Showing posts with label Electricity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Electricity. Show all posts

June 26, 2020

Recliner Stuck

So yesterday, there was a huge pouring thunderstorm and lightening.

After a bolt or two that must have hit our power line, ALL the power went out.

That was not fun when sitting in an La-Z-Boy electric recliner chair.

Where the f*** is the safety release on this thing when there is no power?  ;-)

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 9, 2020

Pacemaker No-No!

So I learned that this is called a Van de Graaff Generator.

It generates very high voltage electricity. 

The guy setting it up asks me:
Do you have a pacemaker?

I respond in the negative and ask what's the danger zone on this thing.

He says: 
You probably wouldn't want to get within 10 feet of this!

Good to know. ;-)

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

(Please note that blog is not to be taken as medical advice.)
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November 8, 2015

Internet Divide And Conquer

Remember in the old Western's when the Indians were about to attack the town, and before they rode in with knives and flaming arrows--what would they do?  

The Indians would cut the telegraph lines--no calls for help out, and no communications in--the town and its people were completely cut off.

The very next scene would be the slaughter of everyone in the town including a bunch getting scalped. 

How have things changed in the 21st century?

Not so much so, as the New York Times reports today on the constant threats to our underground Internet lines being cut--with 16 cuts to the lines in the San Francisco Bay area alone in the last year. 

Similarly just a couple of weeks ago, the media was reporting about the U.S. being worried about Russian subs cutting the undersea Internet cables.

But isn't the Internet built like a spiders's web (i.e. the World Wide Web) with redundant routes so that it can withstand even a nuclear attack?

Apparently, if you take out key Internet Exchange Points (IXP) or major international cable lines then the Internet can be seriously disrupted. 

Similar to the impact of an EMP weapon that fries our electronic circuits...poof no more communications. 

If you can cut off our core communications ability--then it's a simple strategy of divide and conquer.  

Divided we are weak and can't communicate and organize ourselves to either know what's going on or to effectively respond. 

Like sitting ducks in the Old West surrounded and cut off--it was a slaughter. 

This is why it is so critical that we not only build redundancy in the cable lines, but that we create alternatives like satellite Internet or Google's Project Loon for balloon Internet access.

It's not just the military, law enforcement, and emergency management not that needs to be able to communicate--we all do!

With excellent communications, we can unify ourselves and we are strong--but if we are left in the dark, then divided we fall. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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November 22, 2014

Dire Warnings On CyberSecurity

This week Adm. Michael Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command issued a stark warning to the nation about the state of cybersecurity:

With our cybersecurity over the next decade, "It's only a matter of the 'when,' not the 'if,' that we are going to see something dramatic."

The Wall Street Journal reports that he gave " a candid acknowledgement that the U.S. ISN'T yet prepared to manage the threat!"

China and "one or two others" [i.e. Russia etc.] are infiltrating our SCADA networks that manage our industrial control systems, including our power turbines and transmission systems,.

The cyber spies from the nation states are "leaving behind computer code that could be used to disable the networks  in the future."

Can you imagine...you must imagine, you must prepare--not if, but when. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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February 28, 2014

Hanging By A Thread

This spool of cable has been hanging from this utility pole for days, maybe weeks. 

I have never quite seen anything like this. 

This huge spool hanging by a thread from this skinny little pole.

Of course, there is one warning cone sitting right underneath the overhead spool. 

Can't you just see that spool crashing down and flattening the cone? [Wonk!]

Then you have some sporadic red warning tape not doing much of nothing.

And cars and people regularly going up and down this street--which you don't really see in this photo.

Maybe the workers just left the spool of cable up there in case they need it again in the future.

Hey, less work lifting it all the way up there again. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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February 5, 2014

Sitting Ducks, Sitting In The Dark?

If you read the Wall Street Journal, then you heard today about the attack that took place last April on the power grid in San Jose, California. 

Yes, "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" and in San Jose in 2013!

Some assailants cut the telephone cables in an underground vault and shot for 19 minutes at a electrical substation with more than 100 rounds from an AK-47 and "surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley."

In this isolated case, power was able to be rerouted around the damaged site, but it still took 27 days to make the necessary repairs.

