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Shared Circles including John Baez

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Activity

Average numbers for the latest posts (max. 50 posts, posted within the last 4 weeks)

29
comments per post
31
reshares per post
119
+1's per post

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characters per posting

Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 92

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2017-02-11 18:19:54 (92 comments; 8 reshares; 82 +1s; )Open 

The Trump Resistance Movement

Last Saturday hundreds of protesters showed up at a town hall meeting hosted by Tom McClintock. He's a Republican in the House of Representatives who ran for the California governorship in 2003 and lost, and ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and lost again. He's too right-wing for most Californians. He did well in his district, a rural area near Nevada. But on Saturday so many protesters showed up that when the meeting ended, he left with a police escort.

Holding signs reading, "Resist," "No Muslim Ban, No War in Iran," "Protect Social Security," and "Do Your Job! Represent Us All!", the demonstrators turned up early at the event in Roseville, a conservative suburb north of Sacramento.

"I think we're on the wrong side of history right now," said Janine Allwright, who... more »

Most reshares: 193

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2016-12-13 19:34:17 (55 comments; 193 reshares; 191 +1s; )Open 

Saving climate data

The Department of Energy has rejected Trump's demand that it list all employees working on climate change.  But this will change on January 20th.  All signs point to the worst:

The heads of Donald Trump’s transition teams for NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, as well as his nominees to lead the EPA and the Department of the Interior, all question the science of human-caused climate change.

So, scientists are now backing up large amounts of climate data, just in case the Trump administration tries to delete it.

Of course saving the data publicly available on US government sites is not nearly as good as keeping climate programs fully funded!  New data is coming in all the time from satellites and other sources.  We need it - and we need the experts whounder... more »

Most plusones: 262

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2017-01-27 17:24:23 (49 comments; 88 reshares; 262 +1s; )Open 

Science goes underground

Trump's gang is cracking down on climate scientists and their websites at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and elswhere. But people are fighting back! You can now read "rogue Twitter accounts" from these agencies. Scientists are planning a march on Washington. And the Sierra Club has filed Freedom of Information requests to stop the elimination of climate data.

Yesterday Sharon Lerner wrote:

Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak to Press

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting justa f... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2017-02-19 18:14:20 (6 comments; 7 reshares; 58 +1s; )Open 

Thank you!

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project is backing up 40 terabytes of US government climate data and copying it to a number of locations, to protect it from all possible threats:

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/azimuth_backup_project/

It's going well! Our Kickstarter campaign ended on January 31st and the money has recently reached us. Our original goal was $5000. We got $20,427 of donations, and after Kickstarter took its cut we received $18,590.96.

Soon I’ll tell you what our project has actually been doing — lots of good news. This time I just want to give a huge “thank you!” to all 627 people who contributed money on Kickstarter... many from here on Google+.

I recently sent out thank you notes to everyone, updating them on our progress and asking if they wanted their names listed. The blanks in the following listreprese... more »

Thank you!

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project is backing up 40 terabytes of US government climate data and copying it to a number of locations, to protect it from all possible threats:

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/azimuth_backup_project/

It's going well! Our Kickstarter campaign ended on January 31st and the money has recently reached us. Our original goal was $5000. We got $20,427 of donations, and after Kickstarter took its cut we received $18,590.96.

Soon I’ll tell you what our project has actually been doing — lots of good news. This time I just want to give a huge “thank you!” to all 627 people who contributed money on Kickstarter... many from here on Google+.

I recently sent out thank you notes to everyone, updating them on our progress and asking if they wanted their names listed. The blanks in the following list represent people who either didn’t reply, didn’t want their names listed, or backed out and decided not to give money. I’ll list people in chronological order: first contributors first.

Only 12 people backed out; the vast majority of blanks on this list are people who haven’t replied to my email. I noticed some interesting but obvious patterns. For example, people who contributed later are less likely to have answered my email. People who contributed more money were more likely to answer my email.

The magnitude of contributions ranged from $2000 to $1. A few of you offered to help in other ways. The response was international — this was really heartwarming! People from the US were more likely than others to ask not to be listed.

But instead of continuing to list statistical patterns, let me just thank everyone who contributed. Here's the list! (I’ll keep updating this list on the Azimuth blog, but not here.)

Daniel Estrada
Ahmed Amer
Saeed Masroor
Jodi Kaplan
John Wehrle
Bob Calder
Andrea Borgia
L Gardner

Uche Eke
Keith Warner
Dean Kalahan
James Benson
Dianne Hackborn

Walter Hahn
Thomas Savarino
Noah Friedman
Eric Willisson
Jeffrey Gilmore
John Bennett
Glenn McDavid

Brian Turner

Peter Bagaric

Martin Dahl Nielsen
Broc Stenman

Gabriel Scherer
Roice Nelson
Felipe Pait
Kenneth Hertz

Luis Bruno


Andrew Lottmann
Alex Morse

Mads Bach Villadsen
Noam Zeilberger

Buffy Lyon

Josh Wilcox

Danny Borg

Krishna Bhogaonker
Harald Tveit Alvestrand


Tarek A. Hijaz, MD
Jouni Pohjola
Chavdar Petkov
Markus Jöbstl
Bjørn Borud


Sarah G

William Straub

Frank Harper
Carsten Führmann
Rick Angel
Drew Armstrong

Jesimpson

Valeria de Paiva
Ron Prater
David Tanzer

Rafael Laguna
Miguel Esteves dos Santos
Sophie Dennison-Gibby




Randy Drexler
Peter Haggstrom


Jerzy Michał Pawlak
Santini Basra
Jenny Meyer


John Iskra

Bruce Jones
Māris Ozols
Everett Rubel



Mike D
Manik Uppal
Todd Trimble

Federer Fanatic

Forrest Samuel, Harmos Consulting








Annie Wynn
Norman and Marcia Dresner



Daniel Mattingly
James W. Crosby








Jennifer Booth
Greg Randolph





Dave and Karen Deeter

Sarah Truebe










Jeffrey Salfen
Birian Abelson

Logan McDonald

Brian Truebe
Jon Leland






Sarah Lim







James Turnbull




John Huerta
Katie Mandel Bruce
Bethany Summer






Anna Gladstone



Naom Hart
Aaron Riley

Giampiero Campa

Julie A. Sylvia


Pace Willisson









Bangskij










Peter Herschberg

Alaistair Farrugia


Conor Hennessy




Stephanie Mohr




Torinthiel


Lincoln Muri
Anet Ferwerda


Hanna





Michelle Lee Guiney

Ben Doherty
Trace Hagemann







Ryan Mannion


Penni and Terry O'Hearn



Brian Bassham
Caitlin Murphy
John Verran






Susan


Alexander Hawson
Fabrizio Mafessoni
Anita Phagan
Nicolas Acuña
Niklas Brunberg

Adam Luptak
V. Lazaro Zamora






Branford Werner
Niklas Starck Westerberg
Luca Zenti and Marta Veneziano


Ilja Preuß
Christopher Flint

George Read
Courtney Leigh

Katharina Spoerri


Daniel Risse



Hanna
Charles-Etienne Jamme
rhackman41



Jeff Leggett

RKBookman


Aaron Paul
Mike Metzler


Patrick Leiser

Melinda

Ryan Vaughn
Kent Crispin

Michael Teague

Ben



Fabian Bach
Steven Canning


Betsy McCall

John Rees

Mary Peters

Shane Claridge
Thomas Negovan
Tom Grace
Justin Jones


Jason Mitchell




Josh Weber
Rebecca Lynne Hanginger
Kirby


Dawn Conniff


Michael T. Astolfi



Kristeva

Erik
Keith Uber

Elaine Mazerolle
Matthieu Walraet

Linda Penfold




Lujia Liu



Keith



Samar Tareem


Henrik Almén
Michael Deakin


Erin Bassett
James Crook



Junior Eluhu
Dan Laufer
Carl
Robert Solovay






Silica Magazine







Leonard Saers
Alfredo Arroyo García



Larry Yu













John Behemonth


Eric Humphrey








Øystein Risan Borgersen
David Anderson Bell III











Ole-Morten Duesend







Adam North and Gabrielle Falquero

Robert Biegler


Qu Wenhao






Steffen Dittmar




Shanna Germain






Adam Blinkinsop







John WS Marvin (Dread Unicorn Games)


Bill Carter
Darth Chronis



Lawrence Stewart

Gareth Hodges

Colin Backhurst
Christopher Metzger

Rachel Gumper


Mariah Thompson

Falk Alexander Glade
Johnathan Salter




Maggie Unkefer
Shawna Maryanovich






Wilhelm Fitzpatrick
Dylan “ExoByte” Mayo
Lynda Lee




Scott Carpenter



Charles D, Payet
Vince Rostkowski


Tim Brown
Raven Daegmorgan
Zak Brueckner


Christian Page

Adi Shavit


Steven Greenberg
Chuck Lunney



Adriel Bustamente

Natasha Anicich



Bram De Bie
Edward L






Gray Detrick
Robert


Sarah Russell

Sam Leavin

Abilash Pulicken

Isabel Olondriz
James Pierce
James Morrison


April Daniels



José Tremblay Champagne


Chris Edmonds

Hans & Maria Cummings
Bart Gasiewiski


Andy Chamard



Andrew Jackson

Christopher Wright



ichimonji10


Alan Stern
Alison W


Dag Henrik Bråtane





Martin Nilsson


William Schrade___

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2017-02-17 21:48:09 (30 comments; 13 reshares; 70 +1s; )Open 

The Crackpot Index for Media Content

It was bound to happen eventually: my "crackpot index" has been adapted for use in news reporting. I like it!

But in case you missed the original, here it is:

The Crackpot Index

A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:

1. A -5 point starting credit.

2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.

5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.

6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

7. 5 points for each word in all capital... more »

The Crackpot Index for Media Content

It was bound to happen eventually: my "crackpot index" has been adapted for use in news reporting. I like it!

But in case you missed the original, here it is:

The Crackpot Index

A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:

1. A -5 point starting credit.

2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.

5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.

6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).

8. 5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann".

9. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.

11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)

12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.

13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.

14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.

15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".

16. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.

17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".

18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".

20. 20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it "suppresses original thinkers" or saying that I misspelled "Einstein" in item 8.)

21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.

22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.

24. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.

25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the "The Evans Field Equation" when your name happens to be Evans.)

26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.

27. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary".

28. 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy".

29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)

30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.

31. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).

32. 30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.

33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

34. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

35. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.

36. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)

37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html___

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2017-02-17 19:53:01 (15 comments; 9 reshares; 80 +1s; )Open 

Weird machines

At a workshop on cybersecurity at the Santa Fe Institute, I heard about the concept of weird machines. The description was poetic:

They hide in dark spaces — semantic gaps between levels of abstraction.

In short, they're not monsters like the Terminator here, but computer programs that do things you didn't think possible... because your way of thinking about a computer had gaps:

In computer security, the weird machine is a computational artifact where additional code execution can happen outside the original specification of the program. It is closely related to the concept of weird instructions, which are the building blocks of an exploit based on crafted input data. The functionality of the weird machine is invoked through unexpected inputs.

While expected, valid input activates the normal,i... more »

Weird machines

At a workshop on cybersecurity at the Santa Fe Institute, I heard about the concept of weird machines. The description was poetic:

They hide in dark spaces — semantic gaps between levels of abstraction.

In short, they're not monsters like the Terminator here, but computer programs that do things you didn't think possible... because your way of thinking about a computer had gaps:

In computer security, the weird machine is a computational artifact where additional code execution can happen outside the original specification of the program. It is closely related to the concept of weird instructions, which are the building blocks of an exploit based on crafted input data. The functionality of the weird machine is invoked through unexpected inputs.

While expected, valid input activates the normal, intended functionality in a computer program, input that was unexpected by the program developer may activate unintended functionality. The weird machine consists of this unintended functionality that can be programmed with selected inputs in an exploit.

In a classical attack taking advantage of a stack buffer overflow, the input given to a vulnerable program is crafted and delivered so that it itself becomes executed as program code. However, if the data areas of the program memory have been protected so that they cannot be executed directly like this, the input may instead take the form of pointers into pieces of existing program code that then become executed in an unexpected order to generate the functionality of the exploit. These snippets of code that are used by the exploit are referred to as gadgets in the context of return-oriented programming.

Through interpretation of data as code, weird machine functionality that is by definition outside the original program specification can be reached also by Proof-Carrying Code, which has been formally proven to function in a certain specific way. This disparity is essentially caused by a disconnect between formal abstract modelling of a computer program and its real-world instance, which can be influenced by events that are not captured in the original abstraction, such as memory errors or power outages.

If you think about it, such things as viruses, prions and cancer also exploit gaps between a simplified abstract model of how organisms work, and the real world of chemistry with all its myriad possibilities.

For more, try this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weird_machine___

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2017-02-17 02:14:45 (34 comments; 28 reshares; 96 +1s; )Open 

Trump gags the EPA

Trump has said he'll either get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency or leave "a little bit of it.” His nominee to run this agency, Scott Pruitt, is mainly famous for suing the EPA. More than 450 former EPA employees signed a letter to the Senate objecting to Pruitt.

But Pruitt seems sure to be confirmed tomorrow by Republicans in the Senate. In fact, the EPA is already being taken over by a "beachhead team" - that's a military term - set on destroying the agency:

The beachhead team is scaring agency employees into keeping quiet by holding closed-door meetings with small numbers of staff and giving them orders -- such as to begin removing climate-related information from the agency's website.

The team is reportedly not putting many orders in writing, so they cannot be sought later under the Freedomo... more »

Trump gags the EPA

Trump has said he'll either get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency or leave "a little bit of it.” His nominee to run this agency, Scott Pruitt, is mainly famous for suing the EPA. More than 450 former EPA employees signed a letter to the Senate objecting to Pruitt.

But Pruitt seems sure to be confirmed tomorrow by Republicans in the Senate. In fact, the EPA is already being taken over by a "beachhead team" - that's a military term - set on destroying the agency:

The beachhead team is scaring agency employees into keeping quiet by holding closed-door meetings with small numbers of staff and giving them orders -- such as to begin removing climate-related information from the agency's website.

The team is reportedly not putting many orders in writing, so they cannot be sought later under the Freedom of Information Act, the source says. Also, the meetings are intentionally small so administration officials can identify staff if information is leaked.

Adding insult to injury, Trump is going to visit the EPA like a conquering warlord. Everyone at the EPA is wondering if they'll be forced to attend:

President Donald Trump's planned visit to EPA headquarters to sign executive orders scaling back the agency's climate change and other work is prompting questions about whether the president and Administrator-nominee Scott Pruitt might seek to require staff to attend, further deflating staffers' low morale.

One former EPA official asks, “Can Trump order EPA staff to be in the room?” The source says that career staff have been largely paralyzed by the Trump transition and beachhead teams, which imposed a communications freeze on headquarters officials, criticized agency scientists and hobbled work across program offices.

When Trump visited the CIA, he did not force anyone to attend his talk. Instead, he packed the first three rows of seats with people who cheered his remarks! They were not from the CIA.

Maybe he'll do this at the EPA, too.

Senate Democrats are trying to fight back with the limited tools at their disposal:

Senate Democrats are vowing strict oversight of Oklahoma Attorney General (AG) Scott Pruitt (R) after he wins confirmation as the next EPA administrator, warning his time as agency chief is not “going to end well” and drawing parallels with Reagan-era EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Buford, who was forced to resign in disgrace.

Gorsuch. Does that name sound familiar! Yes, her son is Trump's choice for the Supreme Court!

At a Feb. 16 press conference at the Capitol, several Democrats on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW) vowed to drag out ongoing floor debate over Pruitt's nomination for as long as they could, up to 30 hours. Yet Pruitt is all but assured to win confirmation because no Republican except Sen. Susan Collins (ME) plans to vote against him, and the nominee also has the support of two moderate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND).

[...]

As a result, once Pruitt is confirmed, Democratic senators are planning multiple unspecified steps regarding litigation, ethics disclosure, and press inquiries that can “open things up quite a lot” to lawmakers' scrutiny, according to EPW member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). He said Pruitt's record challenging EPA regulations is a massive conflict of interest for an administrator, adding his tenure leading the agency would not “end well.”

It will certainly not end well. The question is just who will suffer more: him, or us.

The quotes here are from Inside EPA. You can get a free month-long subscription here:

https://insideepa.com/

Get a front-row seat to the rape of our Earth by henchmen of the fossil fuel industry! At the Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project we are at least helping save the scientific data acquired by the EPA and other federal agencies. Impeaching Trump would help more.

The painting is by Steve Breen of the San Diego Union Tribune.

#climateaction___

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2017-02-11 18:19:54 (92 comments; 8 reshares; 82 +1s; )Open 

The Trump Resistance Movement

Last Saturday hundreds of protesters showed up at a town hall meeting hosted by Tom McClintock. He's a Republican in the House of Representatives who ran for the California governorship in 2003 and lost, and ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and lost again. He's too right-wing for most Californians. He did well in his district, a rural area near Nevada. But on Saturday so many protesters showed up that when the meeting ended, he left with a police escort.

Holding signs reading, "Resist," "No Muslim Ban, No War in Iran," "Protect Social Security," and "Do Your Job! Represent Us All!", the demonstrators turned up early at the event in Roseville, a conservative suburb north of Sacramento.

"I think we're on the wrong side of history right now," said Janine Allwright, who... more »

The Trump Resistance Movement

Last Saturday hundreds of protesters showed up at a town hall meeting hosted by Tom McClintock. He's a Republican in the House of Representatives who ran for the California governorship in 2003 and lost, and ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and lost again. He's too right-wing for most Californians. He did well in his district, a rural area near Nevada. But on Saturday so many protesters showed up that when the meeting ended, he left with a police escort.

Holding signs reading, "Resist," "No Muslim Ban, No War in Iran," "Protect Social Security," and "Do Your Job! Represent Us All!", the demonstrators turned up early at the event in Roseville, a conservative suburb north of Sacramento.

"I think we're on the wrong side of history right now," said Janine Allwright, who lives in McClintock's district. She came to the meeting with her 9-year-old daughter and said she's passionate about protecting refugees. "We're making decisions that will effect us for decades to come and I think it's wrong."

People upset over the election of Trump have repeatedly taken to the streets over issues like his immigration ban and flooded the U.S. Capitol with phone calls. With this protest at a Congressional town hall meeting, voters appear to be saying they won't limit their demonstrations to targeting leaders at the highest level of government.

The mood in the town hall was tense throughout the hour-long session. McClintock, who won re-election with 63 percent of the vote, was inundated with questions ranging his from support for a border wall to how he would help impeach the new president (54 percent of the district voted for Trump).

"I understand you do not like Donald Trump," McClintock said. "I sympathize with you. There have been elections where our side has lost."

His comment was met with jeers from the crowd, which wanted to talk about issues like Obamacare.

One of the town hall attendees, David Emerson, said his wife has a heart condition and they couldn't afford her medication without the Affordable Care Act.

"If you vote to cancel the ACA and you see her name in an obituary, shame on you," he told McClintock. The lawmaker responded that ACA must be replaced with something better for the majority of users.

This is just one of many protests that are making the news. For example, Trump's new Secretary of Education Betsy Devos knows nothing about public schools - she got the position by donating $200 million to Republicans. When she tried to visit a public school in DC yesterday, she was blocked by protesters:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/10/politics/devos-protest-at-washington-school/

I'm not in favor of physically blocking Trump employees from doing their jobs (she eventually snuck in another way), but I think it's excellent to let them know what we think at every possible opportunity!

