November 11, 2010

God's Glorious Fall Colors

Madison has been blessed with a glorious fall.

Posted by jez at 8:06 PM

August 24, 2010

What Did We Do Pre-iPhone?

Posted by James Zellmer at 9:10 PM

May 14, 2010

Iceland, Eyjafjallajokull Time Lapse HD Video

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:25 PM

Bill Gates Backs Geoengineering Cloud Project

Katie Fehrenbacher:
Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (and one of our 25 Who Ditched Infotech for Greentech) has been dabbling in greentech investments, backing nuclear tech, and Vinod Khosla’s greentech venture fund. But the world’s most famous computer geek has also been funding some more risky greentech projects recently, including giving $4.5 million for controversial research to use artificial clouds to cool the atmosphere, reports the Ottawa Citizen.

Specifically Gates gave funding to David Keith from the University of Calgary, and Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science, for projects that looked at planet-cooling technologies, says the Citizen. Those researchers in turn gave $300,000 to Armand Neukermanns, a researcher involved with the San Francisco-based Silver Lining Project, a program which studies how tiny droplets of seawater sprayed over the ocean could “brighten” clouds and reflect sunlight back into space.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:02 AM

January 22, 2010

Time Lapse Power Plant Video

Jeff Crewe:
"I am not making a political statement with this video,” writes the photographer Grewe, a tree-climbing arborist by day. “My intentions are purely artistic. The imagery is intense and I found audio to compliment it.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:54 PM

December 6, 2009

Will Big Business Save the Earth?

Jared Diamond:
THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.

But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.

As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.
Much more on Jared Diamond here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:02 PM

July 22, 2009

2009 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days - Photos

Website and directions. Many more photos here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:47 AM

June 21, 2009

The City of Your Dreams

Tyler Brule:
“Could you live here?” and “would you live here?” are two of the most common questions colleagues ask each other at the end of a business trip. Responses rarely take the form of a shrugged “I don’t know” or a half-hearted “I guess so”. Rather, they typically come in vehement declarations suggesting that considerable thought has gone into the topic already. Here are a few I’ve heard over the years:

On the train to Chicago’s O’Hare: “No way. It’s neither one thing nor the other and just look at this sad excuse of a train to the airport.”

In a cab to Vancouver International Airport: “Definitely not for me – seems a bit sleepy and limp.”

In a big Mercedes en route to Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok: “I could do it for a short stint but it wouldn’t be for the quality of life.”

Hitching a ride with an associate to Geneva’s Cointrin: “If I could get a great flat close to the lake and move my five closest friends, then it would be amazing.”

Being taxied to Fukuoka airport: “If I wanted the best of Japan but also great connections to the rest of Asia then it would be my first choice.”

Assessing quality of life is a difficult business and, as a result, surveys on the subject throw up different results.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability ranking, released this past Monday, put Vancouver, Canada, in the top spot out of 140 world cities, followed by Vienna.

Canada, Australia and Switzerland dominated the rest of the top 10, with Melbourne in third place, Toronto in fourth, Calgary and Perth tied for fifth/sixth, Geneva in eighth and Zürich and Sydney tied for ninth/10th. Helsinki was seventh, while London was 51st, behind Manchester at 46th. Asia’s best city was Osaka, Japan, at 13th, while the top US spot was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at 29th.

Mercer’s quality of living survey, released in April and covering 215 cities, was led by Vienna, followed by Zürich, Geneva, Vancouver and Auckland. Singapore was the most liveable Asian locale in 26th place, Honolulu was best in the US at 29th and London was the highest UK scorer at 38th.

There are similarities between these lists and Monocle’s and the reason is simple. According to Jon Copestake, editor of the EIU report, cities that score best tend to be mid-sized, in developed countries, offering culture and recreation but without the crime or infrastructure problems seen in places with larger populations.

Most of us tend to play some version of the game every time we travel and, while some quickly conclude they wouldn’t trade their current set-up for anywhere else in the world, I’d argue there are considerably more who are tempted to give up their current address for a place that promises better housing, worklife, transport, schools, restaurants, weather, shopping and weekend pursuits.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:01 PM

April 22, 2009

"Gallons Per Mile Calculator"

Rick Larrick:
This page describes the MPG illusion and provides tools for converting miles per gallon (MPG) to gallons of gas consumed over different driving distances. It is periodically updated with new content. A brief summary of the problems with MPG and benefits of GPM can be found here and here.
Much more here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:22 PM

October 14, 2008

Morning Light: Fall Colors

Madison has enjoyed a gorgeous, warm fall. Perhaps this will continue through April?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:17 AM

July 19, 2008

Athabasca Glacier VR Scene: Jasper National Park Canadian Rockies

The journey to the glacier is an adventure, particularly the "Ice Explorer" ride.

