Archives May 2015

Michigan’s Largest Solar Panel Structure to Be Built in Ann Arbor

Solar panel installation

Detroit utility company DTE Energy is set to install a 1.1-megawatt solar panel structure right outside the city limits of Ann Arbor. reports that the structure, an impressive array of over 4,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels, will be the largest solar panel installation in Michigan. Once powered, it will generate enough electricity for 185 mid-sized homes. DTE Energy is leasing eight acres of a nearby farm for the unit.

The unit is part of the company’s Solar Currents program, an initiative designed to meet the state’s new standard for utility companies to generate 10% of its total energy output from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and biofuel. The standard is supposed to be reached by the end of this year.

The company hopes to complete installation and being operations in the summer. It has already installed solar panels at 22 sites, generating nine megawatts of electricity. It is by far the largest solar power company in Michigan.

“The project is really an example of how DTE is partnering with customers to build a more energy-efficient and sustainable future,” said DTE Energy spokeswoman Vanessa Waters.

Ann Arbor Township Supervisor Mike Moran is ecstatic about the panels. The town had already attempted to build a similar structure close to its municipal airport but had to shut it down, due to opposition from local officials.

“It’s an interesting and different kind of project,” Moran said. “Certainly solar power is something we support. We have a strong emphasis on environmental issues and this would seem to fit into it.”

Domino’s Farms, the farm that DTE Energy is renting land from, has a contract with the company for 20 years with the potential for renewing up to 10 years more. The landowners were happy to help.

“We’re pleased that we can assist them,” said John Petz, the director of real estate and public affairs for Domino’s Farms. “We’re really pleased to be able to have this come together and working with DTE. And we’re pleased with the cooperation we received from Ann Arbor Township through the approval process.”

Solar panels are available for residential use in addition to commercial. Installing solar panels on the roof of a house, for example, is a popular option for homeowners (although the process can take four to seven days).

Altoona School Offers Rare EFDA Program

Dental implant head and bridge
The Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center (GACTC) in central Pennsylvania offers a relatively new program in dentistry that is considered an advancement in the dental assistant field.

The Altoona Mirror reports that GACTC is one of the few schools in the country that offers an “Expanded Function Dental Auxiliary” (EFDA) program. The program teaches dental assistants the traditional skills of dental work as well as more sophisticated procedures. Though EFDAs are not permitted to drill teeth, they can place fillings, install temporary crowns and bridges, and perform other dental work that conventional dental assistants cannot.

According to Tom Zajac, the EFDA program coordinator, the purpose of EFDA training is to provide more services to the public previously reserved for dentists. The more EFDAs who graduate from dental schools, the more bridge work and fillings can be performed — without the long waits and appointment dates in dentist offices across the country.

“The thought behind physicians assistants was so that doctors could see more patients every day,” Zajac said. “An EFDA is like a physicians assistant for a dentist.”

The program can be fulfilled in one of two ways: a full-time 10-month program or a part-time 12-weekend program. Though the two options vary in span, they both require the same amount of class and clinical time.

“It’s a very rigorous process because it puts the academic and hands-on (work) together,” Zajac said.

Students interested in the program must complete at least 200 hours of schooling and pass the State Board of Dentistry Exam before acceptance.

One of those students, 19 year-old Ashlee Fagans, said the program puts a heavy emphasis on clinical work.

“I’m more of a hands-on person,” Fagans said. She admitted her favorite part of the program is “definitely working with the patients.”

“I kind of just fell in love with it,” she said.

Dental work, both cosmetic and non-cosmetic, is increasing in popularity in the United States. Three million Americans, for example, have dental implants — with half a million new patients getting them every year.

Injured Combat Veterans Fight Batter For IVF Coverage on Homefront

test tubes
Alex Dillmann, 30, and his wife Holly, 29, share the struggle of infertility with many other American couples. One in eight couples, or 12% of married women, experience difficulty in getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. For the Dillmanns, however, their struggle has an added unfortunate and complicated twist.

