Mar 31, 2010

Science Scene - Rubber Sidewalks

Concrete sidewalks can make a walk around the neighborhood a pleasant experience, unless the sidewalks are cracked, broken and lifted by tree roots. Then they become dangerous to walk on. Sidewalk repairs require intensive labor, money and sometimes the removal of trees and their invasive roots, but with Terrewalks trees, money and labor are saved.

Terrewalks sidewalks are a new and improved version of Rubbersidewalks which are sidewalks panels made of recycled tires, invented by Richard Valeriano and sold at Rubbersidewalks, Inc, a company founded by Lindsey Smith in 2001. Terrewalks sidealks are "made of 100% recycled tire rubber and waste plastic, and organic colorant then molded under compression". The rubber surface of this innovative sidewalk material is hard enough to walk on, but gentler on the knees then concrete. It is also hard enough to accommodate bike, skating, other vehicle traffic and durable to withstand harsh weather. It even looks like concrete.

Because Terrewalks sidewalks consist of interlocking panels they are easier to maintain then concrete sidewalks. For example, if a panel is damaged for whatever reason the panel can be removed and quickly replaced by another panel, unlike concrete, which must be completely broken up, taken away and then replaced. Initially Terrewalks is more expensive to purchase then concrete, but since it requires less repair and less maintenance, over time it is more cost effective to purchase Terrewalks.

Terrewalks allows trees to grow healthy and strong too. At two inches thick the Terrewalks panels are not as thick as traditional concrete and are not placed as far down in the ground as concrete. This give tree roots room to grow. The panels flexiblity also accommodate for root growth and because water can seep into the seams between the panels the roots wont grow thirsty either.


Mar 30, 2010

Small Reactors - Are they the answer?

A new type of nuclear reactor—smaller than a rail car and one tenth the cost of a big plant—is emerging as a contender to reshape the nation's resurgent nuclear power industry.

Three big utilities, Tennessee Valley Authority, First Energy Corp. and Oglethorpe Power Corp., on Wednesday signed an agreement with McDermott International Inc.'s Babcock & Wilcox subsidiary, committing to get the new reactor approved for commercial use in the U.S.

The smaller Babcock & Wilcox reactor can generate only 125 to 140 megawatts of power, about a tenth as much as a big one. But the utilities are betting that these smaller, simpler reactors can be manufactured quickly and installed at potentially dozens of existing nuclear sites or replace coal-fired plants that may become obsolete with looming emissions restrictions.

Now, after a two-decade lull in construction, the U.S. is gearing up for a robust revival of nuclear power. Expanding the nuclear sector, which currently produces 20% of the nation's electricity, is considered essential to slashing carbon emissions.

For utilities, a small reactor has several advantages, starting with cost. Small reactors are expected to cost about $5,000 per kilowatt of capacity, or $750 million or so for one of Babcock & Wilcox's units. Large reactors cost $5 billion to $10 billion for reactors that would range from 1,100 to 1,700 megawatts of generating capacity.

While large reactors are built on site, a process that can take five years, the mPower reactors would be manufactured in Babcock & Wilcox's factories in Indiana, Ohio or Virginia and transported by rail or barge. That could cut construction times in half, experts believe.

Because they could be water-cooled or air-cooled, mPower reactors wouldn't have to be located near large sources of water, another problem for big reactors that require millions of gallons of water each day. That could open up parts of the arid West for nuclear development.

The first units likely would be built adjacent to existing nuclear plants, many of which were originally permitted to have two to four units but usually have only one or two.

Down the road, utilities could replace existing coal-fired power plants with small reactors in order to take advantage of sites already served by transmission lines and, in some cases, needed for grid support. Like any other power plants, these small reactors could be easily hooked up to the power grid.

Another advantage: mPower reactors will store all of their waste on each site for the estimated 60-year life of each reactor.

Nuclear development moves at a glacial pace. The next wave of large reactors won't begin coming on line until 2016 or 2017, at the earliest. The first certification request for a small reactor design is expected to be Babcock & Wilcox's request in 2012. The first units could come on line after 2018.

However, some experts believe that if the industry embraces small reactors, nuclear power in the U.S. could become pervasive because more utilities would be able to afford them.

