Science

Astronomer Vladimir Firsoff’s Argument for Space Exploration as a Positive Alternative to War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/12/2019 - 11:58pm in

Vladimir Firsoff was a British astronomer and the author of a series of books, not just on space and spaceflight, but also on skiing and travel. He was a staunch advocate of space exploration. At the end of his 1964 book, Exploring the Planets (London: Sidgwick & Jackson) he presents a rather unusual argument for it. He criticises the scepticism of leading astronomers of his time towards space exploration. This was after the Astronomer Royal of the time had declared that the possibility of building a vehicle that could leave the Earth’s atmosphere and enter space was ‘utter bilge’. He points out that the technology involved presented few problems, but that ordinary people had been influenced by the astronomers’ scepticism, and that there are more pressing problems on Earth. Against this he argued that humanity needed danger, excitement and sacrifice, the emotional stimulation that came from war. Space exploration could provide this and so serve as a positive alternative, a beneficial channel for these deep psychological needs. Firsoff wrote

The traditional planetary astronomy has exhausted its resources. No significant advance is possible without escape beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The orbital observatories to come will reveal much that is now hidden about the other planets. Space travel is a short historical step ahead. The basic technical problems have been solved, and the consummation of this ancient dream is only a matter of a little effort, experiment and technical refinement. When Bleriot flew the Channel the Atlantic had already been spanned by air lines. And so today we have already landed on Mars – even Triton and Pluto have been reached.

But do we really like to have our dreams come true?

Possibly that happy extrovert the technologist has no misgivings. He sees the Solar System as an enlargement of his scope of action, and has even suggested preceding a descent on Mars by dropping a few bombs, “to study the surface” (this suggestion was widely reported in the press). Yet the astronomer does not relish the prospect of leaving his ivory tower to become a man of action. He is troubled by this unfamiliar part, and a small voice at the back of his mind whispers insidiously that his cherished theories and predictions may, after all, be false. The dislike of space travel is psychologically complex, but there is no mistaking its intensity among the profession.

The general public shares these enthusiasms  and apprehensions, more often than not without any clear reasons why. The Press (with a very capital P) feeds them with predigested mental pulp about what those ‘wonderful people’ the scientists have said or done (and not all scientists are 12 feet tall). At the same time the scientist is a ‘clever man’, and the ‘clever man’ is traditionally either a crank or a scoundrel, and why not both? Whatever we do not understand we must hate.

Of such promptings the fabric of public opinion is woven into varied patterns.

“Space flight is too expensive. We can’t afford it”… “What is the point of putting a man on the Moon? It is only a lifeless desert.”… “We must feed the backward nations, finance cancer research” (= in practice “buy a new TV set and a new care”)…

Wars are even more expensive and hugely destructive, and cars kill more people than cancer and famine put together.

And yet before 1939 Britain ruled half the world, her coffers were stuffed with gold, she also had 5 million on the dole, slums, an inadequate system of education, poverty and dejection. Came a long and terrible war, a fearful squandering of resources, the Empire was lost, and in the end of it it all the people “had never had it so good”, which for all the facility of such catch-phrases is basically true. Not in Britain alone either-look at West Germany, look at the U.S.S.R.! One half of the country devastated, cities razed to the ground, 30 million dead. BHut in Russia, too, the “people had never had it so good”.

In terms of ‘sound economics’ this does not make any sense. 

The reason is simply: ‘sound economics’ is a fraud, because Man is not an economic animal, or is so only to an extent. He needs danger, struggle, sacrifice, fear, loss, even death, to release his dormant energies, to find true companionship, and-oddly-to attain the transient condition of happiness … among or after the storm.

That German soldier who had scribbled on the wall of his hut: “Nie wieder Krieg heisst nie wieder Sieg, heisst nie wieder frei, heisst Sklaverie” (No more war means no more victory, means never free, means slavery) was a simple soul and he may have survived long enough to regret his enthusiasms among the horrors that followed. Yet the idea, distorted as it was, contained a germ of truth. For heroic endeavour, which the past enshrined as martial valour, is as much a necessity as food and drink. We must have something great to live for.

