Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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Airbnb or real bed-and-breakfast - Portsmouth says no to either  

The Portsmouth Herald has an interesting story about local regulations conflicting with the so-called "sharing economy." (I prefer "middleman economy," since the businesses involved are just enablers between provider and customer, skimming a bit off the top without doing much work)

In that city a couple had been operating a bed-and-breakfast via Airbnb until the city of Portsmouth told them to stop. So they asked permission to become a real b-n-b. No dice, said the zoning board, but judging from the story it was an interesting discussion.

(The homeowner) said the online system of renting rooms for short-term stays is a “new phenomenon,” but it’s “not a phenomenon that’s going to go away.” He encouraged board members to embrace the concept. “We think this is good for Portsmouth,” Jeffrey Cooper said. “Portsmouth should welcome it and be accommodating,”

Uber's fights with regulators get all the attention, but Airbnb is potentially even more disruptive - especially if the guy next door uses it to create a de-facto motel.

Christmas lights can be seen by satellites - Ramadan lights, too 

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Staff file photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

Hudson employee Jeremy Faulkner hangs Christmas lights from a bucket truck along Ferry Street on Wednesday, November, 2012.

Slate reports that Americans' love of putting colored lights outdoors for the holidays can be seen from space:

The Suomi satellite carries an instrument designed to measure nighttime lights as a way to track energy use. It’s sensitive enough that it was able to detect a 20–30 percent increase in brightening in the urban cores of 70 major U.S. cities during the Christmas season and a 30–50 percent increase in the suburbs.

Americans aren't alone, it says: The phenomenon was first noticed in Cairo, due to lights celebrating the end of Ramadan.

Gas is cheap, electricity expensive - do electric cars still make per-mile sense?

I'll #SaveYouAClick - yes.

My Telegraph column today crunches the numbers of per-mile costs for a Nissan Leaf vs. Versa in light of sub-$3 gas and electric prices spiking this winter. The result: Electric cars are still half as expensive per mile, roughly.

They're more expensive to buy and there's the whole range-anxiety thing, so this is far from the only story. But I thought it was interesting.

Did the November elections made life harder for Northern Pass? Yes 

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Forgive me for bringing up politics, but since energy is a hot topic these days it seems relevant: This article from E&E (Environment and Energy) News says that the sweeping GOP control of New Hampshire government in the November election is bad for Northern Pass, despite the cliche of Democrats = pro-environment and Republicans = pro-business.

Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a pro-business Republican and chairwoman of the Finance Committee, explained that the issue has effectively brought together those concerned about private land rights with environmental activists, not to mention those who view the cable as a raw deal. In New Hampshire especially, that is a tough coalition.

Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests believes the atmosphere is heavily against the project along bipartisan lines, unlike in neighboring Vermont, where only a handful of people showed up at the first presidential permit public hearing for TDI's proposed cable through the state. In New Hampshire, more than 300 attended the first such meeting on Northern Pass, most of them to indicate displeasure.

Further, there are now so many proposals to bring lots of energy into New England - Quebec hydropower through Vermont, natural gas up through Massachusetts - that Northern Pass no longer has the advantage of novelty.

Maybe there are fewer pilots because automation makes flying less fun

When I was much younger I got my private pilot's license, and even though I haven't flown since Reagan was president I'm very glad I spent the time and money. Nothing teaches you to focus, and also generates a little self-confidence, like landing a plane solo. It's not really very hard to do in a forgiving craft like a Cessna Skyhawk, but the knowledge that you could easily kill yourself if you do it wrong makes the experience ... well, interesting.

But bigger planes are getting less interesting as automation moves into the cockpit, to the point that some folks are worried that it's making pilots dumber. So reports this interesting short piece in Slate:

We found that pilots who habitually let the computers do the thinking and who allow their thoughts to drift during flight were more likely to have deteriorated cognitive skills. It’s tempting to call this laziness, but that’s not exactly right. Mind-wandering experts like Jonathan Smallwood are quick to point out that our minds are restless. When we’re not given something stimulating to think about, our minds naturally drift onto something else that is. ... Many have pointed out that “sitting and staring” at a computer that does our job for us is not something that creative, interactive, problem-solving humans are cut out to do.

There's another angle to this story: The number of pilots is declining. More than 800,000 people had various types of pilot licenses in the U.S. in 1980; that's down to about 620,000 now. The high cost of aviation fuel and restrictions of post-9/11 flight are largely responsible, but maybe it's just less fun to be a professional pilot than it used to be.

Here in Nashua, Daniel Webster College cut its pilot training program a couple years, and although a small program has been returned in an innovative way as I recently reported, there's still a lot less pilot training happening in Nashua than there used to be. Flights at the city airport have fallen by more than one-third in the past decade, mostly because of that cutback.

