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“I became part of the alt-right at age 13, thanks to Reddit and Google”

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An anonymous teenager writes in Fast Company:

When I was 13, I was convinced that Jews controlled global financial networks and that black Americans committed homicide at a higher rate than whites. I believed that the wage gap was a fallacy fabricated by feminists, and I was an avid supporter of the men’s rights movement. I accepted all of the alt-right maxims I saw as a Reddit moderator, despite my Jewish upbringing in a liberal household with a tight-knit family that taught me compassion, empathy, and respect for others.

Now, I’m 16, and I’ve been able to reflect on how I got sucked into that void—and how others do, too. My brief infatuation with the alt-right has helped me understand the ways big tech companies and their algorithms are contributing to the problem of radicalization—and why it’s so important to be skeptical of what you read online.

My own transformation started when I switched into a new school in the middle of eighth grade. Like anyone pushed into unfamiliar territory, I was lonely and friendless and looking for validation and social connection. But unlike others, I found that validation on the alt-right corners of the internet. The alt-right and the tech platforms that enable it became the community I needed—until I finally opened my eyes and realized it was turning me into someone who I never wanted to be.

A few weeks after I started going to my new school, I noticed that a bunch of the guys in my class were browsing a website called Reddit. I didn’t understand what the site was or how it worked, but I was desperate to fit in and make a mark in my new environment. I went up to one of those guys during study hall and asked how to use Reddit. He helped me set up an account and subscribe to “subreddits,” or mini communities within the Reddit domain. I spent the rest of that period scrolling through Reddit and selecting the communities I wanted to join.

That’s how I discovered r/dankmemes. At first, I only understood about half of the posts that I saw. A lot of the content referenced political happenings that I had never heard of. There were hundreds of sarcastically written posts that echoed the same general themes and ideas, like “there are only 2 genders,” or “feminists hate men.” Since I had always been taught that feminism and social justice were positive, I first dismissed those memes as abhorrently wrong.

But while a quick burst of radiation probably won’t give you cancer, prolonged exposure is far more dangerous. The same is true for the alt-right. I knew that the messages I was seeing were wrong, but the more I saw them, the more curious I became. I was unfamiliar with most of the popular discussion topics on Reddit. And when you want to know more about something, what do you do? You probably don’t think to go to the library and check out a book on that subject, and then fact check and cross reference what you find. If you just google what you want to know, you can get the information you want within seconds.

So that’s what I did. I started googling things like “Illegal immigration,” “Sandy Hook actors,” and “Black crime rate.” And I found exactly what I was looking for.

The articles and videos I first found all backed up what I was seeing on Reddit—posts that asserted a skewed version of actual reality, using carefully selected, out-of-context, and dubiously sourced statistics that propped up a hateful world view. On top of that, my online results were heavily influenced by something called an algorithm. I understand algorithms to be secretive bits of code that a website like YouTube will use to prioritize content that you are more likely to click on first. Because all of the content I was reading or watching was from far-right sources, all of the links that the algorithms dangled on my screen for me to click were from far-right perspectives.

I liked Reddit so much that after around a month of lurking, I applied for a moderator position on r/dankmemes. Suddenly, I was looking at far-right memes 24/7, with an obligation to review 100 posts a day as a moderator. I was the person deciding whether to allow a meme onto the subreddit or keep it off. Every day, for hours on end, I had complete control of what content was allowed on r/dankmemes. That made me even more curious about what I was seeing, leading to more Google searches—all of which showed me exactly what I already believed to be true—and subsequently shoving me deeper into the rabbit hole of far-right media. I spent months isolated in my room, hunched over my computer, removing and approving memes on Reddit and watching conservative “comedians” that YouTube served up to me.

In my case, the alt-right did what it does best. It slowly hammered hatred into my mind like a railroad spike into limestone. The inflammatory language and radical viewpoints used by the alt-right worked to YouTube and Google’s favor—the more videos and links I clicked on, the more ads I saw, and in turn, the more ad revenue they generated.

