Losing sight of reason in the debate over quiet electric vehicles

Recently, Nissan unveiled it’s “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians” (VSP), a wonky name for the noise added to the upcoming Leaf electric vehicle (EV) at low speeds. Doing so immediately ignited a debate about the aural aesthetics of the noise itself, but it also indirectly brought more attention to the issue of adding noise to cars in the first place.

For most of a year, it’s been bubbling under the surface, since the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has instigated legislators to believe that with their (in theory) quieter motors, hybrids and plug-ins are pedestrian-killing machines in the making. Initially, there was lots of hand-wringing over the Leaf’s acoustics specifically, whose tones many people found off-putting when heard in the initial videos. This was soon replaced by a fair amount of placation by the journalists and stakeholders flown by Nissan to Japan to test the Leaf in person. “Don’t worry about the regulation”, we’ve essentially been told in various blog posts, “the Leaf sounds aren’t so bad in person.”

Except, this isn’t about the Nissan Leaf – and it’s not really about blind people either. Or rather, it shouldn’t be…

To the extent that quieter vehicles might present a problem, the blind community is hardly the largest potentially affected group. Pedestrians in general – many of whom have less sensitive hearing than the blind and are often distracted with iPods and cell phones – and cyclists would be affected too. Of course the blind should be considered, but only as part of a much broader conversation. After all, we’re all blind to a vehicle approaching from behind.

But adding sound to transportation creates other problems – raising the general ambient noise makes it that much harder to detect any one vehicle, let alone oncoming bicycles and other pedestrian hazards. There are economic issues for communities located along freeways and major streets, whose property values are often lower largely due to increased levels of noise and pollution. And there are quality of life issues from the generally higher noise pollution levels of urban areas. The percentages can be debated, but most studies agree that some significant portion of passenger vehicles will be hybridized or electrified in coming decades and transportation in general will become quieter, added noise seems like a fairly perverse version of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

RTFA. Lots of room for discussion. I admit to almost stepping out in front of a hybrid SUV in a supermarket parking lot; but, that could have happened even if it was running on the internal combustion side of the dialectic.

Giving the NFB veto power over hybrids and EVs approaches the absurd in the realm of special interest groups. I have kin who are profoundly deaf with another set of problems that might be aided – in traffic – by having every vehicle on the road equipped with strobe lights.

Once you start, when do you stop?

Mexican candidate murdered while campaigning

A Mexican politician who was expected to win a state election has been killed on the campaign trail.

Rodolfo Torre Cantu, who was running for governor in the north-eastern state of Tamaulipas, was shot along with four of his supporters.

Police say he was on his way to a series of campaign rallies when his convoy was ambushed by hooded gunmen…

Tamaulipas has been the scene of a fierce turf war between rival drug gangs fighting over access to lucrative drug smuggling routes to the United States.

The BBC’s Julian Miglierini in Mexico City says Mr Torre Cantu had made the fight against drug-related violence his central campaign promise.

Our correspondent says that only hours before he was killed, Mr Torre Cantu told a rally that he wanted the people of Tamaulipas to feel safe and to be able to walk the streets without fear.

So much for campaign hopes and promises vs. corruption and drug gangs in Mexico.

Obama launches plan to boost broadband


Tea Party fears of Internet thought control

U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to free up airways would nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum currently available for wireless devices. The plan would make available 500 megahertz of federal and commercial spectrum over the next 10 years…

Freeing up spectrum would also create jobs by meeting the growing demand for mobile and fixed broadband, spur economic growth and raise funds to build an emergency network for public safety workers, the official said.

Some estimates suggest the next five years will see an increase in wireless data of between 20 to 45 times 2009 levels, reflecting the burgeoning use of smartphones, netbooks and other wireless devices…

“This initiative will catalyze private sector investment, contribute to economic growth, and help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Larry Summers said in excerpts made available in advance of a speech to the New America Foundation.

Under the policy, most of the freed-up spectrum would be auctioned for mobile broadband use…revenues from the auction would provide funding to help build a nationwide mobile broadband network for public safety.

After Hurricane Katrina and other botched government responses, that mobile broadband network was proposed to the Republican-controlled Congress – and got nowhere. Not enough profit guaranteed for the Telco corporate giants – even though Bush would have given it away in lieu of more tax cuts.

The network is overdue. Greater access to broadband is overdue. Anyone think the crew in Congress will back up the memorandum from the White House with anything more than ennui and foot-dragging?

Bosons aren’t fermions – not even a little bit

Of all the assumptions underlying quantum mechanics and the theory that describes how particles interact at the most elementary level, perhaps the most basic is that particles are either bosons or fermions. Bosons, such as the particles of light called photons, play by one set of rules; fermions, including electrons, play by another.

