Kirk Van Houten Better Start Worrying: Kirk is a character on 'The Simpsons'. He's Milhouse's dad. Milhouse - for those of you who don't follow the show - is Bart Simpson's best friend and near-sighted foil.
At first, Kirk Van Houten was a mid-level executive at his father-in-law's cracker factory. But, as soon as Kirk and wife Luann got divorced, he was fired. Since then he's had a bunch of setbacks and loser jobs, the most recent was as a sign spinner, directing people to a new condo development.
Now the spinner industry is under fire from technology. Two weeks ago, I was driving along on Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, when I spotted two sign spinners within two blocks. Both were department store mannequins with animated arms.
I did a little research and found that a company called Mann-E-Spin sells these devices. It is claimed that they will run up to 18 hours on a single battery charge. While I see some immediate problems with this first generation of robospinners (easily stolen, mannequin durability and weatherability issues), I suspect that this idea will take off, especially since Washington state just raised its minimum wage to $11.50/hour.
Recently, the ever-prolific Z Man wrote, "When the (unemployment) numbers swell as automation eliminates the need for human labor in wide swaths of the economy, it will be impossible to dismiss the idle. When many of the idle are people who formerly occupied office jobs or semi-skilled laboring positions, blaming their condition on a lack of ambition is not going to be possible. The current labor participation rate is about 63% right now. This is about where it was in the Carter years. In the coming decades, that number will fall below 50% due to automation and demographics."
He suggests that a revised immigration policy may offer a partial solution. "When 80% of today's immigrants end up on public assistance, the immigrants of tomorrow will be nothing more than useless people to police, feed and house. Japan is the model to follow. They have no immigration and their population levels are about to drop in the coming decades."
All joking about The Van Houten Dilemma aside, the rise of automation means a grim future for the unskilled, the semi-skilled and the incompetent. (posted 1/18/18, permalink)
New Wine In Old Bottles: The latest over-hyped mass transit fad is the e-Bus, an electric bus. Major U.S. transit companies are unimpressed and keep buying diesels.
"Despite a surplus of cities seeking ways to reduce air pollution, electric buses haven't taken off in the United States as expected ... out of the more than 65,000 public buses currently on U.S. roads, only about 300 are electric ... they do require reliable charging infrastructure and a larger-than-average initial investment."
The first buses powered by electric motors appeared in the early 1920s. Known as trolley buses or trackless trolleys, they got their electricity from overhead wires via trolley poles. But there were those pesky and unsightly overhead wires.
In the 1950s, the Swiss used to have a flywheel-powered bus. It recharged (spun-up the electric motor) from electrical poles along the route - took 30 seconds or so. Zero pollution. No overhead wires either. It was the Gyrobus, made by the Swiss firm, Oerlikon.
The Gyrobus had a 3,300-pound, steel flywheel located beneath the floor spinning at 3,000 rpm. The flywheel spun the motor's armature, turning it into a generator. The electricity it produced powered a second electric motor, which drove the bus wheels. Every three to four miles on the route there were posts where the flywheel was recharged - three poles on the bus were raised to make contact with a three-phase alternating current source.
There were 27 Gyrobuses in Yverdon, Switzerland and, later, 17 in Leopoldsville, Zaire. Other flywheel buses have been tested recently in Hong Kong and Australia, using a more high-tech flywheel. And a flywheel-powered trolley has been in service in Bristol, England since 1998. There are no overhead wires. It draws power from low voltage electric charging points at passenger stops. The electricity powers an electric motor that spins a 1,000-pound flywheel. The vehicle, which has 20 seats and room for 14 standing passengers as well, can travel up two miles before it needs to recharge its flywheel.
I think much of the spending on mass transit makes no economic sense. And is a waste of tax dollars. In smaller, less-population-dense cities, public transit is 'pushed' by Greenies with a political agenda. Or politicians with an Eco agenda. But, in their quest for more energy-efficient, earth-friendly transit systems, why aren't these people looking at flywheel-powered solutions?
Bring back the Gyrobus. (posted 1/2/18, permalink)