Thursday, December 31, 2015

Practical Learning

This article lists 9 things that should be included in a good practical education.

1. How to file your taxes.
2. How to navigate the world of office politics. 
3. How to build credit. 
4. How to be confident in yourself. 
5. How to maintain your car. 
6. How to manage your money. 
7. How to cook. 
8. How to deal with breakups.
9. How to clean. 

SpaceX's Successful Landing

Earlier I reported on the success of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origins booster stage landing and said it was a pretty big deal. I want to make note that now Space-X has done it with a completed orbital launch. This is a bigger deal. In the not too distant future, such booster returns will be routine and the high cost of orbital missions will drop dramatically. Many opportunities and potential problems can be expected with the exponentially cheaper access to space.

Evidence That Strong Gun Laws Work

A new study finds that states with stricter regulations on firearms see a lower rate of shooting deaths. While the CDC is prohibited from studying gun violence statistics in terms of public health and safety, other organizations have been gathering data. States were scored on the strength of their gun laws and instances of accidental shooting, homicides, and suicides involving firearms were counted. This is just a correlation, not a causation. Other factors like poverty and education were not considered.

But the fact of it is that there are variations in the shooting death rates. It certainly makes sense to look into what work to reduce the rate and what can be eliminated that increases that rate.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Future Exploration

Perhaps my grandchildren will live to see a mission to this destination. It's a potential earth-like planet only 14 light-years away. Imagine the possibilities.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reversing Age-related Damage

A common substance that has been used to stain bacteria in microscope slides appears to 
reverse cellular aging. In studies on progeria, methylene blue seems to return affected cells to normal function.

Plant Compound Increases Brain Connections

You can keep the parsley, thyme, and chamomile but bring on the red pepper. A compound found in these herbs improves neuron formation and strengthens the connections between brain cells, new lab research demonstrates. It has the potential to treat schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's.

How India’s Nuclear Industry Created A River Of Death

India's nuclear industry operates under the arm of their military. As in the US, the military demands have generated such major problems that it makes it very difficult for the nuclear power industry to thrive.

Crazy Things in China

China is having to do some strange acts to keep its economy going. It can't afford to have the value of its currency rise nor can it afford it to inflate. So what is the solution?

China has been printing money to prevent its currency from going up, and then telling banks they have to sit on this new money to prevent inflation from going up. 
Just crazy. And how long can it last?

Parity for Guns and Abortions

This would be nice to see, but not bloody likely to happen. But it makes sense to me to force gun purchasers to wait a while before they can buy and to require them to watch some good propaganda films. Oh, and don't forget to have only one place in the state where gun can be obtained.

Thinking about ISIS

ISIS is not unique. We have seen groups like this before. And we should be using some of those lessons from the past to deal with the current threat.The territorial occupation is not strongly connected to the clandestine group embedded in the West. Actions in the territorial realm will not have a significant effect on the clandestine activities, regardless of how good it makes us feel. The fighting on the ground is governed by local circumstances and counter-insurgent tactics are what works there. But stopping the clandestine stuff has to be done with good intelligence and police work. Let's not think that either of these approaches affects the other target.

Interesting Tool

It is designed to make it easy for drones to pick up objects, but I think it would be a cool tool to have around even without a drone.

Friday, December 04, 2015

How IUDs Really Work

No, they don't terminate pregnancies. Just like spermicide in a diaphragm, they inhibit the activity of sperm. Perhaps a new day in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy can dawn. 

After all, Planned Parenthood facilities prevent hundreds of thousands more abortions than so-called pro-life activists.

Richland Areva In the Small Reactor Business

Work on small modular reactors comes to Richland. The local AREVA nuclear fuels plant has signed a contract to provide fuel assemblies for Nuscale's SMR. Regardless of the lack of specific government incentives, Richland is on the map as participating in the future of nuclear power.

