The Point Of A Limbo Stick Is That Eventually Everyone Falls Down And Looks Dumb

October 23rd, 2008 by owenam

At the end of a nice NYT Magazine article on the causes and effects of oil pricing, Roger Lowenstein wisely points out that what should worry us is not how high oil can go, but how low. The higher the price, the more urgent it becomes to develop workable alternative energy technologies. If the price continues to drop, we’ll lose the momentum we’ve gained over the past year.

What the country doesn’t want is to remain dependent only on oil — to lose the urgency to develop alternatives. It happened once before. After the gas lines of the ’70s, Jimmy Carter declared that solving our energy problems was the moral equivalent of war. Then, in the 1980s, Americans forgot.

…because oil prices plummeted and Joe “The Plumber” Sixpack went back to worrying about the Russians. There’s no way Congress is going to stay interested in solving the problem if voters aren’t yelling about it. And anyway, even if they do try to play the hero by identifying and subsidizing development of the next big thing, they are not going to get it right:

… even if politicians act with the purest of motives, there are simply too many possibilities … (fuel cells, nickel-hydride or lithium-ion batteries, natural gas, biofuel from wood chips and oil itself) to know which will prove the most feasible.

Sure, they could (and, I suspect I would find, are) just try to fund all the possibilities, but part of the game is that we need to be able to quickly jettison the ideas that aren’t panning out, and expand our investment in those that are. Good luck getting that to happen without having to wait a few election cycles. No, this sounds like a job for the private sector. The trick is to make alternative energy technologies a good investment — and keep them that way — so that America’s captains of industry will naturally join the hunt and Congress can get back to filming the next season of CSPAN. To do this, Lowenstein suggests

… [dusting] off an idea that Gerald Ford once proposed: a tax on oil. Ideally, it would kick in only if the price fell back to, say, $70 a barrel. The beauty of this tax is that, very likely, no one would have to pay it. The tax would merely serve as a floor — a new lower bound.

I met an RV-driving Texan campground host in Glacier National Park who proposed the same thing two months ago, when gas was still $4/gallon. I should have asked her to run for Congress. She probably knows how to field-dress a moose.

You Say You Want a Wikipedia

April 29th, 2008 by owenam

Via kottke, an essay on Gin, Television, and Social Surplus:

For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time. And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan’s Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.

When my mother disapproves of a TV show, or of TV in general, she shakes her head and says, “this is why there will never be another American revolution.” It’s really a pretty good point (if applied a little selectively), and one that I think Gil Scott-Heron missed. No one’s going to show up for his party because he scheduled it for a Thursday and they don’t want to miss the new Grey’s Anatomy, which is better than his silly revolution because the people are more attractive and you can skip out for a beer during the commercials.

Or perhaps that’s exactly his point, but if he wants to do something about it he should look for some sponsors and maybe think about voting people off the revolution every week. Potential tie-in with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Maybe we can TiVo the revolution?

But that’s not really the point of the essay. The point is that perhaps we are finally coming up with something more constructive — more of an investment — to do with the surplus:

…if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought.

But there’s still a whole lot left:

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television.

I will paraphrase that for emphasis: if every American stopped watching television for a year, we would have enough time to recreate the entirety of Wikipedia 2,000 times over. (Of course, we would have to leave out all the articles about Desperate Housewives.)

What I’m Really Worried About

March 12th, 2008 by owenam

Forget the price of oil — the price of peanut M&Ms has increased 13% in the past week!

Bike #4

March 3rd, 2008 by owenam

Last week I had N bikes, this week I have N+1. The newest is a Surly Travelers Check (I wanted to put some punctuation in there but had to delete it) — it’s essentially a Cross-Check (why does that one get a hyphen?) that’s been chopped in half and then reassembled with Bicycle Torque Couplings by S&S Machine. The point of this is that by uncoupling the frame you can pack the whole bike down into a box that can be checked on an airplane.

Right now, though, its just a frame, some wheels, and a big pile of parts. More details as I start to put it together.

Lance Armstrong Wants To Make Austin the Portland of the South

February 15th, 2008 by owenam

Being a Lance fan is a complicated and conflicted business. But I’m willing to forget all the doping suspicions, defensiveness, and single-mindedness after reading:

“This city is exploding downtown. Are all these people in high rises going to drive everywhere? We have to promote bike commuting,” Armstrong said Wednesday, gazing up at the towering 360 condos rising next to the site of his new shop. “This can be a hub for that.”

He’s opening a bike shop with the explicit goal of encouraging and facilitating bike commuting and general bike transportation in central Austin. Crucially, it’s trying not to be just another clearninghouse for high-end Treks: the location is a remodeled 50-year old downtown building, which should help to draw attention to the type area where bike commuting can be most successful. I’d be interested to see how well this part works out:

Showers and a locker room will allow commuters who don’t have facilities at their offices to ride downtown, store their bikes at the shop, bathe and catch a ride on a pedicab or walk the rest of the way to work.

Read more, and check out pictures and video (mostly of Lance, of course), in the Austin 360 article.

Oh yeah — it’s going to be called Mellow Johnny’s!