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[ 20021031 ]

Spontaneity Annoys the Powerful

Best line from Glenn Reynolds' column over on Tech Central Station, discussing what happens when people cooperate without orders during emergencies:

For the government it's upsetting, because people aren't asking what to do. For the media it's frustrating, because there's no one in charge to interview.

Jay Manifold [4:00 PM]

[ 20021030 ]

What's Killing Us and Them (A Continuing Series)

The World Health Report 2002 is out. Excerpts from the overview:

The ten leading risk factors globally are: underweight; unsafe sex; high blood pressure; tobacco consumption; alcohol consumption; unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene; iron deficiency; indoor smoke from solid fuels; high cholesterol; and obesity. Together, these account for more than one-third of all deaths worldwide.

The report shows that a relatively small number of risks cause a huge number of premature deaths and account for a very large share of the global burden of disease.

For example, at least 30% of all disease burden occurring in many developing countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, results from fewer than five of the ten risks listed above. Underweight alone accounts for over three million childhood deaths a year in developing countries.

... in the most industrialized countries of North America, Europe and the Asian Pacific, at least one-third of all disease burden is caused by tobacco, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of cardiovascular disease – the world’s leading cause of death – results from tobacco use, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or their combination.

Endemic poverty on the one hand and poor impulse control (in the form of excessive or inappropriate consumption of food, tobacco, and alcohol) on the other -- which in turn correlates strongly with relative poverty in wealthier countries -- are the risk factors underlying nearly every public health threat worldwide.

The recommendations, at least as they are presented in the summary, are if anything less interventionist than one would expect, especially from the UN. The WHO does, however, occasionally lapse into a fundamentally statist view: "Governments are the stewards of health resources and have a responsibility to protect their citizens." From everything?

The "software fix," in the view of your not-especially-humble correspondent, is something nearly indistinguishable from Puritanism: stay sober; be monogamous or abstinent; work hard and honestly; give to those in need; don't smoke; practice moderation. Self-control, in combination with a market economy, is the best method for reducing poverty and avoiding premature death that human beings have ever known.

Jay Manifold [1:22 PM]

Huge Advance in DNA Testing

Single Cell DNA Testing Announced in Australia, says Reuters:

[Scotsman Ian] Findlay [of the Australian Genome Research Facility at the University of Queensland] said his new technique was much faster than current testing, enabling thousands of cells to be DNA tested every day.

He said the ability to identify accurately DNA from one cell meant previously unsolved crimes dating back decades may now be solved. He said a sheet of paper carrying one cell, or a single flake of dandruff, would now be enough to identify a person.

"We gained a skin cell from a document dating back 30 years and managed to gain a DNA fingerprint. DNA evidence can remain fresh for decades, perhaps even centuries," Findlay said.

Looks like things are moving even faster than I thought when I wrote "I Was A Pessimist."

Jay Manifold [12:44 PM]

The ISS is a Waste of Money

The grim inefficiency of the International Space Station is revealed in Irene Brown of UPI's NASA taps temps for station work:

To comply with a Congressionally ordered budget cap on the space station program, which was imposed after NASA revealed huge cost overruns, the agency canceled plans for a housing module and lifeboat that would have allowed up to seven people to live full-time aboard the outpost.

For now and the foreseeable future, NASA will limit the station to just three crewmembers, which, at best, allows only about 20 hours per week for science experiments.

That's not 20 hours from each crewmember -- it's 20 person-hours, total. One-half of one full-time employee, while it takes 2.5 FTEs just to keep the place running. The unpleasant budgetary details for FY 2003 are here, where we learn that 12 separate unmanned spacecraft and programs combined are to cost $1.6 billion, while the ISS alone is to cost $1.5 billion and the Shuttle (which does almost nothing but ISS missions) is to cost $3.2 billion. It is no exaggeration to suggest that NASA could do twice as much with half as much money.

By my calculation, NASA spends around $380 per employee-hour, approximately four times the burden rate typical of high-technology industries. It projects a total of 19,050 "workyears" for FY 2003. One-half of one of those workyears will comprise the entire science output of the ISS.

Jay Manifold [10:45 AM]

Risk Management from the Pulpit

Reckless Driving Is a Sin? asks Reuters:

"Reckless driving is prohibited by the fifth commandment because it is not lawful to expose oneself or others to the probable risk of death," the bishop of the small island of Gozo also wrote in an opinion piece in Malta's The Times newspaper.

Stats in the article imply an annual vehicular accident death rate on Malta of 4.2 per 100,000. For comparison, the US rate works out to about 14.9 per 100,000. Undoubtedly Malta's small size acts as a psychological multiplier. Also, the US rate varies widely and inversely by population density, so the most dangerous places to drive are those where the fewest people live -- driving on secondary roads in rural counties is just as dangerous a lifestyle choice as is living in the most crime-ridden neighborhoods of big cities.

Way back in March, I cheekily suggested a list of high-priority sermon topics. I'd say the bishop is on the right track.

Jay Manifold [10:22 AM]

The Next Frontier

Scientists Shake Hands Over the Internet, says Gideon Long of Reuters. Since Arcturus is a G-rated blog, I won't comment on where a certain highly profitable Internet industry will take this:

It also would have recreational uses, allowing people to touch and feel each other over the Internet.

However, don't expect to find touchy-feely computer software in the shops before Christmas. "I don't think it'll be available to the public for years -- at least five years," Jordan said.

Wanna bet?

Jay Manifold [9:42 AM]

[ 20021029 ]

My First Fisking

About time I indulged in the favorite art form of the Blogosphere. The recipient is Gwynne Dyer, whose formidable CV is here, lest there be any doubt that he has serious credentials -- and should therefore know far better than to write a piece like Whatever happened to those good old freedom fighters?, which appeared in Melbourne's The Age. By way of adhering to the principle of criticizing ideas, not people, Dr Dyer hereby earns a steak dinner or other reasonably lavish meal of his choice if he's ever in KC, at which he may chew me out in person. Value for value, and all that.

Well, to business:

Rule one: When covering terrorist attacks, do not discuss the political context of the attacks or the terrorists' motives and strategy. Two generations of comic books and cartoons have accustomed the general audience to villains who are evil just for the sake of being evil - so, calling the terrorists "evildoers" will suffice as an explanation for most people.

No, one attack on the United States that killed 3,000 noncombatants sufficed quite nicely to convince us that terrorists are evildoers. Though we certainly ought to have been convinced long before.

Rule two: All terrorist actions are part of the same problem. Thus you may treat this month's Bali bombing, the sniper attacks in Washington, and the hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre as all related to each other in some (unspecified) way, and write scare-mongering think-pieces about "The October Crisis".

Better take another look at this. Eleven attacks; ten by Islamists, and one with possible Islamist involvement. Nope, nothing to see here, folks, move along ...

Rule three: All terrorists are Islamic fanatics. On some occasions, as when Basque terrorists blow somebody up, it will be necessary to relax this rule slightly, but at the very least any terrorists with Muslim names should be treated as Islamist fanatics.

Of course they aren't all Islamists; just the great majority of them -- at least 13 of the 20 on this list, and 5 out of the 7 countries that the State Department has designated as state sponsors of international terrorism. And as noted above, all or nearly all terrorist attacks on Americans over the past generation have come from Islamists.

No journalism school in the world teaches these rules, and they didn't exist two years ago. Yet most of the Western media now know them by heart.

They aren't "rules," they're an expression of reality. The Western media, are, after all, paying attention -- 14 out of 22 items on this list of "Significant Armed Conflicts" involve either an Islamic insurgency or an Islamic government attempting to put down an insurgency (sometimes both!).

