a thumbnail, enabling people to wear them without noticing.

Reducing the mind-reader to this bare minimum makes it cheap—about $20, compared with several hundred for Emotiv's headset—though it is not as precise. But that lack of precision may not matter. According to Klaus-Robert Müller, a computer scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin who has been studying the problem for years, a single well-placed electrode is sufficient to gather meaningful information from brain waves. On the other hand, Dr Müller and his team have been unable, as yet, to produce a device that works well outside the cosseted environment of a laboratory.
Sounds pretty cool, unless you are part of the one-third of the population that is considered “illiterate”, meaning that not even a full-fledged medical EEG can convert your brain activities into actions.

via The Economist


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

Progress toward Artificial Photosynthesis.

Fat-burning members power Hong Kong fitness club.

In Lice, Clues to Human Origin and Attire.

DOE Selects 13 Solar Energy Projects for up to $168 Million in Funding. I like how there is finally some real government money going into solar energy research and how it is setup as a cost-share agreement with companies.


Rollable E-Ink Screen

E Ink's technology has also been used in the Motofone, Motorola's low-cost mobile phone for the developing world, a Seiko wristwatch, a weather-station and a flash-memory stick. And it will appear in a new mobile device with a five-inch (13cm) roll-up display that will be introduced in Italy later this year. The “Librofonino”, an e-book reader with a cellular connection for receiving information, was developed by Polymer Vision, based in the Netherlands, and will be sold by Telecom Italia.
Rollable screen, very cool. Dude talking in the background, not so cool.

via YouTube and The Economist


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wal-Mart to Add Environmental Sustainability Scorecard to Electronics

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) released criteria that will be part of a scorecard used to evaluate consumer electronics suppliers on the environmental sustainability of their products. Starting in 2008, Wal-Mart will ask suppliers to fill out the scorecard and buyers will have the option to use the scorecard results to influence purchasing decisions. The announcement reflects the larger company strategy to sell products that sustain natural resources and minimize impact on the environment.

Next year, Wal-Mart will ask electronics suppliers to fill out a scorecard that will assess the sustainability of their product. The scorecard will evaluate electronics on energy efficiency, durability, upgradability, end-of- life solutions, and the size of the package containing the product. Products will also be evaluated on their ability to use innovative materials that reduce the amount of hazardous substances, such as lead and cadmium, contained in the product. The end result is a score that shows suppliers where improvements can be made and allows Wal-Mart to evaluate the environmental sustainability of the product.
I like this idea of an environmental scorecard for consumer electronics a lot. It gives consumers the ability to compare products on environmental attributes and it gives suppliers goals to shoot for. Of course the devil is always in the details, so I would like to know more about what exactly is going to be in the scorecard.

via PR Newswire via EcoIron


Ocean Expedition Unearths 6 Million New Genes

More than six million new genes have been found by an ocean expedition that is part of a broader effort to enlist some of the smallest creatures on the planet to renew the atmosphere to combat climate change.

The US Department of Energy has assembled experts to examine how to read the entire genetic codes - genomes - of microbes and thousands of other creatures that deal with pollution and the see if there is a way to harness them or their clever chemistry in clean-ups or even design one from scratch.

Today, in the journal PloS Biology, researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute, JCVI, (TUE) announces the publication of several studies of the from the Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition (GOS) to use new methods to read the genetic codes of marine microbes, detailing the discovery of millions of new genes after it voyaged thousands of miles.

The group analysed 7.7 million DNA sequences consisting of 6.3 billion “letters” of genetic code in all using new computing methods.
The adventure Craig Venter went on to collect all of those genes sounded like a lot of fun and led to my favorite documentary of all time.

via Telegraph

Update: Craig Venter was on the News Hour and added some additional information. I thought this nugget was particularly interesting:
In fact, we found such incredible diversity, unexpected from almost any type of study. Every 200 miles, 85 percent of the organisms and sequences were unique to that region.

So instead of this homogeneous primordial soup, it's millions of microenvironments, like miniature multi-cellular organisms involving the chemistry of the moment of that site.