Full screen vr scene.


53.203399 -117.239571

Posted by jez at 8:27 PM

July 18, 2008

Sunrise VR Scene with the BBC at Old Faithful

While capturing this sunrise scene at Old Faithful recently, I learned that the BBC is shooting a 3 part series on Yellowstone. Their videographers, equipped with some very nice equipment, spent the past two mornings waiting for the "perfect" sunrise behind Old Faithful. This scene, on their third day, was best, according to their National Park Service Ranger minder. The program will evidently air in the UK this fall and here sometime in 2009.

Location: 44.460174 -110.829563

The kind ranger also mentioned that she is often asked "where they put the animals at night?"

Full screen vr scene.

Posted by jez at 4:11 PM

July 11, 2008

Lake Agnes Photo

Clusty Search: Lake Agnes Banff National Park Canada. This photo was taken after a hike up from Lake Louise. A pleasant "Tea House" awaits the hiker adjacent to Lake Agnes.

Posted by jez at 10:33 PM

February 17, 2008

"Google's Addiction to Cheap Electricity"

Ginger Strand:

"Don't be evil", the motto of Google, is tailored to the popular image of the company--and the information economy itself--as a clean, green twenty-first century antidote to the toxic excesses of the past century's industries. The firm's plan to develop a gigawatt of new renewable energy recently caused a blip in its stock price and was greeted by the press as a curious act of benevolence. But the move is part of a campaign to compensate for the company's own excesses, which can be observed on the bansk of the Columbia River, where Google and its rivals are raising server farms to tap into some of the cheapest electricity in North America. The blueprints depicting Google's data center at The Dalles, Oregon are proof that the Web is no ethereal store of ideas, shimmering over our heads like the aurora borealis. It is a new heavy industry, an energy glutton that is only growing hungrier.
I wonder how the economics and energy consumption details compare between growing web applications and legacy paper based products?

Posted by jez at 8:24 AM

February 9, 2008

Wisconsin's Chocolate Delta

Kit Kiefer:

OAKS Candy Corner in Oshkosh is a chocolate mirage.

Its gingerbread exterior yields to an interior that in winter is as sugary warm as the inside of a circus peanut and in summer is as refreshing as a wax Coke bottle. It smells like caramel corn and cocoa butter rubbed into the floorboards with a pair of Red Wing boots. It’s the shop just around the corner in an unremittingly blue-collar part of an unremittingly blue-collar town. It shouldn’t still be there, but there it is.

If Oaks Candy is a mirage, then the Hughes Homaid Chocolate Shop, less than half a mile away, is a figment of Wisconsin’s imagination. An 80-year-old bungalow two blocks from Lake Winnebago, it has only a small neon sign to state its trade and a full-blown candy-making operation in its basement.

But Oshkosh isn’t the only caretaker of these unlikely sweet dreams. There’s Beerntsen’s in Manitowoc, with its plate lunches and ice cream sodas; Wilmar Chocolates in Appleton, with its old-time awnings and row of state-fair prizes on the south wall; Kaap’s in Green Bay, with its jar of jawbreakers on the counter; Seroogy’s in De Pere, with its magical whipped-chocolate-filled “meltaways”; and more, much more.

Posted by jez at 12:53 PM

January 5, 2008

The $100M Giveaway

Ed Wallace:

Put down your highlighter and don’t bother checking your lottery tickets, because the State of Texas has announced a $100 million winner. Only it’s actually 30,000 drivers living in ozone goal non-attainment areas, and it will be doled out $3,000 at a time. And if you or your family are constrained by a certain income level, if you drive a vehicle 10 years old or older that’s been registered in the county for over a year and passed an emissions test up to 15 months ago, yet failed one recently, then the state is willing to pay you $3,000 to scrap your vehicle and get something newer. All in the name of clean air.

