A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

That Tabs Be Cleared!

1. You Need a Leap of Faith

The Manhattan Contrarian casts a gimlet eye on the New York Times and their reporting on renewable energy using non-renewable wallets. The Times huzzahs the lower costs of renewables generation equipment, but the MC reminds us that installing additional capacity more cheaply actually means more expensive electricity. [see graph, below] Because the wind does not always blow and half the day is night, the best renewables capacity is only 40% available. This instability in renewables generation requires a traditional power back-up capacity at least as great. Speaking of the German Energiewende, he writes:
The total [capacity] for all "renewables" [in Germany] is 83.8 GW -- a figure higher than the peak demand of 83.3 GW.  [This sounds good, b]ut, then there's also the fossil fuel and "conventional" capacity of 108.4 GW.  That's essentially the same amount you would have if you had no wind or solar capacity at all.¹  To put it another way, despite having built what would seem to be enough wind and solar capacity to supply all the electricity needs of the country, they have not been able to get rid of any of their fossil fuel generation capacity.  They need all of it as back-up for when the wind and solar go dead. 

Electricity costs vs. Installed renewables capacity (by country)

1. capacity needed. If peak demand is P, then installed capacity should be ≈1.2P to allow for maintenance downtime, emergencies, and the like. That would be somewhere around 100 GW, and Germany has 108.4 GW of conventional generating power.

2. Not an Instruction Manual

Thomas Aquinas "On Evil"

3. Slip-Sliding Away
"The Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is losing mass at an increasing rate due to surface melt and flow acceleration in outlet glaciers," say the scientists. As the glaciers recede, they reveal early medieval settlements and the stumps of substantial forests; so in one sense, the climate is returning to normal. However, if you have ever tried to brew your tea [or coffee] by blowing on the water with a hair drier, you might wonder if increased air temperature can really account for this. Perhaps the glaciers are being heated from below? Now we learn that, Lo!, just as Iceland has underground volcanic hot springs, so too does Greenland, and these happen to underlie the recessional glaciers. This nicely explains why the melting glaciers are concentrated in specific regions. 

4. Scotty, Lock on with the Tractor Beam!

And you thought is was sci-fi? Apparently not. When Bridget ban serves he guest, Ravn Olafsdottr, from a "gravity cart" that floats above the floor, she is no so far ahead of the curve as we might think.

5. For Some Values of "Identical"

Another odd datum on the notion of "race." A pair of identical twins -- that is, genetically identical, from the same egg -- were born in the UK to a mixed-race couple. One twin had white skin while the other twin had black skin.

They are not the first case of twins born with different skins, though the first that are genetically identical. Makes one wonder though how genetically meaningful racial identification is in an objective sense.
Twins, but not monozygotic.

6. Iracatanam Antapakirantamthe

TOF's Faithful Reader may recollect passages from On the Razor's Edge describing how the Capital of All the Worlds was reassembling and repairing itself.
Inner Child was constantly alert to alterations in his environment and the Brute was keen to all his senses, and between the two of them they brought the scarred man to a halt by the block upon which they had earlier sat.

The Brute remembered that the crack had made the block uncomfortable to sit on.  Donovan went to his knees and the Sleuth studied the stone closely.  He ran their fingers across it.
I can feel where it was.  Like a scar.  
“It’s been spackled,” said the Fudir.

He turned suddenly and looked down the empty avenue behind him.  The freshening evening wind stirred the grasses.
“Who?” scoffed Donovan.  “A stealthy stonemason who creeps through the ruins patching up the cracks?”
The wind drove pebbles and grit before it, stinging Donovan’s cheek.  They rolled across the surface of the foundation block like a miniature barchan.  A grain found the slight groove where the crack had been and nestled within it.
There’s your answer.  Windblown grit has simply filled in the crack.  He reached out to dislodge the grain – to free it, as he thought – and found that it was fused with the stone.  When he put pressure on it, he experienced a sudden wave of foreboding, as if the entire city would tumble itself upon him and bury him.
He pulled his hand away, stood, withdrew a pace from the wall.
Certain materials of the Commonwealth, called metamaterials, were said to be self-repairing.  Like the self-sealing hulls and pressure suits we have.
“But,” said Donovan, “self-repairing stone?”
It is not true stone, said the Pedant, but some sort of Commonwealth material.  
Donovan looked out over the ruins.  The Capital of All the Worlds has been rebuilding itself all these centuries, the Sleuth decided.  Listen to that sound, that unending rustle.
The young man in the chlamys thought it sounded like the rustle of leaves on the ground of autumn, and thought how lonely the stones must have been over the ages.  
And now we have concrete infused with fungi! A new self-healing fungi concrete, co-developed by researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, could help repair cracks in aging concrete permanently, and help save America's crumbling infrastructure.

