Thursday, March 30, 2017

Friday Thinking 31 March 2017

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9

Some quotable quotes courtesy of Kevin Kelly

H&R Block and Intuit Are Still Lobbying to Make Filing Taxes Harder

“I’ve always been very careful never to predict anything that has not already happened.” — Marshall McLuhan

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” — Dorothy Parker

“Decisions are made by those who show up.” — Jennifer Pahlka

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” — Albert Einstein

“Not long ago what we have today was so implausible that nobody bothered to say it would never happen.“ — Marc Andreessen

"The first 90% of a project is a lot easier than the second 90%.” — Tim Sweeney

“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” — General Shinseki

Some quotable quotes courtesy of Kevin Kelly

as soon as you try to measure how well people are doing, they will switch to optimising for whatever you’re measuring, rather than putting their best efforts into actually doing good work.

In fact, this phenomenon is so very well known and understood that it’s been given at least three different names by different people:
  • Goodhart’s Law is most succinct: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
  • Campbell’s Law is the most explicit: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
  • The Cobra Effect refers to the way that measures taken to improve a situation can directly make it worse.

Every attempt to manage academia makes it worse    

In the 1900s, researchers developed algorithms that made Fourier analysis more practical for applications such as seismology. Among these were waveforms that could replace sinusoidal waves while being of finite duration, invented in 1981 by French geophysicist Jean Morlet at CNRS in Marseilles. He called them ondelettes — wavelets in English. But until Meyer entered the field, these tools did not have the full power of Fourier’s theory.

Meyer made his serendipitous encounter with Morlet’s wavelets in 1982, while waiting for a photocopier at the École Polytechnique in Paris, where he then worked. A colleague was copying a paper on Morlet’s wavelets, and the two struck up a conversation.

Meyer, a researcher in functional analysis, was so captivated that he took the first train to Marseilles to talk to Morlet and his colleagues. He decided overnight to change fields. “It was like a fairy tale,” Meyer said in a 2011 interview. “I felt I had finally found my home.”

“He was communicating to people who don’t even talk the same mathematical language,” says Morel. “All of these people had pieces of the puzzle.”

Meyer’s desire for crossing borders between disciplines stemmed from his childhood in the melting pot of colonial Tunis, where he was “obsessed”, he said in the 2011 interview, by wanting to cross ethnic frontiers.

‘Wavelet revolution’ pioneer Yves Meyer scoops top maths award Abel Prize

Just as electricity transformed many industries roughly 100 years ago, AI will also now change nearly every major industry — healthcare, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing — enriching the lives of countless people. I am more excited than ever about where AI can take us.

In addition to transforming large companies to use AI, there are also rich opportunities for entrepreneurship as well as further AI research. I want all of us to have self-driving cars; conversational computers that we can talk to naturally; and healthcare robots that understand what ails us. The industrial revolution freed humanity from much repetitive physical drudgery; I now want AI to free humanity from repetitive mental drudgery, such as driving in traffic. This work cannot be done by any single company — it will be done by the global AI community of researchers and engineers. My Machine Learning MOOC on Coursera helped many people enter AI. In addition to working on AI myself, I will also explore new ways to support all of you in the global AI community, so that we can all work together to bring this AI-powered society to fruition.

Andrew Ng - Opening a new chapter of my work in AI

One of my favorite authors and futurists is Bruce Sterling - he gives the closing keynote talk every year at the SXSW media and Technology Conference. This year’s 1 hour talk (it’s a podcast) is worth the listen - insightful and entertaining.

Bruce Sterling's SXSW 2017 keynote: what should humans do?

Every year, Bruce Sterling closes the SXSW Interactive Festival with a wide-ranging, hour-long speech about the state of the nation: the format is 20 minutes' worth of riffing on current affairs, and then 40 minutes of main thesis, scorchingly delivered, with insights, rage, inspiration and calls to action.

This year, Bruce addresses himself to the idea of technological obsolescence of humanity, the robots-will-take-our-jobs, AIs-will-do-everything, Universal-Basic-Income despair that there is no reason for us to be here anymore.

