Thursday, January 31, 2008

Solar Grand Plan

Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis lay out their Solar Grand Plan in Scientific American.

On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today’s rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

Under these assumptions, U.S. energy demand could be fulfilled with the following capacities: 2.9 terawatts (TW) of photovoltaic power going directly to the grid and another 7.5 TW dedicated to compressed-air storage; 2.3 TW of concentrated solar power plants; and 1.3 TW of distributed photovoltaic installations. Supply would be rounded out with 1 TW of wind farms, 0.2 TW of geothermal power plants and 0.25 TW of biomass-based production for fuels. The model includes 0.5 TW of geothermal heat pumps for direct building heating and cooling. The solar systems would require 165,000 square miles of land, still less than the suitable available area in the Southwest.

Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume. The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming.

What kind of technology advances are required?
In the past few years the cost to produce photovoltaic cells and modules has dropped significantly, opening the way for large-scale deployment. To provide electricity at six cents per kWh by 2020, cadmium telluride modules would have to convert electricity with 14 percent efficiency, and systems would have to be installed at $1.20 per watt of capacity. Current modules have 10 percent efficiency and an installed system cost of about $4 per watt. Progress is clearly needed, but the technology is advancing quickly; commercial efficiencies have risen from 9 to 10 percent in the past 12 months.

The main progress required, then, is to raise module efficiency to 14 percent. Although the efficiencies of commercial modules will never reach those of solar cells in the laboratory, cadmium telluride cells at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are now up to 16.5 percent and rising. At least one manufacturer, First Solar in Perrysburg, Ohio, increased module efficiency from 6 to 10 percent from 2005 to 2007 and is reaching for 11.5 percent by 2010.
The assumptions for improvements in solar technology and the reductions in cost seem reasonable, maybe even a little understated as they are assumed to end in 2020.

How much land is needed?
In our plan, by 2050 photovoltaic technology would provide almost 3,000 gigawatts (GW), or billions of watts, of power. Some 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays would have to be erected. Although this area may sound enormous, installations already in place indicate that the land required for each gigawatt-hour of solar energy produced in the Southwest is less than that needed for a coal-powered plant when factoring in land for coal mining. Studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., show that more than enough land in the Southwest is available without requiring use of environmentally sensitive areas, population centers or difficult terrain.

To meet the 2050 projection, 46,000 square miles of land would be needed for photovoltaic and concentrated solar power installations. That area is large, and yet it covers just 19 percent of the suitable Southwest land.
How is energy stored for when the sun isn't shining?
Compressed-air energy storage has emerged as a successful alternative. Electricity from photovoltaic plants compresses air and pumps it into vacant underground caverns, abandoned mines, aquifers and depleted natural gas wells. The pressurized air is released on demand to turn a turbine that generates electricity, aided by burning small amounts of natural gas. Compressed-air energy storage plants have been operating reliably in Huntorf, Germany, since 1978 and in McIntosh, Ala., since 1991. The turbines burn only 40 percent of the natural gas they would if they were fueled by natural gas alone, and better heat recovery technology would lower that figure to 30 percent.

Studies by the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., indicate that the cost of compressed-air energy storage today is about half that of lead-acid batteries. The research indicates that these facilities would add three or four cents per kWh to photovoltaic generation, bringing the total 2020 cost to eight or nine cents per kWh.

Another technology that would supply perhaps one fifth of the solar energy in our vision is known as concentrated solar power. For energy storage, the pipes run into a large, insulated tank filled with molten salt, which retains heat efficiently. Heat is extracted at night, creating steam. The molten salt does slowly cool, however, so the energy stored must be tapped within a day.
I haven not hear of using compressed air energy storage on such a large scale before, but it is intriguing and I think it could work. 3 to 4¢ per kWh is a bit expensive though for it to go mainstream. I wonder if advances in battery technologies might make them the cheaper and more preferable solution.

How would the electricity be transmitted from the southwest to the rest of the country?
The existing system of alternating-current (AC) power lines is not robust enough to carry power from these centers to consumers everywhere and would lose too much energy over long hauls. A new high-voltage, direct-current (HVDC) power transmission backbone would have to be built.

Studies by Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicate that long-distance HVDC lines lose far less energy than AC lines do over equivalent spans. The backbone would radiate from the Southwest toward the nation’s borders. The lines would terminate at converter stations where the power would be switched to AC and sent along existing regional transmission lines that supply customers.

The AC system is also simply out of capacity, leading to noted shortages in California and other regions; DC lines are cheaper to build and require less land area than equivalent AC lines. About 500 miles of HVDC lines operate in the U.S. today and have proved reliable and efficient.

Electricity from photovoltaic farms in the Southwest would be sent over high-voltage DC transmission lines to compressed-air storage facilities throughout the country, where turbines would generate electricity year-round. The key is to find adequate sites. Mapping by the natural gas industry and the Electric Power Research Institute shows that suitable geologic formations exist in 75 percent of the country, often close to metropolitan areas. Indeed, a compressed-air energy storage system would look similar to the U.S. natural gas storage system. The industry stores eight trillion cubic feet of gas in 400 underground reservoirs. By 2050 our plan would require 535 billion cubic feet of storage, with air pressurized at 1,100 pounds per square inch.
How much money is needed to make this work and how could that money be collected?
The federal government would have to invest more than $400 billion over the next 40 years to complete the 2050 plan. That investment is substantial, but the payoff is greater. Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume. The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming.

The $420 billion could be generated with a carbon tax of 0.5 cent per kWh. Given that electricity today generally sells for six to 10 cents per kWh, adding 0.5 cent per kWh seems reasonable.
It is not clear to me how the $400 billion number was calculated, or how reducing it to $100 billion or increasing it to $800 billion would impact the speed at which the plan could be implemented. I wonder if this whole plan could be accomplished without any subsidies if it were pushed back, say, 30 years. If so, the question becomes how much can you push the time frame forward for how much money?

What needs to happen now to get this plan started?
Building 1.5 GW of photovoltaics and 1.5 GW of concentrated solar power annually in the first five years would stimulate many manufacturers to scale up. In the next five years, annual construction would rise to 5 GW apiece, helping firms optimize production lines. As a result, solar electricity would fall toward six cents per kWh.
Overall, I find this plan plausible and a good road map of how to get completely off of fossil fuels by 2100 and a significant chunk of that completed by 2050.

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Man('s Best Friend) vs. Machine


via YouTube via Engadget

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Aerogenerator

It may resemble a giant rotary washing line, but it might just help Britain meet its hugely ambitious new wind energy targets. At least that's the claim of the company developing a novel "vertical axis" wind turbine dubbed the Aerogenerator.

The 144-metre high V-shaped structure would be mounted offshore and capable of generating up to 9 megawatts of electricity, roughly three times as much power as a conventional turbine of equivalent size. Switching to such a design could ensure that thousands fewer turbines would be needed in order to meet the government's new wind power target, says Theo Bird, founder of Windpower, the Blyth-based firm behind the new turbine.

