Sunday, August 21, 2011

A mighty wind

So there's been a massive controversy here in Salem about a proposal to put a single wind turbine up at Winter Island. It would be a little less than half a mile from the nearest houses (there's a few houses on Winter Island Road), near the shoreline by the Harbormaster's office. It's big (to make power usable you have to be big), and I'm a little skeptical as to how much power it will actually generate, but I'm interested.

The first couple of public meetings that have discussed it created a massive fuss - folks down at the Willows were talking about how you'd have to block off massive portions of the park to maintain a "Fall Zone", how ice would be flung from it like shrapnel, and how a "giant machine" could't help but cause health and enjoyment issues for everyone. Other people complained about vibrations, sound, shadow flicker, and everything they could throw at it. Marbleheaders showed up to complain about the views (except for the Healthlink folks, who love it because it doesn't burn coal).

Now, I'm naturally a cynic - but on the flip side of that I tend to trust technology given that I'm an engineer by trade. So I started doing some of my own research by looking at actual peer-reviewed data. Sure, there have been issues with early-generation wind turbines. Newer (as in the last decade or so) technology turbines run slower and are quieter than the older-generation models that have justified complaints. I'm still going to go listen to one, though.

The biggest thing I was worried about was the potential to close off a large portion of Winter Island. If we had to lose a lot of parkland to support this, I'd be firmly against it. For this, I turned to Google Earth as my friend. So first, I looked at Hull:

Link to Hull Turbine

As you may notice, it's not exactly sealed off. It's a few feet past the outfield fence at the high school. This was Hull's first turbine.

Hull Wind #2 is in a more conventional location - and old landfill:

Link to Hull #2

No special access restrictions appear to be in place there, either, other than it being a place that folks aren't exactly going to for fun.

You can find other sites worth looking at through a DOE site that I found, but the bottom line I see here is that for the most part, wind projects nowadays integrate fairly well with their surroundings. My concerns at this point are based on costs rather than safety. And unless I see compelling data otherwise (from either a cost or a safety perspective), I'd support a turbine at Winter Island.

Though I'd prefer to see a bunch of them out in the ocean by the Miseries.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Another one bites the dust

The mobile dominos are toppling fast. This week, Motorola comes off the market with their purchase by Google (not sure how that's going to pay for itself) and now HP had pulled out of the tablet/phone market entirely - only about 6 weeks after entering the tablet market in the first place. Go figure. Meanwhile, Apple's the only company in the hardware biz with sales increases.

What's the secret here? I think it's kind of simple. Apple recreated the mobile phone with iPhone. Google frantically redesigned their nascent OS (Android) to clone as much of iOS as possible, and gave it away to make sure that Google services would remain available in the new mobile world. Meanwhile, all the phone vendors who previously built their own operating systems all united behind Android because it was free. Thus saving a few dollars per handset - which may seem like a small amount but remember how slim margins are.

Meanwhile, RIM and Microsoft were so late to the party as to render themselves irrelevant. Symbian was DOA. Palm rebooted themselves with the WebOS, but it was too little too late and they sold to HP last year.

So now the phone business is realistically two contenders: Apple at the high end (with their single handset model and by far the most robust developer ecosystem) and Android. Android, though, isn't a monolithic platform. It's just what everyone who doesn't sell an iPhone puts on their commodity hardware.

The dirty secret of Android is that its market share is irrelevant because they dominate the low-end of the market - people who get "smartphones" because that's what phones look like nowadays. People who shop on carriers that don't offer iPhones. And a lot of people without the money to spend on the apps that make a platform a worthy development environment.

In other words, you've got iPhone and then everyone else - and the iPhone thus far continues to dominate where it matters.

In the tablet space, this is even more of a mismatch. With the carrier lock out of the equation, iPads sell through at a 1:1 ratio. There's virtually no inventory. On the other hand, all the other tablet devices combined sell at a lower rate than Apple sells their Smart Covers (probably less than whatever the bestselling Smart Cover color may be), and the figures on HP's sell through that leaked this week indicated that fewer than 1:10 of the TouchPads sold to Best Buy made it into customer hands - not even factoring in returns. And this for the 3rd place (if that) tablet platform. RIM's results with the PlayBook are about as dismal, but RIM is stubborn. And Samsung has had middling results at best.

See, people don't want tablet computers. They want iPads. And unlike in the phone market where other factors are at play (carrier choice, plan pricing, contracts) the iPad doesn't have those constraints. Plus they have an ecosystem that dominates. No wonder Apple sells them as fast as they can make them.

We'll see what Google does as Motorola's owner. Either they become a unified hardware/software vendor that can compete effectively (screwing all the vendors who have come to depend on Android in favor of their own Moto division), or Google just shot themselves in the foot. Remember, Motorola Mobility isn't profitable, hasn't had a true hit since the RAZR, and their leading US product doesn't even get Moto branding - it gets Verizon's Droid brand. They have patents and middling industrial design. That's pretty much it.

Check back with me in 6 months on this one.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Running for office - month 1 update

So I'm a month into my candidacy. If you follow me on Twitter (@joshturiel) you see regular updates - I've converted it mainly to follow the run. My old vanity site ( which had bare-bones info about me is now a full campaign site with news updates, position statements, and a photo gallery. A month in, there will be no primary (I'm the only challenger in Ward 5), so it's full-on for November.

Here's what's been going on, for those who like to see sausage made:

I had all my campaign materials made, thanks to Gloucester Graphics who made the signs and bumper stickers, and Deschamps Printing here in Salem, who made our palm cards. They look great!

We had a fundraiser and kickoff party on the 9th over at the Witches' Brew here in town. Well-attended, and we were fortunate to get enough donations to really help with the run. We're in pretty good shape. Too much food left over, but we sent a lot of it home with people, and donated some.

Former councilor Matt Veno has been a big help to us, helping organize and introducing me to lots of important people to know. I'm learning a lot about what issues people care about. I've had great conversations with At-Large Councilor Tom Furey (who was happy to endorse me - a real stand-up guy and one of the true old-school politicians in the business), Mayor Driscoll, Ward 7 Councilor Joe O'Keefe, At-Large Candidate Darek Barcikowski (owner of the excellent Cafe Polonia downtown) former Council candidate Jerry Tache, and many others so far. I'm new to this game and definitely not a pro, but it's turning out to be kind of fun.

This weekend I'm starting a first real round of door-knocking (we've done it here around the house, but not in the rest of the ward) - we have a database assembled that will help me focus my efforts in the best places to start out with. It's not really a secret, it's just having good information available in public records. Next Sunday there's tentatively a backyard meet-the-candidate scheduled at the home of one of our supporters, and that'll be posted on my website as soon as it's set. We'll have more of them over the next month. September 13th will be a candidate's forum sponsored by the South Salem Neighborhood Association down at the SSU Enterprise Center.

I'm not going to write as much here in the next few months as I normally would have (I'm focusing my efforts on the campaign site and my Twitter updates), but I will keep posting as the election progresses. I'm enjoying it, and this blog gives me a more free-form forum to educate people who are interested in how this election works. Hopefully culminating in a victory post come November.

Also, my first campaign sign was stolen today off our lawn. So I guess I've officially arrived!