Even though Utahraptor has an appealing sensibility!
"Ben, what the fuck are you talking about?"
Oh, sorry, I didn't see you—I was talking to myself, I guess. Funny story (not really), the other day I was walking down the street talking to myself and this tween-looking girl walking with her folks (I assume) gave me a really mean look. I was not less kempt than usual. But, anyway, it was this—I was talking about that.
I mentioned here finding Joel Achenbach's writing on the details of the oil spill to be exceedingly clear. So it's not exactly surprising to find Mr. Achenbach clarifying the weird creature that is the US electric grid here.
I could see his writing style being annoying to an expert; he's almost certainly glossing over important technical minutiae. But in terms of getting a non-expert in and out of a relatively complex subject, to the extent that the reader walks away feeling reasonably better informed about it, Achenbach is good at what he does.
I've excerpted below the fold some highlights, but I do recommend clicking through to the full piece if you're at all interested.
Bit of history:
At first, utilities were local operations that ran the generating plant and the distribution. A patchwork of mini-grids formed across the U.S. In time the utilities realized they could improve reliability and achieve economies of scale by linking their transmission networks. After the massive Northeast blackout of 1965, much of the control of the grid shifted to regional operators spanning many states. Yet today there is still no single grid in the U.S.; there are three nearly independent ones--the Eastern, Western, and Texas Interconnections.
They function with antiquated technology. The parts of the grid you come into contact with are symptomatic. How does the power company measure your electricity usage? With a meter reader--a human being who goes to your home or business and reads the dials on a meter. How does the power company learn that you've lost power? When you call on the phone. In general, utilities don't have enough instantaneous information on the flow of current through their lines--many of those lines don't carry any data--and people and slow mechanical switches are too involved in controlling that flow.
No, really, it's complicated:
When you flip a light switch, the electricity that zips into the bulb was created just a fraction of a second earlier, many miles away. Where it was made, you can't know, because hundreds of power plants spread over many states are all pouring their output into the same communal grid. Electricity can't be stored on a large scale with today's technology; it has to be used instantly. At each instant there has to be a precise balance between generation and demand over the whole grid. In control rooms around the grid, engineers constantly monitor the flow of electricity, trying to keep voltage and frequency steady and to avoid surges that could damage both their customers' equipment and their own.
When I flip a switch at my house in Washington, D.C., I'm dipping into a giant pool of electricity called the PJM Interconnection. PJM is one of several regional operators that make up the Eastern grid; it covers the District of Columbia and 13 states, from the Mississippi River east to New Jersey and all the way down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's an electricity market that keeps supply and demand almost perfectly matched--every day, every minute, every fraction of a second--among hundreds of producers and distributors and 51 million people, via 56,350 miles of high-voltage transmission lines.
Remember the 2003 blackout?
Which brings us to August 14, 2003. Most of PJM's network escaped the disaster, which started near Cleveland. The day was hot; the air conditioners were humming. Shortly after 1 p.m EDT, grid operators at First Energy, the regional utility, called power plants to plead for more volts. At 1:36 p.m. on the shore of Lake Erie, a power station whose operator had just promised to "push it to my max max" responded by crashing. Electricity surged into northern Ohio from elsewhere to take up the slack.
At 3:05 a 345-kilovolt transmission line near the town of Walton Hills picked that moment to short out on a tree that hadn't been trimmed. That failure diverted electricity onto other lines, overloading and overheating them. One by one, like firecrackers, those lines sagged, touched trees, and short-circuited.
Grid operators have a term for this: "cascading failures." The First Energy operators couldn't see the cascade coming because an alarm system had also failed. At 4:06 a final line failure sent the cascade to the East Coast. With no place to park their electricity, 265 power plants shut down. The largest blackout in North American history descended on 50 million people in eight states and Ontario.
Man, I can't imagine the pushback on this, even though I'd be okay with it, personally:
The next step is to let grid operators choose. Instead of only increasing electricity supply to meet demand, the operators could also reduce demand. On sweltering summer days the smart grid could automatically turn up thermostats and refrigerators a bit--with the prior agreement of the homeowners of course.
Meh, that's enough teasers. Go read the damn thing if any of that caught your eye.
