Archive | December 2012

The bigger Macau gets, the better for Las Vegas

We blazed over the causeway in the thick, constant evening fog until suddenly I was surrounded by more light than I could digest. It was disorienting and anxiety-inducing, an over-stimulating visual feast that jammed the circuitry in my head and accelerated my respiration.

For the first time I understood what it must be like to witness the fabulous Las Vegas Boulevard for the first time. No, I wasn’t on that Strip: I was cruising its steroidal kid brother, a place of shocking change that takes place so quickly it makes even pre-recession Las Vegas seem stagnant. This is the street from whence profits come so fast and furiously that they prevented the bankruptcy of at least two of Nevada’s biggest corporations during the depths of its economic meltdown.

I was on the Cotai Strip in Macau. And if I had long since lost my ability to be bowled over by Las Vegas, that first — and second and third — breathless ride along a perfect, massively wide fresh ribbon of asphalt in this most unlikely place made the enormity of a development like MGM Resorts International’s CityCenter feel as if it were a very fancy doll house.

This is not a travel essay, and here’s why: Nobody expects you to ever go to Macau. There’s no marketing machine trying to excite you about the idea of flying more than 12 hours from the West Coast of the U.S. to lounge by the (polluted) South China Sea. Also, they don’t need you. I was told by a bellboy that when he sees Caucasian guests, he assumes they must be evaluators from the Forbes or Michelin travel guides.

And yet, if you care at all about modern Las Vegas, you have to understand — if not care about — what has happened in just the past eight years or so in this previously disregarded and anonymous part of China. It is, simply put, the first wholesale export of what we know to be Vegas, right down to Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson actually filing a request to trademark the term “Asia’s Las Vegas.”

You’ve probably heard the numbers about Macau, but they bear repeating. Its casinos field more than $33.5 billion a year, five times more than Las Vegas. These gambling dens are vast plains of baccarat tables and salons; Venetian Macao Resort Hotel — a supersize replica of the Las Vegas original with three canals rather than just one — has the largest casino floor in the world at 550,000 square feet. That’s more than double that of Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. There are 800 table games there, a good number of which are baccarat; MGM Grand has about 140, including its poker tables.

Macau is the only place in China that allows legal betting, and that’s because gambling has flourished there since the 1800s, under colonial overlord Portugal. It became such a key piece of the economy there that Beijing couldn’t pull the plug when it regained control in the late 1990s.

Instead, the central government decided to try to disinfect the corrupt and violent destination of oppressive, crammed and unsafe casinos that had reigned since the 1960s — think Las Vegas during the mob era, minus the glamour. The handful that existed, led by a few gambling giants such as Casino Lisboa, were owned by Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho, a monopolist who also held a stranglehold over the privatized ferry system, one of the few means of getting to the Macanese peninsula. (There is now a land-based border crossing that is a manic scene of mainland Chinese people queuing up to cross over for gambling outings, but prior to the Chinese repossession of Macau, citizens rarely were permitted to go.)


A solar-power gift for the kids

For clean, alternative energy, our town and the metro area don’t look like some European counterparts yet, but we are heading there.

As visiting journalist Christian Roselund reports from Freiburg, Germany, when its children go to school in the morning and its residents to work, they pass dozens of solar installations.

They see solar panels on homes, churches, the soccer stadium, the roofs of schools and the facade of the main train station. There are “solar housing” developments and a “solar business park.”

All told, the city’s photo-voltaic installations “produce enough electricity to meet the needs of tens of thousands of homes.”

Wind turbines on hilltops within city boundaries contribute more natural, pollution-free electric energy.

Grover Hickman’s solar PV installation in Gray, preceded and aided by a small roof-mounted wind turbine, in 2007 became the Johnson City Power Board’s first “Generation Partners” clean-energy supplier.

Alternative energy installations such as his, sponsored under Green Power Switch, unfortunately were halted early in 2010 by a TVA imposed moratorium.

As the Tennesseean then reported, “costly mega-projects by opportunistic investors” were depleting the allocated funds whose principal, intended target had been “smaller solar installations [that] homeowners and businesses want.”

Paul Sutton, manager of a local installation company (Lightwave Solar), states that TVA supported systems now are designed to “zero out an owner’s electric bill.”

TVA purchases all the electricity the system produces, at a favorable 19-cents per kilowatt hour reimbursement, while the residential electricity rate is currently less than 10 cents.

