Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

With apologies to the C+C Music Factory, I have to continue on the theme of articles from the paper that just make you scratch your head.

February 1, 2009 – The Indianapolis Star – Mercury found is found in corn sweetener – Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage where it is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient.

Hmmmm, mercury in corn syrup, wonder if it came from the CORN?

February 2, 2009 – The Indianapolis Star – TESTING THE WATERS – HOOSIER STREAMS STILL HAVE HIGH LEVELS OF MERCURY – Levels of mercury remain high in several Indiana streams and rivers, despite years of effort to reduce the contaminant, which can cause neurological damage.

Hmmmm, mercury in water, wonder if it came from the AIR?

Ok, so what’s the big deal? What’s a little mercury among friends? Hmmmm, mercury affects the human brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. It has affect on your ability to feel, to see, to taste and even to move. Your fingers and toes can tingle (and not in a good way), your mouth can become numb and you can experience tunnel vision. Continued exposure can cause symptoms to progressively worsen and can even change your personality, cause stupor and even comas. In women that are pregnant the mercury can pass along to the fetus where it affects development of the brain and nervous system. The risk of this in occurring is so great the federal government recommends that women you are pregnant or who may become pregnant not eat mercury-contaminated fish.

48 states have issued warnings not to consume certain species of fish caught in some or all of their rivers and streams. That’s more than 14,000,000 acres of lakes. More than 80 percent of the samples tested in Indiana contained detectable levels of mercury. Good luck on Fridays during lent women!

So what’s the big deal about “detectable levels” of mercury? It only takes 1/70th of one teaspoon to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that the fish are unsafe to consume.

So, where is this mercury coming from you ask? Thermometers? Uh, hardly! Coal! Coal-fired plants are the single largest source of airborne mercury in the United States. These plants spew over 50 TONS of this poison into the air and water. Mercury can stay airborne for over a year and travel thousands of miles before it falls into our lakes and rivers, or ON TO OUR CORN (if it is falling on to our corn, what other foods are being contaminated?) In fact, coal-fired heat and power production is the single largest contributor of mercury emissions into the air we breathe.

The brings us to clean coal (whatever THAT is), clean coal gets rid of all this right? Nope, current clean technologies do nothing, zero, zilch, zippo, nada, non to remove mercury either from the emissions or from the sludge created by either scrubbing the coal prior to burning it or by the burn process itself. In fact, since the sludge from scrubbing is used for landfill material it probably hits our water and food supply FASTER. Experimental processes to remove mercury costs about $761,000/kg of mercury removed and is only 90% effective (remember that 1/70th of one teaspoon?).

With all that information, I was stunned to learn of a bill in the Indiana House this year that included COAL as a renewable energy source. Yes, coal! Exactly how a resource that takes a couple million years to form is considered renewable I don’t know. But, you have to remember, Indiana has the largest concentration of coal-fired plants in the country. Believe it or not, this bill actually passed committee, while several other environmental bills were not even heard in committee.

I urge you, dear readers, (sound like Ann Landers, don’t I?), take notice of power plant permits being issued or considered in your state. Urge your legislators and government official to not allow one more single coal-fired plant to be built or expanded anywhere in this country. Once we accomplish that, then we can go talk to China about their coal-fired plants!

From cough Indiana cough thanks for cough listening.

I must apologize to all my faithful readers; I’ve been silent now for a couple of weeks. Frankly, I’ve been stunned into silence by something I read. The Missouri River is sinking. Yes, sinking. In some areas between Nebraska and St. Louis the river is now 12 feet lower than it was 50 years ago, relatively the same amount of water, but the bottom of the river as “sunk”.

What stunned me was this…scientist and engineers are trying to figure why. Really? The word EROSION comes to mind, but what do I know. The article went on to say that the engineers are trying to figure out what to do about it. Really? Another word comes to mind…NOTHING!

Now, I love all rivers, but I have a special affinity to the Missouri River. This River, by most accounts is the longest river in the United States. It begins in the mountains of Montana and carves its way for over 2600 miles to the Mississippi. It is UP this river that Lewis and Clark and their men (and one woman and an infant) rowed, poled, pushed, and pulled their boats in an attempt to discover a northwest passage over 200 years ago. It is UP this river, that I myself, once planned to retrace their steps (or strokes as the case may be) in a canoe. Operative word is PLANNED, until an acquaintance from Kansas City exclaimed, “You are going to do WHAT on the Missouri River? Have you SEEN the Missouri River?”

