The Gods of Kelimutu and the Iphone 3GS

kelicrater kelimutubridge

This past winter we were hiking (I was stumbling, actually) down Kelimutu volcano on the island of Flores in Indonesia. At one point, there was the choice of crossing a thin bamboo bridge over fast-moving water or wading across that same fast-moving water. For reasons that I will write about in another post, I chose the wading. It was only when I was safely back in our guesthouse in Moni, a half-hour later, that I realized I had been carrying my Iphone in the moist thigh pocket of my cargo pants.

The phone was damp. I dried it. Blew on it. Then I went to turn it on (apparently, this is the worst thing to do), and was horrified to see that the screen stayed black, it wasn’t coming on. Bummer! There was no internet in Moni so I couldn’t send out an advice-seeking SOS. I figured the least bad course of action was to put the phone out in the hot tropical sun to dry, turning every few minutes so it wouldn’t melt like an electronic chocolate bar. Every few hours, I would try turning it on, with no result.

The next morning, still no iphone bonheur. I get on a bemo (local minibus) to our next destination (Mauméré). I got an uncommonly good seat for a change, sitting next to the driver. Because there is no A/C on these buses, my window was fully open and I couldn’t think of a better way to pass the time than to hold my iphone out in the hot wind to get a modest hairdryer effect. But truth be told, I had the awful feeling that I was like a doctor doing CPR on a patient that wasn’t going to wake up. (This last sentence suggests that I place an equal value on my iphone as I do on a human life. This is simply not true.)

After an hour or so of bus breeze drying time, still no luck. At one point, our driver, who only spoke the language he was supposed to speak but which I didn’t, looked at me inquisitively. I gestured that my phone was kaput and that this made me sad, even going so far as to demonstrate how nothing happened then I pressed the on button. And that was the moment that my Iphone woke up! I giggled with joy. The driver laughed. Co-conspirators. The Gods and busdrivers of Kelimutu were with me! Sort of.

For the next 3 weeks travelling around Indonesia, my phone would stay on for about 5 minutes at a time, then suddenly reboot for 2-3 minutes. Then be usable for 5 minutes again. It would charge but the % of charge would vary from one second to the next, never going above 61%, even after an overnight charge. It would hold the charge for anywhere from 2 hours to a full day. This was obviously better then nothing. I could take photos and receive emails if and when there was internet available.

When I got back home, I upgraded the software from IOS 4.3 or something to 5.1. Now, 4 months on, the device works a charm. Hah!

Ho ho ho!

After a year’s vacation, I just upgraded my WordPress installation to the new, latest, and greatest. A pat on the back for me. I think my blog is even visible to people who visit. This is part of my new program of personal transparency.

At the Market

This morning was the farmer’s market in the Madeleine at Albi, which takes place just where the New Bridge intersects with the river Tarn. It’s one of the nicer spots in Old Albi. Here’s the view from between the charcuterie stand and the garlic merchant:

albi.jpg

I was on line to buy goat cheese behind an old man, maybe 90 years old. Given the quantity of cheeses he was loading into his basket, I’m sure that if asked, he would attribute his spry longevity to eating lots of goat products.

When he was loaded up, he turned to me and said, “you know, this is one courageous woman!”, pointing to the woman behind the cheese-laden table, who I know lives out in the country not far from here, milks her goats, makes her cheeses, and comes to sell them at the Madeleine every Saturday morning.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, she came all the way from Holland to live here. It’s so far away from her home!”

I agreed wholeheartedly, then couldn’t resist mentioning that he would probably find me courageous, too, since I came from New York City to live in Albi, and that is even further away.

He thought about that awhile, smiled, agreed that I must be very courageous, too. Then said, “You know, I’ve always been curious about something about America, so if you don’t mind questions from a nosy old man… My brother spent some time in Atlanta and told me disturbing stories when he came back.”

Uh-oh, I’m thinking, here it goes, I’ll have to say something about the Moron Elite and the Coup d’Etat in America. That yes, I believe in Darwin. That I had left 15 years ago and don’t understand either. Then reassure him that being American was not contagious and talking to one would probably not lead to renal failure.

“My brother was always surprised that the Negroes had to sit in the back of the buses, in their own section, not mingling with the white people.”

For a split second, I had the thought that W had turned back the clock of human civilization yet again, but then Condi & Co came to mind, and, well, na-a-a-h, not possible.

“But that was 50 years ago,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. “My brother was in Atlanta in 1952.”

