Wednesday, April 1, 2015
My Account  | Login
Nashua;35.0;;2015-04-01 01:48:16

New England's largest off-grid solar array set for Star Island


Courtesy photo.

Star Island is about ready to turn on a 200-kilowatt solar array that it says will be the largest off-frid photovoltaic system in New England. It should provide about 60 percent of the electricity needs for the island, the most visited of Isles of Shoals off New Hampshire's coast.

They're having a presentation tomorrow in Portsmouth and I think I'm going to attend, so I can scarf up some information for my next Telegraph column. So that's all I'll say about it right now.

Gasoline use in U.S. continues to fall, although we may have started driving more

A survey at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that gasoline usage continues to fall throughout the U.S.

His findings show that gallons of gasoline consumed per person, driver, vehicle and household are below 1984 levels—the first year of the study—and down 14 percent to 19 percent from peak levels a decade ago (2003-2004).

This is a function of increased efficiency and a switch to somewhat smaller vehicles. In 2013, the average vehicle consumed 524 gallons of gasoline, compared to 602 gallons in 1984, the year the UMTRI began keeping records.

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicates, however, that Americans seem to have started driving more, after a long stretch of stagnation on this most American of statistics. The urbanites' dream that we have reached "peak mileage" may be just that - a dream.

As waters wam, smelt seem to be moving north, which means out of the Great Bay

It's been a couple years since New Hampshire's Great Bay has seen a good winter season for smelt - a small anadramous (breeds in fresh water, matures in salt water, like salmon) fish, reports NHPR.

A possible culprit: Warming waters driving them north, although pollution is a possible factor as well.

Fishing for smelt through the ice in and around Great Bay is a thing, apparently (I'm not an ice-fisherman), but it hasn't done well lately. As the NHPR story laments:

“I mean it’s definitely bummed me out in the past few years, past, I don’t know, four years, you know, It’s been pretty bad. You’ve had to go up to Maine to catch any fish if you wanted to smelt fish at all,” (local fisherman Shawn Casey) says, “But I mean, there’s nothing like coming to the Exeter River, even if you’re catching no fish.”

Tomorrow (April 1) is the deadline to remove ice shanties / bobhouses from N.H. waters, even thought many are still pretty frozen.

When there's a veterinarian in the house, magazine covers are more ... um, varied

Deciding what article to play prominently on the cover of a magazine is a tough decision. The editor of Veterinary Medicine is obviously a pro.

NH is almost in the top 5 for new precipitation-watching citizen scientists

Every March the national precipitatoin-measuring group CoCoRaHS has a state-vs-state contest to see who can sign up the most new observers. I mentioned it almost three weeks ago, and maybe that helped because New Hampshire is currently No. 6 on the state list in tems of per-capita new enrollees. Woo-hoo!

We have 11 new observers, or 8.35 new stations per million people. That's way behind North Dakota, with 20 new stations per million people, but then again they only have half our population. The impressive state is North Carolina, which has add 14.8 stations per million residents even though it's got half again as many people as Massachusetts; there's been a concerted push in that state; many of the big newspapers and TV stations have run stories this month.

Anyway, New Hampshire only need a couple newbies in the next day or two to break into the top 5 - so if you've been thinking about it, take the plunge before April 1. It's fun, not very time-consuming or difficult or expensive, and actually useful: The data helps meteorologists, flood control, and agriculture.

Details are at

Why does snow melt around tree trunks?

Walking in the woods these days - although the snow is finally starting to disappear - you'll notice "tree wells" or areas around the base of trees in which snow has disappeared. They're caused by heat radiating from the tree, partly because of natural movement of sap but mostly because of heath re-radiated heat from the dark surface.

I took the above photo during a walk in New Boston last weekend, in which the Piscataquog Land Conservancy showed how to spot animal tracks in the snow. (Short answer: look hard, measure, realize you'll often be wrong.)

While preparing this post, I found that tree wells can be very dangerous in deep powder areas: Skiers fall into them head first and can suffocate "as quickly as you drown in water". A half-dozen people a year die from tree wells - check out this site from

Report says 30 percent of plant species living wild in New England are imported - 30 percent!

If you own or work with a field of any kind, you're aware of the problem caused by invasive plants. My property's bugaboo is black swallowwort, also known by the wonderfully horrible name "dog strangle vine" - a tangling vine that I've been trying to readicate for 20 years, without success. But there are lots of others, such as Japanese knotweed, a real horror, and the tree-encompassing growth that is oriental bittersweet. There's a list of official NH invasives here.

This is how bad the problem has becoming: A study released today by the New England Wild Flower Society of more than 3,500 plant species in the region found that more than 30 are not native. Many of those are not invasive - that is, not extremely aggressive to the point of endangering native plants. But plenty of them are.

Another depressing conclusion from the report: "22 percent (of native plants) are considered rare, in decline, endangered or possibly extinct. Many plants also range over a much smaller geographical area than they once did."

The report’s authors cite numerous risk factors, including familiar ones such as climate change, land development, forest clearing and pesticides. But among the lesser-known threats to plant life are dams that alter floodplains; commercial harvesting for pharmaceutical use; and salt marsh dieback, a complex process of erosion that already has affected more than 80 percent of Cape Cod marshes, the report said.

