Diss progress

2022-05-16

in PhD thesis

I sent the updated (v7) version of the mobilizing structures chapter late Friday night. The task due today is to review v6 of the repertoires chapter and comments from supervisors on v4 and then write the opening 3-4 pages for what will become the structure of the new chapter.

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Three examples from today:

1) Coal shortage and heatwave spark India’s power woes:

The government says it is doing all it can do to ensure supplies. Coal India, the world’s largest coal miner, has increased production by 12%, “strengthening India’s energy security”, according to the federal coal ministry. It also despatched 49.7 million metric tonnes of coal to the power generating companies in April, a 15% rise over the same month last year. The railways have cancelled more than a thousand passenger trains to transport more coal to fuel-starved plants.

2) Hydro-Québec mounts last-ditch effort to revive stalled power line project through Maine:

The planned project would carry 1,200 megawatts of electricity over a 336-kilometre high-voltage transmission line between Thetford Mines, Que., and Lewiston, Maine. Of the 233 kilometres planned on the U.S. side, 85 kilometres would cut through a forested area. Clearing work was already well underway at the time of the referendum.

According to Maine Public Utilities Commission, the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 3.6 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road.

However, the state’s largest environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, has expressed a great deal of skepticism about the real environmental benefits of Hydro-Québec energy, questioning whether the project would actually reduce GHG emissions.

3) Ontario energy grid emissions set to skyrocket 400% as Ford government cranks up the gas:

Since all renewable energy projects were cancelled when Premier Doug Ford was elected, the province currently has no other way to compensate for the looming shutdown of a major nuclear reactor in Pickering, responsible for roughly 16 per cent of province-wide power. Only natural gas is available to meet rapidly growing demand for electricity, according to the IESO projections.

The projections show that the province’s natural gas plants — which only operate about 60 per cent of the time now — will run non-stop by 2033. The additional annual emissions this will produce over the next 20 years are equivalent to a large Alberta oilsands project.

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I watched the four-part Netflix series on the Three Mile Island disaster and found it to be well crafted and emotionally poignant, though only OK as an educational resource on the partial meltdown.

My technical complaint is that they explain almost nothing about why the accident happened and exactly what took place while it was going on. There is a lot of interesting material on how complex systems have interactions which cannot be foreseen, as well as user interface issues in the control room, which would have helped viewers better understand.

In terms of storytelling, my objection is with how the filmmakers basically set up two kinds of interview subjects: forthright and emotional local residents who suffered, and a few wicked representatives of the industry. They quote dismissive claims about culpability and the accident’s severity from the insiders, while uncritically quoting residents on how an unchecked disaster would have destroyed Pensyllvania or the East Coast. To me this all felt like too much handholding about who to believe, coupled with insufficient reference to credible outside accounts.

I wouldn’t especially recommend the series to either people who know a lot about nuclear energy or those who know fairly little. The former are likely to be annoyed at how anecdote-driven the whole thing is, while the latter may be given a false sense of confidence about the correctness of the view expressed. Unlike the remarkable 2019 series on the Chernobyl accident, this is one that can be safely missed.

For better explanations on TMI, I would suggest Nickolas Means’s talk (which also contains some fascinating discussion about what human error means in the context of major industrial accidents and how to investigate them after the fact) or this Inviting Disaster episode from The History Channel.

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Photo by Andrea Simms-Karp

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But remember, what constitutes doing the right thing must be understood from the perspective of a potential supporter: it may have nothing to do with what is best for a community or nation. Anyone who thinks leaders do what they ought to do—that is, do what is best for their nation or subjects—ought to become an academic rather than enter political life. In politics, coming to power is never about doing the right thing. It is always about doing what is expedient.

De Mesquita, Bruce Bueno and Alastair Smith. The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics. PublicAffairs, 2012. p. 37 (italics in original)

Related:

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Sydney Lang and Amanda Harvey-Sánchez have an article in the May/June issue of Briarpatch: Divestment and beyond.

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Sounds like a pleasant and useful place:

Customers must write their name, writing goals and the time they plan to finish. They can also ask Kawai to nag them about their progress. Those who ask for the “mild” option will simply be asked how they got on when they pay at the end of the session; others in need of a heavier dose of discipline can expect him to occasionally stand behind them, although he insists he makes no value judgments on the contents of their laptop screen.

The mild-mannered 52-year-old, who is a technical writer when he is not cajoling his customers to buckle down, dismissed concerns among some social media users that his tactics were heavy-handed.

“Instead of monitoring them, I’m here to support them,” he said. “As a result, what they thought would take a day was actually completed in three hours, or tasks that usually take three hours were done in one.”

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