Thursday, October 31, 2013

Which Holiday Is It, Anyway?

The Calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada
Day of the Dead
All Hallow's Evening
All Souls Day
Día de Muertos

Today is October 31.  

Harvest Time!
Pumpkins, Corn and Sugar!
What are we celebrating (besides the miracle of marketing, which has had Hallowe'en candy on shelves in the U.S. for the last 4 months)?

October 31.  Tomorrow is November 1, about half-way between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  At this point we have dropped from 15 hours and 13 minutes of daylight to only 10 hours and 24 minutes.  

Plants and animals (the Biosphere) have responded to this decrease in light
by ripening their seeds, and dying back for the winter.  In fact, the leaves are just about gone.  Any rain at this time of year will remove the rest.  The growing period is over.  WINTER is here.

Not to repeat myself (yeah, right) but while astronomers and talking heads on television say that the seasons start based on equinoxes and solstices, life on this planet doesn't care about the stars.  When the amount of daylight has increased enough (that's around February 1 or 2, Mr. Groundhog), then it is Spring and time to grow.  When daylight decreases, it is time to set fruit (August 1) and go to sleep for the Winter (November 1).

So, November 1 marks the end of the growing season, and the start of the Big Sleep.  It is the first day of Winter.

For centuries, people have celebrated a holiday on this date.  It is both a thanksgiving for the harvest (note the pumpkins, corn, apple pies) and a recognition of the end of life (ghosts).  

I suppose what you call it depends on where you live and what you believe.

As for the stroke of midnight, it is neither today nor tomorrow, October nor November, Autumn nor Winter.  It is a crack, a break in between, and where there is an opening, things can get through!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Once Again, From Science FICTION to Science FACT

As long as there have been science fiction writers, they have been predicting the future.  From H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on, what they have written has often come to pass, for a good science fiction writer knows his science.  Mostly what they do is describe technology that hasn't been invented - yet.

The lastest to prove prescient is good old Stan Lee, of Marvel Comics.  His invention in this case, this guy:

Now DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the people who brought you DARPANET (later called The Internet, then The Web, now The Cloud), are currently working on an iron man suit for the military.

According to the Armythe Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS is designed to provide ballistic protection to Special Operations Forces.

It will have much of what Tony Stark uses, sans flight and an energy source that kills the user.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Giving Up The Extra Hour

On Sunday, November 3, 2013, we set the clocks back an hour.  We will return to Eastern Daylight Time in Connecticut.  You can have an extra hour of sleep.

For the past 7 months we have been "enjoying" Daylight Savings Time, which is the politician's way of looking like they are doing something to save energy.  Of course, no studies have ever shown that any electricity is saved, especially when EST means that people get home from work with an extra hour of air conditioning to run.  But the politicians look like they have done something.

The Sun will rise at about 6:24 AM on November 3.  You could sleep right through it and enjoy the extra hour of sleep.

Or, if the weather is clear, you could be awake and outdoors, to see a partial eclipse of the Sun.

At that time, just as the Sun is appearing over the horizon, you will be able to see a partial solar eclipse.

The Moon, about 4 thousand kilometers from the Earth, will be between us and the Sun, which is about 150 million kilometers away.

The Moon will cast a small shadow over central Connecticut.

Enjoy it - the next partial solar eclipse is not for another 4 years.  The next total solar eclipse visible over Hartford might not be in my lifetime.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Where the Sidewalk Ends - Not Just a Children's Story

The grass grows, then dies back, and the dead leaves become soil.  Worms pull leaves underground and then come back up to add their castings.

Turn away for 20 years, and the sidewalk has disappeared.  

Now I am digging into the soil to undercover the stones, and re-seating them on top of the ground - for a few years.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Last weekend I attended a wedding in California.  Then came the 12 hours of tedium as I flew back home.  I really think that only crossing the country in a yellow school bus could be worse than what airlines put us through.  American Airlines doesn't even hand out peanuts.

I amused myself on the endless flight by reading "Gulp" by Mary Roach: 
"Gulp" is a tour of the alimentary canal. That long tube between the hole at one end of your body and the hole at the other end.  Any physiologist will tell you that humans really are a container for an intestine.  A worm with arms and legs.

The book explains cool stuff such as what probiotics do for us ("I asked Khoruts what exactly is in the “probiotic” products seen in stores now. “Marketing,” he replied. "With one exception, the bacteria (if they even exist) in probiotics are aerobic;") and the bacteria that live in our intestines die in the presence of oxygen.

We do need to take care of those bacteria.  They outnumber us 10 to one, and control most of our lives.

