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Broadband Commentary

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 21, 2009 19:56 in politics , internet

Via ArsTechnica and Blogband, I found my way over to comment on the FCC's request for comment (sound redundant, much?) on broadband speeds:

The best way to define broadband is based on a 24-day mean of a benchmark (say, 100 MiB) file download from the ISP. This 24-day average allows for a new hour to test each day (from 0:00 to 23:00), the file size lowers the relevance of "bursting", and the duration weighs out day-to-day fluctuations. The days could sequence testing HTTP, FTP, VOIP, and BitTorrent traffic, repeating every four days. This would discourage packet manipulation to favor one protocol over another.

Further, I would strongly suggest that the FCC create a definition for both "basic" and "high-speed" broadband, as high-speed is used misleadingly. I would suggest (to spur innovation) that at least [1 Mbps down/768 kbps up] speeds for "basic" (upload speeds have been lacking, probably due to lack of incentive) and at least [5 Mbps down/2 Mbps up] speeds for "high-speed". In 2009, no one should call something broadband with less than a megabit average connection.

I truly feel that these small changes can help make the US competitive in broadband speeds.

If you feel strongly about the broadband situation in this country, I would encourage you to head over to the comment form. If that link doesn't work, go to this page and search for Docket 09-51, select the radio button, and scroll down and select "continue".

McCain sticking it to the anti-science man

Posted by tigerhawkvok on March 04, 2009 22:47 in politics , news , anti-science

On February 27th, McCain began posting "porkiest projects" on Twitter. He did so again on 3/02, 3/03, and 3/04 (only six on the 4th when I last looked). So these have got to be kinda nutty, right? Or, you know, 13/36 could be science related. How's this for a list?

  1. Apparently museums aren't public goods. Nor the building of produce jobs.
  2. Who needs them there sea turtles anyway. Not like species extirpation has ever caused environmental problems ...
  3. Lobster populations aren't shrinking. Really.
  4. Now, I think nuclear is the way to go, but apparently McCain really has something against solar power
  5. Along the lobster line — no need to keep up those pesky fish populations either.
  6. By the way, we never found out anything useful by studying other species' genetic profiles. Obviously funding that is dumb.
  7. Apparently he is just outright misinformed and doesn't know how problematic — and expensive — theft of copper wires actually is.
  8. By the way. Las Vegas is totally sustainable and uses only its own resources. Not like its a drain on three surrounding states at all.
  9. He really has a bone to pick with population genetics, huh?
  10. To channel Peter Griffin, though, it really grinds my gears when he dismisses astronomy right out.
  11. I suppose McCain never heard how beavers have massive ecosystem impacts, huh?
  12. Startling honey bee decline, anyone? Apparently he just has it out for flowering plants. Who needs angiosperms.
  13. While we're at it, lets just not have as nutrious or plentiful crop for our grazers. Really, genetics is the work of the devil.

Suddenly, I'm gladder I didn't vote for him. I really thought he was more pro-science than that.

Science funding slashed from stimulus bill

Posted by tigerhawkvok on February 06, 2009 18:58 in politics , economy

So, the big stimulus package? People, in particular House and Senate Republicans, have been complaining about the size (it is kind of oversized), but what nuttery makes them think the solution is cutting science funding? Science, starting as research, has led to consumer level and population level improvements in living standards, employing people all along the way. It has been the prime motivator of our society for at least the past century. And look at the sum taken out -- perhaps 3 billion. Of nearly 1 trillion. This is somewhere along 1/3 of 1% of the total stimulus package, and about 3% of the proposed cutback of 88 billion cutback goal. There is a problem here. This funding cut comes out of NASA, NIST, NOAA, NSF, DOE, etc. While I obviously have biases toward NASA, NSF and DOE in particular have national ramifications.

If you're a scientist, you definitely should be in an uproar about this. Write your senators! If you want a bit more discussion on the subject, see Panda's Thumb, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Pharyngula, BadAstronomy ... its a big deal, and no one should doubt that.

On Nuclear Energy

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 11, 2008 23:01 in physics , politics

