Maurizio – Omnologos

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Archive for March 2007

Spock’s Principle: The Many, The Few, The One

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or…”Ethics and Emotions

There’s been quite some interest in new scientific evidence about “the Heart ruling the Head“. But I haven’t read any mention of its extreme consequence: the extraordinary, apparently illogical moral code we reserve for the special persons in our life.

A new study published in Nature has hinted on the fact that ethical decisions are a combination of emotional and rational choices:

[Some] philosophers […] psychologists and neuroscientists [argue that] when faced with a moral dilemma […] we rely on emotional reactions as well as our powers of reasoning. In a study of brain damage […] neuroscientists report evidence that emotions indeed exert a powerful influence on moral judgments.

Paradoxically, of all the fictional characters ever imagined, the one that comes nearest to declare as much is logic-fixated Mr. Spock, when in the second Star Trek movie uses this line to justify his sacrifice to save others:

“the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few … or the one.”

In fact, one can easily follow the reasoning about “the many” vs. “the few”…but was there any need to specify “the one“?


There was. Because it’s easy to speak in general terms, but much more difficult if we are personally involved in the outcome.

For example, more or less everybody will declare that bringing down an airplane of 100 is morally justifiable if such an action will save the life of 4,000 (even if the German Constitutional Court was not impressed by similar thoughts last year). It is much harder if not impossible to follow the same line of thought, when the plane is carrying is one of your special Ones, a close friend or family member.

Who could honestly say that they’d kill without any doubt or ado their mother or son or husband or daughter or father or wife, or best friend?

Even when things may rationally be clear-cut, we are likely to end up emotionally scarred. In the movie I, Robot Will Smith’s character Del Spooner cannot bear the thought of having been rescued by a robot that abandoned a little girl instead on the basis of survival chances: a little girl that became for a few, very important moments the One for Spooner.

Is this because of innate tribal solidarity? Would life be bearable otherwise? Whatever the reason, we are indeed hard-wired to this apparently “irrational” behaviour. And so, in the third Star Trek movie, Kirk tells the resurrected Spock how little he actually cares about the latter’s original thought.

Because the needs of the One really outweigh “the needs of the many“.

(this expands on my previous blog The One And The Many – The Truth Behind Spock’s Principle)

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/31 at 22:35:55

Posted in Ethics, Humanity, Star Trek

The Average Brit Flying to Work at 18,000mph

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So what is my local car rental manager doing, parading in NASA coveralls in London’s Queen Mary University Theatre in late November 2006?

No, wait: it must be Gary Lineker, guest speaker of the British Interplanetary Society, with a 8’-by-5’ poster of Saturn and the secret aim of taking chips and sweets from the noisy local student contingent.

Or…is that a bird? Is that a plane? No, it’s Piers J. Sellers, Ph.D., former Global Warming researcher and now Space Shuttle crew member and quasi-UK Astronaut Extraordinaire (“quasi” as UK persons need opt for a different citizenship to work in Earth orbit).

Sellers, born in Sussex in 1955 but now an American citizen, is following up his July STS-121 mission with a UK trip that has generated good-natured interest in the press, and even some air time on BBC Radio4’s Today.

Luckily (for Sellers) and blissfully (for all of us), Sellers’ Shuttle trip companion astronaut Lisa M. Nowak hasn’t yet destroyed her career by wearing nappies for a 1,000-mile drive to pepper-spray a love rival in February 2007.

And so instead of a sex scandal, the talk is about the less risky enterprise called space travel, as told by a bloke so average in appearance and so relaxed about himself to make taciturn Neil Armstrong a veritable space alien.

Aliens won’t invade us, because [on streets like Mile End Road] they can’t find where to park”: Sellers is definitely no warplane pilot turned moonwalker spiritualist. He’s “simply” a space walker, slightly “disoriented” only by the first sight of the white-and-blue jewel called Earth.

