Tag: renewable energy

Episode 70 – The Internet Can’t Be Neutral

Today on the menu we’ve got: Net neutrality, Macrophage heart-throbs, Cassini’s crash and burn (for science), is EV market interest really as high as full size pickups?, renewable energy is more appealing in the long term than fossil fuels, CIL, TIL and other complete nonsense.

Net Neutrality


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  • The Internet is not one thing. It’s an interconnected group of networks that meet at peering points.
  • Connections between service providers as well as between service providers and content providers (web companies) are negotiated. In other words, it’s not as simple as plugging in and now it works, yay! What sort of traffic goes through a peering connection at what rates, etc. is something determined when the connection is set up.
    • Google, for example, sets up connections to bring their services closer to the people using them.
    • Those links aren’t there to be used simply as transit links to carry a bunch of other Internet services, although technically they could be. They are there as a part of GOOGLE’s network.
    • One of the things you learn as a network engineer using the BGP routing protocol is how to manipulate what traffic flows through which links under what circumstances. How traffic flows across a network is highly controllable and is manipulated by policy.
  • The bandwidth you buy is a theoretical maximum. A peak delivery service. Networks cannot deliver to every endpoint at their maximum contracted rate at the same time. The Internet backbone won’t handle it.
    • Bandwidth caps.
    • Unlimited usage that is still metered and is constrained after you use a certain amount.
  • “Over the top” providers use the Internet to deliver their content to you. Video streaming services are using huge percentages. I couldn’t find recent percentages, but back in 2013, Netflix alone was consuming about one third of downstream bandwidth. That’s 4 years ago.
    • Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation, SlingTV, YouTube & YouTubeTV.
    • Streaming options increasingly available from traditional channels.
    • But also think about the big web companies. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc…these are also folks keenly interested in net neutrality.
    • No one wants to pay extra to deliver their content to you, no matter how much bandwidth it takes to do it.
  • Net neutrality is tied into these problems.
  • Many of the Internet network providers have their own content they’d like to prioritize.
  • Or…they feel they should have the right to charge Netflix extra to make sure that Netflix traffic makes it across their network.
  • This isn’t simply a money grab, in that it costs real money to engineer networks to carry all this traffic, and then keep up with demand that never slows down.
    • Building out networks is a very expensive part of being a service provider.
    • If you followed the networking industry, you’d notice a massive trend towards the commoditization of network hardware and software.
    • Also a trend towards simplifying operations.
    • All about driving down costs when massive amounts of bandwidth are required.
  • The question we’re left with is this. Does it make sense for the FCC to be regulating the Internet? If so, in what way? This is actually a complex problem, no easy answers.
    • Ultimately, we want to use the Internet in the way we want to use it.
    • And so far…that’s not been a policy problem as much as it’s been an engineering problem.
    • And hey. I watched HD streaming video on 5Mbps hotel wifi up in the sticks of even more rural New Hampshire than I already live. I don’t think the world is coming to an end anytime soon. There’s a good case to be made that we leave the government out of it until we know there’s a good reason for it to step in.

Immune Cells Helping Heartbeat Regularity



  • Macrophages are critical immune system cells
    • In the late 1800s they were known to defend against pathogens
    • As far as I could find, not much else was known about them beyond that point until 2011
    • 2011: A team of researchers found that macrophages were directly involved in the regulation of thermogenesis in adipose tissue – a.k.a. controlling fat burning.
    • Also 2011: Another team found that macrophages are involved in synaptic pruning, which we discussed a bit in Episode 61 (REM Sleep Pruning Dendritic Spines)
    • In 2016 it was determined that “on-demand erythrocyte disposal and iron recycling requires transient macrophages in the liver.”
  • A new apparent discovery is that they’re critical to the correct electrical delivery to the Atrial Ventricular system (AV)
    • They help deliver electrical signals required for synchronous heart contractions and assist in “recharging” of the cells between beats, allowing the cells to take up charge more readily.
    • So how do we know?
      • Genetically engineered mice, of course!
        • These mice lacked the correct number of macrophages.
        • The experienced irregular heartbeats which would cause pacemakers to be considered in human patients exhibiting the same symptoms.
    • This may lead to advances in the understanding of atrial fibrillation and arrhythmia conditions
    • I’ve heard of folks being told by their doctors “It’s not serious. Some people just have this happen, there’s not much we can do about it.” – this may change that.

