Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Parameters: Amazon Go Will Seek To Understand How You Feel About A Grocery Product?

Source: China Brands

Technology has served many different functions in our society.  Among the most important recently are the algorithms which correct themselves while directing people around the world.  Yes, I am talking about the residents of the world who use 'GoogleMaps'.  Over time, the algorithm seeks to improve the accuracy by self assessment.  What? Yes, the algorithm updates and assesses itself after every use.  Amazing.  Back in January in Seattle, Amazon opened up a store without cashier type check out stands.  Yes, without check out stands.  I have been sitting on this short post for quite a while for no good reason.  Although, with the greater use of digital tracking of our preferences, the subject is worth highlighting.

Do I Really Love That Food?

Back in January, an article in 'The New York Times' titled "Inside Amazon Go, a Store of the Future"

But the technology that is also inside, mostly tucked away out of sight, enables a shopping experience like no other. There are no cashiers or registers anywhere. Shoppers leave the store through those same gates, without pausing to pull out a credit card. Their Amazon account automatically gets charged for what they take out the door.
There are no shopping carts or baskets inside Amazon Go. Since the checkout process is automated, what would be the point of them anyway? Instead, customers put items directly into the shopping bag they’ll walk out with.
Every time customers grab an item off a shelf, Amazon says the product is automatically put into the shopping cart of their online account. If customers put the item back on the shelf, Amazon removes it from their virtual basket.  
The only sign of the technology that makes this possible floats above the store shelves — arrays of small cameras, hundreds of them throughout the store. Amazon won’t say much about how the system works, other than to say it involves sophisticated computer vision and machine learning software. Translation: Amazon’s technology can see and identify every item in the store, without attaching a special chip to every can of soup and bag of trail mix.  

Before the above excerpt can be explored more, the differences between a traditional grocery store and the new store offered by Amazon should be briefly highlighted.  Grocery stores with the option of 'cashier assisted' checkout are nothing new.  Stores ranging from Ralphs to Home Depot (or Lowes) have all incorporated the 'checker' less option.  What is new is the option without a 'check out stand' altogether.  To test your ability of paying attention to the potential impact of opening a store such as that which has been open for over a few months now, there are a few questions which a school teacher came up with in "teacher has come up with questions" from 'The New York Times' shown below:

1. What type of convenience store opened in Seattle on Jan. 22?
2. What details make the Amazon Go store different from a traditional grocery store?
3. What is noticeable about the photos in the article? What do they show about the new store?
4. How are items paid for in the Amazon Go store, and what is eliminated in the process?
5. What does Amazon say about the role of cashiers and potential loss of jobs with the new system? 
6. Why does the author say the experience feels like shoplifting, and what happened when he attempted to shoplift a four-pack of vanilla soda?

The above questions represent a good exercise in critical thinking for the article under scrutiny about the new grocery stores.   You may be wondering why I am bringing this up now when the stores have been open for the last few months.  The reason is that there is a larger change at hand with this new technology.  Amazon is looking to expand the information extracted about each customer by introducing new technology.  The grocery store is just one.

Inside the grocery store are a large amount of cameras which are tracking movements.  Not to scare you in any way, this is for the main purpose of tracking purchases.  Although, the amount of time that each customer stands in front of a given product is being recorded along with the customers who simply walk by and pay no attention toward a given item.  This technology is being extended into algorithms which are embedded into the 'Kindle' by Amazon.

I accidentally misplaced the reference (the name of the podcast/episode) which described the shift in Amazon's strategy to gather more information out of their readers Kindle usage.  Including tracking how long each reader stays on a page and if the reader returns to a section with a given phrase or story.  This information will inevitably help Amazon sell better books by adjusting the plot to tailor the customers exact needs.  Scary?  Possibly.


The changes proposed or being sought by Amazon are interesting and potentially frightening.  As the Virtual Reality pioneer -- computer scientist -- Jaron Lanier implied in his book titled "Who Owns The Future?" -- nothing is for free in Silicon Valley.  Meaning, any discount or free technology is accompanied by a lengthy 'legal disclaimer' which is basically saying that the information collected on this device belongs to Amazon or any other technology company.

At the same time, Jaron Lanier states that in order to get around such an inevitable problem, a new system will have to arise -- something akin to 'micro-payments'.  If the user is unwilling to pay the 'micro-payment' then a short commercial might need to be watched by the user to access the 'free service'.  Ultimately, the technology offered by Amazon might not be terrible given that the time needed to search for an interesting book for a person will be reduced as A.I. algorithms become more intelligent.

In the end, the technology depends on a choice by the consumer (you and I).  Are we willing to give up our information for a "free service"?  Do we really understand what data is being collected by theses technology companies?  Do we really care what data is being collected?  These questions will have to be answered in the future as technology rapidly advances in data collection over time.

Related Blog Posts:

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

How Many Cherries Are In 1.5 Million Shipping Boxes?

