Renewable energy? Go fly a kite!

Note: If you have come here with the need to compare my original article to that of NucFluens, you’re in for a surprise. I have taken some of NucFluens improvements, and incorporated them in this post.  In the near future I plan to include an archival copy of the original article (no photo, headers, and original title) for those of you interested in the nature of the improvements.

Dancing Kites

In the topic of renewable energy, there is a heated debate about whether solar, wind, and other environmentally-friendly technologies will ever provide an alternative to coal-generated power. The key issue at stake is whether the renewable sources provide sufficient energy with enough reliability to replace coal in the provision of ’base load’. In case you’re new to the topic, base load refers to the minimum amount of energy required by our cities. It is the baseline-level required to ensure no parts of our cities and rural areas have a blackout. Think about it as the minimum wage required by our electricity needs.

Base load: A problem for alternative energy sources

The problem with base load is that we need to ensure our generation facilities always provide at least that amount of power into the grid. But the sun doesn’t always shine; and the wind doesn’t always blow. There are several articles that explain in detail the problem that this poses for the development of a sustainable, renewable energy generation system (link). There is a team of scientists based on California that believes there is an alternative. I found out about them via Robert Cringely, a published author & columnist who has been writing on the Technology field for over 20 years. In his weekly column ’I Cringely’ of the 12 of October 2007 (link) , Bob describes the approach that ’Makani Power’ (link) is taking.

Makani Power: Creating a better future

The basic idea is simple enough: They want to build a super-kite to be flown at stratospheric altitudes, where the wind always blows at high speed; and attach power-generating turbines to the kites. If they succeed, the area required to generate ’base load’ for the whole of the US will be entirely within their means, as it will be for many other countries – Australia included.

Google: An unlikely ally

This is very exciting news for those of us worried about global warming; and it was fascinating to read that of all the companies that could have invested into Makani Power, it was an unlikely investor that took the plunge. Their name? Google

The concept is simple; more than enought money has been provided; there are technical experts that are luminaries in the field; and the company backing this new venture is renowned for an unprecedented level of success. The only remaining question is When will it be ready?

For our own sake, I hope the answer is sometime very soon!

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I’ve started twitting!

No, I haven’t gone loony yet. Twitter is a tool that allows you to post short, instant messages into a public area. This is a new experiment of mine, just like blogging started as a new experiment a couple of years back.

Check the link below if you want to see what Twitter is all about; or check my Twitter page at https://twitter.com/crazycolombian

Crazy retro-back: Do you have trouble devoting regular time to exercise?

Today I realised that in October last year I wrote a post to my Facebook blog, but did not put it in here! Below you will find a ‘blast from the past’ that can help you establish a regular exercise routine (which, as you can see from my previous post, works rather well!). I hope you find this post useful.

– The crazy Colombian 

Image by LollyKnit

There is only one way for the odometer to go: higher. Parts get worn out, and joints need some lubrication. No, I am not talking about cars; I am talking about our bodies. As our lives get busier, and we find less time for fun and games throughout the day, exercise is often one of the first casualties. Are you one of the fortunate ones who has managed to build exercise regularly into your life? Well done, mate. You’re ahead than the rest of us.You’re not? Then read on.

From maintaining a healthy Body-Mass-Index (BMI) to increasing your energy levels, regular exercise has many benefits. If you want to learn more about them, just Google “fitness benefits” and you’ll find a universe of relevant information.

The problem is how to do it. You have sure tried it many times, and like me, find yourself drifting back into the more comfortable life that features no regular trips to the Gym.

In my case, I found something that really works. It is John Walker’s “The Hacker’s Diet” chapter on exercise has given me what I need. It is an exercise routine that

  • Takes 15 minutes to do
  • Will adapt as your fitness levels change
  • Helps you move gently up the fitness scale
  • Requires no equipment ( and therefore is totally portable!)If this sounds interesting enough, I recommend you read the e-book (link), or at least the chapter on the Exercise Ladder (link). It may change your life.Good luck!
  • Update : How to love the early morning hours


    Image by jurvetson

    Some months ago I wrote an article discusing how to become an early riser (link) I thought you may be interested in knowing how did I go on establishing a routine of getting up early in the morning and doing meditation and exercise:

