Thursday, December 10, 2009

Now the sequel, "Cash For Caulkers"

An idea that accomplishes several things at once is usually a really good one. The Prez just proposed such a concept this week, which had already been dubbed "Cash For Caulkers." The clunky name, of course, is a follow-up to "cash for clunkers," which either was or wasn't a highly successful program depending on who you read, but certainly succeeded as an instant cliché.

The new program, the idea for which came from both Bill Clinton and John Doerr, the famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, would reimburse homeowners for weatherization projects: ka-ching. It would therefore put builders and contractors, affected by the recent lack of a housing market, back to work: ka-ching!

And the more homes you make energy efficient, the less fuel is burned to heat them, and the climate gets a little breather. (Imagine this one as a ka-ching heard from a distance; so's the first one, probably.) Save money, help the climate by reducing energy use, create some useful work for under-employed people. Not bad.

"The housing bust has idled contractors and construction workers, who could be put to work insulating homes and caulking air leaks. Many households, meanwhile, would save substantial money — not to mention help the climate — by weatherizing their homes."
A Stimulus That Could Save Money, by David Leonhardt, NY Times
Details to follow from Washington, and we all know the devil's in there (the details, he meant), but on paper it looks like a good place to invest a couple of bil — okay, 23 billion. Some of those details to be considered: in the Times blogpost on the story, a commenter named Henry Challe wrote that homeowners should hire a pro to "conduct a Blower Door Test... to quantify a home's leakage. During the test, the auditor should then use a thermal imaging camera to locate these leaks."

The prospective program also more than fulfills our pressing need to put some of our finest clichés back to work: I've already read that it's a win-win no-brainer picking the low-hanging fruit, etc., and the masters of the obvious have only gotten started on this one. We confidently predict that they will leave no cliché unturned. (Ka-ching!)
Cash for Caulkers could seal $12,000 a home
By Steve Hargreaves,

Cash for Caulkers” Could Deliver $23B for Home Energy Efficiency
- Reuters
Related, here:
Serious Fun Dept.: The Playpump
Posts tagged Green Tech

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Waiting for Other ($10M Solar) Shoe to Drop

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), at a Hudson Valley solar energy summit he led in late October, announced he'd roped in another $2.25 million in Federal dollars for The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC). It's claimed that will spawn 100 jobs.

That brings the 2 1/2 year total of solar funds directed here by Hinchey to 20 mil — but wait, as they say on late-night TV, that's not all! "Additional funding to be announced in the coming weeks," says our man of the House, "will increase that figure to nearly $30 million."

Sounds good. The first two-and-a-quarter million has been passed by both the House and Senate, so that's a done deal. But that other $10 million that he says is now on its way to our area through TSEC is big news. In fact, almost five times as big… (Okay, 4.4 times as big. Why be imprecise with a calculator right at hand?)

The summit brought together three dozen solar energy company executives, researchers, and government types to look at the challenge from all the required angles, review the progress and discuss the next steps. Hinchey also announced House passage of a bill that intends to spread Federal solar grants around the country, where formerly they'd been concentrated in the Southwest. "We've put the Hudson Valley on the map as one of the nation's leading hubs for solar energy research and development," Hinchey said.

$2.2 million grant aids solar effort
By William J. Kemble, Kingston Daily Freeman (10/20/09)

$2.25M in federal grants for solar consortium will help land 100 new jobs
Office of U.S. Rep. Hinchey
Related, here: Posts tagged Green Tech

Thursday, November 05, 2009

An Informative Mind-Twister Involving Oysters

Okay, here's one for you, one of those you-gotta-be-kid'nme type facts, from a story about reseeding New York City's waterways with once-plentiful oysters. These are not intended as delicacies for the table, though, but as prodigious pollution digesters:

"Oysters act as natural water purification systems. 'Think of oysters as the catalytic converter on your car,' Fabian Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, explained. One adult oyster can filter up to 24 gallons of water in a day…"

"You Say Oyster," by Katherine Stirling, Sept. 21, 2009 issue, The New Yorker, in "Talk of the Town"
(Note: The New Yorker doesn't have that article online except with a paid subscription)
Besides being just plumb amazing, this is only one more example of how the big new wave of activity for re-greening our world could best be guided.

There's a great principle of accomplishing anything that states, Work From Your Strengths. It would hard to overestimate all the strengths that nature provides, this stupifyingly deep, rich web of life that is always in motion and regenerating itself, spontaneously growing things that we can eat to live(!), and just coincidentally manufacture oxygen which we need to breathe, and all this without requiring a single btu's worth of energy from our vaunted infrastructure.

Even purebread bottom-liners must understand the appeal of the savings in power and electricity alone when you can harness a system that is self-sustaining. You don't have to buy any fuel for the engine!

