Friday, July 25, 2008

chrysler one step closer to BK

no, not burger king. the BK. bankruptcy. also known by me as their inevitable bankruptcy.

they stopped issuing their own leases because their borrowing costs are too high.

ever since they lost their one source of funding and decent car models (Mercedes, provider of the old E-class frame on which the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum were built, sold them) and got bought by a company chin deep in subprime credit problems (Cerberus), they've been trending towards toast status.

i think the BK of Chrysler will come sooner than later and signal the bottoming of sentiment. i have no idea how their inevitable pleas for a bailout will be answered.

maybe Nissan, already planning on buying their next gen titans from Chrysler, will just buy the whole company instead.

when did Al Gore go insane?

Al Gore recently claimed that the US can and should pursue 100% renewable power within 10 yrs.

i doubt there is a person in the world willing to disagree that this would be nice, if it were possible.

but, it is just so laughably impossible for so many reasons, technical, legal, economic, & political/environmental.

technical: there are too many technical problems to go into. technically, nothing is impossible. but there are a lot of hurdles. we'd need a new transmission system, new ways to monitor and control power flows, new ways to manage how much energy is consumed on a real-time basis, and all sorts of other incredibly complicated and expensive systems to take a collection of highly unpredictable power sources and transform them into the high quality power that customers are used to. to compare this to going to space is silly. they had one control room monitoring 2 men in a sealed capsule the size of a VW beetle for a few days. the energy system has thousands of control rooms spread over the country, monitoring tens of thousands of power sources exposed to the world and all of its randomness, being asked to perform flawlessly 24/7 for decades.

legal: again, too many issues to cover, but i'll mention one. the energy sector is still highly regulated in most of the country. generating companies go through a big expensive licensing process to get permission to build generation plants. as a return for their investment, they expect to be able to use these plants to produce power that they can sell to recover their investments. new coal plants are still being licensed for construction today. from the beginning of licensing to the completion of construction is often more than 10 years. after that, utilities expect to be able to run their plants for at least 30 years. telling utilities that they can't use their brand new plants is breaking a pledge. this isn't a free market. it is a heavily regulated one.

economic: everything about renewable power is expensive. the only way that anyone in the US can economically build wind power (by far the cheapest renewable power source today) is by using tax credits. even with the tax credits, most utilities can't economically justify wind power because of all of the extra costs that come along with unscheduleable and highly variable power supply. this is why renewable production mandates were created in many states - to force utilities to buy renewable power even though it isn't economical.

political/environmental: most energy projects face NIMBY problems. renewable energy projects face NIMBY problems on crack. anything involving water (wave, tidal, hydro, run of the river hydro) faces dozens of stakeholders, many of which are seeking to protect the environment and have veto rights unless it can be unequivocally proven that the project will produce exactly zero impact. wind is only slightly easier to find a location for. solar is easy to site, but all available solar technology to date uses huge amounts of nasty chemicals mined and refined in nasty ways.

i'm sure Al Gore is aware of these things. and i don't think he is actually insane. more likely, he is just trying to grab some attention and reframe the renewable energy debate. i think his hope is that he'll change the debate from "should we have 0, 5, 10, or 15% renewable power within a decade" to "should we have 100, 80, or 60% renewable power within a decade."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

your laundry detergent may be making you sick

it certainly is doing the trick for me. they often give me headaches. it turns out that this may be a very sensible reaction, because many scented products emit toxic chemicals.

according to a study of 6 common scented products done by a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Washington:

"Results showed 58 different volatile organic compounds above a concentration of 300 micrograms per cubic meter, many of which were present in more than one of the six products. For instance, a plug-in air freshener contained more than 20 different volatile organic compounds. Of these, seven are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws."

how is this even legal?

if anyone hears about a class-action lawsuit, please let me know. i would be glad to sign on.

i hope this blows up into a big public scare and gets blown way out of proportion. it'd force our gov't to actually regulate the products corporations sell to us, instead of just pretending to do so.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

housing affordability continues to decline

housing prices are now ready to fall for fundamental reasons.

so far, prices have only been falling because the speculative fever came to an end. all of the get rich quick schemes quickly unwound and a lot of people who obviously never should have "bought" had to give their houses back to the bank.

but now the hard part starts. housing affordability is falling faster than housing prices because of rising interest rates and tightening lending standards. falling affordability will prevent people who would normally be buyers out of the market.

interest rates on 30yr fixed loans are the highest they've been in 5 years and are likely to continue rising because 1) the Fed reserve rate will probably be increased on inflation concerns, 2) the biggest loan buyers are losing the ability to buy more debt, 3) the losses on all types of loans recently has scared loan buyers into demanding higher interest rates to cover higher expected losses. these factors have already pushed rates from 5.25% 6 months ago to 6.50% today. that represents a 12.5% decline in affordability or a 14.5% increase in monthly payment for the same size loan.

