About hamanne

Retired math prof from San Jose State University. Long time crusader rabbit for justice. Lost a precious son who was a poet. Have a precious daughter in radio. Tolerant husband who hikes/golfs/swears at hypocritical politicians at the breakfast table.

Necessity is the Mother of Scientific Inventions

Catherine Coleman Flowers a MacArthur Foundation “genius”, is partnering with environmental engineers at Columbia University on the design of a toilet that will turn solid waste into fertilizer and liquid waste into water clean enough for washing clothes. This sounds amazing for a future with more people on the planet requiring more fresh water from a diminishing supply, along with more food and energy.

However, her inspiration was not futuristic, but based on what is happening in the county of Lowndes in Alabama where she grew up. Low income families with no public sewer available relied on a septic system, but due to climate change—not necessarily due to carbon dioxide—the average yearly rainfall has increased over time, resulting in the water table level rising. A septic system not only requires a tank, but a drain or leach field. The sludge remains in the tank, which has to be pumped out periodically. The effluent flows into the drain field. With the high water table, the effluent didn’t sink into the soil but bubbled up onto people’s properties, providing an environment for hookworms and other nasty small critters harmful to human health, something rarely seen in developed countries. The cost of specially engineered septic systems is out of reach for the ordinary resident, but the $500 cost of more frequent removal of the sludge is a Catch 22. On top of this, people were once fined for lack of maintenance.

As I thought about the problem, I found myself angry that people had to live this way, but in my research was heartened to learn that the problem had reached the attention of the federal government, partly because the county was the hardest hit by Covid-19. One of the residents testified before Congress. Bernie Sanders and Jane Fonda visited the area. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working on the issue of turning sewage into drinking water worldwide. Some funds have been provided to finance the special septic systems In Lowndes Coutny. At least ten have been installed.

However, according to Flowers, not only this Alabama county but also the flooded coasts of Florida to thawing Alaska towns contain an estimated half-million U.S. households that lack adequate sanitation. According to the CDC more than 35% of the world population is in the same situation. This larger need has inspired her to design a better septic system, one that is inexpensive and easy to run and maintain. It will separate waste into various recyclable elements. She also plans sensors that can monitor for signs of pathogens, including the coronavirus. Her article doesn’t explain how it will work nor how it can be done cheaply, but I salute her.

My New Years Visions for Science

By Bart Everson – https://www.flickr.com/photos/editor/46900157282/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76273955

* One of my visions is that plastic, Styrofoam, etc. will be replaced by products that won’t languish in a landfill. I was delighted to receive an online order recently with packing peanuts made of starch. They dissolve in water and are biodegradable. The sender claimed they were cheaper than Styrofoam. Evidently, they have been around since the 1990s, but they were new to me.

* I’ve blogged before about biodegradable plastics being developed and already some such bags are in use. I am anxious to see them become the norm. Now, I can only reuse plastic packaging as much as possible. No more seal-a-meal bags!

*I’d love to see a way to scrub carbon dioxide from the air that is safe and economically feasible . Scientists are quiet about their work on it for fear that people will believe society need not worry about pollution, and of course fear of failure or unintended consequences.

* How about battery storage for electricity becoming cheaper and more available so that solar and wind energy use can be maximized.

* I see electric airplanes in our future. Work has begun on small planes.

*The kind of scientific medical discoveries that I long for are those that will result in less invasive surgeries and more affordable cures. I find myself amazed at what research shows can be done, but often at tremendous cost.

*And wouldn’t it be great if someone invented a pill to erase our memories of the agony of 2020.

Here’s to better 2021 to all!

Eloise

Miss some 2020 Sky Visions because of clouds?

Geminind meteor shower on Dec 13th? Click here.

Saturn Jupiter conjunction on the winter soltice? Click here.

Our Brain is Our Clandestine Command Center

According to a recent NYTimes article, we are barely conscious of our most frequent brain activities, namely those that run our bodies. If our body begins to become dehydrated we feel thirsty and drink water. Our brain can instantly makes us feel quenched even though there hasn’t been enough time to replenish the blood stream. It anticipates the end result. (Hmm, unfortunately, we don’t feel full soon enough after beginning to eat.) A normal body requires water, salt, glucose, nutrients, sleep, movement, etc. The brain sees its job as anticipating your body’s need to replenish the required resources. This automatic management by our brains is scientifically known as allostasis.

