Draining reservoir after urination incident shows tenuous grasp of science

Draining reservoir after urination incident shows tenuous grasp of science
Portland throws out 38 million gallons of water after someone peed in it.
By Casey Johnston

Apr 20 2014

The city of Portland, OR will empty a 38-million gallon reservoir after a teenager allegedly urinated in it, according to the Associated Press. It’s the second time in three years that Portland is flushing its Mount Tabor reservoir after a urine-related incident.

The reservoir is open-air and sits exposed to all of nature, leading many parties to question how necessary a draining would be, or how polluted 38 million gallons of water can really be by a single man’s urine.

David Shaff, Portland’s water bureau administrator, reserves a special disgust specifically for human urine. In 2011, when Shaff drained the reservoir following a urination, he reasoned to the Portland Mercury, “Do you want to be drinking someone’s pee?… There’s probably no regulation that says I have to be doing it but, again, who wants to be drinking pee?” This time around, Shaff wrote in a statement, “Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated.”

A half-liter of urine dumped in a 143 million-liter reservoir would get a urea concentration of about 3 parts per billion, according to Slate. (We calculated it would be a 50 nanoMolar solution.) Meanwhile, the EPA allows concentrations of arsenic in drinking water up to 10 ppb. Salt water has a salt concentration of around 35,000,000 parts per billion, or 600 milliMolar.

In an interview with Vocativ, the teenager in question, Dallas Swonger, denied urinating in the reservoir at all, stating he actually hit a wall instead. “I leaned up against the wall and pissed on it,” Swonger said. Swonger also contested the cleanliness of the reservoir prior to his actions: “I’ve seen dead birds in there. During the summer time I’ve see hella dead animals in there,” Swonger told Vocativ. In 2011, Shaff told the Mercury that the reservoir is not shut down for nature’s transgressions. “If we did that, we’d be shutting it off all the time. We fish out animals or things that have blown in all the time,” Shaff said.

The reservoir will reportedly cost $35,000 to clean and had just had one of its twice-yearly cleanings three weeks ago.

Homeless Lose a Longtime Last Resort: Living in a Car

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

Homeless Lose a Longtime Last Resort: Living in a Car
Cities in Silicon Valley, Elsewhere Crack Down on Vehicle Dwellers Driven Out of Apartments by Rents
Apr 8 2014

PALO ALTO, Calif.—In the three decades he worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, Fred Smith never imagined he would spend his golden years homeless.

But three years ago, Mr. Smith could no longer afford an apartment here, so he moved into an aging Winnebago camper. The 70-year-old showers at a gym where he has had a longtime membership. For most meals, he eats $1.20 orders of eggs or fish patties at McDonald’s.

As housing costs here have skyrocketed with the latest technology boom, Mr. Smith has found himself among thousands of people in Silicon Valley struggling to afford a place to live.

The San Jose/Santa Clara County region’s homeless population—about 7,600 on any given night, the fifth-highest among major metro areas—edged up in 2013, even as the number of homeless nationwide dropped, according to U.S. data. About 46% of the homeless here are living on the streets for the first time, while 48% previously rented or owned a home, according to a county survey.

At the same time, Silicon Valley incomes, rents and home prices have soared. In Palo Alto, home of Tesla Motors, TSLA -0.50% Hewlett-Packard HPQ-1.72% and Stanford University, average rents increased 34% during the past five years to $2,881, more than 2½ times the national average, according to apartment market-research firmRealFacts LLC. Silicon Valley’s median household income is on the rise at $90,000, 75% above the national figure, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

For months now, Mr. Smith has feared he might lose his current home, which is stationed on a street near a quiet Palo Alto park. An ordinance passed by Palo Alto last year would punish people cited for living in a vehicle with as much as a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.

“You’re at risk of losing everything,” Mr. Smith said recently. “It’s a weird feeling that until you’ve lived this way, you don’t realize what it’s like.”

For the moment, the city has delayed enforcing the ban while the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers a challenge to a similar law in Los Angeles. A decision is expected in the next few months and could affect similar laws in cities including nearby San Jose and Santa Clara. At least 70 cities across the nation have laws targeting people who live in their vehicles.

Officials say these bans aim to prevent nuisances that can be created by those living in cars, and most are enforced only on a complaint basis.

In Palo Alto, police received dozens of complaints from residents near a community center where car dwellers were using the restrooms.

“The neighbors in the community, I think, wanted to be reasonable, but they didn’t feel safe having their kids go to the center,” said Claudia Keith, a spokeswoman for the city.

There are 15 emergency shelter beds and about 150 homeless people in Palo Alto. A nonprofit center provides assistance and referrals. The city also has pledged $250,000 to address homeless issues.

“While, yes, Palo Alto is a city with a lot of wealth, there is still a population with a lot of needs, and I think generally the community is grappling with how do we help the unhoused,” said Ms. Keith.

James Brooks, director of city solutions at the National League of Cities, said that many cities are grappling with the issue and “trying to balance the needs of the homeless and the needs of the community.”


Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States?

