Monday, January 31, 2011

The World I Want to Live in Within 20 Years

"Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources. It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will."

Mark Z. Jacobson

This is probably one of the most exciting piece of science reporting I've read in recent times, and it starts off with this rhetorical question:

"If someone told you there was a way you could save 2.5 million to 3 million lives a year and simultaneously halt global warming, reduce air and water pollution and develop secure, reliable energy sources – nearly all with existing technology and at costs comparable with what we spend on energy today – why wouldn't you do it?"

Just last month, a couple of researchers from Stanford and UC Davis published a pair of papers asking; can we replace our worldwide energy need using only clean, renewable energy sources? The answer they came up with is yes. Hell yes. They've calculated that in less than 40 years, it is entirely feasible to be completely rid of pollution from the fossil fuels by which we run our vehicles and industries and eliminate all concerns of runaway global warming destroying all life on Earth - all with currently existing tech!

Time to Turn This Blue Bitch Green
That's right, bitch.


Three words: Wind, water, sunlight. To be specific, 50% wind, 40% sun and 10% everything else.

Separately, these different sources of energy have pretty well-recognised disadvantages. Wind and solar power has geographical limitations. As we know, not all places are windy or sunny, and not all windy or sunny places are windy and sunny all the time. Additionally, solar power can only be harvested in daytime. Then, there are environmental concerns and the limited availability of suitable sites for hydroelectric dams, wave farms, tidal power stations and geothermal plants which ultimately resisted their adoption on a massive scale.

The solution is to put the whole kit and caboodle together. If you can integrate the power grid optimally, you can actually offset the variation in the wattage each particular resource contributes. Here is an illustration of the concept,

Wind and Water Combined!
Image stolen from... Bah, too lazy to credit. This is just a freaking blog - not some reputable news site or science journal.

According to Jacobson, coauthor of the papers, wind energy peaks during the night while power peaks during the day (obviously), so the two naturally complements one another. To fill in whatever gaps there is, we can simply pipe in extra energy from hydroelectricity or tidal power to meet demand. This can theoretically power all our homes and industries with little risk of brownouts and blackouts.

Another oft-mentioned obstacle in the adoption of alternative energy sources is storage - how do we store the excess energy we generated from the wind and the sun which we don't immediately need? Using their proposed system, excess energy produced during low-demand time should be diverted to produce hydrogen via water electrolysis which we are going to fuel our awesome future hydrogen cell cars with. And as we all know, they don't fart any exhaust fumes! Only water!

What? Do you think you'll still be driving your same dirty internal combustion engine dinosaurs in 40 years?

Okay, what's the catch?

Virtually none. It is all upsides! We have the tech to do it and our pockets are deep enough to afford it. The cost of making the whole shebang possible is comparable to the price tag of our existing energy model, and we can in fact significantly reduce medical expenditure in treating diseases caused by pollution. Furthermore, the plan itself requires 30% less than the current total world energy demand because it is far more efficient than deriving energy from burning stuff (i.e. oil, coal).

They also calculated how much land the whole installation is going to take. Care to hazard a guess? Whatever it number you came up with, I bet you overestimated it. It's a mere 1% footprint on the face of the earth - mostly to lay solar panels and to space wind turbines, which need to be set far apart to avoid turbulence. But the land between turbines is still totally usable for other purposes like pasture, farming or nudist colonies for those who like a strong breeze blowing at their nips and nads.

So, why isn't this happening right this instant?

You. You are the fucking problem. You and your fucked up governments and asshole politicians.

Recycle Sam Fuck You
I 'shopped Recycle Sam a couple of years ago for a recycling drive poster, and I'm going to use it however many times I want to.

To quote Jacobson, "We really need to just decide collectively that this is the direction we want to head as a society."

That's right. We need to stop swigging from the six pack of apathy and
demand our better world (and yeah, that's a Green Day lyric reference, bitch). It was projected that we'll run out of oil in 50 years and even before that comes around, we can expect oil prices to become prohibitively expensive not too far in the future. An overwhelming proportion of our power right now still comes from fossil fuels. Almost all of our cars still run on petroleum/gasoline, not to mention other transportations like airlines, ships and trains; the production and transportation of our food supplies; our essential use-and-discard sterile medical equipments which are also mostly made out of plastic derived from petroleum and natural gas...

Imagine a world without oil.

Then, there's runaway climate change to worry about as well because when it does happen, it's going to end our sorry terran asses. Honestly, what will it take to get you peeps to give a shit?

