David Almandsmith

SciSchmoozing from Cyber Monday and Beyond!

by David Almandsmith

Hello again, thoughtful friend of thinking (¿or is it thinking friend of thought?),
 
Once upon a time (¡spoiler alert: fairy tale follows!) taxonomy neatly divided life into two kingdoms:
  • PLANTS and ANIMALS.
Oops. Well dang, these microscopic things don’t have a nucleus so let’s make it three kingdoms:
  • BACTERIA, PLANTS, and ANIMALS.
You probably see where this is going. Today, largely because of genetic studies, there are three recognized domains (Bacteria, Archaea, & Eukaryota), six super-kingdoms of Eukaryota, and oodles of kingdoms. Heck, we animals (Kingdom Animalia) are placed under super-kingdom Opistokonta lumped in with fungi (huh?) ¿Did i say six
by Bob Siederer

Hello again Science fans!

We have a lot to cover today, beginning with the California wildfires.  The Camp fire has been responsible for our unhealthy air quality these past days.  Just how bad it is where you are depends on the wind direction and strength, as well as proximity to the fire.  Many events around the area have been postponed or canceled, including some on our calendar.  This serves to remind you that you should always click through from our calendar to the website of the sponsoring organization for last minute updates before you take off to attend an event.  We often don't receive notification of changes, so always check with the organizers.

Lawrence Berkeley Labs published a useful article on how you can protect yourself and your family from the damaging smoke.  Finding masks at this point is difficult as most stores have been out of them for a while.  When they get them back in stock, buy some so you have them for next time, because there WILL be a next time!

If you think fires are worse

SciSchmoozing on Election Week

by David Almandsmith

¿Did we mention voting? If you have a vote-by-mail ballot, be certain to mail it early enough to have a postmark on or before Tuesday or take it to any polling station in your county on election day. Heck, someone else can take it there for you; just write their name on the envelope where there is a space for that.
 
Speaking of space (huh?), the planet-finding Kepler spacecraft is finally beyond resuscitation. Kepler was designed to last 3.5 years but clever work-arounds for failing components kept it working for 9 years. It detected 2,800 planets and another 2,600 ‘possible planet’ candidates.
 
Eleven years ago, the Dawn spacecraft left Earth for the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Four years later it arrived at its primary destination, Vesta, an asteroid over 500 kilometers in diameter. It remained orbiting and studying Vesta 14 months before rocketing off to Ceres, the largest of the asteroids at over 900 km diameter. It reached Ceres in 2015 and has been sending back data ever since – that is until last Thursday when

Hacking with the SciSchmooze – 1 Oct 2018

by David Almandsmith

The season for colds is upon us. [Hack, hack, a-CHOO] On average, adults average 2 to 4 colds a year and kids 6 to 10. Billions of dollars of lost productivity every year can be attributed to the common cold. So why isn’t there a cold vaccine? Because there are at least 160 varieties of rhinovirus, the ‘bug’ that causes colds. We can always hope for some future medical breakthrough. For those of us over 60, we get fewer colds since our immune systems have learned to deal with most of the rhinovirus varieties. In the meantime i follow time-trusted advice: if you do the right things to get rid of a cold, you’ll be over it in a week; otherwise it’s bound to last 7 days.

Fortunately, i’ve avoided the flu ‘bug’ for a couple of decades. Good thing. The last bout made me so miserable that i wondered whether survival was even possible. I got my annual flu shot a few days ago. Last flu season in the U.S., there were 180 children who did not survive the flu. You can do something about this: If you know someone with young children, perhaps you could encourage them to vaccinate against the f

The Renewable SciSchmooze – 3 Sep 2018

by David Almandsmith

Greetings,

California is on its way to using   100% renewable energy by 2045. Since we've demonstrated the practicality of using biofuels and/or electricity for cars, trucks, trains, and motorcycles (i just bought an electric motorcycle), a major remaining reliance on fossil fuels is for air travel. There are a few small   airplanes that run on electricity, but their ranges are short. Fortunately, we can   create jet fuel from plants and algae. Test flights using bio fuels in commercial jets are   entering their 2nd decade. There was a major   test last week in India. Although biofuel use puts just as much CO2 into the atmosphere as fossil fuel use, growing the plants and algae removes CO2 from air and water, so it ends up being 'carbon neutral'. If only some folk didn't  

More Musings with the Schmooze

by Bob Seiderer
 
Hello again Science fans! How is it that summer is almost over? It seems like it just started. Schools are going back into session, the number of events we list is picking up, and the amount of daylight is getting noticeably shorter. Of course, the upcoming weeks are often the warmest of the year in the Bay Area, as the summer high breaks down, allowing winds from inland to heat us up. Last year, the Friday before Labor Day was the warmest ever on record in San Francisco, with a high of 106.

