What 100 year flood means

“And this is where you first start getting a sense that maybe engineering hydrology isn’t the most exact of sciences. …none of the Imperial units for these values agree, but if you do the math, the conversion factor is just about one, so we ignore it. We just leave it off! This is not something we take out to the fifth decimal place.”

$1 million Google Tiny Box prize won

Belgian contenders The Red Electrical Devils have won the $1,000,000 Google Tiny Box prize.

There’s a .pdf of the paper describing their design here, but don’t bother trying to read it if the word “schematic” means nothing to you.

Google’s challenge was for a tiny, lightweight device that converts DC (the type of electricity that batteries and solar panels put out) to AC (the type of electricity that is most useful for doing work). Such devices are called “inverters” and improvements in inverter technology would obviously be useful for electric cars, home solar power systems, and many another thing.

The winning team exceeded Google’s minimum requirements to win by three times, creating a device that is ten times smaller than existing technologies while meeting all of Google’s other restrictions (such as 95% or better efficiency, air cooling, &etc.) It’s extremely impressive work.

Comodo up to more tricks

People occasionally ask me who they should buy security certificates from. I absolutely will not recommend anyone in particular – even the most honest and honorable Certificate Authorities are inherently swindlers, because the trade itself is pretty much a legalized extortion scheme – but I am willing to say who I don’t recommend – Comodo is the worst CA, hands down. Witness their latest hijinks:

When you install Comodo Internet Security, by default a new browser called Chromodo is installed and set as the default browser. Additionally, all shortcuts are replaced with Chromodo links and all settings, cookies, etc are imported from Chrome. They also hijack DNS settings, among other shady practices.
[Link to Chromodo download elided]
Chromodo is described as “highest levels of speed, security and privacy”, but actually disables all web security. Let me repeat that, they ***disable the same origin policy***…. ?!?..

This certainly isn’t the first time Comodo’s been caught doing things they shouldn’t, but somehow they still control around a third of the world’s certificate issuance. People need to stop giving business to known bad actors, even when it’s unclear whether the actions stem from malice or incompetence.

Walmart closing stores

The Beeb is reporting that Walmart’s going to close 269 stores worldwide.

I wonder if it’s too much to hope that the local businesses that failed when Walmart came to town will re-appear, phoenix-like, from the ashes? According to the Austrian economists, they should. But even if they do, it seems to me that once the wages go down, they are going to stay down, unless labor becomes scarce. And the increasing automation of shopping and stocking means there’s not going to be any shortage of retail laborers any time soon.

London underground. No, not that one.

New Statesman:

How many of these once perfectly functioning and possibly still serviceable diggers are petrified underneath central London, like those Romans preserved cowering in the corners of houses in Pompeii? Estimates vary. One property developer I asked reckoned at least 1,000; another put the figure at more like 500.


London is thus becoming a machine cemetery, with upwards of £5 million worth of excavators now lying in state beneath the houses of the 1%. Like tools invented by M.C. Escher, these sacrificial JCB*s have excavated the very holes they are then ritually entombed within, turning the city into a Celtic barrow for an age of heroic machinery.

I suppose this is all very well and good until somebody blunders into a plague pit.

*A “JCB” is what a Briton calls an excavator made by Lord Joseph Cyril Bamburg, CBE.

How many unemployed?

In this post-Reagan era, you can use the Government’s “official” count of unemployment – which is broken up into categories from U1 to U6, but everybody uses the U3, currently 5.3% – or you can check out John Williams’ Shadow Government Statistics, with puts the current count at 23%. Williams attempts to use the pre-1990 method of calculation (which is difficult because the government is trying really hard not to obtain anything resembling real unemployment figures) so that you can compare modern unemployment figures with historical data.

Dillon Marsh: For what it’s worth

These images combine photography and computer generated elements in an effort to visualise the output of a mine. The CGI objects represent a scale model of the materials removed from each mine, a solid mass occupying a scene showing the ground from which it was extracted. By doing so, the intention is to create a kind of visualisation of the merits and shortfalls of mining in South Africa, an industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically.

Slate shilling for GMOs

William Saletan, author of Bearing Right, has a lengthy column up on Slate explaining how purposely withholding information from common folks like me in order to fatten the coffers of giant agribusinesses is really, really totally morally OK, because Golden Rice. It makes some good points and provides lots of information, but ultimately reads like a catalog of formal logic errors papered over with pseudo-moralistic posturing.

