Monday, March 22, 2010

Great Idea # 3782: Future Transportation

With people traveling more and more for business and vacation, and the cost of travel rising at a steady rate with no real solution on the horizon, its time to look at our options for possible future alternatives.

Now, the ideas that have come up are not new. One is to create more public transit, including trains, cable cars, and buses. I call this the "Public Expansion" (or PE) option. The other is the Increased Vehicle Efficiency (or IVE) option. This is one that we are most familiar with, as it pertains to our cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Its the idea keeping the current motor and road system, but adding efficiencies to the existing fuel or vehicle, or by creating new fuels. This is where MPG standards, hybrids, hydrogen fuel, and Biodiesel come in. There is a third option, that is not new, but is not often considered. This would be a hybrid between the two systems, called "Personal Rapid Transit" (or PRT).

This is what wikipedia has on them:

Here is a video with a good explanation.

This is a hanging style that I personally prefer and (though more complex) solves a lot of problems of the other current versions.

Essentially, this hybrid system would be the best of both worlds, and as such would solve a lot of the current and future transportation problems. Although there are a lot of technological and infrastructure hurdles to overcome. It is still a great idea, and one that is being taken more and more seriously over time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where the Money Is

Apparently the next decade doesn't have too much new to offer the work force. The only areas that are expanding are in health care and other basic services. Here are the 10 listed from:

Top 10 List

Dixie Sommers, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, recites a list of the 10 occupations that the BLS expects will provide the greatest number of new jobs over the next decade. These include:

1. Registered nurses

2. Home health aides

3. Customer service representatives

4. Food preparation and serving workers

5. Personal and home care aides

6. Retail salespersons

7. Office clerks

8. Accountants

9. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants

10. Postsecondary teachers

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Response - Cap and Trade

This is a repost from a short response to a friend on Facebook. He sent me an article by James Hansen of which the following is my impression. The Hansen article can be found at:

Mixed feelings
I have seen James Hansen talk before, and have always respected his opinion. He's been very involved over the last 30 years. I also know he's up for trying radical solutions. His fee and dividend proposition is not something that happens in government, although it is common in business. I think that government could learn a lot from business in certain areas (like this), but I don't think it would get very far. Essentially, looking at it practically, there isn't enough political capital to make it happen any time soon, not to say it couldn't change in the future. Saying that, I like his plan a lot, and it (1) sounds like something I would say, and (2) clearly is looking at the overall picture (see 2 child limit of benefits).

When it comes to cap and trade, its not a perfect solution, but it IS something more than what we have... so its something, although not a big step. I have heard the complaint that cap and trade just gives legitimacy to polluters and passes to cost to consumers. I think this is true HOWEVER, the point of this is to make alternative sources of energy (solar, wind, etc.) more competitive, as they don't have this increase. That is the point. Then, the idea is that the market will take care of the rest, and carbon emissions will abate as competition from other sources increase. Does this work... according to the article, not yet. Does that mean it can't... don't know. I think Hansen's complaint has more to do with "offsets" and that the legislation had no teeth and therefore, no real way to enforce it. I think that a cap and trade system is inevitable, because it meet the interests of those who are influencing policy, and it also fits with our current economic model better than Hansen's proposal. Again, I like Hansen's better, and if I got a vote, I would vote for his over cap and trade. But, I am a pragmatist, and just don't see the numbers to back it.
"I do not dispute the economic theory that a cap and a fee are, in principle, equivalent. But cap‐and‐trade's complexity allows special interests to take over, killing its effectiveness."

I don't think people (average people) really care much about the environment. Otherwise, they would act differently. Being Green is more a fad than a movement, and when push comes to shove, they would rather be fat cats and wear American Eagle and torn jeans for $60 than sacrifice to preserve the environment. Its a little dark, but I think its true. More people are aware about the environmental problems today because of this "Green Movement" and fads aren't always unhelpful, but the commitment to change (and the willingness to sacrifice for that change) are too small. So, we are going to end up going old school on this one, and letting war, famine, and resource shortages force us to deal with what we can't deal with in peace. That's my take, from someone who's been doing this for a long time. Like I said, dark.

In my opinion, the true issues in all of this are population, resources, and affluence. Climate change is simply a symptom.

