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jul 2015 / greg goebel / follow "gvgoebel" on twitter

* This weblog provides an "online notebook" to provide comments on current events, interesting items I run across, and the occasional musing. It promotes no particular ideology. Remarks may be left on the site comment board; all sensible feedback is welcome.

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[FRI 03 JUL 15] THE COLD WAR (73)
[THU 02 JUL 15] SCIENCE NOTES
[WED 01 JUL 15] ANOTHER MONTH

[FRI 03 JUL 15] THE COLD WAR (73)

* THE COLD WAR (73): President Eisenhower talked to Admiral Strauss of the AEC on 14 June 1957, with a number of physicists in attendance, notably Edward Teller. Teller reassured the president that, thanks to the PLUMBOB tests, the US would soon have effectively "clean" nuclear weapons that didn't generate fallout. Teller was no doubt sincere in believing so -- anyone as single-minded as Teller was always sincere, no matter what came out of his mouth -- but the "clean" Bomb was something of a non-starter, there being serious questions over just how "clean" such a weapon was. More importantly, a clean Bomb was inevitably substantially less powerful than an conventional Bomb. The military, in consequence, never wanted clean Bombs, and there really wasn't any other customer for the Bombs.

Teller, having been briefed by Strauss, then went on to say that, with clean bombs, it would be possible to use them for peaceful purposes, such as digging canals or harbors, and even to "modify the weather on a broad basis through changing the dust content of the air." Although it wasn't clear there were really customers for such applications, and a later generation would find such claims notions at the very least, there was a certain public enthusiasm for "Our Friend The Atom" in the 1950s -- and Eisenhower, as his "Atoms For Peace" initiative had demonstrated, was very interested in peaceful uses of atomic energy.

The president was receptive to the message of the physicists, but skeptical enough to hedge his bets on fallout, asking the scientists if a test ban would be sensible. The answer was strong NO -- why, of course the Soviets would cheat on it. What about, Eisenhower suggested, sharing the results of PLUMBOB with the Soviets, so they could build their own clean Bombs? The answer was an even more emphatic NO, there was no way America was going to give nuclear secrets to the USSR; had Truman made such a suggestion, he would have been called a traitor. Teller added that, after clean bombs were developed, it would be possible to add materials "to produce radioactive fallout if desired."

It is unlikely that Eisenhower, having established that he wanted to solve the fallout problem, was keen on the idea of making more fallout. The notion of the "dirty Bomb" would lead to the "cobalt Bomb", in which a nuclear weapon was given a jacket of cobalt-60 metal to produce additional fallout. The "cobalt Bomb" was also a non-starter; it wasn't that much dirtier than an ordinary Bomb, the radiation effects were just more lingering, and the military was never enthusiastic about it, either.

Eisenhower was suspicious of the sales job he was getting from the atomic scientists, expressing exasperation in an NSC meeting about how every science team that gave him advice was eager to obtain new deadly toys. He expressed the wish that he could find a team that "would recommend programs which we could dispense with." However, he chose to continue with testing; Strauss was adept at controlling access of atomic scientists to the president, and so Eisenhower's only source of counsel on nuclear weapons was Teller and those of like mind. The president could only go on the advice he had.

The Eisenhower Administration continued to go through the motions of presenting nuclear disarmament proposals -- but they were skewed to maintaining American nuclear superiority, ensuring a lack of enthusiasm among the Soviets. As far as a test ban went, the Soviets did suggest a temporary moratorium, as opposed to a complete ban, a notion that appealed to Eisenhower. However, Strauss, Teller, and the other nuclear scientists in the AEC clique came to the White House to protest -- with Teller also informing the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, with his usual modest understatement, that a moratorium would be a "crime against humanity", since it would halt work on clean bombs. Khrushchev was rightfully scornful of all such talk about "clean" bombs: "How can you have a clean bomb to do dirty things?"

There was talk between the US and USSR about slowing down the nuclear arms race, but it wasn't gaining any traction. Although there was considerable public opposition to nuclear testing among the citizens of Europe, the governments of Britain and France were strongly opposed to a test ban as well, since it would hobble their own nuclear ambitions. London and Paris were still careful to only protest against a test ban in private, keeping a low profile on the issue in public, implicitly shifting the burden to the US. To Eisenhower, that was a shrug; he was happy to see Britain and France help take up the nuclear burden, and if they had to keep a low profile doing it, that wasn't a serious problem. If that implied making the US look like the "bad cop", Eisenhower was too self-assured to worry about it much. [TO BE CONTINUED]

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[THU 02 JUL 15] SCIENCE NOTES

* SCIENCE NOTES: Trying to determine when life around on Earth has necessarily proven troublesome, since it's hard to identify fossils of micro-organisms. As reported by a note from AAAS SCIENCE Online, for a long time, a 3.46-billion-year-old rock from Western Australia seemed to hold the record. The "Apex chert", as it was known, contained tiny, wormy structures could have been fossilized cell walls of early cyanobacteria.

A new study casts substantial doubt on the Apex chert "fossils". It appears that the elongated filaments were instead created by minerals forming in hydrothermal systems. After the filaments were formed, carbon accumulated on the edges, leaving behind an organic signature that suggested cell walls. That means the oldest known fossils are about a percent younger -- the 3.43-billion-year-old Strelley Pool formation, also from Western Australia, which provides stronger evidence of microfossils: hollow, bag-shaped bodies arranged in chains or clusters.

* As discussed by a note from AAAS SCIENCE Online ("Human Skeleton Has Become Lighter Over Time" by Lizzie Wade, 22 December 2014), a chimpanzee's bones are considerably denser than those of modern humans, being packed with with microscopic structures known as "spongy bone". The lack of spongy bone in humans makes their bodies lighter, but also makes their bones easier to break. Why the difference between the two species?

