The Good Earth

Interesting post on the DLR blog last week on geothermal energy

Ninety-nine percent of the Earth is hotter than 1000 degrees Celsius. Inside Earth’s core, temperatures rise to 7000 degrees. In total, the power within our planet amounts to thousands of billions of watts. This reservoir has its origins in the residual heat dating from the time the Earth was created, roughly 4.6 billion years ago, and in the ongoing radioactive decay of long-lived isotopes of uranium, thorium and potassium. The question we need to ask ourselves is why, given these gigantic amounts of energy, does geothermal power still only account for far less than one percent of our energy usage?

In principle, electricity and heat can be sourced economically and in a climate-neutral manner from geothermal power plants. But this valuable energy lies hidden beneath our feet and is difficult to access. On average, temperatures only rise moderately as depth increases – by roughly three degrees per 100 metres. However, at a few places on Earth, due to location-specific geological attributes, more of Earth’s heat reaches the surface. Volcanically-active Iceland is the classic case in point. This Atlantic island has enough heated and evaporated water just below its surface to supply more than half of the power it needs, driving the turbines in geothermal power stations via heat exchangers. In addition, roughly 90 percent of Icelandic households are heated remotely from geothermal sources.

MIT published a study a couple of years ago advocating large-scale development. It’s worth looking in to: start with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ride Your Bicycle

Good news. Google Maps now has bicycling directions available. They’ve been cooperating with our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to add their info, too:

“We’re thrilled to be working with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to make RTC’s extensive bike trail data available through Google Maps and Google Earth,” says Shannon Guymon, Product Manager for Google Maps. “Bikers all over the country now will be able to explore new trails or find specific directions in their local community with just a few clicks of their mouse.”

The inclusion of RTC’s trail information in Google Maps comes at a time when people are clamoring for biking opportunities. In the last year, RTC has seen an unprecedented surge in its users. is the most robust, national resource for rail-trail maps, pictures, descriptions, listings and directions to more than 30,000 miles of trails.

“The demand for trail maps and information has never been higher, especially as more people recognize biking as a viable, inexpensive and healthy alternative to driving,” says Rails-to-Trails President Keith Laughlin. “Sharing our trail data is an exceptional way to introduce the world to what 150,000 RTC members and supporters already know—biking is the ideal way to get where you’re going. The addition of biking directions to Google Maps makes life easier for bikers, whether they are commuting to work or biking for fun, and it can introduce our network of trails to a whole new audience of cyclists-to-be.”

I think its a great idea and can’t wait until it becomes widely available (only in beta now).

UPDATE: I was so inspired by this, the CartoonGoddess and I rode the Greenway the next day — fromPierson Avenue all the way to the Garden State Parkway. The railroad bridge over the Parkway remains…

The rail, to trail…

I can wait for completion — I like the mud. Paved, ADA-compliant paths are OK, but it doesn’t make you feel like you’re in the pre-historic New Jersey.

Inexpensive LEDs

$60 for a light bulb? Sure, it’s an LED-based bulb and will save you real money — and last for ten years.  Using gallium nitride (GaN), they can last for sixty years, but costly to manufacture.  Work by the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride is about to make a real difference. The news, via EE Times:

Cambridge University’s Centre for Gallium Nitride has developed a new way of making GaN which could produce LEDs for a tenth of current prices and may see household lighting bills reduced by up to 75 percent within five years.

Based on current results, GaN LED lights in every home and office could cut the proportion of UK electricity used for lights from 20 percent to five percent. That is equivalent to eight power stations.

The Cambridge researchers have developed a method of growing GaN LEDs on silicon wafers. The lower cost method could enable cheaper mass produced LEDs becoming widely available in the next five years.

Read the press release from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for details.

Now, here’s the question: who’s willing to make and sell a product that will last for 60 years?

Goat For A Ride

Goats are one of the oldest domesticated species, but I certainly wouldn’t consider them a power source for personal transportation. OK, this device is meant for dogs, but why not other smaller animals?

Mark Shuette is the man behind the Dog Powered Scooter (and trike, skateboard and folding bicycle). Interesting invention that’s been around for about a year and another example of American ingenuity. Not baaad.

The 4-Day Week

That’s right: a 4-day week. Not only a 4-day work week, but a 4-day school week, too. It’s being considered in New York State, and state employees across the country have been doing it since this summer (when gas prices were much higher).

Prof. Goose came up with “16 reasons why the 4-day work week was a good idea” on The Oil Drum:

The notion of our standard work week here in America has remained largely the same since 1938. That was the year the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, standardizing the eight hour work day and the 40 hour work week. Each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday workers all over the country wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work. But the notion that the majority of the workforce should keep these hours is based on nothing more than an idea put forth but the Federal government almost 70 years ago. To be sure it was an improvement in the lives of many Americans who were at the time forced to work 10+ hours a day, sometimes 6 days of the week. So a 40 hour work week was seen as an upgrade in the lives of many of U.S. citizens. 8 is a nice round number; one third of each 24 hour day. In theory it leaves 8 hours for sleep and 8 hours for other activities like eating, bathing, raising children and enjoying life. But the notion that we should work for 5 of these days in a row before taking 2 for ourselves is, as best I can tell, rather arbitrary.

If we telecommute for part of the week, will our jobs be off-shored? How do we figure out alternate child care? If both work weeks and school weeks get synchronized, wouldn’t that make sense for everbody?

Just saving energy by not having to drive to work as much is reason enough to consider the 4-day work week. Sign the petition.