Better World for Nothing
The nail of the anthropogenic global warming "controversy" - it was hit on the head.

The final bit of soapboxing.

For the longest time, I was under the impression that restructuring our power systems entirely to green energy entails either technology we don't possess at present, or that there is some sort of insurmountable logistical and economical hurdle we cannot overcome, but Jacobson and Delucchi's little thought experiment clearly demonstrated that my preconceptions are dead wrong. And believe me, I'm honestly glad to be proven wrong.

Now, I don't expect people to willingly accept radical adjustments to their lifestyles to champion a crucial social cause such as the environment - I know it's bloody unrealistic and most people are selfish pricks. As it turns out, no one needs to give up any luxury or comfort to make this work (unless you reeeally like the smell of exhaust from your car's tailpipe).

So, let's fucking start a revolution! Here's the least of the things I think you can do,
  • Pass this science article to as many people as possible. For less scientifically literate folks, you can show them my dumbed-down write-up on this page. Blog or tweet about this. Spread it on Facebook. If you know any anyone in broadcast media such as radio or television or journalists, encourage them to take this cause up. If you know any teachers or lecturers in the field engineering, physics, social sciences, et cetera, ask them if they know that change is possible right now and if they are passing that info on to their students. Awareness is key.
  • Write to your local politicians and tell them that most voters find environmental issues to be the in-thing these days. It should be easy to do; simply point out our national large scale anti-plastic bags movement or the popularity of Earth Hour amongst wannabe hipster environmentalists (who would go on to fuck up the planet the other 8759 hours of the year).
  • Write to our Department of Environment and our Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (and if you know any insiders, even better) about this study - they have e-mails addresses. DO NOT show them my post here because I'm a potty-mouthed, vitriolic godless activist and no one listens to someone like me no matter how excellent my points are. Use the published papers I had linked to below instead. The science will inform policy-making.
  • If you are part of a non-government environmental organisation regardless of whether it's on a high school, university or national level, bring this up. Get everyone to write individually to the ministries I've mentioned above. Use a template. Volume counts.
  • Tell me if you have any suggestions so I can list them here.

Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials.
Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies

A YouTube video of Mark Z. Jacobson lecturing on some salient points of his published papers

Mean, green blogging machine,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

"If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to
Then He is not omnipotent.
If He is able, but not willing
Then He is malevolent.
If He is both able and willing
Then whence cometh evil?
If He is neither able nor willing
Then why call Him God?"

The Riddle of Epicurus

If there's a school of thought which best encapsulates my worldview, it's Epicureanism.

My elderly grandmother was recently assaulted and robbed by a strong, strapping Malay male ostensibly in his early twenties. She work afternoons at my mother's shop and she usually gets a lift home after that (and she did) - but on this particular day, she had absentmindedly left a packaged lunch at the shop, which she usually buys for one of my littler cousins who lives with her. So, she walked all the way out to the shop again under the lethal noontime sun to retrieve it. It's a ten-minute walk, give or take. As septuagenarians go, she's in excellent shape.

There she was, picking up lunch for her granddaughter when this monster on his bike slowed down and sidled beside her, apparently to ask for directions. He was asking directions to the neighborhood he's already in. My grandmother, who was already mugged once in the not-too-distant past, caught on pretty quickly and tried to make a break for it. He was having none of it and latched on to one of her bracelets. And then he hit her. He hit this tiny, skinny old lady right in her left eye, snapped his prize and rode off. Just like that. That's an inch of cruelty and inhumanity I don't think I can fully comprehend in this lifetime.

Anyhow, my grandmother did bring lunch home for her granddaughter. She spoke about this incident to no one. It's only in the evening when she was dutifully cooking dinner for the entire household that my mother noticed that the old girl was wearing a massive black eye and some nasty cuts on her knees.

So, my mother roused me from my cave and asked me to take a look at her and I found, to my horror, a drop of blood was rolling slowly out of her nose as I was examining her shiner - this was a couple of hours after the blow. Oh crap. We rushed her to casualty immediately, in spite of her protests and insistence on finishing her cooking. It could be nothing but it could just as easily be something treacherous like a skull fracture. The X-rays came back clean, fortunately. She did, however, finish making dinner. She would have gone to work that night too if my mother didn't make her stay home to rest. This woman, I must remind you, is pushing eighty.

