America Has a GPS Problem

America Has a GPS Problem
The system is essential but also vulnerable. We need a backup.
By Kate Murphy
Jan 23 2021

Time was when nobody knew, or even cared, exactly what time it was. The movement of the sun, phases of the moon and changing seasons were sufficient indicators. But since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become increasingly dependent on knowing the time, and with increasing accuracy. Not only does the time tell us when to sleep, wake, eat, work and play; it tells automated systems when to execute financial transactions, bounce data between cellular towers and throttle power on the electrical grid.

Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C., the global reference for timekeeping, is beamed down to us from extremely precise atomic clocks aboard Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The time it takes for GPS signals to reach receivers is also used to calculate location for air, land and sea navigation.

Owned and operated by the U.S. government, GPS is likely the least recognized, and least appreciated, part of our critical infrastructure. Indeed, most of our critical infrastructure would cease to function without it.

The problem is that GPS signals are incredibly weak, due to the distance they have to travel from space, making them subject to interference and vulnerable to jamming and what is known as spoofing, in which another signal is passed off as the original. And the satellites themselves could easily be taken out by hurtling space junk or the sun coughing up a fireball. As intentional and unintentional GPS disruptions are on the rise, experts warn that our overreliance on the technology is courting disaster, but they are divided on what to do about it.

“If we don’t get good backups on line, then GPS is just a soft rib of ours, and we could be punched here very quickly,” said Todd Humphreys, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. If GPS was knocked out, he said, you’d notice. Think widespread power outages, financial markets seizing up and the transportation system grinding to a halt. Grocers would be unable to stock their shelves, and Amazon would go dark. Emergency responders wouldn’t be able to find you, and forget about using your cellphone.

Mr. Humphreys got the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration about this issue back in 2008 when he published a paper showing he could spoof GPS receivers. At the time, he said he thought the threat came mainly from hackers with something to prove: “I didn’t even imagine that the level of interference that we’ve been seeing recently would be attributable to state actors.”

More than 10,000 incidents of GPS interference have been linked to China and Russia in the past five years. Ship captains have reported GPS errors showing them 20-120 miles inland when they were actually sailing off the coast of Russia in the Black Sea. Also well documented are ships suddenly disappearing from navigation screens while maneuvering in the Port of Shanghai. After GPS disruptions at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in 2019, Israeli officials pointed to Syria, where Russia has been involved in the nation’s long-running civil war. And last summer, the United States Space Command accused Russia of testing antisatellite weaponry.

But it’s not just nation-states messing with GPS. Spoofing and jamming devices have gotten so inexpensive and easy to use that delivery drivers use them so their dispatchers won’t know they’re taking long lunch breaks or having trysts at Motel 6. Teenagers use them to foil their parents’ tracking apps and to cheat at Pokémon Go. More nefariously, drug cartels and human traffickers have spoofed border control drones. Dodgy freight forwarders may use GPS jammers or spoofers to cloak or change the time stamps on arriving cargo.

These disruptions not only affect their targets; they can also affect anyone using GPS in the vicinity.

“You might not think you’re a target, but you don’t have to be,” said Guy Buesnel, a position, navigation and timing specialist with the British network and cybersecurity firm Spirent. “We’re seeing widespread collateral or incidental effects.” In 2013 a New Jersey truck driver interfered with Newark Liberty International Airport’s satellite-based tracking system when he plugged a GPS jamming device into his vehicle’s cigarette lighter to hide his location from his employer.

The risk posed by our overdependency on GPS has been raised repeatedly at least since 2000, when its signals were fully opened to civilian use. Launched in 1978, GPS was initially reserved for military purposes, but after the signals became freely available, the commercial sector quickly realized their utility, leading to widespread adoption and innovation. Nowadays, most people carry a GPS receiver everywhere they go — embedded in a mobile phone, tablet, watch or fitness tracker.

An emergency backup for GPS was mandated by the 2018 National Timing and Resilience Security Act. The legislation said a reliable alternate system needed to be operational within two years, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Part of the reason for the holdup, aside from a pandemic, is disagreement between government agencies and industry groups on what is the best technology to use, who should be responsible for it, which GPS capabilities must be backed up and with what degree of precision.

Of course, business interests that rely on GPS want a backup that’s just as good as the original, just as accessible and also free. Meanwhile, many government officials tend to think it shouldn’t be all their responsibility, particularly when the budget to manage and maintain GPS hit $1.7 billion in 2020.

“We’re becoming more nuanced in our approach,” said James Platt, the chief of strategic defense initiatives for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. “We recognize some things are going to need to be backed up, but we’re also realizing that maybe some systems don’t need GPS to operate” and are designed around GPS only because it’s “easy and cheap.”

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act included funding for the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Transportation to jointly conduct demonstrations of various alternatives to GPS, which were concluded last March. Eleven potential systems were tested, including eLoran, a low-frequency, high-power timing and navigation system transmitted from terrestrial towers at Coast Guard facilities throughout the United States.

“China, Russia, Iran, South Korea and Saudi Arabia all have eLoran systems because they don’t want to be as vulnerable as we are to disruptions of signals from space,” said Dana Goward, the president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for the implementation of an eLoran backup for GPS.


What the Hell Is Going On With GameStop’s Stock?

[Note:  This item comes from friend Tim Pozar.  DLH]

What the Hell Is Going On With GameStop’s Stock?
How an army of Reddit users massively inflated the price of a flailing video game chain—in no small part to stick it to Wall Street.
By Alex Kirshner
Jan 26 2021

In April, GameStop was a struggling video game and electronics retailer trying to sort out its future as the pandemic worsened consumer trends that were already working against it. The chain was losing money and staring down a long-underway shift in the gaming industry that pushed business away from GameStop’s brick-and-mortar model. (It turns out people don’t like walking into stores during a pandemic to buy games they could just download from home.) The company had posted $470 million in losses in 2019, eight years afterreporting a $340 million profit. Right as the pandemic hit, it announced it would close 300 locations permanently. GameStop’s stock price on April 1 was $3.25.