Hitler’s ‘endeavour’ was diabolical in conception and in final count idiotic, but it cannot be denied that it released prodigious energies both in Germany and among her opponents, and we are still living on the proceeds of this psychological capital.

What we need is a noble uplifting endeavour, and even if we cannot all take direct part in it, we can yet share in it through the newspapers, radio and television, as we did, say, in the epic rescue operation during the Langede mining disaster. It became a presence, everybody’s business-and I doubt if it paid in terms of £ s.d…

You will have guessed what I am going to say.

Mankind needs space flight. Let us have space ships instead of bombers, orbital stations instead of ‘nuclear devices’. The glory of this great venture could do away with war, juvenile delinquency and bank raids. It could be cheap at the price.

It is a fallacy to imagine that money spend on developing spaceflight is lost to the nation; it is only redistributed within it, and it is much better to redistribute it in the form of real wages than in unemployment relief. Besides, real wealth is not in a ledger; it is the work and the willingness to do it.

Yet if we go into space, let us do so humbly, in the spirit of cosmic piety. We know very little. We are face to face with the great unknown and gave no right to assume that we are alone in the Solar System.

No bombs on Mars, please.

For all that they are well meant and were probably true at the time, his arguments are now very dated. I think now that the majority of astronomers are probably enthusiasts for space flight and space exploration, although not all of them by any means are advocates for crewed space exploration. The Hubble Space Telescope and its successors have opened up vast and exciting new vistas and new discoveries on the universe. But astronomers are still using and building conventional observatories on Earth. Despite the vast sums given to the space programme during the ‘Space Race’, it did not solve the problems of crime or juvenile delinquency. And it was resented because of the exclusion of women and people of colour. Martin Luther King led a march of his Poor Peoples’ Party to the NASA launch site to protest against the way money was being wasted, as he saw it, on sending White men to the Moon instead of lifting the poor – mainly Black, but certainly including Whites – out of poverty. And as well as being enthused and inspired by the Moon landings, people also grew bored. Hence the early cancellation of the programme.

And people also have a right to better healthcare, an end to famine and a cure for cancer. Just as it’s also not wrong for them to want better TVs and cars.

But this isn’t an either/or situation. Some of the technology used in the development of space travel and research has also led to breakthroughs in other areas of science and medicine. Satellites, for example, are now used so much in weather forecasting that they’re simply accepted as part of the meteorologists’ tools.

But I agree with Firsoff in that space is an arena for positive adventure, struggle and heroism, and that it should be humanity’s proper outlet for these urges, rather than war and aggression. I think the problem is that space travel has yet to take off really, and involve the larger numbers of people in the exploration and colonisation space needed to make it have an obvious, conspicuous impact on everyone’s lives. There is massive public interest in space and space exploration, as shown by Prof. Brian Cox’s TV series and touring show, but I think that to have the impact Virsoff wanted people would have to feel that space was being opened up to ordinary people, or at least a wider section of the population than the elite scientists and engineers that now enjoy the privilege of ascending into Low Earth Orbit. And that means bases on the Moon, Mars and elsewhere, and the industrialisation of space.

But I think with the interest shown in the commercial exploitation of space by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, that might be coming. And I certainly hope, with Firsoff, that this does provide a proper avenue for the human need for danger and adventure, rather than more war and violence.

Video of British Scientist Eric Laithwaite Explaining Principle of Magnetic Levitation (Maglev)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/11/2019 - 6:58am in

This is a fascinating film from Imperial College London. Shot in 1975, it shows great British scientist/engineer Eric Laithwaite explaining how a maglev train would work. He begins with first principles, simply showing how magnets act upon each other with bar magnets. Magnets with the same poles facing each other repel, and he demonstrates how this can be used to suspend one magnet above another. This can be done with ring magnets, but usually something has to hold them in place, like the solid glass tube in this video. But ordinary magnets don’t generated enough lift to raise heavy objects off the ground. He then moves on to electromagnets and how these can also be made to move aluminium objects along them when using AC current. The electromagnets can be flattened out to produce a kind of river – the ‘Magnetic River’ of the film’s title – along which an aluminium sheet can be propelled at great speed. He then shows how the same principle could be used to drive a train by placing a model on the maglev track.

