Monday, March 31, 2008

Peak Oil and Tibet at the Statehouse

I was at the Massachusetts Statehouse for the Peak Oil Hearing. I went as a sceptic, having recently listened to the President of Shell America interviewed by Charlie Rose (more in a subsequent post, when I finish my notes, but I can insert here that he shared that notion that Watts will become conflicted again if there is not a serious increase in availability of gasoline at lower prices), and having spent a lot of time around MIT, where the word is that oil will simply increase in price as it becomes more scarce. I left not as a convert, but as a person who realized that there may be something in the Peak Oil argument. I was particularly intrigued to learn that the Department of Energy has been funding Peak Oil studies, Portland OR has had a committee looking at how to cope with a Peak Oil situation, and that the State of CT has also been looking into the matter. I will be looking into it further, and sharing thoughts and references.

This is the reasoning I find compelling, whether or not it corresponds to a situation approximating Peak Oil: The demand for oil is rising rapidly in China and India as they develop their economies and their people become richer, demanding a higher standard of living that requires more oil. This at a time when demand has already exceeded supply. Simply economics yields a prediction of ever increasing oil prices. Although the Peak Oil people argued that tappable oil reserves are in fact misrepresented on the high side, I agree with the MIT view that the higher the price for oil, the more oil can be tapped from more costly sources, such as tar sands and oil shale. The problem is that we cannot burn any more fossil fuels, and that places a limit on oil consumption. But the further, and possibly more stringent limit at this point may be refinery capacity, which produces as I see it a modified Peak Oil situation. Refineries are not being built, and whenever there is a refinery malfunction or explosion, more capacity is lost, at least for a time. According to a colleague, the timeline for getting new refineries on line is 2-3 years in emergency priority such as existed during WWII, and 12-13 years for just the permitting under today's priorities. This strongly suggests gas and diesel shortages will be normal, and prices will continue to rise. Again, simple economics would indicate that they would rise independent of the refinery situation, because demand exceeds supply.

Meanwhile, this was the scene outside the Statehouse: the Boston area Tibetan community demonstrating about the Chinese violence in Tibet and their desire for a free Tibet.

And this is what was happening a couple hours later at Harvard ... a lecture by a Harvard Professor and the Julliard's first violinist (as the others were stranded in Cleveland due to airline cancellations) interspersed with recorded playing (the consolation prize) by the Julliard String Quartet, all a detailed view of the first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 59 No. 1. Not nearly the attendance we can expect at the Final Four, but more than attended Ed Markey and Ian Bowle's much more important presentation on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and a lot more than at the Free Tibet demonstration at the Statehouse. (Note that the Tibet demonstrators did get a lot of passerby attention.) Is this skewed priorities? Well, for me it has to do with working very long hours at my profession, and a passionate involvement with music. Because I work evenings and weekends, I feel OK about taking in an occasional special music event, even if it is during the day. The others I spoke with at Harvard are the same way although a little different because most were a lot older than I am. It is very hard to spend all our time and resources addressing the world's challenges. The couple who sat next to me at the concert and shared their score with me were very much worried about global warming. They said that they had heard enough about it, and felt it was time to get into action mode doing something about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Broken Ice in Antarctica: New York Times Editorial

My estimation has for some time been that the climate modeling experts have been too conservative, that the changes are happening faster than they are predicting. The recent beginning breakup of the Wilkins Ice Sheet in Antarctica gives further reason for concern.

Something to think about:

Chinese Modulations at Brandeis University

Last night I attended a lecture and concert of Chinese and Chinese-American music at Brandeis. The theme of Long Yingtai’s lecture was that it is in the nature of the Chinese culture to have change. Thus, the Chinese will adopt an instrument such as the erhu, originally from Central Asia, and then they will modify it again and again. It was finally in 1930 that the design of the instrument was frozen. Confucianism states that only the root, or chi, remains unchanging. Another example that he mentioned after I asked my question was that the Mainland Chinese leadership is changing. So hearing this notion of change, I asked how the Chinese therefore see Western elementary particle physics, which has morphed from the quantum mechanics of Bohr and Heisenberg, to quantum electrodynamics, to the standard model, for example SU(3), and now to string theory. The answer was that all of this is considered to be the changeable part, not the root.

There was a series of works for erhu and yangqin, then for yangqin, then for erhu, yangqin, viola, cello, and percussion, then again for erhu and yangqin. All so outstanding that the audience gave the performers a standing ovation. The man next to me had tracked Jiebing Chen since 1997, and had seized the opportunity to come to the concert when he was up from New York City anyhow. He told me that Chen is the worlds best erhu player. I will not pretend to know very much about this music, which was extraordinary. Instead I will write about other matters.

