Later On

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

Archive for September 10th, 2021

“Galaxy Quest” from a Don Quixote perspective

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I have seen Galaxy Quest before — an excellent movie, particularly for Star Trek fans, which stars Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and Tim Allen. It’s currently available on Netflix, and having just been discussing that thinking about Don Quixote, I saw it through that lens — and it works.

If you’ve read Don Quixote, watch Galaxy Quest with Don Quixote in mind. It enriches the movie immensely.

Update: For example, the aliens took the TV series as historical documents, but then they make the fictional real.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Movies & TV

Floating condo

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This is pretty slick for a certain demographic. Rachel Cormack writes in Robb Report:

A luxe, eco-friendly floating oasis could be coming to a city near you—if Anthénea has anything to say about it, that is. After unveiling a pioneering prototype back in 2019, the French outfit has announced it will roll out its first dome-shaped apartments early next year.

It’s been a long road for the fully autonomous pod known simply as Anthénea. Penned by French naval architect Jean-Michel Duacancelle, the original design was inspired by the villain’s lair from the 1977 James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me. The UFO-like structure has taken more than five prototypes and over 15 years to complete, but now it’s finally ready to hit the seas.

The fine-tuned Anthénea has a diameter of 31 feet and offers space for either two adults or a family of four onboard. The upscale interior features a lounge, bar and kitchenette while the rooftop sports a bar-slash-solarium that can accommodate up to 12 guests.

Arguably, the Anthénea’s best feature is its ability to fuse seamlessly with the marine world. The company describes it as a “lotus flower” as it sits atop the seas and “has no impact on the underwater ecosystem.” The pod is fitted with solar panels and powered by 100 percent clean energy. It’s also equipped with an innovative anchoring system and sand screw which does minimal damage to the ocean floor.

Additional green tech comes in the form of a saltwater filtration system and a US Coast Guard-approved waste treatment system. The structure itself is also 100 percent recyclable, which means no waste even at the end of its lifecycle.

The Anthénea can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

New Math Book Rescues Landmark Topology Proof

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Interesting that the proof was almost lost simply because it was poorly written. Kevin Hartnett writes in Quanta:

One of the most important pieces of mathematical knowledge was on the verge of being lost, maybe forever. Now, a new book hopes to save it.

The Disc Embedding Theorem rewrites a proof completed in 1981 by Michael Freedman — about an infinite network of discs — after years of solitary toil on the California coast. Freedman’s proof answered a question that at the time was one of the most important unsolved questions in mathematics, and the defining problem in Freedman’s field, topology.

Freedman’s proof felt miraculous. Nobody at the time believed it could possibly work — until Freedman personally persuaded some of the most respected people in the field. But while he won over his contemporaries, the written proof is so full of gaps and omissions that its logic is impossible to follow unless you have Freedman, or someone who learned the proof from him, standing over your shoulder guiding you.

“I probably didn’t treat the exposition of the written material as carefully as I should have,” said Freedman, who today leads a Microsoft research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara focused on building a quantum computer. [No “probably” about it. – LG]

Consequently, the miracle of Freedman’s proof has faded into myth.

Today, few mathematicians understand what he did, and those who do are aging out of the field. The result is that research involving his proof has withered. Almost no one gets the main result, and some mathematicians have even questioned whether it’s correct at all.

In a 2012 post on MathOverflow, one commenter referred to the proof as a “monstrosity of a paper” and said he had “never met a mathematician who could convince me that he or she understood Freedman’s proof.”

The new book is the best effort yet to fix the situation. It is a collaboration by five young researchers who were captivated by the beauty of Freedman’s proof and wanted to give it new life. Over nearly 500 pages, it spells out the steps of Freedman’s argument in complete detail, using clear, consistent terminology. The goal was to turn this important but inaccessible piece of mathematics into something that a motivated undergraduate could learn in a semester.

“There is nothing left to the imagination anymore,” said Arunima Ray of the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn, co-editor of the book along with Stefan Behrens of Bielefeld University, Boldizsár Kalmár of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Min Hoon Kim of Chonnam National University in South Korea, and Mark Powell of Durham University in the U.K. “It’s all nailed down.”

Sorting Spheres

In 1974, Michael Freedman was 23 years old, and he had his eye on one of the biggest problems in topology, a field of math which studies the basic characteristics of spaces, or manifolds, as mathematicians refer to them.