    • For the last couple of months, I have been able to regularly wake up at 6 AM without the need of an alarm clock (I typically set my alarm clock as a safety measure, but always wake up before it goes off)
    • I have been doing the ‘Peaceful Warrior Workout’ (link) since the start of this year, at least 5 days a week (and there have been many weeks when I did it every day)
    • I have been doing rung 15 of the exercise ladder from The Hacker’s Diet at least 3 times every week (link)

    The part I have struggled the most with has been meditating every day in the morning. Instead, I have started meditating at night before going to bed. I must admit it has a therapeutic effect and makes it easier for me to go to sleep, but the problem is that I am doing this in bed, and often end up falling asleep within minutes of starting my meditation.

    Do you have any tips on how to improve my practices? I will be very thankful if you leave me a comment at the end of this post with your ideas.

    The world has gone mad: Investing for the long term

    The world markets crashed recently, and we were reminded of the futility of short term thinking. A friend wrote a piece about blogging (link) Another blogger wrote on the virtue of long vs short posts . I read an interview in ‘The McKinsey Quarterly’ with Al Gore and David Bloods, founders of Generation Investment Management, which reminded me of my frustration with financial markets’ analysts focus on the short term.

    Sustainable investment – an Oxymoron?

    Why do people invest? To make money. It is that simple. Most people are aware of the fact that they will need some level of ‘liquidity’ in their investments, in case of emergencies. And for this reason, many investors care a bit too much what the market is doing today and tomorrow.

    But sustainable investment needs not be an oxymoron. Well established principles of investment highlight that the value of a company is intrinsically determined by the quality of its future cash flows. As such, investments in companies that are more sustainable over the long term ought to be also valuable ones to add to your portfolio.

    Crazy stuff: Focus on quarterly earnings

    So why do investment managers focus so many of their decisions on quarterly earnings? One explanation is that the key to success, according to many, is in the execution. Having a great plan for the future is not enough; we must make sure that the executives at the top of the organisation are able to execute their plan successfully. One way of assessing their ability to execute is to observe quarterly promises of earnings, and their follow-through on these promises.

    A balanced perspective: Sustainability

    Yet reality shows us that balance has been lost. Too much focus has been placed on short-term results; and too little on long term potential. Some investors have focused on ‘growth potential’ thinking they are taking a long-term view; but their assessment of growth potential invariably over-relies on short-term measures and evidence.

    A more balanced perspective is required, and Al Gore and David Bloods emphasis on assessing sustainability is a great start. We need more creative thinking that draws from our experience in assessing the long-term impacts of our economic activity. Environmentalism and climate change, with their long-term focus, provide a great platform from which to assess an organisations capability to survive in a changing world.

    Make a difference: help us improve

    This is more of a Post Script (Ps) on the post than actual content, so feel free to skip. If you follow our writing on this space with some regularity, you will have noticed the difference in length & style of this post. Do you like it better; and if so, Why? If not, what aspects of our previous style do you like best?

    You can also make suggestions on topics on which to reflect; research; and write about. I am always on the lookout for new ideas, and your comments are always a source of joy.

    Leave your comment, and make a contribution to enriching this space. Your fellow readers will thank you for doing that.

    Wise advice from Dan Millman: “Just fit in until you find out where you stand out”


    Image by Hamed Saber

    One of my constant sources of inspiration is best-selling author Dan Millman. I am starting to notice a pattern here: two of my spiritual guides (Jack Lalanne and Dan Millman) were former athletes, and shared their perspectives on life with others in a rather public way. If you know of more characters like these two, please drop me a comment at the end of this post.

    Let’s get back to Dan’s words. You can find the original piece, which was entitled ‘Dream Small‘ on Dan’s personal blog (click here for full article). On it Dan talks about the unrealistic expectations that Gen Y’ers typically have; and the impact this has on these young people when they get to compete for jobs in ‘the real world’. Dan’s advice? To dream small, take it a bit easier while you find yourself, and allow sufficient time for you to gain experience and develop yourself, your skills, and your own dreams.

