Monday, June 19, 2017

The Copenhagen Wheel ... e-power comes to bicycles

The idea of adding electric power to wheeled motion is a hot topic these days, as people tackle ways of promoting carbon-free or carbon-light transit.  In the realm of the bicycle, this phenomenon is taking many different shapes as people want to move around quicker and cleaner, and an aging cohort of bikers may be seeking new ways of moving around on two wheels. 

Superpedestrian, a Cambridge startup, asked itself what this new bicycle might look like and they came up with something they call the Copenhagen Wheel, a bright red disk that sits in the rear hub and provides additional power and speed to the rider. 

The Wheel marries technologically advanced robotics to the very simple mechanical motion of pedaling, and after years or research, the company thinks they have found their sweet spot. Assaf Biderman, founder and CEO, described it this way in an interview earlier this year, “We set ourselves an ambitious goal: integrating with a rider’s body in a way that makes you feel naturally stronger. It took over three years of engineering, but I can finally say we made that dream a reality.”

Still, it took years to transform a good idea to workable product. From its earliest days as a spinoff of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, the first version of the Wheel, which appeared at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit (from where it gets its name), cost $330,000 to make and weighed 42 pounds. In the intervening years, designers put it on a diet, bringing its weight down to 17 pounds and its price down to $1,499. They also shortened its production time to four weeks. A measure of the company's current success is a doubling of their workforce in the last twelve months.

It's interesting to hear Austin Federa, a manager at Superpedestrian, emphasize that it is not a bicycle company, it’s a robotics company. The hub provides additional power by sensing what the rider is doing and reacting before the rider can perceive it. 

The company’s origins in the MIT lab play a big role in this. There, students and faculty alike reimagine the city and try to peer into the future about the ways it is changing. “That is just the way of thinking at the lab - to create a platform to study the city and how people are moving around it,” said Umberto Fugiglando, a graduate student looking at data retrieval in cars. Autonomous vehicles, he points out, are another example of a technology that will have huge implications not just not just for transit but also for parking and roadway allocation. That in turn will impact bicycle travel too.

Back at Superpedestrian, in a nondescript building on Hamilton Street,


a room full of engineers and product specialists is working to grow this company and get this technology on the street. 

Bikes are lined up, ready to go for a ride, and these bikes will haul. The Wheel will assist a rider up to 20 mph, (any faster, and the vehicle would have to get a license plate), and on a full charge, the battery can propel the bike 30 miles before it needs recharging. In addition, the Wheel is a data resource, talking to an app in your phone, and has different settings ranging from "Turbo," which offers strong acceleration, to "Exercise," which provides light resistance to help build cardio. While parts are sourced from different countries, the Wheels are assembled 30 miles away in Westford, Mass.

The potential applications of this new technology are many, though the company is in the early phases of building its brand. Its target consumer is an urban rider, but there are many others: bike-sharing companies, for one, like Hubway in Boston or Citibike in New York could add it as a component to their bikes, or police departments might find a use of bike patrol officers, giving them added range and speed as they move around a city. 

My initial ride was a thrill, and I hope to get back on a Copenhagen Wheel-ed bike soon, to see what it feels like over some distance.

To find out more about the Copenhagen Wheel, click HERE.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A short helicopter flight over Boston

I recently had the chance to take a short helicopter flight over downtown Boston. Here's a video I made of the trip.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Trump fails the D-Day test

In a fitting metaphor for everything that Donald Trump has accomplished in his first 130-some-odd days as president of the United States, yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of D-Day but it got nary a mention in our media-soaked environment.

D-Day has held revered status particularly among conservatives who view it as a time when America was unconditionally great. Nothing depicted that greatness better than Americans storming the beaches of Normandy to free a continent from a tyrannical regime. Indeed, Donald Trump tapped into this deep well of nostalgia when he ran in 2016. To emphasize his point, he sold cheap Chinese-made red caps to a segment of the American public, letting them believe that those days of glory would return under his guidance.

What the voters got instead was a president not even close to greatness or nostalgia. Donald Trump did not mention D-Day in any newsworthy way yesterday. He did not pause in any national way to draw our attention to the Greatest Generation. He did nothing significant to mark a day when America was an unconditional leader in world affairs.

