Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More
The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.
He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).
Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.
In the wake of new evidence that Halliburton knew or should have known that the cement they used in drilling the Macondo well was faulty, the precise stakes for the company are becoming clear.
Yesterday, the National Commission created to investigate the tragedy in the Gulf pointed a finger at the oil services firm, saying that several of the company's own tests showed their cement mix might have been unstable.
Halliburton issued a long denial with a multilayered defense of the company's actions. They argue first that there were substantial differences between the mixes they tested and the specific formulation used at the site. Further, they say that BP requested a change in the composition of the mix, but that the stability of the new batch was never tested. And in any case, BP didn't take reasonable safety measures despite warnings from Halliburton and didn't do the proper tests to ensure that the cement job had been done properly.
While Halliburton and BP are trying to deflect blame to each other, in the court of public opinion, there is more than enough blame to go around. Halliburton admitted that it poured a cement mix down a notoriously tough well without testing the stability of its exact composition, even though they had evidence in hand that not all mixes were stabilizing well. As the legal wrangling continues, let's not lose sight of that fact.
But what really matters to the companies, though, is the legal matter of who has to pay for damages. BP indemnified Halliburton, according to their contract. In the quote below, COMPANY is BP and CONTRACTOR GROUP is Halliburton:
COMPANY shall save, indemnify, release, defend, and hold harmless CONTRACTOR GROUP against all claims, losses, damages, costs (including legal costs) expenses and liabilities resulting from:
(a) loss or damage to any well or hole (including the cost to re-drill);
(b) blowout, fire, explosion, cratering, or any uncontrolled well condition (including the costs to control a wild well and the removal of debris);
One assumes, however, that if the contractor group did something shoddy, such indemnities would fall away, or at least that's what BP would argue. Halliburton, in fact, seemed to signal that BP might try to do so in its last quarterly earnings report:
"We believe that the indemnification obligations contained in our contract are valid and binding against BP Exploration. BP Exploration contractually assumed responsibility for costs and expenses relating to this event, including claims for gross negligence. Given the potential amounts involved, however, BP Exploration and other indemnifying parties may seek to avoid their indemnification obligations. In particular, while we do not believe there is any justification to do so, BP Exploration, in response to our request for indemnification, has generally reserved all of its rights and stated that it is premature to conclude that it is obligated to indemnify us. In doing so, BP Exploration has asserted that the facts are not sufficiently developed to determine who is responsible, and have cited a variety of possible legal theories based upon the contract and facts still to be developed. In addition, the financial analysts and the press have speculated about the financial capacity of BP, and whether it might seek to avoid indemnification obligations in bankruptcy proceedings. We consider the likelihood of a BP bankruptcy to be remote."All this to say: expect a lot more arguments from both sides of this disaster about cement foam stability. This looks like it's going to get ugly.
You see used IKEA furniture for sale every day on the Internet. But what you don't see for sale every day is a used IKEA furniture plant. In all my years on the web, I'd never seen even one Ikea plant for sale until I opened up my email today and found this gem.
Let me know if you want in on this deal. I'm pretty sure I'd get a sweet commission.
Used IKEA Furniture Plant For Sale
2,000,000 m2 of Flat Pack Annually
I am pleased to offer a complete furniture plant for immediate sale. The plant produced up to Two million square metres of flat pack pine furniture per annum for IKEA and is complete from "top to bottom".
The plant is highly automated and features a huge range of modern equipment installed between 2001 and 2008. To build this plant new today would cost in the region of Euro €25m.
The plant is offered as a complete plant only - we cannot offer individual machines. Please contact me for more information. Serious enquiries only please.
Hall A (Tooling)
- Puttying Line (Awutek, Viet, Sisal)
- Feeder Equipment (Pinomatic)
- Receiving Equipment (Pinomatic)
- Turnover Equipment (Pinomatic, System TM, Reinbold)
- Glue Sheet Line (Pinomatic, AT, Innova, Weinig, Heesemann)
- (2x) Pegging Line (Homag, Weeke)
- Sequence Line (Bottene, Weinig, Pinomatic, Homag, Weeke)
Hall B (Surface Treatment)
- Spray Line (CEFLA, Heesemann, Quickwood)
- (2x) Sorbini Roller Coater Line (Pinomatic, CEFLA, Heesemann, Sorbini)
- Vacuum Line (Ligmatech, Siipotec)
- Packing Line (Ferroplan, Formeca, Motoman, Camline, Pinomatic)
- Factory Systems (Ferroplan, Orfer, Tosa, Robopack)
- Spraying Line (CEFLA, Viet Italia, Barberan, Routronic, Altendorf)
- Glue Board Line (CEFLA, Viet, Innova)
Inspection: on request
Available: October 2010
If you have any questions about the plant please contact me.
