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Our way of life


I'm sitting in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport waiting for a delayed flight to Newark.

I miss my family. I've been apart from them for a total of forty minutes.

We met for the Baha'i holidays this year - Ayyam'i'ha, four days of celebration.

My wife arrived first, via Las Vegas, where she attended by step-brother-in-law's wedding. I would have loved to have gone. Ingrida's father was there and I like him. He's got a ready smile and is willing to work hard. But I'm looking for work and it was an imprudent time to take my eye off the ball so Ingrida passed through Mentor (and then came back) a few days before I arrived.

Mendon drove down from Chicago the next day, then Mara drove up with Liam, then Rachael and Eric drove out. On Friday, we drove down to pick up Mark from Columbus and drive back up. No Kristen, but everyone else made it.

No Maman. That was tough, but hardly unexpected. It didn't go totally unmentioned, but I never know what to say. It feels to me as though there are some feelings to which no words can do justice and the keen grief we feel at the loss of our mother is one. Mendon seems to do the best at wresting meaning from the inchoate spiritual maelstrom wrought by the void where my mother used to be; his words are comforting. And I'm proud to have a brother brave enough to attempt what I believe to be impossible. But I still think it's impossible to put my keening into words.

We baked bread every day. Liam woke at 7 every morning; Mara or Mark woke with him, then me, then Papa, then slowly the rest of the house. Breakfast - sausage, pancakes, eggs, cereal, orange juice and tea, pot after pot of tea.

It was wonderful. And the sadness of leaving is sticking in my throat. I love my family.


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Workers at a refinery in Grangemouth are striking over proposed changes to the pension scheme.

Are they right or wrong to do so?

Play your iTunes on your Creative Zen


John Johansen, darling of property rights activists and a brilliant coder, has a new venture, DoubleTwist.

It's nifty. The idea is that you've paid for your music on iTunes, so you should get to play it on whatever music player you'd like. I love iTunes. I buy music regularly from them - and there's a whole host of hard to find music you can find on iTunes (like MC900ft Jesus Welcome to my Dream, which happens to be available on Amazon, yeah, I know).

But one of my peeves is that, while I love iTunes, I'm actually not a huge fan of the iPod. To be honest, my favourite format for a long time has been the Sony MiniDisc. Sony absolutely got down on their knees and screwed the pooch with their marketing, DRM and terrible, terrible software, but I've still always liked it.

Well, now I can play all of my precious iTunes on my Sony Hi-MD player, and that's wonderful. Of course, this happened just as I was going to stop using the iTunes store and switch to's superior MP3 shop.

But for those of you who would like to use some other player besides the iPod - say, a Creative Zen - then this will let you. And I like choices like this. Too many choices can be confusing, but if you know exactly what you want - a Zen and some iTunes - this software lets you have it.

Carbon offsetting

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I've been thinking about challenges to American hegemony.

While most of the discussions of this type focus on clear and present dangers, I've been thinking of some very long run effects that have non-linear consequences. "Tipping point" effects, where we cross a threshhold.

Some of them are end quarternary event scenarios, the kind where many eons from now intelligent cockroaches find our fossils and hypothesize about how we lived.

But others are a bit nearer to now, including how we interact with the environment.

Let me start by saying that there are very few poeple I've listened to who is making sense. If you have heard someone who is making sense, let me know.

Here are some things that I do accept:

1. The earth is getting warmer. Let's not talk about why just yet, but I can accept as fact that the earth is getting warmer.
2. This creates winners and losers, but on the whole more losers than winners; it is a general bad thing.

Um, that's about it.

There are a few challenges that I have about the generally accepted theories of global warming, like the causes.

First, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, sure, and so is methane...but water vapor is far more effective at creating a greenhouse effect. We do lots that puts water vapor into the air, yet no one seems concerned. Do we even know anything about historic levels of water vapor? I don't know, but I'd like to know. And I think that water vapor is probably partly to blame for rising temperatures.

Second, we burn some quantity of fossil fuels each year. The combustion of these fossil fuels generates heat. What if the amount of heat is non-trivial? If that was the case, then cutting our greenhouse gas emission might only be part of a solution. How much is this heat?

Third, how much biomass is in the oceans? Biomass soaks greenhouse gasses. What if the amount of biomass we remove from the oceans is so vast that the oceans can no longer sink greenhouse gasses - or if the biomass we want lives best at a temperature lower than the oceans are becoming? What happens if the oceans become biologically dead?

With all of these thoughts in mind, I did a hypothetical calculation on how many trees you'd need in order to sink the carbon output from your car. It was a quick calculation, full of assumptions.

I assumed that you drive 25,000 miles a year.
I assumed that your car gets 35 miles to the gallon.
I assumed that you'd choose to grow conifers.
I assumed that the trees were 60 years old.
I assumed that all 62 million registered vehicles in the U.S. got 35 miles to the gallon and were driven 25,000 miles a year. In fact, I suspect most cars are less fuel efficient and probably also driven further - 32% of all registered vehicles are commercial, as in 18 wheel rigs and tractors.
I assumed that a tree was a truncated cone.
I assumed that the volume of a tree was well approximated by the number of board feet of lumber it contained.
I've assumed that all of the carbon from gasoline is combusted and becomes carbon dioxide.
I've assumed that our engines burn 100% pure octane.

