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[ 20020928 ]

Deinococcus radiodurans Redux

(Readers just now grazing in should read this earlier post first.) The ever-helpful Bill Walker raises a major objection to a Martian origin:

If a bacteria came here from Mars a billion years ago, and if it used a large fraction of its energy to produce antiradiation proteins, then within two days it would have been outcompeted by other bacteria who weren't wasting their energy. Same thing is true of bacteria which evolved to handle the natural uranium reactor way back when. (I see this all the time; if I put a plasmid in a bacteria with an antibiotic resistance gene, once the antibiotic is removed the gene is quickly lost from many of the bacteria.)

BUT, some of the same systems are used to handle UV damage as ionizing damage. Some paramecium can withstand 200,000 roentgens. So there are probably some organisms with high resistance to ionizing radiation even when there isn't any.

And remember, practically all single-celled organisms are vastly more resistant than we are. Radiation doesn' t get a chance to kill human cells; they kill themselves through apoptosis whenever they detect possible DNA damage. Single-celled organisms don't have apoptosis genes...

Hey, maybe some of those super-tough paramecia are floating around above Venus. ;)

UPDATE: In another posting to MARS-L, Michael Meyer reports that

Deinococcus was isolated from a can of meat that had been irradiated - hopefully we don't have to invoke an environment with both meat and radiation for Deinococcus evolution. It should be noted that Deinococcus radiation resistance is not a product of an ability to shield from radiation but from the wonderful capability to repair its DNA. An important consequence is that the microbe need not have evolved near a high radiation source but come from an environment in which DNA repair confers an advantage - a desert environment would fit the bill, long periods of dormancy, desiccation and exposure to UV.

For a little background, check this out.

Jay Manifold [4:59 PM]

Let's Build An Atomic Bomb

Reuters' top story (thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link) is Turkish Police Seize Weapons-Grade Uranium. Lacking the ability to independently verify the quantity seized, what can we fact-check? Two things: the stated price ($~300 per gram), and the implication that the stated quantity (15 kg) is enough for a bomb.

First, price. Compare the Russian asking price for 238Pu -- which is the product of chemical separation from used nuclear reactor fuel, therefore requiring several additional processing steps -- of $2,000 per gram.

At the other end, essentially pre-processing, this source indicates that unenriched U3O8 is around $10/lb, or 2 cents per gram. This is corroborated here.

This source appears to state that 60 metric tons of high-enriched uranium was purchased from Russia by the US government for $157 million in the mid-'90s, which works out to $~2.60 per gram. Later, Russia set a floor price of $29 per kilogram, ie 29 cents per gram, for low-enriched uranium.

I conclude that $300 per gram is within a wide but reasonable price range -- elevated by black marketeering but not beyond the price of related materials requiring greater processing.

Now the critical mass. Is 15 kilograms sufficient? This source suggests that 15 kg is sufficient, but only if it is nearly pure 235U and is surrounded by a tamper of natural (99.3% 238U) uranium, quantity unstated (the "tamped sphere" 11.5 cm in diameter is the 235U component only).

This source notes that the Hiroshima bomb had a mass of over 4000 kg and that

Little Boy used the gun assembly design and uranium 235 as the fissionable material. Because the gun design was an inefficient means of causing the chain reaction, about 50 kg of 89% U-235 and 14 kg of 50% U-235 ended being used. The projectile used up 25.6 kg, with the target having a mass of 38.4 kg. Of this, it is estimated that only about 2% actually fissioned. Little Boy's yield was 15 kilotons of TNT.

The short answer seems to be: just barely. Much depends on the expertise of putative Iraqi bomb-makers. Jane's notes that Scud missiles are nuclear-capable, but with obviously more advanced warheads -- smaller and more powerful. If Iraq is just now obtaining, or attempting to obtain, its first critical mass (of relatively less efficient uranium, rather than plutonium), it is likely to take some time to appropriately weaponize a warhead for use with these missiles, presumably several years.

Not that we should wait to do something about it. This is an event -- the use of one or more nuclear weapons against the US or a close ally -- with a low but increasing probability of occurrence and very high impact. Scenarios usually describe a ~10-kiloton nuke going off in a high-density area and killing tens of thousands of people, but an EMP shot in the ionosphere, even using a relatively small bomb, could eliminate nearly all telecommunications, electric power, and motorized transport over an area of several states.

Good risk management practice incorporates several possible strategies: avoidance, transference, mitigation, or acceptance. Avoidance and acceptance aren't meaningful options in this situation. Transference -- "seeking to shift the consequence of a risk to a third party together with ownership of the response," to quote the PMBOK -- is exactly what we do, from the perspective of an American civilian, through the use of constitutional mechanisms to "provide for the common defense."

The mitigation of this risk, therefore, belongs to the US military. Quoting the PMBOK again:

Mitigation seeks to reduce the probability and/or consequences of an adverse risk event to an acceptable threshold. Taking early action to reduce the probability of a risk's occurring or its impact ... is more effective than trying to repair the consequences after it has occurred. Mitigation costs should be appropriate, given the likely probability of the risk and its consequences.

A discussion of appropriate costs will have to wait for another time. Meanwhile, I should probably have called this post "Let's Keep Them From Building An Atomic Bomb," but I'm not above using provocative headlines.

UPDATE: The story is falling apart -- the amount of fissile material was overstated by an order of magnitude, and they're not even sure it was enriched. N.Z. Bear has the scoop. I stand by my risk management statements, however; we cannot allow ignorant savages like the present rulers of Iraq and Syria to obtain nuclear weapons.