After the devastating bomb blast in Afghanistan that left Army Staff Sgt. Alex Dillmann paralyzed from the abdomen down, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was there to help with his long recovery. They paid to retrofit Dillman’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck so he could drive it, and even bought him a handcycle that would allow him to continue exercising.

While the former squad leader and his wife, Holly, were grateful for the assistance and support, they were also disappointed that the VA wouldn’t help pay for what they wanted the most: a family of their own.

The agency designed to care for former soldiers covers part or all of the cost of treatment for many ailments and conditions veterans may suffer from, but infertility isn’t one of them. The VA does not provide any financial assistance for in vitro fertilization (IVF), which fertility specialists agree offers those with traumatic genital and spinal cord injuries the best chance of having a biological child.

In fact, the VA is legally prohibited from covering IVF costs, under a 23-year-old law. Congress adopted the ban following growing conservative opposition over the ethics surrounding assisted reproductive technology (ART), due to concerns that unused fertilized embryos may be discarded.

Now, however, a bipartisan effort from both veterans and lawmakers is seeking to overturn the ban, which many feel is outdated considering the global acceptance and popularity of IVF. The law predates both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where widespread use of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against U.S. forces has resulted in far more reproductive injuries than previous conflicts.

The Dillmans are now just one of thousands of young post-combat couples who struggle to start a family after blast injuries left them unable to conceive via natural methods.

IVF treatments can cost tens of thousands of dollars and often require multiple attempts before a viable pregnancy is produced. The combination of the emotional toll and the financial burden can be utterly overwhelming for many combat-wounded veterans and their significant others, especially if they are learning to live without a limb or adapting to life in a wheelchair.

Some combat-wounded veterans and their families have taken on debt to cover the cost of IVF treatments, while others have put off an education provided to them under the GI Bill so they jump back into the job market and start earning a salary right away. Others have rethought their plans to start a family altogether.

“At the end of the day, I’m so lucky to be alive. Part of that is this dream to be a parent,” said Dillmann, whose dirty-blond hair is still kept neatly cut high and tight. “But this is a big pill to swallow for all veterans facing combat injuries, which have hurt their chances to have children.”

After two failed rounds of IVF, the Dillmanns are ready for their upcoming round, which will cost $25,000 and wipe out years of careful saving. Regardless, they remain dedicated in pursuing their goal.

Congressional efforts to overturn the ban that prohibits the VA from covering IVF costs for combat-wounded veterans were met with resistance last year over how to pay for it. Though a new push is underway, it would only provide wounded military members with a small window of time between when their injury was sustained and the time of their discharge from the military. Yet many veterans are concerned that small time frame will only make matters even more difficult.

“The timing was just all wrong. It’s the time when you are trying to learn to shower and get your mind around the fact that you will never walk again. I wasn’t in the position to think about starting a family at that moment,” Alex explained.

Why One Columbia Graduate Carried Her Mattress Across the Stage — And Why It Matters

Happy Friends Studying Together
On Tuesday May 19, activist and recent college graduate Emma Sulkowicz carried her mattress across the stage of Columbia University’s graduation ceremony, with three friends helping her shoulder the weight.

It would be a shocking spectacle for any other graduation ceremony, but for Sulkowicz and her classmates, it was just another day.

Since the school year began in September 2014, Sulkowicz began carrying her mattress to protest the school’s values — or lack thereof — regarding sexual assault. Sulkowicz herself is a rape survivor, and she began speaking out about the lack of protection in American colleges for rape survivors after she discovered that the school took no actions against her rapist, who was also a student at Columbia and who was allowed to finish out his education, graduating on the same stage as Sulkowicz.

As her senior thesis performance art project, Sulkowicz decided to carry her mattress everywhere she went on campus — for as long as her rapist was allowed to attend classes, which ended up being the entire year.

The project, titled “Mattress Performance” (and alternatively “Carry That Weight”) quickly grabbed the attention of major media outlets and it also brought new light to the health concerns of young women, particularly college students, across the country.

