Hybrid Plug-ins 100MPG & Hydrogen Fuel, Cashmere Mafia v. Lipstick Jungle, AMA Medical Insurance Proposal

Hillary ClintonI am nothing short of amazed at all the news there is each week in the field of renewable energy. I would virtually have to start making this a daily column just to keep up with it all. On the other hand that would be thoroughly un-necessary because most of what is reported as “news” comes down to rather trivial matters of “announced” contracts which may or may not ever amount to anything of substance.

On the other hand, sometimes it takes a half a day of research just to find out if the “announcement” of a “BREAKTHROUGH” is justified, or just hype. One such instance was an item I came across this week claiming that a British firm, ITM Power, of Yorkshire, has achieved a “breakthrough” in converting renewable energy sources into hydrogen for use not only as a portable fuel, but to fuel households (in England at least) for both heating and cooking purposes. They did admit that your “gas cooker” (what we would call a “stove”)(or an oven and stove) would have to be “slightly modified” as would the Ford Focus dual fuel internal combustion engine. In addition, the operating principles of this system are based the assumption that you have a wind turbine on your roof, or that the roof is covered in solar panels to provide you with a source of renewable energy, otherwise the only great advantage of the system is that you could use off-peak electricity at lower costs to accomplish the conversion of ordinary water into hydrogen (and release extra oxygen into the atmosphere, or at least they didn’t mention trying to make use of the oxygen generated when splitting the water molecules).

Now if all of that negativity and intentional deflating description of the so-called “breakthrough” has led you to believe that I am no fan of this accomplishment, I should apologize for leading you down the garden path in this case. The real breakthrough of ITM Power is that they have come upon a method of constructing these electrolysers that reduces the cost from an industry average of some US$2000/kW, to something like US$163/kW.

Now if you want to consider that any 7th grade science student can electrolyze water with a $0.20 battery, $0.02 of wire and some electrodes, a US$163/kW might seem like no great bargain. On the other hand, a commercial grade product that can accomplish this benchtop demonstration in a safe and reliable manner, storing the hydrogen for transmission to “cooker” or the family Volvo, this could, indeed, be good news, worthy of the title.

If you have been reading my column for any time at all, you know how frustrated I get with the too little too late snail’s pace of progress in most places, which is why it puzzles me that I found it very encouraging news that Pacific Gas and Electric has contracted with a company called “Raser” to provide them with a pair of plug-in hybrid SUV’s for evaluation. Reportedly these vehicles would be able to achieve a net of 100 MPG by having a 40 mile range on a fully charged battery alone, and the story makes it sound like the onboard engine generates electricity (rather than powering the car directly) for another 400 miles from a (tiny?) tank of gas.

PG&E has already gone to great lengths to “Green” up their fleet of vehicles. They just purchased 250 new Compressed Natural Gas vehicles to bring their total of CNG and dual-fuel CNG to 1180 cars and trucks. They are also experimenting with a Ford Escape that they have converted to be a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and a Ford F550 heavy duty truck. I saw my first F550 at the car wash the other day (I know, I lead a sheltered life, but hey, I don’t get out much since I’ve been married) (27 years next month). This little monster was reported by the owner to be a highly reliable vehicle that had been used to pull 5th wheel style trailers across the continent frequently, though unfortunately he was not using biodiesel in the big V8 diesel engine. He asked about my mini-van, saying his wife was pushing him in that direction. I told me we liked the Pontiac, but our other car was a Ford product, the Mercury Mariner hybrid, and we have been pleased with that so far. He indicated he might consider a hybrid, so I suggested he look at the Saturn VUE hybrid which starting in 2008 was supposed to have electronic vehicle stabilization as a standard feature. The Mariner offered electronic stability control in all models EXCEPT the hybrid.

Speaking of choice in hybrid varieties, I don’t think it elicited a laugh, or even a chuckle from me, but I did appreciate the fact that Lexus now has a whole series of Hybrid model vehicles available, or rather, most precisely, a hybrid for each of their GS, LS and RX series or models. Their lame attempt at humor in their advertising campaign about the “h” disappearing from alphabets everywhere else because they now have to be used for the “h” in the model numbers of the Lexus hybrids is catchy, but falls short of actual humor. On the other hand, the fact that Lexus now offers a line of hybrid is no joke either, so credit where credit is due, this is a good thing.

Speaking of “credit”, yours had better be pretty good if you want one of the Lexus machines, the manufacturer’s base price for a GS 450h is US$54,900, and although the Active Power Stabilizer Suspension System (with run-flat tires) is an available option, it will add another $3300 to the price, add another US$2850 for their “Pre-Collision System (PCS) and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control” package and another US$1500 for the voice activated navigation system.

They also are working on their corporate citizenship by recommending ways for hybrid drivers to help economize with their new cars. From the Lexus website’s “Fuel Economy” page:

  1. 1. Plan ahead. Combine short trips in order to minimize cold starts.
  2. 2. Accelerate slowly.
  3. 3. Avoid heavy braking. Monitor traffic to minimize braking and coast whenever possible.
  4. 4. Avoid speeds in excess of 60 mph. Fuel economy suffers at speeds higher than 60 mph and drops significantly above 70 mph.
  5. 5. In slow-and-go traffic, accelerate to the desired speed, then lift off the accelerator pedal, allowing the vehicle to run more on electric power.
  6. 6. Ensure tires are at the recommended pressure.
  7. 7. Avoid carrying unnecessary loads. Extra weight reduces fuel economy.
  8. 8. Use the air conditioner and the defroster only when needed.
  9. 9. Use premium fuel to improve fuel economy and performance.