Jay Manifold [4:45 PM]

[ 20020927 ]

I Am Not Making This Up

-- as Dave Barry would say. Suspicious trash turns up at KC residents' doorsteps is the rather bland headline for something which I'm pretty sure will end up in News of the Weird:

Each case involved trash bags or bulky items -- left at the curb by the respective homeowners days ago -- now painted white. Most, when moved, played Elvis Presley's "Return to Sender" from a concealed recorder.

Nothing like this on the Manifold household's porch yet, possibly because most of our refuse consists of used cat litter. I'll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Whaddaya know, it was an art student.

Jay Manifold [10:02 AM]

Original Reporting: is Deinococcus radiodurans a Martian Organism?

Glenn Reynolds links to a report in New Scientist, Tough Earth bug may be from Mars. I asked for comments on the MARS-L listserv, and here's what I've got so far (this will be updated as/if more come in).

Robot builder Red Whittaker of Carnegie-Mellon wrote:

One explanation of a terrestrial circumstance that would motivate the evolution of such a creature is the following: Although it is common for many elements to occur widely distributed at low concentrations, (for example, ores) this is a statistical distribution, and there are exceptions. For example there are many high concentrations for some materials, such as veins or lodes, which occur more rarely, but naturally in geology. Such a concentration of an isotope could constitute an intense radiation source of the type that might compel the evolution of a species like radiodurans.

Allan Treiman of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, describing himself as "masquerading as a microbiologist"), wrote:

The Deinococcus radiodurans microbe can survive huge doses of radiation. A few scientists, as in this report, have claimed that this ability must have arisen in a high radiation environment, i.e. Mars.

A Martian origin is possible, but no more than that. Radiodurans can survive radiation at levels far higher than ever likely to be experienced at the Martian surface -- where in the solar system could a microbe evolve at the radiation levels of a water-cooled nuclear reactor???

Most likely, the radiation-resistance is a by-product of adaptation to some other environmental stress.

UPDATE: Mel Averner of NASA responds to Allan's rhetorical question: "In a water-cooled nuclear reactor: where I believe the bug was first isolated."

Tom Sullivan of NASA-JSC (paper) then asked: "Are radiation levels in a uranium mine high enough to stress microbes in this direction?"

-- to which Allan replied:

I don't think so. The only natural example that comes to mind are the Oklo natural reactors, somewhere in Africa. They are uranium deposits, >2 billion years old, where the uranium was so concentrated and so rich in U235 (because of its age) by natural processes that self-sustaining chain reactions were possible.

That is the level of radiation that one R.d. enjoys.

Brian Wilcox of JPL/Caltech then contributed:

A few years ago I proposed in a conversation with Red Whittaker, noted robotic vehicle developer at CMU (whose vehicles were at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island) that I supposed the origin of the Deinococcus radiodurans was the "natural" fission reactors which existed on Earth until about a billion years ago, and which continue to be extremely radioactive today. Many people are apparently not aware that they exist, but I had been alerted to them by an article in Scientific American in 1976. Since these localized high-radiation environments have existed so long it is quite natural to believe that there was adequate opportunity of species to evolve which could progressively get closer and closer to the "core."

See Oklo: natural nuclear reactors for a description and bibliography related to these natural reactors. Since these reactors occur in regions of extremely high uranium content, these organisms would have been excavated with the ore and distributed to uranium processing plants and to reactor sites throughout the world.

Way cool scientist Tom Wdowiak writes:

I'd like to point out that the martian radiation environment is a cosmic ray charged particle one - protons and helium nuclei for the most part, and muons for which most things are "transparent". In a nuclear reactor gamma radiation, neutrons, and electrons (produced by as secondaries). My guess is that studies regarding the survivability of microbes have involved the latter as well as x-rays. My point is tolerance to gamma and x- radiation might be differnt from cosmic radiation. Production of peroxides from water, and other nasty species is the a radiation chemistry mechanism of kill for gamma,x-, and electrons until very high levels are reached where for complex organisms systems like neurons are disrupted, or nucleic acid molecules receive "hits". Protons and helium nuclei are a bit more differnt at least from the stand point of depositing energy in a localized region after passing through a mass, which is why the interest in cancer therapy for these projectiles ( see Physics Today, Sept 2002 ).

Having said this I have to admit that my radiation chemistry experiance is from the distant past and I may be missing something relavent to the issue being chatted about.

More updates as they arrive ...

Charles Murtaugh has a typically insightful commentary.

Jay Manifold [9:39 AM]

[ 20020925 ]

Amateur Astronomers to Discover Extrasolar Planets

OK, one more astronomy post before dabbling in UK politics again. Amateur Astronomers Needed For Night Watch, says Reuters, drawing on New Scientist's Global call for extrasolar planet watching:

TransitSearch was set up by Tim Castellano of NASA Ames Research Center and Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, after they heard that Finnish amateur astronomer Arto Oksanen had charted the passage of the planet across HD 209458 using off-the-shelf equipment.

Thousands of amateurs around the world have similar equipment, so Castellano and Laughlin wondered if they could tap into their expertise. After duplicating the feat with an 8-inch commercial telescope, they started recruiting ...

A while back, I suggested that a similar network will arise to provide warning of very small but nonetheless menacing NEOs. Transitsearch.org may be the model for just such a development.

Jay Manifold [1:45 PM]

[ 20020924 ]

Logic of Empire

OK, enough astronomy for a while. I will now stick my Middle American nose into UK politics for a couple of posts, just because I feel like it.

