Friday, May 31, 2013

Europe's Road Towards Regrowth - Part 3

This post is obviously a continuation of some work in my 'Convergence' report as well as some other blog posts.

It's clear that things have stabilised but we need to get things back into growth mode. Let's examine some of the options:
- let's start to tax companies/individuals properly. This means that we either create incentives to keep money onshore or else change laws so that they they apply on-shore. Long term incentives for us to do this internaionally especially with the advent of globalisation, low/tax free havens, and the increasingly important role of online commerce.
Make life easier for everyone by making tax laws simpler particularly for larger firms. Maintain tax neutral position when compared to now if possible.
- it's clear that banks either don't want to loan, don't have the ability to loan, etc... I've been considering a joint temporary (or even permanent) venture overseen by ECB but with joint funding by both the private sector as well as the ECB? It would allow the ECB to figure out the logistics of setting up and running the SSM and would also allow basically allow people to start afresh if they want to (without the burden of existing bank loans/assets). It would focus in on 'bang for buck' projects and loans specifically to in relation to the SME sector.
- there are a lot of international deadlocks over various issues particularly in the trading area. Try to get them settled (whether through private negotiations, holding off temporarily) or work your way around them.
- continue to try to spread the load so that we are no longer so dependent on banks and the ECB to return to growth. Something else that we should consider is increasing the size of the (access allowed to both retail and wholesale investors) corporate loan/bond market to share greater burden for capital raising. We may need to consider foreign ownership/takeover rules here? as it's likely that at least in the short to medium term those who provide the capital are going to come from overseas
- figure out how much further debt can be forgiven realistically and and will produce the intended impact or otherwise
- continue work on banking union and bank resolution/consolidations (recapitalisation those that are able to continue and are relatively healthy, wind up those that are have little chance of medium/longer term surivial, divide them, etc...). Attempt to increase standardisation of banking practices (risk management/mitigation, etc...)? Does the ECB come up with measures? clear that they already have systems in place? Use them as the basis to work with industry and create new standards?
- continue to/crack down harder on crime and money laundering (aware of the difficulty of this)
- try to look for opportunities or areas where bringing back work to Europe actually makes more sense. Outsourcing makes sense but only up to a particular point. Logistical, transportation, geographical, and other issues all play an important part.
- consider limited Quantitative Easing? Problem always seems to be how and when to exit smoothly, whether to exit at all, whether you are merely creating an asset bubble and so on?
- massive stimulus just the the Japanese recently announced? Problem is that you could just ending up debt on top of more debt without it having any impact. It should be obvious that the thing that I'm trying to achieve with some of the measures here (and in some of my previous posts) is basically ensuring that any stimulus that is injected into the economy actually makes an impact and has an impact quickly.
- I don't support Tobin tax in current form as it basically penalises the financial sector for simply existing. Other options may be coming down harder on insider trading and market manipulation. This would include both individuals as well as organisations where these individuals actually. If not substantial fines then equity in the company which can be sold off, etc... Something else that I've been considering is something called I call a, 'considered risk tax'. Basically, it is generally accepted that rates of return are generally directly correlated to the level of risk with regards to the investment in question. If there are excessive profits or losses this means that in all likelihood they would have taken on some extra risk. This should form the basis/crux for the new tax. It avoids penalising the sector, maintains liquidity, but it also means that people will have to think twice before taking on likely speculative investments.
Need to avoid taking the bottom out of venture capital market though where massive gains/losses are possible.
If they still want to try it though, try in on a small group of voluntary countries to see the impact?
- Eurobonds/debt sharing once the banking union/supervisor is in place?
- something I've been interested in for a while now is watching the spread between retail interest rate and the official interest rate from the central bank. What I'm curious about is whether or not we can somehoe change our laws so that we can basically force banks to pass on the saving more effectively or less so. Essentially a rule which says that if the official rate is x% the minimum that you should pass on the end client (x+y)% If we can change the amount of y% across the union we effectively have different levels of interest rates? Obvious questions relating to legality, interference, whether this would make some bank operations unprofitable, etc... Need more thought on this...
This is obviously a means of manufacturing competitiveness within the union. Other ways could involve regulatory arbitrage, creative use of capital controls, trade barriers/controls, etc...
- in the past I've been thinking about regaining growth in the EU region by thinking about it in terms of competitiveness. Basically, if a country is more competitive than another then it has a better chance of exporting it's way out of trouble. To a certain extent we are seeing this trend come true. One of the things that has been noticeable is how some of the struggling EU countries have basically found that much of their growth has come down to trading with countries in 'emerging markets'. One of the questions that has recently been posed is how do you measure competitiveness though? Attempts have been made but should be obvious that price comes first, quality and reliability play a role, product support, and uniqueness of product/service offering as well all come into play. Ultimately, this means that as a consequence of national reforms (which may take time to filter down), or else stronger exports, over time price will play less and less of role which means that ultimately EU countries are going to become more competitive amongst one another and will increase trade within the region.
Internal devaluation, alteration of workplace relations, and other trade policies will largely achieve the same things.
- would like to see if we can something about the intellectual property rights, counterfeiting, etc... in certain Asian countries. It's one thing for them to copy shirts, it's another to see a what seem to be near copies of military equipment, telecommunications equipment, etc... rolling off the production line. Take the issue to the WTO or else implement measures so that local companies are better protected. Ironically, both sides lose somewhat in this equation. The people who engage in counterfeiting often don't learn many of the lessons that can only be gained through trial and error, research and development, etc...
- said it before and I'll say it again the EU needs to be more pro-active with regards to the problems that they face. Part of the problem is that some countries don't seem to realise the seriousness of the situations that they face until it's too late. Compounded by the nature of the discussions/negotiations that often occur until the very last minute decisions sometimes end up being non-optimal. Break the job up into pieces if need be but just try to get the it done more swiftly, optimally...
