Monday, July 23, 2007

Grocery Shopping Adventure

After dinner monday night, I had to get a few groceries. I was feeling obsessive so I decided I would calculate the exact grocery bill item by item and have the exact amount withdrawn from the eftpos with my card before the checkout operator had even finished scanning. Since this included bananas and tomatoes which are sold by the kilo ($7.98 @ $5.98 per kilo respectively) this was going to require accurate measurement. I decided I would take the average of two scales in the shop that were supposed to be accurate to the nearest 5 grams. For my 6 bananas one said 405g, the other 1.065kg(1), hmmm. After moving an obstruction on one of the scales they both measured about 1.060 kg. 5 tomatoes was .905 kg. After buying ten items (including prepacked smoked salmon on special at $49.90/kg) , I was confident I had it to $23.15 + or - 5 cents. Of course the checkout chick scanned it as fast as I could load it up, so my original plan was thwarted, and much to my surprise, the total was $22.15, exactly one dollar out. Suspiciously looking like a copying error on my part, I had a quick scan of the docket. Bananas 1.056 kg, fine. Tomatoes 0.705kg ? huh. Smoked salmon $5.49 (100g) instead of the advertised special of $4.99. I went to the service desk to claim my 50c ripoff, but low and behold, I got $5.50 back and the salmon. I had thought that "scan's wrong and it's free thing" had disappeared long ago from Coles. Apparently it still pays to meticulously check the docket. I didn't argue the toss on the tomatoes against my better judgement, assuming I misread my measurement, but I re-checked at home and my measurement was the correct one.

(1) That's $1.35 per banana - Almost Larry level. Still think Aus would be better off with free trade in bananas.

Worm Farm

One of the things that I did back in 1999 was to buy and use a worm farm. My main motivation was to use the worm casts in the garden. Also to have less smelly garbage in the bin. If I had calculated whether this reduced or increased green house gases, my thought would be that it was much of a mulchness. Whether my food scraps rotted slowly in my wormfarm and garden, or in a landfill was not much different. In fact I would have thought that in a landfill the carbon would be buried deep underground to become coal in the distant future ie - sequestered. However, recent studies have shown that in a typical landfill and typical worm-farm, the worm farm would absorb the CH4 very well, and the landfill not at all. So it would seem that I was inadvertently helping the environment... Not so fast. As I recall at about the same time, we had a child and to give ourselves more time for gardening, we switched from reusable to disposable nappies exclusively. So instead of nappy-waste going down the drain and into sewage treatment plants to fertilise golf courses etc; it was ending up in the landfill generating methane. Besides which, I never really had enough worms to absorb all foodscraps, so plenty still goes in the bin. And the worm casts in my garden? Myriad tomato, rockmelon, pumpkin and pawpaw seedlings pop up from the casts. I never know whether to try to cultivate them, or to pull them out to leave room for the plants I'm trying to fertilise with the casts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What our energy policy should be

There has been a lot of talk about what our energy policy should include. Running themes are global warming, energy security, privatisation of utilities, subsidies and taxes.

- Global Warming: (*disclaimer: Carbon strategy should be about one countries standing and reputation to achieve things cheaply while others spend heaps with nothing to show for it. Therefore other countries (and global) failure is as much a positive as meeting domestic targets*)A dual strategy of long term goals, GHG metering and measuring in the short term. I see no economic harm in signing treaties that are not binding, such as Kyoto. We should also not fear "exporting" our emissions to third world countries. This will help them develop in a market-friendly way, and they may be better able to adjust to sea rises etc. with less fatalities/burdens. (We should be) Reducing subsidies on carbon intensive energy sources but not be tempted to waste money on new subsidies (on solar/wind). Subsidies are way less efficient than direct investments in the carbon market. When the carbon market becomes more trustworthy, this will be the cheapest way to meet targets. Carbon taxes and reducing fossil fuel subsidies will be the cheapest way to reduce emissions in the long term.

- Energy Security: The absolute highest security must surround all fissile materials handled in Australia. The biggest security risk to the world is nuclear blackmail and mega-terrorism. With such a bright future for nuclear, one must not forget its security-risk implications which dwarf its cost per KW as an associated input cost. As far as energy imports go, ethanol from Brazil is preferable to oil from the middle-east, and subsidies should not be used to favour domestic energy sources, but only to favour lower risk sources if at all.

