Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Nashua;66.0;;2014-08-27 04:47:14

Even in the digital age, the sound of typewriters can drive deadline (says Rupert Murdoch)

OK, this is weird.

The British paper Independent reports that The Times of London has installed speakers that blare the sound of typewriters, as a spur to meeting deadline.

To the surprise of Times journalists, a tall speaker on a stand has been erected in the newsroom to pump out typewriter sounds, to increase energy levels and help reporters to hit deadlines. The audio begins with the gentle patter of a single typewriter and slowly builds to a crescendo, with the keys of ranks of machines hammering down as the paper’s print edition is due to go to press.

I started out in the business in the typewriter era and the sound of typing makes me happy. But even I think this is kind of silly. DING!*

*that's the bell signaling that I was about to type off the right-hand margin

States with medical marijuana see fewer opiate overdoses

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says states that legalized medical marijuana had fewer deaths from opiate painkillers that similar states which didn't legalize it. Check the Medical News Today report here.

The matter is a bit confusing because all states saw opiate deaths rise during the study period of 1999-2010. But where medical marijuana was legal, the rise was slower than in other states - by about 25 percent.

This is correlation, not causality, of course. The hypothesis is that some people used dope instead of pills to reduce their pain, and it's really hard to overdose on marijuana - but that's just a hypothesis.

Vermont high-power line from Quebec moves ahead


A project similar to Northern Pass that would bring a gigawatt of electricity into New England from Quebec hydropower has taken the next step ahead.

The project, called New England Clean Power Link, would involve an underwater cable crossing the U.S.-Canada border in Lake Champlain and staying underwater along the Vermont-New York border to Benson, Vt., where it would move eastward to an existing substation in Ludlow in the center of Vermont.

On land, the high voltage DC line would be buried, according to TDI New England, the asset-management firm bankrolling the project. The lack of towers means the 154-mile project is likely to be less controversial than Northern Pass, which would bring a similar amount of power down from Quebec through New Hampshire on high-voltage lines mostly carried on large towers.

TDI New England announced Tuesday that the United States Department of Energy has issued a Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement, to assess the potential environmental impacts of the proposed transmission project. This review will be done in response to TDI New England’s May 2014 application for a Presidential Permit, which is necessary for the line to cross the international border.

The Department of Energy anticipates a final environmental statement by October 2015.

The statement will address potential environmental impacts of the proposed project and the range of reasonable alternatives. Agencies participating in the review include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Public meetings for will be held on Sept. 16 in Burlington and Sept. 17 in Rutland, Vt.

More information on the company and the project are available at

A flying 3D printed bald eagle! What could possibly go wrong?

Anybody with a garden or berry bushes who has tried to keep birds from eating everything in sight knows that those fake birds of prey - plastic owls and hawks that you attach to fenceposts to look intimidating - don't work. They're too static to be believable; birds just laugh and continue with their meal.

What is really needed is a 3D-printed flying robotic hawk, don't you think? Of course you do, and so does a Durch company called Clear Flight Solutions, which wants to sell them to airports, landfills, farms and other places to keep away unwanted aerialists. As Audubon Magazine reports:

“From a biological point of view, the thing that triggers a bird’s instinct about a predator is the combination of silhouette and wing movement,” says Nico Nijenhuis, the company’s cofounder and CEO. The more convincing the robirds are as predators, the more likely they are to drive flocks away.

Since Clear Flight Solutions launched in 2012 out of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, it has built two prototypes that look and fly just like two raptors—the Peregrine Falcon and the Bald Eagle. The company is testing them, and hopes to formally launch the birds in 2015.

A 3D printed flying bald eagle? Awesome - until it attacks carbon-based lifeforms as part of the robot apocalypse, of course. Then, not so good.

Keeping the region's power grid operating requires an 'extraordinary machine'

Franklin Pierce professor and energy blogger Mike Mooiman took a course on Wholesale Electricity Markets from ISO-New England, the non-profit that oversees operations of the region's electricity grid.

Despite the eyes-glaze-over name, he says the course was fascinating. The latest post in his energy blog details some of what he learned:

This turns out to be an extraordinarily complicated task because electricity cannot be stored (or very little of it) and so there needs to be a consumer for every electron of electricity produced by a power generation plant at every minute of the day. When you increase your demand for electricity by turning on your laptop or tablet to read this blog, someone needs to ensure that generating companies are supplying just the right amount of electricity to do so: that is what ISO-NE does.

Speaking of storing electricity for short periods of time, that's the subject of my Telegraph column today, which concerns Beacon Power in Tyngborough, Mass., which spins giant flywheels inside a vacuum to store energy.

Rhode Island creates electric car license plates to alert EMTs, firefighters


Electric cars and hybrids may be the future of individual transportation but they're worrisome for the folks who respond to accidents. The latest energy in giant battery packs can be a real safety hazard if you're tearing open a car to help a trapped driver.