New Science About Radiation

The regulatory world has always assumed that radiation was bad at any level. Years of studies have failed to prove that. In some cases we found that some low levels of radiation may, in fact, be beneficial. There has been a demand that regulators ease radiation restrictions. With a saner standard we could avoid things like the Fukushima evacuation that led to an estimated 1,600 deaths in an area where there were no immediate deaths and the likelihood of additional cancers will be undetectable. 

In fact radiation from coal ash is much more a hazard that a nuclear power plant.

Reinventing the Wheel

File this under appropriate technology. In developing countries which have poor roads, lives could be greatly enriched if people could get their more of their goods to market than they can carry on their heads. This young man has come up with a promising design for a wheel system than dynamically changes its footprint. It can get wide and fat for the rough, uneven spots or go narrow and tall for the smooth parts.

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Entitlements Crisis?

Despite right-wing noise to the contrary, there is no entitlement crisis.
Looking forward, population aging will expand that deficit by a few percent of GDP, but that’s well within the range that could be closed with moderate tax hikes, cuts in pointless military spending, etc.. Nor is there a big rush: nothing terrible will happen if we don’t immediately decide how we’ll pay for projected benefits in the year 2050.
In fact, there never has been an entitlement crisis. Should a conservative-minded friend tell you otherwise, you are completely justified in pointing out that they are just dead wrong.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Iran Even Has a Nuclear Program

It isn't part of a good energy strategy. It has cost too much and hurt their economy too much. If it is for the purpose of nuclear weapons, it doesn't make much sense because all of the likely targets are upwind. A nuclear weapon is nothing more than a national suicide bomb. The best answer is that its just a matter of national pride. Other nations have done similar things. It was similar national pride that drove the U.S. to land men on the moon.

Reports of a Bee-pocalypse Have Been Premature

Despite all the headlines to the contrary, the number of bee colonies is actually doing well. It's true that there has been an increase in lost colonies, but the industry has adjusted by putting more energy and money into increasing the number of colonies. As a result, prices for honeybee-based products have gone up, but not terribly so. We are actually experiencing a new normal.

Finland's Euro Problem

Matt O'Brien explains how the euro has been bad for Finland. When Nokia went toes up, 4% of Finland's GDP evaporated. That's a deep hole to dig out of. It points out a fundamental flaw in the EU currency union that has affected many of its constituent states. Some new mechanism needs to exist that somehow allows member states to devalue their economy in order to reset after localized recessions that does not require them to leave the euro completely.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A New Kind of Pride

An evangelical pastor joins a PRIDE parade and shares his experience. Some portions of our world are changing for the better.

The Experience of Prison

An ex-con talks about what people on the outside don't understand about the prison experience and what prisoners have to learn the hard way about returning to society. As a country, we should do better.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Using Guns In Self-Defense Is Rare

When you buy a gun for self-defense, you are much more likely to be providing an offender with a weapon. A study by the Violence Policy Center had some interesting findings.

The study, released Wednesday by the Violence Policy Center, found there were 258 justifiable homicides involving civilians using firearms in 2012, compared with 8,342 murders by gun. Even if a criminal isn't shot down, the study found that civilians rarely use guns to protect themselves. "Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm" only 0.1 percent of the times they were targeted by a crook.
“The NRA has staked its entire agenda on the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense, but this gun industry propaganda has no basis in fact,” the group's executive director, Josh Sugarmann, said in a statement. “Guns are far more likely to be used in a homicide than in a justifiable homicide by a private citizen. In fact, a gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”

Magic Bullet

A molecule that binds well to prostate cancer cells has been used to not only enhance the imaging of prostate metastases but also to deliver target radiation to tumor cells with great effect. It's capabilities greatly exceed those of similar methods used to date.

Clean Water On the Go

Fieldtrate Lite is a plastic bag in a backpack that can filter dirty river water into clean water as fast as the tap flows. It's already saving lives in disaster-stricken areas.