Instead, Donald Trump spent June 6th battling against charges that he is corrupt, assailing his enemies and committing more fraud.

The day was consumed with speculation about what the fired FBI director would say in Thursday's testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump wished him "good luck," as if luck was what James Comey needed in detailing the obstruction of justice charge against him. He then attacked the London mayor by misrepresenting his words, further leading his critics to question his mental stability. And finally, Trump undermined the legal argument his lawyers are making that his travel ban wasn't a travel ban, when he tweeted that it was.

In other words, Donald Trump didn't take the opportunity to mention anything about what made America great in the past, a past that he was going to bring back to our beleaguered country.

Instead, he reminded everyone what a small man he is. And how he is making America a very small country again.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MIT and the Kendall Square innovation district, redux

An interesting assertion about the federal government's fundamental role in the development of the innovation district in Kendall Square ...
Since MIT had the oldest and most distinguished electrical engineering department in America, yet much less money than Ivy League universities, the institute was much more open to conduct contract research wth the government or with private firms. Such contractural co-operation created the basis for the exponential growth of the institute from federal funding during World War Two and the Cold War. 
(from a 2013 masters thesis in urban planning about Kendall Square)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Visiting the Hull wind turbine with Mass Energy

Two weeks ago on a sunny Saturday morning, I boarded a boat at Rowe's Wharf in Boston with 250 other people to go and see the wind turbine in Hull, MA.

Mass Energy organized the event as part of their educational efforts around green, clean power and electric vehicles.

Here is my video of the trip:

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cambridge River Festival 2017

Cambridge Arts hosted its annual River Festival off of Land Boulevard yesterday, and the mix of music, food and festivities worked very well together. The new venue didn't disappoint either, with good walking space and fine niches for music listening. Security concerns were undoubtedly high after the Manchester bombing, and the presence of state and local police, as well as the security staff of the Cambridgeside Galleria was noticeable.

All in all, a fine day. Well done Cambridge.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: Ultimately, he's just a slob; In Memoriam

It's Friday, so it's the Grab Bag. 

Ultimately, he's just a slob

Walter Shapiro, columnist for Roll Call, talking about Donald Trump ...
I keep coming back to Dorothy Parker's description of Warren Harding, another scandal-prone president, who said, "Ultimately, he's just a slob." And there is a quality of just slovenliness to this entire administration from Donald Trump on down. But the difference is, in the 1920s America was not a nuclear power.  The president didn't have to worry about what was happening on the Korean peninsula. Now we are in a situation where there is still unprecedented power resting with the President of the United States and from day to day we have no idea if anyone in the White House is either up to the responsibilities or fails to realize that they're not up to the responsibilities.
from an interview on The 11th Hour with Brian Williams5/30/2017 

In Memoriam

Kudos to the Cambridge Department of Veterans Services for hosting last Monday's Memorial Day ceremonies at the Cambridge Cemetery. The crowds were sparse and the weather damp and cold, but the parade, the reviewing stand, the speeches all proclaimed Americana and celebration but also memory and sacrifice. None achieved this more than the ceremonies around Ronald Sparks, a Cambridge-born Korean War dead whose remains were returned to the city last year. His nephew remembered the night that Ronald came to say goodbye to the family before shipping out, and he remembered his father's lifelong quest to bring his uncle's body home.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle 
Can patter out their hasty orisons. 
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— 
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires. 

What candles may be held to speed them all? 
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes 
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 
      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; 
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

-Wilfred Owen

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Prominent New Yorkers with unusual names

Here is a partial list of prominent New Yorkers, past and present, whose names are not typically found in the American version of How to Name Your Baby ...


Boutros Boutros


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It was 50 years ago today ...

Well, not really, but almost.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of rock and roll's most important albums ever, turned 50 years old last week.

The album, recorded in Abbey Road Studios Two in London, was released on May 26, 1967 in the UK and on June 2 in the US.

