Science and Technology June 27th

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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64 Responses

  1. Kolohe says:

    Aero7- everything I’ve read says the Air Force doesn’t want the US Space Corps though.Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    Tr2 – I’m going to wait until the mishap investigation report comes out with the full event reconstruction before coming to any conclusions.Report

    • North in reply to Kolohe says:

      Yeah unless there’s foreign agents involved I don’t see how the officers on the Fitzgerald are going to explain away colliding with what’s functionally a floating warehouse.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to North says:

        My prediction: the CO, XO, and officer of the watch go find work somewhere else. The damage control officer gets a commendation. This prediction holds regardless of the fact set of how the collision occurred. “Go find work somewhere else” need not involve their being cashiered.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Oh, the CO is probably done regardless. Absent evidence of gross negligence, he’ll be allowed to retire when it’s all said and done (he’s been in 17 years), unless he has some really important shore based skill set such that the Navy can justify letting him ride a desk for the rest of his career.Report

          • North in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Absolutely. For fish’s sake Destroyers are floating tin cans to begin with. Behemoths like the Crystal get right of way as a practical matter regardless of the law and how the fish did a nimble little boat like the Fitzgerald suddenly find herself sitting in front of a the lumbering Crystals’ nose?Report

          • Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Unless the system has changed since I stopped paying attention about thirty years ago, retiring on 17 years bites.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

              If he has a solid service record, and there wasn’t any gross negligence on his part (like failure to train, supervise, etc.), he’ll ride a desk for the next 3 years and retire at 20.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

        You’d be surprised at how easily a ship can sneak up on you, in the dark. Now, if the Fitzgerald had eyes on the Crystal and still had a collision…Report

        • North in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I believe it, my brother is a 2nd engineer on various freight hauling beasts in the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. But we’re not talking about two freighters running into each other, the Fitzgerald was a fully manned modern US Navy ship. If they saw the Crystal and still ran into it- heads are going to roll. If they didn’t see it- heads are going to roll.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

            My guess (and this is purely speculation on my part, I have no information to back this up) is that the Fitzgerald did have eyes on the Crystal, but for some reason didn’t notice that she turned to port (perhaps there was some kind of commotion on the bridge or on the ship), or did notice but was somehow restricted from maneuvering (perhaps there were smaller vessels in the area that were not running AIS, and not getting out of the destroyers way) and couldn’t raise anyone on the Crystal… My experience is that with these kinds of incidents, it’s never just one or two things going wrong, but a whole mess of wrong coming together at the same time.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kolohe says:

      That AIS track is going to be tough to explain away as anything other than an autopilot action, but yeah, definitive conclusions will have to wait.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I don’t quite fully trust the open source info about the tracks being shown in the press yet. They’re probably ok, but I don’t think anyone has taken the time to confirm that data is actual ‘ground truth’ and there isn’t something errant in there.

        (though I was surprised how good the ‘leaks’ were in the first 48 hours of this story, everything ‘sources tell the Navy Time’ etc turned out the be exactly the info confirmed by official press release in short order)Report

  3. Richard Hershberger says:

    Ag2 & Ag3: In summary: Burning food for fuel: bad. Constructing buildings out of food: good.Report

  4. Richard Hershberger says:

    Tr3: The city of the future seems not to have bicycles or pedestrians. This is a common feature of these utopian autonomous car schemes.Report

  5. fillyjonk says:

    Bio6: great, until people start misusing them somehow or someone has the very rare adverse allergic reaction. (They were being promoted on the news last night as “Amazon Prime can deliver them to you, and you can administer them to yourself while you watch tv” and I could only think of “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”)

    I suppose it’s a net positive decoupling certain treatments from the NEED to be seen by a medical professional but as someone with weird allergies….I’m not sure I’d take a new form of a vaccine for the first time without a doctor nearby.Report

  6. veronica d says:

    Bio3 — This is possibly the worst science writing I have ever seen. This is it folks. This is the most preposterously bad. The is peak terrible. Wow. Double wow.

