38 Articles


4 months Ago

The WHO on Facemasks and Pre-symptomatic Contagion

Published by marco on


The article Here’s what WHO says your mask should have to prevent COVID-19 spread by Beth Mole (Ars Technica) details the technical specifications for making your own facemask.

tl;dr: “you’re probably doing it wrong, guidance suggests.”

The WHO says:

  • “[…] masks should only ever be used as part of a comprehensive strategy in the fight against COVID.”
  • “WHO now recommends that healthy members of the public wear homemade or commercially-available fabric masks in places where the new coronavirus is circulating... [More]

German virologist Christian Drosten

Published by marco on

Professor Christian Drosten is a virologist working at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. Since the beginning of March, he’s been doing an informative podcast in German called Coronavirus-Update. I’ve found him to be highly informative and factual in a world filled with propaganda, conspiracy theory and shoddy science.

The following interview with Drosten was one I found in English, which he also speaks fluently. I thought the 30 minutes, in particular, were very enlightening... [More]

5 months Ago

China vs. the US: A Global Chronology of Covid-19

Published by marco on

The article Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, The Coronavirus Chronology From Hell by Dilip Hiro (Tomgram) provides an excellent and impartial review of the four months of history we have so far. In particular, he contrasts America’s inchoate response with the measured and ostensibly empathetic reaction of China. China reacted by increasing production capacity of PPE, masks, and ventilators.[1]

“By mid-March, the Chinese government and the Jack Ma Foundation, part of the giant corporate conglomerate Alibaba Group, had sent doctors... [More]”

6 months Ago

Facemasks (Listening to Experts)

Published by marco on

Everybody’s talking about ‘em: facemasks. Which kind? Where can you buy them? How do you get your outsized ass to a hospital that needs them? Should you wear one? Should everybody? Which kind? In which situations?

The beleaguered CDC

The lynching party seems to be out in the States for the CDC, which is being blamed for trying to kill everyone by telling them that they don’t need facemasks. This is the same advice being given the world over by anyone qualified to have an opinion.

In the... [More]

World-o-Meter Coronavirus Tracker

Published by marco on

I’ve settled on using the Coronavirus (World-o-meter) tracker. It seems to update relatively quickly and reasonably accurately and is also well-sourced. About a week ago, they finally added two new columns: total tested and tested/million people, which helps you compare the case numbers of countries more accurately (i.e. if a country has no cases and is testing like mad, then that’s good news; if they have few tests, then you can’t really conclude anything, but it’s probably not good news).

For Switzerland,... [More]

COVID Info (Single Source)

Published by marco on

The interview The Tip of the Iceberg: Virologist David Ho (BS ‘74) Speaks About COVID-19 (Caltech) includes the following:

Why different symptoms? Mutated strains?


“This virus is mutating but it has mutated very little so far. There are differences but probably they are functionally not important, so that’s not the explanation for why you see different disease courses among the infected.”

Can you get re-infected?


“Only one study was formally done and it is not a human study. It’s a macaque... [More]”

9 months Ago

COP25 in Madrid

Published by marco on

The 25th COP (Conference of the Parties) or United Nations Climate Change conference (Wikipedia) has come to an end in Madrid. Other instances of this conference were COP3 in Kyoto (the first agreement that the U.S. agreed to and which the Congress completely ignored), COP 15 in Copenhagen (where Canada and the United States worked together to torpedo any agreement) and, of course, COP21 in Paris, with the much-touted Paris Accords that Obama signed and that Trump officially left—and which all other... [More]

10 months Ago

CO2 output per year continues to increase

Published by marco on

The article Here’s how much global carbon emission increased this year by Scott K. Johnson (Ars Technica) includes some sobering, if utterly unsurprising charts.

Not Even Close

This first chart is the most sobering one: it shows that we’ve most likely[1] slowed our CO2 production from 2018 to 2019. But we’re still increasing. That is, it’s a positive development, but not nearly enough.

 % increase in fossil-fuel usage

We need to get to zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (or maybe even 2040) in order to avoid completely nightmarish scenarios. With the CO2 we’ve... [More]

1 year Ago

The Nuclear Option

Published by marco on

The other day, I responded to I’ve read the actual reports on Chernobyl. I’ve worked in the nuclear industry by TracyMorganFreeman (Reddit) with three comments.

Nuclear is a Sane Option

The linked comment jibes with my other reading (outside of Reddit, heaven forfend) on nuclear power and safety, as well. E.g. there’s Soonish
The Lost Chapter, Advanced Nuclear Power
(SMBC). It’s a relatively clean power source with a worse reputation than it deserves—on paper.

Unfortunately, the industry that’s attached to it is an absolute... [More]

2 years Ago

Evolution takes eons

Published by marco on

I am in no way doubting evolution. I am simply admitting that my mind cannot truly encompass the chasm of time required to build this creature incrementally.

Iranian spider-tailed viper tricks bird by SciNews (YouTube)

h/t to The Lure of the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper by Jason Kottke.

