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Thane Ritchie

Thane Ritchie on Green Tech, Sports, and Your Rights

Sustainability: A Growing Political Divide

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Renewable energy has been a hot political topic for some years, and the symbolism behind renewable energy has continued to drive political polarization. How dire the issue of renewable energy is subjective to party lines.

On the Democratic side, President Obama promised a move towards renewable energy, since the beginning of his first term has and the proposal of the Clean Power Plan would realize much of his promises. But, this plan has caused a juggernaut of political grandstanding, court battles, and a slew of angry conservatives. The Clean Power Plan would require that states submit their move towards reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the EPA which has caused a storm of criticism from the right. The EPA advanced with plans to regulate greenhouse gases in power plants and petroleum refineries in 2011 and saw the House Republicans going on the offensive to block the move. And conservative states continue to fight.

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Image Source: http://www.thinkprogress.org

According to Robert Walton’s Utilities Drive newsletter, 24 States (mostly the Red States) filed lawsuits against the EPA to block the bill:

“In total, states opposed to the rule include:  Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.”

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Image Source: http://www.utilitydive.com

This turnout against the bill is relevant because the number of states involved in the melee is unheard of said Joe Stanko, an attorney at Hunton & Williams, “I can’t recall a Clean Air Act rule, or other EPA rule, that has 44 states in the mix.”

Interestingly, more than 10 years ago, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 energy bill that was supported by then Senator Obama (D-III) to the chagrin of environmentalists. The bill was the first since the mid-70s that addressed fuel-efficiency regulations in automobiles by 40 percent – with a blending of ethanol in the U.S. fuel supply by 2022. The federal tax credits initially credited solar usage, but the Extension Act of 2008 extended the credit to wind energy and geothermal heat. Subsequent provisions included gave an extension credit for another eight years (which runs out at the end of 2016).

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Image Source: greentechlead.com

With the credits to expire in December of this year, though a commercial 10% will continue, the reps at the House may kill any further extensions. However, not all conservatives are taking affront to this pro-renewable move. The Tea Party has made unusual bedfellows with environmental groups. Debbie Dooley, the national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots and co-founder of the Green Party Coalition has come out against conservatives’ pushback towards renewable.  Said Dooley of Georgia, “They [conservatives] neglect to mention billions of dollars that the fossil-fuel industries have received,” she said. “They cherry-pick their principles.”

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Tom Morrissey, former Arizona state Republican Party chairman calls the Tea Party leaders “knuckleheads” for their stance on the issue saying it is a national security issue. “If we can keep one dollar from going to people who are killing our kids in Afghanistan, it’s a good thing — and I feel that’s what solar energy does.”

Regardless of the out-fighting or in-fighting, truth is that solar power is the fastest growing and most divisive source of energy and will no doubt bare its head come next election.

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Can a Privatized Green Investment Bank Stay Green?

Since 2012, when the Green Investment Bank (GIB) was inducted by Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable, the GIB has invested £2.3 billion in public funds with a total value of over £10 billion, many in non-domestic energy efficiency, waste and offshore wind sectors. Those public funds and the restrictions that come with them may be cause for a step towards other money-generating methods.

Last summer, UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid expressed intentions to privatize Scottish-based Green Investment Bank (GIB). The reasoning behind the move, he explains, is to strip restrictions of EU’s borrowing state aid rules, thus giving GIB access to more capital.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has come out vehemently against the <a href=”http://home.bt.com/news/uk-news/green-investment-bank-risks-losing-environmental-identity-if-privatised-11364029623689″>move stating that privatization of the GIB would “undermine its leadership role in the green economy</a>”. The fear is that the GIB would shift its focus away from innovative strategies in exchange for more profitable ones.

Says Committee chairman Huw Irranca-Davies, “The Government must ensure the Green Investment Bank continues to do what it says on the tin. If the Government cannot guarantee that the Green Investment Bank will retain its green purpose in the private sector then the sale should not go ahead.”

But a Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills spokesman responded by stating that this has always been the plan, “We have always been clear that GIB was designed with a view to a possible transfer to the private sector. Having already proved itself, the time is right to move it into private ownership where it can raise capital, grow and boost investment in the green economy while minimising [<em>sic</em>] the need for taxpayer support.”

