Category Archives: Science

Rule Five Hydrogen Boondoggle Friday

It seems the bottom has dropped out of the hydrogen-car market. This should, of course, come as a surprise to no one. MasterResource’s Robert Bradley Jr. has the details:

EVs compete against hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles–at least in California where some one hundred hydrogen dispensing stations are. The range and fill-time of HFCVs is quite competitive with EVs. But it is downhill from there–and a major mess for sellers and buyers. The California Energy Commission (remember Methanol?) has failed again.

Consultant James Carter on LinkedIn summarized a recent article in Jalopnik, by Logan Carter, Toyota Offers $40,000 Discount On A Car Most People Can’t Fuel Up.” His autopsy (verbatim): 

  • Toyota’s innovative Mirai might just be the best deal on the car market right now, but access to hydrogen fuel is getting harder.
  • Even with ~$60,000 in total discounts, Mirai is still a BAD deal.
  • “The $40,000 cash incentive deal is limited to 2023 model year Mirai Limited models, and includes zero percent financing for qualifying buyers. All new Mirais include $15,000 in complimentary fuel at the time of sale.”
  • I’ve been around automotive for a long time, but I’ve NEVER seen incentives that represent 90% of new vehicle price. For a Toyota, 10% is the most I’ve seen. Yet, this is exactly what’s happening for the Toyota Mirai.

The incentives – taxpayer money, in most cases – are there because nobody would look twice at these cars without them.  Free markets are a great thing, but when it comes to these green boondoggles, of which hydrogen cars are but one example, the market is anything but free.

But wait! There’s more!  Here are the details of the costs of operation:

Vehicle: $66,000, less $40,000 discount

Finance: $6,500 interest, less $6,500 discount

Fuel for 5 years /15,000 miles annually: $45,000, less $15,000

So, in total, this car will cost you $56,000 over 5 years, which is roughly the same as a Model Y Performance mostly charged from home. Perhaps add $5k for interest payments for the Y.

Here’s the rub: At the end of 5 years, that Model Y will be worth about $25,000. The Mirai? Likely $2,000 to $3,000, based on history. In other words, that hugely discounted Mirai is still a BAD DEAL.

Why is it still bad? Because the only Hydrogen stations are in California, and all suffer very irregular supply. In other words, there’s no guarantee you’ll get fuel when you need it. Which, unfortunately, is rule #1….

The reason to have a private auto is so that it will be available when you need to use it, and so that you can go where you need to go.  In this, the various hydrogen autos fall short.  Not only are they prohibitively expensive without subsidies, they don’t age well.

What’s not mentioned here is the production of hydrogen: That takes electricity, and plenty of it, and sufficient power won’t be supplied by windmills and solar panels; meanwhile, the same people pushing these green boondoggles are opposing nuclear power.

Granted, new technology always gets cheaper and more efficient over time.  But this seems like a stretch, to try to lay in an entirely new infrastructure when we already have an established infrastructure, mature and efficient, that delivers gasoline and Diesel fuel when and where we need it.

Maybe someday there will be an unsubsidized market for hydrogen-powered vehicles. But that day is not today, and it won’t be tomorrow.

Animal’s Daily Macroglossia News

Before I get into this mouthful of a story, check out the latest chapter of Barrett’s Privateers – Plague Ship over at Glibertarians!

Now then: I know, I know – you’re all wondering what the hell Macroglossia is.  Well, here.

Macroglossia, sometimes called giant tongue or enlarged tongue, is a rare condition that typically affects more children than adults. Most people have macroglossia because they have other conditions, such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome or Down syndrome. Treatment for macroglossia varies depending on the underlying cause.

Now that we have that definition, an Oregon woman just won a Guinness World Record for the greatest tongue circumference. Yes, really.

Image from article.

An Oregon woman earned a Guinness World Record for her unusually sized tongue, which has a circumference of 5.21 inches.

Portland resident Jenny DuVander said she was reading the 2023 Guinness Book of World Records with her son when she saw there was a category for largest tongue circumference.

DuVander said she always knew she had a large tongue, and after measuring it at home she suspected it might be record-breaking.

