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March 2005
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May 2005

April 2005


I was six when Silent Spring was published, but eight years later I read it and it made a profound and depressing impact on me. Rachel Carson, we need you now:

Hydroelectric power's dirty secret revealed

Contrary to popular belief, hydroelectric power can seriously damage the climate. Proposed changes to the way countries' climate budgets are calculated aim to take greenhouse gas emissions from hydropower reservoirs into account, but some experts worry that they will not go far enough.

The green image of hydro power as a benign alternative to fossil fuels is false, says Éric Duchemin, a consultant for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "Everyone thinks hydro is very clean, but this is not the case," he says.

Hydroelectric dams produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, and in some cases produce more of these greenhouse gases than power plants running on fossil fuels. Carbon emissions vary from dam to dam, says Philip Fearnside from Brazil's National Institute for Research in the Amazon in Manaus. "But we do know that there are enough emissions to worry about."

… large amounts of carbon tied up in trees and other plants are released when the reservoir is initially flooded and the plants rot. Then after this first pulse of decay, plant matter settling on the reservoir's bottom decomposes without oxygen, resulting in a build-up of dissolved methane. This is released into the atmosphere when water passes through the dam's turbines.

Seasonal changes in water depth mean there is a continuous supply of decaying material. In the dry season plants colonise the banks of the reservoir only to be engulfed when the water level rises. For shallow-shelving reservoirs these "drawdown" regions can account for several thousand square kilometres. In effect man-made reservoirs convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into methane. This is significant because methane's effect on global warming is 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide's. New Scientist

The net: fasten your belts

Michael Buffington:

Like Jason points out, services that allow you to see satellite images of the ground have been available on the Internet for years, most of them free. Google has done such a good job of designing the user experience that the interface is completely transparent. You don't even feel like it's there at all. You can just set your zoom level and drag like crazy.

Google maps is simply a sign of things to come. With ideas like Ajax, the web as we know it is currently changing more so than it probably ever has since the first graphic showed up. The entire way of thinking about how to make sites that people interact with is changing. The idea of the web page itself is nearing its useful end. With the way Ajax allows you to build nearly stateless applications that happen to be web accessible, everything changes. What it changes into is starting to become apparent, but I think we're still trying to figure out where we'll end up.

Janice Fraser, Adaptive Path:

What will happen when amateurization and folksonomies make their way into enterprise web applications? What happens when IT managers can tag Oracle’s product documentation with their own words? Where will our bookmarks go when the idea of the “webpage” becomes obsolete?

Invention inspires invention. Ideas are collapsing into each other, recombining, and having powerful effects. The Internet has always been a medium for democratization, and by reconnecting with our idealism we’re once again uncovering its poetry, nobility, and transformative power.

If you’re not yet amazed, inspired, and a little anxious, you might want to consider it. Then get a good night’s sleep and perhaps take a rejuvenating vacation. We’re going to look back at Spring 2005 as a milestone. Watch closely, ladies and gentlemen. Things are about to change in a very big way.

Google performs beyond all expectation

Google share price finally exceeds average employee IQ

So what if 98 percent of Google's business comes from advertising. So what if it has a limited track record and can't be bothered to explain the dynamics of its business. The company is spitting out money like a runaway slot machine. After the market closed Thursday, Google reported first quarter sales and earnings that blew the doors off even the most optimistic of Wall Street analysts' expectations. The company reported a nearly six-fold increase in profit on revenue that nearly doubled from the comparable period a year ago. Net income for the quarter totaled $369 million, or $1.29 a share, compared with $64 million, or 24 cents a share, for the same period a year ago. Revenue for the quarter was $1.26 billion, a 93 percent increase from the previous year. Wow. The profit results in particular were well beyond The Street's expectations, and giddy investors eagerly bid up Google shares in after-hours trading. By late Thursday Google's shares had reached $223.97 -- well more than twice the $85-a-share valuation of the company's initial public offering only last August. "They basically made a mockery of our numbers and Street expectations," Derek Brown, a senior analyst at Pacific Growth Equities, told the L.A. Times. "It was an extraordinary quarter."