Our Command Center Brain Controls Our Needs

The article likens this brain function to a personal financial advisor who manages your deposits and withdrawals. You can’t withdraw much energy if you haven’t made a sleep or nutrient deposit in days.

Most of this is not new, but most of us hold the view that our brain has this automatic side, which we don’t think about and a thinking side. However, the author of the article, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University professes that the brain is not for thinking and all brain activity is in service of maintaining the body.

I interpret her claim to mean that what we see as purely mental cannot be separated from allostasis. Deep breathing is physical, but It can act to calm us. More sleep can replenish emotional energy as well as physical. Presence on social media can deplete our social energy while not satisfying our need for human contact. Most people are experiencing weariness due to the Covid pandemic and the recent election, i.e. our brain is making withdrawals from our well-being, and we need to consider making deposits such as taking a nature walk, listening to music, watching light-hearted television, and in my case doing jig-saw and other puzzles proportional to the amount of time we worry about the 2020 world.  Hmm, am I withdrawing from my mental energy or adding to it when I use my brain on puzzles? Not sure.

Another hmm. The brain may spend more energy on our bodily functions, but thinking is indeed one of its functions. We may not be able to live without the brain making sure our bodies stay shipshape, but we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t think. How would we make scientific discoveries without the brain, for example? Perhaps the author meant thoughts related to feeling rather than analyzing, deducing, researching, and understanding..

♡ Love Your Family and Friends, but ✋Trust Science!

Most of us understand Covid is a serious disease with death a genuine possibility. However, we view our friends and family as decent people who shower, brush their teeth, don’t have body odor, and maintain their homes as well as they can. If we think with our gut instead of our brain we wonder how they could give us Covid? Ditto for ourselves. If we’re feeling fine, we are fine or just have a cold. It is particularly difficult when a person with those views invites others to events, putting people in the awkward position of explaining a lack of trust the event is safe.

Understandably, it will be particularly difficult with the holidays upon us to make tough decisions. Grandparents will be craving to play itchy-gitchy-goomie with their adorable little grandchildren. We all look forward to sharing holiday cheer with our loved ones, but is it worth the risk? Medical scientists don’t think so without quarantines and Covid tests. Thank goodness for online meetings.

This difficulty is why some people have formed bubbles to retain some social contact at low risk. If carefully formed, the risk can be minimized. However, too many people do not understand that this does not mean multiple bubbles: one for neighbors, one for work mates, one for relatives, one for playing sports, etc. Because of something similar to the seven degrees of separtion theory, bubbles should not overlap and be kept small. Bubble members should share their habits, and agree on the rules inside and outside of the bubble. In most cases, social distancing and mask wearing should still be practiced. Consider the diagram below of overlapping bubbles. Imagine yourself as the dot in the bottom right bubble, and someone with Covid labeled C in the bottom left bubble. You may have never heard of person C, but someone in your bubble is only 4 steps away from him or her.

I know we are all weary of masks, not attending fun events, avoiding shopping indoors, but with vaccines and a new administration determined to contain Covid, there is hope the end is in sight.

STAY SAFE!!

Science and Political Will

Election day is past. Whether our votes were determined by taxes, the stock market, availability of jobs, the Supreme Court, healthcare, immigration, racism, social programs, influence of news or social meda, , or future of the planet, there is one thing we can and must agree on. We need to pressure our government representatives and talk with our friends and neighbors about respect for Science.

No form of government is perfect. To function well, a Democracy depends on an informed electorate. Unfortunately, we live in a world of conflicting information overload. Truth is difficult to discern with social media. (Fortunately, there are fact-checking sites online.) A more serious flaw in our particular Democracy is a structure that discourages long-term planning. Our elections are funded by donations, and the elected must spend an inordinate amount of time raising campaign funds. House representatives are up for election every two years effectively meaning they are always running for office. Presidential campaigns grow longer and more expensive. Imagine the good that could be done with the billions spent.