Why do bad things happen to good people? If you believe in the laws of karma or that the universe is under the gubernatorial purview of a benevolent God, this is a philosophical question which should bug you. It doesn't bug me. I believe in neither. Either there's a God and he's an evil son of a bitch - or that there's no God and human beings are scum. Either way, there's no reason to worship and grovel at the feet of a Holy Spook. Do you feel indignant, angered, repulsed that a young man would raise his fist against a frail, defenseless little old lady who still toil daily for the comforts of her children and grandchildren?

My grandmother is by and large apathetic on the question of religion, but she is culturally a Taoist. After she dies, she will be tortured for eternity by either the Christian or Muslim God. This is what billions of people on this planet agree will happen to her. Do you feel indignant, angered, repulsed that an All-Powerful, Ever-Merciful cosmic being would inflict everlasting torture on a frail, defenseless little old lady who toiled daily for the comforts of her children and grandchildren?

This is an unbridgeable ocean of cruelty and inhumanity I don't think I will ever understand no matter how many lifetimes I live.

Someone's grandchild,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Ache of Routine

"I can't believe you got this far in med school," said the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ and that's only fair taking into account of all the times I've made fun of the entire discipline of dentistry (I frequently remind her that if all the doctors, nurses, and dentists in the country took turns to go on a day's leave, no one will notice the day the dentists are away). We kid because we looove.

But what she said is true. If they really know how much effort I put into passing my exams, they'd kick me out of the institution on principle. I am unambitious and non-competitive, but far too passionate about academic (and non-academic) subjects outside of the field of medicine. There's something about arranging an entire field of science into a structured curriculum which kills interest like kerosene kills lice.

In a month, I'll either give it the ol' college try and graduate a doctor or be held back for a whole six months to give myself something real to be depressed about. In the course of the past 5 years, I seem to have forgotten why I checked myself into this profession for. I am far too selfish to be good doctor. I think hard work is a human disease which should be eradicated, preferably using something convenient like a vaccine. And I hate people in general. Maybe I should go into radiology.

A couple of nights ago, I had another one of those Sisyphean (I like this word) dreams. This time, I wandered from house parties to house parties in search of a thick, red mathematics workbook; looking for boredom in the midst of fun. I thought it was a bit karmic considering that I only did about 1% of the maths homework I was set to do throughout my school career. I usually just solve the hardest question of each assignment and feed the rest to my dog because I thought that there isn't much point in repetition if you already understand the basics of it. Don't you?

An unlicensed homeopath initiated a conversation with me the other day and I was too much of a wuss to tell him that he's a quack. He told me he was treating a few patients with colon cancer and all I did was to ask him if they were also undergoing conventional therapy. He said yes, and I let it go. He was surprised at how much I already know about homeopathy though - he would have been even more surprised to find out that that's because I always make it a point to know about the pseudoscientific magical thinking I oppose (including religion). Oh well, some battles aren't worth fighting. Besides, he's the nephew of the patient I was interviewing and I would like to keep things cordial in the room.

I can't decide if the days are going too fast or too slow.

P.S. I bought a grapefruit. It's been sitting in my fridge for a couple of days now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm Still Here

I have so much to write about and yet so little time. Forgive my last post - it was just a touch of seasonal affective disorder and that's the story I'm sticking with. On a lighter note, I just received a text from the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ not a minute ago which made me laugh out loud. It goes,

"Grapefruit tastes so bad it makes u not12 eat anythn afta Tht. Or mayb throw up >_> i can't bliv i hv2 eat it4 10days T_T"

She read something about grapefruits and immediately went out to buy a tonne of the stuff yesterday. I have half a mind to set up a secret Twitter account without her knowledge and just document all the things she says to me on a daily basis.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


"Trouble he will find you no matter where you go, oh oh
No matter if you're fast, no matter if you're slow, oh oh
The eye of the storm or the cry in the mourn, oh oh
You're fine for a while but you start to lose control"

Trouble Is a Friend (2008) by Lenka

Today, I was suddenly reminded of the words of one of my oldest buddies who fought the demons of cocaine addiction. He called his personal poison his "New Found Friend," referencing a catchy little ditty we used to sing around campfires and meets back when we were highschoolers. I didn't get it at first but then he sang a verse to me, laughing mirthlessly as he did so. It went like this:

"We walk to the left
And we walk to the right
And we walk and we walk
And we walk all night"

Those lines, so innocuously innocent, have never sounded so sinister. It conjures up images of everlasting faerie balls in which storybook characters so often get themselves caught in; lost timelessly in grandiose halls decorated plutocratically without taste and dancing ceaselessly to music without tune. There's a metaphor for life in that somewhere, I always thought.