Consider, for example, the terrorist seizure of the theatre in Moscow last week that ended with the death of about 50 Chechen hostage-takers and more than 100 hostages. Two years ago, the media coverage of these events, even in Russia itself, would have given us a lot of background on why some Chechens have turned to such savage methods. Didn't see much of that last week, did we?

Possibly because the perpetrators were radical Islamists: "... the group that grabbed international headlines by seizing the Moscow theatre is ... dominated by Islamists. 'These people believe in radical Islam, they get a lot of money from the Middle East ...'"

Nothing about the long guerrilla struggle that Chechens waged against Russian imperial conquest 150 years ago. Nothing about the fact that Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation to Central Asia (where about half of them died) during World War II. Nothing about the fact that Chechnya declared independence peacefully in 1991 and that both the Chechen-Russian wars, in 1994 and 1999, began with a Russian attack. In fact, nothing to suggest that this conflict has specific local roots, or a history that goes back past last week.

Instead, the terrorists were presented as pure evil, as free of logical motivation as the Penguin or the Joker in the Batman movies. Hardly anybody mentioned the fact that more than 4000 Russian soldiers and at least 12,000 Chechen "terrorists" (anybody resisting Russian occupation) have been killed since President Vladimir Putin sent the army back in to the Chechen republic in 1999.

To quote from the BBC article again: "At the other end of the spectrum is the most moderate Chechen faction, led by Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected president of Chechnya in 1997. His representatives have condemned the Moscow attack." So much for the wars being a sufficient condition. I also note the strange absence of, say, Ukrainian or Latvian terrorists taking hostages in Moscow; many other nationalities suffered grieviously under the Czars and the Soviets. But they weren't Islamist.

The Chechen men and women who seized the theatre have Muslim names, so they must be part of the worldwide network of Islamist fanatics who are driven by blind hatred to commit senseless massacres (or so it says in the script here).

Er, no, it says so because it's true. Quoting the BBC again: "'I don't think it's a matter of Chechen leaders being on the line all the time to members of al-Qaeda,' Mr De Waal says. 'I think it's a matter of certain Arabs slipping in and out of Chechnya with money, with propaganda, with weapons.'"

If you like being treated like an idiot child by your leaders and your media, you are living at the right time. The number of people hurt in terrorist attacks is far lower than in the '50s and '60s, when national liberation wars in countries from Algeria to Vietnam took a huge toll of civilian lives. It's not even as high as in the '70s and '80s, when a new wave of "international" terrorists bombed aircraft and even attacked the Olympics. But the world's leading media see the world through American eyes, so the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, have utterly distorted people's perceptions of the dangers of terrorism.

Possibly because the civilian death toll from terrorism in the US in the '50s and '60s was virtually nil and remained relatively low in the '70s and '80s. It shot up in the '90s and, of course, soared by orders of magnitude in '01. Which rather undercuts the following analogy ...

In fact, the way terrorism is now being covered closely resembles domestic TV coverage of violent crime in the US, which has gone up 600 per cent in the past 15 years while the actual crime rate fell by 10 to 15 per cent (depending on the crime). It has enabled the Russian Government to smear the entire liberation struggle of the Chechens as terrorism, and Israel to do the same to the Palestinians. But the truth is that most of the struggles we (retrospectively) see as justified involved a good deal of terrorism at the time.

And here we go with moral equivalency, of which there is much more below.

The controversy that is now starting up about the tactics the Russian authorities used in freeing the Moscow hostages is just the media barking up the wrong tree as usual. The real question is whether Russia should be occupying Chechnya. But, in the present media environment, we will not hear much about that. So just to check out your sympathies, here is a list of conflicts in which the eventual victors made extensive use of terror (high-tech or low-tech):

Notice that all victors are implicitly declared equal. But as we shall see, there are non-trivial differences ...

RAF Bomber Command's campaign against German cities.

As this book notes, Allied strategic bombing killed 2 million noncombatants in World War 2, 10 times as many as were killed by Axis air raids. Disturbing, but mostly because it was so inefficient; Freeman Dyson estimated that RAF Bomber Command absorbed a quarter of the entire British war effort while returning (to the extent that such a thing can be measured) perhaps 1% of the result.

US nuclear weapons on Japanese cities.

-- which caused the Japanese to surrender within a matter of days, saving ~105 American lives, ~106 Japanese lives, and ~107 lives elsewhere by demonstrating to Stalin our willingness to use the ultimate weapon.

The Zionist campaign to drive the British out of Palestine, 1946-48.

The terroristic component of Zionism was not the determining factor, was directed against military targets, and was quickly contained once Israel achieved statehood.

Algeria's independence struggle against France.

A terroristic campaign which resulted in an authoritarian state, now fighting an equally vicious insurgency.

The Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in Kenya.

Which also produced an authoritarian state.

Vietnam's independence war against French and US forces.

Which produced an authoritarian state that invaded and conquered South Vietnam; also produced the genocide in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, ironically stopped by a Vietnamese invasion several years later.

Zimbabwe's liberation war against white minority rule.

Which produced an authoritarian state ... you get the idea.

If you approved of more than two, you are obviously a terrorist sympathiser. Turn yourself in to the nearest police station.

Let's do a little compare-and-contrast, here: Germany, Japan, Israel, Algeria, Kenya, Vietnam, Zimbabwe. Suppose you were forced to emigrate to one of them. How many people would choose one of the first three? How many would choose one of the last four? Judging by their Human Development Index (warning: 898kB *.pdf) ... well, here are the relevant rankings:

9 - Japan
17 - Germany
22 - Israel
100 - Algeria
101 - Vietnam
123 - Kenya
117 - Zimbabwe

I submit that if you approve of any of the lower four over any of the upper three, you are an idiotarian. Turn yourself in to Charles Johnson, Damian Penny, or Glenn Reynolds.

UPDATE: The Norwegian Blogger sends his congratulations and a pointer to a complementary Fisking. That's "complementary," definitely not "complimentary."

Jay Manifold [1:04 PM]

Moscow = Waco?

The St Louis Post-Dispatch tries to draw an analogy in Mr. Putin's Waco, and the result is wretched:

There is no doubt at all that Mr. Putin's Spetsnaz special forces were guilty of poor judgment, shoddy preparation and gross negligence in invading the theater. This is less Sept. 11, 2001, than April 19, 1993, a Russian version of the FBI's attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, a domestic terrorist siege met with overwhelming force and huge casualties among the innocent.

Well, yes, Moscow was just like Waco, except that:

  1. Moscow began with insurgents attacking a theater. Waco began with a government agency attacking a church. Quite an odd church, but there was no obvious provocation.

  2. The insurgents in Moscow held hundreds of hostages and allowed only a handful of them to leave; they later shot and wounded an escapee. The Branch Davidians allowed anyone who wished to leave to do so; one-third of the population of Mount Carmel did in fact leave; no one was fired upon by those who remained.

  3. The insurgents in Moscow threatened to kill everyone in the theater within a few days, and set a deadline. The Branch Davidians made a few macho statements but made no such threats and gave no deadline; Vernon Howell (aka David Koresh) promised at one point that he would surrender as soon as a statement of his was broadcast by radio, then reneged, but still issued no threats of murder or suicide.

  4. In Moscow, the consequences of not responding in force would have been to invite future such incidents by Islamist terrorists. In Waco, the consequences of not responding in force would have been ... over 80 lives saved.

  5. In Moscow, over 85% of the hostages survived the assault. In Waco, fewer than 10% of the Branch Davidians survived the final assault.

  6. After Moscow, liberals were quick to criticize the operation. After Waco, liberals were silent -- after all, the Branch Davidians had guns, and therefore must have been deserving of what happened.

