In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


1.   Central Subway: Help send to Washington
2.   Birding at Heron's Head Park with Josiah Clark Sat March 10
3.   Born this day, 1806 - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
4.   How To Be a Poet, by Wendell Berry
5.   Wildflower field trip to Sign Hill in SSF Sat March 10
6.   Sunday Streets gearing up for 2012
7.   Potluck celebration for defeating water treatment plant in GGP, Mar 18
8.   Pelican Dreams - Audubon talk Thurs 15
9.   Audubon concerns with America's Cup
10. City College SF offers Ecology of San Francisco April 14, 21
11.  Wise people dispense words of wisdom
12.  No need to open public lands to drilling
13.  Moral and culinary merits of exotic flesh
14.  Attitude to same-sex sex changing, for the good
15.  Ocean Film Festival March 8 - 11
16.  Seeing desert wildflowers this year: a site for your eyes
17.  Help SaveTheFrogs in Belize
18.  Seed germinated and bloomed after 30,000 years in permafrost
19.  Do you like my poems?  Then pay
20.  Feedback - several subjects
21.   Four new books on quantum physics/Higgs boson
22.  The Sun eroding the Moon
23.  Bridge stolen near Shanghai

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:  Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known. -Michel de Montaigne


 The Central Subway is like the bad freeway plans of the past.
The Central Subway can be stopped like the Embarcadero Freeway.
Well-organized citizens can fend off boondoggles.

HELP SEND SAVEMUNI.COM TO WASHINGTON. plans to send three well-versed representatives to Washington---to meet with Congress and decision-makers to stop the Central Subway.  The Federal Transit Administration has not yet granted final funding approvals, and Congress has an additional sixty-day review period.  Many legislators and officials, locally and nationally, know the Central Subway is a boondoggle---but need transportation data and political impetus to act.  See below for donations info.

The Central Subway means more Muni service cuts and fare/ fee increases.
Facing debilitating multi-year budget deficits, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is threatening more service cuts and fare/ fee increases---after cuts/ increases in 2009 and 2010.
Meanwhile, Muni infrastructure is crumbling.  Muni’s $1.9 billion in deferred maintenance are a ticking time bomb, which will continuously erode transit service levels.

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) cites pervasive Muni safety Issues.
In the 3-6-12 SFMTA Board Agenda:  “Conference with Legal Counsel:  Existing Litigation---Investigation into the Operations, Practices and Conduct of the SFMTA Regarding Ongoing Public Safety Issues, California Public Utilities Commission, I. 11-02-017, Issued on 2/24/2011.”

“The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today began penalty considerations based on CPUC staff allegations of pervasive safety concerns regarding the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's (SFMTA or Muni) light rail system. This action was taken after CPUC safety inspectors found numerous safety violations on Muni's light rail system in San Francisco. In their report to the CPUC, the inspectors have alleged that SFMTA has been chronically unresponsive to alleged violations and other findings.”

“If you’re a regular Muni rider, you know that delays are common on weekday commutes to and from work. You might not know, however, that San Francisco’s transportation agency has routinely fallen short on safety inspections for the past year and a half, according to a report released this week by the California Public Utilities Commission.”

If the Central Subway were truly a sound transportation project, then politicians, public officials and lobbyists wouldn’t be needed to twist the arms of the public and decision-makers.  Instead, a multi-million dollar media campaign has pitched the Central Subway like snake oil and subprime derivatives, using Muni funds to lobby Muni’s own customers, governing bodies and officials.

CITIREPORT:  “Lobbyists Turn Millions into Billions”: 
“Money Follows Controversy
The top ten clients who promised payments for lobbying surfaces some of the most controversial issues at City Hall.
California Pacific Medical Center promised the most in payments for lobbying, at $750,985. Aecom, which is leading the Central Subway and other projects, ranked second at $360,000. Third was Millennium Partners, also at $360,000.”

NEW YORK TIMES:  “Out Of Office, but Not Out of Things to Say”:  
“His [former Mayor Willie Brown] law firm represents prominent clients, among them Aecom, an engineering firm involved in San Francisco’s central subway project, and the California Online Poker Association.”

EPOCH TIMES:  “San Francisco Mayoral Debate gives Glimpse of Chinatown Politics”:
“CCDC [Chinatown Community Development Center} also gets a juicy subcontract related to the Central Subway project, including $30,000 a month to spend on ‘community outreach’.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL:  “The Billion-Dollar-A-Mile Subway Makes Perfect Sense”:
NOTE:  Even while the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is evaluating the Central Subway project, the FTA Administrator defended the project in the Wall Street Journal---responding to an Editorial that blasted the Subway Boondoggle. The conflict of interest is worsened by transit data that shows the Central Subway decreasing transit service levels and travel times for tens of thousands of riders.

