Archive for February, 2011

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved. 


The materials I share in the articles that follow come from the various weekly science and environmental newsletters, both pro or anti any given subject’s focus or technologies, as well as blogs to which I subscribe.

Article selection (my article – my choice} are obviously and admittedly biased by my training, experience and at rare times my emotional and philosophical intuitive views of what works and what will not… But if you have a topic I neglect, send me feedback and I’ll give it a shot.

Since my topic segments are only a partial look at the original article, click on through the provided link if you want more details, as well as <often> other background references on the topic(s).       Doc.

Titles, As Usual, in No Formal Order, The New Snippets

  • Turning Tough Trash Into Food-Friendly Fuel
  • Fool’s Gold Catches Eye Of Solar Energy Researchers
  • Economies Of Scale: The Cost Of Nuclear New Build In America — It not the cost of the first one that ultimately counts.
  • Potholes On The Road To Renewable Fuels — Corn-kernel-based ethanol hits the fast lane, but cellulosic ethanol is still mostly stuck in first gear
  • Strip Search: How Safe are Airports’ New X-ray Scanners?
  • “Cheap energy”: Could natural gas be stepping on the renewable sector’s toes?

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Turning Tough Trash Into Food-Friendly Fuel

Researchers are making steps toward producing biofuels from the abundant plant materials we don’t eat.

In her search for a better way to put fuel in your tank, biological engineer Ratna Sharma-Shivappa is working on a chemical juggling act: She is trying to break down the problematic woody material in grasses without harming the energy-containing carbohydrates that the plants also contain. If she can perfect the process, it could lead to inexpensive biofuels that are made from inedible crops—not from corn like most of today’s ethanol.

If scalable this would likely eliminate or drastically reduce the difficult and highly politically driven choice of using based corn based ethanol for fuel, rather then feeding the worlds hungry. Once again Americas factory farm supported farm lobbies, has convinced the DOE and EPA to increase the allowable ethanol in our gasoline to 15%, engine corrosion problems not withstanding. This time against will of the automotive industry. There’s also the now demonstrated fact that corn based ethanol is, based on life cycle carbon releases, a negative pollution control force  – Growing corn releases more greenhouse gases than adding ethanol to fuel saves. Indeed the effect of switching to more corn ethanol in fuel does little except to line the pockets of ‘big’ agriculture and funding farm state politicians.

By exposing ground-up miscanthus grass (a relative of sugarcane) to ozone gas, Sharma-Shivappa and her colleagues at North Carolina State University were able to break down the tough structural molecule called lignin, allowing them to access the valuable carbohydrates without degrading them. Enzymes then split the carbs into sugars, which are fermented to make ethanol. Although ozone is pricey, the technique works at room temperature and does not require high pressure; advantages that Sharma-Shivappa believes will help keep it cost-effective. Next she will test the ozone treatment on other potential biofuel plants. “This should be applicable to most lignin crops,” such as switch grass, she says. There’s a bit more about alternatives to ozonization, in the linked article.

Doc Sez, that this is broader than just miscanthus grass, since it might also be applicable to the Brazilian sugar cane residues (biomass), as an alterative to the caustic treatment and or possible enzymatic processing now under study.

Article by Valerie Ross, Discover Magazine, December 2010 issue

Added Reading

Fermenting Cane Biomass to Fuel in Brazil

Ethanol Production Via Enzymatic Hydrolysis Of Sugar-Cane Bagasse And Straw In Brazil

Cellulosic Ethanol – Wikipedia, 2011

Is Ethanol Really More Eco-Friendly Than Gas?

Ethanol, Schmethanol, The Economist, September 2007

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Fool’s Gold Catches Eye Of Solar Energy Researchers


  • There are several issues related to the technology on which solar energy is based but in one word they relate to competitive and unsubsidized cost. Three examples
    Cost of the semiconductors used to make solar cells
  • Cost of solar energy compared to that from natural gas, nuclear of course coal
  • Finding low cost storage to allow solar energy to meet our industrial and urban base load requirements.

An improvement in any of these areas gets us closer to use of the sun to generate electricity on a real world competitive basis. Yes readers, I do understand that some of the competition becomes more fair to Solar should the governments of this world adopt either a carbon tax or better yet change the focus of bested interests as discussed in a recent article in the January 2011 Economist.  Another alternative being talked about is Lowering Income Taxes While Raising Pollution Taxes Reaps Great Returns published in the sustainability blog, in April 2010.

Iron pyrite – also known as fool’s gold – may be worthless to treasure hunters, but it could become a bonanza to the solar industry. The mineral, among the most abundant in the earth’s crust, is usually discarded by coal miners or sold as nuggets in novelty stores.

But researchers at the University of California-Irvine said they could soon turn fool’s gold into a cheaper alternative to the rare and expensive materials now used in making solar panels. “With alternative energy and climate-change issues, we’re always in a race against time,” said lead researcher Matt Law. “With some insight and a little bit of luck, we could find a good solution with something that’s now disposed of as useless garbage.”

The UC-Irvine team believes the mineral can be processed into a thin film for use in photovoltaic cells, and could eventually convert sunlight into electricity at roughly the same rate as existing technology. Though it’s too early to estimate the cost of cells made with pyrite, Law said they’re likely to be cheaper because fool’s gold is so readily available. A prototype could be ready within the year, but it could be at least three years before the cells are commercially available. Some industry analysts, however, are skeptical that the team – which includes a chemist, a mathematician and a physicist – can hit pay dirt. There’s more… some of it negative by folks with a vested interest in the existing technology.