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States?
By Victor Gilinsky & Roger J. Mattson
Apr 17 2014

Last month the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), the nation’s highest classification authority, released a number of top-level government memoranda that shed additional light on the so-called NUMEC affair, “the story that won’t go away—the possibility that in the 1960s, Israel stole bomb-grade uranium from a US nuclear fuel-processing plant.”

The evidence available for our 2010 Bulletin article persuaded us that Israel did steal uranium from the Apollo, Pennsylvania, plant of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC). We urged the US government to declassify CIA and FBI documents to settle the matter. In releasing the current batch—the release being largely due to the persistent appeals of researcher Grant Smith—the government has been careful to excise from all the released documents the CIA’s reasons for fingering Israel. Despite this, the documents are significantly revealing. For one thing, the excisions themselves are a backhanded admission of the persuasiveness of the CIA’s evidence. (Why these excisions are legally justified is not apparent—after nearly 50 years, the “sources and methods” issues have long ago dissipated.)

While we still don’t know exactly what the CIA told high government officials, we do know from the released memoranda that top officials thought the CIA’s case was a strong one. Also, as described in our earlier article, one of us was present at the CIA’s February 1976 briefing of a small group at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). At that session Carl Duckett, then-CIA deputy director for science and technology, told the NRC group the CIA believed the missing highly enriched uranium ended up in Israel.

The newly released documents also expose government efforts, notably during the Carter administration, to keep the NUMEC story under wraps, an ironic twist in view of Jimmy Carter’s identification with opposition to nuclear proliferation.

The context of NUMEC. A bit of background is in order here. After a 1965 inventory, NUMEC was found to be missing about 100 kilograms of bomb-grade uranium, even after accounting for all processing losses. The close personal and commercial ties to Israel of the plant owners and operators raised suspicions that remained unresolved. The affair of the missing bomb-grade uranium was revived in 1976. The newly formed NRC was in the process of writing licensing regulations for commercial fuel firms—of which NUMEC was one—and had heard rumors of possible theft in the 1960s from NUMEC’s Apollo facility.

The NRC asked for a CIA briefing. Duckett startled the NRC group with CIA’s conclusion that the missing uranium was in Israeli bombs. The NRC chairman informed the White House, and President Ford took an interest in the case. Ford’s Attorney General, Edward Levi, discovered that the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the NRC predecessor nuclear licensing agency, had previously convinced the FBI not to open a criminal investigation into the material’s disappearance. The AEC was concerned that the public revelation of the NUMEC case would draw attention to its lack of control over nuclear bomb materials in the hands of private firms, and thus undermine the commission’s efforts to get nuclear power programs underway. In addition, then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was not eager to get into a technical area with which his agents were unfamiliar. Levi gave the FBI its first instruction to investigate the material’s disappearance, a decade after the 1965 inventory that was the object of concern. In fact, although they attracted little attention, NUMEC inventories through 1968 showed even larger unexplained losses.


Moore’s law gives way to Bezos’s law

Moore’s law gives way to Bezos’s law
By Greg O’Connor, AppZero
Apr 19 2014

The future of cloud computing is the availability of more computing power at a much lower cost.

Cloud providers Google, AmazonWeb Services (AWS) and Microsoft are doing some spring-cleaning, and it’s out with the old, in with the new when it comes to pricing services. The latest cuts make it clear there’s a new business model driving cloud that is every bit as exponential in growth — with order of magnitude improvements to pricing — as Moore’s Law has been to computing.

If you need a refresher, Moore’s Law is “the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” I propose my own version, Bezos’s law. Named for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, I define it as the observation that, over the history of cloud, a unit of computing power price is reduced by 50 percent approximately every three years.

I’ll show the math below, but if Bezos’ law reflects reality, the only conclusion is that most enterprises should dump their data centers and move to the public cloud, thus saving money. Some savings occur over time by buying hardware subject to Moore’s Law, plus the fixed cost of maintenance, electrical power, cooling, building and labor to run a data center. In the end, I’ll show how prices are reduced by about 20 percent per year, cutting your bill in half every three years.

How we got here

Google was first to announce “deep” cuts in on-demand instance pricing across the board. To make the point that cloud pricing has been long overdue, Google’s Urs Hölzle showed in March just how much cloud pricing hasn’t followed Moore’s Law: Over the past five years, hardware costs decreased by 20 to 30 percent annually, but public cloud prices fell by just 8 percent annually:


Re: The secret to treating your allergies may lie in your stomach

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Gerald Steinback.  DLH]

From: gsteinba52@aol.com
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] The secret to treating your allergies may lie in your stomach
Date: April 19, 2014 at 16:13:04 EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

From ‘Fresh Air’ this past week:

Modern Medicine May Not Be Doing Your Microbiome Any Favors
Apr 14 2014

There are lots of theories about why food allergies, asthma, celiac disease and intestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease have been on the rise. Dr. Martin Blaser speculates that it may be connected to the overuse of antibiotics, which has resulted in killing off strains of bacteria that typically live in the gut.