Considering that Texas is notoriously clutch-fisted with money for public projects, particularly when the bank account starts with $100 million, this is big news. Especially if your vehicle’s more than 10 years old and has extremely high mileage – or the kind that brings virtually nothing when you go to trade it in – this is a money-for-nothing proposition that can benefit you tremendously. So, before we go on with today’s column, check out the rules for this program at, and then call 1-800-898-9103 to apply for your voucher.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:58 PM

November 6, 2007

Georgia Plant is First for Making Ethanol from Waste

Kathleen Schalch:

for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing energy independence lies in cellulosic ethanol. That's ethanol that could be brewed from things like corn stalks, straw, wood chips — things we normally throw away.

Companies have been racing to find cost-effective ways to make this form of ethanol. A company called Range Fuels in Georgia is scheduled to break ground Tuesday on the world's first plant for making cellulosic ethanol.


Range Fuels website.

Posted by James Zellmer at 1:17 PM

May 15, 2007

Running the Numbers

Chris Jordan:

This new series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs.

My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is still in its early stages, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:58 PM

April 24, 2007

Author of nation's toughest global warming law to speak April 25

The author of the nation's strongest global warming law tells us how California is responding to climate change and how she gained the political support to get it done ...

"Leading the Way on Climate Change"
a free public lecture by Fran Pavley

3:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25
Memorial Union (see "Today in the Union" for room)
800 Langdon Street
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Fran Pavley has served three terms in the California State Assembly, where she is known as one of the most effective legislators in Sacramento. The former Mayor of Agoura Hills and long-time public school teacher is the author of landmark legislation (the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) on global warming that has become a model for other states and countries. She is also author of the first regulations on vehicle carbon dioxide emissions. Eleven other states and Canada have modeled their laws after Pavley's Clean Car Regulations. She has been selected as one of Scientific American's Top Technology Leaders in Transportation and received the 2006 California League of Conservation Voters' Global Warming Leadership Award along with former Vice President Al Gore.

This event is co-sponsored by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UW-Madison. For more information, please contact Steve Pomplun at the Nelson Institute or call Steve at 263-3063.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:57 AM

April 4, 2007

State ready for energy research lab

This column by Tom Stills, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, ran in the Stevens Point Journal:

A joint proposal was filed Feb. 1 by the UW System, UW-Madison and Michigan State University to open a federal energy research lab in Madison. Molly Jahn, dean of the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has described the proposal as a strong fit with faculty, staff and student projects related to bio-energy. Those projects are taking place in disciplines that encompass biology, agriculture, engineering, natural resources and the social sciences. . . .

It will be months before the next phase of the federal selection process begins, but the collaborative effort should merit a hard look in Washington. If Wisconsin is successful, it could mean several hundred jobs and tens of millions of dollars within five years.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:03 PM

March 17, 2007

Joshua Tree National Park

National Park Service website. U2's Joshua Tree (not this tree).
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:12 PM

March 16, 2007

Two Approaches: Los Angeles (LAX) and Madison (MSN)

I snapped a few photos during a recent LAX approach along with a Madison landing over Lake Wingra, Monroe Street and Edgewood.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:42 PM

February 4, 2007

Kirkwood Jumps the Shark?

Kathryn Reed:
Those who skied Kirkwood 20 or more years ago found a typical day lodge with a cafeteria and slow lifts. It was the mountain people came for. They still come for it, only now they don't have to make the 40-mile trek into South Lake Tahoe to spend the night.

Off Highway 88 where Alpine, Amador and El Dorado counties meet, the Kirkwood Valley is growing up. Whether it grows with grace will be decided in the next few years.

Even with all the hammering and sawing, Kirkwood remains laid-back -- and growth has come relatively slowly. Ten years ago, the first phase of the village opened with 19 condominiums. The resort installed its first high-speed quad chairlift in 2001, with its second in operation last ski season. Dining choices are still sparse, but more diverse. Pretentiousness is unheard of. The 2000 Census tallies Kirkwood's population at 96 and Tim Cohee, president of Kirkwood Mountain Realty, says full-time residents still number fewer than 100.
I was one of those people who skied Kirkwood years ago. A Squaw Valley ski visit always included Jaguars and Mercedes-Benz (Oh Lord, Won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz), while a fun outing to Kirkwood found the Jeep / 4-Runner crowd enjoying the mountain. It is nice to stay on the mountain, but miles of condos in the valley certainly changes the alpine views.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:11 PM

October 26, 2006

Edgewood College first college accepted into Green Tier program

From a media release issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:

MADISON – Edgewood College of Madison is now the first college or university in Wisconsin to be accepted into the Department of Natural Resources’ Green Tier program. Edgewood joins the statewide program that encourages institutions and businesses to go beyond current rules and regulations to reduce their impact on the environment. . . .