It's fair to say that Sgt. Pepper's introduced the 1960s to the American white middle class with its clever word play and its introduction of psychedelia into broader pop culture. One of the first, if not the first, albums that could be considered a "concept album," where all of the songs taken together form an integrated whole, Sgt. Pepper's was immediately successful on both sides of the Atlantic, rising to the top of the charts in both the UK and US.

In my own personal lore, Sgt. Pepper's is undoubtedly one of the first albums I ever heard. At the time of its release, I wasn't yet a year old, but my godfather was the noted literary critic and writer Richard Poirier. Poirier decided to write about the Beatles in the fall of 1967 and as a result, according to my mother, we listened to it over and over again.

Taking the Beatles seriously was a counter-cultural act by him. At the time, in the rarified atmosphere of that era's literary snobbery, Poirier smashed shibboleths by viewing the Fab Four's work as consequential in the same way that literature is. As Joe Holley described it in the Washington Post in 2009, 
In "Learning From the Beatles," an essay originally published in Partisan Review in 1967, Dr. Poirier was one of the first commentators to argue that the album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" represented an intermingling of pop and "serious" cultures that deserved close critical attention.
From a man who otherwise contemplated Whitman, Emerson and Frost, Poirier's essay foretold the collapse of the boundary between "high culture" and "low culture" in our popular discourse. While today we may rue that boundary's almost total disappearance, it was nevertheless a brave and appropriate endeavor by him.

Sgt. Pepper's lives on today, its songs sitting easily on the tongues of generations of listeners, now aging, whose conscious minds were opened by the lads from Liverpool.

While the album produced many profound lines that shaped the decades that followed its release, none was quite as impactful as John Lennon's final intonement.

I'd love to turn you on.

And for all you nostalgists of the era, here's a strange but interesting video from that time ...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Waltham's wealthy in the 19th century

Waltham, Massachusetts is not a place commonly associated with great wealth or privilege, but it wasn't always that way. From the earliest days of the 19th century all the way to its end, Waltham was one of the venues where Bay State grandees located their country seats. Recently, I had the chance to see three of them spanning the full century, and here they are.

Lyman Estate
Built in 1793 for Boston merchant Thomas Lyman, the house served as the summer residence for the Lyman family for over 150 years. Sitting on 400 acres of land, the grounds contain a greenhouse built in 1800 and believed to be the oldest in the United States. The building was designed by Salem architect Samuel McIntire and was used as the location for the Merchant-Ivory film The Europeans, based on the Henry James novel.

Gore Place
Built in 1806 as a summer retreat for Massachusetts lawyer and politician Christopher Gore and his wife Rebecca (nee Payne), the Gores welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette, Daniel Webster and James Monroe as their guests in its halls. Likely designed by French architect Joseph-Guillaume Legrande whom they had met during their trip to Europe in 1801 (there is no definitive proof of this, though the structure bears his design cues), the overall layout was based on sketches that Rebecca herself had made while the family was in London. The Gores lived in the house until 1834, when Rebecca died (Christopher having died in 1827) and without children, they stipulated in their will that it be auctioned off. It was bought by Thomas Lyman.

Designed by H.H. Richardson for Boston philanthropist Robert Treat Paine, the house was built in 1884 with landscaping done by Frederick Law Olmsted. Paine, the great grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a lawyer was well as a social reformer. He married one of Thomas Lyman's granddaughters and the couple decided to construct a summer house away from the city. They were given the land by her father George. When their first attempt was deemed insufficient for their seven children, Paine engaged Richardson on a second try. He had met Richardson while serving as the chair of the building committee of Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: GOP, the party of violence and lies; Tolerant America; Should I get these?!

It's Friday, so here's the Grab Bag ...

Now that Greg Gianforte has won yesterday's special election for Montana's only congressional seat, it is fair to say that Republican politicians in Washington will overlook anything to maintain control of the levers of power. Gianforte famously body-slammed reporter Ben Jacobs of the Guardian on election eve after Jacobs had the temerity to ask about the GOP health care bill. The only rebuke Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) could muster was that Gianforte should apologize. This is all in the context of a national party defending a president who is sinking deeper by the day into the Russian swamp. With Jared Kushner being named as a "person of interest" in the FBI investigation into Russian meddling, a veil of plausible deniability has been pierced, and for the first time, someone actually working in the White House is under investigation. Every reasonable expectation is that this will bring the party down.

