Monthly Archives: April 2011

Harvey Fineberg: Are we ready for neo-evolution?

Medical ethicist Harvey Fineberg shows us three paths forward for the ever-evolving human species: to stop evolving completely, to evolve naturally — or to control the next steps of human evolution, using genetic modification, to make ourselves smarter, faster, better. Neo-evolution is within our grasp. What will we do with it?

Continue reading Harvey Fineberg: Are we ready for neo-evolution?

Bruce Schneier: The security mirage

The feeling of security and the reality of security don’t always match, says computer-security expert Bruce Schneier. At TEDxPSU, he explains why we spend billions addressing news story risks, like the “security theater” now playing at your local airport, while neglecting more probable risks — and how we can break this pattern.

Continue reading Bruce Schneier: The security mirage

Best info on the Tornado Swarm

Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog is a key source of information on any current weather events:

A stunning tornado outbreak of incredible violence has left at least 202 dead across the Eastern U.S.; injuries probably number over a thousand, with 600 injured in the town of Tuscaloosa alone. The tornadoes carved huge swaths of damage, completely flattening large sections of many towns, and damage from the storms is likely to be the greatest in history for any tornado outbreak. Hardest hit was Alabama, with at least 149 dead…

Read the rest


Emergency agencies:

Tornado Relief:

  • The best place to donate is probably the American Red Cross. At this moment, their web site does not seem to be aware of the tornadoes, but they are in fact on the scene working now.

Continue reading Best info on the Tornado Swarm

Does your child resist going to bed at night?

Huxley loves to go to bed at night. You say “Huxley, time for bed” and he runs for the bedroom giggling.

Sometimes he stops on the way to read a book, or more exactly, get a book read to him because he can’t read yet. Sometimes the book is Goodnight Moon.

But some kids are not as sanguine with the idea of gong to bed at night and can give their parents a hard time. For those kids, we have this:


Go the F**k to Sleep is …

…a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world, where a few snoozing kitties and cutesy rhymes don’t always send a toddler sailing off to dreamland. Honest, profane, and affectionate, Adam Mansbach’s verses and Ricardo Cortés’ illustrations perfectly capture the familiar–and unspoken–tribulations of putting your little angel down for the night, and open up a conversation about parenting in the process. Beautiful, subversive, and pants-wettingly funny, Go the Fuck to Sleep is a perfect gift for parents new, old, or expectant. Here is a sample verse:

The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep.

Drink your wine while you still have time!!!

When Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters came out, I got myself an electronic copy of it and searched for the words “God”, “Jesus”, “Miracle” etc. Amanda and I had watched Capt’n Sully be interviewed a few times and we guessed that he was a straight up guy who knew how to land an airplane on a river. And did. We were happy to find an example of something extreme and unlikely happening and the key person involved not invoking supernatural powers as causing or stopping something from happening.

At an entirely different time in the past, well, a few times, I was almost eaten by a lion or killed by drunk renegade soldiers and so on and so forth and, as I’ve noted elsewhere, discovered that there is not a strong correlation between being truly threatened with death and being scared of what was going on.

Apropos these things:

Open-sourced blueprints for civilization

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).

Continue reading Open-sourced blueprints for civilization

Obama calls for rational, fact based debate on important issues

Donald Trump, Orly Tate, others are “side show carnival barkers” and questions by birthers, others “silliness” according to Obama, in a press conference moments ago.

Following a down-and-dirty live statement to the press asking everyone to just shut. up. and get down to business on the important issues facing the nation, the press vowed to provide intensive, irrelevant and annoying coverage of the birth certificate issue all day and for the rest of the week. Presumably the story will be interleaved with coverage of some wedding going on in England.

Here’s a statement from the White House:

Continue reading Obama calls for rational, fact based debate on important issues

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 21: The chickens come home to roost edition

The reactors at Fukushima continue to be hotter than “cold shutdown” levels, and at least one reactor (#1) is probably leaking from the core containment vessel. Fission products in high amounts, high pressure, and high temperature indicate that something close to fission is still happening although an apparent lack of large quantities of short lived isotopes may indicate that it has been a while since extensive fission has occurred in the leaking reactor.

There is still concern over possible hydrogen explosions and unexplained “white smoke” continues to rise from several buildings on site.

