Megatons To Megawatts: Russian Warheads Fuel U.S. Power Plants

warheads

Here’s a remarckable fact: For the past two decades, 10 percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States has come from Russian nuclear warheads.

It was all part of a deal struck at the end of the Cold War. That deal wraps up today, when the final shipment of fuel arrives at a U.S. facility.

The origins of the plan lie in the early 1990s. At the time, Philip Sewell was working for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Soviet Union had just disintegrated, and Sewell’s job was to find ways to collaborate with the former adversaries. In practice, this involved driving out into the Russian countryside, to military facilities that weren’t even on the map. When Sewell got there, what he saw wasn’t pretty.

“Windows were broken, gates were not locked, and there were very few people around,” Sewell says.

But inside these crumbling buildings, the Russian government stored the uranium from thousands of decommissioned nuclear weapons. It seemed like practically anyone could walk off with stuff for a bomb. Sewell and his colleagues wanted to get rid of this uranium. So they decided to try to persuade the Russians to sell their surplus to the U.S. After all, the stuff was just lying around.

Initially, the Russians refused. “It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism,” Sewell says. “Even though they didn’t need that excess material, [and] they didn’t have the money to protect it, they didn’t want to let go of it.”
But in the end they did let go. For one reason: money.

“Russia’s nuclear industry badly needed the funding,” says Anton Khlopkov, the director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies outside Moscow. He says Russia’s nuclear complex had nearly a million workers who weren’t getting paid a living wage.

So, in 1993 the deal was struck: The Russians would turn about 500 tons of bomb-grade uranium into nuclear fuel. The U.S. would buy it and sell it to commercial power plants here. Khlopkov says it was a win-win. “This is the only time in history when disarmament was actually profitable,” he says.

Very profitable. The Russians made around $17 billion. Sewell’s government office was spun off into a private company — the United States Enrichment Corporation — and made money from the deal too. And the U.S. power plants got the uranium at a good price.

But all good things must come to an end, says Matthew Bunn at Harvard University. “Russia is a totally different place today than it was twenty years ago,” Bunn says. “As the Russian government is fond of saying, they’re ‘no longer on their knees.’ ”

Still Bunn says this deal will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever.

“I mean, think about it – 20,000 bombs’ worth of nuclear material, destroyed forever,” he says. “[Bombs that] will never threaten anybody ever again.”

The last shipment arrives today at a US storage facility. It will be sold off to utilities in coming years. So when you turn on the lights, feel good. Your bulb may be powered by what was once a bomb.

http://www.npr.org/2013/12/11/250007526/megatons-to-megawatts-russian-warheads-fuel-u-s-power-plants

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Malcom Gladwell: “In athletic competitions, what qualifies as a sporting chance?”

malcolm-gladwell

Toward the end of “The Sports Gene” (Penguin/Current), David Epstein makes his way to a remote corner of Finland to visit a man named Eero Mäntyranta. Mäntyranta lives in a small house next to a lake, among the pine and spruce trees north of the Arctic Circle. He is in his seventies. There is a statue of him in the nearby village. “Everything about him has a certain width to it,” Epstein writes. “The bulbous nose in the middle of a softly rounded face. His thick fingers, broad jaw, and a barrel chest covered by a red knit sweater with a stern-faced reindeer across the middle. He is a remarkable-looking man.” What’s most remarkable is the color of his face. It is a “shade of cardinal, mottled in places with purple,” and evocative of “the hue of the red paint that comes from this region’s iron-rich soil.”

Mäntyranta carries a rare genetic mutation. His DNA has an anomaly that causes his bone marrow to overproduce red blood cells. That accounts for the color of his skin, and also for his extraordinary career as a competitive cross-country skier. In cross-country skiing, athletes propel themselves over distances of ten and twenty miles—a physical challenge that places intense demands on the ability of their red blood cells to deliver oxygen to their muscles. Mäntyranta, by virtue of his unique physiology, had something like sixty-five per cent more red blood cells than the normal adult male. In the 1960, 1964, and 1968 Winter Olympic Games, he won a total of seven medals—three golds, two silvers, and two bronzes—and in the same period he also won two world-championship victories in the thirty-kilometre race. In the 1964 Olympics, he beat his closest competitor in the fifteen-kilometre race by forty seconds, a margin of victory, Epstein says, “never equaled in that event at the Olympics before or since.”

In “The Sports Gene,” there are countless tales like this, examples of all the ways that the greatest athletes are different from the rest of us. They respond more effectively to training. The shape of their bodies is optimized for certain kinds of athletic activities. They carry genes that put them far ahead of ordinary athletes.

Epstein tells the story of Donald Thomas, who on the seventh high jump of his life cleared 7′ 3.25″—practically a world-class height. The next year, after a grand total of eight months of training, Thomas won the world championships. How did he do it? He was blessed, among other things, with unusually long legs and a strikingly long Achilles tendon—ten and a quarter inches in length—which acted as a kind of spring, catapulting him high into the air when he planted his foot for a jump. (Kangaroos have long tendons as well, Epstein tells us, which is what gives them their special hop.)

