Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Rainfall will change - just not sure where

As I noted in a recent post, some climate scientists are warning that the current Californian drought may well be small compared to some ones that may be coming under climate change - lasting up to 35 years, perhaps.

Now it seems to me that for a State with a high population and a very big agricultural sector (which has presently been getting by on diminishing groundwater), a 35 year drought would be a very big problem indeed.  How are economists and their models on the effects on GDP dealing with that scenario?

More generally, a paper just out in Nature Climate Change explains that changes to tropical rainfall are shown under all modelling of the future climate under AGW, but the problem is working out where. As the abstract explains:
Many tropical countries are exceptionally vulnerable to changes in rainfall patterns, with floods or droughts often severely affecting human life and health, food and water supplies, ecosystems and infrastructure1. There is widespread disagreement among climate model projections of how and where rainfall will change over tropical land at the regional scales relevant to impacts2, 3, 4, with different models predicting the position of current tropical wet and dry regions to shift in different ways5, 6. Here we show that despite uncertainty in the location of future rainfall shifts, climate models consistently project that large rainfall changes will occur for a considerable proportion of tropical land over the twenty-first century. The area of semi-arid land affected by large changes under a higher emissions scenario is likely to be greater than during even the most extreme regional wet or dry periods of the twentieth century, such as the Sahel drought of the late 1960s to 1990s. Substantial changes are projected to occur by mid-century—earlier than previously expected2, 7—and to intensify in line with global temperature rise. Therefore, current climate projections contain quantitative, decision-relevant information on future regional rainfall changes, particularly with regard to climate change mitigation policy.
Again, I wonder how economic forecasts over the coming decades can take this uncertainty into account.

He has a point...

How school debating has ruined Australian politics

The unexpected

New The X-Files makes a dazzling debut as Cannes hosts world premiere

Given the show had become boring and not worth watching in the last couple of series, I wasn't expecting the re-boot to be good.  I hope this review is right, though.

When funny actors age

Jerry Lewis is 89 and frail, but still making public appearances:

I don't think he has many more left in him, though, by the sounds of the report.

I'm not sure what Chevy Chase does in his spare time now, but he has not physically aged well, at all:

He's an inspiration for dieters, though.

Doris Day, on the other hand, looks pretty much how I think she should (she's 91):

Last time I saw Billy Crystal on TV, I thought that his head was starting to look strange.  But in this photo, I think the beard makes him look more normal:

He's 67, and just had a TV series cancelled.

David Letterman, 68, on the other hand, looks positively ancient when he grows a beard:

Kirstie Alley turned up on The Middle this last season (still a funny sitcom, shamefully overlooked by the Australian market) and she is a good looking 64 (as long as she keeps the weight off):

Mind you, she would surely have had the best medical assistance Hollywood could buy.
The best preserved comedian of the modern era, however, has to be Bette White, who at 93 is still working and appears to have stopped aging 30 years ago:

Is there a reason for this post?   Not that I can tell.  It's strangely pointless...

Worse to come

10 Weather Extremes In October's First Week | Weather Underground

Given that there is a strong chance the El Nino's full effects are really just getting into gear, there is strong reason to believe we're in for a period of severe weather of different types around the world.

Mind you, I see that some economists have come out arguing that El Nino events are actually pretty good economically - the benefits outweigh the downside, globally.  Yet some of the examples given in the article seem  to be along the same lines that can be used to argue that earthquakes and war can be "good" for an economy.

Personally, I'd prefer that the economy improve without the death, destruction and pestilence along the way - but I'm not an economist.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

One has one's doubts it will succeed...

New Quantum Cats game launches to build better understanding of quantum concepts

Good to see good Spielberg reviews

Bridge of Spies Reviews - Metacritic

I had been intending to note here that I was completely underwhelmed by the trailer for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies - it was a terrible, plodding example of trailer salesmanship, if you ask me.

Yet we all know a great trailer can be made from a bad or average movie, so it is always possible that it can work in the other direction, too.

That seems to be the case here, and I am pleased to see that the movie is generally getting solid reviews.

A detailed look at the Islamic State propaganda machine

BBC News - Fishing and ultraviolence

Interesting to read how the IS propaganda machine actually spends a lot of time on positive PR spin about the its economic and social future.   "Look! - a man growing melons.  Look! - a camel herder!  Look! - a homosexual being thrown off a building and the crowd below stoning his body."

[Apparently, the medieval period has a lot of allure to a certain subset of the population.   It's a bit like those who enjoy medieval dress up fairs - hey, I've been to one or two - but with the violence real.]

Longer droughts for California?

California agriculture weathers drought — at a cost

A bit of a worrying future in store for California:
A team led by climatologist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University in California has used historical data and climate models to show that global warming is increasing the odds of the state seeing warm, dry conditions similar to those that spawned the current drought (N. S. Diffenbaugh et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 3931–3936; 2015).

The droughts could even last for many decades.  By incorporating palaeoclimate data into climate models, Benjamin Cook of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and two co-authors are predicting droughts that could last as long as 35 years (B. I. Cook et al. Sci. Adv. 1, e1400082; 2015).
“We’re in a new climate, and it’s a climate in which the probability of severe drought conditions is elevated,” Diffenbaugh says. “That recognition is really critical.”

The Xenophon solution

Plan to shake up Senate voting | Business Spectator

I find Nick Xenophon's proposed changes to the Senate voting system to be very reasonable.

They will upset Senator Leyonhjelm, who openly advocates gaming the voting system by the creation of microparties simply to direct preferences, so that people have no idea who they may get.  As we have seen in all other Senate or House of Reps election results, Leyonhjelm's party has a vanishingly small voter base, and he wants it to have a chance in future by the same devious tactic.   This deserves to be crushed.

Tempura noted

Been a while since I made a "just cooked this for the first time" post, but the weekend saw my first attempt at tempura.

The recipes for this on websites vary a lot - quite a few involve self raising flour, or baking powder added to plain flour; others recommend cornflower mixed in with it, or even potato starch.  The matter of using an egg (or just yolk) is not even settled.   The only universal thing is that the water used must be ice cold, and you do not want an over-mixed, smooth batter - lumps are good.

In any event, I found that plain flour, mixed with an equal quantity of iced water containing a lightly beaten whole egg, worked well.   And one cup of flour and one of water makes quite a lot of batter.   (Actually, I think I added a bit more water - I don't like thick batter.   But it basically seems hard to go wrong (as long as the oil temperature is pretty high too.)

As for the dipping sauce - 1 cup of dashi (powdered stock type, of course); 1/4 cup each of mirin and soy sauce, plus a couple of teaspoons of sugar, all heated in a saucepan and cooled  a bit for serving, worked well.

