A Science for Everyone, Community

On polarized lenses.

I recently got a pair of polarized prescription glasses, and have been amazed by how much better I am able to see the world, particularly when driving in the morning and evening, confronted by people’s bright headlights.

While they do make my world noticeably dimmer, they bring out many small details, and seem to make colors more intense – I find myself able to discern grass stalks and foliage from much further ranges than I used to be able to. I suspect it’ll help with spotting wildlife as well.

It’s important to realize that not all glasses claiming to be polarized are – many cheap lenses claim to be polarized, while merely being tinted. If a lens is truly polarized, it will block out a portion of polarized light, meaning light that vibrates more in a certain direction. What portion of light is blocked out depends on the lenses’ orientation.

The lenses on most glasses are polarized to filter out horizontally reflected light, i.e. from puddles on roads, or from bodies of water, plastic, or a well-maintained car. Meanwhile, light reflected from bare metal generally won’t change its polarization. Here’s a link explaining the physics, and explaining what makes light polarized or unpolarized.

If you’d like to check if sunglasses that claim to be polarized are genuine, you can take two pairs of them, place them so their lenses overlap, and rotate them until they are perpendicular to each other. This should noticeably darken the view through the lenses, as you are filtering out most of the incoming light.

Alternatively most laptop screens are linearly polarized, so rotating a pair of polarized lenses in front of one should have a clearly bright orientation, where nearly all light emitted from the screen passes through the lenses successfully, and a clearly dark orientation (about perpendicular to the bright orientation) which blocks out nearly all the the light emitted from the screen.

The polarized lenses, aligned to allow all light emitted by the polarized computer monitor to pass through.
Nearly aligned to filter out all incoming polarized light,
but not quite, so some light still passes through the lenses.
Perfectly aligned, and now all the polarized light emitted from the screen is blocked by the lenses.

As a side effect of filtering out horizontally reflected light, my new lenses should help block out reflections from bodies of water, meaning I should be able to see fish moving beneath the surface of the water. Here’s a video showing the effect of looking through polarized lenses at water. Looking forward to getting out there, and seeing how efficient that is.


Reilly’s Law of Retail Gravitation

We’re in a good location to observe Reilly’s law – Libby attracts very little commerce from North County, and we’ve had a great example of how a political decision that minimizes travel at Roosville changes the retail industry. 

Reilly’s law best applies to the midwest plains – an area where mountains and rivers have minimal effect.  On the other hand, where 37 is the route to Libby, and 93 the route to Whitefish and Kalispell, the limits created by mountains and rivers kind of cancel out.   

From the web-site article: “Reilly realized that the larger a city, the larger a trade area it would have and thus it would draw from a larger hinterland around the city. Two cities of equal size have a trade area boundary midway between the two cities. When cities are of unequal size, the boundary lies closer to the smaller city, giving the larger city a larger trade area.

Reilly called the boundary between two trade areas the breaking point (BP). On that line, exactly half the population shops at either of the two cities.

The formula is used between two cities to find the BP between the two. The distance between the two cities is divided by one plus the result of dividing the population of city B by the population of city A. The resulting BP is the distance from city A to the 50% boundary of the trade area.

One can determine the complete trade area of a city by determining the BP between multiple cities or centers.

Of course, Reilly’s law presumes that the cities are on a flat plain without any rivers, freeways, political boundaries, consumer preferences, or mountains to modify an individual’s progress toward a city.”

The populations can be accessed readily – the census count for Eureka is 1,380. The Census lists Libby at 2,775, Whitefish at 7,751 and Kalispell at 24,558.  With Libby and Kalispell essentially equal distance from Eureka, the retail gravitation of Kalispell greatly overpowers Libby – even if we ignore the population that is outside the city limits (and north-county has a higher percentage outside town limits).  In terms of county solidarity, Libby just doesn’t attract north-county commerce.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Energy’s Unyielding Numbers

I’m a positivist – which basically says my science is confined to numbers.  Since I’m also a stats guy, it means my numbers aren’t always precise – the world is usually plus or minus.  That’s OK.  Then there is the problem of units of measurement.  They need to be consistent.

So here’s a local set of numbers – Eureka is about 50 miles of deadhead run from highway 2.   A gallon of gas provides enough energy to move a ton of material about 50 miles by truck, or about 200 miles by rail.  Folks fortunate enough to use barges and water can move that same ton about 500 miles – but Koocanusa just isn’t set up for commercial traffic.  A century ago Fortine Creek was commercial navigation – logs moved downstream to the mill in Eureka – but we don’t have commercial waterways like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Ohio, lower Missouri, etc.

