Das bäuerliche Flughöhenbarometer

The farmer’s flight height barometer, from the trove of German “farmer wisdom.”

Some beautifully acrobatic birds that summer in Germany feed on flying insects that stay near the ground in low pressure systems but may venture much higher in warm rising air. Watching the birds swoop and spin to catch them can thus tell you about the weather.

(Doss   BOY ah lichh ah   FLOOG hə en bah roh MAY tah.)

Neuer Europäischer Fahrzyklus

“New European Driving Cycle.” Contains the rules that define how auto manufacturers must test how many miles/kilometers their vehicles drive per gallon/liter of gasoline consumed. The N.E.F.Z. came into effect in the 1970’s and its mileage testing rules are scheduled to be replaced by the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedures (W.L.T.P.) in 2016, though the European auto manufacturers’ lobby A.C.E.A. is lobbying to delay the new rules until 2020.

Spiegel.de said the Financial Times (paywall) reported on the A.C.E.A.’s attempt to delay stricter mileage tests for four more years. Under the current rules, auto manufacturers can legally reduce gas consumption by hacking the mileage testing of their own products by using “light tires, special lubricants, taping off gaps on the hood or headlights for better aerodynamics. Some unclamp the battery to keep it from being charged, and they test at ideal environmental temperatures.”

The new mileage testing rules would require “more realistic” conditions, including faster accelerations, higher speeds and less idling time for the engines.

Meanwhile, two Spanish hackers who presented about a $26 tool they said they created that let them remotely access steering, speed controls, brakes and heating/cooling, in both a test car from a U.S. manufacturer and a test car from a Japanese manufacturer, said these mini-computers under the hood can improve mileage just by changing a few numbers.

“Would you like to spend less money on gas? Did you know that the difference between 100 horsepower and 130 horsepower version of your car is just some changes in the engine control unit firmware?”

Update on 30 Apr 2014: ZDF heute journal compared car owners’ reported mileage with the considerably better N.E.F.Z. mileage asserted in the manufacturer’s print and video ads for one model, then asked its manufacturer for an explanation. Ford drew their attention to a line in the fine print that said the mileage numbers printed in the offer were not part of the offer.

Then ZDF accompanied an automobile magazine’s consumer product testing of the mileage of several cars, driven along the same varied route during normal working hours by the same driver who is an expert in reducing gas consumption. “No one can get higher mileage out of a car than this guy.” In their test, the Ford model in question used 13% more gas than was advertized as its normal consumption, a Citroen deviated by 0%, a VW beat the value at -1%, an Opel beat the value at almost -2% and a Peugeot used >35% more gas than advertized.

(NOY ah   oy roe PÆ ish ah   FAH tsee clues.)

Nur mit Bolzen genietet und nicht geschweißt

“Only riveted together and not welded,” reporter Johannes Hano’s description of many of the ~1000 containers in the leaky tank farm behind the “nuclear ruin” of Fukushima out of which tons of radioactive water have been seeping every day. On 01 Sep 2013 the Guardian.co.uk reported remeasuring had found the water in at least one of these tanks was radioactive enough to kill you within four hours. Also, employees helping clean up the mess for the past two and a half years have not been equipped with dosimetric gear showing them this danger.

A local fisherman based 40 kilometers south of the plant said, “We were just getting ready to steam out when suddenly the news was announced that the ocean had been poisoned with radioactivity, again. First they tried to verarsch us about it. They said only 120 liters had leaked out! Then suddenly it was 300,000 liters. I want to puke.”

On 02 Sep 2013 Tepco was forced to admit they’ve been actively piping some radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean rather than capturing all of it and passively letting some leak out into the sea (or capturing all of it and storing it securely, which is what they were claiming to do). They don’t have enough holding capacity for the site’s contaminated water.

Spiegel.de reported Tepco has been producing ~400 tons of new radioactive water daily that’s pumped each day through the still-seething three reactors that experienced partial meltdowns. A lot of that water just flows down through the buildings, becoming contaminated with cesium, strontium and tritium. They reuse some of it after running it through “ion exchangers” that remove some cesium, but still an extra 400 new tons of water are contaminated each day that way. There’s also an “underground river” flowing beneath the plant from the inland mountains to the sea, exposing about a thousand new metric tons of groundwater to radiation each day. Tepco wants to artificially freeze the earth around the plant into an underground ice wall but doubts have been expressed about that plan, especially after one rat was said to have caused a power outage at Fukushima Daiichi this summer.

As we searched the media for relevant science information immediately after the tsunami and explosions at Fukushima Daiichi, the Rachel Maddow Show’s reporting seemed relatively good in the first fortnight after the disaster. TRMS interviewees said the partial meltdowns at the reactor cores could create a caustic and radioactive chemical brew that could eat through the reactor and building floors and on down into the ground an unknown distance, pulled by gravity and presumably whatever more easily dissolved or traversed materials the soup encounters.