It’s not clear things have improved much for GameStop. The company is actually closing more stores than it expected at the onset of the pandemic. But one thing has changed for the better: When trading ended on Monday, GameStop stock had hit $76.79—four times its price to end 2020 and 23 times its price from the early days of the pandemic. (The stock then jumped to $96.67 on Tuesday morning before dropping into the 80s as its roller-coaster run continued onward.)

GameStop has not, as far as anyone knows, completed the greatest comeback story in the history of free enterprise. But it has had one of the most memorable runs on the stock market ever. It’s a story that encapsulates quite a lot about life in 2021: the democratization of financial markets, the mobilization of a giant online community, and the ability of obsessed amateurs to alter reality when they put their minds to it, especially when there isn’t much else to do.

The tale of GameStop’s stock price—and the central role of a subreddit called r/WallStreetBets—will be taught in business schools one day, no matter how it ends. The stock had been in steady decline since late in 2015, when the company reported disappointing earnings. GameStop, which was founded in 1984, had a simple business model: selling video games and equipment out of its physical locations. That became less lucrative as it became more common for gamers to buy games online, generally from non-GameStop sources, and download them directly to their consoles or PCs. The pandemic crash in March brought the stock to an all-time low, and a slight rebound over the spring and summer lagged behind the major indexes.

In August, the well-known investor Ryan Cohen—founder of online pet food giant Chewy—took a 13 percent stake in GameStop. In November, he wrote a harshly worded letter to the company’s board, lambasting it for not keeping up with “the transition from physical hardware to digital streaming,” among other errors. He took specific aim at GameStop’s CEO and blamed the company for squandering billions of dollars and “a massive amount of market share.”

The letter generated a lot of press. By January, GameStop appointed Cohen and two associates from his investment company to serve on a newly expanded board. Cohen’s arrival turned GameStop into a “cult stock,” one financial analyst explained to Bloomberg News, where retail investors believed he’d be a corporate savior. Two days after the announcement that Cohen had joined the board, GameStop’s stock surged more than 50 percent, going from $20.42 to $31.40 after reaching as high as $38.65. That’s when the company’s story went from typical to bizarre.

Around this time, institutional investors, apparently including at least one well-known hedge fund, took out massive short positions against the stock, which trades as GME. These investors figured that amateur investors saw Cohen’s big name and ignored the difficult fundamentals facing the business, overvaluing the stock as they bought it up in droves. So the professional investors tried to make money off GME’s decline by borrowing the stock, selling it high, buying it back low, and pocketing the difference, minus the fees to borrow the stock.

Lots of investors tried to short-sell the stock. (How many investors have “long” and “short” positions is not difficult to figure out.) As of Monday, 71.2 million shares of GameStop stock involved a short position, per Bloomberg, more than the total amount of publicly tradable shares, something that’s only possible because not all shares of GME are available for purchase.

One group that noticed the shorts on the stock was r/WallStreetBets. The Wall Street speculation community has more than 2 million members, hundreds of thousands of whom are online at any given time, to say nothing of lurkers. In September, an enterprising subredditor had posted a seven-point treatise titled “Bankrupting Institutional Investors for Dummies, ft GameStop.” The subredditor noted the stock already had a significant short exposure (months before Cohen joined the board) and predicted that short sellers would be forced to abandon their positions and, in buying back their stocks, drive the price up. R/WallStreetBets users delighted in the idea and took it as a chance to egg one another on.

Hype around GME continued bubbling up around r/WallStreetBets over the ensuing weeks, from posters who apparently saw it all along as a profit opportunity. The stock’s boom has made some of them big money. The most famous is a user calling themselves “DeepFuckingValue” who had apparently turned a six-figure investment into nearly $14 million by this Monday.

Others may have just wanted to screw short sellers, who are by definition rooting for shareholders and companies to suffer. They’re also often considered to be sophisticated investors, cast against the determined amateurs populating internet forums. At the end of November, the subreddit ascertained that hedge fund Melvin Capital Management was shorting GameStop, and the community rallied with fury against the New York–based fund.

“When these boomers made their bet, GME wasn’t a big thing on WSB yet,” one poster wrote. “I don’t feel bad at all taking money from these rich greedy hedge fund managers.”

“They’re not even playing with their own money,” another wrote.

“I’m an old millennial. I’m tired of getting screwed by the globalist elites,” said another. “This isn’t left or right republican or Democrat. It’s the 1% versus everyone else.”

Whether for profit or ideological reasons, the Redditors are winning. They’ve bought the hell out of GME, and short sellers have begun to abandon their positions en masse, leading the stock to go up even more as they buy it back. It’s a classic short squeeze. Melvin Capital was down 15 percent for the year on Jan. 22, according to the Wall Street Journal, leading the fund to take a $2.75 billion rescue package from other rich investors. On that day alone, short sellers against GameStop lost $1.6 billion, financial analytics firm S3 Partners said.

It’s not clear how the story ends. Some professional analysts think the stock is due for a crash. Citron Research managing partner Andrew Left has argued the stock will fall to $20 per share. He tried to explain his reasoning in a livestream last week but couldn’t because his Twitter account got locked after too many people tried to guess his password. He posted the video on YouTube and said GameStop backers were sending pizzas to his house and signing him up for dating profiles. Left decided to stop bashing GameStop, citing harassment by the “angry mob.”

It isn’t just a technological shift that has worked against GameStop. Gaming companies now offer subscription plans, like Xbox’s Game Pass, that have made individual game purchases obsolete for some players. Future consoles might not even have a slot for a disc, further pushing the industry into downloaded games. GameStop does have a loyal fan base that enjoys the experience of walking into a store and buying a title. It also has a large trade-in business, though it’s not clear how the post-pandemic world will affect that.

All of which is to say: GME’s future could go any number of ways, but the reason its stock price quadrupled in three and a half weeks isn’t that its business fundamentals are just that great. It’s that, under a strange set of colliding circumstances, one group of stock traders sees GameStop as the perfect weapon against another.