The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy.

Oh, my support for product labeling, including GMO labeling, is me using people. Because I’m the one with a profit motive? Seriously? People are supposed to believe that generic salarymen somehow magically make money by wanting labeling, and that food mega-producers are living in such abject poverty that they simply can’t afford to print meaningful labels? Really?

Wait, didn’t big corporate food producers also oppose the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act? Despite the history of food and drug regulation in the USA, we are to believe that they oppose labeling because of their inherent saintliness, and it has nothing to do with their profits? We’re supposed to take seriously claims that 21st century science is too backward and primitive to define a labeling regime that would be of any use?

GMO shills commonly ignore all the regular everyday people who just want informative labeling, and characterize their opposition as being solely composed of loony Californian anti-vaccine anti-GMO crystal worshippers. Saletan goes on from there to paint the completely amoral American food industry (despite many examples of what typical behavior is when regulation is lax) as merely timid, brownbeaten victims whose great flaw is unwillingness to force GMOs into every market.

On one side is an army of quacks and pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science. On the other side are corporate cowards who would rather stick to profitable weed-killing than invest in products that might offend a suspicious public.

After reading the entire article, I was left with the impression that Saletan is saying labels are bad, it’s just too hard to give poor people carrots, never mind that white rice is a cultural shibboleth, Chewbacca is a wookiee, and therefore you don’t need to know anything, and if we label food products so that people can make an informed choice the terrorists win. It’s exactly like global politics… or CRELM toothpaste!

The problem with privilege metaphors

It seems to me that we are all the recipients of unearned privilege. You were formed in the womb of your birth mother, to her great discomfort and inconvenience; and obviously nothing you did yourself made you worthy of this privilege – it was a gift, literally the gift of life itself, that you received for free. You had already been a freeloading moocher for nine months before you were even born!

But not every birth is equal. Recent research claims that poverty diminishes mental capacities from birth. It’s fairly clear that the richer your parents and community are, the more unearned privileges you will eventually enjoy – for example, the children of Barack Obama enjoy vastly more privilege than the children of impoverished Arkansas sharecroppers, or the children of impoverished Native Americans on the Res.

Right Wing radio pundits like to split common people along color lines by screaming of “black criminality” and “black on black violence”, but criminality and violence correlate far more with poverty and lack of opportunity than with any skin color. Left Wing bloggers like to split common people on color lines by screeching “white privilege” – as though privilege did not correlate with wealth, and as if there were no privileged people of color.

These talking heads, Right and Left, are of their own free will servile to the ruling class. The .001% of humanity whose titanic wealth makes them immune to law would prefer that the rest of us split on color lines, gender lines, religion, anything that will keep us from uniting. If we could put aside our differences, it might interfere with the continuing concentration of the Earth’s vast resources into fewer and fewer hands – or even reverse that trend.

Drink up, Monsanto.

Robert Chesebrough, the chemist who created Vaseline, was challenged to prove the safety of his product. His response was to eat three tablespoons of it, and he later claimed to eat a teaspoon of it every day as a health tonic. He lived to be 96, and white petroleum jelly is still considered safe and non-toxic.

More recently, Wang Chuan-Fu, the CEO of BYD, publicly drank the electrolyte liquid used in the lithium ion battery produced by his company.

But Monsanto doesn’t even want to label their products, and while their shills might say that it’d be safe to drink a quart of glyophosate pesticide, they certainly won’t do so.

Of course, if he’d drunk it, that wouldn’t have proved it was safe. Thomas Midgley publicly drank tetraethyl lead… and then snuck off to Europe for lead poisoning treatment!

Update: Monsanto tells Xeni Jardin:

Dr. Moore is not a Monsanto lobbyist or employee. Knowledgeable scientists, consumers and our farmer customers may be familiar with and confident in the safety of glyphosate, but their statements don’t make them lobbyists for our company. Dr. Patrick Moore is one of those individuals. He agrees with the science that supports the safety of glyphosate, and is an advocate for technology and innovation. But as I mentioned, he is not and never has been a paid lobbyist for or employee at Monsanto.

