Science And Technology Links: 4/20 – People Are Way Too Obsessed With This Date Edition


Oscar Gordon

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget.

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78 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Hydrogen’s easy. All we have to do is build a pipeline from the Sun.

    Why Hitler?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Traditionally, there are two groups of people who celebrate 4/20 as a date with special significance.

      Marijuana enthusiasts and Nazis.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, it’s his birthday.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t know where the 4-20 / marijuana association came from, but yesterday was bicycle day, which is even a science & technology thing.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

          There are two stories that I have heard.

          One is true, one is false. The false one is kinda cute and funny and the true one is kinda bland and uninteresting.

          Without giving away which is which, here are the two stories.

          There was a clock at the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco that was broken and had stopped at 4:20. Hippies would say something like “Oh, I’m not going to smoke until 4:20!”, point at the clock, and then say “Okay, we can smoke.”

          The police have number codes that they give over the radio. “We’ve got a 211 down on Maple and Vine” is the code that there’s a robbery going down. “We’ve got a 586 down on South Nevada” is the code for illegal parking. The code “420” was for someone smoking marijuana.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to dragonfrog says:

          A few years back I was in Amsterdam on this date. They don’t do anything special there. Although, what would they do?Report

          • Avatar Hoosegow Flask in reply to Pinky says:

            Doesn’t Europe (and most of the rest of the world) reverse the date fields, though? It would be 20/4 there.Report

          • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Pinky says:

            Honestly, the idea of it becoming boring and not-cool would be enough to flip me to being pro-legalization.

            (I don’t care whether people smoke it or not as long as (a) I don’t have to be where they are smoking it, (b) they don’t operate heavy machinery that might kill me while they’re stoned, and (c) there are movies OTHER than stoner-comedies in the megplex. Oh, and d: I don’t have to throw someone out of lab for being in an unsafe state to handle dangerous chemicals or blades. And I’m more okay with decriminalization but I do not think the “legalize and tax it!” is gonna solve the problems its supporters think it will solve.)

            But yeah: I’m so square I’m a cube. Maybe even a hyper-cube. (A square, squared.)Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to fillyjonk says:

              So, the problem is more what Jonah Hill does professionally than what he smokes off-hours. Interesting. (Yeah, like Rogan and Hill don’t smoke on set.)Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to fillyjonk says:

              I am not particularly tuned in nor turned on. Neither have I dropped out.

              That said, Colorado’s pot culture seems to have… I don’t want to say evaporated, but it certainly has reduced. The local stoner radio station still has a 4:20 selection where they play either a rock song dedicated to marijuana or a “funny” comedy bit from a “classic” comedy album.

              Given that this is the same radio station that plays Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”, Sublime’s “Smoke Two Joints”, and Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” during the middle of the day anyway, it’s not really that surprising to hear some of the rock songs.

              But you might be confused if you tune in right in the middle of South Park’s “Kyle’s Mom’s A Bitch” and you thought you were tuning into the rock station.

              But the AM Radio station “K-HIGH” (the radio talk station devoted to discussions about pot and pot culture) lasted maybe two or three months before staggering into becoming an internet radio station… and then only a couple months after that, it crashed and burned.

              Sure, there’s a “medicinal” shoppe on every other corner in town, but it’s pretty much become bourgie.Report

            • Avatar Jesse in reply to fillyjonk says:

              Yeah, I don’t smoke pot, but aside from criminal justice issues, hopefully pot being legal here in Washington will kill ‘pot culture’ which is the worst thing ever.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to fillyjonk says:

              And I’m more okay with decriminalization but I do not think the “legalize and tax it!” is gonna solve the problems its supporters think it will solve.

              Pretty much this is my attitude as well.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Eh, I think it’ll solve things in the way repealing Prohibition did. In short, it will ‘solve’ the problems of trying to enforce a law a clear majority disagrees with, and a sizable minority actively ignores.

                I don’t think it’ll solve many other problems, but it’ll solve the biggest.

