September 24, 2015 archive

Temporary Solutions

If you follow my Formula One coverage you’ll remember that at the Marina Bay race last week Singapore had to resort to cloud seeded rain to reduce the level of particulates and general air pollution enough so that divers could see all the way down the straights (not to mention the breathing problems).

The acute levels of toxicity had to do with massive fires in Indonesia, how’s that working out for them?

Smoke from Indonesia fires puts Singapore’s air at ‘hazardous’ level

Al Jazeera

September 24, 2015 12:28PM ET

Air quality deteriorated to officially “hazardous” levels Thursday in Singapore – a key Southeast Asian business and transit hub – as choking smog blew in from Indonesia’s neighboring island of Sumatra, where forests and brush are being illegally burned to clear land for oil palm plantations and other farming.

The Singapore government’s three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit 319, its highest level so far this year, around midnight local time. The country’s National Environment Agency lists a level of 201-300 as “very unhealthy,” and above 300 as “hazardous.” Thick gray smoke shrouded the island city-state’s gleaming skyscrapers and crept into homes, even as many residents were staying indoors in attempt to escape the pollution.

For the past two decades, smoke from Indonesia has been spreading to other parts of Southeast Asia during the region’s annual mid-year dry season, when plantation owners and other farmers deliberately start brush and forest fires to clear land.

Southeast Asia’s most damaging cross-border haze came in 1997 and 1998, when the smog caused an estimated $9 billion in losses in economic activity across the region.


The Breakfast Club (2015 Ig Nobels)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgIt’s kind of a parody of the Nobel Prize, the stated goal is to make you laugh, then think.

We’re brought up with this concept of the Scientist as a sort of Warrior/Priest battling space alien buggy things (or making them) and inventing wizzy bang death rays and such, clad in their mystic lab coat ($21 in any Work Clothing/Uniform catalog).  Well, maybe not personally, usually there’s a whole puddle of corpses before the climax of the story when the Scientist is destroyed by his creation (or nemisis) so the hero can get the girl who’s been emotionally conflicted (or mind controlled) up to his timely demise.  The End.

Science is nothing at all like that and is in fact mostly about measuring things and writing down numbers.

Let’s say you’re a swashbuckling Archeologist.  You’ll be stuck in a jungle or desert sure, but you’ll spend all day every day digging, measuring, writing and for every hour in the field you’ll have to work 20 or more to figure out what exactly you found.

Let alone what it means, about which you’re almost sure to be totally, completely wrong.

And that’s if you’re a Lion Tamer, if you’re an Accountant you’ll work your entire lifetime on some quirky subject that nobody understands or appreciates.  Better love it, you’ll be spending a looong time with it.

The thing about the Ig Nobels is that they are, for the most part, genuine typical science.  The subjects may seem odd and funny (see 4 penised Echidnas below.  Relax, only 2 ejaculate at a time) but like the Golden Fleece the projects generally relate to larger and more important goals of which the named research is only a small part.

For instance unboiling eggs, that is so silly.

The chemistry prize went to American and Australian researchers who managed to partially unboil an egg with a vortex fluid device, a high speed machine that converts unfolded proteins into folded proteins.

Their results, published in ChemBioChem, show that the team was able to refold proteins thousands of times faster than previous methods. In theory, the device has far greater application than resetting eggs: it could do everything from revolutionize the manufacturing of cancer treatments to overhaul the industrial production of cheese.

Yup.  So remember that as you consider the 2015 winners.

2015 Ig Nobel prizes: dinosaur-like chickens and bee-stings to the penis

by Alan Yuhas, The Guardian

Thursday 17 September 2015 23.31 EDT

Entomologist Justin Schmidt and Cornell researcher Michael Smith jointly won for their painstaking experiments charting how painful insect stings are, and where the stings hurt worst. Smith pressed bees up against different parts of his body until the insects stung him, five stings a day, a total of 25 different locations, for 38 days. He rated the pain one to 10, and published.

The most painful parts: the nostril, the upper lip, the shaft of the penis.