If this feels outrageous, it might only be because a bunch of supposedly unwashed Reddit users are involved. After all, GameStop isn’t the first stock to be subject to a giant short squeeze or to see its resulting value make little sense. When Porsche bought up a bunch of Volkswagen stock in 2008, short sellers scrambled to get out of their positions and briefly made VW the world’s most valuable company. It’s not clear why Porsche’s boardroom should have any more authority to dictate what happens in the market than a group of internet users operating in public view.


COVID-19 will likely be with us forever. Here’s how we’ll live with it.

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

COVID-19 will likely be with us forever. Here’s how we’ll live with it.
Eventually, the virus could become a much milder illness—but for now, vaccination and surveillance are critical to end the pandemic phase.
Jan 22 2021

As COVID-19 continues to run its course, the likeliest long-term outcome is that the virus SARS-CoV-2 becomes endemic in large swaths of the world, constantly circulating among the human population but causing fewer cases of severe disease. Eventually—years or even decades in the future—COVID-19 could transition into a mild childhood illness, like the four endemic human coronaviruses that contribute to the common cold.

“My guess is, enough people will get it and enough people will get the vaccine to reduce person-to-person transmission,” says Paul Duprex, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research. “There will be pockets of people who won’t take [the vaccines], there will be localized outbreaks, but it will become one of the ‘regular’ coronaviruses.”

But this transition won’t happen overnight. Experts say that SARS-CoV-2’s exact post-pandemic trajectory will depend on three major factors: how long humans retain immunity to the virus, how quickly the virus evolves, and how widely older populations become immune during the pandemic itself.

Depending on how these three factors shake out, the world could be facing several years of a halting post-pandemic transition—one marked by continued viral evolution, localized outbreaks, and possibly multiple rounds of updated vaccinations.

“People have got to realize, this is not going to go away,” says Roy Anderson, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London. “We’re going to be able to manage it because of modern medicine and vaccines, but it’s not something that will just vanish out of the window.”

The long road to another common cold

One of the essential factors governing the future of COVID-19 is our immunity to the illness. Immunity to any pathogen, including SARS-CoV-2, isn’t binary like a light switch. Instead, it’s more like a dimmer switch: The human immune system can confer varying degrees of partial protection from a pathogen, which can stave off severe illness without necessarily preventing infection or transmission.

In general, the partial protection effect is one of the reasons why the four known endemic human coronaviruses—the ones that cause a common cold—have such mild symptoms. A 2013 study in BMC Infectious Diseases shows that on average, humans are first exposed to all four of these coronaviruses between the ages of three and five—part of the first wave of infections that young children experience.

These initial infections lay the foundation for the body’s future immune response. As new variants of the endemic coronaviruses naturally evolve, the immune system has a head start in fighting them off—not enough to eradicate the virus instantly, but enough to ensure that symptoms don’t progress much beyond the sniffles.

“The virus is also its own enemy. Every time it infects you, it tops up your immunity,” says Marc Veldhoen, an immunologist at Portugal’s University of Lisbon.

Past studies make clear that partial immunity can keep people from getting seriously ill, even as coronaviruses successfully enter their systems. Long-term, the same is likely to be true for the new coronavirus. Emory University postdoctoral fellow Jennie Lavine modeled SARS-CoV-2’s post-pandemic trajectory based on the 2013 study’s data, and her results—published in Science on January 12—suggest that if SARS-CoV-2 behaves like other coronaviruses, it will likely morph into a mild nuisance years to decades from now.

This transition from pandemic to minor ailment, however, depends on how the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 holds up over time. Researchers are actively examining the body’s “immunological memory” to the virus. A study published in Science on January 6 tracked the immune response of 188 COVID-19 patients for five to eight months post-infection, and while individuals varied, about 95 percent of patients had measurable levels of immunity.

“Immunity is waning, but certainly not gone, and I think this is key,” says Lavine, who wasn’t involved with the study.

In fact, it’s even possible that one of the cold-causing coronaviruses sparked a serious outbreak in the 1800s before fading into the litany of mild, commonplace human pathogens. Based on the spread of its family tree, researchers estimated in 2005 that the endemic coronavirus OC43 entered humans sometime in the late 19th century, likely the early 1890s. The timing has led some researchers to speculate that the original version of OC43 may have caused the “Russian flu” pandemic of 1890, which was noted for its unusually high rate of neurological symptoms—a noted effect of COVID-19.

“There’s no hard proof, but there are a lot of indications that this wasn’t an influenza pandemic but a corona-pandemic,” Veldhoen says.

The crucible of evolution

Though the carnage of past coronaviruses has faded over time, the road to a relatively painless coexistence between humans and SARS-CoV-2 will likely be bumpy. In the medium-term future, the impact of the virus will depend largely on its evolution.

SARS-CoV-2 is spreading uncontrollably around the world, and with every new replication, there’s a chance for mutations that could help the virus more effectively infect human hosts.

The human immune system, while protecting many of us from serious illness, is also acting as an evolutionary crucible, putting pressure on the virus that selects for mutations that make it bind more effectively to human cells. The coming months and years will reveal how well our immune systems can keep up with these changes.

New SARS-CoV-2 variants also make widespread vaccination and other transmission-blocking measures, such as face masks and distancing, more crucial than ever. The less the virus spreads, the fewer opportunities it has to evolve.

Current vaccines should still work well enough against emerging variants, such as the B.1.1.7 lineage first found in the United Kingdom, to prevent many cases of serious illness. Vaccines and natural infections create diverse swarms of antibodies that glom onto many different parts of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, which means that a single mutation can’t make the virus invisible to the human immune system.

Mutations may produce future variants of SARS-CoV-2 that partially resist current vaccines, however. In a preprint posted on November 19 and updated on January 19, Duprex and his colleagues show that mutations that delete parts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome’s spike protein region prevent certain human antibodies from binding.

“What I’ve learned from our own work is how deviously beautiful evolution is,” Duprex says.

Other labs have found that mutations in 501Y.V2, the variant first found in South Africa, are especially effective at helping the virus elude antibodies. Out of 44 recovered COVID-19 patients in South Africa, blood extracts from 21 of the patients didn’t effectively neutralize the 501Y.V2 variant, according to another preprint published on January 19. Those 21 people had mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, however, so their antibody levels were lower to begin with, perhaps explaining why their blood did not neutralize the 501Y.V2 variant.

