Monthly Archives: April 2015

Tesla claims new battery is world-changing

To hear the company chief tell it, Tesla’s new battery will change the world.

Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk announced the release, at an event live-streamed online, of a new Tesla battery design he described as “like a beautiful sculpture on a wall,” and of a scalable technology Musk said is capable of providing clean power for all human needs globally.

The Tesla "Powerwall" battery.

The Tesla “Powerwall” battery.

The need to store renewable energy was the missing piece for a carbon-free future world, Musk told a cheering audience in Hawthorne, California. All previous battery designs “suck,” said Musk. “They’re stinky … They’re bad in every way.”

A company press release said Tesla’s batteries are based on systems in Tesla electric vehicles. It described them as turn-key energy storage systems that integrate batteries, power electronics, thermal management and controls, and essentially plug into solar panels.

Tesla said its lithium-ion batteries are immediately for sale via its web site, teslaenergy.com, for $3,500 (U.S.) for a home unit, not including installation  provided in the U.S. by a list of approved partners. Purchased batteries will be delivered later this year, said Tesla.

The company said the batteries will allow residences, businesses and utilities “to store sustainable and renewable energy to manage power demand, provide backup power and increase grid resilience.”

“You don’t need to have a battery room. A normal household can mount it on their garage, or the outside wall of their house,” said Musk. “You can, if you want, go completely off grid,” or provide inexpensive, convenient power in remote areas far from electricity transmission lines.

Musk said larger versions of the battery technology, called Power Packs, can fuel entire cities — and 2 billion of them could provide all the electrical energy needed for the entire world.

Two billion sounds like a lot, said Musk, but noted there are already some 2 billion cars and trucks globally. “This is actually within the power of humanity to do. We have done things like this before. It’s not impossible.”

The patents on the technology are open, Musk announced to cheers, so any other company can use them to build the batteries, and move the world to sustainable energy.

“That’s the future we need to have,” said Musk. “It’s something that we must do, that we can do, and we will do.”

~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , |

Matters of Media

What’s new in media matters: Charlie Hebdo; the state of American media; attacks on the press; and Jon Stewart’s next mission.

Protesters marched for freedom of expression worldwide after the January slaughter of journalists and police by extremists at Charlie Hebdo's Paris office. Above, protesters in Vancouver carry "Je Suis" signs for Ahmed, a Muslim police officer killed, and "Charlie." © Deborah Jones 2015

Protesters marched for freedom of expression worldwide after the January slaughter of journalists and police by extremists at Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office.  © Deborah Jones 2015

The illustrations of Muhammad, which sparked such incendiary controversy by Muslims whose faith prohibits images of their prophet, may have run their course in the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. Extremists apparently protesting the illustrations slaughtered 10 journalists and two police officers outside Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters in January, sparking global support for freedom of expression. 

Now cartoonist Renald Luzier, whose pen name is “Luz,” told French magazine les inRocks  he is no longer interested in creating images of Muhammad. He said he has grown tired of drawing Muhammad, as he had grown tired of drawing previous subjects. The statement was newsworthy (see BBC report here) because Charlie Hebdo is again controversial news: PEN America’s decision to honour Charlie Hebdo, with a Freedom of Expression Courage Award next month, sparked a protest by two dozen writers.

