Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Actors Get Brains?

Source: Pisqa
Finally, after decades of being little more than pretty faces, actor activists (actorvists (I didn't coin that)) are getting smart....at least George Clooney is anyway. You've probably read that Clooney, unlike most uber famous hollywood stars, has taken on a cause that might easily one day lead to his untimely death: Sudan.  According to a recent Time magazine article, Clooney had the bright idea of using charity to fund the use of satellite reconnaissance to keep a watch over Sudan after its January referendum on independence for the south. If you're like me, you probably have no idea what is going on in Sudan thanks to our media that would rather inform us about weather and....ah hell, in a post wikileaks world, the mainstream media is too easy to pick on.

Sudan? Let me break it down for you.  The islamic totalitarian government (big fucking surprise) in the north (composed mostly of Sunni Muslims (yeah, the dudes from Iraq and Saudi Arabia) are nothing more than dark skinned Hitlers who use religion as an excuse to commit rape & murder.  What do you think the barbarians in question want in the south which is inhabited mostly by Christians and Animists?  You guessed it--oil.  Thus the south wants to declare independence from the north. (good idea)  The Sudanese government does whatever they want simply because they have no fear of the sentiments of civilization....perhaps mainly because civilized humanity is largely unaware of the Nazi-style brutality taking place there in Darfur.   But now, the threat of modern satellite imaging which could provide evidence of atrocities and troop movements, there may just be a small hope for a new way forward.  Make up your own mind about whether it could be useful.

Personally, I think Clooney has a brilliant idea  here.   I know this is the case because I sat in a philosophy course stumped one time when the Prof asked if anyone knew what the number one deterrent to crime was.  The typical answers of education, lack of poverty, etc were thrown out.  Wrong, wrong, wrong came the reply.  D E T E C T I O N.  It may be different where you are, but where I am, people don't commit crimes when they are in full view of everyone.  Surveillance cameras, alert citizens and an underlying rule of law prevent crime.  Feel free to debate this but the idea of using satellites to keep an account of what is going on in Sudan is fantastic.  The thing I like about it is the Sudanese warlords are on notice that everything they do could have a photographic record.
Source: huffington post

The problem I have is that private charities have to fund this.  Why can't all of the largest countries in the world agree to pool all of the govt satellites and keep them over Sudan and similar world hot spots all the time?  I know---the unrealistic words of a dreamer...  or maybe the reality is much simpler:  people don't complain enough to political authorities about this.   It is 2010, why can't we get smarter with modern technology and political conflict?

The firms providing the private satellite images are GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and ImageSat.

Clooney's charity is here:  http://notonourwatchproject.org/

In the past, I have made liberal use of my right to petition my government representatives on the topic of Darfur. The responses I receive from elected officials are often bland and impotent, unfortunately.  But don't let that prevent you from taking 15 minutes to write to your representative at his or her website which typically makes it extremely easy to do just that.

Also, I note that Not On Our Watch has a ton of media (images/videos). Is there some reason why you jerks haven't made it embed-able?    It's not like you should be worried about copyright you media geniuses.  What are you going to do, make a few million off a documentary?  Geeze.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Secretary Chu On Lithium Ion?

Source: NY Times
Like most public officials,  DOE Secretary Chu can be both praised and criticized for the choices he has made to advance the mission of the agency he leads.   My initial worry with Chu was that maybe he didn't prioritize energy storage enough  in his overall plan so that research funding was being spread too thinly across various renewable energy technologies.  I also worried that the DOE was a bit too cozy with campaign donors to the Obama administration, for example, giving enormous funding to electric car makers Fisker and Tesla....when what was actually needed more urgently were batteries to propel such vehicles.

The more I get to know Chu via his numerous public presentations, the more I come to the conclusion that he's doing a pretty good job.  In fact, I find it hard to believe we have ever had a former DOE head that has even 50% of the efficacy of Chu.   Everyone talks about how smart he is as a scientist. But I think lately, he seems to be paying more attention to economic viability.   

Case in point.  Last week in Cancun, Mexico at the UN Climate Change Conference,  Chu gave a very interesting presentation.  Notable is the discussion starting around 25:00 where Chu begins to compare liquid fuels to lithium ion batteries.   He then goes on to recognize that lithium ion has a very long way to go to be viable for consumer adoption in cars.  According to John Petersen, he actually paints lithium ion as a dead end.  Although I don't quite go so far based on what he presented. But, of course, I personally have a considerable reservations about it based purely on supply. 

It seems to me that Chu is paying most of his attention to research and appears to have put together a team that is achieving demonstrable progress.   Now, of course, not everything DOE funds is going to come to fruition.  But really, all we need are a few key ones to succeed with energy storage being chief among them.   

You may say, well, if EEStor produces finally (after torturing everyone with a long announcement delay chosen solely by Dick Weir and no one else) then doesn't that mean DOE is wasting a lot of funding on batteries?   I don't really think that's the right question. What I'm curious about is if EEStor produced, what would Chu's DOE do in response?    I think he's a guy that would use his resources to make the most of it.    So, I am not skeptical of Chu. Instead, I'm interested to see where he could take us. 

My only other concern is whether or not our attempts to cooperate with foreign governments such as China on the level of research is actually in our best interest as a country.  We always tend to come up short on trade negotiation.  I think that one issue is one that separates the climate change crowd from the energy independence crowd in the USA.   To the EI group, the CC group appear alarmist and economically wreck-less. To the CC group, the EI group are insufficiently alarmed and possibly nihilistic.   But, at least both groups can agree that we need to get rid of fossil fuels for transportation and power generation.  