On Thursday Jason Chaffetz got a taste of this. He's a Republican from Utah, and he's the head of the "House oversight committee", so he overlooks egregious conflicts of interest. He was booed by a rowdy crowd at his town hall meeting when he said the president was not subject to such laws:

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/hundreds-chaffetz-town-hall

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) was confronted with hundreds of people at a town hall outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday night, where the crowd jeered at the congressman and grilled him on investigating President Donald Trump.

The audience filled almost all of the 1,000 seats in the Brighton High School auditorium, and a crowd of about 1,500 people stood outside the event, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

At one point during the town hall, members of the audience stood up and began to chant, "Do your job!"

Later Chaffetz claimed that the protestors had been paid. I doubt it. But it's not a coincidence that all those people showed up. We are organizing to attend town hall meetings, and I think that's a good thing. If you're interested, check out the Town Hall Project:

https://www.facebook.com/TownHallProject/

You don't have to join the dreaded Facebook to see this - click on "Not Now". And their actual list of upcoming town hall meetings is here:

http://bit.ly/2lfywFH

There are a bunch today and tomorrow!

This is just one of hundreds of ways people are resisting the craziness of the Trump administration. We need to keep it up - because pro-Trump commenters are still hoping the resistance will fade after a while.___

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2017-02-04 17:05:34 (48 comments; 81 reshares; 156 +1s; )Open 

Gag reflex

The Trump gang is trying to gag scientists - make us shut up. But they're also making us gag, as shown below. So we're fighting back.

Some examples:

1) Scientists are keeping track of how Trump gang is changing the EPA website, with before-and-after photos, and analysis:

https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/behold-tweaks-trump-has-made-epa-website-far

There's more about "adaptation" to climate change, and less about how it's caused by carbon emissions.

2) The Trump gang is taking animal-welfare data offline. The US Department of Agriculture will no longer make lab inspection results and violations publicly available, citing privacy concerns:

http://www.nature.com/news/us-government-takes-animal-welfare-data-offline-1.21428

3) The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative... more »

Gag reflex

The Trump gang is trying to gag scientists - make us shut up. But they're also making us gag, as shown below. So we're fighting back.

Some examples:

1) Scientists are keeping track of how Trump gang is changing the EPA website, with before-and-after photos, and analysis:

https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/behold-tweaks-trump-has-made-epa-website-far

There's more about "adaptation" to climate change, and less about how it's caused by carbon emissions.

2) The Trump gang is taking animal-welfare data offline. The US Department of Agriculture will no longer make lab inspection results and violations publicly available, citing privacy concerns:

http://www.nature.com/news/us-government-takes-animal-welfare-data-offline-1.21428

3) The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative is working to archive public environmental data. Go to a data rescue event:

Feb. 4th, NYC
Feb 10th-11th, Austin
Feb. 11th, San Francisco Bay
Feb. 18th, MIT
Feb. 18th, Haverford
Feb. 18-19th, Washington DC
Feb 26th, Twin Cities, Minnesota

or work with them to organize one of your own! They're developing online tools to help:

https://envirodatagov.org/

4) Less relevant, but too fun to ignore, is Operation "Kiss Our Asses, Release Your Taxes". Hundreds of people are planning to gather at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12th and moon Trump Tower in Chicago - that is, aim their naked butts at it. The goal is to get Trump to release his tax returns.

I think people should do this each time he emits an offensive tweet.

5) A new bill would prevent the US government from providing access to geospatial data if it helps people understand housing discrimination. It goes like this:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.

For the important ways this data has been used, see:

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/public_health/Where-will-data-take-the-Trump-administration-on-housing.html

6) The pushback is so big it's hard to list it all! For now I'll just quote some of Tabitha Powledge's article "The gag reflex: Trump info shutdowns at US science agencies, especially EPA".

THE PUSHBACK FROM SCIENCE HAS BEGUN

Predictably, counter-tweets claiming to come from rebellious employees at the EPA, the Forest Service, the USDA, and NASA sprang up immediately. At The Verge, Rich McCormick says there’s reason to believe these claims may be genuine, although none has yet been verified. A lovely head on this post: “On the internet, nobody knows if you’re a National Park.”

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/26/14395642/twitter-accounts-rebelling-trump-federal-agencies-national-park

At Hit&Run, Ronald Bailey provides handles for several of these alt tweet streams, which he calls “the revolt of the permanent government.” (That’s a compliment.)

http://reason.com/blog/2017/01/26/trump-twitter-and-the-revolt-of-the-per2

Bailey argues, “with exception perhaps of some minor amount of national security intelligence, there is no good reason that any information, data, studies, and reports that federal agencies produce should be kept from the public and press. In any case, I will be following the Alt_Bureaucracy feeds for a while.”

NeuroDojo Zen Faulkes posted on how to demand that scientific societies show some backbone. “Ask yourself: “Have my professional societies done anything more political than say, ‘Please don’t cut funding?’” Will they fight?,” he asked.

http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2017/01/asking-scientific-societies-to-show.html

Scientists associated with the group 500 Women Scientists donned lab coats and marched in DC as part of the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s Inauguration, Robinson Meyer reported at the Atlantic. A wildlife ecologist from North Carolina told Meyer, “I just can’t believe we’re having to yell, ‘Science is real.’”

Taking a cue from how the Women’s March did its social media organizing, other scientists who want to set up a Washington march of their own have put together a closed Facebook group that claims more than 600,000 members, Kate Sheridan writes at STAT.

https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/25/science-march-washington/

The #ScienceMarch Twitter feed says a date for the march will be posted in a few days. The group also plans to release tools to help people interested in local marches coordinate their efforts and avoid duplication.

https://twitter.com/ScienceMarchDC

At The Atlantic, Ed Yong describes the political action committee 314Action. (314=the first three digits of pi.)

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/thanks-to-trump-scientists-are-planning-to-run-for-office/514229/

Among other political activities, it is holding a webinar on Pi Day – March 14 – to explain to scientists how to run for office. Yong calls 314Action the science version of Emily’s List, which helps pro-choice candidates run for office. 314Action says it is ready to connect potential candidate scientists with mentors–and donors.

http://www.314action.org/want-to-run/

Other groups may be willing to step in when government agencies wimp out. A few days before the Inauguration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly and with no explanation cancelled a 3-day meeting on the health effects of climate change scheduled for February. Scientists told Ars Technica’s Beth Mole that CDC has a history of running away from politicized issues.

https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/01/self-censoring-fears-swirl-as-cdc-abruptly-nixes-climate-and-health-summit/

One of the conference organizers from the American Public Health Association was quoted as saying nobody told the organizers to cancel.

I believe it. Just one more example of the chilling effect on global warming. In politics, once the Dear Leader’s wishes are known, some hirelings will rush to gratify them without being asked.

The APHA guy said they simply wanted to head off a potential last-minute cancellation. Yeah, I guess an anticipatory pre-cancellation would do that.

But then – Al Gore to the rescue! He is joining with a number of health groups–including the American Public Health Association–to hold a one-day meeting on the topic Feb 16 at the Carter Center in Atlanta, CDC’s home base. Vox’s Julia Belluz reports that it is not clear whether CDC officials will be part of the Gore rescue event.

http://www.vox.com/2017/1/26/14402234/cdc-climate-change-conference-al-gore-trump

For Tabitha Powledge's whole article go here:

http://blogs.plos.org/onscienceblogs/2017/01/27/the-gag-reflex-trump-info-shutdowns-at-us-science-agencies-especially-epa/

#climateaction
___

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2017-02-03 20:49:23 (1 comments; 10 reshares; 81 +1s; )Open 

Synthetic biology

I met some cool people this week, and here's one: Kate Adamala. She's a postdoc at the University of Minnesota. She creates artificial cells in the lab.

These aren't full-fledged cells that can reproduce and metabolize on their own. They're much simpler - but they're made from scratch, not from existing cells. She calls them protocells.

A typical protocell has some RNA inside a little membrane made of fatty acids. She can get the RNA to copy itself, and she can get different protocells to fuse, building more complicated systems from smaller parts.

My own career as a postdoc was much more boring! Kids these days are amazing. :-)

Here's a paper of hers:

• Kate Adamala and J.W. Szostak, Non-enzymatic template-directed RNA synthesis inside model protocells, Science<... more »

Synthetic biology

I met some cool people this week, and here's one: Kate Adamala. She's a postdoc at the University of Minnesota. She creates artificial cells in the lab.

These aren't full-fledged cells that can reproduce and metabolize on their own. They're much simpler - but they're made from scratch, not from existing cells. She calls them protocells.

A typical protocell has some RNA inside a little membrane made of fatty acids. She can get the RNA to copy itself, and she can get different protocells to fuse, building more complicated systems from smaller parts.

My own career as a postdoc was much more boring! Kids these days are amazing. :-)

Here's a paper of hers:

• Kate Adamala and J.W. Szostak, Non-enzymatic template-directed RNA synthesis inside model protocells, Science 342 (2013) 1098-1100. Available at http://www.protobiology.org/reprints/Adamala_Szostak_Science_2013.pdf

Abstract. Efforts to recreate a prebiotically plausible protocell, in which RNA replication occurs within a fatty acid vesicle, have been stalled by the destabilizing effect of Mg2+ [magnesium ions] on fatty acid membranes. Here we report that the presence of citrate protects fatty acid membranes from the disruptive effects of high Mg2+ ion concentrations while allowing RNA copying to proceed, while also protecting single-stranded RNA from Mg2+-catalyzed degradation. This combination of properties has allowed us to demonstrate the chemical copying of RNA templates inside fatty acid vesicles,
which in turn allows for an increase in copying efficiency by bathing the vesicles in a continuously refreshed solution of activated nucleotides.

Though it's one of the most recent on her website, this paper is not so new; she's doing even cooler stuff these days. Check out her work here:

http://www.protobiology.org/index.php

and in her talk.
___

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2017-02-01 18:16:08 (32 comments; 10 reshares; 55 +1s; )Open 

Biology as information dynamics

I'm at the Beyond Center in Phoenix Arizona - a center devoted to understanding the origin of life. They're having a workshop on whether biological complexity can be measured in a quantitative way.

Why? One reason is that NASA plans an $800-million mission to Enceladus, to see if there's life lurking in the underground oceans of this moon of Saturn. How can they actually detect life if they see it? That's a hard question. I just heard a talk about this by Chris McKay. They're going to look at stuff like the abundances of amino acids, which are very different on Earth than on meteorites. But there's not enough theory about how this should work for life on another planet!

There's also something else, even more exciting to me: developing a mathematical theory of living systems. Some other... more »

Biology as information dynamics

I'm at the Beyond Center in Phoenix Arizona - a center devoted to understanding the origin of life. They're having a workshop on whether biological complexity can be measured in a quantitative way.

Why? One reason is that NASA plans an $800-million mission to Enceladus, to see if there's life lurking in the underground oceans of this moon of Saturn. How can they actually detect life if they see it? That's a hard question. I just heard a talk about this by Chris McKay. They're going to look at stuff like the abundances of amino acids, which are very different on Earth than on meteorites. But there's not enough theory about how this should work for life on another planet!

There's also something else, even more exciting to me: developing a mathematical theory of living systems. Some other talks will touch on that, including mine here:

• Biology as information dynamics, https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/biology-as-information-dynamics/

The idea is if biology is the study of self-replicating entities, and if information is important in biology, we should look at how information theory is connected to the replicator equation — a very simple model of population dynamics for self-replicating entities. In this model, the population of each kind of self-replicating entity grows at a rate equal to its population times its fitness. But its fitness can be any function of the populations of each kind of entity.

There are some nice results connecting the replicator equation to information theory. The relevant concept of information turns out to be the information of one probability distribution relative to another. This is called relative information, or often the Kullback–Leibler divergence - a term I hate, because it's completely undescriptive, and it hides the importance of the actual idea.

What's the idea? It's this: when you learn something, how much information you get some depends on what you believed before!

Using relative information we can get a new outlook on free energy, see evolution as a learning process, and give a clean general formulation of Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection.

I had a lot of trouble understanding Fisher's fundamental theorem until I reformulated it. In rough terms, his theorem says:

“The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variance in fitness at that time."

or a bit more precisely:

“The rate of increase in the mean fitness of any organism at any time ascribable to natural selection acting through changes in gene frequencies is exactly equal to its genetic variance in fitness at that time."

But there are a lot of assumptions required to prove this result, and there are lots of situations where those assumptions don't hold. My version, which is more general and incredibly easy to prove, says exactly this:

" If a population evolves according to the replicator equation, the square of the rate at which the population learns information equals the variance of its fitness."

You can see an explanation on my blog:

• Information geometry (part 16), https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/information-geometry-part-16/

The idea of "the rate of learning information" is made precise using the Fisher information metric - a way to measure distances between probability distributions, closely related to relative information. I explain this concept in my talk, and in more detail in my blog article.

Back to the talks! Now Kate Adamala is talking about her attempts to synthesize chemical systems that act a bit like life... but simpler. Her talk is called "Alive but not life".___

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2017-01-29 17:45:11 (0 comments; 87 reshares; 229 +1s; )Open 

Cracks in the rule of law

+Yonatan Zunger put his finger on what's really disturbing about today's news: the breakdown of the rule of law as the Department of Homeland Security flagrantly violates the orders of Federal judges... and somewhat hidden by the chaos, the elevation of Steve Bannon to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. Yes, Bannon - the guy who said this:

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

You should always try to look behind the crazy new stories that Trump creates, to see what's going on more quietly. Trump is not dumb. He may seem dumb, but he would not be bossing all of us around if he were dumb. When we make fun of him we may temporarily feel we're winning... but so far, we'relosing.... more »

Cracks in the rule of law

+Yonatan Zunger put his finger on what's really disturbing about today's news: the breakdown of the rule of law as the Department of Homeland Security flagrantly violates the orders of Federal judges... and somewhat hidden by the chaos, the elevation of Steve Bannon to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. Yes, Bannon - the guy who said this:

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

You should always try to look behind the crazy new stories that Trump creates, to see what's going on more quietly. Trump is not dumb. He may seem dumb, but he would not be bossing all of us around if he were dumb. When we make fun of him we may temporarily feel we're winning... but so far, we're losing.

We need to get serious. If we let him get away with violating the orders of Federal judges, there's no telling what he'll do. Phone your senators and representatives - it's more of a pain than sending emails or playing around on social media, but that's exactly why it works. This website makes it easy:

https://www.5calls.org/

Next I'll quote Yonatan - if you didn't read his whole post, please read this!

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Some updates on the political situation. Everything is very preliminary right now, because it's (apparently deliberately) unclear.

Several Federal judges have issued stays against the "Muslim ban" order. However, there are confirmed reports from multiple sources that Customs & Border Patrol (CBP, part of the DHS) is willfully disregarding those stays, denying access to counsel, moving the people they're holding to undisclosed locations so that nobody can get habeas corpus, and deporting people. This is very certainly not a local commander's decision; it goes up to the Sec'y of HS at least, and directly to Trump at most.

But – and here's the kicker – it's incredibly unclear what the scope of this refusal is. There's no clear news coming out, and we're getting more useful reports from the Twitter feeds of top attorneys in the field (both from groups like the ACLU, who have done heroic work tonight, and from attorneys at top firms, who have been joining this pro bono) than we are from anywhere else.

If this is a refusal of unambiguous Federal court orders, then this is serious, serious beyond the scale of anything we've seen in our lifetimes: it's DHS saying that if Trump tells them to do one thing and the courts another, they will do what Trump says and best of luck to the courts trying to enforce that. Which is to say, they're establishing a precedent that DHS actions are not subject to any sort of court review, or to anything other than the personal fiat of Trump – including their right to detain people, deport them, or hold them incommunicado.

Alternatively, this might be something else, a decision by CBP counsel that certain court orders don't apply to certain cases; this is serious too, since they're trying to create "facts on the ground" faster than the courts can react, but it doesn't mean a wholesale rejection of the system of law. I simply don't have enough information yet, and hope to update as we know more.

Separately, there was another story today: Trump reorganized the National Security Counsel. The two most prominent changes are this: Steve Bannon now has a seat on it, and the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were both demoted: they only attend meetings of the Principals Committee which "[pertain] to their responsibilities and expertise."

(The other full members of the PC, incidentally, are the secretaries of State (Tillerson), Treasury (Szubin), Defense (Mattis), and Homeland Security (Kelly), the AG (Sessions), the President's Chief of Staff (Priebus), the National Security Advisor (Flynn), and the Homeland Security Advisor (Bossert). You can read the full order here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/28/presidential-memorandum-organization-national-security-council-and)

The demotion of the DNI and CJCS is surprising and I don't yet know what it means. There currently is no DNI – Coats' nomination is yet to be confirmed. It's hard to imagine what meetings wouldn't pertain to their "responsibilities and expertise," especially given that secretaries with much more specific responsibilities (like Treasury) weren't demoted. Bannon's promotion, however, is more significant: Trump is known for not attending many meetings, and delegating those, and Bannon is likely to be his principal representative in the NSC.

My gut read is that this is something which will prove very important in the long run. Trump's rift with the existing military and intelligence establishments is well-known, and he's made numerous statements, directly and through surrogates, about his interest in constructing alternative establishments reporting directly to him. Bannon would be a logical person to manage that subchain, as his "Chief Strategist" role doesn't come with a large org to manage already, or with Congressionally mandated restrictions. That would be the skeleton of a new internal security system, with the DHS and FBI (both very loyal to Trump) in the loop, together with a new private "security force" rolling up to Keith Schiller that takes over a lot of Secret Service roles, and a hypothetical new intelligence force, with Bannon being either de facto or de jure in charge of all the new organizations, and little to no legal supervision over them.

It's not clear, again, that this is where it's going, but it's definitely the configuration I would keep my eyes open for. It would promote Bannon from a Goebbels to a Himmler, which I suspect he would be just fine with.

So: Many signs out there, but nothing clear yet. These could range from incredibly serious to passing things, depending on how the next week or so plays out.

Update (00:51 PST): The DHS has put out an official statement, and I'll be damned if I can figure out what it means. It starts out by saying that they will continue to enforce all of Trump's orders, and that the orders remain in place, but it does offer a nod (later on) to complying with judicial orders.

Text here: https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/01/29/department-homeland-security-response-recent-litigation

Update (02:06 PST): The Washington Post's story pulls together a range of official statements, which make it clear that this is deliberate and central policy, ordered personally by Trump. The exact meaning of the DHS statement remains unclear, but most people are reading it as an intent to continue to do whatever they want; it may involve a suggestion that if they don't want to grant a waiver to someone with a green card, they may do it by simply revoking the green card on the spot.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/refugees-detained-at-us-airports-challenge-trumps-executive-order/2017/01/28/e69501a2-e562-11e6-a547-5fb9411d332c_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_airports-1046am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.560b5a336b45

Update (07:55 PST): Sources confirming that DHS lawyers had flagged the banning of legal permanent residents as illegal ahead of time, but were specifically overruled by Bannon. Note the implications both for the deliberacy of the act and for the extent of Bannon's power. Also, Priebus confirmed on "Meet the Press" that the omission of Jews from the Holocaust Remembrance Day statement was deliberate and is not regretted.

