Jul 312010

A common complaint that I see quite often about Americans is that we’re an overly religious lot (as well as fat, stupid and loud… but enough about Charlie Rangel). “Overly” is of course a purely subjective measure, but on the whole, yes, we are *relatively* more religious than, say, western Europe. But does that mean that the things many Americans get wrong (due to religions teaching factually inaccurate things), our more culturally evolved cousins around the world get right?

Well… no.


Did humans live at the same time as dinosaurs?

The answer is of course no, but about a third of Australians got it wrong in a recent survey.


More than half of the [UK] public believe that the theory of evolution cannot explain the full complexity of life on Earth, and a “designer” must have lent a hand, the findings suggest.

And one in three believe that God created the world within the past 10,000 years.


About a quarter of Canadians also believe in Creationism

This compares to about 45% of Americans who seem to believe that God created the world and it’s critters pretty much as-is in their present form sometime within the last 10,000 years or so. This is shockingly bad, and displays both scientific illiteracy on a vast scale, as well as a very odd, internally contradictory theological viewpoint… most of these Creationists would say they believe in a “loving God” and all that, but apparently its a God who lies *all* *the* *damned* *time,* and has created an entire universe with the express purpose of confusing humans.

And of course, there are differences within the US based on political affiliation. However, the differences are not as pronounced as one might expect. Republicans are the more or less self-avowed “Christian” party, so it’s to be expected (sadly) that they’ll more readily buy into the creationism bunkum, while the Democrats should, at least in theory, avoid Creationism and other trappings of Christian fundamentalism like the plague. And still…


There is a significant political divide in beliefs about the origin of human beings, with 60% of Republicans saying humans were created in their present form by God 10,000 years ago, a belief shared by only 40% of independents and 38% of Democrats.

I’m sorry, but in terms of it being blisteringly obvious that Young Earth Creationism is a bunch of moronic bullcrap, 38% is still really damned high.

The question then becomes, how important is the Creationism delusion to the stability and progress of society? On one hand, having that many people being that badly misinformed cannot possibly be a good thing. But on the other hand, they are misinformed on a topic that, on the whole, does not mean a whole lot to daily life. If similar numbers of people were convinced that the blood of (insert hated religious/political/ethnic minority group HERE) made a really good oil substitute, then yeah, it’d be important. If similar numbers believed that nuclear power was a bad thing and should be banned, it’d be (and has turned out to have been) important. If similar numbers believed that the government owed them goodies, and that the government could just pull wealth out of its ass it’d be (and has turned out to have been) important. But belief in evolution? It’s harder to see similar overall negatives. There is probably a correlation with some aspects of belief regarding medicine… lack of belief in evolution leads to not understanding that bacteria evolve, which has played hell with the effectiveness of antibiotics. And the sort of group that believes that everything was just POOFed into existence by a cosmic teenager with ADD may well correlate with the sort of group that is easily led to believe that vaccinations lead to autism, or that prayer is more likely to cure cancer than radiation. And in these cases it’s a net postive; they are thus selecting themselves out of the future gene pool by avoiding decent medical care.

Another worry might be some sort of cultural clash between the pro-science and anti-science groups turning into an actual bloody fight by way of some sort of civil war. But Americans have usually been pretty good about such things, at least in the last century. While Europeans will happily slaughter each other in their millions over reasons most Americans can’t quite fathom (most of us wouldn’t know a Serb from a Croat, nor likely care), Americans tend to slaughter each other only for reasons of drunken brawls and drug and gang crimes, witha  healthy dollop of automotive hijinks thrown in for good measure. Europeans (and, hell, just about most everybody) lump themselves into vast groups to kill each other for stupid reasons; Americans tend to see killing for stupid reasons to be more of a small-group or even individual activity. I find it highly unlikely that the anti-evolutionists in the US are going to start wiping out the evolutionists anytime soon. This is of course a bit of a difference from European anti-evolutionists like Hitler and Stalin who happily threw Darwinists into camps; but since they were busy throwing *lots* of people into camps, evolutionists were kinda further down on the lists.


Along with belief in ghosts, alien visitations, patently absurd conspiracy theories and the like, belief that some god or other created a world full of fossils jsut to mess with us seems to be damn near a universal. The US has a definite high dose, but then this does not seem to be a new thing… and even with that particular anchor around our necks, we still managed to split the atom and send men to the moon. What has retarded our progress, sending us ona  trajectory out of first-world status, is not wacky religious beliefs… but wacky collectivist political beliefs. At least in the US, socialism is a far greater threat than anti-sciencism.

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
Jul 312010

Thursday night a minor storm blew through. I decided to see what sort of photography I could get out of it… as it turns out, not a whole lot of any value (lightning was too far away to produce anything good). The best of the bunch were some shots of satellites zipping around behind the clouds. The brightest satellite in the photos below I could see with the naked eye; the dimmer one only appeared on the photo.

