Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Daily Random Notes News

Just a few random notes, stories and thoughts for the day.

Want to improve your memory?  Try walking backwards.

John Bolton is out as National Security Advisor.  Bolton was arguing to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan with no clear mission and no exit strategy.  The President – his boss – disagreed.  So, this was obviously going to happen.

Want to improve your memory?  Try walking backwards.

Democrats are blaming airplanes, meat and business for climate change.  Guess which three of those things aren’t going anywhere.

Seriously, is that what Dems are running on in 2020?  Do they want more Trump?  Because that’s how you get more Trump.

In Normandy, scientists have uncovered a bunch of preserved footprints – from Neandertals.  This is pretty cool stuff, because while bones give us an idea of what the Neandertal looked like and how they moved, and their tools give us an idea of how innovative they were, footprints record behavior – they are like signatures, saying I was here. It’s a really groovy find.

Want to improve your memory?  Try walking backwards.

Quantum gravity may be the key to time travel.  I will be the first to admit that my understanding of all this is somewhat less than rudimentary, but color me skeptical.

Turns out naps could be good for your heart.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a cat having a heart attack, and all they seem to do is nap, so…

Want to improve your memory?  Try walking backwards.

The Brits in Parliament seem to have the most fun.

Back home, the Denver City Council seeks to emulate San Francisco in nutballery.  At least we don’t have shit-choked streets and discarded needles everywhere – yet.

To ease your transition back to the real world, here is a bit of totty from the archives:

And on that note, we return you to your Thursday, already in progress.

Rule Five Cause Analysis Friday

We all already know about the latest shooting spree by a nutbar, this one in Texas; I’m not going to rehash that.  But instead, even as politicians scramble to climb onto the still-warm bodies to RHEEEEE for more gun laws that won’t be enforced, I’d like to talk a little bit about cause analysis.

Now, to preface this:  I’ve been a self-employed independent consultant for fifteen + years.  A big part of that work involves teaching the employees of major corporations how to solve problems, which means teaching people how to identify causes; several large corporations have and do pay me significant money to teach their people how to identify and address the root causes of problems.

So, how does one go about solving a problem like the criminal use of guns?  Well, one might start by noting one of the primary rules of cause analysis:  The tool is never the cause.

Ultimately, root cause is defined as “The fundamental underlying condition absent which the nonconformity would not have occurred.” To analyze the various possible causes and arrive at an ultimate root cause, the cause investigator should consider several things:

  • The investigation should uncover a series of events or facts that led up to the nonconformity. Root cause typically lies at the beginning of this chain of events. Keep asking ‘why?’
  • Test possible causes; take one possible cause at a time and compare it to your investigative tools.  Now this isn’t easy when dealing with major social trends or criminal acts, as the streets and alleys of the nation aren’t laboratories.  But we can move on to:
  • A tool, be it physical, procedural or software, is never a cause. Root causes are always due to one of two things, both of which have their source in how a process is managed:
    • Someone has made a mistake, error or omission, (qualitative) or
    • There is too much variation in the performance of the product or the process (quantitative.)
  • How do you know when you have found the root cause? Some hints include:
    • Patterns found in the data lead to one cause.
    • Following the chain of events runs the questioner out of “whys.”
    • Multiple lines of inquiry lead to one result.
    • One possible cause shows up in several places.
    • The cause being examined is a systemic cause, not a specific cause.

However, the final determination should consider one thing: An incident  is an action; by the rules of cause and effect, the cause is likewise an action; an action requires an actor. Therefore, a root cause is always at the point where some person or group of people made a decision. A decision to act (or not to act) is always at the heart of every incident.  Is this cause qualitative or quantitative?  Without having done a thorough analysis, I’d guess the former; something in the minds of these assholes has gone badly wrong, and were they unable to get a gun, as we have seen in other incidents, they would turn to a pressure-cooker bomb, an automobile, a can of gasoline or some other tool, because the tool is never the cause.

Of course, nobody in the political world wants to think this deeply about a problem, and honestly, very damn few voters want to either.  Nobody is interested in finding out why these assholes are making the decision to shoot a bunch of people; they are too focused on doing something highly visible and emotionally driven.  So they call for more laws that won’t be enforced, and more bans on “assault weapons” that they can’t even define.

