Monday, April 30, 2012

Nuclear fusion; better news than flying cars

In Where's my retro future?, I commented on something better than flying cars.
Flying cars aren't alone among examples of things Americans thought we'd have by now; Popular Science has an entire slideshow of technologies people expected would exist by now, including personal jetpacks, nuclear fusion, and robot armies, along with reasons why they haven't appeared. Too bad, as nuclear fusion would come in very handy right now.
As for when humans might achieve sustained controlled nuclear fusion, the Popular Science article isn't optimistic.
Don't hold your breath for this one. “It's been 35 years away for half a century, and it's still 35 years away. And I suspect 35 years from now it will still be 35 years away,” said Seife, “If you look at civilizations in 2500, then I wouldn't be surprised if they used fusion.”
Maybe that time frame will be a bit shorter now, as the following article I included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (White House Correspondents Dinner edition) on Daily Kos indicates.

Princeton University via Physicists see solution to critical barrier to fusion
By John Greenwald
April 23, 2012
Physicists have discovered a possible solution to a mystery that has long baffled researchers working to harness fusion. If confirmed by experiment, the finding could help scientists eliminate a major impediment to the development of fusion as a clean and abundant source of energy for producing electric power.

An in-depth analysis by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) zeroed in on tiny, bubble-like islands that appear in the hot, charged gases—or plasmas—during experiments. These minute islands collect impurities that cool the plasma. And it is these islands, the scientists report in the April 20 issue of Physical Review Letters, that are at the root of a long-standing problem known as the "density limit" that can prevent fusion reactors from operating at maximum efficiency.

Fusion occurs when plasmas become hot and dense enough for the atomic nuclei contained within the hot gas to combine and release energy. But when the plasmas in experimental reactors called tokamaks reach the mysterious density limit, they can spiral apart into a flash of light. "The big mystery is why adding more heating power to the plasma doesn't get you to higher density," said David A. Gates, a principal research physicist at PPPL and co-author of the proposed solution with Luis Delgado-Aparicio, a post-doctoral fellow at PPPL and a visiting scientist at MIT's Plasma Science Fusion Center. "This is critical because density is the key parameter in reaching fusion and people have been puzzling about this for 30 or 40 years."

The scientists hit upon their theory in what Gates called "a 10-minute 'Aha!' moment." Working out equations on a whiteboard in Gates' office, the physicists focused on the islands and the impurities that drive away energy. The impurities stem from particles that the plasma kicks up from the tokamak wall. "When you hit this magical density limit, the islands grow and coalesce and the plasma ends up in a disruption," says Delgado-Aparacio.

These islands actually inflict double damage, the scientists said. Besides cooling the plasma, the islands act as shields that block out added power. The balance tips when more power escapes from the islands than researchers can pump into the plasma through a process called ohmic heating—the same process that heats a toaster when electricity passes through it. When the islands grow large enough, the electric current that helps to heat and confine the plasma collapses, allowing the plasma to fly apart
This discovery may solve a scientific problem with fusion that will cut off five years from the 35 mentioned above. As for the engineering, financial, and political problems, I those are still worth ten years each. Still, thirty years is better than thirty-five, so it's reason to hope.

For today's song, I present Thomas Dolby singing "Wind Power" (lyrics here), a choice I find both ironic and fitting--ironic given the subject of today's post, fitting given that I started the month with one of his songs and then featured him performing two days later, so I may as well close out the month with him.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kunstler in a Big Yellow Taxi

In Showing my students "End of Suburbia" again tonight, I asked, "I wonder what reactions I'll get from my students tonight?" I finished grading the papers for that class yesterday and found out that Kunstler's comments on how suburban developments were named were mentioned as both most and least favorite thing about the movie. In case you've never seen the movie or have and forgotten what he said, here it is from memory.
Housing developments are always named after what they've destroyed. If it's named Quail Run, then all the quails have been exterminated. If it's Oak Ridge, then all the oaks have been removed.
That thought leads into today's song, "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell, which tells its listeners that "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot."

I'll have more student reactions later.  Right now, I have to keep grading.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Game of Thrones: 2012 Campaign Edition

Eric Kain at Forbes had an intriguing flight of fancy over at Forbes.
[W]hat if instead of Romney and Obama, the candidates were characters from the popular book series A Song of Ice and Fire and its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones?
[T]here are spooky parallels between the fictional series and the stranger-than-fiction political figures of our times.

As they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words….
He's not kidding.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The first year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News: Part 5 of several

In fifth place with 361 page views and 7 comments* is First post: Why this blog? posted on March 21, 2011. It's no secret how this entry got to be in the top 10. It's been around the longest, it explains the motivation for this blog to new readers, I've linked to it several times, and, finally, in Google searches for "motie" or "moties" (the second and third most popular search terms for this blog the past two years), the image I used for the first post appears in the first line of the first page of results.

That's a much higher result than for the original source of the image over at Larry Niven's site. Go figure.**

The only odd thing about this post is that it fell out of the ten most viewed list after a couple of months, only to return to the top ten back in December or January. At least I can explain people started reading it again, unlike U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability. I'm still mystified about how that became popular.

I know I promised to cover at least two posts from now on in the previous entry in this series, but I couldn't figure out how to link a second entry to this one. Besides, as the first post, it deserves to be commemorated by itself. Also, this part of the series is short. I'll make up for it by having a later post look at three at one time.

For the song, I could recycle the one from Happy birthday to Crazy Eddie's Motie News, but it's no longer the blog's birthday. Instead, I present "Video Killed the Radio Star" (lyrics here) which was the first music video on MTV.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two articles on taxes and science

In the middle of my heaviest grading period, is insisting I publish articles or else I lose my positions there. So, in the interest of maintaining a paying platform (and self-promotion, don't forget that), here are links to and excerpts from my two latest articles. The first is from the Washtenaw County Elections 2010 Examiner. It fits perfectly well with my take on how the interplay between austerity and sustainability is shaping politics, especially when it comes to maintaining infrastructure and city services while meeting financial obligations.

