Category Archives: Science

The Brain? Abby Normal


Aaron Hernandez (the late football star) is in the news because he committed suicide while in prison after he was sentenced for murder. His dead body provided shocking information that medical science was not able to discern; his autopsy showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Now, let me get this straight—it’s the twenty-first century, and instead of having flying cars (dammit!) we are just beginning to realize that if you hit someone in the head, over and over, it affects them. It impairs their judgement, causes mood swings, and inappropriate behavior.

Well, we’d better stop that—unless getting hit in the head is part of a professional sport that generates millions of dollars in revenue.

Sounds curiously like the justification for the gladiators fighting to the death in the Roman Coliseum. That, of course, pleased the crowds, but was barbaric.

We’d never stoop so low today, but, if it has major network coverage, instant replays with everything coordinated to accommodate commercial breaks, and attractive cheerleaders, it’s okay. Hell, we’ll have a dedicated section of the newspaper every day!


Being surprised that repeated head trauma causes problems is kind of like the medical logic that “if you shove an ice-pick up somebody’s nose far enough so that it reaches the brain and you wiggle it back and forth, they act differently afterward.”

Is it just me, or are we missing the blazingly obvious?

Maybe I should just shut up and bang my head against the wall repeatedly, until it makes sense.

Autumnal Equinox

Throughout the year, the time allotted to daylight each day changes. Longer times of daylight coincide with summer, which is different north and south of the equator. Summer is when the earth’s tilt favors one hemisphere or another.

Near the poles, summer daylight gets so long that at its peak there is no night; the sun just makes a circle above the horizon. Of course, in winter, that means that there are l-o-n-g nights. Even here in North America, within the lower 48 states, the difference between sunrise in Maine and sunrise in Florida on any given day can be significant. Add the difference at dusk, and you find that sunny Florida gets a shorter amount of daylight than chilly Maine.

But there are two days a year, the vernal (spring) equinox and autumnal (fall) equinox during which the amount of daylight and dark are approximately equal—approximate because you have to allow for variations due to refraction, etc. It doesn’t happen on the same date each year; the autumnal equinox, for example occurs anywhere between 21 September and 24 September.

Incidentally equinox is constructed from the Latin words for equal and night. I have to wonder why they didn’t call it equal day. Perhaps day was time for work, but the parties and other fun happened at night.

Friday, 22 September, is the autumnal equinox, when light and dark are pretty much equal. Maybe we should take some inspiration and focus on where we could be pretty much equal. For example, spending the same amount of time listening and thinking about what was said to match thinking of what we’re going to say and talking. (Don’t forget to include the time to think).

If everyone did this, it could be a celestial event of astronomic proportions.

Mother Nature and the Odds

I live in an area that has experienced hurricanes, but not since 2011. Some around here now feel that we’re free of that threat. There might be some truth, at least for a while, given that current weather trends tend to have wind shear that trim the tops of hurricanes, weakening them, and there is a natural pattern that tends to push the storms back out into the Atlantic.

We’re good, right? After all, once a weather pattern occurs, it doesn’t change—does it?

Long ago, in statistics class I was taught an interesting fact. You flip an honest coin 100 times, and it comes up heads each time. What are the odds it will come up heads on the next flip?


We’ve blamed el Nino, la Nina, butterflies in Africa, etc. I don’t think we’ve quite figured anything out.

Pondering the Eclipse


Today’s eclipse – courtesy NASA

In ancient times, an eclipse was a terrifying event. It was often interpreted as God, god, or gods anger. It was a message for people to repent and change their ways.

Naturally, we’re far too sophisticated to let a predictable passing of the moon between the sun and earth concern us. We understand science and math, physics and astrophysics.

But, then again, if you look at the state of the world today, maybe it would be good to repent and change our ways.

Football In the Future

Football Hall of Fame Re-opens

Newly remodeled Football Hall of Remembrance opens to celebrate Traumatic Brain Injury.

CANTON, OHIO 11 September 2035

Although American style football has been banned, the Football Hall of Remembrance—formerly the Football Hall of Fame—is still a popular tourist attraction. It’s remodeling was recently completed and the familiar football roof is now surmounted by an artist’s conception of traumatic brain injury. Over the front door, the entryway features a bronze relief of a player being carted off the field after, as they used to say, “Having his bell rung.”

While the exhibits still include trophies, helmets, jerseys, and other game paraphernalia, it’s the preserved brain tissue and MRI scans that are today’s favorite. Visitors can view the pathology, then try to guess to which famous player the brain once belonged. Pressing a touch screen, the player’s name, teams, scores, and number of concussions is displayed. Original plans included videos of interviews with former players, but many could no longer communicate, being content to babble incoherently, or stop mid-sentence with, “What did you just ask me?”

