52 States in 8 Months

Our car had its own mind in Monument Valley

Posted in Las Vegas to El Paso by Ulf on June 16, 2009

When we arrived in the Monument Valley, we were shocked. In front of us would be one of the most famous landscapes of the United States, and we found ourselves in a snow storm!
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We were desperate. What a mess! Our only choice was to find some restaurant, eat some burgers and hope for the best! We found a nice small restaurant in a desert village and ordered everything they had on they menu. It was really great!

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And guess what happened? The skies cleared and offered great views of the magnificent landscape we were looking for. It’s unbelievable how lucky we were with the weather!
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But we were not the only ones who enjoyed this place. In fact our car liked this place so much, it wanted to drive all alone:

Here are some more pictures of our car. Oh, do you remember this blog post?

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2009-03-26_14-38-29 Springbreak 6808 Stitch
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Actually we were in some kind of a park which is run by the Native Americans. For the entrance fee they gave us a road map with the names of all these mountains. It turned out that the road map wasn’t too much of a help: We lost track of where we were immediately after the first off-road driving. And since we didn’t really know where we were, we also couldn’t tell the names of all the mountains. With one exception: The mountain that consists of fine sticks, it’s called “The three sisters”. You’ll find it on the fifth picture in the previous block, the one in the center of the bottom row.

Here are some more pictures of the area. It’s simply astonishing!

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Near Monument Valley there was one more place that I really wanted to see: It’s the Mexican Hat. The name says everything about this rock. Well, at least about the rock itself. The name doesn’t explain why there is a rear axle of a car laying around:

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After leaving the Mexican Hat we went further north in Utah. Our next destination: The Goosenecks State Park. I can probably best describe it by showing a satellite picture (click the link!). This is how it looks like if you stand in front of it. Amazing!
2009-03-26_16-13 Stitch

Similarly amazing is the cattle that lives in this place. I really wonder how they survive (what do they drink?). The whole landscape looks really empty in the South West, but it isn’t. It’s just very sparsely populated — both with men and with animals:
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A few minutes later the road took us directly to a cliff. At first we were not sure how we would get up there (without leaving the car behind), but it turned out that they do have a road. Good for us. Andi, is this the place where you claim that my speed was about 4-8 times over the speed limit? Might well be that you’re right :-). It’s really a fun road! Unfortunately, as a driver, I didn’t have that much time to look at the great landscape :-(.

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There was of course an important reason for our driving speed: We wanted to reach our last National Park for this day, and we had to drive through a snow storm before we arrived there. Two snow storms on one day? What was up with the weather?

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(There are about 15 minutes between these to pictures!)

Our last destination was the “Natural Bridges National Monument“. We were the only visitors in that park, for a simple reason: Most of the bridges didn’t really look good at this time of day — you just don’t want to go there just before sunset. Many of our pictures look really boring, therefore I’ll only show you the pictures of the Owachomo Bridge (and two pictures of the magnificent landscape):

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Do you notice the two strangers on the bridge? How can they go there? That is not allowed!!!
Andi was really terrified that the bridge might crash under their weight, therefore he helped out as a temporary pylon:
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Oh, and if you want to know how such a bridge looks from the top, we somehow got this picture ;-).
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Publishing books online — good or bad?

Posted in Uncategorized by Ulf on June 15, 2009

A few weeks ago there was a discussion about Google Books and similar services. Many authors signed the Heidelberger Appell, stating their discontent about digitalizing their books.

You know what? I believe they’re still living in the 20. century. A few days ago I bought two chapters from the tour book “Lonely Planet USA”. That worked just fine, and Lonely Planet even distributes their PDFs without any digital copy protection nonsense (that means that I could make print-outs my two chapters).

Today I decided that I want to read “Das Klimasystem und seine Modellierung” (Storch, Güss, Heimann) again. I’ve read that book before. I either borrowed it from some library in Germany, or I’ve actually bought it. Anyway, I don’t have it with me here in Delaware, so I looked it up on Google Books. I could access the first 24 pages, afterwards I got this message:


My conclusion:
Google Books is nothing more or less than any other book store. Book stores also let you read a couple of pages before you buy a book. Oh, the difference is of course that Google doesn’t sell the books themselves, they just give the direct links to the publisher as well as a number of real book stores.

Help, Germs everywhere!

Posted in University stuff by Ulf on June 14, 2009

The swine flu is a great opportunity to frighten people about nature. The newest example can be found in our restrooms:

So, remember the proper hand washing techniques:

  1. Use hot water and soap.
  2. Scrub hands for 20 seconds.
  3. Clean under fingernails.
  4. Rinse thoroughly.
  5. Turn faucet off with paper towel.