Mar 29, 2010

Are You Doing What You Set Out To Do?

On the day before the vote for health care reform, President Obama made his final argument for passage before the Democratic members of congress.  He spoke to the Representatives about why he and they had become politicians, and why they had become Democrats.   He talked about all the town meetings and compromises, the long hours, and the time spent away from thier families. 

Whether you agree with the Health Care Reform bill or not, I think the following quote from our President to members of congress is powerful and shows his passion for his job:

"And maybe there have been times where you asked yourself, Why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place?...But you know what?  Every once in a while, you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes you had about yourself...And this is one of those moments.  This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, Doggone it, this is exactly why I came here."

I found this a very power full quote.  How about you?

Mar 28, 2010

Sunday Silliness - Possibilities :o)

With focus, dedication and steroids, men can achieve impossible dreams. Like breaking a world record. Or growing their own breasts.

Mar 26, 2010

Science Scene - Ping Pong Terminator

Meet TOPIO 3.0, the ping-pong-playing robot. Made by Vietnam's first-ever robotics firm, TOSY, the bipedal humanoid uses two 200-fps cameras to detect the ball as it leaves the opponent's paddle.

TOPIO's brain-processors and an artificial neural network-analyzes the ball's path to choose the best return. Last fall, TOPIO 3.0 debuted at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

At six feet tall, 264 pounds and with 39 independent points capable of movement (such as rotation) throughout its body, the chiseled robot appears a formidable adversary, but it hasn't beaten a human quite yet. Ho Vinh Hoang, TOSY's president, hopes that a newer version of TOPIO, which will have a more flexible arm and be able to learn on the fly, will win a match in the near future, possibly at Automatica, an automation trade show, to be held this June in Munich.

Mar 24, 2010

Science Scene - Helicopter Drones

The difficulty of supplying remote outposts across rugged terrain has contributed to many of the deadliest moments in the Afghan War, by preventing the delivery of weapons and ammo to engaged soldiers, forcing supplies to travel over dangerous roads, or turning helicopters into vulnerable targets. Last June, the Marines put out a call for a helicopter UAV to solve those problems. Now, with a successful demonstration at Utah's Dugway Proving Grounds, the Marines might have found their robocopter.

In the demonstration, a modified K-MAX helicopter moved 3,000 pounds across 600 miles, in under six hours. The K-MAX, built by Kamen Aerospace, is a single-seat helicopter designed specifically to carry cargo externally slung beneath the craft.

Most importantly though, this program is both cheap and fast. At a cost of only $860,000 per UAV, and with the technology ready to hit the Afghan skies today, the Marines can get these birds in the air as quickly as possible. And for the grunts waiting for supplies, driving in those supplies across IED-laden paths, or flying them in through treacherous canyons, a robotic replacement can't arrive soon enough.

Mar 23, 2010

Dark Roast Is The Best :o)

SAN FRANCISCO — Roasting coffee beans doesn’t just impart bold, rich flavor. It also creates a compound that helps dial down production of stomach acid, according to research presented on March 21 at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society. The discovery may explain why dark-roasted brews are gentler on the stomach than their lighter peers, and could lead to a new generation of tummy-friendly coffees.

For the full article and details, go to Wired Science.

Dang, Almost Missed Start of Spring :o)

Messed up this entry and it was stored as "draft" to publish Saturday at 11:59 :o)

For some reason, I thought that the equinox was always on the 21st.  Always interesting to learn something new.   The March equinox occured on March 20 this year, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall (autumn) in the southern hemisphere from an astronomical viewpoint. The March equinox occured at 17:32 (or 5:32pm) at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

This illustration, which shows an example only of the March equinox, is not to scale.Twice a year, around March 20 or 21 and September 22 or 23, the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world. These two days are known as the March (vernal or spring in the northern hemisphere) equinox and the September equinox.

Mar 22, 2010

Today Is World Water Day :o)

Water affects every aspect of our lives, yet nearly one billion people around the world don't have clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion still lack basic sanitation. World Water Day, celebrated annually on March 22, was established by the United Nations in 1992 and focuses attention on the world's water crisis, as well as the solutions to address it.  Here is link to

To see where our water comes from, via the Nature Conservancy, click here:  Multimedia - where does your water come from?