Assuming his customary mantle as gadfly of the tech set, Sterling sets about to prick the consciences and egos of technological triumphalism, enumerating a bunch of possibilities for what a post-work society might look like, before wiping them all away with a jeremiad about the reality of the human condition through history, a woo-the-muse-of-the-odd moment that says the future will be weirder, but brighter, than we presently imagine.

Along the way, Sterling promises to return to novel writing (not that he ever fully stopped), saying that with Trump in office, there will be plenty of other people to write about what's really happening, leaving him with some time to write about what might come to pass.

The discussion of a universal livable income continues to grow. Some of the barriers are not economic or technological - they are ‘cultural’ - beliefs in the protestant work ethic, or the less explicitly articulated feeling that unless the ‘masses’ are constrained within employment relationships - they won’t become ‘disciplined and passive’ consumers’. The issue is how to provide meaningful ways for everyone to create value and more importantly feel valuable - with real stakes in the flourishing of society.
In an economy heavily dependent on income and with no other means of subsistence, tying access to basic security wholly to labour is tantamount to subjecting individuals to a servile status in their relation to others and vis-à-vis the state.

Basic Income should be seen as a democratic right

We should consider basic income a democratic right rather than a solution to unemployment
The idea behind basic income initiatives is to promise every member of a community a regular, unconditional cash payment of equal size, on a permanent basis. This is an old idea that has gained new traction in western countries, with governments from Finland to Holland conducting pilot studies in order to put the challenge of implementation to the test.

While yet to be adopted by a national government, and with many detractors, the principle of basic income has enjoyed support across the ideological spectrum. At the same time, the proposal has largely been met with scepticism among established social and political actors. One reason for this is a perception that a transition to basic income necessarily entails a systemic break with the contemporary welfare state in favour of a much simplified libertarian model of welfare. I argued in Policy & Politics (2011, 39:1) against a conventional view of basic income as being in conflict with established welfare states and with social democracy. In place of this, I suggest basic income can be viewed as part of a re-democratised welfare state. In this sense, it is not a radical alternative, but a natural extension of an established tradition.
Basic income is not a radical alternative

This is a great article by Yaneer Bar-Yam that briefly explores what complexity is. Well worth the read.

Why Complexity is Different

One of the hardest things to explain is why complex systems are actually different from simple systems. The problem is rooted in a set of ideas that work together and reinforce each other so that they appear seamless: Given a set of properties that a system has, we can study those properties with experiments and model what those properties do over time. Everything that is needed should be found in the data and the model we write down. The flaw in this seemingly obvious statement is that what is missing is realizing that one may be starting from the wrong properties. One might have missed one of the key properties that we need to include, or the set of properties that one has to describe might change over time. Then why don’t we add more properties until we include enough? The problem is that we will be overwhelmed by too many of them, the process never ends. The key, it turns out, is figuring out how to identify which properties are important, which itself is a dynamic property of the system.

To explain this idea we can start from a review of the way this problem came up in physics and how it was solved for that case. The ideas are rooted in an approximation called “separation of scales.”

This is an significant article elaborating a deep shift in the science of self and emotion - well worth the read - to understand how paradigm change can reveal the ‘fake news’ shaping narratives of science inherent in outmoded, inadequate paradigms.

The Secret History of Emotions

Construction theories of emotion are an ambassador for an entirely different view of human nature. Your mind cannot be a battleground between animalistic emotions and rational thoughts, because the brain has no separate systems for emotion and cognition. Instances of both are constructed by the same set of brain-wide networks working collaboratively. Scientists didn’t know this in Elizabeth Duffy’s time, but modern neuroscience has confirmed it. These observations force us to reconsider some of the most fundamental tenets of law, economics, psychology, health care, and other areas of life.

But the most likely reason that the classical view persisted, I believe, is that it’s not just a view of emotion. It also represents a compelling story of what it means to be a human being. It says that you are an animal at the core, at the mercy of automatic emotions that you regulate by that most human of abilities, rational thought. This view of human nature is deeply embedded in society. It’s in the legal system, which distinguishes between calculated crimes, such as first-degree murder, and crimes of passion, in which your emotions "take you over" and you are partially absolved of responsibility. It’s in economics, forming the foundation of theories about rational and irrational investors. It’s in health care, as autistic children are taught stereotypical facial poses ostensibly to help them recognize emotions in others. It’s in stereotypes of men versus women, in which women are believed to be innately more emotional than men.