The history of tempura as a Japanese mainstay is interesting.  As the Kikkoman company's website explains:
China, which has long influenced Japan, has traditions rich in culinary techniques based on the use of oil. In fact, written Chinese includes an array of characters used to distinguish different types of frying, such as quick-frying over high heat, searing at low heat, and so on.
Yet Japan was unaffected by this particular culinary aspect of China: early Japanese cooking was more strongly influenced by the injunction against eating meat that arrived with the introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century. This meat-eating taboo came to Japan by way of China, but Buddhism was not the state religion of China, nor was it closely associated with the ruling classes, as it was in Japan. Pig lard was used to prepare some dishes in China, but pork fat was unavailable in Japan, once the eating of pork was prohibited. Vegetable oils were obtainable here, but they were used mainly as fuel for illumination and their quantity was limited; thus the use of oil in cooking was slow to catch on.
Tempura most likely made its first appearance in Japan via Spanish and Portuguese missionaries and traders, who introduced deep-frying in oil during the latter half of the sixteenth century. Gradually, the type of cooking we now know as tempura became firmly established during the eighteenth century. As if to endorse this history, I have encountered a deep-fried squid dish in Portugal. And to my surprise, I enjoyed something called “fritters” —deep-fried seafood or vegetables—which had an uncanny resemblance to tempura in Malacca in Malaysia. Malacca is a bustling coastal port where the descendants of Portuguese colonists, who arrived during the early sixteenth century, pursue fishing and other trades while conducting their lives in the local vernacular, a dialect of Portuguese....
What was early tempura like? The oldest extant records, dating from the late seventeenth century, indicate that it consisted of balls made of a paste of thrush meat, shrimp and ground walnuts, which were deep-fried in oil, then covered with a sauce thickened with kuzu (a perennial of the bean family) starch. No batter coating seems to have been applied.
In the mid-eighteenth century there are records of deep-frying with a coating, apparently fish dusted with flour or root vegetables like burdock, lotus and taro dipped in a thin mixture of flour, soy sauce and water. Considerable innovations then followed, creating the tempura we know today: the production of vegetable oil increased and its price stabilized, making it possible to use generous amounts in cooking; soy sauce manufacture became an established industry, and this seasoning became more widely available; it was also during this time that bonito-flake stock was more commonly used.
During the Edo period, tempura-style cooking first became popular at movable outdoor stalls. In those days, Edo was built entirely of wooden structures, and so was extremely vulnerable to fire. Cooking outdoors rather than in houses was encouraged, and outdoor stalls serving foods like tempura were very popular. Like sushi, tempura flourished as a snack enjoyed by the common townspeople, and went on to become an essential element in the “flavor hierarchy” of Japanese cuisine.
Thus ends today's culinary notes...

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Quaint and distinctive

I don't know why, but a lot of my pleasant dreams lately seem to be about the memorable scenery.  Is it because the internet is serving up spectacular images of locations from all over the world - like a daily dose of National Geographic, instead of just a once a month (or once a dental visit) experience as it used to be when we relied on printed images?

In any event, my Zite feed has referred me to a short article at Country Living about Giethoorn, a
quaint Dutch village in which the houses are thatched and the streets are actually canals.  It certainly looks dream-worthy:

Here's the town's tourism website.   I would like to visit.

Extraordinary game

You can take as true, when it comes from someone like me who only invests about 5 hours a year in watching sport, that everyone saying that the Rugby League grand final tonight was stupendously good viewing is correct.  It showed everything that, even to my generally disinterested mind, makes this code the best to watch:  a scoring rate that is "just right"; genuine tension that comes from clear movement of team lines back and forth in relation to the try line; less risk of idiosyncratic umpiring decisions changing a game; and the ability to always see the ball in play. 

Friday, October 02, 2015

Good article on gun free zones

Commentary: Gun-Free Zones Don't Attract Mass Shootings

Some American gun law thoughts

Given the latest American mass shooting (Oregon, 13 dead, 20 injured),  that appears very likely  to be another case of a person, probably with guns legally purchased by themselves or by a relative, who has gone nuts due to some perceived slight from fellow students, I was wondering whether one of the key differences between Australia and the US is not just the ridiculously easy access to firearms over there, but also the greater ease with which Australian authorities can remove firearms from people.

Well, I assume it is much easier in Australia.  Certainly, this is the situation if a person has a domestic violence protection order against them in Queensland:
A temporary protection order will suspend your weapons licence and a final protection order will revoke your weapons licence.
You are required to surrender all weapons licences and weapons possessed to a police officer as soon as practicable, but no later than one day after the court makes the order, or the order is served on you. If you fail to surrender licences or weapons in the time specified, you may commit an offence against the Weapons Act 1990 and will be liable to a penalty of up to 10 penalty units.
You cannot apply for a weapons licence for a period of 5 years from the date of the order if a protection order is made against you.
And certainly doctors who are concerned about whether a patient should have weapons can inform the police.   A booklet here describes the process and issues.

But in the US?   A paper from 2014 by some psychiatrists argues that national registries of the mentally ill aren't likely to help gun violence, but the power of authorities to order the removal of guns from those deemed "dangerous" might:
The debate regarding creation and maintenance of a national registry as a primary legal tool for keeping firearms out of the hands of people with mental disorders has obscured a potentially useful strategy for reducing firearm violence or suicide—temporary removal of a firearm from a person’s custody during periods of acutely elevated risk (32). Some states, e.g., California (33), permit removal of firearms from people during mental health emergencies and restrict access during the period of commitment. Specified clinicians in these states can work with appropriate personnel to facilitate removal of firearms from persons they believe are at significant risk of harm to themselves or others. Indiana and Connecticut (34) allow firearms to be removed from imminently dangerous individuals, whether or not they have mental disorders. Under the Connecticut statute, the state’s attorney or two police officers can file a complaint in court whereby temporary seizure of firearms of persons posing risk of imminent personal injury to self or others may be authorized for up to 14 days. After the initial firearm removal period, a court can extend the order for up to a year if it finds, after a hearing, that the danger persists. Under this statute, a history of confinement in a psychiatric hospital is only one factor that the judge may consider, in addition to several non-clinical factors, in evaluating the danger that the person presents.
I see that this comment from one site promoting "smart" gun laws in America indicates that the movement to make removal of guns easier has only just started:
Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO) empower families and law enforcement to petition a judge to remove guns from relatives who pose a risk to themselves or others. Shooters often exhibit dangerous warning signs, and GVRO laws help keep guns away from people with the intent to harm. California passed a landmark GVRO last year, in response to the shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara. How many other mass shootings could have been prevented had the shooters’ families had legal recourse to keep them away from deadly weapons?
Of course, I expect the NRA will oppose such laws vigorously.  Yep, here's an NRA member complaining:
No one wants firearms in the hands of someone who’s not competent to own them. However, when someone crosses the danger to self or others threshold, they need immediate care, not a restraining order. Police and family members should focus on the individual, not their guns.
If the person is truly a danger to self or others, committing them to a psychiatric institution will safeguard them from their firearms.
Has anyone taken to these nuts the matter of how incredibly illiberal their idea is, not to mention the ridiculous increase in the number of psych ward beds you would need?   And of course, NRA membership would be almost a given for Tea Party Republicans, exactly the last people who would want the government spending the money that would be needed to make their "anything but the guns!" line in any way effective.