Posted using ShareThis

World Record FG Kicks

This guy is a chemistry tech at our plant, and he is going to Las Vegas for a tryout with the Jets.

This is amazing to watch.

Mar 21, 2010

Sunday Silliness - Planning :o)

Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

Mar 20, 2010

Tailgating With Dad

It has been an emotionally draining two days.  Yesterday and today, we laid Beth's Dad to rest.  Being from a small family, seeing all of the extended family was amazing.  I am very lucky to have been accepted as part of this family.

Over the past week, I have pondered how you take measure of a man.  It is not his height, nor the length of his inseam, but the size of his heart and the lives that he has touched.  Based on what I have personally experienced, and on what I have seen and heard the last two days, Ezra Feece, Junior to those who knew him, was a giant of a man. 

When we were at dinner after the viewing last night, I was sharing with our nieces Jennifer and Heather, that Junior was only the second man that I had ever embraced as "Dad".  I said goodbye to my Dad in 1990, and did so again today.  I think the thing that I will miss the most is his smile, it was never absent, and I am convinced that it emanated from his heart. 

Love You and Miss You Dad.

Mar 19, 2010

We Have Been Counted!

The purpose of this post is twofold; first to test the new DisQus comment section (thanks Em and Dan), and second to say that we have been counted. 

I completed our 2010 census form and it is ready for the postman.

Science Scene - Cork Harvesting

Next time you’re in the supermarket looking to buy a nice bottle of wine: think cork. Although it’s not widely known, the cork industry is helping to sustain one of the world’s most biodiverse forests. Spreading across 6.6 million acres in southern Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy) and northern Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) oak cork trees Quercus suber are actually preserved and protected by the industry.

"First and foremost, the trees are not cut down; the outer bark is harvested, by hand, every 9 years. This allows the tree to consume 10 tons more carbon dioxide," explains Patrick Spencer to "The trees in these managed forests live 250-300 years. In maintaining sustainable farming practices, farmers ensure the health of the cork tress in this fragile eco-system."

Spencer is the director of an organization called Cork ReHarvest, which has provided another reason to buy cork: it's recyclable.

"Cork is a natural, environmentally friendly product," Spencer says. "By recycling cork, we reduce the amount of product going into landfills and create 'green jobs'. The recycling also brings awareness to the Mediterranean cork forests and their importance to the planet’s ecological health."

If cork stoppers are replaced by aluminum or plastic caps it will place the rich ecosystems of the cork forests in jeopardy: without providing jobs and income, the forests would likely be converted in many areas. Currently, the cork industry employs 100,000 people across the Mediterranean.

In addition, according to Spencer cork is far and away the 'greenest' option for wine bottles. For example, aluminum screwcaps cannot be recycled like cork because "the plastic closure in the top of the cap and the size of the screwcap make it almost impossible to recycle."

"[Cork] has been the closure of choice for 300 years," Spencer says. "All of the great vintage wines that collectors have purchased or won at auction have been closed with natural cork. Recently, a very rare bottle of Bordeaux sold at auction for $25,000.00. The winner put their faith in that little piece of wood, that the bottle of wine was still drinkable. That should tell you something about cork."

For the entire article and an interview with even more information, click here.

Mar 17, 2010

Happy Paddies Day :o)

Saint Patrick's Day is widely celebrated in America by Irish and non-Irish alike. Many people, regardless of ethnic background, wear green-coloured clothing and items. Traditionally, those who are caught not wearing green are pinched, usually affectionately.

According to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people.  I would personally rather have a four leaf clover.

The four-leaf clover is an uncommon variation of the common, three-leaved clover. According to tradition, such leaves bring good luck to their finders, especially if found accidentally. According to legend, each leaflet represents something: the first is for hope, the second is for faith, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck.

I hope you did not get pinched today, or if you did, hopefully it was on purpose :o)

Mar 16, 2010

Science Scene - Solar Power via USB

The SolarFold and SolarFan portable solar chargers unfold into surface-area-utilizing solar collectors when needed, supplying enough power to make a three-minute cell call after just ten minutes in the sun.