Basically the economics of energy mean that our retail prices have to be higher than Kalispell.  As fuel prices increase, that 50 miles of deadhead run costs twice – once to get the munchies to the grocery store in Eureka, and once to get the empty truck back.  That same economics of energy isolates us further from the county seat in Libby – 37 is a deadhead route either way, while Libby and Troy are on Highway 2.

At Trego, I’m 50 miles from Walmart.  Eureka is 30% further.  Stryker is 10% closer in terms of energy.  The equations don’t change.  They affect our shopping patterns.  They affect our ability to market local products.  This chart  shows the energy equivalents in terms of gallons of gas:

Gasoline Gallon Equivalents

Fuel TypeUnit of MeasureBTUs/UnitGallon Equivalent
Gasoline (regular)gallon114,1001.00 gallon
Diesel #2gallon129,5000.88 gallons
Biodiesel (B100)gallon118,3000.96 gallons
Biodiesel (B20)gallon127,2500.90 gallons
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)cubic foot900126.67 cu. ft.
Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)gallon75,0001.52 gallons
Propane (LPG)gallon84,3001.35 gallons
Ethanol (E100)gallon76,1001.50 gallons
Ethanol (E85)gallon81,8001.39 gallons
Methanol (M100)gallon56,8002.01 gallons
Methanol (M85)gallon65,4001.74 gallons
Electricitykilowatt hour (Kwh)3,40033.56 Kwhs

I’d make a wild guess that it takes somewhere around 100 gallons of gasoline equivalent to run a logging operation for a day.  The cost of fuel for a truck was a management decision when that log truck could run to American Timber (Olney), Ksanka (Fortine) or Owens & Hurst (Eureka).  With fewer mills, more distant, energy costs reduce the value of our main product.  Increased energy costs effectively reduce the value of labor as they increase the cost of living.

Electric vehicles for transportation?  We’ll know when the cost of fuel has begun to match the cost of electric vehicles when we see Lincoln Electric linemen driving electric trucks.  As long as our electric co-op finds it cost-effective to use gasoline and diesel, they operate as an indicator – heck, they buy fossil fuels at retail or close to it, and buy electricity wholesale.  The numbers may not be precise when I type at my kitchen table – but they are good enough for the calculations I need.

The cost of housing increased dramatically with inmigration – unlike our boomtown days with the highway and railroad relocation and the tunnel, private investment isn’t moving in to supply more housing quickly.  I see what may be the beginning of a trend – long-time residents selling and moving away.  I’ve looked at what happens when an area moves into the recreation dependent and retirement destination classifications.  The first noticeable step is long-time locals moving into jobs that serve the new landowners in new houses – the folks who are replacing them.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Personal Carbon Disposal

I noticed this meme and it brought me to the topic of personal organic carbon – how much impact does each of us have on atmospheric CO2 enrichment as we leave our bodies behind.

Fortunately, I can figure out roughly how much carbon I am – the atomic mass of carbon is a little over 12, oxygen a little under 16, nitrogen a little over 14 and calcium a touch over 40.  Since that’s the lion’s share of amino acids, a little research can give me the percentage carbon in my body.  Another alternative is to google it and learn that about 18% of my body is carbon. 

That means that at 220 pounds, the planet will regain about 40 pounds of carbon from my lifeless carcass one day.  I can handle that – but it isn’t my decision.  My thoughts go with a shallow burial in a shroud, to become carbon that is sequestered in the soil three or four feet down.  Depending on the energy required to dig the small ditch and fill it back in, this may be the most environmentally friendly way of dealing with the carbon that is no longer mine.

An August 31, 2021 Huffington Post article explains that “cremating a single corpse usually takes between two and three hours and releases almost 600 pounds of carbon dioxide.”  Making the assumption that, at 220 pounds I’m at the top end of normal, let’s use that 600 pound number.  Carbon is 12, oxygen 16, so carbon dioxide is 44.  12/44 is .2727, so multiplying that with 600 puts about 164 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere.

It does make one wonder about the level of environmental responsibility in the Service poem “The cremation of Sam McGee.”  There’s something that just seems wrong about adding 160 pounds of carbon – 600 pounds of greenhouse gas – to the atmosphere when we could add 40 pounds of carbon to the soil.

