Five bucks well spent

The CU Center for Environmental Journalism forwarded a note with this link this morning, to a article about how Al Gore and Push Up Press are aiming to “blow up the book.” As someone who recently wrote a book and then converted it into Kindle and ePub formats, this caught my attention. Push Up Press, founded by two former Apple guys, has created an app for books, as opposed using the Amazon Kindle or ePub formats, which are all HTML (standard web language) based. “Our Choice” is their inaugural product.

It’s amazing what they’ve done with “Our Choice,” Al Gore’s 2009 book. The print version is full of great images and artfully done, and a great place to start if you’re looking for a rundown on renewable energy technologies, biofuels, energy efficiency approaches, political and sociocultural considerations, population and environmental issues and other facts of the climate change mitigation/adaptation puzzle. This app, which I bought for my wife’s (well, mostly my wife’s) iPad and which, for the moment costs, $4.99, brings the graphics to life; lets you click on photos to understand exactly where Shishmaref, Alaska or Guazhou, China are; and has embedded videos as well as animations in which with Gore narrates how wind turbines, geothermal plants, solar concentrators and so on work. This iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch version has also been editorially updated and has tons more pictures than the book (such as of wind turbines in Guazhou, China).

Whether the “Our Choice” app is a model for the future of e-publishing, I don’t know. The book’s topics are visual and topical, and they lend themselves to multimedia. Publishers will have to invest more in their books to make this standard. A novel about an Elizabethan-era romance won’t gain much by it. Reading fiction and narrative nonfiction is ultimately about visualizing scenes in the mind, the ultimate multimedia tool. It must have cost a fortune to create this thing.

It’s also not searchable, at least as far as I can tell, and while the scroll bar at bottom’s pretty useful, there’s no table of contents page that gives a quick overview.

But man, is it worth the five bucks.

On the Gulf Oil Spill anniversary

To confirm a single statistic I wanted to share about a year after BP’s Gulf oil disaster, which killed 11 men and countless creatures and spewed an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over 86 days, I stopped by a cool/chill/rad web site that slices and dices CIA Factbook data.

I was curious as to how many days of U.S. crude consumption poured into the gulf, in toto. Turns out it was about 0.25 days. Six hours. The entire mess equated, roughly, to  U.S. daily oil production of about 5.3 million barrels per day.

Energy Information Administration site may not seem the sexiest place to troll the Web, but it can be enlightening. The United States imports twice as much oil from Canada (1.9 million barrels per day) as it does from Saudi Arabia (a million barrels per day), I now know. How many points per game LeBron James averages is a much better-known statistic. If we committed numbers to memory in proportion to their importance, democracy would be in a lot better shape.

The Washington Post’s Brian Vastag did a great year-out roundup of the catastrophe that ran Sunday, not terribly long, but poignant, data-rich and well worth a read.

It’s pretty clear that the ecological consequences of Deepwater Horizon’s blowout remain a question mark. Over spring break the family spent time on South Padre Island in south Texas. There we learned that the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, which has been making a comeback, spends a lot of time in areas the spill hit hard. We won’t know how the turtles fared until later this month, when the females head back to a couple of beaches in Mexico and Texas to lay their eggs.




To tax or not to tax

President Obama’s remarks on fiscal policy today put forth a few numbers worth committing to memory before the forthcoming, protracted budget debates:

“So here’s the truth.  Around two-thirds of our budget — two-thirds — is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security.  Two-thirds.  Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20 percent.  What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else.  That’s 12 percent for all of our national priorities — education, clean energy, medical research, transportation, our national parks, food safety, keeping our air and water clean — you name it — all of that accounts for 12 percent of our budget.”

Consider also a very interesting tax calculator from Remapping Debate, a publication that started showing up in my inbox a few weeks ago and as been worth a look pretty consistently. Taxes are currently pretty low, by historical standards (unless you’re talking Gilded Age).