PhysOrg.Com Blog, January 21st, 2011 (c) 2011, Los Angeles Times

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Economies Of Scale: The Cost Of Nuclear New Build In America

— It not the cost of the first one that ultimately counts.

Article by Jack Craze, Nuclear Energy Insider, November 2010

The cost of nuclear new build is a source of major contention in the US. President Obama’s administration has proposed tripling the size of the loan guarantee program to $56 billion. Industry figures say this is not nearly enough to kick-start the nuclear renaissance, while the general public remains fiercely opposed to anything resembling another federal subsidy package.

The costs of building a nuclear reactor are, in many people’s minds, prohibitively high. In America, a lot of people remember the hundreds of billions of dollars ‘squandered’ on nuclear energy in the 1980s. Others point to the recent price escalation (to around $10 billion) for the Olkiluoto 3 reactor in Finland. And while a record-high 74% of Americans say they support the development of nuclear energy in the US, the upfront costs of construction remain a problem, particularly in the (potential) middle of a recession.

Westinghouse, one of America’s leading commercial nuclear companies, puts the installation costs of one of its 960-megawatt (MW) reactors at $7 billion. This compares to $2.5 billion for a 750 MW coal plant, and $3 billion for a 600 MW hydro plant. “What we have to remember”, observes Dr. Jim Conca, Senior Scientist at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at New Mexico State University, “Is that as you build more reactors, or anything at an engineering scale, the cost comes down. “For example, the South Koreans’ sixth nuclear reactor cost about 40% less than their first. And in China, they’re building nuclear reactors at about $3 billion a unit.

Doc Sez: Look at the projections for the production costs for the new Nissan Leaf. At the initial low production levels the MSRP is $32780, offset by major federal and state subsidies to perhaps as low as $25,280 in some states. In a recent interview Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn noted that he expects to be price competitive without government subsidies when annual Leaf production hits 500,000 units per year (which is down from a previous forecast of 1 million). And that’s without a major break though in battery costs.

True, the Chinese, for now, have low-cost labor which accounts for some of that lower cost, but it does show you that the $7 billion Westinghouse price-tag is a very conservative estimate.”

The article goes on to discuss the role of Federal Loan Guarantees to kick stat initial reactor construction, minor indirect support (e.g., a loan guarantee is not a grant) compared to France, Germany, Korea and Japan who are serious about nuclear energy. It concludes with an overview of trends in Construction, commodities and long-term costs. It makes a good read, check it out.

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Potholes On The Road To Renewable Fuels

— Corn-kernel-based ethanol hits the fast lane, but cellulosic ethanol is still mostly stuck in first gear

Article by Jeff Johnson, September 13, 2010, Chemical and Engineering News

Four years ago, speaking to 1,300 ethanol supporters in the heart of the Corn Belt, then-president George W. Bush gave a rousing speech singing the praises of biofuels, particularly corn-kernel-based ethanol. His speech on the eve of the 2006 congressional elections was music to the ears of the crowd attending the government-organized St. Louis conference, aptly titled “Advancing Renewable Energy: An American Rural Renaissance.”

The president outlined his plan to offer tax credits, subsidies, and federal research support to fuel a drive for ethanol that would move the nation “beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.” He added that cellulosic ethanol made from nonfood sources, waste, and energy crops was“ right around the corner” and would be “practical and competitive within six years.”

Bush’s support for ethanol and his mix of energy, economic, and electoral policies have been continued by President Barack Obama, particularly the push for fuels made from cellulosic feedstocks. Obama’s Departments of Energy and Agriculture have offered billions of dollars to support cellulosic ethanol R&D and bio refinery construction. But despite the money and talk, no commercial cellulosic ethanol biorefinery is operating in the USA today, and the most optimistic cellulosic ethanol boosters acknowledge that commercial-scale production could be years away.

I wonder what the Brazilian’s and apparently the Chinese are doing right?

Meanwhile, in the US, they clamor for additional federal support.

Where have I heard this song before?

The article make good reading, and the folks at the American Chemical Society’s magazine [C&EN} do a credible job of getting their facts straight.

I found the discussion of diverting food, a major international, but not US food staple, of particular concern.

The continued competition between corn for food and corn for fuel worries food and agricultural experts. Cellulosic ethanol was supposed to ease the demand for corn as fuel, but instead, reliance on corn as a gasoline additive has become secure, and now the price of corn is “hooked” to the volatile price of oil, according to Craig Cox, Midwest vice president of Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization. Cox, a former USDA official and congressional staff member, believes that when oil prices rise, they will drive up the price of corn ethanol and consequently the price of corn—with a ripple effect on the cost of grains throughout the world.

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Strip Search: How Safe are Airports’ New X-ray Scanners?

By Alice Park, Time Magazine, October 9, 2010.

Let me start this article by saying tomorrow (February 26th I am flying to Phoenix and expect at lease once on my trip to pass through a set of new scanners. Compared to all the other radiation exposures in my life this risk is a no-brainer. What you ask?

I did part of my undergraduate research near a incompletely shielded cobalt 60 source

  • I lived in Denver for about six year,
  • I was a frequent coast-to-coast flyer in the 1980’s,
  • I had 7-Grey of X-ray radiation treatment for a neck cancer,
  • I live with lousy teeth and so am X-rayed more often than most folks
  • And …have had more than my share of CAT scans.

The only place I didn’t get more than a background radiation dose was working at the US DOE Hanford Nuclear Site for ca. 25 years. Okay, no the article details.

