From the all-too-rare genre of mathematical-political satire: Using Metadata to find Paul Revere. Highlighting for the uninitiated just how much actual information is really contained in even a wee sliver of the so-called metadata we smear all over the digital universe in our wake. Applied to the Founding Fathers.
What does a world without fossil fuels look like? There are lots of different options, but none of them look much like the rich developed nations of the world today. David MacKay’s approach in Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air is to hold our rate of energy consumption constant, and explore the kinds of carbon-free energy systems that could satisfy that demand. The uncomfortable conclusion he comes to is that if we want to run our world on renewables, the energy farms have to be comparable in scale to nations. Comparable in scale to our agricultural systems. This is because all renewable energy is very diffuse, and we use a whole lot of energy.
Just as an example, of all the renewable power sources solar is the most concentrated, and PV farms like the ones cropping up in Bavaria because of Germany’s generous feed-in tariff average about 5W/m2. With better siting (the Sahara, Arizona) you can do a bit better, and there’s a little more efficiency to be eked out of the panels, but for large scale deployments, you’re not going to get above 10W/m2. If you’re an average citizen of the EU or Japan, your 5kW of power thus demands 500m2 of land. Multiply that by 700 million people in the EU, and you get the total area of Germany. An average North American’s 10kW requires 1000m2. Multiply that by 300 million people, and you get an the entire area of Arizona.
Boulder County is looking at some kind of county-wide sustainability program, with an associated tax which will be on the ballot this fall. The City of Boulder is revising its Climate Action Plan, looking toward a goal of climate neutrality in 2050. An extension of the tax which supports our climate work will also be on the ballot in the fall. One thing that none of that money should go toward? Urban farming.
In my previous post I described the stock and bond markets by analogy with a casino, but you might reasonably question the validity of that analogy. Are market returns really as unpredictable as coin flips? The real payoff probability distributions obviously aren’t binary; what do they actually look like?
If you want to follow my shared links in real time instead of as a weekly digest, head over to Delicious. You can search them there easily too.
Continue reading Links for the week of November 20th, 2009
You can also search or subscribe to my linkstream over at Delicious.
- Christian high school discussion of climate change – Kurt Klein's AP Environmental Science class is reading Richard B. Alley's Two Mile Time Machine, about paleoclimate, ice cores, and abrupt climate change events. (tagged: climate ice science greenland education religion )
- Prefabricated Passive Houses in the USA – Bau Technologies is attempting to bring pre-fabricated (or rather off-site constructed) passive houses to the US. Looks awesome. (tagged: architecture sustainability energy efficiency passivhaus design )
- Yogurt making tips – Detailed instructions on how to make yogurt, and also a source for equipment and cultures. (tagged: food yogurt homemade cooking recipe )
- Climate Wars – A Canadian radio show exploring some of the climate change scenarios which have been studied by the US Dept. of Defense in a personal, "War of the Worlds" kind of way. Be forewarned, this is apocalypse porn, and probably not productive unless you need to get yourself riled up. (tagged: politics climate sustainability future war )
- Our Passive House — the first passive house in Utah. – A Utah couple chronicles the design and construction of their passive house, with blog posts and photos. Great to see these things going up on this side of the Atlantic finally! (tagged: passivhaus sustainability design architecture buildings )
- Will Allen: Street Farmer – A long profile of Will Allen and his intensive urban farming project in Milwaukee: "Growing Power". Aquaponics and vermicomposting of donated food wastes. This is realistic urban farming at a moderate scale. (tagged: sustainability urban food agriculture compost )
- Gini coefficient | Wikipedia – A wonderfully simple and general mathematical measure of the non-uniformity of a distribution, mostly used in economics, but applicable elsewhere just as well. (tagged: economics math wikipedia research science finance )
- Here comes the data: OECD Factbook eXplorer – There are terabytes of interesting data out there that nobody can actually understand, because we don't have good interfaces for playing with it, and poking around. This is the OECD's attempt to offer a window into its own demographic treasure trove. Obviously inspired by the gapminder, from Google and Hans Rosling. (tagged: data maps statistics visualization demographics oecd economics )
- The Choice of Cities – I'm not convinced we really know why the humans are coming to the cities. Whether it's a pull, or a push. How the migrants feel about their lot. Is it, globally, the same as the push we had in this country a hundred years ago? Or was it a pull? What happened when the frontier closed, when all the land was spoken for, and the factories and mines and mills were opened for business.