And the cycle will just keep going.

Animal’s Daily Random Notes News

We had an evening flight last night and I have an early morning teleconference in an hour or so, so today it’s random notes and links.

Upside:  Mrs. A and yr. obdt. are home in Colorado for the long weekend.  I have a new shootin’ iron, a 1942 Winchester Model 12 Black Diamond trap gun, so I’ll be going out to the club to shoot a few rounds of trap; watch these virtual pages for a report.

Now, on to the links:

Our species, it has long been known, once went through a pretty tight genetic bottleneck.  Now there are some more details about what may have caused that bottleneck.

Crows are getting high cholesterol.  From cheeseburgers.  Yes, really.

Elsewhere, feral hogs are, well, making pigs of themselves.  As a public service, I offer aid to any landowners with feral hog problems; I have a good rifle and am willing to arrange a time to come remove some of the beasts in question.

Taxes are going up in many states, but the roads still suck.

From one of my fellow Glibertarians, some thoughts on competition and the public sector.

Also, if you aren’t reading the morning and evening links over at Glibertarians, you ought to be.  There’s a wealth of other good content as well, plus you can read the comments without losing IQ points, which is more than I can say for most poltical/social commentary sites.

Today’s purely gratuitous totty is for blogger pal and long-time reader Andrew Pearce; Andrew, I believe you spotted the young lady in the center here in Tuesday’s post:

And on that note, we return you to  your Thursday, already in progress.

Rule Five UFO Kookery News

And now, for something completely different:  A UFO organization claims to have advanced materials from a UFO.  Color me skeptical.  Excerpts, with my comments:

Former Blink 182 frontman and current UFOlogist Tom DeLonge says that his UFO research organization has acquired “potentially exotic materials featuring properties not from any known existing military or commercial application.” It has not yet provided any proof to back up this claim.

Because there are no exotic materials.

For 70 years, the UFO community has been engaged in active debate regarding physical debris from unidentified flying objects, but the general public got a true taste of that in 2017 when the New York Times ran an article about a secret Pentagon UFO program. The article tantalizingly noted that aerospace billionaire Robert Bigelow, whose interest in UFOs is no secret, modified buildings to house “metal alloys and other materials…that [allegedly] had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.”

And yet, strangely, no actual evidence of those alloys has been released for independent confirmation.  Because there aren’t any.

These “alien alloys” quickly became the topic of great intrigue. DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy, a UFO research outfit that may or may not be broke, said that it has recently acquired some metamaterials, though it’s not clear whether they are the same ones referenced in the NY Times article.

They aren’t.  Because there aren’t any.

In an interview with Motherboard, Dr. Chris Cogswell, who hosts the Mad Scientist Podcast and who holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering, explained that we need to be incredibly cautious before jumping to conclusions. He expressed that layered magnesium and bismuth alloys are pretty common and are certainly easily explainable by science.

“Micrometer thick layers are made by mistake in metallurgy facilities all the time. The purification of lead by removing bismuth using magnesium is a perfectly reasonable explanation,” he said.

In other words, there aren’t any alien materials:  There are much more reasonable, Earthly explanations for any “exotic” materials.

Any claims of actual evidence related to UFOs should be taken skeptically, of course, but To the Stars has in the past been the first to publish video of military pilots seeing UFOs, so its claims cannot be dismissed immediately out of hand. It’s also worth noting that there are, of course, many materials scientists working on new alloys and composites all the time.

These claims can be dismissed immediately out of hand.  No military pilots have seen UFOs, if you define UFOs as “alien spacecraft visiting Earth.”  There have been unexplained sightings that might be other aircraft, or atmospheric artifacts, or just plain imagination.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  If alien spacecraft have visited Earth, they would have come from a civilization that is thousands, maybe millions of years more advanced than us.  There would be no reason for them to be stealthy.  They wouldn’t bother to hide from us.  Their presence would almost certainly be obvious and probably wouldn’t end too well for us.

UFOs are as one with Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster:   They just plain don’t exist.

Animal’s Daily Health Care News

An American company I’m familiar with has made a great breakthrough in the management of diabetes.  Excerpt:

On Wednesday, the FDA approved Medtronic’s hybrid closed-loop system, the world’s first “artificial pancreas.” The agency nod comes months ahead of the spring approval that the company had been expecting.

