Catch up time

In addition to being gone for almost a week, the last several days has seen my domains stuck in ice cold molasses for some reason. Though I have had no reply from my service provider, the problem appears to have gone away, so the plethora of posts below are the result of my week off. Hopefully it will be enough to satisfy my viewer(s).

We need to broaden our definition of life

Want to Find Aliens? Look for More than Just Earth-Like Planets

They talk about producing a “Planetary Habitability Index” based more on the known extremes of life as found here on Earth. I like that idea as I feel quite confident that anywhere there is liquid water, temperature gradients and an assortment of carbon and minerals, life of some sort will form. I strongly suspect life is ubiquitous in our universe, though intelligent life (like there is any on Earth ;-)) might be extraordinarily rare.

More uselessly interesting…

Scientists invent lightest material on Earth. What now?

In the collection of cool but perhaps useless stuff, this should rank near the top…

“It takes more than 10 seconds, for instance, for the lightest material we’ve made to fall if you drop it from shoulder height.”

Having said that, earlier ultra-light materials did wind up having a place in vacuum insulated panels (I recall reading about one that had something like R-270 in a thickness of only one centimeter) so maybe this will have some utility as well.

A bit obscure

But to me interesting in the future potential…

Scientists Of University Of Cambridge Devise Flexible Collective Osmotic Shock (COS) Method
Scientists of the University of Cambridge have published a novel research, demonstrating a novel flexible collective osmotic shock (COS) method for creating nanoporous materials, in the journal “Nature Materials”. The nanoporous substances can be used in wide range of applications from water purification devices to chemical sensors.

The article hints at how the approach might wind up being useful and I am starting to see how nano-scale manufacturing might be made practical on a larger scale. It is still not practical to have fine control over nano-scale assembly (the best approach I know about gets down to 1-5 nanometers (electron/ion beam lithography) which is still 10’s to 100’s of atoms) but I am thinking that for highly repetitive structures we might be on the verge of something great in the next decade or so.

Americans Have Put On 20 Pounds In 20 Years

Americans Have Put On 20 Pounds In 20 Years

This is horrifying in a different way. Not only are we turning into a nation of lard-asses, but it seems we are convincing ourselves that it is OK for us to be such fat blobs. The article is very interesting reading, but I felt that linking to the images they provide would summarize the information quite nicely:

Image 'borrowed' from the site
Image 'borrowed' from site

So our perception of our fat blob-by bodies seems to have taken too much from the anti-anorexia campaigns. Instead of simply targeting the skinny chicks who need to eat more, it seems that collectively we have all decided that we need to eat more and pack on more pounds. I freely admit (as is clear to anyone who sees me) that I am also a lard-ass and while I try to combat the bulge (mostly via exercise, I walk/jog 10-20 miles a week) I have been largely unsuccessful in the decade plus since I have emotionally accepted I am a fat pig. If I am someone who cares about being fat and I am struggling so hard, what about those who don’t give a damn? What else can they do but get bigger. My worry is they (we) are all happy about becoming the people in WALL-E and the battle against the bulge is already lost.

This is rather horrifying

I have mentioned the de facto police state we live in now a few times (, but it seems that certain members of Congress want to formally make the United States a police state and do away with the under cover aspect:

Senators Demand the Military Lock Up of American Citizens in a “Battlefield” They Define as Being Right Outside Your Window

Very scary stuff and it would be nice if the proposed amendment would come to fruition, but when we are in a society where laws are conceived, written, ‘debated’, and voted on in private, we are already lost. It won’t be too much longer before these sorts of organizations are rounded up and put away. Probably only a bit longer after that when people like me are rounded up and put away.

A way different type of robot…

Robot without a skeleton inspired by squid, crawls on land

This really intrigued me and thought readers here (all two of you, or is that too many?) would also find it interesting. I have been reading for years about pneumatic ‘effectors’ and how they had potential to dramatically increase the capability of robots, but this is the first time where I read there is a substantial software component involved. Perhaps that indicates the field has finally matured to the point where people start to give it serious enough consideration to find issues that need to be resolved.

This would be cool research to work on! Of course, it probably pays pennies compared to my work in the IC, too bad I am trapped in these golden handcuffs!

Am I a Global Warming Skeptic?

I read this article on Science News (hopefully the link below will work for you) and felt motivated to comment on it.

Contrasting the concerns over climate and ozone loss
Why phasing out chlorofluorocarbons proved a much easier sell than have been moves to cut back on greenhouse gases

This is my initial comment:

Even if we accept that human activity alone is contributing to the rise in temps (not something I advocate based on my reading starting back before the subject was cool or even controversial) why is the only solution to force a repeal of the industrial revolution? Why can’t we discuss alternatives (include doing nothing)? Why is everyone so absolutely positive that doing nothing results in catastrophe while doing something saves the world? Geo-engineering is geo-engineering and I feel we are just as likely to trigger an early arrival of the next ice age (a guarantee if any of our historical data is correct) as we are to maintain a steady temp. On a related note, if we are going to set a goal of keeping the temp fixed, what would be that temp and how is it to be measured? How do you remove noise from the measurement to know if you are succeeding or failing?

