Innovative Air Conditioner Is Quieter and Uses Less Energy

(p. B5) There is nothing cool about window air conditioners.

They’re clunky, ugly and tend to be way too loud. Most of them are more or less identical and have been for a long time: same temperature, same efficiency, same fear of falling out the window during installation.

“There was no meaningful performance difference from unit to unit,” said Liam McCabe, a seasoned window-AC product reviewer. “Everything was a rectangular heavy box.”

At least until a sleeker, quieter, U-shaped AC came along that looked and sounded unlike any that had ever been made. It also produced less noise and required less energy, which solved the biggest problems of window air conditioners. These machines work if you turn them on and never have to think about them again. This one worked so well that it had the opposite effect. It made people completely obsessed with their air conditioning.

. . .

They had reasons to be cynical when they heard about a company disrupting window ACs, which had become commoditized in the century since the first one was patented. But when they tried it out, they found themselves blown away. Wired and Wirecutter both picked the U-shaped AC as the best on the market, and it defied everything McCabe thought he knew about window air conditioners. His years of reviewing the same old boring products turned out to be useful preparation for recognizing one that was totally different and entirely new.

“It fried my brain a bit,” he told me. “I remember thinking: This is too good to be true.”

. . .

There wasn’t much innovation or investment in ACs, said Kurt Jovais, Midea America’s president. His company would come to believe that the window AC had been undervalued.

“We know there’s a better way,” he recalled thinking. “We’re going to make sure we find what that better way is.”

That was Adam Schultz’s job. Midea America’s project manager for residential air conditioning was responsible for turning concepts into a product that wasn’t an eyesore. The quest for a less noisy, more efficient unit inspired his team to design a prototype in the shape of a U. Instead of squeezing a noise dampener inside the box to muffle noise, they essentially split the box in two and stuck the annoying clanks and thunks outside.

That is, the secret to making a better window air conditioner was taking advantage of the window.

The clever engineering solution wasn’t just effective. It was intuitive. All you had to do was look at the U shape and you would see why this AC sounds like a library.

“The window is a sound barrier,” Schultz said.

That wasn’t the only benefit of the unorthodox design. The variable-speed inverter compressor uses less energy, which means you can keep it cranking without having to worry about utility bills. You can also open your window for unconditioned fresh air, rather than bolting it down to a giant box during installation.

For the full commentary, see:

Ben Cohen. “SCIENCE OF SUCCESS; The Ingenuity Behind This Air Conditioner Will Blow U Away.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 17, 2023): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 15, 2023, and has the title “SCIENCE OF SUCCESS; How Did the World’s Coolest Air Conditioner Get So Hot?”)

Caution in Interpreting Alternative Explanations of Ancient Artifacts

A few weeks ago, an article highlighted the finding of female bones in a burial along with a sword. It was interpreted that the sword belonged to a distinguished female warrior and was interpreted as evidence against patriarchal assumptions.

(p. D1) The epitaph on more than one Roman tombstone read: “A gang of doctors killed me.”

Medical remedies have improved since those times — no more smashed snails, salt-cured weasel flesh or ashes of cremated dogs’ heads — but surgical instruments have changed surprisingly little. Scalpels, needles, tweezers, probes, hooks, chisels and drills are as much part of today’s standard medical tool kit as they were during Rome’s imperial era.

Archaeologists in Hungary recently unearthed a rare and perplexing set of such appliances. The items were found in a necropolis near Jászberény, some 35 miles from Budapest, in two wooden chests and included a forceps, for pulling teeth; a curet, for mixing, measuring and applying medicaments, and three copper-alloy scalpels fitted with detachable steel blades and inlaid with silver in a Roman style. Alongside were the remains of a man presumed to have been a Roman citizen.

The site, seemingly undisturbed for 2,000 years, also yielded a pestle that, judging by the abrasion marks and drug residue, was probably used to grind medicinal herbs. Most unusual were a bone lever, for putting fractures back in place, and the handle of what appears to have been a drill, for trepanning the skull and extracting impacted weaponry from bone.

The instrumentarium, suitable for performing complex operations, provides a glimpse into the advanced medical prac-(p. D4)tices of first-century Romans and how far afield doctors may have journeyed to offer care. “In ancient times, these were comparatively sophisticated tools made of the finest materials,” said Tivadar Vida, director of the Institute of Archaeology at Eötvös Loránd University, or ELTE, in Budapest and leader of the excavation.

