The Blob

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Building the energy internet

I just caught an interesting article on the Web site of The Economist titled Building the energy internet. It's forward looking, perhaps a tad optimistic, but well written. The article talks about transforming today's dumb electricity grid into a smart, responsive and self-healing digital network - in short, an 'energy internet. It points out how backwards the energy grid of much of the civilized world really is, and you asked 50 million residents of the US Northeast and eastern Canada who suffered several major blackouts that, they would strongly agree.

In last summer's blackout, managers of major energy plants had to call each other by phone to discover they had a problem. Given the aging technology they had to work with, they were slow to solve the problem, or at least patch it. And our society, which is dependent on a reliable supply of energy to function, is more vulnerable than ever to a falling tree or a terrorist act. Fortunately, some bright minds are working on how to make the energy grid much more responsive, progressive and reliable. The article is fascinating reading, and an interesting look into the future of what could be.

For an insightful and often very funny counterpart, check out the reader comments to the article on Slashdot. There are many bright minds and witty wags who congregate there, perhaps the best collection of thought you can find just about anywhere on the Web. Enjoy.

Life without Starbucks

My name is Brian and for 12 years, I've been a Starbucks addict.

That's usually how it starts when you are breaking a habit. Don't get me wrong. I love coffee. And I really like Starbucks Coffee, despite the fact that they're pretty corporate. The truth is, as American-based coffee establishments go, they do a surprisingly good job. And for over a decade, I have been a loyal customer.

But hopefully no more.

It's not that I hate Starbucks. I don't. They're nice people. And from what I can see, they appear to try to play pretty fair with coffee politics, as much as the pressures of business might allow them. Others might disagree, and I'll leave those arguments to them. But truth be told, the first I heard of the issues over Fair Trade and Shade Grown Coffee was from them.

That's not what this entry is about though. For me, the reason I stopped Starbucks, and coffee for that matter has to do with what coffee and any other caffeine-based stimulant was doing to me. Perhaps I'd built a tolerance to coffee. In the past year or so, I sensed that instead of my morning perk waking me up, it was actually doing the opposite. In mid-morning or mid-afternoon meetings, I could feel myself crashing. Staying awake could be a serious challenge. And this was often not long after I'd slammed down yet another latte or macchiato.

But there was more. I began to get very nervous. Not amped, but nervous. I would stutter if stressed. And this was not from cup after cup 'o java, but even just one. It was a little voice inside me that cried out to stop. So I did. Instead of having a morning cup that I assumed I would need, I passed on it. And after a couple of days of experimentation, drinking only water, I discovered something. Instead of being sleepy at key times of the day, I actually felt better. Instead of a roller coaster of energy and lethargy, I was steady.

Why didn't I discover this before?

It's really tough to break a habit, especially with something that gave you comfort, a chance to socialize and a slight feeling of being hip (along with everybody else). But stepping back, I realized that much as I love coffee, I don't need it. In fact, I might be much better for it. In over a week since going cold turkey, I'm actually more alert and much more calm. I really never expected that. My bladder feels a lot better too. But I'm happy that at least for me, I did something better.

And there's another plus: Imagine how much money I can save.

Ciao, Starbucks. Thanks for everything.