An AI model showed Flint how to find lead pipes. What do you think they did after that?

❝ …Volunteer computer scientists, with some funding from Google, designed a machine-learning model to help predict which homes were likely to have lead pipes. The artificial intelligence was supposed to help the City dig only where pipes were likely to need replacement. Through 2017, the plan was working. Workers inspected 8,833 homes, and of those, 6,228 homes had their pipes replaced — a 70 percent rate of accuracy.

Heading into 2018, the City signed a big, national engineering firm, AECOM, to a $5 million contract to “accelerate” the program, holding a buoyant community meeting to herald the arrival of the cavalry in Flint…

❝ As more and more people had their pipes evaluated in 2018, fewer and fewer inspections were finding lead pipes…The new contractor hasn’t been efficiently locating those pipes: As of mid-December 2018, 10,531 properties had been explored and only 1,567 of those digs found lead pipes to replace. That’s a lead-pipe hit rate of just 15 percent, far below the 2017 mark…

❝ There are reasons for the slowdown. AECOM discarded the machine-learning model’s predictions, which had guided excavations. And facing political pressure from some residents, Mayor Weaver demanded that the firm dig across the city’s wards and in every house on selected blocks, rather than picking out the homes likely to have lead because of age, property type, or other characteristics that could be correlated with the pipes.

After a multimillion-dollar investment in project management, thousands of people in Flint still have homes with lead pipes, when the previous program would likely have already found and replaced them.

Life in America seems about as predictable as ever. Doesn’t have to be. Still, don’t get smug about analyzing the causes. Just fix it!

A Giant Step Forward in the Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis

From Rhea Suh, President NRDC


Unless you’re a Republican, nowadays

❝ For once, I am excited to report that there is good news on the Flint water crisis front. The pipes at the heart of the disaster are going to be replaced. For the first time in the three years since this Michigan city’s water was turned to poison, Flint’s citizens have a guarantee that the resources are in place to replace its estimated 18,000 lead pipes. And for the first time, they know when the pipes will be gone.

Let’s be clear, Flint is not fixed. But things are going to get better.

❝ This did not happen because of the city, state, or federal governments that failed them. It happened because brave people in Flint stood up for their neighbors. They went to court. One of the genius parts of American environmental protections are the citizen suit provisions in our major environmental laws. When the government fails to protect its citizens, we are all empowered to go to court and force the government to do its job.

❝ That happened in Flint. After the city and state trashed the drinking water infrastructure through a series of mistakes and errors, we joined with the Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Flint resident Melissa Mays to petition the federal government to use its emergency powers to help the beleaguered city. They refused. So, along with ACLU Michigan, we sued the city and state. The Safe Drinking Water Act also has provisions for citizens to enforce drinking water rules. Though there have only been a handful of these kinds of cases filed under the act, we all thought Flint seemed like a textbook situation for this type of case…

And today, that suit comes to the end with a settlement that guarantees that in three years, the lead pipes will be replaced. It guarantees that the state kicks in $67 million to help fix the mistakes, along with tens of millions more from federal sources…

❝ …But for today, let’s just celebrate good news for Flint. A city that deserves far more of it in the years to come.

I’ll second that emotion. RTFA for more details, past and present. Rhea Suh is too politely politic to trash-talk the conservatives, mostly in the Republican Party – and some Democrats deserve their share of condemnation for foot-dragging.

Too many folks hold elective office who consider budgets and balance sheets more important than the lives of the human beings they represent.

Mazda recalls vehicles because of a spider problem, again!

In what might be the weirdest reason for a car recall, Mazda is contacting car owners because of an issue with spiders. On April 5, Autoblog reported on the latest Mazda recall. They say the issue has to due with a specific spider that is attracted to the fuel systems in the car.

The Yellow Sac spider is plaguing Mazda yet again. Just three years ago the car manufacturer was forced to recall some 52,000 of their cars for the same exact problem. The issue here though is that the problem isn’t faulty equipment, it is the wildlife.

The newest recall applies to the 2010 through 2012 models of the Mazda6 sedan. According to Mazda, the Yellow Sac spiders are somehow getting into the vent lines in the fuel systems because they are attracted to the hydrocarbons in the gas tank. The problem with the pesky spiders is that their webs are blocking the ventilation systems and causing pressure to build up in the gas tank.

The recall only applies to the Mazda6 vehicles with the 2.5 liter engines. Even more interesting, the spider problem has only been found in vehicles that came from the Flint, Mich. plant. Many speculate that the spider problem originated at that specific plant and made it’s way into the fuel systems due to mature spiders laying their eggs inside the cars.

Does this latest spider related recall mean that Mazda should redesign the fuel system of the Mazda6 altogether? That might be the only solution since other Mazda vehicles haven’t been impacted and no other auto maker is reported a fuel tank issue caused by spiders.

Maybe they should be doing something about an excess of Yellow Sac spiders in their Flint factory?

Last time my only comment was about a spring-loaded solution to the invasion.

Forbes magazine names Miami the most miserable U.S. city


Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Warm sun, white beaches, and million-dollar mansions notwithstanding, Miami has captured the dubious distinction of being the most miserable city in the United States, according to a new poll.

The playground of the rich and famous is home to a crippling housing crisis, one of the highest crime rates in the country, and lengthy daily commutes for workers, all of which have propelled it to the No. 1 position in the Forbes.com list.