Shipping fruit around the world is a major business.  Much larger than one can comprehend.  Why do countries ship fruit along with other 'edible commodities' around the world?  As a first approximation, demand meets supply.  Second, certain countries do not have the correct environment to grow such plants in their respective regions.  Consequently, there is a large amount of importing/exporting of goods moving around the world at a given instant.  How large is such an amount?  Take cherries for example.  Recently, I wrote a post about the trade tariffs -- which are causing significant disruptions various ports - such as the one described in the excerpt below:

Warnings about economic harm: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) cited complaints from Oregon potato growers and Pacific Northwest cherry growers "who have got nearly 1.5 million boxes of cherries ready to ship to China. They're worried those cherries are going to end up stuck on the dock or rotting in a warehouse due to China's retaliation,"

After writing that post, the thought of 1.5 million boxes of cherries sitting on the docks at the port waiting to be shipped would not leave my mind.  I was having difficulty wrapping my head around that number.  Especially, since the cherries would require refrigeration while waiting to be shipped.  In the paragraphs below, the method of dimensional analysis is used to shed light (or make sense) of this staggering amount of cherries 'in limbo'.

How Many Cherries Fit On A Pallet?

To begin the analysis, the first picture below is where I choose to start.  I wanted to visualize the cherries which will be shipped as packed on a pallet -- which is a common 'unit' of measurement in the shipping industry.  In order to find out how many cherries fit on a pallet, I started by typing into Google the following question: "Pallet of Cherries".  Next, I chose the option of 'Image' from the heading underneath the search engine entry.  After searching for a picture of cherry boxes stacked on a pallet, I settled with the picture below.

In the picture below a few pallets are shown which are stored in a refrigerated warehouse waiting to be shipped.

Source: Global Fruit

For this analysis, the number of shipping boxes per pallet is not important.  What is important is to determine the number of cherries which fit into a shipping box.  To determine the quantity of cherries in a shipping box, Google was consulted again by typing into the search engine space: "how many cherries in a shipping box?"  The box (answer) is shown below -- a shipping box used ship cherries:

Each box can hold around 18 pounds of cherries as shown in the picture above.  With the answers above to the two queries into Google, the amount of cherries are known for a single shipping box -- which turns out to be 18 pounds of cherries.  In order to move forward, the amount of cherries in a single pound needs to be determined.

How Many Cherries In A Pound?

With the information obtained from Google, the analysis can be completed by using a few basic calculations.  First, a conversion factor needs to be determined.  The amount of cherries for a given weight.  How is that determined?  The easiest method is to ask Google the following question: "How Many Cherries Are In a Pound?"  To which the answer is shown below:

According to the results above, there are 2.5 to 3 cups of cherries in a pound.  Which is equivalent to 80 cherries (without stems).  With this information, a series of calculations are necessary to arrive at the end point -- How many cherries are contained in 1.5 million shipping boxes?

To start, take the number 1.5 million shipping boxes and convert that number to scientific notation as shown below:

Which makes the number easier to show in calculations rather than writing out a large numbers of '0' after a number to express a huge number.  Next, the two answers from above are expressed as shown below for calculation purposes:

1) The number of cherries per shipping box:

2) The number of cherries in a pound:

Taking the three values from above and combining them together, the amount of cherries in 1.5 million shipping boxes can be determined as follows:

The answer is shown below after rounding up with significant numbers:

Wow!  There are 2.2 billion cherries in 1.5 million boxes.


In the analysis above, the amount of cherries which are contained in 1.5 million shipping boxes were determined.  This is an approximation based on the numbers ascertained in the queries (questions) entered into Google.  Any reader may come up with different values based on different initial inputs (i.e. numbers used in the calculations).  This in of itself makes calculations fun and interesting.   The major objective in the analysis above is two-fold.  First, to highlight the enormity of the number reported.  That is, 1.5 million shipping boxes is no small amount of cherries - which are being held at port waiting to be shipped.  If lost, that is a fair amount of revenue to cherry growers.  Not to mention, the amount of energy needed (used in refrigeration) to keep the cherries at a safe temperature to avoid spoiling.

Second, the analysis above shows the utility of math in highlighting various numbers which are popularly reported in the news and often overlooked by the public.  By understanding the magnitude of the numbers, we as the public are given the potential fall-out (consequences) of having such a large number of cherries sitting at port.  Cherries are just one product waiting to be shipped at port.  With this being understood, let your mind wander to imagine the amount of money waiting to be shipped as exports overseas.  Cherries is just one item.  The amount of money stored in 'traded goods' is potentially mind blowing.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

135 Climate Scientists Urge Prime Minister Theresa May to Challenge President Trump on his Climate Stance during visit to the UK

Source: Slate

Europe has been on the forefront (proactive) of environmental/health measures with regard to regulation.  Reporting from 'Politico Energy' suggests that the proactive measures extend to advising/challenging President Trump of the United States of America on his harsh stance against participating in reducing climate change:

U.K. SCIENTISTS TO MAY: CHALLENGE TRUMP ON CLIMATE: Ahead of Trump's trip to the United Kingdom this week, 135 of its climate scientists wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her to challenge the president on climate change. "As the United States is the world's second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, President Trump's policy of inaction on climate change is putting at risk the U.K.'s national security and its interests overseas," they wrote in the letter.

