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Public outreach in science is a important element for the maintenance of our present technology-affected (or afflicted) civilization. Science and engineering (Sci & Eng) activity is continually expanding the scope of the known. The global business sector, without relent, puts new technologies to work and retires others as obsolete. It is as though civilization is in a constant state of catch-up with the tools and materials being made newly available. And the quality of news is quite variable.

When it comes to the electronic and print mass media’s government reporting, the emphasis seems to me to focus on the current budgeting process and political conflict therein. These two subjects are in the “eternal now” in the flow of events. The word “news” is just the plural form of “new” so it is natural that news media focus on present budgeting and in-fighting. Media directors and executives know that reporting must be as concrete as possible and what could be more so than large dollar values and pithy news of political hijinks? Both raise our ire because cost and anger are emotional triggers for people. And emotional triggers bring lingering eyeballs to media.

The public not affiliated with Sci & Eng are quite often unaware of what their tax dollars are actually producing, perhaps many years down the timeline. The eventual outcome of government spending on Sci & Eng may be quite specialized and seem only remotely related to non-Sci & Eng life.

It has been my observation that media equates boring content with failure and compelling content with broadcasting success. The word “compelling” is used to describe something that attracts lingering eyeballs. Modern news broadcasting is the process of jumping from one compelling piece to another. I suppose we cannot blame them for this emphasis on superficiality because apparently it is what “we” want. The big We that draws advertisers and thus cash flow to broadcasters. It keeps the lights on and families fed. Basic stuff that can’t be dismissed with a utopian wave of the hand.

If there is going to be any fundamental change in the tenor and quality of content in media, it will have to come from citizen viewers. This leads me to the thrust of this essay: Those knowledgeable in Sci & Eng must bring the value proposition of current efforts in technological civilization to the citizenry, because broadcast media certainly can’t. By “broadcast media” I mean to include everything right down to what appears on your smart phone. Unfortunately, tech content typically emphasizes consumer goods like automobiles, electronic widgets, space, or miraculous medicine.

Those knowledgeable in Sci & Eng must bring the value proposition of current efforts in technological civilization to the citizenry, because broadcast media certainly can’t in any depth. They’re in showbiz. 

Arguments in favor of rational stewardship of our little world won’t influence elected politicians. But informed and persuasive citizens can influence those who are less so and if they apply some leadership. Carefully. Those who may be less educated and less up to date on the sciency subjects do not take kindly to speech that talks down to them. The hand that reaches from above is still above and off-putting. Learn to communicate on even ground.

What works for me in reaching out to all levels of education is to use humor and a bit of showmanship. Reaching out to the public in a way that keeps their attention is hard to do and not everyone is prepared to do it. Lest you think I am describing putting on a show, not entirely. I am saying that by the deft use of knowledge, public speaking skill, and the strength of personality, it is possible to persuade even the scientifically reluctant to perk up and follow your efforts at making a point. But the point must be accessible. Deep detail and meandering monologue will lose your group. Keep your outreach succinct and limit the breadth to a few pearls of wisdom. Get feedback on your presentation.  With any luck, they’ll go home and jump on Google for more.

If you need help with public speaking, join Toastmasters to improve. Try acting lessons. Join a theatre group. Learn to relax, pace yourself, and enjoy speaking. The better you get at the mechanics of public speaking, the more effective you’ll become.

[Note: The crummy WordPress text editor used to write this post is just abysmal. Why it was changed to the current revision is a mystery to me.  -Th’ Gaussling]

I get to enjoy a commute through farm country every work day. It is my habit to pull over and watch the crop dusters when they’re out. I’m secretly jealous of them as they zoom  with their wheels just above the crop in a powerful turboprop aircraft. In the fall of 2017 I caught this fellow spraying what I estimate is an antifungal onto a corn crop near the end of the growing season. The negative image seemed more interesting than the positive.

 

Duster in Negative Space

Helicopters show up now and again. These folks can do a 180 turn at the end of a pass faster and in a tighter space than can a fixed wing aircraft. Also they can pause to think about things whereas a fixed wing aircraft cannot.

 

Crop Dusting Chopper

Think what you will about spraying. If they’re out there, I’m going out to watch, but not so close as to smell the spray.