Close of Business is a new video series that we're trying out. The idea is simple: at 5 p.m. (or thereabouts), we post a quick video summarizing the top three news stories of the day. Some of them we'll have written about; others will just be what people were talking about on the Internet.
Links to stories mentioned in this video:
Rumor: Samsung Will Announce Nexus Two November 8 [Android and Me]The Atlantic Technology Channel.
If you use Google to find places out there in the real world a lot, you'll be happy to note that the company has made some small changes to the way that they present local searches.
Now, searches for "Ethiopian food, Washington, D.C." actually return a list of restaurants with single, definite pages. In the past, the results were a little sloppier. Some suggest this could hurt the local review site, Yelp.
But here's the thing about place-based searching: I want to be able to limit the geography in which I'm looking. If I search for Ethiopian food in D.C., there are dozens of places. I want to zoom the map in to just my neighborhood (Shaw near Howard University, FWIW). This is what Yelp.com does -- and it's the only thing that keeps me going back to that site.
Update: My oversight is your good news! As Jackie Bavaro, Google Place Search's Product Manager points out below, you can get that Yelp-like functionality by clicking on the map. So, it's just on the Places page itself that the map is static.
Halliburton knew that a particular cement mixture it pumped into BP's Macondo well had been found unstable in laboratory tests, according to a new letter from the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
The cement was meant to help seal the well. Halliburton has strongly denied that its cement job played any role in the disaster. Earlier this month, Thomas Roth, Halliburton's vice president of cementing, defended his company to Oil & Gas Journal:
Problems with the cement could have been traced to its possible contamination, incomplete laboratory testing beforehand, or use of an unstable foam slurry which would have resulted in nitrogen breakout, none of which apparently occurred, he explained. Roth said Halliburton supplied the cement based on BP's specifications, tested it in its own laboratory, and recommended a formulation based on that information. Tests took more than 400 hr and indicated that the foam system was stable on delivery, he said.In other words, Roth claimed that the cement mixture had been found stable during testing by Halliburton. The new report from National Commission shows otherwise. Only one of four tests run by Halliburton found that the cement mixture would be stable. In no uncertain terms, the Commission's investigators castigated Halliburton:
Halliburton and BP both had results in March showing that a very similar foam slurry design to the one actually pumped at the Macondo well would be unstable, but neither acted upon that data; and Halliburton (and perhaps BP) should have considered redesigning the foam slurry before pumping it at the Macondo well.Wall Street traders reacted sharply to the finding, pushing Halliburton's stock price down 15% in the minutes after its release. It has since recovered, but shares remain down over 10%. That decline shaved more than $3 billion from the company's market value.
After years of American dominance, China now hosts the fastest computer in the world. It's the first time a Chinese machine has held the title.
As Elizabeth Weingarten pointed out earlier today, the Tianhe-1A can execute 2.5 petaflops, or thousand trillion calculations per second. The fastest U.S. machine, the Jaguar XT-5, can only carry out 1.75 petaflops.
But there's something else that's interesting about the Tianhe-1A besides pure speed: it features impressive domestic interconnect technology. It uses Intel and Nvidia processors, but the system for allowing all 21,000 chips to communicate and work together is Chinese.
"This machine is a sign that we're going to see more machines like this," said Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee who tracks the top supercomputers. That is to say, we're going to see faster Chinese computers that are built using more and more Chinese technology.
"We know the Chinese are developing processor technology and their hope is that they can replace not just the interconnects but also the processors with ones they make in their own country," Dongarra said.
This need not be seen as a bad thing. Certainly, American scientists and engineers can learn from their counterparts across the Pacific. But Dongarra also saw it as a challenge to the U.S. scientific establishment.
