Friday, December 5, 2008

Flywheel LRT Power Storage

As I pointed out before, DDOT has no plan to avoid using overhead lines to power streetcars. I have blogged about onboard vehicular power storage, namely supercapacitors and batteries. I engaged in some dialogue about this on Greater Greater Washington. I have done a little research and found yet another method to store power: flywheel power storage. An English company, Parry People Movers Ltd., has been doing work on this. They even have implemented a diesel prototype. Its partner, JPM Parry & Associates claims to be designing a 220-passenger light rail vehicle, in a multiyear effort. While electrical power is a possible source, neither website has information about how long a vehicle could run on it.

A possible compromise position for DC streetcars is to use electrical power storage with charging umbrellas and a diesel or turbine engine. This is an engineering task. DDOT does have engineers, doesn't it?


For years, I have been subjected to push polls by mail and by phone. The phone polls have been both automated and human. I blogged about Tysons Tomorrow's idiotic push poll. However, I have never been threatened by a push poll. Well, technically, I still haven't. The Heritage Foundation mailed my wife, "Mr. Coleman" (she has a rare, foreign name, rare in her native country), a standard mail push poll. Every question is loaded and it claims that the results will be tabulated and sent to the Congress. (Yeah, right!) Like all paper push polls of this type, they want money. However, on the outside of the envelope, it has lots of inane instructions, concluded by the title of this post. (Make me!) Even though I am sympathetic to Heritage's agenda (I even interviewed for a job there), I do not believe that the ends justify the means. Heritage should do what it does best - be a think tank. Don't send out push polls that only diminish your credibility. If you do conduct a poll, do it using surveying best practices.

I'm wondering, have they panicked (unnecessarily) about the Democrats' recent victory? Some perspective is needed: this was just one of dozens of American elections. Things can change rapidly in 2 or 4 years and bring the Republicans back to power. The past election is not the Revolution of 1800 or the 1860 or 1932 elections. All of these had unusually powerful effects on American politics.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Democrats Finally Exploit Bug in D.C.'s At-Large Voting Scheme

Because D.C. is a one-party town, the Congress created two at-large City Council seats with the intent of creating at least one minority party member. Every voter gets two votes. The catch is that each party can only nominate one candidate. For years, this worked, as a Republican won the second seat. However, in the last election, a Democrat running as an Independent won. Thus, the City Council will be completely Democratic come January. This completely defeats the intent of this voting rule.

The big question is what took the Democrats so long? They could have always designated an independent as the second Democratic candidate.

The next big question is how to fix it? Two methods come to mind. The first is the Japanese method for multimember districts: give voters only one vote. The problem is that doesn't work for the same reason. The Democrats can nominate two candidates, divide D.C. into two halves and instruct voters in each half to vote for that half's candidate. Thus, the Democrats can hold the two cities. The other alternative is for each party to designate an at-large candidate. Then, the two parties receiving the highest number of votes for all other council seats receive one vote each. In a city dominated by one party, this will have the desired effect of placing a minority party member on the City Council. If the city becomes politically competitive, the effect is a wash, as the balance between the two parties will not be affected.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anacostia Light Rail: A Solution in Search of a Problem

DDOT initially conceived the Anacostia light rail as a starter system for a network of light rail lines throughout DC. Anacostia was chosen to be first as it would be connected to the rail yard and be relatively inexpensive to build. This was contingent on obtaining CSX's right-of-way to build a (relatively) high-speed connection through Anacostia between the Anacostia and Minnesota Ave. stations. The deal fell through, so DDOT is now reduced to trying to build a light rail line in Anacostia to, well, perhaps show that it can be done. As Greater Greater Washington has pointed out, the latest incarnation will continue an all-too-short (and low speed) distance on Anacostia's streets and maybe will be extended to the 11th St. Bridge. After that, there is simply no plan.

DDOT also assumed away the problem of the ban on overhead wires. Not every light rail line can go on abandoned railroad tracks. In fact, one of the illustrations shows overhead lines on a street. Let's face it, the overhead line ban is not going away. Moreover, given improvements in power storage technology, it may be possible to avoid them completely by having quick charges from short overhead lines integrated into stations.

So, DDOT has to go back to the drawing board. First, it has to find a way to get the CSX right-of-way. Eminent domain is a possibility that hasn't been tried. This may be difficult, as railroads are generally accorded strong property rights. You can't do a lot of things to railroads that you can do to other properties. Still, the line is abandoned, which is the argument that DC will have to use. Second, DC has to solve the overhead wire problem. By doing so, it can reduce construction costs and set an example for other cities to emulate. The Anacostia LRT can be used as a test bed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Simple Way to Provide a Small Economic Boost - Abolish the Penny

The U.S. mint produces the penny at a loss of about $500m annually. Estimates of the cost to consumers of pennies range from $300m-$1b annually. Remove the penny from circulation and these costs vanish. The government gains $500m annually from not producing pennies. In the current economic climate, every efficiency gained is important.

