Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing into 2023

An option in 2023?

Happy New Year, science fans. Thank you for joining me today.

As technology promises better and longer lives, the ‘situation on the ground’ is dismal for much of the world’s 8 billion people – but over the long arc of history, “it’s getting better.” As we and our neighbors and our children tune into how alike we all are – emotionally and physiologically – caring for ‘strangers’ becomes easier. I’m expecting 2023 to show progress in this regard. Consider this for a New Year’s Resolution: I will increase the range of people that I consider to be coequal with myself, deserving of the same rights, dignities, and protections. (Tim Minchin gives an excellent, humorous, obscenity-laced version of this message.)

The ‘Jetsonesque’ 3-wheel Aptera EV pictured above is one example of game-changing transportation options coming in 2023. Solar panels on the ‘car’ trickle-charge the battery (with fusion energy!) during sunny days to give cost-free miles. (Disclosure: i paid a reservation fee and made a small investment in the company.) The sleek Lightyear Zero from The Netherlands also has solar panels.  The chunky little Sion EV from Germany is totally covered with solar panels and also might be available this year. (Or all three of these companies could quickly go bankrupt.)

Nick W’s guess of 444 was closer to the random generator’s 458 than guesses of the other 26 contestants. Nick won a model of the JWST. This time we’re offering a coffee mug. It’s a 450ml glass beaker with a handle and the chemical formula for caffeine. Just send an email to david.almandsmith [at] (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 and mail the mug to the person who chose the closest number.

My Picks of the Week:
– The Physics Show Saturday & Sunday, multiple times, Foothill College, $
 Fort Point Candlelight Tour Saturday 6:30 – 8pm, San Francisco, $
– Point Reyes Fungus Fair Sunday 10am – 4pm, Point Reyes Station (Beautiful countryside no matter which route you take. Enjoyed my last Fungus Fair except for booths promoting “So Called Alternative Medicine”, SCAM.)

¿Did the Earth move for you? Well, actually the Earth spins and wobbles around its tilted axis and orbits around the Sun which is moving through our Milky Way Galaxy. But you knew that. You probably also knew that December 21 was the December Solstice, the time of year when the tilt of that axis maximally favors sunlight reaching the southern hemisphere. But now, in a sinusoidal manner, the sunlight bias will move back toward the northern hemisphere, something my son – living in Anchorage – will appreciate.

IF the sky is clear (hah!), and IF you can drag yourself outside at 6:13 AM Thursday, then you could see the ISS pass directly over the Bay Area. It will appear in the northwest sky and wink out in the southeast. Three of the seven astronauts aboard the ISS lost their ride home when their Soyuz capsule sprung a leak of coolant. (¿space debris? ¿micrometeorite? ¿human error?) A 4-place Dragon capsule is tethered to the station at present, so it could be used as an ‘escape pod’ if an emergency arose.

¿Want to obliterate Los Angeles with an asteroid? Go ahead with Asteroid Launcher. Fortunately for Chelyabinsk, the 20 meter asteroid that caused an airburst over the city in 2013 approached at 18° degrees. Over 1,000 people sustained injuries but there were no fatalities. Instead, had it approached from 80°, it would likely have caused over 10,000 fatalities and over 100,000 injured (as per “Asteroid Launcher” above). That asteroid was not detected in advance since its trajectory kept it hidden in the Sun’s glare. Before the end of this decade, however, NASA’s NEO Surveyor will be able to spot asteroids currently hidden in the Sun’s glare – if funding is approved.

Maybe our childhood cat was to blame for my motorcycle racing, rock climbing, mountaineering, piloting, etc. Cats carry the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, a normally asymptomatic disease called toxoplasmosis. Cat owners frequently become infected but rarely are there symptoms. OK. Stay with me. This gets very interesting. Mice that contract the disease from cat feces show changes in behavior. Infected mice are more prone to take risks and often cease to show fear of cats. By pooping around in your neighborhood, your cat is making it far easier to catch mice. Recent research in Yellowstone Park shows that wolves with toxoplasmosis indulge in more risky behavior than uninfected wolves. They are more likely to get expelled from the pack and perish, or ascend to become pack leader. Well, i never made it to become pack leader but i’ve survived some horrendous incidents brought on by my risk-taking. ¿Was our cat to blame?

Fun nerdy videos:
Veritaseum: Seeing the world in UV
Kurzgesacht: Shrinking down to the Planck scale
The Right Chemistry: Vitamin C
Up and Atom: Why zero was banned for 1500 years
Dr. Becky: JWST just made the “Crisis in Cosmology” worse

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Wishing you a week engaging with friends and strangers alike with joy and laughter,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like [other] animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
– Stephen Hawking, (1942 – 2018) English theoretical physicist

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