Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Gasoline Prices Should Stay Stable

A study at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy showed that local Houston consumption of gasoline doubled during the recent evacuation increasing nationwide consumption by ten percent.
Locally the volumes went from a normal 22 million gallons per day to 45 million gallons per day.
Nationally they conclude that the increase "resulted in the U.S. effectively having two Labor Days this year in terms of heavy-driving periods."

Although the demand spike was huge, the prices of gasoline should stay around the current $2.80 per gallon level.

Their price analysis is based on a historical comaparison of crude oil prices and resulting price of refined fuel.

The results of the study show that the current price is appropriate for oil prices in the $75 per barrel range.
For gas prices to get to $4.00 per gallon, the price of crude would have to be $120 per barrel.
That is, of course, as long as the historical relationship continues to hold true.

Gas Prices

Rice University Press Release

Full size graph and data

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Airport Screening Unlikely To Prevent Spread Of SARS Or Influenza

I guess more than electronic sniffers would be needed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases worldwide.
In a recent study published in British Medical Journal the investigators found that the incubation period for diseases would allow infected people through airport screening system anyway.

Here more info from Science Daily...

Airport Screening Unlikely To Prevent Spread Of SARS Or Influenza

Screening passengers as they arrive at UK airports is unlikely to prevent the importation of either SARS or influenza, finds a study published online by the British Medical Journal.

In the event of a new SARS or influenza epidemic, air travel would represent the principal route of international spread. Although airport entry screening has been advocated, its benefit is currently unknown.

Using the incubation periods for influenza and SARS, researchers at the Health Protection Agency estimated the proportion of passengers with latent infection who would develop symptoms during any flight to the UK.

For SARS, they found that the incubation period was too long to allow more than a small proportion of infected individuals to develop symptoms during a flight to the UK (0-3% for European flights and a maximum of 21% for the longest flights from East Asia).

Although influenza has a much shorter incubation period than SARS, the average predicted proportion of people infected with influenza and progressing during any flight was still less than 10%.

Early screening is unlikely to be effective in preventing the importation of either SARS or influenza, they conclude.

Airport Screening Unlikely To Prevent Spread Of SARS Or Influenza

E-nose to sniff out hospital superbugs

A sensor to sniff out infections before they spread. The unit is still too expensive for widespread use but probably not for long.
With the growing threat of worldwide pandemic the units would probably become required.
Not only for hospitals but also for schools, airports, shopping centers...

E-nose to sniff out hospital superbugs
From New Scientist Print Edition
Paul Marks

AN ELECTRONIC nose that sniffs out infections could help hospitals tackle outbreaks of the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA.

Culture tests routinely used to identify MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) take two or three days to complete.

...but now UK-based researchers have come up with a test using an electronic sniffer that could cut the time further, to just 15 minutes. Writing in the journal Sensors and Actuators B (vol 109, p 355), engineers at the University of Warwick and doctors at the Heart of England Hospital, Birmingham, say the electronic nose can recognise the unique cocktail of volatile organic compounds that S. aureus strains excrete.

E-noses analyse gas samples by passing the gas over an array of electrodes coated with different conducting polymers. Each electrode reacts to particular substances by changing its electrical resistance in a characteristic way.

Each e-nose is about the size of a pair of desktop PCs and costs about �60,000. The food industry uses similar machines to root out rotten ingredients.

New Scientist

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rita Final Chapter

After an hour or so of trying to get into the house through non-destructive means, I gave up and decided to break a window in the door. This, by the way, is not as easy as it looks on tv. I had to find a hammer to get the glass to give way. If you recall, I had left a flashlight outside before I left. It really came in handy. My neighborhood is really dark with no streetlights and no houses lit.

When I finally got inside, I was hot and sweaty. Inside the house was a very uncomfortable 95 degrees. I opened windows and doors but the air did not stir. Finally I set up a chaise lounge outside on the porch and tried to get some sleep.
I dozed off but woke up later from a spotlight shining on me. A police car on the street had stopped and was lighting me. I waved to them and they slowly drove away, scanning the light along the way. Thanks for the wake up, jerks. I slept some more.

I was disturbed again from a man and woman in a very loud argument nearby. I learned that she didn't have to flirt with every guy in the place... he should have paid a little more attention to her...he could get a better job. For some reason I thought of A Streetcar Named Desire. Sad folks in New Orleans. At least I have a house to return home to.
I noticed that I was soaking wet. The dew had settled on everything. My clothes, my pillow and my uncomfortable bed were drenched. I decided to move inside. It was still 90 degrees inside. I laid on my bed but did not sleep much. When the sun came up it felt like it was beginning to cool off.

This morning I went out for air conditioning and my power came on around noon. There was a Houston Chronicle in my driveway when I went out this morning. The garbage truck drove by on its regular route a few minutes ago. I now have electricity. All is well.

