Category Archives: Science

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.

Rule Five Tech Obsession Friday

Here’s an article on how the use of personal technology like cellular phones and tablets may physically change humankind.  One problem:  It’s absolute horseshit.  Excerpts with my comments follow:

Creating a 3D model of a future human called “Mindy”, scientists said people living in 2100 may have hunched backs from hours of sitting over computers and looking at smartphones.

2100?  That’s eighty-one years from now.  Evolutionary changes in populations of large mammals, like humans, take spans of many generations; they don’t happen in that short a time.  Also, a hunched back is an acquired trait, and those can’t be inherited; this is Lamarckism, and it’s bullshit.

Mindy also has bigger neck muscles to compensate for her poor posture, a thicker skull to protect from radiation and a smaller brain that has shrunk from leading a largely sedentary lifestyle.

There’s nothing about a sedentary lifestyle that will necessarily lead to a smaller brain.

Humans in fewer than 100 years may also have claw-like hands from gripping their phones.

Again, an acquired trait if even that.  There is not, to our knowledge, an allele or set of alleles in human geneology that produces “clawed” hands as described in this article.

Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, said: “Spending hours looking down at your phone strains your neck and throws your spine off balance.

A “health and wellness expert?”  Why not talk to an evolutionary biologist?  You know, someone who actually knows what the hell they are talking about?

“Consequently, the muscles in your neck have to expend extra effort to support your head.

Explain to me how this affects your genome.  Hint:  It doesn’t.

“Sitting in front of the computer at the office for hours on end also means that your torso is pulled out in front of your hips rather than being stacked straight and aligned.”

See above.  But this next bit is where we really cross into the absurd.

Kasun Ratnayake, of the University of Toledo, also said the human body could change to limit the amount of damaging light eyes are expose to – possibly resulting in a second eyelid.

“Humans may develop a larger inner eyelid to prevent exposure to excessive light, or the lens of the eye may be evolutionary developed such that it blocks incoming blue light but not other high wavelength lights like green, yellow or red,” he said.

He’s referring to a nictating membrane.  Birds, fish, reptiles and some amphibians have them.  Some mammals do, but primates do not, and therefore humans do not.  To find and activate an allele or (more likely) a set of alleles that would produce a structure that has not existed in millions of years, since humanity’s last common ancestor with, say, camels, or polar bears, or seals; that would take many generations of conditions in which a nictating membrane confers some reproductive advantage, and it would be wildly unlikely at this distance in time that those alleles still even exist in our population.

This sack-o-crap article demonstrates one thing very plainly:  The people who wrote it and the people they interviewed don’t know their asses from their faces where evolution is concerned.  Evolution is the change in allele frequencies in a population over time; individuals do not evolve, and allele frequencies change primarily when conditions favor one allele over another, thus producing differential reproductive success.

None of the acquired traits they describe could produce differential reproductive success.  None of the acquired traits they describe could magically be encoded into the genome.  This article is absolute and utter horseshit, fit only for enriching lawns.

Rule Five Bigfoot Friday

Thanks as always to our pals over at The Daley Gator for the linkback!

The FBI has released their official Bigfoot files.  Maybe they thought they might find Bigfoot in the same place as President Trump’s Russian collusion? Anyway, they haven’t found Bigfoot yet.  Excerpt:

The FBI’s Vault is a fascinating corner of the Internet, and a fantastic waste of time. The Bureau’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) library houses thousands of previously sealed or long-buried files on very famous—and very dead—celebrities, criminals, politicians, and other persons of interest. And they’re all on display for free public perusal, which is how you suddenly find yourself scrutinizing reports on everyone from Al Capone to Anna Nicole Smith for three hours one afternoon. No judging.

Now, the FBI usually doesn’t make such documents public until after the person dies, which makes the latest release from the vault—22 glorious pages concerning one Bigfoot—particularly notable for two reasons: It appears to be confirmation that a.) Bigfoot is dead, and b.) Bigfoot was real. Probably.

