Monday, October 29, 2012

Wind turbines can be thought of as wind sculptures

Too bad the majority in Whatcom County Council voted to ban wind power turbines in county agricultural and forestry zones; so I hear. Still allowed in industrial zones, but will that be enough space?

What's the problem? Are wind turbines not considered aesthetic? Can't they be viewed as wind sculptures by a more open minded population? We have some wind sculptures in Bellingham. This one pictured near Whatcom Museum of History and art.

Maybe they are also worried about bats getting caught in the turbines, but there are ways to reduce that problem. If we want to curb global warming and have greener energy, we have to be able to accept change. Change in the landscape. Wind turbines can be seen as artistic.

US is getting more serious about actually tapping alternative energy. As for the view, items to capture wind can be viewed as art. For instance this wind sculpture at the Bellingham, WA. transit terminal.

Short Youtube video.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

They use eroticism to sell cars, why not using it to promote bicycling lifestyles?

I think of the naked bike rides that take place in different cities of the world as being more like advertisements than protests. Give bicycling some erotic appeal. Why not? Eroticism is a powerful motivator.

Eroticism is likely to be a more powerful motivator than concern about global warming which is often cited as a reason for the nude rides. Problem is, one person's action is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the big picture of global warming. Whether you drive or bike, it isn't going to change the outcome of something as large as the melting of Greenland's icecap until huge segments of the population make that change. Where's the motivation for the individual?

On the other hand, getting into better physical shape and being around other cyclists who are often attractive and having a fun time; now that's an outcome that has a payoff for each individual.

I once heard a car company ad with the phrase, "the shape you want to be in." One can get into a sleek car, but one can also be on a bike and get into better shape.

Of course the WNBR rides aren't just for super attractive people. They are very inclusive events for a diversity of ages and body types. Unlike sports, or possibly the dating world, the rides are non competitive. People just come to have a good time. If one participates in the bicycling lifestyle, there can be a payoff in terms of physical fitness.

Another example of a personal motivator for cycling is the pocketbook. One who bikes can often see savings to their pocketbook. However, this motivation works best in times of high gas prices.

When more people bike for personal reasons as well as the less powerful motivators such as curbing global warming, it does help to curb global warming. An advertisement for the bicycling lifestyle with what they used to call "sex appeal" in the old days of TV commercials for Ultrabright Toothpaste.

The best appeal is to people who want to see the nudity. To people who show up to participate in and / or watch the rides. Also for folks who seek out the images on the internet.

The advertising message wouldn't work for folks who don't want to see nudity. It doesn't work for folks who don't wish to have nudity inflicted on them. I'm not as much of a fan of the rides being an in your face protest as I am in favor of the celebration side of the ride. That would mean cooperating with police who try and set up an area for the ride so it doesn't surprise too many folks that don't want to see it.

Still, inflicting nudity on an unsuspecting public isn't the end of the world. It's just not my main idea (though my views are different than some others who participate in the rides). I'm a bit less confrontational than some, even though here in Bellingham, it isn't confrontational compared to some other cities. It's a celebration.

Even if it's just an event where people go who already want to see nudity, that's fine with me. Then the riders can embed the messages of health and reducing global warming into the show. Rather than inflicting nudity where people don't want to see it, inflict messages of health and protecting the environment to the audience that does want to see nudity. That's a big audience.

Use sex appeal to promote bicycling.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Etch A Sketch away the deficit

Could a Romney Presidency increase defense spending, not raise taxes, not harm Medicare and balance the budget? Just put the deficit on an Etch A Sketch and erase it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Historic sign for Bellingham Coal painted on building in Snohomish

Decades ago, Bellingham had lots of coal mining. I think the last mine closed in the 1950s, but now Bellingham is center of another controversy. Shipping coal through Bellingham to Asia from places like Wyoming. Plans to build a new coal port north of Bellingham are controversial. Currently, some coal trains are headed through town to an already existing port in Canada. Asian markets are hungry, but should we continue developing a fossil fuel economy? See my blog entries on the coal train controversy.

Above photo taken 2005 where side of building is incorporated into a restaurant.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Betty Desire makes front cover in Cascadia Weekly Best Of Bellingham edition

Best person in the Cascadia Weekly Best of Bellingham 2012 edition. A Bellingham icon and I know Betty Desire.

Famous as a drag queen who has a very strong social conscious. Always reminding people to vote and, these days, asking folks to vote "yes" on Referendum 74; legalizing gay marriage in the state of Washington.

Betty preforms at various venues, including Rumor's Cabaret where she encourages people to feel comfortable about themselves, remember not to drink and drive and to have a good laugh. Much of her audience isn't gay so she goes beyond preaching to the choir. As her Best of Bellingham nomination shows, Bellingham is, for the most part, a very gay friendly and open minded community.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Detecting planets around other stars is an amazing accomplishment

Artist image reprinted from Astronomy Magazine.

