Renewable Energy Impacts on the Grid

People have been sharing this article on the "virtues" of wind and solar knocking coal and natural gas units off the grid, so I thought I'd chime in.

First: the article doesn't talk about to W&S are knocking nukes off the grid, with wind predominantly affecting nukes. Btw, those are our largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG)-free of electricity.

Second: W&S are not knocking natural gas off the grid: they depend on NG units - primarily inefficient NG units - to work. They also force NG units to operate less efficiently.

Lastly, there's another way to look at what this article is saying: The more solar and wind power that is installed, the more the price of electricity goes up.

This raises several questions:

1. How does that impact consumers who can't pay their electricity bills already? (Disproportionately affecting the poor and minorities)

2. How will this impact the economy? (Higher prices == higher operating costs -> American businesses become less competitive)

3. When will we hit a tipping point when prices increase at a higher rate due to intermittent electricity integration costs (i.e. adding batteries, more voltage support, building more high voltage transmission lines that people aren't in favor of (NIMBY), etc.)?

Copied (with permission) from KyleCassidy's LJ: These People Shot a Freaking Rocket to Pluto

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Originally posted by xtingu at Copied (with permission) from KyleCassidy's LJ: These People Shot a Freaking Rocket to Pluto

Originally posted by kylecassidy at These People Shot a Freaking Rocket to Pluto
Scientists, engineers, rock stars.

Friday evening I got a text from Kate McKinnon asking if I'd be interested in coming to Maryland and photographing the scientists behind the New Horizons Pluto expedition, essentially, immediately. At the time I was out at dinner with trillian_stars. "Do you want to go?" Trillian asked. "No," I said, "I'm really tired. But I know I'll want to have gone when I get back." I've learned that over the years. It's not how you feel about it at the time, it's how you think you'll feel about it next week.

We raced home and I threw a bunch of stuff in camera bag and jumped on a train. On the train I called Jordan Teicher from SLATE and asked if they'd be interested in running it if I could get a series of portraits. He said they's push everything out of the way for it, and then there was no turning back.

Camera Geekery: Leica M9, 50mm Canon Serenar, 28mm Voigtlander f2, 35mm Voigtlander f1.7, Panasonic GX7 (backup), Pocket Wizards, Lastolite triple-fold umbrella flash, batteries, two lights stands, Kindle, Paper notebook, Monteverde Intima fountain pen, card reader, collapsable backdrop. Kitten optional. I used everything but the two extra Leica lenses. You may clickenzee to embiggen.

I took an Amtrak to Washington DC and met up with Kate and some of the scientists for dinner and was able to get in a quick set of portraits after which made me feel much less apprehensive -- I'm always a wreck until things get underway and with five portraits taken care of ... things had started so I felt I could relax. (I was also pleased to discover that a table full of proverbial rocket scientists has the exact same level of difficulty splitting a check that the rest of the Earth has.)

I went to bed late and got up early. Everybody else got up early too. For the scientists at the Applied Physics Laboratory the day starts with an early morning briefing where each of the five teams discuss what they've learned the night before. After the meeting, they go off to work on all the things they have to do and in between, Kate would catch people and bring them over to the small studio the Laboratory was kind enough to let me set up near the lobby. Everybody, in fact, was super nice.

Behind the scenes, photographing Dr. Hal Weaver.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Kate did interviews, I grabbed portraits while people scurried from one place to another. I had usually between a minute and two minutes with everybody. Kate did quick interviews. It's a very simple setup with a single shoot-thru umbrella and a Leica M9 rangefinder camera.

Later in the day there was a recap for the public about the most recent findings (if you've been watching on TV or the Internet, this is likely what you've seen.) Kate and I sat down in the front row in the press section and I started working on processing the morning's images. About 15 minutes after it started, Brian May (aka Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist, AKA Brian May guitar player from Queen) and Casey Michael Lewis from the Applied Physics Lab sat down next to us. That's just how things happen.

Plutopalooza with Brian May & Kate McKinnon.
Photo by Casey Lewis

The Applied Physics Lab let me set up another studio in a classroom and Kate went out and found all the key scientists and brought them in.

They're all amazing people, and that's -- I mean, that's nonsense talk to say "amazing" it's like calling a mountain "big" -- it's just the only thing I can think of because my brain overloaded thinking about the scope of what they'd done. These people, starting 15 years ago with an idea, built a space probe, built a rocket, figured out where a planet nobody had ever seen a full orbit of was going to be in a decade, shot this thing into space and it hit it's target and -- it sent back data to Earth, from three billion miles away. I don't know what to call it -- I'm just dumbstruck. But in any event, they're all amazing, but my brain melted when I met Yanping Guo, the "trajectory designer", which is a really elegant phrase for the most elegant job I've ever heard of. She's the one who figured out where to shoot the rocket to hit Pluto ten years later, and not in a straight line.

