Pi Day will be remembered as the day Steven Hawking left this earth

c = the circle’s circumference &
d = it’s diameter

Many jokes are made about pi day and eating pie. pi is an amazing irrational number. It’s defined as the ratio of a circle and its diameter once proved that the ratio is constant, ie independent of the size of the circle. I’ve mc’d math days where to entertain the audience of bright students I’ve asked how many knew 10 digits of pi. I was blown away by the number of hands. I continued until I got to 100 and two students raised their hands. I had one come to the stage for him to recite them.

High schoolers often achieve their ten minutes of fame by discovering more digits of pi. What is most amazing is that pi appears in so many different formulas seemingly unrelated to circles. A colleague of mine once received a call about the exact value of pi. He said to  two places it’s 3.14, then the fellow asked but what is it exactly. 3.14159 is exact enough for more purposes. Not good enough. He couldn’t convince the caller the digits didn’t end. I’m so ornery, I would have begun making up digits until he hung up or got it.

The Indiana House in 1897 passed a law that declared pi was 3.2. The Senate evidently heard the country’s outcry and stopped it.


It seems fitting that Stephen Hawking be remembered as one of the greatest physicists of all time and appropriate that the day he left us be well marked. I saw him recently on Star Talk, and loved his insight on life. (My clever daughter said he gave us a Hole new light on the passage of time.)



Save the plankton!

Save the whales? Sure. Save the turtles? Ditto. But if we don’t save the plankton, all ocean species will be  history. Both zooplankton (tiny animals) and phytoplankton (tiny plants) are at the base of the food chain. Not only ocean species, but life on earth including humans depend on phytolankton. We may be able to remove fish from our diet but we can’t breathe without oxygen. One half of our oxygen is produced by the oceans’ phytoplankton.

So why does phytoplankton require saving? It is threatened by the warming of the climate; decline has been correlated with warmer temperatures. The ocean absorbs much of our excess heat, which is good news and bad news.

It is conjectured that the reason that warmer temperatures are harmful to phytoplankton is that like all plants, they require nutrients. Nutrients are much more plentiful at great depths because as animals and plants die they sink. Places where a process called upwelling occurs, the mixing of ocean layers brings nutrients to the top layer where phytoplankton reside. However, since the heat is absorbed in the top layer making the layer lighter, the difference in density between the top layer and lower layes is too great to allow mixing and the phytoplankgon starve.


Fortunately, the decline is slow, but must be addressed before it’s too late. I’m ordering a custom-made T-shirt. In fact I ran out and had it made at my local maill as you can see.







Dark Ages or Black Holes for Science? The Good the Bad and the Ugly

When told someone has good news/bad news for me, I ask for the bad first, so here goes.

Bad News: 1. A mission nearly 20 years in the making was intended to seek an answer to the most burning, baffling question in astronomy. The answer has the potential to predict the fate of the universe. It is now in danger of being cancelled.
2. Trump budget seeks huge cuts to disease prevention and medical research. 

Ugly News: 1.   Household products make surprisingly large contributions to air pollution.
2. Current administration has targeted 67 environmental protections for cancellation.
33 Protections have been overturned including  inclusion of green house gas emissions in environmental reviews, anti-dumping law for coal companies, decisions on oil pipelines crossing US farms, off-shore and Arctic Refuge drilling ban, and the list continues.
24 Rollbacks are in progress including Paris climate agreement, clean power plan, auto efficiency standards, limits on toxic discharge and emission standards for power plants,
10 proposals are in limbo including emission limits on new oil & gas wells, regulation of hazardous chemicals, protections for groundwater, tributaries, and wetlands.

I do not see protection of the earth as a political issue. We are all living on the same earth and will suffer equally from its damage. .

Good News (At last): 1. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch will start getting smaller later this year. 
I am excited about this. I wrote a blog about this Netherlands  company conducting a proof of concept about a way to herd the plastic into a smaller area in order to scoop it up. Now, it’s about to become a reality.


2. Major corporations are getting on board with renewable energy. They are finding the lower costs attractive.
3. Peru is poised to protect millions of acres of forest land. Huge forests are the lungs and the medicine chest of our planet. They provide oxygen and medicine from an innumerable species of plants. Animals often have an immunity to particular diseases which with research may provide potential health benefits for humans.
This is in addition to a donation by Kristine and Douglas Tomkins (of Northface and Esprit) of over 1,000,000 acres in Chile matched by the Chilean government with 9,000,000 more acres establishing a huge park system. See the fabulous pictures of the area in Patagonia. 
4.  Our youth are angry about the state of the world and their voices will be heard. They are our future as well as their own. The only thing that will counter the corrupting influence of big money is for people to get informed and vote. I’m looking to them to help turn things around.
5. After banning plastic bags, California is going after  plastic straws.  Not only does plastic debris harm humans by way of pervading our oceans and air by leaching into the environment for human consumption, scientists are becoming concerned about the use of plastic from which we eat and drink. Even paper cups have a plastic coating on the inside. After attending a writers conference in San Francisco, where waste baskets filled quickly with plastic cups used once to drink water, as of today I am carrying my own drinking containers in my car for meetings and coffee shops. I’ve been trying to refuse straws in my drinks for some time, and recently was asked if I wanted one in a bar in Alameda! We have a ways to go, but my state is leading the way.




Do plants have minds of their own?

Pleased to meetcha!

Recently, scientists have  discovered plants can be sedated. A sedated Venus flytrap won’t snap shut on its prey. It lies as relaxed as a stoner at a rock star concert. Once the sedative wears off, the flytrap is back to normal. Similarly plants whose flowers open in the morning and close up at night fail to follow the pattern once sedated.


