Archive for November 2008

When The Quiet Returns

November 30, 2008

And Where It’s Not So Quiet

After a hectic, wonderful week, the relatives have left for home and the katz have come out of hiding.  We’re getting back, more or less, to the usual routine, which will not be the usual routine because of the coming holiday and concomitant travel.   I won’t complain – I see the news.

I also won’t claim to know what’s happened in Mumbai, the former Bombay, a city of 19 million people.  It’s awful, and I find little of it explicable.  I understand this least of all.

“Towards the station entrance, there are a number of bookshops and one of the bookstore owners was trying to close his shop,” he recalled. “The gunmen opened fire and the shopkeeper fell down.”

But what angered Mr D’Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. “There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything,” he said. “At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, ‘Shoot them, they’re sitting ducks!’ but they just didn’t shoot back.”

John Hinderaker from Powerline has thoughts that I can agree with.

If Mr. D’Souza ever wants to emigrate to the United States, we’ll take him.

I wondered earlier today how a mere ten terrorists could bring a city of 19 million to a standstill. Here in the U.S., I don’t think it would happen. I think we have armed security guards who know how to use their weapons, supplemented by an unknown number of private citizens who are armed and capable of returning fire. The Indian experience shows it is vitally important that this continue to be the case. This is a matter of culture as much as, or more than, a matter of laws.

They say it’s over now in Mumbai, and quiet.  I hope so.  There should be music.  Silent Night, Holy Night.


Still Thankful

November 26, 2008

You Bet I Am!

It’s been extra, extra busy for the AstroWife and me these past few days, and the holidays are just beginning officially with the arrival of some of my family (within minutes, I hope). Blogging will be light-to-non-existent for the interim.

There is much to be grateful for, this year. Today’s news of terrorism abroad only makes our prosperity and security that much more poignant. From John Hinderaker at PowerLine:

These attacks are an outrage and a sobering reminder of the violence from which our government has successfully protected us for the last seven years.

For me, I leave you with a bit of what I wrote three years ago. I am Thankful…

…today, for:
my wife. Today I had a memory of life as a bachelor at Thanksgiving. At that moment, I was immensely grateful for her presence, her grace and her help in getting through each day.

It’s Just A Little Cold

November 26, 2008

A Title That Can Be Taken Two Ways

Can a little influenza bring down the coal industry in the US?   Well, apparently so.  It’s close enough to the edge that a flu outbreak could send it over.

A new report from the University of Minnesota warns that an influenza pandemic could disrupt the coal industry, thereby endangering the nation’s significantly coal-dependent electric power system and everything that depends on it.

“Despite regional differences in coal usage, a pandemic is likely to break links in the coal supply chain, thus disrupting electrical generation. This has the potential to severely endanger the bulk electrical power system in most of the United States,” says the report from the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), publisher of CIDRAP News.

The report says that current federal preparedness plans do not address the possibility of power supply problems resulting from reduced coal shipments during a pandemic. A key planning gap, it says, is that federal plans put coal industry workers among those last in line for pandemic vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Every other industry seems to be lining up for a taxpayer funded bailout.  Ed Driscoll seems to think so too.

At the start of his pre-election cruise through all of America’s 57 states, President-To-be Obama said he’d bankrupt the coal industry, so they really just need enough to make it through until his inauguration in January, when they can start the paper on Chapter 11.

And then once bankrupted by Obama, they can apply for their own federal bailout like every other industry.

Yeah – I noted that too.

And the other way to take the title of this post?   It was 29 degrees in Wash. D.C. this morning before Thanksgiving.   That’s not bad – for Buffalo, N.Y. For here?

Heavy, Heavy

November 24, 2008

Do We Have The Lift?

After the Space Shuttle retires (sometime in 2010 or 2011), the U.S. will have, officially, no means to lift more than a few pounds of material into space.  At least, it won’t until the next generation of launch vehicles is ready.  That’s expected to be in about 2015.  [Insert snarky, cynical quip about NASA meeting schedules here. – ed.]

That is not a good thing. However, there seems to be good – very good – news coming from the private sector on this.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) successfully conducted a full mission-length firing of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle’s first stage at its McGregor Test Facility in Texas, on November 22. For the static test firing, the first stage remains firmly secured to the massive vertical test stand, where it fired for 178 seconds or nearly three minutes – simulating the climb of the giant rocket from the surface of the Earth towards orbit.

At full power, the rocket generated 855,000 pounds of force at sea level. In vacuum, the thrust increases to approximately one million pounds or four times the maximum thrust of a 747 aircraft. The test consumed over half a million pounds of propellant. All nine engines fired for 160 seconds, then two engines were shut down to limit the acceleration and the remaining seven engines continued firing for 18 more seconds, as would occur in a typical climb to orbit.

Controlling nine (count ’em, 9) engines at once is a non-trivial proposition.  SpaceX, a private company, seems to be on the verge of delivering to business what NASA has been delivering up to now – a reliable heavy lifting capability suitable for business needs.  It remains to be seen if the SpaceX solution is cheap enough to be useful, but this is promising.  With nine engines, reliability becomes a much smaller issue.

SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten. With its Falcon line of launch vehicles, powered by internally-developed Merlin engines, SpaceX offers light, medium and heavy lift capabilities to deliver spacecraft into any altitude and inclination, from low-Earth to geosynchronous orbit to planetary missions.