Glenn Reynolds points to Robert Prather's lengthy expression of annoyance over Terry Jones' commentary in the Guardian, which neatly packages every idiotarian argument against getting rid of the vermin currently parasitizing Iraq. In that sense, Jones has performed a public service; unfortunately, his arguments are based on the all-too-common fallacy that removing the current regime has only costs, and no benefits (and conversely, that leaving it in place has no costs and may benefit by strengthening international "law").

Without writing my own point-by-point refutation -- or, better yet, constructing a really good argument against intervention -- I would instead suggest that Jones, and Monty Python fans everywhere, should instead be pondering this ...

REG: They've bled us white, the bastards. They've taken everything we had, and not just from us, from our fathers, and from our fathers' fathers.

LORETTA: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers.

REG: Yeah.

LORETTA: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers' fathers.

REG: Yeah. All right, Stan. Don't labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?!

XERXES: The aqueduct?

REG: What?

XERXES: The aqueduct.

REG: Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah.

COMMANDO #3: And the sanitation.

LORETTA: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?

REG: Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.

MATTHIAS: And the roads.

REG: Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads--

COMMANDO: Irrigation.

XERXES: Medicine.

COMMANDOS: Huh? Heh? Huh...

COMMANDO #2: Education.


REG: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.

COMMANDO #1: And the wine.

COMMANDOS: Oh, yes. Yeah...

FRANCIS: Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.

COMMANDO: Public baths.

LORETTA: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.

FRANCIS: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this.

COMMANDOS: Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.

REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

XERXES: Brought peace.

REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

Extra credit to the first respondent who tells me where I swiped the title to this post from.

UPDATE: And the winner is ... previously unknown reader (the best kind) John C. LeGere, clocking in at the ungodly hour of 3:45 AM (and it may have been an hour earlier than that where he is); "'Logic of Empire' -- Robert Heinlein. First published in Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction, 1941."

Jay Manifold [6:17 PM]

[ 20020923 ]

Asteroids - Not A New Idea, But ...

Turns out the geopolitical-asteroid-threat meme I keep ranting about (but wait, there's more!) isn't especially new. I'm bringing this up for about the twentieth time after reading It's the Little Asteroids that Get You and Watch out for earthbound asteroids:

Such an explosion could be mistaken for a nuclear attack, according to the U.S. Space Command, the Defense Department unit in Colorado Springs, Colo. In June, near the height of the India-Pakistan military crisis, Space Command satellites watched as an asteroid exploded in the atmosphere high over the Mediterranean, releasing three kilotons of energy, Brig. Gen. Pete Worden says. “If it had gone off over a city, it would have looked like a warning nuclear burst,” says the officer, an astronomer by training.

But how big a problem is this, exactly? A plot of asteroid sizes indicates that the main-belt distribution of smaller asteroids follows a power law of µ D-2.3, such that for every asteroid 3 kilometers in diameter, there are 102.3 (that is, 200) asteroids 300 meters in diameter -- and 40,000 asteroids 30 meters in diameter.

This source estimates 135,000 near-Earth objects over 100 meters in diameter and several million over 30 meters in diameter, and notes that: "Impacts having Hiroshima scale energies (~0.015 MT) occur annually and dissipate in the atmosphere." But even something with one-tenth this energy -- and therefore 3Ö10 times smaller, therefore (following the power law above) about six times more common -- could be mistaken for a small nuclear warhead, and we're getting hit by one of those every couple of months.

The land area of India and Pakistan totals to 3.8 million square kilometers, 1/134 of Earth's entire surface area. I therefore estimate a 50% likelihood that a potentially triggering event, to coin a phrase, will occur by the end of 2013.

As this map says, have a nice day.

Jay Manifold [7:49 AM]

An Eponymous Post

The author of Behold the Man pens a review of this weblog's eponymous novel. (I hasten to add that both books are in the not-for-everyone category; my appreciation for both of them is rather, shall we say, carefully modulated.)

Jay Manifold [7:48 AM]

[ 20020921 ]

I Get Letters

Nothing like a mention on InstaPundit to provoke responses. Here I'll deal with the comments on my claim that Desert Storm correlated only weakly with lunar phases (weakly - phases? get it?).

To get right to the point for once, I still contend that anyone who thinks they can develop an algorithm that will generate the date of the attack to within a day or two is kidding themselves. It might be possible to narrow it to a 10- or 12-day period each month, but that's about it.

Those who pointed out to me that the air campaign of Desert Storm began at New Moon were Bruce Campbell, John Tillinghast, and "Andy X," who pointed out that it actually began at 0300 local time on Thu 17 Jan 91.

But why 0300? Why fritter away more than nine hours of darkness (civil twilight in Baghdad, 44°25' E, 33°20' N, ended at 1745 Wed 16 Jan 91 and began again at 0639 the next morning) -- in fact, over 70% of the night?

Because we told them when we'd attack. The UN set a deadline of "on or before 15 January" for withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. We attacked precisely 24 hours after this deadline expired, at midnight GMT on the 17th of January. Baghdad is 3 hours ahead. Seven-tenths of a moonless night was gone -- and it didn't matter. If you're going to wait for most of the night to pass before attacking, it doesn't need to be New Moon -- it can be within 3 or 4 days of Full.

What happens next? Well, it's reasonably obvious that an attack won't necessarily wait for New Moon, and it certainly won't be confined to a couple of days around New Moon. This story notes that "any attack would begin with a lengthy air campaign led by B-2 bombers armed with 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs to knock out Iraqi command and control headquarters and air defenses."

Presumably six B-2s will be moved to Diego Garcia from Whiteman AFB (just down the road from KC; they do flyovers here at baseball games and such every now and then). The B-2 bomber can carry 16 GBU-32 bombs, which are MK-84 bombs upgraded with JDAMs, most of which are likely to hit within 40 feet of their targets.

