Linklist: October 31, 2011

BBC News: The M25 is 25: “The M25 is celebrating its 25th birthday. The 117-mile (188km) road that orbits London has changed life in the UK in many ways, says Radio 2’s traffic news announcer Sally Boazman. Here are some.
It took more than 11 years to build, cost £1bn and used more than two million tonnes of concrete and 3.5 million tonnes of asphalt. The M25 is a monster of a road in many ways.
The final section was opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in October 1986 to a huge fanfare. It has gone on to change many things, including our economy, environment and living habits. Here are just some …”

Time Lee in ForbesThe Arrogance of Suburbia: “Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on the different approaches cities take to urban freeways:

Central Minneapolis is a nice place. But the main conceit of this layout seems to be that it’s a place people who live very far away from need to be able to get to. Meanwhile, the people who live in the residential neighborhoods just outside the very tight inner freeway ring seem to be regarded as inconveniences. The result is that the city perversely disincentivizes living in the downtown-proximate neighborhoods. The freeways make them less pleasant and less-connected to downtown, even while they reduce the cost in travel time to live further away.

The Guardian: How to break into the transport sector : “Transport in the UK is big business, even if funding has dropped off a cliff. Graduates in transport management (as opposed to logistics) can expect to do anything from helping develop local transport plans and policies, to working with schools and businesses to encourage alternatives to the car. Current emphasis tends to be on ways to better manage what the UK already has, rather than new infrastructure. Consultancies are an established career option, as are local authorities, and there are always opportunities with big transport operators, many of which operate internationally.”

Michael Giberson @ Knowledge Problem: Why did water utilities in the U.S. become mostly publicly owned? : “Among U.S. water utilities, some are publicly owned and some are privately owned. Same thing for gas utilities and electric utilities. But unlike in the gas and electric power industries, the water business has become predominantly organized by publicly-owned utilities. Scott Masten explores why it was that public utility ownership became dominant among water utilities in an article, “Public Utility Ownership in 19th-Century America: The ‘Aberrant’ Case of Water,”  appearing in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization.”

NY Times: Bob Beaumont, Who Popularized Electric Cars, Dies at 79 – “Bob Beaumont, who thought every home should have an affordable electric vehicle in its driveway and sold more than 2,000 of them, the tiny, trapezoidal creation known as the CitiCar, decades before General Motors and Nissan came up with their own versions, died on Monday at his home in Columbia, Md. He was 79.” [I remember seeing a few of these in Columbia growing up]

Mind-controlled virtual helicopters

From David King:

So what is exciting for the future? Flying helicopters with your mind, of course! Clever researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed software that allows the user to fly around the Minnesota campus by thinking hard while wearing a special hat. Here is the paper, and video is at this link. Let’s see more views of the future with mind control, autonomous cars and other technologies that fundamentally change the things we do (so we can do different things) instead of marginal improvements of what we already do. After all, we’re still waiting for the telecommuting revolution to kick in.

Linklist: October 28, 2011

Strib: Gasoline theft:

“Coon Rapids, where one of every six serious crimes reported is a gasoline theft, could become the first municipality in Minnesota to require prepayment at the pump. Meanwhile, members of the Minnesota Service Station Association will vote Thursday on whether to ask the Legislature next year to make prepay state law in 2012.”

Calculated Risk: DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 1.7% in August compared to August 2010: “The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported today:

•Travel on all roads and streets changed by -1.7% (-4.6 billion vehicle miles) for August 2011 as compared with August 2010.
•Travel for the month is estimated to be 263.0 billion vehicle miles.
•Cumulative Travel for 2011 changed by -1.3% (-26.0 billion vehicle miles).”