Laithwaite was working on making maglev trains a reality when the project was cancelled due to the budget cuts of the late 70s. The idea has since been taken up by German and other, foreign engineers. It has been seen by visionary scientists and SF writers like Arthur C. Clarke as the solution to current transport problems through the great speed that these trains could in theory attain without friction from wheels touching the tracks. They would also be clean and green through being powered by electricity, preferably solar power, rather than the burning of coal or other hydrocarbons. See the discussion about them in Clarke’s Profiles of the Future.

Laithwaite is one of the great scientists most people have never heard of. In the 1990s he got caught up in developing anti-gravity based on his experiments with gyroscopes. His claim that he had discovered a new principle of anti-gravity propulsion was not accepted by the scientific community. I’ve got the impression that the furor that aroused has caused his earlier, solid work to be unfairly overlooked.

I realise the video’s long at just over 18 minutes, but it’s worth persevering with if you’re interested in the subject. Before computer graphics came in, this is pretty much what science broadcasting was like when I was a schoolboy. It was simply the scientist, engineer or presenter standing in front of the camera talking with the machine or other object in front of them, and using simple diagrams or illustrations. And I’m really impressed with the way Laithwaite is able to explain a sophisticated piece of engineering in ordinary, non-technical language. As one of the commenters says on the YouTube page for this, he would have been a great science teacher.

He isn’t quite on his own here. Helping him with the equipment is his mysterious assistant, Barry, who helps set the apparatus up and loads the sheets of aluminium and then the model train on the maglev tracks, but who never speaks.

It’s a very basic presentation compared to some of the films on today’s popular science television, and it’s not clear if it was intended for broadcast. But it was experts like Dr. Laithwaite who brought science to ordinary people and inspired a new generation witih its wonder when I was young.

Today the government is concerned about the lack of young people choosing to study STEM subjects. Perhaps if broadcasters were able to find a few more experts with ability to explain science with the simplicity of some of those, who graced our TVs then, people able to convey real enthusiasm for the subject, and weren’t afraid of putting more popular science programmes on TV, there would be more school and university students taking up these subjects.

 

 

Video of DIY Atmospheric Water Generators

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/11/2019 - 6:26am in

Atmospheric Water Generators are machines that work on the same principle as dehumidifiers. They produce water from atmospheric moisture. The difference between them and the dehumidifiers is that the water they produce should be safe to drink.

In this video from desertsun 02’s channel on YouTube, a man shows off a simple AWG that’s he’s built himself. The explanatory paragraph for it runs

DIY Atmospheric Water Generator. Unit pulls Pure ‘distilled water’ straight out of the air! works best in hot humid conditions. this simple design pumps near freezing water thru a long section of copper coil. coil becomes very cold and dew (condensate) forms on the coil. the dew is then caught by a drip-pan located beneath the coil. *note that this unit has the added benefit of dehumidifying the air. *an AWG is essentially just a “Food Safe” dehumidifier. (my previous video shows this unit being operated primarily as a dehumidifier… the difference being that that design has plastic parts that come in contact with the water). to keep the water as ‘pure’ as possible, i used only aluminum and copper in this version. main thing with these is to keep the coils clean. if coils are cleaned after each use, the water generated is ‘distilled water’.

Of course, it raises the question that if he’s using cold water to condense the water in the atmosphere, why doesn’t he simply drink the water rather than go to all the bother of cooling and pumping it around just to get a few ounces from the atmosphere. But it’s a brilliant piece of home engineering, and scientists and engineers are building machines like these to give people in deprived, parched areas potable water. And we may need more of these machines very soon if the planet continues to warm up and desertification increases.