Rita Recovery Hot Night

I drove around looking for some place with air conditioning and food. I went toward San Leon, adjacent to Bacliff on the bay. There were firemen at a roadblock stopping traffic. I thought they were restricting traffic to residents only but I went ahead anyway. I stopped and rolled down the window.
"Do you live in San Leon?"
"No, Bacliff."
"Okay. You can go?"
"Why are you stopping people?" I was a little confused.
"The water is contaminated. Don't drink the water."

Okay. I was continued on to go to a restaurant nearby. When I got there the parking lot was full but I thought about the tainted water and decided to go elsewhere.

I ended up at Katie's, a local pub just a few blocks from my house.

There were at least twenty people in Katie's. Most were there to escape the heat. Everyone sitting around the bar had pretty much the same story: thirty hours to Dallas, twenty six hours to San Antonio, eighteen hours to Conroe. A few people had been in the car for so long that they never stayed anywhere, just turned around and came home.
Some people were indignant, others just glad it was over. We tried to figure out ways to evacuate without traffic jams but didn't come up with much. Most of the proposed solutions degraded to getting rid of all politicians and keeping idiots off the road. Maybe lynching an oil company executive or two would help.

After chicken nuggets and a few beers I decided to check if the power was on at my house yet.

No power. Inside the house was 98 degrees, 90 percent humidity. I sat and steamed for a few minutes wondering what to do next. I took a cold shower but I was wet with sweat before I got dressed again. I might as well go back to Katie's.

I decided to walk to the bar. I emptied my pockets of extra stuff that had accumulated. At the last minute I decided to leave my keys behind and leave the door unlocked. A decision that would have unexpected consequences. A good choice I made was to leave a flashlight ob the porch outside the house.

Katie’s was more lively than when I left. I was greeted warmly when I sat down at the bar because there were at least four other people who had done the same as I: went home showered, changed clothes and came back for the cool conditioned air.
There was music starting. Katie had posted "Hurricane Jam Tonight" on the marquis outside. Local people were coming in to show off with guitars. People enjoyed the music - mostly blues and I-know-that-song songs.

There was lots of friendly conversation and meeting of neighbors. Two different people offered to let me stay at their energized house for the night in cool air. I declined - how bad could it be? Someone had the latest news on everything - San Leon water, burglary at Noahs bar, when will the power be back on... I finally walked home around midnight.

The power was on up until a block before my house. You could see the dividing line between the lit houses and the dark lifeless blocks ahead. It was very dark at my house. As I walked in my driveway, my neighbor came running out toward me...
"Hey! Bill!"
"Uh - Bob"
"No Pat! I live next door."
"No, I'm Bob"
"Oh, I thought you were Bill."
"Anyway," he continues almost breathless, "There were cops all over your house! There were two cars and a sheriff in a pickup! We could see the flashlights. they were going through all the rooms of your house!"
"What? My house? Tonight? Wait a minute! What?"
I had a hard time figuring out the story.
As we were talking a cop car drove by on the cross street. They were sweeping a spotlight around so I waved my arms to catch them. They went around the block then pulled up and rolled down their window. My neighbors were in their truck driving off down the road.

I guess I seemed a little excited when I started quizzing the young police officer. He looked like he was scared of me. After eight hours or so in a bar, I may have appeared a little intoxicated.

I got alot of "yes, sir," "No, sir," "I understand, sir,"
He said someone saw an open door so they went to check if the house was being burglarized. Everything was okay so the secured the premises. There are many patrols in the area. Please call them if you have any more problems.
"Was the door open? or unlocked or what? Was something going on at the house?"
"I do not know , sir. I was not the first officer on the scene."
"Scene? What scene? This is no scene, its my house!"
"Yes, sir. I understand, sir. Just trying to help, sir."

they drove off. I went to go into my house. Guess what - they had secured the premises. They had locked the door. My keys were inside.

Oh Sweet Cool Air!

Electricity has returned to my house. The lack of which made yesterday and last night seem very, very long.
I feel safe now. Life is very quickly returning to normal. Here is a rundown of yesterday's adventures...

The day started smoothly enough. I left Houston around nine oclock in the morning. Traffic was very light - about normal for early Sunday morning.
Afew gas stations were open with moderate lines of five or six cars per pump. I went past an open Walmart. The parking lot was completely full. Christmas shopping full.
I drove down the main street in Bacliff. All was very quiet. Comvenience atores were open and selling gas.
I was hopeful that my power was on. A scrolling sign at a real estate agency flashed, "Buyers Waiting" "Need Sellers" "98 F" As if to emphasize the temperature it flashes again "98 F" Thanks for the reminder.

There was not much damage in my neighborhood. Branches and leaves are down all over the streets but not many big trees.
I went past the boat launch into Galveston Bay. The water was calm and flat as ice. The air was thick, hazy and motionless. I hope you get the picture that it was a stifling day aleady at 10 in the morning.

