Category Archives: Science & Technology

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

Reopening: Know and Avoid the Risks

Musical chairs goes viral

By DJ Rippert

The Bromage Broadcast. Erin Bromage is a professor of biology and a blogger. She will tell you that she’s not an expert epidemiologist but she recently wrote a blog entry that proves she is an eloquent writer when it comes to explaining the physics of Coronavirus to the layman. As Virginia reopens after the lockdown people will have to make personal decisions about what activities to undertake and what activities to avoid. Ms. Bromage’s plain English explanations make a good starting point for making such decisions.

Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

A GRTC bus driver in better times

By Peter Galuszka

At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.

Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.

GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.

Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.

In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death. Continue reading

Why Northam Is Such An Important Governor

By Peter Galuszka

This is a bit like throwing chum at a school of sharks, but here is my latest in Style Weekly.

I wrote an assessment of Gov. Ralph Northam that is overall, quite positive. My take goes against much of the sentiment of other contributors on this blog.

They are entitled to their views but, to be honest, I find some of the essays shrill and not really fact based. If Northam wants to delay elective surgeries at hospitals for a week or so, some want to empanel a grand jury.

An acute care health facility in Henrico County becomes one of the most notorious hot spots for coronavirus deaths and it is immediately Northam’s fault even though the care center has had serious problems that long predated the governor’s term in office.

He’s a trained physician who served as an Army doctor in combat during the Iraq War yet he is vilified as being incompetent and incapable of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s like the constant repetition of the “Sins of Hillary” on Breitbart and Fox News about emails and Benghazi.

Like him or not, Northam is bound to be one of the most consequential governors in Virginia history given the gigantic problem of the pandemic. He’s not a showboat salesman like Terry McAuliffe nor a smarmy, small-time crook like Robert F. McDonnell.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

Photo Project Spotlights Pipeline Impact


By Peter Galuszka

Veteran photographer Karen Kasmauski, who grew up in Norfolk, has a brilliant online project that shows the human and environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

She is a senior fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, a non-profit group that funded her project that centers mostly in rural Nelson and Buckingham Counties that would be dissected by the natural gas pipeline.

She combines spectacular aerial photos with deep close ups of people.

One of her subjects is Ella Rose, a retiree who lives in a small house in Union Hill. She was living a quiet happy life in her natural setting until she got a letter from Dominion Energy stating that they would be routing the ACP about 150-feet from her house.

Union Hill is a touchpoint for pipeline controversy since it is largely African-American community that ACP officials have selected for a compressor station. It is one of similar localities that seem to be targeted with other loud and disruptive equipment along the pipeline route. Continue reading

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

In Memory of a Great (West) Virginian

By Peter Galuszka

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, a pioneering and brilliant African-American mathematician whose on-the-money calculations kept early astronauts alive, died Monday at the age 101. She spent most of her life in Hampton and worked for NASA there until she retired in 1986.

Her life and that of two other female African-American mathematicians from NASA, were portrayed in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures. Last year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Ms. Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va, where she was able to develop her talents despite the restrictions of the Jim Crow era. In the Mountain State at one point, public education was not provided to black people from high school on. So, her Father moved the family to the town of Institute where a high school was available. She graduated summa cum laude From West Virginia State, a historically black school, in 1937 when she was 18 with degrees in math and French.

For years she moved in and out of education, teaching at a school In Marion. Va. and continuing her studies. She moved permanently when her husband found work in Hampton. Continue reading

Three Bad Bills

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each session there are bills that are introduced probably with the best of intentions and approved for those reasons, but are basically bad policy and are likely to have unintended consequences. They are not “big” bills and do not generate headlines, but skate under the radar. I want to highlight three that have come to my attention and are in an area with which I am familiar.

Inmate medical copay. (HB 281—Hope.) This legislation would repeal the authority of the Department of Corrections to charge inmates a co-pay for medical services. Inmates now are subject to a $5 co-pay for offender-initiated  medical visits. No inmate is denied medical services due to a lack of funds in his account. The revenue generated by the co-pay is used to support the agency’s telemedicine program. The House amendments to the budget bill include $405,000 from the general fund each to replace the revenue lost. Continue reading

Amazon’s Security Collaborative: Cool or Creepy?

HQ2 rendering

by James A. Bacon

Amazon.com, Inc., is pushing for an intelligence-sharing alliance with law enforcement and emergency-management agencies around its Arlington office complex, similar to arrangement it already has with its Seattle headquarters, reports the Washington Business Journal.

On the positive side, Arlington police and other participants could gain access to Amazon’s tech, best practices, and intelligence-gathering methods. On the other hand, deeper collaboration and information sharing between one of the nation’s biggest corporations and law-enforcement sounds kind of Orwellian.