There were three people on the stage at one time with perfect pitch. You could tell with Yangqin Zhao, because she tuned her 150 yangqin strings straight off with no reference to a tuning fork or any other notes. You would seem to be able to tell with Jiebing Chen because she walked in with an independently tuned instrument, and merely verified that it was still in tune with the yangqin, which it always was. Then she played this instrument with no frets or other reference points for notes, which it is all but inconceivable that a person could play well without having perfect pitch. But I am told that she does not have perfect pitch. Of course cellist Josh Gordon also has perfect pitch. It turned out, when I asked her about it, that the Chinese-American composer/conductor also has perfect pitch. This was actually likely because, as I was explaining to her when she admitted her gift, a very high percentage of Chinese have perfect pitch because they grow up from a very early age listening to pitch in their tonal language. So they use and develop that part of their brains as children, and don’t lose it.

I had a chance to talk with Jiebing Chen after the concert. Vibrato is standard for the Erfu (pronounced “air-foo”). A difference between the traditional playing of the vibrato and Jiebing Chen’s playing is that the traditional way is to create the vibrato by pressing in and out on the string, while she also does vibrato by rolling the finger up and down on the string.

The approach uses a lot of trills. Chen even would trill notes as she rapidly descended the scale, moving up the string.

She said that the early tradition involved not sliding very far up and down on the string, but rather playing notes within the span of the hand. I commented that this would make sense, since the early flute was somewhat similar to an ocharina, and likewise played only a handful of notes. She did not disagree.

She did not have much at all for calluses on her left hand. She attributed this to the lack of a fingerboard on the instrument, explaining that the fingerboard does not give like a string does, and therefore introduces a lot of pressure on the fingers. When I described the large, ugly callus that “serious” cellists develop on their left thumbs, and that she could probably verify this by looking at Josh Gordon’s thumb, she seemed not to have realized this before, and spontaneously turned to where she thought Josh was, almost as if to check his thumb right away.

She is the teacher for the husband of theYu-Hui Chang, who composed the last work before intermission. A cross cultural piece for erhu, yangqin, cello, viola, and percussion, what was extraordinary was that it actually worked and was beautiful, not just modern music. I urged Chang to continue to compose such works when we spoke after the concert. She had already composed a concerto for the erhu, and indicated that she would compose more, for the repertoire is too limited for the erhu.

The evening was altogether an outstanding experience.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Russia and Oil/Gas Control

I ate lunch today with a couple of people from Europe. They commented on the way Russia now holds Europeans at risk for fuel, and worried that the KGB was taking over Russia.

In the evening I found myself in a conversation with three young men from ByeloRus. So I asked them if the KGB was taking over Russia. They laughed. Then they laughed again as they explained that the KGB had taken over Russia already, when Putin became President. Then they laughed again.

In one dimension, this would seem to underscore how important either some appropriate sort of energy independence is, or sufficient multi-sourcing is. The challenge is for nations to keep their eye on collective effort to avoid damage from global warming rather than succumbing to the temptation to fragment by focusing on international power politics.

In another dimension, this would suggest that it was and remains important how we as the reigning world power treat the Russians. If we gobble up the satellite states in their former empire, as we did, do we create a backlash as they attempt to regain their sense of dignity? (Of course one can easily argue that those satellites wanted to be gobbled up, and that they never wanted to be part of the Soviet Union or the Soviet sphere ... but there are clearly also tradeoffs ...) Should we have learned more from Germany's reaction to defeat and devastation in World War I, and then their nationalistic backlash as they reasserted themselves? Did we do enough of a "Marshall Plan" with the failed Soviet Union, and did we do it wisely, so that the remains of that nation could re-emerge strongly and positively into the world sphere? Could our nation and advisors have made a difference in making it less likely that the vast Soviet resources would simply be given away, creating the plutocracy that led to Putin's rise and intersession as a corrective action? Are there things we can do now to lead to Russia's cooperation with the rest of the world, so that we can focus on dealing with the global warming issue rather than international conflict?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Small Oil Spill with Possibly Big Significance

Oil spills represent a form of collateral cost for the oil industry. (Those against Cape Wind have raised the issue that the proposed wind turbines will introduce a risk of a small oil spill in the Sound. Interested readers should look to the materials at for more detail on the government's risk analysis.)