Why do so many of the world’s best distance runners come from Kenya and Ethiopia? The answer, Epstein explains, begins with weight. A runner needs not just to be skinny but—more specifically—to have skinny calves and ankles, because every extra pound carried on your extremities costs more than a pound carried on your torso. That’s why shaving even a few ounces off a pair of running shoes can have a significant effect. Runners from the Kalenjin tribe, in Kenya—where the majority of the country’s best runners come from—turn out to be skinny in exactly this way. Epstein cites a study comparing Kalenjins with Danes; the Kalenjins were shorter and had longer legs, and their lower legs were nearly a pound lighter. That translates to eight per cent less energy consumed per kilometre. (For evidence of the peculiar Kalenjin lower leg, look up pictures of the great Kenyan miler Asbel Kiprop, a tall and elegant man who runs on what appear to be two ebony-colored pencils.) According to Epstein, there’s an evolutionary explanation for all this: hot and dry environments favor very thin, long-limbed frames, which are easy to cool, just as cold climates favor thick, squat bodies, which are better at conserving heat.

Distance runners also get a big advantage from living at high altitudes, where the body is typically forced to compensate for the lack of oxygen by producing extra red blood cells. Not too high up, mind you. In the Andes, for example, the air is too rarefied for the kind of workouts necessary to be a world-class runner. The optimal range is six to nine thousand feet. The best runners in Ethiopia and Kenya come from the ridges of the Rift Valley, which, Epstein writes, are “plumb in the sweet spot.” When Kenyans compete against Europeans or North Americans, the Kenyans come to the track with an enormous head start.

What we are watching when we watch élite sports, then, is a contest among wildly disparate groups of people, who approach the starting line with an uneven set of genetic endowments and natural advantages. There will be Donald Thomases who barely have to train, and there will be Eero Mäntyrantas, who carry around in their blood, by dumb genetic luck, the ability to finish forty seconds ahead of their competitors. Élite sports supply, as Epstein puts it, a “splendid stage for the fantastic menagerie that is human biological diversity.” The menagerie is what makes sports fascinating. But it has also burdened high-level competition with a contradiction. We want sports to be fair and we take elaborate measures to make sure that no one competitor has an advantage over any other. But how can a fantastic menagerie ever be a contest among equals?

During the First World War, the U.S. Army noticed a puzzling pattern among the young men drafted into military service. Soldiers from some parts of the country had a high incidence of goitre—a lump on their neck caused by the swelling of the thyroid gland. Thousands of recruits could not button the collar of their uniform. The average I.Q. of draftees, we now suspect, also varied according to the same pattern. Soldiers from coastal regions seemed more “normal” than soldiers from other parts of the country.

The culprit turned out to be a lack of iodine. Iodine is an essential micronutrient. Without it, the human brain does not develop normally and the thyroid begins to enlarge. And in certain parts of the United States in those years there wasn’t enough iodine in the local diet. As the economists James Feyrer, Dimitra Politi, and David Weil write, in a recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Ocean water is rich in iodine, which is why endemic goiter is not observed in coastal areas. From the ocean, iodine is transferred to the soil by rain. This process, however, only reaches the upper layers of soil, and it can take thousands of years to complete. Heavy rainfall can cause soil erosion, in which case the iodine-rich upper layers of soil are washed away. The last glacial period had the same effect: iodine-rich soil was substituted by iodine-poor soil from crystalline rocks. This explains the prevalence of endemic goiter in regions that were marked by intense glaciation, such as Switzerland and the Great Lakes region.

After the First World War, the U.S. War Department published a report called “Defects Found in Drafted Men,” which detailed how the incidence of goitre varied from state to state, with rates forty to fifty times as high in places like Idaho, Michigan, and Montana as in coastal areas.

The story is not dissimilar from Epstein’s account of Kenyan distance runners, in whom accidents of climate and geography combine to create dramatic differences in abilities. In the early years of the twentieth century, the physiological development of American children was an example of the “fantastic menagerie that is human biological diversity.”

In this case, of course, we didn’t like the fantastic menagerie. In 1924, the Morton Salt Company, at the urging of public-health officials, began adding iodine to its salt, and initiated an advertising campaign touting its benefits. That practice has been applied successfully in many developing countries in the world: iodine supplementation has raised I.Q. scores by as much as thirteen points—an extraordinary increase. The iodized salt in your cupboard is an intervention in the natural order of things. When a student from the iodine-poor mountains of Idaho was called upon to compete against a student from iodine-rich coastal Maine, we thought of it as our moral obligation to redress their natural inequality. The reason debates over élite performance have become so contentious in recent years, however, is that in the world of sport there is little of that clarity. What if those two students were competing in a race? Should we still be able to give the naturally disadvantaged one the equivalent of iodine? We can’t decide.

Epstein tells us that baseball players have, as a group, remarkable eyesight. The ophthalmologist Louis Rosenbaum tested close to four hundred major- and minor-league baseball players over four years and found an average visual acuity of about 20/13; that is, the typical professional baseball player can see at twenty feet what the rest of us can see at thirteen feet. When Rosenbaum looked at the Los Angeles Dodgers, he found that half had 20/10 vision and a small number fell below 20/9, “flirting with the theoretical limit of the human eye,” as Epstein points out. The ability to consistently hit a baseball thrown at speeds approaching a hundred miles an hour, with a baffling array of spins and curves, requires the kind of eyesight commonly found in only a tiny fraction of the general population.

Eyesight can be improved—in some cases dramatically—through laser surgery or implantable lenses. Should a promising young baseball player cursed with normal vision be allowed to get that kind of corrective surgery? In this instance, Major League Baseball says yes. Major League Baseball also permits pitchers to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of their throwing arm with a tendon taken from a cadaver or elsewhere in the athlete’s body. Tendon-replacement surgery is similar to laser surgery: it turns the athlete into an improved version of his natural self.

