Clean power Is a Bright place Amid a Dark Tech Cloud

The mood around tech is dark nowadays. Internet sites are a definite cesspool of harassment and lies. On-demand organizations are producing a bleak economy of gig labor. AI learns to be racist. Can there be anyplace in which the tech news is radiant with conventional optimism? In which good cheer abounds?

Why, yes, there is certainly: clean energy. It’s, in place, the newest Silicon Valley—filled with giddy, breathtaking ingenuity and flat-out very good news.

This might appear astonishing given the climate-change denialism in Washington. But consider, first, residential solar technology. The cost of panels has plummeted in the past ten years and is projected to drop another 30 percent by 2022. Why? Clever engineering breakthroughs, like the use of diamond wire to cut silicon wafers into ever-skinnier slabs, creating higher yields with less natural material.

Manufacturing expenses are down. According to US government projections, the fastest-growing career regarding the next a decade will likely to be solar voltaic installer. And you understand who switched to solar powered energy last year, because it ended up being therefore cheap? The Kentucky Coal Museum.

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Tech could have served up Nazis in social media channels, but, hey, it is additionally creating microgrids—a locavore equivalent for the solar set. One of these simple efforts is Brooklyn-based LO3 Energy, a business that produces a paperback-sized unit and pc software that lets owners of solar-equipped domiciles sell power to their neighbors—verifying the transactions using the blockchain, on top of that. LO3 is testing its system in 60 domiciles on its Brooklyn grid and hundreds more in the areas.

“Buy power and you’re buying from your own community,” LO3 founder Lawrence Or­sini tells me. Their chipsets also can connect with smart appliances, so you might save cash by allowing his system period down your devices as soon as the system is low on energy. The business uses internet logic—smart devices that communicate with one another more than a foolish network—to optimize energy consumption on fly, making local clean energy ever more viable.

But wait, does not blockchain number-crunching usage so much electricity it creates wasteful heat? It will. So Orsini invented DareHenry, a rack filled with six GPUs; although it processes mathematics, phase-­changing goo absorbs the outbound temperature and uses it to warm a house. Blockchain cogeneration, individuals! DareHenry is 4 feet of gorgeous, Victorian­esque steampunk aluminum—so lovely you’d want anyone to showcase to guests.

Solar and blockchain are just the end of clean technology. Within few years, we’ll probably start to see the first home fuel-cell systems, which convert propane to electricity. Such systems are “about 80 per cent efficient,” marvels Garry Golden, a futurist who has studied clean energy. (He’s additionally on LO3’s grid, along with the rest of his block.)

The point is, clean energy has a utopian character that reminds me personally associated with beginning of computers. The pioneers of the 1970s had been crazy hackers, hell-bent on making devices inexpensive sufficient the masses. Everybody thought these people were peanuts, or little potatoes—yet they revolutionized interaction. When I look at Orsini’s ­blockchain-based energy-trading routers, we start to see the Altair. And you can find oodles more inventors like him.

Mind you, early Silicon Valley had one thing crucial that clean energy now doesn’t: massive authorities help. The armed forces purchased a great deal of microchips, helping measure up computing. Trump’s musical organization of weather deniers aren’t probably be buyers of very first resort for clean energy, but states may do a lot. Ca currently has, for instance, by producing quotas for renewables. Therefore even though you can’t pay for this stuff yourself, you ought to pressure state and neighborhood officials to crank up their solar technology usage. It’ll give us all a boost of much-needed cheer.

Write to clive@clivethompson.net.


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The Math Behind Gerrymandering and Wasted Votes

Imagine fighting a war on 10 battlefields. You and your opponent each have 200 soldiers, and your aim is to win as many battles as possible. How would you deploy your troops? If you spread them out evenly, sending 20 to each battlefield, your opponent could concentrate their own troops and easily win a majority of the fights. You could try to overwhelm several locations yourself, but there’s no guarantee you’ll win, and you’ll leave the remaining battlefields poorly defended. Devising a winning strategy isn’t easy, but as long as neither side knows the other’s plan in advance, it’s a fair fight.