What if this was a broader attack--what could have happened? 

Firstly, since our roughly 2,000 nationwide giant transformers sit mostly in the open surrounded by nothing more than chain link fences and some cameras, an attack is possible, if not probable.

According to the then Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), "if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S."

Further, since each transformer is custom made, weighs up to 500,000 pounds, costs millions to build and are hard to replace, a large scale attack could result in "prolonged outages as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years."

Is this an isolated incident and nothing to worry about?

Uh, no! Domestically, there were 274 incidents of deliberate damage in three years. And overseas, between 1996 and 2006, terrorist organizations were linked to 2,500 attacks on the power grid. 

"Utility executives and federal energy official have long worried that the electric grid is vulnerable to sabotage." 

The Former FERC Chairman said, "What keeps me awake at night is a physical attack that could take down the grid. This is a huge problem."  

Do you think the lights will be on forever or is it just a matter of time? 

On a personal level, have you given any thought to how you will feed your families, light and warm your homes, run your businesses, gas up your cars, and send and receive information?


Our Achilles' heels--is anyone even paying serious attention?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal; this is not an endorsement of this book, but rather symbolic)
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June 19, 2013

Malware Through A Charger

Who would've thought you can get cyber attacked this way...

Forbes is reporting that Georgia Tech researchers have discovered an exploit where malware could be introduced to your computer through the plug in AC power charger. 

Based on their proof of concept, when you connect your computer and electrical plug, you could get more than an electrical charge to your Apple iOS computer--you could get hacked! 

The malicious charger has been named Mactans and in the future could be put together by inserting a miniature computer board (e.g. a BeagleBoard) right into the base of a charger plug (larger than the one shown above).

The hack attack is enabled by the USB port which is used for charging and doubles as a data port so that the malicious code would be surreptitiously inserted into your computer. 

So be careful what you plug into, because when you think you're just powering up your battery, you may end up powering down your whole computer device.

This sort of reminds me of the shoe bomber that forever changed how we view seemingly innocuous shoes at the airport.

A shoe may not just be for walking, and a AC charger may not be just a power source anymore.  ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Lee Bennett)
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May 26, 2013

Mayim Chaim

You can only live about 3 days without water--that's why protecting our water is so critical.

Emergency Management (May/June 2013) says, "There are numerous ongoing threats to our water supply. Some of them [natural or man made] could be catastrophic."

- Water poisoning: Already in the 1st century, Roman Emperor Nero poisoned the wells of his enemies.  These days you'd need a large supply, like "several dump trucks of cyanide or arsenic to poison a reservoir.  Plus the water system is monitored and has purification protections such as chlorine, so it's not that simple. We can also issue "boil alerts" for people to boil the water before drinking it. Then again, we saw what some radiation did to the Japanese water supplies after Fukushima.

- Blowing it up: The water system infrastructure can be disrupted using explosives, so keeping intruders far away from it is important to keeping it safe.

- Earthquakes/Hurricanes: Much of the water system pipes are old--some built during the Civil War--and these can be destroyed by natural disasters or even a construction crew jackhammer hitting in the wrong place. 

- Electrical outage: If you shut down the electricity, you shut down the water pumps...and even with generators taking over for a while, your up against the clock, if you don't get the juice flowing again soon. 

- Cyber Attack: Our water systems, like other industrial control systems are vulnerable to cyber attack. A hacker that gets control of the systems could overheat it, overtreat it, flood it, or otherwise break it and shut it down. 

Keeping our water infrastructure secure, the water supply safe and potable, the transport pipes intact, the electricity working, and the systems under control--are not little matters--they are the difference between life and death for millions. 

As in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, when the ship gets blown off course into unchartered waters and the crew is thirsty for water and desperate to survive, the poet states, "Water, Water. Everywhere. And All The Boards Did Shrink; Water, Water, Everywhere. Nor Any Drop To Drink."

In Hebrew, there is a short saying that sums up this topic, "Mayim Chaim"--water is life. ;-)

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

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January 28, 2013

Safeguarding Our Electrical Grid

Popular Science (28 January 2013) has an interesting article on "How To Save The Electrical Grid."

