Friday, 28 August 2009

Ultimi Barbarorum

I've discovered Ultimi Barbarorum, and immediately added it to the subscriptions list of my now-groaning Google Reader.

Immediately, that is, after reading this excellent posting which opened my eyes to what exactly senior management (especially in the States) is doing with all those share buybacks. To some extent he's only pointing out the obvious, but it's depressing just how often I don't see the obvious (or maybe it's only obvious now I've read the article).

It seems that Mark Cuban has a similar understanding of what's going on, as expressed here ("Most CEOs ... are so focused on marking to market their own personal stock portfolios, they emphasize stock performance over doing the right thing for the company").

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Algal fuels: is hydrocarbon extraction always necessary?

This is the second posting prompted by something I read today at FuturePundit.

Commenting on news that a new proprietary strain of algae has been bred to increase its uptake of CO2 (and hence its production of fuel hydrocarbon) in high-light conditions, Randall says that "The rate of growth of algae is just one of several factors that affect biodiesel algae costs. Another big factor is extraction cost. What does it cost to get the oil separated from the rest of the algae mass?"

That might be so for use in the field of transport, which is after all a big consideration, but in the field of power generation I seem to remember power stations being built in the UK that took coal, crushed it (into either small crumbs or a fine powder, I can't remember which) and then burned it. The crushing meant that the coal burned more efficiently: increased oxygen flow meant that more of it burned and that it burned at higher temperatures. Would it be too fanciful to imagine hydrocarbon-rich algae being skimmed from the pools in which they grow, dried into an oily cake and the cake then transported to similar power stations where it could be crushed and burned, without any necessity for extracting the oil from the algal mass?

If that did work then it would be possible to extend the idea to heating factories, offices and even individual homes. After all, it's not so long ago that a man knocked at my parents' front door every week and sold us a few sacks of coal for the fire.

Ocean plastics break down faster than expected

First of a couple of posts stimulated by reading FuturePundit.

One Katsuhiko Saido of Nihon University seems to have said, in a presentation to the American Chemical Society: “We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future.”

Apologies to Saido-san if he's been misrepresented somewhere along the way, but that's so typical of the mind-set of the present day clod-botherersTM: damned if you do, and damned if you don't. First the plastic refuse collecting in the ocean is bad because it would never degrade; then it's bad because it does degrade. I seem to remember that once upon a time, oxygen was the nasty new chemical that was destroying 99% of all life in the ocean. Turned out well eventually though, didn't it?

There seems to be a strain in modern-day environmentalism that just wants to bring about a stasis that is the antithesis of the real world (I was going to say "wants to wrap the world in clingfilm", but there's a limit to the amount of irony that I can take).

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Today's unfinished business

Not exactly unfinished, since I've already started using it! But I want to record the original url somewhere. I'm talking about Bill Katz' very nice full text indexing for App Engine.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Kaupthing made ISK billions in insider loans, now seeks to gag reporting

This and this and particularly this may go some way to explain why the UK government used anti-terrorism laws to freeze the British assets of the Icelandic banks when they went bust, a move that was widely decried at the time.

Iceland was always a beautiful country with good, hard-working people, but now there's something rotten in the state of Iceland and it's not just a load of old cod. The Icelandic people seem extremely angry with their financial and political elites, and frankly I don't blame them.