Monday, October 31, 2005


Light Posting Ahead

I'm a little busy right now, so posting may be lighter than usual.

Now would be a good time to have a look through the links on the left, or browse the archives. If you haven't seen it yet, then it's new to you. :)

Thursday, October 27, 2005


COTs, BATTs, and FFRs

The 12th Carnival of Tomorrow is out.

Futurists may also want to check out The Speculist's posts "Better All The Time #23" and "FastForward Radio #6".

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


How to Get No Useful Information

So, the American Society for Civil Engineers reports that America needs to spend a lot more money on Civil Engineering projects...

I notice my barber always thinks I need a haircut, too.

That doesn't mean I sometimes don't sometimes need a haircut, but it does mean that asking my barber doesn't get me any useful information about the real status of my hair. I suspect the ASCE report card may be a similar situation.

The next thing you know the teacher's unions will say we need to spend more money on schools and police associations will say we need to spend more money on law enforcement.


Freedom, Religous Faith, and The Singularity

In one of his essays C.S. Lewis talked about how religion affects people’s perceptions of political issues. (BTW, I don’t have the reference because I loaned my C.S. Lewis collection out. If anyone can send me the citation I’d appreciate it. If wish sometimes that I had thought to buy two copies of all my books, or at least the ones by great authors like C.S. Lewis and Alan Moore, so that I could have one to loan and one jealously guard.) For atheists, like commies or watermelons, the length of a human life is short relative to the potentially centuries long existence of The State. It makes sense then that human life (as long as it is someone else) should be considered to be of small value compared to the value of a long-lived and continent-spanning State. So atheists have little problem sacrificing lots of people to build their dream government. Presumably you could say the same thing about pagans (real greens) and “Mother Earth.” They don’t mind if a few million brown people die sooner as long as Gaia isn’t desecrated by evil chemicals like DDT. Christians, on the other hand, view the human soul as potentially eternal and people as being not just smart animals but special creations of God made in His image. Compared to even one human soul, Earthly governments are short lived and inconsequential things. He thought that it made sense for Christians to value individual people in general (and their religious freedom especially*) over the value of a mere government program or agency, and that therefore Christians would prefer governments that would not intrude on the liberty of the individual citizen. Atheists would gravitate toward powerful and ‘impressive’ governments where their personal ideology might live for centuries even if they can’t. I apologize if I have butchered Lewis’s arguments, but as I mentioned I have to write this from memory alone.

With the radical advances in medicine and biology going on right now and the tremendous amount of resources (both their own and whatever they can steal from anyone else) that the self-absorbed “me generation” will no doubt pour into life extension research to postpone their inevitable demise we may be on the verge of seeing a huge increase in the average lifespan. There are serious efforts underway to understand and “cure” the causes of aging, and if we can ever get to the point where we extend the human lifespan at least one more year every year then we will have achieved practical near-immortality (though accidents would still kill people). Once the human lifespan becomes measured in centuries, then the life expectancy of governments and empires** will not only seem short relative to our immortal soul but also relative to our physical bodies. No longer would one have to believe in an afterlife to think that governments lived and died in the blink of an eye compared with human beings. Any atheist could look at the marvel of future medicine and realize that he could easily live longer than the 5 centuries allotted to the Roman Republic. It would not be an unreasonable assumption therefore that he might also outlive our own Republic (which is already over 2 centuries old) and perhaps even whatever comes after. Does this mean that radical life extension would lead to less statist philosophies in the developed world and renewed emphasis on each individual's liberties? Maybe. I hope so.

Or perhaps the pendulum of political philosophy will swing the other way. It is not unreasonable to assume that these life extending medical technologies will be developed in the United States where the private medical businesses could make a lot of money selling them to the aforementioned terrified aging baby-boomers. It is also reasonable to expect that initial life extension technology will be expensive. Market forces could make it cheaper (though that would require market forces to be operating effectively, which would assume that they are elective procedures like plastic or vision correction surgery) but for old people who are afraid of death that may seem too long of a wait. There would be a great temptation to use socialism to make the life extending treatments available to all politically powerful groups (like retirees) regardless of the cost to anyone else. Trotsky supposedly said of communism that:

"In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: Who does not work does not eat, has been replaced by a new one: Who does not obey shall not eat."

In a state with both socialized medicine and potentially unlimited life-extension medical technology that principle could change to “Who obeys shall live forever.” The politically powerful in all nations would want this technology for themselves; intellectually property rights be damned, we’re talking virtual immortality here. No doubt they would use the promise of near eternal life here on Earth as a tremendous incentive to ensure loyalty in their subjects. Once disease and old age are conquered, accidents and crime would become the main fears and even a historically democratic society could be strongly tempted to give up liberties if they think that a more regulated society would also be safer. And who would risk losing their Earthly medical immortality by angering the government that runs the hospitals? In the past people might have the courage to rebel against their government since their life was probably going to be difficult and short anyway, but if you could live a few thousand years as long as you did not anger the government then there would be a very, very strong temptation to respond to injustices by just keeping quiet and hoping that they will go away in a century or two. Who could bring themselves to rebel against tyranny or injustice if it meant throwing away millennia of Earthly pleasures and luxury? Devout Christians, Muslims, and Jews… that’s who. What do they care that the government can deny them perhaps thousands of years of physical life if they believe both that their soul will live eternally anyway in a much better place than even the most decadent Las Vegas junket and that doing the right thing (id est that which pleases God) is infinitely more important than doing what merely pleases a government agency or politician.

Perhaps the trend for future societies will also be for freedom to be most likely in countries with largely devout*** populations. As a result of the threat to both tyrants and meddlesome bureaucrats of people who take their religion seriously there would, of course, be a considerable campaign by “reasonable people” to try to dilute, moderate, or emasculate any religious groups that considered principles of right and wrong to be more important than safety, security, and “getting along”… not unlike we are already trying to do to “domesticate” the radical Islam meme and leftists have been doing to modernist or progressive Christian denominations for decades.

* C.S. Lewis wasn’t much for the idea of using gov’t to compel people to not sin, since taking away people’s ability to choose also takes away the virtue of voluntarily turning your back on sin.
** Of course some governments are already too short lived to compare with even current Earthly human lifespans. Surely there were some long-lived people who were born before the Soviet Empire and lived to see its downfall. What is France on their 5th or 6th republic now?
*** Which is not to say that all devout populations would be free, since not all believers share the philosophy that when good acts are compulsory they cease to be moral. One only has to look at much of the Islamic world to see a ready counter-example. Some religious groups might also prefer to retreat from worldly concerns so much that Earthly injustices are viewed as being at least as inconsequential as Earthly mortality.

