Archive | August, 2014

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Food Should Be Available to All

Posted on 22 August 2014 by Jerry

I wonder if there was sufficient food in the Garden of Eden?  Why is there so much starvation in the United States?  Do we not have plenty of food for everyone?

We may have taken capitalism too far when our poorest citizens are starving.  This leads to big supermarkets avoiding neighborhoods where poor people live because these neighborhoods don’t represent viable business opportunities.  Something is wrong when an elaborate procedure and bureaucracy is set up to take donated food from retail stores, leading to more spoilage, and cart it to a central distribution facility where it is given out.

Having reviewed most of the various non-profit solutions to get surplus food to people that need it, the methods cover the full gamut.  This leads to a belief that we need an organizing principle to guide our efforts.  The most rational organizing principle was used in getting consumers to shop locally avoiding foods that have been sent from a long distance location somewhere around the world.

We should modify this principle to include the following thoughts:

  • We should work to eliminate the middleman between the food and the recipient.
  • We should focus on fruit or other produce that does not require refrigeration.
  • We should give special focus to nutritious foods rather than processed, high calorie junk food with little value to ongoing health.
  • If we have to transport food from its source we should look for the closest location and nearest distribution channel.
  • We need to look for alternate new distribution channels where necessary.
  • We should make minor changes to the responsibilities of existing resources to accomplish increased food distribution.

If we focus on fruit and produce, obviously the easiest distribution is from the fruit tree in the backyard and the residential owner of the property to the front.  In fact, people used to have gardens and plant multiple fruit trees on their property so they would always have fresh fruit and produce.  This was when people did not mind planting and harvesting, which included clean up.

An immediate suggestion would be that these same private fruit trees be repositioned on the property so any passerby can gain access directly to the fruit.  An alternative is that residents be given crates with which to move harvested fruit and surplus produce to the street in front of their house, much as recycling is done today.  This would make the food available to everyone.  These crates should be marked with a sign that says, “To Be Shared with Neighbors” or something similar.

Each city in America, which includes San Francisco, plants thousands of trees each year and takes care of large parks all over the city.  There is little reason beyond tradition that causes a city to select one tree over others or use supervised land for one purpose over another.

The Parks Department could be tasked with planting a variety of fruit trees in public orchards.  At certain times a year, these trees would bear fruit and notices of locations would be circulated.  Parks department employees would be re-tasked with planning these orchards, harvesting the fruit and putting it out for free distribution much as farmers used to do.

While supermarkets make food available for central distribution and do not want to attract an “undesirable” type of person to their locations, their insistence on central distribution increases deterioration of the foods.  This unnecessarily reduces the value of the contribution.

Supermarkets must realize that their customers sort themselves by type of food, location, times of being open, etc.  At the same time there is no part of major cities that do not have the poor or homeless nearby.  This is certainly true for most of San Francisco.

These supermarkets could make surplus foods available only at a few unpopular hours.  This food could be moved into pickup sites on their parking lots with the sites managed by representatives of the food banks that routinely pick the produce up for transport.  By delaying the pickup by a few hours these employees could be re-tasked with distribution before transport.

Again this would protect the freshness of the agricultural products and distribute the produce more widely.  Only the poor would go to the trouble of staying up to these undesirable hours, standing in line and braving their categorization as the urban poor.  It would provide more nutritious food for their consumption and would reduce other expenses, like medical care for malnutrition.

I am amazed however at how few religious organizations directly distribute food to the poor in their surrounding area.  While they each will tell you about the volunteers they send to food banks to pass out Thanksgiving turkeys or the bins they put out for parishioners to donate food they no longer want, they are really sidestepping the issue.  Where is their direct action?  At what door does the line form for those who want food?

These organizations enjoy their non-profit status granted to them by the citizens who pay taxes.  These are the citizens who allow donations to these non-profits to be tax-free.  If we want more of these organizations to distribute surplus food, we can require it as a condition of their non-profit status. This would represent a simple change in the law but it would be very controversial and require a lot of effort.  The religious lobby is very powerful.

Our society needs to restructure its priorities.  We must determine that redistribution of food to help those who need it is a primary objective of those in the grocery business, officials of our local cities and each citizen in their neighborhoods.

This is not a complete listing of steps that can be taken to reduce the intermediaries and simplify processes.  It should show however that concerted effort should be applied to solving the problem of urban hunger.  This is a shared challenge that joint efforts can surmount.  International hunger is another problem that only giving countries can address. This needs to be dealt with in another post.

I am encouraged by entrepreneurs who approach farmers to save fruit and vegetables they would normally toss.  These misshapen products can be sold on a secondary market at a lower price.  I encourage each of you to spend some time brainstorming solutions and to communicate your solutions to your neighbors, retailers in your community and local government.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents for this article. .  Go to section on Recreation and Open Space.  This covers parks and recreation, land use, etc. .  Use search box at upper right to find “Cost to raise a fruit tree”.   Select the first entry that is this document.

