Monday, December 21, 2009

Exciting new book - Solar Trillions

Dear readers,

Exciting news! Serial entrepreneur, author and Stanford professor Tony Seba has just published his second book:

“Solar Trillions - 7 Market and Investment Opportunities in the Emerging Clean-Energy Economy”

I had the honour of reviewing the book prior to publication. It is a stunner. In plan English, and backed with buckets of supporting information and statistics, Tony lifts the lid on the incredible emerging global spectrum of solar energy investment opportunities.

Plus key covers off the relative merits and potentials of other renewable energy systems including:
  • “Green” Nuclear,
  • Wind Energy,
  • Geothermal,
  • Hydro power,
  • Bioenergy,
  • “Clean” Coal.
I strongly recommend this book to you and your colleagues.

The book can be ordered from Link here to order the book:

Declaration of interest: I have neither any financial interest in this book, nor am receiving any incentive for promoting it. I have had to order my own copy.

KEYWORDS: Renewable Energy, Solar, Investment

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brain industries, not dairy and tourism are the way forward for New Zealand

Yesterday in Wellington I attended a keynote speech by a Dr Paul Callaghan, the Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences at Victoria University. The presentation was titled “Beyond the Farm and the Theme Park: transforming New Zealand's culture and economy.”

Dr Callaghan delivered fascinating insights into the economics of New Zealand’s future wealth creation possibilities and challenges. Of particular interest was his contention – that if New Zealand aspires to grow its way back to GDP per capita parity with Australia – it will not be through dairy or tourism. It would have to be through high revenue per employee “brain” (high tech) businesses. Below I attach some relevant quotes from a Herald article Dr Callaghan wrote back in February. This article, titled after his book “Wool to Weta” fully articulates the arguments from his keynote yesterday.

“New Zealand exports commodities, but the long-term trend for commodities - as graphed by The Economist - shows localised peaks when times are good, but the overall trend is relentlessly down.

“To match Australia's per-capita prosperity, we would need to lift our GDP by US$30 billion a year. Where might we earn that money?

“Adding US$30 billion per year would mean, on the face of it, multiplying our dairy exports by five, or our tourism by four. . And even if we could increase dairying or tourism, there are problems.

“I doubt that it would be feasible to double Fonterra's production, let alone increase it by a factor of five, and I doubt whether we would want to quadruple the numbers of tourists visiting New Zealand each year, from 2.5 million to 10 million.

“I want to suggest another model for New Zealand export business, and one that has few downsides. looking at largely brain-based business, it does seem, overall, that high-technology companies come out quite well. They consume little energy. They do not emit significant greenhouse gases or dump nitrates in our lakes. The Resource Management Act is no bother to them at all, and, as their products are valuable, they are perfectly happy with a high New Zealand dollar value. And these businesses reside in perfectly attractive buildings and surroundings. In short, they are sustainable, environmentally and socially benign and there is no limit to the numbers of such companies which we might enjoy, except to the degree that our brains and enterprise make such businesses possible.

"Clearly New Zealand would benefit if many more such "knowledge businesses" were to form, but what can we do to seed that process?

THOUGHTS: Dr Callaghan’s logic puts an end to the mantra that the dairy industry and tourism industries are where the weight of R&D investments should go to secure New Zealand’s future prosperity.

KEYWORDS: New Zealand, Growth, Agriculture, Tourism, High-Technolohy, Sustainability

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Shrinks & climate change: driving the sense of urgency for action

I have closely followed the published climate change scientific research over the last seven years. It is clear that the planet and its inhabitants are at the cusp of experiencing dramatic climate change, which has been caused by human activity over the last hundred years.

Failure to act with a sense of urgency – at global, national, community and personal level – invites disaster.

Looking back – it seems that 2006 was the year that individuals, consumers and citizens finally got it – that climate change is real and dangerous. This was the year of Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and the release of the “The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change”...

