South Africa Begins Seizing White-Owned Farms

August 20th, 2018

Via: news.com.au:

THE South African government has begun the process of seizing land from white farmers.

Local newspaper City Press reports two game farms in the northern province of Limpopo are the first to be targeted for unilateral seizure after negotiations with the owners to purchase the properties stalled.

While the government says it intends to pay, owners Akkerland Boerdery wanted 200 million rand ($18.7 million) for the land — they’re being offered just 20 million rand ($1.87 million).


Stacking Concrete Blocks Is a Surprisingly Efficient Way to Store Energy

August 19th, 2018

I like to follow these relatively low-tech methods of energy storage, even though they don’t seem to catch on. It’s interesting to see a modern take on old ideas.

The Energy Vault (below) is a similar concept to the Ares, which stores energy by moving a mass up a hill on rails. The Energy Vault, however, doesn’t require a hill because it uses a crane to stack concrete cylinders.

Despite the issues with lithium, the fact that those systems can deliver large amounts of power very quickly makes them highly desirable:

Tesla’s battery last week kicked in just 0.14 seconds after one of Australia’s biggest plants, the Loy Yang facility in the neighbouring state of Victoria, suffered a sudden, unexplained drop in output, according to the International Business Times. And the week before that, another failure at Loy Yang prompted the Hornsdale battery to respond in as little as four seconds — or less, according to some estimates — beating other plants to the punch. State officials have called the response time “a record,” according to local media.

Maybe a mix of lithium and low-tech systems would be good. The lithium batteries could supply the instant surge capacity while some slower responding systems spin up.

Via: Quartz:

A startup called Energy Vault thinks it has a viable alternative to pumped-hydro: Instead of using water and dams, the startup uses concrete blocks and cranes.

The science underlying Energy Vault’s technology is simple. When you lift something against gravity, you store energy in it. When you later let it fall, you can retrieve that energy. Because concrete is a lot denser than water, lifting a block of concrete requires—and can, therefore, store—a lot more energy than an equal-sized tank of water.

The round-trip efficiency of the system, which is the amount of energy recovered for every unit of energy used to lift the blocks, is about 85%—comparable to lithium-ion batteries which offer up to 90%.

Meanwhile, whether or not Energy Vault succeeds, it does make a strong case for the argument that, while everyone else is out looking for high-tech, futuristic battery innovation, there may be real value in thinking about how to apply low-tech solutions to 21st-century problems.


Venezuela, Gallery: Stacks of Nearly Worthless Cash Required to Buy Common Items

August 17th, 2018

I’ve been teaching my children about inflation, fiat currencies and the end result of the scam. This photo gallery is excellent for that purpose.

Via: Reuters:

Jittery Venezuelans on Friday rushed to shops and formed long lines in preparation for a monetary overhaul that will remove five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation that has made cash increasingly worthless.

Shoppers sought to ensure their homes were stocked with food before the measure decreed by President Nicolas Maduro takes effect on Monday, on concerns that confusion among merchants and overtaxed banking systems could make commerce impossible.

Inflation hit 82,700 percent in July as the country’s socialist economic model continues to unravel, meaning purchases of basic items such as a bar of soap or a kilo of tomatoes require piles of cash that is often difficult to obtain.

Related: Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury


Uncle Sam Wants You: Treasury Depends More on Domestic Bond Buyers

August 17th, 2018

Mmm hmm.

Keep in mind, the Fed can simply monetize the debt, if enough suckers/bond buyers can’t be found. This is similar to check kiting, but since it involves trillions of dollars, they came up with a more innocuous sounding term for the practice: Open Market Operations.

Via: Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. government has been issuing more debt, but it’s not getting more foreign buyers in the door. As a result, U.S. investors have so far financed all of this year’s increase in the federal government’s borrowing.

Foreign holdings of the debt have remained essentially flat, though the government’s borrowing has risen by $500 billion, giving foreign investors the smallest share of U.S. government debt since 2003. Even as yields on Treasury securities have risen to multiyear highs, foreign demand for debt at government bond auctions has slowed to the weakest level since 2008.


Jeff Bezos Is Gobbling Up The Swamp

August 17th, 2018

Via: Vanity Fair:

The controversy involves a plan to move all of the Defense Department’s data—classified and unclassified—on to the cloud. The information is currently strewn across some 400 centers, and the Pentagon’s top brass believes that consolidating it into one cloud-based system, the way the CIA did in 2013, will make it more secure and accessible. That’s why, on July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion—instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors.

But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a “bigger is better” requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.


The San Onofre Nuclear Plant Is a ‘Fukushima Waiting to Happen’

August 17th, 2018

Via: San Diego Union Tribune:

Southern California Edison is keeping 3.6 million pounds of lethal radioactive waste at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant in San Clemente.

The waste poses a significant threat to the health, safety and economic vitality of the region’s more than 8 million residents. But Edison’s plan for storing it is unnerving at best.

