Saturday, December 18, 2021

History of the Internet - Lessons in Shaking the Cup for Science

 Never mind where the breadcrumbs were scattered, but Eli wandered into a video interview of Peter Kirstein describing how ARPAnet came to Europe. Kirstein, an early pioneer of computer networking, had the gift of being in the right place, knowing it was the right place, convincing key people that he knew, and getting the job done. Good scientists are entrepreneurs. It's a necessary skill and verty hard work..

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Parchuting in again

Have had things to blog about, and then didn't blog them. Oh well - I at least want to add a mention of this renewable energy podcast, The Interchange, for referencing one of my obsessions. They said that it could be internal combustion engine owners rather than EV owners that experience range anxiety rather than EV owners as gas stations become hard to find during the transition to EVs. Unfortunately they only referenced it as something that could kill off ICE engines at the tail end of the transition. I still think the deterioration of ICE support infrastructure could accelerate the transition at an earlier stage. We'll see.

 While I'm here, here's a piece of good news I meant to blog about, "North Carolina’s Democratic governor and its Republican-controlled Legislature have reached a deal on a sweeping energy bill that could dramatically boost renewable electricity in the state." Along with the semi-bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed and had renewable energy and EV components, there may be some slight chance to de-polarize actions that help fight climate change.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

From USENET to Twitter the adventures of Eli Rabett


At best social media are teaching opportunities but they can challenge professional geoscientists and today other scientists because of politically driven online hostility and the naivety of other participants. Few have been able to deal with the environment and even those who have are often walled off by motivated blocking. This has been the case since the early days of USENET. An interesting development has been the emergence of scientifically sophisticated participants who, while not climate scientists as such, have relevant knowledge and experience in scientific research and whose participation in the on line forums provides useful information to lurkers and persuadables as well as not ceding ground to the relentless streams of fake information.

The latter point is vital, trolls seek to control the online space by chasing out others. Eli can talk about his adventures in geoscience based social media since the 1990s. A motivating part of this has been the ability to create a character, Eli Rabett. 

Benefits of being somebunny else

A pseudonym provides the space not to take things (too) personally. A reply that has often serves Eli is to point out that saying nasty stuff about a stuffed bunny is by itself amusing. So yeah, standing here is risky stuff.

Psuedonyms and Social Networking

The fun part of being Eli has been creating the character and giving him a consistent voice, some idiosyncrasies, a few friends and a point of view, which while overlapping with someone he knows well, is not quite identical.

Especially at the start, a pseudonym provides space to establish a reputation and a following. Nobody knows who you are on the internet and especially if you are commenting in a different area than your professional training, claiming expertise, is a sure way to gather abuse. A number of climate bloggers have started with pseudonyms building a network of commenters and friends over time.

The way of the web is that you will almost inevitably be found, but by then you can be better known at least to your readers and followers by your pseudonym. It’s fun trying to figure out if one of your colleagues knows about your other self.

Even better is being introduced to some prominent geoscientist as Eli's other self and watching as they figure out you are Eli.

So who is Eli today? Eli Rabett, is a not quite failed professorial techno-bunny who finally handed in the keys and retired from his wanna be research university. He seeks but a cup of coffee and some help with the expenses of blogging and tweeting, the travel to exotic stuffy rooms with science talks and carfare there unto. 

Maybe also a beer now and again

Monday, September 06, 2021

Unclear on Afghanistan

From an email I had sent:

I've got a lot of conflicting thoughts about Afghanistan. If anyone doesn't have conflicting thoughts about it, then I doubt they're trying to think seriously about it.

Here's one observation though, that in the blame game for what's happened there, I see very few people blaming Afghanistan. I recognize that real-world democracies don't work like they taught us in elementary school, but both the elites and the normal people of a country have to take some responsibility for their country's fate when they have a choice in the matter.

