by Douglas Black, April 22, 2014

Not too many years ago, back in 2003 to be precise, I spearheaded an effort to raise awareness of the importance of energy efficiency in vehicles as a sure way to help reduce the effects of Global Climate Change.  There were a few hurdles.  Not that hurdles no longer exist, the climate change deniers to mention one, but an awful lot of good has happened in a decade.


The project I invented, and I say that literally because my life was in turmoil, going through an unwanted divorce, and struggling with the demons of drink, I invented a project that was grant funded and did some good.  Purposefully making up a moniker that was catchy, I called it the Great Lakes Energy Efficiency MotorRally – 2003.  That’s GLEEM2003 as acronym.

The idea was pretty straightforward.  Create a learning tool for schoolkids,  deliver that tool to as many as possible, use props, and team up.

So, the learning tool was a curriculum called “Energy Efficiency and Transportation” was targeted to middle school students in Michigan. I chose Michigan because I was a Detroiter.  There was really no material available for educators that followed the strict guidelines of Standards and Guidelines in the State of Michigan.  So I created a study guide that crossed over all four disciplines – Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts.

We, and I say we referring to my son Vince, a seventh grader at the time, went on a road trip over the seven days of Earth Week to deliver the message to middle school students.  We visited over 30 classrooms and the trip culminated at an EarthDay Celebration at the Michigan State University Campus in East Lansing, Michigan.

The props we used were the vehicles, and there were not too many to choose from.  We managed to secure some very gracious support from both Toyota – the original Prius Hybrid was one of only two available commercially at the time, the other being the Honda Insight – and from General Motors Corporation, who lent us an E85 Tahoe Truck for a couple of days.  The questions from seventh graders like “Where do you put the corn?” were priceless.

Much has changed.  Today there are more than 12 commercially available vehicles that are considered Hybrid, and many more to come.  Energy Efficiency in the mobile environment has become mainstream.

The Green Bentley
The Green Bentley

And not just mainstream, but money mainstream.  We are no longer just talking about tiny deathtrap cars, stripped down for fuel efficiency.  (ANOTHER CAR)  Even Bentley has a Hybrid Concept Vehicle that utilizes Hybrid technology, unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show this year.  I would call that the Touring Sedan With A Conscience.

Bentley Has A Hybrid Too
Bentley Has A Hybrid Too

I have a theory as to why that has happened so fast (a decade).

An awareness of the environment, and the human effect on our precious planet, seems to come stronger with each generation.  (EVIDENCE FROM STATISTOICS).  My own experience with this involves deforestation, VHS technoplogy and my oldest daughter GiGi.  When GiGi was a preschooler, I was elbows deep in a career selling lumber.



Specifically, 2×4’s to developers who would build as fast as humanly possible.  Around the same time the movie “Fergully; The last Rain Forest”, was extremely popular among the kids and VHS players were “the thing” among the tech savvy crowd like me who knew BETA was doomed (google it).  So GiGi watched Furngully.

When I came home one night the question hit me.  “Daddy, are you cutting down the RAINFOREST?”

I thought “How dare they, those treehuggers brainwashing my daughter.”

Truth be told, the backers (Greenpeace, etc etc) were in fact educating a younger generation to become the activists, stakeholders, and most importantly the decision makers of today.  The Millennia’s are now the folks with the political clout, and the purse strings, whether they know it or not.

So today, EarthDay2014, I say it is time to ramp up the volume.  Let’s start educating another generation about the facts of climate change so that in 2050, things will be looking much better.


Douglas Black
Douglas Black

Douglas Black is a photographer and writer who really hopes we don’t screw up our planet.

Author of The Trilogy STRUCTURE, SPORT, and SIDESTREETS, and blogger.



Project VoiceBank

Brain Transplants
Brain Transplants

by Douglas Black, March 21, 2014

Spoiler Alert!  No trolling here – no blithering negativity about some politically polarized opinions.