And what will cities look like once everyone has arrived? If we actually reach that day, when the countryside is emptied, and the flow staunched, then how will cities develop going forward? What will their margins look like? Will the slums filled with newcomers vanish? What will they be replaced with? (tagged: technologie urban design economics history technology poverty )
- Bike Among the Ruins – Detroit is half abandoned. The houses are almost free. The streets are empty and the people are poor. It's also flat. Could a cyclone of bicycles wipe clean the slate, even within the sight of our beloved, bankrupted, and now employee owned husk of an industrial titan… GM? (tagged: bicycle transportation urban design economy )
- Behind the Veil by Eve Arnold – A series of photographs of women, from Afghanistan and the middle east from 1969. Very different from our "Summer of Love"… (tagged: photos islam afghanistan women )
- The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized – Iran is one of the first places we get to see old school blood in the streets mixed with the new age of instantaneous, ubiquitous communication. We've tended to focus on the positive aspects, while briefly forgetting the potential powers of an electronic police state, which is to some degree what Iran has built. No massive army of eavesdroppers and informants is needed in such a regime. A few deep packet inspection boxes from Siemens sitting on the fiber backbone, and a few on the microwave towers from Nokia. Technology is largely neutral. (tagged: technology politics internet privacy government twitter web2.0 iran )
- 55 km to Amsterdam – A day of inter-city transportation by bicycle in the Netherlands. Can it really be that idyllic? (tagged: bicycle transportation netherlands infrastructure )
- 1993 Y Hike Pictures – Wow, pictures of myself from 1993 on the Y Hike. I still remember just about everyone in that group. I look so… young! (tagged: caltech yhike backpacking wilderness sierras )
- Traitor Joe's | Greenpeace – Trader Joe's doesn't make any effort to source sustainably caught fish. Unfortunately, with 70-80% of global commercial fisheries in collapse, it's virtually impossible to sell (or buy) most tasty fish species ethically. (tagged: sustainability fish traderjoes ocean food )
- Organic Farms as Subdivision Amenities – Housing developments that incorporate small organic farms, CSAs even, instead of the usual golf-course crap. How would one adapt this for denser living I wonder? (tagged: design agriculture urban csa food architecture )
- Enphase Energy System Monitoring – Another real-time and historical solar power monitoring system. This one is installed on the roof of one of the Boulder Housing Coalition Co-ops in Boulder. Pretty awesome! Smart grid indeed. (tagged: solar energy technology transparency electricity )
- Caltech Building Dashboard – A near real time view of the power being generated by Caltech's 200 kW PV installation on the Holliston parking structure. Also shows historical data and weather information. Pretty cool. Would be great to just have the raw datastream available via an API too… and be able to see all the Caltech's per-building consumption too. (tagged: energy solar caltech pasadena technology transparency data internet )
- How To Destroy Half the Planet for the Low, Low Price of 5% of Global GDP – Never mind the possibility of unforseen climatic consequences. Even if the pessimistic IPCC scenarios are right, and even if they "only" reduce global GDP by 5% over the next 100 years, that purely economic metric is not sufficient, because it turns out you can wipe 2.5 billion people and their nations off the face of the Earth, mainly in the tropics, and only reduce global GDP by 5%. Cold comfort, that. (tagged: climate economics gdp )
- Walter Mebane's statistical analysis of Iran's election results – Walter Mebane at UW Madison has done several statistical analyses of the Iranian election results, and finds significant irregularities in the Ahmedinejad results. (tagged: election iran statistics democracy fraud system:filetype:pdf system:media:document )
- Carbon Cap and Trade Debate – Ralph Cavanagh (legislative council for NRDC) and Jim Lazar, an economist, debate the merits of Cap and Trade, for an hour and a half. Looks interesting, but don't have time to watch it at the moment (tagged: video towatch climate policy economics )
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Bonds – PACE bonds are a way of overcoming the capital intensivity of many energy efficiency retrofits which make sense in the mid to long-term, but not on the typical short term investors time horizon. They also allow homeowners who may move before their investment in efficiency has paid for itself to pass on the obligation to future owners, instead of losing the investment. They also shift the costs of doing energy efficiency from capital expenses to debt servicing, which is advantageous in many jurisdictions for tax purposes. Berkeley, CA and Boulder, CO pioneered them for municipalities, but they can also work in a commercial context. (tagged: energy efficiency sustainability finance green debt investing bonds )
- It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado – Colorado has taken its first tentative steps down the road to legalizing… rainwater harvesting. I hope they go all the way. I'd hate to have to end up breaking yet another immoral law. (tagged: environment colorado water law sustainability rain green architecture design )
- Welcome to Tällberg – A "conference" analogous to the WEF in Davos, but held in Sweden, in the woods, and with sustainability as the given goal, instead of economic growth. Would be an interesting stop on the Green Cities Bike Tour. (tagged: green economics technology politics policy design conference )
