Monday, April 1, 2013

This Secret Google Maps Gesture Is Totally Brilliant

So this is great. Google might have the smartest new gesture we've seen in a while: a smart, simple way to zoom in and out with one hand. Just double tap the screen with your thumb—anywhere on the screen is fine—and on the second tap, hold your finger down. Now slide your finger up and down. Zooming! More »


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A not so Traditional Vampire Story

Are you searching for a vampire story that lacks the Twilight theme? A story that actually has plot and character development along with literate players? Well then, come join The Vampire Codes, a literate vampire story about differences, racism, isolation, stereotypes, peer-pressure, and everything else in between.

The ultimate cliche; countless stories, drawings, fanfiction, board games, movies, role-plays, and whatever else I couldn?t think of right now have been created with the classic vampire idea. I mean, why not vampires? They are near-immortal beings; graceful and aristocratic. They are a dark fantasy, incredibly powerful and yet relying on a red substance that any normal human has naturally.

In this world, ?vampire? is just an umbrella term for the many supernaturals that just so happen to require liquids in some way.

They are not aristocratic. Heck, most vampires are dirt poor second class citizens.
The humans are afraid of the vampires. I mean, who wouldn?t be? Knowing there?s a creepy monster guy lurking around for someone to be dinner doesn?t exactly make me eager to sleep. And yes, the vampires are stronger than the normal person, in their own way, but they have the same moral compass as the rest of us and most of them don?t even drink human blood. But it seems that the Dracula cliche won over logic and common sense, and segregation, discrimination, and racism plagues the vampire populace.

Any crime a vampire commits is guaranteed to receive much more extreme punishment than if a normal human had committed it. The law system is very set against vampires, and closes it?s eyes to vigilante acts against the supernatural race. Lynching and similar acts are far too common.

Enter Lawrence Yeannes. Your average 35 year old guy with a nice job, but no wife. One day Lawrence visits his local discount store, with the intention of hitting on the vampire girls that he saw working there last week. This shopping trip would prove to be life changing. After being rejected (twice) Lawrence hangs around, watching the little vampric group as they go about their day, waiting for his chance to try for a third time. While observing, Lawrence sees what it?s really like for a vampire, and he decides to help them, and becomes the first Sponsor.

For all of them.

Enter Lawrence Yeannes. At seventy-eight years old, he controls a business empire of such a magnitude that it has the entire world in a chokehold. He is, in all but name, the ?ruler? of our planet. And everyone knows it, who could they not? Everything is manufactured by Yeannes Inc. from cheap knick-nacks to baby diapers to weapons of mass destruction. And yet, with all of this influence, Lawrence knows that just one person cannot force the prejudice away. However, he?s gotten rid of most of the lynchings and managed to scrap the old Vampric Codes in exchange for a set of his creation. It?s not much, but it?s all that?s needed for the stage to be set for the salvation of the vampires.

And who better to trigger a world movement for civil rights than the new generation?

Now for our roleplay, that?s all you?re interested in anyways.

In windy Iowa, there is a school notorious to being free of racism and prejudice. Classes are offered for preschool to college, for all races, all social classes, all genders, and all backgrounds. In fact, the school encourages kids to attend if they have a particularly strange/unusual history. The school is very old, a maze of old brick buildings with the occasional newer patch. It could be compared to a town; this University of Diversity has both slums and shiny new toilet seats. In fact, the University is well known for it?s confusing and rambling layout. But, from the dusty alleyways littered with trash to the soft downy beds of the five star dorms dorms, the University has always been a place of higher education and general acceptance for all.

So in order to keep face, the vampires were allowed to attend. Because of this, what little vampires there were left in the world all pooled into Iowa. Though they know vampires exist, people who don?t live in Iowa don?t really care about vampires and regard them mostly as we do today. As a result, they aren?t really up-to-date on the Vampire Codes and the rules of Sponsorship.

Now, like the rest of the world, this school has it?s own social class.

School Staff
The teachers, principal, you get the picture.
Student Council
Manned by a combination of high schoolers and college kids, must be an advanced student to run for office. They are in charge of the spirit days, clubs, and day to day affairs.
Advanced Student
Any kid in the honor role for that trimester. These kids get the best dorms and school equipment.
Normal Student
Your average B's to D's student. They make up most of the student populace.
One could get this rank by either breaking one too many rules or having failing grades. They have academic improvement classes and community service work instead of electives.
The lowest of the low. Vampires are not allowed to take electives or join clubs, and the teachers are extremely hard on all of them. There are a few vampires in every grade, but no more than five. There are even two little preschool vampires. The vampires have a seedy, run down dorm all of their own.