This might sound like "Screw the Afghani people for not fixing their country in 20 years, we're right to leave." I actually disagree with leaving. As a historian, you know that 20 years isn't a long time. I think Afghanistan was better off with us there (I could care less about The Blob's stupid fixation with credibility and resolve), very few American soldiers had died in the few years, and even the expense isn't that high any more. There was a war in Afghanistan but America wasn't at war there.

But still, it's their country. The parallel I draw is American responsibility for Trump in 2016. We didn't vote for him, we voted for Clinton. But we tolerated an undemocratic Electoral College system that made Trump possible with only anemic efforts to fix it. So we own the result.

The Afghani people didn't vote for the Taliban and I'm pretty sure the majority don't support them, but they did have some choice in both their government and in whether to fight the Taliban.

While the left side of the political spectrum (where I reside) doesn't like to blame "the people," we all know humans are a combination of good and bad, and our better angels don't always win. The people of Afghanistan are obviously in for a bad time, especially women, but I hope they find a chance to seize their country and future back in the future. Other poor countries have done that dating to India in 1948, so it's not impossible.

One last thing - the only mistake I'll blame Biden for, after deciding to leave, is to withdraw all soldiers by the end of the fighting season instead of waiting to the end to start withdrawing soldiers. Probably that would have only bought Afghanistan six months, but what's wrong with six months of a better life? More broadly, the Afghanistan mission did bring a better life to most of the people in Afghanistan for a generation. That's not nothing, despite how things are right now.


And for an alternative (but also unclear) opinion, the New Yorker on Afghanistan.

Friday, September 03, 2021

China's problem is the rate of change (maybe), not the direction of change

 There's been a lot of hand-wringing over China's population crunch, shown by its recent decision to allow 3-child families. It's mostly wrong, or at least focused on the wrong thing.

There are two things the hand-wringing gets wrong. First, the numbers game for supporting the elderly isn't about the ratio of workers to non-workers, but about whether the total and per-capita wealth and income of the working population in the future is growing fast enough to keep up with growing numbers of elderly who are unable to pay for their retirement. Compared to 40 years ago, China has much smaller ratio of workers to retirees, and still this smaller percentage of workers is in much better shape to take care of their elderly than in 1980's China. Future economic growth will be slower than the past, but even 2-3% per-capita annual economic growth will go a long way.

China does have an extreme demographic shift, and that gets to the other error in the hand-wringing. To the extent there's a problem, it's not because China's population will fall but because it will fall so fast. A very gradual population decline doesn't pose economic problems, and certainly not the same extent of the economic problems created by a system that relies on there always being far more young people than old people. It's weird that pundits who pride themselves on their economic sophistication are unable to recognize that they're advocating a Ponzi scheme of ever-enlarging amounts of new people paying for prior people.

There are four options:

1. Fast population growth: this results in short to medium term economic growth but long term economic problems when you get off the Ponzi-scheme train. It is also an environmental disaster.

2. Stable population levels - economic growth and increased environmental problems as the same number of people consume more resources.

3. Slow decline in population - economic growth outweighs the slow decline in numbers. There's an increased chance for environmental restoration.

4. Fast decline in population - per capita economic growth, but potential economic problems supporting the elderly. More chances for environmental restoration.

It is not clear to me that a single country on Earth, including China, is in Category 4. The goal, for earthbound populations anyway in the next century or two, should be Category 3.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Thoughts on Improving Air Cleaners for Covid

 With the return of school and offices moms and dads especially are paying increased attention to air cleaners. You can buy small units for not so much money, but they are a couple of hundred dollars, and putting something together out of a fan, some A/C filters and duct tape is easy and a lot less expensive. 

One simple design is called a Corsi-Rosenthal Cube. Eli has been thinking for a while about air filters. The bunny changed out the A/C filters in his house last year and recommended the same to his sadly low number of Twitter followers

September 23, 2020

So where is this going, well Eli would like to suggest three improvements. The first builds off an early 2020 observation that copper, or at least some copper alloys, effectively kills Covid virus. It has been known for some time that viruses are inactivated by copper surfaces. Govind, V., Bharadwaj, S.,  et al. summarize this in their review article Antiviral properties of copper and its alloys to inactivate covid-19 virus. Biometals (2021)., so, of course it was a natural thing to look at when Covid-19 raised it's ugly heat. N Van Doremalen, T Bushmaker, DH Morris, et al, were the first to publish in March 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. Eli remembers looking at that then, and since so have about five million others, with 7500 citations.

