Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Re-designing cities.

Yesterday, I posted a rather rambling entry about what might happen to this country after the forecasted end-of-oil. One thing I mentioned was how American cities are tacitly assume that residents have and extensively use motor vehicles. How nice to see in Treehugger.com an article summarizing (mostly direct-quoting) an essay by Alex Steffin about how sensible urban planning can be greener than changing the types of cars we drive. Check it out.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ann Arbor has LED streetlights

From the story at inhabitat.com:
We haven’t been giving Ann Arbor, Michigan enough attention and the city deserves it! Last year Ann Arbor joined forces with LED manufacturer Cree, Inc, on an ever-expanding citywide LED initiative to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With a recent retrofit contract signed with Lumecon, Ann Arbor is on its way to being the first U.S. city to light up its downtown with 100% LED technology!

The city strung its holiday cheer with about 114,000 LED lights and plans to convert all of its downtown public lighting starting with more than 1,000 LED streetlights. The effort is aligned with other North American cities like Raleigh, N.C., and Toronto, which have both started similar energy-saving efforts.

When Ann Arbor reaches its ambitious goal, city officials expect to see energy use for public lighting cut in half and a reduction of 2,425 tons CO2 annually. The city also expects a short payback of 3.8 years on its investment, which was funded in part with a $630,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. A pilot program on one city block with 25 LED lights helped bring the LED idea from theory to application with three years of research on how the technology saves the city about 50% on energy and maintenance costs. Based on their research, Ann Arbor city officials project an annual savings of over $100,000 on just the first 1,000 retrofits alone. The city plans to complete the conversion to LED over the next two years.
Now if the city could just figure out that it could save extra money by having street lights that didn't shine upwards (into people's apartments), then they would be at the next stage.

(Personally, I want to know who's idea it was at the U. Hospital to have a bright sodium light shine directly at my house, forcing me to shut my blinds when going to sleep or choose to lie in a glowing orange room.)

Where would we be without oil?

"Where would we be without oil?" This question is - in so many ways - a non-starter. The most primary reason is that it is based on a high level of conjecture, and is highly non-specific. First of all, does the question assume that petroleum oils (and I'm assuming one means petroleum oils and not vegetable oils) never existed? If this is the assumption, then does coal exist, too? Does the question assume that we ran out of oil very early in our quest for mechanization? Because of these integral problems to the question that leaves such musing only to the realm of alternate historians, I will not focus on that question.

Instead, I will look briefly on the question, "Where will we be after oil?" This question is much more meritorious of consideration because it doesn't assume a different present condition than what we see (or assume we see) today. The impacts of the future are still questionable, highly contingent upon when we "run out" of oil.

My quick consideration of this question - written extemporaneously - considers that we run out when great experts in in the field say we will run out in a letter - a version of which has recently been posted on their website - namely "...Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand." The discussion of "easy-to-access" oil and gas implies that there is always retrievable oil, but it will not be economically viable unless people accept increased cost of extraction or when technology decreases the economic costs of extraction. Therefore, Mr. van der Veer's estimate gives us seven (7) years until we reach "peak oil" based on today's technology and assumed willingness-to-pay.

To put it another way, this is:
  • roughly 28 quarters of economic activity,
  • almost 2 American presidential terms,
  • 3.5 terms of an American representative,
  • a year more than 1 term for an American senator,
  • at least one election within China's National People's Congress,
  • potentially two elections of India's House of the People,
  • one election of India's House of States, and
  • (for facetiousness-sake only) roughly seven Italian governments.
Why do I make all these pronouncements? Well, as much as many people in the United States might still believe in the prominent role of the United States in setting global oil prices, what is closer to the truth is something different. China and India have increased oil imports dramatically over the past eight years, and OPEC oil production is not so nicely relate-able to oil prices any more. True, the United States has increased its oil consumption along with oil prices. However, if you look at the trajectories of Chinese and Indian oil imports (even only considering 2004 trajectories), the seemingly ever-increasing oil prices on the world market start to make more sense. Again, so what?

The trajectories of China and India indicate a continuing race toward an oil-based economy. This race (with concomitant oil consumption growth rates) will quickly lead these countries into becoming (combined) a greater force on world oil prices than the United States. Already, these countries are approaching non-OPEC countries for oil contracts. By working with non-OPEC countries, production levels set by OPEC will not have a major impact on world oil prices, unless OPEC decide to trade directly with countries (and thereby lose out on the possible profits of selling on a world market with an ever-increasing price for their commodity). This is why India and China are important when considering the course of the next seven years.

