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Archive for June 2012

Prototype floating wind turbine affirms offshore wind potential

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Windfloat prototype anchored off the coast of Agucadoura, Portugal

Floating wind farms could soon be powering thousands of European homes after a prototype seaborne turbine sailed through technological trials off the coast of Agucadoura, Portugal.

The 54-meter tall renewable structure sits atop a semi-submersible platform known as a WindFloat situated five kilometers from shore…It has been manufactured by WindPlus, a consortium of energy and clean-tech companies including Principle Power, Energias de Portugal and Vestas.

The group hopes their primary success will help secure European Union funding to add another five turbines alongside the existing model, engendering greater electrical production…

Unlike existing offshore wind farms and underwater tidal turbines, floating structures do not have to be permanently fixed to the ocean floor…Instead they are kept in place by a drag embedment anchor, much like the devices used to moor oil rigs in deep ocean environments.

This means WindFloat structures could theoretically be transported to any ocean location where there is a strong wind resource, says Alla Weinstein…

Weinstein highlights lower construction costs — the WindPlus turbine cost €20 million to build and install — as a major advantage the technology has over existing offshore wind farms.

The fact that turbines and their platforms can be assembled on land…means “the cost and risk profile … is significantly reduced,” she says.

But while bullish about the technology’s potential, Weinstein admits there remains a way to go before floating turbines become profitable enterprises.

The initial structure off the coast of Portugal is merely a pilot installation to prove the device works and is viable…

One of my favorite future means of producing electricity. Offshore is a great location – especially utilizing equipment like this which merely needs to be towed into position 12-18 miles at sea. Far enough to counter that whining sound that accompanies resistance from NIMBYs worldwide.

There ain’t about to be any shortage of offshore wind. Maintenance and durability are the only significant design questions. Given appropriate materials and corrosion-resistant coatings, production should extend well beyond payback time.

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Written by Ed Campbell

June 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Royal Mail suspends deliveries in Elgin — dangerous seagulls!

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Royal Mail has suspended deliveries to homes in the Scottish town of Elgin, claiming its postwoman was being attacked by seagulls…residents have been told they will have to collect their mail from the post office until the nesting season ends due to what are described as “swooping attacks”.

The Royal Mail was adamant its staff member been “attacked” while attempting to deliver mail there. The gulls are protected by law and next on the roofs of homes on the road.

George McPhee, 66, said: “The seagulls are a bloody pest, but I have been 41years in the same house and they have never hurt anybody – and that’s including kiddies, dogs and cats.

“Even during The Blitz everybody was getting their post. If they have to issue them hard hats then so be it,” he said.

He has offered to accompany the postmen and women to prove the birds pose no danger.

Newspaper and milk deliveries are unaffected.

Perhaps the seagulls aren’t expecting to receive any mail; but, do enjoy occasional deliveries of milk and the TELEGRAPH. Or the Royal Mail may have new delivery staff who have seen too many Alfred Hitchcock movies?

Written by Ed Campbell

June 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Former Wall Street banker commits suicide in court after arson guilty verdict – burning down his mansion to collect insurance

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Michael Marin, a former Wall Street trader convicted of setting his Phoenix mansion on fire in a desperate ploy to get out of his mortgage put his hands to his mouth — seemingly in shock — and collapsed after the verdict was read Thursday.

He later died, but authorities are wondering if the hand gesture was actually a final, preplanned act to poison himself, according to reports.

About five minutes after learning his fate, a video showed him covering his mouth with his hands and swallowing, according to Fox 10 News in Phoenix…Moments later…he appeared as if he was sobbing, but his body twisted into violent convulsions…Ten minutes later, Marin was put into an ambulance and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead…

…He had fallen into serious debt and could no longer afford the $17,250 monthly mortgage payments. In addition, he stood to gain a $650,000 insurance claim, according to reports…

Fire officials suspected that the early-morning inferno began in more than one place, and found flammable materials laid out around the house, the Arizona Republic reported. No one was hurt at the time, and it was discovered Marin had been living in another, smaller home at the time.

He was charged with arson, and his trial began five weeks ago.

