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'Ballot selfies' are back in the news - ACLU sues NH to overturn law against them

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The lawsuit filed Friday, oct. 31, 2014, includes this redacted version of a photo that State Rep. Leon Rideout posted to his own Twitter feed, showing his Sept. 9 party primary ballot. Un-redated versions of the picture ran with earlier Telegraph stories about the issue.

The state chapter of the ACLU has sued over New Hampshire's strengthened law against taking a "ballot selfie" - photographing your completed ballot and posting the picture online. I write about this in today's Telegraph.

Ballot selfies will still be illegal on Tuesday's election; no emergency injunction has been requested.

I have written about this issue many times since this story in Nov. 2013 (when I made up the term "ballot selfie"), because it's fascinating.

The arguments in favor of taking the photos are pretty straightforward: It's my ballot! Free speech! Courts have better things to do with their time!

The arguments against taking them are more complicated, and are rooted in long-established laws against marking a ballot in any identifying way. Those laws were created from concern that voters might be bribed or coerced into voting certain ways if they could confirm, after the fact, that they did vote a specific way - hence laws to forbid them from confirming it. A ballot selfie is terrific confirmation.

Here's how I put it in a story in September:

This law is part of a broader theory in strategy, in which a position is indirectly strengthened by the counterintuitive process of limiting its options.

“Political democracy itself relies on a particular communication system in which the transmittal of authentic evidence is precluded: the mandatory secret ballot is a scheme to deny the voter any means of proving which way he voted,” writes economist Thomas Schelling, a Nobel laureate, in his book “The Strategy of Conflict.”

“Being stripped of his power to prove how he voted, he is stripped of his power to be intimidated. Powerless to prove whether or not he complied with a threat, he knows – and so do those who would threaten him – that any punishment would be unrelated to the way he actually voted.”

Bird migration can look like rain clouds on weather radar

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New Hampshire has some bird migration pathways - most notably the raptors that can be seen from Pack Monadnock each fall - but nothing like they have in the Midwest. This was brought home to me today on the blog maintained by the folks at CoCoRaHS, the citizen science precipitation-measuring network that I have long volunteered for.

The post discussed weird-looking cloud patterns seen on weather radar over the Illinois River that turned out to be migrating waterfowl. I also learned from the post that the Cornell University Ornithology Lab maintains a bird forcast websight called BirdCast to keep taps on such movements. Neat!

Read the whole thing here.

The definitive list of haunted sites in New Hampshire

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"Killed on this spot by the fall of a tree" in Wilton. Who needs fake ghosts for entertainment when you've got headstones like this in the middle of the woods?

There aren't any, of course.

Crash-test dummies are getting fatter, too

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Humanetics Corp. photo.

A major manufacturer of crash-test dummies is redoing its line to "represent thicker waistlines and large rear ends of Americans. The new model of Humanetics has been developed after studies found that 78% of obese drivers are more likely to die in a car crash."

So reports a site called Uncover Michigan in this story about the firm Humanetics.

Dummies have traditionally been modeled on a person weighing about 167 pounds with a healthy body mass index (BMI). ...The new super-sized dummies are based on the measurements of a 273-pound person with a BMI of 35.... An obese person has more mass around midsection and a larger rear which pushes them out of position. They sit further forward and the belt does not grasp the pelvis as easily.

In other news, scores of people camped out in Nashua overnight to get a chance at some free fast-food chicken. No, really.
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In Maine, a two-headed snapping turtle is thriving, and eating with both heads

The Bangor Daily News reports today:

A two-headed snapping turtle found on Sept. 22 is still alive and eating from both heads, thanks to Kathleen Talbot, who has been caring for the unusual reptile since discovering it by the road near her home.

“I’m amazed. I really didn’t expect him to live this long,” said Talbot, who came across the tiny turtle while walking along Route 43.

I'm sure there's some two-heads joke to make about politicians at this point. But man, I'm sick of politics.

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Nashua to install electric-car charging station at city garage

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Phil Plourde of the city of Nashua demonstrates the new car-charging station in the Elm Street public parking garage.

The slow spread of electric-car charging stations in New Hampshire has reached Nashua, with Wednesday’s opening of the first city-overseen unit in the Elm Street parking garage.

The charger is a 240-volt system that can “fill up” an empty electric car battery in about eight hours, depending on the model, adding 10 to 20 miles of range each hour. It was turned on Wednesday morning, and formally unveiled in an afternoon ceremony featuring Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and officials from PSNH, which paid for the roughly $2,400 installation of the system.

For the time being the electricity is free – cars will pay the same rate of 50 cents per hour as in other parking spots in the garage. Eventually the space will cost extra, although the difference is still being determined.

“It’ll take legislation to change the rate. We’re gathering data and will present it to (the mayor and aldermen),” said Community Development Director Sarah Marchant.

On Wednesday morning at the garage, parking maintenance worker Phil Plourde demonstrated the unit, made by a company called AeroVironment. It has a simple on-off button and a nozzle that plugs into the charge port of electric cars.

Drivers who park in the space use the charger must type the parking space’s location number into the city’s pay station to activate the system.

Plourde said he liked the idea of electric cars but, like many people, was concerned about the lack of places to charge up. He thought the city’s charger was the sort of action that might change minds.

“Once people get used to seeing it, they’ll be more open. The more stations there are, the better,” he said.

This charger is the city’s first publicly accessible charging station that isn’t hosted by a car dealership. Peters Nissan, which sell the Leaf, the world’s most popular electric car, and Tully BMW, which sells the electric I3, have stations.