- be pro-active with regards to private debt. If you've spent enough time in the private sector you'll realise how lacking some businesses are with regards to managing their finances. I am aware of a program currently being run in Ireland which deals with exactly this particular issue (mainly to do with private property loans) and basically allows banks/individuals to renegotiate the deal so that the bank can recover as much as possible and the individual can afford the loan.
- something I've been asking myself for a while now (in the context of the Greek situation) is whether or not under the right circumstances low taxes are workeable over the long term. If people are basically taking care of themselves in a cash economy than technically it should work provided they never introduce too large of a burden on the state, the state never over-borrows, etc... I guess it's a question of macro-economic management/planning. It may also mean that during times of low employment and stress any problems are magnified though. For instance, welfare would have to support a larger group of unemployed people or else you would have to reduce the number of people who were eligible for welfare. You'd likely have to store some money away for 'rainy day' but obviously, the since the tax base would be so much smaller you may have to raise it on those individuals/organisations that do actually pay proper amounts of tax.
- one of things I've learnt while working on my 'Cloud and Internet Security' report (a few weeks should do it) is how certain countries under sanction have managed to harden their economies and have become self sufficient to a certain extent. Let's assume that the union is able to basically sustain itself without too much external input then technically if they are still relatively competitive globally they can partially shut down external trade and trade themselves out of trouble internally. This will allow them to eventually open up down the line and gain the benefits of globalisation without necessarily having to deal with a 'massive shock' that they would otherwise incur. One area in particular where they could/should think about this is with regards to their energy infrastructure. If there were a massive grid within the EU the countries in a stronger position could basically use their better positions to invest in greener (or even standard) power generation technologies (with subsidies from the weaker countries). Energy could be shared (especially during off peak times) to supplement those countries with less advanced infrastructure. Else, simply trade energy like other commodities. A switchable network that will purchase power from the cheapest/most available power network within the union to another... This will reduce costs of manufacturing through reduced cost of energy production.
- one of the things I've noticed about the EU is that a lot of work is done which is probably non-critical and probably costs more than it should if it were done at a national level. Hold off on non-critical work and shut it down and divolve these powers in these circumstances?
- have been thinking about the parallel currency thing for a while. Have been thinking that if several entering nations are re-considering their desire or holding off on joining the Eurozone, want to be part of the EU, but want to be part of a monetary union they possibly start one with the other members who are in the same situation entering the Eurozone especially if we can't get the Eurozone stablished and growing once more within a reasonable time frame...
- interesting studies/articles on the logistics of leaving the union
- we need multiple plans for growth and to provide us with a better idea of where the EU is headed. Possibly multiple plans one short (1-3), another medium (4-7), another longer (8-?)... The reason why I'm saying is that it's clear that the impact of some measures will take longer to filter down (education/training, direct stimulus to hire younger people, population growth, etc...) Moreover, it's fairly clear that some people are willing to work less or for lower wages, while others want a long term career in more advanced industries. I think we need to figure out just exactly where Europeans want to head with regards to this at both a continental as well as a national level. Thereafter, figure out how to achieve this and split our spending accordingly.
- something which is already being done by banks is packaging lower quality loans and selling it. Need a demand/market for it though... Any way to encourage International investors to take the risk? or is it more likely that they will only take the bet if they believe that the union's issues have been resolved (which is generally the case. The way the union is currently structured doesn't allow for rapid decision making during crisis periods though...)?
- would like to see greater pro-active work with regards to helping European nations out of their problems. I've previously stated that I'd like a closer examination of each state (SWOT style analysis which is actually done to a certain extent already by various bodies/consultancies) so that we could basically figure out where/how they fit into the union. Something else I'd like to see more work done on is a break down of exactly how they fit in with other union countries and the rest of the world. This would be similar to a risk analysis (and subsequent asset allocation) that is often conducted between private investors and financial advisors. In this case, it would occur at the national level. Depending on the state of their economy and the governments need/desire to maintain stability/grow we can then set about determining the best way forward with regards to controlled risk/investments. Curious to know what is the spending breakdown of a truly healthy economy is though?
- I believe in the benefits of globalisation (lower costs, better product, a unique solution, etc...) but only to a certain extent. I believe that there are certain industries that are critical to the functioning of every country and should be maintained locally (up until a certain point). These include food/agriculture, advanced research and development, manufacturing, construction, health, and defense. Some of these have to do with security, others quite simply because once you lose them it's likely going to take heavy subsidies to bring them back up once they are shut down. It also acts as a hedge (by providing stability) against international problems should they arise even if it may come at the cost of slightly lower growth rates over the medium/long term.
- further thought with regards to multi-tiered EU?
- been thinking about the workplace relations a bit. If you've ever been involved in a slow job market then you'll realise that there is sometimes very little choice in what you can do. Moreover, workers more often than not come off second best in any form of arbitration so I think our target should be to create as many jobs as we possibly can (I recall stories of my parents being able to get multiple job offers in a single day when they first arrived in Australia. This is almost un-imaginable now) so that workers have the chance to leave if they want to. Obviously, that's the ideal situation but otherwise it's a case of finding a balance between job security and worker rights.
- a local first policy? Part of the problem is that there just isn't the demand. Chicken and egg problem... Would banks be more willing to lend if there was a guarantee of local work though?
- ultimately, we need to realise that there is only so much that we can do. Even though the EU is a huge trade block it operates within the context of a very big world and is therefore subject to the same problems that the rest of the world has to deal with.
- I think the EU needs to take a better look at some of the industries that we are subsidising. The EU needs to make a genuine review/assessment of whether its geuninely worth defending/protecting, stopping, or else supporting expansion/export if the local market is too small for it to be genuinely profitable.
- I think it should be clear that a lot of what I'm trying to achieve here is attempting to spread the burden/risk of solving the problem of EU growth across as many sectors as possible. Basically, doing everything I possibly can to maximise the impact of any stimulus that we do spend so that it can result in 'real' (as opposed to growth that will only last as long as there is a supply of stimulus available).
