Saturday, May 26, 2018

Science - Technology Updates

Anyone remember the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow?” Did the lurid, eco collapse scenario seem unlikely?  Think again. "Research hints at tipping point in the Atlantic’s currents… Lots of fresh water from melting ice could radically alter the Atlantic’s currents."

Scientific American makes it explicit: “The Arctic Is Breaking Climate Records, Altering Weather Worldwide.”  Shake your mad cousins awake. No one is asking them to start adoring campus lefty flakes. But their country and civilization and planet and posterity need them to stop giving loyalty to lunatics. And that means turning… off… Fox. Or at least getting multiple sources, instead of staring at hypnosis.

== Recent tech advances ==

New efficient and inexpensive technologies could allow extraction of rare earth elements REE, critical components of many electronics and green products, from waste coal ash. This innovation could enable the U.S. to enter into the $4 billion rare earth element production market while recycling coal ash in an environmentally friendly way. This breakthrough could be critical; China, which controls over 90 percent of the supply, with wide implications on the U.S. economy and national security. For example, "after China reduced export quotas in 2010, the cost of rare earth magnets for one wind turbine increased from $80,000 to $500,000," reports Purdue News

 Current separation technologies produce large amounts of chemical waste. One of the 10 most polluted sites in the world is a manmade lake in China, where the waste effluents from REE extractions are stored. Coal ash is rich in rare earth elements, as rich as some of the best ore deposits. So this new method could have huge implications.

Updates to the Periodic Table: University of Minnesota researchers have discovered a fourth element that is magnetic at room temperatures: Ruthenium (Ru). The others: iron, nickel and cobalt.  Could have importance to computing and high tech industries.

Interesting times:  By herding rubidium atoms into specific arrangements, physicists have been able to create agglomerations that are - in effect -- weird macro particles. A few years ago, one of these pseudo-entities showed many of the outward traits of a magnetic monopole...

... and more recently, the rubidium atom array took on the behaviors seen in "ball lightning." (Note that Liu Cixin's next book is about... and has the title... Ball Lightning. It's... speculative.)

Graphene-4 based hair dye might be stable, non-toxic and electrically conducting, allowing the kind of waving photo-tendrils worn by Tor Povlov in Existence.  

== Was "Earth" a crystal ball? ==

Speak to your computer by subvocalizing....“The AlterEgo system consists of a wearable device with electrodes that pick up otherwise undetectable neuromuscular subvocalizations — saying words “in your head” in natural language.” Why does everyone else get prediction cred?  I prominently discussed "subvocal" interfaces in Earth, back in 1989. Sigh alas.

Another for the prediction registry? Found embedded within a South African diamond — the high-pressure perovskite-structured polymorph of calcium silicate (CaSiO3). This mineral should sound a bit familiar.  High-pressure perovskite- a structured polymorph of calcium silicate (CaSiO3) - is expected to be the fourth most abundant in the Earth—but this high pressure form has not previously been found in nature. Till now.

Cool news in its own right. But in my novel Earth (1989) referred to it making up large portions of our planetary interior. Why did I make a deal about it, long ago? Because of a funky coincidence — that perovskites also happen to be among the mineral forms that make among the best high temperature superconductors! Of course, I make good use of this coincidence in the plot. ;-)

Researchers are developing a machine that could, like a seasoned beekeeper, listen to the buzz of bees to help determine their health.  Sure, I’ll help test it out…

In a fluidized bed, loosely-bound grains can be separated by upward air flow, to behave just like a liquid. Long used to produce even combustion in coal plants, the FB concept also featured in my doctoral dissertation “Three Models of Dust Layers inCometary Nuclei.”  Now, typically, some of us have found a way to turn the whole thing into … fun. A craze for “sand floating” or even sand swimming has begun!

== Bio Tech and beyond... staring with braaaaaains ==

Fascinating. We’ve long known that there are differences in mental process between the human left and right hemispheres, that go beyond their responsibility for opposite sides of the body. The simplistic notion has long been that the left hemisphere handles language, logic, reasoning and the right far more of the subjective, comparative and non-discursive.

Dr. Michael Miller has been working on direct, targeted neural stimulation with electric currents. What seems to come forth is that the Left Hemisphere has a duty to reduce uncertainty, eliminating competing models of reality, either via evidence or else impulsive decision making.

Using tDCS transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on the left prefrontal cortex, researchers can crank things up, making a subject more certain in beliefs. And yes, the implications are creepy. Kind of like the amplified “focus” that Vernor Vinge portrayed in A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY.