So far, currently authorized vaccines—which spur the production of high levels of antibodies—seem to be effective against the most concerning variants. In a third preprint published on January 19, researchers showed that antibodies from 20 people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines didn’t bind quite as well to viruses with the new mutations as they did to earlier variants—but they still bound, suggesting the vaccines will still protect against severe illness.

The new variants bring other threats as well. Some, such as B.1.1.7, appear to be more transmissible than earlier forms of SARS-CoV-2, and if left to spread uncontrollably, these variants could make many more people severely ill, which risks overwhelming healthcare systems around the world and even higher death tolls. Veldhoen adds that new variants also may pose a greater risk of reinfection to recovered COVID-19 patients.

Researchers are closely monitoring the new variants. If vaccines need to be updated in the future, Anderson says that it could be done quickly—in roughly six weeks for currently authorized mRNA vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. That timetable, though, doesn’t account for the regulatory approvals that updated vaccines would need to go through.

Anderson adds that depending on how the evolution of the virus progresses, lineages of SARS-CoV-2 may arise that are distinct enough that vaccines will need to be tailored to specific regions akin to vaccines for pneumococcus. To successfully guard against SARS-CoV-2 going forward, we will need a global monitoring network similar to the worldwide reference laboratories used to collect, sequence, and study variants of influenza.

“We’re going to have to live with it, we’re going to have to have constant vaccination, and we’re constantly going to have to have a very sophisticated molecular surveillance program to keep track of how the virus is evolving,” Anderson says.

The promise and challenge of widespread vaccination

Experts agree that transitioning beyond a pandemic depends on the prevalence of immunity, especially among older and more vulnerable populations. Younger people, especially children, will build up immunity to SARS-CoV-2 over a lifetime of exposure to the virus. Today’s adults have had no such luxury, leaving their immune systems naive and exposed.

The exact threshold for achieving population-wide immunity that slows down the virus’s spread will depend on how contagious future variants become. But so far, research of early variants of SARS-CoV-2 suggest at least 60 to 70 percent of the human population will need to become immune to end the pandemic phase.

This immunity can be achieved in one of two ways: large-scale vaccination, or recovery from natural infections. But achieving widespread immunity through uncontrolled spread comes at a terrible cost: hundreds of thousands more deaths and hospitalizations around the world. “If we don’t want to push forward vaccines and champion vaccines, we have to decide collectively how many old people we want to die—and I don’t want to be the one making that decision,” Duprex says.


I Am Not Your Minority

I Am Not Your Minority
White people are the minority. We are the world
By Indi Samarajiva
Jan 22 2021

I am not your minority. Brown people, black people, Asians, we outnumber white people by the billions. We are in fact the majority, and y’all need to get used to it.

You might think I’m a brown writer in a white world, but this ignores the fact the THE WORLD is not white at all. There are nearly 2 billion people that look like me. It’s a wonder that you’re not seeing more. There’s a sense that I’m a minority perspective on your world, and I’m not. I’m just from the world.

What you are seeing is a much bigger majority culture poking into your provincial world, and you call us minorities. Lol no.

We are not minorities. We are the world. This might take a minute to get used to, but it’s coming more and more. As Aladdin could tell you, it’s a whole new world. A new fantastic point of view. No one to tell us “no”, or where to go. Or say we’re only dreaming.

Now you’re in a whole new world with me.

A World Of Minorities

Growing up in Columbus, Ohio I definitely felt like a minority. When I went to the public pool I felt like you could see my brown body from space. My old school has now gone from 99% white to, well, a bit more Asian. But it’s more than that. It’s more than just accommodating a few people into your world. The world has grown up around you, and grown closer.

Places that were shitholes have come up. The west has fallen in a shithole. COVID-19 came and accelerated everything. Within 20 years, the wealthiest 20% will be mostly Asian. The United Kingdom won’t exist. The ‘United’ States is looking dicey. Things change.

The very idea of a minority is based on a power relationship, but that power relationship is changing. The western world has shat itself on COVID (among other things) and everyone else is rising fast. We’re looking at a multi-polar world, where majority/minority perspectives make less sense. Everyone will be a minority. White people most of all.

Even whiteness will, inshallah, disappear. I don’t mean that white people need to disappear, they can just be French and Bulgarian or whatever. Sri Lankans and Pakistanis aren’t using brownness to gang up on Myanmar. Whiteness isn’t a food or coherent culture, it’s just acting better than everyone else and stealing our shit. Whiteness is white supremacy and that shit needs to go.

None of this will happen because white people concede supremacy. It just won’t be there. They’ll be another minority among many, God willing.

Progression To The Mean

This isn’t something new. It’s a return to the old, after the traumatic blip of colonialism.White people went on centuries-long bender of violence and pollution and are about to end the world. The transition can’t happen soon enough.

Asia is not randomly rising out of nowhere. Asia was riding pretty high until Europe sacked it. Westerners view themselves as civilizing a backwards world, but they actually raped wealthier, more sustainable, and ultimately more civilized civilizations.

Wealth was in India and China for centuries (where the population was) and is returning to Asia again (where the population is). Non-Hispanic white people are maybe 15% of the world. As violently as they smashed and grabbed everything, they simply don’t have the numbers to hold it for long. White people are nowhere near the biggest population, they’re just the biggest dicks, which gives them the appearance of a majority.


Can Electric Car Charging Be A Business?

Can Electric Car Charging Be A Business?
By Brad Templeton
Jan 25 2021

Gas stations are a business. They sell gasoline to drivers and make a profit, just like any commodity vendor. But charging for electric cars is very different. Even though it was estimated in 2020 that there are 26,000 EV charging stations with over 86,000 plugs, and a much larger number of home charging points, they are generally not a business with a few exceptions.

EV buyers tend to be homeowners. That means they install some sort of charging at home. There they buy electricity at the consumer price, but usually arrange for “time of day” pricing where the electricity is cheap at night, and that’s when they charge. That costs from 8 to 16 cents/kwh, or roughly 2 to 4 cents per mile of driving. The power company sells electricity but is not even aware they are in the EV charging business.

