Dealing with Toxic Waste

The last few weeks have been incredibly busy, what with the election, highway page updates (still in progress), and theatre (always in progress). Through it all, I’ve been accumulating News Chum to discuss, and one collection seemed particularly apt to discuss, as we deal with throwing away our post-election materials: the articles related to the disposal of toxic waste:

  • Recycling Tech Gadgets. In the old days, disposing of things was easy: you just put them in the trash can. But now, every device has some level of technology in it — meaning PCB circuit boards with rare earth metals and potential toxins. How do you dispose of all this techno-junk. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generated nearly 3.4 million tons of consumer electronics waste in 2014 and that only around 40 percent of that waste was recycled—the rest went to landfills or incinerators. The U.S. is also a top destination for e-waste from other countries—and in turn, we export much of our e-waste to places like China and India.  Here’s a useful start: 7 ways to recycle your techno-gadgets.
  • Solar Panels. If you are like me, you’ve either put solar panels on your house (or you’ve been thinking about it). But one question we don’t tend to ask: what do we do when the panels start to fail? When we need to replace them? It turns out this is a big question: although the energy is clean, solar panels decidedly are not. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel.    “Approximately 90% of most PV modules are made up of glass,” notes San Jose State environmental studies professor Dustin Mulvaney. “However, this glass often cannot be recycled as float glass due to impurities. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony.” Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook a study for U.S. solar-owning utilities to plan for end-of-life and concluded that solar panel “disposal in “regular landfills [is] not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil” and so “disposal is potentially a major issue.” California is in the process of determining how to divert solar panels from landfills, which is where they currently go, at the end of their life. But it isn’t just end of life: Panels can be broken by natural events such as earthquakes or hail, and then these chemicals can leach out. The link in this post is well worth reading.
  • Rocket Emissions. We’re all used to thinking about the pollutants that come from our automobiles. But there are other airborne sources. Jet airplane exhaust is more deadly than plane crashes, and at least under the Obama administration, the EPA recognized that airplane pollution is dangerous to people. But then there are rockets.  Every time a rocket launches, it produces a plume of exhaust in its wake that leaves a mark on the environment. These plumes are filled with materials that can collect in the air over time, potentially altering the atmosphere in dangerous ways. The risk is less greenhouse gasses, and more tiny particles that are produced inside the trail. Small pieces of soot and a chemical called alumina are created in the wakes of rocket launches. They then get injected into the stratosphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that begins six miles up and ends around 32 miles high. Research shows that this material may build up in the stratosphere over time and slowly lead to the depletion of a layer of oxygen known as the ozone. The ozone acts like a big shield, protecting Earth against the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. However, the magnitude of this ozone depletion isn’t totally known. Here’s an interesting article from The Verge that explores the issue of rocket exhaust pollution;  I’m pleased to say that the researcher mentioned is a co-worker (although in a completely different area).
  • Plastics. Plastics are a big concern to me. Stop and think about how much you depend on plastic everyday, from the cars you drive, the medicine you receive, the electronics you use. We can replace the oil we use for fuels in our cars with electricity, but we really don’t have a good alternative for our plastics. And yet, our disposable society throws away more and more each day; it is hard to recycle, and when you do, you don’t get the same plastics back. Boing-Boing just highlighted a recent National Geographic issue on Plastics. They noted that it shows how America became a plastic-addicted throwaway culture, and how the earth is now paying for humanity’s short-sighted sin. It really makes one think — and perhaps we should before we get that disposable take out container or plastic straw? Perhaps we should be bringing our own reusable silicon take out containers and reusable straws with us when we go out, just as we take our bags.
  • Dead Lakes. This last news chum piece isn’t something people dispose of, but it does relate to something man-made that is creating health problems as it is being disposed of — The Salton Sea. Here’s an in-depth exploration of the health issues that are arising because of the death of the Salton Sea. As the lake dries up, more and more toxic chemicals are exposed, for the lake served as the terminus of agricultural runoff. It dries, becomes airborne, and creates loads of health issues for those who live in the Imperial Valley (who often are economically depressed and can’t afford to move). Quite an interesting read.

 

Share

Who Are You? Identify Yourself!

Establishing your identity? Seems a simple thing, but it is quite complex. In the past, when our social circles were smaller, you could do it by sight or with a letter of recommendation. But today it is much harder. Here is a collection of articles all dealing with identity, and how it is changing.

