28 August 2007

Apple vs. Twinkie the Battle for the Farm Bill

Miss South Carolina Explains the Need for Maps...I think

27 August 2007

JackLewis.net Fighting Internet Communism One Block at a Time

Those who keep up with the internet buzz, you may have already heard about JackLewis.net. But for those of us just catching up, aparently he is fighting the new "good fight" and blocking Firefox users. You can learn more about the policy simply by attempting to view the site with Firefox. It's a pretty interesting read if you have some spare time. Some of the best right-wing propoganda I have encountered in a while. I find to be Jack Lewis (actually a psuedonym for Danny Carlton) to be aggressive, trite, and well condescending. I have had a round with him in this comments section and have to say I haven't witnessed such confusing logic in quite a while.

Check it out if you have the time. Witness the irony and hypocrisies. Apparently I am ignorant and therefore a Liberal. Had I not stumbled across the site I wouldn't have ever known. I have attached a sample of the irony just as a preview. Just make sure you check it out in a non-Mozilla browser.

20 August 2007

United States Secretary of Transportation on Non-Car Transportation

It was strange... this morning I pumped up my tires on my bike, wheeled it out the door and down the steps and appeared 20 minutes and 5 miles later at school. I have always been lead to believe that this phenomenon is was referred to as "transportation". Now I would think that transportation carried out under any means would still fall under the authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I would think that bike paths or trails are a segment of our infrastructure that needs to be increasingly emphasized.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters has a different opinion. In a PBS interview she listed bike paths and trails as diversions of our infrastructure moneys. Now I would think that someone slammed with media accusations of crumbling infrastructure would look for options that would relieve some of the pressure on our existing infrastructure rather than simply trying to repair all of it immediately and simultaneously. Perhaps with an aging infrastructure now is the best time to insert refinements and to fix the original errors that were made when it was created (such as centering the nations entire transportation system around the car).

I believe that Ms. Peters is sending a rather clear signal to those who cannot afford to own a car or those that attempt to make themselves part of the solution... the tax dollars that they invest into transportation will be used to keep drivers of cars safe, non-drivers will remain on the shoulder of the road where they belong. Equity in infrastructure is simply out of the question investments shall follow the will of the majority.

Shall we judge the country by the majority or by the minority? Certainly, by the minority. The mass are animal, in state of pupilage, and nearer the chimpanzee.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.

-Samuel Adams

09 August 2007

Rep. McHenry says that bikes aren't the answer

Umm... though he fails to say what will save us, bikes can't be the answer because they come from the 19th century... but then again didn't coal power and cars too?

08 August 2007

In case you couldn't tear up enough stuff with your Hummer.

I ran across this video of a Russian military vehicle that uses screw propulsion rather than wheels or tracks.

07 August 2007

Ethanol Debate

I found this video and felt that I should add it to complement my previous ethanol post.

Alexandre Verdier's redesign of the Westfalia

Sorry I couldn't in good conscience miss posting this thing. It's beautiful. I now renounce my goals of owning a home and aspire to own this.

More on data centers

The other day I pointed to some information from Earth2Tech concerning data centers and the necessity of switching them to green energy. Since then I have seen quite a few interesting articles pop-up relating to these data centers.

Ars Technica has pointed out an EPA study which indicates that power consumption at data centers doubled between 2000 and 2006. They further predict that we will again see this figure double by 2011. These figures don't factor in developments in online technologies or unforeseeable data demands, nor do they account for power saving developments in computing technology that we might hope to see. The report did however point out some of the cost savings that could be realized by implementing energy efficient technologies.

TreeHugger posted some relatively disturbing statistics on exactly what this power usage is going to. According to the calculations posted Second Life (a recreational, immersive, online community) utilizes as much power as the country of Brazil to power its avatars. Some of the data demands that we have as a society are now an absolute necessity (i.e. 911 centers, licensing databases, flight records), but when we look at how much is going into recreational ventures the issue takes on a whole new light.

