Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 28th, 2021

Novel device harvests drinking water from humidity around the clock

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The payoff line is toward the end of the article:

Researchers were able to show that, under ideal conditions, they could harvest up to 0.53 decilitres of water per square meter of pane surface per hour.

That’s a little less than 2 ounces per hour, so in 8 hours (presumably) just under a pint — about 15 ounces. Still, it’s something.

Here’s the article.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Republicans working to destroy US government

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the Senate considered a bill to fund the government until December and to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans joined together to filibuster it.

Such a move is extraordinary. Not only did the Republicans vote against a measure that would keep the government operating and keep it from defaulting on its debt—debt incurred before Biden took office—but they actually filibustered it, meaning it could not pass with a simple majority vote. The Republicans will demand 60 votes to pass the measure in the hope of forcing Democrats to pass it themselves, alone, under the system of budget reconciliation.

This is an astonishing position. The Republicans are taking the country hostage to undercut the Democrats. If Congress does not fund the government by Thursday, the government will shut down. And if the country goes into default sometime in mid-October, the results will be catastrophic.

We are in this position now because Congress last December funded the government through this September 30 as part of a huge bill. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, and if the government is not funded, it will have to shut down, ending all federal activities that are not considered imperative. This year, such activities would include a wide range of programs enacted to combat the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans have said they are willing to pass a stand-alone funding bill. That is, they are willing to continue to spend money going forward, even though to do so at the rate they want means raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, Senators Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) joined McConnell today to try to pass a new funding bill that would provide disaster relief to Louisiana and Alabama in the wake of Hurricane Ida and fund the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). They complained that “disaster assistance is long overdue” and that “it’s critical” to extend flood insurance “so homeowners are covered come the next storm.”

But while willing to add to the debt, they refuse either to raise taxes or to raise or suspend the debt ceiling that would enable the government to pay for it.

The debt ceiling is the amount of money Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Congress started authorizing a general amount of debt during World War I to give the government more flexibility in borrowing by simply agreeing to an upper limit rather than by specifying different issues of debt, as it had always done before. That debt limit is not connected directly to any individual bill, and it is not an appropriation for any specific program. Nowadays, it simply enables the government to borrow money to pay for programs in laws already passed. If the debt ceiling is not raised when necessary, the government will default on its debts, creating a financial catastrophe.

So, while a measure to fund the government is forward looking, enabling the government to spend money, a measure to raise the debt ceiling is backward looking. It enables the government to pay the bills it has already run up.

Not funding the government means it will have to shut down; not paying our debts means catastrophe. Both of these measures will hobble the economic recovery underway; refusing to manage the debt ceiling will collapse the economy altogether and crash our international standing just as President Biden is trying to reassert the strength of democracy on the world stage.

Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republicans are trying to tie the debt ceiling to the idea that Democrats are big spenders. They are determined to stop the passage of Biden’s signature infrastructure packages, both on the table this week: a smaller bipartisan package that funds road and bridge repair as well as the spread of broadband into rural areas, and a larger package that funds child care and elder care infrastructure, as well as measures to combat climate change, over the next ten years.

Both infrastructure measures are popular, and if they become laws, they will reverse the process of dismantling the active New Deal government in which Republicans have engaged since 1981. The Republicans are determined to prevent at least Biden’s larger package from passing. Killing it will keep in place their efforts to whittle the government down even further, while it will also destroy Biden’s signature legislative effort.

But the Republican link of the debt ceiling to Biden’s infrastructure package is disingenuous.

Raising the debt ceiling will enable the government to pay for debts it has already incurred. The Republicans themselves voted three times during Trump’s presidency to raise that ceiling, while they added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, bringing it to its current level of $28 trillion. Further, Biden has vowed to pay for his new package in part by restoring some—not all—of the corporate taxes and taxes on our wealthiest citizens that the Republicans slashed in 2017.

This, Republicans utterly reject.

McConnell maintains that he does not want the U.S. to default on its debt; he just wants to force the Democrats to shoulder the responsibility for handling it, enabling Republicans to paint them as spendthrifts.

