Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of Fat Knowledge 2007

The most popular and/or my favorite posts of 2007:


Friday, December 28, 2007

Garlic May Cut Cow Flatulence

Because it is the holiday season and I am in a giving mood, I will toss in a bonus cow fart post just for Climateer.

Scientists in Wales tackling the impact flatulent cows and sheep have on global warming may have an answer - putting garlic in their food.

The average dairy cow is capable of producing up to 500 litres of the gas every day, mostly through belching.

"Initial results show that extracts of garlic compound could reduce the amount of methane produced by the animals by 50%," he said. "Garlic directly attacks the organisms in the gut that produce methane."
Hmm, wonder if this solution works for humans as well?

A 50% reduction would be significant. Any drawbacks?
The Aberystwyth research team is testing if this taints milk or meat - and gives the animals bad breath.
Garlic steak actually doesn't sound bad, but garlic milk is definitely no good. And how exactly do you test whether a cow has bad breath? I find it hard to believe they have good breath on a non-garlic diet.

via BBC via Wired


Eco-Friendly Kangaroo Farts Could Help Global Warming

Loyal Fat Knowledge reader Climateer, concerned that I lost my ambition to become a cow fart tycoon, alerts me to some "breaking" news:

Australian scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.

Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

"Not only would they not produce the methane, they would actually get something like 10 to 15 percent more energy out of the feed they are eating," said Klieve.

"Fourteen percent of emissions from all sources in Australia is from enteric methane from cattle and sheep," said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland state government.

But it will take researchers at least three years to isolate the bacteria, before they can even start to develop a way of transferring it to cattle and sheep.
Sounds good to me. But 3 years? What are these guys doing that is so difficult?
Another group of scientists, meanwhile, has suggested Australians should farm fewer cattle and sheep and just eat more kangaroos.

"It's low in fat, it's got high protein levels it's very clean in the sense that basically it's the ultimate free range animal," said Peter Ampt of the University of New South Wales's institute of environmental studies.

"It doesn't get drenched, it doesn't get vaccinated, it utilizes food right across the landscape, it moves around to where the food is good, so yes, it's a good food."
Man, those Australians will throw anything on the barbie.

via AFP


Looking for Engineers Who Like To Solve Difficult Problems

For those of you missing the humor, it is the fact that it isn't a difficult problem to solve. :)


Japan Mines 'Flammable Ice'

Looks like China and India aren't the only ones trying to mine methane hydrates.

Japan is joining the U.S. and Canada in test drilling for methane even as scientists express concerns about any uncontrolled release of the frozen chemical.

Japanese engineers have found enough ``flammable ice'' to meet its gas use demands for 14 years. Billions of tons of methane hydrate, frozen chunks of chemical-laced water buried in sediment some 3,000 feet under the Pacific Ocean floor, may help Japan win energy independence from the Middle East and Indonesia. Trapped within sheets of ice up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) thick is an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of crystalline methane encased in an ocean trench called the Nankai Trough, 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the coast of the main Honshu Island.

If successful, the gas drilling project could help Japan reduce a liquefied natural gas import bill that last year was 2.66 trillion yen ($23.3 billion). The country's LNG imports totaled 62.2 million metric tons, equivalent to 3.03 trillion cubic feet, according to the Ministry of Finance's trade report.

A first round of drilling was completed in April by Jogmec and the Canadian government and a second set of tests are scheduled for early 2008. The two governments won't disclose results due to a confidentiality agreement, Jogmec's Yokoi says.

The most efficient method has proved ``depressurizing,'' which requires deep bore holes being drilled into the ice sheets. Pressure within the chamber is reduced by a pump, causing gaseous methane to separate from the water and ascend to the well head.

Japan's government is promising rigorous environmental controls with gas-leakage detectors and monitoring systems in place before the scheduled test drilling in as early as 2009. The trade ministry is targeting 2016 to start production, corresponding with the scheduled completion of the 16-year government-led test project.
via Bloomberg


Nano Flakes Could Make PV More Efficient

A new material, nano flakes, may help drive the solar energy industry into the future. Dr. Martin Aagesen, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen and director of SunFlake Inc. is currently developing the technology which takes advantage of crystalline structures to absorb more sunlight than traditional solar photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Dr. Aagesen believes that the nano flakes have the potential to convert up to 30 percent of solar energy into electricity because the nano flakes also reduce the distance energy has to travel in the cell. These cells would also use smaller amounts of semiconducting silicium making them less expensive than the PV cells currently available.

