I went down the rabbit hole this morning, finding all about the origins of last year’s Camp Fire, the most destructive fire in California’s history. The cause has been traced to faulty equipment on a high-voltage transmission tower. Being a geek, I wanted to learn more about the technical aspects of this part, so I dug up some informative articles.
First, here’s the start of an informative story on the disaster itself:
PG&E has released new details of damage to its electrical equipment in the area where Butte County’s catastrophic Camp Fire began last month — including a broken power pole “with bullets and bullet holes at the break point.”
The new information is included in a letter updating the California Public Utilities Commission on a pair of electrical incidents that occurred Nov. 8 about the same time the fire started and began to race toward the town of Paradise.
One of the incidents occurred at 6:15 a.m. on a major electrical transmission line suspended on a series of high steel towers on a steep slope above the North Fork of the Feather River. PG&E’s new letter suggests that a large steel hook connecting high-voltage equipment to a tower near the utility’s Poe Dam failed, causing the equipment to arc.
The United States has over 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste that requires disposal. The U.S. commercial power industry alone has generated more waste (nuclear fuel that is “spent” and is no longer efficient at generating power) than any other country—nearly 80,000 metric tons. This spent nuclear fuel, which can pose serious risks to humans and the environment, is enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep. The U.S. government’s nuclear weapons program has generated spent nuclear fuel as well as high-level radioactive waste and accounts for most of the rest of the total at about 14,000 metric tons, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). For the most part, this waste is stored where it was generated—at 80 sites in 35 states. The amount of waste is expected to increase to about 140,000 metric tons over the next several decades. However, there is still no disposal site in the United States. After spending decades and billions of dollars to research potential sites for a permanent disposal site, including at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada that has a license application pending to authorize construction of a nuclear waste repository, the future prospects for permanent disposal remain unclear.
On its 60th anniversary, the civilian age of nuclear power in America appears to be almost over. But with the country awash in radioactive waste and plutonium stockpiled for warheads, the task of managing this atomic legacy grows ever more urgent. Opening a long-delayed waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is imperative.
President Dwight Eisenhower formally opened America’s first commercial nuclear power station at Shippingport, Pa., near Pittsburgh, on May 26, 1958. He declared it would “put the atom to work for the good of mankind, not his destruction.” His nuclear cheerleader, Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, had promised power “too cheap to meter.”
Today, with cheap gas and falling prices for wind and solar energy, nuclear power is often now too expensive to sell. Six plants closed from 2013 to 2017. At least seven more — from the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey to the Diablo Canyon plant in California — have been earmarked for final shutdown, often years before their operating licenses expire. About a quarter of the nation’s nuclear power plants don’t cover their operating costs, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
America’s cellular network is as vital to society as the highway system and power grids. Vulnerabilities in the mobile phone infrastructure threaten not only personal privacy and security, but also the country’s. According to intelligence reports, spies are eavesdropping on President Trump’s cellphone conversations and using fake cellular towers in Washington to intercept phone calls. Cellular communication infrastructure, the system at the heart of modern communication, commerce and governance, is woefully insecure. And we are doing nothing to fix it.
We were at a “repair cafe” inside the Elkridge Library in Howard County, Maryland. Instead of silence, we were surrounded by the buzzing of power drills and the whirring of sewing machines. Goedeke was one of the “master fixers” there. He doesn’t like the term, though; he says it should be reserved for the professionals. “We’re all just amateurs at this, and we’re just having fun, mostly,” the 67-year-old retired engineer said.
Around the room, 10 others were helping residents repair everything from tables and lamps to jewelry and clothing. In one corner, a handful of vacuums had begun to accumulate. These were things people normally threw away when they malfunction. “[Our society] has been inculcated in the last 50 years with this disposable concept and to buy the best and the latest,” Goedeke said. “We just don’t expect to keeps things around.”
Hey there, I’m back. This time with sort of sad but, “welp, obviously because it’s still 2018” news. Like most pure things, the fun, satisfying, viral video of a former NASA engineer pranking package thieves, which made the entire internet feel vindicated, is not what it seems.
Earlier this week, Mark Rober, an inventor-turned-YouTuber who worked on NASA’s Curiosity rover, among other impressive things, published an 11-minute video detailing how he spent six months creating the ultimate revenge contraption after someone stole an Amazon package off his porch. He called it his “Magnum Opus,” and it went mega, mega-viral, garnering more than 38 million views in three days, and elicited a collective “HELL YES” of joy and satisfaction from everyone who has ever had their stuff taken.
But shortly after the ode to all the packages we’ve lost before swept across the media landscape, viewers on the internet did what they do best: pick it apart.
Here’s yet another reason why we need open-source, fully auditable voting machines.
Millions of Americans will cast votes in Tuesday’s midterm elections, some on machines that experts say use outdated software or are vulnerable to hacking. If there are glitches or some races are too close to call — or evidence emerges of more meddling attempts by Russia — voters may wake up on Wednesday and wonder: Can we trust the outcome?
Meet, then, the gatekeepers of American democracy: Three obscure, private equity-backed companies control an estimated $300 million U.S. voting-machine industry. Though most of their revenue comes from taxpayers, and they play an indispensable role in determining the balance of power in America, the companies largely function in secret.
Back in 1999, I was working at a local, famous IBM/Linux VAR called Indelible Blue as a Linux Specialist. One day I was investigating a customer issue with a CDROM drive and filed a bug in Red Hat’s Bugzilla bug tracking system. Months went by and I didn’t think much of it until later that summer when I received an email from Red Hat telling me I had been awarded a few hundred shares of pre-IPO stock!
I was amazed at Red Hat’s generosity of giving out pre-IPO stock to anyone in their bug tracking system. I sold the majority of the stock before the Dot Bomb era of 2000 but kept some shares around largely for sentimental purposes. With last month’s announcement of IBM buying Red Hat, I decided it was time to cash in the rest of my shares. Thanks to IBM’s purchase of Red Hat, my shares have brought me a welcome chunk of change.
It’s funny to think that my decision to file one bug over 19 years ago is still paying off today, and in a big way!
About, oh … six years ago I tried out a CD cataloging service called ICollectMedia (ICM). Didn’t use it beyond the first time I signed up and forgot all about it until I recently began receiving ransom emails from online crooks who populated their emails with the unique password I used for ICM. Since this was a unique password for a service I no longer use, I wasn’t concerned about the breach affecting me, but it did show me that the folks who run ICM didn’t properly hash the passwords of their users. If they had used hashes then there is no way my complex, unique password would have been easily recovered and subsequently shared on the DarkWeb.