Category Archives: Energy & Sustainability

This is What Happens when the Traffic Lights Go Out

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IMG_20140430_080808_431It is a regular day as people everywhere get into their cars and quietly go towards work. For the most part, the city seems normal. At least it was until a huge demand in electricity caused an outage which turned off the lights at a peaceful intersection. With only a few people present at the time, it wasn’t hard to figure out what to do. The individuals involved proceeded to approach the crossroads like a 4-way stop and everything continued without a glitch. A couple of seconds later the power returns. Red lights turn to green, sprinklers regain their schedule spraying the lawns with mists of water vapor, and traffic continues.

Since there was little traffic, only a minor inconvenience occurred. However, this was not the case at another intersection just down the road. The lights are still black there and the area is on a much busier street making the individuals much more tense. Instead of waiting for each vehicle to proceed one by one, the people on opposite sides push through in groups. The ones parallel to each other move on after that, taking turns crossing the road’s center point. Power does return, but only after a lot of honking and yelling.

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Just as the scene calms down, another malfunction happens. This time all the lights are blinking red. The system resets, but the controller mechanisms haven’t re-calibrated yet. No one knows what to do. Then, all of a sudden, the cops show up trying to figure out what is going on and pedestrians start taking photos. This extended period of time without working lights forces two people who are not paying attention to interact. Tires screech and metal collide pushing into the frames of the two vehicles like dented beer cans.

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Although money will exchange hands addressing the cost of damages, the sudden lack of power on the grid shows that the infrastructure put in place is not sustainable. At some point in time, the cracks will show.

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Suggestions:

Remove all the traffic lights and push towards automated driverless cars. People will still be able to to travel. There will just be a heightened sense of awareness until they get more comfortable with the new system. Now replace the steering wheel with a touch display and let the cars drive themselves. Allow each vehicle to talk directly to each other without having to communicate through a centralized server. This will keep each car asking where the other vehicles are in relation to each other. Each node would be able to see what the others are connected to maintaining the context of the roads. After installing all this, then you won’t need any faulty signal lights trying to direct the traffic that changes at any given moment anyways, and everyone can continue on their way back to work even if the power goes out.

 

 

Who Owns the Digital City?

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For me, this question of ownership started when I was looking into my fridge in college wondering where all the food went. Money was tight, but the motivation to succeed at something kept me thinking. As I closed the door and ventured out into the world, I began looking for places to eat. Fast food joints were everywhere and students roamed freely. Eventually, a sushi restaurant called Mr. Roboto’s spoke my name through an interconnected app on my phone. A notification popped up directing me where to go, and a short distance later I was seated comfortably eating some delicious seafood.

Fast forward to the present and now everything seems intertwingled. I’m sitting in a room with some of the greatest minds of our time. Ted Nelson, Steve Wozniak, Jaron Lanier, Dick Heiser, and Christine Borgman are all here. They speak of what it was like to see a pioneer construct the ideas of what computers and networks would manifest into. They hint at the interweaving of information in all its forms. Thoughts float about as data is being aggregated from just about any surface. Roads have street lights that trigger camera captures when a color changes. Parking meters are referenced through phone apps allowing money to refresh the time. Even, utilities are gathering information about the people who pay for electricity. All that data (and more) is coming together in ways that can greatly affect our lives.

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But who owns that data? The chances are it is not you. Most likely the information that is being collected is by various startup companies that are looking to profit off the mass aggregation of people’s lifestyles. They want a quick buy out by a larger corporation making the founders millions of dollars while the individuals adding to the system get nothing. Call it capitalism, or the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit, or whatever. All that is clear is that there are people who are looking to ‘own’ the information of the digital city and profit off that. But who really holds the power here?

Some might say that those who are controlling the digital information are the people who are initiating the servers and databases to direct the data. This is true. The people who have the biggest and baddest computer systems tend to run the world. Look at Walmart, or Google, or Facebook. They all have large information systems that pull and push and manage that data. This helps them make ‘better’ decisions, but they are limited by the infrastructures that have been put in place.

