Terahertz detector

Light Detector has Unprecedented Performance

Really interesting concept, being able to cheaply detect terahertz rays (below heat but above microwaves). These rays tend to pass through the surface of most materials and are reflected from deeper within, so once this is worked out in detail we can probably use it to take pictures of people’s insides without exposing them to X-rays. Of course, it may also allow people to see right through cloths, so the good-old ‘XRay’ glasses might finally become a reality.

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Our fear of fat is melting

It has been a long time coming, but it seems that the establishment has finally started to accept that high carbohydrate diets (otherwise known as low-fat diets) are bad for you. I speak about the evils of sugar from time to time, but along with Atkins and everyone else who has even hinted that refined carbohydrates are bad for you, no one cares to listen. Of course like everything else in our society, there are huge economic interests in keeping us fed with sugar, so it will be decades at least before anything fundamental changes, but such is life in the great USofA.

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What have you invented for me _lately_?

I have been thinking the last week or so that for all the appearance of our rapidly escalating technology, we really haven’t invented anything since the middle of the last century. I view the last real invention as the Laser (actually LASER), back in the very late 1950′s and prior to that the transistor in ’47. Lots of interesting things happened in the early part of the 1900′s such as the first plane (Wright Brothers) in 1903, penicillin in ’28 and nuclear fission in ’38. While there have been lots of things patented, the real breakthroughs have been few and all in the deep past, at least according to my calculation. The World Wide Web? I don’t view that as much of an invention, it was going to be ‘invented’ very soon by someone, it was the logical extension of what had gone before. Integrated circuits? Obvious once the transistor was invented. Man on the moon? ‘Only’ an engineering problem once the basics of rocketry (not really invented by Goddard, though he is credited with inventing the liquid fueled version that was probably necessary for meaningful advances) had been worked out. Cell phones? Coupled with the invention (discovery) of radio (much of the work was done by Hertz in the 1880′s) and the transistor cell phones are pretty much inevitable. Computers? Babbage invented them back in the 1820′s, though it pretty much had to wait for sophisticated electronics and later the transistor to make much of an impact. What can you think of that isn’t easy to see as inevitable that has been invented or discovered since the 1950′s?

While the pace of invention has slowed to a crawl (or, more honestly, come to a dead stop), the refinement of earlier inventions and the combination of various concepts into interesting agglomerations has been moving at an accelerating rate. Will that, though, be enough to take us to the singularity? Perhaps our technological advances will simply peter out as we fill in all the holes between advancements. I certainly think we can carry our ‘filling in the holes’ for decades yet to come, and given the advances I have read about regarding understanding how the brain works, it is feasible that even absent any significant breakthroughs we might be able to ‘jack’ ourselves into the ‘net and that could be the singularity. The vast majority of my ideas really aren’t much more than extending concepts that are already in the works or combining various concepts in apparently new ways, I can’t think of any idea I have had that can’t easily be imagined by someone else thinking of it (indeed, just this weekend I ‘discovered’ that someone has already commercialized an idea I had for parallel writing of electron beam lithography). While I was getting a D in physical chemistry a couple of decades ago I found myself thinking about a wave theory of matter, only to learn years later that there really wasn’t anything special about that idea.

Surely we haven’t invented everything!

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Police militarization

The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson

I don’t really have any sort of opinion regarding who did what in Ferguson (unlike, say, my opinions on Trayvon Martin), largely because a) I am firmly convinced that both sides are in the wrong and b) I am not really following it very closely. However, the response to the community upset (note that I firmly believe that thugs have been attracted to the attention and that much of the violence isn’t initiated by the local citizens) by the ‘militarized’ police is more of an issue to me. When I read the above article it aligned very nicely with what was percolating in my noggin so thought I would share it with my reader(s) in lieu of my own babbling.

I recall when in the National Guard that we trained for riot control. I always felt silly doing the training (we had to stand shoulder to shoulder and bang our night sticks against our shields and shout something scary in unison as we advanced in lock-step) but my understanding was we were never likely to need to use that training unless there was a serious disaster and social breakdown had happened. However there is an interesting timing issue: much like the shootings at Kent State, did the riot start because riot police showed up or was there going to be a riot either way? I lean toward the former and except for the idiots that joined the Ferguson protests just because they wanted to riot and loot, I expect the locals didn’t have anything but peaceful protest in mind when they started out. I have read several reports (not on this latest thing in Ferguson specifically) where concerned citizens tried to approach the police to point out problems only to get beaten and thrown in jail for their trouble. When, as appears to be largely the case in the US now, the police start to think that _every_ citizen is a criminal out to get them these over reactions are inevitable.

