Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (spoilers ahead)

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her ragtag band of Rebels in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
Today we feature a review of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" written by Bill Menser. We saw it on Saturday and he had all sorts of opinions, so I asked him to write a review. He is being paid for this. 

Bill has been around long enough to know his "Star Wars." How long? Long enough to have seen "The Phantom Menace" from the balcony of the old Rio Theater. Long enough to have seen the VHS tape in which Han Solo shoots Greedo not because Greedo shoots first but because Greedo has become a bore and is obviously going to try something. Anyway, here's the write up ...

The reviews I have read of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” have been mixed, with more people saying they liked it than those who didn’t. I’m with the majority, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have problems with the film.

Before I go any further, a warning. This will contain spoilers, so if you want to avoid them stop reading right now and find another review to look at. If you are fine with spoilers and people having opinions different than yours, or possibly even the same, please keep on reading.

The first ten minutes of the film start off on four different planets, with different characters for each segment. As I was finally adjusting to each planet’s story, the movie would suddenly switch to different characters in a different system, making the process confusing.

It finally settled on a planet where the main heroine is. Jyn Erso is young at this point — about 7, I would guess —and she is on a farm with her father and mother. An Imperial shuttle appears on the horizon and the father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) goes to meet it, telling his wife and daughter to hide. Galen, it turns out, used to be an Imperial scientist. Death Star Project Manager Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) has arrived to take him back. He politely refuses. Then Mommy Dearest decides she has to help Papa by showing up with a blaster, getting herself predictably killed and leaving Jyn hidden in the family bolthole as her father is taken away. Jyn gets found by ... some guy.

This turns out to be Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whittaker), a rebel extremist. By this time, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is older and on a prison ship. She gets rescued by rebels who see her as a way to get to Saw, now in seclusion. Saw eventually dies because he doesn’t want to run from the Imperials anymore. His death feels like a reason to give Jyn more issues, when she already has enough. But now she knows where her father is. She comes to his rescue in time for him to die. (Major spoiler: Nearly everybody in this movie dies.)

The only really refreshing bit for me was K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, of “Firefly” fame. He was a sigh of relief in what I felt was an over-budgeted fan-film. This sassy robot got a laugh with almost every line he delivered.

My enjoyment of his character was countered, however, when Darth Vader, after Force-choking Krennic and looking as smug as a man in a mask can, says, “Be careful not to CHOKE on your aspirations.” I had to roll my eyes at this. Vader has never been wisecracker.

Speaking of Vader, I know they got James Earl Jones to voice him once more, but he sounded like someone trying to impersonate James Earl Jones. If they touched his voice in post-processing just a bit and made it half an octave lower, it would have been Vader, but it sounded too much like some replacement with a head cold.

While the first half of the film didn’t hold my attention that much, the second had me invested. Of course the relationship between Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Jyn felt like a fan fiction: Jyn, the girl with a dead parent and daddy issues falling for the Rebel, angsty and seemingly uncaring. Of course they end up with each other.

For the climactic battle, a small team sneaks through a giant atmospheric shield with a captured Imperial cargo ship they somehow hijack from the Rebel base. The Imperial shield looks like something straight out of Mel Brooks’ “Space Balls.” The team lands on a pad and passes the inspection process, and they somehow manage to sneak by the soldiers on the pad.

While Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO make their way to the main tower, the Rebel team creates a distraction by blowing up as many different landing pads as they can, to make the attack seem much larger than it is. By this point Krennic has figured out they’re after the data archive. He takes some Death Troopers to investigate (these are basically Imperial Stormtroopers, except they can aim and wear black instead of white.)

Cassian and Jyn retrieve the Death Star plans (which her dad has thoughtfully named “Stardust,” his nickname for her), then Krennic and Cassian have a shootout while Jyn climbs to the radar dish on top of the tower. Cassian is hit and falls, seemingly dead. Which of course he isn’t. Jyn realigns the dish to transmit the file to a waiting rebel ship that has conveniently showed up during the attack. Krennic steps in between her and the console and at gunpoint asks who she is. Jyn reveals she is Galen Erso’s daughter, then Cassian shoots and kills Krennic.

Now able to transmit the data to the waiting ship, they do so just as the Death Star appears out of Hyperspace on the horizon. Uh-oh! Jyn and Cassian look at each other lovingly and make their way down to the beach as the Death Star fires on the planet. They die holding hands in a blinding white flash, but the Rebels have the plans. Vader shows up to butcher a few dozen Rebels, but they still manage to pass the plans on to Princess Leia, who gets off the ship.