Population - if there were only 3 billion people, we would not have as severe of a problem. But no one (except China, and Europe) wants to talk about it, and there are international laws against population control and education about population. Some NGOs have been thrown out of countries for teaching about family planning and contraceptives because they see it as related to population control (these countries governments are usually either strongly muslim or strongly christian). If you want to see a simple way to understand the population affect on the environment, see the IPAT link below:

Resources - There are limits on our resources. We don't live in a world where we think much about that, and assume we can never run out of things like... water... food... birds... but history (including modern) show us that people who blindly use up their resources always pay a price. I think we are really stupid on this, and capitalism is insufficient to the task of conservation, because it is all about consumption. And regulation doesn't stand up to capitalism in force or scale, and so can't do much. But, with awareness, proper regulation, and financial incentives (or disincentive) to encourage resource preservation (ex. tree tax) will be necessary to promote change.

Affluence - Like in IPAT, affluence plays a big part in how much a population effects the surrounding resources and environment. This goes back to my complaint that people aren't willing to drop their affluence on their own. Another level is that people see dropping their affluence as a "step backward" and politicians and speakers on this issue pull a tear jerker by saying that our children and childrens children will live at a lower standard of living than we do.... and so we CAN'T do that. We can't put our families in the position of living at a lower standard. What they don't mention is that this "lower standard of living" is code for "being more efficient". If you drive a hybrid car, you will need to spend less on gas, leading to you spending less on your transportation costs. And if you change the lightbulbs in your home, and change to HE (high efficiency) washers and dryers, you will need less water and energy to wash your clothes, leading to you spending less on home utility costs. All of these efficiencies get transferred into economic terms, and show that although we are spending, hypothetically, $10,000 a year today to live, and in 20 years (thanks to the efficiencies) our kids are spending $6,000.... you can claim that their standard of living has dropped because they aren't spending as much.

If this seems a little far fetched, let me show you how it happens today. In America, we are thought to be wealthy. We might own a million dollar apartment in NYC that is 1/4 acre in size. In the Pacific, a tribal man who owns his own family farm, that is 30 acres large, and has free food, free water, and free sunlight... with only an income of $300 a month from trading, he is thought to be among to poorest of the poor, b/c of his income and b/c there is little competition for his assets (land and produce). However, the farmer probably works 20 hours a week, and will live a decent and casual existence, whereas the NYer will likely need to work 50-60 hours a week (likely accruing large amounts of debt in the meantime), for many years to be able to maintain such a standard of living. Who's wealthier? Well, according to our current metrics, the NYer. However, I think there is something to be said for living simply and within your means.

There can be a balance, and a way to get the benefits of modern technology and knowledge, without the pitfalls of modern commerce and consumption.

That's all I got. Hope this isn't too much.

As an aside:
How can international agreements be upheld and enforced if there is no international force (or government) with the power to enforce them? Its just an inevitable problem of an integrated yet diverse world, and the inevitable solution is some kind of world government (and No the UN is not a government and doesn't count).

OLD Post - Winter



December is the worst month for Marylanders. This is when we are pushed to finish in a few weeks the aggregate of chores and work that we have been unable to complete all year. Drivers and shoppers go crazy as black Friday instigates the worst driving of the year. Early snow showers and ice storms make things infinitely worse. Yet, there is always a 'last day of summer' deep in the December calendar, a day the temperature peeks in the 70s or 80s, leading children out of their jackets and mittens out into the fields. However, like the bulbs which poked their heads through the soft fall leaves, we recede into our warm, protected beds until the spring rains come to rouse us. Then there are the holidays (holy-days), when we get a much needed end of the year break to recuperate, reflect, and rethink our plans and aspirations for the coming year. Even though very little changes between Dec 31 and Jan 1, our perceptions and beliefs, shared by many in our modern culture make the change real and significant. This is strange, yes? Why is it that a fairly arbitrary distinction, demarcating one year from the next, makes such a significant impact on our lives?

OLD Post - How Fickle


How Fickle

It amazes me how little humanity progresses, and how little it has learned from its few thousand years of affluence. This can clearly be seen in a case study of the object of our eyes. When explored, what is it that is catching to the eye, or desirable? The transfixed eye finds its subject to be a combination of color, motion, and shine.

Colorful objects, seen in our modern advertisements, books, and cartoons, but also found in simple pleasures like flower arrangements, seasonal foliage changes, and rainbows.

Moving objects have been a mainstay of entertainment for as long as it has existed. Carnivals, parades, tricks, games, machines, and gadgets are all fascinating because of their movements. There is no denying that they are more than movement, but the eye finds these things intriguing (and consequently the person) simply by the motion involved.

