Official: Pressure sensors focus of gas explosions probe
Monday, September 17
LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — The investigation into the Boston-area natural gas explosions is partially focused on pressure sensors that were connected to a gas line that was being taken out of service shortly before the blasts, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the sensors can signal for gas pressure to be increased if the pressure gets too low. He said investigators will try to determine whether those sensors played any role in Thursday’s explosions and fires.
Dozens of homes were destroyed or damaged, a teenager was killed and dozens of people were injured in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover. Thousands were forced to leave their homes.
Also Sunday, residents in the three communities north of Boston were allowed to return to their homes after crews finished shutting off nearly 8,600 gas meters. Electricity was restored to all the affected homes and businesses, but gas service may not be restored for weeks.
“It’s evident to me and to all of us the Merrimack Valley and the residents of our state are being as supportive as they can be and as kind as they can be to one another during this most difficult time,” Gov. Charlie Baker said at a news conference Sunday. “We still have a very long way to go but we’re very happy that people can return to their homes this morning.”
Schools in Lawrence will be closed Monday because of the natural gas situation, officials said.
Sumwalt said the investigation is focused on high pressure in pipelines. On Saturday, he said officials will be looking at how local Columbia Gas officials responded to a “pressure increase” in the Lawrence area that was detected at the company’s pipeline control center in Columbus, Ohio, prior to the explosions and fires. He said there was no evidence the explosions were intentional.
Columbia Gas on Sunday turned away hundreds of Lawrence residents who wanted to make damage claims because it couldn’t handle the deluge, The Boston Globe reported. The company told residents, many of whom waited for several hours, to come back Monday.
“I am tired. I am frustrated,” Renata Rena, who waiting in line with her 3-year-old daughter, told the newspaper.
Joe Hamrock, chief executive of Columbia Gas’ parent company, NiSource, said Sunday that the company was taking full responsibility for what happened and is implementing a service restoration plan. He said the devastation and tragedy caused by the explosions are heartbreaking.
“We’re in this for the long run,” Hamrock said. “We know this has damaged the confidence and trust in our company and what we do. Our full commitment is restoring that trust and that confidence.”
Officials said gas company technicians will turn all the meters back after safety inspections of the entire system are complete — a process expected to take several weeks. They warned residents not to turn the meters back on themselves, not to turn on gas appliances until service is restored and to call 911 and leave their homes if they smell gas.
Catastrophe overload? Read philosophers and poetry instead of headlines
September 17, 2018
Professor of English, Rutgers University Newark
Rachel Hadas does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Rutgers University Newark provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
For almost two years now, Americans have been confronted daily by ominous tidings. We are living through stressful times. Reading the news feels awful; ignoring it doesn’t feel right either.
Psychologist Terri Apter recently wrote about the “phenomenon in human behavior sometimes described as ‘the hive switch,’ where “catastrophic events eliminate selfishness, conflict and competitiveness, rendering humans as co-operative as ultra-social bees.”
But if hurricanes, earthquakes or volcanoes trigger the hive switch, does this principle hold for man-made catastrophes?
What about the immigration policy that has been separating children from their parents? School shootings, suicides, ecological disaster?
What about the flood of frightening and infuriating news that splashes against us daily?
In response to all this, people are hardly swarming into a cooperative hive. On the contrary, our human qualities of imagination, alertness and compassion seem to be turning against us. To imagine the suffering of our fellow beings and the future of our beleaguered planet provokes rage, dread and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
What, if anything, can we do?
Listen to Seneca and Epictetus
Rage and dread can morph into political activism, but it’s hard not to feel that any change is too little and too late.
The children who have been separated from their parents, for example, even if they’re all reunited, which doesn’t seem likely, will bear the psychic scars for the rest of their lives, as physician Danielle Ofri has pointed out eloquently in Slate.
How should people react to rising suicide rates? Perhaps, judging from much recent coverage, the most we can hope to do is muster enough insight and hindsight to try to prevent the next one.
