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Posts Tagged ‘green energy’

Viva The Patent Clerk

January 7, 2012 Comments off

We all recall that  Albert Einstein’s first big career move was as a Swiss patent clerk.

Oh the patent clerk, perhaps viewed upon at the time as the most menial of Swiss civil professional roles. Einstein struggled, even within this career at first, being denied a promotion (how would you like that on your resume, “Denied promotion to Albert Einstein”).

A patent office….hmmm. As our country recovers from this “Great Recession” as it is now known, perhaps the answer to our problem does not lie within a great lecture hall or capital rotunda, but within our own US Constitution.  In fact, check out Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution.

In 1787, the first Constitutional Convention approved (with a unanimous vote) what became the “patent clause”. This obscure little clause authorized the new US government to: “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

It is also interesting that by the early 1800’s, the United States was issuing more patents then our nation of origin, Great Britain and that those patents were leading to job creation and job growth…increasing our overall economic might.

We’ve been a nation of innovators since the birth of this country with the first colonies. We’ve adapted, we’ve changed, we’ve grown and we’ve made mistakes and learned from that. Those mistakes have allowed our creative classes to ask new questions about old problems. The stereo-typical inventor of the past (either Thomas Edison or Professor Philip Brainard from the movie Flubber) allowed themselves to do just that, ask a new question about an old problem.

That old problem (whether it be career, where to find a cure for cancer, how to grow tomatoes better, or even our education system) begs to be revisited again with a fresh perspective. Those that ask the questions, and can be allowed to nurture their ideas, will be the ones to lead us all into a new era of this country.

Eric

Spring at 5000′

April 1, 2011 Comments off

Sometimes change comes slow and is hardly noticeable, other times, it can be quick and profound. When we look at regional development, sometimes both types of change occur at the same time. While policy and process is often  invisible, construction and physical expansion is much more obvious and easily recognized. Our region of Ohio is seeing both of these changes taking place, and fortunately the news is good!

Once again we had the opportunity to fly around our beautiful region of the state. Last Sunday, our pilot friend took us up again to see the progress of the projects in our region most notably the wind farm near Van Wert, Ohio and the new CSX yard at North Baltimore, Ohio. I have included a few photos from our flying:

Van Wert County Wind Farm

Wind turbine parts have begun to arrive for the wind turbine installation near Van Wert, Ohio.  Below is the drop yard where the flat cars are unloaded and parts stored until installed.

The large foundation areas for the wind turbine towers…

Wind farm sub station.

CSX North Baltimore Yard

We then flew over to the new CSX yard at North Baltimore, Ohio.  The yard is impressive from the ground and is equally impressive from the air.

Thanks for looking,
Eric

The Midwest High Speed Rail Legacy

January 30, 2011 Comments off

With all the changes taking place in state government, the issue of the 3-C high speed rail corridor looks to be shelved once again. This is unfortunate, however, all along the misnomer of true “high speed” was an issue. Since the start up of this project would have used conventional passenger train cars and operated over freight railroad lines, the time savings and convenience may or may not have been apparent. The true project would have been to build an entirely separate infrastructure. After all, it has been done before here in Ohio.

Yes, Ohio was once home to a vast network of dedicated, high speed rail lines. It was known as the “Interurban”.

Below is a 1906 map of Ohio and the interurban lines that crisscrossed the state.

Impressive? Yes, and this was not even at the zenith of the systems development. After 1906, several hundred more miles of track were placed into service. The interurban were electric powered, high speed for there era (average running of 70 mph), frequent and customer centered. Not only were they clean and “green”, but they offered services unheard of at that time, such as same day delivery of goods and services.

The interurban lines tied together not the big cities, but the small towns and allowed commerce to take place on a micro level. This is a departure from what we think of in terms of high speed rail, major city to major city being the norm. The small electrically powered cars could accelerate much more quickly than long lumbering steam trains, so they could make many more frequent stops and still maintain a reasonable schedule. This flexibility allowed farmers living along the tracks, or merchants in small towns the ability to get on or off just about anywhere, rather than at stations spaced several miles apart. Also, most interurban lines scheduled trains every hour, with a few extra runs during busy periods. This much improved frequency, with many more stops, decent speed, and somewhat lower fares than mainline railroads (about 1/2 to 2/3 the cost for the same distance) allowed many more people to travel who couldn’t before. It was finally possible to a farmer’s wife or the small town family to take a trip into the big city for some shopping or to go to the theater and not have to spend the night in a hotel. Merchants and salesmen could travel between many more towns than before, and deliveries of express freight and milk could be made in a few hours.

