Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

What’s Next, with the SciSchmooze?

from the desk of Bob Siederer

Hello again Science Fans!

A month ago, if you had told me what was about to happen, I’d have said “no way, the year can’t get stranger than it has been already”.  Yet, here we are, with 500+ wildfires in the general area, a prolonged heat wave, and another round of dry thunderstorms headed our way.  And that’s just locally.  In the Gulf of Mexico, two hurricanes are brewing at the same time! This is what it has taken to push the Coronavirus from the front pages.

Our hearts go out to those affected directly by the wild fires.  The complex of fires north of Santa Cruz has displaced thousands, destroyed the buildings at California’s original State Park, and made simple breathing unsafe.  We’ve collected some sources of information to pass along:

CalFire Incident Maps and Status: Click on the Active Incidents bars for details on a particular fire.
Wildfire Today with details on each named fire
Alert Wildfire has links to webcams in several Western states showing real time conditions.
PurpleAir shows current air quality information from around the world.  Uncheck the “indoor sensors” box in the lower left.  Many of these sensors are installed at and/or in peoples’ homes.  I’ve found coverage to be spotty.
CalTopo shows topographic information with smoke, active fire, burn area, wind direction, and other information.  Move around the map to see detail.
Real time Air Quality Index, from The Mercury News. They also put together a video montage from satellite images of the lightning strikes and resulting fires.

The HAM Cam atop Mt. Hamilton at Lick Observatory captured last the lightning storm on 8/16 as it passed over San Jose.  This is shown at roughly 60X real time.

Another HAM Cam captured the fire caused by that storm as it approached Lick Observatory.  Fortunately the Observatory itself has been spared so far.

As an aside, Alex Filippenko, UC Berkeley Astronomy Professor, should be having an online interview on Monday at 4:00, although it was postponed last week due to the high temperatures and threats of blackouts.  I’m betting he’ll have something to say about the fires around Lick Observatory.

Above all, stay safe during this time of crises.  These fires won’t be put out quickly, resulting in prolonged unhealthy air.  And the weather forecast contains the possibility for more lightning through Tuesday morning.  As of 5:00 PM the first storms are approaching us from the south.

Moving on to other news…

Our fascination with Giant Pandas continues with the birth of a baby cub at the National Zoo in Washington DC last Friday night.  Mother Mei Xiang and the unnamed baby are doing fine. Panda Cam 2 shows Mei Xiang.

Remember comet NEOWISE?  It seems like months ago that it was visible here on earth.  The Hubble Space Telescope got focused on it too.

There are many theories as to how the life came to be on Earth, including one that says the building blocks came from space.  A small meteorite crashed into Costa Rico in 2019 that may have contained such matter.  I say “small” but it was refrigerator-sized.  Everything is relative.

Back in my college days, I was program director at a campus radio station.  While we had both male and female voices on the air, I noticed that the women didn’t sound like they should and theorized that the microphones of the day were geared towards the male timbre.  I developed this theory after auditioning one woman who sounded to me like she had a high pitched voice, only to find the microphone picked up some harmonics in her voice that made it sound much more sultry.  She was the exception to prove the rule.

Today we’re used to natural-sounding synthetic voices from digital assistants, GPS systems, etc.  The development of those female voices came from the work of Ann Kristen Dyrdal whose work with AT&T over the course of her career created the foundation for the digital voices that are everywhere today.  Ann passed away in San Jose on July 24 at the age of 74.

The Coronavirus may not be the first story everyone looks at this week, but it certainly hasn’t gone away.  “Herd Immunity” may be closer than thought, in some places.  Scientists still don’t know just how immune we might be after even mild infections, but there’s new, good news on that front.  At first, scientists and doctors thought COFID-19 was just a respiratory virus.  They quickly learned they were wrong.  Here’s the latest on the various manifestations of the Coronavirs in humans from UC San Francisco.

Lastly, here’s an interview with Andrew Fraknoi, former head of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College, where he discusses his work on a free introductory Astronomy textbook from OpenStax.  This is a wonderful idea, to make introductory college texts available to anyone in an online format that can be updated as new developments are announced.  The Astronomy book is one of a large series on other topics and Andrew is a Senior Contributing Author, along with David Morrison from NASA Ames, and Sidney Wolff from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.  First released in 2016, the latest update was this past January.  This one is worth reading, even if you aren’t taking an Astronomy course!

Stay safe, and have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

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