Big Brass Blog is a group blog founded in February of 2005 by Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend and Melissa McEwan of Shakesville (formerly Shakespeare's Sister). The mission of this collaborative effort is to stand as the premiere forum where strong, enduring voices of Progressivism provide what liberal politics has been missing: the unapologetic, unrelenting voice of liberalism in the darkness visited upon our world by Right-wing extremists, their ruinous policies, and their hypocritical beliefs.
We recently heard from his self-coronated, exalted majesty that:
On his radio show today, Beck wondered how many people in the country believe in evolution, and said he doesn't: "I don't think we came from monkeys. I think that's ridiculous. I haven't seen a half-monkey, half-person yet." "If I get to the other side and God's like, 'You know what, yep, you were a monkey once,' I'll be shocked, but I'll be cool with it," he said.
(First off, He's presuming he's going to meet with a divine being after living such a pious life)
Here's the question:
If a man is born with 6 fingers on each hand and should meet and marry a woman who also has six fingers on each hand, what kind of odds would allow for their offspring to be born with 6 fingers on each hand?
And if they were born thusly and met and married others with similar attributes would their progeny become the "norm" in succeeding generations?
Bloomberg: "Tesla Motors Inc., an electric carmaker working with Toyota Motor Corp. on battery-powered autos, said it will deliver two rechargeable prototypes to Toyota this month as a first step in their alliance.
"Toyota, the world’s largest seller of hybrid autos, in May said it would invest $50 million in Palo Alto, California-based Tesla and jointly develop electric models with the startup."
YAHOONEWS: "It's the kind of publicity any university might dream about: An instructor uncovers a possible flaw that's causing some of the world's most popular cars to accelerate suddenly. His ground-breaking work attracts interest from Congress and reporters worldwide.
"But as Southern Illinois University's David Gilbert sought to show that electronics might be to blame for the problem in Toyotas, the world's largest automaker tried to cast doubt on his findings. One Toyota employee even questioned whether he should be employed by the school, which has long been a recipient of company donations."
As if all the Websites with blinking, flashing, jerking, twitching, annoyingly distracting ads weren't bad enough, the State of California is considering digital electronic license plates (DELPs) that would display ads when the vehicles on which the plates were mounted had not been in motion for at least four seconds.
Yes, the financially destitute state that brought us everything from tax revolts and Ronald Reagan to Hollywood and legalized medical marijuana is exploring the commercialization of license plates.
Bear in mind that license plates on vehicles are required by law, so this hare-brained, soon-to-be-a-stupid-reality plan would thereby make it effectively illegal not to allow corporations the use of private, personal property for advertisements.
Front-end public relations shills managing initial public perception of the scheme are quick to point out that the electronic license plates would also display "public service" messages about such important matters as traffic conditions and Amber alerts, but the unqualified intent of DELPs is to generate revenue for the money-starved, nearly bankrupt state.
Those who do not live in California might think that the DELP technology would never catch on in other states, but that is most certainly wishful thinking, not merely because of the inflow of hard cash any state could earn selling ad space on every car licensed in the state, but also because the DELP technology would necessarily require, at least in its most effective deployment, a national grid to communicate information for the license plates to display. That data would most likely be downloaded via satellite, and other states might find it contrary to their own interests to have California cars driving on their roads earning money for California while cars from their own jurisdictions were not. Moreover, state police in non-DELP states would have to be at least marginally aware of and knowledgeable about DELP vehicles, anyway, which would give one more justification for embracing the technology.
While some commenters are suggesting that this technology is not viable because of the potential for hacking the plates, that is unlikely to be much of a problem given the degree of security with which communications can be transmitted these days. Of greater concern, aside from the obvious "takings" of private property this technology would impose, is the possibility that the electronic license plates would not be mere receivers, but interactive devices, meaning that DELP-equipped cars could transmit location and telemetry data via uplink, either routinely or on command, to roadside or other aggregators.