- I think that something we should never lose sight of is that Europe should never lose it's character. Despite it's difficulties it should never lose sight of it's history, culture, identity and the way in which it fits in with the rest of the world. It truly is unique and I don't want it to see it end up being beholden to financial markets. Let's hope that we can achieve our goals of a prosperous and flourishing EU soon.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Syrian Options

The Syrian uprising has ballooned into a catasrophe on many levels after several years of fighting and it shows no signs of abating. Let's explore some of the options available to us:

- attempt to negotiate a ceasefire. It's clear that this is unlikely to hold though. It also feels as though a lot of previous attempts have been disengenuous or have been used to stall, seeking better terms, etc... Believe that only if there is greater force applied will be hold (more on this later).
- increased support for the rebellion. It's not entirely clear just what exactly we're supporting here (if concerned about longer term spread of weapons from conflict develop/consider stronger but limited lifetime weapons). It was previously a peaceful uprising but it has since turned into violence with the problem excerbated by foreign combantants and groups who share links with terrorist groups and have other interests besides that of the Syrian people. Violations and various atrocities (from both sides) need to be dealt with as well.
- direct and full intervention/invasion. We've seen Iraq/Afghanistan weren't clear cut and this one is probably going to be just as difficult if more so (how could we possibly make it any worse than it currently is?). It's also becoming clear that surrounding countries are already getting dragged in with regards to both the humantarian problem as well as the conflict itself with many of them being used as launchpads or support for military action in Syria itself. Invasion should be considered an option but only if all other options have been exhausted and have been proven to be unworthwhile.
- de-militarise the conflict. This means that no more (ANY) weapons whether are to be supplied to either side whether that means re-supply, fulfilling existing contracts, etc...
Hopefully, this will also make both sides more amenable to genuine peace talks (clearly, will not work if one side continues to arm though).
- direct but limited intervention. One option that I've been considering is destroying all air-fields/military bases/large clusters of heavy weapons/artillery/munitions and so on, shutting down all borders inbound to Syria (not easy). This will result in a stalemate situation (especially if the neither side are continued to be supplied with weapons).
Hopefully, this will also make both sides more amenable to genuine peace talks (clearly, will not work if one side continues to arm though). Another option that has been widely considered is targeted, direct action against regime leadership. There will of course be repercussions should this avenue be pursued...
- a pure peace keeping intervention? Long range strikes (as outlined in previous point) combined with an international, armed peace keeping ground force (rules of engagement mean that they their primary job will be to defend non combatants, themselves, and finally to maintain peace)? Peace keeping force must have clear agenda and provide prior warning. If there is any untoward activity they have a go ahead to use force to stop it whether that pertains to rebel or regime activity. It can not be stressed enough that this peace keeping force is not about joining in the conflict. It is about stopping it and getting back to normality as quickly as possible. Obvious problem is whether or not the fighting will simply start up again the minute the peace keeping force leaves?
- let them continue to fight it out until it's conclusion. Cynical but it also means that one side is likely to be a more complete victor which may result in a more stable long term situation.
- offer the current regime safe passage out. Unlikely to be accepted given some of the messages that have been sent out.
- don't bother trying to implement a ceasefire prior to creating a transition plan or running an election? If both sides can just maintain peace on their side of the conflict (clear lines of demarcation and buffer zones so that we can minimise break outs of fighting) while elections (obvious problems here especially vote those relating to 'tampering') are running perhaps we can figure out just exactly what the Syrian people actually want (this will also mean that we can disavow everyone of all possible doubt over what the desire of the actual Syrian population is). Who's in charge of running election? A combination of existing regime/rebels/neighbours with international observers? How can you when so many people are displaced (people in refugee camps in particular)? Require identification for them to participate while existing people can simply show up at polling booths. How much will displaced people skew the results of any potential election. Obvious questions are, whether they want existing regime or rebels to succeed? What should be the timeline going forward? How is normal life going to be restored? etc...
- break up of the country should be considered if it means a cessation of hostilities in spite of warnings.
- half baked measures so far have proven unlikely to turn the tide. If there is intervention (in any form whether diplomatic, military, etc...) there must be far greater force behind it to simply get it over and done with so that everyone can get on with their lives.
- don't go into talks with any pre-conditions. Push hard but give peace a genuine chance. Not sure how some people can be so optimistic that UN June 12 plan has a genuine chance given the fact that the conflict has continued unabated and esclated for several years (I've said before and I'll say it again defense, intelligence, and defense should work together and only be pressing harder will be able to force a cessation of hostilities.).
- provide flares and other camouflage options because it's clear that most of the weapons involved are fairly simple/non-guidance based. Likelihood that they will resort to carpet/cluster bombing even though they are already using makeshift weapons?

Key questions/issues:
- can you honestly say that Assad is fit and do the Syrian people want him to lead Syria?
- if there is intervention and there is a power vacuum is this worse than what would occur if we didn't intervene?
- the style/size of the intervention. Direct, continued covert, etc...
- even if we aren't directly involved what are the indirect impacts of continued conflict in Syria?
- will any leadership be better/worse than the previous one?
- what other moves are other stakeholders likely to make should further direct/indirect action occur?
- even if there is a transition is it going to be representative and will it hold?
- if there is intervention does the International community support or lead?
- are current peace talk offers genuine?
- limited public support/appetite for intervention.
- the longer the fight goes on the more desperate people have become. Concern is that either solution breaks down because new leadership may be just as bad or worse than previously or else it breaks down simply because they aren't strong enough to deal with the issues that continue to stem from this conflict.
- is this a situation that needs to be 'managed' because it can't be fixed completely in future without long term commitment?