Blaser is an expert on the human microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in and on the body. In fact, up to 90 percent of all the cells in the human body aren’t human at all — they’re micro-organisms.

Blaser is the director of NYU’s Human Microbiome Program and a former chairman of medicine there. His new book is called Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues.

He tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that with the overuse of antibiotics, as well as some other now-common practices like cesarean sections, we’ve entered a danger zone — a no man’s land between the world of our ancient microbiome and an uncharted modern world.


The secret to treating your allergies may lie in your stomach
Apr 17 2014

A Tipless Restaurant is a Well-Run Restaurant

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

A Tipless Restaurant is a Well-Run Restaurant
By Alex Mayyasi
June 13 2013

When the upscale New York City restaurant Sushi Yasuda decided to ban tipping, New York Times coverage of their decision launched a debate on the practice of tipping. The story unearthed the fact that tipping has inspired passionate advocates for its overthrow for decades, but never a mass following to make it a reality. 

This week, San Diego restaurateur Jay Porter is reporting on the closest thing to a natural experiment on tipping that has ever been run. Of his two restaurants, both high-quality table-service establishments, one has accepted tips as normal. The other has refused to accept them, instead charging a fixed percentage service fee. 

An unique insight of his writing is that tipping almost inevitably distracts from running a quality restaurant. Porter finds that his no-tip restaurant is better run, with employees focused on their mission of delivering a great dining experience.

But before explaining why, it’s best to understand some of the tenets behind the classic case against tipping.

1) Tips are unrelated to good service

Tips are meant to reward excellent service, but most people tip the same percentage regardless of how well they are treated. Research from Michael Lynn of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell suggests that performance differences account for under 2% of the variation in tips. Server behavior that does significantly improve tips include forecasting good weather and drawing pictures on the back of checks. 

But good tips are mostly good luck. Servers who happen to get generously tipping big spenders do very well. Waiting on tables of scrooges for a night means earning under minimum wage for the day. 

2) It’s un-American

An article in the New York Times Magazine traces tipping back to its roots and finds a snooty practice at odds with American egalitarian ideals:

Tipping began as an aristocratic practice, a sprinkle of change for social inferiors, and it quickly spread among the upper classes of Europe… After the Civil War, wealthy Americans began traveling to Europe in significant numbers, and they brought the tip home with them to demonstrate their worldliness. But the United States, unlike Europe, had no aristocratic tradition, and as tipping spread — like “evil insects and weeds,” The New York Times claimed in 1897 — many thought it was antithetical to American democratic ideals. “Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape,” William Scott wrote in his 1916 anti-tipping screed, “The Itching Palm.” One periodical of the same era deplored tipping for creating a class of workers who relied on “fawning for favors.”


The secret to treating your allergies may lie in your stomach

[Note:  This item comes from friend Brian Berg.  DLH]

The secret to treating your allergies may lie in your stomach
Apr 17 2014

When we think of allergies, we typically think of the scratchy eyes and sneezing that are the hallmark of the onset of allergy season. But what if these allergies had more to do with the bacteria and microbes in your gut than anything going on in your head?

That’s one of the findings that appears to be emerging from the work of theHuman Microbiome Project, a multi-year, $100+ million project from the National Institutes of Health that is attempting to create a map of all the microbes in and on your body. There are literally tens of trillions bacteria, viruses and microorganisms that inhabit your nasal passages, skin, oral cavities and gastrointestinal tract. The problem is, we really don’t know what all these microorganisms actually do. The growing consensus, however, is that an imbalance in your personal microbiome can lead to some allergies and even certain diseases.

Not surprisingly, the Human Microbiome Project has been likened to a similar type of project – the Human Genome Project – for its ability to tell us about what makes us uniquely human. Just as the Human Genome Project gave us a way of understanding how our genes work, the Human Microbiome Project seeks to understand how the genes of all the microorganisms tagging along for a ride on the human body work. 

And, just as a number of companies – like 23andme – emerged from the research efforts of the Human Genome Project, we’re starting to see a new generation of biotech startups that are focusing specifically on the human microbiome. These companies are looking at ways to restore balance to populations of microorganisms in and on the body that, when they fall out of equilibrium, may lead to disease. Last June, one of these companies – the VC-backed Second Genome – received a major investment from Johnson & Johnson in one of the first big forays by Big Pharma into the microbiome space. As suggested by its name, Second Genome is trying to figure out the link between illness and the human body’s “second genome” (i.e. all the genetic material contained within the trillions of microorganisms in your body).

And – for allergy sufferers – here’s the good news: Second Genome has appeared to isolate a link between allergic diseases and the bacteria living in your gut. What it means is that you may one day buy a drug from Johnson & Johnson that injects bacteria into your body to prevent allergies or minimize allergic reactions. Instead of buying an over-the-counter antihistamine drug during the peak of the pollen vortex, you’d buy a bacterial therapy pioneered by a microbiome company. At a time when some of us ingest probiotic yogurts to get a mix of the “good bacteria” in the morning, this is not as far-fetched as it might sound.