lending standards for the buyers of most of the country's home loans are about to be increased by an act of congress. people will actually have to make a down payment. of cash. their own cash. that they can prove is their own cash and not a loan or gift from the seller. it'll still only be 3%, but that is 3% more than most people have been putting down for the last few years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

why violent crime rates in Israel are so low

from the CNN coverage of a recent tractor-based terrorist attack:

"The construction vehicle struck several other vehicles, including a No. 13 city bus, before an Israeli border policeman and a civilian shot and killed the driver, an Israeli government statement said."

everyone in Israel goes through mandatory military training for 2-3 years after high school and many of them choose to continue to carry guns everywhere for the rest of their lives.

that being said, i don't think it makes sense for crowds of untrained fools and crims to carry guns the way they do in the US. that seems to be the opposite of a good idea and a great way to increase senseless death rates. here, the only civilians who carry handguns on a day-to-day basis seem to be the ones who really shouldn't.

but, to carry guns for the maintenance of a "well regulated militia" makes a lot of sense.

Friday, July 18, 2008

algae biodiesel for $80/barrel or coal alternative?

biodiesel is a superior alternative to bioethanol. it is simpler to produce, transport, and store. and it can be made from all sorts of crazy materials.

and, according to one expert in the field, it will be possible to make it using algae grown in saltwater tanks for about $80/barrel. for comparison, light sweet crude oil has been selling for $130-150/barrel recently.

the only difficult part of the process left to figure out: how to separate the algae from the water cost-effectively without damaging the lipids.

considering that the study is being done in New Mexico (which, as everybody knows, gets most of its electricity from coal plants), i wonder if it wouldn't be more effective to just make sun-dried algae bricks instead and co-fire them in the coal power plants. this would help them meet the new NM Renewable Production Standard of 2% of energy coming from biomass sources by 2011.

so that's what i'd look into: use ozone to kill the algae and reduce their hydrophilia, collect the sludge, and sun dry it into whatever form is convenient for coal plants.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

stress-sickness mechanism pinpointed

the mechanism for a decline in health as a result of stress has been identified.

i wonder if this will open the door for a class-action lawsuit against the cable news networks.

they are in the business of increasing our stress level, which leads to a decline in our health, which increases our medical costs and decreases our standard of living.

traffic and jobs are apparently also major contributors. along with the rest of the WASP way of life.

maybe we should sue the estate of Martin Luther.

on an entirely different note, i wonder if this is the real key to the healthiness of olive oil. olive oil is traditionally consumed by communities with low stress levels. low stress levels lead to better health. maybe researchers observed olive oil consumption and better health and made a correlation/causation error.

further, replacing Italian's olive oil with corn oil would increase their stress levels, leading to worse health. researchers would take this as proof of the wrong conclusion.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

BMW hybrid drive will come from F1

yep, that F1.

the ultimate car racing series rules have been modified to allow the use of hybrid electric components starting next year and BMW intends to develop a high-power hybrid electric technology drive through the racing series.

shortly after, systems inspired by the technology will be found at your local ultimate driving machine dealership.

i wonder if we should tell BMW that Lexus already did this with the GS450h?

it is good to see that Toyota (the world's largest auto manufacturer and owner of Lexus, Toyota, Scion, & Daihatsu brands) is eating everyone's lunch, not just the american manufacturers'.

Monday, July 14, 2008

can't drive 55?

the days of the nationwide speed limit may be returning, if one Senator's proposal goes through.

it isn't such a bad idea, really.

i haven't gone over 55 mph since my last visit to the airport.

a more straightforward approach to reducing fuel consumption, though, would be to stop whining about high prices and just accept them as being permanent. this will continue to push people into more efficient vehicles, independent of what the gov't wants.

the only thing the gov't should do is make the mpg ratings on cars meaningful. the current ones are rubbish.

doing it right would be simple:

when a car is new model, use an estimate for the first year

after the first year, the only data used is the actual data measured by the onboard devices that every car has. the dealer would record the mileage data and pass it to an independent organization, which would publish real life average fuel consumption

and viola - people can have real data based on reality instead of wildly inaccurate guesses based on silly models. and cello - there would be rejoicing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

physicists and poetry critics

these are basically the only classes of experts that can be trusted to be both reasonably accurate in the analysis and honest about it. the only ones that i can think of anyway.

every other field of expertise is either too complicated for anyone to be able to reliably come up with accurate analysis (psychoanalysis comes to mind) or too influenced by money for any expert's stated opinion to be trusted to be their honest opinion (the unfailingly rosy predictions of california real estate professionals over the past 18 months as prices have continuously and rapidly dropped come to mind as a topical example).

