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Wednesday, May 25, 2016 @ 09:05 AM gHale

A three-alarm fire at a west Champaign, IL, foundry that burned overnight Friday into Saturday remains under investigation.

No cause, origin or damage estimate is yet available, fire officials said Saturday morning.

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Firefighters from the Champaign, Urbana and Savoy fire departments battled the blaze.

The fire at Alloy Engineering & Casting Co., a division of WIRCO, ended up initially reported at 8:48 p.m., and upgraded to a two-alarm fire around 9:23 p.m., when firefighters got the order to evacuate the building. Officials upgraded it to a three-alarm blaze 16 minutes later.

The building houses Alloy Engineering & Casting Company, a foundry that produces heat-, corrosion- and wear-resistant castings. It was purchased by Wirco Inc. in August 2005.

Firefighters had the fire out by around 2:15 a.m. Saturday. There were no injuries in the incident.

Fire officials closed Mattis Avenue from Glenn Park Drive north to the railroad tracks Friday night. Residents of the area were allowed to stay in their homes. No injuries to firefighters or civilians were reported.

The Alloy foundry was also the site of a small fire the morning of May 27, 2011. In that instance, Champaign firefighters quickly controlled the fire that resulted when a hot casting came into contact with a machine’s rubber lining.

Friday, May 20, 2016 @ 04:05 PM gHale

A Toyota Motor Corp. assembly plant in San Antonio, TX, that makes Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks suspended production due to storm damage from a system that dumped up to 4 inches of rain.

The plant halted production Wednesday following roof and other damage, said Toyota spokesman Mario Lozoya. He cited safety concerns and said production will remain stopped until they determine when it safe to resume.

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Lozoya said nobody suffered any injuries in the weather-related incident. A section of the roof appeared to have caved in, and the plant had random power outages due to water leaks.

Parts of South Texas were hit with hail the size of tennis balls as storms rolled through Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Storms should continue through Friday in parts of the region.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 @ 03:05 PM gHale

There is a new method in development that could produce truly random numbers, which could then end up used to encrypt data, make electronic voting more secure, conduct statistically significant polls and more accurately simulate complex systems such as Earth’s climate.

The new method creates truly random numbers with less computational effort than other methods, which could facilitate significantly higher levels of security for everything from consumer credit card transactions to military communications.

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“This is a problem I’ve come back to over and over again for more than 20 years,” said University of Texas at Austin Computer Science Professor David Zuckerman. “I’m thrilled to have solved it.” Zuckerman and graduate student Eshan Chattopadhyay worked on the project.

Zuckerman and Chattopadhyay will present research about their method in June at the annual Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC), the Association for Computing Machinery’s premier theoretical computer science conference.

Chattopadhyay and Zuckerman publicly released a draft paper describing their method for making random numbers in an online forum last year. In a field more accustomed to small, incremental improvements, the computer science community hailed the method, suggesting that, compared with earlier methods, this one is light years ahead.

Oded Goldreich, a professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, said even if it had only been a moderate improvement over existing methods, it would have justified a “night-long party.”

“When I heard about it, I couldn’t sleep,” said Yael Kalai, a senior researcher working in cryptography at Microsoft Research New England who has also worked on randomness extraction. “I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. I ran to the (online) archive to look at the paper. It’s really a masterpiece.”

The new method takes two weakly random sequences of numbers and turns them into one sequence of truly random numbers. Weakly random sequences, such as air temperatures and stock market prices sampled over time, harbor predictable patterns. Truly random sequences have nothing predictable about them, like a coin toss.

The new research seems to defy that old adage in computer programming, “Garbage in, garbage out.” In fact, it’s the latest, most powerful addition to a class of methods that Zuckerman pioneered in the 1990s called randomness extractors.

Previous versions of randomness extractors were less practical because they either required one of the two source sequences be truly random (which presents a chicken or the egg problem) or both source sequences be close to truly random. This new method sidesteps both of those restrictions and allows the use of two sequences weakly random.

An important application for random numbers is in generating keys for data encryption that are hard for hackers to crack. Data encryption is critical for making secure credit card purchases and bank transactions, keeping personal medical data private and shielding military communications from enemies, among practical applications.

Zuckerman said although there are already methods for producing high-quality random numbers, they are very computationally demanding. His method produces higher quality randomness with less effort.

“One common way that encryption is misused is by not using high-quality randomness,” Zuckerman said. “So in that sense, by making it easier to get high-quality randomness, our methods could improve security.”

Their paper shows how to generate only one truly random number — akin to one coin toss — but Zuckerman’s former student Xin Li has already demonstrated how to expand it to create sequences of many more random numbers.

The website where Zuckerman and Chattopadhyay posted their draft last summer, called the Electronic Colloquium on Computational Complexity, allows researchers to share their work and receive feedback before publishing final versions in journals or at conferences.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 @ 05:05 PM gHale

Workers at an east Tulsa, OK, chemical plant evacuated early Sunday morning after chemicals reacted and filled the air with smoke.

Several workers at the Cytec Solvay Plant ended up sent to the hospital for precautionary reasons, according to Tulsa Fire Department (TFD). Workers evacuated the plant safely and called TFD around 2 a.m.

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Firefighters said a slight chemical reaction in the plant caused smoke to fill the air. Tulsa Fire came in and ventilated the plant.

Tulsa’s HazMat Unit also responded because of the chemicals used inside the plant.

Solvay is one of the main manufacturers of the solar plane Solar Impulse 2 which landed in Tulsa on Thursday night. Solvay makes advanced composites used to make the ultra-light weight plane fly across the world.