The right hemisphere, by contrast, appears to be about reducing conflict.

At the same conference we heard Dr Megan Palmer - of Stanford…bio-security, leader in iGEM … equiv of FIRST Robotics for contests in genetic engineering.

A knotted variation of the DNA double helix has been discovered in living cells, causing perplexity over what it’s for.  

==... and... ==

Carnegie Mellon and Disney Research have teamed up to turn your walls into a touchscreen and gesture interface. Using a water-based nickel conductive paint, the team created a lattice pattern underneath a regular latex paint. Connected to a sensor board and a laptop for visualization, the system recognizes changes in capacitance (touch) and in electromagnetic (EM) waves to pick up presence, gestures and motion.

Mixed signals? Apparently, an Amazon Echo's Alexa recorded a private conversation - and sent the audio files to a user's contact. The likely cause: "inadvertent vocal cues."

“In Isaac Asimov’s 1941 short story “Nightfall,” a journalist in the distant future on a far away imaginary planet named Lagash strikingly resembles the cynical columnists on the planet Earth. Asimov’s story deals with climate denialists, too. In it, a Lagash scientist lashes out at a newspaper editor who could someone like Marc Morano or Anthony Watts of today: “You have led a vast newspaper campaign against the efforts of myself and my colleagues to organize the world against the menace which it is now too late to avert.” That quote from a 1941 sci fi story offers a chilling forecast of a modern journalism that gives equal time to climate change deniers. Scary.”  -- Dan Bloom, “coiner of Cli-Fi."

Just the Facts, Ma'am: a cogent defense of the importance of facts and science is posted by Jack Nilles, one of the officers of the AirlinePilots Association, the union that has helped keep our skies so reliably safe for so long.

Elon keeps getting dissed in the wannabe press Here’s a reaction by someone who gets itMeanwhile, Musk's response is a media company to rate the credibility of journalists - a site that would be called "Pravda" - the Russian word for "truth."

Cosmologist and author of Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor, Brian Keating tells the inside story of BICEP2’s  mesmerizing discovery and the scientific drama that ensued. In his new book: Losing the Nobel Prize, Keating describes a rollercoaster journey of revelation and discovery, bringing to life the highly competitive, take-no-prisoners, publish-or-perish world of modern science. Along the way, he provocatively argues that the Nobel Prize, instead of advancing scientific progress, may actually hamper it, encouraging speed and greed while punishing collaboration and bold innovation. In a thoughtful reappraisal of the wishes of Alfred Nobel, Keating offers practical solutions for reforming the prize, providing a vision of a scientific future in which cosmologists may, finally, be able to see all the way back to the very beginning.

Watch this recent video from UCTV, where I interview Keating: "Losing the Nobel Prize with Brian Keating."

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A "fourth political theory?" Persuasive propaganda... for simpletons.

I'll reiterate some familiar themes in the 2nd half of today's missive, raising the spectre of the "Greatest Generation," and re-introducing my one-page bill that might restore some faith in honest government.  But first...

... let's expose one of the worst memes being spread by the oligarchs' propaganda machine. It starts with an "of course" assumption that's an insidiously vile lie.

 == What's old is new ==

Shills on today's U.S. right -- the same folk who brought us "the Fourth Turning" and "Deep State" -- are now throwing roses at the feet of Alexander Dugin, a bona fide monster, sometimes called "Putin's Brain." I do recommend getting to know him! Because  studying this fellow's technique will teach you a lot about the low art of agitprop, including a clever trick; promote an untruth by assuming it as a given. 

Dugin - and his many followers on today's were-right - claim to advance a “fourth political theory” beyond three they say ruled the 20th Century -- liberalism, communism and fascism. All three failed, they assert, hoping you'll nod your head and perk your ears, ready for a fresh alternative. A New Hope.

In fact, their Fourth Way is the same "Decline of the West" bull-puckey pushed for a century by every right-wing pseudosmart jerk from Oswald Spengler to Alan Bloom to David Gelernter to... this Dugin character, who promotes as "new" a style of governance as old as dust. Extolled as "time-tested traditionalism," it dominated 99% of past human cultures, failing every "test" of decency, fairness, or actual outcomes. 

The Fourth political theory is Feudalism. And it never went away, across vast swathes of the globe. Arguably, fascism and communism were variations: self-chosen elites crushing all opposition by force, under the figleaf banner of some religion or ideology.

