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My First Earthquake

October 16th, 2012 by Paul Hutchinson

I felt my first earthquake a few minutes ago, It was this one from the USGS site, centered in southern Maine. The house shook for a few seconds and nothing fell over but I must admit I was concerned enough that I headed down from the open plan second floor to shelter in a doorway. By the time I got down the stairs the shaking had stopped.

Posted in Blackstone Valley, Science | Comments Off on My First Earthquake

Another Questionable Medical Practitioner Trying to Intimidate Critics

November 29th, 2011 by Paul Hutchinson

Read all about it here.

Posted in Pseudoscience, Science | Comments Off on Another Questionable Medical Practitioner Trying to Intimidate Critics

Happy World Metrology Day

May 20th, 2010 by Paul Hutchinson

Copyright 2010 WMD teamToday is the 4th annual World Metrology Day sponsored by the Bureau international des poids et mesures (BIPM, International Bureau of Weights and Measures) and Organisation Internationale de Métrologie Légale (OIML, International Organization of Legal Metrology).

From the press release:

As the world strives to move on from its recent financial problems, and as Governments work to regenerate economies, we shall find that science and technology are the engines of economic growth and prosperity. These, in turn, rely on being able to measure correctly and to refer measurements to the same international reference standards. A world without accurate measurement is a world where science, technology, trade and society can’t communicate and where error and uncertainty would reign supreme.

For an excellent introduction to the subject read, Metrology – In Short by the European Association of National Metrology Institutes (EURAMET).

Posted in Engineering, Science | Comments Off on Happy World Metrology Day

The Most Important Documentary of 2010

April 28th, 2010 by Paul Hutchinson

Last night Frontline aired what I feel may go down as the most important documentary of 2010, The Vaccine War. An extremely well made documentary that is as unbiased and factual as possible, this is what I expect and nearly always get from Frontline. On the rare occasion I’ve seen where Frontline messes up, they quickly and thoroughly correct the mistake.

I feel this documentary is important not because it will likely end the problem of the anti-vaccine movement, although I really hope it will. It is important because if we keep heading down this road eventually the avoidance of vaccinations will cause unnecessary illness, pain and death. It may be twenty or more years from now but if it happens we’ll have this documentary to review and see who caused the problem. Then we can rightly blame the irresponsible parties (I’m looking at you, McCarthy, Handley, Fisher, Kennedy and the other out front denialists).

Check your local listing for re-broadcast times, watch the documentary online at PBS.org or the embedded version below.

Posted in Conspiracy Theory, Pseudoscience, Science, Television | Comments Off on The Most Important Documentary of 2010

World Metrology Day Coming in May

April 27th, 2010 by Paul Hutchinson

May 20th is the 4th annual World Metrology Day sponsored by the Bureau international des poids et mesures (BIPM)(International Bureau of Weights and Measures) and the Organisation Internationale de Métrologie Légale (OIML)(International Organization of Legal Metrology).

Metrology is the science of measurement so it’s used everywhere, from cutting edge laboratories to most everyone’s home. I’d be hard pressed to think of any scientific endeavor that didn’t involve metrology at some level. From a simple scale (ruler) to measure the length of a leaf by a botanist to the atomic clocks that make astronomical observations so precise, metrology is everywhere.

On a personal level, metrology is my favorite branch of science I’m a metrology geek. I love to create new measuring instruments and techniques and of course just simply measure. I’m in awe of the cutting edge research done by fine organizations around the world such as the NIST in the USA.

Posted in Science | Comments Off on World Metrology Day Coming in May

Vaccine Pink Book Graphs

March 10th, 2010 by Paul Hutchinson

In a comment by DrKnow over at Orac’s place I learned about the CDC’s book “Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases” aka “The Pink Book: Course Textbook”. It isn’t written for the layman but the graphs in it are very informative. I’ve clipped some of the graphs from some of the chapters and made them into a single picture so you don’t have to find each one separately. (Click picture to enlarge)


Some of the graphs show when the vaccines where introduced, on the graphs without the labels can you figure out roughly when the vaccine was introduced?

