March 31, 2014

And Now A Moment of "PEW! PEW! PEW!"

A working gauss gun.

OK, it doesn't penetrate the laptop screen, but the damage it does to the cans argues against shooting it in the apartment. I'm guessing it doesn't have much velocity but those long pellets might tumble quite effectively.

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March 30, 2014

And Now, A Moment of 'Splody

 While looking for something completely unrelated to all that stuff that's happening, I unwittingly blundered into this....

These are both brief but they are REALLY good clips of Upshot Grable, better known as the atomic cannon test. The second is from the film Trinity and Beyond. In general this particular test is known from a clip that was filmed near the cannon itself.  These short clips however, include footage from the hardened effects cameras in the target area. Note that while this is about the same size as the Hiroshima bomb, it has much greater blast effect over a smaller area. It was a very low airburst. Note too that the bomb is so much brighter than the sun that it gives the impression of a nighttime shot, whereas it was a daylight test as one can tell from the second clip.

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January 19, 2014

The Utility Seems Dubious At Best

Steven is asking a perfectly reasonable question.

Why would anyone want their refrigerator to have an internet connection?

Of all the appliances, one that would seem to have the least need for this is the refrigerator, since its only job is to maintain two or perhaps 3 CONSTANT temperatures. There is no need for updates, indeed they are unwelcome.

"By your hacker's command"

What am I missing here?

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January 05, 2014

This Time For Sure

 The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is one of the most powerful icebreakers capable of reaching Antarctica. (The huge Russian atomic powered icebreakers can't cross the equator due to a quirk of their reactor design)

Fortuitously the American vessel is was en route to supply the Research station at McMurdo when the Australian government requested assistance in breaking free the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long which became hopelessly stuck while rescuing passengers from the Russian ice strengthened cruise ship Akademik Shokalskiy which, as we've been noting with considerable bemusement was on a scientific expedition to research global warming by studying Antarctica's retreating ice sheet...only to have the ice sheet rally, turn, fight and overrun their position.

The Polar Star, while nearly 40 years old,  can break 21 feet of ice and has three times he installed power of the much larger Chinese ship so odds are good that they'll be successful.

Interestingly the Polar Star nearly wasn't available having been decommissioned in 2008 as worn out and beyond economic repair. However, it was decided in 2010 to put put a maintenance crew on the vessel rather than scrap her and ultimately the vessel was refitted to soldier on for several more years to supplement her sister and the larger but less powerful Healy while a new class of icebreakers is designed...and hopefully built.

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January 02, 2014

In Defense of the Formerly Icebound Adventurers (Updated)

pic via BBC

Now that the passengers, both scientists and dilettantes have (thankfully) been rescued from the Akademik Shokalskiy I feel the need to come to their defense with limited snark.

I think they are getting a slightly bum rap.

The NYT has a piece denouncing the expedition as disrupting 'serious' science. The short version of this is that the rescue of this expedition is seriously impacting the logistics of other scientific endeavors on the frozen continent.

This is technically true as their article points out...French, Chinese, and Australian icebreakers were all in route to, or offloading supplies at base camps for other scientists when they were called to assist a vessel in distress. The NYT suggests that these endeavors were all more legit than the research being carried out by the self funded expedition.... They do note however that the expedition leaders are not novices at this...

The leaders of the current expedition – Chris Turney, Chris Fogwill and Greg Mortimer — are seasoned field scientists.  

So what is the problem here?

But the bungled trip now threatens to tarnish the wider field of Antarctic science.



The NYT is denouncing these recently quite highly regarded scientists because they encountered a (thankfully non-fatal) mishap that for their political allies has politically problematic optics. This may or may not be fair...but I'm pretty sure that the Old Grey Lady didn't have a problem with the expense and disruption involved in this.

Stuff can happen....especially in the best equipped and most professional. Ask Captain Scott.

The Spirit of Mawson Expedition went into an extremely unpredictable area about which not a lot is known. THAT'S WHAT SCIENTISTS DO! They made a discovery, probably several, because, rest assured freezing and stranding the ship was not part of the plan. It was however SCIENCE happening all around them getting steadilly thicker and they observed it. Science often involves  goeing into the unknown and that entails some risk. Antarctica is unpredictable and dangerous...that is why people don't live there.

