SPACECRAFT WINS $10 MILLION ANSARI X PRIZE

Michael Giberson

From Technology News:

The second private space flight in a week piloted by history’s second civilian astronaut was worth US$10 million today as the Paul Allen-funded SpaceShipOne (SS1) touched the edge of space and returned to Earth winner of the Ansari X Prize.

In addition to its historical significance with respect to private space travel, the event fixes another data point in the competition between prizes and other ways to motivate innovation.

FOOTBALL PHYSICS – NEW FRONTIER FOR COACH’S CHALLENGES

Michael Giberson

Another story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had me wondering whether football coaches may want to sign up a physicist to advise on potential challenges to referee decisions.

Timothy Gay, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has written Football Physics: The Science of the Game, in which he illustrates a number of the principles of physics with football examples. In the book he takes on the “Immaculate Reception,” a 32-year old fluke of a play that enabled the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Oakland Raiders. The newspaper recalls:

With 26 seconds left to play and the Steelers trailing by a point, Terry Bradshaw scrambles on fourth down, then desperately rifles the ball to Fuqua, his running back. The ball arrives at the same time as Tatum, the Raider free safety who breaks up the play and sends Fuqua flying. The deflected ball, however, flies backward and into the hands of Harris, who runs untouched into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

Harris’ catch was ruled fair, on the assumption that it bounced off Tatum. But if the ball actually hit Fuqua, the catch would have been illegal under NFL rules at the time.

Gay speculates that careful collision analysis could determine whose momentum was transferred to the ball, deflecting it back to Harris.

I’m neither a Pittsburgh fan, nor a Oakland fan — heck, I prefer the game that the rest of the world calls football over the American game — but I do enjoy a good applied science story.

FOOTBALL PHYSICS – NEW FRONTIER FOR COACH’S CHALLENGES

Michael Giberson

Another story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had me wondering whether football coaches may want to sign up a physicist to advise on potential challenges to referee decisions.

Timothy Gay, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has written Football Physics: The Science of the Game, in which he illustrates a number of the principles of physics with football examples. In the book he takes on the “Immaculate Reception,” a 32-year old fluke of a play that enabled the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Oakland Raiders. The newspaper recalls:

With 26 seconds left to play and the Steelers trailing by a point, Terry Bradshaw scrambles on fourth down, then desperately rifles the ball to Fuqua, his running back. The ball arrives at the same time as Tatum, the Raider free safety who breaks up the play and sends Fuqua flying. The deflected ball, however, flies backward and into the hands of Harris, who runs untouched into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

Harris’ catch was ruled fair, on the assumption that it bounced off Tatum. But if the ball actually hit Fuqua, the catch would have been illegal under NFL rules at the time.

Gay speculates that careful collision analysis could determine whose momentum was transferred to the ball, deflecting it back to Harris.

I’m neither a Pittsburgh fan, nor a Oakland fan — heck, I prefer the game that the rest of the world calls football over the American game — but I do enjoy a good applied science story.

ENHANCING COMPETITION IN PENNSYLVANIA

Michael Giberson

Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell came out in favor of enhancing competition in retail electric power supply in the Pittsburgh area (in this press release):

“Enhancing competition in Pennsylvania means working to expand the choices that consumers have by creating more energy options and increasing the supply of energy from a diversity of resources,” Governor Rendell said. “Instead, the PUC decision limits competition, giving consumers fewer options and less control over the electricity they receive and, ultimately, they prices they will pay.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) decision mentioned was a September 30 vote confirming the state commission’s earlier rejection of a six-year rate cap proposal by Duquesne Light Co. that came with promises by the company to increase the amount of renewable energy it would purchase.

But Rendell’s statement is a bit confusing.

Consider a pair of stories that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one just before last Thursday’s decision and the other just after. The Wednesday story casts the PUC as wanting to accelerate deregulation, but facing opposition from “Duquesne Light Co., Gov. Ed Rendell and big business.” The PUC was described as “hoping to spur more competition among electric suppliers” by dropping “restrictions that would have made it more costly for customers to switch suppliers.” On Friday, the newspaper said:

The state Public Utility Commission, standing up to intense pressure from Duquesne Light, Gov. Ed Rendell and big business, yesterday reaffirmed a three-year rate plan for the Downtown utility that is designed to give Western Pennsylvanians more power-buying choices.

So who wants more competition in Pennsylvania, the Governor or the PUC?

The PUC approved a three-year rate cap instead of a six-year rate cap, but this rate applies only for small customers. Large customers get just one more year of fixed price service from the utility, and then they face hourly rates. Compared to the plan the Governor favors, the PUC’s approach appears to peel back the security blanket of regulated rates somewhat faster and will push more consumers to choose a competitive power supplier. The Governor’s favored approach would have resulted in more consumers buying the utility’s designated amount of renewable energy, the PUC’s approach will result in more consumers deciding themselves whether they want to buy renewable power.

The Governor is confused.