Her dentist performed the official measurement by wrapping dental floss around her tongue and then measuring the length of the floss.

She officially earned the record with a 5.21-inch circumference.

Now that’s a hell of a thing to put on your online dating profile.

Jenny DuVander is, of course, a flautist.  I’m not sure why that’s not surprising, but it’s not.

Look, for once I’m somewhat at a loss for words.  It’s impossible to comment on this without indulging my inner 12-year-old.  One has to wonder, though, if Jenny DuVander has ever entered a tongue-twister competition and, if so, the judges gave her a tough sentence; it’s hard to say.  But a claim like this, to be sure, has some teeth in it now that it’s confirmed by the Guinness people.

That’s all.  Try the veal.  Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Rule Five Viagra Alternative Friday

Yes, you read the headline right; yes, attending CPAC (not to mention being away from my beloved Mrs. Animal) has me in a rather odd frame of mind.  Turns out that the study of mouse erections has granted scientists insights into how better to deal with Erectile Dysfunction (ED) in humans.  That’s not to be confused with Electoral Dysfunction, which is how we ended up with Joe Biden as President.

By studying male mice’s erections, scientists discovered that two types of cells in the penis are essential for triggering and maintaining a boner. 

Although the cells are also abundant in the human penis, their crucial role in erections was previously unknown, according to a new study published Thursday (Feb. 8) in the journal Science.

“Because the mechanisms of penile erection are similar in mice and humans, these findings may be relevant to erectile dysfunction in aged men,” Ji-Kan Ryu of the Inha University School of Medicine and Gou Young Koh of the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea, wrote in a commentary of the new study.

The findings may point to new ways of treating erectile dysfunction in humans, the study authors wrote in their paper. Standard drugs like Viagra don’t work for up to 30% of patients and they can’t be used by those who take certain medications or have specific medical conditions.

Note: I can neither confirm nor deny that the juxtaposition of this topic on Rule Five Friday is coincidental.

Now, as to mice boners; it turns out that something called a fibroblast is involved – and presumably in humans as well, as humans and mice are surprisingly close, taxonomy-wise.

While nitric oxide is a key player in this process, it’s not the only one. In their new study, the researchers were interested in studying fibroblasts, cells that make connective tissue and that are the most abundant type of cell in the human corpora cavernosa. The team wanted to understand whether these cells help control blood flow to the penis.

One can only imagine what getting funding for his research was like – a squeaker, no doubt.  The application couldn’t have been anonymouse, no matter how embarrassing the subject might have been if the study had produced no results.

Speaking as a biologist, though, this remains an interesting piece of work – although I hasten to note that I’ve never had that difficulty attributed to one man in five, although, now that I’m in my sixties, I feel the need rather less often than when I was nineteen (which need probably explains my first marriage.)

As always, there’s a catch:

“These new approaches will require rigorous preclinical and clinical testing to translate observations made in transgenic mice into therapies that are safe and effective in men,” Ryu and Koh concluded.

So, don’t hold your breath, men – or anything else, just yet.

So, with that on my mind – or perhaps not – I’m off to another morning at CPAC, which will probably prove, well, not as stimulating as Mrs. Animal, but interesting all the same.  (And, as noted, I’m not nineteen anymore.)  My goal is, as was the last couple of days, to hobnob with other media types, maybe ask some political figures some uncomfortable questions, make myself a goddamned nuisance, and generally afflict the comfortable. Stay tuned.

Animal’s Daily Tiny Pairs News

Before we get started on this… topic, check out the latest installment of Barrett’s Privateers – Plague Ship over at Glibertarians!

Now then: It seems that, besides their huge body size, gorillas have really small testicles – and so do humans.  Wow.  Just… wow.

Is there anything more quintessentially masculine than a silverback gorilla? Broad and barrel-chested, with sculpted arms and legs as thick as tree trunks, these adult males are imposing sights. But a quick glance between their legs greatly diminishes the awe…

That’s because male gorilla testicles weigh a mere 30 to 35 grams, positively puny compared to their hulking 350-pound frames (159kg). And their erect members flex just two and a half inches.

At less than half the body weight of gorillas, chimpanzees sport testicles weighing five times more! And the chimp penis can be as long as an average human’s (a little over five inches).

