Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Private enterprise protecting us against meteorites

Volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis and other natural disasters are difficult to detect in advance and to stop. There is one scary natural disaster we can do something about.  Meteors have been hitting the earth since is first coalesced, and in a positive way have helped evolution.  Now we are 7 billion people and have a shorter attention span, but have the ability to prevent the mass loss of Life.

First thing we need to do is detect the meteors as early as possible to give us a long lead time to deflect them. The recent small Russian meteor was missed by the current NASA tracking system, as it cannot see meteors coming from the sun.

The private, non-profit, B612 foundation has been working on a better infrared detector, that will orbit the sun closer in than Earth so it is never blinded by the sun.  Scheduled to be launched next year. A private venture that benefits mankind.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Life in the Universe

To find life elsewhere in the universe would be amazing, truly amazing. Whether it is simple or exotic.

And with the launch of the custom designed space telescope Kepler in 2009, which is still limping along, thousands of planets have been discovered nearby, as close as 20 light years. A percentage could support life. Life on Earth can be traced back to 1000 million years after Earth coalesced, the beginning of terraforming the planet from its nasty beginning.  Life is tenacious and can start and survive in hostile environments.

There could be billions of planets able to support life in our own galaxy.  But distance = time, and everything is so far away.  We need automatic probes and commitment to the future, as to travel just 20 light years and beam back pictures will take much more than 40 years.

Monday, November 18, 2013

People and Animals

People are addicted to animals and they suffer from our addiction.

Zoos were built to engage our curiosity, but as society we are moving away from gawking at caged animals, and zoos are now looking for a new mission in life. Many are at the forefront of conservation programs, with breeding programs and animal releases back to the wild. They have more open, larger areas for animals to live. In Texas many private wild game ranchers stock rare and endangered wild animals and have been successful at breeding them in large fenced areas. They live a more natural life, on a partially wooded ranch, rather than in a zoo.

We now understand better the life and ecology of animals. The natural world is a scary, dangerous place for most animals not on the top of the food chain, but I expect it would be better than being confined to a few hectares or a cage.  Animals have evolved to live, breed, interact, and die in a specific environment; a zoo or a ranch is an inferior imitation of this.

Humans are really clever and need to apply themselves to improving the happiness and well being of each other and other animals.  A good mission statement for us all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

American Football

American football, the NFL, is a huge business, and a culture that permeates American society.  But research has shown it does irreparable harm to the players, it damages their brains, in the same way boxing does.

There are 32 NFL teams with a combined worth of $37 billion.  It is also promoted, and highly popular, in practically every school and college.  It a perfect world american football should not exist, it does harm.  Schools and colleges are places for learning and research, so why do they spend time and money promoting a game that damages brains?  Money.

Recently Katy High School proposed to spend $69.5 million on a new 14,000 seat football stadium. For a School of 3000 students! The bond package was voted down thank heavens.

The news for ex-football players is grim.  Tony Dorset, and ex Dallas Cowboys' player has signs of degenerative brain disease, CTE, and reports depression, mood changes, and getting lost.

And O J Simpson, another ex-NFL player, is infamous as the person who, in a rage, knifed his ex-wife and friend to death.  No sane mind could do that. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power has such a bad image, but with the need to clean up our environment it seems to be the only good choice.  At least we have a good choice.  The pollution and risks associated with coal, oil, gas, and even solar and wind are considerable. Seven billion people want to live healthy and long lives.  The need for new power stations is huge.

We know how to build and site safe nuclear power stations, that will safely shut down with no power. Outside of France we lack the political will. France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power stations, while German next door has plans to decommission all its nuclear power stations.

Russia is busy promoting its own nuclear business. It has sunk $55 billion of state money into Rosatom. The nuclear business has grown out of the wealth of Soviet knowledge of nuclear subs, ships, and fuel reprocessing.  They have developed a nuclear power station on a floating platform, that they plan to market to customers that need power near a coast.  They are promoting a full suite of power plants, which can include returning the spent fuel back to Russia.

