Tuesday, February 14, 2023

What do physicists want?

What do physicists want has always been a useful question for killing a few hours. There are lots of answers, tenure, a job, escape from the incel lifestyle things like that.

This being Valentine's day, and ATTPs Willard having opened the door with a rant on Post Normal Science (which, as Eli has pointed out is really Pre Normal Science, the point at which something has been observed, but no one quite knows where it came from, what it means or how to understand it.  

Science actually has a way of dealing with such situations but the initial flailing about to reach a useful understanding is later used by those who oppose action to obfuscate by insisting that still nothing is known, what is known is wrong, or at best that more research is needed.  Oh yes, natural variability.

But sometimes the initial flailing about for a scientific solution can produce long lasting Policy responses. These can be pernicious, and involve serious denial of reality.

Proposers of the discarded theories often still clutch them.

They attack the scientists. They always point back at the initial confusion.  Choosing up sides happens in the Pre-Normal Science stage before the scientific consensus emerges, but persists

Vested interests provide the money.)

But enough of that, Willard's rant soon turned to Sabine Hossenfelder's Ode to Beauty which she sees as a pernicious disease of physicists

Sabine, if Eli may say, is very confused about what physicists want, which is not a beautiful theory, but a terse theory which can be used to understand most everything or at least the next bottom most layer of most everything.

The problem is that nature may not be susceptable to a terse understanding at the Planck level and even if it were people may not be able to understand that description.

Eli has always worked on the theory that quantum mechanics may not be harder than we think but may be harder than we can think, in which case one takes what one can get and has another carrot.

Shut up and calculate.

Look Who's Fighting Ocean Acidification



(Hello folks, Brian here btw)

I was doing some light reading of the 200-page Feasibility Assessment: Sea Otter Reintroduction to the Pacific Coast by our friendly government staff at US Fish and Wildlife. It's actually surprisingly readable, unless like me you need to plow through the legal aspects.

Anyway, one interesting piece of information from the study is that otters can create localized reductions in ocean acidification. It's the identical process for taking carbon dioxide out of the water column, which might have been obvious but I would've guessed there would be too much water exchange to have localized effects. The process is that otters indirectly promote the growth of kelp, in rocky areas, and sea grass, in estuaries. For kelp it's pretty simple, they eat the things that eat kelp. For sea grass, they eat crabs that eat slug like animals that eat the algae that grows on sea grass and limit its growth. All that removes carbon dioxide from the water column, enough to have temporarily reduced the acidification in the area. Kelp is the ocean equivalent of a forest and seagrass the ocean equivalent of grass meadows (surprise), so the environmental benefits from otter reintroduction extend far beyond carbon and acidification.

It would be helpful to get some quantification of the reduced acidification and its biological significance, but given how bad it's getting, I'd assume anything is helpful. This could also be relevant because one of the few adverse economic effects of reintroducing otters is they reduce some shellfish levels to low (but healthy) levels so that fisheries can no longer rely on them. With acidification coming, however, that might be the fate of those fisheries regardless.

The point I'd like to make is that the study underplays the benefit of reduced acidification, only describing it as "locally" beneficial. Yet for carbon sequestration, they acknowledge otters can't significantly contribute to reducing carbon globally but local sequestration "is important as all such changes are cumulative and collectively they are necessary" (page 77). Well, the same holds true for ocean acidification, anything that helps to collectively address the problem is cumulatively important.

As for whether otter reintroduction does happen, I certainly hope so. I think it's mainly a political problem at this point.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The My Pillowfication of Twitter

 Some, not Eli to be sure, think that Twitter is going down the drain. Ethon is of the contrary opinion and points to the ads. Ads, in case you don't know, are what brings in the money, and most of them on Twitter these days, are, let us say, of the but two and get ten free school

So let's take a look at a few

Not even NFT, but NFT adjacent

and, of course, crypto

Sunday, January 08, 2023


It's 2023 and the latest on the street is cobalt is mined by children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and cobalt is needed for batteries, thus we can't have cell phones or EVs. It's like last year's this is a big copper mine in Chile, therefore it is a lithium mine somewhere or other and therefore we can't have cell phones or EVs

Children working in mines is something the world needs to confront and do something to stop, but it's not just cobalt, but pretty much anything of value that is mined and it's not just now but it is historically always been something that needed to be confronted and the solution is not to stop this or that mine.