The most recent oil spill to hit the national media occurred in San Franscisco and was reported in media including the New York Times:

A useful understanding of the reaction to this spill comes from a person who teaches at the Coast Guard Academy. It turns out that prior to 9/11 the Coast Guard would have reacted quickly to the spill and contained it within about two hours. However, after 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security was created and the Coast Guard was placed within it. This changed the chain of command and the priorities. Tradeoffs could have been anticipated, and in fact were abstractly anticipated by myself right away, and more formally by Richard A. Posner in Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11. In this case the Coast Guard reaction was delayed while they sorted out authorization to address the spill. A lot of this can be understood and predicted by reference to organizational theory, the psychology of organizations, and strategy and structure from business school. I understand that the Coast Guard is now challenged to come up with solutions, and that they are working at it.

Bicycles In Every City

When I was a graduate student, I biked every day from Route 128 to MIT and back. Many would have thought that this would have been not only an arduous chore (sometimes it was!), but also that a graduate student in physics would not have the time to do this kind of thing. Setting aside the issue of my questionable decision to live as a dorm parent in a private school at the time, a time analysis revealed that I was actually saving time. A 45-minute trek by bicycle competed with a 40-minute trek by car and foot from a remote parking lot at MIT to the main building. I used a good rucksack to carry my things. Add into the equation that I took my exercise in the process, and I was way ahead.

Now it appears that there is increasing awareness of the value of bicycling. Here is an article about it from the Boston Globe ( Part of what will be required to make bicycling really feasible is a rapid transit system that allows cyclists to bring their bicycles with them, or that supports a kind of share-a-bike system. Another alternative is shared cars that will accomodate bicycles, or alternatively, bicycles that fold up so they can readily fit in cars, buses and trains. Portland OR has had a good share-a-bike system for decades. Maybe soon lots of people will be able to get back to biking.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter: Hidden Mysteries of Life

May we travel ever deeper into the mysteries of life. There are hidden secrets that emerge out of involvement and commitment. It has been Holy Week. I could write here about religious things, but I won’t. I had a Fundamentalist aunt with whom I made the mistake of talking about Light, so I avoid those kinds of discussions. The Puritans worked hard to understand members’ spiritual experiences. Unlike the Puritans, my aunt thought she could discern in a quick conversation whether one or another person had had a true religious experience, and of course, it was always in the negative, except for members of her immediate congregation. From when I was young, my mother had warned me to avoid such conversations with my aunt. It only took one when I was in graduate school to make me realize that my mother was quite correct about avoiding such discussions.

So I am going to write about music, as I have played cello and have sung such pieces as Mozart’s Requiem. There are so many little secrets that one learns from actually playing or singing music. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts on an upbeat. A note in the cello part of the first movement of Beethoven’s Quartet Opus 131 is a B-sharp, which is slightly higher than a C on the non-tempered stringed instrument scale, and in light of the ambiguity about just how to play the note physically, it often is played as an open-string C. This could be significant because Beethoven had perfect pitch and might well have known precisely what he was doing, even if he could no longer hear when he composed the work. Beethoven’s Third Symphony has open string fifths (C-G which would also correspond to a perfect fifth rather than a well-tempered fifth) at two key transition points that would insert a special musical psychology possibly informed by Pythagoras’ notions about perfect fifths. The tuning of the strings for Bach's Fifth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello is, according to a college classmate who sings sacred music, also a special tuning for sacred choral works from circa 200 years before Bach lived.

I listen to J.S. Bach's Morimur (also authored by an academic who recently figured out that several Bach works went together), done by the Hilliard Ensemble with Christoph Poppen playing baroque violin, mostly during Holy Week because I associate it with an experience in which I received Jesus during church a few years ago during Holy Week. So Morimar is too precious to me to listen to just anytime, even though I would like to do so. Morimur is the result of an academic discovering a secret -- that the basso continuo that completes Bach's Partita #5 for Violin basically starts with the chorale Christ Lag im Todesbanden which Bach also embodied as a Cantata, and continues with that and a couple of other religious choral works. Another way of saying this that would probably be eschewed by musicologists is that the partita is a sort of an obligato around and above the sacred music parts that the Hilliard sings. The overall result of combining works that appeared to be separate but written at the same time is profound and even more sacred.

This is going to sound like a contradiction, but I sometimes have played it in my car as I have driven long distances, and sometimes I have sung to it. Toward the end of the combined Deller Consort and violin version on the Track 21 of 22, I sing along in the falsetto, and it matches with one of the voices. I noticed particularly that the tone quality and stresses of my voice matched that of the singer on the CD. (Those who have heard counter-tenors will know that they have a different tone quality than sopranos.) However, even in the falsetto I cannot get up to the counter-tenor part. No surprise, as my falsetto would be that of a counter-baritone, which I figured was one of the parts in the performance of the piece.

