Today’s original plan involved taking in the Botanical Garden’s Best of Missouri festival and the adjoining Shaw Art Fair, but the weather today was cold, grey and blustery. We thought that we had dressed appropriately for the day, but it soon became apparent that we hadn’t. We were cycling past the Grand Basin, site of last night’s Forest Park Forever’s fundraising gala, where all sorts of neat new plans for enhancing the park had been announced, when I had an epiphany and suggested that we do something inside instead of out. So, we headed over to the Missouri History Museum to take in the opening today exhibit on coffee.
This new exhibit originally hailed from Seattle’s Burke Museum and was sponsored by such Northwest notables as Microsoft, Boeing and of course Starbucks. It was originally called “The World in Your Cup”, but its title and really most of the show had morphed to become very Saint Louis centric. The show’s original title had been appended with, “… and Saint Louis in Your Cup.” Long known as a beer town, apparently Saint Louis has sported some real chops and was once known as this nation’s coffee capital. Who knew? With its French origin, almost from its founding, Saint Louis has been a center for coffee roasting, brewing and drinking. As the rather in your face magazine cover to the left implies, this exhibit and coffee in general is not and has never been the exclusive domain of the Northwest. Chief sponsor for this instance of the exhibit is the Dana Brown trust. After the museum, we headed back, with the hope of snagging some coffee and a wee bit of lunch at Kaldi’s, but it was not to be, because every table had been camped on by students who were studying, but not supporting the coffeehouse. We ended up at Katie’s Pizza, which was fine.
Last night, Science on Tap kicked-off its new season. We also used this event as an opportunity to celebrate Joanie’s birthday and watch the Cardinals clinch their latest divisional title. Science on Tap is a collaborative effort between Washington University and in the past Schlafly Bottleworks, but that partnership has become a victim of its own success. We out grew that facility and moved out to the Kirkwood Station Brewery, which boasts a capacity that is four times greater than Schlafly’s. Still, the room was mostly full last night.
The speaker was a geologist, Phil Skewer, an assistant professor. Standing up before the large crowd, he led with a line about being between a rock and a hard place, such is the tenor of his geology jokes. He researches the Earth’s mantle by squishing rocks in his lab. His best line involved a description of the Earth’s density, the average of which is equivalent to that of four Prius stuffed into the volume of a washing machine. Skewer is an experimentalist, who enjoys squishing rocks and then studies how they deform.
After his talk, I asked two questions. First, whether he also uses finite element modeling to study his rock squishing. He was rather dismissive of FEM, “Aw Gawd no!”. I also asked him about studying volcanos, like in Hawaii. I think that this question caught him a little off-guard, because it is so divorced from his own work, professional rock squishing in the lab. I was hoping for something more encouraging, like maybe a post-doc opportunity.
The accompanying photo shows some pahoehoe lava, from the Hawaiian Kilauea Volcano. The photograph was taken at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. This twisted, ropy surface is typical of pahoehoe (pa-HOY-hoy), a form of basaltic lava. As fluid lava flows downhill, a thin skin on top cools and solidifies. It wrinkles by continued movement of the molten interior.
Volkswagen is being justly pilloried for attempting to illegally evade international automobile environmental regulations. Their CEO has resigned and could face criminal charges. Eleven billion diesel vehicles are affected. VW’s very solvency is at stake. In order to evade air pollution regulations, Volkswagen installed software into their car’s computers that could recognize the regimented protocols of EPA test procedures and then command their vehicles to enter into special modes that would allow their diesel engines to pass the pollution tests. In normal operation these VW engines favored fuel economy and performance over air quality. Other German car manufacturers employed both exotic and expensive air pollution mitigation systems to meet the same air pollution goals that VW cheated on. The condemnation that Volkswagen is currently suffering is entirely justified, in part, because they have done this before. In the seventies they were caught and fined, but only on the order of a few hundred thousand dollars, a mere slap on their wrists. Coincidentally, I was working at Chrysler then, who had employed a similar stratagem to the one that VW has just been busted on. By the time I was made aware of this cheating, it had already been busted, but I was led to believe that newer techniques had replaced it. I was working as a contractor to Chrysler, then also a prospective Chrysler employee, while my fellow Chrysler engineers were bragging about their cheating prowess. This bragging ended when they learned that Anne, my then girlfriend, was a contractor for the EPA.
In the middle ages, disease, its cause and its cure were all a mystery. For most forms of illness, the only treatment was prayer. One disease called side sickness was universally recognized as a death sentence, a very painful one at that. Side sickness, what we now call appendicitis, was incurable then and is the motivation for the German movie, The Physician (2013), available now on Netflix. A period drama set in the 11th century, it tells the story of a Christian boy, Rob Cole (Tom Payne), who first witnesses his mother’s death from side sickness. Orphaned, he latches onto a traveling barber, what passes for a doctor then in Europe. He hopes to find a cure for the side sickness that killed his mother. The elderly barber eventually succumbs to another illness, but Rob is able to save his life by entreating the assistance of visiting Jewish physicians. From them he also learns the source of their advanced medical training, Persia. Masquerading as a Jew, Cole travels to the Middle East during the Crusades, where he meets Ibn Sina (Ben Kingsley) the teacher of physicians. Before it decays into a sand-and-sandals melodrama, this movie is most notable in its relatively evenhanded treatment of Muslims, a rarity these days in Western cinema.