Don’t be surprised if on your next trip to the airport, security personnel tell you to stop and put your arms up. No, you’re not being arrested. You’re being X-rayed from head to toe–or, more accurately, from toe to head.

The latest generation of airport scanners is designed to detect nonmetal weapons such as ceramic knives and explosive devices that can slip past magnetometers. The new machines–135 of them are already in operation, and nearly 1,000 are expected to be in place by the end of 2011–rely on low-intensity radiation that is absorbed a few millimeters into your skin and then reflected back, creating a reasonably accurate contour image of your body and anything else underneath your clothes. When the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began rolling out the so-called backscatter machines in March, the agency, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, assured the public that the radiation dose from a scan was negligible–far lower not only than the amount in a chest X-ray but also than the levels passengers absorb from cosmic rays on a cross-country flight.

The backscatter numbers, however, seemed too good to be true to several scientists, including John Sedat, a biophysics professor at the University of California, San Francisco. After studying the degree of detail obtained in the seconds-long scans, the scientists wondered how the radiation exposure could be so low. The answer, they concluded, lay in how the manufacturer and government officials measured the dose: by averaging the exposure from the beam over the volume of the entire body. This is how scientists measure exposure from medical X-rays, which are designed to zap straight through bone and tissue. But backscatter beams skim the body’s surface. Sedat and his colleagues maintain that if the dose were based only on skin exposure, the result would be 10 to 20 times the manufacturer’s calculations.

That’s a huge difference, but the higher amount, TSA and FDA officials maintain, still falls within the limits of safe radiation exposure. Based on measurements conducted by the FDA as well as by technicians at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere, says the FDA’s Daniel Kassiday, “We are confident that full-body-X-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health.”

Check this out, there’s both a difference of opinion on the use of one type of scanning, one that uses background scatter methods, and other devices being implemented, but the bottom like is the risks to an individual are low. – What these concerned scientists worry about is population dose to the 8,000,000 people worldwide including children who fly each year.  I agree that more studies are needed but unless they in addition to ‘absolute’ risk relate the added risks of malignancy to those from other sources of pollution, this will become another brainless media fest. Meanwhile my grandson who works for the TSA says that at least in Seattle, folks have made very little fuss about the scanners… and after all good news make very poor headlines.

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“Cheap energy”: Could natural gas be stepping on the renewable sector’s toes?

By Heba Hashem, Middle East Correspondent Nuclear Energy Insider, 6 December 2010,

Liquefied gas capacity will shoot up 47% by the end of 2013, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which will threaten investments in the renewables sector.

Although prices of renewable energy are coming down with technology advances, the intermittent nature of the energy production from renewable sources is making natural gas more appealing and investment worthy to companies.

Last month, Qatar’s energy minister said that natural gas would become more desirable than other energy sources, including renewables, which are environmentally promising but remain too expensive.

Wind speed is ideal for operating turbines at the height of around 800 meets, but building a tower that high isn’t feasible. Still, wind energy has a zero marginal cost, and thus can be profitable in the right environment.

Today’s recession dictating future decisions — According to Dr. Ray Perryman, a US- based economist and president of the Perryman Group:  “Wholesale and to some extent retail markets for electricity are becoming less regulated and more competitive over time. When prices rise, the emphasis will shift to renewables”.

“This ebb and flow is the nature of markets, but sophisticated companies are now investing billions of dollars in renewable transmission infrastructure, and new wind and solar manufacturing plants continue to expand”.

Because emerging countries have an accelerating demand for energy, there is going to be high demand for all sources (traditional and renewables). “The recession has interrupted this pattern temporarily, but not fundamentally”.

The golden age of gas may lead to cheaper gas prices for consumers, but it will also result in a rush to build gas-fired power plants at the expense of much cleaner forms of electricity generation. The IEA estimates that 35% of the increase in global gas production to 2035 will come from such unconventional projects.

Moreover, oil giants like Shell and Exxon-Mobil are shifting their business focus and repositioning themselves as gas producers, which Shell is marketing as a cleaner, yet still a CO2 producing, form of energy.

The article continues with an excellent discussion of Shale Gas and the US Market and ends up with a usual question associated with competing energy sources in a changing regulatory environment — Natural gas has crucial role to play, but for how long?

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Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

Sources & Credits: — Many of these items were found by way of the links in the newsletter NewsBridge of ‘articles of interest’ to the national labs library technical and regulatory agency users. NewsBridge is electronically published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, in Richland WA.  If using NewsBridge as a starting point, I follow the provided link to the source of the information and edit its content (mostly by shortening the details) for information for our readers. I also both follow any contained links, where appropriate, in the actual article, and provide you those references as well as those gleaned from a short trip to Google-land. Obviously if my source is a magazine or blog that the material I work with.

In addition, when duplicating materials that I cite, I do not fill the source words with quotation makes, the only place I keep quotes intact is where the original article ‘quotes’ another source external to itself.  Remember, when Doc sticks his two bits in, its in italics and usually indented.

In Closing

I’ll be posting articles for your comfort and anger in the next few months. I never respond to flaming, but will take time to provide evidence in the form of both primary technical and secondary {magazine articles} references for those who ask. However, most of you can reach out and Google such information for your selves.

Readers Please NoteRead about my paradigms views, prejudices and snarky attitudes at:

Furthermore, many of the technologies I share still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable — and if you Google them in detail, you will find studies saying they are capable of being commercialized and often as many other studies that are more skeptical. I find it always appropriate, as I read to step back and WIIFT – No it’s not something new to smoke; just the compulsion to ask what’s in it for them. It’s okay to have a hidden agenda, but agenda’s too hidden discomfort me.

