Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 25th, 2021

Earth, wind, and solar fire: The next Carrington event

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Ian Steadman writes in Increment:

By the time COVID-19 started spreading in late 2019, experts had warned for years that a pandemic was the high-probability global threat. Still, many countries seemed caught on the back foot. As someone morbidly interested in the apocalyptic, I couldn’t help but wonder: What else do we think we’re prepared for, but really aren’t?

Plenty of disasters are a case of when, not if. Each has its own flavorclimate change is a whole buffetbut one in particular has similar traits to the pandemic: We know it’s coming, we know it’ll cause disruption on a global scale, and if we aren’t prepared, it could have a high death toll. It wouldn’t kill directly like a disease; instead, it could take out our electrical and communications infrastructure, disabling the health, food, and fuel supply chains that sustain billions of people. To understand why, and how, let’s go back to 1859, to the English astronomer Richard Carrington.

Carrington was part of the first generation of astronomers to study the Sun in detail. Born into a wealthy brewing family, he could afford to drop out of academia and build his own observatory on the grounds of his country manor in Redhill, a rural town halfway between London and England’s South Coast, where he would sit each day watching the surface of the Sun projected onto a cotton sheet via his telescope. At 11:18 a.m. on the morning of September 1, 1859, he saw two brilliant white points of light emerging from a large cluster of sunspots. He quickly sketched what he’d seen, and included the illustration with a report published in the Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society a couple months later. (Richard Hodgson, an amateur astronomer who lived in Essex, offered a less detailed version of events in the same journal.)

By the following evening, the particles from those flares had reached Earth, and the sky was ablaze with aurorasthe northern (and southern) lights. In the Rocky Mountains, campers woke and started making breakfast at midnight; a man in New Orleans went hunting at 1 a.m. From North America to East Asia, Hawaii to Colombia, Brisbane to Cape Town, crowds stayed up all night to stare at the razzle-dazzle: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves,” reported The New York Times, “rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red [until] lost in the beams of the rising sun.

The appearance of auroras near the equator might not sound like a disaster, but the lights were just a sideshow. The huge, invisible storm behind the phenomenon is what should worry us today.

Earth is constantly being struck by charged particles blown out by the Sun across the solar system. Solar storms result from coronal mass ejections (CMEs), a release of billions of tons of charged plasma that follows solar flares. Particles travel along Earth’s magnetic field lines, which converge at the polesand, as they travel through the atmosphere, they excite oxygen and nitrogen atoms so they emit light. The worse the weather in space, the further south or north the particles break in, and the further the auroras travel: The Carrington Event was caused by the biggest known CME of the last 200 years. But the charge in those particles has to go somewhere. The Carrington Event happened during the early years of the telegraphthe first human-made technology vulnerable to such geomagnetic fluxwhich gives us an inkling of how chaotic a similar solar storm could be in the present.

During the most extreme storms, changes in Earth’s magnetic field induce electrical current in conductors on the planet’s surfacenotably, metallic structures like oil pipelines, railway tracks, and electrical transmission lines. In 1859, the global telegraph network had more than 200,000 kilometers of cables, mostly in North America and Europe. As the storm peaked, operators from San Francisco to Bombay found their cables and equipment overwhelmed by the “auroral current.” In New York City, one man was left stunned by an “arc of fire” that shot off a ground wire onto his forehead; an operator in Pittsburgh saw “streams of fire” pouring from his circuits as they nearly melted. Telegraph operators in Boston and Portland, Maine, disconnected their batteries but found the storm current was enough to power the line on its own, while across the world messages were blocked, their signals overwhelmed. Normal service only resumed after several days, as the flux faded and equipment was repaired.

The Carrington Event happened before mass electrification. Today, the world is criss-crossed by billions of kilometers of cablesand if a similar storm were to hit, the disruption could be orders of magnitude worse. Anything that handles high-voltage AC power, like substation transformers where power from the electrical grid is stepped down, is especially vulnerable to overheating, melting, or catching fire.

Transformers are large, expensive objects, often taking months to design, build, and test for specific sites. A 2014 Congressional report found that if more than eight transformers in the United States were destroyed simultaneously, the country’s entire grid system would collapse. Since it can take up to 20 months to build, test, and install new transformers, many areas could see extended periods with reduced grid power, or even none at all. At worst, the damage to the grid could lead to cascading economic and public health failures across large regions, or even continents, as logistics chainsfor food, gas, medicines, delivery of replacement partsstruggle to recover. A 2016 FEMA training exercise assumed the worst problems in urban and populated suburban areas would kick off on the eighth day after a hypothetical 1859-scale storm because most facilities that use backup generators, like hospitals, often only keep a week’s worth of fuel on site.