Update: Yes, I realize I misspelled "religious" in the title, but if I change the spelling now then it will break the permalink.
Update 2: Welcome Carnival goers. I encourage everyone to look around the blog at other posts. Some that you might find especially interesting are "The Future of Candy", "Educational Films...", and "The Japanese/French Son of Concorde...".

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Online Movie Recommendations 11

Anyone who has played the videogame Halo should recognize the environment from this week's online movie recommendation.

It is the 1st episode of the series Red vs. Blue by the creative geniuses at RoosterTeeth Productions:

If you liked it you can download the next episodes here and here or use the search function to find other episodes using the string "red vs blue: episode " and then the appropriate number.

Monday, October 24, 2005


U.S. gets customized stamps too

I mentioned earlier that Canadians could make custom stamps for themselves. Now the U.S. Postal Service offers custom stamps too. As postage for my Christmas cards this year I think I'll create my own "great bloggers series" of stamps to commemorate myself.

If I really want to seem famous though I'll need some custom PEZ dispensers made with my own likeness on them.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Oct. 25th is St. Crispin's Day.

Don't forget to celebrate. You don't have to be a papist to consider the day special. On Oct. 25th 1415 the English defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt.

King Henry V of England's speech on the eve of battle was portrayed* by Shakespeare thus:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian":
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

*Of course if I were a newspaper with a quote that good, I'd probably claim it was real. But since I don't have such high editorial standards, I'm willing to admit it is The Bard's embellishment.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Beware of Benedict Arnold Color Laser Printers

hattip: Marginal Revolutions


Tough Guy Award 5

Darwin works both ways, and man didn’t get to the top of the food chain by accident. The “Tough Guy Award” is the opposite of the Darwin Award.

This week's Tough Guy is Arthur Cole from Massachusetts. This 76 year old grandfather was out walking with his 4 year old grandson when they were attacked from behind by a coyote. Mr. Cole managed to get the coyote in a choke hold when it lunged for his throat, giving his grandson time to run to safety. Mr. Cole wrestled the animal to the ground and pinned it there until help arrived, suffering eight bite wounds from the beast in the process. Local authorities killed the animal and sent the remains to be tested for rabies.


Recommended Reading

Voice of the Taciturn has good new posts on Able Danger and Porter Goss. If you're not reading this blog, you should be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


More on Electric Aircraft

Back in August, I asked if anyone knew of any electric aircraft developments as I suspected the concept was just a "green fantasy dreamed up by bureaucrats" rather than realistic alternative to conventional aircraft propulsion. It turns out that most "electric aircraft" discussion centers around fuel cell powered aircraft, and they suffer from the same problems as fuel cell powered automobile proposals. Fuel is one of the big issues, since no one has yet perfected an acceptable way to handle and store hydrogen fuel for everyday use or a good fuel cell that can run on easily transported and stored hydrocarbon fuels. Well, the first successful civil aviation use of electric aircraft may not use fuel cells at all. Perhaps it will use batteries.

I stumbled across another electric self-launched sailplane design called the Silent 2, and this one looks ready for the market. For a normal powered airplane, you couldn't store enough energy in batteries to make it a practical power source, but it would seem to be just fine for self-launching a sailplane. I think the key factor in the success of this will be getting the purchase and operation costs (particularly battery costs) lower than the costs of a similar engine powered self-launching sailplane.

If the nano-composite thin film solar panels I discussed earlier this week can be made cheap, efficient, durable, and light enough then coating the upper surfaces of battery powered electric sailplanes would be a great application for them. A self-launching sailplane that could "refuel" itself by recharging its batteries from solar power would be useful enough for cross country flights that buyers might be willing to pay extra for it.

A normal civil aviation airplane couldn't get enough energy from the sunlight hitting its wings to make a difference, but a sailplane might. The Army hopes to get the solar panel technology cheap enough to build into shelters at power outputs of 30 Watts/lb. The battery capacity of the Silent 2 electric self-launching sailplane is around 4 kiloWatt-hours so only 34 lbs. of these solar panels, which could generate 1 kiloWatt, should be enough to completely recharge the sailplane's batteries in 4 hours. I don't see any data on what the efficiency or areal density of the solar panels are so I don't know for sure if there is enough surface area on the glider for that much solar panel. The Silent 2 has a wing area of 8.8 square meters (about 95 square feet in real units). At a typical solar power density of 1.3 kiloWatts/m^2 that would give over 11 kiloWatts of solar power falling on those wings. If these nano-composite thin film solar panels can get over 10% efficiency, then covering the Silent 2's wings with them could produce at least 1 kiloWatt of power when they are in typical sunlight. Presumably if the Army is looking at coating shelters with them, they must be durable enough that applying them to sailplane wings wouldn't create a maintenance problem. In the end it all comes down to cost, but I wouldn't be suprised to see solar powered electric self-launching sailplanes become common within a decade.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Transparent Aluminum

Hattip: Mr. Goldberg

Update: Welcome Carnival of Tomorrow goers. I encourage everyone to look around the blog at other posts. Some that you might find especially interesting are "The Future of Candy", "Educational Films...", and "The Japanese/French Son of Concorde...".

Monday, October 17, 2005


Online Movie Recommendations 10

Advertisements are a part of everyday life, so it is no surprise that they have been turned into entertainment and art. Movie trailers are a form of advertisement with a usually predictable structure and creative amateurs have been making some very entertaining fake movie trailers that still have the “feel” of real ones. This week’s movie recommendations are 3 trailers for movies that don’t really exist.

Grayson: After watching this trailer, I wished the film was real.

Fast Times at Hero High: funny

Shining: Famous horror movie re-imagined

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Solar Clothing

Scott eVest already makes a jacket with solar panels built into it for recharging your phone, PDA, MP3 player, or other electronic devices. If the nanocomposite thin film solar panels being evaluated by the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center work out, maybe solar power collecting clothes could be made sufficiently non-geeky looking that they become common. Being able to trickle charge your electronics that way would be great, and might compete with miniature fuel cells as a way to provide long effective battery life for mobile electronics.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


COT #11 is up...

