Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

from the desk of David Almandsmith

Let me welcome you to 2021, dear Reader,
(In case you were wondering, 2021 is not a prime. It is the product of 43 and 47.)
I cannot welcome you to the “present” however, because as soon as i greet you at the present, it is already in the past. ¿Sophistry? Perhaps, but perspectives of time are inspirational among poets, numerous among philosophers, and contentious among physicists. (That was Sabine Hossenfelder’s video. Because i lived in Germany, my mnemonic for her surname is “Hasenfelder,” which means “fields of rabbits.”) If you really want to take a deeper-dive on this topic, check out this article or this one.
Rather than go any further down that rabbit hole, let’s take a look at something old, that’s new, and blue. I’m referring to the discovery of a previously undetected population of Blue Whales in the Indian Ocean. (The article incorrectly refers to it as a “New Population.” “Newly discovered” is more accurate.) Rather than identifying these leviathans with microchips, we listen to their current top-of-the-charts song, which varies by time and population – sorta the same for humans.
And . . . if we are going to have music, let’s enjoy some dancing.
Several successes in space exploration highlighted several projects. (Click on the “>” to move to the next vignette.) ¿Who else but Elon Musk would call the total destruction of the SpaceX StarShip a “triumph”? It’s fascinating to view the rocket motors during the test. All three rocket engines participated in the launch; just one participated in the descent; the other two engines started to fire for the landing but flamed out due to fuel starvation. Big oops.
Climate change denialists had a difficult time maintaining their head-in-the-sand “stance” in 2020. According to an early report, the climate crisis has accelerated. I mentioned back in February that Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, announced that Japan  will be carbon neutral by 2050, but offered no plans for achieving that goal. Suga followed up last week with a detailed blueprint for the transformation. Nothing novel, just more reliance on renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuel cars, and improved carbon capture from fuel-burning power stations. Critics countered with the opinion that carbon neutrality could be reached much earlier than 2050 if only the government took stronger measures – an all-too-familiar dialogue.
Dry ice. ¿Who doesn’t like playing with dry ice? Currently, dry ice is needed for transporting COVID-19 vaccines. It is also needed for The Phantom of the Opera. (Please note, dry ice production requires more steps than mentioned in the video.)
The science channel, Veritasium, just released its “Ames Window Illusion” video. First rate. What is not mentioned, however, is that both binocular vision and distance focusing ‘interfere’ with the illusion; in real life, you need to close one eye and be sufficiently distant in order to be ‘fooled.’ This is true for most of the optical illusions on the ‘net.
¿What are your plans for October 31 this year? Halloween? Really?? Careful, you could be stripped of your nerd badge. October 31 is the launch date of the James Webb Space Telescope. I predict a huge epidemic of nail-biting for the launch and complex deployment.
Practical generation of electricity from atomic fusion is right on schedule – “30 years in the future.” (Just as it’s always been.) Recently, a new milestone was reached: a high temperature plasma was maintained for 20 seconds by the KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) facility. Yup. I’d call 100 million degrees Celsius a “high temperature.” Their press release did not mention how much equipment melted in the process. Regardless, they plan to hold that temperature 15 times longer by 2025. ITER in Europe, when finished, is designed to maintain 150 million degrees for 30 seconds – but only for 30 seconds.
¿Want to be in the path of this year’s total solar eclipse? It won’t be cheap since totality will only be visible in and around Antarctica. Here is this year’s astronomy calendar.
My picks for the week (livestream, of course):
Marine extinction and environmental change in the Early Jurassic – 3:30PM Tuesday
Robotic Space Exploration at NASA/JPL – 6:30PM Thursday
Birds of Bair Island, Redwood City – Noon Friday
And here is something you need to sign up for while virtual class space exists: Aliens in Outer Space: The Science & the Fiction – A Short Course. Call the phone number listed there for registering.
Just when you thought things could not get worse, they did: the ‘new’ SARS-CoV-2 variant is 40% to 80% more transmissible than the previous version, and it has a toe-hold in California. Already one in every 16 Californians has tested positive for COVID-19 and hospital occupancy is nearing capacity.
Stay smart, stay safe, and flatten the curve, damn it,
David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member
“I have a lot of issues with humans, but I’d prefer we don’t go extinct.”
–Phil Plait, Astronomer, 1964 –

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