Tag: Technology

The Roads Must Roll

The thing that amazes me about the environmentalist movement is how easily they embrace what turn out to be terrible ideas. Not just ideas that are bad for the economy, but often ideas that bad for the environment. Corn ethanol. Food miles. CFC bulbs. Carbon offsets. Geo-engineering. Zero Population Growth policies. Plastic bag bans.

Well, we have a new one: solar roads. The idea is that we replace a road with solar panels secured underneath safety glass. And this will … something.

Coyote Blog has the rundown on a prototype solar road that is a fiscal nightmare:

In the US, we pay about 12 cents a KwH for electricity (the Dutch probably pay more). But at this rate, in 6 months, the solar sidewalk has generated… $360 of electricity. Double that for a year, and we get $720 of electricity a year.

How much did the sidewalk cost? The article doesn’t say. You will find this typical of wind and solar articles. If they quantify the installation cost, they will not quantify the value of power produced. If they quantify the power produced, they will never quantify the installation cost. This article says the installation cost was $3.5 million, though I suppose one should subtract from that the cost to build a similar length concrete bike path, but that can’t be more than $100,000 for 230 feet. They say they are getting 70kwh per year per square meter, which is $8.40 worth of electricity per square meter per year. Since regular solar panels – without all the special glass overlays and installation in the ground and inverters and wiring – cost about $150-$200 per square meter, you can see this is a horrible investment.

He points out, quite correctly, that a road is one of the stupidest ways you can deploy a solar panel. First of all, the panel is pointed straight up, instead of south toward the sun, cutting its efficiency. Second of all, you literally have things passing over it all day, blocking out the sunlight (and, I note, causing large sudden voltage changes that can’t be good for the electronics). And I would add that having two layers of safety glass means you are blocking out some of the light the solar panel needs to absorb. And it’s not clear that a solar road will either be as durable as a regular road or as safe as one (do you want to ride your bike on glass during winter?). And you’ll have to find a way to keep the glass clean or your efficiency will drop even further.

The argument in favor is that it replaces asphalt, which is an energy-intensive product. Fair enough. But solar panels don’t just fall from the sky. They are also energy-intensive to produce. And they are energy-intense to maintain and replace, especially if you have fucking cars driving over them. They also point out that replacing our roads with solar panels (at a cost of about $50 trillion) would provide a enough energy to power the entire country since we have a huge number of roads. Again, fair enough. But lack of space isn’t the biggest problem with solar power right now. Energy storage is. They also make pie-in-the-sky claims that solar roads can power illumination at night or melt snow during winter. But that again gets into energy storage issue. I’m not sure how these road are supposed to collect enough energy to melt snow when they’re covered in … you know … snow.

Solar panels on roofs are a shaky enough prospect. I think they are gradually getting more feasible but are still hung up on the energy storage problem (and no, giant lithium ion batteries are not a solution). But putting solar panels in roads has to be one of the dumber ideas yet to emerge from the green mind. And yet a startup in the US has raised over $2 million for this nonsense.

The School to Prison Pipeline Becomes Literal

Eh, what?

We’ve received reports that yesterday, a Belleville school teacher was locked in a bathroom at the High School due to the RFID system malfunctioning. Since school policy is to not allow the use of cell phones, no one knew where she was, or what happened to her until they went looking for her. Luckily, the teacher was carrying her purse, with her phone inside. When her co-workers retrieved their phones to try to call her, they found that she had been frantically trying to call and text people to come help her.

By the way, this is the same RFID system that the Board of Education pushed through as part of their controversial surveillance system, installed and managed by Clarity Technologies Group, at a cost of $2 million.

Even worse, when they actually discovered that she was locked in the bathroom, they could not open the door by swiping with their own RFID cards because the system had malfunctioned. Apparently someone had to come and pry open the door to finally get her out.

So … let me get this straight. In an effort, presumably, to protect schoolchildren from being abducted by aliens or something, this school spent $2 million — remember how our schools are supposedly strapped for cash? — to build an RFID system. This system is so awesome that it apparently doesn’t include a panic bar on the inside of locked room so that can people can get out in case of malfunction, loss of card or a damned fire?! We are literally locking kids into rooms they may not be able to get out of in the name of safety?

I honestly hope this report turns out to be garbled. Because I can not believe a school system could be that dumb.

Wait a minute. Yes, I can.

A Real Earth Day

Ah, Earth Day. Usually, I use this space to mock the do-nothing feel-goodism that constitutes the bulk of the environmentalist movement. I’ll point out how they do things like “Earth Hour” where they turn out the lights and light up candles and actually do more damage to the environment in the process.

