Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Roundup

Well, I've been enjoying my week off, what with the doing of nothing. Of course, the rest of the world keeps turning. Or, in this case, spinning out of control.

See Iraq: An attack on a Shia shrine leads to martial law, and the country teeters on the precipice of civil war - or perhaps, well over the edge. My question: What's new? That sectarian violence in Iraq is undermining the government? That radical Sunnis are deliberately killing Shia to spark off some kind of reenactment of Sarajevo? Or that the US Forces in Iraq are unmasked as totally, entirely useless for keeping order?

Note that it has been the clerical authorities who have taken the lead in restoring order, not the "government" of Iraq or the US Army. Steve Gilliard has been right about Iraq for a long time, and I'd reccomend you read his stuff to get an idea about what's going on. Juan Cole is good on Muslim issues, but the fact is that Iraq is far more a military issue than a religious or cultural one at this point, and Steve's perspective is informed far more by military history than religion.

See Saudi Arabia: There have been multiple attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, the latest one pushing the price of oil up to $62 again. One of these days, AQ or one of their fellow travellers will get lucky and knock out Saudi exports for a few weeks. If this happens during a cold winter or hot summer, we're in deep trouble.

via The Oil Drum, we see that Colorado and China both suffered from (unrelated) natural gas shortages this month. This is gloomy news - as oil prices rise, a lot of governments (including Ontario's) have bet on natural gas as a domestic heat source. The North American supply of natural gas is uncertain enough - if the Russians and Iranians can't keep China and India well-fed, then who honestly thinks Toronto will be able to keep the lights on?

There's also been some good energy news, though. A company here in Toronto has announced kits to retrofit a Prius in to a plug-in hybrid, that will run you an extra $6,500 for bulk orders. Obviously, people are already paying a premium for a Prius, but they might be willing to shell out a bit more for the cost savings a PIH kits would bring. It would incidentally increase the lifespan of the car, giving an owner more time to pay off the investment.

A lot of interesting news in microbial biofuels. One company, Veridium, seems to have a promising technology to capture CO2 emitted from (for example) power plants and feed the gas to algae, which can then be turned in to ethanol and biodiesel. My guess is that Veridium's technology would work with any dense emitter of CO2, though Veridium seems to concentrate on capturing the CO2 emitted from ethanol production.

And the news about ultracapacitors keeps coming. The latest is a new form of aerogel capacitor, which seems to have some pretty impressive numbers - an energy density of about 90wh/kg, or about four times that of lead-acid batteries, or 1/3 that of lithium-ion batteries. One point worth noting is that aerogels are the least dense solids that exist, so these figures might be hiding the actual volume of one of these capacitors. Technology also has to be compact to be useful, after all.

Well, that's about all the links I've got for now. I'm going home tomorrow, so I expect I'll be back in the swing of things for Monday.

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