Posts Tagged ‘the left-hander’

Permitting in the United States

Čtvrtek, Srpen 9th, 2012

Though the price of solar products is decreasing and solar adoption is steadily increasing in the United States, the costly, inefficient permitting processes are a burden to the buyer and impede progress of the solar industry at large.

Before installing a residential solar system, a permit must be obtained from the local Authority Having Jurisdiction, also known as an AHJ.  Typically, permit applications for standard residential solar installations must be submitted to the AHJ in person.  SunRun recommends a standard online application for solar permitting, which would drastically simplify the process.  It would be much more efficient if all AHJs utilized a standard web-based application to streamline this process.

The permitting process varies too much across geographical location.  This inconsistency between AHJs breeds a series of avoidable obstacles that are holding back solar adoption in the United States.

With so many permitting authorities sprinkled across the country, the discrepancy between standards produces hoops to jump through.  It seems that every city or Authority Having Jurisdiction has a different interpretation of codes and standards.  Some even craft their own legislation.

Applications often undergo a succession of reviews by multiple departments, which commonly conduct their own inspections.  Permit applications are then subjected to various municipal inspections that are neither necessary nor efficient.  In an admirable attempt to guarantee safety, local municipalities frequently include extensive fire inspections and components to the system that are not needed, further complicating the process.

Additionally, an AHJ will sometimes require further inspections of products that are already Underwriters Laboratory listed.  UL does their own quality inspections and functions like an insurance company.  UL assumes legal responsibility for damages incurred by UL listed products.  These additional inspections on UL listed products are a waste of time.

Unnecessary inspections in conjunction with other soft costs associated with residential solar create a barrier to adoption for potential customers.  Some municipalities are able to process a permit for less than $300, while others call for thousands.   Part of the problem is that all these AHJs have different fees that are often based on their own set of criteria, including those unnecessary inspections.

More often than not, the sum of these fees is too high because they are not in line with the actual processing cost to the Authority Having Jurisdiction.  SunRun reports that customers incur an average cost of $2,516 for permitting and inspection of a residential solar system. Most of these soft costs are not necessary for standard residential solar systems.

While an applicant for a residential system in Germany may only wait four days to have a system installed, this process takes weeks in the United States.  Sometimes months.

This inconsistency between jurisdictions creates difficulties for buyers, installers, and AHJs.

Installers have more important things to do than deal with municipalities that aren’t knowledgeable about photovoltaic installations.  Cities have enough on their plates to try to come up with their own filing systems, codes, and protocol. Customers need a convenient, cost-effective system of permitting that will get the solar system on their roof as soon as possible.

The entire solar industry suffers due to the lack of structural coherence in the permitting processes in the United States.  With a standardized system in the United States, AHJs will operate more efficiently, saving everyone valuable time and resources.

Economists list cheapest ways to save the world

Úterý, Květen 15th, 2012

“It may not sound sexy, but solving the problems of diarrhoea, worms and malnutrition will do good for more of the world’s poor than other more grandiose interventions,” Bjoern Lomborg, who heads the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, said in a statement.

His think-tank on Monday presented the results of its third global Copenhagen Consensus, in which it asked prominent economists working within 10 of the world’s top problem fields to propose the best investments to fix those problems.

A panel of experts, including four Nobel laureates, then went through the proposals and ranked the ones they believed would have the biggest impact and “where we can get the most mileage for our money,” Lomborg told AFP.

The Dane, who shot to fame with his book “The Skeptical Environmentalist” in 2001, insisted the list was necessary since policymakers and humanitarian organisations often allow irrational emotions to dictate how they spend money earmarked for fighting poverty, declining biodiversity or natural disasters.

He pointed out that focussing on creating nature reserves and making large swathes of forest off-limit to development was “a nice idea, but the problem is that it often doesn’t happen.”

Instead, the Copenhagen Consensus economists proposed investing heavily in agricultural research and development to make food production more efficient, which they said would reduce world hunger and also protect biodiversity “by reducing the need for forest land to be converted into agricultural land.”