To assure adherence to all grid-connection, safety and other relevant guidelines, applications must be approved by the Power Board and the TVA.

For small systems, from first site visit, consultation and design by a certified installer, to “commissioning” when the sun begins powering the home, the process typically takes less than three months.

Under the TVA contract, the owner locks in the favorable power-purchase reimbursement for 20 years.

For very large systems (above 50 kilowatt generation capacity), Sutton indicates that large down payments and high financial assurance requirements must now be met, TVA pays a less favorable premium price for the power produced, and the certification process takes longer.

A new residential solar installation on Cherokee Street in Jonesborough is about to join some 30 others that VA now helps fund under the “Green Power Provider Program,” in the JCPB service area alone.

As home owner Ignacy Fonberg sees it, with the JCPB “essentially paying for our monthly use, under this program,” the previous electric-bill payments can go toward payment for installing the system.

With federal funding support of 30 percent of installed cost now available, and an added TVA sum for the installation, it will be paid off in a decade or less.

But power production is guaranteed for at least 15 years longer, making the investment payback for a solar-supplied home, Fonberg adds, “better by far than any interest you can earn at the bank.” Solar power for our buildings makes a lasting gift, as well, to the planet’s children.

Mechanical problems at one of Waltham Schools’ two wind turbines have kept the district from getting reliable data on efficiency and output.  Yet superintendent Bob Abney remains optimistic the turbines will pay for themselves in as few as three years.

Abney reported the twin turbines  have been up and running since the start of this school year. While the district reported problems with the more westerly of the two, the problem turbine was replaced in early December, and both are now working and generating energy to the grid or Waltham North. “It’s going to be exciting. The payback is in three to five years, and that’s based on what was reported at other schools. It was money well spent.”

Abney said hard data on the output is not yet in hand due to the technical troubles, and won’t be available until the district gets steady reports over a series of months.

Baldwin Wallace University commits to solar

BEREA Roofs are becoming Baldwin Wallace University’s crowning glory in going green. One of its buildings — R. Amelia Harding House for Sustainable Living — has a roof garden and some solar panels.

The top of the Center for Innovation & Growth now has 416 solar panels on its roof along Front Street. The system was completed last week.

“The system on the Harding House has a small 8 kilowatt system,” said David Krueger, BW’s co-director of sustainability program and director of the Institute for Sustainable Business Practice.

The 105kW installation on the CIG roof will offset about 50 percent of the energy consumed by the building.

“Coupled with the building’s existing geothermal and cooling system, it should come close to producing a carbon-free building. No power from fossil fuel,” Krueger said.

The building was chosen because it is new, flat and shade-free. That makes it is ideally suited for solar capability.

BW made the commitment to work together with Cleveland-based Go Sol, LLC on this project, similar to the Harding House.

Go Sol will own and operate the system, selling BW all of the solar-generated power for a rate that will be less than standard utility rates. Cleveland-based Bold Alternatives designed and installed the solar array.

“We thoroughly enjoyed working with Baldwin Wallace University to complete this project,” said Rob Martens, Bold Alternatives’ president.

Krueger said there is an immediate cost savings, with BW having no capital expenditure for the project.

“The company will give us the system for free when they recover their costs. That is all included in the contract, including maintenance.”

An added feature occurs when the system generates more than the building requires.

“In that case, the excess energy will be transported next to our science center (Telfer/Wilker halls),” Krueger said. “We will use all available energy since the buildings are all metered and connected together.”

BW is the first Ohio university with an undergraduate interdisciplinary sustainability major as well as an MBA program. It offers many “green” practices throughout its campus, including a small wind turbine, geo-thermal buildings, on-campus bio-diesel fuel production that uses kitchen grease to operate campus vehicles, rain gardens, an industrial composter and other measures.

“We hope this will be the first of many large-scale solar projects,” Krueger said. “The university is open to future renewable energy projects. This latest project is part of a large commitment to lead in sustainability that includes the adoption of clean renewable energy sources.”

Students will be able to view real time data display of the energy produced by CIG’s solar panels.

