Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays: Grav-mas

It came as news to me that Isaac Newton's birthday is December 25.  This web page celebrates Grav-mas.

2 thumbs up !

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Paywalls erected on economically disadvantaged Islands

This gets at probably the most indefensible aspect of the proprietary publication of scientific literature.  I discovered a paper through a google scholar search, about Lantana camara, a disastrous introduction in Micronesia.  I have lived where this plant is an invasive species, where the thorny shrubs are an impediment, when hiking through the boonies, in Chuuk Lagoon.  The story goes that a woman of Chuuk, some years ago, saw these beautiful flowers on Saipan, and brought them home to introduce to her own garden at home.  Birds scattered the seeds.  The thorny bushes soon became a presence in the forests, where they are like brambles, albeit with shorter thorns.

Lantana camara.  Photo from Wikipedia.

I was privileged to work in Chuuk and on Saipan, both, as an Environmental Science teacher, in high school and at community colleges of both island groups.   It was my responsibility to research---using whatever meager resources may have been at my disposal---significant issues, and, in the process of learning about them myself, share this knowledge with the true stakeholders, the native people upon whose efforts will hinge the ultimate fate of the islands themselves, and future generations.

It is impossible to explain the depths of my anger when I have seen important literature that has been inaccessible to me, because of the policies of the publishers of scientific literature, and textbooks.  The same goes for health issues, and marine resources and their management.  The proprietary publishers are the handmaidens of the scientific elitists who drift like flotsam through the islands, and brandish their superiority about, in their arrogance and conceit.  They publish papers, build careers upon their remarkable publishing records.  In Chuuk, one is amazed that the word "scientist" means someone who can read other peoples's minds.  

Not all scientists---in fact, perhaps only a few of them---exhibit such a painful countenance; but the papers even of the humblest among them, the fruit of the research they have performed in the islands, is as often as not unavailable to any islander who may wish to avail of the knowledge therein.

This unacceptable situation is exemplified here by the following screen shot of my computer, when I was doing a google search and discovered a paper about Lantana camara.  I thought, "this is a paper worth having a look at: someone in Micronesia needs this paper."   But, unfortunately, it is behind a paywall.  Take heed of the following.

Notice that this article alone would cost 46.00.

Luckily I can now access this literature at a nearby library.  This is of little help to the ones who truly need this knowledge: students, teachers, and just plain people of the islands.  Actually, NO HELP.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just Good Enough, Bricoleurs, and Convenient Inconvenience

In The Savaga Mind Claude Levi-Strauss referred to Bricoleurs.  Amen.  Nuf said for now.

I remembered this when trying to fix a clogged faucet, one of those pull out jobs with a sprayhead.  I cannot find an instruction on the Internet for disassembly of the sprayhead: it is assumed that one just pops over to the nearest Home Depot and buys a replacement.  This is intended as a commentary on our society.  The throw away society.  In one of the coolest videos ever, that was actually not a youtube video, but was posted there, a 13 year old Canadian girl and her friends got some money together to attend a climate conference in Brazil, where she spoke out to the assembled powerful and rich  about many things. Unforgettably, she said "we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, and yet northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid to share."  The transcript for that speech is found here, among other places.

Marshallese fishermen use the odd beer can on the beach, tearing it to form a knife edge, to clean a fish.  Or, if that isn't enough, find broken glass to put to the same task.  Primitively, men did the same thing---utilize what is available to solve the problem.

I will call this is a designed inconvenience, now a part of how we think.  You need a youtube HOWTO video to figure out how to unscrew a showerhead, buy a replacement (even being given a selection of local outlets), and screw the new one back on.  But to take it apart?  A special tool would probably cost double the showerhead.  It's the way we think.

Why does this remind me of the concept of "Just Good Enough," pointed out to me by my friend Craig Smith.  I think this is what it is: no longer interested in making a high quality photograph, with fine resolution and perfect composition, dust spots touched up, mounted on a matt in a golden triangle---we now are pleased enough with a crappy digital shot made with a phone.  The phones get better, even digital point and shoots, but they never achieve that excellence we once found essential.  The quality of a recording made with a cell phone is just good enough.  Perhaps I have subverted this idea to my own means.  It is referred on Wikipedia as The Principle of Good Enough. The kernel of it is cited as follows:

The principle of good enough or "good enough" principle is a rule for software and systems design. It indicates that consumers will use products that are good enough for their requirements, despite the availability of more advanced technology.[1]

Enough said.

