Infrastructurist links a great video starring their Editor in Chief on a Fox Business (I know they suck but muddle through it) report talking about the future of building out High Speed Rail in the US. Basically answering who will build the system?
Most of the stimulus money given out to HSR projects were given to projects that are already quite mature and have most of the pre-planning done so there won’t be time to ramp up development and production in country. This of course means we need to bring in foreign countries to get it going and when jobs are hard to find that raises some heckles.
I liked the version that Click and Clack of Car Talk put out about a year ago when the Auto bailouts were being made. GM and other US auto manufacturers should create new daughter companies that build HSR tech. Partner with overseas HSR companies to bring their tech to our factories.
1. US auto factories are being abandoned and auctioned off production equipment and all.
2. There is currently a lack of HSR factories in the US.
3. GM et all are looking to build new transpiration option that will appeal to the consumers now that oil isn’t dirt cheap.
Is it just me or does this seem like a perfect storm of events to create jobs, save failing companies, and improve US travel infrastructure all at the same time?
Although to covert quick enough we may need to buy non-US and used equipment of overseas until we ramp up local knowledge and production.
However the point I wanted to add was that this is proof of why the US needs to focus on green technologies now. No matter what you believe in global warming the world is going to demand windmills and solar panels in the future. If America doesn’t position itself now as the leader of this tech we will find ourselves buying it from European and Asian companies down the line.
Infrastructurist linked a story about how Detroit is trying to figure out what to do with the masses of abandoned space they have in the wake of the auto industry collapse.
The story follows John Hantz and his idea that piques my interest in two different ways.
In fact, Hantz’s operation will bear little resemblance to a traditional farm. Mike Score, who recently left Michigan State’s agricultural extension program to join Hantz Farms as president, has written a business plan that calls for the deployment of the latest in farm technology, from compost-heated greenhouses to hydroponic (water only, no soil) and aeroponic (air only) growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings.
Did somebody say Hydroponic?
“Ah, now the ball’s in Farnsworth’s court!”
Even before reading this I was thinking of urban hydroponic farms. Here in SLC there is a huge parking lot taking up a full city block that is never used by more than 5-6 cars. They had to tear down a bunch of longstanding and popular bars, venues, and hangouts plus demolishing a hotel to turn it into an unused parking lot that spends all day doing nothing but heating up under the summer sun. With a moderate initial investment the same area could likely feed hundreds with fresh local produce using no more water than what we get in natural rainfall.
There is another quote in the article I’d like to point out:
This is possibly not as crazy as it sounds. Granted, the notion of devoting valuable city land to agriculture would be unfathomable in New York, London, or Tokyo. But Detroit is a special case.
Unfathomable my ass, I actually just watched a TV program from Japan that was touting urban farming in Tokyo as a modern way of making use of land in a country that has little land to spare. They referred to it more as a food factory where everything was grown under lights inside a building that for all intents and purposes from the outside looked like a 4 story factory. The idea of greenhouses in Detroit actually makes more sense, no electricity issues with lighting unless you want to extend the growing season even more than the greenhouses provide.
Detroit makes more sense for urban hydroponics, more land is going to waste and the city is desperate finding ways to make it more productive. Ideally it would be more profitable to fill the land with high density office space; but when what you have is blight, upgrading to clean farming is still a much better option.
However Hantz is a little misguided.
Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in.
I agree with everything there but the tourist attraction, this is a farm not Disneyland. Don’t factor tourist income into this investment in any way. But all the other benefits are spot on. Hydroponics requires an initial upfront investment which Hantz is apparently willing to pay in cash. Then it’s just a matter of monitoring the crops, harvesting, and shipping to where they’re needed. The system is incredibly low maintenance, and the land can be tied up in a productive way until the city starts growing again.
There is a second reason this article is interesting to me.
Houses in Detroit are selling for an average of $15,000.
That sounds like a buying opportunity, and in fact Detroit looks pretty good right now to a young artist or entrepreneur who can’t afford anyplace else — but not yet to an investor.
Damn straight $15,000 looks pretty good right now. I was looking at getting a condo downtown here and they wanted $250,000 for a loft! A quarter of a million dollars and you don’t even get a separate bedroom!