Frankly I have to wonder if this last one is not just something to pander to the “snob appeal” of the luxury car buyer market. Generally, premium fuel does not deliver any better gas mileage and most experts recommend against it unless the engine specifically requires it, because any performance increase is likely to be less than the proportional cost increase.

Lexus does list a number of the benefits to owning hybrid vehicles, including, “increased horsepower, lower emissions, smoother ride, reduced noise,” (one of my favorites, it’s just fun to drive down our street with the Mercury SUV making less noise than our neighbors’ electric golf carts), “longer battery life, and better fuel economy.”

I don’t approve the following message, but it isn’t my campaign. However you will note that the story has been very carefully crafted not to “hurt the party” (the Democratic Party, that is, of course), because it is accusing Senator Obama of being complicit in policies of the Bush administration, thus it is not exactly fodder for the Republican side, which has already launch anti-Obama media.

What I do like in recent developments in the campaign is the fact that Senator Obama and Senator McCain have been confrontative of each other. I think this is a far more constructive (so far) route for all concerned. I know that they claim “negative ads work”, but that doesn’t me I have to like to see them, and I don’t. Actually I found the above YouTube.com video clip in an excellent column in Newsweek online by Andrew Romano which is probably worth reading (certainly if you happen to read this column before next Tuesday and the results of the Wisconsin primary are not yet in).

Mr. Romano seems to think that there is a very strong possibility that Senator Clinton will pull out a “surprise” victory (on this point he agrees with CBS political analyst and Slate.com’s political columnist Jeff Greenfield) in Wisconsin, in part because Wisconsin closely matches Ohio where she is strongly favored because of the composition of the electorate there. Analysis from This Week with George Stephanopolous was of the opinion that Senator Hillary Clinton needs to win all three of Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania to put the outcome of the leadership race to rest before the convention and even then she will need the majority of the so-called “super-delegates” to achieve the necessary majority. Greenfield says, as I have recently, that the “managed expectations game” that the Clinton campaign machine is working is a finely honed strategy that they execute very effectively, and that he expects: “Indeed, its potential for Hillary is so promising that it’s worth pondering whether the “on to Texas and Ohio!” battle cry of her campaign might be one huge head fake, designed to turn a strong Clinton showing—much less a victory—into one of those ‘Oh my God, what a shocker!’ reactions that changes the whole tenor of the political conversation.”

I would really like to see Senator Clinton’s campaign focus turn toward the matchup with the Republican candidate, and not risk damaging Democrats themselves any further with negative attacks.

This falls into the realm of politics too. I meant to get on with the entertainment news but this got me steamed, so the entertainment side will have to wait ’til the steam pressure goes down. Reason for steam: The AMA has a Health Insurance proposal for you to consider.

In the proposal linked above, the AMA shows us that what we need (according to the good doctors) is a tax credit for individuals to buy their own health insurance. Having worked at H&R Block for several tax seasons in the past, I can assure you that most Americans don’t have a tax burden sufficient to be able to use a tax credit of the size the AMA is proposing (their example shows a tax credit to a family [presumably 4 persons]) of US$7500. If the government were to make it a “refundable credit” (the “earned income credit” which is currently available to low income tax “payers” [and I use the term “payers” loosely, because these are people who file income taxes in order to receive this federal income subsidy] to try to extend this benefit to low income families, I assure you that it would not go, in the majority of cases, to purchase health insurance. They might use it to pay off last year’s hospital maternity bill that wasn’t covered by insurance they didn’t have last year, but more likely it would go to purchase a better used car than the rusty old hulk they are driving now, or to buy some “personal watercraft”, or ATV or two. Purchasing health insurance is just not seen as a “necessary” investment of substantial portion of income by most low income wage earners.

The AMA’s magic formula is shown in an example of a US$50,000 household versus a US$150,000 household, where the latter gets NO tax credit, while both families are expected to have employer provided health care insurance that amounts to about US$10,000 per year as a precursor to this example, in which the employer pays 75% of that US$10,000 premium. Now, at no time to my hands leave my sleeves during this “magic” transformation, but the employer provided premiums continue to be paid by the employer, but are now counted as employee salary. (From what well of the milk of human kindness the AMA believes these blessings flow, I don’t know, but it seems like a highly unlikely scenario.) However unlikely, they continue now to show that the US$7500 that was formerly subsidized by the employer for both employees is now substituted for by the corresponding US$7500 tax credit against the US$50,000 family’s now US$57,500 taxable income, thus having transformed healthcare costs for the lesser income family from 18% to just 4% while the upper income family’s healthcare costs rise from only 5% to just 6% overall.