Taking a page from big tobacco’s playbook, the industry insisted for years that football was not dangerous; eventually there were too many injuries at the high school, university, and professional levels to ignore. Professional teams found that medical insurance costs exceeded revenues—even if the revenue from sale of team products like hats and jerseys are included. With the profits gone, most owners took their investments elsewhere. Unfortunately, this left many cities with substantial debt for stadiums they built. Many are crumbling and have been condemned because of the degree of deterioration; there’s reason to repair them and no money to tear them down. Universities initially expected a huge financial crisis, but found that the sport had actually not been a money maker, in terms of real cash, but a huge annual loss. Without football many universities were able to improve facilities and pay teachers better.

Football, is gone, but not forgotten—except by those who played the game and had their bells rung too many times.

Only a Loan

Mother Nature loans us many things, but we need to remember that they’re only a loan.

Hurricane-Katrina-FloodingNorfolk, Virginia has much of its downtown built on filled in waterways and swamps. The area already tends to flood with nor’easters, and tropical storms, but with rising sea levels, flooding is expected to happen more often. Since there are people and businesses already established in the area, government officials are exploring possibilities such as levees, flood walls, and whatever the latest technology offers to prevent loss of life and property.

I understand. Where I live used to have a moderate risk of flooding, but as more of the area was developed the waterflow reversed. Low-lying wooded areas were clear-cut, raised five feet, and houses built so that instead of absorbing the rainwater, it now flows into my neighborhood. Bummer. Maybe if I replace my lawn with rice it will work better.

Mother Nature only loans us geography. I used to live in Louisiana. Mother Nature wants to move the Mississippi River west into the Atchafalaya basin. The United States Army, Corps of Engineers have been tasked with keeping the Mississippi River where it is. They’ve been mostly successful, except for the occasional world-class disaster like Katrina. History has shown that if weather doesn’t satisfy Mother Nature’s requirements, the occasional earthquake will. The New Madrid Fault in the early 19th century caused the Mississippi to flow backward for several days and reroute itself.

These issues are not unique to Norfolk and Louisiana. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, which is built on what was the Black Swamp. Part of Downtown Chicago is built on the rubble from the great Chicago Fire, which was tossed onto the shore of Lake Michigan. Enough of Florida is built on drained swamps, or the equivalent, and so much groundwater is extracted that sinkholes routinely swallow cars or even houses.

Mother Nature loaned us these areas. I hope she doesn’t want them all back too soon.

Goodbye to an Old Friend

Long before my time, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann started a business to cater to the new field of wireless—specifically, amateur radio. They called their business Radio Shack.


Why? Ships were among the first to adopt wireless communications, and since early transmitters created a signal by generating a huge spark, there was the risk of starting a fire. To minimize risk, the radio equipment was placed on the main deck, in a separate small building, which came to be called the radio shack.

Ham radio operators (no one knows for sure why they’re called “hams”) tended to call the place where their radio station was located as the radio shack, or ham shack. Amateur radio was shut down during both world wars, but hams returned to the air as soon as it was legal to do so. The end of the Second World War provided an added advantage with huge selection of inexpensively priced military surplus radio equipment.

When I was a youngster, there were a few radio stores around town where you could buy components or tools. However, periodically the mailman would deliver a catalog from Lafayette, Allied, or Olsen Electronics. The Sears Christmas toy catalog couldn’t compete with these for the pure lust they generated. I remember building a set of Knight Kit walkie talkies, purchased from Allied.

In the late 1960s, Allied began opening stores in malls, outcompeting most the other companies, which gradually faded away. Allied purchased Radio Shack, but the combined Allied-Radio Shack was determined to be too monopolistic, and the two companies were split up. Allied became the industrial supplier while Radio Shack stayed as the retailer in the malls. Radio Shack sold things that you couldn’t find elsewhere. The TRS-80 computer was one of the first personal computers. They introduced a pocket-sized computer and one of the first laptops. Radio Shack had a niche market—the nerds—but nerds were paying $2,500 for a radio shack computer before the general population knew personal computers existed.

You could find all the parts to build a stereo from tuner to speaker wire. How about a multimeter and a soldering iron? They sold CB radios, of course, but also some ham radio transceivers. Most everything was manufactured by someone else, but carried one of Radio Shack’s brand names.

If you were working on a project and need a 47 ohm resistor (usual price, 10 cents—Radio Shack price, two dollars) you could drive to the mall on a Sunday and finish your project before dinner, even on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah, their components were overpriced, but the convenience made it worth it.

Then, one fateful day, the brainless
pencilnecks management of Radio Shack decided to sell the same products (e.g., cell phones) that you could buy for less money at Best Buy, WalMart, RiteAid, etc.

I’ve been told by Radio Shack managers that the really profitable part of the store was the parts section with those overpriced resistors, capacitors, and semiconductors. You know, the ones you could buy whenever you needed them? The parts selection went from a large section of wall to a metal cabinet with multiple drawers. I think the cabinet got smaller, but in any case, there were fewer and fewer parts available. Cell phones—no problem. Parts? Sorry.

I hear that Radio Shack is still sort of, kind of, in business, but you couldn’t prove it by me. The last local store is now empty. Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, you only hear about someone who knows someone whose brother-in-law saw one. It’s too bad—they could have coasted a few more years just on what I spent there.