Don't get me wrong, I'm on board with the whole human evolution thing, the idea that we've got this brain and imagination and opposable thumbs so we can be creative, and respectfully customize and extend our physical circumstances here. And I love my Mac and my Honda, and all their family forebears.

But, going back to the oysters, have human engineers ever designed and built anything which was both that efficient at a job and completely self-perpetuating, and each over extremely long product lifecycles? Have they instead, in the process of going too far out on a limb (probably mostly due to the incitement of grants or investments, let's say), produced maybe as many horrors as upgrades?
(We do have to keep inventing, of course, because aside from any common speculations about our destiny, there's a rumor going around the scientific community that our planet is slowly losing momentum and being pulled closer to and eventually will be sucked right into the Sun. It's surface temperature is said to be around 6,000 degrees — Celsius. So, let's make sure funding for NASA is in good shape, too, cuz we're gonna need 'em.)
The pocket-guide conclusion: To whatever extent possible,

Work With Nature.

Related, here:
"Where do Great Ideas come from?" (One guess, based on the above...)
Posts tagged appropriate technology

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Facebook's Iron Curtain of "customer service"

One irritant about Facebook's management and minions is that they do a really thorough job of remaining behind an electronic Wall Of Invisibility, much like AOL always did.

Need an answer to a question about how Facebook works, or, as in my present case, whether a "change-your-login" email that I'm getting is spam or really from them? Get ready to spend lots and lots of all your free time being steered through pages and pages of other users' answers to anything that resembles your question.

Would it be too much to ask for more authentic Help Center texts written by employees who know the answers to these questions, as opposed to everybody guessing — and their guesses given approval ratings by other guessing users?

Okay, I realize it's free, and I'm sure that's their explanation. But the question here is one that would seem to potentially affect the security of the community at large, since enough "phishers" could cause us to start questioning who's behind any given face on FB, and whether they're trying to turn our computers into nodes on the hacker botnet — no small matter there.

I've been getting this message in my own email, looking every bit the routinely formatted FB type, every day for the last several:

>> SUBJ: New login system
>> Dear Facebook user,
>> In an effort to make your online experience safer and more enjoyable, Facebook will be implementing a new login system that will affect all Facebook users. These changes will offer new features and increased account security.
>> Before you are able to use the new login system, you will be required to update your account.
>> Click here to update your account online now.
>> If you have any questions, reference our New User Guide.
>> Thanks,
>> The Facebook Team

The message looks just like and is FROM the same "@" address as legit 'friending' notices and replies to threads I'm, uh, stitching with. But the link at "Click here" goes to a specific spot at a fishy address, "", and the genuine-looking "Update" button they helpfully include goes to yet another site across the Pond, "", etc. And I received no mail or message from within FB about it.

So I just spent way too much time fishing around in FB — at least I think I'm signed in to the real one, he remarked drolly — trying to find some place to read about or report this pretty sophisticated con. But it's a lot like knocking on the door and hearing a voice from inside say, "Nobody's home! Go away."

Related, here:
Posts tagged "Great Customer Service"

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sustainable New(s) York, October 2009

This week, a range of good news on New York State projects and initiatives for renewable energy:

$10 Million Stimulus For NY State Solar Projects
New York's Governor Paterson announced that $10 million in federal stimulus funds are now available for solar energy projects. The grants will be distributed through a competitive statewide solicitation to accelerate the installation of photovoltaic systems.

Separately, this winter the New York Power Authority plans to request bids to develop 100 megawatts of solar generating capacity, increasing New York's solar generating capacity five-fold. The generators would be owned and operated by the developers, with NYPA buying electricity on behalf of customers.

“The statewide interest in developing our solar energy production is proof that New York is fertile ground for the clean energy economy," says the Governor, whose goal is to meet 45 percent of the State’s electricity needs by 2015 with more efficient and renewable energy. It's been estimated that clean energy technologies will create some 50,000 new jobs in New York.

"But That's Not All" — Green Hotels Sprouting
In a third (!) story, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation has launched a program to certify hotels and inns as "green." 43 of them are already signed up to be certified by the Audubon GreenLeaf program, which will award them one to five green leaves based on their performance in saving energy, reducing pollution and waste, and conserving water and other resources. The program joins another one to promote "green restaurants" under the New York State Green Hospitality and Tourism Partnership.

Can we say that the ball has begun to roll in earnest? We'd certainly like to think so.