But when it comes to drugs Major League Baseball—like most sports—draws the line. An athlete cannot use a drug to become an improved version of his natural self, even if the drug is used in doses that are not harmful, and is something that—like testosterone—is no more than a copy of a naturally occurring hormone, available by prescription to anyone, virtually anywhere in the world.

Baseball is in the middle of one of its periodic doping scandals, centering on one of the game’s best players, Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is among the most disliked players of his generation. He tried to recover from injury and extend his career through illicit means. (He has appealed his recent suspension, which was based on these allegations.) It is hard to think about Rodriguez, however, and not think about Tommy John, who, in 1974, was the first player to trade in his ulnar collateral ligament for an improved version. John used modern medicine to recover from injury and extend his career. He won a hundred and sixty-four games after his transformation, far more than he did before science intervened. He had one of the longest careers in baseball history, retiring at the age of forty-six. His bionic arm enabled him to win at least twenty games a season, the benchmark of pitching excellence. People loved Tommy John. Maybe Alex Rodriguez looks at Tommy John—and at the fact that at least a third of current major-league pitchers have had the same surgery—and is genuinely baffled about why baseball has drawn a bright moral line between the performance-enhancing products of modern endocrinology and those offered by orthopedics.

The other great doping pariah is Lance Armstrong. He apparently removed large quantities of his own blood and then re-infused himself before competition, in order to boost the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in his system. Armstrong wanted to be like Eero Mäntyranta. He wanted to match, through his own efforts, what some very lucky people already do naturally and legally. Before we condemn him, though, shouldn’t we have to come up with a good reason that one man is allowed to have lots of red blood cells and another man is not?

“I’ve always said you could have hooked us up to the best lie detectors on the planet and asked us if we were cheating, and we’d have passed,” Lance Armstrong’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton writes in his autobiography, “The Secret Race” (co-written with Daniel Coyle; Bantam). “Not because we were delusional—we knew we were breaking the rules—but because we didn’t think of it as cheating. It felt fair to break the rules.”

“The Secret Race” deserves to be read alongside “The Sports Gene,” because it describes the flip side of the question that Epstein explores. What if you aren’t Eero Mäntyranta?

Hamilton was a skier who came late to cycling, and he paints himself as an underdog. When he first met Armstrong—at the Tour DuPont, in Delaware—he looked around at the other professional riders and became acutely conscious that he didn’t look the part. “You can tell a rider’s fitness by the shape of his ass and the veins in his legs, and these asses were bionic, smaller and more powerful than any I’d ever seen,” he writes. The riders’ “leg veins looked like highway maps. Their arms were toothpicks. . . . They were like racehorses.” Hamilton’s trunk was oversized. His leg veins did not pop. He had a skier’s thighs. His arms were too muscled, and he pedalled with an ungainly “potato-masher stroke.”

When Hamilton joined Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service racing team, he was forced to relearn the sport, to leave behind, as he puts it, the romantic world “where I used to climb on my bike and simply hope I had a good day.” The makeover began with his weight. When Michele Ferrari, the key Postal Service adviser, first saw Hamilton, he told him he was too fat, and in cycling terms he was. Riding a bicycle quickly is a function of the power you apply to the pedals divided by the weight you are carrying, and it’s easier to reduce the weight than to increase the power. Hamilton says he would come home from a workout, after burning thousands of calories, drink a large bottle of seltzer water, take two or three sleeping pills—and hope to sleep through dinner and, ideally, breakfast the following morning. At dinner with friends, Hamilton would take a large bite, fake a sneeze, spit the food into a napkin, and then run off to the bathroom to dispose of it. He knew that he was getting into shape, he says, when his skin got thin and papery, when it hurt to sit down on a wooden chair because his buttocks had disappeared, and when his jersey sleeve was so loose around his biceps that it flapped in the wind. At the most basic level, cycling was about physical transformation: it was about taking the body that nature had given you and forcibly changing it.

“Lance and Ferrari showed me there were more variables than I’d ever imagined, and they all mattered: wattages, cadence, intervals, zones, joules, lactic acid, and, of course, hematocrit,” Hamilton writes. “Each ride was a math problem: a precisely mapped set of numbers for us to hit. . . . It’s one thing to go ride for six hours. It’s another to ride for six hours following a program of wattages and cadences, especially when those wattages and cadences are set to push you to the ragged edge of your abilities.”

Hematocrit, the last of those variables, was the number they cared about most. It refers to the percentage of the body’s blood that is made up of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The higher the hematocrit, the more endurance you have. (Mäntyranta had a very high hematocrit.) The paradox of endurance sports is that an athlete can never work as hard as he wants, because if he pushes himself too far his hematocrit will fall. Hamilton had a natural hematocrit of forty-two per cent—which is on the low end of normal. By the third week of the Tour de France, he would be at thirty-six per cent, which meant a six-per-cent decrease in his power—in the force he could apply to his pedals. In a sport where power differentials of a tenth of a per cent can be decisive, this “qualifies as a deal breaker.”

For the members of the Postal Service squad, the solution was to use the hormone EPO and blood transfusions to boost their hematocrits as high as they could without raising suspicion. (Before 2000, there was no test for EPO itself, so riders were not allowed to exceed a hematocrit of fifty per cent.) Then they would add maintenance doses over time, to counteract the deterioration in their hematocrit caused by races and workouts. The procedures were precise and sophisticated. Testosterone capsules were added to the mix to aid recovery. They were referred to as “red eggs.” EPO (a.k.a. erythropoietin), a naturally occurring hormone that increases the production of red blood cells, was Edgar—short for Edgar Allan Poe. During the Tour de France, and other races, bags of each rider’s blood were collected in secret locations at predetermined intervals, then surreptitiously ferried from stage to stage in refrigerated containers for strategic transfusions. The window of vulnerability after taking a drug—the interval during which doping could be detected—was called “glowtime.” Most riders who doped (and in the Armstrong era, it now appears, nearly all the top riders did) would take two thousand units of Edgar subcutaneously every couple of days, which meant they “glowed” for a dangerously long time. Armstrong and his crew practiced microdosing, taking five hundred units of Edgar nightly and injecting the drug directly into the vein, where it was dispersed much more quickly.