Or maybe not: the Internet has been devolving into an operating system for consumerism appliances.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inappropriateness of western school architecture in the third world

On Saipan and in Chuuk, where I spent 24 years of my life as a teacher, the school structures are inappropriate for the climate, not to mention culturally.  I get it: concrete block houses are much to be preferred in a typhoon; they are cleaner; they are drier. See this article. Where traditional houses were open, with thatched rooves, the modern equivalent use roofing tin, plywood, lumber, concrete or concrete blocks.  I have lived through a few typhoons, in various circumstances.   Our home was blown away in Typhoon Nina, in Chuuk, in 1987, while I slept in the concrete "tilt-up" home next door.  I cannot but wonder  what it would have been like to hunker down in a thatched structure through a serious typhoon.  Many, indeed most, islands in Micronesia are less than 10 feet above the highest high tide mark, and during intense typhoons they may be washed over.   One has heard stories of women giving birth in the tops of coconut trees.  Concrete homes, to the Micronesian family, represent a huge improvement in living conditions, in this respect.

But the tropics are humid, and can be hot.  Micronesian islands, being as they are oceanic, are not as hot as some, and thatched structures  can render conditions tolerable, even comfortable.   Concrete block structures, or even plywood structures, are poorly ventilated; they can be uncomfortable.  One supposes that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but the simple local structure---whether thatched, with the very best ventilation, or a shack hastily cobbled together out of plywood, parts of trees, stones, coral rock, and roofing tin---seems to fit the circumstances much, much more comfortably and appropriately.   Life in the islands under these circumstances is, in my mind, a joy.   Inside the air conditioned concrete buildings, with glass windows and doors, sealed against nature and the climate: not so much.

It has been said that Robert Gibson, the first Director of Education of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (US TTPI), commented on his inaugural plane trip to Micronesia, that his vision was explicitly NOT to build another Americal Educational System.   One assumes that he was referring to the curriculum and the teaching model, but the infrastructure may be an apt parallel.  The curriculums that were adopted over the years have become more and more American in terms of content, as well as teaching models, until today, the revisions engendered by the "No Child Left Behind" programs in the US DOE have become incorporated into the schools of American Micronesia, especially as it is linked to funding and testing.

But it wasn't only the educational programs that have become westernized.   Americanized.  The school infrastructures are as modernly American as the best minds of Micronesia (as trained in American schools) have been able to make them.  Let me emphasize: it wasn't only  Americans who most energetically worked for the building of schools on a *modern* model.

Working in schools in Micronesia, I have often  joked, "how much  better adapted to the tropics are thatched rooves and open rooms?"   Alright, it's not that easy, not that simple...

Here's the point of this post: a huge proportion of the pathetic budget of the local school district, on Saipan, is spent on energy.  Classes come to a standstill when air conditioners are broken, or power is off.  This is the tropics.  Humidity should not be a show stopper.  A significant part of the power bill goes to paying for electric power.  At least one school has an alternative energy project, making some small progress in eliminating dependency; the costs are incredible.  

When did we hear architecture discussed?  I have been in homes that are comforable without air conditioning.  These buildings seemingly were designed with other thoughts in mind. 

We haven't even started on the "digital divide." Or the appropriate curriculum framework for the islands.  Why is English a required subject for every student, in all grade levels; when local languages are either not taught, or taught as an afterthought.  Is this an adequate indication that these are Transplanted American Educational Systems?   I am aware of more sophisticated aspects of native micronesian languages, that are known by very few: is it not worth the money or time to teach these---while they still are accessible.  The decline is underway.  

Money talks. 

The article comes from a different direction, but no doubt about it,  school infrastrucure lacks.

Once the fish are gone, the games are on.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Non disclosure: a couple of perspectives

In re the realities in Fukushima


It seems that a pall of suspicion has lingered in the air, over whether TEPCO and/or the Japanese government has been forthcoming about the parameters of the after-effects of the Fukushima meltdown.  Some attention has focused, perhaps even more, in the recent months, on Cesium in the Ocean off the West Coast.   The pall of mistrust still lingers---who is telling the truth?