... at The Speculist, here:

This edition focuses on brains and energy. Mmmmm... Brains...


Educational Films, Still the Future of Learning

The last three online movie recommendations I have made were all educational in some way. When my friend Tom (who encouraged me to start this blog) invented movies, he had high hopes that they would revolutionize education. He said:

“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system, and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of text-books in our schools. Books are clumsy methods of instruction at best, and often even the words of explanation in them have to be explained.

“I should say that on the average we get only about two per cent efficiency out of school books as they are written to-day. The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture, a visualized education, where it should be possible to obtain one-hundred-per-cent-efficiency.

“The motion picture has tremendous possibilities for the training and development of the memory. There is no medium for memory-building as productive as the human eye.”

He explained the logic behind his bold claims of movies replacing books as the primary means of education:

“Most of our textbooks fail on two big counts. They are not sufficiently human, and their application is not sufficiently practical. Their tendency seems to be to look upon the whole process of education as a job of dull and uninteresting work-with the apparent argument that the duller and more uninteresting it is made the more credit there is for doing it.

“When we have tried to change that viewpoint we have used too much sugar coating, and have applied too many fanciful “isms,” and have gone to the opposite extreme. Education isn’t play- and it can’t be made to look like play. It is hard, hard work. But it can be made interesting work.”

Well, movies did not replace books in schools*. Certainly I remember some class films** when I was in school, but they were much less common than doing work out of textbooks. I think one reason that movies have a difficult time replacing books is that the expense of film and projectors made watching movies a group activity for the whole class. Being a group activity, all the students must learn at the same pace. A book, on the other hand, can be taken home and the student can re-read material he doesn’t understand. Also, a book could more easily be taken home and used as reference material for homework assignments. The self-paced nature of reading and handiness of books as reference materials will likely ensure that books remain a big part of education for the foreseeable future.

Instead of replacing books, perhaps Tom should have considered using them to replace teachers. You obviously couldn’t get rid of teachers entirely, but like automation does for mfg. workers, the use of films could greatly increase the productivity of teachers. The best professors and teachers on a topic could be filmed giving their lectures, and those lectures could be used to replace a large amount of the in-person lectures a teacher has to give. That would free up more time for the teacher to spend with students one-on-one, or allow you to reduce the number of teachers needed. Perhaps the movies could be done by the same companies that sell textbooks, and the reputation and quality of the lecture films would be an additional selling point for the publisher. A movie of the best instructor’s lecture will probably be inferior to personal lectures by a very good teacher, since the teacher who is there in-person can adjust his lecture to the students and respond to their attitude and comprehension. But think back to your own school experience… How many of your teachers were really good, inspiring teachers that connected with the students? Probably only a few out of your entire school experience. For each of those very good teachers there was probably one or more who just stood in front of the class reading blandly from the textbook or years-old course notes. The fact is that most teachers are mediocre instructors. If you don’t think that a movie lecture done by top notch instructors with quality film-making crew and a large enough budget for location shots and effects could be as educational as a personal lecture from a typical school teacher, then maybe you haven’t seen really good educational shows***, like Sir David Attenborrough’s Life on Earth or the original Connections series. I know I learned more and was more inspired by such shows on a per hour basis than over 90% of my grade school teachers could accomplish, and I went to pretty good schools. Monday I linked to streaming audio of Western Civ. lectures by the late George L. Mosse; wouldn’t it be great to have videos of lectures by history’s best instructors that could be available to future generations of students. I would be shocked if using such high quality educational films supplemented by personal attention to answer questions and reinforce problem areas didn’t provide a better education at less money than current school practices. Honestly, this isn’t that much different from having a world famous professor give lectures to an auditorium of hundreds of students and then having TA’s handle grading and labs while the professor sets his miniscule office hours to make himself almost unavailable to the average student. That arrangement seems to be sufficiently adequate for some our nation’s most expensive colleges, who by the way are generally considered far superior to public education.

Another possible reason why Tom’s prediction of widespread use of movies in education didn’t come true may have to do with the fact that our school system isn’t primarily in the education business. It is more concerned with being a state babysitting service, a self-esteem workshop, an NEA member makework program, and perhaps a AAA sports farm team administrator. If teacher productivity were drastically increased by use of top notch educational films matched to the textbooks then we would need less teachers, and the teacher’s union wouldn’t stand for efficient instruction of our children if it comes at their expense. No doubt they would attack widespread use of educational films as being inferior to personal instruction. Which I admitted it is… IF the teacher doing the instructing is really good and can connect with the students. But I don’t think, for example, that the vast majority of schoolteachers could present the evolution of modern science and engineering as well as something like James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed. You would think that the lazy teachers would embrace educational films to replace their own work, and in fact I have a friend who says their public school did that frequently by herding multiple classes together and having one teacher keep order during the film while the others went off to the faculty lounge. It doesn’t seem widespread, however, which leads me to suspect that it is either due to habit and prejudice (that good teaching must be labor intensive) or due to not wanting to look like they are collecting a teacher’ salary to do movie usher work.

I had one professor who did a great job of using movies to improve his productivity. He would assign and grade problem sets, but he would never go over the answers in class. He would film himself solving all of the homework problems for each problem set on the blackboard in an empty room, and explaining each step in the problem solving process. When you got your graded homework back, if you had a question on why you missed a particular problem, you went to the library and watched the film of the professor solving it. That way he could spend the entire class time conducting lectures and the student’s didn’t have to sit bored as he went over all the problems they got right while they waited for him to explain the one problem they didn’t understand. Presumably he assigned the same problems every year, so he didn’t need to remake the movies unless the textbook changed. Students only needed to watch the film of him solving the problems that they had questions on, so it saved everyone’s time. The professor was available during office hours to give additional explainations if you still didn’t understand his movie, but I never needed it. I also found that watching all of his problem set movies back-to-back was a great way to review before a test. I don’t think Tom had this specific application in mind when he was promoting the usefulness of movies in education, but it is still a good example of how creative use of movies can greatly increase a teacher’s productivity. Unfortunately most teachers aren’t that imaginative with labor saving technology.

