Having Fun On A Saturday

Yesterday I had fun buying a few plants and planting them in a planter near the mail box and up on our deck. I also installed a thermometer on the deck. It was nice and peaceful up there. But the plants will require a lot of tender loving care. The planter box under Luah’s window is challenging. I bought some plants from Costco and they died. We brought in a landscaper and his plants were beautiful at first but also died. The area is constantly in shade.

In Praise Of The California Franchise Tax Board

Taxation Departments are not my favorite people. But this morning I want to commend the State of California Franchise Tax Board for revoking the non-profit status of Blue Shield of California. This company has “jacked up” premiums through the roof and accumulated over $4 billion in cash reserves. Now Blue Shield will face a massive tax bill (California needs the money!) There will also be pressure to return billions of dollars to the policy holders who were robbed of their hard-earned money. What’s that old saying: “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy!”

The Secret To Getting Long-Term Political Change In Brasil

My friends I am delighted that we had some big and peaceful demonstrations in Brasil. Another big one is planned. All of you in Brasil need to take a lesson from President Obama. He wins elections because he has what we call in English “a good ground game.” Quite simply he gets people out to vote. Many humble people get on the phone and talk to neighbors. If necessary they drive people to the place of voting so they can vote. This is what you need in Brasil. You need a slate of honest reform candidates. Then each of you has to work to get your friends, neighbors, and relatives to vote.

Packing List For Mars

Packing light for Mars

A microbe factory could more than halve a mission’s payload weight.

We’ve all had trouble squeezing our luggage down to the allowed weight for a flight. But for a trip to Mars that problem is magnified. The NASA rule-of-thumb is that for every kilogram to be launched into space, you need 99 kilograms of fuel and rocket to get it there. Forget the spare toothbrush.

But maybe a solution to all the stuff we’ll need on Mars lies within the bodies of the astronauts. A manned spacecraft produces about a kilogram of carbon dioxide a day from the exhaled breath of each astronaut. Add to that the urine and wash-water, and a crew of six could arrive on Mars carrying more than six tonnes of potentially valuable organic material. This, together with the basic raw materials available on Mars, could provide the building blocks for four of life’s necessities: fuel, food, plastics and medicines. All it takes is a little help from genetically engineered microbes.

At least that’s what Amor Menezes at the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with scientists from NASA, proposes in a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface in November. The paper estimates that employing microbes on a two-and-a-half year trip to Mars could deliver huge savings in the mass of the outbound rocket’s payload.


The trip to Mars would take seven months. And the fuel for the return journey would talke up two thirds of the mission cargo. To reduce the load, the Berkeley/NASA team considered generating methane fuel from Martian resources for the return leg. Generating it requires CO2, which is 95% of the Martian atmosphere, and hydrogen, which could be sourced from the planet’s frozen water using electricity to slit it into hydrogen and oxygen.

The chemical reaction requires heavy duty equipment to reach high temperatures and pressures, which rather defeats the purpose. But lightweight microbes such as Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum are designed for the task. On Earth, they live on hydrogen and CO2, spewing out methane as a by-product. In a vat filled with CO2 and hydrogen, the team calculate the microbes could make all the fuel needed for the return journey in 205 days, less than half the planned stay on Mars. The incubator needed for the microbes would weigh less than half that needed for the chemical synthesis of methane.

A day in the life of a Martian astronaut.CREDIT: JEFFREY PHILLIPS


On the International Space Station astronauts subsist on a combination of freeze-dried meals that must be rehydrated before eating, and packets of “wet food” that are quick to prepare and also more appetising. Feeding Martian astronauts for 30 months would require more than 10 tonnes of wet food.

The biotech solution proposed by the team is for the astronauts to eat spirulina – a green, flaky foodstuff made from photosynthetic algae that grows naturally on the surface of saltwater lakes in Central America and Africa. It’s been eaten by humans since the time of the Aztecs, and recently surged in popularity as a “superfood”.

