August 31, 2015

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We have a few items noting the tenth anniversary of Katrina’s visit to New Orleans. First from Wired Magazine a series of graphics that show the paths of the last 160 years of hurricanes in North America. The first is for category one and so on. The last shows all storms. There are no dates or names, but the swarm informs. These are large files so we have to pass on any cartoons today.


The Wall Street Journal reports on the Katrina diaspora in Houston, TX.

HOUSTON—Before Hurricane Katrina, Danny Cook was working three low-paying jobs in New Orleans and struggling to pay rent and tuition for a master’s program in computer science.

Now, 10 years after he was rescued by a helicopter in the wake of the storm and boarded a bus headed to Houston, he has built a life here that he said would have been impossible in his former city. He bought a home, started a business and continued his studies.

“It has been a miracle,” said Mr. Cook, 39 years old, sitting in his living room, beside a set of shelves bearing his diplomas.

He is one of tens of thousands of people uprooted by Katrina who ended up settling permanently in new cities such as Atlanta and San Antonio. The storm scattered evacuees across 45 states and the District of Columbia, though most landed in the South, according to U.S. Census data.

A 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that about 410,000 of the roughly 1.5 million people from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who were displaced hadn’t returned to their homes more than a year after the storm. How many still haven’t gone back is uncertain, because tracking their whereabouts became increasingly difficult with time, researchers say. …



From Five Thirty Eight we learn about the results of school reforms in post Katrina New Orleans.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is still debating the merits of Louisiana’s experimental overhaul of its flooded schools. But research released this month signals that student outcomes in the city have improved and that the reforms are responsible.

Before Katrina, New Orleans had a traditional public school system. At the time of the August 2005 flood, that district was the second-worst-performing district in the second-worst-performing state. Now, it’s the country’s first free-market education system. Whether New Orleans’s radical reforms have worked matters not only for students there, but also for kids in classrooms around the country where similar models are being applied.

In November 2005, the Louisiana State Legislature voted to allow the state-run Recovery School District, which had been created to take over failing schools across Louisiana, to take control of 102 of 117 schools in the city (on top of the five it already controlled). Under pressure to reopen schools as quickly as possible, the Orleans Parish School Board fired all the public school employees, and the board and the RecoverySchool District turned the schools over to organizations to run as charters. According to the Cowen Institute at TulaneUniversity, 93 percent of New Orleans public school students attended charter schools in the 2014-15 school year — the highest proportion in the country.

With the influx of charter schools came a suite of other reforms, including greater school autonomy, open enrollment, reliance on nonprofits such as Teach for America to provide training and staff, and accountability measures that allowed the state to close underperforming schools. By the available metrics, these reforms have been a success. But it’s difficult to assess other consequences — like community engagement and trust in the process — that are less quantifiable. …



From hurricanes to earthquakes (Segues are Us!) we learn from Physics World that radon emissions might predict earthquakes. Apparently we can get a warning when the earth breaks wind.

A combined analysis of the concentrations of radon and one of its radioactive isotopes called “thoron” may potentially allow for the prediction of impending earthquakes, without interference from other environmental processes, according to new work done by researchers from Korea. The team monitored the concentrations of both isotopes for about a year and observed unusually large peaks in the thoron concentration only in February 2011, preceding the Tohoku earthquake in Japan, while large radon peaks were observed in both February and the summer. Based on their analyses, the researchers suggest that the anomalous peaks observed in that month were precursory signals related to that earthquake that followed the following month.

Earthquake prediction remains the holy grail of geophysics, and an oft-proposed but highly contested method for quake forecasting revolves around the detection of abnormal quantities of certain gaseous tracers in soil and groundwater. These are believed to be released through pre-seismic stress and the micro-fracturing of rock in the period immediately before an earthquake. …



Live Science has 20 startling facts about insects. (The real insects, not the ones in Washington. We’ll get to them tomorrow.)

Almost everywhere you look, you’ll find one — or dozens — of the six-legged critters called insects. A wildly diverse bunch, the class Insecta includes ants, bees, flies, beetles and much more. These creatures all possess a body composed of three segments — head, thorax and abdomen — encased in a hard exoskeleton. All insects also sport a pair of antenna, compound eyes and three pairs of jointed legs. From that basic body plan, emerge all sorts of amazing behaviors and abilities, as Live Science reveals here in 20 startling facts about insects.

1. The most successful creatures. To date, scientists have catalogued about 1.5 million species of organisms on the planet, with insects making up about two-thirds of this bounty, researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But scientists have only begun to scratch the surface: Studies estimate the total number of species on Earth is probably closer to 9 million. Of the planet’s wildly diverse collection of creatures, some 90 percent of species are reckoned to belong to the class Insecta. Reasons for insects’ success include their tiny size, which both makes hiding easier and reduces overall energy requirements; wide diet of both natural and artificial foods; tough, protective exoskeletons; frequent possession of wings, which help them reach safety, grub and mates; and prodigious ability to reproduce. …