Daily Archives: November 13, 2012

Skeptically Thinking

Two items:

1) The recent episode of Skeptically Speaking on space is now a podcast. Details here.

In almost any discussion of space exploration and observation, one question always arises. Why should we spend the money, when there are problems here on Earth? This week, we’re going to tackle this question, with a panel of people who know just how important the science of space actually is. Penny4NASA‘s John Zeller and Noisy Astronomer Nicole Gugliucci return to the show, along with Scientific American Associate Editor John Matson, and Cynthia Phillips, Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute. They’ll discuss the technological, social and economic benefits of exploring space, and what it really means to all of us.

2) A nice post on distinguishing between ral and fake science by Emily Willingham is HERE.

Where to eat, not eat

Several restaurants are laying off employees, needlessly, as a form of passive aggressive snit in objection to Obamacare. They don’t want to have to give their employees health insurance. I think some of these companies are also known for having opposed Obama in the election, which is their right (corporations are people too, after all!) but this is actually, in my view, a form of voter intimidation large scale. If the mainly fast and medium-speed food industry collaborates tacitly or not to make a certain voting pattern hurt all of their employees, they are creating a class of people who may fee forced to vote against their own interest.

So, you know what to do. You will have to avoid eating in those establishments. Here is a graphic that lists the currently known offenders:

That is from here.

According to Fat Chick in LA, there are some companies that are “good” (for now). They are:

  • White Castle
  • <li>Starbucks</li>
    <li>California Pizza Kitchen</li>
    <li>PF Changs</li>
    <li>T.G.I. Fridays</li></ul>

    Click through to FCILA’s tumbler to read the details on the benefits offered by the “good” (for now) companies.

    Your opinion requested on internet shenanigans

    You probably already know that when Obama won the presidency a large number of people, many teenagers, tweeted racist comments about that. Funny story: I found out about the use of the n-word in relation to the re-elected President in one person’s tweet, so I figured I’d investigate. I went to twitter and entered the appropriate search terms, and found a bunch of hateful hideous tweets, as expected. About 20 down I found my friend Debbie Goddard. She had done the same search and tweeted about it. Sort of like hearing a bad noise in the yard and when you go out there to check it out you find your neighbor also checking it out.

    Anyway, it turns out that Jezebel identified several high school students thusly tweeting and turned them into their high schools. Subsequent to this, The Young Turks did a piece on Jezebel’s action. The conversation among the Turks is interesting and reflects a lot of my own uncertainty about this situation. Below is TYS’s piece, please have a look and tell me what you think:

    Increase in Antarctic Sea Ice

    One of the most commonly winged-about facts of Earth’s climate change we hear from science denialists is that sea ice in the Antarctic is increasing, therefore, there is no global warming. The fact that every other measurement of temperature and ice-osity indicates warming and melting would make a normal person think of the Antarctic situation as odd, and seek explanations, but somehow this logic does not emerge in the minds of the denialists. It has been suspected, and increasingly confirmed, for some time that the increase in sea ice in the Antarctic is the result of changes in wind patterns that cause a local increase in ice while at the same time the planet warms. New research from NASA and the British Antarctic Survey adds to this understanding. From a NASA press release:

    NASA and British Antarctic Survey scientists have reported the first direct evidence that marked changes to Antarctic sea ice drift caused by changing winds are responsible for observed increases in Antarctic sea ice cover in the past two decades. The results help explain why, unlike the dramatic sea ice losses being reported in the Arctic, Antarctic sea ice cover has increased under the effects of climate change.

    Research scientists Ron Kwok of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Paul Holland of the Natural Environment Research Council’s British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom, used maps created by JPL from more than five million individual daily ice-motion measurements. The data, captured over a period of 19 years by four U.S. Defense Meteorological satellites, show, for the first time, long-term changes in sea ice drift around Antarctica.

    “Until now, these changes in ice drift were only speculated upon, using computer models of Antarctic winds,” said Holland, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Nature Geosciences. “This study of direct satellite observations shows the complexity of climate change. The total Antarctic sea ice cover is increasing slowly, but individual regions are actually experiencing much larger gains and losses that are almost offsetting each other overall.

    “We now know that these regional changes are caused by changes in the winds, which, in turn, affect the ice cover through changes in both ice drift and air temperature,” he continued. “The changes in ice drift also suggest large changes in the ocean surrounding Antarctica, which is very sensitive to the cold and salty water produced by sea ice growth.”

    Holland said sea ice around Antarctica is constantly being blown away from the continent by strong northward winds. “Since 1992, this ice drift has changed,” he said. “In some areas, the export of ice away from Antarctica has doubled, while in others it has decreased significantly.”

    Sea ice plays a key role in Earth’s environment, reflecting heat from the sun and providing a habitat for marine life. At both poles, sea ice cover is at its minimum during late summer. However, during the winter freeze in Antarctica, this ice cover expands to an area roughly twice the size of Europe. Ranging in thickness from less than three feet (a meter) to several meters, the ice insulates the warm ocean from the frigid atmosphere above.