The idea is to bury the spent fuel on site, about 100 feet from the ocean and just a few feet above the water table. Edison has already begun transferring the waste from cooling pools into specially designed steel canisters. The containers are prone to corrosion and cracking, and cannot be monitored or repaired. Work crews even discovered a loose bolt inside one of the canisters earlier this year.

But flawed storage containers are just one of many worrisome aspects of the scheme. San Onofre sits on an active earthquake fault, in an area where there is a record of past tsunamis. It is close to Interstate 5, the railroad line that Amtrak runs on, and the Marines’ Camp Pendleton.


Senate Democrats Are Circulating Plans for Government Takeover of the Internet

August 17th, 2018

Via: Reason:

A leaked memo circulating among Senate Democrats contains a host of bonkers authoritarian proposals for regulating digital platforms, purportedly as a way to get tough on Russian bots and fake news. To save American trust in “our institutions, democracy, free press, and markets,” it suggests, we need unprecedented and undemocratic government intervention into online press and markets, including “comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation” of the sort enacted in the E.U.


Turkey’s Lira Weakens More than 6 Percent on Threat of More U.S. Sanctions

August 17th, 2018

Via: Reuters:

Turkey’s battered lira weakened more than 6 percent against the dollar on Friday, after a U.S. warning that Ankara should expect more economic sanctions unless it hands over the detained American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson.

It has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year, hit by both the diplomatic rift and investor alarm about President Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy. Erdogan, a self-described “enemy of interest rates”, wants to lower borrowing costs despite high inflation.


The One About a Russian Satellite “Raising Alarm” with U.S.

August 16th, 2018

Just a few stories for context about this Russian satellite situation:

Mystery Russian Satellite’s Behaviour Raises Alarm in U.S.:

A mysterious Russian satellite displaying “very abnormal behaviour” has raised alarm in the US, according to a State Department official.

“We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it,” said assistant secretary Yleem Poblete at a conference in Switzerland on 14 August.

She voiced fears that it was impossible to say if the object may be a weapon.

Russia has dismissed the comments as “unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions”.

The satellite in question was launched in October last year.

“[The satellite’s] behaviour on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities,” Ms Poblete told the conference on disarmament in Switzerland.

“Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development,” she added, citing recent comments made by the commander of Russia’s Space Forces, who said adopting “new prototypes of weapons” was a key objective for the force.

Ms Poblete said that the US had “serious concerns” that Russia was developing anti-satellite weapons.

* roll eyes *

The Russians. Space Force. The Russians. Space Force.

In other news, I’m sure this thing is just up to spreading rainbows and unicorns in the heavens: Mysterious X-37B Military Space Plane Nears 1 Year in Orbit:

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B miniature space plane has winged past 340 days in orbit performing secretive duties during the program’s fifth flight.

The robotic craft’s latest mission, known as Orbital Test Vehicle-5 (OTV-5), kicked off on Sept. 7, 2017, with a launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

As usual, Air Force officials have revealed few details about OTV-5. But we do know that one payload flying aboard the X-37B this time around is the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-11. Developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, this cargo is testing experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes for long durations in the space environment.

Finally, ‘Very Abnormal’ Russian Satellite Doesn’t Seem So Threatening, Experts Say:

Perhaps the Russians “are checking out the [spacecraft] bus and its capability to deliver multiple subsatellites to different orbits — something like that,” McDowell said. “From the information that’s available in the public domain, that would be an entirely plausible interpretation.”

These three satellites’ activities may be related to the military and may have something to do with spacecraft inspection, he added. But McDowell doesn’t regard their behavior as “very abnormal,” and there’s no indication that they’ve done anything illegal or threatening. So, he’s not sure what prompted the concerns expressed by Poblete.

“What are they complaining about?” McDowell said, referring to American officials.

Weeden voiced similar sentiments. Cosmos 2523’s “deployment was unusual, but hard to see at this point why the US is making it a big deal,” he said via Twitter today.

“There are a lot of facts and not a lot of pattern,” McDowell said. “So, partly I take the U.S. statement as saying, ‘Russia, how dare you do something confusing?'”


Inflation: Venezuela Will Cut Five Zeros from Currency

August 16th, 2018

Ah yes, ye ole Zimbucks solution:

Three Eggs Priced in Zimbabwean Dollars

Three Eggs Priced in Zimbabwean Dollars

Toilet Paper Only; No Zim Dollars

Toilet Paper Only; No Zim Dollars

Via: WRAL:

Faced with nearly incomprehensible inflation — 32,714 percent as of Wednesday — Venezuelan officials thought they had a solution: They changed the color of the bank notes and increased their denomination. Then they said they would lop off three zeros. And when that didn’t seem enough, they announced they would cut off two more.

The tactics have left Venezuelans like Yosmar Nowak, the owner of a coffee shop in Caracas, convinced that there is no solution in sight and that the government cannot even bring down the price of a cup of coffee, an eye-watering 2 million bolivars.

“I imagine if we keep like this we’re going to have to do the same thing in December,” said Nowak, who has been forced to raise prices in her cafe at least 40 times this year.


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