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SciSchmooze Weekly Events Newsletter

Let me welcome you to 2021, dear Reader,

(In case you were wondering, 2021 is not a prime. It is the product of 43 and 47.)

I cannot welcome you to the “present” however, because as soon as i greet you at the present, it is already in the past. ¿Sophistry? Perhaps, but perspectives of time are inspirational among poets, numerous among philosophers, and contentious among physicists. (That was Sabine Hossenfelder’s video. Because i lived in Germany, my mnemonic for her surname is “Hasenfelder,” which means “fields of rabbits.”) If you really want to take a deeper-dive on this topic, check out this article or this one.

Rather than go any further down that rabbit hole, let’s take a look at something old, that’s new, and blue. I’m referring to the discovery of a previously undetected population of Blue Whales in the Indian Ocean. (The article incorrectly refers to it as a “New Population.” “Newly discovered” is more accurate.) Rather than identifying these leviathans with microchips, we listen to their current top-of-the-charts song, which varies by time and population - sorta the same for humans.

And . . . if we are going to have music, let’s enjoy some dancing.

Several successes in space exploration highlighted several projects. (Click on the “>” to move to the next vignette.) ¿Who else but Elon Musk would call the total destruction of the SpaceX StarShip a “triumph”? It’s fascinating to view the rocket motors during the test. All three rocket engines participated in the launch; just one participated in the descent; the other two engines started to fire for the landing but flamed out due to fuel starvation. Big oops.

Climate change denialists had a difficult time maintaining their head-in-the-sand “stance” in 2020. According to an early report, the climate crisis has accelerated. I mentioned back in February that Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, announced that Japan will be carbon neutral by 2050, but offered no plans for achieving that goal. Suga followed up last week with a detailed blueprint for the transformation. Nothing novel, just more reliance on renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuel cars, and improved carbon capture from fuel-burning power stations. Critics countered with the opinion that carbon neutrality could be reached much earlier than 2050 if only the government took stronger measures - an all-too-familiar dialogue.

Dry ice. ¿Who doesn’t like playing with dry ice? Currently, dry ice is needed for transporting COVID-19 vaccines. It is also needed for The Phantom of the Opera. (Please note, dry ice production requires more steps than mentioned in the video.)

The science channel, Veritasium, just released its “Ames Window Illusion” video. First rate. What is not mentioned, however, is that both binocular vision and distance focusing ‘interfere’ with the illusion; in real life, you need to close one eye and be sufficiently distant in order to be ‘fooled.’ This is true for most of the optical illusions on the ‘net.

¿What are your plans for October 31 this year? Halloween? Really?? Careful, you could be stripped of your nerd badge. October 31 is the launch date of the James Webb Space Telescope. I predict a huge epidemic of nail-biting for the launch and complex deployment.

Practical generation of electricity from atomic fusion is right on schedule - “30 years in the future.” (Just as it’s always been.) Recently, a new milestone was reached: a high temperature plasmas was maintained for 20 seconds by the KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) facility. Yup. I’d call 100 million degrees Celsius a “high temperature.” Their press release did not mention how much equipment melted in the process. Regardless, they plan to hold that temperature 15 times longer by 2025. ITER in Europe, when finished, is designed to maintain 150 million degrees for 30 seconds - but only for 30 seconds.

¿Want to be in the path of this year’s total solar eclipse? It won’t be cheap since totality will only be visible in and around Antarctica. Here is this year’s astronomy calendar.

My picks for the week (livestream, of course):
Marine extinction and environmental change in the Early Jurassic - 3:30PM Tuesday
Robotic Space Exploration at NASA/JPL - 6:30PM Thursday
Birds of Bair Island, Redwood City - Noon Friday

And here is something you need to sign up for while virtual class space exists: Aliens in Outer Space: The Science & the Fiction - A Short Course. Call the phone number listed there for registering.

Just when you thought things could not get worse, they did: the ‘new’ SARS-CoV-2 variant is 40% to 80% more transmissible than the previous version, and it has a toe-hold in California. Already one in every 16 Californians has tested positive for COVID-19 and hospital occupancy is nearing capacity.

