Sunday, December 31, 2006

the price of corn, fuel and starvation

With the increasing popularity of alcohol fermented from corn as a fuel additive, the demand for corn has passed production, and reserves are shrinking. Before very long, this is sure to result in higher prices. Those who'll be most effected by those higher prices are those on the economic fringes for whom corn is a dietary staple, and the rest of us will see them passed through as higher prices for eggs, chicken, and pork.

My point? Only that we shouldn't be expecting further relief from soon-to-be-declining oil production from the direction of alcohol fermented from corn, or from any grain for that matter. That's not to say that there isn't still a lot of potential in biofuels, but we've already soaked up the excess grain production that made the use of alcohol fermented from grain as a fuel seem reasonable, and we'd do better to look to sources other than grain.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

getting on with it all

Well, that (the election) turned out relatively well, at least as compared with the previous three general elections.

The feeling I'm left with is more relief than elation, relief that the sails of the ship that has been carrying us toward disaster are now hanging limp, denied the strong winds that were previously filling them. We're still on that ship and it's still pointed in the same directon, but it has at least paused along that course.

This is a time for renewal: new projects (and new support for old-but-worthy ones), new hope, new commitment.

This is a time for living as though there might still be a future.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vote...just do it!

If you haven't already (via early voting or mail-in voting) be sure to remember to vote this coming Tuesday.

If you have a choice, request a paper ballot.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tibet: China's blind spot

It seems that Chinese border guards have killed at least one member of a group of refugees who were attempting to cross over into Nepal. The website of the International Campaign for Tibet is following the story closely.

Boing Boing is reporting that witnesses have come under pressure from Chinese diplomats in Nepal, who have been trying to suppress (or spin) the story.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

election theft & breach of contract

As Jane Jacobs observed in Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, the two don't hybridize very well; instead you get phenomena like the mob, who don't properly belong to nor abide by the rules of either realm.

Were this not the case, the revolving-door crowd that populates the Bush administration might better appreciate that when they steal an election they are breaking the most fundamental agreement that holds this society together, and breeding something far uglier than could ever be mounted by foreign terrorists.

Or maybe that's what they want, an excuse to get heavy-handed with domestic dissidents, who keep pushing America to live up to its ideals and face up to inconvenient realities like the environmental consequences of business-as-ususal.

If the latter, then they're probably wondering what is taking so long, and probably not appreciating the degree to which their awkward attempts to portray Bush and company as being anything approaching up to the job are mindbendingly stupefying.

They shouldn't be surprised if, once this is over, Bush turns out to be the very last Republican President, the Party having been widely recognized as being rotten at its core.

Monday, September 18, 2006

50 ways to win an election, revisited

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

That's the title of an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., appearing on the website of Rolling Stone. And, given the evidence, the answer appears to be a resounding "YES, it was STOLEN!"

The inescapable conclusion is that, absent massive abuses of the election process and outright fraud, John Kerry would now be President.

The number of people who belong in prison for their participation in these abuses must number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

a direct approach to dealing with atmospheric hydrocarbons

According to a study published in Nature, and picked up by the San Jose Mercury News, "methane -- a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide -- is being released from the permafrost at a rate five times faster than thought."

The atmosphere does naturally clean itself of hydrocarbons, but it's a slow process, likely to be overwhelmed by the melting permafrost. Even so, there are some things we can do besides throwing up our hands and declaring that all is lost.

One way of dealing with methane and other atmospheric hydrocarbons would be to build large solar gas turbines with their exhausts pointed skyward. (Note that this is not a reference to the Caterpillar subsidiary Solar Turbines, although there's no reason why they couldn't supply such hardware.)

A jet turbine has three main components:
* a compressor
* a heating (combustion) chamber
* a turbine to power the compressor

The trick to making it work is to add enough energy in the heating chamber to overcome the inefficiency in using the turbine to tap energy from the exhaust to power the compressor. Do that and you get self-sustained operation.