Cassini Flying Very Close To Saturn



  • Cassini spacecraft traveled between gas giant Saturn and its innermost rings.
  • Within 3,000km of the Saturn’s uppermost clouds.
  • Within 300km of the innermost edge of Saturn’s ring system. At least, the part that we can see. There was some concern that Cassini wouldn’t survive because no ship has ever flown there before.
  • NASA predicted that if there was something in this zone, it would be the size of smoke particles. Cassini is traveling at 124,000kph, so even tiny particles could damage the vessel.
  • To reduce the risk of particles disabling Cassini, NASA oriented the ship so that the communications dish was aiming directly ahead, acting as a shield.
  • Cassini was out of touch for 20 hours, since the dish wasn’t aimed towards Earth while it was acting as a shield. NASA had to sit and wait while the antenna aimed away, Cassini flew through the zone, and then aimed the dish back.
  • Cassini’s mission is almost done. “Cassini loops Saturn approximately once per week, making a total of 22 dives between the rings and the planet. Data from this first dive will help engineers understand if and how they will need to protect the spacecraft on its future ring-plane crossings. The spacecraft is on a trajectory that will eventually plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere — and end Cassini’s mission — on Sept. 15, 2017.”

Market interest: Full size pickup vs EV.


  • A recent survey from AAA (American Automobile Association) found that interest in electric vehicles amongst consumers in the US now rivals that of full-size pickup trucks.
  • The findings seem a little bit… off, to be honest.
  • 15% of respondents said they were interested in EVs with 16% saying Full sized pickups were their bread and butter.
  • Millennials were higher, with 20% stating they were interested in an EV for their next vehicle.
  • Battle of perception:
    • 69% of respondents said there aren’t enough charging stations
    • 68% said that they were concerned they wouldn’t have enough range to reach their destination
    • Chevy has the Bolt with >230mi range and Tesla’s Model III will have similar range soon(ish)
    • Here is where range-extended EVs can shine. We discuss.
    • There’s also a perception of EVs being slow or boring.
    • Ethan, do you feel that my car is slow or boring?
    • I argue that it really is just a perception issue.

Renewables Trending Cheaper In The Long Term, But It’s Complicated


  • Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) – dividing the cost of an installation by the kilowatt-hours produced over the life of the plant.
    • Looking towards 2022, the most expensive energy sources based on LCOE are…
    • Solar thermal plants at $184.40 per MWh
    • Offshore wind at $145.90 per MWh
    • Coal plants with 30 percent carbon removal capability at $140 per MWh
    • Coal plants with 90 percent carbon removal at $123.20 per MWh
  • For 2022, the least expensive based on LCOE are…
    • Geothermal: $43.30 per MWh
    • Onshore wind: $52.20 per MWh
    • Advanced combined-cycle natural gas-burning plants: $56.50 per MWh
    • Solar PV: $66.80 per MWh
  • For 2022, advanced nuclear is in the middle based on LCOE.
    • Advanced nuclear plants: $99.1 per MWh
  • Levelized Avoided Cost of Energy (LACE) – help make more informed decisions considering aspects of power generation like cost of energy sources being replaced, the fact that solar only operates during the day, or wind energy production varies throughout the year.
    • LCOE isn’t a perfect way to compare the true cost of a plant.
    • LCOE doesn’t compare the cost of these “new” kilowatt-hours with the cost of the “old” kilowatt-hours that the new ones are replacing.
    • “If a resource is displacing power that’s more expensive to run when that first resource would run, that will be reflected in a LACE analysis.”
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) writes that the “net difference between LACE and LCOE provides a reasonable point of comparison of first-order economic competitiveness among a wider variety of technologies than is possible using either LCOE or LACE tables individually.”
  • The trend is that as the avoided costs approach levelized costs, the economics make more and more sense.
  • Based on that metric, the 2022 losers are…
    • Coal with 30 percent carbon removal:  -81.3
    • Offshore wind: -88.1
    • Solar thermal: -114.5
  • The only obvious 2022 winner…
    • Geothermal: LACE-LCOE difference of 21.9.
  • The rest are on the fence, served up with a heaping helping of “it depends.”
    • Advanced combined cycle natural gas plants: LACE – LCOE  of 1.7, range between -4.2 and 9.
    • Onshore wind: 1. Range is larger, between -17.4 and 20.9.
    • Solar PV: -2. Range is quite wide, though, between -42.5 and 21.4. In some regions, solar PV will make sense, but in others it will not.
  • A wise green muppet once said, “Always in motion is the future.” That’s especially true here. These predictions are impacted by tax credits and economies of scale. Thus, what really settles in 2022 is a tough call. But it does indeed look promising for certain kinds of renewables. And if you think about it, that seems inevitable. The cost of non-renewables eventually has to go up due to the cost of the fuel. We’ll use it all up at some point.