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Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Now imagine your opponent has the power to deploy your troops as well as their own. Even if you get more troops, you can’t win.

In the war of politics, this power to deploy forces comes from gerrymandering, the age-old practice of manipulating voting districts for partisan gain. By determining who votes where, politicians can tilt the odds in their favor and defeat their opponents before the battle even begins.

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled extreme partisan gerrymanders unconstitutional. But without a reliable test for identifying unfair district maps, the court has yet to throw any out. Now, as the nation’s highest court hears arguments for and against a legal challenge to Wisconsin’s state assembly district map, mathematicians are on the front lines in the fight for electoral fairness.

Simple math can help scheming politicians draw up districts that give their party outsize influence, but mathematics can also help identify and remedy these situations. This past summer the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, led by the mathematician Moon Duchin, convened at Tufts University, in part to discuss new mathematical tools for analyzing and addressing gerrymandering. The “efficiency gap” is a simple idea at the heart of some of the tools being considered by the Supreme Court. Let’s explore this concept and some of its ramifications.

Start by imagining a state with 200 voters, of whom 100 are loyal to party A and 100 to party B. Let’s suppose the state needs to elect four representatives and so must create four districts of equal electoral size.

Imagine that you have the power to assign voters to any district you wish. If you favor party A, you might distribute the 100 A voters and 100 B voters into the four districts like this:

With districts constructed in this way, party A wins three of the four elections. Of course, if you prefer party B, you might distribute the voters this way:

Here, the results are reversed, and party B wins three of the four elections.

Notice that in both scenarios the same number of voters with the same preferences are voting in the same number of elections. Changing only the distribution of voters among the districts dramatically alters the results. The ability to determine voting districts confers a lot of power, and attending to some simple math is all that’s needed to create an electoral edge.

What if, instead of creating an advantage for one party over the other, you wished to use your power to create fair districts? First, you’d need to determine what “fair” means, and that can be tricky, as winners and losers often have different perspectives on fairness. But if we start with some assumptions about what “fair” means, we can try to quantify the fairness of different voter distributions. We may argue about those assumptions and their implications, but by adopting a mathematical model we can attempt to compare different scenarios. The efficiency gap is one approach to quantifying the fairness of a voter distribution.

To understand the efficiency gap, we can begin with the observation that, in a series of related elections, not all votes have the same impact. Some votes might make a big difference, and some votes might be considered “wasted.” The disparity in wasted votes is the efficiency gap: It measures how equally, or unequally, wasted votes are distributed among the competing parties.

So what counts as a wasted vote? Consider California’s role in presidential elections. Since 1992, California has always backed the Democratic nominee for president. Therefore, California Republicans know they are almost certainly backing a losing candidate. In some sense their vote is wasted: If they were allowed to vote in a toss-up state like Florida, their vote might make more of a difference. From a Republican perspective, that would be a more efficient use of their vote.

As it turns out, Democratic voters in California can make a similar argument about their vote being wasted. Since the Democratic candidate will likely win California in a landslide, many of their votes, in a sense, are wasted, too: Whether the candidate wins California with 51 percent of the vote or 67 percent of the vote, the outcome is the same. Those extra winning votes are meaningless.

Thus, in the context of the efficiency gap, there are two kinds of wasted votes: those for a losing candidate and those for a winning candidate that go beyond what is necessary for victory (for simplicity, we take the threshold for victory to be 50 percent, even though this could technically result in a tie; an actual tie is beyond unlikely with hundreds of thousands of voters in each congressional district). In a multi-district election, each party will likely have wasted votes of each kind. The efficiency gap is the difference in the totals of the wasted votes for each party, expressed as a percentage of total votes cast. (We subtract the smaller number from the larger when possible, to ensure a nonnegative efficiency gap. We could also take the absolute value of the difference.)

Let’s return to our four-district scenarios and examine their efficiency gaps. Our first distribution looked like this.