I conclude that one is safer being attacked by Spetsnaz, or defended by "anti-government whackos," than being attacked by the ATF and FBI and defended by the editorial board of the Post-Dispatch.

Jay Manifold [10:57 AM]

[ 20021028 ]

More Risk Management

Iain Murray critiques the Skeptical Inquirer article I referenced a while back, to good effect. For some time, I've been planning a major post about how American society manages risk. Maybe I'll actually get it written in the next few days ...

Jay Manifold [4:50 PM]


-- is explained in this fascinating piece in the NYTimes (free registration req'd). Thanks to Google News Sci/Tech (link in left sidebar under "Info Sites") for the link. Excerpts:

Buried in the muck were layer-cake patterns of sandy soil, each layer evidently formed when slopes crumbled under torrents of water and were washed into the lakes. Some of these layers are 10 times as thick as one apparently left by the greatest flood recorded in Vermont, which killed 84 people, drowned thousands of cows and demolished 1,200 bridges in November 1927.

Cows, and people, may be in for a rough time in the Northeast:

The lake records from the Northeast show that the region had much stormier eras that peaked 11,900, 9,100, 5,800 and 2,600 years ago. Then, about 600 years ago, another period of storminess appeared to begin and has been "ramping back up again," Dr. [Paul R.] Bierman [a geologist at the University of Vermont] said.

The article ends on a nice risk-management note:

... the research could indicate that engineers and planners, when considering the design of public works like bridges and reservoirs, should take into account the possibility of extremely rare, but extremely destructive, floods, said the study's lead author, Anders J. Noren, formerly of the University of Vermont and now at the Limnological Research Center of the University of Minnesota.

"Limnological"? Definition here.

Jay Manifold [11:26 AM]

On A More Positive Note

I found the odd item below while grazing through several stories about a remarkable incident a couple of weeks ago in Ohio (which ABCNews has now picked up), the most concise of which is here. Greater love hath few homecoming queens than Megan Neu.

Jay Manifold [8:28 AM]

In bgng ws wrd, n wrd ws w God, n wrd ws God ...

I am not making this up: from Norway, the SMS version of the Bible.

Jay Manifold [8:27 AM]

[ 20021027 ]

Semi-Original Reporting: "Touch Display" for the Blind

Tech helps blind 'see' computer images, says Scott Burnell of UPI; original news release here. I was sufficiently intrigued by this to ask subject-matter expert Maureen Duffy, whom I met online through Virginia Postrel, for comments. Excerpts from Maureen's response:

Curtis Chong is the tech specialist at the National Federation of the Blind and is definitely the go-to guy for any information regarding tech advances. I am a mere grinder-out-of-words :)

Yes -- I am aware of this technology, as it has been in some stage of development and beta testing for some time. In addition, I am the editor of my profession's quarterly newsletter, and I had captured this news for possible inclusion in the December issue. Thank you for confirming that this could be interesting to the general public ... now I shall use it :)

This passage is interesting and sends a subtle warning message as well:

The tactile display also would provide dramatic benefits in education, an area where the gap between written and graphics-based information is quite large, Chong said. "Everyone has learned to see pictures based on some fairly intense learning curves that you get when you're a kid -- how do you look at a two-dimensional flat picture and know it (represents) a three-dimensional object? It's not automatic," Chong said. "How (does a blind person) touch a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object and know what it is? If we could get (blind) kids to feel stuff way more often, every single day in school, maybe the graphical gap won't be so bad."

Indeed. Maybe the graphical gap would be lessened/narrowed. Cognitively, it is extremely difficult for blind persons to form accurate mental representations of three-dimensional objects, and next to impossible to form accurate mental representations of two-dimensional ones.

When the three-dimensional object is large enough that all aspects of it cannot be encompassed simultaneously by tactual means, it is difficult as well. Try to explain a skyscraper or a redwood tree to someone who can never perceive this object in its totality.

Also, I have experienced the well-meaning, but ultimately counterproductive efforts of individuals who attempt to make "tactual" picture books for blind children. One page will contain braille text that describes a sheep, for example, while the facing page will contain fluffy cotton glued to the page to simulate a tactual representation of the concept "sheep." Sighted persons understand that this is a representation, but the blind child does not. To the child, this small, flat, fluffy "thing" will forever be a sheep. It takes years to undo this belief system :)

Thus, this might be more a more complex cognitive process than the news releases would lead us to believe.

Some great insights from a leader in the field. Another, related, way-cool project is described in fascinating detail here.

Jay Manifold [9:20 PM]

[ 20021026 ]

New Real Estate

Astronomers Find 21st Uranus Moon, says AP. Doing some digging, we find that IAU Circular 7980 has the details, and Minor Planet Electronic Circular 2002-S64 has the observations and orbital elements.

The absolute magnitude H of +12.8 (see this earlier post for terminology) and estimated albedo of 0.07 combine (assuming the geometric albedo of the Moon at the same phase angle is 0.105) to imply a diameter of 8.9 kilometers. The assumed density of 1.5 g cm-3 means that S/2001 U 1 (as it has been temporarily designated) is thought to be mostly ice, like most outer-solar-system moons. It is almost certainly a captured asteroid, comet nucleus, or Kuiper belt object, all of which are more or less the same thing at 19 times Earth's distance from the Sun.

Its orbit is retrograde, that is, clockwise as seen from the north, inclined about 14 degrees to the plane of Earth's orbit (which in turn is inclined less than one degree from that of Uranus), and moderately elongated at e = 0.21. Its average distance from the planet is nearly 8.6 million kilometers, putting it over 14 times as far from Uranus as the most distant large moon, Oberon. From this vantage point, Uranus would appear two-thirds the size of the Moon as seen from Earth, but only about 1/200 as bright (also blue-green).

S/2001 U 1 orbits Uranus once every 758 days -- about 25 months -- at an average velocity of 820 meters per second; for comparison, the Moon's velocity in its orbit around Earth averages 1,023 m sec-1. So although S/2001 U 1 is 22 times as far from Uranus as the Moon is from Earth, because the mass of Uranus is 14.5 times that of Earth, this "new" moon travels nearly as fast as ours does.

Given the diameter and density estimates above, its surface gravity should be about 0.02% of Earth's; its orbital velocity near the surface -- assuming it's reasonably spherical -- is about 1.6 m sec-1, yielding an orbital period of nearly five hours (at 3½ mph!). Its escape velocity at the surface is around 2.3 m sec-1 -- 5 mph.

Jay Manifold [11:09 AM]

Self-Indulgent Post of the Day

I wandered into South Knox Bubba via the usual source and found out about Googlism. Here are what I deem to be the relevant results (with links added), which I'm sure you can't wait to see:

A Voyage To Arcturus is ...

  • my weblog

  • a masterpiece [of course -- JDM]

  • no mere fantasy [you can say that again -- JDM]

  • spreading an important meme

Jay Manifold is ...

  • unmarked [by what and where? No "666" on the hand or forehead, anyway. I've picked up a few other dings, though -- JDM]

  • truly demented [so what else is new? -- JDM]

  • shamelessly trolling for hits [so what else is new? -- JDM]

  • still pushing his Kashmir resolution

  • holding a planet-naming contest for a recently discovered planetary system that is similar to ours

Jay Manifold [9:54 AM]

Radioactive Cat Excrement

In the "I am not making this up" category, Man fined over radioactive cat waste, says AP. Lots of interesting implications here:

  1. Personal responsibility: "'I don't feel I was mistreated,' [Bill] Jenness told The Patriot Ledger of Quincy [MA]. 'It's my cat, my responsibility, and I did not abide by the directions I was given.'"

