Month: November 2013

What Happens to Our Sun?

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Inspired by the supernova and neutrino post I wanted to put together a little life cycle sketch of our sun.

The sun was formed about 4.6 billion years ago from a hot, boiling molecular cloud of hydrogen.  This molecular cloud expanded to the point of equilibrium between the energy pushing it outward and it’s own gravitational forces pulling it inward.  Eventually the cloud cools past it’s point to maintain an equilibrium and it collapses.  The hottest, densest, part of the cloud eventually became our sun.  Cooler, less dense bits became our earth, planets, asteroids, and all the other debris that makes up the solar system.  The protostar begins as a little ball of gas that becomes heavy enough that it generates enough gravity to start pulling in more and more hydrogen gas.  As more the gasses begin to pummels the stellar core, it begins to heat up.  Once it reaches about 10 million degrees it’s hot enough to fuse the hydrogen into helium and it’s now a star.  The earth gets its start at the same time.  Life will start up about 500 million years later.  Currently, the sun is halfway through what they call it’s “Main sequence”.  In the main sequence the sun goes about it’s day as the solar system’s largest fusion reactor.  At the core of the sun, about 620 million tones of hydrogen are burned to create helium every second.  As a result, about 4 million tonnes of matter are converted into energy.  If that sounds explosive, you’d be correct.  That constant explosion at the heart of the sun is what is keeping the sun from collapsing under the weight of it’s own gravity. Right now the sun is in equilibrium between it’s fusion and it’s gravity.  As the gasses collapse into the core of the sun, this increases the rate of fusion pushing the gasses away from the core.  The further away from the core the less fusion can happen and the gasses begin to fall towards the center again until an equilibrium is reached.

However, at some point in the next four of five billion years, the sun is going to run out of hydrogen to fuse.  When this happens, It’ll turn into a Red Giant.  A red giant star begins when most of the hydrogen fuel in the core of the sun is used up and turned into helium.  Gravity will force the gasses to collapse once again until the hydrogen in the outer layers becomes hot enough to begin fusing.  The energy released in the outer layers will cause the Star will expand to several hundred times it’s current diameter absorbing mercury, venus, and possibly earth.  Because the surface area of the sun is so much larger the temperature at the outer edges will be much cooler causing the sun to look red.  The star will burn this way for about a billion years.  The fusion of  hydrogen will create a thin shell of helium between the core of the star and the hydrogen fuel.  This layer intially isn’t hot enough to fuse, and it can’t contract due to gravity because it’s already at its densest possible state.  As more helium is added gravity will cause the helium shell to increase in temperature.  When the shell is hot enough, the helium will fuse with itself  creating carbon and release a tremendous amount of energy and matter into the solar system.  It’s called a helium flash.  It marks the dying stages of our star.  After a series of helium flashes, the sun will have shed most of it’s outer layers.  Gravity will force what remains of the sun into a dense little ball that will radiate light and heat as a White dwarf.  It doesn’t have the fuel to produce energy but it’ll have enough stored energy to shine as a little candle for trillions of years.

Shades of Meaning pt 2: Racism

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When I was in New Orleans, there was a case that garnered some small amount of national attention.  A local magistrate refused to sign a marriage certificate for a mixed race couple.  He gave a list of reasons that I’m sure sounded plausible to him.  It was something about protecting future generations from being ostracised or harassed for being mixed.  Naturally, the sane world cried “Racism” and eventually the magistrate was forced out of his position.  When confronted with his obvious racism, the Magistrate said of course he wasn’t racist. He was only looking after children. In the same breath he said he couldn’t be a racist because he had “black friends”.

There are shades of racism.  When someone says “racism”, we think of Craig Cobb or other neo-Nazi/kkk/white supremacist types.  This is the most benign form of racism because it’s so obvious so let’s call them the Obvious Racists.  These are racists who are proud of their racism.  These are the folks that want to actively and violently harrass if not kill anyone who doesn’t meet their standard of whiteness.  This would also include perfectly white people who don’t hate everyone, are gay or  don’t hate gay people, or simply don’t don’t like racists.  They also passionately hate other racists who differ over minor points of hatred.  If the civil rights movement was a war against this kind of racism it won.  These sort of racists are loud but rare.  They’ll probably always be around, lurking in the back corners of the country but they’re politically ineffectual. The best thing to do, as long as they remain nonviolent, is let them be.  Any kind of hostility towards them will only strengthen their cause and give a real voice to their paranoid delusions.  But mostly these aren’t the kind of racists we’re talking about. If someone ever says your a racist it’s probably not this kind of racism we’re talking about.

