5 Cool Clean & Green Ideas You Don’t Hear Much About

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 22, 2013 by admin in Clean & Green

Maybe the infamous “they” aren’t suppressing the technology, maybe we’re just plain lazy and apathetic.

I was surprised a couple of years ago when the idea to transform America’s highways into a huge solar grid (we touched on it here) didn’t get a lot more buzz. Regardless of the short-term costs and technical obstacles, repaving America with solar collectors is the stuff of forward-thinking infrastructure rebuilding dreams that could re-shape the global economy. Maybe that’s part of the problem. If you were someone who had hundreds of billions invested in the allegedly limitless oil reserves around the globe, why would you want to change the revenue model? But there’s probably no huge conspiracy to suppress technology, we’re probably just not paying attention. Which is why you may not have heard in the last year about cool ideas like the project at Ohio State where they figured out a way to harness the energy of coal without burning it, capturing 99 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in the reaction. Or how MIT created a light source that cools its surrounding environment rather than heating it. Or the technology that may soon make spray on solar panels commercially viable. Or kinetic sidewalks that capture the energy from our footsteps and convert it to electricity.  I guess it’s no surprise that we don’t hear more about all this cool stuff; we are indeed pretty addicted to our fossil fuels. Even though it was Norway that came up with the clever idea of the poop-powered buses we talked about  a couple of years ago, they’re still pretty passionate about the more old-fashioned sort of logs. In fact they’ll watch 12-hour shows about them.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 21, 2013 by admin in Health & Wellness

Why this book by Michael Moss is probably the next book on my reading list.

Have you ever wondered what that orange crap is that’s left on your fingers after you eat some Cheetos or Doritos? Well, after reading this NYT piece about the science of addictive junk food, I have a hunch that it’s the chemical that’s also responsible for “vanishing caloric density”, which – as food scientist Steven Witherly explains – refers to the fact that “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.” That’s just one of the fascinating terms you’ll learn from the article, which is adapted from Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, which will be released on the 25th of this month. You’ll also gain an insight into a phenomena that seems to be a common likely flaw with highly optimized business processes, i.e., the fact that figuring out exactly what the customer wants and giving it to them probably will have unhealthy results. This is true with web marketing; if you want a busy website, find out what people are searching for. Then create websites about it, and before you know it, search results are full of SEO and social media tips, Lindsay Lohan, and Twilight. This was called content farming for a while, now it’s just the way things work. Or tailor results the way Google and Facebook have been, and you get what Eli Pariser calls the Filter Bubble (see his TED about the idea here). People want big impressive cushy cars? Sell ‘em an Escalade. Before you know it, the world’s out of oil, and the sky is black. They want cheaper electronics? Ship jobs overseas, and get the dual result of fewer jobs in America, as well as pollution and abusive working conditions abroad. The same principle seems to be at work with food; it’s simple proposition. If you can zero in precisely on what the customer wants and give it to them with precision, you’ll have a successful company, and once you’ve built this business model, it’s pretty hard to turn back. And at some point you’ll contemptuously claim that it’s entirely the public’s fault if what they want is sugar, salt, and fat. I’m looking forward to reading the book; if it’s as well-researched as the NYT article, it should be a fascinating window into the process that got the American food industry where it is today. And peering inside that process offers insight into almost every other kind of product marketing; the food industry has always employed the best of the best in the fields of chemistry, psychology, marketing, and business. Maybe reading it will help me understand my information addiction.

Goodbye, Facebook, and Thank God For Tumblr. Now I Can Quit the Internet

[ 2 Comments ]Posted on February 20, 2013 by admin in Lifestyle & Culture

Okay, maybe I’m rushing things, but it’s my nature.

When I asked friends a couple of years ago “Is Facebook getting a little tired? Is it over now?”, most of them would suggest that I was just being a big sourpuss. I’m used to this. Because of the people in my immediate circle of business associates and friends, I’ve developed a sort of Cassandra Complex. No-one ever believes me when I tell them something new is about to boom, and no-one believes me when I tell them it’s peaking. Until it’s on the cover of Newsweek or something, anyway. Which it can’t be any more. But that’s okay, my only real regret is that I didn’t try to directly capitalize on any of these cycles of disruptive innovation, and instead sold consulting services related to them. That means that back in 2008 I was one of the thousands of folks that annoyingly referred to themselves as a “social media consultant”. Don’t get me wrong, this was a valuable service for a while. No one seems to enjoy adhering to the RTFM Protocol, and consulting – in many instances – is a perfectly legitimate service that basically involves “reading the manual” when someone else doesn’t want to. In any case, here’s the big news. Facebook is in fact toast. It’ll still be around, I mean crikey, AOL and MySpace are “still around”. But a big shift is happening, and here are my latest prophecies that you can ignore, partly summarized by more “experty” experts. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Are There So Many Dash Cams In Russia?

