Recently in Science Category

Dealing with the pandemic

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We did horribly - the whole world did. Too many people politicized it or told their political masters what they wanted to hear with computer models of the death estimates ranging 100's of times higher than the actual numbers.

Seattle weather guru Cliff Mass takes them to the woodshed:

Weather Forecasting is Fifty Years Ahead of Epidemiological Prediction: That Must Change
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy approached New York from off the Atlantic. Seven days before, a near perfect track forecast was made by the European Center and two days later the U.S. model (the GFS), run by the National Weather Service's Environmental Modeling Center, has locked on as well.

The stunningly accurate prediction of an extremely unusual event, saved countless lives, with only about 100 deaths in a region of tens of millions of people (and most who died made a bad decision to ignore the forecast).

He looks at the factors going in to this and compares it to our dealings with the Wuhan Flu:

Stunningly, U.S. epidemiological modeling has almost NONE of the above components or systems, and the performance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is poor.    Consider:

    • There is no large, permanent epidemiological prediction center in the U.S. government analogous to the NOAA/NWS.   U.S. response to COVID had to depend on a hodgepodge of university forecasting efforts, some spun up for this event.  Untested, unverified, and often very wrong.
    • Unlike weather prediction, U.S. epidemiologists do not have an accurate description of what is happening NOW.  Testing was slow to begin, in fact, the CDC made serious errors in test development.  Even today, six months into the pandemic there are not enough tests.  There is no attempt being made to randomly sample the population to understand how many folks have or were infected.  Unbelievable.
    • Unlike the comprehensive and smoothly running weather observational system, there is poor organization to the data collection by CDC. There are not even standard reporting approaches.
    • The epidemiological models are generally primitive affairs, many of which do not consider the complex, variable transmission properties of a heterogeneous population, and lack clear information of what is occurring right now (called the initialization in weather prediction).
    • Communication by CDC of both the threat and how to deal with the disease has been inconsistent and often wrong.  For example, they initially discouraged the use of masks, before reversing their guidance 180 degrees.  Similarly, CDC downplayed the threat in January and February, before reserving in March.  The NWS works very hard to start with reliable forecasts, to communicate the uncertainties, and not to go back and forth in their warnings.  They are masters at this.

Cliff is not a fan of President Trump but he offers this come-to-Jesus moment for the TDS sufferers:

The Political Opportunists
There are some folks and many media pundits who are claiming this COVID disaster is all the fault of President Trump and that things would have been much better under a Democratic President.

This is either very naive or very cynical.

There is no doubt that the President and his administration has been startlingly misinformed and ineffective. His abysmal leadership has made things much worse.

But the problems noted above are not recent developments and have been allowed to fester in recent administrations, including the 8-years of President Obama. I suspect we would not have been in much better place if Hilary Clinton would have won, because the basic institutional infrastructure was not put in place.

That is what we must do together as a nation, following the example of the weather prediction community. And speaking as one of them, we would be glad to help.

A very wise heads-up. Let us hope that President Trump has some advisers that think along the same lines. This bit of nastiness escaped from the Chinese lab despite their protestations to the contrary. Stuff like this will happen again and the sooner we can mobilize, the better.

Wonderful news - REE mining

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REE? Wheeeee!!!!  Rare Earth Elements - used in technological stuff. From Colorado's Page Two:

Colorado on cutting edge to reduce China’s rare earth element domination
A Colorado city is now home to the tip of the spear in combating China’s domination of the world-market for rare earth elements (REE).  Manipulation of the REE market by China most recently resulted in the shutdown of the Mountain Pass REE mine in California in 2015 after an attempt by Greenwood Village-based Molycorp to reopen what has been the only developed REE mine in the U.S.

A pilot plant, now in operation in Wheat Ridge, which borders Denver to the west, will fine-tune existing technology to extract and purify elements including lithium, scandium, zirconium, beryllium, gallium and hafnium, among others, from domestic ore deposits in Texas.

The plant, built by New York-based USA Rare Earth (USARE) and commissioned June 11, was built to be near the expertise at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, adjacent to Wheat Ridge, during the technology development phase. USARE expects to build a larger plant starting in 2021 at the Round Top REE mine the company is developing near El Paso, Texas.

In a company press release, Pini Althaus, CEO of USARE said, “Our Colorado pilot plant will be the first processing facility outside of China with the ability to separate the full range of rare earths – Lights, Mids and Heavies. Our Wheat Ridge pilot plant is the second piece of a 100% U.S.-based rare earth oxide supply chain, drawing on feedstock from our Round Top heavy rare earth and critical minerals deposit in southwest Texas. Taken together, Round Top and our pilot plant constitute essential links in restoring a domestic U.S. rare earth supply chain, extracting rare earths and processing them into individual REE oxides – without the material ever leaving the United States, thereby alleviating the current dependence on China for the both raw materials and mineral processing.”

Incredible news. Not only for our own use but to export. The enviros started the problem (naturally) 30 years ago and then the Chinese started currency manipulation and price dumping so it was not economical for older mines to compete. Now, there is a new mine coming in that will be able to operate efficiently and compete in the world market.

One huge side-benefit is that you frequently find Thorium ore (Monazite) in with the REEs so Thorium Reactors will become that much cheaper when we start building them. Thorium reactors?

Here: LFTR in five minutes The actual video continues for an hour or more after - it goes into a lot more detail.

The TL;DR part is in the first five minues.