so, for me to trust a field of experts, i have to believe that they are likely to have a solid understanding of what they're talking about and not have money pushing them one way or the other.

physicists qualify because everyone in the field is in it long term and being wildly wrong could cost them their careers and there just isn't that much money in the field.

poetry critics qualify because there is no such thing as right or wrong, but they will always say what they actually think because there is no economic incentive whatsoever to say anything else.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

are your addicted to baby smile?

according to a recent study, mum's brain responds to pictures of her smiling baby by producing dopamine.

the response is similar, but far weaker, when looking at pictures of other people's smiling babies.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Toyota makes houses!

were you aware?

i want one.

they are steel frame and almost exclusively in Japan. they built ~50 in Texas and claim to have no plans to build any more in the US ever again.

i really do want one. also, a yurt in the mtns.

ethanol is dead. long live biofuels

ethanol, the first biofuel widely available in the US, is dead. or soon will be. the future for biofuels is brighter than ever.

it has been blamed for increased fuel prices, increased crop prices, increased environmental issues, and is frankly an idiotic technology that has only stuck around as long as it has because of corrupt shortsighted policymakers.

why would anybody ever want to convert food into automotive fuel?

if you were silly enough to want to convert food into fuel, why would you choose to convert it into a fuel that is incompatible with your fuel distribution network and most of the cars in the country (at great than 10% concentration)?

why would anybody ever make a fuel that takes more energy to produce than you get out of it when you use it?

ethanol production to date has been a demonstration of how to transfer money from taxpayers into the pockets of chemical companies while producing negative societal and environmental impact and conveying the image of being pro-America, pro-Farmer.

these factors together are slowly seeping into the general consciousness of the nation and will ensure that the future of biofuels won't include ethanol. all of these problems will be linked with the word ethanol. people will rally against ethanol. any politician trying to support ethanol will be booted out.

but the national consciousness has a very simplistic understanding of technical issues, so future biofuels will suffer from no related image problems. the promoters of the next generation of biofuels will just have to make sure that the name that their technology comes to be known by sounds nothing like ethanol.

so, biobutanol could have image problems, but the branded bioadditives that will be distributed by fuel companies will do just fine.

given today's high fuel prices, any biofuel that doesn't rely on food or fuel for its production can't help but succeed.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

worst dollar policy evah

since 2000, the dollar has been increasingly worth less.

this is primarily because of the ridiculously low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve Bank and kept too low for too long.

the most stunning way to visualize this is by looking at how the stock market has performed relative to ounces of gold. priced in gold, the US Dow Jones Industrial (a good proxy for the US market in general) is down about 75% since 2000.

Down 75% in 8 years.

this doesn't mean that the USD is down 75% in 8 years. it means that if you sold 100 oz gold to buy shares of a mix of the largest companies in the US 8 years ago, you could only buy 25 oz worth of gold by selling those same shares to somebody else today. it effectively means that US industries are down 75% versus gold over the last 8 years.

this is the opposite of a strong dollar policy (which our Pres and other people of importance falsely claim to be pursuing). this is the US slowly following Zimbabwe's lead towards a worthless currency.

worst brnad name evah


they make ski equip or sthg.

every morning when my bus passes an outdoor sports store displaying their logo, i read:


and get a bit creeped out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chrysler is going under. who called it?

i did. Chrysler is going under.

they haven't announced their inevitable bankruptcy filings yet, but sales are down 36% from this time last year.

considering that their only successful cars from the last decade were both rebadged previous-generation Mercedes (300C and Magnum) and considering that the company was sold by Mercedes to a capital management group that is in trouble because of too much money stuck in real estate financing and other subprime products, Chrysler going under is a done deal.

unless the Fed Gov't bails them out.... again.

the 36% sales decline was just the final nail in the coffin.

why does the developing world get all the best stuff?

specifically within the realm of genetically modified foods, anyway.

first they got Golden Rice (genetically engineered to self-fortify to improve health of populations with diets composed primarily of rice) and now BioCassava is heading their way.

BioCassava is being designed to provide all of the nutrition a droog* needs. vitamins, protein, carbohydrates. Everything. plus, it'll be easier to process than the original, have a longer shelf life, and more resistant to common viruses (via an internal virus interference mechanism, not through the production of crazy chemicals that will give people cancer 20 yrs from now).

meanwhile, back in the rich world, we get whatever genetically modified rubbish Monsanto throws our way. dumb stuff like corn that has a high tolerance to one brand of Monsanto-produced herbicide, so that farmers can use more of Monsanto's brand of herbicide. it is like they aren't even trying to hide the evil.

BioCassava is a present to the poor from Billy and the Gates.

*Russian word for "friend" brought to America via A Clockwork Orange. the target audience for BioCassava isn't Russians. i just like the word.