Stay smart, stay safe, and flatten the curve, damn it,
David Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member

“I have a lot of issues with humans, but I'd prefer we don't go extinct.”
–Phil Plait, Astronomer, 1964 -

Upcoming Events:
Click to see the next two weeks of events in your browser.

Monday, 01/04/2021

Tuesday, 01/05/2021

Synthesizing records of marine extinction and environmental change in the Early Jurassic (~183 Ma) - Livestream - 01/05/2021 03:30 PM
UC Santa Cruz,

Speaker: Rowan Martindale, Univ. of Texas, Austin

See weblink for Zoom information

'Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding' - Livestream - 01/05/2021 04:00 PM
The Leaky Foundation ,

Leakey Foundation grantee Daniel Lieberman discusses his latest book, Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding.

If exercise is healthy (so good for you!), why do many people dislike or avoid it? If we are born to walk and run, why do most of us take it easy whenever possible? And how do we make sense of the conflicting, anxiety-inducing information about rest, physical activity, and exercise with which we are bombarded? In this lecture, Daniel Lieberman answers these questions and more.

Register at weblink to receive connection information

Thursday, 01/07/2021

Trees and Fungi - Livestream - 01/07/2021 10:30 AM
London Natural History Society,

David Humphries will be presenting on the perennial and annual fungi found on and around trees whilst undertaking tree inspections. He will be looking at the macro identification of these species and at the structural issues arising from the presence of such fungi as well as the habitat potential.

See weblink to register and receive connection information

Unlocking Innovation: Harnessing the Power of Software Developers - Livestream - 01/07/2021 11:00 AM
Computer History Museum,

From banking and retail to insurance and finance, every industry is turning digital, and every company needs the best software to win the hearts and minds of customers. Companies have to get this right to survive. But how do they make this transition? By using the creativity of code to solve business problems.

Developers are the creative workforce who can solve major business problems and create hit products f or customers - not just grind through rote tasks. Most companies treat developers like digital factory workers without really understanding what software developers can contribute. From Google and Amazon, to one-person online software companies - companies that bring software developers in as partners are winning.

In this talk, Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio and author of the soon to launch book Ask Your Developer will chat with Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and Founder of the Long-term Stock Exchange about a mindset he’s coined “Ask Your Developer” -- a philosophy that he believes is the secret to driving innovation within businesses. Eric and Jeff will discuss examples of business leaders who have implemented the “ask your developer” philosophy best and share advice to:

Companies on how to take advantage of an underutilized asset that already exists in your company and unleash the tremendous untapped creativity and brainpower inside your teams.Business leaders on how to understand developers and how to motivate them.Software developers on how to live up to your potential as a full, talented, creative professional and get a strategic seat at the table.

Register at weblink to receive connection information

Robotic Space Exploration at NASA/JPL - Livestream - 01/07/2021 06:30 PM
UC Riverside,

In this lecture, we’ll trace the history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from the time it was started by amateur and academic rocket enthusiasts to becoming a research center for the US Army’s missile development program, to helping launch the United States’ first satellite and becoming NASA’s key center for robotic exploration of the solar system and beyond.

Speaker: Varoujan Gorjian, NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab

Register at weblink to receive connection information.

After Dark Online: Fungi - 01/07/2021 07:00 PM

Foraging for fungi? Discover some fun facts about the beautiful, diverse, and curious fungi kingdom, including mushrooms, yeasts, and molds. Wonder at the beauty of microscopic fungi and learn more about the form and function of fungal spores.

This program features:

The Art of Mushroom and Myxomycete Photography with Alison K. Pollack

Get a close-up look at the intimate, intricate photographs of macro photographer Alison Pollack, who specializes in photographing Myxomycetes and tiny mushrooms barely visible to the naked eye. Searching out her subjects by crawling on the forest floor, magnif ying glass in hand, she uses advanced photography techniques to show the incredible detail of these tiny organisms, most only a few millimeters tall. Her goal is to reveal these miniature beauties of the forest in a format that is as much art as science.

The Mushroom Hunters (2019)
Original poem by Neil Gaiman
Read by Amanda Palmer
Animation by Creative Connection Animation Studio

Fascinating Mushroom Spores with Else Vellinga, PhD
The spore is the central unit for fungi reproduction. Learn about the unique ways various species’ spores are released into the world and the variety of shapes and embellishments they comprise, correlating to the mushroom’s size and lifestyle.

