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Friday, October 27, 2006

Education in India: The importance of first principles

One of the key factors that allow humans to 'progress' as a society is the power to comprehend abstractions and build on them. The flip side of this ability is the way we treat abstractions as fundamental axioms rather than the derived entities that they are. Take for example the simple act cooking your food. Where does the LPG actually come from and how does it get to you. To cut a long story short most of the LPG that we use in India is shipped from Qatar or S.Arabia via LPG tanker ships that are off-loaded at a convenient Gas terminal on the west coast of India, is either piped or shipped via road to the filling terminal and is then bottled in your ubiquitous cylinder and shipped by road (mostly) to your friendly neighborhood dealer. How many people are aware of this ? How many people know the true cost of this ?
When I hear comfortably off Indians (they are still the only ones who use gas) bitch and rant about how the cost is shooting up and what the government should do (basically give it to them free) I stop to wonder if they would do this had they looked beyond the 'cylinder' abstraction. I think not. Whatever else the shortcomings of the Indian middle class, they can be trusted to read a sentence and comprehend its broad meaning.
So how do we keep abstractions and yet rise above them ? IMHO this is a process that should be 'the' education system in this country. People can think in abstractions once they master the first principles at tender years. Unfortunately our vedic mafia that controlled the education system (such as it was) with the able assistance of Macaulay's imperial education mandate have managed to distort and even destroy the underpinnings of a rational education system.
Ask yourself what is in the Roti that you are eating. Have a look at the list (not exhausive) below and give yourself a point for every thing you got right.

1. LNG from Saudi. (which also gave us the Al Quida)
2. Hybrid dwarf wheat germplasm from Mexico (which also gave us Parthenium and Lantana)
3. Gas cracker technology from Europe (which gave us many things :)
4. Chloripyrophos and friends from Ambani bai (well you can fill in the other things that you got)
5. Nitrogenous fertilizers from Fertilizers India
6. Water from the glaciers in the Himalayas diverted by eco-system destroying canal networks(if grown in punjab or harayna)
7. Diesel from IOC for all agri operations and transport (the crude is from the gulf again)
8. Electric power from Raichur thermal plan to mill the damn thing.(the coal is probably from bihar or jarkhand if not imported from australia)
9. Polyethylene to pack it from god knows who.

This is the eco-footprint of your Roti. Don't you think your kids will be better off if they know this rather than think of agriculture as that nice, clean, eco-friendly(ecological not economic) occupation that magically gives you 'chakki fresh', 'mothers formula', 'extra fiber' (packed and distributed 'home style') atta. Especially when this magic atta was grown using the stuff mentioned above (most of which are toxic, cause global pollution and leave residues in food that allows your son to grow boobs or worse a tail) and packaged and marketed by global criminals like Cargill and Monsanto ?

David Cromwell: Eating the planet

zmag has a good writeup on the ecologically unsustainable practices that are a result of the current idealogically dominant economic system. Good read.

Clean Green Chinese Millionaires

Worldwatch reports that a numner of chinese energy players are now turing clean and green as a way to wealth. From the article
The Hurun Report, a luxury business magazine known for its annual surveys of China’s wealthiest citizens, recently released its 2006 China Energy Rich List, which ranks the wealth generated from the nation’s booming energy sector. Shi Zhengrong, a solar energy tycoon, tops the list with a personal wealth of US$1.95 billion, followed by Jia Tingliang and Wang Suolan with the coal company Shanxi Datuhe Coke & Chemicals, with US$525 million.

While entrepreneurs from traditional energy industries such as coal mining, oil and gas distribution, and power generation still dominate the energy “rich list” (occupying more than half of the fifty spots), the share of wealthy Chinese representing the “clean energy” sector—which includes solar and wind power, batteries, bioenergy, incineration power generation, and thermal energy—has increased to 14, up from only 4 last year. Rupert Hoogewerf, CEO of the Hurun Report, concedes that “valuing the wealth of China’s Rich is as much an art as it is a science,” but believes the list offers a useful glimpse into the dynamics of China’s energy market and illustrates how private companies struggle to share the energy pie with their state-owned counterparts.

According to Shanghai Security Daily, the 2006 list reflects two main trends: the ongoing restructuring of China’s traditional coal mining industry, and the rapid entry of private companies into the clean energy field. The coal industry restructuring, which is being overseen by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is intended to accelerate technological modernization and improve the industry’s ability to meet projected growth in demand—as well as protect the environment and improve industrial safety, according to Xinhua News. Under new policies, several large private coal companies have been able to merge, renovate, and regroup smaller mines, enter the overseas market with their competitive costs, and switch to deep coal refining. These activities have contributed to the emergence of several new tycoons.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

ZnO the future of Lighting ?

