Monday, December 30, 2013

Three Day Weekend (Maybe Four????)

Last night I said that the snow will be very light at first, so I gave only a 50% certainty of a snow day Thursday.  I was right on, as about half the schools in the area were closed and the other half had early dismissal.
I also said that if the West Hartford administration really wanted to get the days in, a short day Thursday would be possible.  Sure enough, they did.  

But now, after just about every other school in the area, 

West Hartford Schools will NOT be open on Friday....


Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Stupid, It Burns!!

From United Press International:

University of Miami researchers say Florida has more indoor tanning facilities than CVS pharmacies or McDonald's restaurants.

Dr. Sonia A. Lamel of the University of Miami and colleagues analyzed the number of registered Florida tanning facilities and the types of services offered at each. They compared the number of tanning facilities with the number of other common Florida businesses registered with the state.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, found one tanning salon for every 15,113 people and 1.16 tanning facilities for every 50 squares miles in Florida.
There are more tanning facilities (1,261) than McDonald's or CVS pharmacies (693) -- only Bank of America ATMs at 1,455 were more common, the study said.

Most tanning facilities offered tanning only, and many facilities were housed in residential buildings and fitness and wellness centers. They were also clustered around college dormitories and housing.

Indoor tanning is linked to melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer development, especially if people tan before the age of 35. Florida has the second-highest incidence of melanoma in the country with frequent use of tanning facilities by teenage girls and young adults, the researchers said.

"Further investigation of the impact of indoor tanning facility type, geographic location and use on skin cancer incidence may promote regulation of these carcinogenic devices and guide health interventions," the researchers said. "Moreover, efforts to restrict false advertising and complimentary indoor tanning may be warranted."

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). 

Another One Bites The Dust

There are people who make billions of dollars producing and selling fossil fuels.

Burning any fuel produces carbon dioxide.  There is no doubt in the collective scientific mind that the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the increase in the average atmospheric temperature are connected.

NOT responsible for climate change in the last 1,000 years.
There probably isn't any doubt in most of those billionaires either, but they aren't going to let that stop them from selling their product.

As the tobacco industry learned decades ago, if you don't have the science on your side, sell doubt.  After all, Americans are ignorant, and they want their cigarettes and gasoline and coal-fired electrical plants.  And they love conspiracy stories.

One of the stories sold by the fuel companies is that it is solar activity that is responsible for climate change.  The Sun does go through cycles where it is sometimes brighter than at other times.

There are problems with this.  Among them is the fact that other planets should also show increases and decreases in temperature as the Sun fluctuates, and they don't.

Now a new study of past climates and solar activity has shown that there is NO connection between them.  It does find that

"Until the year 1800, the key driver of periodic changes in climate was volcanic eruptions. These tend to prevent sunlight reaching Earth, causing cool, drier weather. Since 1900, greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of climate change."

A summary of the study is available at Science News.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Is All That We Have

This is lifted unchanged from a post by Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Facebook:

December 24, 2013. The 45th anniversary of the "Earthrise" photo, taken while astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders orbited the Moon in 1968, aboard the command module of Apollo 8 -- the first mission ever to leave Earth for another destination. There was Earth. Afloat in space. Seen not with color coded countries and political boundaries delineated, but only as nature intended: with oceans, land, clouds. We went to the Moon as explorers, and discovered Earth for the first time. -NDTyson
December 24, 2013. The 45th anniversary of the "Earthrise" photo, taken while astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders orbited the Moon in 1968, aboard the command module of Apollo 8 -- the first mission ever to leave Earth for another destination.  There was Earth.  Afloat in space.  Seen not with color coded countries and political boundaries delineated, but only as nature intended: with oceans, land, clouds.  We went to the Moon as explorers, and discovered Earth for the first time.  -NDTyson

Monday, December 23, 2013

ADHD? Lucky You?

More and more it is being understood that ADHD and some forms of autism are caused by being unable to filter out all of the sensory input that bombards us every second (Yes, us.  Me too).  Read anything written by Temple Grandin to understand more.

