Monday, May 30, 2011

Don't Tread on Me

It's Memorial Day.  This is the day I like to make a post a bit off topic and recognize all the war fighters, not only in the US, but all across the world, that risk their lives to protect our freedoms.  The last post I did was about the can-do attitude of the Seabees.  This year, I thought about stepping back to the very beginnings, back to the very first people who fought for our freedom even before there was a Memorial Day.

The Gadsden Flag
The Gadsden Flag, an American Timber Rattlesnake coiled up on a yellow background (also known as the Hopkins flag), is used by units in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, but it was originally created by Christopher Gadsden in 1775.

In 1775 the British were occupying Boston and General Washington was holed up in Cambridge, low on gunpowder and supplies shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill.  The Continental Congress heard of a British transport on its way loaded with arms and gunpowder.  The rebels decided they needed the supplies more than the British and devised a plan to commandeer the transport.  The Continental Congress authorized the creation of the first Continental Navy and mustered five companies of Marines to take the ship.

Like all military groups at the time, battle drums were a part of the company.  Unique to some recruits from Pennsylvania, their drums were painted blaze yellow with a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike, painted on it.  The rattlesnake had 13 rattles, one representing each colony.  Also painted on the drums were the words "Don't Tread on Me."

Why the Snake?
The snake actually started much sooner.  Benjamin Franklin, not keen on using an eagle -- "a bird of bad moral character" -- as a national emblem instead chose the snake.

In the Pennsylvania Journal (Pennsylvania Gazette), Franklin concocted an image of a segmented snake with the words "Join, or Die."  It played on superstitions at the time that if you reassembled a cut-up snake before sunset, it would come back to live.  It portrayed the unity that the colonies had to have.  The image was so popular that it became the symbol of shared national identity.

As Benjamin Franklin described it
 "She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. ... she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."
Inevitably, the general serpent was replaced with an American Timber Rattler because of it's uniqueness to America.

Our military has a long and proud history.  That history started even before the United States was a country, yet is still symbolized every day in current conflicts.  When we fly these colors, we not only represent our current values, but the values of all of those who have come before us.
Remember our past, those who have sacrificed, and why they chose to bear arms for our freedom.
Recognize our present, those who continue to sacrifice, and the proud heritage they represent.
Pray for our future, those that come after us respect us for our decisions and recognize the sacrifices we made were for them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Now That's Skill

It's Memorial Weekend.  I've written my Memorial Day post and it will appear Monday morning.  But, while doing some semi-related research I came across this video.  This is a level of skill I think you will only ever find out of military trained pilots.

It is 0:57 long and a bit loud.  You may want to mute or turn down your speakers before playing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Teaching Green - From Student to Professor

Amazing, simply amazing, what is possible when young individuals aren't told that they can't do something.  Reading through my alumni magazine, I come across an article where a Structural Engineering graduate helped implement green initiatives on campus.

MSOE already has a long history of environmental consciousness based on classes taught as well as physical installations of environmentally sound utilities.  Of course there was the standard trash and recycling containers all around campus.  But the efforts on campus were raised a notch when Jason Goike ('10) and the MSOE Recycling Team enhanced the program.  Why?  Because Goike was asked to and not told he couldn't.

First of all, Goike worked with MSOE's food service provider and switched from Styrofoam products to compostable corn- and sugarcane-based dinnerware.  That's right, you cups, plates, and bowls can be made out of compostable materials and organizations, like Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI, provide the composting service.  And instead of the standard two recycling bins: trash and recyclable, there are now three - the third being compostable.

But there is more to being green than additional recycling.  Remember the 3 R's?  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Recycle is the last on the list.  The first is to reduce how much you use and the second is to reuse what you can.  Let's face it, people need to be motivated to do any of the 3 R's.  In order promote reuse, such as refillable water bottles and coffee mugs, the on-campus eateries offer discounts on refills.

MSOE lists some tangible savings from the program.
  • In 2009, MSOE spent more than $110,000 to remove unsorted waste.  With the new recycling bins, MSOE expects to save $20,000 through reduced trash pick ups.
  • The compostable dinnerware could save an additional $15,000 by diverting trash to Growing Power instead of the landfill.

The EPA has some interesting facts on recycling.  I'm still trying to quantity these facts because they leave out some very important metrics.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to burn a 100-watt light bulb for four hours or to run your tv for three.
  • Recycling white paper in your office from one year can save almost 26 gallons of oil, 273 kilowatt-hours of energy, 467 gallons of water, and more than one tree.  It also prevents four pounds of air pollution from entering the atmosphere.
  • Composting keeps carbon from entering the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas and diverts waste from landfills.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Big Steam - An Icon of Sustainability

With all the recent talk about sustainability and designed obsolescence, engineers and industry gurus are taking pages from history on how to design products that last for generations.  (When was the last time your kids were happy to inherit your cell phone?)  I actually have in my possession my grandfather's pocket watches, the wind up kind, and they still work.  Talk about sustainable; it's a design with craftsmanship that has lasted two generations and with proper care, will last many more.  One watch is plain for everyday use and other is quite intricate in detail for those special occasions.  Plus, it is carbon neutral to operate.

Now, not exactly carbon neutral to operate but long living none-the-less is steam engines.  Beyond the childhood fantasies of days gone by, there is just something alluring about steam trains.  The Grand Canyon Railway rebuilds, maintains, and operates a route from Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon using steam.  I have always told my wife that when I retire, I hope to work there helping refurbish old steam engines and cars.  I would do it for a living, but the problem is that a LOT of people want to do that.  High supply/low demand means you can't exactly make a living doing what you love.

But "The Train" isn't the only place restoring Big Steam.  There is a place in Bugs Bunny's favorite city, Albuquerque, NM, that has a team of dedicated volunteers putting a rare locomotive back into action.  The New Mexico Steam Locomotive & Railroad Historical Society is restoring one of the largest and most powerful steam locomotives ever built - one million pounds (1,000,000 lbs) of iron and steel generating 4,500 hp.  The boiler of this beast is twenty feet long and 7 1/2 feet in diameter.  The operating pressure is 300 psi at 700 degrees F powering two double-acting pistons that turns eight 80-inch diameter drive wheels.  The SA 516 grade 55 steel is only 7/16 to 1 1/4 inch thick in the boiler.  Oh, and the firebox is the size of a small bedroom at 9 X 12 feet.

What historic train has these stats?  It is locomotive No. 2926 from the Baldwin Locomotive Works built in 1944 for the Atchison, Topica, and Sante Fe line between Chicago and Los Angeles.  The train was retired from service in 1954 and has sat idle in an Albuquerque park since then along with its tender.  The team of volunteers restoring this beauty consist of: retired mechanical engineers, nuclear engineers, civil engineers, medical doctors, chemists, police officers, cryptoanalysts, machinists, ex-Navy officers, and national science lab veterans.  (But like I said, these are retired volunteers so highly unlikely this fun work will ever pay your mortgage.)

When the restoration is complete and all safety checks have been passed, this engine will roll out under its own power.  The restoration should be complete sometime in 2012.  You can learn about the entire project by viewing the AT&SF website dedicated to the project