Wednesday, August 16, 2017

If I tweeted, this is what I would say ...

1/3 @Potus. I always thought you were a complete fraud. But I was mistaken. You are very authentic. An authentic supporter of Nazis and Klansmen.

2/3 This makes you very un-American. You should resign. Immediately. And stop doing such great damage to this country.

3/3 #MAGA




Ah, 1938 was such a good year ...










Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Three quotes for a Tuesday

First, from the arch-conservative Edmund Burke, on manners ... (this quote is dedicated to our president, Donald J. Trump) ...
Manners are more important than laws. Upon them, in a great measure the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and color to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.
Letters on a Regicide Peace, Letter 1, 1796

Next from Thucydides, the ancient Greek historian, on the contributions of ordinary men ... (this quote is dedicated to the citizens of Cambridge) ...
Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows. The latter are always wanting to appear wiser than the laws, and to overrule every proposition brought forward, thinking that they cannot show their wit in more important matters, and by such behavior too often ruin their country; while those who mistrust their own cleverness are content to be less learned than the laws, and less able to pick holes in the speech of a good speaker; and being fair judges rather than rival athletes, generally conduct affairs successfully. These we ought to imitate.
The History of the Peloponnesian War, ca. 400 B.C.

Finally, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., doctor, writer and Boston Brahmin, on choosing a direction ... (this quote is dedicated to myself) ...
I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it -- but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.
Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, 1858

All of these quotes come from a calendar that got stuck in my drawer many years ago and has traveled with me on a few moves and a few life changes. The cover says "Best Wishes for 1995."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cars: Tutto Italiano, 2017

Tutto Italiano, the Italian car extravaganza at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, came to town yesterday, and here are a whole bunch of red Italian cars (with names when I know them) for your car viewing enjoyment.

Lamborghini Countach

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Ferrari F12 tdf



Ferrari 488 GTB


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

More about my Chevy Volt: Cruise Control not consistent

I had a strange experience driving my Chevy Volt on a recent road trip.

I could not get the car to go into cruise control. I'm not sure if I was doing something wrong, or if the car simply did not want to go into cruise mode, but either way it's a little bit disappointing to have a problem with a simple task such as this. The car after all barely has 2000 miles on it.

Normally, any problems of this nature are diagnosed on the internet by some intelligent person who then writes about it or posts a video, but on this issue, I wasn't able to find anything. I'll keep exploring. Meanwhile, if you know anything, please feel free to share it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

More about my Volt; Remembering Alger Hiss

Today is a bit of a Grab Bag day, though it isn't a Friday.

Cost of Driving a Chevy Volt
First, a follow up to my blog post about the cost of driving my Chevy Volt. I have since found out that if I had subscribed to the On Star program, General Motors would be sending me monthly information about my car and its driving habits, including mileage, how many Kilowatt Hours and gas I've consumed, etc. As it turns out, I haven't signed up for it, but maybe I will.

Remember Alger Hiss?
Now that Jared Kushner has spoken to Senate investigators, it bears remembering that in 1950, Alger Hiss was sentenced to five years in prison. The crime? Perjury. How did he perjure himself? He failed to disclose information to a congressional panel about his contacts with an agent of the Soviet Union. The stakes keep getting higher.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Net metering is switching our economy to electricity

The greening up of our economy takes many forms. In a recent conversation with my neighbor, I found this out ...

Long ago, he installed solar panels on his roof. During the summer time, his panels produce a lot more energy than he can consume. The excess energy gets sold back to the energy grid, and his utility Eversource then credits his account for the value of that energy. He runs a negative balance these months, where Eversource owes him more than he owes them.

During the winter months, when the sun is lower in the sky and the days are much shorter, my neighbor can then spend the credits he earned during the summer. This entire process is known as "net metering." 

Factoring in everything, over a 12 month cycle my neighbor still produces more energy than he consumes, but here's the kicker ... 

Because his credits are accumulated by producing electricity, the only way he can spend those credits is by burning electricity. Therefore, my neighbor is massively incentivized to transform all his power needs into electric. This includes warming his house with electric heat in the winter, and powering his car with electrons rather than with petroleum all year round. 

He tells me that as soon as his lease is up on his BMW X3, he will be in the market either for a Chevy Volt or Bolt, or for a Tesla. 

Electricity is replacing fossil fuels as our preferred power source.

