Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Coastal electricity

Here's a technique that can generate electricity by swapping salty and fresh water. Essentially you charge a battery in fresh water, replace the fresh water with salty water, and discharge the battery. The swap generates more electricity than originally went into the battery for a net gain in power. This would be another way to harness the solar power put into the Earth's system by the rain cycle.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Radiation Levels Visualized Side-By-Side (INTERACTIVE)

A little walk through what various radiation doses actually mean.

Understanding Campbell's Law

Campbell's Law says that incentives corrupt. The more punishments and rewards that are attached to any measurement or test, the more people will game that measurement, either by focusing on it to the detriment of other useful activities or by outright cheating.

Update: I've actually seen this in play at my company's headquarters. When there was a policy that allocated landlord costs according to the square footage occupied by various departments, the managers reduced their budget by squeezing their staff into smaller and smaller offices. Eventually they ended up with everyone sufficiently crammed into one end of the building that they were able to rent out a portion of it to another company. Productivity and morale fell because people felt so overcrowded so eventually the policy was changed.

Renewable petroleum

The real answer to foreign oil imports is a technology that artificially creates long-chain hydrocarbons economically. Not only that, it reverses greenhouse gas creation by consuming CO2. Bacteria and sunlight can give us truly renewable petroleum.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Physics Of Sailing

Yes, you can sail faster than the wind. Remember F=ma? If you apply a constant force to a movable object it will accelerate continuously. When you sail 90 degrees to the wind, the boat experiences a constant force and will go faster and faster until it reaches the maximum speed attainable. The limit of the speed is dictated by the shape and length of the hull, not the wind.

States broke?

McClatchy news points out that states are broke because they cut taxes too much. When taxes are cut, rich people win and poor people lose.

Artificial leaf

This is a new direction for solar energy generation.
About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.
The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Battery charging

The technology for electrical transport makes another advance. This brings it closer to being able to recharge a battery as fast as one can fill a fuel tank.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Charting historical tax burdens

Once again here's another chart showing that a major contributor to the deficit problem is historically low taxes.
deficit hawks often sidestep a no-less important trend: In recent decades, tax rates--especially for the rich--have been on the decline by historical standards. Everyone likes getting a tax cut, but it's worth remembering that the shrinking of tax revenue has contributed to the deficit problem, just as spending has.
If we are going to our budget by giving grace to the wealthy there had better be a public benefit. If not, we are just being stupid or duped.

Chemical-free pest management

Methods of chemical-free pest management show great promise for reducing the waste of rice. This is good news for the billions who depend on rice for food.

New process for tar sands

A new process using Ionic liquids separates oil from tar sands at room temperature. The need for large amounts of water is eliminated because the fluid can be processed and reused. The process would also be able to completely clean oil from beach sand.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cheap Talk

The cheapest talk is a Republican pledge. When they wanted to defund NPR, the 72-hour pledge of transparency didn't mean a thing. Republicans are as reliable as drug addicts. They will say anything but you can't believe any of it.

We All Could Be Texas

By their fruits..... Texas has been run by Republicans for so long that it should be a shining example of the value of Republican governance. It's an example, but it ain't very shiny. Financial planning 101: Any family that goes through hard times by only cutting expenses eventually must starve or sell their children. At some point you have to find a way to increase revenue.

Skipping the Disinfectants

This study shows that elbow grease is a better cleaner than disinfectant.

Expect Global Warming

If nuclear power declines after Fukushima, we must resolve ourselves to living in a warmer world and make the necessary adjustments. We might want to learn from past experience what to expect in a warming world. It's time to build those dikes around Manhattan and Hong Kong.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Klippert Touts his bills

• House Bill 1150 – Would allow a business seven days, instead of two, to continue their misbehavior before they can be issued a fine or penalty.
• House Bill 1151 – Would require that agencies be granted specific statutory authority before they can regulate the way they were established to regulate.
• House Bill 1156 – Claims that jobs would be created by putting a freeze on new rules or regulations by state agencies until 2014, or when the economy recovers. If the public needs protection by a regulation, forget it.
• House Bill 1388 – Would prohibit implementation of new energy building codes until April 1, 2012, giving the big campaign contributors in the construction industry a chance to make more money building substandard buildings for a while.
• House Joint Resolution 4213 – Would make it nearly impossible to balance the state's budget without loss of vital services by making permanent the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes by passing a constitutional amendment.