It was called the Poincaré conjecture, after the French mathematician Henri Poincaré, who’d posed it in 1904. Poincaré predicted that any shape, or manifold, with certain generic characteristics must be equivalent, or homeomorphic, to the sphere. (Two manifolds are homeomorphic when you can take all the points on one and map them over to points on the other while maintaining relative distances between points, so that points that are close together on the first manifold remain close together on the second.)

Poincaré was specifically thinking of three-dimensional manifolds, but mathematicians went on to consider manifolds of all dimensions. They also wondered if the conjecture held for two types of manifolds. The first type, known as a “smooth” manifold, doesn’t have any features like sharp corners, allowing you to perform calculus at every point. The second, known as a “topological” manifold, can have corners where calculus is impossible.

By the time Freedman started work on the problem, mathematicians had made a lot of progress on the conjecture, including solving the topological version of it in dimensions 5 and higher.

Freedman focused on the four-dimensional topological conjecture. It stated that any topological manifold that’s a four-dimensional “homotopy” sphere, which is loosely equivalent to a four-dimensional sphere, is in fact homeomorphic (strongly equivalent) to the four-dimensional sphere.

“The question we’re asking is, [for the four-sphere], is there a difference between these two notions of equivalence?” said Ray.

The four-dimensional version was arguably the hardest version of Poincaré’s problem. This is due in part to the fact that the tools mathematicians used to solve the conjecture in higher dimensions don’t work in the more constrained setting of four dimensions. (Another contender for the hardest version of the question is the three-dimensional Poincaré conjecture, which wasn’t solved until 2002, by Grigori Perelman.)

At the time Freedman set to work, no one had any fully developed idea for how to solve it — meaning that if he was going to succeed, he was going to have to invent wildly new mathematics.

Curves That Count

Before getting into how he proved the Poincaré conjecture, it’s worth digging a little more into what the question is really asking.

A four-dimensional homotopy sphere can be characterized by the way curves drawn inside it interact with each other: The interaction tells you something essential about the larger space in which they’re interacting.

In the four-dimensional case, these curves will be two-dimensional planes (and in general, the curves will be at most half the dimension of the larger space they’re drawn inside). To understand the basic setup, it’s easier to consider a simpler example involving one-dimensional curves intersecting inside two-dimensional space, like this: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Books, Math

Change in walk goals

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I changed my approach to Nordic walking, having decided (and observed) that a more moderate goal results in more frequent walking. The 8000-step, 4.1-mile, 1 hr 10-15 minute goal was achievable, but tiring, and the prospect of the walk did not gladden my heart. When we remember experiences we’ve had, we tend to weight more heavily the things toward the end (see: Peak-End Theory), which is why one should design vacations to end with something special and why performers leave the stage at a climax, with the audience clamoring for more.

So when the day came when I couldn’t walk because of weather, it was easy to skip the next day as well, and before I knew it, a week had passed.

I figured I should not ignore the event, so I decided to cut my goal from 8000 steps to 5000 steps, and I used for my walk route the short-cut toward the end that I had previously used when I felt too tired to finish. That walk turns out to be 56-58 minutes (so far — the time might improve) and 6300-6400 steps. According to Plotaroute.com, it is 3.3 miles, which is a respectable distance. With the Nordic-walking 20% boost to the normal Cooper aerobic points for that distance and time, I get 6.7 points per day, which for 6 days results in 40.2 points, comfortably above Cooper’s recommended minimum requirement (35 points per week for men, 27 for women, the points accumulated over at least 4 exercise sessions per week and at most 6).

I’ve had a couple of days at the new planned distance, and my internal resistance to the walk is noticeably lessened — it’s a short enough walk to be pleasant, and I don’t hit a point — as I did for the longer distance — of dreading how much farther I have to go. Before I notice it, the walk is done.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 4:13 pm

After 9/11, the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong

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In the Atlantic Garrett M. Graff, a journalist, historian, and the author of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, lays out the bad decisions after 9/11 — many of which were strongly opposed at the time (for example, many (including yours truly) vociferously opposed the (stupid) invasion of Iraq):

On the friday after 9/11, President George W. Bush visited the New York City site that the world would come to know as Ground Zero. After rescue workers shouted that they couldn’t hear him as he spoke to them through a bullhorn, he turned toward them and ad-libbed. “I can hear you,” he shouted. “The whole world hears you, and when we find these people who knocked these buildings down, they’ll hear all of us soon.” Everybody roared. At a prayer service later that day, he outlined the clear objective of the task ahead: “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney offered his own vengeful promise. “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will,” he told the host, Tim Russert. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.” He added, “That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.”