The United States already surpassed 20million barrels of oil per day in 2004, indicating in another way what President Bush statement in his 2006 State of the Union address that "America is addicted to oil." Like any addict, coming off a drug is going to be difficult. Very difficult. Can the United States wean itself off oil before the "end of oil"? The United States is faced with a series of problems related to weaning itself off oil in the next seven years.
  1. A large percentage of the imported oil is used as energy, with the lion's share of that energy being consumed in transportation.
    • The planning of many American cities - for too many reasons to explore here - seems to have tacitly assume the extensive use of private motor vehicles, and there is now little possibility of extensive public transportation alternatives.
  2. The American citizen cannot easily afford to a purchase of a new vehicle under normal economic conditions, let alone one that the United States finds itself in now (looming recession, loads of home loan foreclosures).
  3. American motor vehicle companies have spent blood and money lobbying the government to keep fuel economy standards low, and even the recently-increased standards do not fit an adequate time line to meet the seven year projection of Mr. van der Veer.
Taking these problems together, it would appear that a majority of Americans require motor vehicles to survive adequately in today's America (although most citizens live in cities, these cities don't have high-density public transportation systems like NYC or Chicago). The majority of Americans' motor vehicles run on petroleum. The majority of these vehicles are not "fuel efficient" by today's standards, let alone the standards of 2015. The majority of Americans cannot up-and-purchase a new high-efficiency motor vehicle when petroleum prices start to climb through the roof (as we might expect will happen in 2015). This means that, while the fuel economy of the American fleet is getting better, it is likely to take more than seven years before a significant proportion of the United States can afford to purchase a truly fuel-efficient vehicle such that US oil dependence (at least in transportation) will be diminished enough for that same majority of Americans to adequately deal with the transition of fuel type without the economy grinding to a halt.

The actions of the US government in the next seven years will be very critical, since it is through the role of government that a unified plan for the betterment of a country can be made and done in such a manner that it is legally defensible. A country cannot assume the benevolence of any company, since the off-shoring and downsizing movements of the past 10 years have shown that many companies are not civic-minded, nor do they have any legal responsibility to be so. It is up to government to take care of their own country.

Similarly, China and India will have the next seven years to manage the growth trajectories of their own countries. How this will play out, I don't know (I'm not intimately knowledgeable of the situation in India and China). However, I assume that "end-of-oil" is going to be very problematic to both countries' economies, and therefore it is in their own interests to develop contingency plans. Peaceful options include developing alternative energy sources for transportation (to wield that scientific and engineering muscle that supposedly is being developed), radically changing the means of growing capital (thus forcing the world to follow their lead), or investigating more efficient fuel extraction technologies (although this is just playing the Red Queen, and will likely prove futile in the end).

What will happen in the next seven years will be interesting. Hopefully, it will not be as interesting as what will happen when we do end up on the other side of the "Age of Oil." Hopefully, answering "Where will we be after oil?" will be at a location where we will have dodged the bullet. However, in my explanation, I left out African, South American, European and SE Asian politics (let alone the outfall of what will happen to a Middle East that no longer plays a dominant role in global resource politics). Likely the Age of Oil will play out over several decades rather than within one.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Some photos (as promised)

I assume this is supposed to be a coho salmon... But with the medium of ice, such a sculpture is difficult to achieve. Not too bad, but unfortunately, the Plymouth International Ice Sculpture Spectacular doesn't hold a candle to Sapporo's Snow Festival (aka. "Yuki matsuri"). Still, not a bad couple-hour excursion out of Ann Arbor.

My new hair color. Yes, this is what happens when you try to go "bleach blond" when your natural hair color is closer to "midnight".

Salvaging the facade of the old library on Huron St. Soon, the North Quad construction will start.

Working out

So, I've been taking workouts so far on Wednesdays (cardioblast), Thursdays (pump 'n' jump), and Fridays (yoga). Tomorrow I'll be going to my first Total Body Workout. If it is like the other cardio classes, it will kick by arse, but I expect it to work me out quite nicely, helping me take down my weight further. I've already lost ~10lbs over one week.

