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Nashua;84.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/skc.png;2015-08-02 18:23:45

A 1966 VW camper powered by solar panels alone

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Courtesy photo by Daniel Theobald, who owns this wondrous vehicle

The CTO of Vecna, a Cambridge, Mass. robot and medical-technology firm (which we in Nashua know because it recently bought the robot company VGo) bought a 1967 VW Camper, swapped out the engine for an electric motor, and put a massive solar panel on the roof that he says provides all the power it needs.

Here's a Boston Magazine article about it, which is light on details. I can't find anything that gives any specifications. I am surprised that a solar panel, even one as big as this one, could provide enough consistent electricity to make a useful vehicle.

Good news: Our acid rain is getting less acidic & so are our ponds and lakes

Our acid rain is getting less acidic, and lakes and ponds are slowly getting their pH back to natural levels, reports the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

You can read the report here in PDF form, or check out the press release:

Over 1,500 precipitation events have been monitored since the program’s initiation in 1972. An analysis of these data document that the pH of precipitation has significantly increased (become less acidic) while sulfate and nitrate concentrations, both acidifying compounds, have significantly decreased.

These findings correspond with reductions in atmospheric emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides over the same time period. “We are seeing, on a local and national level, the very positive long term benefits of the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and our own state laws to reduce sulfate and nitrate precursors emitted into the air.

"Since 1994, our in-state emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxides from our industrial sources have decreased by 95% and 88%, respectively” said Tom Burack, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

National estimates indicate similar reductions in atmospheric emissions of the compounds known to result in acid rain. Results of annual water samples from the state’s lakes and ponds collected since the early 1980’s indicate that sulfate and nitrate concentrations significantly decreased in most all waterbodies, and pH and ANC have either improved (become less acidic) or remained stable.

These conclusions are based on analysis of nearly 2,000 water samples. These results are consistent with research funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation that also reported significant declines in sulfate and nitrate concentrations in the Northeast, with moderate improvements or stable pH and ANC levels.

Although the NHDES results are encouraging, recovery is occurring at a slow pace. Continued monitoring will allow NHDES to document additional water quality improvements and recovery in future years, while preserving the robustness of these long-term data sets.

UK study: Turning off streetlights doesn't raise crime or cause accidents

A study by British researchers of hundreds of cities and towns that have turned off or reduced streetlights - usually to save electricity costs - found no related increase in crime or vehicle accidents. Here's the studyt and here's an amusing article about it from Astronomy magazine, which you could put in the anti-streetlight camp.

There was no evidence that any street lighting adaptation strategy was associated with a change in collisions at night. ... Overall, there was no evidence for an association between the aggregate count of crime and switch off

I mostly hate streetlights as a form of useless light pollution that doesn't do what we think it does, although at the occasional intersection I like them while driving. Society's default assumption has long been "more light at night is better" so battling them is tough. (Exhibit A: A scoffing Telegraph editorial when the state DOT wanted to turn off 3,000 unnecessary streetlights)

This study will, I imagine, convince few of the keep-them-on crowd, but you never know.

Spotted via good old Slashdot.

Ground-penetrating radar rig gives potholes the hairy eyeball

A team at the University of Vermont is testing the use of a portable ground-penetrating radar rig as a way to study potholes before repair crews arrive, reports the Burlington Free-Press.

Field-testing the radar in concert with Agency of Transportation has its advantages. A below-road-grade survey in advance of a reconstruction project is a data gold mine.

"In those cases they're coming back a couple of weeks later and digging stuff up," Huston said; "we compare it to our data. It's what we call 'ground-truthing.'"

It's a pretty good story, with one excellent quote: "The electronics could fit into a cigar box although no one knows what a cigar box anymore," he said.

There might be more security cameras in the woods than on the streets

There is a potent response to anybody who argues that cougars live in New Hampshire woods: Where are the pictures? Because these days, the woods are full of cameras.

Seven Days, the Vermont alt-weekly, has a piece about the subject that was prodded by that manhunt for prison escapees. It talks about these remotely accessible cameras - they can automatically email pictures to your phone - being used to spot burglars, smugglers, errant ATV users (my local conservation commission has them at some vandal-targeted trailheads) ... and, of course, animals.

Vermonters frequently send game-camera photos to Fish & Wildlife. Many of the images are purported to be catamounts — the infamous big cat species whose renewed presence in Vermont has not been officially confirmed, despite some ardent believers. Most of those animals turn out to be bobcats.

Chadwick said he knows people in Vermont who deploy 25 game cameras on their property. He has four.

