Saturday, July 18, 2009

Paradox Plaza

Colin and I were trying to figure out just what to build with Lego's on Monday. It really gets the creative juices flowing to be surrounded by all kinds of bricks and pieces and be able to build whatever comes to mind. I really like building wacky towers of impractibility, because they combine creative expression with the science of balance and structure. This one exemplifies a contradiction of two different designers with startlingly different objectives. One side is an attempt to exploit precious resources and be truely objectionable from many different angles-- A tour-de-global warming of sorts. The other attempts to portray harmony and peace.

The darker side features a coal incinerator for the purpose only to consume coal and produce heat. It generates nearly no electricity or useful energy. In fact, it only consumes about 10% of the coal delivered by the twice-daily coal trains. The rest of the coal is pulverized into a slurry and released into the adjacent stream. The incinerator features a segmented smoke stack that emits particulates (clearly, no smoke stack scrubbers are used here) at a range of elevations to help permeate the surrounding air. The plant manager goes to great lengths to procure the world's highest-sulfur coal in order to increase harmful emissions. The once pristene stream that runs by the plant is discolored with turbid cooling water, coal slurry, and any other wastes, some originating from an accessory nuclear reactor. Some wastes are contained in poorly-sealed

barrels that are dropped into the stream. An uptake tube is inserted into the stream below the plant effluent to collect water to supply putrid drinking water for the plant's workers, who spend the days exhausting themselves on crank wheels that do nothing but produce heat and waste the workers valuable energy. The workers are also underpaid, receive no benifits, and are subject to an OSHA exemption to work 16-hour days without breaks.

The plant also features large-scale, directable sound and light polution devices. The 3.5 billion candlepower light array scans the surrounding villages in a random pattern at night, disrupting sleep for the inhabitants. The speaker array emitts an eardrum-shattering 1000 dB melee that alternates between a nerve-piercing siren and re-runs of the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

The greener side contains a quaint cafe where sounds of John Denver waft through the airy interior. Multi-tiered gardens are terraced over the cafe, enticing numerous varieties of local and migratory birds and butterflies to accompany diners. The cafe has intellectual undertones, and it appears someone has left a tablet of sanscrit on one of the tables. The establishment is powered by a solar-panel array and also features a passive solar-powered, evaporative water treatment system to provide pure drinking water for visitors.

The bridge connecting the two halfs attempts to blend the two extremes. The decking morphs from white, through gray, to black. The cafe side is accented with flower planters. The opposite side features a pair of bacterial foggers to discourage any visitors from venturing over from the cafe.

The objectional side, while it is an unrealistic extreme, reminded me of a concept I learned about in an "Energy and the Environment" class called "NIMBY'ism". The accronym stands for "not in my backyard" and it is used to describe the lack of public support for energy-production infrastructure located in the vicinity of homes and workplaces. While our livestyles depend on several forms of energy, we will not tolerate the noise, light, and air pollution associated with centers of energy production. This forces us to move production facilities further from population centers, requiring greater resource use in order to distribute the energy over longer distances. These distances prevent the use of co-generation, the use of using waste heat from energy-production processes to heat homes in the winter. Electrical powerplants generate excess heat that is usually radiated into the air by means of cooling ponds and evaporative cooling towers. Also, as population centers expand, energy use increases and there are less opportunities to place energy facilities away from areas of habitation. We may soon need to release our grasp on limitless energy resources, or accept the idea of having a natural gas well or electrical turbine just over the back fence.

Monday, July 13, 2009

BARC Jr. Field Day 2009!

Field day is an annual event for amateur (ham) radio operators that is meant to simulate an emergency situation in which normal power and communications are distrupted and information is sent over radio, using emergency power. It sounds much more serious than it is though--the focus ends up being on learning and having fun. This year, the Barc Jr's (youth auxiliary of the Boulder Amateur Radio Club) set up an intricate and very functional site, where they recorded over 1200 radio contacts all around the US and Canada. The site was powered by a quiet, gasoline-powered generator. Excellent food was provided by BBQ Keith, who had whisps of smoke drifting from the flue of his smoker trailer almost all weekend.

The kids even created their own network of computer terminals and wrote their own program for logging the contacts that they made by radio!