Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dr. Strainedlogic

How I Learned to Stopped Worrying
and Love High Gas Prices

Dr. Strangelove struggles to control his hand
~ Big Oil and its paid Congressional sycophants have a seemingly endless supply of rationalizations for every industry excess. Did you know high gas prices are good for you? Me neither, but the American Petroleum Institute (API) has helpfully explained why we should all be more grateful.

It seems that all those gushing profits are swelling the pension funds of school employees and state government workers in 4 Midwestern states:
...returns on oil and natural gas assets from 2005 to 2009 averaged 46.5 percent, compared to 13 percent for all other assets, according to the analysis by Sonecon, an economic advisory firm. That means that each dollar the funds invested in oil and gas stocks in 2005 was worth $1.47 on average, while every dollar invested in the rest of the portfolio grew to just $1.13.

Well, that's a relief. My richer pension fund will pay out more so I can afford to fill my tank... right? Sadly, no.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXX

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Invest in Youth

For a Better Community

Chris Leyerle & Coach Lorenzo Romar at the 2011 YES Invest in Youth breakfast
~ Back from visiting family and a much-needed vacation late last night. This morning I went to the Invest in Youth breakfast held by Youth Eastside Services (YES) at the Bellevue Hyatt.

What a great event for a great organization that does great work in our community:
YES is one of the largest providers of youth and family counseling and substance abuse services in the Puget Sound Region. Our staff are trained and experienced in working with youth and offer a depth of expertise that is hard to surpass. They use proven evidenced-based and best-practice approaches to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to become strong, supportive and loving. We offer comprehensive mental health and substance abuse counseling, prevention and education programs, as well as wrap-around services to help families with basic needs when necessary. Our services are available in multiple locations around the Eastside and we enjoy partnerships with many agencies. Since 1968, Youth Eastside Services has been a lifeline for kids and families in East King County, helping to save lives — 24,000 of them, each and every year.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Distributed Generation

Using Globally, Generating Locally

Undershot waterwheel on small creek
~ In the developed parts of the world we are all quite familiar with centralized electricity generation. Megawatts of high-voltage electrical power are created by large coal, gas, nuclear, or other installations and sent over the transmission grid to areas of large demand where it is transformed to lower voltage and distributed to individual homes and businesses.

The alternative is distributed or point-of-use energy generation. Water wheels have been used for thousands of years to create mechanical energy for grinding grain, sawing lumber, and pumping water for drinking or irrigation. Windmills have been used similarly. These and other technologies are still in use in much of the developing world today, along with distributed power from less sustainable sources like diesel generators.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXIX

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Want a Receipt?

Taxpayer receipt
~ Seattle's Democratic "Congressman for Life" JimMcDermott has not infrequently been the subject of attack and ridicule for his unabashed liberalism. His latest? Issuing all taxpayers a receipt that shows exactly on what the federal government spends their taxes.

The core idea is to provide greater transparency and better information to the electorate which, for many years, has shown broad ignorance of where taxes go. It's not hard to get this information (e.g. here) but what McDermott's bill does is make the dollars understandable by using the same ratios on the amount of one's individual tax bill.

So, for example, on a combined income/FICA tax bill of $6,350, a taxpayer can see that $1,042.67 of his hard-earned income goes to the Pentagon, $829.75 to Medicaid, and so on.

What's instructive, of course, is not just how much goes to Social Security, wars, interest on the national debt—the large slices of the pie—but how relatively little goes to those things that are most debated. On that same $6,350 tax bill, for example, $82.55 goes to "International Affairs" (foreign aid) and $21.34 is spent by the Department of Energy. Salaries, benefits for Congress? Just 23 cents.

