I thought this was a very interesting article about a current research project that is investigating the effect of industrial flares from refineries and chemical plants on ozone levels, but one bit of it really amazed me.
Industrial flares burn off pressurized gases but also can shoot out massive amounts of noxious emissions. The Houston area has about 400 flare stacks, and they are among the largest and least- understood sources of pollution in the region, researchers said.
A recent University of North Carolina study found that formaldehyde from flares may increase Houston's ozone by as much as 30 parts per billion. In tandem with the pollution that blows into the region from elsewhere, that might be enough to keep Houston from meeting the new federal ozone limit of 75 parts per billion, scientists said.
The state's current plan for reducing Houston's smog doesn't consider formaldehyde and other precursors.
"If there is a problem with flares, it upends the entire regulatory strategy," said Harvey Jeffries, an atmospheric chemist who conducted the UNC study.
Oh, and by the way, living in the suburbs is no escape.
Twice in the past week, the Fort Bend County city has exceeded the federal limit for ozone, a critical threshold under the nation's Clean Air Act.
And the forecast calls for more heavy smog today.
"Ozone obviously isn't stopping at the Harris County line," said Barry Lefer, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Houston.
Until this smog season, which began in March, Fort Bend was the most populous county in Texas without a monitoring station to measure air pollution. At the request of County Judge Bob Hebert in January, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is responsible for fighting ozone in smog-prone places including Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, agreed to help pay for a monitor at UH's Sugar Land campus.
Some smog watchers said the early readings from the Sugar Land monitor underscore the need for more on the outskirts of the eight-county Houston region.
"These folks don't know that they could have air-quality problems," said Matthew Tejada, executive director of the clean-air advocacy group Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention.
I just want it to be known that I solved the puzzle in today's Foxtrot in about five minutes. I had to dust off some pretty long-dormant brain cells to do the integral, but I got it. The first comment at the link above has the answer, if you're still scratching your head.
As hot new servers have grabbed more attention, mainframes have been plugging away behind the scenes. For decades, they have been the technological backbone for banking, finance, insurance, defense, health care, education, government and other industries.
"The perception is we're old and gray," said Jim Porell, an engineer who works on mainframes at IBM, the only company that still makes them.
Lately, more software has been written for mainframes, and they support everything from ATMs to Web-hosting to cell phones, not exactly ancient technology.
But while mainframes are evolving to handle more applications, the number of mainframes is shrinking, said John Phelps, the lead mainframe analyst for technology research firm Gartner. IBM has lost more than 75 customers who left mainframe platforms, and it has gained about 50 new ones. Mainframes are operating more efficiently, handling more MIPS -- millions of instructions per second -- year after year.
"The actual number of mainframes has shrunk, but the capacity has gone up," he said. Better efficiency has become more important as users' sensitivity to electrical usage, both for financial and environmental reasons, has increased, he said.
This is cool.
When San Antonio researcher Kyle Murray peers into the future, he sees the land of black gold turning bright green. Algae green.
Murray, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, thinks the city is perfectly poised to become a research and production hotbed for literally one of the greenest fuels around, mined from the slippery marine life that thrives in the shallow ponds and warm, sunny weather that are hallmarks of this region.
Rather than punching holes into the ground to find petroleum, Murray envisions a shift to commercial production of native algae species and processing that harvest into biodiesel, which then would power the massive trucks that roar through San Antonio along the NAFTA corridor from Mexico.
Most species of algae are very efficient at producing oil. Unlike corn or other feedstocks for biofuel, algae can be grown year-round in warm climates, and an abundant crop can be produced on a relatively small amount of land, Murray noted.
"I think the potential is huge for San Antonio to get into this, and everybody would benefit," Murray said. "Biofuel is something we should be studying in San Antonio."
It's a kitchen degreaser. It's a window cleaner. It kills athlete's foot. Oh, and you can drink it.
Sounds like the old "Saturday Night Live" gag for Shimmer, the faux floor polish plugged by Gilda Radner. But the elixir is real. It has been approved by U.S. regulators. And it's starting to replace the toxic chemicals Americans use at home and on the job.
The stuff is a simple mixture of table salt and tap water whose ions have been scrambled with an electric current. Researchers have dubbed it electrolyzed water -- hardly as catchy as Mr. Clean. But at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, some hotel workers are calling it el liquido milagroso -- the miracle liquid.
That's as good a name as any for a substance that scientists say is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores without harming people or the environment.
It's not quite boldly going, but it's still pretty darned cool.
The universe may be filled with Earth-like planets -- worlds where extraterrestrials might flourish.
But these planets were once considered too small to spot, even with the latest in space technology.
Now, many astronomers believe NASA's $600 million Kepler telescope, which is scheduled to shoot into space this week, will help to clear up the mystery.
Named for Johannes Kepler, a 17th-century German astronomer who studied planetary motion, the telescope is designed to search 100,000 stars in the Milky Way for Earth-sized rocky planets where water could flow and form streams, lakes and oceans.
Some astronomers believe the spacecraft could eventually find about 50 Earth-like planets.
"If we find that many, it will certainly mean life may well be common throughout our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center, the astronomer who leads the Kepler science team.
"On the other hand, if we don't find any, that is still a profound discovery," he said. "It will mean that Earth must be very rare. We may be the only life in our universe.
"It will mean there will be no Star Trek."
Looks like Gil Grissom got out at just the right time.
Crime labs nationwide must be overhauled to prevent the types of mistakes that put innocent people in prison and leave criminals out on the street, researchers have concluded.
A 255-page report from the National Academy of Sciences is urging creation of national standards of training, certification and expertise for forensic criminal work, much of which is currently done on a city or state level.