Income tax and millage on May 8th ballot in Ypsilanti
On May 8th, voters in the City of Ypsilanti will be asked to approve a city income tax and a millage proposal to retire a debt. Both issues were placed on the ballot by the city council this past February. Both have also attracted their share of controversy, with the city and outside groups, both pro and con, weighing in.

The proposed city income tax looks straight forward. It will impose an annual rate of tax on corporations and resident individuals of 1%, and on non-resident individuals of 0.5%. If approved, it will take effect on January 1, 2013.

The millage proposal seems more complicated.
In reality, both proposals are linked, making matters more complex than they seem.
Next, an article for the Detoit Science News Examiner that is more tenuously linked to sustainability. I can at least make the case that one of the root causes of our inability to solve problems is a lack of understanding and interest in science. Therefore, anything that increases scientific awareness is likely to be a good thing.

ESPN Sport Science nominated for two Emmy Awards
ESPN Sport Science will be taking Biomedical Engineering professor Cynthia Bir of Wayne State University to New York City once again. The popular show explaining the science of sports has once again been nominated in the Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Graphic Design and Outstanding New Approaches. Bir and her colleagues will find out if they have won at the 33rd annual Sports Emmys on April 30, 2012, when the winners will be announced at Lincoln Center.

Contending with ESPN Sport Science for Outstanding Graphic Desighn are the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup on ESPN and ESPN2, ESPN Monday Night Football, NBA All-Star Weekend on TNT, and NBC Sunday Night Football. The show's competitors for Outstanding New Approaches in Sports Programming are A Game of Honor on, Football Freakonomics on NFL Network/, Sunday Night Football Extra on, and The NFL Season: A Biography on NFL Network/

The series uncovers sports' biggest myths and mysteries by using cutting-edge technology to measure momentum, forces, and acceleration of top athletes. Bir, who is the show's lead scientist, helps viewers understand the internal and external forces sustained and generated by the body during high-level athletic activities.
Surf over to both articles. While this blog isn't monetized, is.

Next up, an article for the Detroit Coffee Party Examiner. That one might take some doing.

Tonight's song is the Eastern Michigan University fight song. It gets pride of place over Wayne State's because EMU employees are a prime target of the Ypsilanti city income tax and because the uploads of Wayne State's fight song are lame. Take my word for it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mercy Mercy Me

One of my students used this official version of Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me as part of her presentation yesterday. It really made the point of how we are still fighting the same problems 40 years later, which I made in yesterday's blast from the past. Unfortunately, that version won't embed. However, this version does and it has lyrics, too.

I'll have more videos from my students, along with their reactions to "End of Suburbia" in future posts. That will be after I correct their papers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Showing my students "End of Suburbia" again tonight

I've been doing this for three years now, as I documented in two entries on my LiveJournal back in November 2009. This just happened to be the month I started participating in Nablopomo, so you're seeing the beginnings of my efforts in that project.

In both entries, I recorded the notable student reactions after each showing. The first night, one of them asked, "Should the US really go bankrupt fighting a war they can't win?" Of course the answer was no, but I also told them that never stopped any other empire in history. The second evening, the most memorable reactions were "I never understood how anyone was going to make hydrogen work for running cars" and "What a shame Americans are so spoiled. The end of oil is going to take away their toys and they'll all cry." The second student wasn't born here, as you could probably tell.

Since then, the reactions generally fall into a pattern. As I wrote in a comment to a recent post at Kunstler's blog:
I show that film to my students every semester, and it never fails to get a strong reaction out of them. The environmentalists think "it's worse than we thought," the conservatives get pissed off at Jim, and everyone else just goes "oh, shit."
When I showed the film this past summer, some of my students got one of the points reinforced in a rather concrete way.
Finally, this heat wave and the associated health problems and power outages have become another teachable moment for me. I showed my students "The End of Suburbia" this week and one of the events described in that movie was the 2003 blackout that happened during a heat wave. The late Russell Simmons mentioned that the power grid was most vulnerable between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM on hot days because all three sets of customers, residential, commercial, and industrial, were online at the same time. According to one of my students, the power went out in Ferndale at 5:00 PM on Wednesday. He had watched "The End of Suburbia" the day before and he recalled what Simmons said. Well, that's one way to learn a lesson--the hard way!
I wonder what reactions I'll get from my students tonight?

Over the fold is the worksheet I've been using for the past three years. See how many of my questions about the movie you can answer.

ETA: For my students who are finding this entry using the more difficult to answer questions as search strings (and, yes, I can see you), I have not posted the answers here, nor will I.  I'll do so in a future entry.  Right now, the best you can do is to read Sustainability through the looking glass with Jeff Wattrick of Wonkette.  It has a guide to entries in this blog that contain the answers to some of the questions, along with the question numbers, plus some answers hidden in plain sight right above the fold/jump.  If you want to know which questions the answers go to, here's a hint: asterisks are your friend.  Also, don't be surprised if some of the answers to a couple of your questions are directly in front of you as you read this entry.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day News from campuses on the 2012 campaign trail


For Earth Day, I'm going to be a good environmentalist and recycle. In this case, it's the sustainability stories from last night's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Earth Day 2012 edition) on Daily Kos. As I've mentioned before, I'm in the middle of a long-term project on Daily Kos to highlight the research stories from the public universities* in each of the states having elections and caucuses during the week. This week, the featured states are Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. That said, the top story today is about colleges, not from them, as it comes from Discovery News.

Green 16: Top Colleges Make Earth Day Honors
Analysis by Sarah Simpson
Fri Apr 20, 2012 10:25 AM ET
Just in time for Earth Day, the Princeton Review has released its 2012 Guide to Green Colleges. The 232-page guide is the only free, comprehensive guide to green colleges that is updated annually.