Combating Global Warming With Misting

The most down-to-earth idea is that proposed by John Latham, a scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. He suggests that blasting tiny droplets of seawater into the air would stimulate the formation of highly reflective, low-lying marine cloud. Simulations suggest this would have a substantial cooling effect. The question is how to do it economically. Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh has designed an unmanned vessel which would produce these clouds using wind power. Just 50 vessels, he reckons, each costing a few million dollars and spraying around 10kg (22lb) of water per second, could cancel out a year's worth of global carbon-dioxide emissions—though another 50 vessels would be needed every year until carbon-dioxide emissions were under control.

Dr Salter's ships would be much more precise than other geo-engineering schemes—“like an artist's paintbrush”, as he puts it. They could be deployed to the North Atlantic to cool the Greenland ice sheet during the northern summer and then migrate to Antarctica for the southern summer. Dr Caldeira even suggests that by cooling the sea, these ships could be used to combat hurricanes, since high sea-surface temperatures are linked to hurricane formation.
Interesting. Take some water vapor shoot it in the air and reduce the impact of glacier melting and hurricanes. Might even help bring rain to areas in droughts. I don't know if it will work, but for a couple of million dollars I would definitely like to see it tried.

via The Economist and more info at New Scientist


Monday, March 12, 2007

Installing Thin Film Solar On Metal Roof

One of the latest innovations is thin-film photovoltaic (PV) laminate. Rather than requiring the heavy glass and unwieldy racks of previous systems, the peel-and-stick laminate simply adheres right onto the panels of a standing-seam metal roof. Requiring about 5-10 minutes installation time per panel, this solution is lightweight, quick and easy and demands considerably less labor than its predecessors.

The complete process is simple: Just apply the PV laminate, install the new roof panels and connect the output from the PV to an inverter, which changes the direct current to alternating current used in our homes. Then, just flip the switch! With the help of a few roofers and an electrician, your home can be solar powered in the course of an afternoon. And when you consider state and federal tax incentives, net metering and your savings in electricity costs, your new system is not only a boon to the environment, but will ultimately pay for itself and save you money.
via The Sietch Blog


Darpa and Human Augmentation

Darpa: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. For nearly 50 years, Darpa has engineered technological breakthroughs from the Internet to stealth jets. But in the early 1990s, as military strategists started worrying about how to defend against germ weapons, the agency began to get interested in biology. “The future was a scary place, the more we looked at it,” says Michael Goldblatt, former head of Darpa’s Defense Sciences Office. “We wanted to learn the capabilities of nature before others taught them to us.”

By 2001, military strategists had determined that the best way to deal with emerging transnational threats was with small groups of fast-moving soldiers, not hulking pieces of military hardware. But small groups rarely travel with medics — they have to be hardy enough to survive on their own. So what goes on in Grahn’s dank little lab at Stanford is part of a much larger push to radically improve the performance, mental capacity, and resilience of American troops — to let them run harder and longer, operate without sleep, overcome deadly injury, and tap the potential of their unconscious minds.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency was founded in 1958 (the D was added in 1972) as a place to noodle around on ideas too big, or too far out, for the Cold War military-industrial complex. The results can sometimes be spectacular failures (nuclear hand grenade, anyone?). But Darpa has also pushed the development of some things that have become part of the fabric of military and civilian life: wearable computers, long-range drone aircraft, night vision, even the M16 rifle and the computer mouse.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love Darpa? Now they are getting into human augmentation projects and I am going to have to love them even more.

A portable transcranial magnetic stimulator to counter fatigue? Nice.

Researchers using EEG to see neural spikes that appear in analysts' brains just before they consciously register seeing a target in a satellite map? Excellent.

USDA researchers trying to find out how swine digest cellulose so they could upgrade the bacteria in our stomachs to process more of our food or eat otherwise inedible items? Fantastic.

I was writing before about how I want to tweak the bacteria living in my stomach so that I could do such things. Who needs to convert cellulose into ethanol, when it could just be turned into people food instead?

If you share the love of Darpa you might want to check out this new Wired Defense Blog.

via Wired


Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Glove

Grahn takes my hand and slips it into a clear, coffeepot-looking contraption he calls the Glove. Inside is a hemisphere of metal, cool to the touch. He tightens a seal around my wrist; a vacuum begins pulling blood to the surface of my hand, and the cold metal chills my blood before it travels through my veins back to my core. After five minutes, I feel rejuvenated.