    This article made me reflect on 2 issues that I have been thinking about for quite some time. Firstly, it reminded me that we no longer recognise inexperience for what it is: a wonderful opportunity to try different things and find yourself. In today’s ultra-competitive, uber-complex world, we expect our children to choose-their-path as soon as they finish high school – ideally even before- and charge ahead with determination and perseverance. Newspapers and books around us are filled with ‘inspirational’ stories of those who found their calling at 14 or 15, started their career with impetus and energy, and became famous and/or a millionaires by the age of 25.

    The problem with this abundance of stories on successful people is that it reinforces the illusion that we should all do the same. Not just that people can, and if you’re lucky enough, you will have the experience and skills and motivation to do it; but that it is only a matter of wishing-for-it strongly enough, and it will happen. Add to this the latest craze around ‘The Secret’ and ‘The Law of attraction’, and you end up with a generation that believes that the only thing you need to do to succeed is sit around dreaming and affirming your desires, and life will put them in your plate effortlessly.

    Unfortunately, the world just does not work like that. Affirmations and desire are important, but it takes ACTION inspired by those dreams to make things happen. Today, many people have forgotten this second – and critical – part of the equation! My advise then is not to stop dreaming – but don’t just stop at dreaming, or you will be seriously disappointed.

    The second topic that Dan’s article reminded me about is the concept of ‘defining & taking control of your career’. In today’s corporate world, there is an inbuilt expectation that everyone WANTS a career. But I know many people that just want a job that provides sufficient for their needs, without draining them of the time & energy they need for their life passion. And these people typically do not give a hoot about where their career is going. In a way, they are enjoying their lives while supporting themselves with a job. Unfortunately, this concept does not sit well in the corporate world of today.

    It is amazing to think of just how universal has this concept become in today’s corporate world. Especially when we know that not everyone needs and wants a career. Large consulting firms have developed particularly discriminatory practices on this regard. Many of them have established policies that stipulate that if you don’t move to the ‘next level’ within a set period of time, you must leave the firm (‘Up-Or-Out’). For clerical or administrative staff, they adjust it and suggest that if you are not developing new skills or moving up the performance curve, you must leave (‘Grow-or-go’).

    But where does this leave the single mother of two who needs a decently paid job to support her children, yet has reached the Pinnacle of her learning and efficiency curve? Or the young guy who decides to follow Dan’s advise and ‘just get a job’ so that he can pay the bills while he gets enough life experience that he can figure out which direction to take?

    We live in a mad world. The corporatocracy we live in adores mass, homogeneous markets, and abhors diversity. Unfortunately, the side effects of these principles of industralisation are insidious and corrosive; Something must be done. If you agree with these ideas, why not joins us in trying to do something about it?

    You could start by sharing some of these thoughts with co-workers; question the whole idea of career-obsession, and ask them how it has affected them, both positively and negatively. You can then engage your HR department in a dialogue about the diversity of needs their workforce has, and highlight the benefits that implementing more progressive policies could have in their ability to attract and retain a more productive and talented workforce. Or if you want to be a bit more extreme, take am intellectual break from your career-oriented life, and stop to smell the roses. Live in the present; Dream small, like Dan suggests; and observe – really observe – what happens in your life. Your outlook on life and love and those things that matter most is likely to change; and then you can say that at least you have managed to change the world and reduce its number of career-extremists by one.

    Go crazy. Seize the day.

    How to reduce your ‘carbon footprint’ and make a difference to our environment


    Image by suburbanbloke

    About a week ago I created a ‘fun quizz’ to assess your level of environmental literacy. Today we will focus on a few things you can do to contribute in the reduction of carbon emissions. Before we get started, let’s see why this is a worthwhile goal.
    The cause for reducing carbon emissions: Climate change

    According to ‘Nature Magazine’, a prominent & well respected scientific publication, “climate change is caused by the emission of heat-trapping gases – mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) – from vehicles, industry, power plants and deforestation. As these gases build up, they act like a thick blanket, overheating the planet, changing our climate, and threatening our health, economy and natural environment.” (see full article here). The threats they talk about are not imaginary: We have all started to live through the impact of some of these. Have you noticed an increase in the number and violence of natural disasters in the last few years? So have many others, and the link to Climate Change has been clearly established .