In this scenario, 75 of B’s votes are wasted: 60 in losing causes and 15 more than the 25 needed to win district 4. Only 25 of party A’s votes are wasted: 5 extra votes in each victory and 10 losing votes. The raw difference in wasted votes is 75 − 25 = 50, so the efficiency gap here is 50/200 = 25 percent. We say the 25 percent efficiency gap here favors party A, as party B had the larger number of wasted votes. In the second scenario, where the numbers are reversed, the 25 percent efficiency gap now favors party B.

Can the efficiency gap give us a sense of the fairness of a distribution? Well, if you had the power to create voting districts and you wanted to engineer victories for your party, your strategy would be to minimize the wasted votes for your party and maximize the wasted votes for your opponent. To this end, a technique colorfully known as packing and cracking is employed: Opposition votes are packed into a small number of conceded districts, and the remaining block of votes is cracked and spread out thinly over the rest of the districts to minimize their impact. This practice naturally creates large efficiency gaps, so we might expect fairer distributions to have smaller ones.

Let’s take a deeper look at efficiency gaps by imagining our 200-voter state now divided into 10 equal districts. Consider the following voter distribution, in which party A wins 9 of the 10 districts.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a fair distribution of voters. What does the efficiency gap say?

In this scenario, almost all of party B’s votes are wasted: nine losing votes in each of nine districts, plus nine excess votes in one victory, for a total of 90 wasted votes. Party A’s voters are much more efficient: only 10 total votes are wasted. There is a difference of 90 − 10 = 80 wasted votes and an efficiency gap of 80/200 = 40 percent, favoring party A.

Compare that with the following distribution, where party A wins 7 of the 10 districts.

Here, the wasted vote tally is 70 for party B and 30 for party A, producing an efficiency gap of 40/200 = 20 percent. A seemingly fairer distribution results in a smaller efficiency gap.

As a final exercise, consider this even split of district elections.

The symmetry alone suggests the answer, and the calculations confirm it: 50 wasted votes for each party means a 0 percent efficiency gap. Notice here that a 0 percent efficiency gap corresponds to an independent notion of fairness: Namely, with voters across the state evenly split between both parties, it seems reasonable that each party would win half of the elections.

These elementary examples demonstrate the utility of the efficiency gap as a measure of electoral fairness. It’s easy to understand and compute, it’s transparent, and its interpretations are consistent with other notions of fairness. It’s a simple idea, but one that is being used in a variety of complex ways to study gerrymandering. For example, mathematicians are now using simulations to consider millions of theoretical electoral maps for a given state and then examining the distribution of all possible efficiency gaps. Not only does this create a context for evaluating the fairness of a current map against other possibilities, it can also potentially be used to suggest fairer alternatives.

Though voters are not actually assigned to districts in the way we have imagined in our examples, the practice of gerrymandering achieves similar results. By strategically redrawing district boundaries, gerrymanderers can engineer voting distributions to create an uneven electoral playing field. These unfair fights affect how we are governed and help majority-party incumbents coast to re-election term after term. The case before the Supreme Court involves just one of many potentially unfair maps. Objective mathematical tools like the efficiency gap may be the only way to root out gerrymandering and keep our political battlefields in balance.

Download the “Doing the Political Math” PDF worksheet to practice these concepts or to share with students.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

How Honda Builds the Business Jet of the Future

From the outside, HondaJet reveals two few key innovations. Its engines sit on pylons above the wings, rather than being attached to the fuselage. This cuts drag and frees up space in the cabin—since the engine mounts don’t intrude. It also reduces noise and vibration, which dissipate through the wings rather than heading for the passenger compartment. And to maximize laminar airflow, in which the air clings tightly to the aircraft surface for a cleaner passage, the designers dropped the nose down slightly and created a wing surface absent any extrusions. Even the rivets are milled flush against the surface.

Honda designed and manufactures the jet’s dual HF-120 engines, with support from GE. Doing the work itself (a rare move in the aviation biz) lets Honda push on innovation: The computer-controlled engines are maximized for high efficiency and low noise, producing 2,000 pounds of thrust each. They can push the relatively light plane to a speedy 423 mph cruise at 43,000 feet, or 480 mph at 30,000 feet. The 133-acre Greensboro campus includes the subsidiary’s corporate headquarters, R&D center, customer service center, and the actual production assembly line.