I know, perhaps even truly believe, is this. For green energy related items, if we put a simple price (tax) on carbon (greenhouse gases) and gave out no subsidies, these new technologies would have a better chance to blossom. With American ingenuity, Indian and Chinese too, thousands more ideas would come out of innovators’ garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

Remember, conditions, both technical and geopolitical continuously change – So if you’ve made up your mind about either the best way to go, or about its all a conspiracy, move on to the next article in our blog. Today’s favorite is tomorrow unintended consequence. However, that’s better than sticking one’s head in the sand or believing in perpetual motion. Remember, there’s no free lunch and as a taxpayer and consumer you must always end up paying the piper!

May your world get greener and all creatures on Earth become healthier and more able to fulfill their function in this Gaia’s world.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I have lately been inundated by wind power articles, trying to convince me that (subsidized) wind power for the US, is the next best thing to sliced white bread. One of my thought, ignored by most commentators is that it does mater to me whether I must pay a direct rate increase for alternate energy, or the government sneaks it out of my pocket as a hidden tax, aka subsidy. I object! I get stuck and perhaps suckered either way, which the industry and their political supporters prosper. As Robert Heinlein has coined the SciFi slang terms TANJ and TANSTAAFL. Both speak to my views.

White Bread Analogy — Relative to the white bread, many of us have long been aware that the Wonder’s™ of this world, have profitably convinced several generations of Americans of their products’ worth. We all should eat, so the message goes, this low in nutrition (needs fortification), low fiber, and either sweet or flavorless with no mouth appeal products  ‘tongue” on our innocent advertising is truth addicted public.  The paradigm is slowly changing, check out big store grocery stores and you find much more in the way of whole grain, artisan and other healthier breads… still high carb, but much better tasting and better for you; if using a bread maker does not fit your schedule.

Is the same true of Wind Power? If so where in the US does it make sense? The Europeans once big on wind power that they heavily subsidized it as a silver bullet have now gone off subsidizations. Guess what even in Europe with a closely placed urban friendly grid; orders for Wind turbines have dropped dramatically.

I recently came across two well written and thought provoking articles that naysay the wondrous benefits wind power, which of course motivated this Op-Ed topic. I shall summarize their claims at the end of this article segment.

WIND POWER YES or NO — Questions That Need To be Considered

  • Is Wind Power competitive in your region perhaps because it is easily connected to the local or regional grid?
  • Can a wind power system be developed, in the near future, to provide base load uninterruptable power supply to urban and industrial America?
  • What impact will the cost of wind power have on base regional electrical rates if it is only confined to making up for base-lead shortages? At what unsubsidized cost are any savings that result worth the life cycle cost penalties. (E.g., How Good is Good?)
  • Have much publicized estimated costs/benefits of wind power considered the ecological and greenhouse costs of making, installing and ultimately disposing of the windmills? (E.g., Best estimate ranges of Full Life Cycle Costs. Even the global warming folks do this!)
  • With the major NIMBY response to mostly off shore and also to mountain top turbine farms, are we placing wind farms in locations where the wind blows, sort of, but the distance to the industrial and urban consumer becomes an obstacle to true competitiveness?
  • How do the other environmental side effects ranging from noise pollution to bird kills compare to other energy sources, say natural gas, solar, nuclear (including mini-reactors) and of course oil.
  • How will Windpower fare in the newly developed “Clean Energy Standards” that are being considered as alternatives to both cap-and-trade and a carbon tax.

Note, I left coal out of my list because I don’t believe there will ever be a cost effective politically correct clean way to either use a ‘clean’ coal technology do assure 100,000 year sequestration of the CO2 from coal burning. The numbers I heard bandied about are 5,700 year to assure sequestration safety. Alas I can find no credible analysis or regulatory basis for this number.

The two articles that intrigued me were:

OVERBLOWN: Windpower on the Firing Line (Part I), and0
Oxymoronic Windpower (Part II: Windspeak.)

Both were written by Jon Boone on September 13, 2010 and January 18, 2011 and are posted on the Master Resource the Free Energy Market Blog.

They are a fascinating combination of Boone’s adopted slang from both George Orwell’s’ Movie 1984 and the Harry Potter books, plus. The articles also include a pithy description of the Wind Power industry’s double-speak. The later in typical Madison Avenue style, foisted on the public and brain washed into politicians’ sense of political correctness. Of coursed all is funded by those who would profit, either financially or ideologically, from wind technology.

Although masked sarcasm, that covers sharp and biting analysis, I find Jon Boone’s analysis, replete with credible references, credible and accurate. They substantiate the studies I’ve done, in an area I try to keep up with the ever-evolving factual data. I quote…

Widespread misunderstanding about the difference between energy and power has given cover to the charlatan-like wind lobby, which pretends their wares provide something they do not. We are all familiar with black-white PR jargon that characterizes wind projects as mills, farms, and parks, despite the looming industrial presence of 450-foot tall turbines propelling rotors at tip speeds of nearly 200-mph for many miles along terrain or seabed. But for sheer oxymoronic audacity, nothing beats the trickeration of the term wind power, since the technology is the very antithesis of modern power performance. In fact, wind provides no modern power. Rather, it throws out spasmodic, highly skittering energy that cannot by itself be converted to modern base load power.