7. Two Brothers

Using 'next generation' DNA sequencing scientists have found that the famous 'Two Brothers' mummies of the Manchester Museum have different fathers so are, in fact, half-brothers. The Two Brothers are the Museum's oldest mummies and amongst the best-known human remains in its Egyptology collection. They are the mummies of two elite men -- Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh -- dating to around 1800 BC.

8. Colorful Dinosaurs

The feathers of this particular dinosaur were so well-preserved that scientists could determine their color from their molecular structure!

9. The Cambrian Explosion was a Tumor?

The sudden appearance and rapid proliferation of animal life known as the Cambrian Explosion, which has been conventionally ascribed to the increase in atmospheric oxygen caused by plants eating the CO2 with which the early atmosphere was composed (similar to present-day Mars and Venus). But the timing is off: high oxygen content is actually detrimental to stem cells and hence cell replacement.

But by studying the ability of tumor cells to imitate the properties of stem cells, a team at Lund Univ. in Sweden, has observed how tumor cells can high-jack specific mechanisms that evade the negative effects that high oxygen has on stem cells. As a consequence, the tumor cells are able to maintain stem cell properties, despite being surrounded by the high oxygen concentrations that are present in the body.

The result was a cancer-like explosive growth in multi-celled animals.


  1. Re: #4 - we already got transparent aluminium. Can replicators and warp drive be far behind?

    1. We've had transparent aluminum for centuries, it's just called "sapphire". We first made it artificially in 1873.

      That's what the window on the UPC scanner at the supermarket is made from, because it's so scratch-resistant.

  2. Interesting-- I wonder if the "two brothers" were half-brothers due to the mother remarrying.

  3. The trouble with levitating a drink-cart acoustically, is you ain't gonna be able to push the thing with the mass required to power it. Unless maybe it's powered like an electric trolley, with the power-source in the ceiling? Things probably get even worse if you're talking artificial gravity.

    That's always my problem with "way cool" sci-fi gadgets: what powers that? Wouldn't it be simpler, more reliable, and probably safer to just use wheels, treads, or even legs? (If you accept levitating vehicles, outside very specific high-performance applications anyway, but balk at walking tanks, you're straining gnats and swallowing camels.)

    1. Sometimes I think the future will look a great deal like the present. A few niftier toys, but not the magic stuff.

    2. This is why the game Destiny has a special place in my heart: it's actually fantasy, it just happens to be set in space. The main characters are people who died defending others, raised up by a space-god to fight in defense of cosmic order. At the point where you're talking einherjar fighting for Space Odin, I can excuse the teleporting rocket bikes and terraformed Solar System.

  4. #3 This doesn't explain why the glaciers are also melting away in Norway and the Alps. Also, why are the glaciers melting away at locations without hot springs, and why NOW? It's no secret that Greenland had a warmer climate 1000 years ago. It's not called Greenland by coincidence.
    And for the first time in recorded history:
    #1 So Germany didn't just scrap all their fossil capacity as soon as the clean non-peak energy demand was filled? I don't see that as a failure. I'm sure we'll see a reduction in fossil capacity in due time. E.g. that they close instead of overhaul the old plants when the time comes. And maybe that don't USE all the extra capacity all the time?

    1. The Russian tanker could do it without an ice breaker because it is an ice breaker. Which is pretty dang cool.
      From poking around, it looks like Norway and Sweden's glaciers are complicated as well, in that they're not all shrinking, and that would suggest that-- just like Greenland's glaciers-- there's something else going on.

