December 08, 2011

Running Sucks

No, really.  If you gotta run, sprint, then walk.  Steady-state running for long distance just isn't good for you.  I'm not hatin', it's science.

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June 08, 2011

J. Stanton, gifted writer

Breakfast cereal, including "granolaā€¯, is a cynical marketing ploy by religious fundamentalists to destroy your sex drive.

I need to memorize that sentence.  That's eminently quotable.  Doesn't hurt that it's essentially true.

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May 25, 2011

Rest well, intrepid machine

The 3 month mission of the martian rover Spirit that began with landfall on the red planet on January 3, 2004, has ended after more than 6 years of exploration and experimentation.  I cried when I found out, and feel no shame in the admission.

Opportunity continues to roll and transmit.  May it continue for as long as possible.

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March 15, 2011

In which I link to Kirk Sorensen...

Who lays out the alchemy for you. Yes, alchemy. Transmutations of elements are literally occurring.  That's how radioactivity works, people.

Bottom line: this isn't Chernobyl.  It's not even Three Mile Island.  Also, LFTRs would be even safer -- far safer than natural gas, which would have outright exploded like a bomb.

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November 26, 2010

Stupid gym tricks

Workout log coming later today, this is just something I saw that floored me, and I had to share.

So I'm at the gym, finishing my workout with some static core work (i.e. prone bridges), and I see this 40-something gal on one of the treadmills at what had to be maximum incline, with the belt going at a nice fast clip.  Hard work, right?

Not really.  She's at a high incline and a high speed, but she's got a death grip on the "heart rate monitor" handles at the top of the treadmill, and her biceps and forearms are fully engaged.  She's at a 20 degree incline, sure, but she's "walking" perpendicular to the belt.  No kidding, the line of her spine is tilted 20 degrees backward she's maintaining that leaned-back angle with a sort of static hold on those handles.  With that much weight off her feet and on her arms, she's actually getting less of a cardio workout than she would walking flat, and she's tiring her arms out with no range of motion.  Congrats, lady, you've managed to combine a crappy leg workout with a crappy arm workout.

Oh, and no, I didn't offer free advice.  That'd be rude and waste my time (who listens to free advice?).  This is intended as education.  Don't be this lady.  Also, don't get me wrong.  I respect anyone trying to get in shape or stay in shape just for the effort alone; just trying is more effort than most put in.  I don't normally snark, and this isn't really, it's just frustrating because I want to help her not waste her time in the gym, but there's no socially-acceptable way to do that.

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December 03, 2009

Well, at least we didn't go ahead with that "seeding the upper atmosphere with sulfur dioxide" plan


Anyone that still buys into this crap is belligerently uninformed. Can we put that money and effort toward real pollution now, like mercury in groundwater, plastic in the ocean, or whateverthehell is feminizing male fish and amphibians?

H/T to Don Surber


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August 07, 2009

Dean Kamen makes some excellent points...

In this article here, and does so far better than I would have. I actually have a friend working on a diabetes cure/treatment, and I'd had no idea that the annual total expense for treating all American diabetics was so large.

If we really want to cut costs, cures are where it's at.

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June 17, 2009

Not all is doom and gloom, it would appear

MSimon (aka the hardest workin' IEC fusion blogger in the whole darn blogosphere) has a post up at Classical Values about the navy contract for WB-8.  There are a lot of positive implications just from reading the contract.  Simon sums them up nicely:

What it means about past work: it went well.
What it means for the future: verifying engineering rules
More: there is a plan to test the Hydrogen/Boron 11 fuel combination
More: They must be confident of results since they are planning a WB-9


As they so often say, go read the whole thing.  I actually took the time to skim through the contract -- having just a wee bit of experience reading these things -- and I agree with Simon's conclusions.  This looks like a lot of behind-the-scenes positive development.  My fingers remain crossed, but I guess we'll find out in a few years.

Assuming, of course, that we still have a Navy in a few years.  They are so pricy, you know?  And we could always just put the Army on boats, right?  Isn't health care more important, and a clearer constitutional priority?

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June 14, 2009

As Douglas noted in the comments of the prior post...

The funding situation for EMC2 has changed recently. They are actually going to be receiving a pittance of funds from the gigantic pile of boondoggle that is officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e. Porkulous). MSimon posted about this in April to the IEC Fusion Technology Blog.