And why is wind and solar less clean and useful?  The industry needed to extract and refine the large volume of metals that go into them is dirty.  They are not steady suppliers of energy, which makes managing a steady voltage power grid more difficult, requiring more quick-start gas powered plants to balance the load.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Yassar Arafat - Still Inconclusive

The travel bag has been analyzed, and a year has passed.  The 108 page Swiss report is out and available on the Al Jazeera site:

The conclusion is "The results moderately support the proposition that the death was a consequence of poisoning with polonium-210."

Not exactly an exciting conclusion, and no one seems to really care about the guy.  The world has moved on, and his wife still lives in Paris living off the money that belongs to the Palestinian people.

Check out the pictures of the bag's contents.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Things that are not longer needed

When is something no longer needed? Most of the time there is no hard date. They may be virtual things, or concrete things.

One thing that has become strange to me over time, is my signature.  It does not really matter what I scribble, it has regressed to a squiggly line, which is a shade better than an X.  It is always accepted, as no one checks; they have not checked for a decade.  If you buy something online you just give them numbers, so what is the difference if you are in person, face to face, toe to toe?

I long for the day when I can get an implant with my ID linked to the global network,  No need to carry money, or driving license or passport.  My car has one, my cat has one, I am still pending.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marijuana growing in South Texas

Guys with their spoils 
South Texas in the summertime is a great place to grow marijuana.  It is still illegal in Texas, and therefore a very profitable crop. The most recent find was about 13,000 plants in an wooden area far from roads and people, on a property for sale.

The police found it by actively looking for it, flying over the Austin county. The site was designed with care and well hidden. The plants needed filtered light to grow, so could be planted under trees as long as the branches were thinned to let is more light. The plane had to fly directly overhead to see the crop.
Living quarters

The plants were well tended and one or more persons lived there full time in a temporary shelter. When the police came they were either away shopping for food, or heard the police approaching. The food in the camp was fresh. One person left a photo id behind, so the police know who they are looking for.

A small gasoline pump was placed in a partially cover hole under water near Mill Creek on the property. This pumped water uphill to a large holding pond, and the water was siphoned out to the drip feed pipes. They mixed fertilizer in the pond. The pump was only run when needed at night when needed, it was the only noise that might give their location away. Well designed.

The police had to pull up all the plants by the roots, so they did not regrow, and cart them away to be destroyed. A huge endeavor. The haul was valued at $1.5m. In the states of Washington and Colorado marijuana is legal.  Given time, Texas will be too, and this will no longer be news.

Monday, October 21, 2013

St Vincent and the Grenadines, pretty, but a precarious place to live

The surface:

St Vincent is one of the small Windward islands rising from the depths of the Caribbean Sea. It is an active volcano, erupting in 1979 and 1902, and is swept by hurricanes periodically.  Just 30 kms north to south and 20 km wide. It is pretty with luxurious tropical vegetation and black volcanic sandy beaches.

And the subsurface:

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Christian religion, the 10+ commandments

In the US, many people are hung up with not having the Christian 10 commandments at public buildings, despite the separation of church and state.  They are really old, probably from the 7th century BCE, and culture and knowledge has moved on.  At least for some of us.

So what are the 10 commandments?  There is no consensus, but using the 13 listed in Exodus:

(1) "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" - No longer applicable
(2) “You shall have no other gods before me" - No longer applicable
(3) "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" - No longer applicable
(4) "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" - No longer applicable
(5) "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" - No longer applicable
(6) "Honor your father and your mother" - Good Idea, but there may be extenuating circumstances
(7) "You shall not murder" - Illegal, a very good idea
(8) "You shall not commit adultery" - Not illegal but generally a good idea, but there may be extenuating circumstances
(9) "You shall not steal" - Illegal, a very good idea
(10) "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" - Illegal, a very good idea 
(11) "You shall not covet your neighbor's house" - Basically harmless
(12) "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" - Basically harmless, can one covet your neighbour's husband?
(13) "or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's" - Basically harmless, and in Texas, if you covet your neighbor's donkey he or she will gleefully give you two, they have negative value

So in today's world it boils down to don't (1) murder or (2) steal or (3) lie under oath.  Nothing really profound.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Prisicilla, Queen of the Desert

TUTS 2013-2014 opening act

It was fun, funky, spoofy, and not for the straight and narrow-minded.  Maybe 20% of the seats were unfilled.

