You are currently browsing gaussling’s articles.
Of the 1332 posts I have polluted cyberspace with, the most frequently visited is a post on the topic of neutron lethargy written in May of 2008. The post is titled Neutron Lethargy- This Weeks Obscure Dimensionless Quantity. My intent was to write about some of the obscure yet interesting factoids and concepts that I run into in my daily travails.
I’ve been drawn to nuclear topics since junior high school. Sometime in 8th grade I began to to build several scientific projects as described in the Scientific American column The Amateur Scientist written by C.L. Stong. Stong published a collection of articles in a book titled The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist, 1960, Simon and Shuster. This book was (is) a treasure trove of information on how to assemble equipment for scientific investigation.
In jr high I spent some time trying to assemble an “Atom Smasher” (p 344). It was an evacuated glass tube with filament electron source a meter away from the positively charged target. The target was a 3 x 1/4 inch disk of aluminum with many perforations over which aluminum foil would serve to seal in the vacuum. The aluminum foil was to serve as a window through which electrons could collide with a sample on the exterior. Sadly the project eventually ended due to the lack of access to a McLeod gauge, bulk mercury, and a diffusion pump. The required Van de Graff generator was available for a few hundred dollars. The failure was perhaps fortuitous because even if I had managed to assemble the thing, I might have been exposed to x-rays during the accelerator’s operation.
Turning my attention to more feasible projects I did manage to do some biology experiments. The most interesting was growing protozoans from an infusion of grass and soil in standing water. After several days the water would turn cloudy and fetid. Using a decent Christmas microscope we were able to view a magical world of microorganisms scooting around in their herky-jerky manner. It was mesmerizing.
A glove box project afforded a place for growing microorganisms with petri dishes purchased at a hobby shop. I was able to grow mold and some blend of bacteria on Jello in the petri dishes, but the microscope didn’t have the resolution for bacteria. Since I had no interest in pathogens, the glove box was not really needed. But it looked cool.
By 10th grade I did manage to successfully build the cloud chamber project (p 307). Unfortunately I only witnessed stray cosmic rays and background radiation. As it turned out, the polonium 210 alpha source loaned to me by a physics teacher had long since decayed to inactivity. Building the chamber was a tremendous learning experience made possible through the use of the metal shop at school. It was of sheet metal construction with a dry ice and methanol coolant chamber built in. The actual chamber was made from the bottom quarter of a Folgers coffee can cut and fitted with a glass viewing port and Plexiglass illumination ports. As I recall, the most problematic aspect of the construction was finding an adhesive that would not detach at dry ice temperature.
An electromagnet was built in an attempt to bend the path of the particles by a magnetic field, but was wholly inadequate for the job. Learned another lesson there too.
The book by Stong was something that lit up my curiosity and put a fire in the belly to explore. This was the beginning of what turned out to be life-long career in science. Strangely, the total lack of interest by the adults around me only strengthened my resolve to build and learn.
A grim message from Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland of the US Chemical Safety Board reads-
“The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is disappointed to see the President’s budget proposal to eliminate the agency. The CSB is an independent agency whose sole mission is to investigate accidents in the chemical industry and to make recommendations to prevent future accidents and improve safety. For over 20 years, the CSB has conducted hundreds of investigations of high consequence chemical incidents, such as the Deepwater Horizon and West Fertilizer disasters. Our investigations and recommendations have had an enormous effect on improving public safety. Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public is safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB. As this process moves forward, we hope that the important mission of this agency will be preserved. ” -posted 3/20/17
I want to voice my support generally for this elite group of accident investigators. As a chemical safety professional myself I am disappointed to see the CSB regarded low enough by the President’s budget writers to warrant being in the proposal for elimination. The job of the CSB is to investigate the cause(s) of chemical, petrochemical, or other facilities that handle materials having the potential to produce serious accidents. Having done accident investigations myself, albeit at much reduced scale from a petrochemical refinery, I appreciate what a difficult job this is and the great value of the disseminating findings to the industry.
