Monday, October 25, 2021

Ever wonder what they drink

at the South Pole? Wonder no longer. Raul Rodriguez devised a way of making a well in the ice and snow. After it gets unwieldy, it then serves as a waste repository.

But if you follow the link (and subsequent links) you'll see how complicated a simple idea can get. They wound up using TNT at one point (not entirely successfully--and from the sound of the video some things broke that weren't supposed to).

And yes, they need to add some salts. I'm told of one fellow who got paranoid and tried to drink meltwater straight. After a while he had some other problems as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2021


At the end of Albion's Seed he promised to write about black history in the US. I wonder if this will be the promised book.


I've been interested in the progress in population genetic work over the past years. But now and then I've had a niggling worry at the back of my mind: How tightly connected it is to history? Every now and then something comes up: Mexicans with Filipino ancestry. It seems out of place--but Filipino slaves were brought in during the 17th century.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

From a 13 year old's point of view

A friend's 13-year-old has COVID. He has to stay home from school, have food brought to him in his room, is excused from all chores that would take him out of his room, and can play video games most of the day. The only price he has to pay is a mild dry cough (and having a cotton swab stuffed up his nose every few days for the testing).

His siblings are likewise told to stay home. My friend has had the bug himself (not fun at all), and then been vaccinated (even worse reaction), but rules are rules and with the bug in the house he can't go to work. He's catching up on bathroom remodeling.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cold fusion

I remember reading a fax of a fax of Steven Jones' paper looking for excess neutron flux. It looked reasonable--when dissolved in palladium the effective density of deuterium is high enough (albeit still miniscule) that the nuclear wavefunctions can overlap to a degree that allows muons from cosmic rays to catalyze fusion. He found neutrons from that. The poor guy went kind of nuts as a 911-truther later. The Pons and Fleichmann razzle-dazzle overshadowed and unfairly tainted his work.

Can one do something similar deep inside the earth? Fukuhara et al say yes, one could fuse heavier nuclei than deuterium.

According to google the density near the core is only about 10g/cm^3, which is a bit over 3x the usual density for calcium carbonate. Why do I mention calcium carbonate?

This hypothesis suggests that heavier elements result from an endothermic nuclear transformation of carbon and oxygen nuclei confined in the aragonite CaCO3 lattice of the Earth’s mantle or crust, which is enhanced by the attraction caused by high temperatures ≥2510 K and pressures ≥58 GPa in the Earth’s interior

... 2(C) + 2 (O) + 4e∗ + 4𝑣̄𝑒 → 2(N2)↑ + (O2)↑+(H2O)↑ + 2n − 10.58MeV ...

The above-described reaction is favored by the physical catalysis exerted by excited electrons (e*) that were generated through stick-sliding during the evolution of supercontinents and mantle conversion triggered by collisions of major asteroid, and anti-electron neutrinos (𝑣̄𝑒) coming from the universe, epecially from the young sun, or by the radioactive decay of elements such as U and Th and nuclear fusion in the Earth's core that is described later.

(I adjusted their formula: Assume the standard O-16, C-12, and N-14.) Where do I start?

I suppose one starts by following their references in the hope that something might turn up. (What are "excited electrons?")

In it appears that he is talking about "electron capture." Amusingly enough, that's generally capture of inner orbital electrons, not the more likely to be excited outer ones. It also claims that the C-O bond distance in the lower mantle (0.085nm) would be about 35% smaller than at normal pressures, which makes sense, and is getting near what Jones got. But their density is a bit higher than I saw elsewhere.

There are, of course, almost no muons at that depth and what there are are highly interactive on their own account. So what does Fukuhara propose for the catalyst? Neutral pions, which result from photon interactions, and then interact with the electrons about to be captured. He says they observed fusion reactions in a liquid lithium cavitation experiment, but the abstract for that doesn't seem quite as compelling. Bombarding cavitating liquid lithium with deuterons is an interesting approach. But I don't see where they are supposed to get a significant density of deuterium inside the target for the d-d reactions. Hydrogen solubility is less than 2%, though maybe you'd get bubbles of D2 close to the beam spot if the beam is intense enough.

Anyway, back to the main subject. The rate seems mighty small. C + O + 2(e*) + 2(nu_e) → N + O + H + n - 5.29MeV(if I can dispose of the irrelevant chemical bits) still demands 2 neutrinos handy at the same time. They show up about 110/cm^3, so in a region .17nm on a side the rate for 1 at at time is quite low: 1.5E-21. Square that for 2 at a time. My atomic physics and nuclear physics are both a bit rusty, and I'm not sure I could come up with a good rate for electron capture in these circumstance.