Hey, Mr. Hantz! You need a guy to help with your farms? I’ll start tomorrow and using the “first time home buyer” clause of the 401k I can even afford a home TODAY!
I mean Holy Cow, I can’t believe that I could be owning a car and home free and clear right now along with a steady job. All I need is enough money to buy food and utilities, anything else is icing on the cake.
The economy and the world itself are in a serious state of flux right now. That means this is the perfect time to change the status quo when it comes to our infrastructure. There is a possibility for failure but this is also the time when you can get in on the ground floor. And when it comes to investing and development there are two constants.
1. People need food to eat.
2. People need a place to live.
The situation in Detroit create a lack easily accessable #1 and an over abundance (read: cheap) of #2.
This cool site lets you use Google maps to draw out and estimate your own renewable energy plan for your home.
Give it your address, draw out your roof or backward solar array (or place wind turbines) and it will calculate your output for your area, quantify that in dollars and figure out the cost minus incentives for the setup. Then combine the two to figure out how long it will take to pay itself off.
For my home, covering the garage in solar arrays will generate $500 in electricity a year, and after factoring in incentives will cost about $15,000. This mean it will have paid for itself in nearly 25 years.
However I don’t know if that factors in the added the value the PV array gives to the house (I doubt it does).
Even though it may never happen I think this is a great idea to help tie the western US a little closer together. Infrastructurist links a story thatmany metropolitan centers in the intermountain west are beginning initial studies for highspeed rail lines.
While in Japan I was amazed at how quick and efficient the Target=blank>bullet train (Shinkansen) system was. Of course having a rail pass that gave me the ability to get a ticket and go at anytime without worry of the price was a big plus but the ability to be anywhere I wanted in the country within just a couple hours was liberating. On a whim I went to a concert in Osaka during my Tokyo stay; it didn’t require much rescheduling since I could walk into station and be 515km away in less than 3 hours.
For more local comparisons that is the equivalent of traveling from here in Salt Lake City, to Las Vegas (580km) in about 3 hours.
By car that same trip takes 6-7 hours if you go legally, 5 if you go at 120mph (through mountains and winter snow). I flew to Las Vegas from SLC and factoring in typical airport delays along with flight time it also took 3 hours so really the time by train or air is the same between here and there.
SLC to Los Angeles is about double the distance. My cousins are in LA and when we visited them we’d drive 12 hours down there; basically leaving in the morning and arriving that night. Via bullet train we could eat an early breakfast in SLC, and be having lunch in LA, then be back to SLC in time for dinner.
Plus travel by bullet train is more comfortable since you get decent leg room and much more visually stimulating since you can actually see things as you pass rather than just the tops of clouds. But the main thing that caught my eye was an advertisement for the new N700 trains. Bullet trains are electric and the N700 uses 15% the amount of fossil fuels (or carbon output, my Japanese is limited) for the same Tokyo to Osaka trip.
That’s not 15% LESS, it’s 15% OF or in other words 85% reduction. In today’s “Green” world that is a nearly unobtainable goal in carbon reduction. And the trade off isn’t bad at all, a slightly slower transport but a much more enjoyable transport as well. The 15% carbon is still coming from something but since the trains are electric it’s entirely possible to use alternative electricity sources and lower that number further. After all its alt easier to squeeze the most efficient energy out of hydrocarbons at a plant rather than in an internal combustion engine in the train.
The only problem I can see is there are less populated cities across the west. The Tokaido line from Tokyo to Osaka passes through other huge cities such as Yokohama, Nagoya, and Kyoto. With a comparable distance Salt Lake to Las Vegas line the biggest cites passed would be Provo, and St. George. Obviously long distance commuter traffic will be much less, but of course running less trains isn’t hard at all. The planes only travel one or twice a day, with 15% energy reduction running three trains a day would still be more efficient per day. Plus as with Japan you can also run freight trains on the tracks in between bullet trains, although I’d hope that the US would change it’s rail policy and give passengers priority over freight.
