Better living through engineering

newsPage 50 Better living through engineering

img by NASA

In the last few decades hydro power has earned itself a bad name. Silting problems, disruption of fish spawning migrations, imminent domain struggles. etc. That has been changing recently—mostly due to the tremendous upside to of this clean, inexpensive, continuously available, form of power generation.

In July 2009, Free Flow began a six-month test of a pilot turbine (a third the size of the planned commercial ones) in the Mississippi, and the company is now testing a commercial-scale prototype in the lab. Free Flow has also received $7.4 million in funding from investors and from the U.S. Department of Energy that will allow it to test its most recent prototype in the Mississippi next year. Free Flow Power is seeking additional funding to test four turbines, each attached to a separate pylon, over a 12-month period, as required by FERC as part of the licensing process.

Free Flow uses a “shrouded turbine” design that channels water through the turbine’s blades. Water passes through a rotor with seven blades that are designed for a slow spin rate to minimize fish strikes. The turbines will be sited 10 or more feet off the riverbed. At this depth, water moves, on average, at one to three meters per second.

One interesting technology is hydrokinetic power which is generated by placing multiple turbines on the sea or river bed and allowing the current to drive the low speed turbines. A company called FreeFlow Power is currently testing in the Mississippi  River. If this works as advertised it may be even more beneficial in other large, less navigable rivers.

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How to break your kid’s leg on a slide

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Okay, honey, now I'm gonna snap your tibia... (img by Gary Scott)

Shocker: nerf playgrounds are probably stunting your kid’s mental and physical growth. But that’s not the worst of it. You can more directly break your kid by being overly involved in their playing on the slide:

Although nobody keeps national statistics, orthopedic specialists say they treat a number of toddlers and young children each year with broken legs as a result of riding down the slide on a parent’s lap. A study at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., found that nearly 14 percent of pediatric leg fractures over an 11-month period involved toddlers riding down the slide with a parent.

This ridiculousness has prompted a doctor to make his own PSA about what happens and how:

So do your kids a favor: stop hovering. Let them play outside. Remember that you and the vast majority of the people that you know somehow survived a childhood full of “dangerous” playgrounds and toys and dirt, and that your perceptions of what is safe and how stupid kids are has probably changed. Your kids are probably not complete idiots looking to throw themselves from extreme heights all the time. Also, stop worrying about your neighbor’s kids. They’ll be fine.

Want more perspective? Check out FreeRangeKids, which will horrify some of you with stories of insanely neglectful parenting (like letting kids play on their own in an unstructured, unscripted environment!) and heartwarming tales about how these kids are still alive and happy and not fucked up.

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From seeds to sawzalls – these shops have it

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Pictured: finework sculpting tools. (img by Putnam Eco)

Say you’re working on a Rube Goldberg Arduino-powered heirloom tomato garden that can also cut through sheet metal in hilariously imprecise ways. All contained in a fused quartz bottle.

You could drive your local hardware, science supply, and garden centers nuts trying to round it all up… which is good for your local businesses. But if they can’t pull it together for you fast enough, you’ve got alternatives. And lucky for you, Wired has published a roundup. Now you have no excuse not to start that project.

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Barbie makes things die more

barbie 450x417 Barbie makes things die more

(img by MARIEL / CLAYTON)

Zombie Attack Barbie has just been one-upped. You’ve never seen a Ken doll so killed, bondaged, and amputated. You’ve never seen Barbie so suicidal and beautiful. Go look at them all.

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SUVs: not just for killing the environment

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Pictured: a bucket of mayhem. (img by Jason Lawrence)

I just finished reading Suarez’ Daemon and Freedom series, in which computer controlled cars called AutoM8s cause all kinds of mayhem. But you don’t need an automated car with armor plating or any special additions to do some serious damage.

A guy in Russia was allegedly denied what he felt should have been warranty repairs. He apparently remembered that a Suzuki Grand Vitara is basically a 2-ton wrecking ball that you can control. So he drove it through the showroom’s glass wall and smashed up some stuff. The best defense the dealership seems to have been able to muster is a security guard knocking on the window:

Never underestimate the power of anger plus not giving a fuck.

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Paper carrier pigeon?

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Send an SOS to the world. (img by vespar avenue)

Maybe autonomous quad-rotor drones are out of your budget for the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use technology to send messages to the other side of the stadium, street, or park.

Wired’s got instructions for folding the paper airplane that set the most recent world record for longest paper airplane flight. The video of the feat is kinda meh:

But Wired’s notes on design are pretty interesting:

[A] world-record plane needs both the ability to act like a dart during launch, and like a glider after it levels off — a tricky balance. “People don’t realize how desperately I would love to fold my plane the long way,” says Blackburn, which would allow him to make wings from the 11-inch rather than 8.5-inch side of the paper. But so far he’s been unable to find a design that has both long wings and the ability to withstand the force of the nearly 60 mph launching throw.

Go raid the recycle bin and get folding!

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