Raising the Bar: Engineering the New East Span of the Bay Bridge

1989 Bridge Collapse
1989 Bridge Collapse

In just a few days the San Francisco Bay Area will have a brand new symbol of engineering brilliance and it comes not a moment too soon. If you are like me, scenes from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake still seem fresh in the mind. Perhaps this is because my Dad was watching the world series with the family on the television safely in Houston, Texas as the quake struck and being from the Bay Area my family was directly affected by the tragedy. When I reflect upon these memories I find that no image is more burned into my mind than the collapsed section of the Bay Bridge. The thought of drivers plunging between the decks or being crushed seems inescapable when viewing the pictures from the fateful day now just shy of its 25th anniversary. Having relocated to the Bay Area as an adult these memories are regularly revived; every time I cross the eastern span of the bay bridge I feel the weight of chance in my mind considering all the likely and unlikely scenarios of disaster.


It may come as no surprise that I am a big fan of the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge with its attractive Skyway elegantly rising from Oakland or the Oakland Touchdown (OTD) as it is known to the single Self Anchored Suspension (SAS) tower, the largest in the world. The Western span of the Bay Bridge which was completed in 1936 is a suspension bridge and because of this it is considered far safer in a large earthquake than the truss architecture of the soon to be replaced span (permanent retrofitting was done on the Western span previously).

The bridge while a sight to behold is more than just a multi-billion dollar work of minimalist elegance – this structure boasts some of the most progressive building techniques including several never used in bridge construction on this scale. To head off catastrophic structural failure a number of elements will intentionally deform allowing bridge structures to move instead of buckle under the unimaginable forces at play during a high-magnitude seismic event.

A general diagram showing the four major project sections of the east span of the Bay Bridge
This diagram shows the four major project sections of the newly constructed span of the Bay Bridge. Not to scale.

Oakland Touchdown (OTD)

Transitioning riders from the Oakland toll plaza the Oakland Touchdown or OTD required rerouting traffic to allow for construction including building a new electrical substation. Significant relocation of underground utilities proved necessary due to proximity to the OTD foundation site requiring new submarine power cables to replace the old ones that had served electricity to Yerba Buena Island. Cutting edge seismic technology employed hinge pipe beams to absorb seismic energy with replaceable fuses inside the beams bearing the brunt of quake induced forces.

Some environmental preservation efforts are noted by Caltrans with concern for wetland wildlife and marine habitats. Cranes and other heavy equipment were held out of water by trestle structures to prevent dredging of mud. However, environmental impact and feedback from local residents has not been reviewed to independently support the claim that construction strategies actually preserved the environment to any significant degree.

Project Statistics

  • 4,229 feet long
  • 8,700 tons of reinforcing steel and 1 million cubic feet of concrete just for phase I
  • 586,000 cubic feet of cellular concrete used
  • Connects the Oakland Toll plaza with the Skyway
  • Completed in 2012
OTD under construction – much existing infrastructure had to be redeployed to keep the foundation sites free for section fabrication.


The Skyway is a 1.2 mile parallel deck gently carrying riders to the height of the SAS beyond and will be the first Bay Area bridge to provide an unobstructed 360 degree view. Parallel decks carrying 5 lanes of traffic per deck with shoulders of 10 foot widths convey traffic along the expansive section of the new bridge held aloft by 14 sets of piers each constructed with 160 rebar and concrete-filled steel piles each 8.5 feet in diameter. Gigantic concrete sections were fabricated in Stockton, Ca and floated by barge to the construction site and are the largest casts of their kind ever struck.

Project Statistics

  • 452 prefabricated concrete sections
  • 450,000 cubic yards of concrete
  • Surfaces paved with durable polyester concrete
  • 200 million pounds of structural steel
  • 120 million pounds of reinforcing steel (“rebar“)
  • 200,000 linear feet of pilings
  • Connects the Oakland Touchdown with the Self-Anchored Suspension tower
  • Construction completed in 2008
View 40c-130521a
The Skyway with the parallel decks on either side of the image. Weather resistant polyester concrete coats the surfaces for long lasting wear protection.