So, on change.gov, President-Elect Obama lets you "share your vision" via a web submission form. So, I took the time to compose a (perhaps unfocused) letter about nuclear power to him. He probably won't read it, and I probably have some damnfool mistake that makes a fool of myself, but on the off chance he does, I can always hope I made a tiny bit of difference.
President-elect Obama: I was a Republican until this election, because the (nominal) fiscal policies of the party appealed to me. However, an increasing pandering to the religious right and a strong antiscience bent made me vote for the first time this past election day for a democrat – yourself. I truly hope that the change you promise to bring to America is fulfilled, and I have high hopes that the scientific community will benefit under your administration. However, in hopes that you will truly read some of these letters, I wanted to write to urge you to consider one of John McCain’s positions, and only one. I would like you to very strongly consider the expanded use of nuclear power in the United States. One of the first things to understand about nuclear power (in this, I refer to fission power unless otherwise mentioned) is that a fission reactor is, quite literally, the third most efficient mechanism of generating energy known to exist in the universe. The only more efficient ways of generating energy known to modern physics is by fusion (1% mc^2, ten times more efficient than fissions 0.1% mc^2), throwing matter into a black hole and capturing its radiation (about 25% mc^2, though we know of no way to do this on Earth), and an antimatter reaction (100% mc^2). These numbers provided neglect reduction in efficiency due to heat transfer mechanisms. Needless to say, these numbers dwarf conventional fuels, with a cubic foot of uranium containing the same fuel-energy as several million tons of coal or several million barrels of oil [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_efficiency#Energy_content_of_fuel ]. One kilogram of gasoline will generate about 50 MJ of energy -- one kilogram of fusion fuel will generate about 630,000,000 MJ of energy, or 12 million times more efficient by mass. For comparison to a renewable such as solar power, let us calculate the total energy influx from the sun (this is the theoretical maximum amount of energy that can be taken in by photovoltaics and wind). Covering every point of the US with the most advanced photocells will give about 500 TW (trillion watts) of energy (at 50% efficiency), of which the US uses 3.5 TW. In practicality, not all of the nearly 10 million square kilometers will be used by photocells. To generate the US’s current energy demands (day and night), we would need something like Conneticut entirely covered by photocells, receiving uninterrupted maximal sunlight for 12 hours per day and storing half of it for use at night. For comparison, about 3,500 of the newest reactor designs would accomplish the same goal at a small fraction of the area requirement, which decreases when we consider the renewable energy sources already in place and simple measures like solar cells on rooftops. Furthermore, an increase in funding in fission reactor technology, particularly breeder reactors, will grant us thousands of years of clean energy (approximately 40,000 years, since a breeder reactor uses U-238) and generate more stable end isotopes [ http://matse1.mse.uiuc.edu/energy/prin.html ]. It is important to realize that the fact that something is radioactive does not make it dangerous. Both quantity and its activity on a biological time scale are important. Specifically, the half-life of the material needs to be comparable to a human life span. If it is not, only a very small fraction of the energy possible through radioactive decay is released. That is, a radioactive material that releases most of its energy over two or three years is much, much more dangerous than one that releases the same amount of energy over several million years – because any person standing around the second one receives a very small fraction of the dose, which is harmless. After all, we get small doses of radiation from a banana and even more from the sky every day, as charged particles travelling near the speed of light hit our atmosphere. So let me reiterate: long lived isotopes, like those you are more likely to get with a breeder reactor, are much, much less biologically potent than those in breeder nuclear reactors, but last much longer. It is a mystery to me why breeder reactors are so frowned upon by the government, when virtually any scientist with a knowledge of reactor design will agree that they are the best, if not the only way to proceed with fission-based nuclear power. Careful selection of pathways will allow you to tune to short or long lived isotopes, depending on goal. There are two reasons why we should proceed with fission-based power. First, and simplest, is the fact that it is incredibly “green”. It is a zero-emissions source, with manageable waste produced more cheaply in an smaller land footprint than “renewable” sources [http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html , http://www.our-energy.com/energy_facts/nuclear_energy_facts.html ]. The second point relates to fusion, which we can all agree is a superior alternative to fission. It has no radioactive byproducts by many pathways, and it is ten times more mass-efficient with a much larger mass source than fission. However, it is important to realize that most neutron-less (aneutronic) fusion pathways are not feasible with current technology. The sun’s reaction path, the “proton-proton chain”, works only because the incredible pressures placed on the plasma by gravity allow quantum mechanical tunneling to bypass part of the coulomb barrier. In slightly more digestible terms, imagine you have the same two sides of a very powerful magnet. They are very hard to press together, because they repel. These represent two protons which are to be fused. As you press them closer and closer, the repulsive force increases, making it harder to press them a little closer together. In a star, gravity gets them so close that quantum mechanics allows for the probability that the proton will just “jump” that gap, and arrive close enough to fuse. Every single photon of light we get from the sun is due to this probabilistic jump that lets the protons get closer. Without the pressures of the sun, though, for us to replicate