In retrospect, Cheney’s comment that morning came to define the U.S. response to the 2001 terrorist attacks over the next two decades, as the United States embraced the “dark side” to fight what was soon dubbed the “Global War on Terror” (the “GWOT” in gov-speak)—an all-encompassing, no-stone-unturned, whole-of-society, and whole-of-government fight against one of history’s great evils.

It was a colossal miscalculation.

The events of September 11, 2001, became the hinge on which all of recent American history would turn, rewriting global alliances, reorganizing the U.S. government, and even changing the feel of daily life, as security checkpoints and magnetometers proliferated inside buildings and protective bollards sprouted like kudzu along America’s streets.

I am the author of an oral history of 9/11. Two of my other books chronicle how that day changed the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts and the government’s doomsday plans. I’ve spent much of this year working on a podcast series about the lingering questions from the attacks. Along the way, I’ve interviewed the Cassandra-like FBI agents who chased Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda before the attacks; first responders and attack survivors in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania; government officials who hid away in bunkers under the White House and in the Virginia countryside as the day unfolded; the passengers aboard Air Force One with the president on 9/11; and the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden a decade later. I’ve interviewed directors of the CIA, FBI, and national intelligence; the interrogators in CIA black sites; and the men who found Saddam Hussein in that spider hole in Iraq.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, I cannot escape this sad conclusion: The United States—as both a government and a nation—got nearly everything about our response wrong, on the big issues and the little ones. The GWOT yielded two crucial triumphs: The core al-Qaeda group never again attacked the American homeland, and bin Laden, its leader, was hunted down and killed in a stunningly successful secret mission a decade after the attacks. But the U.S. defined its goals far more expansively, and by almost any other measure, the War on Terror has weakened the nation—leaving Americans more afraid, less free, more morally compromised, and more alone in the world. A day that initially created an unparalleled sense of unity among Americans has become the backdrop for ever-widening political polarization.

The nation’s failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What’s much harder to understand is how—if at all—we can make things right.

As a society, we succumbed to fear.

The most telling part of September 11, 2001, was the interval between the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m., and the second, at 9:03. In those 17 minutes, the nation’s sheer innocence was on display.

The aftermath of the first crash was live on the nation’s televisions by 8:49 a.m. Though horrified, many Americans who saw those images still went on about their morning. In New York, the commuter-ferry captain Peter Johansen recalled how, afterward, he docked at the Wall Street Terminal and every single one of his passengers got off and walked into Lower Manhattan, even as papers and debris rained down from the damaged North Tower.

At the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called Bush, who was in Florida. They discussed the crash and agreed it was strange. But Rice proceeded with her 9 a.m. staff meeting, as previously scheduled, and Bush went into a classroom at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School to promote his No Child Left Behind education agenda. At the FBI, the newly arrived director, Robert Mueller, was actually sitting in a briefing on al-Qaeda and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole when an aide interrupted with news of the first crash; he looked out the window at the bright blue sky and wondered how a plane could have hit the World Trade Center on such a clear day.

Those muted reactions seem inconceivable today but were totally appropriate to the nation that existed that September morning. The conclusion of the Cold War a decade earlier had supposedly ended history. To walk through Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock today is to marvel at how low-stakes everything in the 1990s seemed.

But after that second crash, and then the subsequent ones at the Pentagon and in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, our government panicked. There’s really no other way to say it. Fear spread up the chain of command. Cheney, who had been hustled to safety in the minutes after the second crash, reflected later, “In the years since, I’ve heard speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.”

The initial fear seemed well grounded. Experts warned of a potential second wave of attacks and of al-Qaeda sleeper cells across the country. Within weeks, mysterious envelopes of anthrax powder began sickening and killing people in Florida, New York, and Washington. Entire congressional office buildings were sealed off by government officials in hazmat suits.