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/01/steve-bannon-personally-overruled-dhs-decision-not-to-include-green-card-holders-in-travel-ban-cnn/

___

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2017-01-28 18:02:07 (8 comments; 5 reshares; 43 +1s; )Open 

Check out +Greg Egan's posts on G+!

I haven't been in the mood for posting fun articles on math and science - the situation in the US is so disastrous that it feels like "fiddling while Rome burns". I actually feel better working on the Azimuth Backup Project, trying to save climate data. It may not be much, but at least I feel I'm doing something, and I'm meeting lots of great people who are eager to donate their time and money for this cause.

Anyway, if you like articles on math and science, I urge you to add +Greg Egan to your circles. And if you haven't yet, read some of his fiction!

Honeycomb mist

I recently started converting a number of the Java applets on my web site to JavaScript, in part because the ever-more-dire security warnings that both web browsers and Java itself throws at the user make it seem like a dangerous thing to enable, even though I've signed all my applets and made sure that they run in a sandboxed mode where they can't actually do anything mischievous (unless Java, or the browser, is broken ... but then, if there are bugs in the browser they're just as likely to be exploited by malicious JavaScript as by malicious Java).

Anyway, the point of this post is not to moan about the War Against Java, but to point out a nice method I stumbled on for generating an endless fractal texture, which could be used for such things as the elevation in a procedurally-generated landscape.

In the particular applet I was converting to JavaScript, I wanted an endlessly rising "curtain" of mist. The old method I was using generated this by means of a large number of linear "fault lines" that criss-crossed the view: as you crossed each fault line, the density of the mist would either rise or fall, and with a sufficient number the density takes on a fractal texture.

But it's hard to ensure that the eye won't pick up some lingering linear edges in the final density, and the problem actually becomes more acute the more individual shades of grey you render. So, I went looking for another way of doing this.

The method I ended up using was devised by Benoit Mandelbrot, no less, and I read about it in Appendix A of The Science of Fractal Images, edited by Peitgen and Saupe. The idea is to start with a tiling of the plane by hexagons of some maximum size, and then to repeatedly subdivide them, with each step replacing every hexagon with three smaller ones, as in the image. To get a fractal density from this, you first assign random densities to all the vertices of the largest hexagons, and then the extra vertices added at each subdivision are assigned averages of the surrounding points, plus a random offset.

You can do something similar with a process that subdivides a square grid, but that suffers from exactly the kind of linear artifacts that I was trying to avoid. By using a hexagonal subdivision, the artifacts themselves become fractals, like the boundaries of the multiply-subdivided hexagon, and so they look much more like a natural part of the texture.

Of course, when it comes to actually programming this, you don't want to construct any hexagons as such, but to work with lattices of points in which the geometrical relationships can be expressed as arithmetic relationships between the lattice coordinates. Because the density in the points you want to render can ultimately depend on values at hexagon vertices that lie far off-screen, rather than constructing a uniform lattice for the entire territory that needs to be covered in some way, it's more memory-efficient to work with a separate lattice for each level, so the coarsest lattices can span a lot of ground, geometrically, with just a few points, and the finer ones come close to just spanning the rendered region.

If the lattice points are stored according to their coordinates in a suitable basis, the whole thing can be "scrolled" quite efficiently, to allow for an endlessly rising curtain: when you move past the end of the lattice data used for the initial image, you just wrap to the beginning of the same array and overwrite the old values that are no longer needed.

The JavaScript applet that uses this method can be seen here:

http://www.gregegan.net/HORROR/Horror.html
___Check out +Greg Egan's posts on G+!

I haven't been in the mood for posting fun articles on math and science - the situation in the US is so disastrous that it feels like "fiddling while Rome burns". I actually feel better working on the Azimuth Backup Project, trying to save climate data. It may not be much, but at least I feel I'm doing something, and I'm meeting lots of great people who are eager to donate their time and money for this cause.

Anyway, if you like articles on math and science, I urge you to add +Greg Egan to your circles. And if you haven't yet, read some of his fiction!

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2017-01-27 17:24:23 (49 comments; 88 reshares; 262 +1s; )Open 

Science goes underground

Trump's gang is cracking down on climate scientists and their websites at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and elswhere. But people are fighting back! You can now read "rogue Twitter accounts" from these agencies. Scientists are planning a march on Washington. And the Sierra Club has filed Freedom of Information requests to stop the elimination of climate data.

Yesterday Sharon Lerner wrote:

Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak to Press

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting justa f... more »

Science goes underground

Trump's gang is cracking down on climate scientists and their websites at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and elswhere. But people are fighting back! You can now read "rogue Twitter accounts" from these agencies. Scientists are planning a march on Washington. And the Sierra Club has filed Freedom of Information requests to stop the elimination of climate data.

Yesterday Sharon Lerner wrote:

Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak to Press

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.

The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen,” one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch. She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she’s been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump’s claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change, and the EPA itself.

“It’s strange,” the woman said. “People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs.” Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press, or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press,” said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA’s new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.

The directives have left scientists fearing reprisal for merely mentioning the global crisis that has been at the center of their professional lives for years. It’s the topic “whose name cannot be uttered,” as one Forest Service employee put it to me. A nearby USDA employee offered a series of euphemisms — “extreme weather events, very unusual patterns,” he riffed — before turning serious. “I’m actually scared to talk to you,” he said, turning his hanging name tag inward and backing away from me. The look in his eyes and the tight smiles I received from several federal employees after introducing myself as a reporter reminded me of interviewing scientists in China. My presence inspired fear.

Afraid or not, many federal researchers continued doing their jobs despite the impending doom, presenting research on everything from disease-causing mosquitos to heat waves, decreasing water availability, and toxic algal blooms — all issues that have become dramatically more important as the earth has warmed.

https://theintercept.com/2017/01/26/government-scientists-at-u-s-climate-conference-terrified-to-speak-with-the-press/

Here's the latest news from the magazine Inside EPA:

Trump EPA To 'Stand Down' For Now On Website Climate Data Removal Plans

EPA is temporarily suspending its plans to remove the main climate change page from the agency's website, amid news reports that the page was slated to be removed Jan. 25, though the Office of General Counsel (OGC) has been tasked with reviewing the implications of removing some material, according to an agency source.

Members of the “beachhead team” -- temporary appointees from the new Trump administration -- “agreed to stand down” on their plans to remove the main climate change page on EPA's website, the source says.

The source had told Inside EPA late Jan. 24 that the page was slated to be removed as soon as Jan.25, adding to mounting concerns from climate scientists and advocates that the administration is preparing to ignore what they consider an urgent global issue. Reuters also reported the website removal plans late Jan. 24.

The agency source tells Inside EPA that OGC will conduct a review of the implications of removing the page, which includes high-profile links to the agency's 2016 Climate Indicators Report on climate impacts, fact sheets on the health impacts of climate change for vulnerable populations, and links to a comprehensive report on domestic climate health impacts showing “every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.” The page also links to external sources of information including climate data from NASA and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Inside EPA first reported plans to remove some climate information from the website Jan. 17, and also reported that the agency had begun to remove links and many references to voluntary climate programs put forth by the Obama administration, including the Climate Action Plan, oil and gas methane strategies and others.

Other sources had said the plans called for removing non-regulatory climate initiatives, which would have excluded items such as EPA's greenhouse gas reporting program or other climate regulations, including high-profile Obama EPA rules governing power plant and vehicle GHGs.

However, EPA's main climate change page includes references to the GHG reporting program and other regulatory initiatives under the heading of “What EPA is doing” to address the issue.

'Political Toy'

In a Jan. 25 statement reacting to news of the planned removal of climate information from the agency's website, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune says EPA's “public scientific information is vital to the health and safety of our communities, not a political toy for the fossil fuel industry hacks who have invaded the agency to play with. This purge by the Trump administration leads down an extremely dangerous and dark path, and must stop now.”

Sierra Club recently filed an expanded Freedom of Information Act request with EPA focused largely on climate change data -- and filed similar FOIA requests with the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey -- in a bid to halt what is expected to be widespread scrubbing of federal climate data by the new Trump administration.

In addition to already removing some climate data from EPA's site, recent Trump administration arrivals at the agency have directed EPA to freeze grants and contracts; and imposed a gag order on EPA releasing information through its press office, blogs and social media.

In response to questions about the gag order, EPA's press office told Inside EPA, “The EPA fully intends to continue to provide information to the public. A fresh look at public affairs and communications processes is common practice for any new Administration, and a short pause in activities allows for this assessment.”

The Trump transition's “landing team” -- active during the transition period since the election -- has been largely disassembled and replaced by what is known as a “beachhead team” whose members went into departments beginning Jan. 20 under temporary 120-day appointments.

[Note the disgusting military metaphor, as if they're landing and taking over a country.]

The landing team members were volunteers whose duties ended on Inauguration Day, and only three members joined the beachhead team. Landing team members' job was to work with EPA to develop an action plan in preparation for the new administration taking office, while the beachhead team is tasked with organizing and staffing EPA to implement the plan, which has yet to be released or reviewed by EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt.

While the long term plans for the EPA climate site are not entirely clear, such a move would complicate access to recent EPA and other analyses of climate change implications, including explanations of major sources of GHGs and steps both the agency and private individuals can take in response to the issue.

For example, the main page includes a feature, “What are the impacts of climate change where I live?” which offers the ability to select regions of the country to learn about climate impacts.

Also on the front page are links to various other pages that take deeper dives on topics including reducing GHG emissions, adapting to global warming, the causes of climate change, the future of climate change, and “what you can do” in response to the problem.

There's a lot more going on!

You can get a free month-long subscription to Inside EPA and follow the news here:

https://insideepa.com/

You can read tweets from "rogue Twitter accounts" - US government workers fighting the censorship of science:

http://www.core77.com/posts/60230/Heres-a-List-of-All-the-US-Govts-Rogue-Twitter-Accounts-Fighting-Trumps-Crackdown-on-Science

Remember how the EPA workers got a memo saying "“Only send out critical messages"? Well, there are two ways to interpret that!

Sharon Lerner's whole article is here:

https://theintercept.com/2017/01/26/government-scientists-at-u-s-climate-conference-terrified-to-speak-with-the-press/

The Scientists' March on Washington is being planned here - no date yet:

http://www.scientistsmarchonwashington.com/

#climateaction

___

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2017-01-25 22:11:09 (40 comments; 44 reshares; 101 +1s; )Open 

350,000 robots tweet about Star Wars

Many Twitter users aren't real people. For example, there's a network of 350,000 accounts that did nothing but automatically post tweets about Star Wars novels. It's called the Star Wars botnet. It appeared in 2013. Then it went quiet. it was discovered only recently. Nobody knows why it exists.

It was found recently - almost by accident! Two cybersecurity researchers at University College London downloaded data about 6 million English-speaking Twitter accounts. That's about 1% of the total number.

They found something bizarre, shown on the map here.

Twitter lets you quickly download the most recent 3,200 tweets of any user, along with geo-tags that are supposed to say where the tweets came from. This let the researchers map the locations of all the tweets they downloaded. As... more »

350,000 robots tweet about Star Wars

Many Twitter users aren't real people. For example, there's a network of 350,000 accounts that did nothing but automatically post tweets about Star Wars novels. It's called the Star Wars botnet. It appeared in 2013. Then it went quiet. it was discovered only recently. Nobody knows why it exists.

It was found recently - almost by accident! Two cybersecurity researchers at University College London downloaded data about 6 million English-speaking Twitter accounts. That's about 1% of the total number.

They found something bizarre, shown on the map here.

Twitter lets you quickly download the most recent 3,200 tweets of any user, along with geo-tags that are supposed to say where the tweets came from. This let the researchers map the locations of all the tweets they downloaded. As you'd expect, most tweets came from densely populated regions - with a distribution nicely matching the population distribution.

But they also found 23,000 tweets that were geo-located in uninhabited regions - like deserts and oceans! And when they plotted these locations, they fit neatly into two precise rectangles, one around the U.S. and the other around Europe!

Conclusion: these tweets came from bots randomly choosing locations in the two rectangles.

They looked through the 3,000 accounts that created these tweets. None of these accounts had ever published more than 11 tweets. They never had more than 10 followers. They never had fewer than 31 friends. They were all produced by Twitter for Windows phones.

But here's the real giveaway: they all contained random quotations from Star Wars novels - with hashtags inserted at random. A typical example:

Luke’s answer was to put on an extra burst of speed. There were only ten meters #separating them now.

Quoting from Technology Review:

At this point, Echeverria and Zhou conjectured that they had stumbled across a single botnet, presumably controlled by a single botmaster. This botnet was obviously large since 3,000 bots had appeared in a random search. And that raised an obvious question: just how big was this botnet?

To find out, the researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm to recognize Star Wars bots and set it loose on a much larger database of 14 million English-speaking Twitter users.

The results were a shock. The machine-learning algorithm, with the help of some manual filtering, found some 350,000 accounts that had the same characteristics. These accounts had never tweeted more than 11 times, had fewer than 31 friends and were all produced by Twitter for Windows Phone.

What’s more, this entire botnet was created in just a few days in June and July 2013. At the time, it produced 150,000 tweets a day.

Then it stopped. “When the creation of new Star Wars bots stopped on 14 July 2013, all the bots suddenly fell silent and remained so ever since,” say Echeverria and Zhou.

But the accounts have not been closed down or deleted. They could all tweet at a moment’s notice, should the botmaster so decide. Echeverria and Zhou say the bots have avoided detection because they were deliberately designed to keep a low profile. “It seems the Star Wars bots were deliberately designed to circumvent many of the heuristics underlying previous bot detection methods,” say Echeverria and Zhou.

Echeverria and Zhou conjecture that perhaps this botnet will be sold at some time... and spring into action.

Since then, they've found an even larger botnet, with 500,000 accounts!

So: beware of fake news, trolls, and zombies.

Read more here:

• Cybersecurity experts uncover dormant botnet of 350,000 Twitter accounts, Technology Review, 20 January 2017, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603404/cybersecurity-experts-uncover-dormant-botnet-of-350000-twitter-accounts/

and read the original paper here:

• Juan Echeverría and Shi Zhou, The “Star Wars” botnet with >350k Twitter bots, http://arxiv.org/abs/1701.02405.

Thanks to +Jan Galkowski for pointing this out!___

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2017-01-24 01:42:16 (27 comments; 15 reshares; 230 +1s; )Open 

How Trump plans to gut the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency uses a lot of evidence based science. But Trump hired Myron Ebell to write an "Action Plan" for this agency.

Yes, Ebell - the guy who got his start lobbying for tobacco companies. Yes, Ebell - the guy who secretly watered down EPA reports on climate change under the Bush administration, until he got caught. Ebell - the guy who tried to get Bush's head of the EPA fired.

A bit of Ebell's plan has leaked out in the magazine Axios:

One of the striking aspects of the document was its language about the agency's use of scientific research and economic analysis to justify its actions. A section titled 'Addendum on the problems with EPA science' leads with this paragraph:

EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses... more »

How Trump plans to gut the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency uses a lot of evidence based science. But Trump hired Myron Ebell to write an "Action Plan" for this agency.

Yes, Ebell - the guy who got his start lobbying for tobacco companies. Yes, Ebell - the guy who secretly watered down EPA reports on climate change under the Bush administration, until he got caught. Ebell - the guy who tried to get Bush's head of the EPA fired.

A bit of Ebell's plan has leaked out in the magazine Axios:

One of the striking aspects of the document was its language about the agency's use of scientific research and economic analysis to justify its actions. A section titled 'Addendum on the problems with EPA science' leads with this paragraph:

EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science. This is an old problem at EPA. In 1992, a blue-ribbon panel of EPA science advisers that [sic] 'science should not be adjusted to fit policy.' But rather than heed this advice, EPA has greatly increased its science manipulation.

The document goes on to recommend what can be done to "improve the use of science by EPA":

EPA should not be funding scientific research

If EPA uses scientific data for regulation, that data must be publicly available so independent scientists can review it

EPA's science advisory process needs to be overhauled to eliminate conflicts of interest and inherent bias

Science standards need to be developed and implemented to ensure that science policy decisions and epidemiological practices are based on sound science

Now, a lot of this actually sounds good. But knowing Ebell and his slimy tactics, I can assure you most of this is window dressing and his key goal is this:

EPA should not be funding scientific research

In simple terms: let companies who want to pollute pay for the research, so it's "unbiased".

The Axios article has some discussion of how Ebell's goals will collide with the people who actually work at the EPA:

https://www.axios.com/trumpworld-prepares-to-hammer-the-epa-2209021483.html

The photo below is a charming one from the Women's March on Saturday. In case you don't get the joke, it's based on an old protest song:

What do we want?

(whatever the protestors want)

When do we want it?

Now!

If you don't know Myron Ebell's slimy tactics, try his editorial against Pope Francis:

“Everybody loves Pope Francis” for his “humble ways and inclusive message,” blared the Washington Post Express’ front page headline. That “everybody” includes American progressives, who plan to use the pope’s wild popularity to advance their political agenda during his upcoming visit to the United States. Does that mean progressive policies advance Christian values? Not at all.

In fact, policies that encourage developing countries to invest in the most expensive and unreliable sources of electricity, such as wind and solar, and close down the most affordable — fossil fuels — would negatively effect the world’s poorest by hindering their access to reliable, affordable energy.

Yet, that is precisely what groups like Center for American Progress, NextGen Climate (founded by greener-than-thou hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer), 350.org, and the Sierra Club are advocating. For the environmentalists now rallying around the Pope’s message of fighting global warming, doing so means reducing access to the most reliable and affordable sources of energy generation, while promoting costly, unproven, and unreliable “green” energy policies.

http://dailycaller.com/2015/09/22/misplaced-concern-pope-franciss-energy-agenda/

"Costly, unproven and unreliable "green" energy policies" - sounds scary! Compare this news from April 2016:

India is on track to soar past a goal to deploy more than 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022, the country’s energy minister Piyush Goyal said on Monday.

Speaking at the release of a 15-point action plan for the country’s renewable sector, Goyal said he was now considering looking at “something more” for the fast growing solar sector.

“I think a new coal plant would give you costlier power than a solar plant,” he said.

“Of course there are challenges of 24/7 power. We accept all of that – but we have been able to come up with a solar-based long term vision that is not subsidy based.”

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/04/18/solar-is-now-cheaper-than-coal-says-india-energy-minister/___

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2017-01-21 06:41:47 (0 comments; 21 reshares; 244 +1s; )Open 

A message from North Korea

A message from North Korea___

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2017-01-20 18:57:36 (64 comments; 75 reshares; 168 +1s; )Open 

CLIMATE CHANGE? WHAT'S THAT?

At noon today in Washington DC, all mentions of "climate change" and "global warming" were eliminated from the White House website.

Well, not all. The word "climate" still shows up here:

President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan....

Luckily, at the Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project, we've been preparing for exactly this. We've been racing to save publicly available climate data at NASA, NOAA, and other agencies that Trump now controls.

Please visit our Kickstarter page, learn more about what we've done, contribute some money, and help us out!

We plan to make our data publicly available, so we need money for servers and storage. Right now we can afford to hold it for about 3... more »

CLIMATE CHANGE? WHAT'S THAT?

At noon today in Washington DC, all mentions of "climate change" and "global warming" were eliminated from the White House website.

Well, not all. The word "climate" still shows up here:

President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan....