Power use has skyrocketed with home appliances, TVs, and computers, causing a significant increase in demand and "pushing electricity through lines that were never intended to handle such high loads."


Our electrical infrastructure is aging with transformers "now more than 40 years old on average and 70% of transmission lines are at least 25 years old" while at the same time over the last three decades average U.S. household power consumption has tripled!


The result is that the U.S. experiences over 100 mass outages a year to our electrical systems from storms, tornados, wildfires and other disasters.


According to the Congressional Research Service, "cost estimates from storm-related outages to the U.S. economy at between $20 billion and $55 billion annually."


For example, in Hurricane Sandy 8 millions homes in 21 states lost power, and in Hurricane Irene, a year earlier, 5.5 million homes lost electricity. 


The solution is to modernize our electrical grid:


- Replace a linear electrical design with a loop design, so a failure can be rerouted. (Isn't this basic network architecture where a line network is doomed by a single point of failure, while a ring or mesh topology can handle interruptions at any given point?)


- Install "fault-current limiters" as shock absorbers so when there is a surge in the grid, we can "absorb excess current and send a regulated amount down the line" rather than causing circuit breakers to open and stop the flow of electrical power altogether. 


- Create backup power generation for critical infrastructure such as hospitals, fire stations, police, and so on, so that critical services are not interrupted by problems on the larger grid. This can be expanded to installing solar and other renewable energy resources on homes, buildings, etc. 


- Replace outdated electrical grid components and install a smart grid and smart meters to "digitally monitor and communicate home power" and automatically adjust power consumption at the location and device level. Smart technology can help manage the load on the grid and shift non-essential use to off-hour use. The estimated cost for modernizing the U.S. grid is $673 billion--but the cost of a single major outages can run into the ten of billions alone. What will it take for this investment to become a national priority? 


I would add an additional solution for safeguarding our electrical grid by beefing up all elements of cyber security from intrusion detection and prevention to grid protection, response, and recovery capabilities. Our electrical system is a tempting target for cyber criminal, terrorists or hostile nation states that would seek to deprive us of our ability to power our economy, defense, and political establishments. 


While energy independence has become feasible by 2020, we need to make sure that we not only have enough energy resources available, but also the means for reliable and secure energy generation and distribution to every American family and business. ;-)


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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December 22, 2012

Still An Innovation Nation


Yesterday, according to the Mayan calendar, we were to have seen the end of the world. Today professors like Robert J. Gordon in The Wall Street Journal (22-23 December 2012) unfortunately continue to spread doom and gloom. 

According to Gordon, "for more than a century, the U.S. economy grew robustly thanks to big inventions; those days are gone."


Gordon seems to think predominantly from 20/20 hindsight, seeing the innovations of the past -- such as the electric light bulb, running water and the jet airplane -- as the last major vestiges possible of human advancement. 


As Gordon states: "Only once would transport speeds be increased from the horse (6 miles per hour) to the Boeing 707 (550 mph).  Only once could our houses be replaced by running water and indoor plumbing. Only once could indoor temperatures, thanks to central heating and air conditioning, be converted from cold in winter and hot in summer to a uniform year-round climate of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit."


Gordon’s pessimism is bad enough (“The future of American economic growth is dismal”) but his arrogance is even worse.


How sad that he cannot see past our momentary troubles and imagine better, greater things to come.


- Is 707 miles per hour really the fastest that humans can travel? I guess Gordon hasn't been following the land speed record in Scientific American (5 November 2012) that has an English project pushing the 1,000 mph barrier and already projecting hitting 1,600 mph or Virgin Galactic (just the beginning of our space journeys) reaching more than 4 times the speed of sound (>3,000 mph!).


- Is indoor plumbing really the last great innovation when it comes to water? Please don't tell that to almost a billion people worldwide who live without potable water. However, thanks to innovators such as Vestergaard-Frandsen, whose Lifestraw water purification tools "removes 99.9999% of bacteria through a superfine filtration process" for only about $6 each (Mashable), many others may soon have access to safe drinking water.