Is that a bad thing?  Within bounds, and when we can maintain some control, it is a good thing.  ADHD is a wild horse to ride, but it can be ridden and it will take you places a gentle horse won't.  Sherlock Holmes was not 'normal' in his awareness of the little details.  Holmes as portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary (the better of the two current Sherlock Holmes television series, IMHO) does an amazing portrayal of someone with autism.
Jonny Lee Miller as an 
autistic Sherlock Holmes

Successful multi-taskers are aware of more than others.  And throughout our evolutionary history, being more aware of the environment has been a survival factor.  The hunter who was not aware he was being hunted did not have many children.  Today's world, where the amount of input has become increasingly insane, is already weeding out those who can't be aware of where their car is headed while they play with the infotainment center on their dashboard.

And being more aware is what makes some people amazingly creative.  In other words, strange people can be creative people.

Check out Shelley Carson's "The Unleashed Mind:  Why Creative People are Eccentric", an article in Scientific American Mind, May/June 2011 which was reviewed in the latest review to be dropped in my mailbox.

So, am I using this article to explain why I am strange and can't stand loud noises and crowds?  Well, maybe.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Good News For Sun Lovers

In case you hadn't noticed, today we had 2 seconds more sunlight than on Mid-Winter's day yesterday!!

That's right.  Today we had a total of 9 hours, 8 minutes and 30 seconds of daylight!

Winter is retreating!  And it gets faster every day!

Length of day
Dec 22, 2013
7:15 AM
4:24 PM
9h 08m 30s
+ 02s

Dec 23, 2013
7:16 AM
4:24 PM
9h 08m 36s
+ 06s

Dec 24, 2013
7:16 AM
4:25 PM
9h 08m 47s
+ 10s

Dec 25, 2013
7:16 AM
4:26 PM
9h 09m 02s
+ 14s

Dec 26, 2013
7:17 AM
4:26 PM
9h 09m 21s
+ 19s

Dec 27, 2013
7:17 AM
4:27 PM
9h 09m 44s
+ 23s

Dec 28, 2013
7:17 AM
4:28 PM
9h 10m 11s
+ 27s

Saturday, December 21, 2013

You Think It Is Dark HERE?

December 21.  Today is the ancient holiday of Yule.  Mid-Winter.  The turning point.  Tomorrow the sunlight returns.   

But today the tilt of the Earth's axis points us the furthest away from the direct rays of the Sun.  We get fewer hours of daylight than any other day, and the light we get is at a low angle and weak:  the darkest day of the year.  

Today is the Winter Solstice, the middle of Winter.

Today is the day celebrated in holidays by many religions, although changes in the Earth's orbit over the centuries mean that most holidays are a few days off.  Tomorrow the amount of light we get in the northern hemisphere increases day by day until Mid-Summer's Day, June 20-22 (the Earth wobbles).  Welcome back the Sun!

Residents of Rjukan gather in the reflected light of the Sun
If you really want dark, you should live in Rjukan, Norway.  Rjukan is located in a valley and is deprived of direct sunlight for much of the year.   That makes living in Rjukan really 

So they built some mirrors.  Three gigantic mirrors, which are computer-controlled, will follow the path of the sunlight as it moves across the horizon. The mirrors will reflect sunlight onto the town square. 

The mirror project, which officially opened on Oct. 31, will give residents a 6,500-square-foot ray of light.  

The official web site is here:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Always Think

Because they hate it when you think.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Your Search Engine Is Lying To You - And Facebook Is Hiding Your Friends

I've gotten used to the way that the web works.  I receive an email with the word 'baby' in it, and for the next several days I see ads for baby products in my email client and on Facebook.  They track everything that we do, and they share.  For the most part, I don't care if they 'personalize' my free email.

Big Brother, from 1984 by George Orwell
Then today I found something interesting in my mail.  I subscribe to  Every day they send me an excerpt from a non-fiction book (of course hoping that I will click on the 'buy this book' button - If you use the link to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your purchase will benefit a children's literacy project.  All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity.).  Some of the books are fascinating, some hold no interest for me, but none of them are books that I would know about otherwise.

"It's not hard to see this difference in action. In the spring of 2010, while the remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig were spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, I asked two friends to search for the term 'BP.' They're pretty similar -- educated white left-leaning women who live in the Northeast. But the results they saw were quite different. One of my friends saw investment information about BP. The other saw news. For one, the first page of results contained links about the oil spill; for the other, there was nothing about it except for a promotional ad from BP.