There is now concern that the spent storage pool for reactor #4 is leaking, and there is concern that it will not be possible to apply as much water as needed to some of the storage pools for fear that they will collapse. In addition, there is concern that applying too much water to at least one of the rectors is causing structural decay of the building that will make it collapse if there is an earthquake.

There is real progress in hooking up the plants to outside power sources, and in fact, it will eventually be connected to redundant outside power sources. The degree to which this is completed is unclear.

Tens of thousands of domestic animals (chickens being the most abundant, but also cattle and swine) have died from neglect in the evacuation zone, and government officials are now starting the process of euthanasia on some of the rest of them. Local civic leaders have reached a state of depression and despair and collectively state that recovery of the affected communities is impossible.

One of the most interesting recent outcomes of this event (aside from the fascinating engineering and nuclear physics) is the call to prosecute judges that adjudicated the regulatory process early on in licensing of this and other nuclear power plants in Japan. The claim is being made that Judges sided with the Nuclear Power Industry on issues of safety. The reason this is so interesting is that Nuclear Power Apologists have used a number of techniques to support certain decisions related to Nuclear Power Plant design, construction, operation, and licensing which would likely be exposed and debunked as part of such an investigation and trial. This is a potentially very positive thing for those of us who consider ourselves rationalists and skeptics. A critical examination of how we integrate scientific knowledge and engineering with the development of energy policy in the broader context of political policy would be very productive.

And in doing so, it would be very important to re-examine Chernobyl. The current widespread belief regarding Chernobyl falls into two categories: 1) It was a horrid disaster in which thousands died and/or got cancer and 2) Nothing really bad happened outside the site of the fire itself. The former is the view of the anti-nuclear pole, the latter of the Nuclear Power Apologists. Neither is true. It will be necessary to get Chernobyl figured out and on the table as part of the process of examining Fukushima.

And now, Ana’s Feed:

Co-op sells banned spinach to consumers in eastern Japan – April 21, Kyodo
-A Tokyo-based cooperative has delivered spinach grown in the town of Tako, Chiba Prefecture, to consumers in three eastern Japan prefectures despite a government ban on shipments due to concerns about radiation, the Chiba prefectural government said Thursday.

Radiation over 100 microsieverts detected 2-3 km from troubled plant – Kyodo

  • Radiation levels of over 100 microsieverts per hour were measured at four locations 2 to 3 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from late last month, the science ministry said Thursday as it released such data for the first time.
  • All four readings of over 100 microsieverts were taken in the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture, and about 2 to 3 km from the nuclear plant, with the highest reading of 124 microsieverts measured at a location around 2 km west-northwest of the complex.


The Chernobyl deniers use far too simple a measure of radiation risk – The Guardian: Those who downplay the dangers of nuclear energy are wrong to focus only on dose.

  • “In his article on “the confusing world of radiation exposure”, readers’ editor Chris Elliott was right to point out that getting a whole year’s sunshine in an hour would fry him to a crisp (Open door, 4 April). Radiation dose rate is important. What he didn’t say is that “dose density” is important too.
  • The “sievert”, as Elliott says, is a dose unit for quantifying radiation risk. He did not add that it assumes dose density is uniform. “There are many kinds of radiation”, he says, but he does not mention how they differ. In fact, external sources like cosmic rays and x-rays distribute their energy evenly, like the sun; others, notably alpha-emitters like uranium, are extremely uneven in the way they irradiate body tissue once they have been inhaled or swallowed.”

Evacuation zone widened beyond 20km from Fukushima nuclear plant – April 22, Kyodo

  • The government on Friday added some towns outside a 20-kilometer radius of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the list of areas covered by its evacuation directive, due to concerns over high cumulative levels of radiation.

Chernobyl: distorted reality and unanswered questions – April 21, 2011, Greenpeace Blog

  • “We have just returned after completing an important mission in Ukraine – taking around 70 journalists from 18 countries with us to Chernobyl, nearly 25 years after the nuclear catastrophe. It was one of the largest media trips Greenpeace has organized. These seasoned journalists asked critical and insightful questions, none of them easily moved.
  • But many of them were deeply disturbed by what they saw and heard – often by the mundane details that were mentioned matter-of-factly by the interviewees.”