So where do human men stack up in this “pissing” battle between primate cousins? Much closer to gorillas. The testicles of adult men tip the scales at about 20 grams. Relative to body weight, that’s three times larger than gorillas’ but five times smaller than chimpanzees’.

It turns out that this might be due to monogamy – or, at least, serial monogamy – which is traditional for humans.

Over humans’ evolutionary history, we have tended to practice either polygyny (like gorillas) or monogamy. In both mating styles, reproductive competition takes place outside the body rather than inside, meaning that males don’t need the sort of sexual machinery seen amongst chimpanzees.

I’m not sure what to do with this information.

All I will say about this story is this:  There are only two people I need to keep happy with my manly bits.  I’m one of them.  My own dear Mrs. Animal is the other.  And neither of us is complaining.  And while I may not have the testicular capacity of a chimp, at least I have (marginally) better table manners and social skills.

Science is fun.  Examining our closest relatives is interesting.  Sometimes, though, such an examination can be a little… (forgive me) nuts.

Animal’s Daily Electric Car News

Before we start, check out the latest chapter of Barrett’s Privateers: Plague Ship over at Glibertarians!

Now then:  The bad news for proponents of electric cars just keeps piling up.

When Pew Research Center asked Americans in July 2023 about their views of EVs, 50% of those surveyed replied that they were “not too or not at all likely” to purchase one, while 38% said that they were “somewhat or very likely” to do so. Chief amongst EV skeptics’ gripes were concerns about range, charging speed, and price.

The simple fact is that many Americans won’t consider switching to an EV until EVs are functionally equivalent to gasoline-powered vehicles and similarly priced. Gas vehicles today have a median range of around 400 miles, refuel in under five minutes, and typically cost between $25,000 and $45,000. The EV models currently sold in the U.S. have a median range of 250 miles, recharge 10% to 80% in 18 to 40 minutes, and have a median cost of $57,000. For consumers who just want an affordable, convenient car that works, an EV can be a tough sell.

By “tough,” they mean “impossible.” Not everyone lives within an EV commute from their workplace, and lots of folks have vehicular wants or needs that won’t be met by a weather-sensitive, limited-range beast that takes a long time to recharge.

But wait! There’s more!

Can it be true that California, in pursuit of reduced emissions from internal combustion engine vehicles, has mandated that heavier EV cars and trucks tear up the state’s roads? Shockingly, the state has no accompanying mandate on those heavier vehicles to contribute funds to the maintenance and repairs of the roads they will be utilizing!

An EV battery for a sedan weighs 1,000 pounds, while heavy-duty electric truck batteries can weigh up to 16,000 pounds, which is 16 times more than the Tesla battery.

California has almost 400,000 miles of roadways used by the State’s 30 million vehicles. Those roadways are heavily dependent on road taxes from fuels that contribute more than $8.8 billion annually, the same gas tax revenues that also fund many environmental programs and the high-speed rail project. That $8.8 billion revenue source will diminish in the decades ahead as EVs begin to replace internal combustion engine vehicles.

All that extra weight won’t be good for California’s already-disintegrating roadways.  Of course, the Left’s reply is always the same: “More taxes!” Leaving well enough a-damn-lone is never on the table, is it?

And leaving well enough alone is precisely what all the various levels of government should be doing.  If electric cars ever develop to the point where they are economically competitive with ICE cars, then people will choose to buy them.  The fact that it takes gazillions in subsidies to get people to buy them is all the evidence we need to know that electric cars are 1) a solution looking for a problem, and b) not yet ready for prime time.

Animal’s Daily Alone In The Cosmos News

Before I get into this, check out the latest chapter in Barrett’s Privateers – Plague Ship over at Glibertarians!

Now then: Are we alone in the universe?  I think probably not; turns out a guy named Paul Gilster agrees with me.

We live in a world that is increasingly at ease with the concept of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The evidence for this is all around us, but I’ll cite what Louis Friedman says in his new book Alone But Not Lonely: Exploring for Extraterrestrial Life (University of Arizona Press, 2023). When it polled in the United States on the question in 2020, CBS News found that fully two-thirds of the citizenry believe not only that life exists on other planets, but that it is intelligent. That this number is surging is shown by the fact that in polling 10 years ago, the result was below 50 percent.