Fusion Energy Sooner and Cheaper

Incremental improvements to the technology associated with fusion reactors have brought the promise of controlled nuclear fusion energy closer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

PROTACs on the Horizon

This new type of drug can target ALL disease-causing proteins. Yes, all of them. Specific varieties of it It works by tagging a specific protein for removal. The cell destroys the protein and the drug molecule is released to tag another bad protein. Most drugs today just latch on to the protein and block its function. High doses are needed to flood all the target proteins. A much lower dose of a PROTAC drug can be used because the molecules simply "catalyse" the destruction of the proteins.

I think this could be a game-changer.

Constitutional Crisis in Kansas

Unless the Supreme Court of Kansas sues Governor Brownback for refusing to fund the Kansas judiciary, Kansas could become the first state to be run by a de facto dictator. If the court does not rule the way he wants, he will take away their money. This violates clause in the US Constitution that requires every state in the union to be governed by a republican form of government. James Madison made it clear in the Federalist Papers that a functioning judiciary was essential to that republican form.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paper Microphone For Harvesting Power

A microphone made from paper could be use to harvest power from ambient sounds. It could be use to power small devices like solar cells have done for pocket calculators.

Calculating When to Form a Coalition

Mathematics can be used to know when to form or dissolve a political coalition. But I think it will be a while before the politicos adopt such rational methods.

Artificial Photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis is near. This adds a new dimension to the carbon capture game. Carbon dioxide could be recycled into innumerable useful products including drugs, plastics, and even fuels.

Friday, May 01, 2015

A Way Forward On Nuclear Waste

Recent moves by the DOE brings rational nuclear waste disposal into a real possibilityHaving a separate destination for spent fuel and high level defense wastes makes plenty of good sense. The former is being stored at many locations around the country and could be recycled. The latter is at very limited number of sites and very different in its makeup.

New Compounds

Many modern diseases are caused when proteins clump up. Now we are investigating a new collection of compounds that break up the clumps or keep them from forming. This could be good news in the areas of diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Positive Feedback in Global Warming

While many strain to maintain the fantasy that global warming is some sort of conspiracy theory, 
there is now direct evidence that we can expect an acceleration of it. The warmer it gets, the faster it's going to get warmer.

When Mammoths Roamed the West

They were hunted by humans. The list of hunters includes the makers of the Haskett points. These folks were contemporary with the Clovis culture but fabricated their spear points completely differently. Recent finds have not only uncovered spear points but other, truly-unique stone tools.

Mount Everest Shrank as Nepal Quake Lifted Kathmandu

With the recent quake, Mount Everest lost maybe an inch while Kathmandu rose about 3 feet. That explains the amount of devastation there. Truly horrific. It will take a terribly long time for the people to recover.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Continuing Oil Spill In Gulf Of Mexico

The Taylor Energy oil spill has been pumping crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over a decade. There is no resolution in sight. Fossil fuels have a continuing and significant environmental cost.
Hurricane Ivan whipped into the Gulf of Mexico in 2004, churning up waves that triggered an underwater mudslide and toppled Taylor's platform. The platform stood roughly 10 miles off Louisiana's coast in approximately 475 feet of water. The mudslide buried the cluster of 28 wells under mounds of sediment. Taylor tried to remove the unstable sediment covering the damaged wells, but determined it was too dangerous for divers. Without access to the buried wells, traditional "plug and abandon" efforts wouldn't work.

The Hum of the Earth

It's been known for a long time that the Earth has a low-frequency hum that humans can't consciously hear. Now we know what's causing it. It's deep ocean waves that move along the sea floor. They have enough energy to be registered on instruments like seismic waves from earthquakes.

Making Positive Changes

Dr Phil has some key steps to accomplishing changes in your life.

1. Decide what you are good at or what is good about you.
2. Observe yourself exhibiting those qualities or characteristics or mastering a given function or activity.
3. Acknowledge that you are living up to your potential and having some mastery in your life.
4. Make an attribution to yourself regarding that competency.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Acidic Oceans

The Permian extinction was caused by high CO2 from volcanoes over a long period of time. The rate of CO2 was comparable to what we are doing today and we can see similar effects. The question is, how far do we want to go down that path?