Self-Anchored Suspension (SAS)

The most noticeable structure of the bridge span is the SAS or Self-Anchored Suspension which is the primary superstructure between the Skyway and the transition to the Yerba Buena complex. Asymmetrical in design the SAS tower had to be pulled in one direction during construction to compensate and is 2,047 feet in length making it the longest in the world. The main cable is a single unbroken line about 1 mile in length and was looped from one end and around the other before heading through the tower and back again.

Project Statistics

  • 35,200 ton decks are suspended by the SAS Suspension
  • 525 foot tall tower matches the new span with the existing western span
  • Main cable is made of 17,399 steel wire strands
  • Connects the Skyway with the Yerba Buena Island Transition
  • Construction completed in 2013

Yerba Buena Island Transition Structure (YBITS)

The final section of the new bridge is the Yerba Buena Island Transition Structure or YBITS as it is called and converts the side by side deck traffic with the vertical deck format of the Tunnel connecting riders with the now permanently retrofitted western span. Bridge building has always been associated with fatalities, but in one tragic case a Hayward man, Tahri Sheikh Fakhar was driving a truck full of pears that jumped the 3-foot railing and plunged 200 feet to his death. Anyone travelling remotely near this section of the Bay Bridge is inundated with speed signs and warnings of the since modified S-curve. Having driven through this section several times even at the recommended speed the S-curve is noticeably acute. Many sets of small speed bumps sit in clusters and in comparison to normal speed bumps in parking lots can only be described as ‘significant’ especially to a non-regular driver whose concentration has drifted. ūüôā

The primary challenge in constructing the YBITS has been in keeping the traffic flow continuous while deploying large sections of the project. The aforementioned S-curved being the primary mechanism for rerouting traffic.

Project Statistics

  • 7,600 tons of steel
  • 13 supports
  • 1,542 feet long
  • Large sections of steel from South Korea
  • Steel supports fabricated in Washington state
  • Eastern trusses fabricated in Arizona
  • Connects the SAS with the Yerba Buena Island Tunnel
  • Project completions in 2007 & 2009 (first two complete closures of bridge since 1989)
The YBITS under construction – the challenging task of keeping traffic flowing as work crews haul massive components into place. The SAS tower can be seen in the background beside the old bridge span.


No mega-engineering project is complete without scandal, whether it’s foreign steel or questionable welding the new Bay Bridge has suffered its fair share of unwanted scrutiny. Here is a brief rundown of some of the issues that have arisen during construction.


  • Foreign Born – Due to cost complications and the lack of proper facilities in the western hemisphere some elements of the bridge were constructed offshore
    • Federal Highway Funds require parts be ‘made in America’ so the project has not used despite qualifying for assistance for carrying I-80 traffic
  • Sticker Shock – Due to structural steel and concrete being held as commodities in the global marketplace and because of resource competition with China’s construction boom cost estimates were revised up significantly from $1.1 billion to $6.2 billion ($6.7 bn in 2013)
    • In 2004 then Governor Schwarzenegger announced the scrapping of the signature span. The row continued for months as the governor posed that the State not be held financially responsible for the ‘local’ Bay Area bridge funding problems – residents were quick to point out that the costs of recovering from catastrophes in southern California were shouldered by the State and the widely held view that the type of pending large seismic event such as the 1906 earthquake would cause a total collapse thus needing a complete rebuild buoying their arguments
    • A compromise between Schwarzenegger and Senate President Don Perata resurrected the original plans for the signature span
  • Whistleblowers – In 2005 15 welders and inspectors came forward with allegations that scheduling crunches and project timelines negatively impacted performance on up to a third of all welds where workers were ordered to make superficial re-welds to hide the defects
  • More Whistleblowers – In 2011 reports surfaced alleging that deep pile foundations including supports for the SAS tower may have employed falsified inspection reports. A 2013 investigation by the Sacramento Bee found that at least one critical inspector was disciplined in previous projects for falsifying test results
  • Bolt Fail – During load tests in March 2013 30 of the first 96 bolts tested failed and showed signs of strain. Intentional over tightening stressed the bolts to simulate seismic pressures and two weeks into the test the first failures were reported. The opening of the bridge was delayed until December however a temporary fix has allowed for the original Labor Day opening to resume as scheduled

Whatever the outcomes of the controversies surrounding the bridge construction one thing is clear – it will be safer in all respects over the existing span. The new span of the Bay Bridge will last for decades upon decades to come serving hundreds of thousands of commuters each day. The engineering bar has been set high from this series of projects taking years in planning and construction and I for one am excited and thrilled at the prospects of what can only be described the newest icon of American Engineering.