I accused our education system of not being primarily in the business of educating kids, but there are organizations where the risk or cost of poorly educated people is sufficiently high that teaching people well and efficiently does get a high priority. The military and private businesses often fall into those categories, and they have both embraced using movies to provide quality, standardized instruction for over half a century. Rapidly improving communication technology is revolutionizing distance learning and perhaps that will also provide an avenue for greater use of movies in education, especially for valuable but uncommon skill sets and degrees where the density of students is too low to support a large number of conventional schools or training classes spread all over the country.

Tom seemed to be thinking mostly**** about formal schooling when he discussed using movies in education. Movies, and other forms of video, have really succeeded in the competitive business environment of informal education of both children and adults where the convenience of getting the information and usefulness of the medium in conveying technical information relatively painlessly are strong advantages for video. Learning can be fun and/or useful enough that people outside of schools want to do it. Even people who hate the drudgery or structure of schoolwork often enjoy watching an interesting documentary or a do-it-yourself home improvement show. There are over a dozen TV channels dedicated to educational programs, and customers who want even more technical video programs can order them from several online businesses that specialize in educational movies. Nonfiction books are still big business, but in the competitive private sector it seems that Tom’s thinking hit closer to the mark.

The development of modern computers and electronic networks might make using movies in education easier and more common. One of the difficulties in using films in formal education is simply the logistics. Assuming that you used 8mm film, it takes a 7 inch diameter reel holding 400 feet of film to store a half-hour lecture. If a class of students were shown 15 hours of educational films a week for 35 weeks, then that would take over a thousand reels of film. An elementary school making regular use of educational films to supplement textbooks and personal instruction might easily require over 10,000 reels storing over 750 miles of film. They would need to be stored properly. Someone would be required to pull the lectures for the next day’s classes, shelve the previous lectures, and fix or replace damaged films. Each class would need projectors and there would have to be spares, preventive maintenance, and replacement of broken projectors. School employees would have to be trained in storing films, working the projectors, and some amount of repair skills. If lecture films matching school textbooks were widespread, none of this is a serious obstacle to a school that wanted to use them. After all, most schools already have libraries, librarians, various forms of specialized equipment, and maintenance staff. But for a school that doesn’t really want to use films (or just change the standard way of doing business) these logistical efforts and cost do represent a good excuse to do nothing. For homeschoolers, small businesses, or curious individuals, the trouble and expense of regular use of educational or training films might represent a real obstacle. The development of modern video formats and equipment such as DVD’s and streaming video has eliminated a lot of the hassle of dealing with a large volume of video information. Now films can be stored, transported, and displayed using compact formats and reliable, easily operated consumer electronics. Discovery Communications has already set up a business providing streaming educational videos online to both schools and homeschooling families. Now that the logistics excuse has been practically eliminated, we may see more widespread use of educational movies.

One of the advantages I stated above for books was their handiness as a reference, but with modern technology movies can be pretty handy too. Now using laptop computers or portable DVD players, you are no longer required to watch the movie inside a theater or specially equipped room. You can take the video outside to the subject you are observing or over to the equipment you are operating. This has great potential for making technical work or field work easier, since you can watch the video right where you need the information. Schoolkids can take the movies home with them to review or do homework with. Widespread use of laptop computers in schools could enable this portability for educational video in formal education, and MIT is already working on making low-cost laptops so that every schoolkid can have one. When they succeed, it will be another hurdle to widespread use of educational video that has been overcome and Tom’s dream for his invention will take another big leap forward.

The sort of educational movie Tom thought about primarily was minutes or perhaps even hours in length. It wouldn’t make sense to go to the theater and spend 5 or 10 minutes finding the right reel and setting up the projector only to watch an educational film that was just 18 seconds long. Yet, that is exactly how long the latest online educational video I recommended was. Now that modern video formats have removed the “set up” time for watching educational video and the portability of modern consumer electronics allows you to take it to wherever is most convenient, the length of useful educational movies has become much shorter. Perhaps one avenue of development in educational use of movies will be the creation of millions of very short (commercial length instead of TV show or theatrical film length) snippits of educational video. Think of them more as moving illustrations rather than movies. This sort of thing is already being used heavily in PowerPoint presentations; I think it is a short jump to larger video-illustrated documents.

If someone made a video illustration based auto repair handbook that included thousands and thousands of very short movies, each one describing and demonstrating one step in one process for working on your make and model of car, I think it would be much more useful than trying to interpret the written descriptions and static illustrations in Haynes or Chilton’s handbooks. You wouldn’t sit down and watch all the short movies; you would only find the few movies that covered the procedure that was giving you problems and watch them on a laptop or portable DVD player right there at your car. With so many cars having DVD players, perhaps video supplements to factory automotive manuals to illustrate basics of jacking, towing, jumping batteries, checking fluids, using the heated auto-adjusting seats, etc. will become common practice. I’d be shocked if the U.S. military isn’t developing these right now for their equipment maintenance training and reference needs.

Keep an eye on Wikipedia in the near future to see what a huge resource for education this might become. Right now if you look up a type of knot on this online electronic encyclopedia, you get still illustrations and written descriptions of how to tie it. Compare that with how easy it is to understand the Ian knot video I linked too. Wikipedia is already considering adding videos to help illustrate their encyclopedia entries. One of the biggest obstacles to using them now is the large amount of computer memory and network bandwidth they would require, but Moore’s Law will solve those problems soon enough. They ask rhetorically about short movies:

“How better to explain field hockey or the gait of a kangaroo?”

Perhaps some day soon when a college freshman wants to know how to fold a shirt or a grade school kid wants to know how to tie a shoelace their parents will tell them the same thing I was told when I asked my parents how to spell a difficult word: “Look it up; if I just tell you then you will never learn it for yourself.”

Make magazine had a short article on a hacker who had put the entire Wikipedia encyclopedia and several other written reference materials on a PDA so that he could have access to detailed information on a wide variety of subjects with him at all time. A video-enabled Wikipedia (or other comprehensive reference work) that included video of everything from how to fold an origami crane to what a bunt is in baseball would be many, many times larger than just current word and image based documents. Unfortunately, one of the limitations on the low cost laptops MIT is trying to make so that every schoolkid can have their own laptop computer is that they can’t afford to put much memory in them. This lack of memory means that while the laptops may allow the kids to take a few short videos home to review, they wouldn’t be able to store the huge amounts of data needed to use them as complete video-enabled reference materials like the hypothetical car or military equipment repair manuals I discussed above. Again, though, that is an engineering problem that Moore’s Law (and the dedicated work of millions of scientists, engineers, and technicians around the globe) will probably solve soon enough.