Then there's this from the NYT article.
  Particularly vexing is what seems to be a devil-may-care attitude expressed by some of those on the trapped ship.

Oh my stars and garters! Bravado in the face of danger! How gauche!
What the HELL else are they supposed to do...cry? Be overly dramatic regards what was did not seem to be a life threatening situation? Sit down in their footsie Pajamas drink cocoa and talk about health insurance? Oh...right...NYT. far as I'm concerned this is a feature and not a bug. Props to these guys on that score at least. In fact it's cold enough there that even I wouldn't begrudge them footsie PJs! Besides, they did what scientists in the field often DO... they stuck with it, kept calm and kept observing. Read about Roy Chapman Andrews (Combat Paleontologist) sometime. The fear that they were so politically motivated that they would stay and get someone killed turned out to be unfounded. It looks like they did not flee prematurely nor too late.

Let's review...A freak storm and cold snap stranded their ship. Now because several of the scientists are allegedly* outspoken advocates of AGW theory and associated economically dubious mitigation efforts...and ALL of the on board patrons are,  those of us who are a bit skeptical of their political stance on this issue had a good hearty laugh at the amusing irony of the situation, This is not that different from what our our political opponents did here and here...except for the minor detail that no one was laughing at innocent deaths.

That being said, while I think that much of the amusement on the right is understandable in that context, I think we should cut these adventurers a break.

" Halp! We're stuck in a 16 foot thick pile of Global Warming!"

A small break....

One of the non-economic complaints about AGW science is that it relies too much on models, which are only as good as the (necessarily incomplete) data put into them. The models don't seem to have been reliable in predicting recent trends.

These scientists went to an area that had been extensively surveyed about a hundred years ago but has been largely unobserved since in order to collect data on how it has changed over that considerable time...this is exactly the sort of research we want done. The scientists who led the expedition reportedly have a theory that carbon emissions are dramatically affecting the climate. So they went to test their theory in the field. THIS IS SCIENCE!

There seems to be much hand wringing over the fact that this expedition was funded by rich patrons who got a Antarctic vacation out of it (admittedly a  much more exciting one than they anticipated). Well that is the way science was normally done for centuries. There's a limited pot of National Science Foundation monies and this delightfully free market model demonstrably works (this is proved by them getting there and discovering way more ice and colder temperatures than they thought. ) This sort of model seems a very good compliment to the generally successful NSF model.  

Now...If the scientists had been looking for Antarctic space NAZI's and their saucers or something I'd be a little more sympathetic to the argument that their mishap disrupted legit research needlessly...but whatever political quibbles I might have with their patrons, they displayed the courage of their convictions with cash and their presence and I salute them for that. As for the scientists , they put together an expedition to a largely unknown area where they tried to TEST THEIR HYPOTHISIS.

That is what science is...That is what scientists do...

"And science is AWESOME!"

:I'd resigned myself to being the only righty who thought this, However Moe Lane expresses similar sentiments rather more pithily. He also cuts to the heart of the matter. is remarkably embarrassing, which is why the NYT is so aggravated about the whole thing.  To the point where they’re retroactively trying to throw the expedition under the icebreaker.  As if it’s the Spirit of Mawson’s fault that the ice is still there…

Oh no WAY.

* I've not found a primary source  on this point.
Animated .gifs are from Nichijou, which is unrelated to this matter. It is also (like science) awesome & should bring a smile to the face of anyone regardless of political preferences.

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December 29, 2013

Cruise Ship Trapped in Pack Ice

A Russian research/cruise ship Akademik Shokalskiy. has been overwhelmed by a summer blizzard off Antarctica and has become trapped in thickening ice. The Chinese icebreaker  Xue Long, unable to deal with the thickness of ice around the ship has retreated to open water leaving the cruise ship's only hope the Australian icebreaker Aurora Austrialis which is moving to assist. .

