Saturday, October 08, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge

It looks as if the MDV sponsored Stanford Racing Team will win the DARPA Gran Challenge -- a desert race sponsored by the Defense Department to help develop autonomous vehicles. The Stanford vehicle finished the 132 mile course in 7 1/2 hours. Here is some terrific footage of the unmanned vehicles rolling by...

No winner has been declared yet because there are still two vehicles on the course. Start times were staggered, so there is a chance that one of these vehicles will still complete the race in a shorter time...

UPDATE: Stanford declared the winner, with a race time of 6 hours, 53 minutes. Dan posted a comment complaining that the video isn't "terrific" -- hey folks, remember these are driverless cars!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Fuel Cell Bus

Driving down to San Hill Road yesterday in my gas guzzling (25.6 mpg average) automobile, I saw an interesting freight item loaded on the back of a flat bed truck. An AC Transit bus emblazoned with the words ZERO EMISSIONS across the top. A handwritten note in the windshield read "FC Bus #3, Deliver to Oakland, CA." Today I found an article that appears on the "Fuel Cell Works" website, describing this amazing bus:
"When we integrate hybrid-electric components with fuel cell power, we get a vehicle that is quiet, fuel-efficient, and zero-emission," said Dave Mazaika, President and CEO of ISE. "We’ve taken this bus up to 70 miles per hour on the freeway, and in our testing phase, we have achieved twice the energy efficiency of diesel."
Here's a modest proposal -- when the current administration in Washington talks, as they did this morning, about "diversifying" away from the current high level of dependence upon the Gulf, instead of thinking about offshore wells on the California coast perhaps we should be working harder on developing a hydrogen economy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

United Airlines is Evil

Wow. Just tried to log onto the United Mileage Plus membership site and received the following error:
We're sorry, but we're currently unable to provide access to the My Mileage Plus web site without a valid e-mail address in your online profile. In addition, you must have opted in to the category of Mileage Plus Communications within your profile e-mail selections.
That's right. You have to agree to be spammed by United if you want to access the Mileage Plus website. This has to be a new low.

Of course, maybe it is an error - part of their site not working properly... Here is a link to the "validation error" page...

United Airlines is Doomed...

Dear United Airlines, have you noticed that your customer prevention department is the only part of the company that seems to be operating at maximum efficiency? First of all, I think you should probably test your website on something other than Internet Explorer. At least I hope it works on IE! On Firefox, trying to navigate to different sections often results in an error that I have never seen before -- "Redirection limit for this URL exceeded. Unable to load the requested page."

Since your website doesn't work, I tried calling your 800 number. Well that was a mistake. You have a new "voice recognition" front end -- which is *ok* if your caller wants to do something simple. But you don't make it easy to get to a live operator. Of course, when I finally did get to a live operator, the person had (a) a very bad phone connection and (b) a very thick Indian accent and (c) DIDN'T HAVE ANY CLUE ABOUT HOW TO DO ANYTHING RELATED TO UNITED.

As a result I am a very frustrated and unhappy customer. I can't imagine that other people calling are having any better experience. Customer service on a budget is not impossible! CALL JET BLUE. They have it figured out. Even Southwest is a good experience. On the other hand, just go out of business already.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Silicon Valley Traffic

Traffic in Silicon Valley has been my barometer for the economy since the early 1990s. When times are good, the freeways on the Peninsula back up with commuters headed from San Francisco down to tech jobs stretching from Redwood Shores to Cupertino... During the bubble the traffic on 101 and 280 (and even 880) through Silicon Valley became horrific.

This morning, for the first time since 2000, headed southbound on 280 through Woodside, there was a backup... no accident, just tons of cars headed South to consumer Internet jobs... Now all we need as a final indicator is for every billboard on 101 to be purchased by a dot com...