Tuesday, August 26, 2008

GOP Believes Biden Will Never Make Another Gaffe

If you go to GOP.com you will see that they have a countdown for the "Time Until Biden's Next Gaffe" timer. But, instead of counting down it actually counts up. Oh, the irony of making a gaffe while creating a gaffe countdown.

Also, if you are wondering who the GOP's nominee for president is, you won't find that on GOP.com's front page. While Barack Obama's name and face make multiple appearance on the front page, John McCain is no where to be found.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Amazon Confirms Student Version Of Kindle

Amazon confirmed our speculation that they are planning to target colleges and universities with a new version of the Kindle, reports the Seattle PI. Textbooks are a $5.5 billion annual market, and most publishers now offer electronic versions of their textbooks. McGraw-Hill Education, for example, publishes 95% of their books electronically as well as in print. But there is no compelling device to read them on. The new Kindle will likely be a large screen version of the original, which is much better suited for textbooks.
I wonder if it will be near the $600 price point and 11" diagonal screen that I predicted in my One E-book Per Student post.

via TechCrunch


Intel Moves to Free Gadgets of Their Recharging Cords

Intel says it has increased the efficiency of a technique for wirelessly powering consumer gadgets and computers, a development that could allow a person to simply place a device on a desktop or countertop to power it. It could bring the consumer electronics industry a step closer to a world without wires.

On Thursday, the chip maker plans to demonstrate the use of a magnetic field to broadcast up to 60 watts of power two to three feet. It says it can do that losing only 25 percent of the power in transmission.

“Something like this technology could be embedded in tables and work surfaces,” said Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer, “so as soon as you put down an appropriately equipped device it would immediately begin drawing power.”
Cool. Can't wait to be rid of the power cables for all my small gadgets and speakers.

via NY Times and Engadget


Friday, August 22, 2008

Firefox's Spell Checker Should Use Google's "Did You Mean" Technology

I am a horrible speller, but hopefully that isn't apparent on this blog since I take full advantage of Firefox's spell checker. When I am composing these blog posts any misspelled words get underlined in red so I can right click on them and fix them up.

Unfortunately, Firefox's suggestions are not particularly good. For example, I misspelled prosperity as propserpity and the suggestions were: Proserpina, Proserpine, propensity, and propinquity. I must misspell words in particularly creative ways for I often find that the correct spelling is not on the list. Sometimes I am off by just one letter and yet it doesn't make the suggestion list.

On the other hand, when you misspell something in a Google search, Google gives you a "Did you mean" suggestion which works amazingly well (worked perfectly on propserpity). I would have to say that it suggests the right word 95% of the time. I don't know how they are able to get it to work so well, but I am always impressed by how it finds the right word with only one suggestion.

I wish Firefox would license this technology and put it into their spell checker or that some add-on developer would create an add-on that puts the "Did you mean" suggestion on the top of the list.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

E-Books Vs. Newspapers

As a proud Kindle owner I wondered if e-books were better for the environment than their paper brethren.

I found three papers that looked into this question: Environmental Implications of Wireless Technologies: News Delivery and Business Meetings by Michael Toffel, Screening environmental life cycle assessment of printed, web based and tablet e-paper newspaper by Asa Moberg, and Printed Scholarly Books and E-book Reading Devices: A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Two Book Options by Greg Kozak.

To determine which is best for the environment, lets compare the energy usage and co2 emissions of reading the New York Times for one year in paper vs. e-book form.

What is the impact of reading the paper form of the NY Times for 1 year?

Michael Toffel puts the weight of a year of NY Times at 236 kg (.65 kg a day). The Environmental Defense Fund's Paper Calculator shows that 1 kg of 50% recycled newsprint (uncoated groundwood) paper uses 30,000 BTU (31 MJ) of energy. 236 kg of paper would therefore use 7,316 MJ of energy.

Michael Toffel finds that to create, print, deliver and dispose of the newspaper emits 702 kg of co2 a year (using 50% recycled newspaper).

