Category Archives: Technology

My Two Favorite Books

Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-born American cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. This guy is a genuine big-brained hominid, one of the smartest people you’ll ever know, and he writes to convince his readers that our world is getting steadily better, century after century. And he proves it with facts!

Changes can be either good or bad. However, contrary to popular opinion, cultural changes around the world tend, on average, to be good, in the sense that they bring greater happiness, freedom, health, and prosperity to more ad more people.

His two latest books are possibly the two most important books I have ever read.:

  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Pinker shows that all down through history, for the past several thousand years, the world has been slowly  getting safer from violence of all kinds including muggings, rape, murder, and war, freer from disease, poverty, and superstition, more prosperous, better fed, and happier. These are real cultural changes that usually happen so slowly that most of us are not even aware of them. But our lives are much better now than they were back in the “good old days” when you might have had to get your appendix cut out by candlelight at 3 AM. With no anesthetic.

I recommend you read both books.

Ahmed Mohamed Moving to Qatar

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohamed and his family are moving to Qatar.

Mohamed’s sister, Eyman, reportedly confirmed that the family will only be in the U.S. for a few more days before relocating to Doha. Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, the teen’s controversial father, added that he looks forward to moving his children to a nation in which they “can study and learn” while “being accepted by that country.”

Yes, Ahmed is the same 14-year-old boy who was arrested recently in Irving, Texas, for bringing a clock to school. His English teacher and principal said it was a “hoax bomb,” even though there was nothing in it that looked like an explosive.

Evidently Qatar appreciates bright students.

Eyman Mohamed asserted that Qatar is “basically like America,” noting that the decision to move was based on a generous offer her brother received from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. “Our family has been overwhelmed by the many offers of support we have received since the unfortunate incident of Ahmed’s arrest,” a family statement explained.

I have no idea why she thinks Qatar is “basically like America,” but that’s beside the point.

I’ve known several exceptionally intelligent boys and girls in my lifetime who would now be young or middle-age men and women. I hope I had some beneficial influence on several of them, possibly encouraging an interest in science or technology. Or, at least, education. In the long run, it’s usually difficult to be sure. I would have loved to have met Ahmed.

Unfortunately, he will apparently be lost to the United States; and that’s a crying shame. We need to keep our brightest students and encourage them to complete their education here and help make our nation great again. It is insane to drive them somewhere else to help make some other country great instead!


I Stand With Ahmed

I tweeted my support for Ahmed Mohamed a few minutes ago. I do very little tweeting, so I hope I did it right.

Most of the time, I’m proud to say I’m a Texan. Sometimes I’m not so sure. I live just a few miles from where this travesty occurred. I’ll be posting more on this as soon as I can collect my information and write it up. Probably tomorrow.

Recycled Drinking Water from Sewage

Glass of Fresh Recycled drinking water

Getting Past the Yuck Factor

You can’t drink the Pacific Ocean. Or cook with it. Or irrigate with it. Or use it for twenty zillion and one (at least) other purposes that require fresh water. There’s lots’a water out there, but it’s not fresh.

You can take the salt out of it and make it fresh, but that requires an awful lot of energy. And that’s another thing California doesn’t have enough of.

What’s the answer?

Water spilled out of a spigot, sparklingly clear, into a plastic cup. Just 45 minutes earlier, it was effluent, piped over from Orange County’s wastewater treatment plant next door. At a specialized plant, it then went through several stages of purification that left it cleaner than anything that flows out of a home faucet or comes in a brand-name bottle.

New York Times

Fountain Valley, CA, a city of 55,313 (2010 Census) in Orange County, has found a way to cope with the crippling drought and the mandatory water restrictions imposed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month. It’s the same solution San Diego and Los Angeles tried to use in the 1990s, but this may be the time to make it work. It’s recycled drinking water.

Before, people called the system “toilet to tap” and refused to drink the water. Los Angeles spent $55 million on such a plant, and then had to use the water for irrigation because people refuse to drink it.

Orange County persuaded people to drink recycled water beginning in 2008. However, they don’t run their purified water directly into homes. They put it underground to replenish the area’s aquifers and to be diluted by the natural water supply. This seems to provide an emotional buffer for consumers.