“Amazon can take a leadership role in the region and establish a new NOVA/Washington DC Regional Security Council (modeled after the Greater Seattle Security Council),” wrote Florence Chung, in charge of Amazon’s public-private partnerships, in an Aug. 1 email. It would “promote collaboration and information sharing between security leadership from both the private sector and public sector.” Continue reading

Northam Proposes Reorganization of Tech Programs

The Center for Innovative Technology’s iconic soon-to-be-former headquarters.

by James A. Bacon

I’m so old that I remember when the Center for Innovative Technology, created to catalyze high-tech development in Virginia, was in charge of allocating state funds for university-based R&D. After commanding center stage in Virginia’s conversations about technology development during the 1990s and 2000s, CIT underwent successive downsizings to the point where it is a mere shell of its former self. Responsibility for overseeing state funding for R&D shifted to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), where it still resides.

The politics driving CIT’s dismemberment are long since forgotten. Now Governor Ralph Northam proposes to combine CIT with SCHEV’s Virginia Research Investment Committee, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative under the mantle of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“What we have right now are multiple initiatives, all with good intent,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball said in an interview. “What we’re trying to do is pull all these together in one authority so we can allocate resources in the most efficient possible way.” Continue reading

Virginia’s Tech Roadmap: Space, Biotech, Cybersecurity and More

by James A. Bacon

A new study, “The Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap,” has identified six strategic technology clusters exhibiting the greatest potential for Virginia’s economic growth. The report, conducted by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, is not prescriptive — it does not offer legislative recommendations. Rather, the report identifies fruitful areas for collaboration between education, industry, government, and economic developers.

The most promising areas for focused research and economic development include:

  1. Life and health science
  2. Autonomous systems
  3. Space and utilities
  4. Agricultural and environmental technologies
  5. Cybersecurity
  6. Data science analytics

Collaboration should take the form of aligning investments in R&D, talent development, industry engagement, capacity building (such as venture capital), and marketing/advocacy for the purpose of globally competitive industry clusters. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Monday Morning Kick-Starter

No limits to human ingenuity, er, depravity. The developers of flying drones promised all manner of wonderful things, from saving lives to home deliveries. I doubt any of them considered the latest use for drones highlighted in the news: sneaking drugs into prison. In August, security staff of the Buckingham Correctional Center found a small white drone by the side of the road stuffed with $500 worth of marijuana, an eight ball of cocaine, a cell phone, three SIM cards and a handcuff key. That was only one of 33 drone sightings near prisons since January 2018, reports The Daily Press. Never forget Bacon’s Rule of Technology: for every beneficial use of a new technology conceived by the inventer, bad guys can think of a malevolent use.

$100 Million Gift for UVa Scholarships. David Walentas, a University of Virginia undergraduate and business school alumnus and New York real estate developer, is giving $75 million to the university in support of a $100 million Jefferson Scholars Foundation initiative to provide financial support to first-generation students from Virginia and New York. The gift will serve as “a cornerstone” for a larger $5 billion university fund-raising campaign, the university says. Walentas is to be admired for his generosity and for using his money to address the manifest injustice of the rising cost of attendance at UVa. Question: Does Walentas’ benefaction take pressure off the General Assembly to maintain financial support of the university and off the UVa administration to rein in runaway spending?

Oops, Virginia did it again. Ivy Main, an energy/environment blogger for the Virginia Sierra Club, is distressed by the latest electricity usage for Virginia, which showed a 2% increase last year, continuing a three-year upward trend and (something she doesn’t mention) confirming Dominion Energy’s forecast of continuing electricity demand growth for the state despite assurances from many quarters that electricity consumption would decline. Writing in the Virginia Mercury, she attributes growing electricity consumption to the proliferation of energy-intensive data centers and a failure to invest in energy efficiency. Continue reading

How Artificial Stupidity Is Ruining Our Lives

Evil contraption. A wood-burning stove is looking really good right now.

by James A. Bacon

Periodically, Bacon’s Rebellion asks whether the increasing complexity of society is out of control. Personally, I don’t worry much about Artificial Intelligence wiping out our jobs or taking control of humanity because so much putative “intelligence” of the artificial variety is incredibly stupid.

Case in point: my microwave oven.

Just as my elderly parents wanted a cell phone that just made phone calls, I want a microwave oven that just re-heats food. All I ask is for the machine to respond to few simple commands. Instead, I have a digital monster connected to the Internet that promises a dazzling display of versatility but is, in fact, functionally useless. Continue reading

The Dualistic Nature of Technology in Schools

Wi-Fi-enabled school bus in Bath County. Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

by James A. Bacon

In Bath County Google has wired school buses, turning them into “rolling study halls for students with long commutes and sometimes patchy or nonexistent Wi-Fi at home,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The pilot program, being funded in 15 school districts in 13 states, will last at least through the end of the school year.

Clearly, technology can do wonderful things to help children learn. Accessing the Internet can open up a world of knowledge. Students can watch taped lectures outside classroom so teachers can use their face time applying and discussing the content. Technology can enable personalized learning, adapted to children’s individual learning styles and pace of learning. Distance learning can deliver specialized courses, such as Latin or Japanese, to rural school districts where the courses would otherwise be unavailable. 

Responding to this siren call, many Virginia school districts have invested heavily in providing laptops and computers to their students. More recently, Virginia became the first state in the country to mandate the teaching of computer science and coding. Standards of Learning for Computer Science, finalized in 2017, will be taught starting in the 2019-20 academic year. Continue reading