Comparing  Disclosure of Cancer to patients in the US and Japan

I recall from readings in Medical Anthropology a distinction in the way cancer is handled in Japan and in Western cultures.  In Japan, the patient is less likely to be informed, while the family is informed of the diagnosis of Cancer.  This holds true for Adolescents as well.  One recent article calls attention to possible anomalies in the incidence of recent cases of Thyroid cancer in children, and assertations by the goverment that the cases are likely unrelated to exposure to radiation at Fukushima:

“It is likely (the 44 children) developed tumors or lumps before the nuclear accident,” the Japanese daily cites a Fukushima prefectural government official as saying.
Further information from that article:

However, Christopher Busby from the European Committee on Radiation Risks (ECRR) wrote for RT that “the 2005 Japanese national incidence rate for thyroid cancer in the age bracket 0-18 is given in a recent peer reviewed report as 0.0 per 100,000.”

Busby argues that based on the ECRR’s scientific model, there could be “some 200,000 extra cancers in roughly 10 million of the population in the 200km radius of the site in the next 10 years, and 400,000 over 50 years.”

He further notes that the risk model currently employed by the Japanese government predicts “no detectable cancers will be seen as a result of the ‘very low doses’ received by the population.”
He has said their model, the International Commission of Radiological Protection, has produced results which can only be characterized as “nonsense.”

Local residents have been highly critical of the prefectural government’s alleged downplaying of the risk of radiation exposure, the accuracy of its thyroid testing and the means by which information is disclosed.

It occurs to me that the appalling tendency toward lack of accurate information may be conditioned by the same cultural features that incline family members in Japan to not inform a cancer patient of her diagnosis.

Just thinking aloud.  To think further about this would require one to stand aside from his own cultural biases.  This is a very difficult thing to do.  Very.

More reason to reassess, or to fear?

 From another article: Is this a conspiracy or a plan?

Tokyo Shimbun, December 31, 2013, with translation by Fukushima Voice (version 2e), published Jan. 6, 2014: It was discovered that the memorandum of cooperation between the IAEA and Fukushima as well as Fukui Prefectures contain a confidentiality clause [...] critics say “it could be preempting the State Secrecy Protection Law.” [...] In Fukushima Prefecture, it was the prefectural government that entered into an agreement with IAEA in the area of decontamination and radioactive waste management, whereas Fukushima Medical University entered into an agreement with IAEA in the area of the survey of radiological effect on human health. [...] “The Parties will ensure the confidentiality of information classified by the other Party as restricted or confidential.” [...] if either the prefectures or IAEA decide to classify information for “they contribute to worsening of the residents’ anxiety,” there is a possibility that such information as the accident information, as well as radiation measurement data and thyroid cancer information may not be publicized. [...] IAEA has published reports, after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, stating “there were no health effects due to radiation exposure.” [...]

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Looking over my shoulder: Typhoon Nina, November 21, 1987, in Chuuk

My family lived through this typhoon on the Island of Moen (now known as Weno), four before the first birthday of my first son, Forrest.  This was a memorable occasion for me, on several counts.  I had just recently started to work at Chuuk High School: my classroom was destroyed, as were many at the school.  The house we were living in was destroyed: the tin roof landed, intact, some 100 feet away from the former house site; fortunately it missed the house we were sheltering in.  It was my first payday, a substantial paycheck covering five pay periods remained uncashed, and provided a source of cash start our recovery.  Susumu's Store had to sell of all frozen food, as there was not power to run the freezers, so for Forrest's mandatory birthday party, we were able to buy a large quantity of whole frozen chickens for US$7.00 per each 20 or 30 pound case.

That night, the Chuuk Weather Station did not receive any forewarning of the arrival of the Typhoon, due to a convergence of factors.  Typhoon Nina was the first storm in Micronesia for which typhoon chaser planes did not fly---a stormy beginning for the now incredibly effective satellite-based storm monitoring of the Joint Typhoon Warning System (  If I recall correctly, radio communications were also lacking that night between the Chuuk Weather Office and the JTWC on Guam.   When the typhoon struck, it was without warning.

The winds were not strong, looking at the numbers, but the destruction was impressive.  Many homes in Chuuk were built out of plywood and "tin roofing"---corrugated iron.  Looking back, it seems incredible that more people are not injured by flying roofing material.  Looting was rampant.  We later found pieces of a unique type of roofing from our house on a neighbor's re-built house.  Much of my science gear was lost.  My camera was among the first items lost.  Some of my science gear was in the classroom, completely destroyed.  During my last year at UCSB, realizing I would be teaching in Chuuk, and that opportunities for research and study existed, I had xeroxed several boxes of material for reading and reference.  These were scattered far and wide, in a second.  Books were reduced to a soggy mush.

