Friday, December 12, 2014

US Navy successfully deploys laser weapon

This is just way cool! Watch the video of how the LAWS system on the USS Ponce can take out small threats like drones and small craft. What they don't say is how automated they can make it in terms of target acquisition. They show it being operated by guys with joysticks, but methinks they actually have a much better way of doing it than we are being told.

Russia's Nuclear Navy Legacy

Russia's legacy is a problem. It's been described as a floating Chernobyl. Russia is a story of what can happen with nuclear issues when safety is not the first and foremost concern.

It's interesting to compare this record to the USN record noted previously. This tells me that those who have concerns about the dangers of nuclear energy, have every right to be concerned. It also tells me that, with a proper safety culture, those concerns can be put to rest.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

It Takes Money to Save Money

Linda Tirado documents the plight of the poor. Not having money generates a vicious cycle. You can't get ahead because you don't have the resources to recover from any little thing that gets in your way. Every setback that would be minor for most folks, is a another major struggle for the poor.

Surely, our country can do better than this.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

How red wine prevents cancer

It seems that the resveratrol in red wine helps prevent cancer by killing damaged cells. If the damaged cells manage to live too long, they can become the seeds of the disease.


Renewables Won't Work

A couple of Stamford-educated Google engineers worked on the Google RErenewable energy simply won't work
. For the high energy demands of modern developed society, it just isn't enough. The estimates that it can work are typically back-of-the-envelope calculations that are much more simplified than the true big picture.
However, I doubt that nuclear energy was included in the RE column like it should be.

The Smart Mouse

They replaced the glial cells in a mouse with human cells. The human cells multiplied and overran the mouse glial cells. And it turned out that the mouse was smarter than the average bear...er, mouse. There's more to advanced brain function than just the neurons. Improved connection make for better brain function, even across species.

Sane Drug Policy

The Netherlands has a drug policy that encourages users to get help rather than fear arrest. There drugs are seen as a public health issue. And, guess what, the percentage of their population that have used marijuana and cocaine is far smaller than here in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Basic income

Dylan Matthews takes another run at the universal basic income approach. It's a worthy effort but I don't think just giving people money is a real answer to the problem. All men (and women) may be created equal but by the time they get to life's economic starting line such is clearly not the case. Warren Buffet talks about the roots of his success being in that he won the birth lottery. He had good parents, good health, and was able to get a good education. If we really want to honor the "created equal" ideal, we need to find ways to level out the birth lottery playing field. The first goal of our welfare programs should be to improve the lot of children who have to run a race just to get to the starting line. This means food assistance, housing assistance, health care assistance, educational assistance, and guidance and counseling, and other sorts of things that help surmount obstacles. Another goal should be whatever aid is appropriate to individuals who are the least worthy to receive it. Even if a person has no ambition or is completely devoid of a work ethic, would it be moral to expect them to starve on the street?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Being Wrong

Paul Krugman notes that politics determines who has power, not who as the truth. One would hope that those in power would be operating on concepts based in reality. But history is replete with examples in which such was not the case. It will be interesting to see what history says about the 114th Congress.

Republicans predicted that deficit spending would lead to rising interest rates. It hasn't.
Boehner urged a slashing of spending. Government that have done that have depressed their economies.
At the state level, Republican governors have slashed taxes on the wealthy to stimulate growth. It hasn't worked.
They predicted that too few would enroll in the ACA for it to work, more people would lose insurance than gain it, and costs would soar. Instead enrollment was strong, many more people have insurance, and costs have moderated.
They are so very wrong about climate change and generations could suffer for that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Europe's Depression Worry

Like American workers, German workers have not had much of an increase in wages recently. Therefore, they aren't spending much money and their economy is stagnant. Government bonds have been selling at a negative yield. That means the German government actually makes money when it borrows. But still  the German government refuses to invest in badly needed infrastructure. Such an investment would stimulate an economy that badly needs it.

Fortunately, things are not quite that bad in the States. But the Republicans could make it so if they get the austerity they want.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Laser Weapons

A rap against laser/directed energy weapons has always been that they needed clear weather to be effective.  The latest laser from Boeing seems to have solved that problem. The solution has been demonstrated at low power. The next step is to take it to full power and see how it works against potential targets.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Motorcycle lane splitting

One of those counter-intuitive findings, motorcycle lane splitting is better for riders, better for drivers, and safer than sitting in traffic. We aren't talking about screaming speed here. A motorcyclist is in more danger of being creamed from behind while standing in a line a cars than he is of being hurt while tooling along at a reasonable speed between two lines of cars. Getting motorcycles out of the car lanes reduces congestion for everybody.