Instead of Muni service cutbacks, fare/ fee increases and crumbling infrastructure, imagine how the Central Subway's hundreds of millions of dollars in existing state/ local funds could revitalize the citywide Muni System.  Political leaders do pay heed to well-reasoned arguments of their constituents.  MORE INFO: .

DONATIONS:  Send your checks (and payable to) to Howard Wong, 126 Varennes St., San Francisco, CA 94133.
Stopping the Central Subway is not Republican, Democratic or partisan---it's about ending waste and inefficiency for the benefit of the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Jerry Cauthen

Howard Wong,
Ph:  (415)-982-5055


2.  Green Connections Walk: Birding at Heron's Head Park
Leader: Josiah Clark
Saturday, March 10, 2012, 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Meet at EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park (32 Jennings Street, San Francisco)

Living Jewels of San Francisco's Bayshore: Spot everything from birds of the bay and shore to coast live oaks on Cargo Way. Heron's Head Park is one of SF's premier open spaces, so get ready to see black rail, jackrabbit, gofer snake, savannah sparrow, and rare and specialized salt marsh plants.

More Info:
Location Details
Meet at EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park - 32 Jennings Street, San Francisco


Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning, born 6 March 1806


How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
~ Wendell Berry ~
(Given New Poems)

Let your life be the poem you write. -- Bokonon


5.  California Native Plant Society Field Trip - South San Francisco

Join Jake Sigg, Loretta Brooks and Chuck Heimstadt from the Yerba Buena Chapter of the California Native Plant Society for a walk on Sign Hill. Loretta and Chuck are SSF residents whose back door opens onto Sign Hill. They are also volunteers for San Bruno Mountain Watch, co-sponsor of this walk, and work with them on restoration projects on Sign Hill and San Bruno Mountain.

Sign Hill ("South San Francisco - The Industrial City") is a detached piece of San Bruno Mountain and its biological communities and species composition are identical. Most of Sign Hill is a South San Francisco city park, but it also contains sizable tracts of private, undeveloped land.

In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places and a monument in North San Mateo County, Sign Hill provides access to open space and miles of hiking trails. It is home to the Mission Blue butterfly and is rich in native grasses and wildflowers. Because of the dearth of early rains it is difficult to predict what we'll see, however there is still a cornucopia of riches.

A prominent feature of Sign Hill is large tracts of hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) that cover several acres, which is not characteristic in other parts of its range that extends from the Bay Area down the coast ranges to southern California.

March 10th, Saturday, 10am - noon - rain or shine - heavy rain postpones to March 31, same time

Information: 415-731-3028

Bring warm clothing and layers. Meet at 10am at the Stonegate (west) entrance to Sign Hill Park - exit off Hillside Boulevard in SSF onto Stonegate Drive and continue uphill and to the left until you reach the end of Ridgeview Court. There is a small parking area and plenty of street parking.

Some may want to extend their walk with Chuck & Loretta to the Hillside Trail on the south slope of San Bruno Mountain, hiking up to Picnic Rock and down into Juncus Ravine. We'll move our cars to access the Hillside Trail. Bring a snack or lunch and plan to be back to your car by 3pm or so.


6.  Sunday Streets is gearing up for 2012!
We are happy to announce the return of the popular Sunday Streets program with a full schedule of car-free events starting Sunday, March 11th, along the Embarcadero. The eight-month Sunday Streets 2012 season opens streets to pedestrians, cyclists and people-powered wheels of all kinds by temporarily removing vehicular traffic on select Sundays, transforming street-space usually reserved for cars into recreational space for everyone to enjoy safely.

Come play in the streets at the 2012 events(schedule subject to change):
March 11: Embarcadero- Season kick off
April 15: Great Highway/Golden Gate park- new route
May 6: Mission
June 3: Mission
July 1: Mission
22: Bayview
August 5: Mission
August TBA: Chinatown
September 9: Western Addition/N. Panhandle Alamo Square
October 21: Outer Mission/Excelsior

Celebrate Sunday Streets on Friday, March 9th
Join david baker + partners, architects, to put some spring in the step of Sunday Streets just days before the kick-off of the 2012 season! There will be drinks, snacks, music, friends, and plenty of treats to make your Sunday Streets even sweeter. Bike valet will be available.

Friday, March 9, 2012, 6pm - 10 pm
461 Second Street, Loft c127
SF, CA 94107
Register for the party here!

