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helping family relations since 2008

The dirty truth October 9, 2008

Filed under: Technology — Katie @ 6:05 pm
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Our oil dependency may be what fuels our cars, but it’s coal that provides half of U.S. electricity on a daily basis. Per unit of energy, coal blows oil away by emitting 29 percent more carbon emissions into the air. We know this. That’s why we’re starting to use clean coal, right?

Clean coal has been compared to healthy cigarettes.

Clean coal has been compared to healthy cigarettes.

For starters, each step involving coal is dirty and puts out emissions – mining, transporting, refining, etc. Clean Coal Technologies (CCT) only impacts the final stage once coal is used at power plants.

According to BusinessWeek earlier this summer, is that CCT is more of a buzzword than a reality. The concept of CCT is based on theoretical carbon capture and sequestration – separating carbon dioxide from the coal-burning process that would release it into the air, and instead, put it back into the ground where it came from as a liquid.

Hold on a sec.  According to Rainforest Action Network, U.S. power plants produce 1.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year.  We want to bottle these emissions and put them into the ground?  Large carbon concentrations are potentially fatal to humans – in 1986, a carbon dioxide leak killed almost instantly 1,800 people.  Whether putting this much CO2 into the ground will affect ground stability or increase the number of earthquakes is uncertain. 

Financial costs need to be taken into consideration as well.  Journalist Ben Elgin wrote that the conservative cost estimate to turn this idea into a practical reality would cost several trillion dollars, which definitely won’t help our utility bills any time soon.  How about we use that money to build transmission lines for wind turbines or solar panels for houses? 

What about energy costs?  In 2006, the EPA estimated that successfully capturing and sequestering 90 percent of coal emissions will increase the amount of energy we need to produce by 40 percent, which ultimately increases the number of pollutants in the air. 

Recent studies have been done to show the effects of what happens when carbon dioxide is pumped into the oceans as another means of disposal.  It increases the acidity of the water, and even mere absorption from the atmosphere caused sea urchin spines and mollusk shells to dissolve, giving the ocean what Discover Magazine calls a case of carbonized osteoporosis.  Obviously, if we value our sea life, dumping carbon into the ocean isn’t a solution. 

Granted, scrubbers and other technologies have made coal less dirty but clean coal will always be an oxymoron. Don’t buy into campaign promises of clean coal as a viable long-term energy plan.  BusinessWeek compared clean coal to a healthy cigarette – it doesn’t exist.


Virtual crossover October 7, 2008

Second Life signifies a virtual world where avatars can fly and anything can be created with the click of a mouse. It represents a platform, a virtual space, where like-minded people can gather to share ideas. Dr. Leslie Jarmon of UT’s Division of Instructional Innovation Assessment says that the co-presence of an avatar psychologically creates better connections than mere email or internet postings. The three-dimensional element adds another level of connectivity that stretches beyond a web cam or a teleconference, she says.

Companies are starting to take advantage of this co-presence and have recognized this platform as a way to save themselves money. IBM, for example, holds most of their administrative meetings and has their business center located  virtually on Second Life. This saves them the transportation cost of having to fly management to a central location for conferences and other meetings.

Second Life offers companies a way to host meetings virtually, saving on transportation costs and airline emissions.

Second Life offers companies a way to host meetings virtually, saving on transportation costs and airline emissions.

What does this have to do with the environment? Airplanes are huge emitters of the toxic wastes that pollute our atmosphere. Second Life is offering companies, and people, a way to cut their transportation costs by allowing people to meet virtually, which both saves them money and reduces carbon emissions!

US Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts illustrated this point at the 2007 UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali. Markey is the head of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and instead of flying to Bali, he chose a more virtual representation as a Second Life avatar, proving to the conference that actions can speak louder than words.

According to the Carbon Footprint Calculator, Markey’s flight from Boston to Bali would have released 7,448 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This number helps to legitimize the use of virtual representation as part of future solutions to solving our current climate crisis.


Sounds of nature September 28, 2008

Filed under: Technology — Katie @ 6:57 pm
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When podcasts first premiered back in late 2004, they didn’t take off quite as well as some may have hoped, but recent technology trends may be about to change all that.  The iPhone is like that kid in high school – all she had to do was nod at someone and they’d automatically be cool by association.  Well, the iPhone’s given her nod, and now podcast subscriptions have taken off.

Nature lovers, don’t be left out!  By subscribing to the weekly Nature Stories podcast, you’ll have access to hundreds of personal stories about people’s interactions with nature.  Topics range from worms to urban farming to photography, and subject matter comes from all over the world – there’s definitely something for everyone. 

You can download the free podcasts directly to iTunes or an MP3 player which makes these great tidbits to listen to during daily commutes, while you’re stuck indoors or as background noise to help keep you connected with the wilds of nature.  

Take a listen to this week’s podcast Frogs on the Road.


Save the world.. while you sleep September 19, 2008

Filed under: Technology — Katie @ 4:41 pm
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.. while your computer sleeps, that is.  

You’ve heard that it’s best to turn off your appliances when you’re not using them, but for those who use their computer sporadically, forget, or just find it a hassle, distributed computer networks have figured out a way to put your computer’s unused energy to work.  

Climateprediction.net is one such network run by Oxford University.  This particular research group is working to develop a model that’ll estimate how our climate will change under different circumstances.. if carbon dioxide increases, if ocean currents change direction, the impacts of the sulfur cycle, etc. Once you join their network, you’re asked to download a climate model that runs scientific research data as a backup process on your computer.  Results are automatically sent back to the server, and you can check the status of said research at the parent site.  

According to the site, by allowing them to run data on so many computers, they’re able to tweak data in tiny increments to make sure their research is as accurate as possible. 

BOINC is another similar program supported by the National Science Foundation.  Its research focuses on disease cures, global warming and pulsars.  You can definitely download more than one volunteer computing project at once.  

Go, put your computer to work!


Future Volt September 16, 2008

Filed under: Technology,Transportation — Katie @ 12:34 pm
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General Motors released the production model of its plug-in electric car in Detroit this morning.  They call it – The Chevy Volt

The Chevy Volt runs on a lithium battery for up to 40 miles.
The Chevy Volt runs on a lithium battery for up to 40 miles.

 – and it came out in honor of GM’s 100th anniversary.


According to www.chevrolet.com, the Chevy Volt is a series hybrid that runs on a lithium battery.  The cool thing is that once you get it in your garage, you should be able to use a regular household plug that’ll fully charge your car in about six hours.  What this does to your electric bill, I cannot say, but what a zero-emissions vehicle can do for the environment?  Lordy!  


The site says 75% of Americans live within 20 miles of their job site, meaning they should be able to make it to work and back without emitting anything.  Should someone need to drive further, there’s also a three-cylinder gas engine that can recharge the battery and gives the driver another 600 miles.  The car can run on both gasoline and ethanol, and in that situation, it gets up to 50 mpg.


Chevrolet is finishing up testing of lithium batteries under different circumstances, so the Chevy Volt should be available to the public by 2010.