Some of the other moderators were under the influence of this poison, too. They started to focus on the same issues that alt-right forums and online media pushed into the headlines, and we would sometimes discuss how women who abort their children belong in jail, or how “trauma actors” would be used to fake school shooting events like the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Granted, not all of the moderators took part in these talks. It only takes a few though, and those were the few that I admired the most. It soon felt like a brotherhood or a secret society, like we were the few conscious humans that managed to escape the matrix. We understood what we believed to be the truth, and no one could convince us otherwise.

The alt-right’s appeal started to dissipate that summer, when I took a month-long technology break to go to sleepaway camp before the start of my ninth grade year. But the biggest step in my recovery came when I attended a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., in September 2017, about a month after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist. I wanted to show my support of Trump while being able to finally meet the people behind the internet forums where I had found my community. After many tries, I finally managed to convince my mom to take me, telling her I simply wanted to watch history unfold (she wrote about the experience in the Washingtonian). But really, I was excited to meet the flesh-and-blood people who espoused alt-right ideas, instead of talking to them online.

The difference between the online persona of someone who identifies as alt-right and the real thing is so extreme that you would think they are different people. Online, they have the power of fake and biased news to form their arguments. They sound confident and usually deliver their standard messages strongly. When I met them in person at the rally, they were awkward and struggled to back up their statements. They tripped over their own words, and when they were called out by any counter protestors in the crowd, they would immediately use a stock response such as “You’re just triggered.” They couldn’t come up with any coherent arguments; they rambled and repeated talking points.

The rally left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Seeing for myself that the people I was talking to online were weak, confused, and backwards was the turning point for me. It wasn’t immediate, but I slowly and gradually began to reduce my time on Reddit, and I eventually messaged the other moderators and told them that I was going to quit to focus on school. They all said that they wanted me to stay and pleaded with me to just take a break and come back later. I stayed on as a moderator in name only, no longer making decisions about any of the content assigned to me. A few months later, Reddit sent me a message with the subject line: “You have been removed as a moderator of r/dankmemes.” I felt like the character James Franco plays in 127 Hours as he walks out of the canyon that had imprisoned him for days on end, bloodied but alive nonetheless.

At this point, we’re too far gone to reverse the damage that the alt-right has done to the internet and to naive adolescents who don’t know any better—children like the 13-year-old boy I was. It’s convenient for a massive internet company like Google to deliberately ignore why people like me get misinformed in the first place, as their profit-oriented algorithms continue to steer ignorant, malleable people into the jaws of the far-right. My own situation was personally very difficult but had no wider consequences. But don’t forget that Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015, was radicalized by far-right groups that spread misinformation with the aid of Google’s algorithms. It all started when Roof asked Google about black-on-white crime.

YouTube is an especially egregious offender. Over the past couple months, I’ve been getting anti-immigration YouTube ads that feature an incident presented as a “news” story, about two immigrants who raped an American girl. The ad offers no context or sources, and uses heated language to denounce immigration and call for our county to allow ICE to seek out illegal immigrants within our area. I wasn’t watching a video about immigration or even politics when those ads came on; I was watching the old Monty Python “Cheese Shop” sketch. How does British satire, circa 1972, relate to America’s current immigration debate? It doesn’t.

If we want to stop destructive, far-right, and alt-right ideologies from spawning domestic terrorism incidents in the future, tech companies need to be held accountable for the radicalization that results from their systems and standards. Google and YouTube should own up to their part in this epidemic, but I doubt they will. Ethics and morals have no meaning when millions of dollars are at stake. That’s the America that I, along with millions of other Gen Z kids, are growing up in.

During my ordeal into and out of the online alt-right, I’ve learned that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2019 at 3:09 pm

Quora’s brusqueness

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Quora has an overarching rule, corresponding to Google’s “Do no evil”: “Be Nice, Be Respectful.” That seems to be a rule for Quora users, not Quora Moderation, which is often arbitrary and disrespectful.

Recently, for example, I got this message from Quora Moderation:

Your answer was found to violate a policy on Quora and has been deleted.

There was an “appeal” button, so I first looked at the answer to try to figure out what policy had been violated. The question I answered was “What can I do to lose weight naturally?” (and that was merged with What is the most natural way to lose weight?). Here is the answer I posted:

Losing weight is almost totally driven by food choices (what and how much). Exercise (such as walking, running, and workouts) is needed for stamina and strength and for making sure that the weight you lose is fat and not muscle, but purely in terms of weight loss, exercise is neither necessary nor sufficient. It’s not necessary, because even if you don’t exercise, you can lose weight; and it’s not sufficient because, even if you do exercise, you cannot eat anything you want and still lose weight.