Many years ago I read a fascinating article citing a scientific study that suggested that some plants can distinguish between their sibling plants—seeded by the same mother plant— and unrelated plants or plants of a different kind. In the case of unrelated plants, a plant will grow more and longer roots in search of water and nutrients, but in the case of sibling plants they were less greedy as if sharing the resources. The scientists attributed their ability to know their kin by their sensitivity to chemical cues.

We’ve all heard of people who claim that talking to their plants helps them grow. Scientists generally dismiss the idea, but there is one experiment that supports the idea that plants react to sound. Seven greenhouses were set up with recordings. In two, constant negative speech blared and in another two, positive speech. One was blessed with classical music, one cursed with heavy metal, and the last was left in peaceful silence.

The plants in the silent greenhouse grew the least, the ones hearing speech grew equally well and better than the ones ignored. The next best growth happened in the classical music greenhouse, but best of all were the plants with heavy metal. Hmm, it seems the louder or busier the sound, the better they grow. No claims were made about this single study.

Think about these interesting observations about plants. One could almost argue that there’s some consciousness going on. There are neuroscientists who claim human free will is an illusion. We are controlled by our structure and our chemicals. If that were true, this recent study hypothesizes plants are not so different from us.

We’ve all seen plants, which grow in the direction of the sun in our own houses. Do you think they think they are making a choice?

Sedating plants 
Plants share with siblings
Does talking to plants help them grow?


Whip up human muscles from your “Hi Janes”

Hi Janes


This article is not about exchanging flabby underarms for toned muscled ones. It’s about a scientist’s research into making muscle cells from skin cells. Biological engineer from Duke University, Nenad Bursac, has been trying to make muscles from “scratch” for purposes of finding cures for muscular disorders. At first he could only enable a glob of muscle cells to multiply. However not many volunteers are willing to give away muscle cells nor would you want to use them from someone with muscle problems. Skin cells are much more available.

So Bursac and his team sought and found a way to transform skin cells into functioning human muscle.

They can derive  pluripotent stem cells from skin cells  i.e. ones able to morph into any kind of cell in the body including muscle cells. What surprises me is that this is evidently the hard part. I would have thought it more difficult to collect these cells and make them function as a muscle. Muscles need to be able to contract and release.

The researchers use a gel made of fibrin, stuff that helps your blood clot as a cylindrical scaffold, which gives the cells a surface on which to align and complete their transformation into unified bundles of muscle fiber.

To verify that the fibers could function not just in culture but in live tissue, Bursac’s team transplanted their muscle bundles into adult mice. Then amazingly implanted small, glass windows  in the mice’s backs to watch the tissues not only survive but integrate with the rodent’s natural muscles. The vision of this amuses me. Evidently, the mice didn’t mind.

Bursac hypothesizes these skin-grown muscles will be capable of self-repair after exercise or injury.

Their discovery method will make it easier than ever for researchers to study muscle and muscle-based therapies, Stem cells capable of becoming any kind of cell are amazing enough. Now we can make such cells from ordinary skin. Mind blowing!





Special Assignment

I asked my friend Violet the year this took place, and she believes it was 1965.

Violet's Vibes

This is a true story of a defining moment in my life from my book, In the Right Place: A Gallery of Treasured Moments (Carr Twins & Co. 2006). This revision is as fitting today, January 15, 2018, as the nation observes the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, as it was when first published.

The scene: Proof machines clatter and a check sorter hums with activity outside the manager’s door in a bank Operations Center. A West Coast transplant to the Deep South is being briefed on her new assignment, a dark secret that is about to change this workplace forever.

“James wants to see you in his office when you finish that batch of deposits,” my supervisor said.  Except for annual performance reviews, a summons to his office was rare and seldom good news.

“I asked you here to give you a special assignment,” James said. “Because of…

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Women: Get in touch with your Viking warrior selves!

Only in 2017, was it revealed via DNA analyses that the ancient remains of a Viking warrior was not male but female. According to a national geographic article, “More than a millennium ago in what’s now southeastern Sweden, a wealthy Viking warrior was laid to rest in a resplendent grave filled with swords, arrowheads, and two sacrificed horses.” Modern scientists assumed the warrior was male. Viking lore and sagas suggested there were women warriors, but archaeologists evidently imposed current gender roles to dismiss the idea as embroidery to myths.

Since the discovery of the Birka warrior in the 1880s, the assumption of male remains continued until 2014, when Anna Kjellström presented at a conference her findings that close examination of the pelvic and mandible bones were consistent with a female’s. When archaeologists defended the long-held view it was male, they tried to explain away her claim, but another archaeologist, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson did careful DNA research establishing the gender. In fact, game pieces found in the lap indicated she was involved in planning tactics.

Expected gender roles have varied with time. Pioneer women  worked in the fields although suntans were consequently non-fashionable. Being pale meant being wealthy enough for wives and daughters to remain quietly indoors. Laura Ingalls Wilder wore long dresses and sunbonnets with large bills when outdoors.

It is unbelievable that the right to vote took a one-hundred-year battle.

The Rosie the Riveter period was followed by a considered effort to get women back home to make way to provide jobs for the men coming home from war. Never have there been more ads to prevent “waxy yellow buildup.”  Not only must floors be waxed to a shine, one must occasionally remove layer upon layer. Not everyone fell for it.

Women are currently showing their political muscle against sexual abuse and requiring sexual favors for job security and promotion.

This blog was written in honor of the upcoming nationwide Women’s Marches on January 20th. I’m tempted to carry a spear with last year’s sign with the coiled snake and Revolutionary War slogan  “Don’t tread on me.” Hmm, maybe I can put spear points on the ends of the poles of the sign. Yes, I like that idea. Now if I can only find a Viking helmet..