[threecol_one]Eastern Span Replacement on Wikipedia[/threecol_one] [threecol_one]Official Caltrans Bridge Website (site overloaded 8/28 so check frequently) [/threecol_one] [threecol_one_last]If you’ve spotted inaccuracies in this article please¬†message-16 contact me.[/threecol_one_last]

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Human Augmentation

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird – A series where ScienceBlog.com blogger joebowman takes a look at new technologies and the ways they affect people and society.

In a world where continually evolving technology is changing the way people interact with the digital and physical worlds, the first genuine hands-free technology may be just around the corner. Rest assured that new advancements in smart device manipulation will do much to make people seem even weirder than today.

The hand is quicker than the eye, but the eye is way cooler

If you follow the geeks of Silicon Valley then you may have noticed Google co-founder, Sergi Brin sporting a stylish and decidedly futuristic looking eye piece at recent events.


A sly introduction for one of Google’s most anticipated technologies, Project Glass promises to liberate Humans from the tyranny of using one’s own hands. Calling it, ‘Augmented Reality’, this latest effort by Google hints at a future where buttons and switches become hilarious vestiges of more primitive eras in Human history.

While Google is primarily known for its search engine dominance it is actually advertising that drives corporate profits. In fact, only about 1,100 employees in the AdWords division of Google generates revenue for the worldwide operation of 20k employees. So, at the end of the day, and no matter how hard they try it is the advertising business that Google’s namesake symbolizes. Industry insiders quickly point to a dystopian future where ads and offers are stuck in the eye, literally.

Google was quick to point out that there will be no advertisements on the new devices. Yet, for a company with the motto, ‘don’t be evil’ and a technology that hasn’t doesn’t hit developers’ hot little hands until 2013, much will certainly change between now and when these smart devices are available for consumers.

No glove, no love

Not to be outdone by its own self, Google has recently patented a glove-like device that integrates sensors and control points that may open up even more possibilities for changing the way people interact with technology. With the potential to put cameras at your fingertips, again literally, Google Glove may make the average user an explorer of all types of crevasses. Imagine a world where people can peer into any orifice accessible to a finger or a world where American Sign Language becomes a common way to physically dictate text. Perhaps this is where transdermal drugs and smart device technology finally grants the Pharmaceutical industry unfettered access to your bloodstream over the Internet.

Predicting the ill effects of technologies still unrealized is easy, finding real world applications that will enhance productivity is another story.

These technologies may be years away in terms of augmenting our lives in a meaningful way but they speak volumes about where smart device technology is headed. As new advances change the way people perceive and interact with the world the more old customs and courtesies fall away.

In previous editions of Your Smart Device is Making You Weird, I talked about a family out at dinner, happily sitting in silence as each was engrossed by their smart devices, now mix in some Augmented Reality eyepieces and glove control gear and you have a scene that can only be described as ‘weird’.

If you are like many people, you are already thinking how ridiculous these upcoming advances in technology seem. You may be right, but remember that you said the same thing about that smart phone charging on your desk and the Bluetooth headset in your ear.

The Wrathful Planet: Fracking the Future

fracking the futureThe Wrathful Planet – In recent decades, a technique for natural gas exploration and extraction known as ‘fracking’ has emerged which has had a ‘game changing’ impact for energy producers worldwide.¬† In existence since the 1940’s the current technique involves a modernized combination of several preexisting techniques: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in combination with novel application of chemical agents.

With natural gas prices at their lowest in a decade the industry has a continued cost-efficiency over oil even in the face of forecasts speculating the doubling of the prices seen today.  Where the price of oil is determined in a global market with perturbations being felt across the globe the market price of natural gas is typically intra-national and often times, as is the case with the United States, a regional one. Where certain deposits of natural gas have previously been cost ineffective to extract, fracking has opened the way for exponential growth for the Energy Industry.

Despite the advantages, many questions remain such as the environmental impact of the chemical blends used to improve well performance and other risks associated with deep ground extraction.  Drilling takes place, not only in remote areas but in many cases in proximity to population centers and precious deep ground aquifers.