In contrast, good food choices are both necessary and sufficient for weight loss, so I see food choice as the main driver of weight loss. (It should also be recognized that genetics can drive food choices—see This Genetic Mutation Makes People Feel Full — All the Time.)

In Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die, he notes:

Surveys suggest that most people believe controlling diet and getting enough exercise are equally important for weight control.9 It’s a lot easier to eat, however, than to move. To walk off the calories found in a single pat of butter or margarine, you’d have to add about an extra half-mile to your evening stroll. For every additional sardine [sic] on your Caesar salad, that’s another quarter-mile job. If you eat two chicken legs you’ll need to get up on your own two legs and run three miles just to make up for it—and that’s stewed chicken, skin removed.10

The numbers in the text identify footnotes that specify the studies whose findings support the statements. (And Caesar salads are made with anchovies, not sardines.)

Part 2 of How Not to Die describes in detail a whole-food plant-based diet that works well to lose weight (as well as improve health), in part because the diet is very filling and satisfying while being of relatively low caloric density.. Both the vegan diet and the whole-food plant-based diet are plant-based, which excludes meat, dairy, and eggs, but unlike the vegan diet, the WFPB diet is restricted to whole foods and thus specifically excludes refined foods such as refined sugar and foods that contain it, foods made from flour, and fruit juice (though whole fruit is fine). Moreover, the WFPB diet excludes product foods manufactured using industrial processes from refined ingredients with a variety of additives and sold packaged under a brand name: imitation “bacon,” imitation “sausage,” imitation “burger,” imitation “cheese,” bottled salad dressings, and so on. Refined/processed product foods are particularly to be avoided if you’re trying to lose weight — see It’s Not Just Salt, Sugar, Fat: Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods Drive Weight Gain.

For more details, see this answer: Michael Ham’s answer to If someone goes vegan, but also takes both pea protein and rice protein regularly, will they meet nutritional needs?

That said, cardio exercise, though it contributes little to weight loss, is necessary for cardiovacular health — a good diet is also necessary, but not sufficient. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who spent his career studying cardio exercise and its effects, developed a point system to measure the cardio effects of different exercises at various durations and intensity levels. He recommends a minimum of 35 points per week for men, 27 points per week for women, exercising at least 4 days a week and at most 6. (He specifically recommends taking at least one day off each week.)

His point system tells you for each type of exercise the number of points earned for various times and distances, as shown in this table: https://www.cooperaerobics.com/Downloads/About/Aerobics-Points-System.aspx

The table starts with Walking/Running, but scroll down through the document to see the points for cycling, for swimming, and other cardio exercises, including some sports.

To determine your current level of fitness, you can use Dr. Cooper’s 12-minute test: Cooper Test: A 12-Minute Run to Check Aerobic Fitness. For example, if you do only weight-training and believe that provides cardio fitness, you can put it to the test.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is also a good cardio exercise and is more efficient in terms of time required, but keep in mind that you must enjoy whatever exercise you choose. If you don’t, you’ll constantly have to push yourself to do the exercise, whereas if you enjoy the exercise you will be drawn to it.

I did appeal, and this morning I received this notification from Quora Moderation:

Quora Moderation reviewed and rejected your appeal regarding your answer to What is the most natural way to lose weight? This decision cannot be appealed. Learn more about Quora’s policies here.

Notice what is missing (beyond simple courtesy and respect): The initial deletion notice (and the answer was deleted, not just collapsed) gave no reason for the action. Quora has a plethora of policies (beyond “Be Nice, Be Respectful”) and I read them and could find no policy that my answer violated. Indeed, I thought my answer was helpful and informative.

And the rejection of the appeal gave no reasons for the rejection. Quora, unlike (say) judges in criminal and civil courts, does not issue an opinion that explains the rationale, but simply gives the decision with no reasons attached. And of course, in keeping with the brusqueness, there is no way to contact Quora Moderation to seek information. Quora Moderation does not interact with Quora users.

