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Pig Crude?

Hot on the heels of our article on crude oil from algae comes this article on crude oil from pig manure.  Much like the concept of algal crude oil, the idea is to create a fuel that is as similar to our current compounds as possible.  This makes it easier to integrate into our current infrastructure, a big hurdle for many alternative energy sources, and thus roll out to consumers.

The article describes the process created by Yuanhui Zhang that uses heat and pressure to turn organic compounds into oil.  Creating a high-heat and pressure environment takes energy, so the question on my mind is whether or not the energy we gain from this alternative fuel is more than the energy used to create it.  The same question holds for algal crude as it does for ethanol, hydrogen, or other alternative fuels.  I suppose the ultimate would be to use a renewable source like wind or geothermal to power the manure-to-crude conversion, but this article doesn't indicate that the research is far enough along to get into those engineering questions just yet.

Will the Real Green Please Stand Up?

We began writing our Green Article series for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that the issue of what is Green is complex and often confusing. So in the mail today arrives the latest, bright ORANGE issue of WIRED magazine claiming that everyting we know about Green is wrong! Thanks guys.

The truth is that they aren't really slaying the sacred cows, but pointing out the downside of some choices one makes when deciding what is green; every decision we make has a trade-off. The article takes the, admittedly controversial, viewpoint that reducing our carbon footprint is THE most important action for us to take. The points they make, however, each also include their own tradeoffs.

Let's take, for example, "A/C is OK". The implied conclusion to their point is that we should all move to the south/southwest where we don't have to heat our homes in the winter (those in the high desert might disagree!). Those of you who live in such an area know that the drought issue, which is historically speaking is not yet severe, is a huge problem. It raises the issue of measuring the carbon cost of piping all that water to the desert. While the article doesn't touch on that aspect, though I hope the author at least considered it.

Whether he did or not, the example shows in extremis that each choice we make has tradeoffs. They need to be carefully considered, based on the best available research at the time, before coming to a decision. We hope, though our series of Green articles, to help you make better decisions, or at the very least, point you to good, research-based sources of information to help you make better decisions. If you are interested in our series, please use the signup box on the right to subscribe.

(5/21 - edited to clarify sentence regarding the Southwest drought issue)

The Value of Space Exploration

The ever-interesting and useful Bad Astronomer pointed me to an interesting discussion on Universe Today about the value of space exploration. We at Mains Associates of course believe in it strongly. One of our projects (long ago, in a galaxy, uh, right here) supported Henry Hertzfeld's research into the returns to NASA's Life Sciences R&D. You can read the whole report on his site, but the gist is,

On the basis of these conservative estimates taken with mission success of the life sciences effort and ample evidence of other social benefits from the descriptions provided by the users of many specific life sciences spinoff applications, it can be concluded that NASA Life Sciences investments have more than “paid for themselves.”

While this is just one area of space exploration, it does focus on the economic benefits, ignoring the ancillary benefits so many of the commenters on Universe Today also point out. Is space exploration worth it? The answer is a resounding, "Yes!"

Support your message!

Usually I delete any spam that does find its way into my inbox immediately, but something about the content in an email entitled "Huge Bonus!" caught my eye,

Turn $2400 into $1000!

Now, this might just be the most honest statement about an online casino I've ever seen, but I don't think the content was exactly what was intended.  I'm sure these spammers will learn the lesson too many organizations have learned the hard way - you can create an interesting headline, but if you don't have the information, the data, to back it up, you'll go nowhere.

If you're a reader of this blog, my guess is that you have the information ("the beef", for those of you old enough to remember those commercials).  Is it being communicated clearly?  Is it accurate?  Does it describe a benefit your audience can relate to?  If not, spend time thinking about your message before you, like this casino, vanish into obscurity.

Science Debate 2008

Regardless of how you voted today (you did vote today, right?), I think we can agree that the candidates have yet to seriously address science, research, and technology issues and policy.  Science Debate 2008 is a call for a Presidential debate on a key issue that affects many other facets of our lives - Science and Technology policy. Mains Associates supports this call for a debate and we encourage you to visit the site, learn more, and join the call!

Value from Information

"When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable." Thus begins Kevin Kelly's latest post on The Technium. The business world in general, and the content businesses in particular, have been struggling with this basic reality. Media companies are built on being the sole distribution point for content, so if you want to read a book, watch a show, or listen to a song, you need to come to them. The internet's basic underlying structure turns this concept on its head - the content is abundant now, not scarce! While our work with researchers is somewhat different than creating music, the concepts of creating value are still true.

Kelly talks about eight ways you can deliver value built on top of content, and these two in particular demonstrate how Mains Associates delivers value to our clients. "Interpretation -- As the old joke goes: software, free. The manual, $10,000. But it's no joke. (...) I suspect a lot of genetic information will go this route. Right now getting your copy of your DNA is very expensive, but soon it won't be. In fact, soon pharmaceutical companies will PAY you to get your genes sequence. So the copy of your sequence will be free, but the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it -- the manual for your genes so to speak -- will be expensive." and "Findability -- Where as the previous generative qualities reside within creative digital works, findability is an asset that occurs at a higher level in the aggregate of many works. (...) But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention -- and most of it free -- being found is valuable. "

Our stock in trade is really built on the two above concepts. We take complex information and make it comprehensible. This is built primarily on relating the information to you, and how you can benefit from this. The second point about "findability" (don't like that word) is often a result of our process. Most of the research topics we work with have hundreds or thousands of related papers, articles, etc., so our review process weeds out the least relevant, leaving links to the next level of detail, the most relevant.

While the world will always need people and organizations to create information in the first place, that information will quickly lose value unless they make that information useful to their audience and findable by their audience. So they question is: do you create information, or do you create value from information?

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