Elizabeth Fink has been using the new composting toilets near the Wissahickon Environmental Center (formerly Andorra Tree House) at the northwestern edge of Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. It never smells, she says and there's Purell for hand sanitizing. She thinks it's a big improvement over the old "Johnn(ies) on the Spot". She's careful that her cell phone is in a zipped pocket, however, lest it inadvertently fall into the pit! She and a companion had been taking a walk in the woods and recommended I check out the toads mating in the pond above the tree house. Watch video here.
Your correspondent took his wife’s car to Dr. Ralph’s Automotive Services Center in Roxborough after she discovered one morning that it had been bashed overnight. While a technician was dusting off the last traces of the repair job, body shop manager John Klimowicz began explaining the business. While high strength steel is still used in car construction, thermoset plastics are becoming more common. To point out the strength of the repair work, Klimowicz relates that the same epoxies used to weld airplane panels are employed for car panel bonding repairs. If repaired properly, according to manufacturer specifications, “you can hit it with a sledge hammer and it will not break.” As to a future when driverless cars are expected to reduce collisions? “That remains to be seen.” In the meantime, Klimowicz believes there is plenty of work for Dr. Ralph’s and for the other nine or so car repair shops tightly spaced alongside this industrial stretch of Umbria Avenue. Watch video interview here.
A father and son "mine" bitcoins and litecoins 24/7 in their unfinished Chestnut Hill basement.
These "coins," son explains, are virtual currencies not under the control of any government. As such, the world of digital money has attracted illegal activity such as the Silk Road online black market that the U.S. government has shut down for dealings in drugs.
Rocky relates that bitcoins are convertible to dollars and that when China recently clamped down on their use, the price crashed from upwards of $1200 per bitcoin to $700.
These exchanges depend upon an army of computer geeks called miners (like the duo) to verify transactions through the use of computers installed with software that solves complex mathematical formulas. As explained in an Internet video, miners may work together in "pools".
The son enjoys both the technical challenge of configuring and adding hardware and the money-making aspect of mining. A friend of theirs, he says, has earned $100,000 with a shed full of equipment. For now, the duo are transitioning from bitcoin to litecoin which uses the same peer-to-peer network protocols as bitcoin but can be mined using consumer level graphics cards. They currently earn about $16 a day from running their set-up around the clock out of which $2.50 a day covers additional electricity charges.
Dad is not new to home industry; he also keeps bees.
The Lego Company has been fantastically successful. In each of the last 5 years sales have risen 24% and profits, 40%. But it was not always so. For most of its 80-year existence, its reach did not extend so far beyond Billun, Denmark, where Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter unable to secure enough wood to build furniture during the 1930s depression, began experimenting building wooden toys.
The company under Christiansen’s progeny soared in the last couple decades but tie-in products to the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies nearly doomed the company in 2003; sales of those products crashed when the movie franchises hadn’t yet come out with new films.
This, according to Wharton Professor Dave Robertson and former LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland's Institute for Management. Robertson, a Chestnut Hill resident, discussed his new book, “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry” at the William Jeannes Library in Lafayette Hill this past Thursday evening.
He began his slide talk by distributing baggies, each packed with the identical same six logo pieces, and instructed the audience to “Build a duck” and gave us only a minute or two. Participants then brought their “ducks” up to the front table. At the end of the talk, Robertson pointed to the wide variation of these Lego “ducks” as evidence that incredible creativity is possible even when severe constraints are imposed, a major thesis of his book.
He credits Lego Company’s resurgence to its imposition of key constraints: drastically reducing the number of parts (about 14000 different ones at peak) that had made the manufacturing process unwieldy, getting back to products that are more “Lego-y” and subjecting product proposals to the approval a committee of 3 seasoned Lego designers. And, ultimately, insisting that projected profitability be a constant constraint.
What Lego pioneered was not just a toy, Robertson maintains, but a system of play. And that system “is about the brick.”
Moviegoers attending the Chestnut Hill Film Group’s inaugural screening of the season this Tuesday evening were delighted by the artful musical accompaniment of veteran keyboardist Don Kinnear. Kinnear improvised as he watched, for the first time, two silent short films chosen by Jay Schwartz (founder of the Secret Cinema) and employed the operatic style of playing and interweaving themes assigned to different characters for the silent main feature he had seen before, W.C. Fields’ 1926 “It’s the Old Army Game.” With his electronic keyboard and a laptop loaded with a digital version of the Wurlitzer organ of the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois he reproduced the music, sounds and special effects (“toy counter”) the original audiences in the 1920s may have experienced. Watch video interview here.
We arrived at the Museum of Math one hour before closing on a Saturday in late summer and zipped through it. The exhibits deserved more than the limited time we gave them and these videos, summarized below, will help us understand what we experienced with the intriguing interactive demonstrations. GO MO MATH!
SHAPES OF CONSTANT WIDTH You sit on a boat-shaped platform above a field of irregularly shaped objects and yet glide rather smoothly over them because these objects, such as the Meissner tetrahedron, all have the same constant diameter whichever way they roll.