Failure of Imagination

The containment vessels on the reactor cores have basically done their jobs but sadly, the biggest threat to pubic safety from the Fukushima reactors has been the loss of external power. While design energy has gone into protecting the public from the hazard of an overheated core, it looks like engineers have been short-sighted in considering the hazard of power loss to the spent fuel cooling pools.

That being said, the largest public safety risk appears to be simply being too close to a coast line. As bad as things are at Fukushima Daiichi, thousands probably lost their lives in an instant from the tsunami. And that loss of life has nothing to do with nuclear energy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fukushima 'stable'

Danger abates for the Fukushima reactor. Despite the hysteria in the media, this may go down as a textbook case in how to handle a major nuclear disaster. Since it was slated for decommissioning in the near future, the decision was made to flood it with boron-doped seawater. It's decommissioning just came a little earlier than planned.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Downside of No-Choice Laws

An unusual case, yes. But that's why hard-and-fast abortion laws are tragedies-in-the-making. The only way for real compassion to operate is when there is choice rather than prohibition.

Dumbing Deficits Down

It's past time for the left to muster some courage for their convictions.
Health care is only one of the large and difficult problems America needs to deal with, ranging from infrastructure to climate change, all of which demand that we engage in a lot of hard thinking. Yet what we have instead is a political culture in which one side sneers at knowledge and exalts ignorance, while the other side hunkers down and pretends to halfway agree.

Reactors and Earthquakes

In typical fashion we can expect the media to get all breathless about the problems at Fukushima Daiichi reactor. The real story is that the reactor is a testament to the robust designs of modern power plants. The size of the quake was far beyond the designed tolerance of the reactor but the containment did not fail and is not expected to fail. Compare that to the death toll at an affected oil refinery and from the raging household fires. Depending on the damage to Fukushima, the plant may be ready to be back on line before the repairs to the grid to use the electricity are complete.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Boeing's Secret Weapon in Tanker Competition

The secret? A skilled union workforce. Boeing determined what price was needed to win the contract. Then worked with the unions to hit that price. EADS gave up because they simply couldn't compete.
"How much more efficient? According to Connie Kelliher at IAM 751, as much as 25 percent—efficiency savings that simply couldn't be achieved without Everett's experienced and highly skilled union workforce. Just as impressive, Boeing and its workers managed to move the whole line without interrupting current 767 production."

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spend and Cut

Everywhere the same Republican modus operandi shows up. Spend revenue by cutting taxes for the wealthy and cut salaries for public employees.

NCLB - Every Child Left Behind

Gary Ratner gives a quick run-down of the problems with the Bush method of improving education.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Health Care Cost Control

Real health care cost control is counter-intuitive to the standard Republican market-based approach. You don't get better control by shifting costs to patients. You control your costs by making sure the high-utilizers actually get the care they need. Penny-pinching forces folks with the most expensive conditions into the emergency rooms with little or no primary care integration and oversight. The Pareto rule applies here. A small group consumes most of the resources. Plans with generous benefits actually reduce rising costs because the sick people get the care and treatment they need and use the system less.

Expectation of Bailouts

From Simon Johnson's testimony before Congress:
perhaps TARP's most significant legacy, the moral hazard and potentially disastrous consequences associated with the continued existence of financial institutions that are 'too big to fail.'"

5) Adjustments to our regulatory framework, including the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, have not fixed the core problems that brought us to bring of complete catastrophe in fall 2008. Powerful people at the heart of our financial system still have the incentive and ability to take on large amounts of reckless risk - through borrowing large amounts relative to their equity. When things go well, a few CEOs and a small number of others get huge upside.