Even though I felt like the script had been lifted from a fan-fiction website, “Rogue One” was still a “Star Wars” movie. It had all the proper elements. It was political and word-heavy, it had great fight scenes and big explosions. It had some wit, one-liners and even a villain (Krennic) you could feel something for. The supporting cast — a defecting pilot, a blind monk who is strong with the Force, and his friend, not so strong with the Force but an ace with heavy weapon — got some good lines and helped move things along. C-3PO and R2-D2 got a cameo to remind us this is a warm up to “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.” Same with Vader and Leia, but I felt like it could have left them out and still flowed perfectly into George Lucas’ original from 1977.

I don’t regret seeing “Rogue One” and would recommend it to others. On my personal “Star Wars” scale, with “The Phantom Menace” representing a 1 and “The Empire Strikes Back” rating a 9, I would give this one a 6.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Five from Idaho Falls named IBR Women of the Year

Jackie Flowers
The Idaho Business Review has announced the 50 women it plans to honor in March as Idaho Women of the Year. Eastern Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory are showing a growing presence on the list, with five women named:

  • Jackie Flowers, general manager, Idaho Falls Power, Idaho Falls
  • Wendy Horman, representative, Idaho House of Representatives, Idaho Falls
  • Amy Lientz, director, Partnerships, Engagement and Technology Department, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls
  • Catherine Riddle, radiochemistry research scientist, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls
  • Denise L. Stephens, chief information officer and director of information management, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls

The judges – former honorees themselves, plus a representative from program sponsor Hawley Troxell – reviewed each application, rating the women 1 to 5 in five categories: professional achievements, leadership, providing mentorship to other women, community service work, and community leadership.

Amy Lientz
As instructed, they read through each submission carefully and thoughtfully. The highest and lowest scores for every applicant were tossed out, and the remaining scores were averaged. The 50 women with the highest scores are this year’s honorees, representing women across the state. This year there are honorees from the Treasure Valley (Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa), Twin Falls, Oakley, Pocatello, Glenns Ferry, Lewiston, Caldwell, and Idaho Falls.

“It was tough to score. I hope that some that didn’t score as high will apply again. Some just need a little more time to do great things!” said Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham, who along with Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper was honored this past spring.

This year’s honorees include six who will enter the Circle of Excellence; they have received the honor before. Women can be recognized with the award up to three times.

Wendy Horman
The women will be honored at a reception, dinner and awards gala 5:30 to 9 p.m. on March 9 at the Boise Centre. One woman of the 50 will be named at the end of the evening’s event and honored as the Idaho Business Review Woman of the Year. A dedicated magazine featuring all of their stories will be published with the March 10 Idaho Business Review.

Seating for the event, which will be held at the new Boise Centre East, is limited. ”Dressy” to formal attire is the norm; however, there is not a strict dress code. In the past, this event, hailed as “the Academy Awards of Boise” has been a sellout. It is recommended you reserve your table(s) and/or ticket(s) early. For tickets, visit https://www.regonline.com/registration/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1915588.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

INL, auto companies complete bench tests on wireless charging systems

At INL’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Laboratory, researchers collaborated with six major companies to bench test wireless charging systems for electric vehicles.
Idaho National Laboratory researchers and six companies have achieved a major milestone by completing bench testing for wireless charging systems, a technology that eliminates the need to plug in electric vehicles.

INL researchers collaborated on the tests this past summer with Toyota, Nissan, WiTricity, Jaguar Land Rover, Qualcomm and one other auto company. The results were reported in November to SAE International (formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers) to support the SAE Technical Information Report J2954, a wireless charging guideline published earlier this year.

Wireless charging systems use electricity from the grid to generate a magnetic field from a charging pad on the ground that transfers energy to a pad on the bottom of the electric vehicle.  The energy is converted to electricity to charge the battery.

The SAE Technical Information Report J2954™ guideline is designed to allow charging pads from one company to work with the vehicle pads from another company. This “interoperability” is important for safety and performance of wireless charging systems.

“Electric vehicles equipped with a J2954 wireless charger should be able to charge over any J2954 charging pad,” said Richard “Barney” Carlson, the INL engineer who heads up the wireless charging tests.

When it comes to wireless charging, alignment with the ground pad matters. If the gap is too large, or the pads are misaligned, the charging efficiency is significantly reduced. At INL’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Laboratory, Carlson and his colleagues have developed a testing system to measure the efficiency of and electromagnetic field around the wireless charging systems.