Aside #1: How many trees and how much land does a year of NY Times require?

This Depaul University analysis states that one pallet of paper (2,000 lbs) can be produced by 3.84 trees from which follows that each tree produces 237 kg of paper. Surprisingly, the 236 kg of paper needed each year to produce one year of NY Times papers would take almost exactly 1 tree.

The Depaul University analysis also states that over the course of 25 years, 1 acre of forested land can produce 120 trees (or 4.8 trees/acre/year or 12 trees/ha/yr). In one year, a hectare of land therefore produces 2,844 kg of paper (12 trees * 237 kg/tree) and 1 kg of paper requires 3.5 m2 yr of forest (1/2,844 ha/yr * 10,000 m2 per ha). The 236 kg of paper needed each year to produce the NY Times would require a dedicated 826 m2 of forest.

What is the impact of reading the digital version of the NY Times on the Kindle e-book for 1 year?

There are 3 stages to this: manufacturing the e-book, running the e-book and downloading the digital file over the cellular network.

The three papers give slightly different values for manufacturing an e-book. Michael Toffel puts it at 158 MJ and 8.8 kg of co2, Asa Moberg puts it at 190 MJ and 9 kg of co2 and Greg Kozak puts it at 261 MJ and 19 kg of co2. Using an average of the three, I will go with 200 MJ and 12 kg of co2. This is much lower than the 1,390 MJ (386 kWh) of energy and 60 kg of co2 to produce a mobile phone. Assuming an e-book lasts for 3 years, the impact of the manufacturing per year is 1/3 of the total or 67 MJ (18.6 kWh) and 4 kg of co2.

The impact of running an e-book is minimal. I find that I charge my Kindle for 2 hours at 6W every 3 days which works out to 1.5 kWh a year. The EIA states the average US power plant emits .6 kg of co2 per kWh. 1 year of running a Kindle causes 1.5 kWh * .6 kg/kWh = .9 kg of co2 emissions a year.

The Kindle uses the Sprint cellular system to download the new content each day. The NY Times Kindle edition has a size of approximately 334 kB and takes approximately 1 minute to download. Michael Toffel puts the impact of 1 minute of cellular time to be .014 kWh based on a 1999 study of the Sacramento cellular system. Over a year this would be 8 kWh and would release 5 kg of co2 (using the .6 kg of co2/kWh value from above).

The combined the result is 100 MJ (27.5kWh) and 10 kg of co2 a year for using an e-book to read the NY Times each day.

Aside #2 What if I read the newspaper on my computer rather than an e-book?

Asa Mosberg takes a look at that scenario in her paper and finds that it depends on how much time you spend reading the news. If you spend less than 30 minutes reading the news then you will use less energy and emit less co2 by using your computer. If you spend more than 30 minutes, then the electricity that it takes to run your computer and monitor uses more energy and emits more co2 than if you read a physical newspaper. Of course mileage can vary based on how efficiently your monitor and computer use electricity and what the source of your electricity is.


Reading the physical version of the NY Times for a year uses 7,300 MJ of energy and emits 700 kg of co2. Reading it on a Kindle uses 100 MJ of energy and emits 10 kg of co2.

The Kindle therefore saves 6,500 MJ and 690 kg of co2 a year. A gallon of gasoline has 131 MJ of energy and emits 8.8 kg of CO2, so switching to an e-book would be like saving 50 gallons of energy and 78 gallons of co2 emissions. A reduction of 690 kg of co2 is 3.5% of the average American's 20 metric tons of yearly emissions.

Americans use on average a bit over 700 lbs (320 kg) of paper and paper board a year, so cutting out 236 kg of paper would be a significant reduction of paper usage.

For the newspaper, the majority of the energy and emissions are due to the manufacturing of paper. The most significant step that can be done to reduce the impact of paper manufacturing is to use recycled paper. Michael Toffel concludes that emissions could be reduced 41% by doing using 100% recycled paper. But, even 100% recycled newspaper would use significantly more resources than an e-book.

