Category Archives: Technology

Durham Hybrid Failures

Hybrid Bus

Durham Forced To Retrofit Buses

Back in 2011 the city of Durham added a number of hybrid buses to their fleet hoping that they would save money.

They are converting those vehicles back to gas engines:

Durham, N.C. — Durham officials have found it’s not easy being green.

The city decided this week to convert 10 of its hybrid vehicles – light transit vehicles, or LTVs, that transport people with disabilities – back to gas-fueled engines because of maintenance problems. City buses will continue to have hybrid engines.

Troubles With New Technology

Reading through the article I was hooping that we would see numbers on the results – were the vehicles saving money or not.  If so, how much per month/year.  However, all we got is this:

The savings never panned out, however, as repairs started piling up.

“After about six months, we started having issues with them,” city maintenance manager Scott Mozingo said. “Then, we had issues with parts.”

So, yeah, repairs is a big part of fleet management, however, repairs exist in gas engines as well.  I think the nail in the coffin was elsewhere:

In 2012, the company that outfitted the hybrid vehicles went bankrupt, so Durham could no longer get the parts they needed to make repairs.

“We started parking vehicles as they were breaking down because we didn’t have parts for them,” Mozingo said.

I have to believe that if the technology was viable, the company would not have failed leaving Durham in the lurch.  I know that all new technologies carry risk for early adopters, but the trend in this alternative energy isn’t new or small.

Liberal Arts and Stem


When I attended the University of Minnesota, I was enrolled in the Institute for Technology.  –That’s right, I attended MIT!–  The rest of the students, for the most part, were enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts or CLA.

It was high fun to openly mock our more leisurely peers often referring to them, in the most derogatory tone possible, as “CLA’ers.”  There was never any doubt, inside the Institute or out, that the rigorous courses were contained within that technology track.

It would seem that the same holds true – more or less – here in North Carolina.  I’m hanging out on the UNC campus while my daughter dances in the Raleigh Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” -she’s a Gingerbread-  and I’m reading the campus newspaper when I came across this:

Senior Lauren Schmidt originally entered college with the intention of becoming a pharmacist or physician assistant. Those plans changed after her experience in Chemistry 101 during her first semester at UNC.

“I spent hours working on Mastering Chemistry,” she said. “I’m not good at chemistry, and I’m OK with admitting that.”

Schmidt decided to drop the class after the first exam, and even though she completed Biology 101 the following semester, she started looking for a different major.

And Schmidt is not alone. Jennifer Krumper, a lecturer in the chemistry department, said a number of other aspiring pre-health students switch majors because of the difficulty in introductory science courses such as Biology 101, Chemistry 101 and Chemistry 102.

“Many students who are interested in science and have the abilities end up not majoring in science because they have a discouraging experience after their first year,” she said.

A somewhat sad, but not surprising commentary on the state of US education.  It would seem that kids are getting the message that the “goto” careers are within STEM fields, but that our kids either aren’t prepared or are simply too lazy.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that about half of the students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields leave their majors before they complete a bachelor’s degree.

Of the students who left these programs, about half switched to a non-STEM major, while the other half left school altogether.

Sad, really.  Especially as our economy is continually transitioning to a more and more technological one.

Certainly would be interesting to study the effects of this phenomenon as it pertains to income inequality.

Peak Oil – Anyone Buying?

peak oil

Peak oil.  A fascinating concept.  Motley used to scare children into thinking that the planet will die and we’ll freeze due to lack of usable fuels.

Or starve because the economy will tank as oil prices continue to rise and all goods and services become too expensive for the common man to afford.

Technically it means, at least I think it means, the moment when new discovers of oil are fewer than the increasing demand for oil.  We begin to see supply diminish and demand increase.

However, there is a small catch.  The oil that is counted as “discovered” is only that oil that is economically feasible to obtain.  Oil on the moon?  No good, too expensive.  Oil 25 miles deep?  Same thing.

However, technology is catching up and pushing the concept of peak oil further and further into the future:

Rising U.S. shale oil production will help meet most of the world’s new oil demand in the next five years, even if the global economy picks up steam, leaving little room for OPEC to lift output without risking lower prices, the West’s energy agency said.