Curious - Russia

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From Reuters:

Russia denies nuclear incident after international body detects isotopes
Russia said on Monday it had detected no sign of a radiation emergency, after an international body reported last week that sensors in Stockholm had picked up unusually high levels of radioactive isotopes produced by nuclear fission.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which monitors the world for evidence of nuclear weapons tests, said last week one of its stations scanning the air for radioactive particles had found unusual, although harmless, levels of caesium-134, caesium-137 and ruthenium-103.

The isotopes were “certainly nuclear fission products, most likely from a civil source”, it said. It tweeted a map showing where the material was likely to have originated, which included parts of several Baltic and Scandinavian countries as well as a swathe of western Russia.

Asked on Monday about reports that Russia could have been the source of a leak, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We have an absolutely advanced radiation levels safety monitoring system and there are no any emergency alarms.”

“We do not know the source of this information.”

Hmmm... Cesium isotopes are definitely a result of nuclear fission. Half-lives are in the couple-year range so any "naturally occurring" sources decayed millennia ago.

According to Google?  Here's the thing:  Go to, type in a random three digit number followed by [space]new[space]cases.  ie: "nnn new cases" and see what comes up. Here are nine of my Google queries - such an unbiased source:










Hmmmmm... Does this look a little bit outside the bounds of statistical normalcy? A little hinky if you ask me.
You try some numbers and let me know.

I love that every one of the searches turned up over 1,000,000 results with some of them turning up numbers in the billions.

Tip of the hat to Vanderleun

A bolt out of the blue - Lightning

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Ho. Li. Crap. Talk about raw power - from

700-km Brazil 'megaflash' sets lightning record
The UN's weather agency announced Thursday the longest lightning bolt on record—a single flash in Brazil on October 31, 2018 that cut the sky across more than 700 kilometers.

That is equivalent to the distance between Boston and Washington DC in the United States, or between London and Basel, Switzerland, the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement.

WMO's committee of experts on weather and climate extremes also reported a new world record for the duration of a lightning flash, with a single flash that developed continuously over northern Argentina on March 4, 2019 lasting for a full 16.73 seconds.

The new "megaflash" records, which were verified with new satellite lightning imagery technology, were more than double the previous known record-holders, WMO said.

The bolts are not getting bigger, we are getting better detection and wider coverage of the planet.
Amazing power there. I love lightning.

Yikes - earthquake in Mexico

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Got the alert a few minutes ago - 7.4 Mag which will cause substantial building damage. It was a bit deep which will mitigate the damage somewhat but still, not good.

More news as it comes out.

Also known as EMP - from the Washington Examiner:

China develops weapons to fry US electric grid, eyes high-tech ‘Pearl Harbor’ attack
With the help of stolen U.S. technology, China has developed at least three types of high-tech weapons to attack the electric grid and key technologies in a “surprise Pearl Harbor” assault that could send America into a deadly blackout, according to a new analysis.

According to the report from the independent EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, China has built a network of satellites, high-speed missiles, and “super-electromagnetic pulse” weapons that could melt down the U.S. electric network, fry critical communications, and stifle aircraft carrier groups.

EMP is a serious concern. The sun outputs strong solar flares from time to time which have the same effect. We dodged a bullet in 2012 when huge one happened but it was pointed away from Earth at the time. Nine days earlier, things would have been quite a bit different. There was a big one in 1859 - The Carrington Event and we have had other lesser storms in 1921, 1960 and 1989. These events are not uncommon.

What China is trying to do is launch nuclear weapons into orbit (and I am sure we have some up there as well) and detonate them 200+ miles up over the US. The resultant EMP would fry out power grid and kill most modern electronics.

What were they thinking? From the Associated Press:

US: Company provided subpar steel for Navy submarine hulls
For decades, the Navy’s leading supplier of high-strength steel for submarines provided subpar metal because one of the company’s longtime employees falsified lab results — putting sailors at greater risk in the event of collisions or other impacts, federal prosecutors said in court filings Monday.

The supplier, Kansas City-based Bradken Inc., paid $10.9 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, the Justice Department said. The company provides steel castings that Navy contractors Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding use to make submarine hulls.

Bradken in 2008 acquired a foundry in Tacoma, Washington, that produced steel castings for the Navy. According to federal prosecutors, Bradken learned in 2017 that the foundry’s director of metallurgy had been falsifying the results of strength tests, indicating that the steel was strong enough to meet the Navy’s requirements when in fact it was not.

And a bit more:

Investigators said the fraud came to light when a metallurgist being groomed to replace Thomas upon her planned 2017 retirement noticed some suspicious results. The company said it immediately fired Thomas.

“While the company acknowledges that it failed to discover and disclose the full scope of the issue during the initial stages of the investigation, the government has recognized Bradken’s cooperation over the last eighteen months to be exceptional,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Bradken has a long history of proudly serving its clients, and this incident is not representative of our organization. We deeply regret that a trusted employee engaged in this conduct.”

Yikes - what was she thinking? There is no graceful exit strategy to a fraud like this. Any accident would trigger an investigation and discovery.

From the Canadian Broadcasting Comany:

Canadian scientist sent deadly viruses to Wuhan lab months before RCMP asked to investigate
Newly-released access-to-information documents reveal details about a shipment of deadly pathogens last year from Canada's National Microbiology Lab to China — confirming for the first time who sent them, what exactly was shipped, and where it went.

CBC News had already reported about the shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses but there's now confirmation one of the scientists escorted from the lab in Winnipeg amid an RCMP investigation last July was responsible for exporting the pathogens to the Wuhan Institute of Virology four months earlier.

Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng and her students from China were removed from Canada's only level-4 lab over what's described as a possible "policy breach." The Public Health Agency of Canada had asked the RCMP to get involved several months earlier.

And a bit more - the reaction:

"It is suspicious. It is alarming. It is potentially life-threatening," said Amir Attaran, a law professor and epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa.

"We have a researcher who was removed by the RCMP from the highest security laboratory that Canada has for reasons that government is unwilling to disclose. The intelligence remains secret. But what we know is that before she was removed, she sent one of the deadliest viruses on Earth, and multiple varieties of it to maximize the genetic diversity and maximize what experimenters in China could do with it, to a laboratory in China that does dangerous gain of function experiments. And that has links to the Chinese military."

Gain of function experiments are when a natural pathogen is taken into the lab, made to mutate, and then assessed to see if it has become more deadly or infectious.

Most countries, including Canada, don't do these kinds of experiments — because they're considered too dangerous, Attaran said.

"The Wuhan lab does them and we have now supplied them with Ebola and Nipah viruses. It does not take a genius to understand that this is an unwise decision," he said.

This is chilling - there is only one reason to do an experiment like this. They are trying to weaponize these materials. They do not have the intelligence or wisdom to do this kind of work - this is why China is continually stealing our intellectual property (here, herehereherehere for starters). Those labs that do have the brains, simply do not do these kinds of experiments. Period. Too fscking dangerous. End of story.

From Nature:

A discrete neuronal circuit induces a hibernation-like state in rodents
Hibernating mammals actively lower their body temperature to reduce energy expenditure when facing food scarcity. This ability to induce a hypometabolic state has evoked great interest owing to its potential medical benefits. Here we show that a hypothalamic neuronal circuit in rodents induces a long-lasting hypothermic and hypometabolic state similar to hibernation. In this state, although body temperature and levels of oxygen consumption are kept very low, the ability to regulate metabolism still remains functional, as in hibernation. There was no obvious damage to tissues and organs or abnormalities in behaviour after recovery from this state. Our findings could enable the development of a method to induce a hibernation-like state, which would have potential applications in non-hibernating mammalian species including humans.

Space travel here we come. Also, a good way to deal with the next pandemic lockdown.

Sad that so many people are doing this but great that they are being found out and removed. From Science:

Fifty-four scientists have lost their jobs as a result of NIH probe into foreign ties
Some 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of an ongoing investigation by the National Institutes of Health into the failure of NIH grantees to disclose financial ties to foreign governments. In 93% of those cases, the hidden funding came from a Chinese institution.

The new numbers come from Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research. Lauer had previously provided some information on the scope of NIH’s investigation, which had targeted 189 scientists at 87 institutions. But his presentation today to a senior advisory panel offered by far the most detailed breakout of an effort NIH launched in August 2018 that has roiled the U.S. biomedical community, and resulted in criminal charges against some prominent researchers, including Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology.

China is stealing our intellectual property. We have been too lax for too long.More at the site - some staggering numbers.

Quite the milestone

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Talk about the stories you will be able to tell your grandchildren - from EYOS Expeditions:

Kathy Sullivan becomes first woman to Challenger Deep; EYOS coordinates call between International Space Station and DSSV Pressure Drop
In a world first, EYOS Expeditions today coordinated a call between the International Space Station and the DSSV Pressure Drop, the mothership of submersible DSV Limiting Factor. Limiting Factor ‘LF’ had just returned from a full ocean depth dive in the Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean, with pilot Victor Vescovo of Caladan Oceanic and oceanographer/astronaut Dr. Kathy Sullivan onboard. The ISS is in Low Earth orbit at an altitude of 408 kms (254 miles) while the LF operates at a depth of nearly 7 miles.

Kathy Sullivan had just completed her historic dive to become the first woman to reach the deepest point in the ocean and the first human to have been in space and at full ocean depth. In 1983, Dr Sullivan, a veteran of three space shuttle flights, became the first American woman to walk in space. She is the 8th person to reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep (The first two were Don Walsh and Jacques Picard in 1960. James Cameron also reached the bottom of Challenger Deep in 2012).

Last year, Victor Vescovo became the fourth person in history to reach Challenger Deep as part of his Five Deeps expedition; over the course of 7 days, his team made 5 dives in the Mariana Trench.

Very very cool - there is so much about Earth that we do not know. Every exploration like this opens new horizons. This is an incredible planet to live on if we could just stop with the political activism and get our shit together. We could do so much more.

An interesting bit of history from the London Daily Mail:

Wuhan virus lab was signed off by EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier in 2004 - despite French intelligence warnings that China's poor bio-security reputation could lead to a catastrophic leak
The construction of the Chinese laboratory at the centre of mounting suspicion over the source of the Covid-19 pandemic was signed off by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier – despite warnings by French intelligence services.

Mr Barnier – currently embroiled in acrimonious negotiations with the UK over a post-Brexit trade deal – was the French foreign minister when he gave the go-ahead for work to start on the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2004, under a joint deal with the Chinese.

The move came despite strong opposition from French diplomatic and security advisers, who argued that the Chinese reputation for poor bio-security could lead to a catastrophic leak.

They also warned that Paris could lose control of the project, and even suggested that Beijing could harness the technology to make biowarfare weapons.

Eleven years later, as the laboratory prepared to open, the French architects of the project complained that they had, as feared, been ousted by the Chinese communist government.