Any reasonable person would and should challenge President Trump on his ignorant position of withdrawing from the Paris Accord (or planning to).  His stance goes against evidence provided by science and political backing from a whole host of U.S. politicians - not to mention - a large portion of the population.  With this being said, hopefully, Prime Minister Theresa May does follow the advice of scientists below (in the letter) and challenge President Trump during his visit overseas.

Without further ado, here is the letter from 135 climate researchers shown below along with the authors of the letter (and their respective professional affiliations) listed at the end:

Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing as 135 members of the UK’s climate change research community to urge you to challenge President Trump about his policy of inaction on climate change when he visits on 13 and 14 July 2018.
The UK has a strong track record on climate change. Margaret Thatcher was the first world leader to warn of the risks of rising greenhouse gas levels at the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, and the UK became the first country in the world in 2008 to lay down in law, with strong support across the political spectrum, targets for reducing its emissions.
You have also demonstrated leadership on this issue domestically through your continued commitment to implementation of the Climate Change Act and your personal endorsement of the Clean Growth Strategy. Additionally you have shown international leadership through your personal involvement in discussions at, for instance, the One Planet Summit in Paris in December 2017, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April 2018, and most recently at the summit of G7 leaders in Charlevoix, Canada, in June 2018.
In contrast, President Trump has made clear that he does not intend to tackle climate change. He left the G7 summit before the discussion about climate change, and indicated that he would not sign that part of the communiqué. This was the latest signal by President Trump that the United States Government will not contribute to international efforts to manage the substantial risks caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
President Trump announced in June 2017 that he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement and he has attempted to stop all financial support for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. With the help of the United States Congress, President Trump has also halted contributions to the Green Climate Fund which supports poor countries in their efforts to cut emissions and to make themselves more resilient to the impacts of climate change, including shifts in extreme weather events and sea level rise.
In addition, President Trump’s administration has attempted to weaken or remove many federal curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the latest projections by the United States Energy Information Administration suggest that its annual energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide will rise in 2018 and 2019.
In refusing to take action on climate change, President Trump is ignoring the advice both of international experts and of experts in the United States, such as the Global Change Research Program and the National Academy of Sciences. Since his inauguration as President in January 2017, Mr. Trump has overseen a number of actions to undermine climate researchers in the United States whose findings are used by policy-makers around the world.
As the United States is the world’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, President Trump’s policy of inaction on climate change is putting at risk the UK’s national security and its interests overseas. The Government’s ‘National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review’, published in November 2015, identified climate change as a major driver of global risk which threatens stability overseas and the UK’s long-term security. The UK is already being directly affected by the impacts of climate change: from 2000 onwards, it has experienced its nine warmest years and six of its seven wettest years since records began in 1910.
We believe that the UK Government should challenge President Trump about this policy of inaction on climate change. President Macron of France has publicly criticised President Trump’s stance and we believe that the UK should take advantage of its special relationship with the United States to show similar leadership. We do not believe that the best interests of the UK, or the rest of the world, would be best served by attempting to appease President Trump on this issue.
The UK Government is well-placed to draw the attention of President Trump to the case for urgently recognising and managing the risks of climate change. It can demonstrate, for instance, that economic growth does not have to be sacrificed in order to tackle climate change. According to the latest figures, the United States increased its real GDP per capita by 44 per cent between 1990 and 2016, while its annual emissions of greenhouse gases rose by 2.4 per cent. Over the same period, the UK’s real GDP per capita climbed by 46 per cent, while its annual emissions fell by 41 per cent. Hence the UK has shown that it is possible to achieve economic growth while strongly reducing annual emissions of greenhouse gases.
Above all, the UK government should make the argument that policy-making about climate change should be based on the best available evidence. Policy-makers should draw on the findings of the global climate research community, and take account of the risks it poses across the world and to future generations. Climate change should not be treated as if it were just as an issue of partisan domestic politics.
We are signing as individuals, rather than as representatives of our employers, but we list our affiliations as evidence of our membership of the climate change research community.
Yours sincerely (in alphabetical order),
Dr. George Adamson (Lecturer in Geography and Convenor of Climate Research Hub, King’sCollege London)
Professor Richard Allan (Joint Head of the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading)
Professor Chris Armstrong (Professor of Political Theory, University of Southampton)
