Tuesday, December 30, 2008

For those who are NOT morning people...

Early to bed, early to rise
No damn good if you don't advertise!

Mick O'Mara, Dunmanway, Co. Cork.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Solar car finishes around the world trip

Looks normal enough from the front:
But needs a trailer of solar cells!

For more details of a trip around the world without any oil see http://www.solartaxi.com

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Idea for Bars/Resteraunts facing downturn

So the Christmas parties have been cancelled, people are buying the fixed price menu and the house wine. How can resteraunts boost their income?

How about attracting a new market. People who eat on their own but don't want to eat in a resteraunt on their own. Have a sitting every half hour and whoever wants to eat are put together on a table together. Very unbritish I know. But why not? The sell is you get cheap food, as cheap as eating at home, you don't have to dine alone and who knows who you might meet or what interesting conversations you might have. I would go just to meet new people but without the pressure of networking or the singles scene.

If you would go for this, there is a place in Broadgate ready to give it a try.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Saving the Planet - Not (rant)

I have great difficulty with all phrases that imply the planet is having any kind of problem and that we can save it. The planet is not dying, the planet has no need of saving, it is absolutely fine, hardly noticed we are here. It's been around for 4.5 billion years or so and will be around for billions more. The environment on it's skin is changing, as is has continuously changed since it's birth and whether we caused a slight warming or a few volcanoes were responsible makes little difference from the planets point of view. The planet, (and there are other ones as well) has been very hot and an very cold, it's had massive eruptions of volcanoes that have made the rain as acid as a car battery. And yet it just keeps spinning away and life on it's surface evolved to suit the ever changing conditions.

So let's get over ourselves. The plant is fine, it's us that are in trouble and imagining that we are such powerful beings that we can 'save' a whole planet if we choose is arrogant in the extreme. Maybe if we understood ourselves as part of a huge system that nobody controls but that we can all influence in a small way, we might find better ways of changing that which we can and adapting to that which we can't.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Posted on Forum for the Future Scenarios

Did a quick, and very favourable review, of Forum for the Future's Scenarios over on the Energy Scenarios Ireland blog.

Table built for me

‘Push’ Table by Jennifer Hing.

"As someone whose filing system consists mostly of using every horizontal surface I can find to deposit strata of tools, books, papers, components, etc, the utility of the Push Table resonates very much. I can even imagine building (adjustable) separators into the sloped section, to allow a primitive physical filing system to emerge (but see also Anna Harris’s Ifiltro, discussed below)."
Lots of great stuff about the way we really use items as opposed to what the designer had in mind on this page here http://architectures.danlockton.co.uk/category/user-psychology/ but this table was just made for me!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How can you reduce your Toms?

As the result of an idea that two people had at the IT@Cork conference less than a week ago, a new website is launched today to help us visualise our carbon emissions and how we might reduce them.
The average European creates 10 tonnes of CO2 per annum. The average American, 20 tonnes. To avert the dangers of Climate Change, we need to drop our CO2 production to 1 tonne per person. Problem: What is 1 tonne of CO2? How do you visualise it? Answer: You don't! You change the metric. 1 tonne = 1 person's annual CO2 production. 1 average person. 1 Tom.
Have a look and join in the conversation and pass it on, especially to all your friends and relations called Tom!

Biofuels a transition fuel only

Pic from http://besustainable.com

Here is my argument:

The internal combustion engine is inherently inefficient, loosing more energy through heat and friction than it delivers to drive a vehicle forward. (see Electric v. Combustion engines) We don’t know what inventions will be transporting us around in 50 years time, but the likelihood that they bear much resemblance to a heavy lump of metal, generating heat and exhaust gases seems very unlikely. Therefore, any fuel which is produced with the intention of running a combustion engine are likely to have a limited life.

However, biofuels could be used to generate electricity. The question is are there circumstances where it is more efficient to grow, harvest, process and ‘burn’ a plant than to use wind, waves or sun to directly generate electricity?

