John Coster-Mullen is "a truck-driver with minimal college education, Coster-Mullen taught himself how to build the most detailed replica of an A-bomb ever made. "The secret of the atomic bomb is how easy they are to make."
Last year, Motherboard visited Coster-Mullen to talk with him about his life project: reverse engineering the atomic bombs America dropped on Japan. His findings are available in a book he continuously updates and publishes himself called Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man, which has received rave reviews from the National Resource Defense Council: "nothing else in the Manhattan Project literature comes close to his exacting breakdown of the bomb's parts."
John Ptak, proprietor of the JF Ptak Science Bookstore, reviewed a research project report filled with "putrified moral-punk thinking on envisioning American society post nuke holocaust." He says it's one of many "very badly written, deeply obfuscated, sinful research projects" that he's come across, but says this one stands out because "it is the first I can recall that restarts taxes right off the burned-up bat. Quite something, really. "
[T]he authors clearly assume that there will be something approximately preattack life in the post-attack world. Amidst the horror and chaos, we read that
"Businessmen, in particular, but others as well, would experience disturbing and subtle changes in familiar institutions and in such bases of mutual trust as methods of establishing or verifying credit...or estimating delivery dates"--pg 11.
"Disturbing and subtle" changes to delivery, indeed.
We further read of "widespread readjustments of status, status symbols, and values" (page 11) which no doubt would come if all of your possessions were burned up, or lost or destroyed in some way, along with the owner. It is definitely difficult to maintain status relationships in the evidence of no status and no relationships. Of course this whole deal is complicated by the issue that status symbols are also relationships and associations, much of which could also be gone in the same fire cloud.
[Video Link] Ted Balakar of Reason says: "This time top dishonors go to the Drug Warrior-in-Chief Barack Obama (with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart grabbing a dishonorable mention), whose DEA banned fake pot, thwarted a scientist's decade-long campaign to study marijuana, and raided dispensaries in Montana and California--all in one month!
Malachi Ward's slim science fiction comic chapbook "The Scout" is a perfect, Twilight-Zoneish science fiction short story in graphic novel form. It's the surreal story of an alien scout who awakes and discovers that he's already awakened -- and died -- before. 16 brief pages long, The Scout is a shining example of graphic storytelling, and Ward's surreal Golden Age science fiction line-art is just great. You can order a copy for $5 from Ad House books, and Angelenos can get a copy at Secret Headquarters in Sunset Junction, where I got mine.
The Republican Party of Polk County, WI is pulling out all stops to suppress a video of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) bemoaning the difficulty of scraping by on his measly $174,000 (plus benefits!) government salary, and how hard it is driving around in his old car and paying off his student loans with only $174,000 (plus benefits) paid to him every year.
The Republican Party office -- which posted the video initially -- has used copyright claims to demand that video hosting services take it down. Talking Points Memo has excerpted the relevant scene and reposted it, and say that they will not remove it.
I can guarantee you, or most of you, I guarantee that I have more debt than all of you. With 6 kids, I still pay off my student loans. I still pay my mortgage. I drive a used minivan. If you think I'm living high on the hog, I've got one paycheck. So I struggle to meet my bills right now. Would it be easier for me if I get more paychecks? Maybe, but at this point I'm not living high on the hog.
As TPM points out, Duffy is poorer than the average Republican politico, but that's because the baseline for comparison is somewhere between "rich as hell" and "richer than God." And $174K a year is certainly a hell of a lot more than those "greedy union thugs" in Wisconsin have been asking for.