My surgery went very, very well.  I cannot praise my Orthopedic Surgery Team enough.  It was truly a Five Star Experience.  From my Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Savage, to the Anesthesiologist, pre-op Nurses and PA’s, and especially the Nursing Team in recovery and during my stay (they really run the outfit) they were all at the top of their game and made me feel like I was at the Spa or a retreat of some kind.

Comfy Towels And All!
Comfy Towels And All!

My previous experience with hospitals involved an awful lot of noise…loud talking all night, incessant beeping, squelching and ignored machines, and an overall rude attitude.  This time it was completely the opposite – quiet, attentive, and genuine friendliness.  And my room even had a nice view that included a bit of Lake Michigan and the edge of Navy Pier!  Did I mention I am gushing over the hospital at Northwestern University?  And hey, it’s even walking distance from home.

My Hospital Room With A View
My Hospital Room With A View

So the pins and needles, the pain and overall discomfort has nearly disappeared completely with the help of a couple donated bone shims and some titanium hardware in my neck.  Instant relief from the pressure to the nerves going down both arms.  And sadly this solution is something I knew of for as many as 8 years, but without insurance the options were basically “fugitaboutit”.  And if insurance HAD been purchased, the surgery would have been deemed a pre-existing condition and therefore not covered.  “Preexisting condition” is no longer in the fine print lexicon of health coverage.  Can I hear a Whoop-whoop!

My voice is fine as well, although there was merely a slight chance that my vocal chords would be disturbed during the procedure.  But that tiny chance was enough to fuel my anxiety engine into overdrive.  So I began a Project I call VoiceBank.

The idea is pretty straight forward.  When a person’s ability to speak deteriorates to a point of incoherence due to throat cancer or Multiple Dystrophy or any sort of injury, the common option for speech is a speech generating device that utters a transistorized monotone words entered in some fashion on their computer.  This is familiar to many of us as the voice of Dr. Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist who has been living with Lou Gehrig s Disease (ALS)  for decades.

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking

The technology, known as electronic augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), was pioneered by futurist Ray Kurzweil in the mid 1970s.  Kurzweil is now an executive at GOOGLE spearheading Artificial Intelligence and the coming Robopacolypse (not as bad as it sounds).

Ray Kurzweil
Ray Kurzweil

Now if I were to lose my voice for good, like the late film critic and overall Hero of Chicago Roger Ebert, I would not want my new voice to sound like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, or even SIRI.  Not even HAL-9000, although “I am afraid I cannot do that, Dave” is one of my favorite lines.

I would want to be using my own voice.  How?  It is simply a matter of pre-recording common (and even uncommon) words, phrases, numbers, quips, snarky comments, and even cuss word, and loading them into a database.  Like the epherial voice on the subway.

“ and Division.”  “Doors open on the and Division.”  The more I populate my database with recordings of me saying stuff, the more natural my compu-conversation would sound. And it would be me, even if I could no longer say a damn thing.

So here’s the deal.  I am currently building a file of short phrases I might say in typical conversation.  And many of you know I can be sarcastic, snarky and even a bit of an ass.  So throw some suggestions my way via email of comment on Facebook, or tweet using #VoiceBank hashtag.  Here are a few I have so far…

Yes it IS a nice day, isn’t it?  Who want’s popcorn?  Did you see that guy’s hair?       I am on my way, don’t panic.        Don’t get all uptight.  Did I say I Love You yet today?          Well, I do.


Douglas Black
Douglas Black

Keep Enemies Close, Car Keys Closer

By Douglas Black, February 12, 2014 Ford Motor Co. Executive President of the Americas Joe Hinrichs delivered the keynote speech during the Economic Club of Chicago’s luncheon at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show Media Preview.

Hinrichs addressed an audience of hundreds of Economic Club members, guests and journalists. Displayed were Ford’s iconic models including the 50th edition of the Mustang, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator, and the 2015 Ford F-150.

While Hinrichs presented Ford’s plan on moving forward in the global automotive industry, he also commented on the rapidly evolving technology leading to driverless vehicles.

