Apr 242018
 

Processed Rosetta imagery from 2016. The dots going “down” in the background are stars. The rest… some may be cosmic rays playing hell with the CCD imaging sensor, but note that there certainly seems to be preferential directionality to the streaks, indicating that the spacecraft was flying through a cloud of cometary bits.

 Posted by at 3:49 pm
Apr 222018
 

Here’s an interesting thing:

Back to the wild! How letting Mother Nature reclaim prime farmland and allowing cattle and ponies to run free produced breathtaking results

Short form:

If the writer is accurate, there was a 3,500 acre British farm growing barley and maize, and doing a poor job of it. Due to sitting on not very productive clay, the farm was barely breaking even. So the farm owners tried something different: “Screw this,” sez they, “let’s just let nature take its course.”

Rather than undergoing some complex and micromanaged conservation program, they just let the land alone. Neighboring farmers were displeased, thinking that this was going to result in a weedpocalypse. And early on they were indeed overrun with weeds. And then the butterflies came and the resulting caterpillars ate up the weeds. In the years since, with no effort on their part except for stocking a few species of critters like a native British breed of longhorn cattle, their land is now close to what Britain *used* to be like in the days before agriculture. Even better, the cattle that live there are well-fed, healthy and apparently damnfine producers of tasty beef; their numbers need to be culled to keep from over-populating. The place is now exploding with multiple bird species, deer, horses, wild pigs, insects.

A couple things:

1) Cool. Nature is spiffy.

2) This experiment takes a *giant* dump on some of the more important arguments made by vegans. The claim is often made that growing animals just to eat them is an inefficient way for humans to get nutrition and calories, since the vast farms that grow corn and whatnot to be turned into cow/pig/chicken feed could more easily just straight up feed humans. But here’s the thing: in this 3,500 acres, humans are apparently expending approximately *zero* effort, and the plants that are growing there are largely inedible to mankind. And yet… this dismal farmland, barely profitable with a whole lot of effort, is now cranking out foodcritters that are claimed to be healthier and tastier than  farmed beef. This is likely no great surprise to those who hunt their own venison and the like, but as far as I know wild cattle are much less often consumed.

I live in rural Utah farmland. The farms around here suck up a *lot* of water to turn this place into profitable land for wheat and corn… not surprising given that it is, after all, essentially the desert. But here’s the thing: I have my own nearly five acres of land. Before me, it was farmland. When I moved in, my plan was to do *nothing* with it, a promise I’ve kept. I grow no crops. And wheat and corn don’t exactly spring up on their own on this now un-irrigated land. But you know what? It’s nevertheless *alive.* It’s not at all unusual to have weeds two or three feet high out back, several acres of the stuff. Now, my land, only a few acres, is too small to be turned into some sort of nature park. And as alive as it is, it’s much too dry around here to really come to life like that British farm. But if even this dusty patch of Utah can spring to life on its own, imagine what a lot of Americas farms could become if properly non-managed. There would be a few potential advantages to re-wilding a few million acres:

  1. Stop draining aquifers. Some big ones are getting kinda close to DOOOOOOM levels of empty anyway.
  2. Meat without effort. Meat without hormones and antibiotics.
  3. Less expenditure on fertilizer and fuel. More CO2 yanked from the air and turned into oxygen.
  4. Less farmland to work… less need for farm workers. Back across the border ya go!
  5. If it’s not actually a farm, then it doesn’t need to be taxed like one… nor does it need or deserve the subsidies.

I’m not at all sure how to go about this on a major scale. Eminent domain is one way, and it is of course a desperate evil that should only be invoked in matters approaching National Security level (though using it to snag large stretches of, say, Detroit, bulldoze it and convert it into woodlands seems like an actually good use). Perhaps if farm subsidies were simply done away with, that might do it: farms that cannot economically compete without subsidies can be convinced to re-wild, perhaps via something like a twenty-year subsidy of its own. Instead of paying farmers to grow corn, you pay them – for a strictly limited period – to re-wild their land, seeding it with appropriate species of plants and animals and basically just leaving it alone. The surrounding farms would of course also lose *their* farm subsidies… but then, they are also losing competitors. Less corn and wheat on the market.