I was glad to be home but it was disenchanting to find no power. When I first went into the house it was not too bad. It was shaded and only 85 degrees.
Robert was very happy to be home. I uncaged him inside, he sniffed around then went out into the yard. As I was carrying stuff into the house I saw him galloping across the back yard like a horse. He Looked like a kitten again hopping around in the grass.

I talked to a neighbor. He and his girlfriend stayed through he storm. It was not by choice, he told me. They wanted to leave but he had no gas. He is an odd-job carpenter. He had just gotten paid but couldn't find anywhere to cash the check so he could not afford to buy gas. He said he still did not have any cash. I told him I understand what he is going through because I needed to find an ATM myself. Maybe a small lie, but I wanted to end the discussion quickly. He still owes me twenty dollars from a month ago. I think it was the same story last time except his girlfriend was late for work.
Anyway, he continued, he felt like he should stay to protect the house from looters. Had he heard of any looting in the neighborhood? "No, but with the power off..."

By this time the outside thermometer was reading 102 degrees F, 40 C. Inside the house it was 96 degrees.
I had to find someplace with air conditioning.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


bob called, he got home ok. everything's fine except no electricity.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Houston After Rita

Hopefully this will be my last post from Houston. I would like to be back home tomorrow. Many people are ignoring the mayor's plea to stay away from Houston. I guess people's desire to return home is greater than their sense of civic duty.

We went out around town. In many places it is almost life back to normal. Many restaurants are open. Most stores are not open but some grocery stores and, of course, our local Walgreens are open.
In the Montrose area it looks like nothing happened. Montrose is residential urban so alot of people walk around. Unlike other parts of town where a car is required.

One big difference from normalcy is the gas stations. The infrequent open gas station has a line of cars for blocks with a half dozen police oficers to maintain order. At one station we saw also paramedics and what looked like arrests being made. I guess there are a few frayed nerves.

We went downtown and walked around. Downtown is still totally deserted. There are some clubs and restaurants there now but they were all boarded up. Some of the streets were blocked by police because of falling glass. Some windows popped out of a few skyscrapers during the storm. Just a few holes here and there on the buildings though, nothing very dramatic.

I will post more pictures when I get back to my own computer.
I plan to leave early for home tomorrow. I am sure that there is going to be alot of traffic.

One more day in refuge

Seems like the power is still off at my house so I am staying here for one more night. 3PM was my cutoff time for deciding so I din't end up there in the dark. I will go back home early tomorrow morning.
Hopefully traffic won't be a problem for me. They are turning away people trying to get to Galveston Island. That has caused a traffic jam for miles but it has not quite gotten as far as my exit. I won't take the interstate anyway.

Despite requests from the governor and mayor of Houston to please do not come back to the city, there is a wave of cars headed this way. I just saw on the news that there is a traffic jam about 70 miles west of here headed this way. There is practically no gas anywhere along the route or here in Houston so, in my opinion, it serves the idiots right when they run out of gas on the highway.

There was a Sam's gas station that got a delivery here. Immediately there were long lines. People were indignant that you couldn't get gas unless you had a Sam's card.
A news person tried to find a Sam's employee to explain why they are so cruel in face of this crisis. Well, it turns out that there were no Sam's employees. The station is completely automated - you need a Sams card and credit card to operate the pump.
I picture someone trying to argue with the gas pump to convince it to give up some gas even though they don't have a card. I'm sure the pump would be rudely uncompromising.

The sun is out here now. The temperature is in the 80's. People are out looking for something to do, like wait in line for gas.

Standing By in Houston

It's raining here and gray. All the stores are closed. Not much to do.
I am anxious to get back to my house but I think the power is still out down there.
We have supplies and electricity here so I might as well wait.
I heard a phone interview with a man who spent last night "hunkered down" in the fire station a few blocks from my house. They were still without power.

My test is to see if my answering machine picks up - if it does, then the power is on.
So far no answer.

In the meantime there is not much to do...
I guess this is what "hunker down" means. That was the word of the day for yesterday. I think it was repeated by every reporter on every tv channel at least 100 times. I think the word for today is "dodged a bullet" - if I had a nickel for every time...

Hunker down, dudes!

Houston Rita Good Morning

Survived. No probelms. We had rain, sometimes heavy, and bursts of wind but nothing really scary. I would have slept through most of it except Robert made sure that I woke up every hour or so. He was pacing and crying. He would sit and stare out the window then run and hide when a blast of rain came toward him.
It is drizzling rain and windy now so I have not been out very far. Near here there is not much damage. There are leaves and small branches down on the streets but I have not seen any big trees down. There is some traffic.