"NY governor says $10M available for solar projects" — AP, 10/7/9
"New York state launches program to market green lodgings" — AP, 10/8/09
Related, here:
Posts tagged "Green tech"
Our Sustainability 'Heat' Map of the Hudson Valley

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Pair of Local Green Meet & Greets

I'm interested to see what the mood will be of tomorrow's (9/23) Entrepreneur's Breakfast series. The regular stand-up looks to be a sit-down this time around, the "Community College President's Roundtable on 'Alternative Energy, the impact on our region.'"

Curious about the mood since, while we all remain more hopeful than ever, at this point we're still looking for enough real impact to measure.

This will be moderated by Dr. Arthur Anthonisen, with presentations by Don Perry of the WindPower Initiative and Les Neumann, the Managing Director of The Hudson Valley Center for Innovation, which is the host of the event.

The Center for Innovation holds these breakfast presentation/networking events on a regular basis, now at the seven21 Media Center (map: 721 Broadway, Kingston.) A $15 donation is asked. These sessions always make for a good connector.

‘Green’ real estate development conference, October 28

ScheinMedia, publishers of MetroGreen+Business, is sponsoring a conference this fall on the future of sustainable development in the area. TechCity, the former IBM plant in Ulster town and perennial hope of the area for a hot business-magnet, will host this "Hudson Valley green real estate development conference" on October 28th.

Experts and representatives of green tech businesses will hold a half-day of presentations and panel discussions on residential development, economic development, architecture & design and more. The conference’s goal “is to bring green jobs and responsible development to the Hudson Valley for long-term, sustainable economic growth,” according to Daniel Wieneke, president of TechCity, already the home of The Solar Energy Consortium and other green ventures.

Sponsor MetroGreen+Business is an information website for sustainable business and real estate in the greater metro New York area. Publisher Jonathan Schein writes that they're in the business and holding the conference because "the Hudson Valley is considered to be at the forefront of green sustainability. It has an outstanding job talent pool and offers developers, tenants, and employers many opportunities."

This one'll cost you $145, $120 per in a group. Info at (845) 340-9600, ext. 100.

Green’ real estate development conference - ScheinMedia

"TechCity to host ‘green’ development conference" - Daily Freeman
(— which said the conference is on the 29th, btw. We're taking the word of sponsor ScheinMedia's site that it's Wednesday, Oct. 28th.)

Related, here:
Posts tagged "Green tech"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Great Ideas Dept.: Building around Train Stations, 2009

Great to see that someone's put that idea to work of building clusters of residences and stores around existing commuter railroad stations. Yesterday they snipped the ribbon at "'The Highlands at Morristown Station,' New Jersey Transit’s first Transit Oriented Development (TOD)",* a $75 mil, 5 story development with 200 apartments, street-level retail and "amenities."

The Highlands "continues a major multi-phase redevelopment effort underway in Morristown that will ultimately result in some 526 new residences — all within walking distance of the Colonial-era Morristown Green and the Train Station," according to Betsy Kraat's story in Metro Green Business.

Within walking distance! This is one of those quiet-sounding little elements that turn out to be essential for life's optimal functioning. Simply put, a lifestyle that's based on walking around a lot is a healthier one, whether you're going on errands or for a regular (what used to be called) "constitutional."

Then, as with all the built-in systems we inherit from nature, there are a host of interwoven benefits. You burn less gas and put fewer miles on your car when you can walk to get food and take care of things — or here, jump on the train downstairs — so you're both reducing greenhouse gases and saving money.

More savings come on remedies and doctors' prescriptions and all means of tension relief that you need less of, because you're out getting exercise and sunlight and fresh air, and meeting and mingling with your neighbors, too. (Don't get me started on all this!)

(* — re: "TOD," I'm relieved to see that the official acronym was in place for the opening, because in our culture, a project just cannot be taken seriously without its initials, preferably three.)
A Bit of Backstory

I first saw this clever concept in a since-deleted article on Long Island's Newsday in August, 2007, where the Jersey developers may well have gotten the idea, and I wrote about it for Idea Champions Heart Of Innovation blog.

"Building 'Living Space' around Railroad Stations" (Heart of Innovation, 8/21/07)

A student at the New York Institute of Technology, John Patrick Winberry, has come up with a concept with great synergy, that admirable quality of solving more than just the problem at hand.

"More than a place to park your car"
"Imagine that at each major stop along the Long Island Rail Road, communities of housing, dining and shopping were built above existing parking lots. Parking garages would be underneath the new buildings. Given the location, generally within walking distance of an existing shopping area, residents would have little need for a car.

"A railroad station would no longer be a stop along a route, but a destination in itself. Even better, each of these hubs would be connected along the main arteries of the LIRR, ensuring easy accessibility within Long Island without the use of a car. The apartments would attract young professionals wanting easy access to commute to work in Manhattan and a lively community to come home to without having to drive."
(...And in here, Aug. 2007, pointing to there.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Advice: Beware the First Version of Any E-Thing

A quick bit of technical advice, here, on the occasion Apple's release of the next-gen Mac OS tomorrow. I'm an unabashed Mac lover (though one who duly respects XP, alright?), but here's what a couple of decades in the computer world have taught me: Never Buy The First Version Of Anything.

