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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Just Wondering…

California wildfires? Must be a consequence of “bad forest management”.

Storms and hurricanes in the Mexican Gulf? That must be a consequence of “bad ocean management”, no?

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The Virus Plays A Sad Song

Composer James Beckwith has been at work with the COVID-19 infection and mortality numbers. You could say that he lets the virus play a tune – and it’s not a pretty melody. Let this be a warning to all those who think that the epidemic is gone, or the virus weakened: the numbers are not getting better after June (even if that might seem to be the case in your little corner of the world)!

I hope James can provide one or more updated versions in the future.

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Global Warming Visualized

Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading) has constructed a visual representation of the of the change in temperature as measured in each country over the past 100+ years: blue means “colder than average”, red means “warmer than average”. Check it out yourself at https://showyourstripes.info/.

Source: https://showyourstripes.info/ (Ed Hawkins) – click on the image to see the stripes for other parts of the world.

Since a large part of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, it is also interesting to have a look at the graphs for the oceans. There are striking differences in the temperature evolution of the North and South Atlantic Ocean respectively. Even more extreme is the graph for the Arctic waters: look at all that red in the last 15 years!

Source: https://showyourstripes.info/ (Ed Hawkins) – click on the image to see the stripes for other parts of the world.

 

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Yes, that is how one of the comments on TechSpot describes the machine built by Daniel de Bruin. Mashable calls it the Googol Visualizer Machine, and that is what it is:

… the first gear needs to make one googol rotations just to turn the last gear one complete rotation.

Click the picture to see it running on YouTube

A googol is a 1 followed by a hundred zeroes in the decimal system – go read the Wikipedia for a explanation. That will also explain where Larry and Sergei got the name for the most famous search engine on the Internet ;-)

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Today is a special day for calendar geeks: it’s a rare “global palindrome day”. In the words of the Solihull School Maths Department:

But I’m here to report that January 2020 was quite dark: sunshine was sparse, as reflected in our solar electricity numbers. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the months of January in the last three years gave us a lot less sunshine than before. Let’s hope that this is “just” statistical variability, no?

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I saw the word ‘Yooperlites‘ on BoingBoing, along with a name that reminded me of Finland. Suspecting a silly story, my first reaction was to skip the post… Luckily for me, I did not do that. The image accompanying the post made it clear that the subject was not silly, but a thing of beauty.

If, like me, you don’t know what a Yooperlite is, you have to watch the story:

(Click on the image to see the video report of this discovery)

I will admit to being jealous of Erik Rintamaki, for having the luck to just walk on the beach and discover a type of rock that is not just beautiful to look at, but also completely new – at least in the state of Michigan. Yooperlite is a syenite rocks that is rich in fluorescent sodalite; I wonder if something like it could be found here in Europe.

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I was just 11 at the time, and I did see some of the TV images of the moon landing during the summer of 1969. Anything to do with rockets and space, as well as the required “futuristic” technology to make things happen in that domain, still makes me sit up and pay attention. It’s no wonder, looking back at this, that I still read mainly SF books; like Star Trek; try to remain in touch with the latest developments in physics and tech; and continue to tinker with computers (at a very, very modest scale).

Thus I agree with Ars Technica, writing:

Today, the Moon landings still take our breath away. On July 20, 1969, NASA pulled off arguably the greatest technical achievement of the 20th century.

(Click the image to go to the Lego™ shop)

To celebrate that achievement, Lego™ is selling a 1,087 piece set of the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander. I know, that is essentially “good marketing” on their part. But this is one of the few sets I would consider buying these days – because of the significance of the Apollo 11 missions, not because it would fit in the collection of thousands of bricks I still have from my youth ;-) Thanks for pointing this set out to me, Ars!

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Don’t You Like Pi(e)?