Running from SLC to Denver could be complicated (but doable) by the Rocky Mountains but SLC to Vegas would be cake. Run it down past Provo, you could even run it on piers along the edge of Utah lake to keep from running through residential neighborhoods. Past Nephi run it out to Delta, besides connecting the most remote large city in the state it’s also the site of the power plant that powers much of the west from Salt Lake to Los Angeles and a perfect place to tap power for the electric bullet train. Then head south through Cedar City, St. George, and finally the straightaway to Las Vegas. Most land is relatively flat scrubland, and there are plenty of open places for wind farms to supplement the juice powering the rail line.
Another line heading west could pass Wendover, head to Reno then punch through the Sierra Nevada into Sacramento before ending in San Francisco.
I really hope that the future sees high speed mass transit lines tying the western cities a little closer together. Besides being a greener way to travel they could revitalize trade between western metropolises and boost usually remote cities the same way key refueling points on the transcontinental railroad did a century ago.
Besides gambling and overpriced shows Vegas is famous for their all you can eat buffets (among other things). Let’s imagine for a moment you’re at a buffet and you eat until you’re full, but a guy sitting next to you eats 4 times as much before he stops. Would you feel slighted that he somehow cut in on your share? You had all you wanted, he had all he wanted, and you both paid the same amount, were you slighted because his consumption was more than yours?
How about the buffet owners? If they still have so much food left over after you and your partner ate your fill they have to throw it out were they slighted by his high consumption?
The big question being is did he “hog” all the food? Personally I’m kind of an efficiency junkie so my answer is no, he got what he needed without negatively impacting anybody else. The only loss here was the providers overabundance of food, perhaps an overcalculation on their part but this way all their customers were happy.
You may be wondering what this has to do with technology but Benoît Felten has pointed out the same thing, except in the definition of a”bandwidth hog” on the internet. ISPs are claiming that bandwidth hogs take more than their fair share of bandwidth at the expense of others, this way people who use too much can be charged more. But if you pay for all you can eat and the provider has bandwidth to spare are you a hog or just making use of excess bandwidth?
I can’t directly answer Benoît’s challenge but as I work for an ISP, in the cloud, where all the backend bandwidth lies and I can tell you with some hands on experience that at least on our network bandwidth hogs are not a problem and doesn’t create noticeable impact on the network users.
But before shouting the inevitable “Aaah HA!” to ISPs for lying to us for their own profit, bandwidth hogs DO impact the network at peak times, just not noticeably or in the way we would expect. You see we create complex Cost of Service rules across all the routers in the cloud that guarantees our customers have X amount of bandwidth minimum based off what they pay, and then Y amount of excess bandwidth if its available. This creates more of a flow change during peak times rather than a roadblock. Most people think of network congestion the same way they do a traffic jam. If one big semi is taking up most of the road the smaller cars get crowded behind it and soon you’re 20 minutes late to work because traffic came to a halt.
Network congestion doesn’t work like that.
When traffic starts to fill up the available bandwidth (traffic lanes in the above analogy) traffic doesn’t bunch up behind the heavy data streams (semis) instead the bandwidth is narrowed down. So the cars don’t bunch up behind the semi, the semi is made skinnier and longer taking up less bandwidth but over a longer period of time. In this way if somebody is streaming a hulu video and using up all the bandwidth, your mission critical email won’t be blocked all traffic will just be stretched out a bit and the email will take a bit longer to send. However considering that web traffic and emails are fractions of a fraction the size of a high def web stream even a doubling of the time taken to send it will be virtually un-noticeable. We’re talking about 60ms to load to 120ms to load.
The bigger the file transfer the more noticeable the change, so the only people who will have a noticeable impact on performance are those people who are hogging the most bandwidth.
And in real life production it’s amazing watching the latency change as we grant that guaranteed amount of bandwidth instead of just having a company use the excess bandwidth. At first a new router is just using the excess bandwidth on the cloud which may be very minimal at peak times. As soon as they’re Cost of Service and Committed Information Rates are integrated into the bandwidth there is a very noticeable change is transfer speeds.
The amount of bandwidth being on the cloud used is usually quite high simply because people are using up the excess (thus less lines are “dark” or under utilized) so sites that don’t have their guaranteed COS values set have a hard time competing with sites that have guaranteed speeds+the excess. Thus a site with no COS may get 40% of their max circuit speeds, once they’re integrated with everybody else that usually bounces up above 90%. It’s only the rare time that EVERYBODY maxes out their connections and speeds drop across the board to the guaranteed speeds (usually around 75% of the circuit capability).