Instead of being mounted on a tower with "egg whisk" blades that bow outwards and meet at the top - like a typical Darrieus - Sharpe's variation has two arms jutting out from its base to form a V-shape, with rigid "sails" mounted along their length at intervals. As the wind passes over these they act like aerofoils, generating lift which turns the structure as a whole at roughly three revolutions per minute, says Bird.

The beauty of this design is that no matter how high the two main structures are made it is relatively simple to make them bottom heavy. Because of this the technology lends itself to large engineering projects, which is precisely what is needed with wind power, says Bird.
via Guardian Unlimited

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Amazon Purchases Audible

Amazon is betting big on digital media. This morning it announced the $300 million acquisition of Audible (a 7 percent premium to Audible’s $280 million market cap at the time of this writing). Audible is the leading provider of audio books in digital form, with a library of 80,000 titles.
I find this interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, back when Amazon was just starting out, I figured they would go from selling books, CDs and VHS (these were the pre DVD days) to ebooks, MP3s and digital downloads of movies. Instead of progressing from atoms to bits they went another route and added more physical products: electronics, apparel, and home and garden products. Now it looks like they are finally getting serious about digital downloads with the Kindle ebook, DRM free MP3s, Unbox Movie and TV downloads and, now with this purchase of Audible, downloadable audio books.

Second, Audible has a subscription feature, where you can pay a certain amount per month and get a certain amount of books (at a discount to their normal price). I am a big fan of the subscription model, and would like to see Amazon get into this further with a subscription plan for their books, newspapers and blogs on the Kindle. The one difference I would like to see is that they should sell unlimited access for a certain amount per month, rather than just a discount in return for purchasing a book every month. (This idea is not to be confused with this book rental idea, commented on over at Digg.)

Third, over at Kindleville they have a great idea:
Wouldn't it be cool if the book you just purchased for your Kindle was a hybrid, offering you the option of reading it yourself or having it read to you by someone with a nice, pleasant voice? Since the Kindle is already much more sophisticated than a simple MP3 player, why not design this feature so that the audio and written words are in sync? You read for a couple of hours and your eyes get a bit tired, so you press a button to switch to audio.
Now, with the purchase of Audible this becomes a whole lot easier to do.

via TechCrunch

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Connectomics

Harvard scientists have embarked upon an ambitious program to create a circuit diagram of the human brain, with the help of new machines that automatically turn brain tissue into high-resolution neural maps.

By mapping every synapse in the brain, researchers hope to create a "connectome" -- a diagram that would elucidate the brain's activity at a level of detail far outstripping today's most advanced brain-monitoring tools like fMRI.

The effort is part of a new field of scientific research called connectomics. The field is so new that the first course ever taught on it recently ended at MIT. It is to neuroscience what genomics is to genetics. Where genetics looks at individual genes or groups of genes, genomics looks at the entire genetic complement of an organism. Connectomics makes a similar jump in scale and ambition, from studying individual cells to studying swaths of the brain containing millions of cells. A full set of images of the human brain at synapse-level resolution would contain hundreds of petabytes of information, or about the total amount of storage in Google's data centers, Lichtman estimates.

Lichtman's lab is creating what could be the equivalent of the genome sequencing machine, which dramatically sped up the race to map the human genome. It's an automated brain peeler and imager they call ATLUM.

ATLUM uses a lathe and specialized knife to create long, thin strips of brain cells that can be imaged by an electron microscope. Software will eventually montage the images, creating an ultrahigh-resolution 3-D reconstruction of the mouse brain, allowing scientists to see features only 50 nanometers across.

While connectomics researchers are very excited, they're still just getting a handle on mouse-sized brains. It could be a decade before data-crunching technology will be available to map the complexity of the human brain.
via Wired

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The Great Plains Drain

What is causing people to leave the plains?

A big reason is improvements in farming technology. Tractors in eastern Colorado do not resemble the vehicles that trundle around farms on the east coast and in Europe. They are many-wheeled monsters, sometimes driven by global positioning systems. Toby Johnson says his 40,000-acre (16,200-hectare) ranch in Cheyenne county employed between eight and ten workers in the 1950s. It now has two, including him. When old farmers retire, their plots tend to be swallowed up by larger, more efficient operators.
via The Economist

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Geothermal Power in Alaska

Heat stored beneath the Earth’s surface holds 50,000 times the energy of all the oil and gas in the world combined. If it could be harnessed, it would be an ideal source of base-load power: Geothermal is cleaner than fossil fuels, and more reliable than alternative sources like tidal, wind, wave and solar. Today, geothermal plants in the United States generate nearly 3000 megawatts of electricity—enough to power South Dakota. Almost all of it comes from reservoirs that are at least 300 F.

The water rising through a fracture in the granite pluton under Chena is only 165 F. Experts didn’t think it was hot enough to produce serious power. But with the nearest electrical grid 32 miles away and generators burning through $1000 worth of diesel fuel daily, Chena had the incentive to prove the experts wrong. Now, its tepid water not only generates electricity, it heats the resort’s buildings, maintains a greenhouse and keeps an ice museum frozen year-round. There are thousands of such low- to moderate-temperature geothermal systems scattered throughout Alaska and the rest of the country. Power plants like the one at Chena could tap them to produce tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity.

Chena’s two 200-kilowatt modules provide more than enough power for the entire resort and have reduced the cost of electricity from 30 cents a kwh to only 5 cents. With a capital cost of $2.2 million, including exploration and drilling, the project is expected to pay for itself in four to five years.
While most renewable energy projects are focused on wind or solar, geothermal also has vast potential. With expensive electricity to compete with (30¢ a kWh), Alaska is an ideal location to start implementing projects like this. The more projects completed, the more knowledge is acquired and the lower the prices to provide electricity become. Once the prices get low enough, projects will become cost competitive in the continental US, well at least where geothermal potential exists.

via Popular Mechanics

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Small Changes in Gut Microbes Leads to Large Metabolic Changes

When you eat a cup of yogurt, billions of bacteria make their way to your gut. Some researchers believe that these "probiotics" can be good for you, alleviating everything from bowel disease to allergies. Now, a team of researchers has shown that, at least in mice, supplementing food with a helping of "good" bacteria can cause profound metabolic changes, including some that may be linked to weight loss.

In the new study, Nicholson's group returned to the mice harboring human gut microbes. The researchers supplemented the animals' diets with a solution containing one of two species of Lactobacillus bacteria, which are present in yogurt and baby formula. Control mice were given saline solution as a supplement.

After 2 weeks, the team measured the metabolic profiles of the mice, analyzing feces, urine, plasma, intestinal contents, and liver tissue. The results, published in the 15 January issue of Molecular Systems Biology, show that although the composition of gut microbes changed only slightly in the three groups of mice, the animals' metabolic profiles--including various markers for blood cholesterol and amino acid levels in the liver--were profoundly different.

