Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rant on Barclays

I dread having to deal with Barclays Bank. It always turns into a protracted nightmare of calls until finally I find someone very helpful who is able to resolve the problem, or not. It's not the people, who are almost without exception friendly and as helpful as they are able to be, it's the systems.

I have been banking with Barclays for more than 25 years now and do I get any special treatment? I went overdrawn last year just before Christmas and as I am in Ireland I knew there was no way I was going to be able to post a cheque into them before Christmas hit so I asked if they could give me a £500 overdraft until the new year. No my recent transactions didn't qualify me!

Today I spent half an hour on the phone, trying to find out if I did indeed have an overdaft as the online system said I had. 4 transfers later and it turns out that I don't but whereas the online system appeared happy to give me a £1975 overdraft if I filled out just one page (until it said I already had an overdraft), the telephone adviser wanted my life history before giving me £500 overdraft. I gave up half way though the life history. Just not worth the hassle. And that's not to mention the calculator thing that I will need to use in future every time I use online banking. Yet another thing to lose.

Despite all this frustration have I changed banks? No. Not yet. And it would be so easy to keep my happy and banking with Barclays for the rest of my life. I think Barcays should have a policy of giving all account holders over 15 years a free premium service. Make us feel valued. If you treat us the same as the person who has only had an account with you for a year, then why stay?

I shall be moving to an internet only bank who want to provide me with a good service and welcome any recommendations.

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Reducing Nitrogen Fertilisers might be good news

A recent study shows that applying excess nitrogen fertilisers (most of which are made from natural gas) decreases the amount of soil carbon and overall yield. There has been a long term policy of over application in order to maximise yields, but this may have had the opposite effect.

See http://www.physorg.com/news112900965.html

If we are forced to reduce application rates by the increasing cost of fossil fuels and at the same time rebuild our soils with terra preta we might be able to increase yields on land which is going to be under pressure to provide food and energy and other materials such as bioplastics.

More about Terra Preta:


Oldest Animal

A clam over 400 years old was dredged up from the sea bed north of Iceland

Here are some other records:

Bacteria in suspended animation have been revivided from fossils 250 million years old!

The oldest living organisms are plants - a tree in Tasmania at 43,000 years.

A tortoise lived to 188.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is this what the future holds? A legal battle for water in the US


A battle has begun between three drought-ridden states in the eastern US over the flow of water from a lake. Should river mussels come before economics? People before endangered species.

This one is going to court.

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1 Cow = 1 SUV

I knew cattle and sheep were responsible for a significant part of our greenhouse gas emissions but I was reminded of how much when I watched Countryfile today. Cows and sheep produce methane as part of their digestive process of which most comes out of the front end as a burp rather than the back end. Methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so astonishingly, the emissions from one cow is equal to running an SUV for the year!

There is work being done to see if by changing the diet of these animals, using additives such as garlic and changing the varieties of grass, we can reduce emissions, an scientist of hopeful of up to 30% reductions.

One large cattle/milk farmer spent £85,000 on a digester 17 years ago and it now heats two homes, including an rayburn and the energy used on the farm.

It's hard enough to suggest we should drive our cars less, to even think we should reduce the cows in our green fields seems almost sacrilegious.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Submission to the Draft Dunmanway Integrated Development Startegy

Spent most of my spare time this week putting together a submission for my local town's development plan. As with many development plans there is much good stuff int it, but they are based on the assumption that today's trends will continue tomorrow and with so many challenges facing us - energy, climate change, decreasing resources of all kinds and now a fading property boom, I think that is a very risky assumption.

If you agree that tomorrow is likely to be much more energy constrained, this opens a wide range of opportunities for towns ready to grab them:

  • Build a combined heat and power plant for the town providing cheaper heat and electricity and making it an attractive town for both residents and business.

  • Develop as a centre for repair and remanufacture of goods - the trend towards repairs is already starting with companies like claimtracker in the UK

  • Become a centre for low energy holidays such as walking and cycling with a range of quality resteraunts and other activies in the town.