Presumably, my failure to hear about this news until now is a by-product of having more or less checked out of the news cycle on Friday, and so my outrage and indignation will seem, no doubt, hackneyed and late-to-the-party. So, I offer to you my apologies in advance, as I indulge myself by quoting Marine Corps General James Mattis, also known as the proposed new head of CentCom:
Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, then a lieutenant general, told a crowd in San Diego that it was "fun to shoot some people" and said that some Afghans deserved to die.
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years, because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot 'em."
Uh, awesome, um, bro.
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I for one really like dolman sleeves. I don't think I own any shirts with them, but maybe I'll do something about that.
The number of people I see daily has plummeted since I was in grad school, in Austin. I no longer walk through crowded areas and see a high turnover of strangers. During the summer it's even more pronounced. So I may be losing my fashion sense. I'm pretty sure that dolman sleeves are great, but I just can't tell to what degree they're out there and over with. They're still great to me.
Also, metal roofs, anyone? Anyone have experience with the pros and cons of different roofs? I know the basic arguments, I just wondered if anyone here has weighed the arguments and what conclusions they came to.
I just successfully did a chin-up. Two, actually, although with a rest break inbetween. I'd been doing sets of assisted chin-ups at the gym where I shower and change before biking to work, because the machine's right by the locker room, but doing them with quite a bit of assistance -- sixty pounds counteracting my body weight. This morning I figured I'd try one on just a chin-up bar at home, and went right up. I am ridiculously pleased with myself, and am likely to do something really stupid and hurt myself showing off how strong I am in the near future.
And, if the UK commenters can stand listening to me brag in person, I'm in London and free in the evenings Wednesday through Friday July 7-9. We're staying in a hotel in a neighborhood implausibly called "Swiss Cottage," but I haven't got any idea what it's convenient for. If the Brits will, among them, take charge of picking a location I'll be able to get to and choose a night, I'm there. Lurkers, as always, welcome. (Confidential to Asilon: Does a day trip to Oxford with the kids make any touristic sense at all? Are you and your kids likely to be around? Our sightseeing plans are the very reverse of firm.)
Update: Meetup is tonight at the Sir Richard Steele (which I should probably locate on a map soon). I'll be there around sixish, wearing a brown dress, and generally being a medium-tallish woman with long brown hair.
One time on a long trip, one of my tripmates noted that I tended to go for sandwiches whenever we stopped to eat. He busted me. It's pretty much sandwiches or burritos for me, unless I'm out at some fancy-shmancy place or a specialty place (e.g., sushi).
I like me some sammiches. So you can imagine my delight when Sir Kraab sent along this important development in sandwich technology:
Is putting a sandwich in a can and calling it a "Candwich" the next can't-miss billion-dollar idea?
Even if it is, investors in Utah who put $145 million in the hands of a money manager named Travis L. Wright will still have thinner wallets. A lawsuit by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission says that Mr. Wright promised returns of up to 24 percent on real estate investments, but that he put the money instead into Candwich development and other equally untried ideas.
Aw, what a bunch of haters. I believe in your dream, Travis! If for no other reason than this awesome last sentence:
The shelf life of a Candwich is excellent, Mr. Kirkland [the guy who patented the Candwich in which Mr. Wright invested] said.
Olivia Munn is controversial. She's the new senior correspondent on the Daily Show. Originally, there's a Jezebel article, which asserts that the Daily Show is a big old boys club, who hasn't hired a woman in seven years, and then finally hires Olivia Munn, whose shtick is being a pandering sexygirl to video game fanboys.
Next, there's a Slate article, which says that they're sick of the blog-feminist shtick: all the feminist blogs care about is stoking outrage, which feeds on women's insecurity. They claim to reject the women's magazine formula of drumming up insecurity, but really they just manufacture it more deftly. Case in point, claims Emily Gould, is the Jezebel article about Olivia Munn. She says that Jezebel cherry-picks poor stats to make Munn and the Daily Show look more sexist than they are.
Lindsay Beyerstein weighs in that Munn's gimmick is totally sexist and is a weak link on the Daily Show.
Olivia Munn weighs in, in support of Olivia Munn.
Sybil Vane weighs in that these debates are tiresome.
Now me. My opinion on comedy is that any shtick can be done well, so I hesistate to write her off without seeing her work, although the descriptions of her antics certainly turn me off. I've watched one of her clips, and in my opinion, she's weak, but the Daily Show has plenty of equally weak correspondents. Her shirt is too small, but other than that, they're not playing up her sexuality in the content of the sketch. (Apparently her other Daily Show sketches make more sexy catfight jokes, and more ditzy sexygirl jokes.)