A computer-controlled motor-driven table can precisely misalign the ground assembly relative to the vehicle assembly so researchers can determine how much energy is lost when cars aren’t perfectly parked. Then, different types of equipment are used to measure factors such as electromagnetic field strength, electrical power quality and charge power efficiency.

“This is the most comprehensive testing of its kind and will help the SAE committee develop the wireless charging guidelines,” Carlson said.

Engineers from the six companies visited the laboratory to collaborate on a series of interoperability tests for their respective wireless charging systems. Data from those tests will be used to further develop the draft SAE guidelines, which will ensure that wireless charging systems entering the market meet minimum interoperability requirements for proper functionality, high efficiency and safe operation.

“Idaho National Laboratory has provided SAE with invaluable bench data that the Technical Committee will use to develop the next phase of standardization,” said Jesse Schneider of BMW, chair of the SAE task force. “Wireless power transfer vehicle data is needed before guidelines can be published. INL offers an ideal combination of expertise and capabilities to assist industry with this effort.”

In addition to the convenience of hands-free charging, wireless charging systems could provide fail-safe vehicle charging for drivers who might occasionally forget to plug in their cars. Plugged in, electric vehicles can take anywhere from 30 minutes to eight hours to reach an 80 percent charge.

Funding for INL's wireless charging testing in support of SAE International comes from the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Michelle Holt named new EITC Workforce Development & Community Education Manager

Michelle Holt
Eastern Idaho Technical College announced this afternoon it has named Michelle Holt as its new Workforce Development & Community Education Manager. She will replace Ken Erickson who came in the days it was still Eastern Idaho Vocational Technical School and is retiring after more than 39 years of service.

Holt, who has been CEO of the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Idaho Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau since July 2013, will start her new position on Feb. 7, 2017.

Before coming to Idaho Falls, she was executive director of Lost Rivers Economic Development, representing Butte and South Custer counties. “One common thread throughout much of my career has been workforce development,” she said. “Talent pipeline and the need for a skilled workforce impacts all of our chamber member businesses, as well as the entire business community. Cooperative partnerships like those between the chamber and EITC are key to ensuring the economic future of our community.”
Ken Erickson
 
“Michelle has the experience and professional network to continue the college’s role in support of a trained workforce for eastern Idaho,” said EITC President Rick Aman. “The prospect of a transition of EITC from a technical college into a comprehensive community college provides a unique opportunity in partnership with regional employers. Ms. Holt brings a wealth of experience and service to our business community.”

The Chamber CEO position is now open for applications through Jan. 16, 2017. The full job description can be found on the chamber website, under Job Postings, at the bottom of the homepage, www.idahofallschamber.com.  Resumes with cover letter can be emailed to christie@aeshr.net.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

INL, Colorado company announce deal on battery monitoring technology

Eric Dufek, head of Idaho National Laboratory's Energy Stoarge Group, at work in the Energy Systems Laboratory on University Boulevard. INL has been involved with electric vehicle battery research for the U.S. Department of Energy since the 1980s.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory has teamed with Dynexus Technology of Boulder, Colo., to provide the energy storage industry with first-of-a-kind technology for advanced battery health diagnostics.

Under an exclusive licensing agreement, Dynexus will commercialize INL’s embedded wideband impedance technology for analyzing and forecasting the health, aging and safety characteristics of advanced energy storage devices. The 2011 R&D 100 Award-winning Impedance Measurement Box (IMB) was invented by INL’s Energy Storage Group with support from the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office.

Dynexus, headquartered in Colorado, develops products and services that connect advanced sensor-based enterprise data with decision makers to improve access to embedded intelligence. The wideband impedance technique developed at INL delivers in-depth diagnostic insights not previously available outside the battery research lab, providing tremendous value for safer and more cost-effective commercial implementation of advanced energy storage technologies.

“The whole purpose of the work is to understand the bounds of safety and performance as the battery ages,” said Eric Dufek, INL’s energy storage group lead. “This allows informed decisions about the state of health and battery life.”

The dependability of energy storage devices, mainly batteries, is becoming increasingly important to consumers, industry and the military. As battery end-user expectations increase and the consequences of battery failures become more pronounced, there is a pressing need for timely insights about battery health to ensure predictable performance, personal safety and reduction of waste. INL’s broad-spectrum impedance technology enables embedded continuous monitoring of a battery’s health and remaining life throughout the entire course of its life cycle.