Many others charge at work. Even homeowners do this because many employers offer the charging free to employees as a perk and to encourage green driving. If they do charge a fee, they’re not in it as a business like a gas station.

For the modern generation of EVs with 200 miles of range, their owners can charge at home or work and never need to do any more for all their driving around their town. They may see EV charging stations at stores and parking lots but have no great motive to use them, though they will use them if they are free. A lot of them are free, put there as a perk for customers or again to just promote green driving. But many drivers don’t even bother plugging into the free ones. It’s a hassle, and a typical parking stop for shopping or dining would be unlikely to get even $1 worth of electricity.

There are charging stations that cost money and try to be a business. But they usually cost a bunch of money — 25 to 55 cents/kwh. That’s 2 to 5 times the cost at home, and nobody’s going to plug in unless desperate.

Imagine what gasoline would be like if everybody had a gas station at home where they filled up slowly every night for $1.00/gallon. How often would they stop at an ordinary station charging $3.00/gallon? Only in a desperate situation, or when far from home. Running a gas station would not be much of a business!

As noted, this changes when far from home, on inter-city trips. There, one must charge at public charging stations, ideally fast ones. (Not always, as many hotels offer free charging for guests, reducing some of that need, and more will in the future.)

The fast charging world began with Tesla TSLA +4%. When Tesla first built their supercharging network, they made it free for all customers. It wasn’t there to sell electricity, it was there to sell cars. Later, Tesla stopped giving free lifetime supercharging, and charges a rate around 25 to 30 cents/kwh. That’s quite a bit more than charging at home, but Tesla says it is their break-even price. Again, they are not running the charging network to profit off selling electricity, they want to sell cars.

The largest non-Tesla network is being built by Electrify America/Electrify Canada. This project has been funded by Volkswagen, as a penance for the “Dieselgate” scandal. While it operates a bit more like a business, that’s not why it’s being built. A typical price there is 43 cents/kwh (31 cents for users who pay a $4/month membership fee.) This price could make a profit, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Fast charging stations are expensive to build, and electricity prices vary during the day, and can exceed that 43 cents during the peak hours of summer. Fast charging stations are rarely used at night when the power is cheap. Tesla’s claim that they break even around 28 cents suggests EA doesn’t make a lot of profit and is there to be something other than a business.

Truth is, at 43 cents/kwh, interest also wanes. That’s 11 cents/mile. With today’s $2/gallon cheap gas, a hybrid car like a Prius can be a fair bit cheaper than that, and while EVs have many other advantages than fuel price, people don’t like paying more than the price of gasoline.

If you’ve charged an EV, you’ve probably come upon a station with the Chargepoint brand. They’re the largest brand in making and managing charging stations. The key is that they only manage them. Chargepoint don’t generally sell you electricity — Chargepoint just sells the station to somebody else who wants to sell or give you electricity, and most of them are not trying to run a business. Chargepoint figured out early that selling electricity wasn’t the business it wanted to be in.

Not all agree. EVgo is a charging station operator who sells electricity with both slow and fast-charge stations. Even they admit there may not be much business from the ordinary consumer. In the city, they face the issue of most people having that $1/gallon station at home every night. Instead, their plan is for a business charging EV fleets. While many fleets can charge at a base, running and installing a charging array there may not be that much cheaper than making a fleet contract with a provider like EVgo — particularly if they want to charge mid-day or away from base.

Problems of not being a business

Because charging is not a business, it has had negative consequences on charging stations. Many stations were installed thanks to government subsidies. They were often put in odd places nobody would want to charge and sit vacant a great deal of the time. Worse, because the money to build them came from sources other than the money (or lack of money) to operate them, they are often in bad repair. One of the best directories of charging stations,, has many stations reported as broken or offline. This even extends to the fast-charging networks, where reports of outages are common and repairs can come slowly. This is a problem for people attempting to do road trips with CCS or Chademo fast charging, since you are absolutely dependent on there being a working charger in many of the locations.

Tesla’s network is not run for profit but because Tesla owners are very vocal and buy their cars in part for the ability to do these road trips, Tesla maintains the network which is exclusive to their cars and does it well. Other networks get frequent complaints of outages, with occasionally stranded drivers, though smart drivers check reports and plan for potential outages. While Tesla tends to build large charging stations placed further apart, where the outage of one sub-unit is not a problem, other networks tend to make stations with just 2-4 chargers, but spaced more closely so that with planning, drivers can get to a different one if equipment has failed.

According to reports, many networks have problems, but apparently the stations operated by Plugshare have a higher reliability result. Problems are more common in networks run for other reasons, such as state-funded EV-kickstart networks and power company networks or other networks put in for political reasons rather than business ones.

The real problem is that customer service is only given to customers. And if the driver wanting to charge isn’t the real customer, the service will not be great.


There are many drivers who can’t charge at home or at work. They buy fewer EVs today but want them. They are forced to charge at public charging stations. This is not nearly as attractive a proposition — the price at those stations is more than gasoline in a hybrid, and and stopping and charging can be very time consuming. People with such cars hear the regular promises of fast charging that takes 10 or even 5 minutes and salivate, but charging at that speed is going to be expensive because of the immense power flow required. There might be a business selling these drivers power at the higher price, but those drivers will always want to find another way to get their power at a better, more convenient price.

That demand will lead more apartment blocks to install charging in portions of their parking lots. They will either do it because it becomes a necessary amenity to get such tenants, or in rent-controlled units and other situations, they may install it to sell electricity. Charge-where-you-park does not need to be fast charging, and as such the installed cost is lower, and charging while you sleep requires no travel or time compared to fast charging, so this will be more profitable than selling fast-charging to these customers. To top it of, night power can be 1/3rd the price of the daytime power needed at fast-charging stations, another big advantage for installing charging in these lots.