It is gangsterism by those with money and swords, the theocrats and lords who stole everything from our ancestors while repressing science and fair competition. Only after Adam Smith denounced its horrific record of bad governance, and the American Revolution restarted the Periclean experiment, did we learn how thoroughly loathsome and discredited feudalism is. Our modernist, flat-fair-open system has accomplished more than any other... than all others, combined.

Yet, the urge to re-establish feudalism simmers and roils in the loins of every second rater who inherited daddy's silver spoon.  And they hire gifted svengalis to spin tales to undermine our confidence in flat-fair-open-scientific-rational and pragmatic enlightenment. These would-be oligarchs and lords and theocrats and kings need to be stopped, cold, the way 250 years of our ancestors stopped them. They are enemies of all human hope and any possibility that our grandchildren may inherit the stars.

When I was in Russia last month, I told an audience... "Your parents were wrong about a lot of things... but not about EVERY thing." Marx saw clearly what Adam Smith saw... and Pericles... that human nature propels the powerful and owners and kings and priests and oligarchs to use their advantages to cheat. Marx believed there was no way out but utter class war, that is, after the means of production were completed.

Heck, it may yet come to that. (On his 200th anniversary, Karl Marx is being bought and read more than any time since the 1980s). But Adam Smith saw another possibility: that dynamic competition and freedom and flat-reciprocal accountability might be solutions, less easily corrupted than class war. The radical revolutionaries of 1789, 1917 and 1949 went with the "Marxist" notion, because his incantations provided excuse for them to become the next wave of feudal cheaters! 

The U.S. moderate-progressive revolution tried Smith's approach... and it has worked better than anything since Periclean Athens. Than every other thing. Combined.

“Fourth path? My shiny metal…. Oh, you lying feudalist monsters.

== Drain the "swamp" with professional swamp drainers. ==

There are currently more than 70 federal inspectors general, one serving as ‘watchdog’ in nearly every national agency, though some positions are currently vacant. George Washington’s inspector general, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben is memorialized in a statue in Lafayette Square across from the White House. (See the hilarious Danny Kaye movie “The Inspector General.)

NPR reports: "Perhaps the most important principle for every inspector general is ensuring our independence from the agencies we oversee, so that we can be effective watchdogs over them," Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz said. ‘It was Horowitz's office that investigated (former high FBI official) McCabe. He's also been involved in some other high-profile probes at the department, including former FBI Director James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and whether or not the Justice Department improperly obtained a warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Horowitz said he could not comment on any of the ongoing investigations.’  Busy guy.  So is the Inspector General at Scott Pruitt’s EPA.

"Peter Tyler of the Project On Government Oversight argues that the duties of inspectors general are more important than ever, and they "do really good work, but the question is, does anybody listen?"

This article barely scratches the surface. The IG system is a blessing that has vastly more potential for good than is currently utilized. Indeed, the present system is inherently endangered by conflict of interest, with the IG in each agency having to hold accountable the person he or she works for. 

I’ve long proposed a simple solution that could be legislated on just one piece of paper, in a few paragraphs, transferring all departmental Inspectors General and their staffs to serve under a new official, the Inspector General of the United States, or IGUS. With cabinet-level rank and free to attend cabinet meetings, IGUS would nevertheless be independently appointed, serving outside presidential control.

See my writeup on IGUS. If this happened, public trust in government would rise. It’s not the only such measure that’s called for - (I propose others) - but it's possibly the simplest and easiest to implement on a near horizon.  

And see where I incorporated this proposal in THE FACT ACT.

== Selling influence ==

Alas, under the present regime, “swamp” creatures don’t even try to hide the vampirism. For example, interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney bragged to banking industry executives and lobbyists last month that they should increase their campaign donations to influence lawmakers, revealing that when he was in Congress he would "meet only with lobbyists who contributed to his campaign.”

Our representatives don’t view themselves as our representatives — they view themselves as representing the interests of their funders. And it’s not the first time one of them has let that truth slip out. Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York, for example, revealed his donors told him to get the tax bill passed “or don’t ever call me again.”

What? You shrug that this is just another daily assault upon the republic... a new normal? Well, don’t get outrage fatigue! Sure, the America has been losing this phase of the recurring American Civil War. But we may be on the cusp of our Gettysburg, this November, when the Confederacy of Dunces gets pushed back by a resurgent Union. 