The EPA has authorized the use of copper for this purpose and already things like copper handrails and doorknobs are on sale as anti-covid devices
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing that certain copper alloys provide long-term effectiveness against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. As a result of EPA’s approval, products containing these copper alloys can now be sold and distributed with claims that they kill certain viruses that come into contact with them. This is the first product with residual claims against viruses to be registered for use nationwide. Testing to demonstrate this effectiveness was conducted on harder-to-kill viruses.
Copper, of course comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. For Eli's application extra fine copper wool appears to be the ticket. You can even get copper wool for cleaning your pots. A layer or two of this stuff on the inside of the Corsi-Rosenthal Cube, or on the inside of your A/C filter would inactivate a lot of Covid-19. Any mechanical engineer could optimize the flows for maximum efficiency. If the size of the copper wire bothers you, it could always be drawn finer but that would really not be necessary. 

Although the wire is much larger than the virus or the aerosols carrying it, because the path through the many layers of the wool would be kinky the odds on an aerosol particle hitting a wire are excellent. It would work the same way as, well N95 masks work, where multiple layers ensure that the aerosols are captured as shown in this video

But because copper is a conductor, there is another, and perhaps more important trick we can use. The N95 mask has a layer which is composed of electrets which attract and capture virus aerosols! But what if there are two layers of copper wool separated by an insulator! They can be charged up with a small battery or some sort of simple power supply. 

So by combining three things
1. Copper inactivation of Covid 19 virus
2. A tortuous path through fine copper wool
3. Static electrical attraction of the virus to the copper wire,
Perhaps a better Covid air filter at low cost and high efficiency. TM-ER

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Hard problems, fear and solutions: Pick two

 Just the other day Eli was innocently pushing the search engine, coming across this article in the Washington Post from 2017. BTW, there are two published papers on the subjects that the diligent might care to read, "Immunizing against prejudice: Effects of disease protection on outgroup attitudes" Julie Y. Huang  Alexandra Sedlovskaya, Joshua M. Ackerman and John Bargh and  "Superheroes for change: Physical safety promotes socially (but not economically) progressive attitudes among conservatives", Jaime L. Napier , Julie Huang, Andrew J. Vonasch and John A. Bargh again.  Both are open, so never fear.

Now the Bunny is not so innocent in the wiles of psych papers that every word is to be believed, but the direction the article and the papers take is a useful one to ponder. Bargh writes about the roots of political orientation.

For example, over a decade now of research in political psychology consistently shows that how physically threatened or fearful a person feels is a key factor — although clearly not the only one — in whether he or she holds conservative or liberal attitudes.

 At this point a bit more reading and Eli became cautious about assigning political parties to conservative and liberal, but rather thinking of these as states of mind which are loosely correlated (a lesson taught by observing relatives). Bargh goes on 

Conservatives, it turns out, react more strongly to physical threat than liberals do. In fact, their greater concern with physical safety seems to be determined early in life: In one University of California study, the more fear a 4-year-old showed in a laboratory situation, the more conservative his or her political attitudes were found to be 20 years later. Brain imaging studies have even shown that the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, is actually larger in conservatives than in liberals. And many other laboratory studies have found that when adult liberals experienced physical threat, their political and social attitudes became more conservative (temporarily, of course). 
But, of course, politicians, at least the ones who succeed, are at a deep level aware of this, may have even read these papers, and certainly find it in life's lessons
This is why it makes sense that liberal politicians intuitively portray danger as manageable
and why  the other side is
instead likely to emphasize the dangers of terrorism and immigration, relying on fear as a motivator to gain votes.
There is something missing here, perhaps the description of one of the experiments will help
In fact, anti-immigration attitudes are also linked directly to the underlying basic drive for physical safety. For centuries, arch-conservative leaders have often referred to scapegoated minority groups as “germs” or “bacteria” that seek to invade and destroy their country from within. . . .