Smith was joined onstage by Schmidt, who has also sacrificed various parts of his body for science in his decades specializing in stinging insects. Schmidt’s “sting pain index” rates only on a scale of one to four, but also features the entomologist’s descriptions of 78 sorts of stings, written with the flair of a sommelier in a wine cellar with something to prove.

The bald-faced hornet, for instance, is in Schmidt’s estimation: “rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” Yellowjackets, on the other hand, sting “hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” Both rate a two.

The four-plus-rated bullet ant, in contrast, punishes a victim with “pure, intense, brilliant pain, like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel”.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History September 24

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

September 24 is the 267th day of the year (268th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 98 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day on 1789, The Judiciary Act of 1789 is passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement. That day, President Washington nominated John Jay to preside as chief justice, and John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson to be associate justices. On September 26, all six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Supreme Court was established by Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution granted the Supreme Court ultimate jurisdiction over all laws, especially those in which their constitutionality was at issue. The high court was also designated to oversee cases concerning treaties of the United States, foreign diplomats, admiralty practice, and maritime jurisdiction. On February 1, 1790, the first session of the U.S. Supreme Court was held in New York City’s Royal Exchange Building.

The Daily Late Nightly Show (Clock Boy)

Sonia Saraiya, Salon-

(I)n the first few minutes of Trump’s interview, I found myself realizing why people have become enamored of him, his contradictory and reprehensible views be damned. Trump has a completely different level of confidence and ease in the public eye than any of the other Republican candidates that have wormed their way onto talk shows; he has nothing at all to lose. He is an out-of-touch crank at Thanksgiving dinner who has accidentally alighted onto a few topics that seem to resonate with his listeners, and the validation is intoxicating.

Colbert’s weapon isn’t investigation or blunt questioning. It’s letting ridiculous people be as fully ridiculous as possible, and then turning them over to the national audience. His entire professional philosophy hinges on letting the viewers decide for themselves what to think, because he believes in comedy doing the talking for itself. It’s a clear break from David Letterman-witness this tense interview with Trump from January 2015-but it’s the approach that made Colbert both famous and beloved.

The full interview is available on YouTube in that horrible letterbox format I really hate (14:56), but not at all from CBS who have an awful video page that rarely includes complete clips and only displays whole shows for about 5 days and then you have to pay to view.

In the complete appearance people are making a big deal about this exchange.

“I’m gonna throw you up a big fat meatball for you to hit out of the park right now. This is the last time you ever have to address this question if you hit the ball. Barack Obama – born in the United States?”

“I talk about jobs. I talk about our veterans being horribly treated. I just don’t discuss it anymore.”

“You know that meatball is now being dragged down the steps of the subway by a rat right now.”

I wasn’t that impressed.  Trump didn’t answer but he doesn’t need to.  Substantial majorities (60 – 70% range depending on the poll) of Republicans, not Conservatives, Republicans, think Obama is not a U.S. citizen, a Muslim, or both.

There are a lot of reasons to hate on Obama but those ain’t any of them.

People sieze on that and say- “Racist!” and while they are quite correct in their assessment the reply is- “Yeah. So what?”

Trump, correctly from the standpoint of winning the nomination, doesn’t care about them, he cares about his supporters and, just like the McCain is no hero statement, they won’t be bothered by this at all.  They may in fact admire him more for refusing to back down.

And, were I Trump and confronted with this by types that style themselves mainstream, superior, and elite, I’d simply say- “I don’t talk about it anymore.  Obama is done.  In January 2017 there will be a new President and his name is Trump.”  Cue the balloon dropping applause.

What I did think was more funny and telling is this bit-

How did you score?  The Donald was of course a solid ‘A’.  I was perfect, which I never apologize for.

Stephen’s political guest tonight are Elizabeth Warren and Hugh Evans (Australian humanitarian).  His entertainment guest is Hugh Jackman with musical guest Pearl Jam.

The New Continuity

Women Warriors

If you think women are not as bad ass in combat as men you’ve never faced one.

Tonightly, special guest Ahmed Mohamed who you may know better as ‘Clock Boy’.  This is a HUGE get frankly and perhaps tomorrow I’ll focus on it rather than the Warren unless she’s particularly impressive.

On the panel will be Mike Yard, Naomi Klein, and Derek Waters.