Even though the future might be predominantly electric, there will always be niches. Butane Fuel Cells for small devices might replace batteries, and they can provide 20 times the run time of the current battery technology for the same mass. The choice would be recharge your device yourself anywhere you can plug it in or go and buy a butane charge for your fuel cell. Hmmm, think I’ll plug it in thanks and wait for the battery technology to catch up.

Wind, waves and sun are intermittent so some form of storage is required. Maybe biofuels will be best used for powering backup generation?

I’m not convinced of my own argument here, so hoping for someone to point out the flaws in it.

No iReal or Segway for me, I want a K9 to carry stuff


Last night I had delicious home cooked stir fry (thanks Flora) and maybe this is what stimulated my imagination as I tried to get to sleep. Been really bothered by the iReal and Segway. The idea that we might lose the use of our legs! I will keep walking. I enjoy walking, but I don't enjoy carrying a heavy bag with a computer, notebook, papers and goats milk. So here is what I want.

I want a K9 (the mechanical dog on Doctor Who), maybe a bigger breed than the one on Doctor Who, who will follow me faithfully wherever I go carrying all the gumpf that normally weighs down my shoulders and pockets. If I get a bit tired with all that walking, I can sit on K9 and he will provide with with, in winter, a nice cup of team, and in summer, a nice cup of tea. He will wait patiently outside the shop, guarding my purse and shopping and will come to the till, when summoned, to pay and pick up the shopping. When I get on the bus, he will hitch himself to the rear of the bus and recharge himself as he is pulled along. In the unlikely event that he runs out of battery (he warns me if his power is getting low and can curl up in the sun to recharge himself from his solar cells) he can can either turn tortoise and wait to be retrieved or throw out a handle to be wheeled home. He will also make life much less stressful by making sure I don't leave the house without the keys or some fresh goats milk and will make sure I take the keys out of the lock and put the goats milk back in the fridge when I get home.

City K9s would be more elegant than country K9s, that would be expected to negotiate mud, ditches and electric fences carrying buckets of feed, bales of hay and fencing posts. Evening K9s would be small chic little things, a fashion accessory, only required to carry purse, keys and lipstick. Special St. Bernard K9s would carry and, if required, entertain small children... Okay got to finish this off and do some real work.

Of course, in the future we will not be carrying paper because we will finally have epaper and we will be doing all our computing on our mobile and the shops will be delivering to our home and medical science will have found a way to get rid of my intolerance of cow's milk. But I still fancy a K9.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Please put dates on web pages!

I know sites want to appear as though they have been recently updated, but at least news items could put a date. Many do, but there are still a lot that don't. This article on mini-cars for example, http://images.businessweek.com/ss/06/11/1117_japan_minicar/index_01.htm
includes the totally unhelpful text "...they fell 6.2% in October..." and "In 1997, kei accounted for 24% of Japan's total auto sales; this year, the figure will be 35%." No help in the URL either. Anyone else share this gripe?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homecamp November 2008

Great day at Homecamp yesterday, an unconference loosly based around doing cool stuff with Current Cost and other home automation stuff. We heard about tracking llamas across the downs, linking your doorbell to twitter, sharing your electricity usage with a group and getting competative about it.

What impressed me most about the day was the awareness of the problems we face with energy and climate change and the enthusiasm for addressing them. How can we encourage the behavioral change we need? Was an ongoing question for the day. This was in marked contrast to the previous conference I attended where the general mood seemed to be denial of the problem if possible and certainty that people won't change behavior.

