Thursday, September 29, 2005

Factory-grown organic produce

I'm not quite sure what to make of this.

On one hand, there's something appealling about a controlled environment for growing lettuces which produces an exactly predictable yield, regardless of weather and which, by growing hydroponically and maintaining positive air pressure in a sealed environment is insect-free and therefore pesticide-free.

On the other hand, the author talks about "vertical" factories (multiple stories, or utilising a pile of disused shipping containers) in which case all of the lighting and heating must be provided for by means other than direct solar energy. In light of the mounting crises that most of the world is facing with respect to energy sources, this seems a little infeasible. The closing quote sums it up nicely:

If the cost of energy comes down enough to make artificial lighting and heating affordable for agriculture, Hessel's vision of automated skyscraper farms could one day be a reality, too. "Agriculture is a very wasteful industry right now," he says, pointing out that in regular farms, the majority of water, fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide used is wasted as runoff. "It might turn out that the only way to make agriculture truly sustainable is to stop farming the crops and start manufacturing them."

Addressing waste in current farming practices is certainly a desirable goal, but "if the cost of energy comes down"? Hmm. This seems a little improbable to me.

Drinking your own Kool Aid, or Flavor Ade?

I haven't chased this one down, but an interesting throwaway line from Seth Godin (in an article about the iPod Nano and bloggers' perceptions) about what was actually consumed at Jonestown: (by the way, there wasn't Kool Aid at Jonestown, it was Flavor Ade... another example of how ideas spread and leave a history)"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Oh no, we _always_ check our facts

I spotted an article at collision detection about a German scientist having to deny that he's invented a method of turning dead cats into automobile fuel. The article well covers the journalist idiocy here (I love the "too good to check" idea). What intrigues me, however, is CNN quietly covering its rear. At this very moment (26-Sep-2005 7:28 UTC+1), a Google news search for dead cats fuel gives, as its first result

Inventor fuels car with dead cats
CNN International - Sep 14, 2005
... But the president of the German Society for the Protection of Animals, Wolfgang Apel, said using dead cats for fuel was illegal. ...

But clicking on the link shows the story below. Note in particular that the title has changed and that the quote (indeed all reference to Wolfgang Apel) has dissappeared, but that the URL has not changed and that there are no clues at all that anything's changed. It is, I suppose, normal practice for news organisations to make small editorial tweaks after publishing a story, but for an outright retraction, mentioning the mistake is traditional. (Sadly, google's web search actually shows the updated version of the story and google news has no cache.)

Offbeat News

Inventor denies dead cat fuel story

Thursday, September 15, 2005 Posted: 1441 GMT (2241 HKT)

BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- A German inventor said he has developed a method to produce crude oil products from waste that he believes can be an answer to the soaring costs of fuel, but denied a German newspaper story implying he also used dead cats.

Christian Koch, an inventor and patent holder of the "KDV 500" that he said produces high quality fuel, said he can transform waste products such as paper, rubbish and plastic materials into fuel.

But Koch, 55, said there was no truth to stories published in Bild newspaper on Tuesday and Wednesday that suggested he used dead cats as part of the mix for his organic diesel fuel.

"I use paper, plastics, textiles and rubbish," Koch told Reuters.

"It's an alternative fuel that is friendly for the environment. But it's complete nonsense to suggest dead cats. I've never used cats and would never think of that. At most the odd toad may have jumped in."

Bild on Tuesday wrote a headline: "German inventor can turn cats into fuel -- for a tank he needs 20 cats." The paper on Wednesday followed up with a story entitled: "Can you really make fuel out of cats?"

A spokesman for Bild told Reuters the story was meant to show that cat remains could "in theory" be used to make fuel with Koch's patented method.

The author of the story said Koch had never told him directly that he had used dead cats as the story implied.

The Web site of Koch's firm, "Alphakat GmbH", says his patented "KDV 500" machine can produce what he calls the "bio-diesel" fuel at about 23 euro cents (30 cents) a liter, which is about one-fifth the price at petrol stations now.

"I drive my normal diesel-powered car with this mixture," Koch is quoted saying in Bild, next to a large picture of a kitten. "I have gone 170,000 km (106,000 miles) without a problem."

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Economist on The digital home

Interesting article in the Economist on "The Digital Home" that several technology companies are pushing. The conclusion is, in essence, that the CD/DVD-less home will arrive just about as quickly as the paperless office did, which is to say "not at all". This article contains several pithy observations that are utterly obvious in retrospect, but are all of the "I never quite thought of it that way" variety:
  • The decision to make software/devices (non-)interoperable is a prisoner's dilemma for technology companies. Widespread non-interoperability is perhaps a consequence of the penalty for co-operating/inter-operating.
  • From Microsoft's perspective, telcos (+ cable companies which, in the US, are not considered telcos) face a losing battle because the set-top boxes are leased to customers and therefore remain on the provider's balance sheet and there exists therefore a very strong incentive to keep these devices as cheap as possible. Microsoft has no such constraint; indeed the features-performance-upgrade-cycle complex is an area of mastery for Microsoft. If the ability to add (/keep adding) features is a long-term decisive factor for consumer choices then the telcos are in real strife. I doubt that this is a complete picture though; the telcos benefit from Moore's law too and just maybe consumers are becoming less interested in fantastically capable feature-laden products and more interested in devices that simply work as soon as they are connected.
  • Apple's insularity is perhaps not merely a result of its desire to do things its own way, but the fact that it produces its own products and services in so many different sectors makes it difficult for it to find willing partners (or unlikely for potential partners to come knocking) because Apple will almost always already be a competitor to anyone with whom it might profitably partner.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mohammed finally comes _all_ the way to the mountain

I recall being mildly annoyed upon first reading Sun's SISSL that yet-another-license had been brought into existence which didn't address any particular set of problems that hadn't already been addressed by existing, OSI-approved, licenses (the new, unaddressed problem being, of course, not-invented-at-Sun) and, worse, introduced insoluble integration problems ("you can't legally link library-x licensed under the very common Gnu LGPL with application-y licensed under vendor-sponsored-new-license-of-the-week"). The OSI has since worked out that the proliferation of approved licenses is problematic. It appears that some time ago Sun saw enough sense to dual-license OpenOffice under both SISSL and the FSF's Gnu LGPL. A couple of days ago, Sun went the next step and ceased using SISSL for OpenOffice. Well done Sun.

(via slashdot)