To be fair, I say it's a pittance because it's $2M, when they need closer $40M to really get going, and at least three to five million just to complete their own scoped phase 1 research. I also say it's a pittance because according to the government's own website, Energy alone is getting $43B, and Science and Infrastructure are getting $111B. The nebulous category of "Protecting the Vulnerable" is slated for $81B. Health Care is getting $59B. The relative dollar numbers tell me that the government still isn't serious -- in the slightest -- about real, fundamental energy research.

The truth is I'm fine with that, fundamental energy research is not the government's job. The problem with that stance is that government still dabbles in it -- and does so very poorly -- which affects the availability of resources for anyone else attempting to fund their own research. It means that when recruiting scientists and other workers, privately funded efforts must make bids for their services in competition with bloated goverment budgets. It means that demand for many specialized and narrowly-purposed hardware components is higher, while the supply might be inelastic, meaning again that private money must compete with public money for goods. Public money can outbid you, every time, even if they have to inflate the currency to do it.

EMC2 has had a plan laid out since at least a year prior to the death of Dr. Bussard, outlining expected expenditures of less than $205M overall, just to discover if polywell fusion with D-D and P-B11 fuels can produce a substantial, continuous net energy output. If I want to be a real skeptic I can say their numbers are undersized, and they really need about twice that, or slightly more, say $450M or so. This is one of those "if it works, it'll change everything, including national security" kind of situations. We're blowing a metric crapton of dollars in the immediate future, we may as well "waste" $450M and find out if this thing works, perhaps by "Protecting the Vulnerable" a little bit less, or letting young, healthy folk pay their own way on health care just a teensy bit longer.

Now, with all that said, I'd like to see an equal amount of funding for LFTR, because I once heard an old proverb about eggs and baskets, and I'm not one to question sagely advice about eggs.  One of these two methods is bound to work at least close to the way it's envisioned by proponents, and either one will change the balance of energy generation so dramatically as to make the importation of energy entirely unnecessary.

In the end, my hope is that the $2M is somehow just enough to get some really good, hard data that will convince someone with a fat wallet to fund a phase 2 effort.  My fear is that it won't be enough, and the lack of results will be used as further "proof" by detractors that fusion only works when it's much bigger, much more expensive, and far less practical.

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April 28, 2009

The Big Reboot

Juan Enriquez talks about death by government and rebirth by science.

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Interesting talk on bacterial communication

Bonnie Bassler at TED.

The really big deal is that bacteria may require communication to become pathogenic, which means we might be able to interfere with them as pathogens without actually killing them.  Why is this better than killing them?  Because any measure we take to kill some bacteria (i.e. antibiotics) inevitably exerts selective pressure, eventually resulting in the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogenic bacteria.  If we can obviate their pathogenic behaviors by interfering with their communication and without killing them, we don't push their evolution, and we don't get sick.  Very cool stuff.

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April 02, 2009

Another nice page on LFTR

At Coal2Nuclear. While I could live without the ongoing emphasis on AGW and CO2 as some sort of dangerous poison, I'm also cynical enough that I don't really mind capitalizing on the hype to get us started on seriously replacing our coal infrastructure with nukes. LFTR is a game-changer, and is probably an excellent bet to bankrupt the House of Saud. Coal would be better used as feedstock for all the things we'll be using graphene for in the years to come, like lighting, electronics, and computation. Getting it from the atmosphere is easy enough, sure, but it also means we're competing with crops for something they can't get any other way.

Huge H/T to NextBigFuture

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January 28, 2009

You are being lied to...

By just about everything, for every conceivable reason.  I'm not talking about the easy stuff like media bobbleheads and politicians.  Of course they lie to you, but it goes deeper than that.  Your own brain lies to you based on sensory data inconsistent with the environment for which it's built.

People can tell you lies because the part of your brain that processes language does a nice job of turning it into concepts and ideas in your own head, and your brain's first impulse is to believe them.  It's only a secondary, reviewing action that checks the plausibility of the things you're told and the credibility of the teller.  The part of your brain that handles language, thankfully, is only slightly older than the part that detects falsehoods.  That matters.  Brain parts orchestrate into a hierarchy based largely on seniority.  That might sound strange, but it's actually a solid, conservative strategy.  The older a particular functioning neural subunit is, the more evolutionary clout it carries.  "I was around for when we were barely bipedal, and we managed through that just fine with my input" it might say, metaphorically.