Another good comparison is the planned state of the “smart” electric grid which is basically going to work as out internet does now. By monitoring data flow all across the net high congestion times can be rate limited a few percentage points to smooth out the bursts of data. There is an impact to users but the less data needed the less noticeable the impact, a page that takes 1 second to download will still seem about the same if it takes 1.2 seconds to download.
So bandwidth hogs do exist and at the same time their use a a term by the ISPs are a concoction to get more money.
Businesses have been living under this model for decades, and users have been to but it’s only recently we’re regularly using enough bandwidth that we’re starting to notice our impact. In the future we will probably see terms such as “Guaranteed Class of Service” and “Committed Information Rates” show up more in consumer internet plans, although I hope they use terminology that it’s easier for consumers to understand. But it’s best now if you start to erase from your mind the idea that you purchased a 5mbps connection cable and that you’re guaranteed to be able to use that at full throttle all the time.
At the same time be aware that data plans that are tiered by total bandwidth used is just a marketing way that companies can dig more out of heavy users. The solution that I hope we see in the future is simply the way corporate connections go, and that is that you pay for a line capable of X bandwidth, with a guarantee of Y bandwidth.
I came up with that headline, and I think it should be name of the program that the US creates to get this happening (and the name of the first city). The article focuses on water conservation but I just think it would be a great way to make human habitation in the extreme locals that make up a major portion of the earth the most efficient and enjoyable it can be.
I love stuff like this. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s America dreamed that by the new millennium this type of future would exist. Then our generation dropped the ball and focused on more glut, less tech. A few people have kept alive the dream but that’s all anybody thinks of it anymore… a dream.
We have the technology to make stuff like this happen, the benefits and utility savings of a city built like this are well understood. I know first hand how hydroponic farming can maximize food output with restricted space and resources. The issue of equipment micromanaging a micro climate like this may have been a stumbling block in the past, but the computers of today would make it a piece of cake. Paolo Soleri and people who have followed his footsteps have explored Arcology concepts that maximize the efficient use of area while maximizing the feel of open space.
Seriously, we should jump on this now while it’s easy. If movies have taught me anything it’s that we need to build futuristic worlds now so when the world is packed with our fast reproducing moron offspring, they’ll have a world that can sustain them.
Idiocracy – Opening Sequence – Free videos are just a click away
Hat tip Gizmodo. And it’s more Logan’s Run than Dune.
British Petroleum made a new oil discovery while breaking the world record for deepest well. New technology has allowed currently unreachable parts of the ocean depths to be tapped.
Already a lot of my conservative friends are pointing out that this proves “New Oil” will always be available and thus the world will never run out (we’ve had this argument before). So here’s some basics I picked up in college geology to put oil in perspective and hopefully open a few eyes.
The problem is that it takes very specific circumstances for oil to be created and trapped where it can wait to be discovered by us.
Issue 1 – Time
It takes time to create oil; coal, it’s called a “Fossil Fuel” for a reason. Oil is basically prehistoric algae, trapped under sediments, and heated to become oil or natural gas (plant and animal material generally turns to coal). Most oil is generally understood to have been algae that was buried between 200 and 400 million years ago. The problem is 2/3 the earth’s surface is 300 million years old or younger, most is less than 100 million years old.
The ocean floor is a constantly shifting mass of dense rock that comes up in the ocean rifts, and spreads across the ocean before plunging back under the continents. Average time spent crossing is about 150 million years. So even if algae is quickly deposited in the center of the ocean, buried under sediment (see next problem), and heated at the right temperature, it’s barely becoming oil when it’s plunged back under the continental shelves.
So oil will only exist in places where geology is relatively slow and the rocks are old; like on continents, continental shelves, or pockets of the ocean that aren’t actively being sucked under the continents (like the gulf of Mexico). Most of the ocean floor doesn’t have a possibility of oil even if we could reach it.
The algae needs to be trapped in an anaerobic environment so that decomposition won’t occur; then buried under sediment until the pressure and heat can convert it to oil. This doesn’t always happen; in fact if our current natural world is any guide, it’s kind of rare. Not to mention that when it does happen it still takes time for enough sediment to pile on top till the algae is deep enough the pressure and heat can convert it. So again, even though it takes about 10 million years to naturally convert, the time to be buried, heated, and converted takes 200-400 million years.
