Friday, January 31, 2014

Now We Are Killing Penguins?

Yes, they do stink of fish and guano, but they are cute cartoon characters.  Or were.  It seems like we are wiping them out as fast as polar bears.

Climate change is killing penguin chicks from the world's largest colony of Magellanic penguins, not just indirectly -- by depriving them of food, as has been repeatedly documented for these and other seabirds -- but directly as a result of drenching rainstorms and, at other times, heat, according to new findings from the University of Washington.

The grisly details are available at ScienceDaily.

No Snow Today

Just a sunny winter's day.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Be Afraid! Be VERY Afraid!

This is your FurstAlurt Panic System, saying that it is time to PANIC!

No, its not because IKEA's 3D room planning application reads your entire hard drive.  
Warning from Chrome browser

Its the weather.  Time to panic, folks.  Buy enough bread to feed a city, even though you don't normally eat it.  Buy eggs too, despite your allergies.  And water.  Don't forget water.  Especially those of you with city water service who don't depend on electricity for water.

Inverter:  Converts electricity from 
DC car battery to 120 volt AC
for your home
Batteries are a good idea, but I'll bet you have plenty from the last storm.   I like having an electrical inverter around so that I can charge my phone and run a lamp off my car battery (I never let my gas tank get below half full, ever).

Yes, I am predicting a snow day for next Wednesday, February 5.  Even though it is a full week away, the odds are looking good.  Since it is a full week away I will give it only 80% certainty.  

Teachers, I regret to inform you that you might have to miss those wonderful Wednesday afternoon meetings.  

Students, remember that if you don't have your work done the snow won't show up.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cool Weather

Watch a year of weather, with explanations of why the clouds appear as they do.

Westerlies, easterlies, the Coriolis effect spinning the storms, the changing of the seasons, the hurricanes and typhoons.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fruit Trees

If you have a bit of earth, plant a fruit tree.

Flowers in the spring.

Fruit in the fall.

And birds in the winter.

Sapsucker eating apples

Monday, January 27, 2014

I Told You So ...

Well, it seems like the media are finally realizing what your science teacher has been telling you for years:

Higher average temperatures means more water evaporating.  The energy that evaporated the water (latent heat) is released when the water condenses into clouds.   So warmer air = more water = more energy in the atmosphere.

As published this morning in the Hartford Courant, which is owned by the Tribune, which is hardly an unbiased source of information:

"As the climate gets warmer, you put more moisture into the atmosphere, and it just gets a little more violent," said Richard A. Houghton, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass. ...

Extensive collections of scientific data have been the source documents for meta-analyses saying, in effect, that big changes are underway, disrupting a mostly stable climatological period of thousands of years. ...

Perhaps most worrisome is the greater likelihood of severe weather events, such as floods. ...

The Northeast could see 20 percent to 30 percent more winter precipitation, and more of that could be rain rather than snow.... Heavy downpours of rain have increased across the Northeast in recent decades, causing intense spring flooding in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
Cities that experience only a few 100-degree days each summer might average 20 such days per summer while others, including Hartford, would average nearly 30 days at 100 degrees or hotter.

Yes, kiddies, it is too late to avoid all of the side effects of climate change - but we can avoid the worst of it if we burn less, and get our electricity from wind and sun.  Coal and petroleum and natural gas are NOT your friends, no matter what the nice television ads tell you.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


As the Sun rises on a beautiful winter's day, here is a happy thought:

Since the shortest day of the year in Connecticut, December 21 (Winter Solstice / Mid-Winter's Day), with only 9 hours and 8 minutes of sunlight, we have gained 32 minutes of light!

We are now gaining daylight at a rate of 2 minutes per day.

By one month from now, February 21, we will have gained another 1 hour and 15 minutes! and will be gaining 3 minutes per day.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Snow!! Argh!! Panic!! Final Update.- Do Your Homework!

Hey!  What day is it?  Huh?  Huh?
SNOW day?  Nope.  The storm went away.
The storm is moving faster than originally thought.  It looks like (once again) the storm will be over by early morning. MIDNIGHT!

 I think that chances of a late opening Wednesday is about  40% at this time.  I think many schools will be opening late on Wednesday morning, but not all.  Most will be along the coast.  As for WHPS, my bet is lo longer on a late opening.

Do your homework!!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunny Day!

We've had several rainy, cold, damp, nasty days in the past week.  Days when the best thing to do is sit by the stove with a cup of tea and read a book.
Cleo thoughtfully cleaning the back
of the stove.  

But then, we've also had some perfect days like today, when staying indoors would be a crime.  Out to breathe fresh air and soak up some sunshine!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prohibition Then And Now

My favorite history site, This Day In History, reminded me that on this date in 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes," was ratified.  