The prediction by the International Energy Agency (IEA) came in its closely watched semi-annual report, which analyses mid-term global oil supply and demand trends.

“North America has set off a supply shock that is sending ripples throughout the world,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said on Tuesday.

It might take a new President to obtain access to all the oil though.


Alternative Energy

Global Warming Polar Bear

I’ve always felt two things:

  1. We’ll move on past oil and into another form of energy
  2. None of the alternative forms of energy pushed by the mainstream are viable

This is cool:

Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility announced Tuesday a successful test of its ultrapowerful laser system, which melds 192 laser beams into a single incredible burst of energy. On Aug. 13, the facility was activated for 14 billionths of a second and aimed at a tiny capsule of fuel. The result: approximately 350 trillion watts of power — hundreds of times more than the entire United States consumes at any given instant.

Last year’s test yielded unexpected results, however. In this test, NIF dialed down the laser beam’s power and tweaked it, for tremendous results.

We lowered the energy a tiny bit — about 5 percent — but more important, we changed the shape of the energy pulse. We moved energy from the back of the pulse to the front. We got three times the energy out,” Moses told

“Our goal is to get fusion burn — more energy out than we put in.”

Because the laser is on for the merest fraction of a second, it costs little to operate — between $5 and $20 per blast. Still, the cost of the facility has raised temperatures in Washington. The gigantic laser lab was built in California for $3.5 billion in 2008, and ran up approximately $1.5 billion more in operating costs over the past five years.

Uuuhh, WAY cooler than windmills..  And those that tilt at them.

Scientists Turn To Gamers

While I have long ago given up my gaming habits, I like to see geeks ruling the world:

Very Cool Technology

Wanna get the Internet to folks in remote parts of the world?

Rather than relying on cell towers, phone lines, or fiber optics, Google plans to beam 3G-speed Internet to the world’s most inaccessible corners using helium balloons. The experiment is called “Project Loon.”

FLATOW: And where – would those – those are under-covered places around the world. Where are the prime places for that?

CASSIDY: There’s lots of places. In the Southern Hemisphere alone, two-thirds of the countries, the cost of Internet access is higher than the average monthly income for people in those countries. Even in China and India, there’s over a billion people that don’t have good Internet coverage. So I think there’s lots of places around the world where there’s sort of remote and rural areas that don’t have coverage, or it’s unaffordable.

Go world!

The Liberal’s Head Will Explode

Blow Your Mind

How is a liberal to think?  On one hand you have technology improving the delivery of fresh produce to markets thereby reducing the need for processed goods.  On the other, you have technology reducing the need for labor:

SALINAS, Calif. –  On a windy morning in California’s Salinas Valley, a tractor pulled a wheeled, metal contraption over rows of budding iceberg lettuce plants. Engineers from Silicon Valley tinkered with the software on a laptop to ensure the machine was eliminating the right leafy buds.

The engineers were testing the Lettuce Bot, a machine that can “thin” a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand.

The thinner is part of a new generation of machines that target the last frontier of agricultural mechanization — fruits and vegetables destined for the fresh market, not processing, which have thus far resisted mechanization because they’re sensitive to bruising.

Me?  We don’t have  workers willing to work at the price being offered.  Technology is a win-win.

The Death Of The Honey Bee

Honey Bee

I’ve been keeping bees for, what – 1 or 2 months now?  It’s really cool.  AND it’s added to my concern for the plight of the honey bee.

Imagine my surprise at this headline:

Rise Of The Robotic Bees

You just HAVE to read more:

Do bees, swarms of bees, make you nervous? Maybe not. Maybe they remind you of honey, flowers and warm summer days. You stay out of their way and they stay out of yours. What if, however, the bees weren’t bees at all but hundreds (or thousands) of autonomous microbots, facsimiles of the real thing, buzzing around in the real world?

That’s not Hollywood fantasy any more. It appears to be within reach. Researchers in the at Harvard’s say that they expect their project will demonstrate flying, autonomous micro-air-vehicles modeled on insects within the next 2 1/2 years.