  • Develop a biogas plant to turn sewerage from a cost into a resource

  • Install micro-hydro plants in the local rivers and stream

  • Develop as a centre for small businesses who want to do work remotely by providing high quality video conferencing facilities that small groups could not currently afford.

  • Build the first FabLab in Ireland and stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship in the town.

Read all 18 pages here:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Saving Energy in the Home - washing clothes

Like the law of traffic that says the number of cars expands to fill the roads available, just think of London's M25, there seems to be a similar one for laundry.  The number of clothes to be washed expands to keep the washing machine busy.  If it's so easy to wash, why not just wear things once and then clean them so your clothes are always fresh and clean.

The article: http://www.physorg.com/news112154678.html asks if we spend less time doing the washing than 100 years ago.

I remember with some fondness, the first washing machine I had, a little twin tub where you put the washing in one side, ran a very quick cycle, about 10 mins I think, put the clothes in the the other side to spin and that was it!  It was more effort, but if you spent an hour doing the washing that was a lot of washing!  I now have two washing machines, yes two, and there is a good reason for this.

I have a conventional washing machine that gets used about twice a month, overnight, to do delicates.  The other is a big top loader with no heating element.  When I have a bath I can divert the bath water to the washing machine for the wash cycle and rinse with cold, which is, I've been told, efficient for removing detergent anyway.

So if we used recycled water to wash our clothes and only washed them when they were dirty, how much energy could we save?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Favorite Unix Commands

I am by no means a unix expert and don't use it often enough to have these commands at my fingertips, so I collecting them in one place:

Restart Server:
shutdown -r now

What's running:
ps aux

What using up disk space
du -k | sort -rn | head -20

Check for latest package:
rpm -qa | grep "mysql"

To replace all instances of oranges with bananas in the file mytext.txt

sed -e 's/oranges/bananas/g' mytext.txt

This will display the file with changes. I havn't found a way of making the changes in situ, but to write the output to a new file:

sed -e 's/oranges/bananas/g' mytext.txt > newfile.txt

20 most recently updated files:
find . -type f -printf '%TY-%Tm-%Td %TT %p\n' | sort -r | head -20

What's using memory

Value of environment variables set

List of all files recursively, containing text
grep -lir "no todo" *

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gapminder.org interactive graph of human development

Want to look at Ireland's Income per capita against urban density vs. the UK since 1960?

You can also pick lots of other indicators and countries.

Fertility against urban population - Ireland, UK and Afghanistan Play

Less is more - and more is less

We intuitively know this is true, but logic tells us something different. Surely having 2 choices is better than none and therefore 3 is better again?

Just watched a presentation called The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less by Barry Swartz. Barry tells the story of how he had bought jeans for years from a store where there was only one type of jeans. They never fitted very well and he had to wear them in and then wore them for as long as possible to avoid having to avoid the wearing in process. Recently, when he went back to buy a new pair, he was asked what kind of jeans he wanted? Easy fit, straight fit, poppers, zippers, boot cut etc etc etc. Barry tried on many many pairs of jeans and eventually left with a pair that fitted him far better than any previous pair, but was Barry happy with his choice?

No, and why? Does any of this feel familiar:
- his expectations had been raised by the plethora of choices, there must be the perfect pair amongst so many.
- but how does he know he has the best pair, maybe the better pair were left behind?
- if so, it must be my fault because the jeans companies have done their best to give me the perfect pair for me.

Barry had better jeans but was less satisfied. More is less.

Highly recommend reading: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bschwar1/Choice%20Chapter.Revised.pdf
or viewing: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6127548813950043200&q=engedu

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Why is getting data so hard - Nuclear Energy Position Paper

Just finished a first cut at getting my thoughts in order on nuclear energy and the bit that took the longest? Trying to find numbers on the percentage of world energy production filled by nuclear. It seems to hinge on what proportion of world energy you think electricity is as there seems to be consensus that nuclear delivers about 16% of electricity. But electricity as a portion of world energy varies from 15% to 40%!

I havn't got to the bottom of question at all. I presume it depends on what you include and exclude. Transport, wood fires for cooking food in third world counties? Does you include the energy used to produce more energy? Does it matter?