His description of the piling up of task upon task may sound familiar to office workers the world over. Still, very few of those usually validate if their cubicles will destroy during atmospheric re-entry, as Sellers and the rest of the STS-121 crew did after the Columbia tragedy of February 2003 and the half-botched first “return-to-flight” mission of STS-114 in July 2005.

A NASA video hints at the peculiarities of working in space. First of all there is nobody within a 3-mile radius of a ready-to-start Space Shuttle: and for good reason, as the bunch of aviation and navy pilots, space commanders and Ph.D’s collectively called “astronauts” are literally sitting on top of a giant bomb hoping it will explode in a controlled manner, pushing them upwards and forwards rather than into smithereens..

There is lots of sound and bouncing at lift-off. Somebody touches a control button, but Sellers reassures “We were just pretending to work. The launch [really] blew me away.” Orbital life is a piece of cake in comparison, with a couple of days of procedures to proceed and checklists to check, before approaching the International Space Station at the snail-like pace of 1m/sec (a little more than 2 miles an hour).

The video recording moves on to Lisa Nowak working with a large boom, at the time not to threaten a love rival but to move cargo to the Station with fellow astronaut-ess Stephanie Wilson, and then finally on mission day five maneuvering Sellers and colleague Michael Fossum locked on top of a 100-foot pole.

Sellers recounts a few funny details. For example, even in the most comfortable spacesuit one better gets used to spending up to ten hours without luxuries such as toilet breaks and nose scratching. And so a big deal of one’s resting time is spent cleaning up bodily odours and outpours from the spacesuit (no mention of any solution to the nose itching problem).

Furthermore, gloves for orbital work are more apt for a The Thing impersonation from the Fantastic Four, and so one handles multi-million-dollar wrenches knowing some will drop on their own sidereal orbit. Last but not least, one gets occasionally stuck in a phone-boot-like airlock for more than one hour.

Back inside the spaceship, in-between risky zero-g adventures with M&M’s of all things, one can look forward to a “shower” of damp cloths, a dinner of bland food and a night chained to a bed (kinky orbital fun, anybody?). Ah, and the toilet has a noisy fan and too thin a door really.

After some four days of that, it’s time to pull the jet brakes on the Shuttle (“feeling like on a truck slowing down”, Sellers remembers) to start the “unforgiving landing sequence”, after gulping in a disgusting salty drink designed to help the body readjust to Earthly life.

Outside the vehicle, “cherry-red windows” show the same tongues of fire that consumed the unfortunate Columbia astronauts a mere three-and-a-half years earlier. Falling almost helplessly, the Space Shuttle is somehow guided without engines to a hard touchdown, at the end of which gravity is felt like having “brick on the shoulders”.

Still Sellers opines, “The real dangerous bit is the lift-off.” No need to remind anybody of the crew of six that died on the 1986 Challenger accident, during the ascent phase.

Has Sellers got any chance of going back to the Space Station? “Sure. There is plenty of work available,” he answers. “Perhaps there will be 15 missions with 7 astronauts each between now and 2010.” Such chances are presumably slightly larger now than Ms. Nowak has been removed from NASA’s roster.

Before a strange, nostalgically catchy set of photographs of Seller’s mission is shown to the tune of Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound”, the evening fades away in a torrent of questions about medical facilities (“We can’t do heart transplants in space as yet”); rubbish management (“Thrown overboard”); launch delays (“Frustrating”); the justification for space budgets (“The money is spent on Earth”); and Orion, the Space Shuttle replacement (“Safer and cheaper and brings us back to the Moon”).

There! Has anybody else caught the tiny sparkle in Sellers’ voice when mentioning future manned Lunar exploration? Who knows, by 2025 the UK government may have found the negligible additional resources to fund a trip to the Moon for a couple of lucky British passport holders.

For the time being, I better check if my local car rental manager has moved to Houston.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/28 at 21:58:54

About Intellectual Dishonesty

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Recently, concentration-camp doubter David Irving moved to a different table rather than have lunch with a Shoah survivor. As Leo Tolstoy (may have) said:

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

Yet, there is a straightforward way out of intellectual dishonesty: and it is to declare publicly under which circumstances one will agree to change one’s mind and conclusions.