So what?s the point of all of this? Why are you confusing me with your social system?

Well. This story is not about high-school drama or the tensions with vampire/human relationships. Nevermind it totally is. No, this is about overcoming stereotypes, peer-pressure, and everything in between. You see this story is about the vampires of the University of Diversity, and their human Sponsors. Throughout the roleplay, I want lots of bonds to be made between character. This is about dealing with the real life problems of peer pressure, stereotyping, and just dealing with other people in general. The civil rights of an entire race rests in the hands of these youngsters.

Are you brave enough to stand up for what?s right, even though it might cost you everything?

Wait... what the heck is a Sponsor?

Good question. When ol? Lawrence butchered the old Vampire Codes, he managed to replace them with Rules that gave the vampires a shot at equality, if only a handful of humans were willing to give it to them.

Freedom, though, comes with a price.

The Vampire Codes

1. A vampire may only lay a hand on a human if the vampire?s life is in definite danger.
(A human can beat up a vampire and he/she won?t be able to do anything to stop it.)

2. Vampires may not gather in numbers, stay out past curfew, attend political conventions, run for election, or enter a human-only building without a Sponsor.
(With a Sponsor, everything changes.)

3. Sponsors may only be human.

4. Sponsors cannot have a significant criminal record.

5. When a human agrees to become a Sponsor, they have a waiting period of three days where they can revoke Sponsor status. Afterwards, they are stuck with the job for at least a year.

In Exchange for Sponsorhood in the University of Diversity
This applies only to students who wish to be Sponsors in the school.

-Sponsors are responsible for all Claimed Vampires.
They can boss them around.

-Sponsors are in charge of acquiring ?special? food for the Claimed Vampires.
Vampire needs blood? Guess who?s stuck with giving it to them.

-Sponsor status is only a little bit higher than the Vampire Status.

-Sponsors are in charge of the Claimed Vampire Club.
Claimed Vampires get to have a club.

-If a Claimed Vampire causes trouble or is helpful, Sponsor takes blame/credit.
Vampire beats someone up? The Sponsor gets punished.

-Sponsors are moved from old dorm into the Vampire Dorm.
Sucks for the Sponsor.

Claimed Vampires
Are the luckiest vampires in the world.

+Suddenly, if someone hits you first, even if they are human, you can beat them up without punishment for you or your Sponsor.

+You get to eat in the cafeteria while the human kids are eating!

+Finally you can have a club, get an elective, and improve the dorm building.

+You can send requests to the Student Council, just like any human kid.

+No more curfew, segregation, or shoddy jobs for you!

Basically, a Sponsor gets a crummy life while the Claimed Vampires get all of their dreams come true.
This is to discourage possible Sponsors.


Nothing much to say here. However, humans are known to be Gifted with a mild power of some sort. It?s not that unusual.

Sponsor- Yes, they count as a race.
We can have as many of these as we can. The Sponsors in this roleplay will be just your average kids (Gifted or otherwise), new to the school (or otherwise) and unfamiliar with the Vampire Codes because they come from different areas. The roleplay will start with the kids stumbling (or joining willingly) into Sponsorship. More about that in OOC.

Normal Vampire-
The classic vampire, with extra speed, strength, and stamina. They sunburn easily, and can die like the rest of us (though they are harder to kill). They need animal blood once a week, and human blood once a month, at minimum. Sometimes known to have a weak elemental power. These are the most common.

Human-turned Vampire-
They are basically your average person, but they suddenly feel a little bit stronger and faster. The sun irritates them just a little, and they can only digest liquids. If they drink human blood, they become super-powered (they can dodge lightning) for a short amount of time. Animal blood gives them heightened senses. The fact that these vampires exist is scandalous, and these are the second least common.

Witch Vampire-
They can cast ?spells? using the energy of the people, plants, and animals around them. Sometimes have an animal familiar. Witch Vampires can eat solid foods occasionally, but they generally only drink liquids. They like the taste of blood, but only need it if they need extra power or recovering from a bad wound.

Shapeshifting Vampire-
Basically they can transform into any one animal, and they retain certain characteristics of that animal (sharp teeth and aggressive personality for a vamp who can turn shark). This is where it?s possible for a ?werewolf? vampire to exist. They have a fondness for raw meat and animal blood, but only need it every once and awhile.

