Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fukushima radioactivity and California

Before the hysteria machine gets all wound up, one should note that Fukushima radioactivity poses little threat to California.  As usual with these sorts of things, background radiation that everyone lives with every day without batting an eye completely washes out the Fukushima contribution.  It's only because of the peculiar isotopes and really sensitive instruments that we can even identify it at all.  The real killer in all this was the circumstance of living too close to the coastline where tsunamis can come through your door.

Echo Chamber Effects

It's conventional wisdom that the echo chamber effect has increased our political polarization.  Now, the math backs it up.  Even our affinity search engines contribute to the effect. They tend to recommend articles that are similar to the ones we like to read.  Before too long, all you see are things that mesh with your own point of view.  The lesson here is that if we are going to govern for all the people, we need to make the significant effort to read the stuff from the other viewpoint and try to understand how other folks see the situation.

Cheating Our Children

The voices on the right like to use the charge that when the government runs a deficit we are cheating our children. But the truth is actually the reverse of that.  Interest rates are low because businesses and individuals are sitting on plenty of cash because there is a lack of good investment prospects brought about by the shortage of demand.  We cheat our children when we don't put that money to work by not investing it in infrastructure and education.  Businesses and individuals don't do infrastructure and educations, government does.  The government needs to be borrowing all that unused money and use this opportunity to make the future brighter for our children.

Passive Cooling in Full Daylight

If you could build cooling panels that radiate excess heat into space in would be a nifty thing.  These guys have.  The trick is to absorb incoming heat and re-radiate that energy out at a frequency that isn't absorbed by the atmosphere.  It's a greenhouse effect dodge.

Fuel From Air

This is really old news now, but the concept is interesting. This is another one of those enhance biological process that converts atmospheric CO2 into sugars that can then be processed into fuel.

Hemp for Cooking Oil

Once our nation gets past having hemp around for recreational use, we should capitalize on the many useful industrial applications of this fine crop including excellent cooking oil.  It's nutritionally similar to olive oil but with a longer shelf life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Debt-Free Higher Education

Oregon House Bill 3472 proposes as system by which students get free college tuition in exchange for a small percentage of their future earnings for 20 years.  Students would have no debt, no interest, and the rate would not change.  Over time it is expected that the system will create stable funding for higher education without the profit-seeking middlemen and the crushing student debt burden.

Missouri Guns

It's a no-brainer that easy access to firearms will result in more deaths by gunfire.  Yet many, for various reasons, feel that the level of carnage is either non-existent or justifiable.  With this study, the argument for the former weakens significantly.  So one must ask, are the additional 60 murders per year in Missouri offset by some other public good?  Has the sacrifice of innocent lives brought about any discernible benefit?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Graphene for Desalination and Other Filtering

Graphene's peculiar characteristics allow it be fabricated into a high flux filter for water.  Fabricated in layers like mother-of-pearl, it lets water quickly pass through while selectively rejecting other sorts of molecules including salts.  The filtering pores are customizable such that they can be tailored to inhibit dissolved molecules of a given size.

Plastic Bags Into Diesel

University of Illinois researchers have demonstrated a method that can convert plastic shopping bags into diesel fuel more efficiently than crude oil.  I wonder what the plastic bag equivalent to a barrel of crude is.

Effects of Inequality

Krugman points to interesting research that shows mere affluence can make your opinions more conservative. Lottery winners become less interested in income equality.  In other research, Krugman notes that austerity produces more income inequality.  The rich care less and less about the unfortunate even when their riches are unearned.  And the austerity policies supported by the rich, makes them richer and everyone else poorer.

Break Even

Just want to note this notable milestone.  Lawrence-Livermore reports that they have been able to get more energy out of a fusion reaction than they put into it.  The ironic thing is that they weren't actually working on developing fusion power, but instead were doing research for nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Volkswagen Helping Unions Organize

Why is a major automaker assisting organization efforts in right-to-work Tennessee?  Because the Germans have learned that having a union can boost productivity and provide better flexibility during downturns.  The key idea is an entity known as a "works council".  Managers like the councils.  Here's why.
There are three major advantages of councils. You're forced to consider in your decision making process the effect on the employees in advance…this avoids costly mistakes. Second, works councils will in the final run support the company. They will take into account the pressing needs of the company more than a trade union can, on the outside. And third, works councils explain and defend certain decisions of the company towards the employees. Once decisions are made, they are easier to implement.