Meanwhile, on the American front, there's this (below). It's nice to know that somewhere there is a politician actively courting this man's vote. I dare not look at the, for fear of what I might find there, but this image gives us a reasonably good idea.

Finally, my only question is, should I get these? You let me know!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: Trump is an 'idiot'; Mazen decides not to run; Bad beer

Since there is such national news saturation, the only real value of a blog is to provide a local perspective.

This is, of course, very hard with Donald Trump in the White House since every six hours there is something head-spinning coming out of Washington.

Well, it's a Friday, so let's do a Grab Bag with a mix of national and local politics and some other randomness thrown in for good measure.

Donald Trump is an 'idiot'

Quinnipiac released a poll earlier this week that produced the headline, "When thinking of Trump, US voters say 'idiot' is the first word that comes to mind." If the American people needed any further confirmation of their preferred description of the president, they need look no further than this photo.

In it, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, right, visit Donald Trump in the Oval Office earlier this week. The White House had barred American press from joining the meeting but had allowed a Russian photographer to participate. The Russians then released the photo to Russian news agencies, leaving the White House staff feeling betrayed and lied to. This prompted former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice to tweet, "No kidding."

If there was ever a graphic display showing the rewards of Russian meddling in the United States elections, this photograph is it. In it, the Russians demonstrate that they now have their simpleton fool to play with, a puppet dancing on their strings. Who owns whom here? The answer is painfully obvious. And btw, Kislyak, in addition to being an ambassador, is also considered a spy by U.S. intelligence services. Donald Trump invited a Russian spy into the Oval Office. He is an idiot indeed.

Nadeem Mazen decides not to run for City Council

In a wild City Council election year with many candidates running, Councillor Nadeem Mazen has announced that he will not seek reelection. Mazen's capacity to shape the debate on the Council was impressive, though from a distance, his policy ideas seemed superficial. Often criticized by his detractors for leaving the impression that he thought he was "the smartest guy in the room," Mazen nevertheless heralded a new kind of politics in Cambridge, tapping into the power of millennials while raising substantial amounts of campaign money from outside Massachusetts.  Often aligned with fellow councillors Dennis Carlone and Jan Devereux, Mazen was sometimes hard to pin down on the most pressing issue in Cambridge today, the creation of more affordable housing, offering solutions that were more popular than they were pragmatic. Nevertheless,  Mazen's willingness to hold himself to his campaign promise of two terms on the Council is refreshing. Where he goes next will be interesting to watch.

This is terrible beer

And in a purely negative note, this beer is terrible. There is no other way to say it, and UFO should be embarrassed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Richard Nixon revisits

Now in this winter of discontent, our most Shakespearean of villains reappears on stage, this time with his substantial intellect and his unappealing affectations intact. Trump is a brash vulgarian compared to this Iago.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Nixon had his 18 minutes, now Trump has his 18 days

Just as Richard Nixon will always be known for the missing 18 minutes on the Watergate tapes, now Donald Trump has his missing 18 days -- the 18 days between the time that acting attorney general Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn that national security adviser Michael Flynn was compromised and the time that Flynn was finally fired by the president.

Whether this story is a steady drumbeat or drip is immaterial. It is the downfall of this president.

Friday, May 5, 2017

SuperCars: Origins, Evolutions ... at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum

The Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts brought out the beauties last night and invited some lucky men and women to gawk at them.

There was a Ferrari F12 tdf and a Porsche 911R and two McLaren 570Ss. There was even a 1948 Willy's Jeep.

And that was just in the parking lot!

Inside, attendees were treated to a Porsche Carrera GT and a black 1955 Mercedes Gull Wing, a silver 722 McLaren-Mercedes SLR and a 1968 Lamborghini Miura along with a Jag XJ 220. There was also an old Stanley Steamer.

The walls were studded with the iconic and very beautiful photographs of Jesse Alexander and delicious food was served.

This was the opening reception for the new show, SuperCars: Origins, Evolutions, which looks at special cars and their meaning.

For more information about the show, click HERE.