Yesterday my wife and I were at her sister’s house while they were preparing to sing in the choir, and the conversation swung around to Morimar. It turned out that Mary had her own copy and also found it entrancing. It also turned out that she had studied briefly at Oxford, where she had come to know Alfred Deller, the great counter-tenor. She said his speaking voice was a normal male voice, and that he had as a boy learned to sing in the falsetto with excellence and complete control. He was neither a genetic freak nor castrated. So this matched with my experience of singing with the CD, and I determined that I would ask the counter-tenors in my church choir whether they also had learned to sing in the falsetto.

We thus go another long step deeper into the mysteries of church music.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Energy/GHG in the Little Decisions

Rank the walls below in the energy and greenhouse gases required to create them.

Rank the walls below in terms of their maintainability in the year 2108.





4,1,2 & 3
#4 has a large cement core with rocks cemented in place. It was made with rock shipped in.
#1 has indigenous rock from an old farmer's fence cemented in place.
#2 and #3 have indigenous rock piled and no cement.
Cement requires very large amounts of energy and the processes send very large amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere.

2&3, 1, 4
When a rock falls down from #2 or #3, someone needs to notice and replace it.
When weathering and frost breaks a cement connection on #1, it the rest of the wall tends to stay in place, and the broken part needs to be cemented back in place. The cement can be for the most part broken free from the stones as preparation for doing the job.
When weathering and frost breaks up the cement core to some degree, as it will within 100 years, it needs to be cemented back in place. If the weathering and breakup become significant enough, then the cement core must be removed and disposed of. When the cement holding the stones in place fails, the stones will fall completely to the ground, exposing the inside of the wall to further weathering. The cement can again be for the most part broken free from the stones as preparation for doing repairs.

Human Factors in Libraries

Little things seemingly far from the domain of burning fossil fuels can contribute to energy conservation and lowered risk of global warming. This offers case in point, because one would never think that software user interface design and implementation would make that kind of difference.

I was working on references in the Woods Hole library this afternoon, when I began near the end of the day to attempt to find McCullough's book 1776. I had been reading by listening to a CD in my car, and now needed the exact words to use in a blog entry I am developing on Posner's book Surprise Attacks. Since it was not in the Woods Hole Library, I tried to find it in the library catalog prior to driving to the parent Falmouth library to get it.

When I entered the electronic catalog, what I saw was the display in the first picture below. My eyes were draw to the middle, and I quickly realized that I was not likely to find a search screen there for the title of just any book. After some thinking and searching, I clicked "Virtual Catalog" and was presented with a logon screen. I could not get in without my library card information ... something I thought strange for a public library. I entered my card, but Woods Hole and Falmouth were not options for the city entry that was required to log on. At a loss, I discontinued the effort.

When I asked the librarian, she said that there was a a dedicated terminal for such searches. I went there and quickly started the search, which now took 1-2 minutes instead of the few seconds it ought to. This was a high cost in a situation in which I had maybe 5-10 minutes to decide whether to drive to Falmouth. I was then presented with a long screen of listings, and when I clicked on one, I saw the second screen below. Well, it did not do much good since it was not apparent how to limit the search to copies of the book in the Falmouth Library.

Time was up. I could not find the information I needed, and I would not be able to get to Falmouth in time if I futzed around with the system very much longer. Thus I drove almost 9 miles round trip to try to get the book. Happily the book was there. In fact there were three copies. There were only 15 minutes left before the library closed when I arrived, so I asked a librarian for help. She went to the computer catalog (showing me that her version of the user interface was possible to use ... at least if you knew it well) and then right to the books. She then suggested I might be interested in William Martin's historical novel Citizen Washington. I was interested and took it out. Sometimes computers are great; sometimes people are a lot better than computers.

Alternative morals of the tale:

1. People like me need to be more perceptive and intelligent under time pressure.

2. People like me need to live lives that are not under time pressure.

3. User interfaces need to be done more skillfully so that people who have not used them before can readily figure out how to use them.

I have considerable experience designing and coding software and user interfaces, so I tend to believe that #3 is the most important of these three morals.