True, the first week back to working out is the one in which you lose the most weight, but it is nice to be under 250lbs again. Let's just see how much I weigh after another month. Of course, I'm not doing it for the weight loss, per se, but because I'm wanting to just work on becoming more aerobically fit.

Ann Arbor Climate Change

A little while ago, I posted a link to the UK meteorological office which had a report with a nifty little graphic showing how average annual temperature ranges have shifted warmer over the past 100+ years. I thought I could replicate it for Ann Arbor. Luckily, the University has been keeping records of daily temperatures since 1882, meaning that I can look at temperature changes over the past 125 years!

So, what have I found? Well, to be brief, the temperature of the city has increased over the past 125 years, and five of the ten hottest years were in the period of 1997-2007. What does this all mean? Well, some of the temperature increase could be attributed to the urban heat island effect, and not to local impacts of global warming, but I don't think that all of the observed temperature increase could be. However, I don't have any good data to support this assertion. Of course, I could try and find temperature data for locations near Ann Arbor (say, within 25 miles of the University) and do a comparative analysis of the overlapping years. Of course, that is a different sort of analysis, taking more time and effort. I can do it, but right now, I'll just leave you with the pretty graph that took me about a week to complete. Enjoy!

IMPORTANT NOTICE (Feb 11, 2008): The values shown below are not for Ann Arbor. I accidentally used the wrong label for these charts. I will repost the correct charts for Ann Arbor once I fix them (don't worry, they still show positive slopes).

Ann Arbor annual mean and median temperatures have increased from roughly 45 F to roughly 54 F in the past 125 years.

The yearly mean temperature in Ann Arbor increased from roughly 46F to roughly 55F over the past 125 years. One can see an oscillating "sine-wave" function with a periodicity of roughly thirty years. This may be due to the ~30 year Great Lakes water level oscillations.

The yearly median temperature in Ann Arbor increased from roughly 46.5F to roughly 56F over the past 125 years.

The ranked mean annual temperatures for Ann Arbor from 1881 to 2006. The lowest rank (1) is given to the year with the coldest mean annual temperature (1882). The highest rank (125) was given to the year with the warmest mean annual temperature (1998). In the 10-year period of 1997-2006, five years were in the top ten warmest years (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2006). There is a strong positive correlation (R2=0.72) between year and annual temperature rank. With such a high correlation, one shouldn't be surprised to see more high-rank temperatures in the years to come.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More photos later.

Everyone - I'm sorry that I've not been posting photos recently. Trust me, I've been taking them! But, I've also been a slacker recently when it comes to uploading photos. (Crazy, I know.) However, once I get around to it, there will be photos of:
  • My crazy new hair.
  • Winter in Ann Arbor.
In the mean-time, you can check out some of the blogs and websites that I've been reading in the past couple of days:
  • 24FightingChickens - A ruthlessly honest portrayal of martial arts practice and practitioners (specifically Shotokan Karate).
  • Dispatches from the Culture Wars - A daily-updated blog on Scienceblogs that discusses domestic (usually political) issues from a POV I generally agree with (since Brayton tends toward the devastating employment of consistent logic).
  • Treehugger - An article-submission site that includes all topics "enviro-friendly" (thus the name). Nice thing is that it is constantly updated.
Other than that, I've got to start really sitting down and writing out the second and third sections of my research proposal, complete an online Institutional Review Board (IRB) application to do social research, read up on water law in Michigan (for a possible Michigan Law Review article), re-edit my paper on river habitat impacts due to groundwater pumping, revise my Master's thesis (finally) into three (or four) different papers for publication, and figure out how to best represent the collate-able data for the English Language Institute. (At least I don't have paper grading to do on top of all of this other stuff.)

As you can see, I have a few things on my plate right now. Of course, I just got an invitation to a German-style Karnival celebration next weekend (a little early for Carnival, but having it on a Saturday helps, I suppose; plus I'm not Catholic, at least), so there is an additional requirement for me to figure out what I will dress up as (assuming that I go). I also thought that I might offer cooking up some pancakes for a Shrove Tuesday celebration for the ELI (or maybe not if I can't find someone who can lend me an electric griddle before I propose this to the ELI administrators). Alternatively, there is the option of doing a Shrove "Tuesday" breakfast at my house on the Sunday prior... Logistically much simpler, methinks.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Burns Day

While at university in Scotland, we would celebrate Robbie Burns Day every year on the 25th of January. Before supper, we would all stand at table and, as one, toast to the memory of the great Scottish poet, and recite the following short "grace" before sitting back down.

"Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit."

Enjoy your Robbie Burns Day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Yearly temperature ranking

A while ago, I tried to look at a means of looking at temperature trends by ranking them. I was not highly successful, since I was trying to see if a day in a month was "characteristic" of the long-term average. However, over at Only in it for the Gold, there is a story about a nice graphic put out by the UKMO that ranks yearly temperature ranges. The trend is amazing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cool YouTube video

Yes, I like cdk007's videos. I'm posting another one here about all the things that you don't believe in if you believe in [Young Earth] Creationism.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Regarding the use of "As [it] is the nature of"

What follows is a response to a question about the difference between the opening clause, "As is the nature of..." and, "As it is the nature of...".
"AS" has two meanings in this case depending on context:
1) "As it is the nature" = a clause setting up a cause/effect relationship between a characteristic that is fundamental to the item with an effect that is not fundamental. (See below.)
2) "As is the nature" = a clause defining the fundamental nature of the item in question.

Let's abstract a model-form sentence starting with "As it is the nature": "As it is the nature of A1 [to be in a condition of] X1 , Y1 happens." Here, "it" refers to the implied condition of X1 upon A1, which results in a further condition, Y1.

In this case, X1 is a condition related to the nature of A1, but Y1 is not related directly to the nature of A1. Y1, however, is a condition related to X1. Therefore, the statement "As it is the nature..." in this case sets up a clause that refers to the nature of A1 to X1 with the expected further relation to a nature Y1, but does not say anything about the relationship between A1 and Y1.

Now, let's abstract the other clause: "As is the nature of A2, Y2 happens." Here, Y2 happens because of the fundamental nature of A2. In this case, the fundamental nature of A2 results in Y2. Removing the "it" in the statement removes the implied condition (X1) seen in the previous example, and extends the fundamental definition of the subject (A2) to include the above implied condition (X1) within it.

In other words, A2 = A1 + X1.

Let's look at an example of the use of "As it is the nature of..." I'm quoting here from David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature.
  • "As it is the nature of doubt to cause a variation in the thought, and transport us suddenly from one idea to another, it must of consequence be the occasion of pain."
Abstracting this sentence we get: "As it is the nature of A1 to cause X1, it must do Y1." Here, the condition of X1 ("variation in the thought, and transport us suddenly from one idea to another") upon A1 ("doubt") leads to the consequence of Y1 ("be the occasion of pain").

We can, of course, change the sentence to the "As is the nature..." form by integrating the former condition X1 with the former object A1 thusly:
  • "As is the nature of doubt-caused variation in thought transporting us suddenly from one idea to another, pain must be the consequence."
While this is not the best re-rendering, I hope it will illustrate the example. Here, the abstracted sentence structure becomes: "As is the nature of A2, Y2 happens." Here,the fundamental nature of A2 ("doubt-caused variation in thought transporting us suddenly from one idea to another") causes Y2 (pain).
Hope that helps you understand what it's all about.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I've been feeling under the weather recently: moody, withdrawn, and tired. True, I've been recovering from a cold of some sort; the type I always seem to get when it's getting near to the New Year. However, I have also not been heating as healthily as I could and should - I mean, I'm 30 for heaven's sake, what am I doing still eating like I'm 18? - and with the recent heavy snow and rain, I haven't been cycling to-and-from home (nor around Argo Pond). Part of my lethargy is - at least the romantic part of my mind insists it is - likely due to not being near the sea. The smell of salt air, the feel of the stiff breeze, and the call of sea birds are a combination of sensory inputs that I remember as being invigorating. However, since an extended trip to such a place whenever I'm feeling lethargic is not likely to happen, I must work off some of that lethargy through good old motion and sweat.

To that end, I've enrolled in four (buy three get the fourth free) courses with the University's U-Move fitness program. Two are "cardio" classes, one is a mix of cardio and weights, and the last one is yoga. (As a tangent topic, the yoga mat I purchased was an orange one, and I've decided that orange is a color that I like. I already have orange shirts, with an orange winter coat on the way. Why not, therefore, have an orange yoga mat?) Hopefully, these classes banish my lethargy while simultaneously reviving my desire to exercise at the Central Campus Rec Building (which is not the most uplifting of places to work out - think "breeze block building").