Grahn and his colleagues developed the Glove for the military — specifically, for the Pentagon’s way-out science division, Darpa: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Grahn and his research partner, biologist Craig Heller, started working on the Glove at Stanford in the late 1990s as part of their research on improving physical performance. Even they were astounded at how well it seemed to work. Vinh Cao, their squat, barrel-chested lab technician, used to do almost 100 pull-ups every time he worked out. Then one day he cooled himself off between sets with an early prototype. The next round of pull-ups — his 11th — was as strong as his first. Within six weeks, Cao was doing 180 pull-ups a session. Six weeks after that, he went from 180 to more than 600. Soon, Stanford’s football trainers asked to borrow a few Gloves to cool down players in the weight room and to fight muscle cramps.

In trying to figure out why the Glove worked so well, its inventors ended up challenging conventional scientific wisdom on fatigue. Muscles don’t wear out because they use up stored sugars, the researchers said. Instead, muscles tire because they get too hot, and sweating is just a backup cooling system for the lattices of blood vessels in the hands and feet. The Glove, in other words, overclocks the heat exchange system. “It’s like giving a Honda the radiator of a Mack truck,” Heller says. After four months of using it himself, Heller did 1,000 push-ups on his 60th birthday in April 2003. Soon after, troops from Special Operations Command were trying out the Glove, too.
Oh man, I totally want to get my hands on to one of these Glove things. There should be one in every gym in the country.

via Wired


Saturday, March 10, 2007

PC World Developing Carbon Neutral Computer

PC World is going green by developing a carbon neutral computer, the high street retailer announced today.

The computer - which it said will be the world's most energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly PC - will be made using recycled and recyclable materials where possible. Components will be selected for their low energy consumption.

"We're harnessing the very latest technology and the expertise of cutting edge component developers to create the first 'PC PC'," said Bryan Magrath, commercial director of PC World. "What isn't widely understood is the enormous progress that has been made in the creation of energy efficient computing technology over the last few years. It's a process that we expect to accelerate in the months and years ahead."

Because the manufacturing process can't be perfectly carbon neutral, the computer superstore will purchase top-up carbon offset credits to cover the environmental costs of manufacturing and transportation.
While there are many carbon offset programs for computers, this is the first one I know of that offsets the manufacturing and transportation. I hope they are transparent and specify how much energy it takes to manufacture a PC and where that energy comes from.

via ITPro via EcoIron


Friday, March 09, 2007

DepthX Scours Ocean Floor

A completely untethered, autonomous deep-sea diving robot launches a mission this week to collect samples from a 400-foot-deep geothermal sinkhole in Mexico.

In a departure from other submersibles that manuever by commands received from the mother ship, this robot will be on its own from time it dives into the water until it returns to the surface. Using onboard mapping intelligence, the robot will navigate the La Pilita sinkhole, which leads to a network of flooded caves. Scientists behind the NASA-funded DepthX, (for Deep Phreatic Thermal eXplorer) hope the vehicle, which measures 8 feet in diameter and weighs 2,860 pounds, will collect samples of organisms that can survive the sinkhole's extreme environment.

DepthX will build on its existing maps of La Pilita to identify points of biological interest, collect samples and return them to a team of biologists at the surface. The area is particularly interesting to researchers who want to learn about organisms in extreme environments. The water is deep and warm -- averaging about 90 degrees Fahrenheit due to nearby hydrothermal sources heating the ground water -- and contains no oxygen.
I find this cool for 3 reasons:
1) I like the idea of automous robots going around and collecting data.
2) I love hydrothermal vents, and want to know more about the organisms that live there.
3) We know so little about the oceans, and this is a great way to find out more. As stated in the article:
"Two-thirds of our planet is ocean and yet we know very little about it," he said. "The most important discoveries over the next decade are going to be on our own planet and not on other planets."

via Wired


'Flying Penises' Endangered

No, I am not talking about the flying penises that interrupted Mark Warner's interview in second life, I am talking about what bonatists refer to as 'flying penises': bees. The bees in the US are disappearing and they don't know why.

The bee losses are ranging from 30 to 60 percent on the West Coast, with some beekeepers on the East Coast and in Texas reporting losses of more than 70 percent; beekeepers consider a loss of up to 20 percent in the offseason to be normal.

Over the last two decades, the number of beehives, now estimated by the Agriculture Department to be 2.4 million, has dropped by a quarter and the number of beekeepers by half.
That doesn't sound good. The honey bee is actually not native to North America and first came with English settlers. Unlike other invasive species (or immigrant species as I like to call them), no one is happy that the number of bees is going down. Why? It appears there are 14 billion reasons why.
A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
So, what is causing the massive die off?
Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

Investigators are exploring a range of theories, including viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.

