Saturday, February 6, 2016


This is something John Cullum and Emily Frankel find themselves discussing when they're into a new year making plans for the next month or two.

Teasing, they mention trivial things. 

As usual, together, they figure out why -- nowadays -- they enjoy doing things together, more than ever.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Meet inventor Lowell Wood. He's 74, 6 ft.2, reddish grey beard, paunchy, and his very friendly, easy-going, laughing sort of smile. suggests "happy guy."

As the main inventor at "Intellectual Ventures," a research and patent firm that he founded, he's paying himself to think -- to develop products that might address some of the world's pressing needs.

This guy is an astrophysicist, self-trained paleontologist, (a person who studies fossils), computer scientist, and undoubtedly among most prolific inventors in history. When Thomas Edison died, he had 1,084 patents. This guy has 1,085 and he's very proud of that fact -- you hear it when you're talking with him. Actually, conversing with him, mostly, you are listening. He talks a lot. He digresses into physics, space lasers, pestilence, rockets, whale oil, lithography, fracking, and remembering minute details -- wars.
At the beginning of his career, he assisted Edmund Teller, the father of the Hydrogen bomb, and also worked on Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars," developing an anti-ballistic missile system that would prevent attacks from countries like Russia. But most of  his 3000 pending patents are whimsical things -- a laser based shaver, a microwave that can customize its power for whatever is on a plate, a low-power clothes dryer, an anti-collision system for cars, anti- concussion helmet for footballers, a thermos for preserving vaccines, most recently, a device that creates medical gear "conferencing," so that patients can leave a hospital and use various machines at home.

Microsoft's former boss, Bill Gates, admiring him, said, "He's a polymath. (person of a wide range of learning.) It's not just what he knows, but how his brain works. He gives himself the freedom to look at problems in a different way. To me that's the mark of a great inventor."

Being that my husband and son love football, I'm interested in what this inventor is doing about concussions.

Lowell Wood said, "I didn't know the first thing about a concussion. I thought it was just brain slamming against the interior of the skull, particularly violently. Basically, that has nothing to do what a real concussion is. Concussion occurs by the brain being very rapidly twisted inside the skull -- the angle of the acceleration. It's the time rate of change, and the speed of the twist that tears neural fibers apart -- a ghastly sort of thing. It literally just rips the nervous system apart. If you do the same thing again a week or two later, or an hour or two later, heaven help you. The damage becomes more severe,  and takes longer to heal. If you do it three times in a bad afternoon on the soccer field or football field, the damage is likely to be permanent."

Wood's anti-concussion solution: "Sensors in the helmet trigger a mechanism that fuses the player's helmet and shoulder pads; spikes shoot down from the helmet to keep the head from turning." Wood won't reveal who approached him to work on helmet technology until the invention has been patented and actually being manufactured.

To my un polymath mind, it seems awfully complicated. And similarly, Wood's ideas about fixing global warming seem very far out. He says global warning can be stopped relatively quickly and inexpensively through geoengineering -- suggested using high altitude balloons to release particles of sulfur to provide shade for the planet. His other idea: "sink the atmosphere's carbon-dioxide into the deep ocean or push the warm water on the top layer of the ocean down to the bottom."

Inventor Wood said (somewhat comfortingly), "There is little chance that  global warming would wipe out the species," and pointed out, "There are plenty of ideas. It's frankly illiterate not to be optimistic. We're going to see a blossoming across every front, in human technological history. This is not something that's hoped for. This is baked in the cake."
Where does this leave you and me? Well... a tad hopeful. Maybe this inventor's fresh ideas, far, far out ideas are going to be the way we can solve how we are harming the planet.

Golly, I hope so. My ears are perked up. I'm banishing my instinctive response to new, often wildly different solutions. Didn't Edison came up with amazing, inconceivable inventions? Hey, Wood is telling us, even if it seems inconceivable -- proceed -- no matter how wildly, weirdly strange the ingredients are, taste the cake.

Sunday, January 31, 2016


At last months' global summit in Paris, 195 nations committed themselves to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6. degrees, Fahrenheit), and cut emissions from what they were in 1919.

It's progress. At the 2009 summit, 157 nations promised they'd present the idea of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, (3.6. Fahrenheit) to their governments, and cut emissions from what they were in 1990.

The numbers haunt me -- 2 degrees from1990 levels -- the nations "promised" (but didn't commit themselves). Now, after Paris, nations are "committed" to cutting emissions to what they were in 1919. 
Yes, the Paris Summit brings us closer to mitigating what's happening with weather throughout the world. But large countries have different objectives from the smaller, poorer countries, and a commitment to cut emissions involves -- wow -- a lot of people -- many meetings in each of the 195 countries. Our own country can't even get Obama's commitment ratified. It's going to take a long time -- months, maybe years -- for 195 countries to cut emissions down.

Many, many climatologists say we have already reached and gone beyond 2 degrees C (3.6 F) of global warming.

The United Nation's climate chief, (Christiana Figueres), recently said, "We're not in the world of business as usual anymore -- we are in a world of business that's urgent.” Tim Gore, an internationally renown climatologist, declared grimly, "The conference is seeking an agreement that would take us from a 4-degree catastrophe to a 3-degree disaster.” (He's saying the numbers are already out of date -- we’ve already emitted enough greenhouse gases to lock in a 2-degree Celsius rise.) Ray Pierrehumbert, the top man at Oxford University, University of Chicago, and Stockholm University, has said, "Barring some technological miracle, we’ll probably blow right past it."

Just about everyone involved with global warming says that our best hope is developing an alternative form of energy production that produces no greenhouse gases, or maybe finding ways to capture and store gases, or geo-engineering.

What's geo-engineering? Who's doing it? Does anyone have a feasible, possible solution?

Yes. Maybe ...

It's complicated. There are a lot of new terms and different kinds of ideas. In my next blog, I'll report what I've learned.