Instead of shrugging, join groups who can take a little cash and maybe a tad of your time, and multiply it thousands fold. For example, contribute $5 to Lawrence Lessig’s campaign to get money out of politics.

Or pick some "ostrich republican" who suckles fox-rationalizations in order to stay loyal to the madness, but who is basically a good soul. Choose one and cling!  Be tenacious, pulling his or her head out of the sand of denial.  Normal rules of courtesy do not apply, when nation, civilization, humanity and planet hang in the balance.  I - one by one - we peel away just 5 million residually sane American conservatives, the Confederacy will lose this round of our civil war.

Use their own slogan!  The "MAGA" crowd supposedly reveres the "great" time of the 1950s. But our parents in the Greatest Generation would slap every Fox-cultist. The folks who survived the Depression, crushed Hitler, contained communism, went to the moon, ended Jim Crow, built the greatest economy in history... and whose favorite (adored) living person was Franklin... Delano...Roosevelt.

== Can you spell "Itoldyouso"? ==

Find one other pundit who predicted this, in every detail. 

Russia now claims the US missile strike on Syria largely failed — and that they've captured U.S. missile technology.

== The Bald-Faced, Actual Difference in Outcomes ==

Finally someone able to see, and point that to the fact that a stereotype has no clothes.

Get this: Since 1977, the three presidential administrations that have overseen the deficit increases are the three Republican ones. President Trump’s tax cut is virtually assured to make him the fourth of four. And the three administrations that have overseen deficit reductions are the three Democratic ones, including a small decline under Barack Obama. If you want to know whether a post-1976 president increased or reduced the deficit, the only thing you need to know is his party.” - From The Democrats are the Party of Fiscal Responsibility, in the New York Times.

David Leonhardt gets it right without actually using my clear explication that it is the Second Derivative of Debt – the rate of change of the rate of change – that shows the effects of an administration’s policies and the attitude of the party.  The popularized version is “gas pedal? Or brake?”

Republicans always hammer down on the former, democrats on the latter.  That’s always.  I mean always.  I mean abso-freaking-lutely every single time and always, always, always and always.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The great beyond...

The Dark Energy Survey (DES)  has discovered 11 new streams of stars that originate from outside of our galaxy. These “stellar streams” (Asimov's "Currents of Space"?) are made up of the remnants of nearby clusters or dwarf galaxies, which were ripped or altered or destroyed by the gravity of the Milky Way. There are about 1,000 to 10,000 main sequence stars in each stream.

Yes, this is another review of recent news about SPACE!

So cool.  A video dive down into the Mutara… I mean, Orion… Nebula. Lower shields and enter at your own risk.

The Age of Amateurs at its best. An amateur astronomer catches (for the first time) a supernova in its early phase, alerting professionals to zero in and chart its youthful moments. We need all-sky awareness.

research team examined 355 stars that had a total of 909 planets, which periodically transit across their faces (as seen from Earth). The planets are between 1,000 and 4,000 light-years away from Earth. They found that a system with a small planet would tend to have other small planets nearby — and vice-versa, with big planets tending to have big neighbors. These extrasolar systems also had regular orbital spacing between the planets.

In our own solar system, however, the story is very different. The four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are very widely spaced apart. The team pointed to evidence from other research that Jupiter and Saturn may have disrupted the structure of the young solar system.

Note that these samples are biased by a huge selection effect, favoring very close-in planets that might occult their stars along edge-on orbital planes (as seen from Earth.) Still, statistical techniques offer major – if tentative – insights.

Fascinating. By studying the microlensing properties of emission close to the event horizon of the supermassive black hole of a background quasar, astronomers set a lower limit to the density of rogue moons and planets in interstellar space in that galaxy at roughly 2000 per star.  Very rough!  But if that proves universal, there may be a lot of “stuff” out there between stars, helping explain why travel is difficult.

Talk of using pulsars as navigation beacons! Wow? Well, in fact… the pioneer plaque of the 1970s was based on exactly this. Look at the "spray pattern." The dots and dashes are time marks for each pulsar's period.  I attended a 1971 talk when Carl Sagan unveiled this, at Caltech!

The Kepler Mission was an inexpensive endeavor of NASA Ames Research Center that proved to be one of the most miraculous and cost-efficient scientific experiments of all time, expanding the number of extra-solar planets known from a couple of dozen to… thousands.  So when loss of one gyroscope seemed to doom the spacecraft, clever engineers found a way to salvage a lot of observing ability, using the pressure of sunlight to replace that gyroscope and help the remaining two, allowing Kepler to continue planet-hunting in 4.5 patches of sky, per year. The result? Another 300 or so planets!  Continuing this marvel till spectacular successor missions are ready.