Check your answers in the Pink Book, I’m guessing most of my readers will be able to get the answers right within +/- 5 years or so.

Posted in Safety, Science | Comments Off on Vaccine Pink Book Graphs

New Strategy for Wireless Service Operators

January 23rd, 2010 by Paul Hutchinson

iBurst (Pty) Ltd. a wireless ISP in South Africa has tried a new strategy in overcoming tower installation objections due to claims of electromagnetic hypersensitivity. They turned the tower off completely without telling the neighbors for over a month and observed as the complaints of EHS continued. This proves conclusively, to anyone capable of the most basic critical thinking, that the tower is not the cause of the reported symptoms.

Unfortunately the neighbors still want to try to have a court shut down the tower showing that the neighbors aren’t thinking logically. The company did what is considered the gold standard in EMI/EMF effect testing by every regulatory agency, standards organization and decent engineer. Once you turn off the power to any transmitter, bringing the power output to zero, anything still happening is clearly not from that transmitter.

This incredibly simple and essentially infallible disconnect test is about as good as it gets. Many people should be familiar with this type of test from their own experience. The most common example I can think of is when you’re sitting in a parked car and hear a noise that seems to be coming from the engine. You turn off the engine and if the sound goes away the engine is the culprit, if the sound remains it’s not the engine. No functional human being should be able to deny the results of this test and the radio transmitter variation is just as reliable.

It is clear that EHS is a very real disorder but it is also very likely to be a psychogenic illness. Many studies and tests of EHS have been made over the past decades and the evidence points squarely at this being psychogenic. Sadly, as this iBurst case so clearly demonstrates, no matter how good the evidence is, some people refuse to believe and instead fall back on standard pseudoscience tactics.

Links to some full free access journal articles on this topic:

Posted in Pseudoscience, Science | 1 Comment »

Hummingbirds on PBS’s Nature

January 12th, 2010 by Paul Hutchinson

Last night I watched this weeks episode of Nature on PBS, Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air, and I loved it. I’ve come to expect superb documentaries from Nature and this episode did not disappoint. Check your local listings for air times, if you miss it on your local PBS station the full episode is available for viewing on line.

Posted in Nature, Science, Television | Comments Off on Hummingbirds on PBS’s Nature

A Profusion of Pipes, Cluster of Corpses, Gathering of Ghosts

November 17th, 2009 by Paul Hutchinson

Indian Pipes, Corpse Plants or Ghost Plants that is, on August third my sister was looking out the kitchen window to the woods bordering the back yard and called me to check out an unusual sight. (Click images for larger versions)

Wow! Over 400 Indian Pipes, (Monotropa uniflora) were growing in a 2 square meter area. I’ve seen this plant hundreds of times out in the woods but never more than a dozen or two in one place. With such an unusual natural event I had to take a whole bunch of photos.

Nearby the Indian Pipes, I spotted this nicely posed mushroom. My best guess at an identification is a Common Funnel Cap (Clitocybe gibba).

Normally I try to avoid disturbing native plants growing wild but, since my sister had never seen an Indian Pipe before and there where so many on our land, I picked one for her. After she’d examined it I put it in the fridge so that once I was done with work for the day I could take some macro and micro photographs.

Whenever I’ve seen Indian Pipes it has been in forest areas so I was very surprised to see two clumps of Indian Pipes growing on the grassy bank of a drainage ditch in front of my employers factory a few days later.

There are more photographs in my online photo album.

I had never seen these odd flowers growing through grass before, this had to be an extraordinary year for Indian Pipes. Witnessing this population explosion of a normally rare flower I wondered why it had happened. Being a native plant I figured the most likely cause was an increase in their food supply. Since we had experienced above average rainfall and below average temperatures in June and July I thought that was a probable cause.