Source: Wikipedia

CNN's Electoral Coverage

I watched CNN a little bit last night and found some good things, bad things and one bizarre thing about the coverage.

The Good:
  • Lots of experts who had some idea of what they were talking about.
  • Actual votes displayed, both online and on TV.
  • Lots of data.
  • A good explanation of the early returns in Virginia and how McCain was not doing as well as Bush in 2004.
The Bad:
  • Lots of useless or redundant data. Many of the items displayed had common explanations. For example, in one state, only conservatives and Republicans favored McCain, while all other demographics favored Obama. The simple explanation is that conservative Republicans are a minority in the state and in all of the demographics shown.
  • Geographic data not displayed geographically. Several data items were by state, but arrayed by strength along the red-blue axis. Maps would have been far more helpful. They could have zoomed in on some state, while showing the neighbors, if desired. The maps would have, at once, conveyed all of the information.
  • No scales on the "bar" graphs. Presumably, longer red bars meant greater percentages for McCain. Likewise, longer blue bars meant greater percentages for Obama. However, I have no idea what those percentages were.
The bizarre:
  • The reporter present in the studio as a "hologram". This really an exercise in gee-whiz virtual technology that produced no benefit over a remote. Don't for one moment think that Wolf Blitzer was speaking to the "hologram". He was looking at a monitor the whole time.
There you have it, folks. Maybe CNN (or a competitor) should hire me to show how to do these things right.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Phone Won't Stop Ringing! I Can't Wait for the Election to be Over

I'm getting political phone calls at the rate of about 1 per hour. Most of them seem to be Republican. Are they trying to get me to vote Democratic? Enough already!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Google Ads Without Context

In this post, I criticized telemarketing scammers for spoofing caller IDs. So, what does Google Ads think my readers want to buy? How about "Spoof Your Caller ID" or "Fake Your Caller ID"? Clearly, Google's ad placement algorithms do not use context. This is hurting my bank account. ;-)

Tindo - The First Practical Battery-Electric Bus?

On February 11. 2008, the battery-powered Tindo bus made its debut in Adelaide, Australia. The Tindo bus uses molten-salt Zebra batteries for storage and a charger system at a central bus stop. This flyer shows the important data in metric units. The data are converted to American units below.

  • Capacity:
    • Seated – 25
    • Wheelchair – 2
    • Total – 27
    • Standing - ?
  • Length: 34 feet, 2-1/4 inches
  • Speed: 47 mph
  • Maximum grade: 12.5%
  • Range between recharges "under typical urban conditions": 124 mi
  • Has air conditioning
  • Unknown (to me) whether it has heat
  • "1 minute of charge = 1 kilometre" (0.62 mi)
  • Charger voltage: 386 V
  • Charger power: 70 kW
  • Battery temperature: 270° C (518° F)
  • Cost of first bus: $US 460,000 (as of 9/21/08)
It looks like this bus could be practical for relatively short runs already made by 35 foot buses with relatively long layovers for charging. Presumably, longer buses could be manufactured.

This is really second-generation technology. The exciting part lies in what could be done with third-generation battery or supercapacitor technology.

Tysons Tomorrow - Just Another Pressure Group

I had an email exchange with Erin Fuller, Executive Director of Tysons Tomorrow and Vice President of The Coulter Cos. It turns out that my cynicism regarding Tysons Tomorrow was a bit excessive. I mistook signs of a startup operation (e.g., a survey referring to a nonexistent website) for something sinister. It is just another pressure group willing to do anything legal to get its way. So, it will spin (i.e., distort) facts and produce bogus statistics in addition to mundane organizational activities. So, a "key finding" of its survey is that "86% of respondents support extending rail to Dulles airport, including four stops in the Tyson’s Corner area." In an earlier post, I noted that this question was meaningless as phrased, given its lack of context. Sure, if extending rail to Dulles Airport via Tysons Corner were free, I'd support it. But it's not free, so I can't make a judgment without knowing the costs.

