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Jan 08 2015

The Breakfast Club (This Week in Entropy)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWhen we talk about Entropy and its increase, it pays to keep in mind that we are talking about a a theoretically ‘closed’ system.

Like, oh say, The Universe.  All that was or ever will be.

Locally it is not only entirely possible that new inputs (opening the system) will result in the spontaneous rise of complexity, it may even be likely!

God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

Paul Rosenberg, Salon

Saturday, Jan 3, 2015 09:00 AM EST

Darwin didn’t exclude God, of course, though many creationists seem incapable of grasping this point. But he didn’t require God, either, and that was enough to drive some people mad.

Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place – which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.



If England’s theory works out, it will obviously be an epochal scientific advance. But on a lighter note, it will also be a fitting rebuke to pseudo-scientific creationists, who have long mistakenly claimed that thermodynamics disproves evolution (here, for example), the exact opposite of what England’s work is designed to show – that thermodynamics drives evolution, starting even before life itself first appears, with a physics-based logic that applies equally to living and non-living matter.

Most important in this regard is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that in any closed process, there is an increase in the total entropy (roughly speaking, a measure of disorder). The increase in disorder is the opposite of increasing order due to evolution, the creationists reason, ergo – a contradiction! Overlooking the crucial word “closed,” of course.



Evolution is no more a violation of the Second Law than life itself is. A more extensive, lighthearted, non-technical treatment of the creationist’s misunderstanding and what’s really going on can be found here.

The driving flow of energy – whether from the sun or some other source – can give rise to what are known as dissipative structures, which are self-organized by the process of dissipating the energy that flows through them. Russian-born Belgian physical chemist Ilya Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work developing the concept. All living things are dissipative structures, as are many non-living things as well – cyclones, hurricanes and tornados, for example.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Just Science

New Research Links Scores of Earthquakes to Fracking Wells Near a Fault in Ohio

By MICHAEL WINES, The New York Times

JAN. 7, 2015

Not long after two mild earthquakes jolted the normally steady terrain outside Youngstown, Ohio, last March, geologists quickly decided that hydraulic fracturing operations at new oil-and-gas wells in the area had set off the tremors.

Now a detailed study has concluded that the earthquakes were not isolated events, but merely the largest of scores of quakes that rattled the area around the wells for more than a week.



The number and intensity of fracking-related quakes have risen as the practice has boomed. In Oklahoma, for example, quakes have increased sharply in recent years, including the state’s largest ever, a magnitude 5.7 tremor, in 2011. Both state and federal experts have said fracking is contributing to the increase there, not only because of the fracking itself, but also because of the proliferation of related wells into which fracking waste is injected. Those injection wells receive much more waste, and are filled under high pressure more often, than oil or gas wells, and the sheer volume of pressurized liquids has been shown to widen cracks in faults, raising the chances of slippage and earthquakes.



In Poland Township, an analysis of seismological data found 77 well-related earthquakes from March 4 to March 12, the four largest of them on March 10. All occurred about 1.9 miles underground, along a horizontal fault that at times ran less than a half-mile under wells where fracking was underway.

For States That Don’t File Carbon-Cutting Plans, E.P.A. Will Impose ‘Model Rule’

By CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times

JAN. 7, 2015

The regulations, the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda, are based on the Clean Air Act and require states to cut planet-warming carbon dioxide from power plants. Each state may create its own plan for how to do so, but the requirements have the potential for shutting hundreds of coal-fired power plants.



“We certainly hope that every state feels like it’s in their best interest to create a plan,” Ms. McCabe said. “But we have an obligation under the Clean Air Act, should there be states that don’t submit plans, to be sure we’re ready.”



Ms. McCabe said she expected the E.P.A. to release final versions of the climate change regulations by midsummer, when it would also issue the proposed model rule for states.

So Many Earth-Like Planets, So Few Telescopes

By DENNIS OVERBYE, The New York Times

JAN. 6, 2015

Astronomers announced on Tuesday that they had found eight new planets orbiting their stars at distances compatible with liquid water, bringing the total number of potentially habitable planets in the just-right “Goldilocks” zone to a dozen or two, depending on how the habitable zone of a star is defined.



So far, Kepler has discovered 4,175 potential planets, and 1,004 of them have been confirmed as real, according to Michele Johnson, a spokeswoman for NASA’s Ames Research Center, which operates Kepler.

Most of them, however, including those announced Tuesday, are hundreds of light-years away, too far for detailed study. We will probably never know any more about these particular planets than we do now.

“We can count as many as we like,” said Sara Seager, a planet theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the new work, “but until we can observe the atmospheres and assess their greenhouse gas power, we don’t really know what the surface temperatures are like.”

Climatologists Balk as Brazil Picks Skeptic for Key Post

By SIMON ROMERO, The New York Times

JAN. 6, 2015

Calling Aldo Rebelo a climate-change skeptic would be putting it mildly. In his days as a fiery legislator in the Communist Party of Brazil, he [railed against ] those who say human activity is warming the globe and called the international environmental movement “nothing less, in its geopolitical essence, than the bridgehead of imperialism.”

Though many Brazilians have grown used to such pronouncements from Mr. Rebelo, 58, his appointment this month as minister of science by President Dilma Rousseff is causing alarm among climate scientists and environmentalists here, a country that has been seeking to assert leadership in global climate talks.

“At first I thought this was some sort of mistake, that he was playing musical chairs and landed in the wrong chair,” said Márcio Santilli, a founder of Instituto Socioambiental, one of Brazil’s leading environmental groups. “Unfortunately, there he is, overseeing Brazilian science at a very delicate juncture when Brazil’s carbon emissions are on the rise again.”