The mythical creature known as Bigfoot—or, if you prefer, Sasquatch, Yowie, Skunk Ape, or Yayali—has a long, murky history. People swear they’ve been seeing him for centuries, usually in the woods of North America and often in the Pacific Northwest. And the part-hairy ape, part-hairy human, part-hairy bear-thing has inspired such fervor among his fanatics that the fiercest devotees have even gotten the government involved in their pursuit of the truth.

Le me deconstruct that last paragraph:

The mythical creature known as Bigfoot—or, if you prefer, Sasquatch, Yowie, Skunk Ape, or Yayali—has a long, murky history.

Because it doesn’t exist.

People swear they’ve been seeing him for centuries, usually in the woods of North America and often in the Pacific Northwest.

They haven’t been seeing him for centuries.  Nobody has seen even one.  Ever.

And the part-hairy ape, part-hairy human, part-hairy bear-thing has inspired such fervor among his fanatics that the fiercest devotees have even gotten the government involved in their pursuit of the truth.

The truth is simple:  There is no Bigfoot.  No Sasquatch.  No Yeti.  No Skunk-Ape.

Here’s the thing folks fail to understand about a hypothetical creature like this:  There wouldn’t be just a dozen or so of them wandering around.  There would have to be a population of these creatures, living in some pretty well-populated areas, and it’s impossible that one wouldn’t have been hit by a car, or just plain found dead by now.  Even mountain lions, as elusive a critter as you’re liable to find, are seen and photographed pretty regularly, and get hit by cars now and then.  A mountain lion is a capable apex predator, and as such are pretty thin on the ground, and yet people see them all the time.

A sustained population of a man-sized, bipedal creature, presumably an omnivore, would have to number in the thousands or tens of thousands to be viable.  People would be seeing them; hunter’s trail cams would pick them up; they would occasionally get hit by cars or shot in “unfavorable Bigfoot-human interactions,” as happens with bears pretty regularly.  But none of that happens.  Why?  Because, like the Loch Ness Monster, chupacabras and the Tooth Fairy, Bigfoot doesn’t exist.

The fact that the FBI spent time and money on this is just another example of the Imperial government’s prolific waste of the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars.

Animal’s Daily Ferocious Beasts News

Image from the article.

Be sure to check out an epilogue to my bolt guns series over at Glibertarians, this one devoted to a guy who forever changed the bolt gun market in the post-World War II world: The Marvelous Mr. Weatherby.

In the meantime, check this out:  In Kenya, about 22 million years ago, there was a creodont predator the size of a rhino, with jaws that could crush bone.  Excerpt:

Researchers are calling the newfound meat eater Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, Swahili for “big lion from Africa.” But it was much larger than a modern lion, said study co-researcher Matt Borths, curator of the Division of Fossil Primates at the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina.

“Part of the reason we named it ‘big lion’ in Swahili is because it would have played a lion-like role in its ancient ecosystem,” Borths told Live Science in an email. When it was hungry, S. kutokaafrika didn’t hold back. “Animals that might have been on the menu were anthracotheres (hippo relatives that were lankier than their modern cousins), elephant relatives and giant hyraxes (today, hyraxes look like grumpy rabbits, but in the past they filled zebra and antelope niches in Africa).”

Besides looking like a warg, S. kutokaafrika would seem weird by today’s standards, Borths said.

“Compared to modern carnivorous mammals, its head would have looked a little too big for its body, like a very toothy Funko Pop figure,” he said.

It should be noted that this critter was no lion.  The creodonts, of which the hyaenadonts were a branch, were primitive predatory mammals not particularly closely related to cats or canids.  But that head – creodonts were known for robust jaws and crushing teeth, leading to the conclusion that they could eat almost everything on a carcass, even down to crushing heavy bones for their marrow.

But most of the reconstructions of the various hyaenadonts have shown a head that, while massive, is strangely ratlike in profile.  The critter described here appears to be no exception.

It’s a neat find, and further evidence that nature is not only weirder than we imagine, it is weirder than we can imagine.

Rule Five Supermassive Friday

Space is cool.