  2. Detection methodology and sensitivity: "Mitzi's mess was discovered at an incinerator in Rochester when alarms detected radioactivity. Workers traced the waste to Jenness after finding mail with his name on it nearby .... Radiocat's Web site says radiation from a radioiodine shot is probably less than a person receives on a long plane flight." Specifically -- "You'd probably receive more radiation from an extended flight or a day at the beach than you'll get from your cat once it's released, so it does NOT need to be isolated from you, your family and other pets .... The potential risk to owners is extremely remote as regulations for using I-131 are much stricter for animals than for people ..." If we can trace hot cat poop back to its owner, we ought to be able to catch bad guys with dirty bombs.

  3. Economics of veterinary care: "The radiation treatment by Radiocat in Waltham and cost of disposing of the waste totaled about $5,000. Jenness said it was worth it because Mitzi is doing well." When people pay for treatment out of their own pockets, the technology improves by leaps and bounds -- the advances in veterinary care over the past generation have been immense.

  4. Bureaucratic idiocy: "The treatment makes the cat radioactive for weeks, so special care is required, including limiting snuggling time, keeping the cat away from children and pregnant women, and using protective gloves when flushing the cat litter .... Thomas Burnett, a Whitman public works commissioner, said any radiation in trash is too much." There's somebody who didn't stay awake in grade school science class, let alone high school chemistry or physics. See this source (read "Information on naturally occurring radioactivity"); all living tissue contains 14C and 40K, and shellfish contains 210Po, which means that any trash containing paper, petroleum products, leftover food, or fecal matter is unavoidably radioactive.

  5. The future of the Manifold household: "Jenness's cat, Mitzi, an 11-year-old shorthair, was treated with an injection of radioiodine after developing hyperthyroidism." We have one 11-year-old cat already and will have [number indicating violation of local ordinances deleted] more over the next 9 years. I just hope it gets a lot cheaper than $5,000 before any of ours need it.

Jay Manifold [9:11 AM]

[ 20021025 ]

I Can't Resist

From Henry V, William Shakespeare:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse himself at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours
And say "Tomorrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did on that day: then shall our names
Familiar. in their mouths as household words, -
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloster, -
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered, -
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother, be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon St Crispin's day.

Jay Manifold [2:47 PM]

Results of "Greatest Briton" Contest

Not too many nominators, but plenty of nominees (see this earlier post for background). The only nominators who did their own legwork, that is, provided me with links, were Leo Johns and Bob Hawkins (last heard from during this earlier contest, which I encourage new readers to browse through). All the rest of 'em I looked up. Do I know how to add value, or what? ;)

Bill Walker:

Lord Howe (actual military founder of the United States, with Mrs. Loring)
[A rather lurid explanation may be found here -- JDM.]

I would take Churchill off the good list for his part in Operation Keelhaul.
[A Google search turns up what might charitably be described as a variety of sources on this event, which was the forced repatriation of Eastern European refugees into Soviet-controlled territory by the Allies after V-E Day. Most of what I read seemed to blame Eisenhower and Lord Aldington, with significant complicity from Montgomery, all stemming from the Yalta agreements among Stalin, Churchill, and FDR. Estimates are that > 2 million people were thus involuntarily repatriated and that > 800,000 of them were killed.
Be forewarned that if you do your own search, nearly all sites mentioning Operation Keelhaul are maintained by fringe political organizations, including Holocaust deniers and Islamists.
To the extent that this has a happy ending, it is because the mistake was not repeated a few years later in Korea, largely at the personal insistence of Harry Truman. This dragged the peace negotiations out for 20 months, but saved thousands of Chinese and Koreans from a fate similar to those caught up in Operation Keelhaul -- JDM.]

UPDATE: Bill recommends this book.

Leo Johns:

Alan Turing, arguably the inventor of the computer (the mind's strongest analog).
first link
second link
third link
fourth link

Tim Berners Lee, arguably the inventor of the Internet (the computer's strongest processing context).
first link
second link
third link
fourth link
fifth link

Richard Wakeman, arguably the inventor of Pompous Blistering-Solo Keyboard-Wizard Progressive Rock.
first link
second link
third link
(Rick's 1995 book "Say Yes!")

Richard A. Heddleson:

Samuel Johnson

William Tyndale

Archbishop Cranmer

Duke of Wellington

Abraham Darby

Bob Hawkins:

Instead of John Lennon, Jethro Tull. No, not the "Aqualung" Jethro Tull. I mean Jethro Tull, 1674-1741. Inventor of horse-drawn farm implements, pioneer of modern (for 1700) farming.
According to one potted Web biography
"Tull died at Prosperous Farm, near Hungerford on 21 February 1741."
"Prosperous Farm, near Hungerford"? On top of everything else, he was a P.G. Wodehouse character.

Alan Henderson:

Believe it or not, I recognized I. K. Brunel's name - Railroad Tycoon II does have its educational qualities. (Quick, what do George Nagelmachers and George Pullman have in common?)
[Answer here -- JDM.]

For the Great Brits contest, how about Lady Margaret Thatcher and William Wilberforce?

On St. Crispin's Day, do let us know if Guy Fawkes got any nominations.
[Only from you. ;) ]

[Then Alan had an idea that had occurred to me also ...]
I just remembered ... George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin ... they were born British [subjects] - do they count?
[I'll let Iain Murray decide that one.]

Charles W. Austin:

Elizabeth I isn't as important to posterity as her father, Henry VIII, Alfred the Great, or even Henry II, IMHO, if you are holding fast to 10. If you are adding to the list then she can certainly stay.

Other military leaders include Sir Francis Drake who defeated the Spanish Armada, the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) who defeated Napoleon, and the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill -- yes, one of Winston's ancestors) who never lost a battle fighting the French and Spanish in the early 18th century. If any of these men had failed, you never would have heard of Winston Churchill. But then one wonders if we shouldn't also perhaps include Robert the Bruce, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, or Boudicea; so long as we are speaking of Britain, and not just England.

I'd also include Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill in philosophy. What the heck, let's throw in Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Becket as well.

Henry Cavendish, Sir Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday and Ernest Rutherford made significant contributions to science.

Rather than John Lennon, how about Lawrence Olivier or Charlie Chaplin?

And let's not forget the Venerable Bede, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for giving us Sherlock Holmes.

Or Joseph Turner, Thomas Gainsborough, or Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Whew! Thanks, everybody. My fingers are tired. Don't expect any more posts today.

Jay Manifold [2:34 PM]

Those Flags

-- are my representation of the de facto alliance among nations attacked by Islamists. Not, in some ways, the most comfortable grouping, but then neither was this:

Anybody want to update that poster with the new flags?

Jay Manifold [8:51 AM]

For Tim Blair, and Australia: A Badge of Honor

I was kindly informed by fellow Missourian Charles Austin (of Sine Qua Non) of Tim Blair's visit to St Louis. Due to my present situation (unemployment tempered by contract work of uncertain scope) I was unable to make the trip from Kansas City.

What follows is, at least conceptually, something I had intended to post in the immediate aftermath of the Bali bombing. I instead composed it, sent it to Charles, and asked that he print it out and give it to Tim in hardcopy.

All doubt about the nature of those enemies who revealed themselves to us thirteen months ago, and the reality of a new world war into which we have been drawn -- nothing less than a war between civilization and barbarism -- is removed when we reflect on what, and who, they choose to attack.

They attack Israel, a country created from scratch by the survivors of genocide and the ostracized of three continents. They attack the United States, a country of descendents of nomads, slaves, and assorted misfits, who came together, often involuntarily, to mount the greatest political experiment human beings have ever known.