Six Stars, Six Eclipses: ‘The Fact That It Exists Blows My Mind’

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Six Stars, Six Eclipses: ‘The Fact That It Exists Blows My Mind’
A handful of other six-star systems have been discovered, but this one is unique.
By Robin George Andrews
Jan 25 2021

From star-destroying black holes to exploding comets, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, has spotted its share of surprises since it began searching the galaxy for exoplanets in 2018. But the source of starlight that was mysteriously brightening and dimming some 1,900 light-years away may top all those discoveries for its science fiction-like grandeur.

The source, named TIC 168789840, is a system of six stars. That alone makes it a rarity, but what makes this sextuplet even more remarkable is that they consist of three pairs of binary stars: three different stellar couplets revolving around three different centers of mass, but with the trio remaining gravitationally bound to one another and circling the galactic center as a single star system. Although a handful of other six-star systems have been discovered, this one is unique: It is the first in which the stars within each of those three pairings pass in front of and behind each other, eclipsing the other member of its stellar dance troupe, at least from our space telescope’s line of sight.

In other words, scientists have found a sextuply eclipsing sextuple star system. The discovery, posted online this month, has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

Exoplanets within the star cluster have not yet been confirmed, but if you lived on a world within, the night sky would be something special, said Tamás Borkovits, an astronomer at the Baja Astronomical Observatory in Hungary and co-author. Any inhabitants of these worlds, “could see two suns, just like Luke Skywalker on Tatooine,” Dr. Borkovits said, as well as four other very bright stars dancing around the sky.

But only one of the pairs could have any planets. Two of the system’s binaries orbit extremely close to one another, forming their own quadruple subsystem. Any planets there would likely be ejected or engulfed by one of the four stars. The third binary is farther out, orbiting the other two once every 2,000 years or so, making it a possible exoplanetary haven.

Exotic stellar collections like this don’t just look cool. They refine and challenge our understanding of how multiple star systems form, said Patricia Cruz, an astrophysicist at the Center of Astrobiology in Madrid who was not involved with the work.

The depth and duration of TIC 168789840’s eclipses let astronomers determine the dimensions, masses and relative temperatures of its stars — vital information that can be plugged into models of star formation. But even with those clues, the origin of this whirling six-star system will remain a puzzle until we find others like it.

“The system exists against the odds,” said Brian Powell, a data scientist at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center in Greenbelt, Md. and the study’s lead author.

NASA’s TESS satellite looks for exoplanets by searching for temporary dips in a star’s light, caused by a planet orbiting in front of it from our perspective. But, Dr. Cruz said, scientists originally used the same light-blocking principle with other telescopes to spy stars obscuring other stars.

Using this concept, Mr. Powell, working with Veselin Kostov, an astrophysicist at the SETI Institute, designed a neural network that could identify eclipsing binary stars using TESS data.

The neural network studied an archive of nearly 80 million records of light-intensity changes, way more than humans alone could handle. “What machine learning can do is take this intractable data set and turn it into something a human can work with,” Mr. Powell said. It found a surfeit of multiple star systems, including the superlative TIC 168789840 last March.


I’ve Said Goodbye to ‘Normal.’ You Should, Too.

I’ve Said Goodbye to ‘Normal.’ You Should, Too.
Climate change is upending the world as we know it, and coping with it demands widespread, radical action.
By Roy Scranton
Jan 25 2021

The other night, I went to pick up takeout at a local Irish pub. It was a gray and rainy evening at the end of a long week, and my partner and I were suffering from Zoom fatigue. We love this pub not just because it has good food, but because it’s a living part of our community. Pre-Covid, they used to have Irish traditional music sessions, and any cold and snowy night you’d be greeted with a burst of cheer, a packed house, friends and families all out for a cozy good time.

Now it’s a ghostly quiet. Social distancing rules mean that even at max capacity, it still only has a tiny fraction of its usual clientele. Standing in that empty pub, haunted by the sense of what we were missing, I felt an ache for “normal” as acute as any homesickness I ever felt — even when I served in the Army in Iraq. I still feel the twinge every time I put on my mask. I want our normal lives back.

But what does normal even mean anymore?

It’s easy to forget that 2020 gave us not just the pandemic, but also the West Coast’s worst fire season, as well as the most active Atlantic hurricane seasonon record. And, while we were otherwise distracted, 2020 also offered up near-record lows in Arctic sea ice, possible evidence of significant methane release from Arctic permafrost and the Arctic Ocean, huge wildfires in both the Amazonand the Arctic, shattered heat records (2020 rivaled 2016 for the hottest year on record), bleached coral reefs, the collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic, and increasing odds that the global climate system has passed the point where feedback dynamics take over and the window of possibility for preventing catastrophe closes.

President Biden has recommitted the United States to the Paris Agreement, which is great except that it doesn’t really mean much, since that agreement’s commitments are voluntary. And it might not even matter whether signatories meet their commitments, since their pledges weren’t rigorous enough to keep global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels to begin with. According to Climate Action Tracker, a collaborative analysis from independent science nonprofits, only Morocco and Gambia have made commitments compatible with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and the commitments made by several major emitters, including China, Russia, Japan and the United States, are “highly insufficient” or “critically insufficient.”

It’s also worth noting that the two degrees Celsius benchmark is somewhat arbitrary and possibly fantastic, since it’s not clear that the earth’s climate would be safe or stable at that temperature. In the words of a widely discussed research summary published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even if the Paris Agreement targets are met, “we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedbacks could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a ‘Hothouse Earth’ pathway.”

More alarming, recent observed increases in atmospheric methane, a greenhouse gas more than 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over the short term, are so large that if they continue they could effectively overwhelm the pledged emissions reductions in the Paris Agreement, even if those reductions were actually happening. Which they’re not.

Meanwhile, the earth’s climate seems to be changing faster than expected. Take the intensifying slowdown in the North Atlantic current, a global warming side effect made famous by the film “The Day After Tomorrow.” According to the climatologist Michael Mann, “We are 50 years to 100 years ahead of schedule with the slowdown of this ocean circulation pattern, relative to what the models predict … The more observations we get, the more sophisticated our models become, the more we’re learning that things can happen faster, and with a greater magnitude, than we predicted just years ago.”