Let’s get reasonable, please. “For profit” organizations providing healthcare insurance are in the business for the benefit of the shareholders, not for the benefit of the policy holders. That’s why we see instances like the recently highly publicized one in which a girl with significant medical difficulties was being denied a liver transplant by the insurance company until the day she died, at which time, due to public pressure they reversed their decision. It doesn’t have to be “single payer” healthcare (as in one monolithic federal health insurance system), but it certainly needs to be a national plan of NOT-FOR-PROFIT. Single payer does have tremendous economies of administrative overhead and costs, plus the advantage that individual health care providers don’t have to maintain elaborate accounting and billing systems that address the demands of every separate insurance provider. I know of a local clinic here in Phoenix that offers a 40% to 60% discount for “self-pay” because of how much cheaper it is to deal with a cash client than insurance claims.

I am rapidly running out of time for today, so I will just mention that two shows cut from the same cloth have caught our attention, Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle. Lipstick Jungle was rather a disappointment in the debut episode last week, but this week they redeemed themselves. That is fortunate for Lipstick’s cast, because they benefit from being born from the brain of HBO’s now defunct Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell. The stars of Litpstick Jungle are the still beautiful Brooke Shields, Kim Raver, veteran of several seasons of Third Watch and 24, and a truly sparkling Lindsay Price. Cashmere Mafia is quirkier, and easier to like at first glance, especially the always charming Lucy Liu (formerly of Ally McBeal series, and the Quentin Tarantino film series Kill Bill), Frances O’Connor, and Miranda Otto, and Bonnie Sommerville. In the pilot episode Sommerville’s character is suddenly smitten with another woman, a turn of events she finds both intriguing and unexpected. Neither show is aimed to steal fans from the wrestling or bass fishing channel, but with such a range of choices of beautiful women, they just might end up attracting a few glassy stares from mesmerized males.

Love,

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Wood for Coal?, Propaganda x 3, Video Everywhere (almost), Obama the Beautiful

I saw a documentary film a night or two ago.  The title was “Six Degrees” but although it intended to capitalize on the popularity of that name (the film starring Will Smith and Donald Sutherland)this was about speculations on the effects of global warming.  You’ll find this a “theme” in the stuff I am talking about this week, but this so-called “documentary” television program was bordering on grossly exaggerated propaganda, so of which was highly speculative, and some of it, intentionally misleading.  Rather ringingly absent from the program was anything relating the supposed effects of “global warming” to any kind of time line.  I may have missed it, but nowhere that I saw was there any attempt to correlate degrees of warming (in Fahrenheit, of course, for American audiences) with a time period over which that warming would have the proposed effect.  One year or even two with the whole 6 degrees of warming for JUST that year or two would actually have relatively little effect in the longer term.  More in the realm of reality if we have 2 degrees of warming (Fahrenheit) for 4 decades, yes, we’d probably see changes in ocean currents and the other “global effects” this program purported to be facts, but that was never part of their equation.  They just kept bumping up the temperature and piling disastrous effect on top of devastations from the previous state. 
Barack Obama

This kind of yellow journalism was bad enough, but we hit intentional deception and misleading editing when repeatedly thoughout the program we were shown images of steam escaping from cooling towers, of conventional electric generating plants and from the nuclear cooling towers of Three Mile Island.  The fact that there once was radiation contaminated steam rising from those towers at Three Mile Island is not something to be glossed over lightly, but in this instance, the editors and producers were (barring gross ignorance on their part) trying to imply that all this was heavy releases of particulates and carbon dioxide contributions to global warming.  Water vapor condensing into steam is not a major contributor to climate change, and the use of the images of these billowing white clouds to suggest that we were witnessing “smokestack” pollution is downright dishonest.  Propaganda is too polite a word for it.

“Wood is the new coal,” was the proclamation in a brief article that came to my attention this week.  That’s not all that pleasant a thought to me, but then I gave it a little deeper consideration, and frankly, to some extent that is correct.  The difference is that unlike the unfortunate ignorance of my own forefathers who denuded their native Fair Isle (off the North coast of Scotland) of all but ONE TREE in their desperate attempts to stave off death by freezing (as well as to boil their porridge, of course), we have the chance to apply modern silvaculture and seek alternative sources for the vegetative matter.  Note that I didn’t call them “trees”, because although they are substantially “wetter” to start with, the most efficient green plans we know about these days are still algae.
That is not to say, either, that the development of wood pellet making plants in Northern Florida (by Green Circle Bio Energy, a subsidiary of SCE Group of Sweden) to export 120 truckloads (20 train car loads) of wood in the pellet form to Europe each and every DAY when they enter full production later this Spring is insignificant, because we need to recognize that even with the trees coming, in this instance, (reportedly) from managed tree farming areas, that such practices may not always be strictly observed in every place that attempts to duplicate this process.   The trees are ground to a find powder, dried and compressed as pellets. They are intended specifically for the European electric generating industry.  This report cites coal fired electric generating plants as having successfully tested combined coal and wood pellets combustion for steam generation as high as 10% wood pellets.  The basic premise, of course, is that trees being renewable resource and absorbing carbon dioxide to produce their growth are part of the non-fossil carbon cycle, and therefore not adding to the carbon load in the atmosphere.
The secondary problem, however, may lie in the success of this type of use.  If it becomes widespread enough, we could end up treeless like the Fair Isle.  Okay, perhaps not entirely treeless, but demand is likely to outstrip supply if the trend is allowed to grow for a few decades.
The primary problem is, of course, that although 90% coal combustion is better than 100% it is too small a change to meet the demands we are facing in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources.
Okay, keeping in mind that I found this on a “social networking site” under a label saying, “Modern Propaganda?” this video was just so beautifully done that it was effectively (and affectively) inspirational.  Now that is not to say that it changed by views politically (I am already a “fan”,  just with limited to how fast want to see him rise), but this video, put together in an extremely professional and polished way was truly impressive.