And they attack Australia, a penal colony now become one of the most peaceful, law-abiding societies on Earth; a country which has so transcended the horrors of Van Diemen's Land and Norfolk Island as to become a byword for gentle adventure. They attack it through its young people, enjoying themselves in a (heretofore) paradise of safety and beauty. They attack it because any country so successful, lying on the very border of the Muslim world, cannot be tolerated.

An attack from such enemies is a badge of honor. Australia now takes its place, until and unless some even worse crime is perpetrated elsewhere, at the head of the nations selected for victimization by bellicose Islamists. A sterner ally can hardly be desired. Victory has never been in doubt, but to share that victory with another great people will make it all the more sweet.

Islam is not a religion of peace -- but it will be. Together, we will cull it of its members who choose to act violently on its memes of conquest and subjugation. Our task was described by a great author of the last century:

"... it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till .... it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that ... we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless -- as we surely shall, if we sit here -- and know as we die that no new age shall be."

For Victory,

Jay Manifold

Jay Manifold [8:40 AM]

[ 20021024 ]

New Planet for Epsilon Eridani?

Via Google News, New Scientist reports Small extrasolar planet revealed by 'dust clumps':

The star Epsilon Eridani, 10 light years from Earth, was then found to have exactly the disc clumps predicted by the computer models. The planet thought to have created this pattern should be a tenth of Jupiter's mass, though still 30 times that of the Earth. Its orbit is estimated to last 280 years.

The BBC story provides this link to more info about the e Eri system, but a much better page is here -- it includes a finder photo in which e Eri is identified by its position relative to Orion's belt ("[e Eri] is clearly visible to the naked eye as the third closest star viewable without a telescope").

It also notes that
e Eri has a mass of 0.85 MSun, diameter 0.84 times that of the Sun (which works out to almost 1.2 million kilometers), and luminosity ~0.28 LSun. Turning to p 44 of Asimov on Astronomy, we find that the appropriate version of the equation for Kepler's Third Law is MP2 = D3; plugging in the mass and orbital period values as given above yields an average distance for the new planet from e Eri of 40 AU (6 billion km), slightly more than Pluto's average distance from the Sun.

The planet itself should resemble a slightly larger version of Neptune, which is about 1/18 Jupiter's mass. Its orbital velocity averages 4.3 km sec-1; compare this with that of the newly discovered Kuiper belt object Quaoar.

At the calculated distance, and with the luminosity of the star as given above,
e Eri C (as it is tentatively called) receives only 1/5700 as much light as Earth does from the Sun, and 1/6 as much light as does Neptune, the outermost substantial planet; it would shine at magnitude -17 or thereabouts, still 100 times brighter than the Full Moon as seen from Earth. e Eri would appear only 39 arc-seconds across in e Eri C's sky, 1/48 the size of the Sun (and, coincidentally, the Moon) as seen from Earth; a sharp-eyed human could just perceive it as a disk.

Jay Manifold [11:46 AM]

Toy Gun Control?

Glenn Reynolds points to this story, apparently from an all-news AM radio station in NYC, about a toy gun ban proposed in the City Council.

This is actually an interesting problem in risk management. How it gets addressed, however, usually tells us more about the mindset of politicians and their constituents than about what actually works. To quote myself: "Good risk management practice incorporates several possible strategies: avoidance, transference, mitigation, or acceptance." Avoidance doesn't apply; transference, by means of creating a police force to confront criminals, is already practiced, but is most effective in concert with an armed population and good community relations -- too much transference isn't good. Mitigation isn't necessarily a bad idea but often gets turned into one through Prohibitionist approaches, as we saw with alcohol in the 1920s, have seen with narcotics since the mid-1960s, and are now seeing with gun "control" laws.

Acceptance is an option. The news story linked above mentions only one death: "In August, police fatally shot a man brandishing a toy handgun in Brooklyn." If these incidents don't happen very often, and if they involve persons who are in fact committing a crime or simply attacking police, maybe it's not worth doing anything about them.

Coincidentally, I recently received an e-mail from a US Army officer on active duty in Bosnia which throws additional light on the situation. He wrote: "We carry weapons all the time.  Big problem here with toy guns that look like weapons that are being sold to children in Bosnia.  Big problem, hope we do not blow it .... Toy guns here look very much like the real thing. Several programs ongoing to try to put a stop to it."

I replied with

Over here, we have this (the text of a Federal law which went into effect in 1989). The results are not perfect; see this (page down to "Imitation Guns a Big Concern for Police").

I suppose the obvious question is whether either the rule of law or civil society is strong enough in that area to allow the kind of solution that was developed here -- a combination of public pressure and legislation -- to develop.

But there's something a lot better now becoming available, as detailed in the latter part of this program, which I watched just last night: nonlethal weapons. A variety of stun guns, stink bombs, large projectiles which bruise or briefly disable without killing, and sonic weapons -- all provide choices to police other than 1) do nothing or 2) kill the suspect when confronted by someone who appears to be carrying a deadly weapon. All good for preventing a repeat of things like this.

Jay Manifold [9:48 AM]

[ 20021023 ]

Aid to Dependent Dictators

-- is the title of Bill Walker's latest, in which he poses a provocative question:

The Roman Empire extracted tribute from its subject provinces, leaving Romans with a lighter tax burden (at first, anyway.) The American Empire instead taxes its own citizens to pay tribute to foreign ruling classes. This may be counterintuitive, but it is a highly effective Imperial stratagem. By subsidizing socialist regimes, Rome-On-The-Potomac prevents the development of competing capitalist centers elsewhere. A tiny expenditure each year to prop up a dictator can prevent the emergence of a multitrillion-dollar economy. What if every poor nation in the world had taken the route of 20th century Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan… or for that matter, the 19th century United States? How much power would State Department proconsuls have if every nation was rich?

In spite of his misspelling of nomenklatura, you should read the whole thing.

UPDATE: No less a personage than Vegard Valberg, the Norwegian Blogger himself, points out that I didn't actually, uh, link to the article. He graciously refrained from remarking on the attendant irony of chiding Bill for a spelling mistake. So, OK, the article's here.

Jay Manifold [7:09 PM]

[ 20021022 ]

Silicon Valley Epidemic

-- of idiotic parents. Via JunkScience.com, this article from the Toronto Globe and Mail finds that autism has become something of a fad on the Left Coast:

On a recent morning in [the] clinic [of Bryna Siegel, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco], a couple from Silicon Valley sat in disbelief. For months, they had believed their three-year-old son Benito to be autistic. A San Jose neurologist who spent a few minutes with the child had told them so. But in the three-hour assessment with Dr. Siegel and her assistants, Benito, although hardly verbose, laughed at the puppets, threw himself into the arms of his "playmate" evaluator, followed complicated instructions and showed frustration only at being graded for his performance.

As Dr. Siegel told his parents that Benito may be language-delayed, but definitely not autistic, the boy began to whine. Having played with his trucks for more than 20 minutes as the adults talked, he at last lost patience: "Mommy? Mommy, I want to go home." But mommy was taking notes. "Mommy, mommy, mommy," Benito cried again. "I want to go home."

His mother put down her pen: "You hear that, Dr. Siegel? You hear that kind of behaviour? That's some of the repetitive stuff we're talking about."

She also worries that Benito might be obsessed with the garbage truck: Every week when it pulls up at the curb, he races to the window to watch it.

Three-year-olds with attention spans of only 20 minutes? Little boys intrigued by trucks? It's an epidemic, I tell you! -- of rent-seeking:

What's more, [Siegel] notes, an autism diagnosis gives parents access to costly educational services. "If I say, 'I have good news for you, Mrs. Jones -- your son does not have autism,' she'll say, 'No, no, I'm sure he has autism.' Parents are not always relieved.

