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April 21, 2010

data economy

I keep thinking about economics, which is difficult because I don't know much about the subject.

At work I've become the data person. I love numbers when they relate to something concrete - the latter part of that sentence is just important as the first part (and why I am not a mathematician). My assumption is that economics is relational data. It is based on measuring the flow of energy, in the form of goods and services and sometimes dollars or other currency. However, too often it seems to just measure the flow in a straight line instead of a circular one - with "waste" being the end product. As a Buddhist I know there is no such thing as waste - or if there is it is a verb and not a noun. I'd like to study the difference between what I call "traditional linear" economics and a circular one - which is what I believe we are moving into as we realize how small this planet is and how finite our resources are.

In the February edition of the Economist (I am still catching up on my reading), there is a special section on data. I had never thought of data as a "waste product" until reading this:
Mr Mundie of Microsoft and Eric Schmidt, the boss of Google, sit on a presidential task force to reform American healthcare. "Early on in this process Eric and I both said: 'Look, if you really want to transform health care, you basically build a sort of health-care economy around the data that relate to people'," Mr Mundie explains. "You would not just think of data as the 'exhaust' of providing health services, but rather they become a central asset in trying to figure out how you would improve every aspect of health care. It's a bit of an inversion."

This inversion is exactly the sort we talk about in the zero-waste world, where we too feel we are at the exhaust pipe of the production chain, catching whatever those dudes at the top feel like feeding through the engine. Who knew that zero-waste and health care reform had so much in common?

What other applications will wake up to waste created by thinking linear instead of circular (and who knew the latter could ever be a good thing). In a circular economy, as in the real world, there is no tail pipe, there is no "away". The smoke that leaves the engine simply enters our bodies, plants, and whatever else happens to be around. Not only does it cause physical harm, but as the tech geeks above mention, it is a wasted opportunity too. Do a quick search how many airplanes can be built each year from the aluminum we casually discard. And now I wonder, how much information is lost because systems aren't designed around getting the most out it. I'd love to start thinking about how to design a system, an economy centered around no tail pipe. But first I should probably learn more about our current economies work.

February 21, 2009

got dirt?

Have I told you yet?

I've got worms. Actually, I have had them for quite some time and have learned exactly what not to do:

1. Don't over feed your worms by a zillion pounds - especially not a zillion pounds of healthy organic locally grown squash seeds
2. Make sure you bury all your food deep below the newspaper - even if it is "just a few tea leaves"
3. Check on your worms frequently, even if you know you have over fed them and are trying to "just let them do their thing uninterrupted".

The result of my bad behavior was a ton of squash sprouts and a ton of fruit flies (if you can imagine how many fruit flies it would take to weigh a ton, you'll have a glimmer of how many were breeding in my apartment).

Anyhow, that was all weeks and weeks ago. I managed to get rid of the fruit flies (it felt like a second job for about a week), and I haven't put any new food in my worm bin for at least a month. I also left them at work for several weeks, figuring that fruit flies were less likely to survive and reproduce in an office space than in my kitchen.

I finally brought them home last week.

So today, since I was re-potting my giant bamboo plant, I found myself digging through worms, worm poo (looks, smells, and feels like really really rich black soil) trying to harvest some of this special "dirt" they produce. You know, it felt kinda like spring!

Okay, not really, but a girl can get desperate in the depths of February in Minnesota.

In the short time I have had my worms, they have been busy (overfeeding them probably helped). I could not believe how many eggs, little babies, and big worms I came across as I was trying to sort out their doo to add to my plant dirt. I knew from my worm composting class that the dirt would be teeming with life but it was still cool to see all the little critters (not only worms but also various little bugs) skitter and run about as I disturbed their cozy eco-system. I also pulled out quite a few more squash sprouts. Is it close enough to Spring that I should be replanting those in their own container?

February 11, 2008

Lindy

I went to my umpteenth Lindy Hop class tonight. It was a bit frustrating and involved a lot of practice and an unfortunately amount of arm twisting (and my arm really shouldn't be twisted these days due to a strain that occurred during one of my favorite winter activities). Sometimes I think I don't like learning new things as much as I like having learned new things.

When I am in the muddle of it - practicing and practicing - life can be pretty frustrating. However, once I have practiced it enough that I can lift up my head, enjoy the music, and not trip over my feet - that is the part about learning I really like. These days (at least with Lindy Hop) it feels like a lot of work to get there.

Sigh...

February 05, 2008

Don't eat off of a hot cd

This just in - plastic is bad for you. Okay, that is old news. However, scientists are continuing to do studies on Bisphenol A, an endocrine/hormone distrupter that is used in making polycarbonate plastics (baby bottles, nalgene bottles, and CDs). They've already known for awhile that as you wash and scrub your plastics toxins leach into your water (or other liquid). However, this new study shows that when you pour boiling water on the plastic (like to sterilize a baby bottle) Bisphenol A is released 55 tims more quickly.