...yet despite the growing consensus of concern and the experience of climate change symptoms - sea level rise, floods, droughts, floods, water scarcity, famine, disease, economic volatility…

…why do we as a species seemed unable to act? It’s as if we will really live out the boiling frog fable.

But wait – from an unexpected source - yet obvious in hindsight - has come a very powerful insight, which offers the pathway to building effective global consensus and action…. Read on...

Psychology is to blame for humans not acting on climate change
The American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change has just reported its findings.

The taskforce examined decades of psychological research and practice that have been specifically applied and tested in the arena of climate change. The task force's report offers a detailed look at the connection between psychology and global climate change and makes policy recommendations for psychological science.

"What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior," said task force chair Janet Swim, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University. "We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act."

The report cites a national Pew Research Center poll in which 75 percent to 80 percent of respondents said that climate change is an important issue. But respondents ranked it last in a list of 20 compelling issues, such as the economy or terrorism. Despite warnings from scientists and environmental experts that limiting the effects of climate change means humans need to make some severe changes now, people don't feel a sense of urgency.

The task force said numerous psychological barriers are to blame, including:
  • Uncertainty – Research has shown that uncertainty over climate change reduces the frequency of "green" behavior.
  • Mistrust – Evidence shows that most people don't believe the risk messages of scientists or government officials.
  • Denial – A substantial minority of people believe climate change is not occurring or that human activity has little or nothing to do with it, according to various polls.
  • Undervaluing Risks – A study of more than 3,000 people in 18 countries showed that many people believe environmental conditions will worsen in 25 years. While this may be true, this thinking could lead people to believe that changes can be made later.
  • Lack of Control – People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.
  • Habit – Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change while others change slowly. Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior, according to the report.
The LA Times adds: The report also gets into useful specifics. It draws on past studies on people's behaviour in disaster situations. It examines what science knows about how you can get people to alter their behavior and what doesn't seem to work at all, no matter how fine and dandy an idea may sound. One example: People are more likely to use energy-efficient devices if they're given feedback, right then and there, about how much energy/money they're saving, rather than if they have to wait until they get their power bill.

THOUGHTS: Thank you shrinks. You have given us some powerful insights, from which we could build the much needed tools to rapidly acheive a global consensus on the sense of urgency and action on climate change. Is it now or never - literally?

The full report:
"Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges" – American Psychological Association – August 2009

The APA press release
"Psychological factors help explain slow reaction to global warming, says APA Task Force" - American Psychological Association – 5 August 2009

From the LA Times
Psychology is to blame for humans not acting on climate change, psychologists say – Los Angeles Times – 5 August 2009

From The New York Times
Is the Climate Problem in Our Heads by Andrew C. Revkin – The New York Times/Dot Earth blog – 5 August 2009

KEYWORDS: Psychology, Climate Change, Strategy, Sense -of-urgency

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Robotic warfare expert sees robots as lowering barriers to war

(CNN) U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Already he has said that the next generation of fighter planes -- the F-35 that took decades to develop at a cost of more than half-a-billion dollars each -- will be the last manned fighter aircraft.

The drones are dramatically tilting the war [in Afghanistan] in favour of the United States. Predators, for example, played a key role in killing al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006. UAVs are credited with killing more than half al Qaeda's top 20 leaders.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF, explains that the next phase will enable a single drone to provide as many as 60 simultaneous live video feeds directly to combat troops. Some new drones will be as small as flies, others walk -- all appear destined to work with decreasing human input.

“The future of how you use these un-manned systems or remotely piloted systems is really unlimited," says Deptula, based at the Pentagon and racing to keep pace with battlefield needs as well as Gates's demands. "We need to open our minds and think more about capability and impact we are going to achieve as opposed to how we've done business in the past.”

Robotic warfare expert Peter Singer, who advised President Barack Obama's campaign team and has authored “Wired for War” says that remote warfare is changing mankind's monopoly on how conflict is fought for the first time in 5,000 years. All that limits its advance is its application, not the technology. "The barriers of war in our society are already lowering," he says. "This tech may allow them to lower to the ground. And we might already be seeing this in the strikes being carried out on Pakistan.”

