Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ethanol Thoughts

For some reason, I've been thinking of ethanol fuel lately. Perhaps I heard Obama or McCain mention it, or maybe I saw a car w/a bumper sticker.

Either way, I started thinking about it - and what struck me was the question of where the biomass (corn/soy/switch-grass) was going to come from.

Ignore for a minute the fact that even if we turned all the corn/soy we grew into fuel - we still wouldn't have enough gas to run our vehicles. Ignore for a minute the fact that nobody has come up with a cost-effective (and efficient) method of converting biomass into fuel.

Where is this biomass coming from?


Ok. Fine.

What do all farmers know? They know that to get something out of the ground you need: water, light, seed, and nutrients. After a few generations of anything, you need to feed the soil. Where is the fertilizer going to come from? You can't compost - you just turned all the biomass into fuel. You need fertilizer - and that's going to increase the cost. People talk about using switchgrass - and that it is responsible for the fertile soil in the Midwest. Yes, it's how we got such fertile soil - by having switchgrass grow there for generations - not by harvesting it twice every year.

Yes, stuff grows in the ground, but it's not an unlimited bank account. This is something everyone knew before the industrial revolution. But now ... people think you only have to harvest/harvest/harvest.


Also, to get an idea of the scale of the problem, I was reading this article: The Oil Drum | Cutting Through the Coskata Cellulosic Ethanol Hype, and it breaks down an analysis of a particular company's claims. The part I found most interesting was the quantity of biomass required:
In Coskata's case, they promise 100 gallons (+) per ton. How much biomass then to run a 100 million gallon per year facility? A million tons per year. How much biomass is this? If we return to the Douglas fir example, it is the biomass equivalent of around 1.2 million mature Douglas firs per year.
To put in the context of rail cars, the coal cars lined up outside of a coal-fired power plant are a familiar site. According to this, each car carries about 100 tons of coal. For a million tons of coal a year, you would have to have 1 million/(100 tons per car) = 10,000 cars per year coming into and leaving the plant. That's more than a car an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And of course coal is quite a bit denser than biomass, so more cars would be required in the case of biomass.
Wow, a train car every hour, every day, to produce ... 100 million gallons of ethanol. That's a lot of biomass. But 100 million gallons is a lot, isn't it? No: we use 390 million gallons of gas per day. And, that's ignoring the fact that ethanol only has 2/3 the energy of gasoline.

How are you going to solve the logistics of getting that much biomass shipped around? To cover all the gas we use in vehicles we'd need nearly 1500 such ethanol plants, each requiring at minimum - one train car full of biomass every hour.

The numbers are simply staggering.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

File This Under Kinda Creepy

I remember when EFF first pointed these out four years ago. The printers still do it - be aware.

EFF's "Yellow Dots of Mystery" on Instructables | Electronic Frontier Foundation:
it's deeply troubling that printer manufacturers implemented this surveillance mechanism under the table after secret meetings between government representatives and technology manufacturers. Printer companies don't disclose the tracking to their customers and so the existence of these yellow tracking dots remains secret.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How Long Will President Obama Last?

People have been noticing McCain's supporters are out of control. McCainiacs think Obama is an Arab, a terrorist, Muslim, and much worse.

The lady who told McCain that Obama was an Arab still thought Obama was an Arab after McCain took the microphone away from her and said Obama was not an Arab.

It turns out there's a study on this: The Power of Political Misinformation: "Bullock and others have also shown that some refutations can strengthen misinformation, especially among conservatives."

So, we've got McCain (and Palin) doing all they can to play up doubts about Obama's patriotism/trust/heritage, so much that their supporters believe these falsehoods and actually boo McCain when he tries to correct the falsehood. And, conservatives are much more likely to believe in something false after the falsehood has been revealed.

How angry are these people going to be when McCain loses? To an Arab/Muslim/Terrorist? Oh, throw in the fact he's black. They're gonna be pissed! They're gonna go postal. And, trying to talk them down will only further convince them they're right!