The software business has long treated the first public release as the last beta version. True, you could test today's complex software forever and still never be sure you'd pressed every button in every possible combination. So they count on the "bleeding edge" types, the ones who pride themselves on having the latest/greatest of every product, to find out what still needs work.

It's therefore unsurprising that The New York Times' estimable David Pogue, in today's column praising the new Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" (10.5 was Plain Old Leopard, I guess), nonetheless refers in to "the number of non-Apple programs that 'break' after the installation. I experienced frustrating glitches in various programs, including Microsoft Word, Flip4Mac, Photoshop CS3," and a couple minor apps.

"The compatibility list at lists other programs that may have trouble. Most of these hiccups will go away when software companies update their wares... Let’s hope that Apple hurries up with its inevitable update, too, to address the occasional Safari crash and cosmetic glitch I experienced, too."
Let me hasten to highlight the gist of the column, though, which he summarized as,
"Otherwise, if you’re already running Leopard, paying the $30 for Snow Leopard is a no-brainer. You’ll feel the leap forward in speed (and) polish, and you’ll keep experiencing those 'oh, that’s nice' moments for weeks to come."
State of the Art column, NYT:
Apple’s Sleek Upgrade (8/26/09)

So, like the man says, better to wait for the (or -.2) version. Let the real hardcore geeks unearth the larger bugs and thus get it in shape "for the rest of us."

(Full Disclosure: Mr. Pogue, in an earlier incarnation as a writer/reviewer for MacWorld, had nice things to say about two different manuals I wrote, as he was reviewing the programs they described. So, yeah, I am kinda partial to the guy's opinions, and think he's wicked smart.)

Related, here:
"Endless Vistas... of confusion" (2/4/07)
Posts tagged "tech advice"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wherein I finally surrender to Facebook

Alright, alright — "Mr. Ross finally turned himself in to cyber-authorities in August, 2009, thus becoming the 487th 'Bill Ross' on Facebook." In the words of one friend — the actual, real-world kind — "Now everyone in the world is on Facebook." (Really? You mean, like, I am the last one in? I guess it wouldn't be the first time...)

It's worth noting that my old buddy, Neil, sent that message literally within three minutes of me signing up; I was still in the process, in fact, and when I first went to my inbox, I already had mail. (Better'n old aol right there, I can see that.)

But at this late date, I feel somewhat obligated to explain where the hell I've been, and what the hell took me so long?

First, it would be more factual to say that I was kidnapped into Facebookland, since my sister Cindy announced to me when I was down there last weekend that, having duly consulted with other very cyber-aware family members, she was signing me up. And it was so.

But credit's equally due my ol' buddy Val Vadeboncoeur, who's become quite the FB operative and connoisseur, and had been hectoring me all winter about getting in. He'd been a holdout for quite some time, but when he finally did sign on it was an exciting revelation for him. So I knew it was just a matter of when.

My resistance was based on a single word: Overextended. I've had a website for most of the last 12 years for my professional pursuits, which I'll sum up as technical marketing writing and Mac/Win tech support and training, which carries my writing samples, reviews, and various tech service pitches.

I started this blog commenting on technological issues in 2006, and post once or twice a month. Lately I've focused on Green tech developments in the Hudson Valley, where I've been living for the last 2 years. (Recently added a custom Google map of same: the Sustainability 'Heat' Map.) Oh, and how about Working, now most often done entirely on the computer, and the always-bigger job of finding work, ditto there.

Then, on the evening/personal pursuits side, I play once a week with a small group of musicians, record it, and post the good tracks on a page (which I keep separate from all the business linkage). As anyone who's worked with sound knows, that involves a goodly amount of ongoing time to listen through, select from and edit those recordings.

And best of all, I've got old-fashioned email and I'm always behind by a couple correspondents. And these aren't usually people that my "friends" are talking to, which could mean anything from my friend's point of view, but people I've chosen at some point to directly engage with.

Let's see, am I forgetting anything? Oh, yeah Real life! The physical world, food, the fresh air and exercise, and people with actual, fleshy faces, etc. 'Body language' is only the most obvious additional channnel available in that medium; these are devices which communicate in far more ways than we are even aware of, or, I'll bet, have yet discovered.

Ah, but that was then; I finally wised up and realized my point was simply that I can't spend any more time online than I do now. So I'm just going to have to appropriate time from something else, and that'll have to be all the news sites that I probably spend way too much time reading. There you go — another win for Reframing The Question.