I am reminded of a few articles I have read over the last decade or so regarding the transition from beat cops to cops in cars. Back when the local police patrolled on foot, they had intimate knowledge of the neighborhood and further, were friendly with many of the citizens. As a consequence (or so I have read), when there were issues the police were often informally informed of the nascent problems by these concerned citizens and are able to head things off before they get out of control. Further, when things have got to a bad point, the police have personal relationships with local citizens so won’t bang them on the head and arrest them when they try to tell them about specific problems.

More signs of the apocalypse…

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Stress is inherited

Pregnancy Stress Spans Generations
The stressors a female rat experiences during pregnancy can have repercussions for her granddaughters, a study shows.

Kind of scary: that something even your parents have no control over can have a dramatic impact on your own life. I wonder if this can also help explain things like autism since there never seems to be any genetic link. Of course, if it is an epigenetic link (as is the case in the above report) it won’t show up as changed genes, but to my knowledge no one really has an effective way to measure the epigenome at present, let alone compare it as it changes over life and/or generations.

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Eavesdropping with a camera and potted plants

Eavesdropping with a camera and potted plants

A really interesting idea that seems related to my earlier post on clear air turbulence. I like the idea that it is totally passive, nothing to give away that it is happening.

Guard your bag of chips!

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An aspirin a day keeps the oncologist away

Aspirin should be taken by all over 50s to cut thousands of cancer deaths: study
Every middle aged person should take aspirin daily for ten years, experts have said, as a comprehensive study has found it could save 6,000 lives a year by preventing cancer and heart disease

This is interesting; up until this study what I had heard was the risks outweighed the benefits unless you were at high risk of stroke or had had a heart attack. At least based on this article (I’m too lazy to look up the actual study), it seems the benefits clearly outweigh the risks (increased bleeding, primarily), so it might be something I should add into my daily activities.

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Organic: better, the same or worse?

Is organic food better for you?

While things _may_ have progressed to the point where we are getting negative returns on our investment, for the most part the last several centuries of steadily increasing technological application toward food has resulted in dramatically reduced deaths, dramatically increased yields and as a consequence, a whole lot more humans to deal with. The majority of organic products come with increased incidence of illness and reduced yields and as a consequence, can only support a smaller population. There have been reproducible differences detected between organic and conventional foods, but those differences are generally (scientifically) not considered significant. Much like the folderol regarding the supposed dangers of microwaving foods (interestingly there are fewer reports on the massively greater scientific documentation on the health hazards of charring food), there is no real evidence that organic foods are in any way healthier than their non-organic counterparts. As a consequence, it boils down pure and simple to an emotional decision, there is no science to support the decision to go organic but there is clear science that overall organic has increased incidence of illnesses (due to the general lack of oversight, e.g., unpasteurized milk).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t viable methods to produce the same food with a vastly lower impact on our environment, just that ‘organic’ food isn’t worth the price unless you like overpaying for the same benefit.

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Peak Everything

This is probably going to be a long and rambling post, but heck, I haven’t done one in a while (though I am sure some readers will object since I often run off at the keyboard). Over the last couple of days I have been reading a book that contains several sections regarding global warming, peak oil, etc. (I won’t name it, it is generally poorly written and is at least half the author making Tea Party rants against Obama). Then last night I watched part of a program about peak oil. I have also been a regular reader of the blog Do The Math where the author talks extensively (and with numbers, hence the title) about how alternatives have no prayer of replacing our dependence on crude oil. Anyway, I haven’t babble about the looming apocalypse for a while so felt now was a good time. With that as unnecessary introduction, let the rant begin…

While I have significant doubts about the concept of ‘global warming‘ being the result of human’s use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe (quite strongly!) that humans are destroying the value in our globe’s ecosystem at an accelerating, unsustainable rate. For the most part humans have almost completely decimated the land surface (where that surface has any value, of course; trackless deserts are pretty much left to themselves), though there has been a small trend in the opposite direction lately. We have been so steadily raping the ocean that we have almost removed all the apex predators completely and have been steadily working our way down the food chain (though we already harvest tons of krill, pretty close to the bottom of the food chain). We pump massive amounts of antibiotics and other assorted pharmaceuticals into our waterways on a daily basis that lead to dramatic impacts on sensitive life (some leading to ‘feminization‘ of fish and amphibians) not to mention flooding the oceans with nutrient runoff leading to algae blooms and thence to ‘dead zones‘. And, as is fairly well known already, our steady destruction of old growth forest (tropical and temperate) have been resulting in the lost of species at the rate that many ecologists are talking about a new extinction event (the time of the ‘Anthropocene‘). Here in the US we have created additional problems entirely fabricated by humans: the ability of nation/states or even random hackers to plunge our infrastructure into the stone age at the press of a button. We have put so much junk in Earth orbit that it is becoming problematic to launch new satellites, so we are even trashing parts of our solar system!

