Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I got my fresh air Friday and Saturday

Today's prompt asks "Do you feel like you get enough fresh air? If the answer is no, get outside after you write your post!"  The answer is that I got my fresh air Friday, when I walked to the store and back (I also got my hair cut and my new beard trimmed) and Saturday, when I mowed the lawn.  On Sunday, it rained, so I graded papers.  Monday, I spent most of the day indoors during the last day of classes.

Today, it's raining again, and I have piles of papers to correct and grades to calculate so that I can enter them today and tomorrow.  Between working at home and the weather, I'm not likely to be getting fresh air.  Maybe, if the rain lets up, I'll set up a table on the porch and work out there.  Maybe--hey, I have a badge for that!


Monday, April 29, 2013

White House Science Fair and other STEM education news

The featured story for this week's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (White House Science Fair) on Daily Kos came from the Washington Post with video from Discovery News on YouTube.

Whiz Kid Inventors Invade The White House

Trace joins President Obama in Washington DC for the 3rd Annual White House Science Fair. Watch as young inventors show off everything from portable windmills to underwater robots!
Robots, biofuel, whiz kids at the White House Science Fair
By Lyndsey Layton
Published: April 22
In his dark blue business suit, President Obama climbed onto a bicycle anchored to the ground outside the White House. He pedaled in his polished dress shoes, generating electricity to run a water sanitation system built by a group of Florida teenagers.

He peered into a flask of green liquid containing a new breed of algae that was created by a 17-year-old Colorado girl who wants to solve the country’s energy problems.

And he shook hands with three small boys from Georgia who dreamed up a system to automatically cool down and hydrate sweating athletes.

“Keep in mind, they’re in third, fourth grade, and they’ve already got this idea,” Obama said. “If you’re inventing stuff in the third grade, what are you going to do by the time you get to college?”
I hope the answer is use science and technology to help with our environmental issues.

Follow over the jump for more stories aabout STEM education from Daily Kos.

Votes in the suburbs

In Good and bad news for public transit in Detroit, I described how the City of Detroit's bus system lost $7 million to the suburbs SMART system.  That reminded me that I had the following on file for an appropriate occasion.  Now looks like a good time to use it.

One of the points made in "The End of Suburbia" is that political change that would help move the United States away from its unsustainable life style is made more difficult because about half of the U.S. population lives in suburbs, so Suburbia carries disproportionate weight in U.S. elections.  Nate Silver touches on that idea in Did Democrats Get Lucky in the Electoral College?  One of the graphics he uses is this one ranking states by percentage of voters in urban areas.  It also shows the percentages of voters in the suburbs and countryside.

Here's what Nate wrote about it.
The chart below reflects the percentage of voters in each state that are in urban, suburban and rural areas, according to 2008 exit polls. (The exit polls did not contain good data for Alaska and Hawaii, so I had to infer these separately.) Some 33 of the 50 states have somewhere between 20 and 50 percent of their populations in urban areas. Only one state (Nevada) has more than half its population in urban centers (Nevada occupies a large amount of territory, but most of its population is in Las Vegas). Only eight have under 10 percent of their population in urban areas (including New Jersey, which is otherwise suburban rather than rural).

Note that 63% of Michigan's voters live in the suburbs, while only 16% live in true urban areas.  I'm sure that imbalance helps explain why SMART got $7 million that would otherwise have gone to DDOT.

After several paragraphs, Nate concluded his analysis by considering the effect of the urban-rural balance in states on the Electoral College.
As a byproduct of the Congress’s goal of equalizing geographic resources across the states, most states have reasonably diverse populations and economic interests, and the income distribution across the states is reasonably even. The poorest state in 2009 was Mississippi, which had a median household income of about $35,000, while the wealthiest was New Jersey (about $65,000). This range is narrow when compared to almost any other type of geographic division. More than 90 of the 435 Congressional districts, for instance, fell somewhere outside this range.

As a result, the Electoral College does not convey all that much advantage to rural voters versus urban ones, or wealthy voters versus poorer ones, and therefore does not provide all that much long-term advantage toward either party. The Democrats slightly benefited from the Electoral College in 2008 and 2012, but the opposite was true as recently as 2000.
Although he had the data handy, he managed to ignore the effects of the suburban vote.  Too bad.  It would have been very informative.

Good and bad news for public transit in Detroit

First, the good news as reported by the Detroit Free Press.

M1 Rail project gets final OK from federal government
The federal government gave its final environmental clearance Monday for the M1 Rail line to begin its work to build a 3.3-mile streetcar line on Woodward between downtown Detroit and the New Center area, a move that the rail line’s leader called a significant step forward.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) completed its environmental review, allowing the project to proceed to its next phases: design, purchase of right-of-way along Woodward and then construction. M1 Rail officials said the decision marks the federal government’s seal of approval for the $140-million plan to build the rail line from Congress to just north of Grand Boulevard, with stops along the route.
The environmental clearance wasn’t a surprise. The Obama administration has signaled its approval of the project, which had hinged on the creation of a Regional Transit Authority for southeast Michigan, created last year in an act by the Legislature.

The authority ultimately will have control over federal funding for the Detroit Department of Transportation and suburban SMART bus systems and will ask voters in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties as early as November 2014 for a new tax to help build a regional bus rapid-transit network.
The M1 Light Rail could be running as soon as late 2015.  That's the good news.  WXYZ has the bad news in DDOT loses $7 Million in funding, SMART gets the money.

As the man on the street reaction shows in the video, this is not good news for DDOT riders, as the service is bad enough as it is.  On the other hand, the service in the suburbs is in some ways even worse, as more than half the jobs in metro Detroit are beyond the reach of public transit in the more distant suburbs.  Expansion of SMART would help with that.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My health and the weather cooperated again

In Walking and driving update, I noted that I walked to the store for the first time this year on Friday.  In the entry before that, I talked about my hopes  for working in the yard this weekend.  Yesterday, I mowed the lawn for the first time this year as well.  Both of those activities were made possible by the nice weather.   As WXYZ reported on Friday, it would be a Warmer Weekend.

The one thing I haven't done yet this year is weed.  So far, there haven't been enough weeds coming up to bother and the soil is too damp for a rake.  I can wait until later this week, when the soil has dried out a bit and I'm through grading papers.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stephen Hawking is a Crazy Eddie

Discovery News on YouTube has the story in Hawking: We Need to Leave Earth.

Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking says we have 1000 years left on Earth before all the planet's resources will be used up. Laci looks at the problems we'll face and Hawking's solution to saving humanity.
Dr. Hawking expresses the ultimate reason why I support space exploration.  Not only is it a sign of an advancing technological civilization, it's a way to avoid collapse altogether.  There are worse consequences from the archetypal science-fiction tragic plot of withdrawing from space than mere loss of technological superiority.  It could ultimately lead to extinction.

Kepler discovers more super-Earths and other space and astronomy news

This week's featured story comes from Discovery News on YouTube and Space.com.

The Hunt For A Second Earth

NASA's Kepler telescope was launched to find other planets just like earth-- and now, scientists think they may have found not just one, but three! Trace shows us where they are in the solar system and why the discovery is so important.
It's Time for Next Phase in Search for Alien Life, Scientists Say
by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 19 April 2013 Time: 06:30 AM ET
With more and more Earth-like alien planets being discovered around the galaxy, humanity should now start planning out the next steps in its hunt for far-flung alien life, researchers say.