Akademik Shokalskiy stuck fast. Pic via USA Today

UPDATE: It looks like Aurora Australis is also being forced off by the abominable conditions.
This is getting serious.
Two top of the line icebreakers have found conditions too dangerous to proceed. The weather has deteriorated to the point that helicopter rescue is currently unsafe. If the ice is really over 4 meters thick, the cruise ship (which draws 4.5m) is not really floating any more. There is the very real possibility that the ship might be crushed. Complicating matters is the fact that the 'expedition' is a political stunt and PR is everything for the expedition leaders. Reports from the Akademik Shokalski indicate that those being interviewed are in denial of the gravity of their situation.The optics of this incident as well as the political and financial implications for the members of the voyage, may well be influencing them to deny the inevitable until lives are at risk.
Irony is a dish best served cold.

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December 27, 2013

Just South of Europa, it Gets Kind of Humid

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes seems a bit excited about a recent discovery by NASA.

"It's just a water vapor cloud..BUT IT'S IN SPAAACE!!!"

While examining an aurora near Europa's  south pole, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered that it is associated with a faint cloud of water vapor, presumably venting from cryo-volcanoes on Europa that have plumes 201 kilometers high.

It seems likely that the 'cloud' deposits snow on Europa's south pole. NASA scientists take the plumes as further evidence that Europa is home to a vast subterranean ocean.

via NBF

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November 29, 2013

Upon Reflection, They Should Have Named it Icarus

Via Zoopraxiscope

It looks like ISON went 'poof!".

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November 19, 2013

Viola Organista

A Polish fellow has built a musical instrument from plans by Leonardo Da Vinci.

It works!

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November 14, 2013


Two of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes react to the final installment in the AIAA-Houston section newsletter which has been undertaking a reprint and analysis of the famous series of articles published in  8 issues of Collier's Magazine in the 1950s titled Man Will Conquer Space Soon.

The series laid out a very forward thinking vision of space exploration that included detailed plans for exploring both the Moon and Mars. The plan, developed largely by Wherner Von Braun and Wley Ley was, surprisingly sound from a technical standpoint. Scott Lowther, who publishes the superb Aerospace Projects Review, has overseen the republishing of these historic articles in high resolution which is particularly significant given the art by Fred Freeman and Chelsey Bonnestell. The ads have been replaces with short aerospace articles relating to the series that include some technical analysis of what they got right and wrong. This final instalment in the series focuses on how the scientists and engineers of the day tackled the problem of a mission to Mars.

The problem was looked at from every angle. Logistics and life support were worked out as well as a broad idea of what parts of the planet would be explored. Far from a "flags and footprints" mission this was envisioned as an extensive reconnaissance along the lines of contemporary Antarctic exploration, of the planet trekking from the polar regions to the tropics over several months before returning.

Keep in mind this was 1954.

They worked this out with slide-rules. Your smartphone probably dwarfs the aggregate computing power of all the computers in their world and yet for them this was not science fiction. They worked out the math on this endeavor and got it pretty much right.

Their Mars exploration architecture was put together without the beneffit of what we know about local resources after having sent probes to the Red Planet and yet they produced a plan that is vastly more robust  than most of those occasionally contemplated today for possible implementation in some amorphous, ever more distant future.

Aside from the winged launders (Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than they thought) this could have been done...and redesigning the slanders would have been no problem. However,  the nation as a collective wandered off to eventually play angry birds and run up the debt.

All is not lost however.  Today, individuals in private companies are seriously working towards the goals that were seen as right around the corner ion 1954. While we, despite having once landed on the moon are scarcely farther along in the development of the cis-lunar infrastructure to pull something like this off than we were 40 years ago, there is work being done to put in place the building blocks to pull off something like what was envisioned 60 or so years ago.

Even better, leveraging what we have learned in our fitful forrays into space, there are those today who are seriously considering an even more meaningful endeavor than the exploration of unknown lands...settlement.

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September 16, 2013


If mankind does not fall back into the darkness, future historians will likely consider this to be the important event of this year. .

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September 11, 2013

I've SEEN This Movie

It did not end well.

Signs of Ancient Life Stirring in Antarctic Lake


"… only 77% of sequences identified could be matched to a known sequence, species or type strain, suggesting that a vast amount of novel biodiversity is present.”