They are also studying a group of pesticides that were banned in some European countries to see if they are somehow affecting bees’ innate ability to find their way back home.

It could just be that the bees are stressed out. Bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That has most likely lowered their immunity to viruses

Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill mites are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many worker bees. The queens are living half as long as they did just a few years ago.

Researchers are also concerned that the willingness of beekeepers to truck their colonies from coast to coast could be adding to bees’ stress, helping to spread viruses and mites and otherwise accelerating whatever is afflicting them.

It is also possible that severe stress brought on by crowding, inadequate nutrition or even the combined effects of prophylactic antibiotics and miticides sprayed by beekeepers to ward off infections may be a factor.
I love the fact that stress from overwork and travel might be the cause. Now even the bees have joined the American rat race.

Any thing that can be done to help the bees out?
To give bees energy while they are pollinating, beekeepers now feed them protein supplements and a liquid mix of sucrose and corn syrup carried in tanker-sized trucks costing $12,000 per load.
Excellent, the bee equivalent of protein bars and Gatorade. I wonder if bees think it tastes as bad as I think protein bars taste?

via NY Times and NY Times


Afraid of Eating Cloned Foods? You Already Are

With all the hullabaloo regarding whether we should be allowed to eat cloned animals, I think many people would be surprised to know that we are already eating cloned foods. Many varieties of vegetables and fruits including apples, potatoes and bananas are clones (meaning they are genetically identical to each other). I hadn't realized that apples and potatoes are clones until I recently read The Botany of Desire (and where many of the facts in this post come from).

I have written before on how agriculture isn't natural. Most of the foods we eat are artificial, in that they come from artificial selection. Artificial here not meaning fake but rather showing or reflecting human will (like the word artifact).

Bananas are clones propagated by taking cuttings from suckers that grow from the base of the parent plant. Potatoes are generally grown from the eyes of another potato and not from seed. The apples we eat are clones of each other based on grafting. If you plant the seeds you get a very different fruit.

Aside: Johnny Appleseed might be better thought of as Johnny Hard Apple Cider. Most of the apples that came from the seeds he planted were not eaten directly, but rather fermented and turned into hard apple cider. Without refrigeration, apples wouldn't last long, but cider would. Some rural areas in the United States drank more cider than water (including children) because it was sterilized and therefore healthier than the water. Because of this the Woman's Christian Temperance Union declared war on apples in early 1900s.

While I don't see any danger in eating cloned food, there is a danger for the stability of our food supply. Cloning makes these vegetables and fruits are more susceptible to disease and pests. A single fungus or virus can wipe out an entire variety of a plant. A fungus called fusarium wiped out the Gros Michel variety of bananas, so we now get the inferior tasting Cavendish variety at the grocery store. The phytophthora infestans fungus wiped out the Lumper variety of potato in Ireland in 1845, leading to the potato famine that killed a million people.

The reduced ability to fight off disease and bugs also means that these clones require more pesticides and herbicides. If they were able to breed sexually, they would be able to come up with new genes to fight the diseases and pests that are attacking them. Instead they require pesticides to do the work for them. Apples require more pesticides than any other crop.

It is possible to have non cloning versions of potatoes and apples. In the Andes, where potatoes were domesticated, they grew many different varieties with many evolving to meet a small ecological niche in the environment. The apple came from the mountains of Kazakhstan where there are forests where they grow to be 60 ft tall with fruits ranging in size from marbles to softballs in coming in yellow, green, red, and purple (Wa-wa-wee-wa!). In the US, the gene pool of apples is becoming smaller. There were 1,000s of commercial varieties of apples a hundred years ago, today there are just 6.

Of course if you went without clones, the flavor, size, appearance, and heartiness of each apple or potato would be different and most would be inferior to their parents (and in extreme cases inedible by humans). You wouldn't know exactly what your potato would look like or taste like. The ability to go to a McDonald's anywhere in the world and get the same great tasting fries would be lost.

Would we be better off without cloned food? I don't think so. It allows us to propagate the best varieties of these plants, lets us know what our food is going to taste like and greatly increase the yield of our farms.