But this year, I want to do something different. I want to recognize the things that are benefiting the environment and truly making the Earth a better and cleaner place.

  • Hydrofracking and the natural gas boom have resulted in the United States being one of the only countries to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, despite not signing the Kyoto Protocol, the United States easily met its standards … without wrecking the economy (or at least, not wrecking it through environmental policy). By replacing more carbon-intense fuels, natural gas is buying years, possibly decades, to address the problem of global warming. And concerns over contamination of groundwater have turned out to be overblown.
  • Nuclear Power is the only alternative energy that functions on a large scale. It uses 10-100 times less land per kilowatt hour than comparable alternative energy and makes far less of a mess, even accounting for the meltdowns at Fukushima and Three Mile Island. New technology, such as pebble-bed reactors, promise to make this energy source even safer and more efficient. And nuclear fusion continues to make slow progress.
  • Mass transportation and free trade allow food to be grown in environments that are ideal and then shipped all over the world. Because transportation uses far less energy than raising and maintaining crops or animals in imperfect environments, the result, contra the “food miles” idiots, is less energy consumption, less resource consumption and lower food prices.
  • While we’re on the subject, Genetically Modified Organisms are increasing crop yields while using less land, less fertilizer and less dangerous pesticides. And they have yet to produce a single attack of killer tomatoes.
  • Capitalism has made a clean environment a consumer good. Consumer pressure has done more to improve the environment than every United Nations treaty combined. Capitalist countries are much cleaner, much more efficient and much more environmentally conscious than command-and-control economies. If you think top-down economies are better for the environment, I invite you to go to random city in China and a take a deep searing breath.
  • If people really want to do some good for the planet, they can go to school and learn about it. They can learn the laws of physics, biology and chemistry. They can study engineering and develop the technology to produce food and energy at an ever smaller cost to the environment. If they don’t have the ability to do science, they can build businesses to exploit those technologies and bring them to market. And failing that, they can at least align their politics with markets, freedom and technological innovation — the things that have really cleaned up the environment, the forces that have every environmental indicator, apart from greenhouse gases, moving in the right direction.

    Anything else is intellectual masturbation. Turning out your lights for an hour and using recycled toothpaste may make you feel like you’re helping the planet. But the people who are really saving the world are too busy working in labs, classrooms and boardrooms to be bothered with this nonsense.

    DoublePlusCrimethink About Ownlife

    I was thinking about something today. Over three-quarters of the American people go to Church at least every few years. Nearly half describe themselves as regular church-goers. Given these facts, why would people object to having a state religion? Why would people demand separation of church and state? Clearly, they don’t have any problem with religion. So why is it suddenly bad when government does it?

    If the answer to that is obvious to you, well it seems to be not so obvious to a large section of the commentariat. Robert Samuelson is the latest idiot to dust off the tired idiotic argument of “Why you no like NSA when you like Facebook?”

    There is more than a little hypocrisy to the outcry that the government, through the National Security Agency (NSA), is systematically destroying Americans’ right to privacy. Edward Snowden’s revelations have been stripped of their social, technological and historical context. Unless you’ve camped in the Alaskan wilderness for two decades, you know — or should — that millions upon millions of Americans have consciously and, probably in most cases, eagerly surrendered much of their privacy by embracing the Internet and social media.

    The Pew Research Center’s surveys confirm that these behaviors are now entirely mainstream. In 2013, 85 percent of Americans used the Internet. Of these, almost three-quarters (73 percent) belonged to social media sites (the biggest: Facebook). Almost one-fifth of adult Internet users have posted personal videos, many hoping, says Pew, that “their creations go viral.” Among people “single and looking” for mates, nearly two-fifths (38 percent) used online dating.

    This is the argument made by a boot-licking piece of crap. I’ve made this point before: can these people seriously not see a difference between information shared voluntarily and information shared involuntarily? Can they not see the difference between sharing your information with a corporation and sharing it with a government? Here’s what I had to say when Cesca was making this boot-licking argument:

    There is simply no moral equivalence between corporations putting cookies on our computers and the NSA engaging in mass surveillance with extra sugary promises that they’ll be nice. To draw such an equivalence is to demonstrate that you failed high school civics. We should be suspicious of corporations. But we should be more suspicious of government because they wield a far larger and more pervasive power.