While I am continuing to beat the data center topic to death, I must point out the Sun Microsystem Project Blackbox that Inhabitat did a story on days ago. This project places data centers at the site of need and helps to satisfying informational needs with a mobile, flexible, and scalable solution. They are designed with energy efficiency in mind. Not to mention the energy savings that can be had by lowering data tranmission needs (i.e. data can be handled on site rather than request being transmitted to a distant data center and processed information being transmitted back). The project utilizes shipping containers that are designed to be placed on trucks or barges. As a personal testimonial, we used these containers for certain sets of equipment in Afghanistan and they really do offer a great deal in terms of boosting efficiency.

What if terrorists killed as many people as cars accidents have?

While the tragedy of 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 has justified two wars, in which thousands of U.S. soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice, the tragedy of 245,000 lives lost in traffic accidents on the nation's roads during the same period has justified . . . pretty much no response at all.

read more | digg story

Publix reveals new committment to inundate the environment with antibiotics

I have much of my time as a student working as a Pharmacy Technician in order to pay the bills. As much I loved directing the elderly population to our store restroom and informing people that the shaving supplies were on the isle with the large sign that says shaving supplies, I can't say that I am upset about not spending my time there now.

I remember Wal-Mart launching the $4 generic drug program and the backlashed it fueled throughout the pharmacy community. Stores like Eckerd, Rite-Aid, CVS, and Kerr Drug (discount pharmacy chains) have trouble competing with programs such as this because they don't have quite the opportunity as large discount retailers to recoup the loss before the customer exits the store. You know you stop by Wal-Mart, you're waiting on your prescription, you realize your underwear has become a bit worn, you stop over a pick up some more. On the way to the underwear the kids start screaming you figure maybe you'll pick up a couple of boxes of wine to relax with that night. You think, "Hey I'm better than this", and decide to class things up a bit because seriously you shouldn't have to drink such quality wine from a mason jar?. You go to get some nice red wine glasses realize they have a 20 pack and think, "Hey I should have a party!". Three hours and $250 later you leave Wal-Mart wondering if you actually saved any money.

So now, in order to attract customers, the grocery retailer Publix has decided to provide a free ($0) 14-day supply of several common antibiotics to customers of any age with a doctor's prescription. Now I am sure this will cause upper-management in pharmacy chains around the country to flounder for a competitive solution, and I am sure the poor non-chain local drug chains will continue to watch their profits dip further while hoping that superior customer service and hometown appeal will keep them afloat. But what does all this mean for the environment.

The United Nations System Wide Earth Watch has published a statement in which they said, "Heavy use of antibiotics in people and animals, encouraged by commercial pressures, risks causing significant antibiotic contamination of the natural environment and consequent development of resistance in communities of non-disease organisms." I would qualify giving away free drugs as a significant commercial pressure that could proliferate the use of antibiotics through removing a hurdle when it comes time for consumers to obtain them. As Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop, a supermarket consulting firm in Barrington, Ill points out, "Nothing sells like free".

I realize that antibiotics are vital to human health and there are problems with health care cost in this country. But, having worked in a pharmacy, antibiotics were not typically a drug that people had difficulty collecting the money for. Social welfare agencies and even non-profit groups will often gladly provide assistance for these drug purchases when necessary. Instead I think this program will cause consumers to ask for such drugs (they can be requested without a doctors visit via a phone call to the office) at much for frequent intervals and will allow them to avoid thinking about whether or not they actually need the prescription. The fast-paced lifestyle that we find ourselves in allows little time for illness and by providing a free quick fix for illness, I think that Publix is just going to exacerbate the problem of antibiotics in rivers and groundwater supplies by making a readily available and over used medical treatment more over prescribed. On a weekly basis I saw individuals come into our store to get an antibiotic for a cough they had developed two days ago or a cold that they felt coming on. Hell, I'll be tempted to do it if I think I can get some free relief.

06 August 2007

A more intelligently constructed piece on food mileage.

The article that I railed against in yesterday's post has generated a considerable amount of discussion on the blogosphere. I have seen the point made in a number of comment battles that the author was simply attempting to make a strong point about food mileage. I still maintain that the author's article was ineffectively written and poorly researched.

