Rainiest city in the US (?)

Somehow, I always end up moving to the something-est city in a certain country. I’ve lived in the flattest city of France (which is – surprisingly – a city in the Alps: Grenoble*), the sunniest city in Scotland, and I’m sure I can find something mostest about all the places I’ve lived.

That’s probably because cities like bragging about being the best at something. On the other hand, it’s not really bragging when you call yourself the “rainiest city” in the U.S., as Seattle is known to be, so perhaps I now really do live in the rainiest city in the U.S.

First, people have been a little shocked when I told them I’d been moving to Seattle. Why would you do that? they’d say, it’s always raining there! But after I tell them about living in other rainy countries, such as Scotland, they’re like Oh, you’ll be fine.

I’m not the wicked witch of the West, you know, I won’t melt.

But anyway, the question is, is Seattle really the rainiest city in the U.S.?

The pictures on my phone tell a mixed story:

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Union Lake Park, beginning sunset, no cloud in the sky…
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Union Lake, on a cloudy day
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A rooftop view on Seattle and a lot of clouds (spot the needle in the haystack clouds)

Obviously, I don’t take my phone out for pictures when it’s pouring… and three-ish weeks does not constitute a large enough sample size of days to judge on overall raininess, not to mention that it is entirely perception based.

To the internet it is then… That quickly took me to a 2013 blog post that confirmed my suspicions: Seattle is not the rainiest city in the US. Data taken from over three decades from Weather Service stations in major U.S. cities tell us that Mobile, Alabama is the rainiest city with 66 inches** of rain a year. Seattle averages around 37 inches, which is less than the U.S. average (39 inches). It turns out, that the southeast gets considerably more rain than the North-West.

Of course, inches of rain does not give us the whole picture. Olympia, Washington, is the city with the most rainy days annually (111 days). At least some city in Washington gets to have a record, even if it isn’t Seattle. By the way, Seattle has less rainy days than the U.S. average (92 vs. 102).

While we’re at it, let’s look at a quick overview (with UK and Belgium added for comparison):

Seattle Olympia Mobile U.S. average U.K. Belgium
Rainfall (in) 37 48 66 39 34 32
Rainy days 92 111 79 102 107 212***
Sunny days 152 136 220 205
Hours of sunshine**** 2170 1493 1546

Looking within the U.S., Seattle has a bit less rain than average and fewer rainy days. However, there are also fewer sunny days in Seattle. Maybe the reputation of Seattle being rainy comes from it feeling like it’s always murky and gray. Furthermore, “rain” in Seattle tends to be a light drizzle (which does not add up to rainfall in inches and perhaps isn’t always counted as a “rainy day”). Though, as places in Washington State go, Olympia seems to be even drearier.

If we compare Seattle to the U.K. and Belgium, Seattle has a bit more rainfall, but fewer rainy days and more hours of sunshine. I think I’ll be fine here … definitely given the fact that there are actually seasons, hurray!

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* Fact check, I am not 100% sure Grenoble is the flattest city in France, but their tourist website says it is. From my experience living there, it is very bikable as long as you stay in the city, but once you’re out, it’s all uphill from there …

** All the data is in inches. I know that’s annoying but transferring everything to cm is tedious and doesn’t really add much because everything is relative. But in case you were wondering, 66 inches ~ 1676 mm.

*** data obtained over a 10-year period, as opposed to over a > 30-year period for the other data shown.

**** Number of sunny days not always found, so I added a row with hours of sun.

Numerical values obtained from https://www.bestplaces.net/compare-cities/, or more specifically by comparing Seattle to Olympia, or by googling “How many days of ___ in ___?” 

Culture shock

You would think that when you move from one Western country to another Western country, you wouldn’t experience too much of a culture shock. However, there are still a few things that caught me by surprise*. So here are some things I am definitely not used to conveniently listed in the form of mildly related memes:

1. Everybody is always saying “Hi” or “Hello” or “Good Morning.” You’d go for a run, and every time you pass someone they would actually say something out loud rather than making that awkward grimace smile thing.

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I’m the queen of this face.

On a different but slightly related note, saying “hello” apparently catches Londoners off guard too.

2. Turning right on red. So not used to that.

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I’m so sorry, I’m not from here.

3. Driving an automatic.

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4. I don’t have to put the groceries in a bag myself in the store.

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Just emphasizing my social awkwardness in general here, folks.

5. The garbage disposal-in-the-sink thing.

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This is what’s on the other end of the disposal, right? (Also, what is that tube thing sticking through the hole on the right ?!?!)

6. There are so many advertisements on TV, it’s insane.

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Have you noticed how they conveniently increase the frequency and length of the ad break towards the end of a movie just to annoy you even more? 