Position paper: http://www.vividlogic.ie/uploads/Nuclear_Position_Paper.pdf

Friday, October 12, 2007

Flying car

In a previous incarnation I was a partner in setting up and running a flying school. I had a glider, single, twin and helicopter PPL licenses - I had the bug bad and even dabbled in building a kit plane. For kit plane lovers, the highlight of the year is Oshkosh, an airshow in the US for the amateur with everything new and exciting on display. This year's demos included a flying car, or in this case a driving plane. Not a new concept, but maybe one whose time has come. http://www.terrafugia.com/KOSH07video.html

Flying is thought of as being costly energy wise, but this is not necessarily the case. A large part of the energy cost of driving is the friction of tyres on the road. Once a modern 'slippery' plane takes off, it can be very efficient. The kit plane I wanted to build, and still hanker after, is the Europa, which will do 50mpg at 150mph and that's in a straight line! Makes you think.

Here is a pic of this cute little plane, also with removeable wings so you can load it on a trailer and take it

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Back to the land - with technology

OK bad scenario time. World economy meltdown, fighting over limited resources, collapse of the cosy western world many of us grew up in and back to the land in order to scrape a living. But not back to the land the way our forefathers knew it because we have two things they didn't: the internet and junk.

Image how much stuff we could make from all the junk lying around, electricity generators, wind powered washing machines - Scrapheap Challenge here we come!

Yes I know the internet would be badly hit by economic collapse, but the internet was designed to be a hugely robust network that could cope with loss of servers. The internet in the scenario might be a pale reflection of what we have now if capacity and bandwidth is limited, but still an invaluable means of sharing information and innovation quickly and widely. Already one sixth of the world's population is connected to the Internet and growing fast in developing countries, who are developing their own long-distance wireless technology for areas where is not economic telecoms companies.
Casting a wider net - Principal Voices

Jimmy Wales
points out the difference between an internet enabled farmer who can find a market for his products online and a situation where that information is controlled by a middle man and the farmer is left with fewer choices and a smaller share of the revenue.

Have only dipped into Principal Voices, but really looking foward to listening to more.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Your next car might be a pet

Japan's 'Big Three' to Debut Cute Cars

Cute, communicative and cubic seem to be the fashion statement as far as offerings from Japan's "Big Three" automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, debuting at the Tokyo auto show later this month.

Behind the offerings is the growing view among Japanese automakers that more must be done to fight the image of cars as culprits of pollution, global warming and traffic accidents.

Their answer: Transform the car into a friendly companion - not just a machine for getting around.

Another sign that energy/climate change is being taken seriously.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Prisoner's Dilemma vs. Snowdrift and other games

I take the idea behind Prisoner's Dilemma
as a good rule for life. To 'win' (although winning in Prisoner's Dilemma is an Infinate rather than a Finite game, see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finite_and_Infinite_Games) my rules for life are something like this:

1. Give them the benefit of the doubt - be nice
2. If they take advantage, retaliate in kind.
3. Forgive and try being nice again.
4. If 2 and 3 keep repeating, walk away.

Snowdrift (http://www.physorg.com/news111145481.html) may be a better imitator of real life, but does not have the metaphorical value of Prinsoner's Dilemma.

Writing this also reminded me of an idea on a podcast (http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=80542171&s=143449&i=11397474)
The mind game was this. Imagine you are given some money and in order to keep some of it you must share it with me. You will only get one chance to make me an offer and if I refuse your offer, neither of us gets anything. What was interesting is that, in general, I will only accept an offer from you that I think is fair - if you get €100 and offer me €1 I will tell you to get stuffed, even though I will lose out on getting a euro. However, if you are a computer, I will be totally pragmatic and accept any offer you make.

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We are starting to take energy seriously

For me it's like this time last year when it seemed blindingly obvious that the property boom in Ireland was about to end yet still almost everyone was confident that things would continue just as they were, anything else was unthinkable.

Now the signs are everywhere that the energy paradigm is about to change. We can no longer count on cheap, endless supplies of energy where and when we want it.

Google are holding an innovation contest for how to use pedal power - http://www.youtube.com/v/8WDBtxFUdu4