Shine is a quality so prized among humans that our most expensive and sought after objects are desired because they are the shiniest objects around. Don't believe me? Think fame and fortune, wealth and power, treasure and plunder. First to the mind are our precious metals (gold, silver) and precious stones (diamonds, sapphire). Why is that? What do our precious natural resources do for us? We can't eat them. We can't use them to keep us warm. They can't be used as a flotation device. So what then are they good for? Until this recent technological age, where practical uses for these materials were invented, the desire for such objects was a matter of pride only.

If we take these three qualities, color, motion, and shine, we can break down the majesty and appeal of our visual euphoria into what seems a rather bland, fickle, and childish sense of wonder. Are your visual cravings nothing more than the next shiny, colorful, machine? Are our movies and entertainment more exciting with more motion, and flash? Does color emphasize our advertisements? Sure. And why not, if that is what is catchy to the eye. But how fickle. How disappointing that our optical spectacles and auspicious images are so often so simple. Are there other ways in which our experiences are motivated by asinine and feeble impulses? What are they, and what is their instigation?
Learn, Think, Act.

Old Post - Peace Corps Update


(Picture: Mount Yasur erupting on the south-eastern side of Tanna, Dec 31st 2006. Photo taken from Middlebush)

The Peace Corps Experience is something that I have only just begun, but to share a little of what has happened up until this point, I will try to remember the details and tell them with as much accuracy as my memory allows.

I arrived in Vanuatu on September 23, 2006. After nearly 30 hours of trying to sleep prostrate on cool, ceramic airport tiles, and vertically crammed into seats designed for the men and women of below-average high and weight. At six foot, the high problem was manageable on some of the planes, uncomfortable on most. I mainly feel sorry for anyone taller who might venture to fly today, as the accommodations were invented before their kith and kin had access, or reason to fly. I'm slender, but endowed with shoulders that protrude into the adjoining seats on both sides, making my interaction with neighbors a little tricky. I always try to get an aisle seat, not only because now you have unlimited access to walk about the plane unencumbered, but that way too my shoulders had a place to rest other than on the shoulder of the unfortunate passenger sitting next to me.

On arriving, we are greeted by the staff and a few current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers), who hand us an open green-coconut, throw a lei over our necks, and take a picture of us. For the next three months, we would be asked to undergo the most well-intentioned drudgery. This was our training period, a time when we were to be turned from pedantic office-dwelling socialites into dirt-loving, bush knife-wielding machines that could hack our way through the toughest jungle to find small children to teach English, science, and math. Hu-ah! We're the Marines of International Volunteers. Well, that's what our imaginations were dreaming about when the plane landed at the beginning of the Vanuatu spring (or rain and hurricane season as we came to know it). We soon found that training was more a routine where we were waiting to get somewhere, waiting to do something (sometimes anything), or eventually engaged in some sort of perfunctory activity that often involved as little interest from the trainer as from the trainee. After a short time, one by one, we were each lost in a vapid and mindless scholasticism that made every moment of freedom a blessing from the god of sand beaches and sunburns.

To be fair, we came to love and adore our trainers and staff. It would take too long to go into all the great stories and moments that we each shared and cherish, but it would also be negligent to ignore the fact that we, as trainees, were slipping. Our trainers anticipated this as best they could, and struggled mightily to counter the effects of the island fever that we all felt in our own way. In the end, you can only do your best, plan your worst, and hope for the best. So, after several months droned by, pockmarked with moments of brilliance, hilarity, camaraderie, and relaxation (losing only one of our group in the process) we became official Peace Corps Volunteers, dun da da Daaaa!

Now, we have all shipped off (some literally) to our assigned homes and work places. They vary from the posh (or flas) to the rustic. An apartment near Vila is on the nice side; with electricity, running water, a gas stove, and proximity to nearly any modern convenience you could want. The rustic and rural areas can be found on ANY island, but each has its own problems. Some volunteers live close to a town, but live in a fully kastom, or traditional house of sticks and leaves. Others get nicer accommodations which usually include a varied combination of cement and tin, sometimes even with Masonite on the inside, and doors and windows varying in quality and age. Some of these nicer accommodations are offset by the problem of proximity or accessibility. For example, you might be assigned to work at a secondary school that is well established and where you have flush toilets, cement walls, and electricity once in a while when they run a generator. However, it might be a $200 flight, a $75 boat ride, and another 2 hour walk to get from your site to the nearest store, post office, bank, or semi-permanent hospital facility. So, it can be a trade off. We each have our own set of difficulties, and sometimes things that seem like a bonus, end up causing problems (say for instance, you have a solar panel and therefore electricity, but no one else does; it might cause tension and integration problems).

