Monday, June 26, 2006

How do you scare this blogger's pants off?

You make him think he may be trying to pass a kidney stone...... Trust me, works like a charm.

Had a bit of a scare this weekend. I woke up sunday morning with my lower left back hurting pretty bad. At first I figured it was just a backache and that was that, but as the day wore on I started to get worried, especially when I felt the need to urinate but could only achieve a trickle Sunday afternoon. When I woke up this morning and it was still hurting, I went into panic mode. You see, I'm a frequent flyer on kidney stone express airways. I've passed a number of them over the years, my last bout was 9 years ago, but I still break out in a cold sweat when I think of the agony involved. There was a number of spots along there where I would have happily given a loaded Colt 1911A1 full-on fellatio in an effort to relieve the suffering, even though I knew that the pain would eventually go away again. IT HURTS THAT BAD. Trust me, when morphine is only barely able to take the edge off, and they tell you they can't give you any more, you know are hurting my friend.

To make matters worse, I don't tolerate surgery to remove them all that terribly well. The last time I had surgery, (nine years ago) I ended up spending a total of almost three weeks in the Hospital and I lost almost 30 pounds because I was throwing up so bad from both the kidney stones and the opiates.

So this morning I start making frantic calls to my urologist. The fine Dr. Lapin over at Baylor(I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere. Something about rabbits and their reproductive habits. After all, is men's reproductive health not a big part of a urologist's biz nowadays?) examines me, has me fill a specemin (isn't that an italian astronaut?) cup, and sends me downstairs for a cat scan. Aside from a few cat hairs, no cats were detected, but a very small stone was detected in my left kidney. However due to the fact that there was no blood in the urine and the stone is so small, he doesn't think that is the cause of my pain. So maybe I just have a backache. I can live with that.

Hey, does anybody need a slightly used kidney?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Al Gore as Captain Planet

At the invitation of Eric Berger of SciGuy fame (if not fortune), your humble host agreed to attend a screening of the latest soft money political ad dressed up as a documentary on Global Warming called "An Inconvenient Truth" along with Phil, the ever lovely Natalie, Hunter, Matt Bramanti, and Jim, who still looks mighty familiar to me, even though neither of us can think of where we might have met. Afterwards we walked next door to the Epicure Cafe to discuss the movie and it's effect on any of us.

Alas, the effect on us all was pretty limited. No one really felt that thier lives or outlook was changed. I respectfully disagree with Eric, Al Gore was not a good choice for the narrator. He brings far too much political baggage along with him and he makes it very clear in the film in a number of places that he HATES and BLAMES Republicans and conservatives for the current situation as he percieves it and he REALLY hates the current administration. Much of the film comes off as sour grapes and he yet again appears to revel in the near death of his son and the death of his sister of lung cancer. Apparently in an attempt to make the audience feel sorry for him and to wrap himself in an armor of grief in order to make his position unassailable without making it look like someone was attacking his grief. Sorry, doesn't hold water with me. It didn't work for Shehan, and it won't work for him.

The movie ran for over 2 hours and it was not until the last 20 minutes or so that there was any discussion at all of how to address the problem. Much was made of the Kyoto Protocols, but the simple fact is than less than half of the signitory countries have attained the cuts they are treaty bound to meet. The US was at least honest enough with itself to recognize that there was no way that the US could meet the protocols and not severely damage the economy in the process. Some of the proposals he made were higher milage cars, more efficient appliances, and CO2 sequestration, a technology that is still in it's infancy. None of these proposals would have a large impact on the generation of CO2, 10-15% each at best. Nowhere in the movie was any serious look at Nuclear energy as a tool to reduce CO2 generation. In fact the only mention of nuclear energy was an image of a mushroom cloud and some cooling towers that looked suprisingly like those at Three Mile Island. But there was not a single use of the word "Nuclear" anywhere in his monologue. This is disheartening because Nuclear power holds the promise of massive reductions in CO2 production. There was also no discussion of other forces that impact global warming such as solar variability, land use changes, volcanoes, etc.

And that goes to the heart of the debate for me. I am not disputing that the global climate is inching upwards in temperature, and I am not saying it won't have impacts on the planetary climate. He mentions that the climate has been in a warming and cooling cycle for millions of years, but he then promptly changes the subject. But the simple fact of the matter is that even if we stopped all CO2 production (not possible but even if we did) we would at best merely delay the inevitable. The planet is already on the upward slope of another global heat wave, and has been for the last few thousand years, Humans may be accellerating it, but even if you subtract our influence it was still going up. What we really need is not just more CO2 reductions, we need something much more fundamental. We need levees for our cities, and we need to find other means to control our environment. And we do need to reduce our impact so that we will be able to buy time to do the other things we must do.

I have an idea, it is by no means fleshed out, and a number of you might think I'm nuts, but there is nothing technically infeasable about it that I can discern. The simple fact of the matter is that 99.9% of the energy that falls upon our planet comes from the sun. If we can find a way to control the energy being delivered from the sun, we will have control of the global temperature. How do you keep your car cool when it is sitting in a parking lot? You put shades in the windows to block out the sun. My proposal is a much much larger version of that same concept. There is a place between the earth and the sun known as the L1 Lagrange point. It is the point at which the gravity of the Earth exactly cancels the gravity of the Sun. At that spot, if something were left there, it would stay relatively motionless. If a rosette formation of large solar sails with only say, 10% reflectivity were placed just sunward of that lagrange point and was allowed to "hover", I.E. balance the reaction forces from the sunlight and solar wind acting on the sail with the gravity of the sun acting upon it, we could do exactly that, put a sunshade over the Earth. If the sail were designed with flaps that would allow rotation, much like a pinwheel, the light being reflected back at the sun could be further controlled while allowing the sail to be spun for stability. A central tower rising sunward with a mass at the end would be the control module and would have thrusters to aid in pointing, and would also serve as a tidal stabilizer. Think of a giant dandelion seed, with the sail being the feathery end, and the control tower being the seed pod itself, and you'll have a good idea of the configuration I'm envisioning. Other options to help sequester CO2 have been spoken of in the past such as seeding the southern oceans with iron to stimulate growth of phytoplankton, and injection of liquefied CO2 into oil wells which is not quite as easy as it sounds, CO2 has what is known as a triple point which is the temperature where all three phases can exist at the same time. The volumetric difference between the solid, liquid and the gaseous phase is very pronounced which makes handling it dangerous.

