Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ever wonder how to sharpen a file? Tiny little gnomes with even tinier little stones to sharpen all those little ridges? Nope, acid.

THE use of acids in the restoration of worn-out files is ancient; but in view of the immense number of these used up in this country, the following precise formula, translated from the Chemiaches Centralblatt, is worthy of record. A public report says upon this subject:
Some idea may be formed of the file business of the United States, when it is shown that from four to five millions of dollars worth of files are annually imported, and from five to six millions are manufactured here, and large as the supply is, it is not sufficient to supply the demand. From fifty to one hundred thousand dollars worth are used in some large iron-work shops, as well as government and railroad machine shops, yearly.

The files are first washed with a hot lye of soda, and all grease removed with brushes. They are then suspended in a mixture of concentrated nitric acid with eight parts by measure of water for 25 minutes; then well cleaned in water with brushes, and reimmersed for 25 minutes more in the acid mixture with addition of another eighth of strong acid. Brush again and reimmerse, after adding to. the bath a sixteenth part of concentrated sulphuric acid. This heats the bath, and the etching proper now commences, and is kept up for three minutes, with a vibratory motion of the bath. Wash and brush and reimmerse in a bath similar to the last with similar agitation for five minutes. Wash repeatedly with water, then with milk of lime, finally rinse again with water, dry quickly at a gentle heat and varnish, while still warm, with oil.
American Gas-Light Jour,sal.

Do-it-yourself methods you hear of include battery acid and pickling vinegars as the acid. There are companies that will do it for you - Boggs Tool is a name you hear. You ship them your files and they ship them back sharper. Some say that you can only do this 3 or 4 times before they are too worn to respond. They also say that they aren't as good as new, but are in fact much improved over a dull file. If they are rusted there's no hope.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A clever hack.

The basic process, electrolysis, is nothing new: Combine water with an electrolyte, and run current through the solution, forcing the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gases. But electrolysis-formed hydrogen has long been hampered by the high capital cost of the metals used in the process, around “thousands of dollars per kilowatt,” says Richard Bourgeois, GE’s electrolysis project leader. GE’s breakthrough comes from a proprietary material called Noryl, a highly chemical- and temperature-resistant plastic developed by the GE labs, that lowers the cost of hydrogen production to hundreds of dollars per kilowatt, according to Bourgeois.

Although GE has only built a prototype in their lab, Bourgeois believes that demonstrations can come as soon as the end of next year, and commercialization will follow that. The goal of the project, according to Bourgeois, is to bring down equipment costs enough to take the cost of hydrogen from $8 per kilogram to $3 per kilogram—comparable in energy and price to a gallon of gasoline.

Currently, Hydrogen production is also limited to industrial refineries and agricultural areas, where the gas is produced on-site using methane, says Bourgeois. GE’s system—which, at approximately 10’ x 20’, can fit in a small trailer—could be marketed to smaller-scale industries. And one day, Bourgeois sees a future when drivers fill their hydrogen-fuel-cell powered cars from pumps with built-in electrolyzers. If electricity needed to produce the hydrogen is wind- or solar-generated, the entire process is, essentially, emissions-free.

Thus hydrogen could be seen as an energy storage system for intermittent generation systems such as wind, solar, wave etc.

Nitrogen fertilizer is most often made using methane feedstock for the same reason used to make hydrogen - it's the hydrogen that is of value and methane, CH4, is a very good source. But if the hydrogen could be had from water at an economical price there would be no need for methane.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Old Joe helps you be alert.

researchers from the University of Queensland found that with caffeine consumption we are more likely to attend to, and agree with, persuasive arguments.

The experiments involved asking people their attitudes about voluntary euthanasia before and after reading persuasive arguments against their initial beliefs. Prior to reading the arguments, the participants consumed orange juice with either caffeine (equivalent to two cups of coffee) or no caffeine (placebo).

The level of 'systematic processing of the message' was found to be increased by caffeine as shown by increased agreement with the arguments, greater message-related thinking and better argument recall.

Lead author Dr. Pearl Martin from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland says,

"Given the numerous situations in which people are exposed to persuasive arguments, these results could have many applied implications.

