Monday, August 29, 2016

Biohazard in the woodworking class

When I was a young teenager, I excelled in school in Woodwork, Metalwork, Technical Drawing and Math. I was often the best student in these topics.

In the Workwork class we had periodic tests, to make something in a short amount of time. The chisels were sharp and stored upside down, so you could see the sizes. At the beginning of class I cut my fingers on the chisels and bled. The teacher was not impressed, his attitude was "Stop wasting time and do the test." So I made the piece, covered in blood, and came first in the test.

In today's world there are so many things wrong with this story.

Decades later, I still make things, fix things, and tinker. I am still using the skills I learnt at school, including cutting my fingers.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Proxima Centauri as seen from Proxima b, a planet in the habitable zone.  Gravity could be tricky for settlers, perhaps 1.3 times Earth.

Proxima Centauri is believed to be the closest star to the Sun, a mere 4 lights years away. Stretching current technology we could get a camera there in 20 years and it would take a further 4 years to get the data back. Time to plan.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My clashes with Italian Culture

I guess I am a succor for punishment, next year I will be around Italians for the fifth time, but this time outsourcing most of the contact. It will be a guided land tour.

1985 - On my return home from China, I stopped in Italy for two weeks. The train service was on strike and I got stuck in the city.

2002 - We spent a week in Rome, and the hotel A/C went out, and the hotel manager promised it would be fixed immediately, but it never was, and finally I discovered the hotel had no A/C equipment, the A/C came from the bank building next door and the bank would not be able to fix it for days.  The manager said, "You must understand, this is not America." And lost my cool, not something I do very often, and said, "No this is not America, in America things WORK."

Also the subway workers went on strike for more money, not that they did any work. In the station near the hotel was a broken ticket machine, It did not look broken, honest tourists would try to buy tickets and give up after 5 minutes. The staff watched, they knew it was broken, and did not put up a sign, this was their daily entertainment. The ticket barrier was open, people rode for free.

2008 - We took a Costa Cruise for a week, from Dubai through the Straights of Hormuz.  This was before one of their ships ran aground. A good trip, but the entertainment on the boat was childish and immature, and the passengers loud and pushy.  In a taxi line, many would not wait their turn but just commandeered the next taxi that arrived.

2012 - By now we were forewarned. We took a cruise from Civitavecchia, Italy to the the eastern Mediterranean and back. No stops in Italy. We got a nice hotel overlooking the sea, for one night before the boat left. The weather was sunny and warm. We noticed there were hordes of people dragging their luggage from the port into town, and thought it strange. They did not look happy. We asked the hotel if they had a shuttle to the dock. They did going out, but not coming back. "You will need to get a taxi coming back."

When we return two weeks later the weather had turned and was windy, cold and wet. We got off the boat and no taxi would take us to town. They wanted the government fixed fair to Rome or the Airport. Our premonition from 2 weeks earlier came true.

2017 - We will return to Italy, hope springs eternal.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fiction but scarily close to reality

Trump meets the CIA by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times August 4, 2016