Empathic Vampires-
Perhaps the strangest, these vampires feed off of emotions and various beverages, rather than blood. Each Empathic Vampire has ?dominance? over one emotion, and while they can feed off of any, they start to become ill if they cut off from it for extended periods of time. If this particular emotion is around they can channel it into a physical version of itself. (A feeling vampire with dominance over anger can transform anger into fire, the more anger there is the stronger the fire is).

Demonic Vampire-
The unluckiest suckers of the lot, these vampires will do well to keep their identity a secret, as humans generally form mobs to hunt them down. They are stronger than normal vampires, and their ?power? is too, but they are much much more dependant on blood. They cannot eat solid food, and can only drink blood. They can survive off of animal blood, but they will eventually wither away without human blood, which is best given daily, but not required. They need sunscreen for any amount of sun, and they are scared of fire and drowning. One Available, any Demonic Vampire played by an RPer will be the only one(s) in the school.


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In Search Of Energy Metaphors: Debunking The Myth Of The Ina ...

Sunday March 31, 2013, 3:43 pm
In Search Of Energy Metaphors: Debunking The Myth Of The Inadequacy Of ?Current Renewables?

By Joe Romm on Mar 12, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Last month, I was on a panel with someone who kept kept saying ?current renewables? were inadequate to address the climate problem and what we needed to do is invest in ?future renewables.? By that he meant increased research and development, of course, and not continued aggressive deployment.

I began my comments with this metaphor:

?There?s no useful intellectual distinction between ?current? and ?future? renewables. It?s like saying my daughter, who?s six, is not the same person once she becomes an adult. The only way she won?t grow is if I don?t feed her.?

The point is that continuing the amazing price drops and learning curves for renewables requires that we keep feeding them and help them keep learning ? by expanding production, as the International Energy Agency has explained (see ?The breakthrough technology illusion?). Many other studies back this up (see ?Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, R&D, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy?).

[In fairness to renewables, solar power is at least a junior in college, and wind power has already graduated. My daughter just happens to be six.]

Here?s a figure that shows what I?m talking about for solar power (learning curve in upper right):

Note that the price drop (and production increase) has continued since 2011 (see ?Chinese Companies Projected To Make Solar Panels for 42 Cents Per Watt In 2015?). And we are also dropping the price of financing solar ? see ?How Crowdfunding Lowers The Cost Of Solar Energy? ? which is just what you would expect as an industry becomes larger and more mature. Indeed, it?s one reason for learning curves ? most things are cheaper when you scale up (except, sadly, nukes).

Similarly, a little over a year ago, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) analyzed the cost curve for wind projects since the mind-1980?s and found that the cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen 14% for every doubling of installation capacity.

So while I was glad to see the excellent NY Times climate reporter Justin Gillis launch his monthly print column for Science Times, I was disappointed that he rehashed the tired myth pushed by Bill Gates and a few others in his article, ?In Search of Energy Miracles.?

First, though, the good news. Gillis doesn?t fall into the trap of most of the miracle mavens and breakthrough bunch ? the trap of advocating an R&D-centered policy:

Two approaches to the issue ? spending money on the technologies we have now, or investing in future breakthroughs ? are sometimes portrayed as conflicting. In reality, that is a false dichotomy. The smartest experts say we have to pursue both tracks at once, and much more aggressively than we have been doing.

An ambitious national climate policy, anchored by a stiff price on carbon dioxide emissions, would serve both goals at once. In the short run, it would hasten a trend of supplanting coal-burning power plants with natural gas plants, which emit less carbon dioxide. It would drive investment into current low-carbon technologies like wind and solar power that, while not efficient enough, are steadily improving.

And it would also raise the economic rewards for developing new technologies that could disrupt and displace the ones of today. These might be new-age nuclear reactors, vastly improved solar cells, or something entirely unforeseen.

In effect, our national policy now is to sit on our hands hoping for energy miracles, without doing much to call them forth.

Actually, coal is being supplanted by gas and wind (see ?Wind Beats Out Natural Gas To Become Top Source Of New Electricity Capacity For 2012?). And efficiency and demand response have slowed electricity demand growth to under 1% a year.

A stiff price for CO2 would tip the balance even more toward sources like wind that are carbon-free and hence don?t destroy a livable climate. After all, BNEF concluded its wind study:

Assuming specific learning rates for these components, we expect wind to become fully competitive with energy produced from combined-cycle gas turbines by 2016 in most regions offering fair wind conditions.? Any increase in the cost of gas, which will consequently raise the cost of energy of gas-fired turbines, would bring forward the timing of grid parity for wind.