The upshot is that our government officials have less time to be concerned with long term planning. As an example, excellence in education is not uniform across the country because it is expensive. Yet investment in quality education more than pays for itself by providing a competent workforce, more people paying taxes on higher incomes, less need for programs for the poor, and an overall better quality of life. Just as families who plan ahead fare better, so do countries by properly maintaining and improving our infrastructure, providing affordable healthcare, clean air, energy and water supplies, and more. Population increase further elevates the need for long term planning.

It is the scientific community whose goals are intended for the long-term betterment of human society. Scientists prepare for years before embarking on a lifetime of research. The federal government supports a host of agencies involved with the science required for a better future, but it is unclear that those we elect pay them sufficient heed. The most serious threat to our future is climate change. The scientists have the answers, and as a community say the biggest obstacle to protecting our world is the lack of political will to implement solutions. Our role as citizens is to pressure those in power to trust science. Our lives depend on it.

Earth is in our hands

Less pollution More carbon absorbing trees

Check out this beautifully done video imagining a world where essential workers go on strike to make a better world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m8YACFJlMg

Rewild Earth for Human’s Sake!

 

David Attenborough’s latest documentary—A Life on Earth— takes his concern about how we humans are managing our home to a new level. Instead of a voice-over with gentle concerned warnings, he speaks to us directly with his dismay emanating from his brimming sad eyes.

The film brings home how biodiversity makes our living world tick, but loss of wild areas means the clock for human life is ticking. Mass extinctions have happened five times in human history, and Attenborough wants to stop the next one.

For 10,000 years the average temperature didn’t vary by more than 1 degree Celsius. Dry and rainy seasons regularly and predictably alternated over most of the globe enabling farmers to provide our food. Then things began to change. In 1937, our world population was 2.3 billion, 66% of the Earth’s land was considered wild, and the number of parts of carbon molecules per million was 280. In 2020, the population is 7.8 billion, only 35% of our land is wild, and the number of parts of carbon per million has increased to the dangerous level of 415. Environmentalist Bill McKibben named his organization 350.org after  the safe level of 350.

In the 1950s modernization progressed at pace, and human life became easier with sophisticated appliances, cars, TVs, and planes taking us all over the world. Earth seemed infinite with unlimited resources. Only our astronauts beginning with the Apollo missions could see the beauty and  finitude of the blue marble.

Over Attenborough’s long career, he bore witness to the decline of mountain gorilas, whales, and so many species that today only 4% are wild. (I guess the rest are pets or awaiting to be served at our tables.) The number of acres of rain forests—gardens of biodiversity— has also drastically declined. As an example, Borneo was 75% rain forest in the 1950s, but today half of it is gone. 15 billion trees per year are slaughtered. Many efforts to replenish biodiverse forests are feeble because the newly planted trees are of a single variety—Palm Oil trees. The supply of fresh water is down by 80%.

Without significant action, by 2030 the Amazon will burn and the Arctic ice disappear. By 2040 the soil will thaw, releasing methane, a more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Sustainable living is required for human’s continued existence with decent lives. Biodiversity, is the key and  entails  rewilding our Earth. We need to plant trees, trees, and more trees of appropriate kinds. An organization called Restor is gathering data for achieving the right mix of wild plant and animal life. More information on Restor will be part of an upcoming series: Age of Nature on PBS:

Deserted town near Chernobyl

A plant and fish based diet is sustainable but one built around meat consumes too much land to sustain our growing human population. The natural world will rebuild without us. Chernobyl is evidence as natural trees have flourished. In working with rather than against nature, we can save ourselves. Behaving wisely is as critical as applying our best scientific efforts.

Human Consumption and our Planet’s Future

Featured

Pixabay: Peter H

Human consumption is not just about food. It’s about clean water, clean air, energy sources, minerals, rock, sand, lithium, rubber, wood, all the ingredients that provide us with our homes, furniture, cars, clothing, tech devices, electricity, heating and cooling our homes, means of running our cars, sports equipment, entertainment, and other creature comforts. The increase in population and need for homes mean more natural land is being paved over for homes and agriculture.