First Sunday Streets of 2012: March 11th
Sunday, March 11, Sunday Streets makes its 2012 debut along the Embarcadero 11am-4pm, and we want you to be a part of it! When you volunteer a shift for Sunday Streets, not only are you helping to make Sunday Streets possible, but you also get a cool Sunday Streets t-shirt, complimentary lunch, invitations to special volunteer parties, and the great feeling that you helped make Sunday Streets possible! Be part of the Sunday Streets volunteer team by signing up today at

We are proud that the Sunday Streets Volunteer Program is managed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Sunday Streets is sponsored by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Livable City, the non-profit fiscal sponsor of Sunday Streets responsible for the day-to-day management of the program.

Sunday Streets Volunteer Program is hiring! The SF Bicycle Coalition is actively seeking talented and motivated individuals for the Sunday Streets Volunteer Program, including four Volunteer Program Interns. See for more info.

For more info: or visit us on Facebook:
Follow us on Twitter:!/SundayStreets

Sunday Streets is presented by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Livable City


7.  The SF PUC has decided not to build the  Westside Water Treatment Plant in Golden Gate Park.  Instead, they are proposing that it be built next to the existing Oceanside Plant.  

Potluck Celebration – March 18th,  Sunday
Let’s celebrate!  To give everyone time to recover from the History Expo, we will party on March 18th .  Come to a potluck, and enjoy the victory!  R.S.V.P. here.

Date:               Sunday, March 18th
Time:               5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location:        1243 42nd Avenue, between Lincoln and Irving.
Who:               Everyone who wants to celebrate moving the water treatment plant out of Golden Gate Park!
Talk about:     The water treatment plant location move; our next outreach plans; an update on EIR status for the Beach Chalet.  If you are new to  our group, learn more about the Beach Chalet soccer complex.
Bring:              Yourself!  And a dish or snack to share (optional).
Wear:              Warm socks – we ask folks to remove their shoes.
New ideas:      Bring your design ideas for the current 4-acre construction yard, where the water treatment plant was going to be built.  What would you like to see there that would complement the designed “wildness” of the western end of the Park  - -native plants?  Tulips?  Picnic area? Meadow? Forest?  Let’s come up with a new concept for the western end of Golden Gate Park that combines parkland with kids playing on real grass at the Beach Chalet fields.

8.  Pelican Dreams featuring Judy Irving

San Francisco: Thursday, March 15 — 7 p.m. refreshments, 7:30 program

Years before making The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, filmmaker Judy Irving had begun researching her favorite bird, the Brown Pelican. She is now in mid-production on Pelican Dreams and will show excerpts from this work in progress. The film features a young pelican that landed—tired, hungry, and confused—on the roadway of the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a spectacular traffic jam. The incident launched her search for the people who know pelicans best: seabird biologists, wildlife rehabilitators, surfers, and fishermen. With their comic personalities, their survival challenges from DDT and oil spills, their grace and ancient mystery, these “flying dinosaurs” connect us to our fragile Pacific Coast.

Producer/director Judy Irving is executive director of Pelican Media, a nonprofit production company. As a child, she spent summers on the North Fork of Long Island, where she came to love birds, thanks to her grandfather. In addition to The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, her films include Dark Circle, about nuclear weapons and nuclear power; Quiet Revolution, on sustainable development in rural areas; and a short about the Alameda Wildlife Refuge. Judy holds a masters in film and broadcasting from Stanford University and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in film and of Sundance and Emmy awards.

Free for GGAS members, $5 nonmembers.

Location: First Unitarian Universalist Church and Center
1187 Franklin Street (at Geary), San Francisco

Check for current volunteer opportunities at


9.  Golden Gate Audubon cites concerns with America's Cup


Here’s a learning opportunity: City College of San Francisco will offer a two-Saturday field course, “Ecology of San Francisco,” visiting sites that show how plant, animal, and human interactions shape nature in the city, April 14 and 21 (mandatory orientation 6-9 PM April 5). Check it out – there’s another one on the ecology of Mendocino, with camping at McKerricher State Park.

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
    ~Anatole France (Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault), The Red Lily, 1894

LBJ:  "It's better to be on the inside of the tent pissing out than on the outside of the tent pissing in."