The clincher was my sister putting it in a way that made sense to me, and that was that right now was a moment when, simply, everybody was on Facebook — and that may not be true a year or whenever from now.

That was the Ah-ha moment for me, having witnessed enough waves of technology wash by in 25+ years to recognize that old, familiar pattern. So I'm in there now, ready to ride.

See you on the wall, then.

Related, here (on that old paradigm):

"Slow-Blogging" 2009

"Twittering on about Facebook, etc."

"Top 10 Social Networking Annoyances"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Points on Local Green Map, Prism Solar Ribbon Spinoff

Added a few newsy spots to my Sustainability 'Heat' Map of Hudson Valley, explained and windowed-into in the preceding(/following) post.

The biggest news recently was Prism Solar Technologies' announcement Tuesday that they'll receive $3.6 million in federal money to spin off their R&D on a new form of photovoltaic technology in the Hudson Valley. They predict the new company will create 300 jobs over the next three years.

The new flexible solar ribbon cell is highly efficient, lightweight, made with much less waste, and has other unique characteristics, but its flexibility that's the main attraction. That allows countless applications, from the hood of a car to the outside face of a building, from cellphones and laptops to equipment for the U.S. Military, which has shown interest. Congressman Maurice Hinchey announced the grant with Prism Solar CEO Richard Lewandowski.

"Prism Solar gets $3.6 million in federal funds" - Poughkeepsie Journal, Sarah Bradshaw, 8/11/09

"Solar company to create spin-off, create 300 jobs" - Mid-Hudson News
= = =
…And I added these two places to the map:

"Green Living" index, Times Herald Record

The venerable Times Herald Record, published from Middletown, NY and in its modern form at, covers all things renewable in the region with its page on "Green Living - local coverage of the green revolution." It's a handy spot from which to keep updated on all recent related activity.

Hudson River Valley Farms, by Joanne Michaels, 2009Author Joanne Michaels' "Hudson River Valley Farms"

Joanne Michaels' latest book, published July 2009, is "Hudson River Valley Farms - The People and the Pride Behind the Produce." This beautiful book, thanks to the wonderful photography of Rich Pomerantz, is portrait of 44 farms from Westchester to Albany, taking the reader on an amazing journey through the heart of the Hudson Valley. The appendix covers close to 100 farmers' markets in eight counties, including driving directions.

Joanne, the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, has published numerous books which draw our attention to the profound beauty of the region, including "The Hudson Valley & Catskill Mountains: An Explorer's Guide," and coauthoring with renowned photographer Hardie Truesdale the stunning "Hudson River Journey" and "Adirondack High."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sustainability 'Heat' Map, Hudson Valley NY

Here is the happy result of hearing myself tell someone that I was in the midst of mentally constructing a "heat map" of what's being done in the region to promote sustainable businesses and life. Fortunately, a spark flew: customized Google Maps! I could create my mental map on the freakin' Web, adding one more small node of nutritious info to the area's green network.

View Sustainability 'Heat' Map, Hudson Valley, NY in a larger map

On its own page in Google Maps, of course, you'll see the column on the left listing all the institutions that lie behind the droll icons. (I worked with what they had, which explains why TechCity is represented here by a tent, usually denoting a campground, and utility Central Hudson is left with the campfire. But for Congressman Hinchey, what better symbol than the House?)

This will very much be a work in progress for some time to come, and of course I'd be glad to incorporate related links that are suggested, that I can do some research on, of course. That's because it's really only useful to pass along information that you've qualified somehow, sifting out the low-to-no value stuff, as opposed to those endless lists you find on the net that people seem to have thrown up on the wall with their eyes closed.

Map © 2009 by Bill Ross,
but free for use when attributed
and linked to, please.
Related, here:
Posts tagged Green tech
and Appropriate technology

Friday, June 26, 2009

Some Regional 'Green' Forces:
newspaper, nonprofit, and gov't

When I set myself the task of finding out what was happening with renewable energy and things Green in general in the Hudson Valley, I was frankly not prepared to find as much as I did. The Hudson Valley, from Overlook Mtn.- photo, Bill RossI'm going to be writing more about some of these efforts that are underway, but there's far more than I'll be able to find time to discuss in me own little blog.

So I thought I'd just start listing and linking to some of them, to share some of the relevant, mostly very hopeful stories found in only the last few months or ongoing. All deserve more in-depth treatment, since this is some exciting stuff when you care about the world being built with the long term in mind, but better to do a little now than wait for the big day.

To lend some sense of rhyme or reason to the selection, I decided to pick out entities from different fields and slants on the subject. So for now, here is a newspaper's coverage, a non-profit campaigner/facilitator, and a government program.

