Saturday, November 29, 2008

List of marine aquarium fish species

I decided to use the break to categorize and list every fish commonly kept in marine aquariums. Actually, I am not quite there, I haven't even touched the sections on angelfish, butterfly fish, and a few others. Still, I managed to bring Wikipedia's List of Marine Aquarium Fish Species from this, to this. I probably doubled the number of fish on it, and similarly the number of pictures.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Atomic Bomb Dome

This is a particularly eerie sight. After the nuclear blast in Hiroshima the locals took the nearest building to the blast that managed to stay standing and left it as a memorial. Now the city has been mostly rebuilt, but there is still the Atomic Bomb Dome sitting in the middle of the city.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lovelock Quote

I rather like this quote from James Lovelock, who earned his radical environmentalist credentials when he originally proposed the Gaia Hypothesis:
An outstanding advantage of nuclear over fossil fuel energy is how easy it is to deal with the waste it produces. Fossil fuel burning produces twenty-seven thousand million tons of carbon dioxide yearly. This is enough ifsolidified to make a mountain nearly two kilometers high and with a base ten kilometers in circumference. The same quantity of energy if it came from nuclear reactions would make fourteen thousand tons of high level waste. A quantity that occupies a sixteen metre sided cube.
I haven't checked his math, and I am not entirely sure he is accurate. I think he is assuming French or Japanese reactors powering the world not American ones. They use reprocessing which results in only 4% of the waste we produce. Still, that is viable technology and we certainly could run the world off of it.

I also just had a particularly good argument for nuclear power enter my head. Environmentalists often claim we only have a few decades worth of Uranium remaining. This is used as proof that it is a waste of time to dramatically increase our use of nuclear power. However if true it would also make an amazing argument on why we should be using nuclear power. By definition any fuel that can power a nuclear bomb can also power a nuclear reactor. If we could burn up all our fissionable isotopes in reactors than the world could be freed from the risk of nuclear weapons.

Now that people know it is possible to build nuclear weapons it will never be possible to put the cat back in the bag. With the knowledge that it is possible to build a nuclear weapon a hundred or so scientists with reasonable funding and access to materials could at least construct a small nuclear weapon. The only way to perminantly protect from this is to burn up all of the potential fuel for such bombs in civilian nuclear reactors.

This idea suffers a fatal flaw since there is so much Thorium and Uranium 238 that it will take tens of thousands of years to burn all of the fuel. However I suspect anyone who truely believes that we are running out of fuel for nuclear reactors, and among environmental groups these types appear to be common, would agree that the world would be better off if we burned up all possible fuel for bombs and stored the radioactive waste deep underground. The threat of nuclear waste is far less than the threat of nuclear bombs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Carbon Sequestration

The more I think about Carbon Sequestration the more it sounds to me like a really bad idea. People complain about burying nuclear waste--which is only more radioactive than the ore it comes from for about a thousand years. It even loses 99.9% of its radioactivity in the first forty years meaning that if something bad happens in say three hundred years, it would take thousands of reactors worth of waste to equal Chernobyl. Even that would require all of it to get vaporized into the atmosphere, a quite unlikely situation. Sure you have to be careful for the stuff, but it is almost completely composed of solids. Solids don't just dig up from a mile below the surface where they are encased in dry rocks. Even natural gas has trouble doing that.

Carbon dioxide however, that stuff stays deadly forever. There have been cases where CO2 from deep under ground has bubbled up and sufficated thousands of people! Unlike radioactive isotopes you cannot count on it getting any safer as time passes by. It is not very reactive, and like natural gas can just sit underground for millions of years. If that hole you dug to bury the output of a single coal plant happens to have a Volcano go right through it in twenty million years, you can count on it still being deadly and killing whatever rats and cockroaches have evolved into.

Even ignoring this, by definition the mass of CO2 from a coal power plant is about three times the mass of coal that goes in. When you consider we burn a billion tons of coal a year in America alone this is a stupendous volume of CO2 we are creating. I for one am not convinced that we even have sites for this much volume of gas/liquid if we ignored the safety risks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Planted 29 Gallon Aquarium

I rather abandoned this aquarium since I will be moving and not taking it with me. It currently has no filter, or other equipment except for a light and a heater. The fish however seem to have held up alright, and I still have 6 black tetras and 9 neons as well as one cherry shrimp which held on all this time. Algae is a real issue though, I would have needed to get cherry shrimp breeding in the tank, as well as some Amano shrimp and a filter to get that under control. Someday I will probably try to do a planted tank right, if with almost no effort(I have changed a total of perhaps six gallons of water since getting this tank) I can get things to turn out this well, I imagine if I didn't hold out on what is needed I could have an impressive system.