This third edition of the book salutes the nation's most environmentally responsible "green colleges." It profiles 322 institutions of higher education in the U.S. and Canada that demonstrate notable commitments to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation.

To produce this book, Princeton Review partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council, a national nonprofit organization best known for developing the LEED green building rating system. The partners based their choices on a 2011 survey of hundreds of colleges to tally The Princeton Review's annual "Green Rating" scores (scaled from 60 to 99). Schools in this guide received scores of 83 or above in that assessment.
The top 16 colleges and universities, all of which received the maximum score of 99, are:
  • American University
  • Arizona State University
  • College of the Atlantic
  • Dickinson College
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Harvard College
  • Northeastern University
  • Oregon State University
  • San Francisco State University
  • State University of New York at Binghamton
  • University of California—Santa Cruz
  • University of Maine
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point
  • Virginia Tech
  • Warren Wilson College
SUNY Binghamton gets to toot its own horn later in this post. Look for an excerpt from the press release over the fold.

*Cornell is an Ivy League school, and thus a private school, but it is also a land grant school, so it receives public funding. SUNY even lists some of the university's colleges and schools as state institutions in its directory. So, it qualifies for this list, barely.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Deepwater Horizon damaged psyches, too

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For the headlines on how the spill affected all three aspects of sustainability, environment, economy, and society, PBS Newshour has the following video summary.

Two years after the largest oil leak in U.S. history, the Gulf of Mexico region still struggles with its impact. Jeffrey Brown, David Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara and Garret Graves of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana discuss the state of the Gulf and related industries.
That video does a superb job of following up on the better known types of long-term damage, but it forgot one--the damage to people's mental states. Here's an article from the American Psychological Association that orginally appeared in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Japanese earthquake and daylight savings edition) in Daily Kos and which I've been saving for just this occasion.

The oil spill's reverberations
The Mississippi coast has begun recovering from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but what about the people whose lives were changed as a result of the disaster? A team of graduate students investigates.
By Kirsten Weir
Nearly two years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Gulf Coast, the effects of the disaster still linger. The accident on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people and poured 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the next three months. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The environmental devastation grabbed most of the headlines, but the human impact was just as significant. Millions of Gulf Coast residents were affected by the disaster. Rig workers found themselves unemployed, and the fishing and tourism industries — both major contributors to the Gulf Coast economy — suffered huge hits. As of December 2011, BP had paid more than $21 billion in cleanup costs and economic damages. Yet a report by the U.S. Travel Association estimated that the spill could cost the coastal region $22.7 billion over three years in lost tourism alone.

"Yes, it's an environmental disaster, but it really affects people's lives financially," says Scott Sumrall, director of disaster preparedness and response with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

Along with that financial devastation came depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To address the mental health effects, BP provided $12 million to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Oil Spill Recovery–Behavioral Health Grant Program for outreach, training and clinical services. Most of the grants went directly to mental health centers and other groups that provide direct care to people on the coast. But $285,000 of that funding, over a two-year period, also went to Stefan Schulenberg, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Mississippi, and a team of graduate students who have been charged with assessing how well the program is meeting the mental health needs of people on the Mississippi coast.
Read the rest of the article for the results of that research. It's amazing what the social costs have been.

Today's song is another ironic choice, Black Water by The Doobie Brothers (lyrics here). Mississippi and black water take on new meaning in the context of the Deepwater Horizon distaster.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ted Nugent, stochastic terrorist

As the Detroit Free Press reports:
Nugent stood by his remarks on Wednesday, according to

Nugent slammed the Obama administration and singled out four members of the Supreme Court as not supporting the Constitution during his remarks at the National Rifle Association's annual conference in St. Louis. Nugent, best known for his hit Cat Scratch Fever, is an NRA board member.

"If you want more of those kinds of evil anti-American people in the Supreme Court, then don't get involved and let Obama take office again," Nugent said Saturday. "Because I'll tell you this right now: If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."
Those remarks had consequences. From the Detroit Free Press again:
Uncle Ted has a hot date with Big Brother today. Ted Nugent, who has made a flurry of statements in recent days about Democrats and President Barack Obama, says he has been asked to sit down with members of the Secret Service today, the Blaze reports.
Lucky that he landed just on the right side of the "shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater" exception to the First Amendment, or he wouldn't have to wait until next year. The Associated Press headline was Secret Service closes case on Ted Nugent's remarks. They were right to do so, as Nugent himself poses no threat. My friend John Henry at LowGenius know why, as he says that Ted Nugent Is An Enormous Coward. Here's the video version.

While Nugent himself isn't a danger, his fans may not be. Join me over the fold for why.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three urban farming stories and a funeral

The first story appears on the Detroit News' YouTube channel.

Future urban farm.

Volunteers from Motor City Blight Busters, Starbucks and Teach for America deconstruct houses in Detroit to expand the urban garden in the Old Reford Township area in Detroit.
That was yesterday. Last week's Detroit Free Press included these two articles, which sparked quite a discussion on my Facebook page. I might get around to summarizing it in a future post.

Michigan State proposes 100-acre, $100-million urban-farming research center in Detroit

With their city shrinking, many Detroiters use empty lots to grow gardens

Finally, the funeral. In memory of Dick Clark, I present Barry Manilow performing "Bandstand Boogie."

So long, World's Oldest Teenager. New Years Eve will not be the same without you.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Discovery makes final flight but to D.C. not space

Yesterday, the space shuttle Discovery left Florida for Washington, D.C., to be delivered to the Smithsonian. It made for a spectacular event, as ABC News on YouTube shows.

As exhilarating and historic as yesterday was, it was a bittersweet day for NASA employees and space enthusiasts alike, as Reuters explains.
"It's sad to see this happening," said NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, a member of Discovery's final crew. "But you look at it and you just can't help but be impressed by it. That's my hope now, that every time someone looks at that vehicle they are impressed, that they feel that this is what we can do when we challenge ourselves."

