Daily Archives: May 14, 2013

Should you drink tap water or bottled water?

This is the time of year, spring, when a lot of people switch to drinking bottled water instead of tap water. They do this because in their particular area the tap water seems to “go bad” … usually it is a mild smell or a slightly icky taste. This makes people fear their tap water, so they go to the store and buy bottled water. What has happened in many cases is that the local municipal water supply has done everything it can reasonably do to clean up and make nice the water that comes out of your tap, but there is this slight taste or smell because in the spring, that is what water does in many of our sources, including wells, rivers, and reservoirs. It depends on where you live, and it probably depends on the year as well.

Your municipal water is safe. Tap water always has “stuff” in it that is not H2O, but in the spring, some of that stuff is a bit more detectable than at other times of the year.

People are making two mistakes. 1) Not drinking the tap water because they think it is bad for them. It may be unpleasant, and that may be a reason to not drink it, but it is not bad for you. And, 2) quitting tap water forever, switching to bottled water because they think their water has gone bad forever. Or they just get used to the bottled water and stick with it.

Peter Gleick has a lot of information about Bottled Water, some of which is on his new blog. The total amount of Carbon you are releasing into the atmosphere by drinking a liter of bottled water is something like an order of magnitude greater than for tap water, for example. You just shouldn’t be using bottled water if you have a run of the mill municipal water supply.

Speaking of water, Skeptically Speaking just did a show on the topic:

Drinking Water

This week, we’re looking at the science and the history of the water that makes life and society possible. We’ll speak to law and environment professor James Salzman, about his book Drinking Water: A History. And we’re joined by Juewen Liu, chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo, to talk about his work using DNA to detect water-borne impurities that could make water unsafe.

Click here to get the podcast.

Photo Credit: Lightsurgery via Compfight cc

Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

Want to boycott stuff? There’s an app for that.

Vote with your wallet. Tired of the Koch Brothers ruining everything for everybody? Prefer to buy products from companies that contribute to Sandy relief? Do you just want to know which major megacorporation produced the item you are considering putting in your shopping cart?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that allowed you to scan the product’s bar codes and quickly determine which evile empire you are supporting, or avoiding supporting, with your purchasing decision. Well, there is, and it is called Buycott. Click here to see iOS version

From the app developers:

How Buycott works

-Join a campaign to help a cause you care about and commit to actively supporting the companies on your side of the issue, while avoiding those that oppose your position.

-Scan product barcodes and Buycott will find out what company owns that product (and who owns that company, ad infinitum).

-Using this information, Buycott will determine whether you have joined a campaign that includes the product’s owners.


– Lookup the ownership structure of any product and trace it all the way back to its parent company with our interactive family tree diagram.

– Offers a variety of contact data for companies and brands, so you can easily inform them of your decision to support or avoid their products.

– Scans all major retail barcodes (UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN8, EAN13, etc).

– Create your own campaign from buycott.com

Once installed you have to sigh up. I chose the “Log In with Facebook” option and then was asked if Buycott could post to my friend’s walls. I said no. The signup failed. So, right there, somebody needs to sit these kids down (the ones who made the app) and explain to them the meaning of Irony.

So then I signed up with the manual sign up and I got an “error creating account” error. No explanation.

So, I’d like to try this app out for you but it’s broke, so I can’t. But I also know that word of this app just went around the internet a few minutes ago, so their server is probably getting hammered. I’ll try again in a day or two and let you know how it goes. If you try it and have any info to report, please put it in the comments.

This would be good if it works. But first, it has to …. well, work.


I was able to join this evening, but the join up process took a long time, presumably because of the developer’s server still being overwhelmed (or attacked by nefarious forces, perhaps?). Then things were still a little glitchy. When I went into the app I was told that I needed to join before I could use it, but Ignored that and signed in using the info I had given it when I had joined earlier, and then I was told that I’d have to Join, the, I was allowed to use the app as though I had joined.

This all happened because the app seems to reset to some prior level when my iPhone does its partial sleep power down thing it does after several seconds of no activity, and everything the app does is so slow that this happens all the time.