Although much of the first article in this series is filled with a general overview about energy and its role in modern society, it is an excellent read, worth your attention. It’s underlying, and accurate premise is that the diffuse nature of wind’s fuel requires (in most locations) continuous supplementation by reliable machines fueled by more energy-dense fuels, as well as virtually dedicated new transmission lines and voltage regulation systems. It’s the kind and scope of activity that must happen to make wind create modern high-density continuous power.

Note: Unlike my usual practice, in this Op-Ed segment, quotes are in italics and my ‘purple prose is in plain or plain blue colored text.

The second article in this series provide details about the wind power industry, their campaign that uses albeit CO2 producing coal as the antithesis “clean” wind power and other madison avenue tactics to create a favorable ‘climate’ for funding wind energy. [Eg. AWEA] despite wind’s low unit availability, and capacity values. White bread anyone?

Here are some factual insights, edited by me for brevity that Boone provides:

1. Despite more than 100,000 huge wind turbines in operation around the world, with about 35,000 in North America, no coal plants have been closed because of wind technology. In fact, many more coal plants are in the offing, both in the US and throughout the world. Moreover, a Colorado energetics company, Bentek, recently published a study about wind in Texas and Colorado showing, in its study areas, that wind volatility caused coal plants to perform more inefficiently, “often resulting in greater SO2, NOx, and CO2 emissions than would have occurred if less wind energy were generated and coal generation was not cycled.” Further examination of fuel use for electricity in both states during the time of inquiry suggested that wind caused no reduction in coal consumption.2. Unpredictable, undispatchable, volatile wind can provide for neither baseload nor peak load situations. It can only be an occasional supplement that itself requires much supplementation. Consequently, as Australian engineer Peter Lang once wrote, since“ wind cannot contribute to the capital investment in generating plants… it’s simply is an additional capital investment.” 

3. Wind technology does NOT represent alternate energy. Since wind cannot provide controllable power and has no capacity value, it cannot be an alternative for machines that do provide controllable power and high capacity value. Wind therefore is incapable of entering into a zero-sum relationship with fossil-fired capacity—that is, more wind, less coal. All other conditions being equal (demand, supply, weather, etc.), more wind generally means more coal.

4. None of the considerable public subsidies for wind, indeed, not even state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) laws, are indexed to measured reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Consequently, there is no transparency or accountability for how wind technology will achieve the goals set forth by those policy initiatives. This means that corporations with a lot of fossil-fired market share to protect have no obligation to replace it with wind. And they don’t. Because they can’t. Freedom from responsibility is a child’s fairy tale dreams come true.

5. The work of a number of independent engineers—Hawkins, Lang, Oswald, Le Pair and De Groot—suggests that even the most effective fossil fuel pairing with wind, natural gas, will very marginally reduce overall natural gas consumption beyond what would occur using only natural gas generators, without any wind whatsoever.

6. Because oil provides barely 1% of the nation’s electricity, wind represents no threat to oil’s market share.

There’s more, my favorite entitled, as you might guess, is a discussion of follow the money… Check out the links and the reference therein.

Feedback of course is always welcome with one proviso: Just the Facts Ma’am by Joe Friday; of Dragnet fame’s so provide references to your counter arguments.

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Sidebar Notes

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles cited or quoted in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledged and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

The author considers, as do many experts, Wikipedia a reliable and accessible site for technical information, provided that the reference cited in the Wikipedia article meets the following standard.

Are the references provided essentially complete or are representative of the literature, and relevant?  Do they include both precedent and present work, including any referenced disagreement with any of the Wiki author’s views?

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

I like using MAMP (Mac Apache MySQL PHP) to develop server-based code when not connected to a test server, and one of my classes in school had several projects where we use PHP and MySQL, so this short piece is on the basics of configuring and using Eclipse Helios to write the PHP code and MAMP to provide server-side functionality on your computer to create a basic PHP application.

  1. Download and install Eclipse for your development platform from here.
  2. Download and install MAMP (or WAMP if you run Windows, LAMP if you run Linux, and SAMP if you run Solaris). You do not need the Pro version of the software.
  3. Start Eclipse, open any perspective and select the ‘Help/Install New Software’ menu option.
  4. In the popup window, there is a field titled ‘Work with:’ – select the drop down list beside it and choose ‘All Available Sites’. Scroll down the list and expand the options for ‘Programming Languages’.
  5. Scroll down the list and click inside the box for the option labeled ‘PHP Development Tools (PDT) SDK Feature’.
  6. Press the ‘Next’ button twice, select the radio button that indicates you accept the license agreements, then press the ‘Finish’ button.
  7. Restart Eclipse with the ‘File/Restart’ menu option.
  8. Open the Mac OSX Applications folder, and then locate and open the MAMP folder. Your next steps are to start and configure MAMP.
  9. Click one time on the MAMP icon.
  10. Click on the ‘Start Servers’ button.
  11. Click on the ‘Preferences’ button.
  12. Check the value of the ‘Start page URL’ – this is the location to store your HTML, PHP, and image files. You need this when you create a new PHP Project in Eclipse. Press the ‘Cancel’ button.
  13. Open the Mac OSX Applications folder, and then locate and open the Eclipse folder.
  14. Click one time on the Eclipse icon to start Eclipse.
  15. You see the preliminary Welcome screen. To close it, press the close button beside the Welcome tab in the far, upper left area of the screen.
  16. Select the ‘Window/Open Perspective/Other…’ menu option to select the PHP perspective.
  17. Select the ‘File/New/PHP Project’ menu option.
  18. Enter a project name, but this is where you deviate from typical Eclipse project setup. Select the radio button beside ‘Create project at existing location’ and browse to the ‘Start Page URL’ directory (see step 12) and use this as the location for your PHP project.
  19. Select ‘File/New/PHP page’.
  20. For a simple hello world application, enter this code:
  21. Save the file with a name of ‘hello.php’ using Eclipse.
  22. Open your browser and use this as the URL for your simple PHP web page:

NOTE: WAMP users do not need to have the :8888 portion of the URL. They use http://localhost/hello.php.

You should now see Hello World in your browser. Pretty simple to create new PHP applications after you install and configure your environment. The only thing to watch is setting the location for your Eclipse PHP source code so MAMP’s Apache engine knows where to find it.

An excellent source of PHP information is They have documentation that can be read online as well as downloaded.

1/21/2012 Update: Added label for radio button in step 18, per comment from Stephen.
11/8/2011 Update: Added sentence to intro paragraph, change hello/php to hello.php in the Note.
3/11/2011 Update: Added WAMP information in the Note below step 22 of this process.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

The US space program had good news today (February 24, 2011). NASA successfully launched Discovery for its final flight (STS-133), which is a trip to the International Space Station (ISS). A great video of the launch from NASA can be seen here, which shows the take and the separation of the solid fuel boosters when the shuttle is 29 miles from NASA at a height of 24 miles. Wow! I wish that our Piper Arrow had that kind of acceleration and ceiling…

Image credit: NASA TV


Photo credit: NASA

The crew of Discovery is shown to the right, with NASA astronauts Steve Lindsey (center right) and Eric Boe (center left), commander and pilot, respectively; along with astronauts (from the left) Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen, all mission specialists.names listed below (thank you for the picture, NASA).

A successful launch is always good news, but this is a bitter sweet moment for fans of the space program. The Space Shuttle era is coming to a close in 2011. After today, depending on funding from Congress, there will only be one or two more Shuttle flights this year, then the US Shuttle fleet will be retired.

For a real treat, watch this video.

The Hubble Space Telescope

I’ve followed nearly every launch since STS-1, and my favorites involve the Hubble Space Telescope. The initial plans called for launching the Hubble in 1986, however the destruction of the Challenger delayed the launch until 1990, when Shuttle Discovery carried and launched it on mission STS-31.

There were problems with the Hubble mirror, so another visit was necessary to effect repairs. Space Shuttle Endeavour’s STS- 61 mission was to repair the Hubble, and it was a huge success. The astronauts successfully retrieved, repaired, and redeployed the Hubble, and the before and after images from the Hubble are remarkable. Since the repair, the Hubble has contributed a great deal to new images of the planets and stars in the sky.

There have been four other missions to repair or upgrade the Hubble to prolong it’s effective use exploring the wonders of the universe. The other Hubble shuttle missions were:

  • Shuttle Discovery – STS-82 in Feb, 1997
  • Shuttle Discovery – STS-103 in Dec, 1999
  • Shuttle Columbia – STS-109 in March, 2002
  • Shuttle Atlantis – STS-125 in May, 2009

The Hubble will continue to provide valuable images of the skies for years to come, however it too will be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope, expected to be launched in 2014.

This is not the end of US flight, as there are private firms like Space X and Virgin Galactic that are working on vehicles capable of delivering people and supplies to the ISS in low earth orbit. There are other space agencies like the the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) that have sent missions to the ISS. The Russian agency will be the primary agency providing Soyez capsules to deliver and retrieve people in the near future.

It will be awhile before the next generation of US space crafts are ready, so it will be a time to watch the efforts of others – in the private sector as well as other nations. Hopefully we will live to see missions to establish bases on our moon and on Mars, which will be as awesome as our first missions to the moon in the 1960s and 70s.

UPDATE (Monday, 3/7/2011)

Shuttle Discovery decoupled from the ISS this morning at 6AM CST and is headed back to earth. The Shuttle will orbit earth in the vicinity of the ISS for the next 2 days, then re-enter the atmosphere and land on Wednesday. This marks the last time Discovery will visit the ISS.

UPDATE (Wednesday, 3/9/2011)

Shuttle Discovery begins mission orbit number 202, which is her final earth orbit, at 9:01AM CST. The 2 minute de-orbit burn began while the Discovery was over India, traveling at Mach 25. The landing was at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 10:57AM CST today, which was the last of the 39 missions flown in this Shuttle. It is great this Shuttle did so well so many times, yet this was the last time that ship will fly and that is sad indeed.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Python is a good programming language for web developers, and I enjoyed my first experience with it. Our web development class was given a simple python web server and some HTML files and told to extend both to render images. Since I had not used it, I first spent time tracking down python information: where to get it, how to install it, and how to develop using it.

There were online sources for it, but I was pleased to discover that Apple ships python on Macs. My 1 yr old 2.26 GHz dual core Macbook has Python 2.6.1, so no download was necessary. I found some information on the internet with the command line syntax for starting python so I decided to use a Terminal to launch python, edit the python server source files and HTML files with TextWrangler, and view the HTML with FireFox.

Getting Started With Python

This is the process I followed:

Python running on port 9000

1. Put the python server code and HTML files in a folder on the computer. I created a python folder in my user directory (eg. /mikehubbartt/python/).

2. Start the Mac OSX Terminal.

3. Use cd <dir> to change to the directory with the python server code and HTML files.

4. At the Terminal, enter ‘python <> and press the Return/Enter key. The python server is now running, using the port specified by ‘PORT_NUMBER = ‘ in the python server source code.

5. Use the browser to access the main HTML file (index.html) via the python web server, using this syntax:


NOTE: You append the port number to localhost in the URL, which is specified in the file to be able to access the content via a web browser. If you specify a different port number, make sure you use that port when accessing content.

