Technology


As long time readers know, I’ve been trying to get our Town to adopt free/open source software products for the last 6 years.

There’s been some success but not enough.

FOSS (free/open source software) is a low cost alternative to the Microsoft Monopoly (the Town could’ve saved between $500-700K by now if it had adopted some of the recommendations of the now defunct Technology Advisory Board). Beyond driving cost out of the process, many of these products use (heck, celebrate) open standards which will preserve our information assets over the long haul and prevent costly proprietary lock-in.

Tomorrow, the Carolina Open Source Initiative (COSI), an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting Open Source software, principles and practices at UNC-CH will sponsor Software Freedom Day 2007.

Check out their FAQ “to learn more about Open Source software, and why you should get involved!”

Thanks to UNC’s Free Culture folks for the tip.

Speakers and Participants

10am Max Spevack from Red Hat.

Max is the Fedora Project Leader

11am Amit Bhutani from DELL. Amit is a Sr. Linux Software Engineer

12, noon – Pam Sessoms, University Library

Pam will be giving a talk on how her team customized the Pidgin chat client for use by librarians at UNC-CH. Multiple librarians can seamlessly answer questions using the ‘davisrefdesk’ IM nickname, and evening questions can be routed to librarians at Duke and NCSU as part of the Night Owl chat feature. Such customization would not have been possible if Pidgin had not been released under an Open license.

12:45pm Mark Finkle of Mozilla.

Mark is a Platform Evangelist at Mozilla Corporation. His primary job is to make it easy for people to develop extensions for Firefox. He also provides support for developers building applications on XULRunner and embedding Gecko in native applications.

1:45 Joseph Mack of AustinTek

Joseph will be discussing the Linux Virtual Server for people who are unfamiliar with the project and for those who would like to get started but want some background.

I’ll be banging the drum, once again, this year for wider adoption of these technologies by the Town to improve service delivery, preserve our information assets, promote greater transparency in the governance process and DRIVE COST out of the system.

Another bad bit of news for RTP’s Northern Telecom.

Photo: Telecordia

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged four more former Nortel Networks Corp. executives with accounting fraud, alleging they manipulated reserves to change Nortel’s earnings statements on the orders of more senior officers of the Canadian networking equipment maker.

The U.S. stocks regulator said Wednesday it had filed civil fraud charges against Douglas Hamilton, Craig Johnson, James Kinney and Kenneth Taylor, the former vice presidents of finance for Toronto-based Nortel’s optical, wireline, wireless and enterprise business units.

In March, the SEC filed civil fraud charges against ex-CEO Frank Dunn and other executives — including former Chief Financial Officer Douglas Beatty and former controller Michael Gollogly — alleging they directed a so-called earnings management fraud to manipulate the company’s financial reports.

My Triangle career started at Northern (now Nortel) in the late ’80’s. Back then I worked for TEAM10, the DMS-10 switching side of the business. Over the next 6 years I managed to move around to various units, working on everything from manufacturing process automation to revamping the switch engineering process to writing software that managed the core central office switching equipment.

I won several Presidents Awards and was the first IT staff to get a Chairman’s Award for Innovation.

Northern Telecom (it’ll always be Northern to me) had a good energy back when I started – a vibrancy that made it fun to work there. Towards the end of my tenure, Northern was a different place. Wave after wave of layoffs. Many folks climbing the management ladder based on gamesmanship over merit.

The fun was over. The waste of talent, the incredible dissipation of the “can do” spirit was sad to see.

I kept in contact with those folks that decided to ride out the storm, looking for Northern to regain its footing, waiting for the old Northern to emerge as a technical leader once again. Unfortunately, the rot that was apparent in the mid-90’s wasn’t rooted out. It appears to have spread, as today, another 4 company officers face SEC charges.

I learned quite a bit at Northern. Great lessons in managing folks and projects. Terrible lessons on how to drive the joy out of a joyful working place.

Good luck Northern, maybe better days are ahead.

Was looking for some information on October 4th’s National Conversation on Climate Action when I stumbled upon what appears to be the Mayor’s own, new website: www.chapelhillmayorsoffice.com.

A quick Google of “www.chapelhillmayorsoffice.com” only turned up the site itself and this reference from today’s Herald-Sun:

CHAPEL HILL — The town will be part of the National Conversation on Climate Action, and will host an event at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Oct. 4 to discuss the science of climate change and what can be done locally to deal with global warming.

Chapel Hill joins local government leaders from across the country in hosting an event, which will be part education and part interactive community-wide discussion.

For more information on the National Conversation on Climate Action, including a current list of participating cities, go to www.climateconversation.org. For more information about the Chapel Hill event, go to www.chapelhillmayorsoffice.com/climatechange.html.

“I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk about climate change, and I hope this event helps citizens learn about local efforts to address global warming. The Town Council wants people in our community to think and work together on this issue, which is important both nationally and locally,” said Mayor Kevin Foy.

The network registration record indicates the domain was secured 2007-08-10 10:38:58 and registered as a DOT.COM. The first content appeared Aug. 29th, 2007.