"I discovered a perfect crystalline structure. That is a very rare sight. While being a perfect crystalline structure we could see that it also absorbed all light. It could become the perfect solar cell," said Dr. Aagesen.
via Renewable Energy Access


Snorting a Brain Chemical Could Replace Sleep

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. The discovery's first application will probably be in treatment of the severe sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The treatment is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."

The monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.

The study, published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, found orexin A not only restored monkeys' cognitive abilities but made their brains look "awake" in PET scans.

Both Twery and Siegel noted that it is unclear whether or not treating the brain chemistry behind sleepiness would alleviate the other problems associated with sleep deprivation.
via Wired


Monday, December 24, 2007

NIH Launches Human Microbiome Project

The human body contains trillions of microorganisms, living together with human cells, usually in harmony. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about one to two percent of the body’s mass. Many microbes maintain our health, while others cause illness. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the role this astounding assortment of bacteria, fungi and other microbes play in human health and disease. To better understand these interactions, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced the official launch of the Human Microbiome Project. The human microbiome is the collective genomes of all microorganisms present in or on the human body.

Part of the NIH’s Roadmap for Medical Research, the Human Microbiome Project will award a total of $115 million to researchers over the next five years. Initially, researchers will sequence 600 microbial genomes, completing a collection that will total some 1,000 microbial genomes and providing a resource for investigators interested in exploring the human microbiome.
I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it, and am glad to see that it has become a reality. While these microbes living with up weigh only 2 to 3 pounds, by cell count they outnumber "us" 10 to 1 and by gene count at least 2 to 1.

via NIH News


Thursday, December 20, 2007

“Jumping Genes” Contribute to the Uniqueness of Individual Brains

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have found one explanation for the puzzling variety in brain organization and function: mobile elements, pieces of DNA that can jump from one place in the genome to another, randomly changing the genetic information in single brain cells. If enough of these jumps occur, they could allow individual brains to develop in distinctly different ways.

Precursor cells in the embryonic brain, which mature into neurons, look and act more or less the same. Yet, these precursors ultimately give rise to a panoply of nerve cells that are enormously diverse in form and function and together form the brain. Identifying the mechanisms that lead to this diversification has been a longstanding challenge. “People have speculated that there might be a mechanism to create diversity in brain like there is in the immune system, and the immune system’s diversity is perhaps the closest analogy we have,” says Gage.

Transposable L1 elements, or “jumping genes” as they are often called, make up 17 percent of our genomic DNA but very little is known about them. Almost all of them are marooned at a permanent spot by mutations rendering them dysfunctional, but in humans a hundred or so are free to move via a “copy and paste” mechanism. Long dismissed as useless gibberish or “junk” DNA, the transposable L1 elements were thought to be intracellular parasites or leftovers from our distant evolutionary past.

Apart from their activity in testis and ovaries, jumping L1 elements are not only unique to the adult brain but appear to happen also during early stages of the development of nerve cells. The Salk team found insertions only in neuronal precursor cells that had already made their initial commitment to becoming a neuron. Other cell types found in the brain, such as oligodendrocytes and astrocytes, were unaffected.

At least in the germ line, copies of L1s appear to plug themselves more or less randomly into the genome of their host cell. “But in neuronal progenitor cells, these mobile elements seem to look for genes expressed in neurons. We think that’s because when the cells start to differentiate the cells start to open up genes and expose their DNA to insertions,” explains co- author Alysson R. Muotri. “What we have shown for the first time is that a single insertion can mess up gene expression and influence the function of individual cells,” he adds.
I find this fascinating, but to be honest, I really don't understand how it works. How is it that these jumping genes only occur in neuronal precursor cells? How exactly do these jumping genes affect the neuronal cells? I would assume that this process would cause a lot of neuron cells to not work at all as crucial genes are rendered inoperable, but I can't see how this would lead to a better functioning brain. Hopefully future research will clear these questions up.

via Newswise


China and India Exploit Icy Energy Reserves

I wrote about methane hydrates a long time ago. As the graph shows, there is a ton (make that billions of tons) of energy stored in them. And now it looks like they might start to be exploited.

