Saturday, June 28, 2008

Movie Review: WALL*E

This is the story of a little trash compacting robot left on earth for 700 years to clean up all the trash. It's a great story, great sci-fi, excellent animation and a good watch.

This movie will be a great addition to any collection, especially if you have kids. No objectionable content that I could see, and it has a great ecological message, if not a bit exaggerated. It also presents a future where a single company controls everything from food, service, and transportation to the government itself to nearly disastrous effect.

I give this movie 9/10. I have been wanting to see it since I first saw the original teaser trailer like last December or something. A great movie, another Pixar classic.

The Way of Energy in the Future

I was out working in the garden this morning and I got to thinking about the gas crisis and peak oil and all the rest. So I decided to write up a little prophecy sort of thing. That is not to say that the following stuff is my prediction of the future, though in some cases it is, it is just how I feel things may go or should go. So don’t quote me in the future claiming that I said something that didn’t come true so I’m a false prophet. I am just presenting an opinion of how I think it will go or how I’d like it to go, and I’m certainly not an apocalypse monger.

First thing on the agenda is fuel. I’ve read a lot of stuff and seen a documentary or two that would have us believe that the oil supply will suddenly come to an abrupt end, resulting in mass chaos, rioting, and the end of “Dancing with the Stars.” Unfortunately in the latter case, I doubt this will happen. Since the Arab oil embargo, things have changed a bit, oil supplies have proliferated, there are new sources, new processes, and new ways of thinking as well as the possibility for vehicles that use much less fuel. I seriously doubt a sudden end for a number of reasons, first being the oil sands which are mined primarily from Alberta, Canada in this part of the world. Oil sands are much more difficult and expensive to mine than regular oil, but that brings up the whole point. There is lots of oil that is just not economical to get to. But enough to power the whole world at current consumption levels, not likely. I believe it will just get more and more expensive until people largely stop using it. The current trend already sees people driving less, using less fuel and buying smaller cars. When viable mass produced electric cars come on the market, (that’s when, not if) oil consumption will drop further. Eventually, the remaining oil supplies will likely be used to extinction in poorer countries for powering vehicles while they are used for industrial purposes in the United States, used for plastics and petrochemicals. I’d like to see an electric car revolution, I personally want to get an electric bicycle and convert my pickup into a series hybrid.

Biofuels. The use of biofuels that take the place of food crops in the fields must end. People come first, and the first thing that people need is food. We don’t need to be growing fuel where our food should be coming from. Hopefully cellulosic ethanol and algal biodiesel will come in to wider usage. I see them as recreational fuels, like charcoal briquettes in a way. In the same way as you might say “we’re gonna have a barbecue, did you get the briquettes?” you might also say “let’s go out on the boat, did you fuel it up?” The concept will go further as series hybrids or electric cars with range extenders like the Chevy Volt concept enter wider usage. “Lets go on a road trip, did you put biodiesel in the car?”

Housing. I was in Lowe’s the other week and was excited to see a book of energy efficient homes on the shelf near the checkout. My excitement quickly became disgust when I found that the primary feature of these “energy efficient home designs” was 2x6 walls. The best a 2x6 wall can expect to get using spray foam insulation is about R30 insulation value. That is not good enough, especially since the boards themselves present huge problems with thermal bridging. One of my home design plans features no less than R60 whole home insulation, that is ten inches or better of spray foam insulation and air tight. The best solution is adoption or at least some sort of promotion of the German Passive House standard or something like it. I believe there are less than ten of these houses in the US currently. There needs to be many more. I know this is Arkansas and all, but how is it forward thinking that I should be able to go into Lowe’s and buy windows that aren’t even Energy Star certified? The same goes for any appliance or other device. The worst part is that people actually still buy this stuff, windows last for 30 years or more, do you really want to replace them in five because you can’t afford all the heat pouring out of them all winter and pouring in them all summer?