With service companies typically refusing to show the chemical agents used in fracking and loose or often watered-down regulations and safeguards, the public’s clamoring for transparency is reaching new heights. Not just the usual NIMBY (not in my back yard) fight, fracking has energized activists and communities across the United States.

To understand the nature of the fracking fight, one must gain an understanding of the methodologies at play. Each fracking operation while unique, has some core components shared across all extraction operations.

Vertical Drilling – This is the most traditional aspect of fracking and is employed in almost all types of extraction scenarios.

Horizontal Drilling РTraditional vertical wells can cut through gas rich rock layers, but only tap the portion of rock that the bore pass through.  Horizontal drilling allows a curvature to be implemented into the bore path making it possible to target the desirable layer more effectively.

Hydraulic Fracturing – Using high pressure water (~95-99%) is mixed with chemical agents and pumped into the well. Deep underground, the gas rich rock layer is cracked and the fissures in the rock are held apart with sand or various types of grit. With the fissures held open, the gas issues forth and the well becomes active, capable of extracting exponentially more hydrocarbons that ever considered possible before.

Chemical Agents & Additives – The aforementioned substances mixed to create the fracking fluid are variable and many with some being known or suspected carcinogens and air pollutants. A 2011 Congressional Report details a number of findings distilled from data provided by 14 leading oil and gas providers.

The committee found that methanol was the chemical that was by far the most commonly used between the years of 2005 – 2009. Methanol is considered a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) and is being review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The foaming surfactant agent, 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) was also heavily employed, which can cause hemolysis in humans in addition to causing damage to organs such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow. Toxicological studies on humans have shown that this class of chemical is even more readily taken into the body when suspended within an aqueous solution. With fracking operations happening within relatively close proximity to deep ground aquifers and vital water tables the possibility for serious consequences becomes clear.

Consequences that became a reality for one small town in Wyoming.¬† After years of issuing complaints about local water quality Pavillion, Wy residents petitioned the EPA to test water wells used by the area’s residents. Situated in the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Tribes, the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Indians have petitioned to be recognized as a State under the Clean Air Act.

January 2010 sampling

Complaints that led to the EPA testing ranged included:

  • Water taking on a yellow tint
  • Oral Numbness
  • Appearance of gas bubbles
  • Oily character/sheen
  • Loss of taste sense
  • Increased turbidity (cloudy as if with sediment)
  • Chemical-like smell

EPA Expanded Site Investigation results are pending but residents have been advised to use alternate sources of water.


Should heavy industry be responsible for self-regulation?  Are we asking the wolf to play shepherd?  Is the information I present to you today simply another example of civilian hysteria that pro-business forces regularly decry? Is it true what industry spokespersons say when they insinuate that the reason for the public resistance to fracking is the complex nature of the chemical agents themselves?

Regardless of the ultimate answer what we do know is that this is fracking is happening now and if service companies are operating in a gray area of the law where environmental impact and necessary commonsense statutes that proper legislation provide, then perhaps fracking is something worthy of closer inspection.

While the benefits of fracturing techniques are significant and perhaps ultimately necessary for an increasingly energy hungry world, the risks and collateral damage to communities and individuals must not go unappreciated.

If Humanity has indeed disrupted the natural balance of planet Earth, future generations will undoubtedly seek to learn by what manner and for what reasons this reality came to pass.


Further Reading


Toxicological review of ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE) (CAS No. 111-76-2)

Pavillion, Wyoming Groundwater Investigation (EPA 2010)

Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development (2012)

Evaluation of Contaminants in Private Residential Well Water

Gallery: Curiosity Photo Mashup

Highlights from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):


Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Voice Text Replaces Voice Talking

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird – A series where ScienceBlog.com blogger joebowman takes a look at new technologies and the ways they affect individuals and society.

I was with a group of friends the other day and someone in the group was the proud bearer of a new mobile phone, an Android-powered device by HTC.¬† One of the more interesting features about the Google-built mobile OS is the voice recognition engine.¬† Available on your desktop as well as your mobile device Voice Search as it’s branded provides a way to speak text instead of typing.

