The Cranach Nuclear Watch

As Japan and the rest of the world worry over what will happen to the earthquake and tsunami damaged nuclear power plants, you should know that here at the Cranach blog we are getting some expert commentary.  MarkB used to work with nuclear power plants, and Carl Vehse–whom you might know merely on this blog as a conservative flamethrower–is by vocation a nuclear chemist.

I appreciate their ongoing explanations of the information that is coming out.

See what they say here and here.

More on Japan’s earthquake

Officials estimate that at least 10,000 may be dead–with thousands more still missing–due to the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.  Meanwhile, more nuclear power plants are in danger of meltdown.

See 10K dead in Japan amid fears of nuclear meltdowns – Yahoo! News.

Japan has been a world leader in the design of earthquake-resistant structures.  Read this confident–but now ironic–account of all that Japan does to ensure safety during an earthquake.

But this goes to show that all of the ingenious engineering does little if the earthquake is powerful enough.

Go here to help.

What does this mean for California, midwesterners along the New Madris fault, and other potential earthquake zones in the U.S.A.?

Earthquake, tsunami devastate Japan

An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale hit northern Japan, causing massive damage.  Then came the tsunami, which sent a 30-foot wall of water three miles inland, killing untold numbers.  The tsunami also traveled at 500 m.p.h.–as fast as a airplane–hitting Hawaii and America’s west coast.  Marinas and boats were damaged, but, as of this moment, I have heard no reports of American deaths.

Now fires have broken out in Japan, and–what really has people worried–nuclear power plants are releasing radiation and at least two are in danger of meltdown.

Lord, have mercy!

UPDATE:  25-year-old Joey Young from Crescent, California, was taking pictures of the incoming tsunami when he was swept out to sea and drowned.  Another California man with a history of heart problems was found dead on his boat.

Japan earthquake, tsunami said to kill hundreds; little impact on Hawaii, other islands.

 

Memory as a human superpower

Plato worried that reading would diminish the memory, and he was right.  Now in our information age, our memories have shriveled even more.  A third of British citizens under 30 don’t know their home phone numbers.  Two-thirds of American teenagers don’t know when the Civil War took place.  One-fifth don’t know who we fought against in World War II.  And yet, the normal human mind, when trained right, is capable of great feats of memory.

Joshua Foer has written a book about memory, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, in the course of which he studied memory-improving techniques to the point that he became the 2006 Memory Champion–yes, there is such a competition–by memorizing a sequence of 52 cards in one minute, 40 seconds.

From a review of the book in the Washington Post by Marie Arana:

Devalued though human memory has become, it is what makes us who we are. Our memories, Foer tells us, are the seat of civilization, the bedrock of wisdom, the wellspring of creativity. His passionate and deeply engrossing book, “Moonwalking With Einstein,” means to persuade us that we shouldn’t surrender them to integrated circuits so easily. It is a resounding tribute to the muscularity of the mind.

In the course of “Moonwalking,” we learn that our brains are no larger nor more sophisticated than our ancestors’ were 30,000 years ago. If a Stone Age baby were adopted by 21st-century parents, “the child would likely grow up indistinguishable from his or her peers.” The blank slate of memory hasn’t changed one bit, except that we’ve lost the incentive to use it to store large amounts of information. As one of Foer’s fellow mental athletes puts it, in the course of ordinary modern life, “we actually do anti-Olympic training . . . the equivalent of sitting someone down to train for the Olympics and making sure he drinks ten cans of beer a day, smokes fifty cigarettes . . . and spends the rest of the time watching television.”

Foer introduces us to memory prodigies such as the young journalist S, who irked his employer because he took no notes but could memorize 70 digits at a time, reciting them forward and backward after one hearing. He could replicate complex formulas, although he didn’t know math; was able to repeat Italian poetry, though he spoke no Italian; and, most remarkable of all, his memories never seemed to degrade.

There are, too, master chess players who can remember every move of a match weeks or even years after the event. They become so skilled at recalling positions that they can take on several opponents at once, moving the pieces in their heads, with no physical board before them. There are London cabbies with such intricate maps committed to memory that their brains have enlarged right posterior hippocampuses. There is the child relegated to “the dunces’ class” because he cannot perform school tasks well, although he can identify distant birds by how they fly, having memorized dozens of flight patterns.