FEMA came to Chuuk immediately.  C130s brought in relief materials.  Soon a new phrase was heard all over the islands: "ke pach, ke tento."   If you have connections, you get a tent.  It was true: the governor's family, it was well known, were recipents of a large share of tents and other relief supplies.  Finally, I think my family got some tents.   When FEMA inspectors came through to assess the damage, I was asked, are you working?  I said I had a job, even though I had only just started.  For this reason, and because I didn't have the right DNA, I suppose, I was told that I could take out a loan from the SBA to cover my losses.  I guess it doesn't make a FEMA inspector feel as good to help one of their own, as to reach out to the third world needful people.  I spent weeks making a comprehensive list of everything had lost which came to 10--12,000 dollars.  It took many months, but eventually I received a loan for 8,000.00 to cover the house and my materials.  FEMA did provide assistance for some of the losses of my family. Inequity was the order of the day.

Today, 27 years on,  a Google search on Typhoon Nina is telling.  Even though the wind speeds were moderate in Chuuk, it turns out to have been one of the most destructive Supertyphoons in Philippines history.  Available now are storm tracks.

Here is the track published on

Information for this typhoon in the PI:
Super Typhoon “SISANG” (Nina)
November 23-27, 1987
240 kph
979 deaths
PhP 1.119B damage
Here is the map of storm tracks for the 1997 typhoon season, from Wikipedia (

From the Wikipedia article on Typhoon Nina (are you kidding me?  Awesome!):

Federated States of Micronesia

After passing near Truk, which has a population of 42,000, Typhoon Nina brought heavy damage to the area. In the capital of Meon, 85% of homes and 50% of government buildings were damaged.[6] There, communication lines were downed.[7] Hundreds of people were evacuated while the typhoon also inflicted severe crop damage.[8] Throughout the atoll, four lives were lost,[7] including a woman and a 14-year-old boy were killed by a falling breadfruit tree and an 11-year-old girl died after her leg was struck by a piece of flying metal.[8] One person was reported missing. Over 1,000 people were rendered homeless[9] while roughly 1,000 homes were damaged.[10] Damaged from the storm ranged from $30-40 million (1987 USD) and 39 were wounded.[11]

We built an experimental structure, made of Burlap Reinforced Plaster, 8x12 feet, which became our home.   That is another story, but a really interesting one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Landmark on my Linux Trek: Ubuntu Trusty Tahr is trustworthy

Short note to a friend:

I despaired, and as usual, when I suffer GNU/Linux despair, I reached for Ubuntu, copied an iso to a flashdrive using "dd" and had the system installed in excellent time.

The experience has been wonderful.  I had just recently installed Debian, but my experience was pretty frustrating.  I am a mere mortal, I fear.  When I posted a question on the Debian mailing list, I got an answer something like "you have to be tech saavy."  There are a lot of bad vibes on some lists.  Only Gentoo---long ago---was 100% nice.

YMMV, but I am extremely happy with how it's going with Ubuntu.  I will probably update, but maybe not for a while.  I've gone and compiled emacs and a few other items on my own. 

I am eating many words about Ubuntu from past times.  No GNU/Linux install is going to go perfectly, but this has been fantastic.

  • Most packages are in the repositories and  up to date
  • The developers have taken great pains to ensure that all components work together nicely.  (It's all seamless).
  • I am getting used to Unity
  • The PPAs are well documented, pretty much.  
  • The freezeups I was getting using Fedora are not happening, so far (Knock On Wood)
  • Plugging in a flash drive or a USB HDD goes well and easy.
  • Even for a Brother DCP-7020, which works well but was painful to install using the OEM's detailed instructions, the printer was working instantaneously, after running the CUPS interface on "localhost:631" in the URL bar of my browser.
  • On the install,   I got stuck on a step or two.  I can't rememer which steps now. 
I would also like to point out that I have carelessly installed several distros, and each time, Grub finds the other OSs on the HDD and puts them in the menu.  