Recycled drinking water requires a lot of filtering

The process begins as suspended solids, bacteria, protozoa, and anything else larger than 0.2 microns are filtered out. Then the water is forced through semi-permeable membranes in a process called reverse osmosis to remove chemicals, tastes, and odors. Then a zap of powerful ultraviolet light and a little hydrogen peroxide disinfect it further and neutralize other chemicals, until it is safer and purer than the water from your tap or your favorite bottled water.

Los Angeles and San Diego are getting ready to try it again. ”The difference between this and 2000 is everyone wants this to happen,” said Marty Adams, who heads the water system for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The Santa Clara Valley Water District hopes to meet at least 10 percent of its water demands by 2022 with recycled water.

The inevitable squeamishness over drinking water that was recently waste ignores a fundamental fact, according to George Tchobanoglous, an expert in water reuse and a professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis: “When it comes down to it, water is water,” he said. “Everyone who lives downstream on a river is drinking recycled water.”

But after all that, 13 percent of adult Americans say they would absolutely refuse to even try recycled water, according to a recent study in the journal Judgment and Decision Making. “A small minority of people are very offended by this, and can slow it down or stop it because of legal and political forces,” said Paul Rozin, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies revulsion, and a co-author of the study.

Enticing people to drink recycled water, however, requires getting past what experts call the “yuck” factor. Efforts in the 1990s to develop water reuse in San Diego and Los Angeles were beaten back by activists who denounced what they called, devastatingly,

Water recycling is common for uses like irrigation; purple pipes in many California towns deliver water to golf courses, zoos and farms. The West Basin Municipal Water District, which serves 17 cities in southwestern Los Angeles County, produces five types of “designer” water for such uses as irrigation and in cooling towers and boilers. At a more grass-roots level, activists encourage Californians to save “gray water” from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines to water their plants and gardens.

Research has shown that highlighting the benefits of recycled water — and the need — can shift emotions and help diminish the sense of risk. “Under crisis, people accept things that they wouldn’t accept otherwise,” Dr. Rozin noted.

Wichita Falls and Big Spring, Tex., have put purified water directly into the drinking supply without incident for years.

For the ultimate in recycled water, there is one place to go: the International Space Station. Aboard the space station, equipment captures liquid from the onboard toilets and even the moisture from breath and sweat.

Col. Douglas H. Wheelock, who served as commander of the station in 2010, said, “I drank it for six months, and it was actually quite tasty.” That did not keep his colleagues from making light of the situation, however.

“We had a running joke on the station,” he said. “Yesterday’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee.”



Scramjet: Mach 5+

X51 Waverider
X51 Waverider

The cruise missiles so often used to destroy ISIS installations and other enemy targets descend like a flash out of the sky, traveling up to 600mph as they approach unsuspecting terrorist compounds, hideouts, and ammo storage facilities. But the impressive speed at which a cruise missile is propelled will seem like a proverbial stroll in the park when an awesome new generation of hypersonic “birds” take flight as an operating Air Force weapon system.

Western Journalism

Scramjet is short for Supersonic Combustion Ramjet. Ramjets have been around since shortly after World War II, but haven’t been practical for much because they don’t work at low speed. They have to be launched by something, usually a rocket, because the produce no thrust until they reach about half the speed of sound. Then they can fly very efficiently, but usually only up to about Mach 3.

A ramjet has been referred to as a “flying stovepipe,” because it is essentially a tube with no moving parts. Its internal shape is what makes it work. At high speed, it takes in air and immediately slows it to subsonic speeds before it reaches the combustion chamber. In the combustion chamber, it burns steadily, and has been likened to “lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it lit.”

To go even faster, the design must be changed; but it still has no moving parts. The modified internal design no longer slows the incoming air. Ignition is at full super-sonic speed, thus the name Supersonic Combustion Ramjet, or Scramjet. Air entering the front never slows down. This design has been tested at least as fast as Mach 5.1 and can probably eventually reach Mach 16. We’re not testing one that fast, yet.

