Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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Will Sandy Blow Away East Coast Wind Farms?

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 3:03 AM PDT

Big storms always raise the spectre of damage to nuclear reactors and other important energy infrastructure. But with wind speeds predicted to gust up to 90 mph today, how are the East Coast's wind turbines holding up to Hurricane Sandy?

"Wind turbines are designed specifically to harness the wind, but they are also designed to withstand it," Ellen Carey of the American Wind Energy Association said in an email. Most turbines are designed to stand up to winds up to 135 mph, she said, well beyond what's expected from this storm. And there are a host of techniques turbines operators can make use of to protect the infrastructure, starting with rotating the blades laterally so that wind slips through them.

Matt Tulis of E.On Energy said a wind farm the company operates in Munnsville, NY, will stay open through storm, barring any mandatory evacuations for workers there.

"They're prepared for whatever Mother Nature might blow in," he said. "We look for windy spots. So on a certain level, the more wind the better."

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Want More Campaign Ads? There's an App for That

| Thu Oct. 25, 2012 2:16 PM PDT

Feel like you're undersaturated with campaign advertising? Need even more exposure to the slogans and smiling faces of our two major presidential contenders? When Alexey Komissarouk, a Bay Area programmer, wanted to add to the growing list of apps for political junkies, he designed a program that can give voters a bit more control over the web ads they see.

This week he and a few friends launched Hotspot the Vote, which harnesses Android devices to "Obamify" or "Romnify" WiFi routers so browsers will replace every ad (including ads for Amazon, Etsy, OkCupid, or whatever else you might normally see, along with ads for other politicians) with ads for your candidate. 

"It's like putting up a campaign poster in your living room," he said. And while you might apprecitate being reminded of which candidate you're rooting for with each and every banner ad, the program packs a bigger punch when installed on public routers: Komissarouk is pitching the tool to coffee shops and other spaces with open internet connections. It's Obama or nothing at Philadelphia's Trolley Car Diner, a 1950s-style eatery that owner Ken Weinstein said "Obamified" its free WiFi yesterday.

"We're in a very liberal community," Weinstein said. "Our choice to Obamify reflects our clientele."

Still, Weinstein said the change didn't equate to an official Trolley Car Diner endorsement of the incumbent, and rejected the suggestion that limiting online content for his patrons was a form of censorship: "They have a choice about whether to eat here, and about whether to sign in to our WiFi. As long as we're providing it for free, I think that's reasonable."

VIDEO: What's Inside Your iPhone 5?

| Wed Oct. 3, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

The iPhone has become one of the developed world's most ubiquitous consumer products; the new iPhone 5 sold more than 5 million units in its first week. But the vast majority of iPhone users have no clue what goes into the guts of their coveted toy. That's no accident, since the phone's internal design and chemical content are closely guarded trade secrets and Apple deliberately makes it difficult for consumers to open up the device.

Enter Kyle Wiens, whose company, iFixit, aims to help users penetrate their gadgets' dark secrets, from how much toxic mercury they contain to how to change the damn battery. Last week, Climate Desk found shelter from a torrential rainstorm near one of New York City's Apple stores and watched Wiens go to work (see video above). Today, iFixit released the results of its chemical analysis of the iPhone 5 and a suite of other popular cellphones, conducted by the environmental nonprofit Ecology Center.

The good news: The iPhone 5 is far less toxic than the early models. The bad news: There's no such thing as a "green" phone.

First the good news: The iPhone 5 is leagues ahead of its more toxic predecessors—especially the original, 2G model. (The worst overall performers—most toxic first—were the iPhone 2G, Palm m125, Motorola MOTO W233 Renew, Nokia M95, BlackBerry Storm 9530, and Palm Treo 750.) The latest iPhone performed better on the toxins front than most rival models, including Samsung's Galaxy S III, and was only narrowly beaten out by the least-toxic phone examined, the Motorola Citrus.

Now the bad news: The iPhone 5 still tests high for mercury and chlorine, both of which can present serious health hazards if they leach into local water supplies from a dump somewhere—typically in a poor area of China, Ghana, or India. It also contained trace amounts of bromine, which has been linked to thyroid cancer and lung disease. "There's no such thing as a 'green' phone," Wiens points out. "There's no such thing as a phone that has no toxic chemicals."

iFixit.comiFixit.comStill, the new iPhone looks great compared with its original progenitor, which contained an astonishing 1,020 times more bromine and 97 times more mercury than the current model, according to iFixit. But the point of all of this is less about any one phone's chemical components, and more about the need to curb our addiction to throwing away phones that could be fixed rather than dumped. "It's critically important to consume as few phones as possible, to conserve the resources we have," Wiens says.

To see how iFixit helps make that happen, Mother Jones contributor Dashka Slater visited the company bat cave and came back with this great new profile.

 

Frank Turner's Talent: Turning Strangers Into Friends

| Mon Oct. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Frank Turner rocks out Saturday night at New York City's Webster Hall.

Greg Walker was sweating bullets. As the longtime tour bus driver for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, he'd survived his fair share of long nights and rock and roll hijinks. But he'd never been onstage. Tonight that would change: Turner had asked his trusted chaffeur to jump in on harmonica for the final number. "And that's the problem," Walker told me on Saturday night, as he nervously lit another cigarette outside New York City's Webster Hall. "I don't play harmonica."

He needn't have worried. Walker's debut was a smashing success; he huffed and puffed with great aplomb. Not that it mattered much. For Turner, the technical execution of the harmonica solo was far less important than the chance to lodge a stick of dynamite into the wall that separates artistes from their blue-collar crews and rockstar from audience member. You see, Turner doesn't care much for walls. Since the launch of his solo career in 2006, the 30-year-old British punk-rocker-turned-folk-rocker has built many of his songs around themes of radical inclusivity: He writes songs about the value of friendship, about uniting the unruly rabble, about pacifying class warfare, and about the importance of not simply being a spectator in life. If he's going to play music in front of hundreds of New Yorkers, why shouldn't the bus driver?

Bus driver Greg Walker debuts on the harmonica.  Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesBus driver Greg Walker on the harmonica. Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesThe full depth of Turner's songbook was on display Saturday, in the first of two NYC shows capping off a US tour in advance of his newest release, Last Minutes & Lost Evenings, a "hand-picked" CD+DVD compilation of his last six years' choicest tunes. If Turner is new to you, Last Minutes... (out this week) is a bangup place to start, consisting of the backbone of the Turner canon to date. The songs deal plainly with the triumphs and tribulations of urban life as a young adult: loneliness and the euphoria of reversing it, helping friends who go off the rails, confronting fears of aging and wasted time, and, of course, learning how to fight off a raging hangover and find the right bus on Sunday morning after you've crashed in some completely foreign part of town.

Tim McDonnell/Mother JonesTim McDonnell/Mother Jones

One of the best tracks on the record (and live) is "Long Live the Queen," a true story about a friend who is losing a battle with terminal illness and who convinces Turner to bust her out of the hospital for one final drunken hurrah in the streets of London. Behind me in the audience, a pale, emaciated woman with close-shaved pate sobbed and sang along. Indeed, the audience knew at least as many of the song lyrics as Turner did—and in some cases more.

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