I'm glad I don't live there.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Money (and a country) to burn

Whoever the heck is funding the IPA to send one of its youth workers* to Cambodia to shoot some street footage and talk platitudinous pap about free markets and entrepreneurs being wonderful must have money burning a hole in his or her large pocket.

I really fail to see the point.

And, incidentally,  I wonder what the future Cambodian business persons interviewed for 15 seconds by the IPA think of its policy of actively discouraging any governmental response to climate change?   Given that more than one body seems to think Cambodia is near top of the list of nations most likely to suffer badly as the world warms, I'm not entirely sure they would appreciate this aspect of the IPA's advocacy back in Australia. 

*  what is the average age of someone primarily employed there?  Take out Roskam and I reckon it would be lucky to be 25...

Yoof movies noted

Exhibit 1:   I hired it with low expectations, which were pretty much confirmed, but watching Fast & Furious 7 on DVD made me wonder how this series manages to be internationally hugely successful.  (The only other one I have seen much of, however, is Tokyo Drift.  Maybe I saw a bit of the first one, too.  They're not exactly memorable.)

The key seems to be that they are aimed squarely at the interests of males aged 14-18, which means there is considerable overlap with those up to the age of 30, too.   But then there is also the obvious marketing to the girlfriends of said primary audience, what with the hunky, good hearted lead actor; the continual emphasis on family and relationships; and the physical toughness and competency of the female leads.

This does make for some oddly mixed messages - the soft porn objectification of the women incidental to the story sits uncomfortably alongside the kick ass "girls can do anything" feminism and interest in relationships of the female leads.   I get the feeling that a large part of the international success might be simply from the producers knowing exactly how much female skin they can get away without ratings interfering with the male teenage audience in key markets.   (The ethnic mix of the cast doesn't hurt, too.)

Anyhow, parts of FF7 reminded me a lot of Mission Impossible, except that their stunts really are, well, impossible.

I don't find the movies offensive, but they are very, very silly and really don't deserve to do as well as they do.

Exhibit 2:    My son has read the Maze Runner books, and the first movie was OK in a young adult way, so it was off to see Scorch Trials, the second in the series, last night.

Turns out it's a mish mash of the post apocalyptic and zombie genres: a bit Mad Max, a bit World War Z, making it less interesting than the first movie, which I still don't really understand.  (My son assures me that, although the books are increasingly different from the films, it all makes sense by the end.  I have my doubts.)

Look, it's very well executed in a visual effects sort of way - green screens and computer graphics can create really convincing looking vistas of devastated cities these days; but even some of the physical sets looked great.   (Although, again, perhaps I am being fooled as to how much of what I am seeing of the cavernous interior of a decrepit shopping mall is real.)

There is one particularly odd scene, though, where they seem to stumble upon a still functioning equivalent of Studio 54 (under gay management, for some reason) in the midst of the rubble of a metropolis.  A roughly equivalent scene is apparently in the book - I think it was in the movie so as to let in a drug addled kiss from the lead actor - but it was a bit weird.*

Back to the positive - the action is competently handled. 

But they need to wind this series up soon - I was surprised how much older the actors looked in this film compared to the first, especially the young female lead.

And this morning, while shaving, I suddenly realised - "hey, unless I'm mistaken, those dudes wandering the deserts and dilapidated cities for a week or two never seemed to grown a hint of stubble."   Maybe they are truly mutants.

* Update:  I have only seen a little of the Hunger Games movies (the basic premise has no appeal) - but did Scorch Trials throw in a touch of camp weirdness inspired by them?   Certainly, though, it would seem to be a common thread of these young adult series that it's a case of "The oldies - they're just using us!  We have to fight back!"

Update 2:   Oh look, you can learn about the digital rendering of the post apocalypse in this video.  It's pretty incredible how actors now just have to imagine what they are looking at in movies like this:

Update 3:   my son complains that I sound too critical of Scorch Trials.  Let me be clear:  I officially declare it "o-kaaay", provided you say that with the correct inflection that indicates you have reservations...

Some American gun history

Slavery, the Second Amendment, and the Origins of Public-Carry Jurisprudence - The Atlantic

From the article:

As early as 1840, antebellum historian Richard Hildreth observed that
violence was frequently employed in the South both to subordinate slaves
and to intimidate abolitionists. In the South, violence also was an
approved way to avenge perceived insults to manhood and personal status.
According to Hildreth, duels “appear but once an age” in the North, but
“are of frequent and almost daily occurrence at the [S]outh.” Southern
men thus carried weapons both “as a protection against the slaves” and
also to be prepared for “quarrels between freemen.” Two of the most
feared public-carry weapons in pre-Civil War America, the “Arkansas
toothpick” and “Bowie knife,” were forged from this Southern heritage.

The slave South’s enthusiasm for public carry influenced its legal
culture. During the antebellum years, many viewed carrying a concealed
weapon as dastardly and dishonorable—a striking contrast with the values
of the modern gun-rights movement. In an 1850 opinion, the Louisiana
Supreme Court explained that carrying a concealed weapon gave men
“secret advantages” and led to “unmanly assassinations,” while open
carry “place[d] men upon an equality” and “incite[d] men to a manly and
noble defence of themselves.” Some Southern legislatures, accordingly,
passed laws permitting open carry but punishing concealment.  ...

In the North, publicly carrying concealable weapons was much less
popular than in the South. In 1845, New York jurist William Jay
contrasted “those portions of our country where it is supposed essential
to personal safety to go armed with pistols and bowie-knives” with the
“north and east, where we are unprovided with such facilities for taking
life.” Indeed, public-carry restrictions were embraced across the
region. In 1836, the respected Massachusetts jurist Peter Oxenbridge
Thacher instructed a jury that in Massachusetts “no person may go armed
with a dirk, dagger, sword, pistol, or other offensive and dangerous
weapon, without reasonable cause to apprehend an assault or violence to
his person, family, or property.” Judge Thacher’s charge was celebrated
in the contemporary press as “sensible,” “practical,” and “sage.”
Massachusetts was not unusual in broadly restricting public carry.
Wisconsin, Maine, Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, and
Pennsylvania passed laws modeled on the public-carry restriction in

Games they play

UK global warming policy foundation (GWPF) not interested in my slanted questions

There's been some silliness going on about a "review" of the temperature record that the "no, no, we're the reasonable climate skeptic" group GWPF  announced earlier this year.  Read VV's account, and follow some of his links, to know more...

Education can help motivated reasoning

As several articles over the last few years have explained:
It should be no surprise that the voters and politicians opposed to climate change tend to be of a conservative bent, keen to support free-market ideology. This is part of a phenomenon known as motivated reasoning, where instead of evidence being evaluated critically, it is deliberately interpreted in such a way as to reaffirm a pre-existing belief, demanding impossibly stringent examination of unwelcome evidence while accepting uncritically even the flimsiest information that suits one's needs.
And today I'm reading about some New Hampshire survey results which show that a good education can help with successful self delusion.  It's from a post at And Then There's Physics, where the following table appears:

Yep, if you're a Republican, a better education can actually make you less likely to believe in AGW.