In addition, the classical view of human nature, with its tale of ancient emotion circuits robed in rationality, depicts humankind as the pinnacle of evolution. Construction uncomfortably dislodges us from this honored position. Yes, we’re the only animal that can design nuclear reactors, but other creatures eat our lunch when it comes to other abilities, like remembering fine details (a strength of the chimpanzee brain) or even adapting to new situations (where bacteria reign supreme). Natural selection did not aim itself toward us — we’re just an interesting sort of animal with particular adaptations that helped us survive and reproduce. Construction teaches us that our brain is not more highly evolved, just differently evolved. That’s a humbling message to swallow in Duffy’s time and in ours.

In some ways music today is a sort of drug - a means many people use to regulate their emotions - perhaps this is truly a relatively recent phenomena given that we can embed ourselves in music anywhere, anytime. The power of music to shape or regulate our emotional ‘tone’ may only be emerging.
"Most machine songs depend on an automatic composition system," says Masayuki Numao, professor at Osaka University. "They are preprogrammed with songs but can only make similar songs."

Songs that make robots cry

Music, more than any art, is a beautiful mix of science and emotion. It follows a set of patterns almost mathematically to extract feelings from its audience. Machines that make music focus on these patterns, but give little consideration to the emotional response of their audience.
An international research team led by Osaka University together with Tokyo Metropolitan University, imec in Belgium and Crimson Technology has released a new machine-learning device that detects the emotional state of its listeners to produce new songs that elicit new feelings.

Numao and his team of scientists wanted to enhance the interactive experience by feeding to the machine the user's emotional state. Users listened to music while wearing wireless headphones that contained brainwave sensors. These sensors detected EEG readings, which the robot used to make music.
"We pre-programmed the robot with songs, but added the brainwaves of the listener to make new music." Numao found that users were more engaged with the music when the system could detect their brain patterns.

This is a fascinating article - well worth the read for anyone interested in the intersections of art and science - in this case physics.
“Our eyes are only able to gather the light rays that happen to be aimed straight toward them. Collectively, any group of light rays that happen to converge onto one’s pupil are, altogether, fanned out radially from the pupil, with each light ray traveling perpendicular to the surface of an implied sphere. The surrounding objects of the world may be irregular and varied, but perceptually we live neatly at the center of a sphere of incoming photons that carry information about the irregular surround to our eyes.”

It turns out that this physical description carries over for light. In this case the stone hitting the water is analogous to a source of light moving toward your eyes. As the twins correctly found, light information will leave the source—each point of the canvas—as a spherical light wave. But why would light want to take the form of a spherical wave when it moves through space? This is where the four-dimensional spacetime description of light is essential. And this is where I became fascinated with the intuition behind the twins’ representation of concavity and spheres as a technique of experimenting with their own perception and theoretical knowledge of the physics of light.

It is truly astonishing that the twins arrived at an aspect of a most beautiful and earth-shattering idea in physics—the spherical emanation of light—through perception alone. What is even more mind-bending is that they arrived at this insight by developing their own techniques through intuition, experimentation, and approximations—the same way that a good theoretical physicist may want to unearth new truths.

What This Drawing Taught Me About Four-Dimensional Spacetime

Stuck in his research, a cosmologist finds a hint in an intricate drawing.
For years I have been stuck in my research, unable to make the progress I envisioned early in my career. Notably, quantum mechanics carefully takes the role of the observer into the structure of the theory. But it has proven incredibly difficult to include the role of the observer in a quantum spacetime.

Late last summer, I had the most unexpected breakthrough. Beth Jacobs, a member of the New York Academy of Sciences’ Board of Governors, invited me and some friends to her New York City apartment to meet the Oakes twins, artists who have gained attention in recent years for their drawings as well as the innovative technique and inventions they deploy to create them. An Oakes work, Irwin Gardens at the Getty in Winter (2011), an intricate drawing of the famous gardens designed by Robert Irwin at The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, was displayed on the balcony of Jacobs’ apartment overlooking Central Park, with the backdrop of the New York City skyline lit with a warm orange sky moments before sunset.