The jury found him guilty. Obviously something Marin suspected was a strong possibility. Courtroom security was up to Arizona legal standards and he was able to bring whatever he used to take his own life — into the courtroom.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Detroit traffic is bad enough – bus drivers confronting bedbugs?

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The union representing Detroit’s bus drivers has asked the City Council to put pressure on the transit agency to help stop the spread of bedbugs on buses…About 50 Detroit Department of Transportation drivers have reported seeing the bugs on buses, and some have been bitten within the past year, said Henry Gaffney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26.

After receiving a letter from Gaffney in May, DDOT chief executive Ron Freeland said Thursday he asked a maintenance crew to investigate and sent a letter to the union later in the month saying any infested bus would be cleaned…

That wasn’t enough for Gaffney, though. He said DDOT should be taking preventive measures by treating all of the agency’s terminals and coaches.

“If this continues to get bad, you can’t force anybody to work in those types of conditions,” he said. “It’s not fair to the citizens either. Somebody’s got to care somewhere in this city…”

Gary Brown, from the Detroit City Council said…”There are no bedbugs on DDOT buses,” Brown said. “They can’t live on a bus. People can bring them on, but they can’t live on plastic chairs.”

No personal experience here, folks; but, from what I’ve read, I think bed bugs could survive on stainless steel. They seem to be tenacious, adaptive, strong enough to survive outer space. Maybe that’s where they come from?

Written by Ed Campbell

June 30, 2012 at 10:00 am

Mohamed Morsi defies Egypt’s military in a fiery speech before tens of thousands in Tahrir Square

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president-elect, took a symbolic oath of office during a rousing speech in Cairo, promising dignity and social justice to a crowd of tens of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square.

Morsi opened his speech by addressing himself to “the Muslims and Christians of Egypt,” and promised to preserve a civil state.

“We will complete the journey in a civil state, a nationalist state, a constitutional state, a modern state,” he told the crowd, to applause and cheers.

Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood official, promised to end torture and discrimination, and to deliver social justice for millions of Egyptians.

He insisted that “no institution will be above the people,” critiquing an army which has sought to shield itself from parliamentary oversight. “You are the source of authority,” he told the crowd…

He will take office amidst a great deal of political uncertainty. He swore to uphold the constitution, but Egypt still does not have a permanent constitution, only a series of “constitutional declarations” issued by the ruling generals.

The SCAF generals and their tame high court dissolved parliament before the recent election. Under civil conditions that would be where Morsi would be sworn in as president. Instead the official swearing-in ceremony will be before that high court. Mohamed Morsi made it clear he doesn’t recognize either the shutdown of Parliament or the quasi-private ceremony.

He took his own ceremony to the people in Tahrir Square where so much of Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak was centered. And the people of Egypt responded in the tens of thousands to cheer the peoples’ version of the swearing-in of their new president.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

Michigan state coppers fight DWI with talking urinal cakes

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In an effort to cut down on drunken driving, the state is distributing the totally awesome named Interactive Urinal Communicators to some bars, restaurants and other drinkaterias in Wayne, Bay, Ottawa and Delta counties.

Yup, talking urinal cakes.

Four hundred of the cakes will be distributed to 200 eateries prior to July Fourth, said Anne Readette, spokeswoman for the Office of Highway Safety Planning, a division of the Michigan State Police…”We’re doing this to draw attention to Fourth of July drunk driving enforcement,” Readette said…

Actually the cakes offer a message that is short, sweet and entirely nonjudgmental: “Listen up. That’s right, I’m talking to you. Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many?

“Then do yourself and everyone else a favor: Call a sober friend or a cab. Oh, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”

The cakes are about $21 each, last for about three months and your federal tax dollars pay for them.

If they do any good, I guess I shouldn’t complain. I still don’t know about having a conversation with a urinal, though.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 30, 2012 at 2:00 am

Leap Second scheduled for June 30, 2012 — tomorrow!

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Clock enthusiasts take note: A leap second has been scheduled for June 30, 2012. A leap second is an adjustment to the atomic clock-based Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to bring it more closely in line with Universal Time (UT), which is based on the rotation of the earth. The two time standards do not agree because the earth’s rotation is ever so gradually and unpredictably slowing down. Yes, really.