If she ends up being funny, I'll approve. If she's not, I won't. And I'm a fantastic fucking judge of what's funny.
If someone could have the London Science Museum boxed up and sent to New York for us, Sally and Newt would appreciate that a great deal. Asilon and I had to haul the kids out at closing time. The old Hayden Planetarium used to have about a fifth as much fun science stuff to play with, but since the spiffy new redesign about ten years ago, it's been useless. Asilon's nine-year-old gets credit for talking us into going there. (and to a neat fountain artwork thing where Newt got so wet we had to take his shirt off and leave him in a zipped-up jacket for the rest of the day.)
Also, Sally will be spending the rest of the vacation looking for a fingerless-gloves/scarfy-thing set like the one Asilon's twelve-year-old was wearing. She was very impressed by the older girl's fashion sense, although slightly put off by being a lot shorter than someone around her own age.
Sometimes I come across a piece of news that seems compelling enough to share but maybe not quite enough to feel like it justifies a full-on blog post. This news feels like that:
Paul Giamatti is still on the war path to make the sequel to Bruce Campbell's Bubba Ho-Tep. Starring a retirement-home-living Elvis who now fights vampires, instead of mummies.
The original film told the "true" story of Elvis, played by Campbell. Due to some crazy twist of fate Elvis winds up in a retirement home with an elderly black friend who just so happens to think he's JFK. Are they crazy, or is this really old fat Elvis? It doesn't matter, because within moments a mummy is attacking the home, and it's up to these two grumpy old men to save the day. For some crazy reason, Campbell no longer wants to be a part of this franchise—we have no idea why.
I must say, the vampire angle dilutes my enthusiasm. Starting with Buffy and on through the Twilight stuff, I've just never caught the vampire fever. I'm sure these patterns just happen. Waves of vampires. Some zombies. Then a swamp thing or a tall lizard. Oh, hey, some mummies. Etcetera. But, really, enough with the vampires for a bit, yeah?
It sounds really hot where you are. In an inescapable way, as opposed to here, where everything is air-conditioned within an inch of its life. Remember, a glass full of ice cubes works better than air conditioning. When I had no AC in my car one summer, I'd just make sure to take a cup of ice cubes with me before I hit the road. I also developed a dangerous habit of hanging out in the shadow of semis, on I-35, for the shade.
Here's my new song. It's like a kitten for your ears.
[Mother Jones' Mac McClelland] also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding: "One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff's office."
Having said that, I'm still on season four of The Wire, so maybe I should just finish that.
General TV and movie recommendations welcome.
English hospitality? Attentive, albeit boozy, I haven't been sober a lot since I landed. Pimms Cup and poached salmon poolside on a sunny day, also pleasant.
Stonehenge? Stony, hengy. Woodhenge? Interesting, although Sally tripped over it.
Like Tom Cruise (no, for reals, look it up) and the ol' US of A, my brother celebrated a birthday over the weekend. After a delightful lunch, my parents and I regaled him with a rather pathetic rendition of "Happy Birthday". Gosh, I thought at the time, there's nothing sadder than three people singing lamely.
Later in the weekend, I was part of a small group called upon by a non-USian to explain* and demonstrate "The Star-Spangled Banner". Not normally one to be particularly taken with the national anthem, I must say, we really belted it out, the three of us. (It probably helped that there were fireworks going off in the distance.)
What I'm saying is, in general, no matter how small the group, if you're called upon to sing, really go for it.
*"Holy crap, explosions; oh, good, flag."
It's kind of an asshole move to rant at people who earn minimum wage at really tedious jobs. Let's get down to business! Can we get some fucking training on packing reusable bags at the grocery store? If I put all my cold items together on the conveyor belt, then let's put the cold items together in the bags, shall we? I can't figure out what posessed you to open all five bags and put some cold items in each of them.
Next, they're big and sturdy. The jug of milk does not need its own bag. Fill the goddamn things up. Plus, then you believe I brought too few reusable bags, and you finish the groceries with plastic.
Also, I prefer that you still double-bag the chicken in a plastic bag, because sometimes the grody chicken juice leaks. But I'm willing to say that's an on-demand specialty, and not SOP.
This has nothing to do with the 4th of July. Hopefully the grocery store was closed today and everyone* got the day off.
* I'm sure you're all Americans on the inside.