Two millenniums ago Jászberény and the county around it were part of the Barbaricum, a vast region that lay beyond the frontiers of the Empire and served as a buffer against possible outside threats. “How could such a well-equipped individual die so far from Rome, in the middle of the Barbaricum,” mused Leventu Samu, a research fellow at ELTE and a member of the team on the dig. “Was he there to heal a prestigious local figure, or was he perhaps accompanying a military movement of the Roman legions?”

. . .

The tool-laden grave was discovered last year at a site where relics from the Copper Age (4500 B.C. to 3500 B.C.) and the Avar period (560 to 790 A.D.) had been found on the surface. A subsequent survey with a magnetometer identified a necropolis of the Avars, a nomadic peoples who succeeded Attila’s Huns. Among the rows of tombs, the researchers uncovered the man’s grave, revealing a skull, leg bones and, at the foot of the body, the chests of metal instruments. “The fact that the deceased was buried with his equipment is perhaps a sign of respect,” Dr. Samu said.

That is not the only possibility. Dr. Baker said that she often cautioned her students about interpreting ancient artifacts, and asked them to consider alternative explanations. What if, she proposed, the medical tools were interred with the so-called physician because he was so bad at his practice that his family and friends wanted to get rid of everything associated with his poor medical skills? “This was a joke,” Dr. Baker said. “But it was intended to make students think about how we jump to quick conclusions about objects we find in burials.”

For the full story, see:

Franz Lidz. “Old Roman Medicine Wasn’t So Pleasant.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 13, 2023): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date June 13, 2023, and has the title “Scalpel, Forceps, Bone Drill: Modern Medicine in Ancient Rome.”)

To Charge EV on Road Required Downloading an App, Which Required Non-Dodgy Cell Service

(p. B5) The adoption of electric vehicles represents the biggest shift in our energy and transportation systems in more than a century—but it’s also the biggest shift in consumer electronics since the debut of the iPhone. On both counts, progress is accelerating in the U.S. And on both counts, we are far from where we need to be.

A recent 1,000 mile road-trip in the longest-range electric vehicle you can buy brought this home for me. That journey was as worrisome as it was thrilling, and it clarified how much more needs to be done for drivers to have a consistent and satisfying experience on par with buying a gasoline vehicle.

. . .

On my trip, there was one moment in particular when the future felt like a big step backward.

It happened when I arrived at a street charging station in Montreal, and discovered that I’d have to download an app and prepay for the electricity I wanted to use. Cell service was dodgy, and I had to find a better signal to download the app. Had I been unable to find a decent signal, I would have been out of luck. (Even once I downloaded the app, the first station I connected to didn’t work—another issue that sometimes comes up at charging stations.)

Unfortunately, having to download an app is common practice for proprietary networks.

For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. “Why America Isn’t Ready for the EV Takeover.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 10, 2023): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 9, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

Nimbly Use What Is Available Now Rather Than Wait for Adoption of Perfect Global Standards

(p. A9) For more than five decades, Don Bateman led teams of engineers at what is now Honeywell International in creating and enhancing technology that warns pilots of impending disasters.

The result is an array of software and equipment, much of it mandatory, that squawks warnings and flashes digital admonitions if a plane is heading into a mountain, a ridge, a radio tower or some other obstacle.

. . .

Rather than waiting years for global industry standards to be adopted, he always wanted to use whatever technology was available immediately. Ratan Khatwa, a former Honeywell colleague of Bateman, recalled his advice: “You’ve got to work like farmers,” using whatever is available now rather than waiting for perfection.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Safety Engineer Helped Pilots Avoid Crashes.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 3, 2023): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 30, 2023, and has the title “Don Bateman, Champion of Airline Safety, Dies at 91.”)

“Engineering Is Achieving Function While Avoiding Failure”

(p. A21) Dr. Petroski, a longtime professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, adapted the architectural axiom “form follows function” into one of his own — “form follows failure” — and addressed the subject extensively in books, lectures, scholarly journals, The New York Times and magazines like Forbes and American Scientist.

“Failure is central to engineering,” he said when The Times profiled him in 2006. “Every single calculation that an engineer makes is a failure calculation. Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.”

