Friday, August 22, 2014
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Nashua;67.0;;2014-08-22 19:34:41

The graphics are good at Exeter UFO Festival, even if the information's a bit suspect


Part of the very fine logo of the Exeter UFO Festival.

New Hampshire's Seacoast has been a UFO hotbed for many years, dating back at least to Betty and Barney Hill (the nation's first alien abductees, as a state historical marker points out).

You can celebrate this heritage with the Exeter UFO Festival, set for Aug. 30. It will have several professional UFOlogists, to use their preferred term, and other fun stuff.

Judging from their very fine logo, they don't take themselves too seriously (as they shouldn't, I would add).

Except on Cape Cod, courts are rejecting the idea of 'wind turbine syndrome'

The news and advocacy site Climatecentral reports that a study of 49 court cases in five countries involving claims of "wind turbine syndrome" - the claim that there's something specific about the acoustic patterns caused by spinning wind turbines that causes medical issues - in several countries and found only one where the courts agreed with the complaining party. (Read the whole story here.)

Tthe one instance where neighbors succeeded in hobbling wind turbine operations was in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth, Mass. A government board sided last year with neighbors, including a Vietnam War veteran recovering from PTSD, who said they were sickened by a pair of town-owned wind turbines. The turbines were installed in 2010 to power a wastewater treatment plant and to sell excess electricity onto the local utility’s grid.

As the Boston Globe reported, even wind-farm fans say those turbines were badly located and didn't fight the shutdown.

Large, industrial operations - including wind turbines - make noises that can be irritating, interfere with sleep, and bother folks. Flicker, in which a setting or rising sun "flickers" when seen through the turning arms of a trubine, is also irritating. Developers shouldn't be allowed to slap up wind farms wherever their profit will be highest without considering the effects on others.

But that isn't the same thing as claiming turbines are inherently unhealthy in some specialized "syndrome" way.

The nocebo effect, in which a patient can be convinced that something benign is making them sick, could be responsible for many of the health complaints associated with wind turbines. So, too, the scientists wrote, could be the annoyance and worries that some people experience when unwanted turbines go up in their neighborhoods. ... “There’s really nothing else about wind turbines that’s unique to wind turbines that would be expected to cause any adverse health impacts,” Whitfield Aslund said.

U.S. agrees with wikipedia: Humans can't copyright a monkey's "selfie" 


Copyright or no, it is a great photo.

ArsTechnica reports on the latest step in an important story, that of the monkey selfie:

United States copyright regulators are agreeing with Wikipedia's conclusion that a monkey's selfie cannot be copyrighted by a nature photographer whose camera was swiped by the ape in the jungle. The US Copyright Office, in a 1,222-page report discussing federal copyright law, said that a "photograph taken by a monkey" is unprotected intellectual property.

Wikipedia says the public, not the photojournalist, owns the rights to ape's pic.

"The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit," said the draft report.

Note that it is ArsTechnia, not me, who thinks "ape" and "money" are synonyms. The animal in question is a crested black macaque monkey ... definitely not an ape.

Why is small solar power booming, but small-scale wind power isn't?

Small-scale solar power is booming but small-scale wind power is a dud. I've always assumed this is because of technology: Wind power scales by size (bigger rotor arms = much more power) and wind currents near the ground or buildings are erratic and thus inefficient (as the Boston of Museum found).

Factor in the cost of wear and tear that wind turbines encounter compared to solar panels, and small-scale wind doesn't make economic sense. Build giant turbines atop mountains or out at sea, put solar panels on your roof.

But maybe I gave up too soon. As I learned from this Greentech Media report, there are efforts to resurrect the small-wind category, as much through new financing and manufacturing methods as through techy breakthroughs. Pika Energy of Maine has gotten $700,000 from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study both ways to "improve the manufacturing process for its wind turbines to reduce cost," and how to "scale up key turbine components to capture more energy."

I'd love to have a cool-looking, power-generating turbine on my property, if I didn't think it was a waste of money. I'm rooting for them.

As I told you in June: Fly no drones over the Appalachian Trail!


The AT crossing N.H. Route 112. It was pretty nippy the day I took this - nippy, but lovely. Winter hiking is the best.

The National Park Service has made clear something that I reported in late June (my Telegraph column here, my NHPR piece here): You can't fly drones over the Appalachian Trail.

The Park Service doesn't like drones because they destroy the wilderness experience, and morons do things like crash them into a hot springs pool at Yellowstone National Park. They announced in June that drones would be banned from parks, but since New Hampshire has no national parks it didn't seem to affect us.

However, as I found out, the park service also banned them in non-park places it oversees - like the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish - and, yes, the Appalachian Trail, although nobody I talked to then had really throught about that point.

Now they have: The Park Service has just issued an interim rule that bans "launching, landing or operating unmanned aircraft from or on Appalachian National Scenic Trail lands," reports AP.

As I said at the time: "If you were planning to fly your nifty remote-controlled aircraft between, say, Loon Mountain and Cannon Mountain, think again."

Study finds sea plankton, of all things, living on the surface of the space station  

It's pretty obvious that nothing can survive long when exposed in space, what with vacuum, radiation, cold, zero gravity and the like.

Or maybe not. As the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reports:

"We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface. This should be studied further,” chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev said. He noted that it was not quite clear how these microscopic particles could have appeared on the surface of the space station.

Panspermia (the idea that life was carried to Earth on space debris) no longer seems so far-fetched.

Nor does Space Ghost.