                Then again, I’ve always had more problems from drunks than stoners, even after you account for the imbalance in representation.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Morat20 says:

                Sure. But it won’t free up money for deficit reduction, enhancing social welfare benefits, strengthening K-12 education, subsidizing healthcare insurance, or reforming prisons. To the extent legalize-and-tax raises money and reduces tax burdens, it will represent a marginal ease upon the public fisc which will be gobbled up by other demands on public services so quickly as to seem virtually invisible.

                See, e.g., public dollars raised through state lotteries purportedly dedicated to improvement of public education.Report

              • Can’t speak nationally, but the hole that losing marijuana taxes would put in the Colorado state budget is significant. Not in the same category with income, sales, and property taxes, but IIRC, bigger than severance taxes in a state that’s in the top-10 for all of coal, oil, and natural gas.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I figure there’s still gonna be a black market as home-growers (and perhaps even arms of the cartel) undercut the government-sanctioned stuff. People who worry about a safe buzz that doesn’t have weird pesticides or something will probably use the official outlets, but I don’t think it will kill off the black market.

                And yes, I could totally see states using pot taxes to allow a fiddle in funding of other things, and then cry poor when not enough people smoke taxed pot to fill the coffers.Report

  2. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Car ride simulator: we did the same thing when the kids were infants by putting the kid in her car seat and putting that on top of the clothes dryer, running it with no heat. I worked like a charm.

    Tree tents: There is a subculture within the backpacking community of hammock enthusiasts. These tree tents look to be an extension of that idea, using three trees to provide a two-dimensional platform. Very clever, but I picture myself wandering through the woods looking for that elusive spot with the right configuration of foliage to make the damn thing work. I suspect how well it works in practice depends a lot on exactly what sort of forest you are in.

    The “Qube” tents, on the other hand, strike me as an impractical gimmick, even apart from the cutesy name, for any sort of even quasi-serious camping. It is obviously too large and heavy for backpacking any distance, so this is for car camping or something close to it. You need a lot of flat space, and the profile makes it obviously unsuitable for any but the most modest wind conditions. Notice how the video showing them being set up has ropes and stakes magically appearing out of nowhere. The most imagination required is coming up with a scenario with this actually makes sense.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I’m not any kind of backpacker – only ever been car camping, except the one time bicycling – but those tent-hammocks are great. You don’t need the backpacker’s weight reduction considerations to justify them.

      We’ve never slept more comfortably when camping than we do in the hammocks. Bumpy ground is no concern, water will never seep in under the groundsheet…Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to dragonfrog says:

        My active backpacking days were in the 1990s. Hammocks weren’t really on the radar back then. My brother is still an active backpacker (despite being older than me–why the difference? I had kids. Young kids suck for this sort of hobby). He is a hammock enthusiast, which is why I am aware of the subculture. He brings his to the annual beach house week and sets it up between two posts. My kids are suitably impressed.

        I am persuaded that it is a good idea, provided that you are camping in the sort of forest that provides suitable supports. In the unlikely event that I get back into backpacking, I would seriously consider switching to this.

        I am nonetheless skeptical of these three-support hammock tents. Finding two trees of suitable size and branch configuration, within the suitable range of distance apart, and with no bushes in between where the hammock goes? That’s one thing. Finding three trees? That’s another. A lot of clever camping ideas fall apart in the face of finding a spot where they actually work.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Where I live, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find a suitable arrangement with little effort. At least in the forests I go hiking in.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          My backpacking days were long ago, but I remember in bear country it could sometimes be quite difficult to find two trees of appropriate size and distance to hoist a bag for food and bath gear. Sometimes it was no problem whatsoever.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to PD Shaw says:

            We used a bear vault. (Aka we weren’t in place where the bears were known to break into cars, or the places where bears hoist their cubs on their heads to raid hanging gearbags)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

        How much is a tent hammock? I hate camping but enjoy hammocks. My friends always wanna go and this might make it tolerable.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I enjoy hammock camping, a lot.