(Noor   mitt   BOLTS en   gen EE tet   oont   nichh t   gesh VICE t.)

Incendies vs. départs de feu

ASN.fr published a French nuclear safety agency report saying approximately 100 fires broke out in electricity-generating French nuclear power stations last year, mostly caused by electrical problems. The report carefully differentiated between incendies, major fires, and départs de feu, mere fire outbreaks, at French nuclear power plants.

Das Vectoring

In the first of its two current scandals, Deutsche Telekom wants to use so-called “vectoring” technology to reduce interference between bundled strands in copper-wire DSL internet connections by increasing and decreasing signals to balance out a more efficient overall electric signal transmission. “Vectoring” requires the Kabelverzweiger, the “cable brancher” or “cross connect” gray box by the side of the street, to be connected to a fiber optic line. Powerful computing is required at the phone company end to “precalculate” the “error suppression” for all transmissions on all DSL lines in the bundle simultaneously in real time. Maximum efficiency requires one central administration of all DSL lines, by one company in other words.

Telekom claims its vectoring only works when a single company controls all the lines at the gray box; “no other companies could then install their own technology there,” the F.A.Z. wrote, voicing the worry about fairness to companies in competition with Telekom. Fairness at the consumer end is also an issue, inter alia because vectoring requires modems specially modified for vectoring technology. Manufacturers such as AVM are already shipping only “vectoring-friendly” modems.

Just before the long Christmas break in 2012, Telekom submitted a request to the Networks Agency (Bundesnetzagentur, BNetzA) to modify BNetzA rules to allow its vectoring. After receiving the petition, the Bundesnetzagentur asked companies in the sector to amicably agree on solutions amongst themselves in order to reduce regulatory intervention to a minimum. Deutsche Telekom also tried to calm remonopolization fears by e.g. saying that if competitor companies had connected their own fiber optic lines to gray branching boxes, they could use its vectoring technology too. It also had some new last mile products it wanted to rent out to them.

On 15 May 2013 the Bundesnetzagentur issued a draft approving the partial deregulation—which still must be approved by the EU Commission and the regulatory authorities of the Member States which would have one month to review the proposal after BNetzA’s 24 Apr 2013 hearing—allowing Deutsche Telekom and its competitors to use Telekom’s vectoring while imposing conditions intended to mitigate the old monopoly’s sole control of branching boxes, though the items in this list indicate apparently not to mitigate possible data privacy repercussions caused by the central computational process managing the balancing out of every DSL line. These conditions included:

  • Around questionable boxes, at least one other provider must market a fast internet connection, such as television cable.
  • For Telekom to use vectoring at a box, more than one competitor must be connected to that box.
  • Telekom’s competitors in turn are required to use Telekom’s vectoring in all boxes to which they have connected. Does this give Telekom’s servers access to all those end consumers and their data?

Alternatively, non-“vectoring” options for speeding up DSL connections include so-called “bonding,” bundling in which incoming data packets are distributed through two of the usually four available lines of a DSL connection rather than just being sent through one. Routers that can bundle the unsorted incoming packets will have two DSL inputs instead of just one. There is also a “phantom bundling” option that can take two (four-line) DSL connections and use one line from each connection to create a third, “phantom” circuit that will suffice to “modulate up” DSL signals. It is claimed that Deutsche Telekom’s “vectoring” would be faster than these bundling alternatives and/or speed them up by balancing away the signal bleed between copper wires.

Some Germans are concerned that their internet service providers already are claiming internet speeds they don’t actually deliver or secretly throttling cheap connections; to address these concerns the Bundesnetzagentur studied German broadband quality in 2012 and posted a link to a “broadband test” and a “net neutrality test” (that can’t be run on a wireless network) for consumers on an “Initiative Netzqualität” website scheduled to be shut down in late June 2013. The net neutrality test requires Java. Both tests are for stationary internet connections; neither can be run on a mobile network. Speaking of mobile internet: now that Deutsche Telekom has received approval from US antitrust authorities to merge T-Mobile with competitor Metro PCS, they plan to use some of Deutsche Telekom’s new cash liquidity to build mobile infrastructure in the USA.

Demokratiequalität

“Democracy quality.” Twenty years after “the West” set up ways to monitor, motivate and report on the democratization of former Eastern bloc and other countries around the world, it appears some Western countries could also use some polish. Timm Beichelt of the Europe University in Frankfurt (Oder) wrote inter alia in his essay “Verkannte Parallelen. Transformationsforschung und Europastudien” that many eastern European countries have done quite a good job of organizing new structures while, e.g., France and Italy would have trouble with freedom of the press as measured by now-standard democracy indicators. Italy because of Berlusconi’s media empire, but France…?

(Dame awk rah TEE qvoll ee TATE.)

Bierkastengross

“About as big as a case of beer,” how a German newspaper described current desktop 3D printers in its recent examination of “direct manufacturing,” with profiles of MakerBot and Shapeways.

(Beer CAST en gross.)

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