The plot revolves around a road trip, of three friends, drag queens, from the Big City, Sydney, across the outback to Alice Springs.  The outback sure seems like West Texas.

The most wonderful part was the guy with the best legs, dressed in a tight glittering outfit, perched on top of the bus in a giant shoe, his shroud blowing huge behind him, lip-synced an aria from La Traviata.

And they left a cake out in the rain, so had to sing Mac Arthur Park.  Ouch.

Near the end it finds the three of them on Ayers Rock, looking out over the desert.  One says, "A cock in a frock on a rock."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Websites that evaporate before your eyes

The web is excellent for current knowledge, but hopeless about preserving history.  I have lost at least two interesting sites:

The breakup of the Shuttle STS-107 over Texas on the local weather radar, seen before the news broke. Later, at breakfast, someone told us the bad news, and it dawned on me what I had seen.

The Facebook page of the Boston bomber, Tamerlan Anzorovich Tsarnaev, I found briefly and then it was gone. Scary reading. Most dead people live on in Facebook, Tamerlan did not.

Against the trend, Wikis preserve history, errors can be corrected, but we know who you are, what you did, and when you did it.

All politicians should be required to have an embedded webcam while in office, with a real-time link to their Web page. We would know what they promised to whom, and for how much.  In theory they work for us, so we need compliance and proof.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Roundabouts and Traffic Lights

I have always liked roundabouts. I grew up in the UK and they were a natural part of the landscape. In the US they are few, and for a long time they were removed and replaced with traffic lights.  Now the fashion is changing and there are now more roundabouts being installed.  There is a new one in Sugar Land. (Not quite there for Google)

If you are new to an area and not sure what direction to take, a roundabout is better, you circle one or more times to read all the directions and then take the correct one. With a stop light you need to know ahead of time and be in the correct lane. Much less forgiving.

The law in Texas states one has to stop at all stop signs before proceeding, but many roll through the sign.  Also one can turn right, at a red light, after stopping and checking. Most drivers roll through. It is so HARD to stop when you know it is safe to keep going.

So, roundabouts reset the issue, and allow drivers to not stop, but slow and yield to others. They are an essence of cooperation.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Warsaw's Sorrow

Preserved caterpillar track from the German "Goliath" remote controlled tracked mine that tore down part of the cathedral walls in August 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising.  85% of the city was destroyed by the Germans.

Between 1939 and 1945 six million Poles died under the occupation of Germany and Russia.  20% of the population.

Meticulous reproductions of the 13 to 20 Century buildings destroyed in 1944. It is said the period bricks use to recreate the old buildings were obtained by destroying old buildings outside of Warsaw.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Warsaw Shopping Center

Downtown Warsaw is a new shopping center, with a wonderful home designer store with its own coffee bar and WiFi, to allow one to to linger and contemplate.

Biological Gears

Discovered by Malcolm Barrows and Gregory Sutton, the nymph version of the insect Issus coleoptratus has interlocking teeth that act as gears to synchronize jumping.  The adult grows to 4 mm and does not have these teeth.  Issus can jump to one meter, I guess so they are not eaten.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stebuklas - The miracle tile in Vilius

In 1989, two years before the Soviet Union collapsed and the Baltic states become independent again, there was a mass peaceful protest.  Up to two million of the eight million citizens of the three countries created a human chain from here, outside the Vilnius Cathedral, to Tallin. 600 kms away.

Google Maps Link

Vegetarians in the Texas countryside, off the bell curve

So I was serving food again at the annual Volunteer Fireman's fund raise.  Food was $9 for as much as you could get on a plate.  People could have some or all of the following:
  • Mutton
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Sauce
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Beans
  • Pickles
  • Onions
  • White bread
The meat was served first. This time I was serving potatoes, mashed with lots of butter. After serving about 70 plates already weighed down with meat, there was an empty plate in front of me. "You must be a vegetarian," I said. "Yes," she admitted. And maybe 20 plates later there was another one with an empty plate, but she said she was no longer a vegetarian.