Typical - steal the intellectual property and then do a piss-poor job if running it themselves. China needs to pay and pay big for this.

From the London Daily Mail:

Lockdowns failed to alter the course of pandemic and are now destroying millions of livelihoods worldwide, JP Morgan study claims
Coronavirus lockdowns have failed to alter the course of the pandemic but have instead 'destroyed millions of livelihoods', a JP Morgan study has claimed.

Falling infection rates since lockdowns were lifted suggest that the virus 'likely has its own dynamics' which are 'unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures', a report published by the financial services giant said.

You do not get to be that big for that long (founded in 1799) without having some very smart people working for you.

I am not surprised at all. Why were all of their models more than 10X times overstated towards the high-danger. There were zero models showing minimal danger, it was always immediate and high and always 10X to 100X overstated. So much hype and bad science - no wonder the liberals turned it into a crisis so they could attempt to ram their agenda through.

And we are back at 78% - sunspots

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Our sun is being very quiet these days - last year, it tied a record last set in 1913 for fewest sunspots. Since sunspots are a good proxy for solar activity, this means that the sun's output was lower than in recent history.

2020 is continuing the trend - 2019 had 77% of its days sunspot free. Today puts 2020 at 78%. Every few weeks, we have sunspots for a day or so and that kicks the number down below 77% but it just keeps creeping up.

Why am I looking at this? Because low sun activity means low temperatures on Earth. The global warming people are going to have some 'splainin to do before too long. Looks like the Modern Warm Period is coming to a close...

Michigan dam failure

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Posted about it yesterday - The Landslide Blog has a really good writeup and some videos:

Edenville Dam failure: the astonishing video of the collapse sequence
Yesterday I posted about the remarkable and devastating failure of the Edenville Dam in Michigan on Tuesday 19 May 2020. There are now heartbreaking images online showing the damage that the resulting flood has caused downstream.  Given the known weakness of the dam, this is an unacceptable situation.

From a technical perspective, the most remarkable aspect of this failure is that the sequence of events that induced the breach is caught on video.  I tweeted about this yesterday, but it turns out that the landslide that initiated the collapse was also captured, by Lynn Coleman, and posted to Youtube by MLive.  This video is astonishing:

Talk about right place and right time. Dave then does a good analysis of the slide - frame by frame.

This is what happens when you do not maintain your infrastructure.

And 60 years ago

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Missed the anniversary - May 16, 1960 - Ted Maiman

Ted Maiman? Fired the first LASER - from Charles H. Townes writing at University of Chicago:

Theodore Maiman made the first laser operate on 16 May 1960 at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California, by shining a high-power flash lamp on a ruby rod with silver-coated surfaces. He promptly submitted a short report of the work to the journal Physical Review Letters, but the editors turned it down. Some have thought this was because the Physical Review had announced that it was receiving too many papers on masers—the longer-wavelength predecessors of the laser—and had announced that any further papers would be turned down. But Simon Pasternack, who was an editor of Physical Review Letters at the time, has said that he turned down this historic paper because Maiman had just published, in June 1960, an article on the excitation of ruby with light, with an examination of the relaxation times between quantum states, and that the new work seemed to be simply more of the same. Pasternack's reaction perhaps reflects the limited understanding at the time of the nature of lasers and their significance. Eager to get his work quickly into publication, Maiman then turned to Nature, usually even more selective than Physical Review Letters, where the paper was better received and published on 6 August.

With official publication of Maiman's first laser under way, the Hughes Research Laboratory made the first public announcement to the news media on 7 July 1960. This created quite a stir, with front-page newspaper discussions of possible death rays, but also some skepticism among scientists, who were not yet able to see the careful and logically complete Nature paper. Another source of doubt came from the fact that Maiman did not report having seen a bright beam of light, which was the expected characteristic of a laser. I myself asked several of the Hughes group whether they had seen a bright beam, which surprisingly they had not. Maiman's experiment was not set up to allow a simple beam to come out of it, but he analyzed the spectrum of light emitted and found a marked narrowing of the range of frequencies that it contained. This was just what had been predicted by the theoretical paper on optical masers (or lasers) by Art Schawlow and myself, and had been seen in the masers that produced the longer-wavelength microwave radiation. This evidence, presented in figure 2 of Maiman's Nature paper, was definite proof of laser action. Shortly afterward, both in Maiman's laboratory at Hughes and in Schawlow's at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, bright red spots from ruby laser beams hitting the laboratory wall were seen and admired.

Now, we use them for cat toys.

How time flies - Mt. St. Helens

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40 years ago today. From InfoGalactic:

1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens
On May 18, 1980, a major volcanic eruption occurred at Mount St. Helens, a volcano located in the state of Washington, United States. The eruption (a VEI 5 event) was the only significant one to occur in the contiguous 48 U.S. states since the 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the volcano that created a huge bulge and a fracture system on the mountain's north slope.

An earthquake at 8:32:17 a.m. PDT (UTC−7) on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the entire weakened north face to slide away, creating the largest landslide ever recorded. This suddenly exposed the partly molten, gas- and steam-rich rock in the volcano to lower pressures. The rock responded by exploding a hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock toward Spirit Lake so fast that it overtook the avalanching north face.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles (80 km) to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year.

Approximately fifty-seven people were killed directly, including innkeeper Harry R. Truman, photographer Reid Blackburn and geologist David A. Johnston. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over a billion U.S. dollars in damage ($2.89 billion in 2015 dollars), thousands of game animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side. At the time of the eruption, the summit of the volcano was owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, but afterward the land passed to the United States Forest Service. The area was later preserved, as it was, in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Remember it quite well. The power of nature is beyond our comprehension.