      The Qubes, as advertised, seem like something my kid and his friends might enjoy linking together and playing Fort in the yard. Too bad they are hipster priced because I could see getting a few for fun if they weren’t.Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    it’s not really sucking up ocean plastic, as far as I can tell. It’s mostly about diverting plastic from just stuff you throw away into a useful feedstock. The system appears to me to be only as good as the availability and economics of the catalyst (and also, only as good as the willingness of people to separate out their plastic waste – and really, the willingness of people to just not throw their trash anywhere and everywhere)

    My understanding is that Brazil main biofuel source (and what makes it ‘energy independent’) is sugarcane

    he dual-purpose bioenergy crops are predicted to be more than five times more profitable per acre than soybeans and two times more profitable than corn. More importantly, sugarcane can be grown on marginal land in the Gulf Coast region that does not support good corn or soybean yields.

    It also doesn’t seem to replacing “food” crops, per se but rather other mass agricultural pseudo cash crops that feed into many industries (including what walking food eats). My understanding also is that the big ecological downside of sugarcane is that is uses an above average amount of water per acre – which may not be a problem in the Amazon or the Gulf coast, but certainly is other places.

    Open Ocean bio algae is my preferred alternative – you’re using an area on the surface of the planet not really be used by any human and not many other denizens of the biopshere, and you’re also sucking carbon out of the atmosphere at a pretty good clip if you’re doing it right.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Kolohe says:

      The next big thing is going to be trash-mining. Landfills are piles of usable material. The problem is that if you’d set up an operation that pulls (for example) copper out of landfills, you’d have an operation that, depending on how you look at it, reduces the total amount of trash or produces great quantities of copper-free trash.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Pinky says:

        Yes, I completely agree. The technology exists now for some sort of mega machine that sucks in landfill at one end and separates out everything into its chemical components – it’s just not at all economically or energy feasible.

        (I think now most municipal landfills pass much of the stuff under a electromagnet to pick out all the useful ferrous material before they bury it)Report

        • Avatar aaron david in reply to Kolohe says:

          I think they only do this if the landfill is a transfer station. Which is a great thing in urban environments, but not so much in more rural areas (it just adds to the cost.) Most rural areas have a you-sort-it system, with a metal areas, hazardous item area, green dumping for arborists/landscapers and a seagull farm for the rest.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kolohe says:

      Plastic to Diesel – Yes, the main thing is that it’s a better device for depolymerization. Ships underway produce a lot of plastic waste (especially military vessels), and that plastic is either stored until you make port, whereby you have to pay to have it disposed of, or it’s tossed over the side while underway and out of sight. Turning it into fuel incentives not tossing it over the side.

      Also, if you had an area where the currents do bring a lot of plastic, this could encourage scows to go collect it.

      Personally, I agree with you that GMO algae is way smarter than crops, but we don’t quite yet have a good way to farm such algae that keeps it contained, resists storms, and isn’t crazy expensive. That said, engineering sugar cane to thrive on marginal lands and produce useful feedstocks is still pretty neat.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Kolohe says:

      Yeah the problem with biofuel is that “Can be grown on marginal land” =/= “will be grown on marginal land”. If the biofuel is 2 times more profitable than corn and 5 times more profitable than soybeans then a hell of a lot of corn and soybean growing land would be diverted to growing biofuel crop.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Re corn plastics (the corn-and-cotton sneaker story)… Corn is not particularly friendly to the environment. It requires large amounts of fertilizer and water, with far-ranging consequences. Runoff carrying fertilizer from corn fields is the primary cause of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic dead zone. Most of the areas growing irrigated corn use water from aquifers at rates well beyond the recharge rate. Horizontal gene transfer from genetically-modified corn — transfer of the genes spliced into the corn DNA to other species — is a thing, although the long-term consequences are unknown.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

      But is corn more friendly than petroleum?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Modern Fertilizer is petroleum (that’s its feedstock).Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kimmi says:

          Didn’t I have a link a few weeks back about how they are working on fertilizers that don’t use petroleum?Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            They could just use crop rotation. (Saw an article a few years back — crop rotation works out as cheaper than monoculture + fertilizers).Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Morat20 says:

              Depends on the crops being rotated, but yeah, rotation helps.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Morat20 says:

              Crop rotation doesn’t do any good if the increased demand is all for corn.