Of particular note, says Nicholson, was the effect of probiotics on bile acids, which help the small intestine absorb fat. Probiotics diminished the function of the acids, Nicholson notes, which may make it harder for the animals to absorb fat--and thus should keep them slim. As for how a relatively small number of foreign microbes could have such a dramatic effect, Nicholson believes it results from communication with the native bugs. "Gut bacteria talk to each other," he says, so despite their relatively modest numbers, "probiotics have a huge effect on what those other bugs do."
via Science

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Interesting Articles of the Week

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

The 1000 Genomes Project

Engineered Mosquitoes Could Wipe Out Dengue Fever

Cellulosic Electricity

The ocean's biological deserts are expanding.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pardon Me, But I've Found a Way to Save the World From Flatulent Cows

A team of Japanese boffins may have accidentally struck gold in the fight against global warming: they believe they have devised a way to neutralise the perilous belches of 1.5 billion cows.

Junichi Takahashi’s discovery could, he says, dramatically reduce the environmental damage caused by the world’s cattle herds, whose collective belching is thought to account for 5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the team from Obihiro University of Agriculture, a few simple food additives, costing about 50p each day per cow, could remove virtually all methane from a herd’s daily output of greenhouse gas-enriched belches.

The Takahashi formula, discovered by chance during an investigation of mass cattle poisoning, involves a blend of nitrates and the amino acid cysteine. The combination acts as a powerful suppressant of methane production inside the cow’s stomach, Professor Takahashi says, but has no effect on milk quality.
Well, there goes my dream of being a cow fart tycoon. Damn you nitrates and cysteine!

via Times Online

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The End of Logging Employment


That machine is amazing. The spotted owl might have ended a lot of employment for loggers, but if it hadn't, this would have.

Also, checkout this cool 6 legged logger.

via YouTube

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Investigative Journalism At Its Finest


via YouTube via Andrew Sullivan

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome

Scientists have built the first synthetic genome by stringing together 147 pages of letters representing the building blocks of DNA.

Just a few years ago, synthesizing a piece of DNA with 5,000 rungs in its helix, known as base-pairs, was impossible. Venter's new synthetic genome is 582,000 base-pairs.

"The largest piece that had been published in the scientific literature was 32 kilobases," Venter said. "This is on the order of 20 times the size."

The researchers used yeast to stitch together four long strands of DNA into the genome of a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium.
Impressive. Soon you will be able to design a custom genome straight from your PC, in an application that rightfully should be named iLife. Sounds like they have come a long way in creating designer DNA since I first read about it two years ago.

"We consider this the second in our three-step process to create the first synthetic organism," said J. Craig Venter, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute where scientists performed the study, on Thursday during a teleconference. "What remains now that we have this complete synthetic chromosome … is to boot this up in a cell."

The first phase of Venter's three-step process, which he published last year, involved transplanting and "booting up" the genome of one species of bacterium into another. The remaining step is to combine the first two steps, then insert the new synthetic genome into a standard bacterium. Scientists said they expect the announcement of man-made life this year.
Apparently, after seeing the success of The Lord of the Rings, Venter decided that a trilogy was the way to go. Now we must patiently await the genetic version of The Return of the King.

via Wired

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Wal-Mart Wants Cheap, Green Electronics

When Wal-Mart tells its suppliers to jump, they reply, “How high?” Now that the retail mega-giant is telling its product suppliers to start making their products more energy efficient, soon we’ll hear them ask “How green?” Come 2010, Wal-Mart will sell only Energy Star-rated air conditioners and all of their flat-panel televisions will have to get 30 percent more efficient then current models, CEO Lee Scott promised in a speech on Wednesday to the company.

In a soaring and at times bombastic bit of oratory, Scott addressed his store managers from Kansas City, Mo., laying out the company’s green objective:
“Our goal is to work with suppliers to make the most energy intensive products in our stores, anywhere in the world, 25% more energy efficient within three years.”
If Wal-Mart keeps this up, Hillary might have to start campaigning on the fact she was on Wal-Mart's Board of Directors for 6 years.

via Earth2Tech

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Friday, January 25, 2008

The Helmet That Could Turn Back Alzheimer's

An experimental helmet which scientists say could reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease within weeks of being used is to be tried out on patients.

Its creators believe it could reverse the symptoms of dementia - such as memory loss and anxiety - after only four weeks.

Dr Dougal claims that only ten minutes under the hat a day is enough to have an effect.

Low level infra-red red is thought to stimulate the growth of cells of all types of tissue and encourage their repair. It is able to penetrate the skin and even get through the skull.

The study at Sunderland found that exposing middle-aged mice to infrared light for six minutes a day for ten days improved their performance in a three-dimensional maze. In the human trials, due to start this summer, the scientists will use levels of infra-red that occur naturally in sunlight.
I look at that helmet and think to myself, how could it not work?

via Daily Mail

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Maps of Renewable Energy Potential

In case you were wondering which parts of the US had the greatest potential for renewable energy, I have come across a couple of maps.

First, we have solar which the Southwest has the greatest access to.


Next, we have wind where the Midwest leads.


Finally, we have geothermal where Nevada takes the cake.

Solar and wind maps come courtesy of Firstlook, which is a really cool site that mashes Google Maps with renewable energy potential. You can input your address and it will show you how much potential wind or solar power you can generate.

via EcoGeek via Earth2Tech

Update: The Audacious Epigone asks about hydropower. Looks like the Northwest and Northeast have the most potential there.



I would guess that most of that potential has already been tapped. This map shows current usage. I also came across this cool Google Map of Northwest Power Generation.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Widescreen vs. Narrowscreen

Widescreen monitors are all the rage at the moment, but I just don't get it. While they are good for watching movies, for most common computer tasks the extra screen space on the sides is wasted. Instead of a widescreen, what is much better is narrowscreen, by which I mean a widescreen monitor that has been rotated from landscape to portrait mode (like the monitor on the left).

I think widescreen monitors are more popular than normal monitors because they are less expensive. This is because a widescreen model has 12% fewer pixels than the same sized normal model. Why is this you ask? Because screens are labeled by their diagonal measurement rather than their square inches. For example a 20" widescreen (16x9) monitor will have a width of 17.4" and a height of 9.8" for a total of 170.5 square inches. A 20" normal (4x3) monitor will have a width of 16" and a height of 12" for 192 square inches. Because the average American consumer failed geometry in high school (Pythago-who?), they are unaware of this fact and think the lower priced widescreen models are a deal. Personally I think monitors and TVs should be labeled by their square inches not diagonal inches to put an end to these shenanigans.

While the customer thinks they are getting a deal, the widescreen gives less vertical space and therefore shows less content on the screen for most applications. The craziest thing I have seen is the new Yahoo Mail on a widescreen 13.3" laptop monitor. Windows has its start bar at the bottom which takes up some space at the bottom. Internet Explorer has a title bar, a menu bar, a navigation bar, a links bar, and a Yahoo bar on the top and a status bar at the bottom. Then Yahoo Mail has their logo up top, some tabs for each folder, a button bar, and a list of emails in the currently selected folder. When you are ready to read an email, you left with just 5 vertical lines to view the content!