On Thursday (April 18), scientists announced the discovery of three more potentially habitable exoplanets — Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Kepler-69c — further suggesting that the cosmos is jam-packed with worlds capable of supporting life as we know it.

So the time is right to get the ball rolling beyond mere discovery to the detailed study and characterization of promising alien planets, researchers said — a task that will require new and more powerful instruments.
More stories after the jump.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Walking and driving update

In the most recent driving update, I bemoaned my not walking to the store, increasing my miles driven.
I'm still not recovered enough from surgery to walk to the nearest grocery store.  Maybe next month both the weather and my body will cooperate with walking more.
Today, both the weather and my body cooperated, so I walked to the nearest grocery store and back with full shopping bags for the first time this year.  I'm still not 100%, but at least I'm functional.

I also mentioned that the most recent driving data was also not yet available.
This month's data will not be posted until Tuesday or Wednesday, just in time for me to use it in my geology lecture on energy and mineral resources.
It was ready sooner than I expected, as Bill McBride posted DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 1.4% in February on Monday.
Travel on all roads and streets changed by -1.4% (-3.1 billion vehicle miles) for February 2013 as compared with February 2012. Travel for the month is estimated to be 214.6 billion vehicle miles.
Looks like my increased driving from last year was swamped by everyone else driving less.

Oh, yes, here's the graph.

McBride also linked to Brad Plumer at the Washington Post, who posted the following graph.

I've posted earlier versions of this graph twice before.  Both times I remarked about how it mimicked the classic Peak Oil graph, right down to the expected timing, and asked "Peak Driving, anyone?"  The resemblance has, if anything, become more striking.

The smell of rain

I enjoy finding connections between things that don't appear related.  This includes making associations between two of this month's prompts.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Do you like the rain?
Friday, April 26, 2013
Margaret Atwood said: "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." Agree or disagree?
The assocation between the two is the smell of rain.

Smithsonian Magazine: What Makes Rain Smell So Good?
Joseph Stromberg
April 2, 2013
Step outside after the first storm after a dry spell and it invariably hits you: the sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain.

If you've ever noticed this mysterious scent and wondered what's responsible for it, you're not alone.
Two of the answers to this question are chemicals produced by living things during dry spells that accumulate in the soil and are released into the air during rain.  Plants secrete oils and bacteria manufacture a substance called geosmin.  Combined, they create the smell of wet soil characteristic of rain.

As for how rain makes people feel, I'll let Stromberg explain for me.
But apart from the specific chemicals responsible, there’s also the deeper question of why we find the smell of rain pleasant in the first place. Some scientists have speculated that it’s a product of evolution.

Anthropologist Diana Young of the University of Queensland in Australia, for example, who studied the culture of Western Australia’s Pitjantjatjara people, has observed that they associate the smell of rain with the color green, hinting at the deep-seated link between a season’s first rain and the expectation of growth and associated game animals, both crucial for their diet. She calls this “cultural synesthesia”—the blending of different sensory experiences on a society-wide scale due to evolutionary history.

It’s not a major leap to imagine how other cultures might similarly have positive associations of rain embedded in their collective consciousness—humans around the world, after all, require either plants or animals to eat, and both are more plentiful in rainy times than during drought. If this hypothesis is correct, then the next time you relish the scent of fresh rain, think of it as a cultural imprint, derived from your ancestors.
Growing up in southern California, I associated rain with the color green as well, which is one of the reasons I liked rain there.  Even here in Michigan, where rain and green are not as precious, I still enjoy the smell of rain.

As for Atwood's assertion, I don't think everyone should smell like they've been working the soil, but it would do a world of good if more people did.  I'll do my part by working in the yard this weekend.  I've been looking forward to it all month.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ted Nugent shoots mouth off about Pure Michigan ads

Ted Nugent, stochastic terrorist and scary musical clown from Detroit managed to get into the news again today by ripping the Pure Michigan ad campaign.
Michigan-born rocker Ted Nugent struck a nerve today when he savaged the popular Pure Michigan tourism campaign and criticized Holland’s Tulip Time Festival in a radio interview.

Nugent said during a telephone interview on the Lansing-based syndicated program “Michigan’s Big Show starring Michael Patrick Shiels” that liberalism and political correctness prevent Pure Michigan officials from highlighting in its ads what he said are the state’s biggest draws — hunting and fishing.

“How dare the Pure Michigan campaign not mention any of that because some Hash Bash hippie in charge of Michigan’s promotional campaigns is afraid to put a dead salmon, or a dead grouse, or a dead deer on the tourist brochure; but will put paragliding and tulip festivals on that brochure when no one is going to come to Michigan to go hang gliding or to go to the tulip festival?” Nugent asked.
In addition to there being no "Hash Bash hippies" running the Pure Michigan campaign, Nugent is wrong about there being no videos about hunting and fishing.
“We certainly have a hunting and fishing effort,” [spokeswoman Michelle Begnoche] said.

The agency launched a digital ad campaign focused on hunting and fishing last fall and has a TV ad focused on fishing that is part of its national campaign, Begnoche said.
She's not kidding.  I found six videos with fishing in their titles on Pure Michigan's YouTube channel, six more that mention fishing in their descriptions, and one that mentions both hunting and fishing.  That's way too many to embed.  Instead, I'll just post the one that Old Motormouth should have seen just sitting in his living room and watching TV this month.

Gone Fishing in Michigan | Pure Michigan
Published on Apr 6, 2012

When heading off to do something we love, "Gone Fishing" means many things - biking, golfing, boating and more.
That may have been too subtle for Motormouth's taste.  Instead, he may have had something more like this John Kerfoot parody that was posted today.

Pure Michigan: Hunting

spoof of the Pure Michigan ads, by John Kerfoot, highlighting Hunting
Well, except for its pointing out what a coward and clown Nugent is.

Hat/tip to Eric B. at Michigan Liberal for pointing me to this story.

Crossposted to Daily Kos and Michigan Liberal.

Green Cars for Earth Day

WXYZ featured the greenest cars built by U.S. manufacturers, one each from Ford, Chrysler, and G.M., on Earth Day.  The station  began its coverage with the Ford Focus Energi.

We look at the Ford Focus Energi as part of our Green Cars of Detroit series.
The next car featured was the Dodge Dart.

We continue our Green Cars of Detroit series with a look at the Dodge Dart.
WXYZ concluded with the Chevy Cruze Diesel.

For more green cars, surf over to The 10 Best Green Cars, only one of which, the Ford Energi, is among the three shown in the videos above.

As I say over at Kunstler's blog, Happy Motoring--for now--from Detroit!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Surgery as a fresh start

Today's prompt asks "Do you like a fresh start?"  Yes, a little too much for my own good.  That written, I got one in at the end of February, a surgery to treat cancer.  It went very well and I'm very pleased with the results.  That written, it was still major surgery and it had the expected effect of wearing me out.  The following article from Scientific American describes the effect on the immune system in the first paragraph, along with an experimental treatment for it (that I didn't participate in).