This tells healthy skepticism from denial and close-mindedness.

And it applies to all sorts of circumstances. For example, try asking a person that doesn’t believe people landed on the Moon in 1969, what kind of proof he or she will accept, to change their mind…


Myself, I will convert to the Climate Change scenario, as soon as any part of the world climate will change in a manner as significant, say, as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

And I will be convinced of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) when that change will happen in ways that are overwhelmingly explained with increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

In fact, it’s been a couple of years since I have asked, even on pro-AGW sites such as RealClimate, for anybody able to point me to any recent “change” in climate, of any sort but not just in temperatures, apart from known natural variability factors such as, of course, the NAO.

I am still waiting…

And I am still waiting for pro-AGW campaigners (and Moon-landing doubters) to explain what if anything would change their minds.

If nothing will, the only wise choice is to abandon them to their lives of self-deception.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/27 at 21:16:39

Gordon Brown’s Not-so-Green Car Tax

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There is something rather fishy about Gordon Brown, the UK Treasury/Finance Minister, increasing taxes for larger cars from £200 this year to £300, then next year to £400 (a little less than $800) “to combat greenhouse gas emissions”.

Who in their right mind will be deterred by a £400/year car tax after having bought, say, a £40,000 Land Rover???

On the other hand, if Brown had raised taxes to £3,000 or more, there would have been just too many brand new cars suddenly destined to be recycled (or sold to places with lower taxation): hard to see the greenery of that situation.

Perhaps it could have made more sense to introduce a £3,000+ yearly tax on new large cars: like a “buy at your own risk” alert for everybody thinking of getting a pickup truck.

Or maybe not: the unintended consequence would be to keep old cars on UK roads…

The whole thing will just end up as a boost for the UK Treasury, with no discernible advantage on the CO2 emissions side.


Methinks the old tax of £200 was just too cheap. But fellow big-car drivers are the first victims of the Anthropogenic Global Warming steamroller, that provide the likes of Brown with the excuses necessary to sneak in tax increases of all sorts.

Anyway, I suggest drivers of smaller cars to refrain from schadenfreude, drawing pleasures from so-called gas guzzlers’ misfortunes.  

AGW hysteria will soon hit your wallets too.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/22 at 12:57:40

Controversy-free Scientific American

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On the Scientific American (SciAm) web site, George Musser has recently posted a blog “Please Stop Talking About the Global Warming Consensus“.

IMNSHO Musser is on the right path to an “undestanding” of the huge issue caused by Holier-Than-Thou attitudes used by environmental activists to effectively undermine their own work and aims (alas, just as by a lot of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)-concerned climate scientists).

The last thing the AGW debate needs now is any hint of debate-stifling.


Anyway, the above reminded me of my main criticism of SciAm: namely, how hard it is to find the magazine putting forward non-conformist scientific views.

One wonders if the Editors are pursuing the misguided goal of trying to prop up Science against the Forces of Obscurantism, and in the process anything not smelling of 100% scientific mainstream is left out in the cold.

If anybody wants to know a couple of articles that should have been on SciAm, here they are:

(1) Terry L. Hunt, “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island“, American Scientist, September-October 2006

New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization’s collapse

(2) Richard Seager, “The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate“, American Scientist, July-August 2006

The notion that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe anomalously warm turns out to be a myth

(3) Carl Wunsch, “The Myth of Gulf Stream Shutdown” (expanded from a Letter by Wunsch published on The Economist)

Obviously one could simply get a subscription to American Scientist but that’s besides the point. My question is: have the SciAm people (the Editors that is) become simply too buttoned up? Is SciAm in danger of drowning in a sea of “consensus”?

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/20 at 23:20:54

BBC: Last for News

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Either the people at BBC News are having a Seriously Bad Monday, or there is something fishy in the relationship between the BBC and British Airways.

(Alternatively: here some evidence of BBC incompetence and tardiness:)

British Airways has been forced to reveal that there is free upgrade to First Class available for you and your family, if you happen to die during the flight.