Still, I stand by my verdict that push polling should end - it's destroying legitimate surveys. It's really a kind of Prisoners' Dilemma problem. We all would be better off if push polling ended. However, it is against the interest of any individual push pollster to cease. So, we will be stuck with them until the survey business crashes. :-(

Friday, September 12, 2008

A New Way to Annoy Telemarketers

I got a call today about my auto insurance. The whole thing was suspicious: no mention of my name, no name on the caller ID and a vague reference to my expiring auto insurance and threat to end it if I hung up. So, I pressed "1" to talk to an agent, then put the phone on hold to investigate the number. When I was done, I resumed the call and the "agent" was yelling. I tried to ask "Who are you?" but got a hangup. So, if I get another call like this, I can annoy the aggressor by simply using my phone's hold feature. In the meantime, I can do something useful, like post another blog entry that nobody will read. ;-)

BTW, the phone number on the caller ID was spoofed: 323-763-8732. I called back to find it not in service.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Metro's Lunchtime Chat Answered Two of My Questions Today, One Bizarrely

Shiva Pant, standing in for General Manager John Catoe, answered two of my questions

First question of session:

Alexandria, VA: Why has the slowdown on the Blue/Yellow Lines between Braddock Road and Nat'l Airport not been publicized? When will service return to normal? Another communications failure has befallen Metro.

Reply: Hi Alexandria! As you most likely are aware, we often have speed restrictions in place after conducting major track work. This is to ensure that the new trackbed, which was just installed over the Labor Day Weekend, has settled and is safe for trains to ride on at full speed. The speed restriction means that the trains are moving slower through the stretch of track that was replaced. It?s not actually delaying anyone?s trips.

Let's see. The Blue/Yellow lines have some speed restrictions (i.e., lowered speed limits), but that is not causing delays. Perhaps in another universe this is true, but, in ours, it is false. Lowered speed limits cause increased travel times, that is, delays. Normal service will resume when the track is ready. I really didn't know that. But, then I asked a more precise question about when it will be ready. A different view of reality and a nonanswer from someone without answers.

And, next:

Alexandria, va: The idea of a enabling a walking transfer between Farragut North and Farragut West has recently popped up. What are your thoughts on implementing this? In what kind of timeframe can this be done?

Reply: Hello Alexandria. Actually the idea of a ?walking transfer? is something that has been considered and I believe is actively being explored. It is something that is part of our next fare software upgrade. Once that is in place, we should be able to move forward with that idea. It would work by allowing riders x amount of minutes (that would be determined later) to walk between the Farraguts.

So, the idea of a Farragut Square walking transfer is on the table. Rejoice, O Readers of CommuterPageBlog and Greater Greater Washington!

I'll spare my rant about last night's Redskins game for another post. I can hear the rejoicing now.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Just Got a Flyer from Tysons Tomorrow

This yet another post about Tysons Tomorrow. Now, they want me to join and to go to a Board of Supervisors meeting about Tysons Corner. Te want me to support the recommendations of the Tysons Corner Land Use Taskforce. Never mind that the recommendations have not been made public yet. Methinks there be a rat. I love the way the flyer says "Metrorail is coming to Tysons...", as though it has final approval from all parties. Personally, I think it is a boondoggle. The Silver Line has the highest cost/passenger ratio I've seen of any mass transit project. (If I'm correct, it's something like $55,000 per (passenger per year). For the price of the Silver Line, several relatively expensive light rail lines can be built with far higher overall ridership. Moreover, the Orange Line is saturated: adding trains will only add to the congestion. Even if half of rush-hour Blue Line trains switch to the Yellow Line, that leaves only half of their slots available for the Silver Line, somewhat defeating its purpose.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Boycott the Nissan Pavilion!

My daughter went to the Jonas Brothers concert there. Getting in was easy, as she and her mother arrived hours before the start. The problems were in getting into the building and getting out of the area. The latter took over 1-1/2 hours just to get to the public road.
  1. The building funnels everyone into one entrance. This is very inefficient and creates backups.
  2. There is only one access road.
  3. The access road opens on to a 2-lane road, thereby putting the latter over capacity.
  4. To add insult to injury, every ticket comes with a parking fee. That's chiseling in my book.

The only way this can be fixed is for the Nissan Pavilion to be boycotted until it is put into usable shape and charges ethical prices.

The steps required to end the boycott are:
  1. An end to the per ticket parking charge. If they want to charge for parking, they can sell permits online like the Washington Nationals do.
  2. Free shuttle buses from Metrorail to reduce traffic loads.
  3. More building entrances.
  4. More access roads. One can be dedicated to the shuttle buses.
  5. An appropriate number of properly trained parking staff.
  6. Widening the two lane road and other traffic improvements. Let NP pay for them, so the taxpayers don't have to subsidize it.
Seriously, PW county should never have approved this thing without the necessary infrastructure.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Any Olympic Athlete Who Does Not Win Gold Should Be Boiled in Oil!