Vast privately owned stretches of nature could make money a number of ways. If the British model can be replicated, a whole lot of meat – cattle, pigs, deer, antelope, rhinos, buffalo, bison, mammoths, camels, elephants – will be self-sustaining and prosperous. Within a certain number of years their numbers will begin to push the lands carrying capacity… and then you start harvesting. Maybe some places will have some sort of industrial process where the herds of paraceratherium will be driven into pens and a certain number extracted. Others can let hunters pay to go take ’em down themselves.

 Posted by at 5:31 pm
Apr 182018
 

SpaceX has launched the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) planet-hunter satellite and recovered the first stage booster on a recovery barge out at sea. TESS will be put into an unconventional orbit with a perigee of 108,000 km and an apogee of 375,000 km. if it works, it should find a *lot* of exoplanets, around the order of 20,000 of them.

Note: When I first entered college, there were *nine* known planets. There are currently 3800 or so. There may soon be 24,000 or so.

 Posted by at 8:21 pm
Apr 132018
 

Proxima Centuri, as has been know for a few years now, has a roughly Earth-sized planet in it’s habitable zone. Yay! But… Proxima is a red dwarf. Worse, it’s a red dwarf with some serious flare activity. Since it is so small and dim, the habitable zone is *real* close to the star, which means that flares can do some serious damage to planeary atmospheres. How bad are Proximas flares? Well…

Proxima Centauri just released a flare so powerful it was visible to the unaided eye

“In March 2016 the Evryscope detected the first-known Proxima superflare. The superflare had a bolometric energy of 10^33.5 erg, ~10× larger than any previously-detected flare from Proxima, and 30×larger than any optically measured Proxima flare. The event briefly increased Proxima’s visible-light emission by a factor of 38× averaged over the Evryscope’s 2-minute cadence, or ~68× at the cadence of the human eye. Although no M-dwarfs are usually visible to the naked-eye, Proxima briefly became a magnitude-6.8 star during this superflare, visible to dark-site naked-eye observers.”

Yikes.

When a flare is 68 times brighter than the rest of the star… that means you have some variability issues. An earth-like world around Proxima is *real* unlikely. Assume that one – let’s say Earth – was suddenly miracled into existence smack in the middle of the habitable zone. You’re going about your day when there is a sudden “BING” sound, and the quality of the sunlight suddenly changes. Not quite as bright, a bit redder (almost like a really powerful incandescent bulb), but just as warm. You look at the sky. It had been a nice bright blue; now its a darker, less happy blue, leaning a bit purplish and gray. You look at the sun and it hits you: “hey, that ain’t right.” It’s the wrong size… visually much bigger. You can almost look at it with just sunglasses. When you do, it looks blotchy.

But you’re not a terribly jittery person. Things looks slightly different, but everything seems to still be functioning, so who cares.

And then SURPRISE FLARE. The sunlight gets ~70 times brighter for a few minutes. Anything flammable flamms. The road melts. You go blind. A portion of the atmosphere says “screw this noise” and blows off into space; there is a  slight but measurable permanent decrease in atmospheric pressure even after all the CO2 from the fires settles out.

 Posted by at 10:43 pm
Apr 132018
 

I hate to be “that  guy,” but Millenials… get it together, kids. You’re looking bad.

Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study

41% of Millennials believe that fewer than 2 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

22% of Millennials haven’t heard of the Holocaust or unsure if they have

66% of Millenials don’t even know that Auschwitz was a death camp.

Sadly, I can’t say that the rest of the public is vastly better off, but the Millennials are distinctly worse. And then there’s this:

People should be allowed to use Nazi slogans or symbols: 15%

This is perhaps the worst example of ignorance of the bunch. Sure, the Nazis were scumbags and if you’re proudly waving a swastika because you think Hitler was Da Bomb, you’re a dumbass. But this is America, gottverdammt, and you’re allowed to wave around any Blödmann symbols you like… swastika, hammer & sickle, Little Red Book, Planned Parenthood logo, Confederate flag, what-the-frak-ever. This survey indicates that 85% of respondents have no idea what the 1st Amendment, not to mention common sense, is actually about.

But wait! There’s more!

Just 66% of millennials firmly believe that the earth is round

Ugh.

It’s easy to blame this level of Earth-shattering dumbth on the Millennials. But let’s face it: kids know what they’re taught. We olds of the world have clearly failed them in the teaching department. Soon these ill-educated younglings will be voting. Imagine the world they’ll create, one based on “feelings” and ignorance. Gah.