The protesting writers, including Michael Ondaatje and Joyce Carol Oates, wrote they support freedom of expression but the honour is unwarranted because Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons “intended to cause further humiliation and suffering” for already-marginalized Muslims. PEN America disagreed in a rebuttal, Rejecting the Assasin’s Veto — but added, “we are  very privileged to live in an environment where strong and diverse views on complex issues such as these can take place both respectfully and safely.”

~~~

The Journalism Project of the Pew Research Center in the United States this week released its 12th annual report, State of the News Media 2015. There is good, bad, and ugly. A lot of ugly. Highlights:

  • Mobile devices trump desktop computers for the audience of digital news media – but only desktop users linger.
  • Financially the newspaper industry continues to bleed. 
  • Local and network TV enjoyed greater ad revenue and audience; cable companies suffered.
  • Digital outlets continue to face financial and journalistic challenges — though a few are thriving.

The Good (?): “Digital news entrants and experimentation, whether from longtime providers or new, are on the one hand now so numerous and varied that they are difficult to keep track of. On the other hand, the pace of technological evolution and the multiplicity of choices – from platforms to devices to pathways – show no sign of slowing down.”   Plus, podcasting is booming. That’s something. 

The Bad:  More Americans receive journalism in quick hits via mobile devices. (Oh, look: SQUIRREL!!!)

The Ugly: Tech industries, especially the top five companies, are eating journalism’s lunch. “Five technology companies took in half of all display ad revenue, with Facebook alone accounting for 24%.”  Plus: “Nearly half of Web-using adults report getting news about politics and government in the past week on Facebook, a platform where influence is driven to a strong degree by friends and algorithms. ” 

Who cares? What does it matter? Pew’s Journalism Project offers a succinct answer: 

“Americans’ changing news habits have a tremendous impact on how and to what extent our country functions within an informed society. So too does the state of the organizations producing the news and making it available to citizens day in and day out ….”  

“Understanding the industry in turn allows researchers to ask and answer important questions about the relationship between information and democracy – whether this means exploring the degree to which like-minded consumers gravitate to the same sources, the opportunities consumers have or don’t have to stay on top of the activities of their elected officials, or how connected residents feel to their local communities.”

Click here to read State of the News Media 2015 on the Pew site.

 

© Greg Locke 2013

© Greg Locke 2013

This week the Committee to Protect Journalists released a major report, Attacks on the Press. Citing slaughters, beatings and imprisonments, from Pakistan to Paraguay, Paris to Egypt, journalists face danger, wrote Christiane Amanpour in a foreward. “From government surveillance and censorship to computer hacking, from physical attacks to imprisonment, kidnapping, and murder, the aim is to limit or otherwise control the flow of information–an increasingly complicated effort, with higher and higher stakes.”

On Thursday, the United Nations appointed Amanpour, an American journalist, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression. The issue needs an ambassador. As Amanpour notes in the CPJ report, dangers to journalism “are expanding in seemingly every direction, morphing in new and disturbing ways. At stake are not only journalists’ lives but also the public’s ability to know what’s going on around them.”

Click here to read Attacks on the Press on the CPJ site.  (And in case you missed it,  Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans Frontieres released its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. earlier this year. Finland again ranked first for press freedom, with Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, Canada, Jamaica and Estonia also making the top ten.  Least free are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. France is 38th, the United States 49th, Russia 152nd, Iran 173rd and China 176th.)

~~~

Last but not least, there may be an answer to America’s intense speculation about what its favourite and arguably most effective “journalist” — comedian Jon Stewart — will do when he retires from The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Reportedly Stewart is swapping incisive political commentary about humanity for saving animals, on a New Jersey farm his family recently purchased as an animal refuge (Philly.com story here).

And on that note, here is a photo of my own rescue cat. Because. apparently, catz are what media are for these days.

Poppy the rescue cat, 1985-2006

Poppy, 1985-2005

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Gyroscope Tagged , , , , |

Nepal: Facts, Opinions, and an unforgettable video

Nepal’s Predictable Agony. By Deborah Jones

The massive earthquake that shattered Nepal on April 25, 20115, came as no surprise to anyone. The country sits atop one of the world’s most seismically dangerous places. There have been countless warnings about Nepal’s rickety infrastructure, haphazard housing, lax building codes, and rampant urban development. There was even a warning a few weeks ago that a quake was imminent, precisely where it occurred.

 

image-20150427-18138-1ovy9gzThe science behind the Nepal earthquake. By Mike Sandiford, CP Rajendran, and Kristin Morell

Nepal is particularly prone to earthquakes. It sits on the boundary of two massive tectonic plates – the Indo-Australian and Asian plates. It is the collision of these plates that has produced the Himalaya mountains, and with them, earthquakes. The April 25 quake measured 7.8 on the moment magnitude scale, the largest since the 1934 Bihar quake, which measured 8.2 and killed around 10,000 people. Another quake in Kashmir in 2005, measuring 7.6, killed around 80,000 people. These quakes are a dramatic manifestation of the ongoing convergence between the Indo-Australian and Asian tectonic plates that has progressively built the Himalayas over the last 50 million years.