To take one example, we are buying more clothing and discarding it sooner. The clothing industry accounts for 20% of our water pollution and remains only behind the fossil fuel industry in that regard. Every year the world consumes over 80 billion clothing items. In 2013 over 15 million tons of textile waste was produced according to the EPA. When clothing ends up in landfills. chemicals, such as dye, leach into the ground. When unsold clothes are burned, CO2 escapes—as much as 1.2 billion tons per a World Resources Institute report.


Amazon trees are being felled to make way for agriculture, reducing oxygen produced by them, and an environment for wild life. We buy knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys galore, decor for every holiday, political swag, gadgets for special uses or plain silliness—remember that awful fish on a board to hang on your wall that wagged its tail and talked or sang. When the last parent passes on, their belongings don’t. They are hauled to the dump by the truckloads.(Advice to the elderly is to clean out the attic so your loved ones are spared such trips.)


Plastic has been my bugaboo as it takes eons to degrade and is killing ocean life including the plankton that produce more oxygen than the Amazon forest. Containers for goods are next to unavoidable. We once used glass, but glass requires sand, of which there is not an infinite amount, and too much removal from some sites have had a negative impact. Cardboard originates from trees. Face it, we’re consuming at a faster rate than Mama Nature can provide.

I’m as guilty as the next person, seeking the perfect lemon squeezer, the foam pillow designed to prop my ipad in bed, plastic storage boxes to park stuff in my attic. Now, I’m determined to turn over a new leaf. I’m saving plastic containers and bags for reuse rather than buying those convenient seal plastic bags. I reuse unsoiled tinfoil. My hubby thinks I’m nuts but gets in trouble when he balls it up, thinking it’s fun. I’m encouraged by efforts to manufacture a biodegradable plastic or plastic-like material to use in containers, millennials who are eschewing abundant wardrobes. Like most of us I’ve spent most of my life accumulating. Now it’s time to stop and begin shedding. Unfortunately, most of the young don’t want our family heirlooms of china, crystal, and silver.

As a footnote, I highly recommend David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet on Netflix. In fact, it should be required in our schools and for adlults to be allowed to vote. I plan to devote my next blog to its message. The documentary not only is a stark commentary on human’s impact on the planet, it includes ways we can avoid disaster.

Will Your 3-year-old Become a Healthy Adult?

Four psychologists after decades of study of thousands of people, published The Origins of You.

Child development researchers confirm what most of us understand. No single factor can explain why we become who we are. Some studies focus on what parents can expect at what age. The purpose of this longitudinal study was to find  behaviors correlated with later traits. The most significant result  is that only certain temperaments could predict later personalities. One behavior, labeled “undercontrolled”— described as irritable and distractible— at age 3, correlated with  impulsive and danger-seeking characteristics at age 18. Another temperament labeled “inhibited”—shy, fearful, and unresponsive—at age 3, later correlated with restrained and passive characteristics. These two groups comprised only 18% of those studied, and among the remainin 82%, only weak links were found between other temperaments at age 3 and personality at 18 .

All of us— including children— influence the nature of our social worlds. The authors believe this provides an explanation for the above results. An undercontrolled child will provoke hostility from his or her circles. In turn, the hostility reinforces the tendency toward being undercontrolled, resulting in an unfortunate cycle that inhibits learning social skills and self-control. I’m fascinated with the word “undercontrolled.” I believe the authors mean poor self-control, but my first reaction involved envisioning a child in a grocery cart screaming for a candy bar and wishing the parent had the child “under control.” These undercontrolled children fared the worst as adults in relationships. Males were likely to become entangled in gambling problems

“Inhibited” 3-year-olds who avoid people will naturally make fewer friends, a situation that continues into adulthood and contributes to inability to influence or lead others.

The authors offered some advice, but declined to be prescriptive on the  parenting role. No one size fits all, and too many examples of unpredictable survivals and failures exist.

In the fools-dare-to-tread-where-wise-men-fear-to-go tradition, I’ll offer my old-fashioned thoughts. Typically, parents have always treated children in ways to promote acceptable adult behavior, which in turn makes for a more contented adulthood.  They forbid young offspring to harm others, to grab other’s toys, to break the sound barrier, and more.These are steps in learning self-control. Such parents also instruct offspring to wave “goodbye,” to tell Grandma “Thank you” to use the word “please” and more. Later, it’s “What do you say?”   I wonder how effective these practices are on the temperaments described.

