Late Night Side-Eye Open Thread — Trump to NASA: “To the MOON, Alice!”

I was too young for the Honeymooners, but I’ve read that in 1956, young Donald Trump was trying to buy friends with the lure of his parents’ still-novel rec-room television. So, yeah, hurrah for a new Space Age, but given Trump’s hostility to science in general, my first thought was of Trump shouting out Ralph Kramden’s (futile, bootless) threat… which is still enough of a popular catchphrase to have its own entry in the Urban Dictionary…

President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 on Monday, directing NASA to return Americans to the surface of the moon and onward to Mars.

The order declares NASA must lead U.S. astronauts in “an innovative space exploration program.” The announcement continues the White House push to end dependence on Russia for manned launches, which began when the space shuttle program retired six years ago.

“It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use,” Trump said during the signing. “This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint. We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and, perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.”

It has been 45 years to the day since Apollo 17 landed, the most recent mission to the moon…

Video of Trump’s full speech here:

“We are the leader and we’re going to stay the leader, and we’re going to increase it many fold,” Trump said in signing “Space Policy Directive 1” that establishes a foundation for a mission to the moon with an eye on going to Mars.

“This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars,” Trump said. “And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.”

Back in June, China’s space official said the country was making “preliminary” preparations to send a man to the moon, the latest goal in China’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

Trump’s signing ceremony for the directive included former lunar astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt and current astronaut Peggy Whitson, whose 665 days in orbit is more time in space than any other American and any other woman worldwide…

“And space has so much to do with so many other applications, including a military application,” he said without elaboration.

In approving the new policy, Trump abandoned what had been a goal of his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, who in 2010 backed a plan to send humans to a near-earth asteroid.

NASA said initial funding for the new policy would be included in its budget request for fiscal year 2019…

Funding yesterday and funding tomorrow, but never funding today.

On the ‘job creation’ side, maybe O.J. Simpson can reprise his role



Computer Fun for the Whole Family

I have spent the day working a fresh install of windows ten after upgrading the motherboard/processor/ram on my computer, and installing programs is fun. On the up side, I won’t need to do this for another year. Getting outlook to run almost had me in tears.

At any rate, I discovered today that MadCatz went out of business, so I no longer have working drivers for my programmable mouse, WHICH IS ALL KINDS OF FUCKING AWESOME (THROWS SHIT), so now I need a new mouse.

I like a heavy mouse. Any suggestions?

Also, I am still waiting for fucking Soros to buy me these:

http://amzn.to/2ic0wuu

http://amzn.to/2BH1Yxx

Does anyone even get the Soros checks jokes anymore? Is this the internet version of calling the refrigerator an icebox or saying going to the pictures instead of movies? Am I that old.








Sunday Sports Downer Open Thread: Aaron Hernandez, Again

If previous news stories about CTE — or the Colin Kaepernick protests — hadn’t already convinced a lot of middle-class parents to keep their high-school-and-younger kids away from the gridiron, well… From the Washington Post:

Aaron Hernandez suffered the most severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy ever discovered in a person his age, damage that would have significantly affected his decision-making, judgment and cognition, researchers at Boston University revealed at a medical conference Thursday.

Ann McKee, the head of BU’s CTE Center, which has studied the disease caused by repetitive brain trauma for more than a decade, called Hernandez’s brain “one of the most significant contributions to our work” because of the brain’s pristine condition and the rare opportunity to study the disease in a 27-year-old.

Hernandez, a former New England Patriots tight end, hanged himself with a bedsheet in April in a Massachusetts prison while serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013…

Because the center has received few brains from people Hernandez’s age, McKee could not say whether his brain was representative of a 27-year-old who had played as much football. But she found the advanced stage of CTE alarming.

“In this age group, he’s clearly at the severe end of the spectrum,” McKee said. “There is a concern that we’re seeing accelerated disease in young athletes. Whether or not that’s because they’re playing more aggressively or if they’re starting at younger ages, we don’t know. But we are seeing ravages of this disease, in this specific example, of a young person.”