 

 

Interesting. I know two chemists and an engineer from my miniscule spheroid who have recently joined the marijuana extraction industry here in Colorado. Crimony, it makes me wonder what my problem is. Alright, it turns out that’s easy to explain. I really dig reaction chemistry and thermo, you know, real sciency stuff. Not much of that in the retail or wholesale extractives business. I have this suspicion that it will soon – if not already – be corporatized, IPO’d, and raced full throttle by scheming finance MBA’s like every other growth business. They can have it. Capitalism is like a stomach- it has no brain. All it can do is endlessly demand more.

An automated Windows update disrupted my life today. It swooped in overnight like a winged wraith, did its dark deeds, and flapped quietly back to the dank hole from whence it came. My RC1 data may yet reside unscrambled on the disk drive, but it lies orphaned from the mother iControl application which mockingly professes no recollection of 18 hours of sweet data lovingly produced. The curs in IT can only “tsk, tsk” in their antiseptic way while bobbing pointed heads in faux dismay. Another first-world difficulty uncovered for all to see.

The portentous return of American protestant evangelical politics on the coattails of the Trump win has certainly been startling to me at least. As if to underscore this return is the announcement that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will take on the case No. 16-111 Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al. Petitioners.

According to the petition for a Writ of Certiorari, at issue is the following:

Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment

I for one sympathize with both parties. I would like to think that as a business man I had some control in the business arrangements I enter into. On the other hand, it seems quite reasonable that an order for a wedding cake should not be complicated by the theology of the baker. I gather that the sign over the door did not say “Bakery for Observant Christians Only”.

Having been in sales, I know there are a hundred ways to purposely kill a sale without it descending into a fight or bad feelings. A sky high price, a ridiculously long delivery time, kitchen remodeling, a diseased baker, etc. Ok, so it is a lie. It happens.

From my purchasing experience I know it is possible for a careful buyer to disclose as little information as possible so as not to cue a vendor to raise the price or decline to make an offer. The couple in question could have discretely asked for a cake without giving away their relationship or could have sent in a proxy. The figurine of a gay couple on top of the cake could have been purchased separately and set in place at a different location. Alternatively, the gay couple could have simply found another baker willing to do the job, say in Boulder to the north.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. Neither side should have to use subterfuge to complete this simple transaction. And neither side, in principle, should have to fear the consequences of their core values. But for crying out loud, this is Colorado Springs. A more conservative Christian enclave would be hard to find. The city is full of conservative retired military and a number of fundamentalist Christianist organization headquarters like Focus on the Family among others. But what are you going to do? Fight to the death everyone you find disagreeable? Does everything have to be consecrated to God? Crimony! Can’t there be secular activities like putting a lug nut on a bolt or buying baked goods?

If SCOTUS rules against Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage, then they will have set back the cause of LGBTQ rights, possibly for generations. Likewise, a ruling for the respondent might do similar damage for the conservative cause. Both sides could live with some ambiguity in this matter.

The notion that baking a cake for a gay couple somehow validates LGBTQ values seems to be a bit of a stretch. It seems to me that a conception of a God who would see the act of baking this cake with so negative a view as to impose an existential threat to the baker’s eternal salvation is to conjure up a very strange picture of the deity. If a human were to wield this kind of existential threat to the baker, that human might be regarded as psychopathic.

In my view, American evangelical Christianists have constructed a model of God in the image of a very cranky, peevish male human. A God who set the galaxies spinning, ignited our sun, breathed life into inanimate earth, and accounts for every flea riding the tail feathers of every bird would certainly have the insight and fatherly patience to see this gay Wedding Cake matter as a tempest in a teapot. Yes? Maybe? But perhaps that is me constructing God in the image of a mensch.

I like that- God as a mensch.

 

 

 

Much as I would like to indulge in witty and ironic commentary about the results of the 2016 general election, it would be yet another steaming load of pathetic word paste gumming up the internet. There are no words or sentences you could construct that would make a meaningful difference in the direction our wobbling American culture seems headed for.

I’m left with the conclusion that only civil disobedience can disrupt the unholy congress of corporate media, banking, energy and the foetid red-light district of governmental-industrial conjugation. After all, aren’t the B-school gurus always going on about disruption? It’s good, right?