Issue 2 – Escaping the ground on it’s own.
Once the algae becomes oil it has another problem, if the rock above is porous the oil will seep up to the surface. Remember oil is lighter than water and rock, as water seeps down cracks in the ground it displaces oil and forces it to the surface. Once up it is broken down in a natural reaction by heat and organisms at the surface.
In southern Utah as a kid I remember coming across crack in the rock that had tar squeezing out from in between. This is deep in nationally protected areas, miles away from any roads. At first I wondered why people sealed a crack in the desert with tar, then I realized it must be natural tar, now I know it’s natural petroleum products seeping to the surface and breaking down in the heat.
So for oil to survive it needs to be trapped into a reservoir capped with non-porous rock until somebody drills through the rock and it can squirt up the well.
Issue 3- Oil quality
Sounds funny but not all petroleum is created equal. Saudi Crude Oil is of such a high quality it’s almost already refined and ready for use. Other forms of petroleum can be so poor that at room temperature it solidifies to a waxy texture or in a state that additional energy needs to be added to extract it from the Kerogen and get a small amount of crude oil with a large amount of waste product. And all oil may be mixed with a contaminant like sand they need to be separated from before refinement. So even if you find a deposit of oil shale or oil sands that have oil in them, the cost of extraction is often prohibitively expensive. Back in the 1980 oil companies actually abandoned oil production through oil shale because it wasn’t economically feasible. The fact they’re returning to the oil shale now gives an idea how desperate they are for new oil sources.
This is all very relevant because the energy cost to create 1 Killowatt hour of electricity through renewable methods like solar energy is eight times that of producing the same amount with oil. Currently most people consider that to be excessively high but oil extraction from oil shale or oil sands can be 10-30 times more expensive than regular oil extraction from wells. So when compared to oil from oil shale, The total price per kilowatt including manufacturing and production, solar power production will actually become the economical alternative.
And all of this of course also ignores the ecological factors that the machinery excavating oil shale burns about the same amount diesel that they get from oil they extract, a 3 to 1 ratio of water and additional chemicals to oil is needed for each barrel of crude produced, and a lot of chemical waste is produced during extraction.
Issue 4 – Finding places that haven’t already been found
Knowing what we know above you can predict where oil will be; certain conditions can be met so by looking at the geology of an area you can tell if it’s old enough to have oil, if it’s been heated enough to convert fossils to oil, and if the rock is too porous to keep the oil from escaping.
Seems easy enough but you have to remember that you’re competing with the world’s massive oil companies and their billions upon billions of dollars in resources who have spent the last 100 years scouring the earth to find potential oil reserves. The report that oil is at peak production now and will begin to run out around 2070 has been verified by Chevron, Exxon and other oil companies themselves. They’re not just guessing or making estimates, they know because they’ve been mapping and test drilling every continent on Earth for the next big find and they know that they’re running out of places to look. BP didn’t spend millions to drill a well in the Gulf of Mexico because they wanted a challenge; they did it because it’s one of the few untapped places left that has a possibility for finding oil.
Oil really is in decline. When the worlds oil conglomerates start freaking out that we’re running out of oil you know there is trouble. When you see oil companies like BP and Exxon begin diverting massive amounts of their revenue to renewable forms of energy production don’t fool yourself that they’re doing it to make everybody feel warm and fuzzy about saving the earth. They’re doing it to save themselves. It’s their job to know where oil is and if they can see it’s running out the only smart thing to do is to diversify into what energy production methods they think will take its place.
And even though the earth will always have a pocket of oil here or a reserve of waxy bitumen petroleum there, if it’s not economically feasible to extract and convert it it might as well be useless sludge. As demand rises, and resources fall the crossing point where oil is a feasible source of energy will be passed and all the currently “expensive” forms of renewable energy production will become the “cheap” forms of energy production.
The writing is on the wall and the people who will be best prepared for the changeover will be those who get in on the ground floor now.
We all know that China is the most populous country in the world and India is nipping at its heels. But not many people know that third place is our own United States of America. That’s right, the bronze medal in the "Holy Fuck that’s alot of people!" category is the USA.