“The Secret Race” is full of paragraphs like this:

The trick with getting Edgar in your vein, of course, is that you have to get it in the vein. Miss the vein—inject it in the surrounding tissue—and Edgar stays in your body far longer; you might test positive. Thus, microdosing requires a steady hand and a good sense of feel, and a lot of practice; you have to sense the tip of the needle piercing the wall of the vein, and draw back the plunger to get a little bit of blood so you know you’re in. In this, as in other things, Lance was blessed: he had veins like water mains. Mine were small, which was a recurring headache.

Hamilton was eventually caught and was suspended from professional cycling. He became one of the first in his circle to implicate Lance Armstrong, testifying before federal investigators and appearing on “60 Minutes.” He says that he regrets his years of using performance-enhancing drugs. The lies and duplicity became an unbearable burden. His marriage fell apart. He sank into a depression. His book is supposed to serve as his apology. At that task, it fails. Try as he might—and sometimes he doesn’t seem to be trying very hard—Hamilton cannot explain why a sport that has no problem with the voluntary induction of anorexia as a performance-enhancing measure is so upset about athletes infusing themselves with their own blood.

“Dope is not really a magical boost as much as it is a way to control against declines,” Hamilton writes. Doping meant that cyclists finally could train as hard as they wanted. It was the means by which pudgy underdogs could compete with natural wonders. “People think doping is for lazy people who want to avoid hard work,” Hamilton writes. For many riders, the opposite was true:

EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing. It rewarded precisely what I was good at: having a great work ethic, pushing myself to the limit and past it. I felt almost giddy: this was a new landscape. I began to see races differently. They weren’t rolls of the genetic dice, or who happened to be on form that day. They didn’t depend on who you were. They depended on what you did—how hard you worked, how attentive and professional you were in your preparation.

This is a long way from the exploits of genial old men living among the pristine pines of northern Finland. It is a vision of sports in which the object of competition is to use science, intelligence, and sheer will to conquer natural difference. Hamilton and Armstrong may simply be athletes who regard this kind of achievement as worthier than the gold medals of a man with the dumb luck to be born with a random genetic mutation. ♦

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2013/09/09/130909crat_atlarge_gladwell?currentPage=all

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Bob Costas in Sunday Night Football halftime slot on the need for Redskins to change their name

bob-costas

Bob Costas, in the powerful halftime slot of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” joined in the growing sentiment that the Washington Redskins’ nickname is offensive and the team should change it.

In an even-handed essay, Costas said that the name is demeaning, despite no ill will being intended by anyone involved with the Redskins, including owner Daniel Snyder, or their fans. President Barack Obama recently said he would consider changing the name if he was the owner of the team, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league needs to consider the issue.

During his halftime essay, Costas brought up complaints about other team names like Braves, Warriors or Chiefs, and how that seems like “political correctness run amok,” but said the Redskins nickname is different.

“These nicknames honor, rather than demean,” Costas said.

Costas said names like Blackhawks, Seminoles and Chippewas are trickier, but are OK if the “symbols are appropriately respectful,” something MLB’s Cleveland Indians and its Chief Wahoo mascot haven’t always lived up to.

Costas, whose halftime essays on end-zone celebrations in 2011 and gun control in 2012 became hot-button topics, closed his thoughts on the Redskins’ name by saying it can justifiably be seen as offensive.

Here’s the full transcript of Costas’ essay:

“With Washington playing Dallas here tonight, it seems like an appropriate time to acknowledge the ongoing controversy about the name “Redskins.”

“Let’s start here. There is no reason to believe that owner Daniel Snyder, or any official or player from his team, harbors animus toward Native Americans or wishes to disrespect them. This is undoubtedly also true of the vast majority of those who don’t think twice about the longstanding moniker. And in fact, as best can be determined, even a majority of Native Americans say they are not offended.

“But, having stipulated that, there’s still a distinction to be made. Objections to names like “Braves,” “Chiefs,” “Warriors,” and the like strike many of us as political correctness run amok. These nicknames honor, rather than demean. They are pretty much the same as “Vikings,” “Patriots,” or even “Cowboys.” And names like “Blackhawks,” “Seminoles,” and “Chippewas,” while potentially more problematic, can still be okay provided the symbols are appropriately respectful – which is where the Cleveland Indians with the combination of their name and “Chief Wahoo” logo have sometimes run into trouble.

“A number of teams, mostly in the college ranks, have changed their names in response to objections. The Stanford Cardinal and the Dartmouth Big Green were each once the Indians; the St. John’s Redmen have become the Red Storm, and the Miami of Ohio Redskins – that’s right, Redskins – are now the Red Hawks.

“Still, the NFL franchise that represents the nation’s capital has maintained its name. But think for a moment about the term “Redskins,” and how it truly differs from all the others. Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or members of any other ethnic group.