The mayor of Houston has asked people not to return. There may be more rain, there is still alot of power out, no stores will be open, and there is no gasoline.
However, the mayors of Friendswood and Texas City have said it is okay to return home. Texas City is very near my home. I will consider going home later today after I make sure the power is on at my house. I do not want to get stuck in traffic of the returning hordes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Houston Rita Sunset

I had to stop the last post because we had to rush outside for the sunset. I looked up from the computer and yelled, "What is that?" The light outside was bright yellow yellow.
We ran outside with our cameras. The sun had slid below the low clouds lighting the bottom puffs in bright yellow. To the west there was a huge rainbow that seemed to end at the top of the Williams Tower (previously Transco Tower).

We took a bunch of pictures and ran around trying to get the best view. It was barely raining when we ran out. By the tine we got back it was pouring rain and dark.

Now it is raining on and off with very strong wind gusts.

I will try to post more pictures.

Taping Windows for Rita

Weather check first... it has just started to rain a little. There are very strong gusts of wind. The temperature has dropped at least ten degrees.
The sky is a uniform gray with darker gray cottony clouds moving quickly at low altitude. The sun will set in about 30 minutes. You can still see a bright glow to the gray toward the west but it is getting dark quick.

I was walking out in the parking lot here. You could feel the heat coming up from the black pavement in between the cool wind bursts. It almost seemed like the raindrops should be sizzling when they hit it.

Now to window taping...
I have always held that I would rather sweep up shards of broken glass than scrape tape off of the windows. Personally I don't think the tape does anything. I have been noticing how some people have taped their windows. One apartment in this complex taped, "ITS A MYTH" along with traditional X's. I'm guessing that he meant that taping the windows is a myth.: I would say more of a superstition.

For those who have never seen it, taping the windows is sticking tape - usually masking tape - from corner to corner across the inside of the glass. The purpose is to keep away evil spirits and - some believe - to keep the glass from breaking.

I have seen many styles of taping. Some people run the tape in straight lines up and down as well as X's. Some people use big X's across the whole window and others use many small x's.
On garage windows near here they start one one end of the house across the entire window then get smaller and smaller so at the last window it is just a six inch x in the middle of 18 inch glass. We speculated either than ran out of tape or they had a teenager doind the job.

Gotta go

Rita Teasing Houston

The sky has become dark with layers of billowy dark gray clouds. There are strong gusts of wind - debris flying around in the streets. Still no rain.

The police chief has announced that everyone should stay where they are for the duration of the storm. Cars on the road will be stopped by Houston police department (HPD).

The wind is still hot and damp rain.

The storm has hurricane force winds for 200 miles diameter. Even though the eye has moved east, Houston may experience hurricane winds and rain for 12 hours!

I would have preferred the storm to pass through during daylight but my preference did not seem to affect the storm.

Houston Standing By for Rita

We were out walking around in the Galleria area. Everything is closed. There are people walking and driving around.
It is getting cloudy but is still bright clouds, not dark gray yet.
There is a steady breeze and occasioanally strong gusts. It is hot, maybe 90 F, and very muggy humid. Even with the breeze, the air is thick and moist.

It was nice to get in a long walk before the rain starts. Luckily, the storm is weakening and moving slightly away from Galveston, but it is supposed to rain for 18 to 24 hours once it starts. They tell us that the rain should start in a few hours with winds getting stronger until morning.

I'll keep posting as long as we have power.

Cat Sensing Rita?

I don't know if Robert is showing his sixth sense or just getting bored with apartment life. Whatever it is, he has become a category 5 pain in the ass.
About four oclock this morning he started pacing, crying and attacking me on the couch. It is very unusual for him to meow. He doesn't normally make noise unless you step on his tail. (*this reminds me of a story)
He would wake me up and walk away. I followed him to the kitchen and fed him - he already had food. That kept him quiet for a few minutes but then he was at it agaun.
If I sat up he would sit there quietly but as soon as I fell back to sleep he would start bothering me again. This went on until the sun came up after 7. He's still pacing around - just won't sit still.
A slight breeze started and the lights in the parking lot made shadows jumping around on the wall. Even sitting on my lap, he would stare at the shadows and stand ready to pounce.
This morning the sky is brushed with high clouds and there is a breeze. It is a bit cooler than yesterday. Quite nice.

There are certainly signs of an impending hurricane. For example, it's all that's been on the television for the past two days.
I went by the Walgreens this morning at about 5 before nine. The parking lot was full and there were at least 100 people waiting for it to open.