For its last ride, Discovery took off not from its seaside launch pad but atop a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet that taxied down the Kennedy Space Center's runway at dawn. The shuttle's tail was capped with an aerodynamically shaped cone and its windows were covered.

"It's a very emotional, poignant, bittersweet moment," said former astronaut Mike Mullane, a veteran of three space shuttle missions. "When it's all happening you think, ‘This will never end,' but we all move on."
Yes, but are we moving on to a continued future in space? Peter Apps of Reuters wonders if the answer is no when he asks, "Is humanity quietly abandoning a future in space?"
As astronaut Leroy Chiao watches the space shuttles he crewed make their final journeys to become museum pieces, he worries humankind is unthinkingly ditching space exploration and a future beyond Earth.
"It's hard to escape the idea that we are going backwards," Chiao - a veteran of three shuttle missions and a trip to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket and now a private consultant and adviser to industry group the Space Foundation - told Reuters.

"I struggle to even think of it (the shuttle) in the past tense. It was a great vehicle."

With Russia's commitment to human spaceflight also seen wavering and some observers questioning whether even emerging powerhouse China will stick to its brashly self-confident plans, some begin to suspect the world is simply giving up.
I expressed my worries about this possibility just after Atlantis blasted off the final time in The end of an era: last space shuttle mission.
I would consider myself remiss if I didn't at least mention this story... After all, this blog is about both collapse, including decline, a leading indicator of collapse, and how to prevent it, and I examine these topics from a science fiction angle. I think few themes more exemplify civilizational decline in science fiction more than withdrawing from space, and those that do generally include loss of ability to travel off the planet.
I concluded the entry by quoting a lengthy description of the United States' continued efforts in space travel by the people in charge at NASA and the Obama Administration to point out that worriers (I'm not quite a pessimist) weren't entirely right, then capped it off with the following.
I hope they're right. Otherwise, the U.S. will be playing out one of the classic tragic technological decline scenarios from science fiction in real life.

ETA: There is cause for optimism in this week's space news, as the headline NASA clears SpaceX for cargo run to space station on Reuters shows. Here's to hoping everything goes well on April 30th. If it does, it will be a big step forward for manned space flight, as the same technology is intended to carry people into space in four or five years.

For today's song, I've decided to remember happier days in space flight from 30 years ago with Rush's "Countdown."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Repost: A rant on an anti-tax meme

For tax day, I'm reposting the following, which I originally posted on Friday, July, 29, 2011.
One of the favorite anti-tax memes that conservatives use is that "the government thinks it knows better how to spend money than individuals/the people do." I think that meme has it exactly backwards. First, the government in a democratically elected government is the people. Second, what government is doing when it spends is paying salaries of people and contracts to businesses, who then pay it to people. Those people now have more money to spend than they did before. As a result, government spending gives most people more power to make decisions over how they spend their money that they got from the government.

There is one exception to the above. Progressive taxation in support of government spending shows that the government thinks it knows better how to invest money than the wealthiest Americans for the greater good. The justification for keeping the tax rates low on the wealthiest Americans is that they will use that money to create jobs. They generally don't. Instead of hiring people for their own businesses, they use that money to blow speculative bubbles, whether in stocks, bonds, commodities, or real estate. Yes, those bubbles may create jobs while they're inflating, but they destroy jobs when they pop.

The last pair of bubbles was especially pernicious, as it first inflated people's home values then, as they started to collapse, leaving Americans owing more than their assets were worth, inflated commodities, making food and energy cost more just when Americans could no longer withdraw money from the "home ATM." Both of those bubbles harmed people financially even before the panic in the stock market and contraction of the economy threw people out of work. Now we're left with vacant houses, people who can't sell their houses to move to where there are jobs, and a government that has to borrow a trillion dollars a year to maintain the spending it's already doing to pay people the money they need to make more decisions with what is now their own income.

So, I think raising taxes, particularly on the wealthiest 2%, is a good idea. They're not doing much useful with that money other than trying to increase their own wealth by blowing asset bubbles. What the economy needs is demand, and the other 98% of Americans will gladly provide that demand if they have money to spend. Paying them that money shows that the government has faith that individuals do know how to spend their own money!

Now, today's song, Tax Man by The Beatles. It's an ironic choice, but it does make the point that taxes can be too high. That's not now the case in the U.S., which is suffering from the opposite problem.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The first year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News: Part 4 of several

With this post, I'm going to start picking up the pace of this retrospective by reviewing at least two posts at a time. I'll be combining posts based on their commonalities, not by their page view ranks, so expect the second (and third, should I get that ambitious) post described to be "out of order." This week, I'm commenting on two posts that had immediate success on their own merits; neither marketing nor patience were required. I just happened to be lucky enough to blog about the right subject at the right time, so people found them on their own.

The first of the two was 2011 set rainfall records in Detroit, Michigan, and Ohio, I posted on December 31, 2011. This post succeeded all on its own with no help from me, ending the first full year fourth place with 363 page views and no comments.* This was the most successful of my entries about climate and weather. I began composing this entry more than a week in advance, collection links and excerpts along the way. When the story finally reached its anticipated climax (record precipitation in Detroit), I added the finishing touches to it and then set it to autopost at 8:01 AM on New Years Eve. By the time I got up around noon, it had already earned more than 50 page views before I posted its link to Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter, without which most of my posts earn at best a handful of pageviews. Instead, Google searches for record rainfall in Detroit had driven traffic to it. Looks like I managed to hit a hot topic that people really wanted to read.

In a follow-up, I noted that it wasn't just Michigan and Ohio that had the record precipitation for the year. Localities in a swath from Arkansas to Vermont and Massachusetts set precipitation records. Nearly all of those weather stations were in areas hit by either Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Lee, and some were hit by both. Here's the map from that post. Green circles show the precipitation records.