. . .

“Even though I had three degrees in engineering, and had been teaching engineering and was registered as a professional engineer,” he told The Times in 2014, “if some neighbor asked me, ‘What is engineering?,’ I said, ‘Duh.’ I couldn’t put together a coherent definition of it.” His best effort, he said, was, that “engineering is achieving function while avoiding failure.”

Pencils proved a prosaic object for Dr. Petroski’s failure analysis.

. . .

“By asking why and how a pencil point breaks in the way it does,” he concluded, “we are not only led to a better understanding of the tools of stress analysis and their limitations, but we are also led to a fuller appreciation of the wonders of technology when we analyze the aptness of such a manufactured product as the common pencil.”

Two years later, he expanded on the journal article with “The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance,” a 448-page tour through its invention and evolution — with brands like Faber-Castell, Dixon Ticonderoga and Koh-I-Noor among them — that included a chapter about the pencil-making business of Henry David Thoreau’s family in Concord, Mass.

Thoreau, best known for writing about his experience living simply in the woods in “Walden,” was a self-taught pencil engineer who learned about the graphite and clay mixture that made European pencils superior, and who helped adapt them to his family’s pencil manufacturing.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Henry Petroski, Whose Books Decoded Engineering, Is Dead at 81.” The New York Times (Friday, June 23, 2023): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 22, 2023, and has the title “Henry Petroski, Whose Books Decoded Engineering, Dies at 81.”)

Petroski’s best-known book is:

Petroski, Henry. The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Latest High-Efficiency Air Conditioners Focus on Cutting Humidity

(p. B4) Air conditioners make people cooler and the world hotter. A slew of startups are launching new products to break that cycle.

. . .

Companies such as Blue Frontier, Transaera and Montana Technologies are raising money from investors including industry giant Carrier Global and Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures to develop more efficient technologies. Many of those efforts focus on the humidity rather than the heat, using new materials like liquid salt to dry out the air.

. . .

Blue Frontier aims to separate humidity and temperature control using a liquid salt solution that was developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The solution also stores energy, reducing consumption at peak times, when electricity grids are strained on hot days.

The salt solution is an industrial version of the little packets that absorb moisture to keep products dry during shipping. The solution is heated up, releasing water and boosting the concentration of salt, making it more absorbent. This can be done when electricity demand is low and effectively stores energy until cooling is needed.

When air conditioning is needed, the solution is brought in contact with air, absorbing water and removing humidity. The air is cooled within a component called a heat exchanger using a high-efficiency method to lower air temperature by exposing it to water. The dry air absorbs the water, lowering its temperature and the temperature of the heat exchanger. That air that absorbs the water becomes warm and humid and is moved outside. At the same time, air that moves through the chilled heat exchanger flows into the room that is being cooled.

After raising $20 million from investors including Breakthrough last year, Blue Frontier is trialing ACs for businesses. “Air conditioning could be a solution to the problem rather than being the problem,” Betts said.

. . .

“The climate problem is only going to get worse if we continue to add the same types of air conditioners to meet that demand,” said Sorin Grama, CEO of Transaera, which is developing a new AC using highly absorbent materials that remove humidity. The company raised $4.5 million from investors including Carrier last year and is currently making prototypes.

Grama co-founded Transaera with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor after working in India for a refrigeration company and seeing that air conditioners were too expensive for many consumers in the country.

For the full story, see:

Amrith Ramkumar. “Companies Race To Build a Better Air Conditioner.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 29, 2023): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 28, 2023, and has the title “The Race to Build a Better Air Conditioner.”)

New 98% Reflective White Paint Can End Global Warming

(p. A1) In 2020, Dr. Ruan and his team unveiled their creation: a type of white paint that can act as a reflector, bouncing 95 percent of the sun’s rays away from the Earth’s surface, up through the atmosphere and into deep space. A few months later, they announced an even more potent formulation that increased sunlight reflection to 98 percent.

The paint’s properties are almost superheroic. It can make surfaces as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit cooler than ambient air temperatures at midday, and up to 19 degrees cooler at night, reducing temperatures inside build-(p. A12)ings and decreasing air-conditioning needs by as much as 40 percent. It is cool to the touch, even under a blazing sun, Dr. Ruan said. Unlike air-conditioners, the paint doesn’t need any energy to work, and it doesn’t warm the outside air.