AP has a story here. It includes at least a little hope:

Robbins cinquefoil, a small plant related to the rose and once so rare that 95 percent could be found within a 1-acre site on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, fell victim over the years to poachers and hikers who trampled it underfoot. Placed on the federal endangered list in 1996, the plant had a resurgence after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the White Mountain National Forest and the Appalachian Mountain Club worked to divert a popular hiking trail and create a barrier to shield the plant. Today, more than 14,000 inhabit the site, the report said.

N.H. native wins Turing Award, the 'Nobel Prize of computing' - just as Google attaches a $1m prize

Michael Stonebraker, a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) who has revolutionized the field of database management systems and founded multiple successful database companies - and a native of tiny Milton, N.H. - has won the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Turing Award, often referred to as “the Nobel Prize of computing.”

His timing was good: This is the first year that the Turing Award comes with a Google-funded $1 million prize.

Here's part of the announcement From CSAIL:

An adjunct professor of computer science and engineering at MIT and a principal investigator at CSAIL, Stonebraker sometimes jokes that he didn’t know what he was researching for more than 30 years. “But then, out of nowhere, some marketing guys started talking about ‘big data,’” he says. “That’s when I realized that I’d been studying this thing for the better part of my academic life.”

Stonebraker's work over the past four decades has helped spur a multibillion-dollar “big data” industry that he himself has participated in, creating and leading nine separate companies, including VoltDB, Tamr, Paradigm4, and Vertica (which was bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2011 for $340 million).

In his previous work at the University of California at Berkeley, Stonebraker developed two of his most influential systems, Ingres and Postgres, which provide the foundational ideas — and, in many cases, specific source code — that spawned several contemporary database products, including IBM’s Informix and EMC’s Greenplum.

Ingres was one of the first relational databases, which provide a more organized way to store multiple kinds of entities – and which now serve as the industry standard for business storage. Larry Rowe, a professor emeritus at Berkeley who helped Stonebraker commercialize the technology, remembers that many of their colleagues didn’t think that relational databases could evolve from academic theory to practical application.

Postgres, meanwhile, integrated Ingres’ ideas with object-oriented programming, enabling users to natively map objects and their attributes into databases. This new notion of “object-relational” databases could be used to represent and manipulate complex data, like computer-aided design, geospatial data, and time series.

Stonebraker’s major projects at MIT include:
Notably, in an era in which the term “open source” didn’t yet exist, Stonebraker also released many of his systems into the public domain, ensuring their widespread adoption and allowing other academics to build on his work.

Stonebraker co-directs CSAIL’s Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data with Sam Madden, a professor of computer science and engineering. Before joining MIT, Stonebraker was a professor of computer science at Berkeley for 29 years. A graduate of Princeton University, he earned his master's degree and his PhD from the University of Michigan.

Feeding deer to 'help' them can hurt, if it's the wrong sort of food

When 12 deer died in the town of South Hampton recently, NH Fish & Game sent a couple to UNH for necropsy. (Today's word tip: "autopsy" means slicing up dead humans for analysis - it doesn't apply to other species.) They found, as the F&G biologists had suspected, that the cause was the wrong sort of food, put out by people who wanted to help deer in this tough winter.

Here's the whole release from Fish & Game, which is full of information that was new to me, including:

Because deer are ruminants, they process food differently than other animals. They depend on microorganisms in their rumen (stomach) to aid in digestion. As a deer's diet naturally and gradually changes with the seasons, so do the microorganisms which are required to help digest those foods. This gradual change in microorganisms can take several weeks. A rapid transition from a high fiber diet of natural woody browse to human-provided foods high in carbohydrates can cause a rapid change in stomach chemistry, disrupting the microorganisms present. This can reduce the deer's ability to properly digest food and/or release toxins which are absorbed into the deer's system, and, in severe cases, can cause death. Many of the most common supplemental foods people provide deer with in winter are high in carbohydrates and introduced rapidly and in large quantities, which creates a risk to deer.

How does water evaporate from a Klein bottle, which has neither inside nor outside?

A Klein bottle is a 3-D version of the Mobius strip. It's a regular glass battle with the neck twisted back through itself, so that there is no longer an inside and an outside but just one continuous surface. If you start drawing a line anywhere on the bottle you can cover every single part of both "sides" of the glass without ever lifting the pencil.

I bought one back in Oct. 2001 from Acme Klein Bottle in Oakland, California, which was started by Clifford Stoll, who is best known as the author of the terrific hacker book "The Cuckoo's Egg."

The bottle was almost half full of blue liquid when I bought it, but now the liquid is almost gone, as the photo above shows. I'm curious about the mechanism.

It is very hard to refill a Klein bottle. If you pour water into the opening on the bottom, it just sits there because there's no way for air to escape and let it in. I would think it would be equally hard for the water inside to evaporate, especially since the opening is covered when the bottle sits on the shelf. But somehow it is disappearing, albeit slowly.

I wonder if there's much transmission of the liquid *through* the glass? It has been around for 13 1/2 years, after all, and we're talking about just a few tablespoons of water.

I emailed Stoll at Acme to ask his opinion, but didn't get a response. The website (which is very funny - check it out) seems to still be active, but I'm not certain. I'll have to poke around a bit more.

If you haven't read The Cuckoo's Egg, by the way, I can heartily recommend it. It's a really well-done depiction of hunting a hacker in the early days of computer networks.

Blog search


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, April 15

TOPIC: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know?

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



March: How roads are designed. 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.

More archives