Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A new type of power grid

Why Tesla's battery for your home should terrify utilities
Elon Musk's electricity empire could mean a new type of power grid
[...] The prospect of cheap solar panels combined with powerful batteries has been a source of significant anxiety in the utility sector. In 2013, the Edison Electric Institute, the trade group for investor-owned electric companies, issued a report warning that disruption was coming. "One can imagine a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent," the report said, likening the speed of the coming transition to the one from landlines to cellphones 10 years ago. Suddenly regulated monopolies are finding themselves in competition with their own customers.

They haven’t had to deal with this on the residential side yet, primarily because people can sell excess power back to the utilities at fairly high rates — a practice called net metering. But that’s hurting utilities, too, and some have tried to lower the price at which they buy back power, which has been met by furious protests from people leasing panels. If utilities lower the buyback rate too much, however, and batteries get cheap enough, people may just unplug from the grid altogether — or more likely, install systems that let them rely on it only rarely — prompting what those in the industry call "the utility death spiral." It’s quite a bind: by fighting net metering, utilities would help make battery storage more economically viable, driving the transition to a distributed grid.

Manghani believes utilities aren’t doomed, but they may undergo a radical transformation, becoming something closer to service providers and minders of an increasingly distributed grid rather than the centralized power producers they are today. Such a system would require lots of batteries to help balance the load and supply extra power during peak times, which is why GTM estimates the market will grow from $48 million today to about $1 billion in 2018. [...]
Excellent, I say bring it on! And Tesla seems perfectly poised to pounce and make it happen. Read the whole thing for the details that back it up, embedded links and more.

Labels: , , , , ,

Let the government do your voting for you

Oregon: Voter Registration Made Automatic
Seventeen years after Oregon decided to become the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots, it took another pioneering step on Monday to broaden participation by automatically registering people to vote. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill that puts the burden of registration on the state instead of voters. Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has had business with the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013 but has not registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 voters to the rolls. Some other states have considered such legislation, but none have gone as far as Oregon. Minnesota nearly instituted automatic voter registration in 2009 before it was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said that “registering to vote should be a voluntary, intentional act.” Similar concerns were raised by Oregon’s minority Republicans.
How Progressive. What comes next, the government actually casts your vote for you? Oh, wait a minute, Oregon already does that.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Google's Redesign of it's Headquarters

It looks like a "Future World" theme park:

Google's future campus looks like a sci-fi utopia
Google has revealed eye-popping ideas for a redesign of its California headquarters that symbolize how far the company wants to move beyond its core search business.

Plans submitted Friday to the Mountain View City Council include lightweight block-like structures—not stationary concrete buildings—that can be moved around as the company invests in new product areas. These areas now include self-driving cars, solar-powered drones and robots. Google’s self-driving car team, for instance, has different needs than search engineers, the company said in revealing its plans.

On top of those modular structures would be translucent canopies that can control the climate inside while letting in natural light and air. The canopies would free the spaces from traditional limitations like walls, windows and roofs.

It’s not hard to imagine Google’s future campus serving as a playground for the company’s pursuits outside of search. Plus, it sounds like Google is going for something like a futuristic city for its thousands of employees and local residents. The company is already known for its on-campus perks encouraging employees to maximize their time on campus, but the new plans elevate that concept. [...]
Read the whole thing for more pictures, and embedded links. It's way cool! A very futuristic vision to be sure. Bold and ambitious. It will be interesting to see how the end product turns out, and how much it adheres to this vision.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday Funnies 03/15/15

Islamic Holdem'

Labels: , , ,

The Coronation of Hillary Clinton?

Dick Meyer: The problem isn't Hillary, it's the Democrats
[...] The scandal is not that she may have broken rules, it's that the Democratic Party is allowing her to march unopposed to a coronation.


There cannot be a single voter in America that is surprised Hillary is already boiling in a scandal, or pseudo-scandal, depending on your perspective. Love them or hate them, this is what they do and this is what happens to them. Fair or unfair, this is their mythic cycle, their dramatic fate.

Perhaps this is the act that ends Hillary's performance, but probably not. And perhaps, if she stays in the race, there will be no more scandal dramas before November 2016, but probably not.

The very simple point is that Democratic Party is insane to have put itself in this position - this entirely predictable situation. After all, Hillary did lose to an unlikely newcomer in 2008, Barack Obama. She'll obviously be beatable in a general election.

Some blame the Clintons, which is wrongheaded. It's not their fault that they scared off all credible opposition and ran the most effective pre-primary of any modern campaign (thus far). That is exactly what they are supposed to do.

It is the job of the party to create competition and breed national candidates of stature. Mock the Republican field if you want, at least it is a field and not just a pitcher's mound.