    Simply, the brain is embedded in 3d space. It is three dimensional. What they are calling “dimensionality” here is simply the number of neurons in a clique. They use this weird terminology because, when modeling the system, we describe a graph using one variable for each node, and thus a system with N variables is (in a sense) an “N-dimensional model.”

    There is nothing new here. At my employer we routinely deploy models with literally millions of dimensions. In biological modeling, an entire genome can be modeled as one dimension-per-gene. High dimensional spaces have become routine.

    High-dimensional cliques, however, are interesting because their complexity increases quadradically. So (for example), an 11-node clique has 55 connections, whereas a 5-node clique would have only 10.

    The actual article from the scientists is here. I’m looking through it now, but I only understand maybe 30% of it. (I’m not a neuroscientist, so…)

    The take away is animal brains have a certain kind of layered complexity that was previously unknown. It is quite interesting. We don’t yet understand how brains find the balance between “uncontrolled entropic behavior” and “too simplistic to do much.” It is a profound question. There clearly will be a “sweet spot,” a certain kind of structured complexity. But what? We are so far from knowing.

    This is awesome. However, the brain is not 11-dimensional. That’s dumb.

    (I don’t have time right now to dive into the algebraic topology connection. I’m sure it’s really cool.)Report

  7. Michael Cain says:

    Energy… After seven years and $7.5B, Southern Company and Mississippi Power announced yesterday they are immediately shutting down the coal gasification portion of the Kemper clean coal project in Mississippi. The combined cycle generating portion of the plant will be run on natural gas. No word on whether the CO2 capture portion of the project will continue. Last week the Mississippi Public Service Commission ordered Southern shareholders to take a $6.5B loss on the project rather than passing the costs to Mississippi consumers.

    Coal for the Kemper plant was low-grade lignite from surface mines in Mississippi.Report

  8. Pinky says:

    Aero6 – How many planets are past Neptune.

    Bio2 – Funny story, I’ve been talking to the Cabal, and it turns out that you’ll definitely die before the end of organ donation. 2019. A connected government official in Venezuela gets your ears.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Pinky says:

      I never said Pluto was a planet. It’s still a named KBO.

      And no, not Venezuela, anywhere but Venezuela. Unless you are going to soak all my organs in some kind of toxin that kills people slowly and painfully; then yes, send all my parts to connected government officials in Venezuela.Report

  9. Pinky says:

    Ag3 – The article makes it sound like a novelty, but I wonder if something like regenerating roofing would be possible.Report

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Ag2, Corn-ethanol, presenting the false-choice fallacy. Ethanol production only utilizes the starches in the corn plant, meaning that about 2/3rds of the plant becomes fuel, and 1/3rd becomes a high-protein animal feed (distiller’s grains). China has a complaint before the WTO that America is dumping distiller’s grains on the world market, and has levied a punitive tariff on their imports until they get a ruling. Dumping food.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

      Perhaps, but corn isn’t the most efficient source for the sugars and starches that are used for ethanol, it’s just what we use because the Ag lobby knows it’s business.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        It’s actually one of the least efficient, although I suspect that’s gotten a bit better just through sheer desperation. (People stuck using corn for ethanol generation have probably done all they could to make it more efficient).

        Yeah, corn lobby for the win there.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        The U.S. uses corn because the Corn belt region has the most favorable soils and climate for growing yellow corn in the world. I thought the study would be interesting in that it appeared to start from the assumption that corn will be grown (it will) and here are the trade-offs btw/ food and fuel, but it seems to lose this thread. (Calculating the cost of tile installation? Really? That happened 100 years ago)

        There are two main problems identified: (1) fertilizer, which is applied to corn regardless of its ultimate use, and (2) refining, which is required for alternative fuel sources as well. The main issue in refining though is the use of coal over natural gas, which is changing. The main issue with fertilizer is that a lot of it ends up washed away so heavy application rates are used, but new corn hybrids appear to have stopped that. The study is severely dated, and some of its assumptions might have been true five years ago.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Except the corn belt doesn’t have to grow corn. It is grown because it is profitable to do so, largely because of corn syrup and ethanol. There are lots of other food crops, or even industrial crops, that can be grown in the corn belt, should the price of corn fall.Report

          • fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            For a while, I was getting calls from people asking me about switchgrass. (I am a prairie community ecologist). Apparently switchgrass was going to be the next “it” crop for ethanol back around 2008 or so.