So where is Tom’s dream headed? What will the use of video (I hesitate to call it “movies”) in education be like? Well, superficially it might look like those books that Tom was trying to replace. Books are a convenient size and form factor, and researchers are already hard at work on electronically enhanced books. Instead of hundreds of pages, perhaps it will just have one (or a few) electronic displays. Maybe they would be very high quality video screens, maybe they would be lower quality thin displays that could be folded out to a larger size. Maybe it would have both. This super ebook reader could display video-enhanced textbooks. Maybe all the student’s textbooks would be stored on the reader, or maybe they would be stored on separate memory sticks that had to be physically switched out of the reader to view the material for different subjects. In addition to the normal illustrations and tables of our current “dead tree” textbooks, this one would also have short video illustration and animations to help explain the written text. Each chapter would also have several hours of video lectures done by the book author or perhaps some celebrity lecturer with location, historical, or special effects footage as needed. It might resemble an episode of Cosmos or Sesame Street more than a traditional school lecture. Teachers might video their own lectures or make their own notes and add them to the “margins” of the textbook to supplement the standard material from the publisher. The inclusion of both video lectures and written text might mean that the device needs two display screens so that the student can follow the text along with the lecture, or perhaps the one large display is smart enough to hold the lecture in a separate window, like picture-in-picture TVs. Audio speakers might be included, but headphones would usually be plugged into it for audio so you didn’t disturb other library patrons or classmates. The teachers might make the students listen to the lecture out loud on the classroom audio/video equipment though, because too many kids were caught hacking their books to allow them to listen to wireless podcasts instead of the lecture when they wore headphones in class. The student would highlight or make notes in the margins that would be stored with the book electronically. Perhaps the student works the review problems at the end of the chapter right there in the textbook, with the margins or space between problems automatically expanding to give as much room as is needed. At least some of the review problems would have the answers “in the back of the book,” though they might not be unlocked until after the student attempts the problem himself or on command from the teacher. No doubt cracking the access code to the answers would be a common pastime for mischievous students. The review problem answers would include a short video lecture or demonstration explaining how they were arrived at, much like my old professor had done with his brilliant homework solution videos. Some of those review problems might not resemble word problems as much as video games. Educational video games from the old Mavis Bacon typing game to modern military simulations have proven to be effective training devices, and perhaps the textbook would include one or more large video games, simulations, or other interactive content to compliment the text, video illustrations, and video lectures. High school English textbooks might contain entire productions of plays by various university, local, or even professional theater groups. Electronic textbooks for film studies classes would likely cost more, because of the need to pay royalties on the dozens of full length feature films included with the text. Surely this futuristic textbook replacement would have a nice bookcover to protect it, and store spare memory sticks if they are needed, that was liberally decorated with colorful flower stickers, initials drawn inside of hearts, or animated sketches of explosions and hot-rodded aircars to the student’s taste.

In short, Tom will be wrong. Movies won’t replace textbooks, but perhaps textbooks will become hyperlinked movies (among other things). Such a future textbook has already been described in the hands of a fictional schoolgirl, and maybe within the next decade or so schoolkids and adults alike will be able to have their own version of Penny Gadget’s gadget computerbook as a tremendous labor saving device for both formal and informal education. What, you thought I was talking about someone else?

Not everyone agrees (hattip: Dr. Pournelle) with Tom and I on the benefits of heavier use of video in education. I’d certainly welcome input from people who have experience with the drawbacks and advantages of using movies for training and education.

*Although if you consider advertising to be a form of consumer education, then perhaps video images do represent the majority of the total amount of education that occurs in the First World.

**Is it just me, or does young Carol have an Adam’s apple?

***Get the full length version of Life on Earth, not the edited one commonly sold in the U.S. Don’t waste your time on the later Connections sequels.

****Though he did like to brag about how early silent movies helped improve the movie going public’s reading speed and comprehension.

Update (10/14) added video game speculation


Custom Postage Stamps

If having your own monogrammed M&M's in your favorite color isn't special enough for you, now the Canadian Post office will create a custom postage stamp for you for only $25* per 20! It's the perfect thing for impressing friends and family. Now you just have to decide if you want to use the "young you" or the "old you" picture.

*Presumably that's also in Canadian dollars. Using the handy Exchange Rate link on my blogroll to convert that, I see that $25 Canadian Dollars converts in U.S. dollars to "sofa cushion change."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Airpower Decisive Against Hold-out Communist Hamlet

I heard the little commies practiced infantcide against their baby girls, too.

Good riddance.

Update: Here's the footage. Eh. I've seen the Wile E. Coyote take worse and walk away from it. These Euro caroon characters are wussies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005



Strategy Page says that the XM-25 testing has been going very well. I think this smart grenade launcher will be very useful to American infantry on just about any battlefield. Its "window" setting, which determines the range to a selected target and programs the 25mm grenade to detonate just past the target, will greatly reduce the effect of cover for enemy troops and even allow the shooter to kill enemies hiding behind the corner of a building. An enemy soldier who just has cover in front of them would still be vulnerable to a smart grenade programmed to pass above him and explode; that suddenly makes our enemy’s job a lot more stressful. Because it will allow a soldier to shoot a target that is hidden, this weapon could increase the possibility of fratricide. I would expect that use of Blue Force Tracker technology and shooter discipline could keep that from becoming too much of a problem.

For a better idea of what this smart 25mm grenade launcher will be able to do, watch this video of the Bofors 40mm 3p round from Janes. Now imagine that technology optimized for use in infantry combat instead of anti-aircraft and shrunk down to around 18lbs. so that an infantry squad can carry one as a support weapon.

If this is successful, I expect that the next step will be to use the smart 25mm round developed for it in other weapon systems like vehicle mounted automatic grenade launchers. Pay attention to the scene in the 3p video where a burst of 40mm rounds are fired using the “time function” above a field full of simulated infantry and each one is programmed to detonate at a different location so that the field is saturated with lethal shrapnel from above. Imagine how useful that could be on an M-2 Bradley.

Now when does the civilian version come out? If ATK could put a proximity sensor into the 25mm rounds they would be perfect for birds, clay pigeons, or revenuers (though a little expensive).