    This new research also helps explain why observed changes in the amount of sea ice cover are so different in the two polar regions. The Arctic has experienced dramatic ice losses in recent decades, while the overall ice extent in the Antarctic has increased slightly. However, this small Antarctic increase is actually the result of much larger regional increases and decreases, which are now shown to be caused by wind-driven changes. In places, increased northward winds have caused the sea ice cover to expand outwards from Antarctica. In contrast, the Arctic Ocean is surrounded by land, so changed winds cannot cause Arctic ice to expand in the same way.

    “The Antarctic sea ice cover interacts with the global climate system very differently than that of the Arctic, and these results highlight the sensitivity of the Antarctic ice coverage to changes in the strength of the winds around the continent,” said Kwok.

    Climate change has had contrasting impacts across Antarctica in recent decades. The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed as much as anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, while East Antarctica has shown little change or even a small cooling around the coast. The new research improves understanding of present and future climate change. The authors note it is important to distinguish between the Antarctic Ice Sheet – glacial ice – which is losing volume, and Antarctic sea ice – frozen seawater – which is expanding.

    The research was funded by NASA and the Natural Environment Research Council.

    It is important to vote

    If you had a friend or relative who didn’t vote at all, and for that reason someone you didn’t like got elected, then, naturally, you would run them over. Like this:

    Upset over the result of last week’s presidential election, an Arizona woman ran over her husband with her car, believing him to be directly responsible for Obama’s reelection because he didn’t vote.

    According to police in Gilbert, 28-year-old Holly Solomon of Mesa and her husband Daniel argued loudly in a local parking lot before Holly got in her Jeep SUV and began chasing Daniel around. She eventually managed to pin him underneath the vehicle as he was trying to run away.

    Daniel remains in critical condition as of this writing.

    Meanwhile the latest thing is to send 15 cents to John Schnatter, the “John” behind “Papa Johns” who, if he had 15 cents more per pizza he would manage to survive having to supply his hard working employees with basic, legally required health benefits.

    Like this:

    Meanwhile, there is a solution to solve this problem of hate-filled, racist Republicans ruining it for everyone. Sign this petition to “Peacefully grant the State of Tennessee to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government. And then, of course, send all the Republicans there. They’ll fit, if they all breath in at once.

    Also, people are starting to catch on to something I’ve been saying along. Remember the whole Black Hawk Down thing? That was George HW Bush handing Clinton a manufactured international crisis just to try to ruin his presidency. The Recession? George Bush Jr’s gift to Obama, and the rest of us. The Republicans have been deliberately creating actual crises where people die and stuff just to make Democrats look bad for just over 100 years.

    That’s all for not.

    Just remember to vote or someone will run you over!

    Sungudogo is on Smashwords

    Sungudogo, the highly entertaining and exciting adventure novella set in the Central African rain forest, which provides the Skeptics Movement with its own Origin Myth, has been available on the Kindle for a while now, but it is now also available on Smashwords, HERE.

    Sungudogo is a little known zoological mystery, an “undiscovered” primate living in the remote and rugged region of the eastern Congo, where the Central African Rain Forest fringes the high walls of the western edge of the Great Rift Valley.

    Sometimes called the “fourth African ape,” Sungudogo is not a Gorilla, not a Chimpanzee, not a Bonobo, and possibly not even real.

    Years ago, Sungudogo drew the interest of the world famous primatologist Dieter Phillips, who was funded by a secret society of “scholars and gentlemen” to launch an expedition to determine the veracity of this mysterious primate. Dieter never returned from that expedition, and as the years passed, the whole story drifted into obscurity.

    But the secret society was always watching, always waiting, for clues pertaining to the fate of this expedition. Eventually, evidence came to light that renewed the secret society’s interest in Sungudogo and prompted them to further investigate the outcome of Phillip’s ill fated trek into the Rain Forest. Who better to follow Dieter Phillip’s tracks than his former student, aided by an explorer and mercenary familiar with the area, assisted by two willing Congolese park guards?

    They were to learn things that went beyond their wildest imaginations, and they would discover secrets about expedition, about the rift valley, about themselves, about humanity, that they would never be able to share.

    … Until now …

    Newton and the Counterfeiter

    The other side of the coin(age): Newton and the Counterfeiter

    Did you know that Isaac Newton had two jobs? One, you know about: To figure out all that physics and math stuff so we could live for a while in a Newtonian world (later to be replaced by an Einsteinian world). The other was as the big honcho of the Royal Mint. Where they make the money.

    In that second job, Newton had several interesting problems to deal with, which were in some ways more complex than how planets keep orbiting around stars and apples keep falling from trees. He needed to secure the coinage of the land against counterfeit, and in particular, to end the career of one particular master counterfeiter, William Chaloner.

    This story is expertly chronicled in Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Tom Levenson.

    This is interesting for many reasons, including the fact that modern money, as we know it today (not coinage … that’s old … but the mint system itself) was pretty new, and modern law enforcement as we know of it today simply didn’t exist.

