The symmetry of life

Raising kids as you and your parents grow old & older illustrates vividly the surprising number of similar experiences humans have when they are very young and very old. Today Shel Silverstein reminded me of that with this poem: “The little boy and the old man.”

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”

Said the little old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”

“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”

The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems

Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

Starving sea pandas at the Festschrift of Russ McDuff

My PhD advisor Russ, celebrated his career by inviting all his students to give ignite talks in Oregon for the Festschrift of Russ McDuff. This is my 5-minute presentation in his honor with 20 slides advancing every 15 seconds as required:

We might be able to get this to display better using some sort of modal that can “pop-up” the WP post content, or part of it, with appropriate dimensions (1080 pixel height)… This WP Post Modal plugin might help.

2017 increased refrigerator and in-wall oven efficiency

Replacement fridge

Old fridge

Fridge set to 3 (5 oC); freezer set to A (-14 oC)

Power demand after reaching target temperatures:

33W closed

98W right and left open

73 left (freezer) closed; right (fridge) open

57 left open; right closed

R+L = 65; R=~40; L=~24 (probably mostly the wattage of the light bulbs)

Power demand with compressor at work:


330 Compressor starts

300 >30s

298 >60s

292 >180s

290-95 >10min (steady state while working to reach target temperatures)

Watt-up measurements of old fridge:

10.54 kWhr for 60:27 hr

= 174 W

Watt-up measurements of new fridge:

Fridge set to 3 oC; deli drawer set to 3 oC; freezer set to -19 oC (changed to -15 oC on 11/16/17)

5.62 kWhr for 80:15 hr

= 70 W

~ 40% of old load

New oven

The spirits of Jock and Holly Cobb

Driving north out of Albuquerque with my parents last month to celebrate my aunt’s and uncle’s 50th anniversary, we learned from the Internet that our dear friends Jock and Holly Cobb have passed away.  Jock was my god-father and immortalized himself in my mind early on, mostly by convincing me (as a ~6-year-old) that it would be a good idea to rent a very large rock from him at a compounding interest rate, which I’ve done for more than 40 years!  He was always an inspiration — whether reclining naked in the outflow stream of a Colorado glacier when I first met him, or demonstrating the latest prototype of his solar-powered water purifier in the New Mexican sunshine when Annie and I last saw them in the early 2000s.

Both Jock and Holly were wonderful people, full of ideas, compassion, principle, and creativity.  I’m going to take the time to get to know them a bit better this winter.  Perhaps you should do so, too.  Here’s my reading list:

Jock’s book

Jock took some amazing photographs during WWII when he was a conscientious objector working as an ambulance driver in north Africa for the American Field Service.  Thankfully, they made it back to the States and through the decades to be published recently (in 2013) as Fragments of Peace in a World at War.  You can buy the book directly from the Cobb family via

or via the publisher,
or via Amazon.
Jock ends his Vimeo recollections (in ~2011) with this quote from John F. Kennedy

“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”  –Letter to a Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 88.

NYT article (2013) regarding the photographs


John Cander (Jock) Cobb II, MD, MPH

1919-2016 (96)

Tribute to Jock in the Denver Post

John Candler Cobb II, known to all as “Jock”, was born July 8, 1919 in Boston, MA. He died June 20, 2016 in Albuquerque, NM. After earning his B.A. in Astronomy from Harvard, he volunteered as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in World War II. This experience and his association with the Quakers around this time, led him to his lifelong devotion to the cause of peace and to his career in medicine. He returned from the war to earn his MD from Harvard, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins. While in medical school he met Radcliffe student Holly Imlay-Franchot on a skiing trip. They were married for 67 years until Holly died in 2014.

After teaching at Johns Hopkins in maternal and child health, Jock began a career in public health when he moved to Albuquerque, NM in 1956 to work for the Indian Health Service. In 1960, he moved with Holly and their four children to Lahore, Pakistan, where he directed a Family Planning Research project. In 1965, the family settled in Denver, CO, where he became professor and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Realizing the importance of environmental health early on, he was a member of the task force studying the Rocky Flats Plutonium Plant and Uranium Enrichment Plant, which were shut down as a result of this work. He also served on the Governor’s Scientific Advisory Council, and tackled Denver’s notorious “brown cloud” as a member of the Air Pollution Control Commission. His work with international public health continued with shorter assignments in Indonesia, the Philippines, Togo, and China. He is honored to have his work and papers archived in the University of Colorado Archives in Boulder, CO.

In 1985, Jock retired from the University of Colorado Medical School, and he and Holly returned to live in the house they had built in Corrales, NM. They continued to travel abroad and enjoyed summers at their mountain cabin in Alice, CO. Jock’s inventive spirit and dedication to health and the earth led him to develop a solar sanitation system for water and waste. While active in the world, he also treasured quiet time in nature, played cello, wrote poetry, and took many photographs. In the last decade of his life, Jock revisited the photographs he took while serving as ambulance driver in Italy, North Africa, and Syria. He distilled his dedication to peace in the book Fragments of Peace in a World at War, which includes his photographs, poetry, and narrative.

He is survived by his children Loren, Nat, Bethany, and Julianne; grandchildren and great grandchildren; and many people whose lives he touched.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the American Friends Service Committee or Planned Parenthood.

