Redoubt redux … (kaboom!)

It was a bit late (or the scientists were premature) but the Redoubt Volcano has finally begun erupting.  (See my previous post for context.) You’ve probably heard the top news on this by now.  Here are tidbits that might have been lost in the headlines.

  • As of noon today (Tues, 3/24), there had been six eruptions.  Tuesday has been calm, but the official alert level remains at “High.”
  • Besides the ash plume, and steam plume, there have been lahar flows — mud and water.  Some have reached all the way to Cook Inlet, 21 miles away. (But no damage so far at the Cook Inlet oil terminal, although workers were evacuated.)
  • Some of these watery lahars have been 20-25 feet deep.
  • A glacier has melted (causing the flooding).
  • 24 hours before the first eruption, seismologists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory raised the alert level around the volcano, after swarms of earth tremors in the area. (So, yes there was some warning immediately before the explosion.)

Here’s a photo of one of the eruptions, on Monday March 23rd, 2009.

Mt. Redoubt erupting on March 23rd (AVO)

Mt. Redoubt erupting on March 23rd (AVO)

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The bionic hand, in the lab

One of the more exciting bio-engineering labs in Seattle has to be U.W.’s Neurobotics Lab.  I got a quick tour from Professor Yoky Matsuoka.  She’s been working on the problem of a prosthetic hand that can perform like a real hand.  In the process, she’s found herself “deconstructing” the human hand.  She discovered, for example, that there’s a functional benefit to the way finger bones are shaped (with knuckles that taper, in a non-symetrical way). She also says having five fingers may not be as crucial as paying attention to the way the fingers bend and flex.

Here’s a photo of her with one of their prototypes.  My interview with Matsuoka that aired on KPLU is here.  An extended version of that interview, with about 3 minutes worth that I had to cut out for broadcast, is at this link.

Prof. Yoky Matsuoka and her robotic hand

Prof. Yoky Matsuoka and her robotic hand

Stimulus money may rescue researchers, clinics

I’m digging for details on where federal stimulus money may end up, in the realms of health care and science, here in the Seattle area.   So far, still more questions than answers.  But, here are two examples:

– Community medical clinics.  There is money set aside to help these clinics survive the double-whammy of more people in need of free or subsidized coverage, while budgets are being slashed.   Tom Trompeter, the CEO for the HealthPoint clinics in King County says he expects some of the money will be for expanding services, to reach new clients.  He’s also hopeful that funding for Medicaid will increase, which would be the simplest way to support these clinics.

– Bio-medical researchers.  A big boost in funding went to the National Institutes of Health ($10.4 billion total), and the U.W. is one of the leading recipients of NIH grants.  One scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said last week she was already re-formulating some proposals that had missed the funding cut last time around.  One chunk of the NIH money will be spent on construction — new labs and equipment.

There are a lot of new deadlines for proposals.  Some research funding cutoffs are as soon as June, while the construction grant proposals are due by September.

If you’ve heard of stimulus money flowing to any local institutes or organizations, please share.

Returning from a detour into the demise of newspapers

This blog has been idle while I’ve spent the last couple weeks working on (and coordinating) KPLU’s coverage of the end of the Seattle P-I as a newspaper, and the prospects of Seattle becoming a No Newspaper Town.  Our 3-part series really captures the anxieties and hopes of this moment in history.  It also brought out a number of thougthful comments form listeners/readers.  We’ve done a lot of continuing coverage on the topic, which is all grouped on the page linked above.

My personal contribution was to explore the question, What’s next? That led to a lot of reading on the future of journalism, various theories of social media, and the underpinnings of the business of news.  It’s the business model that’s collapsing, where advertising subsidizes news, and the smorgasbord of news/entertainment is bundled together in a single package.    (Note: the written version is not a verbatim transcript of the radio story — part of KPLU’s experiment in adapting to online consumers.)

The short answer, by the way, seems to be:  Nothing will replace newspapers, in the near future. Something else has to evolve.

A return to science, coming soon, along with further experiments in “new media” …