I have argued before that the Democrats have become the conservative party in America, the Establishment Party more protective of the status quo and big business than the Republicans. This is yet another sign.

The Democrats are arguably more invested in the Political-Industrial Complex. Their legions aren't true believers but consultants, lobbyists, vendors, hacks, ambassadors-in-waiting and aspiring political appointees. Not backing Team Clinton is a bad career move. But now they have a problem. [...]
Do they? Have a problem? The author rightly points out that people have come to expect this sort of thing from the Clintons. The email controversy would likely be fatal for a Republican, but for a Democrat? I doubt it. Her supporters are not likely to stop supporting her. I think the coronation will proceed.

Ever since Ted Kennedy was allowed to continue in office even after he left a woman to die of suffocation underwater in the back seat of his car, the Democrats lowered the bar for what is acceptable from their candidates. I doubt that the email scandal will derail the coronation of Hillary, or even slow it down much, but we'll see.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

First Big Solar Flare of 2015

Active sunspot unleashes X-class solar flare, high-latitude aurora possible Friday
[...] What’s particularly interesting about this week’s eruptions is that the parent region is now near the center of the sun as we look at it, and it’s likely that a coronal mass ejection (CME) is now headed toward Earth thanks to the X2 flare.

Region 2297’s earlier eruptions occurred when it was in a less central position, so the launched CME would be, at worst, a side swipe for Earth’s magnetic field. The event on the afternoon of March 11, though, is much more likely to hit nearly head on.

High-latitude aurora watchers take note — the Space Weather Prediction Center is looking for minor magnetic storm activity on March 13. Plus, the sky will be relatively dark with the moon in its last quarter, so lunar light pollution is minimal. Get away from city lights for your best chance of seeing a glow.

The days following may be even more disturbed if Region 2297 has more in it.

The Ides of March? The Roman soothsayers made dire predictions for Caesar. For us, just a head’s up that some nice northern lights may be coming.

Follow the link for a larger photo. I like how they put the earth on there, for scale. The flare itself is much larger than our small world.

If you are science-minded and want to monitor the progress of this sunspot, you can do so here.

Labels: , , , ,

Clinton's email spin-control, and the questions that nobody is asking

Fact check: Clinton e-mails and the privacy 'privilege'
[...] Clinton, a likely presidential candidate in 2016, has been embroiled in an e-mail controversy since March 2, when The New York Times reported that she exclusively used a private e-mail account at to conduct government business. At a press conference on March 10, Clinton said she sent and received more than 60,000 e-mails during her time in office. At the State Department's request, Clinton turned over about half of them to the government in December. The rest were deleted because they were personal, she said.

Asked whether she would agree to allow an "independent third party to come in and examine your e-mails," Clinton replied that she should be treated no differently than federal employees who have a government e-mail account and a personal e-mail account. They can decide when they send an e-mail whether to use the government or private account.

"So, even if you have a work-related device with a work-related .gov account, you choose what goes on that," she told reporters.

That's true, of course, but the situation she describes is not entirely analogous, since Clinton had no government account. She made the choice to use only a personal e-mail account set up on a personal server.

Moreover, Clinton's office went too far when answering the same question in a Q&A it released on the day of the press conference. The Q&A detailed the Clinton team's review process and answered some common questions that have been raised since the Times story first appeared.

One of the questions in the Q&A: "Do you think a third party should be allowed to review what was turned over to the Department, as well as the remainder that was not?" Clinton's office answered, in part: "Government officials are granted the privacy of their personal, non-work related emails, including personal emails on .gov accounts. Secretary Clinton exercised her privilege to ensure the continued privacy of her personal, non-work related emails."

That characterization of the rules governing government e-mail systems is not accurate.

State Department policy — spelled out in the Foreign Affairs Manual under "Points to Remember About E-mail" — says there is "no expectation of privacy." Specifically, 5 FAM 443.5 says, in part: "Department E-mail systems are for official use only by authorized personnel" and "The information in the systems is Departmental, not personal. No expectation of privacy or confidentiality applies."

Clinton is correct that the department policy allows employees to delete e-mails that are not work-related. The 5 FAM 443.5 rule also says, "Messages that are not records may be deleted when no longer needed."

But Baron — who served 13 years as director of litigation at the National Archives, which is responsible for maintaining government records — said in an interview that Clinton's use of a private server gave her exclusive control, thus preventing the department from having full access to e-mails she sent and received while a federal employee. Government employees have no right to privacy on government computers and even personal e-mails are subject to review and perhaps release at the department's discretion.

"Setting up a private server to conduct public business inappropriately shifts control of what is accessible to the end user alone rather than allowing the institution to decide threshold questions," he told us.

