Mere Water Will Not Extinguish Fire Ants

More from the annals of animal transportation: Geekosystem reports on ants building rafts: Mere Water Will Not Extinguish Fire Ants : “”

“Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have done perhaps the only serious engineering study that involves dumping a bunch of fire ants in water and watching what happens. Engineering professor David Hu and grad student Nathan J. Mlot were interested in reports they had heard of South American fire ants forming massive rafts out of themselves and clumping together during flooding, and after gathering up fire ants by the roadside in Georgia, they put the anecdotes to the test.

“They’ll gather up all the eggs in the colony and will make their way up through the underground network of tunnels, and when the flood waters rise above the ground, they’ll link up together in these massive rafts,” Mlot said.”

The Technium: Easy Exotic

Kevin Kelly on three types of travel (by which he seems to mean recreational travel or tourism, but might apply day to day): Easy Exotic:

“You can graph the three extremes as three corners of a Travel Triangle: Relaxation, Destination, and Experience. The ideal trip would have an equal balance of all three, but most trips favor one side over the others. In my own personal travel I favor experience and destination and have almost no interest in relaxation. Your mileage may vary.
The three extremes represent a set of overlapping qualities.
Experience includes learning, change, difference, passions, uncertainties. A trip in this corner emphasizes encountering strange things, having your mind changed, going beyond your comfort, meeting as much otherness as you can.
Destination includes traveling with goals and achievements in mind — completing a long thru-hike, or journey to a mountain peak, or all the state capitals, or completing a race, to be the first, or your personal best.
Relaxation is just that: rest, comfort, renewal, a sabbatical, a retreat from the worries and business of everyday life. It may include luxury but might be primitive or primeval.

Are China’s high-speed trains heading off the rails?

From WaPo Are China’s high-speed trains heading off the rails?:

“BEIJING — China’s expanding network of ultramodern high-speed trains has come under growing scrutiny here over costs and because of concerns that builders ignored safety standards in the quest to build faster trains in record time.
The trains, a symbol of the country’s rapid development, have drawn praise from President Obama. But what began in February with the firing and detention of the country’s top railway official has spiraled into a corruption investigation that has raised questions about the project’s future.
Last week, the new leadership at the Railways Ministry announced that to enhance safety, the top speed of all trains was being decreased from about 218 mph to 186. Without elaborating, the ministry called the safety situation ‘severe’ and said it was launching safety checks along the entire network of tracks.
The ministry also announced it would reduce ticket prices to boost lagging ridership and would slow construction of high-speed lines to avoid outpacing public demand.
With the latest revelations, the shining new emblem of China’s modernization looks more like an example of many of the country’s interlinking problems: top-level corruption, concerns about construction quality and a lack of public input into the planning of large-scale projects.
Questions have also arisen about whether costs and public needs are too often overlooked as the leadership pursues grandiose projects, which some critics say are for vanity or to engender national pride but which are also seen as an effort to pump up growth through massive public works spending.
The Finance Ministry said last week that the Railways Ministry continued to lose money in the first quarter of this year. The ministry’s debt stands at $276 billion, almost all borrowed from Chinese banks.
‘They’ve taken on a massive amount of debt to build it,’ said Patrick Chovanec, who teaches at Tsinghua University. He said China accelerated construction of the high-speed rail network — including 295 sleek glass-and-marble train stations — as part of the country’s stimulus spending in response to the 2008 global financial crisis.
Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a longtime critic of high-speed rail, said he worries that the cost of the project might have created a hidden debt bomb that threatens China’s banking system.
‘In China, we will have a debt crisis — a high-speed rail debt crisis,’ he said. ‘I think it is more serious than your subprime mortgage crisis. You can always leave a house or use it. The rail system is there. It’s a burden. You must operate the rail system, and when you operate it, the cost is very high.’
Part of the cost problem has been that each segment of the system has been far more expensive to build than initially estimated, which many trace directly to the alleged corruption being uncovered, including a flawed bidding process.
After the railway official, Liu Zhijun, was detained by the Communist Party’s disciplinary committee, stories began trickling out about how a businesswoman in Shanxi province set up an investment company that took kickbacks from firms awarded contracts on the project.

The rise of the robot car

I (and others) have been interviewed as part of the Minnesota GO project (sponsored by MnDOT and the Citizen’s League) about the future of transportation. The selection of me talking about the rise of the robot car is below.