In 2019, the Greenland ice sheet briefly reached daily melt rates predicted in what were once considered worst-case scenarios for 2060 to 2080. Recent research indicates that rapidly thawing permafrost may release twice as much carbon dioxide and methane than previously thought, which is pretty bad news, because other recent research shows very cold Arctic permafrost thawing 70 years earlier than expected.

Going back to normal now means returning to a course that will destabilize the conditions for all human life, everywhere on earth. Normal means more fires, more category 5 hurricanes, more flooding, more drought, millions upon millions more migrants fleeing famine and civil war, more crop failures, more storms, more extinctions, more record-breaking heat. Normal means the increasing likelihood of civil unrest and state collapse, of widespread agricultural failure and collapsing fisheries, of millions of people dying from thirst and hunger, of new diseases, old diseases spreading to new places and the havoc of war. Normal could well mean the end of global civilization as we know it.

I remember last March, in the first throes of the pandemic, when normal was upended. Everything shut down. We hoarded toilet paper and pasta. Fear gripped the nation.

I was afraid, too: I was afraid for my mother, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I was afraid for my sister, whose husband works in a prison. I was afraid for my cousin, who’s a nurse. I was afraid for my country, under the leadership of an incompetent and seemingly deranged president.

But along with the fear, I remembered a lesson I’d learned in Iraq. I’d been a soldier in Baghdad in 2003-2004, where I saw what happens when the texture of the everyday is ripped apart. I realized that what we call social life was like a vast and complex game, with imaginary rules we all agreed to follow, fictions we turned into fact through institutions, stories, and daily repetition. Some of the rules were old, deeply ingrained and resilient. Some were so tenuous they’d barely survive a hard wind.

What I saw in Iraq was that every time you shock the system, something breaks. Sometimes those breaks never heal. There’s no way we can undo the damage we did to Iraq or bring back the lives lost to Covid. But sometimes those breaks are openings. Sometimes those breaks are opportunities to do things differently.

In March last year, watching an unknown plague stalk the land, I felt fear, but I also felt hope: the hope that this virus, as horrible as it might be, could also give us the chance to really understand and internalize the fragility and transience of our collective existence. I hoped we might recognize not only that fossil-fuel-driven consumer capitalism was likely to destroy everything we loved, but that we might actually be able to do something about it.

As the pandemic has worn on, the desire to get back to normal has increased, and I worry that the hope for radical positive change has subsided. But we must not let it dissipate. We can’t afford to. Because we won’t see “normal” again in our lifetimes. Our parents and grandparents burned normal up in their American-built cars, with their American lifestyles, their American refrigerators and American dreams. And now China and India are doing it, too, because capitalism is global, and we sold it wherever we could. More than three-quartersof all industrial CO2 emissions have occurred since 1945, and more than half have occurred since 1988 — since we knew what global warming was and what a danger it posed.


Is Bilingualism Really an Advantage?

Is Bilingualism Really an Advantage?
By Maria Konnikova
Jan 22 2015

In 1922, in “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” The words that we have at our disposal affect what we see—and the more words there are, the better our perception. When we learn to speak a different language, we learn to see a bigger world.

Many modern language researchers agree with that premise. Not only does speaking multiple languages help us to communicate but bilingualism (or multilingualism) may actually confer distinct advantages to the developing brain. Because a bilingual child switches between languages, the theory goes, she develops enhanced executive control, or the ability to effectively manage what are called higher cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, memory, and thought. She becomes better able to inhibit some responses, promote others, and generally emerges with a more flexible and agile mind. It’s a phenomenon that researchers call the bilingual advantage.

For the first half of the twentieth century, researchers actually thought that bilingualism put a child at a _dis_advantage, something that hurt her I.Q. and verbal development. But, in recent years, the notion of a bilingual advantage has emerged from research to the contrary, research that has seemed both far-reaching and compelling, much of it coming from the careful work of the psychologist Ellen Bialystok. For many tasks, including ones that involve working memory, bilingual speakers seem to have an edge. In a 2012 review of the evidence, Bialystok showed that bilinguals did indeed show enhanced executive control, a quality that has been linked, among other things, to better academic performance. And when it comes to qualities like sustained attention and switching between tasks effectively, bilinguals often come out ahead. It seems fairly evident then that, given a choice, you should raise your child to speak more than one language. Indeed, papers touting “Creativity and Bilingualism,” “Cognitive Advantages of Bilingual Five-Year-Olds,” “A Bilingual Advantage in Task-Switching,” “Bilingualism Reduces Native-Language Interference During Novel-Word Learning,” and “Good Language-Switchers Are Good Task-Switchers”—and the resulting books with provocative titles such as “The Bilingual Edge” and “Bilingual Is Better”—suggest that raising a bilingual child is, in large part, a recipe for raising a successful child.

From the age of eleven, Angela de Bruin spoke two languages. Born in the nineteen-eighties in Nijmegen, a small town in the Netherlands, de Bruin spoke Dutch at home, and, in school, immersed herself in English. She became fascinated by bilinguals, and read avidly about the cognitive advantages that being fluent in more than one language was supposed to provide. In college, she took up linguistics and neuroscience. And, in 2012, de Bruin enrolled in the psychology graduate program at the University of Edinburgh to further pursue the link between bilingualism and cognition.

She came to the program fully expecting to study the extent to which her bilingual brain was adapted to succeed. “I had the impression that there’s a really strong effect of bilingualism on executive function,” de Bruin told me recently. Then, she carried out her first study. Normally, to test for an edge in executive function, you give a version of a task where people have to ignore certain stimuli while selectively focussing on others. For instance, in the commonly used Simon task, you are shown pictures (often arrows) on either the left or right side of a screen. If you see a right-pointing arrow, you press the right key. It doesn’t matter on which side of the screen the arrow appears; the only thing that matters is the direction in which it points. Typically, people have faster reaction times on congruent trials—when the right-pointing arrow actually appears on the right, and vice-versa. Bilinguals are supposed to have an advantage in the incongruent trials: when the left arrow appears on the right, and the right arrow appears on the left.

