Straight-up magic

The aim of fusion research is to develop a climate- and environmentally-friendly power plant. Similar to the sun, it is to generate energy from the fusion of atomic nuclei. Because the fusion fire only ignites at temperatures above 100 million degrees, the fuel—a low-density hydrogen plasma—must not come into contact with cold vessel walls. Held by magnetic fields, it floats almost contact-free inside a vacuum chamber.

~ Max Planck Society, from https://phys.org/news/2021-08-wendelstein-x-concept-efficiency.html

I’ve been following the phys.org syndication feed for, like 20 years. It kicks out a lot of posts. (About 840 each month in fact. Which I can tell by looking in my account at feedbin.com.) I’ve been watching from afar for decades as we humans try to figure out nuclear fusion.

The sun fuses light elements—Hydrogen mostly—creating slightly heavier elements—Helium mostly. Our bombs and nuclear reactors go in the other direction: They take very rare, very heavy elements—like Uranium-238 which is even more rare than it’s very rare “normal” Uranium that has 235 protons and neutrons in its nucleus—and break them apart releasing an enormous amount of energy. But breaking them apart is fairly easy. Uranium is such a big fat nucleus that it breaks apart on its own. (That’s what Radon gas comes from in your house.) Fission is pretty easy.

Fusion on the other hand is insanely difficult. You have to push two protons very close together before they decide to stick together. But when they do stick you get energy out. Hydrogen only has one proton in it’s nucleus, and the center of the sun is literally a churning soup of protons and free-roaming electrons. Gravity squeezes it more and more. Millions of degrees. Inconceivable pressures. The material is so dense, so opaque, that the light produced by the little Heliums getting created bounces around inside so much, it helps balance the gravitational crushing. In fact, the light that leaves the sun is only a tiny fraction of the energy being generated. Most of it just fights gravity off. Yes, the solar energy reaching Earth is a tiny fraction, of a tiny fraction of the total energy the sun produces.

Yeah. We humans have figured out how to do that. In fact, we have two very different engineering solutions—the “tokomak” and the “Wendelstein 7-X”. They work. We can put cheap, abundant, harmless Hydrogen in and it creates Helium. Yes, with a net outflow of energy. Years ago, we could do it for fractions of a second, but it consumed more energy than we got back out. But now, today, these two devices literally consume Hydrogen and spit out Helium. Pure, magic. You get so much energy out from Fusion, it’d be trivial to split good old water apart… push that little Oxygen in H2O off using electrolosys and send the Oxygen elsewhere. (It has lots of applications.)

Ever see some sci-fi movie where the people find alien technology? They’re all like, “ooooooh, look at this suitcase sized power supply that runs the whole ship” and “how’s that work” and “alien science.”

Yeah. That shit up top there in that phys.org article. BAM! Human science. Pure magic.

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Demonic door operator

A thought experiment devised by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell in 1867 stumped scientists for 115 years. And even after a solution was found, physicists have continued to use “Maxwell’s demon” to push the laws of the universe to their limits.

~ Jonathan O’Callaghan from, https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-maxwells-demon-continues-to-startle-scientists-20210422/

This is a fun, and well-done, description of what started out as a thought-experiment in 1867—that’s 154 years ago—and which after being solved in theory has subsequently been verified by doing literal experiments on lab benches. They’ve built several of the demons, put them to work and shown why entropy always increases. If you’ve heard of “entropy”, but have always scratched your head, then…

…well, to be honest, this cutesie article won’t explain it all. But it will get you a step in the right direction, so long as you don’t mind the demon working the door.

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Diatoms

Diatoms are a major group of algae found in the oceans, waterways and soils of the world. Living diatoms make up a significant portion of the Earth’s biomass: they generate about 20 to 50 percent of the oxygen produced on the planet each year, […] and constitute nearly half of the organic material found in the oceans. The shells of dead diatoms can reach as much as a half-mile (800 m) deep on the ocean floor, and the entire Amazon basin is fertilized annually by 27 million tons of diatom shell dust transported by transatlantic winds from the African Sahara.

