Archive for April, 2007

Woohoo!

April 22nd, 2007

Shakespeare with Ninjas. OK, not

many ninjas, but still…


Going green

April 22nd, 2007

This website is now proudly carbon neutral.

<img border=”0″ alt=”Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost.”

src=”https://secure.newdream.net/green1.gif” height=”32″ width=”100″ />

Except…

I have to admit that I’ve got some real concerns about the way the current carbon offset thing is going,

especially the recent trend towards carbon neutral everything. It’s starting to appear absolutely

everywhere – a friend of mine recently had a carbon neutral wedding, and even got featured in the paper

for it.

The market is still pretty new, and there’s a lot of dodgy dealers out there – people selling things

that don’t have any interaction with carbon emitting industries. So you have to be fairly careful with

what you buy right now.

But, leaving that problem aside, does this work? Let’s look at an extreme case, to help inform us in

the analysis (this is inspired by some analysis from Tyler Cowen). So suppose that everyone in a town does this.

Company A provides electricity to the town, charging a price that maximises their profit (they are,

after all, a monopoly). The plant was well planned, so sells all 100 units it can produce.

Then, all of a sudden, An Inconvenient Truth starts playing at the local cinema, and a wave of green

enthusiasm strikes. Everyone in town then buys carbon credits from Company B. Company B is obtaining these credits from

the emissions market (for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s purchasing them from an aluminum

producer that’s shutting down).

From the individuals perspective they’re now paying more for every unit of electriciy, as they’ve

internalised the carbon production externality. As a result, at the prevailing price they’ll start

to consume less electricity. Let’s say they start consuming 80 units. To use slightly more technical

economics jargon, their demand curve shifts left.

This isn’t good news for Company A. They’re capital intensive (as all electricity production is), and

the sudden excess capacity means that part of their plant is no longer making the return they once

expected. Now they could shut down part of the plant, and reduce emissions, but this would result in

a substantial loss in the value of their capital. Alternatively, they could lower their price a bit

and try to encourage the consumers in town to expand consumption to 100 units again.

Now, the world is certainly better off – the aluminum plant shut down, so emissions are less. But

the town is still consuming the same amount of power as before!

But compare this to the world where Company A has to pay for the carbon it emits. Now, the outcome in

the short run will be the same, in terms of price and quantity. But because the cost of carbon is

internal to the company, they’ll have a much greater incentive to invest in more carbon efficient

means of producing electricity. In the world where everyone buys offsets, the incentive to invest

in cleaner technology is much less, as there wouldn’t be a direct reduction in cost, just a potential

increase in demand.

Overall, I think that the carbon neutral thing is good. As consumers adjust to a price that better

reflects the true costs of production, it’ll be easier to introduce changes in policy that better

encourage emission reductions. But they aren’t a good way to do this forever, because the direct

emitters of carbon need to be facing the price, or the system just isn’t going to induce the kinds

of changes in behavior that are needed.

So we certainly shouldn’t mistake it for a solution to the

carbon problems the world is facing. So I worry that ‘easy answers’ like carbon neutral

websites, weddings or cars will just make people too complacent, and make it that much harder

to push for the kinds of more fundamental changes that might prove needed.

(As a footnote, I should point out that I’m not paying a penny to make this site carbon neutral,

my ISP has done it as part of my overall hosting without raising my price at all. Pretty close to a

free lunch…)


Steve Jobs versus Bill Gates

April 22nd, 2007

Today’s neat YouTube video: an Animated Steve Jobs takes on Bill Gates.


Cool advertising

April 22nd, 2007

Some really imaginative adverts – very clever stuff. (Via)


Lego shaped candy

April 22nd, 2007

New from Kelloggs: edible, gummy-based lego blocks. Probably not the best idea ever, if you think about the choking hazard of the real thing…


Evil alarm clock

April 22nd, 2007

Clocky is the most evil alarm clock ever. Only $US 49. (Via)


Capitalism is genetic?

April 22nd, 2007

According to Greg Clark, the English may be genetically predisposed to capitalism. (Via)


Hugo Review: Glasshouse

April 18th, 2007

The second in my series of Hugo nominated book reviews for this year, Glasshouse, by Charles Stross

Robin doesn’t know a lot about his past. That’s partly because he just had a lot of it erased, and partly because of the Curious Yellow virus that had infected the teleport gates and wiped a lot of memories from everyone. Now he’s in the Glasshouse, an experiment aimed at understanding the ancient history of the old dark ages, 1950-2050. But all is not what it seems – for a start, someone is trying to kill him. And now some of his memories are starting to come back.

This is a very strong novel. The ‘science fiction’ elements mainly take a back seat, and tend to not drive the plot particularly. In fact, you could probably transpose a very large part of the story into a contemporary setting (absent a MacGuffin or two) fairly easily. What you couldn’t do is transpose what was (for me) the most fascinating part of the book, the treatment of the mid-20th century society from a far future perspective. There have been a few versions of this in different stories over the years (Heinlein for instance), but normally in the context of time travel. It’s interesting to see a take on what elements of society might be thought of as normal, which will be misunderstood, and which will be understood but abhored.

The main character is a strong, interesting and well rounded person, and Stross paints their motivations and development well. There’s one section in particular (which I won’t spoil for those who want to read this) where the strength of this characterisation actually becomes an important point in understanding the novel.

However, the main character is fairly isolated for the majority of the novel, and this means that the secondary characters are not as well developed. The motivations of the villains, in particular, are never well explored.

One note that worked well for me, but I suspect may disappoint others, is the number of dangling plot threads. A few different things are hinted at in the background of the story as being important, but some of these never really go anywhere. There is a deeper mystery hinted at in the novel that is not really addressed, let alone solved, in the course of the story. For me, this added to the richness of the world-building, but your mileage may vary.

Immediately after I put this novel down I had thought it was a very strong contender for the Hugo, but after thinking about it for 24 hours or so I’m not as sure – while it’s strong and interesting, it’s a bit light in the philosophical issues that seem to help a lot in winning the Hugo. It would certainly be a worthy winner, and a lot depends on the other three novels yet to be read.


Aww, cute kittie

April 18th, 2007

A kitten playing an Xbox360.


Official month mania

April 18th, 2007

Apparently February was Return Shopping Carts to Supermarkets month… (Via)