At Thursday’s conference, McKee flipped through slides comparing sections of Hernandez’s brain with a sample without CTE. Hernandez’s brain had dark spots associated with tau protein and shrunken, withered areas, compared with immaculate white of the sample. His brain had significant damage to the frontal lobe, which impacts a person’s ability to make decisions and moderate behavior. As some new slides appeared on the projectors, some physicians and conference attendees gasped.

“We can’t take the pathology and explain the behavior,” McKee said. “But we can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses for aggression, emotional volatility, rage behaviors. We know that collectively.”

McKee said Hernandez had a genetic marker that makes people vulnerable to certain brain diseases and could have contributed to how aggressively he developed CTE.

“We know that that’s a risk factor for neurogenerative disease,” McKee said. “Whether or not that contributed in this case is speculative. It may explain some of his susceptibility to this disease.” …

More detail at the link. I suspect the sports-radio eugenics experts are gonna leap for that ‘genetic marker of vulnerability’ like a dog for a thrown frisbee, but I also get the feeling they aren’t the people with kids young enough to be Pee-Wee recruits, are they?

And if I were the NFL owners, I would give Hernandez’s fiancee Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez whatever it took to make her happy, up to and including Bob Kraft’s less favorite testicle, because more publicity is absolutely the last thing they need right now. But then, I don’t claim to understand sports, especially football!



Knowable Magazine

Just started publishing, a new resource.

 

Annual Reviews is a publisher that you probably never heard of, but which is important to many areas of science. They publish yearly volumes, all of which are titled Annual Reviews of _______.

The blank includes

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Animal Biosciences
  • Anthropology
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Computer Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Food Science and Technology
  • Medicine
  • Physical Chemistry (YAY!)
  • Statistics and Its Application

And many others. Each volume includes articles about developments during the year. They are very technical, not the kind of thing you read for recreation.

Having all those resources is a good basis for a general science magazine, which seems to be the point of Knowable. The articles I checked out were long and fairly dense, the kind of thing I used to like in Scientific American before it decided to become more like Popular Science.

Check it out.

 



Thursday Morning Open Thread: Because of Wow / Because of Uh-Oh…


.

What’s on the agenda for the new (hopefully less news-intensive) day?

***********
Hate to bring this up first thing in the morning, but the Balloon Juice demographic (including me) often depends on the miracles of modern medicine. Personal miracles which may, unfortunately, be impacted by the disaster in Puerto Rico:

Federal officials and major drugmakers are scrambling to prevent national shortages of critical drugs for treating cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as medical devices and supplies, that are manufactured at 80 plants in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Pharmaceuticals and medical devices are the island’s leading exports, and Puerto Rico has become one of the world’s biggest centers for pharmaceutical manufacturing. Its factories make 13 of the world’s top-selling brand-name drugs, from Humira, the rheumatoid arthritis treatment, to Xarelto, a blood thinner used to prevent stroke, according to a report released last year.

With business of nearly $15 billion a year at stake in Puerto Rico, drug companies and device makers are confronting a range of obstacles on the island: locating enough diesel fuel for generators to run their factories; helping their employees get to work from areas where roads are damaged and blocked, electricity is down and phones don’t work. Companies have taken out radio ads pleading with workers to check in. The pharmaceutical and device industries contribute to the employment of nearly 100,000 people on the island, according to trade groups.

“Some of these products are critical to Americans,” Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told a congressional panel this week. “A loss of access could have significant public health consequences.”

Dr. Gottlieb, who visited F.D.A. staff in Puerto Rico last week, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Health: “We have a list of about 40 drugs that we’re very concerned about. It reflects maybe about 10 firms.”

Thirteen of the drugs, Dr. Gottlieb said, are “sole-source,” meaning the product is made only by one company. Those include H.I.V. medications, injectable drugs and sophisticated medical devices, although he did not name the products. The biggest problem, he said, was not damage to the factories, but the instability of the electric supply. Manufacturers are worried that a long-term lack of connection to a major power grid could jeopardize their products, and are also wary of relying on the more limited electrical grids that the territory is likely to activate as a first step to restoring power…

As someone who takes several old-fat-person medications every day, I’ve been trying to keep an eye on this, but the Trickster-God-blessed megacorps who profit from such drugs are making it very very difficult. There’s one DailyKos poster who’s put up a partial list, which also includes such “everyday” (heavily advertised, often prescribed) brand names as Crestor, Invokana, Eliquis, Lyrica… and Viagra. (Maybe more Repubs should be quietly informed about a potential shortage of that one.)