Foer sets out to meet the legendary “Brainman,” who learned Spanish in a single weekend, could instantly tell if any number up to 10,000 was prime, and saw digits in colors and shapes, enabling him to hold long lists of them in memory. The author also tracks down “Rain Man” Kim Peek, the famous savant whose astonishing ability to recite all of Shakespeare’s works, reproduce scores from a vast canon of classical music and retain the contents of 9,000 books was immortalized in the Hollywood movie starring Dustin Hoffman.

When Foer is told that the Rain Man had an IQ of merely 87 – that he was actually missing a part of his brain; that memory champions have no more intelligence than you or I; that building a memory is a matter of dedication and training – he decides to try for the U.S. memory championship himself. Here is where the book veers sharply from science journalism to a memoir of a singular adventure.

via Joshua Foer’s ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ on the nature of memory.

You can buy the book here,

Google turns to farming

The most cutting edge information technology meets the most ancient survival technology, as Google invests in weather-insurance, backed by meterological computing, for farmers.

Google Inc.’s venture capital arm is backing a start-up founded by ex-Googlers that insures farms and other business against the whims of Mother Nature.

Launched four years ago, WeatherBill Inc. is announcing today $42 million in Series B funding from Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures and several previous investors.

Founded by two ex-Googlers–Chief Executive David Friedberg, who worked on Google’s corporate development team and Google AdWords, and Chief Technology Officer Siraj Khaliq, who worked on Google Booksearch and other technical projects–WeatherBill aggregates large amounts of weather data from the National Weather Service and other sources and applies statistical analyses to run large-scale simulations that assess the probability of weather occurring several years in advance anywhere on the globe, the company said.

According to Friedberg, more than 90% of crop losses are due to unexpected weather, and these losses are exacerbated by the increasing number of extreme weather events caused by climate change. Friedberg cited recent droughts in Russia and China and flooding in Australia, while one of WeatherBill’s customers–Steve Wolters, a farmer who grows corn, soybean and wheat in Celina, Ohio–cited a very dry growing season in Ohio nine years ago followed by a year in which 14 inches of rain fell in 10 days.

“The flip flop of weather from one year to the next is the biggest challenge farmers face,” Wolters said in a statement.

WeatherBill’s flagship product, called Total Weather Insurance, acts as a subsidy to government-subsidized crop insurance by enabling farmers to hedge their risk on crops. Farmers can create contracts that lock in profits based on their locations and how much damage they could incur from rain, drought, heat, cold or snow. WeatherBill pays automatically based on measured weather conditions within 10 days of when a policy ends. . . .

“Agriculture is an unusual area for venture capital, but we submit that agricultural technology has the same potential as biotechnology had in pharmaceuticals or chips had in telecommunications,” Khosla said on Monday.

Google Ventures, meanwhile, is attracted to WeatherBill by “the power of massively parallel computing infrastructure, which was not possible even 10 years ago,” said Managing Partner Bill Maris. “We understand the problem and are looking forward to deploying resources to help them solve it. We have a cloud looking for big problems to solve.”

via Google Ventures, Khosla Make Rain For WeatherBill – Venture Capital Dispatch – WSJ.

Here is the website for the company, should you want to insure some crops: Weatherbill.

HT:  Rich Shipe.

Reversing global warming with a nuclear winter

National Geographic reports on a NASA study of the climate effect of a “regional” nuclear war:

The global cooling caused by these high carbon clouds wouldn’t be as catastrophic as a superpower-versus-superpower nuclear winter, but “the effects would still be regarded as leading to unprecedented climate change,” research physical scientist Luke Oman said during a press briefing Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

Earth is currently in a long-term warming trend. After a regional nuclear war, though, average global temperatures would drop by 2.25 degrees F (1.25 degrees C) for two to three years afterward, the models suggest.

At the extreme, the tropics, Europe, Asia, and Alaska would cool by 5.4 to 7.2 degrees F (3 to 4 degrees C), according to the models. Parts of the Arctic and Antarctic would actually warm a bit, due to shifted wind and ocean-circulation patterns, the researchers said.

After ten years, average global temperatures would still be 0.9 degree F (0.5 degree C) lower than before the nuclear war, the models predict.

via Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming for Years?.

These computer models, though, were based on 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear bombs going off.  That doesn’t strike me as a small war!  What 100 cities would be vaporized, and what effect would that have on the world?

As Joe Carter notes (HT be to him), no one is actually proposing this as a solution to global warming, at least not yet.  But this environmentalist thinks it’s pretty much too late to reverse climate change, so he is heading for the hills, stocking up on survivalist supplies and buying guns.  So maybe there will be a movement to set off some nukes.  A commenter suggests just setting off some in a desert.


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