Pondering my hypothesis, it didn’t hold water given my knowledge of this plants nature. Forty years ago I was taught that these flowering plants with no chlorophyll couldn’t use the sun like green plants so they fed on decaying leaf litter. To speed the rate of decay you want to increase both moisture and temperature so, while the extra rain would help the lower temperatures wouldn’t.

This led me to start searching for more information on this flower, my first stop for information on flowers of southern New England is usually the Connecticut Botanical Society. As usual I found a good summary page there with the scientific name to help me find further sources and the following description.

Indian pipe, like its relative pinesap, has no chlorophyll, so it cannot obtain energy from sunlight. Instead, it gets nutrients from organic matter in the soil.

This confirmed what I had learned decades ago so I was still puzzled why there was a population explosion. Researching further (see resources list at the end of the article for links) I found out that I and the CBS website had obsolete information. Scientists have shown that Indian Pipe does not get its nourishment from decaying material, it’s a parasitic plant! Monotropa uniflora is a parasite of fungi that are mycorrhizal symbionts of trees so, increasing rate of decay in the leaf litter wouldn’t likely be a factor at all. The unusual weather in June and July likely caused the fungi and its associated tree(s) to generate a larger than normal food supply giving this parasitic flower an advantage.

Reading through all the information I’d found led me to another mystery. Some of the sources imply or outright state that the tree involved in the relationship is a always conifer. The Indian Pipes in my yard where near pine trees and my memory is that whenever I’d seen them other places in the past there were conifers nearby. However, most of my nature explorations have been in southern New England and almost everywhere is mixed deciduous and conifer forest. So having conifers nearby is really just a default condition and not necessarily linked to the Indian Pipes.

Thinking back on the flowers I found near the drainage ditch, they were on the other side of the drainage ditch from the conifers in the area. Since the ditch is four feet wide and four feet deep it seemed unlikely that the fungus was going down over four feet through the sand and gravel base of the ditch to reach pine trees. There is only one tree on the flowers side of the ditch, a sapling oak tree a few feet away from the flowers. So I hit the resources again for more in depth reading and found that the conifer association is not stated as a requirement in the more thorough references. I suspect the little clusters by the drainage ditch are parasites of a fungus attached to that little oak tree.

With all the references I’ve studied I learned something that leads to another puzzle. The mushroom I saw around the Pipes in the back yard is very likely to be from the fungus it is parasitizing. Also a number of studies have shown that Monotropa uniflora associates with quite a few different fungi but they are all of the family Russulaceae. My mushroom identification was in the Tricholomataceae family which doesn’t fit with the literature I’ve read.

To solve the puzzle I came up with a list of possible solutions:

  1. I misidentified the mushroom.
  2. The mushroom is not from the fungi associated with the flowers.
  3. The literature is incomplete, Monotropa uniflora can associate with fungi of the Tricholomataceae family.

Applying the basics of Occam’s razor, solution 3 drops off first, multiple studies have shown Indian Pipes only associated with family Russulaceae. This leaves one and two to consider, given that I saw no other mushrooms in that area this summer that leaves number one as the most plausible solution. Big surprise, Not! Even experts have a hard time identifying mushrooms which is why I would never trust my identification and eat a mushroom I found and identified.

Monotropa uniflora Resources:



Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month for October 2002

Botanical Society of America Parasitic Plants Online

Native Plant Information Network @ the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Posted in Nature, Photography, Science | Comments Off on A Profusion of Pipes, Cluster of Corpses, Gathering of Ghosts

Good Health Insurance/Care Status Review

September 8th, 2009 by Paul Hutchinson

New Scientist has produced a good video illustrating The scientific arguments for US healthcare reform. It’s a short video that simply covers the facts.

Hat Tip to Larry Moran from Sandwalk for pointing me to this.

Posted in Science | Comments Off on Good Health Insurance/Care Status Review

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