“When considered that way, “Redskins” can’t possibly honor a heritage, or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent. It is fair to say that for a long time now, and certainly in 2013, no offense has been intended. But, if you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense “might” legitimately be taken?”http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/bob-costas-during-halftime-nbc-sunday-night-football-022727321–nfl.html?vp=1

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

New Solar Plant in Arizona Powers 70,000 Homes Day Or Night

solar power

Outside Phoenix, Ariz., on Wednesday, a power company turned on one of the largest solar power plants of its kind in the world. But unlike other solar farms, this plant continues giving power to 70,000 Arizona households long after the sunset.

The Solana plant uses 3,200 mirrors that are tilted so they focus the sun’s rays to heat a specially-designed oil. That boils water, which drives turbines and generates electricity. Or, the oil can heat giant tanks of salt, which soak up the energy. When the sun goes down, or when households need more power, the hot salt tanks heat up the oil, which again boils water to drive the turbines.

Whereas conventional solar panels only give power when the sun is up, these giant salt batteries give renewable energy on demand. They can store six hours-worth of energy, which can meet the demands of Arizona customers, according to months of test data.

“That’s the sort of thing you can do with a conventional gas plant that no one had envisioned doing with renewables,” says Patrick Dinkel, vice president of resource management for Arizona Public Service, which is Arizona’s largest utility company.

The company has already bought the power from this plant for the next 30 years, to add to the state’s goal of generating 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The plant does mean higher energy bills for APS customers — an extra $1.28 per month for the first five years, $1.09 per month for the next five, and then 94 cents per month after that, according to the company. Dinkel says the state won’t see a lot more of these plants soon because that would cost too much.

“Right now natural gas wins that race (for cheap power,)” Dinkel says. “The challenge is no one knows what those economics look like in five years.”

The U.S. Department of Energy lent Abengoa Solar, the Spanish company that built that plant as well as Europe’s first solar thermal power plant, $1.4 billion, out of the $2 billion price tag. It’s the same program that financed Solyndra, a solar panel firm that went bankrupt in 2011. But this is a different kind of investment, says Armando Zuluaga, general manager of Abengoa Solar. He points out the company already has a public utility buying their output for the next 30 years, so the government will get its money back with interest.

“There’s no market risk here,” Zuluaga says. “It’s just about getting the plant built.”

This won’t be the last we hear of Abengoa Solar and this technology. The company is building a similar, though smaller plant in the Mojave desert in California, which will come online next year, as well as plants in South Africa.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/11/232348077/in-ariz-a-solar-plant-that-powers-70-000-homes-day-or-night

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Massive Molasses Spill Devastates Honolulu Marine Life

molasses122way_wide-a817154c95efea85da1f060ae57b3175f53e05c2-s6-c30

“Everything down there is dead.”

That’s one stunning quote from Hawaii News Now’s latest report about the devastating damage that’s been done to the marine life off Honolulu’s Sand Island by 233,000 gallons of molasses that were spilled into Honolulu harbor on Monday.

Gary Gill, deputy director of Hawaii’s Environmental Health Division of the Health Department, tells the news station that “this is the worst environmental damage to sea life that I have come across.”

The station sent diver Roger White into the water to see what’s happened to sea creatures there. He shot video and came back to say that:

“It was shocking because the entire bottom is covered with dead fish. Small fish, crabs, mole crabs, eels. Every type of fish that you don’t usually see, but now they’re dead. Now they’re just laying there. Every single thing is dead. We’re talking in the hundreds, thousands. I didn’t see one single living thing underwater.”

As Hawaii Public Radio’s Bill Dorman states that the state Health Department has advised the public to stay out of the water. It warns that “while molasses is not harmful to the public directly, the substance is polluting the water, causing fish to die and could lead to an increase in predator species such as sharks, barracuda and eels. The nutrient rich liquid could also cause unusual growth in marine algae, stimulate an increase in harmful bacteria and trigger other environmental impacts.”

Why is the molasses causing so much damage? In an earlier report, Hawaii News Now:
“… did an experiment to see why molasses is so hazardous to fish. When we poured store bought Molasses into a vase of water we collected from Keehi Lagoon, the concentrated sugary substance went straight to the bottom.

“Unlike an oil spill, which can be cleaned by skimming the surface, the molasses quickly disperses to the deepest points. ‘It’s sucking up all the oxygen,’ explained [state reef biologist Dave] Gulko. ‘There’s no oxygen at depth so the animals that need it can’t get it and are suffocating.’ ”

Because the spill happened in a harbor and there’s less circulation than in the open ocean, it could be months or possibly years before the molasses is completely washed away, David Field, a visiting assistant professor of marine sciences at Hawaii Pacific University, tells the station.

The spill happened as the molasses was being loaded onto a container ship. According to Hawaii News Now, the company responsible, Matson Inc., says it “regrets that the incident impacted many harbor users as well as wildlife. We are taking steps to ensure this situation does not happen again.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/09/12/221709158/massive-molasses-spill-devastates-honolulu-marine-life

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega: “It’s Time to Change the Redskins’ Racist Name”

Washington-Redskins

It is time that the National Football League and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell face the reality that the continued use of the word “redskin” is unacceptable. It is a racist, derogatory term and patently offensive to Native Americans. The Native American community has spent millions of dollars over the last two decades trying earnestly to fight the racism that is perpetuated by this slur. The fact that the NFL and Commissioner Goodell continue to deny this is a shameful testament of the mistreatment of Native Americans for so many years. It is quite obvious that once the American public understands why the word “redskins” is so offensive, they will know that the word should never be used again.

The origin of the term “Redskins” is commonly attributed to the historical practice of trading Native American Indian scalps and body parts as bounties and trophies. For example, in 1749, the British bounty on the Mi’kmaq Nation of what is now Maine and Nova Scotia, was a straightforward “ten Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp.”