"The more prevalent autism becomes, the more people get into the autism business."

Subsidize it, get more of it -- in California's case, 273% more of it between 1987 and 1998. Whaddaya know ...

Jay Manifold [3:30 PM]

[ 20021021 ]

Down With Liberalism, Says Liberal

From the "Life Imitates the Onion" dept, Havel's Forum seeks end to farm subsidies, reports UPI:

The farewell meeting of Czech President Vaclav Havel's Forum 2000 global think tank closed with a call to scrap rich world farm subsidies and tariff barriers, and for international corporations and their top executives and directors to be personally liable for the environmental damage they cause.

End corporate welfare? Uphold personal responsibility? Not on your life, says Enemies of the Human RaceFriends of the Earth:

"If I sign this, I lose my job," said Ricardo Navarro, chairman of Friends of the Earth International. "This proposal is like repairing the doors and windows when the whole house is collapsing. Our liberal economic system is making life on Earth unsustainable."

Jay Manifold [8:21 PM]

Archaeology Today

Half the sermons in the country next Sunday morning will be about this. The AP story on Yahoo! has additional details.

Jay Manifold [7:50 PM]

Great Briton List

War leader Churchill top tip as Greatest Briton, says Reuters AlertNet. Consider yourself alerted -- the top-10 list isn't as bad as it could have been, but it's got some howlers:

  1. Winston Churchill

  2. William Shakespeare

  3. Isaac Newton

  4. Charles Darwin

  5. John Lennon

  6. Queen Elizabeth I

  7. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who?)

  8. Horatio Nelson

  9. Diana, Princess of Wales

  10. Oliver Cromwell

I would replace Lennon and Spencer (Diana) with Stephen Langton and Jacob Bronowski; were the list to be lengthened, I would certainly add (in chronological order):

Send additional nominations here. Deadline 11:59 PM CDT Thu 24 Oct (0459 UT Fri 25 Oct). I'll post 'em on St Crispin's Day.

Jay Manifold [6:09 AM]

[ 20021017 ]

Big Cities and Big Cats

Via the invaluable Google News Sci/Tech, the NYTimes (registration req'd) informs us that Florida Panther's Great Leap Hits a Wall:

[Darrell Land, leader of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's panther team,] said a rise in lethal fights and roadkills point to a population nearing saturation and looking for places to go. "We're hauling out more panthers with their heads crunched in as a result of territorial battles," he said.

Over the past five years, at least four males have crossed the Caloosahatchee River, running from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico and long assumed the natural northern boundary of their territory, Mr. Land said. At least two died. But in over three years, a cat designated Florida Panther 62 traveled north nearly to Walt Disney World, and east within 10 miles of Melbourne and Vero Beach on the Atlantic. His collar failed on July 24, 2000, when he was within 15 miles of the Caloosahatchee, and he vanished from view.

Roadkills as a sign of success? Funny you should say that. We just had one here, rather close to the center of a metropolitan area of (census 2000) 1,776,062 people.

Look for more of this sort of thing as agriculture requires fewer resources and the density of cities continues to drop due to increasing prosperity and more effective personal transportation.

Jay Manifold [4:47 AM]

[ 20021016 ]

The Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto

-- as drafted by Eric Raymond, is here. Not perfect, as many of the comments point out, but it's a fine start. Thanks to the usual source for the heads-up.

UPDATE: Fellow unemployed project manager N.Z. Bear has a complementary piece on what we can do.

Jay Manifold [8:49 PM]

[ 20021014 ]

What A Country!

Pat Boone Loves His Osbourne Neighbors.

Jay Manifold [8:27 AM]

Why the Nobel Peace Prize Should Have Been Awarded

-- is explained by Jim Henley here. Thanks to Dave Trowbridge for the link. And, via John Weidner, this defense by Daniel Drezner.

Also on Redwood Dragon, this pointer to Andrew Northrup's takedown of the notion, based on UN Security Council resolutions, that Israel = Iraq (warning: impolite language).

UPDATE: Alan Henderson has the scoop on the checkered past of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jay Manifold [8:27 AM]

[ 20021012 ]

Read This Now

Via Glenn Reynolds, via Josh Chafetz, a transcript of a speech by Vaclav Havel, perhaps the last one he will ever give in the United States. It is relatively short; in any case, my respect for Havel will not permit me to excerpt from it. There is no one like him on the American political scene, and few like him anywhere in the world.

Jay Manifold [9:50 AM]

[ 20021010 ]

9/11 and Risk Management

CSICOP weighs in with A Skeptical Look at September 11th: How We Can Defeat Terrorism by Reacting to It More Rationally. Some excerpts:

It could be as important to combat our emotional vulnerability to terrorism as to attack Al Qaeda.

That the 9/11 terrorists maliciously attacked the symbolic and actual seats of our economic and military power (WTC/Wall Street and the Pentagon) should concern us if we truly think that future attacks might destroy our society. But who believes that?

... in the aftermath of 9/11, tens of billions of dollars were immediately reallocated with little public debate.

Our greatest vulnerability to terrorism is the persisting, irrational fear of terrorism that has gripped our country.

Read the whole thing.

Jay Manifold [6:09 PM]

Protoplanetary System Discovered Orbiting Fomalhaut

Some wild exaggeration in the Ananova story ("A British-led team of astronomers claim they have found a planet similar to earth orbiting a star similar to the sun" -- no, they don't), so graze on over to the UK Astronomy Technology Centre for the best account (click on "Astronomers discover ...").

If the sky is clear where you are, you can easily see Fomalhaut tonight. From mid-northern latitudes, it will be the brightest star in the southeastern sky during the early evening hours; there are no other bright stars nearby. It will appear white or blue-white.

Fomalhaut is only moderately Sun-like. Its spectral class is A3Va, it's 1.7 times the Sun's diameter, has 2.3 times its mass, and is 13 times as bright. Its remaining lifetime is probably only about one-fifth that of the Sun's -- the relationship is ~ 1/M2.5, implying another billion years or so -- raising the question of whether there will ever be a planet orbiting Fomalhaut which is not subject to frequent, large impacts, like those of the Late Heavy Bombardment period.

UPDATE: While that's going on, thanks to Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log for pointing to McDonald Observatory Planet Search finds first planet orbiting close-in binary star. Seventy percent of the stars in the galaxy are binaries (or multiples), so this has huge implications for the number of solar systems that could exist.

PPS: Annoying name-dropping -- I belatedly realized that the Bill Cochran in the g Cephei story spoke passionately at the 1997 Texas Star Party about the then-recent advice from Dr Alan Hale (of Hale-Bopp comet fame) to young people interested in science -- namely that they not enter scientific fields, because government funding was insufficient. Cochran demolished this notion in a biographical talk in which he described his alternative occupation -- running a grocery store in the Ozarks -- which very nearly came about due to the vicissitudes of academic life. His point was that anyone unwilling to take such chances, to pursue science for the love of it, shouldn't mess things up for those who are willing. He also said (admittedly, to an audience of amateur astronomers) that the main difference between amateur and professional astronomers is that the professionals get paid for it.

Jay Manifold [1:03 PM]

[ 20021007 ]

Quaoar (II)

Regular reader (and Friday Overland Park lunch attendee) Leo "Bud" Johns says: "Your readers want to know how fast it's moving compared to Earth." Coincidentally, regular reader Bill Walker writes: "Quaoar is still going 10,000 miles per hour (if the back of my envelope is correct)."