Notwithstanding privacy concerns, which are quickly becoming a dismissable commodity in modern life, the digital electronic license plate technology is very likely to become a reality for every driver in America within the next five to ten years.
That means your cars, dear readers, will become rolling billboards for corporations, whether you want those ads on your cars or not. Your private propertywhat you paid for with your own money, what you are required to maintain in drivable condition, what you pay the money to fuelwill show advertisements even for products made by companies of which you do not approve, quite possibly like BP, which is paying serious money to search engine companies like Google and Yahoo to show top listings for BP-approved Websites, or like FOX News, which could pump ads for its Right-wing shows to every driver and passenger in America, using your vehicles as its carriers.
Is there anything you can do to stop the eventual deployment of DELP?
Economists Suggest Mind-Reading as a Way to Determine Public Good
By Annalee Newitz
A bizarre experiment carried out at CalTech has led economists to an even more bizarre assertion. Governments allocating spending for public goods like education should use "neurotechnology" - mind-reading via fMRI brain scans - to determine who should be taxed.
The problem that CalTech economist Antonio Rangel and his team were grappling with was the "free-rider" problem. This occurs because people want public goods, but don't want to pay for them. So they lie about how much they value a given good such as health care or public parks. So, for example, a swimmer might benefit a great deal from a public pool. But she wants to pay as little as possible for it, so she lies about how much it will benefit her. This may not affect the public's decision to build the pool, but it could affect how much she pays for it.
Economists have long believed this is an unsolvable problem. But Rangel says fMRIs can actually force people to tell the truth about what their values are when it comes to public goods.
A release from CalTech explains the researchers' methods: As part of this experiment, volunteers were divided up into groups. "The entire group had to decide whether or not to spend their money purchasing a good from us," [economics professor Antonio] Rangel explains. "The good would cost a fixed amount of money to the group, but everybody would have a different benefit from it."
The subjects were asked to reveal how much they valued the good. The twist? Their brains were being imaged via fMRI as they made their decision. If there was a match between their decision and the value detected by the fMRI, they paid a lower tax than if there was a mismatch. It was, therefore, in all subjects' best interest to reveal how they truly valued a good; by doing so, they would on average pay a lower tax than if they lied.
"The rules of the experiment are such that if you tell the truth," notes Krajbich, who is the first author on the Science paper, "your expected tax will never exceed your benefit from the good."
In fact, the more cooperative subjects are when undergoing this entirely voluntary scanning procedure, "the more accurate the signal is," Krajbich says. "And that means the less likely they are to pay an inappropriate tax."
This changes the whole free-rider scenario, notes Rangel. "Now, given what we can do with the fMRI," he says, "everybody's best strategy in assigning value to a public good is to tell the truth, regardless of what you think everyone else in the group is doing."
And tell the truth they did-98 percent of the time, once the rules of the game had been established and participants realized what would happen if they lied. In this experiment, there is no free ride, and thus no free-rider problem.
"If I know something about your values, I can give you an incentive to be truthful by penalizing you when I think you are lying," says Rangel.
While the readings do give the researchers insight into the value subjects might assign to a particular public good, thus allowing them to know when those subjects are being dishonest about the amount they'd be willing to pay toward that good, Krajbich emphasizes that this is not actually a lie-detector test.
"It's not about detecting lies," he says. "It's about detecting values-and then comparing them to what the subjects say their values are."
"It's a socially desirable arrangement," adds Rangel. "No one is hurt by it, and we give people an incentive to cooperate with it and reveal the truth."
"There is mind reading going on here that can be put to good use," he says. "In the end, you get a good produced that has a high value for you."
From a scientific point of view, says Rangel, these experiments break new ground. "This is a powerful proof of concept of this technology; it shows that this is feasible and that it could have significant social gains." And this is only the beginning. "The application of neural technologies to these sorts of problems can generate a quantum leap improvement in the solutions we can bring to them," he says.
