Saturday, November 28, 2015

It's A Conspiracy!

Paul Krugman points out that when the Republican wring their hands about how tin hat looney Donald Trump someone needs to remind them that he is a monster they have created by acting as if all allegations have validity as long as they promote the desired agenda. Truthfulness is immaterial.

That Mysterious Star Again

 Following up on a previous post about a mysterious star, it turns out that there is a much more likely possibility, a family of comets. At the sound of hooves think horses, not zebras.

It's a Brave New World

I'm reminded of the Ender series of books by Orson Scott Card or the movie Gattaca. Those were stories and speculations but this is real. With CRISPR we now have gene splicing that can be exact, quick, and easy. While it may open up a whole new front on cures for scores of diseases, it could also become an ethical horror story. Where do you hope such power can lead? What do you fear about it? Could CRISPR be responsible for many future headlines?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Energy From Fossil Fuel Without Carbon Dioxide

This process extracts hydrogen from methane (natural gas) in a clean and efficient manner. It's a form of catalytic cracking similar to what is done when crude oil is refined into things like kerosene, diesel fuel, gasoline, and feedstocks for the chemical industry. Unlike previous methods, there is no carbon dioxide by-product. The by-product instead is solid black carbon which is chemically useful. Rather than catalysts, the method bubble methane through a liquid metal. When the bubbles pop on the surface, carbon is left on the surface of the liquid and hydrogen escapes into the reactor.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Real Story Of Thanksgiving

It seems the history of Thanksgiving involves plague, human trafficking, and assassination. About par for the course when it comes to European settlers and the indigenous inhabitants.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This Is a Big Deal

The Blue Origins booster rocket just demonstrated a soft landing. After so many worthy efforts by so many different enterprises, Blue Origins gets it first. And it is a beautiful sight!

Inconvenient Truths for the Environmental Movement

While Republicans and conservatives deny climate change and build energy policy around fossil fuels, environmentalists have their own form of denial going on. Renewables need a reliable backup power so the question should always be wind and what, solar and what, etc. The most environmentally friendly backup power is nuclear.

Rotary Engine Delivers 75 Percent Thermal efficiency

A new rotary engine design delivers amazing efficiency. By going back to basic thermodynamics, LiquidPiston has developed an engine with a very high compression ratio that lets the fuel-air mixture burn completely at a constant volume. Then it is allowed to expand to near-atmospheric pressure. The result is a quiet diesel engine that does not need a muffler. And it doesn't need elaborate cooling because there isn't a great deal of waste heat.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hordes of Mexican Illegals? Not So Much

This makes the Southern border fence look all the more silly. It seems that 
more Mexicans have returned to Mexico in the last few years than have come to into the U.S.

Unintended Consequences

Sometimes it's better to do nothing. It seems the products used to disperse oil after the Deep Horizon blowout made it more difficult for microbes to clean it all up. All the oil dropped to the bottom and is just sitting there. It will sit there for a really long time.

Predicting Learning Capacity

For parents with young children, try this raisin test. Children who pass it successfully at 20-months-old will do well in school. Those who don't will have a bigger struggle.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Where Laws Really Come From

New software called Legislative Influence Detector has been developed which can analyze the language of a congressional bill and determine the origins of the text. 
To get the real story behind a bill, the software digs through 500,000 state bills, as well as thousands of pieces of text drafted by lobbyist groups that were saved into a database. An algorithm then calculates the top 100 documents most relevant to the bill in question before examining each one more closely, searching for passages the two have in common.
We can use this like the ads on NASCAR car drivers uniforms to see who has purchased the legislation in question. Unfortunately, we can't tell how much they paid for it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ted Cruz For President

Michael Brown gives his reasons for endorsing Ted Cruz.

  1. He is a man of unshakable, conservative moral convictions; 
  2. He is willing to take on the Washington establishment; 
  3. We need a radical shift in the direction of our country, and his team has asked me to help get out the evangelical vote.
Of course, no candidate can do it all.  A good candidate is dependent on God's help. Even scripture says that when good people lead, the nation prospers and when bad people lead, the nation suffers.

Michael says,
But in looking for the leader who most strongly fits my criteria – being unshakably pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-Israel; having a good handle on economic issues, immigration, and national security; and not being part of the political establishment – Senator Cruz comes out on top, and I genuinely believe he has a real possibility of making it all the way.
So if you value Mr Brown's opinion, Cruz is your guy.