Could it be that donors and lobbyists amount to a 3rd house of Congress?

Enormous corporations, it seems, no longer have need of our democratic republic. Fortunes are stashed abroad, sheltered in tax havens lest a slice finds its way into public kitty. Thanks for the use of American infrastructure- you know, public education, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Border Patrol, FBI, FDA, NIH, NASA, NSF, public highways, airways, NOAA, etc., etc. Deregulation is creeping forward. We live in a period of reconstruction. Neoliberal doctrines have taken hold and may be near a critical mass in state legislatures, perhaps to bring a modern constitutional convention.

America has become a big barrel of fish, stunned by the high voltage of short life-cycle electronic marvels and easily harvested. We’ve become increasingly compliant with the tightening harness of ever advancing complexity and the cloying whispers of big data.

Neoliberalism has its flying leathers on and wants to take flight. There are minerals to extract, civic institutions to suffocate and public lands to privatize. Like the quivering desire of a lusty 18 year old, capitalism knows only one thing- that it wants more. Always more and in bigger gulps. The second derivative dollars over time must be greater than zero in perpetuity. Our brains soon grow tired of static luxury and comfort. Satisfaction, like our lives, is only transient.

The invisible hand of the market, we’re told, will surely trickle down a baptism of unexpected benefits to the masses, if only the rotten buggers would let the acquisitive have their way. After all, if your taxes are lower, the first thing a business owner will do is to add hirelings. Yes?

Wait a minute … if business is flat, why add staff? Why not keep the premium handed to you by the 99%?  Hmmm.

The gospel of laissez-faire is practically physics, you know. A force of nature both inevitable and irreducible.

Taking to the streets is a form of persuasion that has rewarded many movements here and abroad. In thermodynamics, power is the rate at which work is done through the transfer of energy resources. Anthropological power lies in the ability to allocate and focus resources on a need or desire. Money is power because for a price, you can persuade someone to get most anything done. There is no shortage of those who would step up to the challenge or sell their souls or accept any spiritual disfigurement for the hefty feel of lucre in their hands.

If the tin ear of corporate media are deaf to the reasoned voices of those who don’t buy advertising, then what is left for us to do? Elect a businessmen? This general election cycle a species of disrupter was elected president. This charismatic fellow can work a crowd like Castro or Hugo Chavez or Mussolini or (add your own dictator)? A large crowd in the spell of a colorful and grandiose orator seeking high office meets the show business definition of “compelling.” If the event results in fisticuffs or tempers flaring like Roman candles, so much the better.

Electronic news broadcasting is really just show business. A key element of a good story is conflict. Look at any movie. The writers take a sympathetic character and do terrible things to them. There is a chase, violence and intrigue, reconciliation and a twisty ending. Sound familiar? TV is made to do this and they are good at it. And it sells. Watch Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.

Civil disobedience, as opposed to picketing, makes meaty footage because there is the possibility of imminent violent conflict. It is compelling. As an exercise in power, though, immediate resolution rarely happens. The power aspect comes to play when and if the establishment is forced to confront awkward questions. Often establishment authority is refractory to public scrutiny. Other times it folds like a lawn chair.

 

 

 

More than a few people in my meager sphere of coworkers, family, and acquaintances are of a decidedly conservative bent and apparently bathe in the fetid wellspring of the Fox network for their daily ablutions. I recognize this because more than a few use substantially the same phraseology as they express the similar contentions on politics or of some duplicitous liberal miscreant. Most are admitted non-sciency folk and have heard that the current dust-up about AGW, Anthropogenic Global Warming, derives from assertions of a self-serving conspiracy by unscrupulous scientists angling for grants or in service of some deeper, darker purpose.

Like many people I’m trying to follow and comprehend the topic of climate change and AGW. Having taken no more than an undergraduate semester of meteorology and oceanography as well as flight training, I can grasp basic concepts and use some of the vocabulary in a sentence. So, when I’m asked for my opinion I usually just shrug my shoulders and offer a scenario for consideration.