Chinese land a rover on the dark side of the moon

Published by marco on

The article China makes history by landing on the far side of the Moon by Eric Berger (Ars Technica) has pretty exciting news.

“a Beijing-based control center commanded the spacecraft to begin the landing procedure at 9:15pm ET Monday (10:15am, Tuesday, local time), from an altitude of 15km above the lunar surface. During an 11-minute descent, Chang’e-4 slowed its speed from 1.7 km/s to nearly zero before it landed in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.”

This is a science mission, but I’m really hoping... [More]

3 years Ago

Recycling of e-waste at only 20% worldwide

Published by marco on

The article Just 20 percent of e-waste is being recycled by Scott K. Johnson (Ars Technica) provides a good overview of the global recycling situation, based on a recent report from the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union.

As you would expect, amount of recycling and waste produced per region differs considerably.

“Africa, for example, accounted for only about five percent of the total e-waste generated—roughly zero of which was recycled. Europe and Russia combined to generate about 28 percent of the world’s... [More]”

4 years Ago

Choosing an electoral system

Published by marco on

Americans have, once again, noticed that the electoral college is odd. And undemocratic. And odd.

There are much more democratic systems out there. “First past the post” is not one of them. YouTube and CGP Grey to the rescue.

The Trouble with the Electoral College by CGP Grey (YouTube) and Re: The Trouble With The Electoral College – Cities, Metro Areas, Elections and The United States by CGP Grey (YouTube)
These two videos combine to explain how the electoral college works and how it’s undemocratic. That is, regardless of whether it... [More]

6 years Ago

Sean Carroll on Physics and Death

Published by marco on

This is a video by the always-interesting and funny Sean Carroll on physics (naturally) and on things that we know about life, death, entropy and the afterlife. It’s a really interesting talk that is very technically deep while still being more accessible than other, similar talks.

Emperor Has No Clothes Award Acceptance Speech by Sean Carroll (YouTube)

Near the beginning, he addresses heaven and the afterlife and the explanations that non-scientists have embraced.

What to make of the evidence for an afterlife?

Some ill-defined metaphysical substance, not... [More]

7 years Ago

Big data ignores lessons learned

Published by marco on

The article Big data: are we making a big mistake? (Financial Times) bursts the bubble of the wide-eyed, overconfident and underinformed techies who think that their giant piles of data will fix everything. The article contains many interesting examples, some of which are touched on in the conclusion, cited below:

“Uncanny accuracy is easy to overrate if we simply ignore false positives, […] The claim that causation has been “knocked off its pedestal” is fine if we are making predictions in a stable... [More]”

On the nature of addiction

Published by marco on

Perhaps uncharacteristically, this post will consist mostly of citations of other articles about the nature of addiction. I have relatively little contact with addiction, but the truth of what these ex-users write is evident to anyone of a rational bent who is reasonably informed about the world.

The article Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws by Russell Brand (Guardian) writes,

“People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even remotely deterred by prohibition.”

... [More]

Is Fukushima radiation polluting the entire Pacific Ocean?

Published by marco on

Take a deep breath. Step back. Does that sound plausible? Is the mighty power of the atom, harnessed by decades-old technology, likely to be able to effect such mighty change?

Because the Pacific Ocean is huge. Like, really gigantic. It has 16 times as much surface area as the entire United States of America. Hell, there’s a Pacific Garbage Patch whose estimated size is about the surface area of the US of A and we can barely even tell it’s there.

The article True facts about Ocean Radiation... [More] by Kim Martini (Deep Sea News)

Dara Ó Briain: a comedian…for science

Published by marco on

Dara Ó Briain is London-based Irish comedian with a show on BBC2 called Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club. His act is a good deal bawdier on stage though the focus remains on promulgating a pro-science agenda. In the segment below, he discusses a show he did with physicist Brian Cox in which the topic of astrology just happened to arise.

Some choice tidbits from this segment:

“The astrologers get going on Twitter and write, ‘if you were really a scientist, then you’d be more open-minded.‘ And I... [More]”

Radiation is everywhere! (And we’re all gonna die.)

Published by marco on

A story of Fukushima radiation is making the rounds, reported variously as Navy sailors have radiation sickness after Japan rescue by Laura Italiano and Kerry Murtha (NY Post) and 70+ USS Ronald Reagan Crew Members, Half Suffering From Cancer, to Sue TEPCO For Fukushima Radiation Poisoning by Brandon Baker (EcoWatch) (with a re-post at AlterNet). Other source cited in the articles are the Washington Times and FOX News, paragons of journalistic integrity.

The user comments on the article are uniformly horrible and make you despair for mankind. They are a cornucopia... [More]

Modern nature documentaries

Published by marco on

I was recently sent this link, presumably because I enjoy short nature documentaries.