Luckily, at the Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project, we've been preparing for exactly this. We've been racing to save publicly available climate data at NASA, NOAA, and other agencies that Trump now controls.

Please visit our Kickstarter page, learn more about what we've done, contribute some money, and help us out!

We plan to make our data publicly available, so we need money for servers and storage. Right now we can afford to hold it for about 3 years. 8 would be better.

Luckily, this week the head of U. C. Riverside's Computing and Communications department, Danna Gianforte, said they would commit to hosting our data over the long term! So, we will also work to transfer it there and set up a usable interface.

We're part of a larger initiative, ClimateMirror.org. Different teams are saving different databases. For example, the End of Term Archive has saved Obama's White House web pages.

You can read more about these efforts here:

http://climatemirror.org/

In the comments below, I will list some people who have helped the Azimuth Backup Project with their donations. One person contributed $2000, three contributed $1000 and two contributed $500. That's wonderful, and I thank these people immensely! But most of our success is due to large numbers of smaller contributions.

To see how "climate change" has now vanished from White House website, go here:

https://motherboard.vice.com/read/all-references-to-climate-change-have-been-deleted-from-the-white-house-website

Welcome to the new era.___

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2017-01-18 05:52:22 (58 comments; 43 reshares; 213 +1s; )Open 

448 million distracting social media posts per year

No, I'm not talking about Facebook!  I'm talking about posts put out by the Chinese government. 

They're often called 50c posts, since rumors say people are paid 50 cents for each post.  There's a huge army of people writing these posts!   I learned about them from this new paper, which did a lot of experiments to study them:

How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument

The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called“50... more »

448 million distracting social media posts per year

No, I'm not talking about Facebook!  I'm talking about posts put out by the Chinese government. 

They're often called 50c posts, since rumors say people are paid 50 cents for each post.  There's a huge army of people writing these posts!   I learned about them from this new paper, which did a lot of experiments to study them:

How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument

The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called “50c party” posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime’s strategic objective in pursuing this activity.

In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We infer that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.  We discuss how these results fit with what is known about the Chinese censorship program, and suggest how they may change our broader theoretical understanding of “common knowledge” and information control in authoritarian regimes.

The conclusion is spelled out in more detail near the end:

Distraction is a clever and useful strategy in information control in that an argument in almost any human discussion is rarely an effective way to put an end to an opposing argument. Letting an argument die, or changing the subject, usually works much better than picking an argument and getting someone’s back up (as new parents recognize fast).

It may even be the case that the function of reasoning in human beings is fundamentally about winning arguments rather than resolving them by seeking truth. Distraction even has the advantage of reducing anger compared to ruminating on the same issue. Finally, since censorship alone seems to anger people, the 50c astroturfing program has the additional advantage of enabling the government to actively control opinion without having to censor as much as they might otherwise.

The paper is here:

• Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts, How the Chinese government fabricates social media posts for strategic distraction, not engaged argument, American Political Science Review, 2017. Copy at http://j.mp/1Txxiz1

The people who write these social media posts are often called the 50c army - but I doubt most of them wear uniforms as in this picture!

Thanks to +Lauren Weinstein for pointing this out!___

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2017-01-17 02:01:02 (26 comments; 32 reshares; 149 +1s; )Open 

The President's favorite books

It's nice having a president who reads fiction, including science fiction, and shares books with his children.  Here's part of an interview he did on Friday:

These books that you gave to your daughter Malia on the Kindle, what were they? Some of your favorites?

I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects, so “The Naked and the Dead” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I think she hadn’t read yet.  Then there were some books I think that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting, like “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing, for example. Or “The Woman Warrior,” by Maxine Hong Kingston.

Part of what was interesting was me pulling back books that I thought were really powerful, but that might not surface when she goes to college.
Have you had a c... more »

The President's favorite books

It's nice having a president who reads fiction, including science fiction, and shares books with his children.  Here's part of an interview he did on Friday:

These books that you gave to your daughter Malia on the Kindle, what were they? Some of your favorites?

I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects, so “The Naked and the Dead” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I think she hadn’t read yet.  Then there were some books I think that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting, like “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing, for example. Or “The Woman Warrior,” by Maxine Hong Kingston.

Part of what was interesting was me pulling back books that I thought were really powerful, but that might not surface when she goes to college.

Have you had a chance to discuss them with her?

I’ve had the chance to discuss some. And she’s interested in being a filmmaker, so storytelling is of great interest to her. She had just read “A Moveable Feast.” I hadn’t included that, and she was just captivated by the idea that Hemingway described his goal of writing one true thing every day.

How has the speechwriting and being at the center of history and dealing with crises affected you as a writer?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to see when I start writing the next book. Some of the craft of writing a good speech is identical to any other good writing: Is that word necessary? Is it the right word? Is there a rhythm to it that feels good? How does it sound aloud?

I actually think that one of the useful things about speechwriting is reminding yourself that the original words are spoken, and that there is a sound, a feel to words that, even if you’re reading silently, transmits itself.

So in that sense, I think there will be some consistency.

But this is part of why it was important to pick up the occasional novel during the presidency, because most of my reading every day was briefing books and memos and proposals. And so working that very analytical side of the brain all the time sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction.

Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.

Are there examples of specific novels or writers?

Well, the last novel I read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” And the reminder of the ways in which the pain of slavery transmits itself across generations, not just in overt ways, but how it changes minds and hearts.

It’s what you said in your farewell address about Atticus Finch, where you said people are so isolated in their little bubbles. Fiction can leap —

It bridges them. I struck up a friendship with the novelist Marilynne Robinson, who has become a good friend. And we’ve become sort of pen pals. I started reading her in Iowa, where “Gilead” and some of her best novels are set. And I loved her writing in part because I saw those people every day. And the interior life she was describing that connected them — the people I was shaking hands with and making speeches to — it connected them with my grandparents, who were from Kansas and ended up journeying all the way to Hawaii, but whose foundation had been set in a very similar setting.

And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.

And then there’s been the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head. [Laughter] Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be someplace else.

What are some of those books?

It’s interesting, the stuff I read just to escape ends up being a mix of things — some science fiction. For a while, there was a three-volume science-fiction novel, the “Three-Body Problem” series —

Oh, Liu Cixin, who won the Hugo Award.

— which was just wildly imaginative, really interesting. It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping —

It’s really about the fate of the universe.

Exactly. The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade. [Laughter]

There were books that would blend, I think, really good writing with thriller genres. I mean, I thought “Gone Girl” was a well-constructed, well-written book.

I loved that structure.

Yeah, and it was really well executed. And a similar structure, that I thought was a really powerful novel: “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff.

I like those structures where you actually see different points of view. Which I have to do for this job, too. [Laughter]

Have there been certain books that have been touchstones for you in these eight years?

I would say Shakespeare continues to be a touchstone. Like most teenagers in high school, when we were assigned, I don’t know, “The Tempest” or something, I thought, ‘My God, this is boring.’ And I took this wonderful Shakespeare class in college where I just started to read the tragedies and dig into them. And that, I think, is foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.

The intervier was Michiko Kakutani, chief book critic for The New York Times, and the whole interview is here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/books/transcript-president-obama-on-what-books-mean-to-him.html___

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2017-01-15 00:34:00 (24 comments; 43 reshares; 165 +1s; )Open 

Good news from the President

Barack Obama just came out with an article in Science!   It's about climate change and clean energy.   Here it is, minus the references, which you can see in the original.

The irreversible momentum of clean energy

The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to human activity is increasing global average surface air temperatures, disrupting weather patterns, and acidifying the ocean. Left unchecked, the continued growth of GHG emissions could cause global average temperatures to increase by another 4°C or more by 2100 and by 1.5 to 2 times as much in many midcontinent and far northern locations. Although our understanding of the impacts of climate change is increasingly and disturbingly clear, there is still debate about the proper course for U.S. policy — a debate that is very much on displayduring... more »

Good news from the President

Barack Obama just came out with an article in Science!   It's about climate change and clean energy.   Here it is, minus the references, which you can see in the original.

The irreversible momentum of clean energy

The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to human activity is increasing global average surface air temperatures, disrupting weather patterns, and acidifying the ocean. Left unchecked, the continued growth of GHG emissions could cause global average temperatures to increase by another 4°C or more by 2100 and by 1.5 to 2 times as much in many midcontinent and far northern locations. Although our understanding of the impacts of climate change is increasingly and disturbingly clear, there is still debate about the proper course for U.S. policy — a debate that is very much on display during the current presidential transition. But putting near-term politics aside, the mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow. This Policy Forum will focus on the four reasons I believe the trend toward clean energy is irreversible.

ECONOMIES GROW, EMISSIONS FALL

The United States is showing that GHG mitigation need not conflict with economic growth. Rather, it can boost efficiency, productivity, and innovation. Since 2008, the United States has experienced the first sustained period of rapid GHG emissions reductions and simultaneous economic growth on record. Specifically, CO2 emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5% from 2008 to 2015, while the economy grew by more than 10%. In this same period, the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product (GDP) fell by almost 11%, the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy consumed declined by 8%, and CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP declined by 18%.

The importance of this trend cannot be overstated. This “decoupling”  of energy sector emissions and economic growth should put to rest the argument that combatting climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living. In fact, although this decoupling is most pronounced in the United States, evidence that economies can grow while emissions do not is emerging around the world. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) preliminary estimate of energy related CO2 emissions in 2015 reveals that emissions stayed flat compared with the year before, whereas the global economy grew. The IEA noted that “There have been only four periods in the past 40 years in which CO2 emission levels were flat or fell compared with the previous year, with three of those — the early 1980s, 1992, and 2009 — being associated with global economic weakness. By contrast, the recent halt in emissions growth comes in a period of economic growth.”

At the same time, evidence is mounting that any economic strategy that ignores carbon pollution will impose tremendous costs to the global economy and will result in fewer jobs and less economic growth over the long term. Estimates of the economic damages from warming of 4°C over preindustrial levels range from 1% to 5% of global GDP each year by 2100. One of the most frequently cited economic models pins the estimate of annual damages from warming of 4°C at ~4% of global GDP, which could lead to lost U.S. federal revenue of roughly $340 billion to $690 billion annually.

Moreover, these estimates do not include the possibility of GHG increases triggering catastrophic events, such as the accelerated shrinkage of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, drastic changes in ocean currents, or sizable releases of GHGs from previously frozen soils and sediments that rapidly accelerate warming. In addition, these estimates factor in economic damages but do not address the critical question of whether the underlying rate of economic growth (rather than just the level of GDP) is affected by climate change, so these studies could substantially understate the potential damage of climate change on the global macroeconomy.

As a result, it is becoming increasingly clear that, regardless of the inherent uncertainties in predicting future climate and weather patterns, the investments needed to reduce emissions — and to increase resilience and preparedness for the changes in climate that can no longer be avoided — will be modest in comparison with the benefits from avoided climate-change damages.  This means, in the coming years, states, localities, and businesses will need to continue making these critical investments, in addition to taking common-sense steps to disclose climate risk to taxpayers, homeowners, shareholders, and customers.  Global insurance and reinsurance businesses are already taking such steps as their analytical models reveal growing climate risk.

PRIVATE-SECTOR EMISSIONS REDUCTIONS

Beyond the macroeconomic case, businesses are coming to the conclusion that reducing emissions is not just good for the environment — it can also boost bottom lines, cut costs for consumers, and deliver returns for shareholders.

Perhaps the most compelling example is energy efficiency. Government has played a role in encouraging this kind of investment and innovation.  My Administration has put in place (i) fuel economy standards that are net beneficial and are projected to cut more than 8 billion tons of carbon pollution over the lifetime of new vehicles sold between 2012 and 2029 and (ii) 44 appliance standards and new building codes that are projected to cut 2.4 billion tons of carbon pollution and save $550 billion for consumers by 2030.

But ultimately, these investments are being made by firms that decide to cut their energy waste in order to save money and invest in other areas of their businesses. For example, Alcoa has set a goal of reducing its GHG intensity 30% by 2020 from its 2005 baseline, and General Motors is working to reduce its energy intensity from facilities by 20% from its 2011 baseline over the same timeframe. Investments like these are contributing to what we are seeing take place across the economy: Total energy consumption in 2015 was 2.5% lower than it was in 2008, whereas the economy was 10% larger.

This kind of corporate decision-making can save money, but it also has the potential to create jobs that pay well. A U.S. Department of Energy report released this week found that ~2.2 million Americans are currently employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services. This compares with the roughly 1.1 million Americans who are employed in the production of fossil fuels and their use for electric power generation. Policies that continue to encourage businesses to save money by cutting energy waste could pay a major employment dividend and are based on stronger economic logic than continuing the nearly $5 billion per year in federal fossil-fuel subsidies, a market distortion that should be corrected on its own or in the context of corporate tax reform.

MARKET FORCES IN THE POWER SECTOR

The American electric-power sector — the largest source of GHG emissions in our economy — is being transformed, in large part, because of market dynamics. In 2008, natural gas made up ~21% of U.S. electricity generation. Today, it makes up ~33%, an increase due almost entirely to the shift from higher-emitting coal to lower-emitting natural gas, brought about primarily by the increased availability of low-cost gas due to new production techniques. Because the cost of new electricity generation using natural gas is projected to remain low relative to coal, it is unlikely that utilities will change course and choose to build coal-fired power plants, which would be more expensive than natural gas plants, regardless of any near-term changes in federal policy. Although methane emissions from natural gas production are a serious concern, firms have an economic incentive over the long term to put in place waste-reducing measures consistent with standards my Administration has put in place, and states will continue making important progress toward addressing this issue, irrespective of near-term federal policy.

Renewable electricity costs also fell dramatically between 2008 and 2015: the cost of electricity fell 41% for wind, 54% for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, and 64% for utility-scale PV. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2015 was a record year for clean energy investment, with those energy sources attracting twice as much global capital as fossil fuels.

Public policy — ranging from Recovery Act investments to recent tax credit extensions — has played a crucial role, but technology advances and market forces will continue to drive renewable deployment.  The levelized cost of electricity from new renewables like wind and solar in some parts of the United States is already lower than that for new coal generation, without counting subsidies for renewables.

That is why American businesses are making the move toward renewable energy sources. Google, for example, announced last month that, in 2017, it plans to power 100% of its operations using renewable energy — in large part through large-scale, long-term contracts to buy renewable energy directly. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, has set a goal of getting 100% of its energy from renewables in the coming years. And economy-wide, solar and wind firms now employ more than 360,000 Americans, compared with around 160,000 Americans who work in coal electric generation and support.

Beyond market forces, state-level policy will continue to drive clean-energy momentum. States representing 40% of the U.S. population are continuing to move ahead with clean-energy plans, and even outside of those states, clean energy is expanding. For example, wind power alone made up 12% of Texas’s electricity production in 2015 and, at certain points in 2015, that number was >40%, and wind provided 32% of Iowa’s total electricity generation in 2015, up from 8% in 2008 (a higher fraction than in any other state).

GLOBAL MOMENTUM

Outside the United States, countries and their businesses are moving forward, seeking to reap benefits for their countries by being at the front of the clean-energy race.  This has not always been the case. A short time ago, many believed that only a small number of advanced economies should be responsible for reducing GHG emissions and contributing to the fight against climate change. But nations agreed in Paris that all countries should put forward increasingly ambitious climate policies and be subject to consistent transparency and accountability requirements. This was a fundamental shift in the diplomatic landscape, which has already yielded substantial dividends. The Paris Agreement entered into force in less than a year, and, at the follow-up meeting this fall in Marrakesh, countries agreed that, with more than 110 countries representing more than 75% of global emissions having already joined the Paris Agreement, climate action “momentum is irreversible”. Although substantive action over decades will be required to realize the vision of Paris, analysis of countries’ individual contributions suggests that meeting mediumterm respective targets and increasing their ambition in the years ahead — coupled with scaled-up investment in clean-energy technologies — could increase the international community’s probability of limiting warming to 2°C by as much as 50%.

Were the United States to step away from Paris, it would lose its seat at the table to hold other countries to their commitments, demand transparency, and encourage ambition. This does not mean the next Administration needs to follow identical domestic policies to my Administration’s. There are multiple paths and mechanisms by which this country can achieve — efficiently and economically — the targets we embraced in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement itself is based on a nationally determined structure whereby each country sets and updates its own commitments. Regardless of U.S. domestic policies, it would undermine our economic interests to walk away from the opportunity to hold countries representing two-thirds of global emissions — including China, India, Mexico, European Union members, and others — accountable. This should not be a partisan issue. It is good business and good economics to lead a technological revolution and define market trends. And it is smart planning to set long term emission-reduction targets and give American companies, entrepreneurs, and investors certainty so they can invest and manufacture the emission-reducing technologies that we can use domestically and export to the rest of the world. That is why hundreds of major companies — including energy-related companies from ExxonMobil and Shell, to DuPont and Rio Tinto, to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Calpine, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company — have supported the Paris process, and leading investors have committed $1 billion in patient, private capital to support clean-energy breakthroughs that could make even greater climate ambition possible.

CONCLUSION

We have long known, on the basis of a massive scientific record, that the urgency of acting to mitigate climate change is real and cannot be ignored. In recent years, we have also seen that the economic case for action — and against inaction — is just as clear, the business case for clean energy is growing, and the trend toward a cleaner power sector can be sustained regardless of near-term federal policies.

Despite the policy uncertainty that we face, I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the economic benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States and that continued participation in the Paris process will yield great benefit for the American people, as well as the international community. Prudent U.S. policy over the next several decades would prioritize, among other actions, decarbonizing the U.S. energy system, storing carbon and reducing emissions within U.S. lands, and reducing non-CO2 emissions.

Of course, one of the great advantages of our system of government is that each president is able to chart his or her own policy course. And President-elect Donald Trump will have the opportunity to do so. The latest science and economics provide a helpful guide for what the future may bring, in many cases independent of near-term policy choices, when it comes to combatting climate change and transitioning to a clean energy economy.

-----

The full article with references is here, open-access:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6321/126.full.pdf+html

The references give sources for all the numbers he mentions.

#climateaction___

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2017-01-12 21:32:38 (26 comments; 51 reshares; 112 +1s; )Open 

Pay attention

The basic trick in stage magic is to distract the audience.  While we were staring at Trump's antics, Republicans in the House of Representatives did something outrageous.  As usual, they passed a rule saying the Congressional Budget Office must estimate the cost of any law.  But they put in an exemption for a law repealing Obamaare. 

Why don't they want the CBO to estimate the cost of repealing Obamacare?

... because the last CBO “cost analysis of repealing Obamacare” (2015) found it would increase the deficit by $353 billion. It is an important point because besides unnecessarily stripping healthcare from tens-of-millions of Americans and increasing the deficit, Republicans will use “budget reconciliation” to repeal the healthcare law that requires any legislation that increases the deficit to expire after 10 years. It is preciselywhy the Bus... more »

Pay attention

The basic trick in stage magic is to distract the audience.  While we were staring at Trump's antics, Republicans in the House of Representatives did something outrageous.  As usual, they passed a rule saying the Congressional Budget Office must estimate the cost of any law.  But they put in an exemption for a law repealing Obamaare. 

Why don't they want the CBO to estimate the cost of repealing Obamacare?