Would we be better off with more varieties of potatoes and apples and bananas? Probably. It would give us more variety of foods to eat and also give the plants more genetic diversity to increase their ability to fend off predators.


Best Strategy to Solve Overpopulation

Ted Baxter, the anchorman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, planned to have six children in the hopes that one of them would grow up to be a creative genius who could solve the population problem.
If only more people would act like him, we would have this whole overpopulation thing licked in no time.

via Slate


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Quote From Judgement at Nuremberg

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the "protection of country" -- of "survival." A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient -- to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is "survival as what?" A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.
The movie is from 1961, but the quote is as applicable today as ever.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Scribd "YouTube for Documents"

TechCrunch alerts me to a new web service:

Scribd, a site for sharing documents, is coming out of private beta this morning with a fresh Angel investment of $300K on top of their original Y Combinator nest egg of $12,000. Scribd is most easily described as a text version of YouTube. It is a social network that lets you tag, share, and comment on uploaded documents (.doc, .pdf, .txt, .ppt, .xls, .ps, .lit).

Scribd is not just a carbon copy of YouTube. They borrowed a lot of the basic design principles, but also took advantage of the written format by including flexible file formats for download and upload along with some interesting analytics tracking. Documents can be displayed and embedded as html or the under-utilized, and faster-than-a-pdf, Flash paper format. They can be downloaded as .pdf’s, .docs, .txt, and even .mp3 files. The mp3 version is created by Scribd’s text-to-speech package (powered by Nuance) that lets you listen to the text of your document in a quivering British accent (downloadable example here). People have uploaded all sorts of documents for the private beta, like this guide to dating and seduction for dummies, or this less than legal copy of Visual C++ in 21 days. Scribd also lets you “geek out” on all the analytics generated by documents you post, such as how many votes and views your piece gets, as well as geographic location and http referrer that brought the reader there.
At first when I read this, I was like, what would I ever want that for? Sounds pretty lame. Then in dawned on me that I have been looking for a way to share .pdf and .xls files on by blog and this would be be perfect for that. Then I actually used it and found that it has some cool features. I uploaded the research paper that was the underlying source of my 50 gallons of gasoline in each PC post.

As TechCrunch points out, the flash paper feature is pretty neat. I also dig the ability to listen to files as .mp3 files (and this paper totally cracked me up, and listening to it with the British accent is even funnier). Converting to an .mp3 file as an addtional benefit as it tells you how long it would take to listen to it. Similar to how NerdShit tells you the amount of time it would take to read an article. The ability to download a .pdf as a .doc or .txt file is also pretty cool.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

AMD, APC, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Rackable Systems, SprayCool, Sun Microsystems, and VMware work together on Green Grid to address energy efficiency in data centers.

Chimps Use "Spears" to Hunt Mammals, Study Says

Using Benford's Law to detect voting fraud.

Freakonomist Steven Levitt calls for getting rid of tenure.

Jeff Hawkins created the Palm Pilot and the Treo. Now he says he’s got the ultimate invention: software that mimics the human brain.

The world generated 161 billion gigabytes of digital information last year.


Black Men and Education

Bob Herbert makes the case that the number one thing black boys need is education.

It’s an article of faith that the key to success in real estate is location, location, location.

For young black boys looking ahead to a difficult walk in life, the mantra should be education, education, education.

“For males in each of the three race-ethnic groups (blacks, Hispanics and whites), employment rates in 2005 increased steadily and strongly with their educational attainment. This was especially true for black males, for whom employment rates rose from a low of 33 percent among high school dropouts to 57 percent among high school graduates, and to a high of 86 percent among four-year college graduates."

“The gap in [employment to population] ratios between young white and black males narrows from 20 percentage points among high school dropouts, to 16 percentage points among high school graduates, to eight percentage points among those men completing 1-3 years of college, and to only two percentage points for four-year college graduates.”

For anyone deluded enough to question whether education is the ticket to a better life for black boys and men, consider that a black male who drops out of high school is 60 times more likely to find himself in prison than one with a bachelor’s degree.
The question of course is what can be done to fix this situation.

via Times $elect


3 Hillarious Photos

The front page of Digg is full of funny pictures today.

Pointless Family Photo of the Year

Arrested man looks like Beavis

One Of The Most Ridiculous Bags Of Potato Chips EVER

And there are some funny digg comments on them as well: 1, 2, 3.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dictionary Tooltip

I just installed this Dictionary Tooltip add-on for Firefox and I love it.