Back to Homecamp. Met lots of interesting people and more I never go the chance to talk to but here are a few links and buzzwords I managed to jot down:
IBM have exteneded their range of protocols down to a Really Small Message broker suitable for Pervasive Messaging (think lots of things measuring stuff and sending out messages about it). Google MQTT and RSMB and XMPP
Prices of Zigbee coming down, £4-5 per chip, but does have problems with stone walls as uses 2.4GHz - X10 still useful for some applications.
Current Cost is the cheap and cheerful device if you want to start measuring electricity use and using the results. Produces an XML feed which can be updated every ?? seconds or will save data up to a month but only in 2 hour granularity. Uses Serial port with Serial to USB cable to connect to a computer. More stuff here: http://code.google.com/p/currentcost/
If you don't want to use more electricity monitoring your electricity, consider Viglan MPC that uses about 10 watts. Cost £80ish. For details see ubunto podcast.
If you want to start tinkering go to tinker.it and buy a arduino board which can take data from all kinds of sensor and has an ethernet connection. Also check out knolleary.net, blinkum and ambiant orbs.
Predictive Failure Analysis links with Pervasive Messaging. Your washing machine sends the manufacturer ongoing measurements of it's performance so that changes in pattern can be used to predict failures before they happen. Or vans send data on their usage so that maintenance can be scheduled based on need for greater efficiency.
Ideas for visualising electricity/carbon - onzo.co.uk for another measuring device but using design to create awareness. Idea of having plant (real of electronic!) that droops or flowers depending on your behaviour.
Plugin for sketchup allows measurements from aduinos via pachube to be displayed on a sketchup model. Useful for planning location of solar panels, how buildings are behaving after people start messing with it in ways the architect didn't foresee. Can also do with into second life to turn lights on and off or see if you left the iron on.
Nokia are doing a homeautomation project using mobile technology - no details.
In terms of changing behaviour - social motivation is stronger than monetary (generally but depends on context). Nothing like a near death experience to motivate people. The power of the group can be used to provide a context - how am I doing compared to others in my group. People like challenges - challenging but achievable.
We currently waste more than half the energy we use (ie. delivers no benefit) 35-40% is down to the technology (standby mode etc) and 30-35% is behavioural (leaving things on).
We are facing a complex problem with is both socially and technologically challenging.
Joe Short from Dynamic Demand and I brought the group up to speed with the challenges and opportunities around dynamic demand and balancing the grid. It's not just using less that cuts carbon, but when you use it. A previous post on demand response.
Publish your data to http://www.pachhube.com (pronounced patch-bay) to allowing sharing and aggrigating. This project is only just getting going but already has feeds from all over the world - energy use, carbon footprint, wind speeds, London Bridge going up and down, whatever you fancy.

I've started twittering #laptopsurvey counting the types of laptops in cafes. This was initially triggered by a friend who said it was rubbish that more and more people were buying Macs instead of PCs. Also interested in counting uptake of netbooks as I think PC people are considering alternatives when buying a new laptop and I suspect many, who might have gone for a Mac last year, will go for a netbook. Feel free to add your own surveys!

Homecamp (approx figures)

Macs 11 (2 white, 5 black, 3 silver, 1 air)
PCs 7 (all but two were Thinkpads belong to IBM employees I think)
Netbooks 6

Checkout @homecamper on twitter and friendfeed room is homecamp.

Hope to see you all again in March if not before.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

IT@Cork Conference 2008

A full day yesterday with talk from a wide range of perspectives from a Segway riding (standing/commanding/steering/balancing/figureheading?) economist http://tinyurl.com/6pl4y2 to the CEO of the ESB. Mixed feelings at the end of the day.

We had strong talks on the clear and present danger of both climate change and peak oil (and gas and uranium and coal and copper) but for many people this was a bit of a surprise and were inclined to think they were too down beat. I, of course, would disagree.

On the plus side, great to hear all this stuff that I have been going on about for so long being talked about and built on.

Disconnect I felt, with the ITC presenters, who seemed to be talking about business as usual with lower consumption of energy, but lots more demand for computing. I don't entirely disagree with that, but I don't think they have thought through the implications of peak oil and recession for their customers and suppliers. Will blog on this in more detail in the future.

Very upbeat presentation from Padraig McManus of the ESB. Target for them to be zero carbon by 2035 and 30% reduction by 2012. Also talking demand response, smart metering (although no commitments on installation) and big growth in wind soon. Confident they would not be affected by a downturn and that demand for electricity increase significantly.

