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Friday, May 26, 2017

Spring smells


    One of the enjoyable benefits of going out early in the morning in Spring for a run is that you get to experience the smells of Spring.   From the sweet smells of honeysuckle and other flowers to the earthy smells of fungus and rotting wood the Spring provides our sense of smell with a lesson on the diversity of nature.   With our heavy wooded areas in and around Columbia we have many places to experience these smells.  On this holiday weekend take time to enjoy this early morning experience that will all come to pass too soon.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

And you thought it couldn't get weirder

Where is Harry Potter??  I kept waiting for Trump's hair sprayed hair to stand up like at the Maryland Science Center exhibit on static electricity.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Annual cicadas post

     We seem to have a new abundant crop of cicadas this past week as seen in the pictures above.  I counted a dozen on the tire of one of our vehicles.  It is fascinating to understand how they all know to come out of the ground at the same time.  Here is what I found out:

“The year of cicada emergence is cued by what I and others believe to be an internal molecular clock,” she said. “The clock is most likely calibrated by environmental cues that signify the passage of a year, such as the trees leafing out, changing the composition of the xylem fluid on which they feed. The molecular clock keeps track of the passage of years. The accumulation of 13 or 17 years triggers the emergence of fifth instar nymphs. The day of emergence is triggered by accumulated ground temperature. This was demonstrated by James Heath in a study published in 1968.”

My colleagues and I hypothesize a molecular clock in periodic cicadas that somehow keeps track of the years,” he said. “That is what we’re looking for now. We suspect it is tied to yearly cycles of the trees they are feeding upon.”

In 2007 in Cincinnati, it was warm in January but there was a hard freeze in February, and then a normal spring, which caused maple trees to produce two leaf sets that year. Hundreds of cicadas feeding on those trees emerged a year early, after the trees produced 17 leaf sets in 16 years.

During years when they are set to emerge, the time of year is determined by soil temperature.

“Emergence is temperature driven,” said Dr. Kritsky. “During the last emergence in our area, I planted temperature probes in the ground all over campus to track the emergence. The cicadas emerged over a period of two weeks after the soil temperature reached 65 °F (18 °C).”

   Roasted cicadas anyone?  They are gluten free!


Monday, May 22, 2017

44 years ago in US history repeating itself?


     For those of you who are two young to remember 44 years ago this week the Senate Watergate Hearings were starting.  Testimony at this set of hearings revealed the taping system at the White House that ultimately led to the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox by President Nixon.  Those tapes eventually were turned over to the Committee and they provided the "smoking gun" that led to the Nixon resignation.
     I was working at a hospital in Washington DC at the time and I remember getting up after working the evening shift to having breakfast and watching the hearings that were being held live on TV.   PBS even ran the tape of the hearings every evening.  Everyday we waited to see what new revelations would come out of that day's hearings.  John Dean, Bob Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman and finally Alexander Butterfield's testimony started to fill in the pieces that led to Nixon's impeachment because of his obstruction of justice.
       I can't help but having a sense of deja vu when I watch the news this past week.  Another firing to stop an investigation, hints of a taping system, former National Security Chief claiming the 5th and Trump bragging about the firing to his Russian friends and thinking this might end the investigation.  At least Nixon never admitted his obstruction of justice.  Can't wait for the testimony of former FBI Chief Comey after Memorial Day.  You can bet I will be watching the TV that day.

      We know that with the Republicans in control of Congress it will be difficult to move too far toward impeachment but the Republican dam might be cracking just a little bit.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cost of college explained

     The United States came out of World War II with the commitment to providing college educations to veterans and those unable to afford the cost.  This trend continued through most of the 1960's and 1970's.  Costs at public colleges was heavily subsidized.  I was a beneficiary of this reality when I only had to pay $500 a semester in both undergraduate and graduate college.  Easy to obtain scholarships allowed me to graduate with money in the bank from working summers and no debt.

     Just at a time when a higher education is needed more than ever the reality is that funding for college is falling behind the cost of college.  Student loan debt in the United States is now second to only mortgage debt.  Students now owe more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt.  Here is a link to explain why student debt is so high.   Some countries provide free college educations.  New York is now poised to be the only state to offer a free public college education
      This trend doesn't seem likely to change as long as our priorities for funding seem to be misdirected.