Most of energy that an e-book uses in its lifetime is from the manufacture of the e-book. Keeping your e-book beyond 3 years is the best way to lower the environmental impact of reading an e-book. Also, using it for additional activities like reading books, magazines and blogs will also reduce the impact of using an e-book.

Aside #3: What if you compared books rather than newspaper reading with an e-book?

For many people, the Kindle and other e-books will be a replacement for physical books rather than newspapers. Eco-Libris states that 3.09 billion books were sold in the US in 2006, or approximately 10 per American. Alibris finds that the average book sold weighs 340 g. The 3.4 kg of books the Average American purchases leads to 105 MJ and 10.2 kg of co2 (at 31 MJ/kg of paper and 3 kg of co2/kg of paper). The yearly value for using a Kindle to read the newspaper daily was 100 MJ and 10 kg of co2. It is basically a wash between using physical books and the Kindle. If you purchase more than 10 books a year and are unlikely to loan those books out when you are done with them, then the Kindle will come out ahead.

How you get the books is also important to the analysis, for if you drive to the book store the extra gasoline burnt is likely to tip the scales in favor of the Kindle.


It took me so long to actually write this up that I found out that Erika Engelhaupt has written a similar article to this one in Environmental Science and Technology. I agree with her that "Our world has become such a complicated place that every purchasing decision can become a Ph.D. dissertation topic, as I quickly learned." Trying to determine whether e-books are better for the environment quickly gets complicated and full of assumptions that can completely change the conclusion. Here are the most important assumptions in this analysis.

Number of people that read the newspaper: I assumed just one person reads the paper. Michael Toffel's research shows that on average 2.6 people read each NY Times paper. Asa Moberg assumes 2.4 people read each paper. If you are living in a house where 4 people read the paper each day, the impact of the paper can be split 4 ways.

Kg of co2 emitted per kg of paper: There are a ton of different estimates. I used Michael Toffel's value of around 3 kg of co2 per kg of 50% recycled paper. He also gives a value of 1.74 if the paper is 100% recycled. Asa Moberg puts it at .96 with 60% recycled paper. Greg Kozak uses a value of 6.33. This Green Press Initiative document that puts it at 7.14 for 0% post-consumer recycled, 5.5 for 50% recycled and 3.9 for 100% recycled, while this other Green Press Initiative document puts it at 1.6 million tons of co2/ 540,000 tons of paper = 2.96. The Green Press Initiative has yet a third value from this webpage that puts it at 73 billion lbs of co2 / 8.7 million metric tons of paper = 3.8 (this includes addition of forest carbon loss). Finally, the Environmental Defense Fund's Paper Calculator lets you put in your own assumptions and for Uncoated Groundwood (newsprint), 50% recycled emits 5.1 and 100% recycled 3.7. The higher values would make the e-book look even better.

Most of these estimates for co2 emissions from paper assume that some of the disposed paper ends up in a land fill and is turned into methane by microbes. Methane is 20 times as strong as a greenhouse gas as co2 is and the methane emissions translate into higher co2 equivalent emissions. But, another possibility is to store or bury the newspaper in a way that methane isn't released. In this way the carbon in the paper is sequestered. This report suggests that trees can be grown as a way to sequester carbon, and one way to do so would be to sequester newspapers. I am not sure what the impact on this analysis would be if this were to occur.

MJ of energy per kg of paper: The Paper Calculator shows a value of 31 MJ per kg of paper, while Asa Moberg finds a value of 10.4 MJ per kg and Greg Kozak comes up with 110 MJ.

Kg of paper per tree: The amount of paper that one tree produces is estimated at 237 kg by this Depaul University analysis. The Green Press Inititive states that 95 million trees can produce it takes 6 million metric tons of virgin fiber or 63 kg of paper/tree. Using the lower value would mean more trees would be needed to produce one years worth of NY Times.