Spirulina production would cut by 38% the mass of wet food that would have to be shipped to Mars. It is also more nutritious than wet food so astronauts need less of it. The Berkeley and NASA researchers calculate that more than five kilos of spirulina a day – enough for the whole crew – could be grown in bioreactors the size of two kids’ paddling pools. This would save about a third of the mass-cost of sending wet-food to Mars. And, as Menezes adds, by genetically manipulating the algae, “you can change the flavours and textures of the spirulina, so you don’t feel like you’re eating the same thing every time”.

Building materials

The biopolymer, polyhydroxybutyrate, can be produced by modified bacteria and used to print 3D plastic construction blocks in space.CREDIT: CSO POLYBATICS LTD

NASA is researching 3D printing in space. A printer could be used to make interlocking blocks for building a Martian habitat. NASA’s idea is to print blocks by bonding a mixture of minerals in the Martian soil with salts brought from home. But printing a six-person habitat from this material would add up to at least 24 tonnes to the mission’s weight, much of that due to the weight of the salts.

Instead, Menezes proposes using bacteria to produce a light-weight biopolymer, polyhydroxybutyrate, which could be 3D printed to form plastic construction blocks. All the necessary ingredients, including CO2, hydrogen and oxygen, should be available on the spacecraft.

Even the ammonia the bacteria need could be taken from the astronauts’ urine. The crew could start printing pieces for their new home before they arrive. According to the team’s calculations, this approach could save 85% of the mass-cost of the mineral-based 3D printing approach.

A specially modified 3D printer could fabricate spare parts and construction blocks.CREDIT: MADE IN SPACE

Drug production

Drugs tend to expire faster in space due to higher radiation levels. But what if there’s a medical emergency after the use-by-date? The team identified a bacterium,Synechocystis, which, with a bit of genetic modification, could be used to create paracetamol from available resources.

The bacteria could be frozen in a small lead container until needed. After thawing out the bacteria, paracetamol stocks could be replenished in days.

Christophe Lasseur, who has researched long-term human habitats for the European Space Agency, has no doubt microbes can be used to create products in space, but adds that we don’t know how the radiation levels will affect the bacteria’s survival.

“Mars contamination is another issue,” he adds. The search for life would be a prime goal of any mission to Mars. Deliberately bringing microbes from Earth could have the unwanted effect of tainting the planet.

“This is why it is extremely important to arrive on Mars with the cleanest vehicle possible,” he says.

Previous Martian probes, such as Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, were all thoroughly decontaminated before their launch.

Menezes admits that containment will be important, but emphasises his work is the first step in examining microbes as potential shipmates on a trip to Mars. Initial results are promising, he adds.

“Already we can compete with non-biological technologies – imagine what would happen if you engineer them to be even better.”

Some Incredible Courage In Oakland, California

My friends, Elena, Luah, Joao, Djenane, Bianca and I are blessed to live in a nice middle class neighborhood. A few years ago one could leave their front door unlocked and keys in the car without fear of any problems. Some break ins now happen so one has to be more cautious. We do not have to fear for our personal safety. Sadly just a few miles away in Oakland, Richmond, and parts of San Francisco that is not the case. Gang violence is prevalent. Killings are a common part of life. Often the victim is some innocent person who was unlucky enough to walk between rival gang members “shooting it out.”

A few days ago a young single mother with two kids got hit by a bullet fired by a gang member at a rival. She died. Her death left two young kids as orphans. Often these murders are never solved. Gang members have the local community so frightened and intimidated that no one come forward. In this case someone did come forward. A 19 year-old young man is in custody in Oakland. If found guilty of this crime he will, most likely, spend the rest of his life in prison. This young man could easily live to be 79 years of age. The taxpayers will have to pay $50,000 a year to keep him in prison. This is $3,000,000 not counting all of the costs of the trial and his medical and dental care. We cannot calculate the costs of the two young children left without a mother.

If more people had the courage to come forward and identify the people doing these violent crimes, the gang members would figure out that they would get caught quickly. It might make some of them think twice before pulling out a gun and firing it in anger.

Mish Shedlock Gives Advice For College Graduates Who Did And Did Not Find Jobs

Advice for College Grads: 16 Tips For Those Who Land a Job, 8 Tips for Those Who Don’t

I was asked by a career placement organization if I had any advice for college graduates that I could share.