It also didn’t hurt that Kate Walsh (formerly of <A HREF=http://abc.go.com/primetime/greysanatomy/index?pn=index><B><I>Grey’s Anatomy</I></B></a> and Scarlet Johansson (of <I><B>Lost in Translation </B></I> fame) were in there, supporting Senator Obama.
In Iowa, a state of which I became considerably fonder when Senator Obama was so thoroughly endorsed by members of the Democratic Party caucuses, a certain Mr. Curtis Hartog, a senior technical consultant for Foth Infrastructure & Environment, of Lake Elmo, Minn.,  reported to the Waste Commission of Scott County, that all 5 technologies that produce energy from waste were too expensive to be considered, when, as Executive Director of the Commission, Kathy Morris says that the current landfill being used still has 50 years capacity at this time.  The  was all reported in <A HREF=http://www.qctimes.com/articles/2008/02/08/news/local/doc47abe87535e0c865319010.txt> an article in the “Quad City Times” (online edition)</A>, in which we are informed that, “The cost of turning waste into energy can run as high as $150 per ton, while the price of the fuel produced fluctuates with market demand.” 
Let me see if I can dig up the Changing World Technologies estimates of mixed MSW to fuel.  Old data I have squirreled away suggests that Changing World Technologies (now a partner with ConAgra in the plant in Carthage, Missouri) expected to get about 20% usable fuel oil from mixed municipal solid wastes via what was then called “thermal depolymerization” (which Mr. Appel and friends now calls TCP for “thermal conversion process”).  Now, even allowing that figure to be pretty optimistic, especially considering that they had trouble scaling up to their current plant, so let’s cut that down to 15% or about 300 pounds of fuel output per ton of waste input.  Assuming diesel fuel at about 6.8 pounds per gallon, that should be about 44 gallons.  Now, admittedly, municipalities may not have to pay retail prices for the quantities of products they buy, but since the gas station I passed today had diesel fuel on sale for $3.29, and I’ve seen it higher lately, that certainly suggests to me that even with Mr. Hartog’s “as high as” scenario of $150 per ton it is pretty close to break-even.  And that is not taking into consideration the environmental impact of the fact that landfill garbage rots over time, producing methane, which although it is possible to collect it from a properly constructed landfill site, is actually a worse contributor to climate changing greenhouse gases than mere carbon dioxide. 
Taking that these facts in combination with the fact that most people who want to construct waste-to-energy plants will cheerfully do so with private capital, accept municipal solid wastes (MSW) into their facility for less than the typical “tipping fee” charged even to municipalities themselves as privately owned landfill sites to dump something there, and can still make a profit (because with “negative cost” feedstock [due to the tipping fee], and the fact that virtually all of the possible energy-from-waste processes are at least partially self-fueling), in most cases the worst case cost scenario does not apply.
For my last point I a return to the point of “modern propaganda”.  One of the films nominated for an Oscar this year is a strange little animated feature.  <I><B>Persepolis  </B></I> (of which I have only seen brief promotional cuts) is the story of a young girl and her family in Iran at the time of the revolution that deposed the Shah.  I reserve final judgment until I have at least seen more of it, but the rather blatant anti-Iranian viewpoint, not just anti-Islamist intolerance viewpoint, it certainly looks like more propaganda (in black and white, a hallmark of propaganda traditionally) than “art”.
Okay, I lied, this last item is one that crosses categories, so while it is “kinda” entertainment news, it is also marketing and publishing news.  There is a new service from Google that allows website owners to put a video feed on every page of their web sites (not that we’d recommend that kind of oversaturation, but in theory it is at least possible).  Not only is that video feed updates on an ongoing basis, but it is also “tunable” content, which is to say, you can request just certain video “producers” like the national (American, as far as I know) television networks, or as specific as YouTube’s “geriatric1927” or “lonelygirl15” (a fictional character from some innovative “soap opera” producers), or just a theme, like “auto racing”.  But it is also publishing and marketing news that Google is offering this because this type of video feed will also have “commercials” associated with it.  Revenue from those commercials will be split between the web site publisher and Google (if you know how to set up this kind of arrangement), so the day of “everybody becomes a broadcaster” on “commercially supported” channels has arrived.  Talk about the democratization of the media!!  You can get more information about this at <A HREF=http://googleadsfree.winfotech.com/>http://googleadsfree.winfotech.com/</A&gt; (That page doesn’t actually contain all the info about the Google ad supported video feeds, but if you sign up in the form provided, the follow up emails will explain it all, and I can also personally attest that the information being sold through the offer on that page was well worth the price, at least from my perspective as a website publisher and author.)
Love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

p.s. Oh, and just in case you are inclined to think of “diet” as a “dirty” word, you might want to check out our new UNdiet site at <A HREF=http://undietlifestyle.winfotech.com/>UNDIETLIFESTYLE.winfotech.com</A>.