Next we have our favorite Magistrate, the Blind Racist.  These are probably nice guys.  I have no doubt that he really does have black friends.  If he can manage to be civil and share a few common interests there’s no reason he wouldn’t or shouldn’t.  The classic move of the Blind Racist is, “but I have a black friend”  Just ask Donald Trump, he’s as blind as they come.  These folks are two parts ignorance, one part civility, and one part laziness.  They’re racists because they just don’t know any better and are too lazy to figure out how to be a meaningful part of a culture they didn’t grow up and help shape.  Sometimes you’ll see someone say, “he’s not a racist he’s just a man of his time”.  That man is a Blind Racist.

Next to these guys we have the extremely well meaning Helpful Racist.  The classic move of the Helpful Racist is, “I don’t see race”.  They’re enthusiastic about what they perceive is a post racial country.  They’re so desperate to put the past behind them they’re willing to lump an entire group of people into the racists own preconceived notions and ignore vast amounts of history and culture.  The Helpful Racist goes so far as to unknowingly subsume the personal identity of every member of an ethnic group into the dominant culture. These racists want to treat minorities exactly as if they were the same as the racist rather than as individuals where race, history and culture DO matter.

After that we have the Expert Racist.  This is a tricky one.  The one thing this guy isn’t is ignorant.  He’s often well traveled, well educated, and politically active and still has no idea how the policies will impact minority communities.  Moreover,  his own ideology blinds him to glaring faults. Being educated is not proof against racism. The well educated are no less likely to be racists, however they are adept at concealing racist attitudes.  This is a really positive first step towards overcoming racism.  Hopefully action will follow the enlightened attitude.  If it doesn’t though, that’s racism.  They may genuinely believe their multicultural language but fail to advance or favor any kind of remedial racial policy. They may have been there supporting minorities during their marches and struggles, they might have traveled the world trying to make it a little better for the poor and oppressed but in their self-sufficiency they do not challenge the systemic issues regarding power and privilege. They are willing to dedicate their lives to using their power and privilege working to advance the cause of minorities, but knowingly or otherwise, they’re still not willing to share.

After that you have your Confused racist. This is the one who fails to understand racial issues because he seems them not as racial issues but as an attack against him or his sense of patriotism. The classic move of the Confused Racist is, “I’m not a racist, you’re a socialist.” This one is also exceedingly likely to talk about owning the entire country.  As in, “I just want my country back” or “we’re going to take back our country”. These people or so confused they probably wouldn’t know a socialist if one slapped him across the face and said, “I am a socialist” but this is a pretty popular type of racist. If you ever here someone jabbering about how they’re not a racist and their tired of everyone calling them a racist, it’s probably a Confused Racist. When multicultural educators put together a very successful program in Southern California that addressed these concerns and celebrated the history and cultural South and Meso America, these were the racists that shut it down. For the children of course.

Then there’s institutionalized racists. These are great friends with your Expert Racists, but they’re more concerned with how the system will affect them and only them. They have the resources and the voting blocks to make that happen. Institutionalized Racism used to be obvious like the Obvious racists are. You had one policy for blacks and one for whites. Like seating arrangements on a bus or drinking fountains in the park. Now days the racism on an institutional level is more subtle and it has a lot more to do with selfishness than any real antipathy toward minorities. Sure, if you can get into my neighborhood you can go to my school but I’m going to make that difficult through redistributing, shutting down bus services, and other punitive measures. The classic move here for institutional racists is to work for “freedom!” And “smaller government” and “less regulation”. Somehow they always want the government optimized around their needs. Why should tax dollars be spent and programs created that aren’t immediately useful to them. If it’s not useful for them then it’s a waste of money.

Finally you have my favorite racist group. The lazy racist. These people don’t hate minorities, they’re just to lazy to understand them as something other than a stereotype. This is your Taco Mayor. In case you missed the story in East Haven Connecticut 4 police officers were arrested by the FBI for a string of racially motivated assaults and harassment of the Latino community. When the Mayor, Joseph Maturo Jr, was asked in an interview what he was going to do for the Latino Community he said, “I might have tacos”. Now the poor guy was probably just hungry but it was pretty insensitive all the same. We fall into these traps when we are to lazy to rise above our own ignorance of other people’s culture. Something for which multicultural lessons would be extraordinarily helpful if the confused racists would let us have them.

My goal here is not to vilify racists. Everyone will find themselves into some of these categories some of the time. Nor am I trying to set myself up as an authority on race relations. Me? I’m an expert racist. I really have a hard time caring about the issues that don’t affect me. I’m certainly not going to work to remove my own place of privilege. I like my privilege. So this is something I need to be aware of and work on. This post is how I interpret much of the race related dialogue I hear around me. I hope I made some sort of sense out of it.

On neutrinos and supernova

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This will be the hardest post for me to write to date. Mostly because I’m nearly in a complete thanksgiving coma. But I still want to keep my vow to blog everyday this month. So here it goes. How close to a supernova would you have to be to obtain a lethal dose of neutrino radiation?

