22 July 2005

Dora and Korean food in Springfield, Missouri!

Yesterday, Susan, Audrey and I went with my sister and her 3-year-old to see Dora Live! Susan was originally not interested as she thought that there would just be characters in costumes with "big heads," but Dora, Boots, et. al. were real people. There were some in headed costumes, like the Pirate Piggies. But it was great! I would call it a mini-musical for kids. Lots of fun, and the singing was really good and entertaining.

We also found Soo's Korean Restaurant on South Campbell--they have apparently been open for many months. Finally, a real Korean restaurant within driving distance. Highly recommended!

19 July 2005

How many "X-Rays" did I receive today?

Paraphrased from two posts to the CHEMED-L discussion list, yesterday and today.

Today I was driving from Joplin, Missouri to Tulsa, Oklahoma along Interstate-44. On the way, I passed (overtook) four trucks which I recognized from news stories in the local paper as being the ones carrying low-level radioactive waste from the former uranium refinery at Fernald, Ohio to a Texas storage site. (see story and photo captions at http://www.joplinglobe.com/archives/story.php?story_id=101798 http://www.joplinglobe.com/archives/story.php?story_id=101443; the original news story seems to be unavailable online) Update: I found it at http://www.joplinglobe.com/story.php?story_id=191496&c=87. If you don't want to visit the links, here is a short quote:

Each of the flatbed trucks will carry two steel canisters, each weighing 21,950 pounds.

The canisters contain uranium residues, fly ash and portland cement. When combined, they form a solid concrete monolith. About 70 to 83 percent of the material in each container is non-radioactive, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The department is overseeing the shipments.

Still, the waste is of some concern because it is radioactive. Standing close to one of the containers during shipment might be equivalent to getting a medical X-ray, according to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C.

Keith Stammer, the new emergency coordinator of Joplin-Jasper County Emergency Management, said the public should use what he calls the "thumb rule" with regard to the shipments.

"If you stick your arm out and hold up your thumb and if your thumb does not cover (the view of it), you are too close - just back up."
I also found the website www.fernald.gov and at that site, a fact sheet http://www.fernald.gov/NewsUpdate/PDFs/4-28-05%20Silos%201%20and%202%20Transportation%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
According to the fact sheet:

Typical maximum radionuclide concentrations per waste package (pCi/g):
Radium 226 - 100,000
Thorium 230 - 15,000
Lead 210 - 100,000
Polonium 210 - 100,000
Actinium 227 - 2,000

So, let's assume that I passed within 2 meters of each of the 4 trucks/8 canisters at a rate (difference) of about 100 m/min (I did hit the accelerator a little). By stepping outside and holding up my thumb while looking at the entry door of an adjacent building, (without using any trigonometry or exact measurements) I'm estimating that the "thumb rule" is about 100 m, so I was inside that distance for a total of 8 minutes. Of course I was inside my car, so there was a little shielding. (And actually, the second through fourth trucks were close together, perhaps within the 100 m boundary, but let's ignore that).

Is there a simple way to estimate the dosage of radiation I likely absorbed? How would that amount compare to that from a typical medical X-ray (radiograph)?

An exact answer is not even possible, given the ranges from the fact sheet; there are just too many variables of which I have little understanding about for me to even make an educated guess. But it seems to me that before these trucks were allowed onto the public highways, that data would be available, presumably to the public. Suppose the federal government does have this data. What would it take to find it? John Stossel?

And yes, I'm worried about the drivers. I'm assuming that there is shielding built into the trucks and that any individual driver is limited to a certain number of trips and/or wears a radiation badge. But how would I know?

(Here are the best photos I could find; neither quite matches what I saw, but they're close.)

12 July 2005

Designing a Science Lab

From time to time, money magically comes along to build or renovate a science laboratory. Inevitably, administrators and architects have their ideas about how the lab should be designed. We the instructors are often consulted, but we may have no experience with lab design and may not know what to plan for. In the absence of planning, what you get is probably similar to what you had before, just newer (right?) The Lab Safety Institute has been examining a floor space requirement, and the Chemistry Educators discussion list has had some recent useful discussion about laboratory plans. You can Search the CHEMED-L Archives for the phrase "Occupancy Load" to find some relevant posts from a March 2005 thread.

I also came across a treatise prepared by Michael Chejlava from Lafayette College. He has apparently had significant experience in redesigning labs, and has a lengthy discussion of what to plan for.

You can see in a post in this blog a couple of weeks ago an example of a so-called "studio lab" that I had the opportunity to see at Washington College. This type of setup lends itself to multiple uses, such as having "lecture" and "lab" in the same room, sequentially, or moving back and forth as required. This means that the course schedule does not have to have separate "lecture" and "lab: times scheduled, and the two parts can be integrated.

I hope that I remember to come back to this if MSSU ever has a chance to renovate some laboratories.

