Posted 1 year ago

2013 Stargazing Guide

Highlights include two comets, a moon-Jupiter conjunction, and good viewing for Mercury.

Posted 1 year ago

The science of ageing whisky: The water of life | The Economist

Now here is some news you can actually use.

Posted 1 year ago

Which Bond Villain Plans Might Actually Have Worked?

I have to question the judgment of “plausible” on Goldfinger’s plot.  You don’t actually ever have to touch reserve gold to use it as backing for money, so it wouldn’t really matter if the gold was irradiated.  It reminds me of one of the famous Rai stones of Yap.  They’re giant stone disks that are used as money by the people on the island (though these days only for ceremonial purposes).  Because the stones are unwieldy, they are rarely moved; the ownership of a particular stone is simply recorded so that everybody knows who owns a particular stone.  One of the stones was accidentally dropped into the ocean and was irrecoverable.  Nevertheless it continued to “circulate” as currency because the islanders reasoned that as it was still resting securely on the ocean floor, the fact that it was inaccessible was irrelevant.  I think the Fort Knox gold would work the same way.  Even if the radioactivity transmuted the gold into another element, you could declare the product to be “gold” for legal purposes and people would probably accept that (besides, who would volunteer to go into the vault and assay the stuff?)

Quibbling aside, the article is interesting and amusing throughout.  Apparently there is a book with similar themes.  I think one of the comments attached to the article had the most insightful observation of all:

This makes me realize that more times than not, I had no idea what was going on in a 007 movie.

Ain’t that the truth.

Posted 1 year ago

Atmospheric CO2 Concentration Reached 390 ppm in 2011

The WMO is reporting that atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached a record high of 390 ppm in 2011.  This should come as no great surprise, since CO2 concentrations have set a new record high pretty much every year since we started making measurements.  See, for example, this plot of CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa observatory since 1958, or this older paper that includes concentrations of other greenhouse gases

These measurements don’t get enough attention.  Much of the discussion surrounding climate change from greenhouse gases centers around the temperature record, which is noisy and affected by a lot of other factors.  As you can see from the data, however, there is nothing at all ambiguous about the greenhouse gas concentration measurements.  

Posted 1 year ago
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

(Source: en.wikiquote.org)

Posted 1 year ago
Posted 1 year ago

At an estimated redshift of 11, this galaxy recently discovered by HST is a candidate for the most distant object ever observed.  Its comoving distance is nearly 10Gpc (over 32 billion light-years)!  This tiny galaxy was only observable at all due to the magnification provided by gravitational lensing from the MACS J0647.7+7015, which comprises most of the rest of the stuff visible in the image.

Posted 1 year ago
matthen:

James Watt’s work on developing the steam engine lead to the discovery of what are now called Watt’s curves and linkages.  The animation above shows how they are constructed from linking a fixed radius to another with a rod. I tweaked the lengths here to make a lovely heart. With different lengths it is possible to make sections of the red curve almost exactly straight. Watt was able to use this to double the power of a beam engine, and nowadays this is used in the suspension systems of some cars. [more] [more2] [code]

matthen:

James Watt’s work on developing the steam engine lead to the discovery of what are now called Watt’s curves and linkages.  The animation above shows how they are constructed from linking a fixed radius to another with a rod. I tweaked the lengths here to make a lovely heart. With different lengths it is possible to make sections of the red curve almost exactly straight. Watt was able to use this to double the power of a beam engine, and nowadays this is used in the suspension systems of some cars. [more] [more2] [code]

Posted 1 year ago

In Defense of “Price Gouging” (again)

I have long held that anti-gouging laws harm the very people they are intended to protect.  They create shortages by stimulating hoarding behavior and inhibiting import response.  The shortages make it difficult to plan ahead because you can’t know whether you will be able to get necessities at some future date.  That encourages even more hoarding, which aggravates the shortage, which leads to the vicious cycle that you can see being played out in New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  I believe that New Yorkers would be uniformly better off if New York’s anti-gouging laws had never been passed.

Greg Mankiw has posted some nice examples of the arguments for and against anti-gouging laws.  The last of these is particularly worth reading, since it makes a direct rebuttal to the argument that anti-gouging laws ensure fairness in allocating scarce goods.

It turns out that the debate over gouging goes back further than you might think.  On this week’s EconTalk, Russ Roberts and Mike Munger talk about John Locke’s theories on the subject of price justice.  What was especially interesting about Locke’s treatment is that he acknowledges that there is such a thing as taking advantage of another person’s distress, and he tries to draw a line between reasonable adjustment of prices to changing market conditions and unreasonable extortion.  Along the way he generalizes the concept of a “market price” (which he deems to be always just) to scenarios where there are but a single prospective buyer and seller.  It’s all the more impressive when you consider that Locke wrote it in the 17th century, nearly a century before Smith and others expounded the classical theories of supply and demand.

Posted 1 year ago

The city-rural divide in the Old Dominion

It’s hard to find a more graphic demonstration of the city-rural divide than NBC’s map of electoral returns in Virginia.  In Virginia, cities are not considered part of their surrounding counties, so their results show up separately from the county returns.  Consequently, even across the vast red expanses of southern and western Virginia, you see little pock-marks of blue in places like Lynchburg (home of Liberty University!), Danville, Staunton, and Lexington.  

Posted 1 year ago

Maybe the dogs don’t like it this time either

With Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill projected to win their Senate races, the Tea Party has demonstrably cost the Republicans at least four senate seats over the past two elections:  Delaware and Nevada in 2010, and now Indiana and Missouri.  In all four cases the mainstream Republican was a favorite to win, and in all four cases once the Tea Party “primaried out a RINO,” to borrow a phrase from one of my less-charming interlocutors, the voters deserted the Republicans in droves.  Can we please finally admit that America doesn’t want what the Tea Party is selling?  This country needs a sensible center-right party, and that’s not going to happen until moderate Republicans tell their crazy wing to take it down the road.  Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, seems to get it:

…if we lose this election there is only one explanation — demographics.”

If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts.  We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.

The Republicans are going to have to do a lot of this sort of soul searching if they’re going to have any sort of relevance going forward.  Sadly, not everyone has gotten the message; the top result on the Google News search I used to find the quote above referred to Graham as “Lindsey Graham (RINO-SC).”  Stay classy, Tea Party.  Stay classy.

Posted 1 year ago

Will Ohio State’s football team decide who wins the White House?

I’ve always suspected our attitudes toward politics have a lot more in common with our attitudes toward sports.  Now SCIENCE! offers the proof:

[The authors of the study] found that a win by the local team, in the week before an election, raises the vote going to the incumbent by around 1.5 percentage points. When it comes to the 20 highest attendance teams—big athletic programs like the University of Michigan, Oklahoma, and Southern Cal—a victory on the eve of an election pushes the vote for the incumbent up by 3 percentage points.

In case you’re wondering, here are some of the key match-ups for the weekend of November 3rd:

  • Ohio State vs. Illinois (home)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Miami (away)
  • Florida vs. Missouri (home)

Sadly, (or maybe not so much, in light of how they’ve been playing) the Seminoles appear to have a bye that week.  At least the Hokies are playing Miami I, so won’t have to feel so bad about rooting for them.

Posted 2 years ago

Robert Reich: The Politics of Fear and the Party of Non-Voters

robertreich:

The latest Pew Research Center poll shows Mitt Romney ahead of President Barack Obama among likely voters, 49% to 45%. But the latest Gallup poll shows the President Obama leading Romney among likely voters, 50% to 45%.

What gives? The Pew poll covered the days immediately following last…