Obama's days are numbered if he is elected as president.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

U.S. Iraqi Agreemnt, Bush Signing Statement: "All Your Oil Belongs To Us"

From a blog I read - an Iraqi voice on politics.

Raed in the Middle: U.S. Iraqi Agreemnt: Final Draft leaked:
I think it's really interesting that while the bush administration are putting the last touches on this long term agreement with their Iraqi allies, bush issued a new presidential signing statement last week specifically to allow the U.S. government to control Iraq's oil resources! The statement was issued as a response to a congressional law that prohibits the U.S. government from taking control over Iraq's oil and gas resources.

Shroom Class

On Sunday I did the field trip portion of my mushroom class. The instructor (again) made a comment about how he didn't sign up to teach the 30+ people, the class was supposed to be limited to 20. I agree that the class was too large to get good exposure to the instructor - hopefully the parks and rec will enforce the class limits they set up next time.

That being said, I had a good time. The class split into two groups that each headed down different roads on Mary' s Peak. I joined the smaller group, which had the two "assistants" leading it. We all had a great time looking for mushrooms and sharing our findings with each other. I had the typical knack to find LBMs (little brown mushrooms) and initially had trouble finding anything but the LBMs. But I did end up finding two Chanterelles on my own, as well as a couple of Lobster mushrooms. Unfortunately, Lobster mushrooms are very popular with a number of insects so you have to find them before the insects.

I plan on going out to look for mushrooms in the future - it was a hoot.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pictures Recovered (mostly)

Well, thanks to a flash card reader and ZAR, I was able to recover most of the pictures off the memory card. A couple were corrupted, but most turned out. ZAR worked well, especially for a trial version - they specifically tell you to use the trial version for photo recovery.

I've learned my lesson, never use auto-delete, even when it's doing the "safe" delete. I may switch to ACD See (which Sam swears by) instead of Picasa (evil software which deleted my photos).

Here are some of the cute Simone pictures.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Want My Pictures Back

I just somehow deleted all the photos on my camera. Picasa2 was "importing" them, doing a "safe delete" - which only deletes the photos after they're copied to my computer.

It didn't work, I lost all the photos. Some were very cute photos of Simone (she's cheesing it up now), and photos from my mushroom class.

Not pleased.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

St. John Monastery

A while back, we traveled up to see the family in Yakima. I forget the trip details, but it was fun - Simone loves her cousins.

On the way back we stopped at the St. John Monastery's roadside store. We've always wondered what it was like, but we've always driven by on a Sunday (for some reason we don't notice it while driving to Yakima). But, because it was Labor Day weekend, we came back on a Monday - and it was open.

We stopped in and picked up a pan of spanikopita and baklava. The spanikopita rocked, and the baklava was pretty good (though I'd prefer to make my own).

If you're in the neighborhood, check it out.


Mary and I went to the coast on Monday. Nothing terribly exciting, just a nice day hanging out with each other.

We stopped into a little market that had odd snacks, picked up two huge pickles and some licorice.

I've got to say, it was the best licorice I've ever had.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pirate if you do, Pirate if you don't...

From xkcd:

So true.

Friday, October 10, 2008

East Coast Trip 2008

Mary, Simone and I traveled back east to show them my own stomping grounds and the fall colors. Plus we spent a couple days in Maine visiting Mary's cousins (from her dad's side). We had a great time, the weather was good (only one day w/rain), the food was good, and Simone traveled really well.

We walked around Cornell - campus hadn't changed very much - though the U-Halls were gone (my freshman dorm) and had been replaced with some slightly larger buildings. We ate hot-truck, lunch at Moosewood, college town bagels, and (surprisingly still around) Aladdin's.

It was also nice to meet Mary's extended family - unfortunately I didn't get any photos of them.

One surprise was that we found out Simone's namesake (Mary's great-aunt) spelled her name with two "N"s: Simonne.

Check out the photo album:

East Coast 2008

FM 100 Hue Test

I scored 11, not too bad (0 is perfect).

FM 100 Hue Test