Training of firefighters and EMTs has long covered the safety aspects of working around leaking gasoline, and for several years it has also been focused on this battery issue. I wrote about it clear back in 2010, shortly after the state's first electric-car dealership opened in Hudson (selling Chinese knock-off Weegos), when emergency officials were pondering questions like:

  • If an electric car is burning, should water be applied, or fire-suppressing foam, or some other type of foam?
  • Since electric motors are silent when running, how do first responders at a mangled vehicle determine if the engine is off or on? How can they disconnect the batteries quickly and safely, just to be sure?
  • When extracting somebody, are there places that can be cut on a regular car that should be avoided on an electric one?

This matter has led the National Fire Protection Association to issue special training (see their booklet here) but as the technology changes, so must the concern.

That is why, as I learned from GreenCar Reports, Rhode Island is issuing a special optional license plate for electrics and hybrids to alert emergency staff, which is one of those "why didn't we think of it earlier?" ideas.

The plate will have the words "Electric/Hybrid" written on the bottom, where the words "Ocean State" would normally be. It will be available free upon registration of an electric car or plug-in hybrid. Oddly, however, current owners switching to the new plates will be charged $21.50, or $31.50 if they want to keep their current plate number.

The graphics are good at Exeter UFO Festival, even if the information's a bit suspect


Part of the very fine logo of the Exeter UFO Festival.

New Hampshire's Seacoast has been a UFO hotbed for many years, dating back at least to Betty and Barney Hill (the nation's first alien abductees, as a state historical marker points out).

You can celebrate this heritage with the Exeter UFO Festival, set for Aug. 30. It will have several professional UFOlogists, to use their preferred term, and other fun stuff.

Judging from their very fine logo, they don't take themselves too seriously (as they shouldn't, I would add).

Except on Cape Cod, courts are rejecting the idea of 'wind turbine syndrome'

The news and advocacy site Climatecentral reports that a study of 49 court cases in five countries involving claims of "wind turbine syndrome" - the claim that there's something specific about the acoustic patterns caused by spinning wind turbines that causes medical issues - in several countries and found only one where the courts agreed with the complaining party. (Read the whole story here.)

Tthe one instance where neighbors succeeded in hobbling wind turbine operations was in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth, Mass. A government board sided last year with neighbors, including a Vietnam War veteran recovering from PTSD, who said they were sickened by a pair of town-owned wind turbines. The turbines were installed in 2010 to power a wastewater treatment plant and to sell excess electricity onto the local utility’s grid.

As the Boston Globe reported, even wind-farm fans say those turbines were badly located and didn't fight the shutdown.

Large, industrial operations - including wind turbines - make noises that can be irritating, interfere with sleep, and bother folks. Flicker, in which a setting or rising sun "flickers" when seen through the turning arms of a trubine, is also irritating. Developers shouldn't be allowed to slap up wind farms wherever their profit will be highest without considering the effects on others.

But that isn't the same thing as claiming turbines are inherently unhealthy in some specialized "syndrome" way.

The nocebo effect, in which a patient can be convinced that something benign is making them sick, could be responsible for many of the health complaints associated with wind turbines. So, too, the scientists wrote, could be the annoyance and worries that some people experience when unwanted turbines go up in their neighborhoods. ... “There’s really nothing else about wind turbines that’s unique to wind turbines that would be expected to cause any adverse health impacts,” Whitfield Aslund said.

U.S. agrees with wikipedia: Humans can't copyright a monkey's "selfie" 


Copyright or no, it is a great photo.

ArsTechnica reports on the latest step in an important story, that of the monkey selfie:

United States copyright regulators are agreeing with Wikipedia's conclusion that a monkey's selfie cannot be copyrighted by a nature photographer whose camera was swiped by the ape in the jungle. The US Copyright Office, in a 1,222-page report discussing federal copyright law, said that a "photograph taken by a monkey" is unprotected intellectual property.

Wikipedia says the public, not the photojournalist, owns the rights to ape's pic.

"The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit," said the draft report.

Note that it is ArsTechnia, not me, who thinks "ape" and "money" are synonyms. The animal in question is a crested black macaque monkey ... definitely not an ape.

Why is small solar power booming, but small-scale wind power isn't?

Small-scale solar power is booming but small-scale wind power is a dud. I've always assumed this is because of technology: Wind power scales by size (bigger rotor arms = much more power) and wind currents near the ground or buildings are erratic and thus inefficient (as the Boston of Museum found).

Factor in the cost of wear and tear that wind turbines encounter compared to solar panels, and small-scale wind doesn't make economic sense. Build giant turbines atop mountains or out at sea, put solar panels on your roof.

But maybe I gave up too soon. As I learned from this Greentech Media report, there are efforts to resurrect the small-wind category, as much through new financing and manufacturing methods as through techy breakthroughs. Pika Energy of Maine has gotten $700,000 from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study both ways to "improve the manufacturing process for its wind turbines to reduce cost," and how to "scale up key turbine components to capture more energy."

I'd love to have a cool-looking, power-generating turbine on my property, if I didn't think it was a waste of money. I'm rooting for them.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.


Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, September 17 (we take the summer off)

TOPIC: Marijuana, the biology of what it does and doesn't do to us.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).


Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"


Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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