And yes, I?ll get to the so-called intermittency problem.

Where Gillis goes astray is when he buys into Bill Gates? energy miracles nonsense:

Many environmentalists believe that wind and solar power can be scaled to meet the rising demand, especially if coupled with aggressive efforts to cut waste. But a lot of energy analysts have crunched the numbers and concluded that today?s renewables, important as they are, cannot get us even halfway there.

?We need energy miracles,? Mr. Gates said in a speech three years ago introducing his approach, embodied in a company called TerraPower.

Let?s set aside the fact that Gates himself got rich through a deployment-centric innovation and learning curve strategy (see ?Pro-geoengineering Bill Gates disses efficiency, ?cute? solar, deployment ? and still doesn?t know how he got rich?).

The fact is that if ?today?s renewables? ? a meaningless distinction as I?ve said ? could only get us a third of the way there, that would be fine through, say, 2025, since the carbon price and deployment effort would accelerate countless near-commercial technologies now in the pipeline into the market to next us the next third and then the final third.

Jigar Shah, a solar-industry rock star who founded the pioneering solar company SunEdison, explained to Climate Progress at length in 2011 why doubters of today?s renewable energy technologies are so wrong. I recommend the whole interview (Jigar is in the second half), where he explains that the only meaningful technologies for solving climate are those that can be scaled at the trillion-dollar level, and nobody puts a trillion-dollar bet on some brand new, breakthrough technology.

Jigar thinks we could reduce CO2 emissions about 50% cost-effectively with existing technologies, but that by the time we finished doing so in a couple of decades, we?d have another array of cost-effective strategies to take us down another 50%.

If you?d like to see a study of how New York could go 100% renewable in two decades, see ?Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State?s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water and Sunlight? by Stanford?s Marc Jacobson et al.

As for the U.S. as a whole, here are the key points to needed the 450 ppm pathway:

We don?t need to be 100% carbon-free by 2030 ? though that would be a good idea.
We can keep nuclear for baseload and yes we can even keep much of current gas power through 2030 ? we just shouldn?t build a lot of new gas-fired plants.
We could easily keep demand flat using the most cost-effective source of energy there is ? efficiency.
New renewables can back out coal over the next couple of decades (assuming the coal industry continues to commit suicide by failing to develop carbon capture and storage)
Our renewable penetration rate is considerably lower than that of many European countries, so we have a long way to go before increased renewables would cause us problems.
As we get to higher and higher levels of renewable penetration, we deal with intermittency through a combination of demand response, grid storage (which is steadily improving and dropping in price), and plugged in elective vehicles (whose already paid-for batteries are not being used >90% of the time).
Half or more of the ?intermittency problem? is really a ?predictability problem? ? that is, if we could predict with high accuracy wind availability and solar availability 24 to 36 hours in advance, then we can use demand response (aggregated demand reductions by commercial, industrial, and even residential customers, see ?Top 5 Coolest Ways Companies are Integrating Renewable Energy into the Grid?). Fortunately, such prediction capability is already beginning developed (see, for instance, here).

I have discussed these with leading energy analysts and electric grid experts, and they agree this is all doable with existing and near-term technology, assuming we keep feeding our renewable children ? and would go even faster if we had a stiff carbon price.

As for why folks don?t get this, Jigar Shah says:

For some people, technology is not their sweet spot. They have other skills. And so when someone tells them, ?technology is not ready,? they just eat up those words ? hook, line and sinker and then decide that?s what their talking points are going to be. And with those people it?s just sad that they don?t read more.

A major 2000 report by the International Energy Agency, Experience Curves for Energy Technology Policy, analyzed a variety of experience curves for various energy technologies. Their key conclusion has already been demonstrated, in part, by the massive investment in renewables we?ve seen in the past decade, but it bears repeating:

A general message to policy makers comes from the basic philosophy of the experience curve. Learning requires continuous action, and future opportunities are therefore strongly coupled to present activities. If we want cost-efficient, CO2-mitigation technologies available during the first decades of the new century, these technologies must be given the opportunity to learn in the current marketplace. Deferring decisions on deployment will risk lock-out of these technologies, i.e., lack of opportunities to learn will foreclose these options making them unavailable to the energy system.

Don?t lock our growing kids out of the job market by depriving them of food and learning. Deployment must be ramped up again and again and again (and yes, R&D, too).

Why is this inappropriate?