. . .

. . ., scientists have been urgently working to develop reflective materials, including different types of coatings and films, that could passively cool the Earth. The materials rely on principles of physics that allow thermal energy to travel from Earth along specific wavelengths through what’s known as the transparency or sky window in the atmosphere, and out into deep space.

Jeremy Munday, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Davis, who researches clean technology, said this redirection would barely affect space. The sun already emits more than a billion times more heat than the Earth, he said, and this method merely reflects heat already generated by the sun. “It’d be like pouring a cup of regular water into the ocean,” Dr. Munday said.

He calculated that if materials such as Purdue’s ultra-white paint were to coat between 1 percent and 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, slightly more than half the size of the Sahara, the planet would no longer absorb more heat than it was emitting, and global temperatures would stop rising.

. . .

While humans in such hot and picturesque places as Santorini and the aptly named Casablanca have long used white paint to cool dwellings, and municipalities are increasingly looking to paint rooftops white, Dr. Ruan said commercial white paints generally reflect 80 percent to 90 percent of sunlight. This means they still absorb 10 percent to 20 percent of the heat, which in turn warms surfaces and the ambient air. The Purdue paint, by comparison, absorbs so much less solar heat and radiates so much more heat into deep space that it cools surfaces to below-ambient temperatures.

For the full story, see:

Cara Buckley. “A Coat of Paint May Hold a Key To a Cool Planet.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 13, 2023): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 12, 2023, and has the title “To Help Cool a Hot Planet, the Whitest of White Coats.”)

In “Hashing Things Out” to Save Lives Bateman “Could Be a Pit Bull”

(p. 20) Don Bateman, an engineer who invented a cockpit device that warns airplane pilots with colorful screen displays and dire audible alerts like “Caution Terrain!” and “Pull Up!” when they are in danger of crashing into mountains, buildings or water — an innovation that has likely saved thousands of lives — died on May 21 [2023] at his home in Bellevue, Wash.

. . .

Bob Champion, a former scientist at Honeywell who worked with Mr. Bateman, said in a telephone interview: “Don had a true passion for saving lives. He was a peach, but behind closed doors, when we were hashing things out, he could be a pit bull.”

. . .

“He never lost his childlike wonder about flying,” Ms. McCaslin said by phone. “He did a lot of his great work from his 40s on.”

. . .

Mr. Bateman told the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation in 2011 that in the late 1960s there were fatal accidents nearly every month, during which a pilot would “fly into something, like a mountain, or go in short on the runway.”

. . .

Determined to do something, Mr. Bateman developed — and in 1974 patented — his first ground proximity warning system: a small box that integrated data from within the aircraft, including the radar altimeter and airspeed indicator, and gave the pilot a 15-second warning of an approaching hazardous condition.

. . .

In the 1990s, the system improved exponentially. Engineers working with Mr. Bateman added GPS and critical terrain data, including topographical maps of Eastern Europe and China that had been charted by the Soviet Union as far back as the 1920s; they had been acquired in Russia at Mr. Bateman’s request.

“We knew, as engineers, that if we could get the terrain data, we could do an awful lot,” he told The Seattle Times.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Don Bateman, 91, Engineer And Pioneer Who Invented A Cockpit Warning System.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 4, 2023): 20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated June 8, 2023, and has the title “Don Bateman, Who Kept Airplanes From Crashing, Dies at 91.”)

In Blackberry Movie “The Excitement of Disruption and the Thrill of Creation Become Tangible”

(p. C9) In Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” — a wonky workplace comedy that slowly shades into tragedy — the emergence of the smartphone isn’t greeted with fizzing fireworks and popping champagne corks. Instead, Johnson and his co-writer, Matthew Miller (adapting Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s 2015 book “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry”), have fashioned a tale of scrabbling toward success that tempers its humor with an oddly moving wistfulness.

. . .

. . ., we’re in Waterloo, Ontario, in 1996, where Mike Lazaridis (a perfect Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Johnson) — best friends and co-founders of a small tech company called Research in Motion (RIM) — are trying to sell a product they call PocketLink, a revolutionary combination of cellphone, email device and pager.

. . .