Scenes from the Fukushima Exclusion Zone – Good Blog

  • “In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, photographer Donald Weber set out for the “exclusion zone” around the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Residents of this buffer area were forced to evacuate immediately after the tsunami struck, leaving an eerie abandoned urban landscape. Besides the military, Weber and his partner were, he believes, “the only other people to go to the exclusion zone and actually see what the reality is there.””

TEPCO president apologizes to residents – NHK, April 22, 2100

Reactor 1 water level concerns – NHK, April 23, 2011

  • The Japanese government has expressed concern about the structural strength of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant’s Number 1 reactor. It says the ongoing water injections may be making the vessel less earthquake resistant.
  • At the Number 1 reactor, where fuel rods are believed to be the most seriously damaged, six tons of water are being injected every hour.
  • TEPCO believes the water is vaporizing, then condensing in the containment vessel.

Cattle in the restricted zone – NHK, April 23, 2011

  • Tens of thousands of farm animals have been abandoned in the evacuation zone surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Many of them reportedly have already died.
  • Fukushima Prefecture authorities say there were about three-hundred livestock farms with three-thousand cows, 30-thousand pigs, and 600-thousand chickens.
  • Some farmers are requesting that they be allowed to euthanize the remaining animals.
  • The agriculture ministry says, however, it will be difficult to allow people to enter the restricted area to euthanize or feed the animals.

Tokyo Takes Over PR From Plant Operator – Wall Street Journal

  • “Tepco’s briefings have at times turned confrontational. “You guys lack accountability,” some reporters have shouted, eliciting apologies from Tepco spokesmen. “Who is the person overseeing this operation?” asked one reporter at a briefing earlier this month on Tepco’s planned discharge of lightly radioactive water into the ocean. “Why can he not come here? Tell me his name. Who is it? Go up and find out right now. Go right now. Go right now.””

Periodic health checkups mulled for Fukushima residents – April 23, Kyodo

  • The Fukushima prefectural government is considering implementing regular health checkups of its residents, while examining the health of children in the long term, in the wake of the nuclear emergency there, its officials said Saturday.

TEPCO to cautiously inject water in No.4 fuel pool – NHK, April 23, 2011

  • Tokyo Electric Power Company has decided to be more cautious about the volume of cooling water injected into the spent fuel pool of one of its reactors.
  • This is due to fear that the reactor building might be further damaged by the weight of the water itself.

TEPCO must not be allowed to resume reactor operations: Fukushima gov. – April 22, Kyodo

  • Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said Friday he will never allow Tokyo Electric Power Co. to resume operations at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Workers locked in battle at Fukushima, exposure to radiation rising – April 23, Kyodo

  • Workers at a nuclear power plant damaged by last month’s earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeast continued battling to deal with radioactive water Saturday as their exposure to radiation is constantly increasing.

Kitazawa thanks special US nuclear rescue team – NHK, April 23, 2011

  • Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has expressed gratitude to a special US military unit that has been dispatched to Japan to stand ready for an emergency at the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
  • Kitazawa visited the US Yokota Air Base in Tokyo on Saturday, where about 150 members of the special US force are standing by to respond to nuclear emergencies.

Mayors see little prospect of rebuilding lives – NHK, April 24

  • An NHK survey of municipalities affected by the March 11th disasters has found that 60 percent of them see little or no prospect of rebuilding residents’ lives.
  • The mayors of 42 cities, towns and villages in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures responded to the survey conducted between April 19th and 22nd.
  • 8 mayors, including those of Iwate’s Yamada Town, Miyagi’s Watari Town and Fukushima’s Futaba Town said there is no prospect of reconstructing residents’ livelihoods.

FEATURE: Judges tend to side with utilities in atomic power plant cases – April 25, Kyodo

  • The risk of an earthquake causing critical damage to a nuclear power plant has been the subject of lawsuits filed by local residents in various parts of Japan over the years, but to date none of these legal actions has led to operations at a plant being suspended.
  • The courts have been inclined to accept arguments that nuclear power plants are safe, citing the highly technical nature of atomic power generation. In light of the ongoing crisis at Fukushima, however, critics say the judges should be held accountable for abandoning their role to properly scrutinize such cases.