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58209 74944 59230 78164 06286 20899 86280 34825 34211 70679
82148 08651 32823 06647 09384 46095 50582 23172 53594 08128
48111 74502 84102 70193 85211 05559 64462 29489 54930 38196
44288 10975 66593 34461 28475 64823 37867 83165 27120 19091
45648 56692 34603 48610 45432 66482 13393 60726 02491 41273
72458 70066 06315 58817 48815 20920 96282 92540 91715 36436
78925 90360 01133 05305 48820 46652 13841 46951 94151 16094
33057 27036 57595 91953 09218 61173 81932 61179 31051 18548
07446 23799 62749 56735 18857 52724 89122 79381 83011 94912
98336 73362 44065 66430 86021 39494 63952 24737 19070 21798
60943 70277 05392 17176 29317 67523 84674 81846 76694 05132
00056 81271 45263 56082 77857 71342 75778 96091 73637 17872
14684 40901 22495 34301 46549 58537 10507 92279 68925 89235
42019 95611 21290 21960 86403 44181 59813 62977 47713 09960
51870 72113 49999 99837 29780 49951 05973 17328 16096 31859
50244 59455 34690 83026 42522 30825 33446 85035 26193 11881
71010 00313 78387 52886 58753 32083 81420 61717 76691 47303
59825 34904 28755 46873 11595 62863 88235 37875 93751 95778
18577 80532 17122 68066 13001 92787 66111 95909 21642 01989

Etcetera…

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Meteorologists have confirmed it repeatedly, these last few days, and our photovoltaic panels agree: 2018 was a sunny year! In fact, during their stay on our roof only two years produced more electricity: 2010 and 2011 – which are not accidentally the first years after the installation.

solarpanels.jpg

Climatologists have been saying for a long time that climate change will manifest itself through more extreme weather. I suppose warmer and dryer summers here in Europe are an example of that, just like droughts in Syria and California, no?

 

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In an MIT Technology Review website article titled “The day I tasted climate change” James Temple describes the rather grim reality of living in a region where wildfires are becoming more and more frequent.

Climate change doesn’t ignite wildfires, but it’s intensifying the hot, dry summer conditions that have helped fuel some of California’s deadliest and most destructive fires in recent years.

I’ve long understood that the dangers of global warming are real and rising. I’ve seen its power firsthand in the form of receding glaciers, dried lake beds, and Sierra tree stands taken down by bark beetles.

This is the first time, though, that I smelled and tasted it in my home.

In 2016 we had a short vacation on the island Madeira. Although the wildfires there had already been put out weeks before our arrival, we could still smell the soot and the burned landscape… and that was enough to scare us of being close to such fires.

James Temple is much more knowledgeable on climate change than me, and his conclusion reads as a dire warning, unfortunately:

When I started writing seriously about climate change a little more than five years ago, the dangers largely seemed distant and abstract. Without realizing it, most of this time I’ve carried along an assumption that we will somehow, eventually, confront the problem in a meaningful way. We don’t have a choice. So sooner or later, we’ll do the right thing.

But after two years closely reporting and writing on clean energy technologies here, it has slowly dawned on me that, well, maybe not. While we absolutely could accomplish much of the necessary transformation with existing or emerging technologies, the sheer scale of the overhaul required and the depth of the entrenched interests may add up to insurmountable levels of inertia.

While I’m still remaining optimistic about humanity’s ability to cope, a little voice in the back of my head now questions that optimism…

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From I wish it weren’t a Republican versus Democrat thing”: Wildfire photographer Stuart Palley on climate change and California’s devastating blazes:

“We see [climate change] happening, but unfortunately the political leadership, even when they acknowledge it, aren’t acknowledging the reasons why it’s happening. And it’s getting to the point where I’ve gone from thinking that I want to document what’s going on to being frankly terrified that after only six years working on this project I’ve seen the changes starting to accelerate”

The Sand Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest Saturday July 23rd, 2016 under triple digit heat. The fire had burned 20,000 acres by Saturday evening and was 10% contained as firefighters battled low humidity, shifting wind, and high temperatures. An unknown number of structures were lost. Click on the picture to read the whole article on DP Review

We can only hope that 2019 brings real solutions to the problems that are already reshaping our world.