 If you have a decent camera, a decent lens, some long exposures and the right timing, you’ll find the night sky is lousy with satellites.



 Posted by at 11:23 am
Jul 312010

Actually, I just need scans of two small illustrations from a single AIAA paper (1970-1218). What I am *not* looking for is the PDF file from the AIAA archives… the image quality *sucks.* What I *am* looking for is  a scan from either an original print or even a microform version, clear enough to show the dimensions in Figures 8 and 21. If anyone has easy access to such things (university libraries sometimes have ’em), any help would be appreciated.

 Posted by at 11:09 am
Jul 312010

The spambots are getting numerous and belligerant. While the blog has an anti-spam plugin that gets the majority of them, some still get through up to the stage of requiring moderation. More than 260 spam comments were blocked today, with more than a dozen making it through to moderation. *This* is why your first message must be moderated and accepted… otherwise, there’d be far more spam comments on the blog than actual comments.

The vast number of spam comments, though, means that some actual messages will get lost. If you try to post a comment with multiple links, it may well get dropped in the spam bucket. And of course first time commenters have to compete with spam to get noticed.


 Posted by at 12:30 am
Jul 302010


Note: one of those irritating “slideshows.” Also note: blood&burger, so probably NSFW.

Short form: family goes boating off the coast of Florida. A barracuda decides to leap into the boat, clamping onto 14-year-old girls arm in the process, ripping it up pretty effectively.

Father stabs the barracuda in the head with a knife, cuts the anchor line and they zoom back to shore (at least, as much of a “zoom” as they can get out of the fishing boat).

Before hopping in the car and dashing to the hospital for a quick dose of 51 stitches, they stop for a photo:


 Posted by at 8:59 am
Jul 292010

The AVX Aircraft Company has come up with a pretty slick design for a roadable helicopter in response to the DARPA RFP for a “flying Hummer.” It’s a conveniently cubical boxy shape, with a fair deal of internal volume, with two ducted fans for forward thrust and foldable coaxial rotors.

avx_tx_flying.jpg  avx_tx_ground.jpg

I’ve always prefered the idea of a “roadable helicopter” to a “roadable airplane.” As well as providing more convenient folding of the lifting surfaces – the Terrafugia folds up into something of a mess… serviceable, but large and exposed, and vision-blocking – a roadable helicopter provides better operational versatility. Whether you’re a civilian trying to get home from the office or soldiers trying to get the hell out of Dodge, if you find yourself stuck on a highway, a roadable airplane won’t help much. But a roadable helicopter can, in principle, just pull off the road, fire up the rotors and lift off vertically.

AVX is also proposing to convert old OH-58D Kiowa airframes into coaxial/ducted pusher configurations. If their estimates are accurate, it would be a relatively cheap way to turn these old bitrds into new, fast battlefield tools.



 Posted by at 6:34 pm
Jul 292010


Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted a video edited in a way that made her appear racist.

Wow. Really? The video wasn’t edited to make her appear racist; it was actually longer than it needed to be to make the NAACP members in the audience appear racist.

But she’s decided to sue. Fine. This means she’s going to have every last bit of whackadoodle Marxist nuttery she’s ever uttered brought to the public fore. Obama’s gonna *love* this…

Of course, if she somehow wins the lawsuit, it will be open season on *every* media outlet that ever dares to show any video ever. Breitbart did nothing more to the tape – if he did anything at all –  than to simply show a single four minute segment. He didn’t alter the audio or the video at all. So, the next time some politician gets caught saying something stupid, he can sue the hell out of any media outlet or blogger who dares to show it without showing the preceeding and following half hour as well.

 Posted by at 2:59 pm
Jul 282010

To continue

A uranium plasma with a core temperature of 42,000 degrees Rankine (23,333 K) is simply incapable of being held by any solid structure. The highest melting point of any known substance is tantalum hafnium carbide, at 4488 K. The uranium plasma would simply evaporate any material it came into contact with.

So, the trick was to make sure the uranium plasma didn’t come into contact with any solid materials. To do this, a “radial inflow vortex” was to be employed. Within the cylindrical reactor chambers, the uranium plasma would be held within the center, away from direct contact with the walls, by a rapidly rotating sheath of neon gas. Injected tangentially along the walls, the neon gas would travel in a helical pattern up the length of the cylinder and would be extracted at the forward end, to be cooled and recycled back into the system. The rapid rotation of the neon gas would be translated to the uranium plasma, and the whole plug of gas would spin at a high rate. Centrifugal force would keep the system properly distributed… while normally it would seem that a uranium gas would be denser than neon, the fact was that at the fabulously high temperatures involved, the uranium would be lower density than the cooler neon, and thus would be suspended in the core, away from the walls.