The world suddenly looked scary to ordinary citizens—and even worse behind the closed doors of intelligence briefings. The careful sifting of intelligence that our nation’s leaders rely on to make decisions fell apart. After the critique that federal law enforcement and spy agencies had “failed to connect the dots” took hold, everyone shared everything—every tip seemed to be treated as fact. James Comey, who served as deputy attorney general during some of the frantic post-9/11 era, told me in 2009 that he had been horrified by the unverified intelligence landing each day on the president’s desk. “When I started, I believed that a giant fire hose of information came in the ground floor of the U.S. government and then, as it went up, floor by floor, was whittled down until at the very top the president could drink from the cool, small stream of a water fountain,” Comey said. “I was shocked to find that after 9/11 the fire hose was just being passed up floor by floor. The fire hose every morning hit the FBI director, the attorney general, and then the president.”

According to one report soon after 9/11, a nuclear bomb that terrorists had managed to smuggle into the country was hidden on a train somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This tip turned out to have come from an informant who had misheard a conversation between two men in a bathroom in Ukraine—in other words, from a terrible global game of telephone. For weeks after, Bush would ask in briefings, “Is this another Ukrainian urinal incident?”

Even disproved plots added to the impression that the U.S. was under constant attack by a shadowy, relentless, and widespread enemy. Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.”

At the time, some commentators politely noted the danger of tilting at such nebulous concepts, but a stunned American public appeared to crave a bold response imbued with a higher purpose. As the journalist Robert Draper writes in To Start a War, his new history of the Bush administration’s lies, obfuscations, and self-delusions that led from Afghanistan into Iraq, “In the after-shocks of 9/11, a reeling America found itself steadied by blunt-talking alpha males whose unflappable, crinkly-eyed certitude seemed the only antidote to nationwide panic.”

he crash of that second plane at 9:03, live on millions of television sets across the country, had revealed a gap in Americans’ understanding of our world, a gap into which anything and everything—caution and paranoia, liberal internationalism and vengeful militarism, a mission to democratize the Middle East and an ever more pointless campaign amid a military stalemate—might be poured in the name of shared national purpose. The depth of our leaders’ panic and the amorphousness of our enemy led to a long succession of tragic choices.

We chose the wrong way to seek justice.

Before 9/11, the United States had a considered, constitutional, and proven playbook for targeting terrorists: They were arrested anywhere in the world they could be caught, tried in regular federal courts, and, if convicted, sent to federal prison. The mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Arrested in Pakistan. The 1998 embassy bombers? Caught in Kenya, South Africa, and elsewhere. In Sweden on the very morning of 9/11, FBI agents had arrested an al-Qaeda plotter connected to the attack on the USS Cole. The hunt for the plotters of and accomplices to the new attacks could have been similarly handled in civilian courts, whose civil-liberties protections would have shown the world how even the worst evils met with reasoned justice under the law.

Instead, on November 13, 2001, President Bush announced in an executive order that those rounded up in the War on Terror would be treated not as criminals, or even as prisoners of war, but as part of a murky category that came to be known as “enemy combatants.”

While civil libertarians warned of a dark path ahead, Americans seemed not . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Meanwhile, for all the original talk of banishing evil from the world, the GWOT’s seemingly exclusive focus on Islamic extremism has led to the neglect of other threats actively killing Americans. In the 20 years since 9/11, thousands of Americans have succumbed to mass killers—just not the ones we went to war against in 2001. The victims have included worshippers in churchessynagogues, and temples; people at shopping mallsmovie theaters, and a Walmart; students and faculty at universities and community colleges; professors at a nursing school; children in elementarymiddle, and high schools; kids at an Amish school and on a Minnesota Native American reservation; nearly 60 concertgoers who were machine-gunned to death from hotel windows in Las Vegas. But none of those massacres were by the Islamic extremists we’d been spending so much time and money to combat. Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed by domestic terrorists than by foreign ones. Political pressure kept national-security officials from refocusing attention and resources on the growing threat from white nationalists, armed militias, and other groups energized by the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim strains of the War on Terror.

FDR was right: the thing to fear is fear itself — fear leads to panic, and panic leads to bad and ill-considered decisions.