 

Share

Photostat

At the end of last month, an interesting announcement crossed my RSS feeds: Xerox Cedes Control to Fujifilm, Ending Its Independence. This is a sad passing indeed, and reflects a transition of one of the seminal companies in the office automation field. Sure, the name might live on, but it won’t be the same. It will be a Kodak or a Polaroid — an echo of a company that once was great.

I have many varied memories of Xerox, from their facilities on Aviation Blvd where the ACM ’81 Conference Committee once met, to the Sex manuals around the UCLA Computer Club (which, before you put your mind in the gutter, were the manuals for the SDS Sigma 7, and SDS was later XDS, Xerox Data Systems), to (of course) all the stories about Xerox PARC.  But for most of us, the word Xerox is synonymous with one thing: copying and reproduction.

My first memory of a copier was at my parent’s office. I don’t remember the brand, but it was expensive, slow, and used rolls of special paper (plain paper copiers were a few years in the future). Nowadays, we have multifunction Xerox copiers at work that can not only copy, but scan and print. So in tribute to Xerox, here are two interesting articles:

  • How Photocopiers Work. This is an in-depth exploration of the photocopying process.
  • Why Paper Jams Persist. As long as there have been copiers, there have been paper jams. There will likely always be paper jams, because the problem of solving them is extremely hard. This article explains why.

 

Share

Technology for the Win

Here are three interesting uses of technology that I’ve seen come across my various feeds lately:

  • Cats without the Litterbox. Do you love cats for the relaxing purr, but hate cleaning litter boxes? Are you allergic to cats but still find the sound relaxing. Problem solved. The Internet has a cat, and it is ready and willing to purr just for you.
  • Travel Tips. I regularly bemoan the fact that kids these days can’t read maps. They are addicted to their GPS and navigation apps. But here’s a cool navigation thing for when you don’t have real experience: Google Maps will now tell you the best time to leave to avoid traffic to your destination.
  • Finding Counterfeits. People who operate pawn shops have a big problem: counterfeits. They have no control over their supply chain (no SCRM here), so that Gucci handbag that was brought in might not be the real thing. Luckily, technology helps. There’s now an app/camera combination that can examine a handbag (or other products) to determine their authenticity. Entrupy’s microscopic camera device is used in conjunction with the Entrupy app on a Apple device to take images of handbags, its seams, its inner fabric and any serial number or date code in the bag. Artificial intelligence algorithms analyze the images to determine authenticity, and results are received in real time. Entrupy backs up the authentication service with a financial guarantee. If a bag is deemed to be authentic and later is discovered to be fake, Entrupy will cover any financial loss. Entrupy plans to enter the shoe authentication sector next. Shoes such as Air Jordans, Yeezys and others can fetch hundreds to thousands of dollars on the resale market.
Share

Chum Stew: Interesting Links and News You Can Uze … and a bit more

Observation StewI’m home today with a cold, and I have loads of interesting news chum links that have no coherent theme, so let’s just get them out there (h/t to Andrew Ducker for a few of these). Oh, and with each, you’ll get a little bit more.:

Share

Obsolescence, Revivals, and Transitions

While planning for the various theatrical adventures over the summer, I’ve also been collecting news chum. This lunchtime collection is tied together by a common theme: obsolecence, revivals, and transitions. Every article is about one or more of those three things:

  • Cassettes. By now, most of us have gotten rid of our cassette walkmans, and would be hard-pressed to find a cassette player. Elbow has come up with a fascinating minimalist cassette player: While it grabs the cassette’s spools in its elbow arms, the hinge sits against the exposed magnetic tape. A knob on the device allows you to control playback. It comes with a small magnetic clip, allowing you to attach it to your clothes, or a bag, as well as a 3.5mm audio output, allowing you to connect your earphones, or a speaker to it. It also includes a MiniUSB port, not just for charging the Elbow, but also for allowing you to digitally extract audio from a cassette tape to your PC.
  • Bluetooth Audio. If you’re an old fart like me, you’re likely using an audio device that doesn’t support bluetooth in a world of bluetooth speakers. What to do? iClever is a small bluetooth transmitter/receiver that solves the problems. It allows one to convert any audio-producing device with a 3.5mm output into a bluetooth transmitter, and to convert any speaker/headphones with a 3.5mm connector into a bluetooth receiver. I’m going to need to remember this.
  • The MP3. NPR is reporting that the MP3 is dead — specifically, the license for the technology is no longer being issued. The article claims the replacement is the AAC (.m4a). I’m still generating MP3 (although I could switch to M4A), and Amazon only sells MP3s so I somewhat doubt this. Are any digital players no longer proving an MP3 translating CODEC. That will be the death of the MP3, not licensing rules.
  • Churches/Synagogues. In the musical 70, Girls, 70, the question is asked: What do zoos do with elephants when they die? Where do the elephants go? A similar question might be asked of a church or a synagogue: when they close, where does their stuff go? I ran into two articles address this question: the first looked at finding a new life for Jewish religious objects when a congregation closes; the second asked where does the pipe organ go when a church closes. Of course, technology isn’t all bad: I found an article on how technology can help carry on Jewish traditions.
  • School Libraries. An interesting article I found explores whether school libraries are on the path to extinction. After all, library staff is expensive, and today’s students don’t research in books. But libraries are an important tool in teaching children to read and think, and funding for libraries boils down to a wealth/class issue: Parents with the means can find the funds to support libraries, so their student have them an do better. Parents without depend on the district, and the district has other priorities. We’ve seen this many times in things like art education and field trips. The article explores how LA Unified is trying to change things.
  • Hollywood Archives. We all think technology is a boon, but is it really. It used to be easy to preserve films: get good cellulose and store it right. Now? The storage media changes ever few years, everything has to be retranslated, and not everything can be saved. This is creating a gigantic headache for the studios, and means that film isn’t the long-term media we thought it was. We have human art that survived 5000 years. When we look at our civilization in 5000 years, what of our art will still be available?
Share

A Sweet Circular News Chum, with Raisins

round challah userpicIt’s Rosh Hashanah afternoon (L’Shana Tovah to all), and I’m exhausted from the morning. Yet I have a bunch of news chum to post. Let’s see if we can braid it into something sweet and circular, coming back by the end to where I started. This time, we’ll just give headlines and a few comments.

