Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Global Population Speakout

Here is a beautiful five minute long video that  sums up the the unprecedented, 'perfect storm' of global scale challenges that threaten to derail human civilization as we know it.  The link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB6_WsI2YrQ

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The 'Share the Scraps' Economy

Robert Reich was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. He is an economist, who believes government and public policy should serve the broad interests of the American people.

Reich has become one of the most important voices opposing the sell out of our government to big corporations and the super rich.  This article focuses on the collapse of the middle class, driven by the loss of living wage jobs.   


Robert Reich: Why Work Is Turning Into a Nightmare

How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots' owners?
Meanwhile, human beings do the work that's unpredictable - odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours - and patch together barely enough to live on.
Brace yourself. This is the economy we're now barreling toward.
They're Uber [3] drivers, Instacart [4] shoppers, and Airbnb [5] hosts. They include Taskrabbit [6] jobbers, Upcounsel [7]'s on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap [8]'s on-line doctors.
They're Mechanical Turks [9].
The euphemism is the "share" economy [10]. A more accurate term would be the "share-the-scraps" economy.
New software technologies are allowing almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they're needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment.
Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability.
The big money goes to the corporations that own the software. The scraps go to the on-demand workers.
Consider Amazon's "Mechanical Turk." Amazon calls it "a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence [11]."
In reality, it's an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. Computers can't do them because they require some minimal judgment, so human beings do them for peanuts -- say, writing a product description, for $3; or choosing the best of several photographs, for 30 cents; or deciphering handwriting, for 50 cents.
Amazon takes a healthy cut of every transaction.
This is the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.
It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers - work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.
And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.
The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.
In effect, on-demand work is a reversion to the piece work of the nineteenth century - when workers had no power and no legal rights, took all the risks, and worked all hours for almost nothing.
Uber drivers [12] use their own cars, take out their own insurance, work as many hours as they want or can - and pay Uber a fat percent [13]. Worker safety? Social Security? Uber says it's not the employer so it's not responsible.
Amazon's Mechanical Turks work for pennies, literally. Minimum wage? Time-and-a half for overtime? Amazon says it just connects buyers and sellers so it's not responsible.
Defenders of on-demand work emphasize its flexibility. Workers can put in whatever time they want, work around their schedules, fill in the downtime in their calendars.
"People are monetizing their own downtime," says [14] Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University's business school.
But this argument confuses "downtime" with the time people normally reserve for the rest of their lives.
There are still only twenty-four hours in a day. When "downtime" is turned into work time, and that work time is unpredictable and low-paid, what happens to personal relationships? Family? One's own health?
Other proponents of on-demand work point to studies, such as one recently commissioned by Uber [15], showing Uber's on-demand workers to be "happy [15]."
But how many of them would be happier with a good-paying job offering regular hours?
An opportunity to make some extra bucks can seem mighty attractive in an economy whose median wage has been stagnant for thirty years and almost all of whose economic gains have been going to the top.
That doesn't make the opportunity a great deal. It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.
Defenders also point out that as on-demand work continues to grow, on-demand workers are joining together in guild-like groups [16] to buy insurance and other benefits.
But, notably, they aren't using their bargaining power to get a larger share of the income they pull in, or steadier hours. That would be a union - something that Uber, Amazon, and other on-demand companies don't want.
Some economists laud on-demand work as a means of utilizing people moreefficiently [17].
But the biggest economic challenge we face isn't using people more efficiently. It's allocating work and the gains from work more decently.
On this measure, the share-the-scraps economy is hurtling us backwards.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Von Wong - Smokin' Ballet

Benjamin Von Wong is a very talented photo artist. His shoots are often
very large in ambition and execution. One of his primary subjects is the dance. 

Benjamin Von Wong's webpage is   http://vonwong.smugmug.com/ 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


This is a new video production, that focuses on Earth citizenship. It features many astronauts that have served aboard the International Space Station, or as astronauts on the now retired, space shuttle.

Paul Hawken, one of my most influential teachers, is an executive producer on the Planetary video. For decades, Hawken has been a noble agitator, working to build critical mass in activism to serve the one home we must all share, planet Earth. 