Just as devastating was the Phips Proclamation, issued in 1755 by Spencer Phips, Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief of the Massachusetts Bay Province, who called for the wholesale extermination of the Penobscot Indian Nation.

By vote of the General Court of the Province, settlers were paid out of the public treasury for killing and scalping the Penobscot people. The bounty for a male Penobscot Indian above the age of 12 was 50 pounds, and his scalp was worth 40 pounds. The bounty for a female Penobscot Indian of any age and for males under the age of 12 was 25 pounds, while their scalps were worth 20 pounds. These scalps were called “redskins.”

The question is quite simple: suppose that a “redskin” scalp that was brought for payment was your mother, your wife, your daughter, your father, your husband, or your son? The fact is Native Americans are human beings, not animals.

The current Chairman and Chief of the Penobscot Nation, Chief Kirk Francis, recently declared in a joint statement that “redskins” is “not just a racial slur or a derogatory term,” but a painful “reminder of one of the most gruesome acts of . . . ethnic cleansing ever committed against the Penobscot people.” The hunting and killing of Penobscot Indians, as stated by Chief Francis, was “a most despicable and disgraceful act of genocide.”

Recently, I and nine Members of Congress explained the violent history and disparaging nature of the term “redskins” in a letter to Mr. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington football franchise. Similar letters were sent to Mr. Frederick Smith, President and CEO of FedEx (a key sponsor for the franchise), and to Mr. Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League.

As of today, Mr. Snyder has yet to respond. Mr. Smith ignored our letter as well, opting instead to have a staff member cite contractual obligations as FedEx’s reason for its silence on the subject.

Mr. Goodell, however, in a dismissive manner, declared that the team’s name “is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” In other words, the NFL is telling everyone—Native Americans included—that they cannot be offended because the NFL means no offense. Essentially, Mr. Goodell attempts to wash away the stain from a history of persecution against Native American peoples by spreading twisted and false information concerning the use of the word “redskins” by one of the NFL’s richest franchises.

Mr. Goodell’s response is indicative of the Washington football franchise’s own racist and bigoted beginnings. The team’s founder, George Preston Marshall, is identified by historians as the driving force behind the effort to prevent African Americans from playing in the NFL. And once African Americans were allowed to play in 1946, Marshall was the last club owner to field an African American player – a move he reluctantly made some 14 years later in 1962. It should be noted that Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy presented Marshall with an ultimatum – unless Marshall signed an African American player, the government would revoke his franchise’s 30-year lease on the use of the D.C. Stadium.

Congressman Tom Cole, the Representative from Oklahoma, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and a member of the Chikasaw Nation, states: “This is the 21st century. This is the capital of political correctness on the planet. It is very, very, very offensive. This isn’t like warriors or chiefs. It’s not a term of respect, and it’s needlessly offensive to a large part of our population. They just don’t happen to live around Washington, D.C.”

Congresswoman Betty McCollum, the Representative from Minnesota and Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, states that Mr. Goodell’s letter “is another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of [Mr.] Dan Snyder,” owner of the Washington franchise, “and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans. For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘[r]edskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity.”

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Representative from the District of Columbia, states that Mr. Snyder “is a man who has shown sensibilities based on his own ethnic identity, [yet] who refuses to recognize the sensibilities of American Indians.”

Recently, in an interview with USA Today Sports, Mr. Snyder defiantly stated, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.” Mr. Snyder’s statement is totally inconsistent with the NFL’s diversity policy, which states:

Diversity is critically important to the NFL. It is a cultural and organizational imperative about dignity, respect, inclusion and opportunity . . . The overall objective of the [NFL’s] diversity effort is to create a culturally progressive and socially reflective organization that represents, supports and celebrates diversity at all levels.

It is critically important that the NFL promote its Commitment to Diversity, and uphold its moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs. Just as important is the moral responsibility of the NFL’s 31 other football club owners to collectively have the necessary courage to stand up and speak out against the use of this derogatory term. Mr. Snyder, more than anyone else in the NFL, should display greater sensitivity and appreciation for a people who have been maligned and mistreated for hundreds of years.

Ms. Suzan Harjo, President of the Morning Star Institute – a national Native American rights organization – and a member of the Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee tribes, summed it up best when she stated: “[Redskins] is the worst thing in the English language you can be called if you are a native person.” This is not just a statement, but a direct invitation for Mr. Snyder and the NFL to do the right thing. I challenge Mr. Snyder to be reasonable, and to realize the harmful legacy that his franchise’s name perpetuates.

In an attempt to correct the long-standing usage of the term “redskins,” the bill H.R. 1278 entitled, “The Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013” was introduced. This bill would cancel the federal registrations of trademarks using the word “redskin” in reference to Native Americans. The Trademark Act of 1946 – more commonly known as the Lanham Act – requires that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) not register any trademark that “[c]onsists of or comprises . . . matter which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead…or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” 15 U.S.C. §1502(a).

Native American tribes have a treaty, trust and special relationship with the United States. Because of the duty of care owed to the Native American people by the federal government, it is incumbent upon the federal government to ensure that the Lanham Act is strictly enforced in order to safeguard Indian tribes and citizens from racially disparaging federal trademarks.

Accordingly, the Patent and Trademark Office has rejected applications submitted by the Washington franchise for trademarks which proposed to use the term “redskins” – three times in 1996 and once in 2002. The PTO denied the applications on grounds that “redskins” is a racial slur that disparages Native Americans.

