Earth on Fire: The Overheating Planet

Earth on Fire: The Overheating Planet

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The reason some popular posts are tagged ‘no title’ is not because they have no title—they all do—but because the old Blogger embedded the title at the top of text, and the new software does not see that. You can see the titles in capitals at the start of each snippet. (It would be nice if Blogger introduced an upgrade program that could fix this little problem.)

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Saturday, 31 December 2005

BUSINESS PLAN OR PLANET PLAN?

Traditional thinkers, the pointy-headed, the bean-counters, the short-term quarterly-results 'thinkers' insist on what they call a business plan before they will move even the tiniest investment muscle. No one should mock planning, for as King Solomon rightly said, 'Victory is the result of long planning.' But there is planning and planning. The traditional business plans, with their optimistic statements or outright lies, their futile attempts to forecast an uncertain future, their notion that everything will be AOK if it has all been set down in black and white in approved textbook style fit to be perused by approved textbook bankers, venture-capitalists or vulture-capitalists, is a notion way out of kilter with reality. Even the textbook method admits that the 'business plan' has to be continually updated. If that is so, why spend six months translating your common-sense, doable, detailed plan of action into Bean-Counter-speak? Only to have to redo it every five minutes?

It is that kind of thinking, that emphasis on BC-speak to the exclusion of all else, which has got us into this global mess. What we need now, first and foremost--what we have always needed--is a planet plan. Is the proposed business good for the planet, and how do you intend making it a better place? The rest is just getting the message out to the people and simple arithmetic. Making a big mystery out of it, and insisting on a certain style of presentation, is nothing but a pathetic substitute for thinking, analysis and the ability to judge ideas and people on their merits.

The Romans had a wise saying about people: 'Two men may do the same thing and it is not the same thing.' So look first at the idea. Is it good? No? Stop there. Yes? Good, now look at the person. Is he the right stuff for the idea? Yes? Go with him.

Most of the world will have heard of Peter Jackson, the New Zealand film-maker whose latest creation, the remake of King Kong, is now roaring across the world. The CGI (computer-generated graphics) for his films were done by a New Zealand company called Weta (named after a native New Zealand insect of largish and fearsome aspect).

Back in the early days the founder of Weta needed $5 million to make his dream a reality. He went to the bank. The bank manager wanted a business plan. The Weta man, who as it happened had gone to school with him, said 'You know I hate business plans.' So the bank manager, instead of flinging him out the door on his non-business-plan head, said, 'OK, let's go for a walk.' As they walked and talked he saw that the Weta man knew what he wanted and how to get there. He had the brain, the skill, the passion, the drive. So the wise young banker said, 'You have your $5 million.' The superlative results you can now see on screens all over the world.

No 'business plan.' But he knew what to do. Too many business plans disguise a lack of ability, imagination, drive, passion, enthusiasm, skill. His real plan was where it counted: in his head and his heart. What was on paper would not have meant anything to a bean-counter. Please, please, look to the man, not the paper.

And look, in particular, at how the man looks at the planet you live on. If you are wise, you will not hand a cent to someone whose enterprise will wreck the ground under your feet or foul the air you have to breathe seventeen times a minute.

Thursday, 29 December 2005

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE IS HISTORY

And therefore, to quote Henry Ford (sort of), it is also bunk. There are 775 million FFVs (fossil-fuel vehicles) on the planet, aka SMCVs (serial Molotov-cocktail vehicles). We need to replace the whole lot if we are to make a dent in global-overheating and avert the worst of the looming climatic catastrophe. That will take a while. So there is no need for carmakers to carry on another minute with their dishonest practices of making cars out of steel that rusts into dust-piles and deliberately changing design-fashions so that people will want to rush out and buy a new model every year or two.

They can make good, honest products. Cars that last for years and years and years.

Like EStarFuture's EStarCar, which is designed, and will be built, to last. If people really cannot live without a new shape every so often, they can get the old body recycled and a new one fitted to the same chassis; or retire the old one to secondary uses, or sell it on eBay, or put it aside to appreciate in value as a vintage for their grandchildren, or turn it into a hi-tech pad for all the little guys from Alpha Centauri that drop in from time to time.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

IBM, SONY, FCVs AND THE ESTARCAR

Back in 1974 IBM decided to get into the market for telephone exchanges. To achieve that it wanted a computer--'The Telephone Machine'--that could handle 300 calls per second, which needed 12MIPS of processing power (millions of instructions per second). That was then a huge number--IBM's mainframes chugged away at only 2MIPS on a good day. IBM set up a team under Dr John Cocke at its Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in New York, and the result, astonishly (because IBM had never before had the technology to match its brutal marketing muscle), was a world-beating chip, using what we now call RISC technology (Reduced-Instruction-Set Computer). Even in emulation it ran faster than a System 370 mainframe; it zapped along at 4.5-6 MIPS. But IBM then went off the idea of making telephone exhanges, so it stopped calling the chip the Telephone Machine and renamed it the 801, the number on the research team's building.