Yet this spring’s exhaustive coverage of a pair of celebrity suicides – Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade – sent me back to the Stoic philosophers, thinkers who flourished, particularly in Rome, in the first and second centuries. Uninterested in abstruse speculations, these philosophers stressed ethics and virtue; they were concerned with how to live and how to die. Stoic psychology offered and still offers help working with the mind to calm our anxieties and help us to fulfill our function as human beings.
Both Bourdain and Spade, creative and successful personalities, icons of glamour and achievement – particularly Bourdain, whose restless and courageous explorations of various corners of the world inspired countless viewers and readers – turned out to have been vulnerable people.
William B. Irvine, whose 2009 “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” I’ve been rereading, usefully distills from his four favorite Stoic writers, Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus and Marcus Aurelius, two salient Stoic techniques for combating dark thoughts. I’ll continue this teaching tradition by distilling Irvine.
The advice of writers like Seneca and Epictetus feels remarkably germane. The kinds of misery that are often mentioned in connection with suicidal impulses, such as fear and anxiety, are perennial components of the human condition. When we speak of a suicidal person wrestling with demons – a word as old as Homer – that’s what we’re talking about.
The Stoics teach that you can try to counter your demons – not with talk therapy, let alone pharmaceuticals, but by working with your mind.
The first technique is negative visualization: Imagine the worst so as to be prepared for it.
Most likely the worst will never happen. The bad things that can and probably will happen are likely to be milder than the worst thing you can think of. You can feel both relieved that the worst hasn’t happened and also somewhat mentally bolstered against the worst possibility.
“He robs present ills of their power,” wrote Seneca, “who has perceived their coming beforehand.”
Elsewhere, Seneca writes, “Trees that have grown in a sunny vale are fragile. It is therefore to the advantage of good men, and it enables them to live without fear, to be on terms of intimacy with danger and to bear with serenity a fortune that is ill only to him who bears it ill.”
Much the same point is made by Edgar, disguised as Mad Tom, when he observes in “King Lear” that “the worst is not/So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’” The very fact of being able to comment on how bad things are – and such bemoaning is now a daily ritual for many of us – means that we have survived.
Divide and conquer – or not
The second Stoic self-help technique is what Irvine calls the dichotomy of control: Divide situations into those you have some control over and those you have no control over.
Epictetus observes that “Of the things that exist, Zeus has put some in our control and some not in our control. Therefore…we must concern ourselves absolutely with the things that are under our control and entrust the things not in our control to the universe.”
Irvine adds a third category, thereby transforming the dichotomy into what he calls a trichotomy: things we have no control over, things we have complete control over and things we have some degree of control over.
We can’t control whether the sun rises tomorrow.
We can control whether we have a third bowl of ice cream, what sweater we choose to wear or whether to press SEND.
And, as for suicides, school shootings, agonized children torn from their parents? We can do something. We can vote, run for office, organize, contribute money or goods. In these ventures we can cooperate with our neighbors and colleagues, acting as hive-like as possible without being paralyzed by anguish.
Play baseball, go to the park
Those fortunate enough to experience private joy still sense the shadow of public dread. Yet joy is still joy; life still needs to be lived.
If we’re baseball players, we can play baseball. If we’re grandparents, we can take our grandchildren to the park. We can read – not only the news, but fiction and history that takes us out of our moment. And we can read poetry, which has the power of distilling our times, of making our moral dilemmas, if not precisely soluble, beautifully clear.
If we’re poets, we can write poetry – not a community venture, ordinarily, but what these days is ordinary? Public anguish makes its way into private lives, and some of the best new poetry braids public and private together. I myself both read and write poetry – both activities over which I have a good deal of control. And the poetry I’ve been reading is riveting.
An eloquent recent poem that encompasses the ethical dissonance between home and homelessness, safety and danger, is A.E. Stallings’s “Empathy.”
Interestingly, the Stoic notion of negative visualization animates the poem’s argument: how good that I and my family are snug in our beds at home and not tossing on a raft in the dark. It could be so much worse:
My love, I’m grateful tonight
Our listing bed isn’t a raft
As we dodge the coast-guard light…
And in its final stanza the poem unflinchingly rejects the easy notion of empathy as smug and superficial and hypocritical:
Empathy isn’t generous,
It’s selfish. It’s not being nice
To say I would pay any price
Not to be those who’d die to be us.