Lawry's Salt is OK! Yay!
Lawry’s Salt is OK! Yay!
I tried scanning a book ISBN code and it was smart enough to tell me it couldn’t do that. Then I scanned the bar code on my lens cleaning solution. The app correctly identified it as Flents Wipe-n CLear Lens Cleaner! But there was no information on the company, which probably means it is not made by the Koch Brothers or Satan or anyone like that. I then checked out my Lexar Jump Drive, recently purchased (so the empty cardboard container was still sitting on my desk). It seems to have recognized the manufacturer but did not know what the product was, but asked me to enter information about the product in order to “earn points.” I entered the data and got an error.

I then checked All Free an Clear laundry soap, a container of little tomatoes, and a container of Laqwry’s seasoned salt. The first two returned errors, the third returned data on the product that was accurate and information about the company. I was told that there were “no campaign conflicts.”

Lawry Salt is OK!

So the bottom line is that the app works but there are glitches that hopefully will be ironed out.

The amount of time it takes to get the information back from the scan is fairly long … tens of seconds … but that is probably because their server is still working too hard.

Photo Credit: frankhg via Compfight cc

Who is the richest person in the world?

This came up the other day, so I figured I’d note the answer(s) down and share it with you so we don’t have to look this up in the internet again until 2013 is over. The, I think they get new richest people. Most of these answers come from Forbes, which appears to be in charge of knowing these things. Or even, perhaps, determining these things!

Who is the richest person in the world?

The richest person in the world is Carlos Slim Helu and his family, with a net wort of 73 billion dollars. He’s in Mexico, and in the telecom business. But since this includes “his family” we may want to note that the number two perso on the list is Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, who is worth 67 billion dollars. I will note that the fifth richest person in the world is a guy who is the brother of someone I know. Fat lot of good that does me, I know, but still.

Who is the richest woman in the world?

We have to go down the list pretty far to find the richest woman in the world. Liliane Bettencourt and family are listed by forbes as the 9th richest “person” in the world, she’s in france and is the “L’Oreal Bettencourt. Christy Walton and Family are at number 11. We have to go down to number 16 before we find a woman who is not “and family” rich, and that’s Alice Walton of Wal-Mart. Note that CHristy Walton and Family and Alice Walton (sans family) are both Wal-Mart. We can add Jim Walton and S. Robson Walton to that list and the Wal-Mart family, extended, appears to be worth a total of 107.3 billion dollars. Ironically, that makes the value of at least this part of the Wal-Mart family worth about the same as Bangladesh. If they were a country they’d be about 57th.

Who is the richest person in America?

The richest person in America is obviously Bill Gates (see above)

Who is the richest woman in America?

The richest woman in America is the Wal-Mart lady mentioned above.

The average number of offspring (we can use this as an estimate of fertility rate) among the top richest people is 3.0. The fertility rate of the average American at the moment is about 2.03.

A lot of people assume, because they’ve been told this and accepted it uncritically, or for other reasons, that the poor and dark skinned have more babies than the rich and the light skinned. Apparently not.

Crowdfunding the Dark Snow Project

New research indicates that the reflectivity of the surface of the Greenland Glacier is decreasing due to the deposition of dark particles from fires on the surface of the ice. This phenomenon is contributing to unprecedented melting of the ice sheet. This is a huge concern. One of the most significant outcomes of global warming will be the melting of large portions of the world’s glaciers, causing the sea level to rise dangerously.

There is a project called The Dark Snow Project which is an effort to measure this newly discovered effect. A large part of this research is being crown-funded, and of course, you can and should contribute to this.

The Dark Snow project is carrying out a major funding initiative right now.

From Leo Hickman’s blog at The Guardian:

Jason Box, a climatologist based at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, is hoping to raise $150,000 over the coming months to pay for an expedition this summer up onto the “ice dome” of Greenland to gather samples of snow. …

The climatic impact of “black carbon” and wildfire smoke is much in the news and yet remains little understood. Last year, Box presented satellite observations (pdf) showing how soot particles drifting from tundra wildfires spread across Greenland. The big as-yet-unanswered question is whether this soot contributed towards the region’s record melt during the summer of 2012. And, if so, by how much.

Here’s a video giving an overview of the project:

You can contribute to the Dark Snow Project by clicking here, where you will find couple of options for making a much needed donation.