Green Living index, on

We'll start with the heroically embattled Fifth Estate, in the form of the Green Living index on That's the "Web press," we might say, of the Times Herald-Record, which seems shy to admit it's published in Middletown, where it traces its lineage of daily editions back to the middle of the 19th century.
By whichever nameplate, they do a good job of covering all the major green-tinged news in the Valley and State.

"Local coverage of the green revolution" - Times Herald-Record
Sustainable Hudson Valley
Next, a non-profit that's been promoting sustainability in this area since the mid-90's, Sustainable Hudson Valley is currently working with many partners in the region as "a resource broker, a consensus builder, and a source of both technical and moral support, assisting each community with achieving its unique goals" towards "an environmentally advanced and restorative 'green' economy".

This year, besides advising local governments on getting positioned for clean-energy stimulus funds — and managing to stir up a bit of a ruckus — Sustainable Hudson Valley is focused on the Kingston Green Trail. It's a partnership of agencies to try to stimulate interest in " a transformed urban environment, where people can move by cycle and on foot... gardens, parks and tree cover are abundant... renewable energy and recycled materials create economic advantage... and these activities form the base of a vibrant knowledge economy."

Plus, I liked this part: "Our work is to stimulate a home-grown green economy that gains security from a base of businesses with loyalty to this place."
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)
New York State has been fairly progressive with forward-looking energy programs. NYSERDA supports "energy-efficiency programs, research and development initiatives, low-income energy programs, and environmental disclosure activities," such as their Residential Green Building Program (RGBP), currently in development, "to provide incentives to owners of new and substantially renovated residential buildings," and many more.
Related, here:
How Green Is The (Hudson) Valley
Photo from Flickr by Philip McCluskey
(that's from the old firetower on top of
Overlook Mountain, with the Hudson
River that slight band in the distance.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Is Your Head (Lost) In The Cloud?

Google's recent unscheduled downtime came at a good point, perhaps, with so many technology promoters urging us all to hurry up into the Cloud for all our computing needs.

PC World reported that the May 14th outage "left 14 percent of its user base without Google's wide variety of online services for a few hours." PC World's story was accompanied by this graph of North American Web traffic that day, from an Internet security company, Arbor Networks, which tells the story in concise and dramatic fashion.
Google said, in one of their blogs, it was the result of a simple traffic jam at a data center. Oh, that's really reassuring. What if it had been the dirty work of some of those cyber-crooks, who decided to put their botnets to work on taking down or compromising the All-Seeing Eye? How long might it have taken them to get all their services back in operation then?

"Ultimately, the outage was a fixable error and the Internet didn't come crashing down because of it," PC World said, but asked, "Just how smart is it to depend on a company to store all your data online?"

Cloud computing is a natural development of the technological path we're on, and of course it has many benefits, like being able to get at your information from anywhere there's an Internet connection. My point is just this: don't over-depend on it.

Do not assume that what you upload to any brand of cloud formation will necessarily be there when you next look for it — like the young lady I knew whose emails, years' worth, disappeared one day from Hotmail, never to be seen again.

When it's crunch time, especially with free services, host companies have oft responded by saying, Gee, sorry, there's nothing we can do about that now — but you know, it is a free service. (Implying about their own no-cost, no-guarantee offerings that YGWYPF: You Get What You Pay For.)

So, okay, these services can be highly useful. Just don't forget, in a tenet from the earliest days of computing: Back It Up!

"Google Outage Lesson: Don't Get Stuck in a Cloud"
by Ian Paul, PC World
Related, here:
Crackberry Down!

"Baaack it up!" * (Before the Botnets get it)

Web-based apps vs. Verizon customer service

(P.S.: Appropriately, I got this message several times while trying to post this: "Could not contact Saving and publishing may fail. Retrying...")

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Green Is The (Hudson) Valley

The injunction to Think Globally, Act Locally always made good sense to me. So I thought I'd make use of this space to start talking about the companies in this region that have sustainable energy solutions on the ground and running, and some of the forces helping to make it happen.

It's one thing to talk about the value of sustainability in planning how to proceed from here, and of course these issues need to be talked up, and ever more urgently. But special in the sight of earth-loving people are those who have moved past the planning and are already Doing something about it, and that's who I'm going to focus on.

It's only logical to assume that the Hudson Valley can develop into a leader in putting clean local energy sources to work. The area has more than its fair share of sun, water, earth, and all them thar natural elements, a highly inventive, forward-looking population, and a central spot in the history of environmental activism to boot. (Happy 90th Birthday, Pete Seeger! That's his famous floating environmental classroom, the Clearwater, above.) Here are a few of the players I'll start getting into more detail on in coming posts.