The book also explains why the stomach 
doesn’t digest itself, how constipation killed Elvis, how pet foods that are marketed towards humans are tested in a pet-food taste-test lab, and the latest and probably best cure for all sorts of diseases, the fecal transplant.

"Know thyself" takes on a new dimension in this book.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Get Your 8 Hours - Or Go Crazy

In an interesting (to me, anyway but this is my blog) coincidence, I read this article the day after I was awake for 20 hours flying to Lake Tahoe.  And feeling pretty lousy.

Sleeping cleans your brain!

"Neuroscientists peeked into the brains of conscious and unconscious mice using a technique called two-photon microscopy. When the mice drifted off, their brain cells actually shrank, expanding the spaces between them by 60 percent. That’s when cerebral spinal fluid flowed in and cleaned the pipes."

According to Maiken Nedergaard, the study’s lead author,  "One of the waste products removed from the brain during sleep is beta amyloid, the substance that forms sticky plaques associated with [Alzheimer's] disease.   That’s probably not a coincidence.
“Isn’t it interesting that Alzheimer’s and all other diseases associated with dementia, they are linked to sleep disorders,” she says.
More information is at

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Education Is Failing in This Country: Part 37

When I was teaching, I really liked my students.  I mean really.  In fact, that was the only reason why I taught:  to help kids grow up and learn how to survive in a world where everyone wants to manipulate them.

I miss the time I spent teaching.  I miss that opportunity to help kids realize what is coming at them (À la George Carlin).  I certainly don’t miss being a teacher.  Politicians and entitled parents have ruined it.  Anything that threatens the fragile self-image of their darlings is bad.

This morning I was enjoying my coffee and reading what passes for a newspaper these days, and I came across a column by John Rosemond.  He gives advice to parents.  Good, practical advice, free from the latest fashion.

Rosemond’s column this morning was about his best two teachers, his typing teacher and his creative writing teacher.  Here are some quotes from the column.

She was mean. None of us liked her. She didn't care. She was there to teach, not be popular.”  [I used to tell my students that “liking” was nowhere in my job description.]

“ In a voice purposefully loud enough that the whole class stopped writing and watched me squirm, she told me that my latest theme was "trash." She handed it back to me, told me to do it over… By the way, I had most definitely turned in hastily-written trash, hoping she'd let her best student slide. No such luck.

Here's the point, and why our schools are being forced to fail our students: 

“Neither of these teachers would be allowed to teach today…  Mind you, I thank these two teachers often, to this day.  During my twelve years of school (I did not attend Kindergarten), no teachers made a more positive contribution to my life than these two meanies.   Both of them cared about me.

“Teachers like my typing and creative writing teachers - teachers who are demanding, critical when criticism is due, and in every way the antithesis of touchy-feely - do the best job of bringing out the best in their students. The touchy-feelies are more well-liked, mind you, but their students don't give them their best….  Billy did C work, but Billy gets a B from Mrs. Imok-Youreok because Billy needs "encouragement.  All the kids really like Mrs. Imok-Youreok. Their parents do too!

Researchers are trying to find out why so many college students can’t cut it now.  Employers complain about workers who don't understand work. The reason, according to John Rosemond and with my 100% agreement, is “because they've never encountered the likes of my typing and creative writing teachers. It's because if they ever had, their parents would have screamed bloody murder, administration would have caved in, and the meanies would have been replaced by the likes of Mrs. Imok-Youreok.

I am proud of my reputation as a "hard" teacher.  I am prouder of the students who have written to me from college and beyond and thanked me for not accepting less than their best.

John Rosemond’s web site is

Friday, October 11, 2013


I love New York City.  I visit often, enjoying the crowds and the general business.  

But I love quiet much more.  This afternoon I drove up to a small lake in New Hampshire.  Most of the cottages have been shut up for the season.  When my wife and I arrived, we bundled up against the cold and put our kayaks into the water.  

And a baby loon

Monday, October 7, 2013

West Hartford Weather 10/7/2013

So what happened to your Sunny Sunday?  It drowned.  As did Monday.  And Tuesday will be much colder.

Why?  Density, and moving masses of air.

Start with warmer, wetter air weighing less than colder, drier air.  The heavier air rushes in towards the lighter air and pushes it up, creating Low pressure which can suck in more air.  So air rushes in towards the Low.  

The air rushing in to the low rotates against the clock, because of the rotation of the Earth (the equator and the air above it are moving eastward faster than air farther from the equator because they have farther to go in every 24 hours.)

Now we have masses of air which are not only moving eastward, but are rotating counter-clockwise into Low pressure areas.  You can see that on this map.

On Saturday night, warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico was spun up over the dry air above us.  That warm, moist air floating on top of the colder, heavier air, cooled, and dropped its water on us.  And dropped its water on us.  And some more.  Warm air moves slowly.  The red line shows the Front of the warmer air.