I'm sure this is what the Chinese government and far too many of its people think. The Commies haven't learned that winning loads of medals in international athletic contests does not prove the superiority of communism or any other ideology. All that a Chinese Olympic "victory" would prove is that the Chinese Communist Party has overinvested in athletics, to the detriment of everything else.

On the other hand, the U.S., which is not exactly a totalitarian country, is leading the total medal count. This is due to a combination of the U.S.'s size (over 300 million people) and freedom. No government official will force you to take up a sport. If you are lucky, you can get a college scholarship, provided that your sport is played intercollegiately. For the most part, our athletes play for the love of it, which is the way things should be. Fortunately for many of them, they are marketable and can gain support in exchange for advertising work. Still, this relationship is strictly voluntary.

Enough of this outburst...the Redskins are playing tonight. I have to practice watching football and berating idiotic coaches. ;-)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Still More on

After perusing their website, I determined that is an outfit of developers who want to extend Metrorail to Tysons Corner using a tunnel. Their survey question about Dulles rail is a diversion. I suspect that the membership consists of current major property holders who want to use Metrorail to increase the value of their holdings. Redevelopment would be a natural outcome of this process. In short, I "followed the money" again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More about

Their website now works. I clicked "About us" and got some boilerplate about making Tysons Corner more livable, blah, blah, blah. It has nothing about who sponsors it. The only contact listed is "Erin Fuller". That name is too common for a search to glean any information about her.

How to Create an Effective Summer Jobs Program

The recent troubles with DC's jobs program indicate that it was viewed as an entitlement for teenagers. Teenagers, in return, view it as an entitlement. Expecting them to work well and to have useful jobs to do is unrealistic.

The Spring 2008 issue of ArcUser has an article "Techie Teens Use GIS to Increase City Revenues" (p. 49). While the article focuses on the work the kids did, deeper points lie in the article. 6 of 60 kids in Safford, AZ's jobs program were selected to do the work. The work consisted of a fixed project and the kids had to give a report in the end. The kids gained useful skills and are expected to work on future projects.

The implication for DC is to severely scale back the jobs program and to make the jobs part of discrete, measureable projects. Teenagers should apply to work on the projects, thereby encouraging them to gain an internal locus of control. This also means a reduction in DC's democratic centralization. Only a small number of projects should be done in the first year, as everyone gains experience with the system. As experience grows, the number of projects should increase. In no case, should a project be make-work. The projects can range from high value-added things like GIS and IT to simple beautification and clean-up projects. One obvious clean-up project involves removing trash from the Anacostia River. The work will be tough, but the benefits can be made clear to workers, and the money is still money.

So, imagine the results. Kids will have shown their willingness and ability to do hard, useful work and the initiative to take those jobs. This will look good on college applications.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Another Push Poll, This Time by

I'm just off the phone from a survey by They were trying to get me to say that I support extending Metrorail to Dulles, without mentioning any costs. They also wanted me to say that I wanted both more housing and more affordable housing in Tysons Corner. That is two questions, not one as they posed it. Idiots like these are ruining the survey business.

Another aspect of poor survey design: I was asked whether I worked in Fairfax County. I answered "No." Then, it asked me whether I worked in Tysons Corner. Hello? Tysons Corner is in Fairfax County, so if I don't work in Fairfax County, I can't work in Tysons Corner. Idiots!

BTW, while I was typing the first paragraph, I got a second call from the same number with the same survey. Who programmed this stupid thing?

Friday, August 1, 2008

LRVs Without Overhead Wires?

Bombardier's "MITRAC Energy Saver" consists of an supercapacitor bank and associated electronic. Its primary use is to recover energy from braking, but Bombardier claims that 1 km of acceleration is possible.

The weakness of this technology is its low voltage. According to the product information, it runs at 750 volts. To get, say, 10 km of acceleration, the voltage has to increase to 7,500 volts. It is unclear from Bombadier's website how much charge is stored. Still, the supercapacitors have to have about 10 times greater voltage, or be 1/10th of the size of the current ones to store this much charge.

Thus, we can conclude that this technology is unripe.

So, what does this have to do with anything? I've been following the talk about light rail lines in Washington, DC. It seems that the Congress has long forbidden overhead wires on streets. Getting power from a third rail using either the old conduit track technology or the new technology in Bordeaux is impractical. So, the way to get streetcars running is to charge them at stations. Right now, this appears impractical. But, improvements in battery and supercapacitor technologies may make this feasible within 5 years. So, all of you who like to dream up light rail systems should think in terms of having chargers at terminals and stations, with Shanghai-like charging "umbrellas".

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My First Post!

Just a test. Do not be alarmed.