I crossed the river to check out the Hudson Valley Green Fair at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck a couple weeks back, where they filled a couple of halls with more than 80 exhibitors, and slated two days of workshops on every hue and shade of green activity. This was only the Fair's second year, and they hosted quite a variety of businesses and groups that offer to do more with less (energy).

Talking to people in the booths, the sense is the potential for this is still on the verge — which is pretty much where it's been for the last 30 years. But now everyone's optimistic, somewhere between waiting (because you can't just wait) and hoping for the other shoe to drop — from that mighty foot in Washington, D.C.

So the big news around here earlier this spring was the announcement from U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-Hurley), another local stalwart on the issue, that Washington was bestowing about $3.2 million on the Hudson Valley’s solar energy industry this year. Most of that will be funneled through The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), which Hinchey was a driving force in the development of. The funding bill also included 400 thousand plus for several renewable energy projects for local hospitals.

"Hinchey secures $4 million in funding for solar power, energy efficiency"
By Alexa James, Times Herald-Record, 3/2/09
At the Green Fair I found out how New York State is pitching in, too, with a variety of initiatives and programs both pilot and productional. In the "Environmental Disclosure Label" twice yearly in their electric bill, New Yorkers can now see where the energy they buy for their home originates from, hopefully inspiring them to choose to buy Green Power from participating providers. That's one way the state's Public Service Commission is supporting the development of renewable energy service from utilities that serve New York, and working at drumming up further interest in it among the general populace.

Related, here:
Posts tagged Green Tech
and the wider topic of
Appropriate Technology
(Photo of the sloop Clearwater
from James.Doyle on Flickr)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

"How do we come up with new ideas?"

Alison Arieff, blogging on design in the New York Times, asks this always-useful question, by way of giving some serious room to a gentleman who vividly "illustrates" the practical value of plain old seat of the pants blue-sky imagining.

She begins by listing a battery of common distractions we're all fighting through to remain optimistic enough to keep creative and productive, remarking,

"I can’t help thinking that we’re all so mired in it that we’ve forgotten how to get out of it — how to daydream, invent, engage with the absurd.

"That’s why I am so enamored with the work of inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson, a sort of R. Crumb meets R. Buckminster Fuller. Many of his musings are simply whimsical, existing primarily as a source of inspiration or delight. Others tackle very real issues, from environmentalism to alternative transportation to homelessness."

(Johnson's caption:)
"Auto Abandonment Zones are built to acccomodate growing numbers of drivers who lose the will to proceed further in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic. Drivers may pull off, leave car keys with an Abandonment Officer, and board a nearby train, phone relatives, or calm themselves in 'parks.'" (Bolding mine.)
As one who has spent far-r-r too much time edging along in traffic, in the pre-mostly-virtual world when the only way to get paid was to show up somewhere every day and be there throughout regular work hours — thus condemning you to rush hour drives — I found that to be wickedly dry humor. Arieff continues,
"In Johnson’s oeuvre, nothing gets to exist if it doesn’t have at least two functions: the skylight uses solar energy to cook the dinner, for instance, and the exercise bike operates the washing machine (cleaning clothes and toning the wearer’s muscles simultaneously)."

"Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas" (On Design blog), 5/4/09
For more examples of witty yet functional doubling-up, Johnson has visually proposed an array of gardening tool footwear, including the Weeding Oxfords, Shear Shoes, Lawn Aeraters, Lawn Edging Spurs, and the Watering Sneakers. Presumably, you could accomplish a lot of tasks among the dirt and weeds just by walking around — in a very deliberate manner, one would guess. Afterwards, you can relax in Johnson's Ten-Speed Hammock, or the Blooming Rose Chair with Ottoman (p. 62 in the book preview).

Now, a lot of this stuff is intentionally (we hope) zany; besides demonstrating some fairly precise drafting skills, the man's also a comedian. But the creative thinking on display, focused on real-world objects, can only spark a few fresh thoughts in anyone trying to see where things can progress in their own sphere of influence.

A vast number of such thoughts are drawn out in Johnson’s 1984 book: “What the World Needs Now: A Resource Book for Daydreamers, Frustrated Inventors, Cranks, Efficiency Experts, Utopians, Gadgeteers, Tinkerers, and Just About Everybody Else.” Let me recommend the final, how-to chapter, "Author's Tips for Inventing Useful and Useless Things," which is excerpted there at the other end of that link.
"I sit on the living room rug at home and look out the window at the garden. …I avoid my desk and drafting table, as such furniture has the connotations of serious endeavor, deadlines," etc.
He places a stack of typing paper and a pen or pencil on the floor next to him.
"I find that a few key words and a blurry scribble are all that I need for capturing an idea, but it is important to note down all ideas, since like dream images these products of the imagination evaporate easily and are usually impossible to retrieve."
Related, here:
Building 'Living Space' Around Railroad Stations

Where Do Great Ideas Come From?