Friedman travels enough that I’ll take him at his word that this sentiment is shared globally, although the poll was US-only. I’ll also agree that there is a certain optimism that influences this belief. In my experience, people want a universe filled with civilizations. They do not want to contemplate the loneliness of a cosmos where there is no one else to talk to, much less one where valuable lessons about how a society survives cannot be learned because there are no other beings to teach us. Popular culture takes many angles into ETI ranging from alien invasion to benevolent galactic clubs, but on the whole people seem unafraid of learning who aliens actually are.

Read the whole thing; it’s roundly interesting.  But Mr. Gilster, like the SETI people, focuses on intelligent life, and that’s understandable; civilizations are a lot more interesting than microbes.

But, as a biologist, and after considering the history of life on Earth, I suspect that life is common – in fact, I suspect (with absolutely no evidence but my personal opinion) that life arises pretty much anywhere conditions allow it, and you need only look at the wide variety of environments right here on Earth in which life finds a way.

Intelligent life, on the other hand, is probably vanishingly rare. In Earth’s 4.55 billion year lifespan, it has harbored life for almost 4 billion years, but intelligent life – as in, technological life that someone out there could detect, which is what the SETI folks are looking for – has only been around for a little over a hundred years.

When humanity finally does make first contact, it probably won’t be sexy green space chicks with flying cars. It’s far more likely to be microbes. Not as sexy – but a lot more realistic to expect.

Rule Five American Rome Friday

I’ve done a fair amount of reading about ancient Rome, from the founding through the fall of the Western Empire, and have always found it a fascinating study; there are a lot of parallels with our time here in the United States.  That study led me to write my Nova Roma series, and with those in mind, I was interested to learn of the discovery of an unknown ancient civilization in the Amazon basis that may have been on a par with Rome.

Using airborne laser-scanning technology (Lidar), Rostain and his colleagues discovered a long-lost network of cities extending across 300sq km in the Ecuadorean Amazon, complete with plazas, ceremonial sites, drainage canals and roads that were built 2,500 years ago and had remained hidden for thousands of years. They also identified more than 6,000 rectangular earthen platforms believed to be homes and communal buildings in 15 urban centres surrounded by terraced agricultural fields.

“It was really a lost valley of cities,” said Rostain, the director of investigation at the National Centre for Scientific Research in France. “It’s incredible.” 

According to Rostain, the most striking aspect of this urban cluster, which is located in eastern Ecuador’s Upano Valley, is its astonishing road network. The cities’ streets were engineered to be perfectly straight, connecting at right angles with one another and linking the different cities like a prehistoric highway. The largest were 10m wide, with one extending 25km. “Given the hilly terrain, this road network was even more advanced than modern ones,” Rostain said.

This forgotten network of cities is not only believed to be more than 1,000 years older than any other known complex Amazonian site, but its staggering size and level of sophistication suggests a highly structured society that appears to be even larger than the well-known Maya cities in Mexico and Central America. 

The Mayans, of course, are well-documented, and in fact, figure heavily into the storylines of the Nova Roma books.

This is an interesting find, and it raises some questions.  Who were these people?  What remains of them?  Did they conduct trade in the region?  Did they conduct human sacrifice on the horrific scale of the Aztecs, or were they more reasonable (by comparison) like the Maya?  They evidently built roads, which would make it seem as though there was trade going on between groups – did they also trade with their neighbors?

Not to mention, shall I fold them into the next Nova Roma novel that I’m working on right now?

It turns out the roads may not have been for trade, though:

One of the most intriguing questions Rostain and his colleagues have been trying to understand is what led this society to engineer perfectly straight roads through the region’s mountainous topography. “Why would you build these straight roads five metres deep when you can easily walk through the hills?” Rostain asked. “I think they built them to imprint their identity, their relationship with the Earth in the earth. They are symbolic roads, like other roads in the Andes [notably the Inca’s famed Qhapaq Ñan, which is still considered by many Inca descendants as a living road today].”