- Privatisation of Utilities: Retail energy supply should definitely be privatised, but associated infrastructure MUST remain Nationalised (NB. price controls on infrastructure access count as near-nationalised). Privatised energy supply is the only way to account for demand/supply unbalances fairly (if this unfairly punishes the poor, the poor should be singled out and helped. No point rewarding the rich with cheaper power just to marginally help the poor)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It's the one-dimensional political continuum

Back when I was researching what was meant by "left" and "right" in politics, I realised that peoples political views are highly correlated, and that the position on a one-dimensional line that you reside in determines the kind of political authorities and peers one believes and therefore debates tend to try to push a swinging voter one direction or the other along the line, ignoring all possible tangents.
This is especially true for the global warming debate, the imaginary line having alarmist, environmentally conscious, act locally kind of view on one end, and highly "skeptic", globalisation friendly, optimists on the other end. Unfortunately, the skeptic end is associated with some rather dodgy pseudo-scientific arguments that global warming is natural, cyclical and unrelated to human activity, as described in the "Great Global Warming Swindle" show I watched part of the other day. This rather annoys multi-dimensional thinkers like myself, and that is why I tend to debate along the action axis, debating which actions are sensible and which are not in terms of energy and environmental policy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blog Etiquette

I don't really know if it really exists; bloggers just write what they feel like writing. However when it comes to naming names, it freaks some out, and I get the feeling that trust becomes lost in a mesmerising field of aliases. Of course if one states a real name of someone else, that becomes googlable - with unknown future consequences.

As an example, mentioning my children by their names is a double edged sword. My daughter's teenage friends found her mentioned here to her great embarrassment. Luckily, I can usually edit any misleadingly embarrassing or revealing information.

Sometimes when I quote someone here from somewhere else in the WWW, this is where it gets found more often in different contexts. This seems to be positive, especially if they were quoted in an optimistic light. People often get googled after a job interview, partly as a character reference. Be aware of this if you are the kind to get people angry habitually. Revenge is spreading info about various dishonours or disrespects. Flattery is ever greater when mentioned in published print.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Mad World

Even though, it is a fairly obvious plucking of heartstrings this Queensland Police Union Mini-documentary is a watershed.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Younger Dryas - Why can't it happen again?

Apparently, the most likely theory of the cause of the younger dryas involves a comet impact. The Younger Dryas is a rapid cooling event of about 13K years ago, going against the trend of moving into the current interglacial period. The reckoning is that a comet caused a catastrophic melt event which rapidly sent fresh water into the northern polar region: This caused a severe disruption of the thermo-haline current, plunging the Northern hemisphere back into ice age temperatures. Extra snow and ice cover caused an albedo effect which somewhat affected the temperature of the whole Earth somewhat, giving a thousand year pause to the interglacial warming, which even more suddenly corrected globally to a warm temperature consistent with the interglacial.

Climate scientists are almost unanimous in stating that a similarly triggered iceage could not happen due to the ice melt in greenland etc. due to global warming. The two prongs of this argument are 1) that the melting is too slow to give enough fresh water to similarly disrupt the currents, and 2) the base climatic conditions are too different - ie. there are less chance that there would be enough snow/ice cover to affect the albedo enough.

Most of the fearmongering however is that the icemelt and northern polar warming is going to be much more than had been calculated just a few short years ago, and quicker than anything since the younger dryas. That, to me, means that if Europe has a sudden cooling event (whithin the next 40 years), climate scientists could still claim that they were correct.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Top end of the "Marriage Gap"

Reading this Economist Article:marriage in America, I feel vindicated, because almost all of the pressure and "education" that I received from others was directed to me about the risks. That divorce is bad, and that the divorce rate is high is self-evident. Clearly, the trick is not to avoid marriage, but to get it right when you do marry or otherwise commit to a life partner. I think the most important thing to instil in ones peers and children is to look at precedent. Ie. does the person come from a broken home? What history do they have with committment? etc. I have been trying (with variable success) with my daughter that these are important questions right from the first time you decide to date someone. Unfortunately, she is getting mixed messages from tv shows and peers.