So, humans are having a huge impact on our planet even before we break out discussions of peak oil and the conflicts thereafter. We have already passed peaks in so many other places (fish harvest have been steadily declining for a century or longer, only by going to ‘lower quality’ fish have we been able to keep our faces stuffed) and are in the down slide that it is almost quaint to talk about something like oil. However, because humans have such a strong, wide aggressive streak, it is quite certain that these various peak-sliding-down-events will eventually (where that is likely measured in years, but could conceivably be decades if we are lucky) there will be even more massive impact on our environment as we start to wholesale slaughter one another in a desperate, but useless (actually counter productive), attempt to stave off the inevitable decline. When I have talked about the apocalypse I have generally focused on it being a US centric event, but over the last couple of days I am now thinking it will be a much more global event and there will be few places to hide. There is almost certainly going to be a sudden, sharp and seemingly instantaneous ‘flip’ from everything seeming to go well one day to the entire globe is in the shit the next day. While it is possible to predict with almost certainty that this event will happen, the timing is the result of countless actions feeding back towards one another in a non-linear fashion. Sort of like the events that unfolded in the Philippines when the typhoon struck a year or so ago, the aftermath is fairly easy to document and the resultant steps taken by various governments and groups easy to outline. Positioning yourself to be on the right side, though, may be very non-trivial. I saw the looming housing crash years in advanced and put together a very pretty plan to take advantage of it, but moved too slow and instead wound up even more screwed.

The ironic thing to me is that none of this needs to happen. Based on my research we can produce such a huge amount of food using a technique called aquaponics that we could easily manage a human population of more than a trillion without _any_ impact on the ecosystem (other than the 10% of land surface we would use)! We could continue our love of liquid fuels by utilizing duckweed and supply our electricity using nuclear energy. We could likely even harvest solar energy (thus doing away with the nuclear ‘bogyman’) using something called ‘osmotic energy‘ (see the lower half of the post) and skip the expense of solar panels (I have read several analyses that suggest the energy it takes to produce the panel is greater than the panel’s lifetime output). However, in order to prepare for the consequences of a major peak (such as oil, food, etc.) one must start long before the peak is realized as the consequences of the downside are abrupt and devastating. Since by many estimates we may have already reached peak oil and food (by conventional means, of course) we are teetering on the cusp of the slide into oblivion already giving us essentially negative time to react.

So is there any way to prepare for such an event (besides keeping cyanide capsules with you at all time so you can simply skip to the end)? The so-called ‘preppers‘ are already attempting to lay the ground work, but I consider most of those efforts doomed (e.g.). It is fairly easy to estimate what the world will look like after (with about one tenth of its population in 3-5 years and a steadily declining population for decades to come, for instance), but the actual crumbling will be much like the events inside a hurricane or tornado. Inches will matter and luck will have a disproportionate impact on who survives what. Disease will become rampant and the inner cores of cities will become wastelands where only a few hardy (or foolhardy) groups will eek out a living on the scraps left over by the riots. The countryside will be dotted with Amish inspired communities where the inhabitants will aggressively defend their territory and way of life and skeletons will litter the highways and byways.

Of course I might be full of crap, it isn’t like anything like this has ever happened before, right? Oh yea, there are a couple of examples in human history, such as the fall of Rome, several revolutions in China, you know, stuff like that. We won’t be like that, you say, things are different now. Well, the long sustained upward trajectory we have been enjoying for well over a century (really going back to the industrial revolution) has pretty much robbed us of the collective knowledge to anticipate such an event, so when the tornado strikes we will be collectively shocked that it could ever happen.

Ok, I believe I got this out of my system, thanks for reading…

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I am not sure about this: we must end the tyranny of Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota

Break up the states! The case for the United Statelets of America
Here’s how Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota are exercising tyranny over the rest of us — and how to stop them

On the one hand this idea sounds quite interesting, but on the other hand I see it as a slippery slope. Once you start breaking up states where does it stop? Smaller states have just as many demographic differences as larger states, so do we wind up with Gerrymandered states? A rural state that completely surrounds a city state? Would you combine regions like the DC Metro that consists of parts of Maryland, Virginia and of course DC? Would the state boundaries shift over time like city boundaries? Where would it all end?

In any case, I doubt it would have any appreciable impact on our current political system, it is already beholden to the rich elite and the sheeple have no impact, I don’t see that changing with an extra 50 stars on our flag.

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