atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#825: Digested news and miscellany.

Dalton minimum? The 24th sunspot cycle is 6 months late, but apparently has finally started. Both articles say that this cycle, and the following one, will help us determine whether or not anthropogenic global warming (AGW, "global warming=man-made=apocalypse") is actually taking place.

In the former link, though, a commenter wisecracked, "So global warming is causing the cycle to shorten? Mr. "I invented the internet" didn't warn us of that."


Fox News does a story about Arizona's new laws aimed at limiting employment opportunities for illegal immigrants.

Sez an illegal, "I don't want to live here because of the new law and the oppressive environment. I'll be better in my country."

That's right, you will. And don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.

This is an interesting graphical representation of the US budget. The problem I have with it is that it assigns a single block of funds to the Department of Defense, while "social services" spending is split into several departments.

I added together Social Security, Medicare, Income Security, and Medicaid, and came up with a figure of $1.52 trillion, or about 51% of the $2.9 trillion federal budget.

That's $2,891,933 per minute.

The Department of Defense gets $717 billion, about 25% of the federal budget. That's $1,364,155 per minute.

(NASA gets $17.3 billion. That's $32,914 per minute.)

The glorious workers' paradise of China has a few problems with its workers. Specifically, the workers who do things like videotape things which are inconvenient for local governments. So the police beat this one poor guy to death for doing that.

Interesting bits in Friday's mail page on Jerry Pournelle's web site.
Subject: Inertial confinement fusion


Speaking of fusion, today I got to go on a tour of the National Ignition Facility at Livermore. That is one BIG laser system; the building is the size of 3 football fields, the whole thing cost $3.5B, and amazingly the whole scheme started with one tiny fiber laser that is amplified, and amplified, etc.

They seem confident that they will get "scientific break even", which means they'll get the target to fuse and produce more energy than is put on the target by the laser. That is NOT energy break even, because the the laser system is very inefficient, so they are perhaps at 1% of or less of the energy gain needed for energy break even. However, as the director talked, he noted several trivial improvements that can get them to 10% (use 70% efficient diodes as optical pumps instead of 10% flash lamps, etc). Getting to within a factor of 10 of energy break even is a big step.

I came away impressed. They have a very good engineering approach to building this thing, with a lot of attention to extreme reliability, and they answered honestly some fairly pointed questions. This is still a long way from anything like a powerplant, but it was encouraging to see this.


That's sort of where we were a decade ago. I am not sure why fusion research doesn't seem to be going anywhere. What I do know is that fission works, and we know how to build good and safe reactors.

For the wag who sent me the query "Do you still support nuclear power after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island?" the answer is yes. Chernobyl wasn't a power reactor and employs a positive void design that is illegal in the United States: Teller himself had it written into public law that no such reactor can be licensed here. TMI was an unplanned (and unwanted) experiment in safety. It was a very costly experiment, but it showed clearly t that in a worst case accident no one off site would be injured. No one off site was injured.
I didn't know that bit about Teller. Then again, Edward Teller is one of my heros.

This is fascinating: arthritis drug can reverse some Alzheimer's symptoms.

* * *

Today, when I was out shopping, I had a chance to look at the Sony E-book Reader (or however you spell that). Model PRS-505. I was impressed.

It was the first time I could get my hands on a device that used electronic paper, and it is exactly as advertised: it looks like paper. Slightly greyer than normal paper, but paper--only this paper is actually an LCD screen.

I rubbed a finger over the surface and the pixels didn't blur or "blush" or distort. The blinking effect when turning pages--you could get used to that really quickly, I think. It looked like printing on paper, with good contrast, and you could view it from any angle you cared to try. I'm not sure how many greyscales there were but there were "enough".

I could see myself owning something like this if it wasn't $300. An MSRP of $100-$150 would probably convince me to buy one. I'd want a USB port and an SD memory card slot. I'd want it to run on AA or AAA batteries so I can buy replacements even at a gas station if I need 'em--no weird-shaped rechargeable batteries that you have to have the exact cord or docking station to recharge.

I could pack a lot of text onto a single 1 GB SD card, let me tell you.

The technology is pretty good, I think. The electronic paper could stand some improvement--mainly in refresh rate. Give 'em 5-10 years and the things will have full-motion video in color. Add a touch screen to the thing and you've got all the basics of a portable tablet computer. With sufficient demand for this kind of product they could make 'em dirt cheap so you wouldn't have to worry about losing the thing.

They're not going to generate "sufficient demand" by pricing these things at $300 per crack, though.

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