Ryan and Trevor Oakes, 35, have been exploring the impact and intersection of visual perception and the physics of light since they were kids. After attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, and years of experimentation and inventing new techniques, the twins exploited the notion that light information is better described when originating from a spherical surface.

Writer Lawrence Weschler summarizes their process well. In 2014, Weschler curated a retrospective of the twins’ work at the National Museum of Mathematics in New York. He wrote that the brothers have “developed one of the most intriguing breakthroughs in the depiction of physical reality since the Renaissance: They have come up with a method for tracing camera-obscura-exact renderings of the world before them onto a concave grid with no other optical equipment (no lenses, no pinholes) except their own unaided eyes.”

Space-time is definitely weird but so is magnetism and the earth’s magnetic field - which is beyond our senses without special technologies - imagine if we could sense more directly changes in the magnetic field and understand its potential implications. There’s a short video.

This Magnetic Map Shows Earth as You’ve Never Seen It Before

Behold a new, super high-res view of Earth’s magnetic field
As the BBC’s Jonathan Amos reports, a new map does just that. It was generated using data from the European Space Agency's Swarm mission, which is dedicated to studying Earth’s magnetic field from space. Using a trio of identical satellites, Swarm measures magnetism in Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere. It’s hoped that the mission will yield new information about Earth’s magnetic field and why it’s weakening.

Few are aware of Earth’s magnetic field on a daily basis—it’s impossible to see or feel without the right tools. But it’s there every day, and scientists think it’s changing all the time. Geomagnetic reversal (a process during which Earths’ magnetic poles flip position) has happened multiple times during the planet’s long history. Scientists suspect that it’s in progress now, and Swarm is part of their attempt to figure out what’s happening with the field.

As Amos explains, this latest satellite is more sophisticated than past iterations and can view Earth’s magnetic field in higher resolution than ever before. Using legacy information from past satellite missions, scientists hope to use it to map the planet’s magnetism in the greatest detail yet.

Here a report from the UK - the title says it all.

Policy reinvention leads to huge waste and little progress

A new report lays bare the staggering amount of change in key government policies over the last five decades.
Published today by the Institute for Government, All Change examines three policy areas which have experienced near-constant upheaval: further education, regional governance and industrial policy. For example, the last 30 years have seen 28 major pieces of legislation relating to further education led by 48 secretaries of state. And there have been three industrial strategies in the last decade.

The cost of all this reinvention – both human and economic – is high. In further education, thousands of students and employers are faced with a confusing and ever-changing set of qualifications, with no certainty that those same qualifications will exist a few years down the line.

Creating a new department – often at short notice and poorly planned – costs £15m in the first year alone. Taking into account the temporary disruption to business, as people grapple with the logistics of creating a new department, the longer-term costs are substantially higher.
The actual report can be had here as a pdf.

While this article is discussing academia - it’s implications refer to all notion of policy aiming to shape behavior including government program measure and economic policies.

Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition

Over the last 50 years, we argue that incentives for academic scientists have become increasingly perverse in terms of competition for research funding, development of quantitative metrics to measure performance, and a changing business model for higher education itself. Furthermore, decreased discretionary funding at the federal and state level is creating a hypercompetitive environment between government agencies (e.g., EPA, NIH, CDC), for scientists in these agencies, and for academics seeking funding from all sources—the combination of perverse incentives and decreased funding increases pressures that can lead to unethical behavior. If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy, a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity. Academia and federal agencies should better support science as a public good, and incentivize altruistic and ethical outcomes, while de-emphasizing output.

While most of the press dedicated to the rise of automated AI-ssistants (robots) is about getting rid of jobs and human work - but this article points out how robots could not just enhance human life but become companions.

Is robotics a solution to the growing needs of the elderly?

Research into the use of robots as carers or nurses is growing. It's not hard to see why.
The global population is ageing, putting strain on healthcare systems.