Laura van der Pol explains “Agriculture covers more than half of Earth’s terrestrial surface and contributes roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Paying farmers to restore carbon-depleted soils offers a tantalizing opportunity for a natural climate solution that could help nations to meet their commitments under the international Paris climate agreement to stabilize global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

An international initiative called “4 per 1000,” launched at the 2015 Paris climate conference, showed that increasing soil carbon worldwide by just 0.4% yearly could offset that year’s new growth in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel emissions.”

Gasoline is about 5 ½  pounds of carbon per gallon – so each gallon produces about 20 pounds of CO2 – so, while my cremated corpse would be equivalent to 30 gallons of gas in the atmosphere, sequestering that carbon in the soil would be roughly 4 gallons of unburned gasoline.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Demography

Statistically Remote Doesn’t Mean Impossible

My post-Uvalde thoughts move toward hardening our own little school.  School shootings are always statistically unlikely.  The timeline at Uvalde shows that at 11:27, a teacher props the door open. It remains open for 6 minutes before the crazy little bastard enters the school.  He doesn’t close it – the door remains open and is the access point for police.  A safety protocol broke down.  The crazy little bastard had a six-minute window of opportunity.  Twenty-one people died and 17 more were wounded.  Six minutes.

In demography, our phrase is “Malthus only has to be right once.”  I listened to a Fed describing terrorist attacks  – “They have to get lucky once.  We have to get it right every day.”  The exercise showed how hard that was.  A teacher, secure in the misbelief that a statistically unlikely event wouldn’t happen, propped a door open.  For 6 minutes.  The crazy got in.  The statistically unlikely event happened.  We play poker hoping for statistically unlikely events to occur. 

It’s easy to look at the police failures – but the initial failure was the teacher who wedged the door open . . . secure in the belief that there was no risk in violating that simple safety protocol.  Staying alert, maintaining security against something that does not occur, day after day, is difficult. 

I can think of many situations where a teacher wouldn’t want to keep unlocking the door.  It’s Spring – the time when contracts are, or are not renewed.  We’ve had that this year at Trego – and seen a bit of hostility over it.  It gives me a perspective that, in Uvalde, the shooter gained access not through police failure, but through a teacher’s carelessness.  I can understand both carelessness and resentment.

I have forgotten the name of the teacher who left his female engineering students to be killed at the Montreal Polytechnique Massacre.  I hope he came to some sort of grips with his failure – I know I could not have accepted that decision had it been mine.  Perhaps the Uvalde teacher who spent 20 lives for easier access to the door can come to grips with that conduct.  I would hate to have to rationalize it had it been my blunder.

It is difficult to stay constantly on the alert for the statistically unlikely occurrence.  Years of boredom are eventually interrupted by a few minutes of stark terror.  Uvalde’s police, like Parkland’s, made poor choices – but the timeline shows that a teacher who propped the door open had the best opportunity to eliminate the shooter’s opportunity.  Was it just casual carelessness?  Was it carelessness coupled with resentment?  I do not know – but I have read the pricetag, and it was too high.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Meteorology

Stahl Peak on 5/23

It’s the time when the snowpack can rise quickly – a cool, rainy Spring.  The latest observation is 34.3 inches of water on the pillow – 151% of the 30 year average.  It is definitely a lot easier to click the link than it was to haul the snow tubes up to get the data in the late seventies.

What happens next is a question for the weather forecasts.  NOAA has released these projections for June, July and August. 

The folks who know about these things are calling for a warmer and drier summer than normal.  If that’s the case, it is good to be going in with a little extra water in the high country.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Mitochondria and Aging

Mitochondria are one of the types of organelles (cell equivalent to organs) found within our cells. They’re often referred to as the “Powerhouse of the Cell” because of their role in metabolizing food into usable energy. But they may also play a role in aging.

There has to be considerable amount of communication between the nucleus (which controls the cell and houses your DNA) and the mitochondria. Over time, this communication can break down, and this may be what leads to aging (or at least an element of aging).

It makes a certain sense that mitochondria would be important- energy generation is an essential function. Diseases of the mitochondria are severe. But- watch the whole thing:

A Science for Everyone, Community, Demography

Thoughts on Inflation

I’ve been watching monetary inflation since 1976 when I voted for Jimmy Carter.  I still don’t give Jimmy full credit for that spate of inflation – Nixon made the call that the US dollar would no longer be backed by gold in August of 1971.

1968 had been an interesting election – I recall the unhappy observation “Nixon, Humphrey, Wallace – three strikes and you’re out.”  The picture below brought back memories of a happier time, when I would add a million dollar Zimbabwe bill to a retirement card, so that my retiring colleagues would be millionaires as they left the university.  Ten bucks bought all the Zim million dollar notes I needed for a slew of retirement receptions.

