seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Science & Technology

Thoughts on science, technology, energy, and policy intersecting these spheres.

I, Podcast

I participated in my first podcast this morning. Ben, from theWatt invited me to participate in a panel discussion about energy issues on his weekly podcast. Episode 65 is now live from that site and includes my voice. Listening to it, I was struck that I seem to have replaced my propensity to say "like" with a number of "ums" and way too many "sortas." Also, I need to figure out how to lower my mic volume.

But it was loads of fun. The podcast is 50 minutes long and weighs about 20 MB. Give it a listen - we had good discussions about oil from tar sands, Al Gore, solar energy, and food scarcity.

If you like it, use iTunes or your Newsreader to subscribe to the weekly podcast. I hope to be back on it in the future, but regardless, it features good discussion of topical energy issues.

You don't need an iPod to listen to a podcast. This is just an audio file in the mp3 format. Download it and odds are that your system will know how to play it over your speakers. If not, ask me and I'll help ya.

NJ and Wal-Mart

I recently posted two new stories on Energista!. Wal-Mart continues greening. For whatever reason, Wal-Mart seems serious about reducing its energy footprint. Additionally, New Jersey has a tough renewable energy standard that will force significant solar panel investment. New Jersey!

He Said WHAT?

Did you ever wonder how the internet works? Depending on who you ask, it can be either very complicated or rather simple and elegant. Or it can be absolutely incoherent. Enter the Honorable (if totally senile) Ted Stevens - 83 year old Senator from Alaska. Who happens to chair the Senate Committee responsible for telecommunications policy. Sigh.

You have to either read or listen (1.2MB mp3) to this absurd rant in which Ted Stevens makes ludicrous claims which would border on hilarity if they weren't the basis of telecommunications policy in this country.

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

Among other things, Ted Stevens claims that his office took 5 days to deliver an email because the internet tubes were really slow due to congestion resulting from companies such as Netflix (not named but clearly the target) using the internet to distribute massive files. This is an absurd claim. And, if you have an understanding of now the internet really works (as opposed to how it works among Senators responsible for crafting national information policy) you need to read the hilarious technical investigation into how this happened.

I admit to a little skepticism, so I asked the Senator's office to send me a copy of the internet via Fed-Ex (to avoid internet rush hour). After signing for it this morning, I unwrapped it and set out to test it forensically to make sure the senator was telling the truth (turns out it was just an internet letter, not an entire internet).

Lest you think this is just me beating up on an old man who clearly does not understand technology, I am. How can people like him be responsible for complicated issues like network neutrality?

This is the rather important question of whether an ISP named Cox can block the industry standard Craigslist to its users in order to force them to use its own classified listings. It is a question of whether you get to decide which sites you use to collect your news, or whether your ISP does.

Perhaps it will never get that bad. Perhaps these companies would be responsible and only slow down your connection to google (in order to force you to use the search engine they promote) rather than totally block it. I'd rather not put my faith in these companies - they cannot even turn off my phone without messing up every other service they offer. More on that later.

In the meantime, we continue to have policy made by people who are so behind the times, they cannot even be regarded as incompetent. If you haven't yet, listen to his speech. It is unreal.

Mp3 Players

Kimmi wants to know whether to get an iPod Nano or a different mp3 player. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I have both an iPod (20 gig - not a Nano) and a sanDisk 1Gig player.

I use both. I love the sandisk for its size and its FM/AM tuner. It also has a voice recorder, but I have not yet gotten in the habit of using that. I guess I don't have great ideas that often. Its AAA battery runs for 19 hours. This is both good and bad. It doesn't have a rechargable like the iPods but it lasts way longer than the iPod in cars so you don't need to buy expensive adapters to plug it in to everything everywhere you go.

When buying an iPod, be aware that Apple makes a ton of money off the accessories. This is one of the reasons it is so cheap for what it can do, I think. But if you are going to only use the device for an hour here or there, getting one that is rechargeable might be better. I'm sure there are non-iPod rechargable players but I haven't looked into them. I wanted one that would run for days on camping trips. Yeah, I like music while in the woods.

What is best for you will be determined by how you use it. There are many factors to consider.

If you want to listen to the radio ever using it, or use it for longer than 8 hours in an area without electricity, or want a built in voice recorder, or want to save money, get a sandisk mp3 player. I love mine.

The iPod is nice for some things. It has a rather intuitive interface for managing so much music - though I have no problem with my sandisk interface. The iPod is mostly famous for iTunes - which is probably the best personal mp3 software music manager. However, Apple really really sucks a lot when it comes to "digital rights management" which is the music industry's way of making you buy a song 5 times if you want to play it on 5 different devices.

Digital Rights Management is the CD company's way of trying to make lots more money by acting at though those who steal music are the biggest problem in the music industry. Those who never pay for music are leeches. Musicians must be compensated for their skills and time. The music industry, however, cares nothing for the musicians either. They are using the "pirate threat" to justify their use of technology to force us to pay for the same songs over and over and over. Apple is overwhelmingly on their side (for legitimate business reasons in today's climate).