Although many 80-year-olds may only need a friend to chat to, or someone to keep an eye out in case they fall, increasingly the elderly are suffering serious ailments, such as dementia.

The very important question of consumer/user rights looms over the rise of the Internet of Things or computation in everything. Will we own our stuff or are we going to become a class of license holders - giving us access - if we are paid-up and deemed eligible. This is something that could be applied to all our possessions. What also interesting is the degree that farmers have move to an advance edge of technological competence.
A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors.

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

A dive into the thriving black market of John Deere tractor hacking.
To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America's heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that's cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform "unauthorized" repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time.

"When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don't have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it," Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. "Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix]."

The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn't be anything a farmer could do about it.

This is a real signal to watch - a fundamental transformation of manufacturing and consumption - how long before we no longer see stores crammed with standardized mass-produced merchandize that will mostly go unsold?
"It is very individual. It is like knitting your own sweater," said Christina Sharif, adding she ordered shorter arms on her electric blue sweater than the standard model.
"If we can give the consumer what they want, where they want it, when they want it, we can decrease risk ... at the moment we are guessing what might be popular," Adidas brand chief Eric Liedtke told investors last week.

Adidas takes the sweat out of sweater shopping with in-store machine

Adidas has been testing a store where shoppers can design a sweater, have a body scan to determine fit and get it knitted by a state-of-the-art machine within hours, as the German company looks at ways to respond more quickly to customer demands.

The sportswear group is working on several initiatives to cut the time it takes to get new designs to stores from the 12 to 18 months now standard in the sneaker industry, including opening factories mainly operated by robots in Germany and the United States.

It hopes the drive will help it adjust better to fickle fashion trends, allowing it to sell more products at full price as it seeks to meet a new goal to bring its operating profit margin closer to rival Nike's by 2020.

At a pop-up Adidas store in a mall in Berlin, customers designed their own merino wool sweaters for 200 euros ($215) each and then had them knitted in the store, finished by hand, washed and dried, all within four hours.

Shoppers first entered a darkened room where swirling camouflage and spider web patterns were projected onto their chests, with options to shift the light using hand gestures picked up by sensors, like in an interactive video game.

Dozens of possible options were recorded and the customers picked their favorite ones on a computer screen, where they could also experiment with different color combinations.
Customers chose standard sizes or stripped down to their underwear for laser body scans. Then the personalized pattern was sent to an industrial knitting machines in the store.

This is something that seems to be an inevitable way to interface with our own implants and extended digital-robotic prosthetics. There’s a short video.

E-tattoos turn knuckles and freckles into smartphone controls

Make the most of that beauty spot. Ultrathin temporary electronic tattoos can now turn body blemishes into touch-sensitive buttons, letting you control your smartphone with your own wrinkles, freckles and other skin features.

People intuitively know the location of their own bumps and birthmarks, which makes them ideal locations for touch-sensitive buttons, says Martin Weigel at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany, who has led the research. You could squeeze a freckle to answer a phone call, or slide a finger over your knuckles to change the volume of your music.

Weigel and his colleagues at Saarland University and Google used conductive ink to print wires and electrodes on temporary tattoo paper. The tattoos, which they call SkinMarks, are thinner than the width of a human hair. They are transferred onto the skin using water and last a couple of days before rubbing off.

It will be 10 years before we see touch-sensitive tattoos in mainstream use, says Harrison, but he predicts a future in which skin-based controls are the new normal. “You’ll have these digital tattoo parlours which you can go to in 2050 and 5 minutes later you can walk out with the iPhone 22 on your forearm.”

The domestication of DNA continues as new medical approaches are emerging. Although most aren’t ready for implementation.

How a Boy’s Lazarus-like Revival Points to a New Generation of Drugs

Drugs made from RNA may be the next great class of medicine.
A diagnosis of spinal muscular atrophy. The inherited illness, which destroys the motor neurons that control movement, usually kills children before they turn two. Cameron’s case was severe enough he’d probably never even have a birthday.

But when he was seven weeks old, Cameron’s parents enrolled him in a clinical trial for an experimental drug. In videos shot two months later, he could move his head and reach for a toy. No child with his condition had ever made such a recovery before.