"It is a wake up call in the sense that the U.S. needs to make more of an investment in high-performance computing," he said. "If we're not dominant in that area, we're going to lose whatever advantages are conferred by that."
Supercomputers allow us to push the scientific edge. There are a wide variety of fields that depend on the astounding simulation capabilities of today's supercomputers. Dongarra, who just returned from China, said that the scientists who built the machine are planning to use it to study petroleum formations, biomedical research, and climate forecasting.
But it's worth noting that in the United States, these high-performance machines are primarily used to simulate nuclear weapons. It wouldn't be surprising if the Chinese computers are given that task, too.
The machine is located in China's National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin.
Online matchmaking is getting better at telling us whom we ought to like—and that's not good.
Barnes & Noble introduced its improved Nook e-reader today, a 7-inch, full-color tablet running the Android operating system.
I can't say that I was burning with excitement about a new Nook. After all, the iPad has a kind of cachet and polish that the Nook just doesn't. On the other hand, at $250, just half of the iPad's price, I could see buying one. Not as a keyboardless mini-computer but just as a content reader for book, magazine, and newspaper content. For that, regardless of what Chairman Steve says, the 7-inch size (about the same as a paperback book) is perfect for tossing into a bag.
Perhaps the larger point is that perhaps the tablet market won't be quite as winner-take-all as it seems after the iPad's incredible run in the last few months. Maybe multiple devices will carve out and sustain niches serving a specific set of customers, even as the iPad becomes the all-purpose device in the center of the industry.
Close of Business is a new video series that we're trying out. Today, we've got a special edition about The Atlantic's Green Intelligence Forum. I spent the day with policy and energy experts, and this video is a quick collection of thoughts about what I saw and heard.
See more video from The Atlantic Technology Channel.
The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh has one of his classic deep investigations in this week's issue. His topic this time is "cyber war," or at least the packet of behaviors by foreign governments that are sometimes classed under that heading.
While the article feels a tiny bit diffuse to me, you can't help but come away from it feeling like the idea we'd battle another country in cyberspace is mostly a useful fiction for the military establishment. If we're at war, they get to control the nation's cyber security apparatus, and all its attendant turf and riches. And bonus: if we are in a cyber war, the less able and likely we are to fight for our civil liberties and privacy online.
The story is well worth your time. I excerpt the incredibly compelling anecdote that begins the piece about a National Security Agency spy plane captured and (apparently) reverse engineered by the Chinese. You'll have to read to the end to find out the surprising coda to the story.
On April 1, 2001, an American EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance plane on an eavesdropping mission collided with a Chinese interceptor jet over the South China Sea, triggering the first international crisis of George W. Bush's Administration. The Chinese jet crashed, and its pilot was killed, but the pilot of the American aircraft, Navy Lieutenant Shane Osborn, managed to make an emergency landing at a Chinese F-8 fighter base on Hainan Island, fifteen miles from the mainland. Osborn later published a memoir, in which he described the "incessant jackhammer vibration" as the plane fell eight thousand feet in thirty seconds, before he regained control.
The plane carried twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women attached to the Naval Security Group Command, a field component of the National Security Agency. They were repatriated after eleven days; the plane stayed behind. The Pentagon told the press that the crew had followed its protocol, which called for the use of a fire axe, and even hot coffee, to disable the plane's equipment and software. These included an operating system created and controlled by the N.S.A., and the drivers needed to monitor encrypted Chinese radar, voice, and electronic communications. It was more than two years before the Navy acknowledged that things had not gone so well. "Compromise by the People's Republic of China of undestroyed classified material . . . is highly probable and cannot be ruled out," a Navy report issued in September, 2003, said.
The loss was even more devastating than the 2003 report suggested, and its dimensions have still not been fully revealed. Retired Rear Admiral Eric McVadon, who flew patrols off the coast of Russia and served as a defense attaché in Beijing, told me that the radio reports from the aircraft indicated that essential electronic gear had been dealt with. He said that the crew of the EP-3E managed to erase the hard drive--"zeroed it out"--but did not destroy the hardware, which left data retrievable: "No one took a hammer." Worse, the electronics had recently been upgraded. "Some might think it would not turn out as badly as it did, but I sat in some meetings about the intelligence cost," McVadon said. "It was grim."
