Friday, May 31, 2013

Greenhouse Gas Flows

A Problem with Many Strands

 ~ Reductions will require sustained effort and focus across a wide swath of global economic sectors.

World GHG Emission Flow Chart 2010

The problem will soon become even harder.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Choosing Profits Over Planets

From the Mouths of Boobs

Rex Tillerson, Exxon CEO
 ~ "What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?"

So said CEO Rex Tillerson at Exxon's annual meeting yesterday. What really concerns him, of course, is less the suffering of humanity than the suffering of diminished profits. The right choice between the planet and profits? Yes! More money! Never mind that there is no business to be done on a dead planet. Or that you can't take it with you. Or that dispensing with the Earth, our only home, is somehow a reasonable option in service of unbounded cupidity. But then T. Rexx has some puzzling beliefs.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Where's It Wednesday—CXXV

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

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, May 28, 2013

Love Trains

Dating In Prague

Prague subway
 ~ Officials in charge of the Prague subway are creating a novel kind of singles scene:
Starting later this year, select carriages on each of the city's three underground train lines will be designated as singles-friendly. The idea was hatched as a way to increase ridership on public transportation, according to Filip Drapal, a spokesman for Ropid, the city's public transport authority. "This idea is just part of a new long-term campaign whose aim is to show what activities can you do in public transport that you cannot do inside your car (like reading, studying, listening to music, playing e-games and checking emails)."
Of course, there are many things one can "do in public transport which you cannot do inside your car." Why stop at dating?
Why indeed? Perhaps because the typical ride is only 5 minutes? Speed daters will need to perfect their "elevator" pitches... and here's the soundtrack.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mounting Disasters

More Billion-Plus Dollar Losses

 ~ The number and severity of economic losses from extreme weather events has been on the rise for years:

Weather related losses exceeding $1B each over the past 20 years

Several interesting things pop out from this graphic:
  • Droughts and heat waves (yellow) have increased in number, although the typical size of each event was higher in the previous decade.
  • Wildfires (red) are increasing in number
  • Tornadoes (purple) have dramatically increased in number and severity.
  • Hurricanes (dark blue) have also increased in both number and severity; it is not yet clear whether the last few years suggest a return to "normalcy" or just a brief respite in a worrisome trend.
Total damages are on the rise, and losses over the past decade exceeded half a trillion dollars. Given concerns about budget deficits, reducing that expense would be a worthwhile object of public policy discussion.

While direct linkage to climate change is notoriously difficult to prove in individual cases, the overall picture over the past 20 years cannot otherwise be easily explained. Engaging in puerile finger-pointing and self-interested politics is not befitting those we expect to provide leadership for the country as a whole.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Serial Killer

The Sequel

Tom Toles: the climate change defendant
 ~ Weren't lead, tobacco and asbestos all once in the dock peddling the same you-can't-prove-it line?

Whatever became of them anyway?

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Entrepreneur Funding Follies

 ~ Should the government try to play venture capitalist?

Some think not, and they sure made hay over Solyndra. But—surprise!—we're not hearing from these same second-guessers now that Tesla has paid off its loan early.

The criticism of government playing VC is inapt anyway, and besides, do they really behave like VCs?

(h/t Mark Suster, Both Sides of the Table)

Friday, May 24, 2013

So, Do You Feel Lucky?

Or Are You Too Tired to Tell?

win dice
 ~ We entrepreneurs are a notoriously optimistic (if paranoid) bunch.

Ask most why they are optimistic and you'll usually hear about the unique and compelling virtues of their latest startup, the enormous market opportunity, the great team, the many sustainable competitive advantages, how much traction it already has, etc. Heck, I've said these things myself. Recently.

There's another oft-stated reason: hard work. As Thomas Edison memorably observed, many miss opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work. Not entrepreneurs. We expect to work hard. We may even be proud of it.

Some count on hard work so much they come to believe that they succeed (and others don't) solely because of hard work.

It's not true.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Another Kind of Oil Rig

I'm Shocked. Shocked!

Shell official walks away, head hanging
 ~ Ho hum. Another case of a rapacious global corporate cartel caught doing what comes naturally.

European officials are investigating BP, Shell and Statoil for fixing the price of oil. The US may do so as well.
[UK Energy officials] said manipulation of the oil price could have driven inflation and pointed out that the market is an important benchmark for many financial transactions.