I have installed Xubuntu on my other machine, and had good luck.  My only unfavorable impression is the Xubuntu developers have mangled XFCE4 a bit much.  It all works nicely.  The desktop's appearance and icons, etc., were not expecially endearing. 

It is FAST and nice.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Platynereis abnormis of Saipan

Platynereis abnormis is a nereid polychaete worm.  A congener, P. dumerlii is one of the most studied worms of all.  Ernest Just spent evenings studying them under the lights on the dock at, I think, Woods Hole, and wrote about them.    The following paper by Just is noteworthy:

E E Just. Breeding Habits of the Heteronereis Form of Platynereis megalops at Woods Hole, Mass. Biological Bulletin 27, 201 - 212 (1914). 
This publication is available online.  However, even though Just has been dead for many years, JSTOR places this information over one of his papers on line, probably in violation of the law:

Preview or purchase options are not available

You may be able to access this item through one of the over 9,000 institutions that subscribe to JSTOR. Check the list of participating institutions to log in or find a participating library near you.

You see, the publication I have in mind was published in Biological Bulletin, all volumes of which are available free online.   This angers me, because I have wasted time because of the disingenuous actions of JSTOR, leaving aside the issue of the current unavailability of the author---presumably along with the lawyers who drew up the copyright policies of Biological Bulletin at the time.

On Saipan, these worms are super abundant in the evenings, yet they---like several other small emergent zooplankton---are almost completely unknown.  SCUBA divers report that, when night diving, swarms of these small worms are a nuisance, swarming around dive  lights (? and getting into regulators).  The swarms are of the Heteronereis (reproductive) stage.  What appears odd to me, they swarm almost every night; yet a great deal of interest has been shown in worms of this genus that spawn on a lunar cycle.  Or then again, maybe they do swarm on nights when they do not spawn.  Hardly ever did we see a night when this worm was not to be found, attracted to our flash lights.

For now, I will post this photograph taken when John Furey and I went collecting for plankton for his marine aquarium on Saipan.   (The transparent, larger organism is an eel larva.   The Heteronereids are less than a centimeter long. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Love-Hate: Body Area Network and Internet of Things

This expresses  my first reaction, from in an article:

 There will be complicated, unintended consequences: ‘We will live in a world where many things won’t work and nobody will know how to fix them.'

  1. Internet of things

    2.  Body Area Networks

Monday, September 29, 2014

Important Photography Books

I have studied photography from several points of view.  Even though I studied at Brooks Institute of Photography for several months in 1977, most of my learning was self driven.  I pored over libraries of books, gleaning bits and fragments of photographic wisdom.  But photography is a wealthy man's pursuit; for several years, it hasn't been one I could pursue.  I have a simple Canon PowerShot point and shoot, and that's about it anymore.  Fe and William have newer Canon PowerShots, so I use theirs. 

I am drawn to macro photography, and I have also spent a good amount of time doing photography through a microscope.  I am no good at it.  I admire those who have not only the focus but the equipment to pursue it.  I spent a year or so doing Underwater Photograhpy, and I have a (broken) underwater housing for the Canon SD1100 IS; underwater photography, like fishing, is a pursuit requiring many unproductive hours to produce a single fish, or a single good photography.   The camera of my cell phone is fun to play with, but not a serious tool by any means. 

A few books stand out as exceptional.  For one thing, the techniques they discuss are themselves out of the ordinary.

  1. Alfred Blaker's books on Scientific Photography and Field Photography. 
  2. Mertens: _In Water Photography_ is a highly technical text delineating a few techniques that are a far cry from the mainstream howto books.  It is worth reading, even if most of us could never even begin to pretend to apply these techniques.
  3.  Ansel Adams's books on the Zone System
 Blaker's macro techniques were taught at a workshop I attended many years ago.  The idea was to use two cheap strobes, arranged like lighting in a portrait studio.  A neutral density filter over one would create modelling.  It is possible to take a photograph of a bee on a flower with wings frozen, using such a technique.  

Using Canon PowerShots, the Canon Hacker's Development Kit (CHDK) is interesting and useful.  I have found that my PowerShot is too unsophisticaed to support most of the CHDK features, since it does not have an iris, and is less capable in almost all respects than higher end PowerShot cameras.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014


 In no particular order, sites with great visualization examples


An amazing Tree of Life visualization:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Favorite photos, on another one of my blogs

Some of my favorite photos taken with the Canon SD1100IS, using a Canon underwater housing.  They were taken on Saipan, and posted previously on my blog at 

The photos were specifically located here.  I want to annotate these shots, so they were copied to this more current blog.