Another selling point: Many people have turned the cameras into security devices, he said. Not only are they cheaper than security systems, but "they're portable. You can put them in the woods one day, and if you want to put it in your front yard the next day, you're ready to go."

Big Brother is here. Big Brother is us.

Granite Geek on the radio: Open-source hardware

I've gotten a week off in my newspaper-vs-radio schedule, so this week's discussion with NH Public Radio concerned last week's column about The Open Compute Project, in which Fidelity Investment and other firms band together to develop standards for things like switches, servers, data storage - even cables and server racks.

You can listen to it right here, and admire my mellifluous tones. Or you can read the column. In fact, you can do both simultaneously!

SolarCity targets solar power for small businesses

It seems like solar power for small businesses - convenience stores, car washes, pet stores, restaurants, barbershops etc. - would make more sense than solar power for homes. The businesses use more electricity, so they'll benefit more from the downstream cost savings, and they often have access to loans or lines of credit.

But that's not the case, apparently, juding from the to-do over SolarCity's announcement that it is targeting small businesses for solar power because the market is ripe for plucking, as reported in the LA Times.

The trouble is that it generally has cost too much to develop and install a solar array on the roofs of small businesses. The solar companies had to spend time customizing the system, which created design costs and legal fees. And with installation of the panels farmed out to subcontractors, the deal never made economic sense.

"It's the same work to get a 1,000-kilowatt system as a 50-kilowatt system," Rive said. "The work proportional to the profit doesn't make sense."

SolarCity expects to keep costs down by using the company's own installers and employing a simple panel design that has reduced installation to as little as two days from two to three weeks. SolarCity also will tap Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs, which attach the solar lease agreement to the property where the panels are installed and allow repayment of upfront costs over 20 years as part of the property tax bill.

SolarCity entered New Hampshire this year, so perhaps we'll see some of this locally.

Podcast movie, including "Radiolab" (woo-hoo!), at local theaters Tuesday

The Cinemagic movie theater in Londonderry is among hundreds around the country that on Tuesday will show Cast Party, "a stage show simulcast to cinemas, celebrating the emergence of podcasting as a powerhouse medium with millions of obsessed fans. Like, the Lollapalooza of podcasts."

The stars of this show will be the two guys who do the podcast Radiolab, whose names I can't spell. I love Radiolab, which is pretty much what this blog would be if it could be a well-produced podcast. But I must admit the idea of watching a movie about podcasting seems a little unexciting. Still, who am I to say?

The show starts at 8 p.m. on July 28. Find out more here.

A $250 million operation breeding mice for labs is a surprising Maine institution

Last week I spent three days at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, one of the world's best-known breeders of speciality lab mice for research. Aside from a chance to spend three days alongside Acadia National Park on somebody else's dime (the lab had a few grants for "press week" folks), I sat in on a half-dozen classes about modern genomics and the use of mouse models to tackle diseases from aging and schitophrenia to more cancers than you can shake a pipette at.

As a guy who abandoned plans for a biology degree halfway through freshman year, I was often over my head, but I also learned a lot about RNA, epigenetics, protein expression - and I will finally be able to remember what "phenotype" means.

I was going to talk about this in my column today, but I figured that alot of people don't even know that Jackson Labs exists, so I ended up writing a laymen's primer on how it came to ship out some 3 million specially bred (not GMO) mice to labs around the world, becoming the biggest employer in the county and a $250 million-a-year operation. It's also a big and growing presence in genetic-medicine research, with 50 researchers based in Maine and 35 more at a new facility in Connecticut.

Here's the column if you want to know more. To whet your appetite, it includes a sperm joke.

Eversource gets prize for fast solar hookups - in Conn., though, not NH

Eversource connected solar installations in as little as five days, taking top spot in a recent study of utilities around the country. But we can't really celebrate here since the study only measured the Connecticut branch (formerly Connecticut Power & Light, which is a much better name than Eversource), not the New Hampshire branch (formerly PSNH).

National Grid in Massachusetts also did quite well.

The study notes that there can be good reasons for delaying the step of hooking up solar projects to the grid, such as ensuring grid stability in areas where there's a lot of solar (like Hawaii), but that usually delays are the result of paperwork, inertia, or something more nefarious.

Here's a FierceEnergy story about it, and here's the whole study.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.

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Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: We take the summer off. Back in the fall.

TOPIC: TBA

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).

PAST TOPICS:

2015:

June: Probiotics and "gut health". May: Trains. April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? March: How roads are designed. February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.

2014:

November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

2013:
November:
Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

2012:
November:
"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

2011:
Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"

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Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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