Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

Coleridge’s mariner was damned for needlessly shooting an albatross. Toledo however, is bringing on its own destruction by inaction, despite warnings months ago from the Federal EPA. In the small hours of the night, ten days ago, an automated emergency phone call woke us to tell us not to drink the tap water. The annual algae bloom in Lake Erie this year had become too strong, right at the water intake pipe for Toledo’s (and Perrysburg’s) municipal water systems. This satellite view shows the western end of Lake Erie seriously compromised.  Toledo and the Maumee river are at the bottom left corner:
Lake Erie Blook_2144
For three days we were forbidden to drink the water, wash dishes (unless rinsed in afterwards in ‘clean’ water) or even to spray municipal water on leafy vegetables in the gardens.
The algae is an interesting bright green living slime. Its growth in the lake is accelerated by summer warmth and the excess nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) from fertilizer runoff from farms and riverside gardens. Heavy rainstorms can also overflow the waste water pipe system, dumping untreated sewage into rivers and lakes which add food to the algae.
The algae produces a harmful non-living, long lasting, stable toxin called microcystin. It cannot be destroyed by boiling and is too small to physically filter out, other than by Carbon filter absorption. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but is harmful because it accumulates in one’s liver, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) (it sounds incredible enough to be a story from the famous BBC TV sci-fi Doctor of the same name) in concentrations greater than 1 ppb (part per billion).
Microcystin is incredibly old. It evolved, with cyanobacterial algae blooms about 3 billion years ago, perhaps as a protective agent for the algae, but protecting against what we do not know – back then there were no animals in existence to eat the algae. The toxin might have been protecting it from solar UV according to today’s (2014/8/12) NYT Science section. The blooms themselves were vital to us then as they were the early creators of Earth’s Oxygen.
Our numerically challenged news reporters erroneously had it measured as “1 or 2 ppm” (parts per million) instead of ppb (parts per billion) for a while. But, understandably, it is hard to appreciate that a substance naturally produced in our lovely lake could be seriously harmful in concentrations above one drop per tanker rail-car full (300,000 gallons). But watch out for the numbers: while a limit of 1 (ppb) (parts per billion) could sound reasonable, would you accept the same level as safe if it was just as honestly, but more scarily, called 1000 ppt (parts per trillion)? No matter how you quantify it, it is truly wonderful that we can detect and measure such miniscule amounts. Such skills can save us, if only we can properly interpret the values and apply them appropriately.
Back in Perrysburg we had the interesting situation of water seemingly everywhere, yet unusable:
1. A live river full of slightly muddy water: the Golden Maumee.

River Kayak_3941
2. Clear, tasteless, odorless water in the taps, and a few recent gallons in spare storage in jugs in the basement, but who knew how far back the ban applied?
3. And my three 40 gallon full rain barrels (for plant watering) collected from clear and pure (well perhaps a little acid rain, moss spores, bird bits, etc.?) rain water from the roof.
Rain Barrel_2221
I was unable to interest any of the house residents (other than the quasi-dumb animals) in that toxin-free roof water, even when I offered to boil it.
Sold out signs appeared within hours, for a radius of at least 20 miles, in stores selling any type of bottled water. But friends visiting from out of state all brought gallons in plastic jugs and bottles.

The water is back on for now, and we have a stock of ‘plastic’ water to be drunk within the next 12 months as the bottles have “Use by…” dates of 2015.
Water bottles_2289
What happens, over time, to water in a plastic bottle?  I’m sure I could happily live on honey, beer and coffee made with skim milk, but dry cleaning one’s teeth is difficult.

Nobody said it would be easy but we do need to look after our planet. At least now we can measure the invisible toxins before they do too much harm. But sometimes even the very visible seems to be too hard to fix. For years Toledo and Perrysburg have been trying to prevent sewage overflows in heavy rains. Yet yesterday, 8/11, we had about 3 inches (75 mm) of rain which resulted once again in the following overflow damage to Water Street and hence, the river and the lake:

How I Got Honey and Saved All My Money in Las Vegas

At Vegas in July it is hot. I went out of the casino to look for wild life and found a grove of trees but no way to get in. In front was the purest looking green lawn – supsiciouly verdant at 105 F (40 C) – on close inspection it proved to be plastic Astroturf. 

I went to the thin row of flowers at the edge to photograph the expected empty desert life, and found to my joy, a live honey bee. There is life in Vegas. 

Chris and Chantal E. from South Africa were there in Vegas too and very kindly brought me a precious sample of honey from their semi-wild, and certainly ferocious, African bees.  A few years ago the African variety of bee escaped from an experiment in Brazil and has since been slowly working its way north. They are now in the Southern United States and still advancing. Those bees didn’t need big hives because their winter was mild.  But unlike our European  bees who are only violent when defending their hive with its precious winter long food supply, the African  bees attack on any insult, for some reason I can’t quite fathom.  If attacked by the Africans, the first rule is “Run”. Second rule: don’t dive into water because they’ll simply wait for you to surface and then sting your face!

As they work north they are mating with the natives and so diluting their ferocity, and hopefully imparting some good, tough genes to better resist our nasty collection of Varroa mites, small hive beetles and various viruses.  DNA analysis is extraordinary – it can give the % of African vs European genetics in any bee it measures.

Now I’ve been having taste tests against my very pale Perrysburg, Ohio honey.  Without doubt, the African honey has more bite. 


