Monday, February 26, 2007

Clean Energy from Garbage?

Longo's Plasma Converter creates clean energy from garbage!

Detailed Schematic of Longo's Plasma Converter

Scene from Back to the Future utilizing a trash converter

Scene from Back to the Future utilizing a trash converter

Joseph Longo's Plasma Converter turns our most vile and toxic trash into clean energy – and promises to make a relic of the landfill

The entire thing takes up about as much space as a two-car garage, surprisingly compact for a machine that can consume nearly any type of waste—from dirty diapers to chemical weapons—by annihilating toxic materials in a process as old as the universe itself. Called plasma gasification, it works a little like the big bang, only backward (you get nothing from something). Inside a sealed vessel made of stainless steel and filled with a stable gas—either pure nitrogen or, as in this case, ordinary air—a 650-volt current passing between two electrodes rips electrons from the air, converting the gas into plasma. Current flows continuously through this newly formed plasma, creating a field of extremely intense energy very much like lightning. The radiant energy of the plasma arc is so powerful, it disintegrates trash into its constituent elements by tearing apart molecular bonds. The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste, the isotopes of which are indestructible. The only by-products are an obsidian-like glass used as a raw material for numerous applications, including bathroom tiles and high-strength asphalt, and a synthesis gas, or “syngas”—a mixture of primarily hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into a variety of marketable fuels, including ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the process is that it’s self-sustaining. Just like your toaster, Startech’s Plasma Converter draws its power from the electrical grid to get started. The initial voltage is about equal to the zap from a police stun gun. But once the cycle is under way, the 2,200˚F syngas is fed into a cooling system, generating steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. About two thirds of the power is siphoned off to run the converter; the rest can be used on-site for heating or electricity, or sold back to the utility grid. “Even a blackout would not stop the operation of the facility,” Longo says.

It all sounds far too good to be true. But the technology works. Over the past decade, half a dozen companies have been developing plasma technology to turn garbage into energy. “The best renewable energy is the one we complain about the most: municipal solid waste,” says Louis Circeo, the director of plasma research at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “It will prove cheaper to take garbage to a plasma plant than it is to dump it on a landfill.” A Startech machine that costs roughly $250 million could handle 2,000 tons of waste daily, approximately what a city of a million people amasses in that time span. Large municipalities typically haul their trash to landfills, where the operator charges a “tipping fee” to dump the waste. The national average is $35 a ton, although the cost can be more than twice that in the Northeast (where land is scarce, tipping fees are higher). And the tipping fee a city pays doesn’t include the price of trucking the garbage often hundreds of miles to a landfill or the cost of capturing leaky methane—a greenhouse gas—from the decomposing waste. In a city with an average tipping fee, a $250-million converter could pay for itself in about 10 years, and that’s without factoring in the money made from selling the excess electricity and syngas. After that break-even point, it’s pure profit.

Someday very soon, cities might actually make money from garbage.

Check out the article at Popular Science.

A very impressive invention! With this machine, we'll be able to generate clean energy and reduce the amount of waste that we put in the environment. It's a win-win situation!

Equally impressive is the fact that Sci-fi writers thought of this idea 20 years ago for the movie Back to the Future.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras 2007

Happy Mardi Gras 2007
A few of my catches from this year's parades

A Mardi Gras parade rolls through The Big Easy

Bourbon Street is wild at Mardi Gras

The tradition of Mardi Gras is celebrated annually around the world. Its origins can be traced back more than 5000 years ago to the ancient Greeks.

Also known as "Fat Tuesday," this pre-Lenten festival is celebrated in Roman Catholic countries and communities. In a strict sense, Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, is celebrated by the French as the last of the three days of Shrovetide and is a time of preparation immediately before Ash Wednesday and the start of the fast of Lent. Mardi Gras is thus the last opportunity for merrymaking and indulgence in food and drink. In practice, the festival is generally celebrated for one full week before Lent. Mardi Gras is marked by spectacular parades featuring floats, pageants, elaborate costumes, masked balls, and people dancing in the streets.

Mardi Gras originated as one of the series of carnival days held in all Roman Catholic countries between Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, and Ash Wednesday; these carnivals had their origin in pre-Christian spring fertility rites. The most famous modern Mardi Gras festivities are those held in New Orleans, La.; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France; and Cologne, Germany.