It’s sort of a funny question. Neutrinos, for the “science is stupid” crowd, are tiny TINY subatomic particles. So tiny in fact that it was a major scientific breakthrough to empiracly show that hey had any mass at all. They’re so tiny that they it can be argued that they have an undeterminable volume because they’re more like a wave of energy than a particle at this point. Here’s the other thing about neutrinos. They’re an electrically neutral particle. They don’t have a charge so they don’t really interact with things like electrons or protons or really any part of an atom. The end result is that neutrinos don’t really interact with matter. I can prove it. Look at your hand. Trillions upon trillions of neutrinos are passing through your hand right now. They’re created in the fusion fires in the sun and they stream through the universe without interacting with any of it. Despite Being bombarded with trillions and trillions of the particles you may live your entire life without being hit by one of them. To detect these particles scientist build huge tanks of heavy water deep in the earth with the most sensitive detectors in the history of mankind and watch here for months to detect just a handful of the radiation spikes that would signify a collision. The life of a neutrino is a lonely one. So if neutrinos never interact with anything how could you ever die of neutrino radiation poisoning? Well, you would need a lot of them even by astronomical standards you would need one of the most destructive events in the universe. The supernova. A supernova happens when giant star in one final glorious display of chaos and destruction blows up at the end of its life. Only the biggest stars will do this. Our own sun isn’t big enough by a long shot. The stellar explosion is so massive that if you took mankind’s most feared weapon the H-bomb and blew it up right next to your eyeball a supernova as far away as the sun would STILL be 9x brighter. So how close to one of these things would you have to get to die of neutrino poisoning? Well you’d have to be as close as Mars is to the sun. However, since that’s still with the star’s outer layers even before the explosion it’s probably a mute point.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

 

Edit: 11/29/2013 11:00

Thanks to http://what-if.xkcd.com/73/ for doing the math.

Why I hate Thanksgiving

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I don’t hate the day.  I hate the idea.  The day will be pretty epic.  For me, it’s the first holiday get together hosted and attended exclusively by Generation 2.0.  Like I said.  Epic.  Food will be weird random stuff plus some old favorites.  That part of thanksgiving I love.  I hate the idea that Thanksgiving should have some deep intrinsic meaning steeped in history and tradition.  I hate the war that Thanksgiving must fight to be able to find a place for itself between Halloween and New Year.  I hate the cheap and superficial historical narrative that thanksgiving embodies.  I hate the fact that Thanksgiving has the same cheap over-commercialized motifs that have driven the other holidays into little more than themed shopping parties.  Mostly though, I hate the thanks.

It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with gratitude.  Quite the contrary, I think it’s a fundamental attribute of the human condition.  I hate that we’ve set aside a day purely for thanks as if our obligations for gratitude can be met by a feasting over the course of single day instead of a constant ongoing mental state.  It goes hand in hand with my hatred of the fact that we pick the 30 or so days between thanksgiving and christmas to be charitable.  If you’re being thankful out of a sense of holiday obligation then you’re not expressing gratitude.  You’re participating in a mindless ritual.  The Holiday is about you, about how you feel when you sit down to feel good that you’re the kind of person who would take some time to feel thankful for your stuff.  It’s also a time to spend a few cathartic moments in some self-righteous guilt that you haven’t done as much as you could have for others.  Sort of like how you’re fighting the war on poverty by finding a few cans of in the back of the cupboard that you haven’t used in a while and donating them to a food bank.  Sort of like how you can pretend to have a deep meaningful relationship with people you see once every other year.  Yeah.  I hate that.

So no, I’m not going to spend the day in a semi-religious state being thankful for the things I have.  I’m going to hang out with my new wife, my little sister, and my kick-ass future brother in law.  Because I would do that anyway.  I will revel in the new and interesting kinds of food, because I do that all the time.  I will spend time with my family because I want to continue to be the kind of person who does that every day of the week.  Thursday I just get to sleep in a little.

The Cure for Destructive Flatulence

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My dog will sometimes pass gas that I swear could be weaponized, but he’s not the creature that you should worry about.  That would be your steak.  I say steak because while I know people who keep cows as pets, those cows are an extreme oddity compared to the vast majority of cows.  The conditions in which your food is birthed, grown, and slaughtered is a nightmare, but I don’t care much about that.  I care about those things which affect me, and to a lesser extent the entire human race.  In this case, I’m deeply concerned about the air I breathe.  Aside from gasses that bovine’s produce. the entire system dedicated to their food and care is exceedingly toxic.  The corn that we grow to feed these cows, the associated run off, and transportation is unsustainable and damages vast swaths of our waterways, including a vast VAST deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico where, aside from some bacteria, absolutely zero life grows there.  The vast amount of solid and liquid wastes that cows produce is dangerously toxic, and yes the gasses that they belch and fart are a threat to the global status quo.   I mean global warming.  I know, a few people might not believe in global warming and those people will take a special place in my “Why people are stupid” series.  A recent news report says that our methane production in this country (a polite term for cow farts) is 50% more than we had originally estimated.  In case you weren’t counting methane is far more potent of a global warming gas. What in can be done about all this pollution?  We reform and expand a huge government bureaucracy to enforce an expensive and punitive legal paradigm.