Lomborg, who adamantly rejects the climate change-denier label sometimes thrown at him, also criticised the heavy focus on curbing carbon dioxide emissions in the battle against global warming.

While such efforts could make “a little difference,” Lomborg said they are often not followed through.

“There are smarter ways to tackle this, for instance by investing in research and development on green energy, or looking into geo-engineering,” he said

“It’s really just about focusing on what works rather than on what feels good,” he said, adding that especially in light of the economic crisis, “it has become very clear that we need to spend our money in the best possible way.”

The Copenhagen Consensus economists were asked how the world should best spend $75 billion (58 billion euros) over a four-year period, which Lomborg says is only 15 percent more than the global aid spending today.

Malnutrition topped the list of 10 proposals, with the expert panel suggesting annual spending of $3.0 billion to solve the problem that affects more than 100 million children worldwide, stressing that “each dollar spent reducing chronic under-nutrition has more than a $30-pay-off”.

This was because better nutrition improves cognitive functions and thereby also an individual’s education and income prospects as well, they said.

Schoology pockets $6M round led by FirstMark Capital

Úterý, Duben 17th, 2012

Schoology, a cloud-based learning management system for schools, just announced its $6 million Series B round of funding. The round, led by FirstMark Capital, includes funding from existing investor Meakem Becker Venture Capital. This brings the New York-based startup’s total funding to $9.3 million.

Schoology is in a similar space as services like BlackBoard and Edmodo where it is creating a collaborative learning platform to help teachers and students share information and projects online and in real-time. The service has both free and fee models — the free version is easy for one teacher to set up for his or her class and the paid version is created so that a school or district can get the whole teacher/student base online.

Schoology allows teachers to create their classroom online and invite their students, using unique access codes, then everyone can feel free to post work, questions and collaborate on projects. Most colleges currently use online platforms to post curriculum, questions and project details to make the information available all the time, from anywhere — with the added perk of saving money since they don’t have to print the direction pages — but now primary and secondary schools are seeing the benefit of online forums where students and parents can easily contact the teacher and stay updates on classroom activities.

As more students at younger and younger ages have an understanding and access to digital content and online platforms, this option has become a viable supplement to learning in the classroom. And with more schools adopting digital textbooks, the need for further online communication is obvious.

Currently, Schoology has nearly one million users on the platform, in 18,000 schools.

As the Schoology platform grows and is adopted by more teachers and schools, there is a growing opportunity for app developers that want to help create better tools for the educational system — and even the possibility that the platform itself can inspire students to learn about Web and app development.

And it looks like FirstMark Capital has its eyes on the depth of education technology since it was a part of another funding round for an education company, Baltimore’s StraighterLine.

The $10 million round of funding, led by FirstMark Capital and City Light Capital, also saw participation by previous investor Chrysalis Ventures.

This year alone, there has been a healthy dose of VC’s ready to invest in technology to help out those in the classroom — from a $26 million injection to 2tor, to the $6 million raised by Piazza for social learning and the $1.05 million Memrise raised to gamify language learning.

Stem Innovations iZon Remote Room Monitor Review

Sobota, Březen 31st, 2012

Stem Innovations iZon Remote Room MonitorClick to EnlargeLike an overly fat tube of lipstick, the iZon Remote Room monitor is basically a large cylinder. At 3.4 inches high and 1.25 inches in diameter, it’s small and unobtrusive. Toward the top is the lens, and below it is a small microphone and an LED. We like its clean white finish, but a black version should also be offered, for those who want to conceal it better. The back of the iZon has a miniUSB port, which is used to power the device (it comes with a nice long cord and a wall plug).

The bottom of the iZon is curved and magnetized, so it can rotate easily in the included base. This is a nice feature, as the camera lens itself can’t rotate. The iZon also comes with screws and anchors, so you can mount it to a wall or ceiling.