While this is the "strategy" of nearly everything based on DNA and the processes of selection, mutation, and crossover through successive generations of individuals, it represents a clear threat to a modern human.  The environment of modern man in the first world contains traps for a brain that, by many measures, is built to hunt, gather, and breed while living on the edge of a treeline near a large body of warm saltwater.  Your brain tells your body that getting in trouble with your boss is the same as being attacked by a wild boar, and prepares you for fight or flight, rather than for a quiet and rational discussion.  Your brain tells your body that a doughnut is good for you, because it's sweet to the taste, and sweet things have calories and lots of vitamins, so you should eat all you can in case famine starts soon.  Your brain tells your body that those pictures of naked people in a mating act are the same as you being there -- close enough -- anyhow, and so you're rewarded with endorphins and other pleasure hormones just for looking, or for wasting vital energy and material in -- literally -- fruitless passtimes.

The big, burly, all-mammals-got-one part of your brain has zero preparation and no frame of reference for all this crap.  Sweet = fruit or honey, and it never comes with fat, so satiety never comes when you eat both together.  Fat = meat, calories and protein, so eat the tenderest, fattiest parts so you don't starve.  Pictures of potential mates confuse the hell out of it.  That part of your brain just grunts and wants whatever it is that will get you closer to that potential mate, whether it's aftershave or clicking a hyperlink.  The image is seen, the general "get it!" call goes up, and your forebrain has little choice but to respond.

Pitted against this gigantic mass of tissue with millions of years' worth of evolutionary clout is a tiny mass of tissue called the neocortex ("new brain").  It sits right up at the front of your skull, just behind your eyebrows.  It's the part of your brain that's really, genuinely human, the part no other animal can really lay claim to, and it doesn't even really fully form in many cases until a person is in their mid-twenties.  This one sliver of cerebrum has the thankless job of telling the rest of your brain that it's wrong, of inhibiting those strong impulses, hopefully to see to it that you live long enough to breed well, and raise offspring that will do the same.  The conflict between this little trooper of an organ and the rest of your brain is why it's hard to stay on diets, why it's hard to make exercise a habit, why you might have trouble catching your breath when you have to confront a coworker, and any number of other things.  Your big brain lies to your body, your little brain tries to tell it the truth, and sometimes the big brain wins.

Or I could be completely off base, but it sure rings true-ish, doesn't it?  Of course, my little brain is telling me that, and it might be lying.

How would I know?

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January 07, 2009

LFTR

Liquid fluoride thorium reactors are on my mind lately. There's an excellent video here of recent presentation on the idea by Dr. Joe Bonometti, and I've added a link to the Energy from Thorium blog to the sidebar. If you're at all interested, I highly recommend heading over and reading through the stickied posts on how the technology might work.

Capsule summary so far:

  • Thorium reactors rely on fission, which is well-understood and absolutely, for-sure works. LFTRs are a middling engineering challenge, not new science.
  • We have a LOT of thorium in the US, and on the planet. Enough to power current energy consumption rates for millenia. When that runs out (or when we leave), we can mine it from the Moon, and anywhere we find it in space, because it has a distinct radiation signature.
  • LFTRs are anticipated to be what nukees call "proliferation resistant", meaning it'd be damn hard to make a weapon with this sort of reactor.
  • LFTRs could -- we believe -- be made small enough to fit on a normal flatbed truck, and still power a small town.
  • No one has built a real LFTR yet, and no one can until DoE gives a go-ahead to someone with the money and ability to build it.
  • Getting approval from DoE is worse than getting a new drug approved, and much more costly.
I'm actually more enthused about this than I am IEC fusion at this point. Looks much more like a sure thing.

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December 06, 2008

The Monty Hall Problem

My wife actually asked about this on the phone the yesterday. I guess it showed up in one of those sappy chick-flicks she watches when I'm not around (or at least, if I'm lucky enough to not be around). Anyhow, I remembered Mrs. Peel's fantastic post on the matter, so I'm linking it here.

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October 31, 2008

Categorized as science, because I'm sure this is an experiment of some sort.




H/T The Hostages

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October 28, 2008

Fuel from thin air

I'm pretty sure I've linked to the LANL Green Freedom plan before, which is a very neat idea for using nuclear reactors and giant air intakes to generate octane and other useful hydrocarbons from air and electricity.

