peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Recently, I commented on a comm. I shouldn't have. It was just another citation of yet another scientific theory that has been embraced with way, way too much enthusiasm by outlets beholdened to that sweet, sweet advertiser cash. And many if not most of those sponsors are somehow complicit in the carbon economy. The less this irritating Anthropogenic Global Warming theory is quashed, discounted, and thwarted, the better for business, if not our future. (Either way, we'll see.)

So I found I need to read a book, William F. Ruddiman's Plows, Plagues & Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Why? I'm weird. )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
This is a pile of frustration I've been saving up for a good weekend dumping. Therefore, as all good LJ posters should, I will now include an LJ cut. )
peristaltor: (Orson "Approves")
Many, many years ago I noted that the hyper-sanitary paradigm of health, the mantra that Cleaner is Always Better, might be making us sicker. Specifically, researchers have been doing things that totally trigger the Icky! factor in us, notably administering feces to patients as a cure for their conditions.

I first heard about this on the Scientific American podcast Science Talk, which now seems to be transcripted. As journalist Mary McKenna explained back then on the topic of poop chute infusions to combat C diff:

It's better than any drug we have. And yet what's so interesting about it is that it works, just unquestionably works in a clinical sense—there is case series after case series that now shows this; a couple of dozen case series—but it doesn't work in a regulatory sense. It hasn't been approved by the FDA and because it hasn't been approved by the FDA, NIH can't figure out a way to fund further research, because feces are not any of the things that the FDA licenses. They're not a device, they're not a drug, they're not what we call a tissue, really—they're not something like a replacement joint or replacement tendon or the replacement lens of an eye. So they're caught in this kind of regulatory no man's land.

Well, that paradigm is happily changing, and fast!

SEATTLE — Conventional wisdom says it takes 15 years for a medical therapy, once proven safe and effective, to be widely accepted by the medical profession.

In the case of one particular treatment, however, a growing cadre of doctors and patients turned conventional wisdom on its head, enthusiastically adopting a procedure before the evidence was in — so enthusiastically, in fact, that the Food and Drug Administration was recently forced to rescind its restrictions.

The treatment, now widely employed against recurrent attacks by a nasty intestinal bug known as Clostridium difficile and tested on Crohn’s disease and colitis, is one you’ll likely never see advertised on TV: the fecal microbiota transplant, politely known as the FMT.

No more bowing to the Icky! Observation has trumped!
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
A digital microscopic camera for ten bucks?!? Even better, I've got the hardware laying about, so the cost for me is nothing, since the cat doesn't like chasing the laser.

If I didn't have a garage and attic to clean today. Oh, and if I had kids, I'd probably live with the dirty garage and attic. This is too cool to let lie unbuilt!

peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Last February, NPR's Planet Money examined a unique strategy by Ecuador's government to preserve its Yasuni National Park, an isolated and wild place reached best by hours in a canoe. This is one of those places with amazing biodiversity, with more tree species in a hectare than most more northern countries have within their borders.

The problem threatening the Yasuni? It has oil, and President Correa, seeing the destruction other Latin American countries have suffered for oil exploration/extraction, wanted to avoid a similar fate for his most wild of national places. His solution: ask for money to preserve the park as is.

Seriously. Planet Money interviews those seeking to preserve the park by asking for money:

As payment for preserving the wilderness and preventing an estimated 410 million metric tons of fossil fuel-generated carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, Correa has asked the world to ante up in the fight against global warming. He is seeking $3.6 billion in compensation, roughly half of what Ecuador would have realized in revenues from exploiting the resource at 2007 prices. The money would be used, he says, to finance alternative energy and community development projects.

So, how'd that all work out? )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Just about every time I toured a church or cathedral in Europe years ago and saw beautifully carved pews, screens and other ecclesiastic detritus, I thought about how well such preserved structures sequestered carbon within the wood itself. The trouble, of course, is volume.