High oil prices also feeds through to bigger bills for food, clothes and other essentials because it pushes up the cost of transport and manufacturing.

A high oil price will also fuel inflation, which erodes the value of people’s savings, and can stifle economic growth, by pushing up businesses’ costs.
The economic impact of artificially inflated oil prices is huge; $20T worth of oil is priced from the Brent crude index, a focus of investigators. As with the LIBOR rate fixing scandal, it turns out the largest players "report" prices which are then aggregated and used as the benchmark for everyone else. What stops them from playing games with those reports? Nothing, except apparently the danger of being caught due to an excess of greed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Where's It Wednesday—CXXIV

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

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, May 21, 2013

Faster Than Rabbits

Propagating Rootstocks

 ~ Here at Phytelligence, we're busy growing for our customers.

See these pieces of budwood?

M9 rootstocks

In the next few months we're going to turn them into more than 10,000 trees.

Need trees? Contact us, or come to our open house on June 11 and find out how we do it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Two Countries

Hotspots of Hate

 ~ We're two countries alright, just not divided the way you might think:

Hate map of derogatory tweets

The map shows the use of hateful epithets used in tweets, aggregated by county.

Um, so just exactly where is "middle America"?

A lot of related maps to look at and more detail here. Especially interesting (or sobering) to zoom in on where you live, or other places of interest, both to see the localized hotspots, and which hate words predominate. (Here in Washington State, the hate in Aberdeen is visible from space. What's up with that?)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Buildings With Integrated Wind Generation

Beyond Turbines

Strawscraper Tower
 ~ Here comes another unusual-looking building, the Strawscraper, which employs a hair-like covering which the wind ruffles to produce electricity:
The system utilizes Piezoelectric technology, which turns movement into electricity that can be stored for later use. The hair’s tiny movement is safe for birds and humans and isn’t noisy like traditional turbines can be. But Strawscraper isn’t all about the brains, it also has the beauty. The hair covering the building creates the illusion of movement, giving the normally static city skyline the illusion of motion.
While London's Strata Tower is still "expected" to generate perhaps 8% of the building's energy needs, after three years there is as yet no indication of the actual power produced. Perhaps sensibly, a power estimate is not being offered for the Strawscraper.

My prediction? It looks a lot like a scratching post, so beware giant predatory Siamese cats.
Thanks to the miracle of atomic mutation

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Another Market Failure

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose...

coin toss
 ~ When oil is cheap there is little incentive to develop and commercialize biofuels or other liquid alternatives. Especially since they largely remain generally more costly than conventional hydrocarbons.

But when the price of a barrel of oil rises, alternative energy fuels will surge, right?

Actually, no:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Where's It Wednesday—CXXIII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

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, May 14, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

Metro Transit's Funding Gap

Slow Starvation

Metro budgets since 2009
 ~ Once again, Metro Transit has a revenue shortfall.

And once again, the proposed solution is to cut service, and further diminish pubic transit.

It's a vicious circle, or perhaps more accurately, a death spiral. As routes are cut or curtailed, the overall utility of the system suffers as well. As the system becomes less useful and timely, people use it less, and revenues from the fare box decrease.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Conversely, increasing service and making transit more available, more accessible, and especially, more affordable, increases ridership. Public transit use has been increasing locally; we should be building on that, not thwarting it.

Metro Transit needs additional funding. Cost cutting is but a slogan, not a real, considered solution that would make a (positive) difference. Fully funding public transit increases use of the system, promoting urban vitality, reducing congestion and air pollution, and improving our quality of life. In fact, public transit should be free; the costs and benefits are very favorable compared to alternative public expenditures, particularly car infrastructure.

There is a public hearing tomorrow afternoon.

Also posted to Fare-Free Northwest blog.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

National Train Day

Go Take a Train

 ~ I've posted many times about trains. It's a pleasing form of travel, usually rapid because of its own right-of-way, and very energy efficient.

They can be very fast.
Shinkansen train at Tokyo station

Or maybe too fast.
Russian jet train

Friday, May 10, 2013

Living and Dying in 3D

Printed Guns

3D printed 'Liberator' pistol
 ~ It had to happen.