The X-51 Waverider Scramjet Missile

X-51 was really a proof of concept test. It showed that you could get a scram jet engine, launch it off an aircraft and it could go hypersonic. It was able to go more than Mach 5 until it ran out of fuel. It was a very successful test of an airborne hypersonic weapons system,” Endsley said.

The speed of sound at sea level in dry air at 20 °C is 768 mph. This is referred to as Mach 1. The fabulous X-51 Waverider test missile in the picture flies Mach 5.1, or almost 4,000 mph. In time, it should be good for a lot more than fast missiles.



Blue Origin’s New Shepherd First Flight

Blue Origin to the edge of space

Blue Origin Launch
Blue Origin Launch

Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spaceship flew for the first time this Wednesday, April 29, from their range in the West Texas desert (two hours east of El Paso). This is the world’s only privately owned and operated launch site.

The spaceship sat there like a giant phallic symbol jutting up from the desert floor (You tell me! Am I wrong?). Then it rode a pencil of flame at mach 3 almost to the edge of space 58 miles up.

It’s payload parachuted back to earth and landed gently, apparently right where they wanted it to come down. The company website says, “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.” The capsule holds six.

The ship is supposed to be reusable, but there was a problem with hydraulics. It was not shown, but presumably it crashed. SpaceX had a similar problem with their early rockets.

No true edge of space

There is no true edge of space. The atmosphere just keeps on getting thinner until it’s as thin as the tenuous gas between the planets, but 60 miles is usually considered the edge of space. For practical purposes,  it’s a good round number for a test rocket to aim for; and 58 is close enough for a first test.

Blue Origin, run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, hopes to carry passengers on suborbital flights within two years. It’s important to remember how many other companies have failed at this, of course.

Australian space company didn’t make it

I remember an Australian company was going to be carrying paying passengers to orbit in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary Columbus “discovering” America. It didn’t happen. But a lot has happened in the industry in the 23 years since 1992, and somebody is going to do it soon. Maybe Blue Origin.

American space industry is coming along

SpaceX  was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. It is the company that has serviced the ISS a few times and gets most of the press. But Blue Origin is beginning to look impressive with this test shot.

Since the space shuttle was decommissioned in 2011,  the United States has been dependent on foreign governments and private industry to get spaceships, astronauts, supplies, and satellites into space. The fledgling American space industry has not yet come into its own, but it’s coming along.

Companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are seeing to it.

U.S. Measles Cases Reach 20-Year High

Amish Community
Amish Community
(Sorry. I couldn’t embed this PBS program. Just click the link and follow instructions for the best scientific answers to your questions about vaccination.)

 Measles Hits Amish Communities, and U.S. Cases Reach 20-Year High

Unfortunately, they weren’t vaccinated against measles before they left the United States; so they contracted the disease, brought it home, and triggered the worst American outbreak in 20 years. So far, the 130 known cases have been mostly among the unvaccinated members of their own communities.

It’s not all Amish, of course. Altogether, current outbreaks have been brought by travellers from “more than a dozen different countries.” Forty-one people so far have been hospitalized in this outbreak that covered 18 states, but nobody has died so far.

This number is small compared to the hundreds of thousands that swept the US as late as the 1960s, before the disease was almost wiped out in the developed world by vaccinations. Even now, “more than 20 million people around the world (get measles) each year.”

It really is important (and safe) to get your vaccinations. Especially if you plan to travel out of the country.

Resource: 29, 2014

Learn Chinese. You’re Going to Need It.

New Chinese Bridge.  World's longest and highest suspension bridge. 1,102 ft. high and 3,858 ft. long
New Chinese Bridge. World’s longest and highest suspension bridge. 1,102 ft. high and 3,858 ft. long
This document is currently circulating on the Internet. It was purportedly written by someone named Robert Bagwell, but the Internet White Pages show 166 people in the US with that name. I have no idea which one wrote it, if any.
I cannot verify that it is all exactly true; but it all sounds right, based on what I know. If not 100%, it is definitely at least mostly true. The bridge and the photography are magnificent.