6) When things go badly, society, ordinary citizens, and taxpayers get the downside. This is a classic recipe for financial instability.

7) Our six largest bank holding companies currently have assets valued at just over 63 percent of GDP (end of Q4, 2010). This is up from around 55% of GDP before the crisis (e.g., 2006) and no more than 17% of GDP in 1995.

8) With assets ranging from around $800 billion to nearly $2.5 trillion, these bank holding companies are perceived by the market as "too big to fail," meaning that they are implicitly backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. They can borrow more cheaply than their competitors and hence become larger.

9) In public statements, top executives in these very large banks discuss their plans for further global expansion - presumably increasing their assets further while continuing to be highly leveraged.

Friday, March 04, 2011

How to Kill a Recovery

A couple of delicious Paul Krugman quotes:
Republicans believe, or at least pretend to believe, that the direct job-destroying effects of their proposals would be more than offset by a rise in business confidence. As I like to put it, they believe that the Confidence Fairy will make everything all right.

But there's no reason for the rest of us to share that belief. For one thing, it's hard to see how such an obviously irresponsible plan - since when does starving the I.R.S. for funds help reduce the deficit? - can improve confidence.

do you remember the lavish praise heaped on Britain's conservative government, which announced harsh austerity measures after it took office last May? How's that going? Well, business confidence did not, in fact, rise when the plan was announced; it plunged, and has yet to recover. And recent surveys suggest that confidence has fallen even further among both businesses and consumers, indicating, as one report put it, that the private sector is "unprepared to fill the hole left by public sector cuts."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Schwarzenegger calls for fossil fuel termination

Even "Ahnold say that days of fossil fuels are numbered.

Bacteria makes butanol

To go with a prior article about algae produced butanol, here's one about bacteria producing butanol. The nice thing about butanol as a biofuel is that it can be used in engines with little or no modifications. As oil reserves decline, my children may be driving with this stuff.


Republicans continue to just make it too easy to tell when they are lying. If their lips are moving, it's most likely not true.
The federal deficit is too large for comfort, and most states are
struggling to balance their books. Some of that is because of excessive spending, and much is because the recession has driven down tax revenues. But a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.

Fox Hallucinates...Again

A GOP state senator meets with Wisconsin protesters. The senator himself described the crowd as loud but friendly. But Fox sees "union thugs" who "attack a senator". You know, if you are going to run a story like that, you might want to talk to the people who were actually there. Assuming, of course, that accuracy matters to you just a bit in the first place.

New York Fed Making a Big Mistake

Simon Johnson, author of "13 Bankers", points out how the New York Fed is captive to Wall Street and the big banks. If it is allowed to lead on economic policy, we are doomed to another cycle of risky banking and bailouts.

The Truth About End-of-Life Planning

It's a shame that politicos who lie about legislation get rewarded for doing so (by getting to keep their jobs). This is what end-of-life planning really is. So what is end-of-life planning? It is, for one thing, not a death panel. On the contrary, the health care system that has existed in America prior to health care reform could be said to have been dominated by the equivalent of "death panels." They take the form of millions of denials, exclusions and outrageous premium increases that Americans with serious or terminal illnesses have received each and every year when they turned to their health insurers expecting help.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Games Good

We've always known that learning is enhanced if it can be turned into a game. Perhaps gaming could become a whole new model for teaching and teachers could become learning designers.

Algae converted to butanol

Consumes CO2. Cleans nitrogen and phosphorous from waterways. Generates
an alternative to ethanol that is actually better fuel. There's a
sustainable future after peak oil.

Unlimited Optical Microscopy

By using a trick with a nanosphere, this optical microscope gets around the theoretical limit of magnification due to the wave-lengths of light in the visual spectrum. It could be equivalent to impact of the original invention of the microscope.