Recent environmental accomplishments at Edgewood include the renovation of the Mazzuchelli Biological Station, for which the contractor, J.H. Findorff & Son, was awarded the 2005 Environmental Excellence Award given by the Association of General Contractors (AGC) for their work. A new residence hall, currently under construction on the Edgewood campus, has been designed to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as a Green Building. The campus also has several rain gardens designed to capture large volumes of runoff from the campus, largely from campus parking lots, and is active in numerous other environmental and conservation activities.

Posted by Ed Blume at 3:12 PM

October 17, 2006

Sustainability workshop, Akumal, Mex, Nov. 6 -12

Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) will offer a sustainability workshop, November 6 – 12, in Akumal, Mexico.

I began volunteering for CEA in 2000, and Akumal is as close to paradise as I’ve ever experienced. Located 60 miles south of Cancun, the shallow, crystal-clear water and sandy beach of Akumal Bay define tropical perfection. Shops for renting snorkel and dive gear are right on the beach. The small, but stunning, Tulum ruins hug the sea 10 minutes south of Akumal, and the jungles hide many, many small sites that you can visit on your own or with a guide. Additionally, local guides can lead exceptional nature walks, and CEA staff give entertaining and educational presentations nightly.

The course will cover alternative technologies for the production of energy, the treatment of wastewater, and the disposal of solid waste. The course will be taught in Spanish, though nearly all of the instructors and students will be bilingual. See more details at

Contact Ed Blume ( for more details on Akumal and tips on how to get there as cheaply as possible.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:28 AM

October 4, 2006


“Life consists with wildness....The most alive is the wildest...In Wildness is the preservation of the World." Henry David Thoreau

“There are certain things that cannot be enjoyed by everybody. If everybody tries to enjoy them, nobody gets any pleasure out of them.” Robert Marshall

“Hunting partakes directly in Nature’s sacrament --- transcending a vacuous voyeur to a guiding guardian.” James A. Schneider

“Everybody knows, for example, that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost.” Aldo Leopold

“The sweetest hunts are stolen. To steal a hunt, either go far into the wilderness where no one has been, or else find some undiscovered place under everybody’s nose.” A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

“Remember that with large corporations and rich individuals gobbling up property to keep everyone out and conservancies, big government and its agencies devouring land through purchase and eminent domain condemnations to let everyone or no one in, there must be places preserved for "everyman/everywoman" plus one human companion to use unbothered by his/her brethren.” James A. Schneider

“Perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society.” Henry David Thoreau
Jim Schneider, a UW Grad and Drexel Burnham Lambert alum is behind MaHunt intellectually and financially.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:06 AM

September 24, 2006

Techniques of Environmental Action in Small Towns

Edward Tufte:
For many years, I've been occasionally involved in local political action to maintain and extend open space land in Connecticut. Here are a few things I've learned. 1. In land development, money doesn't talk, it screams. There is enormous money to be made in building and land development; developers are focused, persistent, experienced, and well-financed. In the long run, the best way to save open space is to buy the land and turn it over to the Town or perhaps a land trust (with extremely detailed and thorough legal restrictions on permitted activities). It is possible to tie projects up with legalities, hearings, and politics--but even if you win one year, there might well be some other developer with a bright idea for the land next year. Thus try to start an open-space acquisition program by the town; in my experience, voters tend to favor funding for open-space acquisition (often exceeding approval rates for school budgets, roads, sewers,and narrow interest-group proposals such as skateparks, tax benefits for malls and sports teams, etc.).

2. Many towns (that is, their taxpayers) provide substantial subsidies, direct and indirect, for land development by funding the necessary infrastructure (water, roads, sewers, loans, tax subsidies). Pro-development politicians can it "investment;" others might call it "welfare socialism for rich developers." At any rate, it is funded by taxpayers. Priorities can be challenged, and development subsidies can be diverted to open space acquisition. It may well be that the local politicians are pro-development but often the voters are less so; thus try to move decisions about priorities to the electorate (and the taxpayers). In general, the broader the decision-making arena, the more likely pro-environmental campaigns will succeed. A slogan for open-space acquisition might be "They're not making any more land; let's save it now." Why not use tax dollars for open space rather than taxpayer-subsidized real estate development? Should all those tax dollars help out needy developers?
Interesting read.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:51 PM

September 12, 2006

A Discussion of Madison & Milwaukee

Marc Eisen:
adison and Milwaukee are two distinct cities with radically different histories. Yet there are telltale signs that the same trends -- economic, social, political and educational -- that have rocked and weakened Milwaukee over the past 50 years are beginning to show themselves in Madison.

