Skip to content

Of viruses and bullshitters

February 28, 2020

Perhaps the most vital role of the deep state is to speak truth to bullshit. That irks Trump, who works by bullshit. That’s the case with the federal budget. And with everything else he controls. Up to now, the CDC has been a fair source of information on the novel coronavirus, Covid-19. Trump set Pence to head federal work on the coronavirus, despite Pence’s horrible record overseeing public health in Indiana, because Pence is loyal. Predictably, Pence’s first step is to censor the CDC, the NIH, and other federal health organizations that deliver information to the public. As with the Department of Justice and other government agencies, the demand for that kind of personal loyalty conflicts with a variety of professional and legal obligations.

Worms, painful and strange

February 27, 2020

When you study invertebrate zoology, one of the lessons that lasts is that the world is full of worms. The photo shows a bearded fireworm, caught in Port Isabel by someone fishing off a pier. I’m glad I never encountered one of those, while mucking around in local waters.

While that worm is painful, as animals go it is fairly typical. An annelid like thousands of other species, including common earthworms. It is a newly discovered cnidarian worm that is strange. It gets by without mitochondria, and without any way to make ATP. Another lesson that sticks from invertebrate zoology is that parasites evolve all sorts of weirdities.

The dangerous valley

February 26, 2020

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the automation of automobile control past has made the roads safer. Non-skid brakes are much more effective than the manual pumping I was taught when learning to drive. Cruise control, now that it works effectively, has vastly calmed crowded highways.

There is, of course, the promise of a leap in roadway safety when fully automated vehicles become common.

In between the automation of fine control where machines do much better than people, and full automation that removes the human factor entirely, lies an interesting region. A car that mostly automates driving, but doesn’t fully do so, encounters the problem that people only engage their attention to the extent that a task requires it. We are very bad at staying constantly observant of something where we are mostly uninvolved. The NTSB calls out this problem with regard to Tesla:

If you own a car with partial automation, do you not own a self-driving car. So don’t pretend you do.

But they are wrong to blame the driver. It is a badly designed system that lulls the driver into non-attentativeness, by seeming to be fully automated, most of the time.

Painting by Creak House.

The Chinese count

February 24, 2020

If you believe the numbers from China, their increase in Covid-19 cases has plateaued. See graph right. That is a far different picture from the outbreaks now occurring in Italy and Iran and Korea. Perhaps that reflects a different phase in the experience of the disease. But, there are reasons to be skeptical. More, authoritarian organizations generate misinformation even when they don’t intend to do so. And yes, there absolutely are parallels in those causes to the current purge of what is vilified as the deep state, here in the US.

Not just CO2

February 20, 2020

National Geographic writes about the role of methane in global warming. It is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, but also shorter lived. A recent study compared isotope signatures between atmospheric methane today and that trapped in ice cores. It suggests more of current atmospheric methane comes from fossil fuel production than previously thought.

Importantly, that methane is a byproduct. Where it can be profitably piped, methane is the fuel itself. Down here in the coastal bend, it is liquified and shipped overseas. Where it is flared, it is converted into CO2. Its escape into the atmosphere is a consequence of leaks along the way, and as a side effect of other fuel production. Every oil well and coal mine releases some. With some care, they release less. Late last year, Trump rolled back regulations on methane release. Of course. Photo shows the Henry Hub.

Blindness and schizophrenia

February 19, 2020

Some suggest that blindness from birth, for whatever reason, prevents schizophrenia. Curiouser and curiouser are our brains.

Don’t use runway 27

February 18, 2020

If you’re piloting a Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft, landing on runway 27 will cause your cockpit display to go blank.

And if you’re a lynx crossing a Canadian highway, make sure to get all your kittens across.