Planetary is a very powerful video entertainment. It confronts every person with the obligation he or she has to nurture and protect the Earth.  It shows us the pathway we must all follow if we are to transcend the unprecedented tangle of global scale social, economic, and environmental challenges that threaten life on every continent.

Here is a link to a very compelling trailer for Planetary... http://weareplanetary.com/

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My Visit to Solarworld

Solarworld, one of the world’s leading producers of commercial and residential solar PV panels is located just a few miles west on Highway 26 in Hillsboro. The business of producing solar panels that generate electricity is booming.   There are several reasons the solar PV business is so good these days. The biggest factor is the urgent need to end our dependence on coal and oil for energy. Our addiction to dirty fossil fuels has put us on a collision course with climate change.  Weather extremes driven by human induced atmospheric warming are already here. Anybody noticed how warm it’s been in the first few months of 2015 in Oregon? What happened to the endless rain we normally experience in the winter months?  The short answer is elevated sea surface temperatures caused by human induced atmospheric heating. 

The other factor favoring wind and solar PV is the amazing drop in cost.  Solar and wind are already economically competitive to the long entrenched, dirty forms of energy on which we have long been dependent.  Nobody is investing in new coal, oil, or nuclear infrastructure these days, because it just doesn’t make financial sense.  

Kevin Keene, Regional Sales Manager for Solarworld, gave me a tour of the company’s plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, a few miles from my home.

Solarworld Plant, Hillsboro, Oregon
Solarworld manufactures photovoltaic panels that are made up of silicon-based PV wafers linked together in 38” X 66” sealed panels. The panels are 17% percent efficient at converting solar photons from the sun into electricity. Each panel is able to generate about 280 watts of electric power. In commercial and residential applications, the panels are coupled together to achieve the power level desired. A typical rooftop residential system would link 12 panels to deliver about 3500 kWh of energy, enough to meet at least half of a typical American home’s energy needs.

Kevin from Solarworld showed me the Hillsboro plant’s main manufacturing facility.  We took an elevator to the second floor and found ourselves in an open office that spans the length of the plant, with large windows overlooking the production line.

It’s no wonder the cost of PV panels is dropping precipitously. The entire production process is automated, with robots handling virtually every task.  The cavernous production space is filled with machines linked by conveyors that move each unit from one assembly step to the next. I only saw a handful of people working in the assembly area. Most of them were inspectors, tasked with conducting a rigorous round of testing to confirm that each panel produced meets Solarworld’s very high standards.

The assembly line operates 24 hours a day, with only a fraction of a percent of the new PV panels rejected because of defects or substandard performance.  Solarworld’s current production line, operating at maximum output, puts out 360 Mw annually.   The company is adding a new production line in an adjacent building that will increase capacity by nearly 50 percent. 

The clean energy revolution is clearly underway, and Solarworld is a big part of it. Their technology is second to none in quality and performance, and very competitive in cost.  

I don’t have any financial incentive or otherwise to endorse Solarworld. I just think it’s a very good company, with great technology, with a business model that works in the new, clean energy marketplace.  I expect to have solar PV on my roof in the near future. Very likely the panels will be made by Solarworld,  a ‘Made in America’ success story.

Check out this video…

Here is the link to Solarworld’s webpage…  http://www.solarworld-usa.com/

Friday, March 6, 2015

WAAAM and Me

So, a few years ago, I visited the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon.  I was  a pilot in my younger days.  Aviation has always been a personal passion. I love to fly.

Anyway, I took some nice images while I was there for a monthly Summer event they call, Second Saturday.  I recently reprocessed a couple of the images from my WAAAM visit.  I have pasted them in below.

The first image, I rendered purposely as a poster.  I just sent it to the Managing Director of the WAAAM Museum. I offered to donate the use of it to the museum for printing as a poster they could sell in their gift shop.

I've only had one opportunity to fly in an open cockpit biplane.   WAAAM has a slew of them, many still flying.   It's what you call, intoxicating for an airplane buff like me. 

The link for the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum is www.waaammuseum.org

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Blizzard of 2008

Portland, Oregon had a record blizzard in December, 2008.  Well over 20" of snow in some places. I went out in the middle it with a camera. At the Beaverton Transit Center, I took the image below. I recently added some new technique to my photo processing, and I applied it this this image, which wasn't particularly interesting in its original form.   Hard to believe it started out as a photo.