The first American Mardi Gras was celebrated near modern-day New Orleans on March 3, 1699. It wasn't until the mid-1800s did official parade organizations start to form with the Mystick Krewe of Comus in 1856 and the Krewe of Rex in 1872. The tradition is still carried on in New Orleans with many other krewes represented on floats in a myriad of parades. The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold (representing justice, faith and power).

Mardi Gras celebrations can start as early as January 6, on the feast of Epiphany. The festivities end at midnight on Tuesday--the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Mardi Gras day falls on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9. Like Ash Wednesday, the date Mardi Gras falls on depends on the date of Easter--always occurring 46 days before Easter.

Check out the feature at The History Channel.

We took to the streets to enjoy the parades and a little public drunkiness... and no rain this year! Above you'll see a photo of the cool beads I caught from the various parades. Note: These are only the "special" ones... we came home with bags full of good throws. We had a blast!!!

Many people find the variety of dates that Mardi Gras day can fall on to be very confusing, since the date is dependent on the full moon and the spring equinox... so check out Future Mardi Gras Dates for an detailed explanation.

Also check out the Mardi Gras Wikipedia entry for some good info.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents Day

Mount Rushmore - Keystone, South Dakota

President Bush visits George Washington's Tomb - Mount Vernon, Virginia

The original version of the holiday was in commemoration of George Washington's birthday in 1796 (the last full year of his presidency). Washington, according to the calendar that has been used since at least the mid-18th century, was born on February 22, 1732. According to the old style calendar in use back then, however, he was born on February 11. At least in 1796, many Americans celebrated his birthday on the 22nd while others marked the occasion on the 11th instead.

By the early 19th century, Washington's Birthday had taken firm root in the American experience as a bona fide national holiday. Its traditions included Birthnight Balls in various regions, speeches and receptions given by prominent public figures, and a lot of revelry in taverns throughout the land. Then along came Abraham Lincoln, another revered president and fellow February baby (born on the 12th of the month). The first formal observance of his birthday took place in 1865, the year after his assassination, when both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address. While Lincoln's Birthday did not become a federal holiday like George Washington's, it did become a legal holiday in several states.

In 1968, legislation (HR 15951) was enacted that affected several federal holidays. One of these was Washington's Birthday, the observation of which was shifted to the third Monday in February each year whether or not it fell on the 22nd. This act, which took effect in 1971, was designed to simplify the yearly calendar of holidays and give federal employees some standard three-day weekends in the process.

Apparently, while the holiday in February is still officially known as Washington's Birthday (at least according to the Office of Personnel Management), it has become popularly (and, perhaps in some cases at the state level, legally) known as "President's Day." This has made the third Monday in February a day for honoring both Washington and Lincoln, as well as all the other men who have served as president.

Check out the article at

Be sure to check out The Presidents of the United States for some very interesting history on each of our Presidents.

Monday, February 12, 2007

American Experience: New Orleans

New Orleans - The Crescent City

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

A Mardi Gras parade rolls through The Big Easy

Jazz Musicians parade down a New Orleans street

Nearly a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, a PBS documentary dares to ask “What Would America Be Like Without New Orleans?”

“American Experience: New Orleans,” a two-hour program focusing on the distinctive city’s past and how it relates to its present, was born out of the devastating storm, its director, Stephen Ives, said Tuesday from Dallas.

Ives said soon after the hurricane, his colleagues at “American Experience” discussed how they could contribute to the cause of helping New Orleans, how to provide some historical context for why the city meant so much to America.

“It was really an unthinkable thing that happened,” Ives said. “A major American city had basically been wiped off the map and it had provoked a previously unthinkable question which was ‘What would America be like without New Orleans?’ ”

Ives and his team set out to answer that question from a historical point of view in a project that was put together in a year for timeliness considerations. Most “Experience” pieces take up to a year and a half, he said.

The program weaves past and present through archival footage, photographs and interviews with New Orleans natives and scholars intermingled with footage of the city today, including the lingering aftermath of the destruction. There are also cinema verité-style portraits of New Orleanians including restaurateur Leah Chase and stonemason Teddy Pierre. The people and their history paint a picture of the unprecedented cultural mixing which makes the Big Easy so unique, he said.

Being in New Orleans for filming starting in December 2005 was an experience in itself, he said.

“I sometimes felt like I had been dropped down in a sort of American Chernobyl and was being asked to sort of glean the story of this place from the ruins. And that was a really difficult part of the process because you’d be reading about vibrant neighborhoods that now were anything but vibrant, were haunted and spectral.”

“Experience” camera crews ventured into the most heavily hit areas for some of their present-day footage.