Professor John Barrett (Professor of Energy and Climate Policy, University of Leeds)
Professor Paul Bates (University of Bristol)
Dr. Anna Belcher (Ecological Biogeochemist, British Antarctic Survey)
Professor Mike Bentley (Department of Geography, Durham University)
Sam Bickersteth (Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford)
Dr. Stephen Blenkinsop (Senior Research Associate, Newcastle University)
Professor Martin Blunt (Shell Professor of Reservoir Engineering, Imperial College London)
Dr. Christian Brand (Co-Director, UK Energy Research Centre and Associate Professor in Transport and Climate Change, University of Oxford)
Dr. Chris Brierley (Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, University College London)
Dr. Stuart Capstick (Research Fellow, Cardiff University)
Professor Andy Challinor (Professor of Climate Impacts, University of Leeds)
Dr. Steven Chan (Research Associate, School of Engineering, Newcastle University)
Professor Peter Clarke FRAS FHEA (Professor of Geophysical Geodesy, Newcastle University)
Professor Mat Collins FRMetS (Exeter Climate Systems, University of Exeter)
Professor Peter Convey (British Antarctic Survey)
Dr. Kevin Cowtan FHEA (Research Fellow, University of York)
Professor Peter Cox (Professor of Climate System Dynamics, University of Exeter)
Dr. Christina Demski (Lecturer, School of Psychology, Cardiff University)
Professor Simon Dietz (Co-Director, ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Dr. Alix Dietzel (Lecturer in Global Ethics, School of Sociology, Politics and International Relations, University of Bristol)
Dr. Paul Dodds (Senior Lecturer in Energy Systems, University College London)
Professor Andy Dougill (Executive Dean of Faculty of Environment, University of Leeds)
Dr. Gareth Edwards FRGS (School of International Development, University of East Anglia)
Professor Paul Ekins FEI OBE (Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London)
Dr. Marie Ekström (Research Fellow in Climate Change Impacts, Cardiff University)
Professor Nick Eyre (Professor of Energy and Climate Policy, University of Oxford)
Dr. Robert Falkner (Research Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Professor Sam Fankhauser (Co-Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Professor Paul Fennell FIChemE (Professor of Clean Energy, Imperial College London)
Professor Piers Forster FRMetS (Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds)
Dr. Nathan Forsythe (Newcastle University Research Fellow, School of Engineering, Newcastle University)
Professor Gavin Foster (Professor of Isotope Geochemistry, University of Southampton.
Professor Hayley Fowler (Professor of Climate Change Impacts and Royal Society Wolfson Research Fellow, Newcastle University)
Professor Pierre Friedlingstein (Professor of Mathematical Modelling of Climate Systems, University of Exeter)
Professor Alberto Naveira Garabato (Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton)
Dr. Antonio Gasparrini (Associate Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
Alyssa Gilbert (Director of Policy and Translation of the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London)
Dr. Philip Goodwin (Lecturer in Oceanography and Climate, University of Southampton)
Professor Andrew Gouldson (Professor of Environmental Policy and Deputy Director of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, University of Leeds)
Professor Ben Groom (Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Dr. Robert Gross (Director, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, Imperial College London)
Professor Michael Grubb (Professor of Energy and Climate Change, Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London)
Professor Dabo Guan (Director of the Water Security Research Centre, University of East Anglia)
Dr. Selma Guerreiro (Researcher in Hydrology and Climate Change, School of Engineering, Newcastle University)
Prof. G. Hilmar Gudmundsson (Professor of Glaciology and Extreme Environments, Northumbria University)
Professor Joanna Haigh CBE FRS (Co-Director of the Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London)
Professor Sir Andy Haines FMedSci (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
Dr. Thomas Hale (Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford)
Professor Ian Hall FLSW (Head of School and Research Professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University)
Professor Jim Hall FREng (Director of the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford)
Dr. Catherine Happer (Lecturer, Media and Communications, University of Glasgow)
Professor Barbara Harriss-White FAcSS (Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, Oxford University of Oxford)
Professor Ed Hawkins FRMetS (Professor of Climate Science, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading)
Professor Gabriele Hegerl FRS FRSE (Professor of Climate System Science, University of Edinburgh)
Dr. William Homoky FCMS (Independent Research Fellow of the Natural Environment Research Council and Junior Research Fellow, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford)
Dr. Scott Hosking (Climate Scientist, British Antarctic Survey)
Professor Sir Brian Hoskins CBE FRS (Chair, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London)
Professor John Huthnance FRMetS MBE (Emeritus Fellow, National Oceanography Centre and Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool)
Dr. Keith Hyams (Associate Professor, University of Warwick)
Dr. Ruza Ivanovic (Lecturer in Climate Science, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds)
Professor Tahseen Jafry (Director of The Centre for Climate Justice, Glasgow Caledonian University)
Dr. Helen Johnson (Associate Professor in Climate and Ocean Modelling, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford)
Dr. Dan Jones (Physical Oceanographer, British Antarctic Survey)
Professor Philip Jones HonFRMetS (University of East Anglia)
Dr. Sam Krevor (Senior Lecturer, Department of Earth Science & Engineering, Imperial College London)
Professor Christine Lane (University of Cambridge)
Professor Caroline Lear (Head of The Centre for Resilience and Environmental Change, Cardiff University)
Dr. Alicia Ledo (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen)
Dr. Elizabeth Lewis (Research Associate, School of Engineering, Newcastle University)
