Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 01, 2011

National Center for Supercomputing Applications Turns 25

The foundation for many of the world's most powerful computers is housed at the University of Illinois. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) started 25 years ago using computer systems like the Cray X-MP/24. Back then it was an industry standard, but it doesn't even come close to the processing speeds of today's models. The center set another world standard by releasing Mosaic, a pre-cursor to the web browser. The NCSA marks its 25th anniversary this year, and Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to the center's director Thom Dunning about the organization's contributions to science and technology.

(Photo courtesy of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 27, 2011

FutureGen CO2 Decision Site Expected on Monday

The wait is nearly over for the four Illinois counties hoping to be the FutureGen clean coal project's carbon dioxide storage site.

The FutureGen Alliance will announce its selection Monday. The alliance is a group of coal companies and other firms working with the U.S. Department of Energy on FutureGen.

The sites in contention are in Christian, Douglas, Fayette and Morgan counties.

Leaders hope the project could bring 1,000 construction and 150 permanent jobs to their communities.

The carbon dioxide would be generated by a power plant in Meredosia the project aims to refit with low-emissions technology. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

The project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental coal plant in Mattoon.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 28, 2010

Dynegy to Shut Down Oakwood Power Generation Facility

Energy company Dynegy will be closing its Vermilion Power facility near Oakwood by the end of March.

Company spokesman David Byford said mothballing the more than 50-year old facility largely comes down to economics.

"We have higher fuel costs at Vermilion because the plant is not located on a rail line," Byford said. "And that would be coupled with market conditions that would include reduced power demand and lower power prices that don't favor continued operations."

During a year-long review, Byford said company heads looked at options for the plant, including alternative fuel supply arrangements. But he said the price of fuel for supplying the plant with its coal also proved to be too much.

"We took a year exploring numerous options for the plant that included looking at alternative fuel supply arrangements," Byford said. "But in the end, we're still faced with poor plant economics."

Byford said the plant is no longer being used all the time, and he said a regional power grid ensures a reliable power supply to the area. The precise closure date for the plant is not known, but it is expected near the end of the first quarter of 2011. The company said the next step is for Dynegy to develop plans for suspending operations in a safe and reliable manner. The plant has about 50 employees, and Byford said it is not yet known whether they will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company.

Categories: Economics, Energy, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 28, 2010

Beatles Course Popular on iTunes U

A longtime instructor of a course on The Beatles has greatly boosted his student base... and popularity... via the web. University of Illinois at Springfield Communication and Liberal Studies professor Michael Cheney has taken his love for the Fab Four and condensed it into a series of on-line lectures. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Cheney about his Beatles course, and a podcast that's drawing fans worldwide.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

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Categories: Music, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 20, 2010

FutureGen Narrows Potential Carbon Sites to 4

The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.

The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.

"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."

Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.

The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.

The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.

Categories: Energy, Environment, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2010

Champaign Movie Theatre to Feature Performance Art Shows in HD

The Art Theatre in Champaign will roll out a new series this month with an emphasis on the performing arts.

The theater is teaming up with the digital film company, Emerging Pictures, to feature operas, ballets, and Shakespearean plays in High Definition and surround sound. The first selection in the series is this weekend's presentation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, recorded from London's Globe Theatre. Sanford Hess, the operator at the Art Theatre, said he hopes the showings will offer audience members a close representation of what it is like to see a live performance.

"You get close-ups of the performers that you would never get when you're sitting in the theatre," he said. "At the same time you still get that kind of communal experience of watching it with many other people who are also opera lovers or who love to see ballet."

Hess said he plans to invite speakers to give a presentation before each showing to provide some background about the stories and help explain the staging of each production.

"With the Shakespeare (plays), I think it's not so much the story that you need, but sometimes it's fascinating to know the historical context that some of the plays take place in," he explained. "I know Richard III has been staged in sort of World War II time frame. So, they're trying to make a point and have somebody give some context before you start; it's great."

Ticket prices for operas will be set at $20 for adults, and $18 for children, students, and senior citizens. All Shakespearean plays and ballets will be priced at $15 for adults and $13.50 for children, students, and senior citizens. Audience members can get discounted rates by purchasing a three-show package. The 2011 Winter/Spring season starts next month with a free showing of Verdi's Aidia on January 1st and 2nd.

Hess said the Art Theatre also plans to start showing digitized classic films early next year with works by British director Alfred Hitchcock, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and filmmakers from the French New Wave movement.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2010

UI Air Security Expert: More Searches are Not Equal to More Security

Airline passengers are putting up with a new and often unwelcome level of security screenings, but a University of Illinois professor who studies aviation security said those searches may not be useful.