And here is the explanation from the post:
After politics, education is the second-strongest predictor of views on climate. But politics can neutralize or even reverse the effects of education. College-educated respondents more actively assimilate information in accord with their prejudices, whether these prejudices incline them toward scientific or ideological sources. Figure 3 depicts the probability of a now/human response as a function of education and politics (details here). The pattern is reproduced with remarkable consistency across 34 surveys. Among Democrats and Independents, agreement with the scientific consensus rises with education. Among Republicans, agreement with the scientific consensus does not rise with education, and sometimes even falls. This fall becomes steeper if we separate Tea Party supporters into their own group.
 The "motivated reasoning" blog par excellence in Australia is, of course, one beginning with the letter "C"....

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Krugman's not impressed

And Then There Were None - The New York Times
He wrties:
I do want to weigh infor a minute on Donald Trump’s tax plan — which would, surprise, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit. That’s in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.
At this point there are no Republican candidates deviating at all from the usual pattern.
Why, it’s almost as if nobody in the party ever cared about deficits except as an excuse to slash social spending, and is totally committed to redistributing income upward.
And there is, of course, no evidence — zero, nada, zilch — that cutting taxes on the rich will yield large economic benefits.
What we’re seeing here is a party completely incapable of reforming

The Possibilist Transactional Interpretation

Quantum Physics And The Need For A New Paradigm : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

Well, I think I've mentioned the transactional interpretation of quantum physics before, but maybe not the Possibilist TI idea?   I would have to check...

Sounds a good theory for ensuring even more quasi mystical explanations of the universe than ordinary quantum physics did in the 1970's and 80's.

Update:   my post about the tranactional interpretation was in 2009, and the paper referenced does seem to start talking about the "possibilist" bit towards the end.    (Hey, I think I'm doing reasonably well to remember the transactional interpretation at all, given that it seems to get little publicity.)

Please indulge me - it's for society's own good

The battle against inequality will continue until we change our attitudes towards parenting

I don't want to go all Mark Latham on her or anything, but  it is irritating to read this navel-gazing, oh-child-birth-and-baby-rearing-are,-like,-the-hardest-thing-ever,  and all government policy must be geared to allow women like me to get back into the workforce the minute they want to, attitude of Jessica Irvine.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Public transport win

Exclusive figures show Gold Coast light rail’s first year a success | Gold Coast Bulletin

I haven't taken a drive down to the Gold Coast since the light rail opened, so I was curious if it was working as planned.

As the report linked above says, the first year's figures show it has well exceeded predicted usage.

Good to see that something failed Prime Minister Abbott (that has such a satisfying ring to it) didn't have time for (public transport) can work. 

Libertarians and gullibility

So, Sinclair Davidson can still feel it in his bones, or something, that the Bureau of Meteorology uses a "flawed" method for how it makes adjustments for the temperature record.  

I've dealt with the matter of the intense gullibility of anyone swayed by Jennifer Marohasy or "Jonova" before - no need to repeat it.  

But it seems a good time to note out that, no matter what (some) Catholics may believe about a flying, miracle performing monk, the last couple of Popes have at least accepted scientific advice and been promoting government action to address global warming, making them far less of a danger to the future of the planet and humanity than libertarians.

Some gullibility doesn't really matter all that much - other gullibility does.  

Bilocation and gullibility

Last week, after I mentioned quantum teleporting, I was reminded that it was the feast day for the recently canonised Padre Pio, and one of the things claimed about him during his life was his ability to bilocate.  Some further reading was called for.

I've never paid much attention to the Padre Pio story.  I had read years and years ago that it was suspected that his stigmata were caused, or at least maintained by, the secret application of carbolic acid, and that many in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the time tried to dampen down what they saw as a dangerous cult-ish devotion to him.  That's not a good start for someone on the path to sainthood, yet John Paul II, the Pope who canonised so many saints that even conservative publications were asking whether it was too many, had met him (in 1948) and was happy to add him to the list in 2002.

There are, of course, many websites that discuss Padre Pio, most of them pious Catholic ones that simply repeat the litany of the claimed miracles.  He was what one might call a paranormal star, with the alleged ability to read minds, emit a flowery odor of sanctity (one of the easiest saintly things to fake, of course), but also there are many claims of  miraculous cures up to and including raising the dead (!).   But when it comes to stretching the limits of credibility, even the revival of the (apparently) dead and the bilocation stories are small change.  (And none of them, incidentally, appear particularly convincingly evidenced beyond anecdote.)   The "best" story about Pio by far is that he could not only levitate, but actually flew into the sky above his monastery and diverted Allied bombers in World War 2.  This weird story is discussed in detail at Beachcomber's blog here.  [Ok, maybe it was more a case of his bilocated image only appearing above his monastery, not his body.  But still....]

As for more skeptical short takes on Padre Pio, the best I have read so far is the one by Alexander Stille called The strange victory of Padre Pio.   It's a review of a book, actually, and it puts some particularly interesting political and social context to the rise of the saint (ha, a bit of a pun there...)

This passage, about a fraudster who attached himself to the local star is particularly odd:
 “A dozen years after the stigmata first appeared on the Capuchin friar’s body his cult looked ready to burn out,” Luzzatto writes. “But there was something that Padre Pio’s enemies had not taken into account.” That something or someone was Emanuele Brunatto, whom Luzzatto describes as “a con man of great talent, infinite imagination, and world-class enterprise…a chronic liar, a ruthless extortionist, and an incorrigible double-dealer.”

Brunatto, who had been convicted of fraud, had found his way to San Giovanni Rotondo in the early 1920s and attached himself to Padre Pio—perhaps to escape from the law, perhaps out of genuine religious devotion, perhaps because of his remarkable instinct for opportunity, and perhaps through some combination of the three. Brunatto wrote one of the first biographies of the future saint (which the Church promptly banned) and skimmed money from the flow of cash arriving from around the world to Padre Pio, according to one Church report. When Padre Pio found himself reduced almost to a condition of house arrest, Brunatto fought back with the methods he had acquired in his earlier life. He assembled a dossier of the alleged misdeeds and sexual misconduct of the Puglese clergy and, at a high-level meeting at the Vatican, threatened to publish it as a book. Not long after, the Church decided to lighten most of the restrictions on Padre Pio’s ministry.

In the early 1930s, this imaginative man cooked up an investment scheme for the followers of Padre Pio, putting himself at the head of a company that would sell locomotive patents. With Padre Pio’s backing, Brunatto raised millions of dollars, set himself up in Paris, and traveled the continent living grandly and supposedly selling patents to the governments of Europe. The one attempt to build a locomotive based on one of the patents proved a fiasco, but Brunatto succeeded in keeping the scheme going for several years while insisting that the company was inches away from a major bonanza.