The second post that succeed spectacularly because of people searching for its topic was The Wolf Moon, the first full moon of 2012, is tonight. Posted on January 8, 2012, it's the only one of the top ten from this calendar year. It was the most popular of my posts about space, science, and holidays. Like 2011 set rainfall records in Detroit, Michigan, and Ohio, it earned its 251 page views and eighth place ranking** because of people searching for a timely event, in this case the first full moon of the year. I did promote it through the usual means, but it also had more than 50 page views before I could mention it on Kunstler's blog the next day.

Here's to hoping that I write more entries that are as successful on their own as these two.

While there are more songs about rain and full moons than I could possibly count, let alone embed, there is one that I find particularly fitting for this entry. First, it's called "First Full Moon." Second, it's by Sufjan Stevens, a Detroiter who recorded the album Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State. Here's the cover.

How could I possibly resist? Take it away, Mr. Stevens!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Riding the gas price rollercoaster

On Wednesday, I posted about how gas prices go up like a rocket, then down like a parachute. I also compared them to a roller coaster. As if on cue, the prices at the local gas stations confirmed both observations, although maybe not at exactly the same time.

When I returned home Thursday afternoon, I saw that the price at the corner station had dropped from $3.87 to $3.69. Since my tank was less than half full and my intuition told me that was the likely the lowest I'd see gas any time soon, I filled up. The next day proved my intuition right, as gas at that same station shot up like a rocket to $3.99 overnight. However, the corner station rose all by itself. Two blocks away, two of the three stations were still at $3.69 and one was at $3.79. On the one hand, I was wishing that one station had a price of $3.89 so I could report how chaotic and fluid the situation had become. On the other, I was just as pleased that two of the outlets were holding on to the lowest price so that the price all four would settle on would be lower. It turns out that the latter sentiment prevaled. When I checked the price at the corner station today, it was $3.79. While that's lower than it was at the start of the week, it's still a dime a gallon more than I paid on Thursday. I'm glad I filled up my tank then.

This roller coaster ride will show up in this week's headlines. Based on the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, I expect tomorrow's news about gas prices in Michigan will show a modest drop from last week as well as gas prices being unchanged to slightly lower than a year ago. That's good news, everyone, and it's not a suppository.

Since I've already used Red Hot Chili Pepper's version of "Love Rollercoaster," I need to find another song about roller coasters for today's post. It would be too repetitious to post the original version by The Ohio Players so soon and I'm not sure I'm up for "Roller Coaster" by the 13th Floor Elevators today. Instead, I present B*Witched singing "Rollercoaster."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Plan 999 from Outer Space

Tonight, my wife and I will be at the Smithee Awards, an event that honors movies so bad they're good. It turns out that the poster child (literally!) of such movies is "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Here at Crazy Eddie's Motie News, I have my own version of this film, the economic plan so bad it's hysterical, Plan 999 from Outer Space. Not only is this a tag/label for this blog, it was also the eighth most popular search string during the first full year of the blog. It certainly deserves a post of its own.

Original at The Cain Scrutiny on Hysterical Raisins.

Here are all the posts in which this work of bad economic science fiction made an appearance.

Silly Sustainability Saturday: While the world burns, Farmville thrives

Herman Cain on Occupy Wall Street

"Plan 9-9-9 from Outer Space" is really from Sim City

Now Keith Olbermann is calling it "Plan 999 from Outer Space"

Krugman on Countdown, plus bonus Occupy Wall Street and "Plan 999 from Outer Space"

Plan 999 from Outer Space trailer

Goodbye to Herman Cain, the gift who kept on giving

On the subject of bad films, if I'm willing to highlight the best sustainability-related films, am I willing to spotlight the worst? Yes, I am. In fact, it turns out that one of the other films that could claim the crown of "Worst Movie Ever Made" from "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is "Birdemic," which is up for six awards tonight, including Worst Picture. Other sustainability-related terrible films on tap for tonight are "Absolute Zero" (nominated for two awards), "Mega Piranha" (up for six awards, including Worst Picture), and "Locusts: the 8th Plague" (nominated for two awards). It should be a fun evening.

Tonight's song is "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (lyrics here) as performed by Nouvelle Vague. I'm sure Ed Wood wished he'd never heard those particular words during the filming of "Plan 999 from Outer Space."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paraskevidekatriaphobia and Happy Apophis Day!

Paraskevidekatriaphobia--that's one of terms for an irrational fear of Friday the 13th, the other one being friggatriskaidekaphobia.* I don't suffer from it, but I literally woke up on the wrong side of the bed today** and am in a generally crabby mood, so I'll indulge in examining this superstition, something I haven't done before on this blog, even though there have been two previous Friday the 13ths since I started blogging here.

First, this is the second Friday the 13th of the year, and it won't be the last, as MLive points out.

Today's Friday the 13th, and this year is especially freaky because of quirks in the calendar
Most years have just one or two Friday the 13ths. The year 2012 is especially freaky with three. What’s worse, they’re exactly 13 weeks apart – Jan. 13, April 13 and July 13.

The last time that chain of events happened was 28 years ago in 1984.
I have a macro for that.

Furthermore, three Friday the 13ths in a year is the maximum possible. Combine that stat with this being the year of the Mayan Apocalypse, and it's the perfect recipe for superstition.

So, what happened on this blog on the two previous Friday the 13ths, as well as why I called today "Apophis Day?" Click on "Read more" to find out.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Yuri's Night 2012!

Feeling down about spaceflight? Lift your spirits with Yuri's Night
By Alan Boyle
Yuri's Night has been celebrating space odysseys since 2001, on the 40th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's history-making launch into orbit — but it's much more challenging to find cause for celebration this year.

