Feb 28, 2011

The case against grid gas

From the EarthTalk files...

Dear EarthTalk: I heard someone say that the environmental benefits of natural gas for electricity generation were overstated and that it is not as green-friendly as the industry would have us believe. What is your take on this?

In our increasingly carbon-constrained world, natural gas (also known as methane) does keep coming up as a potentially cleaner fuel source for electricity generation than coal, currently the nation’s primary source of electrical power. Natural gas advocates argue that it generates 50 percent fewer greenhouse gases than coal when burned. And since natural gas is more widely available than ever, thanks to newer more efficient—though in some cases environmentally damaging—extraction techniques, some think it should be playing a larger role in a transition away from coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Today over 50 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal; natural gas accounts for less than 20 percent.

But scientists aren’t so sure natural gas should play any part in solving the climate crisis. A 2007 lifecycle analysis of natural gas production, distribution and consumption found that when one factors in the total emissions associated with not only the end use of natural gas but also its extraction and distribution—much of it can leak when it is pulled out of the ground and then piped to power plants and other customers—it doesn’t seem so much cleaner than coal after all.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that loose pipe fittings and intentional venting for safety purposes on natural gas lines cause annual greenhouse gas emissions rivaling that produced by 35 million cars each year. The World Bank estimates that emissions from natural gas extraction operations alone account for over a fifth of the atmosphere’s total load of climate-changing methane.

When scientists evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions of energy sources over their full lifecycle and incorporate the methane emitted during production, the advantage of natural gas holds true only when it is burned in more modern and efficient plants,” reports Abrahm Lustgarten on the investigative news website, ProPublica. “But roughly half of the 1,600 gas-fired power plants in the United States operate at the lowest end of the efficiency spectrum.”

He adds that, while the median U.S. gas-fired power plant emits 40 percent fewer greenhouse gases than a typical coal plant, some 800 inefficient plants offer only a 25 percent improvement. The fact that methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas—the EPA says methane is 20 times more effective trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) —makes it even less appealing as a replacement for coal.

“The problem is you build a gas plant for 40 years,” James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the largest power companies in the U.S., told ProPublica. “That’s a long bridge. What if, with revelations around methane emissions, it turns out to be only a 10 or 20 percent reduction of carbon from coal? If that’s true, gas is not the panacea.” Rogers himself is an advocate for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

But with the Obama administration still keen on mining domestic natural gas reserves versus upping our reliance on foreign oil, natural gas will likely continue to play a role in the energy mix for some time yet.

(EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.)

Photo courtesy David R. Tribble, Wikipedia

Feb 25, 2011

Local blogger takes up media slack

John Tighe leads charge against NXIVM forces

Alleged cult's worst nightmare: a guy with nothing to lose

You sure haven't read any of this in The Saratogian, have you?

Support real journalism: pay for it

Saratoga Springs --- The most interesting Capital Region media story of the past year has been the ongoing battle royal between Saratoga native John Tighe and NXIVM, the controversial group that offers 'ethical humanitarian' personal coaching and seminars through its related Executive Success Programs. A number of critics (and former members) allege that the Saratoga county-based organization's practices qualify as cult-like.

Tighe, through his local affairs blog Saratoga In Decline, waded into these waters in pursuit of an alleged connection between NXIVM and the Democrats for Change political insurgency mob in his hometown. While that direct link remains at least partially unresolved, the eye opening, sordid history of the NXIVM gang became too much for Tighe to ignore, and he has since devoted the majority of his investigative reporting efforts to leading the ever-increasing worldwide media scrutiny against the group.

Each day promises a new round of "you can't make this stuff up" allegations on his site, with full doses of intrigue, including salacious allegations of fraud, sexual deviancy, child kidnapping, murder, brainwashing, harassment, dirty tricks, extortion, duped heiresses, courtroom battles, betrayal, money laundering, tax evasion, the Dalai Lama, hired goons .... hell, this stuff makes one's head spin. Mr Tighe is more than happy to do that spinning.

But churning out regular bites of this Made for Hollywood plot is not cheap, as Tighe incurs considerable expenses for everything from travel costs to court reporting subscriptions to phone bills for talking with his sources to more.

Those interested in supporting this type of attack dog journalism -- which is rapidly disappearing form the playbook of traditional media -- should SERIOUSLY consider making a small donation to his efforts. You can do so by tossing a few bucks at him through the proper button on his site. I did, and I am not scared to admit it!

Front and center to this story is the group's philosophical guru, one Keith Raniere , known within the loyal tribe as the Vanguard. A mysterious fellow --- with a supposed propensity for midnight volleyball games, brunette sex partners, making outrageous personal accomplishment claims and investing other people's fortunes in failed commodities & real estate schemes -- the man behind a past multi-level marketing enterprise that was shut down by agreement with various state authorities provides an interesting counterpoint figure to our local blogmaster.