Update: But see also David Corn’s article  in Mother Jones: “It’s Not Too Late to Learn the Lessons We Didn’t Learn From 9/11.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 3:57 pm

How Educational Differences Are Widening America’s Political Rift

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Nat Cohn has an interesting article on America’s division along education lines. It’s in the NY Times, but the link here is a gift link that skirts the paywall. The article begins:

The front lines of America’s cultural clashes have shifted in recent years. A vigorous wave of progressive activism has helped push the country’s culture to the left, inspiring a conservative backlash against everything from “critical race theory” to the supposed cancellation of Dr. Seuss.

These skirmishes may be different in substance from those that preceded them, but in the broadest sense they are only the latest manifestation of a half-century trend: the realignment of American politics along cultural and educational lines, and away from the class and income divisions that defined the two parties for much of the 20th century.

As they’ve grown in numbers, college graduates have instilled increasingly liberal cultural norms while gaining the power to nudge the Democratic Party to the left. Partly as a result, large portions of the party’s traditional working-class base have defected to the Republicans.

Over the longer run, some Republicans even fantasize that the rise of educational polarization might begin to erode the Democratic advantage among voters of color without a college degree. Perhaps a similar phenomenon may help explain how Donald J. Trump, who mobilized racial animus for political gain, nonetheless fared better among voters of color than previous Republicans did, and fared worse among white voters.

President Biden won about 60 percent of college-educated voters in 2020, including an outright majority of white college graduates, helping him run up the score in affluent suburbs and putting him over the top in pivotal states.

This was a significant voting bloc: Overall, 41 percent of people who cast ballots last year were four-year college graduates, according to census estimates. By contrast, just 5 percent of voters in 1952 were college graduates, according to that year’s American National Elections Study.

Yet even as college graduates have surged in numbers and grown increasingly liberal, Democrats are no stronger than they were 10, 30 or even 50 years ago. Instead, rising Democratic strength among college graduates and voters of color has been counteracted by a nearly equal and opposite reaction among white voters without a degree.

When the Harvard-educated John F. Kennedy narrowly won the presidency in 1960, he won white voters without a degree but lost white college graduates by a two-to-one margin. The numbers were almost exactly reversed for Mr. Biden, who lost white voters without a degree by a two-to-one margin while winning white college graduates.

About 27 percent . . .

Continue reading — and no paywall for this article.

I’ve observed the Republicans increasingly seem ignorant, and it seems that observation is accurate.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 3:30 pm

Tesla finesses state ban on auto makers selling directly to consumers by opening store on tribal land

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The requirement that autos must be sold only through third-party dealerships was once useful, but the utility has faded. Now the law penalizes the public by requiring a middleman and markup, and because state legislatures are basically up for sale, well-funded cardealer associations can control legislative votes. Tesla found a way around the obstacle.

Fred Lambert writes in Electrek:

Tesla has found a loophole to get around New Mexico’s ban on direct car sales by launching their first store and service center on tribal land.

 

New Mexico, like a few other states, still has laws prohibiting direct sales of electric vehicles to the public without going through third-party dealerships.

These bans come from old laws that were meant to protect car dealers from their own automakers supplying the vehicles.

The idea is that automakers couldn’t open a company-owned store next to a third-party dealer after they have made the investment to sell their cars.

However, now car dealerships are using those old laws to prevent automakers who never had deals with third-party franchise dealers, like Tesla, from selling their vehicles to the public, even though it’s fair competition.

Tesla has been fighting those laws in many states with some success.

It hasn’t been the case in New Mexico where Tesla hasn’t been able to establish an official presence.

In 2019, Tesla tried to push a new law in the state with the help of some favorable legislators, but the local car dealer associations flexed their political muscle and it was dropped.

But Tesla has now found a loophole.

This week, the automaker managed to open its first store and service center inside an old casino north of Santa Fe, and they did it by partnering with the first nation of Nambé Pueblo and opening the location on their tribal land. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 11:34 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

World’s biggest ‘direct air capture’ plant starts pulling in CO2

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Jan Wurzbacher, co-chief of Climeworks, left, with his counterpart Christoph Gebald. Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the Orca plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan

Leslie Hook reports in Financial Times:

The start-up behind the world’s biggest direct carbon capture plant said it would build a much larger facility in the next few years that would permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As Zurich-based Climeworks opened its Orca “direct air capture” project in Iceland on Wednesday, co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times it had started design work on a facility 10 times larger that would be completed in the next few years. Orca will collect about 4,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and store it underground — a tiny fraction of the 33bn tonnes of the gas forecast by the IEA to be emitted worldwide this year, but a demonstration of the technology’s viability. “This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage,” Wurzbacher said. The Orca plant sells the most expensive carbon offset in the world, costing as much as €1,000 a tonne of CO2 removed and counting Microsoft founder Bill Gates among its customers.

Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan, prompting the accelerated development of the much larger plant using the same technology. Orca’s other customers . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and this report is encouraging news.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 10:23 am

China prepares to test thorium-fuelled nuclear reactor

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Smriti Mallapaty has an interesting article in Nature:

Scientists are excited about an experimental nuclear reactor using thorium as fuel, which is about to begin tests in China. Although this radioactive element has been trialled in reactors before, experts say that China is the first to have a shot at commercializing the technology.

The reactor is unusual in that it has molten salts circulating inside it instead of water. It has the potential to produce nuclear energy that is relatively safe and cheap, while also generating a much smaller amount of very long-lived radioactive waste than conventional reactors.

Construction of the experimental thorium reactor in Wuwei, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, was due to be completed by the end of August — with trial runs scheduled for this month, according to the government of Gansu province.

Thorium is a weakly radioactive, silvery metal found naturally in rocks, and currently has little industrial use. It is a waste product of the growing rare-earth mining industry in China, and is therefore an attractive alternative to imported uranium, say researchers.

Powerful potential

“Thorium is much more plentiful than uranium and so it would be a very useful technology to have in 50 or 100 years’ time,” when uranium reserves start to run low, says Lyndon Edwards, a nuclear engineer at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation in Sydney. But the technology will take many decades to realize, so we need to start now, he adds.

China launched its molten-salt reactor programme in 2011, investing some 3 billion yuan (US$500 million), according to Ritsuo Yoshioka, former president of the International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum in Oiso, Japan, who has worked closely with Chinese researchers.

Operated by the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP), the Wuwei reactor is designed to produce just 2 megawatts of thermal energy, which is only enough to power up to 1,000 homes. But if the experiments are a success, China hopes to build a 373-megawatt reactor by 2030, which could power hundreds of thousands of homes.

These reactors are among the “perfect technologies” for helping China to achieve its goal of zero carbon emissions by around 2050, says energy modeller Jiang Kejun at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing.

The naturally occurring isotope thorium-232 cannot undergo fission, but when irradiated in a reactor, it absorbs neutrons to form uranium-233, which is a fissile material that generates heat.

Thorium has been tested as a fuel in other types of nuclear reactor in countries including the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, and is part of a nuclear programme in India. But it has so far not proved cost effective because it is more expensive to extract than uranium and, unlike some naturally occurring isotopes of uranium, needs to be converted into a fissile material.

Some researchers support thorium as a fuel because they say its waste products have less chance of being weaponized than do those of uranium, but others have argued that risks still exist.

Blast from the past

When China switches on its experimental reactor, it will be the first molten-salt reactor operating since 1969, when US researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee shut theirs down. And it will be the first molten-salt reactor to be fuelled by thorium. Researchers who have collaborated with SINAP say the Chinese design copies that of Oak Ridge, but improves on it by calling on decades of innovation in manufacturing, materials and instrumentation.

Researchers in China directly involved with the reactor . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

One good use of nuclear power is the production of hydrogen (used in cars that use fuel cells). Producing hydrogen through electrolysis is energy-intensive, so power plants using fossil fuels are a bad idea. That leaves electricity from sustainable sources (hydroelectricity, solar, wind, tides) and nuclear power plants. Thus having an efficient and relatively clean nuclear power technology would be a great boon. 

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 9:55 am

Eco-Fashion’s Animal Rights Delusion

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Alden Wicker has an interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine:

1. The Silkworm vs. the Orangutan
2. Vegan Fast Fashion
3. If Not Leather, then What?
4. Dyed-in-the-Wool Environmentalists
5. Are Indigenous People Politically Incorrect?
6. Peta’s Explanation

For most women like me, when a fine silk blouse catches our eye in a clothing store, we don’t think much about the worms that made the silk. If you do, here’s the story you will typically find: A few days after silkworms disappear inside their cocoons, right about the time they finish spinning, the little pods are collected and submerged in boiling water. To make a pound of raw silk, up to 5,000 worms must die.