Padre Pio does not appear to have profited from the scheme. The investors, of course, lost all their money and Brunatto moved on to other dangerous games, among them spying for the Fascist police. During World War II, Brunatto made a fortune as a black marketer and collaborationist, selling rationed foodstuffs and keeping the German army supplied with French wines and champagne. With extraordinary foresight, he placed a portion of his stratospheric profits into a charitable fund to help Padre Pio build a hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo. Certainly, this charitable act proved helpful when Brunatto sought (and managed) to avoid a lengthy prison sentence for collaboration with the Nazis.
It is an incredible story, but not quite in the way the hierarchy of the Church now wants to promote.

Another review of the same book is here, extracting a few more details, including that the very lifelike face of the deceased saint (who Pope Francis will have displayed at Saint Peter's Basilica next year) is a silicon mask made by a London wax museum.  (Not that this is a big secret, exactly:  I see it mentioned on several Catholic sites and in the media reports about when the body first went on display.  But I wonder how clearly this is specified at his tomb, which one site says is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world.)

Of course, while it may be accurate to say his canonization does not necessarily mean the Church believes all of  the very folkloric stories of his living miracles (the couple of post mortem medical recoveries relied on  are detailed here), it's worrying evidence for the gullible mindset of some adherents to the Faith that this Saint carries so much "baggage", so to speak.

But Googling around, I found some even stranger bilocation discussion, this time from a book with the intriguing title of The Quantum Vision of Simon Kimbangu.  (Just Google it and bilocation to find the pages I am referring to below.)   Kimbangu was a controversial Congolese  religious figure of the same vintage as Padre Pio (first half of the 20th century),  who apparently still has a church named after him.

As for the book, it makes some unverified claims (including a repeat of the airborne Pio story):

 The amusing thing is, the story of the appearance of Kimbangu to Ekutu Camile is described on the previous page in the book, but the bilocated visitor claiming to be Kimbangu was a white European (not black, as the "original" Kimbangu most certainly was.)  No problem-o:

When it comes to bilocation, anything seems possible.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dubious about hyperloops

How two L.A. start-ups are racing to develop transportation more amazing than self-driving cars - LA Times

Well, it's interesting to read about two different groups now investigating hyperloop transport ideas, but I remain skeptical about them for a few main reasons:

a.   as passenger transport, it looks like it could readily induce claustrophobia in anyone even vaguely susceptible to it;

b.  why would you build one in such a major earthquake zone such as California?  Seems to me to be rather like inviting trouble in exactly the same way that common sense would have suggested that building many nuclear power plants in Japan may not be the best idea;

c.  even if it works out cheaper than road or rail transport for goods, how many years will it take to recover its high capital costs if you are relying on goods transport as a key source of profit?

Still, I'm not opposed to people working on it.  I wonder if it might work out better as a transport feeder system on a smaller scale than that originally proposed.  

Andrew's love letter

Andrew Bolt is getting much ridicule on twitter for his embarrassing love letter to Tony Abbott which takes the approach that he was too good a man to be Prime Minister:

This is a rather strange take on the matter of a politician who admitted lying to journalists and specifically warned them never to trust anything he said off the cuff.  Also odd when you consider that Abbott dumped his promise to fix up the Racial Discrimination Act so that something like the action against Bolt couldn't happen again.

Perhaps Andrew is suffering from the same sort of syndrome that stops abused spouses from leaving their partner?

Update:   Steve Kates, the nutty economist, joins in the mourning: 
 The media and the left are among the people least capable of seeing goodness in others. And it’s not as if these qualities were invisible even to those of us who were not among his friends. If you are part of the anti-Abbott collective of this country, you are part of the problem and in no way part of the kind of humane solutions Tony Abbott tried to bring to political decision making in this country. We are all the worse for his departure. There are some who do not know this because they are so shrivelled inside that they incapable of knowing this. But there are some, thankfully, who understood what a great Prime Minister we had and know exactly what we have lost.
On the "That's ludicrous!" scale of 1 to 10, that opening sentence scores a 12.   It seems to come from a man who never reads the threads at the blog he posts at. 

Silly but funny

Conan O'Brien has always done silly comedy very well, and this is a great example:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spring garden scenes, 2015

I usually post garden flower photos in Spring each year, and here are a selection from this morning:

And OK, this may not be from the garden, but it's the pup doing her Ewok impersonation that makes my daughter squeal about cuteness:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Just getting it ready in case he disappoints

Malcolm, whatever you do, don't be that man.....OK?

Big smoke in Singapore

Singapore closes schools and slams Indonesia over its hazardous-level smoke haze response - ABC News 

Singapore, as well as neighbouring Malaysia, has been cloaked in
smoke blown-in from tinder-dry Sumatra island for about three weeks —
the worst such episode since mid-2013 in a crisis that grips the region
annually during the burning-off season.

The closure of primary and
secondary schools, as well as government-run kindergartens, is
unprecedented, the Straits Times said as the air quality index hovered
above 300.
Makes one feel a bit pessimistic about CO2 reduction when parts of the world can't even their act together over visible pollution.

Not much love for Peta or Tone

When both Barry Cassidy and Janet Albrechtsen agree that Peta Credlin was a massive failure as a PM's  Chief of Staff, I don't think any reasonable person can think otherwise.

Janet's not even showing much love for Abbott in this paragraph:
To be sure, history will record Abbott as the master of his own tragic demise. As prime minister, he bears the responsibility for failures over the first budget, the poor sales pitch, the broken promises, the failure to court independents in the Senate, the search for excuses rather than for a way forward, the belated dumping of the Medicare co-payment and the paid parental leave scheme, the crazy knighthood, and the wrongheaded reaction to Bronwyn Bishop’s greedy use of taxpayer money. And more.
Is she still Michael Kroger's partner?   I don't recall what he used to think of Abbott.

Honestly, apart from the likes of the nutty Steve Kates, and frustrated commentators who have lost their perceived control of the party (Bolt, Jones, Hadley), the amount of sympathy being shown for Abbott is remarkably small.   This must feel pretty humiliating.  (And no, I am not inviting sympathy even for that.) 

Friday, September 25, 2015

First World tragedy played out for all to see

Why I'm ditching my Android phone and going back to iPhone (for now)
To my friends who said I was making a mistake by switching to Android —
Nick, Cory, Brent, James, Chris, Jordan, and just about every single
other friend I have, all of whom seem to have iPhones — I'm sorry. You
were right. I hate being known as "green text message guy"; I want to be
blue iMessage man. Can we still be friends?

I feel like smacking him across the face with my Samsung TabS for being so annoyingly First World, Apple Fanboy, whiny.  Except it might hurt my tablet.

That's all it takes?