... because the last CBO “cost analysis of repealing Obamacare” (2015) found it would increase the deficit by $353 billion. It is an important point because besides unnecessarily stripping healthcare from tens-of-millions of Americans and increasing the deficit, Republicans will use “budget reconciliation” to repeal the healthcare law that requires any legislation that increases the deficit to expire after 10 years. It is precisely why the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich had to expire after 10 years; they blew up the deficit and Republicans knew it was going to happen just like they know that repealing the ACA [that is, Obamacare] will.

The article gets it a bit wrong by claiming the CBO is prohibited from estimating the cost of repealing Obamacare.  I'm not sure this makes a difference in practice.

Thanks to +Russ Abbott for pointing out this article.

The rule is here:

http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20170102/BILLS-115hres5-PIH-FINAL.pdf

On page 25 it says:

CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE ANALYSIS OF PROPOSALS

The Director of the Congressional Budget Office shall, to the extent practicable, prepare an estimate of whether a bill or joint resolution reported by a committee (other than the Committee on Appropriations), or amendment thereto or conference report thereon, would cause, relative to current law, a net increase in direct spending in excess of $5,000,000,000 in any of the 4 consecutive 10-fiscal year periods beginning with the first fiscal year that is 10 fiscal years after the current fiscal year.

[... and then...]

LIMITATION

This subsection shall not apply to any bill or joint resolution, or amendment thereto or conference report thereon—

(A) repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010;

(B) reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010; or

(C) for which the chair of the Committee on the Budget has made an adjustment to the allocations, levels, or limits contained in the most recently adopted concurrent resolution on the budget.___

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2017-01-11 16:56:44 (12 comments; 11 reshares; 80 +1s; )Open 

This red nova - brighter than an ordinary nova but not as bright as a supernova - could be the brightest thing in the north hemisphere night sky in 2022... if  it happens in a season when it's in the Earth's night sky.

As Egan said in a comment on the original post:

Given that nobody knows exactly when this will happen, the main thing that determines how many people are likely to be able to see it is the declination, 46° N. So anyone in the northern hemisphere will have a good chance ... while for someone like me, at 31° S, the odds aren't great: it will never rise higher than 13° above the northern horizon, for me.

Right ascension is the celestial equivalent of longitude, but without knowing the season in advance (and the error bars on the current prediction are much too large for that) we can't tell if the sun will be too close to the object,dro... more »

Red nova

A "red nova" due to two stars merging might take place in 2022, and would likely be visible from Earth. (Alas, the linked article illustrates this with a picture of two merging bluish stars.)

The stars have been observed orbiting each other with an exponentially increasing angular velocity over the last three years, and they are believed to already be surrounded by a shared envelope of gas. If they are seen merging, this will be the first case of such an event being predicted in advance, making it possible to study the pre-collision phase.

Thanks to +Peter da Silva

The full paper is here: http://www.calvin.edu/academic/phys/observatory/MergingStar/MolnarEtAl2017.pdf

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/01/colliding-stars-will-light-night-sky-2022___This red nova - brighter than an ordinary nova but not as bright as a supernova - could be the brightest thing in the north hemisphere night sky in 2022... if  it happens in a season when it's in the Earth's night sky.

As Egan said in a comment on the original post:

Given that nobody knows exactly when this will happen, the main thing that determines how many people are likely to be able to see it is the declination, 46° N. So anyone in the northern hemisphere will have a good chance ... while for someone like me, at 31° S, the odds aren't great: it will never rise higher than 13° above the northern horizon, for me.

Right ascension is the celestial equivalent of longitude, but without knowing the season in advance (and the error bars on the current prediction are much too large for that) we can't tell if the sun will be too close to the object, drowning it in daylight to the naked eye.

If that happens, I guess the only comfort is that there are still sure to be telescopes able to make observations, maybe including both Hubble and James Webb.

For more on red novae, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminous_red_nova

where we read:

The luminosity of the explosion occurring in luminous red novae is between that of a supernova (which is brighter) and a nova (dimmer). The visible light lasts for weeks or months, and is distinctively red in colour, becoming dimmer and redder over time. As the visible light dims, the infrared light grows and also lasts for an extended period of time, usually dimming and brightening a number of times.

#astronomy

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2017-01-11 02:01:14 (0 comments; 14 reshares; 76 +1s; )Open 

Why did Putin help Trump?

Here's one possibility: in his many dealings with Russian business, Trump has become compromised in some way, which gives Putin leverage over him.  That would explain why Trump constantly bends over backward to be nice to Putin.  And it would certainly explain why Putin wanted  Trump to be president.

Recently Buzzfeed published a dossier detailing the explosive — but unverified — claim that Russia had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for years and held compromising information about him.  You can read that dossier here. 

The passage starting here is where it gets really nasty:

...there were other aspects to TRUMP's engagement with the Russian authorities.  One of them which had borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP's personal obsessions and sexual perversion to in order to obtain"komprom... more »

Why did Putin help Trump?

Here's one possibility: in his many dealings with Russian business, Trump has become compromised in some way, which gives Putin leverage over him.  That would explain why Trump constantly bends over backward to be nice to Putin.  And it would certainly explain why Putin wanted  Trump to be president.

Recently Buzzfeed published a dossier detailing the explosive — but unverified — claim that Russia had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for years and held compromising information about him.  You can read that dossier here. 

The passage starting here is where it gets really nasty:

...there were other aspects to TRUMP's engagement with the Russian authorities.  One of them which had borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP's personal obsessions and sexual perversion to in order to obtain "kompromat" (compromising material) on him.

Read on at your own risk.

We don't know that these claims are true!   But last week, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the FBI Director James Comey, the CIA Director John Brennan, and the NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers briefed Obama and Trump about these claims:

One reason the nation's intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.

These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats.

These last quotes are from CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/10/politics/donald-trump-intelligence-report-russia/index.html

For more on the dossier obtained by Buzzfeed, see:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/kenbensinger/these-reports-allege-trump-has-deep-ties-to-russia?utm_term=.bo87xa47e2#.ek3Xq46Xn0

Trump's lawyer has argued against the dossier:

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/01/trump-lawyer-shoots-down-allegations-of-golden-showers-intel-report/___

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2017-01-10 20:54:05 (21 comments; 8 reshares; 53 +1s; )Open 

Figuring out quantum gravity - it ain't easy!

Read this story by Bob Henderson.  Life as a grad student in theoretical physics can be very tough.  Smarts and hard work are important, but persistence in the face of difficulty is also crucial. 

My own experience - doing mathematical physics in a math department, actually - looks great in hindsight.  But I accomplished much less than I wanted in my thesis, and by the end I almost convinced myself I should switch to music or philosophy.  Only the practical need to find a job made me go on to a postdoc... and I'm very glad that I persisted.  Most of my education came after my PhD.

Of course, persistence in the face of obstacles is not always the right decision.

Here's just a snippet:

That summer, I moved. A fellowship I’d had had run out, so I’d have to start earning my keep as ateaching ... more »

Figuring out quantum gravity - it ain't easy!

Read this story by Bob Henderson.  Life as a grad student in theoretical physics can be very tough.  Smarts and hard work are important, but persistence in the face of difficulty is also crucial. 

My own experience - doing mathematical physics in a math department, actually - looks great in hindsight.  But I accomplished much less than I wanted in my thesis, and by the end I almost convinced myself I should switch to music or philosophy.  Only the practical need to find a job made me go on to a postdoc... and I'm very glad that I persisted.  Most of my education came after my PhD.

Of course, persistence in the face of obstacles is not always the right decision.

Here's just a snippet:

That summer, I moved. A fellowship I’d had had run out, so I’d have to start earning my keep as a teaching assistant and living off a stipend that went from a subsistence wage to a sub-subsistence wage. I left the old woman’s house for the relative bargain of a basement of another house in a seedier neighborhood. Its tiny windows up by the ceiling furnished its one room with feeble light and a bug’s-eye view of weeds. Its concrete walls seeped with damp. The bed was a mattress on the floor, with a plastic tarp under it to keep it dry. I kept a pair of running shoes next to it, for whacking the giant centipedes that regularly wriggled by. Dad, who never seemed bothered by sleeping on the shared cots in his dingy police station, or by nights spent in the rat-infested warehouses where he moonlighted as a security guard, was incredulous the first time he came. “I don’t know how you can live like this,” he rasped in his Bronx accent, looking both concerned and amused.

Eh. Living in squalor was just part of the adventure.

And I’d be spending all my waking hours in [the physics department] anyway, working on quantum gravity with Rajeev, exploring the sort of intellectual frontier that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had called the “high country of the mind.”

What will I find there? I wondered.

Answer: a series of surprises, each more disquieting than the last. The first was how much [my thesis advisor] Rajeev already knew about the problem, even before we started. And I don’t just mean background knowledge, but instead the actual answer to our project’s main question, at least in broad strokes.

If you were to picture Rajeev and me as explorers in the high country, facing some misty mountain range that we needed to cross, Rajeev was the one scanning the landscape, making mental calculations, and pointing the way. What struck me most was how he somehow knew that our ultimate destination, call it a river, lay on the other side. The “river” in our case was a detailed answer to the quantum gravity question Rajeev had posed over dessert at the Faculty Club. Its exact location and shape would remain a mystery until we’d found it, but Rajeev never doubted it was there.

That made me the scout. We’d convene in Rajeev’s little office and, like our first meeting, I’d focus on following his logic and asking questions while he paced back and forth, thought out loud, and banged out equations on the board. At some point, after three or four hours, he might say something like “What else could it be?” that signaled that he was happy enough with the direction he’d found to let me forge ahead on my own, meaning I’d spend the next day or two in my office doing the detailed calculations that he’d speculated would take us to the next landmark. Sometimes I’d find the route clear; other times an obstacle in the way. Either way, I’d report back and then we’d sink back into another session. Thus research advanced, by a system reminiscent of the directions on a shampoo bottle: Meet. Calculate. Repeat.

Thanks to +Peter Woit for pointing out this story.  As a thesis advisor, I would never give a student a problem if I didn't already know the answer in broad strokes.  Otherwise you're throwing them into the pool without a life preserver!  I haven't thought enough about how this can be "disquieting".  But I've certainly noticed how my students perk up when I get completely confused about something!

#physics  ___

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2017-01-09 22:18:12 (22 comments; 13 reshares; 47 +1s; )Open 

Don't say "ox" to your mother-in-law!

The world is full of weirdness.  From Bryant Rousseau:

A geographically widespread practice known as avoidance speech, or “mother-in-law languages,” imposes strict rules on how one speaks — or doesn’t — to the parents of a spouse, with daughters-in-law typically bearing the brunt of such limits.

In parts of Africa, Australia and India, some societies restrict the words a person can say after marriage. Some cultures have even barred all direct communication with parents-in-law.

Some married women who speak the Kambaata language of Ethiopia follow ballishsha, a rule that forbids them from using words that begin with the same syllable as the name of their father-in-law or mother-in-law.

This rule can complicate a conversation, but there are workarounds. Certain basic wordsin the voc... more »

Don't say "ox" to your mother-in-law!

The world is full of weirdness.  From Bryant Rousseau:

A geographically widespread practice known as avoidance speech, or “mother-in-law languages,” imposes strict rules on how one speaks — or doesn’t — to the parents of a spouse, with daughters-in-law typically bearing the brunt of such limits.

In parts of Africa, Australia and India, some societies restrict the words a person can say after marriage. Some cultures have even barred all direct communication with parents-in-law.

Some married women who speak the Kambaata language of Ethiopia follow ballishsha, a rule that forbids them from using words that begin with the same syllable as the name of their father-in-law or mother-in-law.

This rule can complicate a conversation, but there are workarounds. Certain basic words in the vocabulary come in synonymous pairs. “One is the normal term, used by everybody; one is the term used by women who are not allowed to say that word,” said Yvonne Treis, a linguist at a French research institute, Languages and Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Euphemisms are another frequent solution: If the word “ox” is taboo for a wife to say, she may refer to “the one that plows” instead. The Kambaata language also has a word akin to “whatchamacallit” in English, useful in a pinch as either a noun or verb when no other alternative is available.

Avoidance speech is also practiced by speakers of some of the Bantu languages of southern Africa, including Xhosa and Zulu. Married women are forbidden from using their father-in-law’s name, or any word that has the same root or similar sound.

Bantu speakers often get around this restriction by borrowing synonyms from other languages spoken nearby. Some linguists think that is how click consonants found their way into Bantu speech: in words borrowed from Khoisan languages, which use clicks extensively.

In parts of India, a daughter-in-law is not allowed to use words that begin with the same letters as her in-laws’ names, requiring her to use a parallel vocabulary.

Avoidance speech was a common feature of many aboriginal languages in Australia. The custom has largely faded in some areas, but it is still widely practiced in the Western Desert region and Arnhem Land, according to Claire Bowern, a professor of linguistics at Yale.

For more, see his New York Times article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/world/what-in-the-world/avoidance-speech-mother-in-law-languages.html

and for more, the wonderful Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoidance_speech___

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2017-01-08 18:48:00 (56 comments; 16 reshares; 96 +1s; )Open 

How to fairly share a square cake among 5 people

Suppose you have a square cake of arbitrary height and want to divide it into 5 pieces that all have the same amount of cake and the same amount of icing.

The icing makes it hard.  If there were no icing on the cake, or only icing on top, we could cut the cake in 5 strips of equal thickness. 

But let's assume there's icing on the sides of the cake too!  Since we don't know how tall the cake is, we want to slice the cake vertically into pieces that have equal area on top and contain equal amounts of the outside edge. 

This solution by Tim, a math teacher in Wisconsin, is quite impressive.  Divide each side into 5 parts as shown and cut straight to the center of the cake at C. 

Puzzle 1.  But is this solution correct?

You can see other answers here:
http... more »

How to fairly share a square cake among 5 people

Suppose you have a square cake of arbitrary height and want to divide it into 5 pieces that all have the same amount of cake and the same amount of icing.

The icing makes it hard.  If there were no icing on the cake, or only icing on top, we could cut the cake in 5 strips of equal thickness. 

But let's assume there's icing on the sides of the cake too!  Since we don't know how tall the cake is, we want to slice the cake vertically into pieces that have equal area on top and contain equal amounts of the outside edge. 

This solution by Tim, a math teacher in Wisconsin, is quite impressive.  Divide each side into 5 parts as shown and cut straight to the center of the cake at C. 

Puzzle 1.  But is this solution correct?

You can see other answers here:

https://twitter.com/stevenstrogatz/status/817811598211448832

The question was raised by Steven Strogatz on Twitter, and I heard about it from +Alok Tiwari, who heard about it from +Ian Agol.  Some of the answers on the original Twitter thread are really dumb, some are really smart.  It's fun to see them all.

The fun, of course - let's come out and say it! - arises from the gnarly and complicated relationship that the numbers 4 and 5 have with each other.  Squares and regular pentagons don't play nicely, and here Tim is trying to pentisect the square.

Puzzle 2. What's the easiest way to construct a segment of length sqrt(5/4) using ruler and compass?

#geometry  ___

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2017-01-04 23:09:54 (51 comments; 32 reshares; 124 +1s; )Open 

Somebody's beating everyone at go - and nobody knows who!

Except that now we do!  Read the article and click on the "update".

But it's fun to read about the original mystery before reading the solution.  For example:

The account is simply called "Master", and since the start of the new year it has made a habit out of trashing some of the world's best Go professionals. It's already beaten Ke Jie twice, who is currently the highest ranked Go player in the world.

A European professional Go player, Ali Jabarin, wrote on Facebook that Ke Jie was "a bit shocked ... just repeating it's too strong".

....there's been no official confirmation as to the mystery player wrecking online Go. The only thing anybody knows for sure is that the world's best Go players have been getting slappeda... more »

Somebody's beating everyone at go - and nobody knows who!

Except that now we do!  Read the article and click on the "update".

But it's fun to read about the original mystery before reading the solution.  For example:

The account is simply called "Master", and since the start of the new year it has made a habit out of trashing some of the world's best Go professionals. It's already beaten Ke Jie twice, who is currently the highest ranked Go player in the world.

A European professional Go player, Ali Jabarin, wrote on Facebook that Ke Jie was "a bit shocked ... just repeating it's too strong".

....there's been no official confirmation as to the mystery player wrecking online Go. The only thing anybody knows for sure is that the world's best Go players have been getting slapped around by something.

Thanks to +Alexander Kruel for pointing this out.___

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2017-01-02 18:27:49 (21 comments; 34 reshares; 121 +1s; )Open 

My friend Tom Leinster has written a great introduction to that wonderful branch of math called category theory!   It's free:

https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.09375

It starts with the basics and it leads up to a trio of related concepts, which are all ways of talking about universal properties. 

Huh?  What's a 'universal property'?

In category theory, we try to describe things by saying what they do, not what they're made of.  The reason is that you can often make things out of different ingredients that still do the same thing!  And then, even though they will not be strictly the same, they will be isomorphic: the same in what they do. 

A universal property amounts to a precise description of what an object does.  

Universal properties show up in three closely connected ways in category theory, andTom'... more »

My friend Tom Leinster has written a great introduction to that wonderful branch of math called category theory!   It's free:

https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.09375

It starts with the basics and it leads up to a trio of related concepts, which are all ways of talking about universal properties. 

Huh?  What's a 'universal property'?

In category theory, we try to describe things by saying what they do, not what they're made of.  The reason is that you can often make things out of different ingredients that still do the same thing!  And then, even though they will not be strictly the same, they will be isomorphic: the same in what they do. 

A universal property amounts to a precise description of what an object does.  

Universal properties show up in three closely connected ways in category theory, and Tom's book explains these in detail:

through representable functors (which are how you actually hand someone a universal property),

through limits (which are ways of building a new object out of a bunch of old ones),

through adjoint functors (which give ways to 'freely' build an object in one category starting from an object in another).

If you want to see this vague wordy mush here transformed into precise, crystalline beauty, read Tom's book!  It's not easy to learn this stuff - but it's good for your brain.  It literally rewires your neurons.

Here's what he wrote, over on the category theory mailing list:

.............................................................................

Dear all,

My introductory textbook "Basic Category Theory" was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.  By arrangement with them, it's now also free online:

   https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.09375

It's also freely editable, under a Creative Commons licence.  For instance, if you want to teach a class from it but some of the examples aren't suitable, you can delete them or add your own.  Or if you don't like the notation (and when have two category theorists ever agreed on that?), you can easily change the Latex macros.  Just go the arXiv, download, and edit to your heart's content.

There are lots of good introductions to category theory out there.  The particular features of this one are:

• It's short.
• It doesn't assume much.
• It sticks to the basics.___

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2017-01-01 18:29:46 (53 comments; 16 reshares; 109 +1s; )Open 

The Chmutov octic surface

You can get some very fancy surfaces using just polynomial equations. Here +Abdelaziz Nait Merzouk drew one using polynomials of degree 8.  That's why it's called an octic.  

Why is it called the Chmutov octic?   Well, that's because it was constructed by V. S. Chmutov as part of an effort to build surfaces with lots of ordinary double points, meaning points that look the place where the tips of two cones meet.  This one has 144 ordinary double points!

That's not the best you can do: the octic with the highest known number of ordinary double points is the Endrass octic, shown here:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2016/08/01/endrass-octic/

The Endrass octic has 168 ordinary double points.  Nobody knows if that's the best possible.