My best plan for my next creation is a species tank for an Undulated Triggerfish. They are about as far from peaceful tetra tanks as you can get. Stories of them killing groupers several times their size or sharks are rather common. Typically the result of someone buying one is it stays nice and calm for a few months--than one day you come back and you have only one remaining fish. Keeping one alone though would result in an aquarium that I could drop live crawfish, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, and other such critters into for my own entertainment. Sounds like fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wind Power Environmental Impact

Taking a look at a wind power plant it can be pretty easy to see why people argue that Nuclear, and Geothermal power both are better for the environment. Sure the wind turbines themselves are fairly small, but it actually takes quite a lot of roads to build a wind farm.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

This is a very old wind plant, more modern ones use less turbines and are unlikely to be as bad. Also since you can put them on farm land, often you won't be building nearly as many roads to maintain the plant. Those roads probably exist already for other purposes.

Solar plants are far worse. They are the environmental equivalent of putting a parking lot on a piece of land. I am not sure I can support the use of solar panels when they are not on the roof of a pre-existing structure. It is simply too land intensive. Biofuels make even solar look good however as they are essentially 0.1% efficiency solar cells.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Demographics is destiny. As a strong majority of people share the same religious, and political views as their parents you can actually predict what the world will look like in the future with a reasonable amount of accuracy by watching demographic trends. I decided to make a rough estimate of whether demographics were favoring Republicans or Democrats. From what little evidence I have, I would suspect that among white people those who have more kids would be more likely to be Republican. I would also suspect that this trend would be more than canceled by the fact minorities have more children than white people.

To do this right, I would have to look at the birth rates of Republicans and Democrats in every state. I am too lazy for this, and don't even know that the statistics for this exist. So, I did something similar, I took a list of number of births per 1000 residents of each state and a list of who voted for which presidential candidate.

States that voted for McCain are in red, states that voted for Obama are in blue.

State: Birth Rate:
Utah: 20.9
Texas: 16.9
Arizona: 16.2
Idaho: 16.1
Alaska: 15.8
Georgia: 15.7
Nevada: 15.4
California: 15.2
New Mexico: 15
Nebraska: 14.9
Colorado: 14.8
South Dakota: 14.8
Oklahoma: 14.6
District of Columbia: 14.5
Kansas: 14.5
Mississippi: 14.5
Wyoming: 14.2
North Carolina: 14.2
Arkansas: 14.1
Hawaii: 14.1
Illinois: 14
Indiana: 13.9
Minnesota: 13.8
Virginia: 13.8
Delaware: 13.8
Tennessee: 13.7
South Carolina: 13.6
Missouri: 13.6
Kentucky: 13.5
Louisiana: 13.5
Maryland: 13.4
Iowa: 13.3
Alabama: 13.3
Washington: 13.2
North Dakota: 13.2
New Jersey: 13.1
Ohio: 12.9
New York: 12.8
Wisconsin: 12.8
Florida: 12.7
Oregon: 12.6
Michigan: 12.6
Montana: 12.4
Massachusetts: 12
Connecticut: 11.9
Rhode Island: 11.8
Pennsylvania: 11.7
West Virginia: 11.5
New Hamshire: 11
Maine: 10.7
Vermont: 10.1

In this list, 7 of the 10 states with the highest birth rate voted for McCain while only 2 of the 10 states with the lowest birth rates voted for him. Just a quick glance at the numbers makes it pretty clear that long term demographics strongly favor the Republicans. The average birth rate in a Republican state is 14.6, the average in a Democrat state is 13.1. That means the average Democrat state has the birth rate of New Jersey(#36/51), and the average Republican state has the birth rate of Oklahoma(#13/51).