Stampede caused by breakdown in pilgrims’ flow |
“As we were walking towards Al Jamarat, the flow suddenly stopped with
an apparent reason,” Mohammad, a pilgrim, told Sabq. “A few minutes
later, a large group of people came from the back and pushed us, causing
the stampede. Women started to cry and several old people fell on the
ground. Only the intervention of the security and medical authorities
saved us from a bigger tragedy,” said Mohammad who was still being
treated for his injuries.
Um, I don't get why a "stop in the flow" is enough to cause a "stampede".   The ones who push from behind may cause some concern among those who cannot move forward, but why do they keep pushing if it's achieving nothing?   I think there must be some strange laws of crowd behaviour I don't understand here.

Update:  this explanation at the ABC suggests it might be more of a case of a "crowd crush" than a "stampede".  Which would make a bit more sense.   Still, it seems a bit odd to me that crowds, when not worried about escaping from a danger, simply can't stop when it's obvious no one is moving...

Update 2:  some more detailed discussion of how crowd crushes happen is at Wired.

PJ is not impressed

P.J. O’Rourke on why Trump will collapse, Ann Coulter’s a fraud, and how National Lampoon created modern comedy -

I think it fair to say that, as a sort of libertarian-lite, PJ O"Rourke has been unhappy with the fuddy-duddy, old man establishment Republicans for a long time; but it appears he thinks even less of the current state of the party, as reflected in its Presidential candidates.  Fair enough.

Retirement home for sweary oldies

We all know that when cranky middle-aged to old white men* (many of them single, unsurprisingly) get too sweary and over the top for Andrew Bolt's threads they go on to find a home at Catallaxy; and if it's one thing that irks them, it's all this blather about domestic violence and women.   Here's the obvious solution to the problem:

Because domestic violence never happened before the 1970's, I guess. (My late Mum, who was nearly strangled by her first husband, might have had something to say about that.)

Turnbull and risk

I see from his twitter feed that PM Turnbull caught a Sydney ferry to work this morning.  He also said the other day that his Federal Police minders are OK with his continuing to take public transport.

Viewed from a distance, it's fantastic egalitarian PR for a wealthy Prime Minister to be seen to be using public transport, but I'm not entirely sure that I would be happy to be on a bus when he and his security detail gets on board.   I would feel a bit concerned that I've just become a potential collateral target.

But it's pretty remarkable that we live in a country where this is not thought of as absolute nuts by our security services, or the media.   Or maybe they do, but Turnbull is pushing on regardless? 

Hot weather coming

This summer's El Nino looks set to bring more heatwaves to Australia's north and east

The article notes that the relationship between El Nino and heat waves is a bit complicated, but for Western Queensland, already in serious drought (in fact, my impression is that after the 2011/12 floods the rain just stopped like a tap turned off,) this looks like it could be a very bad summer.

About Pope Francis

I expected his spoken English to be better.

That is all.

Yet another "renewables and batteries are looking good" story

From Science, a report about a Harvard team that has come up with a cheaper, safer, set of chemicals to use in a "flow battery" which could have domestic application for storing roof top solar power.   The big question - whether it will end up cheaper to run than Tesla's lithium home storage - is not answered, and it sounds like the system could take up more space, but still:
The Harvard team realized that a possible bromine replacement was a charge-carrying molecule called ferrocyanide, which sounds dangerous but is actually used as a food additive. Ferrocyanide, however, dissolves in alkaline solutions, not acidic ones. So Aziz and his colleagues tweaked the chemical structure of their quinone—ripping off a couple of sulfur groups and replacing them with pairs of hydrogen and oxygen atoms—in the end converting the compound into one that readily dissolves in an alkaline solution.

The scheme worked, and as the researchers report today in Science, the battery readily stores power with only components that are cheap, abundant, and nontoxic.

For now, Aziz notes the alkaline quinone battery stores only about two-thirds of the energy per volume as the previous acid-based version. But because it doesn’t require expensive materials to deal with bromine, it’s likely to be far cheaper to produce and friendlier to use. “This is chemistry I’d be happy to put in my basement,” Aziz says. And that may not be far off. A flow battery using the new quinones and ferrocyanide would likely only have to be the size of a couple of hot water tanks to store the energy produced by a conventional home rooftop solar array.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I knew there were moonquakes, and that they had left seismographs there during the Apollo missions.   But I didn't know some of the details in this neat article:
The first thing to know about moonquakes is this: They last forever. While most earthquakes are over in under a minute, moonquakes can last for an afternoon. In the 1970s, at least one 5.5-magnitude moonquake shook the lunar surface at full force for more than 10 minutes straight, then tapered off gradually over the course of several hours.
“The moon was ringing like a bell,” Clive Neal, a geological sciences professor at Notre Dame, told NASA about the Apollo-era lunar seismic data he and his colleagues examined. A strong moonquake would be enough to devastate a hypothetical human settlement—breaching a moon base’s seal and causing a catastrophic loss of oxygen—which is part of why scientists became interested in studying the phenomenon in the first place.

You don't have to be nutty about Obama - just completely hyperbolic is fine

The National Review's Kevin Williamson suggests that some conservatives may be going over the top in their complaints about this Pope, but look at how he talks about Obama (my emphasis):
Joe Scarborough has been castigated by conservatives for affirming his belief that President Obama, for all his flaws, is a man who loves his country. Barack Obama is a failed president, a practitioner of a deeply destructive, distorted, self-interested, and vanity-driven brand of politics, and every instinct he exhibits tends toward detriment, privation, and chaos. But the fever-swamp version of his presidency — that he is a foreigner, a closet Islamist, a man singularly bent upon the destruction of the United States of America — is wrong. President Obama is himself certainly no exemplar of treating political disagreements with charity of spirit — he is quite the opposite — but his failings need not be our failings.
As my post heading suggests - the Right in America has been completely hyperbolic and over the top in its assessment of Obama over his presidency, and now they have the hide to complain about those who have followed the hyperbole into crazy land, and support Trump.

They only have themselves to blame...

Peta considered

There are two detailed commentary pieces by female journalists out today about Peta Credlin.

The first, by Michelle Grattan, seems to me to be by far the best.   It's a straight forward dismissal of  Credlin's self serving claim that her power wielding in the PM's office was only a problem for others because she was a woman.   No, says Michelle, the way in which she alienated MPs would have caused exactly the same resentment regardless of her gender, and she has to take a substantial part of the blame for her boss losing his job.

Over at The Guardian, Katherine Murphy takes a more feminist analysis, waffling on somewhat about power as wielded by women.  Some of the paragraphs are a bit over the top:
The tall willowy woman was always conspicuous, wagging a disapproving finger, growling like a combatant in the advisers’ box, standing a full head higher than the men.
That disconcerting height, always looming, regally. Shoulders back. Vaguely horsey, absurdly healthy, meticulous, glamorous, glowing – millinery and heels. No stooping. Certainly no shirking.
As someone says in the comment thread:
Thank you, Mills And Boon.
And many others in the thread note that this strangely sympathetic (for a Guardian writer) take on a right wing warrior overlooks the fact that she was working for Abbott when he was making some distinctly sexist comments about Gillard.  (Of course, it might be that she didn't like all of her boss's quips, but the way she would get involved in making derogatory comments at Labor while sitting in an advisers box in Parliament makes me think otherwise.)