Neutrinos in the News

A recent paper hints that they may be much more massive than current understanding acknowledge.  That would explain why there were fewer galaxy clusters in the early universe that can be explained by current estimates of neutrino mass.

It might also explain why they are more affected by passing through the earth than they should be.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Creationism Is Dangerous

Something you should know about your friends that hold to creationism is that they are in the grip of a near-cultish belief system. This HBO documentary demonstrates that.
Creationism, the documentary reveals, isn't a harmless, compartmentalized fantasy. It's a suffocating, oppressive worldview through which believers must interpret reality-and its primary target is children. For creationists, intellectual inquiry is a sin, and anyone who dares to doubt the wisdom of their doctrine invites eternal damnation.

Interesting Nazi Legacy

OK, how many of you knew that the popular sacrament of the 60's was gifted to us by Nazi scientists?  I remember hearing that it came from CIA research but I hadn't heard from where they got it.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Peak Oil Strategy

Our local PNNL facility produces a method of making crude oil from algae.  It bypasses that whole bury-it-underground-for-millions-of-years-and-drill-for-it thing.

Oklahoma Fights Gay Marriage

First, a federal judge strikes down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban.  Then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel mandates that all states must not disciminate against same-sex marriages when providing benefits for their National Guard members.  In response, Oklahoma stops providing benefits to all married members of its National Guard.  It's possible that someday they might twist themselves into dropping marriage status as a consideration for any and all state programs.  This could be fun to watch.  Unless, of course, you live in Oklahoma.

Gummy Lithium Btteries

Wazzu scientists have a better lithium-ion battery for you.  It works as well as the liquid kind but without the fire hazard.
You can stretch, smash, and twist it, and it continues to conduct electricity nearly as well as liquid electrolytes. Furthermore, the gummy electrolyte should be easy to assemble into current battery designs, says Zhong.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Pensions vs. Corporate Welfare

This article compares the funds states put into pensions to funds they give away in corporate tax breaks.  This may be an unfair comparison but it raises interesting questions.

Lousiana wants to cut its $350 million state pension plan while handing out $1.8 billion in corporate tax breaks.  It's the worst state at this, but all states give specialized tax breaks to keep and attract industry.  But are those breaks compensated for by higher revenues from the economic activity that is attracted?

Corporations have perfected the practice of getting states to bid against one another with tax breaks.  Any state that wishes to avoid this unilaterally disarms itself.  Much like individual workers, the only way states can get out of this bind seems to be to organize. 

Abortion Rate Lowest Since 1973

When one sees a statistic that the U.S. Abortion Rate Hits Lowest Point Since 1973 it makes me want to see why.  It's interesting to note that rate peaked back in 1981 with 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women and plateaued at around 19.4 from 2005 to 2008.  Then it dropped to 16.9 by 2011.  The key cause isn't the drop in the number of providers due to more restrictive laws.  With more contraceptive use, the overall pregnancy and birth rates have declined as well.  Perhaps the recent recession and available contraception has led more folks to delay children for the time being.

Another factor has been the more frequent use of medication abortions.  These make abortions more accessible and easier to do earlier in the pregnancies.

It is yet too early to see any impact from some of the recently enacted anti-abortion restrictions.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

An Alternative to Obamacare

The Republicans have finally provided their alternative to the ACA.  It should really give Obamacare a boost because, frankly, the alternative proposals are unpleasantly aromatic.

Too Poor For Obamacare

In its original form the ACA provided aid for the really poor folks by expanding Medicaid.  But with a recent Supreme Court decision, states are free to opt out of that.  As a result, the poorest folks get left out completely.  There are a bunch of governors that need to be unelected since they clearly don't care a whit about their poorest citizens.

The Cult and the Brain

TED talk presenter, Diane Benscoter, shares her experience as a member of a cult and how it works in a brain.  She references Kathleen Taylor about the mental illness aspect of religious fundamentalism.  At the root of it all is a loop of circular thinking that nothing can penetrate and can make it possible to rationalize anything.  It isn't that there's evil at work but rather a fault in human reasoning capacity that others can happily exploit for their own ends.

Sweet Crude Biofuel

Genetically-modified yeasts can convert table sugar into complex lipids that can be used instead of petroleum-based products.  Now just how are we going to produce all the sugar that is needed?

Greenhouse Gases into Chemicals

For a generation the major raw material for the chemical industry has been petroleum.  How much better it would be if our greenhouse gases could be converted into useful chemicals!