The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Wooden Wind Turbines
Wind power is an important part of any future renewables mix - and while the cost of wind turbines has come down substantially in recent decades, there's always progress to be made, as we continue from the old, wooden windmills grinding grain to sleek, modern nacelles of power.
And in this case, the progress is... making them out of wood. Now, this may sound a bit weird, but modern engineered lumber is incredibly strong - stronger than steel, if done correctly - and quite light, relatively. A lot of houses in North America are built with LVLs now rather than steel beams - and they're growing in popularity elsewhere, though nobody else has quite the abundance of wood that the US and Canada do.
As for the wooden turbines, they've already built one demonstration tower, and it seems like they're on the way to ramp up to full production. I'm a big fan of the aesthetics of wind turbines, and they're useful in a lot of the world where solar power needs some help, so I wish them the best of luck.
Fine Sculptural Bacteria
Art conservation is a painstaking, thankless process. People toil away in the background of museums and galleries to ensure that works of art don't degrade, and so future generations can enjoy them and see them as they were intended to be viewed, rather than through decades or centuries of decay.
Centuries-old sculpture, though, is particularly tricky to conserve, especially given it's generally hard to move around and place it in a controlled environment when it's part of the structure of a building. The tombs at the Medici Chapels in Florence are one of those, and rather than turn to the usual chemical or abrasive solutions - which themselves cause a little damage - they turned to bacteria.
A special strain of the bacteria Serratia ficaria was chosen which only ate the stains they wanted to remove, and didn't touch the surrounding stone, and it seems to have worked really well. The selectivity of the process seems particularly useful for other restorations - though since they've very specific, each stain type will probably need its own investigation and bacteria selection.
Asking Nicely Actually Works Sometimes
As a lot of the US heated up this week (though fortunately not as badly as the heat dome area), the pressure rose on electricity grids as everyone turned on their air conditioning. And, in many cases, those grids were designed and built in a previous era when people weren't using nearly as much power - or, in some cases, bad regulation means the capacity just isn't there.
While some utilities use a sneaky clause they made people agree to that lets them turn up thermostats remotely, New York City decided to just... ask nicely, and sent their residents an emergency message asking them to try and cut their load.
And, what do you know, it actually worked. Sure, it's not sustainable in terms of power management, but hopefully it helps while the US tries to finish building a reliable, modern power grid.
Prison Culture, Yoghurt Style
From New Zealand comes this story of two prison inmates who swapped from making meth to making yoghurt, and getting the idea so popular that it spread all over the country's prisons. It's weirdly heartening for a tale of incarceration.
It's also a good illustration of what could come from treating prisoners a bit more like the humans they are, and more rehabilitation-focused programmes rather than punishment-focused ones, I say. And, above all else, it just seems very in character for New Zealand.
How Do You Put Out A Fire In The Ocean?
Oil drilling is a dangerous, messy business, and when not quite enough care and attention is taken, it can also fail in some spectacular ways. Like this week, when one of Mexico's pipelines to their Ku Maloob Zaap complex ruptured and sent a lot of hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico.
So many, in fact, that we got the rare sight of the ocean literally being on fire. Of course, it's not the water burning - it's the propane, ethane, and other lighter elements bubbling to the surface and igniting. I do have to wonder what happened to all the heavier bits of the oil - but, unfortunately, large oil spills in the Gulf seem all too regular these days, so I'm sure it's just adding to the problem.
As for how you put out a fire in the ocean? It turns out, extra water on top of the flames and nitrogen to smother them.
Making More Water With Less Power
The Earth has got a lot of water. Absolutely loads of the stuff - it's covered in it. But, of course, most of that water is salty, and drinking salty water is really not good for you, so desalination has been an increasingly important field of research for a few decades now, especially as climate change threatens traditional water supplies.
Standard desalination is an incredibly power-intensive process that just never seems quite worth it compared to finding more land sources, so this progress in a purely passive, solar-powered solution looks great. The ability to have desalination anywhere without a robust electrical grid and big power plants is just what we need.
Of course, it's a university press release, so take it with a big grain of sea salt - but MIT have a pretty good history of their stuff actually working and going the distance, so now the main question in my head is "how long will it take to actually make this commercially viable?" - and will the falling price of solar power and another desalination method get there first?
Pyrocumulonimbus Is Not A Word You Ever Want To Hear
I'm sure you've heard about the awful heat dome that settled over the northwestern US and southwestern Canada this week - leading to heat records being completely upended, hundreds to thousands dead, and towns burned to the ground due to wildfire.
Of course, climate change is only going to make things like this worse, but I wanted to bring one particular feedback loop to attention - pyrocumulonimbus clouds. "Normal" cumulonimbus clouds are classic thunderstorm clouds, with lightning fuelled by thermal updrafts and downdrafts inside the cloud.
The pyro part of these other clouds' name, though, means fire - that is, thunderstorm clouds caused by the intense heat from wildfires. Even worse, the wildfires make these thunderstorms, which then emit lightning, which in turn causes more wildfires. While climate change has a lot of scary feedback loops, this one is especially devastating on a regional scale.
Slightly Damp, But Alive, Pilots
Every pilot fears engine failure, but we also all know they are inevitable at some point, so a big part of aviation is accepting that failure will happen and making sure that you're ready to handle it.
That's why I have to commend the crew of the Transair cargo 737 that lost both engines this week - not only did they calmly turn back towards Honululu International Airport, but when they realised they weren't going to make it back to the runway, they managed a successful "ditch" in the ocean off the coast of Hawai'i - and the coastguard was able to rescue them both.
I cannot stress how difficult an ocean ditch is in the middle of the night. It's one of the hardest situations to pull off correctly, and they managed to do it - of course, the plane and cargo are lost, but the important thing was the crew's lives here. My hat is off to them, and hopefully the cause of the engine failure is traced in case it might affect others.
I'm Not Hopping Mad, I'm Hopping Happy
Like many industrialised countries, the UK has seen many native species pushed to extinction - and many more to the brink of it. Some of these, like wolves, are the "flashy" animals that make the front pages and cause lots of debates about rewilding. Others, though, are smaller but just as important.
That's why it's lovely to see Stethophyma grossum, the Large Marsh Grasshopper, being reintroduced to the countryside. They're big, fun insects that make a different noise to many grasshoppers, but they're also very bad at species propagation - often moving less than 50 metres, so you can imagine how they need a little bit of help spreading back across the UK.
The Most Unusual McDonalds
It is arguable - and I will argue - that McDonalds is itself a strange backbone of American infrastructure due to its ubiquity and omnipresence in almost every corner of the nation (though not as important as Waffle House during disasters, of course).
Thus, imagine the wonder of a Twitter account that just curates the weird, unusual, and just plain odd McDonald's locations - and you have the Nonstandard McDonald's Twitter account. Theme highlights include Michael Jackson, NASCAR, an awful attempt at a European castle style, and of course the McHive.
If you know anything about the state of Florida, you will also be unsurprised that many of these can be found in that state, and the account's creators are trying to launch a Kickstarter to do a roadtrip documentary of them. And, if you like weird building content, I can also recommend Guillotine-Worthy Zillow Listings - where I must admit to unfortunately liking at least a few of the houses they post - as well as the ever-classic McMansion Hell, a worryingly direct view into the soul of modern American residential architecture.