You can see the trajectory of New Horizons here in this animation -- it uses the gravity of Jupiter to help give it more speed and fling it into space.

While she was talking about what she did my jaw just kept dropping further down. One of the things she had to factor in was the time dilation caused by fact that New Horizons was traveling 36,000 miles an hour, so time actually goes slower on the spaceship. At the end of it all, after nine years and three billion miles and one whip around Jupiter (which added 9,000 mph to it's speed) New Horizons arrived 70 seconds faster than Yanping predicted, but not through any fault of her own, but because Pluto was bigger than they expected it to be. You turn on the TV and someone says "blah blah, scientists shot a rocket to Pluto" and you're like "oh, that's nice, pretty photos, ice, cool ..." but it doesn't sink in ... scientists (and engineers) shot a freaking ROCKET TO PLUTO.

The scenes, you are behind them! My Leica was a point of continual interest among the scientists and engineers. One asked if I built it. The optics team discussed, at great length, how modern lenses are built to disperse less light in the rear optics of because of the digital sensors. On the left Dr. Henry Thoop plays with my camera (and is carrying some big glass of his own.) Center Dr. Brian May discuss Dr. Alex Parker's animations., and on the right, Dr. Alex Parker himself. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

You may also see some of Dr. Alex Parker's celebrated animations here.

My photography deals a lot with contexts, seeing people in or out of their contexts and for me, seeing these people not in mission control doing what they do, but seeing them in the really neutral environment of a studio with a simple backdrop and one light made me realize that there are very concrete individual components to "scientists (and engineers) shot a rocket to Pluto" -- individual people solving individual parts of a problem that's too big for any of them to solve alone.

There are all sorts of accomplishments -- from "I got out of bed this morning" to "I worked my way through college" but when confronted with "I shot a piano sized computer three billion miles and hit a really small moving target" just pushed the needle into "there be dragons" -- I had no words. I still have no words and I've been thinking about it for two days now.

Anyway, I posted a selfie with Yanping and people agreed.

I've met a lot of interesting people, but not many who impressed me as much as she did.

Me and Yanping Guo. Within an hour of me posting it to Twitter
it had been retweeted hundreds of times.
You may click here to make this larger!

A Tumblr post of it is at the moment rapidly approaching 150,000 notes.

Brian May also came down and was perfectly charming. He's been really interested in three dimensional photography and has a huge collection of Victorian sterioscopic images and so we did his portrait in 3d.

Scientists make the rockin' world go round.
You may clickenzee to see Dr. Brian May in three dimensions, larger.

Kate and I met up with shadowcaptain and we went off to a restaurant where I worked on picking photos and Kate typed up interview transcripts, then I got on a train and kept working on photos. Got home at midnight and fell asleep so fast I don't even remember making it to the bed (though I do remember checking on Emily the Spider who was enjoying a fly). This afternoon I talked to Slate, sent them the photos and text and did an interview. Now I'm off to bed again.

It's been a crazy, wonderful weekend.

I'm so glad to have been able to spend a small amount of time with some of the most brilliant people on Earth and use whatever skills I have to amplify their voice. These people are doing the most important thing that humans can do, they're trying to answer the biggest questions -- what is everything and how does it work? And they're doing it to make us all better, and it's long, hard work and the answers don't come easily. I don't know how to properly say "thank you."

This is all I can do.

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Ok, I'm kind of on a soup kick right now. Which is mainly to say, I'm on a "consuming" soup kick, and not a "making & consuming" soup kick.

I'd like that to change!

Who's got soup recipes for me? Preferably stuff I can freeze or can the extras of? Non-meat preferred, but not required...

Snow on MLK Day Weekend

How many times have I been driving into or out of Pittsburgh on MLK Day Weekend and had some sort of ballistic snowstorm occur? I know it happened at least 2 or 3 times in college - CMU would just be starting up for the Spring semester and I'd roadtrip out from DelaWHERE, usually with a few compatriots.

It made for some epic stories and adventures (running the open oven for heat, skidding across three lanes on a sheet of pure ice in Maryland, crazy parties)...

As I was driving back into town tonight from DC, the snow started up around Somerset (as usual), just after midnight - a little ahead of the forecasted timeframe - and it was only after a few miles that I realized what weekend it was, and how many miles I'd come in the decades since the first one of those trips.