The MiniMed 670G hybrid closed-loop system is the first FDA-approved device that continuously measures glucose levels and delivers the appropriate dose of basal insulin, according to an FDA statement. It is indicated for people aged 14 or older with Type 1 diabetes and is intended to regulate insulin levels with “little to no input” from the patient, the FDA said in the statement.

“This first-of-its-kind technology can provide people with Type 1 diabetes greater freedom to live their lives without having to consistently and manually monitor baseline glucose levels and administer insulin,” said Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in the statement.

The system comprises Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G insulin pump that is strapped to the body, an infusion patch that delivers insulin via catheter from the pump and a sensor that measures glucose levels under the skin and can be worn for 7 days at a time. While the device regulates basal, or background, insulin, users must still manually request bolus insulin at mealtimes.

This is what I love about being involved in this industry.

Every profit-making industry produces value in one way or another, or they wouldn’t remain in existence.  The medical industry, including devices, pharmaceuticals and biotech, is no exception.  But while many industries improve people’s lives in one way or another, medical manufacturers have the potential to actually save lives.

I remind myself of that from time to time, and some Monday mornings that makes getting up and getting to work a little easier.

Animal’s Daily Good Idea News

Check out the latest in my series, Profiles in Toxic Masculinity over at Glibertarians!

Philadelphia is using a sonic weapon to keep surly teens from loitering in public places.  Now, the use of the term “weapon” is a bit hyperbolic, as the “weapon” is more annoying than harmful, which to my mind makes it a pretty good idea for a private property owner.  Excerpt:

The Mosquito, invented in the U.K. back in 2005, is described by the product’s Canada-based North American distributor as a “small speaker that produces a high-frequency sound much like the buzzing of the insect—this high frequency can be heard by young people 13 to 25 years old,” and reaches as far as 130 feet, depending on the set volume.

Hearing deteriorates with age, and so older people cannot hear the high (17.5 to 18.5 kilohertz) frequencies emitted by the $5,000 devices, which Philadelphia has been deploying since 2014 and is now in 31 locations to “prevent loitering and vandalism.”

Micahel Gibson, the CEO of distributor Moving Sound Technologies, told NPR that “the intention was just to move, non-confrontationally, youth from an area where they should not be. And that will prevent vandalism. It’ll prevent graffiti, loitering.”

City officials have deemed the technology to be safe, but it has raised safety concerns overseas. A health regulator in Germany reported that although the risk to teenagers is “relatively low,” for smaller children there is a risk from lengthy exposure, with adults unable to hear and move away. “The onset of dizziness, headache, nausea and impairment is to be expected.”

There are risks for everything under the sun, and one suspects that the risk to teens from this sonic deterrent is probably no worse than the risk to their hearing from the lousy music banged out through their bass-boosted car stereos, with which they annoy all and sundry.  The deployment of a sonic deterrent in return seems to be only fair.

I’m not impressed with the idea of the city using these in what are after all public venues.  But were I a private business owner, whose premises were beset with loiterers or vandals?  I’d buy one of these units in a heartbeat.  When we go from our temporary New Jersey lodgings in the admittedly clean and well-kept small town of Raritan to the airport in Newark, Mrs. Animal and I can’t help but notice the spray-painted vandalism on every wall and door.  Maybe a little dose of sonic annoyance would help those business owners with their vandalism problem.

Animal’s Daily Stoned Vikings News

A recent find makes one wonder if Vikings in a Newfoundland settlement may have been getting high.  Excerpt:

The discovery of cannabis pollen near a Viking settlement in Newfoundland raises the question of whether the Vikings were smoking or eating pot while exploring North America.

The researchers also found evidence the Vikings occupied this outpost for more than a century, way longer than previously believed.

Located in northern Newfoundland, the site of L’Anse aux Meadows was founded by Vikings around A.D. 1000. Until now, archaeologists believed that the site was occupied for only a brief period. The new research, published today (July 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the Vikings lived there possibly into the 12th or even the 13th century.

In August 2018, an archaeological team excavated a peat bog located nearly 100 feet (30 meters) east of the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. They found a layer of “ecofacts” — environmental remains that may have been brought to the site by humans — that were radiocarbon dated to the 12th or 13th century.