Two papers from the PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES published in December 2014 probed into the matter. In the first paper, the authors compared skeletons from modern chimpanzees, the early human ancestor Australopithecus africanus, Neandertals, early Homo sapiens, and today's modern humans. They found that chimps, Australopithecus, Neandertals, and even the early modern humans had much higher densities of spongy bone than today's humans, suggesting that modern humans are "domesticated", insulated from the need to hunt and forage, meaning they don't need such heavy bones.

The second paper compared the density of spongy bone in the hip joints of nonhuman primates, ancient hunter-gatherers, and ancient farmers. The hunter-gatherers' hip joints were about as strong as those of the apes, while the ancient farmers' hips showed significant loss of spongy bone. The hint in this study is that humans may not have evolved to have lightweight bones; if we were forced to revert to a primitive life-style that kept us active all day, we'd likely revert to heavier bones as well.

* The fact that Yellowstone National Park in the state of Wyoming is a volcanic caldera, essentially one huge volcano -- discussed here in 2008 -- that occasionally undergoes massive eruptions is a source of uneasiness to those of us who don't live so far away from it. As discussed by a note from AAAS SCIENCE ("Two Huge Magma Chambers Spied Beneath Yellowstone National Park" by Eric Hand, 23 April 2015), researchers are keeping an eye on it; geoscientists have now completely imaged the subterranean plumbing system underneath Yellowstone and have found not just one, but two magma chambers underneath the giant volcano.

Scientists had already known about a magma "plume" that brings molten rock up from deep in the mantle to a region about 60 kilometers (37 miles) below the surface. They had also imaged a shallow magma chamber about 10 kilometers (6 miles) below the park, containing about 10,000 cubic kilometers (2,400 cubic miles) of molten material; eruptions occur when the material is ejected from this chamber. Now they have found another chamber, 4.5 times larger, between that and the plume, between 20 and 50 kilometers (12 and 31 miles) below the surface.

This discovery gives no greater worries of an eruption. The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago, there's no sign another one will happen any time soon, and the major current concern is earthquakes. However, the deeper chamber does imply that the shallow chamber can be replenished again and again, leading to the eruption of far more material.

Researchers used seismometers to probe the Earth below Yellowstone, tracking the propagation of earthquake waves. When earthquakes pass through liquid material, seismic waves slow down, with these low-velocity regions interpreted as magma chambers -- although these chambers are still mostly solid rock, with only a small fraction of liquid melt. 11 seismometers from the EarthScope USArray -- discussed here in 2010 -- to listen to deep quakes, and 69 seismometers from several local seismic networks to gather data from shallower earthquakes. The study will enhance our understanding of the Yellowstone caldera, and our ability to predict its future behavior.

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[WED 01 JUL 15] ANOTHER MONTH

* ANOTHER MONTH: According to TIME magazine online, the state of New Jersey is working to clamp down on "dead driving". A state audit in March revealed the Motor Vehicle Commission had issued official documents, such as licenses, to more than 300 people who no longer among the living. A proposed law would require the Commission to cross-check records with the Social Security Administration databases to avoid issuing legal documents to the deceased. If we must fear the walking dead, at least we won't have to worry about them behind the wheel.

* I had been using Amazon's Cover Creator app to build covers for my Amazon Kindle ebooks. I finally got to looking at the covers I had and thought: These are sorry -- I could put together much better covers myself.

I have a collection of old racy detective paperback covers that I retouched on Flickr, and I'd also added a few simple fake covers that I brewed up myself. I decided to use the fakes for inspiration in cooking up my own ebook covers, and quickly got one thrown together. It looked good, much better than what I had; I put other things on the back burner, and knocked out covers for all 21 of my ebooks as quickly as I could. They were all evolved from a common general configuration -- edition number at top right, then title, then an image, then author at the bottom -- with variations as per ebook type, and for individual ebooks as seemed useful. Once I acquired a few covers as templates, it was easy to modify them for other ebooks.

I was thinking that I might get a bit of extra sales from the better covers, but didn't want to get my hopes up, particularly since I would have no way to sort out a slight increase in sales. It's not certain that I did, but I had a record sales month in June, selling an average of more than one ebook a day, despite the fact that June isn't supposed to be a big book sales month. I'm very interested in seeing what happens in August, traditionally one of the top sales months.

new ebook covers

Publishing ebooks has, incidentally, made me more reticent in face-to-face communications, and I'm not all that forward to begin with. The pocket change I'm picking up is all very good, but there's also the fact that there are people out there who are interested enough in what I have to say to actually pay money to read it. How cool is that? It's also interesting to me that well more people read hobbyist material like AIRBUS JETLINERS, than meatier historical or scientific fare.

That then poses the question of why I would bother to say things to people that they would never think of paying any money for. The end point of such idle discussions seems to usually be tiresome disputes over politics, religion, and such, with questions posed to me along the lines of: "What do you think about that?!" -- to which I reply: "It's all very complicated; or it's all very simple; or maybe it's both; or neither."

Unfortunately, that ends up picking a fight, or at least inflaming the fight already in progress. Such considerations, of course, do not rule out the polite small talk I use to lubricate interactions with others, nor does it suggest that maintaining my open websites is a waste of time. People only read my blog if they damn well feel like it, and that teaches me the necessary humility of being a writer: The customer is always right. I can do things on the websites that would be too inconsequential to sell, or too elaborate to cram into an ebook, and the websites give me a feedstock that I can use to produce ebooks; the websites and ebooks complement each other. Besides, I do get donations every now and then.

* Thanks to one reader for a donation to support the websites last month. It is very much appreciated.

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