Saturday, September 30, 2006

BIOHOLS - Should You Invest?

If I were a betting man, and I'm not, I would not put any money on the future of carbon based energy. The Russians and Middleasterners and Venezuelans have kept the price of oil too high for too long, and they are going to pay the price.

You see, oil and gas have been this pricey (in constant dollars) before. When the price gets out of whack, risk takers start putting bucks into alternative energy, alternative motors, engines, etc., and conservation methods. The last couple of times we had these energy crises, the price didn't stay high long enough for the risk takers to get a return, so they bailed. Alternative approaches and conservation have basically only been happening because of government intervention through incentives and disincentives.

But this time, the risk takers have had enough time to actually make progress and begin to see serious profit opportunities down the road . . . and not that far down the road.

Better batteries, better light bulbs, more efficient jet engines, hybrid engines, clean burning diesel, changes in attitudes about nuclear, potential monumental breakthrough technologies in hydrogen, ocean heat pumps, wind, solar, and on and on.

As pointed out in the October issue of Wired Magazine, however, one very, very old approach may be the big winner - Biofuels. The most familiar of these is ethanol. If ethanol were cheap enough, and the production facilities were in place to produce enough of it, and if there was enough raw stock (currently primarily corn) to feed these facilities, we could end the use of carbon based gasoline tomorrow. Currently ethanol based flex fuels, which combine ethanol and gas, are providing an ever increasing, though still small, portion of the total gas supply.

Right now, there are three major hold ups on using 85% ethanol in the US.

1. Not enough feed stock. If the entire corn crop was used for this purpose, it wouldn't be nearly enough.
2. A substantial amount of oil based energy is needed to grow, harvest, and transport the corn to distilleries. Then, more oil based energy is used to turn the corn into gas. In fact, the most optimistic numbers are about 1 gallon of oil to produce 1.3 gallons of equivalent ethanol.
3. Cost. The most efficient facilities claim to produce ethanol for about $1.00 per gallon. This is too high to compete with gasoline in "normal" times (say $30 per barrel.)

Now comes three major breakthroughs as reported in Wired. First is the use of manure as the energy source for the distilling process. Second is the increasing yield per acre of the corn feedstock. The writer of the article (who has major investments in this technology, therefore has an axe to grind) indicates that $.75 per gallon ethanol is now possible. Further developments in hybrid corn are promising to increase the yield even more. At $.75 per gallon, ethanol is competitive with crude-based gas.

The big breakthrough, however, would be the development of one or more alternative feedstocks that would dramatically increase the yield per acre. It would appear from this article that biohols produced from switchgrass or other higher yielding plants are going to be available very soon. Already sugar beet ethanol has allowed Brazil to become a net exporter of energy products, as they have rapidly shifted their automotive industry to flex fuels using 85% ethanol.

A bit further out, but not the stuff of science fiction, is gasoline made from raw sewage, wood chips, and other biomass waste products. There are several small scale projects already doing this, and it is becoming more efficient at a rapid rate. A company called Kergy is on the verge of producing 15,000 gallons of ethanol per day using anaerobic thermal conversion. This process is faster than fermentation and uses less energy. And they have already made ethanol from municipal waste and hog manure.

I will provide a link to the specific article on October 3 when it becomes available. If you want to read the entire article sooner than that, you'll need to buy the magazine. For now, here is a link to Wired's homepage.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Weatherfolks Prove to be WAY, WAY Off

For the last month, I have been keeping track of the high temperature for the day in light of the predictions of the LA Times. As noted in a previous post, the record was pathetic. I continued to add the data in each day, expecting things to improve...suspecting that I may have just picked a bad week. I can stop this extra little daily effort. Thanks to friends of Michael Williams, you can now check out your own neighborhood any day of the week to find out how various weather services are doing in predicting your weather. And you can look back and see how they score over the long term also.

So I checked out my zip, 90302. As mentioned, it should be pretty easy to get the percipitation right in West Los Angeles. The only issue on most days is what will be the high temp.

