NTP: the rebirth of ailing, failing core network infrastructure

050-056c026d-1c66-4d42-9fae-a8

Network Time Protocol is how the computers you depend on know what time it is (this is critical to network operations, cryptography, and many other critical functions); NTP software was, until recently, stored in a proprietary format on a computer that no one had the password for (and which had not been updated in a decade), and maintained almost entirely by one person. Read the rest

Timelapse of giant sinkhole repair in Japan

English: Watanabe-dori Avenue in Chuo-ku, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. Image: JKT-c/Wikimedia

It took just days for a construction crew to repair a road that collapsed into a sinkhole in the business district of Fukuoka, Japan.

From CNN:

After the sinkhole appeared on November 8, subcontractors worked around the clock to fill in the 30 meter (98 ft) wide, 15 meter (50 ft) deep hole by the 12th with a mixture of sand and cement. The job was complicated by the water which had seeped in from sewage pipes destroyed by collapsing sections of road.

After that it only took another 48 hours to reinstall all utilities -- electricity, water, sewage, gas and telecommunication lines -- and to resurface the road. There were no reports of injuries.

Read the rest

The internet's core infrastructure is dangerously unsupported and could crumble (but we can save it!)

image-i35w_collapse_-_day_4_-_

Nadia Eghbal's Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure is a long, detailed report on the structural impediments to maintaining key pieces of free/open software that underpin the internet -- it reveals the startling fragility of tools that protect the integrity, safety, privacy and finances of billions of people, which are often maintained by tiny numbers of people (sometimes just one person). Read the rest

Make America Grit Again: poor towns tearing up roads they can't afford to maintain

fix

Aarian Marshall reports that poor towns are ripping up pothole-ridden roads rather than pay to maintain them.

Repaving roads is expensive, so Montpelier instead used its diminishing public works budget to take a step back in time and un-pave the road. Workers hauled out a machine called a “reclaimer” and pulverized the damaged asphalt and smoothed out the road’s exterior. They filled the space between Vermont’s cruddy soil and hardier dirt and gravel up top with a “geotextile”, a hardy fabric that helps with erosion, stability and drainage.

In an era of dismal infrastructure spending, where the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the country’s roads a D grade, rural areas all over the country are embracing this kind of strategic retreat.

It's also true that some rural towns paved unnecessarily and bizarrely. When I lived in the southwest, I'd sometimes run into grids of perfectly black country roads gridding through the empty flat llano, like something put into Sim City before you even get started on what buildings you zone for. Oil money.

Which is to say this sounds like an infrastructure problem, but in many cases it's just coming to terms with the reality of life in the country: "most of the community leaders interviewed by the report’s authors said their residents approved of de-paving, especially if agencies kept them informed about the process."

Photo: Deborah Fitchett (CC-BY-2.0) Read the rest

Tour New York's invisible, networked surveillance infrastructure with Ingrid Burrington's new book

burrington-ingrid-credit-jonat

Writer/artist Ingrid Burrington has published a book called Networks of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide to Urban Internet Infrastructure, which sketches the physical extrusions of the internet into New York City's streets and buildings, and makes especial note of how much of that infrastructure has been built as part of the post 9/11 surveillance network that NYC has erected over the past 15 years. Read the rest

1916 ad chides Congress for not investing in pneumatic tubes for first class mail delivery

animation

Scott Edelman writes, "An ad in the December 1916 issue of The Scoop, a magazine 'written by newspaper men for newspaper men,' decries the fact Congress appropriated funds for continued mail delivery by pneumatic tubes in New York City, but failed to do the same for Chicago, and insists the loss of that technology 'would be calamitous.' At the time, 10 miles of two-way, eight-inch tubes running under Chicago delivered 8,000,000 pieces of mail daily. To the suggestion that mail should instead be delivered by trucks rather than pneumatic tubes, the question is asked, 'If we are going backward, why not get a wheelbarrow?'" Read the rest

America's infrastructure debt is so bad that towns are unpaving roads they can't afford to fix

800px-Atomic_City_gravel_road_and_associated_vegetation_(5883116984)

Since the Reagan years, infrastructure spending has been so politically unpopular in America that the nation's roads, ports, power grid and other hallmarks of an advanced society are crumbling, sometimes beyond repair. Read the rest

BART's twitter manager drops truth-bombs, world cheers

pk9fbzssr3amiyiek8ve

On Wednesday night, the person who runs the Twitter feed for San Francisco's BART system began answering riders' frustrated tweets with frank, honest statements that eschewed the bland "thank you for your feedback" and the chipper "we're working on it!" norms of corporate social media in favor of brutally honest assessments of the sorry state of the system, starting with, "BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality." Read the rest

Bridge collapse shuts down major California freeway after record-breaking July rain

desert-center01

A bridge collapsed Sunday at the eastbound Interstate 10 and Eagle Mountain Road in Desert Center, trapping a truck beneath the debris. (KMIR)