Published in Albuquerque Journal from June 26 to June 29, 2016– See more at:

Helen Imlay (Holly) Cobb

1925 – 2014 (age 89)

Helen Imlay Franchot Cobb was an artist, a musician and a teacher. Holly grew up in New York State, and graduated from Radcliffe College with an AB in International Affairs. She and her husband Dr. John C (Jock) Cobb lived Baltimore MD, Corrales NM, and in Pakistan before settling in Denver, where he was a professor at CU Medical School. She taught art and kindergarten at Graland School. She leaves a beautiful portfolio of paintings and note cards of the peaks by their cabin in Alice, Colorado. She is survived by Jock, her husband of 67 years, her brother Dick Franchot, children Loren, Nat, Bethany and Julianne, and grands and greats. In lieu of flowers, donate to Planned Parenthood or AFSC.

Published in Denver Post from May 16 to May 17, 2014

Archives of Jock’s work

Cobb, Dr. John C. 83 linear feet, 1960-1993
Dr. John Cobb (b. 1919), M.D., Harvard University (1948), and Master of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (1954), became a professor of community health in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1965, where he is currently an emeritus professor. Dr. Cobb was appointed by Governor Lamm and Congressman Wirth to the Lamm-Wirth Task Force on Rocky Flats in 1974. From 1975 to 1982, he worked as principal investigator on an EPA contract to study human plutonium burdens in people who lived near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Facility. He has also served on several other councils and commissions concerning Rocky Flats and Three Mile Island. The collection contains files relating to Dr. Cobb’s medical career including: plutonium study papers; material on air and water pollution, recycling, bioethics, holistic medicine, and urban health ecology; Rocky Flats and Pakistan radiation studies; and teaching materials, reports, and conference papers. Guide available in Archives.

An example photograph

San Vito, Italy: This fatherless boy, like so many in the war, was searching for something he did not understand and could not find.

San Vito, Italy: This fatherless boy, like so many in the war, was searching for something he did not understand and could not find.

I am a left egalitarian, social Democrat (like Bernie)

I’ve had an evening of political realization, thanks to Benjamin Studebaker, an American PhD candidate in Politics and International Studies at Cambridge.  This post helped me understand that Bernie is my candidate and this next one convinced me that it is strategic to fight now for his vision: “a future to believe in.”  That sounds vacuous, but it’s not because for too long I’ve believed in egalitarianism — without having a name for it — but not seen so clearly how to realize it in a future, more equitable society in the U.S.

Will we defend the now-decrepit monster [neoliberalism] they [the 1%] gave us until they inflict a new and more terrible monster upon us, or will we stick up for our own ideology and put up a real fight against Trump and Cruz [the right nationalists]?

In taking on this fight, it seems advantageous to use the term “egalitarian” to emphasize that we value a more equitable society.  This value underlies some recent phenomena like the WTO protests and Occupy movement.  And it might also be accurate and savvy to call ourselves Social Democrats, rather than Democratic Socialists.

$2M for WA algae industry

State algae industry gets a boost from U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Murray recently helped secure $2 million for the Washington State Algae Alliance, a consortium made up of Seattle area companies Targeted Growth and Inventure Chemical as well as Washington State University. But not every U.S. politician is on board with the $2 million, with U.S. Senator John McCain calling out the algae research project in a Tweet back in October as more “pork barrel” politics.

The algae-ethanol question

This makes me wonder what wild marine phytoplankton might have sufficient sugars to warrant ethanol production, or actually produce ethanol. This article seems to imply that Algenol’s algae are pumping ethanol into water somewhere, but it’s unclear if that is the medium or just water in the cell.
clipped from

New York Times

Algae Farm Aims to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Algenol grows algae in troughs filled with saltwater that becomes saturated with carbon dioxide.

Published: June 28, 2009

Dow Chemical and Algenol Biofuels, a start-up company, are set to announce Monday that they will build a demonstration plant that, if successful, would use algae to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol as a vehicle fuel or an ingredient in plastics.

“We give them the oxygen, we get very pure carbon dioxide, and the output is very cheap ethanol,” said Mr. Woods, who said the target price was $1 a gallon.

The company has 40 bioreactors in Florida, and as part of the demonstration project plans 3,100 of them on a 24-acre site at Dow’s Freeport, Tex., site.
Algenol and its partners are planning a demonstration plant that could produce 100,000 gallons a year. The company and its partners were spending more than $50 million, said Mr. Woods, but not all of that was going into the pilot plant.
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Venter on super-algae

It will be interesting to see whether his team is using genes from fresh or salt-water organisms, macro-algae or phytoplankton… Perhaps in a closed system with no competition, a pure culture of genetically-modified cells really could simple excrete the lipids. It certainly would be nice to simply skim the lipids off the water surface without damaging the productive cells instead of struggling to extract the lipids from the cells as grazers like copepods must do…
clipped from
Synthetic Genomics’ team already has genetically optimized an algae species so that almost half of the organism’s mass consists of lipids, a broad group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols and other energy storage compounds. Now the team is enhancing the organism further to make even more lipids. Such algae would serve as a biofuel feedstock.

Craig Venter Has Algae Biofuel in Synthetic Genomics’ Pipeline
Venter said “the new algae” is something that “secretes whatever lipid size we want to engineer. This changes algae from what everybody’s been looking at as a farming problem into a manufacturing problem. So we are trying to get algae to go into a continuous production mode, pumping up these lipids, that come out in a pure form.”
Genetically engineered algae needs sunlight and carbon dioxide, and then secretes a liquid that “can basically be used right away as biodiesel,” according to Venter.
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