Consulting an atlas, we find that it's well under 3,000 statute miles from Diego Garcia to Baghdad, meaning that the B-2s could make the round trip without refueling, presumably in less than 10 hours. With sufficient ground support and enough pilots, each bomber could carry out 2 missions per day, indefinitely. In one month this would add up to nearly 6,000 bombs of the type described above.

An interesting question is whether we've even got that many. This source implies that the current inventory is, indeed, in excess of 6,000 (and notes that the catastrophic error rate -- that is, those which caused "friendly fire" casualties in Afghanistan -- was 2 out of 4,600), so based on this metric alone, the air campaign could last for a month. After which we could probably send in school-crossing guards in day-glo orange vests to round up prisoners.

Jay Manifold [10:12 AM]

Apollo 12: The Movie

Well, a piece of it, anyway, representing

the first time our planet has captured [a man-made] object from solar orbit, astronomers said on Friday.

Earth's new satellite is most likely the third stage of a massive Saturn V rocket that lifted Apollo 12 astronauts to the moon in November 1969 ...

Animations here; explanation of Langragian points here; calculation of L1's distance here.

L2, by the way, is where the Next Generation Space Telescope is to be stationed.

Jay Manifold [6:16 AM]

M1: The Movie

Background on the Crab Nebula here; movie here; high-speed connection recommended, though the *.avi is 1.7 MB, small enough to download in 8 minutes or so even with a crummy dial-up connection. Probably better than anything that just hit the theaters, even though it's only 16 seconds long.

Shockwaves propagate outward, in both X-rays and visible light, like ripples in a pond, except that this "pond" is 10 light-years across and the waves are moving at ~0.5c.

(All via Yahoo! and Space.com -- and the unsung hero of our time, the American taxpayer.)

Jay Manifold [5:29 AM]

[ 20020917 ]

Amateur Asteroid Searches

Glenn Reynolds mentions Timothy Ferris' new book. Possibly the largest amateur effort to find near-Earth asteroids is right here in KC.

UPDATE: Slightly better link here; also, an article in the Mar 02 Cosmic Messenger, the ASKC newsletter, reports that "NASA announced that Powell Observatory is second in the world in the number of NEOs observed. Our club observatory is exceeded only by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project, an MIT Lincoln Laboratory program funded by the United States Air Force and NASA."

Jay Manifold [10:24 AM]

The Hundredth Planet

-- is being announced at a conference today. Original news release here; also stories from Ananova, Reuters, and UPI.

What's it like? The short answer is "Jupiter," but nobody grazes around in Arcturus looking for short answers, so ...

According to the Hipparcos catalog, the primary, t1 Gruis, has a trigonometric parallax of 0.03004 arc-seconds, which means that this star is 33.29 parsecs, that is 108.6 light-years, from the Sun. This source gives its visual magnitude as +6.04, so its absolute magnitude (that is, how bright it would be at 10 parsecs) is +3.43, which is 1.39 magnitudes, or 3.6 times as bright, as the Sun.

One would therefore expect it to be more massive than the Sun; this source gives the relationship as L/LSun ~ (M/MSun)3.9, implying about 1.4 solar masses. Sure enough, the new planet is described as orbiting 3 times as far from t1 Gruis as Earth does from the Sun, and taking 4 years to do so. Kepler's Third Law yields a period of 5.2 years for a planet at this distance -- in our Solar System; speeding that up to 4 years would require a primary of around 1.3 solar masses, close enough to the theoretical result above to tell us that t1 Gruis is a main-sequence star, or nearly so. And indeed, its spectral type is variously given as G0V or G3IV (lengthy explanation of spectral classification here).

A planet 3 AU from a star 3.6 times as bright as the Sun is getting 40% as much sunlight as Earth does, or just slightly less than Mars. So a sufficiently large, rocky moon of this planet (which is said to be 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter) could rather resemble Mars. Unless it were at least a couple of million kilometers from the planet, however, it would be likely to experience high charged-particle radiation flux, as do all the major moons of Jupiter except Callisto, making it an exceptionally hazardous place to be. Assuming tidally-locked rotation, getting it out of the radiation belt would give it a day/night cycle of a couple of weeks or more, not very much like Mars' 24½ hours.

Can I see t1 Gruis? Not easily, if you're in the north temperate zone; it's over 48 degrees south of the celestial equator, so at my latitude it would never be more than 3 degrees above the southern horizon, and then (during early evening hours) only in October and November. Also, at sixth magnitude it requires either a good dark-sky site or binoculars. This map indicates that t1 Gruis is just over 2° southeast, that is, below and to the left on the map, of b Gruis, the star at the "center" of the constellation. All this is around 20 degrees south of Fomalhaut, one of the brightest stars in the southern sky, and which I called "a portent of the end of summer" in my meandering Perseid meteor shower report.

Jay Manifold [10:01 AM]

[ 20020916 ]

Th' Inconstant Moon

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing to Tom Maguire's suggestion that

here is a new project for someone. The launch of Desert Storm was influenced by the lunar cycle - the US military likes to fight with a full moon, or a new moon, or something. Has to do with our relative advantage in night vision technology .... Anyway, check the dates for Desert Storm, research our military preferences, check the calendar, and you can pinpoint the start of a war in Iraq to within a couple of days in January, or in February.