- something which needs to be kept in mind is that many International bodies need reform or are simply losing their relevance. I think that the after several recent incidents the United Nations is beginning to fall into this category as well. In which case, I think the question we should all be asking ourselves is whether some  the power plays that are occurring are really worth it. At some point this isn't a question of interests, it's a question of humanity. It's a question of being able to distinguish between right and wrong, between human and primitive animal. If the United Nations doesn't give us the ability to do what is required, what is right in order to end this situation then the International community must surely see fit to either change the existing frameworks stopping us from doing so or find a way of working around them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Going Green - Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post:
If you haven't already figured out already I'm a big fan of using the environment to aide us. To this end I've been thinking of some changes to current technology (obviously, some ideas are extremely feasible but others are probably best left for the distant future) to allow us to live a more sustainable future:
- been thinking about better use of aerodynamics in cars. Provided the car is light enough and there is sufficient speed we may be able to make use of dynamic aerodynamic technologies. For instance, in Formula 1 teams were recently playing around with 'Drag Reduction Systems' which basically involved a opening/closing a flap on the back of the rear wing. Let's take this a step further. We have a channel at the front which runs through the middle of the car which when adjusted can send air over the back or under the back end of the back of the car (whose shape could possibly be dynamically altered at will?). In affect we have what amounts to variable aerodynamics and therefore theoretical weight). Ultimately, at higher speeds the effective weight of the car will become lighter which means increased fuel efficiency, reduced wear on car parts (remember in my re-design we would be throwing away a lot of parts as well so the effect is compounded), more than likely a car which requires less servicing, etc... Of course, a lot of tweaking may be require to ensure 'safe' levels of upforce though at all times though I suspect this may be computer controlled... Moreover, if the design already has aerodynamics in mind we may be able to retro-fit wings and turbines for air flight at some stage.
Curious to know efficiency levels of flying cars? Are we ready to fly en-masse as yet?
- been thinking about ECU modifications further. At traffic lights, we shut down our engines so that only one cylinder is used (a button somewhere or perhaps even automated)(we shut down cylinders as opposed to entire engine to reduce wear on batteries which is a problem with some existing systems). We should also have the ability to deal up/down cylinders, change timing at will, etc... The options are to provided would be similar to what is provided to Formula 1 currently but the options provided obviously be determined by manufacturers. Mandate transmission/engine modes performance, fuel efficiency/mix, etc... like they do in higher end cars?
- thinking more about reducing effective weight further without requiring extra power. One way is by altering our roads so that they are slightly magnetised. At the bottom of our cars (possibly the tyres/wheels (strategically placed to increase contact area)?) are also magnets/superconductors. They will repel one another and may possibly increase fuel efficiency.
Such technology could possibly be investigate on existing rail based vehicles?
- reduction of hydraulics/mechanical techology and increased use of electronics and fly-by-wire technology in cars. For instance, instead of relying on power steering, differentials, rack and pinion steering mechanism we use electronics and other techniques. While power distribution would still be centralised we would have what basically amounts to two mini-gearboxes at the front wheels (or on each side) of the car. Changing the gearing in these gearboxes allows each tyre to turn at a different rate which ultimately means that not only can get rid of a lot of extra mechanical parts (and weight) but we can get better turning circles as well. Obviously, a lot of testing is required to get this right/safe though.
- make seats (and other non-essential components) entirely removable (apart from drivers seat?). Significant reduction in weight, allows people the flexibility of increasing cargo/seating capacity of car at will as well, and obviously means fuel savings as well. Consider same technique in aircraft as well? I've been on a lot of aircraft where there was only a small number of people aboard. Curious to know what the fuel savings would be? Should be stop particular flights from running if there isn't enough demand?
- thinking about the large/small car debate further. Let's say we go with one seat cars from now on but they also had the ability to be able to communicate with one another (similar to technology used in high end military systems such as the JSF). In effect, they could 'connect/communicate electronically' and take you to the same place at the same time (I'm thinking driverless as well as driver based world) anywhere/anytime. Moreover, we could dedicate a particular car to taking cargo in 'driverless mode' and if we so desired we could physically connect/detach them at will as well like in Lego/Transformers (I prefer to call it 'Transformatech').
- need to think about insulation further. As I previously indicate in other post films are one way of achieving it with windows but I think we should think further about using insulating materials in cars (impact of fuel consumption on cars?).
- thinking about means of further reducing effective volume of engines, power and fuel consumption but believe that cylinder reduction as outlined above may be enough?
- thinking about introducing something akin to 'suspended seating/shock absorption' in seats. If you've ever been involved in any form of accident (even low speed ones) you'll realise the level of shock that goes through the car. This would hopefully would reduce the number of whiplash incidents.
- obviously to make some of the technology above work we'll need to make our cars out of lighter materials. Cost is the big issue though...
- rig our traffic lights so that we don't have to start/stop so often (acceleration/decceleration are the biggest contributors to fuel consumption)
- consider dynamic speed limits/signage as well which will mean that traffic flows as quickly/safely (increased average speed in low traffic areas will mean you arrive at destination quicker, which means less time road and less chance of accident?) as is possible?
- need to examine better methods of manufacture of technology.
One alternative means of dealing with the waste of silicon production I've been thinking about is by liquifying it and then spraying it on to a non-stick material (similar technique that they use in cooking). The resulting silicon is then 'peeled off'.
- further research into lubrication required. Longer term, I think we need to think about less mechanical/physical contact technologies though (superconductors, wireless, electromagnetic fields, etc...). If there is no contact there's no lubrication required...
- been thinking of this thermodynamic control issue. I've been thinking about something akin to a 'heat bubble'. Basically, we have a gaseous atmosphere around is more amenable to heating/cooling... Of course, finding a substance which is capable of doing this and is non-toxic/explosive? Possibilities with regards to cooking?

Another method is actually embedding heating pad style channels in our clothing (charged by putting them in the oven/microwave) so that we can basically have heat on tap.
- based on what I've read most cars use a form of heat pump to deal with heating. What if we start to use some of the heat from the engine itself though? We control the level of heat by changing level of seperation between car body and engine? and mix of ambient air and engine heat? Something else that probably needs to be looked at is air extraction. Based on what I've read a combination of extraction and new infusion of air is far better mechanism of ensuring new air circulation and hence termpature control.