A highly inaccurate survey, but maybe 2% of people living in the Texas countryside are vegetarians.....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ethnographic Museums

Just outside the Riga city limits is a large open air living history museum of over 100 old buildings collected from all areas of Latvia. The location is almost perfect, a forested landscape with an undulating terrain and waterfront.

The museum was started in 1924, in Soviet times, and is a very early example.

One of the best living history museums is Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts, which is a very realistic 1627 English Village set in a valley away from signs of modern civilization.  The staff speak with the correct accent and do not understand modern idioms. The livestock and plants are correct to the location and time. No plant is allow to grow older 6 years, as that reflects the real history.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Art Nouveau in Riga

Riga was a prosperous Russian port city in the 1800s .   The center of Riga is a UNESCO world heritage site.  From the UNESCO description:

"The bourgeoisie of Riga used their wealth to build imposing private residences and apartment blocks in the expanding suburbs, where an earlier ordinance forbidding the use of stone for building was rescinded. Latvian and Russian architects adopted the European movements enthusiastically, and in particular Art Nouveau, which came from Finland. This developed its own characteristics in Riga, where a national style was created by graduates of the Riga Polytechnic."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Boris Yeltsin's visit to Estonia in 1991 - three days in history

1991 August 18

In Moscow the coup to overthrow Gorbachev starts, the day Boris Yeltsin, the president of Russia, stood on the tank.  The coup was led by a group of eight high level Party and KGB members; Mikhail Gorbachev was under house arrest in the Crimea.  

1991 August 19

USSR tanks advance on the Estonian Parliament. The picture shows one of the roads leading up to the Parliament. The rock, is one used to block the road to stop the tanks.

While the tanks were advancing, Boris Yeltsin arrives via helicopter to the Estonian Parliament.

1991 August 20

The coup in Moscow failed, and the Congress of Estonia adopts the decision to become an independent nation.

The Estonian's have a soft spot for Boris; they managed a bloodless independence with his help.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tallinn Krishners

Local Estonians under the doctrine of Hare Krishna, crazy, but it beats Communism any day.  
The women trail behind the men, no surprise, and the kid in the the skull T-shirt and the guy in blue did not get the message about appropriate dress. I wonder what they wear in winter? It snows seven months of the year. 
In the Tallinn square, where these pictures were taken, there are a multitude of people dressed in the 21st century version of medieval garb, trying to to get you to eat their food and buy their stuff, who know they are play acting.

The Krishners are the real thing, at least in their own minds. 

Back to School in Vilnius

Students gathering outside St. Casimir's Church, on the first day of school.  This is a Jesuit school, and many of the students are carrying a flower for the teacher.

The pink and orange church has led an interesting life.

Built in 1635, but burnt down 20 years later by the Russians, rebuilt and destroyed by fire in 1707 and 1749.

In 1812 the French turned it into a grain silo
In 1915 the Germans turned it into a Lutheran church for the army
In 1949 the Soviets used it for a grain silo
In 1963 it became the Museum of Atheism (whatever that is)
In 1991 the Jesuits took back possession

Friday, August 23, 2013

The other impact

66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous, a giant meteor hit the Earth, in the Yucatan in Mexico, the Shiva crater, offshore India, Silverpit crater in the North Sea, and the Boltysh crater in Ukraine, that caused a mass extinction of species. We have evidence of the craters, but also going on at this time, was the massive basalt volcanism in India.  The climate changed and many species died out.

There was also and much earlier mass extinction 250 million years ago, but until now no crater had been found. There has been plenty of plate movements, volcanism, and time to remove the evidence.

But Eric Tohver thinks he may have discovered the crater and the mechanism.  In Brazil there is a small crater, originally only 25 km across, compared to the Yucatan crater which is 180 km across. Seemingly too small to have a dramatic effect on the climate of Earth, but exactly in strata of the right age.

Eric Tohver has discover the rock that the meteor impacted was rich in hydrocarbons, and the impact was sufficient to release a huge volume of oil and gas, mostly methane, a very efficient greenhouse gas. This was the Permian Extinction.  90% of marine species died and 70% of land species.