I’m dropping an email to the Town Manager to see if this site is owned and maintained by our Town and, if not, does he know who does?

‘Blogs and websites are de rigeur of current campaigns, if this part of a Mayor Foy’s campaign or associated with the local Chamber of Commerce it might explain the .COM.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a more interactive conversation between our Mayor, whomever that is, and the public – an event to celebrate.

More information when I get it….

(more…)

I’ve been pushing for our local government to invest in community-owned networking as necessary infrastructure for the 21st century. Communities that provide neutral and widely accessible communications infrastructures will reap the benefits of greater economic activity, level the playing field vis-a-vis the digital divide and help create a new Town commons open to all our citizens irrespective of their political or other views.

To date, the Town has ear-marked $500,000 to tag-along with NC DOT’s traffic signalization upgrade project.

One argument in favor of a municipal network is that the community has direct oversight and input into its operating policies.

So, unlike a mega-corp telco like AT&T, our local community can adopt policies which don’t siphon off our emails without due legal process and protect our 4th Amendment freedoms. Or, again unlike AT&T, can sustain network neutrality, repudiate online censorship and preserve our ability to exercise freedom of speech.

AT&T did their part this weekend to make the abstract threat of mega-corporation censorship little more concrete:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast. When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them. During the performance of “Daughter” the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast:

– “George Bush, leave this world alone.” (the second time it was sung);
– “George Bush find yourself another home.”

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media. AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media. Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of “NetNeutrality.”

Check out The Future of Music or Save the Internet for more information on this issue.

Pearl Jam News, Aug. 8th, 2007

Pearl Jam? Hey, whatever you think of their music or RIAA issues, they have a point. If their performance can be censored in real-time by the only conduit carrying their message, well, it can happen in pretty much any other venue.

AT&T was caught this time. What of the next when, say, they are tempted to prune a few unflattering comments made about their monopolistic practices during the telecast of a Congressional oversight hearing?

I’ve taken a break from pushing the community owned networking agenda for a short while. Folks like fellow ‘blogger and net-activist BrianR have picked up my slack and moved forward.

I have a post coming up singing the praises of these local activists who have striven to protect our community’s ability to deploy a counter to the AT&T communications monopoly.

Until then, please hop over to Brian Russell’s Yesh ‘blog to catch up on what has been happening on the local scene.

It appears that Progress Energy has prevailed against local concerns the fire safety and overall security of their Shearon-Harris facility is less than adequate:

Progress Energy has cleared a hurdle in its bid to extend the operating license of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant by 20 years.

The Raleigh utility persuaded administrative law judges to reject safety concerns raised by nuclear critics who are challenging the license extension.

The groups want to litigate safety issues that the atomic board said fall outside the scope of a relicensing proceeding. Such proceedings are limited by law to reviewing a nuclear plant’s safety components and environmental impacts as the plant ages, the atomic board said.

N&O

I commented on NC Warn’s efforts in this recent post.

I’ve been following the mess at Shearon-Harris before the facility opened. Locally, our governments have to be concerned that this facility maintains the highest safety standards. For nearby communities – Pittsboro, Apex, Cary – the consequences of an accidental release present a devastating prospect. Closer to home, the economic and environmental reverberations would be significant.

The troubled NRCs role in this – their continued lack of oversight and willingness to bend what is in the best business interest of companies like Progress Energy – does not bode will for our community.

Luckily, local Representative David Price is aware of the fire safety issue and has promised to have the GAO look into the process to make sure the public good is well-served.

As many of you know, I have a particular interest in employing technology to boost our citizens’ voices cost-effectively and in ways not otherwise possible. I met a kindred spirit in the The Peoples Channel’s director Chad Johnston many years ago when we both started attending the Town’s now defunct Technology Advisory Board to encourage facilitating democracy from the grassroots level.

As our Town’s “ONLY public access channel”, the Peoples Channel is dedicated to an informed, involved electorate.

For a democratic society to function properly, citizens must participate in their government, be educated to think critically and be able to freely communicate their ideas.The Peoples Channel’s mission is to advance democratic ideals by ensuring that people have access to electronic media and by promoting effective communication through community uses of media. Through this mission, we aim to provide the means and promote the opportunity for area citizens to exercise free speech through media production, education and distribution of cable television programming.

Cost-effective doesn’t quite capture how hard Chad and his fellow citizen media producers have done to squeeze value from the small allocation of funds their organization receives. And I’d be hard challenged to identify another local activist that has worked as diligently as Chad to forestall corporate efforts (IndyWeek’s 2005 “Big cable wants public access denied”) at the State and Federal levels to strangle avenues of citizen discourse.

One example is the Orwellian-name “Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act” which the Technology Advisory board discussed in 2005 (side note: Whom, now that the Mayor and Council disbanded that group, within our local government is spear-heading that discussion?).

That is why I was pleased to see today’s announcement over on OrangePolitics of a joint celebration of localism and fund-raiser for the Peoples Channel.