History is amazing.  We keep finding new things, and I confess, I hadn’t been aware of the Inca building roads that were symbolic rather than practical; I’m obviously more familiar with the Roman model.

Another civilization that was, at least, on par with the Maya, in the Amazon basin of what is now Ecuador, would lend a whole new chapter to pre-Columbian America, and since so little is known about these people, we can only imagine what they may have been like. They may have villains, they may have been angels, but at this point, given the nature of where they lived, it’s doubtful we’ll know for sure.

That’s the best reason to fold these people into the Nova Roma saga.  I’ve often described the breathtaking abandon with which science-fiction and alternative history writers just make stuff up, and this new find gives me something new to work with!

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove, The Daley Gator, The Other McCain,  Flappr, and Bacon Time for the Rule Five links!

Now then: Could sex be the fountain of youth?  Considering the kinds of things that trigger my inner 12-year-old, it seems likely.

Although the ability of sex to improve our brains may seem far-fetched, there are three pathways by which it could happen, each of which the authors of this study set out to test.

First, given its physicality, sex is considered (by those in the medical field at least) a type of exercise that studies show yields a powerful impact on cognitive performance by increasing the blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation in the body, and increasing proteins that induce neuron growth and survival.

Second, sex mitigates stress, preserves cognition, and encourages the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory.

Third, arousal and orgasm lead to the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In older adults, dopamine has been found to improve episodic memory.

OK, where was I going with that?

Have a read through the whole thing, of course, but it seems to me that this is another cause of correlation not equalling causation – indeed, again, I think they have the cause/effect chain reversed.  People, at any age, who are happy, healthy, and confident tend to be more sexually active, it seems to me, than people who are weak, sickly, and neurotic.  This seems to be just obvious to the point of ridiculousness.

Not that sex isn’t good for you.  All those otherwise unused muscle groups, you know.  Plus, if it isn’t a good cardiovascular workout for you, you’re doing it wrong.

Animal’s Daily Vibrating Pills News

First up: Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove, Whores and Ale, The Daley Gator, The Other McCain, Flappr, and Bacon Time for the Rule Five links!

Well, this isn’t going to be what you might have expected when the term “vibrating” is involved, but it seems a pill that vibrates (seems to me the thing would be more aptly described as a “device” than a “pill”) can help one lose weight.  Who knew?

A group of engineers has developed a vibrating pill that could help trigger that filled-up sensation sooner, which may one day help treat obesity. When the ingestible pill was given to pigs 20 minutes before eating, they ate roughly 40% less than pigs without the vibrating device, according to a study published Dec. 22 in the journal Science Advances.

“For somebody who wants to lose weight or control their appetite, it could be taken before each meal,” Shriya Srinivasan, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard University and lead author on the study, said in a statement. “This could be really interesting in that it would provide an option that could minimize the side effects that we see with the other pharmacological treatments out there.”

Any port in a storm, I suppose, although a bit of exercise is the best way to lose weight – especially when one of the exercises involves pushing one’s self away from the dinner table.

Look, I get that it can be hard to lose unwanted weight.  Like a lot of guys in late middle age (early ’60s) I’m carrying around some extra myself, although my rural Alaskan lifestyle keeps it to a moderate level.  But it sure seems like a lot of money and effort is being tossed at this issue lately.  And, I suppose, that’s to be expected, when the biggest single health issue among the “poor” in this country is obesity.

Yes, by the way, those scare quotes around “poor” are intentional. I’ve said for years that there are few, if any, abject poor in the United States – only the relative poor.

Back to the vibrating pill.  This sort of thing is mildly interesting, sure.  If it helps some fatties slim down, fine.  But there’s no substitute for eating less and moving about more.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

I can’t believe this is already the last Hump Day post of 2023!  Watch, though, for Friday’s Rule Five post, as we will be announcing some changes and some fun new stuff for the sight.  Rest assured our Blue Monday, Hump Day, Rule Five Friday and Saturday Gingermageddon displays of toothsome totty will continue, as well as me bringing you my take on the events of the day.

And so…

Continue reading Animal’s Hump Day News

Deep thoughts, news of the day, totty and the Manly Arts.