Rejecting what poet William Blake called “single vision,” Stallings courageously sees, and seems miraculously to write from, both sides.
She also manages to live on both sides. For the past year and a half, she has been doing extraordinary work with refugee women and children in Athens.
The dark undercurrents roiling in our time can also be felt in Anna Evans’s “Not My Son,” a villanelle whose rhymes of “border,” “order,” “disorder,” “ignored her,” “implored, her” and “toward her” clang with ominous music.
Poems like “Empathy” and “Not My Son” aren’t comfortable to read, nor were they, presumably, very comfortable to write. But they represent a measure of what some of us who happen to be poets can do; and I’d rather take in the frightening news as these poets thoughtfully and eloquently present it than gobble down headlines raw.
My next collection will be called “Love and Dread.” The Stoics knew that dread is always part of the picture.
Shark attack victim was engineering student, outdoorsman
Sunday, September 16
WELLFLEET, Mass. (AP) — A 26-year-old man who was killed in a shark attack off a Cape Cod beach had been a part-time engineering student who was engaged to be married and loved surfing and other outdoor activities, according to friends and school officials.
Arthur Medici, of Revere, Massachusetts, was bitten by a shark Saturday while boogie boarding off Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet and later died at a hospital. He was the state’s first shark attack fatality in more than 80 years and the second attack victim this summer on Cape Cod.
The beach remained closed to swimming Sunday. Flowers were placed at the base of a sign that said “No swimming surfing etc. until further notice,” but some people were paddleboarding in the water, the Boston Herald reported.
A shark was spotted several miles south of Wellfleet on Sunday, according to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
Medici was a part-time engineering student at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston last spring, the school said in a statement Sunday. It did not provide any other information about his studies including why he wasn’t enrolled in the current semester. The school offered condolences to Medici’s family and friends.
He moved to the U.S. from Brazil two years ago to attend college, friends told WCVB-TV.
A GoFundMe page set up by family and friends to cover funeral costs had raised more than $16,000 as of Sunday afternoon.
“Arthur was a very happy young man,” said a posting on the page. “He loved life, he was an active member of a Christian church, devoting his life to the Lord. … He loved hiking, biking, surfing and various other sports. … He was always joyful and willing to help others, even going as far as feeding the homeless.
“He was happily engaged to a smart, kind-hearted medical student with a bright future,” it continued. “Our lives are never going to be the same without him. His laughter filled our home and he will be greatly missed by us all.”
There also was an outpouring of condolences on his Facebook page .
Medici had worked at The Capital Grille restaurant in Burlington, just outside of Boston, and left the job more than a year ago, restaurant spokesman Rich Jeffers said.
“Just like everybody else, we’re shocked and saddened,” he said. “It’s just terrible.”
Medici was attacked around noon as he and a friend were boogie boarding. The friend dragged him ashore, and people on the beach attempted life-saving measures including CPR and applying tourniquets. He was taken to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, where he was pronounced dead.
On Aug. 15, a 61-year-old New York man was severely injured after fighting off a shark off Truro, about 4 miles north of Saturday’s attack. He’s currently recovering in a Boston hospital.
Saturday’s attack was the third fatal shark attack in the world this year, with the other two occurring in Brazil and Egypt, according to Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
There have been 39 confirmed unprovoked shark bites worldwide this year, including 22 in the U.S., most of them on the East Coast, Naylor said.
Ohio Seniors have a Wellness Resource in New Elderly
Fall Prevention Guide
September 22-28 is National Falls Prevention Awareness Week
(COLUMBUS) – The Ohio Department of Public Safety Division of EMS joined with the Ohio Injury Prevention Partnership and released an updated Elderly Fall Prevention Resource Guide for EMS providers and the general public. This guide contains county and regional information for community-based programs relating to exercise and balance improvement, wellness, medical equipment, and well-being checks.