So, arrange the turbine shaft vertically with the turbine at the top, and focus sunlight from a field of heliostats onto the heating chamber.

Preferably mount the turbine assembly on a tower, high enough above the surface to be clear of most aeolian grit.

Install in a desert in the northern hemisphere, where most of the permafrost is located.

With a large enough field of heliostats, you should be able to tap off some energy for the generation of electricity.

Compression would provide some heating and the remainder would have to be added by the heliostats. For the purpose of oxidizing methane and other hydrocarbons, the temperature of the air passing through the heating chamber would have to surpass their ignition temperatures. Most likely this would happen as a matter of course, as the temperature necessary to provide self-sustaining operation would probably be considerably higher than the ignition temperature of any hydrocarbon.

The larger the scale of the installation, the higher into the atmostphere the hot exhaust air would be pushed. Push it high enough and it will tend to spread out above the turbulent lower atmosphere. Short of that, the rising, cooling column of air may produce weather downwind.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Kingdom Coming - discussion of the book

The WELL -- you know, that venerable online community that Comcast has seen fit to put on their blacklist because members were forwarding mail (including spam) to themselves -- has a few world-readable conferences. One of these, Inkwell, is mainly discussions with authors about their recently published books.

For the last two weeks, the featured discussion has been with author Michelle Goldberg about her book "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism". This will soon be superseded as the featured topic, but the following link should continue to work indefinitely...

If you care about the future of America, this is a critically important subject.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

there must be fifty ways to win an election

...besides being the candidate with the best interests of one's constituents more at heart...

to list a few:

  • suppress contributions to your opponent by making nonsupporters doubt income dependability

  • make sure your supporters vote early

  • challenge the registration of probable nonsupporters

  • on election day, tie up traffic in areas dominated by nonsupporters

  • hack the voting machine

Just a reminder that confidence in the integrity of the process is a prerequisite to faith in democracy.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

may you live in interesting times

Oh, MY! Airliner bombings narrowly averted, Israeli troops back in Lebanon, and now a possible breakthrough in the JonBenet Ramsey case! What was it we were concerned about before all of this hit the front page? I don't remember.

Actually, I'd been living in something of a cocoon, with my attention more-or-less glued to what's in store for and from Apple Computer, with the approach of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, now already a week in the past. Good stuff, if you're an Apple fan, but maybe a bit abstruse for a general audience. Check back in January for the more accessible MacWorld version.

I live in Boulder, so that Ramsey case development is real news, although I haven't followed it as closely as I might have had I not gone straight to Google to run a search on the name "John Mark Karr" when there were only two results instead of seven million, and made the mistake of clicking on one of those links. (No, I am *NOT* going to post it!) I also made the mistake of assuming, probably wrongly, that the page that link pointed to was his own. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't; I don't need to know bad enough to take another look.

Cocoons can be nice, but I'm trading the old one in on a roomier model.

more changes

I should have known it would happen. I'd been ignoring all participatory options on the web -- other than The WELL -- for so long that, when I finally decided to leap over the wall, I really didn't know which of the available tools to use nor exactly what I meant to use them for.

I started out, just a couple of weeks ago, by creating a Google group, which I've already chosen to let languish for the time being, having replaced it with a blog for the same purpose. (The group may eventually come in handy, particularly if Google has plans for an update to the group software comparable to the one they're now rolling out for Blogger, so I don't want to close it, not just yet in any case.)

And, just this morning, I started a second special purpose blog.

I'll try not to go hog-wild with this, being at least a nominal believer in Occam's razor, but it made sense to spin off at least these two projects rather than to try to deal with either one of them in a general purpose blog.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

sunlight on snow banks

"snowmelt" was my login on The Well for awhile, and "lacy ice + heat" was a pseudonym I used there.

It's supposed to evoke the thought of being high in the mountains on a sunny day and watching as the accumulated snow slowly melts and gathers together into little streams that go plunging down the mountain side.

But it's a double entendre, and the idea of melting through deception is also intended.

Just two different kinds of warmth... ;-)