Forget CO2 for a minute. What happens to surface water if the atmosphere and oceans get a bit warmer? It’s safe to say that, generally, there will be more moisture entering the air. It’s a fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Water vapor absorbs infrared energy from the sun. Any influence that manages to cause the atmosphere to hold more water is an influence that will cause the atmosphere to capture more thermal energy and result in warming. Being more buoyant that dry air, moist air can convect to produce clouds.

The change from liquid water to gas is an endothermic process. Energy is absorbed to produce water vapor from surface water. During cloud formation, upwelling air naturally cools and condenses to aerosols and droplets. These may freeze to ice and liberate the latent heat of fusion. This is an exothermic process, liberating latent heat which warms the air causing further convection. So, a parcel of moist air convecting upwards will result in an inrushing of surface air which is drawn upwards to sustain a column of rising moist air. The early cloud building phase of a thunderstorm (cumulonimbus) is characterized by strong updrafts from convection.

So, one might expect storm behavior to change as the relative humidity increases. As the average air temperature rises, the higher latitudes (north and south) might be expected to see some change as well.

In the northern hemisphere one of those changes could be the melting of higher latitude snowpack and glacial ice. Ice and snow pack consists of fresh water. Fresh water is less dense than salty ocean water. As fresh surface water runs onto briny oceanic water, it will tend to stratify according to density with lower density, less briny water tending towards the surface.

The thermohaline circulation, also referred to the Atlantic conveyor, is responsible for the gulf stream current that flows in a northeasterly direction along the Atlantic coast of North America and into the north Atlantic. This current is responsible for delivery of relatively warm water to the north Atlantic. These warm waters are partially responsible for the temperate climate of the UK and northern Europe. One of the most important concepts of climate science is that one cannot separate the oceans from climate. Due to the considerable heat capacity and latent heats of water (relative to air), the oceans are a substantial reservoir of energy capacity in direct thermal contact with the atmosphere.

The gulf stream’s arrival to the cooler north Atlantic where the water increases its salinity and density due to low temperature and evaporation to form a region of sinking water that forms a subsurface current. This current circulates to the Pacific and Indian oceans and eventually back to the north Atlantic in a loop of circulating water. For the north Atlantic, this loop is at the surface and transfers heat back to the north Atlantic in the form of warm surface gulf current water.

The gulf stream submerges between the coast of Norway and Greenland. In doing so, warm water is transferred to the north Atlantic. Should Greenland undergo a sudden warming with subsequent release of melted fresh water, it would be expected that the process of sinking of briny surface water would be suppressed due to the presence of less dense surface melt water from Greenland. The effect would be to suppress the potential energy of descending cold briny water feeding the Atlantic conveyor as well as oxygen transport to the ocean depths. Upwelling water from the deep transports vital minerals to support the food chain. The loss of this upwelling will have a distinct affect on the fisheries.

If it transpires that the loss of heat transport to the north Atlantic results in a general cooling of that body of water to form ice, how is the overall heat balance of the earth affected? Could it trigger another ice age?

The point of this is to offer that a rise in air temperature can lead to consequences that are not intuitively obvious. Talking about global warming should not end with just “warming”. The ramp up to global warming is a disturbance that may have surprising results.

Thus began Mr. Toad’s wild ride.

In the past I have written posts on the adventure of having two stage 4 cancers and the journey down the rabbit hole one takes as treatment goes forward. Three years ago I had surgery, radiation and cis-platin for throat cancer. Three years later my throat or oropharyngeal cancer is undetectable. Of course, this is good news.  What remains of the experience are the lasting effects of intense radiation exposure in and around the target volume. I developed the normal array of after effects: stunted salivary glands resulting in chronic dry-mouth; periodontal disease and the loss of a few teeth; a substantial loss and distortion of the sense of taste; inadequate thyroid function requiring medication; difficulty in swallowing dry foods; radiation scarring on the neck; and lymphedema where 33 lymph nodes were removed from my neck. I’ve adapted and manage quite nicely to plod down the timeline much as before.

My situation with the stage 4 prostate cancer (Gleason 8) is stable. One of the treatments for prostate cancer is chemical castration. Since testosterone has the effect of accelerating the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells, the commercial drug Lupron is used to down regulate the production of testosterone. Loss of body hair and muscle mass as well as the onset of hot flashes were some of the highlights of my experience. A substantial nulling out of the sex drive happens as well.  Effectively I spent about two years as a eunuch.