So far so good.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Waiting Houston Rita

Went for a walk around uptown. Down San Felipe to Post Oak. Along Post Oak past Americas, Cafe Annie, etc to Westheimer then back to the apartment. It was around 9 PM but it looked like 3 oclock in the morning. Absolutely nothing open. There was traffic but not much. Many police cars.
Back on the side street I talked to a guy who was relaxing outside his house. His son had left for Austin this morning at 4 AM and called upon arrival at 8 PM. That's 16 hours for 150 mile, 3 hour drive.
It seems like there was a big crush of cars that is thinning out. After they opened contralanes it helped alot. There is still a problem with no gas, but that's supposed to be fixed soon.
I don't know how much you see of our mayor, Bill White, and county Judge, Robert Eckels, on national reports. They are doing a very impressive job. They focus on solutions to problems. They talk about very specific things getting done. For example, they were calling for volunteers to help deliver water and fuel to people stranded along the highways. They had the buses and supplies but needed people to help load and run it from the busses to the people. Mayor White also appealed to people's sense of charity and asked that people in cars offer a helping hand to others that were stranded on the road. I guess I'm used to politicians saying how deeply they can feel our pain rather than offering some sound solutions.
Anyway, that's the traffic update.

One more thing - people seem to be relieved but also maybe a bit disappointed that Rita may be heading to the east. All this build-up and no catastrophe?

We are still waiting.

PS - I think the motorcade that I was behind yesterday may have been the Dalia Lama. No idea why he was here.

Houston Hides From Rita

We just came back from driving around. This place is a ghost town! Everything is closed.
we found a Godfathers Pizza open so we went in for some food. It was only about half full, but the people were hungry. The only offering was pizza buffet with all you can eat of whats left of the very soggy salad bar. They were cooking the pizzas as fast as they could but it was not fast enough. When they brought them out people would push and grab as much as they could. A lady with a family had a plate stacked with slices of pizza on her table. It didn't even look like they were going to eat them all.
Others were hoarding as they got a chance.

Jeremy observed how quickly civil society breaks down. It is a very small thing, but people were suddenly becoming very rude for crappy pizza.
While we were still there, they closed the place and wouldn't let anyone else in. It was the only place open for miles. The pizza was delicious - tasted like old canned tomato sauce on dry cracker crust. I never knew such food could be so satisfying.

On our way we saw a KFC that was packed. The parking lot was full, cars spilling out onto the main road. We later realized that it was the only place open. On our way back by an hour later it was closed.

Walmart and Sams were closed. It looked like Walmart was open at first because there was so much traffic in and out of the parking lot. So we drove in. It was closed. The traffic was everyone driving in to see if it was open. In an empty lot near the Walmart exit there were some people selling bottled water out of the back of a car. Their sign had hand painted, "WATER," but no price. We went by again later and there was no water but two cop cars sitting there. The profiteers may have been busted.

We finally stopped at the Walgreens right near the apartment that I mentioned this morning.

There were big crowds and long lines. We are set with what we need but we were looking for more batteries for a battery operated tv and maybe more candles and water. They had none - only AAA batteries, no water, no candles. We bought Halloween candy and Gatorade instead. While we were there they closed the place, at 5 PM. They turned away people at the door one after another. The cashier said that they were planning to open tomorrow at 9 in the morning to stay open as long as they could. Hurricane Rita is expected in more than 24 hours from now. The weatherman says that we will probably start getting rain around noon tomorrow.

Rita Houston Traffic

I'm staying in the uptown area of Houston so the traffic does not concern me anymore but it is fascinating to watch.
The traffic jams are beginning to clear. South of Houston - I45 from Galveston and 146 from my house are just about clear. They say that 90 percent of Galveston county is evacuated. It would be a good day to go to the beach.

North and west of Houston is a different story. On I45 going north to Dallas they are still reporting slow traffic for 100 miles! They have opened the "contraflow" lanes, in other words reversing the south-bound lanes to go north, to help speed the cars along.
The same thing is happening along I10 to San Antonio and 290 to Austin.
I just saw an interview with some refugees at a gas station just west of Houston in Katy. They said they left Galveston yesterday at 4:00 PM. It had taken them about 20 hours just to get through Houston.

Another problem is people running out of gas along the roads. News is reporting that there are state police bringing fuel out to the cars in need. The gas stations along the main routes are also running out. Supposedly the state is coming up with some emergency supplies. Here in town there a few gas stations open. Those with gas have long lines. Jeremy and I both have gas in our tanks.

Robert has adapted well. Jeremy's cats are locked in the bedroom. Robert is sitting quietly behind the stereo wall unit thingy. He comes out to eat occasionally.

Waiting for Rita

Went for a walk this morning along Westheimer just west of the Galleria. It looks like a Saturday morning. Furniture and fashion stores were closed - some boarded up - but restaurants and other stores were open. A CVS pharmacy was closed but a block away a Walgreen's was open and the parking lot full.
I walked past a tire store with mechanics. That was a busy place. There were dozens of people milling around in the lobby. I saw a lady holding two little dogs, a man stnding with two little kids at his side. In the parking lot there were many vehicles fully packed with luggage on their roof. I could only think how stressed thoser people must be. What a time for the car to die!