6a. Related: what’s up with those medication ads? More than half of the ad is them listing possible side effects!

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“Funny”

6b. Also: political smear campaign ads. Can’t politicians run on policies rather than their hatred for the other party?**

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*Insert your least favorite politician here*

7. Plastic bags and plastic straws and styrofoam cups and …

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8. How you almost have to use a car to get anywhere because everything is so spread out, or there are no sidewalks, or there are no public transport alternatives. ***

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Ugh.

9a. Farenheit

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I doubt it’s Kelvin, Fry

9b. Miles and feet and inches and stuff.

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Unrelated meme brought to you by The Proclaimers.

9c. Date notations (month-day-year)

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(by xkcd)

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* I should probably note that the observations here are based on my three-week-stay in the bubble that is a Central New York touristy lake town.

** I know, I wish I lived in a Utopia where campaigning was legally limited in time and budget, smear ads were not allowed, and politics wasn’t polarising.

*** I know I am a major hypocrite. I am will be taking to airplanes today…

#NationalAvocadoDay

I don’t really know why this is a thing, but today is #NationalAvocadoDay and since I have multiple avocado-memes saved on my phone, gave people avocado/guacamole themed gifts for about a year, own my own pair of avocado earrings (thanks sis!), and I think I could not live without guacamole (cue the guacamole dance), I figured I’d share some avocado-factoids with y’all.

You may thank me later.

Fact 1: One guacamole is equal to 6.022 x 10²³ guacas

One might even call it Avocado’s number.
(I know this is not a fact, but it is probably my favorite joke.)

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Here’s another avocado-pun for you!

Fact 1 (for realsies): Avocados are fruit

But to be fair, a lot of things are misclassified as vegetables. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, just name it. Is there even such a thing as a vegetable?

Fact 2: Avocados are super healthy

But we all knew this already. Avocados contain about 4 grams of protein, the healthy kind of fats, healthy fiber, more potassium than bananas, and a whole bunch of healthy vitamins and nutrients. And they are super yummy! What’s not to like?

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Fact 3: The word avocado comes from a Aztec word that also meant “testicle”

Spanish explorers couldn’t pronounce the word “ahuacatl,” so they called the fruit “aguacate.” Ahuacatl was apparently also used to describe testicles (help). They are also sometimes called “wrinkly pear” or “alligator pear.” Just to get that image of low-hanging fruit out of your head.

Fact 4: Humans saved the avocados from extinction

Avocados used to be eaten by giants sloths who took care of avocado seed dispersal. But they have gone extinct and so should have the avocados if humans had not found them delish and saved them in maybe one of the only cases of humans helping something not go extinct.

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I don’t know why anyone would do this but it is pretty and surprisingly not brown.

Fact 5: There is a downside to eating avocados. SAD.

Millenials, such as myself, are so into avocado’s right now, but there is a flipside to this delicious and healthy coin and sadly it is that the avocado industry is pretty bad for the environment.  Avocados are a seasonal fruit, but we expect them to be around all year, and that is just not sustainable. Transporting avocados from countries that have the right climate for all-year-round avocado-growth causes greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, higher demand for avocados leads to issues such as deforestation, unfair farming practices and the fact that avocados need a lot of water, a lot more than most fruits and vegs, especially considering they are sometimes grown in extremely dry places (so extra water is required).

After learning that that fact, I really need a hug (or an avocuddle)…

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Anyway, on this wonderful #NationalAvocadoDay, I encourage you to make some guac, eat an avocado, and do the guacamole dance, but remember to (as with all things) not overdo it!*


* Okay, I meant don’t overdo the eating avocados because of the environment thing but maybe don’t overdo the dancing because I definitely have and now everybody thinks I’m crazy.

Science of the mozzies

It’s that time of year: it’s been nice and warm and dry and sunny for weeks now, and the result of continuously exposing lots of bare skin and being slightly sweaty means I am completely covered by mosquito bites. For example, this morning, when I went for a run – yes, see how I just casually worked into the conversation that I’m a jogger, next thing I’ll tell you that I vape and am a vegetarian and do CrossFit and love IPA, #hipster (only half of that is true) – I felt like I had to do  more effort beating of the mosquitoes than actually doing the running. Though that may say more about my running skills.

In any case, like I do every single year, I wondered: why are there even mosquitoes? They are annoying, they spread disease, they bite, and they are annoying. No-one likes mosquitoes, except for maybe those few crazy mosquito-scientists. And I also wondered: Why me? There are so many other human specimens around that have perfectly tasty blood (I’m just guessing here, obviously I don’t actually know for sure), why do mosquitoes seem to favor mine?

mosquitoes-meme

Okay, first things first, as with everything out there, including the annoying and gross, mosquitoes have their place in the ecosystem. If they were to be completely wiped out, all the animals that feed on mosquitoes and mosquito larvae would suffer. This includes other insects, small fish, and amphibians. Move a bit more up the food change (game fish, raptorial birds, etc.) will also decline in numbers. So not good. Ecology is an intertwined network that we better not touch.