Co-sponsored by both the Preservation Society and OrangePolitics, the July 21st event will bring folks together to “learn about the importance of keeping it local”.

When: July 21st, 6-8pm,
Where: Horace-Williams House [MAP] (parking available on-site or take an easy stroll from Downtown),
What: Fundraiser for the Peoples Channel and gathering to discuss “keeping it local”. $15 donation suggested.

Four years ago I suggested we use the scheduled upgrade of our traffic system to fiber to upgrade Chapel Hill’s own communication infrastructure. May 21st, Council is prepared to approve funds. $500,000 to be exact, to move ahead with that tandem upgrade.

For a very modest cost, less, I believe, than what Council has set aside, our local government will free itself from Time-Warner’s monthly bills, increase capacity to the point of deploying new services – video conferencing, for instance – and provide a key economic incentive for information-based business.

Monday’s resolution spells out some of the initial benefits of the upgrade:

At the Town’s request, the State has approved funding in the 2007-2013 Transportation Improvement Program for rehabilitation and expansion of the Chapel Hill traffic signal system. The proposed upgrade project includes the following key elements:

  • Fiber optic communication cable
  • Closed-circuit television (CCTV) equipment at selected locations in the Town
  • New system detectors
  • Pedestrian countdown displays at locations with existing pedestrian signals
  • Replacement/upgrade of existing cabinets and controllers
  • New/revised signal phasing at selected locations
  • Emergency vehicle preemption at selected locations
  • Bicycle activated loops at selected locations
  • Transit priority on selected corridors (if desired by the Town)

The agreement also includes planning, design, and installation of additional fiber optic cable and associated hardware for Town information technology purposes. 

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) equipment at selected locations in the Town? That could be pretty creepy.

During my tenure on the Town’s Technology Board, I and others suggested the Town draft specific privacy policies covering the deployment of surveillance technology. Whether it is tracking a citizen’s Internet usage at the local library or video-taping their stroll down Franklin St., the Town must provide clear, unambiguous directives for the use and dissemination of this information.

I’ve sent our manager an email requesting more information on the CCTV usage. Even if it’s only for monitoring traffic patterns, I believe we need to establish clear, measurable guidelines for the capture and stock-piling of this information.

Ran into Bob Avery, the Town’s IT Director, on Franklin St. today. Turns out he’s surveying Downtown with an eye towards deploying a small pilot program of free Internet hot spots in the near future. The pilot would use Clearwire as the high-speed wireless backhaul. The only resources needed are power and location.

I cautioned Bob not to limit his planning to publicly owned infrastructure like the old Townhall. Over the last four years I’ve spoken with more than a few Downtown business and building owners willing to provide a small chunk of space and the minimal juice for access point deployments. BrianR and I have explored using solar-powered, weather-hardened rigs, strategically meshed to cover a wide area. If the Town used this environmentally sound and quite economical approach, the only remaining requirement is a decent position to throw signal.

Speaking of signal, whatever free access is deployed Downtown should stay off the already saturated channels 1, 6 and 11.

Knowing the free access topology of Downtown like the back of my hand, I encouraged him to consider West End, with a current lack of free Wifi access points (beyond UNC’s) and high density of public gathering spots (restaurants, bars,sidewalk cafes, coffee joints, bookstores), for the initial pilot.

That’s a few of my suggestions for equipment, deployment strategy and location, what are yours?

Carrboro continues to beat lead Chapel Hill in innovation – whether it is Downtown music festivals, freely available Internet access or commitment to hands-on arts. In spite of the long effort by Chapel Hill’s now defunct Technology Board to bring video of public Council, Planning Board, forum, etc. meetings to the accessibility inhibited website, the Town is only now poised to deliver.

Carrboro isn’t waiting on us. From the Chapel Hill News timely ‘blog Orange Chat:

The town of Carrboro asks that viewers keep in mind there may be technical difficulties since it’s a test. Currently, only Microsoft Windows users will be able to watch the live stream.

You can connect to the stream at any time before or during the meeting by visiting the government page of the town of Carrboro’s Web site.

Meiling Arounnarath post Watch a live meeting, but not on the ‘tube’.

Now, longtime readers know I have a problem with using proprietary Microsoft-only technology for public records (Proprietary Public Policy: Chapel Hill Streaming Video Goes Live?) but I’m not worried – Carrboro’s IT staff generally hews to the open source way.

Following up on my Sep. 2006 post “Shearon-Harris Offline: Who tripped over the wire?”, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (NCWARN) is holding another public hearing Mar. 22nd, 2007 on the 14 years of fire violations at the Shearon-Harris nuclear plant.

FIRE VIOLATIONS AT SHEARON HARRIS NUCLEAR PLANT


Thursday, March 22nd, 7pm
The Barn at Fearrington Village
Google MAP
NC WARN: (919) 416-5077, www.ncwarn.org
15-501 between Pittsboro & Chapel Hill

Public Hearing: New
Information on        legal action against the NRC
 Hosted by NC Senators Ellie Kinnaird and Janet Cowell, and other public officials

 (More on event…Click Here)[PDF]


(More on Harris Fire Violations…Click Here) 


What risks are posed by Harris’ 14 years of noncompliance with federal fire regulations?
Fire is a leading risk factor for nuclear meltdown. When will Harris be in compliance?
Implications of January’s NRC decision to rely on fire mitigation instead of defense against air attacks at US nuclear plants.