I only walked a mile or so because it is very warm outside. The sky is clear blue, not a hint of a breeze and it's already 90 degrees out. It's supposed to get to 99 today.

Lastly, while there is some trepidation about staying in Houston, I am also very relieved that I am not still stuck in traffic as millions of others are.
It's still more than twenty-four hours before Rita arrives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Houston Rita Update

We went out to dinner near here. The highways going through town are still packed. It seems that the traffic website is not working. It may be overloaded.
We tried the Galleria fir dinner. ahe stores were closed. We were going to Fox Sports Restaurant. It had people in it, but it was closed.

Some directions the streets were full - people trying to get to evacuation routes. Other directions there was light local traffic. Many gas stations had long lines.
It was inexplicably common to see a gas station with a line then another one two blocks later with only a few cars.

Some neighbohoods are more likely to flood than others. We are hoping that we are in a safe one. The news sure does make this sound like a scary storm.

On my way here...

At one point I thought I came upon an accident. Traffic was moving swiftly along loop 610 then it all suddenly slowed and stopped. I could see flashing lights ahead and traffic was a standstill. We sat for a few minutes.
Just as quickly as we stopped, everyone started moving again. Six lanes of traffic accelerating like a light turned green or something. As we came over the next rise I could see the cause of the delay. There was an official motorcade in front of us with police escorts. "What in tar-nation!" I exclaimed to Robert. (That may not have been my exact words.)
Someone must be very important to shut down a major highway with traffic as it is today.
Shortly, I realized that it wasn't so bad for me. I was about five cars back from the VIP's. Their formation was: two cop cars in the lead, about a half mile away - then a tight string of six official vehicles - then two cop cars behind. There was a flock of a dozen or so motorcycle cops buzzing around them.
The motorcycles would zip ahead to block the on-ramps to clear the road. Since I was in the first pack of cars behind them, the road was still clear for us. Very nice! Cruised around town at 65 miles per hour with a police escort. When they finally exited I was almost to my destination.
I have not turned on the tv yet to find out who was in the traffic-stopping motorcade.

At my refuge

I made it to Jeremy'swithout incident. It took about three hours to go 52 miles. The Mapquest route says it is 41 miles and should take 48 minutes. I stayed off the main highways, they are barely moving at all.
I made pretty good time compared to what people are facing now. Radio says to expect it to take five hours from Galveston to Houston. About 40 miles.
Now I know what it looks like when everybody decides to go for a drive at the same time.
Last night someone told me that they expected it to take 24 hours to get to Dallas - about 250 miles. At the time, I thought they were exagerating. Now, I think they may be correct.

I did not see any accidents. People were being very polite - yielding to last minute lane-changers and all. I guess people realize that traffic anger will only make things worse.

Houston Traffic

Traffic in Houston at:

Speaking of Rita

This is a test of email posting. Instead of logging into blogger, I can
email from anywhere and it will post.

And speaking of Rita... I must remember to evacuate some tequila with me. I
have a feeling I will need a 'rita before this is over.

Update 1 - Rita on the way

I don't know if I will be able to keep posting.... situation desperate here...

Just kidding! It is really very quiet. I guess some people left my neighborhood already. The weather will be clear and hot today. Possibly a record high temperature.
Robert and I will be moving to a friend's apartment in Houston. Where I live on the bank of Galveston Bay - along with all of Galveston County - is to be evacuated.

There were some signs of panic beginning. Last night I stopped in at a local pub, the Duck. There were all kinds of interesting rumors. I had considered leaving Robert with SPCA or someone like that. They had announcements on TV telling you where you could leave an animal if they could not evacuate. One lady told me though not to even consider that. She said that one town here had given instructions to euthanize all the animals in their care if this was greater than a category 3 hurricane. That was shocking to me. I don't know if it true, it doesn't really make much sense to me. I don't think I would have left him in one of those places anyway. This lady, an obvious friend of animals, reasoned, "You saw what they let happen to those people in the old folks homes in Louisiana. Do you think anyone would rescue any of those animals if the storm surge comes in?" A tear in her eye, "It's horrible. All those innocent..."
I assured here that I would never leave my cat to die.

There was a line at my regular gas station next to the Duck so I went to another near my house. It is at a convinience store that usually convieniently charges ten cents more per gallon but last night they were the same as everyone else, $2.65/gal (oh sorry, 2.65 and 9/100). They were really missing out on a gold mine.
I drove right to the pump and filled up but when I left there were about ten cars waiting. I was a little concerned as I drove away with a full tank that I had densed out and cut to the head of the line by accident.
While I pumped gas, a lady got out of here car and spoke to another guy filling cans in the back of his pickup.
"How's it flowing?"
"Um, no problem. Uh. Looks okay..." He looked at the pump and looked at his gas.
"Most of'em have run dry down in Texas City. Pumps are closed."
"No not here, s'okay"
"I heard someone got shot over gas."
"I don't know, ma'am. We're fine here." He concentrated on the level of fuel in his can and the trigger on his pump. He didn't want to have anything to do with her.