So, in the meantime, we are all meeting people, getting used to the accommodations or changes in lifestyle, and getting ready to start working in the next few weeks and months. It is an exciting time, but also an incredibly stressful time, as we don't yet feel settled, and haven't yet started work. For those of us who are ready to get to work, we're feeling the heat of patience breathing down our necks, which is making me sweat as much or more than this tropical sun.

For now, things are going, and are heading in positive directions. I'm happy with my progress, and am hoping (and praying) that everything is going as well or better for the rest of our group.

OLD Post - Tanna Update



(Photo: Village houses in Kumahau, South Tanna)

I've been getting a lot done here in Vila, but expect to be back on Tanna in the coming days... likely within the week, but the exact date of travel is uncertain.

As of now, I will still be stationed on Tanna, but I have the freedom to move around and be involved in whatever projects are happening, or to start whatever projects my mind can dream up. I'm excited about this prospect, at least for the time being, because it allows me to be involved in (hopefully) some pretty far-reaching and effective projects, but, at the same time, allows me access to live (as much or as little as I choose) like the locals. Ideally, I'd like to have a home somewhere remote (like my village) where I live on par with their lifestyles, but to have a second home, of sorts, for work... which would be a 'model home', a structure built either of all local materials, all modern materials, or a very efficient combination which could be used as a training model for building on the island. Since it would be a work home, I would likely not be there much during the day, leaving it open to be used as a model often, AND because it would need to be centrally located near the business and political centers, it would maximize on the number of people on the island and in the province who would be able to see it. The two homes allows me to gain an appreciation and understanding for the living conditions and lifestyle of the more remote villagers, with my first home, and at the same time, allows me to infuse new ideas in design, technique, materials, and maintenance into their current understandings with the second 'model' home. These being separate, I can have both without them overlapping and thereby jeopardizing one or the other.

I am hoping to help identify other projects where "models" or "examples of success" or "improvement" could be identified and used to help train management and propagate successful methods. Some people are already working on things like this in agriculture, but it needs much help, and can easily be expanded to other sectors with equal success.

So, basically, for the time being I've gotten what I want, which is freedom to do, well, whatever I want in terms of projects. That is exciting. As usual, there is way more to do that I should commit to, so in the next few weeks, I will identify what my projects will be, gathering Germaine details along the way, and then finally start work. Looking forward, I can see this being successful if it goes on for two years, but I can also see that if I spend 6 months to a year getting a handle on work on Tanna, and gaining the first hand experience of the people on the ground and their conditions, that I could move to Vila and make a bigger impact with that knowledge. Of course, that would be a good idea for me or anyone else really from PC. It doesn't seem to happen much, and so don't have high expectations for this coming to be. If it doesn't, I expect to be equally satisfied with my productivity on the ground in Tanna as I would be moving to Vila to work on administration, funding, and oversight (assessment of projects and project planning). There's so much to do, I'm just going to be glad to be able to work on one project that will help, but, being still young and ambitious, the more I can accomplish with the same amount of effort, the better. I will work towards that goal while keeping a healthy amount of time reserved for self-sustenance and self-enrichment as well.

So, that's basically it. I hope that settles some anxiety. I know that it has for me, and now I am simply filled with anticipation, and a readiness to begin that I expect the rest of my group is feeling with equal strength.

OLD Post - Life/Work Balance

Today's topic: Life-Work Balance
A great source for the history of the ideas behind Life-Work balance can be found at It used to be that the average work week was 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, totaling 84 hours a week. In comparison, our 40 hour work week doesn't compare, esp. if you take into account that the work we do is much less labor intensive, and much safer. As it happens, American workers often end up working 50-70 hour weeks in the more competitive job markets. They do, however, usually end up with a substantial monetary compensation. One could argue that it is better to work 70 hours a week for 20 years than 40 hours a week for 40. The math is in their favor, but if I am not sure the sacrifice is worth it. I think youth is too important to waste on work. However, if I had to create the perfect work week, it would look like this:

The work week would be 3 days long, and you would work 10 hours a day, totally a 30-hour work week. You would get two breaks, one for lunch and one for dinner. It would make most sense, if you were going to be working this much, to either live really close, or to simply have a place at or near work where you could spend the night. This would save on transportation.