A Fascinating Newly Discovered Stonehenge Property

Over the centuries, little has fascinated the public more than the mysterious Stonehenge. Why was it built?  What happened there? Who built it? An entire series of Nova is devoted to these questions and more.

 

Researchers have spent enormous amounts of time for over a century sifting through clues about its origin. Early on, it became clear it was a burial site, but questions of whose cremated bodies rested there aren’t completely settled. Were they sacrifices, the religious, the elite, warriorsmaking Stonehenge an ancient day Arlington National Cemetary? Charred wood, animal bones, pottery, and other evidence of feasts have been also uncovered.

Archeologists determined the exact original locations of each rock and fallen rocks have been returned to their places. Some have been given names corresponding to certain legends: Heel Stone, Slaughter Stone, and Fairy Stone to name a few. Sunrise at the summer solstice shines through Stonehenge adjacent to the Heel Stone and directed toward the exact center. Similarly the winter solstice can be detected.

It took several stages and centuries to complete Stonehenge. Deer antlers were used as tools in the first, obviously primitive, stage. Some of the rocks dubbed bluestones make ringing sounds when struck, and churches made bells from them into the 18th century. People attributed healing powers to these mystical sounds, suggesting the reason they moved the huge stones over a 100miles.  The most common theory of how they were moved is that they were rolled along on logs.

This blog is intended to highlight a most recent discovery related to the bluestones. A large-scale replica — 1/12 of the original — provided a means of further testing of its properties as a whole.  The worthwhile experiment determined that the arrangement of the stones amplify and enrich musical tones for those inside the circle only. Further, the positioning of the stones actually contains the sound to the surrounded area. I envision the Whos down in Whoville  containing their Christmas singing from the Grinch.

Was this property intentional? If so, why? Courtesy or privacy? Another mystery! My own suspicion is that the use of Stonehendge evolved over the centuries, making it difficult to make single conclusions about its purpose.

Other sources: http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/stonehenge.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge

Nova Series on PBS

Our Mysterious Active Oceans

 

Hurricane Laura

While we have hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, earthquakes, drought, floods, wind gusts, and sudden changes of temperature on Earth’s surface, we may think of our oceans as giant aquariums with tides the mere sloshing caused by Earth’s rotations and the pull of the moon. Nothing could be further from the truth. In particular volcanoes erupt, and earthquakes quake in our oceans.

 

Oceanic Volcano Eruption

Recently, a volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean near Tonga spewed so much pumice-like volcanic rock, it created a floating raft six inches deep and over 20,000 football fields in surface area. It is floating towards Australia, and may pass coral reef areas during the time of main coral spawning. If so, the pumice rocks should gather marine organisms and become a moving ecosystem, one potentially helping regenerate the Great Barrier Reef. It would be delightful if a natural explosion could for once be a benefit. Scientists struggling to save it and other reefs need a boost of good news.

Mayotte Island

On November 11th, a puzzling rumble rolled around the world. Seismic waves appeared to emanate from an island between Africa and northern Madagascar, then grumbled across Africa, traversed oceans, and were detected in New Zealand, Chile, and even Hawaii. Seismographs zig-zagged for 20 minutes recording low frequency waves. Since earthquakes are normally of short duration with high frequency waves, scientists suspected other causes, volcanic eruptions, and even joked about wakened sea serpents.

The island, Mayotte, is of volcanic origin, but there’s been no such activity in over 4,000 years. On the other hand, GPS stations there have detected that Mayotte has shifted location 2.4 inches to the east and 1.2 inches to the south since mid-July. The French Geological Survey (BRGM) is closely monitoring the recent shaking, spotting  faint pings commonly associated with magma moving and fracturing rock as it squirts through the crust.

A recent theory is that it was a “slow” earthquake, i.e. one whose release of stress is gradual. Such quakes are associated with volcanic activity, making it difficult to categorize. Further, Mayotte sits in a region crisscrossed by ancient faults—including fracture zones from the final breakup of Gondwana, the ancient super continent.

Approaching a year since the event, scientists are still seeking a definitive answer about this strange oceanic event.