Imperium Delays IPO; Fed Rate Cut Still Coming; Bartiromo, Gates, Soros, Dell, Bono at WEF Summit; Obama Doubles Clinton; Kennedy’s Double Endorse Obama

Imperium Renewables, the Seattle based firm with the largest US based biodiesel plant (at Grays Harbor) has delayed plans for an IPO citing “market conditions”. This move was widely anticipated after the departure of their CEO. However, another interpretation has also been put forth which is that because of the tripling of biodiesel production capacity in the US, and the rise in Soy Oil prices there just is not enough available feedstock to supply additional plants at this time. Indeed the Greentech Media article that summarizes these facts proclaims “Feedstock Shortage” in its headline.

Of course, the “not enough” feedstock is not really the problem at all. The problem is that feedstocks for the popular, cheap and easy method of making biodiesel, using a catalyst, and ethanol (or methanol) to esterify vegetable oil needs cheap vegetable oil to keep it cheap (which is to say, competitively priced). Biodiesel as an industry has become its own major competitor. According to the same Greentech Media article, Soy Oil cost just US$ 0.27/lb. (or US$ 540/Ton) back in August of 2006, while the December 2007 price has soared to US$ 0.44/lb. which comes out to US$ 960/Ton. That’s a 56% increase in less than 18 months.

Few will question that when cooler heads prevail that we will be seeing a lot more of jatropha and other non-edible oils becoming more important rapidly over the next few years. Off to a slower start may be the algadiesel based on the oil content of the fast growing green plant. But let us not neglect, either the use of genetic engineering and “synthetic biology” in which microbes are being grown specifically to produce “long chain alcohols” (butanol, for example) from cellulosic sources. Since, as far as I know, the oil content of algae is of no particular interest to these microbes that are producing butanol from the cellulose and lignin of plants (5 carbon sugars, as opposed to the 6 carbon sugars of glucose and sucrose) it would well behoove those working in these to areas to start talking and experimenting cooperatively and collaboratively. Wouldn’t you agree?

I always find it incredible that occasions like a G8 meeting or this week’s World Economic Forum annual Summit in Davos, Switzerland, produce a horde of, often unruly, protestors who are AGAINST globalization. There is entirely too much of the “us” (whoever “we” are) against “them” (and it matters little which “they” anyone refers to, since being “not us” is perceived as being inherently a bad thing). Globalization is about spreading the wealth. That is not to say that I don’t recognize that some exporters of jobs aren’t doing it to “exploit” the cheap labor in other parts of the world, but driving down costs while increasing profits is the aim. The idea that all CEO’s and boards of directors of major multinational conglomerates somehow match the moustache twisting, black hat image of 19th century melodrama villains is a little far out there.

The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries were building on ancient knowledge that had been ignored (if not outrigh suppressed) for anything up to a couple of thousand years. Unrestrained by public opinion, or the threat of exposure to public criticism, the so-called “Robber Barons” were indeed almost incomprehensibly callous in their tactics and even occasionally completely immoral in their practices. But major publicly held corporations do tend to have to answer for their actions and even their motives to the media and the public. The collapse of Enron is the prime example in recent times, though there have been others too.

My wife (I blame her NYC upbringing) tends to see corruption and conspiracies lurking around every corner, even brazenly in plain site. She is not entirely wrong, but I hope she is not right as often as she believes she is. (That’s dangerous talk to put in print, so I’m hereby claiming temporary insanity in case we ever find ourselves in court.)

The fact is that I hope that the majority of businesses and business people have in mind to make their living by an ethically sound set of business practices to make the world a better place for themselves, their family and ultimately the world entire. Now all of that is preamble to the fact that I was teaching a class on industrialization last week, combined with the fact that I have been paying attention to a gentleman who I know only through internet correspondence as S. Kumar. S. Kumar is a resident of India, and seems to know a good deal more than I do about how to make money on the internet. The combination of these two factors, along with my long support of micro-credit as a means of bringing about some greater degree of equality globally, have led me to a new paradigm that I hope some readers will find interesting.

NEW PARADIGM

Global Village Cottage Industry is not as catchy a name as I would like it to be, but it does describe this concept that borrows a little, too, from Isaac Asimov’s writings. Examples have been cited in literature about microcredit that speak of an “instant phone company” when a small, and previously isolated village suddenly gains access to market information because a microloan allows one villager (or that that villager’s family) to acquire a cell phone. Suddenly the local basket weavers can access information from an uncle or a cousin in a larger town or city to discover what the market price of baskets (or whatever commodity) may be that week, and therefore better able to either price their own labors locally, or to attempt to calculate the costs/benefits of providing their own transportation and/or wholesale to the big city markets.