The DKos poster suggests that anyone taking any of these drugs would be well advised to consult their doctor(s) now, and that seems like a wise precaution to me.



Cosmic Goodness (Immigrant Edition)

Here’s a welcome respite from the ongoing hellscape of GOP-dominated America:

Three American physicists have won the Nobel prize in physics for the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago.

Rainer Weiss has been awarded one half of the 9m Swedish kronor (£825,000) prize, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm today. Kip Thorne and Barry Barish will share the other half of the prize.

If you want to listen to a gravitational wave — the sound of two black holes colliding — here you go:

For more detail on what the prize is for, here’s a lovely, relatively brief lecture — very accessible — on gravitational waves and what it took to detect them, delivered by my MIT colleague Nergis Mavalvala:

And if you want to go a bit deeper, MIT’s Rainer Weiss, one of the three laureates, offers longer, somewhat more technical account:

You can follow this prize — as so many before it — back to Albert Einstein.  As Mavalvala explains, the concept of the gravitational wave emerges directly from Einstein’s theory of gravity, the General Theory of Relativity.

To say “directly” is, as usual, a bit of misrepresentation.

Yes: calculation within Einstein’s 1915 theory does end up at a prediction of gravitational waves, but neither the history of that calculation nor the human story moved down anything like a straight path.  First, in 1905, Henri Poincare suggested that gravity waves might exist.  Then, in 1915, with his new mathematics of gravity, Einstein began to wonder if his theory would yield such waves, soon concluded it would not, then revisited the question, still during WW I, and proposed that three different examples of gravitational oscillations might actually be real.  Then, 1922, Arthur Eddington (who had led the eclipse expeditions that confirmed the underlying general theory three years before) showed that two of the three forms Einstein had proposed were mathematical mistakes, born of the choice of coordinate system Einstein used for his earlier calculation.

Einstein pursued other projects for a while, returning to gravitational waves in the 1930s, after emigrating to the US.  Working with an assistant, Nathan Rosen (of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox-that-isn’t), he wrote a paper concluding that gravitational waves do not exist, full stop.  The two men submitted the paper to Physical Review, which then sent it on for review.  The reviewer, Howard Percy Robertson, found a confounding error. On being informed,  Albert Einstein was not amused:

Einstein’s reaction was anger and indignation; he sent the following note to [PR editor John] Tate [10]:

July 27, 1936
Dear Sir.
“We (Mr. Rosen and I) had sent you our manuscript for publication and had not authorized you to show it to specialists before it is printed. I see no reason to address the—in any case erroneous—comments of your anonymous expert. On the basis of this incident I prefer to publish the paper elsewhere.”
Respectfully
Einstein
Still, Robertson was right, as Einstein’s next assistant, Leopold Infeld confirmed.  He told Einstein what he’d learned, and the older scientist listened:
Infeld refers to the day before a scheduled talk that Einstein was to give at Princeton on the “Nonexistence of gravitational waves”. Einstein was already aware of the error in his manuscript, which was previously pointed out by Infeld. There was no time to cancel the talk. The next day Einstein gave his talk and concluded, “If you ask me whether there are gravitational waves or not, I must answer that I don’t know. But it is a highly interesting problem
Einstein had already resubmitted his original paper to another journal, and the work was in proofs, which led to a scramble, and the final outcome:
“…After finding relationships that cast doubt on the existence of gravitational fields rigorous wavelike solutions, we have thoroughly investigated the case of cylindrical gravitational waves. As a result, there are strict solutions and the problem is reduced to conventional cylindrical waves in Euclidean space”.
Einstein was often swift to annoyance. He could, though, on reflection, be corrected — as he was here.
“I want to thank my colleague Professor Robertson for their friendly help in clarifying the original error.”

The issue remained, though, that gravitational waves were complicated to model, and hence even to imagine detecting.  The article linked above and again here is a history of the idea, and it shows how much thinking and doing — for decades — went into the moment of discovery this prize celebrates.