China and India have reported massive finds of frozen methane gas off their coasts, which they hope will satisfy their energy needs.

World reserves of the frozen gas are enormous. Geologists estimate that significantly more hydrocarbons are bound in the form of methane hydrate than in all known reserves of coal, natural gas and oil combined. "There is simply so much of it that it cannot be ignored," says leading expert Gerhard Bohrman of the Research Center for Ocean Margins (RCOM) in the northern German city of Bremen.

Methane, trapped in an icy cage of water molecules, occurs in permafrost and, in even greater quantities, beneath the ocean floor. It forms only under specific pressure and temperature conditions. These conditions are especially prevalent in the ocean along the continental shelves, as well as in the deeper waters of semi-enclosed seas (see graphic).
From this map it appears that methane hydrates are pretty evenly split around the globe, with the exception that there aren't many around Europe.
The People's Republic of China is investing millions to study this massive source of energy. The same holds true for India, South Korea and Taiwan, all nations that are on a fast track to surpassing the West as economic powers.

The Chinese researchers found the methane hydrate, also known as crystal gas, because of its molecular structure, in a layer of sediment 15 to 20 meters (50 to 65 feet) thick off the Chinese coast. "It was embedded in clay and silt ," says John Roberts, whose firm Geotek provided the technical equipment for the drilling expedition.

This is the sort of information natural gas companies like to hear. The porosity of this sediment mix is well suited to drilling for the gas. "The gas hydrate has never found in this form before," Roberts explains. One possible method would involve the use of drilling tubes that would conduct heated fluid into the cold reservoirs. This would dissolve the icy cage encasing the methane. The next step would be to capture the gas through a second opening.
If China were to switch from coal to methane, that is good news from a pollution and global warming standpoint.

On the other hand, if methane hydrates are used along with the current fossil fuels, there would be serious additional carbon dioxide emissions. But there appears to be a silver lining regarding this.
When a certain amount of pressure is applied to the cage-like crystal structure, carbon dioxide can penetrate the layer of ice, at which point it displaces the methane. Then a new cage of frozen water molecules forms around the carbon dioxide. "This behavior has already been demonstrated in laboratory experiments," says Wallmann.

He is also impressed by the ratio at which the gases are exchanged. For each dissolved molecule of methane, up to five molecules of carbon dioxide disappear into the ice cage.

In addition, says Wallmann, the ice encases the CO2 in a more stable manner than it does the methane. "I cannot imagine a better way to sequester carbon dioxide," Wallmann explains, adding: "We are pursuing this approach with great interest."
Interesting. Replace fire ice with dry ice.

via Spiegel


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nanosolar Ships First Panels

After five years of product development – including aggressively pipelined science, research and development, manufacturing process development, product testing, manufacturing engineering and tool development, and factory construction – we now have shipped first product and received our first check of product revenue.

Our product is defining in more ways I can enumerate here but includes:

- the world’s first printed thin-film solar cell in a commercial panel product;

- the world’s first thin-film solar cell with a low-cost back-contact capability;

- the world’s lowest-cost solar panel – which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt;

- the world’s highest-current thin-film solar panel – delivering five times the current of any other thin-film panel on the market today and thus simplifying system deployment;

- an intensely systems-optimized product with the lowest balance-of-system cost of any thin-film panel – due to innovations in design we have included.

Today we are announcing that we have begun shipping panels for freefield deployment in Eastern Germany and that the first Megawatt of our panels will go into a power plant installation there.
I have had my eye on Nanosolar for a while now and it is great news that they have worked out all the kinks and are actually delivering products to customers (as opposed to their Silicon Valley neighbor Tesla Motors, ahem, come on guys we are still waiting).

They claim they can be profitably at $.99/Watt but I wonder what price they are actually selling at? This might be getting close to RE<C.