Consider how caffeine containing products (such as, coffee, tea, cola or energy drinks) might affect how persuaded a person is when, for example, listening to advertisements or a political speech on the radio/TV, reading a film review or in a business meeting to discuss work-related issues."

Who knew! This is tragic. There are zillions of people paying attention to persuasive arguments, thinking about them, remembering details of the arguments and reaching conclusions. No good can come of this.


More Meta than thou

Postgenomic collates posts from life science blogs and then does useful and interesting things with that data. For example, you can see which papers are currently being discussed by neurologists, or which web pages are being linked to by bioinformaticians.

It's sort of like a hot papers meeting with the entire biomed blogging community.

Sort of.

I got some hits for one of my blogs from Postgenomic and checked it out. Useful.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Buy her a beer and talk about old times.

Research involving more than 7,000 older women found that those who drink a moderate amount of alcohol have slightly higher levels of mental function than non-drinkers, particularly in verbal abilities . . .

understanding whether alcohol affects specific areas of cognition may shed light on the mechanisms that make it protective. Possible mechanisms include that alcohol increases levels of "good" cholesterol and lowers the risk of stroke, that it may decrease the formation of plaque that is associated with Alzheimer's disease and that it may increase the release of brain chemicals that affect learning and memory. . .

"Until we better understand the reasons why alcohol consumption is associated with better cognitive functioning, these results on their own are not a reason for people who don't drink to start or for those who drink to increase their intake."

Ok, don't buy her a beer if she doesn't drink or is already stoned.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Colorado river than Powell saw when he explored it for the post-bellum US in 1869 may have been more representative than the river we've seen since the turn of the century.

A new tree-ring-based reconstruction of 508 years of Colorado River streamflow confirms that droughts more severe than the 2000-2004 drought occurred before stream gages were installed on the river.

The new research also confirms that using stream gage records alone may overestimate the average amount of water in the river because the last 100-year period was wetter than the average for the last five centuries. . .

"The updated reconstruction for Lee's Ferry indicates that as many as eight droughts similar in severity, in terms of average flow, to the 5-year 2000-2004 drought have occurred since 1500."

Well, that's interesting but so what?
Allocations of Colorado River water made in the 1922 Colorado River Compact between the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah therefore overestimate the amount of river water available. Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque are among the many cities dependent on Colorado River water. . .

The underlying message from these new reconstructions remains the same: that Colorado River Compact allocations were based on one of the wettest periods in the past five centuries, and that droughts more severe than any in the last 100 years occurred before stream gages were installed. The most severe sustained drought (based on the lowest 20-year average) in the Upper Colorado River basin occurred in the last part of the 16th century. This reconstruction also shows that average annual flows on the Upper Colorado regularly vary from one decade to the next by more than 1 million acre-feet.

According to Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District and an expert on Colorado River issues, "Water managers have always made critical water decisions based on a relatively short and often incomplete gaged record for the Colorado River. This study should be of keen interest because it shows that there were likely a number of long-term droughts more severe than what we experienced in the 1900s and during this century. The study should have enormous implications on how the river is managed."

This isn't new news. Previous studies decades ago said much the same, but this one is a bit more rigorous and largely confirms previous findings.


Cosmological membrane theory is an interesting speculation without evidence, or much evidence at any rate, and none of it unambiguous. Perhaps that will change in the next few years.

The framework Keeton and Petters developed predicts certain cosmological effects that, if observed, should help scientists validate the braneworld theory. The observations, they said, should be possible with satellites scheduled to launch in the next few years.

If the braneworld theory proves to be true, "this would upset the applecart," Petters said. "It would confirm that there is a fourth dimension to space, which would create a philosophical shift in our understanding of the natural world." . . .

The braneworld theory predicts that relatively small "black holes" created in the early universe have survived to the present. The black holes, with mass similar to a tiny asteroid, would be part of the "dark matter" in the universe. As the name suggests, dark matter does not emit or reflect light, but does exert a gravitational force.

The General Theory of Relativity, on the other hand, predicts that such primordial black holes no longer exist, as they would have evaporated by now.

