Thursday, November 30, 2006

News from Kazakhstan

Borat Would Be So Proud

In the USA, a typical high voltage powerline carries somewhere around 110 Kvolts, maybe reaching 220 kV in some places.

But that’s nothing compared to the Powerline Ekibastuz-Kokshetau, which is designed for the highest transmission voltage (1150 kV) in the world. This powerline runs 268 miles across Kazakhstan. (Maybe that's it to the left of the camels?) It is mounted on electrical pylons with an average height of 60 metres. The weight of the conductors is approximately 50 tons.

Evidently, such a big hunk of metal is a pretty inviting target for Kazakhstan's criminal underworld. This, direct from the KEGOC.KZ website: (Note how it really does make sound like how Borat, he talk...)
PRESS-RELEASE No 5 dated 25 August 2005.

"On thievery of metal construction from towers of “Kokshetau-Kostanay ” high voltage transmission line"

Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company KEGOC informs, that on 6 August 2005 the group of persons made a thievery of metal constructions (angle) from 6 anchor blocks on the site of high-voltage transmission line “Kokshetau-Kostanay”. The total weight of stolen angles on anchor - angular towers makes more than 11 tons, the total meterage of the stolen amounts 2621,5 m. The cost of stolen angles amounts 1 678 845 KZT, and in view of regenerative works the sum of the caused damage of KEGOC JSC has made 2168802 KZT.

(Editor's Note: I converted 2168802 Kazakhstan "Tenges" to US Dollars on and found it equals about $17,000 US. Eleven tons of angle iron for $17,000? Seems sort of cheap.)

Due to Clause 175 Section 3 Sub-section b) of the Criminal Code of Republic of Kazakhstan (grand larceny) the criminal case is brought before a court by Ayirtauskiy North-Kazakhstan Regional Administration of Internal Affairs. The following citizens Mr.Zhdanov S., Mr.Samarin S., Mr.Gushchin N., Mr.Vlasov A. were detained by operative group in a course of operative – investigation actions in Kokshetau.

Last May, I first googled the Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company website to see what more I could learn about why they built a powerline that tops a million volts. Was this some sort of Cold War era attempt at outdoing the West, simply to prove the superiority of USSR’s technology?

I found this interestingly worded press release on the Kazakhstan electricity company’s website. Imagine a workplace where retires are rewarded with "gratuitous material aid,” medals, and subscriptions to Pravda. (I used to work for a big, crappy company. No one ever gave me a medal. Or a subscription to Pravda, for that matter)

Press Release #1 Kazakhstan Electrical Grid Operating Company

For the period from 6 to 9 May will carry out solemn actions on which power engineers - veterans of Great Patriotic War (World War II) and the persons equal to them will be celebrated.

The actions spent within the framework of the Victory Day celebrating are not single actions. KEGOC JSC concerns to the Companies, where they honour the workers who have a deserved rest. Annually 402 persons, pensioners of the Company every Day of Power Engineers receive gratuitous material aid. Besides other forms of support of older persons are also practiced. So this year all the pensioners of power industry were provided with an annual subscription to "The Kazakhstanskaya Pravda" newspaper.

By the way, if you don't know who Borat is, he's the sixth most popular man in Kazakhstan.

I saw the Borat movie last week. Maybe it's me, but it wasn't nearly as funny as the reviews led me to believe. It was amusing, but that's pretty much it.

Candid Camera and Trigger Happy TV did it all before.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blowing Up Scientific Equipment in the Name of Security

I like blowing things up as much as the next guy, maybe even more than most. But are the Bloomington (MN) police a little too quick on the ignition plunger?

Here's a story today's (Nov 28) from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Anne Jefferson, a Winona native, recently minted Ph.D. and researcher in the geosciences department at Oregon State University, concluded a combined business and holiday trip to Minnesota on Sunday, dropping off a rental car at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport before boarding a plane to Portland, Ore., with her husband.

By the time they arrived there, armed officers were waiting for them, and in the Twin Cities, portions of the Lindbergh terminal parking ramp had been closed for about two hours after authorities found a suspicious looking device in the spare tire compartment of the couple's rental car.