We are mighty beings! Our explorations are more successful that anything else we do… than any estimation of the odds would seem to merit. Every discovery, from genome to Mars Rovers and Pluto missions to ever-improving weather models, to vanquishing diseases should swell your chest with pride. (Watch the end of

I assert that there may even be theological significance to these fantastic scientific wonders we're achieving. As if it's meant to be. Our purpose.

== A lunar station? ==

What is our future in space? Michio Kaku takes a bold look at The Future of Humanity: Transforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth, which ranges over topics from AI and nanotechnology to astrophysics, terraforming and FTL, with a far-seeing eye on how we will survive as a species in a space-based civilization. Even so... there are those who oppose this vision....

Forget math in favor of dogma! “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross talks about “turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space. The plan is to break down the ice [there] into hydrogen and oxygen, use those as the fuel propellant." Rockets would not need as much thrust leaving Earth if they only had to get to the moon, he said. "Then at the moon, you have very low gravity so you don't need so much thrust to go from the moon to Mars, for example, or another asteroid."

It sounds like something cool to help propel us forward with science, pragmatism and adventure, right?  Wrong. There are no levels and no ways that this makes sense, even slightly. This Republican fixation on “return to the moon” is a calamitous error and utter waste of time and resources. 

To be clear, I rejoiced when my friend and former boss James Arnold saw his theory proved true -- that there’s some ice in dark niches at the lunar poles. Indeed, a day may come when some lunar settlement or city might use that ice, recycling it carefully so that it lasts.  But that won’t happen if we squander it on making rocket fuel whose principal use is to blast out of the lunar gravity well.

Watch Republican eyes glaze over when you use… numbers, or terms like “delta V”; but here goes.  It takes 6.3 km/sec of velocity change to get from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to the lunar surface, almost all of which must be done at high acceleration, with chemical rockets. No high efficiency ion engines or sails.  And that leaves out the penalty-cost of going to the lunar poles.  In contrast, the large population of NEOs or Near-Earth Asteroids can be reached with delta V of about 5.5 km/sec.  That’s a small but significant advantage to asteroids…

… that expands a lot when you then add in the cost of launching from the lunar surface. Again, with low efficiency chemical rocketry, whereas much of the transit to-from NEOs can be done by ion-drive or sail.  And note, from a typical NEO, the added delta V needed, to reach Mars, is only about 2 km/sec.

Now, you pay a price for the easy energetics to NEOs, and that cost is TIME. It can take a whole lot longer to reach asteroids, which is why we must develop excellent robotic systems, first to access the copious amounts of water there (vastly more than at the lunar poles), and later for the hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of mineral wealth out there, from iron (for use in space) to platinum and gold. (This is one reason why legacy Earth-resource moguls in the GOP are desperate to divert us to the Moon, because nothing there threatens their monopolies and sunk costs in Earthly mines.)

So yes, asteroid mining will be mostly robotic. The moon is a better place for humans to use the scanty lunar water for the one purpose Andy Weir's Artemis speculates that dustball is good for, in the near term… tourism.  

Leave the dusty surface to others (for now.) Elsewhere, I explain why a lunar ORBITAL station has huge utility – in at least five ways – and the U.S. should concentrate its manned efforts there, not on imitating Apollo landings.

But it is asteroids where tech billionaires foresee our future in space, all getting rich together out there. And NEOs will prepare us to utilize Phobos! Possibly one of the most valuable places in the Solar System and our real gateway to the Red Planet.

No, Wilbur Ross, we are not fooled by the fact that you schooled yourself to say words like “hydrogen” and “oxygen.” Your incantations still distill down to waging war on science, reason, ambition and the United States of America.

See my postings elsewhere about the issue of Trump's science adviser and the destruction of OSTP.  This article explored the turn back to the moon and the reporter published my response. Thoughts that I updated here.

Oh, we can accomplish anything, if we shrug off gloom. Here, Bill Gates reviews Pinker’s latest tome “Enlightenment Now,” a vigorous defense of our stunningly successful civilization, against the gloom merchants seeking to wreck citizen belief in ourselves. The only thing that will make a difference, over the long run.  

As I wrote in The Postman, by the way.