"Even the number of results returned by Google differed -- about 180 million results for one friend and 139 million for the other. If the results were that different for these two progressive East Coast women, imagine how different they would be for my friends and, say, an elderly Republican in Texas (or, for that matter, a businessman in Japan).

"My sense of unease crystallized when I noticed that my conservative friends had disappeared from my Facebook page. Politically, I lean to the left, but I like to hear what conservatives are thinking, and I've gone out of my way to befriend a few and add them as Facebook connections. I wanted to see what links they'd post, read their comments, and learn a bit from them. 

"But their links never turned up in my Top News feed. Facebook was apparently doing the math and noticing that I was still clicking my progressive friends' links more than my conservative friends'. So no conservative links for me. 

I hadn't realized that they are also 'personalizing' what I see in search engines - and on Facebook.  

I don't like that.  If I am searching on something controversial I want to see both sides, not just the side I might agree with.  

And just because I find George Takei's postings amusing does not mean that I don't want to see postings from the Westboro Hate Church.

1984, anyone?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tuesday Early Dismissal? Chances Increasing.

It has been tough predicting snow days lately.

In the past, I combined what I knew about the weather with a guess as to how the school administration would react (emphasis on guess).

Now I have to add a third factor:  an increasing randomness in the weather patterns.

Saturday's unexpected two inches is an example.  No one really saw it coming until Friday night.

As the atmosphere heats up, the oceans heat up and the ice caps melt.  The result is a change in wind and water currents.  The old computer models have to change as well, and they aren't there yet.

However, I am going to go out on a limb with a forecast for Tuesday:  80% 90% chance of Early Dismissal in West Hartford.  

So, how about that weekend before Christmas?   Larger storms are easier to predict, and it looks like a rainy monster next weekend.  Sunday probably rain, changing to ice Sunday night.

Selling ADHD for [Huge] Profit

I often talked to my students about the selling of diseases.  Some pharmaceutical company comes up with a chemical that might cure some uncommon disease.  There's no profit in uncommon diseases.  So, hit the television.   Give your disease a spiffy nickname, like 'low-t' or 'afib', then announce a cure.   Repeat.  Often.

While I was teaching, I noticed an increase in students mothers who were frantic about their ADHD darlings.  It wasn't my imagination.  The following is excerpted from a not-unexpected article in the New York Times:

Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the [ADHD] diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners said in an interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”
The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

Like most psychiatric conditions, A.D.H.D. has no definitive test, and most experts in the field agree that its symptoms are open to interpretation by patients, parents and doctors. The American Psychiatric Association, which receives significant financing from drug companies, has gradually loosened the official criteria for the disorder to include common childhood behavior like “makes careless mistakes” or “often has difficulty waiting his or her turn.”  

Everybody! has ADHD!!!!!   Buy drugs!

So, come up with a chemical that might cure some uncommon disease.  There's no profit in uncommon diseases.  Hit the television.   Give your disease a spiffy nickname, like 'ADHD', then announce a cure.   Repeat.  Often.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Climate Change = Loss Of Ice In The Arctic = Snow In Jerusalem

They are all connected.  

Here are the numbers on the loss of arctic ice:
Here is Phil Plait's commentary:
      This melting ice can indirectly cause weirder weather. As the ice melts, more ocean surface is exposed to the Sun, warming it further. Moreover, as more fresh water is dumped into the salty ocean from the polar ice, the currents in that water change, bringing with them different temperatures to different places. The flow of the jet stream over the pole depends on temperature, and that can change as the temperature changes. You see bigger dips in the stream, bringing cold weather south, and warm weather north. This can also create what are called blocking patterns; high pressure systems that block the normal movement of air, creating stagnant conditions over a region. Alaska’s heat wave over the summer was one from one such blocking pattern, as was Greenland’s last year. A vicious cold snap in the US in March 2013 was also due to such an event.

Also directly related to this is the extreme cold in Connecticut this morning, and this:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Storm Coming! TV News Will Have Panic Alert Tonight!