More on the thin film solar industry over at Earth2Tech.

via Nanosolar Blog


Nanowire Li-Ion Battery Holds 10 Times the Charge

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

"It's not a small improvement," Cui said. "It's a revolutionary development."

Cui said that a patent application has been filed. He is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require "one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up," he added. "It's a well understood process."
Very cool. I wonder how long it will take them to make these commercially available and how much they will cost. If the price is similar to current batteries then this is a huge breakthrough for battery powered cars.

via Stanford News via Engadget

Update: Some interesting comments on this story over at Slashdot. Also a FuturePundit commenter alerts me to a more technical analysis over at Entropy Production.


Here Comes Another Bubble

via TechCrunch


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

Move over, good fats, now we want good bacteria.

Giant offshore wind farms to supply half of UK power.

The 9 most unnecessary greatest hits albums of all time.

Cell phone spending surpasses land lines.

7 stupid thinking errors you probably make.


Speak Through Your Ear

A Japanese company Tuesday unveiled a new device that will allow people "speak" through their ear so they can use their mobile telephones in noisy places.

The device -- named "e-Mimi-kun" (good ear boy) -- doubles as an earphone and a microphone by detecting air vibrations inside the ear, developer NS-ELEX Co. said.

The earpiece and an accompanying device can be connected to a mobile phone, or wirelessly to a Bluetooth handset, so that users no longer have to cover their mouths when speaking in a loud environment, the company said.

Exterior noise is reduced six-fold by the earpiece, it said, while a chip developed by Sanyo Electric for the accompanying device reduces sound levels ten-fold, it added.
Not clear whether the yellow construction hat is part of the setup or just the current fashion in Japan.

via Breitbart


Nature's Best Photography

Some cool nature shots over at AOL Vision. This shot of zebras is my favorite:

And apparently the overhead shadow shot is all the rage in nature photography right now, as someone else did the same thing with camels.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Virtual Cable Navigation System

We've seen quite a few next-gen nav device concepts, but none with as much potential as the Virtual Cable, from a New Jersey company called Making Virtual Solid. The system uses a laser, a set of lenses, and a moving mirror mounted in the dashboard to project a 3D route-guidance line above the road ahead, as though it's actually out in front of the driver. Besides making driving that much more like a video game, the company says mass-produced versions will cost somewhere around $400 as a factory-installed option, and can be easily interfaced with existing GPS systems.
Very cool technology. If they really can add it for only $400, they have a winner. I think an after market version would sell well also.

Check out Virtual Cable's website for some videos of how it works.

via Engadget


Imperial Stormtroopers Arrest Santa

Oh noes! How could this have happened?

Well, that explains it.

via Gizmodo via Digg and Flickr via Digg


Monday, December 10, 2007

Tracing Business Acumen to Dyslexia

The report, compiled by Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, found that more than a third of the entrepreneurs she had surveyed — 35 percent — identified themselves as dyslexic. Approximately 10 percent of Americans are believed to have dyslexia, experts say.

One reason that dyslexics are drawn to entrepreneurship, Professor Logan said, is that strategies they have used since childhood to offset their weaknesses in written communication and organizational ability — identifying trustworthy people and handing over major responsibilities to them — can be applied to businesses.

“Entrepreneurs are hands-on people who push a minimum of paper, do lots of stuff orally instead of reading and writing, and delegate authority, all of which suggests a high verbal facility,” Mr. Dennis said. “Compare that with corporate managers who read, read, read.” Indeed, according to Professor Logan, only 1 percent of corporate managers in the United States have dyslexia.
That is amazing to me that 1/3 of all entrepreneurs in the US have dyslexia. Interesting how they take this weakness turn it into a strength for them.

via NY Times


Year In Ideas

The New York Times Magazine just released its 7th annual Year in Ideas issue. I always enjoy reading this. Many of the ideas have been featured here on Fat Knowledge (such as Airborne Wind Turbines, the Appendix Rationale and Wireless Energy).