"The honest man must be a perpetual renegade."
   Charles Peguy, French essayist

Contempt is the weapon of the weak and a defense against one's own despised and unwanted feelings. -Alice Miller, psychologist and author


12.  Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (excerpt from newsletter)

No Need to Open Public Lands to Drilling
In the United States, we consume 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy annually, an amount that has stayed flat since 2000. Meanwhile, the amount of energy used to produce one dollar of gross domestic product has dropped by half since 1950. In other words, conservation and improved efficiency have proven to be our nation’s most effective energy policy for the last half-century. read more

The Economist  Mar 3rd 2012

Wild meat
Squirrel nutcase
The moral and culinary merits of exotic flesh
  A birthday treat for the children
THOSE brought up on Beatrix Potter, the author of “Squirrel Nutkin” and other long-loved nursery tales, may flinch; but Andrew Thornton, manager of the Budgens supermarket in the north London suburb of Crouch End, says sales of squirrel meat have soared since he started selling it in 2010.

The bushy-tailed tree-dwellers are just one category in a burgeoning market. Osgrow, a British-based firm, exports bison, crocodile (“ideal for barbecues”) and kudu meat (“juicy and low-fat”) to customers in countries where controls on wild meat are tighter. One such market is Germany, where hygiene laws forbid the eating of “cat and doglike flesh”. The German environment ministry confirms that this includes squirrel; the country’s media mock English rat-eaters. Australia sent quantities of kangaroo meat to Russia until an import ban in 2009, ostensibly on hygiene grounds (it is now being reconsidered).

Importing meat such as grouse can get around America’s fiddly laws on game farming. Zebra and wildebeest are popular too. Squirrel meat, though, is already an established delicacy in Ozark country and Tennessee; eating species farmed for fur (such as beaver) is also allowed.

No legal obstacle exists to eating the king of beasts, but roars of opposition prevented a restaurant in Tucson, Arizona, from selling lion flesh in tacos. The practicalities are daunting, too. Dave Arnold, an American campaigner, recommends braising it at 54° centigrade for fully 24 hours. The muscle content is so tough that the meat bunches up when it hits the pan; “Hold it down,” he advises.

Born Free USA, a lion-loving charity, decries the trade as a “cruel promotional gimmick”. Viva, a British animal-welfare group, believes that the squirrel-eating vogue represents a “wildlife massacre”.

Yet massacres are not always wrong. The “Save Our Squirrels” campaign urges diners to gobble the North American grey squirrel. Introduced  into Britain in 1870, it has largely driven out the indigenous red squirrel (such as the fictional Nutkin). This “eat them to beat them” approach already helps keep down the population of lion fish, a rapacious stripy sea-beast which devours protected fish stocks off America’s west coast.

Wild meat is not always tasty. Mr Arnold says black bear is “bloody and a bit metallic”. Nor is it always healthy. Doctors in Kentucky say eating squirrel brains is linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (better known as mad-cow disease). Squirrels are now mainly sold headless. Some  think those who eat them need their heads examined, too.

The Economist  Mar 3rd 2012 

The next Ocean Film Festival will be at Bay Theater on Pier 30, March 8-11.
Check out the programs at There are some great films: People of a Feather, Where Journeys Meet, In the Deep with Elephant Seals, Project Manta, Miss South Pacific, etc.

Parking at the Pier 39 garage can be validated, and shouldn't cost much.


16.  If you go to the desert for wildflowers this spring you may want to first visit the East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden April 2012 newsletter:


17.  Belize is a wonderful little country located east of Guatemala and nestled beneath the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. In January 2012, SAVE THE FROGS! Advisory Committee Chairman Michael Starkey traveled to Belize for 12 days to spread the message of amphibian conservation and to promote appreciation of wildlife and nature through education. Michael, who has given 33 SAVE THE FROGS! presentations in the past year, met with Belizean biologists, gave presentations about amphibian ecology and conservation, distributed educational materials and surveyed and photographed frog populations.
Read more about our efforts in Belize.

                                                         Rana berlandieri - Rio Grande Leopard Frog
Help SAVE THE FROGS! return to Belize in July 2012
Please help us raise the $2,300 needed to send Michael back to Belize in July 2012 so he can continue spreading SAVE THE FROGS' amphibian conservation message throughout Central America. Donate online through the above site.


18.  Ancient seed flowers

Tissue from seed recovered from an ice age squirrel's treasure changer, preserved in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years, has been used by Russian scientists to resurrect an entire plant in a pioneering experiment that paves the way for the revival of other species.  The Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant to be regenerated.  The plant is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds, a report in the Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences of the United states said.  Guardian Weekly


19.  Do you like my poems?  Then pay

Wendy Cope is outraged to find her work is reproduced all over the internet

One summer’s day, strolling through a cemetery, my partner and I had a conversation about what we would like on our gravestones.  He suggested that mine should read:  “Wendy Cope.  All Rights Reserved.”