And, it’s a Nor’easter!

 Here's how it works.   Winds rush from areas of higher pressure (colder and/or drier air) into areas of lower pressure (warmer and/or more humid air).  The rotation of the Earth makes that wind turn to its right in the northern hemisphere.  That means that air rotates counter-clockwise around storms.

If the storm passes to the left and north of us, that rotation brings warm air from the southeast. 

If the storm passes to the right and south of us (40 degrees north x 70 degrees west is the benchmark), our winds come from the North (cold) and East (wet from the ocean).  

Nor’easters bring snow.

And a Nor’easter is arriving Saturday.  Saturday night will bring the heaviest snow.

Don't worry.  This storm will be over by Sunday afternoon and won't affect the last day of school.

There's no promise about the storm that will hit us a week from Saturday.

And as for Christmas, this looks like the best chance of a white one in several years.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You Can't Do Only One Thing

That's a major rule in nature.  Pull on one string, and you find that everything is tied to it.

A bird feeder is never only a way to feed birds.

I put up a feeder to amuse myself (and others in the family), and a bear smashed it.

Mr. Bear wants some seeds to fall

So I put the feeder on a wire from my second floor window to a tree across the yard.  The bear still comes, attracted by the other wildlife, and sometimes finds spilled seeds.

Great Blue Heron in my yard
I added a goldfish pond, because birds need water. 

Frogs and toads came to lay their eggs.  Insects came to lay their eggs in the water.  Now dragonflies come to eat the other insects.  Great blue herons come to eat the goldfish, and Cooper's Hawks swing by to eat the frogs.

The seeds that fall from the feeder attract turkeys and mice and chipmunks, which attract more hawks and coyotes and foxes.
Hunting for seeds and the mice
that eat the seeds, under my
bird feeder
You can't catch me.

All because I put up a bird feeder.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Molecular Doctors

Proteins R Us.  They make up our bodies, and they control how our bodies function.

A lot of nasty diseases are caused by genetic mutations that affect the proteins that control body functions.  They cause the protein molecules to fold up so that they don't function correctly.
Artist's concept. The ability of drugs called
'pharmacoperones' to rescue misfolded proteins
and return them to normalcy could someday be
an underlying cure to a number of diseases,
scientists say. (Credit: © everythingpossible / Fotolia)

Among the diseases are degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Other diseases include some types of diabetes, cataracts and cystic fibrosis.

Oregon Health & Science University researchers have now found a group of chemicals that can enter cells and unfold the non-functioning proteins, in effect undoing the damage and curing the disease.

This has been successfully tested on mice, and human trials may begin soon.

Sedimentary Mars

While there seem to be an infinite number of rocks based on slight differences in minerals, they can be grouped into only a few very basic types.

NASA dollars at work, learning about how awesome the
universe is!
Sedimentary rocks form from bits of rock and mud eroded from older rock.  They are classified by the size of the particles they are made of.  Shales, for instance, are made of mud and clay that settle to the bottom of calm waters.

They look like this photo.  This particular type of rock is technically mudstone because the particles are extra tiny.  

The really cool part is that this photo was taken on Mars!  Chemical analysis shows that the mudstone formed under fresh water.

'We know that on Mars there was what we interpret to be a habitable environment, where water was good enough for us to drink,' said Melissa Rice, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

In other words, there was a time when we could have lived on Mars!

Mudstones are good for finding fossils.  The tiny mud particles can show impressions of tiny shells and such.  I would love to get a magnifying lens on that Mars rock!!

More information at NPR.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Early Closing Tuesday? Update Tuesday Morning

Well, it looks like I might have to change this - While other school districts in the area have closed, West Hartford is open - as I predicted.

It will snow heavily, but it won't start until after you are in school, but now I am thinking that there might be an early dismissal after all.  

This isn't weather prediction as much as trying to guess what the central administration will do.

Who Was Wrong?

Me, or West Hartford Public Schools?   My last update before today's weather was:

       I am now guessing 99% chance of late opening (probable), and now increasing to 60% chance of no school at all in West Hartford on Monday.

Students, better do your homework, just in case.  We can study the weather, but the Board of Education is beyond understanding.