My favorites this year:
The ‘Cat Lady’ Conundrum
Community Urinalysis
Hope Can Be Worse Than Hopelessness
Mindful Exercise
The 24/7 Alibi

Lots of great ideas here, worth a read.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

If Someone Invites You To A Rabbit Dinner...

you might want to think twice about attending. Check out what customers who bought a Fresh Whole Rabbit at also bought (and check the Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed section as well).

via Digg

Update: Looks like Amazon updated and got rid of the funniness.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Hybrid Solar Lighting

This video
shows how sunlight can be taken from the roof and then piped into a building using fiber optics. Cuts down on electricity usage and emits a light that is healthier and more pleasing to the eyes.

Pretty cool technology, but I wonder how the economics of it break down. They state that this setup costs less than $10,000 lights 1000 sq feet and will last 20 years, but I have no idea how that compares with other lighting options.

via Daily Good


Friday, December 07, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

The 9 most badass Bible verses.

Why the flu likes winter.

Gift cards go philanthropic.

In miles of alleys, Chicago finds its next environmental frontier.

Design your own shoes.


Japan's Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web

Interesting comparison of Japanese and American bloggers.

Technorati found that of all recorded blog postings in the fourth quarter of last year, 37 percent were written in Japanese, 36 percent in English and 8 percent in Chinese. In the past three years, Japanese has been running ahead of or about even with English as the dominant language of blogging, according to Technorati. About 130 million people understand Japanese, while about 1.1 billion understand English.

About 40 percent of English-language bloggers said their primary goal was "to raise visibility as an authority in my field." Only 5 percent of Japanese bloggers said that was their primary motivation. Instead, they said they blog to create a record of their thoughts and of information they have collected.

The Japanese are about five times as likely as Americans, the British or the French to read a blog every week, but far less likely to act on what they read, according to Edelman's surveys.

By some estimates, as much as 40 percent of Japanese blogging is done on mobile phones, often by commuters staring cross-eyed at tiny screens for hours as they ride the world's most extensive network of subways and commuter trains.
The article also says that Japanese blogs are typically read by just 5-10 close friends and that commenting is very rare.

via Washington Post (also check out the accompanying video)


How Africa's Desert Sun Can Bring Europe Power

Europe is considering plans to spend more than £5bn on a string of giant solar power stations along the Mediterranean desert shores of northern Africa and the Middle East.

More than a hundred of the generators, each fitted with thousands of huge mirrors, would generate electricity to be transmitted by undersea cable to Europe and then distributed across the continent to European Union member nations, including Britain.

Billions of watts of power could be generated this way, enough to provide Europe with a sixth of its electricity needs and to allow it to make significant cuts in its carbon emissions. At the same time, the stations would be used as desalination plants to provide desert countries with desperately needed supplies of fresh water.

The Desertec project envisages a ring of a thousand of these stations being built along the coast of northern Africa and round into the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. In this way up to 100 billion watts of power could be generated: two thirds of it would be kept for local needs, the rest - around 30 billion watts - would be exported to Europe.

Europe would provide initial funds for developing the solar technology that will be needed to run plants as well as money for constructing prototype stations. After that, banks and financial institutions, as well as national governments, would take over the construction programme, which could cost more than £200bn over the next 30 years.

At present electricity generated this way would cost around 15-20 eurocents (11 to 14p) a kilowatt-hour - almost twice the cost of power generated by coal. However, Desertec's backers say improvements over the next decade should bring the cost of power from its plants to less than 10 eurocents a kilowatt-hour, making it competitive with traditionally generated power.
I wonder how the costs of this energy compares with renewable energy generated in Germany with all of their subsidies. If this is cheaper seems like a better way to go.

via Guardian via TreeHugger and Worldwide Sawdust


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Worthless Radiohead Analysis

Radiohead is perhaps the most successful band to give away new music online, making its recent album, “In Rainbows”, available to download on a “pay-what-you-want” basis. Unfortunately for Radiohead—and music industry trend-spotters—62% of downloaders paid nothing, according to comScore, an internet information provider. Only 4% of fans paid over $12.
I have been reading articles like this all over the net, and the analysis is utterly horrible. First, the data on which they are basing this is questionable. But, lets just ignore that and assume it is correct.