“Immigrants are like viruses” is a powerful metaphor, because in comparing immigrants entering a country to germs entering a human body, it speaks directly to our powerful innate motivation to avoid contamination and disease. Until very recently in human history, not only did we not have antibiotics, we did not even know how infections occurred or diseases transmitted, and cuts and open wounds were quite dangerous. . .

Therefore, we reasoned, making people feel safer about a dangerous flu virus should serve to calm their fears about immigrants — and making them feel more threatened by the flu virus should cause them to be more against immigration than they were before. In a 2011 study, my colleagues and I showed just that. First, we reminded our nationwide sample of liberals and conservatives about the threat of the flu virus (during the H1N1 epidemic), and then measured their attitudes toward immigration. Afterward we simply asked them if they’d already gotten their flu shot or not. It turned out that those who had not gotten a flu shot (feeling threatened) expressed more negative attitudes toward immigration, while those who had received the vaccination (feeling safe) had more positive attitudes about immigration.

In the context of today's mess, about COVID, climate change and more, this says that the way to conservatives' agreement is to emphasize solutions. The opposition will take the other track and seek to vilify outgoups. Denial of solutions is a tactic to increase fear, if there are no solutions, then fear is unavoidable.

Sound familiar?

So with the anti-vaxxers, the climate change deniers and yes the no-hopers, emphasize progress and solutions.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

UFOs and the opposite of crank magnetism

(Brian here btw, in case anyone's annoyed with this post.)

Crank magnetism refers to how people who credulously believe one wild claim, for example that climate change is a hoax, are strongly attracted to other claims as well. One of my classic favorites from years gone by was a wingnut blogger Fred Hutchison who claimed to have disproven climate change, evolution, and relativity. I'm sure there are many recent examples.

I think there's a much smaller but opposing danger to crank magnetism, which is an overwhelming disbelief in wild claims, a disbelief that's so strong that it holds even when it should start to crack. Maybe call it crank overreaction? This is possibly something I've had regarding UFOs. I'm not saying that I or we should now believe they're space aliens or something equivalently crazy, just that the evidence no longer puts them in the same category of ghosts and faith healing. There should be another category, that of "I don't know what to think."

There have been plenty of serious articles by serious publications taking UFOs seriously lately, with the New Yorker being one of the better ones showing all the old stuff still not to be taken seriously happening at the same time. This isn't the first go-around, as the article says. 

My personal history is that I had a family member very into UFOs and grew up with the childlike belief of "of course they're real". Then I acquired skepticism in my teenage years and dismissed them for the next 30-plus years. Five-ten years ago I saw a round of news talking about credible reports which I didn't pay much attention to. About two years ago to present is when I really started paying attention, the key issue being credible visual witnesses combined with instrument detection.

I remember reading about liars clubs in 19th Century America and about the pranksters that started the crop circle craze more recently, and I used to think that lies plus hallucinations were enough to explain witnesses. Military pilots filing official reports saying they're seeing these things though - there are consequences to them for saying that. And instrumental detection at the same time also makes it difficult to dismiss.

There are lots of reasons to dismiss it still. My personally irrefutable one until recently had been:

1. These hypothetical aliens or whatever are far advanced compared to us.

2. If they didn't want to be seen by us, then we would never have seen them.

3. If they didn't care about being seen, then we'd see them a lot.

I still find that reasoning fairly persuasive, but the evidence of them being seen is piling up. Maybe I also shouldn't be too confident that I can understand the logic of a superior technology/intelligence, although assuming they'll let us see them vaguely but not too close is just weird.

If this were just some weird weather phenomenon with equivalent evidence, I'd say yeah good enough, must be real. UFOs or UAPs or whatever you want to call them haven't risen to the extraordinary evidence level yet, but it's not nothing. Maybe now is the time to neither dismiss nor believe.

