Friday, September 28, 2012

Biomedical Bias

I have grown quite skeptical of modern biomedical science and medicine. It is not that it hasn't produced some amazing things such as antibiotics and vaccines, it is that so much of it is based on poor science and the differences are hard to tell.

We need a lot more people entirely devoted to replicating experiments and more journal space devoted to failed replication.

Here is yet more reason to be skeptical:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Same Day Registration

As someone who has moved a lot, I am really happy to see that in four years California will finally have same day voter registration!

I recently could not vote because I forgot to send my packet in by the deadline. That was pretty annoying, there really is no reason that we cannot let people register at the poll booth. This is particularly true for someone like me who could easily cough up a passport, birth certificate, drivers license, and social security card.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Obama on Energy

It is surprising to me just how little Obama has bragged about his accomplishments on Energy. His administration has been almost without qualification a success on energy policy.

Let us start with the Drill Baby Drill crowd. This is the crowd which should be the most happy with Obama. He has stunningly stopped a several decade long decline in oil production. From 1985 on domestic oil production dropped just about every single year. This includes dropping every single year of the Bush administration. Oil production under Bush dropped from 2,130,707 thousand barrels in 2000 to 1,830,136 thousand barrels in 2008. Then, much to my shock, domestic oil production increased in 2009, then in 2010, then in 2011, and it looks to be on track to do so again in 2012. By 2011 production was up to 2,065,172 barrels, undoing two thirds of the drop which occurred over the Bush administration.

For the big picture, here is oil production throughout most of our history(click on it for a full size image). The rise in the last few years is small, but it is the first significant rise in my lifetime:
Natural gas may be an even bigger success of the Obama administration. Natural gas production has risen quite a bit since Obama entered office. Unlike oil though, natural gas does not trade on a world market. So the savings get passed on to consumers. Here is a graph of natural gas prices. Prices reached their peak in the last year of the Bush administration and have been steady at about half that price for all of the Obama administration:

With the failure of Yucca mountain and all of the drama relating to Fukushima the picture on nuclear power is more mixed. Still, the most important thing for nuclear is to build new reactors. As long as 1970s era nuclear reactors are forced to compete with newer power plants it is hard to see a future for nuclear. If we can just continue to build a few reactors a decade than if natural gas prices ever peak again or renewables fail to live up to expectations a real nuclear renaissance can occur. On this front, it finally looks like we will get some new reactors. The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia is actually being built!

One thing I never liked about the Bush administration was its focus on Hydrogen powered cars. There was never a good idea about where all the hydrogen would come from, and the technology has unsurprisingly languished. However electric cars do hold some real promise. Sure, the leaf would only suffice as a sole vehicle for someone who almost never drives, but the Volt is actually a real practical car as is the plug in Prius. If over the next decade the price of gasoline slowly rises to twenty or thirty dollars a gallon, we finally have an option which keeps civilization going. Since Obama saved GM he can reasonably take credit for the Volt, although I doubt he will until the bugs get worked out of this new technology.

On the renewables front, wind power is actually starting to produce useful amounts of power. Here is the graph of wind production, throughout the Obama administration it has been being installed like crazy:

Solar production follows much the same trajectory but unlike Wind is still producing negligable amounts of electricity.

Another Bush boondoggle was Ethanol. It just was a clever farm subsidy. Unfortunately Obama has not managed to kill it. Fortunately he did manage to stop growth in the industry with 2011 having the smallest increase in production in a decade or so

A clever Republican might, quite rightly, point out that a few of these things were just the completion of ground work completed during the Bush administration. They would be right. However if Obama gets crap for economic failures which started in the Bush administration he certainly should get credit for the things that went right.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Almost Gone.

Somehow I got on the tangent of reading about random endangered species. Here are some of my favorite species which are almost gone:

Javan Rhinoceros:


Asiatic Cheetah:
 Hispaniolan Solenodon:
Red Slender Loris:
 Purple Frog:
Rainbow Burrowing Frog:
Orinoco Crocodile:


I ran into a picture of this helicopter at the back of an article in The Economist.

After watching this video I feel like I may need a garage.

On second thought a garage might get me killed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More Crazy Machines

Some crazy machines which caught my attention. First, a four legged robot which is an attempt at making a robot which can follow a person around and take verbal commands:

Second a computer which is really good at fantasy soccer.

There really is a risk of knowledge workers getting displaced in the next decade or two. I am mostly paid because of my knowledge of the standards, work practices, and physics of some obscure aspects of the power industry. Pretty soon a good computer will be able to read the relevant textbooks and international standards then give a better recommendation than I am likely to be able to. At that point I sure hope I am the only one who understands how to use this computer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lunar Space Lift

One of my favorite ideas has always been building an elevator from the moon to space. Send a few dozen CNC machines, mining robots, a smelting facility, and a factory to build solar cells and we will suddenly have a way to construct much larger space ships than we ever could construct from earth.

It is good to see this idea finally is getting some serious attention. I rather question their 800 million dollar price estimate, but if it could be done for ten times that it would be worthwhile.