Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dinosaurs Had Feathers

We have long imagined dinosaurs as mighty lizards: scales and all. Every once and a while it is good to be reminded just how little of what we know is fact and how much is speculation.

Our beliefs about dinosaurs are based on reconstructions of skeletons or parts of skeletons. No one has ever seen dinosaur skin.

Only now, it seems we may have seen the tail of a dinosaur, down to the smallest detail of texture, possibly even some hints of coloring.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cuban Life

There is a lot of romance about Cuba. At Castro's death, there has been an attempt to restart the flame. This article from travel journalist Michael Totten puts life for the average Cuban into perspective.

And it doesn't mention Concentration camps, executions, firing squads, the exodus, families fleeing by sea.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Kipling Readings

The Washington Post defends Rudyard Kipling from the fashionable haters. From my point of view it's a Reading list of Kipling, “the greatest short-story writer in English“.

Though I notice three major omissions: If, The Gods of the Copybook Headings and Tommy.

Sometime in my twenties I noticed a trend.

The time has come to confess that I am an admirer.

*not actually in twenties

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Living in a Time of Wonders

Note that 1970 is just about exactly when your average North American decided that world poverty was a hopeless problem. 1990 was when international socialism collapsed.
Sept'16-Dierdre McCloskey hazards a guess as to why.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Slow Progress Expected for Zika
Above is an excerpt from an infographic for a Zika virus vaccine. It politely hints at the problem.
  1. Zika most strongly affects pregnant women and their newborns.
  2. Any tragedies, whether caused by the vaccine, unrelated to the vaccine or even mitigated by the vaccine will be blamed on the vaccine. There will be lawsuits and the damages will be astronomical.
  3. Revenue will not be astronomical. 
 (July'16) I'm not sure I like where this is going.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Perceiving the Flow of Reality

It seems natural to say that we see the world as it is presented to us, a continuous flow of new situations and new information. On the other hand, if you've ever seen an optical illusion, you know that perception is imperfect. How do we interact with the world?
This study says that our perceptions come to us in the form of "'time slices' lasting only milliseconds." Our mind perceives the world as a moment: all at once for about a quarter of a second, then it goes on to perceive the next moment.
The description reminds me of Ridley Scott's filming technique in the most intense battle scenes of Gladiator. (starting at about 4 minutes)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Professionalism and Professional Success like to think they go together. Here is an example of a doctor for whom they conflict.
“Why wouldn’t I give patients a Percocet prescription? It makes their life easier and my life easier.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Do You See the Volcano Tornadoes?

The American Association of Physics Teachers has posted the results of its 2015 photo contest. Sure the pictures are great; even better are some of the explanations that go with the winners.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Robots and Jobs

Are Robots Going to Take My Job?

I don't have an answer for that. The evidence I can muster says yes. My intuition says no. Scary stories are so much more compelling, though.

TaxProfBlog explains some of my thoughts on the subject. The Lump-of-Labour fallacy he mentions is outlined here.

(Dec'16) Ridley  says  no.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

DDT and the 100 Million
"In the last days of September 1943, as the U.S. Army advanced to the rescue of Italian partisans — some as young as nine — battling the Germans in the streets of Naples, the enraged Nazis, in a criminal act of revenge against their erstwhile allies, deployed sappers to systematically destroy the city’s aqueducts, reservoirs, and sewer system. This done, the supermen, pausing only to burn irreplaceable libraries, including hundreds of thousands of volumes and artifacts at the University of Naples — where Thomas Aquinas once taught — showed their youthful Neapolitan opponents their backs, and on October 1, to the delirious cheers of the Naples populace, Allied forces entered the town in triumph."

"But a city of over a million people had been left without sanitation, and within weeks, as the Germans had intended, epidemics broke out. [read on]"

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gravity Waves

The news says gravity waves have been discovered. The headlines say "Einstein proven right" though really, the physics world was not all that apprehensive. The excitement is that we now have a new way to look at the world. has a good news release with a video on the implications. Ricochet explains the experiment for an adult layman audience. This Verge video has the background, like how Einstein's concept of gravity is like bending space instead of Newton's idea of a force.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Progress Towards Life on Mars

 A fungus from Antarctica has been proven to survive reasonably well in simulated Mars conditions.

This means that if we decide* to make Mars habitable, the technology to do so is at hand. We can send earth life that will survive and reproduce. If the photosynthetic species are also hardy enough, we can generate oxygen that would stabilize the atmosphere.

*That is to say, unless we have already sent it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

So, you're stranded on a desert island. You can find food for now. You are surviving.

It can get cold, though and you are unprotected. You'd like to make your little world better than it is. Unfortunately, you have none of the modern tools you take for granted. You need primitive technology.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Great Unlearning

Look at the picture. Consider big game hunting. Reflect upon your thoughts.

Bill Whittle pieces these notions together in "The Great Unlearning" (7-1/2 min).

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Pacific Garbage Vortex

It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot.
In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. ...he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.
 The tales of Garbage Island are lurid.
Like all good stories, it grew over time...“We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.
 If you've wondered where those tales come from, read here. If you want to see the garbage patch, read here.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cold-War Technology Race Continues
Reverse-swept wings have been the next big advance in fighter planes for about 30 years now. Americans built a prototype in the 80's. Russians built a prototype in the 90's. Recently Russia announced that it is moving ahead with reverse wing technology. It promises a fighter that is more agile, especially at trans-sonic and super-sonic speeds. What the disadvantages are, I don't know. Perhaps the military isn't telling.

While Americans have the best funded military and probably have among the most motivated and creative personnel, they no longer have the edge in nerve. The American military (along with the Canadian and European militaries) has become risk-adverse. When it comes to experimentation with exciting and radical technologies, it seems the edge goes to Russia.

Of course, the other possibility is that the American researchers are all over this. They just choose not to publish their military secrets. It's possible that these are lousy ideas but since they are undeniably spectacular, they make great press anyway. That does seem to be the Putin M.O.