Affordable Nuclear Waste Disposal

Given that the volume of highly radioactive wastes is not huge, it makes good sense to 
dispose of them in deep boreholes. The technology is simple and much less expensive than elaborate treatment systems.

Record Penalty For Deadly Blast

While many fret over the potential dangers of advanced energy sources, let us be reminded that energy from fossil fuels is killing people.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Possible breakthrough for hydrogen cars

This innovative method uses "dirty", unrefined biomass in a facility no larger than a gas station to produce hydrogen. You don't have the high capital cost of a central generation facility using natural gas nor the mass transportation and storage problem of hydrogen produced at a central facility. Instead the roadside facility can generate its own supply directly from feed material. The hydrogen produced is of high purity, perfect for hydrogen-based fuel cells.

Seven questions for presidential candidates

If one can't actually ask these questions of a candidate, one can at least try to ascertain what their answers might be from their history and current positions. I wonder if anyone will try that exercise.

  1. What’s the biggest crisis you’ve faced in your professional life and how did you handle it?
  2. What's the biggest personal crisis you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
  3. What’s your greatest political triumph?
  4. What’s your greatest governing triumph?
  5. What experience have you had that will serve you well as president?
  6. What historical presidential moment tells us the most about your vision of the office?
  7. Tell us a joke.  

$94,000 For Florist

Barronelle cashes in on her religiously-excused discrimination. A sweet deal if you can get it. Hmm, I wonder how many other ways one could milk the "defenders of Christian morality" for ready spending money without bumping up against the fraud laws. It looks like there's a pretty deep well of disposable greenbacks ready for the tapping.

Baby genes to be mapped at birth

My wife and I have already experienced health benefits from knowing our personal genetics. It looks like there is work being done to map everyone's genes at birth.
It can be a two-edged sword unless we have sufficient protections in our legal structure that prevent genetic discrimination. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

About time

The New York chapter of the Boy Scouts hires the first openly gay staff member is scouting. This Eagle Scout will be serving as a summer camp leader.

College Tuition

Paul Campos in the NY Times takes a look at what has been driving tuition costs. And surprise, it isn't the number of students, faculty wages, or a host of other usual suspects.
a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Fukushima Disaster and Lessons Learned

The Tohuku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulted in 20,000 deaths and 300,000 people dislocated. But the Fukushima nuclear power plant played no part in those casualties.
But the real health and environmental impacts from the Fukushima reactors are nothing compared to the tsunami. Contrary to all the hype and fear, Fukushima is basically a large Superfund site. No one will die from Fukushima radiation, there will be no increased cancer rates, the food supply is not contaminated, the ocean nearby is not contaminated, most of the people can move back into their homes, and most of the other nuclear plants in Japan can start up just fine.
The dangerous part about living near Fukushima is that you would be living next to a tsunami-prone ocean.

Recently, some Fukushima students compared radiation levels in their hometown to those at a number of locations around the world. They found that there were plenty of highly-populated places France, Belarus, and Poland which had higher radiation levels. There will be no Fukushima death

The 350,000 tons of treated water from Fukushima that only contains tritium contamination
can safely be dumped into the ocean a little at a time. The key thing is to really, really dilute it. At easily achievable dilutions, the amount of tritium concentration will be comparable to what occurs naturally. And even with that level of dilution, the amount of tritium will continue to decline over a few decades as it undergoes decay with a half-life of 12 years.

No Defense

A newspaper that has always been quick to defend Scott Walker gives
no defense to allegations that he directly benefited from an enourmous corporate contribution.

At issue is over $1.5 million in donations made in 2012 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCG), a group that defended the Governor during his 2012 recall election and is directed by Walker's campaign advisor, Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff reported on March 23. The donations were made by hardware store franchise owner John Menard Jr. According to Isikoff, in the years after Walker survived that recall election, Menard's business has benefited from "up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs."