~ From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatom

I had grasped long ago that diatoms where single-cellular plants. But somehow I missed the, “with shells,” bit. Diatomaceous earth suddenly makes sense. I had always pictured the microscopic little individual diatoms that I’d seen in books; various shapes and sizes, floating in water. But I hadn’t imagined the shapes, structures and types of shells they’re building out of silicon! Turns out, people interested in nanotechnology are particularly interested in diatoms. Wonders never cease.

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Foucault’s Pendulum

Over on the Astronomy Stack Exchange site, (obviously I follow the “new questions” feed in my RSS reader,) someone asked if it was possible, without knowing the date, to determine one’s latitude only by observing the sun. These are the sorts of random questions that grab me by the lapels and shake me until an idea falls out.

So my first thought was: Well if you’re in the arctic or antarctic polar circles you could get a good idea… when you don’t see the sun for a few days. Also, COLD. But that feels like cheating and doesn’t give a specific value. Which left me with this vague feeling that it would take me several months of observations. I could measure the highest position of the sun over the passing days and months and figure out what season I was in…

…wait, actually, I should be able to use knowledge of the Coriolis Force—our old friend that makes water circle drains different in the northern and southern hemispheres, and is the reason that computers [people who compute] were first tasked with complex trigonometry problems when early artillery missed its targets because ballistics “appear” to curve to do this mysterious force because actually the ground rotates . . . where was I?

Coriolis Force, right. But wait! I don’t need the sun at all! All I need is a Foucault Pendulum and some trigonometry… Here I went to Wikipedia and looked it up—which saved me the I’m-afraid-to-actually-try-it hours of trying to derive it in spherical trig… anyway. A Foucault Pendulum exhibits rotation of the plane of the pendulum’s swing. Museums have these multi-story pendulums where the hanging weight knocks over little dominos as it rotates around. Cut to the chase: You only need to be able to estimate the sine function, and enough hours to measure the rotation rate of the swing-plane and you have it all; northern versus southern hemisphere and latitude.

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It’s vastly more complicated

Most modeling efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic have sought to address urgent practical concerns. But some groups aim to bolster the theoretical underpinnings of that work instead.

~ Jon Fox, from https://www.quantamagazine.org/chasing-covid-19s-r0-and-other-numbers-that-define-epidemics-20210322/

Setting aside the specifics of 2020 and the pandemic, the human race is taking enormous strides forward in biology, virology, epidemiology, and a couple other -ologies I’ve not bothered to look up. Also, Quanta Magazine consistently hits it out of the park with article after article like this one—deep dives on all sorts of science and mathematics topics.

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Why why why why

And you begin to get a very interesting understanding of the world and all its complications. If you try to follow anything up, you go deeper and deeper in various directions.

~ Richard Feyman from, https://fs.blog/2012/01/richard-feynman-on-why-questions/

Asking ‘why’ is a well-known way to dig deeper into things. But being able to answer a ‘why’ question is something I don’t hear discussed. My mind is stuffed with information, ideas, skills, and experiences. (Yours is too.) That’s not particularly interesting, and it’s certainly not useful.

What is useful is being able to dive into all that stored information and experiences to then craft a thread which leads the questioner on a small journey of learning. Sure we can take the highway and zoom past all these details. But something it’s the better choice to drop into the off-ramp, and onto the secondary roads; Probably still don’t want to come to a complete stop—if we can help it—but if we take the scenic route and point out more of the details… well, we’re effectively, (both metaphorically and literally,) compressing our knowledge and passing it along.

To the secondary roads!

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Variolation

I generally don’t write about current events here on my blog. But occasionally I find something that I think would be so beneficial for more people to read, that I find I want to share it.

Initial viral load seems likely to have a large impact on severity of Covid-19 infection. If we believe this, we should take this seriously, and evaluate both general policy and personal behavior differently in light of this information. We should also do our best to confirm or deny this hypothesis as soon as possible.

From, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/3ArEA7tHDXQxE6PED/taking-initial-viral-load-seriously

Since virology has taken such a place of primacy in our lives for the foreseeable future, it can only benefit each of to read more. That article is a wide-ranging, opinion piece (so, I recommend a few grains of salt with it,) which touches on a treasure trove of topics and facts. Of particular note is its discussion of how vaccines work for other diseases. (Or maybe I should write, “…of the variation in efficacy of vaccines for other diseases.”)