Specifically, I was asked “If you were going to give career advice to a fresh college graduate based on your experiences what would it be? Would it be to settle for nothing less than something they are passionate about? Would you tell them to not put too much stock into their first job? Would you tell them to put as much money into their savings as possible?

I look at this two ways: Advice for those who landed a job and advice for those who didn’t.

Grads who land a job should also take a look at the second set of tips. It’s easy to find yourself out of a job for any number of reasons.

16 Tips For Those Who Land a Job

  1. Live below your means.
  2. Pay down student debts as fast as you can.
  3. Build a cash cushion in case you lose your job. Ideally, you need one full year’s salary, in the bank, in cash, for emergencies, not for trips to Aruba. Six months is a minimum.
  4. Think about bills before you move out on your own.
  5. Consider sharing an apartment with someone to cut expenses.
  6. Consider living with your parents for a while.
  7. Don’t buy a new car.
  8. If you buy any car, make sure you understand what insurance, gas, and maintenance will cost
  9. Don’t have kids right away, if at all. If you have kids, then understand the commitment in time and money, and be prepared for both. If you have kids, that cash cushion mentioned in point three is even more important.
  10. Don’t purchase a house or condo even if your job pays well. Housing is back in a bubble in many areas. Condos are especially hard to sell. Besides, you may decide you do not like your first job and want to move. Take your time. It’s easier to find a house you like than get rid of one you don’t.
  11. If your job has a company matching investment plan, take advantage, but keep the money in cash or guaranteed funds if offered. Assets are way over-priced here. Wait for a huge dip in the stock market to invest. Recent grads have plenty enough time to dollar cost average. Early mistakes will not cost much. However, it’s important to think about valuations, safety, bubbles and other factors as a process now rather than taking the attitude it doesn’t matter much now. It will matter eventually, and the quicker one starts thinking about such things, the better off they will be down the road.
  12. Don’t think you are special because you show up on time and put in eight hours. Those are a given. Depending on the company you work for, work-life balance may come later or perhaps not all. Few companies are remotely close to Google. Go above and beyond what’s expected, every day, without complaint. A strong work ethic is one of the few ways one can stand out and get promotions and raises.
  13. If you took a job you are not passionate about, be grateful you have a job. Keep looking, but don’t quit. It’s easier to find a job if you have a job.
  14. If you are with a big company and don’t like your initial assignment, opportunities can arise in other areas. Talk to personnel after you have been there a while. Give your first assignment a fair chance.
  15. Evaluate your job four ways: Do you like what you are doing? Do you like who you work with? Do you like your boss? Are you happy with your pay?
  16. If the answer to all four questions in point 13 are no, you are in the wrong place for sure. Sometimes one can be so bad you want out. If pay alone is the problem, then please self-assess your skills and what others in your field make. If your boss alone is the problem then talk to your boss or bring up the problem with personnel.

8 Tips For Those Who Don’t Land a Job

  1. Purchasing new cars, buying houses or condos, or starting a family are out of the question unless somehow you are independently wealthy or have a spouse that picks up the slack.
  2. Don’t go to grad school thinking it will help you land a good job. Most likely, and especially if you are in a low demand field, all you will do is pile on debt.
  3. Be realistic about your job prospects. If you got a degree in history, art, English literature or any other low demand field, face the facts: your job prospects are not that good. You may have to take any job in retail (or elsewhere) that you can find. You may be passionate about art, but don’t expect museums to come running to you.
  4. Have a friend interview you and give you honest feedback. If your speech skills are not good, then you better improve them.
  5. Have someone critique your resume. Don’t ever lie about your skills, grades, experience, or anything else. The interviewer may figure it out. And if you are hired, it’s grounds for immediate dismissal, even if they like you. I have seen it.
  6. What about your appearance? Do you dress properly for interviews?
  7. When you land an interview, find out everything you can about the company. It is imperative to not only understand what the company does, but to also formulate at least one intelligent question about their business that you don’t know. Examples: Have you thought about ….? Why do you ….? Why don’t you …? What areas do you seek to expand?
  8. Self-assess. Do you have other issues? Employers are not supposed to take looks and health issues into consideration, but if you are extremely obese, your odds of landing a job are much worse than if you are physically fit.

