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Hybrid Concept Cars, The Future Is Now

So a recent article on yahoo.com's main page is all about green concept cars. It has some of the main players and a lot of pretty pictures. Here are the cars listed with a brief description as to alleviate you having to go to another site to read all about them. I am saving you time, thus saving you money as well so you can save it up to buy one of these awesome cars when the time is right. I am going to break these down into three categories: Drivable/hey that's cool, Wouldn't be caught dead in this, and Didn't we already do this? Um, Alex, I would like to start with Didn't We Already Do This for 200 please. hybridcars_130_vw.jpg Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce to you the 2010 VW Microbus, um I mean Chameleon. So, yeah, apparently the late 60's are back and we are all going to be peace loving pot smoking patchouli smelling hippies. At least we have the perfect vehicle for it, I mean this "new" vehicle is all electricity powered with 10 count them 10 30v batteries in the floor to power the vehicle. Oh, the surf boards are thrown in free of charge, they are fitted with solar panels for recharging the batteries. This is the vehicle for those fifty somethings to relive their youth in a perfectly environmentally friendly manner. Second place in the "Didn't we already do this" catagory is BMW X3: hybridcars_130_bmw.jpg

2009 BMW X3

VS:

2007 BMW x5

BMW X5, 2007 You know, they say that if you never change in business, you are insane. Well, BMW didn't listen. This car looks neither futuristic nor retro, meaning it just looks kind of now. It's not even trying very hard to be environmentally friendly. Instead of using a battery it incorporates a superconductor, which provides energy in short bursts. It gets an "A" for effort but nothing else. This concept car is only getting about 20% better millage than most of the cars that BMW currently produces (none of which are hybrids). This is a poor contending mom-mobile in the concept car to the future race. Third Place in this category is the GM Sequel. hybridcars_130_gm.jpg What is cool about this vehicle is that it runs on a hydrogen fuel cell and the fact that most of this car's engine components are located underneath the car and not under the hood.  It does make for a roomier car but the looks are just kind of standard, this car does not make me think that I am living in the 21st century at all.  I wonder what it is the sequel to?  Most movie sequels are not good, they are almost never as good as the original.  Just saying, it doesn't look good for this sequel, at least in my book. Check back later for the other two categories, it is sure to get interesting.

Why Google is Worth More than AOL and Verizon

As I write this, Google has a market cap of about $148 billion, compared to Verizon at $124 billion and AOL parent Time Warner at $82 billion. Google might rule the Web search market, but Verizon's $88 billion and Time Warner's $44 billion in revenue last year dwarf Google's $10 billion. Why would a smaller company that makes less money be worth more to investors than larger competitors? Are they just being irrational? Maybe so, but I think there is at least one good reason why Google has been so successful: it has focused on providing services, rather than content or infrastructure. Why is this important? Think about it this way: whenever you do anything on the Internet, chances are you can break it down into three layers: 1) Infrastructure - your connection to the Internet, whether it's Cable, DSL, dial-up, FIOS, etc. 2) Service - the application you use to get what you want done, for example the search engine you use to find things or the mail client you use to read you email. 3) Content - the stuff you read, watch, listen to, or create yourself for others to see. This is of course not a strict hierarchy, but it is a way to look at just about any medium to get some useful insights. Small companies and new startups usually have to compete within one of the layers, just because you can only do so much with limited resources. So a magazine might put up a web site to provide content, and a VOIP company won't build it's own DSL lines, it will just provide VOIP service. Many larger companies eventually find it tempting to cover two of the categories or even all three. This seems like a good idea, and you will hear a lot about "synergies" and things like that. In the best case maybe the company will have some cost savings and be able to provide more value to customers because they no longer have to pay other companies for the other layers. Quite often, though, this can lead to "walled gardens" where companies try to steer users through their systems at each level. AOL, for example, used to keep a lot of premium content off of the Web available to their ISP subscribers. Verizon sells Internet access on it's cell network, but you'd better believe they want you to buy ring tones and MP3s through them rather than some random retailer. In the worst case this leads to illegal monopolistic behavior. Now Look at Google. They seem to have very little interest in providing or controlling the Infrastructure. To Google an Internet connection is an Internet connection. In addition, they have very little interest in being the content provider - Google wants to organize the world's information, leaving the creation of information up to the world. This gets them in trouble with companies that wish to control the content and the service, and use their control of content to force users into their service. Google makes it's play at the service level, with the search engine, Gmail, Google News, etc. YouTube is a good example of how Google can grow and compete in new areas while still keeping within the service layer. Verizon might see YouTube as competition for their IPTV service, but note that YouTube isn't building fiber to every house. Time Warner produces TV shows (content), runs networks (service), and operates the cable running out to your house - meanwhile YouTube lets users produce video themselves. So why is this an advantage for Google? Think about it this way - Google could try to extend their dominance of search into content, but would Google really make better content than everyone else? Google could try to buy up or build out infrastructure, and judging by their data centers they might be able to do a really good job of it. But could they build infrastructure to reach the whole world? Would owning the connection give them an excuse to make the services less flexible, and ultimately less useful? In more general terms, for some services these separations are so obvious that you probably haven't even thought about the alternative. Email is a good example - although in the ancient past the service was tied down to the infrastructure, I would have a hard time imagining a service provider trying to generate the content themselves. Would you use an email service where you couldn't email your mom, your professor, your boss, etc., but could correspond with professional emailers hired by your ISP? In the past ten years, would you have used an ISP that provided email service but blocked access to Hotmail or your college email account? Competition can and should exist at every level. Just like any market there are different approaches - you can try to fit a particular niche, you can try to outperform the competition, you can try to lock users in. Successful practitioners of the latter approach might be tempted to extend into other levels, but in the long run it might not be a good idea. The best case scenario, for both consumers and competitors, is a natural separation with lots of competition within each level. This is more or less the present case with the Internet, despite many attempts at vertical integration and a paucity of competition in the infrastructure level in most areas. Lots of competition means lots of opportunity for capitalism to do it's magic, providing a wide range of options and generating a lot of wealth. Informal, natural separation means everyone has to stay flexible and we get the benefits of specialization. Adam Smith would totally be on board. This best case scenario is also what a lot of people mean when they talk about Net Neutrality. I think that Google understands all of this. Now what about their partnership with Earthlink to offer WiFi? It's possible they are just following the "throw it up and see if it sticks" approach they are known for. My guess is that they see moves to extend lock-in by infrastructure companies into services as a threat and are demonstrating that they can do the opposite if needed. But I bet they would be perfectly happy with a vibrant WiFi market with lots of players providing the infrastructure so they can provide their services.

