Hackaday Links: January 22, 2023

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The media got their collective knickers in a twist this week with the news that Wyoming is banning the sale of electric vehicles in the state. Headlines like that certainly raise eyebrows, which is the intention, of course, but even a quick glance at the proposed legislation might have revealed that the “ban” was nothing more than a non-binding resolution, making this little more than a political stunt. The bill, which would only “encourage” the phase-out of EV sales in the state by 2035, is essentially meaningless, especially since it died in committee before ever coming close to a vote. But it does present a somewhat lengthy list of the authors’ beefs with EVs, which mainly focus on the importance of the fossil fuel industry in Wyoming. It’s all pretty boneheaded, but then again, outright bans on ICE vehicle sales by some arbitrary and unrealistically soon deadline don’t seem too smart either. Couldn’t people just decide what car works best for them?

Speaking of which, a man in neighboring Colorado might have some buyer’s regret when he learned that it would take five days to fully charge his brand-new electric Hummer at home. Granted, he bought the biggest battery pack possible — 250 kWh — and is using a standard 120-volt wall outlet and the stock Hummer charging dongle, which adds one mile (1.6 km) to the vehicle’s range every hour. The owner doesn’t actually seem all that surprised by the results, nor does he seem particularly upset by it; he appears to know enough about the realities of EVs to recognize the need for a Level 2 charger. That entails extra expense, of course, both to procure the charger and to run the 240-volt circuit needed to power it, not to mention paying for the electricity. It’s a problem that will only get worse as more chargers are added to our creaky grid; we’re not sure what the solution is, but we’re pretty sure it’ll be found closer to the engineering end of the spectrum than the political end.

In tangentially related news, energy costs are much on the minds of the taxpayers of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where the local high school’s interior lights have been ablaze for the better part of two years now, because nobody can figure out how to turn them off. The story goes that when Minnechaug Regional High School was built about a decade ago, the school board specified a fancy building automation system that would be able to turn the building’s 7,000 light fixtures on and off automatically, to save energy. That worked fine up until April of 2021, when the software running the system barfed. It was a “good news, bad news” thing; on the one hand, the lights were still on, meaning students didn’t have to work in the dark. But now every light in the huge building stays on all day, every day, which has just got to gall the taxpayers who thought they were paying for a green system. The school board tried to get the original installer to fix the issue, but the business had changed hands a few times and wasn’t able to make repairs. A quote for $1.2 million to gut and replace the system was a non-starter, so they decided to cobble together bits and pieces of new hardware to fix things, but the dreaded “supply chain issues” keep pushing the fix back. The fix described in the linked story seems a bit heavy-handed; seems like one of us could probably have fixed this with a little reverse engineering, and for far less money.

Judging by the number of “Artificial Intelligence” articles that pop up in our feeds these days with Terminator references, the fear of the machines coming alive and killing us all in one fell swoop is very much on people’s minds. And while a few minutes on Twitter is enough for you to yearn for SkyNet to just launch all the nukes and get it over with, it looks like we’re going to have to wait a bit, if DARPA’s idea of battlefield AI is any indication. It seems that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency once enlisted the help of a group of Marines to train the AI model on a robot to detect approaching forces. All the Marines were able to avoid detection using such proven battlefield tactics as crawling while covered by a cardboard box, pretending to be a tree, and somersaulting for 300 meters. Granted, this training session seems like it was several years ago, so it’s likely that the models have been tuned up since then. But still, in a contest between humans and machines, we’ll put our money on the treachery and creativity of the human mind any day of the week.

And finally, we all know how spookily accurate The Simpsons has been at predicting the future. But even for a show that premiered over 30 years ago, there was at least one cartoonist who beat them to the punch by a long margin. Get a load of this 1923 political cartoon, which predicted that by 2023, cartoonists would have “all our work done by electricity.” It depicts a “cartoon dynamo” powering an “idea dynamo,” which uses an IV bottle full of ink and something like an X-Y plotter to churn out political cartoons automatically. It’s not too far off of what’s possible with GPT-3 and DALL-E, but judging by what resulted from the prompt “one-frame political cartoon about DALL-E,” it seems like cartoonists still have as much job security as Marines.


47 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: January 22, 2023

    1. This was discussed over on another site. Some teachers were indeed using the breakers to control the lights, doing this was deemed a safety hazard and so the teachers were instructed not to do that.

      Also, apparently some of the lighting circuits also power other useful things that shouldn’t be turned off with the lights. Hooking alarms and ventilation to the same circuits as the lights isn’t something you’re supposed to do, but maybe the building was built before those guidelines came into effect.

      Apparently the system was run by an outdated computer controlling a relay board using a proprietary interface. The computer has failed, the company making the system is no longer in business, and the interface is proprietary.

      1. Proprietary or not, they have the wrong people reviewing the options to what can be done. I have designed and retrofitted a number of commercial lighting systems and in all cases a solution could be created and did not break the bank. That said, this type of scenario is not uncommon as the big lighting firms always push their own proprietary backbone… as once you commit to their system, it can be pricey to go elsewhere. These days there are a number of open and industrial protocols for lighting controls… Bacnet, Dali, etc … However, the Big lighting companies tend to “influence” those that spec the lights and controls and so it is not common for large projects to use the open Industrial protocols. The lighting control industry is still one that is fat, lazy, and simply uncompetitive. Hopefully some new players can make some inroads and disrupt this old school industry.

