Tampons glowing in blacklight detect leaking sanitary sewers


Professor Lerner checking a stream in Sheffield with more typical, more expensive methods

“You do get people looking at you strangely, but the tampon is not that obvious.”

That’s Professor David Lerner, explaining what it was like to conduct a research project where feminine hygiene products were inserted into streams and sewers around Yorkshire, UK. Why? It turns out tampons are an accurate and cheap way to sample water quality.

Towns and cities usually have two separate sewer systems. A sanitary sewer collects everything you flush or rinse down the drain, and transports it to a sewage facility for treatment. Storm sewers or overflow sewers collect up rain and runoff from roofs, paved roads, and parking lots. They empty that water into natural waterways like streams or rivers.

Storm sewers are not designed to handle untreated waste waters so it’s important to keep what goes into them clean. “Grey water” contamination is a common problem — water from dishwashers, showers, and laundry that ends up in the storm sewer via incompetent plumbing or deliberate dumping…

OBs – optical brighteners – are a regular additive to detergents that brighten whites and help hide yellow stains. They do this with a clever bit of visual trickery — an alternative name for optical whiteners is fluorescent whiteners. These compounds absorb invisible ultraviolet light and re-emit it as visible blue-white light, making your whites whiter. If you happen to have yellow stains on your shirt collar, the blue covers up the yellow via complementary color masking.

Optical brighteners do not occur naturally in rivers and streams, so they are a handy marker for contamination from human grey water sources. Brightening compounds glow brightly under UV light, so they’re a clear indicator of pollution.

Fibre optic cables can be inserted into sewer systems to monitor contamination, but the cost is quite high–up to $13 per meter of sewer tested. Spectrophotometers can be used to detect contaminants, but they aren’t cheap, and require training and calibration to use reliably. Testing an entire network of drains and sewers in a large urban area would be incredibly expensive in both time and equipment.

What Lerner and his research collaborator wanted was a simple, low-cost method for monitoring water contamination. Something that members of the public could do to to check their neighborhood streams. So the two Yorkshire engineers modified a US Environmental Protection Agency monitoring technique using cotton pads to be even simpler, smaller, and more portable: they used tampons as environmental samplers

Preliminary lab tests by the researchers confirmed that tampons quickly picked up optical brighteners at very low concentrations. Once they had their proof of concept, the scientists moved out into the field.

Tampons were placed in 16 surface water sewers, using the handy attached string to secure them to bamboo poles. After 3 days the tampons were retrieved and tested under UV light. And indeed, they did successfully detect grey water contamination, and determination of a positive and negative result was pretty clear. The total cost of each sampling? An estimated 30 cents including the cost of the black light…

This is what the military calls a field expedient. Like an improvised explosive device – the ever-popular IED so profligate in bits of the Middle East – any kind of field expedient can completely replace a more expensive traditional flavor of device.

After a couple of Yorkshire engineers complete larger, broadly inclusive testing, it sounds like another field expedient will enter the arsenal of water quality testing.

Solar-powered plane continues flight circling the globe


Click to enlarge

Solar Impulse, the fuel-free aeroplane, has completed the fifth leg of its round-the-world flight.

The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, touched down in Chongqing in China just after 17:30 GMT.

It had left Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) some 20 hours previously.

The intention had been to make the briefest of stops in Chongqing before pushing on to Nanjing in the east of the country, but that strategy has been abandoned because of weather concerns.

The team will now lay over in southwest China until a good window opens up on the east coast…

Getting to the city of Nanjing would set up Solar Impulse to make its first big ocean crossing – a five-day, five-night flight to Hawaii…

The team will use the time in Chongqing to promote renewable energy as part of its “future is clean” campaign…

It is almost three weeks since the venture got under way from Abu Dhabi.

The project expects the circumnavigation of the globe to be completed in a total of 12 legs, with a return to the Emirate in a few months’ time…

No solar-powered plane has ever flown around the world.

Humans always want to fly. Doing it without pumping carbon into the atmosphere makes it all the better.

Indiana’s law – is not pro religion, it’s Anti-Gay – of course

Governor Mike Pence is lying about the purpose of this law. The photo below, and who the governor invited to its being signed into law, very much reveals the motivation behind SB101 — it’s not pro-religion, it’s anti-gay, and that’s wrong.

It’s also bad business — companies like Apple and Angies List may very well be the tip of the iceberg; I suspect we may see other companies vote with their feet — and their dollars. Pence has revealed himself, and may have just torpedoed his own Presidential ambitions.

The Party of Lincoln, what happened to you?


#BoycottIndiana

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz, my favorite Recovering Republican

New Mexico’s declining middle class


Click to access interactive/larger map

Stateline, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, put together a neat (albeit sobering) infographic this week analyzing how much the middle class is shrinking in each state.

The news isn’t good for anyone, as all 50 states saw a drop in middle class households since the turn of the millennium. But it’s especially bad for the Land of Enchantment.

New Mexico’s middle class saw a drop of nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2013, or more specifically from 48 percent to 43.2 percent of the state’s households.

That’s comparable to states like Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, North Dakota and Ohio. Only Wisconsin, according to the chart, had a higher middle class drop during the same time period, totaling 6 percent…

Each of New Mexico’s neighboring states’ share of middle class sit between 45 percent and 52 percent of all households—which are all higher that New Mexico.

