Terrafugia flying car–getting closer to reality!

Terrafugia has been working on some interesting things in the flying-car realm.  I wrote about them a couple of years ago, but now we are getting closer to being able to actually go out and buy one of these.

Driving to flying, and back to driving again

Here’s some interesting inside-the-cockpit footage:

Inside the cockpit

Now, they have announced that they are working on a hybrid-electric VTOL car!  At the moment, it’s at the concept stage, but it certainly would be really cool if they can get it off the ground (er, sorry, I couldn’t resist)

VTOL hybrid gas/electric

The Atacama (aka Ata), Chile Humanoid (Sirius movie)

According to an article in the Huffington Post, the DNA for what looks like a 6 inch space alien has been classified and found to be human.

Hollywood publishers originally said that the documentary would reveal that the DNA of the creature could not be medically clasified.  In a rare stroke of honesty (much to the chagrin of UFO entusiasts), the film “Sirius” features a scientist who concluded that the little humanoid is in fact human.


Aviation Trust Fund to be used to keep control towers open

According to Forbes: After a week of mounting pressure from airline lobbying groups and air travelers outraged at flight delays caused by across-the-board Government spending cuts, Congress fixed the problem by preparing legislation (which the President said he would sign) to allow the transfer of revenue from the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund to cover air traffic controller salaries and prevent the closure of control towers.   Contrary to what many commenters have said, this action was not a rescue of the aviation elite at the expense of social welfare programs.  And no money will be diverted from DOT’s budget for other programs, such as highway improvement or bridge safety.  The Airport and Airway Trust Fund is never used for these other programs and it’s misleading for commenters to imply that there will be a negative impact on these other programs by this transfer of funds.

I applaud this decision, and I believe it is a good stop-gap to allow control towers to remain open and preserve the safety and efficiency of aircraft traffic.  Assuming this legislation passes, it is good that an accident did not have to occur before something positive was done about the situation.  However, this fund was not set up for this purpose, and it seems to me that it would be wrong to continue to redirect funds in this way for the long term.  This should give the FAA time to re-evaluate and to propose cuts to meet their new budgetary requirements without compromising safety, the way their reckless and irresponsible tower closing proposal did.

Hyperloop, electric cars, and philosophy–Elon Musk

This is a really neat interview with Elon Musk.  In case you’ve been in a cave for the last 20 years, Elon founded Space-X, Tesla, and is one of the more creative and brilliant entrepreneurs around.  He seems to be a very intelligent yet genuine person, as you’ll see in this interview.  He has an interesting philosophy on creative design processes and

One of the ideas he’s spoken about recently is something he refers to as the Hyperloop.  This is apparently a new mode of transportation which is supposedly very fast, accident-free, and low cost.  He visualizes using this technology to link major cities.  As he’s a bit on the busy side with his other ventures, his plan is to release this into the public domain so that others can pick up the ball and run with it.  How cool is that??

Hyperloop, electric cars, and philosophy–Elon Musk

FAA tower closing plan–Irresponsible and Inane!

With the government budget sequestration, many departments in our government have been forced to make budget cutbacks and adjustments (and not before time, if you ask me – governmental spending has been out of control for years).

As a private pilot, I find one department’s response to be particularly disturbing.  As soon as sequestration looked like it was probably going to happen, the FAA released a petulant sounding 5-yr-old statement staying that it intended to close most of the contract-based control towers at airports in the USA.  Really? Is that the best they could come up with for things to trim with a budget reduction?

Now that sequestration has happened, the FAA is standing behind this bizarre and irresponsible approach to budget cutting.  They are planning to close 149 active control towers nationwide (out of 238 total)!  According to Craig Fuller, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) “The White House does not understand the consequences of these actions, or they do and they simply do not care,” Fuller said. “Either way, this approach is dangerous and should not stand.”  Speaking to a group of more than 100 pilots at an AOPA town hall meeting at DuPage Airport outside of Chicago, he goes on to say “We are on the eve of one of the most unfortunate and unnecessary actions ever taken by the Federal Aviation Administration,” Fuller said. “The FAA should use the flexibility it has to avoid a deep, across-the-country closure of air traffic control towers based on a flawed formula that shuts down towers because they serve general aviation.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Fuller.  The FAA is behaving completely irresponsibly in this matter.  There are other things for them to trim other than control towers which are directly responsible for traffic safety into and out of our airports.

This is a picture of the brand-new control tower at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland.  It was opened last May with $5.3 million in federal government funds.  Now, this is just one of the towers on the chopping block by the FAA.  This seems the height of absurdity to me.

What does the FAA say about all this?

The FAA says it is facing an untenable situation. By congressional mandate, it must cut nearly $600 million from its nearly $48 billion budget this fiscal year. Because the majority of its 47,000 employees are air traffic controllers, it is impossible to cut its budget without affecting controllers, the agency says.

The FAA is furloughing employees, eliminating midnight shifts at some control towers and reducing maintenance on non-critical facilities. In an effort to affect the fewest travelers, the FAA said it is targeting lower-volume airports — those that have fewer than 150,000 operations a year (a takes off or landing is an operation) and fewer than 10,000 commercial operations.

The 238 towers fall under those thresholds, including 49 FAA-staffed towers and 189 contractor-staffed towers. The FAA cuts to be announced Friday focus solely on the contract towers. 

This is not surprising – contract towers have never been well liked by the FAA and they aren’t considered “part of the family” by the agency.  Typically contract towers are less expensive and more efficient than FAA staffed towers (is that much of a surprise?)