Deep Lake Water Cooling: Saving the Earth, one Skyscraper at a Time

In the past we've talked about some things that you can do to make your house more energy efficient. Some things are easy, like putting in Compact Florescent light bulbs, while others are on their way in the near future, like your own personal wind turbine. There's only so much you can do at home, though, and many of us live in large, air-conditioned office buildings. How could a glass-covered skyscraper possibly use less power for cooling in the summer? If you live in Toronto, it's easy - just tie into the Deep Lake Water Cooling System. Deep lake water cooling system in Toronto The system, by Enwave, draws water from Lake Ontario, deep below the surface where it's always a chilly 4 degrees Celsius. The water runs through huge heat exchangers before making its way into the city's normal water supply. A separate cooling loop transports water chilled by the incoming lake water to various buildings in the financial district where it is used in the air conditioning system. Here's a diagram of the system at work. The city is seeing substantial benefits since it tied into the cooling system:
Metro Hall went online with Enwave's Deep Lake Water Cooling system in June 2006. With the addition of this building, energy consumption will be reduced by 1.7 million kilowatt-hours per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 1,915 tonnes annually - equivalent to taking 383 cars off the road.
According to Enwave, the system uses 90% less energy than a traditional air conditioning system and is price-competitive. This is one of those cases where you don't even have to pay a premium to reduce CO2 production. Here's a picture of the gigantic heat exchangers: Deep water cooling heat exchanger Other large Great Lakes cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo could take advantage of a system like this as well. Add in a few off-shore wind farms and the Rust Belt could take a real lead in green technology that makes use of the local geography. So what do you say, Cleveland?