The report's authors say the lack of consistent standards raises the possibility that the quality of forensic evidence presented in court can vary unpredictably.
In particular, the report's authors point out that, with the lone exception of DNA evidence, similar analysis of bite marks, tool marks, or hair samples, cannot provide a conclusive "match" in the common understanding of the term.
Such evidence can show similarities between a suspect and evidence left at a crime scene, but does not provide absolute certainty.
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of The Innocence Project which helps free wrongly convicted prisoners, said the findings marked nothing less than a "seismic shift" in criminal forensic science.
"It's going to take a national undertaking, a massive national overhaul, to make our forensic science community sufficiently robust," argued Neufeld.
Peter Marone, the director of Virginia's forensic lab, acknowledged "there are some issues that need to be addressed" within the profession, but said by and large the report's recommendations echo what he and other experts have been saying for years.
"We need better education, we need better standardization, and we do need accredited universities," he said.
The NAS report recommends Congress create and fund a new, national institute of forensic science to help establish consistent standard for forensic science, certification of experts, and development of new technology. It also recommends that forensic science work be moved out of the offices of law enforcement agencies to foster more unbiased analysis.
From the "You kids don't know what it was like!" files:
Studying on your laptop is so 2007. A group of biology students at Houston Community College's southeast campus just turns on iPhones.
"Instead of bringing your book to class, you bring your phone," said Lisa Jackson, one of 15 students enrolled in Anatomy and Physiology II as part of a pilot project to deliver course work on Apple's trendy smart phones.
Lifang Tien, a biology professor, and Roger Boston, who teaches computer science and business technology, received $100,196 from a fund created by HCC Chancellor Mary Spangler to encourage innovation, then used the money to buy phones and pay the monthly bills. Students have to give the phones back at the end of the semester.
In return, Tien and Boston are studying whether delivering instruction on a phone that can connect to the Internet anytime and anywhere makes a difference in how students learn.
Tien's students like the convenience. Tiffany DeBurr Brewer has studied in her car while her three kids raced noisily around the house.
"I can study in my spare time," she said. "I don't have to lug a laptop around. It makes my life easier."
There's the cool factor, too, giving students one of the hottest gadgets.
"Our kids, they are so into this," Tien said.
Engineers have long lived by a simple, seemingly obvious rule when designing new computers: The machines have to deliver correct answers.
If asked to compute two plus two, a computer should answer four. But what if computers didn't always have to answer correctly?
Nearly a decade age, a Houston computer scientist posed this heretical question. Today, it's led to a movement dubbed "probabilistic computing," which he believes will revolutionize the future of computing.
On Sunday, Krishna Palem, speaking at a computer science meeting in San Francisco, will announce results of the first real-world test of his probabilistic computer chip: The chip, which thrives on random errors, ran seven times faster than today's best technology while using just 1/30th the electricity.
Just think: One need never again worry about draining an iPhone battery in a day or even a week.
"The results were far greater than we expected," said Palem, a Rice University professor who envisions his chips migrating to mobile devices in less than a decade.
Evolution in action
Chron coverage of yesterday's SBOE actions
Update on yesterday's evolution happenings
Evolution remains legal in Texas
Study claims smoking ban leads to fewer heart attack deaths
More on e-waste recycling
Shift? What shift?
Mammoth DNA update
Let scientists be scientists
New Mersenne prime found
Olivia meets Leonardo
The dinosaur mummy rescheduled
The dinosaur mummy
Has anyone seen my cloak of invisibility?
Send a text to 9-1-1
RIP, Michael DeBakey
Bob Curl to retire at Rice
Good news: We're not doomed!
A different model for delivering WiFi
SBOE to review science curriculum
New math, Russian-style
A new front in the war on mosquitoes
The top ten science hoaxes
Plug pulled on Philly wi-fi
Put that BlackBerry down!
Geothermal and solar
No creationism degree
Technology Growth: Are We Preparing Today's Students?
That's a lot of carbon
"It's the end of the world." "Again!?!"
The cancer research panel
Our broken math curriculum
Death of the Internet predicted: Film at 11
Screwing up email the White House way
San Marcos balks at municipal WiFi
That's really dark
The big tech stories of 2007
Gulf "Dead Zone" grows with corn prices
Setting the record straight on stem cells
Houston WiFi, the next stage
Philly Wi-Fi network hits a snag
Why were you printing them in the first place?
Fall back report
The Daylight Savings Time shuffle
The phantom vibration menace
How to avoid computer viruses in one easy lesson
When A Meter Is A Natural Disaster
NASA's Urban Legend Problem
EarthLink pays for delay in citywide wi-fi
Some intelligence on "intelligent design"
Does EarthLink want out?
Corpus Christi citywide WiFi rollout completed
Another report on voting machine problems
Maybe not so Comcastic for some
Have you been Comcasted yet?
Don't wear your iPod in a thunderstorm
I do not have an iPhone
Philly's WiFi experience so far
Mammoth extinction: Not our fault
Offshore wind farms are a no go
Comcast: We hope we don't suck
How to speak to global warming skeptics
Another Corpus Christi WiFi update
Earthlink passes test in Philadelphia
Ten years of camera phones
A pocketful of Kryptonite
The day without BlackBerry
The good, the bad, and the annoying
Not the sort of headline I like to wake up to
Why you can't use your cellphone on an airplane
What the city hopes to do with its WiFi
The 50 best tech products of all time
What if the dinosaurs had survived?
King versus Kenedy over wind farms
Wind energy followup, and geothermal leases
You may or may not already be late
Email from beyond the grave
EarthLink to do San Francisco's WiFi