That's the topic of discussion at the Isthmus "Pint and Policy" Forum scheduled for Thursday evening, Sept. 14, at the Club Majestic: Can Madison Avoid Milwaukee's Problems?
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:47 AM

September 4, 2006

World's Largest Oil Field in.... Colorado

Robert Collier:
Underneath the high, scrub-covered rangeland of northwest Colorado is the world's biggest oil field. Getting the oil out of the ground, however, is one of the world's biggest headaches.

The area's deposits of oil shale are believed to be larger than all the oil reserves of the Middle East. But past attempts to get at this oil locked in tarry rock have cost billions of dollars and raised the prospect of strip-mining large areas of the Rocky Mountain West.

Now, as the federal government makes another push to develop oil shale, Shell and other companies say they have developed techniques that may extract this treasure with much less environmental impact.
What goes around, comes around. The Western Slope oil shale project collapsed in the mid 1980's - creating a deep Colorado recession.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:43 PM

June 8, 2006

Clostridium difficile: Stalking the World

The Economist:
Ordinarily, the human colon harbours very few of the rod-shaped bacteria that cause Clostridium difficile associated disease or CDAD. But the guts of those people who are given antibiotics to prevent or treat infection during a stay in hospital are different. Antibiotics may rid the colon not only of harmful bacteria, but also of the beneficial ones that normally live there. This, in turn, can give C. difficile the chance to take hold.

Rates of the disease among patients in, or recently discharged from, American short-stay hospitals seem to have doubled between 2000 and 2003 and risen another 25% in 2004, the most recent year for which estimates are available. That translates into at least 225,000 new cases a year, according to the Centres for Disease Control, a government agency based in Atlanta, Georgia. As this number does not capture all of America's hospitals and ignores its nursing homes, the real figure is probably at least 500,000 cases a year.

The full extent of the illness is unclear because American hospitals are not required to report it. Even when someone with the disease dies, his death certificate may not say he had it. Whatever the true numbers, about 20% of people infected have repeated bouts of the illness and some 1-2% of the stricken die; chiefly, but not exclusively, the victims are elderly people who are already in frail health.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:14 AM

June 2, 2006

North Rim, Grand Canyon: California Condor

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:37 AM

May 22, 2006

2006 Political & Economic Risk Map

Political, economic and social environments can shift at a moment’s notice, disrupting business operations for anyone involved in international commerce. Companies can be subjected to discriminatory action – or inaction – of foreign governments and third parties, potentially leading to forced shutdowns, relocations and other unforeseen expenses.

The impact of these political and economic exposures is examined by Aon Trade Credit in its 2006 Political & Economic Risk Map, created in conjunction with Oxford Analytica, an international, independent consulting firm of more than 1,000 senior faculty members at Oxford and other major universities and research institutions around the world.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:40 PM

May 17, 2006

More Madison Water Problems?

Untreated groundwater from two of three Madison wells sampled for the study... turned up five different viruses, that one public health director says ***could*** cause serious illness.

There are differing opinions about how serious this is.

Madison's Director of Public Health says we are all exposed to viruses and bacteria every day so there is no reason to be concerned. But the Board of Water commissioners questioned the director of public health from the Marshfield Clinic, who did the water study, he had a very different answer.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:44 AM

May 2, 2006

Water Worries

Ron Seely digs deep into Madison's water woes:
Students at East High School were among the roughly 9,000 people who, for a short time at least, were drinking city water contaminated with high levels of an industrial pollutant that can cause liver, kidney or lung damage.

Nobody would have known that by reading the Madison Water Utility's consumer confidence report data for that year.

The federal health standard for the chemical, carbon tetrachloride, is 5 parts per billion. In October 2000, the level in the city's well No. 3 tested at 8.3 parts per billion.

But the utility's annual drinking water quality report listed the maximum level found at only 2.9 parts per billion. Utility officials say it was a typo.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:01 PM

April 24, 2006


Bob Gritzinger:
E85 is the designation for a fuel that combines 85 percent ethanol with 15 percent gasoline. E85-compatible—or flex-fuel—vehicles can run on E85 or regular unleaded gasoline. Because the alcohol in E85 can break down rubbers and plastics used in typical internal-combustion engine fuel systems, vehicles must be specially modified to allow its use. And to obtain maximum power from higher-octane E85, engines must be tuned to run on it, or be able to adjust timing and the air-to-fuel ratio when running on E85.