Professor Simon Lewis (Professor of Global Change Science, University College London and University of Leeds)
Dr. Xiaofeng Li (Research Scientist, School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Newcastle University)
Dr. Lorenzo Lotti (Energy Institute and Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London)
Dr. Niall Mac Dowell FIChemE (Imperial College London)
Professor Georgina Mace DBE FRS (Professor of Biodiversity & Ecosystems, University College London)
Professor Anson Mackay (Professor of Environmental Change, University College London)
Professor Geoffrey Maitland FREng FIChemE FRSC FEI (Professor of Energy Engineering, Imperial College London)
Professor Yadvinder Malhi FRS (Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford)
Professor David Marshall FRMetS FInstP (Head of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford)
Dr. John Marsham (Associate Professor, University of Leeds)
Professor Mark Maslin FRGS FRSA (Department of Geography, University College London)
Dr. Juerg Matter (Associate Professor in Geoengineering, Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton)
Dr. Amanda Maycock (Associate Professor, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds)
Professor Catriona McKinnon (Director of the Centre for Climate and Justice, University of Reading)
Dr. Jim McQuaid FRMetS CChem (School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds)
Dr. Dann Mitchell (Lecturer in Climate Physics, University of Bristol)
Professor Hugh Montgomery FRCP MD FRSB FRI FFICM (Professor of Intensive Care Medicine, University College London and Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change)
Professor Stephen de Mora FRSA FRSB FRSC CChem (Chief Executive, Plymouth Marine Laboratory)
Professor Richard Morris (Professor in Medical Statistics, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol)
Professor Benito Müller (Convener of International Climate Policy Research, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford)
Professor David Newbery FBA CBE (Director, Cambridge Energy Policy Research Group)
Professor Dan Osborn (Department of Earth Sciences, University College London)
Professor Tim Osborn FRMetS (Director of Research, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia)
Professor Jouni Paavola (Director of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, University of Leeds)
Dr. James Painter (Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford)
Professor Richard Pancost (Director of the Cabot Institute, University of Bristol)
Professor Douglas Parker FRMetS (Met Office Professor of Meteorology, University of Leeds)
Professor Martin Parry OBE ( Imperial College London)
Professor Paul Pearson FGS (School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University)
Dr. Wouter Peeters (Lecturer in Global Ethics, Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham)
Professor Arthur Petersen FIET FRSA (Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, University College London)
Professor Nick Pidgeon MBE (School of Psychology, Cardiff University)
Dr. Jeff Price (Senior Researcher, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia)
Prof Chris Rapley CBE (Professor of Climate Science, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London)
Dr. Tim Rayner (Research Fellow, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Professor Dave Reay (Assistant Principal, University of Edinburgh)
Dr. Merten Reglitz (Lecturer in Global Ethics, University of Birmingham)
Professor Judith Rees DBE (Vice-Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Professor Andrea Sella (Department of Chemistry, University College London)
Prof Daniela Schmidt FRSB FYAE (Professor in Palaeobiology, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol)
Dr. Tim Schwanen (Director of the Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford)
Professor Nilay Shah (Director of the Centre for Process Systems Engineering, Imperial College London)
Professor John Shepherd CBE FRS (Emeritus Professor of Earth System Science, School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton)
Dr. Emily Shuckburgh FRMetS OBE (Darwin College, University of Cambridge)
Professor Henry Shue (Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford)
Professor Martin Siegert FRSE (Co-Director, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London)
Professor Pete Smith FRS FRSE (University of Aberdeen)
Dr. Thomas Smith FRGS (Assistant Professor in Environmental Geography, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Dr. Julia Steinberger (Associate Professor in Ecological Economics, University of Leeds)
Professor Philip Stier (Academic Convener of the Oxford Climate Research Network and Professor of Atmospheric Physics, University of Oxford)
Professor Lindsay Stringer (ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, University of Leeds
Dr. Carol Turley OBE (Senior Scientist, Plymouth Marine Laboratory)
Professor Paul Valdes (Director, NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership, University of Bristol)
Professor Tina van de Flierdt (Professor of Past Climate and Oceans, Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment and Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London)
Bob Ward FGS FRGS (Policy and Communications Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Professor Rachel Warren (Professor of Global Change and Environmental Biology, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia)
Professor Jim Watson (Professor of Energy Policy, Institute of Sustainable Resources, University College London and Director of the UK Energy Research Centre)
Dr. Matthew Watson (Reader in Natural Hazards, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol)
Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh (School of Psychology and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Cardiff University)
Professor Ric Williams (Chair in Ocean Sciences and Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research & Impact, University of Liverpool)
Dr. Judith Wolf (National Oceanography Centre and Visiting Professor, School of Engineering, Liverpool University)
Professor Philip Woodworth MBE (Emeritus Fellow, National Oceanography Centre and Visiting Professor, University of Liverpool)
Professor Tim Woollings (Department of Physics, University of Oxford)