The problem is that they focus in on the meaningless statistic of the % of people who pay as shown in this pointless chart:

At first glance, the chart seems perfectly fine. So, what is wrong with it you ask?

The problem with this graph is that it makes it look like things would be better if the percentage of people who didn't pay went down. But that isn't true.

Imagine you have 100,000 paying customers and then you could choose to have 100,000 unpaying customers, or 1 million unpaying customers. In the first case 50% of the customers paid, in the second 10% did. But in both cases you are making the same amount of money and in the second one you have an additional 900,000 people who have listened to your song. I can't think of a single reason why you would want to be in the first case, but that is exactly the conclusion you would draw by looking at this graph.

Those that chose not to pay come from 3 categories: those that would have paid if they had to, those that would have gotten the music for free via file sharing anyways, and those that wouldn't have paid anyways but decided to check out the music because it was free. Of those 3 only the first reduces profits, but it is impossible to know what percentage of the freeloaders this makes up.

The digital download also serves as advertising for their $80 CD and music concerts. While Budweiser has to pay for people to check out their advertisements, Radiohead was able to get lots of people to spend their own time to download and listen to their music. These "freeloaders" might end up making more money for Radiohead then those that bought a regular CD at the store.

To fix this graph, I would add another slice to the pie: people who could have downloaded the album for free but chose not to because they could care less about Radiohead (myself being in that category). Even if you assumed a crazy high estimate of 10 million downloads, with a world population of 6 billion that means that 99.9833% of all people fit in that category.

When it comes to digital downloads there are only 2 important numbers: total number of downloads and total amount of money made. That's it. And neither number has been reported in this article. It would be interesting to know how much money they made after the first week on their last album compared with how much they made off of downloads on this one. But, there is no way to figure that out either.

So, before we judge the Radiohead experiment a success or failure, lets at least get the right numbers and analyze them in the correct way.

via The Economist


Time Cost of Books

When it comes to goods such as books, movies and TV, our consumption of them is limited more by time than the price they cost to purchase. As I wrote about previously, time is more valuable than money in the attention economy. While it is easy to determine the "time cost" of DVDs and audio books, it is not so easy to figure out for written books. To help see the time cost of books, I whipped up this Greasemonkey script for use at

This script looks at the number of words in the book (available when the "search in this book" feature in enabled), and then figures out the amount of time it would take to read at the average reader rate of 200 words per minute (you can ascertain your own reading rate here and adjust the values accordingly).

While you might think that the number of pages would give you the same information, it doesn't really as editors use the same tricks I used in high school to meet page requirements: change font and margin sizes. They even have another trick up their sleeves that was unavailable to me: adjusting the size of the page. Because of this, a book that is 600 pages is likely to have much more than three as many words as one of 200, as the former will be printed in a very small font, while the latter is likely to be in a big font on a small page.

Both Garbage Land and Freakonomics are 336 pages long, but Garbage Land takes 7.5 hours to read vs. just 4.2 for Freakonomics. Maybe part of the reason for Freakonomics success is its relatively low time cost. Malcolm Gladwell must have thought he hit the sweet spot of book length with The Tipping Point, for his follow up book Blink had the identical time cost of 5.9 hours. And if you were wondering how how much time it takes to read the book that is synonymous with being long, War and Peace (original title: War, What is it Good For?) comes in at 49.2 hours.

With the Kindle, Amazon has the ability to get actual data on exactly how long it takes you to read books. They could determine what your reading rate is and then tell you the time cost of any book you are looking to purchase for your Kindle.

My wish list of books to read is always longer than the amount of time I have to spend reading, so now I will be able to tell how "expensive" it would be to read any particular book.


Google Wants To Make Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal

Google just announced an initiative to develop electricity from clean sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. In true geek fashion, they’re calling it “RE < C” or “Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal.” The search giant will be looking to hire between 20 and 30 engineers and experts to develop renewable power technology from sources like solar thermal, wind power and enhanced geothermal systems. On a conference call, Google co-founder Larry Page said the initiative would spend “tens of millions of dollars on R&D,” and ultimately hope to produce a “gigawatt of renewable energy capacity,” in years, not decades.