Humans can do some wonderful things, like detecting the slight movement of a star that's 4.3 light years from Earth using an incredibly refined spectrograph called HARPS. According to an article in Astronomy Magazine, the star named Alpha Centauri B has an ever so slight wobble in it's position. This back and forth movement is no more than 20 inches (51 centimeters) per second! That's about the speed of a baby crawling. Amazing they can detect it at all from a distance of 4.3 light years. That wobble is what leads scientists to say that they've discovered a planet around Alpha Centauri B. The planet orbiting that star has a gravitational tug which can be detected in shifting spectral lines and these shifts can be by the HARPS Spectrograph which is located at a large telescope in Chile.

Amazing, when one stops to think about it. What our instruments can do.

Mainstream media has given this discovery some coverage because the Alpha Centauri star system is the nearest neighboring star to our sun. Yes, even in our nearest stellar neighbor resides a planet. On Facebook, people have shared science fiction graphics, from the 1950s, about alien civilizations on Alpha Centauri.

In reality, this planet wouldn't be like Earth, according to the scientists. It's orbiting too close to the star so it would be blazing hot. Other planets may reside in that star system which could be more friendly to Earth style living, but if they do exist, they await further research.

Two of the most common techniques for detecting extrasolar planets are gaining momentum as time goes on. Sensing the wobble of spectral lines (as was done in this case) is called the Radial Velocity Method.

The other big contender for planet discovery is what's in use by the famous Kepler Satellite. That's the satellite which stares constantly at a patch of stars looking for an ever so slight dimming in the light from any one of the stars. That dimming, or wink, is likely to be the result of a planet which is orbiting the star going in front of the star as seen from Earth thus blocking part of the light. Kepler is staring at around 160,000 stars for telltale signs of these tiny winks. It has discovered many planets so far.

Even though we haven't found alien civilizations yet, it's still amazing that we can detect evidence for planets around distant stars at all. We can't actually see these planets, but planets do have an ever so slight effect on the starlight from their stars. The fact that we can extrapolate these sort of things at all is a great testimony to our mastery of technology. Human achievement at it's finest.

Image and below description reprinted from Astronomy Magazine.

This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Alpha Centauri B is the most brilliant object in the sky, and the other dazzling object is Alpha Centauri A. Our own Sun is visible to the upper right. The tiny signal of the planet was found with the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. // Credit: ESO/L. Cal├žada/N. Risinger.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Neither Romney or Obama understand that higher gas prices is why America is becoming more energy efficient

I listened to tonight's presidential debate where high gasoline prices were used as a political football. Both candidates talked about the America's need to produce more domestic fossil fuels and Obama was taking credit for increased production over the past few years. Both were critical of higher gasoline prices, but it seems they don't understand that higher prices are a big part of the reason why domestic energy production is up. Take the Bakken Shale, in North Dakota, as an example. The Bakken Shale has lots of oil, but it's harder to tap than oil of years past. As oil prices go up. Bakken Shale oil becomes more viable.

In the debate, neither candidate mentioned global warming. What's the matter with people?

Both candidates did mention the need to promote green energy, like solar and wind as part of the mix, but Obama gave green energy more emphasis. Good for Obama.

Both did discuss natural gas and I've heard that converting to natural gas could, at least temporarily, bring down the cost of operating an automobile, but who knows. After people convert, those prices could go up also. Remember, natural gas is still a fossil fuel. It's still a non renewable fossil fuel.

Higher gas prices are a blessing in disguise. They might help to push us toward greener energy in the future. Also, in the meantime, they make more of the American fossil fuel resources that are still remaining viable.

Romney talked about new technology for fossil fuel production, like (I'll fill in the blanks) fracking. Maybe fracking isn't the end of the world, but global warming could be if global warming truly accelerates.

Want us to stop blaming President Bush? Okay let's now blame the Republican House of Representatives

Yes, the Republican House is the source for a lot of our current problems.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Three reasons I thought of for Quantitative Easing

Quantitative Easing is basically when the Federal Reserve prints more money to add to the economy. Some people call this "fiat currency" meaning phony or fake currency, but the practice of printing money most likely helps to prop up our society.

Reason 1 for Quantitative Easing that is always mentioned in the media is to stimulate the economy in order to bring down unemployment. Low interest rates and economic stimulation in an attempt to keep unemployment from reaching explosive levels. Explosive meaning possibly social disorder.

Reason 2 for Quantitative Easing. To help fund the Federal government. Yes, I read that somewhere around 40% of the Federal budget comes from borrowing money. Borrowing from creditors or basically borrowing from the Federal Reserve where we print our own money here in USA.