Video Summary of BBC Horizon Programme ‘The Hunt for Gravity Control’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 5:03am in

And now for something a little different. Trev, one of the great commenters on this blog, asked me a little while ago about anti-gravity in a comment on a piece I’d put up about UFOs. Way back in 2016 the BBC’s Horizon science programme had an edition, ‘The Hunt for Gravity Control’, which dealt with the hunt by British, American and Russian scientists to create an anti-gravity device. This began in Britain with the aerospace scientist Ron Evans at BAE, who started Project Greenglow. At the same time the Americans had a similar project, NASA’s Advanced Propulsion physics Programme, under the direction of Marc Millis. This aimed to discover alternative methods of space propulsion to rockets. A Russian scientist, Eugene Podkletnov, believed he had also discovered a method of creating anti-gravity through the use of superconductors and a spinning disc. However, this has not been replicated, and one of the scientists interviewed on the programme dismisses Podkletnov’s claims as ‘crap’. A Black physicist, who I don’t think is named in the clip, explains why scientists believe anti-gravity is impossible: it would need an object with negative mass, which instead of creating a kind of hole in spacetime would produce a type of mound around it instead.

There has, however, been a breakthrough of sorts. At the end, Dr. Evans is shown a device which uses quantum physics to detect bodies as small as that of a human through the tiny gravitational attraction they cause, at a distance of a meter. This gives Evans hope that one day, humans may be able to master gravity.

The full documentary’s about 50 minutes or so long. It was repeated a few months ago on BBC 4, and I think it might be available on BBC iplayer. The narrator’s Peter Capaldi, who was the last Dr. Who before Jodie Whitaker took over.

New ‘Space Hopper’ Device Allows Astronauts to Spend Less Time Exercising in Space

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/11/2019 - 11:04pm in

This is another story from yesterday’s I, this time about a new development in space research. At the moment astronauts have to spend over an hour a day exercising in order to combat the harmful effects of zero gravity. Without the pull of the Earth’s gravity, their muscles waste, including the heart. They also have to take care to try to prevent the loss of calcium from their bodies, which weakens their bones. But now inventor John Kennett has invented an exercise machine that allows them to do many of the exercises at once, thus cutting down drastically the amount of time they need trying to maintain a level of fitness. The article by Tom Bawden, ‘Astronauts jump at chance to use ‘space hopper’ to get fitter quicker’ runs

Keeping healthy in space is so vital that astronauts typically spend up to 90 minutes a day doing vigorous exercises.

But that could be about to change thanks to a new “jumping machine” that will gie them the same physical benefit in three or four minutes, according to its inventor.

Without effective exercise, astronauts’ fitness would quickly decline and their muscles and bones would lose strength.

At the moment, they spend much of their space-day running, cycling and doing strength training – on equipment that takes up a lot of valuable room and can take up to an hour to set up and dismantle.

According to the inventor John Kennett, his machine replaces the existing regime with a smaller, all-in-one device that boosts muscle and bone strength and provides cardiovascular exercise at the same time. it is 1.3 metres long and 20 centimetres thick when folded to be stowed.

The bed has a board that presses up against the bottom of the astronaut’s feet. This exerts a force that replicates the motion of jumping and is a highly effective form of exercise that can be varied to work different parts of the body.

“This piece of equipment has the potential to change the way astronauts travel through the solar system,” Mr Kennett said.

“The equipment they use at the moment is based on being in the gym – things like dead lifting or bench pressing. This is good but, when you jump, you do something incredible effective to the muscle and the tendons because you’re absorbing the landing force and then pushing away,” he added.

The device, known as the High Frequency Impulse for Microgravity, has been specially designed to eliminate vibrations and forces that would normally apply to exercise equipment but have the potential to damage spacecraft.

There’s also an additional snippet reporting that the UK space agency has given St Mary’s University in Twickenham a grant to conduct further research on Kennett’s invention after initial tests proved promising.