Siddharth Kara @siddharthkara has been trying to stir this up, but in a very, one sided, cobalt mining by itself is evil and Eli has been pushing back 

As UNICEF puts it

Parents don't make their children work out of cruelty. It's out of necessity, to help families survive. 

and that is the reason why anybody who points to children mining cobalt, lithium (or coal or diamonds or gold) needs to support funding education for the kids and better jobs for their families so they don't need their children's earnings to survive. You can donate, even small amounts, especially monthly, will help.

Or of course, you can always be traditional and claim this is why we can't have cell phones or EVs or why Tim Cook or Elon Musk are awful for not giving their bottom dollars (to be honest Elon is awful, but this is not why).

What Eli does see is that the denial whiners are using child labor as a cudgel against renewable energy (see copper mines above) and this is getting through to others who really do care. It's the same with homelessness in cities, the people who rail that Democrat's are awful are quite happy to do nothing to help. John Quiggin had a nice recent post on how the right maneuvers

The latest iteration relates to housing policy, and the claim that Democrats are the party of NIMBYism. For example this piece in The Atlantic by Jerusalem Demsas states
liberalism is largely to blame for the homelessness crisis: A contradiction at the core of liberal ideology has precluded Democratic politicians, who run most of the cities where homelessness is most acute, from addressing the issue. Liberals have stated preferences that housing should be affordable, particularly for marginalized groups that have historically been shunted to the peripheries of the housing market. But local politicians seeking to protect the interests of incumbent homeowners spawned a web of regulations, laws, and norms that has made blocking the development of new housing pitifully simple.
Demsas is way off the mark[1]. Biden’s infrastructure package included provisions for multi-family housing to be erected in traditionally residential zone. These provisions were vigorously resisted by Republicans, following the lead of Donald Trump, who used racist scaremongering to mobilise opposition. 
More generally, the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) movement is now ascendant among leftists (AOC is a notable example), as well as moderate liberals like Biden. There are still plenty of left and liberal NIMBYs, but it’s Republicans who make NIMBYism a majority view.

And it's the same with child labor and slavery in mining. No one, except maybe the mine owners and the parents who have no other choice (and probably the US Supreme Court and recently Clarence Thomas, who have an awful record on this issue) are for it, but too many are willing to tutt tutt and ascribe the wrong to our need for batteries, rather than thinking about the root cause, deepest poverty and how to help rather than ostrich the issue.

Few also appear to understand that life in the mines historically has been exceptionally short and exceptionally brutal. In the first century Diodorus Siculus wrote about life in the mines

… the slaves who are engaged in the working of [the mines] produce for their masters' revenues in sums defying belief, but they themselves wear out their bodies both by day and by night in the diggings under the earth, dying in large numbers because of the exceptional hardships they endure. For no respite or pause is granted them in their labours, but compelled beneath blows of the overseers to endure the severity of their plight, they throw away their lives in this wretched manner […]; indeed death in their eyes is more to be desired than life, because of the magnitude of the hardships they must bear.– (Diodorus Siculus 5.38.1)
“No Time for School in 1911,” shows a group of young boys, aged nine to fourteen, at the end of their ten-hour shift in a West Virginia coal mine.

Kids working in mines disappeared in the developed world not so long ago. Although he can't find it, Eli remembers an interview with one of the kids that the Supreme Court condemned to a life of toil and poverty. Having grown up poor, illiterate and his health broken, he was asked what he got from winning the case (the mine/cotton mill owners brought the case in his name and his parents). His answer was one Coke on the way back from the court.

Step up (the answer is yes, before you ask)