He knows all too well that I am obsessed with copyright.  A poem is very easy to copy, whereas nobody is going to photocopy or download a whole novel or work of non-fiction.  Poets are thus especially at risk if people do not know and respect copyright law.

The authors of short, funny poems are especially vulnerable.  Such poems have a tendency to run off on their own and detach themselves from the names of the authors.  There’s a well-known poem I’ve liked since I was quite small:

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella
But mostly on the just because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella

For decades I thought of it as anonymous.  Then, when I was compiling an anthology of poems for children, I found it in the British Library with an author’s name on it:  Baron Charles Bowen.  I was happy to reunite poem and author in the anthology…

…One day I came across some postcards in a gift shop featuring poems by AE Housman, who died in 1936.  I bought a postcard and, on the back of it, wrote the following lines:

Will they do this, I wonder
With verse of mine or yours
When we are six feet under
And deaf to all applause?
We bring home little bacon
En route for that long night
And when the profit’s taken
We’re out of copyright.

Excerpted from Guardian Weekly 21.12.07


20.  Feedback

Bern Smith:
I leave it to others to give a more complete response.
Jake - Thanks for your response.  I absolutely agee that locally generated solar, such as one's rooftop, is great.  And actually people in the industry think fogginess is not a big issue.  But prohibiting large solar across the board in areas near urban centers seems to me to be an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.  Naturally I'd object to blanketing hundreds of acres with dense solar in Alameda parks, and there might be other objectionable areas, but a 1-size-fits all ban seems over the top.   I will look forward to your readers responses, however.
Solarize the pavement.  Panels above every street, every parking lot...and for the cars parked underneath, free plug-ins for their e-cars...

On Mar 2, 2012, at 8:26 PM, Andrea Jadwin wrote:
Dear Jake, I find your comments re the Fish&Game Commissioner particularly apt.  I'm not quite the cynic you are about elected officials but I do think we give them a pass when it comes to making commission appointments.  If Daniel Richards resigns, are we prepared to put forth a better alternative?  Are we listening carefully to people like Eric Mills who can probably guide us?  After our outrage, what then?
I'm delighted to have this enlightened response.  Too many of us think in soundbites--metaphorically speaking.

On Feb 27, 2012, at 1:14 PM, Keith McAllister wrote (re the death throes of the star of the Helix Nebula):
Hi Jake,

Because your readership is science-oriented, I expected one of the “big boys or girls” to chime in with an explanation of how a star continues to shine after nuclear reactions cease (Nature News 2/20).  Maybe they did off-line?  In any case, I will try, with the caveat that I am not, by any stretch, a scientist.

All objects in the universe “shine”:  you, me, the Sun, Earth, the hoe in your toolshed.  That is:  all objects emit electromagnetic radiation by virtue of having temperatures above 0 Kelvin.  It is often called “black body radiation” even though it includes the radiation from the Sun and the glow of a red-hot piece of iron. The distribution of wave lengths emitted depends on temperature.  You and I emit mainly wavelengths in the infrared part of the spectrum, heat but not visible light.  The hoe in the toolshed emits even longer (cooler) wavelengths.  The Sun emits mainly in the “visible” part of the spectrum due to its surface temperature of around 5800 K.  None of this involves nuclear fusion.

We don’t see radiation produced by the nuclear fusion in our Sun’s core.  Rather nuclear fusion in the Sun’s core heats the Sun’s surface through convection within the Sun.  What we see is the light emitted by the hot hydrogen near the surface, emitted by virtue of its temperature.  Anything with a surface temperature of 5800 K will shine with visible light.

Our Sun was hot and “shining” before nuclear fusion began in the core.  The gravitational collapse of the nebula that condensed to form the Sun and solar system produced the heat;  the gravitational potential energy of the nebula was partly converted to heat, and the hot proto-Sun was bright.  In fact, that’s where the heat came from that was necessary to start fusing hydrogen nuclei into helium.  The Sun will eventually consume most of the hydrogen and helium in the core and nuclear fusion will cease.  The Sun will then further collapse by gravitation, producing more heat, and become a “white dwarf” that shines simply because it is hot.  (Of course I omit a lot of the story, including the red giant phase of stellar evolution.)

OK, longer than you wanted.  Short version:  gravitational collapse produces heat which causes hot stars to shine with black-body radiation, before and after nuclear fusion occurs.