By 1978 the team had on paper, and could have launched in 1979, a 3MIPS RISC PC. But to their dismay, and fury, IBM cancelled the project. No wonder. That machine would have outrun its mainframes and midrange machines, and thus would have killed its golden goose. The fact that it would have created a platinum goose did not dawn on IBM's purblind bosses. One person, Joel Birnbaum, was so angry that he left IBM and went to Hewlett-Packard, which a few years later launched what it called Precision Architecture, later renamed PA-RISC. A 3MIPS IBM PC would have wiped out Apple, DEC, and a heap of other companies. But IBM's hierarchy could not see past the outrageous profits they were making on their mainframe/midrange junk.

Then when that same hierarchy saw that Apple was making zillions out of little machines, then called microcomputers, or micros, because IBM hated seeing someone else making money that it considered its own, they decided to make their own micro. They ignored their world-beating 801 chip, and because they wanted a machine that would not, could not, threaten, their mainframe/midrange empire, they deliberately built what they subsequently called the Personal Computer from off-the-shelf, low-power, third-rate bits. They used a chip made by Intel, the 8086, which was only a tweak or two away from the chip that had been invented by Victor Poor, Harry Pyle and Jonathan Schmidt in 1967 at a Texan company subsequently called Datapoint. Datapoint had given the building of the chip to Intel, which explains why other companies can make clones of x86-based chips: Intel did not invent the thing.

And for an operating system IBM went to a boy called Billy Gates--because the then chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr, knew his mother. Billy Gates had a miniscule company called Microsoft, because it wrote software for microcomputers.

To IBM's astonishment when the little machines were launched in 1981 they took off, but because they were built from other companies' products, other companies could use the same products to make better IBM-compatible PCs than IBM. IBM ended up bleeding multi-billions. It resurrected its RISC technology, but it was too late. The world had run after mediocrity.

I IBM had made and launched its RISC PC in 1978-79 the whole Intel/Microsoft thing would never have happened, and the PCs we would have now would be far ahead of what we do have. The world went after IBM PCs because they had IBM on the front, not because they were good. So the world is being held back to the level of its stupid decision in 1981, a decision built on IBM's stupid, greedy decision in 1978.

Big companies get caught up in their own existence, their lust for good quarterly results, their fear of making a loss, their legacy pension-schemes, their self-induced short-sightedness, etc. They lose sight of the real world, they lose sight of aiming for the best, they make things just good enough to con enough people to keep Wall Stree happy this month. Sooner or later they die, because a small company comes along which sees that what the Big Iron is putting off can be done now.

Big Iron is also lazy and greedy. When Sony launched the first portable CD player it was powered by Motorola's 68000 chip. Why not the 68003, which was then the latest version? Because the thing had been born in the Sony's labs about ten years earlier--and if you launch on old technology you then have an easy, cheap upgrade path, and you can keep making the old products obsolete and thus making zillions out the poor suckers who trail along after you buying new models every year or so.

Which is all a roundabout way of leading up to the EStarCar. A fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) can be built now. The Big Iron carmakers pretend it can't, but it can. All the necessary bits and pieces can be bought off the shelf, from here there and everywhere. So watch for an Apple, a small unknown that zooms past the Big Iron, look for a small Walter-Raleigh type of ship that sails nonchalant rings round the big, unweildy Armada monoliths.

Which is exactly what EStarFuture intends being. It has the designs, the mockups, the passion and a vast amount of research under its belt. It lacks only the dollars, which is why it has gone to the people of the planet, because it is their future that is being maimed and broken by the Big Iron carmakers for the sake of corporate bottom lines and blind greed.

Friday, 23 December 2005

A NIGHTMARE OF A BLACK CHRISTMAS

The 2006th Christmas is about to dawn (2005 plus the first one), and still nothing has been done about the ineluctable advance of global-overheating. It is as if people have decided that they want its lethal consequences.

The oil companies are still looking for lakes of black stuff of the liquid kind, black stuff of the solid kind is still being mined in vast quantities, countries are still so looney that they reckon their material wealth on both, long pipelines are still being built here there and everwhere, 775 million machines powered by serial Molotov Cocktails are still being driven about fouling the air on the only planet we can live on in the entire univers... and so on and so on and so on.

The crooner's dream of a white Christmas will become a distant memory as rising temperatures make snow less and less likely anywhere. The skies will grow ever fouler, and ever more likely to erupt with extreme weather.

But, in spite of that, have a merry and blessed Christmas wherever you are, and a happy New Year. Preferably a year in which you do what you can in your small corner to help this tired old globe and its self-beleagured inhabitants.

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

WHICH FUEL-CELL?