6. Now you see the first file with your web browser, and the Terminal content will now change as you select links on the web pages (see my second screen shot at the right for an example – I’ve clicked good and bad links to show the error messages seen at the Terminal).

The next steps to modify the server source code and HTML source files (I used TextWrangler, but any other program is fine – it is preference of the developer) are project specific, so I won’t spoil it for you by giving the exact steps, although I will give some tips.

Python Tips

Tip 1. Any changes to the python server code require modifying the source code, stopping the server, then restarting the server. The way to stop the python server is to select the terminal window and then press control-c. Making any desired changes to the python source code and save the changes, then switch back to the Terminal and press the up arrow key on the keyboard to retrieve the previous Terminal command and then press the Return/Enter key to restart the python server.

Tip 2. Any changes to the HTML files is seen after changing and saving those files, then refreshing the browser, unless the python server code is causing the problem.

Tip 3. When given any partial source code, look at the existing code and see if there are existing elements that could be used in conjunction with a programming language reference to provide similar functionality.

Tip 4. Remember that you can send images and text as well as HTML pages to a web browser, without needing to embed the text and image in an HTML file with a python web server.

Tip 5. When links are clicked in the HTML files, that header information is reflected in the terminal window, so it is helpful to have the editor, browser, and terminal window accessible at the same screen. Use the Terminal information to help track down and debug your code.

Tip 6. Do NOT run the python server in more than 1 Terminal at a time.

Tip 7. Always terminate the python server with control-c before closing the Terminal window.

Tip 8. Make sure you have images in some of the HTML files, so you can see how that header information differs from HTML files just containing text.

Tip 9. Locate and print a handy python quick reference guide. Also locate and bookmark good URLs like the official python programming language site.

Tip 10. Play with it. It takes remarkably few lines of source code to create a python web server, and it is a fun language to use.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

I had one interview a couple of years ago where an interviewer Googled me and found a review I wrote about ColdFusion. Half way through the interview (after explaining his company used software that was way beyond support by the original vendor), he read a couple of paragraphs from my ColdFusion review – this is what I wrote (and he read to me):

Like many Consultants, I’ve worked at a wide variety of clients during my career. Some clients used cutting edge technology that met or exceeded their business needs, and the greatest challenge with those projects was either company politics or getting approval for the hardware needed for the applications. While tough, the technology was interesting and those are usually the most fun places to work.

Then there are clients that choose to limp along on some underpowered and inappropriate tool or deprecated programming language written many years earlier that miraculously works because of constant nursing and continuous patching by some tired and unappreciated developer. Those companies rarely understand the costs of moving to modern technology and it is a frustrating situation for any developer to deal with, but unfortunately this is experienced far too often in the business world.

After reading my comments, he asked why I’d want to work for his company since they use old, unsupported software. I said I stood by my comments because developers prefer to work with technologies that are at least supported by the vendors, and that using something so old that it required an old, unsupported version of operating system was dangerous. Would that mean I didn’t want to work with his product? No. But I did feel (and suggested) he move forward to a modern version of the application and a modern version of operating system still supported by the vendor.

Why is this relevant? My review appeared in a magazine in the UK 1.5 years before I was interviewed, and when I wrote it I didn’t think future employers would be interested in tracking down everything I’ve written. I have published a lot of pieces in print and online publications, so there are many places for people to look if they really want to see my style and opinions, but it still took me unaware during the interview.

In current times, we have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and other social media sites where people can and do vent about life, work, and personal situations. Now companies have caught up with the widespread use of social media, so it is important to be aware that more than your intended audience may read what you write, and that could affect current or future job opportunities.

Last night, we met for our second Advanced Web Application Development class and one of the students gave a talk on social media and how it is perceived by companies. His presentation highlighted the facts that employers are aware when employees make negative comments about the company or their bosses, and they can legally do something about it. Recently I spoken with recruiters that advised I remove any negative remarks from any Facebook, Tweeter, LinkedIn or blog entries, as they see more and more companies pre-screening applicants. I was told there are now powerful tools employers use to search for social media content, and they are interested in the way people act and speak around their friends.

Today I received an email from a consulting company that addresses Social Media and want to share it with you, as it is very good and quite appropriate for employed and unemployed workers. Click here to access and download the PDF. This presentation is excellent and well worth the time to read.

You lose control of content distribution when you publish something on the internet. While searching for myself, I’ve come across things I wrote for print magazines in the late 80s, which is ‘way before the internet. If you wrote for a print magazine, someone may like it enough to scan in and post for others to see, so please be careful what you write.

– Mike

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.


As you have probably gathered, I really enjoy astronomy. I like looking at objects in deep space, gazing at the moon and the planets of our solar system, and sometimes even enjoying a glimpse of a comet. I enjoy using my telescope but often, at my home in New England, the skies are overcast, or the weather is rotten. (Especially this current winter with record amounts of snow fall.) So what does one do to enjoy a little astronomy when the sky doesn’t cooperate? Find an alternative, I say. This is easy for Starry Night users, who can look at the LiveSky menu and select ‘Online Telescope Imaging…’  which opens a browser window to access a site called SLOOH.

SLOOH the Site

Several years ago, I learned about The name SLOOH is a play on the word slew, which in Astronomy circles to slew a telescope is to move it’s position. What offers is access to large 20” telescopes, via the Internet. The telescope is controlled remotely and moved through a series of targets as the night moves on. The scope stays with each object for a period of time, giving the camera time to collect and even color the light, producing beautiful images.