Keith:  You accurately explained blackbody radiation.  However, the question I am asking is how can the dying stsr continue this outpouring of energy for billions of years?  Can it take that long to cool off after it is no longer generating energy?  It is the very hot (ca 100k Kelvin) core of a Sun-like star that has blown off all its outer layers, leaving the naked super-hot core in direct contact with the temperature of space--about 2.73 Kelvin (-270 Celsius).  I continue to puzzle over that.

Astronomy magazine has a monthly column, Ask Astro, to which readers can submit questions.  Several years ago it published my question about how that strange beast, the neutron star, can continue to shine for similar long periods.  I revisit its response periodically, as the physics is really weird--as befits a weird type of star.  Each time I read it my understanding is deepened a tad, although I'll never really be able to comprehend such a strange phenomenon. 

So, after years of trying to figure how these hot cores (aka white dwarfs) continue to shine for billions of years, I submitted the question to Ask Astro.  The editor agreed to send the question to its (volunteer?) body of scientists for a response.  Since that was 2-3 years ago, it appears no scientist responded, leaving me to wonder why.  Is it not a good question?  I think it is, but perhaps taking the time to explain a complex phenomenon may have required too much time.  I understand that.

I still wonder.
Seems like a good question to me, too!  As you say, it’s only the store of energy produced by past nuclear reactions and gravitational collapse that is radiating from a white dwarf, but it lasts many billions of years.  I put it in the “not intuitively obvious” category.  But facts are facts.  So obviously we’re past the limit of what I understand.  I can quantify the rate energy is radiated from a white dwarf, but not the amount of energy stored in the “weird” electron degeneracy matter in its core.  A physicist could do that second part.

Still, a few things come to mind:

1.      The 100,000 K core of the white dwarf is not in contact with deep space, and is not what is radiating the energy away.  The surface of a white dwarf has a temperature more like 10,000 K.  The energy loss is radiation from a 10,000 K object.  (And 100,000 K is the lower end of white dwarf core temperature.)
2.      Black body radiation is proportional to the 4th power of absolute temperature.  So a white dwarf with surface temperature 10,000 K loses heat energy at a rate 1/10,000 the rate it would if the 100,000 K core were radiating into space.  That difference in rates is great.  It means something would happen in (say) 500,000 years at 100,000 K would take 5 billion years at 10,000 K.
3.      Again, black body radiation is proportional to the 4th power of absolute temperature.  So as a dwarf cools, it cools ever more slowly, much more slowly.  A white dwarf at 5000 K loses energy at a rate 1/16 the rate of a white dwarf at 10,000 K.
4.      A white dwarf is very small.  In this context, “size matters.”  The energy loss is proportional to surface area and a typical white dwarf has a surface area less than 1/10,000 the surface area of our Sun.  Such a white dwarf at 5800 K radiates energy at a rate less than 1/10,000 the rate of our Sun at 5800 K.   I expect size is the key factor that makes white dwarf cooling so slow.

Of course it would be better to have this not-intuitively-obvious phenomenon explained by a real physicist.  I’m sorry your correspondent at Ask Astro didn’t respond with an informed explanation.  I’ll bet your readership includes a physicist or two—I’m surprised one of them didn’t step forward.

Sorry to distract you from your very time consuming work with Nature News.

I suppose I ought to let this drop, as there is lots of sophisticated physics that I will never understand.  Nevertheless, everything I learn sets off another question. 

I understand that a white dwarf at 5800K has a much smaller surface than the Sun, which means it loses heat much more slowly.  Is exposed surface the only factor?  Does the intense gravity matter?  If so, why?  Photons are massless, therefore should not be affected by the gravity--or so I thought until I wrote that sentence.  Photons are unable to escape the event horizon of a black hole, so obviously they are subject to gravity.  Hmm, have I figure that out myself?  Maybe the gravity of a dwarf slows down the energy loss? 

Another thing:  does the near-vacuum of space prevent or slow down heat loss?  The double panes of windows are separated by a near-vacuum. 

As you say, I shouldn't be spending this much time when I have so many other things to do.  I'll try to stop.  I've made a little progress in understanding, so thanks.

P.S.  Not a lot of physicists out there, and the ones I know are all super-busy.

Peter Vaernet:
Jake:  Re grammatical issues:    Winston Churchill's reply for having been criticized for ending a sentence with a proposition: "This is something up with which I will not put!"

On Mar 3, 2012, at 1:28 PM, P Chin wrote:
Hi Jake,
Thank you for all of the info.
do you still give full moom walk in the park?  Thank you!
I never did give full moon walks.  I did post the walks given by Jo Coffey, and they went from Brisbane to the lower slopes of San Bruno Mountain.