Saturday & Monday nights were the best nights of sleep I've had in a long time. Last night especially. It doesn't help that I haven't been in my own bed most of the other nights, sometimes on couches, other times in guest bedrooms or camping. Still, last night I slept like a rock. I think I was asleep before I hit the pillow.

And it felt DAMN good.

The other nights, it's been waking up in the middle of the night, or waking at the crack of dawn and tossing and turning until it was time for me to actually rise. Sometimes there were intense dreams that went along with those evenings, other times it just the half awake dream-state musings that keep your brain in motion, languidly drawing connections only possible away from the stimulus of the day, and integrating recent experiences and growth into one's psyche. All good things in terms of brain and spiritual health, but sometimes unsettling as the garden of the mind gets turned over to find the fertile soil below...which makes that first night of sleeping like a rock all that more satisfying.
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The Importance of Growth and Space

My friend Kate Monster posted this blurb from an Aussie book called "The Way Out Now":

Our revolutionary duty includes the creation within the movement of a social and personal reality that allows us to grow as whole people, capable of responding to each others needs and to the needs of people beyond the movement, with compassion and trust. This explicitly involves rejecting the indulgence of seeking personal solutions *or withdrawing into the reactionary mirage of a separate reality.* We must proclaim the movement as a repository of hope and a medium of change—as itself a model, albeit incomplete and distorted, of the changes we are seeking. Only in this way can we invent the humanely radical alternatives *that are real alternatives for more than a tiny privileged elite.*

I puzzled over that for a moment, then came up with a different way of saying the same thing:

We must create a space wherein we can feel safe and both be ourselves and explore new directions. At the same time, calling burning man [events] "home" or separating ourselves from those who have not yet experienced it is to ignore the reality of our lives and the need to integrate our spiritual and personal growth into our daily lives. Such integration not only benefits ourselves, but everyone around us.

That's an oversimplification, but I think it holds.

People want to work

"We gotta all git together an' find out some way ta build this country up. Make all of this here dust quit blowin'. We gotta find a job an' put ever' single livin' one of us ta work. Better houses 'stead of these here little old sickly shacks. Better carbon-black plants. Better oil refineries. Gotta build up more big oil fields. Pipe lines runnin' from here plumb to Pittsburgh, Chicago, an' New York. Oil an' gas fer fact'ries ever'where. Gotta keep an' eye peeled on ever' single inch of this whole country an' see to it that none of Hitler's Goddam stooges don't lay a hand on it." [said Woody, to the mob.]

"How we gonna do all of this? Just walk to John D. [Rockefeller] an' tell 'm we're ready to go to work?" The whole bunch laughed. [...]

"You aint' no prophet!" one big boy yelled. "Hell, any of us coulda say that same thing! You're a dam fake!"

      - Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory

There was a time in this country where people wanted to work, and they wanted to work because they wanted a better life for themselves, or more often than not, they wanted to put food on the table. Woody took that perspective one step further: he saw economic growth as a means of people having jobs and creating a better nation. In this way, I feel that he was visionary: people need work to feel fulfilled, and through this the whole country will improve.

What's funny is that he was just about the most pro organized labor guy out there, and maybe even the most pro-socialism guy out there, because he believed we had to work together to improve all of our lots in life. But he was also someone who understood that it took economic growth, and that meant putting steel in the ground. He didn't view energy or development as a bad thing, he saw it as feeding people who desperately wanted a job and to be fed.

I know lots of people who still like to work with their hands, who still like to make actual, physical products. I know people who understand that energy keeps our economy going. That said, there are many who think that we can have the status quo and never have any environmental impact, but still be fat and happy. I think...well, I think those people don't know what it means to be poor or hungry.

I also understand that there's wealth and wage inequality. It's something we have to fight for, and should fight for. But people need to work along the way, and we need to band together to raise all ourselves up. Change has to come from the bottom, from the people.

There will always be people who disbelieve. People who bitch, but who don't have a vision for how we can improve ourselves. The answer is to be a part of the solution and to be the change you want to see. We might not ever correct all the inequalities, but we can point the ship in the right direction.


My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been injured, and the families of those injured and killed in Boston.

Peace and safety are fragile things in most democracies and we have been very lucky during our short history. We know that while this is a tragedy, it does us no service to jump to conclusions, persecute, or hastily revoke freedoms for the sake of safety. For safety, be it real or imagined, is fleeting. Instead, we must revel in our freedom and rebuff fear with the knowledge that our democracy is stronger than that.

I remember how angry I was when the Olympics were bombed in Atlanta for one single reason: we have a tendency to react, not in ways that express our freedom, but in ways that show our fear and make us withdraw from that which makes this country both strong and unique. Let's not go there. Let's not live in fear, but instead continue to live our lives and embrace what we have.