Fighting Cancer with Poxviruses
By Stephanie Swift
February 15, 2013
Recently, poxviruses have also been applied to address a long-standing problem affecting cancer patients undergoing tumour removal surgery. Particularly after long and complicated procedures, cancer patients naturally enter a bodywide state of repair, where most energy is diverted into the healing process. Perversely, this temporary disturbance in the natural biological balance actually encourages any missed bits of tumour to spread, causing new patches of disease to spring up. While the reason for this is not entirely understood, suppression of the normal immune response, in particular a specific population of immune cells known as, ‘natural killer’ cells, is at least part of the problem.

A team at the University of Ottawa, led by surgical oncologist Dr. Rebecca Auer, reasoned that applying an engineered poxvirus an hour before surgery, which would home to the tumour and deploy immune-stimulating payloads, could restore the balance of the immune system. As they report in the journal, Cancer Research, this happily proved to be true: the virus kicked the apathetic natural killer cells into upping their game, reinvigorated the surgically-stunned immune system and, in mice at least, prevented the surgery-induced spread of tumour material. Poxviruses were therefore blended seamlessly into a normal surgical regime with excellent results.

Since poxviruses have been so widely applied to humans in the smallpox vaccine, there is a huge amount of safety data to recommend their use in the clinic, and in the treatment of over 500 cancer patients, there have been no serious complications. Incorporating a naturally-adapted cancer-loving microorganism like poxvirus into the available arsenal of anti-cancer treatments is plainly a splendidly progressive choice.
It took almost seven weeks for me to feel normal, just in time for me to lead a field trip.  Until then, it was a long struggle to recover.

Follow over the jump for more articles that I found both before and after my surgery that shed light on my condition.

Song for a living fossil

I know I promised to blog about my surgery in response to the prompt for today, but I'm not up to it this morning and I have to spend more time on grading, as it's the end of the semester.  Instead, I'll share this item from Nature that I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Kepler discovers more super Earths) on Daily Kos last week.

Living fossil’ genome unlocked
The genes of an ancient fish, the coelacanth, have much to reveal about our distant past.
Chris Woolston
17 April 2013
The South African fisherman who pulled a prehistoric-looking blue creature out of his net in 1938 had unwittingly snagged one of the zoological finds of the century: a 1.5-metre-long coelacanth, a type of fish that had been thought to have become extinct 70 million years earlier.

Since then, scientists have identified two species of coelacanth, one African and one Indonesian. With their fleshy, lobed fins — complete with bones and joints — and round, paddle-like tails, they look strikingly similar to the coelacanths that lived during the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs still roamed Earth.

Now, an international team of scientists has sequenced and analysed the genome of the African coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae...
I dedicate Coelacanth by Shriekback to this article.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Syrian Electronic Army takes credit for hacking AP's Twitter account

This has been a weird news day.

On the way out the door from from work, I noticed that there had been a flash crash of all three U.S. stock indices.  Joe.My.God captured the 140+ point drop in the Dow shown below.

I was afraid it was a computer trading glitch like the 2010 Flash Crash, but it turned out that it was the traders responding to a tweet from the hacked AP account, as CNN reported.
The shocking tweet came from the Associated Press earlier this afternoon: "Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured."

The AP's communications team quickly tweeted from its own account that the main AP Twitter was compromised, but investors had already panicked. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) immediately plunged by more than 140 points.

And there it is: After years of hacks that typically involved little more than obscene language, Twitter's subpar security measures have now caused serious real-world consequences.
Tech Feed then reported that the Syrian Electronic Army, a
"cybermilitia" (actually a bunch of hackers and script kiddies) loyal to the Assad government took credit.  Here is their video report: Who Hacked the AP Twitter Account?

This morning a tweet was sent from the official Associated Press account that read, "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." Although the tweet was bogus (the account had been hacked), it had a very noticeable effect on the stock market, as Annie explains. She also takes a look at the Syrian Electronic Army, who have taken credit for the hack.
The Syrians?  Really?  I'd never have guessed.

When I came home, two other stories relating to last week's  terror attacks awaited me.

First, Nebris had this gem on his Facebook wall: Former GOP Candidate Reacts After Man He Allegedly Framed For Ricin Poisoning Is Released.  Elvis has left the building just as the rabbit hole was revealed to be even deeper.

Second, another Facebook friend shared Salon's report that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an Alex Jones fan.  Jones immediately claimed that the news was evidence of a plot against him.
UPDATE: Sure enough, within minutes of the AP story breaking, Jones told BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray that it’s all a conspiracy against him:
“I’ve seen this before,” Jones said. “The federal government trying to connect me to tragedies. That’s the media and the government’s own conspiracy theories.” Jones compared the situation to when Richard Andrew Poplawski, a Pittsburgh man who killed three police officers in 2009, was shown to be a conspiracy theorist who frequently visited the Infowars website. “It’s standard for them to talk to people, go through computers, and any time someone’s done something bad they connect it to us,” Jone[s] said.
Shorter Jones, courtesy of Ambassador Vreenak.

And so we come full circle, starting with a fake AP story and ending with claims of another fake AP story.   Jones' protests to the contrary, I think that final AP story is real, although I'm motivated to do so.  After all, it means that the U.S. Right now has to disclaim Tsarnaev, as the Infowars association makes him one of them.  Excuse me while I suppress a wicked snicker.

Flooding bumped up the gas price rollercoaster

In April fools on lower prices as gas price rollercoaster shoots up, I described the sudden rise in prices to a level that I thought was overpriced considering the price of crude.  It turns out that the local weather is to blame, as the Detroit Free Press reports in Michigan gas prices rise after heavy rains.
Torrential rains last week led to higher gasoline prices in Michigan as flooding knocked out pipeline flow and refineries, but the prices could come down again as the problems are fixed, a petroleum analyst said.

Gasoline prices have risen about 24 cents during the past week to a statewide average of about $3.75 per gallon, but the average is about 9 cents per gallon less than last year at this time, according to AAA Michigan.
“Over the next week, we’ll see prices come back in line with changes in the national average,” said GasBuddy.com’s Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan in Chicago. “A lot of it is just weather related.”
The prices are already starting to drop.  The corner station has matched the rest of its competitors and is selling gas at $3.69, a drop from the $3.75 late last week.

The floods have caused other problems, as described in Major Flooding Continues From Missouri to Michigan from Accuweather republished in OurAmazingPlanet.
Torrential rain, concentrated in two days or less, has led to major flooding in parts of the Midwest. In some areas, flooding will continue beyond the weekend.

While the rain was exiting the region at increasing speed Friday, runoff from small streams into progressively larger rivers will continue the flooding risk through the weekend and beyond in some locations.

Levels in some of the tributaries of the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers are projected to reach, surpass or remain major flood stage over the next several days.
That includes the Grand River here in Michigan.  Grand Rapids is experiencing record flooding, as described by the Detroit Free Press.
The National Weather Service said the river was 5.6 feet above flood stage Sunday morning at Comstock Park in Kent County’s Plainfield Township, just north of Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell declared a state of emergency as the river drove residents from some low-lying areas. Several flood warnings and advisories are in effect in mid-Michigan.

The weather service said the river at Comstock Park is 0.2 feet below its all-time high and predicted that the level would crest above that record Sunday or today. Farther downstream, the Grand River was 3.8 feet over flood stage in Grand Rapids and 3.3 feet over at Ottawa County’s Robinson Township.

Record-breaking rainfall is to blame.