Got it? We got a course on hand-washing at a University! I still can’t believe it. Of course nobody obeys it, especially the last point. What I believe we should tell people is that they should dry their hands with those paper towels instead of using electric hand dryers if they really want to clean them. The air flow of the hand dryer does remove the water, yes. But drying your hands with a towel is some sort of mechanical cleaning, so it will remove the water and whatever else is on top of your skin.

Just for taking a picture, I really turned off the faucet with a towel. And I even opened the door with a towel:

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The Smithsonian Institution abolished paper towels in an effort to help the environment. Since I know about that I wanted to do the following calculation:

Recently I found some numbers on carbon dioxide emissions of power plants. I ended up calculating with about 700g CO2/kWh. Most hand dryers heat up the air instead of simply accelerating it. They use about 2kW of energy for about 45 seconds which is 0.025 kWh or about 18g of CO2 emissions. This results from wasting about 5g of carbon. That should be roughly the worst case for an electric hand dryer.

According to Wikipedia tissue paper has a weight of about 20g/m2. The surface is not even and there are usually two layers, so let’s calculate with 50 g/m2. I believe that I use about 0.05 m^2 of paper towel for drying my hands, so that’s about 2.5g. Not all of that is carbon, but I still believe that with the additional CO2 expenses during production and transportation, paper towels are probably worse than electric hand dryers. Especially than those hand dryers that just use a strong air flow instead of heating it.

(However, paper towels are made from sustainable resources. That might change my mind again.)

Windy Hills without Electricity

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 13, 2009

When I came home yesterday a few days ago, things were a bit strange. I saw many people walking their dogs, the super market was really crowded and some Americans even used their porch and sat outside. I knew that something was strange, but I didn’t know what it was.

It turned out that at about 3pm the inevitable had happened: The strange American energy grid with its numerous transformers[1] and overland lines failed, at least in Windy Hills. Bob ran his own a power generator to keep a sump pump running (see first picture), and he was very upset about the lazy managers in their huge chairs at the power company: “If I would be paying my bills the way they supply us with electricity, they wouldn’t make any money at all!”

delaware_outage     newark_outage

I liked this evening. And apparently Mary and Bob could also do very well without their TV. Mary and our new room mate Laura (she’s an undergrad working in some biology lab) played a few games such as “Phase 10“. Wikipedia says that Phase 10 is the second-best selling card game of the world, behind Uno (hard to believe, considering that there are normal playing cards around). Anyway, Alvaro and I joined them, and we had a lot of fun! Bob kept watching, but refused to join us.

At some point we got a call from Delmarva Power[2]. They said that they had solved some problem and wanted us to punch 1 if we had electricity and punch 2 if we didn’t. Mary pressed 2, because we had no electricity (of course…). Calling everybody and asking them if they have power or not is an annoying way of finding the exact place of failure!

This The other morning Alvaro was quite surprised that his ice coffee was still cold, but I wasn’t so excited about that. When working our fridge cools down to about 33°F, and that isn’t yet the ice box. So we didn’t have so worry about the temperature of our refrigerator.
The water supply was also working, and we even had hot water! The boiler must have some ignition mechanism which doesn’t require electrical power. That made getting up a bit like an everyday affair.

Here in the University of Delaware everything is normal. Power is up, all computers are running and all the lights are on, even in the rooms which nobody uses since they’re under reconstruction. So everything is pretty normal. The city has its own power grid.

We finally got the electricity back after about 30h of outage. The reason apparently was a tree which cut a power line when it fell down. Why don’t the Americans just bury those power lines??

[1]They sometimes have 240V lines along the streets and transform it down to 110V individually for each household instead of directly supplying them with 240V. And since it doesn’t make much sense to set up three transformers for everyone, those poor fellows don’t have access to rotary current. They only get a single phase! I saw this in Iowa, so there are farms that just cannot use power machinery!
[2]Delmarva stands for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. It’s used as a name for what I would call the “Delaware peninsula“.

Lift it, baby!

Posted in University stuff by Ulf on June 12, 2009

Our group will eventually have to leave from the room which I’m in right now. Well, this plan exists since … dunno, a long time ago. In fact, in June 2008 Susi sent me a mail saying that they would have to move “soon”. And in December I also believed that we would be relocated, but the processes at the UDel are sometimes very slow (and we don’t really want to give up this room, so we don’t speed things up).

