Why Wind Power Has Not, and Will Not, Replace a Single Conventional Power Plant

(p. A17) After decades of federal subsidies–almost $24 billion according to a recent estimate by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm–nowhere in the United States, or anywhere else, has an array of wind turbines replaced a single conventional power plant. Nowhere.
But wind farms do take up space. The available data from wind-power companies, with which the Environmental Protection Agency agrees, show that the most effective of them can generate about five kilowatts per acre. This means 300 square miles of land–192,000 acres–are necessary to generate the 1,000 megawatts (a billion watts) of electricity that a conventional power plant using coal, nuclear energy or natural gas can generate on a few hundred acres. A billion watts fulfills the average annual power demand of a city of 700,000.
. . .
The promise that wind and solar power could replace conventional electricity production never really made sense. It’s known to everybody in the industry that a wind turbine will generate electricity 30% of the time–but it’s impossible to predict when that time will be. A true believer might be willing to do without electricity when the wind is not blowing, but most people will not. And so, during the 30% of the time the blades are spinning, conventional power plants are also spinning on low, waiting to operate during the other 70% of the time.

For the full commentary, see:
JAY LEHR. “OPINION; The Rationale for Wind Power Won’t Fly; Physical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 17, 2013.)

Project Entrepreneur Would Rather Change the World than Buy a Luxury Car

HoffmanReidGreylockPartners2013-06-28.jpg“Reid Hoffman at Greylock Partners foresees a tectonic shift coming in the Web, with data and its many uses as the new linchpin, replacing identity and relationships.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 5) As an executive vice president, it was up to Mr. Hoffman to manage external relations. “He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal,” Mr. Thiel says. “Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires.”

Mr. Hoffman emerged as a connector and high-level strategist. He packed his schedule with meetings, charmed credit card companies and soothed the regulators.
PayPal survived, and when the company went public, in 2002, Mr. Hoffman and many of his colleagues became multimillionaires.
Mr. Thiel splurged on a Ferrari. Mr. Hoffman wanted to buy an Audi but instead invested his newfound riches in one of the first solar panel companies to come out of Silicon Valley, Nanosolar, and bought an Acura instead.
“I started to think about the value of money,” he says. “I thought if I only had $75,000, would I rather invest in a luxury car or make a play in changing the world?”
Nanosolar became a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

For the full story, see:
EVELYN M. RUSLI. “A King of Connections; How Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn Became Tech’s Go-To Guy.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 6, 2011): 1 & 5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date November 5, 2011, and has the title “A King of Connections Is Tech’s Go-To Guy.”)

The Precautionary Principle Stops Technological Progress

(p. 247) All versions of the Precautionary Principle hold this axiom in common: A technology must be shown to do no harm before it is embraced. It must be proven to be safe before it is disseminated. If it cannot be proven safe, it should be prohibited, curtailed, modified, junked, or ignored. In other words, the first response to a new idea should be inaction until its safety is established. When an innovation appears, we should pause. Only after a new technology has been deemed okay by the certainty of science should we try to live with it.
On the surface, this approach seems reasonable and prudent. Harm must be anticipated and preempted. Better safe than sorry. Unfortunately, the Precautionary Principle works better in theory than in practice. “The precautionary principle is very, very good for one thing–stopping technological progress,” says philosopher and consultant Max More. Cass R. Sunstein, who devoted a book to debunking the principle, says, “We must challenge the Precautionary Principle not because it leads in bad directions, but because read for all it is worth, it leads in no direction at all.”

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

In the England of the Late 1600s, Coffeehouses Were “Crucibles of Creativity”


Source of book image: http://www.drinkoftheweek.com/wp-content/plugins/simple-post-thumbnails/timthumb.php?src=/wp-content/thumbnails/23682.jpg&w=250&h=400&zc=1&ft=jpg

(p. 8) Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world.
. . .
Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, “gentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece.”
. . .
. . . , coffeehouses were in fact crucibles of creativity, because of the way in which they facilitated the mixing of both people and ideas. Members of the Royal Society, England’s pioneering scientific society, frequently retired to coffeehouses to extend their discussions. Scientists often conducted experiments and gave lectures in coffeehouses, and because admission cost just a penny (the price of a single cup), coffeehouses were sometimes referred to as “penny universities.” It was a coffeehouse argument among several fellow scientists that spurred Isaac Newton to write his “Principia Mathematica,” one of the foundational works of modern science.
Coffeehouses were platforms for innovation in the world of business, too. Merchants used coffeehouses as meeting rooms, which gave rise to new companies and new business models. A London coffeehouse called Jonathan’s, where merchants kept particular tables at which they would transact their business, turned into the London Stock Exchange. Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, a popular meeting place for ship captains, shipowners and traders, became the famous insurance market Lloyd’s.
And the economist Adam Smith wrote much of his masterpiece “The Wealth of Nations” in the British Coffee House, a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated early drafts of his book for discussion.

For the full commentary, see:
TOM STANDAGE. “OPINION; Social Networking in the 1600s.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 23, 2013): 8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2013.)

