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.

January Update

Posted by tigerhawkvok on February 03, 2009 14:35 in General

Just a quick post for today. I've managed to go another month without updating -- what's happened? Unfortunately, not much, and much of it has been rather bad. This includes:

  • Lost a job
  • My big tutoring job was actually a scam attempt
  • NVidia went belly-up again, nuking my OS install
  • Various money issues

On the plus side of this rather dreary report, it looks like my finances may be slowly returning to the 'green'. Or black, as the case may be. Its slow going, though, and I'm still very behind on cards ... but there's reason to believe things are going to be looking up.

Additionally, my paper on biomechanics (LaTeX version) has been submitted to JVP (JVP submission), or the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Sara is going to be coming up for five days -- it'll be nice to hang out with her and see her again. I've rediscovered Starcraft, which I play with Kit and Rachael about five nights a week. I'll also be giving a talk to the Tri-Valley Astronomical Society on 2/20/09, and teaching some second graders on Darwin Day.

Things definitely have not been as good as they could be, but like I said -- things are looking up.

A quick aside ...

Posted by tigerhawkvok on January 02, 2009 02:19 in General , religion

Does anyone else realize the incredible, mind-blowing stupid living in the statement:

Russel's teapot "is a flawed analogy since nobody actually believes such nonsense"? [source]

Yes, no one believes "in such nonsense". That's the point. Saying that, you're dismissing it for the reason its used. "Why are you using that ice to cool off your drinks? Ice is cold."

Really, people hurt my brain.

Happy New Year, and Welcome to IYA!

Posted by tigerhawkvok on January 02, 2009 00:06 in General , astronomy , IYA

Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to the International Year of Astronomy! It has been 400 years since Galileo turned a telescope to the sky, and first looked into the heavens. In addition to what posting I do (I'll try to keep it up at a higher rate), I'll try to post more about astronomy-related topics. See the link in my sidebar about this. Let's whet some appetites:

APOD 20090102
IYA Entry

Polar Bear Queries

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 26, 2008 23:26 in General , biology

So, I've been thinking a lot about polar bears.

It seems to me that the reduction in artic ice admits a few hypothesis:

  1. Less ice should result in worse hunting opportunities; as a corollary, this should result in longer periods between hunts / reduced success. This is born out by average polar bear mass decreasing in the past 50 years.
  2. Less ice at the poles should result in the bears moving to glaciated landmasses, where land is more reliable. This should predict increased measured population counted in North America, most notably AK
  3. Increased technology, including but not limited to radio tagging and sattelite imagery, should increase percentage of population counted during census
  4. As a result of items 1-3, there should be a dramatic increase in population count of polar bears

As a result, I'm not sure how reliable the idea that "polar bear population has increased" actually is. I would expect that. What I'm much more interested in is the actual population fluctuation. I think that taking a census on a similar species and comparing it to old data might be informative. For example, if a census of, say, Arctic Foxes were taken, and they were found to increase by a factor of eight over 1950s census, we might expect a similar jump in population among polar bears, which was not found, thus leading one to expect a practical decline despite observational increases.

While foxes are a bad example, I think it gets the idea across. The problem is finding a comparable model to compare polar bears to; something else that would have been forced southerly that is carnivorous. An alternate confirmation method would be to make population adjustments to match predator:prey biomass ratios for the observed alternate species (say, foxes:rabbits in this case), and scale it to polar bears.

I'm really interested in the result of this. My bet is on polar bear count falling rather seroiusly. As a K-selected top carnivor, nothing else makes sense.

Does anyone who reads this know how biology population census for species account for updated trackign methods?

Maxwell's demon

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 29, 2008 21:01 in physics

So, while Astro has had the pretty awesome result of imaging exoplanets, Maxwell's Demon is a very old hypothetical to invalidate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Science has a short article on a real life demonstration of Maxwell's demon, via reflection of atoms on a light wall. Turns out the "answer" to the puzzle lives in both irreversable information erasure and to the fact that the entropic state of an atom and its bound emitted photon are unbound as the photon travels freely away from the atom. Check out the article for a fairly readible analysis.

Update and Shell-less turtles

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 29, 2008 20:59 in evolution , biology , news , paleontology

Hm, I've not blogged in a bit. Well, I'm working on the graduate school apps with a bit of a mix of physics, astrophysics, paleontology and biomechanics. Some dual applications, some single. We'll see how it plays out.

I've also finally submitted my paper to Proceedings B, and hopefully it will be accepted (or conditionally accepted).

Nah, the real trick is money. The economy sucks, finding a job has been hard, and well, not quite enough money to make rent. Ugh. Well, perhaps I'll blog on science tomorrow at the airport. In particular, Science and Nature have had a few interesting articles as of late, such as one on a new turtle find -- it has a plastron, but no upper shell -- and with teeth! Dubbed Odontochelys, it is placed phylogentically basal to all all extant and extinct testudines. While I find the use of "Ontology recapitulates phylogeny" a bit problematic, its still a very interesting read, and I feel that its sparing use in this context is justified.


It seems I blogged on science accidentally anyway. Huh. Perhaps not much, but nevertheless.

The full paper can be found here: Nature.com (DOI: 10.1038/456450a , Reisz & Head ).

Update 03/15/09: Link repair

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.

Enter Windows 7

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 06, 2008 01:53 in General , computers

A simple screenshot for now:

Taken on Liz this evening.

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


Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 09, 2008 02:23 in General

Quick post for testing new permalinks. I've also fixed the weird blog redirection issue, so the URL should properly be blog.revealedsingularity.net now.

Breaking of the Nets

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 09, 2008 01:57 in General

OK, I'm playing around with the permalinks .... some stuff may be broken for a while ...

Edit: Seems to be fixed, except for this post ... follow up posts seem to work, so I have no idea what's going on with this oddball.

Evolution is NOT chance

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 08, 2008 11:02 in General , evolution

I think that all those chance-trumpteting, crowing creationsists (aka "fundamentals" and "anti-scienctals") that can't get it through their head that evolution is not chance need to read just two sentences from On the Origin of Species:

I have hitherto sometimes spoken as if the variations — so common and multiform in organic beings under domestication, and in a lesser degree in those in a state of nature — had been due to chance. This, of course, is a wholly incorrect expression [...]*


Evolution is not due to chance, folks. It has discrete forces acting on it. The variations arise in certain individuals through chance, but it is not chance that shapes evolution. There is a difference.

*Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species (A Facsimile of the First Edition). President and Fellows of Harvard College. 1964. ISBN 0-674-63752-6.  pp131.

Browser Benchmarks

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 04, 2008 20:39 in General , computers

Since I've not managed to post anything in about three weeks, I'll start with another minor computer type post -- some browser benchmarks. They weren't conducted the most rigorously, but it definitely gets the idea across. Test machine was Athena, the "Weighted" benchmark is Sunspider/V8 (so it approximately squares the mean of the difference), and you can download Chrome here.

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