Texas City is only ten miles down the road from here. It is a fairly respectable city (except for the occasional refinery exploding) so I doubt that they were having any serious problem. It was nice of that lady to tell everyone pumping gas about the desperate situation there though. What good is a hurricane without exciting rumors to wind you up?

Monday, September 19, 2005

WiFi Man 2

San Diego-based Triage Wireless has created, and hopes to bring to the market in the near future, a patch applied to the skin that continuously monitors a person's blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs, and then forwards that information to their doctor's computer via wireless links.

With the AdvancedBPM system, physicians conceivably will get a more complete view of a person's vital signs during different parts of the day, including while they sleep, and over an extended period of time. The system, ideally, would also help curb spiraling medical costs by reducing the number of hospital and office visits.

Data gets transmitted from the patch via a Bluetooth connection to a handheld, which then sends it across a cellular network. Although it's doubtful that someone will try to filch your blood oxygen readings, Triage is taking particular care with privacy and security.

The next thing on the Net: Your cardio system | CNET

WiFi Man

A micro-sensor that could be injected into the brain of those suffering from motor neurone disease and transmit data to a computer is being developed at Birmingham University.

In a presentation at the Euro-NanoForum 2005 in Edinburgh, Jon Spratley of Birmingham’s School of Engineering claimed signals that would have previously controlled muscles could be harnessed to operate communications technology such as artificial speech programs, or even the movement of an electronic wheelchair.

Using micro-engineering techniques, Spratley is designing an unpowered passive sensor package that is small enough to be injected using a needle with a diameter of up to 1.5mm, removing the need for an operation.

According to Spratley, by injecting micro-sensors into the motor cortex of the brain, localised and precise data could be gathered. The skull would be used to shield the device from external electromagnetic signals. The sensors would then communicate with a relay station implanted on the outside of the brain, under the skull, which would pass the signals to an external processing unit.

Other systems under investigation include the use of implanted micro-sensors to monitor fracture healing and hip replacements, allowing remote monitoring of patients who have been discharged from hospital to recuperate at home and freeing up hospital beds. If complications occurred, the sensor could alert doctors by computer. Sensors could also be implanted in specific areas to monitor how much of a drug was reaching its target.

The Engineer Online - Message in an implant

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Grow Your Own Home

Fab Tree Hab

In congruence with ecology as the guiding principal, this living home is designed to be nearly entirely edible so as to provide food to some organism at each stage of its life cycle. While inhabited, the home’s gardens and exterior walls continual produce nutrients for people and animals. As a direct contributer to the ecosystem it supports an economy comprised of truly breathing products not reconstituted or processed materials. Imagine a society based on slow farming tress for housing structure instead of the industrial manufacture of felled timber.

A methodology new to buildings yet ancient to gardening is introduced in this design - pleaching. Pleaching is a method of weaving together tree branches to form living archways, lattices, or screens. The trunks of inosculate, or self-grafting, trees, such as Elm, Live Oak, and Dogwood, are the load-bearing structure, and the branches form a continuous lattice frame for the walls and roof. Weaved along the exterior is a dense protective layer of vines, interspersed with soil pockets and growing plants. On the interior, a clay and straw composite insulates and blocks moisture, and a final layer of smooth clay is applied like a plaster to dually provide comfort and aesthetics.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Metabolomics: Factories From Plants

AMES, Iowa – The biotech field of genomics gives scientists genetic roadmaps to link certain genes to diseases. The subsequent study of proteins produced by certain genes spawned the field of proteomics.

Now, a group of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University will use $1.02 million in DOE start-up funding to begin understanding the chemical processes that take place within the cells of plants. This new field, called metabolomics, could result in harnessing plants to efficiently produce biomass for energy production, chemicals and materials for industry or pharmaceuticals, and untold thousands of other uses.

“We know a lot about the genetic make-up of many plants, but we know very little about the chemical changes that take place within plant cells that eventually produce sugars, fibers or waxes,” said Ed Yeung, program director of Chemical and Biological Sciences at Ames Lab and principal investigator on the project. “If we can understand metabolism, then ideally, all the materials a plant produces can be controlled.”

Metabolomics Press Release: "metabolomics"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Camera Shy?

With the increase of miniature digital cameras and cell phone cameras, people are worrying more about getting caught on 'film' surreptitiuosly.

Well, for those you in a witness protection program,here comes the solution. A handheld Spyfinder allows you to sweep a room and find the hidden cameras. The ring of LED's shines a light that reflects off of the sensing CCD inside a digital camera. It doesn't stop the pictures but it lets you know where the spies are.