America's Navy The Unsung Heroes Of Nuclear Energy - Forbes

The US Navy has logged over 5,400 reactor years of accident-free nuclear power. This a testament to the skill of the crews that man our ships and the reactor designs we use in them.

Financial 'Experts' No Better At Finance Than Normal Humans

Mutual fund managers, those wonderful experts that know so much more than the rest of us about valuing and trading securities, really don't do much better than the rest of us. This contributes to the case for solid consumer protections in financial instruments.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Need A Surgeon General

Little did the NRA and its senators know that rejecting the Surgeon-General appointee would leave us leaderless in the fight against ebola. Sometimes there is a bigger picture than one's own hand-gun paranoia.

The Scablands

Ars Technica takes a look at what is a local landscape for me. It is truly unique on this planet.

Nuclear Power As Renewable Energy

This article makes a case for adding nuclear to the renewable energy list. The supply of fuel is limitless when one considers that scarcity will raise prices to the point that procurement technologies that are too expensive today become feasible at higher prices. That includes recycling and fast reactors for breeding fuel. The thorium cycle has yet to be exploited as well. Fully recycled fuel has no long-lived radioactive wastes. And nuclear power doesn't add to the CO2 problem.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Austerity Has Been a Big Disaster

Even more than we thought. And Krugman has big serious worries whether Europe can recover from its experiment with austerity.
It's all about the fiscal multiplier. Stimulus, you see, is measured by how much one dollar of government spending increases GDP. But in a normal economy, it doesn't. That's because the Federal Reserve has its inflation target that it's determined to hit (or at least not overshoot). Government spending, though, can flood the economy with money, raising prices in the process. So the Fed, in turn, would either raise rates to offset this spending it doesn't want, or wouldn't cut rates like it otherwise would have.

Either way, the Fed's actions would keep the economy from being any bigger with more government spending than it would be without it.

But this calculus changes when there's a recession, especially if interest rates are at zero. In that case, the Fed wouldn't want to neutralize stimulus spending. So GDP would grow at least as much as spending does - what economists call a multiplier of one - and maybe more since there could be spillover effects.

Think about it like this: spending money on roads and bridges might boost the economy more than just the money the government directly spends. That's because the newly-paid construction workers will go out and spend their money too - and so on, and so forth. Indeed, even the oh-so-orthodox International Monetary Fund estimates that the fiscal multiplier might be as high as 1.7 right now.

Production-Ready Aeromobil Flying Car To Debut

This video shows the aeromobil on the road and taking off into the air. Has the flying car finally arrived?

Fusion On the Cheap

The dynomak from University of Washington students could be a challenger to the big money designs. It's spherical in design and the magnetic containment field is produced by the current in the plasma.

An Advance in Carbon Capture

Liquid capture is energy-efficient but not that efficient at capturing CO2. Solids can capture CO2 efficiently but it takes lots of energy to move the CO2 out of the capture material. A slurry combination may be both cost-effective and energy-efficient.

More on Cold Fusion

This merits watching. Even if it isn't what it looks like, it could open the door on some very interesting physics. If it is what it looks like, it could revolutionize the world of power production and thereby just about everything else in the economy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

History Is Important

I've been really enjoying Ken Burns' series on Roosevelt.  Being a baby boomer, I don't have as much appreciation as I should of how much he changed this country and our philosophy of government for the better. If you can catch it, watch it.

Hospitals Benefit Under Obamacare

Despite all the hand-wringing, hospitals are seeing a boost to their bottom lines because more people are insured now. Many of the costs that just had to be written off now get remunerated. Duh.

Main Source of Fracking Gas Leaks Discovered

It isn't the materials that are injected into deep geologic strutures. It's leakage from faulty well casings. This makes perfect sense.  For all the touted technology excellence you would think the industry would pay more attention to the concrete.

Obscure Power of Small Donations

This piece by Usha Rodrigues in Slate shows how, with our convoluted tax code, even small donation can be corrupting for Congress.  In the JOBS act, there was a special provision inserted that only benefited a single corporate interest. And, strangely enough, the principals of the corporation made modest donations to the congress critters that engineered the changes.  These principals had never donated to congressional campaigns before. Quid meet Quo.  The overall impact was so small that it went by completely under the corruption-detection radar. But it was corruption nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sweden: Where School Vouchers Failed.

Choice oriented vouchers resulted in a steep decline in test scores in Sweden. The voucher system led to inflated grades with a faulty incentive system.

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.