Business secretary Javid announced the news at the lord mayor’s dinner in London recently citing GIB’s success as a reason to proliferate the model, “The Green Investment Bank was a world first, and it is a sign of its success that the idea is being copied across the world. Having proven the business model works, we now want to make an even greater impact.”

Critics are highly skeptical that the infrastructure will maintain GIB’s primary purpose — to stay green — if it is privatized. Greenpeace is one of those critics. Policy director of the organization Doug Parr has stated his concerns that the current systems won’t be preserved.

“A Green Investment Bank that is privatised needs to have its green credentials written in stone. If it becomes just another bank with a good corporate and social responsibility officer, then it ceases to drive extra private capital investment into the green energy sector and becomes just another private sector competitor for green projects. That’s no way to support green schemes and get clean energy money into the UK, just when we are crying out for delivery on infrastructure investment.”

This may suggest that incentives based mostly on money (a lot of money) are already a move towards corporate, less green measures. In fact, if privatized, the GIB is projected to bring in more than £4bn for the Treasury, so the money involved is substantial. The subject of privatization becomes even muddier when discussing the possibility that <a href=”http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/02/green-investment-bank-foreign-buyers-energy”>foreign investors are queuing up to buy in</a>, a German firm being one of those firms.

Whether the privatization of GIB will keep or lose its integrity as a green entity is hard to know this early on. But because the GIB is the first of its kind, it will be interesting to see how the model will scale and if privatization is the answer.

Dream / Killer in Review: Father Helps Find Justice for Son’s Wrongful Conviction

defense-thane-ritchieTrue crime stories make for fantastic entertainment, but as Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer has proven, they are much more than popcorn fodder. As eye-opening illustrations of real-life legal proceedings, airing these cases can expose all-too-common injustices in America’s justice system.

Dream / Killer, released in 2015, is a documentary detailing how an innocent man was sentenced and imprisoned for a crime based on someone else’s dream. The film, which debuted at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, details the 9-year journey of Bill Ferguson’s attempt to free his son from a 40-year murder sentence.

Two years after the 2001 strangling of sports editor Kent Heitholt, Ryan Ferguson was implicated in the murder by his friend Chuck Erikson, who dreamt their involvement and later confessed to it. The film utilizes real footage from Kevin’s arrest, prison interviews and court hearings to shine light on the inner-working of shaky legal proceedings. The footage reveals that together, police coercion and prosecutorial misconduct work to fabricate and push a narrative of a crime with little basis in reality. Their influence put the two men in prison for murder and robbery.

The good news is this: in 2013, Ferguson’s conviction was overturned on the basis that the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense. Indeed, under-oath testimony from a witness that said she did not see Ferguson on the scene was omitted, along with that of a witness that saw the men leave the bar at a time that didn’t match the prosecution’s story. Kathleen Zellner, the defense lawyer currently representing Making a Murderer’s Steven Avery, was a key player in Ryan’s exoneration.

Erickson, who took a plea deal of 25 years for implicating Ferguson despite his lack of memory, remains in prison to this day.

Above all else, Dream / Killer is a story of father and son perseverance and an extraordinary dedication to justice in the face of legal misconduct. The Fergusons agreed to do the film for awareness purposes. “We realized that we were in a position to show the world what could happen to them,” Ryan told the Innocence Project of the documentary. “This could happen to my father and any other of our friends and family, and that’s really scary.”

Ryan’s father Bill added that the general public should be aware of what’s called a Brady Violation, which happens when prosecution suppresses evidence favorable to the defence. “…if the public’s aware of it, and the prosecutors are aware that the public knows about it, I think we’ll see less abuse,” Bill said. “By us exposing this, and raising awareness, we can hopefully help bring about some changes.”

In a former blog post, I detailed some other recommendations beyond awareness that might keep law enforcers accountable for these types of errors, and hopefully prevent false convictions in future cases. While documentaries like Dream / Killer are great for exposure, it takes real policy changes to stop their root causes. 