It was actually equipment that Jefferson had been using in her research on water temperatures in stream channels. She intended to mail it back to Oregon, but she just forgot about it.

She had picked up the device, called the Stowaway Tidbit Temp Loggers, from the St. Anthony Falls Lab along the Mississippi River on Wednesday. The equipment includes several lengths of 1-inch plastic pipe filled with gravel, all linked to 15 flashing electronic monitors. She stowed it in the tire compartment to keep the gravel from showering all over the trunk.

An airline agent met them at the gate. "So did five uniformed airport police with flak jackets and guns," Jefferson said. "They asked us if we knew what this was about. We said we had left some scientific equipment in a rental car." The interrogation took about 20 minutes, and after a call to Minneapolis, the couple was released. "Everyone was really decent," Jefferson said.

Her equipment didn't fare as well. Officers with the Bloomington Police Department bomb squad destroyed it.

End of quote.

Along with all the data, and the hard work it took to collect it, I guess.

Why in the world would the police destroy the equipment so quickly? Here's a picture I found of the "suspicious looking equipment."
Remember, this thing was in the trunk of an Avis rental car, about a half mile from the nearest runway, not on the tarmac or in the terminal.

Yes airline security is important, but all this paranoia, and rote following of draconian procedures means no flexibility, no common sense, and second chances. Looks like another win for the real terriorists.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

New Morning Show - Hallmark Channel

This blog has been quiet for some time. I've been so busy lately that there simply hasn't been enough time to accomplish everything and NFTTU has been the victim.

I've bitten off more than I can chew.

That said, I hope to start posting again with some frequency. Yesterday, I was in New York City to tape a television show. The show is called the "New Morning" show and is carried on the Hallmark Channel. Good group of people, very professional. Here's a picture of me and the show's host, Timberly Whitfield. We talked about the Kinetic Sculpture Race in northern California, the World Championship Punkin Chunk, and made a marshmallow shooter as well. The show airs on Hallmark Channel on December 12, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why the use of supplemental oxygen in spud guns is a bad idea

Remember the scene in Road Warrior where one of the freakish biker guys injects nitrous into his suped up buggy to get more power? This story reminds me of that. Some things are better left un-supercharged, un-turbocharged, and without added special ingredients. To wit. . . .

Here's an interesting account of firefighters learning on the job:

Pull quote from Fire Resuce Magazine:

It had been more than a decade since I saw my last potato cannon. I figured it died the same death as the mullet hairstyle, just kind of faded away. I was transported back to that time in my career when I heard an unsubstantiated rumor a couple of months ago. In the interest of decorum, let's just say the incident allegedly occurred somewhere in the Southwestern United States of America, and we can leave it at that. This is the story as I heard it:

A group of young firefighters was experimenting with potato cannons. One of the more inquisitive members of the tribe had an idea to get more oomph out of his launcher. After he packed a specially selected spud down the barrel, he filled the combustion chamber with 100 percent oxygen before giving it a 3-second blast of hair spray. He screwed the cap into place and prepared himself for taking the shot heard around the neighborhood.

In hindsight it was fortunate that the crew took some precautions. They knew by adding pure oxygen to the potato-launching formula it would increase the force of the blast to the highest levels. According to the legend, some type of blind was used to shield the cannon master from his weapon. A small hole in the shield allowed him access to the igniter. The remainder of the crew took refuge behind solid objects. The stage was set, the weapon primed. The crew was about to make history.

They were firing the cannon from the sanctity of the apparatus bay. The rigs were parked on the front apron, the front doors were closed. The rear bay doors were open and provided a shooting alley into the large parking lot, where potatoes met a grizzly death when they kissed a block wall after traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Our hero depressed the firing mechanism, giving spark to the supercharged fuel mixture. If I had to guess, I'd say the potato came apart around the time it hit the speed of sound. Something certainly broke the sound barrier because the dozens of fluorescent lights and the window glass in the bay doors all exploded into tens of thousands of tiny shards of glass right after the doomed cannon blew into bits. When the glass settled, the only injuries were ringing in the ears and a small laceration received by our misguided potato master.