physical science

Summer days and nights of 2009

This video was recently featured on the HPC Wire YouTube channel. It is an animation of the summer weather of 2009, as only super computers can do! HPC refers to “High Performance Computing”. Cray was one of several contributors to the project. I still think of Cray as THE super computer developer, though those days are probably past.

What’s so special here?

A recent HPC Wire article about climate change explained why simulation at such a fine resolution (7-kilometer) was so difficult, because it required:

a special allocation of computing time on the Athena supercomputer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS)… For six months, the entire 18,048-core system was at the disposal of the team. Among the results … were simulations that represented boreal summer climatology at 7-kilometer resolution

Notice shifting cloud cover and precipitation in shades of gray scale during the summer months of 2009. The quality is exceptional.

I appreciated that the production group chose NOT to use any music, nor narrative, during this 1 minute, 38 second animation. I wish that were more common, especially for brief, well-annotated videos like this!

Climate change perception v. evidence-based reality

I read a rather comprehensive technical paper that should be enough to convince anyone that something has changed, for the worst, in the Earth’s climate: Distributions and Trends of Death and Destruction from Hurricanes, 1900–2008, Willoughby, H. (Jan 2012); Nat. Hazards Rev., 13(1), 57–64. This led to some thoughts that I wrote up, regarding climate change and New York City’s physical infrastructure, in light of the recent storm, Sandy.

Finally, I find it difficult to ignore the odd perception gap between climate change denialists and the growing body of climate change evidence. I found an analysis of that discrepancy and its possible cause from an unexpected source: An article in Nature, “Why we are poles apart on climate change” by a Professor of Law, at Yale University School of Law. He wrote something a few months prior to this, a bona fide scholarly journal article, which had some distressing conclusions which I think are correct, though I don’t exactly understand the cause, see The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks Kahan et. al. (Apr 2012); Nature Climate Change 2, 732–735:

Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest.

HTML5 video

If possible, try to view this in full screen mode for optimal effect. The video supports up to 720p.

I suggest trying the YouTube HTML5 player. It is in beta, but works well, and has been available for nearly a year. Most videos seem better when viewed with HTML5 instead of Adobe Flash, whether YouTube or Vimeo. There is less of the dreaded “Flash Crash”, although they can get laggy. I always enjoy the comparison!

physical science

The gatekeeper and academic article access

Part One
The UK equivalent of PubMed in the U.S.A., not surprisingly named UK PubMed, is a free online resource offering access to information sources for biomedical and health researchers

physical science

Radiation levels in Japan and the U.S.A.

Radiation levels in Japan post-Fukushima

The source for this chart is Ryugo Hayano, Ph.D. Professor Hayano is the Physics Department chair at The University of Tokyo. Click on the chart to view a larger version, with higher resolution. It used to link directly to the Hayano account on one, then another image sharing site, but both are out of business now. (Lack of persistent URLs is a problem everywhere.)

I offer my thanks to @hayano and Daniel Garcia. Daniel R. Garcia Ph.D. is a nuclear scientist from France, doing a postdoc at TEPCO, in Fukushima. He was there prior to the earthquake and tsunami. Daniel frequently sends updates as @daniel_garcia_r. He works at the reactor site every day, takes photos, and makes them available via Twitter.

Both Daniel and Professor Hayano are reliable, because they never confuse Becquerel with Sievert with Roentgen. They know radio-isotopes and their half-lives better than nearly anyone. Daniel was needed to assist the press a few weeks ago, when there was confusion between Cesium 137 versus Iodine 137 and again between Iodine 131 versus Uranium 137.

Other locales, other radiation levels

The Radiation Network is an excellent resource for radiation information in the U.S.A. and other parts of the world. It is a network of civilian volunteers using a protocol to report radiation readings, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sensor stations are located throughout the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii,  Alaska and Norway. There was one in Northern Japan. Sadly, that sensor went off-line last month.

The Radiation Network is non-profit, all volunteer and headquartered in Arizona. Tim is the public face of the Radiation Network. Using software developed for this purpose, Tim collects and aggregates the real-time data from the sensor stations, then updates the map online with the readings at one-minute intervals. The Radiation Network went online nearly a decade ago, and offers reliable baseline measurements for comparison. This facilitates detection of any incident. The criteria for elevated radiation levels include:

  • Rule-out protocol for false positives, e.g. spikes due to sensors  malfunctioning;
  • Level of radiation that is significant: Higher than the threshold AND sustained, and how long “sustained” is;
  • Exogenous causes such as geography. Readings in Colorado are always higher due to the higher elevation,

The website is basic but functional. There are Radiation Network maps of Europe, Japan, and the US (broken out for Alaska and Hawaii), and a message. The message is a running log of updates.

physical science

Physikalische Typografie

This is a situation where the German language — not French, nor Italian and certainly not English, really captures the feeling and nuance of a work of art most eloquently. Physikalische Typografie* means “Typography of Physics.”

I like that much better than my prosaic versions:

  • An Alphabet of Physics Diagrams?
  • Creatively Capturing Fonts with Physics- truly awful!
  • 26 Physical Letters- not too bad.