It is, in fact, possible now to earn several hundred dollars per week from a modest web presence, some of which can operate on “autopilot” for years drawing a few dollars a week, while others, which might require more human intervention and attention to keep it “tuned” to the market. For those villages where average wages are about US$1 per day or less, facilitating a micro-economy of internet information brokerage could well represent a doubling of the village’s total net income. In remote villages where impoverished populations are isolated additional challenges and difficulties might also need to be addressed. Items like how to connect to the internet via phone lines, much less high-speed data lines could be a really difficult feat, especially at moderate costs. Just supplying power to a computer or two might require a generator or a solar panel (charging all day just to run the computer for a few hours at night) perhaps.

It is of no particular consequence to the owner of the web site, nor to its’ users whether the owner may be in New York City, or Elberta, Alabama, or Mumbai, India, though server space on a direct high speed optical connection to the backbone of the net may be more expensive than a server in a basement in Siberia somewhere. Nor am I advocating that this should be the only industry in town, for we saw what can happen to a New England milltown when competition closes the mill. But it is possible to establish this kind of “cottage industry” virtually anywhere, and by capturing even a miniscule percentage of the worldwide traffic for certain items of ecommerce, it becomes possible to generate a modest income by American or North American standards, but that same very modest income to us, might represent full-on luxurious to an otherwise impoverished family in an isolated and economically disadvantaged community.

Just to be clear, here, let me state that I am not talking about publicizing the basket weaving skills of the locals, although that too could be one way to monetize a web presence. I mean that merely becoming a source of information that attracts people, one has the opportunity to earn a living by having once gained their trust, to refer them to other information of value, which might include pure information (“how to’s” or houseplans) or access to money saving opportunities, like sales at Amazon.com (collecting affiliate commissions on sales made because of their referrals). At the same time large organization in the retail field like Wal-mart, K-Mart/Sears, Circuit City, and so on, are also placing retail advertising wherever they can “capture eyes”, so merely having traffic to your sight could make you eligible to earn from the “publishing” of some of that advertizing content as well.

CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, who had a rather rapid rise to national television stardom just a few years ago had an interesting program this Sunday with an array of movers-and-shakers for guest. Not the least of her interviews was a satellite link to Texas (Ms. Bartiromo was in Davos covering the World Economic Summit) with former President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, Mr. Robert McTeer. Mr. McTeer claims that he had been advocating “strong action” to avoid recession, meaning at least 50 basis points (0.5%) cut in the Fed Funds Rate. Mr. McTeer, with better comic delivery than most economic heavy-weights, joked in poker playing terms that they saw his bet and raised him a quarter, which resulted in the Fed Chairman Bernanke’s cut of 3/4’s of a percent in the first cut issued by the Fed outside its regularly scheduled meetings since 1971 according to Ms. Bartiromo’s Wall Street Journal Report program on CNBC.

Mr. McTeer, however, was not impressed with the tax rebate giveaway the politicians were putting together. He didn’t mention, but I think that I did (with respect to one of Congressman Ron Paul’s policies about expansion of the money supply), that the M4 money supply was increased by fiat in December by more than US$ 40 billion. (Yes, “Billion,” though the “funny money” auctions, as Congressman Paul might call them, were not until this month and next, I believe.) Mr. McTeer also said that he felt that the economic effects of the US$ 150 billion giveaway by Congress and the President in the form of direct rebates to taxpayers (plus business incentives and tax breaks) [and the probable “piling on” of some “tasty” pork by the Senate, as Donna Brazile on This Week with George Stephanopolous put it] was unlikely to be necessary considering the cooperative spirit of the Fed and it’s quick action. Mr. McTeer did suggest, however, that he felt it was a good possibility that there may be an additional 0.25% interest rate cut coming, and that could happen as soon as the next regularly schedule Fed meeting.

And in the rest of the class of “heavy-weight” Maria found Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and Bono promoting Bono’s “RED” campaign to pay for HIV/AIDS drug treatments for Africans. Another interesting picture on the World Economic Forum website was one in which I believe I saw Bill Gates on stage with the Chairmen and CEO’s of BOTH Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nor would it be prudent to ignore that George Soros was also present at the summit. Mr. Soros is, I understand, also scheduled to appear on a CNBC European broadcast in a debate on economic policy in which the resolution he speaks to is something to the effect that their needs to be, “a new sheriff in town,” on the world economic stage, because central bankers have, “lost their way.”

Speaking of, “lost their way,” the anticipated boom from computer telephony integration (or “CTI” as it was called in the comupter and communications industries) never really took place (except behind the scenes where it ended up crashing some of my early retirement dreams as Lucent Technologies stock took a dive at the turn of the century) although the anticipation of it may have inspired physicists to postulate “dark energy” because most of the fiber-optic cable that was laid in preparation for the explosion of demand remains “dark” (unlit by the necessary lasers to make it useful) because bringing it on line would cause existing tariffs to drop like stones to virtually nothing and it is hard for communications companies to continue to charge premium rates for guaranteed premium grade “quality of service” when there is no shortage of bandwidth for everyone everywhere. (It’s another one of those “corporate inertia” things I spoke about last week that I find so annoying, everyone is so worried about preserving today’s established markets that they stifle the evolution of new markets and new technologies to protect the old territories.) But the convergence we are now seeing is one of cell phones with video displays also accessing web based data and gradually creeping in is the GPS integration of local commercial information as well.