There's so much agreement here at The Atlantic's Green Intelligence Forum that it's sort of shocking, given the general rancor of the climate and energy debates right now.
It's not that people agree on the detailed, in-the-Beltway specifics, but the broad strokes seem to be settled at least among this set of people -- and those at last week's National Renewable Energy Laboratory Innovation Growth Forum. Here's the general packet of ideas:
It's not quite groupthink, but there are very significant areas of agreement about what the future holds. All of the ideas above seem plausible to me. But there's a problem. We know that in the past, our energy system and politics have been affected by surprises, geopolitical events, and unforeseen technological breakthroughs.
So, I asked my panelists, "What's the unexpected thing that no one's talking about?"
The best answer I got came from Doug May, VP of energy climate change, and alternative feedstocks at Dow Chemical. He said floated the idea that some breakthrough could occur that opens up alternative oil supplies, so that the price of oil drops over the next couple decades.
Does it seem unlikely? Sure. But I'd like to see more ideas floated and explored that seem unlikely now because we know that events rarely unfold according to the conventional wisdom of any given moment.
Hello from The Atlantic's Green Intelligence Forum. I've been interviewing and moderating, so I haven't had a chance to write much about the proceedings. Stay tuned for a couple of quick posts.
During Megan MacArdle's "What Green Means to Industry" panel, Harvard Business School professor Forest Reinhardt said something very smart about the nature of green politics.
There is this infatuation with win-win solutions. If we think we're going to get where we want to go through a series of win-wins, we're kidding ourselves.
And he's right on both counts. Because support for green positions has always been broad but shallow, there has been a tendency to look for areas that were perceived to be easy wins, like, say energy efficient refrigerators. But what we're talking about when we're talking about "green" is the reinvention of an energy system that's been in existence for over a hundred years. The real solutions are going to be of a different type, not just a different scale.
Think of the dislocations and creativity in the media industry over the last 20 years in response to the rise of "new media" (among other things). It seems likely to me that if we're going to really change the energy system, we can expect to see at least that amount of confusion and innovation.
It's not going to be easy -- and some companies will be negatively affected. That doesn't mean that there aren't great or greater gains to be made in new industries, businesses, and products, but some entrenched interests will have to lose something.
Close of Business is a new video series that we're trying out. The idea is simple: at 5 p.m. (or thereabouts), we post a quick video summarizing the top three news stories of the day -- and give you one new Twitter or Tumblr to follow. Some of them we'll have written about; others will just be what people were talking about on the Internet.
Your Twitter account of the day: @nbj914 aka Nicholas Jackson, your Atlantic Technology channel producer.
Links to stories mentioned in this video:
Digg to Lay Off 37% of Staff [TechCrunch]
Blythe Solar Project in Riverside County Gets Federal Approval [Los Angeles Times]
A Web Pioneer Profiles Users by Name [Wall Street Journal]
See more video from The Atlantic Technology Channel.
Some celebrities are awesome. Take the science fictiony writer Margaret Atwood. Two of her fans, @DrSnit and @kidney_boy, were talking about her books on Twitter one day. She noticed and retweeted them, and then something about the combination of names made her take a special interest.
She imagined the two as superheroes and wrote to them saying, "I'd like to design your Kidney Boy and Dr. Snit superhero comix costumes." A month went by and then out of the Twitter blue, came the two hilarious drawings you see here. @Kidney_Boy, aka Joel Topf, MD, a nephrologist in Detroit, related the whole experience today on his blog, Precious Bodily Fluids.
All of which proves that Atwood, who wrote about her Twitter experience for the New York Review of Books, is at the top of the Twitter celebrity game.
If voting were easier, more people would do it. That's the simple idea behind TurboVote, a new non-profit its founders call a Netflix for voting.
The site simplifies voting by mail. You go to their website, sign up, and they send you the proper forms with a properly addressed, stamped envelope. Then, when elections come up, they send you text and email reminders, so that you don't forget to vote in the scads of local elections.