How Technology Takes on Severe Weather Events

thane ritchie weatherIn the aftermath of a winter storm that mercilessly slammed DC to NYC this past weekend, severe weather is on the minds and lawns of many Americans this winter. Mother nature can be an unforgiving force in all regions and seasons: whether she manifests as a sizzling drought or blizzard of the ages, humans are left to scramble for safety with emergency supplies and stockpiles of canned goods. Too often, severe weather events lead to injuries, deaths, and costly damages to property and infrastructure.

Living on a planet with a weather cycle and plate tectonics comes with its inherent risks, and that’s not to mention the severe weather events that climate instability could result in. Regardless of cause, humanity is lucky in the sense that we’re better able to predict, prepare, and stay safe under dangerous conditions. This is largely due to the advancement of weather, disaster relief, and rescue technology.

Extreme weather and other natural disasters can now be detected early on, meaning you’re unlikely to have a typhoon sneak up on you reading Kafka on the beach. It’s thanks to technology that this early and accurate forecasting is possible: for decades, doppler radar, observation tools and computer calculations have been utilized to generate weather predictions. The improvement of these tools along with the addition of weather satellites has upped the accuracy of forecasting over time.

The improvement of forecast technology has been instrumental in the implementation of weather alerts and other types of notifications that help people prepare for harsh weather. Tools like the American Red Cross’ DigiDocsend mass alerts to people in affected areas; most of smartphone owners in the US have built-in alerts that warn of flash floods and other weather-related dangers. Sometimes these may seem superfluous — if it’s raining hard, you probably don’t need a text to tell you — but if the weather event is something like a tornado, these alerts can save lives.

There’s also new technology that allows people to stay connected and safe both during and after severe weather events. Facebook recently released a tool called “Safety Check” that lets people in disaster-affected areas check-in to let their friends know they are safe. But technology goes beyond even this — survivors can alert emergency responders with their mobile phones, sometimes even without Internet connection, for example, through mesh networks like the Serval Project. There are also many emergency and survival apps that work with or without wifi and cell service.

For those in need of emergency relief, rescue and assistance has improved tremendously over the years as well. From drone supply deliveries to rescue robots and radar search tools, individuals at risk can be located, supplied, and ultimately rescued from unsafe areas — whether from flooded homes or piles of rubble.

It’s a relief to know that through the blizzards of today and the quakes of tomorrow, the probability of safety and survival is greater thanks to intelligent minds and effective technology. While we’ve no way yet to change or control the weather all together, the ability to detect danger and avoid harm is a bright spot in a stormy sky, capable of saving millions of lives (and dollars) each year.

Featured Image: NASA GSFC via Flickr. 

Is Tech Doping Cheating? How Science and Tech Enhance Athletic Performance

There are all types of methods, used and abused by human beings, that have stunning effects on athletic performance. Steroids, widely banned, have the ability to make athletes better, faster and stronger — nonetheless, such drugs are largely illegal for ethical and medical reasons.

In the meantime, the concept of the human body as a machine that can be tweaked and optimized is gaining traction thanks to advancements in science and technology. But the world of sports remains committed to the all-natural athlete, despite the fact that this ideal no longer exists. Today’s athletes are aided by special uniforms, technological training, nutritional supplements — and, in spite of regulators’ best efforts — new types of doping methods that are difficult to ban and impossible to trace.

It may seem odd that athletes are expected to adhere to primitive standards of excellence while the rest of the world embraces technological advancement, unhindered. Drug bans in the name of health and fairness make sense, but steroids are not the only way athletes can boost their performance. Safer and stranger modern innovations exist — the use of which some term “tech doping.” These futuristic methods don’t always fall under the realm of cheating, but some may toe the line.

Tracking and perfecting

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Sans drugs, there are many ways athletes can (and do) fine tune their bodies to near super-human results. Perhaps the simplest and least controversial way involves technology that tracks performance for valuable insight on what drives successes and failures. With proper data, the athletic achievements can be replicated, mistakes reduced and overall performance improved.

Today’s athletes can swallow pills that monitor core temperature, wear sensors that track movement, and attach devices that record video and statistics. The wealth of information yielded by this technology can help athletes (along with their coaches and trainers) understand their performances and tweak their technique accordingly.

And it gets more advanced: athletes that digitally track their eye movements are able to discover which retinal fixations (and corresponding cognitive functions) correlate with success. This isn’t cheating, but it’s not natural either. Understanding the body and the brain this intimately would not be possible without the breadth of technology we use today to obtain and harness information.