To make sure that no one drank grain alcohol destined for other uses, the government required that all alcohol be poisoned.  That’s right:  Lovable old Uncle Sam poisoned his people.

Prohibition took effect in January 1919.   

Interestingly, I am currently reading about Prohibition in a fascinating book called The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.  The book discusses the various poisons and their uses at the turn of the last century, and the attempts of the fledgling Medical Examiner’s office to detect those poisons in the victims.

In the months leading up to January 1919, New York’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Charles Norris, joined other doctors around the country in denouncing prohibition.  

They knew that people would continue to drink.  They knew that poisoning the alcohol would not stop it.  They predicted, correctly, that after January 1919 deaths from wood alcohol poisoning (wood alcohol is deadly and was added to grain alcohol by government order) would multiply drastically.  No one really knows how many people died from drinking bad alcohol – certainly over 10,000 people, with countless more made blind or ill.
Alcohol was easy to get at a speakeasy.

Before prohibition, the sale of alcohol was making a lot of money for the government:  corporate taxes from manufacturing, sales taxes, income taxes from alcohol workers and sellers.  (In the first 6 months of 2013, the State of Connecticut took in $1,300,000 in liquor taxes.)  After prohibition, alcohol was no longer a money-maker for the government.  Instead, millions were spent on federal agents tracking down bootleggers and their clients.

Besides the dollar cost of enforcing prohibition and the human cost in poisonings and people shot down by rival gangs of bootleggers (think Al Capone and the Valentine’s Day Massacre, although the reality was that more small-time bootleggers were shot down every week in New York than were killed in that ‘Massacre”), prohibition also did more damage.
Prohibition created a new type of criminal

The court system was overloaded with citizens dragged in for illegal drinking, and often politicians were bought by the easy money available from the bootleggers.  Respect for the law was destroyed as people flocked to hidden bars to party.  In fact, it is estimated that drinking became more popular as a result of prohibition.

In other words, instead of making the country more moral, it increased every existing vice and created a few new ones.

As Abraham Lincoln is claimed to have said, ”Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes.”

In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, repealing prohibition.

Now think of this:  For thousands of years a certain plant has been used to relieve pain, cure some diseases, and make fabric.  Then evangelizers proclaimed it to be evil, and this country prohibited the growth, possession and use of marijuana.  In the country that has a larger percentage of its population in jail than any other (We’re number one!  We’re number one!), murderers get short sentences because thousands of marijuana users are filling up jail cells and harmless people are turned into criminals.  In the meantime, people suffering from glaucoma, chronic pain, and the side-effects of cancer treatments are denied relief in most of the country.

As a child of the 60’s, I know first-hand how effective the prohibition against marijuana is.  As the college student told the visiting family, marijuana was no problem at all in the dorms.  The law was a joke, police were not respected, and rather than having their lives destroyed those smokers of the past are the lawyers, doctors, bankers, and politicians of today.

A recent report by Jon Gettman (Gettman, Jon. 2004. Crimes of Indiscretion: the Nature, Extent, and Costs of Marijuana Arrests in the United States.) estimated that national criminal justice expenditures for enforcing marijuana laws is $7.6 billion per year.  Apparently prohibition is not stopping the use of marijuana, 80 years after it was made illegal.  On the other hand, the State of Colorado estimates that the first year of legal sales will bring in approximately $67 million a year in taxes.

Here is another voice of reason on prohibition:  the cops at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit organization of criminal justice professionals "who bear personal witness to the wasteful futility and harms of our current drug policies."

Because if he really said that, Abraham Lincoln was right.  

Poverty Causes Obesity? Can We Blame The Teachers?

For a long time, fast food has taken the blame for obesity in our country.  Now a new study has shown that the real culprit is poverty.

Image from Science Daily
The study, titled "The association of fast food consumption with poor dietary outcomes and obesity among children: is it the fast food or the remainder of diet?," was produced by researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health and published in the latest issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  According to the study, "children who rely on fast foods may tend to have parents who do not have the means, desire or time to purchase or prepare healthy foods at home.  This is really what is driving children's obesity and what needs to be addressed in any solution."

The study backs up results from other studies, such as one by James Levine at the Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota:  “It has been suggested that individuals who live in impoverished regions have poor access to fresh food. Poverty-dense areas are oftentimes called “food deserts,” implying diminished access to fresh food. However, 43% of households with incomes below the poverty line ($21,756) are food insecure (uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, sufficient food) .Thus, in many poverty-dense regions, people are in hunger and unable to access affordable healthy food, even when funds avail.”
So it seems like the health gap, just like the educational achievement gap, is a result of the 46.5 million Americans now living in poverty  No. doubt they are still waiting for President Reagan's 'trickle down' economics to reach them.