Just another chapter in how the world is changing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Akamai consolidates its employees in Kendall Square

Governor Charlie Baker joined Cambridge mayor Denise Simmons in Kendall Square today for a groundbreaking celebrating the consolidation of Akamai employees into a single new building there. Boston Properties, responsible for much of the development in that part of the city over the past four decades, will construct the building.

Cambridge mayor Denise Simmons, next to governor Charlie Baker, at the Akamai groundbreaking

Akamai is the back-end of the internet, helping over 3 trillion interactions happen every day on the World Wide Web. Founded in Cambridge by Tom Leighton, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT, and his former graduate student Danny Lewin in 1998, Akamai has grown to 7,000 employees world-wide and over $2 billion in annual revenue. That Akamai is able to stay in Cambridge is no small success for this city of 100,000 people, and today's event reiterates the importance of Kendall Square in the local economy.

As if to underscore that point, another important developer presented their plans for Kendall Square at a separate event last night. MIT's real estate arm came before the housing-advocacy group A Better Cambridge and told a roomful of people their plans to develop the Volpe site, a 14-acre parcel right in the heart of Kendall Square.

An audience member asks a question at last night's ABC event with MIT

While the MIT team is nowhere near breaking any ground on new construction, their process is designed to incorporate as much of the local concerns as possible while sorting through some of the stickier urban design and planning questions this development poses. Right now, they are working through different scenarios dealing with open space, housing, commercial and retail activities.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Is driving on electricity less expensive than driving on gas? Comparing a 2017 Chevy Volt to a 1999 Subaru

As many of you already know, I'm in love with my new Chevy Volt. It's comfortable, it drives well, it feels safe on the road. It inspires confidence in the corners and in the rain. It has Apple Car Play, which among other things means that I can have GPS navigation on my screen through Apple Maps. But more than any of this, my car has now travelled over 1,500 miles since April, and it has used less than one tank of gas total to do it.





That is because it runs on electricity for the fifty miles before it switches over to the gas-powered engine, so all local driving is done on electricity with no gas necessary. 

This prompts an obvious question, a question that I get asked all the time ... 

Have my electricity bills gone up?

I now can answer that question. 

The answer is unequivocally: Yes. 

Here's how I know ... I looked at my electricity usage from Eversource and this is what it told me ...

My electricity usage more than doubled when I compare June 2016 to June 2017. It went up by 115.6 percent to be precise, amounting to an average daily usage this June of 9.7 Kilowatt Hours (kWh). While that does represent a huge jump from this same time last year, my net total cost for that electricity is $67.67, a very manageable number and average daily usage of 9.7 kWh is still significantly below the national average of 29.6 kWh. 

Here is my data from Eversource ...




Since my quick math tells me that in June 2016, I spent roughly $31.47 on electricity for that month, my net total increase for June 2017 was $36.20.

Assuming that all of that $36.20 was caused by increased electricity consumption to power my car (an assumption that doesn't make entire sense because of the amount of air conditioning I have used this summer), the next question is, 

Am I spending equivalent to, more than or less than I was spending on gas in my former car, an old 1999 Subaru wagon? 

As it turns out, in June 2016, I spent a total of $47.84 on gas. 

So, comparing June 2016 to June 2017, I have spent 24.3 percent LESS on automobile fuel (whether in the form of electrons or petroleum) this year than I did last year, or in dollar terms, $11.64, which as an annualized amount is $139.68 in savings by driving an electric car.



Given that my car payments are $144/month, I am getting one month's worth of car usage just on my gas savings alone.

This 24 percent is a real savings, and it will only increase as gas prices rise. Furthermore, while I haven't accounted for miles driven, my personal sense is that I have been driving more in my new car this year than I drove in the Subaru last year. 

The Chevy Volt: saving money and reducing the carbon being spewed out into the atmosphere. A win win. 

Addendum: Starting next month, my energy bill will increase again because I have signed up for Cambridge Community Electricity, an aggregation program where Agera Energy becomes the energy purchaser for Cambridge customers instead of Eversource. 

The base plan is 25% more solar that what the state requires though they also have a 100% GREEN option, which is exactly what it sounds like ... 100% renewable sources for electricity. I opted for 100% GREEN, so I'm powering my car completely on wind and solar. It costs 20% more per kWh, but if ever there were a case of "Putting your money where your mouth is," this would be it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

Henry David Thoreau, you're too old to die.

The rain sprang out of nowhere. Lightning shot horizontally across the sky as the clouds darkened. The radio was telling me what I already knew, there were thunderstorms in the area. I don't worry about thunder, but the lightning I mind.

