Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Google Maps

Google never ceases to amaze me with how far-and-away more advanced they are than just about every rival. Not only is the free Google Scholar about a bazillion times better and easier to use than the electronic journal service the university pays fortune for, now Google Maps offer a 3-dimensional street level option. Check out the video and be amazed.

One user looked up her own house and was able to zoom into her living room and see her own cat!

And of course, if you have never seen Google Earth (again, free!) you must check it out.

In fact, this blog is created with Google software running on a Google server. That's pretty impressive considering how distrustful I generally am of very large institutions.

Teaching... Old School

For three Fridays in June, I'll be substitute teaching a psychology class at The Maynard School here in Exeter. It is AS level, which is roughly analagous to a high school AP class in the States. I'm pretty excited about it. Founded in 1658, it's the 3rd oldest girl's school in the UK. Hmm... my high school was built in the 1960s, smelled funny, and looked like a prison. This school was founded 74 years before Georgia was even a colony. Now that's old school.

First Conference

On Monday, June 4, I will be presenting at my first research conference. Admitedly, it is a small one at the university, but it will be good practice for the bigger ones. My talk is from 10:40 to 11:00 and is titled "Conservation psychology: Addressing the limitations of an infant subdiscipline." There are three basic parts: First, the limitations with the previous research; then the preliminary findings of my current research; and finally some proposals for research over the next two years, with a focus on addressing the previous limitations.

Abstract is below:

Conservation psychology, the use of psychology to understand and promote conservation of the natural environment, has only recently developed as a subdiscipline within psychology. However, despite a flurry of recent publications in conservation psychology, most of the research has been limited by a number of theoretical or methodological assumptions. These include paradigmatic isolation, a focus on immediate outcomes instead of long-term outcomes, and an over-dependence on self-reported behaviour. In this presentation, I will discuss ways in which these research limitations may be overcome, and specifically how the research studies I am presently conducting will attempt to fill these gaps in the literature by using a cross-paradigmatic approach in longitudinal studies assessing real-life behaviour.

This is the intinerary.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Meet the New History, Same as the Old History

So, which is worse, bad tv shows or good tv shows?

Bad tv shows, which are 90%+ of what is on, are a reflection of our own failed aspirations, a sign of the crumbling ediface of society, yada, yada, yada... but at least we can be satisfied in our refusal to watch them. We can actually use our time productively.

Good tv shows, which are rare, show us real achievements in communication, education, and acting. They allow us to be proud of sitting on the sofa. But they can also suck away inordinate amounts of time, especially if they are running in a marathon.

The reason I bring this up is the near-constant lineup of top-quality historical documentaries that have been on television here lately. First, there was the World At War series on about a month ago. Produced from 1969 to 1973, this is a 26 hour long documentary about World War 2 comprised entirely of primary-source video footage and interviews. There were no computer animations, no poorly executed gauzy dramatizations, and no gloating narration (these are the hallmarks of the modern war documentary.) World at War is sober and powerful. The interviews are from civilians of many nations, holocaust survivors, soldiers and officers from all sides, even lords and generals from both Allied and Axis nations. The footage shows the mass graves, the flies, the bloated corpses that lie in the road. It's as sad and as unnecessary as hell, but that is the point. War is sad; war is unnecessary; most of all, war is hell. Truth this raw is rarely in our living rooms.

Now there is a weeklong-plus marathon of documentaries about ancient Rome that started yesterday. Don't you people know I have work to do?! While not as profound as The World at War, so far it is still very well done. They are presented as a series of historical dramas about particular individuals. The acting is reasonable, the stories are not sensationalized, it does not give in to popular villianization, and when the historical record runs thin, this is acknowledged. They do not give in to the myths of popular history - they acknowledge that Nero was in Antium during during the Great Fire of Rome (at least, according to Tacitus) and therefore could not be fiddling while Rome burned (never mind that the fiddle would not be invented for another 1000 years... but I digress). The series is by no means what I would call scholarly, but for something that is aimed at a general audience, it is fetching both in terms of education and entertainment.

While history is wonderful in its own right, there is a reason I mention these shows. Let me explain...

