Replacing Prius batteries can be good for the environment… and sales of used Priuses

It hasn’t happened for most Totoya Prius drivers, but one day – perhaps 150,000 or so miles down the road – it will. An indicator light will appear on the dash to signal that the battery pack is past its prime and needs to be replaced.

Some critics of hybrids and electric vehicles have pointed to this moment as proof that these vehicles actually have more environmental impact than conventional autos, as battery packs potentially clutter up landfills with toxic materials. Only, that’s not what’s happening at Toyota.

When a Prius battery pack reaches end of life, Toyota provides a UPS shipping container so the battery can be sent to a recycling center. For U.S. cars, that center is in California. The batteries are shorted out to prevent accidents with any remaining charge, then all of the components are disassembled. The plastic case is shredded and recycled. The electrolyte is decanted and the rare earth elements recovered. The nickel plates are sent to a smelter where they are used in making steel. All the components of the pack are recycled or reused, leaving nothing to go to the landfill. The same recycler is already equipped to deal with the lithium batteries found on the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and plug-in Prius.

Of course, there is the problem of cost. Toyota has lowered the price over the years, but a new Prius battery pack still rings up at $2,589. And while some Prius batteries are fine up to 300,000 miles, facing a potential bill that large can make Prius owners decide that seeing 150k miles on the odometer makes a good time to trade…That’s why some dealers have instituted a policy of replacing batteries on high mileage trade-ins before they’re put up for sale.

Having a fresh battery on board assures purchasers that they’ll drive for years without worrying about that little light, and helps assure dealers that a used Prius won’t spend too long on the sales lot.

Also a reason why a used Prius might be a tad more expensive than you thought it was going to be. Demand also has a lot to do with it, though. One of the few used cars I’ve ever tucked away in the back of my mind as potential for the next family commuter-mobile.

Yes – be certain the dealer puts in writing the fact that he replaced the battery. 🙂

Cowardly thief saw drowning man – stole his bicycle – rode off!

A coroner has condemned a “cowardly and callous” thief who saw a man drowning in a canal but – instead of stopping to help – stole his bicycle…

An inquest heard how Adam Lowther was cycling along a towpath by the Leeds-Liverpool canal on July 30 last year when he saw 51-year-old Michael Houghton, lying face-down in shallow water. Seeing the retired businessman’s mountain bike beside the water, he decided to swap it for his own, which he claimed had a puncture, Leeds Coroner’s Court heard.

Even though he could see Mr Houghton lying in the water, he hid his own bicycle in some bushes nearby, and rode Mr Houghton’s home. He then searched on the internet to find out how much the £150 bicycle was worth but pawned it for just £20…

About 10 minutes after Lowther left the scene, James Atkinson, a cyclist, and William Bentall, a jogger, pulled Mr Houghton out of the water, raised the alarm and administered first aid until paramedics arrived.

He airlifted to hospital but died three days later.

The inquest heard that Mr Houghton, a father of three, had taken early retirement from his successful business and banking career two years earlier to care for his disabled wife. He was on a regular cycle ride from his home in Horsforth, West Yorks, into Leeds, when he is thought to have come off his bicycle and fallen into the water…

Lowther claimed that he did nothing to help because he assumed Mr Houghton was already dead…“I had nothing to hide … all I did was take the bike.”

He added: “I’m not a thief, I found a push bike, I didn’t see the body in the water until I had got on the bike…”

What a scumball! He’s already done a few months for stealing the bike. The coroner’s inquest couldn’t legally find anything else to charge him with – lacking a Good Samaritan Law.

I’d put him in the stocks on the town square.

Limbaugh tells Newt Gingrich to remove chapter on climate change from book – Newt says, “Yes, boss!”

A US climate scientist at the centre of a row over Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s stance on climate change has spoken out for the first time, condemning the polarisation of the issue.

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, had written a chapter for Gingrich’s upcoming book of essays on the environment. The chapter was aimed at climate sceptics, and those who fear it will cost too much to deal with climate change, but it was ditched by the presidential candidate after the book came under attack by rightwing talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Gingrich, desperate to shore up his conservative credentials, said of the chapter at a recent campaign event: “That’s not going to be in the book. We didn’t know that they were doing that and we told them to kill it.”

In her first extensive comment on the matter, Hayhoe told the Guardian she condemned the polarisation of a crucial global concern. “I really, really deplore the politicisation and polarisation of this issue. There are these increasingly unprincipled attempts to polarise the science when the science is fact – like the sky is blue, the grass is green and the temperature of our planet is increasing.”

The decision to drop her contribution arrived as a complete shock to Hayhoe, who was told in a 7 December email that her chapter had been accepted without major changes. Days later, the chapter was on the scrap heap…

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Oops! of the Day

Daylife/AP PHoto used by permission

In this photo provided by Minnesota State Patrol, a semi truck is submerged in an icy pond in Monticello, Minn. on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. The Minnesota State Patrol says the driver was taken to a local hospital, treated and released. Patrol Lt. Eric Roeske says the driver was pulling a Target trailer, left eastbound I-94, crossed over lanes of oncoming traffic and skidded onto the pond. Roeske says the semi skidded 100 to 200 yards across the ice before breaking through.

Looking at videos of the accident, the ice appears thick enough that the driver almost – that’s almost – made it across the pond.