ZnO is being touted as a viable alternative to GaN as the building block for Light Emitting Diodes. The prognosis appears promising with a startup MOXtronics having developed the first successful ZnO Arsenic doped LED's. The exciting part is that Zno shows great potential as a medium to produce full spectrum light as opposed to GaN devices that are phosphor activated. From what is clearly a PR note sent to
The attractiveness of zinc oxide (ZnO) LEDs stems from the potential for phosphor-free spectral coverage from the deep ultraviolet (UV) to the red, coupled with a quantum efficiency that could approach 90% and a compatibility with high-yield low-cost volume production. One day these LEDs could even outperform their GaN-based cousins (which offer a narrower spectral range) thanks to three key characteristics – superior material quality, an effective dopant and the availability of better alloys.
ZnO also promises very high quantum efficiencies, and UV detectors based on this material have produced external quantum efficiencies (EQE) of 90%, three times that of equivalent GaN-based detectors. The physical processes associated with detection suggest that similarly high efficiency values should be possible for the conversion of electrical carriers to photons. So it is plausible that ZnO LEDs will have an EQE upper limit that is three times higher than that of GaN-based devices.
latest UV LEDs have a typical wall-plug efficiency of 0.1%, which would equate to an efficacy of 0.6 lm/W if the emission were in the visible spectrum. Although the efficiency is far lower than that of GaN LEDs, we are making rapid progress by addressing the various phenomena that degrade device performance. If progress continues at the same rate we will produce LEDs with a 1% wall-plug efficiency within one year, 1–5% within two years and about 10% or more within three years.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Give the jedi his hat

Jerome Taylor takes the mighty Aussies apart. Bowlers win matches. Kudos to Taylor for the rare feat of a one day hatrick.

What after human extinction ?

All species have a finite life span (as the universe itself) and it appears that we are close to ours. (at least in terms of how the biosphere is). This article from the New scientist seems to indicate that all traces of our immortal civilizations will vanish in a short span of (geological) time. Brings to mind the tagline a friend of mine uses "Earth has been around for 6 billion years. It needs no saving. Save your self". Yes santosh, seems that you are right....

Limiting factors: Lunar Exploration - 2

This blog previously examined the stated NASA goal to setup a martian settelment with a waystation on the moon for Water. It now appears that there is none to be had.This complicates things for NASA (and other space agencies) counting on the avaialbility of extra-terrestrial water sources to move out into the solar system. From the news release:
Hopes that the Moon's South Pole has a vast hoard of ice that could be used to establish a lunar colony are sadly unfounded, a new study says.

In 1994, radar echoes sent back in an experiment involving a United States orbiter called Clementine appeared to show that a treasure trove of frozen water lay below the dust in craters near the lunar South Pole that were permanently shaded from the Sun.

If so, such a find would be an invaluable boost to colonisation, as the ice could be used to provide water as well as hydrogen as fuel. Nasa is looking closely at the South Pole as a potential site for the United States' return mission to the Moon, scheduled to take place by 2020.

But a paper published in the British science journal Nature on Thursday by a US team says the Clementine data most probably was misinterpreted.

Donald Campbell of Washington's Smithsonian Institution and colleagues collected radar images of the Moon's South Pole to a resolution of 20m, looking especially at Shackleton crater, which had generated most interest.

The team found that a particular radar signature called the circular polarisation ratio - which in the Clementine experiment was taken to indicate thick deposits of ice - could also be created by echoes from the rough terrain and walls of impact craters.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Grow your home
Popular Science has this article on the homes of the future. Basically the house is living and grows around you. Rather romantic and cool. From the article:
f solar power and recycled building materials just aren’t green enough for you, the brains behind the Fab Tree Hab might have the perfect pad. Architects Mitchell Joachim and Javier Arbona, along with environmental engineer Lara Greden, have designed a house that will grow from a few seedlings into a two-story, water-recycling, energy-efficient abode. The Fab Tree Hab, a mix of ancient and ultramodern technology, isn’t merely environmentally friendly. It is the environment.

Instead of building a home out of green materials, the trio figured, why not construct a living, breathing house? “Something that’s alive and thriving,” Joachim says. They hope to plant the first house within five years, but for now, they’re working with Israeli arboriculture firm Plantware, testing techniques for growing the lattice-like weave of vines and roots that will form the walls.

Despite its odd exterior, the house will look normal on the inside. The walls, packed with clay and plastered over, will keep out the rain, and modern technology will be welcome. Yet there are still a few practical kinks to work out. Joachim wonders, for example, how a planning board will react to a house that constantly expands.