So, in the spirit of properly framing this Mano A Mano face off, I present the Tale of the Tape between contestants Keith Raniere and John Tighe:

Feb 24, 2011

Putnam Den steps up to Capital Region's live music forefront

April 20 Rusted Root show signals expanded bookings

Saratoga Springs --- Opportunity presents itself in a number of manners.

The unfulfilled demand for a specific product is one of the key examples of such; and the ability to recognize that opening and then execute a strategy to fill its void will reward those few that can do both. There lies the formula for successful business enterprise building.

Saratogians Jonathan and Tiffany Albert, owners of the Putnam Den entertainment venue in the downtown district, are nearly two years into such an initiative. Their reading of that city's live music landscape --- dominated by cover bands but lacking a year-round stage for original artists, both touring and local --- resulted in the couple's major remodeling investment of the former Backstreet Billiards and the creation of the Spa City's most-buzzed gathering spot.

The void was filled, and the party flows with constant and consistent foot traffic.

Now, with that early momentum and success under the belt, the Alberts have elected to up-the-ante on April 20th, where they will host the first of many planned high-profile and popular national acts with the appearance of the multi-platinum world music-meets-jam band act Rusted Root hitting the stage for a 9PM performance. Tickets available here.

The Pittsburgh based band has been playing since 1992, building a loyal following based on its high energy live shows. Its radio friendly hit Send Me On My Way put the band into the stratosphere , making them one of the major acts in the nation, circa Y2K. Although a few years past that peak, Rusted Root remains a very popular summer festival attraction; the Putnam Den show will serve as one of their rare and final 2011 indoor gigs before that open air season kicks in.

With the show, the Alberts are, in essence, announcing that their 500+ capacity venue is now the premier mid-sized music room in the Capital Region, picking up the considerable slack left by the closing of the beloved Revolution Hall in Troy. There lies another void needing a fill-in.

Here's to that vision. Now let's all support this valuable community resource by attending these types of shows, or even placing the occasional orgnaizational / social mixer into the facility as a means of giving the business community a taste of creative art -- and creative entrepreneurship.


(Disclaimer: the author assisted in the booking/contractual aspect of the Rusted Root event referenced in this article. He has no financial interest in the business. )

Feb 23, 2011

Big Media strikes (out) again

IVI.TV ruling shuts down cable's new thorn

Blinders? Yes. But monopoly protection, too

I'm not what you call a big TV Guy: 90% of the offerings across the digital cable universe are pure cultural garbage, in my humble opinion. In fact, that 90% might even be a tad conservative a figure. Just give me an occasional PBS hit, with a ball game now and then along with my regular bites of Family Guy and the Simpsons – and I am pretty much good to go.

My good friends at Time Warner Cable (in New York) and Comcast (in Massachusetts) will satisfy my entertainment desires for a cost of .... well, I don't know how much! Both companies have a real tough time laying-out pricing figures to interested parties: I just spent ten minutes on each one's site and still do not understand what it would cost me. But I do at least know that it's quite a bit of dough for each location ($67+ taxes?); times two, given my dual residence status.

But I found a nice little workaround, so to speak, several months back. It is an online (of course) service called IVI.TV. In summary, here's how it works:

Over the air television broadcasts from four major metro areas (NYC, LA, Seattle and Chicago) are piped, in real time, right into my PC and then relayed to that big monitor sitting right over there in my comfy living room(s).

So, I am now able to view the national prime time broadcasts of ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and CW, plus local programming (news, syndicated re-runs) from those four markets listed. Neither of my two local markets (Boston and Albany) are yet in the mix, but I really don't care: none offer any value as far as delivering local news that I cannot get from other, superior sources.

My needs are met. My cost? A grand total of $4.95 per month; times one. I even get a few bonus channels, such as Bloomberg Financial and Retro TV, just for kicks. Hallelujah.

But that party just ended yesterday. A Federal court shut down the service, based on legal whining from the old school broadcast/cable cabal. Their argument is basically this: “IVI.TV is profiting from our efforts, and we don't like it one bit.”

A few points are needed to put this in perspective:

1)All of the channels involved are available FREE of charge to the consumer in the markets in which they are broadcast, when consumed in the traditional thru-the-air format

2)IVI.TV is not adding, deleting or changing any aspect of the content. In particular: it is not selling and placing its own advertising into the programming.

3)IVI.TV makes a monthly royalty payment to the US Copyright office.

IVI/TV's argument has been that its service fell under the compulsory license aspect (must carry) of the Copyright Act as applied to cable systems. The federal judge rejected that claim, declaring that IVI is not a cable system, hence such logic does not apply. Appeals are already in play.

None of this would be necessary, of course, if not for the fact that Big Media is perturbed about the whole concept. If we lived in a logical world, such a reaction would certainly be a head scratcher. After all, the long-established broadcast model is based on a rather simple formula: maximize eyeballs as a means of maximizing advertising revenue. Enter this new kid on the block, which is not only lending some muscle to that mission, but not even charging for its effort. Heck, it's even trying to pay for the privilege!