 

 Posted by at 1:29 am
Apr 062018
 

“Idiocracy” is a movie that I suspect needs no introduction to most who deign to read this blog. Nevertheless, the video below provides a good summary of both the plot and the underlying ideas… the primary notion being that “dumb breeds true and in large numbers,” which, while some testing seems to not necessarily support, anecdotal evidence (like, say, “look outside at the damned world”) does seem true enough. And logic would support it: humans are smarter than chimps, and I’m pretty sure there’s a sizable genetic component of that, or otherwise there’d be some chimps raised in captivity who would be at least as smart as your average big city mayor.

 

As for whether of not “Idiocracy” is a good movie with some important ideas, you need look no further tha reviews by people who likely do *not* regularly read this blog:

Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie and You Should Be Ashamed For Liking It

‘Idiocracy’ Is Bad, Actually

You know who’d find the movie hilarious? Hitler.

‘Idiocracy’ Is One of the Most Elitist and Anti-Social Movies Ever

Safe to assume that these folks likely are cheesed off at video games that reward players based on merit.

 Posted by at 11:07 pm
Mar 312018
 

A lot of folks reading this blog are likely too young to remember the days before AIDS. Many of y’all, I’m sure, have only known of AIDS as a disease that requires some spendy drugs, but is not a fatal or even a necessarily terribly inconveniencing one. I assure you younguns that it wasn’t always like that. And it may not always *be* like that.

When the disease that would eventually become known as AIDS was first making its presence known in the 1970s, it seemed to be confined to gay guys and intravenous drug users. Consequently… society didn’t much care. Of course it didn’t help that nobody knew what caused it. But when it became clear that it was a viral infection transmitted through bodily fluids – especially when it was discovered that the blood supply was tainted and that people who were neither homosexual nor drug abusers, but were simply hemophiliacs and the like were coming down with a disease that was not only unstoppable but fatal – well, people freaked the fark out.

This was not an isolated incident. In recent years with the threat of various pandemics such as ebola and the various flus, people lost their minds. The same happened back in the early 80’s when people realized that for some years a virus had been floating around that could kill them. The fact that the disease had been spread by people that society didn’t think that much of… well, that didn’t make things any better.

The 1970’s had been a decade of unrivaled hedonism. The 1950’s had seen the widespread introduction of antibiotics which had seen the end of syphilis and gonorrhea as the historical threats that they had long been; the 1960’s saw the collapse of many of the cultural norms that had kept peoples behaviors at least somewhat in check. And so when the 70’s came along with it’s malaise and despair due to the economy and the collapse of American exceptionalism, people went just plain stupid. They thought that sexually transmitted diseases were just minor inconveniences, to be dealt with with a shot afterwards. They thought they were invincible.

Whoops.

So when the 80’s came along with the threat of AIDS, a sexually transmitted disease that would KILL YOU without remorse and without hope, society went goofy in another way. All of a sudden teenagers like myself were told that if you had sex, you’d die. And people began to wonder: would you die if you shook someones hand? If you kissed them? If you sat on a toilet seat? If you got bit by a mosquito that had just bit someone else? In a world where nobody was really all that sure about just what the AIDS virus was, how it spread and how it might mutate, these were common enough concerns, and they weren’t *stupid* concerns. The West Nile virus, for example, killed a popular and healthy PE teacher not far from me last year because he got bit by a skeeter.

In the years since the 80’s, it has become popular among many on the political left to actually blame Reagan for much of the trouble with AIDS. Their reasoning? He didn’t talk about it. Well, sure, fine, he didn’t talk about it. But curing a disease is hardly in your average Presidents skillset, not een if they are a really good orator. In the generations since Reagan, we’ve had the sainted Clinton and that god among men, Obama, each with eight years and neither of *them* have cured AIDS either. So just what Reagan was supposed to do to make these people happy is unclear.

Here’s the thing, though. If Reagan had exercised more power than a President might actually legally have, it’s just possible that he *could* have ended the AIDS threat in the US. Consider.

In the real world, AIDS ceased to be terrifying as drugs were developed that basically jumped up and down on AIDS, driving it into remission. They didn’t *cure* AIDS but they made it seem irrelevant. Now people with the Great Plague Of The Age could expect to live out a more or less full life span. But the virus is still there, lurking in infected cells, having wormed its way into the host cells DNA.