Knowledge Problem: Nest’s elegant learning thermostat — but is it transactive? :

“Nest also offers a website with more granular data, remote adjustment capabilities (and I expect that those adjustments can be automated, although the article doesn’t specify), and money-saving energy-saving suggestions.
But even more importantly, Nest comes equipped with a Zigbee chip and wi-fi, so it will be a discoverable device on your home network, and able to communicate with a digital meter and other digital devices in the home. It sounds like it has enough intelligence in it to be extensible over time to be a portal for automating the behavior of smart digital devices in the home … and it can be transactive, and consequently make the home transactive and the homeowner capable of automating the responses of a wide range of smart devices in the home to respond autonomously to price signals. If a grid is not transactive it’s not a smart grid, and Nest looks like it will be a step in that direction. The other necessary condition for a smart grid is retail choice and the customer being able to choose dynamic pricing that Nest can automate. Without retail choice and dynamic pricing, the smart grid is not smart.
A final interesting note about Nest is its path to market: rather than going the mass utility deployment route, Nest is going direct to consumer, hurrah!”

[This technology is important (1) for the potential for use of road pricing in vehicles, with taxi-meters (2) feedbacks to drivers (e.g. intelligent speed adaptation), especially if related to insurance, (3) vehicle-to-grid technologies: electric vehicle home charging and peak balancing]

The Washington Post: Full Intercounty Connector to open Nov. 22 : “The full Intercounty Connector is scheduled to open Nov. 22, Maryland transportation officials said late Thursday.”

Linklist: October 26, 2011

Nick Sudheimer @ MnDaily: City to revamp traffic lights system [Best general article on signals I have seen, correctly uses the word “actuated” in a sentence]

Josh Wolanin @ Downtown Journal
Minneapolis earns ‘walk friendly’ gold status
: “Minneapolis is one of 10 cities recognized as a Walk Friendly Community and one of only three to earn a gold-level award for plans and policies aimed at keeping pedestrians safe and comfortable.” [It could be friendlier, the judges should get out of downtown.]

Steven Levy @ Wired: Brave New Thermostat: How the iPod’s Creator Is Making Home Heating Sexy Major media campaign on a new thermostat, inspired by the Prius: “So Matsuoka changed the algorithms, shifting the Nest’s personality to more of a gentle coach than a noodge with a climate-change slide show. Her model was the dashboard on the Toyota Prius hybrid car. Just as the Prius provides feedback on fuel consumption, the Nest gives owners a sense of how they’re using energy — and an incentive to save, as opposed to a guilt trip when they don’t. Now, when you set the energy to a temperature-saving level, the Nest awards you with a virtual leaf — a little icon that Nest hopes you will cherish. It’s like a DIY carbon offset.”

David Agren @ USA Today: Bicycles roll into fashion in Mexico City : “The local environment secretariat estimates there are 100,000 cycling trips made daily in Mexico City, which is home to nearly 9 million residents. An additional 11 million people live in suburbs around the city.” [So if they are like Americans, those 9 million are making at least 27 million trips, so this is about a 0.3% mode share for Bikes in Mexico City. I am not sure that is sufficient to constitute a trend.]

Samsung Galaxy S™ II, Epic™ 4G Touch

Samsung Galaxy S™ II, Epic™ 4G Touch 7 distinct words. 12 syllables (excluding the TM). You could die of old age just saying the name. This has to be the longest product name ever. And 2 trademark symbols, just in case you wanted to use the letter “S”, or perhaps the word “Epic” to describe a different phone. I believe “Epic” is generally followed by “Fail” these days.
Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC (6 syllables was too many)
Northwest Orient became Northwest
Compare with iPhone. (I am sure it is a wonderful phone, but Samsung’s ad agency or branding consultant needs to be taken to the woodshed.)

Linklist: October 25, 2011

StarTribune Hwy. 52 between Rochester, Cities dangerously behind the times [I just drove this myself, and the speeding was amazing].

IDV User Experience: Shipping Mix [Via Lisa Schweitzer, nice visualizations]

Pioneer Press: Drivers need some direction to safely navigate roundabouts [I don’t understand the un-American bit, waiting for a communist traffic light to centrally allocate scarce green time seems vaguely Soviet. Seizing available road space seems American, never mind the natives already in the intersection.]

Kare11: Mn/DOT lists 20 most dangerous intersections Full list here

Discovery News: How Google’s Self-Driving Car Works How Google’s Self-Driving Car Works

NY Times: Mattel to Acquire HIT Entertainment for $680 Million Sir Topham Hatt has a new boss.