      2. ” some of the lighting circuits also power other useful things that shouldn’t be turned off with the lights. Hooking alarms and ventilation to the same circuits as the lights isn’t something you’re supposed to do,” On residential code, you’re actually required to do this for things like your fire alarms, so you know when the breaker connected to your smoke detectors has tripped.

      1. I guess they are rated for a number of cycles (<10?) for switching at full load. If you switch them at partial load 5x per day, it is not that bad and you will get many more cycles. But how many cycles until the safety function is degraded?
        I guess no manufacturer or electrician will predict a lifetime with this kind of usage. If the safety function fails, the blame goes to someone recommending this usage.

        1. I think this figure of 10 is only valid, if they have to interrupt th full rated short circuit current. This is in the range of 5kA or more. I am sure the life expectancy is much higher if you have only normal operating current of the curcuit.

    1. The half-life of a car is over a decade, so it’s going to take a long time to make the conversion even if every new from tomorrow onward was an EV.

      I’m guessing 30-40 years, which would mean that we only need to improve the infrastructure by a few percent per year to keep up. Those gains won’t be evenly distributed, but I’m not worried about the ability of most of the country to keep up with the demand.

      CA and TX will continue to be national embarrassments, of course. Those states’ grids are mismanaged basket-cases to begin with, so EVs are just going to make their problems harder to kick down the road.

      1. To be honest, the California legislation is going to force the issue and likely hit a point where it is federally fixed by limiting states rights to interfere w petrol sales and production or that federally the electric infrastructure is bulked up to offset the same kilowattage that people are using to drive around in petrol.

      1. This all depends upon how wide your gaze is. EV’s have a number of environmental impacts that are truly nasty and to date no real plans or even discussions on how to deal with them. EV’s have a role play, for sure. But to think that this is “the” solution is incredibly myopic.

  1. I love it! On the Ars Technica page, I clicked on the “enlarge” option of the 1923 cartoon. My Android tablet immediately placed a smaller rendering of the cartoon on top of original!

    1. I hate that, when you go to a website (e.g. some web shops), there’s an image there with a button near it to enlarge… and either:

      1. it shows an image that is smaller than the original
      2. it shows an image the same size as the original
      or 3. it shows an image which is _the same resolution_ as the original, but scaled up making a blurry/pixellated mess

      Happens more times than I care to count!

  2. “I expect editors of a high-tech site be able to note the differences between FUD and accurate claims of this nature.”

    I would expect that too, except they are paid something like $20 per article, and doing extensive research on each topic would cut down the motivation write at all.
    They can’t be experts on every nook and cranny covered by Hackaday, but we have commenters who often are quite knowledgeable on a particular topic, (with myself excluded B^) ) so things often get sorted out.

  3. I’ve been really happy with my Tesla, but I have to admit that EVs are a bad choice for people who are bad at math. And for people who can’t leave their vehicle plugged in overnight.

    My Tesla’s 120v charger adds 4 miles of range per hour, compared to the Hummer’s 1. That’s adequate for someone who works from home, but there isn’t a lot of margin, so a public charger will probably be necessary from time to time.

    The 220v setup adds about 40 miles/hour, so no matter how depleted the battery is when I park it for the night, it’s going to be full when I wake up the next morning. That’s enough for about 6 hours of driving. It’s been at least a decade since I drove for 6 hours in a single day, so I’m cool with that.

    Hummer people got Hummer problems. But, assuming the 220v charger is also 1/4 as effective as Telsa’s (side note: the Hummer weighs more than 4x as much) the owner is going to get about 100 miles of range per day, which is probably going to be enough for most days.

    1. Where are you finding a Hummer weighing 4x as much?

      I thought it was roughly 4400 pounds for a Tesla 3, and some 9000 for the Hummer. Both are obese for their vehicle class.

      There’s probably other factors killing the Hummer’s range, like aerodynamics and tires.

  4. @Dan Maloney said: “Couldn’t people just decide what car works best for them?”

    Nope. The Green New Deal is all about CONTROL. More control for the government, less for you.

    1. The problem is that fossile fuel is still very cheap, because the indirect cost of the damage done isn’t included in the fuel price. For the individual, it will always be cheaper.

      1. The problem is we are not over the hump of infrastructure and technology to be mandating ends to ICE. For example, right now California has stopped domestic oil production and blocked new refineries as old ones have closed. There are no pipelines to CA from outside and all their fuel is being imported by sea. The round trip from the Middle East is about 25,000 miles. It is hard to believe, but the emissions of the oil tankers is greater than the entire fleet of vehicles on California’s roads. In other words, the politics override the stated intentions by a lot. If California went back to oil production they could reduce emissions equal to everything produced on California roads! Clearly the predictions for the future are ridiculously optimistic and incompatible with politics and the law.