Weather forecast accuracy details for El Segundo, California

These are the one- to three-day out accuracy percentages for high temperature, low temperature, icon forecast precipitation (both rain and snow), and text forecast precipitation (both rain and snow). Temperature accuracy is the percentage of forecasts within three degrees. Precipitation accuracy is the percentage of correct forecasts. The forecasts are collected in the evening.

Click on the headers to sort by that column.
Weather Forecast Accuracy Data Last Month
Provider High Temp Low Temp Icon Precip Text Precip Overall
MyForecast 95.06% 86.42% 98.15% 98.15% 94.44%
The Weather Channel 87.65% 92.59% 98.15% 98.15% 94.14%
Accuweather 86.67% 92.00% 98.00% 98.00% 93.67%
NWS Digital Forecast 87.65% 86.42% 98.15% 98.15% 92.59%
Intellicast 75.64% 92.31% 98.08% 98.08% 91.03%
National Weather Service 7.41% 91.36% 98.15% 96.30% 73.30%

Weather Forecast Accuracy Data Last Year

Provider High Temp Low Temp Icon Precip Text Precip Overall
Accuweather 77.48% 82.38% 94.66% 94.85% 87.34%
MyForecast 73.40% 81.93% 94.13% 93.75% 85.81%
The Weather Channel 72.88% 79.44% 95.36% 94.88% 85.64%
Intellicast 73.17% 78.78% 91.17% 95.29% 84.61%
NWS Digital Forecast 66.67% 71.47% 91.96% 91.96% 80.52%
National Weather Service 45.24% 72.29% 94.73% 93.81% 76.52%
Please concentrate on the first column. Accuweather only hit the high temperature WITHIN THREE DEGREES 77% of the time last year. And National Weather Service was off more than half the time. Not surprisingly the low temperature is easier. Less variables in this area at night.

Let me repeat. These folks are telling us that they are absolutely certain that our temperatures are going to increase by 3˚ over the next 50 years. They want us to spend all kinds of money to stop it. They even want to have mankind interfere with the weather in order to stop it, with who know what potential for unforseen consequences. YIKES!

Go here to check on your neighboarhood.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Guaranteed Winning GOP Platform

Why doesn't Bush do a Kennedy. "I am putting forward an initiative today that will result in US energy independence by the year 2015, followed by a 50% reduction in the use of carbon based energy by 2020. This will be accomplished through innovation, capital investment, and conservation, all designed with improving the US and world economies, not detracting from them." Like the Moon plan, the president would need to spell out some basic strategies, but primarily make a call to the country to invest money, time, effort, and intensity into these important goals. Finally, where the man landing was a very clear goal, it would be important to spell out the specific ways that we would measure success.

Potentially, the measurable goal on energy independence could be that we would be a net exporter of energy. In other words, we might still be importing oil, but we would be offsetting that with net exports of liquid hydrogen or biomass.

Please show me where I'm wrong. Is there even 20% of the population that would not agree with this platform? All liberals, if they were honest, would have to applaud this idea. Almost all conservatives would agree with the energy independence plank, and a very substantial portion would either agree with the reduction in carbon fuels, or at least not be opposed. Conservatives would be concerned about how much was coerced by government, and how much was encouragement of industry.

And I am absolutely convinced that these goals could be met. Based on my reading of the current status of various approaches to solving these two issues, all it would take would be a major initiative, and we are very likely to hit these goals and more.

There is a very real reason why this will not be put forth by a sitting president of either party, and maybe not even be a serious platform plank for the 2008 election on either side. Tell me what you think these reasons would be.

A Totally Honest Liberal - Read It and Be Amazed

If you are interested in politics at all, read this following excerpt to its end. This is the most interesting political discussion I've heard in a long time. HH is Hugh Hewitt, father of the conservative political blogosphere and radio talk show host.

He is interviewing Thomas Edsall, who spent 25 years at the Washington Post, retiring this year from his post as senior political correspondent.