A girl from a displaced family holds her stuffed animals at an evacuation center in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, March 31, 2011. This shelter is located about 70 km (44 miles) from the earthquake and tsunami-crippled nuclear reactor. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
In Japan today, a gentleman driving a loudspeaker truck crashed his vehicle right into the gates of one of the nuclear plants in northern Japan operated by TEPCO (Fukushima Daini, not the leaky one, but very close to the leaky one). Those mobile boombox trucks are popular with political groups there, used to broadcast propaganda while driving around the 'hood. After crashing this one into Fukushima #2, the gentleman was promptly arrested by the po-po. Related: Has anyone seen Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly over the past 24 hours? I didn't think so. (AFP)
An unemployed man from Tokyo was arrested Friday after allegedly intruding by car into the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant premises, near the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi plant in Fukushima Prefecture, police said. Hikaru Watanabe, 25, from Shinjuku Ward, allegedly broke through the western gate of the Daini plant around 1:10 p.m. Thursday, before driving inside its premises for about 10 minutes, the plants' operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said, adding that no one was injured in the incident.
Over at Collectors Weekly, Jim Linderman gives us an inspirational taste of his amazing collection of old timey religious tracts. You may recall my previous post about Jim's terrific book and CD package "Take Me To The Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950." His new book, Old-Time-Religion, presents his collection of religious ephemera. It's also the name of Jim's blog where he showcases the tracts like the two seen above. While some of the fearmongering and artwork is a delight, "most of these now dated screeds are racist, homophobic, and offensive to any religion not one’s own," Jim says.
For someone looking for a high quality soldering station at a reasonable price the Hakko 936 is hard to beat. I've had mine for a few years and use it mostly for electronics and instrument cable work. I think I paid around $80 new for it, and the price included a separate cast metal pencil rest with an integral sponge tip wiping pad.
The power supply is a transformer type, controlled by a rheostat mounted on the front panel graduated in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. The only other control is the on-off switch mounted on the right side. There is a red LED pilot lamp on the front which illuminates only when regulated power is actually being applied to the pencil. The pencil's cable plugs in to a 5-conductor receptacle and locks in via a threaded collar. The extra wires going to the tip are for a thermocouple near the tip for precise and stable temperature regulation.
I will refrain from including any spoilers in this blog post, but just stay with it. The performance is clever and beautiful. Thailand is a country with many problems, but it's pretty awesome that a moment like this can happen in popular culture there, with applause and acceptance.
Since the nuclear catastrophe of April 26 1986, and in complete contrast to human life, nature at Chernobyl is thriving. The evacuation of people has created an undisturbed haven and wildlife has taken full advantage. Animals and birds absent for many decades - wolves, moose, black storks - have moved back and the Chernobyl exclusion zone is now one of Europe's prime wildlife sites. Radiation seems to have had a negligible effect.
The increase in wildlife numbers and variety means that the natural sounds of springtime are particularly impressive. For me the passionate species rich dawn chorus became Chernobyl's definitive sound. Chernobyl is also famous for its frogs and nightingales. Nighttime concerts were equally spectacular.
Related: Cusack's "Sounds From Dangerous Places" project collected sounds from places including Chernobyl, the Azerbaijan oil fields, and areas near controversial dams on the Tigris and Euphrates river systems in Turkey, all of which are sites of major environmental damage.
I've posted several different explanations here describing how earthquakes and tsunamis work. This week, though, the Miller-McCune Curiouser and Curiouser podcast takes that generalized information and does a nice job of applying it specifically to Japan. First, they talk about the general stuff—plate tectonics and why earthquakes happen. Then they talk about the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami—and how the general facts play out into real-world disasters.
On Wednesday, March 9, two days before the main event, there was a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the plate boundary just East of Japan under the Pacific Ocean. Not the main thing but still a very big earthquake, the kind this part of Japan gets every few decades. This time, though, very bad. Part of the Pacific Plate came unstuck and suddenly shifted underneath Japan. The part that moved put even more strain on the much larger part of the Pacific Plate that was still really, really stuck—and two days later, the strain was too much. On March 11, a huge stretch of the Pacific Plate, maybe 300 miles long, broke free and surged westward under Japan—as much as 120 ft of movement, all at once. At the same time, the plate Japan sits on moved east by 9 feet.