Back in the casino, which I regard as a monument to how badly mathematics is taught these days, I studied the Roulette wheel: They very nicely post the results of the previous 21 turns on a clearly visible column, so you can wander through the tables and happily look for numerical patterns.  One table I found had black come up 8 times in a row (see the yellow numbers).

There are 18 red slots and 18 black slots for the ball to fall into. The odds of black or red are almost 50/50, except for green zero, and because they are so greedy, there is another slot for the ball: green double zero. If either comes up when you have bet black or red, you lose. That makes the odds for black or red (which pay 50/50) about 18/38 (or 47.4/52.6).  You could think that 2.6% margin is not much, but it is those sort of odds which built this city.

The chances of the 8 blacks in a row is 1 in 395 turns. With about one roll of the wheel per minute that means it could happen three or four times a day. (But if you’d put down $15 on black (that table had a $15 minium) at the right time and left it there for 8 turns, you’d have won $3,840. I stayed and watched: unfortunately for some the 9th turn came up red.

A few hours later that very same table was showing 10 blacks consequetivly. No other table had any such interesting pattern.

Now your $15 bet could have won you $15,360, but you’d have to not have left it there for the 11th turn because it came up red.  By now the croupiers were getting quite upset with my taking supposedly forbidden photos, but I had big Australian Paul C. with me so we could safely escape. (I really feel that cell phone photos don’t count. Right?)

Back home you can easily see the true odds with a simple Excel spread sheet.  Use the Random Number Generator (+Rand()) and add up the results for 10,000 rows of the spread sheet, or 10,000 turns of the game. Pressing F9 key almost instantly re-spins the wheel another 10,000 times, creates another 10,000 random numbers, and so you can discover the veracity of statistics in large numbers.

Starting with $100, and only betting $1 each time, often lets you stay alive for 10,000 turns, IF you have true 50/50 odds. But when I used the Vegas odds of 18/38 because of “0” and “00”, I was usually broke by 5,000 turns. Sometimes you’re broke after just 1,000 turns. In 100 runs of the program, I never survived as much 10,000 turns on 18/38 odds.

The blue line shows that this time I could have played 8,200 times on true 50/50 odds before going home hungry, but with typical casino odds of 18/38 I’m thrown out after just 1,250 turns.

Another run shows: 

Playing my computer game, by hitting F9, 100 times or 1 million rolls of the roulette wheel, the best I could do was:

This says that after 10,000 turns of 50/50 odds I’m up 200% on my starting cash and still alive, but once again, with zero and double zero, I’m out the door after 6,600 turns.

Very interestingly, in Monte Carlo (the Mediterranian country, not the vegas casino of the same name) you leave your bet on the table if you are playing black or red, and green “0” comes up. (the don’t have “00”). So that is one of the very few places in the world where you’ll get true 50/50 odds. Yet you’ll still lose! The reason is because that as your accumulated winnings oscillates around an average of zero.  Sooner or later your total will bump into the house limit (I wonder just how big that is?), or your limit (all the money you can show them). Guess which is closer?

So how did I save my money? Instead of the wheel you can spend $10 on Fydor Dostoyevski’s “The Gambler” – all the thrills of winning big and losing bigger, pawn your winter coat, go hungry, steal from your grandmother, and still lose and lose again; just follow the downward slope of any of the red lines in the graphs above, turn by turn. They only lead in one direction!

Good luck!

Visions of Venus

The great transit was best seen with a reversed scope projecting sunspots and the outline of Venus onto a white card a short distance away.  The first sighting (positioned at about 10 oclock on the sun’s rim below) at about 6:11 pm EST on Tuesday June 5 was exciting:















The best pinhead mirror image just showed Venus and streaks of cloud but no sunspots. 

  The pinhead mirror resolution was improved by Scott’s addition of a punched hole in a card in the beam from the sun just in front of the mirror.

 I masked off the mirror with tape, leaving just a small triangular corner exposed to get a similar effect. 


John asked if diffraction, or scattering of sunlight as through gaps in tree leaves, was simply bending the light to give the image Lomonosov saw centuries ago?  L. took it to be an atmosphere for Venus.  I don’t think the light is bent that much. I think the images of light through leaves are simply umbra and penumbra shadows mixed with poor resolution pinhole images; Catalpa tree leaves do this well – see typical image below:


We did not see the rim of light which Lomonosov  saw about 250 years ago, which was genuine scattering from Venus’ CO2 atmosphere. This is what that looks like with a big telescope:

 Diffusion scattering happens on a very fine scale when sunlight hits a single spider web filament, or very fine scratches on glass. Such thin lines act like an optical grating or prism and create rainbow colors. Very hard to photograph but you can see it in these two Photoshop enhanced cell-phone images of sun and glass scratches. (I only increased the saturation and did not add any colors that were not there originally)


Diffusion is what makes waves bend around solid objects. It’s easy to see with water waves. But individual particular photons also act like waves and do bend a little around a sharp edge.  Even actual atomic particles, some as big as 70 atom Buckyballs can also show their wave-like propety and diffuse a little as they pass by an edge. It gets even stranger: human size aglomerations of carbon, hydrogen and other atoms – you and me – also diffuse very slightly when we pass close to the edge of a narrow doorway without actually touching it. The diffusion is too small an amount to be measured but it can be readily calculated. I think we get smeared by about 10E-50 meters or so. I can’t find the exact amount right now but it is somewhere in my scattered library.