See weblink for YouTube and Facebook connections.

NightSchool: New Year, New Species - Livestream - 01/07/2021 07:00 PM
California Academy of Sciences,

This year, get more in touch with the natural world. Get a head start on your resolution by learning about just a few of the 213 new species described by Academy researchers in the past year. Featuring Dr. Shannon Bennett on why it’s important to continue to add to the tree of life; Dr. Terry Gosliner and Lynn Bonomo on how to describe (and name) new sea slug species; and Graham Short on Africa’s first pygmy seahorse species.

See weblink for YouTube and Facebook links

Friday, 01/08/2021

The Fastest Eye on the Sky: The Vera Rubin Observatory // Sky in January - Livestream - 01/08/2021 11:30 AM< /a>
Astronomical Society of Edinburgh,

What is the Universe made of? In modern cosmology only 4% of the universe is deeply understood, while the other 96%, Dark Energy and Dark Matter, remains a mystery. The Vera Rubin Observatory, currently under construction, will observe billions of galaxies, billions of stars in our own galaxy the Milky Way, as well as millions of objects closer to home in the solar system. Every night over a ten year survey, the Rubin Observatory will observe much of the night sky, so that every portion of the sky will be imaged nearly a thousand times. In this talk I will describe the Rubin observatory and especially its camera, the world’s largest digital imager now under construction at SLAC, and this remarkable set of observations, and how we will be able to “see” the dark portion of our universe in unprecedented detail.

Speaker: Aaron Rood man, Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, Stanford Univ.

YouTube link

Birds of Bair Island - Livestream - 01/08/2021 12:00 PM
Peninsula Open Space Trust,

Join Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) for an entertaining and educational webinar about the migrating ducks and birds of Bair Island!

Local Naturalist Jeff Caplan is back with a new class to teach us how to ID and connect to birds and their habitat for your next visit to Bair Island, part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the SF Bay. Whether you’re a frequent wetland visitor or planning your first hike on the island, Jeff will teach us how to connect with birds of this baylands habitat. Jeff focuses on mindfulness, curiosity and bird language to help people from diverse backgrounds feel safe and connected in nature. This free basic birding webinar is great for all ages, especially kids and adults ages 12 and up!

All registrants will receive the access link prior to the event.

Saturday, 01/09/2021

Virtual King Tides - 01/09/2021 11:00 AM
Environmental Volunteers,

Each year, the King Tides come to the Palo Alto Baylands (and much of the California Coast!). Join us virtually over Zoom in a fun, interactive learning experience which will teach you about what a King Tides is, and why they are so exciting. This program will be offered twice in December and January. Each date is the Saturday before a King Tide, so you are encouraged to visit the Baylands for a chance to see what you learned about in person!

All ages are welcome - activities will be accessible and enjoyable for kids and adults alike. The program is not intended to be drop in so please join on time.

Register at weblink to receive Zoom information.

Virtual Telescope Viewing - Livestream - 01/09/2021 09:00 PM
Chabot Space and Science Center,

Join our resident astronomers on Facebook Live every Saturday evening live from Chabot’s Observation deck!

Each week, our astronomers will guide us through spectacular night sky viewing through Nellie, Chabot‘s most powerful telescope. Weather permitting we will be able to view objects live through the telescopes and our astronomers will be available for an open forum for all of your most pressing astronomy questions.

Monday, 01/11/2021

California King Tides Project: January 11-12 - 01/11/2021 07:00 PM

The California King Tides Project is asking the public to safely photograph the highest high tides of the year, arriving January 11-12. Photographing the impact of these tides on beaches, wetlands, roads, harbors, and homes helps California plan for future sea level rise. Anyone with a smartphone can participate. Find out what time your nearest king tides arrive and how to contribute your photos to this community science project at

How do astronomers model gravity? - Livestream - 01/11/2021 11:00 AM
Royal Observatory, Edinburgh,

Newton's simple formulation of gravity perfectly describes our solar system. However, at galaxy-size scales, understanding the subtler effects of gravity is best accomplished through computer simulations. I'll describe the state-of-the-art simulations that model gravity and the historical work in the field, along with some novelties astronomers uncovered along the way.

