July 14, 2016
The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes. ... Most substations are unmanned and often protected chiefly by chain-link fences. Many have no electronic security, leaving attacks unnoticed until after the damage is done. Even if there are security cameras, they often prove worthless. In some cases, alarms are simply ignored. ... the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the country’s interstate power system, began requiring that utilities better protect any substation that could disable parts of the U.S. grid if attacked. ... FERC’s new rule, however, doesn’t extend to tens of thousands of smaller substations ... The grid was cobbled together during the electrification of the U.S. over the past 125 years. It is a fragile, interdependent system generally more vulnerable in summer when it is running closer to its limits. It is also at risk during low-demand periods, when power-plant operators and linemen perform maintenance. Fewer plants and transmission lines operating mean fewer options for delivering electricity during emergencies.
Biodiesel scams are puny compared with Medicare and Social Security fraud. For sheer moxie, though, it’s hard to beat Phil Rivkin. ... He started Green Diesel in October 2005, two months after President George W. Bush signed legislation creating the Renewable Fuel Standard program. The law directed the EPA to oversee a regulatory regime designed to foster production of alternative transportation fuels, including corn-based ethanol, as well as biodiesel derived from vegetable oils, animal fats, and used cooking grease. ... The statute was a boon to renewable fuel makers—and an irritant to gasoline and diesel refiners—because it required refiners to blend at least 4 billion gallons of ethanol (for gasoline) and biodiesel (for diesel fuel) into their products in 2006, with the amount rising to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. The program now calls for 36 billion gallons in 2022, with varieties of ethanol representing the bulk of the requirement. Each year, the EPA sets obligations for individual refiners. Most years, ExxonMobil is on the hook to blend the largest amounts of renewables. ... Making biodiesel is simple enough that high school students do it in chemistry class. In a process called transesterification, producers use a chemical catalyst such as methanol to separate methyl esters—the scientific name for biodiesel—from glycerin in such feedstocks as poultry fat. ... Per EPA rules, each gallon of ethanol or biodiesel produced is assigned a 38-digit number—a renewable identification number, or RIN—that travels with the product as it moves from producer to refiner to end user. Ethanol RINs generally remain fixed to their respective gallons throughout the process. But the EPA allows biodiesel makers to strip RINs off their product and sell them separately as tradable credits. Refiners who fall short of blending the statutory minimum of biodiesel into their refined products must buy RINs to make up the difference or pay penalties. ... It isn’t hard to see how Rivkin was able to snooker Fortune 100 companies. To them, Green Diesel—or some equally innocuous broker that had bought RINs from it—was merely an entry on a computer offering to make a problem go away. The refiners needed RINs, Rivkin was selling, and the price was trifling.
The Hubble takes advantage of its position 360 miles above the surface to gather information that would be absorbed by the atmosphere. It sees mainly in the visible part of the spectrum, extended slightly into the near infrared and ultraviolet. But there is much information about the Universe that is invisible even to the Hubble Space Telescope—and that's where NASA's much hyped, two-decades-in-the-making, $8.8 billion-plus James Webb Telescope comes in. ... In space, no one can hear you scream, and there's precious little to taste or feel. We get some data from the flux of various particles, but most of what we know about the cosmos comes in the form of light. Some of this light falls in the visible part of the spectrum and forms the images brought to us by optical telescopes. These range in quality from nearly all amateur hardware to the orbiting Hubble. ... But there are crucial insights hiding in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, as well. The collection of microwave data led to the analysis of the cosmic microwave background, verifying key elements of the Big Bang model. The search for forming planets and advanced extraterrestrial civilizations is carried out using radio astronomy. ... The infrared part of the spectrum, just as the others, carries unique types of information. We’ve known for a long time that our Universe is expanding and that the farther away something is, the faster it is receding from us. The velocity of light in a vacuum is always the same, so its color is shifted if there is a relative velocity between us and its source. If we are moving closer together, the spectrum is shifted toward smaller wavelengths, a so-called blue shift. And if the source of light is moving away from us, its spectrum is shifted toward longer wavelengths: a red shift.
The final 59.5-second film, which the men would airmail back home to be developed, would soon become the world-famous Patterson-Gimlin film—arguably one of the most scrutinized pieces of video footage ever made. It is the cryptozoological equivalent to the Kennedy assassination’s Zapruder film. The film met immediate criticisms accusing Patterson and Gimlin of being master pranksters who simply filmed a man in an ape suit and laid fake footprints in the mud. ... More than 40 years later, the film has never been conclusively debunked. It has withstood scrutiny from scientists, forensic analysts, Hollywood special effects experts, and costume designers. No one can quite explain it—except those who believe in folklore. In that time, Bigfoot has evolved into a full-fledged American myth, propagated by a national congregation of believers who regard Gimlin as a kind of prophet. ... Patty, arguably, created the Bigfoot industry. Today, the apelike figure—frozen in its signature turn—adorns car air fresheners and infant onesies that read, “Believe.” It looks back from coffee cups, Christmas ornaments, guitar picks, and Band Aids. There’s a Patty-shaped Chia Pet. Bigfoot even has a home on reality TV: Animal Planet launched Finding Bigfoot in 2011, starring Washington’s Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). BFRO members lead guided backwoods expeditions—with a price tag of up to $500—throughout the U.S. where participants scour the forests for a look at the fabled beast.