In 1992, seven prominent Native American leaders petitioned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel the federal registrations for six trademarks using “redskins.” The TTAB in 1999 ruled that the term “redskins” may, in fact, disparage American Indians, and cancelled the registrations. On appeal, a federal court reversed the TTAB’s decision, holding that the petitioners waited too long after coming of age to file their petition. A new group of young Native Americans petitioned the TTAB to cancel the registrations of the offending trademarks in 2006. The TTAB held a hearing on March 7, 2013. A final decision is pending.

H.R. 1278 is supported by a number of major Native American organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) – the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving tribal governments and communities. Mr. Jefferson Keel, a member of the Chikasaw Nation and President of NCAI, stated that our efforts as Members of Congress will hopefully accomplish “what Native American people, nations, and organizations have tried to do in the courts for almost twenty years – end the racist epithet that has served as the [name] of the Washington’s pro football franchise for far too long.”

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) – the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide – also supports the call to change the Washington franchise’s racist name. NARF recently issued a statement describing our efforts as “a clear signal that some [M]embers of Congress do not take anti-Native stereotyping and discrimination lightly. These Representatives now join Native American nations, organizations and people who have lost patience with the intransigence of the Washington pro football franchise in holding on to the indefensible – a racial epithet masquerading as a team name.”

Despite the Native American community’s best efforts before administrative agencies and the courts, the term “redskins” remains a federally registered trademark. It has been well over twenty years and this matter is still before the courts. This injustice is the result of negligence and a cavalier attitude demonstrated by an administrative agency charged with the responsibility of not allowing racist or derogatory terms to be registered as trademarks. Since the federal government made the mistake in registering the disparaging trademark, it is now up to Congress to correct it.

Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega has represented the territory of American Samoa in the United States Congress since 1989. Faleomavaega is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and serves on the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. Faleomavaega is also a member of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/30/its-time-change-redskins-racist-name

Hacking researchers take control of cars

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Forget car jacking. As cars become increasingly complex, car hacking — taking over a vehicle’s computer-controlled systems — is becoming a very real threat.

At the DEF CON hacking conference this weekend in Las Vegas, two computer software researchers with a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency released the code they wrote to carry out attacks on a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape and provide links to their findings in a 100-page white paper,
Their goal? To help other researchers find and address auto industry security flaws before malicious hackers find ways to prey on unsuspecting drivers.

“The more people we can get on the problem, the better,” Charlie Miller, a Twitter security engineer, told the Herald last night. “Let’s fix it now before anyone’s hurt.”

Sitting inside a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape with laptops connected to the vehicles’ computer networks, Miller and Chris Valasek, director of security intelligence at IOActive, were able to disable the Ford’s brakes so the car kept moving no matter how hard the driver pressed the pedal. They were also able to force the Toyota to accelerate its engine, brake suddenly at 80 mph and jerk the steering wheel.

“We believe our electronic control systems are robust and secure and we will continue to rigorously test and improve them,” said a spokeswoman for Toyota, adding the company, and the auto industry, is focused on preventing remote hacking into a vehicle’s control systems.

They did not attempt to attack the vehicles remotely, Miller said, because that already had been done in a 2010 study by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego.

In May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory warning of flaws in the wireless Bluetooth systems in some cars that could be exploited by an outsider to take control of some of the car’s functions.

“As you computerize more aspects of a car, those are more things hackers can control,” Miller said. “The bottom line is you’re safer in a car with no bells and whistles.”

Tiffany Rad, a senior researcher at Woburn-based Kaspersky Lab, which provides protection against cyber threats, said auto manufacturers should be concerned now that Miller and Valasek are making their code public.

“If these two guys can do this, it means to me the bad guys can do it, too, now that it’s public,” Rad said. “It lowers the bar to replicate what they did.”

http://bostonherald.com/business/automotive/2013/08/hacking_researchers_take_control_of_cars

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

How technology may change the human face over the next 100,000 years

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Designer Lamm’s depiction of how the human face might look in 100,000 years

We’ve come along way looks-wise from our homo sapien ancestors. Between 800,000 and 200,000 years ago, for instance, rapid changes in Earth climate coincided with a tripling in the size of the human brain and skull, leading to a flattening of the face. But how might the physiological features of human beings change in the future, especially as new, wearable technology like Google Glass change the way we use our bodies and faces? Artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm has partnered with a computational geneticist to research and illustrate what we might look like 20,000 years in the future, as well as 60,000 years and 100,000 years out. His full, eye-popping illustrations are at the bottom of this post.

Lamm says this is “one possible timeline,” where, thanks to zygotic genome engineering technology, our future selves would have the ability to control human biology and human evolution in much the same way we control electrons today.

Lamm speaks of “wresting control” of the human form from natural evolution and bending human biology to suit our needs. The illustrations were inspired by conversations with Dr. Alan Kwan, who holds a PhD in computational genomics from Washington University.

Kwan based his predictions on what living environments might look like in the future, climate and technological advancements. One of the big changes will be a larger forehead, Kwan predicts – a feature that has already expanding since the 14th and 16th centuries. Scientists writing in the British Dental Journal have suggested that skull-measurement comparisons from that time show modern-day people have less prominent facial features but higher foreheads, and Kwan expects the human head to trend larger to accommodate a larger brain.

