Thoughts

Fall 2007

Algae-Powered Bioreactors

Technology / December 13th

Using Algae as a source for fuel isn't anything new, but there's actually a company spooling up to do it. Valcent has been trialing their "Vertigro" technology in some giant algae tanks to get an idea of how much it will produce in terms of biodiesel. Their initial calculations suggest that with one acre of land they would generate 33,000 gallons of fuel per year. For comparison, an acre of corn produces about 328 gallons of ethanol. One of the best parts about this production is that while it is more expensive than just planting some seeds, you don't need traditional farmland to do it. That means that algae-based biodiesel production wouldn't jack up corn prices (and as a result chicken prices, beef prices, etc) because food crops aren't being displaced by it.

Looking at the bigger picture, in 2004 the University of New Hapshire estimated that the US would require 140 billion gallons of biodiesel per year to completely eliminate our need for petroleum-based gasoline and diesel. Putting these two numbers together means it would take 4 million acres of algae farms (assuming the current rate of production and current vehicle efficiency). Now that sounds like a tremendous amount until you consider that we currently lose 2 millions acres of arable farm land per year to desertification and erosion. So given that we aren't going to put up 4 million acres of algae production overnight, this is actually a feasible number.

I don't think there is going to be any single solution to our dependence on foreign oil, but intiatives like this are important to help raise awareness of which alternatives are truly viable and which are pie-in-the-sky (like ethanol). While I definitely favor an electric vehicle, that only moves the problem back to the powerplant. Biodiesel is carbon-neutral, works in existing vehicles, and doesn't depend on exotic technology developments.

The Art of Thinking

Cool Stuff / December 11th

I found this article about biases in our thinking to be really interesting. I'm sure reading this it's not hard to come up with situations where these biases came into play in a decision. Of course, tjhe end of the article says that even knowing about these biases does little to mitigate them, but given my own overconfidence in my abilities, I think I'm better off for being aware of them.

7 Stupid Thinking Errors You Probably Make

New Web Hosting

Site News / December 4th

It shouldn't make much difference to those that visit the site, but I have just changed over to a new web host. The new host is a larger company, so hopefully it will be a bit faster. More importantly it gives me the tools and control I need to continue developing Spark (the software that runs XeoMage). So look forward to some new features in the future, and at least a couple of minor bugs getting fixed in the next few weeks.

Libertarian Thinking and the Global Economy

Politics / November 20th

There is a supposed Internet phenomenon of ground support for Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate that promises Libertarian ideals can guide us out or Iraq, into a smaller federal government with lower taxes, away from wiretapping and privacy invasion, solve racism, pollution, health care costs, improve the economy through deregulation and more.

I admit to a fair share of Libertarianism in my own political view. I don't think it should be illegal to drive without a seatbelt, take any number of recreational drugs or prescription medications, raise your children as you see fit, observe whatever religious or sexual practices suit you, and basically live how you want to live. I will do the same.

Like many approaches, though, Libertarianism doesn't work for everything. Perhaps when people homesteaded they could expect a fair amount of autonomy, freedom from taxes and regulation, and absentee government. We are all, down to the most Kaczynski-living hermit, dependent and connected to the entire world. We can't depend on personal property lawsuits to protect us from pollution, especially when that pollution so often happens to our water, to our air, and the effects can be difficult to trace and understand once they leave the exhaust, the smokestack, and the pipe.

We can't rely on unregulated companies to always do the right thing when the choice is between profit and sustainability, profit and health, profit and local economies, profit and competition, profit and fair use, profit and anything. Companies exist for one purpose and to get them to consider any other factor often requires regulation.

It is absurd to think that big government will fundamentally perform more poorly than a private company. For a great many human endeavors, profit cannot be the primary motive. Personally I believe that health care is among these. I don't propose a top to bottom state-run health care system, but I do suggest that our current privatized system is not broken because of the Federal government, but because of the motives of companies that make it up.

The idea that racism would disappear if government didn't require fairness in business is ridiculous, the concept that the immigration problem can be solved by better enforcing the borders, eliminating the citizenship birthright, and deporting everyone without a valid visa is untenable. Finally, Ron Paul completely ignores his supposed Libertarian ideals by saying that we need to fix Social Security, knowing that politically it is suicide to say that we should eliminate it. Of course, it's only political suicide because it is a large, government run social program that works very well, or would were it not for the constant fund raiding by Congress.

Rewriting the Book on Genes

Technology / November 12th

I just read a fascinating article at the Washington post about recent developments in the understanding of how DNA and genes work. Just within the last few years, our whole understanding of how DNA is used to build proteins has been dramatically shifted and while I have no doubt that there will be more dramatic advancements in the future, it seems that it is finally starting to come together. Rather than assuming that 95% of our DNA is useless junk, scientists are now starting to grasp how different segments of DNA don't dictate what makes up a protein, but rather when, why, and how to make it. This article covers several of the discoveries made and how they are changing our understanding of our own incredible cellular construction.

How Science Is Rewriting the Book on Genes

xkcd

Personal / October 24th

A long while back I heard about xkcd and read a few, but I didn't really get into it. Apparently some time after that evaluation, it got pretty funny and insightful. So I've been catching up on it and I came across one just now that I think is awesome. So, with that said, I'm doing a link and run:

xkcd - Dreams

Fixes

Site News / October 23rd

There have been some broken things here and there recently, due in no small part to my ongoing work improving the backend code. While I try to work on dev code and leave the site working on known good, some changes require the database to be altered. When that happens I often find unintended consequences to a change I made, which I then bug fix on the live site. Then I think everything is working only to find later something else is broken.

However, I want to let you know that for the time being I believe that I have corrected these issues and that everything is working correctly. I also don't have any short-term plans for database changes, and if I do I will try to test them on a dev copy. Unfortunately, most of the improvements are for Spark itself, and other sites using it, moreso than XeoMage.

I have some new site content that I've been meaning to get to for a while but haven't. I will try to get better about that, but some of it is a lot of work to launch and with my current focus on Spark it's difficult to find the time. Hopefully soon.

Breakfast Cat

Cool Stuff / October 21st

Just in case it was not evident, or has not been previously stated, I hereby reserve the right to be easily amused.

breakfast cat

From the Good News Desk

Cool Stuff / October 8th

Another link and run, I'm afraid, but here's an interesting read from the Wall Street Journal's opinion page: Clear-Eyed Optimists. It discusses how from several measurements, life on Earth may actually be getting better, not worse, and that for all of the proclamations of doom-sayers over the years, it isn't all going straight to Hell in a handbasket.

That's encouraging to hear, though it would be nice if it were a little bigger news than it is. One could make the argument that the negative news spewed by our corporation-controlled, fear-mongering media is to blame, but that would be taking a positive story in a less-so direction, so we'll just hold that thought for now.