There may be other, unstated assumptions that I missed; feel free to point them out.

What percentage of America's surface would we need to plant with trees to match the carbon output from all the cars on the road in the States each year?

Every gallon of gasoline releases 186.37 moles of CO2, or about 2.236 kilograms, or about 5 pounds.

If you drive 25,000 miles per year in a car that gets 35 miles to the gallon, then that's 714 gallons of fuel per year, or about 1.786 tons of CO2. This is 0.487 tons of carbon.

A tree sequesters carbon for it's natural life; let's start there. It adds carbon as it grows. The rate at which it grows will determine how much carbon it absorbs.

A Massachussetts Woodland Steward article from the June/July edition in 1999 suggests that the volume of 14" diameter conifer trees should increase at roughly 5% per year.

Each tree will have a volume of roughly 0.25957 cubic meters (same article, based on the fact that it will have 110 board feet in it), a mass of 168.7 kilograms. The composition is approximately 60% water, 40% cellulose, or 67.48 kilograms of cellulose. Cellulose is 4/9ths carbon, so that's 30 kilos of carbon.

That tree is 60 years old, by the way.

So each year, a 60 year old conifer removes an additional 1.5 kilos of carbon from the environment. That means that, in order to support a car that gets 35 miles per gallon 25,000 miles, you'd need 294 conifers that were 60 years old.

There are approximately 62 million vehicles in the U.S., meaning that we'd need 18,228 million trees to support our car habit.

Trees of these type can be planted at 25 to the acre, which gives you 729 million acres of woodland, or about 3 million square kilometers, roughly twice the arable land area of the U.S.

Pay as you go road tax

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The British government is planning on putting in place a pay as you go road tax which would replace existing fuel and road taxes.

This road tax would mean that people who used congested roads would pay more than people who lived in rural areas. The pay as you go tax would range from 2p per mile for rural roads to £1.34 on the M46 at rush hour.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this proposal and I'm broadly in favour of the idea of pay as you go road taxation - but I still signed the petition opposing the government's proposal. Inside, you'll find out why and get some perspectives from Catherine MacDonald-Keir, editor of Luxury Briefing magazine, Mark Willenbrock, an independent businessman and British expat who lives in Morocco and Jamie Young, an Internal Auditor with British Petroleum.

Ligers and Bugbears.

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There was a big kerfuffle two weeks ago about some drawings of Muhammed in a Danish newspaper. I usually avoid weighing in on religious subjects because it might cause family disruption. One sister and my brother are very religious; so are my parents. I am not. In this case, though, the subject is really only tangentially religious and a discussion of it will be illustrative. Please pardon the pun. If you haven't seen the cartoons that appeared in Jyllands-Posten, I'll be reprinting them here.

When viewed in conjunction with the recent speech given by Donald Rumsfeld to the Council on Foreign Relations, it will help to explain why the West is losing the war on irreducible fundamental Islam. I'll explain this later.

Back to front.

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Golden Wonder makes potato chips and other snacks. They are also closing. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, administration is the same as receivership or Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings. Golden Wonder is a privately held company.

For those of you in Cleveland, they're not much bigger than Tom's.

The story is notable specifically for a few lines down near the end of the article:

Usdaw divisional officer Gary Holz said: "The union was only informed today that the announcement was being made and as you can imagine our members have been left absolutely devastated.

"Many of them are in tears and are wandering round in shock trying to come to terms with losing their jobs despite having done nothing wrong except work hard to keep this plant alive."

*Sigh.* It seems that unions never tire of this argument, and what's worse, the public only occasionally rouses itself from slumber to examine the claim and evaluate it. I suspect that there possibly are some cases where factory workers care about the company they're working for, but my experience working in factories indicates otherwise.

First off, there is no easy way in most industrial plants to feed back to decision making management ideas about improvement of the operation. Plant managers are going to be disinclined to listen to workers from the line in any event, so such feedback mechanisms would be wasted.

Second, I'd doubt that there are too many workers at the Golden Wonder factory who are skilled labor. Factory jobs tend to not be skilled labor; just about anyone can do them.

Third, it's better for all workers in Britain if inefficient places close and more efficient ones buy the resources of the old plant and re-use them more efficiently. That's how economies grow; people stop making candles and start making lightbulbs.

I'm not arguing that widespread unemployment can't happen; it does happen. But labor mobility and a churn of resource from inefficient industry to efficient industry keeps structural unemployment low. So the folks who are devestated have the story back to front. They should be happy that their plant is closing first, because it gives them a head start on finding new and better jobs.

The price of goods

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Prices are magical. The concept of prices, not nearly as widespread as you might think, is, in my personal opinion the single largest advance in human thinking ever made.

It beats all others - the wheel, Expressionist painting, the concept of a higher power, electricity, the light bulb...the idea that things have costs and these costs can be represented by a single price, that the two are inextricably linked makes nearly all other advances either inevitable or irrelevant.

Expatriate pay and floated currency


Some good news and some bad news, good news first:

I'm going to Edinburgh and I'll be working for ThruPoint. Still. My resignation was refused. This is a good thing.

The bad news is that it will take longer for me to get there than I had originally thought, perhaps as long as a month.

Now on to the meat of the discussion.

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