Congratulations to the organisers, well run conference, good speakers, although wifi kicking in and out so not able to keep twittering all day - probably a good thing. Met lots of interesting people so very glad to have gone.

Electric Vehicle Fans

Been getting regular feeds from Zoomi Life for the last couple of weeks - all the latest electric vehicle news. Highly recommended:


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

UK Budget 2008

Three thoughts on the UK budget.

I think consumers main concern now is their mountain of debt and how they are going to pay the interest, never mind the capital. Are their jobs secure? Is the value of their house going to go back up again? Negative equity on the car and a mountain of credit card debts. I think, and may be wrong because not everyone is in debt and not everyone worries about if they are, that people are more likely to save or pay off debt with a little extra cash than go out and spend it. So I don't think cuts in taxes are going to do the business in encouraging consumer spending.

The stock markets liked the budget, today at any rate. Well that's okay then. Is part of the success criteria for the budget, that the city will like it? I suspect it is, and is this not the kind of short term thinking that got us into trouble in the first place?

What do we need new roads for? Peak Oil has not gone away and neither has climate change. In fact the problems of Peak Oil just got worse because the low price of oil has stiffled investment in both oil and renewables. I struggle to envisage any scenario that does not involve a decrease in driving in the short term, even the most positivie scenario where we replace some of our transport needs with technology. This budget was a huge opportunity to invest in the energy infrastructure of the country and show that the UK was a sound long term investment. Instead the gamble is that we are all going to start buying again and that energy prices, energy security and climate change are not going to cause a problem any time soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Just add a couple of wings....

As a private pilot who once dabbled in building a kit plane, the new Aptera looks remarkably like one of those kits but without wings...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Re eMail overload at big organisations

A couple of friends were telling me last night about the eMail overload they have at their company. 100-200 emails per day (not including spam) all of which have to be scanned to see if they are:
- genuine requests for action
- replies
- just thought you would like to know
- does anyone know....
- arse covering
- arse licking

We considered a number of solutions from charging people to send emails to banning email altogether, but here was the best idea of the evening.

  • Email is for actions only, ie. the first two in the list above
  • You can only send email to one person
  • You, generally, use the old fashioned chain of responsibility when sending - ie. you send a level up or down, NOT to the whole chain. It is the responsibility of the person you send to whether to forward your email. Structures are fairly flat these days, so not as onerous as it used to be.
  • All cc's get put on a public (to the organisation) twitter stream instead of being delivered. Can also post direct to twitter stream.
  • It is NOT expected that everyone will see everything on the twitter stream, but it allows for some element of serandipidy - MD just happens to see cleaners observation re competitions plans leaked to girlfriends, mothers, step-brothers, aunt....

Interested to hear any ideas or experiences of what has worked as huge potential savings here for many organisations! Is it possible to process emails before delivery and remove CC'd people then post text on internal twitter? Would need to notify people their email had not been delivered to everyone, by email, thus increasing the number of emails again!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Self-help gadget for electricity cost reduction

Some time in the future our equipment will negotiate for best price energy without our having to do anything. But in 2008, if we want to reduce our electricity bills we have to do it ourselves. Studies show that installing equipment to show people their current electricity usage has a big impact on their usage. For a short time. But when the novelty wears off we tend to slide back to our old habits. Here is an idea for a gadget to keep reminding us to use electricity efficiently.

Having done your initial measurement, you can tell a gadget your target electricity usage for the day. Once you reach this amount and alarm goes off and the gadget flashes an anoying red. Only 6pm and you've busted your limit again. Of course you will start to ignore this after a while as well, but maybe by then you might have got into the habit of switching the lights off or running the washing machine at night (so you don't hear that alarm going off!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If I won the Lotto - which car?

My daydreams about which car I would buy if I won the Lotto (in a big way) has changed lately. In the old days (like last month) my daydreams conveniently excluded guilt over carbon emissions, crowded roads and the rough track up to my house in selecting my dream car. Contenders included the Mac Merc Monaro and Aston Martin and of course a Jag XKR.