Let’s see how politicians connect the dots and blame teachers for obesity also.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On This Date In 1901

On this date in 1901, a drilling derrick at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, produced a gusher of crude oil, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet and signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The geyser flowed at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. 

One hundred and 14 years later, American oil fields are producing about 7,500,000 barrels every day

Since 1901, the average surface temperature across the contiguous 48 states has risen at an average rate of 0.14°F per decade (1.4°F per century) largely because of the combustion of petroleum and coal.

At a time when the Republicans have saved the U.S. approximately $5.4 billion by suspending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million unemployed “slackers’, credible estimates of annual fossil fuel subsidies range from $14 billion to $52 billion annually.  Exactly how much is hard to discover, since this oil industry welfare is hidden in many ways.  The idea of subsidizing petroleum production dates back 100 years to 1913, when there was a real need on the part of the government to increase oil production. 

So, if we were to cut the welfare payments to the highly profitable petroleum industry and spend that money on producing jobs and making sure that the minimum wage can support life as we know it, while spending some more of that money on non-polluting sources of energy….

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Will Eating GMO Foods Hurt You? Probably Not.

Unless it actually poisons you, your body doesn't care if a few genes have been altered.  Your intestines break it down into amino acids anyway.

But growing GMO foods could be a disaster.

Not an endorsement of their website.
A disaster for the farmers.  GMO varieties of plants are patented.  The lawyers say that the age-old practice of saving seed from one crop to plant the next is a violation of the patents.  Farmers must buy expensive new seed every year.  

Since corn is pollinated by the wind, a farmer's non-GMO crops could be contaminated by a neighbor's GMO corn.  That means that a farmer who never intended to grow GMO crops will be sued by the seed companies for violating the patent.  Not good for farmers.

A disaster for the plants - and the people who depend on them for food.  Genetic mutations occur all the time = evolution.  Then nature decides if the mutation is beneficial, harmless, or harmful.  If harmful, nature removes those plants from the gene pool.  If we insert or change genes, those changes are not tested by nature, and could cause a build-up of interconnected changes that could wipe out that food source.

A disaster for all of the interwoven life-forms that are the environment.  One of the first modifications made was a resistance to herbicides.  If the corn can't be killed by Round-Up, then huge areas can be sprayed to kill unwanted plants.  Those unwanted plants include food plants for beneficial insects, butterflies, and honeybees.  When the honeybees are gone, all of our fruit trees and many other food sources are gone.  And of course the 'weeds' are already developing a resistance to the pesticides.

Eating GMO foods, no problem.  It is how they are grown that is the problem.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

We Didn't Evolve In Cities

Elizabeth Park in Hartford and West Hartford
Using data from over 1,000 participants, a research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas.
They found that, on average, movers to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least 3 years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more built up area suffered a drop in mental health.

More information is on Science News.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am Just Passing On This Article To You People Who Think Rejecting Modern Medicine Is 'Healthier'.

"As healthy as my lifestyle seemed, I contracted measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral
meningitis, scarlatina, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis, and chickenpox, some of which are vaccine preventable. In my twenties I got precancerous HPV."

"My two vaccinated children, on the other hand, have rarely been ill, have had antibiotics maybe twice in their lives, if that (not like me who got so many illnesses which needed treatment with antibiotics that I developed a resistance to them, which led me to be hospitalized with penicillin-resistant quinsy at 21–you know that old fashioned disease that killed Queen Elizabeth I and which was almost wiped out through use of antibiotics)."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Next School Alert - Monday Night and Tuesday Morning

Students in central Connecticut, be prepared for a full day of class on Tuesday, but listen for that text from your school in case of a late opening.

Teachers, have alternate plans in case of a late opening.

A warm front is advancing northward right now, and today's freezing temperatures will disappear tomorrow.

Of course, when warm air floats up over denser colder air, it cools and we will get rain.  Could be a lot of rain Sunday night and Monday.  This will have no affect on school openings, as the temperature will be close to 50 degrees F.

But then, Monday night, another cold front will push through, tossing the warm air up to cool and drop the rest of the water, possibly in the form of snow flurries.

And then, the temperatures will DROP.  From Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning, the temperature will drop about 30 to 40 degrees!  Low Monday when you wake up will be around 10 degrees F.  All of that wet snow, and all of those puddles in the road, will become frozen solid.

Roads may be slippery Tuesday morning, which is why some towns will have a late school opening.

Happy Perihelion Day!!

Welcome Sun!   Right now it is -1F on my back porch, but that doesn't matter, because it is Perihelion Day!

That's right - today is the day (at 7am EST) that the Earth is closer to the Sun than at any other time during the year!  We are 5 million kilometers closer than we are in July.

The Sun even looks larger (don't look at the Sun).

So for all those who think that the seasons are caused by how close we are to the Sun, neener, neener, neener!

It is the tilt of the Earth's axis that causes the seasons.