A number of private, at-home charging stations also exist in the area, installed by people who bought electric cars or plug-in electric hybrids like the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius. Some of those stations can be used by others with permission: The website Plugshare.com lists three such homes in Nashua, plus several others in neighboring towns.

Public electric-vehicle charging stations exist at the Bedford Village Inn and at the Tyngsborough, Mass., library, and the upgraded Hooksett toll plaza on I-93 will have 10 charging stations when it is completed. Simon Properties, which owns the Pheasant Lane Mall and many other malls in the state, has begun installing charging stations at some of its properties nationwide, although no announcement has been made in New Hampshire.

Portsmouth installed a similar charging station in its city parking garage this year. Marchant said Nashua has been talking to that city about its experience, as it prepares for its charging station.

Tesla, the luxury electric sports car, said it plans to install one of its “supercharger” stations on the Seacoast this year, although it hasn’t said where. It would probably be near I-95.

Superchargers, which require a 480-volt electrical connection, charge vehicle batteries at 10 to 15 times the rate of a Level 2 charger. They require a special connection port only available on a Tesla, although the company is sharing its technology so that other cans can take advantage of them.

The charger installed in Nashua and at most other locations is a so-called Level 2 charger, which operates at 240 volts. It is also possible to charge an electric car from a wall socket with a Level 1 system, but that generally takes more than a day to fully charge a vehicle.

The Nashua charging port was installed on the lower level of the Elm Street Parking garage, next to the Transit Center, in a space that is often empty, said Marchant.

“It’s not an electric-car-only space, but it hasn’t been use heavily in the past,” she said.

The charger will be available between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., when parking charges within the garage are enforced. No electricity will be produced when plugging in overnight, before 6 a.m.

All of these factors may be changed as Nashua learns more about how to operate the system, Marchant said.

PSNH has also helped create Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations at Antioch University New England in Keene and Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, and plans two more around the state. It also has a system at its Manchester headquarters, for PSNH employees.

NHBR: Papers show GTAT bit off more than it could (probably) chew with Apple contract

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The cover of an industry brochure from GT Advanced Technologies shows large opaque cylinders made of synthetic sapphire. Building furnaces to grow such crystals and creating and shaping the crystals themselves is GTAT's business.

New Hampshire Business Review (which mostly calls itself NHBR these days, much to the confusion of NH Public Radio fans) has been all over the bankruptcy of GT Advanced Technologies in Merrimack. Their latest story details how the high-flying company imploded:

GTT Advanced Technologies’ original deal with Apple, signed last Halloween, mandated that the Merrimack-based company install 2,036 sapphire furnaces by April 2014, indicating that the product that was supposed to be produced in those furnaces was intended for the touchscreens of its new iPhone 6 after all. But Apple’s decision to only use the sapphire in its new Watch sharply reduced its demand and resulted in the tech giant withholding a $139 million prepayment. The result was GTAT’s Oct. 6 bankruptcy filing.

You can read the whole thing here, including commentary on how such a massive contract - the furnaces are large and expensive - was a very, very risky plunge for a relatively small firm.

The first banner ad graced (so to speak) web browsers 20 years ago today

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I'm not getting paid to run this.

The first web banner ad ran 20 years ago today, on Wired.com - from AT&T.

The Internet History Podcast has the details.

I know what you think of banner ads - but as somebody whose paycheck depends on the ever-shrinking advertising world, I wish they worked better!

Will at-home screening for colon cancer increase false positives and unnecessary treatment?

A new test that looks for cancer-related DNA in human stool (the bodily fluid, not the furniture) is raising the bar on the debate about how much medical screening is too much. AP story is here.

By coincidence, the question of how much screening is too much will be discussed Nov. 19 at the next Science Cafe New Hampshire in Nashua. Dr. Jose Montero who heads the state's public health division, will be one panelist.

The question is whether a home cancer-screening test will help or hurt public health. Advance screening is a good thing if it spots problems before they become serious; it's a bad thing if it causes unnecessary alarm through false positive results or even causes unnecessary treatment. Concern about that last point led the U.S. Preventive Task Force to cut back on its prostate-cancer-screening recommendations for adult males - a change that has drawn considerable disagreement.

Any story with a question-mark headline should, according to conventional wisdom, be answerable with a "no," but that's not the case here. It's not at all clear that putting cancern tests in the hands of untrained patients will do more good than harm.

Air temperature? If you're de-icing roads, you really care about pavement temperature

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Mass. Department of Transportation graphic

New Hampshire held its first-ever Salt Symposium on Wednesday for private contractors that apply salt to keep parking lots, driveways and sidewalks clear, siging them up for voluntary certification program and discussing research about best practices. I would have attended but had to cover a political event - bleahhh - so I'm doing a follow-up story.

One of the issues with deicing, I have learned, is that icing applications change due to air temperature, but what *really* matters is pavement temperature, which can differ from the air by as much as 8 or 9 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature determines whether the sodium chloride will turn to brine, as is needed to melt ice, and therefore determines how much salt you should apply.

Turns out, infrared thermometers exist that can be attached to the outside of a plowtruck to measure the temperature of the pavement ahead, with readouts in the cab. Cool!

There's no real change in the chemistry of de-icing salt, but there is a recent legal change: A new state law gives liability protection to private plowtrucks if there's an accident after they salt a location. It is based on the law which provides liability protection for ski areas.

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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.

ggScienceCafeSidebar

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, Nov. 19

TOPIC: Medical testing - how much is too much?

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

PAST TOPICS:

2014:

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.

2013:
November:
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.

2012:
November:
"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"

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

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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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