Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting ready, plus highlights of our family summer

School starts next Monday, and students will be back shortly, if not already for those in rental housing nearby. I've switched gears and am in get-ready mode. Some reminders and notes for all the SEM students:
  1. For new SEM students, seek me out as soon as possible in the semester. I'll need to talk to you about career expectations, about your internship, and about your academic plan. This is not optional. Not coming to get the correct information can cost you an extra semester or two. 
  2. All new SEM students should try to get into Physics during drop-add if you aren't already assigned to it. If you don't have moderately good (high school) algebra, you can delay this a year while you catch up (come see me to talk about this), but otherwise you should be in Physics. There are still seats in the Friday lab.
  3. For existing SEM students, the key engineering course, PS3003 Renewable Energy, will be taught in the spring of 2016. It gets taught only every second spring. There's a recommended tool kit, some of which you may be able to bring from home. If not, and if you can't afford to purchase these, don't worry. We have enough in the Physics Lab to go around. But professionals have their own tools, and the sooner you start getting at least some, the better. Buy only good quality tools. The cheap stuff doesn't hold up, and can hurt you by breaking at inopportune moments. Here's the list:
    110/220 Volt pen-style voltage detector
    12 Volt test light
    Pencil and tape measure
    Jackknife or craft knife or both (for sharpening pencil, shaving splinters, etc)
    Philips number 3 and number 2 screwdrivers
    Flat screwdriver
    Pliers (linesman’s, small)
    Wire cutter-strippers
    Multi-meter (volts, ohms, milliamps)
    Small pry bar or “cat’s paw”
    Screw-gun or battery powered drill and selection of bits
    Hand-held “laser” thermometer
    Kill-a-Watt ® meter
Finally, for those of you who'd like to know what the Womerlippis got up to this summer, here are some photos of our various activities:

We own a small farm, and one thing we did was grow a lot of food. Here little Roo is getting ready to feed waste apples to the pigs.

We took a fmaily trip to Aimee's home in southwest PA, where I met this old friend, one of the airplanes I worked on while an engineer in the RAF. This is a Jet Provost airplane, used for pilot training. I used to service and repair the propulsion systems, including overhauling the Rolls Royce engines.

I also overhauled the engine in my own Land Rover, a complete rebuild.

Here's the engine going back in after the rebuild. This kind of thing is fun for me.

We built a swing set for little Roo.

Here we are enjoying the swing set.

Later in the summer, I dragged our old VW campervan out of the woods where I'd stored it for several years, and began to restore it, pulling and stripping the engine and repairing all the rust damage with new metal. When we get done with this, it will look and run like new, and we'll use if for family camping..

Monday, July 20, 2015


This letter just released from a consortium of UK professional and scientific bodies, including the RSA (of which I'm a fellow):

(Full text.)

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that the climate is warming and that human activity is largely responsible for this change through emissions of greenhouse gases.
Governments will meet in Paris in November and December this year to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on tackling climate change. Any international policy response to climate change must be rooted in the latest scientific evidence. This indicates that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world by early in the second half of the century.
To achieve this transition, governments should demonstrate leadership by recognising the risks climate change poses, embracing appropriate policy and technological responses, and seizing the opportunities of low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.

Risks. Climate change poses risks to people and ecosystems by exacerbating existing economic, environmental, geopolitical, health and societal threats, and generating new ones. These risks increase disproportionately as the temperature increases. Many systems are already at risk from climate change. A rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels would lead to further increased risk from extreme weather and would place more ecosystems and cultures in significant danger. At or above 4°C, the risks include substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted.

Responses. Responding to the challenge will require deploying the full breadth of human talent and invention. Creative policy interventions and novel technological solutions need to be fostered and applied. This will require a sustained commitment to research, development, entrepreneurship, education, public engagement, training and skills.
Opportunities. While the threats posed by climate change are far-reaching, the ways in which we tackle them can be a source of great opportunity. There exists vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies. Capturing this potential quickly and effectively will drive economic progress. There are also significant additional benefits available from climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide.
Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge, deliver the required cuts in emissions, and take maximum advantage of the available opportunities and additional benefits.