But even if the grid remains intact, solar storms can cause communications blackouts. High geomagnetic flux in space and the atmosphere can overwhelm some of the frequencies used for radio transmission, even interfering with cellular services. Some storms have temporarily or even permanently disabled satellites and significantly degraded GPS accuracy: A relatively minor storm in October 2011 knocked out North America’s flight navigation system for several hours. Anything that relies on satellites and/or radio transmissions could be affected.

The most dangerous place for satellites to be during a storm is . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and unfortunately, it’s grim.

We know clearly what will happen and that it will happen. We don’t know when, so we have collectively decided, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” — or, more likely, “We’ll die on that bridge when we come to it.”

UPDATE: After sleeping on it, I realized that all humans, individually and collectively, have trouble bring focus and action to bear on things that are important but not urgent. I can see evolutionary reasons for that: we developed razor-focus on urgent things. By definition, non-urgent things are not an immediate threat, so those get pushed aside.

The whole point of Covey’s 7 habits is to bring focus and action — identifying things that are both important and not urgent, and then schedule some actions every week to address those.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2021 at 8:59 pm

One political party wants people to vote; the other one doesn’t want people to vote and is doing what it can to make sure they can’t

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

There is only one story today.

It is not the coronavirus pandemic, although 547,000 of us have died of Covid-19, and a study today suggested that we could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths if we had adopted masks and social distancing early on. It is not the coronavirus even though today President Joe Biden noted that we will reach 100 million vaccinations tomorrow and that he aims to reach 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office….

It is not the situation on our southern border, where a surge of migrants apparently matches the seasonal pattern of people trying to make it into the United States….

It is not the economy, although the U.S. Treasury said today it had issued 37 million payments this week, worth $83 billion, from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan….

The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.

Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.

This is the only story from today because it is the only story historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?

The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the For the People Act, which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.

The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.

Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the For the People Act.

They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.

The story today is not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2021 at 8:42 pm

Personal notes: Pfizer shot, spring onions, and a sunny day

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I got my first Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine inoculation, and I will be called to schedule the second in a few weeks. They warned me not to expect any immunity until a couple of weeks have passed.

Then we went to Market Garden, a local nice store, and I saw the first spring onions of the year, so I immediately bought a couple of bunches. These I sauté (chopped, including leaves), and I have a few things on hand I can include in the sauté — garlic (of course), fresh asparagus, steamed veggies (beets, carrots, butternut squash, and broccoli, all ready to go), mushrooms, fennel, yellow bell pepper — plus appropriate herbs and spices and sauces (fish, soy, tamari, or Worcestershire). I’ll sauté a mix of those to have as Other Vegetables (and broccoli also counts as a Cruciferous Vegetable, of course).

Altogether a good day.


Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2021 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Medical

Bad blood and bad faith in the US Senate

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Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2021 at 11:05 am

Spice and smoothness

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Barrister & Mann Reserve shaving soaps are very nice indeed — another instance of a super-premium soap:

Potassium Stearate, Glycerin, Aqua, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Potassium Tallowate, Potassium Safflowerate, Cocos nucifera (Coconut) Milk, Sodium Stearate, Ricinus communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Sucrose Cocoate, Sodium Lactate, Fragrance, Tocopherol Acetate, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Safflowerate, Linalool, D-Limonene, Coumarin, Eugenol, Hexyl Cinnamic Aldehyde, Alpha-Iso-Methylionone, Citronellol, Geraniol, Cinnamic Alcohol (Cinnamyl Alcohol), Isoeugenol, Benzyl Benzoate, Cinnamic Aldehyde (Cinnamal), Evernia prunastri (Oakmoss) Extract

As you can see, this soap has more “commercial”-sounding ingredients than the typical artisan shaving soap, but the overall outcome is quite good. (The Barrister & Mann Excelsior base is more typical of an artisan shaving soap, but even that has some ingredients not found in most artisan soaps — for example Tetrasodium EDTA, which improves performance in hard water.)

Phoenix Artisan’s Amber Aerolite brush easily evoked a superb lather — and it’s worth nothing that B&M recommends using a synthetic knot with the Reserve shaving soaps.

Three passes with the stainless steel Mamba did result in one small nick, but My Nik Is Sealed took care of that instantly. A good splash of Reserve Spice aftershave, and the day begins: V-Day.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2021 at 9:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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