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Category: Observations

I’ve been living abroad for a while, and it’s given me a slightly different view of stuff at home than I’d have if I’d stayed. On my way to Boston I had to stop at a gas station. A couple of things leaped out at me. The first was the price of gas. I remember it was hovering around a dollar a gallon when I left, and but now it’s over three.

The other thing was the sheer size of the drinks. The first thing they made me think of was the movie Idiocracy, but I’m not sure if they were this big even in the dystopian future depicted in that movie. I’m used to the large size being 22oz or something like that. Even drinking the second biggest size drink I saw at the gas station left me feeling like I’d just put my pancreas through a strainer. I mean… who drinks half a gallon of soda in one serving? Seriously…

Idiocracy sized drinks

Update: This video is only vaguely related, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to post it.

I made a thoroughly unpleasant first visit to Boston today. You know, I was totally predisposed to like the place, too. I loved the accents in Good Will Hunting. My college buddy’s girlfriend who visited from Harvard was awesome. Just their stand on Pop vs. Soda vs Tawnick is sweet.

The problem is, the roads suck. In trying to get to the Taipei Economic Office, I spent hours drivingriding around and around, never more than a couple of miles away, and yet not being able to find the @#$@!* place until after they had closed at 4:30. A nice grid, like Toronto, would have been ideal. I could have managed a diagonally aligned street system like Denver‘s, though. Any system would have been nice. Boston doesn’t seem to have one, though. It’s almost as if the layout was designed by a bunch of drunkards pushing oxcarts around. Oh wait. It was.

Beyond the general madness of its design, of course it’s a pain in the ass just by virtue of being big. It’s filled with one way streets, pedestrian only streets, the parking sucks, and it’s freezing. With the subway and all, I’m sure it’s a nice place to explore on foot in the summer, but I didn’t make it to the Taiwanese “embassy” until 4:45, at which time they were already closed. That means borrowing Sonia’s car and making another 3 hour trip back there tomorrow.

Solar Power, it’s not just for granola-chomping hippies anymore. Solar power generation has been increasing exponentially for decades, but as futurist Raymond Kurzweil once said, nobody notices exponential growth until it hits the “knee of the curve“. Fortunately for us and our planet, it nearly has.

Between 2000 and 2004, the increase in worldwide solar energy capacity was an annualized 60 percent. Since 2005, production of photovoltiacs has grown somewhat more slowly due to temporary shortages in refined silicon. Still, technological progress has been relentless. In 1990, each watt of solar power from an array cost $7.50. By 2005, average prices in the US were nearly halved, at $4.00. Today, the price stands at about $3.60, even with the refined silicon shortages. Mass produced cells typically have an efficiency of about 17.5%, with some at the very high end achieving 30% efficiency. Meanwhile, designs already exist to take take advantage of nano-engineering and shave the cost per watt of solar cells to a tenth of their current level.

As solar power has been getting cheaper and more refined by the year, oil costs have been going up. It still isn’t to the point at which solar power as cost efficient as traditional methods, but the trend is definitely in that direction. In some areas in which power companies pay a premium on energy sold back to them from residential customers who generate their own solar power, the adaption of this technology has been dramatic.

Last year, global solar power spending topped fifty billion dollars, with Germany and China leading the way forward. Each country spent over ten billion dollars on solar power, and saw dramatic increases in deployment, far ahead of what their governments had expected. Germany leads all countries in solar power generation:

” There are now more than 300,000 photovoltaic systems in Germany — the energy law had planned for 100,000.

Spread out across the country, they are owned by legions of homeowners, farmers and small businesses who are capitalising on the government-backed march into renewable energy.

By tapping the daylight for electricity — which power companies are obliged to buy for 20 years at more than triple market prices — they are at the vanguard of a grassroots movement in the fight against climate change. “

Planet Ark: Cloudy Germany Unlikely Hotspot for Solar Power

China is becoming both a top user and maker of the technology:

“The technological prowess of China is growing a lot faster than people in the West reckon,” said Andrew Wilkinson, co-manager of a fund at the investment bank CLSA Emerging Markets that invests in Asian clean-energy industries.