OK, let's check that, then have some fun. As noted below, the semimajor axis of Quaoar's orbit is 43.6 AU. Continuing with 3 significant figures, we have 1 AU = 150 million km and circumference = 2 ´ 3.14 ´ 150 million = 41.1 billion km. Since Quaoar's orbital period = 288 years of 365 days of 86,400 seconds each, we have 41.1 billion km ¸ 9.08 billion sec = 4.53 km sec-1. One kilometer per second is 3,280 ft sec-1; ´ 3,600 sec hr-1 ¸ 5,280 ft mi-1 = 2,240 mph. Multiplying this by the calculated velocity of 4.53 yields 10,100 mph. The back of Bill's envelope is doing rather well.

Getting back to Bud's original Quaoar query, Earth's mean orbital speed is 29.786 km sec-1 (source). So Earth is moving around the Sun almost 7 times more rapidly than Quaoar, and going over 25 km sec-1 faster.

Switching back to Bill, who continues:

But let's say that we find a big Kuiper object much farther out, with an orbital velocity of only hundreds of miles per hour; then it would be possible to drop said object (presumably mostly ice) on the inner system with a relatively small nuclear weapon (and a course correction after a few centuries.) This would allow terraforming of Mars for very little energy, but it would require patience.

And how much patience would that be? Let P be the orbital period and D be the orbit's semimajor axis (its average distance from the Sun). Kepler taught us that P2 = D3, where the unit of distance is the AU and the unit of time is the year. Assuming a nearly circular orbit, the circumference C = 2pD, and of course the average velocity V = C/P.

Now what we want is P in terms of V, because ½P is essentially the transfer time of an object from a very high circular orbit to a point much nearer the Sun, and Bill has specified V as "hundreds of miles per hour." I'll spare you some algebra at this point and jump straight to the desired equation, which is P = (2p/V)3. The trick is that if P is in years, V must be expressed in AUs per year, one of which is 4.74 km sec-1. 500 mph = 223 m sec-1 = 0.047 of our velocity units; ½P works out to 1.2 million years (and D = 18,000 AU, three-tenths of a light-year!).

That's too much patience, even for Vandervecken (source); so suppose we set ½P to 10,000 years and work it the other way 'round. Now V = 2p/3ÖP. The much more reasonable result is 1.1 km sec-1, aka 2,500 mph, and our hunk of ice is less than 740 AU out, about 25 times as far from the Sun as Neptune.

Bill continues:

This idea is probably pointless; any civilization with the time horizon to terraform would also have the much shorter time horizon to develop better nuclear rockets and terraform with quicker methods. The relevant question is probably what would a fusion-powered civilization do with a bunch of Kuiper iceballs.

An even more relevant question is how our non-fusion-powered civilization is going to find them in the first place. Quaoar (which you can read much more about here) was found with a 1.2-meter telescope; it shines at magnitude +18.5 and is 43.4 AU from Earth. An otherwise identical object at 740 AU -- no longer within the Kuiper Belt as defined at this source; more of an Oort Cloud object -- would, being 17 times as far from the Sun, receive only ~1/290 as much light, and being 17 times as far from Earth, would reflect only ~1/290 of that light back to us. That is, it would be 84,000 times as faint as Quaoar, making its apparent magnitude +30.8. This is just about the limit of the NGST (which we're supposed to start calling the "JWST"), but it is unlikely to devote any time to this type of observation, and in any case won't be online until 2010 -- at the earliest.

So it looks like we need a 6-meter (or larger) telescope in solar orbit; and the, er, JWST's near-infrared and visible camera will have a field of view only 2.3 arc-minutes across. Say we want to cover the one-third of the sky closest to the ecliptic. This would require upwards of 9 million images, each of which (assuming 0.1 arc-second resolution) will contain about 2 million pixels. Exercising the spreadsheet referred to in this completely out-of-control post, it looks like a downlink channel capacity from L2 in the high tens of megabits isn't unreasonable. So conceivably one image per second could be transmitted to Earth. At this rate, and shamelessly making no allowance for repointing the telescope, that third of the sky could be surveyed three times a year. Great, except that Quaoar-class objects are the biggest things out there. Bottom line, we'll need nanotech, and zillions of big, cheap space telescopes, to find most of the ice in the outer Solar System.

Bill continues, perhaps daring me to quote him directly:

Speaking of pointless, the discoverer said on the radio that all objects in similar orbits to Quaoar have to be named after creation deities. It seems likely that we are in imminent danger of a deity shortage; everyone must pitch in and generate suitable creation myths. (Otherwise we'll have to use the names from the Lovecraft mythos, and no one wants that ... his gods are almost as vicious as the elohim in Genesis.)

I don't offend easily, and I don't expect my readers to, either (I have yet to get one single piece of hate mail, despite ten months of snotty comments in this blog). In any case, what will really happen is that every single indigenous group on Earth will be mined out for names of deities, culture heros, etc, and then we'll start slapping names like this on KBO's.

Jay Manifold [9:37 PM]

Atlantis External Tank Cam Review

Pretty good, but not as good as the one on this launch 18 months ago today, which unlike today's, showed the separation of the solid-fueled strap-on boosters. There were also problems due to 1) the camera cover being largely obscured by material from the separation charges on the boosters themselves and 2) the sun glint off the ocean, which due to the time of day of launch and the shuttle's attitude caused a great deal of glare. The roll maneuver late in ascent in which the shuttle turns "right side up" for better communication with TDRS, however, was partially visible. Keep trying, guys.

Jay Manifold [2:12 PM]


Astronomers spot icy world beyond Pluto, says UPI; A billion miles away, the world of giant Quaoar is the frozen limit says The Independent, which notes that "Quaoar orbits the Sun once in 288 years, and is about a tenth the diameter of Earth, half Pluto's size, though apparently larger than that planet's moon, Charon."

Applying Kepler's Third Law, we find that Quaoar's average distance from the Sun is 3Ö(2882) = 43.6 AU, about 10% farther than Pluto.

This source describes the mythological Quaoar: "Their only god who 'came down from heaven; and, after reducing chaos to order, out [sic] the world on the back of seven giants. He then created the lower animals,' and then mankind. Los Angeles County Indians, California."

More info as it becomes available. The important point here is the likelihood of eventual discovery of a Kuiper Belt object larger than Pluto, in which case "planet" will have to be defined more by whether automation played a part in its discovery than by its size.

UPDATE: Lots more info in this National Geographic story.

Jay Manifold [1:31 PM]

[ 20021004 ]

H.R. 5303, the "Pete" Conrad Astronomy Awards Act

Text of bill here; the key passage:

An award ... shall be presented annually to the amateur astronomer who, using amateur equipment only, discovers the largest absolute magnitude new asteroid having a near-Earth orbit during the preceding calendar year.

This is clever; it rewards the discovery of the faintest near-Earth object by an amateur. Explanation of the magnitude scale here; "zero phase angle" is like Full Moon, that is, the sunlight reflected from it is coming straight back at us. Otherwise the scale works the same way that stellar magnitudes do, where each increase of one full magnitude indicates 5Ö100 (~2.512) times fainter.

Award decisions are to be made by the Minor Planet Center, which appears to define "near-Earth" as < 0.2 AU (~30 million km; ~19 million miles). At this distance (and zero phase angle), the inverse-square law implies that an object would appear 25 times brighter than at 1.0 AU, so subtract 3.5 from its absolute magnitude to get its visual magnitude at the "edge of NEO-ness," to coin a phrase.

