Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Cuddle Up with the SciSchmooze

Emperor Penguin chicks – Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Dear Reader,
Below are a few items of interest: discoveries, ideas, and issues. Pick and choose as you wish and click on links for deeper stories.


Many thousands of Emperor Penguin chicks died because some ice shelves where they hatch broke up before chicks fledged out to their waterproof plumage. Those ice shelves normally break up every Antarctic summer but some are breaking up early due to climate change. Because of these events, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared Emperor Penguins an endangered species.

It is imperative that we move away from a fossil fuel economy to ameliorate these and other destructive events, and Ecuador just set an admirable example. The Ecuadorian government voted to leave over a billion barrels of oil in the ground. Although biofuels are not quite carbon neutral, they are a better choice than fossil fuels for aircraft and internal combustion engines. Unfortunately, most biofuels (like ethanol mixed into gasoline) are produced from corn which could be better used as food. Researchers are looking for ways to instead process agricultural plant waste like corn husks and they are experimenting with – – wait for it – – panda poop.

Yes, our world is moving to electric cars, but a single large container ship produces as much greenhouse gas as 50 million cars – and nobody foresees them using batteries instead of fossil fuel. However, several cargo ships are being fitted with rigid sails which are expected to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 30 percent. Numerous military vessels are powered by nuclear energy. ¿Why not cargo ships? It could happen.

The U.S. public is discovering a technology for heating and cooling homes that has been common in Europe: heat pumps. They work very well when pumping heat to and from outside air, but they are far more efficient when pumping heat to and from water stored or circulated underground, a.k.a. geothermal heat pumps. (Not to be confused with geothermal energy where heat coming from Earth’s core is used to generate electricity.) The Federal  Department of Energy is providing funding to encourage geothermal heat pump installations.

Let me encourage you to read (or listen to) this article from The New Yorker,  “Annals of a Warming Planet – CLIMATE CHANGE FROM A TO Z – The stories we tell ourselves about the future” by Elizabeth Kolbert.

John’s guess of 41 won him a Tensegrity stand. This week we are once again raffling off a kit to build a Strandbeest model. (I take mine outside for walks to the consternation of neighbors.) Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with an integer between 0 and 1,000.

My Picks of the Week (put reminders on your mobile phone)

– SCV Audubon: Warblers Part 1 Livestream Monday 7 – 8:30PM
– Past & Future of Robotics & Machine Intelligence Tuesday Noon, UC Berkeley
– Global Crises of Water & Ice Livestream Wednesday 11AM 
– Life, the Universe, & Everything Thursday 6:30 – 9:30PM, Berkeley, $
– Combatting Psychic Fraud Livestream Saturday 11:30AM – 1:30PM


Having a “pedestal” screwed into your skull might evoke squeamishness, but if it allows you to talk with your spouse for the first time in 18 years, it is definitely worth it. Ann Johnson has over 200 electrodes under her skull which interface with an artificial intelligence computer system and an avatar video program. When Ann tries to speak – an ability lost to a stroke 18 years ago – the AI system ‘guesses’ at what she intends to say which is then spoken by the avatar. The results are awesome due to work and research at the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco campuses, and advancing research at Stanford University and Oregon Health & Science University.

Year ago, my German Shepard-Husky mix bolted from my friend’s place in Clayton and disappeared. Somehow she crossed several busy thoroughfares and at least one freeway to reach a friendly household in Orinda 24 kilometers from her starting point and in a direct line to our home in Oakland. Was she navigating by her own magnetic compass? She stopped there when winds shifted from blowing eastward and reversed to blowing westward. ¿Did she lose the ‘scent’ of Oakland? The owner there braved checking the dog tag and phoned our house; a happy ending. This is a trivial story compared to far more amazing stories of animals navigating through unfamiliar landscapes. Some animals navigate by stars when the night sky isn’t obscured by clouds, smog, or electric lights. Many animals navigate using the position of the Sun. Scientists are learning that the Earth’s magnetic field is used by numerous animals for navigation. There’s intriguing evidence that some people have brains that sense the magnetic field, but there is no evidence that anyone is aware of that perception. We humans navigate mainly by remembering in which direction to start and where to make turns. This is also true for animals as well but this simply cannot explain some animal migrations:. a Monarch Butterfly will migrate to the same location where its great-great-grandmother had once laid eggs, although it had never before been within hundreds of kilometers of there. 


It’s taken freaking forever, but some insights into long COVID are now being published. Studies at New York Medical College indicate COVID can re-activate the Epstein-Barr virus responsible for mononucleosis. Most of us get mononucleosis as kids and the symptoms are over in a day or two, but the virus can reëmerge in adults and cause months of fatigue. Researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Leicester found elevated levels of molecules in long COVID patients that suggest blood clots are forming in the brain and lungs. One of them, fibrinogen, can cause tiny blood clots in the brain, and the other, D-dimer, is frequently associated with blood clots in the lungs.

Some folk with Type 1 Diabetes are building and programming their own computer controlled artificial pancreases. The software is open-source – meaning that it is free and anyone can suggest improvements to the computer code. Pharmaceutical companies have even borrowed code from these do-it-yourselfers.

A real living Unicorn! (apparently)

Nerdy Videos

Fukushima and Tritium – Cup O’Joe – Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins
13 miles down and 1000°F – Just Have a Think – Dave Borlace – 12 mins
Super Massive Black Holes – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 12 mins
Perpetual Motion with Superfluids? – PBS SpaceTime – Matt O’Dowd – 16 mins
How To Do Your Own Research – Sabine Hossenfelder – 17 mins
N-adic Numbers – Veritaseum – Derek Muller – 32 mins (very challenging)

Embrace your humanity; be kind and brave (but not foolish),
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”
Daniel Boone (1734 -1820) Frontiersman and Virginia House of Delegates Member

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