We sent e-mails to Clinton's office and to the State Department asking about the privacy claim but received no response. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

The article goes on to say that Clinton claims that she was emailing people in the State Department with .gov email accounts, and that they have copies of the emails she sent. Sure, the one's she sent to THEM. What about the other emails she sent other people, as Secretary of State? Ironically, her statement also confirms something else. The people in the State Department that she was emailing, knew that she was not using a .gov account, and they just let her do it anyway. Why was she allowed to do this?

If this were a Republican being investigated, the press would be asking those people, "What did you know and when did you know it? Why was she allowed to break the rules her position required her to follow?" Will the press do so this time? If they don't, then WE need to.

ALL politicians, regardless of party affiliation, need to be questioned and held accountable for their actions, if we are to get better people in office. Clinton has been let off the hook so many times, she just keeps on acting as if she has privileges no one else has. Why? Because too many people let her do it. And that just encourages more of the same. It has to stop.


Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodby Mr. Spock

Or goodbye Leonard Nimoy, actually:

Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83
Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”). [...]
He was a man of many talents. He had a Master's degree in Spanish that he earned in his 40's, among many other accomplishments. Follow the link for photos, video and more.

Labels: , , , , , ,

10 or 11 steps, German, or French?

10 Steps to Germanize Yourself

11 Steps to Frenchify Yourself

Apparently, a "know-it-all" in German is called a "Klugscheißer" (“smart shitter”). Who knew? Read the whole thing for more fun facts (I'm pretty sure it's meant to be humorous. And while many a truth is spoken in jest, I'm sure it's not 100% universally so. I'm just say'n. Don't want any German or French hate-mail! ;))

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to swear in six languages

The begining of this article warns that it's "R" rated. If you go there, you'll see why:


Talk about local color. Gosh.

Labels: , ,

Modern English: a blend of languages

Here is an interesting article about the complex blend of several languages that evolved to become modern English:

139 Old Norse Words That Invaded The English Language
When I say “Old English” what comes to mind? The ornate, hard-to-read script? Reading Beowulf in your high school English class? The kinds of figurative compound nouns – or kennings – like “swan of blood” and “slaughter-dew” that have sustained heavy metal lyrics for decades?

Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, was a language spoken by the Angles and the Saxons – the first Germanic tribes to settle the British Isles. They were not the first inhabitants, as any Welsh or Gaelic speaker will tell you, but their language did form the basis for the Angle-ish we speak today. But then why can’t we modern-day English speakers understand Old English? In terms of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Old English resembles its cousins Dutch and German more than it does modern English. So how did English change so drastically?

The short answer is that the English language changed forever after the Norman invasion brought a new ruling class of French speakers to the British Isles in 1066. French was the language of the nobility for the next 300 years – plenty of time for lots of French words to trickle down to the merchant and peasant classes. For example, the Anglo-Saxons already had words for “sheep” and “cows”, but the Norman aristocracy – who usually only saw these animals on the plate – introduced mouton (mutton) and boeuf (beef). Today, nearly thirty percent of English words come from French.

As a result, modern English is commonly thought of as a West Germanic language with lots of French and, thanks to the church, Latin influence. But this history of English’s development leaves out a very important piece of the linguistic puzzle – Old Norse: the language of the Vikings.
How To Speak Viking

The Old Norse noun víking meant an overseas expedition, and a vikingr was someone who went on one of these expeditions. In the popular imagination, the Vikings were essentially pirates from the fjords of Denmark and Norway who descended on medieval England like a bloodthirsty frat party; they raped, pillaged, murdered, razed villages and then sailed back across the North Sea with the loot.

But the truth is far more nuanced. The earliest Viking activity in England did consist of coastal raids in the early ninth century, but by the 870s the Danes had traded sword for plow and were settled across most of Northern England in an area governed by treaties known as the Danelaw. England even had Danish kings from 1018 to 1042. However, the more successful and longer-lasting Norman conquest in 1066 marked the end of the Viking era and virtually erased Danish influence in almost all aspects of English culture but one: its effect on the development of the English language. [...]
It's an interesting history, showing examples and explaining the roots and usage of many of the words we use today. The viking influence lives on not just in our vocabulary, but grammer structure and usage. Some linguists even claim that English should be reclassified as a North Germanic language (along with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish), rather than a West Germanic language (with Dutch and German). Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, February 20, 2015

An actual product called "Poo-pouri"

I don't know which is more weird and funny, the commercial, or the fact that the product is a best-seller on I'm sure that someone must be laughing all the way to the bank. Good for them!