While the core temperature of the uranium plasma was 42,000 R, the outer surface would be a comparatively chilly 15,000 R. This is of course still far in excess of what any material structure can handle. But the neon, already a gas, could handle 15,000 R; due to the vortext structure, the innermost surface of the neon layer, where it was in contact with the uranium, would also be at 15,000 R, but a steep temperature gradient dropped the temperature to a modest, and structurally possible, temperature of 2000 R at the walls. The thickness of the neon gas layer was estimated to be under 0.05 feet.

Each of the seven chambers would have a neon flow rate of 2.96 pounds per second, and an axial velocity of 1.95 feet per second and a tangential velocity of 10 feet per second, with a total dwell time of 3.8 seconds. The hot neon would extract energy from the reactor, of course, to the sum of 4,120 BTU/sec. The hot neon would be used, in part, to pre-warm the hydrogen fuel.



Schematic view of one of the seven chambers in the nuclear lightbulb engine (United Aircraft)


Even with the neon buffer layer, a simple glass wall would not be sufficient to withstand the harsh environment. As well as simply being in contact with 2000 R neon gas, the transparent wall would also have a vast sleet of radiation passing through it… infra-red, gamma rays, neutrons, the whole spectrum. Once again there was the problem that no transparent material would possibly be able to survive the environment. Even the most optically transparent material will absorb some of the radiation passing through it… and this absorbed energy will be converted directly to heat. It would not take very long at all for the clearest substance to get incredibly hot… which, of course, was the goal with the hydrogen propellant. What was desired for the propellant was manifestly not desired for the structure.

So the transparent walls were to be made not out of monolithic sheets, but thin-walled tubes. High-purity fused silica was the baselined material of choice. Thought was given to single-crystal beryllium oxide and synthetic quartz as materials, as they had better transparency in the ultraviolet, but production of the required tubes using these materials was undemonstrated. To cool the tubes, hydrogen gas would be pumped through.

The cylindrical walls were built in three 120-degree radial segments. At the end of each segment was a manifold for injection or extraction of the hydrogen coolant, so the hydrogen did not travel very far around the circumference of the cylinder. This assured that the hydrogen did not have time to heat up to much, and that the silica glass would be maintained at a reasonably constant temperature of between 800 and 1100 Celcius (yes, the reports have units all over the place). Corning Type 7940 and General Electric Type 151 fused silicas typically had a purity of SiO2 of 99.997 percent, with Al2O3 being the primary impurity. Purity was essential… the greater the purity, the greater the transparency.

Since this was the late 1960’s, United Aircraft actually ran a number of physical experiments to demonstrate the feasibility of their designs and materials, rather than a series of colorful computer simulations. As operating a uranium plasma reaction was somewhat beyond the scope and funding of their contract with NASA, they instead used a 1.2 megawatt RF induction heater to generate an argon plasma of about 15,000 R in a subscale “reactor.” The subscale test setup used both axial tubes (with wall thicknesses down to 0.005inches) and circumferential tubes potted into the manifold with RTV silicone.



Schematic view of test setup (United Aircraft)



Test setup with annular tubing (United Aircraft)



Details of test hardware (United Aircraft)


In the tests, water rather than hydrogen was used as the coolant.

Test results were generally encouraging, but a number of issues were discovered. One of the more odd things that was noted in this and other testing was that the color of the glass tubes was a variable during the course of nuclear engine operation. Radiation damage to the glass would cause the glass to gradually become blue, then purple, then black. This is, of course, fatal to not only the functioning of the engine, but the survivability of the glass. Any amount of coloring would cause massive increase in radiation absorbtion, resulting in rapid overheating and structural failure. But over 800 Celcius, the  glass would thermally anneal… which would wipe out the coloration and restore transparency. Thus the need to keep the glass operating at a minimum of 800 C. But above 1100 C, devitrification of the glass would occur… it would continue to be perfectly servicable clear glass, but once it began to cool down after engine shutdown the surface of the glass would turn milky white due to a myriad of microscopic surface cracks. This would cause the glass to overheat if the engine was restarted. And thus the need to make sure that the glass did not rise above 1100 C.


nlb2.jpg  nlb3.jpg  nlb4.jpg  nlb5.jpg  nlb7.jpg

Photos of test hardware (United Aircraft)


To Be Continued…

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
Jul 282010


 Short form: Man has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and only a few years to live. He’s going blind, has can’t walk but a few paces, can’t “put a stupid nut on a bolt.” Basically, he’s in misery. So, he wants to donate his organs. Not later, but now.

All the doctors he’s contacted have said not just “no,” but “hell no.”

Should he be allowed to? The Hippocratic Oath famously says “First do no harm.” But there’s long been a debate over whether the greater harm is to help someone terminal and miserable end their lives, or to use medical science to extend their misery for as long as possible. And his organs may be viable for transplant now, but some years down the line? Probably not. And there’s always the most important philosophical point to consider: it’s his life and his body, and his to do with as he wishes. But on the other hand, he can’t force someone else to do anything they don’t want to do.


The feller in question has posted a video on YouTube, making his case:


 Posted by at 9:32 am