Meteorologist Evan Webb of the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids said so far in April, there has been 9.8 inches of rain in the Grand Rapids area. The average is about 2.3 inches. Daily totals have smashed records, including on April 18, when 3.3 inches fell on a day whose last record was set at 1.4 inches in 1939.

“That’s just an absurd amount of rain for a 24-hour period,” Webb said. “We’re way over normal.”
I could quote more, but why bother with text when I can show you.  Here's WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids on the banks of the Grand River.

Grand River breaks crest in 2 cities

The Grand River crested at record levels in two West Michigan cities Sunday night.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Today is the blackout to protest CISPA.  As you can see, I haven't really been participating, as Earth Day takes priority on my blog.  That written, I have an appropriate song to offer in support, Blackout by MUSE.

Earth Week events in metro Detroit

Follow over the jump for Earth Week/Earth Day events that are being held from Monday through Sunday in Metro Detroit, including some that I'll allow my students to use for extra credit field trips.  Sources include Michigan DEQ, Northville Patch, Oakland County Moms and the Michigan Green Team, both from their website and their Facebook page.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Two videos for my class: Sewage treatment and drugs in the water

I'm parking these two videos here so that I can find them tomorrow morning, when I plan on showing them to my Environmental Science class as part of a lecture about sewage treatment and water pollution.  The two of them go very well together, as the first one describes how sewage treatment works and eliminates the pollutants for which it was designed, while the second explains how there are just some pollutants that the same processes just don't touch and what can be done about it.

First, here is LCC Biology 120's virtual tour of a Sewage Treatment plant, from the same source as the virtual tour of a dairy barn that I used in Video tour of Michigan State University's farms.

A virtual field trip to a sewage treatment plant.
Next, here's Discovery News explaining How Drugs Pollute Our Drinking Water.

We expect our drinking water to be germ free, but what about drug free? You probably haven't given it much thought...but new research is showing our water is teeming with all kinds of drugs! Trace looks at what this is doing to our bodies and the environment.
"Although millions of people flush unused medications down the toilet and discharge them in bodily waste, sewage treatment plants and septic systems are not required to deal with such contaminants."
I hope my students enjoy them and don't mind back-to-back videos.

LiveScience on last week's explosions in the news

I concluded last night's entry on the science of terror attacks by promising "I'll return to the topic should I find more science, science fiction, or collapse-related angles to the story."   I did.  Follow over the jump for the stories from LiveScience on both the West, Texas, fertilizer explosion and the Boston Marathon bombings I included in last night's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Kepler discovers more super Earths) on Daily Kos.

Discovery News on last week's terror attacks

I posted two musical responses to the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  Now it's time for an examination of some of the relevant science involved in detecting bombs, along with the science of ricin, which was sent to elected officials ranging from President Obama down to a local judge by a disturbed Elvis impersonator, courtesy of Discovery News on YouTube.

First, here's Boston Bombings: High Tech Bomb Spotters.

The bombings at the Boston Marathon brought home the challenge law enforcement faces battling smaller and smaller explosives. Trace looks at the detection methods used today, and how new technology will help make us safer in the future.
Now, time for Ricin Letters: What's So Dangerous?

With a suspect under arrest for the poisoned letters sent to Obama, Anthony asks, what is ricin and what makes it so deadly?
That's it for now.  I'll return to the topic should I find more science, science fiction, or collapse-related angles to the story.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

NASA celebrates Earth Month

I present three videos from NASA Television highlighting the agency's environmental research.

NASA Celebrates a Month of Earth Days

NASA satellites, scientists and data are cranking 24/7 to help us all better understand and sustain our home planet. We have so much going on from the seas to the stratosphere that in April 2013 we are celebrate Earth Day (April 22) all month long. Join us!
NASA Celebrates Earth Month 2013: NASA Science Eyes

NASA's fleet of science satellites and research aircraft are at work around the world 24/7 helping scientists discover just how our living planet really works. Take a look at some of the insights and don't forget to celebrate Earth Day on April 22!
NASA Celebrates Earth Month 2013: The View from Orbit

Take a look at the beauty and wonder of our home planet as seen from space by astronauts on the International Space Station. And don't forget to celebrate Earth Day on April 22!
Trust me, I won't forget.

The legacy of Sandy and other climate news

Time for an update of the climate news since Weather and climate as March went out like a lion.  First, two stories about how Hurricane Sandy has changed the policies of the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

Accuweather via OurAmazingPlanet: Post Sandy: The Jersey Shore's Susceptibility to Major Storms
by Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com
Apr 05, 2013 10:38 AM ET
Before Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the Jersey coast on Oct. 29, 2012, few realized the intensity of the storm that headed in their direction.

The National Hurricane Center opted not to issue hurricane warnings north of North Carolina, and instead handed the reins to regional National Weather Service offices.

Local governments warned the public of the approaching threat, and issued evacuation orders to many towns. While some residents agreed to leave, others resisted, believing that people were 'crying wolf' about the storm.
Accuweather via OurAmazingPlanet: Weather Service Broadens Hurricane Warning Definition
by Accuweather.com
Apr 04, 2013 03:09 PM ET
The National Weather Service announced today that, starting June 1, the definitions of hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings will be broadened.

The new changes will allow watches and warnings to be issued or remain in effect after a tropical cyclone becomes post-tropical, when such a storm poses a significant threat to life and property.

In addition, the National Hurricane Center will be permitted to issue advisories during the post-tropical stage.
Follow over the jump for more climate-related news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (BRAIN Initiative) on Daily Kos.

Driving update for April 2013

I concluded The corner station loses another battle in the gas price war with the following programming note.
Speaking of my car, it's about to turn over another thousand miles.  Look for an update on that tonight.
Looking back at the last driving update, it seems I called when this one would happen.
It looks like I'm in good company by increasing the miles driven by Americans over the past month, however slightly.  As for whether I continue contributing to that trend, check back in April, when I expect one or both cars will have turned over the next 1,000 miles.
Right on schedule, my car's odometer turned over 216,000 miles yesterday afternoon.  That means I drove 1,000 miles in 84 days for an average of 11.90 miles/day and 363.1 miles/month since January 25, 2013, an decrease of 0.15 miles/day and 4.4 miles/month over the 12.05 miles/day and 367.5 miles/month I drove between November and January.  I'm surprised I didn't drive less, as I did not drive at all from February 25th to March 7th while I recovered from surgery and skipped one of my regular meetings the week after that.*

While I drove my car less this quarter than I did last quarter, a comparison with this time last year shows that I'm still driving more.  From February to May 2012, I drove an average of 11.4 miles per day. Multiplying by 30.5 days per month, that means I drove 347.7 miles per month.  That means I'm driving 0.5 miles more per day and 19.8 miles/day more than a year ago.  I attribute most of that to the weather, which is much colder than last year.  Also, I'm still not recovered enough from surgery to walk to the nearest grocery store.  Maybe next month both the weather and my body will cooperate with walking more.

In case you're wondering about my wife's car, she and I had driven it just over 500 miles since December.  It's too soon for another report.