As recently wrote, it’s difficult for researchers to determine concrete numbers regarding sexual violence and sexual health on college campuses. In some cases, as in Sulkowicz’s case, university administrations simply don’t provide resources for students who are recovering from traumatic events.

In other cases, resources are available, but the fear of stigmatization and judgment from peers causes students to avoid seeking help.

STDs and STIs, for example, are fairly common among young adults today — but only 40% of sexually active young women are tested for common and treatable infections like chlamydia.

And on-campus rape, researchers are finding out, is happening more often than previously estimated. According to a new study conducted at an unnamed university in Upstate New York, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, approximately one in every five women have been the victims of attempted or committed rape — during their freshman year of college alone.

It’s because of brave women, like Sulkowicz, that more women and men have finally begun to speak out about sexual violence and health concerns. The results are far higher — and more worrisome — than researchers predicted just a few years ago, but the recent findings make it clear that these issues are too widespread to be ignored any longer.

Top American Cities Receive Scorecard on Energy Efficiency

install solar panels
The 51 largest cities in the U.S. received a scorecard last week from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, with Boston claiming the top spot for the second year in a row.

“Our findings show that cities continue to be laboratories of innovation when it comes to energy efficiency, with many pushing the envelope for more energy savings in the last few years,” said lead author David Ribeiro in a May 20 news release. “Cities are also improving their approaches when it comes to tracking and communicating their efforts to save energy. By capturing these efforts in the [City Energy Efficiency] Scorecard we hope local leaders from cities of all sizes can learn best practices from each other and deliver the benefits of energy efficiency to their communities, such as a stronger economy and a cleaner environment.”

Energy efficiency refers to doing the same amount of work with less energy — essentially, improving energy usage without sacrificing any function or convenience. With efficiency in mind, Boston has implemented a number of city-wide energy policies as well as focused on energy and water usage in large and medium-sized buildings.

The city has also made efforts to engage residents on a personal level and get them invested in conservation and efficiency efforts. Many of the choices made in the home, particularly when it comes to appliances, can have a large collective effect on overall efficiency; heating and cooling equipment, for example, tends to become less efficient over time, but few people know that HVAC equipment often physically lasts longer than it is economically viable.

Boston was followed in the rankings by New York City, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle. The lowest-ranking city was Oklahoma City, with Birmingham, Raleigh, Detroit and New Orleans rounding out the bottom five.

Several cities near the top of the list have shown marked improvement since last year’s assessment from the ACEEE. Those include Washington (2), Los Angeles (12), Chicago (6), Minneapolis (7) and Seattle (5).

As the report points out, however, there’s still quite a bit of room for improvement even in the most efficient cities. Boston was the only city to earn above 80 points (out of 100), and only 13 cities total scored above a 50%.

Marine’s Candid Wedding Prayer Photo Goes Viral

Bride and groom making a toast with champagne
It’s been six years since Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz’s unexpected wedding entrance dance set to Chris Brown’s “Forever” went viral, but the summer of 2015 has seen a resurgence in viral wedding videos. For years, surprise proposal videos, often featuring flash mobs and choreographed dance numbers, have been popular online hits, but two recent viral sensations have put the focus back on the reception.

Over the Memorial Day weekend in Asheville, NC, a photo of a young couple sharing a tender moment prior to saying their “I Do’s” has already been shared millions of times, appearing all over social media and in tabloid magazines the world over.

The photo shows high school sweethearts Marine Cpl. Caleb Earwood, 21, and his bride-to-be Maggie, 22, holding hands in prayer while standing on opposite sides of a door, so as to not break the tradition of seeing each other before the bride walks down the aisle. Caleb, looking handsome in his uniform, and the beautiful Maggie, sobbing tears of joy, may have just gotten the best candid wedding photo of the year.

Being able to monetize their viral fame might come in handy for the couple, considering the average budget for a wedding and reception is a combined $28,400 in 2015.

When asked what he was praying for, Caleb said, “I prayed to God for my beautiful and intelligent wife that he blessed me with and the amazing family I was marrying into.