The Ford executive cautioned that while it may be possible to turn the keys – and complete control – over to a moving vehicle, it would be very unwise to keep the driver completely out of the equation.

The human factor as a failsafe should remain regardless of the advancements made in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, suggested Hinrichs.

Over the past 10 years, AI has literally exploded as the new-new thing in connecting everything in our lives, as this blog has been reporting.  Our cars connect through our phones to our homes, telling the furnace to hitch the heat up a notch, the refrigerator to add milk and butter to the grocery list, and personal drones can project a view of the farmer’s milk cows and crops to the monitor in her office.

It is a brave new world indeed, and getting braver.

A year ago the technology still seemed quite a way out (in perhaps decades) as we described in the Hot Flying Rats! Blog titled “Self Driving – Your Car Can Handle It, But Can You?” dated January 19, 2013 where we said

Google Self Driving Prius
Google Self Driving Prius

While there are many technical and legal hurdles that must be overcome before hands-free/eyes-free driving is commonplace the biggest hurdle may be that of public opinion. Many people are uneasy about sharing the highway with driverless cars.  “(At work) when my computer crashes, it’s annoying.

If the car’s computer crashes, we all crash”, warned Roger Abdella, a dispatcher from Flint who was attending the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit last week. “It will take a lot of convincing” added Abdella, in line with many visitors we spoke to at the NAIAS who also expressed similar apprehension.

Google, the search engine giant and new technologies force, was first to take on the bleeding edge, investing millions and putting nearly a half million miles on their specially outfitted stable of Toyota Prius’. Google contends that there will be many benefits to leaving control of traffic in the metaphorical hands of computer logarithms.  These will include improved overall fuel efficiency, added safety, and another, less tangible, benefit – robots are never distracted.

They don’t text or drink or get tired, and they see things no human being can. DARPA, an acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been partnering with quasi-government contractors, public institutions and private sector companies like Google since 1968, funding many robotics research efforts among a host of other avenues.”

Robonaut reporting for duty aboard Int'l Space Station, Jan 5, 2013
Robonaut reporting for duty aboard Int’l Space Station, Jan 5, 2013

One recent post on the enerficiency (since 1999) blog titled “The Day Of The Robot Is Here Part 1 – Winging, Wheeling and Walking” from December 2012

“In fact, the development of human assist and independent robotic systems have exploded since 1988.  According to investment in research, development and production of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the robotics has quadrupled worldwide in the past 25 years, with the majority of that growth in the past 10 years.”

AUDI tt self-driving
AUDI tt self-driving

Another, “Drive Auto In Auto Drive” from January 20, 2013 revealed

“Google contends that there will be many benefits to leaving control of traffic in the metaphorical hands of computer logarithms.  These will include improved overall fuel efficiency, added safety, and another, less tangible, benefit – robots are never distracted. They don’t text or drink or get tired, and they see things no human being can.”

HERB Learns On Its Own
HERB Learns On Its Own

And from “Robot Learns After School – Another Step Toward Skynet” May 8, 2013

After the floor was swept, doors shut, and all the technicians went home, HERB was alone.  Within sight and arms reach, a couple of items from the lunch menu were left on a table.  HERB was curious.

By morning the robot knew a great deal about a bag of bagels and a pineapple. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing the Home Exploring Robot Butler (HERB) project in the Personal Robotics Lab, directed by Siddhartha Srinivasa.

Teaching a robot to recognize encountered objects usually requires tedious data entry done manually by technicians. “Humans do it naturally: We look at a scene and can immediately understand it, identifying objects and things in it,” Srinivasa explained in an email to NBC News.

“A robot with this ability will be able to interact semantically with the world. It will then also be able to interact better with us because it is able to have a common semantic model of the world with us.”

The robot uses color video, a Kinect depth camera and non-visual information to build digital images of objects, which for its purposes are defined as something it can lift. The depth camera is particularly useful, as it provides three-dimensional shape data.