I suppose "novel" is a good description of shoggoths.

Young lady standing in for Mr. Lion is Mao from GJ Club.

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August 23, 2013

Obviously, Nuclear Weapons are More 'Splody in the Arctic

Alex Wellerstien's Updated Online Nightmare Facilitator has a use other than depriving people of sleep.

It helps one to visualize the extent of distortion in a Mercator Projection.

Click here for supah-size.

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August 12, 2013


 Elon Musk's much hyped and speculated about design for a transportation system which was unveiled today. The 57 page PDF is here. One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes is on the case trying to digest all that info...(or at least digest a sweet potato).

It turns out that this concept is not the vac-train many people predicted so it doesn't have the same technical issues that people have been bringing up for the last few months. It has completely different technical issues.

 I think the notion that right of way issues are no greater than power-lines is wildly optimistic as well as discounting what a legal pain running powerlines can be. The idea of using Inrerstate Medians is a good one that we here at Brickmuppet Blog have long thought to be the only viable right of way option for new rail lines...assuming they could be made economically viable (a BIG assumption). However, keep in mind that attempts to expand a commuter rail system ON EXISTING RAIL LINES here in Hampton Roads faces environmental impact statements and studies that will take up to a decade for some proposed lines. An attempt to install high speed rail tracks next to the existing AMTRAK rail lines is facing a similar issue and delay. The extension of the northeast highspeed rail corridor south is actually an idea which makes good economic sense (unlike most US HSR proposals) but even using existing infrastructures for a well understood technology is taking decades and costing millions before any tracks are even laid. This new tech will give the regulators all sorts of ammunition to mandate all manner of studies. So there is at least one huge political/legal hurdle not addressed.

As to the technical issues, this is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I'm a tad skeptical of the 100% solar power idea (particularly north of the Mason Dixon Line)  and maintaining pressure differentials in well traveled tubes measured in megameters looks to be challenging to say the least.

Brian Wang (who tends to be very sanguine regards mass transit in any form) is running the numbers here, here and here. He looks at the costs here.

That little potential asphyxiation issue notwithstanding this is a very interesting proposal and I'd really like to see something like this made viable.

However, the biggest red flag is not technical or's Elon Musk. This is something that Ace touched on the other day and I think it's valid. With the exception of Pay-Pal, all of Musk's business ventures have involved government (via taxpayer) subsidies. Tesla and SolarCity are totally dependent on this sweetheart deals and strong-arming rivals via his patrons in congress and CalGov. Even Space-X which is an inspiring and innovative endeavor, exists because it was awarded the space station contract while other less politically connected companies were passed over (perhaps justifiably, perhaps not).

We here at Brickmuppet Blog would dearly like for this to work... But given Musk's past business models the thing this most reminds us of is.....

"Science Babe" is actually Anzu Katodani from Girls und Panzer.

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August 11, 2013

Time to Give A Shout-Out to IndieGo-Go

Recently we discussed the potential KickStarter has for shaking things up and bypassing normal gatekeepers and FTC issues.

Well, they have issues of their own.

According to PopSci (link via Rand Simberg) Kickstarter recently made a small, quite specific, change to their terms of service. one that RETROACTIVELY removed the stretch prizes from an already funded project.

The project, to create bio-luminescent plants, received $484,013 of a $65,000  goal by the time funding closed and was going swimmingly until it attracted the ire of some...I dunno...luddites or something who, on May 31, started an online petition to get Kickstarter to block the project. Kickstarter knuckled under on July 1.

This is bigger than depriving the projects $40.00 backers of their glowing leeks...this is an ex post facto decision breaching a contracts in response to an internet petition.

Which brings us to Indiegogo which is another outfit with a similar buisness model that few people had heard of before Kickstarter decided to spurn the faint green light of and embrace the darkness of anti GM hysteria....and break contracts.

So lets hear it for least at the moment they don't seem to be opposed in principal to biotech startups.

...and all that that implies.

Kickstarter does good within what appear to be self imposed limits. Beyond those limits it's good to know that there is competition.

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