So, why isn't Big Media reacting in a logical manner, and not happily greeting its fresh new, energetic, free and proven business partner into the family? Is it just general stupidity? Well yes, but it's also a bit more of a mess than that. Welcome to the corrupt world of Old Media, and the ugly consequences of industry deregulation and its logical consequence of consolidation.

As if the dominant laissez-faire conservative approach to the Gov't/Industry dynamic hasn't done enough damage to American mass-entertainment (think: ClearChannel; Ticketmaster, program syndication, etc) by employing the classic vertical monopoly playbook, it now kicks more dirt into our face with the recent approval that allows one of the nation's dominant cable carriers (Comcast) ownership rights of one of the nation's dominant content producers (NBC Universal).

It's not the first time: the other dominant cable company, Time Warner, also owns content: TBS, HBO, Warner Brothers, CNN, etc. There's your “get out of the way of business” for you; so who cares about free, fair and equal markets? Let it be damned!

So there lies the 'illogical' response on the part of the broadcast networks, which were party to this suit along with their cable brethren. Even though the extra eyeballs being provided by IVI.TV directly benefits them, it harms the carriers. Why? Because people like me (and you) have one more reason to walk away from cable and take that $60-$200 per month with me (us). They're all under the same roof and watching the same stock ticker, after all. Brothers in arms.

Because it's all one big clusterfuck, it's really not so illogical after all, is it?

Robert Millis is principal of the Millis Group (Albany & Boston), a strategic advisory firm specializing in the media, internet, energy and entertainment fields. Email him at RMillis (at) the site named: TechValleyTimes.com

Feb 19, 2011

Live & in-person music (partial list)

Today's mega time waster

a) I actually remember it! (obviously)
b) Touring acts of at least minimal renown
c) Does not include local, cover, bar bands, etc
d) Does not include the one semi-famous band for whom I very briefly played

I know I am forgetting a few, but here we go, alphabetically:

Albert Cummings
Allman Bros
Amy Lavere
Arlo Guthrie
B B King
Big Head Todd & Monsters
Black Crowes
Blind Melon
Bruce Springsteen & E Street
Carbon Leaf
Carrie Rodriguez
Charlie Daniels
Charlie Hunter
Commander Cody LPA
Count Basie
Crosby & Nash
Crooked Still
Dap Kings
David Bowie
David Bromberg
David Johannsen
David Sanborn
David Sancious & Tone
Deep Purple
Dire Straits
Dixie Dregs
Donna the Buffalo
Doobie Bros
Drive by Truckers
Earth Opera
Eddie Money
Ellen Mcilwayne
Elton John
Elvin Bishop
Emerson Lake and Palmer
Eric Clapton
Fear of Strangers
Fleetwood Mac
Frank Zappa
George Benson
George Harrsion
Grace Potter & Nocturnals
Grass Roots
Grateful Dead
Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass
Humble Pie
James Cotton
J Geils Band
James Gang
Jean Luc Ponty
Jeff Beck
Jefferson Starship
Joe Jackson
John Hiatt
John Mayall
Jonathan Edwards
Jorma Kaukonen
Lee Boys
Lee Ritenour
Leo Kottke
Levon Helm
Little Feat
Loggins & Messina
Lonnie Mack
Los Lobos
Los Straitjackets
Lovin Spoonful
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Mahavishnu Orchestra
Marshall Tucker
Max Creek
Medeski Martin & Wood
Melvin Sparks
Missing Persons
Mott the Hoople
Neil Young
New Riders of the Purple Sage
New York Dolls
North Miss All Stars
Ominous Seapods
Pat Metheny
Peter Frampton
Peter Gabriel
Pink Floyd
Pousette Dart
Project Percolator
Pure Prairie League
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Return to Forever
Robert Hazard & the Heroes
Roger McGuinn
Rolling Stones
Romeo Void
Roy Buchanan
Sam Bush
Sarah Borges & Broken Singles
Sea Level
Seven Nations
Simple Minds
Stephen Stills
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Susan Tedeschi - Derek Trucks
Tallest Man on Earth
Three Dog Night
Wynton Marsallis

Feb 16, 2011

How to reinvent a city

In the good news department:

It's so refreshing to see an example of urban renaissance, where a down & out old Industrial Age relic of a town can show significant signs of making a comeback into something fresh and exciting. In this case, that story belongs to Hudson, New York.

Here's part of the story, highlighting how the burgeoning creative-music scene is playing a major role in this turnaround.

This is a model that I have personally long-advocated for both Albany and Saratoga Springs. But who listens to me ...

Hudson, NY --- Once construction was finally done, Club Helsinki Hudson proceeded to have such a prolonged, soft opening—months of sound checks, followed by a long wait for the chef, Hugh Horner, to finally take up his post—there was never a clear ta-dum! moment for the rejoicing to begin. READ ON

When Albany shines..

Feb 2, 2011

Stay classy, Albany!

Albany rarely makes the national news for anything of significance, but at least it gets some play on World Star Hip Hop!