Monday, April 30, 2007

Compulsive lying

I ran across a story on ThinkProgress that is just too rich for me to stomach. This exchange reminds me of Bush saying "we were never about stay the course" some 6 months ago.
Snow was asked about former CIA Director George Tenet’s remarks from 60 Minutes:

TENET: We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction, and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America. Period.

Snow responded, “Wait a minute, Chris. The president has been saying exactly that all along. I don’t know what the headline is.” He insisted “there has been no attempt to try to link Saddam to September 11.”

I believe that this points to a pathological or compulsive lying problem...

"There are a number of reasons that people lie. The first is fear. This is the most common reason that people may lie, and they are taking shelter from a perceived punishment. It may be because they know they have done something wrong a single time, in which case it is not compulsive lying. But if they are always in fear of being punished, it may become a habit, which is a second reason for lying. In this case, it may become compulsive lying, which is lying by reflex. Even when confronted by the truth, they insist the lie is the truth in this case. "


Thursday, April 26, 2007

One year Blog-versary.

I started the time-is-energy blog one year ago. Yea! This is also my 100th post.

As part of my one year celebration combined with a belated Earth-Day update, let me list several steps I have taken in the past year to reduce my CO2 footprint.

1) Purchased carbon offsets: a TerraPass to offset my annual car CO2 emissions (I have to renew soon) and Native Energy wind power RECs to offset 400kwh/month of electricity.
2) Purchased and installed ~150 CFLs (90% went into my parent’s vacation house and my siblings houses). Prices are all over the map for CFLs, but I found they sell for as little as $1.67 [15W] and $2.50 [25W] at Home Depot. I also suggested (in writing) to my building management that it replace 400 incandescent bulbs in back stairways with CFLs to save ~$10k/year in electricity expenses…something they have begun to do.
3) Purchased a WattX meter capable of displaying how much energy is being used (& the $ cost) by a specific appliance.
4) Advised my parents to install a solar thermal system for heating water on their country house. The system is able to offset (not use) the equivalent of 20 kWh/day. They love it!
5) Calculated that per watt an “always on” electronic device costs ~$1/yr (at $0.12/kwh)
6) Discarded (actually freecycled) my one-time favorite 300watt halogen lamp (torchiere). After realizing how much money it costs to use each night (thanks to WattX).
7) Purchased several sets of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. I’ve reduced my disposable battery waste stream by at least 2 AA batteries/month.
8) Decided to purchase only recycled paper products (napkins, paper towels and toilet paper) mostly Earth First brand. Recycled paper uses much less energy to make and uses less water than virgin paper—oh and it saves trees!
9) Decided to purchase only recycled printer paper (minimum 30% post consumer).
10) Altered my highway driving behavior. Before: the driver that passes 95% of the cars and trucks on the road. After: the driver being passed by 95% of them. Speeding wastes a crazy amount of gas: 15% each 10 miles over the limit. I now look at those cars zooming past with pity rather than envy.
11) Installed Local Cooling applet on my computer which turns off my computer when not in use saving ~100kWh since December. (Local Cooling's reported savings are only estimates.)
12) Filed two patents on products that use solar energy. One uses sunlight to purify water. The second covers a solar panel that generates power with 30% fewer cells than is used in a standard panel.

As that inane oil company comercial says..."its a start". Oh and new ideas are always welcome...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Great CFL Giveaway

This is really neat. Home Depot gave away CFLs for Earth Day. That sounds a lot like a suggestion I made back in May 2006. Its great to see someone else thought of it too.

On Body Counts

I have not blogged about happenings in Iraq for many weeks. There is no good solution to the mess we’ve made, but the best remaining option is to leave Iraq as soon as possible. I am glad that Senator Reid has finally told the American people that the war is lost (technically he said he believes that the SecDef and SecState know the war is lost). Of course that does beg the question, what war are we even fighting in Iraq? I no longer know…

The “facts on the ground” are so unimaginably awful that I simply can’t get my head around how we would feel if similar mayhem, chaos and death existed on our streets. At the same time that Our Dear Leader is telling us that we need to be patient because we are beginning to make progress, about 2800 Iraqis are dying each month. That is roughly the number of Americans that died on 9/11 (over 5 years later we still have not gotten over this) despite the fact that the US has a population 12 times greater than Iraq. So on a proportional basis, Iraq is experiencing a 9/11 scale attack every 2.5 days. Any surprise that most Iraqis want us to leave?