As for how my personal driving habits are contributing to the overall picture, I'll have to rely on data from January posted last month on Calculated Risk.  This month's data will not be posted until Tuesday or Wednesday, just in time for me to use it in my geology lecture on energy and mineral resources.
Based on preliminary reports from the State Highway Agencies, travel during January 2013 on all roads and streets in the nation changed by +0.5 percent (1.2 billion vehicle miles) resulting in estimated travel for the month at 226.9 billion vehicle-miles.
Looks like my driving back in January help increase the total miles driven then.  I'll have to wait another three months to see if my slightly decreased miles driven last month worked with or against the trend.  Until then, I'll leave you all with the rolling 12-month total miles driven graph, which was going sideways.

*The story of my surgery is one I'm saving for next week, as it turned out to be a fresh start.  That fits the prompt for next Wednesday.

Friday, April 19, 2013

April fools on lower prices as gas price rollercoaster shoots up

In this morning's update on the gas price rollercoaster, I mentioned how the prices dropped to $3.49 and resisted an attempt to raise them.  That was this morning.  When I went out this afternoon, the prices had shot up 20-30 cents in one day.  The three stations a few blocks away had increased their prices to $3.69, while the corner station once again raised their price more aggressively, hiking it to $3.79.

As for what's causing it, it seems to me like an an attempt to use the past two days of increases in the price of Brent crude to justify padding profit margins.  That's just my opinion.  For the facts, Reuters reports in Oil rises slightly in a second straight day of gains .
Brent crude oil prices rose Friday, at one point pushing back above $100 a barrel, on a second day of modest gains boosted by a strong day in the equity markets to recover some ground after a steep six-day decline.

Brent has fallen nearly 10 percent since the beginning of April, a decline that accelerated earlier this week after a cut in oil demand forecasts by global energy agencies and weak economic data from the United States and China, the world's two largest oil consumers.

Friday marked the second day of gains for Brent after it closed at $97.69 on Wednesday, the lowest level since July 2012 and a price that analysts said was attractive to bargain hunters who hung around for another day of buying.
Analysts said the market seemed to be stabilizing after a week of heavy liquidation in which prices tumbled from over $103 as of last Friday, along with a rout in gold and industrial metals.
Brent crude settled up 52 cents a barrel at $99.65, down from an intraday high of $100.33. U.S. crude gained 28 cents to settle at $88.01.
Oil prices are down more than $10 a barrel from the start of this month. Brent touched its lowest level since July 2012 on Thursday at $96.75 a barrel after commodities took a hammering across the board earlier in the week.
According to the gas price calculator at Econobrowser, a Brent price of $99.65/barrel should result in gas costing $3.33.  That makes even $3.69 look very overpriced.  Even at $110/barrel, where Brent began the month, the price should be $3.59.  That's closer to $3.69, where local gas prices were at the end of last month.  Unless this rally in Brent continues, I expect prices to drop a bit.

The corner station loses another battle in the gas price war

In the previous installment, I noted how gas prices were going down.
The good news continued on Monday as the Associated Press reported that Michigan gas prices fall 4 cents from last week with a statewide average of $3.65/gallon.  As for how that played out locally, prices dropped exactly 4 cents from last week's installment of the gas price rollercoaster from $3.59 last Thursday to $3.55 at all four local stations Tuesday morning.  As I wrote before, "[t]hat's good news, although I still expect the price to go up between now and July 4th in small steps."  Just the same, maybe New Deal Democrat at The Bonddad Blog is right and the oil choke collar is finally loosening.
By the weekend, prices at all stations had fallen to $3.49.  Then the corner station decided to shoot its price up to $3.65 on Tuesday, the day I needed to fuel up.  I only put in half a tank, as I was sure that prices would fall.  I should have driven down to one of the three stations a few blocks away.  None of them raised their prices.  Their resistance to increasing prices had its effect.  The next day, the corner station had dropped to $3.59.  Yesterday, it had matched the other three stations at $3.49.  I filled up my car's gas tank.

Speaking of my car, it's about to turn over another thousand miles.  Look for an update on that tonight.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happy 75th birthday, Man of Steel!

Los Angeles Times: Happy birthday, Superman! A look back at 75 powerful years
It’s an auspicious occasion for the Man of Steel. Exactly 75 years ago today, Superman made his debut in “Action Comics” No. 1.

Superman is celebrating his 75th birthday with a new comic book by DC Comics all-stars Jim Lee and Scott Snyder and an ambitious new film directed by Zack Snyder and co-written and -produced by Christopher Nolan, of “Dark Knight” trilogy fame.
Here is the latest trailer for "Man of Steel."

From Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures comes "Man of Steel," starring Henry Cavill ("Immortals," TV's "The Tudors") in the role of Clark Kent/Superman, under the direction of Zack Snyder ("300," "Watchmen").
I'm glad Amy Adams has her hair dyed brown.  Otherwise, I'd be asking, "Why are they calling Lana Lang Lois Lane?"  Never mind.  That's just the lighting.  It turns out that she's going to be a redhead after all.

On the other hand, it may be perversely appropriate that a natural redhead play Lois Lane, since the most recent portrayal of Lana Lang was Kristen Kreug, a brunette.

In any event, happy birthday, Man of Steel, and may you eventually find out that Lois Lane is not made of Kleenex!

Gentrification cartoon

One of the topics discussed in the BlogTalkRadio program on Detroit last night was gentrification and why it doesn't always have the best reputation, even as it improves real estate values and tax revenues.  The next day, the following cartoon illustrating the point appeared on Daily Kos.  I found the timing uncanny.

Full-sized cartoon here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

GooBing Detroit

In Arrival in Detroit: Wrong Turn Discovery, the video I included in I'm hosting a BlogTalkRadio program on Detroit tonight, Annabel Park and Eric Byler marveled at the desolation of the Detroit neighborhoods they drove through.  Near the end, Annabel suggested finding archival photos of the ruins they passed, particularly for the grander buildings.  While she probably had in mind images from 50 or more years ago, she can watch major changes happening during the past three years, thanks to street views on Google and Bing.

The blog GooBing Detroit on Tumblr is posting side-by-side comparisons of the same locations from the two search sites' street views showing the changes between Google's pictures from 2009 and Bing's from 2012.  WXYZ shows some of them in Street view maps show Detroit's past.

That was five days ago.  Since then, MLive has picked up the story in Detroit's encroaching blight as seen through Google and Bing maps.  That's a more pessimistic take than WXYZ's, as the TV station at least found some signs of improvement when they did their own comparisons.

Narb suggests another act of musical defiance

In response to yesterday's musical response to terror, Narb dropped by to offer the following suggestion.
Lovely. Very Tchaikovsky-esque and uplifting.

However, Narb is less subtle entity than Mr. Torke (which rhymes with Borkborkbork), and prefers his Corps-style music to be more of the in-your-homely-face variety.

To this end, Narb suggests this short, brassy, Olympic-themed piece. Narb played this last year, and it was a pleasure to watch the ceremonial beheading of the trumpet section at the conclusion of the piece.

I responded positively.
Oh, nice choice. I like. Too bad only one corps (Spokane Thunder) has ever played that, and they didn't even go to DCI championships that year (2005).
I found a video of that piece that I thought had better sound and graphics.  Here it is.

Olympiada was written in 1996 (rescored in 2002) to capture the human conditions of intense glory and pain that only the Olympic Games can inspire, while musically tying themes with a historic Greek feel to modern harmonies and melodies. Openig with an Olympic-style brass fanfare to set the tone, this impressive work quickly breaks into a variety of themes and settings representing athletic struggle before recapitulating the fanfare at the end.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I'm hosting a BlogTalkRadio program on Detroit tonight

Annabel Park and Eric Byler posted Arrival in Detroit: Wrong Turn Discovery on the Story of America YouTube channel.  As you can tell, they'd never driven down the streets of Detroit before.

