Illinois Public Media News
A computerized alert system is reminding voters this election year to choose a candidate for each of Illinois' constitutional offices, which include governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
The technology aimed at catching ballot errors stems from a 2007 law that took effect during the February 2 primary election. If a voter forgets or chooses not to vote for a candidate, they are notified to make that vote if they choose.
The alerts are only used during election years when constitutional office holders are on the ballot. Sixty seven counties in the state use the ballot alerts at polling places, but not every county uses them in the same way.
For example, in Champaign County, voters get an on-screen notification when they do not fill out a response for one of the state's six constitutional offices. However, in Macon County, voters are alerted when they skip any ballot measure. Macon County Clerk Steve Bean said election laws should apply to every item on the ballot.
"The most concern of most clerks is this is a law that affects six offices selected in the state of Illinois," Bean said. "It doesn't care about any of the others."
County Champaign Clerk Mark Shelden, whose county restricts the alerts to constitutional offices only, filed a lawsuit in November 2009 against the Illinois State Board of Elections. He claimed that the alerts violated voters' rights to privacy. However, Shelden later dropped the lawsuit because of budgetary reasons.
"If the legislature doesn't act in the spring," Shelden explained. "I definitely think the lawsuit needs to be brought back."
While the technology alerts people of a missed vote, it does not discard ballots.\
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
A supercomputer in China last week took over the title of world's fastest, outpacing a supercomputer in the United States. However, a new supercomputer under development at the University of Illinois is still projected to be even faster.
The Tianhe-1A supercomputer in the Chinese city of Tianjin is reported to have a peak computing capacity of around 2.5 petaflops --- a petaflop equals one quadrillion calculations per second. Still, the Blue Waters supercomputer at the U of I is expected to have a peak capacity of 10 petaflops when completed, and there are other differences.
Thom Dunning of the University's National Center for Supercomputing Applications said the Chinese supercomputer uses two types of processors: a central processing unit (CPU) and a graphics processing unit (GPU). Dunning said Blue Waters will be based on CPU's only. He said Blue Waters will be designed to take on a much broader range of science and engineering problems, compared to Tianhe 1A.
"It is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison because you're comparing a very general purpose supercomputer with a very specialized purpose supercomputer." Dunning said. "But even given that comparison, Blue Waters is going to outperform the new Chinese supercomputer, even on those applications for which the Chinese supercomputer is well-suited."
The U of I is working with IBM on Blue Waters, which will use the company's new POWER7 microprocessors. Meanwhile, new Chinese-designed interconnect or network technology is a notable feature of Tianhe 1A. Blue Waters is set to start operation next fall, and be at full capacity in 2012.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Robert Easter recently returned from a week-long trip to India. Easter met with university, business, and government officials to discuss research partnerships in areas ranging from agriculture, to information technologies, to climate change. He also talked about the prospects of opening a campus in India, and opportunities for graduate education.
There are about 400 undergraduate and more than 460 graduate students from India currently studying at the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Easter about the relationship developing between India and the University of Illinois.
Federal officials have taken one more step toward making the re-worked FutureGen clean-coal project a reality.
The Department of Energy signed an agreement with Ameren Energy Resources to start design work to retrofit a power plant near Meredosia. Under FutureGen 2.0, carbon dioxide produced from that plant would be piped to a site where it would be stored underground. Mattoon bowed out of the project this summer, leaving the site of that storage facility in question.
Also in question is how much the project could cost Ameren and its customers. Utility spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said Ameren will have to ask state lawmakers for some sort of cost-recovery plan. Gallagher said it was too early to elaborate, saying, "We do have a lot of analysis, review, cost estimates, analyzing commercial viability before we go forward."
Gallagher said the first two phases of the project will have to be completed before any construction work begins and an exact dollar estimate would be in place.
On Tuesday the Energy Department formally committed $1 billion to FutureGen.
A series of attacks in Champaign has left the city's police department looking at ways to beef up crime prevention.
The Champaign Police Department reports that overall violence has dropped by less than a percent, but aggravated batteries are up by 10.1 percent, robberies 73.9 percent, and armed robberies have risen by 27.3 percent.
Many of these attacks in recent weeks have taken place on or near 4th and Green Street in Campustown. Chief of Police R.T. Finney would not say with certainty whether each attack is connected.
"You know many times a person is hit from behind, so identification is very difficult," explained Finney.
Finney said that arrests have been made, noting that the city is taking the attacks "very seriously" with increased officers on duty who are working overtime.
Champaign police officials are exploring ways to cut down on crime rates. Champaign Police Lieutenant Joe Gallo said in the next few weeks, his department will introduce a couple of new data mapping and analysis programs designed to help beef up security. Gallo explained that one program disseminates information for police officers to help them narrow down their search for a suspect.
"It alerts us that we've had three calls to service at this location in a given time period," said Gallo. "The intelligence portion is going to come up when we start looking at that address and go, 'Ok, this person was recently paroled at this address, and he has a history of violence. Maybe we better look at what he's doing over there.'"
The other program lets the public identify recent criminal activity in their neighborhood on an interactive map, similar to Google Maps. This program lets people sign up for alerts whenever there's a crime near their home.
"I think it's going to be a really valuable tool for our community," he said.
People are encouraged to report crime-related cases to the Champaign Police Department by calling 217-351-4545. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers at 217-373-TIPS.
E-mail's been around for quite a while, and a few years ago, writers and friends David Shipley and Will Schwalbe recognized the need for an e-mail guide. They wrote it. Their guide was first published in 2007. Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn spoke to Schwalbe about the latest edition of the book.