If you are going to buy a fuel-cell, or and FCV, or set your company on a course to use the technology, a PEMFC is the leading type, for very good reasons. Your first question when deciding which PEMFC to go with is 'What are its bipolar plates are made of?'

If the answer is 'graphite', stop talking to that supplier. Graphite plates will most definitely not win the day in fuel-cell technology. Any company making them or using them is going down a technological and financial cul-de-sac, flying into a commercial black hole.

If the answer is 'metal', carry on. Metal plates are cheaper, very much easier to mass-produce, tougher, easier to keep cool, etc. They beat graphite hands down.

Next determine efficiency, the efficiency of output, the efficiency of the cooling and humidification systems, the lifetime of the PEMs (proton-exchange membranes), the output in kW per litre, etc. Cost is the last consideration, and a comparatively minor one, because technical superiority will inevitably result in the best price. Even if the product were the most expensive at the start that disadvantage would not last.

Friday, 9 December 2005

TEN YEARS TO CERTAIN DOOM

Which is a headline that sounds like the cry of some nutter leading his accolytes up a mountain to contemplate the fluff in their navels and wait for The End. But the sentiment comes from the scientist who discovered 'global-warming' (better called global-overheating) back in the 1970s. A radio report has just quoted him as saying that if we get a one-degree rise in the average global temperature in the next decade, irreparable harm will have been done to the planet (sadly, his name escaped a Google News search). Which is a nice way of saying that we have passed the point of no return, because human beings are obviously not going to kick their deep-seated addiction to the Black Stuff in less than ten years.

His sentiments are echoed by the Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, Professor James Speth, who was reported at this site, which might be a bit hard to get into (you might have to click Refresh a few times to kick it into gear). Dr Speth says we cannot now escape negative global consequences. The best we can hope for is to ward off catastrophe.

Meanwhile, one of the Biggies from the Black Stuff, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, Claude Mandil, has just the world that we cannot expect to have more than 30% of the world's vehicles running on hydrogen by 2050--a 30% that is predicted to be 700 million, which would mean that there would be twice as many ICVs on the roads as there are now. Just what we wanted. More of those damned things. The present 775 million have killed the planet. Twice as many does not bear thinking about.

Here is the full article on Mr Mandil's vested-interest prognosis.

Also from the Black Stuff vested interests, on the 2nd of September 2004, Niel Golightly, director of environmental strategies for Ford Motor Company, told USA Today, "Clearly, the entire industry could build nothing but zero emissions cars today if it wanted to." so the whole world is forced to go heavily.

Underlining the planet's peril, and the fact that although computer modelling of climate-change is dire it underestimates the speed at which things are going pear-shaped, is this BBC News item. 14 kilometres a year is 1.6 metres an hour, 26mm a minute. You could stand there and watch it moving.

The problem with computer modelling is that although its accuracy has been proved by running the models backwards and comparing their results with historical records, the predictions based on the extrapolations forward take the mid-line. They do not predict the worst possibility, or the most optimistic. They go through the middle. But the readings are tracking along the top. And as the man says, there are things we have not taken into account.

So we are in for a rough ride, and we are going to get to the rough bit far faster than most people think. It is not a question of avoiding it--we have gone to far for that--it is just a question of how bad we are going to make it before we get sane.

Monday, 5 December 2005

NOT ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

Energy from the sun, the wind and the tides is often referred to as 'alternative energy.' The implication is always that it is some kind of fringe alternative to the real energy, the primary energy, the mainstream energy, which is, of course, of oil and coal. It is only some inferior breed of energy, it is 'alternative-lifestyler' energy, it is hippie stuff that serious people look down on (but which we might one day take seriously when we are forced to).

Bunkum. It is the Black Stuff energies that are the alternatives. And very bad ones. So bad that we should never have used them. Real energy, mainstream energy, is clean. The alternatives are therefore dirty and should be looked down on by any human being worthy of the name.

The wise course is always to take the best way as the main way, and label inferior ways as alternatives that we might use at a pinch. With energy we got it back to front.

The real, the main, the primary source of energy was and always will be the sun. Solar power has always powered the earth. Try switching it off with a nuclear winter (the effect of blotting out the sun with a global nuclear war) and see what happens. It is also the power behind all weather-based energy, such as hyro-electric and wind generation.

Saturday, 3 December 2005

BEYOND PETROLEUM!?

BP's greenwashing advertisement in the latest National Geographic highlights this: 'It's time to go on a low-carbon diet.'

Wrong. It's way past time to go on a no-carbon diet. So far past that if we don't go on a negative-carbon diet we shall never get this planet back to being as perfectly balanced for human life as it was before all the Boys from the Black Stuff like BP ever led us astray. But even if we did manage to get into negative-carbon it would take many generations to get 380ppm of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere back down to 280ppm.

BP (which once stood for British Petroleum) stands for Beyond Petroleum. But so far all that has meant is a lot of petroleum and very little of the 'no-carbon'-beyond.