As a side note, it appears that this test took some Texans (look ma – alliteration!) a bit by surprise.  It was LOUD!

Evidently SpaceX notified some officials, but not everybody got the news. I can imagine being terrified of something like this happening even 25 miles away — it must have looked like Armageddon. I feel kinda bad for the local folks, but on the other hand SpaceX is pumping quite a bit of money into the area, so I hope they can forgive.

But I bet they won’t forget.

Check out this link or Phil Plait’s site (link immediately above) for a video of nearly one million lbs. of thrust going off for over 3 minutes.  It’s rather – awesome. [Stop imitating a teen. – ed. Whatever.  – j]


November 24, 2008

Celebrate VI Day

November 22nd or November 23rd would probably be a good day to remember and celebrate the end of the Iraqi War.  It’s over, you know.  And the Iraqis (and we) have won.

You didn’t know?  What – Do you still rely on the NYT and the “Nightly News” for your information?  Clearly, it’s left you uninformed.  Roger L. Simon knows the real deal.

Michael [Yon], who was about to embed with an unspecified military operation in the Afghani mountains, seemed elated by his recent trip to Iraq. That war was substantially over, he said. He was able to go many places in that country now without body armor, a new event for him.

[T]he fruits of victory don’t have to appear (or not) on the front page of the New York Times or on the six o’clock CBS News. They appear on the ground in the real lives of people, in this case mostly Iraqi people, but also among our troops who have the deep satisfaction of having done good in the world. These same troops, Yon told me, are often more optimistic than he is about the future of Afghanistan.

All the news that’s fit to print, indeed.

This only adds to the many reasons I have to be thankful this week.

Here’s A Suggestion

November 22, 2008

Don’t Succumb To It’s Power

Do you worry about your health? You may be right to be concerned and aware.  But are you right to worry?
Megan McArdle points us to this article by Melinda Beck, that intimates you should not even read the warning labels on medications.  The power of suggestion could make that practice a bad thing for your health.

Is it a good idea to read about all the possible side effects of medications you’re taking?

Not if you have difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue, dry skin, irritability, a big project due, or an active imagination.

Research has shown that expecting to feel ill can bring illness on in some instances, particularly when stress is involved. The technical term is the “nocebo effect,” and it’s placebo’s evil twin. “It’s not a psychiatric disorder — it’s the way the mind works,” says Arthur Barsky, director of Psychiatric Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“Is this a small effect?” you may legitimately ask.  “No!”, comes back the reply.

Nocebos can even be fatal. In one classic example, women in the multi-decade Framingham Heart study who thought they were at risk for heart attacks were 3.7 times as likely to die of coronary conditions as women who didn’t have such fears — regardless of whether they smoked or had other risk factors.

It’s not something that only affects women, either.   It affects men, too.

In a study last year at the University of Turin, Italy, men taking finesteride for enlarged prostates who were informed that it could cause erectile dysfunction and decreased libido were three times as likely to experience such side effects as men who weren’t told.

We have several nostrums, all told to me by my sainted grandmother (or mother, or someone), that turn out to be true after all.

  • You have nothing to fear but fear itself. – F. D. Roosevelt
  • Fear is the mindkiller – Frank Herbert
  • A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing – Unknown

Interesting, to say the least.  And apparently it’s not an unknown or new phenomenon.  Here’s a testimonial from Jan. 2003.

I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a brain tumour and macular degeneration.

“All three at once?” I hear you ask.”That’s pretty bad luck,” you must be thinking (along with “What is macular degeneration anyway?”).

I suppose it would be more precise to say that I diagnosed myself with these diseases. It would also, perhaps, be more accurate to say that I don’t actually have any of them, but that, for a short period of time, I thought that I did. I became swept up in the mania of hypochondria, you see, and my insanity was aided by what I have now decided is the evil of all evils: the Internet.

Before I knew it, I had been sucked into the dark world of (I think it was)

Thanks to Megan McArdle for the original link.

Want To Live Longer?

November 20, 2008

Then Go To Church

From Science Daily, a little something to drive the rationalists a little crazy.

A study published by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, strongly suggests that regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death by approximately 20 percent.

“Psawh!” I hear the rationalists say (They’re rather old-fashioned people, you see).  “That’s just the effects of stress reduction and maybe a decent support system of concerned friends at work here.”   Really?  Think so?

The study adjusted for participation of individuals within communal organizations and group activities that promote a strong social life and enjoyable routines, behaviors known to lead to overall wellness. However, even after controlling for such behavior and other health-related factors, the improvements in morbidity and mortality rates exceeded expectations.

“Interestingly, the protection against mortality provided by religion cannot be entirely explained by expected factors that include enhanced social support of friends or family, lifestyle choices and reduced smoking and alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Schnall, who was lead author of the study.

Now all we need is one of those academic types to come right out and admit that there’s something going on here that he just doesn’t quite understand.   Then my day will be complete.

“There is something here that we don’t quite understand. It is always possible that some unknown or unmeasured factors confounded these results,” he added.

Well how ’bout that. A complete day!

Addendum: Dawn Eden sites the same article, and makes a similar observation. She just does it so much better than I! “[T]he press release is of interest not only for what it says about the correlation of public worship with longer life, but also for what it says about the limited worldview of the scientists who conduct such research.”