Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cuban Life

There is a lot of romance about Cuba. At Castro's death, there has been an attempt to restart the flame. This article from travel journalist Michael Totten puts life for the average Cuban into perspective.

And it doesn't mention Concentration camps, executions, firing squads, the exodus, families fleeing by sea.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Kipling Readings

The Washington Post defends Rudyard Kipling from the fashionable haters. From my point of view it's a Reading list of Kipling, “the greatest short-story writer in English“.

Though I notice three major omissions: If, The Gods of the Copybook Headings * and Tommy.

Sometime in my twenties I noticed a trend.
The time has come to confess that I am an admirer.

(Feb'16) A real fan's guide

* And in song!
**not actually in twenties

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Living in a Time of Wonders

Note that 1970 is just about exactly when your average North American decided that world poverty was a hopeless problem. 1990 was when international socialism collapsed.
Sept'16-Dierdre McCloskey hazards a guess as to why.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Slow Progress Expected for Zika
Above is an excerpt from an infographic for a Zika virus vaccine. It politely hints at the problem.
  1. Zika most strongly affects pregnant women and their newborns.
  2. Any tragedies, whether caused by the vaccine, unrelated to the vaccine or even mitigated by the vaccine will be blamed on the vaccine. There will be lawsuits and the damages will be astronomical.
  3. Revenue will not be astronomical. 
 (July'16) I'm not sure I like where this is going.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Perceiving the Flow of Reality

It seems natural to say that we see the world as it is presented to us, a continuous flow of new situations and new information. On the other hand, if you've ever seen an optical illusion, you know that perception is imperfect. How do we interact with the world?
This study says that our perceptions come to us in the form of "'time slices' lasting only milliseconds." Our mind perceives the world as a moment: all at once for about a quarter of a second, then it goes on to perceive the next moment.
The description reminds me of Ridley Scott's filming technique in the most intense battle scenes of Gladiator. (starting at about 4 minutes)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Professionalism and Professional Success like to think they go together. Here is an example of a doctor for whom they conflict.
“Why wouldn’t I give patients a Percocet prescription? It makes their life easier and my life easier.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Do You See the Volcano Tornadoes?

The American Association of Physics Teachers has posted the results of its 2015 photo contest. Sure the pictures are great; even better are some of the explanations that go with the winners.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Robots and Jobs

Are Robots Going to Take My Job?

I don't have an answer for that. The evidence I can muster says yes. My intuition says no. Scary stories are so much more compelling, though.

TaxProfBlog explains some of my thoughts on the subject. The Lump-of-Labour fallacy he mentions is outlined here.

(Dec'16) Ridley  says  no.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

DDT and the 100 Million
"In the last days of September 1943, as the U.S. Army advanced to the rescue of Italian partisans — some as young as nine — battling the Germans in the streets of Naples, the enraged Nazis, in a criminal act of revenge against their erstwhile allies, deployed sappers to systematically destroy the city’s aqueducts, reservoirs, and sewer system. This done, the supermen, pausing only to burn irreplaceable libraries, including hundreds of thousands of volumes and artifacts at the University of Naples — where Thomas Aquinas once taught — showed their youthful Neapolitan opponents their backs, and on October 1, to the delirious cheers of the Naples populace, Allied forces entered the town in triumph."

"But a city of over a million people had been left without sanitation, and within weeks, as the Germans had intended, epidemics broke out. [read on]"

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gravity Waves

The news says gravity waves have been discovered. The headlines say "Einstein proven right" though really, the physics world was not all that apprehensive. The excitement is that we now have a new way to look at the world. has a good news release with a video on the implications. Ricochet explains the experiment for an adult layman audience. This Verge video has the background, like how Einstein's concept of gravity is like bending space instead of Newton's idea of a force.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Progress Towards Life on Mars

 A fungus from Antarctica has been proven to survive reasonably well in simulated Mars conditions.