Supporters say the alternative fuel is environmentally friendly, reduces dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil, and takes advantage of America’s surplus of agricultural crops, like corn, that can be readily converted to ethanol for use in E85.

Critics note insufficient ethanol production facilities exist to significantly offset the nation’s appetite for fuel, that refineries aren’t adapted to producing E85, and that E85 is harder to transport because its corrosiveness means it cannot flow through existing gasoline pipelines. In addition, in most states E85 costs about the same as unleaded regular while costing the driver up to 15 percent in fuel-economy penalties because it does not pack the same explosive punch as gasoline.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:31 AM

April 23, 2006

Cleaning Up Lawn Mower Emissions - Briggs & Stratton

Felicity Barringer:
Gallon for gallon — or, given the size of lawnmower tanks, quart for quart — the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.

But as soon as air pollution regulators suggested adding a golf-ball-size catalytic converter to the lawn mower, they found themselves in one of their fiercest political battles of the past decade.

On one side, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators in California. On the other, the largest lawn and garden equipment maker in the country and a powerful Republican senator. And in the middle, the six million or so lawn mowers shipped to retailers every year.

For older regulators, it is a replay of Detroit's initial resistance to those who wanted clean up car exhaust by installing catalytic converters, which pull smog-forming chemicals and carbon monoxide out of the exhaust.

"I think it's very analogous to what happened in the 70's," said Robert Cross, chief of the California air agency's Mobile Source Control Division. "The arguments are all the same."
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:42 PM

April 21, 2006

Earth Dinner

The Earth Dinner:
To the extent that's possible, try to find foods that are locally produced, seasonal, fresh and flavorful! If they are organically grown—that's even better! If it's not local, that's okay. It's a chance to celebrate the farmers from other regions or countries. If your having a potluck dinner, remember to ask your guests to do their best to find out about the origins of food they bring to share and how it was grown.
via Kristian Knutsen.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:46 AM

March 30, 2006

Fill Your Tank With Vegetable Oil

Jim Washburn:
One day last year, my musician friend Jonathan drove up in a Mercedes. This was odd, since Jonathan is so resolutely counterculture that he once tried recording an album in the woods, without electricity.

His car's exhaust smelled faintly of french fries, and therein lay the explanation: The new Jonathan Richman tour vehicle -- an '84 300D Turbo -- was running on vegetable oil-derived biodiesel fuel as he and his drummer crisscrossed the nation in it, a deep fryer on wheels.

I was intrigued: Biodiesel comes from renewable resources. It's made from soybeans, corn or other oil crops, saving America's farmers. Or it comes from recycled kitchen grease, saving America's sewers. It pollutes remarkably less than petroleum fuel, and could potentially make the U.S. energy self-sufficient, freed from bargaining with dictators and terror-sponsor states.
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:43 AM

November 7, 2005

Your Bed is an Ecosytem

David Sobotta:

It's not just your bed, it's an ecosystem. New research has found that your pillow is home to millions of fungal spores from the bathroom, kitchen and other places where you might not want to rest your head.

It's well known that few people actually sleep alone: Most beds are home to thousands of microscopic dust mites, which produce so much excrement they can add a pound or two of weight to your mattress every year, by some estimates.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

November 4, 2005

The Drain

John Pugh's mural, the Drain has attracted quite a bit of attention. Painted on the side of a title company in Bishop, CA [satellite view], the Drain portrays

an agricultural Shangri La appears as a mural within a mural. This vision of the valley's past derives from old paintings and photos, book descriptions, interviews, and visits to the less effected areas of Owens Valley. Breathing sweet orchard blossoms while gazing at the lush glory of this place 100 years ago, this depiction is not meant to portray a specific vantage point yet rather allow the viewer an ambient experience of the ecology.

If your eyes are diverted to the drainpipe, this is by design. Like a black hole that allows no light to escape, the protruding drainpipe absorbs all color in its proximity. The odd shape surrounding the pipe is actually a preserved section of the under painting, but conceptually it serves as an after image, or 'ghost blotch'. It is a stain that is created by the absence of color information - or metaphorically, of life. Written words like 'water' and 'tree' or even 'green' are some of the sketch notes, but historically these are the line items that have virtually disappeared into the drain.