Each house will take at least five years to grow, depending on the climate, but Joachim envisions the structures being grown and tended to on a farm. Customers could pick a finished tree habitat and then have it transported to and replanted on a lot within 100 miles. Here, a look inside and out at what’s sure to be the greenest house on the block.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Google shows the way

Google has plans to setup a 1.6 MW solar power plant to take care of part of its needs in California. this is an excellent trend and google show the very eco un-friendly electronics and IT crowd how it is done. From Reuters:
Google Inc. (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) plans a solar-powered electricity system at its Silicon Valley headquarters that will rank as the largest U.S. solar-powered corporate office complex, the company said on Wednesday.

The Web search leader said it is set to begin building a rooftop solar-powered generation system at its Mountain View, California, headquarters capable of generating 1.6 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 1,000 California homes.

"This is the largest customer-owned solar electric system at a corporate site," said Noah Kaye, director of public affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry group based in Washington, D.C.

A Google executive said the company will rely on solar power to supply nearly a third of the electricity consumed by office workers at its roughly one-million-square-foot headquarters. This does not include power consumed by data centers that power many of Google's Web services worldwide, he said.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The return of the Jedi

Bowlers win matches.

Save the trees

Sony has this neat eBook reader that looks cool and may help cut paper usage. Well, I still want a dead tree book, but this could be the wave of the future...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The attack of the radioactive mutant gastropods

We reap what we sow. Spain reports that radioactive snails are crawling around an area where the US lost some thermo-neculear devices several decades ago. From Reuters:
MADRID (Reuters) - The discovery of radioactive snails at a site in southeastern Spain where three U.S. hydrogen bombs fell by accident 40 years ago may trigger a new joint U.S.-Spanish clean-up operation, officials said on Wednesday.

The hydrogen bombs fell near the fishing village of Palomares in 1966 after a mid-air collision between a bomber and a refuelling craft, in which seven of 11 crewmen died.

Hundreds of tons of soil were removed from the Palomares area and shipped to the United States after high explosive igniters on two bombs detonated on impact, spreading plutonium dust-bearing clouds across nearby fields.

Spanish authorities say the appearance of higher than normal levels of radiation in snails and other creatures shows there may be dangerous levels of plutonium and uranium below ground, and a further clean up could be necessary.

"We have to study the dirt, we have to look underground," said Juan Antonio Rubio, director general of Spain's energy research agency CIEMAT, which is carrying out an investigation with the U.S. Department of Energy.

"We don't know what's down there."

The U.S. and Spain have agreed to share the cost of the initial investigation, which is set to begin in November.

The governments have yet to agree on who would pay for a clean up, according to a U.S. embassy spokesman in Spain.

Spain's government has bought a 25 acre area near Palomares where the bombs fell.

Since 1966, the United States has helped pay for Palomares residents to be checked for signs of radiation poisoning. Spain says there is today no danger from surface radiation.

But it still advises local children not to work in fields at the explosion site, nor eat their snails -- which are a local delicacy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Planet enters 'ecological debt'

The BBC reports that Rising consumption of natural resources means that humans began "eating the planet" on 9 October, a study suggests.The date symbolised the day of the year when people's demands exceeded the Earth's ability to supply resources and absorb the demands placed upon it.

Welcome to the brave new world. When your grandkids are rooting around 21st century rubbish dumps for food they will thank you for all the SUV rides...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Low humidity water engine

An interesting product to extract water out of the atmosphere for potable applications is being used by the US Army to cut water costs. The machine is not a electrically driven compressor design that needs high humidity to work, rather, a new salt based technology using hydrophilic properties has been adopted. More on this at Wired.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Carbon Sequestration Project Database

Greenbiz reports :
WRI and the Climate, Energy and Pollution program strive to protect the global climate system from further harm due to emissions of greenhouse gases and help humanity and the natural world adapt to unavoidable climate change. Its research on carbon sequestration is one way of moving toward this goal. This database includes descriptive and contact information about carbon sequestration projects worldwide. It also provides information on the projects' efforts toward providing and evaluating non-carbon benefits. The criteria selected to categorize such impacts were drawn from the nine international processes utilizing criteria and indicators for assessing forest extent, health, management, and other socio-economic benefits. In addition, to the extent possible, CEP has made available indicators, guidelines and other measurement tools used to evaluate these impacts. This database does not attempt to evaluate the sustainability of individual projects; rather, it provides initial information to users for further study.
The database can be accessed at the World Resource Institute

Dell to recycle its old PC's

Good trend. Long overdue. What about the millions of assembled PC's that we run. I have several myself and even with linux some of these are dying...

Clean up your act !

Solvent Substitution for Surface Cleaning

The University of Massachusetts Lowell has put up a great database that allows industries to make simple but significant changes in the industrial solvents that are used in manufacturing. This is vital for countries like India and China given the impact of our growing manufacturing. The freely available database is acceesible here