    If you’re A NIMBYer who thinks that climate change won’t impact you, think again (NIMBY: Not-In-My-Back-yard). Earth’s climate system is global, and the changes are far-reaching. C’mon – you say – surely this will affect only polar bears and people in poor countries, right? Wrong. Some of the expected impacts of climate change include:

    • Temperatures will rise. You may have noticed that every summer seems to get hotter. It is not your imagination; and the impact is far more significant than simply needing to cool yourself a little bit more every day. Rising temperatures can have significant disruptions in agriculture (food availability & prices), rising storm activity (remember Katrina?), and increase in heat-related illnesses (malaria & heat-stroke, among others)
    • More species of wildlife will either become extinct, or be threatened to extinction. A recent report highlighted that a quarter of existing species in our planet will become extinct by 2050 if we don’t change current levels of carbon emissions. If this happened, it would impact a lot more than simply he number of animals you can visit at your local zoo. Reduced biodiversity will affect our planet in ways we can not even imagine. For example, some pests that are controlled by natural predators may be able to roam more freely and have a significant impact in our food supplies.
    • Ocean levels will rise. This may not seem too drastic or important to you; but do you realise that over 70% of human activity happens by coastal areas? A rise in the sea levels of a meter will wipe out a good portion of our civilised world. Just in Australia, over 700,000 buildings have been estimated as being at risk of the effects of rising sea levels (The 7:30 Report, ABC. Full transcript of the program can be found here). Similar estimates exist for North & South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The reality is that ocean-views have long been considered by humans as a highly desirable feature of their living habitat, and this has in turn influenced the way we built our cities.
    Table 1 - Dwellings at risk of rising sea levels in Australia

      I’m convinced, but can I really do anything to make things better?

      The good news is that it doesn’t take deep pockets or a University diploma to become more caring to the environment in this regard. Almost every aspect of your everyday life has an impact on the CO2 emissions that are put into the atmosphere, and most of the time we are totally ignorant to this fact. The time to change that has come!

      Before we get to the ‘how to’, you may want to have a reality check about what your specific impact to the environment is with regards to carbon emissions. I suggest you go to Nature Magazine’s ‘Carbon Footprint’ calculator, and assess yourself. (Calculator can be found here) When you’re ready, come back and learn how you can reduce your current footprint.

      Gone and back? Let’s move on to the “juicy bit” of this article: How To reduce your carbon footprint. Below are five simple suggestions that you can easily turn into habits. All you have to do is put them into practice for a whole month. As Steve Pavlina illustrates in his blog, practicing anything for 30 days on a row will turn any practice into a well established habit. Go crazy!

      1. Develop the habit of living in darkness

      How many lights do you typically have turned on at night throughout your house? If you’re like most people, you will have too many – your bedroom, your living area, your kitchen, your bathroom, your garage. Just think whether you really need all of them on at the same time. Do you?

      In case you answered ‘Yes’, let;s examine a simpe example and see if your answer remains vaid. I’d like you to think about the time you spent cooking and having dinner yesterday (probably 20 to 60 minutes). How many of the other rooms did you go to during this time period? Even if you did go to another room, for how long did you stay before you returned to the kitchen or dining area? Obviously, you need to consider other members of the family, but you can apply the same logic to their activities. My guess is that there were various areas of the house that remained lit without a real need for it.

      Learn to ‘live in darkness’ – or at least in semi-darkness. Turn lights on as you need them, and get into the habit of turning them off as you leave the room. Worried that this will shorten the life of lightbulbs, and hurt your pocket? Change your light bulbs for the environmentally friendly type and you will prolong their life. In the process, you will also put some additional money in your pocket from both the increase in the life of light bulbs (less money spent over a year in light bulb), and from the reduction in electricity consumption (lower electricity bills).

      2. Have shorter, colder showers

      We westerners have developed the habit of staying under a hot, steaming shower for far longer than we need to. Unfortunately, this practice negatively and unnecessarily impacts our level of carbon emmisions. Heating water requires burning of a fuel (either gas at your hot-water tank, or carbon at the power electricity plant), which creates CO2 emissions of Either way, your hot shower creates green-house emissions.