Linklist: October 24, 2011

Overcoming Bias: The Future Of Cities “How should we expect cities to change in a future em era, where trillions of human emulations live in virtual reality or in tiny android bodies? Since ems are easier to transport, require less space, and interact less with rural areas, optimal em cities should be even more concentrated than industry cities. Especially if ems learn to better subsidize density, to internalize today’s density externality. And since ems require quite different infrastructure from humans, and need large and rapid changes that most cities will initially be unwilling to allow, existing industry era cities may less constrain the size and location of em cities.”

Transportation For AmericaStates ranked by deficient bridges Metro Transit rides hit 60 million mark [LRT down, Northstar down, buses up]

WaPo [Brad Plumer] Old roads and bridges need love too : “Earlier this year, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn and the University of Minnesota’s David Levinson made a more detailed case for a “fix-it first” strategy for transportation spending. They note that, at the moment, federal highway spending doesn’t usually get subjected to strict cost-benefit analysis, and there’s usually public pressure to build new roads and bridges rather than maintain existing ones. You see this pressure in all sorts of subtle ways: When a highway gets clogged, it’s a lot more palatable to expand lanes rather than, say, put in place congestion fees — even though research has found that widening highways doesn’t do much to alleviate traffic jams.
And there’s a solid economic case for making repairs a priority. As Kahn and Levinson note (see the graph on the right), road pavement tends to deteriorate slowly at first but then accelerate over time. It’s much, much cheaper to repair a road early on, when it’s still in “fair” condition, than when it drops down to “serious” condition. They also cite research by John Fernald showing that, although the initial productivity gains from the Interstate Highway System was high, subsequent expansions have offered a much smaller boost. And that’s to say nothing of data suggesting that poor road conditions are a “significant factor” in one-third of all fatal crashes, and cause extra wear-and-tear on cars.”

Linklist: October 21, 2011

Bloomberg View: Bolivia’s Amazon Highway a Bumpy Road for Morales, Brazil: “Morales was elected twice as a champion of his fellow indigenous people. He’s been a paladin for Mother Earth, recently pushing for international adoption of a Bolivian law granting nature rights, to be protected like those of human beings. Yet, in insisting on cutting a Brazilian-financed highway through the delicate Amazon forest, bifurcating the autonomous homelands of three indigenous groups, Morales has trampled on both causes.
This duplicity caught up with him last month after police roughed up indigenous protesters marching from their homes toward the capital, La Paz. After several senior officials quit in disgust, Morales announced suspension of the highway segment that runs through the peoples’ homeland, pending a national debate.”

Reuters: Chinese girl dies in hit-and-run that sparked outrage: “BEIJING – A two-year-old Chinese girl run over by two different vehicles and ignored by passersby died on Friday, state media said, in a case which ignited public uproar over what some called a moral numbness seeping through society. Both drivers who ran over the girl have been arrested, but Internet users have flooded microblogs decrying the apathy of the people who left her for dead, after graphic footage from a security camera of the incident went viral.”

Baseline Scenario: More Bathtubs : “Difficulty understanding stocks and flows may be a fundamental cognitive error such as anchoring or availability bias. In one experiment by Matthew Cronin, Cleotilde Gonzalez, and John Sterman, more than half of a group of students at MIT Sloan—one of the top business schools in the country—could not figure out, from a chart of entrances to and exits from a department store, when the most and fewest people were in the store. These errors turn out to be robust to different framing stories, different ways of presenting the data, and even when getting the questions wrong meant you had to stay in the room for an hour.
The underlying issue seems what they call the correlation heuristic: people think that the behavior of a stock (the amount of water in the tub) should be similar to the behavior of its inputs (the rate at which water pours from the faucet). This is especially a problem when it comes to understanding climate change. In another experiment, most people thought that stabilizing emissions was sufficient to stabilize the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; if you think about it, though, you should realize that if you want the level to be stable, inflows have to equal outflows (and right now inflows are about double outflows).”