Seven years ago, University of California, Berkeley, physicists asked a fundamental and potentially disturbing question: Do bosons sometimes play by fermion rules? Specifically, do photons act like bosons all the time, or could they sometimes act like fermions?

Based on the results of their experiment to test this possibility, published June 25 in the journal Physical Review Letters, the answer is a solid “no.”

The theories of physics – including the most comprehensive theory of elementary particles, Quantum Field Theory, which explains nature’s electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear forces (but not gravity) — rest on fundamental assumptions, said Dmitry Budker, UC Berkeley professor of physics. These assumptions are based on how the real world works, and often produce amazingly precise predictions. But some physicists would like to see them more rigorously tested.

“Tests of (these assumptions) are very important,” said Budker. “Our experiment is distinguished from most other experimental searches for new physics in that others can usually be incorporated into the existing framework of the standard model of particles and forces. What we are testing are some of the fundamental assumptions on which the whole standard model is based…”

“We have this all-important symmetry law in physics, one of the cornerstones of our theoretical understanding, and a lot depends on it,” said Budker, who is also a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “But we don’t have a simple explanation; we have a complex mathematical proof. This really bothered a lot of physicists, including the late Nobel laureate Richard Feynman.”

“It’s a shame that no simple explanation exists,” said Budker, because it ties together basic assumptions of modern physics. “Among these assumptions are Lorentz invariance, the core tenet of special relativity, and invariance under the CPT (charge-parity-time) transformation, the idea that nature looks the same when time is reversed, space is reflected as in a mirror, and particles are changed into antiparticles. Lorentz invariance results from the entanglement of space and time, such that length and time change in reference frames moving at constant velocity so as to keep the speed of light constant…

Spacetime, causality, and Lorentz invariance are safe,…for now,” English said.

And we know that if there’s one thing most people require, it’s simple explanations.

It’s easier for us to deny something exists or is happening – than to follow a complex series of tests and research through to an even more complex explanation. It may require thought, an education beyond 6th-grade reading levels and a willingness to learn anew.

10 ways to find more pleasure every day

Most of these are reasonable suggestions. Mostly, they make sense and you will read them and say to yourself, “yes, that’s something that makes me happy”. And you should follow on by doing whichever will help your day – or forget about it and do whatever you really feel like doing.

Here are a couple I can agree with:


Aren’t you ready, yet?

1. Play that song you love so much. Repeat. As any preschooler can tell you, repetition nurtures pleasure. When you experience something more than once, you notice more details about it each time, thereby increasing your enjoyment. That’s why you love revisiting that jazz standard, favorite roast chicken recipe, and beloved old Woody Allen movie.

6. Look outside. Our species has spent almost all of its existence on the African savanna, surrounded by trees, water, and sky. The world in which most of us spend our time nowadays is unnatural and can corrode the spirit. Even a small dose of nature elevates our mood. But accept no substitutes..!

7. Pet a dog (any dog). You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating: Physical contact with animals works wonders. It increases the brain chemicals associated with pleasure and decreases those associated with stress. Even people without pets can get some of the effect by hanging out for a few minutes at a dog run.

Start your Monday in tolerable fashion.

I’m going for a walk with my dog.

Salmon will be first GM animal available for consumption


Jetliner carrying one fish to market

A salmon that grows at twice the normal rate is set to be the first genetically modified (GM) animal available for human consumption.

Usually Atlantic salmon do not grow during the winter and take three years to fully mature. But by implanting genetic material from an eel-like species called ocean pout that grows all year round, US scientists have managed to make the fish grow to full size in 18 months.

They hope that the sterile GM salmon can offer an efficient and safe way to breed salmon in fish farms, so that the wild fish can be left in the oceans.

US watchdog the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering whether the GM Atlantic salmon, called AquAdvantage, is safe to eat. The fish could be on supermarket shelves within a year

But Lord Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said the new technology is not worth the risk.

“Once you have bombarded an animal with other genes, the DNA is unstable, and there is no guarantee these fish remain sterile. It poses far too great a risk to wild salmon. A fish that grows that quickly is likely to lose some of its environmental benefits. There is no such thing as a free salmon lunch and we will pay the price,” he said.

I hope he knows more about soil than he apparently does about genomics.

And I have to laugh over the Telegraph’s headline. I can picture this giant salmon lurching through the aisles of a supermarket. When in fact the growers are aiming at bringing the farmed fish to market size sooner – not larger.

Such foolishness and sophistry.