The proposal probably has little chance of succeeding. Some of the pettifogging comments suggest it will fall victim to the usual penny-wise complaints about its nominal cost, as well as the always fashionable demonization of the IRS and the cheap shots against those who make a living working there. These are not good reasons, especially when weighed against the value of educating people about the realities of the budget, the debt, and the deficit. The problem cannot be solved by cutting "waste, fraud and abuse" nor by eliminating support for public broadcasting, nor by gutting the EPA. A real look at the numbers show that those are ideological red herrings, and that real reform will require much harder work and tougher choices. It will not, as Bill Maher rightly lampoons, be simply removing the discretionary parsley from a budgetary plate piled with high-calorie program servings in portions we are so far unwilling to reduce.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXVIII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Planes, Boats and Automobiles

~ On the road the next two weeks. Posting may be less regular than usual.

No, not that far. This time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blessed are the Hackers

For They Make Inheritable Classes

~ An essay published under the auspicies of the Vatican redeems computer hackers (i.e. hackers in the traditional sense of those who relish "having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular" and not to be confused with crackers, who are those who illegally force entry into secure systems.)

Hacker mentality implies a joyful application of intelligence to problem solving, rejecting the concept of work as repetitive, burdensome and stupid, Spadaro wrote. Hacker ethics rejected a capitalistic, profit-oriented approach to work, eschewing idleness but favoring a flexible, creative approach that was respectful of the human dimension and natural rhythms.
Having been a hacker myself in years past, I take some perverse pleasure. It is hard, however, as an unrepetant hacker, marinated in a culture of strident irreverence, not to muse on Monty Python when reading this.
Monks: Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem [bonk!]
(h/t Discover Magazine, Tab Pierce)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Zen and the Art of Entrepreneurship

Where are the Monasteries?

~ Chris DeVore relates the parable of the Zen archer, told him by Yvon Chouinard:
Archery target with arrows
When asked about whether sales and revenue was something he was thinking about, Yvon would respond by telling the story of the Zen archer who spent years of his life perfecting each minute step in the ritual of shooting an arrow. In his story, the focus the archer brought to achieving perfect beauty and economy of motion at each step - selecting an arrow, fitting it to the string, drawing the bow and releasing the arrow - was so complete that striking the target came [as] an afterthought. In his telling, the arrow always hit the center of the target, not because it was carefully aimed, but because all the preceding moments had been so honed that it was the only possible outcome.
I've read about Chouinard, founder of Patagonia before, most recently in Fortune. He's a fascinating fellow who shows by example that sustainability is not just good, but good business.

But back to the parable.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Energy Efficiency

Some Easy, Obvious Steps

Natural gas flaring
~ It's been said metaphorically that we should eat our energy efficiency vegetables before indulging in renewable energy desserts. Vegetables are actually quite delicious. They are really good for you, which holds true in the metaphor as well. One of the tastiest energy efficiency steps we could take is to stop wasting natural gas through flaring:
GE today released a study, Flare Gas Reduction: Recent Global Trends and Policy Considerations, which estimates that 5 percent of the world's natural gas production is wasted by burning or "flaring" unused gas each year—an amount equivalent to 30 percent of consumption in the European Union and 23 percent in the United States. Gas flaring emits 400 million metric tons of CO2 annually, the same as 77 million automobiles, without producing useful heat or electricity. Worldwide, billions of cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas are wasted annually, typically as a by-product of oil extraction.
The technology to capture and use this gas exists today, and the economics make enough sense that funding the capital need is doable. It has become politically fashionable to assert that we have enormous supplies of natural gas, or even that the world is "awash" in it. Didn't we use to think that about oil once? Perhaps we should be prudent, rather than wasteful, from the outset.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXVIII

Last week was too easy, so more of a challenge this time. It looks like something out of Myst. Somewhere in Seattle... Where is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bolshevik George

Traveling by Train Takes Will

Flip-flops on many feet
~ Apparently the siren of train travel is more bewitching than anyone thought.

I know the half-life of political memory* is getting ever-shorter. But surely more people remember how George Bush savaged John Kerry in the 2004 campaign as a "flip-flopper" on the Iraq war? Compare that to what has been said about Libya and supporting the President in a time of war? Or how the Republicans in the US House love hate love the budget reconciliation process? Don't even get me going again on climate change.

