Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hooray for higher oil and gasoline prices

Although higher energy prices are certainly seen as a very dark cloud hovering over the economy, it is a cloud with a very bright silver lining. Higher crude oil, gasoline, and heating oil prices are a very clear economic signal to consumers and businesses everywhere: cut back on your energy consumption.

Conservation and efficiency are our friends. If you as a consumer or business are not taking positive actions to conserve your energy use and to switch to more energy-efficient appliances, vehicles, and other equipment, then you deserve to suffer the consequences. You have no right whasoever to whine or complain about high energy prices. They are a clear economic signal. Pay strict attention to all economic signals.

Strong economic signals, such as dramatically higher energy prices, are just the kind of medicine we need to get us to re-focus our human energy on dramatically improved conservation and efficiency measures.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Turning off the alarm clock

Although I like getting up early and getting up with the sun, I had chosen to get up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. every day of my brief career at Microsoft. Although there is a portion of the year when the sun actually is up before 5:00 a.m. in the Seattle area, much of the year it is dark at that hour, so I cannot depend on the sun. I used my old Sony Clie PDA for its alarm clock feature to assure that I would be awake in time to catch the earliest bus from downtown Bellevue to the West Campus of Microsoft in Redmond at 6:05 a.m. and be at my desk by 6:35 a.m. every weekday. I enjoyed the quiet and getting a lot more work done by the time a lot of people came in at 10:00 a.m. or so.

No more now that I am once again independent.

I am going to revert to my old form and simply rise when I happen to, whether it be due to the sun or construction noise across the street (at 5:30 a.m.?!), or simply that I have gotten enough sleep. In truth, I have frequently woken up by 4:30 a.m., but there is no sane need to punctuate the bliss of the early morning with the shock of an alarm clock.

Actually, I have no idea how my work habits and sleep patterns will evolve, but I do intend to get back to a more natural rhythm that makes sense for me.

Alarm clock be gone!

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Getting my weekends back

As I transition from full-time employee at The Evil Empire on Monday to working as a part-time independent software development consultant/contractor for a stealth startup on Tuesday, one of the transitions I will have to cope with is the prospect of getting my weekends back as free time. For the past 21 months I have been working 12 to 13 hours a day during the week at The Empire and have been simply too tired to engage in any of my own projects during the week, so my weekends were the only time that I had the time and energy to "work" on any of my own projects such as blogging. Sure, I got in a little relaxation such as watching a movie or two, but I inevitably consumed a fair number of hours on the weekend on activities other than idle relaxation.

Starting Tuesday, I will have plenty of time to pursue my own projects every day during the week, so the odds are that by the weekend I will want to focus much closer to 100% of my weekend time on relaxation, or at least on personal projects that don't feel as much like "work."

Alternatively, I can easily take off an entire day or more during the week for relaxing activities, and shift only a little if any of my work-like activities (e.g., this blog) into the weekend.

Another activity I would like to bring back into my life is to spend a fair number of hours each week simply reading books. Lately I have crammed so much into a seven-day week that I have had zero time to simply take out an hour or two a day for reading books. The closest I come is stopping by the local Barnes & Noble store and leafing through new books for fifteen or twenty minutes.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Trip to San Francisco?!

I had been hoping to take a short trip down to San Francisco in recent months and even had a trip budgeted for this month, but my decision to resign from my position at The Evil Empire effective Monday and start some part-time work on Tuesday for a stealth startup essentially eliminates the prospects for a visit to San Francisco for the foreseeable future. Sure, I have plenty of cash on hand and technically can afford the trip, but I really need to transition into a tighter budget mentality to avoid feeling pressure to up my hours just to pay for non-essential expenses.

For now, a visit to San Francisco remains a hope for the indefinite future.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, February 11, 2008

Yes, biofuels emit carbon dioxide too!

An article in The New York Times by Elisabeth Rosenthal entitled "Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat" reminds us that even over-hyped biofuels are not a magic solution to Global Warming and Climate Change. As The Times tells us:

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these "green" fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems -- whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America -- not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

"When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially," said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. "Previously there's been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis."


The simple, undeniable fact is that biofuel is still a hydrocarbon and burning of hydrocarbons releases carbon dioxide (and water vapor which is also a greenhouse gas.)

All along, we have been counting on many thousands of square miles of plants to continue absorbing carbon dioxide, but by misguidedly focusing energy on land-intensive biofuels, we are giving up one of our best sinks for excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Further evidence that ill-considered, short-sighted "fixes" for environmental issues is not a very good idea.

In short, biofuels are in fact a good idea, but pursuing them as a land-intensive "crop" is not environmentally sustainable.

Algae-based biofuels are one interesting alternative.

-- Jack Krupansky