Content I Like

Nerd shirts


  • Cheap, original designs catering to nerdy folks.
  • Thousands of choices.
  • Wear your odd interests on your chest.
  • Science, gaming, tech, books, puns, offbeat humor, movies.

Steam Calculator – “Get disappointed in your life.”


Enter your steam ID (or that of another person with a public profile) and see all kinds of relevant (or not so relevant) stats about the account in question.

Today I Learned

Vernal pools. “Vernal pools, also called vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, and thus allow the safe development of natal amphibian and insect species unable to withstand competition or predation by fish.”


Bog butter. “Bog butter is usually found earthenware pots, wooden containers, animal skins, or wrapped in bark and takes on a pungent, cheesy odor. Looking at over 274 instances of bog butter from the Iron Age to medieval times, Earwood concluded that early Celtic people probably sunk the butter in the bog simply to preserve it or protect from thieves. The cool, low-oxygen, high acid environment of the bog made a perfect natural refrigerator. Seeing as butter was a valuable commodity and was used to pay taxes, saving it for times of drought, famine, or war would have been a good idea.”



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Renewable Martian Meat – Show 035

This is Episode 35 of the show! Today we bring you meatless meat for carnivores, getting energy from where the sun don’t shine, eyes in the back of your head, and whether or not humans should go to Mars.


Meat-Eaters, Meet your Non-meat meat!


  • Plant based ground beef alternative
  • Developed by “Impossible Foods”
  • Founded by a Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown
  • This isn’t a just a pseudo-meat for vegetarians and vegans, either
  • Target market is hardcore carnivores
  • We’ve discussed a few times about the amount of water, electricity, and other resources required to meet the global demand for meat
  • This product requires far less resources, has a drastically shorter time-to-table and should become price competitive in the near future – hopefully even becoming cheaper than the real deal
  • Apparently, if the article is to believed, the taste is incredible
    • The author noted that it was a bit less flavorful than real beef, but had he not known that it wasn’t meat, he wouldn’t have noticed.
  • Looks pink and marbled uncooked, sizzles on the grill/pan, juicy and has real meaty flavor
  • The flavor secret: Heme
    • Heme is an iron-containing molecule in blood that carries oxygen
    • Legumes contain leghemoglobin which could have been used… buuuut…
    • Extracting that is expensive, time consuming and still unearths carbon, which is one of the main goals of finding an alternative product
  • Technology to the rescue!
    • They took the gene responsible for producing heme from the soybean and added it to yeast
    • Now they can make vats of the magic ingredient
    • One vat is enough to make 20,000 1/4lb (~110g) patties!!
  • It even smells right
    • Using gas chromatography mass spectrometry
    • Cooked meat gases were analyzed
    • Dozens of scents combine to smell like meat, which have been replicated
  • VS Beef:
    • More protein
    • Less fat
    • Fewer calories
    • No cholesterol
    • No animals were harmed in the making of this burger (religious & ethical objections quelled)
  • They’re not the only game in town: Beyond Meat’s “Beyond Burger” is targeted at very much the same goal.
    • Brown calls the “Beyond Burger” a “home run” and sees plenty of room in the market for both of these players – with Beyond Burger targeting grocery stores first and Impossible Foods going for restaurant chains first.

