Astronaut Ice Cream – Better Than Ever #astronauts #icecream

Astronaut Ice Cream freeze dried sandwichYou can still get astronaut ice cream. I remember this from my misspent youth (all youth is misspent, just ask us old farts.)

I seem to remember flat squares of freeze-dried ice cream. This latest version really looks exactly like an ice cream sandwich.

It’s sweet and bland. Ben and Jerry’s has nothing to fear. The real treat is how it melts in your mouth, which is weird because it’s actually a bit hard to break. I think the flat, mouth-sized squares would work better in space because this sandwich makes crumbs. Crumbs are bad in zero-g from what I read – they clog up the air filters.

You can buy freeze-dried ice cream in many places. Mountain House makes it for backpackers, and craft stores carry it as an ice cream novelty. Amazon of course has various sized packages,

But if there’s not an astronaut on the package… Well! It’s just not the same at all. Better yet, get it from the NASA gift shop. Hmm. I bet that’s run by some contractor who has definitly never put anyone into space. BTW, the manufacturers admit the current treats were not developed for Apollo misisons and, apparently, don’t travel to the ISS either… because of those crumbs I bet. Still – fun.

Comic Books Are Good For Your Brain! I always knew it #comics #brainhealth #neurology

Perhaps the first comic character from 1884

Perhaps the first recurring character in comics – cover to 27 December 1884 edition

My parents were easy to get along with. They pretty much let me read whatever I wanted. But for some reason, my mother was certain that comics would rot my mind.

But guess what? Comics and graphic novels are good for you, maybe especially for those of us who struggle with reading, because

Not all literacy is textual, or even grounded in a verbal language… [comics] tell sophisticated stories through multimodal cues that stimulate similar processes to the human brain mapping the world around it. Combinations of words, images, color, spatial layout, gutters, sound effects, panel composition, body language, and facial expressions are all used to convey meaning. Yahoo

Yeah – like all those words say. If only Mom had known.


Warning for 2020: Beware the Straight Line #predictions #unexpected

Niagra Falls Hydroelectric Plant

Hydroelectric plant near the US/Canadian border. This one’s been around so long that the original generating facility is on the US National Register of Historic Places

If you predict that tomorrow’s weather will be like today’s, you’ll have a good accuracy rate, but no one will want you for their forecaster. You’ll miss all the changes!

People tend to extrapolate. It’s easy to see a straight line extending into the future. But even when we try to take lots of factors into account, we get it wrong.

America’s energy sources, like booming oil and crumbling coal, have defied projections and historical precedents over the last decade… Coal-fired power is plummeting and natural gas has risen significantly… EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration) had projected in 2010 that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would continue rising. In fact, they dropped.

The experts got it wrong because they failed to foresee a combination of technological and political changes. They’ll get things wrong again because change never stops, the world is complex, and no solution is perfect. What will we be shaking our heads over in 2030?

It’s not just global energy markets that change. Name any field you care about. Healthcare? Archeology? Agriculture? Physics? Birdwatching? Football? Continental drift? Origin of birds? It’s easy to scoff at expert pronouncements, but you and I are likely to see beliefs we thought were rocks turn to sand.

Some people change their mind when new information arrives. What do you do?


Astronomers are all atwitter #Betelgeuse #astronomy #sciku #poetry #poem

artist's rendering of star BetelgueseBetelgeuse grows dim
Is the supernova blast
On its way to Earth?

by Kate Rauner, with thanks to

Betelgeuse is a bright star in Orion, a constellation many folk can find. Right now, in the northern hemisphere, Orion dominates the winter night sky. Betelgeuse has  dimmed and brightened before, but this is especially notable. It’s supposed to be detectable with the unaided eye. Hmm. When my current snow storms clear out, I’ll have to bundle up and check.

PS: Don’t worry. Betelgeuse is 642.5 light years away. If it goes supernova, it will be way cool to observe (even visible in the daytime) but not dangerous to life on Earth. As far as we can tell.

diagram of constellation Orion

Merry Christmas #MerryXmas #MerryChristmas2019

Spock Xmas Ornament

Chow Down on Chinese Food – it’s okay #restaurant #msg #history #chemistry

American Chinese buffet

I’ll have you know that my local buffet includes vegetable too. Yes! Something green!

Will you, like many of my east-coast American-Jewish friends, plan your Christmas Day dinner at a Chinese restaurant? Maybe you’ve heard that MSG is commonly used in Chinese food and is bad for you. Maybe you think you’ve felt the effects. Maybe it’s not the MSG.

MSG naturally occurs in many foods, so much so that the average adult diet includes 13 grams of it every day. It’s also a primary neurotransmitter in our brains, playing critical roles in nutrition, metabolism and signaling. It’s so ubiquitous that nobody gets away from it; it’s throughout your body naturally, and it would scarcely be possible to concoct a protein-containing meal free of it.

Read the entire article to learn how this common, tasty, and useful little molecule ended up with a bad reputation. Then consider:

Nobody goes into a steakhouse or an Italian restaurant and requests “No MSG,” they only do it in Chinese restaurants; which makes no sense. If you, like many people around the world, suffer symptoms reliably when you eat a meal with added MSG, consider talking to a doctor or a registered dietitian. You may indeed have some food sensitivity; however, be ready for the news that it’s not what you thought it was.

Merry Christmas.


Blue Energy Future One Step Closer – this could be big #climate #energy #chemistry

New York City's Verazzano Narrows

The principal channel by which New York’s Hudson River empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Global warming and climate change are baked (haha) into our future, but we shouldn’t make it worse. What we need – for the climate, for economic equality – is lots of clean, cheap energy.

Where fresh water rivers meet salty oceans there’s the potential to generate lots of electricity. A large percentage of us humans live in coastal areas, often where rivers create trade routes to the ocean, so generating power there would be handy.

Just pump positive ions from salt water across a membrane into fresh water, pop in electrodes, and bingo! You’ve got electricity. But creating the necessary membrane cell has been elusive. Whatever scientists tried has been too expensive… until now.

Researchers recently made a huge step forward. If the membrane is made of carbon nanotubes that are magnetically aligned, the ions willingly jump right through them, self-separating into the two needed solutions. Getting carbon nanotubes is easy, but aligning them is very hard. This team figured it out, making a 4X improvement on the previous state of the art. Brian Dunning writing about this discovery.

Semih Cetindag, a Ph.D. student in the lab of mechanical engineer Jerry Wei-Jen Shan at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, reported that their team has “cracked the code.” They use nanotubes. The trick was coaxing the tubes into magnetic alignment. That took a couple steps, and they need to make improvements, but… this could work.

Yee ha. I try not to get too worked up over lab studies, but this one’s hard to ignore. Let’s keep our fingers crossed (unless you’re working on this problem – then, get your tail into the lab!)