Signatories in alphabetical order:

Academy of Medical Sciences, Academy of Social Sciences, British Academy, British Ecological Society, Challenger Society for Marine Science, Geological Society, Institution of Civil Engineers, Institute of Physics, Institution of Chemical Engineers, Institution of Environmental Sciences, Learned Society of Wales, London Mathematical Society, Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Economic Society, Royal Geographical Society, Royal Meteorological Society, Royal Society, Royal Society of Arts, Royal Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Society for General Microbiology, Wellcome Trust, Zoological Society of London

Monday, May 11, 2015

The toad abolished -- for now

College is out for the summer -- graduation was Saturday -- and the pace of activity has shifted from frenetic to manageable. The last few days were transitional, as we finished up grading and attended meetings still, but no longer had to show up for classes. This week we have two "in-service" training days. So Friday is our first official day of summer, and my calendar is free and clear of commitments from then until late August, except for one monthly meeting. This summer I have no field research, and so my primary college remaining responsibility is pen-and-ink scholarship, which, frankly is no hardship. I have a paper that needs to be revised for a different publisher, and a lot of fairly serious new books to read.

Work, or at least Philip Larkin's kind that feels like work, being essentially banished from our lives until fall, what will I do with ourselves?

Well, we'll work, of course, but it will be the kind of work that doesn't feel like work. We have five new chickens, three piglets, and six lambs to raise and sell, the older sheep and chickens to tend, some of which sheep will also have to be sold, a Land Rover that may need a clutch and certainly needs an emergency brake job, three other vehicles and a tractor and several miscellaneous items of small equipment to service and maintain, a garden to plant and grow and harvest and put up, three acres of rough pasture to keep weed free, several hundred skeins of yarn to sell, two more cords of firewood to put up, three hundred bales of hay to find, buy, truck, and store in the barn...

... and last but by no means least, a very small child to help learn to walk and talk.

Because of this new element in my life, I won't be adding much to my college blog this summer. Sometimes there are more important things. Apologies to long-time readers. We'll be back on track this fall.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vehicle Safety Report

A total of twelve students and one instructor from Physics: Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism performed standard safety checks on a total of forty-eight student vehicles Tuesday, April 28th.

Thanks to students Andrew, Thomas, Clark, Sierra, Steven, Arthur, Carolyn, Matthew, Stephenie, Jacob, Wesley, Sylvester, and Andrew for all their hard work, their superior appreciation for the finer points of vehicle safety, and their high regard for their classmates' lives and property.

Photos: Students Wesley and Sierra in action on the day

There was high demand for our services, the most ever, and we were short staffed at times, so I couldn't get photos of each student worker, as I have done in the past. Apologies for that.

Most vehicles passed inspection. Vehicles were, on the average, noticeably safer than in the past.* Several more egregious safety concerns were noted that would have almost certainly related in a holiday travel "fail" and possibly a stranding, or worse, an accident:
  • Several vehicles were significantly low on oil, up to three quarts down. When you only have one or two quarts of oil remaining in your engine, the engine will begin to overheat because that little oil can't do such a great job of cooling and lubricating. You also might want to know why your oil is so low. Most likely you are leaking it or burning it. Either way, you must now monitor your oil level more carefully or you will cause a catastrophic engine failure, called a seizure. Essentially, your pistons will stick to your cylinder walls and/or your main bearings will stick to your crankshaft. Check the oil level every time you get gas. Write down how much you add, when you added it, and the odometer reading each time you check. Check the ground under where you park for signs of a leak. Monitor your oil pressure light or pressure gauge, check engine light, and temperature gauge. Hopefully, you'll figure out how much oil you're using and find the leak if there is one, then get it fixed.
  • Many vehicles had tires that had only a millimeter or two of tread remaining. The Maine regulations require at least a millimeter all round, but this isn't enough for Maine summer driving conditions if there is heavy rain or mud on the roads, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These students were advised to get new tires, preferably before taking any long trip.
  • Although a few were five or slightly more PSI down, no tires had dangerously low tire pressure. This is a first. Maybe our efforts to educate about such things are paying off!
  • Two vehicles had scored and rusty disc rotors visible through aluminum wheels. If disc rotors are scored, they need to be replaced or turned down on a lathe. Replace pads at the same time, and do at least the rear or front brake sets together, if not all four sets. If they are rusty, your brake caliper is not working and needs to be repaired. This is a very dangerous condition on any vehicle.
  • For the second time in a row, several students did not know how to turn on their headlights manually. Automatic headlights are fine, but Maine law requires you to have the headlights on whenever the wipers are turning, so you need to know where this switch is! Consult your owner's manual. You can get copies of your manual online if you have lost or never had yours.
That concludes our biannual community vehicle safety report. If you didn't get chance to get your vehicle checked out yesterday and are worried about the drive home, stop me or one of our student volunteers and ask us about it, or take it to a shop for a check up before your drive home.

*Enter "Vehicle Safety" in the Google Blogger search engine above to previous reports. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015