I. Decalcified Bacculogypsina sphaerulata

The first photo is taken through my Zeiss microscope.  It is a decalcified foraminiferan, Bacculogypsina sp. Magnification unknown.

 II. Bacculogypsina sphaerulata 

in situ, at low tide, at Tangke Beach, Saipan.

These foraminiferans are known as Star Sand.  Some of the beaches on Saipan are made up of more than 90% star sand.  These are living organisms with symbiotic diatoms living within them.  (the photo above is one of these).

III and IV..  Boloceroides sp.


These swimming sea anemones were taken on the seagrass Halodule sp., on W. Saipan, near World Resort Hotel.  Another great secret gem of the shallow reef platform.  The first shot is an establishing shot, showing pretty much of the situation.  The second one is one of my favorites.  These were taken with the Canon in an underwater housing.  I believe I was using the CHDK firmware enhancement.  Those are my fingers.

 The second shot is one of my favorites, of the same critters.  

These anemones can sting pretty good.  They move around from site to site, I think.   For a while I would see many of them at a certain haunt, maybe for weeks or months.  Suddenly they are gone, but I see them elsewhere.  Great microscope subjects for classes.  These might even be the same photo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

BBDB: Big Brother Data Base

UPDATE:The information in this post can be summarized with two commands.  

  • Emacs:  To download the emacs git repo:
    •  # git clone
  • BBDB: to download the BBDB up to date source:
    •  # git clone git://

I.  Some notes about BBDB

    I use bbdb with emacs, in a relatively mundane and non-interesting way: I use it as a basic addressbook.  When I need an address, I just fire up emacs and type M-x bbdb, then respond with a part of the name I am interested in.  Very nice.  From the record that is displayed, I can also write an email message directly, by typing "m".    (I have to have the necessary magic spells in my .emacs file, the configuration file that has followed me around for over 20 years, and grown and changed.)   Also, from the smtp mail composition facility of emacs, when I type a few characters from a required email address or name in the "To:" field, if it is in the bbdb database, it is inserted automagically.  I love thisd.

I have just wrestled with bbdb for an hour or two, and gotten to work on one machine, perfectly well.  I don't have all the bits of bbdb working.  The origin of the name "Big Brother Data Base" comes, I think, from the ability to scavenge all email addresses from all incoming mail.   I don't need that.  I don't want that. 

2.  Installing bbdb with self compiled emacs from git repo

 I have compiled emacs on each of my machines, for one reason so I can use the new eww browser that is included with Emacs 24.4.   Also, for other reasons.  I used this method, which worked on both Archlinux and Ubuntu systems:

And I have my work subdir under git control, so I can save changes to a flashdrive, and push them onto another machine.  Right now, I am doing this with only two machines.  But I need identical files, and identical configurations on these two machines, so I can work out there somewhere (I was looking for an address in my car!), and have the changes reflected in both machines pretty easily.  It's been worth it for years, and I just got ahold of a 64GB flash drive to keep a relatively large subdir with all my important work and etc at my fingertips.   I am writing a letter here, go out there, and can finish it.  (But print later, so far).  I don't need to get fancy with servers.

To get BBDB working right again, after a glitch, I searched and searched all day.  So here's my secret: use the method pointed to by this message:

I found this after trying several of the  seemingly dozens of installation instructions all over the Internet.  Only this one worked awesomely.    The new bbdb (3.1.2)  converted  my  old address database more or less automatically, with no problem.  I had to fiddle with it some, but not much. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Discovery Museums

A few notes about discovery museums.

"Teaching is manipulation of the environment such that
learning happens."    --- Kangichy Welle

When we moved to the West Coast, I immediately joined up with the Exploratorium.  I had been teaching in Micronesia for some 25 years, had been aware of the Exploratorium, even seen many of the cool stuff on the web, but yearned to visit these places of learning.  We also joined up with the California Academy of Sciences.   Eventually, we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and managed to get a membership there.   We have not yet visited Chabot.  We have visited the Lawrence Hall of Science, however, a number of times.  Many more I hope to visit this summer: one of them is the Intel Museum.  I was able to visit the San Franscisco Bay Model: Wow!  

Each of these sites is unique.   Incomparable.