The world would be a much better place if hypocrisy were a fatal disease.

*The time in which half the population utterly forgets a political event, or, alternatively, the time it takes for the population as a whole to turn into half-wits about it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Electric Leaf

An Energy Solution for the Developing World?

Artificial photosynthesis Sun Catalytix
~ Not the Nissan Leaf, but a device for artificial photosynthesis. Scientists at MIT report they have built an artificial leaf that creates electricity out of sunlight and water. A solar cell the size of a playing card could, in "bright" sunlight make enough electricity to power a developing world home using only a gallon of water. Said lead researcher Daniel Nocera:
A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.
The device splits water into its constituent oxygen and hydrogen, which can then power a fuel cell.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Circular Reasoning

Another Con

Evil Tinkerbell
~ Paul Krugman is getting a headache from the Wingnut Wurlitzer:
Two weeks ago, Republican staff at the Congressional Joint Economic Committee released a report, "Spend Less, Owe Less, Grow the Economy," that argued that slashing government spending and employment in the face of a deeply depressed economy would actually create jobs...

Here's the report's explanation of how layoffs would create jobs: "A smaller government work force increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs." Dropping the euphemisms, what this says is that by increasing unemployment, particularly of "educated, skilled workers" — in case you're wondering, that mainly means schoolteachers — we can drive down wages, which would encourage hiring.

There is, if you think about it, an immediate logical problem here: Republicans are saying that job destruction leads to lower wages, which leads to job creation. But won't this job creation lead to higher wages, which leads to job destruction, which leads to ...? I need some aspirin.
The other problem, the Confidence Fairy of which Krugman writes, is the notion that more austerity will lead to increased "confidence" by businesses, who will then start using their record cash reserves to invest in plants, equipment, and new hiring. Except that this is demonstrably untrue, both from history and from reason.

Krugman may be getting a headache, but it will take more than aspirin to alleviate the pain the GOP prescription will visit on the vast majority of Americans.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Autism Awareness

~ How Many People with Autism Do You Know?

Autism Speaks | Light it up blue!
~ My daughter has autism.

I know firsthand the challenges, joys, and sometimes conflicting emotions that come with loving someone who is "on the spectrum" with this most enigmatic attribute.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and today is Autism Awareness Day. Chances are you know more people with autism than you realize. You certainly know more than your parents or grandparents did. 1 child in every 110 born today is diagnosed with autism. The incidence amongst boys is 1 in 70.

Autism is common. It is more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.

Friday, April 1, 2011


~ The Difference One Letter Makes

Dead fish
~ In France, someone tricked by an April Fool's prank is called a poisson d'Avril, an April fish. (The term "fish" to mean a fool can be found also around the Texas Hold'em table.) Drop one letter 'S' however, and the result is poison d'Avril, April poison. Seems very different! In our Congress these days, however, perhaps instead too scarily similar.

Yesterday, there was a report, later denied, that the Obama administration had signalled to Congressional Democrats that they needed to acquiesce to GOP demands to neuter the EPA, in order to reach agreement on a spending bill to keep the government operating. April Fool us! At issue is the EPA's implementation of the Clean Air Act, stemming from the directive by the US Supreme Court that the EPA must regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants. The lust by the GOP and fossil Democrats to condone and excuse carbon pollution has now metastasized into a broader assault on the EPA and a pitchforks-and-torches effort to gut the Act beyond just carbon regulation. (That the EPA was proposed and created by famed liberal bleeding heart Richard Nixon, and that he also signed the Clean Air Act, just goes to show how every GOP member of Congress is now politically farther to the right than Nixon. Considering how Ronald Reagan raised taxes—many times!—also shows how they are all farther to the right of him too. In what sense can any Republican now be considered "centrist"?)