From NCWARN’s report:

Fire represents up to 50% of the risk for catastrophic accidents in the U.S. nuclear power industry. That risk calculation assumes fire regulations are being obeyed. Fire can cause operators to lose control of the nuclear reactor and its complex safety systems, leading to overheating of the reactor fuel and large releases of radioactivity. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has allowed the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in Wake County, NC, and others, to operate in clear violation of federal fire safety regulations put into place following a seven-hour fire at Alabama’s Browns Ferry plant in 1975, where only heroic action and sheer luck averted a catastrophic radiation accident.

Harris has been in violation of federal fire regulations since at least 1992, and ranks worst in the nation in at least two critical fire safety criteria. At Shearon Harris, commitments to correct the fire vulnerabilities have been made, then ignored, in a cycle of endless delay over the years, even as more violations continue to be discovered. A 2005 inspection became at least the 10th time Harris reported new violations, adding to a list totaling scores of unprotected components needed to safely shut down and cool the reactor in the event of a plant fire. Shearon Harris has already had several fires in its 19 years. One, called a “major fire” by an industry publication, was caused by an electrical short. It required 30 firefighters, and caused a plant outage lasting for weeks.

To try to get the conversation caught up to date (and put the notes in a format Google, Yahoo, etc. will index), I’m republishing the further conversations the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) has had on land fill gas utilization.

Current membership (as of January 2007) and contact list for the SWAB includes:

Contact List
Members
Name Representing Email Work # Home # FAX #
Jan Sassaman (Chair) Chapel Hill (A) janopus@nc.rr.com 933-1609    
Randolph Kabrick Chapel Hill (B) rkabrick@retec.com 484-2200 942-4062

484-8100
Albert F. Vickers Carrboro (B) alvickers@cleansites.com 656-5271 929-0502 929-0011
Linda Bowerman Carrboro (A)

lbowerman@mindspring.com

967-8571    
Vacant Hillsborough (A) Contact Donna Armbrister donna.armbrister@hillsboroughnc.org 732-1270 ext. 71    
Remus Smith Hillsborough (B)   732-3807 732-3807  
Bonnie Norwood Orange County (A)     967-4401  
Joe Clayton Orange County (B) jclayton@nc.rr.com 644-6981    
 
Commissioner Liaisons
Mike Nelson Board of County Commissioners mnelson@co.orange.nc.us      
Barry Jacobs Board of County Commissioners barry.j@mindspring.com 732-4941 732-4384 732-4486
 
UNC Liaison
B J Tipton UNC-CH btipton@fac.unc.edu 962-7251

 

 

962-8794
 
Staff
Rod Visser   rvisser@co.orange.nc.us 245-2308   644-3004
John Link   jlink@co.orange.nc.us 245-2300   644-3004
Gayle Wilson   gwilson@co.orange.nc.us 968-2885   932-2900
Blair Pollock   bpollock@co.orange.nc.us 968-2788   932-2900

From May 4th, 2006’s meeting [PDF]:

Landfill Gas

Wilson states that we are going to initiate a further study to examine two options for possible utilization of the landfill gas. One is to work with the University to determine if it is feasible [for use of the gas by the University] and if so what the economics would be of piping actual gas to Chapel Hill North. It’s probably not worth it if they’re not going to build anything there for six or seven years (as they will miss gas production peak). The other alternative is to consider providing energy for a cluster of government buildings on Eubanks Road, which would be the Animal Shelter, the Operations Center, possible transfer station and a school. In two to three months we’ll have that report and know if it’s a go or not. Economically an option with the University would make more sense and be less costly. They won’t have to worry about generating electricity, putting it on the grid, negotiating with Duke Power; they would clean up the gas a little and pipe it directly to a UNC boiler.

Sassaman asks what will be required for the collection system.

Spire states that [it will require] the wells, piping it altogether to a main header and depending how much it will have to be cleaned up, compressed and used to run a micro turbine or if we can clean it up less and put it in a pipeline to the University.

Wilson notes the industry is moving towards micro turbines and away from internal combustion engines which are noisier and tend to produce more emissions.

Smith asks what does a “well” look like?

Spire replies that a well is a hole dug into the trash that a PVC pipe is stuck into to draw the gas into using a vacuum pump. The wells are 18 to 24 inches in diameter. You can put a lot in and put lateral pipes to connect to vertical headers.

Wilson notes its likely gas will be extracted only from the south side, not the north side.

Spire notes that Greensboro’s landfill is already producing gas.

Norwood asks if there is anyway to gather information about the dangers of the installation?

Wilson states that it’s dangerous with a small “d”. It’s not like it is going to blow up 20 or 30 acres. It’s dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. It’s possible that someone right next to the extraction point might be killed, but I don’t think it’s dangerous to the neighborhood.