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Parameters: Trade Tariffs Will Affect International Science

I have written about trade before on this site.  First, about the potential benefits of 'global free trade' which can be found here.  Second, how the trade tariffs set to hit in recent weeks will affect a whole range of commodities (i.e. products, crops, etc.) which can be found here.  Recently, in the journal 'The Scientist' in an article titled "New US-China Tariffs Could Affect Science" written by Diana Kwon, the potential negative impacts to international science is laid out succinctly.  In the excerpt below, I include the entire article (not too long) to avoid butchering the piece with my own opinion.

Without further ado, here is the article shown below:

On June 15, the Office of the United States Trade Representative released a list of 818 Chinese imports that would be subject to an additional 25 percent tariff starting on July 6. These include products used in scientific research, such as microscopes and parts used in X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, and other imaging devices. While the effect that these tariffs will have on researchers is still unclear, some policy experts worry that President Donald Trump’s policies may impede scientific collaboration and talent flow between the two countries.  
Brian Xu, a toxicologist with The Acta Group, a scientific and regulatory consulting firm, says that because China exports relatively few high-quality scientific instruments, the tariffs on those products are unlikely to have a large effect on researchers in the U.S. However, he notes that Chinese companies produce many synthetic chemicals used by pharmaceutical and biotech companies in the U.S. “If there are tariffs [placed] on those, that’s certainly going to increase costs,” Xu says.  
According to the Trade Representative office (USTR), Trump’s administration is implementing the new tariffs to address the results of an agency investigation, which found China guilty of unfair trade practices. “China’s acts, policies and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are unreasonable and discriminatory, and burden U.S. commerce,” USTR says in a June 15 statement. 
China immediately retaliated to the US government’s announcement with a list of 545 US exports that it would slap additional taxes on starting next week, along with an additional 114 products—including chemicals and medical equipment—under consideration for additional tariffs.  
Some scientists in the U.S. have expressed concerns to Nature about the potential increase in research equipment costs as a result of the tariffs. But whether the tariffs will have noticeable effects for researchers remains to be seen. 
Scientific organization in the U.S. do not yet see cause for alarm. “At this point, it is unclear what impact this may have on the research ecosystem here in the US, and to date, we have not heard from any ACS [American Chemical Society] members or their respective organizations on this topic,” Glenn Ruskin, the director of ACS External Affairs and Communications, writes in an email to The Scientist. “It is a developing situation and one that we will be watching.”
Likewise, Tom Wang, the chief international officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), says that “it’s hard to say right now what the direct impact [of the tariffs] will be.” Wang adds that while it will be important to keep an eye on the products used the research community, at this point, the full extent of the tariffs that the U.S. will place on foreign products—and the retaliatory tariffs that may come as a result—is still unknown. 
On the other side of the tariffs, in China, worries are also reserved. Yibing Duan, a science and technology policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, tells The Scientist in an email that the potential for the tariffs to increase the cost of research in China is not a big concern, because products bought from the U.S. for scientific purposes “could be imported from the E.U., Japan, and other developed nations.” 
There is, however, fear that the economic dispute between the U.S. and China may intensify. USTR has also released a second set including 284 products that may be subject to additional tariffs. (The agency declined The Scientist’s request for comment.) “Contrary to what the Trump administration has said, trade wars are not easy to win,” says William Hauk, a professor of economics at the University of South Carolina. “They have a tendency to escalate with tit-or-tat measures, and this could start affecting a broader range of products.” 
Spill-over effects  
Duan tells The Scientist that although he does not currently see the new tariffs as a serious concern for research, a trade war between the U.S. and China could create a distrustful environment that may stifle intercountry relationships in the areas of science and technology. 
Wang adds that other moves by the Trump administration, such as the tougher restrictions on visas for Chinese students studying in the U.S., may also reduce scientific cooperation between the two countries. Together, these kinds of policies could have a “chilling effect on collaboration, access to technology, and access to knowledge and talent,” Wang says. 
Hauk notes that, if the US-China trade war escalates, there could be additional restrictions placed on student visas, as well as H1B visas, which allow US companies to hire foreign workers. 
“The argument made by some in this administration is that somehow the U.S. is not the beneficiary of the talent, the knowledge, or the technology from other places, but that the U.S. is giving this away to other countries,” Wang tells The Scientist. “But I think that’s not reflective of how the US scientific system works, in which we do benefit from working with [foreign] people, technologies, and companies.” 

There is more at risk than just products.  Additional risk can be classified as 'services' which I discussed briefly in the previous blog post on trade.  Furthermore, students from China travel abroad to the United States to receive a graduate education mostly to return to China for future work. Although, the United States pharmaceutical industry along with the technology sector do hire and hold onto a large portion of these visiting scholars.  I was in a research lab with international students during graduate school and wrote briefly about the benefit to U.S. science of having diversity in the research lab setting - which can be found here.

Last week, after Independence Day, returning to work, I encountered a colleague who returned back home to visit to China after the end of last semester.  She was frustrated with her travel back to the U.S. on the China side.  Her visa was scrutinized by customs which held up the process for a couple of weeks.  Which translates into a hold on her research here in the United States.  This is normal for visiting scholars in the United States.  But for professors here trying to earn tenure at an academic institution, the delay is critical toward professional advancement.

She remarked that there were much fewer applications to travel abroad - which is a result of harsher immigration laws by the Trump administration (read here). Still, the process was held up on China's side.  The exact reason still remains unknown to this day.