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To Boldly Go…

A few days ago, Voyager 2 did what Voyager 1 did a few years ago: to boldly go where no Man has gone before! If ever there was a moment to quote Star Trek, this is it.

Click here to see NASA’s video about this event

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Interesting news for everyone concerned about the world’s energy future:

Universities in the United States, Germany and elsewhere are testing the concept of “dual use farming,” as some advocates call it, where crops grow below canopies of solar panels. They are finding they grow just fine — and, in some cases, better than crops in full sun.

The article “How land under solar panels can contribute to food security” on the Ensia website details a few of the studies. One study explains how bees in Minnesota benefit from the state regulation that promotes pollinator-friendly environments, even under solar panels. Another study shows that the decrease in agricultural productivity is largely compensated by the electricity produced by the panels. Of course, putting the panels on a high structure increases the cost of such installations substantially, and no large scale experiments have yet been started to confirm the current results.

The Fraunhofer Institute’s agriphotovoltaics research facility in Germany features solar panels tall enough for farm machinery to operate beneath. Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer ISE

Perhaps we need to replace those metal frames with some sort of photovoltaic trees, in order the realise a real “agrivoltaic” future? Current “solar trees” are designed for an urban environment; surely a country variant could be constructed as well?

Anyway, transforming the energy landscape of the world is increasingly urgent. According to the MIT Technology Review, “At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system“…

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The Science website has an extensive article on the life and writings of an academic of Czech descent: “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy“.
I guess I’ll have to read at least a single book of Vaclav Smil – perhaps Bill Gates can suggest a good title to start with?

Now, Smil says, the world faces its fourth energy transition: a move to energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide, and a return to relying on the sun’s current energy flows, instead of those trapped millions of years ago in deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas.

The fourth transition is unlike the first three, however…

You should at least read the article, if only to get confirmation that there is no simple solution to the world’s energy problems of today (and the near future)…

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One of the (many) computers in my home is a venerable Apple Macintosh SE/30. No, it’s not a Mac, it’s a Macintosh; if want to call him by name, you have to use “SeseSeko”. I haven’t booted that machine in many years, so I don’t know if I would fare better than Stephen Wolfram a few days ago…

Mr. Wolfram wanted to use an SE/30 to demonstrate the first version of Mathematica. That version 1 was published on June 23, 1988, exactly 30 years ago. As Mr. Wolfram notes, it’s quite unusual for software packages to live that long (especially in the personal computer space, of course). So he has a good reason to celebrate this anniversary – congratulations!

(Click on the image to go to Stephen Wolfram’s blog entry about this anniversary)

Wolfram speaks of “computational intelligence”, and I think he does so to distinguish his approach from “artificial intelligence”. Mathematica isn’t called that just for fun: it’s a product for computation in the widest sense of term. I know that I have long wanted to “play” with it, but I must admit that I either did not have the money to buy a computer powerful enough to run it (when I was a student and a young father), nor did I have much time to dedicate to a single program – I have been busy with computers and programming for forty years now, but always in al exploratory way, and never really dedicated to a single item…

Anyway, where is Mathematica going? Does it still have a future? Absolutely, says Stephen Wolfram. In his view, the story of Mathematica and the Wolfram language is only just beginning!

If one looks at the history of computing, it’s in many ways a story of successive layers of capability being added, and becoming ubiquitous. First came the early languages. Then operating systems. Later, around the time Mathematica came on the scene, user interfaces began to become ubiquitous. A little later came networking and then large-scale interconnected systems like the web and the cloud.

But now what the Wolfram Language provides is a new layer: a layer of computational intelligence — that makes it possible to take for granted a high level of built-in knowledge about computation and about the world, and an ability to automate its application.

And of course, now I’m starting to wonder – will SeseSeko still boot just like it did eight or nine years ago, when I even managed to connect it to the Internet and run a very old version of Netscape on it?

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