It is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility, driving the U.S. toward a disastrous fiscal cliff in order to gain partisan advantage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that a default “could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil. Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.” Financial services firm Moody’s Analytics warned that a default would cost up to 6 million jobs, create an unemployment rate of nearly 9%, and wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth.

The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. Today Senate Republicans voted to make that happen.

In 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, Congress dealt with a similar challenge to the national debt. Democrats eager to undermine the United States wanted to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Interesting how the relative rationality of Republicans and Democrats have swapped since the 1860s. That happened a hundred years later, in the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to an exodus of Southern racist Democrats who entered the Republican Party and with Nixon’s decision to exploit racism as a way to energize Republicans.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 2:19 pm

Greenland’s effects on South Carolina flooding

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The above video, of the largest calving event caught as it happened, was linked in a report in the Post and Courier in Charleston SC. The paper sent a reporter, Tony Barleme, to Greenland to take a look at the effects of global warming, which is affecting South Carolina (and Charleston is right on the coast). He reports:

1. Gravity

So many things in Greenland are gigantic. Greenland is five times the size of California, and roughly 80 percent is covered with ice. Greenland’s ice sheet is a mile deep on average, but near the center of the country it rises 10,000 feet into the sky. Greenland’s ice sheet is so thick and heavy that it makes the Earth wobble a bit as it spins, like an unbalanced top. When the ice sheet meets the ocean, the ice sometimes cracks and falls with the force of atomic bombs. Even Greenland’s language, Greenlandic, has huge words — one is 153 letters long.

Greenland’s ice is melting in a big way, too. This summer, so much melted in one week that you could flood the entire state of South Carolina with 2 feet of water. The ice sheet normally melts in the summer, but it’s melting faster now than it has in 12,000 years.

All this melting ice raised sea levels across the globe, just as dropping ice cubes into a whisky drink eventually makes a mess. Except some ice cubes in Greenland can be half the size of Manhattan.

There’s more: The Greenland ice sheet is so massive that it generates its own gravity. It pulls the Atlantic Ocean toward it like someone tugging a blanket. South Carolina is at the other end of this blanket, which means that Greenland pulls water away from our coast, lowering our sea level. But as the ice melts, its gravity disperses and its grip loosens. Seas at the far end of the ice’s power slosh back.

That’s one reason sea levels in South Carolina have risen faster than many other places around the globe.

Greenland is 3,000 miles north of Charleston, but this distant land of ice, polar bears and reindeer already has reshaped our coastline. It has made Charleston’s tides higher, our flooding worse. And what happens in Greenland in the future will largely determine the Lowcountry’s fate.

These forces come with overwhelming numbers, so it’s best to start smaller. Perhaps by flying in a 78-year-old plane over the world’s fastest-moving glacier.

With an Elvis impersonator on board.

2. The ice has left the building

It was the middle of August, and the afternoon temperature was in the low 60s, speeding up the summer melt. Above western Greenland, Josh Willis crouched in the back of a World War II-era DC-3.

He wore a blue NASA jumpsuit and cradled a 3-foot-long metal tube. He peeled off a sticker that said “REMOVE BEFORE LAUNCHING.” Setting the tube down, he opened a round metal hatch in the floor. Through the hole, you could see the Ilulissat Icefjord below.

Willis has a cherubic face and those long Elvis sideburns. Mention that he looks like Elvis and he lowers his voice and answers with the King’s trademark, “Thank you very much.” He’s a graduate of Second City’s comedy school in Los Angeles and has done shows on Hollywood Boulevard. His performances are a bit of oil and water — climate science and comedy. But he thinks that scientists could do a better job talking about their discoveries, and humor helps. For a science communication contest a few years ago, he and friends did a music video called the Climate Rock. In it, an 11-year-old asks, “What is climate?” Willis, in a 1970s Elvis jumpsuit, sings:

“You take a bunch of weather and you average it together and you’re doing the Climate Rock!”

Climate Elvis was born.

