Category Archives: Science/Medicine

On UMiami Football

The last time UM had a winning football team both the team and the fans behaved badly. They called it ‘swagger’ but it was mostly rudeness. I was embarrassed for all of us.

Now the U’s football team is “relevant” again: UM beat FSU, is undefeated, and justly ranked 3rd in the College Football Playoff Rankings. And the U has the Turnover Chain (soon to be a beer near you).

So far at least the swagger has been cleaner; the Turnover Chain is a team celebration, not so much in the face of another team or its fans.

Of course, even if “the U is back” it’s far from cemented in its new status. The team has yet to equal its past domination, and remains far from a national championship, although that dream seems less ridiculous than it did two weeks ago. Until then, however, the team’s, and the fans’, ability to avoid the ‘swagger’ excesses of yore remains to be tested.

Meanwhile, the campus and the county are going nuts in a fun way even if the rest of the country hates us. Even UM President Julio Frenk gamely tweeted out a video supporting the football team. I like good PR as much as the next guy, but it has to be admitted that the sports media is totally in the tank for UM–presumably because it’s great copy, great visuals, and Miami is much nicer place to visit in November and December than, say, Madison, Wisconsin or Norman, Oklahoma.

Of course, as a world-class authority on public health, President Frenk must also be aware of the human toll that football takes on its players: college football causes many injuries including concussions, and creates a real risk of brain injury even without actual concussions.

Perhaps we’ll get to see President Frenk do a video on that topic in his last week on the job. It probably would be his last week, whether or not he intended it that way.

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These Are the Good Old Days?

Or will be if the gloomdogglers are right about the environment,

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

The impact on wildlife of changes in farming practice (and the expansion of the farmed area) is so rapid and severe that it is hard to get your head round the scale of what is happening.

It all sounds dreadful. Of course historically technical change and market forces overwhelmed Malthusian effects, so it’s possible that late capitalism still has rabbits in the hat….

Posted in Global Warming, Science/Medicine | 1 Comment

Missing Mass – Half Found

Half the ‘missing mass’ is gas floating between galaxies.

That means there’s 50% less work for the flogiston, sorry I meant aether, sorry I meant Dark Matter to do.

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Very Cool Use of Technology

Build 2017: Project Emma is a watch-sized device with tiny motors in them that ‘short circuit’ the brain-body feedback look that seems to cause tremors in suffers of Parkinson’s Disease.

It was created by Haiyan Zhang, the Innovation Director at Microsoft Research. More details at betanews.

Spotted via Slashdot.

See the video:

Posted in Science/Medicine, Sufficiently Advanced Technology | Leave a comment

Thrust from Nothing

Really. It’s the controversial Em Drive, and it’s NASA science and peer-reviewed and everything. Formally it’s called “Measurement of Impulsive Thrust in a Closed Radio Frequency Cavity in Vacuum” by Harold White, Paul March, James Lawrence, Jerry Vera, Andre Sylvester, Davis Brady and Paul Bailey.

As Engaget explains it,

An EM Drive produces thrust without fuel, instead using microwaves that bounce around a conical, enclosed device. According to the theory, the momentum of those bouncing microwaves is higher at the wide end of the engine, which means the whole system should experience thrust.

I don’t pretend to understand the pilot-wave theory that the authors of the new paper propose as an explanation, but I gather it challenges the Copenhagen consensus that has dominated physics for a long time — and makes quantum behavior a tiny bit less weird in some ways (double slit experiments would have an explanation I could understand) but at a price of making large pieces of the universe more likely to be connected in some odd way. Or something.

But this part I think I get:

Although this test campaign was not focused on optimizing performance and was more an exercise in existence proof, it is still useful to put the observed thrust-to-power figure of 1.2mN/kW in context. The current state-of–the-art thrust to power for a Hall thruster is on the order of 60mN/kW. This is an order of magnitude higher than the test article evaluated during the course of this vacuum campaign; however, for missions with very large delta-v requirements, having a propellant consumption rate of zero could offset the higher power requirements. The 1.2mN/kW performance parameter is over two orders of magnitude higher than other forms of “zero-propellant” propulsion, such as light sails, laser propulsion, and photon rockets having thrust-to-power levels in the 3.33–6.67μN/kW (or 0.0033–0.0067mN/kW) range.

Yes, “for missions with very large delta-v requirements, having a propellant consumption rate of zero could offset the higher power requirements”.

Space! As long as you are not in a hurry to boost up to speed to get there.

I wonder if the Em Drive works equally well at relativistic velocities? Does thrust taper off if you are going faster relative to the pilot wave? (Does that question even make sense?)

UPDATE: Well, of course, it’s the Internet, so there’s an emdrive FAQ. And it seems you do lose thrust as you go faster:

Q. Why does the thrust decrease as the spacecraft velocity along the thrust vector increases?
A. As the spacecraft accelerates along the thrust vector, energy is lost by the engine and gained as additional kinetic energy by the spacecraft. This energy can be defined as the thrust multiplied by the distance through which the thrust acts. For a given acceleration period, the higher the mean velocity, the longer the distance travelled, hence the higher the energy lost by the engine.
This loss of stored energy from the resonant cavity leads to a reduction in Q and hence a reduction of thrust.

Posted in Science/Medicine | 1 Comment

Soother

Allegedly, listening to this song “was clinically proven to reduce stress levels up to 65% in the people who listened to it.” Here’s the official video verion:

Personally I’d prefer something with a hammock (and no mosquitoes):

soothing-hd-wallpaper

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