The drug Cameron received, Spinraza, was approved in the U.S. just before Christmas and may become the first blockbuster in a novel category of drugs called RNA therapeutics, after the genetic messenger molecule from which they are constructed.

China continues its progress toward a new energy paradigm.

Beijing's last large coal-fired power plant suspends operations

Beijing has 27 power plants, all fueled by clean energy with a total installed capacity of 11.3 million kilowatts.
Beijing's last large coal-fired power plant suspended operations on Saturday, meaning the capital has become China's first city with all its power plants fueled by clean energy.

The Huangneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant was built up and put into operation in June 1999. It has five coal-fired units with a total installed capacity of 845,000 kilowatts and heating capacity of 26 million square meters.
Du Chengzhang, general manager of the plant, said it is an efficient and environmental friendly plant with advanced emission treatment equipment. The plant has provided important support to the stable operation of Beijing's electric power system and the heat-supply system.

After the suspension of the plant, about 1.76 million tonnes of coal, 91 tonnes of sulfur dioxide and 285 tonnes of nitrogen oxide emissions will be cut annually.
According to a clean air plan by Beijing from 2013 to 2017, Beijing will build four gas thermal power centers and shut down the four large coal-fueled thermal power plants during the period.

Another three plants which used to consume over 6.8 million tonnes of coal each year were closed in 2014 and 2015.

And in Germany the progress is faster than elsewhere.
"This region lives for mining. When it closes, there won't be much to keep it going," said Richard Hold, 46, as he surfaced from an elevator shaft at the end of a recent shift in the Walsum mine here, which opened in 1933. Hold followed his father underground as a teenager and hopes to keep going until he can retire. But he'll have to look for coal somewhere else after next year, when the Walsum mine is scheduled to shut down.
But after spending more than $200 billion in subsidies since the 1960s, the federal government this year decided that the practice had become unaffordable. The 2018 sunset for the hard-coal industry was set.

German Hard-Coal Production to Cease by 2018

About a half-mile under the Earth's surface here, dozens of soot-faced miners scrape coal from some of the richest seams in the world, just as their forebears had done for generations. Conveyor belts funnel the shiny black rock through crushing machines and up to the surface, where it helps to power the globe's third-biggest economy.

Germany's 500-year-old tradition of hard-coal mining, however, is dying out. With domestic coal long unprofitable because of cheap imports from Africa and Asia, the German government this year decided to gradually withdraw expensive subsidies that have kept its mines open for nearly a half-century.

Today, only eight hard-coal mines are in operation, down from more than 100 at the industry's peak in the late 1950s. The last of those is set to close by 2018, when the subsidies dry up. And with that, there will be no more German hard-coal miners, who once numbered more than 500,000.

One more signal of the emerging phase transition in global energy geopolitics.

Coal in 'freefall' as new power plants dive by two-thirds

Green groups’ report says move to cleaner energy in China and India is discouraging the building of coal-fired units
The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.

The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away.
The amount of planned coal power capacity in January 2017 was 570GW, down from 1,090GW a year before
Researchers for the groups said a record amount of coal power station capacity was also retired globally last year, mostly in the US and EU, including Scotland closing its last one.

Tax-time - something everyone dreads - often because of the seemingly undue complicatedness of doing our taxes - especially for anyone with any sort of irregular situation. I’m sure this is applicable in many countries.

H&R Block and Intuit Are Still Lobbying to Make Filing Taxes Harder

The financial services companies spent millions last year to permanently bar the government from offering taxpayers pre-filled filings.
Here’s how preparing your taxes could work: You sit down, review a pre-filled filing from the government. If it’s accurate, you sign it. If it’s not, you fix it or ignore it altogether and prepare your return yourself. It’s your choice. You might not have to pay for an accountant, or fiddle for hours with complex software. It could all be over in minutes.

It’s already like that in parts of Europe. And it would not be particularly difficult to give United States taxpayers the same option. After all, the government already gets earnings information from employers.

But as ProPublica has detailed again and again, Intuit — the makers of TurboTax — and H&R Block have lobbied for years to derail any move toward such a system. And they continued in 2016.