        Add to this the need for electric power production to double or triple in order to replace ICE, and the grid to handle 2 or 3 times the power to everywhere from inner cities to remote farms and small towns and you have a major bottleneck. Where do you put the new sub-stations in the cities? Do you need a sub-station for every parking garage? How about in suburbia? Where do you get the land for the infrastructure?

        None of this is easy or even doable without new governmental powers. State governments in the US and entire nations in other regions are mandating conversions within a decade or two. In real terms this looks like an 80 year process to me, at the least. California has been working on a high speed train from San Francisco to LA since 1996. They have about 110 miles sort of finished. Infrastructure build-out will have the same kinds of delays but cubed in complication.

        Personally I think governments need to back off and lets markets figure it out.

          1. If you wanted to convert all of California’s cars to EVs, you’d need about 45,000 additional GWh per year. California produces 277,000 GWh per year right now. Tell me where this BS you spew comes from. Rules say to be nice, but, jesus, I’m tired or reading completely bogus FUD.

          2. I assume continued growth and additional applications that replace hydrocarbons with electric propulsion, like aircraft and ships and heavy equipment. You may have noticed the recent talk of banning gas for cooking, etc.

            Are you saying that not needing 2 or 3 times as much power if we instantly switched today invalidates what I wrote?

          3. There is no “Reply” button on your recent comment.

            Your statement is not valid. It only mentions ICE conversion to EV. Which I showed is an increase of 20%, not up to 3X as you speculated. Now you bring up aircraft, etc. which are nowhere near even being a discussion point.

            And now you bring up cooking? If you somehow think eliminating new purchases of gas cooking appliances will cause even a tiny dent, your sense of scale is even worse here than for vehicles.

            You also use “instantly” and “continued growth” as it suits your needs. You argue without logic or data. And I haven’t even brought up your tanker shipping nonsense.

            As I originally said, bogus FUD. As wrong as it is unsubstantiated.

  5. Re: AI and the extinction of humanity…

    I recently saw a technical support thread where someone said, “ChatGPG said this would work.”

    Going by that, AI could wipe out a significant chunk of humanity with a door on the edge of a cliff next to a sign that says, “AI-approved”.

  6. 1 word pretty much sums it up, Pathetic! When will they come to the realization that if vehicles go electric, where’s the electric power going to come from? What will be the consequences of revitalizing NuKe power plants. With only 27 % of the carbon emission issue actually caused from transportation, what is the solution for all the new coal fired power plants on the table in other countries now? We either spend a heap on solar with all the environmental impacts on that land taken out of use for what ever, or the impacts on life forms in general, put up wind turbines and deal with all the issues that involves, more impacts. I’m all for renewable. More demand for electric power is going to lead to more need for conductor materials which is more impact on the environment and resources. Where does it end? We could always go backwards in tech but who wants to stomp around in the streets buried in crap and urine? Mass transit isn’t the answer either, too many places to go that won’t get served there, beside how well has Amtrac, RTD’s done so far? Than there’s the intercontinental shipping industry, what another Pathetic mess.

        1. If you want to claim California’s energy production and grid situation is typical of the rest of the US, be my guest.

          The capacity is there. That is not to say there aren’t other, localized issues.

          1. Like distribution and locating new substations for parking garages in cities, etc. And when you say “we” you mean all the independent utilities and other power producers? What do you predict will be the cost per kwh?

    1. Public transport is the answer. Either trolleybus or conventional bus running on processed waste (Methane or pyrolysed plastics) would meet the most part of transporting humans places (biggest issue is building good bus stops), for freight, we need trains to every major town (Switzerland can do it, nowhere else has an excuse) and suitable scheduling systems for transportation of goods (that means automated freight yards/sheds for containers and individual pallets to me)

      Regarding the electricity required, I don’t understand why solar farms are built anywhere other than environmentally contaminated sites. Installing solar on the accessible roofs in suitable parts of the country and solar canopies over the endless acres of car parking that have been built would supply an awful lot of power, but it would supply it to the consumers instead of the power companies.

      Also, people need to scale back to ~1910s expectations of personal goods if sustainability is to be achieved. Hands on management of local environment (pollarding and coppicing for biochar for example) will be important for the overall picture too.

  7. Does anyone have a sense of how much electricity leaving the lights on actually consumes? I would assume (uh oh) that if they were convinced to install some high tech light controls they would also use high efficiency fluorescents or LED “fluorescent” lamps or something similar. Even for a building the size of a school, the amount of electricity for lighting may be peanuts. I may be way off, but lights cost practically nothing to keep going- it is HVAC that is the vast majority of energy consumption, especially in MA where winters are COLD.

  8. “seems like one of us could probably have fixed this with a little reverse engineering, and for far less money.”

    Hush your mouth. I am certain any number of people who frequent HaD could fix this issue in short order (myself included). But “for far less money??” I’m not giving the expertise away. Less money, sure. Far less….depends on the scope of the work.

    1. Besides, if you low ball your estimate, Murphy enters the room and you end up with major unforeseen expenses, or your estimate is rejected by the school board because they don’t believe the problem will be easily solved. 😉

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