The plant was back to normal operations by Sunday afternoon, a company spokesperson said.

Other than going to the hospital for precautionary reasons, none of the workers suffered an injury.

Monday, May 16, 2016 @ 11:05 AM gHale

Almost 90,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a Shell oil facility into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast Thursday, officials said.

The spill left a 13- by 2-mile sheen of oil on the water. The Coast Guard said the spill ended up contained and two companies were beginning cleanup operations.

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Shell Offshore Inc. reported production from all wells that flow to its Brutus platform, about 90 miles south of Timbalier Island, Louisiana, had been shut off, said officials at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is part of the U.S. Interior Department.

There were no injuries or evacuations reported, the safety bureau said.

Shell said Thursday night a company helicopter spotted the sheen near its Glider subsea system at the Brutus platform. No drilling occurs at the site, which is an underwater pipe system that connects to a central hub, the company said.

“No release is acceptable, and safety remains our priority as we respond to this incident,” Shell said.

Brutus began operation in 2001 and was designed with top capacity of 100,000 barrels of oil and 150 million cubic feet (4.25 million cubic meters) of gas per day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 @ 11:04 AM gHale

A ransomware attack hit the corporate computer network at the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL) in Lansing, MI, officials said Monday.

System redundancies and separation of BWL’s corporate computer network from the utility network saved the day and allowed the organization to continue operations, said general manager Dick Peffley.

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“I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude,” he said. “We’ve had smaller problems, but nothing that’s shut the entire corporate network down like this.”

Email, phones, computers, printers and other technology on the administrative side remain shutdown, officials said.

Trent Atkins, the utility’s director of emergency management, said there’s no timeline on repairs.

“BWL was attacked by a computer virus that placed encryption software on our corporate network,” he said. “The BWL initiated our disaster response and recovery plan by isolating the virus and a self-imposed shutdown of our system.”

“And at no time was our control system infected, and there have been no threats to the production, the transmission or distribution of BWL utilities to our customers.”
— Trent Atkins, BWL director of emergency management

Lansing police ended up contacted before 7 a.m. Monday, and other state and federal law enforcement agencies have joined the ongoing investigation, he said.

Mayor Virg Bernero, who is out of the country on an economic development trip, has been in personal contact with Peffley and was fully briefed on the situation, Lansing Chief Operating Officer Chad Gamble said.

He added that the city has performed checks of its networks, which are “functioning well,” and will continue to monitor its systems.

The attack was a ransomware virus, which affects access to a computer system until the user pays a fee. BWL officials declined to comment on whether a ransom had been demanded.

“At no time was personal information breached on our network,” Atkins said. “And at no time was our control system infected, and there have been no threats to the production, the transmission or distribution of BWL utilities to our customers.”

The virus did affect the outage phone line and the online outage map. A temporary phone line and outage map have been set up. As of 6 p.m. Monday, the regular outage phone line had been restored, spokesman Steve Serkaian said, but the temporary line remained active as a precaution.

The National Weather Service said thunder, hail and high winds were possible Monday night. BWL officials said the cyber attack created no additional cause for concern with regard to maintaining or repairing utilities.

Commissioner Dennis Louney said the board learned of the virus by Peffley in an email.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 @ 12:04 PM gHale

One person is dead and four others injured after a fire broke out at Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (TÜPRAŞ) in the western province of Izmit Sunday night.

The fire broke at 10:40 p.m. local time as workers were conducting routine maintenance work at the refinery. The fire occurred in the crude oil unit. The refinery’s technical security teams got the fire out by 11:45 p.m.

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The injured ended up rushed to the hospital and were not seriously hurt. TÜPRAŞ said the injured workers are in good condition.

In February, the refinery suffered from another fire, but there were no casualties. That fire was because of a failure of technical equipment, the company said.

Refinery workers and residents in nearby apartments ended up evacuated following the February fire.

Tüpraş is Turkey’s sole oil refiner, operating four refineries with an annual capacity of 28.1 million tons of crude.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 @ 11:04 AM gHale

TransCanada Corp. restarted the 590,000-barrel-per-day Keystone crude pipeline at reduced pressure.

The Canadian energy company said the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) approved the return to service plan for a controlled start Saturday night.

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The pipeline, which delivers light and heavy crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Cushing, Oklahoma, and Illinois, shut down April 2 after a leak in South Dakota.

Just about 16,800 gallons of oil leaked into a field in South Dakota as part of a spill that shut the Keystone pipeline down, TransCanada officials said.

“As part of the return-to-service plan approved by PHMSA, TransCanada is operating the pipeline at reduced pressure,” the company said.

In an emailed statement, company said it identified the leak near its Freeman pump station in Hutchinson County, South Dakota.

The company also said it will conduct aerial patrols and visual inspections during the restart.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 @ 04:03 PM gHale

A pipe broke at a sewage treatment plant in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and leaked 400 to 600 gallons of hydrogen peroxide, officials said.

Workers are now cleaning up the spill, which occurred Monday at 5:20 p.m.

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The chemical spilled into a holding tank when the pipe broke at the sewage treatment plant. Crews worked through the night to safely remove about 400 to 600 gallons of the highly-concentrated chemical.

The biggest concern is hydrogen peroxide reacts with anything organic, said city spokesman Chaz Adams. He said HazMat crews used buckets to remove the chemical from the tank.

There were no injuries in the incident and some surrounding evacuated as a precaution.