Page said that Google (GOOG) will use its knowledge of designing power-hungry data centers to tackle the challenge of researching and productizing clean energy. The company hopes to deploy clean energy sources for its own uses for its data centers (many of which are powered by coal plants) and possibly license that technology to other customers. Bill Weihl, Google’s green energy czar, said on the call that the company is looking to develop clean energy sources at a cost in the range of one to three cents per kilowatt hour. Coal, by comparison, can cost somewhere around four cents per kilowatt hour.

Google says it also plans to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” in renewable energy projects and startups.
More power to them.

I think that making RE<C is arguably the greatest challenge of our century. When it happens it will solve the global warming problem, alleviate all energy scarcity issues, and make electricity cheap enough to give access to everyone in the 3rd world. Not bad for a sideline business to an internet search company.

I do wonder if they are bitting off a little more than they can chew with this one. This is a difficult problem and I am not sure a couple of hundred million dollars will solve it. I still think RE<C won't happen until around 2030. On the other hand, this investment could rival that of the federal government and who wants to bet against Google? More smart people working on this problem with strong financing sounds good to me.

via Earth2Tech


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pumping Ocean Water to Stop Climate Change

They propose that vertical pipes some 10 metres across be placed in the ocean, such that wave motion would pump up cool water from 100-200 metres depth to the surface, moving nutrient-rich waters in the depths to mix with the relatively barren warm waters at the ocean surface.

This would fertilise algae in the surface waters and encourage them to bloom, absorbing carbon dioxide greenhouse gas while also releasing a chemical called dimethyl sulphide that is know to seed sunlight reflecting clouds.

"Such an approach may fail, perhaps on engineering or economic grounds", they say, adding that the effects on the acidity of the ocean also have to be factored in.

None the less, "the removal of 500 gigatons (500 billon tons) of carbon dioxide from the air by human endeavour is beyond our current technological capability. "If we can't 'heal the planet' directly, we may be able to help the planet heal itself."

One version of the scheme sees around 10,000 pipes in the Gulf of Mexico, they told The Daily Telegraph.

"In the Gulf this alone may be important for reducing the severity of hurricanes. It is local self interest such as hurricane prevention and the restoration of fisheries that may pay for the project."

I say, lets build a couple of these pipes and see what happens. I think this could be a good idea not just to reduce the level of CO2, but also to increase the amount of sea life (and fish that we can eat) and decrease the severity of hurricanes.

via Telegraph


Kindle and the Short Tail

Amazon has released its ebook reader the Kindle (which I will hopefully get around to reviewing soon). The irony of this device is that it takes away Amazon's greatest strength, that of its selection.

Using the Kindle takes you from being able to select from 3.7 million books to just 90,000. Amazon's digital inventory is a mere 2.4% of their non-digital offering. Their digital selection is equivalent to that of a local brick and mortar book store. It takes you from the long tail to the short tail.

No Harry Potter, no Lord of the Rings, no Jurassic Park, and hardly any books that weren't best sellers or are over 5 years old. And that is just with books. Their selection of newspapers, magazines and blogs is similarly limited. No USA Today, no Wired magazine, no Engadget blog.

This sucks. I love Amazon precisely because I am a long tail reader. But now if I want to go with their ebook I have to give up that long tail and go back to the "tyranny of choice".

The Kindle has been called the iPod of books, but with the iPod, you could rip music from CDs and put it on your iPod. Your selection of music was not limited by the transition to the iPod. With the Kindle there is no way to "rip" the content from your hardcover and paperback books on to the Kindle.

Tech Crunch does point out that you can get access to a digital version of many books via Bit Torrent that can then be transferred to a Kindle. But as with all file sharing content, quality is suspect.

I thought the whole point of the internet and the digital revolution was greater selection. With the Kindle that goal takes a step backwards.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

The top 10 most controversial ways to save the planet.

Monkey brains use web link to control robot legs.

It is projected that fewer than 100 homicide victims in New York City (population 8.2 million) this year where the victim was a stranger to their assailant.

Brain2Robot project creates EEG-controlled robot arm.

How not to talk to your kids: the inverse power of praise.