“As a result of that request, I have ordered air traffic at the Van Wert airport to cease as of 11:59 p.m. today for a period of six hours for his clearance in Van Wert,” Mayor Farmer noted, adding that Santa also made a special request that the lights of the wind turbines in the area be illuminated on the north side of Van Wert for clearance purposes, but that the wind turbines also be shut down for the same period, starting at 11:59 tonight, so their blades don’t interfere with his flight.

Santa said the wind turbine lights would help Rudolph with his low-level approach, and safety was Santa’s concern.

The Jolly Old Elf noted that he was surprised by the recent wind turbine construction and nearly collided with one of the large structures, adding that he would be trying hard to avoid them this year.

He also requested that all local children be asleep by 11 p.m., at the latest, and noted that city residents have been good overall this year (those who weren’t know who they are) and added that it should be a good Christmas this year for the city.

Video games gain museum-level respectability

“People wrote better novels when the cultural status of the novel was contested,” Lanchester wrote in Slate. “When there were doubts as to whether serious people should read them, they were a lot more exciting — more interesting, more energetic, more various.

“Many literate adults regard gaming as beneath their notice. Good. Long may that remain the case.”Too late: Video games might have reached their peak in 2011, on the day before the Supreme Court declared them worthy of First Amendment protection — because the past 12 months have witnessed about as formal a ratification of cultural respectability as the medium might ever get.

Last month, the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced that it had acquired 14 games, including Pac-Man and Tetris, and would pursue dozens more, with the first group to be installed there in March as part of its architecture and design collection. And, on Dec. 15, the Museum of the Moving Image in the New York borough Queens opened what is effectively an arcade (you even get four tokens with admission and can buy more) with a new exhibition, “Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off.”

Unlike MoMA or the Smithsonian, the Museum of the Moving Image has always shown video games, dating from its opening in 1988. There is a small collection of arcade cabinets and consoles in the museum’s core exhibition.

But the “Spacewar!” show is noteworthy because it goes beyond a grab-bag, check-this-out approach and focuses on how video games were influenced by the medium’s first successful creation: Spacewar!, developed by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students and researchers and introduced to the world in 1962.

Were this exhibition in honor of William Higinbotham’s Tennis for Two, a computer toy assembled in 1958 for the enjoyment of visitors to the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, the selected games would be entirely different: Table Tennis for the Magnavox Odyssey (the first home console), Pong, Wii Sports, maybe Madden NFL. But the games here represent a different lineage: science-fiction shooters.

There are rarities such as Computer Space, the first commercially distributed video game (and a rather dull one at that), and Battlezone, the 1980 arcade game from Atari that introduced the first-person perspective almost every shooter game (such as Call of Duty or Gears of War) uses today.

More fun to play, with faster action, are electronic cave paintings such as Asteroids, Defender and Space Invaders. The beauty of the fading glow of the white tracerlike laser fire in Asteroids’ primitive, geometric graphics is unlike anything you’ll see in today’s high-definition games.

There is an Atari 2600, a Super Nintendo console, a hand-held Game Boy and more. Contemporary games such as Portal and Halo 4 are included, too, with only a couple of titles — Osmos for the iPad and Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii — seeming out of place.

A second, more implicit argument presented by the exhibit is that video games are, to borrow a phrase, something you read with your hands. You have to play them — not watch them, not read text descriptions of them — to understand them. With the exception of Spacewar! — which gets a slightly less brief introduction — the explanatory text is limited to a few sentences on the games’ historical significance, followed by instructions on how to play.

And they are all playable. There are no videos of developers ruminating about their craft here. If you can’t play it in the room — although some games require two players to be physically present — it isn’t here.

Nor are these updates of the original games, programs that have been translated for modern machines. These are the real things: a sit-down Star Wars game, a Tempest cabinet, a Space Invaders machine so well-loved that the text around the joystick and buttons is worn to the point of illegibility. Games that have been modified with a new monitor or joysticks that don’t rapidly break like the originals (see Computer Space) have those changes noted.

The one game that is exempt from these rules is the guest of honor. There is only one working Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-1, the computer on which Spacewar! was developed, and it is at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. So instead, the Museum of the Moving Image commissioned a model that presents “a reasonable facsimile of the original play experience”: a hexagonal monitor with a porthole in the middle, where the game is viewed, and the two players using keyboard buttons to move slow ships around the screen in a starry dogfight.

Knights of Columbus spread holiday warmth in Utah

Children throughout Utah in need of a new coat can stay warm this year, courtesy of the annual Knights of Columbus Coats for Kids.