    2. Don't worry I'm sure a climate skeptics panel consisting of an amateur blogger, a climate scientist kicked out of his university for shoddy work, and an esteemed expert in a completely different field will answer your question momentarily.

    3. Wait, you know the guys who run "Skeptical Science"?!?!

    4. Skeptical science is an excellent resource for debunking denialist (or "do-nothing-ist") claims. The reasons why so-called climate "skepticism" doesn't find acceptance in mainstream science are the same reasons that the Jesus myth theory doesn't find acceptance in the scholarly community.

  5. Skeptical Science ignores issues that get results they agree with, and engages in fallacies to remove the results they dislike.

    It's not science, it's a popularity contest.

  6. Hardly. It simply presents the facts and analysis for a layman's audience. The fact is that climate "skepticism" has about as much acceptance in mainstream science as tobacco skepticism.

    1. And that is why their supporters are reduced to using assertions and fallacies to defend them....

    2. Example of facts: from UK Met Office, Central England Temperatures, 1660 to present.

    3. Example of facts: from the UK Royal Society.

      Your posts on science and religion were very helpful during a crisis of faith several years ago. Now I see you supporting pseudoscience. What am I to think now?

    4. You might want to learn a bit more about science, so you can tell evidence from assertion.

      TOF's link is to data; yours is to a page that links the same site with more unsourced and unsupported claims.

      "Science" doesn't mean "a scientist said it;" heck, the Royal Geographical Society had some rather similarly dismissive reactions to the radical theory of...plate tectonics.

    5. It is indeed nonsense to deny a human role in climate change. Which is why basically nobody does. It is, however, also nonsense to pretend there's any actual consensus on the nature or extent of that human role, let alone what should be done about it. You could only think the competent authorities actually agreed on those points, if you accepted what you were told by the lay media, at face value, without actually researching for yourself.

      One of the defining features of pseudoscience—and of the mindset that Richard Feynman memorably termed "Cargo Cult science"—is to pretend a uniformity in science that does not and cannot exist. That's the "all the clerical caste in long white garments are of one mind" malarkey peddled by that laughable charlatan Sagan. Even Richard Dawkins knows that's not how things work. Is "I have a less realistic understanding of the messiness of science than Richard Dawkins" the argument you want to be making? I mean hell it's your barbecue.

    6. Even if all the climatologists agreed on one model of climate change, which they don't, and on what policies would best address it...they're climatologists. They don't know anything about economics, game-theory, statistics, or any of the thousand other fields that are relevant to "what will address this ecological issue without causing utter economic devastation that ends up making things worse even for the environment?" Which is the real question: "what will actually work?" Not "what will make us look and feel righteous?" or "what will advance some actually unrelated agenda we can sneak in as a supposed sop to climate problems?" (e.g. "overpopulation", AKA "coercively sterilize the brown people").

      One of the basic principles of chaos theory is that, as all models are by definition simplifications, their outputs can never be better than educated guesses. This is also why planned economies don't work: there are more factors in play than anyone can actually account for.

      Hilaire Belloc uses the example of a hypothetical Byzantine official of around 588 AD, who has a very thorough and accurate understanding of all the tribes and sects of the two-thirds of Eurasia and third of Africa that his civilization is in contact with. He weighs their trends and tendencies and movements, and is fairly sure that he has a pretty good grasp on what's going to happen in the next few generations, maybe even a century or two out.

      "At that time, Muhammad was 18 years old."

    7. "At that time, Muhammad was 18 years old."

      ...I have got to read that guy....

    8. there are more factors in play than anyone can actually account for

      Hence, George E. P. Box's maxim: "All models are wrong, but some are useful; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful." (Robustness in the Strategy of Scientific Model Building)
      When someone like Freeman Dyson criticizes the models used to predict climate, is it more likely that he has suddenly lost his mind and become stoopid, or that he has some insight on the physics and should be paid attention?

  7. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    But what did old Arthur know...

    Oh, and Judith Curry is as unbiased as the Royal Society. Yup.

    1. The data come from the UK Met service. Perhaps Curry is more dedicated to open discussion, as you seem to imply. But really, that is ad hominem, and not a convincing reason to reject the data.


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