As big as this nation is its not immediately apparent but when you think about it it makes perfect sense. A majority of Americans believe its their religious duty to populate the earth, and they’re succeeding quite well. Here in Utah 10-12 member families is common.
This is one of the many reasons why our housing is being crammed into smaller and smaller quarters. Much like Japan we’re bumping up against a resource ceiling that keeps us packed into cities. Although ours has less to do with physical space as it does with fresh water abundance/distribution and driving distances/time between locations. When I see the cramped expensive living conditions in Japan I wince; but we’re not really that far off.
Anyway, as kid I always looked forward to moving into a house surrounded by a yard so large it would seem like a home in a forest in the mountains. It seems that a large yard surrounding a small home is a thing of the past.
Update: Other reasons for homes separated by 3ft:
-Realtor Greed. Why sell one home in an acre when you can sell 8?
-Pride. My house is bigger than yours (even if there no room to walk in between them).
-Gluttony. How many of us have full rooms full of stuff we will never use before we die?
-Extravagance. I need 3 more garages for the Hummer, Escalade, and Jet-Skis
It makes me pine for the simple, isolated life Dick Proenneke (from "Alone in the Wilderness") lived with for the last 30 years of his life.
One word. Convenience.
I’ve harped on it before but mankind leans towards laziness when fat and content. And America which has been rich and powerful for most of the last 100 years has developed one of the laziest cultures. Now that’s not to say we wont do things; we just tend not to go out of our way to do something extra if we can’t see an immediate self serving benefit.
Back to the subject of recycling. Most Americans would be willing to recycle in our everyday lives if its convenient to us. Businesses and community/state/federal can take advantage of this by making recycling easy. At home this is simply done by providing curbside garbage AND recycling programs. Provide a recycling can and bi-weekly pickup and watch people learn to sort their garbage for recycling on their own. We have it here in SLC and it’s great, people sort their own garbage as much as possible and out dupms don’t grow as fast.
Now businesses and city planners need to get involved next to cleanup the other 50% of our garbage, all that from, parks, public areas, businesses, fast food and restaurants. Compare the garbages in US fast food joints (above) with the ones in Japan (below). It may seem daunting at first, especialy when you don’t read the language but images if it were all in english telling you where to put what. And anybody who has worked in food services immediately sees how magnificent a special drain for all foodstuffs and liquids to keep it out of the garbage. It’s practically an American teenage rite of passage to get a first job at a fast food restaurant; and we all remember taking out the trash, heaving it into the dumpster while vile trash liquids spilled down our silly uniforms. Those teenagers and those of us who remember that look at Japanese trash cans and think, “Why didn’t we think of that 30 years ago?”
Quick description from left to right:
Combustibles (paper), Non-combustibles (plastics), above: a drain for the liquids and ice, and finally a bin for recyclable plastics like water bottles etc.
I’m willing to sort plastics and combustibles at a can if I’m just provided the opportunity and convenience. Over there almost every garbage can was at least divided into combustibles and non-combustibles; and next to every vending machine (and there are alot!) they have a special garbage can for your empty plastic bottles. Imagine that!
Coke, Pepsi, and every other drink vendor should be all over this. Not only does it give them a ready source of plastic to remake into new bottles; but what is the first thing that somebody thinks as they throw away their empty bottle?
“You know what I could use? ANOTHER DRINK!”
So how comes it’s been decades and we still haven’t figured out to do these simple win-win strategies over here?
I’m glad to finally be seeing some technological innovation to make mass transit here in SLC a usable reality. For something to catch on with the masses it needs to be easy, or people need to have some desperation in needing to use it. For most of us using mass transit is usually forced upon us by rising gas prices; but UTA can also entice us into using their service by making it easier to use. Not having to lookup ticket/fare prices or use annoying ticket machines helps. Obviously convenience is another major factor, but Trax runs every 15 minutes unlike the buses so its not as big of a deal.
Having and RFID "tap-on, tap-off" pay pass is brilliant, and takes one of the pains out of mass transit on UTA. Salt Lake City’s transit system may be ages behind Tokyo and Osaka’s but were making steps towards being a more mature city. Now if they can just solve the problem of getting the buses to run on time
Go there now.