Don't forget to see Second Hand Stink, and Even Santa Poops.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, February 13, 2015

The mental/emotional effects of isolation

An article by Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski cross-country across the Antarctic continent, completely alone. She talks about her experience of isolation, and how her experience might compare to what future astronauts might face:

How will space explorers cope with isolation?
[...] It was the alone-ness itself that was frightening and my subsequent 59-day ski across the continent was dominated by my battle to deal with the shock of it.

I imagine that the first humans to visit Mars might experience a similar state of shock at their disconnection from human society. It is intriguing to wonder whether there might be parallels between the psychology involved in exploring Mars and exploring Antarctica.

Could potential astronauts preparing for long space missions across the solar system learn anything useful from experiences like mine in Antarctica?

As I began my loneliest of expeditions I had the benefit of more than a decade of previous polar journeys to draw from. In addition I had carefully prepared for the psychological stress of isolation, consulting a specialist sport psychologist.

Yet, I was taken aback by the range of ways in which the alone-ness affected me. I became increasingly emotional. With no one to witness my behaviour, I allowed inner feelings to flow into outward expression without check. If I felt angry, I shouted. If I felt upset, I cried.

Self-discipline became much harder. Surrounded by others, taking risky short-cuts isn't a possibility, largely because of the embarrassment of being discovered. But alone, with no-one to observe your laziness, the voice of temptation was always present. I found that ignoring the voice of temptation was an extra drain on mental energy that simply hadn't existed on team expeditions.

My brain, starved of any input by the lack of colour, shape or form in my largely blizzard-obscured world began to fill in the gaps by creating hallucinations.

I was surprised to find that we can hallucinate not just with our visual sense but with all our senses. I hallucinated strange forms in the gloom of regular whiteouts that took the shape of floating hands and small bald men on dinosaurs, but I also hallucinated smells, tastes and sounds that all seemed very real.

As I skied, I began to direct my internal monologue at the sun (when it was visible through the bad weather) and was slightly perturbed when eventually the sun began to talk back to me in my mind. It took on a very distinct character and even though I knew on some level that it wasn't real, the sun played an important part in my coping strategies.

Routine became increasingly important to me in overcoming these damaging responses to alone-ness. When everything else in my landscape and daily experience was so surreal, routine became the rhythm that I clung to. I performed every task in exactly the same way, every time it had to be done. I repeated chores in the same order again and again until I reached the point that I barely had to think about them. Reducing the thought required seemed to simultaneously reduce the emotion.

This was despite the fact that I did have some connection to the outside world during my expedition. I carried a satellite phone which was capable of calling anyone in the world at any time from my tent -- and yet, largely, I decided not to.

I was scared of the emotional high that speaking to loved ones might bring, knowing that it would inevitably be followed by a crushing emotional low as I was forced to end the call. [...]
To read it is to almost be there in her shoes. Fascinating. See the links for pics and more.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Death and dying in America

Seeking a ‘Beautiful Death’
[...] Dr. Volandes, a staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, noted that “in the abstract, fighting every second of the way and pursuing aggressive life-prolonging interventions sounds admirable.” But he wants doctors, patients and families to consider the likely outcome of the fight and how much suffering it will involve.

He recognizes that “there are no right and wrong decisions about medical care at the end of life” but insists that all decisions should be fully informed. To ensure that patients and families understand the options, he has developed a video tour of what medical interventions like ventilation, CPR or placement of a feeding tube look like, which often prompts a change of heart. As one patient put it, “It looks so different on television.”

The video, produced by ACP Decisions, a nonprofit group devoted to advanced-care planning, is licensed to health care providers and insurers who can show it to patients and families to facilitate shared decision making in planning for care at the end of life.

In a randomized trial of the video’s effectiveness among 50 patients with advanced brain cancer, a quarter of patients in the control group who had only a verbal discussion about end-of-life care with their doctors chose life-prolonging care, half opted for limited medical care and only one-quarter chose comfort care. But none of those who saw the video opted for life-prolonging care, a handful chose limited medical care, and 92 percent decided on comfort care, Dr. Volandes reported. After watching the video, patients said they had a better understanding of their choices.

However, even just a discussion with their doctors about goals for end-of-life care can often make a huge difference. The one-third of patients in a 2008 national Coping With Cancer study who had such a discussion were less likely to undergo CPR, be put on a ventilator or be placed in an intensive care unit. Most enrolled in hospice, suffered less and were in better physical shape and better able to interact with others and for a longer time.

Their survivors, too, fared better; six months after the deaths, they were markedly less likely to experience major depression.

Options regarding end-of-life care should be discussed well before an emergency — or for those with dementia, during the early stages of mental decline. “The absolute worst time to contemplate decisions about medical care is when one is critically ill and in the hospital,” Dr. Volandes writes.

The kinds of questions doctors should be asking:

They are some good questions. Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.


Labels: , , , ,