The Earth is pretty big and has been around a while; even so I'm not sure the rate works for a significant amount of nuclear synthesis. And 5 MeV is a lot of energy to have around loose in chemical interactions, even at high pressures.

The first paper goes on to try to show that the internuclear distances are also small for Al, Si, etc in common rocks, but it also declines to estimate production rates.

My impression, based on the use of chemical equation balancing (bolded equation above) instead of the nuclear one (italics), and the use of the phrase "excited electrons", and the absence of overall rate estimates, is that the authors are somewhat outside their expertise, and maybe should have called in some help.

Sunday, October 17, 2021


the Art Institute of Chicago fired all of its docents, or trained volunteer museum guides and greeters, for being "mostly older white women of above-average financial means."
According to the Wall Street Journal, on Sept. 3, Veronica Stein, an executive director of learning and engagement at the museum, sent an email to the more than 100 docents the museum has, firing all of them. "In gratitude for their long, unpaid service—averaging 15 years each—the Art Institute offered the involuntarily retired guides a two-year free pass to the museum,"

Cheesing off the demographic that provides so much of your donor pool must be the latest management fad.

Wouldn't you expect that volunteers would be older (children grown), above-average financial means (have leisure), women (men usually supporting the family)?

Certainly that reflects the demographic of the secular volunteers I've seen, and it would seem to plausibly explain the dramatic skewing of volunteer groups. It clearly isn't the whole story, though--the same economic/family issue that select for older and better-off women should also select for high-income minority groups as well--Japanese, Chinese, Indian...

So, off we go looking for rabbit holes.

The abstract for this paper is interesting.

... we analyze survey data on volunteerng, which show that whites volunteer more than blacks. We ask how much of this difference is due to the way human capital is distributed in the population. We develop a theory of volunteering that acknowledges that, besided human capital, social and cultural resources play a role in making volunteer work possible. Black Americans tend to be better endowed with these kinds of resources than whites, which partially compensates for their shortage of human capital. However, blacks are less likely than whites to be asked to volunteer, and less likely to accept the invitation if it is made. ... for all kinds of volunteering except the entirely secular, black volunteering is more influenced by church attendance than is white volunteering ... while socioeconomic differences ahve a smaller impact on black volunteering. Among volunteers for secular activities, church attendence has a negative effect on volunteering, but only for whites.

"Volunteering is a collective behavior" "The volunteer role is part of their identity"

The "collective behavior" aspect suggests to me that if social spheres don't overlap enough, people won't get asked.

As for the "church attendence has a negative effect on volunteering" I wonder if there's a "tapped-out" effect at work.

Political attitudes can play a role in some forms of volunteering: "Blacks are more likely than whites to believe that the government should help fund and organize programs for the poor and more likely to believe that charitable organizations are doing work the government should really be doing."

Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, among blacks who attended church less than once a month, those who felt their religion was important to them were less like to volunteer than those who didn't think it was so important. (kidding themselves?) This was not the case among whites--not sure why.

The paper is from 2000, and the data are, of course, quite a bit older. But though my simple resource model is partly ok, it clearly has limits.


Iconoclasts, if one may dignify them with such an idealistic label, have been taking down statues and trying to erase history.

It has seemed, though I haven't done statistics on the matter, that these are preferentially of great figures of the War of Independence and the Civil War. True, those are the most common, so perhaps there's nothing to see here, but one commonality of both the Confederate and early American figures is that they were both revolutionaries. One set won and the other lost (thankfully), but both believed it was legitimate to rebel against what they saw as usurpation.

I'd have thought that a revolutionary movement would try to claim the honor of their revolutionary predecessors for their own: "We're just like them!" Not this time. Whether as enforcers, or as brownshirts in internal power struggles, it smells as though they represent the elites. Do BLM's gender goals reflect average black american concerns? Hint: not that I've ever heard

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sunscreen degradation and improvement

The headline read Scientists Warn: Sunscreen That Includes Zinc Oxide Loses Effectiveness and Becomes Toxic After 2 Hours I've learned to be suspicious of headlines, but this isn't entirely wrong.

The researchers made up their own sunscreens from the usual sorts of chemicals and exposed them to standardized fake sunlight. Some of the chemicals in sunscreen protect you by disintegrating themselves (and thus becoming ineffective), but "We were surprised to find that all five of the commercially relevant small-molecule UV-filter mixtures were mostly photostable."

But it seems that zinc oxide changes things.