HH: A proposition. The reason talk radio exploded, followed by Fox News, followed by the center-right blogosphere, is that because folks like you have been the dominant voice in American media for a long time, and you’re a pretty thoroughgoing, Democratic favoring, agenda journalist for the left, and you’ve been the senior political reporter of the Washington Post for a very long time. And people didn’t trust your news product…not you, personally, but the accumulation of you: the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and they got sick and tired of being spoon fed liberal dross, and they went to the radio when an alternative product came along.

TE: To a certain degree, I agree with that.

HH: And so, why do you think it’s wrong, somehow, for people to want to hear news that they don’t consider as biased? I mean, that’s what it is. It’s just that unbiased news is what people wanted. That’s why conservatives like me got platforms, and our blogs get read, and our columns get absorbed.

TE: One, I don’t think it’s unbiased.

HH: It’s transparent at least. Everyone has bias. I agree with that. Everyone’s got bias.

TE: It’s transparent. Okay, that I would agree. And I agree that whatever you want to call it, mainstream media, presents itself as unbiased, when in fact, there are built into it, many biases, and they are overwhelmingly to the left.

HH: Well, that’s very candid.

TE: Well…

HH: Have you ever said that…in the course…when you were working for the Post, would you tell people who you voted for, and how liberal you were?

TE: You mean people people?

HH: Yeah. You ever write a column about…you know, I’m a left wing Democrat, but you can trust me. I won’t mess around with the candidates?

TE: No, because I’ve screwed over as many or more Democrats as I have Republicans.


HH: Is there any big name political reporter, and you know them all, Thomas Edsall. That’s why your book, Building Red America, is getting read left and right. Are there any of them who are conservative?

TE: Big name political reporter?

HH: Right.

TE: Jim Vandehei of the Washington Post.

HH: Think he’s voted for Republicans for president?

TE: Yes, I think he has. I don’t know, because he’s never told me. But I would think he has.

HH: And so, of those sorts…and he’s a very fine reporter.

TE: He is.

HH: He probably is a Republican. But given that number of reporters out there, is it ten to one Democrat to Republican? Twenty to one Democrat to Republican?

TE: It’s probably in the range of 15-25:1 Democrat.

HH: Can the mainstream media ever be fair as a result?

TE: Well, you know, you’re asking, I think, a wrong question. I think the problem is that there is a real difficulty on the part of the mainstream media being sympathetic, or empathetic, whatever the word would be, to the kind of thinking that goes into conservative approaches to issues. I think the religious right has been treated as sort of an alien world…

How much more honest can one be. I almost drove my car into a ditch. It has been my position, stated here and elsewhere, that the dems and libs don't read our stuff. They are not exposed to our pov enough to be empathetic. Conservatives have no choice. We are force fed lefty pov in schools, universities, MSM, and even our TV programs and movies. We understand and empathise, but reject liberal thinking. Then when you argue with the Dems, the debate gets all muddled with their feelings instead of facts. Why? Because you can't argue effectively against what you don't understand.

If you'd like to read the entire transcript, go here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Prof Gray, Hurricane Expert - "Humans Not Cause of Warming"

Continuing the lively debate on global warming. One of the point made in this article confirms an earlier post that compares our ability to predict weather a few days out to the really, really long term forecasts. This expert agrees with your fearless blogger.

"Global warming is happening, but humans are not the cause," according to Bill Gray, one of the nation’s top experts on hurricanes. Gray, who has studied tropical meteorology for more than 40 years, is a professor at Colorado State University. He further stated that "human-induced global warming is a fear perpetuated by the media and scientists who are trying to get federal grants. The Earth was warmer in some medieval periods than it is today. Current weather models are good at predicting weather as far as 10 days in advance, but predicting up to 100 years into the future is a great act of faith, and I don’t believe any of it.”

“I think we’re coming out of the little ice age, and warming is due to changes to ocean circulation patterns due to salinity variations,” Gray said.

Gray’s view has been challenged, however.

Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said, “Bill Gray is a widely respected senior scientist who has a view that is out of step with a lot of his colleagues’, but challenging widely held views is “good for science because it forces people to make their case and advances understanding. We should always listen to the minority."

I have shamelessly rearranged this article a bit without disturbing its meaning. To read the whole thing go here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Everybody's Talking About the Weather

I've mentioned his blog many times before, but my friend Michael Williams posted a short article about weather predictions in St Louis, his new home. Coincidentally, I had been charting the weather predictions in the LA Times vs actual results. He made mention of my WHAM!, there have now been over 40 comments as his readers argue the case for and against any logical connection between the ability of forecasters to get the short term forecast correct and the 50 year forecast correct.

I will post an update to my earlier findings in a few days, but I continue to be amazed at how the Time's forecast published the night before is so far off.

One of the contributors in the discussion suggested that the two kinds of predicting were not all that related. Most seemed to side with me that short range predictions should be easier than long, and that many of the same variable are in place.

The best post in my opinion was by "the pirate." He said poor short term forecasting might seem to be about taking the wrong outfit for the day's events, so of little consequence, but pointed out that farmers and others have a much bigger stake when it comes to such decisions as whether to spend money to protect a crop against a freeze.

This is the essence of the debate. I suspect that the average world citizen will not have his daily life changed much if the temperatures go up 1˚ or 3˚ or down 1 or 3 over the next 50 years. However, as in all of history, nature's vicissitudes will take a toll on some creatures. Some coastal areas may become submerged. New islands may spring up. Drought will hit some fertile areas. 100 year floods will ravage others. But it was ever thus.

But in a single week, news reports of polar bears drowning, on record, the sun has NO effect at all on earth's temperature, and hurricanes are increasing in intensity because of global warming just drive this blogger nuts. The bias of the media and the scientific community on this subject is startling, even if not surprising. Almost any change of this nature will have beneficial results as well as detrimental. There are excellent and respected scientists who just flat don't agree with the conclusions regarding the sun and hurricanes, but you won't find these kinds of articles in the MSM. You will have to dig, as I do, for my benefit and yours.

P.S. If you want to get some idea of just how confused science is on all this, try this article.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Whew! I'm Not a Nerd

Thanks to Norma at Collecting My Thoughts for the Nerd Test. Take it if you dare. I scored an 82% which means 82% of the folks who take this test are nerdier than I am. The test writers are quick to point out that this is no proof that I'm cool, either. Different test, I guess.

Let me know what you score?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Millions of Mommy Blogs - Where Are the Daddy Blogs?

As sociologists have studied and pondered the differences between the sexes over the last 100 years, we have seen "science" declare the sexes to be exactly the same except for the ability to bear children, and more recently seem to get the idea that there are a bunch of ways the TWO sexes are quite opposite. (I think there is a book to be written about science catching up with obvious reality.)

In any case . . . being something of a meterosexual, a couple of my favorite blogs that require my daily visitation are written by moms, and are largely written for women, and visited by 1000's of women daily. One in particular is Rocks in My Dryer, which I believe could be a jumping off point for some sociologist to do a study on how men and women differ in their blogging.

Now Shannon is a super writer. She is witty, pithy, and knows a good subject. She is a natural networker, and has generated a great following through creating and maintaining groups. Dig a bit deeper, though, and you see that these groups are mostly other blogging moms. Not just a few, but hundreds. When Shannon asks a question or starts a meme, she gets 39 comments the first day.

Now, to prove this isn't sour grapes (since if I get one comment on my posts it is a time of celebration), I don't compare my blog to hers. She gets way more traffic. So I compare her to another of my favorite blogs. This one is also written by a super writer who is pithy and witty. He is of the male species. Michael, of Master of None, gets about the same number of hits a day as Shannon, maybe even more. He has not created any social nets, and while he has some loyal followers, nothing like what happens at Shannon's place. While Michael gets comments on almost every post, a big day for him would be 6, not over a 100, like Shannon.