However, pondering the credit crisis and future fallout, how long before I was struggling to find parts for my Mac Merc in West Cork. If I want to keep driving through the recession (assuming my big win can keep paying for petrol) maybe I would be better of with a classic car. Simple to repair, more parts available. And as I speed down the road in a cloud of carbon emissions I could remind myself that that I was preserving a piece of history for the nation!

Haven't come to a firm conclusion here as my favorite classics are a bit long in the tooth - Jaguar XK120 or never were that reliable - Sunbeam Tiger. Maybe I would go for something a bit more modest like a Triumph Stag?

Many happy hours ahead pondering this hypothetical dilemma.

Stimulate innovation by saying no

Great example of what happens when you say No to someone - just makes them more determined. Unable to get access to a gas meter signal, this guy did a bit of lateral thinking.


and http://hackedgadgets.com/2008/10/14/energy-monitoring-project/

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wordle Cloud for this Blog

Wordle Word Cloud for this Blog - share and enjoy.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

What if Prince Charles used Twitter?

The recent BBC documentary on Prince Charles at 60 spoke of his hand written 'black spider' memos full of questions and ideas that were fired of into the ether of secretaries and ministers for response. What is Prince Charles were to fire these questions and ideas off into Twitter instead. I'm sure he would certainly get a satisfyingly large and fast response and he might find it more effective at promoting his ideas than the civil service?

FT this weekend 15th November 2008

Companies feel chill as trade credit insurance dries up

Companies that provide insurance against bad debts are reducing their cover - in one example from 90% to 60%. Other companies, such as Atradius, are withdrawing cover for whole counties and that list includes Ireland. As Ireland is so keen on leading the way with gaurantees, maybe we could lead the way by guaranteeing payment for all goods and services bought from Ireland?

G20 heads forced to temper ambition

The focus of the article is on how we are likely to regulate the banks in future and a process for introducing new regulations. This feels like closing the door after the horse has bolted. I know at some point in the future the door will need to close, bit isn't the priority to find the horse? Then we need to get a headcollar on him, maybe by tempting him with a bucket of feed, and then we can, hopefully, get him back into the stable...

Doubt cast on funds for Beijing boost

I have been asked all kinds of people over the last few years how dependant on exports they thought China was. If there was a slowdown in the US and Europe, would it significantly effect China. I got unsatisfactory answers, usually along the lines of "I don't know". A few felt China would continue to grow regardlesss of what else happened in the world.

Well to get the full answer, we are going to have to wait. China is still growing but at much lower levels than expected. It would seem that our global economy is so intertwined that nobody is recession proof.

Good Question Ma'am. But some people did see it coming

The Queen asked Luis Garicano of the London School of Economics "If these things were so large, how come everyone missed them?". Well some did, writes Alan Beattie in an entertaining reply to the Queen. "It gets dangerous when you treat economists as court necromancers, listening only to the ones you find congenial".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Idea for Car Dealer

I have great sympathy for all those car dealers who are looking at forecourts full of unwanted cars. Well here is an idea for you. Get a dealership for electric cars and learn how to service them and offer this package: You buy an electric car from us and you get free membership of our car pool. Anytime you want a larger car just park your electric car here and we'll put it on charge for you and you can pay by the mile (sorry, kilometer) from a choice of any of this range of cars. If the car pool gets popular, you can offer to take cars in part exchange if they are suitable for the pool, and offer the pool service to others, who can also choose to take an Electric car from the pool if it suits their needs.

Then you can start offering a special electricity tariff especially suited to electric car users who will be charging overnight and get a commission on use from your supplier of choice.

Then you can offer electric motorscooters and motorbikes and vars and buses.....

I have at least two customers for you already if you are based in West Cork.

And just in case you thought electric cars all looked like motorised shopping trolleys:

Japanese prototype that does 0-62 in 4 secs and top speed of 230mph!