Actually, not. From Robert Stacy McCain:

Remember How Everybody Was Going to Die Because Georgia Ended Lockdowns?
The headlines last month were scary:

Georgia’s dangerous coronavirus experiment
— Joel Mathis, The Week April 21
Georgia’s Kemp neglected to warn people about his dangerous gamble
— Steve Benen, MSNBC, April 22
Kemp poised to lift restrictions, despite warnings of renewed outbreak
— Alan Judd and Greg Bluestein, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 29

It was a “gamble,” an “experiment,” and the media all agreed it was “dangerous” for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to do this “despite warnings.” You would have thought, based on the coverage, that Kemp’s plan was so reckless and irresponsible as to guarantee a “renewed outbreak” that would kill thousands. But what actually happened?

Georgia’s daily COVID-19 deaths had already peaked by the time Kemp announced he would begin re-opening the state’s economy. On April 16, Georgia recorded 52 deaths from the virus, concluding a week (April 10-16) in which the state recorded 205 deaths, an average of 35.7 deaths daily for that week. For the seven day period ending Thursday (i.e., May 8-14), Georgia recorded a total of 105 coronavirus deaths, an average of 15 daily. In other words, comparing these two seven-day periods, there was a 58% decrease in Georgia’s COVID-19 deaths. The number of daily new COVID-19 cases reported has likewise declined more than 50% since April, even as the number of tests performed has increased.

More at the site - those pesky numbers again. Robert reminds us of Farr's Law which governs outbreaks like this - basically a bell curve. We may be able to change the slope or height of the bell curve but nothing we can do will change the fact that it will be a bell curve. Has always been and will always be.

All this fuss over a simple coronavirus? Here is one example of what could happen - from Space Weather:

99 years ago this week, people around the world woke up to some unusual headlines.

"Telegraph Service Prostrated, Comet Not to Blame" — declared the Los Angeles Times on May 15, 1921. "Electrical Disturbance is 'Worst Ever Known'” — reported the Chicago Daily Tribune. "Sunspot credited with Rail Tie-up" — deadpanned the New York Times.

They didn’t know it at the time, but the newspapers were covering the biggest solar storm of the 20th Century. Nothing quite like it has happened since.

It began on May 12, 1921 when giant sunspot AR1842, crossing the sun during the declining phase of Solar Cycle 15, began to flare. One explosion after another hurled coronal mass ejections (CMEs) directly toward Earth. For the next 3 days, CMEs rocked Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists around the world were surprised when their magnetometers suddenly went offscale, pens in strip chart recorders pegged uselessly to the top of the paper.

Then the fires began. Around 02:00 GMT on May 15th, a telegraph exchange in Sweden burst into flames. About an hour later, the same thing happened across the Atlantic in the village of Brewster, New York. Flames engulfed the switch-board at the Brewster station of the Central New England Railroad and quickly spread to destroy the whole building. That fire, along with another one about the same time in a railroad control tower near New York City's Grand Central Station, is why the event is sometimes referred to as the "New York Railroad Superstorm."

What caused the fires? Electrical currents induced by geomagnetic activity surged through telephone and telegraph lines, heating them to the point of combustion. Strong currents disrupted telegraph systems in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the UK and USA. The Ottawa Journal reported that many long-distance telephone lines in New Brunswick were burned out by the storm. On some telegraph lines in the USA voltages spiked as high as 1000 V.

These things happen from time to time - the article cites some more examples of what happens and then, the $64,000 question:

What would happen if such a storm occurred today?

Researchers have long grappled with that question–most recently in a pair of in-depth papers published in the journal Space Weather: "The Great Storm of May 1921: An Exemplar of a Dangerous Space Weather Event" by Mike Hapgood (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK) and "Intensity and Impact of the New York Railroad Superstorm of May 1921" by Jeffrey Love (US Geological Survey) and colleagues.

Our civilization would basically fall to shit as it would take six months or more to get electricity back to our cities. No cell service. No internet. No nothing. We think a simple flu is bad? This solar storm was similar to the Carrington Event of 1859. We had a similar event happen on July 23rd, 2012:

Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012
If an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century appeared out of deep space and buzzed the Earth-Moon system, the near-miss would be instant worldwide headline news.

Two years ago, Earth experienced a close shave just as perilous, but most newspapers didn't mention it. The "impactor" was an extreme solar storm, the most powerful in as much as 150+ years.

Thank God that we were off by one week:

"I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did," says Baker.  "If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire."

Preparedness is not stupid. It is not a matter of IF, it is a matter of WHEN

Just wonderful - China

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Curious story from Ars Technica:

Large chunks of a Chinese rocket missed New York City by about 15 minutes
A week ago, China launched the newest version of its largest rocket, the Long March 5B, from its southernmost spaceport. The launch proceeded normally and represented another success for China as it seeks to build a robust human spaceflight program. Over the next few years, this rocket will launch components of a modular space station.

And the story:

The US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron confirmed that the core stage re-entered Earth's atmosphere at 11:33am ET (15:33 UTC) on Monday at a location over the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, the core stage would have been at an altitude of 80km and rapidly descending toward Earth. McDowell said there were some reports emerging about possible debris found downrange in Cote d'Ivoire.