THOUGHTS: Again...the trouble is I don't see citizens in any country having the opportunity to be part of this ethical debate.

KEYWORDS: Robot, Robot, War, Defence, Conflict, Ethics, Debate, Humanity

Source: "How robot drones revolutionized the face of warfare" - CNN - 24 July 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

River Cottage: Healthy Chicken

This excellent YouTube video by Hugh Fearnly-Whittinghall of River Cottage fame looks at the nutritional value of three chicken production types: battery, corn feed and free range. Excellent insights.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Major US food & beverage players caught plotting dirty PR tricks over BPA

The chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, used in commerce since the 1950s, is added to plastics to give them strength. It is found in hundreds of household products, including plastic bottles and food containers. It is also present in the linings of canned goods such as soup, baby formula and canned fruits and vegetables. Over the past decade, a growing body of scientific studies has linked the chemical to breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm count, miscarriage and other reproductive problems in laboratory animals. More recent studies using human data have linked BPA to heart disease and diabetes. And it has been found to interfere with the effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.

Manufacturers of cans for beverages and foods and some of their biggest customers, including Coca-Cola, are trying to devise a public relations and lobbying strategy to block government bans of a controversial chemical Bisphenol (BPA) used in the linings of metal cans and lids. According to internal notes of a private meeting, obtained by The Washington Post, frustrated industry executives huddled for hours Thursday trying to figure out how to tamp down public concerns over the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.

The notes said the executives are particularly concerned about the views of young mothers, who often make purchasing decisions for households and who are most likely to be focused on health concerns. Industry representatives weighed a range of ideas, including "using fear tactics [e.g. “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging," the notes said.

The attendees estimated it would cost $500,000 to craft a message for a public relations campaign, according to the notes. “Their ‘holy grail’ spokesperson would be a ‘pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA,’” the notes said.
Source: “Strategy Being Devised To Protect Use of BPA” – The Washington Post – 31 May 2009

Despite this, US Congress gives FDA control over soft drinks
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed historic legislation Thursday that puts the soft drink industry under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Soda companies are weighing the impact of the bill, which they say also puts severe restrictions on advertising and packaging. Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, who spearheaded the original effort to treat the caffeine in soft drinks as a drug, hailed the Senate vote of 79-17. “It's as strong a bill as we could have ever imagined,” he said. More than 350,000 people die every year from soft-drink-related diseases, according to government figures. About 45 million U.S. adults are regular soda-pop drinkers, though the prevalence has fallen since the U.S. surgeon general's warning 45 years ago that soda drinking causes obesity.

The FDA has announced new regulations, slated to take effect July 1, which will tighten governmental controls over the soda industry. All pop cans will be required to carry a warning of the myriad ill effects which are connected with regular soda-drinking. Soda vending machines will be banned in all schools, hospitals, and public buildings. Children under 18 will be prohibited from purchasing soft drinks, unless accompanied by an adult.
Source: “Congress gives FDA control over soft drinks” – examiner.cpom – 12 June 2009

THOUGHTS: This is a very disappointing insight on the ethics and morales of big food business in the US. Their leaders might be great people one-on-one, but when they pressure comes on, their companies work together like a pack of rats. Forget what's right, what's healthy, what's good for the customer....just focus on the profit. Smells like a big tobacco's PR team involved here.

KEYWORD: Foof, Beverage, Ethics, Health, Corporate, Packacking, PR

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Robotics: Should war be easy as playing a computer game

Robotics in war is the most important change in major human activity dating back at least 5,000 years, according to P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank and the author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

“Forty-three other countries besides the U.S. build military robots,” he says.  “So you have this just huge... immense growth. The best way to imagine where we're going is to look at what Bill Gates says about robotics" He says, "Robotics are about where computers were in 1980.” 