The plot on the left is for ZnO micro-particles, and the one on the right for ZnO nano-particles. The blue curves are before and the orange curves are after UV exposure. The drop in absorbance at longer wavelengths (the UV-A region) is pretty dramatic. Interestingly, there's a rise in absorbance for nano-particle ZnO mixtures--so the mix gets better at blocking UV-B.

They also dosed embryonic zebrafish with the various before and after mixtures. It looks to me as though sunscreen isn't good for zebrafish, old sunscreen is worse, and defects really start to kick in with ZnO sunscreen and get really bad for old ZnO sunscreen--especially the nano-particle version. Of course the doses are huge.

They say zebrafish have "significant gene homology to humans", but I'll bet the 5-day turn-around for "more rapid screening" was the decisive reason for the choice. And everybody uses them (probably because of the quick growth).


The phrase, at least in the old meaning, comes from just what you might expect. "Will he or n'ill he" was what I thought, and it wasn't far off.

Radiation hormesis

is the theory that small amounts of radiation (well, maybe not alphas) "exercise" the body's/cell's repair mechanisms and leave it better off. There's evidence for and against this. There still seem to be radon spas; it isn't just an antique fad.

It turns out to be quite hard to do animal experiments or human epidemiological studies with appropriately small levels of radiation. I suppose one could do comparisons of longevity and cancer rates of tribes living at different altitudes, but there are probably confounding differences in diet, and maybe lower air pressure adds stress to the body? Cell cultures are all well and good, but sometimes it is the whole organism that responds to an irritant.

And so, there are proposals for an Ultra Low-Level Radiation Effects lab. Underground, of course.

One group has been working with human lung and bronchial cells. They cited earlier research.

"For example, Planel et al (1987) incubated paramecia underground in the Pyrenees mountains at the Centre National Recherche Scietifique (CNRS) and showed growth inhibition of cells within incubators shielded at 0.2mGy/year; they were able to recover growth rate to control levels by exposing the underground cells to 60Co (4 mGy/year)."

The human cell group went on to check for "heat shock proteins" as a marker for stress, using human lung and bronchial cells.

shielding cells from natural levels of radiation upregulated the expression of two of the three stress proteins, and follow-on exposure to x-rays further upregulated expression.

Their Figure 2 does show striking differences. I won't say I'm sure what that means, though. There might be other functions for those proteins.

Though the data variability was relatively high, the three indicators of cell growth demonstrated that cells grown underground were inhibited and grew increasingly so with increasing time underground

Don't take this as an excuse to drink Radithor. That's not a small dose. But you might feel better about buying your kids a Gilbert's Atomic Energy Lab. Just make sure they aren't buying thousands of lantern mantles for some project in the shed.

Back in the day

A Canadian group looks for radioactive artifacts in museums. One such was the Revigator, designed to infuse radioactivity into your drinking water. "According to the manufacturer, the radiation could treat or cure ailments ranging from arthritis and flatulence to senility and poisoning. "The Revigator was an attempt to mimic spa, or spring water," explains Epstein. "People figured that spring water was radioactive, and it seemed to be good for you, so why not make your own?" " The team described in the second link found that the water had plenty of radon, but the radon probably wasn't as big a threat as the dissolved arsenic, lead, vanadium and uranium. At those radiation levels I don't think you'd get significant disinfection of contaminated water, so you don't even get that possible benefit.

But you could take more significant doses. They mention Eben Byers and Radithor, and also

“People would drink radium water at parties and stand behind the screen and look at each other’s organs,” Secord said.

I can see the appeal--if you don't know about the dangers.

UPDATE: We can't forget Gilbert's Atomic Energy Lab. I never got one--possibly because I wasn't born until well after they went off the market.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Seen in Saugatuck

In a tiny grass spot next to the city hall is a boulder with a plaque:

"In Memory of The First Indian Burying Ground 1800 to 1850"

There's a story there, right?

Per Waymarking: "The remains of the Indian cemetery were excavated during some construction, in 1930, at the Saugatuck centennial celebration, a boulder with a bronze plaque in "Memory of the First Indian Burying Ground, 1800 to 1850" was dedicated and a few remains were reburied in a mound nearby."

OK, that makes sense. I didn't see any mound, though; not by the new City Hall or the Cook Park entrance or the yacht club.

Nope, no mound. Per "Between thirty and fifty burials were encountered during excavation work for the construction of a new community hall." There should have been something to see.