I’m with Lido

Lee A. Iacocca's recent book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, has received a good amount of press this past week, all centered around one specific passage:
Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course." Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out! You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you? I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.
Makes me want to read the book. Though, of course, all the blogs I've read covering said passage have just left it at that. They might make some sort of comment about Iacocca's personality, or what he said about the current crop of domestic auto executives, but they don't really go in and dissect what he said. (I'll disclaim right here that I, like the zillion other blogs that have commented on the book so far, have not actually yet read the book, so if the passage - and my comments hereforth - were taken out of context, Mr. Iacocca, I apologize.) To start with, there is a sense of outrage among Americans. Perhaps more of a sense of outrage now than I've ever seen in my lifetime. It's there if you look for it - on the Internet, on college campuses, in demonstrations across the globe, in Keith Olbermann's words, in Jon Stewart's words. Many of us are not happy at all about the course of the nation. Where you're not seeing the outrage is in your daily newspaper, on your nightly mainstream news program, in comfortable suburban homes. I'm glad Mr. Iacocca, once and former business leader himself, has taken a stand against the modern business and corporate climate. If there's anything more sinister than the incompetence of the Bush administration, it's the measures that corporations have taken to ensure and enhance their profit margins. Take, for instance, the bankruptcy law revisions implemented within the last few years. Probably the most severe of those revisions now forces people who declare bankruptcy to continue repaying their debts rather than wipe the debts clean off the board. Granted, some people abused this in the past, racking up debt and then eliminating it via bankruptcy with no reprisal. But for the people for whom bankruptcy was designed - those facing serious hardships who simply need a break - these revisions make their situations worse, not better. In fact, I've yet to see any single benefit to the consumer - the people - and all the benefit to the corporation. What sense does it make to enact laws that give more power to the corporation than to the people? I know what you're thinking: The credit card companies and their Congressmen are in league. That may be the case, but I have no proof of that (blame a complicit media more concerned about Anna Nicole's babydaddy), and besides, shouldn't those Congressmen be on the side of the people they were elected to represent? Another example. The same bankruptcy revisions (or laws passed at about the same time) permitted credit card companies to increase their minimum payment calculations. If credit card debt - and debt in general - was not one of the major problems plaguing this country today, forcing Americans to carry the lowest amount of savings ever, then I'd say fine, such a measure will help Americans clean up their debt. But the end result is an increase in debt as Americans struggle to meet these higher minimum payments and turn to additional means to borrow money. Another example. Most, if not all, states now have mandatory car insurance. Of course, car insurance is a good idea (except when insurance companies cancel your policy after they're actually forced to pay out a claim - but that's another column) and you really don't want some uninsured jerk hitting your car and sticking you with the bill. But in reality, uninsured jerks will remain uninsured jerks. Or underinsured jerks. Making insurance mandatory will not make life any easier for you when one of those uninsured jerks whacks your car - it'll just provide more incentive for him to hit and run. What it will do is create a larger marketplace for insurance companies. Ever wonder why GM and Ford can't seem to muster the ad dollars for many time slots and programs that Geico and Progressive can? Even beyond those examples, businesses and branding have invaded our lives so much over recent years that we've become complacent to the attack. Do me a favor. Look up from your computer screen and without leaving the room count how many brand names you can see. When you next go shopping, examine the size of the brand name on the plastic bag they give you to tote your purchase around the mall. Did Best Buy or American Eagle pay you for the right to advertise on your belongings? No, you paid them and most people gladly pay them. One of the things I despise about modern hip-hop music - even more so than all the negatives being mentioned in the Imus scandal - is the glorification of brands. Are you paying to hear Fiddy rap about shooting gangstas and slappin' his hos, or are you paying for an hour-long Cadillac, Bentley and Rolls-Royce commercial? And to bring it all back to Mr. Iacocca, there is no outrage. Hell, one of the most stinging critiques that Mike Judge delivers in Idiocracy is that of the rampant branding and corporacracy - their clothes are plastered with brand names, a Cabinet member is paid to mention a certain brand in his everyday conversation and everybody has been brainwashed by advertising to believe that a sports drink is superior in every way to water. But most reviews attribute this to the idiocy of that civilization rather than the aggressive marketing practices of those corporations. So, Mr. Iacocca, what should we do about this? Just express our outrage on blogs and on message boards, get a bunch of people who already agree with us to agree yet again with us? The Internet is a great enabler of outrage. In fact, it's one of those things that only the Internet can really excel at. We can't all write books and enjoy the same sort of publicity as the man who introduced the Mustang to the world. We can vote. We can hold our elected representatives accountable. We can cast off the branding that we've allowed to work its way into our lives. We can buy local. We can buy independent. And we can make the same suggestions time after time and watch as people express their outrage, then take the easy way out and ignore all those suggestions. I really hope that Mr. Iacocca expresses some sort of solution in his book and does his best to implement that solution, because I'm sure as heck out of good ideas. UPDATE: Okay, I thought about it. There's at least one thing we all can do. Stop watching television. Seriously, how much TV do you think Mr. Iacocca watches? How much do you think Kurt Vonnegut watched? How much does Stephen Hawking watch? They have better things to do with their time, as do we all. The reason we haven't built a successful hybrid car, as Mr. Iacocca asked, is because that one engineer who has the talent to spearhead such a project and push it through is right now at home watching Dr. Who or CSI. The reason Wal-Mart reigned for so long atop Fortune 500's list isn't necessarily because of their low prices, it's because some whistling dancing smiley face on TV is goading them into shopping there. The reason you take your family to Olive Garden isn't necessarily because the food is good, it's because you saw the ad on TV right before it was time to make a decision about dinner for that evening. So I'll suggest now to not buy that new HDTV set you've got your eye on and when 2009 (or whenever the deadline is) rolls around and all television stations have to switch over to HDTV (do I smell another squeeze-the-consumer plannned obsolescence scheme behind this?), let your TV set go blank. Go outside. Lose some weight. Build that hybrid car. Write a book. Do all the things you can't do while staring at a TV set.