 

 

This video was shot by hikers on Everest just as an avalanche swept onto their camp. It was posted to YouTube by German climber Jost Kobusch;  it’s not clear if he was one of the climbers. 

 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , , |

New on Facts and Opinions

 

On April, 1980, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space aboard the shuttle Discovery. In the quarter century since then, it has changed our view, and understanding, of the universe. Above, NASA released an image called Celestial Fireworks to celebrate the Hubble 25th Anniversary. It reveals a vast cluster of some 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2, discovered in the 1960s by  Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund. They are 20,000 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Carina.

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space aboard the shuttle Discovery 25 years ago this week. In the quarter century since its launch, April 24, 1990, Hubble has changed our view, and understanding, of the universe.  NASA released the image above, called Celestial Fireworks, to celebrate the anniversary. It reveals a vast cluster of some 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2, discovered in the 1960s by Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund. They are 20,000 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Carina.

New on F&O this week:

VERBATIM: The prescriptive Happiness Report. By Michael Sasges

9781485315_b8a5bc80de_bThe recently released World Happiness Report 2015 both describes and prescribes. The people of Togo and Burundi and Syria and Benin and Rwanda are the unhappiest people in the world, and the people of Switzerland and Iceland and Denmark and Norway and Canada are the happiest. The unhappy, however, can change their circumstances, by emulating the experiences of the happy, in the opinion of one of the three editors of the report, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University. 

TV Comedy for Intelligent Viewers: Bob Newhart. A Brief Encounter, by Brian Brennan (paywall)

“I last played here 18 years ago,” Bob Newhart told the reporters at a Toronto press conference in 1978 when he announced his return to stand-up comedy. “I think the act went over well because, as you can see, they invited me back.” It was the kind of dead-panned wisecrack one would have expected from Dr. Bob Hartley, the stammering psychologist Newhart played for six years on television from 1972 onwards. That’s where his press conference shtick began and ended, however. Like many comedians, Newhart saved his best jokes for his stage and screen performances. Now in his 80′s, Newhart continues to perform.

~~~

Among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. Italy / boat people / The Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti disembarks refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.   / UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 14, 2015

Eritreans are fleeing to Europe, risking the dangers of trafficker’s boats  in the Mediterranean in favour of their own government. Jonathan Manthorpe explains why. Above, migrants rescued from Mediterranean waters when their ship sank disembark from the Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti. Photo by F. Malavolta, © UNHCR

Eritreans take perils of the Mediterranean over torment at home, analysis by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

Something has gone desperately wrong in Eritrea since the promise of the early 1990s, when  the Eritreans stood out as one of the most remarkable people and societies in Africa. Now, among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. The United Nations reckons that at least 4,000,  almost all of them young, Eritreans a month are fleeing their country.  What happened? To put it simply, Eritrea’s zealously Maoist President Isayas Afewerki is what happened.

Canada's Bill C-51 skillfully exploits "security psychosis" for partisan politics, argues Tom Regan. © Deborah Jones, 2014

Canada’s prime minister skillfully exploits “security psychosis” for partisan politics, argues Tom Regan.

 The end is NOT nigh, commentary by Tom Regan

It’s enough to give a person permanent hypertension.  Russian president Vladimir Putin likes to flex his military muscles more than a steroid pumped-up body builder. China wants to challenge the United States for dominance in Asia. North Korea’s top leadership is, well, crazy. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are messing up the Middle East and threatening citizens around the world. And what ISIS and Al-Qaeda aren’t doing to destabilize the region, Iran is. It looks like the world is more dangerous that it has ever been for Uncle Sam, and Canada.  Except that … it’s not.  

Why Comcast Walked Away, report by Leticia Miranda

 Comcast announced that the company is walking away from its proposed $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast had recently met with the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission. The deal had been troubled for weeks. The Justice Department and FCC had reason to carefully evaluate the merger, which was first announced in Feb. 2014 and had been expected at the time to be completed by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

 

 

Recommended elsewhere:

Said the late Carl Sagan, “There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” To remind us of our place in the universe on Earth Day, April 22, NASA presented a gallery of space images,  Celebrating Earth’s Beauty. 

