Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red Lightning
This is what you see when you look at weather from the other side.

It is only seen above a thunderstorm and it only lasts for 1/50th of a second.

Major Success

College major success rates, that is. Who earns, who works, who is full-time, who is in his field. Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight has compiled a list of 173 college majors and correlates it to how much new grads earn and how likely they are to use their degrees. His method has a pretty big flaw (which he addresses in the details) that you should not miss. As long as you keep this in mind, the results are useful: is it possible that the average petroleum engineer is smarter, harder-working and more motivated than your average library science practitioner? Casselman compares average earnings for university grads to high-school only grads. Is that a similar pool of people?

I've made similar posts before.

The Amazing New Space-Age Material is ...Wood?

OK, not exactly wood. If you take wood and extract cellulose, then extract from that nanocrystalline cellulose, you get a fiber that is as strong as steel but as light as water (1/3 as heavy as aluminum.)

Enlisting the Troops Against Invasive Species

One creative solution to invasive species:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fusion Comes Together

I see two big headlines in the fusion world currently. Both of them rely on the idea of producing energy in pulses. The biggest project in the world, ITER, continually squeezes hydrogen until it fuses, then continuously removes the waste while continuously supplying more fuel. These smaller, private organizations hold the fuel in place magnetically and compress it with a pulse of mechanical inertia. Dan Gelbart (Laberge's boss when he was hatching his plan) used to say that innovative technologies proceed in batches and efficient development moves toward continuous processes.
Steam Punk Fusion
General Fusion's innovation is that they crowd-sourced the solution to a tricky sealing problem. Progress seems to be proceeding according to the plan they boasted of three years ago: break-even* will be achieved in 2016 with viable power plant construction in the 2017-2022 range.
Helion Energy's big announcement is that it has raised $11 million and will raise $21M on the stock market. They claim they'll build a break-even machine in 2016! and a commercially viable machine in 2019! The final machine will be the size of a Mack truck, will produce 50 MW of power and will burn a combination of hydrogen (deuterium) and helium (He-3).

Helion spun off from this firm that wants to make fusion rocket engines.

*break-even (aka net-gain) means that it produces more energy in the fusion reaction than it takes to squeeze the atoms together.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Staying Healthy Amid Pressure Not To
For decades people have grumbled that university environments can be unhealthy. The Coddling of the American Mind (A reference to this pivotal work) in the Atlantic examines popular trends in the context of the powerfully successful psychological field of cognitive behavioral therapy. They make the case that emotional reasoning, trigger warnings, labeling microagressions and “catastrophizing” are literally harmful to mental health. Solutions could come from contemporary psychology or ancient philosophers like Marcus Aureluis* or Buddha.

*Relevant at 2:00, Aurelius at 4:20 of 33:00.

(Aug'15) McArdle adds: College as a consumer experience serves to "shelter" students from any benefit. 

(Sept'15) After a massive response, Lukianoff responds to the controversies in this video.
"Learn better how to argue fairly with yourself."
...In case the implications of that original article weren't big enough for you.
The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings

(Jan'16) The habits start in high-school.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Do You Buy It?

"The internet is making our children stupid."

The Backyard Scientist

Mario Fireballs in high-res, slow motion video, home-made foundry, CO2 rocket launcher. Do I really need to add the “do not try this at home”, except, maybe the Lichtenberg figures. Maybe!

Drifting Tanks

If you thought drift cars were awesome, check out this from the Russian International Tank Biathlon. (Apparently, that last line translates to something like "You can't see that on YouTube." Russian speakers please advise in comments.)

Via the jaw-dropping military technology of Foxtrot Alpha.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Key to Understanding the World

In 1958, Leonard Read wrote a couple of pages on the seemingly mundane subject of how to make a pencil. “I, Pencil”, though an essay, works like Robert Frost's idea of a poem: it “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
If you had all the elements of a pencil right in front of you, could you make a pencil? It's not as easy as you might think. In fact, no single person on the face of the earth could do it without the help of countless others. And this is the key to understanding the world.
Here is a video adaptation.

Old-School High-Technology

While TED lectures are quickly dropping their fact-to-flash ratio into narcissistic preening territory, the high content, low pizzazz, ironically entertaining educational films of yesteryear are posted onto YouTube. Here is a 1936 film on transmissions that builds all the way from basic lever theory to the workings of a synchromesh manual shift transmission in 10 minutes.
h/t-Popular Mechanics