Getting the iZon up and running was pretty straightforward, taking a solid 10 minutes. First, we downloaded the free Stem:Connect App to our iPhone 4S, and created a free Stem account. Then, we plugged in the iZon, which automatically starts beaming out a Wi-Fi signal. Then, using the Stem:Connect app, we connected to the iZon via Wi-Fi, and configured it to connect to our home wireless network.

From that point, whenever we opened the app on our iPhone, we could see video from the iZon camera. Here, we could also configure the camera to send us alerts whenever it detected motion or sound, and to automatically upload video from those events to our private YouTube account. We liked that we could adjust the sensitivity of the settings, which will be useful for anyone who has a cat.

When you open the app, each iZon camera you registered (you can theoretically have up to 200 on a network) shows up as a thumbnail displaying the image currently seen by the camera. Beneath are three icons: A person (for motion detection), an ear (for sound detection) and a sun (for the LED light on the camera); if any of the icons is blue, it means that that particular feature is activated.

Sure enough, when we turned alerts on, then walked in front of the camera, a message popped up on our iPhone within seconds. In the app, we opened the Alerts section, where it listed each incident with the date and time and a small thumbnail, and, in theory, lets you view the YouTube clip. Cleverly, recordings begin about 5 seconds prior to the alert, so you can see the person as he’s walking into the frame.

The iZon records VGA video at 30 frames per second, which is fine in theory, but less so in practice. Its low-light performance leaves something to be desired, too. Even in a moderately lit room, our face registered as a blur as we walked about 10 feet in front of the camera. While colors were fairly accurate, it felt like we were watching previously unseen footage of Bigfoot.

You can also view live video from the camera on your phone or iPad. When you’re on the same network as the camera, you can view live video for as long as you like, but if you’re viewing remotely, you’re limited to 5-minute increments. It’s an odd limitation, but we didn’t find it particularly annoying.

Patience and persistence: Two case studies

Středa, Září 14th, 2011

“There are some times where I can say, ‘Well, I did well that game.’ I like to look at historical baseball photography, and one picture I always liked was shot at Yankee Stadium, a vantage point from high, where you saw the fans cheering up top. I always thought that would be nice to do. I’d wanted to see if I could get that idea to work at Fenway. Well, the light was nice that day. I went near the press box in the upper deck. The fans were in shadows, but the  Monster was lit, the field was lit and it was a walk-off hit. I liked the silhouette of the fans’ arms going up, and you could see the players celebrating.”

The Yankee Stadium shot she referenced probably was Pensinger’s at the end of Game 1 in the 1998 World Series. Tino Martinez homered, and the photographer had ventured high into the stands, up against a shaking wall behind fans, positioned there because of required photographer rotation. He managed to capture a wide image that let celebrating fans in the foreground do the talking as much as the distant field depth. That one became a double truck  in ESPN the Magazine. Pensinger has many photographic highlights, but to get a good understanding of the challenge baseball photographers face, let’s look at last week.

At Rockies home games, there are three photographer spots behind home plate for the first inning only. They must be requested in advance. Pensinger had one of those spots last Wednesday for the game against Arizona. Joe Saunders was the starting pitcher for the D-backs, and after some patience by the photographer, the left-hander would become the subject of compositional negative space, framed by batter Carlos Gonzalez.

“It takes patience. It takes knowledge. The light has to be right,” Pensinger said. “You can point your camera at second base and wait and eventually something is going to happen there. But it’s all the rest of the time, trying to put elements in the picture and make things work when there’s nobody on base. That takes a little bit of creativity. The willingness to get up and move around, to go to different places in the parks, when there are shadows on the field.

“I had the privilege of this access, as it kind of rotates through agencies or papers. The first inning can be absolutely nothing, three-up, three-down on both sides, with very little pitching. In this case, I got what I thought was a nice photo — looking over the umpire’s shoulder — between the bat of the batter and over the shoulder of the catcher, and I could see the pitcher delivering with that little negative space.