I continue to answer questions on Quora from a desire to help those asking the questions, but Quora Moderation periodically will step in and (without explanation) delete answers.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2019 at 9:06 am

Facebook’s incompetence is too great to be accidental

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Judd Legum at Popular Information:

For the last several years, Facebook has publicly touted its efforts to prevent interference in elections. In September 2018, for example, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post touting the “focus and rigor” the company was bringing to election protection. Zuckerberg said Facebook was employing “sophisticated approaches” to ensure the integrity of elections in the United States and around the world. According to Facebook VP Nick Clegg, a key part of this initiative was “recruiting an army of people” to “take down harmful content” related to elections.

But internal Facebook documents obtained by Popular Information and interviews with people involved in election-related content moderation present a starkly different picture.

Training materials produced by Facebook and provided to content moderators in the critical weeks before the 2018 election were riddled with basic errors.

A slide deck distributed to content moderators in September 2018, for example, falsely stated that “U.S. citizens must vote in-person at a polling location.” Actually, all 50 states allow absentee voting. In 33 states, “no excuse or justification” is required to vote absentee. Oregon’s election is conducted almost entirely by mail.

The materials also state that “General Election Day is November 6th, 2018,” without noting that in “39 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to Election Day.”

The deck was produced by Facebook and provided to the staff at Cognizant in September 2018. Cognizant was one of several companies Facebook hired to perform content moderation on its behalf. The presentation came shortly after several Cognizant staff participated in a Facebook-run “elections boot camp” in Austin.

This misinformation was provided to content moderators who were tasked with deciding what kind of voting information to delete from Facebook. The presentation instructed Cognizant content moderators to delete “misrepresentation of the dates, locations, and times for voting.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Facebook seems more and more incompetent — deliberately so.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 7:54 pm

How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life

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Julia Cho writes in the Atlantic:

My tween will never know the sound of me calling her name from another room after the phone rings. She’ll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend. I’ll get itHe’s not here right now, and It’s for you are all phrases that are on their way out of the modern domestic vernacular. According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don’t even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.

“The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.”

The home telephone was a communal invention from the outset. “When the telephone rang, friends and family gathered ’round, as mesmerized by its magic flow of electrons as they would later be by the radio,” according to Once Upon a Telephone, a lighthearted 1994 social history of the technology. After the advent of the telephone, in the late 19th century, and through the mid-20th century, callers relied on switchboard operators who knew their customers’ voices, party lines were shared by neighbors (who would often eavesdrop on one another’s conversations), and phone books functioned as a sort of map of a community.

The early telephone’s bulky size and fixed location in the home made a phone call an occasion—often referred to in early advertisements as a “visit” by the person initiating the call. (One woman quoted in Once Upon a Telephone recalls the phone as having the “stature of a Shinto shrine” in her childhood home.) There was phone furniture—wooden vanities that housed phones in hallways of homes, and benches built for the speaker to sit on so they could give their full attention to the call. Even as people were defying time and space by speaking with someone miles away, they were firmly grounded in the space of the home, where the phone was attached to the wall.

Over the course of the 20th century, phones grew smaller, easier to use, and therefore less mystical and remarkable in their household presence. And with the spread of cordless phones in the 1980s, calls became more private. But even then, when making a call to another household’s landline, you never knew who would pick up. For those of us who grew up with a shared family phone, calling friends usually meant first speaking with their parents, and answering calls meant speaking with any number of our parents’ acquaintances on a regular basis. With practice, I was capable of addressing everyone from a telemarketer to my mother’s boss to my older brother’s friend—not to mention any relative who happened to call. Beyond developing conversational skills, the family phone asked its users to be patient and participate in one another’s lives.

Cellphones, which came on the market in the ’80s and gained popularity in the ’90s, rendered all of this obsolete as they displaced landlines. When kids today call “home,” they may actually be calling one parent and bypassing the other; friends and bosses and telemarketers (if they get through) usually reach exactly the person they are hoping to speak with. Who will be on the other end of the line is no longer a mystery.

What’s more, the calls, texts, and emails that pass through cellphones (and computers and tablets) can now be kept private from family members. “It keeps everybody separate in their own little techno-cocoons,” says Larry Rosen, a retired psychology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills and a co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. Whereas early landlines united family members gathered in a single room, cellphones now silo them.

