Sunday, November 19, 2017

World Toilet Day: 7 Toilets from Around the World

Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

It is November 19, World Toilet Day.

First, be grateful you have one, e.g., ceramic, sparkling, flushes easily, sanitary, convenient, and low flush.

Greta Jochem of NPR writes, To get a better idea of the range of toilets around the world, take a look at Dollar Street. It's a project that catalogs everyday objects — like toys, soap, stoves and of course, toilets — to provide a snapshot of life at different income levels across the globe.

In her piece on NPR are shown seven toilets from around the world.

And here is Dollar Street.

Taking a Look at This Land

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Jack Spencer started looking at America through the lens of a camera in 2003.

The result is a book, This Land (you can take a inside) published this year by the University of Texas Press.

Here are some images he took.

Some potential images overwhelmed him. Washington Post writer May-Ying Lam notes that "On occasion, (Spencer) encountered places where he felt there was no way to do justice to the experience of being there. 'You don't even bother with the camera. You're just completely humbled by how beautiful it is.'"

There is an essay about Mr. Spencer here.

Friday, November 17, 2017

An Award from NABT to Bertha Vazquez

Biological Evolution
Environmental and Science Education

Edward Hessler

This just in from Glenn Branch, National Center for Science Education.

"Bertha Vazquez received the Evolution Education Award for 2017 from the National Association of
Biology Teachers (NABT). Vazquez received the award at the NABT's recent conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

"The NABT award, sponsored by BEACON and BSCS, 'recognizes innovative classroom teachers and their efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution with the larger community.'"

"Vazquez teaches at G. W. Carver Middle School in Miami. and directs the Richard Dawkins
Foundation's Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science."

Mr. Branch provided these links:

About NABT's awards, visit:

For Vazquez's "Sharing the Passion for Evolution Education," visit:

And for the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, visit:

If you only have time to read one, read the last. Ms. Vazquez is remarkable in many ways. In a note to me in September she told me how TIES started.  

"We kicked off TIES together, Richard Dawkins and I. I met him a few times here locally and then talked to him at length at a private event back in 2014. I told him I had decided to start helping middle school science teachers with evolution workshops in Miami. Just on my own, with the blessing of my district supervisors. He wanted to help so he came to my middle school. We invited teachers from all over the district and I interviewed him in my school auditorium (pic attached). Hundreds of science teachers came. Then he asked me to do this nationally and he would pay me. Almost three years later, we've presented or confirmed 73 workshops in 28 states. I run a very positive project. I feel that the NCSE takes care of the creationist teachers. We focus on the good teachers in the middle, who just want good resources and content knowledge. HHMI is superb but is geared more towards high school and college. Our niche is middle school."

HHMI is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

h/t: Glenn Branch, NCSE 

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Naomi Shibab Nye.

And for some history about the humble onion see this short history from the National Onion Association.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hurricanes and Aerosols Simulation 2017


Climate Change
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

NASA has produced a simulation tracking aerosols over land and oceans for the period August 1 to November 1, 2017.

"The first thing that is noticeable," according to the release, "is how far the particles can travel. Smoke from fires in the Pacific Northwest gets caught in a weather pattern and pulled all the way across the US and over to Europe. Hurricanes form off the coast of Africa and travel across the Atlantic to make landfall in the United States. Dust from the Sahara is blown into the Gulf of Mexico. To understand the impacts of aerosols, scientists need to study the process as a global system.
"During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK."

Dust, sea salt and smoke, blowin' in the wind, all used in understanding of atmospheric physics.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Health: The Global Killer

Edward Hessler

On October 19, 2017, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet published results of a major study on global disease and premature death. The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health summary is another wake-up call on us and our relationship to the planet and to each other. It reads:

Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.

The full article is available free of charge. It is worth taking a look. Some of the numbers are numbing.

The Wiki entry on The Lancet includes the following information about this very well-known and highly regarded medical journal. It "was founded in 1823 by Thomas Wakley, an English surgeon who named it after the surgical instrument called a lancet, as well as after the architectural term 'lancet arch' a window with a sharp pointed arch, to indicate the 'light of wisdom' or 'to let in light.'" 

Wiki describes the various lancets (instruments). 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Google Doodle for November 14

Edward Hessler

Who invented the hole puncher?  How long has it been in use?