Last week, the BBC presented an edition of This World titled Mystery Flights. It is a rather frightening look at how "terrorism suspects" have been rendered from the US to secret Eastern European facilities to be tortured. This is not conspiracy-theory stuff: they have interviews with the people who were tortured; they have pictures of the facilities; they even have an interview with the former CIA chief in Europe who resigned over the torture that was occuring. By the way, if you are wondering why this is a big deal (I hope you're not!) it is because it violates, oh, a couple of hundred laws, both national and international, in the US and the EU, and the people who authorized it are, according to all parties' national laws at least, guilty of war crimes. For the next few days, you can watch the entire show, but only for a few more days (non-UK viewers may not be able to access it).

Learning history makes one realize just how little humans change. Our present world leaders are little different from the world leaders in the 1940s, the Iron Age 40s, or any other decade you would like to choose. Our surroundings may change, and that may make people seem like they are different, but is only an environmental effect. The essential human never changes. Like a steady candle flame, humans are billions of points of energy, colliding violently, always moving, consuming and combusting, yet through the chaos, they maintain the exact same shape of the flame.

History is the flip-side of lab-based psychology. Although under-appreciated as a duo, they complement each other very well. I highly recommend both.

Update: So far the Roman shows have been pretty good - it seems like the marketers got a little too hyped, the show on the Colliseum being called "Arena of Death," but in the actual show they mention that death in the colliseum was actually very rare.

But what I found most interesting is that in the docudrama about Hannibal, Hannibal is played by Alexander Siddig (his birth name is Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi.) He is probably best known as playing Dr. Bashir in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Very strange to see the good (but awkward) Doctor lead the forces of Carthage against the Roman legions at Cannae.


So I was marking a set of 10 practical reports this weekend, and found some suspicious paragraphs. Uh oh. I looked a little closer and found that out of 10 reports, 5 had plagiarised at least an entire paragraph. Five. Two of those contained virtually no original writing. What was the source they plagiarised? The handout they received in class describing the background of the practical. Seriously, that is really depressing. I mean... wow.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Alternative Energy, Part 2: Geothermal

Continuing in our Alternative Energy Series, we bring you Part 2, a look at recent developments in geothermal energy. If you remember, Part 1 focused on kite-like wind turbines that would stay suspended high up in the jet stream, where wind speeds are constant and very strong.

Ok, geothermal is an old idea, and is commonly used for heating in volcanic areas like Korea and Iceland. In those places though, the heat is very close to the surface, and is easy to tap. But really, no matter where you are in the earth, it is rarely more than about 2 to 5 miles down before it starts to get very hot. Previous limitations in technology made those 2 to 5 miles prohibitively expensive to drill into, but now, with technology advancing and costs dropping, it is not only possible, but profitable.

The idea is simple: Drill a hole into the earth that goes down a few miles. It’s very hot down there. Now put a lot of water down the hole. When the water comes back, it is very, very hot. The steam drives a turbine, which generates electricity. Once the steam has passed through the turbine and condensed, it can be sent back into the hole, all in a closed system. No fuel needed, no emissions are produced, the energy supply is constant, and the source is unlimited. Best of all, we have the technology to start building these things right now. Now that's pretty freaking awesome.

Really lame diagram made in Paint:

Interest has been renewed in geothermal energy since a recent MIT report that came out last autumn, and demonstrated that not only was geothermal energy possible in non-volcanic regions of the world, but most areas areas could support geothermal power plants that could become profitable within about 5 to 10 years of completion, at a cost as little as a few million dollars per bore hole. Keep in mind nuclear power plants typically cost billions, not millions. This isn't futurism; the technology is available right now.

New Scientist Summary

Interview with lead MIT researcher (podcast for 26 Jan)

Original MIT research study (very long)

Campus Gardening

Alright, it seems like it has been forever since I've written a gardening post. So, I've got a lot to update you about.

If you remember, the Green Society held a Green Fair in April (which was a huge success, by the way). At the Fair, a few students expressed interest about the possibility of having a student allotment on campus (US translation: "allotment" = "garden owned by an institution, but given to residents/citizens to use as they wish"). Within a few days, we had received permission from the university to begin digging in a field on the edge of campus. Although the whole field is several acres, we're just using a corner of it. Still, our corner is 2,700 sq ft, which is a big corner, as far as corners go. This is a picture of our corner from the top:

And this is the same land but from the bottom:

Ok, ok, I know that's pretty boring. But these photos are about a month old, and since that time, five of us have dug up, by hand, about a third of it. This Saturday we planted the Three Sisters (corn, climbing beans/peas, and squash), as well as tomatoes, beetroot, and dwarf french beans. Last week, we planted kale, lettuce, peppers, and more tomatoes. The space we have planted so far will be communal, meaning we all work it and all share the harvest. The remaining 2/3 of our land will be split up between us in individual plots where we can grow what we like and maintain it ourselves. We're all very excited about it! In the next few weeks I'll try to get some pictures of what it looks like once dug an planted. Good stuff!