"When we estimated how far braneworld black holes might be from Earth, we were surprised to find that the nearest ones would lie well inside Pluto's orbit," Keeton said.

Petters added, "If braneworld black holes form even 1 percent of the dark matter in our part of the galaxy -- a cautious assumption -- there should be several thousand braneworld black holes in our solar system."

But do braneworld black holes really exist -- and therefore stand as evidence for the 5-D braneworld theory?

The scientists showed that it should be possible to answer this question by observing the effects that braneworld black holes would exert on electromagnetic radiation traveling to Earth from other galaxies. Any such radiation passing near a black hole will be acted upon by the object's tremendous gravitational forces -- an effect called "gravitational lensing."

"A good place to look for gravitational lensing by braneworld black holes is in bursts of gamma rays coming to Earth," Keeton said. These gamma-ray bursts are thought to be produced by enormous explosions throughout the universe. Such bursts from outer space were discovered inadvertently by the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s.

Keeton and Petters calculated that braneworld black holes would impede the gamma rays in the same way a rock in a pond obstructs passing ripples. The rock produces an "interference pattern" in its wake in which some ripple peaks are higher, some troughs are deeper, and some peaks and troughs cancel each other out. The interference pattern bears the signature of the characteristics of both the rock and the water.

Similarly, a braneworld black hole would produce an interference pattern in a passing burst of gamma rays as they travel to Earth, said Keeton and Petters. The scientists predicted the resulting bright and dark "fringes" in the interference pattern, which they said provides a means of inferring characteristics of braneworld black holes and, in turn, of space and time.

"We discovered that the signature of a fourth dimension of space appears in the interference patterns," Petters said. "This extra spatial dimension creates a contraction between the fringes compared to what you'd get in General Relativity."

Petters and Keeton said it should be possible to measure the predicted gamma-ray fringe patterns using the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, which is scheduled to be launched on a spacecraft in August 2007.

I wonder how such a "philosophical shift in our understanding of the natural world" would affect society?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Work them to death.

"Preliminary indications from follow-up work in the laboratory suggest that voluntary exercise enhances UVB-induced apoptosis in the skin, and that it also enhances apoptosis in UVB-induced tumours. So, although UVB is triggering the development of tumours, exercise is counteracting the effect by stimulating the death of the developing cancer cells.

"Our studies may be the first to suggest an apoptotic mechanism for the effect of voluntary exercise in the development of cancer. In addition, we found that voluntary exercise decreased body fat and that the number of tumours decreased with decreasing amounts of fat. This effect may also play an important role in the mechanism and warrants further investigation, bearing in mind the growing rates of obesity in the Western world, particularly in the USA and UK," he said. . .

For the bowel cancer study, Dr Colbert and her co-authors used mice (APC Min mice) that had a genetic mutation that predisposed them to develop intestinal polyps. "Our studies are relevant for humans in that these Min mice have a mutation in one of the same genes, APC, that is also mutated in human colon cancer," she explained. "The protective effect of exercise and lower body weight in our mice is consistent with epidemiological evidence in humans that suggests higher levels of activity and lower body weight reduces the risk of colon cancer." . . .

"The exercising mice ran an average of 3.8 km a day, and the further they ran the fewer polyps they had. Exercise significantly reduced total polyp number and polyp size, as well as prolonging survival," said Dr Colbert. "On average there were 16 polyps per mouse in the exercising mice compared to 22 polyps in the control mice – a decrease of 25%."

As I sit here satiated after having worked my fill today, like every day, outdoors, on my feet, covering miles and miles though at a brisk walk rather than a run, in full sun though I wear a hat, not able to "pinch an inch" of fat on my tum even when sitting, it's good to think that this may be a health advantage. I may look like a leathery bag of straps and bones, but I feel pretty good and may do so for some time still.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) Task Force is publishing some essays.

For their first major project, the CRN Task Force chose to generate a range of independent essays identifying and defining specific concerns about the possibilities of advanced nanotechnology. As shown below, some of those essays were published in the March 2006 issue of the journal Nanotechnology Perceptions. The rest of the essays will be published in May 2006 in the next issue of the journal.