But if you, on the other hand, think the likes of Michael Brown represents some of the most destructive ideas which would be just terrible for this country and the people who live in it, Cruz needs to be laughed out of public life.

Poor State Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity has scored all states on their legal structures in place to avoid political corruption. It turns out that no state performs well.  Most just suck, but some have some serious problems. It sounds like there are some real opportunities for improvement.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Job-Killing Obama

Just for fun, here's a graph that compares the change in private sector employment between the Bush years and the Obama years. It seems clears that, to whatever degree a president's policies influence job growth, both presidents had a inherited slump followed by a growth curve. The big difference is that Obama inherited a bigger slump that began during the Bush years and has delivered much better growth that has yet to level off.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Making Fuels from Air

Given that we may be passed the tipping point on global warming, it may be time to think about reversing the process. Here is a method to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. 
The process uses a large wall of fans, known as a contactor, to push air through a liquid that reacts with the CO2. That carbon dioxide-rich solution is then put through several processing steps to create a purified stream of CO2 gas and the liquid that is returned to the contactor. Keith and his team have cleverly combined industrial processes that are already in use in existing industries, for instance in paper mills.
It requires power, but with a carbon-free power source it could be used to create feedstock for our current carbon-based chemical industry from the carbon that pollutes the air. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Multilevel Marketing Scam

Is conservative politics nothing more than a multilevel marketing scam? Groups that raise money to support candidates or lobby for conservative causes seem to do nothing more than line the pockets of the consulting firms made up of people who started the fundraising groups to begin with . Nice work, if you can get it.

Update: Krugman has more links to more stories on this issue.  There's a nice graph about how the Tea Party Leadership Fund spends the dollars it collects from donors. Only 14% goes to actual candidate activities. People with that kind of passion coupled with a dearth of critical thinking are such easy marks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mysterious Star

There is a candidate for the most mysterious star in our galaxy. It is truly unique in that there are a great number of things which block its light on a regular cycle. If it were a young star, this could be explained as dust and debris left over from the star formation. But it isn't young. Over time gravity consolidates this stuff into planets which block comparatively little light. This behavior is truly anomalous. Out of 150,000 stars studied for potential exo-planets, this is the only one that has this much blockage.

Perhaps we have found our first Dyson sphere. Could it be that an alien civilization is in the process of constructing large structures in orbit around a star to capture its energy?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The China Debt Fizzle

When are we going to stop believing the idle fear-mongers? Remember when we used to fear the possibility that China would stop buying US Treasury bills? In recent times,
they have been selling off the debt they hold. And nothing much has happened. That's one less thing to worry about.

Lockheed Martin begins manufacturing ATHENA laser weapon

Cool. Lasers mounted on vehicles. By the time the Russians get the kinks ironed out with their cruise missiles, we will have a laser-equipped military.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Benghazi Bites Back

In light of the admission by Kevin McCarthy that the Benghazi committee's 
goal was to embarrass Hillary Clinton, whatever influence it may have had will shortly be evaporated. Not only was it a witch hunt, they have actually copped to that out loud. As Hillary proceeds to make hay out of the Republicans misuse of the public trust to pursue political vendettas, expect the Republican stock to go down as Hillary's fundraising goes up.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Health Care Is Not A Normal Free Market

In another example of how free market economics fails in a health care model,
a study shows that profits drive the propagation of new health technologies rather than their value to human welfare, In other words, if a technological innovation is really good for people but is difficult to commercialize, it doesn't attract investor funding. How much better would health care be if other things were valued as much as profits?

Women's Health Care and Catholic hospitals.

There seems to be a trend of religious-sponsored hospital systems taking over non-religious systems. Perhaps it's because they don't face the same pressures to produce profits. Running at a loss may be acceptable as long as the loss is not excessive. But the clientele pay a price. Religious hospital systems more things in their agenda that affordable, quality health care. Medical procedures that relate to sexual activities are not equal to other procedures that protect health and relieve suffering. In an attempt to call these hospital systems to account about this, the ACLU is suing Catholic hospitals for their policies that place non-medical restrictions on the care they provide.

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.