Friday, August 24, 2007

Blog Action Day

This seems like a simple enough idea.

A bit of enVIRALmentalism sweeping the blogosphere!

"Resistance is futile."

Check back on or around Oct 15th to see what I manage to come up with.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I don't know why I even listen anymore...

I was astonished by the audacity of our dear leader's re-interpretation of history today.

Somehow the lesson Bush learned from Vietnam was that after the US withdrew, thousands of people died. Never mind the millions we killed and the 50,000+ US troops that died over 15+ years. Or that the domino theory of communism never occurred...which might lead one to question the assertion that we must win in Iraq at any cost...sigh there are so many things wrong with Bush's analysis I don't know where to start...Olbermann has five.

As quoted from the BBC "The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," he told war veterans in Missouri.

Is Bush that crazy or does he think we are that stupid?
He makes it sound like the tragedy only started the day we left when in fact 80% of the victims were dead the day we withdrew, even allowing Bush's shaky analysis that it was our withdrawal from Vietnam that caused the Cambodia genocidal regime...many argue that it was our interference/meddling that actually gave rise to Pol Pot.
On the other hand he does a wonderful job of quoting Bin Laden and Zawahiri's threats against the US. Telling us "we must listen to the words of our enemy. We must listen to what they say."
Since when does the President of the United States of America go around regurgitating terrorist propaganda?
I mean Jesus H. CHRIST this guy didn't even listen to Tony Blair, one of his closest allies/cheerleaders in this whole Iraq misadventure.
Why do we have to listen to Bush repeat the threats of our enemies? Shameful scare tactics.
Damn it all, I'm starting to think Bush is really bat-shit-insane.
If one were to listen to Bin Laden at all, the take aways would be what were his motivations for attacking the US (with the goal of figuring out ways to counter/diffuse Al-Queda concerns) not to quote Bin Laden's wet fantasies of destroying the west or his ridiculous threats against us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Preventable catastrophes...

I've been reminded a number of times recently that there are two types of catastrophes: preventable and unpreventable. We generally dump all natural disasters into the unpreventable (but don't for a moment assume this means one can't or shouldn't prepare for such) category and man-made stuff into the preventable bucket.

Take for example the spectacular Minnesota bridge collapse from a couple weeks ago. On first viewing the footage of the bridge disintegrating, one can only think how incredible and unlikely the event was: surely no one could have predicted such an outcome? Almost like that little storm that blew into New Orleans a couple years back right? Well unfortunately no (and yes to the storm).

We soon learned that the bridge was deemed deficient and that tens of thousands of bridges around the country fall into this ambiguous classification which seems to indicate that experts believe (but cannot prove) that the bridges could pose a danger. Then we learn that in fact this bridge has been deemed deficient for over 15 years! If that isn't enough to make you wonder if the collapse might have been prevented, this article in the Star-Tribune sure sealed the deal for me. It comes down to a question of this case about $2 million (of which $1.5 million was already budgeted) of repair work that got put on hold when someone decided it would be cheaper to inspect the bridge and replace/reinforce only the supports they could prove were unsound. Sadly they ran out of time to inspect the bridge (if only they had started sooner!), in fact even the $2 million repair job might have been too late, having only been approved in Nov. 2006.

Then there was the mine collapse in Colorado, which snowballed when a resuce team was caught in a subsequent collapse killing (an additional?) 3 involved in the rescue attempt. Every time I hear about this mine or that mine accident (and there seem to be lost of coal mining accidents) I am first saddened but then invariably outraged as I hear that the mine was cited for 100 < x < 300 safety violations in the last year or two.

As Arianna Huffington notes in an excellent post "Mine safety regulators far more interested in looking out for the financial well-being of mine owners than for the physical well-being of miners. "

It seems that all coal mines are dangerous and miners in general have lousy working conditions but can't we figure out a way to improve safety, even if mines cost a bit more to run and coal costs a bit more to buy?

Finally I place war in the ultimate preventable catastrophe category and I found this weekend's NYT op-ed from seven enlisted soldiers ending 15 month tours of duty in Iraq an excellent summary of the clusterfuck we find our military embroiled in over there.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Well blow me down!

I am astonished but very grateful that the Illinois legislature managed to put together a solid RPS:

"The RPS will require Illinois utilities to supply 2% of their power from renewable energy sources by 2008, 10% by 2015, and 25% by 2025."

Since that 2008 number sounds really soon to me, I checked out the EIA website to learn that IL used 14,452 thousand MWh of electricity in April 2007 and in the first four months of 2007 we generated 554 thousand MWh of electricity from renewables. Assuming those numbers are indicative of what we can expect year round, that is about 138 thousand MWh/month or almost exactly 1%. That means we will have to double our renewable supply by next year.

"There are now 5,500 megawatts (MW) of wind power in the development pipeline in Illinois" quoted from the article on the IL it appears we may well be able to achieve this.

The legislature also passed a mandate to increase efficiency by what looks like a growing percentage each year.

Whoa, IL is mandating more efficiency AND renewables starting next enlightened. GOOD JOB GUYS!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Aluminum over copper for heat transfer?

I've recently been contemplating the connection between energy use and heat transfer.

"Heating and cooling account for about 56% of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes" according to the US DOE.

If we use more than half of our energy to heat and cool, then our energy problem is basically a heat transfer problem.

When engineers think of heat transfer (and I'm fairly sure only engineers think about heat transfer) they usually think of copper tubing and aluminum plates/fins.

One example close to my heart is solar thermal panels (for heating water) which primarily use copper plates and tubing. There has been a dramatic rise in copper prices, 5-6 times what they were a decade ago, and as a result aluminum (despite its own price rise over the past decade) now offers a 75% better performance on a W/mK/$ basis. Perhaps panel manufacturers are adjusting but I didn't see any indication of this at a recent solar conference. Does anyone know of a manufacturer switching to aluminum? I'm pretty sure heat sinks for computers made the jump to aluminum a long time ago (or never even considered copper).

Usually people select copper for heat transfer applications because it has a high thermal conductivity of 400 W/mk compared to 237 W/mK for Aluminum. But copper now costs three times as much as aluminum on a per pound basis {$3.5 vs $1.2}. Solar panel manufactures (for thermal applications) should switch to aluminum plates and tubing.

Copper has a higher density, so for space constrained/high performance applications it might still win, but for covering large areas, I wouldn't use copper. Am I missing some third factor?

And just in general, have companies that make heating and cooling equipment (like air conditioners/refridgerators) changed to aluminum?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Progress in Iraq?

I'm sure you've read the NYT opinion piece spewing happy talk about Iraq, which even VP Cheney is referencing in self-defence during CNN interviews. No longer are these self proclaimed critics of the war, looking for victory or spreading they seek only "sustainable stability" (funny that, since Iraq was plenty "stable" before we went in guns blazing...).

At the other end of the stability curve, I checked in at and found that reported civilian deaths now surpass 71,236 (average). Perhaps the Iraqis themselves are not looking for quite that much "stability"...

A little web/publicity...

A couple days ago I ran across a neat website called The Sietch that promotes DIY type energy projects. I thought some of the projects were very cool and decided to offer up my solar distiller as a project. Check out the blog post here and the distiller here. The pictures turned out well.