Electricity and other fuels and energy sources. First of all, I’d like to say that hydrogen is not an option. It is not a fuel, it is an energy transfer medium with extremely inefficient conversion processes. It will never work in the face of efficient and advancing technologies like simple electricity. It just can’t beat electricity at anything considering costs and problems. Won’t work. We can argue about it later, but it won’t work. Electricity with distributed generation is the best option. Imagine having electricity when the grid is out, having heat during an ice storm, even if it is less than normal. Having it is better than not having it. Nanosolar is now printing solar panels like an ink jet. Whether the promises prove to be true or not is yet up for debate, but they are promising solar panels at less than a dollar per watt. As I’ve said before, I’d like to see renewable energy systems required on every new construction. Warehouse style stores have vast stretches of flat roofs, and vast parking lots in need of shade. The average Wal-Mart super center at 20 to 30 acres could produce quite a bit of electricity on a sunny day if covered by solar panels. Plus that shade will save additionally on power bills. Anyway, back to what I was talking about. The best option is for people to have solar panels on their roofs, and also for those who have opportunity, to have micro and pico hydro as well as small wind. These things not only allow people to produce their own electricity but there is this strange phenomenon where people begin to consume less to match their generating capacity, which can only be a good thing. I’d like to see micro grids in the future where an advantaged (locationally) group of neighbors sets up their own little grid with several small power sources and become their own utility. The technology is quite simple, and very scalable. There is benefit in having a grid, but in the future what will become of the huge ones we have today? Energy intensive applications like metals processing will still need large amounts of energy, which is why many of them are located next to hydroelectric dams or large powerplants already.

Food. Now that I’ve discussed being more like Europe, I’d like to discuss being more like Cuba. Before the USSR fell, Cuba was almost completely dependent on it for everything, being the Communist little brother as it were. When that era came to a close, Cuba was left mostly without an oil supply, and quite suddenly as well. Now, as a result, Havana is able to produce the vast majority of its food supply within the borders of the city because people have created community and rooftop gardens. Translated to the modern day, home food producing gardens are already a good idea, and as the price of food goes up with fuel, the prospect of growing “free” food at home will be that much more alluring. I believe the trend toward more sustainably grown food will continue, and I’d love to see Steve Heckeroth’s electric tractor idea hit the big time. One thing that is very much needed is for humans to eat far less meat, or eat only meat that they themselves raise. Something Al Gore has inconveniently ignored is that the methane and other emissions from meat production likely does more damage concerning global warming than tailpipes do since methane has around twenty times the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide does. Additionally, most of our crop land in the US is used for growing grain for animals. It’s an extremely inefficient operation and it will come back to haunt us in the form of food and fuel prices.

One thing that’s not going to work is just doing everything the same way we are doing now. Some have already chosen the route of efficiency and reduced consumption, but for our society to be sustainable, many more need to do the same.


Electricity Usage Update

Well, last month turned out to be our low. As we have begun using the AC, our daily usage is up half a kwh to 15.7. In the last year, we have used 8758 kwh which is 82% of the normal American house.

I think with a full year of the technologies I am already using, I can get that down even lower. The house had a huge gaping hole in the ceiling until last September or something and we didn't get the on demand water heater until March.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movie Review: You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

Let me preface this review by quoting a line from the movie.

"Nobody giggles at the Zohan."

Zohan wasn't that great of a movie. I just wasn't attracted to all the screwing of the old ladies. The best parts were done before Zohan gets to New York, and most of them were in the trailer. Too many sexual references, most of them crude, simplistic plot, and the best action was too early in the movie.



Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Movie Review: Get Smart

Okay, I went into this with the expectation that I'd be seeing some cross between Michael Scott and James Bond. It turned out to be more like all of Michael Scott's best traits crossed with Johnny English.

This was a great movie, I do recommend seeing it. There was not much swearing, but what there was was not TV acceptable which was interesting, a few a*holes and a few s words here and there, and most to comedic effect. There were no sexual situations, no blood, no graphic violence. There was however, Steve Carell's naked butt or maybe it was a stunt butt, I don't know.