Cheryl Muller, a 59-year-old artist living in Brooklyn, raised her two sons, now 30 and 27, during the transition from landline to cellphone. “I do remember the shift from calling out ‘It’s for you,’ and being aware of their friends calling, and then asking them what the call was about, to pretty much … silence,” she says. Caroline Coleman, 54, a writer in New York City whose children grew up during the same transition, recalls how at age 10 her son got a call from a man with a deep voice. “I was horrified. I asked who it was—and it was his first classmate whose voice had changed,” she said. “When you get cells, you lose that connection.”

These days, this dynamic is also often reversed. A shared family phone meant . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

First commercial aircraft to use motors rather than engines takes flight

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Ian Bailey reports in the Globe & Mail:

The chief executive officer of B.C.-based Harbour Air Seaplanes took to the air at the controls of a float plane equipped with an electric engine Tuesday, a move that puts the company in the global race to develop electric flight and reduce emissions from passenger aircraft.

Greg McDougall, the sole occupant of the aircraft, flew the six-seater de Havilland about 16 kilometres in eight minutes, taking off from the company’s terminal on the Fraser River south of Vancouver International Airport.

It was the first full-fledged flight for the DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver, following a previous test in which it was flown about 60 to 90 metres. The conventional internal combustion engine of the de Havilland has been replaced by a 750-horsepower electric engine developed by magniX, a company based in Redmond, Wash.

“We had no way of knowing really exactly how the aircraft would actually perform until we actually flew it, ” Mr. McDougall told a news conference following the flight. “That was the first real time it had flown.”

While the plane has a cutting-edge electric propulsion system, Mr. McDougall noted “the airframe that the motor is attached to is actually one year younger than me, so 62 years old.”

Harbour Air, which carries about 500,000 passengers a year on routes to and from locations such as Victoria, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, is now in a race to perfect electric flight where competitors include Airbus, Sweden’s Heart Aerospace and the Scottish carrier Loganair.

Mr. McDougall, who founded Harbour Air in 1982 with a pair of small seaplanes, said electrification of the transportation industry is a given, prompting the 11 months of work his company has done on the concept.

“Obviously aviation is one of the tougher ones to do, but it’s going to happen,” he said. “We need to be at the forefront of it.”

In a statement responding to the Harbour Air test flight, Transport Canada said the federal government is “steadfast” in its belief that transportation electrification is a key part of Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

The federal department says it offers regulatory and certification advice to all industry partners, including Harbour Air, “seeking to develop innovative aviation ideas,” but does not have specific standards for electric-powered aircraft. . .

Continue reading.

Amy Smart also has a report in the Vancouver Sun:

As Greg McDougall prepared to fly the world’s first all-electric commercial aircraft Tuesday morning, he said “nervous” wasn’t quite the word to describe how he was feeling.

The fact that the Harbour Air CEO would be the first person to take the modified de Havilland Beaver on a full test flight didn’t faze him, nor did knowledge of a charging glitch the night before.

McDougall had gone for a dinner break Monday evening while a crew of designers and engineers stared at their computers with furrowed brows, and he returned later to find them smiling and laughing, crisis averted.

“The emotion isn’t necessarily excitement, it’s more sort of anticipation and focus,” he said.

With the sun hanging low over the Fraser River in Richmond, McDougall shifted the throttle into gear and took off. After landing, he said it felt just like flying any other plane, only with more kick.

“For me, that flight was just like flying a Beaver but it was a Beaver on electric steroids,” he said, adding he had to throttle back in order to delay the takeoff to be in line with about a dozen cameras.

“It wanted to fly. With the tailwind it was going to leap off the water.”

The brief but successful test flight marked a significant win for Harbour Air and partner magniX, which designed the electric motor, in the race to electrify commercial aviation fleets.

Dozens of companies are working on electric planes, including Boeing and Airbus. Israeli company Eviation unveiled a nine-seat, all-electric plane named “Alice” at the Paris Air Show in June, which also happens to be a magniX project.

Roei Ganzarski, CEO of Seattle-based engineering firm magniX, described the test flight as the beginning of a revolution in aviation.