It allows you to double click on a word and get a definition of it in a pop up box. Great for those of us who are vocabularily challenged.

Checkout the demo on the bottom of the page here.


Comedy Central is Best Place on TV For Promoting Books

Publishers say that particularly for the last six months, “The Daily Show” and its spinoff, “The Colbert Report,” which has on similarly wonky authors, like the former White House official David Kuo, have become the most reliable venues for promoting weighty books whose authors would otherwise end up on “The Early Show” on CBS looking like they showed up at the wrong party.

But the Comedy Central shows are also becoming extremely competitive for publicists placing their authors. After a “Daily Show” appearance, several publishers said, the author’s Amazon ranking rises and the daily sales figures “pop,” in industry parlance. It is not at all unusual, one book publicist said, for a title to go from a 300,000 rank to a spot in the Top 300 — not often the case after shows like “Charlie Rose.”

“If I had my choice between Charlie Rose and Jon Stewart, I’d pick Jon Stewart, no question,” said one publicist who spoke anonymously because she didn’t want to anger the bookers on “Charlie Rose.”

Part of the surprise, publishers said, is that the Comedy Central audience is more serious than its reputation allows. The public may still think of the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” audience as a group of sardonic slackers, Gen-Y college students who prefer YouTube to print. But publishers say it’s a much more diverse demographic — and more important, a book-buying audience.

“It’s the television equivalent of NPR,” Ms. Levin, of Free Press, said. “You have a very savvy, interested audience who are book buyers, people who do go into bookstores, people who are actually interested in books.”

According to Nielsen Media Research, the nightly audience for “The Daily Show” averages about 1.6 million, while “The Colbert Report” attracts an average of 1.2 million.
How ironic is it that Comedy Central is the best place on TV for discussing serious books?

But, I find it is true for me. I have learned of many good books that I have later read (though to be honest it was Charlie Rose and not Jon that lead me to read Muhammad Yunis's (the guy pictured above) book Banker to the Poor). I have also had the opportunity to watch interviews of authors that I had previously read.

What I don't get is if these shows have an NPR audience, why are all the advertisements shown for video games, alcoholic beverages and junk food? Why not advertise some books or other NPR audience friendly products like Volvos?

And I am glad to see that the Daily Show now has their own flash player that you can embed in your site. Previously you had to use Motherload, which was definitely a load of something.

via NY Times


Energy Use: Boiling vs. Transporting Potatoes

Some environmentalists are concerned with food miles, or reducing the amount of miles that your food travels to get to your plate. One reason to do so is to minimize the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport them. I took a look at the potential impact of buying local, and found that it doesn't really reduce CO2 emissions much and you are better off focusing on how you get to the store, how far away it is and how often you go.

Now I have become aware that more then that you might want to focus on how you cook your food.

Indeed, our research suggests that when considering UK grown potatoes, 48% of all energy used during the potato's life cycle is expended in the kitchen (the life cycle encompasses the sowing, growing, harvesting, packaging, storage, transport and consumption of potatoes). Boiling potatoes is horrendously energy intensive, and this simple act dwarfs the energy consumed during their production and transport.
This implies that the best way to reduce energy use and carbon emissions is to focus on how you cook your food. I would guess that switching from boiling the potatoes to cooking them in a microwave would save more energy than making sure all of your potatoes are grown locally.

I have emailed the author to get a copy of the report, so I can understand the underlying assumptions in this calculation. Hopefully I will hear back soon and can refine this analysis further.

via BBC via WorldChanging and Biofibre

Update: The author was kind enough to email me back and let me know that the report is not yet out. He instead pointed me to this pdf document on the Environmental Impact of Food Production and Consumption which I am currently reading. He also recommended the book The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.


Economists go for the Green

Paul Krugman makes the case that most economists are in fact enthusiastic environmentalists contrary to the popular image.

Partly this is just because of who economists are: Being by definition well-educated and, for the most part, pretty well-off, they have the usual prejudices of their class--and most upper-middle-class Americans are sentimental about the environment, as long as protecting it does not impinge on their lifestyle. (I'm happy to reuse my grocery bags--but don't expect me to walk to the supermarket.) But my unscientific impression is that economists are on average more pro-environment than other people of similar incomes and backgrounds. Why? Because standard economic theory automatically predisposes those who believe in it to favor strong environmental protection.