When de Bruin looked at the data, though, in three of the four tasks testing inhibitory control, including the Simon task, the advantage wasn’t there. Monolinguals and bilinguals had performed identically. “We thought, Maybe the existing literature is not a full, reliable picture of this field,” she said. So, she decided to test it further.

Systematically, de Bruin combed through conference abstracts from a hundred and sixty-nine conferences, between 1999 and 2012, that had to do with bilingualism and executive control. The rationale was straightforward: conferences are places where people present in-progress research. They report on studies that they are running, initial results, initial thoughts. If there were a systematic bias in the field against reporting negative results—that is, results that show no effects of bilingualism—then there should be many more findings of that sort presented at conferences than actually become published.

That’s precisely what de Bruin found. At conferences, about half the presented results provided either complete or partial support for the bilingual advantage on certain tasks, while half provided partial or complete refutation. When it came to the publications that appeared after the preliminary presentation, though, the split was decidedly different. Sixty-eight per cent of the studies that demonstrated a bilingual advantage found a home in a scientific journal, compared to just twenty-nine per cent of those that found either no difference or a monolingual edge. “Our overview,” de Bruin concluded, “shows that there is a distorted image of the actual study outcomes on bilingualism, with researchers (and media) believing that the positive effect of bilingualism on nonlinguistic cognitive processes is strong and unchallenged.”

De Bruin isn’t refuting the notion that there are advantages to being bilingual: some studies that she reviewed really did show an edge. But the advantage is neither global nor pervasive, as often reported. After her meta-analysis was complete, de Bruin and her adviser ran an additional series of studies, which they have just submitted for publication, hoping to find where the limits of bilingual advantage lie, and what the real advantage may actually look like. To test for a possible boost, they examined three different groups (English monolinguals, active English-Gaelic bilinguals who spoke Gaelic at home, and passive English-Gaelic bilinguals who no longer used Gaelic regularly). They had each group take part in four tasks—the Simon task, a task of everyday attention (you hear different tones and must count the number of low ones while filtering out the high ones), the Tower of London (you solve a problem by moving discs around on a series of sticks to match a picture of what the final tower looks like), and a simple task-switching paradigm (you see circles and squares that are either red or blue, and must pay attention to either one color or one shape, depending on the part of the trial).

In the first three tasks, they found no difference between the groups. On the last, they thought they’d finally detected an advantage: on the switch trials—the trials immediately after a change from shape to color or color to shape—the bilinguals, both active and passive, seemed to be quicker. But when the researchers dug deeper, they found that it wasn’t so much a case of switching faster as it was being slower at the non-switch trials, where shape followed shape and color followed color.

So does that mean that there’s no such thing as a bilingual advantage? No. It’s just one study. But it adds further evidence to the argument that the bilingual advantage is sometimes overstated. “I’m definitely not saying there’s no bilingual advantage,” de Bruin says. But the advantage may be different from the way many researchers have described it: as a phenomenon that helps children to develop their ability to switch between tasks and, more broadly, enhances their executive-control functions. The true edge, de Bruin believes, may come far later, and in a form that has little to do with task-switching and executive control; it may, she says, be the result of simple learning.


My Father, Martin Luther King Jr., Had Another Dream

My Father, Martin Luther King Jr., Had Another Dream
If he saw the issues of poverty and income inequality that exist today, he would be greatly disappointed.
By Martin Luther King III
Jan 18 2021

As we celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today — with just a few days until a new administration takes office — we must think about the message he would have for our country and our leadership at this moment. In the video op-ed above, his son Martin Luther King III challenges us to confront what Dr. King was fighting for when he was killed in Memphis in 1968. His cause and his message about poverty and workers’ rights resonated then but unfortunately resonate now more than ever.


Video: 3:20 min

Was the pandemic a grey rhino or a black swan?

Was the pandemic a grey rhino or a black swan?
It was more predictable than people realise
by Michele Wucker
Nov 17 2020

ONE OF THE biggest lessons from the covid-19 pandemic has been the folly of ignoring warnings about highly likely, high-impact risks that are a matter of when, not if. For years, many governments brushed off countless credible warnings that the world was poorly prepared for a pandemic. When the novel coronavirus emerged in China, too many nations were too slow to respond.

The pandemic should encourage policymakers to pay more attention to other known but poorly managed risks. These include rising inequality, climate change and financial imbalances such as dangerous corporate-debt levels and asset bubbles. Picture each of these obvious dangers as a two-tonne grey rhinoceros with its horn pointed our way and its massive weight bearing down on us: they are very visible and their impact can be foreseen. The interactions among these rhinos heighten the danger. You could appropriately call them a crash­—the zoological term for a group—of grey rhinos.

Politicians, pundits and investors often invoke the metaphor of the “black swan” to describe highly improbable, even unimaginable events. In particular, the global financial crisis of 2007-09 is often described as a black-swan event, despite warnings about derivatives and a subprime housing-market bubble. By definition, black swans cannot be predicted, so nothing can be done to prepare for them. This kind of thinking makes things worse by encouraging fatalism, rejecting accountability and giving the nod to short-termism and wilful ignor­ance, which in turn generate volatility and tail risk. To face the looming risks of 2021, we must replace black-swan fatalism with grey-rhino constructive pragmatism.

As covid-19 spread, analysts quickly downgraded their early pandemic predictions of a fast V-shaped recovery to a slower U-shaped recovery, and then to an even more gradual “swoosh”. We now have a k-shaped recovery that has given the well-to-do a big boost, creating financial-asset bubbles while essential workers and vulnerable sectors struggle. In 2021 the global economy will suffer from a ripple effect of bankruptcies, job losses and defaults, which stockmarkets cannot ignore for ever. At the same time, increasingly violent storms, droughts, wildfires and freak weather will threaten insurers, property, coastal cities and, by extension, financial stability.

Facing the daunting challenges ahead will require long-term thinking, a greater emphasis on the real economy rather than stockmarket performance and, above all, a commitment to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable. But it also presents new opportunities. Removing fossil-fuel subsidies and promoting investment in clean technologies will create jobs and reduce energy and health-care costs. Tackling inequality will lift the bottom leg of the k-shaped recovery and spread the benefits of the economic rebound.