Today's Google Doodle is a celebration of the hole puncher, this "masterpiece of mechanical design and efficiency."

Today is its 131st birthday.

So punch a few holes as you sing Happy Birthday.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Physics of Bread

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

While at Microsoft, Nathan Myrvold was its Chief Technology Officer and also founded its research wing (Microsoft Research). He took the money and ran, not away, but to a new career. He opened the Cooking Lab in Seattle, part of Intellectual Ventures and returned to his scientific roots and continued growing his innovation roots.

Myrvold's first publication from the Cooking Lab was a mere six volumes long, 2438 pages, weighing in at 23.7 kilograms (~52.2 pounds) titled Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Price: $625. Visually it is stunning and the photography, if you've not seen it, may leave you wondering how the photographs were made.

Since then, Myrvold turned his attention to bread science. The new publication is 5 volumes but has more pages (2642) than Modernist Cuisine, weighs more (24.2 kilograms or ~53.4 pounds) and also includes a recipe manual. It is priced at $625.

Physicist Robert Crease has written an article about Modernist Bread and its author. The book is a meditation and is a call for experiment and innovation in break making. Here is a quote from Crease's essay. Think of it as an abstract of the book.

Myhrvold tells me he has no apologies for all the physics in the book. “One interviewer asked me what made me think I could put science in the kitchen. I said, ‘Science is always there! I only took the ignorance out!’”
So what is the ignorance that Modernist Bread is now taking out of baking?
“A lot, it turns out,” he says. “Just because a cooking practice is old doesn’t mean it’s good. In the 1970s, there was an artisinal bread movement that advocated returning to the supposedly good bread-making of the past. Nonsense! The best bread is being baked now!”
If you like bread or even if you don't, Crease's essay is fun to read and includes some pictures, too.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Field trip to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Organics Recycling Facility

CGEE Student Voice
Waste Diversion
by Jenni Abere

My class visited one of the sites where Hamline's organic waste is sent to: Interesting things: the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) Organics Recycling Facility (ORF). It was great to see where our food waste goes, and it was exciting for me to see a commercial composting facility since I am currently working on a project comparing composting with anaerobic digestion.

This ORF accepts 150,000 tons of organic waste annually, and the footprint is relatively small. There are plans to move to a larger site so they can expand their operation. They accept both residential and commercial organic waste. Each load is assessed, and if it is more than 5% contaminated, it is rejected, and the hauler has to bring it to a landfill.

The most surprising thing I learned is that they use a ratio of 25:1 for carbon and nitrogen (essentially, yard waste to food waste). This is much higher than the backyard compost and vermicompost ratio I'm used to of 2:1. It's because the large windrows don't need as much nitrogen to reach high heats. 

Temperatures and moisture levels are monitored closely throughout the process. If it's too dry, there is a drip irrigation system; if it's too wet or too hot, they use a windrow turner to fluff up and mix the compost.

The machinery is a particularly cool piece of this. All the organic waste goes through a grinder to help it break down faster. The aforementioned windrow turner straddles the ten-foot-tall windrows and rotating blades mix it up. Finished compost goes through a screener. The smallest stuff is ready for sale. The larger pieces can be returned to windrows to continue breaking down.

Another surprising thing I learned is that contamination is removed after composting, not before. Many of the windrows we saw had pieces of plastic that has floated to the top, so it looked more contaminated than it really is. In the screening process, plastic is light so it gets blown off. The ORF's residual rate of what they have to send to a landfill is less than 1% of everything they accept.

The ORF offers several finished products in addition to pure compost. Their blends (compost mixed with dirt and/or sand) are the most popular. The photo below shows their different products.

This was a great experience to see how a large composting facility operates, and I've already worked what I learned into my research paper.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fiddle Making Workshop

Edward Hessler

The jig has been up for a long time. I need to say that out loud.

It must be clear to you that I like watching people work more than working. I confess that this is partly true. What I love watching is people with brains in their fingertips.  And I love hearing people talk about their work.

This lovely film was shot at the Chicago School of Violin Making where the emphasis is on making violins by hand.  The film is short, ~ 6 minutes.  There is some sound, including music but mostly this is a meditation on human creativity and abilities.

Ah, the human touch.