The Chmutov octic isjust o... more »

The Chmutov octic surface

You can get some very fancy surfaces using just polynomial equations. Here +Abdelaziz Nait Merzouk drew one using polynomials of degree 8.  That's why it's called an octic.  

Why is it called the Chmutov octic?   Well, that's because it was constructed by V. S. Chmutov as part of an effort to build surfaces with lots of ordinary double points, meaning points that look the place where the tips of two cones meet.  This one has 144 ordinary double points!

That's not the best you can do: the octic with the highest known number of ordinary double points is the Endrass octic, shown here:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2016/08/01/endrass-octic/

The Endrass octic has 168 ordinary double points.  Nobody knows if that's the best possible.

The Chmutov octic is just one of a series of surfaces invented by Chmutov.  There's a Chmutov quadratic, a Chmutov cubic, a Chmutov quartic, a Chmutov quintic,  a Chmutov sextic, a Chmutov septic, a Chmutov octic, a Chmutov nonic, a Chmutov decic, a Chmutov hendecic, a Chmutov duodecic, a Chmutov triskaidecic, a Chmutov tetrakaidecic, a Chmutov pendecic, a Chmutov hexadecic, a Chmutov heptadecic, a Chmutov octadecic, a Chmutov enneadecic, a Chmutov icosic, and so on.  In fact you can see a quick animated gif of all of these - from the quadratic to the icosic - here:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2017/01/01/chmutov-octic/

Again, it was made by +Abdelaziz Nait Merzouk.  You'll notice that most of the Chmutov surfaces of even degree look a lot like the octic here, while those of odd degree extend out to infinity. 

Chmutov made these surfaces to get a lower bound on how many ordinary double points we could cram into a surface of a given degree.  In most cases other people have beaten him by now.  But still, these surfaces are cute!  They're defined using some polynomials invented by the Russian mathematician Chebyshev - also known as Chebychev, Chebysheff, Chebychov, Chebyshov, Tchebychev, Tchebycheff, Tschebyschev, Tschebyschef, or Tschebyscheff.  Apparently he suffered from a rare psychological disorder that made him forget how to spell his name - so each time he wrote another paper, he signed it a different way!

Happy New Year!  (You may not have heard, but this year April Fool's Day has been scheduled on January 1st instead of April 1st.)

#geometry  ___

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2016-12-30 17:25:54 (42 comments; 12 reshares; 165 +1s; )Open 

Creature of nightmares

This is the scariest insect I've ever seen: the giant toothed longhorn beetle from the Amazon basin in Ecuador.   It's not as big as it looks here, but it's big: one of the biggest beetles in the world, up to 17 centimeters long.  (That's half a foot, for you Americans.)  Its larvae are even longer! 

+Gil Wizen, who photographed this monster, writes:

Encountering this species was one of my highlights for the year. I know Macrodontia cervicornis very well from museum insect collections. It is one of the most impressive beetle species in the world, both in size and structure. But I never imagined I would be seeing a live one in the wild! Well let me tell you, it is hard to get over the initial impression. The male beetle that I found was not the biggest specimen, but the way it moved around still made it appear likenot... more »

Creature of nightmares

This is the scariest insect I've ever seen: the giant toothed longhorn beetle from the Amazon basin in Ecuador.   It's not as big as it looks here, but it's big: one of the biggest beetles in the world, up to 17 centimeters long.  (That's half a foot, for you Americans.)  Its larvae are even longer! 

+Gil Wizen, who photographed this monster, writes:

Encountering this species was one of my highlights for the year. I know Macrodontia cervicornis very well from museum insect collections. It is one of the most impressive beetle species in the world, both in size and structure. But I never imagined I would be seeing a live one in the wild! Well let me tell you, it is hard to get over the initial impression. The male beetle that I found was not the biggest specimen, but the way it moved around still made it appear like nothing short of a monster. This species is very defensive, and getting close for the wide angle macro shot was a bit risky. The beetle responds to any approaching object with a swift biting action, and those jaws are powerful enough to cut through thick wooden branches, not to mention fingers!

Check out his favorite photos of the year:

http://gilwizen.com/2016-in-review/

and for more on this beetle, see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macrodontia_cervicornis

#biology  ___

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2016-12-29 19:35:16 (27 comments; 29 reshares; 184 +1s; )Open 

Get it done

It's better to do something imperfect that helps than not help at all.  We so easily forget that.  Here's a great story to help us remember: the Hair Dryer Incident, as told by psychatrist Scott Alexander:

The Hair Dryer Incident was probably the biggest dispute I’ve seen in the mental hospital where I work. Most of the time all the psychiatrists get along and have pretty much the same opinion about important things, but people were at each other’s throats about the Hair Dryer Incident.

Basically, this one obsessive compulsive woman would drive to work every morning and worry she had left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house. So she’d drive back home to check that the hair dryer was off, then drive back to work, then worry that maybe she hadn’t really checked well enough, then drive back, and so on ten ortwenty ti... more »

Get it done

It's better to do something imperfect that helps than not help at all.  We so easily forget that.  Here's a great story to help us remember: the Hair Dryer Incident, as told by psychatrist Scott Alexander:

The Hair Dryer Incident was probably the biggest dispute I’ve seen in the mental hospital where I work. Most of the time all the psychiatrists get along and have pretty much the same opinion about important things, but people were at each other’s throats about the Hair Dryer Incident.

Basically, this one obsessive compulsive woman would drive to work every morning and worry she had left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house. So she’d drive back home to check that the hair dryer was off, then drive back to work, then worry that maybe she hadn’t really checked well enough, then drive back, and so on ten or twenty times a day.

It’s a pretty typical case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it was really interfering with her life. She worked some high-powered job – I think a lawyer – and she was constantly late to everything because of this driving back and forth, to the point where her career was in a downspin and she thought she would have to quit and go on disability. She wasn’t able to go out with friends, she wasn’t even able to go to restaurants because she would keep fretting she left the hair dryer on at home and have to rush back. She’d seen countless psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, she’d done all sorts of therapy, she’d taken every medication in the book, and none of them had helped.

So she came to my hospital and was seen by a colleague of mine, who told her “Hey, have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?”

And it worked.

She would be driving to work in the morning, and she’d start worrying she’d left the hair dryer on and it was going to burn down her house, and so she’d look at the seat next to her, and there would be the hair dryer, right there. And she only had the one hair dryer, which was now accounted for. So she would let out a sigh of relief and keep driving to work.

And approximately half the psychiatrists at my hospital thought this was absolutely scandalous, and This Is Not How One Treats Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and what if it got out to the broader psychiatric community that instead of giving all of these high-tech medications and sophisticated therapies we were just telling people to put their hair dryers on the front seat of their car?

I, on the other hand, thought it was the best fricking story I had ever heard and the guy deserved a medal. Here’s someone who was totally untreatable by the normal methods, with a debilitating condition, and a drop-dead simple intervention that nobody else had thought of gave her her life back. If one day I open up my own psychiatric practice, I am half-seriously considering using a picture of a hair dryer as the logo, just to let everyone know where I stand on this issue.

Miyamoto Musashi is quoted as saying:

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.

Likewise, the primary thing in psychiatry is to help the patient, whatever the means. Someone can concern-troll that the hair dryer technique leaves something to be desired in that it might have prevented the patient from seeking a more thorough cure that would prevent her from having to bring the hair dryer with her. But compared to the alternative of “nothing else works” it seems clearly superior.

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/

Thanks to Richard Mlynarik for leading me to this, indirectly.  He actually pointed me to an interesting article about psychology and network theory:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/12/14/ssc-journal-club-mental-disorders-as-networks/

The idea is that some mental disorders, instead of having a single "root cause", are a network of symptoms that reinforce each.  Some, not all!

That article led me to this tale here.___

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2016-12-28 17:20:38 (78 comments; 68 reshares; 111 +1s; )Open 

Give the Earth a present: help us save climate data

We've been busy backing up climate data before Trump becomes President. Now you can help too, with some money to pay for servers and storage space.   Please give what you can at our Kickstarter campaign here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/592742410/azimuth-climate-data-backup-project

If we get $5000 by the end of January, we can save this data until we convince bigger organizations to take over.   If we don't get that much, we get nothing.  That's how Kickstarter works.   Also, if you donate now, you won't be billed until January 31st.

So, please help!   It's urgent.

I will make public how we spend this money.  And if we get more than $5000, I'll make sure it's put to good use.  There's a lot of work we could do to make sure the data isauthentica... more »

Give the Earth a present: help us save climate data

We've been busy backing up climate data before Trump becomes President. Now you can help too, with some money to pay for servers and storage space.   Please give what you can at our Kickstarter campaign here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/592742410/azimuth-climate-data-backup-project

If we get $5000 by the end of January, we can save this data until we convince bigger organizations to take over.   If we don't get that much, we get nothing.  That's how Kickstarter works.   Also, if you donate now, you won't be billed until January 31st.

So, please help!   It's urgent.

I will make public how we spend this money.  And if we get more than $5000, I'll make sure it's put to good use.  There's a lot of work we could do to make sure the data is authenticated, made easily accessible, and so on.

The idea

The safety of US government climate data is at risk. Trump plans to have climate change deniers running every agency concerned with climate change.  So, scientists are rushing to back up the many climate databases held by US government agencies before he takes office.

We hope he won't be rash enough to delete these precious records. But: better safe than sorry!

The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project is part of this effort. So far our volunteers have backed up nearly 1 terabyte of climate data from NASA and other agencies. We'll do a lot more!  We just need some funds to pay for storage space and a server until larger institutions take over this task.

The team

• +Jan Galkowski is a statistician with a strong interest in climate science. He works at Akamai Technologies, a company responsible for serving at least 15% of all web traffic. He began downloading climate data on the 11th of December.

• Shortly thereafter +John Baez, a mathematician and science blogger at U. C. Riverside, joined in to publicize the project. He’d already founded an organization called the Azimuth Project, which helps scientists and engineers cooperate on environmental issues.

• When Jan started running out of storage space, +Scott Maxwell  jumped in. He used to work for NASA — driving a Mars rover among other things — and now he works for Google. He set up a 10-terabyte account on Google Drive and started backing up data himself.

• A couple of days later +Sakari Maaranen joined the team. He’s a systems architect at Ubisecure, a Finnish firm, with access to a high-bandwidth connection. He set up a server, he's downloading lots of data, he showed us how to authenticate it with SHA-256 hashes, and he's managing many other technical aspects of this project.

There are other people involved too.  You can watch the nitty-gritty details of our progress here:

Azimuth Backup Project - Issue Tracker:
https://bitbucket.org/azimuth-backup/azimuth-inventory/issues

and you can learn more here:

Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project.
http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/azimuth_backup_project/

#climateaction  ___

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2016-12-27 18:09:34 (7 comments; 10 reshares; 60 +1s; )Open 

Metal-Organic Framework 5

I like the look of this thing!   It's a metal-organic framework - a compound made of metal ions connected by organic stuff.   The picture here is just part of a structure that keeps repeating in all directions. 

The blue tetrahedra are made of an oxygen atom surrounded by 4 atoms of zinc.  They're connected by a kind of latticework made of an organic molecule called 1,4-benzodicarboxylic acid. 

The whole thing is called Metal-Organic Framework 5 or MOF5 for short.  There are lots of other kinds.

But what about the huge yellow ball?

That's not a real thing.  It's empty space where you can put something - like a molecule of hydrogen! 

And indeed, metal-organic frameworks are used for storing hydrogen - you can actually pack more hydrogen into a MOF than you caneasily sq... more »

Metal-Organic Framework 5

I like the look of this thing!   It's a metal-organic framework - a compound made of metal ions connected by organic stuff.   The picture here is just part of a structure that keeps repeating in all directions. 

The blue tetrahedra are made of an oxygen atom surrounded by 4 atoms of zinc.  They're connected by a kind of latticework made of an organic molecule called 1,4-benzodicarboxylic acid. 

The whole thing is called Metal-Organic Framework 5 or MOF5 for short.  There are lots of other kinds.

But what about the huge yellow ball?

That's not a real thing.  It's empty space where you can put something - like a molecule of hydrogen! 

And indeed, metal-organic frameworks are used for storing hydrogen - you can actually pack more hydrogen into a MOF than you can easily squeeze into an empty tank!  So they're not only beautiful, they're practical.

For a bigger view of MOF5, go here:

http://www.chemtube3d.com/solidstate/MOF-MOF5.html

For more about metal-organic frameworks, go here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal-organic_framework

Also check out my new chemistry collection:

https://plus.google.com/collection/EtbilB

#chemistry___

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2016-12-26 21:58:10 (13 comments; 19 reshares; 140 +1s; )Open 

Do it yourself

"I'm just a farmer's wife," says Christine Conder, modestly. But for 2,300 members of the rural communities of Lancashire she is also a revolutionary internet pioneer.

Her do-it-yourself solution to a neighbour's internet connectivity problems in 2009 has evolved into B4RN, an internet service provider offering fast one gigabit per second broadband speeds to the parishes which nestle in the picturesque Lune Valley.

That is 35 times faster than the 28.9 Mbps average UK speed internet connection according to Ofcom.

It all began when the trees which separated Chris's neighbouring farm from its nearest wireless mast - their only connection to the internet, provided by Lancaster University - grew too tall.

Something more robust was required, and no alternatives were available in the area, so Chris decided to... more »

Do it yourself

"I'm just a farmer's wife," says Christine Conder, modestly. But for 2,300 members of the rural communities of Lancashire she is also a revolutionary internet pioneer.

Her do-it-yourself solution to a neighbour's internet connectivity problems in 2009 has evolved into B4RN, an internet service provider offering fast one gigabit per second broadband speeds to the parishes which nestle in the picturesque Lune Valley.

That is 35 times faster than the 28.9 Mbps average UK speed internet connection according to Ofcom.

It all began when the trees which separated Chris's neighbouring farm from its nearest wireless mast - their only connection to the internet, provided by Lancaster University - grew too tall.

Something more robust was required, and no alternatives were available in the area, so Chris decided to take matters into her own hands.

She purchased a kilometre of fibre-optic cable and commandeered her farm tractor to dig a trench.

After lighting the cable, the two farms were connected, with hers feeding the one behind the trees.

"We dug it ourselves and we lit [the cable] ourselves and we proved that ordinary people could do it," she says.

"It wasn't rocket science. It was three days of hard work."

Her motto, which she repeats often in conversation, is JFDI. Three of those letters stand for Just Do It. The fourth you can work out for yourself.

And JFDI she has.

B4RN now claims to have laid 2,000 miles (3,218km) of cable and connected a string of local parishes to its network. It won't connect a single household, so the entire parish has to be on board before it will begin to build.

Each household pays £30 per month with a £150 connection fee and larger businesses pay more. Households must also do some of the installation themselves.

The entire infrastructure is fibre-optic cable right to the property, rather than just to the cabinet, with existing copper phone lines running from that to the home, as generally offered by British Telecom.

The service is so popular that the company has work lined up for the next 10 years and people from as far as Sierra Leone have attended the open days it holds a couple of times a year.

The bulk of the work is done by volunteers, although there are now 15 paid staff also on board. Farmers give access to their land and those with equipment like diggers and tractors do the heavy work.

Thanks to +Lisa Raphals for pointing this.  It's from here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37974267___

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2016-12-25 21:48:39 (49 comments; 56 reshares; 215 +1s; )Open 

Romik's ambidextrous sofa

The ambidextrous moving sofa problem is to find the planar shape with the biggest area that can slide through right-angled turns both to the right and to the left in a hallway of width 1.  

Earlier this year Dan Romik, a mathematician at the University of California Davis, found the best known solution to this problem!   He created this animated gif of it, too.  His shape is bounded by 18 curves, each of which is either part of a circle, or part of a curve described by a polynomial equation of degree 6.   

Nobody has proved his solution is optimal.   We're not even sure that it's locally optimal, meaning that you can't make slight changes in his shape that increase the area and get a shape that still fits down the hallway.  This is an interesting challenge.

For more, including the precisearea of t... more »

Romik's ambidextrous sofa

The ambidextrous moving sofa problem is to find the planar shape with the biggest area that can slide through right-angled turns both to the right and to the left in a hallway of width 1.  

Earlier this year Dan Romik, a mathematician at the University of California Davis, found the best known solution to this problem!   He created this animated gif of it, too.  His shape is bounded by 18 curves, each of which is either part of a circle, or part of a curve described by a polynomial equation of degree 6.   

Nobody has proved his solution is optimal.   We're not even sure that it's locally optimal, meaning that you can't make slight changes in his shape that increase the area and get a shape that still fits down the hallway.  This is an interesting challenge.

For more, including the precise area of this shape, try my blog article on Visual Insight:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2016/12/15/romiks-ambidextrous-sofa/

I hope you're all having a great holiday!

Each year I try to think of things I can stop doing... so I can do more new stuff.   In 2017, I will try to take a year-long break from posting articles on Visual Insight.  I've been doing two a month for quite a while, I've done 81 of them, and I'm running out of enthusiasm.  Also, right now, a lot of my energy is going into the Azimuth Backup Project.  So, maybe I will save up ideas and restart Visual Insight in 2018.  But perhaps I'll end with a bang on January 1st, 2017.

#geometry  ___

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2016-12-25 02:59:09 (15 comments; 1 reshares; 46 +1s; )Open 

The Inn at Halona

Lisa and I just got back from a little trip.  First we drove through deserts, canyons and pine forests to Flagstaff, Arizona, where despite the icy chill we enjoyed dinner and live music at the Flagstaff Brewing Company.   We liked it so much we had lunch there the next day, and chanced upon a great old-timey folksinger and guitar player, Parker Smith.    Lisa is getting into Navajo arts and crafts, so she checked out the local shops while I worked on the Azimuth Backup Project.

The next day we continued driving east on the I-40 toward our ultimate goal: Gallup, New Mexico.  This is a fascinating city, a meeting-point for Navajo and Anglo culture, right on the southern border of the Navajo Nation.

But shortly after passing the Petrified Forest, we took a detour: at the town of Sanders we cut south to the Zuni Reservation, where weplann... more »

The Inn at Halona

Lisa and I just got back from a little trip.  First we drove through deserts, canyons and pine forests to Flagstaff, Arizona, where despite the icy chill we enjoyed dinner and live music at the Flagstaff Brewing Company.   We liked it so much we had lunch there the next day, and chanced upon a great old-timey folksinger and guitar player, Parker Smith.    Lisa is getting into Navajo arts and crafts, so she checked out the local shops while I worked on the Azimuth Backup Project.

The next day we continued driving east on the I-40 toward our ultimate goal: Gallup, New Mexico.  This is a fascinating city, a meeting-point for Navajo and Anglo culture, right on the southern border of the Navajo Nation.

But shortly after passing the Petrified Forest, we took a detour: at the town of Sanders we cut south to the Zuni Reservation, where we planned to spend a night at The Inn At Halona, shown here.

It was dark when we arrived, and we got quite lost.  There were a lot of lights, but our instructions said only that we had to find a four-way stop near the town of Zuni on Route 53 and head south.  Only after phoning the inn did we realize that there was indeed a unique intersection on this long road that had a a four-way stop sign.... which we had passed.  Once we found that, the rest was easy: we drove south until we saw Halona Plaza.  At back was the inn - a charming little place run by a Frenchman named Roger Thomas who long ago married a Zuni woman.