Nukes and America’s Energy Future

Even if ground-based nuclear power was economically viable in the USA (which it it isn’t, despite massive subsidies) I don’t think our socio-economic system is set up to handle nuclear power. It seems unlikely to me that an adequate level of quality technical administration can be maintained in the post-Reagan business environment; our corporations will inevitably cut costs and staffing until an accident occurs. And that kind of feedback loop does not match up well with pollutants that have lethal doses measured in parts per million and half-life measured in thousands of years.

Fermentation products, particularly methane (aka “Natural Gas”) and alcohols from cellulose (currently not in large-scale production, but China’s already building out the infrastructure) are a far better choice than nuclear. We’ve already got the infrastructure and distribution media for it, and it’s infinitely sustainable and carbon-neutral. Scientifically, it’s a no-brainer; it even leads theoretically to future global temperature management schemes based on vegetative sequestration and release of carbon.

Nuclear power generation works great in space, and we should use it there. On earth we already have clean methane burning appliances available in the Home Depot and Sears, and we already have containment technology that works and restricts accidents to manageable proportions. The biggest real obstacle is that sustainable fuels displace profits from the currently dominant political and economic powers, namely the Texas Oil Barons and their dirty energy lobby. If you build a giant algae vat in Death Valley that generates clean methane or alcohol from waste agricultural products incredibly cheaply, you will directly take income from Esso and Texaco. If you build a nuke plant, there’s no problem, because the dirty energy lobby also owns the means of nuclear power plant construction and operation, and I’m sure they’d much prefer walled nuke plants patrolled by Erik Prince’s armed goons to huge empty plains spotted with oil derricks.

Office not so 365

Microsoft’s Azure Cloud service failed at almost exactly midnight last night, taking down hundreds of websites who may have thought that hardware redundancy could magically protect them from sysadmin oopses, as well as users of Xbox live and Microsoft’s flagship service Office 365.

Viva Zorggroep, a Dutch healthcare organisation with 4,000 employees, said it had also been affected as a consequence of adopting Microsoft’s online apps.

“At this time, our supporting departments such as finance, HR, education, IT et cetera are working with Office 365,” said Dave Thijssen, an IT manager at the company.

“This morning these servers were unresponsive, which means users were not able to log in to Office 365.

“As a result they had no access to email, calendars, or – most importantly – their documents and Office Online applications.

“We also had trouble reporting the outage to our users as most of digital communication – email, Lync, intranet/Sharepoint – was out.

The outage persisted for over five hours for some customers and apparently there are still latency issues at this time. This is of course a violation of the Service Level Agreement… so you can keep a nickel or two of your monthly rent, I bet.

Square D car charger after two months

Back in June I blogged installing a Square D Model EV230WS level 2 electric vehicle charging station.

The new charger is connected by 8 gauge copper wire with a NEMA 14-50 plug and receptacle, a Square D QO series safety switch, and a 40 amp breaker. The actual current draw of the charging station is 30 amps at 240 VAC, so I am still well within code for the 100 amp subpanel in the barn, and having the 14-50 plug means we can potentially support other 240 mobile loads like Teslas, large RVs, plasma cutters, and portable welders.

As promised, the system charges our plug-in Prius in roughly 1.5 hours, and the Nissan Leaf in 5. It’s very simple, no unnecessary bells or whistles, you just plug in and walk away. There’s no need for anything more complex, because the cars themselves both have externally visible charge indicators (the Prius just tells you if it’s done charging or not, but the Leaf gives you a rough indication of charging progress with three top-of-the-dash LEDs) and both cars can give you detailed charts and graphs of charging status and history from their on-board computer systems.

We’ve had a total of one unusual incident – last week the system lit its red “alarm” LED when the Leaf was plugged in. Since I installed it with a safety switch, it was easily rebooted, which cleared the alarm and restored normal function.

Last night a nearby lightning strike spiked our power, causing computers to reboot and making the HVAC system noisily unhappy, but the charger (which was plugged into the Prius at the time) didn’t seem to care much, it just rebooted itself and carried on normally.

All in all, we are quite pleased with everything about the charger except the price. All electric vehicle charging stations are ridiculously expensive right now, though, and at $600 the Square D EV230WS was the most cost-effective charger available without building our own.

Back again.

OK, so that sabbatical was not so brief. I went a few places, did a few things.

In the meantime my hex tiles have arrived from Cali. I was only able to find one place that sold three- and four-point hex edge tiles, and they sure weren’t cheap.

I’m thinking about throwing down redgard and self-leveling compound before I lay the tile.