Well, not really. Desert Storm began at 0400 Sun 24 Feb 91. Looking up some likely coordinates (and the time zone thereof) in an atlas and using this handy application produces the following output:

U.S. Naval Observatory

Astronomical Applications Department

Sun and Moon Data for One Day

The following information is provided for (longitude E46.0, latitude N29.0):

Sunday 24 February 1991 Universal Time + 3h


Begin civil twilight




Sun transit




End civil twilight




12:11 on preceding day





Moon transit



03:46 on following day

Phase of the Moon on 24 February:waxing gibbous with 76% of the Moon's visible disk illuminated.

Coalition forces advanced rapidly -- 170 miles on the first day in one instance; some units advanced 25-30 miles per hour. They won't be any slower this time, even if they bother massing at the border first rather than just dropping straight in. Baghdad is less than 300 miles from either Kuwait or Turkey. I conclude that only the first-night illumination conditions are worth worrying about.

In which case, the only constraint appears to be a Moonless sky for a couple of hours before civil twilight. Any time between New Moon and 3-4 days before Full Moon satisfies this, which is to say at least 11 days out of every month. Doesn't pin down the date of attack much. Here are the ranges for upcoming months:


New Moon

Full Moon minus 4 days


Sun 6

Thu 17


Mon 4

Sat 16


Wed 4

Sun 15


Thu 2

Tue 14


Sat 1

Wed 12


Mon 3

Sat 15

This source notes that the Ramadan fast begins on Wed 6 Nov this year. It ends on Fri 6 Dec. So the November window may be somewhat less likely -- the regime could conceivably be toppled in 48 hours, but it's taking a chance. On this basis, therefore, any "October surprise" is likely to begin during the first full week of that month, and delay past mid-month pushes the attack out to the 2nd week of December.

Jay Manifold [5:53 PM]

[ 20020914 ]

In Response To A Certain Infamous Bumper Sticker


UPDATE (legal advice): Lest this get out of control, dear reader, let me say that if I were you, I wouldn't print this thing out and go slapping it on cars. Nor would I necessarily lay a hand on anyone trying to put one of the original "I Caused 9/11" stickers on my vehicle. We're all no doubt envisioning worthless adolescent punks who deserve to lose some teeth, but what if the perpetrator is female, or a precocious 12-year-old?

If you think you're at risk of involuntary receipt of an "I Caused 9/11" sticker, I recommend keeping something like this handy, with which to disable the vandal, and of course a mobile phone with which to call the police. Be prepared to press the most serious charge that can stick, whatever it might be, with an eye to giving the perpetrator some jail time.

Jay Manifold [10:11 AM]

[ 20020913 ]

In the Front Lines of the Florida Election Mess

An election judge in Duval County sends me this account:

Early on we had just a bit of trouble with the new machine that is an optical scanner that reads & records votes. People fill in ovals with a pen or #2 pencil, it was kicking ballots back out but it was quickly solved. The Inspector clerks who check voter IDs with the registration books & were not tearing the ballots out at the perforation quite smoothly. They were on a heavy type paper. We had 3 ballots, Dem. Repub. & non Partisan.

In the beginning of the day when I was "Accu vote clerk" I sat by the new machine & told voters how to put their ballots in to be counted. Also handed out the "I Voted" stickers.

Around 6:30 the man who was supervisor (a Republican) of our polling place got so angry when he learned he had to keep the place open til 9, he was ranting & raving & turned on the TV in this clubhouse to see what was happening on the news (it is against the law to do that, no TV, radio or newspapers alllowed in the polling places down here) he kept saying it was Janet Reno's fault that she made them do it & made all sorts of other nasty remarks about her. He went outside & shot off his mouth to Fox News who sent a camera & reporter out to our polling place.

Later sometime before 9 o'clock 2 people from the election board came out & asked him to come outside, he yelled at them & refused to go at first but finally did. I think he was told he would not be working anymore elections.

When he came back inside with them he yelled "You haven't heard the last of this, I'm not giving up".

The fact of the matter was that alot of polling places in several counties scattered all over the state did not get open until 8:30 to10 AM or later & Jeb Bush ordered the polls to stay open til 9 PM.

Most bloggers who've commented on this seem to agree with the GOP supervisor quoted above. To be charitable, it isn't obvious why. I guess some people think that human foibles correlate with partisan orientation.

Jay Manifold [10:11 AM]

I Wannabe Anarchy

I'm seeing various mentions (including Instapundit's, of course) of this Reuters story:

Once an infrastructure is established the costs of getting to Mars will go down, which could open up the possibility for different types of expeditions.

"If they were governmental or international (expeditions), Antarctic-style restraint might be feasible. On the other hand, if the explorers were privately funded adventurers of free-enterprise, even anarchic disposition, the Wild West model would be more likely to prevail," [Sir Martin Rees of the Institute of Astronomy] said.

The historical record, however, indicates otherwise:

[Jonathan] Karpoff [, Metcalfe Professor of Finance at the University of Washington’s School of Business Administration] examined 91 arctic expeditions during the “heroic age” of 1818-1909. He looked at the expeditions’ objectives, countries of origin, leaders’ experience, funding and modes of travel. The most important determinant of an expedition’s success, he concluded, was whether the expedition was funded by public or private dollars. Private expeditions, such as Peary’s, achieved most of the noteworthy arctic successes. Publicly funded expeditions, such as Greely’s, suffered a disproportionate share of the tragedies.

I think Edmund Hamilton may have had it right; his

most popular and most reprinted story is not a space opera, but a serious look at the colonization of space. He first wrote this story in the 1930's as Colonists of Mars, but it was universally rejected by editors as too grim. At the urging of his wife, Leigh Brackett, he dusted this story off and revised it. It was accepted by Thrilling Wonder Stories (for which it had been rejected earlier) and appeared in the December 1952 issue as What's It Like Out There?