Warfare goes open source: Just like software, warfare is going open source. That is, we're starting to use more and more systems that are commercial, off-the-shelf -- some of it is even DIY. You can build your own version of the Raven drone, which is a widely used military drone, for about $1,000 dollars. So we have a flattening of the landscape of war and technology that is just like what happened in software. A wide variety of actors can utilize these systems. 

The non-state actors range from Hezbollah to this militia group in Arizona to a bunch of college kids at Swarthmore. It widens the landscape of who can play in war. That's a pretty disturbing factor. One person's hobby -- such as the hobbyist who flew a homemade drone from North America to Great Britain -- can be another person's terrorist strike option.
Source: “Wired For War or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Dystopian SF Movies Inspire our Military Bots” -
 An interview with P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War” – hplus magazine – 20 May 2009

“This is amazing technology,” says Singer, “but it raises disturbing, fascinating questions. On one hand, hundreds of soldiers are alive today thanks to robots. The flip side, however, is that they allow us to use more force with less risk. Eleven out of the top 20 Taliban leaders have been killed by robot drones.” 

But the impetus to create a fully-functional, fully-autonomous robot warrior is a political one. Says Noel Sharkey, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University “Body bags containing real soldiers coming home affect the government electorally,” says Noel Sharkey, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University. “Once you start using robots, you remove this problem.” But do we really want going to war to be as easy, and impersonal, as playing a computer game? And once we have created our indestructible robot armies, will we ever be 100 per cent sure that we can control them?
Source: “March of the terminators” by Gavin Knight – Mail Online – 16 May 2009
THOUGHTS: Very big questions...trouble is I don't see citizens in any country having the opportunity to be part of this ethical debate.

KEYWORDS: Robot, Robot, War, Defence, Conflist, Ethics, Debate, Humanity   

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Emerging global reach and sophistication of video surveillance

A couple of interesting recent insights on the emerging reach and sophistication of video surveillance:

Worldwide surveillance camera shipments growing at 45% per year
In its latest report on surveillance technologies, IDC says rapid advancements in network surveillance technology are shifting the emphasis away from guns, guards, gates, and dogs and placing it on “more sophisticated, scalable security solutions,” which the research firm predicts will see worldwide surveillance/monitoring camera shipments grow from 9.3 million in 2007 to 26.5 million in 2013: an average annual growth of 45.0%.
Source: “Technology taking over from guns, guards, gates & dogs!” – – 24 May 2009

Next generation of camera surveillance will have imbedded intelligence
Bir Bhanu, director of the Center for Research in Intelligent Systems, said the goal is “to understand the interaction of people from video networks, to figure out their intention.” Bhanu foresees a time, possibly within the next decade, when programs analyzing facial identification, emotional expressions, social interactions and contextual anomalies will be able to alert monitors or law enforcement personnel about someone who may be up to no good. He said a computer system could spot “person who brings a briefcase and does not normally carry a briefcase, or a person who is wearing a jacket in Riverside when it's 100 degrees outside. These simple things can be detected.”
Source: “UCR has eye on surveillance technology” – The Press-Enterprise - 27 May 2009

THOUGHTS: How can we be sure that the needs of state and commerce for pervasive video surveillance do not override the individual's right of privacy? These market signals are reminiscent of the themes expressed in that movie The Minority Report.

KEYWORDS: Democracy, Freedom, Surveillance, Video, Artificial Intelligence

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Residential building with segregated trash shutes for recycling

I ran across a really interesting waste recycling innovation reported in the Las Vegas Business Press. The article reported Rita Brandin,  Executive vice president and development director of Newland Communities, as saying: 

“It's not only construction elements but the operational ease you create for tenants to recycle. It's about having healthy living systems. For example, we have designed (in Union Park) a (residential) building with segregated trash chutes, so residents can put wet trash in one and what can be recycled in the other.”

THOUGHTS: What a great idea! We already do this for water and sewage. Separating packaging, household and food waste at source seems an obvious next step, for improving waste recycling efficiency and lowering operating (e.g. transport) costs.  

KEY WORDS: Waste, Recycling, Building, Sustainability