Immediately the new owner of the phone remarked that voice input for text messaging was just like have a conversation with someone without talking to them.  Bemused with the irony that a device dedicated primarily to communication once again has served to digitally distance people from one another.  In this case people can have the convenience of speaking their thoughts but without the hassle of real-time Human interaction.

Those of us in the group who hadn’t discovered this feature on their own phones quickly joined in the excitement as the voice input accurately transcribed each word.¬† While I rarely use the voice input feature feeling decidedly cheeky uttering emotionally charged phrases into my phone with the consistent monotone precision that ensured accurate translation, but others didn’t seem to have the same issue.

As the Art of Conversation in the Digital Age evolves and changes, what do we gain but a little time saved?

Perhaps this is technology catching up with the way people communicate best in today’s world.¬† Maybe this is just the dawn of the voice powered world ahead of us where merely speaking a command or phrase elicits all manner of actions from devices eager to do our bidding.

Whatever it is don’t be alarmed with you see people mindlessly droning into their devices uttering fragments of conversations far removed from the real world we actually live in.

Can Music Aid Patients Recovering from Actue Brain Injury?

I recently met up with a friend of mine who is a music teacher and as we chatted she began to tell me about one of her students.  Unexpectedly, an amazing story unfolded about a young woman whose life was marred by tragedy.

The student was a vibrant 19 year old who had a passion for horses.¬† A passion that unfortunately led to a tragic accident.¬† The young woman, let’s call her Sara, received a serious head injury leaving her in a coma for over 7 months.

While much of the detail of Sara’s condition from a medical standpoint is unknown, what is known is that her parents dutifully kept her ipod charged and plugged into her ears throughout her stay in the hospital.

My friend came to know Sara upon her exit from the hospital.¬† For students that are unable to attend school due to serious debilitation, a program called Home Hospital is available in some areas (it happens to be available in Martinez, CA; Contra Costa County) where a certified Teacher comes into the home to work with these students.¬† The program required no advanced certification beyond that of a Teacher’s credentials and could serve handicapped students with any number of afflictions.

In the case of Sara, my friend was asked to come into the home and work on simple rehabilitation-focused activities.  At best, my friend was told, Sara may regain the ability to perform some simple self grooming tasks.

During one session Sara surprised my friend when she uttered the words “money honey”.¬† Over several sessions these words were repeated and not knowing the meaning my friend was telling the story to a friend, who immediately recognized the words as being from a song by Lady Gaga.¬† Sensing an opportunity to engage Sara, my friend played the song in question and Sara surprisingly knew every word.

Here was a person who could barley communicate and only had partial use of her left arm.¬† Now, Sara was demonstrating perfect recall of the lyrics of the songs that had been played in her ears all those long months in the coma.¬† Sara was even able to complete lyrical phrases when the first portion was spoken. As time went on, Sara’s progress continued on a startling pace making the original predictions of being able to perform simple tasks as an simple underestimation.

In addition to the music-based therapy, my friend was lucky enough to be in contact with individuals who specialize in treating patients recovering from acute brain injury and was soon in possession of materials and resources to further enhance the sessions.  Surely a combination of different therapies and techniques and other care givers all culminated in a better-than-expected recovery timeline.

However, I couldn’t tear myself away from the possibility of a link between memory and recovery of speech and other motor skills.¬† Hence, we come to the question at the heart of this article:

Can Music Aid Patients Recovering from Acute Brain Injury?

If playing music post-injury, during coma-like scenarios can be recalled in the months following then perhaps memory can tell us more about how the brain works during recovery.  I keep thinking about Sara and others like her wondering if simulation of the mind directly after injury does something miraculous, even if it is still unrecognized.

Is Phobos-Grunt just the latest victim of the ‘Mars Curse’?

Contact was briefly established last week with the wayward Phobos-Grunt probe, still hobbling through low Earth-orbit since failing to fire its thrusters to escape orbit and send it on its way to Mars on November 9th.

Unfortunately, this setback is just the latest in a string of disasters in Earth’s decades old struggle for the Red Planet.¬† With partial failures and losses of entire missions through the years, we have learned that the conquest of the Martian system is one fraught with danger and peril.

