Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Hawaii could use a technology czar to bring the state up to speed, and a little Occupy action also

by Larry Geller

Commenter Ramona posted this comment to my article The state that couldn’t shoot straight—inviting lawsuits at the airport (6/26/2012). She was commenting on the state’s decision to install a slippery floor surface at the airport even though they knew (or should have known) the danger:

My thoughts exactly, Larry.
Is it so difficult to pay attention to how a product will be used?????
It's not like multiple outdoor surfaces in Honolulu haven't already had the same problem.
I remember DECADES AGO that the tiles at the Federal Building and the USS Arizona Memorial were installed with the same problem, and also had to be redone. ("Looks pretty, but people fall when wet.")
This is just too frustrating an example of incompetence for words.
"Fire them" is right.
Is anybody listening?

Ramona has experience that I don’t have, because I did not live here decades ago. So indeed, DOT did know that putting down a slick floor at the airport was a mistake—or they should have known. Also, nobody stopped them from doing it. It’s like, taxpayer money grows on trees or something. If someone sues, just settle. Who reviewed the stupidity of installing a slick floor surface at an airport?

How about a Technology Czar for the state?

What we could use in Hawaii is a technology czar. Like the “IT czar,” the idea would be to make sure the state has its feet planted in the 21st century instead of the 19th.

I’ve written several times, for example, about how other states and municipalities use permeable asphalt and permeable concrete to avoid carrying stormwater through their sewage pipes. I haven’t seen this stuff used here, though the technology has been well-established for many years. It could save taxpayers the cost of carrying water away to the ocean that should be required to percolate down into the ground at state and private developments—just as the water went into the ground before it was paved over. In New York State, for example, new developments (such as shopping malls) must handle their own runoff. In Honolulu, we provide that service to developers for free. Well, at taxpayer expense.

I’ve also written about how the city wastes electricity by directing lighting up to the sky instead of down onto playing fields. Proper lighting design for parks and sports fields reduces energy use and is also well established elsewhere. Since we Hawaii taxpayers suffer the highest utility rates in the country, you’d think our city would use the proper reflectors to focus the lighting downwards. But no.

Henry Curtis just wrote today on the subject of a study that seems to be clearly technologically flawed:

One problem is that when wind is a large percentage of the total mix, then sudden wind speed changes can have great impact on the total system. The costs of system controls needed to offset wind variability was not included in the study.

Another problem is that the authors opted for analyzing batteries using a vanadium redox flow battery (VRB). This type of battery is currently not economically nor commercially viable. In the middle of the study they had to switched battery types when “the VRB flow battery was no longer available.”

[Surprise ! Big Wind advocates support additional wind solutions, 6/26/2012]

Henry noted that the study, based on 2005 and 2008 data but just now released (in 2012!), failed to include

the use of Pumped Storage Hydro, the dominant battery in the national grid accounting for 99.9% of all energy storage in the nation.

If Hawaii had a technology czar, this study, and the various wind projects, could have been reviewed by somebody with the best interests of the state (and its citizens) in mind.

I think the czar could perform two valuable functions:

1) Keep state and county governments informed of potentially useful technologies that would help them save money or do their jobs better, and

2) Act as a resource to provide early concept review and final proposal or contract review of state and county projects, posting these reviews publicly for everyone’s benefit.

The technology czar would be a generalist, someone equally at home with different branches of engineering, computer science, information technology, architectural design, and so forth. The person would also need to be able to render the core concepts into language simple enough that even our Department of Transportation, for example, could understand it.

It's not a new concept in the corporate world. Many years ago, when I worked for GE Information Services, they had a scientist on their payroll whose job consisted mainly of checking out new technology. He made sure that management was aware of what was going on in the world of technology not only in this country, but internationally as well.

I had a similar job function in part for a time while I was stationed by GE in Japan. I visited Japanese corporate laboratories including Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC and Sony, and reported back. I was a generalist who also spoke Japanese. I wasn’t a spy—obviously they showed me only what they wanted GE to know about.

For example, I held an early Sony 3 1/2 inch floppy disk in my hands. It had the sliding metal shutter, but at that state of development didn’t have the little spring inside. To use, one slid back the shutter and inserted the disk into the drive.

At Hitachi I saw researchers studying a single tiny disk platter spinning about a foot above the table surface on a spindle, and read by a single magnetic head. They were perfecting a new method of magnetic recording to increase the storage density of computer hard disks.

At NEC I discovered and worked with the company on a replacement mainframe for the next generation of GE’s time sharing computers. The quality was there—NEC’s product was faster, smaller, more energy efficient, and was air-cooled. The equivalent Honeywell product was water cooled and so heavy that it fell through a computer floor one day when the coolant was pumped in. Ultimately, the NEC product was selected, and became what I believe was the largest import of Japanese computers to the USA at that time.

I also served on a group reviewing potential resources in Tokyo Bay. Did I learn that stuff in school? No, but in those days one could have a general education and find ways to use it. There must still be people around who want more than to spend their lives designing the next X-ray tube. Hawaii should find one of those and put that person on the payroll.

In the old days one had to physically visit a laboratory to talk with the engineers or scientists. Now, with everyone connected to the Internet, the survey work should be highly efficient. Still the technology czar must have broad interests and knowledge and be a good technical writer.

Change requires effective activism

Finally, another thing we can do is demand that our state government not act like a banana republic. They get away with it because we don’t chase after them. A letter to the editor moves them not at all. It will take more than complaining in letters to the editor to bring about change.

Maybe I shouldn’t blame our DOT departments when we demand so little of them and remain willing to pay for inferior services.

Forget technology for a moment. A hot item in the news is the cutback in bus services. We’re accepting that, right? We’re letting them do that to us. Right? How many bus riders are Occupying the DOT offices to demand change? Hmm? How many? Zero.

[Let me recognize that during the Felix Consent Decree, parents of students with autism did just that—they occupied the offices of the chief of the Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division until she relented on an RFP that would have cut services. 60 or so parents packed into and surrounded her small office and demanded action. And they got it.]

So a technology czar is my first suggestion, and the second is that nothing will help unless we demand, with physical presence, that our state and city governments deliver.


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