Thanksgiving-weekend travelers at the nation's largest airports reported few slowdowns or other problems with "backscanner" machines that give screeners revealing images of passengers. Those who turned down the scans are subject to intensive pat-downs.

Professor Sheldon Jacobson said he believes federal officials pay too much attention to searching for banned items, and that the high-level searches should not be the first line of defense against terrorists.

"The question is, is this an effective use of a very powerful technology? In our own research, we don't believe it is," Jacobson said. "We believe that using it for secondary screening is far more appropriate and will actually facilitate a far more secure system, which is very counter-intuitive in some sense."

Jacobson says more effective security should focus on a passenger's intent. He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to further its research on ways of filtering out passengers based on background checks and looking for behavioral red flags at the airport.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 22, 2010

AT&T Phone Service Restored in Urbana

Residents and businesses in Urbana who found themselves without phone service last week should have it restored by now.

A spokeswoman for AT&T said crews finished repairs on an underground cable over the weekend. Brooke Vane said they were sending tech personnel around to each phone and telecom customer to re-start their service. An employee at the Urbana School District confirmed that their phone service was restored around midday Monday.

Vane stated that they received around 300 complaints about the disruption caused when a construction crew accidentally cut the cable at the U of I campus, but she did not know the full number of customers who were affected. She said anyone still experiencing problems should call the AT&T customer service and repair number --- 1-888-611-4466.

Categories: Business, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2010

Cut Cable Leads to 911 Disruption in Champaign County

Champaign County's METCAD 911 staff says a disruption to service this morning was the result of a cut cable on the University of Illinois campus.

A construction crew accidentally cut the cable at Illinois Street and Matthews Avenue, by the U of I's Noyes Lab, about 8-30 a.m.. METCAD says the worst of the problems were over in an hour, when some of its staff went to Rantoul's Police station to help anyone not getting through to the dispatch facility. Anyone in the county who's unable to use 9-1-1, should call 333-8911. Greg Abbott, METCAD's deputy director of technology, says if callers don't get a ring right away, they should use the alternate number.

So far, he says only a small part of Urbana was impacted. Abbott says it's a good thing the AT & T line was cut at a time when phone traffic is slow. "Usually once everybody gets to their offices or to school in the morning our call volume drops off until around noon," said Abbott. "So if it had to happen, that was probably a good time for it to occur."

The cut line has also affected phone lines to businesses in the area. Customers at the Urbana Schnuck's weren't able to use debit cards for purchases on Thursday. Abbott says the cut line impacted some banks and cell phone towers as well. A-T & T spokeswoman Brooke Vane there's been extensive damage to several cables and the company expects complete restoration to take several days. She says crews will be working around the clock. Vaine says splicing pairs of cables together at the same time is a tedious process.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2010

Citizens Utility Board Urges Consumers, Companies to Cut Cell Phone Rates

Following Verizon Wireless' announcement in October that it would refund customers $53 million in unnecessary charges, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has come out with a report assessing Illinois' wireless industry.

The study found that cell phone users could save around $360 a year by identifying billing errors, cutting down on the number of available minutes, and not paying extra for cell phone insurance or roadside assistance.

Bryan McDaniel, a senior policy analyst with CUB, said high wireless rates are costing Champaign residents more than $13 million a year. Across the state he said it is much higher at just under a billion dollars. McDaniel said trimming cell phone bills could help the state's sluggish economy, as businesses struggle to stay afloat.

"If we didn't give that $13 million to the cell phone companies, and instead to local businesses and mom and pop shops, that'd be a good thing for our economy," McDaniel said. "Unfortunately every month, we're throwing away money to these cell phone companies when we don't need to be."

According to the report, the wireless industry should start providing more flexible plans, so that people are not deadlocked into paying extra for features that they do not want.

"Allow people to have 150 minute plans," McDaniel said. "I can't tell you the number of seniors I've talked to who just want a simple 100 minute plan that they can't get anymore."

McDaniel added that consumers also have a responsibility to trim their cell phone rates. He explained that they can visit Cellphone Saver, a free online service that allows users to upload an online copy of their wireless bills - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. Within a few seconds, the website spits out an analysis showing consumers how to cut their costs. The study used the web service to track data from August 2009 though July 2010.

(Photo courtesy of Major Clanger/flickr)

Categories: Business, Economics, Technology

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