Willis has a more serious day job: climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He leads the agency’s OMG project, which does not stand for “Oh My God,” though Willis does find himself saying that when he looks below and sees Greenland’s cathedrals of ice. It stands for Oceans Melting Greenland, a title he cooked up a decade ago as a catchy way to describe the project’s central question: Do warming oceans affect Greenland’s ice sheet?

Which is how he ended up throwing things out of airplanes.

•••

The Ilulissat Glacier is a key OMG target and one the most important glaciers you’ve probably never heard of. It pours into a large valley near the town of Ilulissat, which is pronounced illoo-lih-sat and means “icebergs” in Greenlandic. The glacier also goes by other names: Jakobshavn, after a Danish merchant, and still used by many scientists; and the Greenlandic name “Sermeq Kujalleq,” or south glacier. But given all the giant icebergs, Ilulissat fits best.

About 40 miles from the sea, the Ilulissat Glacier forms an 8-mile wall called a calving front. Here, ice moves toward the ocean at 150 feet per day — a pace that tripled during the 1990s and 2000s. As it moves, it creates a great white shelf over the water that breaks off, often violently.

On warm days, the ice cracks like cubes after they’ve been dropped in a warm drink, except these cracks sound like thunderclaps and shake your ribs. Chunks as large as skyscrapers crash into the water, launching ice shards and spray. Some fractures release so much energy that geologists call them glacial quakes. Earthquake instruments across the world detect the biggest calving events. In 2008, a crew for the documentary “Chasing Ice” watched part of the ice wall collapse in a roar of thunder and white. The chunk was larger than 3,000 Egyptian pyramids.

All this falling ice flows down a fjord that’s 2,500 feet deep. But near the fjord’s mouth, the biggest icebergs hit an underwater speed bump — a sudden rise in the seabed that’s still about 800 feet deep. This bump creates the world’s most beautiful traffic jam.

Icebergs with giant arches crowd ones that look like snow cones, alligator heads and cowboy hats. Blue meltwater rivers speed down shimmering white slopes. Humpback whales swim between iceberg cliffs. Water streams off the cliffs, sounding like a steady rain. Some icebergs lose their balance as they melt. Without warning, they do summersaults, even ones as large as aircraft carriers. This can swamp fishing boats and smear the water with white ice bits for miles.

Over time, ice melts below the big icebergs, enough to clear that 800-foot-deep speed bump. Freed from the fjord, they float into the open ocean, propelled now by powerful currents.

But this traffic jam had long given OMG fits. The NASA crew needed space in the water to drop their probes, and sometimes the bergs were bumper to bumper. A few days before, they’d found an opening to drop a probe. But it didn’t broadcast any data. Now they were back for another try.

And Willis badly wanted the measurements, in part because of what they’d discovered a few years before. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 12:46 pm

A powerful post on Reddit that shows the importance of kindness

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The longer I live, the more I see the importance of kindness. Read this post.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 10:37 am

The Gut Microbiome and the Brain

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Jackie Power writes for the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health:

On Calliope Holingue’s Twitter profile, one of her descriptors is “obsessed with the gut-brain connection.”

It’s a statement that she can back up: Her research centers on the gut-brain link in autism. She teaches the Summer Institute course Mental Health and the Gut. And as a teen, she began to explore the gut-brain connection on her own, years before “microbiome” became a household word.

Holingue, PhD ’19, MPH, has lived with obsessive compulsive disorder since early childhood, and started developing increasingly disabling gastrointestinal problems in high school.

Her medical doctors weren’t much help, so she sought solutions on her own.

“They viewed my GI issues as purely a psychiatric issue, so they would say, ‘This is anxiety, this is stress. You just need to relax and you’ll feel better,’” she recalls. “But I didn’t think that the stress and anxiety explained everything. I’d have crippling pain or severe reactions to food even when I was not stressed at all.”

Eventually diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, she embarked on a years-long process to improve her health. After lots of trial and error with probiotics, different diets, and mindfulness, she’s now in a much better place emotionally and physically, though the journey is an ongoing one.