Sassaman notes that this is not high-pressure pipeline gas. It is low-grade gas with moisture, CO2, other contaminants.

Pollock notes that the gas company does not want this gas in their pipeline.

From August 3, 2006 SWAB minutes:

Landfill Gas Study

Wilson states that the consultant is tentatively scheduled for the September 12th [BOCC] meeting to make a presentation on one half of the study that they are doing. They have been asked to do a study on providing energy for county facilities on Eubanks Road, which will potentially include a school, a new animal shelter, our operations center and possibly a transfer station. That part is done and will be presented at a future meeting. The other half of the study is to evaluate the feasibility of providing energy pipe line gas to Carolina North, the University facility. We have been instructed that before that study is done to meet with the University. We are in the process of setting up the meeting with the University.

Sassaman asks if the SWAB will get a chance to look at the study before it is presented on the 12th.
Wilson states that you are welcome to see the report.

The formal report was actually delayed (as reported by Wilson in October).

From the minutes of September 7th, 2006:

Landfill Gas Study

Wilson states that there is a landfill gas feasibility study looking at two potential possibilities. One is utilizing landfill gas to provide energy to a complex of local government facilities on Eubanks Road. That part of the study is complete.

The other option is providing energy to the University for their Chapel Hill North facility. That part of the study is underway. That report should be ready for the Commissioners in another month or so and will be shared with you all. The next step is once the report is complete the Commissioners will indicate a preference for one or the other and then the next step of more evaluation and measurement will happen.

Pollock asks if there will be consideration of making electricity but everything to be direct fire.

Wilson states that the University option is essentially cleaning up the gas and piping it directly to them. The other option has sub-options but is generating electricity.

From the minutes of October 5th, 2006:

Landfill Gas Study

Wilson states that I also met with Olver today regarding this project, regarding the option to power a cluster of local government facilities including school, Animal Shelter and our new facility on Eubanks Road or piping gas or generating power for Carolina North. The effectiveness of this is determined by when they will have something on the ground. If it is six or seven years out this is not a good option as we will be going down in gas production. Generally we’re venting gas; we flare gas from one wet well as there have been some special [odor] issues at that manhole. [CitizenWill: emphasis mine]

Kabrick asks is there a draft report.

Wilson replies not at this time. There are draft spreadsheets. The consultant is going to make some changes, take that to the University staff for comments and make a final report to BOCC and UNC and the BOCC will have to decide if they want to pursue one option or the other. The UNC option is break even, [the other is worse]. We can’t take advantage of the credits that a private developer could. The whole set of credits is complicated.

Kabrick asks if you have talked to UNC about the carbon reduction program that the Town has signed up for. This will be a good way to do something with greenhouse gases.

There might’ve been additional discussion post Nov. 2006 but those minutes are not online.

Side note: Minutes of meetings are an important source of information. A delay of months, especially in a discussion as critical as the trash transfer station, is unreasonable. That said, if the county staff are as overwhelmed by the workload as Chapel Hill’s Clerk’s office, then the delay is understandable – but not forgivable.

But it isn’t the folks doing the work that need forgiveness, it is the job of our elective officials, especially those banging their chest about transparent open governance, to provide sufficient manpower and resources to get the job done.

Given that, as a frequent consumer of our public records, and someone that thinks our diligent Clerk’s office needs more help, I’ll be asking Town Council this budget season to allocate sufficient resources for the timely production and publishing of written, audio and video records.

I quoted in my post Trash Talk: 1 Megawatt of Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy… a February, 2006 GeoTimes report titled Recovering Landfill Gas for Energy. Two of the authors, Amarjit Riat and Wayne Blake-Hedges work just North of us at Virginia’s Fairfax County I-95 landfill complex [MAP & INFO]:

Riat, a professional engineer, is chief of the I-95 Landfill Complex in Fairfax County in northern Virginia, and has 20 years of experience in construction and management of sanitary landfills. Blake-Hedges is senior engineering technician for the I-95 Landfill Complex, and has 16 years of experience in construction, operation and maintenance of landfill gas systems.

What struck me about this article was the breadth of experience Fairfax County developed in implementing their land fill gas recovery system – a system first implemented 17 years ago.

The landfill gas extraction system in Fairfax County started in 1989, to keep landfill gas from migrating offsite to a neighboring prison complex (Lorton Youth Center) and for future beneficial use of the gas. The original 27 exterior passive vents were converted to extraction wells, including seven interior extraction wells. The seven interior wells were meant to serve as enrichment wells, to ensure that the gas composition had enough methane to allow the gas to be burned in an incinerating flare. On startup of this system, the flow of gas was considerably greater than anticipated, with flows averaging 700 to 900 cubic feet per minute. The county awarded a contract for landfill gas utilization to Michigan Cogeneration Systems, Inc. (Michigan Cogen), in 1990, when it began construction of its first landfill gas-to-electricity plant. The plant went online in December 1991. This first plant utilized 1,150 cubic feet per minute of landfill gas to generate 3 megawatts of electricity for direct sale to Dominion Virginia Power, the local electrical utility. The plant houses four generator units, each capable of producing 800 kilowatts of electricity. Approximately 200 kilowatts are used by the plant, leaving a 3-megawatt net output. Subsequently, the I-95 landfill began expanding its landfill gas collection system and piping to deliver gas to the new landfill gas-to-electricity plant.

