My home is a tri-level, and given how it’s oriented in my neighborhood, its multilevel roof faces due north, south, east, and west. After reviewing the rooflines and nearby trees, SolarCity’s engineers concluded that the best roofs to put the panels on were the east and west facing roofs, rather than the south facing roof. After watching how the solar panels generate electricity for several months now, I’ve noticed something interesting. My panels generate electricity more equally on days with high, hazy, light clouds as compared to days of direct sunlight. I found this fascinating, because it’s essentially the same effect as something scientists have observed with respect to plants.
Imagine for a moment you’re sitting under your favorite tree on a clear, sunny day. You look down at the ground and you see well defined shadows from all the tree’s leaves. Now, imagine you’re sitting under that same tree on a day when there are hazy, light clouds across the sky. When you look down at the ground, you don’t really see individual shadows, but rather it’s somewhat darker under the tree than it is out in the open. Years ago scientists hypothesized that plants might photosynthesize better on hazy days with diffuse light than they do under heavy cloud or even in bright sun, and after a bunch of tests, scientists found that the plants they studied did, in fact, photosynthesize better on hazy days.1, 2Continue reading →
European Space Agency lands a washing machine on a rock 317 million miles away and moving at 83,000 mph. Oh the MATH!
I am in awe of today’s landing of a spacecraft on a comet and spent much of the day jumping up and down and emailing friends.
None of them understood my excitement, even when I explained it’s all about the math involved. So I tried this, “Hey, guys, it’s like you had to make a THOUSAND-foot putt going up and over a mountain, across a green full of bumps and undulations, on a windy day during an earthquake, and the ball fell into the cup with its final rotation.”
They sort of got that, but my example wasn’t very accurate, because what the European Space Agency did was in fact much harder. The comet is tiny, about 2.5 miles in diameter or about the size of midtown Manhattan. It’s 310 million miles away and is moving through space at 80,000 mph. The spacecraft is even tinier, about the size of a washing machine and had to travel 6.4 billion miles in ten years to reach the comet. Continue reading →
Android users: your phone is under attack. You know that Swype keyboard that’s so much nicer than clicking on each letter? That’s a surveillance device that logs every word you input. Switch to Google Keyboard right now. Swype Keyboard Free lists the following Permission Details: approximate (network based) location, precise (GPS) location, read your text messages, read call log, record audio, read terms you added to the dictionary. Google Keyboard contains none of that. Why does a keyboard app need GPS coordinates? Continue reading →
What Joe David Bellamy calls “super fiction” may well have led us to the superfluous…
Literary Luxuries by Joe David Bellamy (image courtesy University of Missouri Press)
(For previous essays in this series, look here, here and here.)
After a week away, we return to Joe David Bellamy’s Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millennium. This will likely be the most interesting – and perhaps controversial – essay in this series because of Bellamy’s subject matter. The section of the book from which the Bellamy pieces to be discussed is called “Literary Meteorology,” and the subject matter is part and parcel of the argument that raged throughout the 20th century not just in literary circles but in other areas of what used to be known as “high art” – visual art and “serious” music: how far can artists (of all types) go in terms of experimentation with style and subject matter before they “lose” their audiences and end up “creating” only for themselves – and some precious few critics who value difficulty in ascertaining meaning as the highest hallmark of artistic achievement.
There are three essays in this section of Literary Luxuries, the first two of which deserve the most attention. Continue reading →
Let me tell you about middle school science projects. When I was a kid in a small town in Tennessee back in the long ago, science wasn’t held in the same reverence it is in 2014. Our projects were constrained by our parents and church, so things like evolution, dinosaurs, and any place outside of the Confederacy being the center of the universe were not considered proper discussion topics, and had no place being pinned to a sheet of white poster board and presented as fact. Times have changed…in some places. Consider the following, which took place just last April.
“I had to do a science project for school,” said my son, Joey. “It’s part of the Common Core.”
“Great,” I said. “So when do we get started on it?”
Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.
Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Continue reading →
After all Facebook has done, there’s only so much a person can take.
And kittehs. Can’t forget about the kittehs.
By now, anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of Facebook’s general user-unfriendly shenanigans, with the possible exception of Facebook’s support for net neutrality, to say nothing of all the minor aggravations users put up with on a daily basis…continually refreshing advertisements, live video popping up in the news feed, a news feed that doesn’t show you everything you mean to see, a newsfeed that occasionally reverts to Top Stories in spite of your every wish and command. Oh, but hey, there’s kittehs!
What kind of user-unfriendly shenanigans, one might wonder?
Amanda Marcotte had me right until the end of her article. As a writer who occasionally *ahem* goes a bit off the rails, I think I’m qualified to notice when another does the same. She had such a compelling case, then derailed it by essentially lambasting all conservatives on the anti-science front and establishing a pattern on the left predicated on two examples. That was just silly.
Even though these arguments get derailed and digressive with various people moving goal posts and refusing to stay on-topic (because they know they will lose the argument if they do), the fact of the matter is that the willingness of liberal thought leaders to stay firm about science in the face of panics that are based on deep-rooted but irrational fears about “purity” and “nature” demonstrates a real integrity that the left has that the right is simply missing.
Now, didn’t she just moments ago suggest that when someone moves the goalposts, it’s argument over, GTFO? Why, yes. Yes she did.
Hell yes. In fact, it’s by far the zippiest car I’ve ever owned. Able to go 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, it is more than capable of getting out of its own way merging into traffic, unlike some cars I’ve driven and/or owned in the past.
