Addressing aging infrastructure

Replacing aging infrastructure can be costly and messy, but it’s also very necessary. Check out my latest article in Midwest Energy News:

Ohio utilities replacing thousands of miles of gas pipelines

Yellow flags mark the location of utility pipelines near Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski)

Ohio’s natural gas utilities are replacing more than 11,000 miles of the state’s aging gas pipe mains, in an effort to reduce the risks for catastrophes like last month’s gas explosion in New York City.

Read more….

“Hangry” + Creepy

Photo by Jo McCulty, Ohio State University

Photo by Jo McCulty, Ohio State University

News flash: Low blood sugar can make you cranky. And being cranky makes people more likely to get angry with their spouse.

At first this conclusion from a new study in PNAS seems like another example of Duh! science. But the study also seems slightly sinister.

As lead author Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University says in the university’s press release, “People can relate to this idea that when they get hungry, they get cranky.”

Some people even use the slang term “hangry” to describe the feeling. (Note: I’m not a fan of the word because people could think you’re affecting a cockney accent.)

As most of us know, being hungry can make family members unhappy campers. This is true whether you’re dealing with spouses or kids.

Basically, our brains and the rest of our bodies need fuel in the form of glucose. When we don’t get enough energy, we have a harder time practicing self-control and otherwise regulating our emotions.

Bushman’s work explores how this idea affects the potential for domestic violence. Other researchers for the study include C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, Richard S. Pond of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Michael D. Hanus of Ohio State.

The team’s research methods met the applicable requirements for ethical research with human subjects. Nonetheless, it seems designed to encourage vicarious violence.

Every night for three weeks, 107 couples enrolled in the study stuck pins in voodoo dolls representing their spouses. The angrier people felt, the more pins they would use. And the lower the blood sugar levels were—as measured by blood glucose meters—the more likely subjects were to be angry with their spouses.

In another part of the study, spouses in separate lab rooms competed to see who could react faster when a target on the screen turned red. The reward was getting to blast the spouse with a loud sound. The lower someone’s blood sugar was, the more likely they were to choose a louder and longer blast.

In fact, spouses weren’t getting tortured with loud sound blasts. But test subjects didn’t know that at the time.

Likewise, pricking pins into voodoo dolls didn’t physically hurt anyone. Yet something seems wrong about egging spouses on to hurt each other—even if it’s only in effigy.

The research does provide interesting insights into understanding relationships and domestic violence. Perhaps counseling could incorporate more thorough health screening and nutritional guidance for some people.

Being aware of the research’s results might even help ordinary couples cope better. “Before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you’re not hungry,” Bushman advises in the press release.

Ideally, future studies will track angry feelings in a way that teaches healthy coping skills at the same time. Even fake violence against one’s partner seems somewhat scary.

Grabbing a glass of milk or a cookie might help in the short run. But it’s far from being a complete answer to the problem of domestic violence.


The Physics of Noah’s Ark

Paramount Pictures’ approach to Noah is a big-screen extravaganza with Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m thinking it’s probably a lot different from Crowe and Connelly’s last two pictures together, Winter’s Tale and A Beautiful Mind. I also expect that in future years it may become an Easter/Passover season staple on TV, akin to Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Students at the University of Leicester have taken a different approach to the biblical narrative. They decided to figure out whether the ark could have floated. And the answer, according to the university’s press release is:

Hurrah! The animals could have floated two by two according to physicists.”

Now, I would have put in a comma after the second “two.” And at first glance it wasn’t clear to me that the physicists were calculating the buoyancy of the boat versus the animals. I imagined sheep and goats bobbing by in the water.

Actually, the conclusion is that the ark could have floated with about 35,000 pairs of animals on board. And the physics and math used by the group of graduate students is definitely cool.

The group’s calculations considered the buoyancy of the ark, as well as its weight. “[I]n order for it to float, these two forces need to be equal,” says research lead Oliver Youle in the university’s press release.

The research team did have to make various assumptions for their calculations. For example, they took an average of the ancient Hebrew and Egyptian cubit measures. (A cubit is supposed to measure from the elbow to the middle fingertip.)

The team assumed the ark was made from cypress wood. That’s a generally accepted translation for “gopher wood,” which is not known in modern times.

And then the team had to figure out the mass of the animals on board. Since they couldn’t readily weigh specimens of all the species, they relied on earlier research suggesting that the average “animal” weighs as much as a 23.47-kilogram sheep.

“Our conclusions were that the ark would support the weight of 2.15 million sheep without sinking and that should be enough to support all of the species that were around at the time,” says Youle.

The team’s findings appear in the Journal of Physics Special Topics.

“We’re not proving that it’s true, but the concept would definitely work,” says fellow researcher Thomas Morris.

Having the math and physics work out obviously isn’t as big a miracle as God intervening to save Noah’s family and myriad species from nature. Yet it’s still pretty impressive.

“Hidden Tax” or “Profit Center”?

The latest bill pushing back against Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency laws looks a lot like a proposal that failed in 2012. Check out my latest article in Midwest Energy News.

Hearings begin today in latest push against Ohio energy laws

Hearings begin today on an Ohio bill that would cancel requirements for additional renewable energy and energy efficiency after 2014.

Senate Bill 310 would freeze Ohio’s renewable and alternative energy requirements at 2014 levels. Those levels are about one-tenth of the current law’s target of 25 percent by 2025.