- Is central air is the end of the temperature innovation cycle?--You've got to be kidding me. In the context of global warming and the resulting "storms and other (weather) extremes," there are considerable challenges ahead of us to be met. Someone ought to tell Mr. Gordon that sustainable energies are coming online (solar, wind, wave, and geothermal) that can help stem global greenhouse gases thought to be a major cause. In fact, whole new "green" high-tech cities like Masdar City are being developed to operate with low environmental footprints. 


Gordon may think all major innovations have arrived, and probably thought the same before the Internet and smartphone were created. 


In his op-ed, Gordon calls on skeptics to “rebut” his innovative idea that robust innovation is over. But perhaps he is actually asking them for help. Because such pessimism and small thinking are a prison of his own making. Unfortunately, he is professionally considered an “educator.” But it’s lessons like this that our young people – facing one of the most economically challenging times in modern history - can do without. ;-)


(Source Photo: here with attribution to Paul Townsend)

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January 1, 2011

A House for The People


(Source for graphic: The $300 House)

National Geographic (January 2011) reports that one out of every seven people—or 1 billion people—in this world lives in slums.


Forbes (11 June 2007) predicts “By 2030, an estimated 5 billion of the world’s 8.1 billion people will live in cities. About 2 billion of them will live in slums, primarily in Africa and Asia, lacking access to clean drinking water and toilets, surrounded by desperation and crime.”


Harvard Business Review (January-February 2011) shares an innovative idea by Vijay Govindarajan to design and mass-produce houses for the poor for $300! Moreover, these units would include “basic modern services such as running water and electricity…[and] create shared access to computers, cell phones, televisions, water filters, solar panels, and clean-burning stoves.”


The breakthrough idea of the $300 high-tech house is that this is not something governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or charities would develop and deploy, but rather one that is a challenge for commercial interests who can take lead on creating mass scale, “ultra low cost, high value housing…as a mega opportunity, with billions in profit at stake.”


While I understand that the profit motive is very compelling and efficient in getting results, I would suggest that when it comes to helping the poor and downtrodden that we need to temper this as a driving factor, and let our humanity and conscience kick in as well. In other words, sure make a profit, but by G-d have a heart.


With The $300 House, aside from the notion of truly helping people—en masse—and making a genuine difference with moving them from slum houses to homes is the concept of leapfrogging them in their technology. Think about it:


- Solar power
- Walter filtration
- (Even) Tablet PCs


This reminds me of the One Laptop Per Child initiative of 2005 that sought to put $100 laptops in the hands of hundreds of millions of disadvantaged schoolchildren to advance their educational opportunities. It expands and augments it to make the change impactful to people’s lives on the ground today in terms of how people are able to care for themselves and their families, so that they can get to a brighter tomorrow and put that education to work.


While we may never be able to fully eradicate poverty, we can certainly significantly raise the status of living for the masses that need help through commercial opportunities, technological proliferation, and of course, through a charitable heart.

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September 29, 2009

Turning the Tables on Terrorists

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md) said that an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)—“it would bring down the whole [electrical] grid and cost between $1 trillion to $2 trillion” to repair with full recovery taking up to 10 years!

“It sounds like a science-fiction disaster: A nuclear weapon is detonated miles above the Earth’s atmosphere and knocks out power from New York City to Chicago for weeks, maybe months. Experts and lawmakers are increasing warning that terrorists or enemy nation state could wage that exact type of attack, idling electricity grids and disrupting everything from communications networks to military defenses…such an attack would halt banking, transportation, food, water, and emergency services and might result in the defeat of our military forces.” (Federal Times—September 21, 2009)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says “the U.S. is ill-prepared to prevent or recover from an EMP”—they are asking Congress for authority to require power companies to take protective steps to build metal shields around sensitive computer equipment.

It is imperative for us to protect our critical infrastructure so that we are not vulnerable to the devastating effects of a potential EMP blast. We must think beyond simple guns and bullets and realize that our technological progress is on one hand a great advantage to our society, but on the other hand, can be a huge liability if our technical nerve centers are “taken out”. Our technology is a great strategic advantage for us, but also it is our soft underbelly, and whether, we are surprised by an EMP or some hard-hitting cyber warfare, we are back to the stone age and it will hurt.

It also occurs to me that the same tools terrorists use against others can also be used against them.


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