To People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the nation’s leading animal-rights group, that’s a pretty destructive process for the cause of glamour. This is why PETA encourages consumers to buy “cruelty-free” silk alternatives like polyester and viscose (popularly known as rayon). Consumers have hardly needed PETA’s prodding. In a single decade, consumption of rayon doubled, rising to 5.2 million tons in 2015; meanwhile, the silk industry had declined to 202,000 metric tonnes by 2015, constituting less than 0.2 percent of the global textile market. Another victory for animal rights and the fight for more socially conscious consumerism, right?

Maybe—or maybe not. As with so many eco-conscious consumer choices, the issues involved in silk production are both elusive and multilayered. If we’re going to call ourselves conscious consumers, therefore, we have to calculate all aspects of the production process, and its consequences.

In the case of silk, let’s first look at the other way to make silk, which doesn’t kill the worms. For this kind of silk, called Peace or Ahimsa Silk, the pupa is allowed to grow into a moth, tear a hole in the cocoon, and crawl out into the light. But there’s a catch. Because that hole cuts what used to be a continuous strand of thread, the process yields a fabric with a nubbier, less shimmering texture, much like raw silk. It’s beautiful in its own way, but also double the cost. That can drive the retail price of a wedding dress, for example, up by more than $1,000.

To a bride who is committed to having a wedding dress that allowed moths to be “free and happy,” that price may feel worthwhile—as long as she can afford it. But she might want to look again at the Peace worm’s glorious beginnings. It turns out that if silkworms are allowed to emerge as moths, they live short and very difficult lives. Having been domesticated for thousands of years, bombyx mori are unable to fly, and cannot even eat. The males spend their one glorious day of moth-dom crawling across the ground to find and couple with a nearby female before dying. The females lay eggs over the next few days and then die as well. In any case, PETA opposes the use of Peace Silk simply because there is no certification process to ensure the worms weren’t mistreated.

Now, let’s look back at those worms that were put to death in boiling water.

Traditional southern Chinese silks are handmade in a closed-loop ecosystem, in which the silkworms that spin the superfine threads eat the leaves of mulberry trees planted by ponds, the fish in the ponds eat the worm poop, and in turn fertilize the mulberry trees. In Asia, which produces the lion’s share of silk, the boiled pupae are fried up and eaten as a low-carbon protein source—not a bad byproduct for a rapidly growing country badly in need of food. And certain types of silk (Jia¯o-chou and Xiang-yun-sha—see photos) are still dyed using nontoxic vegetable and mud dyes.

Stella McCartney offered a potential solution to the silkworm conundrum when she  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

A sidebar to the above text notes:

To make rayon—a supposedly animal-friendly fabric—you have to harvest a large number of trees or bamboo, shred and dissolve the wood in a soup of carbon disulfide, dry the resulting glop, then spin it into semi-synthetic fibers. Workers exposed to the fumes from this process can suffer insanity, nerve damage, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Factories in China, Indonesia, and India expel its effluent straight into waterways, rendering formerly vibrant ecosystems completely dead.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 9:43 am

A Spanish-oriented shave in honor of Don Quixote

with 3 comments

I looked about for Spanish products. Vie-Long is certainly Spanish, and a nod to Rocinante. Cervantes never specifies the color of the steed, though it is often depicted as white, but it might have been a chestnut. Ariana & Evans Tertius certainly captures a Spanish spirit on the label, and t-he fact that the lather from this ultra-premium soap is wonderful is the icing on the cake. I did have to add a fair amount of water during loading, but that may be because of the brush (though I did let it soak while I showered).

My RazoRock Lupo razor (though perhaps in this context it should be called “Lobo”) did a fine job except for one problem: for some reason the smooth handle today seemed terribly slick and hard to hold. However, the Lupo/Lobo is a three-piece razor, so the problem was easily solved simply by using a different handle, putting the old handle in my little box of spare handles for some other use. 

In any event, the shave itself went quite well, and my faced emerged totally smooth and undamaged, happy to accept a good splash of Geo. F. Trumper’s Spanish Leather aftershave.

A fine way to start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 9:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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