And that just gets us to the gate of the work behind this year’s physics Nobel.  Weiss first came up with the idea for the detector that ultimately heard two black holes colliding almost exactly fifty years ago, after teaching MIT’s introduction to general relativity. The next decade, he began the collaboration with fellow laureate Kip Thorne, the near legendary Caltech general relativist, to advance the idea of a large-scale interferometer as a gravity wave observatory.  The next key collaborators, Ronald Drever, who died last year last March, and the third prize-winner, particle physicist and large-machine-expert [per valued commenter dmislev] Barry Barish, credited with the transformation of Weiss’s original notion into a full fledged and ultimately enormous lab, joined soon after.  The actual detection took place a mere four decades on.

And it’s beautiful — as Einstein once said of other work, an example of “the highest form of musicality in the sphere” of scientific endeavor.  The scale, the unholy precision, and the extraordinary extension of human perception into the most forbidding recesses of the universe are simply sublime, glorious and terrifying.  In these wretched political times, the notion that some of our species can create on such an encompassing canvas is…a balm, at least.

And, not to harsh that mellow, but because everything is political to me these days, a final thought.  Einstein, an immigrant, discovered the underlying concept.  Rai Weiss, born in Berlin in 1932, escaped with his family from the Nazis first to Prague and then New York.  Mavalvala, featured above, a key contributor to the ultimate instrument that made the detection, came to the US to pursue knowledge at the highest level from her home in Turkey Pakistan [I apologize for the error].  Many, many more people from all over dedicated days and nights and years of their working lives to making this happen.

This is the intellectual and cultural capacity the GOP seeks to erode.  That makes them philistines, and worse: saboteurs of the American capacity to create both basic science and all the expected and unanticipated possibilities for human well being that flow from “musicality in scientific thought.”



Sunday Morning Garden Chat: “A Field Farmed Only By Drones”

A little something for both the gardening and the geeking commentariat. Now, if only they can program the drones to do the weeding… Nicola Twilley, in the New Yorker:

Across the United Kingdom, the last of the spring barley has been brought in from the fields, the culmination of an agricultural calendar whose rhythm has remained unchanged for millennia. But when the nineteenth-century poet John Clare wrote, in his month-by-month description of the rural year, that in September “harvest’s busy hum declines,” it seems unlikely that he was imagining the particular buzz—akin to an amplified mosquito—of a drone.

“The drone barley snatch was actually the thing that made it for me,” Jonathan Gill, a robotics engineer at Harper Adams University, told me recently. Gill is one of three self-described “lads” behind a small, underfunded initiative called Hands Free Hectare. Earlier this month, he and his associates became the first people in the world to grow, tend, and harvest a crop without direct human intervention. The “snatch” occurred on a blustery Tuesday, when Gill piloted his heavy-duty octocopter out over the middle of a field, and, as the barley whipped from side to side in the propellers’ downdraft, used a clamshell dangling from the drone to take a grain sample, which would determine whether the crop was ready for harvesting. (It was.) “Essentially, it’s the grab-the-teddy-with-the-claw game on steroids,” Gill’s colleague, the agricultural engineer Kit Franklin, said. “But it had never been done before. And we did it.”

The idea for the project came about over a glass of barley’s best self: beer. Gill and Franklin were down the pub, lamenting the fact that, although big equipment manufacturers such as John Deere likely have all the technology they need to farm completely autonomously, none of them seem to actually be doing it. Gill knew that drones could be programmed, using open-source code, to move over a field on autopilot, changing altitude as needed. What if you could take the same software, he and Franklin wondered, and make it control off-the-shelf agricultural machinery? Together Gill, Franklin, and Martin Abell, a recent Harper Adams graduate, rustled up just over a quarter million dollars in grant money. Then they got hold of some basic equipment—a small Japanese tractor designed for use in rice paddies, a similarly undersized twenty-five-year-old combine harvester, a sprayer boom, and a seed drill—and connected the drone software to a series of motors, which, with a little tinkering, made it capable of turning the tractor’s steering wheel, switching the spray nozzles on and off, raising and lowering the drill, and choreographing the complex mechanized ballet of the combine…
Read more