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 19, 2013 by admin in Missing Links

We not only have the answer, we have a roundup of the more peculiar videos created by them. And links to real carnage, if that’s your thing.

The fact that the first video of last week’s meteorite to make the rounds was a Russian dashcam video wasn’t surprising; it seems like one in every five videos on YouTube these days is from a Russian daschcam. But after a year or so of making that humorous observation, I finally got curious. Just exactly WHY are there so many Russian daschcams? The answer turned out to be kind of politically and economically enlightening. When Russia finally embraced free markets, it was inevitable that insurance companies would be part of the new equation. But it also became quickly evident that these insurance companies would operate like a lot of things in Russian capitalism, and be rife with corruption and deceit. As people started making claims, and companies started refusing to pay, a court of law was the only solution. And the best evidence in court? A video. Voila, a new industry blossoms, the Russian Dashcam business. And of course, on the other end of the consumer/provider relationship, resourceful Russians quickly adapted, and started jumping on the hoods of cars to try to make personal injury claims. There are other reasons than insurance though; apparently you want to be mindful of highway psychopaths and corrupt cops. Get a more detailed explanation here. In any case, this week’s missing links are a roundup of the best dash cam videos we could find. We omitted quite a few that recorded obvious human tragedy. If you want the hard stuff, you’ll have to visit the Ru CHP LiveJournal community. Videos below. Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscientists Can Predict Your Political Views with a Brain Scan

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 18, 2013 by admin in Politics

Not clear on what your political beliefs are? No need to slice your head open or get an MRI, we have some quick handy quizzes to do the job!

Did you know that a brain scan can predict your political leanings with 83 percent accuracy? A Smithsonian Magazine piece  the other day about research done at the University of Exeter offered some surprising insights into the reflexive responses in the brains of a small set of subjects which demonstrated a correlation between the subjects’ political leanings and their response patterns to various stimuli. In a nutshell, the study suggested that liberals tend to be more willing to accept risk and novelty, and show stronger bonds with broad social connections, while conservatives tend to have more pronounced “fight or flight” responses to risk, and are more stimulated by narrower social connections. See the full article and its embedded links for a more nuanced picture, it’s not quite that simple.

But you don’t have to scan or slice open your brain to figure out what your political leanings are. In an era of politics shaped by the “values vote” political messaging masterminded by Karl Rove and Frank Luntz, a lot of us are not quite as liberal or conservative as we think. Strong sentiments about issues like abortion, war, and gay marriage can manipulate your thinking into a very polarized position, when in fact you may in every other way espouse values of the party you think you detest. But don’t worry, there’s a test to help you sort things out. Actually a bunch of them. With just twenty a/b questions, the Pew Research Political Typology Quiz informed me that I – along with 10% of the population – am a “New Coalition Democrat”. I of course bristle slightly at this; if I have to put myself in one of the current boxes available, I think I’d be a weird hybrid of Green Party and Libertarian. The common red vs blue framework doesn’t really capture the values of someone like me who thinks money itself is an obsolete concept, which renders a lot of other dialog pointless. Anyway, adding a little more nuance, we have the Political Philosophy Quiz, which identified me (with relative accuracy) as a “socially progressive, moderately capitalist, libertarian pacifist”. The On the Issues PartyMatch Quiz assessed me as 55% Democrat, 53% Green Party, and 37% Republican. A little more accurate in some ways, but all of these quizzes highlight one thing, which is that we’re stuck in a gridlocked bipartisan system that doesn’t really represent anyone’s values, except those who are inside the game, or happy to take their marching orders from those who are.

Probably the most useful of these online quizzes for someone like me was the About.com Political Loyalty Quiz, which asked questions like “Which bumper sticker would you be most likely to put on your car?” and offered choices like “At Least In Vietnam, Bush Had An Exit Strategy” or “Nice Hummer. Sorry About Your Penis”. What about you? Do you know where you really stand? Or or are your party convictions really based on single issues?

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