SQUARE WHEELS, CATENARY CURVES You ride a tricycle with square wheels without any problem. This is because the surface you are riding on is catenary curved (hyperbolic cosine). And, for any shaped wheel, there is a corresponding road that will facilitate locomotion.
A SPECIAL SQUARE When you and others step upon this large lit-from-below square, the square divides into as many differently colored geometric areas as there are people and each point within any one’s area is closer to that person than to any one else.
THE HUMAN FRACTAL TREE On a projection screen, a copy of your body is copied where your arms are and on those projections, your body is again copied where your arms are and so on, forming a fractal pattern of you as a tree.
SOLIDS OF REVOLUTION SLICED TWISTED, REATTACHED AND ROLLED Solids of revolution are cut along the axis of symmetry and then twisted and reattached to form an asymmetric object which then describes a distinct path when it rolls and it’s your job to match up each object with the trail it makes.
Scenes from the video featuring Wen-Young and his son Manny of Plymouth Meeting, PA.
“That’s what we’re looking for- the waypoints”
“It’ll say the gecoache is that way but the trail goes this way or this way.”“We won’t send you through the woods bushwhacking”
Destination- “Soggy Bottom” at the troll bridge
Garmin device accidentally restarts
Device now says ready to navigate
On the trail to the cache
“It must be around here”
What’s inside the cache which is a canteen?
Is it a toy toilet or a stamp out of ink?
No, it’s a star punch to punch our paper to prove we found it.
Another group arrives at Soggy Bottom
Excitement back at campfire
“How was your first geocache experience?”
“Sweet. Marshmallow- sweet, get it?”
Found 6 caches!
Credits the gps device and the help of friends.
The story goes that in 1853, a restaurant patron at a New York resort who complained of a soggy french fry gave rise to the invention of the potato chip. Tori Messaros, a college biology major on summer break, gives five hour long tours a day of the Herr’s Snack Factory in Nottingham, Pennsylvania near the Maryland border. And she is just one of many guides- tours start every 20 minutes 9 to 4 daily except Friday. For Messaros, it’s a family affair: her mother runs the tour center. Large glass windows in corridors above the production floor offer real time views of the different production stages. Our tour started with tortilla chips and then moved on to potato chips. Except for a handful of workers in the box packing area, the factory rooms otherwise appeared eerily empty with only one or two workers making the rounds or attending to a machine. The machines operate around the clock with three shifts of workers a day. Leftover corn kernel and potato peels get recycled to the Herr’s farm and potato starch from the slicing process gets sold. The time it takes a potato to enter the chute, get washed, peeled, sliced, rewashed, fried, seasoned and packaged, takes six minutes, Messaros says. But it took only a couple of minutes for our group to devour just off-the-line hot chips and pick up two small complementary bags of chips before being dropped off in- where else -the factory gift shop!
PECO is replacing the existing electric meters in the neighborhood with new remote controlled smart meters using Radio Frequency (RF) transmission. Installer Peter Paige stopped by one morning, as scheduled, to make the 15 to 20 minute switch-out.
This is the process: Wearing fire resistant clothing, Paige first dons personal protective equipment: a hood, helmet and goggles to guard against a flash which might occur should he touch a live spot inside the box. He credits the protective gear with saving him on more than one occasion!
Paige then records the old meter number and reading and the new meter number and reading on a multifunctional, handheld electronic device. Then pulling off the old meter, the lights in our utility room and house go out. With a helmet-mounted lamp lighting the box, he tests the voltage. Trilling sounds indicate it’s OK. He snaps in the new meter and attaches a seal; its thin gauge wire can be cut but if it is discovered so, will indicate tampering.
With the handheld, Paige then takes photos of the old meter. Melting, burning or char on the plastic back of the old meter will indicate an electrical problem that a special PECO team will follow up on. And lastly he beams a red light at the meter to activate it. And it’s on to the next job. Paige says his appointment team can do up to 15 or 20 or more on a good day.
The smart meter allows PECO to turn it off in case of either emergency or delinquency. The new meter also has a sensor that detects overheating, surges or other improper conditions, can signal PECO and can shut itself down. Soon, a website will be available for customers to monitor and analyze their electric usage and achieve savings.
A “New Metering Technology” handout Paige provides explains that the new meters are being installed in accordance with the requirements of Pennsylvania Act 129 of 2008. In addition to the quick detection and correction of problems, the new technology is expected to provide the basis for new products and services. The handout also addresses consumer concerns about the level of Radio Frequency (RF) emitted by the meter and potential concerns about the privacy and security of the information captured.
While taking a leisurely, easy bike ride along the relatively flat Forbidden Drive, my daughter and I were amazed to see a young man atop a unicycle on the opposite shore of the Wissahickon Creek, tooling up and down a hilly, narrow trail. High-schooler Peter Hildebrandt took up mountain unicycling after a knee injury ended his running career. With his high end, fat-tired, disc-brake equipped mountain unicycle, he meets regularly in the Wissahickon with other unicyle friends and enthusiasts and is preparing to compete in the 2013 North American Unicycling Convention and Championship to be held in Butler, Pennsylvania this coming July. Watch video here.