Despite the well-known challenges of interplanetary travel, rumors of a supposed Mars Curse remain persistent.  Wading through the conspiracy theories and outlandish claims of faked missions and mind-control experiments, I wanted to know if there really was a correlation between disaster and attempts for Mars.

In order to see if people’s perceptions and mission outcomes really were in conjunction, I tapped the resources of RussianSpaceWeb.com to see just how many missions met with disaster on the way to or just after arriving at the Martian system.

Out of a total of 35 missions to Mars, 14 missions or 40% of all attempts to reach Mars have succeeded.  We also see that 21 missions or 60% of all attempts to reach Mars met with some type of mission failure along the way.

While journeying to Mars is an obviously perilous journey, the success rates of missions and the beyond life-expectancy performance of the different rovers (Opportunity, Spirit) throughout the last decade fail to show any proof of a mysterious force preventing Humans from reaching our once Earth-like neighbor.

And so, the quest for Mars will continue to drive us past our fears and skepticism and few conceivable setbacks will change people’s hearts and minds.¬† For it is in favor of the chance that we might yet be able to make a crucial home away from home that truly beckons to Humanity.

If we as a species are to survive even the most catastrophic of events (think Earth-seeking asteroids), then colonizing Mars and other places in the solar system becomes more than just the next logical step for space exploration but indeed one that ensures our very existence as a species.

Nanosatellites may mean Bigger Opportunities in Space

Three nanosatellites, known as Cubesats, are deployed from a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (SSOD) attached to the Kibo laboratory’s robotic arm at 7:10 a.m. (EST) on Nov. 19, 2013. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Expedition 38 flight engineer, monitored the satellite deployment while operating the Japanese robotic arm from inside Kibo. The Cubesats were delivered to the International Space Station Aug. 9, aboard Japan’s fourth H-II Transfer Vehicle, Kounotori-4.

When we think of satellites in orbit, one conjures up images of lumbering behemoths careening through space with out stretched arms of solar panels.¬† Since the last shuttle flew back to Earth and straight into a museum I’ve been interested in what kinds of projects are¬†in utero¬†for our friends over at NASA.

My interest in NASA was revived once more this past weekend when I was attending a party for a friend.¬† As I nudged my way towards a plate gleaming with smoked salmon, I found myself in conversation with a gentleman that revealed he works for NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA.¬† The most interesting part of our conversation centered around the gentleman’s own work with satellite hardware, specifically ejection systems for nanosatellites.

Imagine a satellite in orbit about the size of a loaf of bread made from commercially available components.¬† Now imagine a fleet of of nanosats (referred to as a swarm) homed on a ‘mother’ vessel and working in concert with ground control teams to perform any number of coordinated activities.

While these small satellites have been in development since the 1990’s, now may be the right time to see increased competition and innovation in space.¬† Hopefully, making space more accessible for commerce and smaller countries will be one of the sparks that is needed to ignite the next space race.

Improved Compliance Needed to Ensure Long-term Efficacy of Transgenic Crops

Diabrotica virgifera virgifera or western corn rootworm is a serious threat to corn farming causing widespread destruction to the roots of plants from feeding larvae. Transgenic strains of corn were developed to leverage toxin producing genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) as an insecticide.

Bt delta endotoxin has been in use since the 1960’s as a direct application insecticide and saw it’s first large-scale deployments as a transgenic GMO in 2003.¬† By 2010, over 143 million acres (58 million hectares) were planted in the United States.¬† Bt corn posses Bt delta endotoxin in varying concentrations throughout the plant body.¬† When an insect comes into contact with Bt delta endotoxin the protein bonds with internal organs (gut) causing a structural breakdown there by releasing bacteria into the bloodstream causing septicemia and death.

The promise of Bt corn among other things is a reduction to the level of insecticide required during growing seasons which in turn modify the cost and operating expenditures of agribusinesses across the United States.¬† Many health and environmental advocates target insecticide use as a major problem and a reduction in use may be seen as a welcome change in the corn industry’s methodology.

Proper management of Bt corn planting is essential in ensuring that this resource remains a viable deterrent to the western corn rootworm and other pests for as long a period of time as possible.¬† A high-dose/refuge method for maintaining the efficacy of Bt corn involves setting aside ‘refuge’ plantings of non-Bt corn preventing selective pressure from building, keeping genetic populations dilute in terms of resistance.¬† The high-dose/refuge practice which was highly effective until the 1990’s saw a dramatic loss of efficacy.