Notice that Rocks in My Dryer is mostly clever stuff about her life as wife, mom, friend, and Christ follower. Michael's is current events, technology, and occasionally daily life. His requires research and is often insightful and shows depth of intellect and understanding. Hers is light and fun and off the top of her head. Not to say that Rocks doesn't show depth, but it does it through emotional touch points instead of hard facts and analysis.

That's as far as I'm going with this. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The POTUS - Still Misunderestimated

George W, George the 2nd, GW, however you want to nickname him, he is a man with clarity of vision and purpose. He is a man who understands history, and the consequences of ignoring the specific statements and plans of one's enemies. Today, The President gave a speech that should be required reading for everyone who cares about the future of freedom. Whatever your politics, you need to be aware of the reasons why this President is doing, and will continue to do, the things that he believes will win the day against fanatics who care more about their religion than they do about whether they live or die, and certainly could care less if you have to die.

If we fail to root out and kill these evil individuals, we won't need to worry about whether global warming is getting worse or not, we will all be living under the rule of the Taliban or others who have the same vision for the world.

Really! Read or view the speech here!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Predicting the Weather - Foggedaboutit

I grew up in St. Louis where the mantra was, "If you don't like the weather now, wait an hour. My friend Mike Williams and his lovely wife have just moved from the "boring" perfect weather in West Los Angeles to the exciting, not-so-perfect weather in St. Louis. Mike posts that the weatherman is never right in St. Louis, and gives a few examples. He ends by suggesting that the huge number of variables in the weather system there makes it a tough job to predict weather with any accuracy.

Los Angeles, on the other hand, has far fewer variables. It is not going to include snow, sleet, tornadoes, hurricanes, or even under 40˚. And we would have the general sense that local weather jockies, Johnny Mountain and Dallas Rains, get it right most of the time. How hard is it to read "Sunny and mild tomorrow" every single day. They would then be correct about 300 days a year.

Look a bit deeper, however, and things begin to break down a bit. Since we know the general weather almost every day, we primarily want to know what the temperature is going to be. The high will probably be between 70 and 100, even more likely between 70 and 95 almost every day in Spring, Summer, and Fall. So, with that more limited issue to deal with, how does the local weatherman come out? Not too well!

I plan to do a longer term look over the next month or so, but for now I took the last two weeks. Here are the results as extracted from the Los Angeles Times between Tuesday Aug 22 and Saturday September 2, 2006.

The 5 day forecast was off by an average of 9.2 degrees
The 4 day forecast was off by an average of 8.2 degrees
The 3 day forecast was off by an average of 8.4 degrees
The next day forecast was off by an average of 5.4
The same day forecast was off by an average of 5.1

While it was heartening to see that the closer the forecaster was to the date being forecast, the closer they got to the actual temperature, it seemed astounding to me that we put any merit at all in these guesstimates.

In fact, using my own guess that the temp will not be above 95 or below 70 this time of year, I might then use 82.5 every day as my forecast. If I had done so, I would have done better than the forecaster. Their average was 81.36, over 1 degree further off than my estimate. Only on the same day forecast would I have been bested. Here, their estimate was average of 84.

OK! So What? So, these are the guys that are telling us to spend trillions of dollars and potentially wreck entire industries because of their predictions regarding global warming.

In a new study just released by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most respected international agency making pronouncements of great certainty with regard to future global temperature changes, they have dramatically changed their estimates since just five years ago. Instead of a potential maximum leap of 5.8˚ C , they are now saying a maximum 4.5˚ C in the next 100 years.

If we were to take a look at this 20% revision in just 5 years, and we were to compare it to the revisions by the LA Times between the 5 day and next day forecast, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that the 50 year forecast might easily end up being off by a factor of 100%. In other words, maybe we won't have any warming, and we might even have cooling. And just for a moment imagine the magnitude of additional variables that go into an estimate of global warming over 50 years vs the temperature in LA in 5 days from now.

Wouldn't it make sense to get a bit better at this before we recommend purposely destroying our economy in the next 10 years in order to save our economy from an uncertain catastrophe in 50 years.