Pearl Auto Retrofits Your Car with a Rearview Camera


  • Pearl Auto is a bunch of ex-Apple people, apparently. I hope that means their products look great, are easy to use, and cost a fortune.
  • RearVision claims to be “the backup camera redefined.”
  • ORLY? How do you redefine what is in effect a straightforward service? A camera shows you what’s behind you. Seems straightforward enough.
  • Hard to call this “redefinition.” More like…a little complicated, but well-thought out.
    • Mounts to the license plate. There’s a bracket that goes through the screw holes. Then the unit mounts to the bracket. Secure, will be okay for most, but a little yuck for me.
    • Has 2 cameras. One’s a wide angle, one’s a more typical view. Both HD. At least, that’s the way the demos look. Tech notes say one is optimized for daytime, and the other is IR and optimized for night. Also a solar charger.
    • Car adapter plugs into the OBD-II port. Hope you weren’t using it for anything else. So plate camera system to adapter, wirelessly. Adapter to phone app, wirelessly. But it’s more than just a wireless relay sucking power from the OBD port. “Through advanced image processing, it analyzes the video streams to detect obstacles in your path, providing audible alerts and sending visual alerts to your phone.” Seems it offloads some compute of the imaging system in the back.
    • Wireless from there to a phone app, where in the demo you see a split screen. One camera view on top, another on bottom. Or see all from one camera in landscape mode.
    • Comes with a magnetic phone mount.
  • Some tech details.
    • “Any iPhone® 5 (or newer) with iOS 9 (or newer) OR Select Android™ phones with Bluetooth® 4.0 and Lollipop 5.0 (or newer)”
    • Theft deterrent screw. Because getting those bits is hard.
  • $500 to pre-order, shipping in September.

Renewables can’t produce enough off-peak power to meet demand… or can they?


  • Coal, Gas, and Nuclear are pervasive and reliable
  • Wind and Solar are catching up, but in the US there is a persistent idea that they cannot meet more than 15-20% of the grid’s demand
  • This article argues that this isn’t strictly true
  • Portugal recently ran for several days off 100% wind, solar, and hydro power
    • This is obviously a very different use case than the US
  • Germany has had incredible market penetration in renewables
  • Can the US really do that, too?
  • Multi-pronged system
    • Solar
    • Wind
    • Hydro-power bridging the gap – it’s not ubiquitous, but it always generates power, assuming the river hasn’t been dammed or diverted somehow
  • About controlling demand and supply
  • Demand response – grid interactive electronics: water heaters, electric cars are both cited as good candidates for this – we discuss
  • My local utility is starting to experiment with this concept – leveling out the demand by preventing peaks in demand, distributing load intelligently. It’s an opt-in program with 3 tiers:
    • Do nothing – I’ll “manage” my demand myself
    • Be notified – I can manage my demand in response to notifications
    • Utility control – They control the water heater, etc. remotely.
  • I like to imagine having my own solar array that provides all my electricity, but that doesn’t sound feasible for me for at least a few years. Is this a more realistic way to achieve renewable energy? Distributing it and leaving it up to your electric utility provider?

Should humans go to Mars?






  • FOR.
    • Fulfillment of a fantasy.
    • We humans are curious.
    • Progress – a technological achievement.
    • Earth’s support for humans long-term is in question. (Climate change, rising oceans, etc.)
    • Water under the Martian surface is quite helpful.
    • Because not the moon.
      • No atmosphere.
      • Wild temperature fluctuations.
      • No protection from solar radiation.
      • Moon dust would be like “tiny shards of glass.”
    • Temperature at the equator can get as warm as 70F at midday. (Although overall, it’s pretty darn cold.)
    • Maybe now people will stop e-mailing me.
    • A decent chance that the trip will kill you.
    • It’s FAR. 225 million kilometers on average. Closest approach to Earth back in 2003 put it about 56 million Km.
    • We’re bad at efficient propulsion systems.
    • Mars is not terribly hospitable to human life.
      • Very little atmosphere – 100 times thinner than that of Earth’s, and made of mostly carbon dioxide with just a smidge of nitrogen.
      • Toxic – salt compound perchlorate in the ground.
    • Expensive. Not just going to the moon over a few days. Just getting to Mars would take 6-7 months. And now you have to supply the folks there with supplies, since they aren’t going to land and be self-sufficient.

Content I Like

PBS Space Time – Youtube Channel


  • The history of the Planck constant
  • Why the universe “needs” dark energy
  • Curved Spacetime in General Relativity
  • Etc.

Today I Learned

Apollo 13 was terrible, Hollywood tripe.

Ron Howard stated that, after the first test preview of the film, one of the comment cards indicated “total disdain”; the audience member had written that it was a “typical Hollywood” ending and that the crew would never have survived.



“Regolith is a layer of loose, heterogeneous superficial material covering solid rock. It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, Mars, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.”



With that we come in for a landing ourselves on this, the latest episode of Citizens of Tech. We want to hear from you! Are you ready to sink your teeth into meatless meat? Have some juicy bit of info to share with your fellow Citizens? Want to share a “TIL”? You can tweet at us, text or leave a voicemail at 805-380-TECH and of course there’s email, Facebook, and other impersonal methods of contacting us as well!

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