Along the way, she channeled her knowledge of the field into graduate study and research, and joined the faculty at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, where she’s exploring the gut-brain connection.

A TWO-WAY STREET

Trillions of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, protozoa, and fungi—at least as many as the number of human cells in our bodies and weighing approximately four pounds—inhabit the intestinal tract.

Collectively known as the gut microbiome, these microbes help us metabolize nutrients and protect us from harmful bacteria and toxins. They have also drawn intense study by scientists like Holingue eager to understand the microbiome’s connection to mental health. In addition to microbes, the gut-brain axis involves the vagus nerve, hormones, immune cells, neurotransmitters, and metabolites, all of which work together to allow the bidirectional communication between the gut and brain.

“The take-home message in everything we study is the arrow goes both ways,” says Glenn J. Treisman, MD, PhD, the Eugene Meyer III Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “The brain affects your gut. The gut affects your brain. The microbiome affects your gut, which affects your brain. The brain affects your gut, which affects your microbiome.”

Disruptions to the gut microbiome, say by infection or a change in diet, can trigger reactions in the body that may affect psychological, behavioral, and neurological health. For example, reactions such as the overproduction of inflammatory cytokines or slowed production of neuroactive metabolites have been implicated in depression.

2020 review of research on depression and the gut microbiome noted that generally, people with depression have a less diverse gut microbiome, with higher levels of bacteria associated with inflammation, like Bacteroidetes, and decreased levels of bacteria associated with anti-inflammation, like Firmicutes.

“There’s been hundreds of studies at this point looking at various psychiatric and brain disorders and linking them with the gut microbiome,” says Holingue. “I feel like we’re in the place where the human genetics field was maybe 10 years ago. We’re drowning in associations and trying to figure out what does this mean, what is causing what, and what do we do with this information?”

Untangling the complex associations offers the tantalizing prospect of novel therapies for conditions from depression and anxiety to autism spectrum disorder.

A HAPPY MICROBIOME IS A DIVERSE MICROBIOME

The growing interest in the gut-brain axis emerged partly out of the recognition that people with psychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions tend to have more GI problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain, than the general population. It’s estimated that 50%–90% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome have a psychiatric comorbidity.

Key questions followed: Are the gut issues caused by brain disorders or is it the other way around?

A 2011 influential . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 9:36 am

Well begun: A great shave kickstarts a good day

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Sometimes — and with practice and good products, fairly often — a shave will almost resonate with “great experience.” It helps if one doesn’t use the same setup every morning. However fine the fragrance, however pleasant the razor, daily use will desensitize the shaver to the sensations of the experience so that what once was bright and distinct gradually loses it luster and becomes diim and vague. With a different setup each morning — different brush, soap, razor, and aftershave — the experience maintains a freshness even while recalling previous experience. You get both the pleasure of a fresh experience and also from the memory of previous encounters, like returning after some months to a favorite restaurant, or like encountering a friend after a long absence.

Such a shave I had this morning. Whenever I return to the Pro 48, now well broken in, I inevitably think, “What a great brush!” Phoenix Artisan’s CK-6 lather is always strikingly good, and Dapper Doc’s old-fashioned lilac & fig fragrance was again fresh and distinct to my nose, a most welcome renewal of acquaintance.

RazỏRock’s Baby Smooth is a remarkably good razor, one that delivers extreme efficiency with great comfort. Three passes left my face smooth and ready for a splash of lilac & fig fragrance. PA aftershaves have a lasting fragrance, so this one I will enjoy through the day.

If I shaved with this same setup for a week or two, the impact would lessen, and what was remarkable today would soon become ordinary and expected. Of course, people vary. Some enjoy novelty, while others find comfort in consistency. I am a novelty seeker, and for me a novel experience has sharper edges and brighter colors, and that I like. YMMV.

This morning I recalled  some inexpensive but quite good shaving sticks, and I’ll finish this week with four of them.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 8:29 am

Posted in Shaving

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