Now the thing about inflation is that it taxes savers, and can move into being a tax on investors.  If we look at the value of gold during the California Gold Rush – 1849 – it was $18.93 per ounce.  That same value held through the Virginia City days, and basically took Montana from wilderness to statehood.  In 1920, gold finally topped $20 per ounce.  When Franklin Roosevelt was elected President, gold was at $20.69 per ounce – the next year, 1933, it was $26.33.  In 1934, it went to $34.69.

A couple of old Winchester catalogs, from 1900 and 1916, suggest that my Grandfather paid about $19.50 or a little more for his 1894 32 special rifle.  A glance online suggests somewhere close to $1,200 dollars today.  As I write this, gold is going for $1890.35 – roughly 100 times higher than when the rifle was made in 1902 along with the new, more powerful 32 special.  The cost of the rifle hasn’t kept up with gold.  Inflation or not, it’s kind of nice to look off the front porch and see the spot where my grandmother got a four-point in 1922.

At that turn of the century, land here was still available for homesteading – land here in Trego had little value.  Thirty dollars per acre was still a norm for accessible land in the 1950’s.  It’s another basis for calculating inflation – and if memory serves, Lee Harvey Oswald was paid 85 cents per hour in 1963. 

Median family incomes were somewhere around $500 per year in 1900, and had risen to about $3,300 by 1950.  Still, that half century was a time of many new developments and a greatly improved living standard.  Part of the change was that people could buy more – much like during our more recent inflationary times – along with the inflation of the eighties came the personal computer, the compact discs, video players etc.  Technical advances reduced the impact of inflation.

There is a certain irony in Putin’s decision to tie the Russian ruble to the value of gold.  Since that decision the ruble has gone up 6% compared to the US dollar.  He’s kind of the anti-Nixon, creating a stronger currency instead of a weaker one.  I guess that inflation often boils down to a handful of government officials making the decision to print more money.  I have a hunch inflation helps the folks who get the new dollars a lot more than it helps those who are trying to hang on to the existing dollars.


My Neighborhood Doesn’t Reflect My Nation

One of the advantages of social media is that folks with different views post their different opinions.  One of the disadvantages is that those different opinions come from different – often very different – locations. 

Let’s take climate change opinions for a simple example – I live just a touch south of the 49th parallel and a little over 3,000 feet above sea level.  Simple facts are that raising the sea level by a couple hundred feet isn’t going to affect my place.  Getting another three weeks of growing season is a positive thing for my garden.  If I were living in Paramaribo, just a little north of the equator and about 6 feet above sea level, my perspective would be different.  My greatest risk is wildfire – in Paramaribo even the dry season is rainy.

One of the readily available measurements of population is the percentage of foreign-born residents in a community.  In San Francisco, 34.4% of the population were born outside the United States.  Statewide, 26.9% of California residents were born outside the US.  Here in Lincoln County, Montana 2.6% of our population are foreign born (and I suspect half of those are Canadian).  It makes for a different point of view.

Race?  I live in a state where most of the population is white, and the second largest group is American Indian (6.6%).  Contrast that with Washington DC, where the Black population is 46.4% (compared to Montana’s 0.6%).  West Virginia somehow has the lowest percentage of foreign born residents and the lowest percentage of American Indian population.  Maine (94.6%) is the whitest state.  I have a hunch that who your neighbors are might affect your viewpoint.

18.7% of Montana’s population is over 65 – and five states are even higher.  Just 11.1% of Utah’s population is over 65.  (29.5% of Utah is under 18).  Who you see around you affects your perspective. More information is available at indexmundi.com

Washington DC has the nation’s highest median household income – $92,266 . . . but it is skewed by race.  The median for Black households is $42,161, while the white median is $134,358.  Montana’s median household income was $65,712.  Mississippi came in last at $45,081.

West Virginia has the highest home ownership rate – 74.6%, while Montana’s rate is 69.7%.  Home ownership rate in Washington DC is around 42.5%.

Just a few spots where we can look at how our locality affects how we perceive the universe.

Community, Meteorology

Stahl Peak Snow Pack Still Increasing

This graph, from 4-30-22 shows that the snowpack on Stahl is still increasing.  The upper line on the record suggests that there’s only a week or so left for it to increase.  Still, 127% of the long-term average is nice to see.

NOAA has this posted for May-June-July, suggesting we can expect the chances of warmer temperatures and less than normal precipitation coming up.