Since I drive a Prius, the incident had a GHG cost corresponding to burning about 2/11 gallon of gas. For the driver of a more conventional car or SUV, the cost would correspond to about 1/2 gallon or more. But the cost in general is much higher. One can bank on the factoid that many other people this day or this week have driven when maybe they did not have to.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

MMS Public Hearing for Cape Wind in Boston

I attended the Cape Wind hearings again on Thursday, March 13 at the University of Massachusetts, Harbor Campus. The points of argument continued to sharpen. A pleasing development was that Sue Reed of Conservation Law Foundation spoke specifically in rebuttal of some claims of the Save Our Sound group. I think that this development may mark a beginning of people not just talking past each other, which might represent one conceivable means by which to fix the broken process that has been happening. After making my comments about aggressive campaigning at West Yarmouth, I found it interesting that there were signs indicating that people could not bring signs or placards in to the basketball arena where the hearings were being held.

Here is a picture of the proceedings. There was the usual low density of people near the front, and higher densities further back. It was not obvious when I entered about a half hour into the proceedings, but the pro-CapeWind people were on the far side bleachers, and the anti-CapeWind people were on the near side bleachers. In West Yarmouth there were clusters but much more mixing. I counted 230 attendees on the "Pro" side, and 118 on the "Anti" side. I recognized quite a few people on each side who had been at the West Yarmouth public hearing, and I heard at least one speaker refer to having been at the Martha's Vineyard public hearing. It would be interesting to know more about how many people in attendance simply went to most or all of the public hearings.

I am working on a newspaper article about the hearings. This post will get longer but the newspaper article, a business meeting, and tomorrow's session with Congressman Ed Markey have my first priority.

Do Tornadoes Indicate Climate Change?

The tornado that hit downtown Atlanta yesterday during the Southeast Conference Basketball Tournament was unusual, but is it a sign of increased tornado activity that might be expected by climate theorists: "more heat into the atmosphere leads to more activity and more violent activity in the atmosphere?" The answer is difficult to discern because any changes over a period of decades could be the result of natural trends. Other alternative hypotheses might be that this just happened to be a one-off tornado of no more significance than that it was an aberration, or that, to stretch things a bit, since downtown Atlanta is somewhat near the ocean, it was really a misidentified waterspout or other ocean-based phenomenon. At the same time, the argument might be made that there is a trend occurring that matches up with increased GHG in the atmosphere. A year or more ago I looked at the data on tornadoes in the United States. It was "apparent to the eye" that there was a trend of increasing numbers of tornadoes, that they were occuring in numbers over an expanding geographical area, and that there was an expanding period of months during each year that constituted the "tornado season."

Now we see a tornado in Atlanta GA, well outside "tornado alley," and we wonder. The article in the New York Times ( indicates that it is not the first tornado in the area, but unfortunately, there is no indication as to whether there were tornadoes prior to 1975.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the most
recent tornado to hit a major city's downtown was on Aug. 12, 2004, in
Jacksonville, Fla. Downtown tornadoes have also struck Fort Worth, Texas; Salt Lake City; Little Rock, Ark.; and Nashville, Tenn., in the past

If confirmed, the tornado would be the first on record in downtown Atlanta, said Smith, the meteorologist. The last tornado to strike inside the city was in 1975, and it hit the governor's mansion north of
downtown, he said.

I have had the data for more than a year on tornadoes in the United States and will see if I can allocate time to do a statistical analysis to determine whether there is likely to be anything to the climate change theory. If anyone out there would like to participate in the effort, I'd be pleased.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cape Wind: Demonstrators at West Yarmouth

In an earlier post I commented on my feelings of discomfort with the behavior I witnessed at the Monday hearing in West Yarmouth. In this post I will explore that a little.

The URL below is to a video of the approach to the facility. One can hear the chanting and see activity from a considerable distance, so it does not come as a surprise that I was ready for whatever happened, and had my camera running. Chanting communicated to me that at least one group was actively encouraging attendees to join them in their view of the proceedings, and I strongly approve of such persuasion. It is democracy in action.

What made me feel uncomfortable was having to walk a narrow sidewalk with demonstrators close up on both sides of me. You can see the people in front of me accepting the offered necklaces with banner indicating that they are against the Cape Wind project. I imagine these people felt vastly more comfortable than I did. I was not accepting any literature or banners from either side, and I had a camera out in public to document what was happening. With hands and arms coming into my walking tube, and the owners of those hands and arms aggressively reaching out and proselytizing, I really was a little anxious about how they would take my not embracing their cause. While I clearly did not even hesitate to proceed, this forced me to think a little about escape routes should escape become necessary.

It would have been better if the SOS demonstrators had placed themselves back a little toward the school and in the area to the left of my path. They could then had drawn attendees toward them rather than reaching out into their path.

