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Reverse Zone, weblog on urban planning, sustainability, and technology.

Martin Laplante

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Fri, 30 Jan 2009

Stop The Earth

The earth is constantly moving. It rotates around its axis, it orbits the sun. The sun, in turn moves around the galaxy, which moves relative to the Local Group of galaxies, which in turn is moving relative the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the echo of the Big Bang, or rather the aftermath of the Big Bang that has reached us so far.

But just like a stopped clock is right twice a day, all this motion in all directions cancels itself out twice a year, around the time of the equinox, on two spots on the Earth's surface. The location and dates of these spots were calculated by Alex Ignatiev, who calls them SHLEM spots (static high latitude equinox modified inertia). So if you want to know what it feels like to be standing still relative to the modern version of Michelson and Morley's "aether", just show up at one of these locations. Just for fun, I made a map of the SHLEM spots from Ignatiev's paper. Click the marker for the date and time.

What will it feel like? Cold! You will notice that they are all in the high arctic or antarctic. From a physics point of view, these spots can be used for experiments to test new theories that predict small deviations from Newton's second law. One of them is MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics) modified inertia that Ignatiev talks about, the other being Modified Gravity as predicted in the latest paper by John Moffatt and Viktor Toth . If they are correct, we would have to change our view of what the universe is made of, getting rid of most of the dark matter.

It may be cold, but it's not every day you get to see Newton's second law violated with impunity.


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Wed, 28 Jan 2009

Amazon CloudFront New Pricing, Cheap At A Million Dollars

I am a fan and a user of Amazon's Cloudfront Content Delivery Network (CDN). If you host content that is available internationally, it is a good way to put some of the static files on a set of servers that is close to the user, so that they can load it faster. It is a self-serve metered solution that calculates to the penny how much you use and charges relatively low rates, about 17-22 cents per gigabyte depending on location.

Today Amazon sent me an e-mail telling me their prices are going down. I like price decreases. As low as 5 cents per gigabyte in high volume, they say. But get to the fine print on the Amazon CloudFront site and you see that the savings are only for those who use more than more than 250 TB per month. 250 Terabytes is a lot of bytes for a single hosting account.

So how much do you have to pay them to get to that level? Have a look at your web server's latest daily log file. Is it less than one billion lines long? Then you don't qualify. 250 Terabytes divided by an average file size of 10 kb, a biggish image or a longish javascript file, is about 25 billion GETs a month or roughly a billion a day. How many hundred million uncached visitors does your web site get on an average day? To get to that 5 cents they talk about you have to use over a petabyte, 1,000 terabytes, of transfer per month. Google's total US bandwidth usage, including mail, web crawling and so forth but excluding YouTube is about 60 petabytes.

If you do the math, adding up the price of the bandwith and the extra penny per ten thousand GETs, you have to pay Amazon over $50,000 per month before you start seeing seeing any of that discount. If you spend a million dollars a year on bandwidth, you save about $2,500. I personally spend a lot less than a million dollars a year on hosting, so it was hardly worth sending me an e-mail about it.


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Canada Spends Billions in Energy INefficiency

Canada's stimulus budget has been unveiled. Pundits expected massive investments in green infrastructure and energy. Unfortunately there are major disappointments.

There are additional funds for energy-saving home retrofits. Even more money for renovations that don't save energy. The financing under the ecoEnergy program that provides grants for wind, small hydro and other clean-energy projects was not extended. This is a great disappointment, especially for the country's hard-hit industrial and manufacturing sector, which stood to be a leader in providing these technologies to the continent and the world. Ontario and Quebec have many companies that are world leaders in green electrical technology. Now the US will certainly leapfrog Canada in this market thanks to their government's spending.

It seems that Canada will be spending more on INefficiency than efficiency. For those unfamiliar with the subject, Carbon Capture and storage (CCS) reduces the efficiency of energy use by a large amount, 30% to over 100% reduction in efficiency depending on technology. It is literally putting money into a hole in the ground at a time when we can ill afford luxuries.

Unfortunately, the laws of thermodynamics and of economics doom it to failure. Separating the low concentration of impure, hot CO2 emitted from combustion processes requires a large amount of energy. Whatever CO2 you manage to extract and bury is negated by what was emitted to produce the extra energy required to separate and bury it. That's why none of the major CCS projects so far have used CO2 that comes from combustion.

When a panel of experts formed by the US National Research Council reviewed the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Carbon Sequestration Program last year, it concluded that carbon sequestration could not be implemented without a significant carbon tax, and examined carbon taxes of $100 or $300 a ton. Even then the benefits are marginal, and they don't include any environmental or security benefit. To make sequestration a viable alternative you need a high price on emissions. But the taxes that make CCS feasible make other low-emission energy cheaper than fossil fuels. Whatever the price of energy, other sources of energy always give a better return on investment.

There are other solutions, even some that reduce GHG emissions without shutting down the mining of bituminous sand. I would like to explore them in a later post. They involve burning or gasifying bitumen rather than upgrading it. Every single political party on the continent has said it is in favour of some kind of carbon pricing, some by carbon tax and some by the more expensive cap-and-trade, and if it stays on the current path of upgrading bitumen, the industry going to suffer a catastrophic crash and take at least a couple of provinces down with it, unless we get this freight train onto another track very soon.


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