Category Archives: Science

Backing into World War III

By Robert Kagan – Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China.

The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries.

The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering. History shows that world orders do collapse, however, and when they do it is often unexpected, rapid, and violent.

The late 18th century was the high point of the Enlightenment in Europe, before the continent fell suddenly into the abyss of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first decade of the 20th century, the world’s smartest minds predicted an end to great-power conflict as revolutions in communication and transportation knit economies and people closer together. The most devastating war in history came four years later. The apparent calm of the postwar 1920s became the crisis-ridden 1930s and then another world war.

Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15?

That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable.

And while it is too soon to know what effect Donald Trump’s presidency will have on these trends, early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends.

It will be more than a shame if Americans were to destroy what they created—and not because it was no longer possible to sustain but simply because they chose to stop trying. more> https://goo.gl/cGZ3En

Updates from GE

By Samantha Shaddock – GE’s Slide Rule Sisters — Loren Ingraham, Betty Lou Bailey, Eleanor Semple and Janet Neely — worked closely with jet engine pioneer Gerhard Neumann and used their mathematics and physics expertise to advance jet-engine design in the aftermath of World War II.

“When I started going to technical engineering meetings … men just stared — a woman engineer!” Loren Ingraham told the Post in 1956. “Now when I walk in, they just sort of glance over their shoulders.”

The second world war was pivotal for the women who took the place of male engineers who’d been called to the armed forces. In 1940, fewer than 800 female engineers were working in the U.S., according to the Post’s profile. By the time the story ran 16 years later, their ranks had grown to 4,000.

Today’s numbers are better, but they’re nowhere near what they could be. Women account for 14 percent of all engineers in the U.S. and only 25 percent of information technology professionals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the aerospace and mechanical engineering fields, women make up less than 10 percent of the workforce.

GE currently employs 14,700 women in engineering, manufacturing, IT and product management, which represents 18 percent of the company’s technical workforce. GE is aggressively pursuing a plan to grow their numbers even further by setting goals of having 20,000 women fill STEM roles at GE by 2020 and obtaining 50:50 representation for all its technical entry-level programs. more> https://goo.gl/DQWP5K

The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding

By Clive Thompson – Politicians routinely bemoan the loss of good blue-collar jobs. Work like that is correctly seen as a pillar of civil middle-class society. And it may yet be again. What if the next big blue-collar job category is already here—and it’s programming?

Among other things, it would change training for programming jobs—and who gets encouraged to pursue them. As my friend Anil Dash, a technology thinker and entrepreneur, notes, teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school.

You could learn how to do it at a community college; midcareer folks would attend intense months-long programs like Dev Bootcamp. There’d be less focus on the wunderkinds and more on the proletariat.

These sorts of coders won’t have the deep knowledge to craft wild new algorithms for flash trading or neural networks. Why would they need to? That level of expertise is rarely necessary at a job. But any blue-collar coder will be plenty qualified to sling Java­Script for their local bank. more> https://goo.gl/o8vkzl

How to play mathematics

BOOK REVIEW

The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
Physics on the Fringe, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, Author: Ron Eglash.

(glasbergen.com)By Margaret Wertheim – The world is full of mundane, meek, unconscious things materially embodying fiendishly complex pieces of mathematics. How can we make sense of this? I’d like to propose that sea slugs and electrons, and many other modest natural systems, are engaged in what we might call the performance of mathematics.

Rather than thinking about maths, they are doing it.

In the fibers of their beings and the ongoing continuity of their growth and existence they enact mathematical relationships and become mathematicians-by-practice. By looking at nature this way, we are led into a consideration of mathematics itself not through the lens of its representational power but instead as a kind of transaction.

Rather than being a remote abstraction, mathematics can be conceived of as something more like music or dancing; an activity that takes place not so much in the writing down as in the playing out.