Narrowscreen is vastly superior for most common computer tasks. It allows you to display an entire .pdf page on the screen rather than having to continually scroll up and down when a .pdf page doesn't fit on the screen. It allows for more web page content to be displayed in your browser at one time (really handy when reading news articles or blogs). You see much more of your text when using Word (or composing posts in Blogger), many more songs when creating a playlist in iTunes, more bookmarks displayed in Firefox, and more files when using File Explorer.

Some people say that it is nice to have a widescreen because you can have 2 windows open side by side. While this is true, I find that only 10% of the time do I want this. The other 90% of the time I would rather use the entire real estate for the task at hand (especially when you can use alt-tab to switch between applications).

Ideally what you want is the ability to rotate between portrait and landscape orientations to choose the best option for the task at hand. I love my 22" HP w2207 monitor because it allows me to do just that. I find that I spend most of the time in portrait alignment, but when I am watching movie trailers, playing games or viewing certain spreadsheets I switch over.

For reasons I can't understand, few monitors have the ability to rotate. I think it should be a standard feature on all new models. If you are looking for a monitor that can rotate, besides my HP 22" monitor, Dell sells both a 19" and a 24", and if you are willing to throw down some serious coin, you can pick up this Eizo 27" model.

I would also love to see a laptop that had the ability to rotate the screen 90 degrees. Tablet PCs will switch orientation when you use the touch screen, but I would really like a laptop that would allow the monitor to rotate while still being able to use keyboard. Apple, get on that.

If you have a widescreen monitor that doesn't rotate, here are some tips and tools you can use to get the most out of your screen real estate.

First, you can set your Window's Taskbar to be vertical rather than horizontal.

Second, you can use GridMove to easily position two windows side by side vertically (along with many other screen configuration). Windows is really lame about organizing windows, giving you only the marginally helpful options of "Tile Windows Vertically", "Tile Windows Horizontally", or (the option I have never seen anyone ever use) "Cascade Windows". Windows really needs to include some better options, especially now that people use multiple monitors. Microsoft, get on that.

Third, you can can setup Firefox to use space more efficiently. Widefox allows your tabs to go vertical. Split Browser allows you to open multiple windows within each tab. The GoogleMonkeyR Greasemonkey script lets you setup Google to display results in multiple columns. The Mulit-column articles Greasemonkey script displays newspaper articles in multiple columns taking advantage of all available screen space. What isn't available, but would be really cool if there was, is a Firefox extension allowing you to have multiple columns. A long web page (such as a news article) would wrap onto the second column taking advantage of the otherwise wasted space on the right (like a book with a left hand page and a right hand page where they are a continuation of each other). Open source geeks, get on that.

And if you still aren't convinced that narrowscreen is the way to go, I leave you with one final advantage. It allows you to use a portrait of Stephen Colbert (not to be confused with Colbert Portraits) or Cosmo Kramer (wow, who knew you could get a framed version from Amazon) as your desktop background. Giddyup.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Batmouse

By outfitting mice with a chunk of DNA that directs wing development in bats, scientists have created rodents with abnormally long forelimbs, mimicking one of the steps in the evolution of the bat wing. Their work gives weight to the idea that variations in how genes are controlled, and not just mutations in the coding regions of genes, are a driving force in evolution.

The researchers focused on a gene, Prx1, that plays a part in the elongation of limb bones in mammals. The gene's expression is regulated by another sequence of DNA, called a Prx1 enhancer. To investigate how the enhancer shapes limb development, Richard Behringer, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and his colleagues around the country put the bat version of the Prx1 enhancer into mice so that it controlled the mouse Prx1 gene. These transgenic animals developed forelimbs that were on average 6 percent longer than normal by the time they were born. It was a significant difference, although "the mice look like mice," Behringer says. "They're not going to fly out of the cage." The researchers report their work in the latest issue of Genes and Development.
via Technology Review

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Battlefield Game Goes Free

In a major departure from its traditional business model, E.A. plans to announce Monday that it is developing a new installment in its hit Battlefield series that will be distributed on the Internet as a free download. Rather than being sold at retail, the game is meant to generate revenue through advertising and small in-game transactions that allow players to spend a few dollars on new outfits, weapons and other virtual gear.

At a conference in Munich, the company intends to announce that the new game, Battlefield Heroes, will be released for PC this summer. More broadly, E.A. hopes the game can help point the way for Western game publishers looking to diversify beyond appealing to hard-core players with games that can cost $60 or more.

E.A.’s most recent experiment with free online games began two years ago in South Korea, the world’s most fervent gaming culture. In 2006, the company introduced a free version of its FIFA soccer game there, and Gerhard Florin, E.A.’s executive vice president for publishing in the Americas and Europe, said it has signed up more than five million Korean users and generates more than $1 million in monthly in-game sales.

Players can pay not only for decorative items like shoes and jerseys but also for boosts in their players’ speed, agility and accuracy. Mr. Florin said that while most users do not buy anything, a sizable minority ends up spending $15 to $20 a month.
Instead of charging for the game up front, EA makes their money on advertising and in-game products. This definitely gets rid of the piracy issue. I will be interested to see how profitability is impacted.

via NY Times

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Eye Implantable Camera

Light-sensitive chips that sit at the back of the eye have great potential to help people with certain types of vision loss. They work by converting light into an electrical signal that can then be fed directly to the brain via nerve cells at the back of the eye.

But Michelle Hauer, an optical engineer at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, US, says a better idea is to implant the camera directly within the eye, but avoiding the retina.

She and colleagues have come up with a design that is small enough to be implanted within the lens of the eye, and takes into account the effect of the cornea on incoming light.

The device transmits images to a chip at the back of the eye, which passes the image signals on to the nerve cells.

Hauer says the device would have an onboard battery that could be charged wirelessly by induction, making the set-up relatively inconspicuous.
via New Sceientist via Engadget and Patent Application

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Interesting Articles of the Week

Researchers have genetically engineered a new carrot species that increased their calcium absorption.

Comcast to deliver 150 Mbps ‘Wideband’ Internet access in less than a few years.

The Sierra Club proposes video game and TV tax ('No child left inside').

Monkey’s thoughts propel robot half way across the world.

Reality, only better.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

New Contact Lenses A Possible Platform for Superhuman Vision

Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

"Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside," said Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. "This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it's extremely promising."

The prototype device contains an electric circuit as well as red light-emitting diodes for a display, though it does not yet light up. The lenses were tested on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no adverse effects.

Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens, Parviz said.

A full-fledged display won't be available for a while, but a version that has a basic display with just a few pixels could be operational "fairly quickly," according to Parviz.
via EurekAlert

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Google to Host Terabytes of Open-Source Science Data

Sources at Google have disclosed that the humble domain, http://research.google.com, will soon provide a home for terabytes of open-source scientific datasets. The storage will be free to scientists and access to the data will be free for all. The project, known as Palimpsest and first previewed to the scientific community at the Science Foo camp at the Googleplex last August, missed its original launch date this week, but will debut soon.

Building on the company's acquisition of the data visualization technology, Trendalyzer, from the oft-lauded, TED presenting Gapminder team, Google will also be offering algorithms for the examination and probing of the information. The new site will have YouTube-style annotating and commenting features.

