Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hybrids are so quiet they could kill the blind

OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Well, maybe not so much. Read on.

The Lansing, Michigan area bus provider is the Capital Area Transportation Authority, or CATA. My friend Mark Grebner worked for years to integrate the Lansing and Michigan State University bus systems. He succeeded beyond his dreams. CATA buses ramble through the campus at an amazing rate. They carry students from all corners.

The end result is an integrated town/gown bus system that enjoys huge ridership. Sometimes it seems more like a well-run streetcar service.

CATA, being a progressive organization, has invested in hybrid buses. They cost more to buy, but they use far less fuel. A few months ago, walking on campus, I noticed that they also emit far less noise.

I called Mark and mentioned that people rely on the noise that buses emit -- you hear the bus coming and you don't step off the curb. Even when driving the noise helps you stay away from these behemoths. So I proposed we should put a horn or a bell on the hybrids. Mark replied, well why not install sound emitters and pick your sound? The bus could sound like a bus, or, as Mark observed, it could pretend to be the Staten Island Ferry.

Lo and behold it turns out this is a serious issue for the blind. All Things Considered reported Thursday that the National Federation for the Blind wants hybrid cars to emit sound. The reporter waited with a blind man on a street in Washington D.C. as cars passed by. His interviewee could hear internal combustion engine cars easily. A hybrid (a Prius) went by; he did not hear it.

The advocate for the blind suggested that hybrids should emit sound at all times to make up for the missing noise. That was Mark's idea for the buses. There is technology for sending focused beams of sound, but I bet the passengers in the car could hear it, and it would drive them nuts.

I think a better answer is low-power radio. The car emits a radio signal. At busy intersections, receivers pick up the signal as hybrids go by, and in turn emit an audio warning of some sort. It could be a bell, a beep, or a vocal warning. Heck, it could take advertising. "Warning: a Prius is approaching and saving the earth." (Already at busy intersections on MSU's campus, recorded voices announce the status of Walk / Don't Walk.)

Blind people also could carry special receivers that pick up the signal anywhere. If a Prius drives by, the radio catches the signal and interrupts whatever program you're listening to. Also imagine a low-power FM network throughout a city or a campus, broadcasting location information so you know where you are.

I am betting that my friend Ron Choura, who knows more about telecom in his little finger than I will ever know, can come up with a low-power radio scheme within minutes after reading this post. And my friend Mike Hudson will probably tell me this has all been thought through.


Mark Grebner weighs in, proposing that the hybrid should emit noise but not upset the passengers. Quote:

My thought is the sound should be "plausible", not "artificial"sounding.
That is, sort of like a slightly amplified hybrid would really sound..
So if the system failed, you'd still hear (faintly) the same sound as a
car approached you.

The analogy would be power-steering or power-brakes - they both continue to
work even if not as well. Or lightly amplified opera, which is a major issue for
NY Times

Mounting a small speaker in the outer shell of the vehicle (where the
lights are) and directing the sound outward, should result in unobtrusive levels
inside the passenger compartment. And - in any event - it would just sound
like your hybrid was slightly louder than its natural level.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cool invention fixes wow and flutter in analog recordings

Heard a really great All Things Considered story last night about technology that can remove "wow and flutter" from old analog recordings. It works with reel to reel tape, phonograph records, and even a soundtrack on film. They played some examples that showed how remarkably well it worked. Stuff that was unlistenable sounded pretty good.

Imagine what this can do for old audio of all kinds -- old 78s, old master tapes, old movies. Wow. Listen here:

Using Digital Tools to Repair Analog Audio

All Things Considered, February 19, 2007 · Robert Siegel talks to Jamie Howarth about the next step in audio restoration: ridding analog-era sound of its inevitable speed variations by writing software that virtually recreates the original device on which a recording was made from the existing tape.

The sound is then digitally fed back through that machine to correct the errors due to azimuth, capstan bumps, tension in reels, etc. To say the least, it's a complex algorithm.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Kleenex selects a most unfortunate tagline

Kleenex has created a Web site that will let you customize your tissue package. You can have a photo of your snivelling child, your drooling dog, or a slimy slug.

Jakob Nielsen says that every Web site needs an explanatory tagline so first-time visitors will quickly understand what the site is all about. You've got to wonder if the marketing folks at Kimberly-Clark appreciated the irony of the tagline they chose....

Click image for full-size screen shot

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tom Izzo and Marquis Gray have a serious moment

My old friend John Liskey was kind enough to take me and a couple of his other friends to the Michigan State versus Iowa game on Saturday. His seats are close enough for great views of Tom Izzo as he confronts his players. It's a great spot to see the veins on the coach's face pop out.

I'm pretty sure this scene is after Marquis Gray made a dunk and then gestured that he had slit Iowa's throat. This resulted in a minor controversy about taunting another team. In any event Coach Izzo was upset, and literally in his player's face:

After this moment Marquis grabbed Izzo around the neck as they dealt with whatever the issue was. It's clear Tom Izzo has an up close and personal relationship with each of his players, him the dad to young men a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier.

Here's an album with 150 or so photos from the Iowa game. Dammit, Trevor, you and Muldster both have better lenses, but you can zoom in on these photos for some good closeups.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Trafficking in domain names finally nets me a few dollars

Over the years I've registered a number of Internet domains hoping to cash in. One of the first was:

I never expected Northwest Airlines to go bankrupt and its stock to fall to 50 cents a share. I thought they might offer me a couple thousand dollars or some frequent flier miles so they could take over the domain. Think about it; you can buy a round trip coach ticket, or you can own a few hundred shares of an airline.

At some point I expected NWA to send me a cease and desist letter, or maybe offer to buy and park on it. I never did much with the site, and NWA never called. (Memo to NWA: phone number upon request; please call on your dime.)

Other investments included, Michigan State's football coach who was fired (but who never called me) and, homage to Michigan's Canadian-born governor who, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, can't run for president unless we amend the US Constitution.

A few months ago someone offered me some sort of virtual credits if I'd donate to his cause -- as in zero carbon footprint, reducing global warming. I registered that domain years ago when I learned of the idea of a personal computer suitable for a call center cubicle -- you hang the PC on the wall and all that's on the desk is a flat panel LCD, a keyboard, and a mouse. Zero footprint, right? I give Mr. Zero Carbon Footprint credit but I don't accept virtual credits.

Now I have an offer from another person interested in the same cause of reducing greenhouse gasses, and he's actually offered me some money for the domain. He's not proposing to spend a lot, but it would pay for one night at a nice hotel.

So finally, after all these years, I will perhaps enjoy a minor windfall for my domain adventures. My net investment remains seriously negative.

So does anyone need or