      TO change this habit, you don’t need to freeze in the shower every morning. One way to improve the situation is to change the way you calibrate your shower’s temperature. Instead of blasting the hot water until it’s boiling and then gently opening the cold water to arrive to the desired temperature, try to do it the other way around. Turn the shower on by first opening the cold-water tap, then slowly heating it by turning the hot-water tap. Stop at the first moment the temperature is comfortable. And stay in the shower for no more than 3 minutes.

      If you are like me, you will also live in a city where there are water restrictions. Adopting the habit of colder, shorter showers will not only reduce carbon emissions , it will also contribute to saving on your water consumption.

      3. Use public transport to get to work

      The majority of people prefer to drive to work rather than taking a bus or the train. It usually has to do with control: There’s a perception that when taking the bus & Train you are too dependent on others to arrive to work on time. And there’s always the risk of not having a seat and being inconvenienced by having to stand throughout the trip. The ultimate excuse, however, is that most people are not within walking distance to their nearest train station / bus stop, whereas our cars are usually garaged a few steps from our doorsteps.

      If you share at least some of these reasons, you may want to think again. Worried about a trip standing on a bus? Buy yourself a cheap MP3 player, download some interesting podcasts, and do some stretches on your trip. You will not only save on petrol and parking, but you will educate yourself and improve your health.

      Similarly, not being near a train station or bus stop is not a good excuse to drive to work every day. You can always drive a short distance to a station or bus stop, park there for the whole day (usually for free), and enjoy a stress-free ride.

      Make the change. Find out alternative public transport and save, avoid the stress of peak-hoir traffic, and help the environment.

      4. Assess energy-efficiency when purchasing appliances

      There are 2 ways in which you can help the environment when it comes to energy efficient appliances: the cheaper way and the more expensive way.

      The more expensive way is to identify your ‘worst offenders’ at home, and immediately replace them with appliances that are at the top of the energy efficiency scale. Make sure you do your research before you hit the footpath and heading to the shops. There is a collection of links at the end of this article suggesting where to go to research appliances and get an idea of their energy efficiency.

      The less expensive way is to do the same but only when an appliance breaks down and requires replacing. Don’t be fooled by thinking that you will spend more money with energy efficient goods: In the long run, they will save you a bucket of cash from the lower electricity bill, even if they require a slightly higher cash outlay.

      5.Minimise your reliance on heaters and air-conditionings

      It is absolutely evident that heaters and A/C units are ultra-convenient: If you don’t like the current temperature at home, all you need to do is crank up or down the thermostat of your chosen climate control appliance.

      The problem with these is that they have trained us to chase the ‘perfect’ temperature at home. In the process, you close your home shut to avoid heat or cold escaping. But have you ever stopped to consider if it is hot enough to warrant use of the air conditioner? Or whether it is cold enough to turn the heater?

      Before our homes were ‘enhanced’ with these appliances, we relied on other means to adjust our temperature at home. Too hot? Open the windows and let the breeze in. Too cold? Go to your closet and pull a nice, warm jumper. Too cold in the middle of the night? Invest in a good doona, and you will never again need the heater on.

      Stop wasting electricity and your money. Start exercising some discretion when you decide to touch the heater or A/C at home. Even better – put a note on the controls to remind you to ‘THINK BEFORE TOUCHING’, or hide the remote controls to these appliances. Having to walk to the unit itself should help you remember to think twice about whether using it is really necessary.

      Make a difference starting today!

      We have just given you 5 ideas on how to reduce your carbon-emissions footprint in the planet. Choose one, and start today. Once you turn it into a habit, choose the next one, and apply for a while month. It will take you less than half a year to adjust your habits and make a real difference to the environment.

      Don’t like our ideas? Look for some others’ in the web. The resources section below has plenty of web sites with literally hundreds of ideas to help us in the journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.
      Links & References

      Nature Magazine: http://www.nature.org
      Steve Pavlina’s web site:www.stevepavlina.com

      CO2 Footprint calculator: http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator
      Article on climate change: http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange
      ABC Article on sea level rise: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s1869888.htm
      Turning practices into habits: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/04/30-days-to-success

      Additional Resources

      Reading Energy Labels: http://www.energyrating.gov.au
      Choosing energy efficient products: http://www.buyenergyefficient.org/buy.html
      Choice Magazine: http://www.choice.com.au