Astronomers have known for a while now that the Sagittarius Object at the center of our galaxy was a supermassive black hole.  Now they know more about that big black thing, including that it has an accretion disk twenty-five times larger than our entire solar system.  Excerpt:

As the most massive objects in existence, black holes usually have accretion disks, rings of gas and other materials that reach blazing hot temperatures, sometimes even emitting powerful, luminous x-rays.

Accretion disks have been spotted around other black holes before, but never around our galaxy’s own supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. The immense astronomical object rests at the center of the Milky Way roughly 26,000 light years from Earth and tips the scales at an estimated 4,000,000 solar masses.

On Wednesday, a team of astronomers led by Caltech astrophysicist Elena M. Murchikova announced that it had finally detected and imaged Sagittarius A’s accretion disk using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. Their finding is published in Nature.

The disk is primarily composed of hydrogen gas – equal to roughly one-tenth the mass of Jupiter. It’s heated to around 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit, though it gets far hotter closer to the black hole. The disk extends out about a hundredth of a light year, about 1,000 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth. Assuming a roughly circular shape, that would give the accretion disk a diameter about 25 times longer than our solar system’s!

Sitting here on our little moist blue pearl, it’s hard to comprehend how really big the rest of the universe is.  Sometimes when I’m wandering in the mountains I get the feeling of being pretty small in the face of the grandeur of the Rockies – imagine how you’d feel sitting in a little titanium can looking down at something as big as this accretion disk, probably from a light-year or two away, so you could see the whole thing.  And, also, so you’d be well away from the horrific radiation and overwhelming tidal forces that would cook you and rip you apart if you got too close.

Not that it’s likely anyone from Earth will be looking at this accretion disc from such a vantage point any time soon.  Given the best current technology, it would take any Earthly spacecraft thousands of years to get to the center of the galaxy; we’d need something like a generation ship, bearing a self-sustaining population of humans.  The initial crew of that ship would never see their destination.  Their great-great-great-and-then-some grandchildren would, and by that time, they may well not be H. sapiens any more.  Isolated populations do tend to change over a span of generations.

And it’s not likely we’ll have a trans-phobic spacecraft any time soon, no matter how freely science fiction writers (like me) speculate about just such things.

That’s too bad.  If someone was advertising for homesteaders to move to some unsettled wilderness world, I’d sign up in two shakes.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

The Moon has a hitchhiker.  Excerpt:

A large mass of unknown material has been discovered on the largest crater on the Moon and scientists aren’t sure what it is.

According to an April 2019 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers believe the mass could contain metal from an asteroid that crashed into the celestial satellite, which resulted in the aforementioned crater, known as the Lunar South Pole-Aitken basin.

“Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected,” lead author Dr. Peter James, assistant professor of planetary geophysics at Baylor University, said in a statement.

At roughly 1,550 miles in diameter, the Lunar South Pole-Aitken basin stretches across approximately one-fourth of the Moon, according to NASA. The Moon’s circumference is roughly 11,000 kilometers.

Note:  The Moon isn’t a celestial satellite; it’s a planetary satellite.

Be that as it may, this is kind of cool.  It’s another little (well, actually it’s pretty big) piece of evidence on what a cluttered place our solar system is, and a reminder that every once in a while some big chunk of nickel/iron and silicates will come along and give one or another of the planets a good whack.

One of those whacks did in the non-avian dinosaurs.  Another one like that would sure cause us all sorts of headaches – of course, we might get lucky and have one land on Congress, which would make all of our liberties and property a bit more secure.

But back to the Moon.  According to the linked article, there is a good-sized metallic mass under Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s only a matter of time before the cranks come out, claiming that it’s a secret moon base for Nazis, or Confederates, or giant robots, or something equally silly.

NASA has been talking about establishing a permanent base on the moon.  If the remains of this long-gone asteroid aren’t buried too deeply, that may well be a great resource – as long as someone else hasn’t gotten there first.

NASA may not be the first ones there.

Animal’s Daily Former Vegan News

Make sure to check out Part Five of my History of Bolt Guns series over at Glibertarians!