Assembly begins with the arrival of carbon-fiber fuselages, which are manufactured at a contractor facility in South Carolina and delivered via truck. Carbon fiber reduces weight, improves strength, and allows for the aerodynamically-optimized nose and fuselage shaping. (Carbon fiber requires fewer turbulence-causing fasteners and can be molded more precisely and at lower cost than aluminum.) The strategy also minimizes fuselage joints, allowing for greater interior space.

The HondaJet’s wings are milled from single pieces of aluminum, with integrated skins that minimize the need for turbulence-inducing fasteners. After wings are attached and engines mounted, technicians begin to install the airplanes wiring and electronics, as well as the flight hardware, including cables, cockpit framing, and control surfaces. As each airplane nears completion, technicians install the remaining doors and the cockpit avionics, and prepare the airplane for painting and the installation of cabin interiors, including seats, the lavatory, carpet, and cabinetry.

The HondaJet’s interior fit-and-finish rivals that of far pricier jets, with hideaway tables that glide effortlessly into their storage compartments and seats that can be easily repositioned on multi-axis mounts. In flight, the cabin is quiet enough to chat in a normal speaking voice. Electrochromatic windows can be dimmed at the press of a button, and the cabin temperature, lighting, and audio systems can be controlled through a smartphone app. Wi-Fi is also available as an option.

The cockpit interfaces (three 14-inch displays, via Garmin) are meant to minimize pilot workload by facilitating access to navigation, communication, airplane systems, and flight-planning interfaces. The airplane also handles many of the fuel-management, engine control, de-icing, and cabin-comfort functions on its own. Since it’s certified for single-pilot operation, owners can fly it themselves or corporations can put a passenger in the second cockpit seat.

2017 Tech in Memoriam: Pour One Out for AIM, Vine, GChat, as well as the Rest

All good stuff arrive at a finish. In 2010, we viewed as a few of well known gadgets found a new house in a casket filled up with the technology of yesteryear. Fill a cup and obtain willing to pour one out for the tech casualties of 2017.

AIM

On December 15, AOL Instant Messenger posted its final away message. Its times of being the hip method to remain in touch along with your college buddies are over, but AIM is where an entire generation forged their on the web identities. Now, all those embarrassing display names are six foot under combined with the rest of the old web.

iPod Nano and Shuffle

Apple finally offered its flagship music player the boot this season by killing off the iPods Nano and Shuffle. Certain, you’ve streaming your entire tunes with Spotify or Apple musical right now, but that does not suggest we won’t skip the iPod. It sparked the present day landscape for music, therefore’s in which most of us develop the playlists that defined our youth.

Vine

Prior to the lauded Pivot to Video, there was clearly Vine. It had dogs jammin’ from the cowbell, raps about Liam Neeson, siblings ruining vape tricks, and mystifying tricks of trash cans turning out to be whiteboard drawings. Twitter provided it the axe late a year ago, but kept it on life help until January. Along with its departure goes another experimental platform where individuals could possibly be somewhat weirder with their creations. Damn, Daniel.

Microsoft

MS Paint

It probably didn’t come being a shock when Microsoft dropped Paint from the set of supported features, but it’ll be missed. Paint ended up being the birthplace of poorly drawn memes, and also if its tools weren’t the most robust, and on occasion even that good, it made for some very nice laughs.

The 140 Character Limit

Like tweets weren’t already bad sufficient, in 2010 Twitter decided among the network’s biggest problems wasn’t harassment or rogue workers, it was that tweets just weren’t long sufficient. So, while threats of nuclear war and hate speech ran rampant, Twitter’s Big enhancement on platform this year ended up being doubling its character limit to 280. At least now we are able to upload more Smash Mouth lyrics, right?

App.net

While Twitter futzed around along with its algorithms and provided us longer tweets, its remote available source cousin, App.net, shut its doorways. It promised to be an ad-free microblogging platform, a model that proved unsuccessful in the end. While it never ever hit the conventional, it is another reminder that it’sn’t altruism, but a constantly changing group of unsolicited features features that victories within the social game.