The government is arranging classified intelligence briefings for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to prepare them for the White House. This longstanding practice of briefing nominees is controversial this year: Senator Harry Reid has urged the C.I.A. to give Trump a “fake” briefing, while House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Clinton can’t handle classified material. But what would a Trump briefing look like, anyway?
“Mr. Trump, I’m Gene Smith from the C.I.A.”
“Smith, huh? Is that your code name? You know, I know a huge amount about the C.I.A., more than most C.I.A. directors. A terrific, beautiful, very good organization.”
“Actually, Smith is my real name. Anyway, let’s get started with China and our assessment that Xi is much more aggressive than Hu.”
“She is more aggressive than who?”
“Well, I’d like to meet her. I like aggressive women. She sounds like a 10.”
“I don’t know. That aggressive woman.”
“I’m not sure I understand. Anyway, in China we assess with high confidence that Xi will continue this aggressive nationalistic ——”
“She sounds hot. No, I’m just joking. But, seriously, women love me.”
“Mr. Trump, Xi is a man, president of China.”
“She is a man? China’s president is trans? Boy, they’re more modern than I realized — I mean, I knew that. I know so much about China. You should see me use chopsticks! Did I ever tell you about this hot Chinese girl I once dated? She was so modern, and built like ——”
“Mr. Trump! We expect China will maintain its nationalistic claims in the South China Sea ——”
“Oh, don’t worry. I have lots of Chinese friends. I love Chinese food. Best pad Thai in the world at Trump Tower. So what’s your take, what do the Chinese think of me?”
“We assess with high confidence that the Chinese leadership wants you to win the election.”
“I’m not surprised. There are very, very bad reporters at completely and totally failing newspapers that nobody reads who say I might start a trade war. But China wants me to win the election! Amazing! So why does she want me to win, that transsexual president of theirs?”
“Xi is not trans! Xi would like you to win because alliance management is not your priority, and your presidency could lead to an unprecedented decline in U.S. influence.”
“Unprecedented! Amazing! So the Chinese think that I’d be unprecedented? Who else likes me?”
“Well, North Korea has already officially endorsed you, Mr. Trump. It called you ‘prescient’ and ‘wise.’”
“‘Present and wise!’ They love me! And Russia loves me, too. Putin and I go way back. We’re like this” — Trump knits his fingers together — “and after I’m elected I hope to finally meet him.”
“Yes, we believe that President Putin is backing you.”
“Putin the Pro. Not like Little Ukraine. Sad!”
“Well, Putin believes that NATO might collapse in your presidency and that he would have a freer hand in Ukraine and the Baltics.”
“The Baltics, I know them better than anybody! Melania is from Slovenia. Some people say I leaked those amazing pictures of her to The New York Post. Why would I do that? Did you see them? Here ——”
“Mr. Trump! And you mean the Balkans, even though Slovenia isn’t ——”
“Balkans, Baltics — I don’t get bogged down in details. I’m a strategy guy. Now what about ISIS? I know more about ISIS than the generals do. But I’d like to hear your take. Are they supporters?”
“We assess that they are supporting you in the belief that you help recruitment. Indeed, we fear that they may conduct a terror strike in hopes of helping you get elected.”
“Everybody’s supporting me! What about the Middle East? I’ll probably do a peace deal — I’m a terrific deal maker, you know that? I’ll probably get a Nobel Peace Prize to go with my new Purple Heart.”
“Well, sir, the Middle East is complicated ——”
“The Middle East is a complete and total disaster. They don’t respect us. What about nuclear weapons? If we have nukes, why not use em?”
“Sir, we only offer intel, not policy advice. But ——”
“Shouldn’t we just drop a few nukes on those Kurds?”
“The Kurds? In Syria, they’re our only effective ally.”
“They’re doing bad things. Very bad things. I saw it on a Sunday show.”
“Oh, you mean … the Quds Force?”
“Kurds, Quds, what’s the difference? If I give the order to bomb ’em, you guys can sweat the details. Call Mike Pence.”
“But you’re running to be ——”
“Anyway, tell me about internet security. I’m a little bored. How about we hack into the phone of Miss Sweden and check out her selfies? When I’m elected I’m going to have a whole team on that. …”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Atmosphere - A direct way to measure historical levels of oxygen

A new paper, published in Geology, shows a new and direct method of measuring the atmosphere in the last few billion years. Nigel Blamey has shown that salt crystals (halite) contain inclusions of water, and the water has absorbed air at the time of the creation of the halite.

He has measured oxygen levels of 10.3 to 13.4% for 815 million years ago, more oxygen than previously believed, enough for larger animals that did not appear for 200 or more million years.

With the new process we will now be able to build a more accurate and complete picture of oxygen through time, and see how this fits with evolution.

The Geology article:

My oxygen article from 2013:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Olympics are coming to Rio

I have been to Rio once, in 1999, for two weeks in July, winter time. It was a business trip, and we had a good hotel, the Ipanema Sol, on the south coast overlooking Ipanema beach.

A safer part of town. Rio is not safe, and I am the only person that has been there for work who has not been mugged.

One block behind the beach strip is the Bar Garota de Ipanema, the restaurant "Girl from Ipanema."  They claim the song was written there. It has good food and ambiance, the tables by the windows open to the outside, and the local musicians.

Nearby is a park that is locked and spooky at night, but in the sunshine is full of activity with nannies and children. On the weekend beautiful people stream towards the beach, as in the song.

There is so many places to see and things to do in Rio, but you must go see the Christ Redeemer on Cocovado mountain, you can take the train. Walk back from it as far as you can, it towers above you in the sky, a real jesus moment.