Suntech’s 3,500-strong work force at four sites in China produces photovoltaic cells, the delicate, hand-sized black silicon panels that can transform sunlight into electricity.

At a time when China’s Communist leaders are trying to turn lumbering state companies into nimble global competitors, Suntech already goes head-to-head with Japanese and European rivals in foreign markets. Shi says that all of Suntech’s technology comes from its own labs.

International Herald Tribune:
Solar power pays off for Chinese entrepreneur

Interestingly, China is also undertaking an ambitious project to spread the use of solar power in Africa. They’re both training technicians and investing in joint-ventures in undeveloped countries.

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists are to train 10,000 technicians from African and other developing countries in the use of solar energy technologies over the next five years.

Describing the plans, Xi Wenhua, director of both the Institute of Natural Energy (INE) and the China Solar Energy Information Centre, told SciDev.Net the training will include programmes on small-scale solar power generation and solar-powered heating and irrigation.

Using funding from the central and provincial governments, the INE — part of the Gansu Provincial Academy of Sciences — has established an eight-hectare training facility powered entirely by solar power. The facility, which is the largest in Asia, has trained more than 400 people from 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America since 1991.

Science and Development Network:
China to train developing nations in solar technologies

Raymond Kurzweil’s prediction that by 2030 we’ll be able most of our projected energy costs at that time through solar power still sounds bold. I sure wouldn’t want to bet against him, though. He’s the guy who predicted both Deep Thought’s defeat of Gary Kasparov and the mapping of the human genome 15 years before they happened.

Related Articles:
Worldwatch Institute: Solar Energy Booming in China
Japan Times: Japan cedes solar power lead to Germany; China closing gap

Disclosure: I own shares of Suntech Power (NYSE: STP), and much of this piece is based on things I learned researching the company.

The gloom in the air is almost palatable. For years now, most Taiwanese people I’ve known have not just been glum, but been down right pessimistic about the economy.

In one sense, it seems irrational. While Taiwan’s GDP growth since 2000 has been very poor, much of that can be attributed to currency fluxuations. If one looks only at PPP-adjusted 2006 data, Taiwan managed a very respectable 4.6% growth. So, why are people so gloomy? The answer is wage stagnation. Reuters reported on this:

“If salaries in Taiwan continue to stay at current levels, it will encourage white collar workers, such as managers, to go to China,” said Chou Ji, an economics professor at Shih Hsin University.

In the first eight months of the year, Taiwan’s average monthly salary rose 1.84 percent from a year earlier to T$46,646 (US$1,431), just a tad higher than inflation of 0.62 percent during the same period, statistics agency data showed.

During the same period, the average wage in South Korea rose 5.6 percent to 2.6 million won (US$2,830), Korea’s Labour Ministry said.


“What you see is that wage growth in Taiwan is very weak,” said Peter Sutton, Taiwan’s head of research at CLSA, adding that the island’s strong exports were not translating into a rise in wages. “There is much more optimism in the other countries.”

“The Taiwan exports sector is really strong, but the domestic sector is protected and … has very little foreign participation. So domestic consumers face much higher costs.”

CLSA said in a survey of income earners that 29 percent of respondents in Taiwan saw their income fall and 42 percent saw no increase in the past 12 months, with 32 percent saying that they were worse off than 10 years ago.

Reuters: Salary stagnation stifles Taiwan’s middle class

The average Taiwanese wage is about half that of the average Korean wage. Just a few years ago, Taiwan was ahead and now it’s fallen so far behind. Worse still, 32 percent of Taiwanese people report that they are worse off than they were 10 years ago. No wonder the average guy on the street is gloomy.

One of the great things about teaching EFL is seeing the different responses of each class to the same material. My old Monday/Thursday class finished reading Pocahontas (the 45 page Oxford Bookworms version) a bit back, and they enjoyed it quite a bit. One student had a few difficulties with all the new words, and the Indian names in particular, but even she got into it by the end. The interesting thing with this class, though, was their reaction to the story.