This is doubly true when swimming is the goal. The rain came down harder. It was a blinding rain. My windshield wipers couldn't keep up. Back-and-forth-back-and-forth, I thought they might fly off their hinges.

Sure enough, in the way these things happen, as soon as I got to Walden Pond the rain started to relent. In the parking lot, there was a young woman in a bikini trying to dry her hair with a towel. Trying to dry your hair in the rain. It seemed odd to me. But she was wearing a bikini, so I forgave.

It was blue sky by the time I got down to the shoreline. Lifeguards had required everyone leave the water when the rains came, so the pond was quiet.

I wanted to swim, but it wasn't allowed. 20 minutes, they said. So I just stared out onto the pond. Sometimes a summer shower means the temperature is about to drop and the air is about to get crisp. This was the opposite. The wet air was able to suspend even more moisture in it. Hot and humid became hotter, more humid.

How would I tell Henry that I was here? How would I let him know I was here?

Walk around the pond, I thought. Once around the pond, to tell Henry "Happy Birthday, old man!" Once around the pond for the boy, born on this day 200 years ago, in Concord, Massachusetts.

I began my pilgrimage. The shoreline was empty except for the odd family now and again.

When I got to the far side, I dropped my shorts near a little cove and went for a dip. I wasn't naked. I had my swim trunks on. I went for a dip. The water was cool, but not cold. And it was clear. Man was it clear. A short dip, then back to the shore, shirt on, shoes on, on my way, around the pond. Once around the pond for the boy, born on this date, 200 years ago.

What he did with his 44 years is worth remembering. That Henry David Thoreau must have been an odd duck. The way odd ducks leave an impression. Living in the woods? What a strange thing to do.

An American Impression. An American Original. An American Independent.

Happy Birthday, you strange man.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Anecdote of the Jar



I placed a jar in Tennessee,   
And round it was, upon a hill.   
It made the slovenly wilderness   
Surround that hill. 

The wilderness rose up to it, 
And sprawled around, no longer wild.   
The jar was round upon the ground   
And tall and of a port in air. 

It took dominion everywhere.   
The jar was gray and bare. 
It did not give of bird or bush,   
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

-- Wallace Stevens

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We are free. We are free.

In Congress, July 4, 1776,

THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the right of Representation in the legislature; a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the People.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of Peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions, We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in GENERAL CONGRESS assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions, DO, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly PUBLISH and DECLARE, That these United Colonies are, and of Right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Bri tain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that, as FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. AND for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

JOHN HANCOCK, President

Attested, CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary

New Hampshire: JOSIAH BARTLETT, WILLIAM WHIPPLE, MATTHEW THORNTON
Massachusetts-Bay: SAMUEL ADAMS, JOHN ADAMS, ROBERT TREAT PAINE, ELBRIDGE GERRY
Rhode Island: STEPHEN HOPKINS, WILLIAM ELLERY
Connecticut: ROGER SHERMAN, SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, WILLIAM WILLIAMS, OLIVER WOLCOTT
Georgia: BUTTON GWINNETT, LYMAN HALL, GEO. WALTON
Maryland: SAMUEL CHASE, WILLIAM PACA, THOMAS STONE, CHARLES CARROLL OF CARROLLTON
Virginia: GEORGE WYTHE, RICHARD HENRY LEE, THOMAS JEFFERSON, BENJAMIN HARRISON, THOMAS NELSON, JR., FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE, CARTER BRAXTON.
New York: WILLIAM FLOYD, PHILIP LIVINGSTON, FRANCIS LEWIS, LEWIS MORRIS
Pennsylvania: ROBERT MORRIS, BENJAMIN RUSH, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, JOHN MORTON, GEORGE CLYMER, JAMES SMITH, GEORGE TAYLOR, JAMES WILSON, GEORGE ROSS
Delaware: CAESAR RODNEY, GEORGE READ, THOMAS M'KEAN
North Carolina: WILLIAM HOOPER, JOSEPH HEWES, JOHN PENN
South Carolina: EDWARD RUTLEDGE, THOMAS HEYWARD, JR., THOMAS LYNCH, JR., ARTHUR MIDDLETON
N
ew Jersey: RICHARD STOCKTON, JOHN WITHERSPOON, FRANCIS HOPKINS, JOHN HART, ABRAHAM CLARK

Monday, July 3, 2017

Congress should reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment now

Now is the time for Congress to reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment.