In the real world, AIDS became a political disease that somehow conveyed morality to its victims. If you have lung cancer or emphysema because you smoked all your life, if your liver is trashed from drinking, if your brain is mush from smoking dope, you’re seen as kind of a dumbass. But if you got AIDS because you did some clearly unwise things… why, you’re some kind of a *hero.*

So, imagine a slightly different turn of events. Perhaps the politics went a little different, or one sympathetic victim or another was less sympathetic, or less of a victim. And so AIDS was treated the way society would treat an outbreak of, say, ebola or smallpox. If you were found to have contracted the fatal, transmittable disease, you would be quarantined until you were safe or dead. Would this automatically end AIDS? Of course not. The disease is symptom free for *years* in some cases, so lots of people would have it and not know it. But if there was a firm policy on quarantining all who have it, and a widespread campaign for universal testing, the chances are really quite good that the AIDS epidemic in the US could have been stamped out by the early 90’s: there’d be people in the quarantine zones who have it, but more people aren’t getting it.

This sort of thing was predicted in any of a number of dystopian movies and books of variable quality, where either victims of AIDS or some future AIDS stand-in disease are rounded up and thrown into camps. By comparing any effort at quarantine with fascism, the idea of quarantine was essentially nixed. Keep in mind, kids, that when the role of “bath houses” in the spread of AIDS was first realized, many in the gay community fought tooth and nail to make sure that these sources of pestilence were allowed to remain open.

Would a “fascist” quarantine system have ended AIDS? Maybe. Cases can be made either way. But you know what *didn’t* end AIDS? The approach we took. We now have millions of people infected with a disease that is being held in check with drugs. And now, look, oh goodie:

Why Are Drug-Resistant HIV Strains Becoming More Prevalent?

“Subtype AE” is emerging in the Philippines, and it’s resistant to the antiviral drugs that have kept AIDS in check. More than 10% of new antiviral patients in many latin American, African and Asian countries have forms of AIDS that are resistant.

The process of perpetual treatment of AIDS has led to the perpetuation of AIDS. Future mutations *could,* maybe, just possibly, lead to a far more dangerous form of the disease. Airborne strains, strains actually transmittable by insect bites or sweaty handshakes or breathing.

 Posted by at 6:14 pm
Mar 282018
 

Solid rocket propellant is *typically* made by mixing liquid rubber with ammonium perchlorate (a dry, salt-like powder and an oxidizer) and powdered aluminum (the fuel). Small amounts of other materials (cyanoacrylates, iron oxide, etc.) can be added to give the propellant different properties. But regardless of the specific mix, the trick is the actual mixing process. Generally propellant mixers look like giant versions of kitchen mixers, and operate in the exact same way as the machine you might use to turn water and flour into bread dough. But here’s the thing: if something goes wrong while you mix the dough and *somehow* the mixing blades strike the side of the bowl, the likelihood of it thing blowing up your house are minimal. The forces and energies involved in mixing propellant has several times resulted in facilities blowing up or burning down. Failures have resulted from sparks, scrapes, foreign objects being banged between blade and bowl. In short, metal parts, electrical systems and moving parts are a little dangerous when mixing propellant.

Enter the Japanese. Specifically, enter Japanese WTFery.

Watch This Robotic Intestine Puke Rocket Fuel

Instead of a metal kitchen mixer, this device is a pneumatic “artificial intestine” that mixes things much more gently, and in a continuous process. With a standard mixer, you pour in a batch of materials, mix, then pour. This system could in principle be constantly fed materials, producing an unending stream of mixed goop. It has the safety advantage of having no moving mechanical metal components in contact with the ingredients, just a constantly flexing rubber tube.

Note, though, that the headline isn’t exactly right. Intestines do indeed move… uhhh, stuff… through peristaltic pumping. But the end process isn’t to “puke” it. It goes out the *other* end.

The thing seems to work. But being Japanese, I’m a little surprised that it doesn’t involve tentacles. Give it time, I suppose.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 11:34 pm
Mar 232018
 

First proof a synthesized antibiotic is capable of treating superbugs

Teixobactin is not an entirely new, invented antibiotic, but instead an artificially synthesized version of a biological antibiotic found in the dirt a few years ago. It was modified slightly to make it easier to manufacture and the new version proved effective in trials with mice.

Western science and medicine FTW.

 Posted by at 11:52 pm