    Of this book, Levenson notes:

    Newton, I found, was a bureaucrat, a man with a job running England’s money supply at a time with surprising parallels to our own: new, poorly understood financial engineering to deal with what was a national currency and economic crisis. He was asked to think about money, and he did–and at the same time, he was given the job of Warden of the Mint, which among other duties put him charge of policing those who would fake or undermine the King’s coins. So there I had it: a gripping true crime story, with life-and-death stakes and enough information to follow my leading characters through the bad streets and worse jails of London–and one that at the same time let me explore some of critical moves in the making of the world we inhabit through the mind and feelings of perhaps the greatest scientific thinker who ever lived. How could I resist that?

    Those were the days … when a physicist could murder a counterfeiter in the name of the King

    William Chaloner, the counterfeiter, reminds me of a handful of people I’ve known. He possessed a sense of entitlement balanced by a remarkable capacity for greed and tempered with an acute sociopathy. He clearly had a keen intellect and extraordinary manual skill. When Isaac Newton murdered Chaloner (to put it the way Chaloner would put it) he did the world a favor. I’m not saying that certain people I’ve known should be hanged, gutted, and sliced like a chicken into five or six parts, but one can see why the idea would have been attractive back in the late 17th century when that was the usual practice for dealing with treasonous individuals in London.
    Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientistrelates the days when Isaac Newton, in his job as Warden of the Mint (housed in the Tower of London) engaged in a long term game of cat and mouse with the criminal and counterfeiter Chaloner, over the course of several years in the late 17th century. A very striking part of this story is the nature of the legal system and the role of due process in courts in London and Middlesex County. For Levenson’s story, we (eventually) find Newton prosecuting a case against the counterfeiter. So that’s the first difference. Instead of having prosecutors, they had physicists (or whomever) arguing as plaintiff. And, on the other side of it, it seems defendants were often defending themselves. Of particular interest is the apparent fact that while Chaloner was probably guilty of everything we think of him as being guilty of (mainly forging coins and to a lesser extent paper instruments) Newton’s case was largely invalid and should have been thrown out. For reasons I’m not entirely clear on, Levenson does not conjecture at any length or depth about why Newton tried the case in the “wrong” court (county instead of city, essentially) and why he pretty much fabricated one set of charges to reflect reality in some ways but to be factually utterly incorrect, and thus invalid, in others. Did Newton carry out a prosecution that an excellent lawyer would have easily undone (in the first case, or on appeal) in order to torment the lawyerless Chaloner, who does seem to go nearly insane with the idea that his conviction was tantamount to “murder?”

    And there are, of course, other details of the legal system that would make a modern American first cringe, then think about the American Revolution some 75 years later, and then think “oh, that revolution certainly was a good idea.” There are numerous key points in the American Constitutional system that one realizes are direct outcomes of abuses possible (and seemingly common) under the old British system.

    Newton may or may not have tortured Chaloner or others he detained or prosecuted, but it is interesting that torture was officially illegal at the time, and Levenson discusses the legality and practice of torture over the previous century or so. I won’t reiterate the discussion here; When you read the book you will find it interesting.

    I spent several years as an archaeologist digging up 16th and 17th century European (including British) coins. Not many of them, but those that did turn up on early sites usually proved interesting and important. The early colonists in Boston carried vats of King James I farthings, which had become worthless and disdained, to trade with the Native Americans as though they were glass beads or bangles. The Natives in Massachusetts rolled the farthings (small thin copper disks with a tin plate) into tubes and used them as one might use a tubular glass bead. Flat farthings were found in Euro-colonial contexts (not yet traded) and tubulated farthings were found with trade goods or on Native sites (though this was uncommon). And there were other interesting things about digging up coins, but I have already digressed enough. My point is simply this: Reading in Levenson’s book about the production of coins, the problems of valuation, international trade and value imbalances, counterfeiting, and so on was especially interesting to me because I dug some of those suckers up.

    It occurs to me that I may have dug up coins actually made by Isaac Newton (well, under his supervision). Until I read Newton and the Counterfeiter, that had never dawned to me.

    Another point: I had no idea there was a sex toy industry in 17th Century England. But of course, there would be.

    I worked with someone years ago on a project looking into the evolutionary psychology of money, including the acceptance of both coins and paper as interchangeable or, at least, “worth something” in relation to, the usual human needs for which we are probably evolved to deal: Sex, food, shelter, whatever. Many humans have, indeed, incorporated money into their psychology. I was reminded of those readings, writings, discussions.

    I had not really paid attention to the fact that Newton was mainly an alchemist for much off his scholarly life, and that this whole physics thing was sort of a side trip for him. If only he had insights of the sort he had for mechanics but for chemical bonds and elements.

    Finally, Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist presents a description of intellectual or academic life in England one or two “eras” before Darwin, contemporary with the early Natural Philosophers. That is not the intent of the book, but it serves that purpose and I enjoyed that aspect of the story.