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Granite Geek has moved

I have left The Nashua Telegraph* after 28 years (!) and am now at the Concord Monitor, where Granite Geek lives - or See you there!

*officially The Telegraph of Nashua, but who the heck ever says that?

GraniteGeek on the radio: Of lab mice and men

My discussion with NHPR's Peter Biello this week concerned my Telegraph column of last week (yeah, we're off schedule) about Jackson Laboratory, the massive producer of inbred mice for laboratory research that is the largest employer on Maine's scenic mid coast.

Listen to it here, unless you're allergic to mice.

Here's the column if you want to know more. To whet your appetite, it includes a sperm joke.

The most important sentence in this week's column is at the end (spoiler alert)

My Telegraph column this week ends on a note of interest to this blog, and since few people read to the end of any newspaper piece I'll bet it was largely overlooked:

Speaking of complica­tions, this column will be on hiatus for a few weeks during a vacation and will see some changes when September arrives. I'll be posting occasionally at the Granite Geek blog, at, if you want to stay tuned.

What changes? After 28 years I am leaving The Nashua Telegraph. Tomorrow (Aug. 5) is my last day.

I'm taking a couple weeks off and then starting as a reporter at The Concord Monitor, taking the GraniteGeek column and blog with me. I hope that the column will continue to run in The Telegraph, where it has appeared since 1991 - I've written more than 1,200 of them, which is a sobering thought - but that depends on discussions above my pay grade.

I'm making the move for personal reasons. I will hit a significant birthday this year (oh all right: 60) and wanted to see if I was still capable of making a change. I'm lucky that New Hampshire still has enough decent newspapers that a change was possible without moving to a new town - the way the newspaper business is imploding that's something of a luxury.

What about this blog? These archives will stay at The Telegraph at, but the column will be born anew at the Concord Monitor site when I start there in the last week of August. I'm not sure what the URL will be - but you will be able to check it out by going to, a URL that will redirect to the Monitor site when I've made the switch.

Most of my blog readers hate to leave comments via Facebook, the only method allowed here. If you want to send me a note you can use my personal email ( or twitter account (@Granitegeek).

Ultimate Fribsee - sorry, Ultimate Disk - in the Olympics?!?! Geeks cheer (mostly)

The only team sport really embraced by geeks has long been Ultimate Frisbee (now known as Ultimate Disk or just Ultimate, after Wham-O cracked down on its trademark). I'm not sure why; I have speculated in the past that it's a holdover from Frisbee's origins as a free-spirited activity embraced by P.E.-class-hating geeks who balked at the regimentation of high school football et. al. But that's just a guess.

Whatever the reason, if you go on a college campus and see a group of folks playing basketball and a group of folks playing Ultimate, I guarantee there will be a lot more hard-science majors in the latter than the former.

So the news that the International Olympic Committee has recognized "flying disc sports", putting them on the short list of possible inclusion in future Olympics, should have lots of geeks excited. Finally, there will be something to watch other than synchronized swimming! (BBC story here, although it's a bit on the skimpy side.)

Actually, the news will probably feed an ongoing dispute about how to maintain Ultimate's egalitarian roots in the face of professionalism and growth.

The creation of Major League Ultimate two years ago shocked some people because it included - gasp - referees! The ethos of Ultimate has always involved people calling their own fouls; consider it crowd-sourced refereeing. If Ultimate gets wrapped up in the nationalism of the Olympics, it will be even harder to keep it old-timey.

A 1966 VW camper powered by solar panels alone

The CTO of Vecna, a Cambridge, Mass. robot and medical-technology firm (which we in Nashua know because it recently bought the robot company VGo) bought a 1967 VW Camper, swapped out the engine for an electric motor, and put a massive solar panel on the roof that he says provides all the power it needs.

Here's a Boston Magazine article about it, which is light on details. I can't find anything that gives any specifications. I am surprised that a solar panel, even one as big as this one, could provide enough consistent electricity to make a useful vehicle.

Good news: Our acid rain is getting less acidic & so are our ponds and lakes

Our acid rain is getting less acidic, and lakes and ponds are slowly getting their pH back to natural levels, reports the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

You can read the report here in PDF form, or check out the press release:

Over 1,500 precipitation events have been monitored since the program’s initiation in 1972. An analysis of these data document that the pH of precipitation has significantly increased (become less acidic) while sulfate and nitrate concentrations, both acidifying compounds, have significantly decreased.

