Author Archives: MeganChelmsford

You’re probably going to be driving an electric car soon.

While we’re all talking about IQ tests, here’s a math problem: Imagine you’re a tree with 56 apples to take care of. One day, a massive storm comes and knocks out about four of those apples. They’re all on the ground now, kind of smushed.

But one of those apples didn’t have the same advantages as the other ones — too many pesticides growing up, let’s say — and it’s extra-smushed. It is also $74 billion in debt. (You may ask: Who loaned an apple $74 billion? Hedge funds have long embraced predatory lending practices, but that’s a math problem for another time.)

Anyway — as the tree, it’s your job to get those apples back in shape. You decide to allocate $36.5 billion in fallen-apple assistance. But only $5 billion specifically goes to that extra-smushed, indebted apple, and then that apple has to pay it back. It has to share about $14 billion with the other less-indebted and -smushed apples.

Surprise! This isn’t really a math problem — it’s an ethics problem. The tree is the United States government, the apples are all of its states and territories, the smushed apples are Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the extra-smushed apple is Puerto Rico. Donald Trump’s self-lauded aid plan for the ailing and indebted territory is a loan.

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You’re probably going to be driving an electric car soon.

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Sci-fi writers dream up what future Olympic Games will look like

for the win

Sci-fi writers dream up what future Olympic Games will look like

By on Aug 3, 2016Share

Future Olympics games might want to take a cue from science fiction writers.

To find out what the future of the Games might hold, Huffington Post pulled together predictions by some of the most forward-thinking minds of our time. Their ideas range from the wacky (will athletes with entirely synthetic DNA compete?) to thought-provoking (eliminating categories by gender).

Malka Older, author of Infomocracy, idealizes Games that would move away from larger-than-life stadiums and corporate sponsorships and toward something called the Sustainable Olympics:

These Games would be held without any new construction, without packed sunbaked parking lots or rushed and unsafe facilities or dead workers. They would be broadcast to anyone who wanted to watch them, and without any sob story backgrounds beyond what the athletes themselves chose to tell. They would be low-key, low-maintenance, low-carbon, and yet the stakes would still be high: to be named the best in the world.

The writers don’t forget our old frenemy, climate change, either. Author Madeline Ashby expects some sports to go defunct. “After all, how can you have winter sports when winter is only a memory?”

Fair enough, Ashby. That future isn’t far off, as the Olympics have already started using fake snow.

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Sci-fi writers dream up what future Olympic Games will look like

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Weird Tales and Trade Treaties

Mother Jones

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Watching the political fight over the TPP trade treaty has been kind of interesting. FWIW, two things strike me as a little odd:

Historically, it’s been Republicans who bitch and moan about how treaties are invasions of American sovereignty. And of course they are. If you sign a treaty with another country, there has to be some kind of neutral mediator that can decide if the treaty has been breached, and this is ipso facto an infringement of sovereignty for both countries. Democrats usually laugh this off, since it’s an obvious feature of any treaty (would you sign a treaty with Pakistan where Pakistan unilaterally gets to resolve all disputes?). This time, however, the worm has turned and it’s Democrats who are loudly objecting to something called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which sets up a special tribunal to adjudicate disputes brought by corporations against rules that they think violate the TPP. Republicans don’t care much.

I don’t have any big point to make here. It’s just kind of interesting to see the two sides switch.

I’m a little puzzled about why Republicans are so gung-ho to get TPP passed in the first place. Sure, they’re generally in favor of trade treaties, but it’s not exactly one of their hot button issues. And yet, they seem to be going out of their way to help President Obama get it passed. Given their recent track record, I’d expect them to yawn and tell Obama he’s on his own to whip the votes he needs. Is there some deeper strategy here that I’m not getting? Do they truly think this is going to rip the Democratic Party to shreds with months of vicious infighting? Or what?

Anyway, it looks to me like TPP is going to pass. These things nearly always do after a bit grandstanding followed by some face-saving compromises. It might be close, but it will pass.

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Weird Tales and Trade Treaties

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Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes

Let’s get ready to not rumble!

Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes


Ohio officials have linked fracking in the state to an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes that struck last month. Following its investigation, the state is imposing new rules to help reduce frackquake hazards.

It’s well-known that frackers can cause earthquakes when they shoot their polluted wastewater into so-called injection wells. But a swarm of earthquakes that hit Mahoning County, Ohio, last month was different — it occurred not near an injection well, but near a site where fracking had recently begun. State officials investigated the temblors and concluded that there was a “probable connection” between them and hydraulic fracturing near “a previously unknown microfault.”

On Friday, following the discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that frackers will need to comply with new permit regulations. Under the tougher rules, frackers operating within three miles of a known fault or seismically active area will need to deploy sensitive seismic monitors. And if those monitors detect an earthquake, even if the magnitude is as small as 1.0 on the Richter scale, fracking will be suspended while the state investigates.

Meanwhile, the fracking operation linked to the recent quakes will remain suspended until a plan is developed that could see drilling resumed safely, an official told Reuters.

“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” said agency head James Zehringer.

Leaders in other states, including fracker-friendly California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), might want to pay attention to Ohio’s findings and its sensible new regulations. You may recall that frackers recently called L.A. city council members “appallingly irresponsible” after they asked scientists to investigate whether a swarm of earthquakes in the city was linked to nearby fracking. “Appealingly responsible” might be more apt.

Ohio Announces Tougher Permit Conditions for Drilling Activities Near Faults and Areas of Seismic Activity, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Ohio links fracking to earthquakes, announces tougher rules, Reuters

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes

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America’s Coming Geek Gap

Mother Jones

You may have seen some alarming statistics on the downright puny numbers of girls and students of color taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam in several states. Last year, not a single girl took the college-level coding test in 2 states and no black students tested in 11 states, including Mississippi, which has the biggest black population in the country. Those stats, taken from a Georgia Tech analysis of all AP exams taken in 2013, are abysmal—if unsurprising.

Less remarked upon was the fact that practically nobody is taking this test. Check out the number of all exams taken in AP Computer Science compared to five other subjects:

Computer science wasn’t even in the top 20. More than three times more students tested in Human Geography (114,000) than Computer Science (31,000). No knock against human geography, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 1.4 million new jobs in software engineering will be created between 2012 and 2022. At current rates of enrollment, just 30 percent of those jobs could be filled by US college grads majoring in computer science.

It’s worth noting that the number of students taking the AP Computer Science exam has doubled over the last 10 years. But in the same time period, the number of students who took the World History exam grew 6 times, and 15 times more students tested in Human Geography last year than in 2003.

You might question the relevance of a high school computer-science credential in a field that loves to tout the Ivy League dropouts and self-taught programming wunderkinds helming tech companies valued at billions of dollars. That’s fair, but for kids who don’t gravitate toward coding at home (i.e., the vast majority of kids), getting exposure to new subjects and interests at school is sort of the point of going to school. Yet most kids don’t even get a chance to thumb their noses at computer science; the report shows that of the 18,000 US high schools that offer AP courses, just 3,000 offer AP Computer Science:

In fact, the number of high schools offering the course has gone down by 51 percent since 2005. There’s a whole host of complicated reasons few schools offer the test and few kids take it, from boring material to a lack of qualified teachers to the fact that in most states, computer science counts only as an elective. So while it’s absolutely fantastic that much attention is being paid right now to school’s role in tech’s gender and race gap, the system really is broken for everybody.

Note: Until 2009, the College Board offered two courses in computer science, AP Computer Science A (one semester long) and AP Computer Science AB (a full year course). The latter was discontinued in 2009. All data pre-2009 reflects a total across both courses.

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America’s Coming Geek Gap

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