Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Prop 8 Case Analysis

Eskridge and Spedale have a nice analysis of the respective positions of the sides on the Prop 8 case. It boils down to whether the state has a rational basis for denying a portion of the population equal protection under the law. Just because the majority has sufficient prejudice to pass a constitutional amendment isn't sufficient. The US Constitution's equal protection clause trumps and the amendment can be ruled unconstitutional.

2nd Generation Fusion

While a milestone has been achieved on the pellet smashing front, a new form of plasma confinement has entered the stage:
"Summarizing the difference between the two approaches, Kesner explains that in a tokamak, the hot plasma is confined inside a huge magnet, but in the LDX the magnet is inside the plasma. The whole concept, he says, was inspired by observations of planetary magnetospheres made by interplanetary spacecraft. In turn, he says, for planetary research the experiments in LDX can yield 'a lot more subtle detail than you can get by launching satellites, and more cheaply.'"

Darn those Canadians

When faced with the same economic circumstances as the US in the meltdown days and with essentially only 5 banks, Canada weather the storm quite nicely. How? regulation, regulation, regulation.
This tendency to react to the mere mention of Canada with either yawns or guffaws may be why, as the world struggles to figure out what went wrong in 2007 and 2008, not much international attention is being devoted to figuring out what went right in Canada. Canada is the only G7 country to survive the financial crisis without a state bail-out for its financial sector. Two of the world’s 15 most highly valued financial institutions – a list dominated by China – are Canadian and a recent World Economic Forum report rated the Canadian banking system the world’s soundest. Even Barack Obama, on the eve of a visit last year to Ottawa, the Canadian ­capital, admitted: “In the midst of the enormous economic crisis, I think Canada has shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system and the economy in ways that we haven’t always been.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Milestone for controlled nuclear fusion

That's right. The good people at Lawrence Livermore have been successful at squeezing dummy fuel pellets to the shape, heat, and density needed to ignite a fusion reaction. Now they are taking a break to install the heavy concrete needed to shield out the neutrons fusion reactions will eventually produce. If all goes well they could be lighting them up by the end of the year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Damn those documents

Document came to light in court today make it clear that despite protestations to the contrary, the Mormon church gave direct help to the Prop 8 campaign. The documents even explain how to do it so that there would be plausible deniability. So much for that moral high ground. Welcome to the swamp.

Update: Here's a link to telling portions of the transcript.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Making a List, Checking it Twice

When something as simple as a checklist can reduce major surgery complications by 36% and deaths by 47% there is genuine hope for qualitative improvement in health care without higher costs. What are the systems and processes in your life that could be improved by a systematic checklist?

Avatar and real-life science

It may seem that Pandora is a creation of fantasy but there is some pretty decent science behind all that. Floating mountains, bioluminescence, a life-bearing moon. All are possible.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Productive Carbon Sequestration

Terra Preta is interesting stuff. As a soil it is highly productive. Pre-European Amazon civilization flourished in an area with notoriously poor soil because of it. Research has shown that not only is it productive, it actually can gradually sequester more carbon from the surrounding organic material and become more and more productive. It entices one to start building one's own garden with it. And extending the thought, what would the impact be if large agricultural operations began to use it?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Reach of the "Family"

From Jeff Sharlet on "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power"
All the following folks are part of this fundamentalist Christian organization. It's noteworthy that the stated goal of the organization is to accumulate as much power as possible in the name of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, from their actions it's clear that Christian morality has little to do with their methods. The Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means method tends to dominate their practices.
Players include:

John Ensign (R Sen-NV)
Mark Sanford (R Gov-SC)
Chip Pickering (fmr R Cng-MS)
Doug Coe (longtime leader)
Joe Pitts (R Cng-PA)
Sam Brownback (R Gov-KS)
Suharto (dictator-Indonesia)
Siad Barre (dictator-Somalia)
Chuck Grassley (R Sen-IA)
Todd Tiahrt (R Cng-KS)
Jerry Moran (R Cng-KS)
David Kuo, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,
James Inhofe (R Sen-OK)
Tom Coburn (R Sen-OK)
Jim DeMint (R Sen-SC)
Lindsey Graham (R Sen-SC)
John Thune (R Sen-SD)
John Ashcroft (fmr R Atty Genl)
Ed Meese (fmr R Atty Genl)
Pete Domenici (fmr R Sen-NM)
Don Nickles (fmr R Sen-OK)
Joe Pitts (R Sen-PA)
Frank Wolf, (R Sen-VA)
Zach Wamp, (R Cng-TN)
Robert Aderholt, (R Cng-AL
Ander Crenshaw (R Cng-FL)
Todd Tiahrt, (R Cng-KS)
Marsha Blackburn, (R Cng-TN)
Jo Ann Emerson, (R Cng-MO)
John R. Carter, (R Cng-TX)
Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, known for putting the Ten Commandments in public places
Mark Pryor (D Sen-AR)
Chuck Colson (fmr Nixon aide)
Steve Largent, (R Cng-OK)
Mike Doyle, (D Cng-PA)

Quite a list. And it contains some of the biggest obstructionists around.

Biological Highway Designers

In Britain someone used slime mold to design what an efficient highway system would look like.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Non-human Persons

Since the bottle-nosed dolphin has a brain that is second only to the human brain, perhaps they need to be considered to be non-human persons. They can recognize themselves in a mirror and use the mirror to view hard-to-see portions of their own bodies. A wild dolphin was taught to tail-walk in captivity. When released it taught others in the wild to tail-walk. They teach each other to use sponges to protect their snouts as they root for spiny fish in the seafloor.

Killer whales may be a different matter...

Can I Sell You a Quake-proof Bridge?

An alloy of nickel and titanium called nitinol can deform then pop back into its original shape. In shake tests bridge models using this material have been built that can experience a 6.9 quake and remain standing.

Pole on the Move

From National Geographic:
"The magnetic north pole had moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year.
In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year."

Sex and shopping behavior

A recent study indicates that having sex on the brain increases conspicuous consumption in males and conspicuous charity in females. Interesting.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Seeing things differently

In his book, "The Big Questions" Steven Landsburg explains why colors are not perceived the same by different species or even different individuals. To paraphrase, we see color because objects reflect various frequencies of light differently. Furthermore, regardless of the full spectrum of color reflected by an object, the eyes and the brain can't really process it all. So as a compromise groups of nearby frequencies get average into a single frequency. Say, for example, a flower reflects light in 7 distinct frequencies. Your brain can only process 3 frequencies simultaneously. The eye distills the 7 frequencies into 3 by averaging the nearby frequencies into a single signal. If a different flower reflects different frequencies that also average to the same 3 frequencies distilled from the first flower our brains will see two different flowers with exactly the same color even though the real reflected spectrums may be quite different.

Different species and even different people whose eyes use different averaging rules will see different colors than most humans do. An eagle sees colors that are unimaginable to humans. Humans see colors that are unimaginable to dogs. Some humans whom we call color-blind simply have slightly different average processes. The color combinations that would effectively camoflage an object to regular humans are not at all effective on "color-blind" individuals. In such a case one could say the latter actually have better visual acuity.