And of course the Tesla:

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Celtic Phoenix

With all the understandable focus on the credit crunch and contracting economy, the interlinked problems of peak oil and climate change have been lost, and they are a big part of the solution. If we are to maintain our current economic model, the government is going to have to pump money into the economy and what better way than with gifts that keep on giving. A new windmill keeps generating revenue year on year, a house whose energy efficiency has been upgraded with double glazing and insulation, not only releases income for alternative spending this year, but next year and the year after. By moving spend from imports, and nearly 90% of our energy is imported, to locally produced energy, this will put money back into the economy. And moving to a sustainable energy infrastructure, which includes generation, distribution, storage and use of energy, will create a wide spectrum of new jobs. from installation of windmills, redesign of products for lower cradle to cradle energy and oil use, software innovation for improving logistics and installing plug in points for electric cars. There is huge potential for new businesses to manufacture wind and wave equipment, manufacture electric cars and increasing cost of transport makes local production more competitive, especially in food production.

Rather than be sidetracked by the possibility of losing advantages over which we have little control, such as incentives for encouraging foreign investment, lets focus on the advantages nobody can take away. Our excellent wind and wave potential, our good agricultural environment, and above all, our ability to adapt very quickly to changing times.

First there was the Celtic Tiger, now there is the Celtic Mouse, but lets awaken the Celtic Phoenix.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Plastic flower more real the real flowers - or visa versa

Took this picture at Liverpool Street station today. The colours are so intense, to my gardeners eye, they appear plastic. But they are real flowers.

It reminded me of the story of a little boy who is shown a real rose plant for the first time. "It's smells like poo spray" he says.

For many people, is their baseline is becoming the artificial version of the natural product?

Tired and Emotional - President Obama

Stayed up and watched the whole election count - didn't go to bed until McCain and Obama had both made inspiring and generous speeches. I had never seen this John McCain, where was he during the elections?

Obama has inspired loyalty and faith in me. Somthing no politician has ever come close to. Whatever happens, he has shown a jaded generation or three that politics can be about more than saying what we want to hear and slagging off the opposition. It can be about bringing us together, all of us, to create something more than we ever could apart.

Congratuations America.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Travelling Less?

As I sit at Gatwick waiting to get a flight home and feeling guilty at the huge increase in my carbon foot print, I wonder about how much travelling we will be doing in the future.

Oil supplies will be constrained in the future, which will hit first - a shortage in the ground or problems getting it out and refined, it is not clear. The recently publish report from the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security estimate we have a 3-5 year window to make substantial cuts in our usage. The focus of this, and many other reports, is on doing what we do more efficiently - and this is great. But even without the cost factor, changing the car for the bus/train/bicycle etc. is also going to decrease our journeys simply because it reduces our ability to be spontaneous. At the moment, for a car owner, a quick drive down to the shops to get a frozen pizza because we have a sudden craving for one is just a case of jumping in the car and off we go. Without the car a bit more thinking has to take place first. Is it raining? When does the last bus leave? Is the local shop still open or do I need to go the bigger one further away? I'm going past the supermarket tomrrow anyway... At this stage the cravings for the pizza have passed and suddenly a bit of pasta made with ingredients in the cupboard looks a lot more attractive.

The ability for consumers to be spontaneous is a huge driver of spending - just put it on the credit card and worry about the bill later, 24 hour shopping - never go without a Ben & Jerrys tub of ice cream when you really need one, £1 flights to Budapest - lets just go. The freedom of the open road etc. etc. When freedom becomes more expensive and inconvenient we change our habits and I foresee a lot fewer miles driven as we plan our travel more carefully and combine tasks.

And it's not just people miles. Plastics are made from oil and a vast array of all that stuff we buy is made with plastic. Companies seeking to reduce costs will redesign products to last longer but with the ability to upgrade - ideally a software upgrade, meaning there is less stuff to ship around. As transport becomes more expensive, making and growing things locally becomes more competitative and again transport miles go down. As logistics systems become highly intelligent and adaptive, fewer vehicles travel with part loads, again pushing miles down.