We encourage everyone to respond to this work and to future publications of the CRN Task Force with your questions, comments, and criticism.

Some are available for online reading now under the Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL), some will be available soon but a couple are not GFDL licensed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I'm a sharpening nut. It's a habit I picked up in my youth one year when I worked with an old immigrant cabinet maker. He told stories of how he had been an apprentice as a boy in the day when the punishment for mistakes was a beating from the master.

He wasn't allowed to use power tools until he could make a perfect cabinet, starting with a log, with nothing but hand tools. Then he could use power tools when it was faster and easier, though not otherwise better. You can't do such things with dull tools and he retained his mania for sharpness into his old age. I got infected too.

When my buddy lost he knife, left it in my shop, I found it, sharpened it, and returned it to him with a cautionary remark. I knew that he wasn't used to sharp blades. When I house sat for Nannette and Chuck I sharpened their kitchen knives. Left a cautionary note. I even sharpen my shovels. Digging is much easier.

Today I sharpened the lawn mower blade, but not just a regular sharpening, a scary sharpening where the last pass it with a diamond strop. What a difference! It's as if I had doubled the engine power and speed. In thick, tall stands that used to bog it down and need two slow passes to cut evenly it hardly strained the engine when mowed at a normal pace.

I should have known that would happen. I had wondered about it for some time but never put a great edge on the blade. People already made fun of me for sharpening my blade so well and so often, as if it was a waste of time or a compulsive habit. I wish that old man was still around. He would have chided me about my dull blade and I'd have done this really useful upgrade long ago.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A potential solution for all kinds of problems is computer driven fabricators. When mature these technologies may function at the nano scale and sip energy and materials. Current technologies build objects by whittling away excess mass from stocks. These technologies build objects up by depositing mass in the right places. An overview of current capabilities.

With new materials, more-efficient lasers, and faster computers, techniques such as selective laser sintering and direct metal deposition are producing parts, not just prototypes.

Since its introduction in the 1980s, rapid prototyping has evolved from a relatively simple modeling technique that allows design engineers to “test” their ideas in three dimensions to a sophisticated custom-manufacturing tool that may one day find its place alongside the copy machines at the local copy center or in the parts department at the local auto dealership.

I expect we will have home fabs. Have your fab make a fab for me. There are some interesting implications for intellectual property in a world where things are easily produced from CAD designs.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Climate opportunists never miss an opportunity to mislead society.

On 15 April, the River Danube reached its highest level for some 111 years, forcing residents of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia to flee their homes. With weeks of snowmelt and rain swelling Europe's second-longest river, the waters haven't dipped below that level since. Meteorologists are warning that the flood represents yet more evidence that climate change is gearing up to play havoc with our weather. . .

Some might say the flooding was down to bad luck more than anything else. Spring hit Europe quite quickly this year, after a relatively long period of winter cold. Temperatures rose by some 15°C over the space of a week in some parts of the Alps, leading to massive snowmelts. This led to two large surges along the Danube itself and in one of its main tributaries, the Tisza. In a freak coincidence, both of these flood waves arrived in the lower Danube together, at the same time as a long period of persistent rain. . .

Single events are notoriously difficult to attribute to shifting climate rather than random chance. This is particularly the case for natural disasters involving precipitation — rain and snowfall — which tends to fluctuate more capriciously than temperature. Nevertheless, some experts say that this is a sign of what's in store. "While no single event can be attributed to climate change, the Danube scenario represents the kind of event that is likely to become more frequent according to climate-change predictions," says David Crichton, a climate expert based in Inchture, Scotland.

What a weasel. No, this wasn't caused by climate change. Using events like these as publicity for theories based on dodgy models is not just reprehensible, it is actively harmful to society. We would do well to discover ways to hold individuals like this responsible for the harm they do. In any case, this event is contrary to climate change theory.
But with warming climate comes a reduction in the amount of snow on mountaintops, which might mean that spring floods — such as this Danube event — might actually become less commonplace.
Might, might ... It's interesting to contrast the definite assertions of the climate hysterics with the tentative contradiction of those who read the book.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

One of the issues I've been paying more attention to is the large and increasing number of boys that fall off the formal education wagon, and so are often doomed to a life of poverty, insecurity and exclusion. Too many end up as social problems: our jails are filled and the percentage of men that do time, especially black men, is a scandal.