This week marked the one year anniversary of the Great American Eclipse. How time flies! I was in Las Vegas. Where were you? While the eclipse gave scientists a great opportunity to do research on the sun, work continues to learn more. This year, NASA launched the Parker probe to  touch the sun.

As if we don't have enough to worry about,  a heart disease-causing parasite is headed our way.

Recent major earthquakes around the "ring of fire" remind us that we live in a seismically active place. But one location not too far away is also subject to significant quakes, and that is

More Mars Schmoozing 7.30.18

by David Almandsmith
 
Greetings,

Always something new in science. Scientists studying data from a ground-penetrating radar experiment, put into orbit around Mars by the European Space Agency, announced that a thin (<1 meter) layer of  liquid water apparently exists that is 20 kilometers wide and 1.5 kilometers below Mars' surface. If true, the significance is twofold. First, because that aquifer might have never been frozen in the billions of years since it formed, it might harbour living microorganisms that might have evolved during Mars' early history when it had oceans. ("Might" is used thrice in that sentence.) Second significance: the money spent by the European Space Agency might have resulted in a remarkable discovery. ("Might" is used only once in that sentence.)

Water on Mars? Well, actually, water is found almost everywhere on the planet, it just happens to be ice. At the south pole, thousands of square kilometers of water ice are exposed and even more area is coated with "dry ice", frozen carbon dioxide. In places, the polar water ice is over 3 kilometers thick. NASA has created a  

Shocking Acceptance of Woo on KQED

I was driving on 580 as Mina Kim hosted KQED’s Forum last Thursday. It was so shocking i had to pull off and park in order to give it my whole and incredulous attention. As Ms. Kim explained to NPR listeners, “We are looking at the surge in popularity of Astrology, Tarot, other practices, focusing on the magical, the inexplicable …”

Excuse us, Ms. Kim, but there ain’t anything magical or inexplicable to focus on. If indeed you know of anything “magical” or “inexplicable” there are scientists and doctors eager to check it out with you.

Later i listened to the entire hour-long podcast at www.kqed.org/forum and heard Mina Kim’s introduction:
In this hour we are going to look at the surge in popularity of astrology, tarot, herbalism and other practices focusing on the supernatural. Why young people seem particularly drawn to them. What’s driving the resurgence now? Companies have taken notice, perhaps you see more rose quartz in your home (indistinct) catalog. But we want hear from you as well. Do you use astrology, herbs, crystals, or tarot in your daily life and how or why?
This seems innocent enough, almost. We might expect the hour to include a sociologist, a psychologist, and maybe even a journalist. Well, we did get the journalist, Julie Beck who

Neuroscience and the Great Questions

(Any errors in this accountRansom StephensRansom Stephens are solely my fault - David Almandsmith)

SkepTalk by Ransom Stephens PhD on 14 January 2018

This SkepTalk combined science, mirth, and intellectual acumen; a genuine treat. Dr. Stephens brought the audience up to date with fruits of neuroscience research and melded them with an evolutionary perspective.

Dr. Stephens began by pointing out that neuroscience in some sense is self-referential - a case of the brain trying to understand itself.

He then warned against over-simplified ideas such as strict roles for the left brain versus roles for the right brain. There are indeed some differences in roles but...

there is some overlap in duties, especially since the brain evinces considerable plasticity. In the most general case, when you walk into a bar (!) the right brain checks for the unexpected - an acquaintance, a hungry leopard, etc. - without 'you' necessarily aware of the search. Any significant results of the search are passed off to the left brain and into your consciousness. Sort of. Neuroscience


A SkepTalk by Carrie Ellen Sager, J.D., Homelessness Program Coordinator, Marin County
14 December 2017Carrie Ellen Sager

An upbeat talk on homelessness? Well, the problem of homelessness in the Bay Area may border on intractability and underscores the failures of United States' political economics, but Ms. Sager's message, pace, tone, and even her smile made this a lively, enjoyable SkepTalk.

She organized her description of the challenges and successes of Marin County's homeless program by...

using false statements concerning homelessness and then debunking those statements using the results of dozens of peer-reviewed studies and using colorful anecdotes from the frontlines. A number of the false statements were ones that i thought were true before Ms. Sager tore them apart with data from recent research.

An example: "(most of) These people aren't from here, they just come for the services (and the weather)." The facts show differently. In Alameda County, 82% of homeless were living in Alameda County immediately prior to losing a place to dwell. In Marin County, 72%. In San Francisco, 69%. It takes


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