Category Archives: Science and Technology

Tugboat Races, Take Three

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Johna Till Johnson

Tugboat Races 2014

Photogenic tug

The day wasn’t looking good.

This was the third year we’d planned to go to the Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition, but the day didn’t start well. It dawned dark and gloomy, with the threat of rain—the kind of day on which, despite your best intentions, you struggle to get out of bed.

Worse, Vlad, who’d been under the weather for a few days, couldn’t go.

So even though we’d already purchased tickets, I wasn’t enthusiastic about attending the race.  I had so many chores to do… not to mention work… and steaming coffee and a comfortable couch beckoned.

At the last minute, though, I threw my maritime radio and camera into a backpack, poured some coffee into a thermos, and set off downtown.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Fray.

Rival tugboats enter the fray in NYC’s Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition.

They engage in single combat…

Meagan Ann vs. Buchanan 1
Gage Paul Thornton vs. Vulcan III

… as well as a general melee

Four against one: the Millers surround Gage Paul Thornton!
A Miller melee

More photos from the 2012 and 2013 Races are here and here. And the 2014 Race is coming up in just one week, on Sunday, August 31st. We’ll be there!

Harbor Water Wheels, Decorative and Practical

By Vladimir Brezina

As we paddle along the Hudson River Long Timepast the piers on Manhattan’s West Side, we pass there, on Pier 66, a large water wheel. Sometimes it is slowly turning as its blades dip into the tidal current that is streaming past. It is a work of art.

Long Time

It is in fact Long Time, by Paul Ramirez Jonas. The concept is simple: The wheel is connected to an odometer that counts the wheel’s rotations. But the piece has large ambitions. The artist is quoted as saying he wanted to create a piece to represent human existence. “It was created with the improbable goal of marking the duration of our lives, species, civilizations and even the planet… [but] its more immediate intent is to place human existence within a geologic time frame… The wheel will rotate indefinitely until it breaks down, or the river changes course, or the seas rise, or other unpredictable circumstances stop it.”

And those unpredictable circumstances have already occurred. After only 67,293 rotations since the wheel was installed in 2007, in 2011 the floodwaters of Hurricane  Sandy stopped the odometer. Repairs are not high on the priority list.

However, the wheel itself “is pretty darn sturdy. It was actually happy during Sandy, because it likes the deeper water. You should’ve seen it spinning.”

*   *   *   *   *

The Long Time wheel had to be made sturdy enough to resist, among other things, the impact of trash floating in the water. So why not go a step further, and use the rotation of the wheel to pick up the trash?

Last weekend, we visited Baltimore, Maryland. And, walking around the Inner Harbor, we spied from a distance a familiar shape—a water wheel. At first we thought that, like Long Time, it was an artwork of some kind. But when we came closer, we realized that it was something more practical.

Baltimore water wheel 1
Baltimore water wheel 2

This water wheel is a trash collector.

It’s mounted on a floating platform moored at the point where Jones Falls, a river that drains quite a large watershed to the north of the city—and brings down a corresponding amount of floating trash—empties out into the Inner Harbor. The river current drives the water wheel. (There is also solar power for days when the river current is too weak.) The wheel in turn drives a series of rakes and a conveyor belt. The rakes rake the trash, already concentrated by floating booms, up onto the conveyor belt, which deposits the trash into a floating dumpster. Simple!

And yes, it is also a work of art.

More detailed photos of the trash collector are here, and here is a video of it in operation:

The trash collector can collect up to 50,000 lbs of trash per day. By all accounts, although it hasn’t been operating long yet, it’s already made a very promising contribution toward solving Baltimore Harbor’s trash problem. It’s been much more effective, at any rate, than the old way of picking up the floating trash with nets from small boats. “After a rainstorm, we could get a lot of trash in Baltimore Harbor. Sometimes the trash was so bad it looked like you could walk across the harbor on nothing but trash.” Last weekend, as we walked around it, the harbor looked remarkably clean.

Much cleaner, in fact, that some parts of New York Harbor. And we can think of a number of rivers draining into New York Harbor where such a trash collector could be ideally positioned.

Google Maps: Skim Boom in the Bronx RiverTake the Bronx River, for instance. It already has a floating boom to hold back the huge amount of trash that floats down the river—trash that must be periodically removed. A water wheel would do the job effortlessly.

Skim boom in the Bronx River

So, let’s hope there are more water wheels, not merely decorative but also practical, in New York’s future!

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More details about Baltimore’s water wheel can be found here:

Cardboard Kayak Race, Redux

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Cardboard-kayak-race-100

Last year, I wrote about the first annual Cardboard Kayak Race, held on City of Water Day at Governors Island.  This year, I was in it!

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. We didn’t build a boat out of cardboard and then race it. But others did! And I was part of a fleet of “safety kayaks” whose job it was to rescue paddlers whose cardboard boats sank (and fish out the sodden detritus).

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Room.

I wonder what it’s like to always be inside your room, to carry it with you everywhere you go—

DSC_0221 cropped small

—or does your room become so much a part of you that it no longer stands between you and the world around?

DSC_0069 cropped small
(Florida fighting conch: more photos are here.)

This is in fact a real question in philosophy (Heidegger comes to mind), neuroscience and neuroethology (mind-body relations, motor learning, tool use), artificial intelligence… see for instance here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Move

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is On the Move.

On the move through New York Harbor (click on any photo to start slideshow)—

From last September’s Hidden Harbor Tour.

Another, more ephemeral, take on On the Move is here.

Travel Theme: Work

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Work.

Work is done upon an object when a force displaces it through a distance—

Work

—and nowadays, when everything works as it should, gigantic amounts of work continue to be done even when the workers take, for a few moments at least, a break from work—

Workers

From a Hidden Harbor Tour through New York Harbor in September 2013. Story and more photos are here.