an aneutronic chain like the sun we would need to have our reactors ten times hotter than the core of the sun. It is a strange quirk of physics that without quantum mechanics, the sun (and all stars) are literally too cold to fuse matter. So if we accept fusion-based chains that allow for neutronic reactions (reactions with neutrons as by-products, which unfortunately carry much of the reaction energy away in addition to being what most people think of as “radioactivity”), there is still an underfunding of nuclear fusion research in the US, which is in no small part due to the social stigma of fission reactors. The successful expansion of nuclear fission reactors is critical to the more rapid development of fusion reactors. It is still no small task for the scientists, but with neither funding nor social support, fusion cannot proceed. Mr. President-elect, I implore you to look past my somewhat erratic prose and strongly reconsider your position on nuclear power and help the United States enter a true nuclear age.
I followed this up with an email to some friends, in the hopes this might make it to some third level aid and have some itty bitty effect. When Peter sent me this reply: "Sorry, but I've heard that nuclear power generates nuclear waste, and even after processing it must lie underneath the ground for ~8000 years to become safe. Thus, I don't really trust nuclear power. Care to convince me otherwise?" I chose to follow up with this:
Inevitably it generates nuclear waste, but the problem is largely mitigated by breeder reactors. By using these, we can essentially tune the type of waste we would like. It is generally preferred to have short half-life products, which is primarily produced by breeder reactors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_breeder_reactor ). The idea is it will lose essentially all of its radioactivity in a manageable time frame, thus having to be stored for a much reduced period of time. The standard nuclear waste has a half life on the order of 25,000 years. This isn’t particularly dangerous, if you consider the meaning of “half-life”. If you lived next to nuclear waste for say 75 years, you will absorb 1-.5^(75/25000) = 0.26 % of its total radiative output. Consider Tin-126, for example, with a half life of 2.3e5 years and a decay energy of 4.1 MeV. A LD-50 in 14 days dose for a 100 kg man (for a 126 g, or 1 mol sample) occurs after 3.7 hours, with 45 minute exposure being equivalent to 5% increase in cancer risk (1 Gray, or 1 J/kg). It is a particularly nasty by-product though, being 20-50 times worse than virtually every other byproduct with a shorter half life. A more representative isotope such as Pd-107 instead gives the same man about 9 mGy dose over an entire day – about the same as an abdominal CT scan (8 mGy). We can to some extent tailor products by choosing the reactions we use to generate energy, so we can make even these long-lived isotopes pretty safe inherently, in addition to the fact they’d be buried in a mountain. (Half life and sample products source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_waste#Physics ) Short half-life products are much worse during their toxic time, but have half lives between 5 and 90 years. The containers we have made have been theorized to have zero degredation from erosion for approximately a 10,000 year period and are furthermore tested by such means as crashing trains into them, dropping them from 10 m onto steel spikes, and underwater submersion to ensure integrity over long periods. This means the material is essentially guaranteed to stay sealed up for 100-2000 half lives, leaving less than 10^(-31) of its original mass left over. For reference, this is the equivalent of the sun reducing to a tenth of a kilogram! (HAH astro rocking the absurdly high exponents again) This may further be mitigated by new initiatives such as the LIFE project (http://www.contracostatimes.com/localnews/ci_10951822?nclick_check=1&forced=false) that recycle nuclear waste for further fission, further reducing half-lives. Whew! Hopefully this sheds some light on why I’m not particularly concerned. Besides, look at the alternatives. The only two more efficient things are throwing matter into black holes and M/AM reactions. “Renewables” such as wind and hydro are essentially secondary solar effects; to power the US, the entire state of Connecticut (at 50% efficiency for 12 hours/day, storing half of that power for night-time use, with a nominal solar radiation of 500 W/m^2 at the equator. Area: ~ 14,000 km^2 or 14e9 m^2) would be needed to produce our current 3.5 TW of power usage. It’s simply not practical. To produce the world’s current 15 TW usage, we’d need about the equivalent of West Virginia coated in photovoltaics. Multiply as appropriate to accommodate for cloud cover and room for expansion (say, quadroupling it to account for it all) and you get every last square centimeter of *Texas* covered in photovoltaics. Again, plain and simple not practical. Wind and hydro both take more area to generate the same amount of power. For other alternatives, “clean” coal isn’t, CNG is a carbon emitter and H_2 compresses so poorly that it takes as much or more fossil fuel burning to compress it as you save (simple PVNRT calcs). Finally, the P-P chain used in the sun (which is aneutronic) requires either solar compression or a temperature 10x hotter than the solar core. D-D and D-T fusion produces neutron side products, even when those neutrons are used to breed more tritium courtesy Li-6. H+B-11 can be used for aneutronic fusion, but power densities drop considerably and supersolar temperatures are still required; that is to say, the only realistic fusion will still generate radioactive byproducts. As a species and a country, we need to come to grips with the fact that to stop destroying planetary level ecology we have to accept geologically short to short-medium term storage of nuclear byproducts leading to extremely localized hot-spots. There’s simply not a good way around it. I hope this, if not outright convinces you, at least puts a little doubt into your mind that maybe makes you see why, for example, Kit and I are both extremely pro-nuclear power.
It was an interesting writing set, and a lot of research (I gained a bit of insight into isotope length choices by the end of it, though I fall lightly in favor of long-lived isotopes still), and I hope that this is an interesting read for you guys.