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We Need Entrepreneurs and Venture Capital

Posted on 09 August 2014 by Jerry

Who has not heard of Elon Musk?  He is one of the most publicized high tech investors and founders in Silicon Valley.  Everyone can agree that Mr. Musk is a visionary.

According to his profile on Wikipedia, he cofounded a web software company, Zip2, with his brother that was subsequently sold to Compaq for $307 million.  His share was 7% or $22 million.

In 1999 he was significantly involved in, an online financial services and e-mail payment company.  In 2000 merged with Confinity that ran a subsidiary called PayPal.  Subsequently the Board of Directors appointed Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal as its CEO.  Musk was the combined company’s largest shareholder that garnered him $165 million when the company was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion.

In 2002 Musk began SpaceX.  He cofounded the company with rocket propulsion engineer Tom Mueller.  In 2008 the company was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract for 12 flights to the International Space Station.  SpaceX was started with $100 million of Musk’s early fortune.

Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning incorporated the company, Tesla, in 2004.  With J.B. Straubel, and Ian Wright, Musk can argue he was founder since he was an early “A” round investor.  The company was founded in 2004.  Following the financial crisis of 2008 Musk assumed leadership of the company by becoming CEO and product architect.

Elon has since founded SolarCity, now the second largest provider of solar power systems in the U.S.  He is also is known for first articulating a plan for a super fast subsonic air travel machine called “Hyperloop” to stretch from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sylmar.  Sylmar is on the outer perimeter of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.

Given his propensity to spend relatively small amounts of dollars to accomplish what the government has spent many tens of billions of dollars to do, we may need an Elon Musk or other entrepreneur to tackle big projects at which the government has failed.  The success with SolarCity would come in quite helpful to solve the problem I have in mind.

Someone needs to engineer a breakthrough in power, specifically fusion power.  Fusion is distinguished from fission by the inherent processes involved.  Fission splits bigger particles into smaller particles.  Fusion forces together smaller particles to form larger ones.  Fission creates and leaves a large amount of radioactive materials.  Fusion, for all practical purposes, creates no radioactive materials to be dealt with after the fusion process.

There are four leading ways of creating the fusion process.  First is the government funded ITER.  The U.S. and others will have spent many tens of billions of dollars on developing a process using a giant tokamak.  According to the definition provided at the ITER web site, “ITER is based on the ‘tokamak’ concept of magnetic confinement, in which the plasma is contained in a doughnut-shaped vacuum vessel. The fuel—a mixture of deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen—is heated to temperatures in excess of 150 million°C, forming a hot plasma. Strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the walls; these are produced by superconducting coils surrounding the vessel, and by an electrical current driven through the plasma.”

This project is under multinational control and involves the combined efforts of China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S.  This project will not even begin its fueled experiments until 2027, 11 years behind schedule.  The project is expected to run over $50 billion, that is 10 times the original estimates.  This clearly represents the traditional governmental approach.  It is clearly a failure.

The second approach that is venture capital funded is Tri Alpha. An article in the July 24, 2014 issue of Nature magazine describes the project by the secretive Tri Alpha as unconventional.  “Instead of using the doughnut-shaped ‘tokamac’ reactor….Tri Alpha is testing a linear reactor that it claims will be smaller, simpler, and cheaper and will lead to commercial fusion power in little more that a decade, far ahead of the 30 to 50 years often quoted for tokamacs.”  This company is founded and led by Dr. Norman Rostoker who is 89 years old and Dale Prouty who is the CEO.

The second company to watch is General Fusion, a Canadian company founded by Michael Laberge in 2002.  The General Fusion objective is a reactor that is a “magnetized target reactor that uses magnetized rings of plasma that are injected into a vortex of liquid metal.  Pistons punch the metal inwards, compressing the plasma to ignite fusion.”

The third and final venture funded company to watch is Helion Energy of Redmond, Washington.  Votroubek Slough is the chief scientific officer of Helion.  He says they are developing a linear colliding-beam reactor that would be small enough to be carried on the back of a large truck.  The Helion web site describes their process as follows:

  1. Formation -Plasma is generated by ionizing gas in a Field Reversed Configuration
    1. Accelerator -Plasma is accelerated to high velocities using pulsed magnetic fields
    2. Collision -Two plasmas are collided and compressed to transfer kinetic energy to heat
    3. Burn Chamber -Conditions are formed to initiate fusion of  fuel
    4. Energy Generation -Fusion plasma is converted to i) direct energy ii) fuel for further operation

It is unclear which, if any, venture capital funded start-up will solve the fusion challenge.  It may turn out we have multiple alternatives.  It is clear, in any case, that big governments with bloated budgets and large bureaucracies cannot solve the challenges using the technologies they have selected.

Where is Elon Musk when we need his genius?  Maybe his name will be Norman Rostoker or Michel Laberge or Votroubek Slough.  It may be someone not mentioned in this article.  We do however need a solution now if we are to save the planet and ourselves from global warming.

See the following articles for more information or access to the source documentation used in this article.

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