I think the fair assessment is just that she was, like her boss, an opportunistic political warrior who still doesn't understand her own inadequacies.

Renewables and the grid

Energy: Reimagine fuel cells : Nature News & Comment

Here's a good, detailed explanation of the different approaches to maintaining grid stability when you have large amounts of power coming from intermittent renewable sources, such as solar cells. Of the three solutions: gas turbines, batteries and fuel cells, the writer argues the potential for a new type of fuel cell.

My impression, once again, is that the overall mood is one of much greater optimism for renewables than there was a few years ago. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tax reform suggestions

Hmm.  Much intrigue, and quite a bit of unhappiness from industry groups that have spent money on making submissions, in the news this morning that PM Turnbull seems to have scrapped the Tax White paper process.

As the SMH notes, this is not the first time Turnbull has entered the tax debate with big ideas of his own.

Could this be a sign of Turnbull "I know best" hubris has re-emerged?  Could it herald a breath of reasonable fresh air around tax?   I like Turnbull, but I suspect it may play out as more the former than the latter.

Anyway, I think I once posted what I thought was some pretty obvious ways to raise more tax which ought to be sell-able to the Australian public:

1.  a modest increase in the GST rate to 12.5%.   This is low enough to not really be noticed, but I'm pretty sure it still raises quite a lot.  As for its expansion - I would be inclined to leave it off fresh food, but wonder whether a reduced rate could be added to education services - say 5%?  OK, that would be a hard sell to Liberal constituents, but it might be something Labor could live with;

2.  superannuation tax concessions at the high end wound back harder;

3.  a staged reduction in negative gearing.  Not too staged.  And didn't I suggest once that it be time limited, to like for the first 5 years?   Increased turnaround in investment property sales would be good for stamp duty revenue too, as well as placing properties back on the market for potential owner/occupiers.   Someone needs to point out to me the downside, as there almost certainly would be one.  

Of course, we should have a carbon tax of some description too, but I don't think even Turnbull is up for that.

Update:    How quickly I forget.  Didn't I also once suggest the obvious solution to our revenue problems - a 300% GST on tattoos and piercings?   The budget will be fixed in no time at all....

The complicated evolution of American public housing

Public Housing Can Work - The Atlantic

Here's an article that handily summarises the history of public housing in the US.  (Makes me feel rather old to read about Lyndon B Johnson promoting public housing in 1937.  I recall - vaguely - his coming to Brisbane in 1966.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A watery apocalypse for Tokyo?

I didn't even realise, until I saw a special (and fascinating) report on Catalyst last year that parts of Tokyo were at high risk of flooding, and huge engineering projects underground have been built to protect the city.

Well, the recent floods just north of the city have led to some dire warnings about how much worse things will be when the same amount of rainfall hits closer to the metropolis.  It sounds very serious indeed:
With the effects of global warming becoming increasingly obvious, the climatic conditions that triggered torrential rain in Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures two weeks ago is no longer a rarity, and the odds are “100 percent” that similar downpours will hit Tokyo, says Nobuyuki Tsuchiya, a civil engineering expert and author of the 2014 book “Shuto Suibotsu” (“The Capital Submerged”)....

“It so happened that the rain zone moved (northeast) after striking Tokyo and stayed over the Kinugawa River. But think what a disaster it may have been if the band of rain had moved about 50 km westward and struck the Tone and Arakawa rivers instead....

The rupture of the Tone and Arakawa rivers would cause “far more severe devastation” than that of the Kinugawa deluge, he said.

With the Arakawa, for example, boasting one of the densest populations in its surrounding areas of any river in Japan, extensive flooding would lead to unprecedented fatalities and an economic catastrophe that would send shock waves around the world, Tsuchiya said.
Well, this guy has a book to sell, but it is  not as if he is alone:
Indeed, a 2010 government report released by a panel of outside disaster-prevention experts calculated several possible death tolls in the event that the Tone and Arakawa rivers rupture. The deadliest scenario was if the Tone River broke its banks near the cities of Koga and Bando in western Ibaraki, in which case the death toll could rise to as many as 6,300, the report said.
Tsuchiya said, however, that Tokyo should brace for an even more apocalyptic scenario, noting the amount of rain that entered the Kinugawa River was far larger than that anticipated by the report.
“If Tokyo is struck by the same level of downpours that hit the Kinugawa, I’d say the damage would be far more disastrous.”
It therefore seems that if an earthquake doesn't kill thousands there in the coming years, floods probably will....

A "doctor caused epidemic"

It's always interesting to look at how and why particular drug abuse problems start, and the resurgence of heroin in midwest America gets this explanation in The Economist:
The heroin epidemic in the Midwest is closely linked to the rampant opiate epidemic. As doctors prescribed opioid painkillers such as OxyContin more and more liberally, their abuse grew. Sales of prescription opioid painkillers have increased 300% since 1999, according to the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even though the amount of pain Americans report to their physicians has not changed.

 Three-quarters of heroin addicts used to take prescription drugs and switched to heroin, which is cheaper and more easily available on the black market. A gram of pure heroin costs less than half what it did in the 1980s, in real terms. “This is a doctor-caused epidemic,” says Tom Frieden, boss of the CDC. In states with higher prescription rate of opioid painkillers, such as Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, the number of heroin addicts is higher too.

In depressed areas in the Rust Belt, where poverty and unemployment rates shot up as factories shut down and jobs disappeared, the drug epidemic is ravaging once-idyllic communities. Indiana had a brutal wake-up call earlier this year when Austin, a small rural community just off the interstate between Indianapolis and Louisville, was the epicentre of the largest outbreak of HIV infections ever seen in the state. Nearly 200 people were infected in a population of just 4,200 because addicts injecting Opana, a prescription painkiller that delivers a potent high, shared needles, which is the fastest way for an infection to spread. “We have never documented anything like it,” says Mr Frieden.

The importance of Chinese box office, again

China Box Office: Tom Cruise's 'Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation' Crosses $100M - Forbes

That's in 10 days of release.  In America, it is approaching $200 million but slowing down.

An earlier prediction I posted said some think it might reach $250 million in China.

One might say that it pays to panda to the Chinese market.  (Ha.)

About time

Doctor Who exterminated by X Factor in 10-year low for season opener | Media | The Guardian

I had been wondering whether the now completely unwatchable Dr Who would be suffering in the ratings, and it appears it certainly is.    As I have been saying for at least a couple of years now, it needs to be rested for a decade or so, and then revived (if at all) under a completely new team. 

And the Guardian can stop being Dr Who Nerd Central, too.

A different type of Troll

For those who are using the Australian streaming service Stan,  can I suggest you watch the 2011 Norwegian film Trollhunter.

It's not that it's what I would exactly call a great movie - it's just that it's an eccentric idea for a "found footage" mockumentary that is very well executed and enjoyable.  And you get to see lots of Norway, which looks wet, cold, pretty empty, and (for the most part) pretty spectacular.  I want to go there.