Uniforms and equipment

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Can high-tech sportswear constitute as cheating? Apparently so: ultrasonically welded swimwear by Speedo was determined to have artificially enhanced athletic performance in the 2008 Olympics, after which the high-tech swimsuits were banned. There is little reason to believe that cutting edge shoes, outfits and equipment couldn’t, in time, give athletes a similar edge on land.

Already, today’s athletes benefit from lightweight, sweat-resistant sportswear that boosts performance by minimizing hindrances like weight and heat. NFL quarterbacks have in-helmet speakers, Olympians have bobsleds made of carbon fiber, and speed skaters wear suits that reduce drag. Is this cheating? Some think it comes close, or at the very least gives certain athletes unfair advantages.

The big issue here has a lot to do with resources, or the lack thereof. When the quality of equipment and sportswear dependant on a team or nation’s money flow, it’s little wonder wealth and wins so often go hand in hand.

Techy Training

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The optimization of body and brain isn’t only done through careful tracking, but physically altering the way an athlete thinks, moves and acts in prep time.

A system called Neurotopia is one of such methods used by Football players for brain training and stimulation. Through this technology, athletes can train their brains to influence physiological processes that amplify their performance. The machine lets its user play a game with their mind in which lively mental focus is rewarded, and low focus punished. If used correctly and often, the player’s brain will optimize performance for rewards outside of the machine, too.

And speaking of science fiction-style training: athletes have experimented with all types of equipment — like pods that simulate exercising, and altitude chambers that replicate low-oxygen conditions — all for improved metabolism and endurance. They may also have highly-engineered diets, workout routines and therapies to ensure their brains and bodies are fine tuned to perform under pressure.

Training has always been key to success, but it’s only recently that advanced technology, science and metrics have become this valuable, and in some cases manipulative of mind and body. When these innovations become mainstream, the athletic training montages in sports movies like Rocky will seem crude and prehistoric.

Health and wellbeing

One of the biggest boons to athletes is the likelihood of injury, and the lasting impacts of, well, impacts. Luckily, there are emerging innovations that help prevent athletes from getting hurt, or ensure quick and effective treatment when they do. With athlete safety more scrutinized than ever, preserving bodies and careers is a priority for those in the sports tech industry.

Recently, various types of wearable technology have been used to detect high-impact collisions and other injuries so that medical treatment can be undergone right away. Gear is designed to be protective, with highly-engineered fits that support moving bodies and prevent injury. Head trauma may soon be able to be diagnosed on the sidelines with advanced spit and blood tests.

On top of this, athletes may soon benefit from a scientific feats that make them even better functioning than the normal human. For example, a cooling glove that eases muscle fatigue and produces results equal to steroids, supplements and cryotherapy to enhance athletic recovery, or even genetic engineering for built-in athletic strength.

What’s next?

Put all of these together, and we arguably have athletes that are better, stronger and faster as a direct result of science and technology. Today’s athletes are not natural at all, and it’s not a bad thing — some might even call it an inevitability.

When it comes to cheating, it will be difficult to know where the line should be drawn. Even with regulations in place, many athletes continue to quietly partake in performance enhancement drugs undetected. Some argue that sports would be better off allowing steroid use — transparently and with and medical advisement — than to let it continue in the shadows. As for “tech doping,” it’s also a sticky issue. As long as the playing field is unequal, players with money and science on their side will likely keep the upper hand.

The same goes for safety. Though many technological innovations protect athletes, not all teams can afford the standard let alone the extras. Winning almost always trumps safety, and only rigorous and long-term research will tell if emerging performance enhancement methods are truly sound.

At some point, fans, athletes and others in the industry will have to acknowledge the implications of these advancements, and decide: Can we equal the playing field? Do we allow enhancements of some kinds, and not others? Or none at all? Will we embrace the super-athlete, or decide natural is better after all? Whatever the case, I hope decisions are mindful of both athlete well-being and the potential of tech to transform sports as we know them.

Chicago is America’s Sports Tech Capital…For Now

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The Windy City might be earning itself a new title soon enough as the epicenter of sports tech in America.