The incredible advances in 3D printing, and the rapidly shrinking costs, have made weapons like the Liberator pistol inevitable. We may not need to worry—yet—but it is only a matter of time before it revolutionizes many things, including crime.

3D printing is poised to be another new technology where the capabilities are increasing and becoming more widespread faster than policy can keep up. Not just guns, but many other things, at least in theory, can and will be built from this technology, whether in the privacy of your home, or, without the capital expense, at your local store. Many kinds of things have already been made. In the future, perhaps the very near future, one will be able to print not just prosaic hardware, but other weapons, chemicals, even animal or human tissue, meat, drugs (legal or not)—maybe whatever one can imagine. Forget postal regulations, export controls, anti-proliferation, regulation, or licensing which all may become quaint notions of a simpler time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Carbon Intoxication

Scientists are Not Immune

 ~ I've been formally trained as a computer scientist, and at one time made a very good living from it at a top institution. However, just because I am a "scientist" it does not mean that I am qualified to discourse on scientific subjects at large.

This does not, however, much deter some scientists from fulminating well outside their areas of expertise or qualification. Or spouting their personal beliefs from ideologically aligned platforms. Today we have been treated to another tired retread of an article in the Wall Street Journal by climate change simpleton William Happer. Along with astronaut Harrison Schmidt, he claims, again, that more atmospheric carbon is good for us because we need plants, and plants need carbon dioxide.

Much of the article can be dismissed on factual grounds with reference to what actual climate science and climate scientists can tell us. (I'm no expert—being a computer scientist does not make me a general scientific expert—and I happily defer to those who are.) Happer and Schmidt focus on the tired and discredited trope that carbon concentrations have been higher in geological time (true) but ignore the recent, and utterly unprecedented rate of change in those concentrations. Sure, life flourished, but not human life, and species that cannot adapt to a changing environment not infrequently suffer or become extinct. Evolution does not work well in short time periods of rapid environmental shift.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Where's It Wednesday—CXXII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

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, May 7, 2013

House Effects

Using Intramural Rivalry

Steve Ballmer with tongue sticking out
 ~ My high school had (and still has) a house system, modeled on the traditional arrangement in English schools. All students are assigned to one of four houses, each with its own symbols, traditions, and social events. They provide a way of promoting esprit de corps across different grade levels, but their most obvious purpose is to provide various forms of intramural competition in sports, debating or other contests.

J.K. Rowling imagined a house system at the fictional Hogwarts.

Similar loyalty-building divisions and intense competition can also be found between the various branches of the US military, especially among the elite units of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Companies sometimes form competing "skunk works" teams to each independently tackle tough problems.

These institutions all seek through a kind of tribal loyalty to promote rivalry and vigorous competition that, in theory increases the excellence of all.

So why isn't it working at Microsoft?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Oceans of Trash

How Long Until It's Gone?

 ~ I have found every one of these things (and more) washed up on beaches.

Graphic of how long it takes ocean trash to disintegrate

At least the ocean turns broken bottles into polished sea glass, but diapers.... there's no polishing that turd.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Startup Salaries

Which Risks to Take?

Cartoon: mitigating all risks
 ~ How much should startups pay in salaries?

One line of thinking, advanced largely by rookie angel investors and those who have never worked in a startup, is... nothing. The justification? A need to "conserve cash" so the startup can maximize the length of its runway, the period of time it can continue operations (and take self-sustaining flight) before the bills can no longer be paid.

This idea is, simply, wrong. It is behaviorally naive, financially simple-minded, and legally dangerous. Here's why:

Friday, May 3, 2013

400 ppm

Too Much Carbon

Mauna Loa observatory carbon dioxide readings over time
 ~ Atmospheric carbon is now higher than it has been in 3 million years.
The last time CO2 reached the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million in the atmosphere - in the Pliocene era - temperatures rose by between 3 and 4 degrees and sea levels were between five and 40 metres higher than today.
Climate change is a slow-motion calamity, but also an economic opportunity for those who seek profit. Might be a good time to start businesses building seawalls, boats, or snorkels.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

An Entrepreneur's Challenge

Tempering Urgency with Patience

 ~ Sure, you want to get the cheese, but take some time to think and plan first instead of just rushing in.

Or maybe first see how the impulsive mouse fares.

First mover advantage? Bah. It's often the second mouse that gets the cheese.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where's It Wednesday—CXXI

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

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.