Elaboration on last post

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 16, 2008 15:03 in General , politics

Well, since my blog is being weird with comments, here's a comment John sent me:

I was gonna leave a comment, but your blog won't let me... ;(
Anywho, I was mildly surprised not by your opinion of Gov. Palin, but by your how strong it was. I haven't had the chance to read the links at your blog, but I have a general understanding of the Governor's view on science (your main source of opposition, I presume). Although she doesn't share all the views you and I do on climate change, creationism, and the like, I'm not convinced that somehow she could be worse than an Obama adminsitration - especially one backed up by a Pelosi House and a fillibuster-proof Harry Reid Senate.
Creationism makez ZERO sense. "Climate change" will potentially kill all of us (I'm a skeptic,remember) [Well, humans as animals would be fine. But the whole farming thing, and if something happened to a critical food web element .... wolves in Yellowstone decreased erosion, remember!]. Embryonic stem-cell research will cure all problems. I get all of those, and I get that Palin doesn't support any/all of those as much as you like. But compared to a nuclear Iran, a loss in Iraq, tax incerases, runaway spending, and a lack of development of nuclear power, how is voting for McCain/Palin worse than Obama/Biden - espeically since Palin's at the bottom of the ticket?
Or has Berkeley finally corrupted you? ;)

I think this merits a blog response ... one that will hopefully allow comments this time!
Basically, John brings up some good points. On paper, McCain is better for tax reasons & spending, and indisputably better for nuclear power. Every metric says that he has had a longer and wider breadth of foreign policy experience. However, there are reasons to be skeptical, and reasons to be cautious with the vote.

His tax policies and Obama's are comparable for the tax bracket we are in (at least the one I am in), and both of their (proposed) policies have numerous increases in government and spending measures in a period of recession. While I strongly doubt either will balance or surplus the budget, admittedly the money must come from somewhere. This would be a moot point if I thought there was a snowball's chance in hell of McCain's proposed spending freeze went through, but I doubt it will actually happen. So what we actually have are two different large spending policies from two different candidates, and one has a realistic way to pay for it and one doesn't. Trust me, I've been burned by taxes, but I think for the overall economy it might be burned by it. Sadly, the fiscally conservative Republican simply does not exist in politics anymore. So that is why I ignore his tax and spending credentials. Also got to admit, it irritated me he didn't research the "projector" he was talking about.Planetaria star projectors are exceedingly expensive pieces of equipment.

I think that both candidates' wish to be completely independant of foreign oil within ten years is a very smart foreign policy decision, which may retard the growth of nuclear powers in the region (I do think Obama's essentially only non-nuclear renewables is shortsighted, and both endorsements of clean coal is somewhat foolish. And I wish one of them would bring up breeder reactors ...). In a way, I wish both had a stronger stance on ME nuclear developments -- something like a kick in the pants. Perhaps complete trade embargo until they remove all their centrifuges through the UN or something, and encourage our allies to do the same. I am, however, concerned about the overextension of our military from McCain (leading to a loss in Iraq) and an over-reliance on diplomacy to the exclusion of stronger effects like economic sanctions and possible military action from Obama. I think in the long run, however, a few years of over-reliance on diplomacy may garner enough international favor that more strict economic sanctions can be placed from larger arrays of nations as a nuclear development deterrent. So this is a bit of long-term strict-policy thinking on my part that doesn't put me strongly in favor of either candidate.

Obama's biggest turn-off for me is his criminally shortsighted weak endorsement of nuclear power. I would love to see 45 new reactors commissioned. Its a fools hope to think that congress with push it through without presidential backing. However, Obama has an overall better science policy. Furthermore, McCain last night implied that he suscribed to the debunked link between vaccines and autism. But, Palin one (lack of a) heartbeat from the Oval Office, and given a spot of incumbency in the 2012/2016 election is unacceptable.

Remember, as the LA Times published, Palin believes humans and dinosaurs coexisted. That level of incompetence should be relegated to a waitress or sales, not to any level of government.

Palin told him that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time,” Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks,” recalled Munger. [See: Paluxy trackway]

Election 2008 - Vote AGAINST Sarah Palin

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 12, 2008 01:18 in General , politics

Newsweek has a superb article on Sarah Palin, which I think everyone should read. She is grossly incompetant, and as I have alluded to in other places, my vote this November will not be for or against any other candidate; my vote will only be against Sarah Palin.

I strongly encourage everyone who reads this blog to take a look at Sciencedebate 2008 and Nature's science interview (John McCain declined; his previous stances are listed, however).

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

Argh, its not letting the comments page be viewed on this one, either ... what the hell

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