Historic rain in Southern California—the most we've had in July since 1886!—caused a bridge collapse near the town of Desert Center, California over the weekend. The bridge collapse shut down all traffic for hours on the highly-traveled Interstate 10 freeway between Los Angeles and Phoenix. One unfortunate driver plowed his pickup truck into the collapsed structure, and hundreds of other cars were stranded. Alternate routes will require cars and trucks to travel hundreds of additional miles. Read the rest

Smart Grid consortium rolled its own crypto, which is always, always a bad idea

When you make up your own crypto, it's only secure against people stupider than you, and there are lots of people smarter than the designers of the Open Smart Grid Protocol, who rolled their own (terrible) crypto rather than availing themselves of the numerous, excellent, free public cryptographic protocols. Read the rest

Somebody attacked an electrical substation in California last year. This should make you concerned.

When we think about threats to America's energy infrastructure, we usually think about hackers. Hackers, or maybe, somebody taking a bomb to a nuclear power plant.

What we don't usually think about is some guys with guns.

According to a Wall Street Journal report by Rebecca Smith, last April a group of snipers cut the phone lines and internet access near a major electrical substation in San Jose, California, and then fired on the substation for 19 minutes, knocking out 17 transformers. Read the rest

Pumping station disguised as plain old house

In a residential neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, there's a house that looks like most every other house on the block. But it isn't a house. It's a public utility pump station perfectly camouflaged as a house. The inside is filled with massive industrial pumps chugging away. WUNC made a video documentary about the place. Apparently, this is a fairly common way to build electrical generators, pump stations, and other utility infrastructure in residential areas. That quiet house down the street from you? The one where nobody seems to live? Who knows what machinery resides inside… "What's Inside This House On Wade Avenue?" Read the rest

Infrastructure fiction: explaining infrastructure to artists and art to civil engineers

Paul Graham Raven's "Introduction to infrastructure fiction" is a great, 20 minute explanation of why infrastructure should matter to artists and why art should matter to civil engineers. The invisible ubiquity and vital importance of infrastructure means that it's something we should be talking about, and that we're not talking about. Read the rest

Electric linemen fly in by helicopter to fix live transmission lines

On the East Coast of the US, electric demand is so high that utility companies can't take major transmission lines out of commission for maintenance and repair. Instead, workers fly up to the affected cable in a helicopter and work on the line while it's live — coursing with electricity. The helicopter hovers next to the line and the lineman leans out of a little bucket on the side and does his or her job, protected from electrocution by the same loophole that allows birds to safely land on those lines. As long as the entire contraption — lineman and helicopter — don't create a pathway from an area of high energy (the powerline) to an area of lower energy (the ground, for instance, or another power line that operates at a lower voltage) they're good to go. In order to do that, they have to energize the helicopter to the same voltage as the line.

Video Link

Also check out this longer video with GoPro-style footage of helicopter-assisted transmission line repair and a British documentary following some of the men who do this job. Around six minutes in, the documentary has a nice explanation of how the workers energize the helicopter without killing themselves. Also, according to one of the linemen, "chicks dig it". Read the rest

Squirrels hell-bent on destruction of American electric infrastructure

If you enjoy the irony in the fact that the great East Coast blackout of 2003 was largely caused by a few untrimmed trees, then you're going to love Jon Mooallem's account of how America's squirrels are wreaking havoc on America's electricity system.

Using a Google news alert, he's cataloged 50 squirrel-caused power outages in 24 states — and that's just since Memorial Day. These aren't small outages either. Several of them have cut power to thousands of people at a time. Back in 1994, a squirrel took out the Nasdaq. These are kamikaze raids and they've led to an interesting phenomenon — technology developed specifically to protect our infrastructure from furry, tree-hopping rodents.

Pictured: The face of pure evil, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from binaryape's photostream

Read the rest

Obama: It's time to invest in our electric grid

The American electric grid averages 90-214 minutes of blackout time per customer, per year. And that's not counting blackouts caused by natural disasters. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2006, the electricity industry put less than 2/10 of 1% of revenues into research and development. (You can read more about this in a BoingBoing feature I wrote last year.) Yesterday, the White House released a report calling for increased spending to upgrade and overhaul this aging — but incredible important — infrastructure. Read the rest

Elon Musk's hyperloop can't escape the high cost of infrastructure development

Elon Musk wants to build a pneumatic tube transportation system capable of whisking people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. (Xeni told you about this back in July.)

Technologically speaking, it's a perfectly possible thing to do, writes Tim Fernholtz at Quartz. The problem is the high cost of infrastructure development, something have everybody (whether they want to built a train, a highway, or a futuristic hyperloop) tends to underestimate. That's particularly a problem given the fact that whole idea behind Musk's hyperloop is that it could be a cheaper replacement for an expensive high-speed rail line already under development. Read the rest

More posts