On Dec. 1, families gathered at Catholic Community Services (CCS) in Ogden to receive coats, hats, gloves and scarves at the Coats for Kids distribution. The six Knights councils in northern Utah collected 300 coats, including five dozen donated by United Way of Northern Utah.

Also, “Saint Rose of Lima [Parish] did a fantastic job of collecting slightly used coats, and Your Valet Fine Dry Cleaning donated the dry cleaning of all those coats,” said Joe Hudak, district deputy of the Knights’ District 9.

This was the second year that the Knights in northern Utah distributed in their area; last year, the council at Holy Family Parish donated $1,200 to buy six cases of coats to be given to local children, Hudak said.

This year, “we got the word out to the six councils and together we ordered 16 cases of coats,” he said.

In the Salt Lake area, Coats for Kids started three years ago, said State Deputy Robert Masse, Jr. during the distribution Dec. 15 at CCS’ Saint Vincent de Paul Dining Hall in Salt Lake City.

“It’s grown over the years,” Masse said. “We started out with 150 coats, we’ve gone to 300 and now we’re at 708 coats today.”

Because of the success of the Utah Knights’ Coats for Kids program, the organization’s headquarters hired a video crew and still photographer to document the Dec. 15 distribution, Masse said. “It is nice that we’re being recognized throughout the world.”

Other regional coat distributions are planned, Masse said. “We will do distributions in Wendover and Park City, the Summit County area … and Provo will do some, too.”

The Knights worked with CCS for the coat distribution, and “It’s a great partnership,” said Dennis Kelsch, CCS program coordinator. “We deal with families that have four, five six kids … so all of those are served with new coats, which we can’t provide but the Knights can…. It’s great for our families that can’t afford those kinds of things. They’d have to go with maybe a used coat or no coat, and now they’ve got new coats. They do need these coats, there’s no doubt about it, and we all know what new coats cost.”

Erika Salinas, whose family was among those who braved the snow to go to the distribution, agreed. “It is really a help for us,” she said. “We don’t have enough money to purchase our own coats. It really means a lot to have all of this stuff given out to us. It brings a smile to my little brother and my family.”

Hudak said he was delighted to make a difference. “A lot of what the Knights do is charity,” he said. “We might give a hundred dollars to an organization like YCC, but we don’t really see the impact of that. In this particular case, the brother Knights were actually able to see these kids put these coats on, and it was like Christmas for them. The smiles were incredible. I saw little girls see a coat that they liked and just clutch onto it like it was a baby doll. They wouldn’t let it go. It was heart-warming. Every Knight that I talked to that was involved with this felt that they were doing Christ’s work on earth.”

NextEra Energy Resources commissions its 10,000th megawatt of wind energy

Earlier today, NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, celebrated the commissioning of its 10,000th megawatt (MW) of wind energy. NextEra Energy Resources achieved this significant milestone when it commissioned its 10,000th MW at its 400-MW Limon Wind Project in Colorado. Altogether, NextEra Energy Resources’ North American wind energy fleet is capable of generating enough electricity to power a city the size of Chicago.

“In addition to the environmental benefits of emission-free wind energy, our wind energy centers have helped revitalize rural communities across the United States and Canada through the creation of jobs, lease payments to landowners, property tax payments, and the ongoing purchase of goods and services,” said NextEra Energy Resources President and CEO Armando Pimentel. “While achieving 10,000 megawatts is a significant numerical milestone, it also reflects the hard work and dedication of our employees and customers who share our belief in the importance of clean energy.”

By the end of 2012, NextEra Energy Resources, through its subsidiaries, expects to have more than 10,000 MW of wind in operation, with wind projects in 19 states and four Canadian provinces, representing a total capital investment of more than $16 billion.

“This milestone shows the power and potential of wind energy for economic and national security. Wind-energy production supports 75,000 jobs nationwide and drives $15 billion in private investment in a clean, renewable, and domestic energy source,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, author of the wind-energy production tax credit. “Continued support for wind-energy production is good for the environment, American workers, and energy development here at home.”

The Journey to 10,000 MWSince its first investment in wind power in 1989, NextEra Energy Resources and its predecessor companies have focused on making investments in wind power that made sense environmentally and economically. In 2012, NextEra Energy Resources expects to add approximately 1,500 MW of new U.S. wind projects to its portfolio, marking the largest wind program ever completed in this country in a single year.