As of now (10:30AM GMT) , such piece of… news is absent from BBC News.

According to Google News, it is appearing in 45 other news outlets on the web, first of which was 21 hours ago.


I always find it suspect that the BBC News web site mostly finds lead stories in the morning, rather than randomly during the day. So much for being a leader in web-based news provision. The first-class-corpse episode just will make things look even odder…

As for Brutish Airways, why oh why am I not surprised to find them out once again with procedures taking precedence over common sense?

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/19 at 10:38:36

Gulf Stream Myths

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Myth #1: The Gulf Stream will fail if a massive outpour of freshwater will come out of Greenland glaciers due to increasing temperatures.

Answer: No, it most definitely will not. As explained by Carl Wunsch, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at the MIT in Cambridge, Mass. (USA), in a letter published on The Economist:

The Gulf Stream is a wind-driven phenomenon (as explained in a famous 1948 paper by Henry Stommel). […] Shut-off would imply repeal of the law of conservation of angular momentum […] focusing on near-impossible Gulf Stream failure is an unproductive distraction

Myth #2: The Gulf Stream is responsible for the milder weather in the United Kingdom and part of Northern Europe than North American regions at similar latitudes.

Answer: No, it most definitely does not. As explained by Richard Seager, Senior Research Scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in an article published on American Scientist:

That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is […] nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend.


Seager’s comments are particularly telling on how current Climatology is self-destroying by way of catastrophism:

Pretty much everything we had found could have been concluded on the basis of results that were already available […]

All Battisti and I did was put these pieces of evidence together and add in a few more illustrative numerical experiments. Why hadn’t anyone done that before? […] The blame lies with modern-day climate scientists who either continue to promulgate the Gulf Stream-climate myth or who decline to clarify the relative roles of atmosphere and ocean in determining European climate. This abdication of responsibility leaves decades of folk wisdom unchallenged, still dominating the front pages, airwaves and Internet, ensuring that a well-worn piece of climatological nonsense will be passed down to yet another generation.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/18 at 09:24:49

Misleading Pictures, Wrong Caption…

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And so once more Global Warming has meant the publication of misleading pictures, with a wrong caption…why oh why does the mere mention of AGW force so many otherwise thoughtful and wise people to switch their brains off?

Here a “Letter to the Editors” just sent to the New York Review Of Books:

Dear Editors

Clarifications and at least one correction are required about the pictures of the Upsala Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, “from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006)”, on the first page of Bill McKibben’s “Warning on Warming” (NYRB, March 15, 2007).

At the top, the 1928 photograph of a vast flat glacier; at the bottom, the 2004 ice-free landscape as captured from a similar vantage point as the one 76 years earlier (at least two peaks are clearly distinguishable).

I was surprised indeed to see the New York Review of Books reproduce without much commentary and with a wrong caption a couple of photographs that may turn out to be exceedingly misleading.


First of all: the caption is wrong. Contrarily to the published text, it is _not true_ that by 2004, “most of the glacier had melted“.

Upsala Glacier still occupies well in excess of 850 sq km (330+ sq mi), an area vastly larger than the one covered by the photographs.

You can see pictures of Upsala taken from the Space Shuttle in January 2004 at the NASA website.

A discussion of the situation 2001-2004 is available on the same site.



If one could rely on photographs alone, those of Upsala could be the definitive, final, closing, incontrovertible evidence that something has warmed up during the XX century, at least at the location of the Upsala Glacier.

Pictures, however, are not everything, as any modern consumer must have learnt one way or another by now.

Do some little research about Upsala, in fact, and more than one doubt arises about the glacier’s changes having not been mostly caused by warming, global or local or otherwise.

They may be the result instead of the behavior of a large glacier when subjected to particular mechanical stresses.

See for example “Historic Fluctuations of Outlet Glaciers from the Patagonian Ice Fields” at the USGS web site.