This post is about physics-student-turned artist MunnaOnTheRun, and the story of his rather abrupt transition to artiste and graphic designer. The catalyst for his transformation was quite literally the Unified Field Theory of Physics. MunnaOnTheRun, and Wikipedia, refer to it as The Theory of Everything. It is (a yet to be proven theory) linking all known physical phenomena. Albert Einstein was intent on tracking it down in the last decade of his life.

physical science

U.S. Scientists top research fraud list? Concerned? Probably not.

I happened upon this story while reading Politics Daily’s[1] coverage of a Journal of Medical Ethics article about a study of retraction incidence for research papers. The article was published in November 2010. 

The study found that leading causes of invalid research were:

  • retraction due to discovery of lab error after article submission to peer-reviewed journals
  • inability to reproduce results

I see that as honest behavior. Which would be easier, trying conceal or deny a mistake, or admitting error? The latter couldn’t be easy.

Braver Path Dramatization: Researcher requests article retraction

Dear ACM or IEEE,

I am the author of that research article you featured in last month’s issue. You know, the paper that was covered by most of the scientific press and popular media because my findings had such wide-ranging implications?

Well, I just found a major error in my work as I was re-reading it today. None of the peer-reviewers caught it, nor did I, until now. Please issue a retraction in my name. I’ll return that $50,000 of prize money you awarded to me. And I’ll tell the research group at [ pick any of { IBM, Princeton Advance Studies, Google Labs, NIH, CDC, Stanford University, mongoDB, Betaworks, NVIDIA} ] who offered me that great new job based on my research, that I was wrong and understand if they rescind their offer of employment and funding….

Actually, I wish the article hadn’t used the word fraud at all, as it a study of retractions, only a small number of which were due to fraud. There were certainly some cases of outright, very predatory fraud, clearly motivated by greed. The article mentions that. But that was a small part of the total number of retracted papers. In fact, when considered in the context of relative and not absolute counts, the key finding was that the retraction rate in the U.S. was 1.64%, during a ten-year interval. This far surpasses quality standards for rate of failure in nearly every other industry.

The most troubling concerns were plagiarism and deliberate falsification. Cases of both were presented in the article. Source data was drawn from on-line medical research repository PubMed from 2000 – 2009.

The article covered some other trends. Fewer American and Japanese scientists are publishing as a percentage of the total number of publications than in the past. Other countries are now entering the ring. This doesn’t mean that the U.S.A. and Japan are in technological or academic decline! It means that researchers from other nations are gaining better access to education and research funding. That helps everyone.

Also, within the United States, research breakthroughs are becoming far less concentrated in the traditional bastions of Harvard, Stanford and University of Chicago. Duke, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, University of Southern Florida and other public and private institutions are coming their own, achieving prominence like never before.

1. Politics Daily is owned by America Online News.  AOL continues to produce quality content and services, despite the brand’s unfortunate lack of prestige and status.  AOL is much more than an outdated and unpleasant internet service provider, although that is my first thought when I see the triangular AOL logo.

physical science

Rebuilding the Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism is older than Charles Babbage’s computation machine by an order of magnitude. It is the oldest known calculator. Some rather chewed-up looking pieces are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. I wouldn’t expect otherwise, as the Antikythera was built in ancient Greece in about 100 BCE.

The Antikythera is an analog computer requiring a very comprehensive understanding of gear ratios and differentials. It was designed so well that it can accurately calculate solar eclipses and other celestial events. It’s true purpose was not understood until recently, according to the description by MacMillan Publishing.

Fully functional Antikythera replica using Lego

MacMillan posted a video on YouTube yesterday, as part of their roll-out. Andrew Carol is the person shown in the video. He is the “master Lego craftsman” and a software engineer with Apple Computers.

physical science

Small Satellites Increase Access to Space

SRI International and NASA gave the final send-off to Radio Aurora Explorer (RAX) and its bevy of diminutive CubeSat satellites on November 19, 2010 as part of a space, weather, and atmospheric research project. The launch was accomplished with the assistance of an elderly Minotaur IV rocket by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Space Test Program.

physical science

Geological Time Spiral

Evidence of our planet’s antiquity is revealed by the once-molten rocks that form the Earth’s crust. These rocks contain radioactive elements whose isotopes decay at known rates. Study of geo-strata, paleontology and atomic dating of certain rocks is a reliable method for determining the age of the Earth. According to the US Geological Survey publication 2008-58, Earth is 4.5 billion years of age.

art physical science

Hermes’ Tree

Found in Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages…via BLACK TO THE BLIND, “Who Would Know the Answers If Given?” Read More

This is a wonderful find! Hermes stands at the boundary between the sun and the crescent moon, psychopomp that he is. I would far rather have him escort me from this world to the next than that grumpy old ferryman Charon. Hermes (or Mercury, as the Romans knew him) is wearing his winged sandals and helmet, and holds his sigil. The caduceus is by his side. Is that also one of his symbols? It would be fitting, if he were the gatekeeper at the portal between life and death, the womb and birth.

physical science

The Bearable Lightness of Blimps

Professor Sir David King, former UK scientific adviser addressed the World Forum on Enterprise and Environment in Oxford earlier this month. Professor King said that helium-filled blimps are a practical means* of transporting high value perishable goods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.