    Again, how many people has Facebook executed? How many people has Twitter jailed? Did General Motors inter thousands of innocent Japanese people? Did Proctor and Gamble pretend to cure black men of syphilis just to see what would happen? If they did do these things, would they not be held accountable?

    The worst thing that Facebook will do to me is market something at me. The worst thing the NSA will do is tip off the DEA that I might be doing drugs so that my door is bashed down by gun-wielding agents in the middle of the night. These are not even remotely comparable things.

    Many of the NSA defenders understand this on some level. That was the point of my opening thought. When it comes to religion or abortion or sex, they immediately grasp the difference between a private actor (e.g., your parents telling you not to have pre-marital sex) and a public one (e.g, the government telling you not to have pre-martial sex). But when it comes to surveillance, they really don’t see a moral difference between Twitter knowing where I went on vacation and the government knowing every single person I called.

    Partially, that’s reflexive anti-corporatism. Partly, it’s pure partisanship — they’d be a lot more suspicious if a McCain Administration were doing this. But I also think part of is that some section of the commentariat doesn’t really value privacy at all. Or they are in such a state of mind-blowing fear over terrorism, privacy concerns are dwarfed by the need to feel safe. How else can you explain this paragraph:

    If Americans think their privacy is dangerously diminished, there are remedies. They can turn off their PCs, toss their smartphones and smash their tablets. Somehow, this seems unlikely, even though another Pew survey finds that “86 percent of adult Internet users have taken steps . . . to avoid surveillance by other people or organizations.”

    I pointed this out on Twitter, but it’s worth saying again: in the book Nineteen Eighty Four Winston and Julia are unable to use normal communication to conduct their affair. Instead, they have to communicate with secret notes and whispers. This was seen as one of the most oppressive aspects of the regime.

    We now have American commentators openly stating that we should live in such a society. That if you don’t want the government snooping on you, you should smash your tablet. Communicate with secret notes and whispers if you don’t want to be heard, you Ron Paul disciple.

    For people like Samuelson, it is all right, everything is all right, the struggle is finished. They have won the victory over themselves. They love Big Brother.

    How Not to Fight Global Warming

    Following on Alex’s post about the booming energy sector, you should check out this report from Der Spiegel about the disaster that is Germany’s green energy sector:

    For society as a whole, the costs have reached levels comparable only to the euro-zone bailouts. This year, German consumers will be forced to pay €20 billion ($26 billion) for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants — electricity with a market price of just over €3 billion. Even the figure of €20 billion is disputable if you include all the unintended costs and collateral damage associated with the project. Solar panels and wind turbines at times generate huge amounts of electricity, and sometimes none at all. Depending on the weather and the time of day, the country can face absurd states of energy surplus or deficit.

    If there is too much power coming from the grid, wind turbines have to be shut down. Nevertheless, consumers are still paying for the “phantom electricity” the turbines are theoretically generating. Occasionally, Germany has to pay fees to dump already subsidized green energy, creating what experts refer to as “negative electricity prices.”

    On the other hand, when the wind suddenly stops blowing, and in particular during the cold season, supply becomes scarce. That’s when heavy oil and coal power plants have to be fired up to close the gap, which is why Germany’s energy producers in 2012 actually released more climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than in 2011.

    Emphasis mine. New gas plants are able to cut greenhouse gas emission in half through better engineering and using gas instead of coal. But somehow, green energy is increasing greenhouse gas emissions (although that may partially be because Germany is foolishly phasing our nuclear power).

    It actually gets worse. Big factories are being told to shut down when energy use exceeds capacity. Spiking energy prices and taxes are incredibly hard on poor Germans, with some 300,000 having the power shut off every year for delinquent bills. The soaring bills are mainly going into some 4,000 different subsidies that mainly go to affluent people who can afford to dabble in green energy.

    I should point that Der Spiegel is not a conservative rag that opposes green energy. What they actually are suggesting is modeling Germany’s energy policy after Sweden’s, which abandoned micromanaging in favor of overall mandates on renewable energy. This has allowed Swedish energy interests to invest in whatever technology is most promising (mainly hydroelectric, but many greens don’t like hydro). For the US, a better policy might be a carbon tax, which attempt to fold in the environmental cost of CO2 into the cost of carbon energy and could be balanced by cutting or eliminating corporate income taxes. But however you look at it, the system of micro-management and subsidies is a disaster.