It's a great area as far as wildlife is concerned. Yesterday, we saw two pheasants, a hen and a cockerel, treading through the high grass about a hundred feet from our garden. Last week we heard the cockerel calling non-stop (pheasants are very loud), but this week he was pretty quiet. There are also two badger setts and many rabbit warrnes in the nearby trees. Hedgehogs and foxes are bound to be around too, but I've not yet seen any.

Bills Are Fun!

We got an electricity bill a few days ago for nearly £300 ($600). The problem is, the bill was from a company we stopped using a year ago (EDF). We have the year-old "final bill" from EDF, and we've been getting bills from our actual supplier (Green Energy UK) so it's almost certainly an error. Sigh... So I'll be navigating the EDF phone trees on Monday.

When I worked for Headway working with people with brain injuries, this would happen all the time. About once a month, one of my clients would receive a strange bill from an electric company they had not used in years. One company, PowerGen, was particularly egregious, and sent very threatening letters with high frequency to one of my clients. Every month, I would call them, explain the situation, and they would apologize, acknowledge that my client did not owe any money and say it would not happen again. Then, it would happen again the next month.

UPDATE: After speaking with customer service, it appears this bill I received is genuine... it just covers a 5 month period and is a year late. Huh? Bills are fun!

Friday, 25 May 2007

Short Week

Hey, sorry for the low posting this week. I was hoping it would have been a posting-extravaganza, but alas, it was not to be. I've picked up another bunch of papers to mark (I volunteered for, so it's ok), and this week I found out I need to turn in an annual progress report on my work. It was due in April. Gulp. But, hey, neither my officemates nor my supervisor had ever heard of it before this week, so it is ok.

Hopefully I'll be able to do several gardening posts this weekend; there is so much to write about!

Now I leave you with two Friday videos. Firstly, this is a great way to keep your cat clean, unless you have cat allergies, in which case you will die of an anaphylactic reaction.

Hmm, I might have to try that on the rabbits. And, damn, that's a fat cat! (it's probably a capitalist)

Secondly, if you liked the Indian Thriller, then you will love Indian Superman!


Friday, 18 May 2007

Recycling in Belfast

I've been reading a recent paper from another conservation psychologist, Tim Kurz, who has done some recent work in Australia and here in the UK. He's a friend of my supervisor and I've exchanged a few emails with him. This particular paper is focused on recycling in Belfast. Now that may seem like a pretty mundane topic, but this paper is useful for a few reasons, but in particular because it illustrates many of the counter-intuitive, initially baffling nature of most enviro-psych research.

As I've said before, a major flaw in most enviro-psych research is the complete dependence on self-report data. That is, the researcher asks people how much they recycle or save energy or whatever (usually through a written or online questionnaire), and that person's response is taken as valid. The problem with that is that people are really bad at making estimates about their own behaviour, and the data is often not very accurate. Checking actual behaviour - measuring energy used or weighing recyclables - is very intensive in terms of time and money, but it is the gold standard. To get enough statistical power to run any decent analyses, we need to have data on many people, usually at least a hundred and often many more, just depending on the design. Weighing 100 recycling bins every week for a few months is a big pain in the neck, but that is how it has been done before. The Belfast study got around this by using a new technology I've been drooling over for months: every recycling bin has a unique bar code. The recycling truck automatically weighs and scans every bin, logging the data in a database. It's the kind of system conservation psychologists daydream about while in the shower. I've been hoping we'll get a similar system in Exeter soon, but it's at least years off if it ever happens here. Anyway, this Belfast study has some pretty impeccable behavioural data. They also took psychometric data on concern towards the environment, attitudes towards recycling, and sense of community. These psychological variables can be statistically compared with people's real recycling rates to see exactly what relationships are there, and what predicts what.

Before I tell you the results, are there any guesses? Raise your hand if you think general concern towards the environment is related to recycling. Mmm, ok. What? No, keep those hands up. Ok, now raise your hand if you think attitude towards recycling is related to actual recycling. Ok. Now raise your hand if you think sense of community plays a role. You can put your hands down. Now, get a piece of paper, and write down how much you think these three things are related to actual recycling. Do this in a percentage, which we will call "shared variance." It's a kind of measure of how much two measures overlap, or how well you can predict one if you know the other. For example, altitude and air pressure have about 100% shared variance because it is a virtually perfectly correlated relationship.