The value of any given CSB report is the story of how an accident is initiated, how it propagates, and how it may couple with diverse systems. As a crucial part of the report is a detailed dissection of the relevant operational systems and human/machine interfaces and how they may have coupled to the event. It is educational and very useful for the safety community to learn how unfamiliar failure modes initiate and how knock-on effects may steer the accident in directions that are difficult to predict.
Planning for process safety involves input from the fields of chemistry, engineering and operations. Importantly, it requires imagination because planning safe operations is about predicting the future. Shutting down CSB investigations will deprive the engineering and safety community of a valuable resource detailing subtle or non-obvious ways in which complex systems can fail.
Recall the Apollo 1 fire or the Challenger explosion and how inquiry into those events lead to better appreciation of failure modes and the layers of protection that can be put in place to prevent the failure. If this kind of investigation is kept confidential, the advance of safe system design will stagnate.
Guapo, AZ. The American Greenhouse Association (AGA) released a statement Friday in response to the Trump Administration’s denial that greenhouse warming is not based on established science. The spokesperson for the AGA, Mr. Harlan Stamen, announced that the greenhouse industry has begun a fundamental reexamination of the science behind the greenhouse effect. The AGA was one of many organizations meeting last week at their industry’s annual conference at Pultroon University.
Mr. Stamen, standing before a packed room of reporters, bluntly stated “we thought we understood how the greenhouse effect worked. Honestly, we thought that problem was solved. Then we hear from the new administration in Washington that as many as a few percent of scientists were unsure.” Stamen went on to say that greenhouse researchers were working feverishly to understand how certain substances, CO2 among them, in fact just do not absorb solar energy as believed. “Clearly”, Stamen allowed, “we have to figure this thing out. We have no clue how our greenhouses get warm in sunlight.”
The spokesperson for the White House Office of Inquisitions, Olivia Gastly, Esq., released a statement saying that the Office is “aware of many individuals in Democrat science who think they understand these issues of climate- I mean, who knew it was so complicated- but our belief .. our belief … is backed by many years of assurances by the very best people that using fossil fuels cannot possibly produce global warming.”
President 45 has chosen a cabinet, with senate confirmation, that outwardly seems chosen specifically to deconstruct the large scale structure of the federal government. This has come out in the open by admission from the likes of Steve Bannon, but serious dialog about the consequences of this has only just started.
If you step back a bit and think about what role the federal government has had in modern US culture, you might realize that the federal governmental superstructure has provided a framework and a shelter for many things citizens and businesses have come to rely on.
Some science oriented services the federal government has provided-
- Funds for industrial expansion in 2 world wars
- DARPA, which funds for the development of advanced military hardware, including aviation, communications, orbital platforms, electronics, robotics, computer technology, and more. All of this has spillover benefits to the nation at large.
- A military establishment that countless young men and women joined that helped them build a career for life after enlistment
- The GI bill post WWII credited with aiding the formation of the American middle class
- The FAA regulates the operation of a large scale civilian aviation system, including organizing the airways, aviation safety, air traffic control
- NIST, which provides for common weights and measures as well as the definition and standardization of many other units of measure for science and industry
- CDC, which monitors and aids in the identification and containment of diseases
- NOAA, which provides a large array of satellites and computer capacity for weather forecasting
- EPA, that agency much maligned by pollution-generating industry, is charged with oversight of surface waters of all kinds as well as the purity of the air we breath.
- The NIH which serves as an effective national resource for the advancement of medicine in research and in practice
- The NSF has for many years funded basic scientific research, and in doing so provided many generations of scientists and engineers for industry and academics
- NTSB is charged with investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety
- you get the picture …
I am not entirely sure what the slogan “Make America Great Again” really means. It is a brilliant piece of propaganda in the sense that it stirs the emotions of voters, but cannot be pinned down to any one meaning. The image of greatness is in the eye of the beholder.
When I think of this greatness business, my mind naturally goes to the source of our vast science and engineering prowess. The US evolved a unique and effective system of research and development. The American university/government R&D machine has over many years provided breakthroughs in technology, but also it provides a constant supply of valuable scientific and engineering talent for any and all who need it.
Another benefit of our scientific establishment is the treasure trove of knowledge it leaves behind for posterity. Working in an R&D heavy manufacturing environment, I have at my finger tips the largest collection of international scientific references in the world. This is the CAS registry at the Chemical Abstracts Service and it is in fact national treasure.
