Sunday, June 18, 2017


Apparently, there is much we do not understand about water, including how and when it freezes. One uncertainty is whether the so-called "Mpemba effect" really exists.

In the 1960s, a Tanzanian student named Erasto Mpemba is said to have noticed that very hot ice cream firmed up more quickly when placed into a freezer.* It is not clear whether the ice cream was vanilla, chocolate or fruit or nut flavored. Mr. Mpemba's name has become attached to an extrapolated phenomenon that hot water can freeze faster than cold water.

According to a recent article, the Mpemba effect is the focus of much research and debate.* A new study suggests that hydrogen bonds in water change, with weaker bonds breaking, as water is heated , causing molecules to form fragments that can realign to initiate freezing. Cold water requires weak hydrogen bonds to be first broken to enable molecule realignment and freezing to take place.

However, some throw cold water on the hot water theory. The article quotes some sources which question whether the Mpemba effect actually exists. It cites experiments with hot and cold water which allegedly resulted in no observation of the effect.

However, a chemist criticized these experiments because they did not observe the time of initiation of freezing. He allegedly acknowledged that because freezing of water is a complex process which is difficult to control, it is hard to verify. However, he is quoted as being convinced that hot water can freeze quicker than cold water.*

One thing of which I am sure--my ice cream cone melts more quickly when it is hot outside than when it is cold. The smudges over my face and the drips on my shirt prove this. I call it the "Kucera effect". Can we extrapolate that ice melts more quickly in hot weather than cold weather? More research may be needed.

*Conover, "Fast-freezing Hot Water Spurs Debate",
Science News, February 4, 2017, p. 14

© Daniel J. Kucera 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017


That water is essential for human life and activity is obvious. Perhaps less obvious is the need for water by other creatures, including even the smallest.

For example, one may recall seeing a gathering of butterflies at the edges of mud puddles. Typically, they may include small "blues", sulfurs, white cabbage and even swallowtails. Interestingly, butterflies do not drink water because they have to have water. They seek water for its mineral content--thus, the minerals in muddy water. After drinking, they expel the water and keep the minerals, which are essential for their lives. In a miniature way, these butterflies are water treatment facilities.

Honeybees offer a more complex example, because they actually collect water and haul it back to their hives. Foragers seek water from many different sources, including mud puddles, as well as edges of ponds, rain drops on leaves and bird baths. Honeybees use collected water in several ways. Water is an essential ingredient for making food for larvae. The recipe includes pollen, nectar and water ingested by bees and internally processed for the food for brood.

Water is also used for cooling within the hive. Think of the device car owners in the 1950s would hang on the outside of a windows of their cars, which cooled the interior by wind blowing through and evaporating water in the device. Bees spread water within the hive and evaporate it by fanning their wings to produce cooling. Bees also use water to make liquid again stored honey that may have crystalized. Again, in a miniature way, honeybees are water distribution systems.

That bees frequently are seen collecting water at bird baths suggests that they do not necessarily need "clean" water. Regardless, one should be encouraged to maintain bird baths relatively clean. However,water gathered by bees from cropland may become tainted with pesticides, which could become an adverse contributor to colony health.

Interestingly, while bees collect water, they do not like to get their feet wet and dislike rain. As new beekeepers soon learn, one should avoid opening a hive on a rainy day, as bees can be particularly unhappy in wet weather. Maybe, in that respect, bees and humans share a similar attitude. ©Daniel J. Kucera 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017


Climate change fans appear to be drilling down to some fine details. A recent newspaper (remember those?) article reported on a new study suggesting that more mild winter months will cause people to get more exercise outdoors--an apparent benefit of global warming.

I'm not sure. Warmer winters could mean less snow, thereby reducing time for exercise by shoveling snow. It also could encourage people to get out and sit in their cars and drive more, particularly to stores, and to restaurants to eat more.

Frankly, I am likely to stay indoors regardless of winter temperatures in order to watch other people exercising in televised football, basketball, and hockey games. I would have mentioned golf, also, but is that exercise?

Warmer winters could also mean more indoor exercise, chasing after more spiders, ants, stinkbugs, beetles and other crawling varmints running around my feet due to reduced hibernation.

Maybe the real benefits of winter warming are in the lower gas and electric bills for heating and lower credit card bills for coats, sweater and boots. It may not be good for the economy but will be for the wallet.

According to the article, the limiting factor for people spending time outdoors is a high temperature of 84 degrees. I'm not sure about that either. My limiting factors are mosquitoes, biting flies and ticks. Warmer weather suggests more of them, which again likely will cause me to stay indoors, watching televised games--even golf, if necessary.

So, what is the point of all this climate exercise conjecture? You decide!

© 2017 Daniel J. Kucera

Monday, May 1, 2017


For several years, media have reported on the collapse of honey bee colonies. Apparent thriving colonies suddenly die or disappear from their hives. Numerous possible causes for such growing loss of bees have been advanced, such as disease, mites, pesticides, herbicides harsh weather, etc. However, no primary cause has been identified for what commonly has been referred to as colony collapse disorder. Such losses of colonies are of serious concern, of course, because honey bees are primary pollinators of much of our food supply, affecting everything ranging from orchards to back yard garden plots.

In addition, bee losses are stressing apiaries which produce new colonies for beekeepers who are in the business of furnishing bees for pollination of crops across the country. Often, major suppliers of new colonies are sold out in the the Fall for deliveries the following year, unable to keep up with the demand from beekeepers who have sustained losses.

Research into the cause of colony collapse is ongoing. Meanwhile, the public have embraced an effort to repopulate honey bees by establishing new hives in urban areas such as the White House and rooftops of city high-rises as well as in back yards.

Recently, I read a published report which discussed an effort by a scientist in Japan to develop an artificial pollinator that could fly on to a blossom, grab some pollen and fly to another flower--an artificial honey bee, if you will. He fitted a small drone with horse hair and a gel to mimic the fuzz on a bee. His drone was able to pollinate lilies by collecting pollen from one flower and dropping off some of it at another flower. According to the report, he believes that a fleet of drones , guided by GPS and artificial intelligence, could pollinate along with bees.

Interestingly, honey bees already have drones. Drones are the male bees. They do not work, gather no pollen or nectar, make no honey, and do not even feed themselves. Their only function is to mate with a new queen bee should the need arise.

The use of artificial pollinators, even if their development and use could be perfected on a mass scale, could be problematic. Honey bees do not collect pollen to be charitable. They collect pollen because it is essential as a food ingredient for brood production. In a way, it is their bread. If artificial pollinators were able to compete with natural pollinators for pollen on any large scale, honey bee colonies may well experience still another limiting factor on their continued success and existence.

Send in the drones?

Thursday, April 13, 2017


With the onset of Autumn, it has been common to experience invasion of one's house by hordes of small orange beetles, knockoffs of red ladybugs. Last Fall, however, they were outnumbered by larger, more offensive stinkbugs--their name tells all you need to know about them. This Spring, these critters have been awakening from hibernation to populate walls, floors, furniture and kitchen counters. It may be the latest environmental issue: global swarming!

Now, a published report reveals that stinkbugs also have become a pest for wine producers.* It seems that stinkbugs just love wine grapes. When these grapes are harvested, the bugs travel with the grapes into the fermentation tanks. The problem is that the bugs then release their stink and spoil the taste of the resulting wine.

How many stinkbugs does it take to spoil wine? A rule of tongue seems to be that more than 3 bugs per grape cluster will ruin wine taste. Talk about job creation--counting stinkbugs!

Recently, I had a glass of some red wine from a bottle whose label described it as having an "earthy" flavor. Perhaps, one should read the label before drinking, rather than after. I have switched now to white wine, whose taste is said to be less sensitive to stinkbugs. Regardless, white wine is more transparent in a glass. But, you know, all of this concern bugs me so that I may just drink water.


*Eaton, "Red Wine Has Stinkbug Threshold", Science
News, March 18, 2017, p.5

© Daniel J. Kucera 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017


What is "rate shock"? It is not a jolt of electricity, but it is a jolt of sorts. It is not a rule of utility ratemaking, but it is a concept within it.

Rate shock is a subjective measure of the assumed impact on utility customers of a proposed rate increase. It is a claim that can pop up in a ratemaking proceeding of any public utility, including water and wastewater utilities.

For example, in an Illinois case involving a drinking water utility, a witness for the regulatory commission testified that a rate increase of over 30% could be considered rate shock.* In that case, the commission approved a consolidated rate structure applicable to several water utilities having a common owner. The commission stated that the consolidated rate structure would enable capital costs to be "spread over a larger base of customers, thus mitigating rate shock to a smaller stand-alone division's base when infrastructure improvements are necessary."

In an Arkansas case, a witness for the Attorney General argued that a 22% gas utility rate increase to the residential class of customers would cause rate shock and, therefore, was unreasonable.** The commission did not address the argument.

Commonly, rate shock assertions arise when a large rate increase is proposed due to a sudden increase in a cost of service. Examples could be storm damage to facilities, unexpected failure of infrastructure and need to repair or replace it, new regulatory requirements, and the like. Sometimes, large rate increases arise because a utility has postponed seeking needed rate relief.

Generally, rate shock is not a basis for denying a rate increase that is justified by cost of service analysis. Rather, rate shock may be a basis for mitigating the impact on customers of a large rate increase. When potential rate shock is perceived, a rate increase may be phased in over two or three years. Or, as illustrated in a Connecticut case, an increased cost be recorded as a deferred expense or regulatory asset and amortized in rates over a period of years.*** The court quoted "A regulatory asset is a liability of a utility's ratepayers. Utility companies may incur large expenses in various ways--storm damages, installation of new facilities, increased taxes and so forth. These expenses, if passed immediately on to ratepayers, could create havoc. An immediate recovery of such expenses could cause sudden upward increases in rates, commonly termed 'rate shock.' In order to avoid rate shock, [public utility] commissions often will permit utility companies to recover their expenses from ratepayers on a deferred basis, listing the ratepayers' debt as a 'regulatory asset.' A regulatory asset is, therefore, a future debt of the ratepayers that can be passed on, together with interest, to the ratepayers."

Perhaps the best way for utilities to avoid claims of rate shock is to avoid, as much as possible, cost factors that can give rise to such claims. For example, regular and frequent review of costs of service and regular resulting incremental smaller increases in rates may avoid deferred large increases. Long range planning for repair and replacement of infrastructure along with establishment of reserves for such work in rates may also mitigate future sudden large proposed rate increases. Finally, phasing in of rate increases or using deferred expense and amortization procedures may enable more "gentle" rate adjustments.

Of course, there may be times when a large rate increase cannot be avoided because of a risk to continuity of good service. However, shock may be diminished when the utility adequately explains to its customers the reasons for the increase. There is no substitute for good communication.


*Lake Holiday Property Owners Association v.
Illinois Commerce Commission,2016 Ill.App3d
150816-U (3rd Dist 2016)

**Winston v. Arkansas Public Service Comm.,
984 S.W.2d 61 (Ct.App.1998)

***Office of Consumer Counsel v. Department
of Public Utility Control, 905 A.2d 1,

© 2017 Daniel J. Kucera

Monday, February 27, 2017


A recent published report states that the year 2016 was the warmest year on Earth since 1880, when record keeping began.* The article asserts that the global average surface temperature in 2016 was 1.69F degrees higher than the 20th Century average of 57F degrees.

The article also asserts that human activities, such as fossil fuel burning, increased temperatures, but also blames the effects of a strong El Nino which released heat from the ocean. The article does not allocate the temperature increases as between the two mentioned causes.

Interestingly, another report in the same publication states that Earth's ocean surface temperatures 125,000 years ago were comparable to the current reported temperatures.** In fact, it is estimated that the prior global warm period was 2C degrees warmer than today. According to the article, average global ocean surface temperatures 125,000 years ago were "indistinguishable" from the 1995-2014 average. Although the report does not mention it, one presumes human activity contributions to global warming 125,000 years ago would have been modest.

About ten days ago, my midwest area experienced several February days of record-breaking temperatures of at least 60F degrees. This warm period was, of course, quite unusual. But, before I could hyperventilate over climate change, I heard on local television news that this warm period could not hold a candle to a more extensive similar unusually warm period in February of 1898.

So, it was hot 125,000 years ago, it was hot in February, 1898, and it was hot in February, 2017. I put away the snow shovel and windshield ice scraper, watched daffodils pop up and snow drops bloom sooner than usual, noticed honey bees burdened with pollen from somewhere, and dared to exit the house without a coat. Maybe, some of us like it hot.


* Sumner,"2016 Shattered Earth's Heat Record,"
Science News, February 18,2017, P.9

** Sumner,"Earth's Last Major Warm Period Was
As Hot As Today",Science News, February 18,
2017, p.19

© Daniel J. Kucera 2017