She temporarily relocated, so suspended the walks for awhile.  I expect she will resume them, but she didn't say when she would move back to the Bay Area.  I'll post them when they resume.

Peter Vaernet:
Hi Jake:
Amazing indeed that "environmentalists" would advocate for forcing the building of three new fossil fuel powered electricity plant to cover our needs for electricity for SFGH, our government buildings, school buildings, Rec Centers and the MUNI electric vehicles systems, filtration plants using electricity to filter unclean river water, while losing the purest water in the USA that supplies 2.6 million people in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and SF.
All this to pave a road into Hetch Hetchy Valley to allow overweight people in overweight vehicles to throw exhauset and litter and poop on the toilets of the concessions stand that will be built in the valley...not a pretty vision.  I would respectfully propose that we keep the valley under water until humans have evolved enough to protect nature, in about a 1000 years.  Until then, Hetch Hetchy lies best protected under water.

"Everybody needs beauty
as well as bread,
places to play and pray in,
where Nature may heal
and cheer and give strength
to body and soul alike."
 - John Muir

Peter, we've argued about this before, and some of this is repetition. 

Start with "fossil-fuel-powered electricity plant to cover our needs for electricity".  Needs?  Look around you with an eye for energy consumption.  I have developed a keen eye for it, especially since the first oil embargo in 1973.  The world appears different to me than to you, apparently.  Some of the energy uses are merely trivial (such as the apartment building in my block with 18 lights that are on 24/365, irritating the hell out of me:  They have been burning continuously since I bought my house in 1967--45 years ago). 

Other uses are even more wasteful and unproductive, such as the garish lighting that characterize our cities and wash out that precious natural resource, a dark sky, which urban dwellers have pretty much forgotten about--if they ever knew it.  Las Vegas comes immediately to mind, but you can see plenty right here in San Francisco or anywhere.  I think "We're drowning Hetchy for this?"  If we should ever become sensible about energy use we could dispense with Hetchy power without any replacement generation.  In the total of our consumption--just taking California--Hetchy power is minuscule, almost like looking for a needle in a haystack, figuratively speaking.  The grandeur of Hetch Hetchy Valley and Yosemite Valley took eons to create; it took us overnight to drown it and seal it off from we, the people, who desperately need it in these tawdry, shallow times.  Does Muir's agony mean nothing to you?

Hetch Hetchy is a grand landscape garden, one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life . . . while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music. . . . These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. . . . Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.
                                         John Muir
He died shortly after losing the wrenching battle to the temple destroyers.  A broken heart, people assume.

On the surface, one thinks of hydroelectric power as clean, and to an extent it is.  However, as people are beginning to delve into its hidden costs it appears less and less so.  I append an article at bottom of this email that points out some of the costs.

The purpose of the reservoir is to store water.  The Valley's restoration would mean storing the same water, but somewhere else, not in a national park.  Mind you, this IS a national park, and what is one city, San Francisco, doing using it for storing its water?  How do you think the other 300 million people in the country feel about this?  It is their Valley.  Do you ever think about that?

We are good at manipulation, and we know how to use language to persuade.  Keep an eye out for SFPUC's use of language.  They tell you it's Hetch Hetchy water that comes from our taps.  No, PUC, it's Tuolumne River water.  It had a birthplace in the high country and passed through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne  well before it got to the Valley, and it had a very scenic and tumultuous trip after that, before it was forced into miles-long tubes.  Subtle, but important.  PUC has the bully pulpit in its bimonthly water bills.  The Sunday SF Examiner (March 4) juxtaposed articles by Dave Mihalic, former Yosemite National Park Superintendent, and Ed Harrington, a nice guy but a City functionary.

When I look at Hetchy's twin, Yosemite Valley, or the grand Sierran sculptures, forests, meadows, streams, waterfalls-- I don't have the eloquence that Muir could effortlessly summon.  Read Muir.  Read him often. 

Remember, it is a national park.

Hetch Hetchy Valley, by Albert Bierstadt

Why Hetch Hetchy Power is Not Green, by Victoria Smith

President Obama just signed a $787 billion stimulus package, $60 billion of which will go towards clean energy, environmental projects, and scientific research.  None of this money will go to large hydropower projects such as Hetch Hetchy.  Once touted as clean and renewable, years of study now show the negative impacts of big hydro projects.  Hydroelectricity does not get the Obama administration’s “green” stamp of approval, nor does it qualify as renewable under the standards of the California Energy Commission.