It seems impossible to have any of these conversations because the subject has got so polarized and politicized.

There isn’t much traffic there, but it seems my comments tweaked a nerve so I decided to respond again:

I am sure this is a waste of effort, much as I am sure you feel the same toward me, but I will try again…

What if, as I have read in scientific journals, that rather than burning of fossil fuels, the increase in CO2 we are observing is actually the result of putting land into cultivation (cultivated land leading to a net production of CO2)? If that were the case (as I recall, the arguments were quite persuasive and correlated very well with observed trends, better than the burning of fossil fuels), then if we all stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow there would be zero impact on the rate of global warming. I would have thought that these reports (which, unfortunately, I have not been able to relocate, either on-line or find where I am sure I saved a copy) would have got a lot of attention in the conversation in global warming, but instead, the reports appear to have been totally ignored. THAT is what I find offensive, the polarization has reached the point where even scientists cannot engage in rational discussion or discuss (or engage in) new lines of research.

Regarding the comparison with the money poured into medicine, I find that a spurious argument at best. Antibiotics were so successful that they became so over used that they are now useless. How is that progress? In the US we spend more per capita on medicine than anywhere else in the world, yet so far as I know, we are leaders in no other health category. What if there were treatments for diseases that cost billions instead of trillions and were more effective (in the case of antibiotics, bacteriophages)? Would we not then be idiots to spend the trillions? I suggest that the polarization that many blame on the denialists goes both ways. The pro-warming activists seem to see the only conceivable solution is one that forces our economy to crash as we piss away quadrillions on technology that has no prayer of success in allowing us to keep our current level of civilization, let alone progress.

I am not a global warming denialist, I am a person who has extensively read about the topic for well over a decade and I see far from certainty that the only course of action is to repeal the industrial revolution. I would like to engage in discussions on the merit of various approaches to address the concept of engineering our climate (which, of course, we are doing right now, but not on purpose) where there is potential for ideas in between doing nothing and causing such a catastrophe to our economy that we are basically thrown back into the iron age (well, probably further, since iron production is a huge source of CO2). If, as I read in a research paper, it is possible for a 3% tax on CO2 fuel sources could extract more CO2 than is produced each year by humans that could allow us to continue along our current path until fossil fuels become so expensive that the alternatives finally become economic. However, none of these discussions seem possible as long as people are going to insist on making every attempt at a rational discussion into a breast beating contest.

What is fascinating (aggravating, annoying, maddening) is the apparent inability to have a civil discussion. It seems that global warming debate has achieved the levels of abortion discussions (for the record I firmly believe that unwanted children should never be forced to live a life of misery and if the anti-abortion fanatics want every child conceived to grow to adulthood, they should be running giant organizations to take on the burden of raising those unwanted children rather than preaching about other people being forced into taking on that task), both sides are so polarized that the middle ground is a bottomless gulf where any who traverse are doomed to endless obscurity (if they are lucky) or derision (if they are less lucky).  I am not sure what I expect to get out of this post (or the comments I attached to the article), but felt I needed to get it off my chest.

I’m baaaaaack!

We took a week off over Thanksgiving partly to work on the greenhouse pool project ( if you find yourself with too much time on your hands) and partly to spend time with my mom. I got very sore and very muddy (since the pit takes too long to dry out, if we were going to get anything done it would be in mud) but made some small visible progress. My mom took an action shot of my wife Eliz man handling (woman handling?) our new jack hammer cleaning out the loose rock in one of the footer holes (the extensive rock is a major element why we are still working on the foundation after 7 months:

Eliz in Action

Now that I am back at work I expect my posting to pick up some steam, so those of you (are there any of you?) seeking my viewpoint should have some fodder to work with.

As a by the by, for those of you who do read my stuff, anyone care to show interest in a concept I have been working on: the pure virtual economy? Basically it boils down to this: since automation is putting more and more people out of work there are fewer and fewer ‘real’ jobs (jobs that require a physical presence and the coordination of human hand-eye activity) we are rapidly approaching the point where we will need to rely on people who get paid to do non-physical stuff (like write blog posts ;-)).  For instance, the employees of Google are a perfect example of what I am talking about.  They have no product, no manufacturing and no presence in the physical world (beyond their headquarters (which could just be photo-shopped)).  In order for our current economy to work, people need to consume (that is why our US economy is still in the doldrums, most consumers are reluctant to spend either because they are currently unemployed or are worried about becoming unemployed) and in order for people to consume, they need to be paid.  Take that to its logical conclusion (and the point of my article), people eventually are paid pure and simple to consume and that consumption creates the virtuous cycle that leads to a functioning economy.  I have thought about the idea for a while now and have been on the verge of writing something down, but haven’t got enough activation energy yet.  Perhaps some readers encouraging me might do the trick…