Manufacturing of e-books: The numbers for the manufacture of e-books was not done on e-ink readers as no numbers were yet available. I don't know how this would impact the results.

Impact of the cellular system: I used Michael Toffel's estimate. Another estimate of the impact of using a cellular system is found in this report from 2004. It puts the impact of downloading 1 Gb over a UMTS cellular system in Switzerland to be 939 MJ of energy and 27 kg of co2. But, if you take out the impact of the cellular phone and the administration of the cellular system (business trips for cellular employees), what remains is just 20% of that total or 188 MJ (52kWh) and 5.4 kg of co2. Downloading a 334 kB file daily racks up 121 MB a year or 975 Mb, slightly less than 1 Gb. Therefore, this report would estimate the impact of using the cellular system at 183 MJ and 5.2 kg of co2. This is much more energy and about the same amount of co2 as the other estimate I used. Not clear to me which estimate is better, or how things have changed in the cellular commuications business since each report was written.

Ignored aspects of the e-book life cycle: I don't know how much energy it takes to run the servers from which the newspaper file is downloaded from, but given how efficient servers are today, I don't believe a single 334 kB file download a day is significant. Also I am not sure how much energy and emissions the engineers that developed the Kindle and the engineers who created the software for the Amazon website used. Should the energy they use while working in their offices or when flying on business trips be included?

Impact of how electricity is generated: While the average American power plant emits .6 kg of co2 per kWh of power produced, it varies greatly, as low as .013 kg in Idaho (hydro-power) and as high as 1.0 kg in North Dakota (coal, I assume). Where you get your power from changes the values.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Interesting Articles of the Week

Kobe Bryant more popular than Yao Ming in China.

Are birth control pills reducing the fitness of humanity?

China's 9 year old Milli Vanilli.

Detroit housing market is so bad that looters are stealing the boards from boarded up homes.

MIT researchers print tiny battery using viruses.


If they IM'd: Obama's VP Prospects

Really funny.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Cow Power Could Provide 3% of U.S. Electricity?

There seems to be a lot more media attention covering “cow power,” than actual viable cow power plants out there.
Hey, why is everybody looking at me?
But a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say that biogas made from manure could provide as much as 3 percent of America’s electricity needs — that’s about the same amount of U.S. electricity that comes from renewables, excluding hydro and nuclear.

The researchers published the data in a paper called “Cow Power: The Energy and Emissions Benefits of Converting Manure to Biogas” in the Institute of Physics’ Environmental Research Letters yesterday (hat tip Biopact).

This isn’t simply done by throwing cow patties in the furnace. The paper suggests that if the billion plus tons of manure produced annually in the U.S. by livestock were anaerobically converted into biogas we could burn it in any standard gas power plant. If that biogas were to supplant coal, it could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation by 4 percent.
The day of the cow fart tycoon is almost here.

via Earth2Tech


NREL Solar Cell Sets World Efficiency Record at 40.8%

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a world record in solar cell efficiency with a photovoltaic device that converts 40.8% of the light that hits it into electricity. This is the highest confirmed efficiency of any photovoltaic device to date, according to NREL.

The inverted metamorphic triple-junction solar cell was designed, fabricated and independently measured at NREL. The 40.8% efficiency was measured under concentrated light of 326 suns. One sun is about the amount of light that typically hits Earth on a sunny day. The new cell is a candidate for the space satellite market and for terrestrial concentrated photovoltaic arrays, which use lenses or mirrors to focus sunlight onto the solar cells.