It won’t be easy, according to Rob Wood, the project’s principal investigator.

“The challenges that you get when you scale these things down mean that you have to reinvent everything, everything has to come from scratch, every one of the technologies,” Wood said in an interview last week. “There is nothing off the shelf.”

But can they solve the pollination problem?

The real question hanging in the air, so to say, is how the bees themselves might be used once they’ve been endowed with the power, sensor and control mechanisms needed to fly and operate on their own.

The obvious answer is surveillance of all types, whether it’s for the military in combat or scientists tracking changes in the environment or spooks keeping tabs on their targets. Oh, and they might also be able to pollinate crops of vegetables and flowers, too.

We have a few years, at least, to figure out how how swarms of robotic insects might fit into our lives. The Robobees team is working along three tracks: body, brain and colony. Each one presents its own challenges. Integrating the three strands, which are being worked on in parallel, is a whole other set of hurdles.

Mobee is just one hurdle cleared. We’ll have to wait and see two years from now if the swarm is really on the horizon, and a little longer to decide if we need to run from it.

Very cool.

Why Are The Honey Bees Dying – CCD Is A Question Mark

Honey Bee

I’ve been following the plight of the honey bee for years now.  But with me recent plunge into the whole apiary business, I’m much more interested.  Back when I first started reading about the problem of hives dying off, Colony Collapse Disorder, the leading theory was that cell phones and cell phone towers were interrupting the ability of the bee to travel.

They were getting lost and dying.

Since then, theories abound.  However, the most recent and loudest has to do with the whole issue surrounding GMO crops.  Is it the pollen from the crops themselves that are killing the bees?  Is it the herbicides and pesticides that can now be used with much more freedom that are killing the bees?

Sadly, we don’t know:

WASHINGTON — The devastation of American honeybee colonies is the result of a complex stew of factors, including pesticides, parasites, poor nutrition and a lack of genetic diversity, according to a comprehensive federal study published on Thursday. The problems affect pollination of American agricultural products worth tens of billions of dollars a year.

The report does not place more weight on one factor over another, and recommends a range of actions and further research.

Honeybees are used to pollinate hundreds of crops, from almonds to strawberries to soybeans. Since 2006, millions of bees have been dying in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. The cause or causes have been the subject of much study and speculation.

The federal report appears the same week that European officials took steps toward banning a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, derived from nicotine, that they consider a critical factor in the mass deaths of bees there.

But officials in the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and others involved in the bee study said that there was not enough evidence to support a ban on one group of pesticides, and that the costs of such action might exceed the benefits.

I’m happy with the approach.  I like the idea of scientific study of causes and reactions.  I also like it when those scientists admit that they don’t yet know and need more time.

Let’s take it.

Medical Innovation


I suspect that innovation in health care comes along in the same way that innovation in, say, TVs comes along.  Very expensive breakthroughs that eventually come down in price to the point that they become common place.

Consider this technology:

A team of scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed the world’s smallest medical implant to monitor critical chemicals in the blood. The 14mm device measures up to five indicators, including proteins like troponin, that show if and when a heart attack has occurred. Using Bluetooth, the device can then transmit the data to a smartphone for tracking. The device can also track levels of glucose, lactate, and ATP, providing valuable data for physiologic monitoring during activity, or in possible disease conditions like diabetes. As far as tricorders go, this device may be the one you have been waiting for, provided you are on board for the implant.

I think this is cool; way cool.  And even if the cost is such that I can’t afford it for 10 years, I STILL think it’s cool.  In fact, I hope that rich people pay for the device and the service so that the price comes down to a level that allows for market penetration similar to HD TVs:

Last time the Giants played in the Super Bowl, in 2008, 41 percent of American households had at least one high-definition television.

That number has more than doubled, and now 87 percent of households have an HDTV, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Think of it.  Are we willing to “suffer” through only 41% of households having the best technology if it means that just 4 years later more than double that number will have the same access?

Let’s let people make profits off of cool things so that we can watch Super Bowls in HD.  And so that we can all have access to life saving technology.