2012: The next six-week challenge

March 5, 2012

It’s 2012, so I’m due to start working on my next six-week challenge.  I’ve managed to keep the weight off that I lost last year while training for the Tough Mudder, so the new challenge would take me down near 190 pounds.  A year ago I thought getting down to 195 pounds was almost impossible since I wasn’t successful in prior challenges, so to think I could get down to 190 pounds back then wouldn’t have ever crossed my mind.  Now that I know losing weight is possible, 190 pounds is definitely reachable.

My friends have asked if I would do the Tough Mudder again this year, and I’m not 100% sure that I would.  It was fun, but it was brutal as well.  We’ll see.  But in 2012, I think I want to get away from the running aspect for something that’s easier on my knee and hip (issues that I had problems with last year).  I’m currently leaning towards retiring my 20+ year old bicycle for a new one that better fits my body.  There are plenty of hills around in my area, so it wouldn’t be an easy ride by any means.

Of course, there’s another way I could lose five pounds, and that would be by changing my eating habits.  While I eat well, there are things that I could change in order to easily shed some weight.  My friend that did the Tough Mudder with me always said “Just think of how much lighter you’d be now by eating better!”  I’ve been working on that as part of my New Years resolution, but not a major change.  Another  thing I could do is one of those clean detox programs.  Some are done by following a strict diet for a few weeks, while others are done with supplements.  While this is a good process to clean your insides and lose weight, it doesn’t fall within my exercise concept.  Maybe I could consider trying this after the six-week challenge to see which of the two had the better results.

I don’t have a date yet as to when I’ll start the challenge, but I will keep you posted.

Solar Panels in the Snow?

December 4, 2010

A friend of mine recently noted how he has installed solar panels on his new house, and how he hopes to really cut back on his energy bills due to his investment in this “green” technology.  I hope he does (and I hope he took advantage of the available solar panel rebate out there)!  But as I sit here, looking out my window at the first snowflakes of the season, I wonder how effective the panels will be in our area.

I remember back  when I was living in Hawaii (decades ago) when we first had solar panels (hot water panels) installed on the house.  It was a relatively new technology to me, and I wondered how they worked.  In our case, water cycled up to the roof where it was heated by the sun, and then sent into the house for internal use.  Since Hawaii is warm and sunny most of the year, it was a practical application.  I’m sure if we had electrical panels, it would have performed very well.

In electrical panels, the “power” of the sunlight is captured in a different way.  Solar electric panels are made up of photovoltaic cells which are grouped together to create a solar panel.  When the sunlight hits the solar panel, the light-energy is absorbed by the semiconductors within the photovoltaic cells.  This causes electrons to be freed, and in turn, converted into electrical current.  This process of solar power generation is considered a “green” energy source since there is no pollution associated with the creation of the energy (that is, if you don’t take into account the pollution associated with creating the solar panels initially).

But how well do they work up here where it can snow?  Obviously, electrical output is dependent upon the amount of sun it receives.  In the winter, the days are short (about 3.8 hours of “good sun”) and the weather can be brutal.  However, there are also plenty of days where the sky is crisp and clear – ideal for energy generation.  You won’t generate enough energy in the winter to be energy independent, especially if your home is heated by electrical heat pumps, but you will save more money in the other seasons.  So it will still be cost effective over the length of the year. If you are interested in this, I would recommend you take some time to research not only the tax incentives available, but also the performance levels of solar panels in your region.  You need to make sure that you don’t end up spending more money in the long run on a system that is suppose to save you money (and the environment).

The death of a ship

July 6, 2010

Have you ever wondered what happens to large commercial ships once they’ve become too old to operate? Unlike the Navy (who likes to sink their ships to make artificial reefs), commercial ships are usually sold for scrap. When this happens, the ships make their way to places like Alang, India.

In Alang, ships meet their doom when they are beached. When the ship is emptied of cargo and important equipment, the vessel is placed on a direct course for the beach while at high tide. Once ashore, the workers at Alang dismantle the ship to recycle all the steel and other valuable materials for scrap.

While the operation is very efficient, the Red Cross and environmentalists around the world complain about the ship breaking practices there in Alang. For starter, there is no full-service hospital within 30 miles from the beach (though the Red Cross operates a medical response facility there). Secondly, while these ships are empty of cargo and supplies, pollutants still find their way into the shores as the ships are taken apart.

Despite the current issues surrounding the town and the practice, it is an impressive operation. Below are three items that demonstrate the process and scale of the operations in Alang. The first is an aerial view of the Alang ship-breaking facility. In this photo, you can see at least 70 vessels that are currently beached.

The second is a video of a ship that is being beached. As you can see from the video, the vessel is empty, with the bulbus bow of the vessel riding high out of the water.

Lastly, here is a close-up aerial shot of one of the ships that has already been partially stripped down.

Birds of a Feather

June 28, 2010

I thought this was a cute story, especially since it is about the oil spill down in the Gulf of Mexico.  Olivia Bouler of Islip, NY has found her own way to help raise funds for relief efforts in the Gulf, primarily with saving birds that have been caught in the oil slick.  So far, she has helped to raise $80,000 towards the effort, but the most impressive thing is that she just turned 11-years-old.  Read the following article for more information.

MSNBC – “Girl raises thousands for Gulf birds”

Olivia Bouler doesn’t have time for anything else these days except to draw and paint. But that’s OK for the artistic fifth-grader, because everything she does is for the birds.

The Islip, N.Y., girl, who turns 11 on Friday, has raised an estimated $80,000 by sending her sketches and paintings of birds to people who donate to organizations helping with relief efforts in the Gulf of Mexico spill disaster.

“I do some in the mornings and some in the afternoons, and weekends are really the time for me get cracking at them,” Olivia told msnbc.com on Thursday in a telephone interview as she and her parents were headed to the Gulf for a visit.

(Click here to read the rest of the article.)

The Snow Monsters of Japan

January 1, 2010

Beware of the scary snow monsters of Japan!  These monstrosities will dwarf you and make you shake in your boots!  No, I’m not talking about creatures like the Yeti or the Abominable Snowman, but rather giant snow structures that occur in the Yamagata Prefecture of Japan.

Every year, the monsoon cycle sends high winds and moisture up the sides of Mount Zao, where it turns to snow and collects on the trees.  These conifer trees, with their tightly packed needles collect the snow crystals quickly, allowing the snow to build up easily during the storms.  The snow can build up to as much as 5 inches in a day as the wind whips past the branches.

The end results are tall snow structures that resemble monsters rather than trees.  And with the temperature remaining around 10 degrees below Fahrenheit, the “snow monsters” known as Juhyo will last for months and continue to grow and change shape.  The images below highlight the awe-inspiring shape and scale of the Juhyo, while giving you an understanding as to why they are called “snow monsters.”

Blizzard seen from space

December 21, 2009

This is so cool! As you saw from my photo’s this weekend, the East Coast was hammered by a blizzard that shut down the federal government as well as many of the counties that were blanketed in over a foot of snow. But if you thought my photo’s were impressive, check this out!

NASA has released the above photo, taken from the Aqua satellite as it crossed over Virginia. If you are not familiar with the geographic landmarks, I have added a map of the Virginia/Maryland/Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania region below. If you look closely, you can clearly see the Appalachian mountains, the Chesapeake Bay, the Southern borders of New Jersey, as well as the Potomac River.

Mayon Volcano ready to erupt

December 16, 2009

The Mayon Volcano, located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, is on the verge of erupting again.  Last night, she spewed out ash and lava rolled down her steep slopes.  Due to this recent activity, the local authorities have called for an evacuation as they prepare for a major eruption.  Her last major eruption was in 2008.

In doing some research on this volcano, I came across an amateur video filmed earlier today.  In the video, you can clearly see where the fresh lava cleared the green ground cover on her slope, as well as fresh ash continuing to drift away from the volcano’s crater.  If you look closely at the foreground of the video, the soil is rich and dark, a typical trait of soil made from historic lava flows.  His distance from the volcano should give you a good perspective of how far lava can flow from the volcano, and why the local authorities are anxious to move as many of the residents away from the potential threat.

UPDATE: Here is a video from later that night. Just at twilight, the volcano started to ooze lava down the already charred slope. If you look closely, you can see how fast the lava is traveling by watching the the very bright segment of the flow. Impressive amateur video by the camera operator.