The environmental impacts of large-scale hydroelectric projects include changes in the flow, nutrient levels, salinity, temperature and water levels in rivers downstream of dams.  When the natural flow of a river is blocked, oxygen levels downstream of the dam drop, which has a negative effect on river vegetation and wildlife.  Dam-created reservoirs displace many animals, birds and fish, including some at-risk species.  Even with fish ladders, many species are still unable to complete their migratory journey, and are being pushed towards extinction.

Then there is the effect dams have on our oceans.  The two may at first seem unrelated until you hear what aquatic ecologist Irwin Haydock and oceanographer and hydrologist Michael Rozengurt have to say.  They outlined the link between the decline of the earth’s oceans and dams in a letter to Bill Clinton.  In it they explain, “The watersheds and their coastal zones form a single complex ecosystem; damage to one reach is eventually seen in the other.  Decades of careful study and experience has shown us that oceanic decline stems primarily from the cumulative effects of dam building and subsequent freshwater diversions to serve human needs.  For too long we have failed to understand the nature of this link.  We have been looking in the wrong place for the cause of the ocean’s decline!  It is time to focus on the critical link between watersheds and seas.”

This letter was written to President Clinton in 1998.  Since then large-scale hydropower project development has continued unabated.  The drive for more hydropower comes at a time when many freshwater ecosystems are already in crisis.  According to the United Nations, 60% of the world’s 227 largest rivers are already severely fragmented by dams, diversions and canals, leading to the degradation of ecosystems.  It is time to move away from environmentally destructive hydro projects, and focus on other truly “green” forms of energy.

Each hydropower project is unique and some are far more destructive than others.  Although the Hetch Hetchy reservoir does not release methane gas there is no question it is profoundly destructive to animal and plant life in Yosemite National Park.  And there is no question of the debilitating effect the O’Shaughnessy Dam has on the Tuolumne River long after it leaves the boundaries of the park.  Just because energy is not carbon-producing does not automatically mean it is “green”.  Nor should one believe that, since the dam was built 100 years ago the damage is already done—the damage to the ecosystem of the Tuolumne River from its watershed to the San Francisco Bay repeats itself every day the reservoir remains in existence.

John Cage:  "I don't know why people are frightened by new ideas.  I am frightened by old ones."

Things are as they are because they were as they were

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change."     Wayne Dyer


21.  Quantum physics

House of dreams

Scientists race to explain why the Higgs boson matters

Mar 3rd 2012 | from The Economist

Higgs Force: The Symmetry-Breaking Force that Makes the World an Interesting Place. By Nicholas Mee.

The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments. By Jim Baggott.

The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe. By Frank Close.

Massive: The Missing Particle that Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science. By Ian Sample.

PHYSICISTS rarely become household names. Pretty much anyone watching television in Britain will have heard of Brian Cox who is credited with making physics sexy again. But before him you would probably have to go back a century or so to Albert Einstein, or three centuries to Isaac Newton, to find a name that is universally recognised. One day, though, Peter Higgs and his eponymous boson might outshine them all.


For a less daunting take on the same topic, readers should try “Massive”, an entertaining yarn published in 2010 by Ian Sample, science correspondent for the Guardian, a London newspaper. Mr Sample also tracked down many of those involved, including Mr Higgs. But Mr Close’s magisterial work is sure to become the definitive account of the story. It offers no unambiguous advice to the Nobel committee. But the judges would be wise to give it a thorough read anyway.
(excerpts of review)


22.  The Sun erodes the Moon

Occasionally, the Sun emits a huge gust of hot plasma called a coronal mass ejection (CME).  A CME can strip 100 to 200 tons of material from the Moon's surface as the gust passes the satellite, according to a new NASA computer simulation...The team intends to compare its data to future CME observations.

Astronomy April 2012

Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)
A CME is a bubble of plasma-electrons, ions, and magnetic fields-shot from the Sun.  A single CME can blast up to 10 billion tons of matter at speeds greater than 6 million mph.

One CME erupts each week at the ebb of the Sun's 11-year activity cycle.  During solar maximum, three or more CMEs can blast off in a single day.  When CMEs sweep past Earth, they can excite storms that make bright aurorae, the northern (and southern) lights.  But such storms also can harm satellites and damage power-transmission equipment on the ground.

Astronomy December 2006

“All change distributes energy,
spills what cannot be gathered again.
Each meal, each smile--
scatters treasure,
lets fall gold straws woven from the resurgent dust.”
            John Updike


23.  I have a bridge to sell you....

Two men were arrested in China for stealing a bridge near Shanghai.  The men broke it up into blocks and lifted it away with cranes before transporting it on a lorry to sell as building stone.  The bridge was built over a century ago.

The Economist 03.03.12

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