Today I sent $4,000 to the feds and another $1,000 to the state of Colorado. Being taxed doesn’t feel good. I could only afford to put four grand in my retirement account this year. But you grit your teeth and remind yourself: taxes are necessary, because government is necessary. Taxes are quite low in Somalia, I hear, for those who want to give no government a shot. The House Tea Party caucus could do an exchange year. “Morons to Mogadishu,” we’ll call it.

Which brings me to the Republican party writ large. The idea of privatizing Medicare/Medicaid aside (it’s insane — let’s cut costs of a proven program by adding layers of private-sector bureaucracy and diluting purchasing power! At best, it’s cost shifting — rather than via government, seniors and the poor and society as a whole will pay more, just directly to insurers), the particulars of their plan are just cynical. Sure, we must cut. But taxes have to be on the table, too, just like they were for Ronald Reagan, who raised them eleven times. Because Reagan was a leader. A pragmatist.

And so U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. and his cadre, in the face of a $14 trillion budget deficit so dire that the government was nearly shut down last week, that the Environmental Protection Agency and Planned Parenthood were to take debilitating cuts, that a fight over the $14.3 billion debt ceiling makes the world wonder what our problem is, proposes to lessen the tax burden on the wealthiest.

Let’s get this straight. You refuse to even consider raising taxes — even when the numbers show that cutting outlays in meaningful ways will make us more vulnerable and hurt our most vulnerable. It’s fighting the budget battle with one hand tied behind your back. Our problems are too serious to play these games.

What’s a watt? Get on a bike.

I checked the output of our rooftop solar panels just now, at 11:28 a.m. On a sunny, brisk Denver day (briskness doesn’t affect solar output), our 13 east-facing 220-watt panels were cranking out 2,476 watts, according to the inverter in the garage. Wife’s got the dryer running, but I’d assume we’re still feeding power back into the grid. The washer just went on, which just led me to walk around the house to the sidewalk to check the net meter — indeed, still running backwards.

I’ve injured my foot and can’t run at the moment (plantar fasciitis), so I’ve spent a bit of time on the basement recumbent exercise bike. It tells me how far I’ve gone, my heart rate, and watts. I’m skeptical of the distance bit, which would depend on the bike, the terrain, the wind and so forth. The heart rate and the watt count I trust, though.

A watt, according to the Wikipedia entry, is “the rate at which work is done when an object’s velocity is held constant at one meter per second against constant opposing force of one newton.” It adds the descriptor, “A laborer over the course of an 8-hour day can sustain an average output of about 75 watts; higher power levels can be achieved for short intervals and by athletes,” with attribution to  Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers 11th Edition. A bright incandescent bulb burns about 75 watts (the dryer upstairs, which given the sun outside probably isn’t strictly necessary, to think of it, is probably humming at 800-1000 watts), so the the laborer reference is a help. But what kind of of labor? Ditch digging? Pedicab services? Carpentry?

Get on a bike, though, and you get some perspective. Mark Cavendish, the acclaimed cyclist sprinter, is said to hit 1,600 watts in brief spurts, and Tour de France riders average about 260 or so over the entire race. So the solar panels up on the roof were, at 11:28 a.m., cranking out the equivalent of 1.54 Mark Cavendishes blowing away the field at the  finish line. It’d be  625,000 Cavendishes at speed to do the equivalent of a 1,000 megawatt (1 gigawatt) coal or nuke plant. But they’re just numbers until you get on your own watt-counting bike.

Anything over 230 watts starts to hurt and is more or less unsustainable for more than 15-20 minutes for someone in decent but not great shape (me). That’s less than a tenth of what our inert-looking rooftop-panel array is doing right now. Which is to say: when the sun’s overhead, each solar panel on my roof can do the work of me at stress.

A bit about the independence movement

J.B. Opdyke, a teammate on the Michigan soccer team 20+ years ago, recently sent me a book he edited, called Talk/Talk. It is, as I mentioned in a review, “a compilation of talking heads talking about the talk of talking heads they (that is, the talking heads featured in Talk/Talk) watched on Sunday TV talk shows.”

But it’s also a nice, polemic-free route into the thought processes of two of the independent movement’s leading lights, Jackie Shalit and Fred Newman. The review, posted on The Hankster, is here.