I cannot believe, however, that NONE of these sites has a really nice magnifying glass---a simple loupe---of moderate price, for sale.  All manner of trinkets and scientific curiosities are on sale, some of them for exhorbitant prices, others more reasonable.   Someone is missing the point, here.  Everyone.   In Micronesia, we learned that a simple, high quality magnifying glass can provide hours of exploratory fun.   I have carried a reasonable one, most of the time, and used it for research and the equivalent of web surfing.

Nows the time to ponder: what has happened to these exploratory museums?  To our consciousness?  


Fe has had several opportunities to observe young children at the Exploratorium.  She has decided not to take them back for a while.  I wondered about her thoughts.   I have thoughts of my own.  I've observed, even for kids a few years older, that scientifically well-thought out demonstrations or exhibits are often lost in a hyperkinetic button pushing mode of exploration.   I'll be the first to admit that I have often sold kids short---I am amazed at how much they pick up along the way, when paying NO ATTENTION AT ALL (as far as I can tell).

Still, I wonder about the layout of the new Exploratorium.  I have been privy to conversations by Adults, in which the new layout is touted as really, really effective.  But how does it work for little ones?

Fe makes the point that the lives of these kids can be greatly enriched by the kinds of learning that is promised by these discovery museums.  But she waxed upon her sense, about the Exploratorium this morning.   Here are some notes:
  • kids cannot focus amid the jostling.
  • it's too crowded
  • parents should be able to relax and watch as the kids explore: they cannot
  • the layout is too confining [my word], encourages collisions and interference, and not focus and concentration
  • as the kids start to focus, the barrage of other kids and the generally confining conditions turn it into playtime.
  • kids are curious, but at young age their concentration is easily interrupted.
  • It's like a buffet: all the food is there, but you don't have time to make your selection, or really taste the food.  

She felt the Academy of Sciences is (CAS) more open and welcoming.  The kids really like it.   For my part, I thought the level of many CAS activities is more mature, but there are lots of really amazing things to explore.

Moving on, we need to work on Nature Deficit Syndrome. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

This will do for today's manifesto: Walt Whitman

This was posted written in large letters on a poster in a classroom where recently I subbed.  It is from the Preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.  I blew off that lesson on High School, so now I have to do some makeup work.  (Words to live by.  "Manifesto" is a good word; just doesn't seem like the best one some days.)


This is what you shall do

"This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reading for Today: PCBS on Saipan

Oral history of the PCB pollution in Tanapag Village, Saipan::

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Note to Management: Phycodnaviruses infect phytoplankton, potentially affect geochemical cycling and weather patterns.

Stumbling around this morning, ran across this article about newly discovered giant viruses, the Pandora Viruses. On Earthweek, 36 July 2013.

Further browsing, and I ran across this paper (pdf) identifying Pandora Viruses as Phycodnaviruses that infect phytoplankton.

N. Yutin and E. V. Koonin. Pandoraviruses are highly derived phycodnaviruses. DNA,
516302773:6, 2013.

Another paper provides a glimpse into Phycodnaviruses as tiny giants that rule the world.  
The Phycodnaviridae: The Story of How Tiny Giants Rule the World
Authors: W. H. Wilson, James L. Van Etten, M. J. Allen
[published on the Plant Pathology Commons.]

Monday, February 24, 2014

Noticing Journal Clubs; Circuses; Carnivals; Science Blogs

I wonder what happened to the excellent idea of Blog Carnivals.   Maybe I just haven't been noticing?  (Like the Circus of the Spineless).  Tonight I finallhy noticed there is a phenom called "Journal Clubs).  A quick google says to me that they are common in medicine; that graduate courses are focused on them in Biological Sciences; that there are some more informal journal clubs.   A few links.

     Examples and other objects:

  • A good edition of ScienceBlogs: Mystery Bird: Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata magnificens:
  • ScienceBlogs seems to have morphed (evolved) into:
  • Evolutionary Biology Online Journal Club:
  • The Science Teaching Journal Club.  Note what follows: 
    • The Science Teacher Journal Club is a place where we hope science teachers, and anyone else with an interest, will gather together to discuss ideas about science science education published in journals, articles, books and else where. The idea is borrowed from the original Twitter Journal Club for doctors started by @fidouglas and @silv24 and also owes a debt to @markgfh for suggesting that teach­ers might benefit from such a club.
  •  Reef Aquarium Blog:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Just some links that caught my eye: 3D Printing research equipment

Pointers toward 3D printing science equipment.  William's teacher printed many iPod cases.   I see the next step as making a case for a Samsung Galaxy S4 with a thingamajig to slip in a microscope eyepiece or another lens.    For two reasons, the Open Source character of the Thingaverse movement (as I take liberty of calling it) is HOT:

  1. They are freeliy available and can be improved.
  2. People are collaborating to make them better.
Like Free Software.