These findings correspond with reductions in atmospheric emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides over the same time period. “We are seeing, on a local and national level, the very positive long term benefits of the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and our own state laws to reduce sulfate and nitrate precursors emitted into the air.

"Since 1994, our in-state emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxides from our industrial sources have decreased by 95% and 88%, respectively” said Tom Burack, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

National estimates indicate similar reductions in atmospheric emissions of the compounds known to result in acid rain. Results of annual water samples from the state’s lakes and ponds collected since the early 1980’s indicate that sulfate and nitrate concentrations significantly decreased in most all waterbodies, and pH and ANC have either improved (become less acidic) or remained stable.

These conclusions are based on analysis of nearly 2,000 water samples. These results are consistent with research funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation that also reported significant declines in sulfate and nitrate concentrations in the Northeast, with moderate improvements or stable pH and ANC levels.

Although the NHDES results are encouraging, recovery is occurring at a slow pace. Continued monitoring will allow NHDES to document additional water quality improvements and recovery in future years, while preserving the robustness of these long-term data sets.

UK study: Turning off streetlights doesn't raise crime or cause accidents

A study by British researchers of hundreds of cities and towns that have turned off or reduced streetlights - usually to save electricity costs - found no related increase in crime or vehicle accidents. Here's the studyt and here's an amusing article about it from Astronomy magazine, which you could put in the anti-streetlight camp.

There was no evidence that any street lighting adaptation strategy was associated with a change in collisions at night. ... Overall, there was no evidence for an association between the aggregate count of crime and switch off

I mostly hate streetlights as a form of useless light pollution that doesn't do what we think it does, although at the occasional intersection I like them while driving. Society's default assumption has long been "more light at night is better" so battling them is tough. (Exhibit A: A scoffing Telegraph editorial when the state DOT wanted to turn off 3,000 unnecessary streetlights)

This study will, I imagine, convince few of the keep-them-on crowd, but you never know.

Spotted via good old Slashdot.

Ground-penetrating radar rig gives potholes the hairy eyeball

A team at the University of Vermont is testing the use of a portable ground-penetrating radar rig as a way to study potholes before repair crews arrive, reports the Burlington Free-Press.

Field-testing the radar in concert with Agency of Transportation has its advantages. A below-road-grade survey in advance of a reconstruction project is a data gold mine.

"In those cases they're coming back a couple of weeks later and digging stuff up," Huston said; "we compare it to our data. It's what we call 'ground-truthing.'"

It's a pretty good story, with one excellent quote: "The electronics could fit into a cigar box although no one knows what a cigar box anymore," he said.

There might be more security cameras in the woods than on the streets

There is a potent response to anybody who argues that cougars live in New Hampshire woods: Where are the pictures? Because these days, the woods are full of cameras.

Seven Days, the Vermont alt-weekly, has a piece about the subject that was prodded by that manhunt for prison escapees. It talks about these remotely accessible cameras - they can automatically email pictures to your phone - being used to spot burglars, smugglers, errant ATV users (my local conservation commission has them at some vandal-targeted trailheads) ... and, of course, animals.

Vermonters frequently send game-camera photos to Fish & Wildlife. Many of the images are purported to be catamounts — the infamous big cat species whose renewed presence in Vermont has not been officially confirmed, despite some ardent believers. Most of those animals turn out to be bobcats.

Chadwick said he knows people in Vermont who deploy 25 game cameras on their property. He has four.

Another selling point: Many people have turned the cameras into security devices, he said. Not only are they cheaper than security systems, but "they're portable. You can put them in the woods one day, and if you want to put it in your front yard the next day, you're ready to go."

Big Brother is here. Big Brother is us.

Granite Geek on the radio: Open-source hardware

I've gotten a week off in my newspaper-vs-radio schedule, so this week's discussion with NH Public Radio concerned last week's column about The Open Compute Project, in which Fidelity Investment and other firms band together to develop standards for things like switches, servers, data storage - even cables and server racks.

You can listen to it right here, and admire my mellifluous tones. Or you can read the column. In fact, you can do both simultaneously!

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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.

Recent columns


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: We take the summer off. Back in the fall.


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



June: Probiotics and "gut health". May: Trains. April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? 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.

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