That's Not Land, It's Foam! Well, It's Both.
You may not know this, but below the surface of many new civil engineering projects are giant blocks of polystyrene foam - yes, the same stuff new appliances or devices are often packaged in.
You see, Geofoam - as it's called in this form - is very lightweight, easy to maneuver and handle, and surprisingly strong under compression. It makes a perfect infill material where you want something lightweight that won't shift or slip, and it doesn't degrade over time - one of those occasions when plastic not being bio-degradeable is useful!
Apparently it holds up so well they unburied blocks from the 70s and then re-used them because they were still good. So, next time you see earthworks or large-scale landscaping, don't be surprised if you see giant white foam blocks mixed in with all that earth.
A Pantograph For Everything
As we look to turn more and more vehicles electric, one sector stands out - long-distance road hauliage. Large trucks/lorries ply the roadways of the world, hauling huge loads across a road network that is still unbeaten even by the best railway networks.
Electric vehicles have one main drawback - their range coupled with their recharging time - and there's a couple of proposals to fix it. I enjoy this one, though, as it's basically just re-interpreting existing ideas - pantographs from electric railways, and trolleybuses - and applying them to road freight.
Of course, I have some questions - namely, "what happens when the cables go down", and "how reliable is the vehicle side going to be" - but I'm sure they've thought of those. With this trial happening alongside others like swappable batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, I hope we're going to hit on the right solution with one of them.
Building Cities For More Than Humans
Urban design and planning is a rich field - the number of problems to solve are endless. Aesthetics, drainage, utilities, walking routes, roads, and more. One thing we could do more of, though, is designing for more than just humanity, and including nature as well.
It's more than just sticking grass on your roof (though that's a good start) - it's adding niches into the design that benefit both people and animals in our ever-growing urban landscapes. You might not think, for example, that you want a group of bats living in a nearby bat box - but you'll be very happy when they eat all the mosquitoes near you. Also, they're quite adorable, so that helps.
If you find yourself in a place where you can affect some architecture or landscaping, it's worth stopping and thinking how you can help keep the ecosystem around you happy and healthy. The article has some good ideas, but there's many more.
A Slightly Toasty Battery
Victoria, in Australia, is the site of one of the first utility-scale battery packs - the Tesla "Megapack". Designed as a cheaper, smaller alternative to other energy storage technologies, like pumped hydro, it promises to significantly help power demand in the region and generally seems like a good idea.
Unfortunately, while testing it before it got brought onto the grid full-time later this year, it appears to have caught fire. Lithium battery fires are no joke - they're really hard to put out - but it looks like they managed to stop it spreading to the other batteries nearby.
I'm surprised there's not a larger fire-break between batteries built into the facility design, but maybe this is a one-off. Fingers crossed that it is, as utility-scale batteries are going to be really useful as we move more energy generation to renewables.
Finally, Unleaded Fuel For The Rest Of Us
You might be forgiven for assuming that leaded petrol/gasoline is a thing of the past, phased out decades ago in a quest to massively improve public health. And you would have mostly been right, apart from one little sector - general (small-scale) aviation.
While big and medium-size planes generally run on jet fuel, there's a whole fleet of light aircraft that run on a special ultra-refined petrol/gasoline version called "avgas". And, because these piston-based aircraft engines are updated about twice a century, they still need lead in their fuel to keep the engine running smoothly, hence the designation of avgas as 100LL - 100 octane, "low lead".
Now, low lead is nowhere as good as no lead, so fortunately a company has finally made an unleaded fuel mixture that has the right additives and quality to run these engines without damaging them. Of course, being aviation, it'll take years to get it approved in each aircraft type individually, but hey, progress.
A New Kind Of Numbers Station
We only have a limited amount of radio spectrum in the world, especially in the HF bands, which let you send signals around the world by bouncing them off the ionosphere. So, the FCC in the US, and similar bodies in other countries, license radio stations closely to make sure they're using the right bit of spectrum and that it's in the public interest.
Unfortunately, radio is also the fastest way of sending data long distances - faster than the speed of electricity or fiber optic cables, which both propagate signals slower than the speed of light (in the case of fiber optic cables, it's all the bouncing around in the cable that slows it down a bit). So, of course, people who would make money from fast communications are trying to pull one over on the FCC, and those people are high-frequency traders.
In a world where these traders pay millions to have their servers slightly closer to the exchanges' datacentres and millions more on custom chips to let them trade faster, it's no surprise they're trying to abuse this public resource by claiming they're launching a new international radio station. Fortunately, they've been denied, at least for now.
Nauka Has No End Of Problems
Nauka, the long-delayed ISS module that got to space this week after thirteen years of delays, continued to be a general bad omen as its docking to the ISS went rather worse than expected.
First the primary docking system failed, leaving them running on the backup system, and then after the module docked, its thusters continued firing. This started pushing the ISS out of the correct attitude, with the station's thrusters having to fire to fight against the new module.
Fortunately the thrusters eventually turned off - it's unclear if it was due to a signal from the Russian control center or because they simply ran out of fuel - but it was a harrowing hour or so while it was all going on. At least it's attached now, unlike the Pirs module, which was destructively re-entered this week to make space for Nauka to dock.
Readings Invalid In Case Of Lava
While global warming is a very real problem, and new temperature records are being set far too often, occasionally one of these temperature readings is surprisingly high for another reason.
Such is the case near Fagradalsfjall, in Iceland, where the weather station recorded a surprising high of 30°C (86°F) - unseasonably warm even for the summer, but it turns out, probably influenced by the active volcano and lava flows nearby.
Accurate measurement of air temperature is a hard problem - there's all sorts of rules about how to shield the thermometer from sunlight and ground heat, enough that some historical high-temperature records have been invalidated as the equipment wasn't protected enough. Not sure if those rules include lava, though.
The Van Dammed But Car-Free Heist
Another week, another heist, and while this one is superficially just another basic, high-value robbery (to the tune of about €2m), what makes it particularly funny is that the robbers' choice of getaway vehicle was - an electric scooter?
Now, Paris is not a great place to get around quickly, I'll say that, but it's rather an unusual choice, further reinforced by the fact they then continued their car-free approach and took a long-distance coach to get away from Paris - somewhat to their detriment, as the police pulled the coach over and arrested them.
What makes it even weirder? Most people didn't even notice the crime was happening due to the appearance of Jean-Claude Van Damme at a nearby opticians. Not saying he was in on it, but if you see him riding a scooter around...
Turns Out, A Hamster Wheel Is Not A Boat
Reza Baluchi has a mission. And his mission is, weirdly enough, to try and travel the oceans in a giant, floating hamster wheel.
In his most recent endeavour, he was trying to get from Florida - which is, unsurprisingly, his home state - to New York, over 1000 miles away. He managed, however, to go about 20 miles south (which is, if you're not aware, the wrong way) and then aborted his attempt by washing himself and his craft up on a beach, much to the bemusement of beachgoers.
The US Coastguard, however, are neither amused or bemused, and are telling him that he cannot continue his giant hamster wheel trips without a support vessel, under an excitingly-named legal basis called Captain of the Port Orders. It's a shame, as the guy seems intent on raising money for charity, but given that he went the wrong way for 20 miles, maybe a support vessel is the right idea.