Anti-nuclear plant candidates secure some seats in local elections – April 25, Kyodo

  • A number of opponents of nuclear power plants won seats in the assemblies of host municipalities in Sunday’s nationwide local elections in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, including one candidate who drew the largest number of votes in his town.

Fukushima Pref. to cull dying livestock in 20-km radius of nuke plant – April 25, Kyodo

  • Six Fukushima prefectural government workers dressed in protective outfits went into the no-entry zone within a 20-kilometer radius of the crisis-hit nuclear power plant in the northeastern Japanese prefecture Monday to begin work to cull starving livestock.

Monitoring rising temperatures – NHK, April 25, 2011

  • The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is carefully monitoring the situation at the Number 4 spent fuel pool, where the water temperature is rising despite increased injections of cooling water.
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, says it will inject 210 tons of water into the pool on Monday, after finding on Sunday evening that the temperature in the pool had risen to 81 degrees Celsius

Fukushima restricts park use – NHK, April 25, 2011

  • Fukushima Prefecture is restricting the use of 5 of its public parks due to high levels of radiation, causing concerns among nearby residents and park visitors.
  • The prefecture announced on Monday that it would limit the use of the parks to one hour a day, as radiation readings at the 5 facilities were at or above the safety limit set for outdoor activities in schools.

Rewiring starts at Fukushima Daiichi – NHK, April 25, 2011

  • Tokyo Electric Power Company is rewiring the power grid at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to secure the electricity supply in case of another strong quake.
  • The plant’s 6 reactors are now connected in pairs to external power sources. TEPCO began connecting the cables for the No.1 and No.2 reactors with the grid for the No.5 and No.6 reactors on Monday.
  • This is to ensure that if any one of the 3 outside sources is cut off, the others can be used to cool the reactors.

Radioactive materials found in Japanese bird feed – April 25, Yonhap

  • Traces of radioactive materials have been detected in bird feed imported from Japan, though the concentration levels are below permissible levels, the government said Monday.
  • South Korea began checking animal feed imported from Japan for radioactive containments from March 29 onwards, after the Fukushima nuclear power station started releasing radioactive materials into the environment in mid-March. As of last week, 52 shipments totaling 390.3 tons of feed have been checked.

Govt was unaware of hydrogen explosion risk – April 26, 2011, JAIF

  • An advisor to Prime Minister Naoto Kan says no one in the government knew of the risk of a hydrogen explosion in the initial stages of the emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
  • Hosono said he was not aware of a single nuclear expert who warned of the risk of a hydrogen blast following the venting operation. He said nitrogen inside the reactor container was supposed to prevent such explosions.

Most Japanese reactors yet to have enough backups for stable cooling – April 26, Kyodo

  • Most nuclear reactors in Japan would fail to achieve a stable condition in the event that all regular power sources are lost, even though plant operators have prepared new backup power sources as well as electric generators following the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Kyodo News found Monday.

Japanese NGOs seek nuke-free society on 25th anniv. of Chernobyl – April 26, Kyodo

  • A group of 87 nongovernmental organizations in Japan reiterated calls to achieve a nuclear-free society on Tuesday, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, at a time when the worst nuclear crisis since is continuing at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Japan drawing on Chernobyl lesson in dealing with Fukushima: Edano – April 26, Kyodo

  • Faced with the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan is drawing on lessons learnt in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl blast, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Tuesday, on the 25th anniversary of the incident.

Radioactive water in No.3 and 4 reactors rises – April 26, JAIF

  • The utility company says the water level in the tunnel of the No. 3 reactor rose to 99 centimeters below the surface as of 6 PM on Monday. That passes the level at which TEPCO plans to remove the water, but it has yet to secure storage space.
  • The water level in the basement of the No.3 reactor’s turbine building also rose by 10 centimeters over 3 days.
  • The water level in the No. 4 reactor’s turbine building rose by 20 centimeters in 10 days.
  • TEPCO says water used to cool the No. 3 reactor could be leaking into No. 4 as their turbine buildings are connected.

TEPCO checks to see if water is leaking from No. 1 reactor container – April 27, Kyodo

  • The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex on Tuesday started checking to see if water is leaking from the No. 1 reactor container ahead of work to flood the vessel with water as a step to stably cool the troubled reactor.

Radiation monitors delivered to Fukushima schools – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • The education board of Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, has handed out radiation monitors to local schools and kindergartens.