You can read the serious story here

January 21, 2008

Play

I saw the Carolina Chocolate Drops tonight. They were amazing - old timey blue grass music played by young charismatic musicians. It was an educational show with the majority of the audience being high school students and a few kids of other ages. As I watched them perform, laugh, talk, and have a good time on stage I realized that what I was seeing was "structured play".

Continue reading "Play" »

January 13, 2008

ice play

I played hockey for the second time today. Well, it could probably be loosely defined as hockey. We have ice, sticks, skates (most of us) and goals.

I am amazed at how much fun can be had with those ingredients plus a few good-humored people on a sunny freezing day in winter.

Continue reading "ice play" »

December 09, 2007

Economies of Scale

I've been listening to a lecture on Economics by Timothy Taylor and reading "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. The two creating an interesting contrast.

Taylor mentions how we can increase our output by using economies of scale and a division of labor. For example, a shoe factory now days has a huge output and shoes are made by people doing a ton of repetitive tasks. However, what Taylor doesn't mention is decline in quality that happens when you divide the labor and go for maximum. Actually, if anything he insinuates that there is an increase in quality because people can become increasingly good at their little area. However, when you divide the labor up so much that people no longer identify with the finished product - you get serious problems in quality.

The other issue with the so-called economies of scale is that they aren't always true. Sometimes it is more expensive to make something in large batches - this is made apparent by factory farming. On a small farm manure is considered a fertilizer and is a welcome addition to fields. However on a large farm there is no much manure that it is considered hazardous waste and there isn't a decent way to get rid of it. The large amounts of antibiotics (fed to the animals) don't help either - once again this medication isn't necessary on a small farm where animals aren't subject to over crowding and unclean conditions.

I think pollution in general hasn't been considered in the economists' discussion on this debate.

I haven't finished listening to the lecture yet. Perhaps Taylor will get into this aspect more. I'd love to hear an in depth discussion about when economies of scale actually make sense and when they are a detriment due to the increased pollution, decline in product quality, cost of transportation, and general fluctuations of the market (a large facility isn't able to respond to market change very quickly). I think the increased focus on small and local businesses reflects people's growing awareness of these issues but I have yet to hear anyone seriously talk about balancing them.

December 03, 2007

Word

My word of the week - I actually stumbled across this one being used legitimately

Putrescible: Liable to become putrid.

July 15, 2007

rinse and repeat and repeat and repeat

I've had that chorus stuck in my head for a few days now. It keeps going round and round. I leave it, dance a few steps but fall right back into the same old rhythm. Other times I leave it, sing a few notes, make up some words, learn a new rhyme, and then fall right back into the familiar chorus.

Accepting the repetitive nature of life has never been easy for me. At age 16 I felt like I was making a huge commitment by getting bracing. The thought of wearing something in my mouth for 3 years straight was overwhelming. It never even occurred to me to find a chorus I liked and could return to regularly for 80 years.

I knew learning to dance would be enlightening - but I thought it would be more about communicating with others - it never occurred to me that I would find an analogy for how to balance my love of exploring and learning new things with my need for a solid steady foundation.

Wow.

July 13, 2007

dancing for two

Last night I went swing dancing for the first time. I love to dance - by myself. I get into the music and it speaks to me and I move and have a great time. I forget about the external universe, I forget about other people (except to avoid bumping into them) and just sink into a world of movement and music.

However, recently I decided that it is time to learn to dance with other people. Hogging the music to myself is selfish and frankly, I am ready for the challenge of including other people in my fabulous world.

So two weeks I went Cajun Zydeco dancing twice (and loved it - I totally dig that music) and even went Salsa dancing for the practice (I am just not super crazy about that music) and finally went Swing dancing last night.

Dancing was a revelationary - perhaps it was that I finally got the right lesson, the right dance partner, or the right music. Or perhaps it was how enchanting it is to watch other people swing dance and dissect what they are doing. Regardless the way dances fit together awed me as I realized that the dance steps are the chorus in a dance.

To any dancers out there this may seem like "duh" but to me it was an eye-opening concept. This is why I have to learn the steps - not just in my mind but in my feet. No matter what happens, no matter what I do, how I mess up or get distracted, I need to be able to fall back into the rhythm with the music and my dance partner.

This brings up a lot more concepts too (like how no one really likes a song that is all chorus and explains a bit about how musicians can "jam" - never mind all the communication analogies I could easily spin from this idea).

And I am sure there are a zillion more things to learn about (and from) dance. As a beginner I plan to marvel and appreciate the revelations as they come.