Overall, trade with China is important.  As I mentioned, more than products are traded and at risk with current negotiations.  The international political scene seems to be interfering with the field of science along with many others.  The potential negative fall out or adverse impact is that the United States could fall behind in output at the research level and technology transfer level.  If China holds potential imports to the United States such as vital chemicals used in research, this in turn directly impacts researchers ability to further advance the U.S. science arena -- which is bad.

More blogs can be found here:

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Bacteria communicating in communities -- quorum sensing

If you have ever had to clean the drain in your sink or the film of dirt off of the shower wall, chances are that a bacteria colony did reside there at one time. You know what I am talking about...That build up of film on your shower door/wall which progressively gets more opaque and changes color if left untouched by a sponge with cleaner.  Bacteria colonies arise all over the place.  How do bacteria colonies grow?  How do individual bacteria in colonies communicate with each other?  Scientists have made progress into unveiling the details below.

In the video shown below -- which is 10 seconds in length, the growth of bacteria is shown along with the immediate conversations between them in a community setting:

Scientists have often wondered how bacteria communicate when in a colony setting.  This step represents an advance in the detection of communication.  A step in the right direction to say the least.  Exciting as the results may be, the researchers now have their hands full in pushing the project further.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

EPA Estimates Of Methane - GHG - are off by 60%

Source: PBS

Greenhouse Gases (GHG) are a contentious subject in the debate on climate change.  Whenever calculations or models are created regarding the atmosphere and effects due to pollutants, different results appear depending on the parameters taken into account in the model itself.  Recently, a report discussed in an article from the journal 'Nature' titled "Methane leaks from US gas fields dwarf government estimates" states the issue as follows:

Methane leaks from the US oil and gas industry are 60% greater than official estimates, according to an analysis of previously reported data and new airborne measurements.

Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, scientists say that the unaccounted-for emissions could have significant impacts on the climate and the country’s economy. The lost gas alone is worth an estimated US$2 billion a year, scientists say.

The analysis1, published on 21 June in Science, is one of the most comprehensive looks yet at methane output from US oil and gas production, and reinforces previous studies that suggested emissions outpaced government estimates. That research prompted the US government to develop regulations that would restrict methane emissions from oil and gas production — rules that US President Donald Trump is now attempting to roll back.

The latest study shows that the US oil and gas supply chain emits about 13 million metric tons of methane, the main component of natural gas, every year. That's much higher than the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) estimate of about 8 million metric tons.

This discrepancy probably stems from the fact that the EPA’s emissions surveys miss potential sources of methane leaks, such as faulty equipment at oil and gas facilities, says study leader Ramón Alvarez, an atmospheric chemist at the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit group in Austin, Texas.

The author of the article goes onto state the obvious dangers of methane as a greenhouse gas compared to other offenders such as CO2 - carbon dioxide.  Methane has roughly 80 times more warming power on the planet compared to carbon dioxide.  How did two different studies conclude such a large difference in methane emissions?  According to the article above, the scientist took into account information from oil and gas industry (local municipal data) which was absent in the EPA report.  This naturally leads a person to wonder why the information was left out.  The answer is uncovered below.

How was 60% of a methane estimate left out of a report?

The news journal 'Politico' sent out the following e-mail with news of the report's major difference as shown below:

DEMOCRATS: BRING BACK THE ICR: Democrats are rallying around a return of an EPA information collection request in the aftermath of reports last week that oil and gas methane emissions are much greater than previously thought. A group of Democrats sent a letter to Pruitt on Wednesday calling on him to reinstate a formal ICR — which would require companies to report detailed technical information about methane emissions from their operations — after he withdrew the Final Methane ICR in March 2017. "With new science showing that emissions are likely considerably higher than previously thought, there is no excuse for delaying or rescinding methane emission controls, or for failing to collect data from methane emitters," the Democrats wrote.

As a result of the disparity in results from the Environmental Protection Agency's study, democratic congressional leaders sent EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt the follow letter of inquiry into the matter shown below:

Dear Administrator Pruitt: 
On March 2, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA announced that it was withdrawing Information Collection Request (ICR) 2548.01, which would have required oil and gas companies to provide information on methane emissions from their operations.  On March 8, 2017, two of us sent a letter asking that you reinstate the ICR given the urgent need to collect accurate data on methane emissions in order to set and enforce appropriate and cost-effective standards to reduce such emissions.  In the extremely short response we received from the Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation on May 23, 2017, we were informed that the rationale for withdrawing the ICR was to, "allow the Administrator time to assess the need for the requested information." 
Since the date of our original letter, a number of events have occurred that highlight the urgent need to reissue the ICR and collect accurate methane emission data.  First, the U.S. Senate rejected the Congressional Review Act effort to repeal the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) methane waste rule, the only such effort to fail in a vote, which demonstrated strong bipartisan support for reducing methane emissions.  Second, both BLM and the EPA have moved to undo, weaken, or avoid promulgating methane regulations, policies that should be informed with the best available science, not vague notions of industry "burdens" and incomplete knowledge of the public benefit of cutting emissions.  Third, the most recent release of EPA's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks showed that methane emissions from oil and gas production operations increased 34% from 1990 to 2016, and the growth of methane emissions from natural gas production operations outpaced the growth of natural gas productions, 58% to 52%. 
Even more concerning, a new report in the journal Science from 24 authors representing 12 universities, two government labs, and more, reported that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain were roughly 60 percent higher than EPA inventory estimates, and that emissions from production operations were more than double the EPA estimates.  According to a story in The New York Times about the study, the 13 million metric tons of methane lost by the oil and gas industry each year is worth approximately $2 billion and would be enough to fuel roughly 10 million homes. 
Methane emissions exacerbate the worst impacts of climate change, result in significant air pollution through the concurrent release of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds, waste a valuable resource, and, when occurring on public lands, deprive American taxpayers and states of a valuable source of royalty payments.  With new science showing that emissions are likely considerably higher than previously thought, there is no excuse for delaying or rescinding methane emission controls, or for failing to collect data from methane emitters.  We believe that EPA needs to reissue the ICR as soon as possible, or provide a comprehensive explanation why it will not.  Therefore, we ask that by July 31, 2018, you provide us with the results of your assessment of the need to require methane emission data, as mentioned in the May 23, 2017, response, including a full explanation of how those results were arrived at.  If that assessment is not done, please confirm when you expect to complete it.//Thank you for your prompt attention to this letter. 

