Thursday, October 01, 2015

Deep water

It seems that there is a reservoir of water three times the volume of all the oceans hidden in the Earth's mantle. It's good that it's there and not on the surface. If it were on the surface we would be a real Waterworld with only a few mountain peaks sticking above the waves.

A New Way To Fund Elections from Seattle

In an attempt to limit big money influence in its elections,
Seattle experiments with a public voucher system for funding city elections. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Who knew?

Meal worms can eat styrofoam. And all these years we thought the stuff was going to be our generation's archaeological legacy. Not only do they eat styrofoam, the produce droppings that would make good fertilizer.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Our biggest gun problem

Our biggest gun problem is the one we don't talk about. Most handgun deaths are suicides. Having one in the house just makes it too easy and unrecoverable.

Effective Help For The Homeless

Many homeless folks get trapped by their rap sheets. Utah has found that 
expunging minor infractions from criminal records helps homeless folks get the jobs they need to escape the cycle.

Global warming haitus?

A correction of statistical techniques shows that the purported dampening of global warming from 1998-2013 never actually happened.

Leaked Seattle Audit Concludes Many Mortgage Documents Are Void

Be watching. This story could be going national soon. Banks violated the law by bypassing county records when transferring mortgages. Ton of foreclosures and purchases are about to be declared invalid starting in King County but spreading across the nation.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

In Defense of Planned Parenthood

A personal story shows how Planned Parenthood has a positive impact on the health of women.

'Clean' energy not alway so clean

As an example of unexpected and unintended consequences, it has been shown that impoundments for hydroelectric power actually increase the amount of mercury in the biosphere.  At certain depths, microorganisms convert a non-toxic form of available mercury into a form than is readily absorbed by the biosphere. As a result, biologically active mercury levels are higher below dams than above them.

Unsung Concession in Iran Nuclear Deal

Reporters have completely missed that the biggest deal in the Iran nuclear deal is the 
renunciation of plutonium production. Plutonium is the fastest and least expensive path to a nuclear weapon. That's why almost all of the U.S. weapons use it. Having Iran out of the plutonium business is a huge step to keeping them free of nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

CBO and Full Sequestration Relief

In response to a request by Bernie Sanders, the CBO provides
a list of consequences of a full sequestrations relief. At minimum it would mean an increase of 300,000 jobs. At most 1.4 million jobs. Of course, there would be significant budget increases as well. Putting that many people to work seems to be worth it in my mind.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Small, Modular, Efficient Fusion Plant

Advances in superconductors have made a small fusion reactor much more likely and doable. It uses what we have learned from Tokomaks but shows the possibility of large increases in power and efficiency.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

War Budget Continues to Grow

This is despite the fact that our troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Why is this? Basically because Congress is using the Bush-era war contingency budget to fund pet projects without falling under the scrutiny of the budget. This spending is not controlled by our budget process so anti-poverty programs, human welfare efforts, and entitlements are repeatedly threatened while all kinds of money lines the pockets of wealthy campaign donors. It's like trying to budget when one member of the family is free to run up all the bills they want on credit cards.

Trump's Favorable Ratings

If I were a Republican, I would really be worried about what is happening in my electorate. Trump is overwhelmingly unpopular with the general American public as a potential President. But among Republicans it's the other way around. This blazingly shows how out-of-step Republicans have become with the country as a whole. They are clearly a minority party supported by folks with a minority view.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Entitlements Crisis?

Despite right-wing noise to the contrary, there is no entitlement crisis.
Looking forward, population aging will expand that deficit by a few percent of GDP, but that’s well within the range that could be closed with moderate tax hikes, cuts in pointless military spending, etc.. Nor is there a big rush: nothing terrible will happen if we don’t immediately decide how we’ll pay for projected benefits in the year 2050.
In fact, there never has been an entitlement crisis. Should a conservative-minded friend tell you otherwise, you are completely justified in pointing out that they are just dead wrong.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Iran Even Has a Nuclear Program

It isn't part of a good energy strategy. It has cost too much and hurt their economy too much. If it is for the purpose of nuclear weapons, it doesn't make much sense because all of the likely targets are upwind. A nuclear weapon is nothing more than a national suicide bomb. The best answer is that its just a matter of national pride. Other nations have done similar things. It was similar national pride that drove the U.S. to land men on the moon.

Reports of a Bee-pocalypse Have Been Premature

Despite all the headlines to the contrary, the number of bee colonies is actually doing well. It's true that there has been an increase in lost colonies, but the industry has adjusted by putting more energy and money into increasing the number of colonies. As a result, prices for honeybee-based products have gone up, but not terribly so. We are actually experiencing a new normal.

Finland's Euro Problem

Matt O'Brien explains how the euro has been bad for Finland. When Nokia went toes up, 4% of Finland's GDP evaporated. That's a deep hole to dig out of. It points out a fundamental flaw in the EU currency union that has affected many of its constituent states. Some new mechanism needs to exist that somehow allows member states to devalue their economy in order to reset after localized recessions that does not require them to leave the euro completely.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A New Kind of Pride

An evangelical pastor joins a PRIDE parade and shares his experience. Some portions of our world are changing for the better.

The Experience of Prison

An ex-con talks about what people on the outside don't understand about the prison experience and what prisoners have to learn the hard way about returning to society. As a country, we should do better.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Using Guns In Self-Defense Is Rare

When you buy a gun for self-defense, you are much more likely to be providing an offender with a weapon. A study by the Violence Policy Center had some interesting findings.

The study, released Wednesday by the Violence Policy Center, found there were 258 justifiable homicides involving civilians using firearms in 2012, compared with 8,342 murders by gun. Even if a criminal isn't shot down, the study found that civilians rarely use guns to protect themselves. "Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm" only 0.1 percent of the times they were targeted by a crook.
“The NRA has staked its entire agenda on the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense, but this gun industry propaganda has no basis in fact,” the group's executive director, Josh Sugarmann, said in a statement. “Guns are far more likely to be used in a homicide than in a justifiable homicide by a private citizen. In fact, a gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”

Magic Bullet

A molecule that binds well to prostate cancer cells has been used to not only enhance the imaging of prostate metastases but also to deliver target radiation to tumor cells with great effect. It's capabilities greatly exceed those of similar methods used to date.

Clean Water On the Go

Fieldtrate Lite is a plastic bag in a backpack that can filter dirty river water into clean water as fast as the tap flows. It's already saving lives in disaster-stricken areas.

Fusion Energy Sooner and Cheaper

Incremental improvements to the technology associated with fusion reactors have brought the promise of controlled nuclear fusion energy closer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

PROTACs on the Horizon

This new type of drug can target ALL disease-causing proteins. Yes, all of them. Specific varieties of it It works by tagging a specific protein for removal. The cell destroys the protein and the drug molecule is released to tag another bad protein. Most drugs today just latch on to the protein and block its function. High doses are needed to flood all the target proteins. A much lower dose of a PROTAC drug can be used because the molecules simply "catalyse" the destruction of the proteins.

I think this could be a game-changer.

Constitutional Crisis in Kansas

Unless the Supreme Court of Kansas sues Governor Brownback for refusing to fund the Kansas judiciary, Kansas could become the first state to be run by a de facto dictator. If the court does not rule the way he wants, he will take away their money. This violates clause in the US Constitution that requires every state in the union to be governed by a republican form of government. James Madison made it clear in the Federalist Papers that a functioning judiciary was essential to that republican form.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paper Microphone For Harvesting Power

A microphone made from paper could be use to harvest power from ambient sounds. It could be use to power small devices like solar cells have done for pocket calculators.

Calculating When to Form a Coalition

Mathematics can be used to know when to form or dissolve a political coalition. But I think it will be a while before the politicos adopt such rational methods.

Artificial Photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis is near. This adds a new dimension to the carbon capture game. Carbon dioxide could be recycled into innumerable useful products including drugs, plastics, and even fuels.

Friday, May 01, 2015

A Way Forward On Nuclear Waste

Recent moves by the DOE brings rational nuclear waste disposal into a real possibilityHaving a separate destination for spent fuel and high level defense wastes makes plenty of good sense. The former is being stored at many locations around the country and could be recycled. The latter is at very limited number of sites and very different in its makeup.

New Compounds

Many modern diseases are caused when proteins clump up. Now we are investigating a new collection of compounds that break up the clumps or keep them from forming. This could be good news in the areas of diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Positive Feedback in Global Warming

While many strain to maintain the fantasy that global warming is some sort of conspiracy theory, 
there is now direct evidence that we can expect an acceleration of it. The warmer it gets, the faster it's going to get warmer.

When Mammoths Roamed the West

They were hunted by humans. The list of hunters includes the makers of the Haskett points. These folks were contemporary with the Clovis culture but fabricated their spear points completely differently. Recent finds have not only uncovered spear points but other, truly-unique stone tools.

Mount Everest Shrank as Nepal Quake Lifted Kathmandu

With the recent quake, Mount Everest lost maybe an inch while Kathmandu rose about 3 feet. That explains the amount of devastation there. Truly horrific. It will take a terribly long time for the people to recover.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Continuing Oil Spill In Gulf Of Mexico

The Taylor Energy oil spill has been pumping crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over a decade. There is no resolution in sight. Fossil fuels have a continuing and significant environmental cost.
Hurricane Ivan whipped into the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, churning up waves that triggered an underwater mudslide and toppled Taylor's platform. The platform stood roughly 10 miles off Louisiana's coast in approximately 475 feet of water. The mudslide buried the cluster of 28 wells under mounds of sediment. Taylor tried to remove the unstable sediment covering the damaged wells, but determined it was too dangerous for divers. Without access to the buried wells, traditional "plug and abandon" efforts wouldn't work.

The Hum of the Earth

It's been known for a long time that the Earth has a low-frequency hum that humans can't consciously hear. Now we know what's causing it. It's deep ocean waves that move along the sea floor. They have enough energy to be registered on instruments like seismic waves from earthquakes.

Making Positive Changes

Dr Phil has some key steps to accomplishing changes in your life.

1. Decide what you are good at or what is good about you.
2. Observe yourself exhibiting those qualities or characteristics or mastering a given function or activity.
3. Acknowledge that you are living up to your potential and having some mastery in your life.
4. Make an attribution to yourself regarding that competency.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Acidic Oceans

The Permian extinction was caused by high CO2 from volcanoes over a long period of time. The rate of CO2 was comparable to what we are doing today and we can see similar effects. The question is, how far do we want to go down that path?

Affordable Nuclear Waste Disposal

Given that the volume of highly radioactive wastes is not huge, it makes good sense to 
dispose of them in deep boreholes. The technology is simple and much less expensive than elaborate treatment systems.

Record Penalty For Deadly Blast

While many fret over the potential dangers of advanced energy sources, let us be reminded that energy from fossil fuels is killing people.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Possible breakthrough for hydrogen cars

This innovative method uses "dirty", unrefined biomass in a facility no larger than a gas station to produce hydrogen. You don't have the high capital cost of a central generation facility using natural gas nor the mass transportation and storage problem of hydrogen produced at a central facility. Instead the roadside facility can generate its own supply directly from feed material. The hydrogen produced is of high purity, perfect for hydrogen-based fuel cells.

Seven questions for presidential candidates

If one can't actually ask these questions of a candidate, one can at least try to ascertain what their answers might be from their history and current positions. I wonder if anyone will try that exercise.

  1. What’s the biggest crisis you’ve faced in your professional life and how did you handle it?
  2. What's the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
  3. What’s your greatest political triumph?
  4. What’s your greatest governing triumph?
  5. What experience have you had that will serve you well as president?
  6. What historical presidential moment tells us the most about your vision of the office?
  7. Tell us a joke.  

$94,000 For Florist

Barronelle cashes in on her religiously-excused discrimination. A sweet deal if you can get it. Hmm, I wonder how many other ways one could milk the "defenders of Christian morality" for ready spending money without bumping up against the fraud laws. It looks like there's a pretty deep well of disposable greenbacks ready for the tapping.

Baby genes to be mapped at birth

My wife and I have already experienced health benefits from knowing our personal genetics. It looks like there is work being done to map everyone's genes at birth.
It can be a two-edged sword unless we have sufficient protections in our legal structure that prevent genetic discrimination. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

About time

The New York chapter of the Boy Scouts hires the first openly gay staff member is scouting. This Eagle Scout will be serving as a summer camp leader.

College Tuition

Paul Campos in the NY Times takes a look at what has been driving tuition costs. And surprise, it isn't the number of students, faculty wages, or a host of other usual suspects.
a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Fukushima Disaster and Lessons Learned

The Tohuku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulted in 20,000 deaths and 300,000 people dislocated. But the Fukushima nuclear power plant played no part in those casualties.
But the real health and environmental impacts from the Fukushima reactors are nothing compared to the tsunami. Contrary to all the hype and fear, Fukushima is basically a large Superfund site. No one will die from Fukushima radiation, there will be no increased cancer rates, the food supply is not contaminated, the ocean nearby is not contaminated, most of the people can move back into their homes, and most of the other nuclear plants in Japan can start up just fine.
The dangerous part about living near Fukushima is that you would be living next to a tsunami-prone ocean.

Recently, some Fukushima students compared radiation levels in their hometown to those at a number of locations around the world. They found that there were plenty of highly-populated places France, Belarus, and Poland which had higher radiation levels. There will be no Fukushima death

The 350,000 tons of treated water from Fukushima that only contains tritium contamination
can safely be dumped into the ocean a little at a time. The key thing is to really, really dilute it. At easily achievable dilutions, the amount of tritium concentration will be comparable to what occurs naturally. And even with that level of dilution, the amount of tritium will continue to decline over a few decades as it undergoes decay with a half-life of 12 years.

No Defense

A newspaper that has always been quick to defend Scott Walker gives
no defense to allegations that he directly benefited from an enourmous corporate contribution.

At issue is over $1.5 million in donations made in 2012 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCG), a group that defended the Governor during his 2012 recall election and is directed by Walker's campaign advisor, Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff reported on March 23. The donations were made by hardware store franchise owner John Menard Jr. According to Isikoff, in the years after Walker survived that recall election, Menard's business has benefited from "up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs."

Cathy McMorris Rodgers Is Out of Step with Reality

McMorris-Rodgers asked her constituents to forward their tales of Obamacare failures. I'm sure she thought there would be an avalanche of them since this program is so baaaad. Instead she was inundated with statements of support for it. I wonder if she will continue to ignore her people and I wonder how it will take for her to pay the price for that and be retired from public office.

Breaking News for April

CERN researchers confirm existence of the Force. By carefully crunching the numbers from recent experiments, researchers at CERN have identified a new energy that acts in our universe.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Every Tax Loophole Is Sacred

I really don't know why the Republicans are being so blatant about showing their true colors. It can only be from the belief that they are untouchable by the little people. And there isn't much in recent experience that shows that they are wrong.

Some examples:
In: Tax loopholes for the super-wealthy, like inheritance tax shelters, special depreciation for corporate jets, and a lower tax rate for hedge fund managers.
Out: More than $1 trillion for basic economic security for low- or modest-income families -- things like unemployment insurance, basic nutrition assistance, help with child care, and Pell grants for college.
In: Hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways, like incentives for shipping American jobs overseas and reincorporating in a foreign country, and special breaks for coal, oil, and gas companies.
Out: Roughly $400 billion to provide health insurance to low-income families and nursing home care for seniors through Medicaid.
In: Insurance companies once again denying coverage for preexisting conditions and charging women more for health care.
Out: The health insurance that 16 million Americans have gained through the Affordable Care Act -- plus no-cost preventive care, such as cancer screenings and annual wellness visits, and subsidies to help people with modest incomes afford coverage in health reform's marketplaces.

Magicians And The Art Of Manipulation

Think about  the ways you may have been manipulated without even knowing it. And then think about how you might avoid it.

Solar-assisted, volcanic-composite sailing yacht

If I ever win the lottery (assuming that I ever actually play it), I'll take one of these.  It has a super-strong, hydrophobic, UV- and heat-resistant, fireproof and acid proof hull.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Building the Labor Force

As American manufacturing looks for a new generation of skilled workers, Volkswagen may have found a solution, classic German apprenticeship.

Making Choices

There is actual science supporting the best method of making a choice. When we place all the options on the table at once (simultaneous choice), we can become overwhelmed by the possibilities. When we use the A-B method (sequential elimination) in which we start with a choice between just two alternatives then comparing that choice with another alternative, and repeating until all choices are evaluated, we tend to hang on to an earlier, poorer choice just because we have invested decision energy into it.

The best way is to divide the array of choices into sets of four. Then look at each set and select the best of the four. Next take the winners of the first pass across all the sets, regroup them into sets of four and repeat the process until a final winner is determined (sequential tournament). It's easier to evaluate the best in a set of four and we don't get overly invested in a decent choice and miss the best choice.

If I Had a Hammer...

When faced with an intractable problem, this man dedicated his entire life to the solution. He worked 22 years to cut a road through a mountain so his fellow villagers would be spared a 45 mile hike around it to the next village. He did it with a hammer and chisel and daily effort.

There are lots of problems out there that seem so big that there is a temptation to give up. This example shows that by consistently moving in the right direction over time, big solutions can happen. Quite inspiring.

More Gecko "Glue"

The gecko adhesion method can actually be turned off and on. This enables equipment to more easily and precisely move small, delicate parts. It probably has implications for even larger applications.

What's Really in the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Jame Conca explains what's really in the Iran Nuclear deal and why we just need to get it done. Key Points:
  1. Nuclear deals with Iran have worked. They are no longer enriching above 5%. No additional centrifuges have been installed. Work has stopped on their heavy-water reactor. IAEA has full access to inspect.
  2. Those who expect Iran to completely abandon nuclear energy are completely unrealistic (or actually have other hidden agendas).
  3. A nuclear agreement does not require Senate ratification. Some of our senators are not the sharpest crayons in the box.
  4. Iran is already a signatore to the NPT. This propose agreement just imposes some additional requirements.
  5. Iran really wants an agreement because sanctions are hurting them.
  6. The best way to keep Iran from misbehaving is to bring them closer, not push them further away.