Made by AmbienTec, the chargers run about $250 each and power just about anything that can juice up via USB. The devices haven't hit U.S. stores yet, but AmbienTec will happily sell you one directly.

Mar 14, 2010

Sunday Silliness - Pessimism :o)

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who are trying to find it.

Mar 13, 2010

Time Change Looming :o)

Even though Spring is not scheduled to rear its sunny head for a few more weeks, at 2:00 AM it will be time to spring forward.  Please also take this opportunity to change out your fire detector batteries.  Have a great, even if shorter, weekend.

Mar 12, 2010

Send Your Good Thoughts & Vibes Please

Beth is on her way to Florida for a family emergency, so please send good thoughts and vibes her way.

Mar 11, 2010

Science Scene - SOcket :o)

The Soccket Ball is a pretty simple idea. It puts an inductive coil system, like the ones seen in those addicting, shaky flashlights, inside a soccer ball. The ball is going to be flying and tumbling about anyway, so why not capture all that energy and make a little electricity?

The ball offers up 3 hours of electricity for an LED light for every 15 minutes played.

It is designed to help people have quick, reliable access to electricity for simple things like lighting their homes.

The ball started as a Harvard University project undertaken by four female students.

The Soccket Ball is not yet available and is still in the prototype stages.

For the original site, click here

Mar 9, 2010

Science Scene - Electric Cars and Charging Challenges

SAN FRANCISCO — If electric cars have any future in the United States, this may be the city where they arrive first.

The San Francisco building code will soon be revised to require that new structures be wired for car chargers.

The first wave of electric car buying is expected to begin around December, when Nissan introduces the Leaf, a five-passenger electric car that will have a range of 100 miles on a fully charged battery and be priced for middle-class families. Around the same time, General Motors will introduce the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle able to go 40 miles on electricity before its small gasoline engine kicks in.

The California Public Utilities Commission, whose headquarters are in San Francisco, has brought together utilities, automakers and charging station companies in an urgent effort to write the new rules of the road. Success or failure could turn on more mundane matters, like the time it takes car buyers to navigate a municipal bureaucracy to have charging stations installed in their homes. At the headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), utility executives are preparing “heat maps” of neighborhoods that they fear may overload the power grid in their exuberance for electric cars. “If you just allow willy-nilly random charging, are we going to have neighborhood blackouts?” asked a PG&E utility executive. He said a single car could consume three times as much electricity as a typical San Francisco home.

Later this year PG&E will lead a “smart charging” pilot project, connecting 200 cars to special charging stations that let utilities control the electrical demand at a given moment. To avoid problems in areas with high car concentrations, utility executives said they would encourage people to charge their vehicles at night or to use smarter electric meters that help control demand.

Before the first Nissan Leafs and Chevrolet Volts reach the show room, an electric car infrastructure is getting a test drive in the Bay Area, in a limited way. Google, which is talking to automakers about using its PowerMeter energy management software, has already become something of an electric transportation hub. At Google’s Mountain View headquarters, a handful of employees drive to work in Tesla Roadsters, and more drive a fleet of modified Priuses that Google owns. The employees pull into carports that are covered with solar panels and plug their cars into the 100 available charging stations. Nearby, in downtown San Jose, the city has reserved street parking for electric vehicles and installed charging stations. Nearby, at Adobe Systems' headquarters, an executive showed off a dozen charging stations in the parking garage. Eighteen more will be installed this year.

Mar 8, 2010

Happy International Women's Day

Head over to Corve DaCosta's blog for a nice entry.

International Women's Day (IWD) is marked on the 8th of March every year. It is a major day of global celebration of women. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women's economic, political and social achievements.

Mar 7, 2010

Sunday Silliness - Perspective :o)

Less is more. Unless you're standing next to the one with more.  Then less just looks pathetic.

Mar 5, 2010


Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, an new giant morphs the landscape, proclaiming the five freedoms of the First Amendment; speech, press, religion, assembly, petition.

The 250,000 square-foot facility covers five centuries of news history within its seven levels.  The building includes 15 theaters and 14 major galleries of permanent exhibits in addition to its temporary displays.