So in the last minute of June 30, a leap second will be added to UTC, giving us the strange time of 23:59:60 (pictured). A total of 24 leap seconds have been added at irregular intervals since 1972 by the awesomely named International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Written by Ed Campbell

June 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

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OK by me, President Obama. I don’t even care if it’s called Romneycare – as in Massachusetts. It works fine.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

China’s giant, quiet step in space continues

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In May, SpaceX became the first of the new generation of commercial aerospace companies to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The cargo delivery was part of the first flight test of the integrated Falcon-9 launch vehicle and the Dragon capsule spacecraft with rendezvous and berthing mechanism systems…

One month later, China launched its fourth crewed space mission, Shenzhou-9. This was also a history-making flight, in that China, which had in 2003 become only the third nation capable of launching astronauts into space — now only one of two, since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle in 2011 — demonstrated crewed rendezvous and docking to their orbital module, Tiangong-1. The crew also featured China’s first female astronaut. They spent several days docked to Tiangong-1 conducting various operations, before safely returning to Earth on Thursday night.

China’s mission was widely covered in the international media, but the coverage in the United States was notably quieter than that of SpaceX. This is somewhat understandable, as SpaceX is an American company. But the sentiment of many in the United States is that the Chinese mission was a big “So what?” After all, the United States and Soviet governments had demonstrated crewed docking missions back in the 1960s, and operationally, China is still far behind.

We downplay China’s accomplishments at our own peril. That the United States and the Soviet Union demonstrated crewed rendezvous and docking operations more than 40 years ago is not the point. The point is, now the Chinese can do it, too.

China’s first crewed space docking was a giant step. It enables the Chinese to build and operate their own space station, establish the technology that is necessary to efficiently send astronauts to the moon and beyond, build and operate fuel depots, and construct vehicles and bases in space.

Russia has turned to earning income from their monster first stages used as the base for launching satellites for several companies. The United States is confining efforts almost exclusively to military tasks, turning down a significant number of NASA requests for peaceful purposes. Which puts the lie to whining from pundits and politicians who auto-deny China’s avowed tasking of peaceful purposes in space research.

Regardless of direction – and agitprop – China is the only nation growing a space program for the foreseeable future. I wish them well. I look forward to learning what they discover to add to our knowledge of science off-Earth.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm

UT geeks win $1000 bet from Homeland Security — by hacking and taking control of a drone

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A group of researchers led by Professor Todd Humphreys from the University of Texas at Austin Radionavigation Laboratory recently succeeded in raising the eyebrows of the US government. With just around $1,000 in parts, Humphreys’ team took control of an unmanned aerial vehicle owned by the college, all in front of the US Department of Homeland Security.

After being challenged by his lab, the DHS dared Humphreys’ crew to hack into a drone and take command. Much to their chagrin, they did exactly that…

…For a few hundreds dollar his team was able to “spoof” the GPS system on board the drone, a technique that involves mimicking the actual signals sent to the global positioning device and then eventually tricking the target into following a new set of commands. And, for just $1,000, Humphreys says the spoofer his team assembled was the most advanced one ever built.

Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” Humphreys tells Fox. The real danger here, however, is that the government is currently considering plans that will allow local law enforcement agencies and other organizations from coast-to-coast to control drones of their own in America’s airspace…

Domestic drones are already being used by the DHS and other governmental agencies, and several small-time law enforcement groups have accumulated UAVs of their own as they await clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration. Indeed, by 2020 there expects to be tens of thousands of drones diving and dipping through US airspace. With that futuristic reality only a few years away, Humphreys’ experiment suggests that the FAA may have their work cut out for them if they think it’s as easy as just approving domestic use anytime soon…

I love it. Just because you copped a good civil service gig doesn’t mean you should get so far out of touch with what serious geeks are capable of.

The crew at University of Texas deserves a special medal — and maybe a few study contracts worth more than $1000 — for sticking their finger in the bureaucratic eye.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 29, 2012 at 10:00 am

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