Speaker: Michael Peterson

Register at weblink to receive connection information

Climate Change: Turning a Threat into an Opportunity - Livestream - 01/11/2021 03:30 PM
SLAC Colloquium,

The only way humanity can achieve sustainability is by Closing the Carbon Cycle. Closing the carbon cycle is achieved when CO2 harvested from the atmosphere is The only way humanity can achieve sustainability is by Closing the Carbon Cycle. Closing the carbon cycle is achieved when CO2 harvested from the atmosphere is used in combination with hydrogen and renewable energy, for both fuel and for materials production. The result is a renewable energy and Materials Economy (REME) that mimics nature and therefore is in harmony with it.

The benefits are numerous:
- The Climate crises will be addressed
- A new industry infrastructure will bring many jobs, resulting in economic recovery
- Greater equity will result because air, water and renewable energy is more uniformly distributed
- We will move closer to a truly sustainable circular materials and energy economy

Closing the carbon cycle presents a huge oppurtunity for humanity while it ensures climate security.

Speaker: Peter Eisenberger, Columbia University

See weblink for Zoom information.

Slugs and Steins: Lights, Camera, Action! Animal-borne Video Cameras Show a Whale’s Perspective - Livestream - 01/11/2021 06:30 PM
UC Santa Cruz,

Whales are the largest animals on the planet and inhabit oceans around the world from the tropics to the poles. Whales spend nearly all of their lives underwater and out of view of researchers. While biologging tools have allowed us to track the underwater movement of these ocean giants and describe their behavior, the development of tags that include animal-borne video cameras has opened up a new world to researchers and the general public. From a whale’s perspective, we can now visualize the environment in which whales live and better understand the decisions they make and the behaviors they employ. In this talk we will explore the underwater lives of the largest and the smallest baleen whales in local and t he the most remote parts of the planet: blue whales from California, humpback whales from South Africa, and minke whales from the Antarctica. Not only does this novel perspective provide information about the whales and their environment, but it also provides insights as to how anthropogenic impacts including climate change are affecting these animals.

Speaker: Ari Feiedlaender, UC Santa Cruz Institute for Marine Sciences

Register at weblink to receive connection information.

Tuesday, 01/12/2021

California King Tides Project: January 11-12 - 01/12/2021 07:00 PM

Aliens in Outer Space: The Science & the Fiction - A Short Course - 01/12/2021 02:00 PM
Osher Livelong Learning Institute Dominican University

How will the tropical Pacific respond to global warming? The influence of the extra-tropical ocean and cloud-feedbacks - Livestream - 01/12/2021 03:30 PM
UC Santa Cruz,

Thursday, 01/14/2021

'Pandemic19': Behind the Scenes with Frontline Doctors - Livestream - 01/14/2021 12:00 PM
Commonwealth Club - Online Event,

All about Newts - Livestream - 01/14/2021 01:00 PM
UC Botanical Garden,

Talking about chronic illness, care, and Covid - Livestream - 01/14/2021 05:00 PM
UC Santa Cruz,

January LASER Event - 01/14/2021 06:00 PM
LASER Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous,

The Continuing Relevance of America’s Eugenic Legacy- Livestream - 01/14/2021 07:00 PM
Bay Area Skeptics,

After Dark Online: Vaccines - 01/14/2021 07:00 PM

NightSchool: Arctic Life - Livestream - 01/14/2021 07:00 PM
California Academy of Sciences,

Friday, 01/15/2021

Galactic Archaeology - Livestream - 01/15/2021 07:30 PM
Tri-Valley Stargazers,

Saturday, 01/16/2021

Virtual Telescope Viewing - Livestream - 01/16/2021 09:00 PM
Chabot Space and Science Center,

Sunday, 01/17/2021

ZOOM Program: Butterflies of the UC Botanical Garden: Focus on Rearing Butterflies - 01/17/2021 11:00 AM
UC Botanical Garden,

Monday, 01/18/2021

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Virtual Bioblitz Launch - 01/18/2021 10:00 AM
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy,