Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hope for U.S. Manufacturing

The wage freeze in the U.S. may finally begin to pay off. Global costs have risen to the point that American labor is more of a bargain. I only hope that there is a sufficient increase in American jobs that the domestic demand for goods and services goes up as well.  Then we may actually enter a virtuous cycle for continued economic growth.

What Pro-Life Looks Like in Actual Practice

Ireland is a clear example of a pro-life regime.  This is the world pro-life supporters want for our country. We know you for what you are, so stop pretending that you are civilized.

Rad Waste from Fracking

It seems that there are radioactive waste issues from hydraulic fracturing. Granted, the wastes are low-level but, as can be seen in the article, low-level wastes require special disposal processes.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Better than Graphene

Of all the things for which hemp is useful, this may be the most unexpected.  A challenge with electric transportation is rapid refueling.  A potential solution is super-capacitors instead of batteries.  It turns out that waste hemp fibers can be used to make a very efficient super-capacitor at a small fraction of the expense of that miracle material, graphene.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ontario’s wins the war on coal

The most industrialized province in Canada is able to shut down all its coal plants.  Here's how they did it.

Welfare Applicants, Less Than One Percent Use Drugs

This is a waste of public funds, not to mention an unnecessary burden placed on poor people.  And whose idea is it?  The conservatives, of course.  If you are poor, they are not your friends.  If you don't want your taxpayer dollars to be wasted, they are not your friends either.

Instability in Power Grid

The situation in Germany is a real world example of what happens when there is too much dependence on intermittent renewable energy with insufficient baseload power close at hand.  It's just isn't a nuisance but jobs and industries stand to suffer.

Inequality Not Natural or Healthy

It's not just lefty liberals that are saying this. S&P says that our level of inequality is neither natural nor healthy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Religious Exemption From Anti-Abortion Laws

We can thank a batch of Satanists for suit that uses the other edge of the Hobby Lobby sword to protect nonbelievers from oppression by muddleheaded Christians.  A classic example of what to expect when one allows religion to overstep into civil society.

Estakio Beltran in the TCH

Here's a link to the Estakio Beltran article in the Tri-City Herald.

Easy Cancer Screening

Imagine what it would be like if screening for all types of cancer could be done with a simple blood test.  Many, many more malignancies could be caught much earlier and ambiguous symptoms could more quickly be confirmed as cancerous or not.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Universal Basic Income.

Max Ehrenfreund has some well-thought words about guaranteed income.  The basic idea is that as income-indexed reduction in assistance actually acts as an unfair tax on the poor.  Since then, he has expanded on the theme in the Washington Post.  And David Atkins added more depth to his thoughts in the Washington Monthly.  In some form this should be appealing to both sides of the aisle because if it is done right a great big bit of government bureaucracy can be simplified while we significantly improve the lives of those at the bottom of the economic scale.  I've heard an interesting counter-argument that the misery of American poverty is a major deterrent to completely uncontrollable illegal immigration.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Artificial Intelligence and the Evolution of Musical Style

An artificial intelligence algorithm has shown that stylistic evolution can be tracked programmatically.  The routine correctly places various works of the Beatles into the proper time sequence just from an analysis of the musical structure.  We humans have a sense of that when comparing early and later works but this program can actually quantify it.

It would be interesting to see how it applies to other musical artists such as Bach or even Carl Orff.

A Guaranteed Income

Perhaps it's time to have the discussion about using a guaranteed income to eliminate poverty in America.  Just think of how many piece-meal social programs that could be replaced if we, as a nation, found a way to provide a basic livable income to our most disadvantaged citizens.  Dylan Matthews points out that such a thing is indeed affordable.  In all honesty, there are a vanishing small few of us who have not arrived at where we are without some sort of unearned assistance.  Warren Buffet speaks of it as the birth lottery.  My parents' generation benefited significantly from the post-WWII GI bill that enabled erstwhile rural farm boys to receive college educations.  That generation, in turn, was able to establish middle-class lives that made it possible for their children to have greater opportunities than they would have found on an Oklahoma farm.

David Atkins adds his analysis of why it makes more sense in light of the fact that increases in productivity have lined the pockets of the wealthy while wages for our workes continue to stagnate.

What would a good guaranteed income system look like?  What is working or not working in other countries?  How do we give people the help they can use without providing incentives for perpetual dependency?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Budget and Debt Crisis - Imaginary

When your local Republican congressional candidates get in a lather about our federal budget and debt, rest assurred that it's only a figment of their imaginations.  The CBO reports that the ratio of debt to GDP will be flat for the next decade.

Dangerous Thing, Religion

A study found that children with religious upbringings have more difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Missing disasters

The ACA can be improved, there's no argument about that. But perhaps we shouldn't be listening to the critics who predicted disasters that didn't happen.  The people in our country deserve better thinkers than that.

Full Disclosure

Not big news here, but a clarification that if a company chooses to offer sub-standard health care benefits to its female employees, it must say so up front.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Voter Integrity? Right..

The "uniformity" argument doesn't make sense when the demand on polling places is not uniform.  The new laws make it harder for city dwellers than suburbanites.  The "voter fraud" so frequently cited simply doesn't exist.  What does exist is a clear pattern.  It's Republicans that are pushing these measures.  And the measures have the effect of disenfranchising voting groups that tend to vote for Democrats.  Republicans are clearly using their positions of power to maintain that power even if it means subverting the expression of popular will.  They are exhibiting a genuine disrespect for democracy and an embrace of moneyed imperialism.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Voter fraud is mostly a myth

Seven papers, 4 government inquiries, 2 news investigations and a court ruling have established it.  So don't talk about excessive government spending unless you are willing to stop wasting money on this rabbit chase.  What the studies show is that the fight against voter fraud is nothing more than suppression of the voting rights of poor people.  What a country!

Moderate voters are a myth

Our public debates can't make much progress until we realize moderate voters don't exist.  The apparent moderation we see in surveys is a fluke of statistics.  Typically someone identified as moderate actually has some radical views in some area or another.  Sometimes the views are political opposites such as simultaneously pro-life and anti-gun.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Piketty Protégé’s Theory on Tax Havens

In the wake of Piketty talking about the evils and persistence of inequality, we now have Gabriel Zucman talking about the harm done by the large-scale tax evasion practiced by the moneyd classes.
Because large-scale tax evasion skews key economics statistics, it hampers officials’ ability to manage the economy or make policy, Mr. Zucman says. It erodes respect for the law, preventing the government from carrying out one of its essential tasks. And it discourages job creation, since it rewards people and corporations for keeping money overseas, instead of investing it domestically.

Downdraft Tower

The persistent knock against wind power is that it is intermittent.  Here is a design that can
deliver power 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  Now we're talking!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Anti-microbial coatings

How nice would it be to have surfaces that not only killed germs, but could kill them for years.  These materials even prevent bio-films from forming that could harbor bacterial colonies.

Monday, June 02, 2014

New App

Are you stuck on the horns of a moral dillemma?  Yup, there's an app for that.

Acoustic Tractor Beam

An acoustic tractor beam sure beats chewing gum on a coat hanger to retrieve my lost guitar pick from behind the drier.

Direct Conversion of Biomass to Fuel

Renewable technology marches on.   This technique uses engineered microbes. 
"Now, without any pretreatment, we can simply take switchgrass, grind it up, add a low-cost, minimal salts medium and get ethanol out the other end," Westpheling said. "This is the first step toward an industrial process that is economically feasible."

Hydrogen Into Liquid Fuel

A technique for storing hydrogen in a liquid form has been developed that uses atmospheric CO2.  It's a catalytic process that combines hydrogen and CO2 into formic acid.  Then another catalytic process releases the hydrogen for use in combustion. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Copy and Delete Text in Images

This new Google Chrome extension called Naphtha, really works.  I think it's pretty cool.

Nuclear Startups

While the government has dropped its fee to power plants for disposal of spent fuel and the fuel continues to pile up, same new nuclear startups are working to generate more power from the spent fuel stockpiles.  The technique is to dissolve the fuel into a molten salt and completely burn the fissile material in it (something that can't be done with fuel in a solid form).  Molten salt reactors were successful experimentally back in the 50's but have yet to be built commercially.

WSU Students Win International Hydrogen Competition

Kudos to  the winners of the annual Hydrogen Student Design Contest.
The WSU team's fueling station design was safe and reliable while also lowering building costs of current stations by 75 percent.
Conducting an economic analysis, the students determined that filling a hydrogen fuel tank to go 300 miles would cost about $48, which is comparable to regular gasoline. They developed a business plan in which a portable hydrogen fuel station could work in conjunction with existing gas stations in a way that would benefit both entities.
"The design the students developed looks to be completely implementable right now,'' said Jake Leachman, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and an advisor on the project. "We want to build one, and we should. The business model/idea is innovative and could lead to a startup company.''
I'm happy to say that my son, Austin Miller, was on that team handling the economics and public policy issues.  Way to go!

Crowdfunding Safe Fusion Power?

An alternative nuclear fusion process is proposed by LPP Fusion that doesn't need the astronomic investments required by such this as the ITER.  Developers think they can have a 5 MW reactor by the end of the decade for a mere half million dollars. It would produce electrical power for about 0.06 cents per kWh. Rather than fight plasma instability, it capitalizes on it.  By fusing carbon and boron, ionized helium ions are produced without any radiated neutrons. The other isotopic products have a half-life of only 20 minutes which means the apparatus can be brought back to background levels in about 9 hours.  Since the output is charged particles, electricity can directly generated.  It could be a game-changer.

New Porous Silicon

From Penn State we have this: a method of producing porous silicon with much more surface area than the standard method.  It can be used to catalyze the production of hydrogen from water with only sunlight as the energy input. That would be interesting to see at an industrial scale.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Single Mother, Child Poverty Myth

It's often said that the high child poverty figures in the U.S. are due to the high numbers of single mothers.  This analysis shoots that hypothesis full of holes.  Other countries with similar rates of single mothers have much lower rates of children in poverty.  That's mainly because they do something about it with better welfare programs.
...high child poverty in the US is not caused by some overwhelming crush of single mother parenting. The lowest of the low-poverty countries manage to get along in the world with similar levels of single mother parenting just fine. Morever, relatively high child poverty rates are the rule in every single family type in the US, not just some single mother phenomenon. We plunge more than 1 in 5 of our nation's children into poverty because we choose to. It would be easy to dramatically cut that figure, but we'd rather not.

Salvation Gets Cheap

Advances in renewable energy have made a carbon-free energy regime financially achievable.  So it's time for those on the right who believe in the power of the market to surmount all obstacles (except environmental restrictions) and those on the left who believe that reduced economies are the price we must pay for a livable environment to just give it up.  We CAN have a better environment without sacrificing economic growth.

Ginseng and Influenza

Ginseng has shown anti-viral effects against influenza A and other viral infections of lung tissue.  It's another case of folk medicine proving itself in the laboratory.

A Breakthrough?

A human-made compound in animal tests has been shown to reverse the process of artherosclerosis.
Specifically, the experiments showed that treatment with D-PDMP led to:
  • a drop in the animals' levels of so-called bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein, LDL; 
  • a drop in oxidized LDL, a particularly virulent form of fat that forms when LDL encounters free radicals. Oxidized LDL easily sticks to the walls of blood vessels, where it ignites inflammation, damaging the vessel walls and promoting the growth of fatty plaque; 
  • a surge in good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein, HDL, known to counteract the effects of LDL by mopping it up; and 
  • a significant drop in triglycerides, another type of plaque-building fat.

  • The treatment also prevented fatty plaque and calcium deposits from building up inside the animals' vessels. These effects were observed in animals on a daily D-PDMP treatment even though they ate a diet made up of 20 percent triglycerides -- the human equivalent of eating a greasy burger for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, the researchers say, D-PDMP appears to precision-target the worst byproducts of aberrant cell growth signaling, such as oxidized LDL and the activity of certain chemicals that fuel vessel inflammation, without altering cell growth itself.
    This all sounds like great stuff.  Furthermore, the compound has been well-tested in animals and hasn't produced any side effects even at 10 times the effective dose.

    Piketty

    I'm sure this is a far too serious book for me to wade through, so I leave the heavy lifting to others who have the smarts and the inclination to do so.  However, I think it may become a landmark publication in the world of macro-economics.  It appears to be well researched and well thought out.  It supports the idea that a natural outcome of unfettered capitalism isn't a utopia but rather the banana-republic oligarchy toward which the U.S. is headed if not already arrived.  A possible prescription to keep that from happening could be a tax on wealth to balance out the rich-get-richer-just-because-they-are-rich trend.  It also clearly demonstrates the need for strong inheritance taxes and capital-gains taxes.  Concentration of wealth in the hands of the rentiers instead of the laborers distorts democracy.

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Natural Experiment with Unemployment Benefits

    The results are in.  By cutting off unemployment benefits we got to see if that incentivised the long-term unemployed to find more jobs.  It didn't.  It just managed to create more misery for no good reason.  On the other hand, the loss of that money going into the hands of spenders has further reduced the demand that is needed to really bring an expansion of job opportunities.

    The Sociopathic One Percent

    When Tim Draper did his polling on turning California into 6 new states, he was surprised at how poorly it was supported by the wealthier regions of the state.  Under his plan, the wealthier areas would no longer have to supported the more disadvantaged areas of the state.
    It's always a big shock to selfish rich people that most other well-to-do people aren't as selfish as they are. It's important to remember that many of the very wealthy are like Warren Buffett, people who vote primarily for Democrats and aren't afraid to pay a little more in taxes to have a fruitful, stable and fairer society. It's not even the 1% that are ruining things for the rest of us; it's a very sociopathic, very energetic fraction of that 1%. And they're really shocked when other people don't behave as asininely as they do.

    Oligarchy is US

    When put the numbers to it, it turns out that the US is, in fact, an oligarchy.
     "Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
    So, who is surprised at that finding?

    Carbon and Taxes

    In November, the Obama administration set the social cost of carbon dioxide at $37 per ton.  Many argue that that figure is too low. 

    The recent IPCC report estimates that it would take $0.15/kg of CO2 to solve the climate change problem.  If I do my math right, that works out to be a little less that $150/ per ton.

    The British Columbia carbon tax experiment at a rate of $30 per ton has proven to be a success.  Carbon emissions are down without any severe economic impacts despite the poor economy.  Note that there are special provisions in the BC law that mitigate the economic impact on low income households.

    That puts a framework around it.  We can start moving the right direction with a $30/ton figure.  But to really solve the problem we need to get closer to the $150/ton level.  With the higher taxes, there should be sufficient economic incentive for carbon sequestration efforts to begin to pay off.

    The Citizens Climate Lobby has produced legislation that starts with a $20/ton tax with an annual increase in the rate.  Unlike the BC law, only 60% of the proceeds are returned to the taxpayers with 25% going into the general fund and 10-15% going towards green energy subsidies.

    Personally, I think there is little need for any of this money to go into the general fund.  That is better addressed by income tax reform.  Nor, do I see a need for channeling any of the money into green energy subsidies.  The tax itself should be sufficient incentive for green energy development.

    Update:
    I went looking for oppositional articles to the BC carbon tax and found none.  Actually, many who opposed the tax have come to love it.  Because of the kickback to taxpayers, any repeal of the tax would have to be defended as a net tax increase--not a very popular idea.

    Furthermore, a carbon tax is much easier to administer than a cap-and-trade regime.  A carbon tax can be revenue-neutral way to modify economic behavior and perhaps even create a few new jobs as markets shift away from carbon emissions.

    Surviving a Nuclear Bomb: Update

    Some of us can still remember the days of backyard bomb shelters that eventually evolved into teeange makeout pads.  Just to keep current, here's today's best guide to surviving a nuclear explosion.  Best option is to be somewhere else.  It all gets worse from there.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Solar Danger

    Even something as perceptually benign as a solar power plant can have unexpected and unintentional consequences, such as becoming a solar energy equivalent of the La Brea tar pits.  Birds and insects get singed and thereby attract more birds and insects.

    Wednesday, April 09, 2014

    What Your Metadata Has To Say

    In a study of only 546 volunteers, it was shown that a great deal of sensitive information can be gleaned from a person's telephone metadata.  That's why the first thing investigators do in CSI shows is pull the suspects phone records.
    Mayer and his team showed that participants called public numbers of “Alcoholics Anonymous, gun stores, NARAL Pro-Choice, labor unions, divorce lawyers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, a Canadian import pharmacy, strip clubs, and much more.” ...
    “It highlights three key points. First, that the key part of the NSA’s argument—we weren’t collecting sensitive information so what is the bother?—is factually wrong. Second, that the NSA and the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court failed to think this through; after all, it only takes a little common sense to realize that sweeping up all numbers called will inevitably reveal sensitive information. Of course the record of every call made and received is going to implicate privacy. And third, it lays bare the fallacy of the Supreme Court’s mind-numbingly broad wording of the third-party doctrine in an age of big data: just because I reveal data for one purpose—to make a phone call—does not mean that I have no legitimate interest in that information, especially when combined with other data points about me.”

    Policies Have Consequences

    Some people may have lost their insurance because of Obamacare. But when states refuse to fully implement it, some people lose their lives.  What a country!

    Virginia is another state where it sucks to be among the working poor.  One can only hope that voters come to their senses and make some changes in their governors and in their state houses.

    Navy Deploys Lasers

    The US Navy is set to deploy ship-board laser weapons this summer.  They can target drones, small boats, light aircraft, and missiles.  It uses commercially-available technology and costs less than a dollar per shot.  The current defensive weaponry being replaced spews thousands of rounds of depleted uranium. 

    Tuesday, April 08, 2014

    CO2 Recycling

    Liquid Light's CO2 converter can turn this troublesome byproduct into over 60 chemicals.  Other companies are working on even more such processes.  So instead of sequestering CO2, fossil power plants should start looking at selling it to these chemical fabricators.

    What do New Jersey, Texas and Arizona have against Tesla?

    Back in the last century, auto dealer franchise laws were adopted in response to the monopolistic behavior of car manufacturers.  They also kept a portion of the profits from car sales in the states where the cars were being sold.  The inefficient layer of middle-men may have inflated prices a bit but some of that money remained in-state where it could be taxed for effectively.

    Now,Tesla is challenging that business practice.  In any given location, there aren't enough cars sold to support a traditional dealership.  And the prices are already steep enough such that bumping them up to support middle-men would hurt the small volume of sales even more.  Furthermore, no smudge-pot car dealership is going to be effective at selling Tesla's because of the conflict of interest that comes with selling a product that would supplant the product line that generates almost all of your profits.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2014

    Hypocrisy Lobby

    Y'know, if you are going to deny coverage for you employees to use certain contraceptives, you should really stop investing in the companies that make them.  Hobby Lobby's 401k retirement plans have $73 million in mutual funds that hold stocks in the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the birth controls to which the company objects.

    Natural Gas Into Liquid Fuel

    Over at BYU, they are turning raw natural gas into upgraded liquid alcohol fuel.  The catalysts are not exotic and the process runs at around 180 degrees Celsius. 

    Mugshots from DNA

    With a surprisingly small sample database, researchers have built eerily accurate facial reconstructions from just a person's DNA.  My first thought is the forensics applications but it could go so much farther than that.

    Failed Republican Experiment

    In 2012, Kansas enacted severe tax cuts.  They could have been the shining demonstration of the success of a the Republican low-tax utopia.  But instead of the wet dream, low-tax Kansas became a nightmare.  Schools are poorly funded.  The damage by the Great Recession to public services has been deepened and extended rather than alleviated.  There was no improvement to the Kansas economy.  New jobs and earnings have lagged behind the rest of the country.  And the situation is projected to continue to be worse than the rest of the nation.  But it was good for the wealthy.

    Do we need any more evidence that those calling for lower taxes are only interested in lining their pockets at the expense of society as a whole?

    H/T Hullabaloo

    Nifty Fuel Cell

    This solar-induced fuel cell catalyzes biomass such as powdered wood into electricity.  It can use all kinds of biomass and the catalyst functions from sunlight or low-grade heat.  Pretty cool, I say.