Kwan says that 60,000 years from now, our ability to control the human genome will also make the effect of evolution on our facial features moot. As genetic engineering becomes the norm, “the fate of the human face will be increasingly determined by human tastes,” he says in a research document. Eyes will meanwhile get larger, as attempts to colonize Earth’s solar system and beyond see people living in the dimmer environments of colonies further away from the Sun than Earth. Similarly, skin will become more pigmented to lesson the damage from harmful UV radiation outside of the Earth’s protective ozone. Kwan expects people to have thicker eyelids and a more pronounced superciliary arch (the smooth, frontal bone of the skull under the brow), to deal with the effects of low gravity.

The remaining 40,000 years, or 100,000 years from now, Kwan believes the human face will reflect “total mastery over human morphological genetics. This human face will be heavily biased towards features that humans find fundamentally appealing: strong, regal lines, straight nose, intense eyes, and placement of facial features that adhere to the golden ratio and left/right perfect symmetry,” he says.

Eyes will seem “unnervingly large” — as least from our viewpoint today — and will feature eye-shine and even a sideways blink from the re-introduced plica semilunaris to further protect from cosmic ray effects.

There will be other functional necessities: larger nostrils for easier breathing in off-planet environments, denser hair to contain heat loss from a larger head — features which people may have to weigh up against their tastes for what’s genetically trendy at the time. Instead of just debating what to name a child as new parents do today, they might also have to decide if they want their children to carry the most natural expression of a couple’s DNA, such as their eye-color, teeth and other features they can genetically alter.

Excessive Borg-like technological implants would start to become untrendy, though, as people start to increasingly value that which makes us look naturally human. That “will be ever more important to us in an age where we have the ability to determine any feature,” Kwan says.

Wearable technology will still be around, but in far more subtle forms. Instead of Google Glass and iWatch, people will seek discrete implants that preserve the natural human look – think communication lenses (a technologically souped up version of today’s contacts) and miniature bone-conduction devices implanted above the ear. These might have imbedded nano-chips that communicate to another separate device to chat with others or for entertainment.

The bird’s eye view of human beings in 100,000 years will be people who want to be wirelessly plugged in, Kwan says, but with minimal disruption to what may then be perceived as the “perfect” human face.

His Predictions:

In 20,000 years: Humans have a larger head with a forehead that is subtly too large. A future “communications lens” will be manifested as a the yellow ring around their eyes. These lenses will be the ‘Google Glass’ of the future.

In 60,000 years: Human beings have even larger heads, larger eyes and pigmented skin. A pronounced superciliary arch makes for a darker area below eyebrows. Miniature bone-conduction devices may be implanted above the ear now to work with communications lenses.

In 100,000 years: The human face is proportioned to the ‘golden ratio,’ though it features unnervingly large eyes. There is green “eye shine” from the tapetum lucidum, and a more pronounced superciliary arch. A sideways blink of the reintroduced plica semilunaris seen in the light gray areas of the eyes, while miniature bone-conduction devices implanted above the ear work with the communications lenses on the eyes.

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://news.yahoo.com/human-face-might-look-100-171207969.html

Are we on the cusp of a solar energy boom?

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Solar power is getting much easier to store — and at a much cheaper price

The total solar energy hitting the Earth each year is equivalent to 12.2 trillion watt-hours. That’s over 20,000 times more than the total energy all of humanity consumes each year.

And yet photovoltaic solar panels, the instruments that convert solar radiation into electricity, produce only 0.7 percent of the energy the world uses.

So what gives?

For one, cost: The U.S. Department of Energy estimates an average cost of $156.90 per megawatt-hour for solar, while conventional coal costs an average of $99.60 per MW/h, nuclear costs an average of $112.70 per MW/h, and various forms of natural gas cost between $65.50 and $132 per MW/h. So from an economic standpoint, solar is still uncompetitive.

And from a technical standpoint, solar is still tough to store. “A major conundrum with solar panels has always been how to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining,” says Christoph Steitz and Stephen Jewkes at Reuters.

But thanks to huge advancements, solar’s cost and technology problems are increasingly closer to being solved.

The percentage of light turned into electricity by a photovoltaic cell has increased from 8 percent in the first Cadmium-Telluride cells in the mid-1970s to up to 44 percent in the most efficient cells today, with some new designs theoretically having up to 51 percent efficiency. That means you get a lot more bang for your buck. And manufacturing costs have plunged as more companies have entered the market, particularly in China. Prices have fallen from around $4 per watt in 2008 to just $0.75 per watt last year to just $0.58 per watt today.

If the trend stays on track for another 8-10 years, solar generated electricity in the U.S. would descend to a level of $120 per MW/h — competitive with coal and nuclear — by 2020, or even 2015 for the sunniest parts of America. If prices continue to fall over the next 20 years, solar costs would be half that of coal (and have the added benefits of zero carbon emissions, zero mining costs, and zero scarcity).

Scientists have made huge advances in thermal storage as well, finding vastly more efficient ways to store solar energy. (In one example, solar energy is captured and then stored in beds of packed rocks.)

Lower costs and better storage capacity would mean cheap, decentralized, plentiful, sustainable energy production — and massive relief to global markets that have been squeezed in recent years by the rising cost of fossil fuel extraction, a burden passed on to the consumer. All else being equal, falling energy prices mean more disposable income to save and invest, or to spend.

The prospect of widespread falling energy costs could be a basis for a period of strong economic growth. It could help us replace our dependence on foreign oil with a robust, decentralized electric grid, where energy is generated closer to the point of use. This would mean a sustainable energy supercycle — and new growth in other industries that benefit from falling energy costs.

Indeed, a solar boom could prove wrong those who claim that humanity has over-extended itself and that the era of growth is over.

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://news.yahoo.com/cusp-solar-energy-boom-075000286.html