Would also like to see stronger use of chemically based heating technologies. If we use conventional electrical means in order to heat up something similar to a heat pack, then use chemical based heat energy from the actual heat pack itself thereafter, we can can further reduce further 'active energy consumption. The benefit is that based on what I've read 'Heat Pack' style technologies are quite re-useable and may actually be easier to maintain in the long term. Possibly consider 'magnetic cooling' or other sources of more efficient cooling?
- thinking about introducing materials into wallpaper, carpet underlay, ceramic tyles (only where appropriate), paints and dyes so that they they provide a layer of insulation as well?
- use the ground in a better fashion as well. Based on what I've seen the temperature of the ground/sea is generally cooler than that of the air. If we had thermally conductive pipes that actually built into architecture and could be lowered raised at will (they could even be left in there permanently as a means of regulating overall temperature depending on ground temperature fluctuations with insulation being used when higher temperatures are required) we may be able to gain some form of passive cooling (heat tends towards cooler areas)?
- would like to see another design philosophy addition to our technology. We shouldn't think about energy being generated at centralised points only. We should try to de-centralise it as well. In previous post outlined using environment as a means of gaining energy. Believe that we should take it a step further. Whenever possible, we should take the position of not only mitigating energy requirements but becoming 'energy neutral' as well. Namely, the object in question should be able to have it's own source of power generation and storage. For instance, there have recently been stride into transparent solar panels. It's clear that efficiency is a problem but given time we may get to the point where our windows, walls, and even lights may be able to power our buildings.
In keeping with this theme of self power generation is something I called 'Tendril Technology'. For a while now, scientists have been experimenting with nanotechnology and tiny motors. What if we do the reverse? If you've ever seen a wind tunnel you'll see that they sometimes use strips of paper in specific locations to determine direction of flowing gas/liquids. Let's take it a step further. Rarely are the aerodynamics of any object perfect. If we can design tiny electrical generators that stick to particular circuits/areas of a vehicle (like tendrils) than we can make use of the movement of the car itself to generate free energy as the car moves. Of course, this will possibly come at the cost of drag and I'm unsure of the economics of the concept itself? Possibilties are of course endless if such technology is viable/works... We could generate energy ourselves by virtue of our own personal movement. In the meantime am thinking about kinetic based generators being used on cattle and other animals. If insted of just a cow bell, a power generator was also installed I'm curious how much 'free energy' we could create (similar technology to road/pavement based power technology as outlined in previous post)?
- been thinking of other 'free energy' possibilities. One is based on sound. A speaker is driven through electrical current but it can also act as a microphone and generate current as well. How much electricity could you generate using such technology at airports, shopping centres, concerts, etc?
- more intelligent use of solar panels. One design that I saw for a solar farm involved a large number of materials directed towards a group/central point of solar anels. Take this further. If we use parabolic mirrors or have a series of moving mirrors that re-direct sunlight based on the position of the sun we can gain even further gains in efficiency?
- have been considering shield concept further. One option is to use space junk (old satellites, space stations, etc...)(we may need to develop a 'Scooper Bot' to herd junk into the correct area before we can commence building obviously) to build part of the structure for the final shields (one at both poles in geosynchronous orbit. Else low Earth orbit may be fine as well depending on the impact of the shield, size required, etc?). Others things to think about is whether we should make it static or do we allow it to have varying levels of power (like a blind that you can open/shut to varying degrees)? Whether we have multiple shields in regional areas to allow for better climate control around the world? If this is the case would we be able to finally control the weather? Would these sheilds provide any protection against solar flares? Could we also connect satellites/space stations to them? Would they have any impact upon our existing satellite networks and other operations? We'll likely require improved methods of joining/construction in outer space (we need to do this at some point down the line anyhow).
- even if we can't mandate use of green technology but we may be able to guarantee orders. Government forms huge proportion of GDP in a lot of developed countries and if we were able to guarantee orders of truly revolutionary green technologies that may increase the incentive for companies to make a bet on green technologies.
- better access/marketing of recycling facitilies require? Should we mandate levels of recycled product in appropriate areas?
Possibly better develop better means of providing means of transferrance of recylable goods? Clear that we need some local options though we'll debate this issue in another post.
- have been thinking about methods of automatically sorting landfill (it's clear that at some point we should be able to use robots). One uses pre-defined shape/colour coding of packaging. Another involves using facial recognition and then sorting based on a database of goods commonly found in supermarkets and shopping centres...
- it's clear that we still have significant problems with regards to reaching other planets.
Perhaps we should consider setting up a moon base in the meantime? Experiments with life support, energy/food production, and mining in particular?
- should we start to have environmental efficiency levels on buildings as well?
- based on what I've seen a lot of energy storage technologies I've come across are thermally/environmentally dependent to extract maximum performance. Do we design them with insulation and active thermal management systems as well (already present in Lithium based technologies to some extent)?
- don't think we're dealing with Chinese dumping situation particularly well. Clear that many countries have issues with the Chinese though so it's obvious that they have a case. Problem with tariffs is that they will drive overall prices up. Consider taking it to the WTO? If tariff is preferred, make it smaller/take it and then use this to subsidise (partly or completely) local industry? It will hopefully drive prices downwards overall (dumpers now have to drive prices down further to compete or run the risk of being un-competitive (they may be willing to do so in the short/medium term)) and make adoption of such options much more easier/sensible down the line?

- some countries are clearly protectionist with regards to clean energy generation technologies in Europe or else don't want/have the resources to invest in such infrastructure. Consider opening up grids/lines between countries and provide excess energy across borders? Consider setting up joint ventures between countries? Thereafter, use equity shares to perhaps sell off to re-invest? Sovereignty/percentage share still remains the same ideally as was originally.
- as state previously more alternative fuel research required...
use thermal conditions/enzymes/catalytsts as a means of controlling electrical discharge rate?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Going Green

One of the things which I've always thought strange is that many people I know say that there always needs to be a winner and loser. I guess I've always believed that compromises are always possible which don't always negatively impact upon all stakeholders. I've always believed that so called win-win compromises are more often than not possible if you put the time, effort, and you have the ability/talent to be able to look at the problem at a deeper, more fundamental level.