(It also shows how monster special effects look so much better when incorporated into a real background, rather than the Lord of the Rings/later Star Wars problem of the entire landscape looking digitally fake.)

Just being practical, I guess...

Czech pub installs vomitorium for patrons | barfblog

Here's the photo that seems to prove it:

Yet more renewables optimism

The recent (and relatively abrupt) rise in optimism about renewable energy being able to pretty quickly make a big difference to CO2 production continues with stories like these.

I think I had seen some mention of this before, but strangely enough, Texas is leading America in the production of wind power.   This story last week at Slate noted that its peculiar electricity marketing system means that wind farm owners at times offer their electricity at "negative prices", but an article from earlier this year talks more generally about the Texan story:
In 2014, wind generated 10.6 percent of Texas electricity, up from 9.9 percent the previous year and 6.2 percent in 2009, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration. Wind energy generation that falls under the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the grid for 24 million Texans, nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014. Currently, Texas has more than 12 gigawatts of wind power capacity installed across the state — equivalent to six Hoover Dams. That figure could jump to 20 gigawatts in a few years with upgrades to the current transmission system, according to Ross Baldick, an engineering professor at University of Texas at Austin.
And the explanation:
So how has the Lone Star state done it? Strong government incentives, sizeable investments in infrastructure, and innovative policies have played an important role. So has the backing of governors of all political persuasions, from liberal Democrat Ann Richards to conservative Republican Rick Perry. But at heart the profit motive has driven the state’s wind energy boom, with ranchers and landowners seeing gold in the spinning turbines on the Texas plains.
I wonder why Texas isn't also the centre of infrasound complaint, then?  I think David Leyonhjelm should be sent over there on a 3 year mission to find out.

In other optimistic assessments about how much you can achieve (and how quickly), I spotted this story Greening the Electric Grid with Gas about a study out of Harvard:
Much of the nation's energy policy is premised on the assumption that clean renewable sources like wind and solar will require huge quantities of storage before they can make a significant dent in the greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. A new Harvard study pokes holes in that conventional wisdom. The analysis published today in the journal Energy & Environmental Science finds that the supply of wind and solar power could be increased tenfold without additional storage....

"We're trying to knock out a salient policy meme that says that you can't grow variable renewables without a proportionate increase in storage," Keith said. "We could cut electric-sector carbon emissions to less than a third their current levels using variable renewables with natural gas to manage the intermittency, but this will requires us to keep growing the transmission infrastructure." Keith added, "There is a saw-off between transmission and storage, if siting battles stop new transmission then we must increase storage."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Story prompt that probably isn't original

I occasionally look at Reddit and see "story prompt" postings.  Given last week's story of a physics experiment that will attempt to put a microbe in "two places at once" in a quantum experiment, I thought of my own, but I wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't already been the subject of at least a short story.  Here goes:
Future teleporting won't be about destroying one version of yourself and recreating it elsewhere (as used to be speculated in Star Trek) - it will be about quantum splitting of yourself into two places, with one of you branching off into the (very similar) multiverse, never to be met again.   Quantum computers will make this cheap and simple - so much so that nearly everyone in a country with a modern economy will teleport daily to get to work, the shops, etc.   It'll replace public transport, cars, airlines, etc.  The biggest problem will be limiting the numbers wanting to get to popular destinations.   You just have a home portal, and all major buildings will have there's at the entrance.

One day, however, the Google controlled Universal Teleporting System breaks down (possibly via interference from another universe.)   The quantum duplicates and the original stay in the same universe, every time a person teleports.   Given that (say) a quarter of the world's population teleports at least once daily (many several times a day), within the space of a few hours, the world's population has doubled, with some people finding multiple copies of themselves turning up at their front door, not expecting to find themselves already home.

How does the world deal with this? 
Update:   here's a thread that talks about how "teleportation ethics" has been raised in both Star Trek and other science fiction stories and novels.  But it's based on the problem being that the original person being destroyed or disassembled in the process of being re-constituted somewhere else.  

My prompt isn't worried about that - as the explanation for teleporting will be that the other "you" has gone on to live in another universe - one nearly identical to your own, and the universe if quantum branching all the time anyway, so what's the harm in that?

Monday Wormholes

I've been forgetting to browse the arXiv abstracts for odd physics lately, but here are a few recent ones that have caught my attention:

1.  Can extra dimensional effects allow wormholes without exotic matter?
We explore the existence of Lorentzian wormholes in the context of an effective on-brane, scalar-tensor theory of gravity. In such theories, the timelike convergence condition, which is always violated for wormholes, has contributions, via the field equations,from on-brane matter as well as from an effective geometric stress energy generated by a bulk-induced radion field. It is shown that, for a class of wormholes, the required on-brane matter, as seen by an on-brane observer in the Jordan frame, is not exotic and does not violate the Weak Energy Condition. The presence of the effective geometric stress energy in addition to on-brane matter, is largely responsible for creating this intriguing possibility. Thus, if such wormholes are ever found to exist in the Universe, they would clearly provide pointers towards the existence of a warped extra dimension as proposed in the two-brane model of Randall and Sundrum.
2. Possible existence of wormholes in the central regions of halos 
An earlier study [Rahaman et al. (2014) & Kuhfittig (2014)] has demonstrated the possible existence of wormholes in the outer regions of the galactic halo, based on the Navarro-Frenk-White (NFW) density profile. This paper uses the Universal Rotation Curve (URC) dark matter model to obtain analogous results for the central parts of the halo. This result is an important compliment to the earlier result, thereby confirming the possible existence of wormholes in most of the spiral galaxies. 
3. Analytic self-gravitating Skyrmions, cosmological bounces and wormholes 
We present a self-gravitating Skyrmion, an analytic and globally regular solution of the Einstein- Skyrme system in presence of a cosmological constant with winding number w = 1. The static spacetime metric is the direct product R x S3 and the Skyrmion is the self-gravitating generalization of the static hedgehog solution of Manton and Ruback with unit topological charge. This solution can be promoted to a dynamical one in which the spacetime is a cosmology of the Bianchi type-IX with time-dependent scale and squashing coefficients. Remarkably, the Skyrme equations are still identically satisfied for all values of these parameters. Thus, the complete set of field equations for the Einstein-Skyrme-Lambda system in the topological sector reduces to a pair of coupled, autonomous, nonlinear differential equations for the scale factor and a squashing coefficient. These equations admit analytic bouncing cosmological solutions in which the universe contracts to a mini- mum non-vanishing size, and then expands. A non-trivial byproduct of this solution is that a minor modification of the construction gives rise to a family of stationary, regular configurations in General Relativity with negative cosmological constant supported by an SU(2) nonlinear sigma model. These solutions represent traversable wormholes with NUT parameter in which the only "exotic matter" required for their construction is a negative cosmological constant. 
 Thinking about wormholes seems to be very big in theoretic physics at the moment.