            I will admit:

            1. Yes, it can be grown on more-marginal land than corn can

            2. but I’d still be concerned about the whole “monoculture” aspect, especially if the mindset was, “We can plow under this diverse grassland and plant it to highly-inbred varietal switchgrass.”

            3. I don’t know what it would require in the way of fertilizer or pesticide; I am far from an expert on switchgrass.

            I’m guessing there was some fundamental failure-of-concept because I’ve heard nothing about the idea for at least five years.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to fillyjonk says:

              I’m guessing there was some fundamental failure-of-concept because I’ve heard nothing about the idea for at least five years.


              • Actually, almost complete lack of progress on scaling up cellulosic ethanol. So far, that’s been a really good way to lose lots of money. Recall that Congress mandated that the petroleum industry be blending a few billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the gasoline supply this year. IIRC, actual production will be under 100M gallons.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                I seem to recall the whole point of that particular switch grass was that it was much easier to break down the lignins of that breed.

                But yes, cellulosic has an extra step that makes it more expensive compared to corn or sugarcane.Report

            • PD Shaw in reply to fillyjonk says:

              I know some corn farmers that met me with promoters back around the time, and asked what they thought. They found the discussion very interesting, but “how do we get paid?”Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            No, your timing is way off. Using corn for ethanol was a response to the Arab Oil Embargo, and I think the first fuel plant came on-line in 1978. The midwest started to be known as the corn belt with the Civil War — Abraham Lincoln described the Middle West as the interior area between the mountains and north of the line in which “the culture of corn and cotton meet.”

            When I wrote that the corn belt has a comparative advantage, I meant that the soil and climate were uniquely favorable to yellow corn. The soils are deep, rich and have multiple complex soil horizons. The spring has adequate rainfall for planting, but hot, mostly dry in the summer. It’s flat for mechanization. There are only two other places in the world of any size that are similar. One is in Northern China and the other is somewhere around Ukraine / Russian, currently not being used for corn, but supposed to be transitioning to corn in the next decade. Sure, you could plant wheat or beans or white corn, but it wouldn’t be that much more advantageous than growing it somewhere else.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

              Sorry, that wasn’t my point. If it wasn’t for ethanol and corn syrup production, would the corn belt be growing as much corn as it does? I.E. would the world be eating that much corn as either sweet corn, alcohol, corn meal or feed?Report

              • fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                An awful lot of corn winds up being turned (rather inefficiently, but whatever) into cow flesh or pig flesh.

                I don’t know how much corn we export, either. I do know back post WWI, wheat exports were enormous (because most of Europe was either too bomb-scarred or had had too many of its young farmers killed off to effectively grow wheat for a few years). Contributing factor to the dust bowl because farmers grew wheat on marginal lands using what turned out to be terrible land-management practices.

                I do know when I travel in the upper midwest (mostly IL), pretty much the ONLY farming is corn and soybeans. It makes me wonder a bit about what would happen if the industrial demands for those collapsed.

                (Also, at least until the housing bust, a not-inconsiderable amount of farmland in and around where my parents live was being converted into McMansions, which seems to me to be a rather dumb use of good farmland, but that may just be one way in which I’m a little Tinfoil Hattie: I don’t think it’s smart to pave over/otherwise make inaccessible the land you can grow food on)Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Would the corn belt be less corny? It would still be corny, silly.

                The corn belt is growing more corn because advances in technology are improving corn seeds, a process that began at least a hundred years ago. (How did prairie populist Henry Wallace make his fortune?)

                I won’t dispute that sugar protection made it worthwhile to invest in the technology to develop high fructose corn syrup, but those aren’t protections corn industry lobbies to keep. Sugar and HFCS are differentiated products with different price points now.