First of all, it's been just a year since the huge golden anniversary of the first human spaceflight, in 2011. To mark the occasion, Yuri's Night put on more than 600 events in 75 countries, and that's a hard act for anyone to follow. Perhaps more importantly, this year marks the first Yuri's Night since NASA retired the space shuttle fleet. For the next few years, there's no way to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

"With the shuttle era coming to an end, there's going to be a lot of nostalgia this year," Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto, director of marketing for Yuri's Night 2012, told me this week. "It's going to be an interesting time to see how people bridge the gap."
For a schedule of events, see the Yuri's Night website.*

*Originally posted as the lead story in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Yuri's Night 2012 edition) on Daily Kos.

Blog Recommendation: The Hipcrime Vocab

I originally was going to post a follow-up to yesterday's entry about gas prices featuring articles in the Free Press about the responses of consumers, oil and gas producers, and the auto industry to higher oil and natural gas prices, but then my friend and sometimes commenter Nebris reposted the most recent entry from The Hipcrime Vocab, and I decided "screw that idea; here's something much better." The blogger calls himself "escapefromwisconsin" and he (at least, I think it's a him) has been examining the same issues of sustainability (employment, agriculture, energy, economy, politics, and collapse) that I examine and reads the same bloggers (Kunstler, Greer, and Saniford) for just as long as I have (his first entry was posted the day after my first one here), but he produces a lot more deep, original, incisive thinking than I do.* The ironic part he only has ten followers (I'm number 10; Nebris is number 8), while I have 38. I guess I do a better job of marketing than he does. That's a shame. He really is worth reading.

In what he thinks is his most important post, What If The Peak Oil Movement Isn't About Peak Oil At All?, he discusses Saniford, Kunstler, and Greer all in one post. In particular, he uses Saniford to throw a dose of reality on Greer and Kunstler. The latter two are hoping for Peak Oil to cause a collapse that will restore a pre-fossil-fuel world and both make predictions about what such a world would look like. Saniford shows that their predictions just aren't coming true. After thoroughly demolishing Peak Oil as a basis for their desires, escapefromwisconsin then points out that Kunstler and Greer really have another basis for their hopes and fears.

Click on "read more" for the quoted passage.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Up like a rocket, down like a parachute

That's how retail gasoline prices move, as you can see in the following graph, which I first posted in A bigger picture on gas prices in Michigan. This behavior is particularly clear on the green curve for Grand Rapids with its sawtooth pattern of rapid rise and gradual decline.

Lately, they've been coming down like a parachute. Since the last time I posted about local gas prices, they fell twice, the first time to $3.95/gallon the first week of March, then to $3.85 two blocks away and $3.87 at the corner gas station. Not only is gas now 30 cents cheaper at the corner station than it was two weeks ago, it is four to six cents lower than it was three weeks ago. That price decrease should be reflected in the average gas price for Michigan, and it is. The state's average gas price fell 13 cents during the past week to $3.90 on Monday, which means it's now below $4.00. Even better, as of today, the price is now down to $3.88. As I wrote last year when prices first fell below this level, good news, everyone, and it isn't a suppository!

I'm a little less confident that my prediction that the long-term trend is still up for the next month or so will hold true, but that isn't stopping others from repeating it. The Associated Press via the Detroit Free Press reports that the Energy Department has predicted that the national average for gas should peak above $4.00 in May and average $3.95 over the entire summer. The government also warned that there was a small chance the price could go above $4.50 between now and August. I have my doubts it will go that high this year. As I've written before, the only way that will happen is if there is war with Iran. I think that's less likely now than it was a few months ago.

As for what the professionals think, they're ambivalent, as oil prices went up slightly yesterday while gasoline futures slid down about a penny. In the meantime, enjoy riding the rollercoaster of prices, especially on the way down.

Speaking of rollercoasters, here's today's song, Love Rollercoaster. Take it away, Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Farewell, Frothy!

I could type several paragraphs about Rick Santorum dropping out of the contest for the 2012 Republican nomination for President. Instead, I'll just take advantage of this month's Nablopomo theme and Kiss Him Goodbye. Take it away, Bananarama!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Where's my retro future?

One of the most popular catchphrases for expressing disappoinment in the lack of technological progress during the 21st Century is "Where's my flying car?" It's so common that Google retrieves 188,000 hits for the phrase. Flying cars aren't alone among examples of things Americans thought we'd have by now; Popular Science has an entire slideshow of technologies people expected would exist by now, including personal jetpacks, nuclear fusion, and robot armies, along with reasons why they haven't appeared. Too bad, as nuclear fusion would come in very handy right now. However, that 2008 slideshow included an image of a prototype of a flying car, one that has actually been developed and flies.
Well-heeled travelers tired of airport lines have some good news today from Terrafugia.

The maker of the Transition flying car said that a production prototype, the D2, made its first flight earlier in March, a step toward what it hopes will be commercial availability within the next year. Company engineers took the Transition for an eight-minute flight around Plattsburgh International Airport in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

The Transition is two-seat personal aircraft that is legal to drive on streets and highways and that runs, both in the air and on the road, on unleaded gasoline. The wings fold up to make the plane about six feet tall, seven and a half feet wide, and 19 feet long when driving.
Not everyone will get a flying car, though. Not only will this thing be an energy hog, it is expected to cost $279,000. Even so, people are putting down $10,000 deposits on them.

Of course, anything that is equal parts cool and ridiculous will get the attention of Next Media Animation. The Terrafugia Transition already has.