Building upon their initial success, Fairfax has expanded their utilization of recovered gas and continued to upgrade their facility as recently as 2005.

In 1992, Michigan Cogen began constructing a second 3-megawatt electrical generation facility. This plant became operational in January 1993, and is essentially identical to the first plant. Like the first, it is also solely fueled by landfill gas. This system consisted of 75 additional interior landfill gas extraction wells, 22 horizontal collection trenches and collection piping.

In May 1997, Michigan Cogen began operating its third landfill gas utilization project. This facility compresses the landfill gas into 10 pounds per square inch, removes the majority of moisture and then delivers the dry gas to the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant for use in sludge incineration. In an afterburner process, the gas cleans up the emissions from sludge incineration.

This landfill gas replaces natural gas previously purchased from Washington Gas. Instead, pipelines deliver gas directly from the I-95 landfill to the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant. Landfill gas utilization by the pollution control plant is extremely variable and is based on the amount of sludge incinerated and the moisture contained in the sludge, but averages between 300 to 1,400 cubic feet per minute.

In March 2005, five standard natural gas infrared heaters were retrofitted and installed in the maintenance building of the I-95 landfill. These units replaced two existing propane-fired forced air heaters and tapped the existing pipeline that delivers landfill gas to the Noman Cole wastewater facility. A simple treatment system was installed to remove any remaining moisture and contamination. After treatment, the gas is delivered to the heaters through a stainless steel piping system. The radiant heaters use a maximum of 30 cubic feet per minute of landfill gas.

An interesting factoid they present is that “A 1-megawatt electric power plant working on an internal combustion gas engine needs a sustained flow of about 350 standard cubic feet per minute of landfill gas.”

As I noted before, based on SWAB member Randy Kabrick’s 500,000 cubic feet of methane being out-gassed from our “older”, less productive landfill into the atmosphere daily, our county is currently wasting at least 1 megawatt of electrical generation capacity.

Worse, methane as a greenhouse gas is considered to be more harmful than CO2.

Methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) by weight (see box below). Methane’s chemical lifetime in the atmosphere is approximately 12 years. Methane’s relatively short atmospheric lifetime, coupled with its potency as a greenhouse gas, makes it a candidate for mitigating global warming over the near-term (i.e., next 25 years or so).

EPA

Worse yet, the “21 times more powerful” is considered by some to be a gross underestimation as the NASA reports Methane’s Impacts on Climate Change May Be Twice Previous Estimates.

Of course, the benefits extend beyond displacing “outside the county” sources of energy and mitigating gas releases:

Using landfill gas for energy is a win-win opportunity. Landfill gas utilization projects involve citizens, nonprofit organizations, local governments and industry in sustainable community planning, and they create partnerships. These projects go hand in hand with community and corporate commitments to cleaner air, renewable energy, economic development, improved public welfare and safety, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Directly using landfill gas to offset the use of another fuel (natural gas, coal and oil) is occurring in about one-third of the currently operational projects. This direct use of landfill gas can be in a boiler, dryer, greenhouse or other thermal applications. Innovative direct uses include firing pottery and glass-blowing kilns; powering and heating greenhouses and an ice rink; and heating water for an aquaculture (fish farming) operation. Industries currently using landfill gas include auto manufacturing; food processing; pharmaceutical manufacturing; wastewater treatment; consumer electronics; and paper and steel production, just to name a few.

Generating energy through the landfill gas projects provides many environmental benefits. The projects assist in destroying methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, and offset the use of nonrenewable resources such as coal, natural gas and oil. They help reduce air pollution, and the landfill gas emitted from decomposing trash is a reliable and renewable fuel.

The benefits from the I-95 landfill project are approximately equal to any one of these: removal of emissions equivalent to 50,000 vehicles, planting 72,000 acres of forest, offsetting the use of 1,300 railcars of coal or powering 3,800 homes.

The technology is also cost-saving. The savings in fuel costs are approximately $500,000 annually from the landfill gas use at the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant and $5,800 from use of landfill gas for heating the maintenance building at the I-95 landfill.

This from folks that have decades long experience with this technology. The complete Feb. 2006 GeoTimes article is here.

As longtime readers and local voters know, I’m a strong advocate for bringing community-owned information infrastructure to Chapel Hill. Simply, to create a truly free new Town Commons benefiting our citizenry.

I’ve been working the issue now for over three years – banging the drum of strategic economic stimulus, social improvement – bridging the “digital divide” – and governmental innovation.

Local naysayers, like Councilmembers Strom and Kleinschmidt, continue, at least for now, to impede a tactical approach to building up Chapel Hill’s information infrastructure.