UNH tackles analysis of strawberry DNA, with its eight (eight?!?) sets of chromosomes


UNH photo: Lise Mahoney, a doctoral student in plant biology at UNH, demonstrates how DNA samples of strawberry plants are prepared for analysis.

By Lori Wright, UNH News Service:

At the NH Agriculture Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA), scientists have been instrumental in helping breed better strawberries using genetics to determine which strawberries have the best combinations of qualities.

Geneticist Tom Davis and his team of researchers, including bioinformaticist Hailong Zhang and graduate students Lise Mahoney, David Wood, and Yilong Yang, have played an integral role in developing the IStraw90 SNP Array. The array is a powerful tool that allows strawberry breeders to use the DNA of strawberries to select plants with potentially superior combinations of the genes that influence traits of interest, such as disease resistance and fruit taste.

The array, which allows breeders to look at 90,000 different DNA features known as molecular markers, is manufactured by biotechnology company Affymetrix of Santa Clara, Calif.

The United States is the world’s leading producer of strawberries. In 2012, the United States produced more than 3 billion pounds valued at $2.4 billion, according to the USDA. Most U.S. strawberries are grown in California.

Becky Sideman, associate professor of plant biology and UNH Cooperative Extension professor and specialist in sustainable horticulture production, estimates the retail value of New Hampshire’s strawberry crops at about $1.85 million, which she says is a conservative estimate.

Prior to the advent of the marker-assisted approach, breeders had to rely only on the evaluation of traits, while having little or no knowledge of the underlying genetic composition. Yet evaluation of traits can be costly and time-consuming.

For example, if a breeder wants to determine which two of 1,000 strawberry plants are the most resistance to a certain disease in order to crossbreed them, Davis explained that the breeder would have to infect each of those plants with the disease organism to see which plants get sick or die, and which remain healthy. This screening process is laborious, and must be performed under carefully controlled conditions, such as in a specifically equipped greenhouse.

“The reason that a certain plant may be resistant to a disease is because it has a certain form of a gene, which we call an allele. There may be multiple alleles that contribute to that resistance. These DNA tests give us the ability to test the plant by taking just a little piece of leaf tissue to see which plants have these alleles needed to be resistant to a disease,” Davis said. “Thus, the plants can be rated for their capacity to resist a disease without ever exposing them to the disease organism.”

After determining which strawberry plants have the desired alleles, a breeder can then cross-breed them and grow the next generation of her crop. This cycle can be repeated for each generation of strawberry plants – evaluating the diversity of that generation of plants using genetics, crossing, pollinating, and selecting.

“This brings into play economies of scale that didn’t exist before,” Davis said. “Breeders are always trying to find that best plant, yet many different qualities must be evaluated. With the IStraw90 Array, the genes influencing dozens of different traits can be evaluated simultaneously, allowing breeders to more quickly sort through their populations of plants, which saves time and effort.”

The strawberry is among the most genetically complex plants, with eight sets of chromosomes. In comparison, humans have two sets of chromosomes – one set inherited from each parent. Not surprisingly, it has taken scientists longer to develop DNA analysis tools for strawberry than for some other crop plants and domesticated animals. Therefore, design and release of the IStraw90 array is a major achievement.

Considered among the leading scientists worldwide conducting this kind of research, Davis and scientists in his lab are part of a broad USDA/NIFA-funded international research effort, RosBREED, to develop marker-assisted breeding for a variety of produce that are part of the Rosaceae family, which includes apples, peaches, cherries, and strawberries. The NH Agricultural Experiment Station has played a significant role in funding Davis’s work at UNH.

3D print a 2 million-year-old skull - at Milford library or elsewhere


The 3D file for printing a replica of the 2 million-year-old skull of a Taung child - from Radiolab's Thingiverse page.

After doing a column about the new 3D printer at Milford public library (read it here) I stumbled on a great example of the use of "additive manufacturing":

The public radio show Radiolab did a story about a 2 million-year-old skull found in South Africa that helped establish humanity's ancestry in that continent. As part of it, they put up a CAD file of the skull on their Thingiverse page; you can download it and print it out, so you can hold a three-dimensional model of the skull in your hands while listening to the story.

This is more than just cool: Details of the skull, including little marks in the back of the eye sockets (!) helped establish the history of the child, including the fact that he or she was killed by an eagle, not a big cat or another human. The 3D model helps you see and feel those details.

As I said, very cool. Here's the Radiolab site about the skull, with a link to the 3D file. You could even print it out at the Milford library.

Gentlefolks, start your tools: The state's only Maker Faire returns this Saturday


The DoverMini Maker Faire, at the Children's Museum of NH in Dover, returns this Saturday, Aug. 23. Tickets are $10 in advance, via the website. It will have the obligatory drones, Lego stuff and Star Wars references, and also:

  • A kid-powered, hand-cranked ride-on car that runs on rails made of PVC conduit.
  • A solar powered misting system, from ReVision Energy’s solar-charged Nissan Leaf,
  • Northern Self Reliance of Maine that builds biomass gasifier systems, which convert wood chips and pellets into syngas,
  • A seedbomb workshop

More details are here.

I wrote about the first one last year for The Telegraph.

Talking about ticks and Lyme disease on NHPR - the magic of radio

Yes, that was me this morning talking about ticks and Lyme disease with Laura Knoy, the host of New Hampshire PUblic Radio's "The Exchange" talk show. But I wasn't at the station's fancy studio in Concord - I was slogging away here in grubby newspaper land. It was a repeat.

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.


Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: Wednesday, September 17 (we take the summer off)

TOPIC: Marijuana, the biology of what it does and doesn't do to us.

Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).


Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"


Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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