Man vs. Wild − Eating Giant Larva by Bear Grylls (YouTube)

Some thoughts:

  • Do larvae really get bigger the older they get? Isn’t a larva a limited stage of development? How is it that some are so much larger than others? Isn’t it more likely to be related to food intake rather than age?[1]
  • People are weird. If Bear were to eat fluffy baby animals (say chicks) rather than slimy ones (larvae in this case), he would be drummed off the air.
  • Bear Grylls: Allergic to Bees... [More]

Remaining reserves

Published by marco on

The article NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration by Dave Mosher (Wired) discusses a resource shortage that will be hard to address: plutonium.

Plutonium was produced in much larger quantities during the nuclear-arms race of the mid to late 20th century. Though the arms race was morally reprehensible and fantastically expensive, a byproduct was that there was more plutonium available for scientific endeavor. Pound for pound, it is unparalleled as a long-lasting energy source. As of the end of... [More]

The Mantis Shrimp

Published by marco on

 A little while back, I read about the mantis shrimp (Wikipedia) in a comic called Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal (The Oatmeal). The comic is both amusing and informative, describing and depicting the shrimp’s unbelievable visual organs (here, citing Wikipedia):

“The midband region of the mantis shrimp’s eye is made up of six rows of specialized ommatidia. Four rows carry 16 differing sorts of photoreceptor pigments, 12 for colour sensitivity, others for colour filtering. The mantis shrimp has such good... [More]”

8 years Ago

New boson confirmed at around 126GeV

Published by marco on

NB: Don’t worry if you don’t understand this introductory paragraph; feel free to blow right through it and see how you fare with the alternate explanations and analogies below.

The news so far is that the scientists at CERN have announced that they have consistently been able to generate bosons at around 126GeV with a certainty of 5 sigmas. The Standard Model of physics predicts that this energy level is sufficient to generate the long–sought-after Higgs boson, which is the only predicted... [More]

10 years Ago

Nuclear Roundup

Published by marco on

The Fukushima I Nuclear Accidents (Wikipedia) page is quite good and the “Reactor status summary” somewhere in the middle of the page is updated often.

 Wikipedia Reactor Status Summary

In addition to the reactor status information, there is a crowdsourced map of microsievert values from 215 Geiger counters across Japan. These are (ostensibly) real-life readings, but it’s hard to know whether to believe it or not. They certainly look legitimate, but it’s the Internet, so take it with a grain of salt.

 Status as of March 27th, 2011

Rounding out the images is a the... [More]

Atomic Updates from Cringely & Palast

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Two articles drifted down my news-pipe today that caught my eye: Is anything nuclear ever really super safe small and simple? by Robert Cringely and The no-BS info on Japan’s disastrous nuclear operators by Greg Palast.

We’ll start with Palast, who was formerly employed as a “lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations”. He’s also the guy who proved that Bush & Co. stole the election in 2000 and who’s been working in England almost exclusively because no one will hire him in the... [More]

Calm Down; The Japanese Are Not Trying to Kill You

Published by marco on

Seriously, calm down. Stop babbling about how the Japanese are a closed society that would rather immolate our whole planet, taking us all down with them as they refuse to admit any mistakes made in an effort to avoid losing face.

It’s all bullshit, just like all such blanket statements about millions of people are.

I’m going to put this right here: Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors by Dr Josef Oehmen.

Read it. It explains pretty well why a small explosion on top of a cooling tower in no way... [More]

Bad Day at the Beach

Published by marco on

The Gulf of Mexico fills with oil. This disaster is short-term insoluble, even for highly-advanced, 21st-century, western nations. Medium- to long-term, there is likely to be a solution. There always is. The cleanup process will be long and painstaking, but it will be out-of-sight for most people. Once the problem is solved and years have passed, the shortness of human memory will serve to help us forget what happened—and to be surprised the next time it happens.

Petroleum is intrinsic to... [More]

11 years Ago

CO2: Getting to 0%

Published by marco on

Bill Gates is the world’s most generous philanthropist and has made curing malaria and combating viruses of all kinds his new goal in life (see Mosquitoes, Malaria and Education by Bill Gates (TED) for the video). However, he’s changed his focus to climate change because, though preventing disease is a huge concern for the third world, rampaging climate change will make many more things far worse for the world’s poor. As he put it in his talk, Innovating to zero! by Bill Gates (TED):

“But energy and climate are extremely important to... [More]”

Quantum Computing

Published by marco on

If you’ve been looking for an introduction to Quantum Computing and how it surpasses our current binary computing, the article A tale of two qubits: how quantum computers work by Joseph B. Altepeter (Ars Technica) is a great place to start. The language is about as accessible as it’s going to get and there are helpful diagrams sprinkled throughout. For example, the engine of a quantum computer—entanglement, and its result: “action at a distance”—is analogized thusly:

“Imagine if someone showed you a pair of coins, claiming that... [More]”

Mencken & Dawkins

Published by marco on

Though it sometimes seems that religion always has the upper hand in public debate, there is usually at least one crusader per generation willing to come out strongly in favor of the Enlightenment and against superstition. The article Mencken, Islam, and Political Correctness (Capitalism Magazine) cites the early 20th-century journalist H.L. Mencken on the subject of religion and other closely related superstitions.

“What the World’s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in... [More]”