SolarReserve to build 150MW solar thermal project in South Australia  

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The SMH reports that SolarReserve will be building a 150MW solar thermal power plant in South Australia, following on the commissioning of the world's largest battery storage facility by Tesla in the state and in parallel with Zen Energy’s 1GW solar / storage project - South Australia planning to build the world’s largest thermal solar plant.

Following the success of the world’s largest battery, South Australia is aiming to build the world’s largest thermal solar plant. SolarReserve’s $650 million, 150 megawatt Aurora solar thermal plant has received state development approval. Construction of the facility will begin this year.

Hinkley Point: the ‘dreadful deal’ behind the world’s most expensive power plant  

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The Guardian has a look at the UK's disastrous Hinkley Point nuclear power project - Hinkley Point: the ‘dreadful deal’ behind the world’s most expensive power plant.

Hinkley Point, on the Somerset coast, is the biggest building site in Europe. Here, on 430 acres of muddy fields scattered with towering cranes and bright yellow diggers, the first new nuclear power station in the UK since 1995 is slowly taking shape. When it is finally completed, Hinkley Point C will be the most expensive power station in the world. But to reach that stage, it will need to overcome an extraordinary tangle of financial, political and technical difficulties. The project was first proposed almost four decades ago, and its progress has been glacial, having faced relentless opposition from politicians, academics and economists every step of the way.

Some critics of the project have questioned whether Hinkley Point C’s nuclear reactor will even work. It is a new and controversial design, which has been dogged by construction problems and has yet to start functioning anywhere in the world. Some experts believe it could actually prove impossible to build. “It’s three times over cost and three times over time where it’s been built in Finland and France,” says Paul Dorfman, from the UCL Energy Institute. “This is a failed and failing reactor.”

Venezuela to issue $5.9 billion in oil-backed cryptocurrency  

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Reuters has a report on Venezuela's plans to issue an oil backed alternative currency, apparently trying to leverage the crypto-currency boom to circumvent US sanctions. Using a fossil fuel to back the currency is bad but no worse than the massive waste of energy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies represent - Maduro says Venezuela will issue $5.9 billion in oil-backed cryptocurrency.

President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday that Venezuela would issue 100 million units of its new oil-backed cryptocurrency in coming days ... Socialist Maduro surprised many last month when he announced the launch of the cryptocurrency, to be backed by Venezuela’s oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves, as a way to circumvent U.S. sanctions that have hurt Venezuela’s access to international banks.

I am Eric Trump !  

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McSweeney's has a weird and possibly satirical article explaining Eric Trump's public silence - I AM ERIC TRUMP. MY FAMILY WON’T LET ME TALK BECAUSE I AM AN ANARCHO-FEMINIST COMMITTED TO KURDISH LIBERATION.

Over the past few years, I have been mocked on late-night comedy programs as a silent dolt. It makes sense for Western liberals to mock what they don’t understand, but what they think is silence due to a childish stupidity is actually a decades-long censorship campaign of my political beliefs. My family won’t let me talk because I am an anarcho-feminist committed to Kurdish liberation.

When I was a young boy, I lived with my grandparents in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. One day, when my grandmother was subjugated to patriarchal wage slavery at a shoe factory, and my brother Don was out shooting endangered deer with Kalashnikovs, I found a strange book on her shelf titled, The National Road To Kurdish Revolution by Abdullah Öcalan. I didn’t realize it then, but this author, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), would become the most important person in the world to me, a man that I would soon call Apo, or father.

On its 100th birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming  

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The Guardian has a look back at a long ago warning about global warming to the oil industry - On its 100th birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming.

Over 300 government officials, economists, historians, scientists, and industry executives were present for the Energy and Man symposium – organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business – and Dunlop was to address the entire congregation on the “prime mover” of the last century – energy – and its major source: oil. As President of the Sun Oil Company, he knew the business well, and as a director of the American Petroleum Institute – the industry’s largest and oldest trade association in the land of Uncle Sam – he was responsible for representing the interests of all those many oilmen gathered around him.

Four others joined Dunlop at the podium that day, one of whom had made the journey from California – and Hungary before that. The nuclear weapons physicist Edward Teller had, by 1959, become ostracized by the scientific community for betraying his colleague J. Robert Oppenheimer, but he retained the embrace of industry and government. Teller’s task that November fourth was to address the crowd on “energy patterns of the future,” and his words carried an unexpected warning:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am to talk to you about energy in the future. I will start by telling you why I believe that the energy resources of the past must be supplemented. First of all, these energy resources will run short as we use more and more of the fossil fuels. But I would [...] like to mention another reason why we probably have to look for additional fuel supplies. And this, strangely, is the question of contaminating the atmosphere. [....] Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. [....] The carbon dioxide is invisible, it is transparent, you can’t smell it, it is not dangerous to health, so why should one worry about it?

Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect [....] It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.

Charlie Stross on slow AIs  

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Charlie Stross did an interesting talk to the Chaos Computer Club about the first generation of AIs that is wrecking the plane - Dude, you broke the future!.

History gives us the perspective to see what went wrong in the past, and to look for patterns, and check whether those patterns apply to the present and near future. And looking in particular at the history of the past 200-400 years—the age of increasingly rapid change—one glaringly obvious deviation from the norm of the preceding three thousand centuries—is the development of Artificial Intelligence, which happened no earlier than 1553 and no later than 1844. I'm talking about the very old, very slow AIs we call corporations, of course. What lessons from the history of the company can we draw that tell us about the likely behaviour of the type of artificial intelligence we are all interested in today? ...

What do our current, actually-existing AI overlords want?

Elon Musk—who I believe you have all heard of—has an obsessive fear of one particular hazard of artificial intelligence—which he conceives of as being a piece of software that functions like a brain-in-a-box)—namely, the paperclip maximizer. A paperclip maximizer is a term of art for a goal-seeking AI that has a single priority, for example maximizing the number of paperclips in the universe. The paperclip maximizer is able to improve itself in pursuit of that goal but has no ability to vary its goal, so it will ultimately attempt to convert all the metallic elements in the solar system into paperclips, even if this is obviously detrimental to the wellbeing of the humans who designed it.

Unfortunately, Musk isn't paying enough attention. Consider his own companies. Tesla is a battery maximizer—an electric car is a battery with wheels and seats. SpaceX is an orbital payload maximizer, driving down the cost of space launches in order to encourage more sales for the service it provides. Solar City is a photovoltaic panel maximizer. And so on. All three of Musk's very own slow AIs are based on an architecture that is designed to maximize return on shareholder investment, even if by doing so they cook the planet the shareholders have to live on. ...

The problem with corporations is that despite their overt goals—whether they make electric vehicles or beer or sell life insurance policies—they are all subject to instrumental convergence insofar as they all have a common implicit paperclip-maximizer goal: to generate revenue. If they don't make money, they are eaten by a bigger predator or they go bust. Making money is an instrumental goal—it's as vital to them as breathing is for us mammals, and without pursuing it they will fail to achieve their final goal, whatever it may be. Corporations generally pursue their instrumental goals—notably maximizing revenue—as a side-effect of the pursuit of their overt goal. But sometimes they try instead to manipulate the regulatory environment they operate in, to ensure that money flows towards them regardless.

Human tool-making culture has become increasingly complicated over time. New technologies always come with an implicit political agenda that seeks to extend its use, governments react by legislating to control the technologies, and sometimes we end up with industries indulging in legal duels.

For example, consider the automobile. You can't have mass automobile transport without gas stations and fuel distribution pipelines. These in turn require access to whoever owns the land the oil is extracted from—and before you know it, you end up with a permanent occupation force in Iraq and a client dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. Closer to home, automobiles imply jaywalking laws and drink-driving laws. They affect town planning regulations and encourage suburban sprawl, the construction of human infrastructure on the scale required by automobiles, not pedestrians. This in turn is bad for competing transport technologies like buses or trams (which work best in cities with a high population density).

To get these laws in place, providing an environment conducive to doing business, corporations spend money on political lobbyists—and, when they can get away with it, on bribes. Bribery need not be blatant, of course. For example, the reforms of the British railway network in the 1960s dismembered many branch services and coincided with a surge in road building and automobile sales. These reforms were orchestrated by Transport Minister Ernest Marples, who was purely a politician. However, Marples accumulated a considerable personal fortune during this time by owning shares in a motorway construction corporation. (So, no conflict of interest there!)

The automobile industry in isolation isn't a pure paperclip maximizer. But if you look at it in conjunction with the fossil fuel industries, the road-construction industry, the accident insurance industry, and so on, you begin to see the outline of a paperclip maximizing ecosystem that invades far-flung lands and grinds up and kills around one and a quarter million people per year—that's the global death toll from automobile accidents according to the world health organization: it rivals the first world war on an ongoing basis—as side-effects of its drive to sell you a new car.


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