I'm much more familiar with the Hopi and Navajo than the Zuni, so it was interesting to hear why there were so many lights!    Just as the Navajo believe in evil spirits called chindi, the Zuni believe that nasty things lurk in the dark at night - which, however, can be dispelled, or at least kept under observation, by putting bright lights in front of every house!   And so, their rather small pueblo seemed larger and more populated than it really was.

It's just a tiny bed-and-breakfast, but it's cozy and friendly, and it's the only place I know to spend a night in the Zuni Reservation, so if you're ever in those parts, check it out:
 
https://www.halona.com/

The next day we went to look at the local arts and crafts.... but that's another story.  

Happy holidays to all of you!    Here's a bit about the Zuni, in case you're curious, or bored by the holidays:

The Zuni (or in their own language: A:shiwi) are people federally recognized Native American Pueblo peoples. Most live in the Pueblo of Zuni on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, United States. Zuni is 55 km (34 mi) south of Gallup, New Mexico. In addition to the reservation, the tribe owns trust lands in Catron County, New Mexico and Apache County, Arizona. They call their homeland Shiwinnaqin.

Archaeology suggests that the Zuni have been farmers in their present location for 3,000 to 4,000 years. It is now thought that the Zuni people have inhabited the Zuni River valley since the last millennium B.C., at which time they began using irrigation techniques which allowed for farming maize on at least household sized plots.  More recently, Zuni culture seems related to both the Mogollon and Ancestral Pueblo peoples cultures, who lived in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and southern Colorado for over two millennia. The "village of the great kiva" near the contemporary Zuni Pueblo was built in the 11th century CE. The Zuni region, however, was probably only sparsely populated by small agricultural settlements until the 12th century when the population and the size of the settlements began to increase. In the 14th century, the Zuni inhabited a dozen pueblos between 180 and 1,400 rooms in size. All of these pueblos, except Zuni, were abandoned by 1400, and over the next 200 years, nine large new pueblos were constructed. These were the "seven cities of Cibola" sought by early Spanish explorers. By 1650, there were only six Zuni villages.

In 1539, the Moorish slave Estevanico led an advance party of Fray Marcos de Niza's Spanish expedition. The Zuni killed him as a spy. This was Spain's first contact with any of the Pueblo peoples. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado traveled through Zuni Pueblo. The Spaniards built a mission at Hawikuh in 1629. The Zunis tried to expel the missionaries in 1632, but the Spanish built another mission in Halona in 1643.

Before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Zuni lived in six different villages. After the revolt, until 1692, they took refuge in a defensible position atop Dowa Yalanne, a steep mesa 5 km (3.1 miles) southeast of the present Pueblo of Zuni; Dowa means "corn", and yalanne means "mountain". After the establishment of peace and the return of the Spanish, the Zuni relocated to their present location, only briefly returning to the mesa top in 1703.

The Zuni were self-sufficient during the mid-19th century, but faced raiding by the Apaches, Navajos, and Plains Indians. Their reservation was officially recognized by the United States federal government in 1877. Gradually the Zuni farmed less and turned to sheep and cattle herding as a means of economic development.

This understates a lot of violence and repression... but interestingly, the Zuni allied themselves with the Spaniards for a time, and together they fought the Navajo... which may partially explain why they weren't forcibly relocated and starved as the Navajo were, later on.  I'm not sure.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuni_people___

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2016-12-23 17:40:39 (23 comments; 25 reshares; 104 +1s; )Open 

Hash it, baby!  Hash it now!

You can back up climate data, but how can anyone be sure your backups are accurate?  

Let's suppose the databases you've backed up have been deleted, so that there's no way to directly compare your backup with the original.  

And to make things really tough, let's suppose that faked databases are being promoted as competitors with the real ones! 

What can you do?

This is where computer science comes to the rescue!  You can use a hash function to compute a 'digest' of your backup.  If it matches the digest of the original database, it's more likely your backup is accurate.

But this works best if the people owning the original database were wise enough to compute and publish a digest of the original.  Otherwise it's a matter of comparing digests ofdifferen... more »

Hash it, baby!  Hash it now!

You can back up climate data, but how can anyone be sure your backups are accurate?  

Let's suppose the databases you've backed up have been deleted, so that there's no way to directly compare your backup with the original.  

And to make things really tough, let's suppose that faked databases are being promoted as competitors with the real ones! 

What can you do?

This is where computer science comes to the rescue!  You can use a hash function to compute a 'digest' of your backup.  If it matches the digest of the original database, it's more likely your backup is accurate.

But this works best if the people owning the original database were wise enough to compute and publish a digest of the original.  Otherwise it's a matter of comparing digests of different copies.

So, people who run big government climate databases should take action now!  If you know such a person, please make them read this:

https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/saving-climate-data-part-3/

As explained there, we've already had a bit of success.   But  we need much more.  +Sakari Maaranen writes:

If you’d like to help further promoting this Best Practice, consider getting it recognized as a standard when you do online publishing of key public information.

1. Publishing these hashes is already a major improvement on its own.

2. Publishing them on a secure website offers people further guarantees that there has not been any man-in-the-middle attack.

3. Digitally signing the checksum files offers the best easily achievable guarantees of data integrity by the person(s) who sign the checksum files.

Please consider having these three steps included in your science organisation’s online publishing training and standard Best Practices.

#climateaction  ___

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2016-12-18 17:40:12 (47 comments; 45 reshares; 139 +1s; )Open 

Please join our band of warriors

It's happening!   The Azimuth Backup Project is backing up climate data held by the US government.  So far the main people involved are:

+Jan Galkowski, a statistician and engineer at Akamai Technologies, a company in Cambridge Massachusetts whose content delivery network is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms, responsible for serving at least 15% of all web traffic.   He started downloading data about a week ago.

+Scott Maxwell, a site reliability engineer at Google who works for Google Drive.   Scott lives in Pasadena California and in case you're wondering, he used to work for NASA and had a job driving a Mars rover.  He has set up a 10-terabyte account on Google Drive that the rest of us can use, and he too is downloading data.

+Sakari Maaranen is a systems architect atUbisecur... more »

Please join our band of warriors

It's happening!   The Azimuth Backup Project is backing up climate data held by the US government.  So far the main people involved are:

+Jan Galkowski, a statistician and engineer at Akamai Technologies, a company in Cambridge Massachusetts whose content delivery network is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms, responsible for serving at least 15% of all web traffic.   He started downloading data about a week ago.

+Scott Maxwell, a site reliability engineer at Google who works for Google Drive.   Scott lives in Pasadena California and in case you're wondering, he used to work for NASA and had a job driving a Mars rover.  He has set up a 10-terabyte account on Google Drive that the rest of us can use, and he too is downloading data.

+Sakari Maaranen is a systems architect at Ubisecure, a firm in Finland that specializes in identity management, advanced user authentication, authorization, single sign-on, and federation.  He has offered another 10 terabytes of memory and is also downloading data.

So far this team has backed up several major climate databases, and we want to do more.  I hope we will eventually have a server that can provide access to backups to this data, and I hope we can provide proof that these backups correctly match the original data.  

Some people on our team know how all this stuff works; I'm just the dumb figurehead whose job is to help organize things.  My next job will be to do a Kickstarter campaign to get money for the data storage and a server.

If you're curious what we're doing, check out this blog article:

https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/azimuth-backup-project/

If you've got serious computer skills and want to help save climate data, we could use your help - drop me a line, either here or (better) on that blog page!

#climateaction  ___

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2016-12-16 20:02:09 (31 comments; 30 reshares; 105 +1s; )Open 

Saving climate data

Lots of scientists, librarians, archivists, computer geeks and environmental activists are making backups of US government environmental databases. We’re trying to beat the January 20th deadline just in case you-know-who decides to cause trouble.

Backing up data is always a good thing, so there’s no point in arguing about politics or the likelihood that these backups are needed. The present situation is just a nice reason to hurry up and do some things we should have been doing anyway.

2 days ago the story looked like this:

https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/saving-climate-data/

A lot has happened since then, but much more needs to be done. Right now you can see a list of 90 databases to be backed up:
h... more »

Saving climate data

Lots of scientists, librarians, archivists, computer geeks and environmental activists are making backups of US government environmental databases. We’re trying to beat the January 20th deadline just in case you-know-who decides to cause trouble.

Backing up data is always a good thing, so there’s no point in arguing about politics or the likelihood that these backups are needed. The present situation is just a nice reason to hurry up and do some things we should have been doing anyway.

2 days ago the story looked like this:

https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/saving-climate-data/

A lot has happened since then, but much more needs to be done. Right now you can see a list of 90 databases to be backed up:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12-__RqTqQxuxHNOln3H5ciVztsDMJcZ2SVs1BrfqYCc/htmlview?usp=drive_web&sle=true

Click on the tiny word "Datasets" in blue on top of the page!

Despite the word ‘climate’, the scope includes other environmental databases. You can see which have already been backed up: the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), the NASA temperature records (GISTEMP), and others. You can see which are in progress. And you can see dozens that aren’t backed up yet.

By going to here and clicking “Start Here to Help”:

http://climatemirror.org/

you can nominate a dataset for rescue, claim a dataset to rescue, let everyone know about a data rescue event, or help in some other way (which you must specify).

There’s also other useful information on this page, which keeps changing.

The overall effort is being organized by the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities or ‘PPEHLab’ for short. If you want to know what’s going on, it helps to look at their blog:

http://www.ppehlab.org/blogposts/?tag=datarescuepenn

Click the link on top to see their website, which is also very useful
.
However, the people organizing the project are currently overwhelmed with offers of help! People worldwide are proceeding to take action in a decentralzed way! So, everything is quite chaotic and nobody has an overall view of what’s going on.

I can’t overstate this: if you think that ‘they’ have a plan and ‘they’ know what’s going on, you’re wrong. ‘They’ is us. Act accordingly.

Data rescue events

People are getting together to hold 'data rescue events', so that's one way to get involved. There's one in Toronto:

Guerrilla archiving event, 10 am - 4 pm EST, Saturday 17 December 2016.  Location: Bissell Building, 4th Floor, 140 St. George St. University of Toronto.  Info: https://technoscienceunit.wordpress.com/2016/12/04/guerrilla-archiving-event-saving-environmental-data-from-trump/

There will be one in Philadelphia:

DataRescuePenn Data Harvesting, Friday--Saturday 13--14 January 2017.  Location: not determined yet, probably somewhere at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.  Info: http://www.ppehlab.org/events-20162017/2017/1/14/datarescuepenn-data-harvesting

There will also be events in New York City and Los Angeles, but I don't know details yet!  If you do, please tell me!

Internet archive

People are already in contact with the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/index.php

This archive always tries to save US government websites and databases at the end of each presidential term.   Their efforts are not limited to environmental data, and they save not only webpages but entire databases, e.g. data in ftp sites.   You can nominate sites to be saved here:

• Internet Archive, End of Presidential Term Harvest 2016, http://digital2.library.unt.edu/nomination/eth2016/

The Azimuth Backup Project

People on G+ have already offered help: after my last call for help,+Scott Maxwell and +Sakari Maaranen have each offered 10 terabytes of storage and started downloading databases.  +Jan Galkowski was already doing the same.

So, we're starting to do some good work.   To learn more and help out, go here:

https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/azimuth-backup-project/

#climateaction  ___

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2016-12-14 20:30:13 (73 comments; 41 reshares; 131 +1s; )Open 

"If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite!"

That's what Governor Jerry Brown just said to 24,000 climate scientists in San Francisco, to thunderous applause.  And:

"We've got the scientists, we've got the lawyers and we're ready to fight."

And to Rick Perry of Texas, newly appointed to lead a department whose name he forgot when listing 3 departments he'd abolish if he were president - oh yeah, the Department of Energy:

"We've got more sun than you've got oil."

Brown is at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.  I went there once - it's huge.  They usually meet in San Francisco because it has one of the few conference centers big enough to hold 24,000 people. 

The move to save climate data continues. Righ... more »

"If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite!"

That's what Governor Jerry Brown just said to 24,000 climate scientists in San Francisco, to thunderous applause.  And:

"We've got the scientists, we've got the lawyers and we're ready to fight."

And to Rick Perry of Texas, newly appointed to lead a department whose name he forgot when listing 3 departments he'd abolish if he were president - oh yeah, the Department of Energy:

"We've got more sun than you've got oil."

Brown is at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.  I went there once - it's huge.  They usually meet in San Francisco because it has one of the few conference centers big enough to hold 24,000 people. 

The move to save climate data continues.  Right now the main thing we could use is 3 terabytes of storage space; to get that from Google seems to cost $100/month, since they'll give you 1 terabyte for $10/month and then 10 terabytes for $100/month. 

 +Jan Galkowski, a professional statistician and member of the +Azimuth Project, is spending Christmas break downloading data using WebDrive.   He could use 3 terabytes of space.

First we're downloading stuff.  In the longer term we will try to make this stuff publicly available.  And we will try to coordinate with the Climate Mirror project, here:

http://climatemirror.org/

Tomorrow I will talk to someone involved in this project and the head of the Society of American Archivists, since they know a lot about archiving data.  I would like to find more ways for ordinary folks to help, but right now it's a confusing scramble to organize things. 

More news on Brown's speech:

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-we-re-ready-to-fight-says-gov-jerry-1481739836-htmlstory.html

#climateaction___

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2016-12-13 19:34:17 (55 comments; 193 reshares; 191 +1s; )Open 

Saving climate data

The Department of Energy has rejected Trump's demand that it list all employees working on climate change.  But this will change on January 20th.  All signs point to the worst:

The heads of Donald Trump’s transition teams for NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, as well as his nominees to lead the EPA and the Department of the Interior, all question the science of human-caused climate change.

So, scientists are now backing up large amounts of climate data, just in case the Trump administration tries to delete it.

Of course saving the data publicly available on US government sites is not nearly as good as keeping climate programs fully funded!  New data is coming in all the time from satellites and other sources.  We need it - and we need the experts whounder... more »

Saving climate data

The Department of Energy has rejected Trump's demand that it list all employees working on climate change.  But this will change on January 20th.  All signs point to the worst:

The heads of Donald Trump’s transition teams for NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, as well as his nominees to lead the EPA and the Department of the Interior, all question the science of human-caused climate change.

So, scientists are now backing up large amounts of climate data, just in case the Trump administration tries to delete it.

Of course saving the data publicly available on US government sites is not nearly as good as keeping climate programs fully funded!  New data is coming in all the time from satellites and other sources.  We need it - and we need the experts who understand it.

Also, it's possible that Trump won't be insane enough to delete big climate science databases.  But as my mother said: better safe than sorry!

“What are the most important .gov climate assets?” Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and self-proclaimed “climate hawk,” tweeted from his Arizona home Saturday evening. “Scientists: Do you have a US .gov climate database that you don’t want to see disappear?”

Within hours, responses flooded in from around the country. Scientists added links to dozens of government databases to a Google spreadsheet. Investors offered to help fund efforts to copy and safeguard key climate data. Lawyers offered pro bono legal help. Database experts offered to help organize mountains of data and to house it with free server space. In California, Santos began building an online repository to “make sure these data sets remain freely and broadly accessible.”

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

If you have good computer skills, good understanding of databases, or lots of storage space, please get involved. Efforts are being coordinated by Barbara Wiggin and others at the Data Refuge Project:

http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefuge

You can contact them at DataRefuge@ppehlab.org.  Nick Santos is also involved, and if you want to get “more plugged into the project” you can contact him here:

http://nicksantos.com/about-and-contact/

They are trying to build a climate database mirror website here:

http://climatemirror.org/

At the help form on this website you can nominate a dataset for rescue, claim a dataset to rescue, let them know about a data rescue event, or help in some other way (which you must specify).

PPEHLab and Penn Libraries are organizing a data rescue event on Thursday December 14th:

http://www.ppehlab.org/events-20162017/2016/12/14/ppeh-fellows-meeting-datarefuge

For more updates read Eric Holthaus's tweets and replies here:

https://twitter.com/EricHolthaus/with_replies

And the "guerilla archiving" hackathon in Toronto is on Saturday December 17th.   If you know people with good computer skills there, get them to check it out!   Here are details:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Guerrilla Archiving Hackathon

Date: 10am-4pm, December 17, 2016

Location: Bissell Building, 4th Floor, 140 St. George St. University of Toronto

RSVP and up-to-date information: https://www.facebook.com/events/1828129627464671/

Bring: laptops, power bars, and snacks.  Coffee and pizza provided.

This event collaborates with the Internet Archive’s End of Term 2016 project, which seeks to archive the federal online pages and data that are in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration. Our event is focused on preserving information and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has programs and data at high risk of being removed from online public access or even deleted. This includes climate change, water, air, toxics programs. This project is urgent because the Trump transition team has identified the EPA and other environmental programs as priorities for the chopping block.

The Internet Archive is a San Francisco-based nonprofit digital library which aims at preserving and making universally accessible knowledge. Its End of Term web archive captures and saves U.S. Government websites that are at risk of changing or disappearing altogether during government transitions. The Internet Archive has asked volunteers to help select and organize information that will be preserved before the Trump transition.

End of Term web archive: http://eotarchive.cdlib.org/2016.html

New York Times article: “Harvesting Government History, One Web Page at a Time” http://nyti.ms/2gDz5Kj

Activities:

Identifying endangered programs and data
Seeding the End of Term webcrawler with priority URLs
Identifying and mapping the location of inaccessible environmental databases
Hacking scripts to make accessible to the webcrawler hard to reach databases.
Building a toolkit so that other groups can hold similar events
Skills needed: We need all kinds of  people — and that means you!
People who can locate relevant webpages for the Internet Archive’s webcrawler
People who can identify data targeted for deletion by the Trump transition team and the organizations they work with
People with knowledge of government websites and information, including the EPA
People with library and archive skills
People who are good at navigating databases
People interested in mapping where inaccessible data is located at the EPA
Hackers to figure out how to extract data and URLs from databases (in a way that Internet Archive can use)
People with good organization and communication skills
People interested in creating a toolkit for reproducing similar events

Contacts: michelle.murphy@utoronto.ca, p.keilty@utoronto.ca

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The first quote in my article is from here - this is full of detailed info:

Oliver Milman, Trump's transition: sceptics guide every agency dealing with climate change, The Guardian, 12 December 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/12/donald-trump-environment-climate-change-skeptics

The second is from here:

Brady Dennis, Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump, Washington Post, 13 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/12/13/scientists-are-frantically-copying-u-s-climate-data-fearing-it-might-vanish-under-trump/

I hope the small "guerilla archiving" efforts will be dwarfed by more systematic work, because it's crucial that databases be copied along with all relevant metadata - and some sort of cryptographic certificate of authenticity, if possible.  However, getting lots of people involved is bound to be a good thing, politically speaking. 

#climateaction  ___

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2016-12-12 17:26:19 (17 comments; 12 reshares; 84 +1s; )Open 

The Eagle Huntress

Otto Bell had never made a feature film.  But when he saw this photo, he flew to Mongolia – and made a movie about a girl’s struggle to capture and tame a golden eagle.   It's called The Eagle Huntress, and now it may get an Oscar.

Otto Bell was surfing the web at work when he saw this photo.  It amazed him: a rosy-cheeked Mongolian girl, perched on a mountain ridge, smiling with delight at a ferocious golden eagle flapping on her arm.  Zoom in and look at her face.