Things do not always work out the way we expect or plan them to. I predicted the future of the internet quite a number of years ago. Projecting the number of subscribers was not my field (and still isn’t), but technology was, (and is), so I predicted several things. I expected to see a proliferation of “virtual reality” sights. That has been slow in coming about, but one example does stand out. I believe the most prominent example today is “Second Life”, which is a really interesting phenomenon itself, because although it strongly resembles the Dungeons and Dragons romantic sword and sorcery roll playing games of the 1980’s and 1990’s, this seems to be a place to meet and greet real friends (new and old). I won’t try to pigeonhole the D&D crowd but I will say that computer game players started out as the more geeky among us, and while one cannot know how many still are, the mere fact that these communities of online folks interact socially makes them seem to have more adventurous and more gregarious natures than those nerds and computer jockeys of old.

Now I have to admit I was more than a little bit spoiled by my early computer experiences. Mind you, I admit that I am discounting [naturally enough, I THINK] the Timex/Sinclair 1 kilobyte “toy” computer, which introduced me to programming but never did a single useful thing in its life with me. So I have had some optimistic views on the future of computers and the internet. At that same IBM and IEEE sponsored speech I gave in Toronto many, many years ago, I showed a picture of a video watch, or rather a mockup of a video watch that I predicted would be the future common access and interface device to the internet and most people’s computer experiences. Along with that I predicted that it would be a voice interactive experience, which is to say that like the denizens of Star Trek we would just speak to the computer, and receive much of what we wanted back in the form of voice response as well, supplemented by screen graphics only when really needed. Video is a terrible waste of bandwidth, especially if all you are sending is the graphics to represent text that conveys the information.

Well, through a series of semi-disasters I just received on my desktop a Gateway GT5404 computer with Microsoft’s VISTA Home Premium operating system. It has 1 GB of RAM, 250GB of SATA hard drive and a Pentium Dual-Core CPU, which is a 64 bit processor that handles two 32 bit streams at 2.8 gigahertz. Both a sticker on the machine itself and the software reporting the type of system it is emphasize that “dual stream” feature. The sticker says, “2 x 2 MB L2 cache.” The software says that it is “rated” 2.80, but then goes on to explain that it is 32 bits at 2.8 GHz and another 32bits at 2.8 GHz. This operating system also contains the speech recognition features that became standard with Windows XP editions. I am not, by any means, holding my breath, but I am hoping that this will become a feature of my computing in the very near future. This XP machine on which I am working (a Dell, by the way, but “only” 1.6 GHz, and 768 MB of RAM) can barely handle my 9 windows of Word, Internet Explorer and Outlook email if Outlook is attempting to download new messages (as it does several times an hour). Therefore speech recognition would be totally impossible since I would have long since forgotten what it was I intended to say LONG minutes before the operating system got around to attempting to copy my words to the screen (or execute the commands if that is what the words were). The dual execution scheme on this new Gateway might be the answer to this kind of problem, but I am fearful of getting too excited about it. I was doing voice/speech recognition work on an IBM XT computer back about 1986, and even though that was “discreet speech” (un-connected, distinct words with “pre-trained” vocabulary) the progress in this field has been of dire disappointment to me over the last 21 years, especially relative to the increase in computing power. For a comparison (you can do the math if you like) my old IBM XT type (actually from Matsushita) operated at 10 megahertz and had 1 megabyte of total RAM (even the hard disk was 10 megabytes total capacity).

Please wish me luck on that front.

Amazing political news: Caroline Kennedy wrote a endorsement for Senator Barack Obama, published by the New York Times newspaper, in which she said, “I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them.” The Times also reports that Senator Ted Kennedy is slated to provide his endorsement of Senator Obama on Monday (January 28th, 2007).

Not so amazing political news: Senator Obama won the Democratic Primary election in South Carolina. What was surprising, perhaps, was that Senator Edwards, who was born in South Carolina did so poorly. What was almost more surpising was that Senator Obama’s vote count was 55% for Senator Obama, and just 27% for Senator Hillary Clinton. And talk about “globalization”, it is certainly NOT a one way street. That article link above about the South Carolina election results is to a Korean newspaper website that just happened to be one of the top results on my Google search terms.

love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Politics Waits for No Man – New Hampshire PRIMARY today

To Ron Paul’s “fans”, I apologize for “promoting” him from Congressman Paul to “Senator Paul” in my previous post.

If you needed proof, Ron Paul and the courts just may provide it. The “proof” I am speaking of is that there has rarely ever been so blatant a mis-use of journalism as the slogan of “Fox News” when it claims, “fair and balanced” news coverage. CONGRESSMAN Dr. Ron Paul appeared on the Monday night edition of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno saying among other things that in response to being left out of the Fox News Republican Debate on Sunday (Jan. 7, 2008) that he was considering taking them to court because this was clearly an instance where they were showing bias against his campaign. He made it clear that after his showing in Iowa caucuses and still ranking ABOVE Former NYC Mayor Giuliani in public opinion polls in New Hampshire that (though he could only “speculate”) that Fox did not want their listeners and viewers to hear the message he wanted to deliver.

