A grab bag of mail
One MACHINE DESIGN reader took issue with another letter writer and wanted to set us straight on defibrillators, a product his company makes. Another reader feels the government-mandated switch to digital TV hampers our access to information and news and is a ploy to make us all pay cable bills (and more taxes). And one reader believes rail-based mass transit is the way to go.

AEDs can bring ’em back alive and well
Russell D. Potter’s letter in your June 4 issue about the importance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during a cardiac emergency is spot-on. For lay rescuers in particular, effective CPR can be the most effective near-term treatment for victims. However, Mr. Potter’s assertion that, “few people come back fully normal after an AED” (automated external defibrillator) is open to interpretation.

We seek to add clarification. An AED does just one thing. It delivers a defibrillation shock to a heart in ventricular fibrillation, letting it resume a coordinated rhythm. CPR keeps blood flowing to oxygenate the vital organs, but it will not defibrillate a heart.

In 2004, the New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of a study of sudden cardiac arrests in public places in 24 communities across the U.S. and Canada. Twice the number of arrest victims treated with an AED and CPR survived compared to those treated initially with CPR alone, and 73% of those survivors had normal cerebral performance.

Craig Peterson
Sr. Mgr. of AED Marketing,
Philips Healthcare

Digital TV, another government snafu
The ill-conceived “big switch” to digital TV has caused an estimated half of over-the-air viewers to lose some or all of their channels (according to NPR stories). And that includes me and I’m in prime reception territory. It seems the FCC failed to plan for consumer antennas, ranging, amplifiers, or even converter-box specs that preserved viewer access and with it, freedom of the press. It’s looking suspiciously like a windfall for the cable industry.

As a result, an underground antenna market has sprung up on the Web. These amateur enthusiasts analyze existing products on sites such as this: EV’s Best Top Rated DTV Indoor Antenna Review Test Round- Up Guide (tiny.cc/fEloE). The Web also contains about three dozen make-it-yourself $5 coat hanger amateur antenna designs of amazing sophistication that some people claim outperform commercial gear (A Better HDTV Antenna (tiny.cc/r5BVN).

The FCC may have severely underestimated the backlash from this screw up, and broadcast management may have grossly miscalculated the impact of this loss on revenues. Broadcast or OTA (over-the-air) stations may have committed a fatal error in interpreting simple statistics. They apparently think that since only 12% of their viewers watch by broadcast, and if only half of those can no longer see their channel because of the digital switch, then they are only losing at most 6% of their audience. But this contains a fatal flaw in statistical thinking. The other 88% of the audience (with either cable, dish, Internet, and other TV signal sources) has 200 channels to choose from, so the chance of these folks watching a broadcast channel is relatively small. But OTA viewers have only three or so channels to watch, and the chances of their watching a broadcast channel is 100%. If you do the math, ignoring viewer preferences, broadcast channels may have lost as much as 40% of their viewers, not the 6% they had foolishly dismissed.

Instead of a digital future, the FCC has driven us back into the roof-top-antenna age of the past or right into the arms of a predatory cable/satellite antenna/Internet providers. But maybe you will get lucky and get a chimney-mount broadband yagi for your birthday this year.

David Boylan

Riding the rails?
I’ve just read your editorial (“Taken for a ride,” June 4), and I have doubts about high-speed rail as well, but there are some additional factors to consider.

I agree that we should first focus on fuel efficiency and some of the other technical fixes you mention, such as traffic-light timing. But I also support what is often called the “feebate” program of driving up fuel efficiency with a market-oriented mechanism. I would then invest in electric cars (trucks and other larger vehicles should not be targeted for electrification), and greatly increase spending on alternative energies. And I realize it would take a lot of money to get results in terms of reducing the cost of electricity generated from alternative sources.

So, my first bone to pick comes in the price of gas. Price is going to go up again. And if last year’s spike in gas prices increased public transit by 3.4%, imagine what $5/gallon gas would do if sustained over several years. Also, as gas prices increase, both plane and car travel will become prohibitively expensive for many in our communities. Without more rail and buses, mobility for these people will become more limited.

For the California rail project, you should also consider that the project is partially intended to prevent the need to expand Bay Area and L.A. airports. Airport expansions are huge, expensive projects requiring lots of energy, so the costs and pollutants of rail should be partially offset for that.

It should be noted that the high-speed rail projects in Europe make a profit, as far as I’ve heard. I’m not sure how they factor in construction costs, but just breaking even on operating costs would be impressive for public transit.

As for Europe’s dropping rates of public-transit use, that trend will turn around as gas prices go up, so long as the governments do not reduce their large gas taxes to soften the blow. So, any long-term projects built should be looking at gas in the $5-$10/gallon range, and then make the needed comparisons.

In short, I like your common sense ideas, but if you add them up, they aren’t nearly enough in the short term to deal with rising oil prices, and in the long term to head off global warming, barring a truly great technological advance or two.

Craig K. Breon

The British rail system was privatized in the 1980s under the Thatcher regime. Since then it has never been profitable, though it is still highly subsidized by the U.K. government. French rail lines are operated by the French government. So they are subsidized by French taxpayers. Any high-speed rail line that California builds will by necessity be supported by California taxpayers through taxes one way or another.

By the way, when gas prices spiked last year, the transit system in Cleveland claimed the influx of new customers raised its costs, forcing it to cut lesser-traveled bus lines and hike fares. When you lose money on every customer, it’s hard to make it up on volume. Ask GM.
— Leland Teschler

Sailing away
I really appreciated your article on sailplanes (“Gone with the wind,” June 4), especially as a former director of the Soaring Society of America. And the link to the Web video of the high-speed landing? That was me in the cockpit.

D. B. Newill