This is really interesting, and could be a great step forward. But I’ve heard rumours of breakthroughs in tackling the effects of Zero G on the human body before. About twenty or so years ago I went to see the British expert on space medicine, Dr. Kevin Fong, talk about the some of the problems space causes on astronauts’ physical and mental health. He believed that these problems were near to being solved through a device, a vibrating plate, that astronauts would stand on. I haven’t heard anything about this since, so I presume it didn’t work. But the inclusion of a fixed plate for the bottom of the astronaut’s feet in this decision also suggests that the previous invention made have played a role in the development of this device. And if this does prove effective in combating zero G, it will be a great help in allowing humans to cope better with the long interplanetary voyages necessary to open up and hopefully colonise the solar system.

‘I’ Article on Allegations of British War Crimes in Iraq and Aghanistan

I put up a piece yesterday evening commenting on a trailer for the Beeb’s Panorama programme tonight, 18th November 2019, investigating allegations that British troops have committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is also the subject of an article in today’s I by Cahal Milmo, titled ‘Army and UK Government accused of cover-up in war crimes scandal’. This reads

The Government is facing demands to ensure an investigation into “deeply troubling” allegations that torture and murders – including the killing of children – by British soldiers were covered up by senior commanders and officials.

Leaked documents provided to an investigation by BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times detail claims that evidence of crimes committed by UK troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was not fully investigated.

Amnesty International said that rather than sweeping such claims “under the carpet”, Britain needs to ensure cases are “treated with the seriousness they deserve”.

The claims, which include an allegation that an SAS soldier murdered three children and a man in Afghanistan while drinking tea in their home in 2012, arose from two official investigations into alleged war crimes by British forces. The Iraq Historic Allegations Teams (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor, which investigated alleged incidents in Afghanistan, were wound down in 2017 after a solicitor – Phil Shiner _ was struck off for misconduct after bringing more than 1,000 to IHAT.

Neither IHAT nor Northmoor resulted in any prosecutions, a fact which the Government insists was based on “careful investigation”.

But military investigators told the BBC and The Sunday Times that other factors were responsible. One former IHAT detective said: “The Ministry of Defence had no intention of prosecuting any soldier of whatever rank he was unless it was absolutely necessary and they couldn’t wriggle their way out of it.”

The media investigation uncovered claims no action was taken after military prosecutors were asked to consider charges against a senior SAS commander for attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to the Afghanistan incident. It also found evidence that allegations of beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch regiment did not reach court.

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted all cases had been looked at and “the right balance” struck in terms of court action.

A spokesman for the MOD said “Allegations that the MoD interfered with investigations or prosecution decisions relating to the conduct of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are untrue. The decisions of prosecutors and investigators have been independent of the MoD and involved external oversight and legal advice.”

Underneath the article is a statement in a box that reads Another investigator said ‘Key decisions were taken out of our hands. There was more and more pressure from the Ministry of Defence to get cases closed as quickly as possible.’

As I wrote yesterday, this is something that no-one really wants to hear. We’d love to believe our girls and boys are far better than this. But I’m afraid that for all their training and professionalism, they are just humans like everyone else, placed in positions of extreme fear and danger. Regarding the killing of children, it also has to be taken into account that the enemy in those areas has hidden behind children and tried to use them to kill allied soldiers. This has resulted in allied squaddies having been forced to shoot them to preserve their own lives.

Falling Off the Edge, a book which describes how neoliberalism is forcing millions into poverty worldwide and actually contributing to the rise in terrorism, begins with a description of a firefight between American soldiers and Daesh in Iraq. The Daesh fighters are losing, and one of them drops a Rocket Propelled Grenade in a house’s courtyard. The fighters then run inside, and throw out of the door two little boys. They boys try to grab the RPG despite the American troops screaming at them not to. One of them makes to pick it up, and is shot by an American trooper.

