Ask Scott Horton Anything: Should We Get Rid Of The DEA?


Scott Horton of Harper's explains why the Drug Enforcement Agency does a lot of damage to society. (Via Andrew Sullivan)

Diamonds do not come from coal

Okay, maybe I'm an idiot, but this is one of those facts I'd missed until recently. Despite the impression you may have gotten from grade school and/or old Superman cartoons, diamonds are probably not lumps of coal that just got compressed real good—at least, not in exactly the way you might imagine.

Diamonds are made out of carbon, but the best evidence suggests that they form far more deeply down in the Earth than coal does. Instead of coal being smushed into diamonds, imagine something more like those "grow crystals out of Borax and water" experiments you did in grade school. Only, in this case, the experiment is performed in the fiery depths of Hell, as very un-coal-like atoms of carbon are compressed and heated deep in the Earth's mantle until they start to bond together and grow into a crystalline structure.

Once the crystals are formed, they get to the surface of the Earth via volcanic eruptions.

The really interesting thing about all of this is that it's one of those ideas that's very hard to verify. Diamonds form at a depth we can't go observe directly. All we have to work with is indirect evidence. Because of that, nobody knows exactly where the necessary carbon to make diamonds comes from. This is why the "diamonds are coal" story exists. Some scientists think the carbon is stuff that's existed in the Earth since this planet was formed. Others think it might be coming from terrestrial carbon that got shifted down to the lower levels via plate subduction—although, even then, we're talking about carbon, but not necessarily coal. It could be a combination of both. Either way, the mental image of smushed coal doesn't quite work.

Read the American Museum of Natural History's explanation of where diamonds come from

Read an interview about diamonds with the curator of the U.S. National Gem and Mineral Collection

Thanks to a story written by Geology.com's Hobart King for busting the myth and inspiring to me to read a little more on this

Image: Diamonds, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kimberlyeternal's photostream

Blackout tracker tells you where the electric grid is down

The other day, someone asked me what the most surprising thing was that I learned while writing Before the Lights Go Out, my book about America's electric infrastructure and the future of energy. That's easy. The most surprising thing was definitely my realization of just how precarious our all-important grid system actually is.

There are two key things here. First, the grid doesn't have any storage. (At least, none to speak of.) Second, the grid has to operate within a very narrow window of technical specifications. At any given moment, there must be almost exactly as much electricity being produced as there is being consumed. If that balance is thrown off, by even a fraction of a percent, you start heading toward blackouts. There are people working 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, making sure that balance is maintained on a minute-by-minute basis.

That's a long way of explaining why I find Blackout Tracker so fascinating. Put together by Eaton, a company that makes products that help utilities manage different parts of the electric grid, this little web app shows you where the electric grid has recently failed, and why. The Blackout Tracker doesn't claim to include all blackouts, but it gives you an idea of the number of blackouts that happen, and the wide range of causes blackouts can have. For instance, in the picture above, you can see that Wichita, Kansas, had a blackout earlier this week that was related to a heatwave—hot weather meant more people turned on their air conditioners in the middle of the day, and, for whatever reason, there wasn't enough electrical supply available to meet that demand. The result: Blackout.

One major flaw: Most of the time Blackout Tracker can't tell you how long a blackout lasted. But that's probably got more to do with what information the utility companies are willing to release than anything. Still, I think this program is a nice primer for people who aren't aware of all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure electricity remains flowing, nice and steady.

Check out Blackout Tracker (Also available for the UK, Canada, and Australia/New Zealand)

Learn more about how the grid works (and doesn't work) in my book, Before the Lights Go Out.

I don't remember where I picked this link up from, so if you're the one who sent it to me, please give me a little tap and I'll make sure you are properly thanked!

3D printed, fully assembled, teeny-weeny little cars

This teeny weeny little car is 3D printed, fully assembled, with all its mechanisms in place:

These tiny 3D printed cars were printed on the Objet Eden 3D printer and scale down from 4cm in length to a tiny 1cm in length. Even in the tiniest car, the wheels remain fully functional and there is no deformation of walls or loss of fine details - highlighting the enormous power of Objet's 3D printers to turn CAD designs into visually and functionally accurate prototypes.

Micro car with open doors and turning wheels

F*cking cops cracking down on curse words


[Video Link] Here's Reason TV's Net Nanny of the month award:

June's busybodies want to shield your eyes from bikinis and remind you that they're not above ripping your garden out (even if you are complying with city codes).

But top dishonors go to the police chief who admitted on camera that his officers had "more important things to do," but still championed a measure that fines folks for swearing in public.

Presenting Reason.tv's Nanny of the Month for June 2012: Middleborough, Massachusetts Police Chief Bruce Gates!

Bikini Banners and F*cking Cops Cracking Down on Curse Words!

Burning Down the House: Palmer & Byrne

Here is a video in which Amanda Fucking Palmer and David Byrne and a very large, very good band perform "Burning Down the House."

My life is complete.

That is all.

David Byrne & Amanda Palmer - "Burning Down the House"

Updated with better video, courtesy of Martin Borus (Thanks, Michael!)

Seeing Beyond the Human Eye: Video of beautiful scientific and artistic photography


[Video Link] The latest installment of the "Off Book" series from PBS and Kornhaber Brown is called Seeing Beyond the Human Eye and features microphotography, astrophotography, slow-motion video, and time-lapse video. My favorite part is Cameron Michaels' time-lapse scenes of Manhattan.