I'll give this movie an extra point just for having a Patrick Warburton cameo, so it will come in at 8/10. I did really enjoy it, it was funny, but I think I should have seen it in a digital theater for better visual experience, I think the conversion to film kinda messed it up. My advice is to go see it in a digital theater.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Back from Honduras!

Let me tell you about a big problem in the Opalaca Mountains of Honduras. Well actually, this is a problem anywhere there is subsistence farming on hillsides.

It goes like this. A farmer needs more land to grow whatever, so he clear cuts a hillside. He then plants beans, corn, coffee, bananas, or more likely a combination of two or more of these. After a few years, the hill will no longer grow corn, and production of other items is likely declining as well. Eventually, the hillside will likely be abandoned to the forest once again. However, the damage has been done. The hillside will likely have lost several inches, even feet of topsoil, and perhaps may have even been subject to landslides.

Enter SALT farming. That's Sloping Agricultural Land Technology to those acronym lovers out there. Using leguminous trees and a few new farming tactics, a farmer will create terraces that not only allow permanent use of a piece of hillside land, but also reduce and even reverse the loss of topsoil and other erosion-caused problems.

Here, I have a picture of exactly what I was talking about. A hillside has just recently been cleared to plant coffee. You can even see some small areas where there have already been small mudslides. The yearling coffee plants are in the foreground.

This activity touches so many facets of the things that I am interested in. First, the people. Clear cutting a forest hillside is backbreaking labor when you only have a machete. This time, and time spent traveling to newer fields at increasing distances from the home takes away from time better spent farming or building a family. Secondly, the washed topsoil makes silty streams and the fertilizer used to try to maintain corn production destroys streams and lakes at lower elevations. I believe we can help these impoverished farmers and their families have better lives, and that's really for me what it's all about. I hope to have more info regarding this stuff later on, but for now, look into SALT farming. It's good stuff.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

So you are saying you're having a bad day?

This picture needs no comments.

GM Closing Four Truck and SUV Plants!

In a move that I have been waiting for, for a long time, GM is closing four plants according to the Associated Press in a story out this morning.

Rising gas prices have precipitated a dramatic switch from larger vehicles to smaller ones, and American car companies have been left out in the cold in a sense because their gas sipping options are far less populous than those of foreign car makers.

GM, the one responsible for attempted murder of the electric car not five years ago can now be seen as making amends for that. It now appears that the Chevy Volt just may actually happen. The shift away from bigger vehicles is even more dramatic when you understand that switching from a 10 mpg vehicle to a 20 mpg vehicle saves approximately 600 gallons of fuel per year while switching from a 50 mpg to a 100 mpg saves only 120 gallons. Think if someone switches from a Hummer to a Prius, they would save approximately 750 gallons of fuel a year, and at current prices, that's a hunk of change.

Speaking of Hummer, GM has decided to reevaluate the brand, possibly even selling it. This is the thing I am glad of the most, because Hummer means so much more than just a big SUV, it really represents something to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees Hummers as small tanks, and here our moderately wealthy drive them as family cars or commuters.

GM says the change is permanent, let's hope so, and let's hope that other car manufacturers do the same. Toyota needs to get rid of Sequoia.

I think with the right impetus, we can transition away from fossil fuels without having a huge crash.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chapter Look: 2 Peter 3, Jesus is Coming.

[ESV] The Day of the Lord Will Come

3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, [1] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies [2] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [3]

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Final Words

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

I get the idea by the way he talks about "you" waiting for the day of the Lord that he believes he will not see it. Poor guy. 30 years of serving the LORD in the Lord's absense, and now he realizes that he won't see Jesus return. But still, he encourages the church on in Christ, anxiously awaiting the day of Jsus return. I think we actually see here that the return will not be for quite a while, but Peter tells us that we should always be waiting for it.

Verse 16 and 17 are extremely important as we listen to today's teachers. Put the Bible first, not angels, or preachers, or anything else. Think critically about what you hear.