Radioactive water carried from No.2 reactor – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has said it is giving top priority to transferring highly contaminated water from the No.2 reactor.
  • But the firm has also found high levels of radioactive substances at the site of the No. 4 reactor.
  • Last Thursday it detected 8,100 becquerels of cesium 137 and 7,800 becquerels of cesium 134 per cubic centimeter in the water in the turbine building’s basement. The radioactive levels were about 250 times higher than a month before.

Big tank may be set up under Fukushima plant to store tainted water – April 27, Kyodo

  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan is considering setting up a big underground tank in the compound of the radiation-spewing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to prevent contaminated water from spilling into the sea, a fishery official said Wednesday.

TEPCO starts tests for more water injection – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • Tokyo Electric Power Company has begun testing one of the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to see if it can move forward with its plan to submerge and cool the hot fuel rods.
  • The firm says robots on Tuesday detected radiation levels of up to 1,120 millisieverts per hour inside the No.1 reactor building. It says some contaminated water may be leaking from the reactor into external pipes.

Radioactive topsoil removed from school grounds – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • The city began removing the soil on Wednesday at two of the 28 public elementary and junior high schools and daycare centers.
  • The removed soil is being kept under a cover at the school grounds until it can be moved to a landfill site.

Woman at nuke plant exposed to excess radiation – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • A woman working at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was found to have been exposed to radiation of more than 3 times the legal safety limit.
  • She worked at the plant for 11 days after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, and was exposed to 17.55 millisieverts of radiation. The figure is more than 3 times the permissible amount for women, which is set at 5 millisieverts per 3 months.
  • The woman may have inhaled radioactive material when taking off protective gear, as internal exposure of 13.6 millisieverts accounted for much of the total.
  • The limit for workers at the Fukushima plant was raised from 100 to 250 millisieverts per year after the accident to cope with the emergency. But the limit for women was left unchanged due to their child-bearing possibilities.

Water may be leaking from No. 4 reactor fuel pool – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says water may be leaking from the spent fuel pool of the No. 4 reactor.
  • More than 1,500 spent fuel rods are stored in the pool, the largest number at the site.

Fukushima farmers protest near TEPCO headquarters – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • Farmers affected by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have demanded that its operator put it under control and compensate them as soon as possible.
  • About 200 vegetable and dairy farmers from Fukushima, Chiba, Ibaraki and other prefectures took part in the protest in front of the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Science ministry releases Fukushima radiation map – NHK, April 27, 2011

  • Japan’s science ministry has for the first time released a map projecting estimated cumulative radiation exposure near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
  • The contour map shows the amount of annual cumulative radiation that a person would be exposed to by staying outdoors for 8 hours per day through March 11th, 2012.

A 100-Year Plan for Nuclear Waste – Technology Review

Celebrate Freedom Day

I started to work in Africa in the mid 1980s. Since I had been admitted to a graduate program that was heavily involved with work in Kenya, it would make sense that I’d work there, but I was well aware of the fact that there would be no work at Koobi Fora until the Koobi Fora monograph was done, since those in charge of that research felt a responsibility to get what they had done published before collecting more data from the field. I had the opportunity to work in South Africa as well, and there were good reasons for me to do that, but there was one very large reason not to: Apartheid. I observed the boycott even to the extent at sneering at Paul Simon, I certainly would not work in a country with the most racist regime in modern history. Fortunately, Zaire was there for me, and for many reasons it was a better place to do research for me than either Kenya or South Africa. So I did.
Continue reading Celebrate Freedom Day

Steve Jobs: “Android tracks you, Apple does not.”

According to Steve Jobs, Apple’s iPhone and/or Apple corporation (the distinction is important but often muddled in this conversation) does not track its users’ geographical location, but Android (which is neither a phone nor a company, but a system … another important yet muddled distinction) does.

Continue reading Steve Jobs: “Android tracks you, Apple does not.”

What Does IQ Really Measure?

Kids who score higher on IQ tests will, on average, go on to do better in conventional measures of success in life: academic achievement, economic success, even greater health, and longevity. Is that because they are more intelligent? Not necessarily. New research concludes that IQ scores are partly a measure of how motivated a child is to do well on the test. And harnessing that motivation might be as important to later success as so-called native intelligence.

Read the rest here.