That web site reports a picture from “Thinning and retreating of Glaciar Upsala, and an estimate of annual ablation changes in southern Patagonia“, by R. Naruse, P. Skvarca and Y. Takeuchi (Annals of Glaciology, Vol. 24, 1997).

In that paper, it is suggested that “considerable retreat due to calving may have resulted in reduction of longitudinal compressive stress exerted from bedrock rises and islands near the glacier front, causing a considerable decrease in the emergence flow.”

R. Naruse repeated similar considerations at the 2nd International Symposium on Arctic and Antarctic Issues, at Punta Arenas, Chile, in November 1998 (“Dynamic features of glaciers in Patagonia“).

More recently, in “Recent behavior of Glaciar Upsala, a fast-flowing calving glacier in Lago Argentino, southern Patagonia” (Annals of Glaciology, 36, 2003), P. Skvarca, B. Raup and H. De Angelis proposed again that “drastic glacier retreat in the last two decades” may be explained “partly due to the release of back stress when the glacier retreated beyond the islands in Brazo Upsala […] which acted as pinning points.”

You can also read an earlier paper by Mr Skvarca: “Significant Ice Retreat in the Region Patagonia – Antarctic Peninsula Observed by ERS SAR” (ESA ERS 1997 Workshop, 1997) by H. Rott, W. Rack, M. Stuefer and P. Skvarca:

It cannot yet be assessed if the ice retreat in Patagonia […] indicates just regional changes of the atmospheric circulation patterns or can be assigned to global climatic change.”

Last but not least, Upsala is not the only glacier in Patagonia.

Surely if the dramatic retreat of Upsala were related to global warming, all the other glaciers would be retreating too? And yet that is clearly not the case.

Read “Recent Fluctuations and Damming of Glacier Perito Moreno, Patagonia” by H. Rott, M. Stuefer, T. Nagler and C. Riedl (ESA Envisat and ERS 2004 Symposium):

The satellite data, in synergy with field measurements, confirm the stability of the [Perito Moreno] glacier, showing only minor front fluctuations and indicating an approximately balanced mass budget since many years.”

Furthermore, they report the Pio XI glacier as having experienced a “net advance of about 10 km […] from 1945 to 1995“.


Some revealing considerations should be made about Perito Moreno glacier indeed, the advancing glacier whose pictures have been used by Frank Capra in 1958 and by Al Gore in 2006 to demonstrate the retreat of glaciers due to global warming: but those will have to wait for a future article or letter.

For the time being, I am confident the above makes the main points clear:

(1) Most of the Upsala glacier has not melted.

(2) The Upsala glacier 1928-2004 pictures can only be seriously understood with an in-depth commentary of what is being shown, including “what lies beneath”.

And there are all the indications that the local characteristics of the terrain, rather than “Global Warming”, have had a major role in what has been happening.


Given the reputation of the New York Review of Books then, I will be expecting a prompt publication of this letter and of all the necessary explanations.

Keep up the good work


Maurizio Morabito

UPDATE: The NYRB went only as far as admitting the caption was wrong (read it here)…

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/15 at 00:47:31

Global Warming Overkill – My Letter on the IHT

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For the 12th time, the International Herald Tribune has published a letter by Yours Truly.

As usual, here the text as printed in the newspaper, followed by my original message.

Letter on the IHT:

Global warming overkill (March 8 )

I have been rather disappointed by your three-part “Global warming, land by land” commentaries (March 5).

In “Losing Bangladesh, by degrees,” Tahmima Anam barely mentions the country’s real problems — poverty and overpopulation. We may discuss which one generates the other, but the main issue is not global warming. It’s Bangladesh’s inability to cope with any change.

In “While Australia burns,” Iain McCalman makes the flimsiest of connections to global warming. We barely get a hint of the fact that Australia’s environment has been shaped by thousands of years of fires, independent of any recent climatic change.

Finally, “Memories of a colder Iceland” by Kristin Steinsdottir appears to be an exercise in self-delusion. We are treated to a series of Icelandic climatic quirks and changes, but, for no apparent reason, they are ominously linked to global warming.