This means that if we decide* to make Mars habitable, the technology to do so is at hand. We can send earth life that will survive and reproduce. If the photosynthetic species are also hardy enough, we can generate oxygen that would stabilize the atmosphere.

*That is to say, unless we have already sent it.
(June'18) Some promising cyanobacteria

Friday, January 29, 2016

So, you're stranded on a desert island. You can find food for now. You are surviving.

It can get cold, though and you are unprotected. You'd like to make your little world better than it is. Unfortunately, you have none of the modern tools you take for granted. You need primitive technology.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Great Unlearning

Look at the picture. Consider big game hunting. Reflect upon your thoughts.

Bill Whittle pieces these notions together in "The Great Unlearning" (7-1/2 min).

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Pacific Garbage Vortex

It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot.
In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. ...he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.
 The tales of Garbage Island are lurid.
Like all good stories, it grew over time...“We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.
 If you've wondered where those tales come from, read here. If you want to see the garbage patch, read here.

(Feb'17) If I wanted a sensational claim supported by the facts of this article, I could say that in the middle of the garbage vortex there may be 2-4000 pieces of garbage floating in every square meter of ocean.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cold-War Technology Race Continues
Reverse-swept wings have been the next big advance in fighter planes for about 30 years now. Americans built a prototype in the 80's. Russians built a prototype in the 90's. Recently Russia announced that it is moving ahead with reverse wing technology. It promises a fighter that is more agile, especially at trans-sonic and super-sonic speeds. What the disadvantages are, I don't know. Perhaps the military isn't telling.

While Americans have the best funded military and probably have among the most motivated and creative personnel, they no longer have the edge in nerve. The American military (along with the Canadian and European militaries) has become risk-adverse. When it comes to experimentation with exciting and radical technologies, it seems the edge goes to Russia.

Of course, the other possibility is that the American researchers are all over this. They just choose not to publish their military secrets. It's possible that these are lousy ideas but since they are undeniably spectacular, they make great press anyway. That does seem to be the Putin M.O.

Moving to Mars?

Updated - Jan'16: Here are more details - or at least speculation - on the Musk plan, including a Mars-Earth ferrying spaceship, deep sleep for the colonists to reduce consumption during the flight and terraforming assisted by thermonuclear detonations at the poles.

If you are 5-20 years old, in 20 years, you'll be 25-40: just about the right age to start up a new life on Mars. Elon Musk, who made a fortune on Paypal has been building SpaceX, a private space exploration agency. Now he says his goal is to start a colony on mars. He says he'll charge about $500,000. More detail here.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Students, United Won't be Divided

"College students everywhere are asking tough questions: Why is our tuition so high? Where are our jobs? Can't you see your words hurt me, you dumb piece of $^!+?"
 The cost of college rises and the benefits decline. How can this be? (plainspoken version)

A Global Warming Consensus

At last someone has done a systematic study of the opinions of meteorologists, geoscientists and engineers on the subject of climate change. One-third of the 1100 surveyed agree with the pro-Kyoto "prevailing wisdom". Of course, if 2/3 disagree, it's not exactly prevailing.

Teasing aside, the paper identifies five frameworks of opinions it calls "models". 36% are in the "Comply with Kyoto” model. and "express the strong belief that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.” 24% go by the“Nature Is Overwhelming” model:  “they strongly disagree that climate change poses any significant public risk and see no impact on their personal lives.” 17%, they call “Fatalists” who “consider climate change to be a smaller public risk ... are skeptical that the scientific debate is settled...” 10% are of the “Economic Responsibility” model. They “diagnose climate change as being natural or human caused. ... they point to the harm the Kyoto Protocol ... will do to the economy.”  5% are“Regulation Activists” . These scientists “diagnose climate change as being both human- and naturally caused...”  “They are also skeptical with regard to the scientific debate being settled and are the most indecisive whether IPCC modeling is accurate.”
Had you heard that 97% of scientists "agree with global warming"? Here is where that number comes from.