Indeed, Rangel says, it is possible to imagine a future in which, instead of a vote on a proposition to fund a new highway, this technology is used to scan a random sample of the people who would benefit from the highway to see whether it's really worth the investment. "It would be an interesting alternative way to decide where to spend the government's money," he notes.
Wait, what? The government is going to do brain scans on the public to determine what we "really" value and then tax us accordingly? Or possibly even choose which public works projects to undertake? The only place this can lead is some kind of terrifying, dystopian welfare state where the government spends more money on fMRI machines than anything else.
A report on Internet speed in the United States says the country isn’t likely to catch world leader South Korea for 15 years.
Or for much longer — at current growth rates, the United States will only reach South Korea’s speed today in 15 years.
The report, by the Communications Workers of America, details Internet download and upload speeds all over the United States and some of its affiliated territories. In the last year, the average upload speed in the United States “barely changed,” the report said, and download speed only grew a little, from 4.2 megabits per second in 2008 to 5.1 megabits per second in 2009.
In South Korea, average download speed is four times faster — 20.4 megabits per second. The United States also lags Japan (15.8 mbps), Sweden (12.8 mbps), the Netherlands (11 mbps) and 24 other countries.
The report said U.S. speeds aren’t sufficient for the needs of in-home medical monitoring, distance learning programs, or to run a modern business from home.
The report calls for more investment in the nation’s Internet infrastructure. It also suggests shifting the outdated universal service payments that support voice telephone service over to pay for better and cheaper high-speed Internet service for everyone.
Source: Albany News
Betelgeuse, one of the brightest stars visible to the naked eye, has shrunk in diameter by more than 15 percent since 1993.
The star, a red supergiant, has a radius exceeding the distance between the sun and Jupiter. The shrinkage corresponds to the star contracting by a distance equal to that between Venus and the sun, researchers reported June 9 at an American Astronomical Society meeting and in the June 1 Astrophysical Journal Letters. [snip]
It’s unclear why Betelgeuse has shrunk and whether the star will later rebound, said Charles Townes, a retired professor from the University of California, Berkeley who won the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics.
Townes and collaborator Edward Wishnow, also of UC Berkeley, used an infrared interferometer, consisting of three telescopes acting as a single unit, atop Mt. Wilson in southern California to monitor the star. The team examined the star at an infrared wavelength of 11.1 micrometers, which can penetrate the tenuous gas and dust in the star’s outer regions and accurately determine the star’s visible edge.
In 1921, Betelgeuse became the first star for which astronomers measured a size. Over the years, different interferometers, observing Betelgeuse over a wide range of wavelengths, have recorded diameters for the star that disagree with each other by as much as 30 percent. That’s not surprising because stars often look considerably bigger or smaller at different wavelengths. But the star hasn’t previously been found to vary significantly in size at any one wavelength, Townes says.
As hefty as 15 suns, Betelgeuse is nearing the end of its life and could soon go supernova. Continued close monitoring of Betelgeuse could lead to a better understanding of the evolution of massive stars near the end of their lifetime.
One of the largest known stars in the universe is shrinking rapidly, and astronomers don't know why.
Betelgeuse (pronounced almost like "beetle juice") is a red supergiant star 600 light-years away in the constellation Orion. From Earth the star is clearly visible with the naked eye as the reddish dot that marks Orion's left shoulder.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, first measured the star in 1993 with an infrared instrument on top of Southern California's Mount Wilson. They estimated the star to be as big around as Jupiter's orbit around the sun.
But measurements made since then using the same instrument show that Betelgeuse is now only about as wide as the orbit of Venus—a size reduction of about 15 percent in 15 years.
The cause of the star's rapid contraction is a mystery. But the team noted that they had observed an unusual big red spot on the star three years ago.
"Maybe there's some kind of instability going on there," said study team member Charles Townes, a Nobel Prize-winning astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley.
"This red spot may be connected with the fact that [Betelgeuse is] gradually shrinking in size."