With Veto Threat, Obama and Congress Head for Collision Over Keystone Pipeline

By CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times

JAN. 6, 2015

The White House on Tuesday made it clear that President Obama would veto a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up an immediate clash with Republicans just as they assume control of Congress.

“The president threatening to veto the first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress must come as a shock to the American people who spoke loudly in November in favor of bipartisan accomplishments,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the new majority leader, said on Tuesday.



A State Department analysis of the project, released last January, concluded that it would not significantly increase the rate of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, noting that producers would extract oil sands petroleum and move it to market with or without construction of the pipeline. The review estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs over its two-year construction period – about 3,900 of them in construction, the rest in indirect support jobs, such as food service. It estimated that it would create 35 permanent jobs.

The Bloom Is On for Maple Syrup

By JOSHUA A. KRISCH, The New York Times

JAN. 5, 2015

Pancake lovers, take heart. In the coming weeks, maple farmers throughout Quebec, Vermont and elsewhere in the syrup belt will dust off their metal spiles for another harvest season, and some scientists are predicting that the sugary sap will flow even more freely than usual.

That’s because this year, the region is likely to have what is known in botany as a mast year – a time every few years when perennial trees like sugar maples synchronize their seed cycles, and flower as one. Low-seed years usually lead to mass blooms, and may bode particularly well for the maple syrup industry.

In a paper published recently in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, ecologists at Tufts University near Boston suggest that syrup and seed production are linked. Because 2014 was a low seed year for maples, the scientists reason, maple trees invested spare energy into producing more carbohydrates. This year, the trees will use those carbs to flower – and fill sugar makers’ pails with rich, sweet sap.

Scrutiny for Laxatives as a Childhood Remedy

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS, The New York Times

JAN. 5, 2015

The agency has asked a team of scientists in Philadelphia to look more closely at the active ingredient in Miralax and similar generic products, called polyethylene glycol 3350, or PEG 3350. While outlining the scope of the research, the agency also disclosed that its scientists had discovered trace amounts of two potential toxins in batches of Miralax tested six years ago.



Buried in the agency’s brief to researchers, issued last year, was some disquieting news. The F.D.A. said that it had tested eight batches of Miralax and found tiny amounts of ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG), ingredients in antifreeze, in all of them. The agency said the toxins were impurities resulting from the manufacturing process.



As it turns out, extremely small amounts of DEG and EG are permitted in finished drug products, and the F.D.A. considers the laxatives “safe to use in accordance with approved labeling” – that is, only by adults for not longer than seven days.

Goodbye smart gadgets. Hello dumb tech

Stuart Heritage, The Guardian

Tuesday 6 January 2015 13.52 EST

This is going to be the year of the smartwatch. Thanks to several incredible boundary-smashing technological vaults, Apple will soon release a product that looks like a wristwatch but is really So Much More Than That. The Apple Watch will display your Facebook updates. It will tell you who is calling your phone. It will let you show photos to people, even if each photo is the size of a postage stamp and the only way to let anyone actually see it is to awkwardly hold your arm out in a berserk mockery of a CIA stress position while they grab it and squint.

The Apple Watch apparently solves a problem. The problem? Sometimes people have to take their telephones out of their pockets. Why would you want to do that, when all the information in the world could be permanently located at the bottom of your arm, on a tiny screen that you have to navigate by twisting a crown so hopelessly minuscule that it makes you look like a drunk bear in boxing gloves trying to pick a needle off the deck of a listing ship?

If the rise of the smartwatch has taught me anything, it is that I am perfectly happy with my dumbwatch. The one I can strap to my wrist and look at sometimes if I am not in the immediate vicinity of a clock. My watch can do one thing really well. The Apple Watch, meanwhile, will let you do a million things that you can already do elsewhere, but in a slightly more difficult way. Unless it’s run out of battery, that is, which it probably has because it’s an Apple product.



Technology is still brilliant, and completely necessary. If I didn’t have a map of the entire world inside my phone all the time, there’s a fairly reasonable chance that I would still be fruitlessly wandering around continental Europe, starved and frothing because I couldn’t find my way back to the hotel that I had checked into somewhere in the middle of 2012. If I couldn’t look up recipes from my phone, I guarantee that I would be dead from excessive oven-chip consumption by now. Try to part me from my phone, and I would probably have quite an ugly tantrum in front of you.

But when you get to the point, as I did recently, where you are buying lightbulbs that can only be switched on and off from your phone, it is time for an intervention. Things like that – and smartwatches, and everything else – sound cool, but they just end up making things more complicated than they need to be. You can do without them. Your smartphone isn’t your entire life.

That Crazy Story About Making ‘Hate Speech’ A Crime? Yeah, That’s Satire

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Wed, Jan 7th 2015 10:25a

art guerrilla

daily kos, snort

AS IF they have ANY brief to actually be for real free speech, they censor for simply voicing valid plaints in opposition to their agenda…

obama and obamacare, for instance…

they are odious dem’rat authoritarians who care not ONE WHIT for free expression…

blaaaap

i fart in their general direction…

Monarch Butterflies Considered for Endangered Species Status

By Laura Geggel, Live Science

January 5, 2015 10:43 AM

Over the next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether the iconic black-and-orange butterflies deserve the federal protections that come with being listed an endangered or threatened species.

By some estimates, the monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the past two decades, from about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to just 35 million individuals last winter.

That loss is “so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Florida and Ohio.

Only the the Yahoos survive.

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