Various political and economic circumstances means the they can't collect enough taxes to fund the government, yet cutting things like the military and Medicare prove problematic. I've been listening to C-Span Radio. Hearing all these folks on Capital Hill testifying before various Congressional committees about how we just can't allow drastic cuts in Pentagon spending as well as other programs. Huge spending cuts that might happen if the Budget Sequester law goes into effect in January.

Remember; the Sequester was an across the board budget cutting deal agreed upon during the battle over raising the debt ceiling in summer of 2011. It applied to both military and domestic programs equally. Especially lots of Republicans are saying we just can't afford those kind of cuts to our military. Meanwhile not just Democrats say that Medicare must continue to meet the needs of our growing senior population. Major cuts translates into doctors turning away Medicare patients and it can be a life or death issue.

Think about all the veterans programs and Medicaid not to mention the very running of our Federal Government. Everything from Congressional salaries to the FBI and the Weather Service. I guess we do need the Federal Government to remain solvent.

A big problem with printing money; especially lots of money, is the threat of inflation. Even hyper inflation. Maybe it hasn't been hyper inflation, but over the past 20 years, or so, we have had significant inflation in certain sectors of the economy; like house prices in some of our cities. After something like the housing bubble that broke in 2008, money printing might be seen as a way to combat deflation. Basically, one can view printing money as a technique to preserve inflation that has already come down the pipeline.

Reason 3 for Quantitative Easing. To prop up high property values. During the real estate bubble, before 2008, property values soared; especially residential property in many parts of the country. Maintaining these high values in the face of a sagging economy is challenging. After the bust of 2008, values did drop and there was fear of deflation. The Fed has been stepping in to try and prop up the housing market. Not only that market, but a lot of jobs associated with it, like home contractors, furniture stores, real estate agents and so forth.

Seems like dropping property values becomes problematic with folks in debt and upside down in their homes. The Fed must see part of their job as to, at least try, to lesson economic pain and disruption. To, at best, try and muddle through.

Speaking of fiat currency, a lot of property values are fiat values. One might think we should just let the market crash. Let the values plummet. At least that might make houses more affordable for large segments of the workforce who tend to be making low wages. Related to this idea is the concept of not bailing out the banks. Many folks will say, they should have not bailed out the banks in 2008. They should have just let them fail.

I'm not necessarily a fan of banks, but one keeps remembering the old phrase, "be careful what you ask for as you might get it." Having our society crash seems exciting at first glance, but I think most folks would be afraid of it really happening. It could turn ugly even though it isn't necessarily guaranteed to turn ugly.

I don't know if people are wanting to give up most of their possessions and follow some kind of a different way of life. Especially post war baby boomers, who have now built up enough inertia making it harder to change course this late in the game. I'm a baby boomer, myself, but I don't have much in the way of possessions. I still have a Bohemian way of life living in a small room and only riding a bicycle. It can be an enjoyable way of life with health and lots of friends, but even someone like me could fear the falling apart of society.

The big money people kind of have us all over a barrel, but we basically have them over a barrel as well. It's called maintaining the Status Quo, or in other words, just getting by.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Learning human body response to weightlessness not real exciting goal for space exploration

NASA's human spaceflight program seems mired in the goal of learning about the effects of long term weightlessness on the body. We know it's hazardous to health so why do we keep struggling with it at great cost? Couldn't future spacecraft just simulate gravity with the centrifugal effect of rotation, thus making survival in the weightless environment a moot point?

Image from Wikipedia

NASA's unmanned space program is doing some exciting things. Just think about the Rovers on Mars, for instance.

Also private enterprise is starting to develop a space tourism industry.

In 1969 to early 1970s, Americans walked on the moon. Now NASA can't even afford a seat on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft which is currently the only way to get humans to the space station. Seat to the highest bidder, singer Sarah Brightman bumps NASA for the flight, but space tourism is starting to takeoff, however.

We have plenty of wealthy people expressing interest for traveling in space. Good news even though some might say we should send our wealthy to space and leave them there. In reality, a round trip to space is becoming more routine; not anywhere near as routine as international jet travel, but possibly headed that way.

Article in above link mentions Spaceship II and some other private enterprise projects to send tourists on short rides above the atmosphere. Starting with the rich, of course, but in the future, who knows. International travel even faster than today's jets? Planes that coast into space on their way between continents?

Sounds far fetched, but modern jet travel would be far fetched to the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1804 - 1806.

NASA still plays a successful role as partner with some of these projects. For instance Space X corporation's private capsule called the Dragon which recently docked with the International Space Station on a supply mission. There are plans for Manned Dragon capsules in the future.

Space can be an ultimate frontier, but at today's level of technology and economic constraints, it seems like we could be focusing our space exploration efforts on more exciting goals than long term survival in weightless environments.