Good Luck Grads!

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Read more at http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2015/03/advice-for-college-grads-16-tips-for.html#jBYPlhwXmTs33LrK.99

I Had A Close Call With Death On A Beautiful Friday Morning

I had a close call with serious injury or death less than an hour ago. I took Elena to work. I put gas in her car. I had breakfast. I was coming home on 280 north near the Hickey Boulevard. I saw a small Honda SUV in the lane to the left of me. It appeared to be going ten miles per hour. Without warning, the Honda SUV veered into my lane. I’m almost 66.5 years of age. Despite my advanced years, my reflexes are quite good. I accelerated and pulled the steering wheel to the right. I avoided the Honda and kept control of my car. It was not my day to die.

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According To CBS News Mars Once Had An Ocean The Size Of The Arctic Ocean

Mars has lost an Arctic Ocean’s worth of water

NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space.

Scientists have known for a while that Mars was once wet, but just how wet remained a mystery.

Now, NASA scientists for the first time have calculated that the Red Planet held more water than the Arctic Ocean. Using powerful telescopes to measure signatures of water in the planet’s atmosphere, they estimated that in its youth, the planet would have probably had an ocean more than a mile deep covering almost half of its northern hemisphere.

The scientists, writing in Thursday’s issue of Science, said there would have been enough water to cover the entire surface of the planet in a liquid layer about 450 feet (137 meters) deep.

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, first author of the paper and a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

NASA’s Michael Mumma, the second author on the paper, said their work builds on the earlier findings from NASA’s Curiosity rover that Mars was contained water 1.5 billion years ago, and extends the timeline further back on account of the new findings.

“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than previously thought, suggesting the planet might have been habitable for longer,” Mumma said.

To unravel the water mystery, NASA scientists used the world’s three major infrared telescopes – one at the W.M. Keck Observatory, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and the Very Large Telescope – to study water molecules in the Martian atmosphere.

“From the ground, we can actually take a snapshot of the whole hemisphere of the planet on a single night,” Mumma said.

They looked at two slightly different forms of water – H2O and HDO, a naturally occurring variation in which one hydrogen is replaced by a heavier form, called deuterium. Unlike normal hydrogen, which is lost to space, the deuterium remains trapped in the Martian atmosphere.

The team was especially interested in regions near the north and south poles because the polar ice caps are the planet’s largest known reservoir of water. The water stored there is a window onto the history and evolution of Mars’ water from the wet Noachian period, which ended about 3.7 billion years ago, to the present.

“Now we know that Mars’ water is much more enriched than terrestrial ocean water in the heavy form of water,” Mumma said. “Immediately that permits us to estimate the amount of water Mars has lost since it was young.”

They found the atmospheric water in the near-polar region was enriched with deuterium, indicating that Mars had lost a tremendous quantity of water. Mars must have lost a volume of water 6.5 times larger than the present polar caps to provide such large enrichment.

Based on their calculations, the scientists estimate that Mars has lost 87 percent of its ancient ocean to space and that the remaining 13 percent is likely stored in the polar ice caps.

Taking into account the surface of Mars today, a likely location for this water would be in the Northern Plains, which has long been considered a good candidate because of the low-lying ground. An ancient ocean there would have covered about 20 percent of the planet’s surface. By comparison, the Atlantic Ocean occupies 17 percent of Earth’s surface.

“This ocean had a maximum depth of around 5,000 feet or around one mile deep,” Villanueva said. “It’s deep – not as deep as the deepest points of our oceans, but comparable to the average depth of the Mediterranean Sea.”

By combining the Martian topography with the estimates of water loss, the researchers were able to simulate an ancient ocean on Mars and its escape into space.

As Mars lost its atmosphere over billions of years, the researchers believe it lost the pressure and heat needed to keep water liquid. That caused the ocean to shrink and recede northward, with the remaining water condensing and freezing over the north and south poles and giving Mars the ice caps seen today.

  • Michael Casey

    Michael Casey covers the environment, science and technology for CBSNews.com