Sounds cool.

And the series of tubes that make up the Internet are not big enough to handle this data, so Google is using a truck suitcase instead:
(Google people) are providing a 3TB drive array (Linux RAID5). The array is provided in “suitcase” and shipped to anyone who wants to send they data to Google. Anyone interested gives Google the file tree, and they SLURP the data off the drive. I believe they can extend this to a larger array (my memory says 20TB).
via Wired

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

BYD Auto Introduces Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

BYD Auto, a subsidiary of China-based BYD Group, the leading provider of NiCd batteries (65% global market share) and lithium-ion cell phone batteries (30% global market share), introduced its plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology at the North American International Auto Show.

The F6DM (Dual Mode, for EV and HEV), a variant of the front-wheel drive F6 sedan that BYD introduced into the China market earlier this year, actually offers three modes of operation: full battery-powered EV mode driving its 75 kW, 400 Nm motor; series-hybrid mode, in which a 50 kW, 1.0-liter engine drives a generator as a range-extender; and parallel hybrid mode, in which the engine and motor both provide propulsive power.

The FD6M starts out in EV mode. At medium speed it will shift to range-extending series hybrid mode, and at high speed it will shift to full parallel mode. In addition to the 100 km of EV range, the HEV modes add another 330 km of range, for a total vehicle range of 430 km (267 miles).

The F6DM uses a 20 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery pack, based on BYD’s own production cells (which the company calls its Fe cells). The pack, which runs down the center console, has a lifetime of 2,000 cycles. A 100% recharge with household 220 VAC takes approximately 9 hours. BYD says that the pack can achieve a 50% recharge in 10 minutes.

The 1,800kg vehicle has a top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). It is Euro 4 compliant, according to BYD, and emits 70 g CO2/km.

BYD plans to begin selling the F6DM in China this fall, at approximately a $6,000 premium to the non-hybrid F6. The plug-in hybrid technology represented in the FD6M is relatively low-cost, according to BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu, and could be applied to any of the BYD line (F3, F3R, F8) for the same $6,000 cost increment.

Chairman Wang said that he hoped to have DM technology on sale in the North American market in three to five years.
While GM and Toyota battle to see who can get their plug-in hybrids out the door first, they might both get beat by a Chinese battery manufacturer.

With a 60 mile all electric range, a battery that can achieve a 50% recharge in 10 minutes and three modes of hybrid operation all for just $6,000 extra, this hybrid system looks very impressive. Though, given that they don't have much of a track record, I will remain skeptical that they can deliver until they start shipping.

WSJ is reporting these cars are likely to be sold for 200,000 yuan or $27,500.

via Green Car Congress (don't miss the interesting and informative comments as well)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Terrorism vs. The Fear of Terrorism

Which is more deadly, terrorism or the fear of terrorism?

John Tierney makes the case that it might be the latter.

The evidence, published last week in the Archives of General Psychiatry, comes from researchers who began tracking the health of a representative sample of more than 2,700 Americans before September 2001. After the attacks of Sept. 11, the scientists monitored people’s fears of terrorism over the next several years and found that the most fearful people were three to five times more likely than the rest to receive diagnoses of new cardiovascular ailments.

Almost all the people in the study lived outside New York or Washington and didn’t know any victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. But more than a 10th of them reported acute stress symptoms (like insomnia or nightmares) right after the attacks, and over the next three years more than 40 percent said they kept worrying about a terrorist attack affecting themselves or a family member.

After controlling for various factors (age, obesity, smoking, other ailments and stressful life events), the researchers found that the people who were acutely stressed after the 9/11 attacks and continued to worry about terrorism — about 6 percent of the sample — were at least three times more likely than the others in the study to be given diagnoses of new heart problems.

If you extrapolate that percentage to the adult population of America, it works out to more than 10 million people. No one knows what fraction of them might consequently die of a stroke or heart attack — plenty of other factors affect heart disease — but if it were merely 0.0003 percent, that would be higher than the 9/11 death toll.
Remember, if you are afraid of terrorism then the terrorists win.

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Kindle eBook Review

I have been pumped on ebooks for a long time. I want to be able to carry all of my books with me in a lightweight form, take notes digitally, look up words in a dictionary instantly, and allow trees to stay in forests. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a model released yet that I liked enough to buy.

Amazon recently released their ebook called the Kindle selling at $400. It is currently out of stock, but appears to be popular as it is currently the #1 best seller in Electronics on Amazon and they are going for between $500 and $600 on eBay.

I haven't purchased one yet, but I have taken a look at reviews at Engadget, Forbes, and Newsweek among others (and a Charlie Rose interview). Here is what I think about it.

Goodness:
1) All the standard reasons to buy an e-ink device. They are easier on your eyes and you can read them for hours without strain because they reflect light rather than give it off (as a computer screen does) and they have a high pixel density (167 ppi). They require no power to display a page, only to turn the page, so the battery lasts for a long time.

2) EVDO wireless connection. The Kindle uses Sprint's cellular data network, so wherever you can get cellphone access, you can access Amazon's system and download new books to your Kindle. You can be sitting on the beach and still get that new book you really want. You don't need a PC or WiFi access to use the Kindle. This is one of a new breed of devices that connect to the web and don't require a PC at all. Expect to see more.

The device only holds 200 books, but who cares because Amazon backs up everything you bought on their servers, and since you can access the internet wherever you are, you have access to all of your books.

3) The Kindle has a built in dictionary, search ability, and allows you to highlight passages of text and add notes. These are all great features that I was disappointed to see that the Sony Ebook reader was lacking. These are all abilities that you can't get with a regular book so this really adds value to those who are willing to give up on dead trees.

4) Download any book in less that 60 seconds. I know that some people look for books at a Barnes and Noble and then go home and buy it on Amazon to save some money, but that was never me. I am the exact opposite. I use Amazon's customer reviews and recommendations to find a book that I really wanted to read. But then I don't have the patience to wait 3 days for it to arrive in the mail, so I go to Barnes and Noble and buy it that day. Being able to hear of a new book and then have access to it a minute later is insanely great.

5) $10 price point for new books. Finally, digital prices that are significantly lower the physical version. New books cost about $25, while the Kindle version is only $10. I think this is a fair price. Digital books should be cheaper because you can't sell it to someone once you are done as you can with a physical version. The price for books on Sony's system was too high.

Older books don't drop down in price enough though. Something in paperback should be $3-5 rather than the $7-9 Amazon is charging. There are some older books at a cheaper price, such as Walden for $2.39, but that pricing should be extended to a lot more books.

6) Access to newspapers, blogs and magazines. While the selection is sparse, being able to read the newspaper and not have it take up your entire table would be nice. This makes reading the newspaper on the bus and other forms of public transportation so much easier.

Now you can have one device to read all of your written material on. And with the EVDO connection, your newspaper is delivered automatically to the device every morning, and you get the latest blog posts whenever you check.

7) Small LCD screen for selections. The one problem with the e-ink is that it can take a second or two to display a new image. The Kindle added a small LCD section that allows you to change font size or do a search without having the delay of e-ink. From the reviews it looks like Amazon nailed this.