And now... the answers:
General concern for the environment and actual recycling : 0.0% shared variance
Attitude towards recycling and actual recycling: 3.6% shared variance
Sense of community and actual recycling: 4.0% shared variance

Surprised? That's what a lot of enviro-psych results look like. It is actually incredibly difficult to predict behaviour, and people's attitudes do not go as far in helping with that prediction as our intuition would suggest. So the holy grail has been to find better predictors of behaviour; to an extent this can be improved by just asking more and more specific attitudes: "How do you feel about recycling glass?" is more predictive than "How do you feel about recycling?" and "How do you feel about recycling this particular glass bottle right now?" is most predictive of all. Unfortunately, the more specific you get, the less practical it is in an applied setting. The other best predictors of pro-environmental behaviour are: gender (women do more pro-environmental behaviour than men) and past behaviour (people have done an action in the past are more likely to do it in the future). Of course, both of these are profoundly unhelpful in applied work, as one is unchangeable and the other circular. There are other factors that play a role: how much neighbours recycle, perceived risk of not taking action, and others, but they generally do not account for more than 5% of shared variance, leaving nearly all of the behaviour unexplainable. Environmental education, which I think is a terrific thing, generally accounts for 2% or less of the variance in actual behaviour. This is the tough nut to crack. Every intuitive measure clocks out at very low levels (low for applied value, high enough for proof-of-concept value), leaving nearly all of the behaviour unexplained. On one hand, that's pretty poo-ey, as influencing human behaviour is the most critical part of tackling climate change (more important than technology, or anything else.) On the other hand, it is exciting because these are mostly uncharted psychological waters, with most of the treasure still undiscovered (ughh, pirate metaphors are never good), which can seem like a very rare thing when searching through thousands of journal articles.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


Ok, so two hours before the deadline, I've handed in all my marking. Of course, that didn't stop them from asking me to do a few more late ones, but there is no immediate deadline on those so it's fine :)

Again, I would say there is definite improvement over last term. The first-years got an average mark of 65, which is 7 points above what is supposed to be "average." And considering I'm usually told I mark on the strict end, that is more like 10 points above "average." For the American translation of UK marks, add 20 points (65% UK = 85% US or a solid B.) Well done, everybody! (Except for you, Francis Quiggensworth, this is the last time I'll tell you: stop turning in assingments written in pig's blood!) Ehh... just kidding... it was actually cow's blood.

I would like to make a few "serious" overall comments though. Every generation has a name: There was the Greatest Generation, Generation X, and so on. I think this upcoming generation, if they are not called Generation Facebook, will instead be known as the Generation That Could Not Use Commas. Seriously, I don't think more than about 10% of the papers had a good grasp on how to use a comma. The quality of the reasoning and the research was excellent. The punctuation was atrocious. I'll take substance over cosmetics any day, but after enough punctual negligence, substance begins to suffer as well.

And finally, there are always typos and misnomers in any set of work, but some are more amusing than others. The one that made me laugh the most this time was a few papers on evolution of behaviour that spelled the word "ensure" as "insure." I chuckled more than once after reading things like "pine voles and meadow voles insure their reproductive strategies in different ways." Do the voles use different companies? Does the pine vole go down to the branch in town, and the meadow vole do it online from home?

Ehh, ok, perhaps it was not that funny after all.

Lines that were also fun (paraphrased): "Males on average have many more children than females." Hmm.. trying to think how that would work.

"Women are a species with a very particular reproductive strategy" This error crops up with the same worrying frequency as "Africa is a nation that..."

Monday, 14 May 2007

Welcome, International Visitors

Can you judge a website by its visitors? Well, probably mostly not, but maybe a little. It seems there's a small explosion in international visitors here lately. Today we've had visitors to the site from the US and UK as normal, but also Argentina, Chile, China, Germany, France, Italy, Singapore, and others. In fact, about 40% of visits to the site are from countries other than the US or the UK.

Other interesting facts: 30% of site visitors use an Apple or Linux OS, yet these are only used by 10% of the world's computers.

More than 75% of the hits to the site come from non-Internet Explorer browsers, yet only 20% of Internet users worldwide use a non-IE web browser.

So we have a very diverse, international crowd, with regular visitors from 5 continents that like to use more unusual but technically superior software. Does me proud. :)

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Solution to 0.999...