Cathy McMorris Rodgers Is Out of Step with Reality

McMorris-Rodgers asked her constituents to forward their tales of Obamacare failures. I'm sure she thought there would be an avalanche of them since this program is so baaaad. Instead she was inundated with statements of support for it. I wonder if she will continue to ignore her people and I wonder how it will take for her to pay the price for that and be retired from public office.

Breaking News for April

CERN researchers confirm existence of the Force. By carefully crunching the numbers from recent experiments, researchers at CERN have identified a new energy that acts in our universe.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Every Tax Loophole Is Sacred

I really don't know why the Republicans are being so blatant about showing their true colors. It can only be from the belief that they are untouchable by the little people. And there isn't much in recent experience that shows that they are wrong.

Some examples:
In: Tax loopholes for the super-wealthy, like inheritance tax shelters, special depreciation for corporate jets, and a lower tax rate for hedge fund managers.
Out: More than $1 trillion for basic economic security for low- or modest-income families -- things like unemployment insurance, basic nutrition assistance, help with child care, and Pell grants for college.
In: Hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways, like incentives for shipping American jobs overseas and reincorporating in a foreign country, and special breaks for coal, oil, and gas companies.
Out: Roughly $400 billion to provide health insurance to low-income families and nursing home care for seniors through Medicaid.
In: Insurance companies once again denying coverage for preexisting conditions and charging women more for health care.
Out: The health insurance that 16 million Americans have gained through the Affordable Care Act -- plus no-cost preventive care, such as cancer screenings and annual wellness visits, and subsidies to help people with modest incomes afford coverage in health reform's marketplaces.

Magicians And The Art Of Manipulation

Think about  the ways you may have been manipulated without even knowing it. And then think about how you might avoid it.

Solar-assisted, volcanic-composite sailing yacht

If I ever win the lottery (assuming that I ever actually play it), I'll take one of these.  It has a super-strong, hydrophobic, UV- and heat-resistant, fireproof and acid proof hull.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Building the Labor Force

As American manufacturing looks for a new generation of skilled workers, Volkswagen may have found a solution, classic German apprenticeship.

Making Choices

There is actual science supporting the best method of making a choice. When we place all the options on the table at once (simultaneous choice), we can become overwhelmed by the possibilities. When we use the A-B method (sequential elimination) in which we start with a choice between just two alternatives then comparing that choice with another alternative, and repeating until all choices are evaluated, we tend to hang on to an earlier, poorer choice just because we have invested decision energy into it.

The best way is to divide the array of choices into sets of four. Then look at each set and select the best of the four. Next take the winners of the first pass across all the sets, regroup them into sets of four and repeat the process until a final winner is determined (sequential tournament). It's easier to evaluate the best in a set of four and we don't get overly invested in a decent choice and miss the best choice.

If I Had a Hammer...

When faced with an intractable problem, this man dedicated his entire life to the solution. He worked 22 years to cut a road through a mountain so his fellow villagers would be spared a 45 mile hike around it to the next village. He did it with a hammer and chisel and daily effort.

There are lots of problems out there that seem so big that there is a temptation to give up. This example shows that by consistently moving in the right direction over time, big solutions can happen. Quite inspiring.

More Gecko "Glue"

The gecko adhesion method can actually be turned off and on. This enables equipment to more easily and precisely move small, delicate parts. It probably has implications for even larger applications.