This however isn't the whole story. In the long run, it is true those groups in society with the highest birth rates take over. However another way to look at these numbers is to try to calculate how many babies are being born in red states, and how many in blue states. Doing this actually gives the exact opposite trend. Because Obama won so many states he has a higher percentage of the total babies born. When I did the calculation to find out about how many babies were born this year in red states, and blue states, I came up with 1 400 000 babies born in red states, and 2 800 000 born in blue states. While the growth rate is higher for the red states, the total numbers are low. It will take a long time for Republican states populations to surpass those of Democrat states. If present trends hold it is quite likely red states will eventually pass blue states, but that is so far in the future to be impossible to predict. The one exception to this is if within every state the birth rate of Republicans is higher. That may in fact be true but I don't think I can get data to show it to be true.

Friday, November 7, 2008


That the job situation for life science PhDs is such that Science Magazine would publish this article is a bit scary. I am glad I am avoiding that entire can of worms.

"Few among the mass of grad students and postdocs, however, will ever enter that ultra-elite guild no matter how many hours they toil at their PI's bench, because there simply are too few academic jobs. Supervisors have largely abandoned any pretence of promising a career, except to the handful of star students usually designated early by mega-prestigious awards and publications. Few professors, in fact, even have the contacts or knowledge to steer young people toward the jobs that do exist, in quite substantial numbers, outside the academy."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Presidential Wish List

The Democrats winning Congress and the Presidency has most people I know full of a great deal of hope. I am far too cynical for that. Perhaps I will be proven wrong though, the democrats have a strong mandate to shake up Washington as much as they can. To prove me wrong the Democrats could institute any of the following changes in the next four years:

Balance the Budget. Sure it might be best to wait until after the recession to do this, but they have four years. If Clinton could do it, Obama has no excuses to fail to do this.

Scale back the war on drugs. The United States currently is putting more people in jail than just about any country in history. We have many more people in Prison than China despite having a quarter of their population! Why? Because of the war on drugs. it is crazy for a President who admits to have used cocaine to put tens of thousands of people in jail for long periods of time for the same crime. Nonviolent drug crime penalties need to be dramatically reduced or completely eliminated. Yes this includes drug dealers - they are about as inherantly evil as liquor store attendents. Marijuana laws should be ceded from the Federal Government to the state governments. If they at least did this, so liberal states have the right to legalize it, than I would be happy.

Eliminate farm subsidies for commodity crops. If you want to subsidize vegetables I probably wouldn't object as strongly but subsidized corn simply leads to cheap fast food and an expanded national waist line. Oh, and completely eliminate all subsidies for corn ethanol while you are at it.

Put at least a $40 a barrel(~$1/gallon) tax, or tariff, on crude oil. We are sending far too much money out of the country to prop up dictators. The only way to stop that is to simply make it cost Americans more money to send money to these countries through their oil consumption. This policy helps our trade balance, helps the environment, and supports our national security interests. There is no more beneficial policy Obama could set than this.

Put at least a $15 a ton tax on coal. This is for strictly environmental reasons. Even "clean coal" is the most environmentally damaging energy source we use. It results in the death of thousands of people a year from mining and air pollution. As the biggest contributor to mercury, and CO2 emissions it is one of the easiest targets we have to improve the environment.

Move towards socialized medicine. I doubt Congress will even try to make something similar to Germany's system, but there are many simple steps they could take. The easiest would be to ban insurance companies from turning down, or kicking out, patients because they are not healthy enough. Also ban them from charging different people of the same age different premiums. To work this would require allowing a six month grace period where insurance companies are not required to pay for major procedures to prevent people from waiting until they are sick to get insured. Insurance should be there to help the sick afford the expenses they face, not leech money off of the sick.

Throw significant amounts of money into actually building Carbon free energy sources. Research and development is nice and all, but with current technology we could cut our carbon emissions from electricity generation to zero. All we need to do is build high voltage DC power lines from the midwest to the coasts, while building some massive wind turbine factories, and at the end of an Obama presidency we can get around 20% of our electricity from wind. Think of how many tanks we built in World War Two when the nation decided it was a priority. We can scale up wind turbine production just as fast. Geothermal can be scaled up nearly as fast to at least 10% of our electricity. And if Obama is really serious, Nuclear power can replace Coal on a thirty year time scale. Use what is left of the gas and coal tax money after you balance the budget to fund these massive construction projects.

I should send each of these paragraphs as letters to my Congressmen. Perhaps right now they are just crazy enough to make some of these changes.