It is perhaps worth noting that before it entered Earth's atmosphere, the core stage track passed directly over New York City. Had it reentered the atmosphere only a little bit earlier, perhaps 15 to 20 minutes, the rocket's debris could have rained down on the largest metro area in the United States.

Talking about 20 tons weight - a lot of kinetic energy. Not the first time that China messed up.
From Ars Technica, November 25th, 2019:

Once again, a Chinese rocket has doused a village with toxic fuel
China's space program now ranks among the most successful in the world, with more launches than any other country on an annual basis, the capability to send humans into orbit, and an exploration plan that includes firsts such as the Chang'e-4 spacecraft's landing on the far side of the Moon.


On Friday, a Long March 3B rocket launched a pair of Beidou satellites into orbit. The rocket's ascent was normal, but its first stage booster tumbled into a village down range from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in the South-Central part of the country.

It has happened many times before, including most infamously in 1996 when a Long March 3B rocket veered off course shortly after a launch and crashed into a village. Chinese officials reported six dead from the accident, although Western sources have speculated that hundreds of Chinese citizens may have died in the accident.

Hell of a way to run a space program - success at all costs and never mind a few peasants. The joys of communism.

The models were continually flawed - the UW one was over by at least ten times. Go and read this post from Kim Du Toit which links to a much longer and wonderfully detailed examination.

Quote Of The Day
From the study proving that Niall Ferguson’s Chinkvirus model contained flawed methodology (to say the least) comes this conclusion:

“On a personal level, I’d go further and suggest that all academic epidemiology be defunded. This sort of work is best done by the insurance sector. Insurers employ modellers and data scientists, but also employ managers whose job is to decide whether a model is accurate enough for real world usage and professional software engineers to ensure model software is properly tested, understandable and so on. Academic efforts don’t have these people, and the results speak for themselves.”

Hell, considering what’s come out of academia in terms of climate modeling as well as this latest fiasco, I’d prefer to have bookies produce the models, rather than universities.

And this is why charlatans like the Hockey-Stick guy (of global warming infamy) steadfastly refuse to release their code — they know it’ll fall over under the slightest scrutiny.

Had I ever tried to get this bullshit past my clients back in the day when I was involved in this kind of thing, I’d have been fired on my ass and my business cred utterly demolished. These pricks deserve no less.

It was a model derived in academia. In its original state, it was a single file with 15,000 lines of code. Stunningly bad programming practice. I am reminded of these two quotes:

"For real people, if something works in theory, but not in practice, it doesn't work. For academics, if something works in practice, but not in theory, it doesn't exist."
--Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A corollary to what Vox Day said:

In academia there is no difference between academia and the real world; in the real world there is.

And a tip 'o the chapeau to Maggie's Farm for the first quote.

Absolutely - we only have to look at the failed "hockey stick" chart of global warming to understand that the work of academics is frequently deeply flawed. There is no real-world repercussion if they are wrong.

DRAT - norora

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Looks like no aurora tonight - the K-Index is back to "normal"


Look to the heavens tonight

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We might have aurora - the Planetary K-Index:


Anything six or above practically guarantees an aurora display at this latitude. Might have something to see tonight if it is clear.

From Space Weather:

GEOMAGNETIC STORM UNDERWAY: Earth's magnetic field is reverberating from the unexpected impact of a CME during the early hours of April 20th. G1-class geomagnetic storms are now underway with bright auroras sighted earlier today in Montana and CanadaAurora alerts: SMS Text.

"Northern lights danced across the entire northwestern Montana sky early this morning," reports Philip Granrud. "I photographed them with a wide angle lens on top of my car several miles outside of Kalispell."

Great numerical analysis from Robert Stacy McCain:

COVID-19: The Democrat Disease
Part of the developing liberal media narrative about COVID-19 pandemic is that black people are disproportionately impacted by the disease. The usual explanation for this is that black people have more “underlying conditions” — heart disease, Type II diabetes, etc. — that so often make the difference between having a mild case of coronavirus and having a serious case that might kill you. What goes unmentioned in such explanations is that black people are also disproportionately likely to live in high-density urban areas and to use public transportation. Why do you think New York City became such a death trap in this pandemic? Millions of people ride the subway there every day, and the city’s population density is the highest in America. Because urban life is also highly correlated with voting Democrat, the Chinese virus also has a partisan bias. Republican voters tend to live in suburbs, small towns and rural areas, regions where the COVID-19 infection rate is lower. A “stay-at-home” order will help reduce the spread of a contagious disease far more effectively if you live in a single-family home than if you live in a crowded apartment complex, and so the residential patterns of Democrats are part of the risk patterns that have political consequences.

Robert looks at the state of Maryland (which has both strong Republican and strong Democrat counties) and runs the numbers. Pretty damning - makes for some really interesting reading.

Just remember:


I always wonder why - nuclear power

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Why don't the left support nuclear power? Cheap, safe, clean. The new designs are walk-away safe (molten salt).
The two big disasters were Chernobyl (a reactor run by a government) and Fukushima (a reactor sited on a fault line).


Organic chemistry

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I was reading something and this line jumped out at me:

The -78ºC is the temperature (-108° F) at which the reaction is run. Some reactions have to be run at very low temperatures. This is one of them. If you mix this stuff together at room temperature your internal organs would be found in several time zones.

That is a succinct way to put it. Not fun stuff to work with. Majored in Marine Biology in college (Boston University) so have done my share of organic chem stuff.