If you don't like this 3-day idea, the alternative would be a 4-day, 32-hour work week, where you would basically keep the same system we have now, but cut out a day. I really do believe that a lot of time gets wasted and most employees don't need to be working more than 30 hours a week. Adding in commute time, you shouldn't be spending more than 40 hours a week total.

With a work schedule like this, what would you do with all your free time?

OLD Post - Premises



Today in Ridiculous Word Origins

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know how the word "premises", meaning a tract of land with its buildings and other facilities, has a silly root. Wiki says:
"Premises are land and
buildings together considered as a property. This usage arose from property owners finding the word in their title deeds, where it originally correctly meant "the aforementioned; what this document is about", from Latin prae-missus = "placed before".
Some people suppose that since "premises" looks like a
plural, a single house or other piece of property must be a "premise"; but the word "premise" is reserved for use as a term in logic meaning something assumed or taken as given in making an argument."

Silly, no?

OLD Post - Beliefs



These are the results from my most recent
Belief-O-Matic test.

Your Results:

The top score on the list below represents the faith that Belief-O-Matic, in its less than infinite wisdom, thinks most closely matches your beliefs. However, even a score of 100% does not mean that your views are all shared by this faith, or vice versa.

Belief-O-Matic then lists another 26 faiths in order of how much they have in common with your professed beliefs. The higher a faith appears on this list, the more closely it aligns with your thinking.

How did the Belief-O-Matic do? Discuss your results on our message boards.

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (93%)
3. Liberal Quakers (90%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (82%)
5. Jainism (75%)
6. Neo-Pagan (75%)
7. Nontheist (72%)
8. Orthodox Quaker (70%)
9. Mahayana Buddhism (66%)
10. Taoism (63%)
11. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (62%)
12. Bahá'í Faith (56%)
13. Seventh Day Adventist (55%)
14. New Age (53%)
15. Hinduism (46%)
16. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (44%)
17. Reform Judaism (44%)
18. Eastern Orthodox (38%)
19. Islam (38%)
20. Orthodox Judaism (38%)
21. Roman Catholic (38%)
22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (36%)
23. Sikhism (34%)
24. Jehovah's Witness (24%)
25. Scientology (20%)
26. New Thought (14%)
27. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (9%)

OLD Post - Green Companies


Here is a sample of companies that are standing up and making a difference for our environment and our future. For the complete list, please follow the link below.

A123 Systems
The dawn of the hybrid car—not to mention $4-per-gallon gasoline—shows the importance of fuel-saving batteries. At the head of the class is A123. This Watertown, Massachusetts, start-up has a $148 million venture capital war chest that fueled a nanotech breakthrough: a battery that charges faster, holds more power, and is safer than anything out now. A123 is already taking orders for lithium batteries that turn a Toyota Prius into a plug-in machine clocking 100 miles per gallon; and by 2010, they will power GM’s Chevy Volt.

Applied Materials
Even as big-money entrants crowd the solar field, Applied stands out as a likely winner. Already a Fortune 500 company producing computer chip–making equipment, Applied has repurposed its nanomanufacturing technology to create the largest thin-film solar cells in the world. Thin-film, which involves layering sunlight-reactive material to mold around a variety of bases, has sky-high potential because of its low cost and flexibility. As Applied works on increasing solar-film efficiency, this technology will likely play a starring role in the clean energy picture.

Big Blue has said it will spend $1 billion in its “Big Green” initiative to make its products more energy efficient (primarily in carbon-chomping corporate data centers). But IBM is also one of the key players in a movement that includes Fortune 500 companies, nimble start-ups, and electric utilities exploring ways to make the entire energy grid smarter. This means putting computer processors into every node so that companies can more accurately meter and charge for energy usage—creating incentives for efficiency unimaginable in the past.

Arup brings to life the cutting-edge eco-dreams of architecture’s stars. This international design and construction consultancy has worked on more than 1,000 green projects in the last ten years, with a portfolio spanning from the new California Academy of Sciences and its living roof, by Renzo Piano, to the eco-city planned for Dongtan, China. Arup also advises clients about marine ecology, human health impacts, and noise pollution, as it brings the latest ideas in sustainability to the built environment.

Bon Appétit Management Company
You don’t need a neighborhood vegan café to boost your low-carbon diet....


I just closed an old blog that I retiring, and am going to repost some of the interesting blogs here so that they will still be available. Enjoy.