Other information HERB collects include the object’s location – on the floor, on a table, or in a cupboard. It can determine if it moves, and whether it is in a particular place at a particular time – say, mail in a mail slot.

“Artificial Intelligence as a whole is a rapidly growing science, led in part by Google’s research into the way our brain works.  Scientists say we  can expect computers of the near future to be vastly more powerful, and faster than the best of today.

Ray Kurzweil, newly named chief scientist at Google, even think we will see the “singularity”, or point at which AI surpasses the human mind in capacity and will then act in tandem with mankind’s advancement, by the year 2029.”


And from March 3, 2013 – Robo-Valet Gaining Ground – Smarter, Stronger, Faster.

“As pointed out by futurist Ray Kurzweil in what he attributes to Moore’s law and the dictum of exponential growth of technology, computing power has been doubling every two years for the past century.

And, says Kurzweil, “we are only a decade or two away from a singularity”, the point at which the intelligence of computers will be equal to humans in analysis capacity, speed, and memory capacity.”

Really, a RoboMosquito
Really, a RoboMosquito

And from “The Day Of The Robot Is Here Part 3 – Winging, Wheeling and Walking” from January 2013

“The past dozen years have brought all sorts of bug-like creatures – three legged striders, four legged hoppers, millipedes, rolli-polli’s, and snake-like eels that propel themselves forward in a most unusual way.  The Six-legged spiders seem to be most efficient for the smaller surveillance and communication requirements.”

Clearly the military has applications for AI, and are heavily funding advanced research as such, but history tells us (jet flight, laser pointers, the internet) that in very short order those new technologies will be ubiquitous in our daily lives.

And while I do like the idea of my own Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons episodes, assisting me in daily mundane tasks, I am a little leery of fleets of insect like spy-drones doing the NSA’s bidding as they peek in our windows and listen to our conversations.

Or worse yet, decide we humans are an inferior race and become the AI overlords of our grandchildren.

Keep the car keys close.

Mans Best Friend
Mans Best Friend


Douglas Black
Douglas Black

Douglas Black is a photographer, fast car geek, and futurist.  Author of several books including i.STRUCTURE; A Trilogy of Vision and View – available now.

Avoid Tummy Troubles During Climate Devastation,

Spicy Mango Soup  by Douglas Black 11/11/13

This is one of those happy mistakes one sometimes makes.  Having very little to work with, or at least some refrigerator orphans, I put a dish together on this cold and rainy Veterans Day while listening to reports from the devastation caused by the First Great Typhoon.

I am still trying to get my brain around the concept of a planet literally acting as the hand of God, wiping out civilizations.  And certainly those poor souls lost, and survivors dying of thirst and starvation leave me feeling helpless.

When I actually looked, that earlier feeling that my cupboards were bare seemed silly at best, and insensitive and rude at worst.   So, I used nearly everything.


RECIPE (for one) all microwave

1 sorry looking yellow bell pepper

1 scary looking jalapeño pepper

2 cloves garlic I forgot was in the empty onion bag

1 Romano tomato, kind of green inside

1 shriveled apple (just the quarter that looks ok)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 pkg (4oz) Kids “Orange Mango Puree w Coconut Milk” Lunch Drink

2 Hot Sauce packets from King Burrito 24hr Taco Joint on Chicago Ave.

2 cups water

1 Chicken Bouillon Cube

Here is what you do. 

First put water and bouillon cube in large microwave safe bowl and go for 10 minutes.

While that heats up, chop yellow pepper, interrupt cooking, drop peppers in, and resume cooking.

Next, do the same with then jalapeño, but only include the seeds you have courage for.

By then the initial cook time should be accomplished – let it sit while you work.

The garlic needs only to be peeled, chopped into very thin slices, one the chopped finer.  Add to soup, let sit.

Now dice your tomato but do NOT put the sticker or the really ugly looking  skin parts into the mix.

Start micro for another 5min.

Dice your apple (again, leave out the ugliest parts) and add with the olive oil.