In 1903, the Wright brothers made history with the first successful flight and, in 1939, the Heinkel jet launched the jet age, he said.

“Since 1939, we’ve pretty much stayed stable. Today that team made history,” Ganzarski said, gesturing toward the design team.

Harbour Air announced in March that it had partnered with magniX with the goal of becoming the world’s first all-electric airline.

The 62-year-old Beaver was outfitted with a 750-horsepower electric motor, which gives it capacity to fly about 160 kilometres before needing a recharge.

Weight, altitude and storage remain the biggest barriers to flying electric. A mid-sized passenger plane weighs 100 times as much as a mid-sized car and the battery technology hasn’t quite adjusted to the aviation market.

Fuel also remains about 40 to 50 times more power dense than batteries, Ganzarski said. But the team expects innovation in the battery industry to continue in the same way for aviation as it has for electric cars. The key will be developing batteries that are more compact at the same time that they are more powerful.

The test flight used lithium-ion batteries because they are the most “tried and true,” but there are already others on the market that are more powerful, McDougall said.

“The evolution of lithium batteries is constant and there are literally billions of dollars being poured into that technology as we speak,” he said. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2019 at 8:35 am

AI responds to custom text prompts

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Talk to Transformer was built by Adam King and responds to a text prompt with a (machine-based) free association. Example just now (prompt in bold):

A white piano in an empty room with an open window. That was how I felt once I heard the second song I heard, and again later on as I heard part of the third and fourth songs.

I’d never heard more beautiful music, by an artist whose talents I knew and respected. I learned to hate about every word she spoke — “breath”, “wall”. I would be in awe if I still had my face, eyes, lips and nose, and had walked into a room with the very same number of songs on repeat in the same order.

The first time I used that same prompt the result was a poetic and evocative paragraph, this time less so. And when I used “He had a sled named ‘Rosebud.'” the generated text was earthbound and uninteresting — so it becomes a way of tryng to find a prompt that gives a good result.

Another example:

I love to shave with a slant razor. In fact, I just finished shaving my mom with a razor that is specifically made for her, using the most sophisticated and cutting edge synthetic blade I have ever seen.

I can’t remember exactly where we began, but there was probably a conversation about why we both had goatees. The legend goes that I started shaving, and never looked back.

Narrow razor controls or can you change the width? When I use the FineMen Avanti shaving package, I can adjust the width and draw up the front, but

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2019 at 7:10 am

More on the Hennessy & Hinchcliffe low-flush toilet: A plumber’s review

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Simon Blake writes in Plumbing + HVAC:

Few plumbers who were in the business 15 years ago will forget the problems when low flush (six-litre) toilets were introduced in this country. The problems got so bad that people were going out of their way to buy the older 13-litre models. New designs and test procedures have largely put an end to those issues.

“Since the early 2000s, the industry figured it out. They figured out how to design the shape of the bowl, the trapway, the tank and how the water moved through the system in order to remove the waste and get it transported down the drain line much more efficiently,” remarked Robert Zimmerman, director, engineering, sustainability at Kohler Co., Kohler, Wisconsin.

In fact they figured it out so well that it was a relatively small step to go from six litres to 4.8 litres per flush, which makes up most of the market today.

A new test method provided a big push. Introduced in 2002, the Maximum Performance (MaP) Test used simulated human waste made from a soybean mixture that duplicated real world conditions, unlike previous tests.
“Instead of being a pass/fail, it was an actual rating,” reported engineer Bill Gauley, who along with John Koeller created the MaP Test. Consumers could go on the MaP website and check the flush performance of the toilet they were considering. Manufacturers wanted to score high. “Because the scores were published, manufacturers started really trying to improve,” added Gauley (Bill Gauley Associates Ltd., Acton, Ont., formerly with Veritec Consulting, Mississauga, Ont.).

The other key was that Gauley and Koeller capped the performance requirement at 1,000 grams so that manufacturers didn’t have to chase a constantly moving bar, as HVAC manufacturers have to do with efficiency requirements.