A number of thinkers, commenters and researchers have lately been noting that our educational system creates an increasingly hostile environment for boys. This paper is another in the group:

"We found very minor differences in overall intelligence. But if you look at the ability of someone to perform well in a timed situation, females have a big advantage," Camarata said. "It is very important for teachers to understand this difference in males and females when it comes to assigning work and structuring tests. To truly understand a person's overall ability, it is important to also look at performance in un-timed situations. For males, this means presenting them with material that is challenging and interesting, but is presented in smaller chunks without strict time limits."

The findings are particularly timely, with more attention being paid by parents, educators and the media to the troubling achievement gap between males and females in U.S. schools.

"Consider that many classroom activities, including testing, are directly or indirectly related to processing speed," the authors wrote. "The higher performance in females may contribute to a classroom culture that favors females, not because of teacher bias but because of inherent differences in sex processing speed." An additional question is whether this finding is linked to higher high school dropout rates for males and increased special education placement for males that do stay in school. . .

"'Processing speed' doesn't refer to reaction time or the ability to play video games," Camarata said. "It's the ability to effectively, efficiently and accurately complete work that is of moderate difficulty. Though males and females showed similar processing speed in kindergarten and pre-school, females became much more efficient than males in elementary, middle and high school."

The researchers found that males scored lower than females in all age groups in tests measuring processing speed, with the greatest discrepancy found among adolescents. However, the study also found that males consistently outperformed females in some verbal abilities, such as identifying objects, knowing antonyms and synonyms and completing verbal analogies, debunking the popular idea that girls develop all communication skills earlier than boys.

The researchers found no significant overall intelligence differences between males and females in any age groups.

The researchers hope to discover more about the physical basis of these differences. We are discovering ever more ways that brains vary by sex.


If you want to get noticed you must be controversial. You can do that by being more shrill than fellow travelers or by loudly beating your way through the bush to blaze a new trail. George Monbiot has tried the former and now seems to be trying the latter. [via Envirospin Watch]

. . . the British government is even more likely to recommend a new generation of nuclear generators in its energy review in the summer. It can now summon some heavyweight support: on Friday, the Financial Times revealed that the International Energy Agency has converted to the nuclear cause. My fellow environmentalists argue that the money would be better spent on wind turbines. I find myself at odds with almost everyone, by deciding, at the worst possible moment, that in one respect at least our battle against climate change depends on neither nuclear power nor renewables, but on a fossil fuel. . .

. . . a hydrogen network will be viable only if it is cheap. According to a report by the US National Academy of Engineering, the wholesale price of hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture will, in "the future", be $1.72 (96p) per kilogramme; from coal, $1.45; and from electrolysis $3.93. In other words, if a hydrogen economy is to be taken seriously, the fuel has to be made from gas or coal, rather than by either wind turbines or nuclear generators.

Even in my confessional mood, I cannot bring myself to support coal. I defy anyone who knows what open-cast mining looks like to say the words "clean coal" without blushing. This leaves only gas. If my calculations are correct, the retail price of hydrogen made from natural gas will be about 50% greater than the retail price of gas itself. But because fuel cells supplying both heat and electricity are more efficient than gas boilers, the total cost would be roughly the same.

And achieve nothing of value. It's another hide-the-pea scheme to avoid what seems to be an inevitable increase in the use of nuclear power, at least as an interim step to some future energy technology such as greatly enhanced solar PV cells. Though it may be that the future technology at the other end of the nuclear bridge is also nuclear since there are new designs that are claimed to be much cheaper to operate through their whole life cycle - from construction to decommissioning - as well as being far safer and less subject to monkey-wrenching. It's a family of technologies that have been scandalously neglected for a couple of decades due to mass psychosis, and I expect some interesting developments in the not too distant future now that interest and research funding is beginning again. One of the most attractive aspects of interest in nuclear energy in the developing world is that they have far fewer fussy inhibitions about thinking nuclear thoughts.

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