Room for improvement:
1) Screen is too small. There just isn't much text that shows up on the screen. You will be turning pages like crazy. If there are images or graphs, they will be scrunched down and hard to view.

2) Book selection is too small. I wrote about the short tail of selection previously, but worth stating again that the 90,000 books available for the Kindle are just 2.4% of Amazon's 3.7 million book inventory. There is no Harry Potter, no Lord of the Rings, and few books older than 5 years old. This is better than Sony's offering but still not good enough.

With an iPod you still had access to your old library of music by ripping your CDs to MP3 files. There is no way to do this with books, so you might not have access (even if you are willing to pay again) to books that you have already purchased (though you might be able to find a version through file sharing).

3) Looks like ass (no offense to Arnold Schwarzenegger and other ass lovers out there). This thing wouldn't have looked good even in the '90s. Seriously, Amazon you need to steal a few engineers from Apple and make something that people want to show off to their friends. Philippe Starck calls it "a little sad".

This is not really surprising given that Amazon is an internet retailer, not a hardware manufacturer. What they ought to do is allow other companies to create devices that are compatible with their system, such as Apple (well ok, not Apple), HP, or iRiver.

4) Better support for .pdf and other open source formats. Currently you have to email your .pdf file to Amazon which they convert and send to your device wirelessly for 10¢. Because Amazon uses their own proprietary format, this conversion doesn't always work well (and because the screen is too small, it is hard to convert 8.5" x 11" material to begin with). There is tons of .pdf content out there and it would be great to view them on the Kindle rather than having to print them out or view them on a computer screen.

5) Ability to check out the Kindle in person before buying. Right now the only place to buy one is Amazon. They should get these things in every Sprint store out there and maybe another retailer like Sharper Image. I really want to get my hands on one, but the only way to do that is to buy it or to hope a friend buys it and lets me check it out.

6) Flat fee for newspaper and blog subscriptions. Instead of charging per newspaper, give access to all newspapers in the US for $15 a month. Add in any and all blogs you want for another $5-10. You are limited by time anyway as to how much you can read. I laid this idea out before in my One Stop Online Newspaper Viewing post, and really the Kindle is the perfect device to implement it with.

I would also like a subscription plan for unlimited access to books, similar to what Netflix does for movies or Rhapsody does for music. Pay $20 a month for access to any book that Amazon has in its library. If you average 2 books or more a month then it works out in your favor. But, it also works out in Amazon's (and the author's) favor because you are likely to read a lot more and pay more in total (but less per book) then you would have if you paid by the book.

7) Add WiFi. The EVDO wireless connection is neat, but it is also expensive to use. So, you are charged for getting a blog on the device, where you can get the same content for free on the internet. I would rather have free blog updates that I had to sync via USB cable to get, rather than spend $1 to $2 a blog a month to have them automatically downloaded via EVDO.

Also, you must be in an area with access to Sprint's EVDO system in order to use it. If you happen to live in a dead spot, like my apartment or all of Montana, you are out of luck. If they added WiFi to the device, you could still access the internet, but do so in a less expensive manner and have access in more locations.

8) Integration with Google. Ok, I am probably the only one who wants this, but I would love to save the notes I take on the Kindle into Google Notebook. And it would be great to be able to view blogs either on the Kindle or on a PC and have Google Reader know which posts I have already read. Using these tools would also save Amazon from having to create them themselves.


Conclusion:
I am torn. On the one hand, the service Amazon created is pretty cool, giving you access to books and blogs in a portable fashion with access wherever you are and a decent price on content. You have a dictionary and an encyclopedia available and the ability to take notes digitally. You can easily take many books with you when you travel. On the other hand, the screen is too small, the selection of books is too small, and it doesn't really work with .pdfs.

I am on the fence as to whether I take the plunge now or wait another year hoping they fix some of the problems and lower the price. Hopefully someone I know will buy one so I can check it out and decide which way to go.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interesting Articles of the Week

The early bird gets the bad grade.

China grabs West’s smoke-spewing factories.

In the Windy City, prostitutes sleep with police more often than get arrested by them.

New Eco-Patent Commons aims to open source cleantech.

Avoiding plane crashes by crunching numbers.

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Health Not Health Care

I believe that if the US wants to contain health care costs, we need to focus on health rather than health care. This is a point that Mike "Jared" Huckabee has been making on the campaign trail and I hope the other presidential candidates will steal from him.

I came across 3 articles recently with respect to this.

First, from Wired:

To get an extra 14 years of life, don't smoke, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and drink alcohol in moderation. That's the finding of a study that tracked about 20,000 people in the United Kingdom.

Kay-Tee Khaw of the University of Cambridge and colleagues calculated that people who adopted these four healthy habits lived an average of 14 years longer than those who didn't.

The study included healthy adults aged 45 to 79. Participants filled in a health questionnaire between 1993 and 1997 and nurses conducted a medical exam at a clinic. Participants scored a point each for not smoking, regular physical activity, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and moderate alcohol intake.

Until 2006, the researchers tracked deaths from all causes, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory diseases. People who scored four points were four times less likely to die than those who scored zero, the research showed.
Second, from the NY Times:
When retired people move to a warmer state, their life expectancy rises dramatically. In fact, 8 to 15 percent of the increase in American life expectancy over the last 30 years comes from people moving to warmer climates, according to research done by two economics professors, Olivier Deschenes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Enrico Moretti, at the University of California, Berkeley.
Third, from the NY Times:
A year ago, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published the results of a program that instituted in nearly every intensive care unit in Michigan a simple five-step checklist designed to prevent certain hospital infections. It reminds doctors to make sure, for example, that before putting large intravenous lines into patients, they actually wash their hands and don a sterile gown and gloves.

The results were stunning. Within three months, the rate of bloodstream infections from these I.V. lines fell by two-thirds. The average I.C.U. cut its infection rate from 4 percent to zero. Over 18 months, the program saved more than 1,500 lives and nearly $200 million.
Instead of focusing on making the best health care available to everyone, we can raise life expectancy while reducing costs by focusing on basics such as smoking, eating fruits and vegetables, exercise, reducing alcohol consumption, moving to warmer climates and using simple checklists.

Why aren't such things given more emphasis? Well in the case of checklists, over zealous ethic regulations are getting in the way:
Yet this past month, the Office for Human Research Protections shut the program down. The agency issued notice to the researchers and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association that, by introducing a checklist and tracking the results without written, informed consent from each patient and health-care provider, they had violated scientific ethics regulations. Johns Hopkins had to halt not only the program in Michigan but also its plans to extend it to hospitals in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

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Coskata

What has Coskata done to attract the interest of one of the world’s largest car companies and the backing of some of the biggest names in cleantech? The Warrenville, Ill.-based startup says it can produce commercial-scale ethanol for under $1 per gallon, made from either biomass (like energy crops switch grass), municipal solid waste or other recycled materials (like old tires – one reason GM is interested). At the pump the company claims its product could be anywhere from 50 cents to $1 per gallon cheaper than gasoline.