Wait, I just realized this means that we’re on the bottom of this food chain?
Damn, my human pride cannot handle this!

Anyway, in addition, mosquito control programs so far have been very destructive. Draining swamps, using pesticides and DDT, etc. is just not really good for the environment. In other words, we’re stuck with each other. *Sigh*

If we have to bear the itching, which is actually an allergic reaction to the anticoagulants in mosquito saliva, maybe we can find a way to avoid getting bitten. Well, apart from spraying really smelly annoying sticky insect spray. I have days when I smell like sunscreen, sweat and insect repellant and I really apologize to everyone for that.

Maybe we can find out why some people get bitten more than others? There has been quite some research on that topic, and as it turns out, it depends on the type of mosquito (there are hundreds of mosquito species), genetics, blood type, sweatiness, and eating habits. So, unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer…

It does seem that mosquitoes are slightly more attracted to:

  • sweat, which explains why I seem especially tasty after my run;
  • sweaty feet (there was a famous study involving Limburger cheese), isn’t that just a lovely thought;
  • pregnancy, so I’m not worried in that regard but I mean, com’on mosquitoes, like being pregnant in the summer doesn’t have enough down sides;
  • beer consumption, it turns out that alcohol is a strong attractant,  which is a major shame because I really think the summer is so much nicer sitting on a terrace with a nice pint;
  • and finally, I’ve heard it said that eating bananas makes your blood nice and sweet, but I can’t find any evidence on this.

Unfortunately, this all depends on the type of mosquito. Moreover, there seems to be no evidence that there is something you can eat to avoid being bitten. I mean, they are bloodsucking but not exactly vampires (you can stop eating all that garlic, Karen, seriously, you reek).

So it seems that we have to stick to spraying really smelly annoying sticky insect spray.

I’ll leave you with a final fun fact: the oldest fossilized mosquitoes are 100 million years old! Quite recently, a 46-million-year-old blood-engorged mosquito was found in Montana, which actually led to a publication that directly mentions the 1993 film Jurassic Park. #OMG (I’m easily pleased).


Sources:

http://theconversation.com/health-check-why-mosquitoes-seem-to-bite-some-people-more-36425

https://io9.gizmodo.com/what-if-every-mosquito-on-earth-went-extinct-tomorrow-1646840383

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-ento-120811-153618

 

Astronutter

Last Friday, a few of my colleagues – and by that I mean “a few of those crazy nerdy people who are in the same PhD programme as me and have become my friends over time partially because we’re just stuck in the same boat together but mostly because they are absolutely amazing” -, including myself, have started a course on “Astrobiology and the Search of Life”.

None of us actually works in that field (I was amazed that astrobiology is a field, how cool is that?), and we might be in it for easy credit, but it just seemed interesting. Okay, perhaps the first class was very introductory and didn’t have many take-home messages. I was suffering an episode of my SISS (Sedentarily Induced Somnia Syndrome; I refer you to a post that I will write sometime in the future on make-believe acronyms for make-believe psychological conditions) so I *might* have been dosing off a bit, but I do remember a few key points the lecturer made.

Astrobiology is about answering perhaps one of the most important questions: Are we alone in the Universe? It is however, not about “finding aliens”, it’s about studying the conditions required for life (luckily we happen to live on an excellent repository of information on life) and looking for evidence of potential life, in the past or still to come, out there in space. We’re lucky to live in an age where it’s more than just speculation, we can empirically set out and look for this evidence, or at least to a certain extent.

Actually, I’ve had some notes floating around in my draft scribbles about this very topic. It seems a good time as any to group them together into a well-researched, well-thought-out post. Or maybe just group them together and see what happens…

 

Q: Why is there still a space programme?

One might wonder why nations invest so much time, resources and money into developing a space program.

One might not. One might be more like Brian Cox (the astrophysicist, not the actor/Rector of the University of Dundee) and explain how evolution has led us, humans, to explore the universe. Whether that expansion of the anthropic principle, in a certain sense, is something you agree with or not, he raises another point in his book Human Universe. He probably raises the same point in the TV series that it was based on, but I haven’t seen that. The point is that, thanks to the space-program related research and developments, new technologies have become possible. Directly or indirectly, thanks to NASA (just to give one example), we have:

  • LEDs – used for space shuttle plant growth experiments, now absolutely omnipresent.
  • Artificial limbs – robot arms to cyborg arms, not that much of a leap.
  • A lot of improvements in using solar energy (where do you find huge solar panels? in space!), water purification (no natural sources up there) and waste handling.
  • GPS, satellite images of earth (useful for weather forecasting) and other things that require something orbiting the earth.
  • New materials
  • Modelling Software – whether it’s predicting orbits or the stresses on a rocket during launched, be sure it has been simulated in one way or another.
  • Okay, stop the NASA-loving already and answer the question!