It’s an horrendous incident, but one in which the squaddie had no choice. It was either himself and his comrades, or the child. It’s a sickening decision that no-one should have to face, and I don’t doubt that it will scar this man psychologically for the rest of his life. One of the complaints Private Eye had about the lack of appropriate psychological care for returning servicemen and women suffering from PTSD was that they weren’t put in the hands of army doctors and medical professionals, who would understand the terrible choices they had to make. Instead many were put in civilian treatment groups, who were naturally shocked and horrified by their tales of killing children. It may well be that some of the accusations of the murder of children may be due to incidents like this. I also remember an al-Qaeda/ Taliban propaganda video from Afghanistan that the Beeb played during the Afghanistan invasion. This was intended for audiences elsewhere in the Middle East. In it, one of the fighters hands a gun to another small boy, who waves it around as if he can hardly hold it, and proudly declares that he will gun down the evil westerners. This seemed to show that the Taliban and al-Qaeda weren’t above using small children as soldiers. It’s evil, and banned under the UN Rights of the Child, I believe. But if the Taliban have been using boy soldiers, this might explain some of the murders.

Even so, these are very serious allegations. I blogged yesterday about how an American diplomat in Iraq was shocked at the conduct of US forces. The mess of one division was decorated with Nazi insignia, mercenaries were running drugs and prostitution rings, and shot Iraqi civilians for sport. And the American army was also supporting sectarian death squads. We need to know if there is similar lawlessness among British troops.

And I’m afraid I have no faith in the ability of the British army or the MoD to investigate these claims fairly. Nearly every fortnight Private Eye’s ‘In the Back’ section has yet more information from the Deep Cut Inquiry into the suicide of three squaddies at the barracks now well over a decade ago. There have been allegations that the initial investigation was appallingly inadequate, that detectives and doctors were taken off the investigation, or prevented from properly examining forensic evidence. And reading some of the depositions makes it appear that there may well have been a cover-up. And this also lends credibility to the allegations that the government and MoD are covering up atrocities here.

This needs to be very carefully investigated with complete transparency. And it also shows how profoundly morally wrong the invasion of Iraq was. It was a war crime, and the criminals responsible were Bush and Blair.

 

Morrison Blames Bushfires On The Greens Planting Too Many Trees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 8:08am in

ScoMo

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today come out and blasted the Greens party for heavily contributing to the nation’s bushfire epidemic.

“Let’s face it, it’s the Greens who have been planting all these trees,” Scorched a fired up ScoMo, “If there were no trees, there would be nothing to burn. Simple.”

The bushfires, which have thankfully not yet threatened the Sutherland Shire, Engadine Maccas or the Cronulla Shark’s home stadium, have been ravaging the States of NSW and QLD for a week.

Greens’ leader, Senator Di Natale didn’t have much evidence to rebuke the statement, instead insisting the LNP wasn’t aiding the situation too much.

“Well considering how much hot air the PM and his backbench have been producing as of late, they’ve no doubt been fanning the flames of the fires themselves!”

Due to budget cuts, when asked for their position on the matter, a CSIRO spokesperson simply stated: “We can confirm that some trees are flammable.”

GK Kidd

@GKTweetsHard

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

Hooray! BBC War of the Worlds Adaptation Begins on Sunday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 7:23am in

At last! The BBC is set to screen its adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic SF novel, The War of the Worlds, on Sunday 17th November 2019 on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it on page 64 of the Radio Times runs

Dramatisation of the HG Wells’s classic Sci-Fi tale, set in Edwardian England. Lovers Amy and George are among the first to notice when a mysterious capsule lands on Horsell Common near Woking in Surrey. Some thing it is an asteroid, but then it starts to shudder and move.

The additional article about the drama on page 63 by Alison Graham says of it

There’s an angry red planet, burning with fury, and its murderous emissary is falling to Earth, ready to destroy life as we know it by landing directly on, er, Woking. Blameless Woking in Surrey, the heart of the Home Counties. Surely it can’t be a twisted dislike of middle-class southerners that powers this gigantic beast?