This is particularly the case with some environmental, government, and business policies. I still remember when I was younger watching news programs which had protesters chaining themselves to trees as a means of stopping logging. It was a crude and often futile means of trying to get their message across. However, some part of it and a lot more science has meant that their warnings were ultimately being heeded.

The following are random thoughts regarding building a greener/more sustainable future without necessarily simultaneously ruining our existing lifestyles and economies. The obvious reason why this thought process is so appealing is that as the world's population continues to grow we will face growing issues with regards to natural resource depletion and replenishment. We need ways of dealing with these problems while not necessarily having to deal with massive changes to our lifestyles.

- always think big picture. Biggest polluters or those technologies that everyone uses but if efficiency can be increased can help us all drastically. Get everyone thinking about these particular problems not just the 'experts'. Sometimes a new approach is required and one of the things I've learnt is that what you can from one field is can sometimes be applied to another with sometimes surprising and fantastic results.
- teach people how to drive/fly/live in a more efficient manner and starting at a younger age. An example of this is driving and the difference between start/stop and smooth driving and how/why it often makes little difference in arrival time between start/stop and smooth driving. Another example, is running lab classes where you actually learn and interact with the environment.
- tired of seeing postgraduate students doing inane, and sometimes useless, research projects. It's a waste of our money and their talent. A reduction in pointless/useless/redundant work. Encourage them to do something that has tangible value. It will be for their own personal benefit, will allow for an almost instant return of investment of government/private funding (depends on how they gained their place) and also benefits society as a whole. If you're smart enough to reach that level then you should be able to solve real world problems and make consequential discoveries. To this end I guess I'm proposing somewhat of a list/database of major and not no major problems that need to be fixed by both industry, academic, as well as society in general. These will form part of the basis for possible postgraduate work provided that there is of course approval for the project to go ahead. I've always believed that if you have the ability to do so you should dedicate part of your life to doing things that are likely to benefit society as a whole. This leads me to my next point.
- take the shackles off of scientists/researchers in advanced categories such as Formula 1. Clear that they have made some significant strides but it's clear that the rules have held them back from pursuing some potentially very worthwhile technologies/concepts. If they can at least do the pre-liminary work then the rest of the world can continue on from there. Else pay these particular people (either in their spare time or after they have retired) to pursue technologies for the greater good?
- alternative packaging. Particularly food and basic goods. You can advertise within decent packaging without having to go overboard. Look at things like toilet paper. Basically similar to vacuum/heat shrunk plastic. Expand concept to toothbrush, other foods, and you begin to see just how much of a saving can be made. Good for everyone since it saves of transportation costs as well. Create legislation to mandate volume of goods versus packaging percentage size?
- can we somehow reduce reliance on advertising and junk mail? Perhaps give advertisers an alternative means of supplying their junk (perhaps broadcast via phones, eBook reader style devices such as the Kindle, or else even wireless transfer each time you walk into or past a shopping centre?)? Smaller advertising/junk mail sizes/volumes? Smaller newspapers? magazines? More regulation of publications?
- when I was younger and conducting experiments I was often 'resource limited' so I learnt to live by the following, "if you can't buy it, build it". Learning through this fashion I learnt to resort to using to whatever was the closest approximation to the real thing that was possible. This allowed for rapid prototyping and minimal capital outlay on whatever projects/experiments I needed to be done. It also meant that I was forced to work with nature and existing science rather than against it. Suggest that this should be our first thought when developing new technologies/products. If at all possible, search for things which are naturally occurring (maybe even develop a global database. We'll expand on this in next point.) and use them as the basis for future technologies if/when required. Essentially, true bio/eco-technological development (good example of this is difference between standard LCD/LED technology and OLED technologies).
- better use/understanding of passive/bio-chemical/effects. Database or better knowledge of natural tendencies of systems that exist around us. Work with nature, rather than against it whenever/ever possible. May need to change laws to allow these thoughts/principles to proliferate though. Dangerous precedent already set when we have allowed patenting of certain critical effects that exist in nature. Could have the impact of holding back human scientific progress. More thought required...
- think about genetic modification of plants (add components so that we can kill them off easily if needed) that can be used to potentially start new ecosystems? Think about arid areas in particular and plants which can deal with low moisture environments? A lot of care required here to ensure we don't destroy native ecosystems, habitats...
- efficient/quality appliances? Biggest problems is rate of return. In some cases, people only recover cost or initial up front cost after several years. Something which many and especially those on a tight budget do not necessarily care about. Outlaw inefficient devices, subsidise efficient devices, both?
- better alternatives to showering, laundry. One alternative I saw in a science fiction series was based on a mist of synthetic substance. Technically, we're able to achieve something similar now. Basically, imagine having a shower that is essentially the equivalent of a steam bath. The first phase is based on a mix of steam, soap, and anti-bacterial liquid in a mist/vapour based form. The second phase, basically emulates a standard shower (it could be another mist phase though depending on your preference) but essentially amounts to what is a rinse. Interesting alternatives with regards to washing include ultrasonics which allows you to shift or remove dirt via high frequency sound waves. Results of commercial devices generally indicates that they are not as efficient as standard washing machines which use detergent though.
- if it moves, naturally stores, or provides energy then we should look to extract all possible energy from it not just reduce emissions. Look at a power station for instance (currently a lot of major polluters use the equivalent of catalytic convertor systems/carbon filters anyhow), think about the cooling towers. What if we coat the outside of the towers themselves with solar panels? What if we add wind generators on top? What if divert some of the steam/waste water/liquid generated and funnel it down stream (remember the water is hot and in general higher temperatures leads to higher greater movement) into a tidal based energy generator? Where the fires are lit we will use the light to generate further power. Another example would be pavements, floors, and roads. Imagine if we use the an enhanced version of some of the dynamo/generator technology that is used to charge watches and other small appliances in them. Everything we move (even earthquakes would be a source of energy in this type of situation) becomes an energy source. Any and every piece of energy that can be extracted from objects in their most natural form will be utilised.