Everyone should take a drive up or down the Eastern Sierra. It's a region of stark beauty, glorious mountains and desolate lakebeds, whose water has long since been shipped 200 miles southwest to the LA Basin via the LA Water and Power District.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

October 31, 2005

Madison Leaf Collection Information

City of Madison Streets Department has a site with more information on local leaf collection.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:49 AM

October 11, 2005

Northern Opportunities

Fascinating article on plans to open polar shipping routes. Reminds me of 15th century opportunism:
With major companies and nations large and small adopting similar logic, the Arctic is undergoing nothing less than a great rush for virgin territory and natural resources worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even before the polar ice began shrinking more each summer, countries were pushing into the frigid Barents Sea, lured by undersea oil and gas fields and emboldened by advances in technology. But now, as thinning ice stands to simplify construction of drilling rigs, exploration is likely to move even farther north.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:58 PM

September 18, 2005

Water Wars: The State of the San Joaquin River

As the water wars arrive in Wisconsin, it's useful to take a look at what has happened in other parts of the United States. Juliana Barbassa does just that in California's Ansel Adams Wilderness Area:
It begins as fresh snowmelt, streaming from Mount Ritter's gray granite faces into Thousand Island Lake, a bouldered mirror. The clear blue water spills out through a narrow canyon, and the San Joaquin River is born.

When conservationist and mountaineer John Muir first explored these upper reaches, the narrow gorge barely contained the power of the living river, which carried the continent's southernmost salmon run, sustained Indian tribes and set the rhythm of life in the valley below with floods and droughts.

"Certainly this Joaquin Canyon is the most remarkable in many ways of all I have entered," Muir wrote in 1873.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:47 PM

September 6, 2005

Road Salt Blamed for Stream Salinity Increases

Randolph E. Schmid:

"We're basically hardening the watersheds and feeding them a high-salt diet. There is a direct connection between the number of driveways and parking lots we have and the quality of our water," said Sujay Kaushal of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Frostburg, Md.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

August 13, 2005

Water Wars come to Southeast Wisconsin

I lived in the western US for a number of years. During this time, I became quite familiar with water shortages and local efforts to address these problems. Living in San Francisco (late 1980's/early 1990's), I remember many restaurants stopped serving water with meals (unless one asked - 5+ times). I also recall the mandate that residents restrict their bathing frequency to 3X/week. Fast forward to 2005 and I find that Waukesha, just 55 miles east of Madison, faces significant water problems. Felicity Barringer digs in:

The draw-down of water from the deep aquifer was gradual at first, accelerating in the late 1980's and throughout the next 15 years. In recent measurements, the water level had dropped about 600 feet. And the deeper the water source, the more likely that it would be contaminated with too much radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element.
A must read, for all water consumers: Cadillac Desert.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:01 AM

July 24, 2005

Defending the City

Dr. Chet Richards offers an article for first responders in the age of 4th Generation Warfare (400K PDF):
This is where you come in. As impressive as insurgencies have been, at first glance they don’t seem to involve the 1RP community. Although many of them are nasty, brutish affairs—more than 100,000 people have been killed in Russia’s effort to rein in its breakaway province of Chechnya (1994 – present), for example, and some 3 million in the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1998-present)—they are all far away, and most of them do not threaten American or European troops or civilians.9 They may be tragic, but as far as the 1RP community is concerned, they can be safely ignored.

This view, while comforting, is wrong. Being wrong, it is also dangerous. To see why, people who study these conflicts insist that they must be considered not as curious space-fillers on the evening news, but, as Barnett puts it, “within the context of everything else.”10 This means, among other things, that spillover from these wars finds its way to the United States and other developed nations (what Barnett calls the “Functioning Core.”) Participants, for example, may attack each other’s friends and relatives or fund-raising and recruiting operations, or embassies and so on in Core countries. Or they may see us as favoring the other side and decide to send us a message to back off and get out. Or they may cause a problem and blame it on the other side. Or they may cause a problem in our country to raise international consciousness of their struggle. Or they may attack to signal to both their local enemies and potential followers that they are a potent force, as may have been one of the motivations for al-Qa’ida’s attack on September 11, 2001. In any of these cases and so many others, something happens that would involve the first responder community.