If you wanted to demonstrate that global warming is an all-encompassing Mother of All Evils that risks distracting us from real issues, impeding our understanding of nature, you have been successful.

Maurizio Morabito, England


Dear Editors

I have been rather disappointed by your choice of Opinions for page 6 of the IHT on March 5 (“Global Warming, land by land”).

In “Losing Bangladesh, by degrees“, Tahmima Anam barely mentions the real problems of that country: poverty, and overpopulation. We may discuss which one generates the other, but the main issue is not “Global Warming”: rather, Bangladesh’s inability to cope with _any_ change.

In “While Australia Burns” Iain McCalman makes the flimsiest of connections to “Global Warming”. Again, we barely get a hint of the fact that the Australian natural environment has been shaped by thousands of years of fires, independently of any recent climatic change.

Finally, “Memories of a colder Iceland” by Kristin Steinsdottir appears to be an exercise in self-delusion. Just like years ago everybody seemed to be developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, nowadays everybody can feel “Global Warming” in anything that can happen. In the case of Ms. Steinsdottir, we are treated to a series of Icelandic climatic quirks and changes, but still for no apparent reason whatsoever they are ominously linked to “Global Warming”.

Not sure what you had in mind when designing that page. Anyway, you have been very successful if all you wanted to demonstrate was that “Global Warming” is an all-encompassing Mother of All Evils that risks distracting us from the real issues, impeding our understanding of nature, and in general consigning us all to a depressing, self-castrating mood.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/13 at 23:23:31

Sustainable People

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Planet-wide Overpopulation?

(a) Acres needed to feed a person at US dietary standards = 1.2 (= 0.49 hectares)

(b) # of people = 6.5 billions

(c) Land needed to feed them = (a) * (b) = 31.5 million sq km

(d) Land available = 74 million sq km (from Wikipedia = half of the planet’s “dry” land area)

—-> “Current occupation index” = (c) / (d) = 42.4%

In other words, even if all humans were fed according to US dietary standards, there would be space for 15 billion people.

Even by being very conservative on the figures, it is hard to imagine why the planet would not be able to feed 10 or 12 billion humans.


Interestingly, in an article published in Nature (“The end of world population growth” Nature 412, 543-545, August 2001), Lutz et al. forecast a maximum of 8 billion people, around 2075.

And I haven’t even mentioned likely, incremental agricultural improvements.

Planet-wide Overpopulation, then? Not at all.

And there goes another myth of contemporary catastrophism…

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/12 at 22:14:15

Blair and Gore Cannot Be Wrong on Climate Change

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UK PM Tony Blair, former US VP Al Gore and so many other politicians: why have they been so eager to jump on the Climate-Change-is-Humanity’s-Fault bandwagon?

A cynical explanation is in order: because they can’t lose by joining in.

They risk losing a lot instead, by staying out.

In fact, if (a) they can appear to be doing something about Human-induced Climate Change (CC):

  • a1. If CC doesn’t happen, they will claim victoryor
  • a2. If CC does happen, they will blame us all for not trying hard enough, and introduce ever harsher policies in order to… appear to be doing something about CC

On the other hand, the opposite position, of (b) publicly expressing doubts that Climate Change is caused by humans if it is happening at all, will mean:

  • b1. If CC doesn’t happen, they will claim victory, but
  • b2. If CC does happen, they will be blamed by us all for not trying hard enough

Worse, as climate is bound to naturally change if we just observe it for long enough a time, the “If CC doesn’t happen” options are simply immaterial.

It is self-evident then that (a) provides unlimited reward and no risk, while (b) vice-versa carries little reward and career-breaking risks.

Only naive or honest politicians, provided they exist, will refrain from shouting that Humanity is bound to destroy the planet by overheating it with carbon dioxide.

If anybody believes that the above is going to inspire good policies, I’ve got a bridge to sell them

(blog inspired by messages on the Climate Sceptics mailing list)

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/11 at 22:38:51

Consistently Sinning

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2007 ( Hypocrisy is not only the sin God denounces most forcefully, it is also the least admitted, according to the preacher of the Pontifical Household.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/10 at 20:46:34

Oldies to the Moon!