Posts tagged innovation and creative thinking

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pres. Obama on the Tonight Show

In observance of the fact that this man practically IS the news these days, given the mind-boggling situation that our society is in, here's the full interview of the Prez by Leno on the Tonight Show. Obama spends much of the time speaking plainly about all the issues of the day, the nature of the overall financial crisis, the AIG and other bailed-out bonuses, and the whole sordid lot. It's a great opportunity to hear directly and at length -- not just in soundbites -- how he's thinking about what he's doing for the country.

Sure enough, two months into the job and the man is getting loudly criticized all over the place -- and not just by the Party Of No, but by all those whose job it is to stir things up and get people arguing with each other. So much for bipartisanship; but who could possibly be surprised, in a culture that's become so intensely critical and uncooperative?

In here, Jay asks Barack (who's been a guest on the show before and seems right at home,) how he's adjusting to his new life, and Obama tells us that Washington is like a reality show where everyone is Simon. Ouch! Towards the end of the interview, pressed for news on the urgent, much-discussed issue of the new White House Pet, he relates a Beltway aphorism: "They say if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Appendix: found this excellent defense of the President's efforts on the link tree today:
"Obama's multitasking with a smile is driving detractors crazy"
By Bob Ray Sanders, McClatchy Newspapers

Related, here:
"10 Most 'Accountable' Big Companies"

Barack Obama, President-Elect of the United States(!) (Nov. 5, '08)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Tech’s Fingerprints on Stimulus Package"

Let's hope so... about the proposed "stimulus package," as it stands today:

"While much of the sprawling $800 billion legislation consists of tax cuts and broad spending increases for existing programs..., the biggest outlay on initiatives is essentially a technology industry wish list: in the Senate version, about,
- $7 billion for expanding high-speed Internet access,
- $20 billion for building a so-called smart grid power network,
- $20 billion for digitizing health records.

"To many on K Street, the stimulus bill was the clearest guide to the new administration’s closest friends in the business world. What oil was to President Bush, some say, clean energy and technology are to the Obama White House.

"At the transition’s request, I.B.M. (which is in both the smart grid and healthcare data businesses,) prepared a research report concluding that $30 billion in spending this year on the smart grid, broadband access and digitized health records would create approximately 949,000 jobs."
"Technology’s Fingerprints on the Stimulus Package"
NY Times, By Charlie Savage and David D. Kirkpatrick, Feb. 10, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Slow-Blogging" 2009

The only appropriate way for me to start posting in the new year, on the 15th day of that year, is to hearken back to something I bookmarked for this purpose a couple months ago on the concept of, what else but Slow Blogging. Clearly, I'm a grizzled veteran of this only recently-named approach.

Web-logging began as one of those breathlessly, literally up-to-the-minute Internet phenomena, where the idea was not only of posting every day, but of how many times per day you could publish. Never mind that these rapid-fire essays contained only the barest minimum of thought; the point was they were so timely.

The Tortoise & The Hare, by Milo WinterBut as we've now seen, especially in these past few months, perhaps we need to incorporate a bit more reflection into our culture's modus operandi. It turns out that, even in a world wired with communication speeds of gigabits per second, Haste Still Makes Waste. Just lots more of it now, and much quicker.

I found this approach to online writing in a November 21, 2008 article about this "small, quirky movement" in where else but the New York Times (slow blogging about Old Media -- even worse!), "Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a Snail’s Pace." I was relieved to find some brethren whole-heartedly embracing this approach.

"Slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants," author Sharon Otterman writes, "great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul."
Not convinced, O thou wired child of our frenzied times? About the slo-mo thesis, or the relevance of quoting hopelessly out-of-date Old Media? I give you these words of none other than A-list blogger Om Malik, writing about the reporting on the Mumbai terror attacks in his native India, in a post titled "With Twitter, a Desperate Need for Context":
"Even with all the news coming at me from the local Indian channels by way of streaming on the web, no one was offering context, analysis or a comprehensive overview of what was unfolding around them. It wasn’t until The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times offered up their reports that the whole time line and sequence of events started to make sense."
Ah-ha! Take that, New Media bigots. But my point isn't either/or; the point, as ever, is balance. There's no way around the fact that we live in a hyperdrive world, and we've got to keep up or be left behind. But neither has the world fundamentally changed so much since Aesop posited that, as my grandfather was found of quoting, "Slow but steady wins the race."

Related, here:
Twittering on about Facebook

Illustration by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology,
from Project Gutenberg via