I felt like getting this blog post out before the big government report lands in June so it's not colored by those conclusions. I expect it will be more of the same of what we've seen so far, but we'll see. In the meantime keep up the crank skepticism, but not at the level that rejects all persuasion.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Vox doesn't understand population growth and climate

Parachuting back to highlight a really bad article in Vox saying it's okay to have kids (no discussion of how many is okay, so I guess a quiverfull is fine) regardless of climate change. 

Bad arguments include saying that the only climate emissions that matter are the ones that happen in the next decade (and still not noticing that having kids would affect that figure). My favorite though is a cute story from the Bible that said Israelite women in Egypt wanted children when the men didn't, and one of the kids ended up being Moses. Literally magical thinking at work, "as an expression of hope".

There is the tired-yet-legit argument over personal action versus government policy, but you're really choosing the worst facts for your side if you think personal action of having (an apparently unlimited number of) kids is okay for climate. This isn't about skipping straws.

More hangovers from the horrible racism that afflicted past efforts to care about population growth.

So I'll stick with my recommendation instead - vast long-term decrease of human population on Earth, and virtually unlimited numbers off-planet.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Afghanistan v. Hong Kong: we can do something about Afghanistan

I have two unusual places that I've donated to and would like to give more - one is MIRI, a charity working on ethical, smarter-than-human artificial intelligence. More about that some other time.

The other is an organization providing women's shelters in Afghanistan for women and girls fleeing domestic violence and forced marriage. It's an encapsulation of the debate over Afghanistan in that their desperately needed work has been treated with some hostility by the government we support - but if the Taliban win, not only will their work collapse but their own lives will be at risk. This highly imperfect situation will get a lot worse if the government falls when American and allied troops are withdrawn.

The Afghan government is hardly a fully functioning democracy, even granted that measurements of democracy like Freedom House are using the depredations of the Taliban as part of the reason why the country isn't democratic. The government still has many democratic aspects to it though. And while our faith in democratic regimes out-competing non-democratic ones has taken some hits in recent years, some of it is still true. A system that allows women some rights isn't just ethically better than one that doesn't, it should ultimately be a stronger one. The semi-democracy of the Afghan government should ultimately be able to out-compete an oppressive insurgency, given time and support.

Where there won't be sufficient support for democracy is Hong Kong. Maybe we should do more and can do a little more. I like Matt Yglesias' idea that Hong Kong citizens be allowed to emigrate to the US (or other democracies). It will at least help those people fleeing oppression, and maybe have some braking effect on what the Chinese government and their quislings are doing there. But if China really decides it will remake Hong Kong in its image, then that's going to happen. It's not genocide like with the Uighurs, but it's tragic.

We can't fix Hong Kong. We can't fix Afghanistan either, but we could help a lot to keep it from getting worse until they can fix things themselves. Instead, Trump did as Trump does and made it worse. And, the non-insane wing of American democracy is sorely tempted by the slogan, let's end the endless wars. It's true there are endless wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but I don't see the US being at war. We're in a low-grade level of conflict, and here's proof:



When troops are twice as likely to be killed in training than in conflict, then it's hard to distinguish between war and peace. Also worth considering that most of the KIA deaths were in the early years, the ratio in later years would be even more lopsided. This isn't to denigrate the sacrifice of those who died in low grade conflicts, no more than it would denigrate the sacrifice of those who died in the dangerous training accidents that are part of military life.

The point is that we're capable of protecting Afghanistan with little sacrifice on our part, far less than the sacrifice involved in military training. The Donald Trump/Duncan Black wings of our political system may think otherwise, but they're not the ones trying to keep women alive who've fled from their abusers in Afghanistan.

Not sure what Biden will do. He was right to oppose the buildup in Afghanistan during Obama's terms - the allied role isn't to fight the battles but to help stabilize the cities, train the Afghan forces, and put a weight on the balance in favor of the people. He might be seeing this now as an opportunity to get out, but that would be a mistake.