  • The O shaped iPod? On Rosh Hashanah, you dip Apples in Honey, so where else to start but with a circular Apple product. This article describes a new circular design for the iPod Shuffle that is quite cool, if a Shuffle has enough storage for your needs.
  • The Taxonomy of Tech Holdouts. As we’re talking about iPods, here are the nine archetypes of planned non-obsolecence, from the Anachronist to the Careful Curator. I think I’m the latter.
  • Navy scuttles sailors’ enlisted rating titles in huge career shake-up. Moving from holdouts to non-holdouts. The Navy is holding on to specialist ratings no more. Effective immediately, sailors will no longer be identified by their job title, say, Fire Controlman 1st Class Joe Sailor. Instead, that would be Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Sailor.
  • New college at Onizuka Station pays homage to the ‘Blue Cube’. Moving from the Navy to their sister service, the Air Force. Those in the Bay Area might remember the blue cube, the former Onizuka AFS. It has been converted into a local college, but still plays homage to its history. The walkways leading from the parking lot to the campus are speckled with flecks of blue paint harvested from the cube. Once inside, there is the Onizuka Cafe for hungry students and the Satellite Lounge next door for relaxation and study. Two murals that previously had been inside the cube are now hung in campus hallways. One features the Challenger shuttle with a memorial poem. The other is signed by many former employees of the Onizuka Air Force Station and coincidentally features a large owl—Foothill’s mascot—with a lightning bolt in its talons.
  • An Abandoned Hospital in West Adams Has Been Filled With Fine Art. Moving from an Abandoned Air Station to an Abandoned Hospital, although this one is still abandoned. The LA Metropolitan Hospital was one of the first black hospitals, but it close a few years ago and is pending redevelopment. However, for the next month, there is an interesting art exhibit in the abandoned hospital.
  • Texas prisons ban books by Langston Hughes and Bob Dole – but ‘Mein Kampf’ is OK. A hospital is a pubic service building, and so is a prison. So here’s an interesting prison story: prisons in Texas have banned books by Bob Dole, Harriet Beecher Stowe or Sojourner Truth. But inmates are more than welcome to dig into Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” or David Duke’s “My Awakening.” The rationale: they ban offensive language or violence or sex, but not offensive ideas.
  • Palestinians’ Abbas seeks British apology for 1917 Jewish homeland declaration. Moving from Hitler to another group that doesn’t like the Jews: the Palestinians. According to the Palestinian President, Britain should apologize for its 1917 declaration endorsing the founding of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and should recognize Palestine as a state.
  • Your Samsung washing machine might be about to explode. Moving from explosive ideas to explosive washers. The problem it appears, is a defective support rod that is causing washer tubs to separate, potentially launching wires, nuts and other parts.  Boom!
  • The one step you shouldn’t skip when cooking with your cast iron pan. Moving from the Laundry Room to the kitchen, here are some tips regarding use of cast iron pans.
  • Fat Flora? Gut Bacteria Differ in Obese Kids. What do you cook in a cast iron pan? Food. And what happens if you eat too much food? You get fat. Researchers have found that obese children have a different population of microorganisms living in their intestinal tracts, compared with lean children. These microorganisms appear to accelerate the conversion of carbohydrates into fat, which then accumulates throughout the body, the researchers said.
  • Attack of the plastic eaters: Can mushrooms, bacteria and mealworms save the planet from pollution? Speaking of bacteria, it runs out they may be the solution to accumulating plastic. As it turns out, nature might offer us the solution to our man-made problems. Scientists around the world are harnessing — in test tubes, under glass domes, and within large bioreactors — the power of living things that can digest plastic without suffering harm.
  • Inside Arizona’s Pump Skimmer Scourge. Of course, if you’re in Arizona, you should keep a close eye on your plastic — not due to bacteria, but criminals that are doing a lot of skimming of gas and other credit cards.
  • Why the Hallmark Card Company Owns Thousands of Priceless Artworks. Plastic, of course, refers to a credit card, and who is one of the largest purveyors of greeting cards? Hallmark. Here’s the history of Hallmark, and why the company owns lot of priceless art.
  • UC Berkeley mascot Oski celebrates 75th birthday. Of course, you send greeting cards on an anniversary, and it just so happens that Oski, the mascot of UC Berkeley, is celebrating an anniversary — his birthday.
  • Horses can communicate with people using symbols. Oski is a bear, and another type of animal is a horse. It turns out that twenty three horses learned to tell trainers if they wanted to wear a blanket or not. Subjects were shown three symbols: a horizontal bar to say “I want a blanket”, a blank square for “No change”, and a vertical bar for “I don’t need a blanket”. They learned the meanings in a day or two and using them to convey if they were too warm or too cold, building the case for self-awareness.

Of course, a square is a simple polygon, and if you keep adding sides to a polygon infinitely, you end up with a circle. An a circle, of course, is the shape of the new iPod Shuffle, which permit us to spiral back to where this post began. Of course, circles and spirals are the shape of a round Challah, which we dip in honey as we wish EVERYONE a happy and healthy new year. May you all be written and inscribed for the happiest of years.

Share

Clearin’ of the Links: Science, Technology, and Medicine Chum

userpic=mad-scientistI’m still working on clearing out the links that accumulated during the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), with a goal of getting them all done before you take off for the Fourth of July weekend. I may already be too late. Here’s a chunk that are loosely related to science, medicine, and technology:

Medicine Chum

  • Understanding Migraines. One of the ills that plague me are migraines (which, luckily for me, are mild compared to what others get). No one knows precisely what triggers migraines, or how the various abortives work. Some think it is related to nerves in the head, and some think it is related to blood flow.  A new genome-wide association study published in Nature Genetics suggests that a migraine may primarily stem from problems with the blood supply system. This could lead to new ways to treat migraines.
  • More Than Human. We’re discovering more and more than the human organism is much more than the human organism — that is, much of what contributes to our health or lack thereof is our microbiome. Further, our overfocus on being “germ-free” has significantly hurt our biome, and may be the single largest contributor to our various health maladies — including obesity. Here’s another biome story — this time, the involvement of the biome with what has been called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Specifcally, researchers say they’ve found biological markers of the illness in the blood and gut bacteria of people with systemic exertional intolerance disease (SEID) (a/k/a CFS). Their results were published in the journal Microbiome. In this study, found clear differences between the blood and guts of healthy versus sick people. Compared to healthy controls, people with ME/CFS had weaker and less diverse bacterial ecosystems in their guts, as well as higher levels of immune inflammation in their blood. These differences were so clear that the researchers were able to spot nearly 83 percent of the time which participants had ME/CFS just by looking at their bacterial and immune response results.
  • Being Like Everyone Else. If everyone else did something with no proven medical benefit for medical reasons (like, for example, overusing bacterial soap), would you do it? A study that is unsurprisingly proving very viral on social networks is highlighting one such thing: most women these days are “preparing for the Olympics” for claimed medical benefit, when there is none (where “preparing for the Olympics” == “going Brazilian” == removing hair on their … == insert your own euphemism here). My attitude, for whatever it is worth, is that women are their most beautiful when they look like women — not airbrushed models or pre-pubescent girls — but women – with imperfections and hair and some parts large and some parts small and some parts inbetween. While we’re on that subject (and while we’re clearing links), here’s an article I found on two-piece suits for large chested ladies. What bothered me about that article is that the chest was the only part that was large. Why weren’t there two-pieces for ladies who happened to be large in other places as well? As it is, an article like that is just perpetuating body dismorphic ideas, just like shaving everywhere does.
  • How Old is Your Body? I’m 56. Recently, I’ve been wondering if there is any part of my body that has been with me all 56 years. So I was quite pleased to see an article come across my feeds that asked the same question: How old is your body? What component of your body has been around the longest time? For example: brand new fingernails every six months, 2-7 years for the hair on our heads, new skeletal muscles every 15 years. But those neurons in your brain? Never replaced.