Take this example from a Seattle landmark (now demolished). Those curving struts holding the ceiling are laminated and bolted wood, heat pressed and formed by design to give an interior quite a bit more inspiring than the simple drop-down acoustic tile plaguing most interiors. You see them a lot in churches. That's a lot of wood, and that wood sequesters a lot of carbon dioxide. Still, if you want to accelerate such sequestration, you need to think even bigger. For example, skyscraper size.

No one builds wooden skyscrapers. Yeah, why don't we have wooden skyscrapers?

I guess we do, now.

Still, from a goofing-around perspective, wood has its drawbacks. It's more expensive, for one. And it's difficult to mold it into easy-to-use shapes. Now, cardboard? That's easy! I've done that myself. What if one were to scale up from a simple dust collector?

It's a bit more than a dust collector.
peristaltor: (Orson "Approves")
All to often, people like to toss out the tired trope about how much energy a single Google search consumes. I say it's tired simply because the same tossers never seem to consider what energy uses a single Google search avoids. Seriously, think of a hard question to answer simply, like the wonky one I provide below this cut. )

Someone has tried to answer this, someone named "barath" over at Controposition. He notes: "A key part of understanding the energy use of the Internet is that its embodied energy, or emergy, is important to include." In his conclusions, he notes that roughly half of the studies ignore this. (His quick calculation suggests the embodied energy is about equivalent to the wall socket input over the life of the hardware.)

It gets better, though. Sure, energy is important. A trip to the library is probably more energy-intensive an endeavor than a Google-y. But what inputs are required to get this hardware built? In other words, what are the internet's material dependencies?

Prepare to have your mind blown. Luckily there's a magnifier for this image. A lot of stuff goes into your computer, Cupcake, and a lot of that stuff comes from some unstable areas.

Something to consider.


Aug. 2nd, 2013 03:42 pm
peristaltor: (Orson "Approves")
Click here. Click demo. Make geared machines virtually go around.

peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
I haven't been following the news lately, but last I checked our atmosphere hit a milestone in human history by finally reaching the 400 parts per million concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In doing some preliminary research for this entry, I find that the number has since been revised downward . . . to 399.89 ppm.

Well, excuse us. That's entirely different, but still, as the article fairly explains, it's not the number captured in amber and preserved for all time that matters most, but rather "the rate of rise that is most important." That, sadly has not really slowed.

Ah, but I'm not here to boom all gloom and doom on y'all. I'm here now to crow about what is talked about, but not enough, and what should be heralded across the intertubes as more important than an arbitrary odometer moment: There is good news to be had.

You see, a rich guy has offered a prize for a viable process to remove CO2 from our atmosphere. $25 million will be granted in the Virgin Earth Challenge to the most viable candidate. So far, there are eleven finalists. First, lets winnow out the least likely challengers, and point out why they fail. )

Next, let us inject some much needed optimism. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
You know you had a good idea when someone beats you to it.

Years ago, I saw in empathetic agony a guy trying to get his wheelchair up a curb cut-out that was just a bit too steep for his arms to handle. I saw the problem; he didn't have enough leverage. I started doodling.

Keep in mind that I was at the time very interested in electric-assisted bicycles, going so far as to help sell them in town. When you are a hammer, all manner of problems look nail-y. I figured that a regular wheelchair suffered from two things in hilly environs;

Too many LJ cuts, for one. . . . )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Just stumbled upon a New York Times article concerning sustainable development that posits a problem with a popular model, that of the Three Pillars of Sustainable Development. Those pillars are the Environment, Society, and the Economy. Here's a National Council for Science and the Environment page discussing the issue, and an image from the same page depicting the pillars in question:

Hmmmm. . . . )
peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Some months ago, I stumbled upon a TED talk with Donald Sadoway. (Oh, and screw LJ for not supporting the new embed code. Screw 'em hard.)

Dr. Sadoway has, very simply, decided that an inexpensive battery would revolutionize the way electrical power is distributed and produced, allowing far more renewable energy sources to be competitive by allowing these sources to be stored when in abundance and delivered when scarce. Hey, we still need power after the sun stops shining.