Companies that have worked with the U.S. Department of Energy in its bid to build an experimental coal power plant and store its carbon dioxide have decided to stick with the project, but the consortium said that a series of terms and conditions will have to be met this fall.
The Alliance wants to build and operate a pipeline that would be part of recent Energy Department changes, and they want to run the site where carbon dioxide would be stored underground. Alliance Board Chairman Steve Winberg said in a press release that the group is pleased that the federal government and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been able to preserve the $1 billion in funding for advancing clean coal technologies and associated jobs.
"We look forward to working with them and our new partners in making FutureGen 2.0 a success," said Winberg. The original FutureGen was to include a power plant near Mattoon, but the Department of Energy replaced the idea with plans for a new plant there for storing emissions. The new so-called clean coal project will now involve a retrofitted power plant in Western Illinois. Mattoon withdrew from the project after the change.
Meanwhile, the economic official who led Mattoon's effort to lure and develop the original FutureGen project calls the Alliance a group of great partners with high integrity. Coles Together President Angela Griffin says she wishes the companies all the best as they plan FutureGen 2.0. She says the Alliance is investing in the project for the right reasons - bringing a billion-dollar project to Illinois. But Griffin says it's unclear what exactly the Department of Energy will be seeking in a new community to house a carbon storage facility. She cites a press release put out by the DOE last week for interested communities.
"There were no site parameters or project parameters that the communities could then look at that would then say whether or not they were eligible," said Griffin. "Now, largely in that press release it talked about 10 square miles of subsurface, and I think 100 miles from the Meredosia plant. But other than that, I don't know that communites have received any direction about what they need to have in terms of site features in order to apply."
Griffin says she spoke with the mayor of Marshall, who expressed interest in luring the new FutureGen facility. And she says the mayor of Taylorville had also shown interest. But Griffin says she hasn't endorsed any community to host the new carbon storage facility. Griffin says her group may cross paths again with the FutureGen Alliance, as economic officials in Mattoon pursue development of technologies at the city's site that address greenhouse gas emissions. And Alliance Chairman Steve Winberg says the site in Mattoon is 'excellent' for future commercial development.
New revisions in the Department of Energy's FutureGen project has led one local lawmaker to question its viability.
The DOE had already scrapped a new clean coal power plant for Mattoon, in favor of a retrofitted plant in western Illinois. The DOE is also looking for a new site for underground carbon dioxide sequestration, after Mattoon decided to withdraw from FutureGen. Under the latest revised plans, the underground storage site needs ten acres of land --- about five times the size of the Mattoon site. State Representative Chapin Rose --- whose district includes Mattoon --- said the Energy Department's changes threaten to ruin FutureGen
"How on earth are they going to secure the easement for these property owners for a 10-square mile area," asked Rose, who said FutureGen was at one point a good idea. "I don't think the thing's ever going to happen."
The DOE wants to begin construction of the FutureGen project by 2012, but needs to produce an environmental impact report on the storage site first. John Thompson with the non-profit Clean Air Task Force said that alone could take up to three years. He said he wants FutureGen to succeed, but he is concerned the latest changes to the plan may put it in jeopardy.
"If they need to take more time to find the right storage site, they need to do that," said Thompson. "But what's happened over the last month or so is a number of changes that are occurring very quickly without careful consideration, and that needs to change."
A new storage site must be picked before September 30, the deadline when the federal government can dedicate billion of dollars in stimulus funds for FutureGen.
Thompson said he believes the DOE should carefully review the best possible storage fields across the state before it makes a decision, even if it means determining that a nearby power plant would be a better fit for the new oxy-combustion technique rather than the Meredosia plant.
As the organizers of Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project prepare for the start next year of construction of the high-speed fiber-optic network ... they're asking local institutions to be early participants.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband Consortium, or UC2B, has sent out applications to some 300 hospitals, public safety agencies, schools, social service institutions and others, asking them to become "anchor institutions" in the new broadband network.
UC2B Project Manager John Kersh says getting local institutions on board with the new network will enrich the service for residential and other customers who join them later --- because all would be receiving the same high-speed service.
"One primary example would be increased accessibility between medical facilities or rescue and fire, and residents", says Kersh. "And there could be some things that could be done with the technology and accessibility between those two entities."
Kersh says the cost of connecting to the new fiber-optic network would be free for the anchor institutions --- paid for by the federal grant UC2B was awarded earlier this year. The anchors would only pay the monthly service charge, which Kersh says will be lower than what the typical private Internet provider charges.
Potential anchor institutions have until September 1st to submit their applications.
Kersh says if UC2B keeps to its construction schedule, some of the anchor institutions could be using the new high-speed network some time next year.
UC2B is a joint project of the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the University of Illinois. A federal grant is funding construction of UC2B's core network, and hookups to underserved neighborhoods and the anchor institutions. The network will also be available to other Internet service providers.
Add Decatur and Springfield to the list of Illinois towns thinking about bidding for a role in the reworked FutureGen clean-coal project.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office says a number of towns have inquired since Mattoon declined to become an underground storage site for carbon dioxide from a retrofitted coal plant in western Illinois. Durbin's office won't say which towns.
Mayor Mike McElroy says Decatur is looking into how many jobs the project might bring.
Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin says the capital city will take a hard look, too.
The Department of Energy last week announced radical changes in FutureGen. Plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon were scrapped in favor of retrofitting an old plant in Meredosia.
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