Why should you care that all the bees are dying?

Recently it has come to my attention that all of the nations bees are seriously threatened. Iaren't bees cute? know, it's hard to believe that it would be a big deal, and in fact, no one has really made a big stink about it yet. But it's important. Why, you might ask? Well, even if you didn't ask, you should probably read on since this topic definitely affects everyone, even if you don't like honey or bees. Most people know that bees are responsible for honey and bee stings but what you may not know is that they are a much more important member of the agricultural community. Bees, especially honey bees, are responsible for the pollination of flowers (you might be saying duh, here but follow me on this one, please), and said pollination causes plants to actually bear fruits as the method of their reproduction. And said fruits are important for not only human nutrition, but also for that of most of the animals we raise as pets and most of the animals that we eat. This topic came to my attention from my grandfather, an almost retired farmer. He brought it up to my mother in this manner. Grandpa: "Hey, The Fidge (that's me, btw) is a biologist, right?" Mom: "you know she is" G: "Well, can she tell me why the lady down the road's bees are almost all dead?" M: "Really? They are almost all dead? Why?" G: " Well, if we knew, we wouldn't be asking The Fidge, would we? Of her 20 hives, only two of them are still alive. All of the other hives are dead. And the other guy down the road, he had 125 hives and now only maybe twenty of them are still alive. They asked me if I knew what was happening, and I said I would ask the Fidge." So, this has become a job for me. Although I am just using the internet to research it, I do plan on calling a visit on these beekeepers to talk to them about their practices, but in the meantime I will fill you in on what the vast spaces of the interweb have to say about this little bee apocalypse. First of all, officials are calling this epidemic Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD for short. (I just would like to point out that everything needs an acronym.) This used to be called Fall Dwindle Disease (FDD) but it was changed b/c it was noticed that this is not due to seasonality, nor can it be ruled to just being a disease. Actually, most experts are baffled to what exactly CCD is. Basically, they can't narrow it down to what is really killing all the bees. For example, according to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences news release on the topic: "Preliminary work has identified several likely factors that could be causing or contributing to CCD," says Dennis van Engelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "Among them are mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning." That helps narrow it down, doesn't it? So, basically we can't really rule out anything at this point. We don't know what is killing the bees, and we can't decide what it could be, either. Most of the information I am using in my research comes from the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium Web site. In the hives that were researched by MAAREC there was evidence of vampire mites, a small parasite that lives off the "blood" of adult bees, viral infection, stress due to constant relocation of hives for crop pollination, intestinal amoebas, fungal infection, stunted learning and development due to industry chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides), and on and on. You get the point. We have not been able to narrow CCD down to any particular thing, which makes it incredibly difficult to treat the problem. The drastic amount of bees found dead over such a short period of time is what is so scary about the whole thing. A small bee apocalypse, the few surviving bees are all very young adults from what most beekeepers can see. I mean, as I pointed out, the two local cases above have lost an incredible amount of bees from their original numbers, and this is the case all around the country. The rate at which these bees are dying is alarming, especially since we cannot narrow the cause of their mortality down to anything specific. According to Jean-Louis Santini of AFP, "Bee numbers on parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen by more than 70 percent, while California has seen colonies drop by 30 to 60 percent. It is normal for hives to see populations fall by some 20 percent during the winter, but the sharp loss of bees is causing concern, especially as domestic US bee colonies have been steadily decreasing since 1980." Well, either way, I have not really helped to narrow it down, but I hope you have learned something. Maybe this summer when food is really expensive you will know why, since most of the food we eat comes from the pollination efforts of bees, with only a few crops such as corn and wheat being wind pollinated. And just so you know, this is not something just limited to specific areas. This is affecting not only the US, but parts of Europe as well. This is a big deal, and no one seems to know anything about it. I figured I would end this article with a quote from Albert Einstein. "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man," This may seem a little extremist, but it does bring the point home.