Note that the person below is 1102 feet above the ground and is sweeping the dirt off this twenty-first century engineering marvel with a broom that was designed centuries ago and he has no safety line. Blasting and coating this steel superstructure in a couple of decades will be an interesting project. Aizhai Bridge in Hunan province is 1,102 ft. high and  has a 3,858 ft. span. It connects two traffic tunnels in the mountains, cutting the time needed to traverse the canyon from 30 minutes to 1 minute. Construction took five years. Work finished at the end of last year, making it the world’s longest and highest suspension bridge. A brave worker put the final touches on the Anzhaite Bridge.  The bridge, which connects to two tunnels, was built to ease traffic.  During the opening ceremony, vehicles motor along a two-way, four-lane motorway. Pedestrians walk along it on a special walkway under the road. BA1CA123F33B4041AC9985E8BE5688EF@sanddell 8A6CD95F516F45A7B3BDB0C88C6A984E@sanddell 1B7B746E24244AF0B84E48B126AC65BE@sanddell 693D3FCA81AE46A1A5BC0DBE02126743@sanddell C98BC60EB707409F90D48A18CEE07D33@sanddell 52DC538DC55E434BA41947BE18CAB638@sanddell FE9E9B89C2EE45F4B0BFBCEE8D0ED29F@sanddell 5BF8AC0A40304282B4976D6E34A0B331@sanddell  China is on the rise. If you doubt this, just read the following: # When you total up all imports and exports, China is now the number one trading nation on the entire planet. # Overall, the U.S. has run a trade deficit with China over the past decade that comes to more than 2.3 trillion dollars. # China has more foreign currency reserves than anyone else on the planet. # China has the largest new car market in the world. # China now produces more than twice as many automobiles as the rest of the world’s countries put together. # China is the number one gold producer in the world. # The uniforms for the American & British Olympic teams were made in China. # 92% of all artificial Christmas trees the world are made in China. # The new World Trade Centre Tower in New York will have glass imported from China. # China now consumes more energy than Europe. # China is the leading manufacturer of goods in the world. # China uses more cement than the rest of the world combined. # China is the number one producer of wind and solar power on the entire globe. # China produces 3 times as much coal and 11 times as much steel as the United States. # China produces more than 90 percent of the global supply of rare earth elements. # China is now the number one supplier of components that are critical to the operation of any national defence system. # In published scientific research articles, China is expected to become number one in the world very shortly. Learn to speak Chinese. You are going to need it

Moon Landings a Hoax After All?

Science proves NASA faked the moon landings 45 years ago.

Really? Well, no. Not really. Of course not! The moon landings were as real as Columbus’ trip to the New World.

Sorry to disappoint you conspiracy theorists, but no, science proves no such thing. All the moon landings were real. Of course!

Apollo Moon Landings by Nasa
Apollo Moon Landings

The United States’ Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and there were five more manned U.S. Moon landings between then and 1972. Each mission consisted of three male Astronauts, two of which landed and one of which remained in orbit in the command module. A total of twelve men landed.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 were first. The last three Moon landings all included rovers.

One group of Astronauts left a mirror on the Moon, facing precisely toward Earth. Any scientist with a suitable laser can reflect it off that mirror and see the reflection all the way from Earth with his or her instruments. While the mirror was placed there for scientific reasons, the fact that it is still in use today is one more proof (as if it were needed) that NASA really went to the moon. The Moon landings were actually real.

It has been pointed out that the flag could not “blow in the wind” on the moon, because there is no air. This is true. That’s why they took a metal flag, which you see in the picture below seeming to wave in an imaginary breeze. It’s an intentional illusion. I assure you, if NASA wanted to fool you about the Moon landings, they’re smarter than that.

Buzz Aldrin salutes US Flag during first moon landing
Buzz Aldrin salutes US Flag during first moon landing

It’s high time for new Moon landings.

We should have been making more footprints on the Moon for the last 45 years. Men and women should be living there by now, doing science and building a sheltered city. They should be building factories to manufacture space ships out of Lunar materials. Space ships with which to go on to Mars and explore the Solar System. Doing this work outside of Earth’s gravity field would make it a lot cheaper in the long run. It’s pitiful that we wasted all the science and engineering we had developed by just stopping.

It’s high time we made some new moon landings.