“Miami has sun and beautiful weather but other things make people miserable. You have this two-tier society: glitzy South Beach attracts celebrities, but the income inequality has skyrocketed in recent years”.

The rankings are based on factors including jobless rates, violent crime, foreclosures, income and property taxes, as well as considerations like weather, commute time and political corruption…

“We’re trying to judge cities where residents have a lot of complaints. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t terrific things there,” said Kurt Badenhausen. And for the haves Miami’s charms remain undiminished.

The one percent in Miami is doing fantastic. But for the vast majority, who make less than $75,000 a year, Miami can be a challenging place,” he said. “Forty-seven percent of homeowners sit on underwater mortgages. That’s tough.”

The complete list can be found at: tinyurl.com/75clrr9

Why am I not surprised? Florida voters keep professing their love for politicians devoted to screwing them to a wall of poverty, overextended budgets and reliance on corrupt bureaucrats.

Saving energy by improving the physics of display cases

What goes inside is important, too

Shoppers don’t usually give a second thought as they reach into a cooler to grab milk, cheese or prepackaged lunches. Open-front refrigerated display cases, which make up roughly 60 percent of the refrigerated cases in grocery stores and supermarkets, provide quick access to chilled products such as dairy, meat, fish and produce. While they are popular with shoppers and grocery stores, they’re less popular with electric utilities and others concerned with energy efficiency.

Designing grocery display cases is not rocket science, but it has a lot in common with aeronautical engineering. Refrigerated display cases shoot jets of air across their front openings, creating an invisible shield that aims to keep cold air in and warm air out. Current technology does this with limited success…

Combining experimental results and mathematical models, the team developed a tool that lets manufacturers optimize their particular design. Researchers collaborated with a leading display-case manufacturer to retrofit a proof-of-concept case. Tests showed the retrofit was a cost-effective way to get a 10 percent reduction in infiltration of warm air. Calculations for other display designs show potential savings of up to 15 percent.

Homayun Navaz’s team has now established a company in Flint, Michigan, that provides technical tools and training to help display-case manufacturers improve their products’ energy efficiency. “There’s definitely room for improvement in these display cases,” Dabiri said. “We’ve shown that we can get 10 to 15 percent improvement, which is definitely a tangible impact. In this whole push for energy efficiency, anything you can do is a help.”

An industry-wide implementation of the findings across the U.S. would save roughly $100 million in electricity costs each year.

I can recall a period in American culture when saving money through efficiencies like this was considered desirable and positive. Some time before the election of Ronald Reagan.

Save a city by demolishing it?

Dozens of proposals have been floated over the years to slow Flint, Michigan’s endless decline. Now another idea is gaining support: speed it up.

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods. The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval…

The recession in Flint, as in many old-line manufacturing cities, is quickly making a bad situation worse. Firefighters and police officers are being laid off as the city struggles with a $15 million budget deficit. Many public schools are likely to be closed…

Planned shrinkage became a workable concept in Michigan a few years ago, when the state changed its laws regarding properties foreclosed for delinquent taxes. Before, these buildings and land tended to become mired in legal limbo, contributing to blight. Now they quickly become the domain of county land banks, giving communities a powerful tool for change…

Nothing will happen immediately, but Flint has begun updating its master plan, a complicated task last done in 1965. Then it was a prosperous city of 200,000 looking to grow to 350,000. It now has 110,000 people, about a third of whom live in poverty.

Flint has about 75 neighborhoods spread out over 34 square miles. It will be a delicate process to decide which to favor, Dan Kildee acknowledged from the driver’s seat of his Grand Cherokee…

“If it’s going to look abandoned, let it be clean and green,” he said. “Create the new Flint forest — something people will choose to live near, rather than something that symbolizes failure.”

I suffered through the ungainly and crass disaster that was “Urban Renewal” in the 50’s and 60’s. Generally, that meant urban removal for poor people, regardless of color or ethnicity. This has as many high-sounding words; but, it’s going to take a lot of convincing for folks in Flint. I hope the politicians live up to those words.

Humans made fire 790,000 years ago

The ability to make fire millennia ago was likely a key factor in the migration of prehistoric hominids from Africa into Eurasia, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology believes on the basis of findings at the Gesher Benot Ya’aqov archaeological site in Israel.

Earlier excavations there…showed that the occupants of the site – who are identified as being part of the Acheulian culture that arose in Africa about 1.6 million years ago — had mastered fire-making ability as long as 790,000 years ago. This revelation pushed back previously accepted dates for man’s fire-making ability by a half-million years.

Dr. Nira Alperson-Afil said that further, detailed investigation of burned flint at designated areas in all eight levels of civilization found at the site now shows that “concentrations of burned flint items were found in distinct areas, interpreted as representing the remnants of ancient hearths.” This tells us, she said, that once acquired, this fire-making ability was carried on over a period of many generations.

She said that other studies which have reported on the use of fire only verified the presence of burned archaeological materials, but were unable to penetrate further into the question of whether humans were “fire-makers” from the very early stages of fire-use.

The new data from Gesher Benot Ya’akov is exceptional as it preserved evidence for fire-use throughout a very long occupational sequence. This continual, habitual, use of fire suggests that these early humans were not compelled to collect that fire from natural conflagrations, rather they were able to make fire at will,” Alperson-Afil said.

Friends know that I consider Quest for Fire to be semi-autobiographical. This study is very helpful to my emotional well-being.