I came across this via my Illinois Alumni magazine as both the CEO and Executive Director are both UofI graduates.

Click on the picture to enlarge and read the inscription on the building.

I think this would be an awesome place to visit.  For details, click the Newseum link.

Mar 3, 2010

38 Days

As you read this entry, or at least at the time it posted, I am on my first day of our refueling outage at our nuclear power plant.  I will be doing 6-12 hour days, plus turnover and 45 minute commute each way. 

I find working this shift very tiring.  I normally got to bed between 11 and 11:30, but with needing to get up at 3:15 AM, I will need to plan on being in bed no later than 10 PM.  I force myself to get daily workouts, it helps relieve stress and offset the goodies that we have during the day to keep ourselves going. That leaves me with 7:15 to 10:15 PM daily to decompress, eat dinner, etc., so that does not leave much time for extras.  So besides my pre-staged entries, I will be kind of light for a while.

In addition, I will be lurking, but not commenting nearly as often.  See you in mid-April, just in time for the tax man.

Mar 2, 2010

Philosophical Phun - Punishment

The concept of punishment during the past half-century has shown a marked drift away from efforts to reform and rehabilitate offenders in favor of retribution and incarceration. Punishment in its very conception is now acknowledged to be an inherently retributive practice, whatever may be the further role of retribution as a (or the) justification or goal of punishment.

Justifying the practice or institution of punishment must be kept distinct from justifying any given act of punishment.
  • Justification of the practice itself has reference to multiple considerations — social purposes, values, or goals of the community in which the practice is rooted.
  • The infliction of punishment is normally intended to cause, and usually does cause, some form of deprivation for the person being punished, the infliction of punishment provides unparalleled opportunity for abuse of power.
To justify punishment we must specify, first, what our goals are in establishing (or perpetuating) the practice itself. Second, we must show that when we punish we actually achieve these goals. Third, we must show that we cannot achieve these goals unless we punish (and punish in certain ways and not in others) and that we cannot achieve them with comparable or superior efficiency and fairness by nonpunitive interventions. Fourth, we must show that striving to achieve these goals by way of the imposition of deprivations is itself justified.

The entire argument for the justification of punishment unfolds in the belief that alternative, non-punitive methods of social control have been examined and rejected (or severely limited in scope) on the ground that they will not suffice — or will not work as well as punitive methods in securing compliance with just laws.

As the prisons in our states and country continue to fill, and due to budget constraints, we start to release convicted persons early (regardless of whether they have earned their release), I think it is time for us to truly examine our philosophy regarding punishment and incarceration.  To me, we need to stop sending minor offenders off to prison, especially with few programs to help rehabilitate them, and go for more inclusive and developmental programs.  Give treatment to a first time drug offender instead of sending them away for a minimum sentence.  Put a young man convicted of non-felonous theft into a mandatory training program and on house release instead of locking them up.  These types of actions will help make them contributing members to society much sooner than sending them away for hard lessons.  

For non-violent offenders, I am in favor of rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  It is cheaper, smarter, and more humane.

However, for violent offenders, or habitual offenders, I am much more of the mind set to send them away for a long time (do the crime - serve the time), no appeals, no good behavior, no special priviledges.

What are your thoughts?


For full discussion, click through to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Mar 1, 2010

Science Scene - Wireless Light Switches

Most houses require hundreds of feet of electrical wire to connect light switches to a main power source. Popular Science's green house project has installed a wireless lighting system called Verve that uses radio waves instead of copper wiring to command all the lights and outlets in the house. The system not only saves copper (imagine the savings in a skyscraper) but also allows flexible light switch location(s).

A small module inside each light switch harvests energy from the motion of turning the switch on or off and uses it to transmit radio signals up to 300 feet away to a central 10-channel controller that’s hardwired to the fuse box. Since the switches generate their own power, they require no batteries, wires or messy electrical channels carved into my brand-new insulated wall panels.

Other whole-home lighting control systems offer more programming options, but they’re also more expensive and cost more to install because of all the wiring. At $3,500, Verve runs me only a bit more than the price of a home’s worth of fancy dimmers. The downside? The system is designed mostly for new construction—retrofits get messy and costly because they require ripping out wires.