Other researchers are figuring out how to automatically blind the digital spies. A sensor locates the camera and then shines a light to foul the cameras exposure settings.

The next step would be to put the camera blinding device in an earing or pendant. Every picture of you could come out with bright flash on your face.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Concept vehicle for military combat unveiled

From press release...

A concept vehicle designed to illustrate potential technology options for improving survivability and mobility in future military combat vehicles will be shown publicly for the first time Sept. 13-15 at a military technology meeting in Virginia.

The event, “Modern Day Marine Expo,” will be held at the Marine Corps Air Facility in Quantico, Va.

said David Parekh, GTRI’s deputy director. “By including persons with high-performance automotive engineering and NASCAR expertise as part of our team, we were able to root this advanced concepts project in real-world vehicle design.”

In the ULTRA AP, the GTRI/industry team has made improvements in two key areas by taking a systems approach to survivability and safety:
Survivability: The vehicle also incorporates a “blast bucket” designed to provide ballistic, blast and enhanced roll-over protection.
Safety with Performance: The ULTRA design explored the use of on-board computers to integrate steering, suspension and brakes to provide an unparalleled level of mobility and safety...

The ULTRA project is linked directly to “e-safety,” an emerging automotive concept that combines computers and advanced technologies to make driving safer, McLellan noted. In e-safety, night driving systems and stability control add security, while radar systems – already available in Europe – actually slow vehicles automatically under certain conditions.

Research and development for the ULTRA has been conducted by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), which led a unique team of research engineers from both GTRI and the automotive industry. The research initiative has been sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Concept vehicle illustrating new options for military combat vehicles unveiled

Sunday, September 11, 2005

NukuNuku Key

"NukunukuKey supporting happy family time by sharing sensed information of the house as “warmth.”"

Remote information about what's going on at home. The more people who are there, the warmer the key gets. LED lights show which room the people are in.

A monitor to feel the realtionship with home and family.

NukuNuku Key

via wmmna

Friday, September 09, 2005

What next? World famine.

Wheat fungus may pose global threat: report
Thu Sep 8, 2005
By George Obulutsa

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A resilient new strain of wheat fungus from east Africa is threatening to spread to the Middle East, Asia and the Americas and bring catastrophic crop damage, scientists said on Thursday.

Researchers said the new Ug99 form of stem rust could be spread by the wind and attacked many varieties of spring and winter wheat that were resistant to other strains of the fungus.

The strain could easily spread from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, which were the countries currently affected.

"Recognising the potential that this disease has...there's almost no one exempt," said Ronnie Coffman, head of Cornell University's Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics.

Coffman led the group of scientists who conducted research into Ug99, and released a report on Thursday on how to fight its spread.

"What we have to achieve is to stop this disease from spreading to other parts of the world. Otherwise we are going to see a catastrophe," said Masa Iwanaga, director general of Mexico's International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre

The scientists gave no firm numbers on potential damage, but said they feared an epidemic similar to those that caused major grain losses in North America in 1903, 1905 and 1950-54 and famine in Asia.

Science News Article |

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Racehorse Genetics

Recent genetic investigations and genome mapping could lead to a revolution in horse breeding and racing. Is genetic manipulation far behind?

95% of thoroughbreds linked to one superstud
John Pickrell, Dublin

Virtually all 500,000 of the world’s thoroughbred racehorses are descended from 28 ancestors, born in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to a new genetic study. And up to 95% of male thoroughbreds can be traced back to just one stallion.

Thoroughbred horses were developed in 18th century in the UK. English mares were bred with Arabian and other stallions to create horses with great stamina for distance racing. Today, thoroughbreds are the most valuable of breeds, representing a multi-billion dollar annual industry, worldwide.

To assess the genetic diversity of modern racing horses, geneticist Patrick Cunningham of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, compared 13 microsatellite DNA loci – repeating sequences of DNA which vary in length – in 211 thoroughbreds and 117 other Shetland, Egyptian and Turkish horses. He also examined studbooks dating back to 1791.

He found the majority of the half million progeny alive today are descended from just 28 “founder” horses.

It was already known that just a handful of stallions (but many mares) were used to found the thoroughbred breed. But startlingly, the new research finds that, in 95% of modern racehorses, the Y-chromosome can be traced back to a single stallion - the Darley Arabian, born in 1700.

"We hope to produce sounder, faster and better-performing horses," says Cunningham. He and colleague Emmeline Hill at University College Dublin is also using the horse genome to uncover genes that explain why one animal runs faster than another.

"Now we have a good amount of the horse genome, there are interesting times ahead," says Binns. "Over the next 10 years there will be some changes in this very traditional industry."

Cunningham presented his findings on Monday at the British Association Festival of Science in Dublin.

New Scientist Breaking News - 95% of thoroughbreds linked to one superstud