The bands of heavy snow never reached us, so I was optimistic on the closing, but by 5:30 this morning, every public school in central Connecticut had announced a delayed opening - except for West Hartford Public Schools.   Every private school in West Hartford and the School for the Deaf had a delayed opening - but not West Hartford Public Schools.

So, I'm hoping that you students did your homework.  Teachers, I hope that you made it in safely, and at least you don't have to reschedule whatever you had planned for today.

I am watching Tuesday's weather, and right now I don't think that there will be an early dismissal.  

But the Board of Education is beyond understanding.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rising Temperatures, Rising Sea

The latest estimations of sea level rise in the next 100 years - 1 meter.

New York City After Sandy
A Taste of What Is To Come
That makes real estate in Miami, New York City, and a lot of other places in the world a really bad investment.

It gets better:  perhaps 3 meters (9 feet) in the next 200 years.   Say goodbye to Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and coastal Connecticut.

The good news:  We have the technology to end the burning of fossil fuels.  We only need the political willpower to do it.  Make your voice heard.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

School Update for Monday 12/9 - As of Sunday 5:00pm

Prediction change:  I am now guessing 99% chance of late opening (probable), and now increasing to 60% chance of no school at all in West Hartford on Monday.

Students, better do your homework, just in case.  We can study the weather, but the Board of Education is beyond understanding.  

Teachers, prepare for shortened classes, and think about how you can switch your schedule this week.

I might update this one more time tonight if there is a significant change.

In the meantime, watch out for next week - another storm may hit Monday night into Tuesday.

My Kids Got Shot

and I'm glad they did.    I didn't, because the measles vaccination didn't exist then.  I spent weeks in a darkened room and to this day I need tinted lenses to protect me from bright sunlight.  Yet there are gullible people still in this country who think that the vaccination will allow Martians to read their brainwaves or something.  

Here is Phil Plait's take on the latest information released by the Centers for Disease Control:
"The CDC just announced that measles cases in the United States in 2013 tripled over the annual average. There were 175 cases (so far), when usually there are about 60.
In her bid for attention, Jenny McCarthy tells
mothers not to vaccinate their children, while
she appears in cigarette ads.
Well, let’s see. In March, there were 58 cases alone in Brooklyn, N.Y., tied to a Jewish community that refused or delayed vaccinations. In Texas, a megachurch that preached anti-vaccination views had an outbreak with at least 20 cases. In North Carolina, 23 cases were reported in one outbreak; most of them in a religious (Hare Krishna) community that was largely unvaccinated."
See a connection?
And one in five children who contract that "harmless" child's disease are hospitalized. One in a thousand will get encephalitis. One or two out of a thousand will die from it.
Yes, die. From a disease that is essentially wholly preventable with a vaccine. Worldwide, measles kills well over a hundred thousand people every year. That’s 18 deaths per hour.

 And not one of those deaths should have occurred.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Better Mosquito Trap

A few years ago, my daughter and I had an excellent lesson in how CO2 attracts mosquitoes:

This was before a woman sued the water company for millions of dollars for riding her bike into a closed gate.  I had a permit to wander the water company lands doing a survey of nesting birds.

While walking, we met up with a police officer who wanted to check our permit, and talked to us for a while about the birds.  All the time we were talking, huge clouds of mosquitoes collected around the exhaust of his running car.

Put this as far away from your 
table as possible!
There are mosquito traps that can work on this principle:  generate a lot of CO2 far away from your patio and the mosquitoes will go there.  One that works well is a plastic bottle cut in half.  Turn the top around and insert it into the bottom like a funnel.  Pour in some molasses, water and yeast.  The yeast eat the molasses, breathe out lots of  CO2, and the mosquitoes get trapped in the funnel.  Of course, adding CO2 to the air is not a good thing.

Now we know something more:  The same receptors on the mosquitoes that detect  CO2 also detect body odor.  That could explain why some people attract more insects than other people.  One chemical in particular is cyclopentanone, a minty-smelling chemical approved as a flavor and fragrance agent.

That means that including that flavoring in your food or shampoo makes you a mosquito magnet.  It also means that using cyclopentanone in mosquito traps can eliminate the need to produce CO2.

A better mosquito trap.