World’s highest cable-stay bridge opens in Mexico

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has inaugurated the world’s highest cable-stayed bridge. The 1,321ft tall Baluarte bridge spans a deep ravine in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains in the north. It is part of a new highway crossing some of Mexico’s most rugged terrain, from Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast to Durango in the interior. The cable-stayed bridge is so tall that the Eiffel Tower would easily fit under its central span.

“This project will unite the people of northern Mexico as never before,” President Calderon said at the inauguration ceremony. Officials from the Guinness World of Records were on hand to present him with an award recognising the engineering feat.

The opening of the 3,687ft long bridge is part of celebrations to mark 200 years of Mexico’s independence from Spain. It is expected to open to traffic later this year, and Mexican officials hope it will boost tourism and commerce in the region.

The Mazatlan-Durango highway replaces a notoriously dangerous winding road known as the “Devil’s backbone” that crosses the jagged peaks of the Sierra Madre Occidental. As well as Baluarte, there will be eight other bridges over 300m high, as well as more than 60 tunnels.

Officials say it will reduce the journey between Mazatlan and Durango by about six hours. Eventually, it will form part of a modern highway linking the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

As the highest cable-stayed bridge in the world, it surpasses the famous Millau Viaduct in France.

I hope someone made a documentary about this bridge’s construction. There was a terrific film – I saw it on Discovery TV – on the new tech used to build the Millau Viaduct.

There may not have been much new engineering in the building of this cable-stay bridge; but, the “OOPS” factor was outstanding.y

First primate chimeras born in Oregon

Roku and Hex up top, Chimero below

Scientists have produced the world’s first chimeric monkeys, developed from stem cells harvested from separate embryos. They contain genetic material from as many as six genomes. The infant rhesus monkeys are totally healthy and could hold great promise for future stem cell research in primates, researchers say. They also carry an interesting and controversial message for future stem cell research: Those cultured stem cell lines in labs throughout this country, such a crucial scientific tool and such a cultural flashpoint, may not be as potent as the ones inside embryos.

The monkeys, named Roku, Hex and Chimero, were born at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University. They’re the result of mashups made from separate rhesus monkey embryos. Researchers took very early stem cells, called totipotent stem cells, from separate developing embryos and basically glued them together, implanting the mixed embryos into surrogate mother monkeys. The cells — from totally different sources — didn’t fuse, but worked together in harmony, forming fully fledged, normal, healthy animals…

Chimeras are nothing new to science — chimeric mice are created all the time to form knockout models with deleted gene sequences. Nobody would ever create a chimeric human, but chimeric mice and other animal models can be used to study diseases and regenerative medicine.

Scientists led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov tried to reproduce the mouse method in monkeys, implanting cultured embryonic cells into existing monkey embryos, but it didn’t work. It turns out primate embryos prevent cultured embryonic stem cells from becoming integrated the way they do in mice. This is a surprising and important finding, and Mitalipov said scientists need to study why it’s the case.

“If we want to move stem cell therapies from the lab to clinics and from the mouse to humans, we need to understand what these primate cells can and can’t do,” Mitalipov said. “We need to study them in humans, including human embryos.”

Of course. That’s when we get to spend a couple more years of blather and boredom from Congress and every bible-thumping expert in the fear of science and medicine – until we get along with research.

Perish the thought we should start saving lives sooner than Christianity allows.

Illinois pair win Beer Pong World Series – and $50,000

Beer pong, or Beirut as it is called on many college campuses, is played with two teams standing at opposite ends of a table. At each end of the table, ten 16-ounce cups, filled with roughly 4 ounces of beer or another liquid, are placed in a bowling-pin formation.

Each team takes turns tossing beer pong balls (similar to table tennis balls) at their opponent’s cup formation. If a ball goes into a cup, the cup is removed from the game, and its contents are usually imbibed by the opponent. The first team to knock out all of their opponent’s cups wins.

Matt White and Ross Hampton learned to play beer pong the same place most people do — in college. It wasn’t until recently that the two started playing competitively and realized they were actually pretty good.

Their move from casual beer pong players to tournament competitors mimics that of National Beer Pong League co-founder Duncan Carroll’s decision to establish a competitive beer pong league. But he insists he and his business partners weren’t the first ones to think of organizing it. “We’re just the only people to actually carry it out,” he said, laughing.

The world series, in its seventh and largest year, has drawn more than 1,000 players (450 teams) from 48 U.S. states and 14 countries.

Organization of a sport which for many college students is nothing more than a mindless drinking game may sound a little far-fetched, but Carroll said it actually came quite easily to him and his college buddies, all members of the Carnegie Mellon swim team in the late 1990s.
“We played a ton of beer pong,” he said…

Carroll said the tournament attracts a “mixed bag” of people who all “happen to be good at beer pong.”

The National Beer Pong League’s latest development is an app for the Android smart phone that he says will bring competitive beer pong to even larger crowds. The most casual backyard beer pong player can log on and track their wins on the league’s website.

At the end of the day, Carroll said, “It’s really just a sport that happens to involve alcohol.”

In that respect, not especially different from air hockey or any other table games that have always been played in pubs. Cripes, I was good at a couple of them. At least, after sufficient beer I thought I was.