Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

The SciSchmooze Goes Nuts


Greetings fellow Science Fans! We trust you have had enough to eat this Thanksgiving weekend and are ready for some science! Well, we have that, and a little more for you.

Start with the nuts!

As I was growing up, one of the highlights of the holidays for me was eating roasted chestnuts. My father would talk about buying bags of them from street vendors in Vienna where he grew up, using them to keep his hands warm (in addition to eating them). I haven’t had them in quite a while, but this Thanksgiving I decided to buy a few and roast them.

Hardly anyone I know has tasted a chestnut. I’m hard pressed to describe the taste too, as it is unique; a little sweet, with a different texture than anything else I know of. They are easy to roast though. When buying them, give the nut a squeeze. If you feel any give in the shell, don’t buy that one as it is most likely moldy on the inside. Cut an “x” in the rounded part of the shell with a sharp knife and roast them for 45 min at 350 degrees. Failure to cut that x may result in explosions in your oven as the steam released during cooking has nowhere to go. You’ve been warned!

The American Chestnut was almost extinct, its demise caused by a fungus. Today, a cross between that American Chestnut and a Chinese Chestnut that is resistant to this fungus is poised to replenish what was once a common tree, especially in the Eastern US, providing it can get governmental approval.

By the way, the Ohio Buckeye tree, which is a type of chestnut, does not produce edible nuts. In fact, they are toxic.

I made some stuffing for Thanksgiving that had, among other things, pecans in it. I’m one of those people who have always been a bit fascinated with how things work, and I came across a video on YouTube on how pecans are harvested. If you’re like me, you’ll find this fascinating. Some of you who live locally may recognize that this same method of harvesting is used on almond and walnut trees here in Silicon Valley.

Medicine and Health

Researchers have completed a small trial using CRISPR gene-editing technology to treat several cancers in humans with success. We are truly living in an amazing technological age!

I’m sure you have heard or seen stories about the increase in influenza cases this year. After two years of mild flu seasons, this year is starting out like it is making up for lost time. Using mRNA technology, the same technology that brought us the Pfizer and Moderna SARS COVID-19 vaccines, we may be just a couple of years away from a universal flu vaccine that won’t have to be reformulated each year for the expected strains of the flu. Wouldn’t that be nice!


There’s lots to talk about from outer space, including a visitor that was detected just hours before it entered Earth’s atmosphere last Saturday. This is only the 6th time an asteroid was spotted before it fell to earth.

This video shows the asteroid passing behind the iconic CN Tower in downtown Toronto just before it broke up and landed in Lake Ontario. Fragments may have hit land.

Another asteroid, one that has been “hiding” in the glare of the sun, has been discovered. This one is big, and a potential threat to Earth in the longer term.

The Aretmis 1 mission to the moon finally got airborne. On day six, the Orion capsule passed 81 miles from the Moon’s surface and snapped some pictures, which NASA released to the public. Our Moon is indeed a harsh place.

Meanwhile on Mars, flight #34 for the Ingenuity helicopter successfully tested some new software that corrected the assumption that the unit was flying over flat ground. Seems like something that should have been in the software from day one to me! The new software is more to test the function for future rovers than to correct Ingenuity, but it is significant nonetheless.

The Webb telescope continues to rack up impressive “firsts”, including a detailed analysis of the atmosphere of WASP-39b, a Saturn-sized planet roughly 700 light years away. This is the first time we’ve been able to analyze a distant planet’s atmosphere in this way.

How about a map of the observable Universe? Be prepared, for you will feel very small and insignificant if you view this map, which I highly recommend doing.

Climate and Ecology

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is the oldest state park in California. It suffered terrible damage during the August 2020 fires that swept through the South Bay hills on both sides. Listen to this podcast (or read the transcript) for a report on the effects of climate change on California, and specifically on this local treasure.

Ancient Egypt

Two hundred years ago this past September, Jean-Francois Champollion made a most significant breakthrough, decoding the so called Rosetta Stone, thereby unlocking the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphics.


Who would think that keeping track of time would be so difficult! Due to variations in the Earth’s rotation, scientists and standards keepers have introduced various adjustments over the years to keep our calendar and timekeeping in synch with the actual rotation of the planet, and our orbit around the sun. Leap years are the most common adjustments, but they aren’t 100% in line with the actual. Leap seconds are about to become a thing of the past. While we take time for granted, the standardization process behind time is more complicated than you might think.

If you’ve gotten this far, I thank you. I’m going to tell a more personal human interest story now, one that has nothing to do with science, but everything to do with humanity. Skip to the event list if you so desire.

I’ve had somewhat of a fascination with trains since I was a child. I spent a summer with my grandmother and aunt in upstate New York when I was seven. My grandmother lived in a small town that had a railroad junction between the New York Central and Rutland railroads, with small freight yards for each allowing for interchange of cars. During that summer, I got cab rides in the NYC switch engine, cementing my interest in all things rail-related, an interest that remains active today.

Last Sunday, the New York Times magazine cover story was about the Ukrainian Railway, its disorganized history, and how it has become a lifeline as Ukraine resists the Russian invasion. Faithful readers will know that I have a close friend who lives in Ukraine with her almost 3 year old daughter, and I’ve reported here on their status before. I’m happy to report that they are now safe in Germany, although having issues getting registered there. As I read this article, I could not help but imagine her story as it might fit with the stories in the article, and the tenuous nature of our existence. While she escaped by bus, the individuals profiled in this article are just a few of millions of stories from this tortured country. The employees of this railroad are heroes, dedicated to helping their fellow Ukrainians get to safety, as well as supplying food, medicine, and other goods for those staying behind.

I was deeply moved by this article. If you read or listen to it, take note of the author’s own connection to the railroad through her grandmother. Similarly, my father traveled from his home in Vienna to Finland during World War 2, crossing the border to safety on the last train before the Nazi’s closed that border. An hours delay here or there, and I might not be here!

So for that, and for my friend’s safety, I’m thankful. All of us at the SciSchmooze are thankful to the roughly 6,200 of you who receive our missive each week. We believe science education is a good thing and are happy you do also.

Have a great week in Science!

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