This piece explores the beautiful imagery that has been uncovered thanks to modern technology. Because of advancements made in photomicrography, astrophotography, high-speed and stop-motion photography, we’re now able to see the world (and galaxy) as we never have before.

It’s our curiosity and thirst for the unknown that has driven us to uncover the beauty of the universe. Technology has allowed us to overcome the boundaries of human perception and explore beyond the limits of the naked eye. Told through the voices of scientists and artists, this video illustrates how size and distance are no longer barriers, and how through innovation we see the universe, time, and humanity in a new light.

Shepard Fairey designs 50th anniversary logo for Rolling Stones

NewImage


Mick Jagger asked Shepard Fairey to redesign John Pasche's 1971 tongue and lips trademark for the Rolling Stones.

In a statement by Fairey, he said that he was overwhelmed by the idea of redesigning the logo when Mick Jagger reached out to him.

One of the first questions he had for Jagger was the inclusion for the ‘tongue’, which Jagger responded, "yeah I guess it ought to be".

His concept behind the logo was to highlight the Stones' legacy and integrate the ‘50’ in a ‘creative and memorable way’, that not only celebrated their trademark icon but also to commemorate their historical anniversary.

Taxi: The Rolling Stones Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary With A New Logo

Mitch O'Connell's funny Hanna Barbera paintings

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Yesterday I wrote about artist Mitch O'Connell's funny pencil sketches that Hanna Barbera commissioned him to create. Today, Mitch posted the paintings that Hanna Barbera commissioned. See them all here.

Fantasizing about what you could buy instead of health insurance

Cockeyed's Rob Cockerham lost his job last year and now works as a contractor. He now buys his own medical insurance:

And man, oh man, is it expensive.

Our family's policy, two adults and two kids, for medical, dental and vision, costs $1,320.87 per month. That's the insurance premium. If we actually use the care, we have to pay a deductable too (called a co-pay), but honestly, after paying $1,320.87 per month, almost any co-pay seems like pocket change.

He began fantasizing about what he could buy with that much month every month:

NewImage Visiting car dealerships was fun when I had a potential $1320/month to spend, but maybe that money would be better spent elsewhere. No, not on health insurance, for every extraneous monthly expense I could dream of!

Like Netflix, streaming subscription with 8 DVDs out ($51.88/month), plus a World of Warcraft subscription ($15/month), plus a gym membership ($25/month), a home security monitoring system ($32/month), Gamefly service ($22.95/month), plus a membership to a tanning club ($9.95/month), plus Amazon Prime ($6.66/month), plus Hulu Plus ($7.99), Time Magazine ($2.50/month), Newsweek ($3.25/month), Playboy ($1.33/month), Wired ($1.25), Martha Stewart Living ($2.00/month), a lawn service ($50/month), Dana's Housekeeping service -- four hours/week ($312/month).... uh, plus FullBelly Farms weekly vegetable & flower deliveries ($127.50/month), plus sponsoring a child in Haiti ($35/month), plus Disneyland deluxe annual passes for the whole family ($127.36/month total) plus a large supreme pizza from Pizza Hut delivered every night ($428.40/month). Those things total $1267.02 per month, leaving enough to give the pizza guy a $53 tip.

What I Could Buy Instead of Health Insurance

As Shenzou 9 returns to earth, China makes space history: analysis from Miles O'Brien + Leroy Chiao (video)

China made space history this week, as three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth after a 13-day mission that made their nation the third to dock on manned spacecraft to another in orbit. The Shenzhou 9 space capsule landed about 12 hours ago in Inner Mongolia, one day after the astronauts departed the Tiangong 1 prototype space lab module. Space reporter Miles O'Brien spoke to Leroy Chiao, a NASA astronaut of Chinese descent, about the significance of this event.

Read the transcript of their conversation, or watch the video. An introduction from Miles follows:

Read the rest

Zelda the kitten plays with the iPad

We got a couple of kittens a few weeks ago. Louis doesn't pay much attention to Game for Cats, but Zelda (above) loves it.

Quotes from RIM's chiefs

"The most exciting mobile trend is full Qwerty keyboards. I'm sorry, it really is. I'm not making this up." Mike Lazaridis, May 2008.

To mark RIM's $500m first quarter loss and impending doom, The Guardian offers a selection of quotes from its longtime but recently trebucheted chiefs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.

End of the line for Flash on Android

Adobe's Tareq AlJaber: "To ensure that the Flash Player provides the best possible experience for users, our partner program requires certification of each Flash Player implementation. ... There will be no certified implementations of Flash Player for Android 4.1."

Compressed-air gramophones: a loud, bad, wonderful idea

This web page (which is rather elderly itself) has valuable information on the long-lost Auxetophone and its successors and imitators, a family of compressed-air gramophones which were apparently very, very loud

THE AUXETOPHONE: 1898-1918.
Two Englishmen, Horace Short and Sir Charles A Parsons (yes, the steam turbine man) introduced the compressed air amplifiers known as Auxetophones. Horace Short began the development of the idea and was granted a patent in 1898, and again in 1901. The patent rights were sold to Parsons in 1903. Parsons, who was noted for his skill as a craftsman, took on the development of the Auxetophone as a hobby when he was already financially secure from his steam turbine business, and applied it to musical instruments as well as gramophones.

The Auxetophone & Other Compressed-Air Gramophones. (via Beyond the Beyond)