These ecofacts include remains of two beetles not native to Newfoundland — Simplocaria metallica, from Greenland, and Acidota quadrata, from the Arctic. The layer also held pollen from Juglans (walnuts) and from Humulus (cannabis), two species that don’t naturally grow at L’Anse aux Meadows; rather, the Vikings could have picked up all of these plant and animal species when they sailed south.

Now, color me skeptical.  While this find is amazing – actual, hard evidence of repeated Viking occupation in the New World, predating Columbus – the headline is sensationalist nonsense.  The presence of hemp pollen isn’t any sort of evidence at all that these Norsemen were smoking or eating marijuana.  All plants of the hemp family have a variety of uses, not least of which are rope and clothing, two things that a pioneer settlement needs plenty of.

It’s too bad; LiveScience does this fascinating story a disservice with an unsupported, sensationalist headline.

Still, the story itself, that’s interesting stuff.  Two hundred years before Columbus, men and women in open longboats, with no sextants, no compasses, no clocks, crossed the Atlantic and established a settlement in what is now Canada.  And, they did it more than once.  That’s courage you have to admire.

Animal’s Daily Random Notes News

A few random tidbits from the morning news crawl:

Duck

Duck

Goose!

Wild Canada geese are delicious if prepared properly.  Some Canadians are adamant in defense of the big birds, however (language alert):

I Was Wrong (and I Bet You Were Too.)  Not only is the world today a better place than lots of folks think it is; the article here is also a description of the value of skepticism in critical thinking.  It’s important to know when you’re wrong and adjust your thinking; I know that if I’m ever wrong, if that far-away, unlikely day ever comes, I’ll be the first to admit it.

Billionaire Democratic donor: Bernie Sanders is a ‘disaster zone.’  And so the autophagia begins.  (He’s not wrong, though.)

Kamala Harris has a sincerity problem.  So what?  So does pretty much every other member of Congress.

And here’s something that maybe Harris ought to read.  Excerpt:

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and America’s first black billionaire, praised President Donald Trump for the roaring economy and criticized Democrats for moving “too far left.”

“The party in my opinion, for me personally, has moved too far to the left,” Johnson told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble. “And for that reason, I don’t have a particular candidate (I’m supporting) in the party at this time. I think at the end of the day, if a Democrat is going to beat Trump, then that person, he or she, will have to move to the center and you can’t wait too long to do that.”

Oh, there is one candidate in the 2020 race who has the potential to unite Democrats – President Trump.  But given the show members of that party are putting on in their three-ring primary, I suspect that’s asking too much even of Donald J. Trump.

And on that note, we return you to your Thursday, already in progress.

Rule Five Those Pesky Physics Friday

Building on our Hump Day post on nuclear power; now the new Governor of our own Colorado, Jared Polis, is on record as a proponent of turning our state’s power grid over to 100% renewables.   But there’s a problem:  It won’t work.  Not even close.  Excerpt:

America operates on 60 cycles per second, or 60 Hz. That grid frequency can vary only about 2 Hz in either direction, says Griffey. “These are small variations, but if it drops below that you start kicking off loads,” he said. “Bad things happen and your system crashes.”

The grid is so sensitive to these variations that power producers must provide both reserve capacity to deal with sudden load increases and “grid inertia” to keep the frequency stable.

“You have to have inertia on the system that helps buffer load changes, and inertia is provided by turbines that spin. Renewables don’t have inertia,” said Griffey.

Without the electrical inertia available from fuel-powered, constantly-spinning generators, the entire grid can crash unexpectedly if the wind stops blowing while the sun isn’t shining.

This means that renewables like wind and solar will always require backup generators to provide both inertia and reliable power to take up unexpected loads.

And how much backup is required increases with the amount of renewables in the system.

“The more intermittent capacity you have, or the more unreliable capacity you have, you actually have to increase that reserve margin to carry more backup,” Griffey said.

“In the case of an all-wind system you’re going to be carrying 90 percent, give or take, to back it up because [windmills] only provide 5 to 15% of equivalent capacity,” said Griffey.