By how much? And for how long? As we crack cheap energy and future cars become cheap to buy and run again will we want return to a country run by cars?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Oil Crunch

Attended the launch of The Oil Crunch, a report looking at what will happen if we fail to address the systemic problems we have with energy, and oil in particular, in the same way we ignored systemic problems in the finacial sector. For me this is the most comprehensive, clear and well written assessment of the energy situation yet produced including contributions from both Shell and Zero Carbon Britain as possible scenarios. The basic message is that the UK has a 3-5 year window to engineer a soft landing and their hope is that this report will put the arguments into context and stimulate a knowledgeable debate.

The four scenarios considered are:
Growth - becoming less plausible by the day
Plateau - Shell - growth in supply to 1015 and plateau into the 2020s
Descent - Zero Carbon Britain
Collapse - here be dragons
The taskforce favour Descent, although this is conservative compared the the current IEA forcasts leaked today in the FT which project a 6.4-9.1% pa!

A good question was asked about why businesses would not want to sell more, particularly utilities. Ian Merchant from Scottish and Southern Energy, jumped on this one saying it was not good business practice to sell people what they did not need. Much better to sell less and build up a larger loyal clientbase. Great answer! It seems as the mighty are falling, what was previously unsayable (if you valued your job or reputation) can now be said. Will Whitehorn from Virgin said that business growth for the sake of growth was not good either, although there would be opportunities for growth in a descent scenario.

Some other points that came out of the Q&A:
- the need for a policy around heat as well as energy
- the urgent need for a feed-in tariff (and this seems about to happen)
- a key question is how much energy do we, as individuals, need to fuel our lifestyle? This is about us using smart technology and making choices.
- there is an urgent need to look at the regulatory environment which is creating many roadblocks to progress such as planning restrictions
- Stagecoach have coverted some buses in Kilmarnock to run on waste oil such as chip fat. Custom has increased, and some travellers are bringing bottles of old chip oil to pay for their journey!

The Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security included senior representatives from Virgin, Solarcentury, Stagecoach, Scottish and Southern Energy, Yahoo, Arup, Foster and Partners and First.

Report at www.peakoiltaskforce.net

A few ideas occurred to me during this presentation. I don't think there is much to be gained by trying to analyse exactly when Peak Oil will occur. The question is when will the symptoms associated with Peak Oil start to have an impact and the answer is that that is already happening. Symptoms include erratic prices as confidence evaporates and pricing oil becomes more difficult, oil producing countries starting to conserve supplies for themselves, significant investment moving to renewables and alternative energy supplies, increasing interest in the subject in all areas.

I would like to see a mega plan put together identify all the projects/changes that need to happen and what the timescales and dependacies are for each of these. From that we could draw a huge plan identifying the critical path and what changes need to happen to unblock sections of the plan (like implementing feed-in tarrifs, smart metering and DR).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

London Pics from the camera phone

Trees that caught my eye:

Still lots of building going on in the City. View of cranes (you can just about make them out) from Waterloo bridge.

Only a few days ago I was walking down the street in a tee-shirt. It just started snowing!

Zero Carbon Britain

Had an interesting chat with Paul Allen from CAT who has been working on the 'what to do about peak oil and climate change' for much longer than most. He acted as a consultant on the 'Oil Crunch' report due to be launch tomorrow. Lots of good stuff in the Zero Carbon Britain report, including details of addressing demand side management as well as the supply side.

Get the report here: http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review of Bigpicture.tv

http://www.bigpicture.tv is a collection of videos of people talking about the big picture. Dipping in I found this http://www.bigpicture.tv/videos/watch/36660e598. Vandana Shiva talks about the idea that we are currently living in a representative democracy but an economic dictatorship and this chimes with the feeling I have, that we are the slaves of the economy, not the other way around. She suggests that we vote all the time, with our wallets, and we can use this power to bring about change. 132 speakers in all - share and enjoy.