- people say that developed world should beat primary cost of carbon reduction but it's clear that some of the measures outlined here will have a negligible cost such as learning how to design more efficient homes. We should where ever possible share such information and incorporate into basic training/qualifications globally. It will help save help everyone in the long term and people in developing countries won't have to re-design goods/homes in future for better efficiency.
- we should think more about our modes of transporation. Explore whether people are willing to arrive at destination slower if their transportation was significantly cheaper (may require vehicles to be luxurious, give people the ability to work on such vehicles, or else allow people further time off work to make this work in the longer term?)?
- even though cars have made significant strides it's clear that we can do things smarter/better. If you have ever watched traffic during a peak (or any depending on where you live) period you would have noticed that the actual average density is very close to 1. It sort of makes you wonder why you should have the other three seats there. Obvious solution is to build smaller cars and try to force people into them (higher tax for those who don't require larger/higher capacity cars is one option especially if there local petrol prices are too low to make a difference on cost of ownership. Never believed in broad based taxes/levies if they can be avoided. Have always believed that a part of society is engaging in behaviour that is causing detriment to the overall group they should be the first ones to pay/be held accountable and so forth.). Other option is to have large group of standardised vehicles within pre-set ranges that are then rented out. Similar to the way bicyles/trycicles are rented out in some cities. Could obviously also go converse with everyone owing small cars and only renting larger cars when required? Even though there are vents I find myself often having to resort to using air conditioning even though external air temperature is probably more than good enough. Opening the window doesn't work because that leads to rain. Learn from passive thermal control systems (satellite and some laptop technology in particular). On high end/performance cars air (Bugatti Veyron), magnets (Jetcars), and superconducters (Jetcars) are sometimes used as a means of slowing them down. Wonder how much effort/cost it would take to make them a realistic option on standard vehicles (think about never having to worry about brake manufacturing again far off in the distant future),
think about engine design. Much more advanced now than we were several decades ago but principles vastly the same. Chamber with piston combined with internal combustion. Look how much is involved in between though. Simplification of design would result in a more rotary style (and efficient) design (that is already used in many hybrid vehicles).
fiddle around with ECU units on older cars. I recall several people experimenting with using a significantly reduced number of cylinders (1/2 out of 4/6). There's a point at which extra power is almost pointless due to speed limits anyhow. If we can (and if it doesn't cause undue reliability problems) we should think about reducing/rotating use of cylinders at the end of each service much like we rotate tyres.
- think about cause/effect issues and every single possible piece of waste that we (and our environment) produces and how we can extract maximum energy from it. For instance, exercise machines that also have dynamo/power generation/storage capabilities, retrofit KERS/dynamo based technologies on existing cars, laundry/kitchens (think about/work on safe detergents if current ones are 'too harsh') with divertor tap somewhere in house that can be turned on at anytime that can be used for irrigation (or other) purposes (only use sewerage system as a last resort but even think about using energy from that as well),
guttering systems (diverted at will) that feed into systems inside of walls to provide for extra insulation during summer, solar/wind powered traffic lights/telephone booths, human food (if you can't sell it but it's still edible feed animals/give it away. Food wastage is a huge problem.) as well as animal feed (in particular ruminent animals which give off enormous amounts of emissions),
houses that aren't overly large and better suit the needs of the occupants and are therefore easier to control with regards to temperature/lighting,
more intelligent design of climate control systems (think about hot water heaters. Think about conductive pipes that would go into the walls or even into your house. Temperature control can be achieved by moving/elevating these pipes into out of the house walls.),
better design and use of blinds/drapes/films for environmental control (many blinds that I've come across felt like they amplified the effect of external heat/cold)(If you've ever studied heat shields on spacecraft then you would have heard of something called the 'Ablative Effect'. It's somewhat similar to the way insulation works. If we think about this concept further then we can take it further. One side will reflect, the other will absorb giving you another avenue for passive enrivonmental control.),
think about what we can do with architectural designs particularly to do with lighting and environmental control. Suprising how much energy can be saved it we simply rely on nature/daylight, and make better use of materials (obvious ones are insulation and highly efficient roof tiles.), electronic screens which use energy from the sun in order to charge themselves.
inks that fade to nothing so that we can simply re-use it or don't necessarily have to bleach the paper to through the recycling process (I got this idea when a lot of my receipts were fading over a short period of time), devices, vehicles, and bags that have built-in solar panels so that we can charge our devices while on the road,
- we need to zoom in and out of problems. For instance, if better clothing materials existed (no need for drastic changes in cooling/heating if our clothing were
made of sufficiently good material, potentially with built-in passive cooling systems), we may not need to rely on large scale environmental control systems as much.
- need better ways/methods of sorting out waste, particularly in tip/landfill style situations.
- we need to be smarter with regards to technology especially with technology recycling and repair. Almost everything now has hit the point people just replace rather than repair. If it goes back to the factory systemic issues should be identified and possible remedies learnt from. If possible repair and re-sell or give away to locals in the area instead of sending it away as waste. Design systems so that they are easier to repair or else support better training of people in general.
- every satellite that goes up needs to have the ability to take out another satellite with it. Preferably they will be satellites under your own control so that we don't have to deal with issues of jurisdiction. All satellites must have the ability to de-orbit themselves from now on.
- should we consider/work on technologies which allow us to begin to consider flying above the parts of the atmosphere that are relevant?
- work backwards if at all possible. If the by-products of energy creation is clean or cleaner we may be able
- force manufacturers to open up with regards to power management on some of their devices. Sometimes the only way to achieve optimal results is if you have 'inside knowledge' or reverse engineer it. That way anyone can build software that can better manage the power output of these devices if required (hardware/software switches for most funtionality on your laptop/mobile devices so that you gain more granular control are quite common now though not so when software is ported to it)

Now for the not so simple, impracticle, and unrealistic stuff...