Credit: thanks to the anonymous emailer who brought Petersen's article to my attention.  

PS: My view is if we have to depend on lead acid as Petersen suggests, let's call everything off.  You know, throw in the towel and have a end of the world party.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wikileaks Heats Up Lithium Ion Drama

The global race to develop lithium ion batteries has suddenly become far more interesting thanks to new Wikileaks documents released recently. According to one of the cables,  the Inter-American Development Bank has given the government of Bolivia a report "that details the serious potential for environmental damage in extracting Lithium."   The cable paints Morales as an eager industrialist who dispenses Climate Change rhetoric but rejects the Copenhagen Accord. Another cable suggests that Morales has a serious tumor whose treatment may be impacting his ability to govern.  In response, Morales used a press conference at the Cancun Climate Summit to express is distinct lack of trust for the American government. He suggests that US intelligence agencies are waging various disinformation campaigns--such as the rumored tumor-- in South American countries which reject capitalism.  This week Bolivia began directly hosting some of the Wikileaks released cables on their own website. 

The US Geological Service estimates that Bolivia has 50-70% of world lithium reserves making it a key supplier for any country attempting to invest in lithium ion manufacturing.   As we learned a year ago, a key part of the US stimulus plan included several billion dollars of funding designed to launch a US based battery manufacturing industry much of which went to lithium ion start up firms. 
UPS Plane destroyed by lithium ion battery fire

Anyone who is paying attention may wonder what will happen if these battery start up firms actually create tenable manufacturing technologies.   Will the price of Bolivian lithium make their accomplishments irrelevant?

Even if a new administration can later smooth over relations with Bolivia, we may be years behind the US's chief competitor in lithium ion production: Japan.  Last week, Japan Prime Minster Naoto Kan hosted--you guessed it--Boliva's Morales who was there to sign deals with Japanese interests for what else--lithium. 

Note: I could not find an environmental risk report for lithum extraction in Bolivia on the IADB website.   

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I know it's been a long time since I wrote to you and we both know the circumstances which have made me largely ineligible to benefit from your work, i.e., that I've been a bad boy for a long, loooong, loooonnnggg time.

Rather than live in the past, I thought I would try and start anew, first, by saying I am so sorry for being bad. I will try and not act like the world revolves around me any more.

I'm sure you get sick of so many letters from people asking you for things.  So, I mean, hey man, how are *you* doing???  Hopefully, very well indeed.

Santa, as you know, we are engaged in quite a game of waiting around for old St. Dick, I mean for Dick Weir to wrap up whatever last things he needs to complete prior to making EEStor's next announcement.  I was wondering if maybe possibly if I'm a good guy from now til Christmas if maybe possibly you could use your influence with Dick to get him to finally provide an update on EEStor progress.  If you choose to accept this mission, please don't let him simply say something like "everything is going well" or "we're proud of the progress we've made" or "we're soooo close."  Instead, you gotta nail him down, Santa and get him to reveal publicly that, "the production line is fully certified" or "the EESU components energy density is X as certified by_____" or "the throughput of the production line is _____" etc.   Santa, get ahold of him and make him say something specific.

Yes, I realize your normal role is to bring toys to good boys and girls. And in this case, I'm asking you to maybe suggest to Mr. Weir that all those new toys he wants next year (major financing deal, new building, new production lines,  major new partners) might be withheld if he isn't good.   So, yes, that may be awkward but think of the upside Santa.  Those new batteries will reduce your current battery shipping weight by 4X and last I checked, none of your reindeer are getting any younger.  So, it is important. It is important to you. It is important to me.  So, let's work together.

And that's it, Santa. That's all I want for Christmas this year besides of course peace on earth for every human soul.



Dear B,

Hey man! Good to hear from you and thanks for asking about me.

Trust me, B, I need old Dick to come through as much as you.  Today's batteries are killing us all. The reindeer are on board. The elves are on board. The kids are definitely on board.   So, I'll have a little sit down with Papa Weir at the mall.  (he frequents the chinese buffet in the food court )   I think he just needs to learn that hide n' seek with the EESU isn't winning him any popularity contests.  He's a good guy, B, just let me explain to him how important it is to stamp out myths with verifiable facts so as not to give rise to crazy wackos.

Also, note, you haven't been bad at all. You're just too old for Santa now.  You "get" that, right?  Ok, peace my brotha.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NASA Press Conference Bubble Burst: No Life Found On Other Planets

"No life has been found on other planets. "  So says Dr. Steven Benner, panelist scheduled to take part in a NASA press conference tomorrow.   Every major media outlet along with about a hundred thousand blogs are reporting that the press conference may include an announcement of a discovery of life on other planets.

I spoke with Dr. Benner this afternoon and while the exact contents of the press conference are under embargo, he did confirm a few key facts.

1) The press conference will NOT include an announcement of life on another planet. Instead, "it will be all Earth centric. We're going to be talking about the basic chemistry of life on earth and whether it can be different. "

2) Dr. Benner will be the skeptic on the panel "and you're going to hate me at the end of the day.  I'm going to be there to say that this is not proven and I'm going to dampen everyone's enthusiasm."

3)  The discussion will focus on a paper to be published in Science by Felisha Wolf-Simon, one of the other scheduled panelists.  According to Dr. Benner, "she will be excited."

4) Some journalists have been given advanced copies of the article under condition of an information embargo.

5) NASA will not be releasing any new information on EEStor energy storage which clearly is of alien origin since no one can figure out how the technology works including inventor Dick Weir.

PS. If you are an alien, I'd love to interview you.  But only if you're using EESU's.