We are continuing to film in Detroit and are learning the history of the city. Beyond the rise and the fall of the manufacturing industry here, we are investigating the impact of segregation, the Civil Rights movement, and the riots of 1967. Stay tuned!
That led to the subject of tonight's show.

From Detroit: The Middle Ground w/ Annabel guest appearance
Michael Charney is off tonight, and I (Eric Byler) am filming on location in Detroit with Annabel Park. Annabel and I will try to complete filming in time to start the show on time at 8 pm.  If we are able to get on the air, we'll introduce you to some of our new friends.

In the video linked to above, I ask the question, "Why are so many of these houses burned down?"  That was filmed a few days ago and we are learning some of the answers.  If all goes well, we'll share some of them with you tonight on The Middle Ground.


Presented by Coffee Party USA, "The Middle Ground" covers a variety of topics with a trans-partisan approach with an eye to finding the place where the two major political parties share that 'middle ground.' Co-hosted by award-winning filmmaker Eric Byler (center-left perspective) and political author Michael Charney (center-right perspective), the show airs every Tuesday 8 to 9:30 pm ET.

We love our callers: 646-929-2495.
I'm guest hosting from my home phone, running the virtual studio dashboard, while Eric, Annabel, and whoever else wants to talk calls in.  Hope to hear from you!

A musical response to terror

Javelin Overture - Michael Torke (Texas Medical Center Orchestra)

From the biography of the composer, Michael Torke:
One of Torke's most frequently performed orchestral pieces is Javelin (1994), a "sonic olympiad" commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics in celebration of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's 50th anniversary season. In the spring of 1996, two different recordings of Javelin were simultaneously released a rare occurrence for a contemporary composition. The first recording, featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Yoel Levi, was the fourth all-Torke CD to be released by Decca's Argo label. The second recording is on Sony Classical's Summon the Heroes, the official centenary Olympics album featuring the Boston Pops conducted by John Williams, which reached the Number One position on Billboard's Classical Crossover chart.
I chose this piece because three drum corps, Glassmen, Carolina Crown, and Troopers, played arrangements of this music in 2002.  After listening to this inspiring music all summer, I associated it with an act of musical defiance in the face of terror.  After the events of yesterday, I listened to it again in the same spirit and found it heartening.  I hope you do, too.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Showing "An Inconvenient Truth" to my students again

In I'm hosting an Earth Week event today, I promoted my hosting a showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" for Earth Week at my college.  It turns out that I would have been showing the movie to my students this week anyway, so it was a convenient coincidence.  I'll be showing the movie again Wednesday.  In the tradition of On Thanksgiving eve, I present "Food, Inc." and Showing my students "End of Suburbia" again tonight, I'm posting the worksheets my students in both Environmental Science and Geology use for the Al Gore movie.  Follow over the jump to see them.

I'm hosting an Earth Week event today

The college where I work is holding Earth Week this week instead of next week.  As the flyer reads:
Each year we celebrate Earth Day by dedicating an entire week of special “green” co-curricular programming at each campus. Examples include campus clean ups and other community service projects, speakers and demonstrations, educational exhibits, recycling events, and more!  With support from the Collegewide Sustainability Committee, each program is created to raise ecological consciousness and involvement on campus and beyond.
The first event is being held at my home campus today at Noon: An Inconvenient Truth, a film viewing and discussion with a faculty member.

Guess who the faculty member is--me.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Second Year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News: Scary musical clowns from Detroit

The fifth most read entry of the second full year of the blog is FBI declares ICP and Juggalos a gang; ICP sues posted on August 10, 2012 with 496 views by March 21st of this year according to the secondary counter.  For a description of what prompted my entry, watch this video by Artisan News Service that they posted the day after I composed my entry.


Insane Clown Posse members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope have arranged for legal counsel for any member of their fan club, called Juggalos, who have had their rights violated in reference to the FBI mistakenly calling their fans a gang, also calling for Lady Gaga and her Little Monsters to be looked into.
I told a similar story when I promoted the entry over at Kunstler's blog.
Speaking of disappointment in the state of our national decline, one of Jim's favorite tropes is to deride the tackiness of working class youth, mocking their tattoos, slovely dress, poor physical shape, and general stupidity, and wishing that someone would come along and whip them into shape. The most read story of the week ended up being about exactly that, although in a very perverse way. Late last year, the FBI declared that the fans of the Insane Clown Posse were a "hybrid gang." After several months of their fans being busted and sentenced as gang members, along with loss of merchandise sales as stores like Hot Topic refuse to sell "gang apparel," ICP has had enough. They're establishing a legal aide service for their fans and planning to sue the FBI to get the designation removed. Detroit represent!
If one reads between the lines, promoting the entry at Kunstler's blog had very little to do with its success.  Instead, that was driven by web search, as Bing lists "ICP Sues FBI,"
"Juggalos FBI," and "Juggalo a Gang" as the first, second, and fourth most associated search terms for my blog.  Today alone, the entry got six hits from Google search.  In fact, there was enough traffic that the entry briefly made the ten most viewed list according to the primary counter.

I also crossposted the entry, which both drew in some more readers and garnered comments on the crossposts, which made up for no comments left at the original.  Over at unfunny_fandom on JournalFen, it got 56 comments.  The best response ended up being the tag created for the entry: clown gangs: not just for gotham.  The crosspost at ontd_political on LiveJournal received 37.  My favorite at both entries was "Fucking gangs, how do they work?"  On the other hand, it garnered only two at Michigan Liberal, one of which was "ICP is still around?"  Lame.

ICP wasn't the only Michigan musical act that got in trouble for alleged criminal activity last year.  Ted Nugent, stochastic terrorist, posted on April 20, 2012, with 224 page views, enough for 16th most popular during the second year of the blog, and 2 comments, described how the Motor City Madman shot off his mouth and got a visit from the Secret Service for his trouble.  Lucky for him, he landed on the right side of the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" line.

Like the entry about ICP's legal troubles, this entry was crossposted, this time to Daily Kos, where it received much more attention, earning 484 views from registered users alone, 73 recommendations, 47 comments, 3 bookmarks, and a place on the Daily Kos rec list.  It and me were also the target of a major diss by Jim Goad at Taki's Magazine.
A Daily Kos blogger who doesn’t think “Neon Vincent” is an idiotic pseudonym—or whose parents, the Vincents, didn’t think it was idiotic to name their child “Neon”—accused Nugent of “stochastic terrorism”—a new imaginary term apparently first imagined around the time of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting when the left was popping hemorrhoidal veins trying to imagine that right-wing rhetoricians are able to send out coded or subliminal or low-frequency messages that somehow cause psychotic lone wolves to shoot bubbly and kindhearted Democrats.
Hey, look, the established writer took the time to make fun of pseudonymous me.  That's called "punching down" and I take it as a compliment.  I also read up on Jim Goad's violent history and decided to take his writing much less seriously, along with filing it under "having the right enemies."  In both cases, I consider his response a victory.