Now things are slowly starting. There was a granite plate in our lab, with an estimated weight between 2,000 and 5,000 pounds. Some very friendly workers build a small crane in our lab, and finally lifted this granite plate:


That was amazing! :-)

Yeah, let’s find a way to waste energy!

Posted in Newark, University stuff by Ulf on June 11, 2009

Last week the heating system in our lab was finally fixed (if anyone at the University of Delaware reads this and also has problems with the heating, simply call 1141). At this event we learned about how our heating works:

The air system supplies us air at a constant temperature of 60°F (which is 15.5°C). It’s always the same, summer and winter. In winter, this air is obviously preheated, and in summer it is a/c’d down. Then there is a steam network, probably running somewhere between 200°F and 300°F, but this is just a guess. So how does our room get warm? The incoming air (60°F) can be detoured through a heat exchanger in our room which is fed by the steam network. A thermostat controls how much air goes through the heat exchanger, and how much air directly comes to our room. It’s always interesting how people find ways of wasting energy!


In the previous years the pneumatic actuation of our thermostat was broken, leaving the valve open so that the air was constantly heated to a room temperature of 80-90°F which I can hardly stand (27-32°C). So this system doesn’t just waste energy, it’s also unreliable. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of myself sitting topless at my desk and sweating anyway.

Next week (from Sunday to Sunday) they’ll shut the campus-wide steam network off. They do this once a year to clean things. That means: No hot water in our buildings, and no re-heating of the pre-cooled air. That means that our lab will be cooled down to about 60°F for one week, and there is no way to control this temperature. Luckily I’ll be in St. Louis most of the time.

Wasting water.

Posted in Newark, Stupidities by Ulf on June 10, 2009

A few days ago I had to observe how a water tower was drained (look at the water hose that leads to the street!):
It took more than a day until the whole thing was empty. I was really feeling sad when I saw this waste of natural resources. But let’s do the math:

a) How much water is thrown away?
From Google Maps I would estimate that the water tower has a diameter of about 13m. Let’s assume it is a sphere, that would give it a capacity of 1,150m3 of water. Let’s take 1,000m3 to keep the calculations simple.
Different sources suggest that the average indoor water usage per person is about 70 gallons/day. What does that mean for our water tower? A single person would need more than 10 years to use all the water that was wasted here! Enough to supply 4,000 Americans for one day. I don’t know about the water prices here in the US. In Magdeburg it currently is at 1.81 Euro/m3. If the price in the US is similar, then about $2,500 where thrown away when this water tower was drained (assuming that the water tower was full when they started the draining).

b) How much energy is thrown away?
Looking at the picture, the structure might be about 30m high. Once again, assuming that the tower was full, then there were 1,000,000 kg of water in there. That gives 294,300,000 J of potential energy, or about 81.75 kWh. That means that with American power prices (roughly $0.12/kWh), it costs about $10 to fill the whole thing (electricity only, I’m not considering the water at this point).
It’s hard to translate that to CO2 because different power plants give different numbers. At 700g CO2/kWh it would be 57kg CO2 for filling this tank.

Edit: A few days after the water was drained I finally saw someone working on the tower. Not the right job for me!!

Internet censorship revisited

Posted in Europe by Ulf on June 9, 2009

wiefelspuetz-artikel-210Any news about Internet censorship in Germany? Indeed! The SPD proposes to use the filters not only against child porn but also against terrorism, crime and some religions. Basically, this law becomes not only an attack against privacy, but also against freedom of speech. Oh, did I say SPD? The CDU says that only child porn should be blocked at this point because they’re afraid of the public outcry. But you can read about this yourself.

Meanwhile the Arbeitskreis gegen Internetsperren und Zensur tried to find out if deleting child porn could be an option. They have interesting results — both on how fast the providers react, and on what you actually find on block lists from foreign countries.

My bike just isn’t giving up.

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 8, 2009

I told you that some piece of my bike breaks apart every week. Right now it’s the left pedal.

Actually it never fell off while driving, but the screw became loose a couple of times. If that happens you’ll notice that the pedal slowly gets wobbly, so you have plenty of time to stop or to use only the second one to pedal.

Now, fixing this screw with normal force works for less than a mile. On Saturday I tried to screw it very tightly which worked for about 40 miles. Yesterday I once again used all the force which my arms can give. Now let’s see how long it withstands…

Edit: A few days ago a friend taught me the expression “to be on the fritz”. It means “being broken”. With a lot of respect of its endurance I’ll call my bike “Fritz” from now on.

Vote, voter, votar, eleggere, 选举, geh wählen!

Posted in Europe by Ulf on June 7, 2009