My sleep-wake cycle is becoming erratic these days - more so than usual. I keep getting these rambling, feverish, Sisyphean dreams which make me feel tired the moment I wake up, thinking I should go right back to bed. My brain feels soft. I am chronically distracted, and if my face isn't already projecting a glassy mask, it certainly feels that way to me. There's a pervasive sensation of soreness and fatigue in body parts which do not strictly exist. I am preoccupied with the certainty that I can no longer function and I fear that it's fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nightly, a little child - or something which outwardly resembles one - peeks at me from the foot end of my bed. I fancy that it wanted to reach out and touch my toes or stroke my soles, but its tiny fingers never ever made contact. That's just one of the peculiar Ideas which somehow got a stranglehold on my consciousness. It's one of the reasons why I'm losing sleep - I kept having to check that there isn't actually a creepy kid at my feet. A few years ago, the Idea was a girl called Kate who sits in the passenger seat of my car when I go out wandering at three in the morning alone. She was cute.

I have lost the will to live and I've felt this way before. That's why I thought of my friend's dark little song, because I can no longer restrain my mind from going to dark places. It's ironic that about the same time last year, I put in writing that I had been feeling persistently happy and contented for two whole years - because these are the sort of milestones in one's life worthy of record. There's no sense denying that I am now decidedly un-happy. I have noticed it and the girlfriend definitely does too. Where I'm standing this instance, it seems that I have always been this way in a sort steady-state depressive limbo - as if I have never left it - and I'm glad to have black-and-white proof on hand to remind me that that's not true. That's a hope spot right there.

But why am I feeling like I'm falling apart? I either don't know or don't want to know. I like to see how I can rationalise my way out of it. How's that for a coping mechanism?

"Pretend you're happy when you're blue/It isn't very hard to do." That's nice, Nathaniel.


k0k s3n w4i

Monday, January 03, 2011

I Am Incredulous of Their Credulity

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one."

George Bernard Shaw

Crazy 'Mericans; spelling sceptic with a 'K'. Spelling 'blog' with a 'K' however...

How many of you have read Facebook personal statuses describing a scientific fact or a coincidental piece of private good fortune which was immediately followed by the phrase; 'God is great/amazing'? A show of hands, if you please.

Did they look something like this?

Goldilock's Zone
Do they also annoy the fuck out of you?

I'm that guy who gets the urge to say something every time I see something like this. I'm that guy who pays attention to everything I hear in every conversation and then quietly went off on my own to see if everything I just heard is accurate and aboveboard. Once, a colleague told me that Lady Gaga admitted that she's a hermaphrodite in a press release. I immediately expressed my scepticism about that, and opined that the woman probably divulged her bisexuality or something and the gossipy element of Malaysian tabloid absolutely ran away with it. A quick Googling expedition showed that the whole thing started with a blurry crotch shot, and a fake confession by a goss site - and I discovered multiple avenues reporting Miss Germanotta's refutation of the rumour. Me being me, immediately texted the girl to tell her that she got the story wrong along with my references. She did not reply my text.

But to get back on the subject, I frequently encounter a host of amazing circumstances or trivia worn out by the mouths of a billion True Believers™ which I know to be untrue but have been so repeated that they have started to be accepted as facts. As Joseph Goebbles allegedly said: "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth."

There's that old hoary chestnut which said that Herr Einstein believed in God and challenged an atheist professor when he was a kid; which couldn't be farther away from the truth. Then, there's Darwin deathbed conversion to Christianity and his renouncement of his Theory of Evolution which were repeated at church's Christmas party I attended to scores of trusting and gullible Christians who would no doubt go on to pass it on to others as the truth. In that same church I attended, they once showed a video sermon about the Whirlpool Galaxy and the protein laminin which showcased wonky cross shapes as "evidences" that Jesus healed the sick, walked on water, and returned from death. God is amazing. Jesus is awesome. Praise the Laaawd!

I think the ability to buy into absolutely any nonsense is a special ability of people with Faith™ (read: belief without proof) and everything which apparently supports their convictions is automatically accepted without going through any vetting process by their critical faculties. If you're a Christian or a Muslim or if you subscribe to any religious beliefs at all; ask yourself how many factoids like that "we will fry or freeze if Earth is 10 feet nearer to or away from the sun" crap in the screenshot above that you believed in unquestioningly all these years while crediting your deity where it is most certainly not due.

You might be surprised at how credulous you actually are.

A sceptic,
k0k s3n w4i