“Falls are one of the leading causes of emergency department visits for older adults and are the major cause of hip fractures and head injuries,” said Division of EMS Executive Director Mel House. “The Elderly Fall Prevention Resource Guide offers great information to reduce these injuries.”
September 22nd kicks-off Fall Prevention Awareness Week. During this time, fall prevention coalitions, health care providers, and senior service agencies will hold presentations, health fairs, screenings, and workshops to raise awareness among older adults and their families and caregivers, elder care professionals, and the general public about the seriousness of falls and ways to reduce fall risk.
According to the Ohio Department of Aging, one can reduce his or her risk of falling by paying more attention to the Three H’s: your home, your health and your habits.
Download a copy of the guide at: http://www.publicsafety.ohio.gov/links/EMS5934.pdf
Additional resources include:
· Ohio Department of Aging – “Steady U”, Fall Prevention
· Ohio Department of Health – Ohio Injury Prevention Partnership
· National Council on Aging
How the zebrafish got its stripes
September 17, 2018
Postdoctoral Fellow in Applied Mathematics, The Ohio State University
Alexandria Volkening was funded by the Mathematical Biosciences Institute and the National Science Foundation for this study under grants DMS-1148284, DGE-0228243, and DMS-1440386.
The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Stripes are common in our lives. It’s a pretty basic pattern, and easy to take for granted.
As an applied mathematician who studies how patterns form in nature, though, I am wowed by the striped patterns the zebrafish wears across its body and fins.
Take a closer look at zebrafish’s black and gold stripes, and you’ll see different-colored pigment cells, tens of thousands of them. I like to envision these cells as people walking around in a crowded room: Just like us, the cells move and interact with their neighbors. Stripes appear because the cells very carefully instruct and signal each other on how to behave. They even “shake hands” in some sense by reaching toward distant cells.
From a mathematical perspective, zebrafish stripes fall into the field of self-organization, a phenomenon in which individuals interact to produce some pattern much bigger than any individual, without external direction. Bird flocks and schooling fish are also examples of self-organization in nature. No one is on a megaphone calling out directions so that birds flock or pigment cells produce fish stripes, yet remarkably, they both organize themselves to create patterns.
Until recently, the research community thought only two types of cells were involved in zebrafish stripes: black and gold stripes, so black and gold cells. However, experiments showed that a third type of pigment cell – blue and silver iridophores – is critical to pattern formation. Remove it from the skin, and zebrafish have spots!
So how do thousands of different-colored cells on a growing zebrafish work together to consistently form stripes? To help answer this question, I developed a mathematical model in collaboration with applied mathematics professor Bjorn Sandstede. In our model, pigment cells are colored dots following prescribed rules and equations for how they move around, interact and change their color. Cells with different colors behave in different ways. There are lots of questions about zebrafish, so we decided to focus on the newcomers to the scene: those pesky blue and silver cells.
Math offers a different perspective from typical biological experiments on fish. Biologists can watch how cells behave, but it’s trickier to deduce the signals behind their behavior. Using mathematical models, we can test lots of different possible cell interactions and suggest which ones are actually able to explain the behaviors biologists observe. Biologists can then test our predictions on real fish.
Our model suggests there are multiple signals at work that instruct silver and blue cells on the fish skin. All these signals are redundant. A few cues are all the instruction a cell may need in a perfect world, but the world isn’t perfect. For example, we think that nearby black cells signal iridophores to change their density and color. But if there are not any black cells around to transmit that signal, distant gold cells can fill in and provide the same instructions.
You can think of these redundant signals like a bunch of different alarm clocks. If you have an important meeting in the morning, you may set an alarm clock, put a notification on your phone and ask for a wake-up call. All that redundancy means that you will probably get a bunch of cues to wake up. But on the off chance that your phone dies or the front desk forgets to call, it also means you’ll still get to your meeting on time. The redundancy ensures the desired result, even if one signal fails.
The same idea may be at work in zebrafish. Our model suggests that different-colored cells are constantly instructing each other. This ensures that blue and silver iridophores are pummeled with directions from all sides on how to behave. Because there are multiple signals, occasional failures don’t disrupt patterns too much. The result: reliable stripes.