Tonight, some colder, drier air from the northwest will be sucked up into the low.  That's the blue line.  The heavier dry air will throw the warmer air we have now up into the sky with great violence.  There will be some serious storms tonight.

On Tuesday, the drier, colder air will be over us and the rain will stop.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Popping Poop Pills

We are outnumbered in our own bodies.  Our intestinal bacteria outnumber our "human" cells.  Our "human" cells are packed full of bacterial DNA.   We are an ecosystem.  And if that ecosystem gets off-balance, we get sick.

Researchers have been studying our intestinal communities and have discovered that many "human illnesses" are really a lack of balance in our bacteria.
Lots of probiotics (and sugar) here

Of course the food industry has responded by touting the health benefits of their processed yogurt products (which started out as healthy food, then had lots of sugar and other things added to it).  Every yogurt ad talks about "probiotics", although they don't really want to call them bacteria on the evening television.

That said, there have been some truly impressive cures of diseases by altering the ecological balance in the intestine.  So far this has been done by fecal transplants - taking some feces from a healthy person and inserting them deep into the intestines of the afflicted.
Preparing easy to swallow fecal pills

Now someone has made that all much more pleasant.  Canadian researchers tried this on 27 patients and cured them all after strong antibiotics failed to help.  They took the feces from a healthy person, removed all but the bacteria, and wrapped them in gelatin pills.  

The gelatin protects the bacteria from stomach acids so that they can safely reach the intestine through the normal opening and voila!  Healthy patients.

There is more information here:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

How And Why The News Media Manipulate You

I follow an eclectic group of blogs, including one by Mr. Money Mustache who retired at 30 by not wasting money.  

His most recent post is about how the 24/7 news business controls us.

"News programs are, with the exception of a few non-profit or publicly funded ones, commercial enterprises designed to turn and maximize profit. Many of them are owned by larger shareholder-owned corporations, most notably Rupert Murdoch’s News corp. The profit comes from advertising, and advertising revenue is maximized by pulling the largest audience, holding their attention for the longest possible time, and putting them into the mental state most conducive to purchasing the products of the advertisers (which turns out to be helplessness and vulnerability).

This is why the news always starts out with a sensationalist take on a topic of at least plausible national interest, takes a detour into truly horrific and depressing irrelevant tragedies (“Chinese boy’s eyes gouged out with spoon and left in field by unknown woman” is one that unfortunately crossed my screen when doing research for this article), then ends on an uplifting note with something like a defiant entrepreneur or a caring soup kitchen. An emotional roller-coaster ride every day of the week."

We've Been Shot

My wife and I have now both received our flu shots. 

We like living too much to go without protection.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Terrorists Have Won

NASA is one of the most important branches of our government.  They study not only the stars, but what is happening right here on Earth.  Their research has given us:

·         1 Health and medicine
·         2 Transportation
·         3 Public safety
·         6 Computer technology
·         7 Industrial productivity

Today I tried to get to the website at  This is what I saw.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What Climate Change? A Refugee From A Drowning Country

As the IPCC has released their latest report, demonstrating that we are indeed cooking ourselves, a man claiming to be a refugee from a drowning country is arguing his case in New Zealand.

Kiribati - the new Atlantis
A man from one of the lowest-lying nations on Earth is trying to convince New Zealand judges that he's a refugee — suffering not from persecution, but from climate change.

New Zealand immigration laws prevent the release of his name.

The IPCC predicted that oceans could rise by as much as 1 meter (3.3 feet) by the end of the century. If that were to happen, much of Kiribati would simply disappear.

The 37-year-old and his wife left his home in the Pacific nation of Kiribati six years ago for higher ground and better prospects in New Zealand, where their three children were born. Immigration authorities have twice rejected his argument that rising sea levels make it too dangerous for him and his family to return to Kiribati.
So on Oct. 16, the man's lawyer, Michael Kidd, plans to argue the case before New Zealand's High Court. Kidd, who specializes in human rights cases, told The Associated Press he will appeal the case all the way to the country's Supreme Court if necessary.

The man said that around 1998, high tides began regularly breaching the sea walls around his village, which was overcrowded and had no sewerage system. He said the fouled drinking water would make people vomit, and that there was no higher ground that would allow villagers to escape the knee-deep water.

Kiribati's government is pursuing its own strategies. It has paid a deposit for 6,000 acres in nearby Fiji, which Kiribati President Anote Tong has said will provide food security and a possible refuge for future generations.
The nation has also been talking with a Japanese firm about the possibility of constructing a floating island, which would cost billions of dollars.