Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing California (& Beyond)

Over in San Francisco is the SHARKS exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. Please note that because of the pandemic, proof of vaccination is required for entry and capacity is limited.

Also in San Francisco, the GOOD Meat company is ramping up its production of ‘cultivated meat.’ They are one of several companies intending to take the guilt out of eating meat by manufacturing it without killing animals; without the methane burps and farts; without grazing lands, feedlots, and packing plants. (At home, we’re pretty content with Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. ¿Have you had an Impossible Whopper? Order it without mayo if you want it vegan.)

Over in Livermore the National Ignition Facility (NIF) blasted a BB-size pellet of hydrogen with 192 insanely powerful laser beams and the result was better than expected. As the hydrogen fused into helium, ten petawatts of energy was released – 1/20th the amount of sunlight energy striking the entire Earth. (NY Times readers, click here.) However, the sum power of those laser beams was half again more than came from the resulting fusion. It was an awesome result, but far from the goal of sustainable fusion power for civilization.

Even a treasure as ‘timeless’ as California’s Yosemite is susceptible to climate change. I’d like to share this drear assessment of Yosemite published as a guest essay in the NY Times. The light dusting of white ashes on my black Prius is a reminder that thousands are displaced by the ravages of California wildfires. Today i downloaded an app to my mobile phone that reports and forecasts air quality – locally and internationally. ¿And how big a deal is half a degree Celsius? Quickly increasing our reliance on renewable energy resources is critically important in lowering CO2 emissions (in part because building new nuclear power plants is so slow) but that requires increasing energy storage.

Being somewhat geeky, i frequently consider buying a 3D printer and fabricating odd little items. Down in Los Angeles, a company named Relativity Space is 3D printing humongous rockets.

Last month, Bob Livsey won the Perseverance coffee mug. This time we are giving away a model of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. It’s an unassembled Revell (Germany) 1:144 plastic scale model with a 29.7 cm wingspan and a display stand. Same rules: Send me an email (only one) before noon Friday with an integer between zero and 1,000. We will then use a random number generator to select the target number. The person who came closest wins the model.

My event picks for the week:

In-Person Events:
Wonderfest: Aging and Cancer: Rival Demons? – Monday 7pm, Novato
After Dark: Science of Breathing – Thursday 7pm, San Francisco (explOratorium)
‘The Illusion of Knowledge’ book launch with Dr. Harold Katcher – Saturday 3 – 5pm, San Francisco

Livestream Events:
Virtual Telescope Viewing – Saturday 9 – 10:30 pm (Chabot Space & Science Center)
Carolyn Porco – There Is No Planet B – Thursday 4pm (Skeptical Inquirer)
Night School: Nature is Nurture – Thursday 7pm (Cal Academy of Sciences)

In Southern California, the James Webb Space Telescope is being packaged up for shipping to Kourou, French Guiana where it will be mounted on an Ariane 5 rocket. Launch date is late November or early December.

You’ve doubtless heard that the Pfizer COVID vaccine received full FDA approval. ¿Will some people continue to refuse getting vaccinated? The folk at FiveThirtyEight take a look at survey data in exploring that question. Another big question is ¿what can we expect as new COVID variants arise? At Stanford University, Katherine Xue, Ph.D., takes a deeper dive into the future of COVID in The New Yorker Magazine. Of the million physicians in the U.S. there are about 20 that discourage everyone from getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Dr. Joseph Mercola is one of them. Again, my favorite site for COVID-19 data is the Worldometer. Click on any country to see separate graphs and data.

Perhaps my biggest failing of late is getting enough exercise. ¿Remember those exercise videotapes? Here’s one that’s a bit different. To learn more, hear from some of the people behind this project.

I think i’ll end this week’s SciSchmooze with ¿Why Is Sex a Thing?

Have a wonderful healthy week,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets staged over a sequence of dramatic moments, so you empathize with the characters without really thinking about it too much. It is a really powerful tool for imagining yourself in other people’s situations.”
– Ira Glass, radio personality and writer (1959 – )

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