Rated 4/5 on Oct 19 2008
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Tax As You Go

I hate doing tax returns. In fact if I could pay a bit of extra tax in order not to have to do a tax return I would! So here is a wild idea for making my life easier.

Tax as you go.

I sign up for a deal that adds 5% to every transaction I have with my bank that goes straight into my tax account. If I withdraw €100 from the ATM, €105 is deducted from my bank balance and €5 is added to my tax account. If I pay for €50 of shopping with my credit card, another €2.50 goes into the tax account. At the end of the tax year, the money in my tax account has interest added (which is above the rate I would receive at the bank) and is deducted from my tax bill.

When I pay may tax bill online I get to decide on where 50% of my tax goes and I can allocate it between health, education, public transport etc. There might also be special requests for funding - a hospital wants a new cancer treatment machine - and I can allocate some of my money to that. I can recieve updates on how that funding drive is going by text or email. The government gets to decide on what the pots are - we get decide how much goes in each pot. If we feel passionately that one pot is more deserving than another, WE can lobby our friends to put their allocation in that pot. Once a pot is full, the government MUST proceed with that project. This helps us feel part of the link between paying taxes and getting services which I know is missing for many of us.

There might also be some kind of gold star award we recieve when we pay a certain amount of tax that shows we are a responsible member of the community. People with gold stars are listed, so a wealthy person without a gold star is clearly visible to community and it is clear they are not contributing much to rebuilding the local school etc.

In the long term, I would like a pay as you go system to replace income tax and other forms of tax, removing loopholds and dodgy incentives. When what we want is more jobs and to use resources more efficiently, it makes more sense to me to tax stuff not people. So if I earn lots of money, I don't pay any tax until I spend it. If all transactions, including financial trading, were included, we would only pay a small tax, probably 0.5% on each transaction! Then there would be an end to tax returns - what joy!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can I have a cappuccino with my goat's milk please?

This request is met with a wide range of responses, but the answer is usually yes. In fact the only place that could have done it but wouldn't was the deli in Bandon and they wouldn't even let me buy a black coffee and put my goat's milk in it myself if I was going to drink it on the premises! Needless to say, I have not been back since. Anyway, the reason for the blog post was not to winge but to make an observation as I sit here in Costa Coffee at the motorway service station near Taunton. I think I can see a difference between the UK and Ireland when it comes to paying. I have no problem in paying the full amount for my coffee. It's not a lot of money and the coffee shop has to cover their overheads. But interestingly, the British sense of fair play has often meant they have charged me much less for my coffee! A gut feel would suggest I pay full price about 85% of the time in Ireland and only 40% of the time in the UK. I look forward to trying this experiment in other countries, though it will require me learning a bit more than 'Do you speak English' in the requisite language!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Homes for the Future - Pod Living?

The Telegraph yesterday (11/10/08) had an article called Pod Squad about small modular homes.

From a cube on legs which can be craned onto the top of a high rise building from £63,000 - http://loftcube.net/

To a micro compact home, only 2.6m3 but two double beds and two flat screen tvs for £26,000 from http://microcompacthome.com

or an M-House that fits the legal status of a caravan from £147,000 http://m-house.org

Or my favorite, an Eco Pod from http://ecohab.co.uk from only £36,000

Anyone who knows me and my generous house full of 'stuff', not to mention barns and sheds full of 'stuff', will laugh at the idea that I could possibly live in such a small area. And I have to admit I only really fancy it if I could live in Zen like simplicy in my pod in the garden and keep the house for stuff and visitors. But imagine a future where many have lost everything - their homes and cars reposessed along with most of the trappings of the 21st century. And these might not be people falling off the lowest rung of the ladder, but falling off from quite a way up. So as the economy starts to recover, but energy prices making old, large, poorly equipped houses expensive to run, pod living might become fashionable, at least for singles or couples of small stature! This new chic makes a virtue out of simple, low cost living. And for the property developer, knock down that 90s house and put up 20 pod homes!