The Missouri has cut its path across the western United States since the last ice age. During those thousands of years its channel has “wandered” across the plains, especially south of the Dakotas and into Missouri. What I mean by wandered is that it continues to cut new paths through the sandy soil. Lewis and Clark campsites that were on the north side of the river 200 years ago, are now on the south. Sections of river they traveled are now oxbow lakes. During their trip up the river the described countless times when the banks were caving in around them as the river eroded the backs, giant trees crashing into the water. Islands on which they camped on the way up stream where GONE three years later when they returned. They had been eroded away by the powerful current.

Aerial photographs of the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi show the color of the Mississippi changing to a muddy brown from all of the sand and silt being carried by the “Big Muddy”.

So, what has changed in 200 years? We have constructed six dams, impounding 35 % of the river. This prevents the river from flowing freely as it once did. This has had huge impacts on the down stream portions of the river. In addition, we have channelized the river by dredging (especially in the 700 hundred miles between Rulo, Nebraska and St. Louis, Missouri. We have constructed wing dykes, which force the water to the center of the channel, and we have constructed levees to protect our cities.

In a real sense, we have shackled the river and no longer allow it to wander. We continue to use its sands as a free source of sand for concrete and other uses. In the year 2000 alone 7.4 million tons of sand was dredged from the river for commercial uses and development.

Now, a sinking river does create an incredible set of complex problems ( imagine a bridge pylon that was buried 16 feet into the river bottom and now is only buried 8 feet), but does anybody else out there see the correlation or is it just me. We have strangled the river, forced it into a channel, stolen its resources for concrete and yet, we are mystified as to why it is sinking?

Now, what do about it? Imagine, if you will, the discussion a couple of kazillion years ago as the Colorado River began to cut its way through the soft rock of the Arizona desert. “Gosh, do you think we should do something about it? Maybe if we divert some of the water, it won’t wash away the village. Maybe we could line the bottom of the river with those big hard rocks and it won’t wash them away. OrOR, MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST MOVE THE TEEPEE TO A SAFER LOCATION!”

So when ARE we going to learn that you really can’t mess with Mother Nature; you can’t REALLY control a river; you can’t really prevent a flood; when you build in a flood plain you are just asking to get wet? My vote is, move the bridges, don’t move the river!

Mention Green IT to most CIO’s and they will talk about reducing the energy consumed by their data centers through strategies like virtualization, data de-duplication or cooling alternatives. Some may talk about energy settings on the desktop, LCD monitors vs. CRTs or maybe even desktop virtualization. Fewer still will go beyond the traditional role of IT and talk about things like building lighting systems, HVAC systems or building plug loads. In fact, very few CIOs get involved in facilities management or building operations. 

 As a former CIO, I think it is time we ventured beyond the accounting systems, order management applications, and website software, roll up our sleeves and learn about the buildings we work in every day. Technology can have a significant impact on the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building. Let me rephrase that…Technology can have significant impact on the reduction of the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building.

The popular quote, “If you can measure it, you can manage it,” certainly holds true in the area of energy consumption. This is where IT comes in! Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around for many years now. Typically, they are a single PC connected to the HVAC system that lets the technicians control the operation of the equipment. Some systems take it a step further and connect the building systems back to a central server that gathers the data, sends out alerts, and provides some reporting on the information. This has given birth to middleware applications that warehouse the data and provide analytics and additional insight into the information. Many of these systems have roots from the equipment manufacturer themselves. This has led to multiple standards, multiple formats and disparate systems that don’t communicate well with each other. As more devices become IP-enabled (lights, window shades, water systems, and yes, even paper towel dispensers) this issue will continue to grow.

This provides an incredible opportunity for IT help the business harness all of these systems and their data and drive costs out of the business. Every dollar saved through energy reductions has a direct impact on the bottom line results of the business. Whether you are a tenant in a building, the building manager or the building owner energy reductions can generate substantial savings, and, in the case of the building owner, increase the value of your asset.

CIOs and IT departments everywhere recently received a huge assist from networking giant, Cisco. They recently announced the launch of a new application, EnergyWise. EnergyWise will reside on Cisco switches and provide the capability to capture energy data from devices connected to the switch and, more importantly, they will be able to control the energy used by the devices connected to the switch. Initially, the management and control will be for devices that are powered by the switch using Power Over Ethernet (POE) technology. Subsequent phases will extend to Non-POE devices and building management systems.

This puts the CIO on center stage and gives him or her the ability to remove thousands of dollars of cost from the company. Remember the IBM commercial about green IT? How much did we spend on energy last year? The opportunity is enormous!

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INSIGHTS

Insights is the weekly, thought-provoking newsletter from Jeffrey S. Ton.
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