-- an astonishingly downbeat story from the Golden Age of SF; it reads like something written by a disillusioned Vietnam veteran.

Jay Manifold [9:44 AM]

[ 20020911 ]

On Rediscovering Myself as an American

I could write a long, unconsciously narcissistic 9/11 piece redolent with the odor of Boomer self-regard. I could imply that what's really important about the past year is how it's affected my generation. I could go on and on about my personal struggle to develop a proper mental framework for the world we now live in. I could lament about how I am still a Libertarian, but my party has fallen behind.

But what I think really happened is that I grew up. In this post, I'm going to draw an analogy between the development of people as employees and their development as citizens, with remarks on the maturation process in general. I ask my readers to consider the analogy carefully, as some aspects of it -- which I will try to explain in greater detail -- could be easily miscontrued, which would lead immediately to accusations of statism, warmongering, and general nastiness.

Several years ago I received training, through my former employer, on the Blanchard concept of "situational leadership." This is based on the notion that employees can be characterized as exhibiting one of four main "development levels," namely:

  • D1 - "Enthusiastic Beginner"

  • D2 - "Disillusioned Learner"

  • D3 - "Reluctant Contributor"

  • D4 - "Peak Performer"

Employees usually progress from D1 to at least D2, and often D3, on their own. The trick is getting them through the D2/D3 trough and on up to D4. Where an employee falls on this scale is determined by comparing their competence with their commitment:

  • D1 - low competence, high commitment

  • D2 - some competence, low commitment

  • D3 - higher competence, variable commitment

  • D4 - high competence, high commitment

(Very, very few managers in Corporate America practice true situational leadership, but that's a rant for another time. Besides, this post isn't about how to lead. It's about how to behave, or rather, how to meaningfully contribute, in what I regard as a fight for the life of human civilization.)

Here is a graphical representation. Alert readers will notice that I have replaced the Ds with Cs, preparatory to catapulting my analogy in their general direction.























I contend that one begins, sometime in childhood, with very little knowledge but great enthusiasm; think of first-graders saying the Pledge of Allegiance. In late childhood and early adolescence there is greater knowledge but also an attitude of cynicism, if not outright rebellion. In late adolescence and early adulthood still greater knowledge may be accompanied by a great variety of attitudes. Later in adulthood, some people achieve a greater degree of maturity -- which does not mean political unanimity, as I will explain below. Nor, just to make things more complicated, is there necessarily a neat progression by age. For that matter, the same person can be a C4 in one situation and a C2 in another, as I will also attempt to explain below.

In the context of citizenship development, by "competence" I mean not only one's familiarity with political processes, but with any vocation or avocation as well. Here I introduce a new term: "technological quotient," abbreviated TQ. Someone with a high TQ has a high value of TC/OC, where TC and OC simply mean "technical competence" and "other competence." I use the idea of TQ to distinguish among technologists, non-technologists, and technologists with good people skills -- or those with good people skills who happen to be fairly technical as well.

"Commitment" is harder for me to define. "Patriotism" would be best, were it not loaded with negative connotations. C4s, and many C1s, are not loudmouthed rednecks. Perhaps "cooperativeness" or "constructive engagement" will do. What commitment emphatically does not mean is "unquestioning obedience to governmental authority," nor does it imply political agreement among all high-commitment people -- though I would expect broad adherence to something like The American's Creed; high commitment does suggest fairly strict conformance to principles.

With that said, examples of each type are:

  • C1 - children; many economically marginalized people (rural, ghetto, barrio)

  • C2 - adolescents; many low-TQ people (literati, non-technical academics)

  • C3 - young adults; many high-TQ people (techies, most Libertarians); many skeptical Democrats and Republicans

  • C4 - many relatively prosperous people; most mainstream Democrats/Republicans; some Libertarians

In this scenario, what the blogosphere has dubbed "idiotarians" are C2s, or possibly alienated (low-commitment) C3s. Most political bloggers are C4s.

Differences among C4s are likely, especially in the present situation, to concern the proper role of government, especially at the Federal level, and might (in project management parlance) be described as "inclusion" vs "exclusion." Should airline security be Federalized? Alternatively, should more aspects of air travel, eg airport construction and air traffic control, be privatized? Should we invade Iraq, or blockade Saudi Arabia, or both, or neither? What about missile defense? Immigration? There is no particular reason for C4s to agree with one another on these issues, or many others.

The implied title of "Situational Citizenship" for this whole model suggests that people can temporarily become C4s. Both juries I've served on were utterly solemn convocations of deeply committed participants who likely exhibited a wide variety of behavior outside the courtroom; and the countless heroes of last September must have been as diverse a collection of people as can be imagined until the awful events began to unfold. It could be argued that everyone in a voting booth is a momentary C4.

Then there's little ol' me. In the past year, I've gone from being an anarcho-capitalist, low-commitment C3 -- or maybe even C2, depending on who you ask -- to still-pretty-much-of-an-anarchist C4, to the extent that such a thing is humanly possible. I don't think I'm the only one. Some have said that we should try to live as we did before the attacks, or the terrorists will have forced a change upon us. But there's nothing wrong with becoming a Peak Performer. This is our time. And we will win.

Jay Manifold [5:22 AM]

[ 20020910 ]

Watch This Space

No more posting today, but be sure to drop in tomorrow; I'm trying to launch a meme, or rather a model, and have chosen the first anniversary of you-know-what to do it.

Jay Manifold [1:05 PM]

Hoag's Object

Matthew Gifford, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and Iain Murray (and probably others as well) have thoroughly scooped me on this. I can only add pointers to the Hubble Heritage page and this charming amateur observation.