The scene was a world away from the office cubicle in New York where Bell was sitting. The shots were taken in the Altai mountains, “the most remote part of the least-populated country in the world”.   He had no financing and had only ever made short, commercially funded documentaries.  But he was so moved that soon he gathered up a small team and took a flightto Mongolia to... more »

The Eagle Huntress

Otto Bell had never made a feature film.  But when he saw this photo, he flew to Mongolia – and made a movie about a girl’s struggle to capture and tame a golden eagle.   It's called The Eagle Huntress, and now it may get an Oscar.

Otto Bell was surfing the web at work when he saw this photo.  It amazed him: a rosy-cheeked Mongolian girl, perched on a mountain ridge, smiling with delight at a ferocious golden eagle flapping on her arm.  Zoom in and look at her face.

The scene was a world away from the office cubicle in New York where Bell was sitting. The shots were taken in the Altai mountains, “the most remote part of the least-populated country in the world”.   He had no financing and had only ever made short, commercially funded documentaries.  But he was so moved that soon he gathered up a small team and took a flight to Mongolia to track down the girl: a 13-year-old named Aisholpan.

When they finally found her nomadic family, Bell was nervous they might not want to be filmed.  Instead her father Nurgaiv made an extraordinary offer.   "This afternoon we are going down the mountain to steal an eagle for Aisholpan. Do you want to film that?"

Aisholpan had her eye on a fledgling female.  Female eagles are larger, so preferred for hunting.   For days, Aisholpan had been watching this one through her father’s old broken binoculars.  It was the perfect age: able to survive without her mother, but young enough to be trained.

Capturing Aisholpan’s climb down a sheer cliff to an eagle’s nest, with only a rope tied round her waist, posed problems for them all. For a start, the cameraman was afraid of heights so could only film from solid ground below!   The photographer wasn’t well-placed to step in, since he’d never shot moving images. So Bell had to get creative.  He strapped a GoPro inside Aisholpan’s cardigan and climbed with the photographer to a ledge opposite the nest to capture another angle.

It’s a heart-stopping scene: a young girl with plaits jauntily tied with pink ribbons makes a terrifying descent while an angry mother eagle circles menacingly overhead. Some movie reviewers assume the scene is a re-creation. But it's the real thing.

I have got to see this movie!  I haven't yet.  This picture makes me happy.   It makes me, too, want to rush off to the Altai mountains near the borders of Mongolia, China, Russia and Kazakhstan.   Lake Kucherla looks amazing.  But I have to grade finals. 

My writeup above is paraphrased from this review by Homa Khaleeli on the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/11/the-eagle-huntress-teenage-mongolian-nomad-oscars-otto-bell___

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2016-12-11 19:04:37 (61 comments; 27 reshares; 83 +1s; )Open 

The climate war heats up

It looks like Trump and his cabinet want to completely eliminate climate research and roll back progress on global warming.  In fact, it looks like they want to completely overwhelm and demoralize the opposition - doing so much at once that nobody can stop them! 

First, the guy managing his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team is one of the world's most effective climate change deniers.  His name is Myron Ebell, and under George W. Bush he tried to get the head of the EPA fired:

• John Baez, This man must be stopped, 10 November 2016, https://plus.google.com/u/0/117663015413546257905/posts/1tKE8kik9sx

Second, Trump's planned head of the EPA calls himself a "leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda".  His name is Scott Pruitt, and he led 28 states in a lawsuit againstthe EPA... more »

The climate war heats up

It looks like Trump and his cabinet want to completely eliminate climate research and roll back progress on global warming.  In fact, it looks like they want to completely overwhelm and demoralize the opposition - doing so much at once that nobody can stop them! 

First, the guy managing his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team is one of the world's most effective climate change deniers.  His name is Myron Ebell, and under George W. Bush he tried to get the head of the EPA fired:

• John Baez, This man must be stopped, 10 November 2016, https://plus.google.com/u/0/117663015413546257905/posts/1tKE8kik9sx

Second, Trump's planned head of the EPA calls himself a "leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda".  His name is Scott Pruitt, and he led 28 states in a lawsuit against the EPA to block Obama's Clean Power Plan:

• Matt McGrath, Trump nominee to rekindle climate battle?, BBC, 9 December 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38249208

Third, his favored candidate for Secretary of State was the head of Exxon, the world's biggest funder of climate change denialism.  He's called Rex Tillerson, and he won a medal from Putin for his work on developing Russian oil fields:

• Philip Bump, Who is Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chairman who may become secretary of state?, Washington Post, 10 December 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/12/10/who-is-rex-tillerson-the-exxonmobil-chairman-who-may-become-secretary-of-state/

Fourth, they may get rid of all NASA climate research:

• Jason Samesnow, Trump adviser proposes dismantling NASA climate research, Washington Post, 23 November 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/11/23/trump-adviser-proposes-dismantling-nasa-climate-research/

Fifth, they're circulating a list of questions to find out, among other things, who in the Energy Department is working on climate change:

• Christopher Dean Hopkins, Trump transition asks Energy Department which employees work on climate change, National Public Radio, 9 December 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/09/505041927/trump-transition-asks-energy-dept-which-employees-work-on-climate-change

It smells like the start of a purge.  Very soon, we'll see.

In the next 4 years, any progress will have to come at the state and local levels - unless Trump gets kicked out.  But we have to at least notice and fight against bad actions at the federal level.

Since I want to discuss "what to do", I will delete comments that argue about the basic science of climate change, or about politics in general.  There are other places to do that.

  #climate___

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2016-12-10 16:46:24 (20 comments; 15 reshares; 35 +1s; )Open 

Brendan Fong on open systems

An open system is one that interacts with the rest of the world.  In reality all systems except the whole universe are open.  But physics focuses on closed systems, since they're easier to understand.

Here at the Simons Institute, my talk on network theory explained how to use decorated cospans as a general model of open systems. These were invented by my student +Brendan Fong, and they're nicely explained in his thesis:

• Brendan Fong, The Algebra of Open and Interconnected Systems.  Blog article and link here: https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/open-and-interconnected-systems/

But he went further!  To understand the externally observable behavior of an open system, we often want to simplify a decorated cospan and get another sort of structure, which he calls a decoratedcorel... more »

Brendan Fong on open systems

An open system is one that interacts with the rest of the world.  In reality all systems except the whole universe are open.  But physics focuses on closed systems, since they're easier to understand.

Here at the Simons Institute, my talk on network theory explained how to use decorated cospans as a general model of open systems. These were invented by my student +Brendan Fong, and they're nicely explained in his thesis:

• Brendan Fong, The Algebra of Open and Interconnected Systems.  Blog article and link here: https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/open-and-interconnected-systems/

But he went further!  To understand the externally observable behavior of an open system, we often want to simplify a decorated cospan and get another sort of structure, which he calls a decorated corelation.  It's a kind of summary, that says what the open system does as seen from the outside.

In this video, Brendan explains decorated corelations and what they’re good for.  The blog article above says more about them, and you can get his talk slides here:

• Brendan Fong, Modelling interconnected systems with decorated corelations, http://brendanfong.com/fcorel.pdf

Puzzle.  I said the only truly closed system is the entire universe, but that's not quite true.  I can think of at least one more example.  Can you?

#networks___

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2016-12-10 05:09:30 (2 comments; 19 reshares; 82 +1s; )Open 

CIA says Russia worked to elect Trump

Clinton won the popular vote: at least 2.6 million more people voted for her than Trump.  If just 80,000 fewer people had voted for that guy in three crucial states, she'd be president.

The CIA is now sure that Russia was working to elect Trump.   Was that enough to get him the necessary 80,000 votes?

Already, House Democrats have begun pushing for something akin to the 9/11 Commission to look into allegations of Russian meddling. During the campaign, they pushed for hearings on the same issue.

Until this week, they'd been unable to get much buy-in from congressional Republicans. But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) voiced support for a probe on Wednesday, and now Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he is working with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr(R-N... more »

CIA says Russia worked to elect Trump

Clinton won the popular vote: at least 2.6 million more people voted for her than Trump.  If just 80,000 fewer people had voted for that guy in three crucial states, she'd be president.

The CIA is now sure that Russia was working to elect Trump.   Was that enough to get him the necessary 80,000 votes?

Already, House Democrats have begun pushing for something akin to the 9/11 Commission to look into allegations of Russian meddling. During the campaign, they pushed for hearings on the same issue.

Until this week, they'd been unable to get much buy-in from congressional Republicans. But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) voiced support for a probe on Wednesday, and now Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he is working with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on a wide-ranging Senate probe, as The Post’s Karoun Demirjian reported Thursday.

“I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia,” Graham said. “I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want [Russian President Vladimir] Putin personally to pay the price.”

However, this means that to secure power, Trump will be motivated to decapitate the CIA - that is, eliminate all top-level people who know the extent of Russian involvement in his election, replacing them with his stooges.  This is perfect for Putin.  It's a classic mafia strategy: to control someone, "help" them in a way that makes them complicit in your crimes. 
 
For more, see:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/12/09/the-cia-concluded-russia-worked-to-elect-trump-republicans-now-face-an-impossible-choice/___

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2016-12-08 18:03:37 (1 comments; 8 reshares; 73 +1s; )Open 

Truncated hexagonal tiling honeycomb

+Roice Nelson has been drawing more honeycombs!  This is one of my favorites.  To get it, you start with the hexagonal tiling honeycomb.  That's is a way of putting lots of sheets tiled by hexagons into hyperbolic space, a curved 3-dimensional space.   It's easier to understand with a picture, so look at the second one here:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2016/12/01/truncated-633-honeycomb/

Starting from this, you take each place where 4 edges meet and replace it with a little tetrahedron.  That gives you the truncated hexagonal tiling honeycomb, shown here.  Beautiful!

There's a limited collection of structures this nice, and mathematicians have classified them.  A classification theorem lets you survey the options: it's like a mineral collection.

#geometry  ... more »

Truncated hexagonal tiling honeycomb

+Roice Nelson has been drawing more honeycombs!  This is one of my favorites.  To get it, you start with the hexagonal tiling honeycomb.  That's is a way of putting lots of sheets tiled by hexagons into hyperbolic space, a curved 3-dimensional space.   It's easier to understand with a picture, so look at the second one here:

http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2016/12/01/truncated-633-honeycomb/

Starting from this, you take each place where 4 edges meet and replace it with a little tetrahedron.  That gives you the truncated hexagonal tiling honeycomb, shown here.  Beautiful!

There's a limited collection of structures this nice, and mathematicians have classified them.  A classification theorem lets you survey the options: it's like a mineral collection.

#geometry  ___

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2016-12-07 19:10:24 (12 comments; 11 reshares; 50 +1s; )Open 

Semantics for physicists

I once complained that my student Brendan Fong said ‘semantics’ too much. You see, I’m in a math department, but he was actually in the computer science department at Oxford: I was his informal supervisor. Theoretical computer scientists love talking about syntax versus semantics—that is, written expressions versus what those expressions actually mean, or programs versus what those programs actually do. So Brendan was very comfortable with that distinction. But I felt my other grad students, coming from a math department didn’t understand it… and he was mentioning it in practically ever other sentence.

In 1963, Bill Lawvere figured out a way to talk about syntax versus semantics that even mathematicians—well, even category theorists—could understand. It’s called ‘functorial semantics’.  The idea is that things you write aremorphisms in a categor... more »

Semantics for physicists

I once complained that my student Brendan Fong said ‘semantics’ too much. You see, I’m in a math department, but he was actually in the computer science department at Oxford: I was his informal supervisor. Theoretical computer scientists love talking about syntax versus semantics—that is, written expressions versus what those expressions actually mean, or programs versus what those programs actually do. So Brendan was very comfortable with that distinction. But I felt my other grad students, coming from a math department didn’t understand it… and he was mentioning it in practically ever other sentence.

In 1963, Bill Lawvere figured out a way to talk about syntax versus semantics that even mathematicians—well, even category theorists—could understand. It’s called ‘functorial semantics’.  The idea is that things you write are morphisms in a category X, while their meanings are morphisms in a category Y.   There's a functor F from X to Y, which sends things you write to their meanings.  This functor sends syntax to semantics!

But physicists may not enjoy this idea unless they see it at work in physics. In physics, too, the distinction is important!  But it takes a while to understand. I hope Prakash Panangaden’s talk at the start of the Simons Institute workshop on compositionality is helpful.  Check it out!___

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2016-12-06 22:22:41 (20 comments; 3 reshares; 59 +1s; )Open 

The fundamental law of biology

The fundamental law of biology is:

In biology, every law has an exception - except this one.

Does this law have an exception?

The fundamental law of biology

The fundamental law of biology is:

In biology, every law has an exception - except this one.

Does this law have an exception?___

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2016-12-05 16:21:42 (29 comments; 20 reshares; 77 +1s; )Open 

The math of networks 

In 2007 Jim Simons, the mathematician who helped invent Chern–Simons theory and then went on to make billions using math to run a hedge fund, founded a research center for geometry and physics on Long Island. More recently he also set up an institute for theoretical computer science in Berkeley. I’ve never been there - until today!

This week a bunch of mathematicians and computer scientists are meeting here to talk about compositionality.  That means: how big complicated things are built from small simple things.

The show starts at 9:00 am today.   We'll begi with talks from Gordon Plotkin (from Edinburgh, an expert on using category theory to study computer science and biology), David Spivak (who is proselytizing for applied category theory at MIT, and whose work on operads helped launch the project I'm working on withMetron)... more »

The math of networks 

In 2007 Jim Simons, the mathematician who helped invent Chern–Simons theory and then went on to make billions using math to run a hedge fund, founded a research center for geometry and physics on Long Island. More recently he also set up an institute for theoretical computer science in Berkeley. I’ve never been there - until today!

This week a bunch of mathematicians and computer scientists are meeting here to talk about compositionality.  That means: how big complicated things are built from small simple things.

The show starts at 9:00 am today.   We'll begi with talks from Gordon Plotkin (from Edinburgh, an expert on using category theory to study computer science and biology), David Spivak (who is proselytizing for applied category theory at MIT, and whose work on operads helped launch the project I'm working on with Metron), and Jamie Vicary (who works on categories, quantum theory and topology at Oxford). 

All three are exactly the sort of people I like to listen to - full of cool ideas.   And they're just the start of this show!   It's gonna be fun.  You can see the talks here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCW1C2xOfXsIzPgjXyuhkw9g

The program is here:

https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/compositionality-workshop/

I'm talking at 9:30 PST Tuesday.  Here are my talk slides:

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/networks_compositionality

I've decided to talk about some new work on 'Petri nets' with Blake Pollard.  We're using categories to study chemical reaction networks... but this is just one example of how categories can be used to study compositionality in network theory.  At the end of my talk I show a network of different examples: a network of different kinds of networks!

Abstract. To describe systems composed of interacting parts, scientists and engineers draw diagrams of networks: flow charts, Petri nets, electrical circuit diagrams, signal-flow graphs, chemical reaction networks, Feynman diagrams and the like. In principle all these different diagrams fit into a common framework: the mathematics of symmetric monoidal categories. This has been known for some time. However, the details are more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding, than this basic insight. Two complementary approaches are presentations of symmetric monoidal categories using generators and relations (which are more algebraic in flavor) and decorated cospan categories (which are more geometrical). In this talk we focus on the latter.

#networktheory #networks  ___

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2016-12-01 17:15:59 (0 comments; 24 reshares; 109 +1s; )Open 

The writing is on the wall

This is the main building of the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA, right across from Trump Hotel in Washington DC.   A lot of us are protesting the guy Trump hired to demolish the EPA.  His name is  Myron Ebell.  He's a climate change denier whose work has long been funded by fossil fuel industries.

Join the battle:

http://climatetruth.org/rebelagainstebell
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/keep-myron-ebell-from

George Monbiot provides more detail:

Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.

Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal,oil, ... more »

The writing is on the wall

This is the main building of the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA, right across from Trump Hotel in Washington DC.   A lot of us are protesting the guy Trump hired to demolish the EPA.  His name is  Myron Ebell.  He's a climate change denier whose work has long been funded by fossil fuel industries.

Join the battle:

http://climatetruth.org/rebelagainstebell
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/keep-myron-ebell-from

George Monbiot provides more detail:

Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.

Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.

I first encountered the machine when writing about climate change. The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.

Among those I clashed with was Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI calls itself a thinktank, but looks to me like a corporate lobbying group. It is not transparent about its funding, but we now know it has received $2m from ExxonMobil, more than $4m from a group called the Donors Trust (which represents various corporations and billionaires), $800,000 from groups set up by the tycoons Charles and David Koch, and substantial sums from coal, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.

For years, Ebell and the CEI have attacked efforts to limit climate change, through lobbying, lawsuits and campaigns. An advertisement released by the institute had the punchline “Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution. We call it life.”

It has sought to eliminate funding for environmental education, lobbied against the Endangered Species Act, harried climate scientists and campaigned in favour of mountaintop removal by coal companies. In 2004, Ebell sent a memo to one of George W Bush’s staffers calling for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to be sacked. Where is Ebell now? Oh – leading Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

It's not just Ebell: Trump is hiring lots of creatures from the swamp of fake industry-funded "research institutes".  For details, and links providing evidence, go here:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/30/donald-trump-george-monbiot-misinformation___

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2016-11-29 18:54:29 (21 comments; 6 reshares; 88 +1s; )Open 

I hate writing grant proposals.  Luckily I don't need to anymore!

I hate writing grant proposals.  Luckily I don't need to anymore!___

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2016-11-27 17:08:04 (25 comments; 19 reshares; 126 +1s; )Open 

Jarzynski on thermodynamics

In the old days, despite its name, thermodynamics was mainly about thermodynamic equilibrium.  Thermodynamic equilibrium is a situation where nothing interesting happens.  For example, if you were in thermodynamic equilibrium right now, you'd be dead.  Not very dynamic!

Sure, there were a few absolutely fundamental results like the second law, which says that entropy cannot decrease as we carry a system from one equilibrium state to another.  But the complications you see when you boil a pot of water... those were largely out of bounds.

This has changed in the last 50 years.  One example is the Jarzynski equality, discovered by Christopher Jarzynski in 1997. 

The second law implies that the change in 'free energy' of a system is less than or equal to the amount of work done on it.  But the Jarzynskiequali... more »

Jarzynski on thermodynamics

In the old days, despite its name, thermodynamics was mainly about thermodynamic equilibrium.  Thermodynamic equilibrium is a situation where nothing interesting happens.  For example, if you were in thermodynamic equilibrium right now, you'd be dead.  Not very dynamic!

Sure, there were a few absolutely fundamental results like the second law, which says that entropy cannot decrease as we carry a system from one equilibrium state to another.  But the complications you see when you boil a pot of water... those were largely out of bounds.

This has changed in the last 50 years.  One example is the Jarzynski equality, discovered by Christopher Jarzynski in 1997. 

The second law implies that the change in 'free energy' of a system is less than or equal to the amount of work done on it.  But the Jarzynski equality gives a precise equation relating these two concepts, which implies that inequality.   I won't explain it here, but it's terse and beautiful.

Last week at the +Santa Fe Institute, Jarzynski gave an incredibly clear hour-long tutorial on thermodynamics, starting with the basics and zipping forward to modern work. With his permission, you can see his slides here:

http://tinyurl.com/jarzynski

along with links to an explanation of the Jarzynski equality, and a proof.

I had a great time in Santa Fe, and this was one of the high points.
 
#physics  ___

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