He also delivered his most popular and inciteful platform plank that terrorists (Islamists or not) did not target Americans and New York’s World Trade Center because we are free and prosperous, the stupid bumpersticker explanation and jingoistic clap trap the Bush administration has been feeding us for years. He is aware, as he states, that over 50 years of political meddling and “occupation” as he puts it, of Middle East countries and puppet dictatorships, and CIA sponsored violence (not to mention the Afghanistan War – no not “OURS”, theirs against the Soviets)(aka Charlie Wilson’s War in the movie version) is what make the USA a target, not only here, but at our foreign embassies and military bases, too.

To those who might have seen “American Woman’s” blog who seemed to assume that I was attacking Dr. Paul, I assure you, I genuinely admire him for bringing these truths to light. There is also some value in what he says about monetary policy, especially in the month after the Fed decided to increase the M4 money supply by some 40 billion. Yes, of course that contributes to some degree of inflation, but that is far from the principal reason the Canadian dollar is now worth more than the US dollar (as Dr. Paul implied on the Leno Show).

Does Hillary Clinton Have Enough Experience?

IF experience really was the question as to whether or not a candidate will make a “good” President, there is little question that she is at least as qualified as most of the people who have held that office.

THE question of Hillary’s candidacy is does her position on the issues match yours on those issues that are most important to you. Better yet, are the kind of policies that she is likely to implement (Universal Health Care, International Cooperation and Development, Debt restructing for poor nations, cap and trade carbon markets) are GOOD for the nation and the world.

Is it likely that Senator Clinton will be strong on campaign finance reform, reducing the influence of lobbyists, ending pork-barreling “earmark” budget items? Can she, with or without a majority in both Houses of Congress, be able to bring about the rather sensible concept of line-item veto to prevent earmarks if she can’t get those eliminated in the first place. Senator Obama’s campaign does have a point that as part of the LONG ESTABLISHED Washington political machinery, can we really expect her to work hard for those kinds of reforms.

I think that the answer is a resounding YES, but will it really be working hard enough for her to succeed on every front? It cannot possibly be that easy. At least not unless we also give her the kind of OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of elected members of CONGRESS, too. It may take that kind of solidarity to reform and reverse the damages done by the current administration, but we need to act swiftly. We need immediate action on the “War” in Iraq (remember, we cannot BE “at war” without a formal declaration from CONGRESS, not just the actions of the President and the military), and with repect to Climate Change. We need strong legislation and decisive policies and we need them as soon as possible.

If you could pick today: Obama or Clinton?

Tough question.

I’ve been watching the debates, and some of the candidates positions, and I think that Hillary’s experience in dealing with the Washington process, which is, after all, a process of compromise to arrive at the best solution that can be achieved which is acceptable to both sides, is a really important factor. When she is “accused” of falsely claiming to have represented the US in foreign trips, and the claim is made that Madelaine Albright (as Secretary of State) was the “real” voice of our country in the rest of the world, these attacks are essentially unfounded, and worse, the attackers know that they are unjustified slights on the work Senator Clinton did as First Lady. She was the soft persuasive voice, one of the “back channel” channels the news people like to talk about who often are the “real” diplomats that bring about compromise on the more visible side of the world stage.

We recently saw picutres of Mrs Clinton and Mrs Benazir Bhutto walking together. I doubt that either of them could bake a pumpkin pie, nor were they likely to be exchanging recipes. Yes, clearly they could be talking about raising their children (and the special nuances of doing so with millions of people watching), but I rather suspect that they were more likely discussing microfinance and its ability to provide economic opportunities to impoverished women to start businesses that not only sustain families, but can bring about relative prosperity rather rapidly. Both of the Clintons were very active in this field for decades now.

That is not to say that Obama is not appealing, and for some similar reasons. He too has been working (or did, in the past) to better the lives of less fortunate citizens. He too got things done by “political” means of compromise and forging agreements between groups with conflicting interests. He also brings his youthful enthusiasm and eloquent speaking style. He can be very persuasive on the mass scale of public speaking, which, as many people know, is what brought him to national attention through his speech at the Democratic Party National Convention. I like, too, that Senator Obama comes as half of a highly capable couple. Michele, like Hillary, is a highly educated, articulate and dynamic partner in their marriage, as we have already seen on the campaign trail.

So how would I vote? Well, I recognize that there are those who will have negative reactions to each of these two candidates, but given an absolute freedom to vote the way I would want, I would “VOTE” for a Presidential “ticket” of Hillary Clinton for President, with Barack Obama as her Vice-President, and hope that we might see President Obama emerge from the 2016 election.

I have not doubt that Obama can be a GREAT President, but I would like to see him take on that task after an apprenticeship under the very capable tutelage of Mr. & Mrs. Clinton. With 8 years of that kind of guidance, and experience, I truly believe he could be the greatest US President of ALL TIME, or at least maybe second after Jefferson.

Love

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

p.s. If you didn’t catch my posts elsewhere, I am tickled pink (some of my more conservatives friends think I’m a little pink, tickled or not) that we now can get Arabic language television via satellite in the USA through DISH Network

p.p.s. I am also really pleased to have found a new diet, even though I am planning on opening a website at http://undietlifestyle.winfotech.com soon. (It may not be working yet, but it should be “soon”)

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