While the text accompanying the video doesn't use the catchphrase, it sidles right up next to it.
Promised in sci-fi shows and movies of the past, people have long expected flying cars to be part of their everyday lives at some point in the future. Personal flying saucers are standard issue in the Jetsons cartoon, which takes place in the still well-off year of 2062. The flying cars of Back to the Future Part II are a little more within reach. Doc Brown and Marty McFly cruise the skyways in 2015, just three years from now.
Sorry, the future in Back to the Future isn't happening, even if the rich are getting their flying cars.*

Flying cars aren't the only prediction science fiction got wrong, as the Bloomberg article Visions of a Cashless Society: Echoes points out.**

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Titanic 100 years later

Yes, the 100th anniversary isn't for another week, but the hype has already begun. National Geographic will be premiering two programs on the sinking this week, Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron tonight and Save the Titanic With Bob Ballard Monday. Of course, they've been promoting them for at least a week, including this slideshow in their website, Unseen Titanic.*
At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the "unsinkable" R.M.S. Titanic disappeared beneath the waves, taking with her 1,500 souls. One hundred years later, new technologies have revealed the most complete-and most intimate-images of the famous wreck.
National Geographic is also promoting it like mad on their YouTube Channel with at least six video clips. Here are the two most recent of the series, in which James Cameron and his team formulate a hypothesis (Cameron calls it a theory; it isn't) about how the Titanic sank and test it by modeling the sinking and comparing the results of the model to the evidence.

James Cameron discusses how breaking a banana in half is the perfect analogy to describe how the Titanic broke apart.

James Cameron and his team pull together a new CGI of how they believe the TItanic sank and reached the ocean floor.
Other than is (unfortunately common) misuse of theory for hypothesis, these two clips work very well as an example of how testing a hypothesis using a computer model works. I might just show it to my classes starting next month.

The sinking of the Titanic also serves as both an example of and a metaphor for the catastrophic failure of technology. The "unsinkable ship of dreams" encounters a known hazard, an iceberg, and sinks to the immediate horror of all involved and the lingering fascination of people for at least five generations afterward. Would a failure of our own society and its technological support look like this? That's worth contemplating.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The first year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News: Part 3 of several

In third place with 393 pageviews and no comments* is U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability from May 15, 2011.

I found the initial reception to this post to be disappointing, something I chronicled in the very first stand-alone weekly roundup.
Finally, the number one entry from the "back catalog" of the blog last week was U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability, originally posted on May 15, 2011. I promoted it on Kunstler's blog the next day, and it was the least viewed of any of my promoted entries the week it was posted, which I found disappointing, as I thought it was well done and interesting news.
Here's the portion of the comment on Kunstler's blog in which I described the post, including what I thought was most interesting about it.
The U.S. and China held the third annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. That event seemed to not even produce a blip on the mainstream media's radar. I had to find out about it by crusing through Purdue University's press releases, where the Boilermakers PR department crowed about how their institution of higher learning was selected for a U.S.-China EcoPartnership. I blogged about that story at Crazy Eddie's Motie News as U.S.-China EcoPartnerships: The CoDominion plans for sustainability, where I wrote:
If you want to see one vision of the future, that's it right there; the U.S. and China running the world together. That would be eerily appropriate, as the inspiration for this blog, "The Mote in God's Eye," takes place in the far future of Jerry Pournelle's CoDominion timeline. During the early part of that timeline, the Earth of the 21st Century is being ruled by the two major powers. Of course, in those stories, the powers are the US and USSR, but substituting China for the now-defunct USSR works just as well, if not better. ... Notice that it was the third annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. That means that these conferences began in 2009, when the current administration took over. That may not continue in an adminstration run by a different party. One headed by what Kunstler calls "corn-pone fascists" might be less inclined to cooperate with China and more likely to fight with them. ... I'm glad the CoDominion is paying attention to the health of the planet. After all, if there is no environment, there is no society. If there is no society, there is no economy. If there is no economy, there are no politics or power. Those last two are what the CoDominion will really be about.
Jim may scoff at these agreements; after all, they're for a future that he doesn't see as likely to happen. Even so, one should be aware of what could happen in the other possibilities for our future, and who is planning for them.
Normally, featuring an entry like that results in lots of page views, but this time it got next to nothing. Instead, A flea in his ear never made a dent in the top ten referring URLs for the year. About the only lesson I learned from this experience was not to quote extensively from one of my posts so as to get people to read them at my blog. Other than that, I was completely flummoxed by the lack of interest in the post. It turned out that all I needed to do was wait, as the rest of the paragraph from the weekly roundup described.
Interest in the post has revived during the past couple of weeks with 5 views today, good for second, 15 views during the past week, tying it for third, 62 views during the past four weeks, placing it fourth, and 106 views overall, good for eighth place and still climbing. I am no longer disappointed by the reception for this post.
That was on June 24th of last year. Since then, interest has just kept increasing, as the post now has 419 page views, nearly 30 more since the first anniversary of this blog. In fact, it has had nearly 100 views during the past month and nearly 200 during the past two months. As for why this has happened, I have no idea. My promoting of it was a signal failure and I know of no one who has linked to it. I also don't have a clue as to what search terms are bringing readers to it. I don't even know whose reading it. It's not the Chinese; China is not among the top ten countries with readers of my blog. The post's long-term success remains just as much a mystery to me as its initial failure.

Speaking of "mystery to me," there is a Fleetwood Mac album by that name. One of the songs on it is "Why." Between the titles of the song and album, it seems like the perfect piece of music for today's post.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rachel Maddow: Michigan is now Ignoreland

Last night, Rachel Maddow teased her viewers with a political news story about Michigan that she claimed was a scoop. I thought it might be something about the Emergency Manager Law or another attempt to recall Governor Snyder based on a tip from Chris Savage over at Eclectablog. Instead, what she presented in the final segment of her show was even bigger and Eclectablog wasn't mentioned. Watch "Autocratic for the People."

Maddow's blog captured Sonja Blair's reaction on Twitter.

I second that emotion.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Auto sales up and that's no April Fools

Unlike last year, when I posted April 1st and it's business as usual as a sardonic April Fools joke about the economy,* this year brings good news from the perspectives of both business as usual perspective and transitioning to more sustainable future, and it involves cars. Yes, really. I'll let Mary Conway of WXYZ have the honor of going first.**

That's right, rising gas prices are actually helping auto sales. Being prepared for a price rise this time, unlike being caught flat-footed like they were in 2008, has served the auto manufacturers in good stead. Brad Plumer has the story in How Detroit saved itself over at the Washington Post.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Olbermann on Letterman with bonus Dirty Laundry

For the first time since Keith was fired from Current TV, he gives his side of the story.

