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TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MARCH/ APRIL
As David Rotman states in his article on bio-
fuels, the conversion of biomass to liquid
fuel is energy intensive---just like the con-
version of coal or any other solid fuel to
liquid fuel ("The Price of Biofuels," January/
February 2008). That implies that the quan-
tity of liquid fuel from biomass and the
carbon dioxide released in the production
process strongly depend upon the energy
source used in the conversion process.
Each year, the United States could pro-
duce about 1.3 billion tons of renewable bio-
mass for use as fuel. Burning it would release
about as much energy as burning 10 million
barrels of diesel fuel per day. If converted to
ethanol, the biomass would have the energy
value of about five million barrels of diesel
fuel per day. The remainder of the energy
would be used by the biomass-to-liquids
conversion plant. If a nuclear reactor or
other energy source provides the energy for
the biomass-to-liquids plants, the equivalent
of over 12 million barrels of diesel fuel can
be produced per day. If our goal is to end oil
imports and avoid greenhouse-gas releases,
we must combine biomass and nuclear
energy to maximize biofuels production.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN
JOHN HOCKENBERRY AND NBC
In "You Don't Understand Our Audience"
(January/February 2008), former Dateline
correspondent John Hockenberry writes
that he called NBC's parent company, GE,
in early 2002 to request help in obtaining
an interview with the family of Osama bin
Laden. Mr. Hockenberry writes that he
was rebu ed by a "senior corporate com-
munications o cer." I handled this issue for
GE. While it's possible I got a call from Mr.
Hockenberry, I don't remember one.
Nonetheless, if he did call, he would have
received the same answer he says he got:
"No." GE does not and should not involve
itself in the news-gathering process of NBC.
I am surprised Mr. Hockenberry believes
otherwise. More to the point, he was cer-
tainly free to pursue this interview without
GE's help. Other journalists got to the bin
Laden family on their own. For example,
NBC's Matt Lauer won an Emmy for his
interview with Osama bin Laden's brother.
Gary She er
John Hockenberry responds:
I'm sorry Mr. She er doesn't recall speaking to
me. Anyway: it seems hard to maintain that
GE has no role in the editorial content of NBC
when GE executives regularly agree to appear
on CNBC and MSNBC. Presumably, GE
executives believe some public interest is served
by their appearances. I applaud Matt Lauer's
2004 interview, but surely it would have had
even more value in January 2002. Mr. She er
apparently believes no public interest would
have been served by helping facilitate such an
interview four months after September 11.
John Hockenberry's excellent essay has a
small error. Edward R. Murrow's wartime
reports from London were sent across the
Atlantic by short-wave radio, not cable. Tele-
graph service was available by cable at the
time, but the first cable for voice tra c was
TAT1, completed in 1956. The error caught
my attention because in 1958, as a student,
I worked at the U.K. Post O ce Research
Station at Dollis Hill, London. TAT1 was a
joint e ort by the post o ce, AT&T, and Bell
Labs; the engineers in my department were
happy to educate me on their achievement.
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Some architects may be using new ge-
ometries to build exotic buildings ("The
Building, Digitally Remastered," January/
February 2008), but like the fins of a 1959
Cadillac, many new buildings' most promi-
nent features will in time become laughable.
Unfortunately, it isn't easy to send architec-
tural monstrosities to the wrecker.
San Francisco, CA
In his article about the work of Norman
Borlaug, John Pollock describes the reasons
for the Green Revolution's failure in Africa as
"complex" ("Green Revolutionary," January/
February 2008). Actually, they are pretty
straightforward. Pollock describes some of
them: lack of irrigation, very unproductive
soil, corruption, and poor roads. But there
are more: malaria and AIDS, poor education,
lack of navigable rivers, and lack of electricity.
It's the solutions that are complex.
QUANTS ON WALL STREET
Bryant Urstadt's very interesting article
about the role of quantitative financial
engineers in the summer's troubles on
Wall Street misses a point ("The Blow-Up,"
November/December 2007). As automatic
securities trading increases its share of all
trades, all the "quants" will be doing is mod-
eling each other's models. The only way out
of such infinite recursion is social: manipu-
lation of prices by an elite whose tech-
niques will resist regulatory supervision.
Such gaming of prices via buried signals
has already been seen in airline ticketing.
Gregory P. Nowell
Niskayuna, New York
"The Price of Biofuels" (January/February
2008) should have stated that nitrous oxide
(not nitric oxide) is produced in the culti-
vation of corn.
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