Category Archives: Science/Medicine


It is of course no coincidence that shortly after the disclosure of a secret US base on Mars, it is also revealed that Scientists Say They Have Come Up With a Potential Way To Make Oxygen On Mars. (Full paper at PNAS, Fuel and oxygen harvesting from Martian regolithic brine.)

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‘Fusion Power Just Ten Years Away!’

So suggests the New York Times in Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is ‘Very Likely to Work,’ Studies Suggest,

Scientists developing a compact version of a nuclear fusion reactor have shown in a series of research papers that it should work, renewing hopes that the long-elusive goal of mimicking the way the sun produces energy might be achieved and eventually contribute to the fight against climate change.

Construction of a reactor, called Sparc, which is being developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a spinoff company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, is expected to begin next spring and take three or four years, the researchers and company officials said.

Although many significant challenges remain, the company said construction would be followed by testing and, if successful, building of a power plant that could use fusion energy to generate electricity, beginning in the next decade.

Before you get too excited, however, consider my previous post on this topic — in 2018, under the headline Fusion Allegedly Just Five Years Away — BBC:

I’ve written before on how fusion power is always coming, never here. About a year and a half ago I posted this:

Fusion Power is Only 15 Years Away, we’re told. I guess that’s progress since in just the last few years people have said its Always 50 Years Away, or maybe Always 30 Years Away, or maybe formely 30 years away, now its more like 50 years away, or maybe just forever 20 years away, or 13 Years Away.

So ten years away is progress, right? Then again three years ago it ten years away so maybe we’re going backwards?

Or maybe we’re looking at the wrong scientific advance here: what we really have is an odd form of time travel?

But comes now the BBC to tell us that according to some startups, maybe fusion power is just five years away, which certainly seems like the frontier is getting closer…or some startups have at least got fusion going on their hype…

I’m sure someday one of these predictions will be right. Someday. Meanwhile, however, the hype frontier has moved back to ten years from five…

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Recommended Reading

Dan Froomkin, What should Trump be doing differently about coronavirus? Elizabeth Warren has some ideas is a twofer: it draws attention to an important statement by Senator and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on what we should be doing about the Coronavirus, and it has some savvy things to say about why Warren’s well thought-out ideas weren’t very prominently covered in the news (hint: horse-race).

Barring something strange on or after Super Tuesday, I plan to vote for Warren in the upcoming Florida primary.  In primaries you vote your heart, in the general election you vote you head.  Warren is the candidate whose speeches — and whose policies — inspire. I think she’d be a terrific Chief Executive.  Sanders has virtues, and I’m grateful that he moved the Overton Window.  I’m sure he’d be infinitely better than Trump, but I have some pretty big doubts as to how effective he’d be as an executive.

That said, the only ‘Democrats’ running who would really seriously challenge my ability to fill in the oval are Gabbard and Bloomberg. I’m pretty practiced at holding my nose when I vote in a general election.

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Understatement Indeed


In a discussion of the (still totally theoretical) Alcubierre Warp Drive, the author notes that modern estimates of the energy needed to create a space-time bubble are down from the clearly infeasible “energy mass equivalent to the entire Universe.”

However, it goes on to note, the current estimate of  the energy equivalent of “a Jupiter-mass amount of exotic matter is still prohibitively large.”

Don’t plan to book your ticket for Alpha Centauri any time soon.

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The Apocalypse Will Be Televised

Graphical Real-Time Map of Confirmed Cases of Coronavirus: Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Global Cases (by JHU CSSE)

Above as of Jan 27, 2020 9 am EST. The map is real-time in the sense that it’s updated when new info is provided by authorities.  It can also be adjusted to show any country or city, and a timeline and scale of contagion.

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On Pain

You are supposed to say “ouch”

For reasons I may or may not get around to writing about I have had some considerable amount of experience with various sorts of pain lately. So I found this NYT article by Austin Frakt, If ‘Pain Is an Opinion,’ There Are Ways to Change Your Mind particularly interesting. It seems, for example, that I was a captive of a common ‘naïve’ fallacy:

One thing we tend to believe about pain, but is wrong, is that it always stems from a single, fixable source. Another is that pain is communicated from that source to our brains by “pain nerves.” That’s so wrong it’s called “the naïve view” by neuroscientists.

In truth, pain is in our brain. Or as the author and University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran put it, “Pain is an opinion.” We feel it because of how our brain interprets input transmitted to it from all our senses, not necessarily because of the inherent properties of the input itself. There are no nerves dedicated to sensing and transmitting pain.

But I’m not taking up the trumpet (read the article).

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