So with some relief, I was able to tell him that certain things in America had changed for the better. Long time I haven’t been able to say that.

Nenuphar Factoid

Dr. Albert Jacquard is a professor of mathematics and genetics somewhere in Paris and a French intellectual of some note. A few years back, I accidently read a small book of his that included the following wonderful metaphor which I repeat from memory (apologies if I got something wrong):

Imagine, he wrote, that a type of large pond-lily (really big nenuphars), say 1 m2 each, are capable of reproducing so rapidly that they double overnight.

One nenuphar is put in a large lake. The next day, obviously, there are 2 nenuphars. The day after that, 4 nenuphars, and so on. The lake is very, very large. When you’re standing on the shore, you can’t see the other side.

The moral of this tale is NOT that after 30 days this huge lake would be completely clogged by all the nenuphars, which by then number 230.

The moral of the story, boys and girls, is that no one would probably notice that the lake had a problem until the 27th or 28th day of the month, when the lake would be spotted, respectively, by a very inconspicuous 6.25% or 12.5% of invasive aquatic weeds. And by then, it’s too late to do anything. The lake, for all intensive porpoises, is dead.

After reading this parable the first time, I thought that Dr. Jacquard must be the coolest dude around. He enabled me to perceive clearly what the upcoming end-of-the-world might look like from my still comfortable seat in the 21st century. Wow!

But then, one day, Albert Jacquard came to speak in Albi, the town where I live. Disappointingly, he turned out to be an ideological old fart, spouting surreal nonsense to a rapt crowd that just gobbled it up. I did not leave the salle with an insatiable need to torch a few cars while chanting the “Internationale”. But many others did.

Hydrogen Economies

The mass media, who have a pretty good record of getting any important news wrong, have been talking up the ‘Hydrogen Economy’ quite a bit. They are mostly referring to the notion of putting powercells in cars, which split water into component hydrogen (and oxygen), then using the hydrogen as a pollution-free fuel to run vehicles.

This is a very sexy idea. It will require a gigantic investment in new infrastructure throughout the world (hydrogen manufacture, refill stations, ubiquitous fuel-cell automobiles), but this gigantic investment is small change compared to really big investments like the Iraq war. (Actually, building a hydrogen-owered world would cost slightly more than the Iraq war.)

It is also a wrong idea. It cannot ever work. This is explained nicely in an interview with Dr. Ulf Bossel, organizer of the Lucerne Fuel Cell Forum, in an interview on The Watt website dating back to 2006. Here is an illuminating excerpt:

With the same amount of electricity, original electricity, be it from wind solar energy, with the same amount of electricity you can drive an electric car three times farther than a hydrogen car. On 100 kWh of electricity you can drive an electric car 120 kilometers while a hydrogen fuel cell car of similar size can do only about 40 km. If we want to have mobility and a sustainable future, we have to go for electric cars and not for hydrogen cars because we electric cars are less costly to operate. It is not the vehicle technology, but a question of energy cost of the fuel. Hydrogen must always be much more expensive than electricity needed to split water by electrolysis etc. That is a very clear picture. I have analyzed the situation to illustrate how much water and electricity is needed for certain hydrogen jobs. If you take the Frankfurt Airport and Frankfurt Airport is perhaps comparable to the airport at Montreal. About 50 jumbo jets leave Frankfurt every day, each charged with 130 tons of kerosene. If you replace kerosene by hydrogen on a one-to-one energy base, each plane needs 50 tons of hydrogen. As a side remark: 50 tons of liquid hydrogen occupy 720 cubic meters of space, while 130 tons of kerosene take only 160 cubic meters. We need totally different airplanes for hydrogen. But that is another story. To fill the 50 jumbo jets one needs 2,500 tons of liquid hydrogen every day. 22,500 cubic meters of water, the water consumption of a city of 100,000, must be split by electrolysis. For this one the continuous electricity output of about eight nuclear power plants is needed. Now, if the entire traffic at Frankfurt Airport was all done with hydrogen, one would need the water consumption of the City of Frankfurt plus about 25 nuclear power plants. Using hydrogen for all public air and road transport in Germany, it would take the power output of about 400 nuclear power plants plus enormous amounts of water. You need nine kilograms of water to make one kilogram of hydrogen. The Rhine river and all other rivers would be dry in the summer because the water is used to make hydrogen. So, we are really approaching limits and we have to talk about these limits before we talk about a hydrogen economy.