Jay Manifold [8:20 AM]

[ 20020909 ]

It's A Midwestern Thing -- I Don't Understand

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing to this Jeff Jarvis rant about Californians.

Nothing would be easier for your Midwestern correspondent to agree with -- if he hadn't opened up the KCStar yesterday morning and found a special section called "Voices from the Heartland," which contains two of the most hateful pieces of writing ever to disgrace that newspaper. They don't seem to have put this section online, so I'll just type in some excerpts to give you the flavor.

Evan S. Connell, who wrote the KC-based novels which were turned into this Merchant-Ivory film, quotes H.G. Wells as having written: "If you make men sufficiently angry or fearful the hot red eyes of cavemen will glare out at you." Except that the "cavemen" Connell has in mind turn out to be us, not al-Qa'eda. "We are frightened, angry, thirsty for blood, glaring out at the world with hot red eyes." Americans have a "feeble grasp of history." The President "exhibit[s] that dangerous obtusity we have come to expect" and "... goaded innumerable Muslims, never mind North Korea, with his axis-of-evil comment."

And ultimately, it's all the fault of ... well, it's our fault, of course, but there is the antecedent of "... a legacy of hatred bequeathed to the Muslim world centuries ago by Frankish Crusaders."

Well, that certainly helps explain all those Confederate terrorist cells who keep blowing up buildings and buses full of damnyankees.

What? There aren't any? Hmm ... maybe that feeble grasp of history isn't a bug. Maybe it's a feature.

The other steaming pile in the special section is from Daniel Woodrell, who wrote the novel which got made into this movie. He proclaims that any military response is nothing but revenge -- presumably by Christian fundamentalists: "Yes, sure, of course, blood must be the answer. Blood of them all, each and every, high and low, smite them, bomb them from flesh to vapor, cleanse them from our fears with that savage scouring release of blood. We know it well. Yea, verily. The jawbone of an ass and laser-guided missiles. I walk not through the valley of the shadow and fear not since my boots splash in the warm flowing blood of them and theirs."

Or maybe it's that big-oil conspiracy we all know about: "The jumble of people and places, the drums pounding, jets fueling, troops waving farewell at the dock, babes crying amidst rubble, the roar of dollars whooshing into the pipeline."

But fear not, there is a faithful remnant: "... faint sounds of dissent are heard." Well, not so faint, actually -- getting a full page of one's vitriol in an aggressively promoted section of the KCStar is pretty nearly the PR windfall of a lifetime. But I digress. "Still there are fellow citizens who forget to tug their forelocks in meek obedience but do remember the virtues of balky stances, and these anchorites would ask hard questions of our leaders concerning motives and means and profit and ultimate designs." We can stop The Conspiracy!

The sad thing, of course, is that this country needs an intelligent anti-war opposition. Instead it's got Connell and Woodrell. God help us.

Thankfully, these two are more than counterbalanced by the other nine contributors, and thank you, Jesus, for Buck O'Neil, whose "feeble grasp of history" suits me just fine:

One thing about it is, the attacks brought us together. For a little while there after September 11, it didn't matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican [or a Libertarian -- JDM]. Yeah. It didn't matter if you were white or black. Yeah. We were Americans. We gave blood. We gave money. We cried. We all cried.

That's the America we can be. This is a wonderful country. That's why some people hate us. They hate us because we're wonderful. They hate us because we're strong. When the Egyptians were powerful, people hated them. When the Romans conquered the world, people hated them. It's our time now.

Our time.

Jay Manifold [4:25 AM]

[ 20020908 ]

The Sentinel

Dave Trowbridge nails it with the astonishing coincidence of today's reading from the Episcopal lectionary; here's a link to the passage from Ezekiel 33.

And here are the words of another sentinel:

"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."

Jay Manifold [7:10 PM]

[ 20020906 ]

But Does He Support ...

-- the Kashmir Resolution? Lileks, I mean (via Instapundit).

Jay Manifold [1:24 PM]

Gold vs Brains (III)

A while back, I semi-predicted:

How many years [will] it be before someone genetically engineer[s] a bacterium to extract [gold]?

Well, it's already happening with alfalfa, reports Lee Dye on ABCNews.com:

"I think we can get 20 percent of the weight of the plant in gold," [Jorge Gardea-Torresdey of UTEP] says.

More info here and here; this paper says:

The nucleation of Au nanoparticles inside living plants is a remarkable phenomenon, which deserves a deeper study in relation with possible applications .... it may constitute a new method for the mining of gold from solution and soils as an inexpensive method for the purification of economically important elements.


The results indicate that live alfalfa plants may be viable cost-effective means of phytomining gold from soils at low and high concentrations.

Of course, the technique will eventually be expanded to other heavy metals as well. Someday, a farmer's field -- or an evaporation pond -- will be the infrastructure for producing a weapon of mass destruction.

Jay Manifold [8:58 AM]

[ 20020905 ]

Nano, Nano (A Continuing Series)

UPI points (well, with some digging) to Atomic scale memory at a silicon surface. Browsing the *.pdf of the entire article, we find:

The highest density achieved in hard-disk demos is about 100 Gbit inch-2, whereas the Si atom memory exhibits 250 Tbit inch-2 [ie, an improvement by a factor of 2,500, from 1011 to 2.5 ´ 1014 -- JDM]. However, the push towards the atomic density limit requires a sacrifice in speed, as demonstrated in figure 5. Practical data storage might evolve in a similar direction, with the gain in speed slows [sic] down as the density increases. Somewhere on the way to the atomic scale ought to be an optimum combination of density and speed.

