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J. Steven York
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I think, I dream, sometimes I write it down. People seem to enjoy it when I do. www.YorkWriters.com
I think, I dream, sometimes I write it down. People seem to enjoy it when I do. www.YorkWriters.com

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This business of a "Tesla Roller Coaster" for transit around their campus may seem frivolous, but as we know, Musk really doesn't do "frivolous." He's broadly interested in cutting fossil fuel use and producing cleaner and better ways for people to get around.

Mass transit has traditionally been limited to dense, urban, centers, but there are many niche applications where mass transit would be useful, if the cost could be brought down enough.

One of these is what I call "constrained communities," which describes the place where I live on the Oregon coast. It's a tourist town on Hwy 101, which is both our main-street and a major through highway for people traveling the coast. During the winter, traffic on 101 is bearable, but in the summer, especially on weekends and holidays, it's jammed, approaching gridlock. At these times, the tourist population dwarfs the full-time residents, and through traffic is also at its peak.

One solution would be to build a wider road, or a bypass, but this is where the constrained part comes in. The town has the beach on one side of 101, and tall hills and a lake on the other. The town is about ten miles long, but almost all of its houses and businesses hug the highway. Widening the highway would necessitate destroying pretty much all the older and more interesting buildings, coring out the town and turning it into a generic business strip.

But for years, I've half-jokingly proposed a solution: A monorail type system that would run above the center of Hwy 101 and divert significant local traffic, encouraging visitors to park their cars and take transit (at the same time, encouraging people to stay longer and spend more, and also providing ocean views that they don't get from the highway). Because of the constrained layout of the town, one route, about 7 miles long to start, would be surrounded by maximum rider density, and be walking distance to a great majority of the town.

I say half-jokingly because, although I think the plan has merit, it would be exceedingly expensive, and difficult to raise funds for, especially not without excessively high user fees that would drive ridership away. Construction and operating costs for these systems have historically tended to spiral out of control, and they're so rarely implemented that no economies of scale are achieved. Every new system is, practically, a one-off.

But I remain convinced that there IS a technological solution out there somewhere, and moreover, that it could be useful in enough and find enough applications to be mass produced.

Why are monorails and other elevated systems so expensive? Well, the tracks are complicated and physically massive. They're complicated because they must support power, communications, and switching for trails. They're massive because trains are heavy.

But, let's see. What if we could eliminate the power requirement by using batteries, and the communications and switching requirement by using modern wireless technology? Of course, batteries are heavy, but what if we can distribute the load by not using trains, but rather, smaller vehicles, somewhere between community bus sized and individual pods? We could build lighter, cheaper tracks, which could also be less obstructing to light and views (a big consideration in a tourist town). And by making the system fully automated, we could eliminate the cost, complexity, and weight, of putting drivers in each vehicle.

Hmmm. Who has experience in building light-weight, self-driving, battery powered vehicle?

Now, I can't know that this is what they're planning, but it makes a great deal of sense. The technological synergy is there. And while our little tourist town may seem an outlier, such a system could find use in all sorts of places, from corporate campuses, to shopping and entertainment districts, and even to suburban feeder lines that would bring people to heavier transit. And there are plenty of constrained towns out there, along every coastline, in valleys, along rivers.

It's another way of getting cars off streets, getting people to use carbon friendly electric transportation, and of making these technologies available to everyone, and not just people who can afford expensive (for now, anyway) new car. It's another piece of the transportation puzzle that Musk is trying to solve, and one that has not been well served in the past. I think he might be going for it.

#tesla #elonmusk #transit #transportation #environment 

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I missed this on Monday.

" "The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.” "

h/t +Maarten Kleyne & +Dennis D. McDonald


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I've been watching the guys on +Tested​ go gaga over VR the last couple of years, and one of the major presenters, Will Smith(not that one!) even left to form his own VR production company. But all along, I've had doubts, and they've only grown. I just don't think VR is (yet) ready to turn into a consumer product for general use.

As the article states, the high end stuff still remains too expensive, and the low end experience suffers in a number of ways. And it's increasingly evident that a good VR experience requires SPACE, probably dedicated space, that people living in an increasingly urban society don't really have.

But even more significant is that use of VR creates fatigue and often, motion sickness, and this is only worse on low end systems.

Add to this the fact that people using VR are still in the real world, looking like complete dorks looking around blindly in their bulky headgear, and waving their hands around like fools. At the very least, it makes VR a hard sell to the public.

And not only do people using VR look silly, they're also very vulnerable, from everything to practical jokes to violent crime. Even if this rarely happens, the FEELING of vulnerability, the simple possibility of it, is going to put some people off.

VR tech will pay off somewhere, but I don't think it's just going to be another home entertainment medium like television, the internet, or video game consoles.

#vr



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Like Tinkerbell, Physicists Discover Information can Serve as Fuel

"The erasure mechanism can be used to design generalized heat engines operating under the reservoirs of multiple conserved quantities such as a thermal reservoir and a spin reservoir," Bedkihal said. "For example, one may design heat engines using semiconductor quantum dot systems where lattice vibrations constitute a thermal reservoir and nuclear spins constitute a polarized spin reservoir. Such heat engines go beyond the traditional Carnot heat engine that operates under two thermal reservoirs."

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Just to be clear, this is NOT the magical reactionless drive that NASA has been studying, and that has been getting all the press attention. And to clarify, though the engine need not burn fuel in the conventional sense, it still needs reaction mass to turn into plaza and shoot out the nozzles. So it's still going to need tanks of some sort, most likely. But it will be more efficient at turning the stuff in those tanks into thrust, and be better suited to the high velocities of deep space travel.
The rocket engine starts with a neutral gas as a feedstock for plasma, in this case argon. The first stage of the rocket ionizes the argon and turns it into a relatively “cold” plasma. The engine then injects the plasma into the second stage, the “booster,” where it is subjected to a physics phenomenon known as ion cyclotron resonance heating. Essentially, the booster uses a radio frequency that excites the ions, swinging them back and forth.

As the ions resonate and gain more energy, they are spun up into a stream of superheated plasma. This stream then passes through a corkscrew-shaped nozzle and is accelerated out of the back of the rocket, producing a thrust.

Such an engine design offers a couple of key benefits over most existing propulsion technology. Perhaps most notably, unlike chemical rockets, the plasma rocket operates on electricity. As it flies through space, therefore, it does not need massive fuel tanks or a huge reservoir of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel. Instead, the rocket just needs some solar panels.

via +Jennifer Ouellette

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" On Wednesday, Dragon encountered a fault within a filter in its GPS System, in charge of processing the Relative GPS data collected by the spacecraft itself and transmitted by ISS through the UHF communications link. SpaceX engineers in Hawthorne, California immediately started the process of diagnosing the issue with the initial suspicion that Dragon’s computers were provided an incorrect ISS state vector that did not converge with the GPS data Dragon received. "


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Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

"The rarity of the books would make them incredibly hard to unload on the open market, Cook notes, and investigators theorize that a wealthy collector known as 'The Astronomer' may have hired the thieves to steal the books for him."

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