Recent investigations have shown that fields infested with Bt-resistant strains of D. virgifera virgifera were associated with insufficient or non-compliant refuge plantings of non-Bt corn.  Recent surveys throughout the Midwest have estimated that merely 50-70% of farming operations are compliant.

More emphasis on proper management of Bt corn is needed to ensure that this advanced bioinsecticide realizes it’s full potential not only for business concerns but to also ensure that agribusiness is able to keep pace with an exploding global population in the decades to come.¬† It is hard to ignore the fact that the campaign against the western rootworm is simply one of many battles fought waged by agriculture in the modern age and discipline and strict adherence to proscribed polices for management

Reference & Citations:

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: GPS Induced Stupidity

isliderWhen a technology becomes reliable to a certain level people tend to free themselves from thought and responsibility to varying degrees.  Take for example the Global Position System (GPS), once an important tool limited to military applications, GPS is now standard and rightfully expected by consumers purchasing mobile devices, vehicles and more.

Whether you are in your car, on foot, or just planning an outing you are in need of direction and location information.  And, few technologies give quite as much assurance as GPS-aided navigation.

Our main thinking point for today’s article is this:

What happens when people over-rely on a convenience technology that is not necessarily always accurate?  If people stop thinking for themselves then what happens to the rest of us?

You be the judge, here are a few snippets from news stories around the web highlighting some of the not-so-great moments of GPS Induced Stupidity in another installment of a segment I like to call, Your Smart Device is Making You Weird.

The 32-year-old man, a computer maven, was on temporary assignment for an I.B.M. contractor in New York and wandered through the rolling hills here one evening, trusting in the cyber-driven intelligence of his car’s G.P.S. device rather than his own. As a result, according to Metro-North, he ended up making a right turn onto the railroad tracks and getting the undercarriage of his rented Ford Focus wedged between the rails. The man calmly hauled out his suitcase, called 911 and waited to wave the train to a stop. But the train couldn’t brake in time and ended up dragging the car for 100 feet until it burst into a fireball.

Read it Here

Most tales of GPS-Induced Stupidity do not end in fiery carnage (yet), but we see from this snippet that not even tech savvy people are safe from technology related ignorance.

A Bavarian man was given a persuasive lesson in the fallibility of technology Thursday night when he crashed into another car and injured an 11-year-old boy after obeying his car navigation device’s command to turn around on a divided autobahn.

Amazingly, the man, 45, took a U-turn on the divided motorway and began driving down the wrong side because the satellite navigation computer told him to turn around, police said in a statement.

Read it Here

Strange as it may sound, there is no replacement for using one’s eyes to aid in the operation of motor vehicles or heavy machinery.

The teen, who had two juveniles in the car with him in violation of the state’s graduated license rules, was headed westbound on Route 33 in his Ford Mustang when, he told police, his GPS told him to make a left turn onto Sweetmans Lane, police said.

The 17-year-old cut across the eastbound lanes of Route 33 and struck a vehicle on the left side at about 7:50 p.m. Saturday, according to police. The impact turned that car around 180 degrees before it came to rest facing oncoming traffic. The driver of that vehicle was taken to an area hospital after complaining of neck pain.

A third car struck the rear bumper of the Mustang, pushing that car into a spin before it too came to rest facing the eastbound oncoming traffic. A fourth vehicle traveling in the eastbound lanes swerved left to avoid the multiple car accident scene, when that car struck the curbed median, damaging both right-side tires, and rolling into the westbound lanes before coming to a stop.

The 17-year-old driver, from the Morganville section of Marlboro, was issued motor vehicle summonses for careless driving, making an improper turn and violating the terms of his provisional driver’s license.

 Read it Here

Of course, we expect poor judgment from young drivers so this is perhaps not the best example of GPS Induced Stupidity. You can view disturbing statistics related to young drivers here.

Three young women escaped the sinking Mercedes-Benz SUV after the vehicle’s GPS directed them down a boat launch and into the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, Washington.

The driver thought she was on a road while following her GPS unit just after midnight, but she was actually heading down the boat launch. All three women made out safely, but the SUV was completely under water. Officials said the three were in town for a conference and were trying to get to a hotel in Bellevue.