Jumping back here, we find that an object with H = +23.5, that is, V = +20 at 0.2 AU, is probably between 60 and 120 meters in diameter. This source implies that 20th-magnitude objects would require exceptionally dark skies and ... around 120 inches of telescope aperture, which pretty well cuts out amateurs. But there are two ways of mitigating this: through CCD imaging -- this guy punched all the way down to mag +20 in a 5-minute exposure with a 14-inch telescope in a severely light-polluted German suburb; and of course by finding objects a lot closer than 0.2 AU -- cut the distance to 0.05 AU (~7.5 million km; ~4.6 million miles) and the visual magnitude of a 100-meter-diameter object drops to +17, which could render it directly observable in a large (~0.6 m) amateur telescope at a dark-sky site. Amateurs at the Texas Star Party routinely observe deep-sky objects this faint; at the 1995 TSP I found Pluto (mag +13.8) with my 13" telescope.

In short, it is entirely reasonable to expect amateurs to begin discovering Tunguska-class impactors in large numbers in the next few years. Combined with a progam of distributed observing, we will soon be quantifying the risk posed by these objects far more precisely than has been possible up to the present.

Jay Manifold [8:54 PM]

Asteroids and War

As the 45th anniversary of the Space Age dawns ... more comment later on this issue, which has been the subject of numerous posts on Arcturus; for now, read the vaguely headlined Officials Say Asteroids May Confuse.

UPDATE: There's a proposal to bring amateur astronomers in to help. I still think this will happen all by itself, but it's nice to see the idea publicized.

UPDATE (11:25 AM CDT): This story has some serious legs. See also my earlier attempt at running the numbers.

Jay Manifold [7:17 AM]

[ 20021003 ]

Fredric Brown, Call Your Office

Iraqi Official Suggests a Duel. Has Iraqi VP Taha Yassin Ramadan been hanging out here?

Jay Manifold [10:11 AM]

Transmit the Message to the Receiver

Hope for an answer someday: Keys for Deciphering Code Sent Record Distance, reports Reuters, referring to a report in New Scientist, Quantum cryptography takes to the skies:

Quantum cryptography keys encoded in photons of light have been transmitted more than 23 kilometres through air, British researchers have announced.

Quantum cryptography guarantees that keys cannot be intercepted without the sender and receiver knowing by using the quantum properties of individual photons (or particles) to encode the key - any measurement of a photon will alter its quantum properties, betraying an interceptor.

23 kilometers. Of course.

Jay Manifold [9:52 AM]

Semi-Original Reporting: the Epidermal Growth Factor and Cancer

I noticed the immodestly titled Biomedical discovery points to cancer cure over on UPI and thought I'd ask the experts, so off went an e-mail to the usual suspects. The article proclaims that

"We've discovered how the [epidermal growth factor] receptor recognizes the protein and transmits the signal (causing) cancer cells to grow," Tony Burgess, of the Ludwig Institute -- part of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation -- told United Press International.

"Major cancers, like bowel, lung, colon, breast and prostate cancer, are all driven by this receptor," he said. "If we can turn it off, through the use of drugs, the cells will stop growing. This is a real advance."

The rest of the usual suspects sent responses like "Derek knows more than I do about this sort of thing" and "Of course, Derek will surely know much more about this than I," so I was duly honored to get the scoop from the proprietor of Lagniappe:

I'll have to read the paper when it comes out, but from the sound of it, these guys are over-confident. I'm deeply sceptical of the molecular modeling guys coming and solving all our problems, and the crack about "wing and a prayer" makes me think that this group is a bit divorced from reality. No one has ever made an actual drug (so far) by modeling against a receptor de novo. It'll happen, but I don't think that the growth factor receptors are a good place to start - their binding pockets are too large and complex.

For that reason, targeting a decent small-molecule drug against a growth factor receptor is not easy. That's why most drug companies have either turned to antibodies (large enough to go a good job of it) or to kinase enzymes that are essential in downstream signaling (where you have a decent chance of a small molecule doing the job.)

Derek also referred back to his post of 20 Aug, which I encourage you to read in its entirety.

Jay Manifold [5:40 AM]

[ 20021002 ]

Economics of Space Tourism

-- circa 2002, are explained rather well here:

A Soyuz crew capsule docks at the space station approximately twice a year to bring a replacement crew and remains hooked up as an emergency rescue vehicle. The Progress cargo ships regularly ferry fuel, water, scientific equipment and other supplies.

Both types of ships are built by the RKK Energia company. The government has run up about $32 million in debt to Energia over the last few years, and the company has borrowed some $64 million to keep its production lines running, [Russian Aerospace Agency spokesman Sergei] Gorbunov said.

He said approximately $79 million had been tentatively allocated by the government to finance Russia's contribution to the space station next year — about half the money actually needed. Adding to the problem, about half of that money is to cover the government's past debts to Energia and others, Gorbunov said.

About 10 Soyuz and Progress ships are languishing at Energia's assembly plant outside Moscow. Energia is now having trouble with its subcontractors, reluctant to ship components for the new ships until the company clears its past debts, Gorbunov said.

Under the circumstances, hitting up wealthy investors and entertainers for $20 million a pop twice a year starts to look pretty good. I wouldn't look for those prices to drop any time soon, either, because that third seat on a Soyuz is the only way to get into space. Rand Simberg has commented extensively on this.

Jay Manifold [9:17 AM]

[ 20021001 ]

Octopus Alert!

Michael S. Malone's latest column should be read with this playing in the background:

The executives of our biggest corporations were swindlers, our hot start-up companies were bubbles, our trusted spiritual advisors were molesters, our news was phony, our great scientific discoveries were fabrications, our history was plagiarized, and, of course, the president of the United States was a liar, a perjurer, and, something we've tried very hard to erase from our minds, a possible rapist.

It'll be interesting to see if "the Lyin' '90s" sticks as a moniker. I wouldn't bet on it. Commentators reacting against left-liberal catchphrases don't get to set the terms of the debate, and if the alternative they're pushing is just another evil octopus (warning: long post; skip to 4th paragraph from end for the analogy), they don't deserve to.

It would be more correct to call the Nineties the decade of The Death of Liberal Outrage. That outrage has been resurrected, of course, since there is now a Republican in the White House, so perhaps we should be looking for some dead conservative outrage (start here; compare line 67 with those following). It will be deader still if the GOP retakes the Senate and holds onto the House five weeks from today.

And if "... the '90s were, in fact, a gigantic lie, a Grand Illusion perpetrated by thousands of people in almost every walk of life, all in a cynical attempt to short-cut their path to money, power or influence" -- how did it come to be that I'm typing this post on a machine with an Athlon CPU and 128 megabytes of RAM?

UPDATE: Previously unknown (the best kind) reader Chris Weitzel comments: "My entry in the 'Name the 90's' contest is 'The Virtual Decade'. Not a damned thing was what it seemed."

Jay Manifold [7:51 AM]

Another Frivolous, Tasteless Proposal

Continuing a series that began with the Kashmir Resolution -- perhaps October should become intercity bus security awareness month:

F R E S N O, Calif., Oct. 1 — A passenger slashed the throat of a Greyhound bus driver as he traveled down a California freeway, causing the bus to careen out of control, authorities said. Two people died and dozens were injured.

Almost exactly a year ago, on Oct. 3, 2001, a passenger on a Greyhound bus in Tennessee cut the driver's throat, causing a crash that killed seven.

Two weeks later, passengers on another Greyhound bus were credited with averting disaster in Utah after they helped thwart an alleged hijacker. And in November, a Greyhound passenger angry that he wasn't allowed to smoke scuffled with a driver in Arizona, causing a crash that injured 33.

On a more serious note, Virginia Postrel once predicted that buses and trains will eventually become subject to the same "security" rigamarole now in place for the airlines. I'm guessing that the "... $15 million for security improvements on intercity buses" is just the beginning.

Jay Manifold [7:11 AM]