Collapse or Bounce Back?
A class of stars known as Mira variables are known to swell and contract by as much as 25 percent every two years—at their lowest points Mira stars can completely disappear from view.
Astronomers know how and why Mira stars pulsate, and they know that the pulses are linked to changes in the stars' brightness.
Betelgeuse is a type of variable star, with slight dips in its brightness every few years. [snip]
"Is it going to keep on shrinking and maybe collapse, or will it oscillate back and forth?" Townes mused. "We don't know."
This interesting device, called "Anaconda", was developed to dwell in the oceans and generate electricity with every wave. This scaled down model is 1/25th of what the actual sized phallic floater would be. And yes, it is fairly erect, as it's filled with fresh water and sealed at both ends to prevent sea creatures from setting up shop inside. It works when the pressure of the waves against the sides of Anaconda are transmitted down its length, creating "bulge waves". When each bulge wave reaches the end of the snake, it spins a turbine to generate electricity. Which is actually pretty clever! Its big advantage is that it harnesses the kinetic energy of the ocean waves while being a low-maintenance device, which is typically a significant problem with ocean-based equipment. Read more about this at New Scientist.
I used to work out in the desert at a super dooper secret Navy base which had a host city, amazingly the largest in the Great Mojave. Not that it was all that secret, it was the US Navy's largest piece of property on this planet, so it was hard to hide.
Being as I was into the difficult task of treating and hopefully disposing of human waste products, the only creature I am aware of that takes reasonably good water, processes it to a very high standard and then defecates and urinates into it before dumping it downstream to be someone else's problem, well pardon me, I digress.
A funny thing happened out there, two PhDs from the Optical Phisics lab out there approached me with the intent to demonstrate a most interesting and energetic process for treating the 3 MGD of water we had to deal with.
It was peculiar, since I always thought optical sorts dealt with light, but these guys were using very powerful sonars, tunable, to flash oxidize all sorts of stuff in the water. The shear power of the sonar would produce bubbles in the water (vapor pressure) which would then collapse with a firece determination. But since these guys were optical sorts, it just so happened that as these bubbles, very small, collapsed they would produce a burst of light.
This was amazing as to how well it could clean up the water, turning green algae laden shit into colorless, clear H2O without measurable coliform bacteria. And this all happened in the early 1990's fer gawds sake.
Then the pair of PhD's vanished from my radar and all talk of the process vanished as well. Many years later I was to read about the possibility of the cavitating bubbles (Young Einstein) generating enough heat to produce fusion, the magical elixir of all of our energy problems.
Well, the rest is beyond me. I'm best with a mop or broom to provide services, so I leave the comment section to those who are actually intelligent, plus I am just tired of typing this out.
It seems President-elect Obama's transition team clashed with the head of NASA last week about how much the space agency can cut from its budget. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel Obama's people want to cancel the Ares rocket and Orion capsule program, which would eventually return Americans to the moon and then, later, take our space travelers to Mars. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin wants nothing to do with axing the Ares/Orion work, and rumors are swirling that a meeting last week between Griffin and Obama's transition member for space-related matters, Lori Garver, got pretty ugly.
It is worth noting that Lori Garver used to be an Associate Administrator at NASA. Her stint at the space agency consisted for the most part of being nothing more than a "public affairs officer." She was not involved in engineering, planning, budgeting, or any other hands-on work there. Once she had done her time on Uncle Sam's tab, she started her own "consulting firm" called Capital Space LLC, which is rather hard to track down but seems to be involved in sucking up public funds for private entrepreneurial endeavors related to space transport. One of her consulting gigs involves DFI International, where her job is to "...assist DFI's senior management in strategic planning and business development activities related to the firm's corporate space practice."
Yes, Obama's Lori Garver is a corporate shill of the worst kind: she's a "consultant."