              On my regular trips along the Platte valley in Colorado and Nebraska, it used to be that one saw a reasonable mix of crops: corn, soybeans, etc. These days, it’s all corn all the time to feed the ethanol plants, with the corresponding increase in applied nitrogen fertilizers. Corn-based feedstock for plastics is just going to make that worse.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kimmi says:

          Corn needs large amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus — none of which exist in meaningful quantities in petroleum. Natural gas is a critical feedstock for production of ammonia, the most common nitrogen fertilizer (low prices from the fracking glut have brought much offshored ammonia production back to the US). Potassium and phosphorus for fertilizer are mined.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

            If there is any petroleum in a liquid fertilizer, it might be as a preservative, or some kind of base chemical. I believe petroleum derived chemicals are more prevalent in pesticides & herbicides, but those are chemicals that use petroleum as a feedstock, not the oil itself.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain says:

            Yeah potassium and phosphorus are where the real scarcity apprehensions stir in my jaded heart.Report

      • Maybe, maybe not — it’s a complicated systems analysis problem, and the result depends very much on what you measure. How much diesel (or worse, coal) goes into the process that produces a ton of PLA — tractor/harvester fuel, fertilizer production, water lift for irrigation, fermentation and associated pre- and post-processing, transportation, etc. Use of cheap nitrogen-rich fertilizer that corn needs results in the release of substantial amounts of N2O, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. The carbon from petroleum that goes into non-degradable plastic goes into a landfill, not the atmosphere; the carbon from degradable corn plastic goes back into the atmosphere; should both be counted as a wash?Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:


          Another thing to keep in mind is that often, the technology in the links I present represent stepping stones. Big stepping stones, to be sure, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to make money from it, or use it as advertising or PR, but most people recognize it as a waypoint toward a larger goal, such as having a large catalog of non-petro feedstocks for useful polymers and other chemical bases.

          I.E. I don’t expect corn and cotton shoes to be a long term product line, but rather something novel and maybe niche that can be leveraged to meet other goals.Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            New corn hybrids reduce fertilizer runoff:

            The study from the University of Illinois found that the level of nitrates dropped 10 percent between 2010 and 2014. Adding in data from 2015 that was not available when the study was being written, that level dropped by 15 percent, one co-author said.

            Data used in the study, which was published May 6 in the Journal of Environmental Quality, suggest that varieties of corn adopted in recent years grow more crop per acre and are better at resisting drought, disease and pests are making better use of nitrogen fertilizer. That means less is left in the field to wash away into the river, McIsaac said.


        • …the technology in the links I present represent stepping stones. Big stepping stones…

          When I first read the article, I had vague recollections floating up about corn-based plastics from decades ago (did my undergraduate days at a school with a big ag campus as well as other things). A bit of digging this afternoon to confirm my uncertain memory raises the question, “What’s new here?” Specialized corn breeds with the starch content optimized for plastics go back to the 1950s. Global production of bio-plastics pre Reebok’s new product run to half a billion kilograms per year. There’s nothing that suggests more than an incremental improvement to processes where the heavy lifting occurred decades ago.Report

  5. Avatar Morat20 says:

    I saw the memristor article and thought “We’ve got those working?”.

    Useful little things, IIRC, for circuit design. (And IC design, and computers…)Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Morat20 says:

      Yeah, memristors exist. So far, they only work on integrated circuit scale — the effects are swamped by resistance, capacitance and inductance at larger scales. To date, they’ve been a technology in search of a problem — memory, switches, etc based on them have been either larger than the competition, slower than the competition, or both.Report