It’s been nearly a year since the Lupron injections have stopped. I’m getting a more strength and some body hair is returning. I’ll leave it at that. The radiation treatment was intense in the target zone, but largely without significant discomfort overall. The tricky part of external radiation treatment of the prostate is it’s proximity to the bladder and the bowel. Fortunately, modern IMRT equipment is capable of modulating the x-ray beam intensity as well as shaping the beam with a multileaf tungsten collimator as it rotates around the patient.

After 11 months since the last Lupron shot, my PSA has increased only slightly from being non-detectable.  The return of testosterone after having it shut down for 2 years is a weird experience for a fella. But weirdness is normal in the world of cancer treatment.

Now we’ll pivot to a different topic.

A delicate parting thought for friends and family of those with cancer. Invariably a well intentioned friend or family member will say that their thoughts and prayers are with you or that a prayer group is holding you in the light. Another expression of sympathy might be that there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for all of us, and as the story goes, our lives have purpose after all. Such sincere well wishes are expressed with the best of intentions, but for myself and other non-theistic people it rings hollow and offers little consolation. A prolonged and agonizing illness is part of some plan? Seriously? If a person set forth such a plan we would rightly consider this foul individual a psychopath worthy of punishment.

People express these sentiments when presented with an existential conflict- it is when the need to connect their belief system with reality the observable world is confronted with the paradox of the divine sanctioning of pain, suffering and untimely death. The need is met by the supposition that there must be divine purpose rather than the unthinkable alternative of the illness happening in the stark emptiness of a godless universe. If such a universe existed, what possible purpose could there be in existence? Well, yada yada. I’ll take this topic up in a later post.

Here is an alternative for your non-believing friends and family. Consider renewing and expressing gratitude for their love and friendship. Confess what the person means to you and commiserate with their condition. Let your emotions flow. Hold their hand. A bit of listening goes a long way too. Mirth is always welcome- the regaling of past exploits, funny stories or people, jokes or the sharing of what experiences you have in common. A light heart and cheerful smile is always welcome in sickness and in health.

 

During the last year I have been away from the chemistry blogosphere and immersed in reading classic literature and acting in a few plays. I won’t take up bandwidth with a lot of details, but suffice it to say that I would urge young technocrats to spend a bit of time reading some classic literature or doing some artistic activity. In my case, I have a special fondness for 19th century literature. Not a minute I’ve spent immersed in Balzac, Pushkin, Gogol, or the earlier writings of Cicero, brings even the slightest regret for time not spent with chemistry.

Of course, my threadbare-epiphany is in no way novel and barely worth mentioning. Many people spread their wings and glide over the wonderment of new lands. For me, I have simply chosen to spend the time doing so. Scientific greatness is not in the hand I was dealt. There will be no reactions or campus buildings named in my honor. This is the fate for most of us, really. Only it takes some time to come to that realization.  Loosening one’s grip on ambition is not gladly done. Those of us who have gotten advanced degrees are, in a very real sense, freaks who have a fiendishly tight grasp and a capacity for extended abuse (you know it’s true!).

The reality of aging is that in the footrace of one’s career, faster, younger and hungrier runners begin to catch up and surpass you. This is actually essential for the continuation of scientific progress and the extension of this age of enlightenment. The trick lies in not allowing one’s vanity to accentuate this natural progression in some humiliating way. The merits of silence become increasingly apparent with age to those who can manage it.

This cancer business has the effect of telescoping one’s life in the sense that the end-game once obscured by the haze of time begins to take shape as would an approaching stranger in the fog. It is the fear of this approaching stranger that causes the afflicted to grasp for any and all treatments, clinical or mystical. At some point it should become clear that spending down your retirement and impoverishing your survivors is destructive and selfish. But you cannot rely on your physician to help with this. Your final act as a mature adult is to decide when to call off treatment. This is not accepting defeat. It is acknowledging biological reality.

Cancer has a large head-game aspect and one’s internal monolog must constantly chant the importance of living in the moment and keeping a cheerful attitude. Those around you will be grateful, even if they do not outright say so.

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