Continue micro until it quits.  Now you should have been cooking in microwave for 156min, and sitting in the mix for another 5, unless you got distracted by Twitter feeds like me, in which case you’ve let it sit in the micro\wave unattended for 30 minutes.

Add Mango puree and hot sauce packets and cook for another 5 minutes.

Let it all sit in a Tupperware bowl with lid in the fridge for an hour, reheat and serve with bread or crackers (I had dozens of packaged Saltines that were gone in no time).


While I was counting on the hot peppers to kill any bacteria, YOU should be aware of old or spoiled ingredients that may cause you tummy trouble… NOT MY FAULT!

Microwave times may vary and sipping tastes from the bowl can burn your mouth…NOT MY FAULT!

PLEASE! Take this as I intend…all honor to those in peril from the Typhoon.  And those poor lost souls.  But this climate change is the shape of things to come.  I may not feel the full effects as I am older.  But you younger people should be prepared to survive, and live on very little when weather devastates your known climate, comfort zone, and pushes you toward extinction.

The take away?  Look for creative ingredients to avoid tummy troubles.

DouglasBlack stylized w beard

by Douglas Black,   photog and writer in Chicago (google it)

Mirrorless Flagship – Olympus Takes First Shot


by Douglas Black, September 13, 2013

Olympus has introduced the successor to the E-5, the camera company’s  most recent DSLR camera. And it is …. get ready for it… mirrorless.

That’s right, the new flagship for this lauded maker of camera obscura is pushing technology once again.  I can hardly keep up.

The OM-D  E-M1 (why do they need to use all these cryptic codes?) is equipped with built in Wi-Fi and sports a 16 megapixel sensor, perfect for what most everyday shooting requires.


It is also capable of 10 fps continuous shooting, interchangeable lenses, and ISO range of 100 – 25,500.  And what’s more, you will have no problem getting great shots of those free style ski jumps or surfer spray with a shutter speed that goes to 1/8000 second.

Measuring 130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1 mm (5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5 in), the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is available to pre-order now, ahead of release in October. It will cost US$1,400 body-only.

Many More Secrets


by Douglas Black,  July 6, 2013

Great new advancements happen when pushed by circumstance.  This was true when the masses wanted to read – we got the printing press.  It happened when delivering goods by horse and wagon was considered slow and cumbersome – REO Speedwagon.  And now the use of high tech listening devices, data mining, and communication interception will no doubt produce new technological wonders as well.

Expect breakthroughs in communications cloaking, circumvention spy craft, and all manner of dodging-the-man devices in the coming decade.  But you may never hear of them, for the same reason we had not yet heard of the specifics surrounding the overwhelming collection of he said/she said haystacks ongoing by many governments, including the UK, France, the US and of course China.

Perhaps personal satellites will prevail.  Or just cans and string.  My gut feeling is that biochip implants will make ESP a reality.  Welcome to the Age of Aquarius, baby!


DouglasBlack stylized w beard

About Douglas Black

Douglas Black is a photojournalist and

green technologies analyst out of Chicago,

and is currently Managing Producer for

ENERSPEC/enerficiency and Hot Flying Rats!

Earlier Douglas promoted greentech in Detroit as

Senior Marketing Strategist and Architect.

Connect on Google Plus

DIY Silencer Quiets Shooting


Douglas Black, June 7, 2013

Here’s a way to Build Your Own Sound Blimp For Under $100 from our friends at PetaPixel.

Michael Zhang introduced me to this and it’s pretty straightforward.



You can find step-by-step instructions with higher-resolution photographs over on Tabár’s blog and on photographer Blair Bunting’s blog.


Douglas Black
Douglas Black

About Douglas Black

Douglas Black is a photojournalist and

green technologies analyst out of Chicago,

and is currently Managing Producer for

ENERSPEC/enerficiency and Hot Flying Rats!

Earlier Douglas promoted greentech in Detroit as

Senior Marketing Strategist and Architect.

Connect on Google Plus

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