There was only a single person from the KY coal mines handing out their literature. While this person presented the literature "in your face," one had the choice to move around to the left to gain greater distance ... and it was only a single person, therefore not offering the same potential threat.

I felt that the Cape and the Islands (pro-wind) people had appropriate positioning and activity. They were also smart enough to smile at the anti-wind people in front of me. This may be a matter of their having learned the ropes in terms of successfully encouraging people to move in their direction.

Note the considerable police presence at the very end of the video. I was surprised with the extent of police coverage. Police were everywhere. It gave me considerable comfort that they were present, as the animation of many of the anti-wind people made it an uncertain situation should they react negatively to anyone who did not clearly embrace their position. Only once did it appear that security personnel were needed for a specific action. One of the early anti-wind speakers refused to end his presentation when his 3-minute time allotment was up, repeatedly ignoring the moderator. A very large hired security guard walked over near him, establishing a clear presence and statement that there would be order, and the speaker backed down.

Plastics Manufacturer Looks Into Green Opportunities

John Gravelle, president of Mar-Lee, an innovative plastics manufacturer in Leominster, MA reported in a public meeting In Worcester MA on March 12 that representatives of his company were in a Florida meeting to learn about likely plastic manufacturing that will be required by the emerging Green Revolution. With many green energy companies developing new products in New England, it is likely that there will be a need for features such as biodegradable plastic in manufactured goods.

Gravelle commented that he had sent some of his lieutenants to the conference to learn about the full gamit of futures in plastics. These representatives would then return and educate him about the likely future opportunities. The company re-invests 10% of its profits each year in new equipment, often in the context of a contract with a client that wishes to push the limits in plastics manufacturing. Examples of already existing products are the special plastic wrappers for tiny medical devices used in torn anterior-cruciate ligament surgery. The medical device delivers a timed drug dose and the plastic packaging dissolves over a period of a year or two. Wrapping such a package in very thin plastic in a standardized manufacturing process increases reliability, decreases risk, and decreases cost. Mar-Lee is embracing the Innovation Economy as a key means for achieving its next target of $50M in yearly revenues.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cape Wind: MMS Hearings in West Yarmouth

Today was the first of four days of evening hearings about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). This first event was in West Yarmouth on the Cape. Attendance was significantly higher than at the last event I attended, a hearing for the Cape Cod Commission deliberations. Before the auditorium was pretty full, but this time it was a challenge to find a seat in the main auditorium, and perhaps a hundred people were seating on portable chairs on the basketball court behind the last row in the auditorium. Here is a picture of the auditorium and the gym two hours into the program, after about two hundred people had cleared out.

This was indicative of a hardening of positions for and against, as well as greater vociferousness about those positions. As I entered, a small group of SOS advocates were chanting and handing out necklaces with big SOS signs. Then there were the Cape and Islands people with their placards urging acceptance of the Cape Wind project. Once inside, I sat behind 2-3 rows of people hardened in their position against Cape Wind, and it was quite educational. Repeatedly, when a speaker would state a fact that favored Cape Wind, the people in the row in front of me would shift their bodies, grumble, and then deny the truth of that fact. This made me feel very uneasy, and I found myself comforted by the presence of police. When a speaker said something against Cape Wind, whether fact or opinion, those against the project would applaud and/or cheer, even though the moderator had explicitly asked the audience not to do this kind of thing because it delayed progress through the long list of speakers.