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Larry Kellogg has more details on the issue of protecting people when working on the Moon (see my previous blog “Where to Build Inflatable Lunar Structures“).

In my paper on the topic I reported the recommendation of a protection for astronauts of a minimum 4 meters of regolith (lunar soil).

As correctly pointed out by Larry, the issue is that thinner shielding with aluminum-reach lunar regolith could actually be more harmful than beneficial. Fast-moving energetic particles raining from space and hitting too thin a layer of regolith would generate slower but not stop “secondary emissions” that would then interact more with human tissues such as the blood.

As plastics or water stop the radiation particles with considerably fewer “secondary emissions”, they may provide more protection with considerably less thickness.


How much protection is actually needed? On Earth, the general public should receive less than 0.5 rem/year. For those who work with radiation, the maximum is 5 rem/year.

It turns out that space projects allow for Astronauts to be cooked with a maximum of 50 rem/year. Somehow, this 100-fold increase on what our bodies were evolved to tolerate is not expected to cause much harm.

Perhaps, the very people that suggest that, they should be volunteered for experiments as human guinea pigs.

Sometimes in 2008, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter probe will provide some more information. There is lots to investigate indeed.


For the time being however, we can play it safe.

It is well known that people above a certain age can more reasonably run the risk of exposure to higher radiation doses, if only because they have a higher chance than younger persons of dying of other causes before developing any kind of radiation-induced tumor.

How about selecting “oldies” as Lunar Astronauts then? Given expected life spans, anybody above 70 would do.

For a candidate for a lunar trip in 2037 and beyond, look no further than to the author of this fantastic blog.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/09 at 10:08:12

Moon: a Faraway Place for Female Astronauts

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It took the whole of 19 years between the 1963 space flight of  Valentina Tereshkova and that of another woman (Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982).

That gap was due no doubt to compounding of a male chauvinist Soviet society on top of all the issues encountered during her Vostok 6 flight, clearly only few of them even remotely attributable to her own fault: wrong orbit, problems in handling the equipment, Space Adaptation Syndrome including vomiting, unbearable pain, low food consumption, radio silence, etc etc.

It could have easily been predicted that those issues would become the excuse to ground female astronauts for decades, and that’s exactly what has happened.

Move forward now to 2007 and to the abysmal tragedy of Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut with more experience in maneuvering the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm than her own emotions.

Perhaps there is less chauvinism now than in the mid-1960’s…but only time will tell if the Nowak Affair will not become the excuse to prevent women to fly to the Moon until much, much later this century. 

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/07 at 16:14:01

Posted in Moon, NASA, Space, Vostok

Cato Institute Scholar Lauds the Power of Taxes

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Perhaps Arnold Kling may want to reconsider his thoughts after realizing he has just argued for higher taxes, and heavier governmental intervention in the energy sector:

The most important, inconvenient truth about energy policy is that there is no justification for a subsidy for good energy. Subsidies for wind farms, solar energy, ethanol, and so forth, whether they come from government “energy policy” or personal carbon offsets, are pure pork.

It may be true, as Greg Mankiw argues in his Pigou Club Manifesto, that higher taxes on bad energy are justified. Figuring out the optimum tax is a difficult challenge, even for the Pigou Club. However, once the correct tax is set, that by itself provides all the incentive that is needed to get people to switch to good energy. The tax on bad energy will raise the price that people are willing to pay for good energy. That higher price for good energy is all of the incentive that producers need to undertake the effort to provide more good energy.

It would have helped to have a little more reasoning on how difficult the challenge to find what a “optimum tax” is, and how dangerous things can become if that’s miscalculated.

As things stand, I can imagine such details getting forgotten whilst certain people will use the article “The Political Economy of Alternative Energy” to support strong governmental activism.

Or perhaps it’s a matter of finding the lesser of two evils? Was Kling’s a way to demonstrate that pork looks worse than taxes in the eyes of a person advocating freer markets?

