China Makes Artificial Rain for Beijing

Chinese weather specialists used chemicals to engineer Beijing’s heaviest rainfall of the year, helping to relieve drought and rinse dust from China’s capital, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday. The Los Angeles Times relayed this story from China yesterday.

I’m not an expert in weather modification, but I know a little about it. Cloud seeding has been tried in the past and the results are usually less than desired.

Let me start at the essence – to see a cloud, you need a cloud. So, if you’re thinking of going to the Gobi and planting flowers, forget it.

You also need the proper temperature structure. Cloud seeding promotes the formation of ice crystals which, being too heavy to remain suspended in the cloud, fall to earth, melting on the way down. Voila – it’s rain.

I am worried that someone in China is selling a bill of goods to the government – making this seem more reliable than it really is. The fact that a single episode is squarely credited with record rainfall seems foolhardy at best and certainly non-scientific.

In science, when something happens without proper controls and protocols being in place, it’s called anecdotal evidence. It is interesting to look at, and probably spurs more study, but you can’t draw conclusions from anecdotes.

From the article, it looks like that’s just what they’ve done!

More important than the lack of rain is the terrible condition of Chinese air quality – the reason they needed this rain in the first place.

Judging by video I’ve seen, and first hand reports from friends and relatives who’ve visited, China’s air is not fit for breathing! City vistas are yellow with haze.

I just did a quick check on the weather in Beijing (not their most industrial city) and found a few hours yesterday when the reported weather condition was “smoke!”

We’re not perfect here, but many of the pollutants China is putting into the atmosphere have been brought under control in the states (many – not all, by any means). That means, probably for the cost savings, China has chosen not to use currently available technology.

I’m not a big worrier when it comes to human induced climate modification (aka – global warming), but if you are, what’s being done in Beijing should scare the daylights out of you. Whatever moisture falls from seeding is moisture unavailable for cloudiness (and rain) downstream.

There was once a commercial where the tag line was, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Correct.

Stuff You Don’t Know About The Shuttle

I’ve been to see a few launches at the Space Center. I’ve stood along the banks of the Banana River, right next to that ridiculously large digital clock. The shuttle sits on its pad, a few miles away.

It’s tough to miss KSC. The focal point is the Vehicle Assembly Building, the VAB. It’s one of the largest buildings in the world. There’s room enough to outfit two shuttles at once.

Within the VAB, the shuttle’s exterior is easily reached through a series of catwalks and platforms. Everything has got to be handy. Everything has got to be within arm’s reach.

The shuttle leaves the VAB on the ‘crawler’ and makes it way down a gravel road to the launch pad. The road is gravel because a paved road could never take the weight! The gravel, actually more stones than gravel, acts to cushion and spread the load.

You’ve got to realize they’re shooting off something the size of a pretty big building. Everything is oversized. This is not a subminiature operation.

The shuttle craft itself isn’t that large, but it’s strapped onto its propulsion system, the Roman candles which carries it into space.

You see the shuttle before you hear it. The light, as the rockets start firing is bright, even on a sunny Florida day. The light travels at 186,000 miles per second. The sound moves closer to 500 mph.

I’m not sure how this works, but before I’ve heard the shuttle, I’ve sensed the sound waves were coming at me. Whether it was a distortion of the view, or the movement of the tall grass, there was something that let me track its progress.

The shuttle is loud. More than ‘ear loud’ you feel the loudness as a vibration on your chest. Over on the launch pad, NASA is busy pouring water on the shuttle – massive quantities every second. The vibration of the shuttle, which causes the noise, is so violent that without water to act as a shock absorber, the shuttle would vibrate itself apart.

The flames and smoke are pushing against the ground. You can’t see it unless you’re on the pad, but there are trenches which channel the fire from the engines. If you fly over the launch site, you can see where grass has been singed and then has regrown.

The launch complex is lined with a chain link fence. I don’t think it’s for security as much as a delineation of where people shouldn’t be. Every once in a while, wedged tightly into the openings in the links, are rocks, big rocks thrown by the force of the thrust.

When I’ve been there, as the shuttle lifted, its trajectory took it south along with east. As it climbed, the shuttle rotated so, to us on the ground, it seemed to be upside down.