Good Morning Silicon Valley (via Memex 1.1)

Google's My Search History

If we in the UK could begin getting excited about the three Google services I posted about yesterday, we should be even more stirred now:


My Search History lets you easily view and manage your search history from any computer. This feature of Google web search enables you to find information you thought you lost. And over time, you'll see an increasing number of relevance indicators in your search results that help you find the information you want.

My Search History offers you:

  • Powerful search option
    Search your web search history, including full text search of all the pages you found with Google.
  • Relevant history while you search
    Get more useful information in your web search results, like the last time you saw a page, how often you've seen it, and more.
  • Intuitive browsing
    Use the calendar to quickly navigate to any day of your search history, and see similar searches you've done via automatic related history detection.
  • Manage your search history
    Learn how often you've done web searches on a given day, and even delete individual searches and results clicks.

My Search History enables you to easily access and manage your Google search history from any computer. Your history is now accessible to you through the "My Search History" links that are located in the upper right corner of your homepage and web results pages. You can easily pause this feature by clicking on the "Pause" link above, or you can delete this service through the "My Account" link.

Google My Search History (Beta) here. Link via John Battelle, who will be writing about this initiative from Google.

The Genographic Project

The National Geographic Society, IBM, geneticist Spencer Wells, and the Waitt Family Foundation have launched the Genographic Project, a five-year effort to understand the human journey—where we came from and how we got to where we live today. This unprecedented effort will map humanity's genetic journey through the ages.

The fossil record fixes human origins in Africa, but little is known about the great journey that took Homo sapiens to the far reaches of the Earth. How did we, each of us, end up where we are? Why do we appear in such a wide array of different colors and features? Such questions are even more amazing in light of genetic evidence that we are all related—descended from a common African ancestor who lived only 60,000 years ago.

Though eons have passed, the full story remains clearly written in our genes—if only we can read it. With your help, we can. If you choose to participate and add your data to the global research database, you'll help to delineate our common genetic tree, giving detailed shape to its many twigs and branches. Together we can tell the ancient story of our shared human journey. The Genographic Project

What a pity that the participation kit 'costs U.S. $99.95 (plus shipping and handling and tax if applicable)' — per person. Not many people are going to be taking this up … Ironic, given that the 'Genographic Project will work with the relevant authorities to achieve the broadest level of public participation possible' (this in the face of restrictions imposed by some governments, eg China, on ' the export of genetic material').

via EurekAlert!

Extracting sunlight

In Gulliver's Travels, Swift's satirical treatment of contemporary science, particularly as focused in the section dealing with the Grand Academy of Lagado, reached great new heights. (On one day in 1710, Swift visited Gresham College, the Tower, a puppet show and Bedlam. How his imagination must have responded …)

The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same colour. He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me "to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers." I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them. (III.v)

Now, via we make money not art, news of Parans — a Swedish company specialising in designing, developing and offering products for natural lighting:

Imagine an indoor environment where the variation of the outdoors light is always present, or a house that has sunlight in every single room. Now, Parans releases the first sunlight-transporting product of its kind. Sunlight_2 … The sunlight is collected by panels outdoors. The sunlight is then transported through fibre optic cables. Indoors, the sunlight flows out through beautifully designed luminaires.

The products consist of the light-collecting panel SkyPort, the light transporting cable SunWire and the light emitting luminaries Björk. The Björk luminaries are beautiful to use in a wide range of spaces, such as boutiques, stores, offices, entrances, etc. Almost any room is improved when natural light is introduced. The flexible SunWire cable makes installation very easy, also in existing buildings. The SkyPort panels are with standard building elements easily mounted on practically any roof.

Sunlight_1Parans' luminaires … give a mixture of parallel light beams and ambient light, just as when the sun strikes through the foliage of a forest. This is the reason why the patent-pending luminaires are named Björk, which is Swedish for birch tree. By installing Parans system, you will be able to tell the weather even in the absence of windows or skylights, re-establishing a connection with the outside environment.

Something beautiful …  (What would Swift have made of it?)