A recent Crain’s profile delves into how Chicago emerged as the sports tech capital as the field rises in notoriety and profitability. While the profile mentions how this came to be “almost by accident,” a large portion of the credit should go to the ingenuity and adaptability of three specific companies. Collectively, three Chicago-based tech ventures–Sportvision, Stats and Zebra Technology–hold motion-tracking agreements with the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and Nascar. By responding to the athletes’ demands for deeper analytics, the company’s were able to provide keen insight for the players and staff. In turn, these companies rose to prominence as the market continues to saturate.

For Stats, its SportVU system began tracking moves of NBA players and the ball in 2010. Today, the company estimates $100 million in revenue for this year. Sportvision expects similar results. Their first example of sport tech prominence came with it’s famed yellow line that now appears on every televised NFL game. For Zebra, it rose to prominence in 2013 byrepurposing its technology to track the amount of ground NFL players cover during each game.

The city is known for its rabid sports culture, a trait not lost on leaders within the emerging sector. However, not all is coming up rosy for the Chicago sports tech industry. With a 26 percent increase over the last five years, the field now boasts 3,000 market research analysts in varying roles. With that increase comes additional companies to compete against.

Recently, Sportvision lost its contract with the MLB to a Swedish analytics rival to track player movement. Similarly, Stats could not retain its title as the NFL’s official stat tracker. While this may dent Chicago’s claim to the sports tech title, it does indicate a depth of competition within the field. It should be exciting to see if Chicago, or any city, can retain the distinction in the coming years as more sports warm to technological advancements.

This article originally appeared on ThaneRitchie.net

How to Break Into the Green Tech Sector

Just behind Israel and Finland, the United States stands poised to become a green technology leader over the next decade. The findings come from the 2014 Global Cleantech Innovation Index, which identified the country’s impressive standings in key areas such as the creation, commercialization and growth of the sector to date.

While some may think the emerging sector is only open to skilled geoscientists and engineers, skilled craftspeople are just as in demand. Additionally, green tech isn’t the only job recruiter anymore as other public and private sector jobs embrace sustainable measures. The market is opening, and you can get involved.

Currently, the sector receives significant amounts of applicants for almost every job posted. That number is sure to continue rising as consumers go green due to reduced prices and increased availability of technology.

If you want to break into the green tech sector, head over to LinkedIn for more advice.

U.S. Companies Invest $140b to Combat Climate Change

Source: digifly840/Pixabay
Source: digifly840/Pixabay

In a major boost to the Obama administration, and the environment as a whole, 13 major corporations recently agreed to $140 billion in new investments that should significantly reduce their carbon imprints. The move comes in the build up to the United Nations’ Paris summit on climate change.

At the announcement, the White House praised the efforts of the corporations that includes Wal-Mart, United Parcel Service Inc., PepsiCo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and General Motors Inc. In a response to the agreement, the White House noted the importance of American leadership in the movement. “As the world looks toward global climate negotiations in Paris this December, American leadership at all levels will be essential.”
For a further look at the news, visit Renewable Energy World.

Coal Power Plant Reliance Declines in America

via Pixabay
via Pixabay

America’s transition away from coal-fired power plants shows no sign of relenting. In fact, a wave of recent and impending energy generating retirements focus almost entirely on coal power plants. Of the massive 72 gigawatts being retirement–or enough energy to power nearly every household in the western United States–94 percent is coal. The transition comes largely in part because of states’ needs to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

While the retirements may come as a shock to industry outsiders, it actually is a decision that falls in line with most of the industrialized world. Outside of Japan–a country in need of energy after the Fukushima disaster eliminated a sizeable portion of the country’s nuclear power–most leading nations have already begun a similar shift.

Across the U.S., states like Ohio and Kentucky saw operations at numerous plants halt. They join other states like Virginia and West Virginia in the movement. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Texas expect to do the same in 2016.

While the transition can certainly cause panic in individuals and communities, the opposite is actually the case. As the industry continues its overhaul, new large-scale projects will commence. Some insiders expect to see these projects begin within the next year or two. With these new endeavors, experts expect a strong demand for the classic skilled worker: welders, pipe-fitters, electricians and professionals of that ilk.

Partnering this information with the news of several states reducing emission benchmarks, the United States could be in for a significant energy shift in the coming years.

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