The New York Times on the other hand wrote an excellent article to question recent proclamations of the importance of a local-only diet. Books have been released proselytizing diets with strict guidelines on the distance that food should be obtained from (i.e. The 100-Mile Diet). To be fair, though this movement is gaining momentum as an ideal of the environmentalist, it is hardly new. The idea is sometime stated as a pillar of the macrobiotic lifestyle/diet for the purpose of holistically forming a dietary relationship with one's surroundings.

The main point in the NY Times piece is that in some agriculturally devoid areas, a diet of local-only foods could be deficient in certain nutrients. It is hardly environmentally conscious to rearrange humanity into areas where food supplies can be abundantly produced, nor would those areas be agriculturally viable for any length of time after concentrating large numbers of humans there. Not to mention that certain staple foods might not grow within certain agricultural regions, although some exceptions would most certainly be permissible with spices being an item of note. In the United States alone organizing diet according to local availability would be difficult at best. It would be down right confusing for chain restaurants. I believe that we as American crave some sort of standardization of cuisine to prevent loss of stability and personal comfort/security when traveling between agricultural zones.

A point that came up in yesterday's post, is the concept of externalities. The NY Times highlights studies that have recently tried to compare local and long distance food products through a full analysis including many externalities. The studies reveal that carbon footprints could be lower for some regions conducive for production of certain agricultural items, even when factoring in the carbon emissions created by transportation. For example, although I can get locally grown tomatoes in North Carolina it might emit less carbon to obtain the same tomatoes from Georgia because the conditions there are more conducive and would require less in extraneous inputs (i.e. fertilizer and pesticides).

Of course I have to make the plug for the veggies and point out that it requires considerable less transportation and energy to produce foods for veg*n diets. Think about it. Animals eat grains or vegetables (cows and flaked corn). Those animal foods must be grown, maintained (fertilizers and pesticides), and transported to the animals. Then the animals must be transported a processing facility before they are transported to our favorite grocery store. Veg*n diets provide considerable saving in overall transportation and extraneous outputs. I do understand that animals eat lesser quality foods than we can eat and often times are fed waste products, but there is still a savings with a veg*n diet.

What to do? Should we begin to develop regionally specific diets? Should we begin posting an items carbon footprint similar to nutrition posting? Should we all go vegan? I believe the answer is to get more answers. With a great number of environmental problems our science and information systems are finally reaching the point were we can begin providing intelligent well-founded solutions to complex problems such as this. Personal research also goes a long way into uncovering which products should absolutely be left our of our shopping carts. Also by all means don't further contribute to the problem by listening to this guy. Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma is an excellent read on this topic.

05 August 2007

A collection of scary math from across the pond.

An article posted yesterday on the UK's TimesOnline claims that walking to purchase necessities is actually more energy intensive than driving there. The article further proposes that we sit eat less and drive to save energy. Seriously now... What the fuck? The article does provide some clues that one could use to debate the calculations as they are all based on omnivoruous diets with heavy reliance on the energy contained within meat (which would be subject to the "rule of tens").

I would like to see the calculations that the author of the article performed in order to arrive at this conclusion. I will point out that I am sure there are several missing parts of the equation that the author failed to factor in.
  1. Walking requires a far less extensive infrastructure than driving. Did the author calculate decreased caloric expenditure due to the fact that highway crews and their equipment are no longer essential.
  2. Did the author calculate the overall production cost of the car in terms of carbon emissions? What about reclaiming the materials or their disposal? Did the author calculate the long term effects of having to extract material "A" from landfills after it is no longer readily available in nature.
  3. What baselines did the author use concerning caloric intake? I would estimate that the average American would consume a similar level of calories rather walking or driving. It seems difficult to notice a difference in the two modes of transportation if that's the case.
I could go on this for a while, but I digress. It is disheartening to see pieces published as I believe they allow members of industrialized nations to justify their behaviors. I will refute the author's calculation as pure fiction and a failure to properly compute the full range of externalities. The use of fossil fuels in our cars has been subsidized for decades as we as consumers have never been asked to pay for the cost of our damages, with walking or other human-powered transportation the cost is more upfront and tangible.

