Feed on
Posts
Comments



Sucking up electricity

There are a lot of things we’ve grown to love and depend upon that use a scary amount of electricity. (Don’t even get me started on the Google server farm.) But this is something that can be fixed if Americans are willing to adapt to a minor inconvenience:

Those little boxes that usher cable signals and digital recording capacity into televisions have become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, with some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.

There are 160 million so-called set-top boxes in the United States, one for every two people, and that number is rising. Many homes now have one or more basic cable boxes as well as add-on DVRs, or digital video recorders, which use 40 percent more power than the set-top box.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

“People in the energy efficiency community worry a lot about these boxes, since they will make it more difficult to lower home energy use,” said John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation. “Companies say it can’t be done or it’s too expensive. But in my experience, neither one is true. It can be done, and it often doesn’t cost much, if anything.”

The perpetually “powered on” state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, which are related to the way cable networks function in the United States. Fixes exist, but they are not currently being mandated or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Similar devices in some European countries, for example, can automatically go into standby mode when not in use, cutting power drawn by half. They can also go into an optional “deep sleep,” which can reduce energy consumption by about 95 percent compared with when the machine is active.

One British company, Pace, sells such boxes to American providers, who do not take advantage of the reduced energy options because of worries that the lowest energy states could disrupt service. Cable companies say customers will not tolerate the time it takes to reboot the system once the system has been shut down or put to sleep.

Fringeology

Here’s an excerpt from Steve Volk’s new book. I’ll be interviewing him tomorrow night:

If the universe doesn’t seem quite weird enough for you yet, consider the matter of time, a particularly sticky wicket: To explore the subject, physicists Yakir Aharonov and Jeff Tollaksen devised an incredible experiment, in which the act of measuring a particle predictably changes the value of the same particle in — get this — an earlier measurement. Numerous labs around the world have been successfully conducting and replicating the experiment, which seems to indicate something awfully wild about reality: an action taken in the future can affect what happens in the present, at least at a subatomic level.

Aharonov and Tollaksen aren’t sure exactly what to make of their own experiment. But this is precisely the spot at which we can use a real, scientific mystery to understand something about ourselves and how we react to the paranormal. Most likely, you rebelled, internally, during this last paragraph. The controversial results of this experiment — the mysterious nature of their findings — may have bothered you so much that you simply dismissed it as impossible. But without belaboring the nature of time, there is a part of your brain that probably sent you a tremulous message to watch out when I wrote something that seems so nonsensical. Maybe you furrowed your eyebrows, your pulse quickened, you momentarily held your breath or even felt angry or dismissive, as if what I had written must be false and I must be stupid or even craven to write it. But here’s the thing: that wasn’t you, or at least not the rational, reasonable you. That was your brain talking — most dramatically, your amygdala, a necessary but frustrating part of the brain. The amygdala is the spot in the brain I accuse of making us seem to lack humility — the part of our brain that can cause us to haughtily dismiss information we find threatening or don’t understand.
Continue Reading »

Tiered care

Let doctors whine all they want — we all know many doctors are turning away Medicaid patients, especially if they’re specialists. We’re not going to figure out how to solve this problem by simply guessing at how widespread the practice is:

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.

The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.

Federal officials predict that more than 30 million Americans will gain coverage under the health care law passed last year. “These newly insured Americans will need to seek out new primary care physicians, further exacerbating the already growing problem” of a shortage of physicians in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a description of the project prepared for the White House.

Plans for the survey have riled many doctors because the secret shoppers will not identify themselves as working for the government.

“I don’t like the idea of the government snooping,” said Dr. Raymond Scalettar, an internist in Washington. “It’s a pernicious practice — Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed.”

In other words, he wants to take public money when it suits him, but he doesn’t want any serious oversight?

According to government documents obtained from Obama administration officials, the mystery shoppers will call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients and, if so, how long the wait would be. The government is eager to know whether doctors give different answers to callers depending on whether they have public insurance, like Medicaid, or private insurance, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Predictable

Israel is bringing pressure to bear from several angles to either stop this aid flotilla — or make it officially invisible to the rest of the world:

The Foreign Press Association has accused the Israeli government of using “threats and intimidation” to stop media coverage of a 10-ship flotilla due to sail to the Gaza Strip this week.

The ships are sailing to protest against Israeli restrictions on Gaza and to commemorate last year’s flotilla, which was intercepted by the Israeli navy, who killed nine of the Turkish participants.

Israel has restricted the supply of goods and the movement of individuals in Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007.

Two of the ships, the Tahrir and the Audacity of Hope, are docked in Athens, where the harbourmaster has banned the latter from leaving port until its seaworthiness is established.

Some of the other ships, including the Irish ship Saoirse, have already set sail from European ports. The ships are expected to meet in the Mediterranean before approaching Gaza later this week. The flotilla is expected to carry up to 500 passengers.

A Dutch-Italian boat will carry three members of the European parliament and one member of the Israeli parliament. Passengers on the Audacity of Hope include the author Alice Walker and Hedy Epstein, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor. Passengers have been undergoing training in non-violent resistance techniques and instruction in what to expect if Israeli soldiers board their ship. They have also been provided with T-shirts with the message “Unarmed Civilian”.

Privatization

I don’t know why more people haven’t noticed that this is a typical case study for privatization. It’s invariably an attempt to replace robust public services with barely-adequate ones that will benefit the political patrons of the politician who’s “saving taxpayer money”. Why are voters gullible enough to believe turning services over to a for-profit company will cost less?

Reporting from Indianapolis— Louise Cohoon was at home when her 80-year-old mother called in a panic from Terre Haute: The $97 monthly Medicaid payment she relied on to supplement her $600-a-month income had been cut without warning by a private company that had taken over the state’s welfare system.

Later, the state explained why: She failed to call into an eligibility hot line on a day in 2008 when she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure.

“I thought the news was going to kill my mother, she was so upset,” said Cohoon, 63. Her mother had to get by on support from cash-strapped relatives for months until the state restored her benefits under pressure from Legal Services attorneys.

Cohoon’s mother, now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was one of thousands of Indiana residents who abruptly and erroneously lost their welfare, Medicaid or food stamp benefits after Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels privatized the state’s public assistance program — the result of an efficiency plan that went awry from the very beginning, the state now admits.

Though the $1.37-billion project proved disastrous for many of the state’s poor, elderly and disabled, it was a financial bonanza for a handful of firms with ties to Daniels and his political allies, which landed state contracts worth millions.

The disparate effects underscore the risks of handing control over public services to the private sector. Whether the approach will ultimately improve services and save money remains a matter of fierce debate in Indiana. But the state’s experience shows that without adequate safeguards, privatization can compound the very problems it is designed to correct: bureaucratic burdens, perceptions of influence-peddling and a lack of competition.
Continue Reading »

Boeing and the NLRB

If you have wingnut relatives, you’re probably heard them pissing and moaning about the National Labor Relations Board actually doing their job — because, as we know, regulation is only good when it’s used to bust unions, not protect them!

It could happen to you

Chet Baker:

Unchained melody

Righteous Brothers:

There’ll be another spring

Dianne Reeves:

It’s all perfectly okay

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it is!

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

eXTReMe Tracker