The company he mentions forming in the talk has been renamed Ambri for some reason; sounds less like a battery company and more like another prescription anti-depressant. After that rebranding, he made it to The Colbert Report for his Colbert Bump.

If his battery proves as energy-dense, long-lived and reliable as he touts it, this could be a game changer for our fragile power grid, and hopefully a personal investment (provided the right incentives are eventually offered).
peristaltor: (Default)
Remember this guy?

I used him recently to give a face to my rant about how cows are not to blame for global warming, no matter what the vegan jihadists claim. I'll accept some criticism from activists bent on reducing or eliminating meat from our human diet; yes, there is a lot of disease being spread in meat and milk, much of it harmful. Head over to the Centers for Disease Control and a list of Escherichia coli outbreaks over the last 5 years alone should give you a reason to pause before biting that burger.

Ah, but here's a question: Lots of us eat the meat brought from the wild during and after hunting season. Deer, elk, moose; it's all pretty darned tasty, and those wild critters are similar to cows. Why do our domestic cows seem to produce more disease-bearing meat than those beasts grazing in the wild? The answer really, really sucks. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
On December 8, 1953, President Eisenhower made an address to the 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, a speech now called the Atoms for Peace speech. In it, he noted that the US and the USSR, both with atomic weapons, had the power to do unspeakable damage to the planet if those weapons were ever actually used, and which resulted in a stalemate now called the Cold War, where the two nuclear superpowers reserved the right to destroy each other if one flinched:

To pause there would be to confirm the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world. To stop there would be to accept helplessly the probability of civilization destroyed, the annihilation of the irreplaceable heritage of mankind handed down to us from generation to generation, and the condemnation of mankind to begin all over again the age-old struggle upward from savagery towards decency, and right, and justice. Surely no sane member of the human race could discover victory in such desolation.

Pres. Eisenhower then continued, suggesting an alternative direction to a hopeless standoff. He proposed formation of a UN-led "international atomic energy agency" to "be made responsible for the impounding,storage and protection of the contributed fissionable and other materials" and, more importantly, "to devise methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind."

Experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine and other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.

Thus the contributing Powers would be dedicating some of their strength to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.

Here's some interesting alternate history fodder: What if the US had actually followed this path to peace? )

NB: I'm pulling double shifts at work all week, so this is a quickie, full of the flaws most quickies have. If I do further research on this and find it to be full of crap, I'll note such a thing later.

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Waaay back in 2008, I came up with a theory of conservatism I called the Deist Miasma, an attempt to understand for myself why the religious in general and conservatives in particular have such violent reactions against theories that challenge traditional interpretations of reality (specifically in that post, Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection vs. Creation). In Part II, I further delved into the why of the conservative reaction by tying their rejection to the more emotional parts of the brain that irrationally reject concepts that create a sense of disgust. I got that concept from Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, a fascinating book that chronicled the 1848-49 cholera outbreak and how a new germ theory of disease challenged the prevailing miasma theory.

Never heard of the miasma theory? I'm not surprised. Here are the essentials: "There were practically as many theories about cholera as there were cases of the disease. But in 1848, the dispute was largely divided between two camps: the contagionists and the miasmists. Either cholera was some kind of agent that passed from person to person, like the flu, or it somehow lingered in the 'miasma' of unsanitary spaces." (Johnson, The Ghost Map, Riverhead, 2007, pp. 68.) "Miasmas" are detected by the nose; if it smells bad, it likely causes disease.

Miasma theory has been largely discredited since the perfection of ever more powerful microscopes and research into the efficacy of hand washing, especially when done by doctors before surgery and assisting births. Essentially, the theory lived long after the evidence mounted against it simply because of the disgust bad smells can raise in the brains of the smeller. This disgust overwhelms the smeller's desire to examine a problem intellectually and rationally. This strong disgust emotion trumps and overrides the rational brain, short-circuiting our ability to problem solve.

I hadn't considered it before, but econ blogger Asymptosis has: isn't neo-classical economics itself a form of the same flawed, disgust-based thinking that kept the miasma theory alive? He makes excellent points, points that follow almost to the letter my association between the creationist camp and the progress supporting natural selection. I would add that disgust against Marxist economics might have been the founding event for the neo-classical thinkers, and that all their complex theorizing stems not from the desire to craft rigorous and disciplined empirical modeling of reality, but to reject the fairly sound observations Marx made in Das Kapital. After all, creation "science" wasn't around before Darwin; there was no need, since the creation "science" was science.

Ah, but some of Asymptosis' conclusions resonated with some recent reading. James Howard Kunstler closes his most recent book with this observation about Barack Obama's first term:

He came along at a very difficult time in our national history. The economy is wobbling again for reasons this president has never adequately articulated (and which are the subject of this book), despite his renown for eloquence. And despite his genial disposition and adult demeanor he can be faulted for failing on many issues, including botched health care reform, a dumb energy policy, keeping two of the longest wars in our history going, and not reestablishing the rule of law in banking in the face of arrant misconduct.

(James Howard Kunstler, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011, p. 240, I emboldened.)

In our President's defense, he studied law, not economics. For his economic expertise, he hired the brains behind Pres. Clinton's cabinet. Sadly, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin shared the same neo-classical tradition in their assumptions about our economic functioning, enough to pressure Mr. Clinton into signing the official repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a repeal that got us into this mess. Back to Asymptosis:

[There] are many valid and semi-valid ideas, theories, and constructs floating around in the world of textbook economics. But they are so intertwined with, caught up in the miasma . . . theories that today constitute mainstream economics . . . that it’s hard for even the clearest-eyed economist — much less the everyday person or Washington staffer, legislator, or policy wonk — to tell the shit from the shinola.

(I again emboldened.)

The result? Yes, we can judge the President for his actions; but we should also realize that no one person has a sufficient grasp of the arcane minutia to not have advisers, and that given sufficient acceptance, even bad theories can prove widespread enough to taint said advisers. Translation: yes, Jim Kunstler may have a better understanding of our economy to avoid, as Asymptosis put it, "emptying the cesspools into the water supply" just like the Londoners in the grip of the miasma theory of disease; that doesn't mean a clear-eyed appraisal of our economy is wide-spread enough to reach the halls of power.

And judging by our current economic situation, I'd say it well and truly isn't.

Addendum: The Next Day: This TED video gives a good introduction into how disgust warps our opinions.

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)
Dear Mr. Randers,

I just finished your book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. I found it informative and an innovative approach to the challenges facing the human race in the years to come.

One area, though, I found questionable, but in ways that will hopefully improve our outlook and perhaps your calculations once you factor the new data into the system. In your book, you noted:

It is worth noting that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is capable of reducing the emissions of CO2 dramatically. By capturing the CO2 from the exhaust emissions from coal- and gas-fired utilities and other point sources of CO2, and storing it permanently underground, one can reduce CO2 from power production and manufacturing by more than 80%. . . .

In wood-fired power stations, it works as follows: When wood (or any other type of biomass) grows, it sucks CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it to plant material. When the material is burnt, the CO2 is released into the exhaust gas. When the exhaust gas is sent through a CCS plant, the CO2 is captured. It s then compressed into a liquid and injected into deep underground reservoirs.

(Jorgen Randers, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012, pp. 116-117.)

Further in your book, though, you quote David Butcher:

On the positive side, science will provide some relief through the development of improved plant strains, more efficient irrigation techniques, effective fertilizer use, and efficient pyrolysis of vegetation in order to increase soil carbon.

(David Butcher's essay "The Limits to Protein", quoted in 2052, p. 138, emboldening mine.)

In all likelihood, Mr. Butcher is referring the production of biochar, the name given the ancient practice of producing terra preta as a soil amendment. Albert K. Bates' The Biochar Solution notes that biochar production need not be a drain on resources to produce; if you don't have time to read the book, this entry of his provides a good overview.

To apply biochar production to your informative CCS sidebar, wood-fired power plants would not necessarily need to burn the wood in order to capture the carbon; a pyrolizing plant can easily produce heat or power and simultaneously sequester a portion of the carbon as biochar that need not be recaptured from the exhaust and later liquified, and all with low-technology requirements. The energy lost from this incomplete burn will be a fraction of the energy lost in the capture, liquification and sequestration process you outline in your book, which does not begin to factor in the benefit to crops the waste product provides.