04 August 2007

So it turns out that Satan backs ethanol...

I remember sitting in classes just under a year ago and hearing how ethanol had the potenial to offset gas emissions and could possibly be a knight in shining armor for the commuting community. I guess we should have double checked the math. Now we are all reeling from being brought eye to eye with the harsh implications of ramping up ethanol production. We were all apathetic when the tortilla prices increased for impoverished Mexicans. We were all dismayed when the price of popcorn started to creep up. Some of us were outraged to discover beer price increases as a result of ethanol.

Stories in the press which originally favored ethanol in its rise to political power have begun to fade away. Jeff Goodell published an article in Rolling Stone last week that will likely be a powerful tool for those evangelizing the "don't put food in your gas tank" side of the issue. The title reveals the no punches held nature of the piece. It is titled Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles.

I still predict that non-corn sources of ethanol will be researched for quite sometime and will continue to be touted by our politicians as the savior of all humanity. Cellulosic ethanol is the next fuel alternative lurking in the shadows as we attempt to find a way to convert "waste" from agricultural and forestry operations into "go juice". I question the intelligence of this move as this supposed waste is extremely important ecologically as a source of soil nutrients necessary for the regeneration of botanical materials. Not to mention that leaving the "waste" on the ground (where it is intended by nature and physics to stay) would aid in preventing soil erosion and further nutrient loss. I guess that once we remove all the waste that would have decomposed and naturally fertilized the soil and add our own synthetic fertilizers. But wait won't the transportation needs of this switch-up require increased quantities of fuel of some sort.

People mock those who attempt to invent the perpetual motion machine, but so far the proposals I have seen from the ethanol supporters seem to be a type of perpetual motion machine. We will require large inputs of petroleum based products to get ethanol production ramped up to a level where it can even begin to offset a percentage of petroleum demands and then we will have to continue to invest the ethanol we are "harvesting" to apply ecological patches that need to be put in place along the way. I would imagine the economics of the situation function in a similar manner.

The photo in this post is originally from TreeHugger. Maybe later this week I will rant about the new consumer push for plug in hybrids.

Use the sun as your pen

I ran across a post on Instructables that was well worth repeating. There is always a focus on how the sun and solar energy can help mankind do more work and be more productive, but what about fun in the sun.
The instructions give step by step detail on using the sun to engrave images into wood using items you probably have lying around the house. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks to provide a humane alternative to popping ants with a magnifying glass.

Carbon Conscious Consumer launches campaign to slow carbon emmissions

Carbon Conscious Consumer

Carbon Conscious Consumer has taken advantage of Web 2.0 social technologies and is seeking to affect reductions in carbon emissions through actions of individual consumers. Users can pledge to not drive for one day each week and can earn rewards by encouraging others to sign the pledge.

read more | digg story

Carbon Conscious Consumer launches campaign to slow carbon emmissions

Carbon Conscious Consumer has taken advantage of Web 2.0 social technologies and is seeking to affect reductions in carbon emissions through actions of individual consumers. Users can pledge to not drive for one day each week and can earn rewards by encouraging others to sign the pledge.

read more | digg story

03 August 2007

Green Base Jumping! Just cool.

 
 

Sent to you by Josh via Google Reader:

 
 

via EQUITY GREEN by Garrett on Aug 03, 2007

This video is crazy...base jumping off the blade of a giant wind turbine. Now we're talking sustainability!


 
 

Things you can do from here:

 
 

02 August 2007

The Greening of Computing

You may notice that I tend to post a lot on computing and computer related things (i.e. Google Maps). Well it might be because I am a nerd and I seek justification for my love of computers. Thankfully for my interests the recent "Green revolution" spawned by threats of global warming also extends to the technology industry.