The author of the commentary is also the author of a related book:
Standage, Tom. A History of the World in Six Glasses. New York: Walker & Company, 2005.

Office Workers Switch Tasks Every 11 Minutes and Take 25 Minutes to Return to Original Task

(p. 12) As economics students know, switching involves costs. But how much? When a consumer switches banks, or a company switches suppliers, it’s relatively easy to count the added expense of the hassle of change. When your brain is switching tasks, the cost is harder to quantify.
There have been a few efforts to do so: Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. But there has been scant research on the quality of work done during these periods of rapid toggling.

For the full commentary, see:
BOB SULLIVAN and HUGH THOMPSON. “GRAY MATTER; Brain, Interrupted.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., May 5, 2013): 12.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2013.)

The Gloria Mark paper referred to in the commentary is:
Mark, Gloria, Victor M. Gonzalez, and Justin Harris. “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work.” Proceedings of ACM CHI’05, Portland, OR, (April 2-7, 2005): 321-30.

Another relevant Gloria Mark paper is:
Mark, Gloria, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Kloecke. “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress.” Proceeding of the Twenty-sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI’08), Florence, Italy, ACM Press (2008): 107-10.

Walker Says Those Who Call Him “Patent Troll” Want His Property Without Paying


Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Jay Walker turned his idea for “name your own price” Internet auctions into a fortune by starting Priceline.com Inc. Now the entrepreneur is trying to cash in on his ideas by suing other companies.

Since it was founded in 1994 as a research lab, Walker Digital LLC has made much of its money by spinning out its inventions, like online travel agent Priceline and vending-machine firm Vendmore Systems LLC, as independent businesses.
. . .
Mr. Walker defends his newly aggressive tactics, which some critics compare to those of “patent trolls,” a derogatory term for firms that opportunistically enforce patents. Without the lawsuits, he said, his patents could expire while other companies exploit them. Patents have a 20-year lifespan.
“Not only are we not a troll, but the people who want to label me are often the same ones that want to use our property and not pay,” Mr. Walker said in an interview.

For the full story, see:
JOHN LETZING. “Founder of Priceline Spoiling for a Fight Over Tech Patents.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 22, 2011): B1 & B10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Amish Break the Golden Rule

(p. 237) If we apply the ubiquity test–what happens if everyone does it?–to the Amish way, the optimization of choice collapses. By constraining the suite of acceptable occupations and narrowing education, the Amish are holding back possibilities not just for their children but indirectly for all.
If you are a web designer today, it is only because many tens of thousands of other people around you and before you have been expanding the realm of possibilities. They have gone beyond farms and home shops to invent a complex ecology of electronic devices that require new expertise and new ways of thinking. If you are an accountant, untold numbers of creative people in the past devised the logic and tools of accounting for you. If you do science, your instruments and field of study have been created by others. If you are a photographer, or an extreme sports athlete, or a baker, or an auto mechanic, or a nurse–then your potential has been given an opportunity by the work of others. You are being expanded as others expand themselves.
. . .
. . . as you embrace new technologies, you are indirectly working for future generations of Amish, and for the minimite homesteaders, even though they are not doing as much for you. Most of what you adopt they will ignore. But every once in a while your adoption of “something that doesn’t quite work yet” (Danny Hillis’s definition of technology) will evolve into an appropriate tool they can use. It might be a solar grain dyer; it might be a cure for cancer.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Property Rights, Flexible Work Rules, Open Markets Are Keys to Economic Growth


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. “The wheel and the windmill were invented many times,” they write, “then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently.” In short, “institutions explain innovation.”

For the full review, see:
Matthew Rees. “BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)

The book under review, is:
Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Mainstream Climatologists Lower Best Guess Estimates of Global Warming (and Find High End Estimates “Pretty Implausible”)

(p. D1) Since 1896, scientists have been trying to answer a deceptively simple question: What will happen to the temperature of the earth if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles?
Some recent scientific papers have made a splash by claiming that the answer might not be as bad as previously feared. This work — if it holds up — offers the tantalizing possibility that climate change might be slow and limited enough that human society could adapt to it without major trauma.
. . .
In 1979, after two decades of meticulous measurements had made it clear that the carbon dioxide level was indeed rising, scientists used computers and a much deeper understanding of the climate to calculate a likely range of warming. They found that the response to a doubling of carbon dioxide would not be much below three degrees Fahrenheit, nor was it likely to exceed eight degrees.
In the years since, scientists have been (p. D6) pushing and pulling within that range, trying to settle on a most likely value. Most of those who are expert in climatology subscribe to a best-estimate figure of just over five degrees Fahrenheit.
. . .
What’s new is that several recent papers have offered best estimates for climate sensitivity that are below four degrees Fahrenheit, rather than the previous best estimate of just above five degrees, and they have also suggested that the highest estimates are pretty implausible.
Notice that these recent calculations fall well within the long-accepted range — just on the lower end of it.

For the full story, see:
JUSTIN GILLIS. “BY DEGREES; A Change in Temperature.” The New York Times (Tues., May 14, 2013): D1 & D6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 13, 2013.)