Since at least the time of Pythagoras and Plato, there’s been a great deal of discussion in Western philosophy about how we can understand the fact that many physical systems have mathematical representations: the segmented arrangements in sunflowers, pine cones and pineapples (Fibonacci numbers); the curve of nautilus shells, elephant tusks and rams horns (logarithmic spiral); music (harmonic ratios and Fourier transforms); atoms, stars and galaxies, which all now have powerful mathematical descriptors; even the cosmos as a whole, now represented by the equations of general relativity.

The physicist Eugene Wigner has termed this startling fact ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’.

Why does the real world actualize maths at all? And so much of it?

Even arcane parts of mathematics, such as abstract algebras and obscure bits of topology often turn out to be manifest somewhere in nature. more> https://goo.gl/ifKV2Z

Updates from Adobe

How to Create a Surreal Photo Collage
By Terri Stone – When you composite photos, you usually don’t want the result to look like a composite. Even if the final scene is fantastical, your aim is to transport viewers into another world. Filip Hodas, a 24-year-old freelance artist from Prague, has been creating convincing digital realities for years. Now he’’ agreed to share his process.

To make the otherworldly landscape featured here, Hodas relied heavily on Adobe Photoshop CC layer masks. He placed each source image on its own layer and then used layer masks to hide and reveal parts of each. He also used layer masks to adjust color and add highlights and shadows.

Next came a Color Balance adjustment layer, which he added to the background images so their colors would be a better match. Trees on the right side of the horizon image were distracting, so he removed them with the Clone Stamp tool.

Hodas knows that small details can have a big impact on a composite’s overall look, so his next step was to refine the foreground image’s mask. That softened jagged edges a little and removed a slight yellow outline. more> https://goo.gl/7jat2c

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Updates from Aalto University

A new method for converting wastewater nutrients into fertilizer
By Riku Vahala – Researchers of Aalto University have developed a new, energy-efficient method for capturing nitrogen and phosphorus from different liquid waste fractions. In laboratory studies, with the help of the method, it is possible to separate 99% of the nitrogen and 90-99% of phosphorus in wastewater and produce granular ammonium sulphate (NH4)2SO4 and phosphorus precipitate suitable for fertilizers.

The capture method is based on the use of calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2 to convert ammoniacal nitrogen NH4+ into ammoniacal gas NH3, which are separated through a semi-permeable membrane. Following this, the ammonium is dissolved into sulphuric acid to produce ammonium sulphate. In the process, the phosphorus is precipitated with the help of calcium salt.

‘A patent application for the method is currently under way, and the aim of the project is to find company partners who could make use of the patent in the best possible manner, create products with its help and market the new process. If successful, the new process will also create a competitive export product’, Anna Mikola, DSc (Tech), points out. more> https://goo.gl/kOrqHP

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Pioneer of Modern Electronics
By Michael Baxter – The smartphone you peer into, the LED bulb in your desk lamp, the Blu-Ray player that serves up your favorite film – all are here largely because of Russell Dupuis, a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech.

That’s because an essential component of their manufacturing traces back to a process that Dupuis developed in the late 1970s, a process that ushered in a new breed of mass-produced compound semiconductors. These electronic components – particularly those forged of elements from columns III and V in the periodic table — can operate at extremely high frequencies or emit light with extraordinary efficiency. Today, they’re the working essence of everything from handheld laser pointers to stadium Jumbotrons.

The process is known as metalorganic chemical vapor deposition, or MOCVD, and until Dupuis, no one had figured out how to use it to grow high-quality semiconductors using those III-V elements. Essentially, MOCVD works by combining the atomic elements with molecules of organic gas and flowing the mixture over a hot semiconductor wafer. When repeated, the process grows layer after layer of crystals that can have any number of electrical properties, depending on the elements used. more> https://goo.gl/eG2G8e

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The atheist paradox

BOOK REVIEW

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea, Author: Adam Roberts.
Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, Author: Alain de Botton.
The Book of Atheist Spirituality, Author: André Comte-Sponville.
The Satanic Verses, Author: Salman Rushdie.
Gravity and Grace, Author: Simone Weil.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Author: Gabriel García Márquez.
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Author: John Bunyan.