Some of these options have downsides, and/or difficulties. But the simple fact is that eliminating all CO2 production tomorrow will not prevent climate change. That change has been happening for millions of years before we arrived on this planet and will be happening long after we are gone. The human race has had a good run so far, if we are to extend that run, we will have to find ways of controlling our environment at levels we can only dream of today.

BTW, George Will apparently agrees with my assessment of Al Gore's motivations.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lone Star Times has been taken down temporarily

Just a word of warning to anyone who is trying to bop over to LST for a bit of reading enjoyment. Unbeknownst to David Benzion, there is a security problem with Wordpress which allows anyone with the rights to comment to see the email address and IP of ANY USER. Anyone with level 1 or higher access in Wordpress (or the equivalent in wordpress 2.0) can log into a Wordpress blog's dashboard and SEE the metadata attached to all posts and comments. They can additionally post (but not publish) new posts. This is a security issue, and David was forced to take the site down while he assesses what can be done to alleviate this issue. Don't worry, LST will be back, count on it. I will post an update when we get something figured out.

I believe a fix has been found Via Matt Bramanti, now if we can just find our web developer, who has been out of pocket all day, in order to implement it, we should be able to get this sorted.

They're BAAACK.....

Monday, June 05, 2006

Prisoners and sex changes, is it truly gender dysphoria driving this?

Last week there was much hoopla about one Robert/Michelle Kosilek in MA that is suing to force the MA Dept. of Corrections to allow him to surgically become a her.

He/She is not the only person trying to get the state to pony up for the surgery, There are probably at least a hundred in prisons all over the country. But I have to ask Are these individuals wanting the surgery because they truly think they are women trapped in a man's body or is it that they would prefer to be housed with women, perhaps in order to maintain some sort of sex life that does not involve sex with a man. Perhaps they feel a lesbian relationship of some form is preferable to taking it in the arse by a fellow inmate. Is the fact that most of these people will be in for life, or at least for very long sentences, driving them to chose a change in gender over either celibacy or male on male gay sex?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Next (but not Final) Frontier

There is a new paper out that concerns the fate of our world, and not coincidentally, the next potentially huge oil discovery. In a paper that is being published in Nature, Scientists have discovered that the Arctic was much warmer 55 million years ago than previously believed, as much as 20 degrees F warmer. Researchers describe the climate as being much like our own climate here in Houston, or Miami, with an average daytime temperature of around 74 degrees F. This balmy weather would have left a massive amount of biological detrius that would have eventually become oil. And just to prove that the science of global climate change IS being influenced by politics at all levels, one of the researchers broke ranks with the others and said:
"The entire Arctic rim is already one big exploration machine," Brinkhuis said. "I was nearly crucified for talking about this by some of the more politically environmentally friendly people out there. But it's a fact."

The article is quite correct that technology to exploit this oil is a little ways off, but don't you think for a second that it won't or can't be done. Much of the technology that has gone into the deep water exploration of the GOM will be transferable. I would not think that it will take quite as long as the researchers think it will. Many academics have this image of the oilfield being pretty backward and technologically unsophisticated. Much of that has changed over the last 20-30 years. Today, the oilfield routinely deploys technologies that rival anything NASA could ever dream up, in fact much of the materials science and technology are outgrowths of the aerospace industry. And the petroleum industry deploys it on a daily basis, without any of the hand wringing and navel contemplation that NASA brings to the table when it deploys similarly complex systems. NASA's researchers often look down their nose at the "applications" side of the biz, often to thier own detriment. In fact, in many instances, the fact that the oilfield is a major market for these advanced materials makes it possible for manufacturers to supply it to the aerospace world through economies of scale. For example a couple years ago I was working on a project and looking at using a new alloy that Special Metals (formerly INCO) had developed but had not begun to produce yet (Inconel 725, an age-hardening version of Inconel 625, one of the oilfield's "gold standards" for corrosion resistance, but with much higher strength, comparable to Inconel 718, but with better corrosion resistance), and WOULD NOT produce until there was a market for it. They were beating down the oilfield's door trying to get us to use it in order to justify manufacturing it (we couldn't use it because there was none available in the quantities and time frames we needed it in, it is a chicken and egg situation, we ended up using 718 instead). In this same project we were using special shape memory alloys as well.

All this however brings us to a very important question for the Global Warming crowd to answer. Humans didn't exist 55 million years ago. We are relatively new on the geologic landscape. If humans weren't involved then, why do they think that humans have such a huge influence now? Isn't that rather Anthropomorphic to think that human activity can influence the global climate that much? Isn't it POSSIBLE that other factors have a much larger influence? Things like solar output and methane hydrate releases or volcanic activity? Why must every bad thing be ascribed to humans? Are we that full of self-loathing?