Earlier this week, I posted about the death of Paul Baran, co-inventor of packet switching -- the core technology of the Internet -- and a co-founder of Institute for the Future, the non-profit forecasting thinktank where I'm a research director. Yesterday, as we looked through our library of Baran's brilliant, and still-relevant, research papers, we came across a mind-blowing report from 1971, titled "Toward a Study of Future Urban High-Capacity Telecommunications Systems." At the time, Baran and his IFTF colleagues were considering how the military's ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, might someday change our everyday lives if it became publicly accessible. This particular report contained a delightfully prophetic page of forecasts titled "Brief Descriptions of Potential Home Information Services." Click here to see a full scan of the page. Here are a few of my favorites (remember, this was 1971!):
* DEDICATED NEWSPAPER. A set of pages with printed and graphic information, possibly including photographs, the organization of which has been predetermined by a user to suit his preferences.
* PLAYS AND MOVIES FROM A VIDEO LIBRARY. Selection of all plays and movies. Color and good sound are required.
* RESTAURANTS. Following a query for a type of restaurant (Japanese, for instance), reservations, menu, prices are shown. Displays of dishes, location of tables, may be included.
* LIBRARY ACCESS. After an interactive "browsing" with a "librarian computer" and a quotation for the cost of hard copy facsimile or a slow-scan video transmission, a book or a magazine is transmitted to the home.
This is an x-ray of a newly discovered species of stingray, native to the Amazon. You can't tell from this shot of its innards, but the Heliotrygon gomesi actually resembles a "pancake with a nose"—big, round, flat, and beige. Read more about this creature at Our Amazing Planet.
Symphony of Science, the people behind that awesome Carl Sagan "Glorious Dawn" autotune song have a new video, based around neuroscience. There's plenty of Sagan—who I still think sounds weirdly like Kermit the Frog when filtered through autotune—and it's also got a great, spacey chorus featuring Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist who described her own stroke for TEDtalks a few years ago.
This is something that I really want to look into over the next few months. I've been told by many sources, and read in several places, that the actual human toll from the Chernobyl accident was relatively small, compared to what we imagine. For instance, in a report for PBS on Tuesday, Miles O'Brien quoted the United Nations Chernobyl Forum as attributing only ("only") 4000 deaths to the disaster. O'Brien says:
the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, issued a report contending: "There is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of cancers or leukemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. Neither is there any proof of any non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. However, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation, not the actual radiation doses."
I can't promise I'll have answers on this quickly. But it's something that I'm going to look into. In particular, I'm really curious whether the different groups of people studying Chernobyl are coming up with wildly different data, or whether the data is similar but the conclusions are wildly different. Is one group relying too much on anecdote? Are the other group's results based on research that didn't go deep enough or last long enough? I've got no idea. But I'll be interested to find out.
You can watch O'Brien's full report from Chernobyl, and/or read the transcript, online. Fair warning, this is heart-wrenching stuff. Especially his interview with one of the Chernobyl liquidators—military and firefighting crews who were brought in to do hands-on cleanup of highly radioactive material.
Image: After visiting the Chernobyl site, Miles O'Brien is screened by a radiation detector. Photo taken by Catherine Buell. More images at PBS.
It's a little mind-blowing, in light of the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. But, in another part of Japan, tsunami survivors are living in their local nuclear power plant.
The nuclear plant in Onagawa was built to withstand 30-ft. tsunami waves. (Fukushima, in contrast, was only designed for 18-ft. waves.) After the tsunami destroyed much of the city, some of the people who survived made their way to the power plant, looking for shelter. Weeks later, 240 of them are still living there, according to the Associated Press. The AP describes these people as sleeping and playing "next to the reactors", but it also says that the refugees are being housed in the power plant's employee gym. Because of that, I suspect the "next to"—and the resulting mental image of a bunch of huddled masses snuggled up against a containment vessel—is misleading.
The Onagawa plant is one of several nuclear power plants that suffered minor damage after the earthquake and tsunami. But the problems here were much, much smaller than at Fukushima, and operators were able to get the reactors into cold shutdown pretty quickly. Currently, the plant is still in shutdown mode.