Question of the Week

Why douse fields with pesticides if the bugs we kill are more nutritious than the crops they eat?

Signature question of the Let’s Eat Insect movement, justified by facts, rendered difficult by western culture. Rest of the story in today’s NYTimes.

Wondering about Société Générale

I’ve been banking at SG for over 30 years and unlike many of the commentors I’ve been reading on various sites, I don’t have much to complain about. But then, I deal with my friendly, local branch where they offer me a café whenever I come in to talk serious business (which admittedly, is quite close to never. But it’s happened a few times.).

But like everybody else on the planet, I don’t really believe what we’re hearing about the Jérôme Kerviel/Société Générale affair. At a primary level, there is sufficient bullshit in the way the French conduct business normally, that suspicion is a reasonable response to anything. I realize that this sounds trite, that people everywhere are suspicious of everyone who operate in the Halls of Power, but, hey, France has elites like no other, and as any mother knows, elites will be elites. It will be fun to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.

One of the things I’m curious about is: if I understand correctly, JKerviel’s trading position was positive or close to it, up to the weekend before when things hit the fan.

The losses occurred subsequently, on the first 3 days of the week of january 21-5, when SG’s boss, Daniel Bouton panicked and unwound the position into (malheur!) the worst three market days of the last several years. It was this panic sale that concretized the huge losses.

I imagine this selling was motivated by the moral values (corporate responsibility, dread, shame, etcetc) of SGs top management. Because this is France, transparency was never an option. Resolution had to happen secretly. But did it have to happen under the sign of total panic?

Conversely, what would have happened if the markets were going up those three days instead of tanking? The shame would have been the same. The elitist secrecy also. So, would we have ever learned about the ‘scandal’ of a rogue trader being responsable for 20 billion euros of illicit gains by the SG? I guess we would have, the day that SG announced record earnings for a bank of over 20 billion.

About a Blog

Just came across this lovely explanation and graphical representation of what happens in the seconds after a new blog post is published on Wired. There’s something scary about this, but the interface design is quite nice.

blogspeed

Minimum Wages in Europe

For those interested in this sort of thing, here is a complete list of minimum wages in all countries in Europe. Some days, you just need to know this sort of thing, especially as the world economy melts down.

Garbage In or Garbage Out?

From a recent article on the Oil Drum on using superkites to propel ocean freighters, I learned (always read the comments!) that the Emma Maerks is the world’s largest cargo ship. You can see what it looks like here.

In a recent voyage, it left China, destination Europe, with a load of 11,000 20ft containers full of:

Martini glasses, sports bags, shower gel, shampoo and bath foam, pinball machines, toothpicks, chopsticks, electric guitars, tool boxes, drum kits, lamp shades, silver and wooden photo frames, wooden trouser hangers, candles, books, laptop computers, singing and dancing gorilla toys, poker tables, bingo sets, lunchboxes, cuddly toys, make-up, dolls, toy motorcycles, christmas decorations, sofas, puzzles, televisions, frozen mussles, computer parts, CD players, fax machines, key rings, jam, noodles, biscuits, pumpkins (frozen), more than 1000 bales of carpet, 117 boxes of girls jeans, 40 boxes of brass, 2000 pairs of mens shoes, 9000 pairs of trainers, three boxes of spectacle frames and more than 1500 frozen cooked chickens.

On the return trip to China it loaded up with:

Plastic scrap, waste paper and card, waste electronic components, repairable electrical goods and scap metal.

If I knew what geo-economic tea leaves looked like or how to read them, I’m sure I would know what this all means. Meanwhile, I just have to rely on hunches.

I Am Not Afraid

I just came across this paragraph from the Downsize DC organization that should well become a mantra for well-being in the world we live in. It is meant to be sent to people who represent us politically, and since this is the way I’ve felt for the last 20 years, it just has to be true:

I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.

Thanks to Bruce Schneier for this.

Outsourcing CO2 Emissions

If I were a modern western industrial nation with a profound desire to decrease my CO2 emissions, I wonder if the most efficient way of doing so wouldn’t be by outsourcing my polluting, energivorous manufacturing to some large Asian powerhouse country.

There would be multiple benefits to such a strategy:

  • The CO2 produced by the manufacturing processes to make ‘my’ stuff would no longer be counted as ‘my’ CO2
  • The CO2 produced by transporting the manufactured stuff to markets within my borders would no longer be counted as ‘my’ CO2.
  • If anyone bitched about how much CO2 I still produced, I could say I was as concerned as the next country by the problem, but hey! what’s the point of upheaving my own economy if that big Asian powerhouse that’s making all ‘my’ stuff isn’t regulated, too (hehe).
  • Obviously, our stuff would be dirt cheap cause it’s made by cheap emerging economy labor, so we can get more of it.
  • And in the end, because property is 9/10th of the (anglo-saxon) law, I get to keep the stuff!