On the positive side, “Experience” tried to capture the unparalleled spirit of the city’s people, with its portraits of Chase rebuilding her landmark restaurant which for a time, she says in the program, was the only place where blacks could dine out; and stonemason Teddy Pierre, who also returned to his beloved city and livelihood. The irreverent Krewe D’Vieux, the first Carnival group to parade after Katrina, and the music and words of jazz musician Irvin Mayfield are also featured.

“The spirit (of the New Orleans people) is absolutely infectious and strong, such an incredible sense of place that people feel. They have been willing to put down the deepest roots in the most unstable soil and that sense of attachment is really palpable.”

Ives, who had only briefly passed through the city several years ago, said he fell in love with New Orleans during his time there. He returned last week for the program’s premiere and to hopefully see some progress since his last visit.

Ives said he hopes viewers come away with a greater appreciation for what New Orleans has given the country.

“And with a keen sense of what a remarkable, rich and multifaceted culture the city has created in a time when so much of America looks soooooo much the same. New Orleans is a place that has not only preserved but celebrated its difference, its sense of its own identity. I think that’s a great and important part of who we are. I think we should recognize how precious and fragile and important that symbol really is.”

Check out the article at The Advocate.

Check out the program tonight on PBS, from 8-10pm CST or check out the online feature: American Experience: New Orleans at

I think it's a good thing that some positive light is being shed on New Orleans and her history. So many people are tired of hearing about Katrina... maybe this show will give everyone a taste of the spice that is New Orleans!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Grand Canyon Skywalk?

The Grand Canyon Skywalk

A Dramatic View of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Waterfall

A Cold Day in the Grand Canyon

Map of the Grand Canyon

Angel's Window - Grand Canyon

Members of a Native American group based in a remote part of Arizona are hoping to entice more tourists by inviting visitors to step off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

The 1,500-member Hualapai tribe announced last week that the Skywalk—a giant, 30-million-dollar steel-and-glass walkway—will open to the public in March 2007.

The Skywalk will jut out 70 feet (21 meters) from the canyon rim, allowing tourists to go for a stroll with nothing between their feet and the Colorado River—4,000 feet (1,220 meters) below—except for four inches (ten centimeters) of glass.

The Hualapai, or "People of the Tall Pines," are working with the Las Vegas, Nevada-based Destination Grand Canyon to market the Skywalk and draw in valuable tourist dollars.

Many other tribes have turned their government-sanctioned right to run casinos into a major revenue source. But the Hualapai's remote location has undermined their efforts to host gambling.

"This is what's going to feed our tribe."

Grand Roll Out

The Skywalk will be accessible through Grand Canyon West, the tribe's once-humble tourist destination. Although Grand Canyon National Park along the south rim sees about four million tourists a year, until recently Grand Canyon West hosted only about 125,000 visitors.

To help bolster their numbers, the tribe agreed to build the Skywalk, which will eventually be joined by a three-story visitors' center, including a restaurant with patio seating along the canyon.

Mark Johnson, of Las Vegas-based MRJ Architects, has been working on the Skywalk for about three years, beginning with a lengthy design phase.

"There really is no building type for this," Johnson said.

He and a team of tribal consultants, engineers, and geologists started with the idea to build a single, straight walkway that would have stuck out from the canyon wall like a diving board.

They moved through several more design concepts before settling on a U-shaped walkway.

Sometime before opening day in March, the behemoth structure will be rolled out at a rate of half an inch (1.3 centimeters) a minute on tracks while concrete weights anchor the back.

When it's in place, the Skywalk will be anchored to giant poles drilled 40 feet (12 meters) into the canyon wall. Only 120 people will be allowed on the walkway at a time.

Johnson says the rock wall, not the walkway's design, is the wild card that could determine the Skywalk's life span.

At that height, the wall is made of 350-million-year-old limestone—porous material that is highly prone to erosion.

Geologists have a simple explanation for the formation of the Grand Canyon: the Colorado River cuts down through the rock, and the canyon's sides fall in.

Periodic rockfalls are an accepted and unpredictable reality. Johnson said there's no way to tell whether the part of the canyon that will support the Skywalk will last a hundred years or a thousand.

Check out the article at National Geographic.

Talk about going out on a limb... I sure hope those architects know what they're doing!

I think it will be really cool to go out on this thing and get a view of the Grand Canyon from directly above... but there's no way I'm going on this thing when it's up to full capacity! I'll just wait 'til the off-season, or right before they close for the day.

Be sure to check out the construction photos from the project at