Quake in Idaho

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Felt as far away as British Columbia but did not feel it here. USGS page: M 6.5 - 72km W of Challis, Idaho

From Yahoo/AccuWeather:

Idaho hit by strong magnitude 6.5 earthquake
A preliminary magnitude 6.5 earthquake rattled Idaho on Tuesday afternoon with shaking felt all across the region.

This is the strongest earthquake to hit the region since a magnitude 7.3 earthquake jolted the area in 1983.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located approximately 78 miles (126 km) northeast of Boise.

No word as to any structural damage or injuries - it was shallow (10km) and 6.5 is enough to cause serious damage to unreinforced buildings.

Earthquake in Croatia

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Major (5.3) quake right in the capital city of Zagreb. From the Beeb:

Earthquake rocks Croatia's capital Zagreb
An earthquake has rocked Croatia's capital Zagreb, damaging buildings and leaving cars crushed by falling chunks of masonry.

A teenager is in a critical condition after a roof collapsed, local media say. The spire of the city's cathedral also snapped off.

After Sunday's tremor, Zagreb's mayor urged people to return to their homes given fears about the coronavirus.

The 5.3-magnitude quake is the largest to affect the city in 140 years.

Panicked residents ran out into the streets when it struck around 06:00 local time and were initially told to stay out by authorities.

"Keep your distance. Don't gather together. We are facing two serious crises, the earthquake and the epidemic," Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said.

Cell phone video is already online:

The area is seismically active but the quakes are (thank God) not frequent. They had a major one in 1667 and a large one in 1880 - the 1880 quake was Magnitude 6.3. As the Magnitude scale is logarithmic, this one would have been ten times the strength of today's 5.3. Prayers going out to the people.

Whoops - earthquake in CA

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5.9 Mag offshore but the epicenter was only a touch under a mile deep (2.2km)
USGS website for the event is here: M 5.9 - 86km W of Petrolia, CA

From the Los Angeles Times:

Magnitude 5.9 quake strikes off the coast of Northern California
A magnitude 5.9 earthquake was reported Sunday evening at 7:59 p.m. Pacific time 60 miles from Fortuna, Calif., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake occurred 62 miles from Eureka, 65 miles from Myrtletown, 68 miles from Arcata and 70 miles from McKinleyville.

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

Last paragraph? Just saying that this one is unique and not tied to prior activity. 5.9 would cause some significant building damage if on dry land and only 2.2km deep.

An interesting finding - whale strandings

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From Current Biology:

Gray whales strand more often on days with increased levels of atmospheric radio-frequency noise
Relatively little is known about the cues whales use while migrating. Visual cues in the ocean are often limited, which may drive oceanic migrators to use other sensory modalities, such as the ubiquitous geomagnetic field [1]. While it is impractical to perform behavioral assays on whales, strandings have been recorded for decades, and may provide insight into whale migration. Many strandings document that the individual was neither ill nor injured and resumed normal activity following rescue [2, 3, 4]. It is therefore possible that a portion of these animals stranded due to navigational errors. Although many factors impact strandings (e.g. naval mid-frequency sonar, disease, etc.) [5], here we focus on whether strandings can be used to study the potential for magnetoreception in migratory whales. Previous studies have used spatial patterns in strandings to suggest the potential for magnetoreception in cetaceans [4,6]. We use 31 years of gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) stranding data (n = 186) to build on earlier work that found a positive relationship between strandings and sunspot counts [2,3]. Sunspots are strongly correlated with solar storms — sudden releases of high-energy particles from the sun that modify the geomagnetic field and thus have the potential to disrupt magnetic orientation behavior [7]. We examined relationships between strandings and two aspects of Earth’s magnetosphere altered by solar storms — radio frequency noise and displacements in the Earth’s magnetic field. Our results suggest that the increase in strandings under high solar activity is best explained by an effect on the sensor, not on the magnetic field itself.

A long paper but a well written one (this is just a brief excerpt). They used 31 years of data encompassing 186 strandings so this is not a small sample. It's our sun. It is nothing that we are doing, just a natural cause - our sun. Just like our climate is driven by our sun. Natural variation there too. Simple really.

Trailer - due to be released in September:

Used to vacation with my parents in Colorado in the 1960's and there was always weird stuff flying in the air then - things with lights making impossible accelerations, 90° turns, the like. Silent. My Dad always said they were Air Force experimental craft but was never sure of his explanation.

The movie's website is here: The Phenomenon - must see.

A bit of a quake to the North

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Off the coast of Bella Bella to the North of Vancouver Island - 4.6Mag at 2:17 last morning. No Tsunami forecast at this moment.

From Science Alert:

A Long-Lost Legendary Roman Fruit Tree Has Been Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds
Scientists have cultivated plants from date palm seeds that languished in ancient ruins and caves for 2,000 years.

This remarkable feat confirms the long-term viability of the kernels once ensconced in succulent Judean dates, a fruit cultivar lost for centuries. The results make it an excellent candidate for studying the longevity of plant seeds.

From those date palm saplings, the researchers have begun to unlock the secrets of the highly sophisticated cultivation practices that produced the dates praised by Herodotus, Galen, and Pliny the Elder.

It would be interesting to know if our taste buds have evolved as well. Interesting story and quite the bit of history coming to life. Tip of the hat to Bayou Renaissance Man for the link.

Now this is interesting - turbulence

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A complex behaviour turns out to have a very simple and elegent solution. From Quanta Magazine:

Mathematicians Prove Universal Law of Turbulence
Picture a calm river. Now picture a torrent of white water. What is the difference between the two? To mathematicians and physicists it’s this: The smooth river flows in one direction, while the torrent flows in many different directions at once.