Coskata’s methods, surprisingly enough, aren’t that revolutionary — they’re mostly a smart combination of techniques that have been used before. But its secret sauce is the micro-organisms it has developed that produce ethanol, as well as the bioreactor where the organisms live and get the work done.

The company uses a hybrid of thermochemical and biological steps, and basically takes feedstock and gasifies it; the resulting bacteria then converts the syngas to ethanol. Coskata is working with five strains of bacteria that “breathe” syngas and “exhale” almost pure ethanol, in contrast with other methods, which produce a variety of alcohols.

They plan to finish their pilot project at the headquarters by the end of January, and scale up to a 40,000-gallon demonstration facility by the end of the year. They are also working on a 100 million-gallon-per-year facility somewhere in the U.S., which they hope will go online by early 2011.
If they really can produce this non-corn ethanol at 50¢ to $1 a gallon less than gasoline, then this is a game changer.

But why does it take 3 years to ramp up to just 100 million gallons a year? That is just a drop in the bucket of the 146 billion gallons of gasoline used in the US each year.

via Earth2Tech

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Monday, January 14, 2008

If Obama Sold Chairs

Why vote for someone who says: 'See that chair. You can sit on it' when you can have someone like Obama say: 'This chair can take your weight. This chair can hold your buttocks, 15 inches in the air. This chair, this wooden chair, can support the ass of the white man or the crack of the black man, take the downward pressure of a Jewish girl's behind or the butt of a Buddhist adolescent, it can provide comfort for Muslim buns or Mormon backsides, the withered rump of an unemployed man in Nevada struggling to get his kids through high school and needful of a place to sit and think, the plump can of a single mum in Florida desperately struggling to make ends meet but who can no longer face standing, this chair, made from wood felled from the tallest redwood in Chicago, this chair, if only we believed in it, could sustain America's huddled arse.'
I think I smell a new ad campaign for Herman Miller.

via Guardian Unlimited

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Fisker Karma

The latest entrant is expected to be announced today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit when Fisker Automotive Inc. unveils an $80,000 battery-powered luxury car it aims to begin delivering in late 2009. The Fisker Karma, a so-called plug-in hybrid, can go 50 miles on electricity before a small gasoline engine kicks in to generate electricity to charge a lithium-ion battery pack on board.

Mr. Fisker's vision is to sell 15,000 electric cars a year. Mr. Fisker said the Karma is environmentally responsible and capable of going 125 miles per hour, consistently. It can hit a speed of 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, equivalent to the performance of a gasoline-powered V8 sports sedan, he said.

The car features cutting-edge plug-in hybrid technology, penned as Q DRIVE, developed by Quantum Technologies exclusively for Fisker Automotive. The Karma's Q DRIVE configuration consists of a small gasoline engine that turns the generator, which charges the lithium ion battery pack, powering the electric motor and turning the rear wheels.
Definitely a hot looking car. I like the idea of using high end cars to introduce new technologies, especially new environmental technologies. They are high priced, so not many of them sell, but they allow for the research and development to take place. Then when the technology is worked out it can be transferred to lower end cars that are mass produced.

Unlike the Prius (but like the Volt), the gasoline engine does not power the car directly, but rather just generates electricity to power the electric motor. I don't understand the pros and cons of the two setups. I guess I should look into that further. I would like to also understand the pros and cons of this setup vs. the all electric system of Tesla.

There isn't much technical information available (at least compared to Tesla's site) which makes me skeptical of their viability. Hopefully there will be a working model and more information soon to dispel my worries.

Things I am curious about:
1) How large is the battery?
2) How long does it take to recharge?
3) How many kWh per mile does it get off of the batteries?
4) What kind of MPG does it get when running off of gasoline?
5) How fast can it go when running just on gasoline if it only has a "small gasoline engine"?

via WSJ and CNN Money

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Toyota Will Offer a Plug-In Hybrid by 2010

The Toyota Motor Corporation, which leads the world’s automakers in sales of hybrid-electric vehicles, announced Sunday night that it would build its first plug-in hybrid by 2010.

This plug-in hybrid — a version of the Prius, and not the vehicle Toyota announced it would build — differs from the Prius in four ways. It has two nickel-metal hydride batteries under the floor of its trunk, instead the conventional Prius’s single battery.

Unlike the Prius, which has a single fuel-filler door on the left side of the car, the plug-in model has another door on the right hand side that opens to reveal an outlet for the electrical charger. One end of the charger looks like a small fuel nozzle; the other end is a conventional three-pronged plug.

Each charge, which takes about four hours, uses the equivalent of 2.7 kilowatt hours of electricity, said Jaycie Chitwood, a senior strategic planner in Toyota’s advanced technologies group.

But it cannot go very far: the plug-in hybrid’s two batteries hold enough power for only seven miles, said Saúl Ibarra, a product specialist with Toyota who worked on developing the Prius.

By contrast, G.M. claims that the Volt will be able to hold a charge equal to 40 miles, after a six-hour charge.

Inside the car, there is a button with the letters “EV” inside an outline of a car. If the driver pushes the button, the car reverts to electric vehicle mode, meaning the Prius is powered completely by its two batteries.

The plug-in Prius can stay in electric mode until 62 miles per hour, versus around 30 miles per hour for the conventional Prius, Mr. Ibarra said.
This is good news that Toyota is taking the plunge and releasing a plug-in hybrid. I am a bit disappointed though that they aren't using lithium ion batteries and the greater range they enable.

7 miles of all electric range hardly seems like it is worth the effort. If you plugged it in each night and took full advantage of the range, over a week you would be able to travel 49 miles in a week, which is about how far you could travel on a gallon of gasoline in a Prius. Over a year you could travel 2,500 miles on electricity saving 52 gallons. If you drove 15,000 miles a year, then 1/6 of your total driving would be powered by electricity. While this savings is not nothing, it seems like a limited impact for as much work as it requires.
In electric mode, the Prius gets 99.9 miles a gallon, according to a gauge on a screen in the middle of the dashboard.
Sometimes you wonder who is editing these articles. Umm, don't you think that this might be because the gauge tops out at 99.9? If you aren't using any gasoline then wouldn't it be getting an infinite number of miles to the gallon?

via NY Times

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Philips' Eco TV

The 42-inch, 1080p resolution, flat-panel LCD, model 42PFL5603D (due in March, $1,399 MSRP), is packed with power-saving features.

Chief among them is the ability to dim the backlight--by up to five times peak brightness--in response to program material, much like the "local dimming" found on Samsung's LED-based LN-T4681F. Dimming the backlight in darker scenes has the dual benefit of saving power and improving black-level performance, according to the company. The backlight can also be dimmed via a room lighting sensor, so in dark rooms it will use less power.

With this trifecta engaged, we saw the panel's power consumption dip to an impressive 75 watts during the in-booth demo--Philips had hooked up a Watt's Up to track consumption. That's a bit more than a standard incandescent light bulb and 30 watts less than the most miserly 42-inch LCD we've tested ourselves so far, Philips' own 42FL7432D measured after calibration (more info). The Eco TV's standby power is also less than 0.15 watt according to the company, also among the best we've seen.