"The reason why I'm really behind it is that I think it's the first step towards what a modern democracy should look like," said the site's co-founder Seth Flaxman, a master's student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "Let's just say your ballot came in the mail automatically -- and you could sit down when it was convenient for you to look at your ballot at your kitchen table with your laptop open."
Turbovote launched a prototype in conjunction with Boston University this fall, and they're raising money through Kickstarter, the micropatronage site, to take the system national.
Right now, it costs Turbovote $1.93 to send you all the necessary materials. Though they expect the costs to come down as they streamline and fine tune the process, it's tough to get people to pull out a credit card to pay a dollar or two. In the near term, though, Flaxman said that they anticipate most of their adopters will come within institutions like Boston University or churches or civic groups that will cover the costs for their members.
They need a little more than $5,000 more backing on Kickstarter to reach their goal of $25,000.
The first transcontinental telegraph line went into operation 149 years ago on October 24, 1861, when the gap between the country's eastern and western networks was closed. The year before, Congress passed the Pacific Telegraph Act, subsidizing its construction and Hiram Sibley, president of the Western Union Telegraph Company, organized crews to build west from Omaha and East from Carson City to Salt Lake City.
While Abraham Lincoln received the very first message sent all the way across the nation that day, a different kind of leader was the first to test out the Salt Lake -- San Francisco wire: Brigham Young, leader of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
GREAT SALT LAKE CITY, OCTOBER 24, 7 P.M.
TO HON. H. W. CARPENTIER, PRESIDENT OF THE OVERLAND TELEGRAPH COMPANY
DEAR SIR: I AM VERY MUCH OBLIGED FOR YOUR KINDNESS, MANIFESTED THROUGH YOU AND MR. STREET, IN GIVING ME PRIVILEGE OF FIRST MESSAGE TO CALIFORNIA. MAY SUCCESS EVER ATTEND THE ENTERPRISE. THE SUCCESS OF MR. STREET IN COMPLETING HIS END OF THE LINE UNDER MANY UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES IN SO SHORT A TIME IS BEYOND OUR MOST SANGUINE ANTICIPATIONS. JOIN YOUR WIRES WITH THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE, AND WE WILL CONVERSE WITH EUROPE.
Young was given the honor because the Mormons were absolutely crucial in ensuring the construction of the telegraph line. In fact, Young was fantastically gung-ho about the telegraph, and so the ranks of the Mormon Church was were too.
"Because of the lack of timber for poles along this route, and the necessity of securing transportation for materials and sustenance for workmen, it was essential that the builders of the transcontinental line secure the approval and assistance of the Latter-day Saints Church whose members occupied the strategic (in this case) Great Basin," wrote historian Leonard Arrington back in 1951. "Edward Creighton, contractor for Western Union, was dispatched to Salt Lake City in late 1860 for this purpose. He found Brigham Young and other leading Mormon officials anxious to assist the project in every way."
The big trouble with getting the telegraph across the desert is that there were no trees out of which to make poles (seriously). So, they had to contract with locals who could haul them out to the work site day after day. The Mormons were responsible for furnishing supplies and labor for about 1,000 miles of the telegraph line, according to Arrington.
The experience helped Young build a telegraph network connecting all the Mormon settlements in the area, an intention he expressed from the pulpit, saying, "I want a company raised to stretch a wire through our settlements in this Territory, that information may be communicated to all parts with lightning speed."
The line didn't get built until after the end of the Civil War, but its completion was a milestone in the institutional development of the Mormon settlements. The telegraph tied the settlers together more tightly and allowed Young to disseminate the church's messages more efficiently. By 1880, there were more than 1,000 miles of wire in the territory. Control of the telegraph was important enough that the president of the church (first Young and later others) was also the president of the Deseret Telegraph Company, a church-owned public utility. The company had a different rate structure from the purely commercial concerns, including bulk discounts for small stations to receive chunks of news.
Eventually, the federal government confiscated the line during its attempts to end Mormon polygamist practices during the 1880s. It was eventually given back to the church, which sold it to Western Union in 1900.
This photo has one of the best captions I've ever seen. At the National Archives it reads, "Richard Pierce, Western Union Telegraph Co. Messenger No. 2. 14 years of age. 9 months in service, works from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Smokes and visits houses of prostitution. Wilmington, Del., 05/1910"
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