For instance, you cannot run a server without power. There must a wire, or group of wires, running directly through the walls taking the electricity from a power plant into the building where a budding internet startup is being born. Without those connections of electricity, the digital city does not exist. It becomes just an idea of those sitting in darkness hoping to make something out of nothing.

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So to answer the question above, the people that own the digital city right now are the utility companies. Without them, no internet startup can exist. Without energy being pumped into the building, servers and air conditioning and air hockey tables cannot be established. They need electricity to function, but few seem to acknowledge this. As a startup builds up and sets itself up for investments and potential acquisitions, they tend to forget who really laid the ground work. The electrician who crawled through the dusty confines of the walls who laid the very foundation of power gets no credit for this. The power company that is generating the electricity gets no mention either. But in reality, they are the true owners of the digital city. They make it work on a fundamental level that most cannot see.

 

Article written by Matthew T. @industrychanger

7 Ideas that surfaced at Long Beach’s Sustainability Mixer

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On Thursday, April 17, a Green Generation event was held in a Japanese Garden located on a college campus. It felt like the Garden of Eden as light from the sun shined down on the people walking around a beautiful koi pond in the middle. Tables were setup along the edges to showcase many unique projects that are being developed by students at CSULB. Described below are just a few ideas that presented themselves at this event:

1)      Battery Recycling

If you got old any old 9-volt, AA, or watch batteries lying around, then this service will be perfect for you. Instead of throwing them out, just recycle them.

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2)      Community Gardens & Kitchens

Good food is becoming harder and harder to come by, especially if you are in poverty. If you live in a place where they don’t even have grocery stores (aka a food desert) and the only option for sustenance is a dirty McDonald’s, then you’re diet clearly isn’t sustainable. To help solve this problem, community gardens and kitchens are popping up everywhere. These places provide a way for those in need of pesticide-free organic vegetables to get them.

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3)      Liquefied Natural Gas Shipping Infrastructures

As the oil reserves of the world rapidly run out, the need to find alternative fuel sources is ever prevalent. One particularly interesting type of energy is coming from natural gas. Already commercial trucks and buses have integrated CNG systems. Although the miles per gallon are increased this way, the cost of shipping is the most expensive part. It is nice to see that people are attempting to solve this exceptionally hard problem of energy sustainability.

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4)      Offshore Shellfish Ranches

If the plankton and shellfish of the many oceans decrease exponentially, then a chain reaction of consequences will be set in motion that will change the world in ways that we can only guess the full extent of. Maintaining the delicate balance of those ecosystems is critical. Offshore shellfish ranches increase food security for those who must have this healthy source of protein.

5)      Recycling Reward Systems

To go with the battery recycling initiate posted above, recycling reward systems are being put in place to help motivate individuals to recycle more. The information is stored on a server which can be accessed through various web portals and mobile apps. It will be interesting to see what types of perks will be given to those people who recycle. If they aren’t setup in a way to benefit those adding information to the database, then those who generate wealth off these types of systems will only be the people who initiate the servers.

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6)      Natural Flowing Architecture

As the need to restructure our cities persists, new ideas arise of how to design buildings that reflect the natural flowing elements of the outside world with safety of a suburban culture. The interlaced outcome is an amazing work of art that you can live in.

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7)      Power Saving Electric Readers

This is by far my most favorite area of energy sustainability. It is the use of personal hardware devices that sense electrical signals and heat waves. It allows just about anyone to know how much power is being used. Internships and job opportunities are being created through student and corporate initiatives to train people to use these types of devices.

Bonus:

8)      Koi Pond Music Stages

Music is a driving force that can motivate and inspire just about any emotion in the human spectrum. It can be found in some of the most unusual and extraordinary places. The pure nature of a koi pond makes an amazing platform to jam out some tunes and rhythms.

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Article written by Matthew T. : @industrychanger