11 July 2005

Adoption Update

Our family and friends all know that we are in the process of adoption. Susan and I have planned to adopt a girl from Korea for years and years, since before we were even married. Susan came home to her forever family in 1974 with the help of Holt International (www.holtintl.org), the pioneer agency in international adoption. She is so thankful that God found a family just for her, and she wants to do the same for another little girl. I thank God every day for Susan's parents, for if they hadn't seen her photo in that HiFamilies magazine in the early 1970's and made that decision to make Susan part of their family, I would never have found my life partner.

Some prospective adoptive parents keep track of the exact dates of every part of their process. You can just read the posts on the online adoption forums to see how anxious they are. We didn't feel the need to do that. We decided to go through the process, and just accepted the fact that it would take as long as it would take. Of course, we have already been blessed with a biological daughter, so that makes it easier for us.

We were waiting until Audrey was about two years old before beginning the process, because we expected it to take about a year and that Audrey would be 3 and the baby would be 6-12 months old when she arrived... about right, we thought. We began a home study with Holt (Kansas City office) last summer after Audrey turned 2.

The home study actually took only several weeks. The first part (and in retrospect the most difficult part, sans the subsequent and current waiting) was filling out a very lengthy questionnaire; detailing why we wanted to adopt; what our views were on many issues, such as religion, disciplinary measures, how we work out disagreements with each other, finances, health issues, on and on.... Then we needed to meet with the case (social) worker (SW) a total of three times. This turned out to be pretty straightforward, because we had already worked out most of our issues when writing our responses to the questionnaire.

We also needed three letters of reference from people other than family members, physical exams for all three of us including TB and AIDS tests, past years' tax returns, background checks with the division of family services and highway patrol including fingerprints (trip to Jefferson City), fingerprints again with the USCIS (trip to Kansas City), and paying large fees both for the home study and the USCIS paperwork.

We recieved the USCIS preapproval in November, and thought we were ready to go. A few weeks later I wondered if I needed to send a copy of that to our SW. Turns out I did. So that delayed our application a month. She said it probably wouldn't, but it seems as if it did.

As I mentioned, I feel that we've been really patient. But finally last week I emailed our SW to see if we could get an update. Here's part of the reply.

"Your documents were mailed Dec. 10, 2004. It may still be some time. You might look at some of the children who are listed on the website, if they have acceptable medical issues, as this would speed the process. Otherwise we have to patiently wait for Holt-Korea to make an assignment."

This is not very encouraging. "Some time" isn't very helpful. And there are no girls from Korea at all on the waiting children list. Holt has been averaging 7-12 months to make referrals, according to others posting online, while other agencies are much shorter. For example, see an excerpt from this recent post I read.

"My husband and I are working with AIAA in Michigan (although we live in Massachusetts). Their partner agency in Korea is SWS. Our homestudy went to Korea on May 5, 2005. We had a referral nineteen days later on May 24, 2005. And we should be getting our son's travel call this coming week! It doesn't get much quicker than that!"

I can parrot all the reasons for the disparity in these timelines. Holt is the first and largest agency placing children from Korea. Hence, they have the most applicants and the longest wait times. Girls are more in demand for adoption than boys. But it looks as if it is going to take us 18 months from start to finish, when others are getting through the entire process in a matter of a few weeks. This is getting tougher to handle.

I don't know that we would change anything (except being a little more communicative with our SW to avoid any delays). Susan feels a real connection to Holt and Korea--both of her sisters have adopted through Holt. One sister has adopted three times from Thailand, and the other once from Romania. We firmly belive in the mission of Holt, and have sponsored children for years. But it is getting harder and harder to wait, and we are getting older. And if it takes too much longer, our USCIS preapproval will expire and we'll have to get fingerprinted and approved all over again.

I still feel as patient as I can. But I know that only a small percentage of the children in the orphanages get adopted at all. It seems such a shame that it is so difficult to match them with families who want only to love and take care of them... forever.

06 July 2005

Selling a Car on eBay

Well, I just sold my wife's 1994 Subaru SVX on eBay. It's a bittersweet experience. This was her first new car, and we had hoped to keep it "forever." There were only 25,000 of these ever made worldwide, and they still turn heads 12 years later. We thought it might be a collectors' item. In a way, it is already, with a small group of enthusiasts.

But with one 3-year-old, an another on the way hopefully soon (more about this later) we needed a more practical car. With 4 doors. So I bought a cool, Strato Blue Mazda3 5-door. My wife wanted a hybrid auto but wasn't happy with the limited choices currently available (2 Hondas, the Toyota Prius, Ford Escape, and supposedly this year a small Lexus SUV). So she'll drive "my" 2000 Subaru Outback for 5 years or so and then see what new choices she has.

She had fun watching the bids go up on her car, wanting me to show her the eBay page each evening to see what the newest high bid was. In the end, we made $1300 more than I advertised the car for in the Big Nickel. A US Army soldier from Arizona is flying to Tulsa on Saturday, and we'll deliver the car to him there. Susan gets to drive it one last time...

So if you want to know the "ins and outs" of selling a car on eBay, I'll be happy to share my experience. Just ask!