I have three things to say about this clip. First, Keith is not helping his case. This clip only adds to the impression that he's egotistical and shifting blame to his former employers.* Second, "Better watch now, because things could go wrong in a hurry." Letterman's writers got that one right! Finally, this is a preview clip of tonight's show. Those of you in the Central through Hawaiian-Aleutian time zones can still watch this "live." When the full show becomes available on CBS's site, I'll add the link.

ETA: Show's been posted.  If that doesn't play,or is too long for your taste, there's a more complete clip of Keith.  Let's see if it embeds.

Looks like it does.

As for sticking to the April theme of song lyrics as poetry, I present Robin Meade of CNN/HLN singing Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry."

I don't know whether to laugh or facepalm at her choice of a debut single. As the song's Wikipedia entry states:
The song is about the callousness (and callowness) of TV news reporting as well as the tabloidization of all news. Henley sings from the standpoint of a news anchorman who "could have been an actor, but I wound up here", and thus is not a real journalist. The song's theme is that TV news coverage focuses too much on negative and sensationalist news; in particular, deaths, disasters, and scandals, with little regard to the consequences or for what is important ("We all know that crap is king"). The song was inspired by the intrusive press coverage surrounding the deaths of John Belushi and Natalie Wood, and Henley's own arrest in 1981... Lines in the second verse, "Is the head dead yet?", were likely inspired by the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
I don't know about Robin, but Keith would probably object to being associated with such a song, as he at least attempted to cover serious and underreported stories, even if he presented them with his own particular brand of snarky senstionalism. However, he'd probably agree with who would be the most appropriate target of it.
In the Eagles' Farewell 1 Tour-Live from Melbourne concert DVD, Henley (speaking for the band) dedicated this song "to Mr. Rupert Murdoch"; in many live performances, this dedication remains but is sometimes changed "to Mr. Bill O'Reilly".
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to "The Worst Persons in the World!"

*Countdown's TVTropes page already references the precursor of this fauxpology on Twitter--"I'd like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV"--as an example of a Backhanded Apology. That trope appeared on the show's page after he was fired; it wasn't there before.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Post 500: (Nothing but) Flowers at TED

For my 500th post, I'm going to stick to the Nablopomo theme for April of Poem by posting another version of the theme song for this blog, "(Nothing but) Flowers." This version is a live version performed at TED in 2010. Backing up David Byrne is Thomas Dolby and the string quartet Ethel, who served as TED's house band that year.

Here's what the song's Wikipedia entry has to say about the lyrics.
The lyrics describe a world where modern progress has been reverted to a more natural state, due either to a political movement or by a necessity, such as dealing with overpopulation. While the protagonist may have once been in favor of the transformation, he finds himself now missing the modern conveniences and culture of the industrialized age.
I described both my love of the song and how the lyrics express my ambivalence about the transition to come as well, so instead I'll let David Byrne talk about the importance of lyrics.

Back to regular posting tomorrow.

Monday, April 2, 2012

March was a heat wave for Detroit and other cities

MSNBC: Warmest March on record for dozens of cities
In states from Colorado to Florida, more than 50 cities saw their warmest March on record, reported Sunday, citing National Weather Service data and its own research.

The list, compiled by meteorologist Chris Dolce, shows that a few cities in states as far west as Colorado and Wyoming saw records. But the vast majority were in the central U.S. and the South. Large cities on the list include Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Washington D.C.
According to the MSNBC article, the other cities in Michigan that set records for warmest March were Flint, Saginaw, Muskegon, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.

The Weather Channel has an interactive map showing all 50 cities that had their warmest March on record.

As for the actual records, the Detroit News has them.
March's weather, which at times hit above 80 degrees in Metro Detroit, also set records for consecutive days with highs set in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
The average temperature listed at Detroit Wayne Airport last month was 50.7 degrees, nearly three degrees higher than the 47.9 in 1945. In 2010, the average temps for March were 42.4 degrees.
April is also predicted to be warmer than average, as well as wetter. Looks like I'll be doing a lot of mowing and weeding!

And now for the song for the day, Detroit's own Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing "Heat Wave."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Nablopomo for April: Poem

From Nablopomo on BlogHer:
So what is the NaBloPoMo theme of the month?


In honour of National Poetry Month in April, we've made the theme POEM -- which can go in a multitude of directions. First and foremost, you can try your hand at writing some poetry. We'll be presenting a few fixed forms as well as prompts for free forms. Make a personal goal to write a haiku-a-day, write an entire post in rhymed couplets, or argue the merits of Pinterest... in sestina form.

We'll be writing about our reactions to poems -- which poems have come up at important moments in your life? Which poems do you return to again and again? Which poems have changed your mood, given you comfort, or made you want to be a poet yourself?

We'll spend the month looking at reflections of poetry in nature and social situations. And we'll be featuring YOUR poetry weekly. So get your poem on.
When I first read the theme and description, I considered not participating, as I'm not big on poetry. I especially had a hard time squaring the theme with a blog about sustainability, science, and politics, although "poetry in nature" might work. Then I realized that there were some forms of poetry that I liked, limericks and song verses. Most limericks wouldn't be fit for a family blog, but I can always find a good song for my posts. So, I'm participating again this month.

So what's the song for today? She Blinded Me with Science.
It's poetry in motion
She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony
Mmm - but she blinded me with science
"She blinded me with science!"
And hit me with technology.
Speaking of hitting people with technology, here's Kari Byron of Mythbusters.

Actually, Kari is more interesting talking and in action than she is in a cheesecake montage. Here is a clip that shows both.