Having a car that could accelerate into traffic was important for me. At this point there’s so much road construction on my commute every day that I wanted to be able to put my foot down and fit into traffic going at 55+ MPH even when contending with a short merge lane. I had to do that this morning, in fact, since I got stuck behind two big trucks and needed to get out and around them and then up to highway speed quickly. Continue reading →
Wait, what drones? Well, for starters, the ones that Amazon is testing, which have a 50 mile range, and a five pound payload. All so you can get that book faster. Of course, in the US this needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Not only that, it requires that the FAA provide Amazon with an exemption from a bunch of regulations that currently prevent private companies from unmanned vehicle testing. Now, these might strike you as the kind of sensible regulation that you actually might want governments to enforce. The FAA, on the other hand, is currently preparing new rules that will loosen things up a bit, apparently. And if Amazon gets the approvals it wants? Get ready for “Amazon Prime Air.” Although five pounds doesn’t really seem to be a very large payload of books, or coffee, or lawn furniture, or whatever it is that’s so desperately needed from Amazon. Continue reading →
Last year we bemoaned the fact that the BBC, which we do love dearly in spite of its occasional faults, was consistently blowing it on its climate change coverage. This has been, in the past, for reasons of “balance.” It may also have been the direct or indirect result of the political and “scientific” views of David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, reputed to be a climate change “skeptic.” At least this was the theory put forward by Guardian commentator John Ashton. Whatever the case, it was embarrassing, and starting to compromise the BBC’s reputation for scientific coverage.
Hah. It turns out some folks at the BBC Trust seem to feel the same way as we do. And The Telegraph, in a story that Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton obviously enjoyed writing, and that the headline writer had a fun time with as well, provides us with the scoop: “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.” 200 staffers are now going to training on issues where the scientific consensus is settled, and to learn “not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious.” And the BBC trust was not alone. In April, the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee came to a similar conclusion—the BBC’s coverage of climate change science was lamentable. As Jim Meyer over at Grist points out, the British Government has long accepted climate science, and the BBC was out there looking foolish.
So we’re glad to see that the old regime, if that’s actually what it was, will longer be acceptable, at least at the BBC. This has led to more hilarity, of course. Nigel Lawson, who used to routinely make an appearance to challenge climate scientists, is now complaining that the BBC not inviting him around any more to prattle away is censorship, dammit. Really, just shut up, Nigel, you old crank. You’ve still got The Mail.
Thiel is, among other things, a diehard Libertarian. Packer is … not. But the author doesn’t let his decidedly progressive perspective get in the way of telling Thiel’s story and representing the man’s perspective.
Toward the end, in a discussion of Thiel’s belief in the power of technology to free us from the innately limiting drag of politics, something occurred to me. Continue reading →
I know I’m going to get asked why I spent over 30k (before all the crazy tax rebates) on a car that only goes 80 miles. My father especially will ask at some point, and he’s already called it a “toy” car.
He’s not entirely wrong, either. I’m in my 40s now, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun to drive around in a car that can go from 0 to 60 in just a tad over 6 seconds. I’ve never had a car that has this kind of acceleration. Continue reading →
I start out an angry bastard on most days, but that’s just before coffee. After that, I actually lighten up and quite enjoy life and laughter. I’m really not the bitter old curmudgeon I tend to unleash when I write. Even much of my political ranting is spent more tongue-in-cheek and facepalming than actually risking a real aneurysm.
Wool is a smart, interesting take on the dystopian novel. It’s also kind of frustrating in that “wait for the next book to find out” way….
Wool by Hugh Howey (image courtesy Goodreads)
My local library, a vibrant place of reading, thinking and culture in my community, which I support wholeheartedly in spite of reassurances from the likes of the Google boys and Jeff Bezos that such places are no longer necessary, has been having its annual community read during the month of June. This year’s read has been the bestselling dystopian epic Wool by Hugh Howey. (Yep, I’m off the 2014 reading list – and its revision – again, though I keep adding the books that come across my desk to that ever expanding list so that’s not strictly true, I guess.) One of the neat things associated with this community read has been community “read-alouds“; groups have been meeting in different spots across the area to read from the novel and discuss the action. I participated in a read-aloud last evening. The nicest thing about the group was the age range – from middle schoolers to a crusty old writer/professor. We had a great time doing a dramatic reading of the events from one section of this sprawling work. This is wonderful stuff in a rural community like ours and the mix of younger and older readers both sparks hope for the future in this particular reader and, I hope, provides those younger readers with role models and will encourage them to develop a life-long love of reading. Continue reading →
Esquire blog discusses a famous brewer’s secret for staying (relatively) sober. We test it out.
You may have seen Aaron Goldfarb’s recent Esquire blog entitled “How to Drink All Night Without Getting Drunk.” Great headline, and how cool would that be, right? I was skeptical, for obvious reasons, but it turns out that what is proposed is an idea developed by Joseph Owades, who Samuel Adams co-founder Jim Koch calls “the best brewer who ever lived.”
I figured I’d test the method myself, and not just because it would give me an excuse to drink too much.
The food we eat is killing us, but there are simple steps we can take to improve our health.
“Eating is an agricultural act.”—Wendell Berry
I have been depressed by, and disturbed by, the increasingly obvious American reluctance to accept science. That’s a pretty broad generalization, of course, but we all know where it comes from—we see manifestations of this every day, from vaccines, to global warming, to, well, whatever. If there’s a plausible scientific explanation for something, and a completely loony one, you just know that a certain percentage of the population is going to be chomping at the bit to accept the loony one.
How did a nation that constantly refers to itself as The Greatest Nation on Earth™ get populated by a surprisingly large number of dopes? Continue reading →