That being said, you can buy music from rather than iTunes so you that if you later decide to switch away from an iPod, you do not have to repurchase your music. Do not support the iTunes store, no matter which device you buy. Support or other vendors which do not cripple the music with DRM. Unless, of course, you like paying the record companies each time you want to play the music on a new device.

Personally, I would go with the Nano only if you want something that can pack that much music into so small a place. If you are going to use the nano for workouts and such things, do you really need more than 1 Gig? There is far more music on the device you can play before the battery dies.

Personally, I am glad I saved some $150 and got a FM/AM tuner to boot. Sure, I cannot recharge it for nearly no cost, but how many AAA batteries will I go through? A lot less than $150, I'll tell you that!

No Bar Code

I wrote a brief piece in response to a MoJo article by Michael Pollen - posted on Energista!

Google Map

Best Google map hack yet!

Check out my bike ride from last Saturday. I mapped it out using Gmap-Pedometer. This is so great! It tells you distance and you can record maps. I'm sure there are lots of other applications but I have not yet figured them out. You endurance athletes should love this!

Oceans and Fishes

Julia Whitty wrote a lengthy piece for the March/Apr issue of Mother Jones called "The Fate of the Ocean." If you are at all interested in the ocean in terms of fish or global climate change, this is a great place to start reading.

The article covers so many subjects that I will not try to capture her points. I do want to run off on a tangeant though - relating to fish farms. I hadn't realized how much trouble these things have caused.

Despite its promise, aquaculture is no better, since three pounds of wild fish are caught to feed every pound of farmed salmon sent to market—creating entirely new fisheries, which deplete hitherto unscathed wild fish populations, including krill, a critical corner-stone of the marine food web and essential to the survival of Antarctic species such as penguins.

Additionally, these farms tend to pick one species - Atlantic salmon cuz it can still thrive when stressed by cramped living conditions and its fattens quickly - which often escapes and threatens the ecosystems around it. Brilliant.

An earlier MoJo article by Bruce Barcott called "Aquaculture's Troubled Harvest." covered salmon fish farms in depth and is worth a read.

From the air, a salmon farm looks like a posh racquet club under floodwater. Farms usually float within a few hundred yards of shore, with the nets anchored by heavy cables. Hatchery-born fish are transferred to net pens when they're 10 months old. In their new home, they're fed pellets made of fish meal, fish oil, vitamins, and, as needed, antibiotics. Farmed salmon eat two to five pounds of protein for every pound of weight gained—protein that comes from small pelagic fish like anchovies, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Typically, 15,000 to 50,000 fish share a single pen, and 8 to 10 pens operate on a single site. Since the pens are open to the surrounding water, any waste generated by the fish flushes into the local ecosystem.

Though I shouldn't be surprised, the things they do to these fish are just plain ... unnatural. I feel like Pollyanna, sitting here and reading about this. First they feed them all tons of antibiotics and dump chemicals on them to kill the lice, then they basically paint them.

When the fish near market size, farmers add astaxanthin, a pigment similar to beta-carotene, to their feed to give their gray flesh a salmony pinkish glow. (In the wild, asta- xanthin is synthesized by microalgae and passed up the food chain. Since farm-raised salmon eat only pellets, they must be dyed pink. The pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche, a leading supplier of astaxanthin to salmon farms, distributes a "SalmoFan"—kind of like a paint-store swatch—to let farmers perfect the desired hue.)

I had labored under the idea that farm raised fish were a better choice for health and environmental reasons. I'm not sure that I want to eat any kind of fish right now. Which is too bad, cuz they are healthy for you (or could be when not raised solely for profit). Apparently, the responsible and healthy choice is to pay extra for Alaskan wild fish - unless someone can correct by comment below.

I have recently come to believe that market solutions are best when possible. In this case, the market is the problem. As fish become overfished and in danger of extinction, their value increases greatly. The market, without intervention, therefore encourages overfishing in the commons. So the question is - what are you going to do about it?

Bush's Environment

President Bush may have a stronger positive impact on the environment than he - or his corporate sponsors - ever intended. Not that they would be angry - but I suspect it is an unintended consequence.

I'm glad to see the Strib editorialized in favor of Bush's Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument establishment. This is great news - particularly in light of a post I will soon put up looking at the state of the world's oceans.

Perhaps the bigger impact will be this Secretary of the Treasury who is more pro-environment than any others close to Bush and who actually favors a forward-looking carbon policy. This is not to say Bush is suddenly an environmental savior - but it does move him a bit out of the scourge box.

Blog Podcast

Anyone interested in a potential future of blogging should listen to this 50 minute panel discussion from IT Conversations. Scobel and Israel raise interesting points from their book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.

Peak Oil Again

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