“It became an unofficial standard for water closets,” added Frank Leone, regional manager wholesale, Ontario and Atlantic, for American Standard Brands, Mississauga, Ont. It was so successful that lower volumes were tried. “We started, in the lab, reducing flush volumes by 20 percent to 4.8 litres (1.28 gallons) per flush to see how that would work. We found the new (lower flush volume) designs still worked fine.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the results to establish its WaterSense standard that requires toilets to flush 350 grams of waste at no more than 4.8 litres.

“But the products just kept getting better and better, so now we have 4.8 litre toilets that will flush 1,000 grams,” noted Gauley.

“We use that test internally for quality control as well as product development. It really has become an important part of how performance is measured,” said Zimmerman.

How low can it go?

Originally, low flush meant six litres or 1.6 gpm per flush. Today there are toilets on the market that flush with half that amount, which begs the question: just how low can it go?

“The industry isn’t uniform on this, but it’s my opinion that four litres is about as low as you are going to want to go for toilet flush,” said Zimmerman. “The plumbing is a system – it’s not just the toilet and waste – it’s all the other inputs of clear water that are coming into your drain that have also been reduced. There is a minimum flow rate that makes the system work, but there’s no absolute number that you can say ‘this is it.’”

Gauley expects the next big push will be to go from 4.8 litres flush to 4.0 litres/1.1 gallons. There is already a new MaP category – MaP Premium – for toilets that flush 600 grams with four litres or less. “We know it’s difficult to get down to three litres, but four is not a problem. And we knew that people wouldn’t sacrifice performance to get more efficiency.”

“That’s where people that are trying to conserve are going to,” noted Leone. “(The MaP Premium) is more important than even the WaterSense certification,” he added. Some municipalities, concerned about exceeding their water treatment infrastructure capacity, are already mandating MaP Premium toilets in new construction. “That’s what drives conservation in countries like Canada where there is an abundance of water.”

Gauley expects that with virtually all toilets meeting the WaterSense standard, it is likely that the EPA will reduce flush volumes to four-litres/1.1 gallon, while maintaining a 350-gram volume.

Leone believes the WaterSense standard is too low because the average man can excrete 250 grams and then, when one adds paper, the total waste volume can exceed 350 grams. “Today, with anything under 500, people don’t consider it a good performing toilet.”

Different approaches

The only widely available three-litre toilets on the market are the Proficiency line from Hennessey & Hinchcliffe in Mississauga, Ont. Launched in 2009, all models flush 800 grams in MaP testing.

“It was a pretty big leap,” remarked Hinchcliffe & Hennessy general manager Jerrad Hennessy. It uses a unique passive air pressurized trap-way that starts an immediate siphon without depending on water entering the bowl. As the toilet tank refills, it pushes the air out of an airtight capsule that is connected directly to the trapway, where it creates pressure – less than a few psi. When the user flushes, the air is sucked back into the capsule, creating a vacuum in the trapway and an immediate siphon.

“Three litres of water are effectively used to clean and scour the bowl since our tests have shown that the vacuum created by our BSB flush system alone will flush the toilet contents without any additional water,” said Hennessy.

Also on the leading edge of water conservation, American Standard Vormax technology uses twin flappers. Typically, a toilet uses about 70 percent of the water to start the siphon, with the remaining 30 percent to clean the bowl. Vormax technology reverses that, producing a strong siphon with 30 percent while keeping the bowl spotless with 70 percent of the water flowing from a single jet, sending the water around the bowl in a cyclone effect.

Kohler has gone away from flappers altogether, using a canister type “flushing engine”. A cylinder lifts straight up so that the water comes in from 360 degrees, allowing a quicker transfer of water from the tank while straightening the flow and reducing turbulence.

Drain line carry performance

As toilets flush with lower volumes and low-flow faucets and showerheads are installed, there has been concern that slopes and diameters of existing drains, which were designed for larger volumes of water, might not adequately carry the waste to the sewer main.

“The codes often don’t reflect that the water volume going down the drain may be half what it was years ago,” noted Zimmerman.

In new construction, engineers can design for lower flow, but not so in retrofit. However, he noted that when toilets went from six litres to 4.8 there were very few reports of problems.

Increasing the drain slope doesn’t necessarily help – tests have shown an increase from one percent to two percent grade makes the water flow past the waste rather than pushing it. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2019 at 7:02 am

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