Monday, October 10, 2005


Online Movie Recommendation 9

How many times have you suffered through the slow and laborious process of tying your shoes, wondering if there were a faster way?

Well now there is, it's called the Ian Knot and here's how to tie it:


Globalization of Beauty

Sterling steps out of his ill-informed, ego-stroking Cassandra fantasy long enough to make a really enjoyable post about the benifits of globalization.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Online Streaming Audio Recommendations

At the bottom of this page are links to a wide variety of old radio programs. Lileks seems to prefer the Adventures of Sam Spade. I like some of the older comedies.

If you want more intellectually stimulating fare, turn off that “All Things Considered” and listen to George L. Mosse’s lectures on the history of Western civilization. They come recommended by no less a luminary than Dr. Pournelle.

These are streaming audio, so if you want to fill up your mp3 player with them you’ll need to use your favorite streaming audio ripping software.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Tough Guy Award 4

Darwin works both ways, and man didn’t get to the top of the food chain by accident. The “Tough Guy Award” is the opposite of the Darwin Award.

So far all our Tough Guy Award recipients have been Americans, but there are Tough Guys all over the world. This week we look to Africa to find our latest Tough Guy Award winner, Daniel M’Mburugu of Kenya. Mr. M’Mburugu is a 73 year old grandfather who was ambushed by a leopard while tending his potato and bean crops. The leopard sank its teeth into Mr. M’Mburugu’s wrist and mauled him with its claws, but Mr. Mburugu fought back and killed the beast by reaching into its mouth and ripping its tongue out!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Harriet Miers is no Puritan

There has been much comment in the blogosphere about Bush's new Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Some of it has revolved around her being an "evangelical Christian," speculation about how devout she really is, and how her religious beliefs will affect the court.

I do not know Ms. Miers personally, but I don't think she is a strict, Puritanical "Bible thumper" regardless of what speculation I hear in the press. After all, in 1995 she took the job of being chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission. Most of the sweet old church ladies I know would refuse a job like that which involved both encouraging people to pursue a quick and easy path to material wealth and also deceiving the innumerate, who are mostly poor and can least afford to be tricked out of money.

I am not saying Ms. Miers is un-Christian (after all, some churches have different views on the morality of gambling) merely that she obviously isn't a Puritanical prude.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Word of the Day

This article claims it provides a list of foriegn words for which there is no English equivalent. It gets at least one wrong, however. It says that there is no English word for using company time and resources for one's own purposes (which is called "fucha" in Portuguese). The English equivalent is "perruque". It is borrowed from a similar French word, and can also mean a peruke or periwig.


The Future of Candy

Lean manufacturing trends are moving many everyday products from commoditization to customization; candy is no exception. Used to you could get M&M candies in any color you wanted, as long as it was brown. Then more colors were added, but mixed together in a standard bag. Special color mixes were sold for certain holidays like the black and orange mixed bags for Halloween. Now, though, M&M has ‘discovered’ customization and you can buy specially mixed bags of M&M candies with any color or colors you want from their palette of 21 colors. It’s just the thing to spice up your corporate or university event. You can even order M&M’s with a custom message written on them in place of the standard “m”. I expect that soon they will sell bags of any custom color (instead of just the currently existing 21) or colors you want in a variety of sizes and flavors.

Now how long will it be before someone combines a 3d laser scanner with rapid prototyping technology to allow people to buy a custom Pez dispenser with a head that looks just like them on it? I expect that within a decade you’ll be able to buy one from a kiosk in the mall.

Update: Places that will sell you custom wrapped candy are common and, of course, custom decorated cakes are nothing new. The point of the M&M evolution is the change from a product that used to be a commodity into one with both a wide variety of "standard options" and that for a little more money can be highly customized (as has been happening with other products like cars) for a wealthier society that both wants and can afford to have more more individualized products. No doubt the next step in sweet treats is for everyone to get their own customized flavors. That would extend the lean and just-in-time mfg. even further, where the product is made right where and when it is sold. What would such a store look like? Like a cocktail bar for children. This is not to say that mass production was a wrong turn. In the 1950's there probably wasn't the technology nor the widespread wealth to make custom M&M candies profitable. I'd rather have standard brown M&M's than suck on a rock because I couldn't afford the high priced custom candy. Standardized products still have a place but increasingly customized ones will return, not because we've forgotten how to lower cost with mass production but because we can afford not to use it when we feel like having something special.


Serenity Now!

I can highly recommend the movie Serenity, even for people who haven't seen the TV show it is based on. Don't just take my word for it, Orson Scott Card thinks so too. I never would have guessed that River Tam was made of chocolate. Oh, uh... spoiler warning.

Still, it isn't my favorite movie this year. So far that honor goes to The Great Raid. If you haven't seen that movie yet, maybe you can still catch it in a dollar-theater.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Online Movie Recommendation 8

So you think you know how to fold a shirt? Think again:


Balloon Houses

TCS has an interesting article on the history of the two-by-four.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Cat Diesel Power

Back on Sept. 13th I linked to a news article about a German group that invented a way to turn dead cats into diesel fuel. The article reports being able to get 2.5 liters (0.016 bbl) of diesel per cat at a cost of only $0.30 per liter ($1.14/gal). Since we use about 1 billion barrels of diesel* a year, that means we’d need 62.5 billion cats a year to meet our present rate of diesel consumption. There are only about 70 million cats in the United States.

This illustrates a problem with a lot of these gimmicky alternative fuel proposals like making fuel out of French fry grease or turkey guts. In small quantities (enough for some test programs and publicity stunts) you can get these ingredients for free. But to produce the huge amounts of fuel our economy consumes, you’d need to greatly increase the production of these currently cheap feedstock. Once you need more of these cheap feedstock than are currently available you must begin producing them deliberately, and that means they stop becoming cheap. For example, let’s look more at what it would take to supply all of the United States’s diesel needs with cats. Assuming that house cats live to be 15 years old, then the average person would need to keep over 3,000 cats as pets in order to keep up with diesel demand using dead pets. Since that seems unlikely, we must consider raising cats as livestock. If each cat weighs 10lbs, then 62.5 billion cats means we must raise 625 billion pounds of cat a year. Compare that with other livestock such as cattle. We have about 100 million head of cattle in the United States. At 2,000 pounds each, that means we have about 200 billion pounds of cattle at any given time. So the amount of cat that would need to be raised is high, but not unthinkable. Unfortunately, mass doesn’t tell the whole story. If anyone thinks managing hundreds of cats would be the same as one cow, they must not have much experience with animal husbandry. And for those of us with allergies, the idea of living in a nation with billions of cats sounds a lot worse than drilling a few new holes in northern Alaska. So far, we have still only considered replacing current diesel consumption. Replacing gasoline consumption with cat diesel would be even harder.