Most classes talk about how they think it was great that Pocahontas lived with in Jamestown and learned English, or how it was exciting that she went to England, or how John Smith should have married her, or how the Indians should have killed the English settlers. Not this class, though. Nope. All they wanted to talk about was how bad John Smith was. And not for how he handled the Algonquin, either. Nope. He was veeeerry bad because he went back to England while nearly dying from an illness and didn’t send a letter to Pocahontas, who was only 14 and didn’t know how to read yet anyway. What an insensitive jerk!

I’ve recently discovered that all the comments I’ve made on for over a month have been invisible to the rest of the world. I had no idea, though, because reddit makes it look like they’re visible by displaying them to me while I’m logged in.

Reddit Deceived Me 2

If you click through to Zooomr, I’ve set up some portals on the picture that illustrate what I’m talking about. On the left browser, I’m logged in as “xiaoma”, and my comment is visible. On the right side, I’m not logged in, and my comment is mysteriously missing.

I knew I’d been spending a bit much time reading and “participating” in reddit comment threads recently… but when I found out that all that time was spent in vain, it felt like I’d been punched in the gut. All this time I thought I was engaging with a discussion with netizens the world over, but instead, I’ve been typing in a vacuum.

Reddit, I used to be your biggest fan, but now I feel unclean even linking to you. Either your code is buggy, or you banned my account (except for my submission that hit #1). I can’t even fathom why my account would have been gagged, either. I’ve been reading through my comment history and both less profane and more thought out than most of what I see in the comment threads. You need look no further than the profane comment right below mine that wasn’t censored to see what I’m talking about.

Update 10/13/2007: It appears that Reddit is up to some other kinds of “covert” censorship.

Update 10/14/2007: My comments have mysteriously re-appeared, and this story has equally mysteriously been deleted from Reddit.

Update 10/21/2007: Now, reddit shows all my comments as “deleted”… unless I’m logged in, in which case it looks like nothing’s wrong. This whole business of trying to deceive the user is ridiculous.

Update 10/31/2007: The comments are visible again.

Oh, how I love xkcd.

Shopping Teams

Ron Paul is the undisputed “internet candidate”, but he’s not the only one to get a boost from Youtube. Barack Obama has also been able to turn the net to his advantage, largely due to his mild anti-war stance. Despite the vast number of political connections and pre-built fundraising infrastructure that Hillary Clinton has at her disposal, Obama has beaten her out as the top fund raiser. The internet is almost certainly the reason.

Vote Different
This ad is a re-mix of Apple’s famous anti-IBM ad played during the 1984 superbowl. Now, Hillary is “big brother”.

“I Got a Crush…On Obama”
This one is a music video.

While Obama doesn’t have nearly the number of videos out there, his popular videos are absolutely huge. They are also very, very well produced. For the most part, they focus on feelings, not political issues. This may be because Obama’s platform is so similar to Clinton’s.

Don’t tread on me
This video is completely about the issues, and is filled with debate clips and quotations.

Stop Dreaming
This video showcases Ron Paul’s most controversial ideas, once again with factual information.

I want Ron Paul
This is the only purely “emotional” Ron Paul video I managed to turn up. It is very low-budget compared to any of Obama’s. It is overflowing with conviction, though.

All in all, Ron Paul’s videos look more like a genuine grass-roots attempt. There are no sophisticated graphics, some words are misspelled, and each has a smaller reach. There are thousands of them, though! In total, Ron Paul’s Youtube channel has 19,887 subscribers, leaving Obama in a distant second with 8,736. No other candidate tops 5,000 yet.

Ever since I visited the Chinese Pod office last summer, I’d been meaning to really put in some time listening to their podcasts. Unfortunately, one thing came up after another- I changed jobs, I moved twice, Martin and I got really into watching DS9, etc… It wasn’t until this last couple of weeks that I actually bought an MP3 player and started listening to multiple CPods every day.
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Writing online for the past year and a half or so has introduced me to a lot of new friends. But beyond that, it’s also had a certain way of dredging up the past.
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