Insurgency as a form of war, and a very successful one, is evolving into something else. And it is coming to a neighborhood near you.
Lauren Porcaro interviews New York City's William Finnegan regarding their view of the threat and what they've learned from London.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:15 PM

July 14, 2005

A Good Idea: In Case of Emergency Contact Information on Your Cellphone

Andy Duff:
This seems like a pretty sensible thing that's come out of last week's bombings here in London - simple way to help the emergency services in case of a recurrence, by entering your next of kin under "I C E" in your mobil.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:19 PM

June 18, 2005

Friedman on Toyota & 500 Miles Per Gallon

I generally like Thomas Friedman's writing. However, he fails to mention Toyota's large gas guzzling SUV business while praising their "green" hybrid cars. Jock Gill adds his take.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:46 AM

May 1, 2005

West Coast Volcano Threats - USGS

USGS 2005-1164: A look at US volcano early warning systems:
The United States has abundant volcanoes, and over the past 25 years the Nation has experienced a diverse range of the destructive phenomena that volcanoes can produce. Hazardous volcanic activity will continue to occur, and – because of increasing population, increasing development, and expanding national and international air traffic over volcanic regions – the exposure of human life and enterprise to volcano hazards is increasing. Fortunately, volcanoes exhibit precursory unrest that if detected and analyzed in time allows eruptions to be anticipated and communities at risk to be forewarned with reliable information in sufficient time to implement response plans and mitigation measures.
Keay Davidson takes a look at California's three most dangerous volcanoes.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:44 AM

February 8, 2005

Minnesota Law Requires Bio-Diesel

Mark Steihl:

Minnesota enacts a new law requiring that all diesel fuel sold in the state be made partly of farm-based products, a hybrid called biodiesel.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

February 4, 2005

Aurora, Colorado's search for water

We midwesterners have plenty of water, while those in the fast growing western states are scrambling. Aurora, Colorado is buying farmer's water rights and encouraging the use of low-water Xeriscape plants in an attempt to manage demand amid a housing boom.
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

November 22, 2004

Tokyo's Underground Water System

Tokyo's massive underground water system.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

August 23, 2004


Dan Neil's review of the new Toureg SUV Diesel version provides some useful background on Rudolph Diesel's invention, along with a discussion of biodiesel fuel.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:08 AM

August 16, 2004

Indoor Air Quality

These days, the air inside many homes is more polluted than the air outside. That's because everything from pets to gas appliances to paint and cleaning products contributes to indoor air pollution. Most homes contain an alarming number of chemicals, and modern homes are built so tightly that they tend to trap the bad air inside.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:33 PM

July 29, 2004

Backyard Prairie Gardens

Tim Post on the growing number of backyard prairie gardeners:

Posted by James Zellmer at 3:07 AM

June 1, 2004

Restore the Owens River?

Years ago, while living in San Francisco, I visited the Owens Valley (Eastern Sierra). The Valley, decimated by the LA Department of Water & Power may now see a flowing river, according to this article by Rene Sanchez.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:10 PM

May 29, 2004

Milwaukee Sewage Dump: A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

A sailboat makes its way along Lake Michigan on Friday in this aerial photo from Chopper Four with power zoom. The discolored water extended past the breakwater; the contents are unknown.
Mary Rohde & Steve Schultze write about the Milwaukee Metro Sewage District's massive sewage dumping this past week:

The sewerage district dumped an unprecedented 4.6 billion gallons of raw sewage this month - exceeding any annual dumping tally since the deep tunnel system opened in late 1993.

To visualize how much sewage was dumped by the district, consider these calculations: The 4.6 billion gallons would fill Miller Park 15 times over, from its base to its retractable roof. The sewage spill would also fill the U.S. Bank office tower on the lakefront 41 times.

"That's more than any sewage treatment system in the country could handle," said Kevin Shafer, the district's executive director. The dumping "is something we have to do if we want to minimize and prevent basement backups," he said.

Background: Google | Teoma | Yahoo | Alltheweb

The Lake Michigan Federation has a useful web site on the impact of raw sewage dumping.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:30 AM

April 21, 2004

Ocean Policy Report Released

Felicity Barringer writes about the Ocean Commission's new strategy for safeguarding the sea:

"Our oceans and coasts are in serious trouble," the commission's chairman, Adm. James D. Watkins, a former chief of naval operations, said at a news conference here today. The existing management system, which spreads responsibility across what he called "a Byzantine patchwork" of federal and state agencies and local fishing councils, "is simply not up to the task" of preventing degradation, Admiral Watkins said.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:07 AM