What's Really in the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Jame Conca explains what's really in the Iran Nuclear deal and why we just need to get it done. Key Points:
  1. Nuclear deals with Iran have worked. They are no longer enriching above 5%. No additional centrifuges have been installed. Work has stopped on their heavy-water reactor. IAEA has full access to inspect.
  2. Those who expect Iran to completely abandon nuclear energy are completely unrealistic (or actually have other hidden agendas).
  3. A nuclear agreement does not require Senate ratification. Some of our senators are not the sharpest crayons in the box.
  4. Iran is already a signatore to the NPT. This propose agreement just imposes some additional requirements.
  5. Iran really wants an agreement because sanctions are hurting them.
  6. The best way to keep Iran from misbehaving is to bring them closer, not push them further away.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Obamacare Doomsday Cult

The Obamacare Doomsday Cult can't admit that it is wrong. All their fears have failed to materialize. They are victims of the phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.
The way cognitive dissonance works is that when people are confronted with information that contradicts either their beliefs or actions, they feel discomfort. To feel better, they either have to modify their beliefs and actions, or find some way to discount the disconfirming information. And the more effort someone invests in a particular action or idea, the greater the lengths they will go in crafting justifications to ease their discomfort.
Indeed, committing to a specific ideology can make it much harder to see facts clearly, let alone acknowledge them. Aronson noted that it’s especially hard for people who spent the last five years opposing a specific policy. “These guys are so committed to the belief that Obama can’t do anything right, and that Obamacare is socialism, that it would be very, very difficult for them to examine the data objectively," he said. "I think that’s what’s wrong with politics, that’s what’s wrong with ideology, that’s what’s wrong with politics that are ideologically driven.”

But, one must exercise caution. This also happens on the other side of the aisle. We have to be honest when we are proven wrong and move forward with the truth, whatever that happen

Monday, March 09, 2015

Colin Powell For Fixing Voter ID Laws

Collin Powell's advice for fixing restrictive voter ID laws is to organize and make the effort to get voters to the polls under the new laws and the lawmakers out of office. That sounds well and good, but such advice would not have worked in 1965. It took a federal law to effectively enfranchise citizens who were systematically blocked from voting.  Then, the voting restrictions were peculiar to a set of states. Today, we have a situation in which a portion of those with national power find it within their interest to block voters who have historically supported their opposition.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has not been reauthorized. Reauthorization would limit the ability of the power bloc to restrict opposing voters but other ways have been invented which exploit both inadequacies in the law and loopholes that have been torn in the law by complicit court decisions.

It's time to take a broader look at voting rights beyond our history that hinges primarily on race. The Voter ID people have undertaking their work under the gauzy banner of an unproven voter fraud problem while publicly admitting that what really matters is restricting the ability of certain groups of opposition voters to vote. That canard could be completely neutralized by a movement for laws that ensure that no identifiable class of citizens have their right to vote encumbered or abetted more than any other identifiable class of citizens. Things like age, affluence, disability, access to transportation, access to polling places, etc., should not be a factor in one's capability to vote.  If jurisdictions are prevented from enacting such laws, redress should be sought in the courts.  If courts fail to support these constitutional rights, then it would become necessary to organize non-violent social actions to galvanize popular support for whatever is needed to protect the will of the people, be it constitutional amendments, vociferous public debate, public demonstrations, targeted economic disruption, or what-have-you.

This is the one fundamental right that is the foundation of our democratic republic and those who wish to restrict it must be held to account.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Christian" Cry-babies

This article leads with the idea that Stutzman could lose her home and life savings. It doesn't mention that the Washington AG made a quite reasonable settlement offer. Stutzman is risking all that loss because she refuses to acknowledge that she broke the law. It's all your fault that I'm hitting myself in the head with this hammer and I'll keep doing it until you let me do what I want. These people are the saddest examples of Christianity on the planet. They can't see that the law isn't anti-Christian, it's anti-discrimination. Their problem is they interpret their faith in such a way that not only is discrimination allowed but actually commanded.

Inflation Is Dead

Now that inflation is below 1 percent in the U.S., U.K., Europe, China, and Japan don't you think it might be time to enact some progressive policies that increase economic activity by putting more money into the hands of the less fortunate.

Lies in the Media

This piece in the Washington Times about the ACA does not get a single fact correct. The truth is pretty much the reverse of everything that is said here.