Our mathematical model simulates how different-colored cells interact to produce zebrafish stripes.
Why is this important? Zebrafish genes are surprisingly similar to human genes. By understanding how pigment cells interact in normal and mutated zebrafish, researchers may be able to start to link genes to their function.
The story of how zebrafish patterns form isn’t finished yet. For now, though, the next time you see a striped fish, consider pausing a moment to recognize all the work pigment cells put into creating that pattern. Those dependable stripes are pretty darn amazing.
One big reason why women drop out of doctoral STEM programs
The fewer women in entering class, the less likely they’ll stay
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Many women in doctoral degree programs in fields like engineering and physics are in a class of their own – and that’s not a good thing.
A new study found that the fewer females who enter a doctoral program at the same time, the less likely any one of them will graduate within six years.
In the worst-case scenario – where there’s just one woman in a new class – she is 12 percentage points less likely to graduate within six years than her male classmates, the study found.
However, for each additional 10 percent of women in a new class, that gender gap in on-time graduation rates closes by more than 2 percentage points.
The findings suggest that the “female-friendliness” of doctoral programs may play a key role in the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.
“It has been nearly impossible to quantify the climate for women in male-dominated STEM fields,” said Valerie Bostwick, co-author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher in economics at The Ohio State University.
“But our data gave us a unique opportunity to try to measure what it is like for women in STEM. What we found suggests that if there are few or no other women in your incoming class, it can make it more difficult to complete your degree.”
Bostwick conducted the research with Bruce Weinberg, professor of economics at Ohio State. Their results will be published Monday, Sept. 17 on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
They used a new data set that previously had not been available to researchers. They linked transcript records from all public universities in Ohio to data from the UMETRICS project, which provides information on students supported by federal research grants.
A key advantage of this data is that it shows when and if students drop out – something that most data sets on graduate students don’t show.
“Most datasets are based on students who graduate – they don’t see you if you don’t get your degree,” Bostwick said. “That makes it impossible to find out why students drop out.”
This study examined all 2,541 students who enrolled in 33 graduate programs at six Ohio public universities between 2005 and 2016.
Overall, the average incoming class of doctoral programs included about 17 students and was about 38 percent female. But there was wide variation in class sizes and the percentage of female students.
The researchers separated the programs into those that were typically male and typically female. Typically male programs (including chemical engineering, computer science and physics) were those that were less than 38.5 percent female.
In typically male programs, the average number of women who joined a class in any particular year was less than five.
The study shows the importance for women of having a support system of other women in their entering class, Weinberg said.
A woman joining a class that was more male than typical for her doctoral program was about 7 percent less likely to graduate within six years than were her male peers.
“But if there were more women than average in the program, that graduation gap goes away,” Weinberg said.
Findings showed that when women dropped out of male-dominated programs, they usually did it in the first year. Women who joined a doctoral class with no other females were 10 percentage points more likely to drop out in that first year.
The researchers looked at two potential reasons why women may be dropping out: research funding and grades.
If female students were less likely to obtain research funding than their male peers, that could be an important reason why they’re failing to finish. But the study found no real differences in funding for men and women.
Results did show that women had slightly lower grades than men when they were in male-dominated classes. Women who joined a class with no other females had first-term GPAs that were 0.11 grade points lower than their male peers.
“That’s not enough to make a big difference,” Bostwick said. “We estimate that grades could not explain more than a quarter of the difference between the number of women and men who graduate within six years.”
Bostwick said that if grades or research funding are not the main reason for why women are not completing their STEM degrees, that suggests the reason must be something that can’t be directly measured: the academic climate for women.
“We can only speculate about what it is in the climate that is making it more difficult for women,” Bostwick said.
“It may be hard to feel like you belong when you don’t see other women around you. There may be subtle discrimination. We don’t know. But it highlights the fact that women need support, particularly if they are the only ones entering a doctoral class. They need to know about resources that could help them, particularly in that first key year.”
The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes of Health’sOffice of Behavioral and Social Science Research, the National Science Foundation, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Ewing Marion Kauffman and Alfred P. Sloan foundations.