Read that: "lobbyist." Just like countless others, she parlayed a stint in public service to start a "consulting" business so she could rent her little Blackberry of access to government insiders; and given that she now makes her dime with paychecks from the private sector, she has every incentive to interfere with NASA's public space programs because she's a point person for private companies that want to take over what is going to be a hugely lucrative business for the rest of the 21st Century.
Space transport? There's going to be way too much money in that business to let the public sector do it.
Anyway, the folks at NASA really shouldn't be worried about its future manned space program getting canned. The way Barack Obama is promising to spend money like there's no tomorrow, federal budget deficits that are already staggering thanks to years of Bush Administration madness will now go so high that we can just strap astronauts on them and make it to Mars in no time. As Buzz Lightyear would say, "To infinity and BEYOND!"
Oh, yes, one more thing. Obama and his people want NASA Administrator Griffin out. This is the same Obama cabal that has no problem with the likes of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and FBI Director Robert Mueller staying in their positions. Robert Gates, whose unbelievably appalling history is a disgrace to this nation, and Robert Mueller, a man who has shredded any right to privacy Americans might once have enjoyed, get to stay; but the head of NASA has to go.
Yeah. Right. That makes sense.
No, really, it does. But only if you stop thinking Obama's presidency is something other than the Bush Administration with every bit of the arrogance, a whole lot of the corruption, a good dose of the viciousness, more than a hint of the short-sightedness, but not one shred of the incompetence.
The space vehicle Messenger made its second fly-by of the planet Mercury on October 6. The false-color video below, using 11 different color filters to tease out age and terrain differences, is built from some of the roughly 1,200 photos taken during the spacecraft's most recent run by the planet. Although some speculation is involved in how the colors translate, yellow means rougher and younger turf, red is older and probably somewhat smoother landscape, orange is where volcanic activity shot ejecta onto the ground, and blues and purples are still the subject of debate.
Messenger will race past Mercury one more time before it is finally positioned for a last run to settle into orbit around the innermost planet in the solar system in 2011.
Despite fears to the contraryalthough it goes without saying considering you're reading this articlethe universe did not vanish in a cascade of monopoles or a goo of stranglets, nor did the Earth get swallowed into a rapidly expanding mini-black hole.
Back to the oars, people.
The Dark Wraith was expecting so much more from science.
Yep, those pesky Europeans are up to no good again, this time making an attempt to steal the Gawd particle from its rightful owners, us righteous sorts right here in the good ol' USA.
I just knew we should have finished the Supercollider in the great state of Texas, then we could have had the Gawd particle first, and kept it on high and worshiped it for what it is, but some mighty thinkers at the time such as Ronald the Ray-gun believed that the money would be better spent in faith-based initiatives, whereby the most righteous sorts could Lard it over their less righteous brethren and show them in no uncertain terms which way was up. I think that implies that you don't know their speed.
And after all, it's about how much you invoke the name of the supreme being over your foes that truly makes you worthy. The Gawd particle would be as worthy a weapon against those that hate us for our freedoms as the Holly Hand-Grenade of Antioch.
All you secular and atheist sorts better stay away from here; I personally have been elected by Gawd to defend us from the heathen masses that could gain more mass if the Gawd particle was misused with the application of the mini-blackhole.
Just mind that nobody goes poking around back there without righteous supervision. And maybe a roll of TP.
The straight and narrow path is not the easy one. It ain't no yellow brick road.
I feared the day this would happen: theoretical physicists and technicians doing rap. It's not pretty.
It is, however, informative. It goes fast, but if you follow it closely (or listen to it a dozen times), you'll get what they're saying.
One big goal of the Large Hadron Collider is to finally find the much-speculated Higgs intermediate boson, a particle that must exist if the so-called Standard Model of quantum mechanics is to stay together. If they cannot find the Higgs, all bets are off.
Another goal is to get insight into why there's more matter than anti-matter in our universe. You'll hear in this video a reference to "dark matter," the Q-mech world's equivalent of fairies that explain the otherwise inexplicable.