Something to consider.


Perry Staltor
peristaltor: (Mr. Drippy)
For those of you still unfamiliar with M. King Hubbert and his now-famous theory of "peak oil," do look up Wiki entries on his name and theory. If you don't, not only will this entry seem curious (if not completely unhinged), but so will reality.

If you're still curious about what this might mean for, well, everyone on earth, join me as I point out landmarks on the road to simplicity. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Default)

An interesting take on the situation, though lacking in one aspect: His App #3, Property Rights, needs to extend beyond mere real and personal property to intellectual property. This allows coupling the first two of his apps, Competition and Science, to economics, a coupling which incrementally increases the complexity of technology first by giving inventors domain over their inventions, and later by allowing improvements to those inventions either when the patent rights have expired or through licensing agreements. Author William Rosen called the patent system The Most Powerful Idea in the World, and traced its Western roots to the reign of Elizabeth I.

Ferguson mentions Smith, but Rosen goes one step farther and points out what Smith missed:

Smith's theorems did a spectacular job of explaining the self-regulating character of a free market, in which prices and profits are forced by competition to the lowest possible level. . . .

What they didn't do was explain how wealth, profit, and competition can all grow over time. In short, it didn't explain the two centuries of growth that were beginning just as Wealth of Nations was being published. It is in no way a criticism of the book to state that it covered everything except the reason the author's own nation was about to get wealthier than any other nation in the history of mankind. The failure is pretty much explained by what is not in the book. Despite living in the middle of the biggest explosion of inventive activity ever recorded, and even though his illustration of the advantages of specialization was a factory for making pins, Smith's book hardly mentions the role of the new machines then transforming his world. Next to nothing about waterpower, to say nothing of steam; nothing about the forging of iron, and his few paragraphs about the textile revolution are mostly an argument for restricting the export of spinning machines. His pin factory, it turns out, was only a metaphor; he never set foot inside one. . . .

The efficiencies of specialization are real, and the self-regulating "invisible hand" powerful, but it was the machines, and nothing else, that allowed Britain, and then the world, to finally produce food (or the wealth with which to buy food) faster than it produced mouths to consume it.

(William Rosen, The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, Random House, 2010, pp. 250-251, I emphasized.)

Bottom line: While the development of engines was an offshoot of science, it took a formal recognition of patent rights to prod an inventor's desire to move creations beyond the laboratory and to invest enough in research to make these inventions economically viable.

Of course, there's another bottom line, that the machines need constant fueling . . . and without this fuel, growth — "to finally produce food (or the wealth with which to buy food) faster than it produced mouths to consume it" — would not be possible.

Which might explain this debt situation he mentions near the end of his talk. No cheap fuel, no economic growth. No economic growth, no ability to pay the existing loans still outstanding. Sound familiar?
peristaltor: (Default)
This is just the kind of thing I find myself drawn to, no matter how practical they actually prove.

It's a treadle-powered kitchen appliance suite, with blender, coffee grinder and immersion blender attachments. Yes, yes, I know; electrical versions of these same gadgets are ubiquitous and available at a fraction of the cost. Newer ones also don't come with required dishwasher-sized frames, just a simple cord. I'm attracted, though, to the simplicity. One can see exactly how the torque is provided. (Better get a plexiglass or Lexan cover for the flywheel assembly if you have pets or kids, though. That way they can watch but not touch.) Stylistically, it's also well constructed and aesthetically pleasing.

This is nothing new, of course. Before electricity rewrote the rules on home and farm appliances, gadgets like this were common.

If you're off-grid, exploring the human power gizmos might be a good idea. For me, as long as the rain falls and the snow melts, electrical power in the Pacific Northwest will be far too cost-competitive to warrant purchases like the nifty foot kitchen for any reason . . . other than the cool factor.

X-Posted to [ profile] home_effinomic.


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