A glance at figure 5, "Trade-off between readout speed and storage density at the atomic limit," suggests that megabit data-transfer rates could be achieved at a storage density of 100 terabits per square inch.

Jay Manifold [3:09 PM]

Manhattan is Obsolete

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing to Geitner Simmons' comments on Nicholas Kristof's commentary on the High Plains. To be sure, the economy characteristic of rural Nebraska a century ago is a dwindling irrelevance; the swath of green running from North Dakota to west Texas on this map, and reaching as far east as north-central Iowa, tells the tale. But it tells another tale too: with virtually no exceptions, the largest growth in the past decade occurred in exurbs and in the intermountain West.

To quote myself:

The density of central cities is an artifact of an earlier time, where the value of information combined with limited bandwidth and personal transportation to require close physical proximity. Information is still valuable, but bandwidth is cheap and getting cheaper by at least an order of magnitude each decade. Commuting by car, even with only one person per vehicle, is only one-third as expensive as it was in 1980.

My day job is [NB: that was then; this is now] at the main headquarters office campus of a telecommunications firm, which I understand to be the largest build-to-suit office construction project in the world. The tallest building is five stories. I have seen the future, and it's about 50 feet high.

The WTC should not be rebuilt; such verticality is wretchedly obsolete. Tenants of high-rise buildings should move out to where there's some room. And while they are unlikely to relocate to the Sand Hills (Carhenge notwithstanding), this map (warning: > 2 MB *.pdf) tells the story of America, a story that is far from over.

Jay Manifold [1:27 PM]

The Unsurprising Results

With thanks to the pointer from Iain Murray, proprietor of my favorite virtual pub, The Edge of England's Sword ...

What revolution are You?
Made by

Jay Manifold [6:48 AM]

[ 20020904 ]

Who Says Astronomy Isn't Practical? (IV)

(Those just grazing in may wish to read this post and its predecessors.) NASA to select new space telescope all but announces that NGST-class instruments are already on orbit -- as spy satellites:

NASA and its contractors turned to the military to figure out how to launch a [six-meter] mirror ... on a rocket with a payload container measuring just five meters in diameter. The container also must hold a sun shield roughly the size of a tennis court when fully extended.

"All the deployables have heritage in the (Department of Defense) world," said [project manager Bernard] Seery. "We've had to push the state-of-the-art."

Borrowing from de-classified spy satellite technology, Lockheed and TRW both are proposing fold-up mirrors that would unfurl in space after the telescope reaches its intended orbit.

Turning to this handy page, we find that the diffraction-limited resolution of a 6 m aperture at, say, 5500 Å works out to 0.02307 arcseconds. This equals 1.12 ´ 10-8 radian, or 1 part in 8.9 million of distance to target. So at "940,000 miles," ie 1.5 million km, the NGST would have 170-meter resolution. But at 500 km, that is, in low Earth orbit, it would have a resolution of 5.6 centimeters, and in geosynchronous orbit it would have a resolution of 4.5 meters.

If such a telescope were equipped with the CCD array mentioned in this post, the "footprint" of a single image would be, respectively:

6 meter aperture; 20k ´ 20k CCD; l = 5500 Å

Distance (km)




170 m

3,400 ´ 3,400 km


4.5 m

90 ´ 90 km


5.6 cm

1,120 ´ 1,120 m

One interesting constraint on operations is the data rate. That 400-megapixel CCD would produce -- assuming 24 bit-planes, 8 each for red, green, and blue, the ubiquitous "16.7 million colors" -- 9.6 gigabits per image. Assuming the use of a 30:1 compression scheme, this would drop to 320 megabits per image.

To quote myself from a while back ... a few years ago I built a spreadsheet based on pp 6-15 of this book, which includes some fairly hairy formulas and arcane terminology (eg, "transmitter modulation loss," "received signal-to-noise spectral density ratio in the data channel," etc). Here's a snapshot of possible performance for an NGST-class spysat in GEO:

User Inputs

total spacecraft transmitter power

20 watts

total Earth-station transmitter power

1000 watts

downlink frequency (X-band)

10000 MHz = 10 GHz

spacecraft antenna radius

1 meter

Earth-station antenna radius

5 meters


10 MHz





40,000 kilometers

spacecraft antenna pointing loss

0.78 (-1.1 dB)

transmitter modulation loss

0.39 (-4.1 dB)

Boltzmann's constant

1.38E-23 w/Hz-K

system noise temperature

37 K

Downlink Outputs

transmitting-antenna gain

46.42 dB

receiving-antenna gain

60.40 dB

space loss

-204.48 dB

normalized noise power spectral density

5.11E-22 w/Hz

total received signal-to-noise spectral density ratio

127.19 dB

received signal-to-noise spectral density ratio in the data channel

125.04 dB

signal power

1.63E-09 watts

noise power

5.11E-15 watts

channel capacity

183 Mbits/sec

Uplink Outputs

transmitting-antenna gain

59.69 dB

receiving-antenna gain

45.71 dB

space loss

-203.77 dB

normalized noise power spectral density

5.11E-22 w/Hz

total received signal-to-noise spectral density ratio

144.54 dB

received signal-to-noise spectral density ratio in the data channel

142.40 dB

signal power

8.87E-08 watts

noise power

5.11E-15 watts

channel capacity

240 Mbits/sec

From the above, it appears that such a satellite could transmit a new image as often as every couple of seconds, permitting continuous real-time monitoring of, for example, vehicle movement over an area of 8,100 km².

Jay Manifold [4:33 PM]