~~~

Long Live Europe, by Roger Cohen, New York Times

The doomsayers about Europe are rampant. But, writes Cohen, Europe is very much alive. An excerpt:

(Europe) looks more like 2015, a borderless market of more than half a billion people between whom war has become impossible, so attractive to much of humankind that thousands die trying to get into it, a Continent where entitlements including universal health care are seen not as socialist indulgence but basic humanity, and a magnet to states outside the European Union that long to be part of this security-conferring entity.

Entities are unsexy. They do not send a shiver down the spine or cause a telltale tremor. But the entity without precedent that is the 28-member Union has delivered. It has delivered peace above all, prosperity however frayed, and freedom to former inmates of the Soviet imperium. It has also created an awareness of European identity that falls short of European patriotism but is nonetheless a counterweight to the primal nationalism that stained the Continent with so much blood.

~~~

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Our Pale Blue Dot

 

Image from NASA's gallery Celebrating Earth's Beauty. A composite of captures from the satellite Suomi-NPP, April 9, 2015, created by: Norman Kuring, NASA

Image from NASA’s gallery Celebrating Earth’s Beauty. A composite of captures from the satellite Suomi-NPP, April 9, 2015, created by: Norman Kuring, NASA

“There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves” — Carl Sagan.

Happy Earth Day.

Posted in Gyroscope

Facts, opinions, and more

An international group of jurists recently launched the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations. The jurists, from Brazil, China, India, the United States and the Netherlands, propose a set of principles based on human rights laws to force governments to act on climate change. The Netherlands was one of the first test sites for the concept: hearings were held last week at the Hague into a case against the Dutch government, by nearly 900 citizens organized by the Urgenda Foundation. A decision is expected within six months.

F&O Natural Security columnist Chris Wood explains why the issue matters: it concerns both the essential purpose of the state, and the role of the courts. Click here for Wood’s essay,  The Dutch Prescription:  take the future to court, or take it outside. (by donation)

In case you missed them, other new pieces on F&O include:

BRIAN BRENNAN’s  latest Brief Encounter: Giving a Canadian Accent to the Stratford Festival: John Hirsch. In Commentary, read  TOM REGAN  on the unbearable lightness of US presidential campaignsJONATHAN MANTHORPE  on how generals in mufti still control Burma, and JIM MCNIVEN on economics: Now for Another Debt Crisis. And you’ll never look at a seal the same way again after reading GREG LOCKE’S piece, How to make seal flipper pie

Recommended elsewhere:

Eritrea and North Korea top the list of the 10 most censored countries in the world, released this week by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The list is part of the CPJ’s annual report, scheduled for release April 27. Censorship is most extreme in the following countries, some of which are also the most dangerous, and top jailers of journalists. The CPJ report on the 10 worst countries for censorship can be read here. The countries include:

  1. Eritrea
  2. North Korea
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Ethiopia
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Vietnam
  7. Iran
  8. China
  9. Myanmar
  10. Cuba

Also in the world of journalism, ProPublica this week updated its comprehensive chart on the scandals surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s International News company. Click here to read Murdoch’s Circle: The News International Scandal. At the least, it might make readers think twice about trusting information sources concentrated in the hands of corporations tainted by scandal.

Finally, The Machines Are Coming, by Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times, can not be wished away as science fiction. Tufekci, a contributing opinion NYT writer and assistant professor, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina, has an issue with technology. Excerpt:

Optimists insist that we’ve been here before, during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery replaced manual labor, and all we need is a little more education and better skills. But that is not a sufficient answer ….  It’s easy to imagine an alternate future where advanced machine capabilities are used to empower more of us, rather than control most of us. There will potentially be more time, resources and freedom to share, but only if we change how we do things. We don’t need to reject or blame technology. This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope

On Canada’s Charter, and reading for the weekend

Today is the anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

When I was a young teen I was enthralled with flying, so enthralled that I worked late nights as a convenience store cashier to pay for ground school and flying lessons. I was pretty good at them; I finished ground school at age 15. But calamity struck the only flight school in my small town before I was old enough to finish – you had to be 16 to fly solo. So, at the next career fair at my high school, I approached the Air Force and asked about enlisting. “We don’t take women,” they said.

No Amelia Earhart, I grudgingly accepted my curt dismissal — as most of us accepted a lot of things back then. I turned my attention elsewhere. Eventually, the end of my teenage flight of fancy was OK — except that, a lifetime later, the reason rankles a little.

My experience is one of the many reasons, from the small and personal to the global and sublime, that I cheer every Charter birthday.

Canadians raised after the Charter became law, or those who immigrated after the British queen (who doubles as Canada’s queen) signed it on April 17, 1982, can not remember what it was like before then.  Canada was not so very bad, relative to many other places in the world. For many, many Canadians, life was very good indeed. 

But since 1982 it is a far, far better place than most. Since 1982 no Canadian has legally been told “no, you can’t do that just because you’re ____ ” (fill in the blank … female, male, gay, black, disabled, religiously affiliated). And when people have been denied, they’ve had legal recourse, evidenced by daily court decisions peppered with Charter references.

There is still a contingent of Canadians who resent the Charter and how it has changed Canada. But in my books, the Charter is one of the wonders of our human world. 

Reading: Constitution Acts in Canada, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Canadian Department of Justice http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/
Wikipedia page on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Charter_of_Rights_and_Freedoms

–Deborah Jones          

Check F&O’s Contents page regularly for new material. This week our Fresh Sheet includes:

Greg Locke’s report in GEO, How to make seal flipper pie — it’s a recipe on the surface, but also amid the global controversies over Canada’s seal hunt, a political statement by a proud Newfoundlander. 

013-SealFlipperPie-3540

 

In Commentary Jonathan Manthorpe follows up last week’s International Affairs reflection on the drowning Maldives, Fighting for possession of deck chairs on the Titanic, with a piece on Burma which, with fall elections looming — has gone from military dictatorship to kleptocracy without drawing breath.

In his SUMMONING ORENDA column, Tom Regan writes about the unbearable lightness of US presidential campaigns.  

Arts columnist Brian Brennan continues his Brief Encounters series with a piece about John Hirsch, Giving a Canadian Accent to the Stratford Festival.

Some of our other recent work, in case you missed it, includes:

Sheldon Fernandez’s essay The Great Riddle: fostering creativity and tenacity;

On graffiti: art, vandalism, and advertising;

Now for Another Debt Crisis, by THOUGHTLINES columnist Jim McNiven;

 

Keeping the Good News Down by Natural Security columnist Chris Wood; 

And last but not least, Brian Brennan’s Giving Her Regards to Broadway: Nicola Cavendish.

Recommended elsewhere:

Kenya Mourns Students From Its Generation of Promise, by Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times

GATUNDU, Kenya — The cars swung out onto Thika Road, one by one.

They moved together, in a line on Friday morning, past miles of apartment buildings, up into the hills, deeper and deeper into rich green farmland. In front, a hearse carried the body of Angela Nyokabi Githakwa, 21, one of the 142 students massacred last week at a Kenyan university.

As one of the first in her family to go to a national university, Ms. Githakwa’s prospects had been swiftly rising — just like Kenya’s.

Her generation witnessed the end of dictatorship, the growth of democracy, an incredible economic expansion, Kenya’s netting gold medals at the Olympics and a recent Oscar. The country even played a hand in producing the first African-American president of the United States.

But her short life also tracked the disaster next door. Just as Ms. Githakwa was taking baby steps, Somalia was imploding. Its government had collapsed. Its economy flatlined. Militant groups flooded the streets.

Then, as Ms. Githakwa was preparing for her high school exams and General Electric and Google were investing millions in operations in Kenya, the Shabab Islamist militant group was bullwhipping women next door, trying to establish a seventh-century caliphate.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged |