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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar

Aurich Lawson

This is the first in a two-part series exploring Butterfly Labs and its lineup of dedicated Bitcoin-mining hardware. In part one, we look at the company and the experiences customers have had with it. In part two, to be published on June 29, we share our experiences running a Bitcoin miner for a couple weeks. Spoiler alert: we made money.

The more I dig into Bitcoin, the stranger it gets. There’s gray-market online gambling and Russian-operated futures markets—to say nothing of the virtual currency’s wild ride over the last several months. It’s full of characters with names like “artforz” and “Tycho,” supposedly two of the largest Bitcoin holders out there. Of course, like most things Bitcoin, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure.

While reporting on a Bitcoin-based gambling story earlier this year, I interviewed Bryan Micon, who works with a Bitcoin-based poker site called Seals With Clubs. (To continue the lack of information, Micon won’t say who owns the site.) Micon has taken it upon himself to investigate what he believes are Bitcoin-related scams—such as the ill-fated Bitcoin Savings and Trust online bank—and he makes public pronouncements about them.

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Original author: 
Tim Heffernan

For the past few months I’ve been reporting a big story on the copper industry for Pacific Standard. It takes a broad look at how the global economic boom of the past decade, led by China and India, is pushing copper mining into new regions and new enormities of investment and excavation. (It’ll be out in June.) But a few days ago a very local event shook the copper industry, and I thought it would be neat to look at how a crisis at a single mine can ripple through space and time, ultimately affecting just about everyone around the globe.

Above is a picture, from local news channel KSL, of a massive landslide at Bingham Canyon Mine, about 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Bingham is an open-pit mine—a gigantic hole in the ground. The landslide, in effect, was the collapse of one of the pit walls. (For scale, the pit is a bit less than three miles wide and a bit more than three-quarters of a mile deep, and as you can see, the collapse stretches halfway across it and all the way from top to bottom.) KSL has more pictures here, and Kennecott Utah Copper, the subsidiary of the mining giant Rio Tinto which runs Bingham Canyon, has a spectacular Flickr set here. Check ’em out.

The landslide went off at about 9:30 in the evening on Wednesday, April 11. It was expected: like most modern mines, Bingham has redundant sensor systems (radar, laser, seismic, GPS) that measure ground movement down to the millimeter and give plenty of warning when a collapse is imminent. The mine was evacuated about 12 hours before the landslide, and nobody was hurt.

But the scale of the landslide was a surprise. Approximately 165 million tons of rock shifted, causing a highly localized earthquake measuring 5.1 Richter. It damaged or destroyed roads, power lines, and other infrastructure, and a number of the giant shovels and dump trucks that move ore and waste rock out of the pit. (For gearheads, the shovels are P&H 4100s and the trucks are Komatsu 930Es. Bingham’s fleet includes 13 of the former and 100 or so of the latter. Here’s a fun picture showing the scale of a 4100’s scoop, and here is a picture—not from the Bingham landslide—of a 930E that has taken a stumble.)

The lost equipment was worth tens of millions of dollars, but much more significant is the fact that the landslide has shut Bingham Canyon down for an as-yet undetermined length of time. Much more significant because Bingham Canyon is not just another copper mine. Physically, it is the largest in the world, and it is among the most productive. Each year it supplies about 17 percent of U.S. copper consumption and 1 percent of the world’s. When a cog that big loses its teeth, the whole global economic machine goes clunk.

First to feel the effect (other than the workers at Bingham Canyon, of course, who have been asked to take unpaid leave) was Rio Tinto, Bingham’s owner. Its stock opened lower the morning after the landslide, and its analysts projected that the company’s profits would drop 7 percent for this year, with ripple effects for some years after. Bad for investors, sure. But those losses, in turn, will mean less capital for Rio’s investments in its numerous other ventures, and since Rio is the third-largest mining firm in the world—if you live in anything like an industrialized economy, you use its products every day—the ripple effects spread far beyond Rio’s shareholders. A pinch in Rio’s supply lines will push up metal prices for everyone. (And in fact last Thursday, copper prices jumped up a bit, although the landslide was not the only factor.)

