Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing through Pluses & Minuses

Caldor Fire

Hello again friends,

Last week the Caldor Fire came within two blocks of my friends’ home in South Lake Tahoe. The weather phenomenon Ida caused misery, deaths, and many billions worth of damage. It is the consensus of experts that climate change brought upon by heightened CO2 levels is largely to blame for both. On the plus side, alternatives to fossil fuel energy generation comprise a growing, profitable industry, and The Department of Human Services has added an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity

Just as the next ‘big one’ earthquake could occur at any time, a mass coronal ejection from our Sun could occur at any time and wreak havoc with electric transmission lines and the Internet. ¿But who’d a thunk that a cosmic event in a distant galaxy has the potential to rig an election? By the way, a single computer chip nowadays typically contains 5,000,000,000 transistors, keeping apace with Moore’s Law

¿How does a lobster ‘feel’ when it’s dropped into a boiling pot of water? The British parliament is attempting to draw a line between sentient and non-sentient animals. We all know that our large, folded cerebrum makes us ‘brainier’ than other animals — or maybe not.

There are no difficulties in understanding the odd viral processes in this video, so long as we recognize that drawing a line between life and non-life assumes the existence of a true dichotomy. Instead, consider biology (or ‘überbiology’) as the study of processes whereby molecules that contain complex information – such as DNA and RNA – evolve instructions for replicating themselves. An example is the human genome. Our genome is able to replicate itself via instructions for creating humans who reproduce via meiosis, sex, mitosis, embryology, intelligence, and sexual maturation. Another example is the coronavirus genome. It is able to replicate itself via instructions for building a protein envelope that binds to a cell’s ACE2 receptor, delivers its genome into the cell, and uses the cell’s machinery to build a new protein envelope encapsulating a new copy of the genome; a process involving minutes instead of years. An amazing number of strategies for genome replication are employed on this planet, some doubtless yet to be discovered. I recommend Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene for more on this topic.

For a story of wildlife biology, cancer, medicine, and health, i suggest this success story.

Of eleven entrants, Hal Beilen won the Revell model of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo / WhiteKnightTwo, but only after a second round. He and one other picked 898, which was the closest to the randomly generated 992. In Round Two, Hal’s 461 was closer to the randomly generated 274.

This time we are giving away a teensy tiny model of the same thing: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. It’s a metal diecast 1:400 scale model with a 12.4 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.

BTW, the FAA grounded Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 because it exited its protected airspace on its July 11th flight. As a (currently inactive) pilot, let me break that down. The FAA creates Terminal Control Areas (‘volumes’ actually) over airports that look like gargantuan upside-down wedding cakes for the protection of aircraft (and spaceships) while taking off and landing. Aircraft are prohibited from entering the wedding cake without FAA permission. I’m guessing that the highest (and widest) layer over Spaceport America extends up pretty dang high. Apparently their SpaceShip2 descended out of a layer into uncontrolled airspace outside of the next lower (and narrower) layer. It took them nearly two minutes to steer back inside the Terminal Control Area.

Last Thursday, the Firefly Aerospace company launched its first rocket to put a payload into Earth orbit. Apparently one of its four engines failed, and all four were necessary for steering, so it eventually lost control and was destroyed by ground control. Oops.

The Perseverance Rover successfully obtained a rock sample last week after previously failing.

Astronomer Carolyn Shoemaker died at age 92 last week. She is credited with discovering and co-discovering 32 comets and more than 500 asteroids. The most spectacular of these was discovered by Carolyn, her husband, and David Levy: Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 which later crashed into Jupiter.

My picks for the week:

In person:
Nightlife / SF Conservatory of Music – 6-10pm Thursday, San Francisco, Cal Academy of Sciences
After Dark: Science Fiction Turned Fact – 6-10pm Thursday, San Francisco, explOratorium
Afternoon Walk at Pillar Point Bluff – 4:30 – 6:30pm Saturday, Half Moon Bay

EVs for Equity – 4:30 Wednesday, $
A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks – 12:30pm Thursday (Long Now Foundation)
Que Sera, Sera. Is the future ours to see? – 7:30pm Thursday (Bay Area Skeptics)

A teenager in Oakland founded Kits Cubed for promoting science to youth. Kudos.

Not surprisingly, a COVID-19 infection during pregnancy is potentially deleterious.

Have a fulfilling week and stay healthy,
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“Good and bad ideas both come from the same fountain of speculation and experiment.”
–  Shaun Tan, Australian artist, writer and filmmaker (1974 – )

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