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Sedimentation and erosion

I have this image of our home as a bunch of related-rates problems: There’s inflow and outflow. Energy: In through my electric meter, out through lighting, waste heat and heating/cooling, water heater, etc.. Climate control: Heat flow in from heating/cooling system, the wood stove, the sun, versus losses through the attic, windows, doors, etc.. Mass: The balance of the rates of the flow of all the stuff.

Ever stop to think of that? Think of your home as a sealed balloon which has two, (or more of course,) doors, (garage doors count,) through which everything passes. Everything—no exceptions—passes in first, and then out second. Everything–every single thing, including the people–is only inside temporarily. The people come and go most frequently, (some pets might exceed some people I suppose,) and some things might remain inside for decades. But still, inside only temporarily.

You know that at some point you, (and everyone else if you share your home,) will go out for the last time. You might carry some things with you on your last exit, or you might arrange for someone else to come in, (and go out and in and out and in and out one last time,) to remove things after you go out for the last time. And of course eventually the entire structure will be removed and certainly at that point, everything you brought in—everything that was temporarily still inside—will go out at that point.

Where does everything you carry in from the market and grocery store go? Where does the furniture go? The books? The nick-naks? The packages and packing material from purchases? The clothes? The postal mail? The firewood you carry in is vastly more massive than the ashes you carry out; where does all that mass go?

Based on how the things around me make me feel, I know I have too much stuff. When I think of our stuff this way—as just a mass of stuff that’s temporarily inside our home—it’s much easier to keep my life under control. Too much stuff? …all I need to do is make sure more goes out than comes in, on average, and the problem will subside.

…and I can have fun with it. If something breaks, is worn out, or I’m done with it, that’s the outbound mass for today! Can I recycle this random thing? Can I FreeCycle this random thing? I no longer feel bad about sending things out, (wether that means landfill, recycle, giveaway, whatever… as appropriate.) Instead, I now find I feel bad about bringing things in. Each time I consider buying something, I think: Do I want to bring that into my life?

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Causality

Most obesity “experts” assume (erroneously) that the big equal sign between the blue and red terms implies a direction of causality.  In other words, they assume that an increase in fat mass (the blue side gets bigger), was CAUSED by the red number being bigger than the green number.

~ Peter Attia, from https://peterattiamd.com/revisit-the-causality-of-obesity/

Yes, physics always works. Yes, the First Law of Thermodynamics is always true. Yes, “calories in” always equals “calories out”. But that does not explain why we get fat. The equals-sign in the calories-in equals calories-out does not tell you anything about causality.

As with every single thing Peter Attia writes, you should go read this. Twice.

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§12 – Final Thoughts

(Part 12 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Wow.

It took me years longer than I had originally hoped to finish this series of posts. I’ve recently decided to push these posts out the door so that they could possibly be of some use to others. Having them laying around as drafts-in-progress isn’t helpful.

As this series was being written, I took a terrific detour working with two friends who were experimenting with starting their own personal training company. They used me as a guinea pig for testing their coaching and training systems for nutrition, psychology of eating and physical training. During this time working with them I succeeded at some huge improvements in psychology (related to eating) and achieved the best physical condition I’ve been in in recorded history. If you want to do a deep dive, check out, Training for the New Alpinism.

…and a few other disjointed thoughts:

This: From Nerd Fitness, 5 Steps After Failing.

What do I want? I simply want to be able to move and play. I’m constrained by physical limitations (age, body type, etc.), but mostly just by my total weight. So although I always want to increase my general fitness, the current first order problem—and I’ve linked directly into the Wikipedia article to the section that could be a profound, new way for you to consider when solving problems—for me is simply weight. For me, that is almost entirely driven by psychology—psychosis?—as it applies to food.

What am I tracking? I’ve often heard, “that which you measure gets improved.” Tracking and measuring does focus your attention, but it only gets you data. You have to be motivated to analyze that data and make adjustments to your routine. Am I making progress? Is the rate of progress what I expected when I planned? Is the progress too slow or too fast? What can I change that would affect the progress? What happens if I cycle periods of tracking a lot, and tracking nothing? You have to look at your assumptions, analyze, research, and experiment to figure out what’s true. “Science, bitch!” ~ Jesse.

So long, and thanks for reading!

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