The FAA claims that these tower closures will not impact safety. ROFL! Oh, there will be an impact, but most likely it will be the crunching of metal as two planes collide, causing loss of life and property.  The FAA plans to reduce flight volumes to help, which means that flights to major cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours.  This will of course have a ripple effect across the country.  If you delay one airport, then you delay the airport where the flight originates also.

It is time for the news media to get this into the public eye.  It makes no sense at all, and something dire is going to have to happen before these buffoons are exposed.  This does not have to happen!  We cannot allow such irresponsible actions on the part of the FAA.

Inane act of the year award winner!

This clever woman found a snake in her back yard.  Her very bizarre response was to throw gasoline on it and light it on fire.  It predictably ran way, set a pile of leaves on fire, which then set her house on fire.  Her house was completely destroyed, and part of her neighbor’s house was destroyed.  I’m really not sure anybody will be able to beat this in terms of stupidity this year!

Here’s the story: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/woman-house-burned-down-snake-she-set-fire-182236352.html

A High Court ‘Gray Market’ Win for Costco, EBay

Ok, I don’t do this often, but here’s a repost I found interesting:

A High Court ‘Gray Market’ Win for Costco, EBay
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 19, 2013

In a victory for companies like Costco (COST) and EBay (EBAY)—not to mention cash-strapped college students—the Supreme Court ruled that textbooks and other goods made abroad can be resold in the U.S. without violating American copyright law. In other words: You bought it, you own it. The 6-3 decision offers legal protection and legitimacy to what has been estimated as a $63 billion “gray market,” in which third parties import brand-name goods protected by copyright or trademark in the U.S. Some of those gray market goods are resold online or at brick-and-mortar discount retailers. The retailers, like EBay and Costco, want to continue to sell goods manufactured and sold abroad at lower prices, even if those goods arguably violate a U.S. copyright. The Tuesday decision clears the way for them to do so.

RIM Blackberry 10 (BB10) available this week

With the general availability of the Blackberry 10 device starting on Monday of this week, several important questions arise.

Does anybody actually care?  RIM has lost so much momentum to iPhone, Android, and Windows phone.  Can they realistically ever recover? I doubt it.  Still, there are die-hard crackberry addicts who will embrace this new model.  Businesses need to take a bit of a look and see if there is any demand in their user base.  If there is (especially executive demand), then the new management platform may be worth digging into.  RIM wants everybody to use this to manage ALL of their mobile devices.  Whether or not this will actually happen remains to be seen, but BES10 will be needed if you want to support BB10 properly.  Since BES10 is new, it would probably be prudent to wait 6 months or so before deploying it in production.

Gartner has published a fairly concise report on this: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2374518

New car for me!

I finally bid my 2005 Prius adieu. It had 280,000+ miles on it, and the battery was starting to fade (for the second time).  I decided that I didn’t want to be the owner of an older Prius and have to start dumping money into it.  Also, since I live in snow country, I had my Prius for daily driving, and a Laforza SUV 4WD for when it was snowy.  I wanted to consolidate and just have to maintain ONE vehicle for both purposes.

As I do a lot of driving, mileage was very important.  I like a hatchback, so I looked around to see what was available in high-mileage 4wd vehicles.  It turns out, there are not a lot of options.  Still, I soldiered on and came up with a list of cars.  My wife and I drove down the hill to the auto plaza in Ontario so we could test drive all of them.

On a whim, we decided to toss the Nissan Juke into the mix, even though my wife was sure I wouldn’t like it.  On that basis, I drove it first to “get it out of the way”.  It’s an odd looking car, has decent mileage 25/32, and AWD.

We then went on to test drive the more solid ones on the list: Mazda CX5, Subaru CrossTrek, and Jeep Patriot.  I expected to like and buy the CrossTrek, from my web drooling sessions.  In fact, I found it to be the most “whelming” vehicle on the list.  It was okay, but didn’t  really impress me in any area (performance, handling, interior, features).  It did have the highest mileage, but only by one MPG, so I didn’t feel that was a differentiating factor.

The top two were, to our surprise, the Mazda CX5 and the Nissan Juke.  They both had good mileage, AWD, nice interior, and lots of features (ok, so I’m a geek, I love the bells and whistles).  The main difference was that the CX5 is larger and roomier, but the Juke has better performance due to it’s Turbo.  I’m a bit of a leadfoot, so I chose performance over roominess.

We traded in the Prius and drove the Juke home that evening.  It was certainly not the outcome we predicted, but after driving it for a couple of months (and 2600 miles), I really like the car.  It handles great in all conditions, and is sporty to drive.  I get an average 26.1 MPG for the most part (unless I keep my foot in it, which I really DO try not do do… really, I do!).  It’s been wonderful in the snow several times, and even with the lousy factory highway tires, hasn’t needed chains or anything.  I did re-adjust my “Spikes Spider” chains from the Prius for the Juke, so worst case I can whip those puppies on.  If you don’t know about them and drive in the snow, you should check them out.  They are really a great invention. I put my chains on or take them off in the time it takes other drivers to lay their chains/cables out on the road behind their wheels.  When the tires wear out, I will replace them with all-season tires and so I expect my grip next winter to be even better.

As the Juke is fairly new to the world, there don’t seem to be any hacks/tweaks/backdoors out for it yet.  The only one I have found online is a hardware hack to disable the speed reporting to the nav system so that it thinks you are stationary and lets you do anything you want.  I might just have to do this, but it does entail a fair amount of dash disassembly, so I’m not really thrilled about doing it.  As far as software back-doors, I have yet to hear about one.