I use this resource almost daily to uncover known technology and substances dating back to the late 19th century. A great resource to have because in business, you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel. And a lot of wheels have already been invented. Highly detailed information can be retrieved to provide the knowhow to solve problems encountered in industrial R&D today. Information that is in the public domain. Even better, because of the practice of peer-review, the information usually can be considered highly reliable.
Our government/university R&D complex is the goose that laid the golden egg. It is part of the engine of ingenuity that drives our economy.
Industry benefits from tremendously from a constant supply of talented engineering and scientific talent graduation from the best university research establishment in the world. It is this way in large part because of financial input from federal government funding agencies. Yes, there are monies available from private organizations. But I don’t think it compares in magnitude and breadth to funding from DoE, NSF, NIH, etc.
When I see that the present crew of republican elected officials and their appointees gunning for the large scale teardown of government agencies and reductions in force, I am naturally worried about the future of our education and R&D apparatus. I have trouble believing that the present congressional majority and the White House have the knowledge and intellectual bandwidth to comprehend the consequences of their actions.
This whole deconstruction of the federal government in favor of state control has the smell of a return to confederacy. Ask yourself how a confederate states of America would function when challenged by China or Russia militarily. How would the disunity by strong state control of resources respond in the case of an incremental land grab like the Russian takeover of Crimea. What if China takes over Taiwan and threatens hegemony of the Pacific?
The present political regime in DC threatens to do great harm to a civilization that used to be the envy of the world. Opportunity, wide open spaces, modernity were an attribute of a productive, unified nation. Do a majority of the citizens want what amounts to the libertarian dream of personal responsibility in the form of isolated bubbles of humanity? Does every aspect of our lives have to be a potential profit center for someone? Competition thrives with individual choice. But civilization requires cooperation. I vote for civilization.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has made clear by his comments that he knows little about science generally, let alone those areas that EPA is charged to oversee. If the Wikipedia site is to be believed, Pruitt’s education and career track in no way qualifies him to direct or make assertions on behalf of the EPA.
I would say that Pruitt does not have the credentials to speak authoritatively on the matter of climate science. This contention should be printed everywhere 24/7.
Plainly, he is the boss man of a wrecking crew for dismantling environmental protection.
I have concluded that we are witnessing in the political sphere today the wholesale deconstruction of our national public spaces and civic institutions by elected officials responsive to influences substantially unknown. And unknown by design. The last few decades have seen erosion of public support of public education, both emotional and financial. Plainly, conservative media have been gradually beating down public support by sheer repetition of slogans and falsehoods. Legislatures have withdrawn funding or applied unfunded mandates to public schools to the effect that when they fail to meet absurd goals, they congratulate themselves on their prescience. The claim that they want more accountability from teachers is a thinly vailed attempt to disband teachers unions. Teachers, being optimists and educated, are frequently of liberal disposition. This is the application of propaganda and it works. Republicans are good at it because they know how to apply sustained fear in the hearts of voters too preoccupied in their own lives to research issues. The right owns the left side of several population bell curves and are advantaged by it greatly.
An AG from Oklahoma will soon be administrator of the EPA. For decades Republicans and conservative media have chanted the same message that regulations are bad with the subtext that they are inherently bad. They are bad for business and inhibit job creation they say. If discharging persistent pollutants into the air or waterways is bad for business, then tough shit. We do not need that kind of business.
Not a peep is uttered on the events that lead to the rule making by the agency. I lay this omission squarely on corporate media. Water pollution doesn’t make good television. Apparently even the success stories of agencies like EPA do not make compelling television. If you want to see a world unimpeded by environmental protection, go visit some of the industrial districts in China, Southeast Asia, or India. Tell me how the free market is working there. China by the way has gotten religion on environmental protection due to decades of rampant pollution.
Chaffetz withdraws bill, slinks back into hole
Representative Jason Chaffetz [R-UT-3] has introduced H.R. 621 which aims to direct the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal public land in the west. The bill is titled “H.R.621 – Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017”. Below is a copy of the bill.