For those of you wondering about the .999... (repeating) puzzle, here it is.

Take the number 1, and divide it into three equal pieces, represented as fractions. You get three 1/3s. Add them together and you get one again, right? Right.

Take the number 1, and divide it into three equal pieces, represented as decimals. You get three portions of 0.333... (repeating). Add them together and you get 0.999... (repeating) Uh Oh. That's not 1!

Except it is. 0.999... and 1 are the same number.

There are many more complex proofs for this concept, using calculus and other methods. I must admit, many of these explanations are beyond me, but I do get the take-home-point: numbers are bad-ass, and although we (non-mathematicians) all pretty much assume we understand numbers, we really do not.

That's why I think statistics are cool (shock-horror!) and I enjoy helping to teach classes about them. They can illustrate our reality in ways that elude our normal perceptions. When I say "statistics," I'm not talking about "86% of people think BrandyBrand products are GREAT!" No, I'm not even talking about Analysis of Variance or Regression, though those are the workhorses of most statistically-based research. I'm talking about multi-dimensional scaling (MDS), cluster analysis, path analysis, and similar ilk. Stuff that allows us to create physical, geometric representations of abstract mental constructs by analyzing their numerical relationships. I realize this may be sounding a bit fuzzy or ivory-tower, but I hope to explain more in future posts - it's stuff I'm still learning about, and think is absolutely fascinating - but I should be posting ocassional numbers-are-fun posts over the next few months. It's great fun, and not as scary as it sounds.

Friday, 11 May 2007

More Marking...

Let's say you are a student working on a paper. This paper is 100% of your grade for this particular class. Your topic is to write about a famous psychological theorist, and discuss his primary theories, and whether they have any value. It would probably be a good idea if you spelled that theorist's name correctly just once throughout the whole paper.

I'm just sayin'.

I'm in the last 100 metre sprint right now... I need to mark about 40 more of these suckers by Monday.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Marking Update

I've got to say, I'm pretty impressed with this batch of practical reports. There is a definite improvement over last term, and I'm especially impressed with the first years, whose work in many cases rivals the second years. It makes it much more readable when it's high-quality work as well. Still... some people make the strangest errors. One paper I was marking earlier in the week had some serious problems with spacing - sometimes there would be 3 or 4 spaces between words, sometimes no spaces at all - about 20 errors per page like this. Surely it can't take that much time to get just one space between each word. Sometimes I think they just do this to make us wonder...

I'm just over halfway done with this term's stack...


Two nights ago, we had the first hard rain in about six weeks. During that time, hundreds of mauraders raided my garden, causing dozens of casualties. The Endive, being the first rank in my phalanx of greens, took the hardest hit, but being tough, all survived -- barely. The Coleus would not be so lucky, and the tomatoes.... well, we can only hope. The enemy:

Slugs. Hundreds of slugs, some half a foot long. And snails. Snails the size of golfballs. Last night, I launched a counter attack, and with crankable flashlight in hand, descended upon my quarry like a wolf amongst lambs (slimy, very slow lambs.) I captured over a hundred of the beasts in three forays throughout the night. (blog reader: "Chris, I thought you were really busy. Did you really have time for that?" Me: "Shhh!") I contained them in jars and relocated them to places with barriers from which they cannot return, such as the other side of the row houses. I also encountered unexpected help from some allies.
I found three common frogs were patrolling the garden: one keeping watch over the strawberry patch, and two more executing what appeared to be a pincher attack between the compost bin and the brick wall.

I'll keep patrolling when it rains, and move the little slimy beasts to slug-reservations, and although the threat will always be present, hopefully my greens will be able to prosper through the calmer nights.


I really don't know where the time goes. It seems like I wake up in the morning, do some work, miss a lot of work I should have done, and then it is midnight. And I've had so much blogging I've wanted to do.

Ok, tell you what, how about I grade one report, and then make one blog post, one report, one post, and so on? I really can't grade too many reports in a row or they all blend together and I lose track of what is said in individual papers. So hopefully there will be a flurry of posts (and marking) today.

First off, there is a puzzle I've been thinking about, and I eventually found the answer, but I thought you might want to have a chance to puzzle it out for yourself. Here it is:

What is the mathematical difference between .999 (repeating to infinity) and 1.0?

Here is a hint: what is one third, represented as a decimal? What happens when you multiply this by 3?