Back in 1994, swelled with braggadocious pride at their electoral victory in November, House GOP members began their war on science and knowledge and facts by zeroing out the budget of their Office of Technology Assessment, or OTA as it was called, as part of their larger Contract with America.

OTA, created in 1972 to provide the Congress with unbiased assessments of technology and its impact on science and society, lived a peaceful life on Capitol Hill, studying subjects as varied as housing for the elderly, crop substitution strategies in Colombia and Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" proposals. Always a target of conservative ire, the agency was staffed by an unassuming, dedicated mix of scientists, social scientists and policy experts working under the radar of the brighter and hotter debates in Washington. OTA studies took about 18 months to complete and were viewed as the standard bearer for discussion on the topic, whatever the topic may be. The agency cost the tax-payers roughly $22 million a year to operate.

Newt Gingrich, bomb-thrower, agitator and hate merchant, decided that Congress would start its belt tightening by tightening its own belt. Because he couldn't touch the Congressional Research Service, a policy research arm of the Library of Congress, the only sacred cow he could slaughter was OTA. Gingrich's success in cutting OTA pointed out the magnitude of his larger failure. Gingrich backed down when faced with real opposition, but didn't slow down in face of a smaller opponent. In other words, Gingrich was a classic schoolyard bully. Sound familiar?

More importantly though, his actions were an early salvo in the continuing Republican assault on rationality, common sense, intellectual honesty, knowledge and science. By cutting OTA, he put blinders on the U.S. Congress, thereby denying policy makers deeper insight into the meaning and implications of new technology that continues to arrive faster and more furiously every day. 

OTA had a sister agency in the executive branch, the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Located at the White House, and headed up by the president's science advisor, OSTP still is tasked with providing thoughtful analysis for the president as he decides on policy direction in space exploration, energy and climate science, nanotechnology and our national labs, just to name a few. The horrifying recent reports that OSTP's Science Division now has exactly zero employees is a result of the simple fact that adults find it impossible to work for such a degraded man as Donald Trump. Conversely, a man as degraded as Donald Trump has no interest or understanding of what these adults do and therefore no motivation to attract talented people to fill these positions in his White House.

A first step to rectifying this situation is for Congress to reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment now, a bold move that would provide timely, thoughtful, peer-reviewed advice and insight on the most pressing issues of our day. For the right, this will have the added benefit of combatting the accusation that all Republicans are antediluvian flat-earthers and will offset the prevailing belief that rational discourse is the sole purview of the Democratic party. In the meantime, it will make us all safer, and it will help make America great again.

[Editor's note: Author worked at both OTA and OSTP in the 1990s.]

Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: Iraqis rid ISIS; Trump is disgusting

With the Iraqi government declaring yesterday that Mosul will soon be free from ISIS and their self-proclaimed "caliphate" is dead, I think of the 14 years of suffering the Iraqi people have gone through since American president George W. Bush announced the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell famously intoned at the time the Pottery Barn Doctrine, "If you break it, you own it." I think that means that we, as Americans, own some significant portion of the tremendous pain the Iraqis have gone through.

In separate news, Donald Trump is simply a disgusting man.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Get a Chevy Volt for $95 per month

This just in, from Belmont Drives Electric ...


Dear neighbor,

We've received word of the lowest lease prices we've ever seen for new EVs. Quirk Chevy just announced special pricing good through 6pm on Friday, June 30th!

  • Volt LT Plug-In Hybrid - $95 per month. Save nearly $1000 over the life of the lease compared to our previous lowest price! 
  • Bolt LT All-Electric - $145 per month. Save nearly $1500 over the life of the lease compared to our previous lowest price!


Both vehicles have a $2,500 down payment matched by the MOR-EV rebate. Prices do not include sales tax, but include dealer fees. Premier versions of both vehicles are also available at heavily discounted prices.

Let us know if you have any questions.

Best,
Belmont Drives Electric

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two things I love about my new Chevy Volt

Here are two things that I love about my new Chevy Volt ...

  • It uses no gas (well, almost no gas). I have driven the car over 1,000 miles now, and I have used only 1/2 tank of gas total! That is fabulous. 

  • In Massachusetts, Chevy Volts qualify for a $2,500 cash rebate from the state! That is also fabulous. 

There is no reason not to get a Chevy Volt through Mass Energy's Drive Green program. To find out more about the program, click here: https://www.massenergy.org/drivegreen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Two women






[Both photographs by Irving Penn, from the show Irving Penn: Centennial at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.]

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 ...


Kofi



Boutros Boutros



Covfefe

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.





Stonehurst
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.