Just Kidding.  We stop eating beef.  You hate something about an industry like the cattle industry you boycott it.  It’s evil for many reasons, unhealthy for many reasons more.   Laws do need to be enforced and there are plenty on the books.  The land, water, and air are corporate property.  You aren’t allowed to pollute the things we all use, but the solution here is personal responsibility.  Responsibility on an individual and mass level. Information is the currency of the modern age.  If we want to cure the country’s problems, the key is information and responsibility.

 

The Value of High School

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First there was your dad.  Then there was your Master.  Then came your Teacher.  Now what?   The internet? When it comes to teaching offspring necessary skills it’s been a long journey.  For literal eons you did whatever your parents did to survive.  Those where your necessary skills.  Did they hunt?  You hunted.  Did they gather? You gathered.  It wasn’t until after agriculture became sophisticated enough to develop surplus food (barely) that we even had more than one career path.  Even then mostly you did what your dad did unless a local artisan took pity on you.  Eventually when a functional economy developed and you were extraordinarily lucky and a bit wealthy, you could be apprenticed to a Master.  Then you did whatever your Master did.  At it’s height this system of education was fairly complex with different levels of training, tests, guilds and organization, standards, and so on.   It more or less died out during the industrial revolution when it was discovered that no one really had time for all that one on one (or maybe a very select few).  We’re still more or less at the tail end of the industrial revolution model of education.  Pack everyone into a knowledge factory.  Teach them all the same way and all the same stuff, and if you flunked out it was clearly your fault.  You were inferior.  Defective.  And it wasn’t for everyone.  In fact, compulsory education is still only three or four generations old.  But kids sitting around with empty minds waiting to be filled is, thankfully, and outgoing model.  We’re just not sure exactly what to replace it with.  We want something that can meld an individual’s strengths and weaknesses with the success at mass production of the industrial age.  So far, “the Internet” is the best answer we have.  Sadly the Internet is a tool, not a paradigm.  So we’re still working on it.

This week I came across this article:  “High School Student’s Launch Satellite into Space”  http://science.time.com/2013/11/21/high-school-students-launch-satellite-into-space/

Fantastic.  Rocket science is now so easy even high schoolers can do it.  It’s not a very ambitious project by NASA standards.  It’s a little two way radio powerful enough to pick up and relay signals from the ground. It’ll last about 2 years and do slightly more than beep but it’s still mostly sputnik 2.0.   But this should tell you something about school.  It took the resources of a major world superpower in the 50s to do something that a couple of kids did in high school.  The value of high school is that you have a collection of individuals who can do anything.  Not everything certainly, but definitely anything.  The future is about imagination and information.  We don’t have the best and brightest reaching out to high school to do the things that everyday people do.  Science teachers should be actively involved in research.  English teachers should be actively involved in writing.  Art Teachers should be making art, and they should be doing it professionally.  Why? because students should be doing it too.  They can.  They’ve got the creativity, they’ve got the energy, what they lack is direction and imagination.    One of the biggest problems with High School, especially with the empty head model of education, is the divorce between the academic world and the every day world in which they live.  It’s no wonder they don’t see any point to it.  There isn’t any.  We tell them if they work hard, then they can eventually go to college, and after college then there’ll be a point to their lives.  And we have the audacity to sit back and wonder why our students are unimpressed.

It’s none of my business

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Much has been made of the encroachment if not outright subsumation of Thanksgiving by Christmas.  Christmas music has been playing for weeks.  Christmas decorations have been out since August.  Now Black Friday, a day that traditionally comes immediately after Thanksgiving, is now during thanksgiving itself.  Thanksgiving has now become less about giving thanks and more about frenzied shoppers in a mad search for a holiday deal.  Yes.  It’s outrageous.  People lining up in the cold for the latest shallow bargains, employees asked to work on a holiday instead of spending it with their family, all for the latest greatest deal.  But you know what?  It’s none of my business.  So far as I am aware there is no coercion keep employees at their stores.  There are no laws dragging customers from their homes on Thanksgiving. Business aren’t reluctantly providing goods and services to an eager populous.  Am I going to stand in the cold and the crowds to look for useless and expensive stuff that I don’t want and need for people I barely like and love?  No.  I’m not.  I’m also not their daddy.  I’m going to go around telling people what to do on their holiday.  If they want to go to a store, work at a store, or own a store on a holiday they’re free do so.  I’m not going to provide a single thought or feeling about it.