New Jersey railway warned about superstorm Sandy – parked their trains in a known flood zone – WTF?

New Jersey Transit’s struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy is being compounded by a pre-storm decision to park much of its equipment in two rail yards that forecasters predicted would flood, a move that resulted in damage to one-third of its locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars.

That damage is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars and take many months to repair, a Reuters examination has found.

The Garden State’s commuter railway parked critical equipment – including much of its newest and most expensive stock – at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy’s expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.

Among the damaged equipment: nine dual-powered locomotive engines and 84 multi-level rail cars purchased over the past six years at a cost of about $385 million.

“If there’s a predicted 13-foot or 10-foot storm surge, you don’t leave your equipment in a low-lying area,” said David Schanoes, a railroad consultant and former deputy chief of field operations for Metro North Railroad, a sister railway serving New York State. “It’s just basic railroading. You don’t leave your equipment where it can be damaged.”

RTFA. It’s long, detailed, some of it would be funny except that it all ends up with taxpayers funding the grants and loans that will be need to restore this commuter railway to capacity.

Like any public/political entity,there will be hearings and investigations, fingerpointing and rationales. Maybe someone will thrown under the bus. Maybe not. But, it’s going to take a great of money and time to get back to business – and I’d suggest damned few of current management should be allowed to screw around with either the repairs or the functioning railway.

Tom Wolfe shortlisted – again – for Bad Sex in Fiction award

Novelist Tom Wolfe is among the list of nominees for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2012, having won the dubious accolade eight years ago…

The tongue-in-cheek award is designed to discourage badly-written sex scenes in modern novels…

The full shortlist is: The Yips by Nicola Barker, The Adventuress by Nicholas Coleridge, Infrared by Nancy Huston, Rare Earth by Paul Mason, Noughties by Ben Masters, The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills, The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine and Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe…

An excerpt from Wolfe’s nominated Back to Blood reads: “Magdalena woke up in a hypnopompic state. Something was stroking her. It caused no alarm, however, just a semiconscious bewilderment amidst her struggle to turn her lights on.”

Barker’s Man Booker-longlisted novel The Yips contains the passage: “She smells of almonds, like a plump Bakewell pudding; and he is the spoon, the whipped cream, the helpless dollop of warm custard…

In a reference to EL James’s best-selling Fifty Shades erotic novels, The Literary Review said this year’s shortlist came “in a year in which the country’s obsession with mummy porn, red rooms of pain and Christian Grey has reached fever pitch”…

The purpose of the prize “is to draw attention to the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

The prize excludes pornographic or expressly erotic writing. There would be an abundance of gold-plated riches if it didn’t.

Generally, the prize-winners take the award in the humor intended. Though most – in my experience – resent criticism of any portion of their writing – considering it all to be handcrafted and eternal.

GM releases more details about the 2013 Chevrolet Spark EV

General Motors has released details of its pending pure electric vehicle, the Chevrolet Spark EV.

The electric car will be based on the small gas-engine Spark already offered. Its propulsion will delivered by an oil-cooled, permanent magnet motor that produces at least 100 kilowatts (130 horsepower) and instantaneous torque of about 400 pound-feet with the coaxial drive unit.

GM says the resulting acceleration for the 0-60 mph sprint will take less than eight seconds.

The Spark EV will come with an industry-first, a SAE combo charger. This will allow DC fast charging of up to 80 percent of battery capacity in approximately 20 minutes.

That capability will be available shortly after market launch, GM says, adding it will assist with effective daily EV range…

The Spark EV’s more than 20-kwh lithium-ion battery pack will be protected by Chevrolet’s eight year/100,000 mile warranty, and is said by GM to be capable of handling multiple DC fast charges daily.

Charging will also be possible in less than seven hours using a dedicated 240-volt charger. A 120-volt charge cord set will be standard.

Owners will be able to manage and monitor charging remotely using the Spark EV’s smart phone application, provided by OnStar…

Price is the kicker. Typical range for any small [or smallish] EV is 60-70 miles. That’s almost 3 days worth of commuting for my wife. Our weekend grocery shopping/errands fits, too. If the critter comes in at or below $20K – we’re first in line for Santa Fe County.

Santa suspended by beard at Reading shopping centre

A Santa Claus was left dangling from the ceiling after his beard became trapped while abseiling inside a Reading shopping centre as part of a Christmas lights switch-on show.

He was stuck for about 30 minutes about 15ft off the ground in the Broad Street Mall on Saturday afternoon.

Eyewitness Ryan Gaudreau said: “Everyone was laughing at him – he didn’t really know what to do.”

Stephanie Maynard, marketing manager at the centre, said Santa was not hurt.

“He could have just taken his beard off and let himself down but he was such a professional and he didn’t want to let the children down,” she said…

“Some people were absolutely mortified while others thought it was the funniest thing ever.

Fortunately, Saint Nick made it to his proper place on the sales floor without further incident.

One World Futbol promises fun for kids in poor countries

Sometimes a soccer ball is more than just a ball. Sometimes, it’s a lifesaver.

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

“The only thing that sustained these kids is play,” said Mr. Jahnigen of Berkeley, Calif. “Yet the millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours.”

During the next two years…Mr. Jahnigen eventually discovered PopFoam, a type of hard foam made of ethylene-vinyl acetate, a class of material similar to that used in Crocs, the popular and durable sandals…

Figuring out how to shape PopFoam into a sphere, though, might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and Mr. Jahnigen’s money was tied up in his other business.

Then he happened to be having breakfast with Sting, a friend from his days in the music business. Mr. Jahnigen told him how soccer helped the children in Darfur cope with their troubles and his efforts to find an indestructible ball. Sting urged Mr. Jahnigen to drop everything and make the ball. Mr. Jahnigen said that developing the ball might cost as much as $300,000. Sting said he would pay for it…

Creating a prototype, it turned out, cost about one-tenth as much as expected and took about a year. Sting called it the One World Futbol, a homage to a song he sang with the Police, “One World (Not Three)…”

Word has spread. The ball is being used by a hundred different organizations and has made its way to more than 140 countries. Flight attendants, Doctors Without Borders and a United States Army colonel in Afghanistan have taken balls with them on their travels. In May, Chevrolet, the General Motors division, agreed to buy 1.5 million One World Futbols over the next three years and donate them to needy children.

Bravo! Sport and play are the least we can provide to kids in poverty.

Metamaterial that acts as a lens for radio waves

We expect the world to be predictable. Water flows downhill, fire burns and lenses bend light in a particular way. That worldview took a jolt as Isaac Ehrenberg, an MIT graduate student in mechanical engineering, developed a three-dimensional, lightweight metamaterial lens that focuses radio waves with extreme precision. That may not seem too disturbing, but the lens is concave and works in exactly the opposite manner of how such a lens should.

Metamaterials have an air of magic about them. The elements they’re made out of should work one way, but they way they’ve been fabricated make them operate in another. They are ordinary substances that have been engineered with precisely designed and fabricated microscopic structures. These structures interact with light or sound in such a way that they produce effects that are not found in nature. In the case of the MIT metamaterial lens, they result in a concave lens that should spread radio waves, but focuses them instead…

The lens produces a level of focus that is so precise that it has the potential for imaging individual molecules. It also has the advantage of being lightweight, which Ehrenberg claims would make it practical for sending into orbit for astronomical observations.

Bravo. Looking forward to see what use this will be put to by adventuresome astronomers. And we may as well consider what the Death and Destruction crowd will come up with, as well.

Helluva note to have to reflect upon every potential advance in science in terms of how many people it can kill. What has our society come to, eh?