The intimate romantic snapshot launched the newlyweds to internet fame overnight, while the unsuspecting couple were preparing for a honeymoon trip to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park.

“When I first grabbed his hand, he was shaking really bad, so I knew he was really nervous,” the blushing bride said.

And in the United Kingdom, another young couple has found unexpected wedding fame over the weekend. English groom Shaun Palmer hired a trained snowy owl, like the famous Hedwig of Harry Potter fame, to fly a pair of rings down the aisle. Video of Bilbo — that’s the owl’s name — and the bride’s stunned reaction has gone viral, too.

Virtual Reality “Theme Park” to Be Unveiled in Utah Next Year

Programming Internet website network
Utah is slated to get a thoroughly unconventional theme park next year. Consisting of just seven 60-foot-square rooms scheduled to be built starting in the fall, the entertainment factor at The Void will come from virtual reality.

“Why play a game,” a promotional trailer for the park asks, “when you can live it?”

At The Void, VR helmets and vests will layer virtual environments over physical ones, creating numerous possibilities, worlds and scenarios for visitors to explore. The rooms will be reconfigurable, and even the surfaces will be customized to individual scenarios. If in your virtual world you are hiding behind a tree, for example, then the room’s surfaces will be made to feel like rough bark under your fingertips; if you’re attempting to open a hatch, the surface will mimic that of cold metal.

Ken Bretschneider, the man behind this vision, says he was inspired by the disappointment he felt at having virtual reality be confined to a stationary experience.

“I wanted to jump out of my chair and go run around,” Bretschneider told the Washington Post May 8. “I wanted to be in there, but I felt like I was separated from that world just sitting down playing a game. So I often would stand up and then I couldn’t do anything.”

VR technology has taken several leaps forward in just the past few years, and the much-anticipated Oculus Rift headsets should be made available to the public next year. But Bretschneider, an experienced techie who sold his cybersecurity business to put more time into his VR ambitions, is making his own.

And in order to amp up the experience even further, The Void will include non-virtual elements that are much lower tech, such as blasts of steam (while high-pressure steam systems are associated with industrial applications, low-pressure systems of 30 psig or less are more akin to steam radiators, being very safe as long as they’re inspected about once a year).

Those types of elements will set the park apart from any experience that can be offered to home gamers, according to Bretschneider. “There isn’t any way to be able to go out and create the full potential of virtual reality in the home market,” he explained to the Post. “It became really apparent to me that we needed to build a facility where people could come to and not have to worry about hooking up virtual reality, making it work and trying to run around inside their house.”

Eventually, Bretschneider hopes to build centers in cities across North America, Asia and Europe. Of course, that dream will probably largely depend on how the Utah pilot is received.

Barclays Predicts Major Reduction in U.S. Auto Sales When Self-Driving Cars Hit the Market

Google-Self Driving Cars

Driverless cars may sound like a technological pipe dream straight out of a Jetsons cartoon, but consumers could actually be seeing them out on the road sooner than expected.

Not only are many American consumers concerned about how this will affect their time on the road, but many are wondering how these new vehicles could affect the auto industry as a whole. According to new research by Barclays, the future of car sales isn’t looking too bright if driverless cars become accessible.

In the past few years, the U.S. auto industry has made substantial improvements since its downturn during the Recession. Consumer confidence has played a big role: as more dealerships and manufacturers began offering more vehicle information online, almost every car buyer (94%) has used the internet to research a car before purchasing it.

It isn’t too surprising that consumers aren’t as confident in driverless cars, but as Bloomberg Business and The Motor Report both note, the economic effect of autonomous cars could actually be more worrisome.

According to the Barclays report titled “Disruptive Mobility,” analysts predict that self-driving cars could bring down U.S. car sales by as much as 40% over the next 25 years.

One analyst working with Barclays has stated it’s likely that almost half of all families in urban regions will become one-car households, and car-sharing programs will become more popular. Because autonomous cars could be programmed to drive passengers who are unable to drive, it’s estimated that one self-driving car could replace up to nine traditional cars.

