June 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


A Tale of 2 Transit Systems: Battery-Powered Buses Enter the Mainstream  (Nick Chambers  | June 11, 2012, Scientific American)

Lithium ion batteries are still not energy dense enough hold more than the equivalent of between four and eight liters of gasoline in a battery package small enough to put on a bus. Nevertheless, inherent efficiencies in the electric drivetrain enable significant increases in fuel economy. Whereas a typical 12-meter-long, diesel-powered transit bus might return between one and two kilometers per liter, the electric ones that Foothill is running average the equivalent of 8.5 kpl. After some quick math it is apparent that 8.5 kpl combined with 7.5 liters of energy storage is not enough to fuel the hundreds of kilometers a bus might need to travel in a day. To get around this, both Foothill and LINK have added ultrafast charging stations in the middles of their buses' loops.

Foothill Transit operates three 12-meter long, 35-passenger buses built by Greenville, S.C.-based Proterra. Each relies on batteries that supply 72 kilowatt-hours and runs on a 27-kilometer-long loop that handles 5 percent of the yearly ridership. At specially built fast charging stations in the Pomona Transit Center the buses can fill up within 10 minutes on their normally scheduled layover, meaning they never have to travel more than 27 kilometers between full charges--about half what their rated battery capacity can provide. LINK's system is similar, although it uses five, Ebus-built, seven-meter long, 22-passenger trolleys with 28 kWh-batteries that travel on two separate eight-kilometer-long loops and can be filled in about seven minutes with a fast charge at the downtown Wenatchee Transit Center.

LINK originally planned to have its electric trolleys up and running by late 2010, but issues with the battery cooling system and manufacturing of the fast-charging station delayed full operation until later this year--although the trolleys are currently running for about two hours each day without fast charging. "There's nothing off-the-shelf about our trolleys," says Greg Pezoldt, special projects coordinator at LINK Transit. "As the first electric trolley of its kind, everything we have done with Ebus we've had to develop and sometimes redevelop. Even with the delays we're still excited about it, and we have an ultimate goal of electrifying the entirety of our Wenatchee and East Wenatchee routes."

It is no wonder LINK is still bullish on the endeavor: Pezoldt says a comparable diesel-powered trolley would cost about $435,000 and each electric trolley built by Downey, Calif.-based Ebus costs significantly less at $370,000. On top of that, diesel fuel for the same trolley on the same route runs about $1,200 per month, whereas the inexpensive and green hydropowered electricity used for the Ebus trolley comes in at approximately $100 per month--less than one tenth the cost. The biggest question revolves around battery life, but even with the worst-case estimates, Pezoldt says LINK still comes out significantly ahead with electric bus operation in terms of lifetime fuel and maintenance costs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins (Frank Newport, 6/01/12, Gallup)

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God's guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

With a population that's 80% creationist and where Darwinists are so marginal, isn't it more appropriate to wonder why they embrace Scientism than to fret that the rest of us reject it?

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Pound for pound 99p is worth every penny (The Daily Telegraph, June 5, Tim Harford)

And yet the perfect point often seems to end in 99p.

Indeed it does. There are three main theories as to why it makes sense to end prices with a "9". The first is an explanation favoured by economists because it works even in a perfectly rational universe. Product prices with 99p endings are difficult to pay for with exact money; the shop assistant will almost always have to make change.

Why is that a good thing?

Because it means the sale must be recorded to open the register. The shop assistant can't just hand over the product and trouser the cash.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


A bonus for letting utilities turn off your AC (Sandy Bauers, 6/11/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

On the hottest, sunniest, sultriest days of summer, Peco wants to reach through its wires and turn off your central air conditioner.

About 87,000 households have told the utility, "Have at it."

Whence this seeming insanity?

There's good money in it.

Utilities across the region are so intent upon lessening the spike of demand for electricity on these days, which routinely show the highest electricity use of the year, that they're dangling incentives for customers.

Generally, the utilities "cycle" the air conditioners. Fifteen minutes on, 15 minutes off.

And the cycling applies only to the compressors. The blower that circulates your household's air keeps running, if your thermostat tells it to, so your house doesn't become a fetid swamp.

Peco has probably the best deal -- $30 a month for June through September, or $120 total.

Once you enroll, they come out and attach a device to your central air conditioner that will let them take control.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


To Sniff Out Childhood Allergies, Researchers Head To The Farm (PATTI NEIGHMOND, 6/11/12, NPR)

Allergies are on the rise these days, especially in children. Nearly half of all kids are now allergic to something, be it food, animals, or plants. Federal health officials say that rate is two to five times higher than it was 30 years ago.

And as researchers are trying to understand why, they're increasingly looking at kids who grow up on farms.

The leading theory behind the uptick in childhood allergies, says Andy Nish, a physician with a private practice in Gainesville, Ga., is the hygiene hypothesis. Paradoxically, the theory goes, we're too clean.

"It looks like with our modern conditions and cleanliness that we have fewer and fewer germs to fight off," Nish says. Our immune systems protect us by learning to fight off foreign invaders, whether they're harmless or not. We can't train our defenses if we don't get exposed. And if you're allergic to one thing, you're likely allergic to a number of things.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


...and John Calvin have done for us
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Self-Made Man : Barack Obama's autobiographical fictions (ANDREW FERGUSON, 6/18/12, Weekly Standard)

What's dispiriting is that throughout Dreams, the moments that Obama has invented are precisely the occasions of his epiphanies​--​precisely those periodic aha! moments that carry the book and bring its author closer to self-discovery. Without them not much is left: a lot of lovely writing, some unoriginal social observations, a handful of precocious literary turns. Obama wasn't just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself. It made for a story, anyway.

We can see the dilemma he faced. Obama signed a contract to write a racial memoir. They were all the rage in those days, but in fact their moment had passed. Even with the distant father and absent mother, the schooling in Indonesia and the remote stepfather, Obama lived a life of relative ease. He moved, however uncomfortably, into one elite institution after another, protected by civil rights laws, surrounded by a popular culture in which the African-American experience has embedded itself ineradicably. As Obama's best biographer, David Remnick, observed, this wasn't the stuff of Manchild in the Promised Land; you couldn't use it to make the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass or the Auto-biography of Malcolm X. So Obama moved the drama inside himself, and said he'd found there an experience both singular and universal, and he brought nonexistent friends like Regina and Ray to goose the story along.

He did in effect what so many of us have done with him. He created a fable about an Obama far bigger and more consequential than the unremarkable man at its center. He joins us, haters and idolaters, as we join Huell Howser, looking this way and that, desperately trying to see what isn't there. Isn't that something?