True, economists generally believe that a system of free markets is a pretty efficient way to run an economy, as long as the prices are right--as long, in particular, as people pay the true social cost of their actions. Environmental issues, however, more or less by definition involve situations in which the price is wrong--in which the private costs of an activity fail to reflect its true social costs.

But I would be hard pressed to think of a single economist not actually employed by an anti-environmental lobbying operation who believes that the United States should protect the environment less, not more, than it currently does.
He then says that pollution taxes won't necessarily reduce GDP and if they do then most economists would still support them.
The Great Green Tax Shift--a shift away from taxes on employment and income toward taxes on pollution and other negative externalities--has everything going for it. It is supported by good science and good economics, as well as by good intentions.

"Gross domestic product is not a measure of the nation's economic well-being"--so declares the textbook as soon as it introduces the concept. If getting the price of the environment right means a rise in consumption of nonmarket goods like clean air and leisure time at the expense of marketed consumption, so be it.
While I agree with what he is stating, I still think that GDP is used as the proxy for economic well-being by most economists and media outlets. I have never seen an economic report or a newspaper article that stated while GDP went down this quarter it is actually a good thing as it was due to a rise in nomarket goods.

When comparing GDPs between countries, how often do you see an attempt to take these nonmarket goods into account? Most reports I see comparing the US and European economies just look at GDP and don't take into account greater leisure time or cleaner air. While I have seen some attempts, they are not what shows up in mainstream business reporting.

I think GDP and economic well-being are likely to grow farther apart as we become richer and the nonmarket goods become relatively less valuable. As such, I am on the look out for other measurements that take these nonmarket goods into account to better estimate well-being.

via Slate


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Happiness and Life Expectancy

Interesting graph of happiness and life expectancy over at WorldChanging. Click on the image for a larger version.

Most interesting to me are the nations that are outliers of the curve - nations that appear to be unusually happy or unusually unhappy as based on their life expectancy. Nations in the upper right corner of the graph are ones we’d expect to be happy, as their citizens have long lives (Denmark, Switzerland). In the lower left of the graph, we’ve got nations we’d expect to be unhappy because life is short (Zimbabwe, Burundi).

The other corners are the interesting ones. The upper left corner are nations that are unhappy despite long lifespans. You’ll note some common characteristics to these nations: they’re members of the former Soviet Union. (They’re also very cold, but other chilly nations like Canada, Iceland, and Scandinavia are quite happy…) Despite a long lifespan, Armenia is one of the unhappiest nations on earth (something I can confirm from my visits to the country.)

It’s harder to characterize the lower right corner, where nations are happier than we would expect. Bhutan lives in this corner, which we might expect from the country that invented gross national happiness. And nations that are both very happy and unusually happy include a number of tropical paradises, suggesting that if you, personally, would like to be happy, moving to the Bahamas might not be a bad start.
Namibia is a happier country than Japan with a life expectancy almost 40 years shorter.

via WorldChanging


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where Are the Poachers When You Need Them?

South Africa’s environment minister offered a new plan on Wednesday to control the nation’s booming elephant population that contemplates resuming the much-criticized killing of excess animals, but only after thorough scientific study and as a last resort.

Mr. van Schalkwyk’s proposal, unveiled at a crowded elephant reserve in the nation’s southeast, appeared to defuse for now a looming confrontation between environmentalists and game managers over ways to manage the nation’s 20,000 elephants, a major tourist attraction and, in some parks, a growing headache.

National park officials have already considered a mass killing, or culling, of elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa’s biggest and best-known wildlife reserve. They contended that the park, with a population of at least 12,500 elephants, could support only 7,500. Some conservationists have agreed, saying that preserving the park’s biological diversity is more important than saving elephants.
The conservation of elephants in South Africa has worked too well. I wonder what was the elephants' natural predator that kept their populations in check before?

Here is a crazy idea that no one will support, but that will solve the problem. What if you auctioned off the rights to hunt the 5,000 extra elephants? You could then take that money and use it to support the national park or protect elephants that are endangered in other parts of the world. Instead of paying someone to cull the elephants or perform elephant contraception, you charge someone for the right to do it. This is similar to what is (was?) happening with polar bear hunting rights.

via NY Times