Technology Chum

  • Automotive Security. We were having a discussion on our van this morning about car security, specifically how some thieves are collecting automotive RFID signals, and then going around parking lots broadcasting them, unlocking cars, and stealing stuff inside. I had noted how cars are generally better protected against theft, and how entertainment units are less likely to be stolen than radios of old. Another rider pointed out, however, that the keyless ignition cars are easier to steal. In general, our cars are weak in terms of security — so it is good at the Senator is pushing to increase cybersecurity protections in cars.
  • LED Streetlight Dangers. More and more cities are going to LED streetlights because they use less energy and are brighter. Now the AMA has come out with some cautions on LED lighting: cool it and dim it. The AMA’s statement recommends that outdoor lighting at night, particularly street lighting, should have a color temperature of no greater than 3000 Kelvin (K). Color temperature (CT) is a measure of the spectral content of light from a source; how much blue, green, yellow and red there is in it. A higher CT rating generally means greater blue content, and the whiter the light appears. The new “white” LED street lighting which is rapidly being retrofitted in cities throughout the country has two problems, according to the AMA. The first is discomfort and glare. Because LED light is so concentrated and has high blue content, it can cause severe glare, resulting in pupillary constriction in the eyes. Blue light scatters more in the human eye than the longer wavelengths of yellow and red, and sufficient levels can damage the retina. This can cause problems seeing clearly for safe driving or walking at night. It can also affect our sleep cycles and rhythms (which is why many people recommend using f.lux to turn down the blue on your screens in the evening).
  • Tweaking Your Facebook Feed. Many of us who came from LJ miss the days of a sequential feed, where you know you could catch up on your friends. Facebook has never been quite the same. But Facebook is now providing some details on how to tweak your feed. First, they’ve disclosed their news feed algorithm, which will now show posts from friends higher up in the feed than posts from Pages like news outlets. Based on these new values, there are now some specific tweaks that you can do to make your newsfeed what you want it to be.

Science Chum

Science People In the News

  • New Position: Steve Isakowitz. The Aerospace Corporation (my employer) has announced the selection of a new corporate President and soon-to-be CEO: Steve Isakowitz, former President of Virgin Galactic. Iskowitz is also a former CTO of Virgin Galactic. Previously, he held a wide variety of senior engineering, business, and management roles across the private and government sectors, including positions at NASA, the Office of Management and Budget, the Intelligence Community, and the Department of Energy. He replaces Wanda Austin, who has reached the corporate age limit for VPs and above.
  • Passing: Simon Ramo. Simon Ramo, the “R” in TRW, has passed away.  Ramo shaped California aerospace and the space industry through organizations like TRW, and I should note that he is responsible for the company I work at: The Aerospace Corporation is actually an FFRDC spin-off of STL, Space Technology Laboratories, which went on to become TRW.
  • Passing: Steve Walker. Word came to me Thursday morning of the passing of Steve Walker, one of the seminal people in the field of cybersecurity. The formal obituary and funeral arrangements haven’t been published; I found a bio here. We’ll get something up on the ACSA In Memorium page as soon as we can.

 

Share