I’m a results oriented guy. I like to think that these folks, when faced with success after success, will eventually join in and seize this cost effective opportunity to kick start a key economic driver for Chapel Hill’s healthy future.

To that end, I’ve provided example after example, here and abroad of how a municipal network catalyzes a community’s innovative drive.

Two years ago I started talking about St. Cloud, Florida’s plan to provide free and ubiquitous connectivity to their community of 8,500 households.

Sep. 11, 2006, just prior to asking Council, again, to get the muni-networking ball rolling, I posted on St. Cloud’s wildly successful six month anniversary (Municipal Wifi: St. Cloud on Cloud Nine).

“So let the naysayers and talking heads let fly, but the little secret that is secret no more is that the results of a carefully planned and deployed municipally owned system delivered free to the citizens as a public service is actually the most successful, beneficial and effective model in existence.”

So says Jonathan Baltuch, who help found MRI, a consultancy specializing in planning economic development strategies for municipalities.

March 6th, 2007 marked St. Clouds’ community-owned network’s first year anniversary.

How are they doing?

MuniWireless says One year later, St. Cloud citywide Wi-Fi network shows impressive results:

St. Cloud, Florida’s network has received so much press because it is one of the few city-funded, city-owned networks in the US and it provides free Internet access to residents and businesses. Although the city owns the network, it has outsourced operations and maintenance to HP.

Jonathan Baltuch, founder of MRI, the consultant to the city, says: It is therefore fitting that at this year’s Muniwireless conference in Dallas the Cyber Spot celebrates its first anniversary on March 5, 2007. Being a pioneer with the first municipal owned system of its kind (although dozens of other communities are following suit), the Cyber Spot was immediately the subject of attack by the incumbents who were terrified by the prospect of communities taking back their digital rights. All throughout this year, while rumors and misinformation flew across the net fueled by various dubious sources, St. Cloud went about its business of providing its citizens with a premium quality service that saved the residents millions of dollars, eliminated the digital divide and created economic, educational and social opportunities for the citizens of the community.

Another by-product of this effort is that the city collected a comprehensive database of real world statistics and system information on the network.

Baltuch adds: The uptake rate of 77% is impressive when you consider that fee-based networks are attempting to reach uptake rates of about 20%. Incumbent broadband providers of cable and DSL rarely break 30% in any area after many years in the market. If the goal is true digital inclusion then reaching 20% – 30% in a community is unacceptable. This is why municipalities should be directly involved in providing this alternative service, hopefully for free, but at minimum for an extremely low cost.

Indeed, those who say that a municipally owned broadband network can never deliver good service are simply wrong. Many of the critics of municipally owned broadband mischaracterize the networks as being run by city employees who have no experience in delivering broadband service. In reality, most cities that fund and own the network, outsource the deployment, operations and maintenance to private companies. St. Cloud’s partner is HP.

At the end of 2006, Novarum, an independent wireless testing company, surveyed cellular and Wi-Fi broadband networks across the US. They ranked St. Cloud’s network no. 1 (and the only one with 100% service availability) ahead of Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, Earthlink and many others.

Why St. Cloud must be breaking the bank to provide this level of service! Afraid not:

The Capital expense was funded through the local economic development fund. The annual operational expenses are funded through the internal savings to City operations, which exceed the annual cost of operations.

That is the same argument local advocates have been making all along.

We could’ve been St. Cloud. We could’ve, and can still be, a competitive contender in the networked world.

You think Chapel Hill is safe? St. Cloud is in Florida – too far away to snatch North Carolina mind share.

As reported in today’s MuniWireless Greenville, North Carolina rolls out downtown Wi-Fi hotzone

The size of the coverage area is 1.3 square miles (3.3 square kilometers). It encompasses City Hall and the Pitt County Courthouse. This area is home to many businesses and the town commons where concerts are held in the spring and summer.

If the city decides to roll out a network that covers the entire community the area of coverage will be 31 square miles (80 square kilometers), and the initial cost estimate is approximately $2.5 million. The cost of the test bed is $51,000. It utilizes an existing Internet connection of 6mb down and 1mb up. The systems integrator/ISP is WindChannel out of Raleigh, NC and they are installing a Nortel Networks solution using 7220 access points and a 7250 centralized controller.

Greenville.
North Carolina.
Home of East Carolina University.

Eating Chapel Hill’s lunch.

In case you don’t subscribe to Council member Laurin Easthom’s ‘blog The Easthom Page, she has an update on some possible forward motion on implementing a municipal network.

Updated staff report on wireless with council discussion is tentative but hopeful for April 23. Such a report will be pretty inclusive and give us the staff’s full range of realistic possibilities for the council and public to consider at that time. I’ll update accordingly, or if things change.

She tagged it to her recent post on “Wifi and Economic Development”.

Thanks for the update Laurin.

If you would like to see our Town use technology to more effectively address social issues, improve operational efficiencies and drive the cost of doing government business down, then make a date to attend the rescheduled Public Forum on Information Technology 7-9pm Mar. 21st, 2007.

The event will be held in the Conference Room of the Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Drive, Chapel Hill [MAP].