Indeed, it was an event of curious contradictions. On one hand, a recent poll ( indicated that 74% of Cape residents are now in favor of the Cape Wind project. On the other hand, one politician after another expressed strong sentiment against the project. It was if the politicians were listening to the group that was more vehement in its position. Further, a number of community members of committees presented themselves as representing the views of the entire committees when in fact this was readily disputable. In one such dispute a later speaker pointed out that two Yarmouth selectmen had seemed to do this when in fact other Yarmouth selectmen who had not spoken were in favor of the project. In another such dispute, I noted that a community member of a committee for the Barnstable airport at first seemed to be representing his personal views, and then suddenly in his final statement, was seeming to represent the entire committee. Then about twenty speakers later another speaker escalated, refering to such people as "professionals" who were qualified to make judgments that we should all respect. The sense was of an escalating fabricated reality, initiated by people who intentionally supply disinformation, and then augmented: in which a group of people don't really know the facts, don't want to know the facts, and interact with each other as they weave their own group reality out of their misstatements. I found myself sitting there, thinking to myself about how one might approach fixing this fundamentally broken communications system. Here are some of the other problematic statements made by people against implementation of Cape Wind:
  • A commercial fisherman claimed that striped bass would vacate Horseshoe Shoals once the wind turbines are implemented because they want to avoid obstructions. At the same time, individual fishermen know to look for stripers around such obstructions as docks near the shoreline.
  • Several people claimed that wind projects cannot be financially successful without Federal and state subsidies...pretending that fossil fuels and nuclear are not heavily subsidized by the government. (This was also a misconception expressed by the New York Times's Andrew C. Revkin on a recent panel at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. I confronted him about it.)
  • A "green" advocate claimed that his carbon footprint was very low because he heats his living space with "corn oil" ... not acknowledging or perhaps not knowing that petroleum is used at least in producing fertilizer, for tilling the field, and for transporting the corn oil to his burner.
  • Two or three people claiming that the cost of wind-generated electricity is three times the cost of oil generated electricity ... while the electricity goes into the grid through an auction in competition with other forms of electricity, and Cape Wind has to match those prices or lose money.
  • A claim that rows of wind turbines in California produce a low rumbling noise, when in fact, I have been there on a mountain filled with turbines packed as tightly as the owners dare, and I can confirm that they don't make such a sound.
  • A claim that the "as many as 600" bird deaths to be anticipated per year is tragic, eggregious, and unacceptable, while ignoring the more than a billion bird deaths that, according to Audubon, occur in West Virginia as a result of strip mining that cleaves off the tops of mountains.

If I can get some reasonable confirmation of their comments, I will be inserting a paragraph about here addressing the Francis Lowell's comments about tech risk assessment, and Regina of the Wayland [Allston] Conservation Society about potential mammalian impacts and their amelioration. Both of these comment sets seemed new and substantive, but neither seemed to block progress toward implementation.

Speaking of West Virginia, there were at least three speakers who had traveled all the way from there to the Cape to express their support for the project. For me, their presence underscored the important point that environmental impacts may not be merely local, that there are tradeoffs that span considerable geographical reach. In this case, Massachusetts generating more of its own electricity without coal means that less coal may be mined in West Virginia. The argument is that this would allow the West Virginians to move on to salvage their way of living without mines that destroy their water, their people, and their environment. More on that when I return to update this entry.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Doubling Vehicle Fuel Economy by 2035

A rather interesting energy article appeared in Vol 1 of "Energy Futures, MIT Energy Initiative." I come to this article with a point of view based on personal experience driving energy efficient cars: In 1980 I was driving a Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel, getting 60 mpg at 60 mph. I have read about new European engines that allow 80 miles per gallon and wonder why such engines are perhaps not available or perhaps even common in the United States. (Simple answer: it is political.) My wife and I currently drive a Honda Hybrid and a Prius hybrid, both burning gas at 42-60+ mpg, depending on the season and the circumstances of driving. I have also noted that Toyota made the commitment to hybridize its entire line a couple years ago. So why is there such an issue about it within the United States. It would seem that it is easy to read the writing on the wall and get moving as a sheer matter of competitive survival.

Since some of my comments on this summary of Heywood (et al) will push in the direction of change, I should also comment that I know John Heywood to some degree and have great respect for him. I embrace almost all of what is in the research results. There is some with which I, in a sense, disagree. I think he knows more than I do about how the automotive industry actually works, something that makes his paper excellent. On the other hand, I have some definite notions about how organizations can be designed and managed to be leaner, more efficient, more flexible, more effective. That is the way that I run organizations and parts of organizations. So when my comments differ with those of John's team, it is likely that the differences reflect those views.

The results of this paper are heavily dependent on the quality of AVL's ADVISOR (see about this software package), which was originally developed by NREL and then handed over to AVL for commercialization. AVL says this about the program:

ADVISOR is designed for rapid analysis of the performance and fuel economy
of conventional and advanced, light and heavy-duty vehicle models as well as
hybrid electric and fuel cell vehicle models. It tests the effect of parameter changes
in vehicle components (such as motors, batteries, catalytic converters, climate
control systems, and alternative fuels) and other modifications that might
affect fuel economy, performance or emissions.