I like these:

A Great Podcast:
Some optical (including microscope) gear 3D printing designs.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Doom and Gloom for Echinoderms on the West Coast of North America

Echinoderms are gone from San Francisco Bay

Word on the street is there are no longer any Echinoderms in San Francisco Bay due to pollution.  Books could be written, and have been. 

Maps: Sea Star Wasting in W. North America

(from )

Sea Star Wasting (Links)

  • (you will experience unsolicited multimedia output)


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Flooding in Butuan City due to Tropical Storm Lingling (Agaton)

[UPDATE: On monday evening, Fe received word from a relative in Butuan City, saying that the family are all well, and the floodwaters have subsided.]

As of Monday morning, 20 January (Pacific Standard Time), Fe's home town of Butuan City is experiencing serious flooding due largely, as far as I can tell, to the swelling of the Agusan River upstream closer to Davao.   Moderate to heavy rainfall continues to be predicted for Butuan, at least for now.  We have not been able to contact Fe's relatives in Butuan City, although two of her young relatives have posted on Facebook, somehow. 

I am trying to collect some background information here, since we cannot correspond directly to Butuan City.   I have used the Google search tools to limit my search to the last hour.  A number of photographs are to be found online by searching "Butuan Agaton" and at least one indistinct YouTube video.  The general impression is that a large number of Barangays (villages) are flooded, and a large number of people have been evacuated from their homes. 

It is extremely interesting that the only direct information we have received has been through FaceBook postings by very young relatives of Fe.  Doc Searles has discussed in the past the user of twitter during disasters. 

Butuan City is located ON the Agusan River delta, and it has been subject to flooding in the past.  When we were in Butuan City in 1997, I met with a programmer/specialist from the municipal government, and received a CD of electronic maps showing the regions that had been flooded in the past.  Drainage had been installed, and the sense was that what could be done was being done to protect Butuan City from the same kind of catastrophic flooding that had been experienced in the past. 

Climate (note from

Agusan del Norte is outside the typhoon belt. There is no definite dry season. Rainfall is pronounced throughout the year with maximum rainfall occuring from November to January.
Annual average rainfall is 91.5 inches, an annual total of 217 rainy days or a monthly average of 18,01 rainy days per month. The average annual temperature is 27.5 °C and annual humidity average 85%.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Paradox: Article about Open Source Hardware published in a presitgious paywall journal

In the journal Science was published this article:

Joshua M. Pearce.  2012.  Building Research Equipment with Free, Open-Source Hardware. Science 14 September 2012: 337 (6100), 1303-1304.
I was unable to read this online through the publisher's website, as it is behind a Paywall.   How absurd is this?

Note that it would cost $20.00 to access this article for 24 hours.  That is ONE ARTICLE.  (In reality, this is somewhat cheapter than some other journals.)

Here is a link to an informative podcast (why is the idea of a "podcast" linked to the name of a proprietary device developed by an aggressively competitive and exclusionary company---why is this even acceptable in any manner, to anyone, in the land of the free?)

I am interested the open source microcontroller---Arduino.

The idea is a fantastic one.  The parallel with Open Source Software is pertinent.  3D printing custom reaction flasks with a catalyst printed in?

Dremelfuge: print out a chuck to make a high speed centrifuge.

I learned about Thingiverse.  This is getting interesting.

Within an hour of posting a plan for a lab jack, someone from Finland posted an improvement.  This is the power of free software, in meatspace.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

California King Tides, 2013-2014

A previous post featured a graph of the tidelevel predictions for 2013, as a single graph. Right on the cusp between that graph and this new one, for 2014, is the King Tide of 2013--2014. The low tide is impressive as well.
Some links about King Tides this year. I saw photos of water on the road at at least one site in Sausalito. Also in Micronesia, I recall that the higest tides of the year are in late December, a named tide.