“Colorado is proud that the Limon project is the site of NextEra Energy Resources’ 10,000th MW milestone,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Wind continues to be a cost-competitive, clean, domestic energy source. Developing Colorado’s wind resources has helped to diversify and strengthen our state’s rural and manufacturing economies.”

“Wind energy is an important part of our commitment to provide value to our customers. It’s clean, renewable and competitively priced,” said Xcel Energy Chairman, President and CEO Ben Fowke. “As Xcel Energy has grown its wind portfolio, we have developed a trusted partnership with NextEra Energy Resources as they help us meet our customers’ energy needs.”

About NextEra Energy ResourcesNextEra Energy Resources, LLC (together with its affiliated entities, “NextEra Energy Resources”), is a clean energy leader and is one of the largest competitive energy suppliers in North America, operating in 22 states and Canada as of year-end 2011. NextEra Energy Resources is the largest generator in the United States of renewable energy from the wind and sun, owning and operating approximately 8,569 megawatts of wind and 158 megawatts of solar power at the end of 2011. The business operates clean, emissions-free nuclear power generation facilities in New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin as part of the NextEra Energy nuclear fleet, which has one of the largest number of commercial nuclear power units in the United States.

Chris Anderson on DIY Manufacturing

You open Makers with a story of your maternal grandfather’s automatic sprinkler system invention in the 1940s. You later argue that if he had been born in 1998 rather than 1898, he would have been an entrepreneur rather than just an inventor. What challenges did he face, and what conditions have changed that would make his experience so different today?

That story washed over me as I was writing the book. I was taken back to my summers with my grandfather, reflecting on his world and mine. He was a Swiss immigrant who had come to Hollywood. He worked in a studio during the day and was an inventor at night. He was quite skilled. He was a machinist, he had a workshop, he had all sorts of metalworking equipment, so he was able to take his ideas from the mechanical drafting table to a prototype. But then at that point, he didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t know how to bring it to market and neither did most people.

It was hard; you needed to have a factory and distribution and all those other skills. He did what you had to do in those days, which was patent it and then try to find someone to license it. He was lucky and was able to find a company to license it. Eventually that company released the product, which was very successful, and our very small family fortune came out of that. The point was that he was an inventor, but he could not become an entrepreneur because those additional steps of mass production, distribution, marketing, et cetera, were essentially inaccessible in those days. All you could do was patent, license and hope for the best. You had to lose control of your invention. You had to hand it off to somebody else. He was a happy man and one of the rare, successful inventors of that era, but I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I didn’t follow his path. I also didn’t have machine skills, so I really couldn’t do that.

What is the Maker Movement, which you mentioned?

The Maker Movement is the web generation meets the real world. It is all of these community and collaboration and innovation models of the web but applied to physical things. There’s a number of enabling elements. One of them is the fact that we now have desktop digital fabrication tools which are cheap and easy and accessible. These are things like 3D printers and laser cutters. You can buy a sewing machine from Sears, a relatively mid-range one, which is probably computer controlled…. Those used to be sophisticated industrial tools, and they are now the sort of thing that you can buy at Sears. What that means is that the web generation whose instinct is to start their ideas on screen now has an easy way to turn them into a physical object. You don’t need skills because the machine does all the work. You just treat it like the printer on your desktop. It’s getting increasingly easy to just push a button, and then out it comes.

Second is that access to manufacturing, access to factories and mass production, is now also increasingly easy. It has basically turned into a web service, and there are services like Alibaba, even high-end 3D printing and laser-cutting services … that are all just a click away. Those ideas started on screen, [and they] can just be uploaded into the cloud and produced at any scale. You can make one, or you can make 10,000. It’s simply a matter of clicking the right service, clicking the right buttons and then entering your credit card. It’s a little bit like photo printing software that you have on your desktop.

The third thing that really defines this is the notion of community. One of the things that characterizes the web generation is the instinct to do things in public, the instinct to share, the instinct to collaborate with people who you don’t know, the instinct to apply [invention creation and production] to physical things … that need to be produced and sold. [It] is an innovation model that traditional manufacturing typically doesn’t have. When you see the web generation do it, it connects everything from Kickstarter and Etsy to more niche communities like the one that I run focused on drones and aerial robotics.