The first person to get the correct answer gets a pony.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Socially Responsible Design

The International Herald Tribune has a piece up on some of the best socially responsible design products. The basic idea is that most products are designed for the wealthiest 10% of the world, and the remaining 90% just struggles to survive. Yet their burden would be much lighter with some simple technological innovation, like electricity-free refrigeration, cheap water purifiers, and cylindrical 75 litre water jugs that can be pulled by a child. As August Pollak says, some of these are "such an obvious design that it's almost painful to consider how no one thought of it until now."

So I was reading through this list, thinking all these ideas were pretty cool when, completely unexpectedly, I found an item I personally helped build (page 13.) The Mad Housers are a group of socially minded engineers who build ultra-cheap houses for homeless people in Atlanta. Each house has a locking door, a loft for sleeping, and a wood/charcoal powered stove for heating and cooking. They cost no more than a few hundred dollars per house. The idea is that many homeless people could drag themselves out of poverty if given some stability and privacy - and indeed most of the people given one of these houses are not homeless for very long. Anyway, I got involved with them during college, and helped build a few houses with them. The house pictured in the article looks exactly like one of the ones I helped build (though it may be a similar different one.)

The Internet is a small world indeed.

Soap Nuts: a Review

Ocassionally, if I try a new and unusual product, particularly a green product, I'll post a review here. This will be the first... and it's about soap nuts.

Before you ask, no, soap nuts is not the name of a niche-market homoerotic magazine. Soap nuts are real nuts that grow on a tree (Sapindus mukorossi) from Asia. The husk of the nut contains soap in it, and can be used for laundry. They are gaining popularity here in England, and they are very popular in Germany right now, where more than 20,000 kg are sold every month. Recently, we (the Green Society) were giving them out free at our Green Fair, so I thought I would take a few home and try them.

The nuts came in bulk a big plastic bag. They had a slightly gummy texture and a mild, not unpleasant earthy smell. I took about five and put them in a smaller muslin-cloth pouch. I put the pouch in with my laundry in the washing machine, and did not use any detergent or anything else. For fragrance, I added a drop of lemongrass and sandalwood essential oil to the pouch. I considered cedar oil, but I was concerned that if I used cedar I would smell like a giant gerbil. I washed as normal - regular cycle with lukewarm water. It got quite sudsy in there, and definitely looked soapy. When I took my clothes out, I was surprised at how clean they were. They were definitely as clean as or cleaner than with ordinary detergent. They also smelled slightly of lemongrass/sandalwood, but the original mild earthy smell was gone. I can reuse the same soap nuts for three washes before composting them and putting new nuts in the pouch. Although I don't have senstive skin, I have heard they work very well for people who are sensitive to normal soap products. I was very pleased with the results, and will definitely be using them again!

  • Cheap
  • No chemicals
  • Cleans very effectively
  • Compostable - no waste
  • Using different essential oils allows you to choose any fragrance.
  • Supports producers in India and Nepal
  • Makes you cooler than your friends
  • Only available online and in certain shops
  • People not familiar with using nuts as soap may think you are a bit funny.
  • Don't taste nearly as nice as so-called "edible" nuts.

The cost is in the UK is about £5 for enough to do 25 washes, though they are probably cheaper in the US. Click here to have a look.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Alternative Energy Series, Part 1

At the core of any move towards environmental responsibility, human behaviour, specifically a change in human behaviour, is the central element. New, cleaner, greener technology will be very important, but it is always secondary to human choices and actions.

That said, new green technology is pretty cool stuff, and provides a lot of the "wow" factor that turning off lights lacks. It always gets me pretty motivated when I read about some new technology. So with that in mind, I will be sharing some new green tech ideas as I come across them.

Today's new green tech: airborne wind turbines

What are the two big complaints about wind turbines? As far as I hear, 1) the wind is variable , thus requiring other power to be on standby and 2) they take up a lot of space for what they produce.

These flying wind turbines solve both of those problems.

Basically, these work like kites with turbines attached to them. They maintain altitude about 5 miles up in the jetstream, where wind is constant and massively stronger than at ground level. An aluminium tether keeps them from blowing away and relays the electricity back to the ground, while the turbines provide lift. In the rare event that the wind putters out temporarily, the turbines can be run in reverse to keep the whole thing airborne until it gets windy again. It is estimated they could produce energy for about 2 cents per KWh. The current cost of coal power in the US? 4 cents per KWh. A working set of prototypes could be operational within the next few years. This is an artist's rendition of what they would look like:

Cool stuff.

Original story from The Economist