- take energy/product generation off-planet (reduce need for emissions on Earth). Something that others have thought of about before. Examples include: massive solar panels in orbit beaming back energy to Earth via wireless. Energy efficiency (of both the panels as well as energy transfer) is of course a huge problem; generating energy on the moon/other planets, storing it and then transporting it back to Earth. Obvious safety, time, risk/reward, cost/benefit, etc... issues at play here; mining natural resource on inter-planetary objects, creating the produce the product on their and bring it back (think about a highly advanced version of 3D printing).
- I think we need to stop thinking about space as a 'forbidden zone' for experimentation. Not only should be be looking to other planets for resources and a possible new home but we should also be looking to shape entire planets as well. Think about 'terraforming'. If successful we can run the same experiments back home on Earth as well if/when required. Perhaps even think about turning entire planets into energy sources? Ater all, think about the composition of some of the planets that are out there. They aren't too dis-similar to the basic ingredients that are used in electrochemical batteries (transferring the energy is an entirely different problem. We should not discount their possible use as a base for re-fuelling for other activities though.).
- recently we've been having trouble with emissions that drift into other areas. If we work on technologies that can control the flow of the particles (remember that some smoke detectors work on the principle of detection of ionised atoms, containment fields in plasma drive engines work in a similar fashion, and so would the fields that I proposed in the use of Anti-Weapons Technologies)(We can make it easier by making the by-product of chemical/industrial operations more 'cleanable/controllable' as well?) then perhaps we can also devise other technologies that will react with greenhouse emissions which will cause them to precipitate (liquid or solid). This can then more easily controlled (perhaps sent into outer space)?
- we could try massive shields (physical or else Force-Field style technology though this is likely to be someway off into the future) in outer space. Idea which was floated decades back by firms wanting permanent, prominent, advertising.
- we're bathed in electromagnetic radiation (human and natural) at the moment. In fact, personal experiments indicate that Wifi I can reach about a dozen networks in my area alone using fairly standard equipment. Would be good if we could somehow devise a means of 'plucking' energy relatively passively from this. Have heard of experiments by service providers about providing energy via telecommunications towers, curious to see how far they can take it.
- we could try managing the problem by creating canals into natural/artificial basins/sinkholes inside of continental areas? Possibly for hydro/tidal-power generation?
- something I've been toying since the almost confirmed? discovery of the Higgs-Boson and containment chambers used in Plasma thrusters are mass based containment chambers (think 'mini-blackhole'). Imagine being able to accumulate enough Higgs-Boson particles to basically create enough gravity to be able to warp time/space to such an extent that we could control not only the size of the reaction but also the rate as well.). Basically any reaction (including explosive) could be controlled.
- in general we need a lot more thought/research into stable, high density ('stable' is the key word here. Our work with Lithium and Nuclear based energy storage/generations should indicate how difficult these problems are to overcome.) storage of energy.
- same goes for energy generation as well. At the end of the day a lot of power generation systems are extremely primitive. Essentially, a lot of power generation works along the same principles. Kinetic energy is used to drive power generators, and so on... The basic principles haven't changed in a long time.
- with our current propulsion systems (and other technology) a lot of work needs to be done to be able to achieve inter-stellar/gallactic travel and to make inter-planetary/gallactic work more realistics. If you understand some of the complexities of rocketry you'll understand how dangerous, expensive, and inefficient it is... Work is being done on plasma/ion drives but chemical based engines still offer vast power/acceleration advantages. May need to consider more multi-stage/propulsion systems in future (work is already being done with regards to satellites in this space)?

Key issues/questions:
- many commercial operators are saying that they'll lose out in the long term if we do start using space as another frontier for resource exploration. I think we need to put this into perspective. If it's a question between profitability or survivival and living standards I think that most people are going to choose the former.
- in spite of all of the above, one thing that politicians (and other decisions makers) need to be keep in mind is that with few exceptions simply throwing money at the problem just isn't going to work. Science requires many different things. Among them talent, desire, motivation, inspiration, on top of finance. A scientist isn't going to come up with breakthrough concepts and ideas simply because he is given more money so why waste it? Use it on more pressing things...
- carbon tax and other levies are fine but honestly I think the greatest incentive is if we can develop technologies where there are benefits for everyone. If we do establish carbon markets or taxes probably best if don't float it for moment as it's clear that we're still feeling our way out and we can't really predict what markets are going to do (if we do float use try it on a smaller scale first to see what it's impact is). Set and review it every once in a while.
- we've experimented with fuels and green-tech before but it's clear that unless the alternative is just as good people will not move to it. This has particularly been the case with bio-fuels and even recycled paper (I remember when they first used and they were clearly inferior and less popular).
- doesn't matter what the technology is it must be proven to work. Too many cases of pseudo-science or just plain fraud.
- ultimately I believe that the question of environmental conversation is a problem that is rooted in science not economics. Greater co-operation, focus, a better policy framework which supports our environment, and research on 'Green technologies' required if we are to succeed in being able to manage our environment.
One example is the following is if there is something that is truly ground-breaking and clearly superior we should use the laws to mandate usage of such technology when/where ever possible (in a similar fashion to the way in which we mandate safety equipment on newer cars). This provides a strong incentive to invest money into research and development in 'Green Technology' because the risk is balanced by the knowledge that if you succeed there are chances of a 'windfall'.
- it's clear that there are some issues that are contentious even though they are clearly important. Things like the environment, gun reform, healthcare, education, etc... all form a group of policies which even if politicians want to pass they are still beholden to various interest groups and backers. I propose that at a certain juncture (number of times a policy has been put forward but the situation remains deadlocked) I'd like to see something similar to a jury being convened. It will basically act as confirmation that the policies in question are in the national interest, allow deadlocked situations to be broken, and give politicians some 'breathing room' with regards to being able to pursue policies that are genuinely in the national interest rather than having to compromise their decision making all the time for the sake of elections of vested interests. To make it more more manageable you would only be able to convene such a jury a limited number of times per term and only on important issues that must be fixed for the long term benefit of the country/region in question.