“They were trying to re-route their path and found this boat launch near the entrance to I-90 in South Bellevue and just kept driving into the water,” Mr Keenan said.

Read it Here


As amusing as these stories are they may speak to something larger about Human nature in terms of technology. Perhaps there is a natural expectation that technology will someday alleviate most of the ‘burdens’ people experience in their daily lives.¬† Even if this were the case such a thing is surely far into the future.

Only you as an individual can truly be responsible for your own safety, but when others fall prey to over reliance on technology or mere stupidity you may find that there is only so much you can do to prevent the consequences of GPS Induced Stupidity.

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Digital Youth

Here we are with another installment of ‘Your Smart Device is Making you Weird’ where I bring you my observations on the subtle changes in people and society as a result of Convenience Technology:¬† Tablets, Phones, and Pads.

joebowman.scienceblog.com – If you want to know what the future holds for a given population you need only observe their children. Where as you or I have grown into and adopted convenience technology as we have moved through life, those of us born in more recent years will have had cellular phones and various technological implements thrust at them starting from early ages.¬† Some could say this is ‘lazy parenting’ while others (parents) would extol the virtues of devices that not only connects them to the world but placates children as well.¬† Regardless, it is something not entirely minor that separates these generations and those that came before.

In my last segment on ‘Your Smart Device is Making you Weird’ I wondered about a young family I saw in passing with each member gazing into their own device.¬† One of the family members was a young child of about 2-4 years of age who was hypnotized by the glowing screen of a mobile phone.

What was not apparent to me at the time was the fact that this scenario is not unique, in fact quite the opposite seems to be true the more I pay attention.  And, if it is happening in my sleepy suburban town (Pleasant Hill, CA) it is surely happening in many more places. You may have even seen this yourself as you observe children with their parents in public or even at your own family gatherings.  The scene is always the same, the children are surprisingly quiet and well behaved as they cradle a mobile device in their tiny hands.

I took the elevator from the parking garage on the way to work trying to compensate for being late by quickly scanning emails and text messages.  A woman entered just behind me and and smiled broadly remarking that her husband loves his iPad (mine is actually a Samsung Galaxy Tab).  Sensing my opportunity to gain additional perspective I mentioned the trend of young children on devices. The woman (a mother of a young child as it turned out) proudly let me know that her child had their own mobile WiFi only device.  Not noticing the bemused expression on my face the woman went about her way. I spent some time afterwards looking at statistics wondering about the woman and her tech savvy child.

The accompanying chart shows usage statistics by age group using data collected in 2010.  I recreated the chart in Excel using some conditional highlighting rules to show how the data trends as users grow into adulthood.  Note the green arrows showing the high values.

Regardless of whether you view children using technology as a good or bad omen for the future one thing stands out: not only are children spending ever increasing amounts of time using technology, they are doing so at increasingly younger ages.

The thing that keeps going through my head is the fact that you can’t gain or change something without giving up or changing something else in return.

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Family Norms

joebowman.scienceblog.com – Like clockwork, new devices and technology come along to enhance and enrich our lives.¬† Smart phones and tablets are the laptops and PDA’s of our Age.¬† Small, usually pocket sized gadgets are more powerful now than ever before.

I was leaving a restaurant recently and I noticed a young family at a table near the door.¬† As I walked by I glanced over and saw the family happily and most importantly quietly waiting for their server.¬† The kid wasn’t disruptively playing with utensils testing his parent’s patience, Dad wasn’t breaking his neck to see the game on the various televisions hoisted all over the place, and Mom wasn’t busy wrangling both into having a civilized night out of the house.

The dynamic was alien to me as I am continually surrounded by people who have no problem asking me to put by tablet away during dinner or any other time.  Something that I considered a taboo was being flaunted out in the open.

I pondered the young family as I left the restaurant imagining it was only a matter of time until this was the new norm.  Admittedly, the worst part to me was the kid, utterly enthralled with the game on his device.  Here he was, in his formative years developing and practicing what will undoubtedly become a standard for the rest of his life.  I see this more and more with young children and I am not entirely convinced that this is harmless parenting.

What else is technology changing about our lives that we as a society aren’t even fully aware of yet?