Each of our peers at the bottom – like New Mexico – has a Republican governor.

Sneeze catcher – Patent issued 12/16/2014

sneeze catcher

It’s a given that all manner of unwelcome microbial and viral particles can be exhaled by a person during a sneeze or a cough. Prompting inventor Joseph Apisa of Colts Neck, NJ, US, to create a ‘Sneeze catching method and apparatus’ It’s just received a US patent (Dec. 16, 2014). It can be, and indeed is, described in one sentence :Sneeze-catcher

“An apparatus for catching bodily fluids ejected during a sneeze or cough, said apparatus comprising: a sleeve having a first open end, a second open end and a perimeter wall being attached to and extending between said first and second open ends; a frame being pivotally coupled to said perimeter wall, said frame having an exterior edge, an interior edge, an upper surface and a lower surface, said frame having an attached edge and a free edge positioned opposite of each other, said attached edge being attached to said perimeter wall, said frame being positioned in an open position having said free edge spaced from said sleeve or in a closed position having said free edge secured to said sleeve, said frame bounding a receiving space when said frame is in said closed position; a covering being attached to and being coextensive with said interior edge, said covering extending over said receiving space, said covering being comprised of an air and fluid permeable material; a closure being mounted on said sleeve and releasably retaining said frame in said closed position; a pad being removably positioned in said receiving space, said pad having anti-bacterial properties; and wherein said sleeve is configured to be worn on an arm of a person such that the person may sneeze or cough into said pad and that said pad captures and destroys bacteria exhaled by the person.“

Thanks to the annals of Improbable Research

Google loses appeal in Safari cookie tracking case – can face trial in the UK


Security company director Marc Bradshaw, editor and publisher Judith Vidal-Hall

“Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions”

The U.K.’s Court of Appeal has denied Google’s request to block lawsuits from British consumers over the search giant’s disregard for Safari privacy restrictions designed to prevent advertisers from tracking users.

These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial,” the Court said in its judgement, according to the BBC. “They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature…about and associated with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

The case stems from 2012 allegations that Google intentionally bypassed Safari’s default privacy settings, which restrict websites from setting cookies unless the user has interacted with those sites directly. Google skirted this limitation by amending its advertising code to submit an invisible form on behalf of the user — without their consent — thus allowing tracking cookies to be set.

Those allegations prompted a six-month investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which Google eventually settled. The $22.5 million fine levied by the FTC was the largest such sanction in the agency’s history, and Google later agreed to pay a further $17 million in fines to settle cases in 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Google was able to avoid class-action lawsuits in the U.S., but its defense — that consumers had not suffered monetary harm — was not enough to evade British courts.

That’s right. The Feds and 37 states were able to claim damages from Google. But, US courts in their infinite concern for the almighty dollar and little else – ruled that the computer users whose privacy was deliberately abused by Google have no standing to sue in a class action because they didn’t lose any money as a result of Google’ sleazy practices.

But, in the UK, privacy is considered the right of an ordinary citizen and Google’s abuse of that right makes them liable for a class action suit by users. So saith this pissed-off cranky old geek who thinks we should have the same right here in the GOUSA.

And, yes, I think Google is just about the same level of scumbag as the NSA.

This past winter set a global heat record

This map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows vast areas around the world where temperatures from December through February were above average this winter. Only the Northeast U.S. was in a big chill…

Last week, the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service reported that La Plata County’s average temperature for the meteorological winter – from December through February – was 5 degrees above average…

But Southwest Colorado was just part of a bigger global trend.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, with data from NASA, announced this week that this winter and the first two months of 2015 were the hottest on record globally, with the chilly Northeast U.S. sticking out like a cold thumb in a toastier world.

At nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, last month was the second-warmest February on record globally, slightly behind 1998.

But the combined January and February temperature beat the old record for the first two months set in 2002.

December through February broke the meteorological winter record set in 2007.

NOAA records go back 135 years to 1880. But, that’s OK. You probably can find a guy who trained as a weatherman for some local radio station, or a conservative investor who made money in the “weather business” – to dispute the sum of global scientific record-keeping and analysis.

And with slightly over 6% of the land area of planet Earth, you know the opinion of Americans about the weather is the only one that counts.

How many women made the Forbes Midas list? – You can’t be too cynical

In a bit of accidental perfect timing, Forbes just published its Midas List of top tech investors.

GGV Capital partner Jenny Lee is the first woman to crack its list of Top 10 investors, which is led by such well-known figures as Sequoia Capital’s Jim Goetz, who backed WhatsApp, the mobile messaging company acquired by Facebook for $22 billion, and Lowercase Capital founder Chris Sacca, an early investor in Twitter.

In the wake of the Ellen Pao gender discrimination trial, which shed a harsh light on the clubby world of venture capital, we decided to see how many women made it to the hot 100 of tech investors. The answer? Five (including Lee). That’s worse than the national average of 6 percent of female partners, according to research from Babson College.

Internet trends guru Mary Meeker, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — the firm at the center of Pao’s suit — came in at No. 15 on the Forbes’ list. Biotech investor Beth Seidenberg, another partner at Kleiner, also made the cut.

Pao lost her suit, in a closely watched trial that captivated Silicon Valley and served as a referendum on the challenges women have faced in the world of technology and business.

FORBES continues to ignore it all. At least the part where change is accepted as a good thing.