I think we can safely say that if dead cat diesel alternative fuel caught on, supplying cats would be a major economic consideration. Wholesale prices of diesel are currently about $1.85/gal, which seems higher than the cat diesel price given of $1.14/gal. The cat diesel price probably assumes free cats, so that means that cat costs can run as high as $0.47/cat before oil based diesel is competitive. This assumes the $1.14/gal given in the article is an accurate cost that includes such things as taxes, and amortization of the refining equipment and other capital expenses. As I will explain later, I suspect it is reasonably accurate except perhaps for the taxes.

This brings up another danger, however, in analyzing gimmicky alternate fuel proposals. Normal refining is a mature field, and the costs are well known. The costs given in press releases on alternate fuels have to be considered more skeptically. Aside from the already mentioned problem of underestimating feedstock costs, the alternate fuel proposal may either ignore the cost of capital equipment entirely and give only marginal costs, or it may make overly optimistic estimates of the cost of building an alternative fuel refinery (which may be an immature technology depending on the method) by basing it on conventional refinery costs (which is a mature technology). For an example of how maturity can affect costs, imagine how many people would be able to truthfully answer a job listing for a chemical engineer with 10 years of cat refining experience, as opposed to the number that have the same amount of petroleum refining experience.

Taxes are yet another cost that must be considered. Alternative fuel supporters may suggest that their favorite fuel could be made more competitive if it were given special tax breaks. Well, special tax status may make a fuel more profitable, but it doesn’t make it more economical. Consider the case of tax breaks to encourage people to buy hybrid or electric vehicles instead of traditional internal combustion engine powered ones. The hybrids and electric vehicles can conserve petroleum and reduce vehicle tailpipe emissions by getting better fuel economy. The hybrids and electric vehicles, however, consume more of other types of resources, like copper for the electric propulsion system and heavy metals for the batteries. The mining of these raw materials and the maintenance of the hybrid or electric vehicle will create additional types of pollution that normal cars don’t have. So now, before we can decide if we want to encourage people to buy hybrid or electric cars (and how much to encourage them), we need to figure out some way to compare the relative scarcity of the raw materials each requires, the amount of the raw materials (including human effort) each vehicle requires, and the relative damage to the environment of each of the types of pollution involved. It is very easy for a central planning committee to make decisions that let them feel good about themselves, but it is very, very hard to weigh all of the factors needed to make the correct decision. And, of course, since technology, consumption, people’s habits, and available information change all the time the value and importance of all these factors must be constantly reconsidered. Fortunately, we don’t need to invent some new way to weigh the relative importance and scarcity of all the things that goes into building and maintaining vehicles. Engineers have already come up with a figure of merit to describe the sacrifices society must make to produce some product; it is called cost and is usually measured in dollars. Typically products even have this helpful figure of merit printed on the outside of their packaging to assist consumers in deciding which things they want to buy.

The point of this long winded explanation is that the cost of an item is actually a very good estimate of the quantity and scarcity of the raw materials (including human effort) that goes into making something and the operating cost of a piece of equipment is a very good estimate of the quantity and scarcity of the raw materials needed to keep the equipment running. In a properly functioning market economy, price automatically functions** to provide the essential piece of information needed for efficiently distributing resources that planned economies find so impossible to calculate. Think about how many man-hours (and now computer cycles) are spent by sellers all over the country just considering how best to price their product, and by buyers considering what items to buy, and the negotiating that goes on between the two. That represents a tremendous amount of brainpower directed at the problem of what resources are more important than others. Central planning committees would kill (many literally) to have that kind of resources at their disposal but to us it is so distributed that the efforts seem invisible and the results of the calculations capricious. If we subsidize people to buy more expensive cars or more expensive fuels then it may make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but in reality it will almost certainly also mean that we are inducing them to consume more (and/or more valuable) resources and to create more waste.

Of course, as the Greens love to point out, the price that items have in our economy often overlooks costs that are borne by society at large instead of the individuals doing the buying and selling. This is true, and if we use taxes correctly then we can correct prices to even better reflect these societal costs. For example, if we discover that carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming problems we could pass on the cost of maintaining a carbon sequestration program to fuel users by having an appropriate amount of tax tied to the carbon content of fuels. Or, if we decide that using natural petroleum causes us national security problems because of the instability of the supplier countries then we could add a tax to it that would pay for the additional military spending we determine is needed to protect those supply lines. We don’t use our tax system very well to correct inaccuracies in price information right now, but perhaps in a more enlightened future (the kind where we all have aircars and silver jumpsuits) it will be common practice. Notice that I am only suggesting here that taxes be used to improve the accuracy of information contained in prices so that the market can better predict what solutions will be the most efficient use of resources, I am not suggesting that the information in market forces be abandon or deliberately distorted by subsidizing specific solutions directly. Fortunately, even with our present tax environment I think cost is still a very good indicator of the amount of resources a product consumes***. The problem is that some people, the kind that love to plan everyone else’s lives for them, discover that no matter how accurate the price information their favorite special solution isn’t the one that the market identifies as being the best. Then, like unethical engineers who rig trade studies to always prove themselves right, they want to use taxes to force their favorite solution to be adopted rather than have to admit that their personal prejudices might really be less informed than the billions of expert man-hours that are distilled into market price information. If you find yourself looking over some gimmicky alternative fuel or alternative vehicle solution that advocates subsidies and or tax policies be used to over-ride market forces in a way that directly drives people to their solution then I think you can save yourself the time and safely assume that the rest of the proposal is merely the ill-conceived work of an arrogant and unscientific busybody.

Now to get back to the main topic of cat diesel. Taxes are about 21% of wholesale diesel prices so if the $1.14/gal price of cat diesel doesn’t include taxes then it would have to compete with $1.46/gal diesel prices. That means cats would have to cost less than $0.21 each for the cat diesel to be more economical than traditional petroleum based diesel. But the more pressing question is:

What would make someone invent a cat diesel refining process in the first place?