The 2012 Chelyabinsk meteor over Russia was just a little one.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Asymmetric Love in a world without freewill

A quote from a longer article by Sam Harris:

"Seeing through the illusion of free will does not undercut the reality of love, for example—because loving other people is not a matter of fixating on the underlying causes of their behavior. Rather, it is a matter of caring about them as people and enjoying their company. We want those we love to be happy, and we want to feel the way we feel in their presence. The difference between happiness and suffering does not depend on free will—indeed, it has no logical relationship to it (but then, nothing does, because the very idea of free will makes no sense). In loving others, and in seeking happiness ourselves, we are primarily concerned with the character of conscious experience.

Hatred, however, is powerfully governed by the illusion that those we hate could (and should) behave differently. We don’t hate storms, avalanches, mosquitoes, or flu. We might use the term “hatred” to describe our aversion to the suffering these things cause us—but we are prone to hate other human beings in a very different sense.

True hatred requires that we view our enemy as the ultimate author of his thoughts and actions.  Love demands only that we care about our friends and find happiness in their company.

It may be hard to see this truth at first, but I encourage everyone to keep looking. It is one of the more beautiful asymmetries to be found anywhere."

Friday, August 16, 2013

The world seen through other's eyes

If you are a Pakistani applying for a standard Pakistani passport, you have to declare Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is not a real prophet and his followers are not Muslims.  He was born in 1835 in the Qaidian, Sikh Empire died in 1908 in Lahore British Empire.

He, and his followers, live on in the minds of Pakistani officialdom as a threat a century later.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Forensic Science, you can help

Body farm @ Huntsville Texas is a 100 hectare site to study how human bodies decompose and are scavenged it a rural setting. A place to donate your body to science in a different, and very natural way.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Free mini-library up and running

A free mini-library, a variation on an old concept.

It is a portal, the books and magazines flow in, and flow out. It is primed with a global supply of books.

It took a little while, see blog from 2012 September 25....

Eternal life - Religion promises, Science delivers


An interesting blog from General Electric.  It is one thing to make a machine sufficiently complex and affordable, and another to transfer the data.........


Friday, August 2, 2013

The Hermitage, St Petersburg

The Hermitage is a huge museum facing the Neva river in St Petersburg.  It claims to be a world class museum, akin to the the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The building is an ex-royal palace as is the Louvre.  It contains priceless works of art but in the summertime the upper floors are hot and humid, not air conditioned.  The protection staff that sit in the rooms are fanning themselves and look exhausted.

The museum was emptied during the siege of Leningrad and most of the art moved east to the Urals.  After the devastation it was repaired and the art restored.  Plus some new trophy art.

From the New York Times on the 1995 exhibit, '...the English catalog speaks coyly of  "Hidden Treasures Revealed: Impressionist masterpieces and other important French paintings preserved by the State Hermitage Museum," the Russian catalog is blunter: "Unknown Treasures: French paintings of the 19th-20th centuries from private German collections."'

The spoils of war.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Krambude - Medieval Store

Well it is a modern store, in an old building, but it is so well done.  In downtown Tallinn, in the corner of the central square, a great place to visit. The staff have to dress the part, and even the pen to sign your receipt is a quill. If Tallinn is not on your list this year, I recommend it highly, you can shop their website: http://www.oldehansa.net/

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Thinker in Bronze and the Thinking Gorilla in Bronze

The Thinker by Rodin, 1902, and Thinking Gorilla by Adolf Wolff, 1932.

Adolf was born in Belgium, and brought up in New York. He was a product of his time. He taught at the New York Modern School, "They were an important part of the anarchist, free schooling, socialist, and labor movements in the US, intending to educate the working classes from a secular, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools imparted day-time academic classes for children, and night-time continuing-education lectures for adults."

He died in 1944, just before WW2 ended, a traumatic period.

The gorilla bronze is valued at $4,000.  It has funny feet.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Texas Sage

Texas Sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, is an evergreen shrub, that blooms profusely after it rains.  It seems to be sensitive to real rain and not irrigation. Bees and butterflies are attracted to it; the bush can hum with activity.  How many bees in this picture?

It grows best in an arid climate; it is a native to northern Mexico and southern USA. It has the characteristic grey-green leaves of a drought resistant plant.