By Adam Roberts – The Islam described in the Qur’an is a religion consonant with the structures of social power. Crucial to it is the idea that submission to the law (since the law comes from God) is equally required for good social order and good spiritual health.

Christianity is different. In part, that’s because of its bivalve holy book, which sets up, in the Old Testament, a set of social codes, restrictions and laws and then, in its New Testament, specifically overturns them.

Moses brought 10 commandments; Jesus replaces them with two — to love God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. And those two commandments aren’t articulated like legal codes. Some of the New Testament attempts to work out the social and legal consequences of its new creed, but much of it gives up on that, and instead gives eloquent voice to the irrelevance of society and law in the face of the imminent end-times.

The Old Testament is, in the largest sense, about the building of a temple. In the New Testament, the temple is redefined as Christ’s body, built precisely to be torn down, tortured to death and radically reconfigured. Instructions to give up all one’s money, to leave one’s family and job, not to marry (though St Paul concedes that it is better to marry than burn with lust), to live as spontaneously as the birds and the flowers — all these things are iterations of a powerful sense that the old ways have been overturned.

Of course, as generation followed generation and the world stubbornly did not end, Christians had to find ways of getting on with life. more> https://goo.gl/vJs3n8

Updates from GE

GE Just Turned the World’s Most Powerful Jet Engine Into A 65-Megawatt Power Plant
By Tomas Kellner – GE is taking the world’s largest jet engine and turning it into a power plant. The machine’s beating heart comes from the GE90-115B, which is the largest and most powerful jet engine, capable of producing 127,900 pounds of thrust, according to Guinness World Records. The electricity generator, which GE calls LM9000, will be able to generate a whopping 65 megawatts — enough to supply of 6,500 homes — and reach full power in 10 minutes.

The technology is also a good example of what GE calls the GE Store — the system of sharing technology, research and expertise among its many businesses. Today, aeroderivatives power towns and factories but also oil platforms and ships. more> https://goo.gl/dSwnhF

Is greatness finite?

BOOK REVIEW

Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit, Author: Joyce E Chaplin.
Utopia, Author: Thomas More.
The Population Bomb, Author: Paul Ehrlich.

By Joyce E Chaplin – To see human nature and the rest of nature as out of sync is important – if done consciously. Today it is easy to find repudiations of neoliberalism, the doctrine, ascendant since the 1980s of Margaret Thatcher‘s UK and Ronald Reagan‘s US, that private activities produce public good and personal happiness more effectively than any public investment or oversight.

Nearly 40 years on, we finally query the wisdoms of a neoliberal society. But without knowing exactly what it got wrong, it’s impossible to do better.

The Tudor humanist Thomas More and the Regency clergyman Thomas Robert Malthus, of all people, can help us. They are experts on our moment. Together, their key works turn a spotlight on the much disparaged, pre-neoliberal 1970s, when things could have gone differently.

The 1970s represent the last serious discussion of whether and how humans can manage the rest of nature for the greater good. We need that forthright mix again, bitter Malthusian tea served, nevertheless, with a sweet lump of Utopia.

The last days of disco, the 1970s, were the glorious times before the buzz of neoliberalism. Before greed was good and environmental limits were negotiable, people worried about staying alive and danced to ‘Stayin’ Alive’. Circumstances warned against the easy acquisition of happiness, yet people sought it, indeed, preached that it should be available to all.

Now, nations, states, innovators and cultural leaders have accepted the dubious promise of neoliberalism, that to extract private wealth from everything is an excellent way of being.

The good news is that the upcoming arguments – indeed they have already begun – about what to do next can do more than repeat the nearly parodistic Adam SmithKarl Marx confrontation that has dominated for at least a generation. more> https://goo.gl/sjnI4f