A nut from Finland has become marginally less nutty.  She still has a long ways to go.  Excerpt:

Early last year, Virpi Mikkonen was alarmed by the appearance of a rash on her face.

There were other problems: a bout of flu that was hard to shift; crumbling nails; feeling low; and, most worrying, her periods stopped. A blood test revealed her follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels had sky-rocketed to the level at which women hit the menopause. Virpi was 37 and having hot flushes.

‘I thought, what’s wrong with me? I am healthy, I exercise,’ Virpi says. ‘I was really scared.’

At the time, Virpi believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all diets: gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, meat-free, refined sugar-free. And what’s more, she’d built a career inspiring others to eat it, too.

But then this happened:

‘I felt I had run out of fuel, totally,’ she says. ‘I was empty.’ She is now particularly fond of bone broth, a bone stock she has as a hot drink or adds to stews and soups. She’s also eating eggs, which is a major departure because she used to refer to them as ‘miscarriages of chickens’.

The effects have been dramatic. ‘It’s amazing. I feel energetic, motivated. I’m sleeping better, the hot flushes and aching in my body have stopped.’ Best of all, her periods have returned. She was so relieved she danced round her flat. ‘I thought, OK, now I am back on track.’

Here’s the funny bit:

Virpi has yet to tell her followers the whole story, though recently posted about yin deficiency and ‘burn-out’. Her reluctance is more out of wanting to find the right time to bare her heart than fear of receiving irate messages, but she admits: ‘Vegans can be really judgmental.’

First up:  There’s no such thing as “yin deficiency.”  That’s utter horseshit, and if you read the entire article – do NOT read the comments if you value your blood pressure – you’ll see she believes in all manner of New Age-y horseshit.

But she’s dead right about “vegans” being judgemental.  If she hasn’t received outright threats on her life or well-being, I’d be pretty damn surprised.  The “ethical vegan” community contains plenty of folks who are not just judgemental, they’re outright fanatics.  Their worst examples are the nuts of the so-called Animal Liberation Front, who have been classed as a domestic terror group.  Fortunately there aren’t very many of them.

Were I to give Ms. Mikkonen any advice, it would be “eat whatever you see fit and shut up about it.”  But apparently she’s making a good living peddling New Age-y horseshit.  And, presumably, it’s worth whatever heat she’s taking for being a “vegan” apostate.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Malaria is a huge problem in many parts of the world.  Now we may have a genetically-engineered fungus that may almost manage to eradicate a pest that chemical pesticides never quite could:  The Anopheles mosquito.  Excerpt:

A fungus – genetically enhanced to produce spider toxin – can rapidly kill huge numbers of the mosquitoes that spread malaria, a study suggests.

Trials, which took place in Burkina Faso, showed mosquito populations collapsed by 99% within 45 days.

The researchers say their aim is not to make the insects extinct but to help stop the spread of malaria.

The disease, which is spread when female mosquitoes drink blood, kills more than 400,000 people per year.

Worldwide, there are about 219 million cases of malaria each year.

Conducting the study, researchers at the University of Maryland in the US – and the IRSS research institute in Burkina Faso – first identified a fungus called Metarhizium pingshaense, which naturally infects the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria.

The next stage was to enhance the fungus. “They’re very malleable, you can genetically engineer them very easily,” Prof Raymond St Leger, from the University of Maryland, told BBC News.

Now, this is a temporary fix, albeit a good one.  Why?  Because the fungus is only expected to kill 99% of the mosquitoes.  That means 1% will be resistant to the fungus.  That will likely be due to some genetic quirk; some allele of one or more genes will somehow gift its bearer with a resistance to this fungus.  At present it is apparent that the frequency of this allele, which at present would appear to give no survival advantage, is about 1%.  But after that operation, the frequency of that allele will be approaching 100%, at least for a while.

That’s how allele frequencies in populations change.  That’s how populations evolve.  And while this is a great step and will have great benefits to people living in these malaria-ridden areas for a while, it’s just another battle in this biological war.