I saw a speculative news article suggesting that the Maliki government in Baghdad was not providing civilian body counts to the UN. The story reminded me that it had been months since I visited, so I looked in and found their count at about 65,000. The actual number of civilians dead as a result of our decision to invade Iraq is undoubtedly several times this “headline” figure (i.e. literally a tally of deaths reported in newspaper headlines). Iraqbodycount now offers a 2 page weekly round-up of the dead which includes a day by day tally and gives a little more insight into where and who it is that died.

For the week ending April 22, 2007 they record over 700 Iraqi civilian deaths. How we would react if 8,400 US civilians died in violent attacks last week? Can you imagine 260 Virginia Tech shootings in one week? I can’t.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A glimmer of hope or a mirage?

I was reading Barrons last night and ran across a hopeful side-note in an article about a mining equipment company's fortunes.

"U.S electricity demand, half of it supplied by coal fired generators, was little changed in '06, a highly unusual occurance."

A bit later in the article this was followed by
"the flatlining of demand for electricity in the U.S. last year marked just the fourth time that's happened in the last half century."

This is the first I've heard of flat demand for electricity in the US last year, and I'll reserve judgement on this until I get further confirmation, but wowsers if this is true, this is a HUGE development. It means people are starting to conserve on a national basis. Of course electricity prices have risen significantly across the country (about 5% year over year), so perhaps this is just the normal demand drop that comes from higher prices. I frankly don't care what the source of the drop is so long as it is real. Our energy problem is vastly more solvable if we are not using energy at a rapidly increasing rate 2-3% compound growth y-o-y. Even small downward revisions to the rate of energy growth reduce the tread mill effect of having to generate more energy just to maintain the current standard for a growing economy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More ways to make cheaper solar cells

Here is a link to a new approach to improving solar cell performance. Since it had 3D and solar in its title, you can bet I dropped what I was doing and read it carefully. A few years ago I read about micropatterning and improving the output of silicon solar cells, so this seems like work that develops the concept. It is a neat idea; building micro-structures on the surface of the silicon cell traps more light and thereby boosts the cell output.

The MIT review had another clever idea about building solar cells that a friend sent me a link to a couple weeks ago. This one uses a different kind of microstructure on the bottom of the cell (photonic crystal) to redirect light, which might have bounced off the bottom surface of the cell and out, to travel through more of the bulk silicon material increasing the chance of generating power.

Both articles report on laboratory results, which can take a couple years to make it into commercial products, but they demonstrate new routes for reducing the cost of solar cells. All good. Even better, my 3D solar panel design can use either (or a hybrid combination) type of cell and further boost performance. :)

Friday, April 13, 2007

A new environment

It is wonderful to see how much the political environment can change in a year. Tomorrow there is a nationwide "protest" march planned to encourage congress to do something about reducing carbon emissions in the US.

Last week there was the decision by the supreme court that the EPA can regulate CO2 emissions from cars (and other sources) under the Clean Air Act. Gore's movie graphically raised the profile of climate change to the point of a national discussion. The recently released IPCC reports confirm to those of us who have been watching, and makes the case for those who haven't, that the problem is grave and growing faster than we (scientists & society) thought just 5 years ago. Despite the diminishing but still vocal "clima-skeptic lobby" many are beginning to realize that we are in a race to save the planet...and since we are barreling down the highway in reverse gear, it is time to remove our collective feet from the accelerator.

Cool experiments

I was absolutely delighted to learn from the latest issue of Physics Today (subscription may be required) that a couple of things I thought I knew are no longer entirely true.

1) Resolution (the ability/separation necessary to distinguish two points as separate) is limited by roughly the wavelength/2.
In fact experiments have shown that resolution on the order of wavelength/30 is entirely feasible given ghost reflections and time reversed signal transmissions. Ghost reflections are signals that bounce off obstructions (buildings or mountains) which effectively provide a time delayed signal. A time reversed signal is one in which the signal is played in reverse order. If AEIOU is the “forward” signal the time reversed signal would be UOIEA.

2) Diamonds are the hardest substance.
Over a narrow temperature range experiments have shows that a tin alloy (containing 10% barium titanate) achieves a stiffness, or resistance to compression (measured as Young’s modulus) 7-8 times that of diamond and ~ 40 times that of steel.

Both of the results appear to be far from optimized, expect substantial improvement in the years to come.