Something else they mention is the possibility of getting some confirmation or evidence of "small" dimensions that don't operate at the large level, but allow very small, quantum-sized things to scoot around through avenues we would not expect.
Another little thing they mention is very cool. Gravity is one of the four known forces of the universe, operating along side the electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces. Traditionally, gravity has been known as a very weak force: the actual "weak" force is stronger! (Jump off a building: yes, the gravity is going to drag you to the ground, but the forces holding the atoms and molecules together at ground level are going to stop you in your flight.) As it turns out, though, it might not be the case that gravity is weak everywhere; it might be the case that it's bound in such a way that, in our dimensional experiences, we see a weak end of what is really a tube that is thick and strong at other places we do not experience in everyday (and even everyday quantum) events.
Yes, theoretically, this new, large Hadron accelerator that's just been built is going to answer some key questions about the universe; but those answers are going to come at a small but theoretically very impressive risk.
The accelerator could create a miniature black hole. The probability is incredibly small, but the consequences would be sort of a combination of "Holy COW!" and "oops." The black hole wouldn't swallow everything right away, but it would cause a whole lot of excitement. Starting at a virtual quantum size, it would slowly grow as it pulled in matter and energy. As it grew linearly in diameter, its event horizon would grow at the cubic power of that diameter. Within a few years, if not by some means teased out into space in the electromagnetic containment field equivalent of a high-quality Tupperware product, the thing would be big enough to suck a whole lot of turf into its growing, hungry maw. Eventually, if left to its own devices, the black hole would swallow the Earth and then the solar system.
Could this happen? Yes.
Is it likely? Not at all.
So we should all relax, right?
Not quite yet. There's one other thing the collider could spawn: instantaneous annihilation of everything.
The bad news? It's theoretically possible.
The good news? We wouldn't be around long enough to know it was happening.
The Dark Wraith was just passing through on a quiet Sunday evening.
Last week's entry on How To: Stop A 500 Foot Monster seems to have struck a chord, judging from the number of suggestions for the best military hardware to take down rampaging.
Several new options were put forward which deserve some serious consideration -- ones we'll be forwarding on to the secret monster-stopping divisions of the various defense ministries.
There were a few suggestions for the Active Denial System or "pain ray." This shows the right kind of instincts: against sci-fi monsters, a sci-fi ray gun feels about right. Unfortunately, the depth-of-penetration problem is even more severe here, as it is carefully designed so that the beam only goes through about 1/64" of skin. In fact this is one of the ADS' selling points, that it will only have surface effects. I have previously described some of the more unusual tests of the Active Denial System, including experiments with military dog teams, but I don't think they ever tried it on anything larger. It's highly unlikely you could get any sort of a reaction from a very thick-skinned monster without redesigning the system from the ground up using a beam with a longer-wavelength.
Straight out of Buck Rogers and perfect for crowd control, this non-lethal weapon could help eliminate the deaths incurred while trying to control crowds, especially in Iraq. David Martin reports. [after brief commercial: 12:23 .swf]
You have to feel the ray gun to believe it, and there's only one way to do that. Martin, who voluntarily became a target, described the sensation of being hit by the ray gun like scalding water.
What makes this a weapon like no other is it inflicts enough pain to make you instantly stop whatever it is you’re doing. But the second you get out of the beam the pain vanishes. And as long as it's been used properly, there's no harm to your body.
In recognition of the bravery and daring of those astronauts now revealed to have been intoxicated while driving vehicles worth hundreds of millions of dollars propelled by millions of pounds of roaring high explosives cooking away about a hundred feet behind their inebriated asses, the graphic at left is herewith presented for the consideration of readers.
Yes, this fine picture would look good on the bedroom wall of any little boy or girl who aspires one day to reach for the Heavens, fearless of heart and three sheets to the wind.
The Dark Wraith does advise that people in airplanes give the space shuttles a wide berth.
I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)