The company that owns the power plant—Tohoku Electric Power Co., a different firm than the one that runs Fukushima Daiichi—is still keeping the facility pretty locked down. The gates aren't wide open to anybody. Only employees, and the refugees living there, are allowed in and out. So all the descriptions of life inside come from interviews the AP did with those people while they were off of the power plant grounds.
From the sounds of things, living in the power plant is a lot nicer than living in other refugee camps in Onagawa. Unlike other places, people living in the power plant report having access to electricity (The availability of which is why Onagawa is a refugee camp and Fukushima is a disaster zone. Onagawa also uses diesel generators, but theirs weren't damaged), as well as clean toilets and the Tohoku Electric Power Company's dedicated telephone network.
The 360Cities people shot a 40 gigapixel panorama of the interior of the gorgeous Strahov library, an 18th century biblioparadise in the Czech Republic. You can spend a lot of time getting lost in this image, which 360Cities claims is the largest indoor image ever shot.
This TEDTalk from the puppet troupe Handspring Puppet Company features a jaw-dropping horse puppet (around 9:16) that is so expertly made and controlled you have to keep reminding yourself that this isn't an animal:
Puppets always have to try to be alive," says Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company, a gloriously ambitious troupe of human and wooden actors. Beginning with the tale of a hyena's subtle paw, puppeteers Kohler and Basil Jones build to the story of their latest astonishment: the wonderfully life-like Joey, the War Horse, who trots (and gallops) convincingly onto the TED stage.
A couple of engineer/designers named Dave have a Kickstarter project to fund production of "Coffee Joulies," a little gizmo that brings your coffee down to the optimal temperature and keeps it there.
One of my big beefs with many of the Kickstarter projects I see is that their originators don't give any indication of their ability to see a project (any project!) through to completion. I want to know that my money goes to people who have at least some track-record of finishing what they start. So I wrote to the Daves for more background on their own work and project history and they obligingly sent along a link with some background that makes it clear that while this might be more ambitious than anything they've done to date, they certainly have made stuff happen in the past (Dave P adds, "We have firm quotes from
a manufacturer (the one that usually makes Oneida flatware) and a
pretty firm development timeline of 12-16 weeks before we can fulfill
our orders from Kickstarter."
Coffee Joulies work with your coffee to achieve two goals. First, they absorb extra thermal energy in your coffee when it's served too hot, cooling it down to a drinkable temperature three times faster than normal. Next, they release that stored energy back into your coffee keeping it in the right temperature range twice as long.
This amazing feat of thermodynamics happens thanks to a special non-toxic material sealed within the polished stainless steel shell. This material is designed to melt at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and absorbs a lot of energy as it melts. This is how Joulies cool your coffee down three times faster than normal. Once it reaches this temperature, the special material begins to solidify again, releasing the energy it stored when it melted. This is how Joulies keep your coffee warm twice as long.
The creator of Creepy, Yiannis Kakavas, calls his application a "geolocation information aggregator." It analyzes a person's tweets, Facebook posts, and Flickr stream to generate a map of where that person is and where he or she goes.
You can enter a Twitter or Flickr username into the software's interface, or use the in-built search utility to find users of interest. When you hit the 'Geolocate Target' button, Creepy goes off and uses the services' APIs to download every photo or tweet they've ever published, analysing each for that critical piece of information: the user's location at the time.
While Twitter's geolocation setting is optional, images shared on the service via sites like Twitpic and Yfrog are often taken on a smartphone - which, unbeknownst to the user, records the location information in the EXIF data of the image. Creepy finds these photos, downloads them, and extracts the location data.
When the software finishes its run, it presents you with a map visualising every location that it found - and that's when the hairs on the back of your neck go up. While the location of an individual tweet might not reveal much, visualising a user's history on a map reveals clusters around their home, their workplace, and the areas they hang out. Everything a stalker could need, in other words.
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)'s monologue at last night's Congressional Correspondents' Dinner is some danged funny stuff -- even if you can't follow some of the more esoteric Washington insider material, the self-deprecating montage of Weiner losing it during interviews with Fox News is worth the price of admission. And then there are the Weiner/weener jokes!