Had EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt requested the information on potential leaks and measurements around the facilities of the oil and gas industry, there would be no issue at hand -- presumably.  Now, in the 'reactive state' or 'reactive mindset' Americans find themselves in, again, scientific data shows large differences in greenhouse gases which negatively impact our environment.  The news regarding the large difference is extremely disappointing to say the least.


I have stated the obvious point of disappointment from day 1 of the Trump administration.  Why does President Trump believe that there is no reason to have a 'Science Adviser' in the White House?  According to answers he gave in a campaign questionnaire on science issues, he suggested that science would be able to weigh in on each matter of relevance toward making policy.  Here is a campaign questionnaire given to President Trump on science issues in 2015.

Furthermore, instead of 'draining the swamp,' President Trump has appeared to over fill the swamp further with even more corrupt minded politicians and administrators.  See recent post with video here.  The time has come to admit that the current administration does not have our best interest (the public's best interest) or safety in mind when making policy.  Sadly enough, suppressing science (which I will touch on in an upcoming post) along with leaving science out of policy making seems to be high on the priority list of policy making.  Which runs counter intuitive to consumer/public safety.

The EPA is a watchdog, not a barrier to protect corrupt business practices to fill the pockets of wealthy business stakeholders.  We deserve to have en EPA which looks out for public safety by regulating the oil and gas industry to limit the pollutants which arrive in our neighborhoods and in the skies above us.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Does your brain move throughout the day?

Source: YouTube

Over the last few years, the news has been preoccupied by a number of important stories.  One of which is the phenomenon known at CTE - ccc - also known as 'Brain Slosh'.  Researchers have uncovered that the brain actually moves in a regular pattern which is aligned with the heart beat.

In a recent blog post by the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins highlights the research (imaging) behind the video shown below:

Wow.  Up until now, the discussion surrounding the movement of the brain has been centered around the controversial condition in NFL football players (and other football player of all ages too) known as "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy" -- due to repeated 'hits' to the head during the game. In the near future, I will write more about this subject and the research which is funded by the National Football League.  With this taken center stage, developments in imaging have been emerging as a result.  This is an example of such a benefit of conducting research into other questions surrounding the brain.  After watching the video above, the natural question is the following:

How is the imaging done for the video above?

The research behind this imaging is described as follows in the blog post:

In the video, a traditional series of brain scans captured using standard MRI (left) make the brain appear mostly motionless. But a second series of scans captured using the new technique (right) shows the brain pulsating with each and every heartbeat.
As described in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, the team started by measuring the pulse of a healthy person. They synchronized the pulse with MRI images of the person’s brain, stitching the scans together to create a sequential video. Their new MRI approach then relies on a special algorithm developed by another group to magnify the subtle changes.
The new report demonstrates application of the technique to MRI scans of a healthy person and someone with structural abnormalities of the skull and the brain’s cerebellum known as Chiari malformations. Remarkably, those amplified MRI images revealed obvious differences in brain motion. The researchers also showed in another investigation which parts of the brain move the most.
The researchers hope this new approach will help physicians capture potentially important changes in the brains of people with conditions such as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), which influence brain pressure and motion. One thing is already clear: we’ve never seen the brain quite like this before.

Amazing.  The work described above will undoubtedly improve the entire field of medical imaging as a whole.  Each unique question asked by researchers holds the potential to add to the field of imaging in a number of unexpected ways.  Which is why scientist have difficulty with under funded science as a whole.  Not to say that certain projects could not be tailored down to save money.

Any time a research pursuit is followed, a flow of information will result.  Whether that information is useful or not is unknown in some cases.  Research into imaging techniques will have a direct and observable effect on patient care.  Unlike other types of research, shedding more light on the happenings in the region of the skull (i.e. the brain) is greatly needed and under funded.  Which means that the opportunity for improvement along with the potential to unveil vast amounts of information is huge and worthy of pursuing.  The future is exciting to say the least.

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