Twitter Egg

Online hate mob got somewhat less ludicrous this present year whenever Twitter axed the notorious Profile Egg for accounts that never uploaded a profile image. In its wake hatched a fresh mask of privacy: a plain ol’ profile of an ambiguous human anatomy. It didn’t cut back on harassment, nonetheless it’s better to be mad at a individual than it is an egg.

GChat

It’s difficult to maintain each of Google’s messaging apps: Allo, Google+, Hangouts, Duo. (Does anybody utilize this material?) Talk ended up being among the originals. Now, it is been changed by Hangouts, that’ll eventually be changed by another bonkers messaging app Google dishes out.

The MP3

The mp3 sparked a change in the way we listened to music. It why don’t we throw our favorite tracks onto iPods and its own knockoffs, but the majority people most likely snagged our tunes from Limewire. If perhaps you were happy, you might have also been bamboozled into downloading a spoof of Bill Clinton suggesting to hit up a sketchy web site. The mp3’s permit went out this present year, and its creators are pressing the AAC format to just take its place — but AAC player just doesn’t have a similar band to it, huh?

Jive

Remix OS

There’s long been claims of mobile computing merging with desktop computing. Microsoft’s Continuum promised to turn one device, such as a phone, into all your products having simple dock and some peripherals. Chromebooks can now run Android apps so that you’ve got all of the software you need anywhere you are at. Meanwhile, Remix OS had been a fork of Android os that may be installed on any PC to bring all of your favorite apps on big screen. It worked great, nonetheless it ended up being never ever going to ensure it is on big leagues.

Windows Movie Maker

Its not all movie requires Adobe Premiere or Final Cut professional X to produce its way to YouTube or your loved ones’s giant screen. From 2012 to its demise this present year, Windows film Maker gave aspiring creatives and proud parents the capacity to make barebones videos or holiday slideshows in a pinch, therefore ways totally free! The title had beenn’t fancy sufficient for today’s hip gadget enthusiasts, so Microsoft gave it the boot and replaced it with Story Remix, which does a lot of the exact same things with a fresh layer of paint.

Yik Yak

College students across the net wept as Yik Yak, the anonymous social network app in which confessions flowed throughout campuses, ended up being shut down. Throughout its life, young ones tried it to confess sets from stealing their roommate’s Cheetos to showing up to class drunk.

About.com

In the event that you had a question in the early days regarding the internet, you almost certainly went to About.com for the answers. It had how-to’s and explainers aplenty, but unfortuitously it didn’t know a great deal on how to match the ever-changing landscape of today’s internet.

Kinect

Microsoft’s motion-tracking hardware’s final motion to your world was a revolution goodbye. The Kinect had beenn’t the game-changing peripheral Microsoft desired that it is, and for numerous gamers it just ended up beingn’t well worth the price.

Nintendo

MiiVerse

Nintendo made waves this year with all the Switch, certainly one of the most popular gadgets of 2017. But to make a killer console, the business had to kill a few of its darlings. MiiVerse, Nintendo’s oddly charming social network in which fans shared their finest (and worst) drawings, became the target and closed its doors in November.

Club Penguin

Club Penguin had been a myspace and facebook where children could masquerade as penguins clad in wizard gear or an apple costume. (do not ask united states to spell out.) Mostly, however, it had been known the memes it sparked when trolls began trying to get banned for kicks. Disney turn off the network early in the day this year—the ultimate ban.

Netflix’s Celebrity Rating system

Your favorite shows most likely felt somewhat less love this year when Netflix nixed its five-star score system for a simpler, less informative thumbs up/down metric. The brand new system coincides having percentage match that’ll tell you exactly how certain Netflix usually you’ll such as for instance a offered show or movie, but unfortuitously there’s no chance to provide Netflix’s choices a thumbs down if you’re not a fan.

Microsoft Groove Music

The songs streaming company is rough. Microsoft killed its Spotify-competitor previously this present year after failing woefully to take on the streaming giants, providing it similar fate as the Microsoft Zune.