The HG Wells sci-fi classic is dusted off in a thumping adaptation, with Rafe Spall as journalist George and his “wife” Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson), who have scandalised the town by living together unwed. She’s very progressive, considering this is Edwardian England, having a degree and a job as an assistant to an astronomer, Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle). 

But one night there’s a shattering noise, strange clouds fill the air and soon an unspeakable foe stalks the land, killing at will. Woking will never be the same again.

The I wrote a little piece about the adaptation yesterday, but instead of talking about the plot concentrated instead on the changes to the female lead, who is barely mentioned in the book, and that the astronomer, Ogilvy, is now gay. Peter Harness, who has adapted it, said that this made the story more interesting as Amy and Ogilvy were both outsiders. It’s definitely an attempt to make it more contemporary. Amy’s character obviously has been changed in order to introduce a strong female lead, and I suspect the decision to make her a scientist follows the campaign to get more women into science and engineering. As for the pair’s domestic arrangements, this seems partly based on some of the ideas circulating in very radical circles at the time – that marriage was a burden to women, and should be abolished and free love practised instead – and Wells’ own promiscuity. The decision to make Ogilvy gay also seems to me to be an attempt to make the story more contemporary. Or it might simply be following the lead of Dr Who, which has had a series of gay characters since its revival.

Regardless of the precise reasons for the changes, it looks excellent. It’s also been a long time in coming. It was due to be released last October and I wondered if it was ever going to be released at all. Now it seems it will, and I’m looking forward to it.

Is Earth Reaching a Tipping Point?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 2:35pm in

The Arctic isn’t a major concern to most Australians. I hope overseas readers won’t judge us too harshly for that: the Arctic is a long way away and we have plenty causes of concern closer to home:

NSW bushfires as seen from space, last Friday. (source)
Other than sporadic pieces -- like this one from ABC -- Australian media devoted little attention to recent events in northern latitudes. A partial exception was SBS, the public broadcaster catering for ethnic communities. They did cover last northern summer’s European heatwave and its subsequent extension to the Arctic.

(source)
Nevertheless, last June, images like that –- sleds in Greenland “sailing” through a shallow inland sea where an ice field was expected -– did make the rounds in local media.

That’s more than one can say about the giant Siberian wildfires. I could find no coverage of that in Australian media. When they started in July, according to NASA, those fires covered 23,958 km², but the total area devastated could have been one order of magnitude larger; its smoke made its way across the Pacific, to reach the US and Canada towards the end of that month.

(source)
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ABC released some more in-depth coverage recently. Late last month its US bureau chief, Zoe Daniel, presented “At the Edge of the Earth” (see also).

Daniel travelled to Kaktovik, Alaska, a Native American village on the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Although the program touched on how the proposed exploitation of natural gas reserves threatens wildlife, its main focus was on the threat to local lifestyle, to the distress of some residents but with the surprising support of others. The romanticised view of traditional cultures as custodians of the environment seems hopelessly simplistic when contrasted with some characters Daniel encountered.

Valuable as that insight is, Daniel’s report missed a fundamental point, as readers will see.

Over a week ago the ABC’s “Planet America”, with its weekly news coverage of American politics, also gave the Arctic some thought. That program’s unorthodox and innovative approach to news, in my opinion very appropriate, can best be explained -- I reckon -- by considering the qualifications of its two presenters: John Barron is the conventional expert one has grown accustomed to find in that kind of journalism; Chas Licciardello, on the other hand, is a comedian.

They mentioned the shorter sea lanes a summer ice-free Arctic Ocean would afford to global trade, how Russians are deploying a fleet of icebreakers, and that the Arctic Ocean is home to 30% of the world reserves of natural gas.

All that interesting and humorously presented, to be sure, but like Daniel’s own report, still missing a vital point.