The new solar cell differs significantly from the previous record holder, which was also based on a NREL design. Instead of using a germanium wafer as the bottom junction of the device, the new design uses compositions of gallium indium phosphide and gallium indium arsenide to split the solar spectrum into three equal parts that are absorbed by each of the cell’s three junctions for higher potential efficiencies. This is accomplished by growing the solar cell on a gallium arsenide wafer, flipping it over, then removing the wafer. The resulting device is extremely thin and light and represents a new class of solar cells with advantages in performance, design, operation and cost.
via Green Car Congress


Why Robin Isn't in the Dark Knight

via Wikiupload via Digg


Thursday, August 14, 2008

First Solar: Quest for the $1 Watt

In some parts of the world, competing with grid electricity itself may be an easy game during peak consumption hours. But if you want the off-peak market, you’ll have to price your cells at about US $1 per watt. That price is called grid parity, and it’s the holy grail of the photovoltaic industry. At least 80 firms around the world, from Austin to Osaka, are in the chase.

Surprisingly, at the moment no company is ­closer to that grail than a little start-up called First Solar, which until very ­recently had been known only to specialists. It’s located in Tempe, Ariz., and analysts agree that it will very likely meet typical grid-parity prices in ­developed countries in just two to four years. It’s got a multibillion-dollar order book, it’s selling all the cells it can make, it’s adding production capacity as fast as it can, and its stock price has rocketed from $25 to more than $250 in just 18 months.

The most tantalizing fact about First Solar? The company will not talk to reporters. At all.

The company’s coyness seems to be related to the nature of its industrial secrets. These have less to do with First Solar’s device—a decades-old design based on a thin film of cadmium telluride—than with the way the company manufactures it. Somehow, First Solar has scaled up the light-catching area from postage-stamp to traffic-sign dimensions. What the company does ­reveal is that its product has three massive cost benefits. Its ­active element is just a hundredth the thickness of the old standby, silicon; it is built on a glass substrate, which enables the production of large panels; and manufacturing takes just two and a half hours—about a tenth the time it takes for silicon equivalents.

Today’s modules deliver up to 75 W at a conversion efficiency of 10.6 percent and have a manufacturing cost of $1.14/W. This is way below the selling price of $2.45/W, so the company enjoys a healthy profit margin. However, to compete against fossil-fuel sources on the free market and pick up a tidy profit, the company will have to get manufacturing costs down to ­between $0.65/W and $0.70/W. To do so, it has told investors that it needs to reduce manufacturing costs and increase conversion efficiency to 12 percent. Getting there is entirely feasible, as CdTe cells have a theoretical maximum of well over 20 percent; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colo., has already produced cells with 16.5 percent efficiency.
The sooner solar gets to grid parity the better. If First Solar can do it in 2-4 years that would be fantastic, and now would still be a good time to pick up some of that FSLR stock.

Makes you wonder if they did talk to reporters what would be the impact? Would other competitors be able to copy their techniques? If so, would this give First Solar more competition and lower the price of solar power? And if the price of solar power were lowered would this lead to increased sales and more solar power being used? Then by not talking to reporters are they slowing the adoption of solar power in order to increase their profit margin and stock price?

On the other hand, it certainly appears First Solar can't keep up with their own demand, so if another company were to jump into the mix, the sales of First Solar wouldn't be impacted at all. In this case, by not talking to reporters they are slowing the adoption of solar power in the world and getting no benefit for themselves. Either way I think the world would be better off if others could use First Solar's techniques to produce solar power so cheaply.

The article goes into more detail about how they actually produce their cells and is an interesting read.

via IEEE Spectrum


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Big Apple Gets Poorer

I have complained before about the poverty metrics in the US are bad, so I was glad to see someone actually doing something about it.

Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor, announced on July 13th an alternative to the federal poverty measure.

This measure, now 40 years old, assesses pre-tax cash income against a number of thresholds, based primarily on food spending. But this has decreased from one-third to one-eighth of average household spending over the past four decades. Housing, which now makes up more than 30% of family expenditure, is not taken into account. Nor are regional cost-of-living differences. A two-bedroom apartment, for instance, costs $1,318 a month in New York City and $1,592 in San Francisco, contrasting sharply with the national average of $867 and one Mississippi county’s $498. On the income side, non-cash benefits such as subsidised housing and food stamps, are ignored. So is the earned-income tax credit, a wage subsidy geared towards the working poor.