It's a Zap Plug

They have finally built an engine that uses lasers as the ignition source. They are not only more precise but it is possible to have multiple ones per cylinder such that fuel is exploded more completely with each stroke.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Problem with Free-market Health Care

A genuine free market depends on the consumer having the choice to buy or not to buy should the price be unaffordable. This isn't true with health care. But the libertarian, free-market purist can't see thate. “People could die and that’s OK”, is how they look at it.

Cold-hearted, bastards!

Nuclear Power as Renewable

I've often referred to nuclear power as a renewable. Here's why. You can recycle 80% of the uranium in spent fuel, much less mining is needed. Furthermore, a breeder program can produce more fuel than it consumes. With appropriate safeguards and new reactor designs it is possible to fuel a plant once and have it operate for the rest of its lifetime with no additional refueling.

Richland’s Areva and Bill Gates

Terrapower is collaborating Areva in Richland to test fuel designs for its new type of reactor. Other SMR outfits have also been in contact with the company. Eastern Washington may be getting into the SMR game with or without the encouragement of our state government.

Advances in Carbon Sequestration

If we simply must burn natural gas, at least we are getting better methods of capturing the CO2 it produces. This one uses a cheap compound found in every kitchen.

Minimum Wage Increases and McDonald's

Don't let the "job-creators" get away with it. This analysis explains that there are many components to product costs and often labor isn't the major one. Everyone understands when costs go up for such things as transportation and high rent and we adapt to that. The small bump caused by a minimum wage increase can easily be accepted when we consider the benefit it gives to a great many hard-working people. Furthermore, more money to the less-affluent class generates an instant economic boost because that money goes back into the economy immediately.

10 States With the Worst Taxes for Average Americans

In the 10 States With the Worst Taxes for Average Americans, guess which state is the worst of the worst?
Washington’s score of -12.6% was the worst in the nation. The poorest 20% of families paid nearly 17% of their income in state and local taxes, the highest such rate nationwide. With the wealthiest 1% of state households paying just 2.4% — nearly the lowest such rate — Washington’s tax system helped widen the income gap more than any other state. Washington’s poorest residents paid nearly seven times what the wealthiest 1% paid as a share of income, one of the highest such ratios nationwide. While Washington’s tax code is considered by many to be among the nation’s most unfair, residents are better-off financially than in many other states. A typical household earned $58,405 in 2013, one of the higher household median incomes. And while 15.8% of Americans lived in poverty that year, 14.1% did in Washington.
Perhaps our legislature should do something about this. An income tax to replace sales tax perhaps?

No Big Bang?

By looking at quantum theory, some physicists have arrived at a  quantum equation that predicts universe has no beginning.

In cosmological terms, the scientists explain that the quantum corrections can be thought of as a cosmological constant term (without the need for dark energy) and a radiation term. These terms keep the universe at a finite size, and therefore give it an infinite age. The terms also make predictions that agree closely with current observations of the cosmological constant and density of the universe.

Closing in on the Stradivarian Secret

Researchers use X-ray and CAT scans to reveal the secrets of golden age violins. It seems the key is the shape of the sound hole and the stiffness of the wood in the backplate.

Nuclear Energy Aids Biodiversity

When combined with other renewables, nuclear energy protects biodiversity by reducing the carbon footprint of energy production.

"When compared objectively with renewables, nuclear power performs as well or better in terms of safety, cost, scaleability, land transformation and emissions," says Professor Barry Brook, Chair of Climate Change at the Environment Institute for this study, and now Professor of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania

Monday, February 02, 2015

Who Has Late Abortions -- And Why? | David A. Grimes

In the conservative hyperventalation about late-term abortions it's nice to  have some facts about the object of the discussion.

Late-term abortions are very rare. Only 1% of abortions happen after 20 weeks, Sixty-three percent happen before 8 weeks when the embryo can't even be seen with the naked eye.

Frequently, restricted access to health care is a major contributing factor as well as poverty and a young age of the mother.

Severe fetal abnormalities can not be diagnosed until later in the pregnancy. Most women elect to abort children whose lives after birth would be subject to extreme suffering.