Energy efficiency requirements would stay at the 2014 level of 4.2 percent. Current law calls for a 22 percent cumulative reduction in retail electricity sales by 2025. That’s about five times as much as the 2014 levels.

Read more…


Read More…

Getting the Hang of It

“Conservation is simple, once you get the hang of it.” So says the tag on the towel rack in my Homewood Suites hotel room. In the name of water and energy conservation, the tag encourages you to hang up your towels and reuse them. When you need new ones, you just leave them on the floor, and housekeeping will give you fresh ones.


In principle, this sounds like a good idea. In practice, hotels have yet to get the hang of it.

Homewood Suites by Hilton needs to get the hang of giving guests somewhere practical to hang towels so they dry.

Homewood Suites by Hilton needs to get the hang of giving guests somewhere practical to hang towels so they dry.


The problem from the hotel guest’s perspective is that there often isn’t anyplace you can hang your towel and expect it to be dry the next time you need it.


My current room at the Homewood Suites in Carle Place, New York, has a single towel rack placed less than a foot above the top of the toilet tank.


Try to hang your towel on the rack after a shower. It invariably drapes down over the top of the toilet tank, teasing fate as if it’s about to fall in.


I tried putting my towel on a hook on the back of the door. Much of it stayed bunched up and was still quite damp the next morning.


Putting the towel over the shower curtain rack isn’t practical either. As soon as my husband would shower, the towel would get all wet.


It’s not as if the hotel couldn’t have provided a practical towel rack. Get rid of the giant poster hanging over the top of the towel rack, move the towel rack up another 30 inches, and you have a practical solution. Or, leave the poster in place, and mount a towel rack on the side wall, 40 inches above the toilet paper.


Better still, put two or more towel racks in the bathroom. Hotel suites like this can easily sleep four to six people. But there’s nowhere to hang the towels so they dry.


This isn’t the only hotel with this problem. My husband and I have stayed at lovely luxury hotels that provide six to eight fluffy pillows, but less than 24 inches of towel-hanging space.


Tags touting water and energy conservation may get brownie points from the U.S. Green Building Council or other groups. But real conservation and energy efficiency happen only when companies make it practical for people to follow through.


Conservation may be simple, once you get the hang of it. Let’s hope hotels get the message soon.

Ohio Consumers Could Face a Catch-22

My latest feature at Midwest Energy News focuses on pending state court cases that could leave Ohio consumers out of luck in rate reviews.

The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center is home to the Supreme Court of Ohio and its affiliated offices, the Ohio Court of Claims, and the Ohio Judicial Conference. Image courtesy of the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center is home to the Supreme Court of Ohio and its affiliated offices, the Ohio Court of Claims, and the Ohio Judicial Conference. Image courtesy of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Ohio coal-price case could leave consumers out of luck

A case before the Ohio Supreme Court could leave the state’s ratepayers with no way to recover unreasonable utility overcharges.  Read more…

5 Things I Really Don’t Need To Know

An item on Yahoo! Shine today tempts readers with the headline “5 Things You Need to Know About Prince George’s New Nanny.” The article is reprinted from The Bump.

Who do the editors think they’re kidding?

I really don’t need to know anything about Prince George’s new nanny. Nor do more than 99.9 percent of the people likely to see the headline. We won’t be meeting and interacting with her. We’re not likely to consider hiring her after she leaves the British royalty’s employment. And we’re certainly not considering kidnapping the little baby—in which case Maria’s Tae-Kwon Do and stunt driving could foil our attempt.

Even readers who are considering hiring a nanny right now probably aren’t looking for those skills. They want someone who will engage and stimulate their children while caring for them safely. They want someone who will be reliable and trustworthy when it comes to showing up on time and following parents’ instructions. And they’d like someone who can be flexible—adjusting to the children’s needs and the demands that parents’ jobs can place on them from time to time.

In short, the editors’ headline is nothing more than a grab for attention. It may get some gullible folks to read the article. But then they’d find there’s nothing there they need to know.

Headlines about x things you need to know are nothing new. They provide an easy format for both the writer and reader. And they tempt readers to follow up. “Hmmm, what are those 5 things I need to know?” they might ask.

But then the body of the article is supposed to have information that people really do need to know. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some excellent examples.

5 Things you can do to lower your child’s lead level” offers five practical steps parents can take. If I had young children and lived in an area where lead poisoning was a possibility, I’d get started on those steps right away.

5 Things You Need to Know about Tuberculosis (TB)” does cover basic facts in a helpful Q&A format. With one-third of the world’s people being infected with the bacteria that cause the disease, this really is information we all should know. “Almost 2 million deaths worldwide occur each year from TB,” reports the CDC. TB is one of the world’s deadliest diseases, and it affects people around the world—including thousands in the United States.

When headlines don’t deliver on their promise about “things you need to know,” that’s a problem. The editors of Yahoo! Shine and The Bump might not care about their credibility. But readers are then likely to be skeptical about whether other news articles really will offer news points they need to know.

I probably wouldn’t have been in a snit if the headline had read, “5 Fascinating Facts about Prince George’s New Nanny.” I might or might not find all of them fascinating. But at least I’d have been fairly told that I was basically going to read trivia.

And yes, I realize Yahoo! Shine and The Bump are not noted for being pinnacles of journalism. But the more often hype like this gets used, the worse it is for both writers and readers.


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