The new formula is based on recommendations made at Congress’s request in 1995 by the National Academy of Sciences, but never implemented federally. Defining who is poor is a touchy subject. The NAS measures reflect spending on food, clothing, shelter and utilities, which are assumed to equal about 80% of median family expenditures. Adjustments are made for transport costs, child care and out-of-pocket medical costs.
How does this change the level of poverty in NYC?
This measure increases the numbers of New York’s poor, from 19% of the population to 23%. Under the new calculus, the new poverty line for a family of four is $26,138, not the official federal level of $20,444. The new measure reveals that a smaller number of New Yorkers live in extreme poverty, but shows a higher proportion of working poor—and a shocking poverty rate among the elderly: 32%, compared with the federal estimate of 18%.
Now that Bloomberg has a better measurement for poverty, what is he doing to try and reduce it?
Poverty is an important part of Mr Bloomberg’s agenda. He set up the Centre for Economic Opportunity (CEO) in 2006 specifically to reduce it. The centre created Opportunity NYC, America’s first experiment in tying some benefits to conditions, such as turning up for parent-teacher meetings, having health-insurance or even going to the dentist. Last month it opened a financial-counselling centre for poor folk in the Bronx. Now the task of tackling poverty can truly get started.
The current measurement for poverty is broken, so I hope Bloomberg's initiative will cause the national government to look into changes as well.

via The Economist


Monday, August 11, 2008

You Got Barack Rolled!

via YouTube via Andrew Sullivan


Interesting Articles of the Week

33% of China's carbon footprint blamed on exports.

'Mother Lode' of gorillas found in Congo forests.

Dell declares it’s “Carbon Neutral”.

Oil-rich fund eyeing foreclosed US homes.

Unconventional natural gas resources boost US reserves to 118 years worth at current production levels.


Stock Tip: A123Systems

I am not usually to dispense stock tips, but I think A123Systems is a company to watch. They are going to IPO soon.

A123Systems is targeting three primary markets with its Li-ion technology: transportation, electric grid services (EGS), and portable power.

On the light-duty transportation front, in addition to its work with GM and a supply agreement with Think Global to provide battery systems for the TH!NK city EV, the company has development work underway with a number of other partners.
I think batteries are going to see big growth in the transportation market and A123 has some of the best technology out there. If they can continue to execute this company can go far.

via Green Car Congress


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Giant Kites To Tap Power of the High Wind

Scientists from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands harnessed energy from the wind by flying a 10-sq metre kite tethered to a generator, producing 10 kilowatts of power.

The experiment generated enough electricity to power 10 family homes, and the researchers have plans to test a 50kW version of their invention, called Laddermill, eventually building up to a proposed version with multiple kites that they claim could generate 100 megawatts, enough for 100,000 homes.

Wubbo Ockels, a professor of sustainable engineering and former astronaut who leads the Laddermill project, believes kites are a cheap way to harvest the enormous energy in the wind at a kilometre or more above the ground, where winds carry hundreds of times more energy than on the ground. 'We need to use all the energy supplies that are offered to us by nature, we need diversity and kites are ... intriguing and fascinating,' he said.

The aim of both teams is to tap into high-altitude wind, which is an energy source that is more abundant and reliable than the ground-level wind on which normal turbines depend.

A kite generates power by pulling on a string attached to generators on the ground. When it has reached its maximum height, it is reeled back down to repeat the process.

Ockels estimates that kites could generate power at less than 4p per kilowatt-hour, which is comparable to coal power and less than half the cost of electricity from wind turbines.
4 pence is around 8¢ which would be impressive if they could generate electricity for that price. Looking at the video (click link below to view) the kite does appear inexpensive to produce, especially compared with wind turbines.

via Guardian


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Polar Bear vs. Husky

Click to see the surprise ending.

via Digg


Paris Hilton Responds to McCain Ad

7 words I never thought I would utter: Paris Hilton's energy policy is surprisingly sensible.

via Funny Or Die