Philips also built in a few other non-power-related greenie features, including lead-free materials and only "trace" amounts of mercury, which enables it to comply with strict ROHS and State of Vermont standards, respectively.
This actually won CNET's best in show at CES. It is certainly a good looking TV.

I like this idea of specially branded "Eco" models, but I would like to understand more how this TV is different from their standard models from an environmental standpoint, and how much additional you would pay.

While they say it uses just 75 watts, when you view the video you can see the number of watts drawn jumping all the way up to 150. This is strange because the LCDs that I have put on my Kill-A-Watt are all pretty constant in their draw, regardless if the screen is all white or all black. I don't know how much this TV would average, but I would guess somewhere around 110 watts.

For comparison my 37" Plasma draws an average of 170 watts when on (up to 270 watts for an all white screen and down to 105 for all black) and 16 watts when "off". My parents' 32" LCD TV draws 135 watts. My 22" LCD monitor draws 32 when running and 2 when on standby.

The standby power of this Eco TV is impressive, especially next to my plasma. In fact, if I watch TV for "just" 2 hours a day, I will actually use more on standby (22*16=352) than when the TV is on (2*170=340). The lower standby power of the Eco TV would save me 10 kWh a month over my plasma.

And if you are into green gadgets, you might want to check out Green Electronics. It will give you the low-down on which gadgets are best for the environment.

via CNET

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Interesting Articles of the Week

Potential new way to kick a coke habit: mixing tranquilizers with hormone blockers.

UK living standards outstrip US.

GM plans to have driverless cars on the road by 2018.

"What are you doing here?": man asks wife at brothel.

Labels see new online music options.

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Nano Car

In India one lakh means 100,000, and Tata will sell the most basic version of its new car at 100,000 rupees, or $2,500 (not including taxes and the cost of transporting it to the showrooms). This is roughly half the price of its nearest rival, and little more than the cost of a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw. But the “NANO”, as the car is called, is no rickshaw. Apart from the fourth wheel and the doors, it has a 623cc engine that will muster 33 brake horsepower. The car should eke out 50 miles to the gallon, Mr Tata says. It complies with the “Euro III” pollution standards that prevail in India and should meet the tougher Euro IV standards with a bit of tweaking.
A couple of thoughts on this.

First, Nano? What are they trying to do, grab a little bit of Apple's mojo?

Second, you can kiss sub $100 oil prices goodbye for the rest of your lifetime.

Third, for owners of this car, gasoline costs are going to make up the majority of the lifetime costs of driving. At $4.17 a gallon, $2,500 buys 600 gallons of gasoline, which at 50 mpg will go 30,000 miles. In the US that would be around 2 years of driving, but it might take a bit longer in India. Regardless, the price of gasoline will be important in determining whether an Indian can afford a car than the price of the car.

via The Economist

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Great White Stalks Ocean Kayaker


Wonder if he is having any second thoughts about going out in his "yummy yellow" kayak?

via Daily Mail

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Sunshine to Petrol

The Sunlight to Petrol, or S2P, project essentially reverses the combustion process, recovering the building blocks of hydrocarbons. S2P uses a solar reactor called the Counter-Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator, or CR5, to divide carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen.

The prototype will be about the size and shape of a beer keg. It will contain 14 cobalt ferrite rings, each about one foot in diameter and turning at one revolution per minute. An 88-square meter solar furnace will blast sunlight into the unit, heating the rings to about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, cobalt ferrite releases oxygen. When the rings cool to about 2,000 degrees, they're exposed to CO2.

Since the cobalt ferrite is now missing oxygen, it snatches some from the CO2, leaving behind just carbon monoxide -- a building block for making hydrocarbons -- that can then be used to make methanol or gasoline. And with the cobalt ferrite restored to its original state, the device is ready for another cycle.

Fuels like methanol and gasoline are combinations of hydrogen and carbon that are relatively easy to synthesize, Stechel said. Methanol is the easiest, and that's where they will start, but gasoline could also be made.

Stechel said the Sandia team envisions a day when coal-fired power plants might have large numbers of CR5s, each reclaiming 45 pounds of carbon dioxide using reclamation technology currently under development and producing enough carbon monoxide to make 2.5 gallons of fuel. The Sunlight to Petrol process also raises the possibility that liquid hydrocarbon fuels might one day be renewable – provided CO2 reclamation reaches a point where the greenhouse gas can be snatched directly from the air. Such a process is being explored by Global Research Technologies and Klaus Lakner of Columbia University, among others.

He and Stechel said the technology could be 15 to 20 years from viability on an industrial scale.
This is an intriguing way to make liquid fuels in a renewable way.

If you can get the CO2 directly from the air it is completely renewable. If it uses concentrated CO2 from a coal plant then it can use that CO2 a second time.

I wonder how expensive this will be and how much fuel it can generate per acre? I would like to compare it with biofuels like cellulosic ethanol which also turn sunlight into liquid fuel. It would also be interesting to compare this system and a Prius car with a Tesla battery powered car that uses solar panels to generate its electricity.

via Wired via Sandia

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TVs at CES: Bigger, Thinner, Wireless and Internet Enabled

The new TVs are on display at CES.

As always they are getting bigger as seen with Sony's 82" 4K TV and Sharp's 108-inch LCD. But Panasonic takes the cake with their behemoth 150-inch plasma TV wall (see picture to the left).

TVs are also getting thinner with Panasonic's ultrathin plasma displays, LG's 42" 1.7-inch LGX LCD HDTV, Pioneer's 9mm thick, infinite contrast 50-inch plasma HDTV and Hitachi's 1.5" LCD TVs that come in 32", 37" and 42" varieties. But, I really like Sony's OLED TVs which are as thick as 2 credit cards. The 11" model is now on sale and the demo of the 27" model looks pretty sweet.

Bringing HD content to the TV is going wireless with Panasonic's WirelessHD, Westinghouse & Pulse-Link's Wireless HDMI, WUSB, and Samsung's HD WiFi video camera.

Finally, content is coming via the internet to TVs with Panasonic's Viera CAST network HDTVs, HD podcasts on HD Tivos and Netflix's agreement with LG.

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Global Migration

I always think of the US as the land of immigrants, but as this graph shows, immigrants make up a larger percentage of the population of Australia, Switzerland, Canada and Germany. Who knew?

via The Economist

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Alienware Curved Display

Don't get all frothed up quite yet because it's still only a prototype, but this sweet doublewide curved DLP display with OLED illumination from Alienware will reportedly be available in the second half of '08. The curvature of the 2880 x 900 rez screen mimics peripheral vision, and in action the performance seemed pretty flawless to our Crysis-dazzled eyes (official specs report less than .02-millisecond response time).
Nice! Check out the video as well.

via Engadget

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Interesting Articles of the Week

Evidence mounts for electromagnetic earthquake precursors.

Where boys were kings, a shift toward baby girls.

Advocates hope science can save a big tuna.

Move over shoplifting, here comes shopdropping.

Researchers work on cocaine vaccine.

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