The bones which were found in the burial grounds were gathered together and reinterred beneath a small mound of earth near the southwest intersection of Butler and Culver Streets across from the Village Hall. Nearby a stone "to the memory of the old Indian burying ground..." was dedicated with ceremony at the 1930 celebration of the centennial of Saugatuck. Johnson Fox, then just a boy, remembers being the one who actually spoke the words of dedication dressed in an Indian outfit made by his mother. The burial mound was leveled during street widening in the 1970s, and for a few years only the curved sidewalk which had gone around the mound showed its former position. Eventually even that was removed, although the memorial rock remains.

The artifacts on the second floor of the Saugatuck Village Hall were on display for several years. but, according to old-timers, since the museum was totally unsupervised, many were stolen. The rest were eventually, according to the newspapers, given to the brother-in-law of one of the town officials who was a collector of such things.

Ottawa, though sometimes there were Potawatomi in the area, in case you were interested.

Some people meant well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


The first covid shot left me a bit tired and with a sore arm 12 hours later. That didn't last too long.

The second left me pneumonia-level fatigued 24 hours later. That lasted about 8 hours.

The booster left me fatigued and fevered 36 hours later (during the night).

Extrapolations are left as an exercise.

I spent the day testing gravity.

Given that the stuff has to be kept cold and deteriorates when warm, I wonder how much variation there is in the actual dosage. Early-birds get the big kick, those near the end of a batch get a lighter one? It might have some bearing on reactions.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Somewhat more in-depth reporting than usual

A local man shot a policeman not far from where I work. The policeman will be ok. One wonders why he was out on bail from so many charges. The court commissioners and judges could do with a little more monitoring, I think.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Aboard the SS Badger

Route 10 across the lake...

From Manitowoc to Luddington was windy and sunny, and we stayed out on the top (third) deck the whole way. When the sun went down, the sky was clear all the way down to a little haze at the horizon--excellent conditions for looking for the green flash. And for the first time, I saw it, about half a second's worth just as the Sun slipped below the horizon. Unfortunately, a bug flew in my wife's eyes at just that moment, so she didn't see the flash. I hope the people around us were using the "sports" setting on their cameras--human reaction time isn't quite that good.

The return trip was substantially windier and colder. We stayed in what used to be the car deck (still the third level) and watched through the windows, not venturing out much.

Before the ship cast off, a young woman took selfies outside with the harbor as a background. She looked so radiantly happy--until the "shutter" click, and 20 knots of chill crumpled her happy smile into glumness. The contrast was startling--and I got to see the on/off transformation about half a dozen times until she was satified with the result.

The ship didn't roll more than a few degrees in the wind, but it was enough to bounce me off a table and a few chairs during my much-shorter-than-usual peregrinations. And the "paint-mixer" effect made me glad I'd had a very light breakfast. I suspect I won't grow up to be a sailor.

The ship turned most of us into toddlers again. The real toddler wasn't that happy trying to walk either.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Souvenirs to remember what?

While touring a small (and extremely pricey) tourist town I won't name, we were struck by the nature of the knicknacks for sale. I asked my wife if there was an analog for "kitsch" for the terminally self-satisfied. I've seen plenty of friendly or pious plaques in people's homes, but not often the vulgar or nihilist types. She offered smug--maybe "smugtchke" would work intead of tchotchke.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Laughable Stories

Bazarjamhir: "How beautiful patience would be if it were not that life is so short"
Dr Boli warned that his Eclectic Library could devour time, and this ill-titled collection of anecdotes is certainly capable of that.
When Kikobad the king died, one of his wise men said, "Yesterday the king spoke volubly, but today he being silent admonisheth [us] with greater effect."

Another sage said, "Hardihood is the vice of youth even though it driveth it to virtue."

Another sage said, "Make not a friend of thy house the man whose relatives make him a stranger unto them, for they are better acquainted with him than thou."

Another sage said, "Now, as concerning those who argue madly with each other in the debate, if they sought the truth they would never strive, because truth is a thing by itself, and truth and striving do not agree. But if they do not seek the truth but victory, then the contest must increase between them, for one of them cannot conquer unless the other be overcome."

Another of the sages said, "The members of a man's household are the moth of his money."

A certain prince had a little servant who used to learn with him in school, and who suddenly sickened and died. And when the king said to him, "My son, thy servant is dead," he replied, "Yes, he is dead, and he hath escaped from the school."

Another ascetic said, "It may be known that this world is a world of tribulation and wickedness, from the fact that there is no man in it who doth not seek to be something very much better than what he is."

When another ascetic saw a certain man giving alms in the sight of men, he said unto him, "If thou wishest to lay up treasure for thyself carry it secretly, lest when men see it they plunder it."