The corporate types don’t understand Mike and Doug’s invention, but a predatory salesman named Jim Balsillie (a fantastic Glenn Howerton), gets it. Recently fired and fired up, Jim sees the device’s potential, making a deal to acquire part of RIM in exchange for cash and expertise. Doug, a man-child invariably accessorized with a headband and a bewildered look, is doubtful; Mike, assisted by a shock of prematurely gray hair, is wiser. He knows that they’ll need an intermediary to succeed.

Reveling in a vibe — hopeful, testy, undisciplined — that’s an ideal match for its subject, “BlackBerry” finds much of its humor in Jim’s resolve to fashion productive employees from RIM’s ebulliently geeky staff, who look and act like middle schoolers and converse in a hybrid of tech-speak and movie quotes. It’s all Vogon poetry to Jim; but as Jared Raab’s restless camera careens around the chaotic work space, the excitement of disruption and the thrill of creation become tangible.

For the full movie review, see:

Jeannette Catsoulis. “When Geeks Clash With Suits, They’re All Thumbs.” The New York Times (Friday, May 12, 2023): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the movie review has the date May 11, 2023, and has the title “‘BlackBerry’ Review: Big Dreams, Little Keyboards.”)

The book that is the basis of the movie under review in the passages quoted above is:

McNish, Jacquie, and Sean Silcoff. Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry. New York: Flatiron Books, 2015.

Growing Research Suggests Neanderthals Were More Similar to Homo Sapiens in Behavior

(p. A16) Neanderthals might be getting a bad rap. In the movie “Night at the Museum,” when the exhibits come to life after sundown, the Neanderthals are depicted as dimwitted cave men who grunt and bash rocks together in futile attempts to generate a flame. When Ben Stiller’s night-guard character gives them a lighter, one promptly sets himself on fire.

Popular culture has often depicted our Neanderthal cousins much like these museum cave men—also-rans and unsophisticated brutes whose nomadic-hunter lifestyle precluded them from social gatherings and might have contributed to their demise.

But the past decade or so has changed our understanding of Neanderthals. A growing body of research shows these extinct relatives—who overlapped in time and space with anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens—were similar to us in many ways. Recent studies suggest Neanderthals altered the landscape around them with fire and were sophisticated hunters who could exploit a variety of prey in groups larger than paleoanthropologists once thought.

Studies show the species used fire to cook, constructed tools to manipulate meat and stone, built structures and made jewelry. They swam and dove for shells, which they used as tools and beads, and distilled birch bark to make tar. Neanderthals decorated and engraved bones and used red ochre—a natural clay pigment—to alter surfaces.

“The more we learn about Neanderthals, the more similar they look to us behaviorally,” said Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London.

For the full story, see:

Aylin Woodward. “Scientific Discoveries Elevate the Minds and Skills of Neanderthals.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 11, 2023): A16.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 10, 2023, and has the title “Neanderthals and Us: We’re More Alike Than Once Thought.” The wording in the last sentence quoted above is from the print version, rather than the shorter online version, of the sentence.)

Biden EV Goals Depend on “Troubled” Business Model for Fast Charging

(p. A13) President Biden’s EV ambitions will hinge in large part on the availability of public places to plug in and repower cars reliably, a network that largely doesn’t exist. Building it won’t be easy.

While the government is (p. A2) pouring billions of dollars into developing a national highway charging network, many companies aren’t sure how they will make money off the nascent business. Fast charging requires expensive utility infrastructure and projects often encounter supply chain hang ups and long wait times to connect to the grid.

. . .

The business model for fast charging has been troubled because there aren’t enough EVs in most places yet for charging to turn a profit. Yet EV advocates say many drivers will only be comfortable purchasing vehicles if rapid charging is widely available.

Utility companies and gas stations have been arguing across several states about who will own and operate EV chargers. The expensive utility bills that can result from delivering quick jolts of power have been a particular point of contention. Meanwhile, the young companies that provide charging gear and services have struggled with equipment on the fritz, vandalism and driver payment systems, a frequent source of failure.

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Hiller. “Fast Electric-Vehicle Chargers Get Boost, But Hurdles Lurk.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 14, 2023): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13, 2023, and has the title “Fast EV Chargers to Nearly Double on U.S. Highways Under Expansion Plan.” In the first paragraph quoted above, the online version has “Mr. Biden’s” instead of “President Biden’s.”)