Both ICP and Ted Nugent might be insulted to be mentioned in the same breath, but I suspect ICP might be more so.  After all, the lyrics of Fuck the World include "Fuck Ted Nugent."  I can't find any evidence that Nugent has had anything to say about ICP.

Previous entries in this series:

Field trip notes for April 2013

As I mentioned yesterday, my wife and I were too tired to go to the Smithees in Ann Arbor yesterday.  What wore me out was that I took my geology class on a field trip, the second stop of which was the MSU Museum.  I've written about visiting the MSU Museum before, particularly about the Silent Spring exhibit that was there last year.  Those displays have since moved on, although I've incorporated the video I embedded into my lectures, along with the "DDT is Good for Me!" ad.

As for what my students and I saw there, the following interview with Gary Morgan, Director of the MSU Museum, shows several of the permanent exhibits, such as the pronghorn and the reconstruction of Lucy, that we passed on our tour.  Morgan also describes how the Silent Spring exhibit went outside last fall, as well as his philosophy behind selecting and organizing specimens to display.

Gary Morgan, director of the Michigan State University Museum, talks about his role and the diverse collections the museum displays.
Morgan appears in this next video, in which he and the curators explain why exhibits rotate.  The two items in the video my class see every year are dinosaur skull and the elephant skeleton, which appears in the video preview.

Different members of MSU Museum discuss the museum's collections in storage and explain why museums collect.
That's what we saw.  What my class missed were yesterday afternoon's events for the MSU Science Festival that were held at the museum.  Unfortunately, we had to leave before they started.  Maybe next year, I'll arrange the tour to catch them.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bad sustainability films for Apophis Day

In Space news for Apophis Day, I mentioned it would be the first of two entries to mark the occasion.  I now present the second, which reflects Apophis not only being the name of a potentially catastrophic asteroid, but also that of a Stargate villain.  Of course, both are named after the Egyptian god of darkness.  It's only appropriate that my wife and I will be spending the night at the Smithee Awards watching scenes from bad movies, most of which will be science fiction, fantasy, and horror.*

Some of these films will feature sustainability themes in very ludicrous and wrong ways, like Birdemic, which won Worst Movie at last year's ceremony.  Here are the movies that have sustainability themes gone wrong among this year's crop of losers.

Global Warming/Greenhouse Gases

The mass ionic dispersal device will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, causing a reverse greenhouse effect and instantly freezing everything nearby.
Solar Attack
CMEs & ignition of greenhouse gases
The wyvern is an ancient beast that was imprisoned under the arctic ice as punishment for attacking the Norse gods. But now global warming has released it.
Bad Biodiversity

The swimmers have been taking steroids. They go off to a local party at "the lake," and a few of them emerge with attached leeches. They pull the leeches off each other in the shower room, and kick them down the drain.  Giant steroid leeches emerge a few scenes later.
The Glass Trap
A U.S. Department of Agriculture black ops task force so secret even the President doesn't know about them vs. giant angry radioactive terrorist ants.
Orca: the Killer Whale
He accidentally kills off the pregnant mate of the biggest, meanest, smartest Orca in the whole North Atlantic. This Orca beats the hell out of his ship, kills one of his crew, then swims away to plot revenge.
First, the schools of fish vanish from the usual fishing grounds. Then people spot an Orca fin whenever they go out on the water. Then the Orca comes into the harbor and smashes every boat but Nolan's. Then the killer whale burns down half the town. That's one seriously vengeful pyromaniac killer whale.
This will be the ninth year I've gone to the Smithees.  Every one of them has been a great time.  This year looks like it will be no exception.

ETA: I wrote the above on the night of the 12th.  When it came time to go, my wife and I were too tired and went on a less ambitious night out.  However, all is not lost.  The Smithees will be held again at Penguicon in two weeks.  That's much closer to home and not on the same day as an all-day field trip.  We'll try to make it then.

Space news for Apophis Day

Happy Apophis Day, which I declared as a holiday on this blog last year.
There is an event in the more distant future that fits one of the themes of this blog, disasters with a science fiction flavor, perfectly--the first of two close approaches of the asteroid Apophis, which is predicted to happen on Friday, April 13, 2029. The second pass of the asteroid will also happen on April 13th of 2036. So, today's date, April 13th, will be day of the year when both approaches of Apophis happen. I christen it Apophis Day!
Here is the first of two entries to mark Apophis Day, a compendium of space news originally posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (BRAIN Initiative) on Daily Kos.

For the lead story, I present an article from Space.com that bears directly on countering the threat posed by Apophis and other Near Earth Objects.

Asteroid-Capture Mission, Senator Says
by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 05 April 2013 Time: 05:16 PM ET
NASA will likely get $100 million next year to jump-start an audacious program to drag an asteroid into orbit around the moon for research and exploration purposes, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson says.

The $100 million will probably be part of President Barack Obama's federal budget request for 2014, which is expected to be released next week, Nelson (D-FL) said. The money is intended to get the ball rolling on the asteroid-retrieval project, which also aims to send astronauts out to the captured space rock in 2021.

"This is part of what will be a much broader program," Nelson said Friday (April 5), during a visit to Orlando. "The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars."
Just to summarize, the goal is to send humans to explore an asteroid.  Instead of the mission going to the asteroid belt, an asteroid is brought close enough to Earth for the available technology.  I'd call it cheating, except that it's so clever.

More space and astronomy news over the jump.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Yuri's Night from the ISS

Chris Hadfield Wishes the World a Happy Yuri's Night

From the International Space Station, Commander Chris Hadfield provides a special message for Yuri's Night 2013. Much thanks to Chris and the Canadian Space Agency for this video greeting.
Find your local Yuri's Night event at http://find.yurisnight.net
The closest one is World Space Party Detroit at the appropriately named SkyBar Lounge.  I'll have to pass, as I have to get up early in the morning and have another engagement tomorrow night.

For last year's Yuri's Night entry, click here.

The Sustainability Dozen: how to live more simply

What is today's prompt?
Friday, April 12, 2013
How do you interpret the words "live simply?"
Here's what I use for myself and teach my students to live more sustainably, the Sustainability Dozen.  Since I've identified three natural resources I'm concerned about as energy, food, and water, I'm going to organize each item by these categories.  It turns out that all twelve pieces of advice fit under three categories fairly easily.

  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation whenever possible.
  • Drive an energy-efficient vehicle.
  • Reduce car use.
  • Insulate your house and plug air leaks.
  • Use energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, lights, and appliances.
  • Use renewable energy, especially wind and direct solar.
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
  • Reduce meat consumption.
  • Buy locally grown food.
  • Buy or grow organic food.
  • Don't use pesicides on your garden or lawn.
  • Use water-saving appliances and irrigation methods.
It turns out that the 7:4:1 ratio of suggestions in each category matches the ratio of uses of each label on this blog to the total of all three.  Counting today's and yesterday's entries, I've used energy 199 times, food 119 times, and water 20 times.  The total of all three is 338.  199/338=0.59, 119/338=0.35, and 20/335=0.06.   0.59*12=7.1, 0.35*12=4.2, and 0.06=0.72.  After being rounded to the nearest whole numbers, the answers are 7, 4, and 1.  The math says that these suggestions match my priorites, and I agree; they do.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Crazy Eddie the Motie worries most about energy

What is today's prompt?
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Which natural resource do you worry about the most?
One answer would be to simply repeat what I wrote on April 1st.
[I]t would some combination of energy, food, and water, three topics I emphasize in my teaching.  If I had to pick one out of those three, it would be energy, particular[ly] green energy.
However, that's fudging it.  Fortunately, I have a way of counting how many times I've used those labels, along with some others.

