Sunday, March 1, 2015
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Nashua;0.0;;2015-03-01 05:56:01

LED lights find a big new market: Marijuana growers (maybe other farmers, too) 


With LED lights you can closely stack trays with growing crops. Photo by The Asahi Shimbun/Getty, via New Scientist.

The push to legalize marijuana could help the LED lighting industry, reports Greentech Media:

The overall LED grow-light module market is expected to move from $395 million in 2013 to $3.6 billion by 2020, according to WinterGreen Research. That upward trend will largely be driven by weed. One LED startup, Intelligent Light Source, is targeting the legal (and perhaps indirectly, the not-so-legal) grow ops of individuals and businesses with lights that are tailored to help them get the most from their bud.

But New Scientist has a wet-blanket look at using LEDs indoor to grow conventional crops. Despite the fact that tailoring LED lighting can produce startling output per square foot of soil, and lack of heat output means you can stack trays of herbs or lettuce or other short crops very close together, the cost and environmental impact of the electricity makes "vertical indoor farming" a bad idea most of the time, the article says. You have to be a subscriber to read it all, but it's a cautionary tale.

What will a solar ecipse due to solar power? In Europe, cut output by 400 MW per minute!

New technologies bring new problems. Here's an interesting example: Europe uses so much solar power now that the March 20 solar eclipse will be a major issue even though it only lasts a couple of hours. (The eclipse won't hit us.)

As Grist reports in a fascinating story: "The (European) grid will be losing 400 MW/minute on the front end and gaining 700 MW/minute on the back end." That means the equivalent of all the solar power in New Hampshire will shut down within five minutes, and then turn back on again in three minutes. Not trivial.

On the other hand, people also stop what they're doing and go outside to look at solar eclipses, so the demand for electricity will also dip. They have to factor that in, too.

And you thought running a power grid was easy.

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is getting so popular that there's now an online register

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has set up a voluntary online scheduling system for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, to help them know when the various shelters and campsites might be full.

Here's an explanation and the set-up. This is an amazing indication of how popular thru-hiking the 2,200-mile-long AT has become. Anybody who has stayed at AMC huts in the White Mountains in mid- to late summer, which thru-hikers clamor to trade a little dish-washing time for the chance to sleep indoors, knows how many of these tired and smelly, but focused, people exist.

The Conservancy says they expect the success of the movie "Wild", about a woman's long-distance hike, may spur more people to try it this year.

Note that you can't start south from Katahdin in Maine until May 15 at the earliest ... wonder if the snow will be gone by then?

Can real-time computer analysis make chess a good spectator sport?

Some fokls at the MIT Media Lab have a cool "playful" project in development, called DeepView, a pun on chess computer Deep Blue. They're trying to use statitics and game play analysis to provide real time charts and stats for viewers so we can better follow live games and thus enjoy it more.

It's the chess equivalent of those virtual first-down line shown on TV during football games, which make it clearer how far the team with the ball has to go and thus increases the interest and excitement from us spectators.

We gathered an archive of more than 750,000 games from including extensive collections of games played by each of the grandmasters in the tournament. We then used the Stockfish open source chess engine to analyze the details of each move within these games. We combined these results into a comprehensive statistical analysis that provided us with meaningful and compelling information to pass on to viewers and to provide to chess comentators to aid in their work.

They're also trying to develop an ongoing "score" for the game, so you have a better sense of who's ahead and how close the game is.

A very neat idea. I look forward to trying to beta.

I learned about it from this BBC item, which has a good short video interview explaining the concept, if not the geeky details.

Northeast U.S. saw "unprecedented" sea level rise in 2009-2010

"Sea level change is a complex phenomenon, especially on the regional scale, where changes to the global ocean circulation can play a major role. The east coast of North America is quite close to an area of active, fast ocean currents, and so is quite sensitive to changing ocean circulation."

That's a quote by a British professor from this BBC story about a study that says sea level along the Northeast U.S. coast - from New York City north - rose by an unprecedented amount n 2009-2010.

We laymen tend to think of the ocea as a big bathtub, with a surface that's at the same level everywhere - you know, "sea level" - and everything rises or falls in sync, but that's not at all the case. Discounting events like storms, sea level around the globe various by roughly a foot (check out this cool NOAA map) and different places are changing differently.

This study identifies a record breaking high sea level event that occurred along part of the US east coast in 2009-10. Further, it says:

"There is strong evidence that the likelihood of such events has been increased by climate change, and that we should expect more such events in the future. This example illustrates how individual extreme events are influenced by multiple factors - in this case the global rise of sea levels, regional changes in ocean circulation, and wind patterns."