By equivalent capacity Griffey means that the advertised theoretical capacity of a wind farm of say 30 megawatts, called the “nameplate capacity,” only ever actually produces a fraction of that amount, called the “efficiency factor.”

Other sources place the efficiency factor of wind generators between 25% and 40%.

The efficiency of a wind farm of course varies from minute to minute depending on wind speed. Too little wind and they stop turning, too much wind and they have to be shut down to prevent destructive over-speeding that can rip a windmill to pieces.

“In terms of setting reserve margins, you can’t count on non-firm energy availability under the standards that are in place across the United States, you have to have firm deliverable power,” said Griffey.

This is also called “base load capacity,” which means constant-power sources that can deliver the usual amount of electricity the grid needs. There are three kinds of reliable base load sources: Fossil fuel, hydroelectric and nuclear generators.

Fossil fuel-driven sources provide the vast majority of base load capacity not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

Physics are pesky, aren’t they?

Here’s the thing that’s left out of these calculations:  Nuclear power.  Nuclear power using modern reactors is safe, it’s reliable, it’s clean, the amount of waste produced with modern systems is small, and we have adequate storage for it.  We went over this on Wednesday.

So why is nuclear power never included in the fever dreams of those like Alexandria Occasional Cortex and her fever-dream Green New Deal?

Because nuclear power still, for some insane reason, causes no small amount of pants-shitting among the watermelon crowd.  Perhaps it brings images of Chernobyl, that failure of 1980s-vintage Soviet technology (and we all know how great Cold War-era Soviet tech was), which is completely irrelevant given the design of modern reactors; or perhaps they are worried about Fukushima, which event can be prevented by simply avoiding building reactors in tsunami zones.

Upshot:  Proponents of clean energy will keep running into these problems of elementary physics, until nuclear power becomes part of the picture.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

RealClearScience has listed the three biggest myths about nuclear power.  Here’s the three, with excerpts:

Myth #1. Nuclear is dangerous. In the minds of many, the examples of Three Mile Island, Fukushima-Daiichi, and Chernobyl, are enough to cement this statement as fact. But a full and rational examination of nuclear’s operational history swiftly dispels this common myth. As a variety of different analyses have shown, even when you factor in nuclear’s memorable accidents, it is vastly safer than any fossil fuel energy source.

Well, yes.  The state of art in fission reactors just continues to improve.  The latest generation of pebble-bed reactors are safe, make efficient use of fuel and are damn near idiot-proof.  Reactor designs will only continue to improve.

Myth #2. Nuclear waste is an unsolvable problem. Nuclear energy results in radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel rods – a big drawback. But did you know that coal plants actually produce more radioactive waste during their operation? Currently, more than 90,000 metric tons of nuclear waste (which would fill a football field twenty meters deep) are stored at more than a hundred sites around the United States, a workable but undesirable situation. However, that waste could be safely locked away in Yucca Mountain, a remote site in the Nevada desert situated on federal land.

The entire controversy around Yucca Mountain is a canard, nothing but.  It’s a stable site, remote from any tsunami damage, in a geologically stable location.  We can and should store nuclear wastes there.  Opposition to it is based on nothing more than hysterical anti-nuke sentiment.

Myth #3. Nuclear is prohibitively expensive. No doubt you’ve heard or read numerous accounts about nuclear power plants shutting down or even being canceled in the process of construction for being too expensive. It’s true, in some locations, the landscape of electricity generation makes nuclear unprofitable, but in most locations, nuclear power is doing just fine.

Nuclear power would truly succeed in a setting where the damaging externalities of fossil fuel power sources are priced in. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that a meager carbon price costing the average household only $1 per month could make nuclear competitive nationwide, while vastly reducing air pollution.

Here’s a problem.  We don’t need government picking winners and losers, not in energy, not in health care, not in anything.  No more fees, taxes, carbon prices or any other such horseshit.

But with that said, nuclear power is an essential part of our energy future.  The United States has plenty  of fuel in domestic sources.  We have plenty of storage space.  We have the best in modern reactor technology.  Fission reactors as designed today are safe, clean and reliable; the argument watermelons use against them are arguing against forty and fifty year old technology, not the current state of the art.

We should already be building new nuclear generation capacity.  It’s just ridiculous that we aren’t.