Physical systems with this kind of haphazard motion are called turbulent. The fact that their motion unfolds in so many different ways at once makes them difficult to study mathematically. Generations of mathematicians will likely come and go before researchers are able to describe a roaring river in exact mathematical statements.

But a new proof finds that while certain turbulent systems appear unruly, they actually conform to a simple universal law. The work is one of the most rigorous descriptions of turbulence ever to emerge from mathematics. And it arises from a novel set of methods that are themselves changing how researchers study this heretofore untamable phenomenon.

A nice lay explanation at the site - the paper is a bit too much for my head. Pretty cool though...

Australia moves a bit

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Tectonics and GPS - some correction needed. From The Sydney Morning Herald:

NSW and Victoria just jumped 1.8 metres north
On New Year’s Day, NSW and Victoria jumped north by 1.8 metres – while the rest of the country remained firmly fixed in place.

No, you did not miss an earthquake. And no, we’re not seceding from the rest of the continent.

And the reason:

Australia sits atop one of the fastest-moving tectonic plates in the world. We move about seven centimetres north-east every year.

“That’s about the speed your hair or fingernails grow,” says NSW Surveyor General Narelle Underwood, who led NSW’s ‘jump’.

In the days of paper maps our tectonic drift did not pose a real problem. The continent might move but the distance from Melbourne to Sydney stayed the same. That meant Australia could get away with the slight inaccuracy that has crept in since we last set our coordinates in 1994.

But paper maps have gone the way of the dinosaurs; we use GPS now. And GPS notices.

A simple correction. Wonderful that we have gone from miles to fractions of an inch in just 40 years or so.

Junk Science - Rolling Stone

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Fracking oil releases huge amounts of radioactivity. Oh noooooooessssssss. A two-fer

First, from the Rolling Stone:

America’s Radioactive Secret

Excerpted from the article:

One day in 2017, Peter pulled up to an injection well in Cambridge, Ohio. A worker walked around his truck with a hand-held radiation detector, he says, and told him he was carrying one of the “hottest loads” he’d ever seen. It was the first time Peter had heard any mention of the brine being radioactive.

The Earth’s crust is in fact peppered with radioactive elements that concentrate deep underground in oil-and-gas-bearing layers. This radioactivity is often pulled to the surface when oil and gas is extracted — carried largely in the brine.

Second, from David Middleton writing at Watts Up With That:

“On the Cover of the Rolling Stone” #ExxonKnew: Earth Is Radioactive
This Rolling Stone article reads like the Josh “Gasland” Fox version of the #ExxonKnew fraud with funding from the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s very long, long-winded, loaded with anecdotal information and lots of teeth gnashing & wailing from environmentalists.

    1. The fact that Earth is radioactive has never been a secret.
    2. The radioactivity wasn’t discovered in crude oil. Rocks are radioactive. Shale is more radioactive than sandstone. The gamma ray log was developed to detect the difference between sandstone and shale.
    3. The safe disposals of wastewater, drilling mud, drill cuttings and other waste products are regulated by state and/or federal regulatory agencies. This is not something new, secret or mysterious.
    4. Operators who flout the regulations are punished.

The take-aways are that:
#1) - they have known about this radioactivity since at least 1927 when a sensor was invented which uses the shale's natural radioactivity to locate oil.
#2) - there is radioactivity but the quantities are vanishingly small. If you eat a banana, you are eating radioactivity - bananas are rich in Potassium - a vital mineral. Potassium contains a radioactive isotope (K-40) which is present in a 0.01% concentration and
#3) - radioactivity is normal. Too much of anything can be toxic - even drinking too much water can be fatal.

Another political hit-piece disguised as science reporting. Funded by the SPLC of all places - not good people.

Crap - sizable earthquake near Cuba

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No details as yet but a Mag 7.7 quake hit the ocean floor halfway between Cuba and Jamaica - 10km depth which is shallow enough to cause some real damage.

There was an earlier 4.6 quake for which no tsunami warning was issued but no word yet on this one. 7.7 is getting up there - do not forget that magnitude is on a logrithmic scale. Mag 4 is 1/10th of Mag 5, etc...

You can not have it both ways

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Two headlines - click on them to go to the article:

I will give you a hint. The first link is from CBS News. They are not quite CNN when it comes to pushing the progressive narrative but they are pretty close. Fake News indeed.

The second link is a paper published in the Journal of Polar Biology 

I think the actual reality should be pretty clear.

Looks like a good idea - they only have a few projects out there but it is a promissing start. From their home page:

Developing low-cost, open-source oceanographic hardware for researchers, educators, and citizen scientists
The tools necessary to study, explore, and understand the ocean are often inaccessible to the vast majority of ocean users. By nurturing a community of open-source hardware developers, scientists, and ocean stakeholders, we want to change that.

Whether you’re a researcher looking for alternatives to expensive scientific equipment, a citizen scientist interested in building a marine monitoring program, a fisherman exploring new tools to understand their catch, or an ocean enthusiast seeking new ways to interact with the sea, this community is for you.

Under each project, you will find links to resources, build guides, 3D-printer files, code repositories, and, eventually, databases. Each project section will also point you towards ways that you can help contribute to the project. This website serves as the community portal, but the action really happens in the Oceanography for Everyone GitHub repositories.

The ocean belongs to all of us. Let’s ensure that everyone has access to the tools needed to understand it.

Check back from time to time and see what they are developing. Looks interesting so far.

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