Do they hate cats? Or, considering that an economically competitive cat diesel fuel would cause the cat population to explode to 1000 time its present size as they became valuable livestock, perhaps the process was invented by someone who loves cats. The answer is neither. Like so much of what passes for news, the article on making diesel from dead cats was not an accurate description of facts. Instead, it was a carefully orchestrated marketing stunt aimed at achieving a specific goal for a client organization. In fact, the invention described doesn’t just use dead cats as feedstock but runs on a wide variety of organic materials from plastics to hospital wastes (and yes, French fries and turkey guts). A press release on a company that is marketing a small synthetic fuel refinery operating on a new catalytic decomposition process might actually be big news but unfortunately few reporters would know enough about technical subjects to realize it. A press release about turning cats into diesel, on the other hand, is weird enough to guarantee that some news media will report it and the predictable outcry of cat lovers will ensure that the story continues to get press coverage for days. Then, the company involved can release a follow-on press release that tells the rest of the story which will both be reported on enough to reach a wide audience and have enough details to arouse the curiosity of potential buyers. I have to admit, it worked well enough for me to research the product.

The “cat refinery” is the KDV-500 by Alphakat Zukunftsenergie GmbH and it looks like a very promising development. Because it can take a wide variety of dry organic matter**** it doesn’t have the feedstock limitations described earlier. One of the obvious applications for it is to dispose of waste. The KDV-500 has the potential to both drastically reduce the amount of garbage that must be land-filled while also producing valuable fuel (a very TRIZesque solution). I can easily see garbage disposal companies buying these turnkey refineries to both increase the useful life of their landfills by diverting much of the waste into fuel production and also to have a source of cheap diesel fuel for their fleets of garbage trucks and other vehicles. Depending on what material is being used as the feedstock for this invention, its waste disposal ability may be just as big of a revenue stream as fuel production. Also, I would expect that it would be easier to get political and regulatory approval to build a KDV-500 (or similar competing products) than a traditional refinery since the waste recycling and alternative fuel aspects of the design should get it support from Green organizations (though since I wouldn’t count on them being logical, some carefully targeted charitable donations may also be needed to make sure).

Now what does this mean in quantitative terms? The design specs of the KDV-500 claim that 1 ton of input generates on average 6.29 barrels of diesel fuel. It would only take 158 million tons of input to meet the United States’s present 1 billion barrel annual diesel consumption. If the Engineer Poet can be believed there are around 700-800 million tons of dry organic waste generated in the United States annually that could be used as input for KDV-500s. If we made total use of that potential input, using the KDV-500 technology we could make 4.4 to 5 billion barrels of diesel annually (which is about 3.4 to 4 billion barrels of diesel more than we currently consume). That extra fuel could be used to replace the almost 3.3 billion barrels of gasoline that the United States consumes annually (assuming that increased tailpipe emissions for the diesels weren’t a problem). Judging from their website, the cost estimates given earlier are fairly complete except for taxes. Even if the manufacturer is being a little optimistic in their sales brochure, the costs are still probably competitive with current diesel prices of $1.46/gal before taxes. While there is some uncertainty as to whether current prices will stay this high, the possibility of getting additional revenue from the KDV-500’s waste disposal abilities and the likelihood of getting Green groups to politically back its construction are attractive features that may offset the risk involved with buying one. I wrote last week that

“Capitalist economists assured the “peak oil” Chick-Littles that the invisible hand would naturally encourage alternative fuels once oil prices became high. Well, oil prices are now high and here come the alternative fuels.”

The KDV-500 “cat refinery” by Alphakat Zukunftsenergie GmbH is another example of this effect. I expect to hear more about it (and its competitors) in the future, especially since they seem to have a very good marketing group working with them.

Welcome carnival-goers. If you liked this post, take a look around the rest of the blog.

*distillate fuel oil in the transportation sector.
** I am very excited about the potential advancements in economics as it is increasingly seen to be an information theory problem instead of the resource management problem. The shift may one day be viewed like the past academic shifts from alchemy to chemistry and astrology to astronomy.
*** Which we can do a sanity check on with this example. If the moonbats are to be believed, the entire purpose of our war and continuing operations in Iraq is to secure our oil supplies (except when it is to help the Jews). So far they estimate the cost of this at almost $200 billion dollars. Since the Iraq war started in March 2003 we have consumed about 20 billion barrels of petroleum products of which about 2.5 billion barrels is diesel. If we divide the cost of our Iraq intervention by volume (perhaps not the best method, but easy and good enough for gov't work) that would raise the cost of a gallon of diesel by $0.23 or a before tax increase of about 16%. I have ignored the "human cost" of the war, but considering both the historically low casualty rates of our troops and the high mortality rate of pre-war Iraq there may not be a net negative human cost at all (despite what Lancet said). Since both cat diesel and traditional diesel would contribute to carbon emissions, I will ignore that cost in this example. These assumptions give an adjusted pre tax breakeven cat price of about $0.36/cat for a comparison of cat diesel and traditional diesel. This calculation would be the worst case of assuming all the costs of the Iraq war and occupation are spent to secure our petroleum supplies. If we assume that the moonbats are not right and there are other valid reasons for the war then the war related costs of petroleum would be even smaller than the 16% calculated here. The national security costs of using natural petroleum from unstable countries to produce our diesel is probably not zero, however, so the actual cost is likely somewhere between a lower bound of 0% and an upper bound of 16% of it's current pre tax price of about $1.46/gal. As I said price is not a perfect figure of merit, but it does seem to be close enough to be very useful and (most importantly for our decision to use it in making resource conservation judgements) better than any other figure of merit I know of.
**** Well, actually it can handle wet waste too by using heat to turn the wet waste into dry waste.

Update: added the 3rd footnote and corrected annual gasoline consumption estimate
Update 2(10/3): added 4th footnote and CWT link. (thanks Alan)
Update 3(10/10): In the comments, Engineer Poet points out some oddities about Alphakat's claims, including an unrealistic product yield, that makes him wonder if they are on the level. Even if they aren't, there are more organizations working on similar products and high oil prices will encourage investors to look seriously at synthetic fuels.
Update 4(10/13): added carnival welcome

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