In fact, the increased legal restrictions on abortion have resulted in an increase in more late-term abortions.

Labyrinths as crucibles of life

The science on the origins of life continues to advance. Eventually, many religious traditions will have to evolve as well.

Secede! Yeah, sure.

It would be nice if our district were represented by genuine publec servants. Instead, we have these clowns. With the state in fiscal crisis, they want to waste time and money on stuff like this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flowers and Cakes

In an attempt to show that the pro-gay folks are just discriminatory as the anti-gay "Christians" a guy in Denver has filed a lawsuit because a baker wouldn't decorate a cake with "God Hates Gays" written on the top.  This might make sense if Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers fame had refused to provide flowers to a wedding spelled out "Christians Suck". But she didn't. Actually it makes the point against Stutzman by showing how out-of-line her objection to do business with a gay couple actually is by comparison.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Voter ID Laws Make Fraud Worse

Current voter ID laws laws only suppress one form of fraud but do nothing about other forms of fraud. In a close election, such a fraud suppression bias could produce a fraudulent election result. But then, I suspect that is what the supporters want. They want to be able to win elections they might otherwise lose by suppressing valid voters that tend to vote against them.

We have better elections when all types fraud is suppressed to the same degree.

Radiation Doses

It seems that our ideas about what is safe and not safe about radiation needs to be rethought.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ten Secret Truths About Government Incompetence

Donald F. Kettl in the Washington Monthly talks about what we don't know about government.

  1. Government works better than most people think most of the time.
  2. Good management can't win elections but bad management can ruin presidencies.
  3. We don't distinguish between failures that have consequential impacts and those that don't.
  4. We say we want government run like the private sector but we expect government to meet standards to which the private sector couldn't come close.
  5. Much of the government work isn't done by the government.
  6. The problem isn't too many bureaucrats but too few.
  7. Half the time when it looks like the President's fault, the problems actually originate in Congress.
  8. Critics of government will create self-fulfilling prophecies by under-funding and sabotaging programs they don't like.
  9. Government can be improved very quickly but can be wrecked even faster.
  10. Presidents can make big gains if they pay attention.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

We Need a Stronger IRS

De-funding the IRS and complicating the tax code benefits tax cheaters and raises rates on the rest of us.
If Congress really wanted to lower tax rates, it would broaden the tax base by simplifying the tax code, and it would adequately staff the agency tasked with collecting taxes. In both cases, it has done the opposite. All of this means that our political leaders have not only improved the odds for getting away with (illegal) tax evasion; they have also created more opportunities for (perfectly legal, methodically planned) tax avoidance. Put these factors together, and higher statutory tax rates look inevitable.

Sensors for Extraterrestrial Life

Could a super-sensitive motion sensor be used to find extraterrestrial life?

"Wait a minute, Captain! I'm getting life-form readings from the surface of the planet!"

Sex and Poverty

Conservative policies lead to the conclusion that sex is only for rich people.:

the solution for low-income people is to never, ever have sex. So seems the logic behind many of these policies: If only we make it harder for people to have access to family planning services, and financially painful to raise children who predictably result from sex in the absence of those services, people who cannot afford to raise children will choose celibacy.

This, of course, is magical thinking. The belief that we can get entire classes of Americans to practice abstinence until they’re financially ready for marriage and children is a right-wing delusion on par with the left-wing delusions that go into socialism: Both rely on a fundamental miscalculation about human nature. If the socialists wished to legislate away self-interest, the moralists wish to legislate away libido.

Why We Should Tax The Rich At 90 Percent

A working paper by Kindermann and Krueger demonstrates how much better off everyone would be if we raised the highest income tax marginal rate to 90%. It would greatly reduce the tax burden on most of the people while placing it onto people for whom it would not be a burden at all.

Clearly, this makes too much sense to actually be implemented.

Films About Money

We the Economy has a nice set of short films about how modern economies actually work. Things like this should be part of our basic educational curriculum.