The effect of rising seas on the land is even more complicated, but sometimes the land is sinking or rising independently. Much of New Hampshire is rising because we're still rebounding from the departure of Ice Age glacers 10,000 years ago. They held down the land and it's still coming back up.

(On this day last year I posted an item about how rising ocean levels were threatening Cape Cod groundwater. Must be something about Feb. 25 and sea level.)

Zealand Falls Hut wants to relicense its hydropower dam (it has a dam?) 

I've stayed at Zealand Falls Hut in the White Mountains several times, and I knew about their solar panels and little wind turbine - but I didn't realize they also had a hydropower unit. FERC has just accepted their request to relicense the dam, which is small enough that I didn't notice it while splashing around in the nearby brook.

Here's a summary of their self-generating electric components.

Here's a 1981 article from the Lewiston Daily Sun about the installation of the first such system. (Thanks, Google!)

Measles kills toddler in Germany, which is also facing an anti-vaccination push

The U.S. isn't the only country facing a resurgence of measles due to people shunning vaccines. Germany has also seen an uptick, with tragic results, reports the BBC:

An 18-month-old boy has died of measles in an outbreak of the disease that has seen authorities in Berlin register more than 500 cases since October.

The authorities have registered 574 cases, the worst outbreak in more than a decade. The federal health ministry recommends vaccinations but has not made them compulsory.

Last year, the United States had 644 cases of measles from 27 states reported to CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. This is the greatest number since measles was eradicated from the U.S. in 2000. So far this year, 154 cases have been reported - none in New England.

Did Farmer's Almanac really "win" the winter-prediction over NOAA, as the U-L said?

The Old Farmer's Almanace said this would be a cold winter with less-than average snowfall in New England. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said the nation, including New England, would be warmer than average, but doesn't predict snowfall. The Union-Leader, in a Sunday story, took this to trumpet our local publication as having beaten those pointy-headed federal folks: "Almanac vs. NOAA; Almanac wins".

Is that headline right? Well, no - and as is often the case, the story is less dogmatic than the headline.

November, December and the first half of January were warmer than average and had less snow than average - so the Almanac blew the temperature but nailed precipitation for the first part of this winter. The second half of January and Feburary have been, as we all know, way colder than average and with way more snow than average, so the Alamanc blew the precipitation but nailed the temperature.

While NOAA doesn't predict snowfall it does predict precipitation. It predicted for this winter: "The Precipitation Outlook favors above-average precipitation across ... (various places) ... and along the eastern seaboard to Maine." Combined with its "warm winter" prediction for New England, we can say that NOAA got the temperature right in the first half of winter but the precipitation wrong, but in the current half of winter it has gotten the precipitation right but the temperature wrong.

So it's a tie: Both have two of four factors right, two of them wrong.

Which isn't bad for the Dublin, NH-based Almanac, of course - hats off to them. But it's not a win.

As a side note, the Almanac predictions that are truly ridiculous are the every-few-days predictions around the country for the whole year. That's impossible, and always has been.

Many years ago - so long ago, in fact, that it's not in our digital archive - I had a local weather observer (the late Andrew Rothovius of Milford) track those short-term predictions all year long, comparing them to what really happened. Even giving the Almanac the beneft of the doubt (he used to work for them), he counted them as almost exactly 50% accurate. Not very impressive.

low normal snowfall f</</

All those snowflakes you've been shoveling lately - is each one really unique?

I was psyched to debunk the "every snowflake is unique" idea in my column this week ... and you'll never guess what happened next!

You can find out by following the clickbait.

As a retail currency, bitcoin seems to be stagnating

The long-term impact of bitcoin is likely to be the underlying technology, which allows trusted peer-to-peer transactions without a central authority. Its impact as a currency is less certain, and as Technology Review reports, it doesn't seem to be catching on for ordinary transactions:

Researchers from the U.S. Federal Reserve determined in a recent analysis that the currency is “still barely used for payments for goods and services.” Last week, nearly 200,000 bitcoins changed hands each day, on average. But fewer than 5,000 bitcoins per day (worth roughly $1.2 million) are being used for retail transactions, according to estimates. ... After some growth in 2013, retail volume in 2014 was mostly flat.

This sentence in the story is particularly telling: "Besides gambling, hoarding remains among the most popular things to do with bitcoins."

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire legislature is considering a bill that would allow bitcoin to be used to pay taxes and fees.

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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, March 18

TOPIC: Why are roads built where, and how, they are?

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



February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.


November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: 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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