Anyhow, Brian Westenhaus over at New Energy And Fuel has a great article about a novel approach to catalyzing the process with biological agents that's really worth reading.

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September 04, 2008

Viruses you're gonna hear more about

Every cell in your body, every membrane in those cells -- all of you really -- only functions by virtue of a fabulously complex series of chemical reaction pathways that closely resemble an ensemble of cryptographic systems. Locks and keys abound, each fitting into the other precisely. Over untold generations, securer pathways have been selected for, and insecure pathways selected against. Every now and again, though, particles of DNA and RNA that resemble the good keys are created, either by copying errors within cells or just random molecular interaction. Over time, the best (in the sense that they trick the cellular machinery into making copies of them) of these fragments evolve as all things do, becoming viruses. Some of these become deadly or debilitating pathogens. Most of them are harmless (in the sense that they don't cause apparent immediate detriment), however, and many (we think) just end up part of the genome.

The tobacco mosaic virus, a pathogen for the tobacco plant but harmless to humans, might provide a very handy way to do gene therapy. It still infects us like any normal virus, and attempts to replicate its payload using our ribosomes, but to no real effect, as the genetic material it carries isn't compatible with ours. As the article suggests, researchers have perfected a swap of the genetic payload of the virus for one of their choosing, and can produce huge numbers of the virus on demand. This means 1) we might have a perfect vehicle for some amazing gene therapy and 2) we might have a convenient starter kit for the first man-made plague. Man-made diseases are coming, it's only a matter of time. I fully anticipate that we'll be using artificial immune system augmentation (think Symantec AntiVirus for your body) on a very regular basis before too long.

On a more purely positive note, it turns out that a particular potato virus might protect against Alzheimer's disease in humans. Alzheimer's is one of the worst diseases in my opinion, robbing many of us of parents and grandparents long before they die, and not because of any choice they deliberately made, but simple bad luck. It doesn't run in my family, but a very similar dementia disorder does, related to a dominant mutation in the Y chromosome. This means that unless a treatment can be found for the condition (an excess of clotting factor, causing thousands of tiny strokes later in life but protecting against small scrapes early in life), my mind will collapse shortly after my 80th birthday. That's still a long way off, but it scares the hell out of me.

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August 21, 2008

It's a metaphor for something, I'm sure of it

Posted as science, because it makes vibrantly clear how important it is to measure precisely.
H/T to DrewM. over at AoSHQ

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August 10, 2008

Mechanosynthesis

Brian Wang has an excellent post up about new funding for diamondoid mechanosynthesis viability. If you've never heard of it, it's the centerpiece of Dr. Eric Drexler's classic book Engines of Creation (highly recommended, very fun read, and it's free for download here). His follow-up, far more technical tome Nanosystems is also recommended. The basic idea is simple: with the right tools at the molecular scale, you could build working machines at that scale, molecule-by-molecule. The deliberate fabrication of these machines through mechanical action is why it's called mechanosynthesis, and "diamondoid" refers to the fact that nearly all such products will be given structure by carbon atoms in diamond configuration.

The ramifications of just getting that far are world-shaking: machines could operate on cells, build processors and electronic components with molecule-wide feature sizes. The real hope of the method, though, is to create tiny, multipurpose machine shops (i.e. nanofactories), that are capable of building copies of themselves. This is where the "grey goo", hollywood-nightmare version of nanotechnology gets its inspiration (it's also stupidly easy to prevent by proper nanofactory design). Nanofactories capable of self-replication would constitute a physical instantiation of a kinematic self-replicating machine, which has so far just been a neat thought experiment.

The experiments Wang describes are to explore the viability of the essential reactions of diamondoid mechanosynthesis. These have been the source of a great controversy and intense debate, particularly between Drexler and the late Dr. Richard Smalley.  I admit a certain bias in this debate, mostly because I found Smalley's tone to be positively trollish (personal attacks, appeals to emotion, flatly-inappropriate metaphors).  Nonetheless, his principal argument wasn't without merit, namely that we've never seen these sorts of reactions done by anything but living cells using wet chemistry and aqueous enzymes.  That's part of what these experiments will be trying to put to rest.  We already have dry enzymes for certain reactions, and we've done single-atom manipulations with scanning probe microscopes (SPM), both of which Smalley argued were impossibilities in the course of his debate with Drexler.

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