Overall, it’s possible that car sales in the U.S. could drop by about 60% in the next couple of decades, numbering around 9.5 million sales per year.

Safety concerns aside, this drastic change could hurt manufacturers and dealerships just as much as the recent Recession. With less demand, manufacturers will have to cut production — and jobs — substantially.

Although Ford Motor Co. has not commented on the report, General Motors Co. has stated that it’s confident the company will be able to adapt to autonomous vehicles.

Utah Gun-Making Company Vector Arms Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Allegory of Justice
A Utah gun manufacturer recently sought bankruptcy protection to cope with its mounting expenses and bills, stemming from a three-year legal battle with convicted felon Ralph Merrill.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Vector Arms Corp. — the self-described “source for the best AK47 and *UZI’s on the market” — faces substantial legal debts due to an ongoing dispute over whether Merrill, the majority owner of Vector’s predecessor, sold Vector’s gun-making equipment and inventory to Jason Maughn, its current owner and president.

The 2011 sale would have taken place after Merrill lost his license to manufacture firearms due to his involvement in an illegal scheme to use China-manufactured bullets to fill a $298 million order for ammunition from the Afghanistan Security Forces. The U.S. Army’s 2006 contract states that none of this ammo could come from China.

There are approximately 8,980 Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings each year; this form of bankruptcy helps businesses and enterprises restructure their debts and gain protection from creditor lawsuits.

Vector’s legal disputes take place at a time when many small arms manufacturers are suffering from slow business; many of its competitors have shuttered their doors in recent years.

“Vector, like most independent small arms manufacturers, has experienced a slowdown in its business over the last year,” Maughn said.

In 2014, Vector brought in just $650,000 in sales, compared to $1.2 million in 2013. Merrill’s lawsuit has made it even more difficult for the company to stay afloat. For example, the lawsuit contains a court order that forbids Vector from moving out of its 9,000-square-foot facility, which is about twice the amount of space the company actually needs.

By seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Maughn says he intends to get Vector out of its current real estate lease and re-arrange the approximately $165,000 in debt that the company owes to its suppliers.

Vector Arms will remain open throughout its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, the Wall Street Journal reports.

New Brewery to Open in Cincinnati


This fall, a new brewery is set to open in a Cincinnati neighborhood. reports that The Woodburn Brewery will set up shop in East Walnut Hills later this year. Chris Mitchell and Dennis Chacón, the managing partners of the brewery, have extensive experience in the brewing industry and have 14 investors on board with them. The investors, like the managing partners, have extensive experience in brewing.

The Woodburn Brewery reflects a national trend of an increase of new breweries. It is estimated that a majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery.

The brewery will occupy 4,000 square-feet of land in a building originally built as a movie theater in 1909. Though an outline of the movie screen is still visible on the back wall, the building has also served as a bank and a dry cleaners before becoming a brewery.

Mitchell said he will preserve and commemorate as much of the building’s extensive history as possible. The brewery, for example, will keep the exposed brick layout and will re-install the former bank vault gate. It will also be designed in order to allow tap room visitors to see the brewery itself through a large glass wall.

“It’s got that Union Terminal feel, with sandstone in the front and art deco style,” Mitchell said.

He hopes to include space for 120 people and to be open for seven days a week.

Upon opening, the brewery plans on making up to six house brews to start out with, including a pineapple saison, a red porter, and an India pale ale (IPA) brewed with genuine Spanish cedar. The brewery’s pride, however, happens to be an award-winning pilsner, the rights of which the investors acquired from the German brewery BrauHaus Espelkamp.

Mitchell has been brewing beer at home for at least 15 years, which he feels will make all the difference once business gets started.

“I think our willingness to experiment is going to set us apart,” he said. “We’re not just going to have six flagship beers and that’s it.”

The Woodburn Brewery may even distribute its beer to local bars and restaurants depending on how the opening goes. It already owns 20 barrels for brewing. Mitchell plans on brewing at least 500 barrels its first year.