  • Reduces testing time to evaluate various vehicle powertrain alternatives

  • Estimates the fuel economy of vehicles that have not yet been built

  • Compares relative tailpipe emissions produced during various drive cycles

  • Shows how conventional, advanced, light, and heavy vehicles use, and
    lose, energy throughout their drivetrains

The article mentions human behavior, but only in the sense of a change in what people will buy. There is much more behavior that is relevant. A key area is how people drive. A woman stopped to get directions from me near Central Square near MIT, and we got into a discussion of why she got very ordinary mileage in her Prius. Very quickly the discussion evolved into my explaining to her how to change her driving habits so that the Prius would get outstanding mileage. For example, I almost never accelerate while going uphill. I use cruise control whenever my car is fundamentally traveling on flat ground, because the car's systems are much better at minimizing gas use than my foot and brain are, no matter how I try. However, I never use cruise control when going up even a moderate hill, because it wants to downshift and accelerate in that situation.

There are many additional examples of the importance of psychology and behavior in regard to driving and purchasing vehicles. The above is only a start.

Heywood et al identify changes in powertrains as a key part of the transition to more efficient vehicles in 2035. Using recent adoption rates for powertrains in Europe and the United States, they conclude that 2035 will see 85% conversion in new vehicles to more efficienct powertrains such as hybrid, diesel, and turbocharged gasoline. This is an example of my thesis that normal adoption processes and rates are insufficient for mankind's transition to avoid serious impacts from global warming. We need to achieve substantially 100% of all operable vehicles with innovative powertrains by 2035. Heywood et al also discuss means to achieve weight and size reduction of vehicles. Yet much more can be achieved and sooner than 2035 if there is the will to do so. Amory Lovins ( last year proposed an extremely lightweight approach based on composites. It may be that the modeling program does not support such extreme weight reduction approaches.

This chart is a very powerful tool. It is worth taking some time to understand it.

It would seem to me that a more aggressive target for mileage and carbon footprint could readily be achieved if we were serious. When we as a society get serious about this kind of thing, the targets will become much more aggressive, and we will attain them much more rapidly that we currently think we can.

Right now, the work that can be done is biased by the ADVISOR model and its assumptions, which is based on recent practice in the automotive industry.

It seems at face value unreasonable to me that the factor of two target will cost manufacturers $50 - $65 billion in the 2035 model alone. Is this Detroit lining up again to block progress and to argue for more government doles, doles that the Japanese manufacturers seem to invest in as a matter of competitive opportunism? This seems more manageable when Heywood characterizes it as a 20% increase over business as usual. It also seems more manageable when one realizes that there are perhaps 5-10 manufacturers, so that the total is distributed over all of them, yielding a cost of $5-$13 billion on average for each, most of that being a normal cost of the evolution of models.

The issue is whether this is based on a business-as-usual model, or rather on a leaner, more directed model. About two years ago I witnessed a business plan presentation by a former manager for one of the auto companies. I was flabbergasted at the expense in his plan. I was flabbergasted at the salaries this particular startup was paying its managers. I recognized that this probably reflected the logic and values of Detroit. I suspect the above cost projections reflect similar logic and values. I suspect they also reflect the costs of a highly complex, bureaucratic organization that has been somewhat dysfunctional for many years. We need to find ways to make our organizations leaner, more efficient, more effective. Thankfully, there are other people who also recognize this. There is a lean manufacturing initiative a MIT addressing these and many other critical questions.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Computers, Watches and Living at Lower Temperatures

For some time I have been experimenting with living at ever lower temperatures, that is, with use of ever less fossil fuels for heating and cooling. Typically at this point I set my thermostat to 50F, but I actually have the heating system off during the day and much of the night. At the time of this post, it is sunny outdoors and the temperature at my workstation is a balmy 58F. There are impacts that I continue to seek to identify. Most of these are qualitative impacts, such as the fact that my liquid peppermint soap clouds up, and my ViewSonic monitor does not start up if it has been off at low ambient temperatures for a day or so. This posting addresses the impacts on computer clocks, which is a natural concern for many people.

This from Wikipedia on March 2, 2008 (

A crystal's frequency characteristic depends on the shape or 'cut' of the crystal. A tuning fork crystal is usually cut such that its frequency over temperature is a parabolic curve centered around 25 °C. This means that a tuning fork crystal oscillator will resonate close to its target frequency at room temperature, but will slow down when the temperature either increases or decreases from room temperature. A common parabolic coefficient for a 32 kHz tuning fork crystal is −0.04 ppm/°C².

In a real application, this means that a clock built using a regular 32 kHz tuning fork crystal will keep good time at room temperature, lose 2 minutes per year at 10 degrees Celsius above (or below) room temperature and lose 8 minutes per year at 20 degrees Celsius above (or below) room temperature.

Thus for ordinary applications in the home and office, there is no significant problem with "clocks" even if one lives at 50F or 100F.