While the invitation by “the Town of Chapel Hill to the public to offer comments and suggestions on how it can use information technology to provide more effective and efficient services” is encouraging, given the consultant-oriented agenda

The purpose of the focus group is to provide citizens an opportunity to comment on the components of an information technology environment that would assist Town government operations to provide for the effective and efficient delivery of services to the community. Receiving public input is a part of the process of developing a needs assessment, which is being developed by RHJ Associates Inc. under contract with the Town.

I’m a little concerned that this is more about checking off the “public participation” requirement than soliciting real input.

Council approved the RHJ proposal for a needs assessment [PDF] Nov. 6th, 2006.

Who is RHJ Associates, Inc.?

RHJ Associates, Inc. (RHJA), a Delaware corporation, was established in March, 2000 as a follow-on to the discontinued public sector business unit of The Network Address, Inc. (NAI), Annapolis, Maryland to continue serving the local government community. RHJA focuses on information technology issues confronting municipal governments, is managed by Robert (“Jake”) Jacobstein, formerly Vice President of Client Services of NAI’s public sector business unit, and includes other experts in fields of technology relevant to accomplish day-to-day municipal operating objectives. Upon formation of the company, RHJA expanded its services by teaming with seasoned consultants who possess depth and breadth in virtually all areas of applying technology to government operations. RHJ associates have a minimum of ten years working experience serving the local government sector. RHJA consultants offer a holistic set of services in addressing municipal technology needs. These services include strategic planning, needs assessment, telecommunication planning and design, including voice, data, video and multi-media, organizational development, project management, enterprise resource planning, vocational systems acquisition, and institutional network specification and development,. Collectively, RHJ associates have served hundreds of public entities by assisting them with their information technology challenges.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Strange thing – the only website I’ve found for them (http://rhjassociates.com/) list their address as:

1124 Ragsdale Ct.
New Port Richey, FL 34654
(301) 332-2300
(646) 225-7777 (fax)
Jake’s Email

The site is rather, ummm, elegant in its simplicity.

If there’s another site, I haven’t stumbled on it yet. This kind of appears to be a one man operation run by “Jake”. The curricula vitae of his staff, at least the staff he had in 2004 looks impressive but his proposal to Council was silent on his 2007 assistants (if any).

How did RHJ Associates get involved? Town Manager Roger Stancil.

Town Manager Roger Stancil had recommended a contract with RHJ Associates Inc., a Maryland-based municipal technology planning company which he had hired in Fayetteville, where he worked as city manager before coming to Chapel Hill in September. The company is managed by Jake Jacobstein, a former executive with The Network Address Inc.

N&O’s Jesse James DeConto, Oct. 26th, 2006

Hey, working with someone you’ve worked with before and trust is a smart idea. The no-bid $37,000 contract – not so smart.

Especially for a guy that seems not to be broadly experienced in building social networks or business systems but, instead, has focused on optimizing telecommunications.

At least that’s what he did for Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission (their hometown power company) Oct. 11th, 2006 .

Consideration of Purchase of New Telephone Switch and Related Components
Presented by: James Rose, Chief Administrative Officer Jake Jacobstein, RHJ Associates
Recommendation: Award contract to Embarq (formerly Sprint) [OUCH!]

Same for Cumberland County, Jan. 25th, 2006.

The committee discussed at length the pros and cons for the phone system being voice over IP or digital. RHJ Associates, Jake Jacobstein will attend a meeting with the Partnership staff to provide an initial consultation for what is best for the Partnership and OFRC tenants.

Or Colonial Heights, Virginia Oct. 26th, 2006

The objective is to replace the entire telephone system with a new system that increases the effectiveness of 911 PSAP systems users and the public safety service level to the citizens. The City Emergency Communications Center desires to acquire a system with a proven technical and functional design and preference will be given to Proposers that have currently installed systems that closely approximate or satisfy the City Emergency Communications Center’s requirements in the major functional areas.

Hey, nothing wrong with telecommunications! I worked many years for Nortel – even programmed telephone gear. Heck, I think VOIP (voice over Internet) is the bee’s knees.

And don’t get me started on municipal networking and WiFi.

Just because it appears Jake is top heavy in telecomm , there is no reason he couldn’t be fluent in the latest tech trends. I went on to help bootstrap a couple .COMs to multi-million dollar status as a CIO/CTO. I’m at ease with the latest-n-greatest the computer field offers.

No reason Jake couldn’t have tread the same path.

Still, it is curious, at least to this former member of the unreconstituted Technology Board (you remember how Mayor Foy peremptorily dissolved those apparently nettlesome citizen groups don’t you?), that a needs assessment tapping the wisdom of our computer-oriented citizenry isn’t being performed interactively on the ‘net.

Where is the online forum?

Geez, one of the great advantages of online technology is to open up the discussion – to create a long tail of collaborative content to help fuel innovation.

A few missteps here but Mar. 21st will prove RHJ Associates mettle. 7-9pm. The Library. Bring your tech wishlist.

« Previous PageNext Page »