H. R. 621
To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVESJanuary 24, 2017
Mr. Chaffetz introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources
A BILL To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. Sale of certain Federal lands previously identified as suitable for disposal.(a) Short title.—This Act may be cited as the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017”.
(b) Competitive sale of lands.—The Secretary shall offer the identified Federal lands for disposal by competitive sale for not less than fair market value as determined by an independent appraiser.
(c) Existing rights.—The sale of identified Federal lands under this section shall be subject to valid existing rights.
(d) Proceeds of sale of lands.—All net proceeds from the sale of identified Federal lands under this section shall be deposited directly into the Treasury for reduction of the public debt.
(e) Report.—Not later than 4 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate—
(1) a list of any identified Federal lands that have not been sold under subsection (b) and the reasons such lands were not sold; and
(2) an update of the report submitted to Congress by the Secretary on May 27, 1997, pursuant to section 390(g) of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–127; 110 Stat. 1024), including a current inventory of the Federal lands under the administrative jurisdiction of the Secretary that are suitable for disposal.
(f) Definitions.—In this section:
(1) IDENTIFIED FEDERAL LANDS.—The term “identified Federal lands” means the parcels of Federal land under the administrative jurisdiction of the Secretary that were identified as suitable for disposal in the report submitted to Congress by the Secretary on May 27, 1997, pursuant to section 390(g) of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–127; 110 Stat. 1024), except the following:
(A) Lands not identified for disposal in the applicable land use plan.
(B) Lands subject to a Recreation and Public Purpose conveyance application.
(C) Lands identified for State selection.
(D) Lands identified for Indian tribe allotments.
(E) Lands identified for local government use.
(2) SECRETARY.—The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Interior.
SEC. 2. Clarification regarding State laws.
Nothing in this Act shall affect the implementation of State laws, including State enabling Acts.
Suddenly we have a bill seeking to sell federal land “suitable for disposal, and for other purposes“. I’ll add four comments:
1) federal land is public land, and not just for taxpayers, but all citizens,
2) the word “disposal” is a rhetorical kicker that is suggestive of salvage, and
3) the phrase and for other purposes is far too vague.
4) there is no language barring sale to foreign interests.
This bill is too shadowy and too soon. Citizens should have a chance to see for themselves what kind of land this is. We need transparency and some idea of who could buy and what is likely to happen to these lands. But more importantly, there should be some deliberation on the matter of what responsibility we have to future generations to maintain wild spaces for their use. Our public spaces in America set us apart from other nations who, because of their long and complex histories, were unable to plan for public spaces.
Do you really believe that you’ll be better off when this land is snatched up by monied interests?
A parting thought. Much of the land now occupied in the west was settled by homesteaders who developed the land and made a living from it. Why can’t that happen today? This land formed a basis for the inheritance of wealth for future generations. Did Mr. Chaffetz even consider this? Doubtful.
You may know that after an Amazon transaction you will eventually receive a notice requesting an evaluation of the quality of product and delivery. In the 5-star rating system the top three ratings are Fair, Good, and Excellent. What you don’t know is what constitutes “Excellent or Good” service. What if your order shows up on time and is undamaged? Does that deserve high praise? I’ll answer that. The delivery of a product on time and in spec, even a day or two early, is within the range of ordinary or expected. It does not qualify as excellent or even good.
Conversely, a selection of “Fair” seems unfair to a vendor. If a common parcel delivery to a customer did not also deliver giggling delight, but rather an “OK, here it is”, maybe the customer would be inclined to give a mid-range rating accurately reflecting the absence of glee. Fair is death by faint praise.
What they are missing is an answer indicating that the product and delivery was “as expected” or, “nominal”. Excellent or Good imply some sort of action above and beyond a baseline value.
Amazon is smart to collect ranking data on their vendors. It keeps them edgy and sharp. I get that.
An Excellent rating should result from service leaving the customer standing there with their pants around their ankles and a goofy grin on their face. That would rank as Excellent in my book!
But I would offer that another purpose is to condition customers into believing that ordinary products and deliveries from Amazon constitute some kind of premium service. Early on, maybe. But now it is normal. It’s just an ordinary transaction worthy of, at most, a wink and a nod.