Wow! Anyone else think that this a great geopolitical approach to attacking climate change?

A Graph is Worth a Thousand X-rays

healthcare spending

Eight No Trump, Redoubled

Below is a photo of the American women’s bridge team after they won the Venice Cup, a world-class bridge event, recently held in Shanghai. Please note the little hand-printed sign held by one of the team members.

no to bush

This sign is causing all sorts of trouble back in the US of A, where criticism of The Leader is not tolerated. The whole sad, sad story is here.

National power sector emissions (tons of CO2):

From the Carbon Monitoring for Action (Carma) website, the list of worst polluting countries by their power stations (in tons of CO2):

  • US – 2,530 million
  • China – 2,430 million
  • Russia – 600 million
  • India – 529 million
  • Japan – 363 million
  • Germany – 323 million
  • Australia – 205 million
  • South Africa – 201 million
  • UK – 192 million
  • South Korea – 168 million

(Source: Carma/CGD)

Not Bad, For a Billboard

A South African power company has been using this billboard to educate citizens about the brave new world we are now living in. Fortunately, here in France we don’t have to worry about this sort of thing. At least that’s what friends tell me.
eskom.jpg

On Military Bases in Far-Off Lands

How does Cuba, do Cubans, tolerate the presence of the US military base in Guantanamo?

The question isn’t directed to the symbolism that Guantanamo has taken on throughout the world in the last 5 years, which has to make having the place on the end of one’s island being the approximate equivalent to finding a really huge pile of dog turds in one’s prize flower beds just as the garden committee comes for a photo shoot.

No, my question is the more primitive one, not geo-political, but just human — what could the reaction possibly be from a country and its people, who for 50 years have:

  • been routinely vilified and cast as evil by their northern neighbors (meaning us, the good people of the US of A)?
  • been economically boycotted?
  • been bombarded with lame propaganda?
  • basically received nothing from us but insults and grief, constantly?

Yeah, I wonder what Cuba thinks every morning on waking up, finding this gonad-heavy, frisbee-infested military base belonging to a country that hates it and is only there because of some sort of great-grandfather clause? It must be very humiliating. It must be infuriating.

I bet they even hate us for our freedom.

Anyway, after wondering about this all these years, there was a certain satisfaction this morning on reading a statement on the Reuters website by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa saying that he would only renew America’s lease on its air base on Ecuador’s Pacific coast, if America would allow Ecuador to install a similar base near Miami, Florida. In his own words:

We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base. If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.

Rafael Correa may not be a nice person, nor a good leader, I don’t know, but it is reassuring to hear a country’s leader say things out loud that ring true. The full article is here.

Echo of False Friends

It has just occurred to me that the word ‘start-up’, as it refers to a couple of geeks in a garage with an idea, so iconic of the froth years of the internet, creator of such success and so many failures, is such a powerful myth in France.

Here in France, it has become the word used to fill the unfortunate void created when the word ‘entrepreneur’, which was coined right here many years ago, was quickly abandoned by frenchpersonnes because of its irrelevance to anything that could ever actually happen under the French economic rulebook.

What fascinates about all this is that although frenchpersonnes talk, rather wistfully, about ‘start-ups’ all the time, most of them are actually thinking to themselves, ‘up-starts’.

So they got the syllables right but just reversed them. Faux amis, indeed.

False Friends and Other Liberals

There’s an expression in the French language, ‘faux amis’, that sounds much better than the english equivalent, ‘false friends’ or as the philologists like to say, ‘false cognates’.

It refers to words that mean one thing in French and something completely different in English. An example is ‘chair’, which you can sit on in English, but is flayed off your body by packs of rabid dogs in French, ie, ‘flesh’.

Another is ‘bras’, which is short for brassieres in English, but is a simple ‘arm’ in French. Interestingly, a bra in French is a ‘soutien-gorge’ (‘throat support’) and the word ‘brassiere’ which looks and sounds French, doesn’t even exist, although ‘brazier’ does exist and it means a BBQ pit. So go figure.

One of the most extraordinary faux amis, mainly because it is so archly, evilly faux, is the word ‘liberal’.