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/06 at 13:47:03

Secret Jargon of Software Testing

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Malfunctional Testing: when the application makes sure you can’t see a single part of it behaving as expected

User Refusal Testing: the unmissable bursts of anger by users irked by approaching deadlines and receding functionalities

Disintegration Testing: getting ready to the sad truth that the arrival of a new application will destroy anything that had been working beforehand

Quality Lack-of Testing: making sure no part of the software package is fit for human interaction

Undress Rehearsal: planning to revert to a previous, working version of the software as the new one will invariably fail the call of duty

Dress Rehassle: more bursts of anger by users duped into weekend work despite knowing that nothing will perform

Digression Testing: the time passed in vague chit-chatting whilst awaiting confirmation that the application really, definitely does not work

Data Emigration: packing up all attempts at installing a new software package, in order to concentrate to a different pipedream application

And finally…

Hindrance Desk: the group of people whose main aim is to make you listen to muzak on the phone before providing misleading information


And here’s more: Loser Acceptance Testing, Test Mythodology, Dysfunctional Testing, Capability Maturity Muddle, Test Automation, Risk-based Testing, Black Box Testing, Fragile Development, Delusability Study, Fenestration Testing, Hard Disk Figmentation, all by Steve Green.

(originally posted on 12 April 2005)

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/05 at 14:25:30

Posted in Humor, Software, Technology

Iraq: American, British, Italian TV/Radio Coverage Compared

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(originally posted on March 21, 2003)

Thanks to the wonders of satellite and cable one is able to compare the attitude and approach to the war in Iraq by American (CNN, Fox News), British (BBC) and Italian (RAI) tv and radio channels.

Very briefly and perhaps not surprisingly:

1) The Americans are very positive about the actions, and can’t wait to tell you their excitement in having been “embedded” in fighting units. Problems are unheard of, and likely to be inaudible anyway. Could we get some truth please.

2) The British are obsessed to find out what is going wrong, and what scandals can be uncovered. Problems are the only thing that matters. Furthermore, any idiot with a microphone and a tv press pass will jump to the opportunity to show himself or herself as the “XXI Century Bard”. Can’t you stick to the news please.

3) The Italians concentrate their reporting on two fronts. From the beginning, all rumors are considered true, and analysed viscerally by hordes of tv experts, before being invariably forgotten when demonstrated false. On the other hand, the news are full of sad, unlikely personal stories, from the journalist that couldn’t sleep in Baghdad during a night of bombing, up, up, up to the awful youth of some Saddam Hussein. Listeners are encouraged to weep along. May we talk about the real victims please…

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/03 at 21:33:34

Posted in Iraq War, Journalism, Radio, TV

Where to Build Inflatable Lunar Structures

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CosmicLog (read through Larry Kellogg’s “Lunar Update” mailing list) has an interview about innovative lunar structures with Robert Bigelow of “Inflatable Space Station” fame.

Bigelow does mention of an idea on how to bury the structure (but only with a couple of feet of soil, not the 12 or more required).

In fact the thought of spending more than a couple of days virtually unprotected on the Lunar surface should not enthuse anybody. It has been computed (*) that on average a maximum 20% of time should be spent by humans outside the protection of a minimum 4 meters of regolith.

(*) R Silberberg et al, ‘Radiation Transport of Cosmic Ray Nuclei in Lunar Material and Radiation Doses’, in W W Mendell, ed, ‘Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century‘, Lunar and Planetary Institute, 1985, p668

Bigelow is right and wrong at the same time. If we seriously consider going back to the Moon, resources should be spent investigating how easy it will be to bury those Habitats (inflatable or otherwise).

But excavated regolith is only one option and not the most practical one given the amounts of soil that will have to be moved to make comfortable living out of a stay on the Moon.

Other ideas involve lava tubes, of which there should be aplenty, and artificial giant caves. Especially the caves should be easy to create with explosives, if there is no water in the lunar rocks.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/02 at 11:09:52