PowerPointSamurai's Articles, Page 1 of 2
The Royal Society has published the notes of the 16th and 17th century science pioneer Robert Hooke online. Robert Hooke was a predecessor, contemporary and rival of Sir Isaac Newton. Hooke was involved in a wide array of scientific discovery, from writing Micrographia about his work with his microscope, to astronomy and physics, where he is best known for Hooke’s Law. He was also an accomplished surveyor and worked extensively in rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666. Robert Hooke’s notes disappeared in the 17th century and were re-discovered only recently. Robert Hooke was also a prominent character in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, especially the books Quicksilver and The Confusion.
Just a note that I’m shifting some comment that used to be on my user page, especially links and books to their respective pages. My user page had some "qualifications" to some of the book recommendations I made, and I had a collection of links to articles on my user page that I’m sharing with links now.
The U.S. and India have concluded a civilian nuclear accord in which the two parties can exchange technology and materials, and brings India’s civilian plants under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection. Some critics are concerned the deal allows India to use its other reactors to make more weapons material and gives special treatment to a country which did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Will this deal allow closer relations with the world’s largest democracy and facilitate greater cooperation and oversight in their nuclear industry, or will it tempt others to join the nuclear club and hope for an exception later?
Peak oil is again in the news. The Government Accountability Office released a report on energy supplies (1.1MB pdf) yesterday predicting oil will peak by 2040. R2 Blog has a very good analysis of this report, as usual.
Aviation Week reports that U.S. officials believe China recently tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon on January 11. The U.S. National Security Strategy warns that potential adversaries, such as China, will likely develop disruptive technologies to counter specific U.S. military advantages rather than try to compete in all categories. Has U.S. space policy, including our own dabbling with ASAT technology and missile defense, had anything to do with this, or was this an inevitable progression of expanding Chinese military power? Is this a step toward application, such blinding Taiwan’s defenses and severely degrading our ability to intervene?
The Absolute Science podcast has an interesting episode talking to Laura S. Woodmansee, the author of a controversial book entitled Sex in Space (12.2 MB MP3 file). She previously wrote the books Women of Space and Women Astronauts, and has enjoyed great access to NASA officials in writing previous books. However, this topic is evidently considered taboo in NASA and no-one in NASA was willing to talk to her about this book, or even acknowledge whether any reproductive research on animals has been conducted. She speculated that NASA’s reluctance was for fear of losing funding by offending conservatives with a risque topic. Her book and interview say that this is important not only for future long-duration space flight and the potential for pregnancies to occur, but because within 10 years we may actually have orbital hotels for space tourists who are likely to engage in sexual behavior. The interview was thought provoking and questions whether reproduction in the zero gravity and radiation environments in space are safe and therefore ethical until we know. Should someone conduct research in this area, or should couples engaging in this behavior do so at their own risk?
NPR Science Friday and CNN have stories about a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car, which focuses on General Motors EV1 users upset because their electric cars they leased were involuntarily taken back and destroyed by General Motors with no option to purchase or keep any of the cars whatsoever. The movie strongly implies that the cars were destroyed due to some kind of cabal between politicians, oil companies (wanting to retain their lucrative business of selling fuel) and automotive manufacturers (making profits selling spare parts and services), whereas many in the automotive industry say the cars just were not ready for the public and they were forced to release the ones they did under a now defunct California law. GM and other engineers specifically cited battery technology as a problem.
NPR Science Friday Podcast guests recently discussed the future of the Internet. While this is a meme frequently trotted out by science and technology reporters and pundits, this one discussed the resurgence of amateur created content caused by the internet, such as the rise of blogs and now podcasts, which rival the efforts of media giants (ironically, like NPR). They also discussed the stirrings of amateur music and movies via distribution over the internet, such as Jonathan Coulton’s song Code Monkey, and Elephant’s Dream.
CNN had a scathing article about how politicians are chiefly responsible for the high price of gasoline. The EIA (the Energy Information Administration) announced that oil and gas inventories rose unexpectedly, and the price of crude oil dropped 3% to $72 a barrel. Refinery production was also higher than anticipated.
While crude pricing went up 21%, why have gas prices gone up 37%? Why are gas prices hanging so high over the country, at a national average of $2.917/gallon, just shy of the all time high after Hurricane Katrina of $3.06? Critics say Congress bungled the timing of certain measures designed to mitigate the energy crunch, not make it worse. For example, they phased out the use of oxygenate MTBE (Methyl tert-butyl ether) and replaced it with Ethanol, mainly because MTBE was found persistently in ground water and has been deemed to be a carcinogen. The problem is the switch was timed just before a seasonal demand spike. Fewer people are directly concerned about diesel fuel, but the new sulfur requirements were handled much better.
China is facing some interesting problems preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games which directly correlate with their increasing pollution. Many Chinese people believe phlegm is poisonous, and huge tracts of Chinese medicine are dedicated to phlegm. As such, Chinese people often spit rather than swallow their phlegm, which has become steadily worse with increasing industrial pollution, and huge dust storms blowing over Beijing. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that China is now the leading consumer of coal in the world. China is hoping to remedy that by aggressively building new nuclear plants to turn curb this.
China’s President, Hu Jintao, visited Microsoft and Boeing plants this week, assuring the companies that China doesn’t want to maintain a huge trade surplus with the U.S. and that it will be a huge market for their products in the coming years. He also called for a reduction in trade barriers and promised to protect intellectual property, a comment that seemed designed Bill Gates and Microsoft. Some critics, like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, blasted the U.S. government’s lack of action to protect the U.S. economy from the onslaught of what he deems unfair competition from China.
The US government released 48,000 boxes of captured Iraqi documents onto the web, hoping that Arabic readers would translate them and report their findings while government translators focus on current intelligence. They are hoping to uncover more information on what happened to Saddam’s WMD programs, and to what extent Saddam had a relationship with al Qaeda. Some groups hailed this project as ‘open government,’ while others are skeptical and say they believe the Bush administration only posted documents that support their view. Is this project the wave of the future? Is this a boon for historians, who are able to study the Iraqi government and its actions leading up to the war in depth so soon after the war and a revolutionary step toward open, more transparent governance? Or were the documents cherry-picked to ensure nothing contradictory is discovered by the public?
The US Department of Defense is seeking investors to help them implement techniques to convert coal into fuels useable in jet aircraft and other vehicles in the DoD inventory. The US Air Force alone consumes 80 million barrels of oil a year, 50% of all DoD fuel usage. The DoD fuel bill accounts for $7.4 billion a year out of the defense budget, the largest expendable item on the budget. Coal Liquefaction technology has been around for nearly 80 years, but $60 a barrel oil is beginning to make the technology more attractive commerically, despite the $5 billion estimated price tag to build the required plant to do it.
Iran recently indicated that they want to open a dialogue with the US on Iraq. This marks the first time Iran has officially called for talks with the US since the 1979 revolution. Former Iranian moderate President Mohammad Khatami called for talks with the US during the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 but was quickly admonished and forbidden from doing so by the Ayatollah. The White House said the talks would be limited to discussing the situation in Iraq and not have anything to do with Iran’s nuclear program. The US Ambassador to Iraq has been authorized to talk with their representative as neither country has a mechanism for talking directly. Since Iran has been accused of supporting Shiite insurgents in the past, and many prominent Shia officials have praised the opportunity, is this an offer the US can’t refuse?