Earth2Tech
, a recent entry to the blogosphere, did an excellent writeup today on the importance of green data centers. We all tend to focus on greening the devices and commodities that we see everyday, but what about those hidden computing centers from which we retrieve our information services such as e-mail and online documents. The article states that energy costs are approaching costs greater than 30% of the informational technology total. If you ponder it, these are systems that are always on and due to the global nature of the internet there isn't really a time when power demands can be scaled back. Hey, people across the international date line need MySpace too. The industry have every reason to focus on longterm investments in alternative localized energy sources as the cost of their energy needs begin to approach equipment cost.

Help is on the way for the conscientious, tech-savy consumer, enter Zonbu. Zonbu is lower-end computer device that uses 1/3 as much power as a standard light-bulb. The device is intended to use with your daily tech gadgets (cameras and iPods) and to provide access to internet based computing needs. It's Linux based and not really intended as a full fledged computer for gaming or power hungry applications, but lets be honest how many of us are really using our computers other than the internet, device management, and productivity applications. The pricepoint is reasonable at $99, though it does require a subscription service ($12.95/mo) for data storage. EcoGeek claims that you can make up for the subscription fees in utility savings. You can also purchase it straight out for $249. The subscription service includes support and firmware upgrades as well as centralized back up on the Zonbu servers. It's an excellent idea and I might be sold on the subscription based on the simplicity of such a device. Check out further information on EcoGeek and MetaEfficient. I wonder how energy efficient the Zonbu data center is.

In further green computing news, Inhabitat pointed out that Western Digital has begun releasing harddrives with energy efficiency in mind. Western Digital claims that these drives will save 13.8kg CO2 annually when compared with similar drives. If manufacturers continue on this trend then data centers may be able to quickly take advantage of economic savings through energy conservation.

Bike Sharing Goes Hi-Tech

I've seen a lot of information lately about bike-sharing programs being implemented throughout Europe and even select locations in the states. I personally love this idea as I can see definite need for multi-modal transportation that is flexible and doesn't require the immense forethought that our current transit systems are sometimes associated with. Maybe you missed your normal bus and need a quick way to cut accross a few blocks to catch an alternate route. Perhaps you can ditch your car for your in-town errands following a lengthy commute.

Streetsblog had a pretty interesting post on a program in Berlin that uses cell phone technology to lock and unlock the bike. The program does away with the need for bike lockers or designated racks through its innovative self locking mechanism. A user who wished to check out the bike simply calls the number on the bike and the rear-wheel locking mechanism is released. When the user is done with there errands they call the number again to re-lock the bike leaving where it sits. The service charges about 6 cent a minute and is administered by the government. Check out the full post.

01 August 2007

Oh God No! Not The Nalgene

Treehugger (who incidentally was purchased by Discovery today) featured a rather disturbing article on the iconic accessory of the outdoorsy environmentalist. It turns out that the rumors floating around about Nalgene bottles and hormone disruptors might have some ground. Check out the full post for more information.

Whatever shall we switch to? Glass? I think not. I can't chuck a glass bottle in my pack and ride the bike wherever without risking loss of limb or at a minimum digits. I checked out Sigg bottles, but I seemed to remember some scare about Alzheimer's and aluminum as kid. It must have been big as I have no such cookware in my kitchen (suggesting that the metal was somehow subconsciously stigmatized at my hands). A quick glance at Wikipedia shows that the research on the Alzheimer's/Aluminum link is inconclusive at this point, so who knows if they are entirely safe.

Then again with cities beginning to ban bottled water (due to litter though the disposable plastic bottles are linked with the same horomone disrupting problem as the Nalgenes) the race to find a new, rugged container is one. Anyone have suggestions?

Map where your meat comes from..

Just to meld the whole herbivore slant of this blog along with the posts on information systems and mapping, I decided to post on Factory Farm Map. Factory Farm Map allows users to examine the geographic distribution of factory meat farms around the U.S. The data is broken down to the county level and is intended to show where the highest levels of animal farming associated pollution would be found. I wish there was a similar interface for veggies so that people could understand the importance of recruiting local foods to combat centralized food production.