In America, a liberal is a creature who would like to help poor people, raise spending on infrastructure and healthcare, and sacrifice a little something personal to bring peace to the world and mitigate climate change. One American online dictionarary defines her as ‘favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.’ Although this might sound Christ-like, in truth, an American liberal is a leftie.

In Europe (which France is part of) and the Rest of World, a liberal is one who believes in free markets and trade, and thinks that there’s nothing wrong in making a decent (or better) living. A European liberal is a rightie.

In France, which is a very peculiar subset of Europe, the definition of a liberal has been enhanced to the point where a new name had to coined, ‘le néo-libérale’. A neo-liberal is someone who believes in free markets and trade, who thinks that there’s nothing wrong in making money (blahblah), but really only thinks about exploiting workers and children, eats babies for breakfast, and is most assuredly a member of a sinister, secret cabal hellbent on destroying French culture. There is something inherently Anglo-Saxon about neo-liberalism and that adds to the frenzy.

That is why François Fillon’s message to a major ruling party political conference yesterday, as reported by Le Monde, is so remarkable. M. Fillon, prime minister of President Sarkozy’s France came out and said:

N’AYEZ AUCUNE HONTE À ÊTRE LIBÉRAUX !

Do not be ashamed to be liberals!, he said to a roomful of cheering Frenchpersonnes. Go forth and work long hours! Take risks! Innovate!

I am expecting the Rush Limbaugh types of Old Europe, who in France are not neo-fascist jackboots but rather tired old elephants of the Old Left, to pull out their hair in protest, yell Scandal. This has never been seen in France.

Faux amis, indeed! Sometimes false friends are better then false enemies.

Sweet Energy Perspectives 1

Back in the late 80′s, early 90′s, when I was living happily ever after in Newport RI, US of A, I published a newsletter on my faithful MacPlus called the New Hydronics News. The NHN dealt with America’s appalling approach to energy use in the very specific domain of residential and commercial confort control, aka HVAC, aka heating/cooling systems.

I had 2 reasonable motivations for creating that monthly journal. One was that I was considered by some to be the ‘guru of heating in America’, and sustaining that honorific required that I publish (to better perish later). The other was that I was considered by most everyone else living in the amber waves of grain to be the devil incarnate, a greenie pinko commie, and thus, un-American in every way. Every month for 4 years, I challenged the heating community for its in-your-face, narcissistic profligacy that so characterized the US of A during the Reagan/Bush I years (and shows few signs of winding down at present), until one day, some guys in a pickup truck yelled out out me, “Hey pinko, if you don’t like it here, why don’t you move to, uh, mmm… France!” Which I think is what I did.

I remember in one issue of NHN, around the time of GBush I’s war on Iraq, I quoted Meyer, Travis McGee’s best friend in John MacDonald’s wonderful series of thrillers, when he said something like

The US has 6% of the world’s population and uses 30% of the world’s oil, plywood, white paint, peanut butter, rubber bands and suntan lotion. We want the rest of the world to love us, to emulate us. What happens if the wish comes true? Will 100% of the world’s population need 500% of the ressources we Americans use now? Has anyone besides me thought this through?

This he said in 1965 or thereabouts. When I quoted this 25 years later, the message was still as futile amongst the grass-roots of l’Amérique profonde.

Fast forward almost 20 years and no one outside the US of A doubts the wisdom of these words (even Australia is coming around). Incredibly, within the States, there are still so many people who can’t get their head around all this. Twenty years ago, GBush I famously said as he cheerleaded Iraq war I: ‘the American lifestyle is not on the table’.

With this as backdrop, and as we speed into the peak-oil era, where the only real comfort is the deeply human thought that catastrophe is only catastrophe if I’m still alive to see it, I want to start writing again about living in the world as though these things really matter.

I’ll conclude this first post with a citation from Berkeley Professor Tad Patzek, who writes about biofuel issues (thank you Oil Drum). He analyzes how much of the earth’s surface would be required to generate the energy requirements to drive a car 23000 km (15000 miles) a year with diverse energy options presently being considered by non-deniers.

1 m2 of medium-quality oil fields needs 620 m2 of corn fields to replace gasoline with corn ethanol and pay for the free energy costs of the ethanol production. [Putting this in perspective...], one can drive our example car for one year from ~30 m2 of oil fields, 90 m2 of photovoltaic cells, 1100 m2 of wind turbines, and ~18000 m2 of corn fields.

Has anyone thought this through?

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