SLOOH the Software

The SLOOH interface is the user’s window to what the telescope sees. You can watch as the image develops on your screen. Starting with a monochrome, then watch the colors revealed as various filters are applied. You can capture up to three images any time during the exposure, you select when. One of my favorite tricks is to make an image before the colors start, and one just before the end of the exposure. This gives a great comparison of  naked eye viewing versus a time exposure.

Granted, you are not specifically in control of where the telescope points, or how long the exposures are, but a great many of the objects available to see based on the time of year  are on the list. Also, don’t forget, two very important aspects of this telescope: It is large (20” reflector) and the position of the telescope.

When SLOOH started, there was one telescope on a mountain in the Canary Islands, which is close to the equator. This means that it can “see” most of the sky, north and south. Within the past year, SLOOH has added two more telescopes, one in the mountains of Chili and one in Australia. (They recently shutdown the Australia site because the weather conditions there we rarely good and they weren’t getting much use of the telescope.) With telescopes in these various locations, a member has the potential of being able to see any part of the sky.

After you log into your SLOOH account, you are then taken to the “Launch Pad” which gives you access to various features of the site. In addition to the three telescopes, there is a link to the images you have downloaded, banners telling you of “radio shows” the site provides, access to reservation of time slots, as well as a brief list of what is currently being looked at as well as what the next few targets are.

From the launch pad, you can choose which telescope you would like to see, providing that telescope if currently on line. Once you choose a telescope, a new window opens which is your window to accessing the telescope view and information about what is on the screen. This window provides your view of what the telescope is seeing as well as a lot of other information. Take a look at my screen shot.

First of all there is a big circular area which displays what the telescope camera is seeing. As the exposure continues, you watch see it change in this window. A button near the bottom of this circular area shifts the camera view into full screen. To the right of the circular view area there are three buttons that control the view you see. There are three possibilities, High Mag, which gives a view using the maximum magnification, Wide field shows the image in a wider field and with less magnification. (Note that some objects do not use the high magnification, because it wouldn’t make any sense. Looking at a small corner of a large object wouldn’t be of much use). The last view is “all sky”, which is essentially what you would see if you just looked out of the telescopes dome.

The left hand side of the window is the information area. There are several choices of information and settings to choose from. The default is “Mission data”, which offers information about the object currently being viewed. The other tabs provide other features, for instance, you can tune the program to your system and display, check the weather conditions at the dome, or get some help. When there is a radio event on there is usually a chat channel open for members to ask questions/make comments during the show. You can digitally enlarge an image, see how long the current exposure is and how much time is remaining, and more.

SLOOH has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and interacts with Google Earth. There is also a forum to participate in if you like that. With Google earth, you can share your images of the universe with the Google earth (universe view) site. It’s a cool way to share your work!

One feature, I haven’t tried personally, is the ability to schedule a time slot to view coordinates that you are interested in. There are three options for selecting a target, choose from a list of objects, choose by using a catalog number, or enter the coordinates of an object or area of space you are interested in. The schedule window shows slots for the current week. So to schedule the telescope you choose an object and an available time slot. Just be sure that you will be able to view the scope when your time arrives! Otherwise, you will miss the view.

While looking at a live computer image of what the telescope can see isn’t as exciting as looking through one’s own telescope in the backyard, it is very nice. The images that you capture are tagged and dated, then stored for your later perusal or downloading.

The SLOOH site organizes the images you have captured for easy retrieval. The images are organized by category such as Solar System, Globular Clusters, various types of galaxies, and more. When you select a type, you are presented with a list of objects of that type, each object in the list also indicates how many images of that object you have collected. It also tells you the time and date of the most recent image. If you click on a specific object, you are shown a list of your images. Here you can enjoy looking at your images or download them for better processing. As with any astrophotography image, a little digital darkroom works can go a long way! You can also delete images you don’t like.

Besides downloading the image, you can share the image with your friends. SLOOH provides easy links to many different social networking sites.  Images have a SLOOH logo on them, so they get credit for the image, but they are your images to work with. Being a Mac guy, I collect and process my favorite images and have made a photo slide show of them. Mostly I use my favorites for backgrounds on my desktop and as a screen saver.

There are two basic plans for buying into SLOOH. First there is the “Commander Membership”. With this membership you pay an annual fee and can log in and view any of the scopes any time they are up and running. You also have a fair amount of personal scheduling time (When I started years ago the membership included so many minutes of scheduling time, currently it appears that, as long as things aren’t busy, you can use more time. The Commander fee is $50 a year, but I noticed that sells it for a discount.

The other method is called a Credit Membership. In this plan you buy an amount of credits which can be used anytime you log in. When you use them up, you can buy more credits. You can buy credits along with activity books and other things from various retailers. SLOOH links directly to as their retailer, but I have seen the packages at other locations.

I have been a member of SLOOH for several years. My activity varies, but when I have a bit of free time I like to log in and see what’s on the display. As with any telescope, weather conditions can be an issue. Cloudy skies, a full moon, and other factors can make the telescope unavailable. Sometimes the images are spectacular and at other times they are terrible. But this is typical for astrophotography. The radio shows have come and gone over the years I have been a member. It’s great listening to an astronomer (amateur or professional), as they share their insights and thoughts about astronomy.

I truly enjoy this site and the services they provide. I intend to remain a member as long as I am able. I really enjoy this site and have a great time watching the sky through their telescopes. If you want my advice, I’d encourage you to visit SLOOH’s site and see what they have to offer.