A: Why not?

A: (the better one) – Because it feeds innovation; it thrives on the immense curiosity and need for exploration us humans have to push forward technology that not only helps in the actual space exploration, but in everyday life.

 

Q: But we have all these fancy robotics and whatnot, why would we continue to send people into space?

To answer that, I’d like to quote something I read while I was visiting a friend. When he was asleep, I raided his book closet and ended up reading about 30 pages in an immensely interesting book. It had – amongst a whole lot of other things that I never got the chance to explore further – the following to say:

Despite the immense hazard and cost of manned space flight, most plans for planetary exploration still envision blasting people into the solar system. Partly it’s because of the drama following an intrepid astronaut in exploring strange new worlds rather than a silicon chip, but mainly it’s because no foreseeable robot can match an ordinary person’s ability to recognise unexpected objects and situations, decide what to do about them, and manipulate things in unanticipated ways, all while exchanging information’s with humans back home.

The stuff of thought – Stephen Pinker

A: Because while there are many things that robotics can do, there are some things we are still better at.
*note to future robot overlords: I mean no disrespect to your ancestors in any way, this is a reflection of our inability – at this time – to make you as awesome as you could be. You obviously have surpassed us in any way and I am more than confident that you can succeed in space exploration better than we ever have. But I still dream of going to space, so this helps to make my point at this present point of time. Please do not hold this against me or any future humans.

 

Q: What are our chances of finding or communicating with aliens?

In our own solar system, I highly doubt it. In our galaxy or universe, to be honest, I doubt that as well. I do believe that there is life out there. And there might be proof of this life somewhere at a distance where we can still find it. But unless we find a way to preform hyperjumps or travel through time, chances of communications are very, very, very, very, very, (…), very slim. Someone has done the math. It was to calculate N, the number of civilisations in the Milky Way with whom some form of communications might be possible, or who have the means to emit electromagnetic signals. But it is easily to extrapolate to our (known) universe. This is it :

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The explanation of each of these terms is very nicely explained here and in aforementioned Brian Cox book if you prefer paper reading. But just to give an idea of what the stakes are…

First of all, it all depends on the number of planets that bear life. I would guess this number is quite high, there are so many stars in the universe, considering there are an estimated 100 billion stars in the Milky Way alone (though the real answer is: “Uuuh, I really don’t know”) and an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Sure, these stars have to have a planetary system, and some of those planets will have to have suitable conditions for life (but we can send a little girl with blond curls to go test that ), and then life actually has to appear. Those are all statistically very rare events, but if you have a one-in-a-trillionth* event over ten-million-billion-trillion* sample size, that still leaves an astronomical number of events that can possibly occur. I’ll leave you to the math.

* completely random numbers produced by typing -illions

So, occurrences of life might be quite high. But the astronomical distances (“astronomical” is used here, again, in the sense of “huge” or “vast”, in case you got confused) pose a problem. Even if life is out there somewhere right at this moment, and they have the intelligence and technology for interstellar communication, by the time any communication signal will reach them, they could be extinct. Or they would send a signal back and we wouldn’t get it until after our sun has already exploded. Simultaneous means nothing when the distances are so, I’ll use it again, astronomical.

What’s the point then? Well, we could find proof of intelligent life perhaps. We can travel (or send our robot overlords) to distant planets that have the right conditions of life, and see if these conditions have ever sustained life, or if they have the possibility to do sometime. And, we can hope that perhaps, maybe, ten million light years from us, an amazing civilisation sent out a signal 10 million years ago. And that we would be able to detect it. We won’t be able to communicate, but it might be enough just to know that we’re not alone (or have proof, at the least).

A: Finding, perhaps. Communicating, I wouldn’t count on it.

 

Q: But then why…

A: You know what, you cares? It’s space. SPACE. It doesn’t need an explanation, it needs exploring.

It might have become clear that I have a slight fascination with outer space. Not to say that I am utterly obsessed. One might say I am ‘astronuts’. Completely Bonkers for space. But who can blame me?

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I feel like this post needed a space-related picture. So here’s New Horizons’ Pluto flyby, failing to spot Pluto and Le Petit Prince because they are hiding on the other side. (Photo taken by New Horizons on 13/07/2015)