From an environmental standpoint, the INL technology could help find new uses for EV batteries after their capacity fades beyond acceptable power and range performance, usually defined as below 80 percent of initial capacity.

“This technology could help assess the resale value of a used electric vehicle, or provide remaining life and safety insights for repurposing those batteries into secondary applications,” said Dynexus president and CEO, David Sorum. “Monitoring battery health and remaining life will help ensure the safety and reliability of repurposed batteries, and will strengthen their viability, insurability and marketability.”

Although embedded wideband impedance evolved from INL’s participation in automotive battery research and development, Dynexus Technology will explore commercial applications across a broad range of markets, from EVs to drones, from utility energy storage to telecommunications, and from medical devices to military systems. In all cases, the wideband impedance technique delivers operational data not previously available outside a laboratory setting.

“The technology has the potential to add value at all levels across the battery value chain,” said David Lung, Dynexus chief technology officer. “It’s like having an onboard “smart meter” for your electric vehicle battery, providing the owner and the dealership with immediate and easily accessible factual information about battery health throughout its useful life.”

Read more about the technology here:
https://factsheets.inl.gov/FactSheets/Impedance_Measurement_Box.pdf

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Home prices trend upward

Here is a line graph showing what the price of a $125,000 home in the Idaho Falls area would have done over the last 15 years. After peaking in the first half of 2008, the number slid in mid-2011 and bobbed for a few years, until mid-2014, when it started to climb again.
What a difference 15 years make, although it doesn’t always feel that way.

For lack of any real news breaking today, we decided to go back to our old friend, the Federal Housing Finance Agency House Price Calculator. This is the Web page where you can plug in your numbers and see how home prices have trended in your market.

Arbitrarily, we decided to see what a hypothetical property valued at $125,000 in the third quarter of 2001 would be estimated worth today. The results for all the markets we looked at are good, some really good. Here’s a breakdown.

Idaho Falls: $185,996  +48.7%
Pocatello: $185,252  +48.2%
Boise: $220,150  +76.1%
Reno: $209,754  +67.8%
Las Vegas: $181,459  +45.1%
Seattle: $251,652  +101.3%
Phoenix: $220,705 +76.5%

What’s interesting to look at is the volatility over the past 15 years. There's no question things bottomed out for everyone in 2011. In Las Vegas, your $125k from 10 years earlier would be $95,592 in the Q4 of 2011. In Idaho Falls, on the other hand, the line dipped but never below where it started. But the figure from Q3 of this year is still below the all-time high of Q3 2008, when it peaked at $187,961.

Here's a graph for Boise. Note that Joe Homeowner was underwater from Q1 2011 to Q2 2012, but recovery has been strong since then. 

Go ahead and try your house, but remember these are just numbers. Your house is only going to be worth what someone is willing to pay for it. What the HPI Calculator projects is what a given house purchased at a point in time would be worth today if it appreciated at the average appreciation rate of all homes in the area. The actual value of any house will depend on the neighborhood, house condition and age, home improvements made and needed, and many other factors. Consult a qualified real estate appraiser in your area to obtain a professional estimate of the current value of your home. Title XI of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 requires that any appraisal used in connection with a federally related transaction must be performed by a competent individual whose professional conduct is subject to supervision and regulation. Appraisers must be licensed or certified according to state law.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

U.S. Bank Foundation makes donation to EITC scholarships

The U.S. Bank Foundation has donated $5,000 to the Eastern Idaho Technical College Foundation to benefit the scholarship program for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Tracy Hoart, the bank’s vice president and district manager, and Deborah Moretto, vice president and trust officer for private client group, who also serves as the EITC Foundation chairwoman, visited the foundation to present the award. All scholarship dollars are allocated to students attending Eastern Idaho Technical College. The foundation awards nearly $200,000 every year in scholarships.

“Nearly one-third of EITC students receive scholarship awards through our office,” said Natalie Hebard, the foundation’s executive director. “Each and every donation is critical to supporting the mission.”

If you or someone you know is interested in attending EITC and would like to apply for scholarship support the next deadline to apply for scholarships is Feb. 10, 2017. Award notifications will be made by the end of March and funds will be available for fall 2017 and spring 2018. Applications can be picked up in person at the foundation office, 1600 S. 2500 East, Building No. 3, or found online at www.eitcfoundation.org.

To learn more about the Eastern Idaho Technical College Foundation, please visit www.eitcfoundation.org, or call 208-535-5398.