197 energy
118 food
113 climate
 96 biodiversity
 86 oil
 19 water

Energy wins in a landslide!

HOUR Detroit displays its green thumb

What was yesterday's prompt?
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Do you have a green thumb?
I don't think so, not if the best I can do is mow the lawn and grow tomatoes.  Tomatoes are really easy; all I have to do is weed, water, and get out of the way.  Instead of writing about my mediocre attempts at gardening, I'll discuss a local publication's efforts to promote green efforts to improve Detroit.

This month, HOUR Detroit features six articles describing progress Toward a Leaner, Greener Detroit.  The introduction points out two important ideas that appear to contradict themselves, although they complement each other.  First, the article notes that vacant land is simultaneously the city's biggest liability and biggest asset.  It also observes that the efforts to address this paradox come mostly from individuals, businesses, and volunteer groups while city government watches from the sidelines.
While gridlock grips the halls populated by elected officials, progress grinds on largely because of the efforts of neighborhood block clubs, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, and everyday Detroiters laying claim to their own destinies. Thanks to the Detroit Future City plan, this patchwork of doers now has a unified vision to work toward.

Part of the vision relies on turning the land — plagued today by high vacancy and blight — into the asset that it can become with a little imagination and a lot of sweat. Noting the inefficiency of the single-family homes that Detroit is known for, with their expensive, “over-scaled” infrastructures, the framework imagines a city of more diverse housing in “a canvas of green”: open green space, urban woodlands, ponds, streams, and urban farms and gardens. Naturally flowering meadows could eventually give way to forests. The plan envisions productive landscapes that clean the soil and air and help alleviate storm-water runoff, lessening the burden on Detroit’s aging sewer system. “Green buffers” of trees would hug the major highways, decreasing noise and traffic pollution to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Follow over the jump for a guide to the other five articles that detail this vision and the people trying to make it come to life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lower gas prices in Michigan plus bonus gas price rollercoaster

Sunday, the Detroit Free Press republished the good news reported orginally by USA Today: Michigan ranks among top states where gas prices are plunging.
March gasoline prices fell for the first time in 10 years.

As of Apr. 1, the price of gas had fallen in 29 of the previous 33 days. Nationally, gas costs 30 cents a gallon less than it did a year ago and 15 cents a gallon less than it did following the February run-up in prices. AAA predicts the average price of gas in 2013 will be lower than 2012's average of $3.60 a gallon — the highest AAA has ever recorded.

There are some significant reasons for the price drop. First, Americans are driving less — about 2.7% less, according to Department of Transportation figures, or nearly 90 billion miles since reaching a peak of more than 3 trillion miles in November 2007. Second, older, less-fuel efficient cars are being replaced by new ones that get better gas mileage. Third, refineries are finishing up their spring maintenance and turnarounds a bit earlier this year, so production is ramping back up sooner.

However, the main reason that gas is cheaper now than it was a month ago is that crude oil prices have dropped.
This year we have also seen an increase in North American crude, whether it's out of the Bakken or Eagle Ford, or out of Canada, and that's certainly helped with oil prices in the United States.
Illinois is a major hub for Canadian crude oil, and the state's refineries have access to crude that is currently $15 a barrel cheaper than WTI and nearly $30 a barrel cheaper than Brent.
It is very possible — some might even say very likely — that the highest pump prices for gasoline are behind us for this year. Most analysts do not see prices rising to February levels again this year, barring some shock to the system, such as major political turmoil in big oil producing regions like the Middle East or Africa, major shutdowns due to bad weather or some major accident. That is the good news. The better news is, there really is no bad news.
That's the national picture.   How does it look here in Michigan?
1-yr. change in gas prices: -9.1%

Gas price, 4/1/2013: $3.68 (15th highest)
Over the past 12 months, the price of gas in Michigan has fallen from an average of $4.05 per gallon to $3.68. Additionally, while Michigan prices are still higher than the nationwide average, the gap has shrunk from 13 cents to just five cents. But this may not last for long: Governor Rick Snyder has called for a major gas tax hike as part of an initiative to raise roughly $1.2 billion to fix and improve the state's roads. According to the American Petroleum Institute, as of January, Michigan already had one of the nation's highest effective tax rates on gas, at 38.7 cents per gallon.
The good news continued on Monday as the Associated Press reported that Michigan gas prices fall 4 cents from last week with a statewide average of $3.65/gallon.  As for how that played out locally, prices dropped exactly 4 cents from last week's installment of the gas price rollercoaster from $3.59 last Thursday to $3.55 at all four local stations Tuesday morning.  As I wrote before, "[t]hat's good news, although I still expect the price to go up between now and July 4th in small steps."  Just the same, maybe New Deal Democrat at The Bonddad Blog is right and the oil choke collar is finally loosening.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Video tour of Michigan State University's farms

What is today's prompt?
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Talk about a time you were on a farm.
When I was teaching at Lansing Community College, the Environmental Science class I taught took a field trip to two of Michigan State University's farms that that MSU uses for teaching, research, and community outreach.  The first farm the class visited was the http://www.msuorganicfarm.com/MSU Student Organic Farm.  I mentioned it two years ago in a flattering comparison to Purdue.
The flip side of Purdue's concern with food is that it's very much in the pocket of industrial agriculture, and this article shows that relationship in unapologetic detail. Honestly, I find Michigan State University, where there is a program in organic agriculture that was created by student demand, to have a more progressive perspective, and MSU is also a land-grant agricultural college.
As you can tell, I was impressed by my visit.  As far as describing it, I can do better than that.  I can show you a video produced by MSU about the Student Organic Farm.

Michigan State University student Denae Friedheim talks about the MSU Student Organic Farm which offers an opportunity for students to volunteer and work to create a sustainable farm. The program, which has been running since 1999, features a strong academic program along with hands-on experience working in various capacities at the farm. Learn more about the MSU Student Organic Farm at www.msuorganicfarm.com.
That's not all from the MSU Student Organic Farm.  Here's a more recent video showing the hoop houses that allow for vegetables to be grown year-round in Michigan.

At a time when most Michigan farmers are getting their land ready for planting, students and others working at Michigan State Universitys Student Organic Farm are bringing in the crops. Of course, that is a year-round occurrence at the farms hoop houses, a type of greenhouse that allows for non-stop planting and harvesting.
The class also visited the MSU Dairy Farm, which is open to the public and offers self-guiding tours.  Very conveniently, the course has a video tour of the dairy barn for students to view.  I couldn't type out a better replica of my in person tour, so I'll just show it to you.

All the video is missing are the cows with portholes in their sides, such as one can see in Food, Inc.  That's a sight that never fails to gross out my students.

That's not all of what my class saw.  We also visited the dairy processing  facility.  Fortunately, MSU has a video showing that, too.

The MSU Dairy Store not only creates delicious ice cream flavors but also serves as a teaching facility for students.
There, I've just compressed a three-hour visit, not including travel time, into a 20 minute video session.  Isn't YouTube wonderful?