After the landslide, Rio quickly invoked the force majeure protections in its insurance policies, which would allow it to cancel its futures contracts on Bingham copper and have its insurers cover the losses instead. But however those claims are resolved, there is no doubt that the insurers will soon be recalculating their actuarial tables. Landslides are a feature of pit mining (above is a picture I took from the bottom of the Bingham pit last October, looking up at one that happened a few years ago). But now it is clear that even the most advanced sensor systems can’t predict how big a slide will be. That uncertainty means insurers will have to raise their premiums. Again, the price effects will ripple through the mining (and the insurance) industry, and eventually spread out to affect all customers.

And there’s a third dimension to the ripple effects of the landslide: time. Big mines like Bingham run on schedules that extend decades into the future. I was at Bingham to report on a huge development in the operations: a shift from open-pit to underground mining. The prep work, which involves digging more than a hundred kilometers of tunnel beneath the pit, began in 2011 and was expected to continue until 2023. Meantime, a big expansion of the open pit had gotten underway, timed to expose a big batch of new ore in 2017, just as the existing exposed ore ran out. And that new ore would have run out in—you guessed it—2023, just in time for the underground mine to start up. Now all that planning is scrambled. The pit expansion is on hold until the mine reopens. And as for the move underground, Rio Tinto hasn’t released an official statement yet, but all the prep work got buried by the landslide.

The work is mostly invisible, being subterranean, but you can see the aboveground equipment at the bottom of the pit in a picture I took last year (above). Then match the distinctive, pale-grey trapezoid of rock on the pit wall above the equipment to the same trapezoid, visible center-right, in this picture from KSL. As you can see, the bowl-shaped depression where the underground work is based was completely filled in by rubble.

In short, the events of a few seconds on an April evening in 2013 are beginning to move through the economy, and will reverberate for at least a decade. And who will feel the vibrations, if they know what to feel for? Everyone who uses electricity, telecommunicates, gets their water from a tap, or eats food raised by Big Agriculture. Wires, pipes, and fertilizer: that’s what copper is used for.

I think we get too accustomed to abstract things, like changes in the federal interest rate or the pace of Chinese growth, shifting global markets. It’s good to be reminded that sometimes it's still the earth itself that shakes the world.

    

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Original author: 
Paul Moakley

“[In nature] we may even glimpse the means with which to accept ourselves. Before nature, what I see does not truly belong to anyone; I know that I cannot have it, in fact, I’m not sure what I’m seeing.” —Emmet Gowin

The allure of the American West has captivated photographers since the earliest days of the medium. Photography was used as a tool to decipher the vastness of the new and unknown frontier. One can see a rich photographic form of manifest destiny stemming from pioneering documentarians like Timothy O’Sullivan in the 1800s to preservationists like Ansel Adams in the 1960s. Although the intentions of these photographers have shifted over time, the landscape has provided consistent inspiration for our deepest desires. In more recent history, our concerns about our footprint on the environment have led photographers to investigate deeper than what’s easily accessible.

David Maisel is a photographer of the current wave of contemporary artists concerned with hidden land — remote sites of industrial waste, mining, and military testing that are not yet indexed on Google Maps. His latest book, Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime (Steidl), observes the land from a god-like perspective of the sky and with an obsession with environmental destruction.

“The original impetus for the work was informed by looking really closely at 19th-century exploratory photography,” explains Maisel, “and then, an arc through the New Topographics work of the 70s.” He cites the work of iconic black-and-white image makers like Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams — photographers who focused on man-altered landscapes — but felt inspired to “push it further.”

This epic project began almost thirty years ago in a plane over Mount St. Helens. Maisel, a 22-year-old photography student, was accompanying his college professor, Emmet Gowin, with his work. “That experience of being at Mt. St. Helen’s was really formative,” says Maisel. “I don’t even know if I’d be a photographer. It was an essential moment for me.”