- Power Struggle – A commentary on Steven Chu's position that we need major basic scientific and technological breakthroughs to successfully tackle our energy problems in the context of global warming. The hope is that in the short term, the vast array of incremental changes we have available is enough to get us started, and that by mid-century, the major breakthroughs will have been forthcoming. Ah, non-linear dynamics. (tagged: technology science energy climate non-linear sustainability policy )
- The Great American Bubble Machine – An article from Rolling Stone, by Matt Taibbi, on the endless bubble building shenanigans that Goldman Sachs has engaged in over the years, and their supposed current machinations to engineer a bubble in the as-of-yet uncreated market for greenhouse gas emissions. Markets, I like. Markets run by some Great American Gangster Kingpin, not so much. Especially not this particular market. Remember: Nature doesn't do bailouts. (tagged: economics finance goldmansachs capitalism climate bailout )
- The Economics of Ideas – An article about Paul Romer by Kevin Kelly, musing on the problems and benefits of having an economy which is primarily driven by informational goods. (tagged: economics technology non-linear )
- Paul Romer: A Theory of History, with an Application – Paul Romer talks about two different kinds of informational goods: "technology" and "rules". The former being knowledge about how to re-arrange the material world to increase its value to humans, and the latter being constraints on the ways we interact with each other. His "new/endogenous growth" theory suggests that overwhelmingly, wealth creation throughout history has been due to these two kinds of goods, and that they are virtually infinite resources. What he does not explicitly admit in the talk though, is that much of our increased apparent wealth has come at the cost of virtual liquidation of material resources. Truly sustainable growth absolutely must close the materials loop somehow. Better sooner than later. The rest of his idea is wonderful: we need a system which enables rule set entrepreneurs, or we aren't going to get sufficient innovation in the field. He suggests myriad autonomous city states, and I agree emphatically. (tagged: economics urban society non-linear politics longnow )
- The Swimming Cities of Serenissima – Improvised and chaotic houseboats built from found bits, floating down the Mississippi (2006-2007), or the Hudson (2008), or sailing the Adriatic from Slovenia to Venice (2009). Like a tiny maritime Burning Man. Only a couple of boats today… What if it were an armada? (tagged: art boat performance sailing )
- Health Reform Without a Public Plan – A short outline of how healthcare works in Germany: with pooled risks, and income-based premiums, but without a government administered healthcare system. There are more models for "socialized" healthcare out there than Americans realize, and they don't all involve a wasteful bureaucracy. (tagged: health medicne insurance policy politics socialism )
- How to Look Like a Grown-Up While Biking to Work – Can it really be true? Has New York become so bikeable that normal people riding simple, functional do-everything bikes are about to take over and make bicycle culture just plain old culture? I'd like to believe it. (tagged: bicycle transportation culture urban design cycling )
- Use of Linux constitutes probable cause? – Computer expertise and use of a command line now apparently warrant seizure and search of all your electronic devices, on the Boston College campus anyway. What a crock! (tagged: technology politics security linux police privacy law )
- Points on a sphere – There's no perfect way to specify N regularly spaced points on a sphere, but there are a few different ways to get close I'm going with the golden section spiral (tagged: python math programming science research sphere )
- He Doesn’t Let the Money Managers Off the Hook – Of all the myriad failures of our capitalism, the willful collusion of shareholder representatives in the mismanagement and looting of their own companies has not gotten much airtime. This is why I use Vanguard. (tagged: investing vanguard bogle finance capitalism )
- The secret, social lives of bacteria – Cooperative behavior between bacteria, both inter and intra species, coordinated via chemical messages. Behavior like "should we make light?" and "should we kill the host now?". Scary, awesome, and a beautiful system to investigate with algorithmic game theory! (tagged: cooperation biology technology bacteria science )
- Computational Legal Studies – More people using machines to understand politics. A whole new class of dual use technology. Propaganda or transparency? Manipulation or clarity? Unauthorized social networking. (tagged: transparency technology government law )
- Public Private Investment Partnerships a la Enron – Giving banks the ability to both buy and sell into the toxic asset markets being set up under PPIP is a recipe for market gaming in the tradition of Enron, as outlined in this example. Great, a trillion dollar Enron! (tagged: finance bailout economics policy enron ppip banks )
- The New Nostradamus – Bruce Bueno de Mesquita uses large game theory simulations to try and predict the outcomes of complex negotiations involving many parties, both economic and political. Sounds interesting. Also sounds a little bit like bullshit. But apparently the CIA did a prospective trial (no backtesting bias) and found that the models made accurate predictions something like 90% of the time, when the analysts providing the inputs to the model made wrong predictions. Not so surprising that computers are better at synthesizing massive logical datasets into an outcome. The hard part seems like it would be getting the right inputs, and also trusting that people behave rationally, and (perhaps) know what's good for them. (tagged: economics politics science math prediction gametheory technology )
- Ice Shelf Instability Backgrounder – A good backgrounder from last summer on the Wilkins Ice Shelf (which has just collapsed), and shelf dynamics in general, with links to the relevant literature. None of this is quite as sudden and shocking as the media reports have made it out to be. (tagged: climate antarctica ice shelf )