The interurban would enter a small town and normally run up the main street, having a  “car stop” at the local hotel, store front or other business that was the designated location. The convenience factor was outstanding, the ability to tie together the region unprecedented.

The privately owned companies received no subsidies or stipends from the communities. Revenue was generated by fare and parcel post costs. Since these revenues were precarious, and since the industry was never particularly profitable to begin with, it didn’t take much of a drop in passenger traffic to send a company into receivership. Many companies never paid dividends on their stock and were saddled with debt throughout their whole existence. Without government subsidy (as found in the fledgling highway construction and auto industries at that time), the system faced a uncertain future.

So what happened?

With the growth of car travel, there was increasing pressure in the 1920s and 30s to get the rails off the roads. Towns began to see the tracks in their streets as a nuisance, especially as the traction companies began deferring maintenance of the road between their rails as required by franchise agreements. Out in the country, state and county governments tried to close down some of the interurbans so they could use their right-of-way to widen the adjacent roads. There was also growing investment in electric utilities, and many interurbans were bought out by syndicates and investors whose primary interest was in the electrical infrastructure, not the railroad.

The Great Depression was the final blow and after the late 1930’s, most lines were ripped up and their right of ways turned into new road ways. The interurban cars were scrapped and the electric substations re-purposed. Their impact on our region was substantial and profound, yet, their existence short lived. One can only wonder the “what if”…

Today, one can still find the remains of this interurban system. For example, State Route 65 between Columbus Grove and Ottawa, Ohio, was built on the right of way of the Cincinnati and Lake Erie. Careful observers can find bridge abutments, substations and even power lines of these transportation marvels.

Its often said that what was once old is new again and this idea holds true for high speed rail.

Eric

Where has all the innovation gone?

November 5, 2010 Comments off

In 1925, something very peculiar rolled out of the gate at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio.  (ED- For those of you who may not know, Lima was once home to one of the worlds largest manufactures of steam locomotives. The sprawling Lima Locomotive Works, known to the community as the “Loco”, was Lima’s calling card to the world.) Something about this steam locomotive caught the eyes of the yard crew assigned to move this locomotive to its first testing grounds,  the hilly Albany Division of the New York Central Railroad.

The engine was known as the A-1.  This was the prototype of what became known as Lima “Superpower” locomotives. With radical redesign of basic elements of steam locomotives at the time, this engine generated 69, 400 lbs of tractive effort (the “pull” if you will). Considering the size of the the locomotive, this was a 33% increase in power. This was a remarkable achievement.

Simply put, Lima broke the mold and began a new era in railroad technology…and just in time too…for the world was hurtling toward WWII and the demand on the railroads would be at its zenith.

Here is an example of Superpower in action, the Nickle Plate Road steam locomotive, 765, thunders through the Cuyahoga Valley on a recent excursion.

“Breaking the mold”…a term that implies chucking the “old way” and doing something new, rethinking the problem, rediscovering the thrill of creativity. Innovation.

Where have all the innovation (and innovators) gone?  The process for small business development, the loans, the paper work, makes it nearly impossible for people to implement a new idea. In an era of fear (and this is not fear mongering, this is fact if you listen to anyone in business and industry), stepping out of the box could lead to disastrous results.

I am not content with this paradigm. In our little corner of the globe, as I’ve mentioned before, our personal skill sets and brain power has a great amount of depth. We are surrounded by educational institutions, infrastructure, space, and low tax rates…plus, people WANT to work and want to see change (believe it or not).

These are all dots in a connect the dots picture. A picture of opportunity that is generated by those of us in this region, not by a program from Columbus or Washington.

Pencils and crayons anyone?

Eric

A Bear in the Market

July 12, 2010 Comments off

A very interesting  chart with the Bear Markets from the past few years. Is the worst over? Not so sure…but the trend may turn around.

At moments like this, I like to think back to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the closing song:

“Always look on the bright side of life…”

Eric

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