Flying in to view the crater of the volcano formed by the extreme force of Mother Nature, he photographed a large swath of deforestation, something the young photographer had never seen growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, N.Y.

“As a kid at that point who had grown up in the suburbs of New York, I just never had seen a landscape put to work in that way by industry. Especially on that scale,” says Maisel. The phenomenal destruction revealed a conflict in modern life that he’s been fixated on since.

Courtesy of David Maisel

Courtesy of David Maisel

In the 1980’s, talking about the environment through art seemed out of step with the dialogue that was happening around Maisel as a young art student. Looking back, his formative work now stands somewhere between classic documentary and abstract expressionism. “Just bringing up Robert Smithson (the pioneering land artist) makes me remember. When I first got interested in him in the early 80′s, that’s not where the art world was at all. And it’s not where this society was at all. This idea of looking at the environment and changes to the environment, was like, ‘oh, that’s ecology, that died in the 60s, we’re done with that.’”

In no way did that attitude derail his fascination in the environment — instead, he began creating an artistic dialogue in nature as the inspiration. But it’s Maisel’s distinct intentions and conceptualization that separates the photographer from your average eco-activist, who’s motivation to shoot may be based in a desire to preserve natural spaces or reveal the evils of industry.

The work in Black Maps, unlike more polemic natural disaster photography, relies on abstraction. He creates full-frame surrealist visions of toxic lakes and captures the maddening designs of man-altered landscapes. In the abstract series The Lake Project (slide 15), viewers are overwhelmed by alien colors, allured by frame after frame of man-made destruction. The repetitive nature of viewing this destruction from a distance creates a sublime beauty in a classical sense. In less abstract work such as Oblivion (slide 7), which looks at the cityscapes of Los Angeles, the images become scorched black and white metaphors for the complete obliteration of a natural state.

Over the years, Maisel published a few of these projects as separate volumes, but in Black Maps, the intention is to see their power as part of a dialogue with each other. “I think the feeling of being kind of overwhelmed is almost part of the aesthetic of the work,” he says.

“There are just certain real conundrums on how we are developing the planet and changing the planet, and I think that’s what I still want to pursue,” says the photographer. But where Maisel could accuse, he instead becomes reflective on these issues,  providing evidence of what he’s seeing and crafting in his printing process.

“I was also really conscious that these sites were American,” says Maisel. I was making a book about the country that I live in and that I know the best.”

He’s also keenly aware of the ethical contradictions of making photographic work in this way — with chemicals, computers and papers. “On that first excursion out West, I came back and I processed all my film and made my contact sheets and then I thought, ‘what the hell am I doing? How can I? — I can’t,’ I was paralyzed. And it took me a while to work through that, to realize that I’m embedded in this. At that moment in my life, I was living on the coast of Maine in this renovated barn that we heated with a wood stove, and it was about as far off the grid that I have ever gotten. I just realized I can’t remove myself from the society I live in and from my own way of wanting to communicate. But yes, I’m as guilty as the next person and I am complicit and I think that we all are complicit. This work isn’t meant to be a diatribe against a specific industry or industries.”

With that understanding of the interconnectedness of man and industry, and the conundrums involved in being a human in this era, Maisel’s work becomes a meditation on ourselves and what we’ve done to the planet. He say’s, “I think that these kind of sites correspond to something within our own psyches.”

“I think that … maybe these are all self-portraits. There’s something — we collectively as a society have made these places, that’s my take on it. And so, they really do reflect us. And so, it’s not ‘them’ making these places, it’s us.”

David Maisel is a photographer living near San Francisco and is represented by Institute.

Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime is published this month by Steidl. The work is on view at the CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder, February 1 – May 11, 2013, and will travel to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona, June 1 – September 1, 2013.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulmoakley.

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