It’s ironic that Scott Snowden’s early reporting (“Greenland’s Massive Ice Melt Wasn't Supposed To Happen Until 2070”, Aug. 2019), without fully grasping at the deeper and potentially fatal scientific implications of that melting, came closer to understand them. I find it ironic because Snowden writes for Forbes, the well-known American business magazine.

In late October, the ABC’s Ben Deacon came closer still to those implications, but focused on sea levels. Deacon writes that “Greenland this September weighed almost a third of a trillion tonnes less than it did the previous month”. The difference was due to ice melting because of the unusually high temperatures. Deacon was quoting Dr Paul Tregoning, from the Australian National University, researcher responsible for that finding.

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As Barron and Licciardello noted, there are huge reservoirs of natural gas in the Arctic. Natural gas, however, is not a single substance, but a mix of gases and its main component by far is methane (CH4). Methane, over a 100 year horizon, is estimated to be 27 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, meaning that one kilogram of CH4 traps as much heath as 27 kg of CO2.

On Earth, the ultimate source of methane is the continuous and gradual anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Those reservoirs exist because some mechanism stops gas from leaking into the atmosphere.

In conventional situations, natural gas reservoirs -- associated with oil reservoirs -- are in essence a bubble trapped by a stable and impermeable layer of material (rock and limestone in the figure below).

(source)
The mechanism, in those situations, is that layer.

Incidentally, as joint production of oil and gas is generally economically unviable, when oil extraction is the main activity, unwanted releases of gas occur. Those gas flares are just burnt. (Imagine now you are a moth, flying at night). The satellite image below, off the coast of Nigeria,  illustrates (a global picture is given here).

(source)
So, oil not only produces CO2 directly -- when the refined oil products are burnt -- but also indirectly, during extraction. Environmentally damaging as that is, the alternative is possibly worse: the direct release of methane into the atmosphere. (Sometimes, however, methane is released intentionally.)

Natural gas is found in other geological formations, though. Now the mechanism trapping the gas underground is some kind of porous structure, filled with gas. Its extraction involves more elaborate and costlier techniques (like fracking). With increasing demand, its exploration becomes economically viable. Because of that it was considered unconventional.

Methane hidrates is another mechanism trapping methane in the Arctic: frozen water lattices containing tiny molecular bubbles of methane, that is kept from migrating to the atmosphere by an upper permafrost layer.

And this is what those reports neglected to note: it’s not only Greenland and Iceland ice that is melting. It’s Siberian, Canadian, and Alaskan permafrost. From dry land and undersea.

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I also send my thoughts and prayers.

Dear God,

Give that evil, ignorant, irresponsible, mentally retarded, deranged, demagogic, hypocritical charlatan Michael McCormack the reward he deserves. I’d humbly suggest African swine fever.

Scratch that. Make it “all the Ministers in the Morrison Ministry, Morrison included”.

PS,

And give shameless Adani ass-kisser Annastacia Palaszczuk lung cancer and/or emphysema.

Amen.

Corridor Crew’s Video of War Robot Tested – And How They Faked It

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/11/2019 - 1:30am in

Okay, mea culpa! A few days ago I put up a video from Prof Simon Holland’s channel, in which the good prof talked about some of the technology in Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, was now real. This video featured clips showing a war robot being put through its paces on a target range out in the desert. That clip was part of this longer video from the Corridor Crew, which ends with the robot taking a smaller, four-legged creature and escaping down a road.

I found it really convincing, right up to the point I found all the other videos showing how they did it. Like this one. This shows the same footage before the addition of the CGI effects, which turn the actor/stuntman into the robot.

There are a number of other videos from the Crew revealing how they did in much more detail. So, kudos to the Corridor Crew for their convincing film, at least to me. As you can read in the comments column for both videos, other people were well aware this was fake. The footage was convincing, because there are robots that look like this, which have been developed by Boston Dynamics, an America defence contractor.

There are two things we can learn from this.

  1. War robots are not yet ready to go full Terminator and take over the world in a war against humanity just yet. And
  2. Be careful about believing what you see online. 

 

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