    Long term, the only solution to global warming is technological innovation. The current version of solar and wind are not up to replacing fossil fuels. The energy grid is not efficient enough. And there is no way of storing energy effectively. Here’s a question: will German businesses and universities make big breakthroughs in dark rooms? Will they make them when their industry can’t run because there is no power? Will they do it through a maze of red tape, subsidies and mandates?

    The good news is that we have time to back away from this foolishness. The latest data show that global warming has slowed, as it did in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and climate sensitivity may have been overestimated. We have a lot more time to deal with this than we thought — decades more. That means we don’t have to break our civilization on the alter of wind turbines to stop global warming NOW RIGHT NOW. We have time to unshackle industry, fund basic research and make the true breakthroughs that will give our economy the same boost 20 years from now that fracking and shale are giving it now.

    Let’s Ban Everything

    Senator Lautenberg, in the wake of the Boston bombing, is calling for background checks for people buying explosive powder. Yes, Best Magazine on the Planet?

    Purchasing commercial gunpowder is a nice convenience for hobbyists because it provides consistent powder of known quality and stability. But making stuff blow up is not hard. I can’t be the only person who scorched part of his home as a kid with black powder concocted from a library book recipe. Cormac McCarthy’s excellent Blood Meridian includes a rather detailed recipe for making a large quantity of the stuff while running for your life.

    Nastier explosives can be concocted with ease, too. I had a high school chemistry teacher who delighted in pranking his colleagues with nitrogen triiodide. Not hard stuff to make, as it turns out.

    Even simple flour can explode under the right circumstances (see the photo up above) — those circumstances occurring all too easily for those who manufacture the stuff or store large quantities [Hal – as we tragically found out last night]. The bloody Oklahoma City bombing was committed with an explosive made from common fertilizer and fuel oil. The fact of the matter is, preventing stuff from burning or blowing up can sometimes be a trickier task than causing explosions. So many common ingredients, from gasoline to sugar, can be used to cause mayhem, that Lautenberg’s further proposal to “[m]ake it illegal to manufacture homemade explosives without a permit,” falls just shy of a ban on naughty thoughts in terms of unenforceability.

    Background checks are rapidly becoming our nation’s answer to animal sacrifices: a ritual that we hope will banish evil law-breaking spirits. In some applications — like controlling nuclear weapons — they are useful. But they are not the answer to everything. And they can not override the basic laws of chemistry which dictate that explosives can be created by anyone with sufficient knowledge.

    I can’t tell if Lautenberg is senile, a lawhead or a senile lawhead but this has to rank up there with the most ridiculous responses to the Boston killing (the single most ridiculous is CNN’s self-beclowning “news coverage”). I’m sure that Lautenberg will soon see the flaw in this and propose something different. Maybe banning the Star Trek episode Arena.

    Goose Gander Watch

    I find myself amused. When I first saw this, I was sure it was from the Onion.

    The Congress-focused research organization LegiStorm set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill this week as some staffers learned that their personal Twitter accounts would appear on the site.

    LegiStorm on Wednesday publicized the tool StormFeed, a “real-time, full-text searchable access to every official press release and official tweet from Capitol Hill plus the tweets of thousands of congressional staffers,” according to a release. It’s a page available for members of the subscription service LegiStorm Pro.

    As staffers learned about StormFeed, some discovered other detailed, personal information listed on the site.

    “Many are finding inaccurate information in their profiles, despite [Legistorm’s] promise that info provided is ‘confirmed,’” one House Republican staffer told POLITICO in an email on Friday. “I was pretty surprised to show that they even listed who I married, when I married him and where. Why in the world does that need to be in there?”

    Welcome to the fucking club, guys. We, the citizens, are subject to our government collecting all kinds of information about us. We, the citizens, are told that government can monitor our cell phones, roll drug-sniffing dogs up and see our e-mail patterns without a warrant. We, the citizens, will be subject to the new SOPA bills you guys are quietly crafting. We, the citizens, are subject to an ever-expanding list of federal crimes we can commit with knowing it. But someone wants to publish your public records and suddenly it’s a violation?

    You may think that Congressional staffers are innocent bystandards in the war on our privacy. You would think wrong. Staffers are usually very involved in the legislative process. They often read the bills that Congressmen don’t. They are a party to ever civil liberties violations that has come down the pipe in the last ten years. And now they’re miffed because someone is looking at their God damned Twitter feed?

    Give me a break.

    The UN’s Latest Power Grab

    Sometimes I don’t know which is worse: their lust for power or their ignorance.

    The ITU is supposed to meet soon to discuss how they want to assert control of the internet. Over at the WSJ, Crovitz points out that this isn’t just an assault on liberty, it’s stupid.

    Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day.

    Many of the engineers and developers who built and operate these networks belong to virtual committees and task forces coordinated by an international nonprofit called the Internet Society. The society is home to the Internet Engineering Task Force (the main provider of global technical standards) and other volunteer groups such as the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Research Task Force. Another key nongovernmental group is Icann, which assigns Internet addresses and domain names.

    The self-regulating Internet means no one has to ask for permission to launch a website, and no government can tell network operators how to do their jobs. The arrangement has made the Internet a rare place of permissionless innovation. As former Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard recently pointed out, 90% of cooperative “peering” agreements among networks are “made on a handshake,” adjusting informally as needs change.

    Of course, this is precisely what the power-grabbers hate about the internet: that this amazing thing has arisen without them forcing everyone to do it or telling them what to do. Voluntary standards? Deals on a handshake? Information groups that do their job and nothing else? Jesus Christ, how are you going to create 700,000 regulatory jobs on such a thing? Won’t someone please think of the bureaucrats?

    That unregulated and uncontrolled nature has, of course, made the internet very free. The international gangsters don’t like that either, of course. Whether it’s media companies wanting to stop piracy or governments wanting to silence critics, there is a massive cabal out there who want to control what people say and read on the internet. Today, we got a hint of what they envision.

    It appears that the Syrian government may have just taken a drastic measure it has conspicuously avoided over the nearly two years of fighting: cutting itself off from the Internet. Renesys, a Web-monitoring service, reported Thursday morning that sweeping outages in Syria had shut down 92 percent of the country’s routed networks. Shortly after, it updated to report that the remaining IP address blocks had gone down, “effectively removing the country from the Internet.” The “Syrian Internet Is Off The Air,” it announced.

    This is not unprecedented: Egypt and Libya did the same. But it’s crude. It cuts off the entire country instead of cutting off just those parts reporting things the Syrian government doesn’t want getting out.

    Watch the ITU, friends. They may, in time, become one of the biggest threats to basic human liberty.

    Innovations & Inventions still happen

    The other day someone pointed out that we had lost the ability to innovate and invent here in America. While in general that seems to be the truth, there are pockets of invention left out there. Unfortunately for the people that usually see defense spending as a waste, these inventions and innovations these days seem to all predominantly come from military R&D like this one about long endurance drones:

    October 6, 2011: America sees long (up to five years) endurance UAVs as salvation in the event of a space satellite apocalypse. The U.S. military is concerned about American dependence on space satellites, particularly the GPS birds. The U.S. Navy is particularly disturbed about this, because their warships depend on satellite communications while at sea. They can get by with the older wireless communications, but this form of transmission is very slow, and the navy has to move a lot more data these days in order to operate effectively.

    The U.S. Air Force believes China is developing the ability to carry out a major attack on American military satellites (the “satellite apocalypse”). Their proposed solution is to take GPS out of orbit, and make it portable. High flying aircraft, UAVs or blimps would take over satellite communications, surveillance and navigation (GPS) chores, although for smaller areas. This would make GPS, and other satellite functions, more resilient to attack.

    This where the navy and the long endurance UAVs come in. There are several models in development. They all are similar in concept. They are lightweight, use solar panels to drive the electric motors day and night and power the communications relay or sensors (cameras and such) and fly at high altitudes (20,000-30,000 meters, above the weather).

    The American model is called Vulture. It’s the one that can stay up for five years. Currently, a version capable of staying up three months is being readied for a test next year. That will be followed by the full size version, that will be tested with 12 months of continuous flight. Then will come multi-year flights, and entry into service (within five years). This version will have a payload of 450 kg (1,000 pounds) and be able to act as a communications and reconnaissance satellite substitute.

    I have often contended that despite the fact that some military dollars tend to be pork sent to their states by politicians from both parties – and nobody beat Murtha at that game back when he was around and kicking – that the majority of it is a far better investment, with a larger payoff to the average American tax payer, than any other money spent by government, bar none. It’s not by coincidence that many things we currently take for granted where invented as part of defense/space programs. I also believe that it is not a coincidence that the latte sipping, apple computer using, Marxists that are the kids of well off parents decrying the injustices of the world out of guilt, that form the core of the left’s intelligentsia so hate defense spending of any kind.

    Inovation still exists. Of course, we all know that paying for defense or paying some kid to be in the military isn’t as noble as giving freeloaders money to keep making more freeloaders that need money and will trade it for votes.