                Corn growers benefit from the ethanol mandates for fuel, but the export market is becoming huge: exporting 200 million gallons in 2009 to 1.5 billion gallons in 2016. There is a demand for fuel alternatives that isn’t based simply on domestic politics.

                There is another piece though. Yellow corn is historically used for animal feed. Because it is valued by richer countries and is more difficult to grow, some developing countries try to encourage a domestic yellow corn industry as a cash crop with protective measures. If we lived in a world of free trade, there probably would be more yellow corn produced in the United States and it would probably be for the better of developing countries as well.

                (Not paid for by the Corn Lobby)Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Fair enough, I’ll concede the point.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to PD Shaw says:

                We’re overlooking a very important point.

                Corn Prices are subsidized to maximize production… there is a Price Floor for Corn which provides incentives to increase production (vs. mostly fixed costs) without regard to supply/demand. There’s no risk in producing as much corn as you can possibly produce. In fact, its the opposite of risk, you are incented to produce as much corn as you can possibly produce.

                So, skipping any questions about the pros/cons of unfettered corn production… the answer to why the corn belt is corny isn’t technology and advances it’s a conscious policy of promoting maximum corn production.

                Spot Price for Corn
                June 29 = $3.662/bu
                Price Loss Coverage = $3.7/bu

                Price Loss CoverageReport

              • PD Shaw in reply to Marchmaine says:

                The price loss program started in 2014. OTOH:

                “Continuous increase in the yield of maize (Zea mays L.) in the U.S. Corn Belt over the past 70+ years has been demonstrated in a series of field studies that contrast successful hybrids released by Pioneer Hi-Bred International since 1930—the so called “ERA hybrid studies” (Duvick, 1977, 1984, 1992; Duvick et al., 2004).”

                Historical Maize Yield Trends in the U.S. Corn BeltReport

              • Marchmaine in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Not entirely; the PLC program is the iteration for the 2014 Farm Pill. The general policy of price supports in the US traces back about 100 yrs.

                But no-one is denying corn yields have dramatically increased… organic corn yields a miles beyond former industrial bests, and in some studies out-perform conventional when accounting for real-world scenarios like drought.

                I’m merely observing that if we look at corn as widgets, and institute policies that tell widget makers to make as many fishing widgets as they can, they will, and they do.

                edit: Upon further review, the 2014 Farm Pill typo stands as written.Report

  11. George Turner says:

    Canadian Supreme Court says fine to censor global internet.

    For the past few years, we’ve been covering the worrisome Google v. Equustek Solutions case in Canada. The case started out as a trademark case, in which Equustek claimed that another company was infringing on its trademarks online. That’s fine. The problem was that the lower court issued an injunction against Google (a non-party in the case) that said it had to block entire sites worldwide. Blocking sites already raises some concerns, but the worldwide part is the real problem. In 2015, an appeals court upheld that decision, and earlier today the Canadian Supreme Court agreed with both lower courts in a 7-2 decision.

    The court is dismissive of any concerns about how an order from one country to block things on the internet globally might be abused — calling the concerns “theoretical” and unproven.

    The good thing about the ruling is it means that Saudi Arabia can force companies to remove all references to LGBQT anything from the internet, worldwide, and China can force companies to remove anything that might offend Chinese communists.Report

  12. DavidTC says:

    I think this wins the ‘dumbest incidental line’, in Tech7:

    “Microphones are in millions of devices, including all of our smartphones,” said Hassanieh, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

    ‘millions of devices’?

    Dude, you are not a good counter of microphone devices. You have utterly failed at counting those, Hassanieh. You’ve off by a factor of three just for cell phones (There are more cell phones than people.), and those obviously aren’t the only device that have microphones.

    Every telephone, cell or otherwise, every tablet, every laptop, every car in the last couple of years, every hearing aid, every walkie-talkie, every two-way radio, seriously, this list is absurd.

    Total number of ‘devices with microphones’ in the world should probably be estimated somewhere between twenty and a hundred billion, not ‘millions’.Report