Somewhere, ten or fifteen seconds into the flight there is a moment where you want to rewind and do it again. There’s only one time to see what’s happening. Don’t blink. Stay rapt in your attention.

A trip to the launch complex after the shuttle has left is eerily strange. Lots of concrete. Lots of plumbing. It looks like an abandoned oil refinery. The area is ripe with the smell of the withes brew of chemicals used in the launch.

There are wire lines and baskets that run to the pad. In case of an emergency, the astronauts are supposed to be able to leave the shuttle, hop in a basket, and slide down the line to safety.

They’ve never been used in an emergency situation and I’d assume they’re dangerous enough not to use too often in practice either.

Later today, hopefully, everything will go as planned.

The Paper Cut

I have been in a bad mood today. I’m not sure why. I can’t really put my finger on it. I have my suspicions. Sometimes a bad mood will trump reality and manifest itself even when there’s no reason for it to exist.

Bad moods are part of life – they pass with time.

When you’re in a funk… having that bad day, it can seem like fate is transpiring against you. Here’s my example.

I was at my desk at work, sorting through stacks of weather data when a piece of paper caught me in that valley between my right thumb and forefinger. The sting of a paper cut was there immediately. I tried to disregard it as best I could, but a few minutes later I looked down to see a lump of clotted blood over the streaks of red on my hand.

This is not earth shattering, just nagging. Within a few minutes it had clotted over and the bleeding was finished.

What I want to know is, how does this work? How can a piece of paper slice through flesh? I can’t imagine cutting a steak with a piece of paper, but it must be possible.

Indiana University though enough of this common ailment to post some background on its website

A paper cut is similar to a cut with a razor blade, with one major difference. A razor blade makes a smooth, clean incision in the skin, leaving behind few if any foreign particles that might cause the wound to become infected. Although it might hurt initially, the pain brought on by a small razor cut usually fades after a few minutes.

Like a superficial cut by a razor blade, a paper cut smoothly parts the skin. But while a clean razor leaves little behind to irritate the wound, a paper cut deposits material that really stings. Paper is made of pressed wood mulch and a variety of chemicals. When paper cuts into the skin, chemical-coated fibers as well as bacteria and tiny particles remain in the wound and stimulate pain receptors in the skin.

Because the cut is usually small and shallow, the skin on either side of the wound closes quickly, trapping the fibers and other particles inside. The result is a good deal of pain, and since the closed wound doesn’t allow for much bleeding, the pain seems entirely out of proportion to a cut that you can barely detect.

So the next time you get a paper cut, remember this Moment of Science. It won’t help dull the pain, but at least you’ll know what’s causing it.

Still, that doesn’t answer how and why paper becomes knife-like. In fact, after a less than exhaustive survey of the Internet, I still don’t know how it happens. I just know it still stings.

Fall Foliage

Steffie had a field hockey game early this afternoon. Her team was playing at another team’s homecoming day. Never a good sign. You invite teams you’ll beat to homecoming.

Steffie played really well. She’s very aggressive and fast. These are two traits not normally associated with the Fox family.

Unfortunately, strong play can also mean injury. Steffie’s thumb was bent in a way thumbs are not mean to go. She sat out the last 15 minutes with ice over her hand. Later a trainer wrapped her with an Ace bandage.

The bandage is still on. She’s still applying ice. We’re hoping it’s only a sprain.

It was quite chilly today. I had forecast sun, but the clouds never parted. The temperature never rose out of the mid-40s. The wind was brisk.

Damn you winter. I know you’re coming. Why can’t you be a no show, like the sunshine was?

If there is a saving grace about this time of year, it’s the color of the leaves. Connecticut is very pretty, but especially so in the fall. This was very noticable today.

Since people read this blog from virtually everywhere, let me explain what I’m talking about. We have deciduous trees in Connecticut. They bloom in the summer and go dormant in the winter. The leaves fall to the ground and the trees are bare.

In the fall, as the trees begin to ‘shut down,’ the chemicals that make the leaves green all summer are depleted. Colors that had been hidden, vibrant colors with reds and golds, begin to show. It’s really quite spectacular and people come to New England just to see the show. It doesn’t last long.

I’ve taken some of my best shots and put them in a little album. Click here if you’d like to see what I’m talking about.