My new clickbait strategy: Always bring up Ben Franklin

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Maybe a picture will help, too

The Telegraph's web folks have informed me that my best-read story online for the month of November, by a mile, was a tossed-off item about the history of daylight saving time that I slapped together to fill a hole in the next day's paper.

Since it contained nothing that couldn't be found in 10 minutes of Googling, I assume the popularity is due to the headline: "Time to change the clocks again - because who wants to argue with Ben Franklin?"

In a way this is depressing, when I think of all the brilliant, insightful, witty pieces that I crafted last month only to have them ignored by everybody except for 17 people and some search-engine spiders. On the other hand, it provides me a handy tool for increasing online traffic: Always mention Ben Franklin.

I'm writing about electric cars today: Ben's kite goes in the lede!

(The best part of my story? This comment on the bottom from a reader: "Why is it every year we have to have the same articles on the time change who cares set your clock back you don't need to write an essay about it every year.")

Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and the obnoxious public

A famous person wrote this sentence to another famous person - can you guess who?

"If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated."

No, not the Hollywood/Internet starlet of the moment: It was Albert Einstein, writing to Marie Curie. Proof that Internet trolls and online obnoxious behavior has been around since the days when Planck's constant was still variable.*

I learned it from this great Slate piece that looked through the latest release of Einstein's papers. It's well worth a read, even if you are a reptile from the rabble.

Yet another 1,000-megawatt power line proposal for N.E. - this one combines wind and hydro

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This schematic shows the idea behind the Maine Green Line power project, a proposed 1,000-megawatt direct current line bringing power to eastern Massachusetts.

National Grid has joined with a Boston developer of transmission lines in seeking to build an undersea power line that would combine Canadian hydropower with Maine wind power and bring it to Boston – even as another partnership moves ahead with a huge power line beneath Lake Champlain in Vermont that would bring Quebec hydropower into New England.

These two separate projects, each of which would cost at least a billion dollars and not be ready until 2019 at the earliest, are part of the large-scale debate over how New England should deal with spiking winter electricity rates, a function of the region’s dependence on natural gas.

Here's my whole story today. Now I'm off to a meeting about how N.H. businesses can cope with high electricity prices this winter.

Getting set to be on stage tonight in Manchester to talk about M.C. Escher

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Doing a little cramming before the exam.

UPDATE: Only two people at the show, which drew about 30, said they had read at least part of Godel, Escher, Bach. I was surprised.

There will be four people on stage at the Shaskeen Pub in Manchester tonight to talk about the science and art of M.C. Escher, and I'll be one of them. (Go figure!) It is this month's Science on Tap, sponsored by SEE Science Museum, prodded by Escher shows at the museum and at the Currier Museum of Art. It starts at 6 p.m., and there will be beer and food aplenty to purchase.

After four years of moderating Science Cafe NH in Nashua, I'm going to see what it's like to be somebody who's supposed to have some answers instead of just questions - specifically about the math of Escher's work. Happily, since I was first invited they have found a real mathematician to be up there as well, so I think I'll mostly sit there quietly and nod. Call me a science cafe Ed McMahon.

But just in case - let's see what wikipedia has to say about Penrose tiling.

Finally, one of those stupid state-comparison lists that's actually good! (It involves Santa)

I have ranted several times in print and in this blog about the plague of publicity-seeking lists created by websites, usually selling real estate, that rank states as "most livable" or "friendliest" or "best business atmosphere" or "best for (some age group or profession or hobby)" or some other snappy criteria.

All they ever do is grab a few pieces of publicly accessible data, weight them arbitrarily, do a spreadsheet calculation and then generate a ranking - which they email to every news outlet in the country, complete with back links, knowing that we're suckers for lists.

They're stupid and useless and I hate them. Until now. Estately, a real estate site, finally did one right.

We set out to determine which U.S. states would be the best places for Santa Claus to relocate to when the polar ice caps melt. To determine this we ranked each state using seven Santa-specific criteria and averaged the results to determine the overall rankings.

1. Cookie stores per capita 2. Suitable habitat for reindeer 3. Locals employed in manufacturing 4. Enthusiasm for eggnog 5. Percentage of residents with last name "Kringle" 6. Facebook interest in Santa Claus 7. Milk production per capita.

New Hampshire was sixth, partly because we were No. 2 in the country in eggnog enthusiasm, measured by Facebook posts and Google searches. And who knew we had so many people named Kringle?

Vermont was third, Maine eighth. Washington state was first and Hawaii last, in case you're wondering.

Here's the entire story, with a hat tip for cleverness:

http://blog.estately.com/2014/12/10-best-states-for-santa-claus-to-relocate-to/locate-to/

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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, Jan. 21

TOPIC: To be announced

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

PAST TOPICS:

2014:

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.

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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