Links I liked, Aug 30 – Sep 5 (SpaceX explosion, winds in the stratosphere, and more)

1. SpaceX rocket explodes during test.

Golly.  Gives you a sense for how nervous those tiny Apollo astronauts might have been sitting at the end of those gigantic rockets.

2. A strange thing happened in the stratosphere

Winds in the tropical stratosphere, an atmospheric layer that extends from about 10 to 30 miles above Earth’s surface, circulate the planet in alternating easterly and westerly directions over roughly a two-year period. Westerly winds develop at the top of the stratosphere, and gradually descend to the bottom, about 10 miles above the surface while at the same time being replaced by a layer of easterly winds above them. In turn, the easterlies descend and are replaced by westerlies.

This pattern repeats every 28 months. In the 1960s scientists coined it the “quasi-biennial oscillation.” The record of these measurements, made by weather balloons released in the tropics at various points around the globe, dates to 1953.

The pattern never changed – until late 2015.

3. Coral Beauty Angelfish getting scrubbed by Cleaner Shrimp

From our aquarium actually – was pleased to finally catch this neat interspecies interaction on video.

4. How Trigger Warnings Silence Religious Students

Many passed this article around last week – happy to see this discussed in a mainstream publication.  I know a lot of people (especially outside of academia) would say that the whole point of trigger warnings, safe spaces, and the like is to silence speech.  This author would rather say that the silencing of speech is an unfortunate side effect that needs to be dealt with.  So I know a lot of readers would say this article is really much too nice but, as I said, happy to see this discussed in a mainstream publication.

Students should be free to argue their beliefs without fear of being labeled intolerant or disrespectful, whether they think certain sexual orientations are forbidden by God, life occurs at the moment of conception, or Islam is the exclusive path to salvation; and conversely, the same freedom should apply to those who believe God doesn’t care about who we have sex with, abortion is a fundamental right, or Islam is based on nothing more than superstitious nonsense. As it stands, that freedom does not exist in most academic settings, except when students’ opinions line up with what can be broadly understood as progressive political values.

5. I don’t.

About 2% of children in Japan are born out of wedlock – in America, about 40%.

6. Discrimination That Is Necessary For a Civil Society: A Response to David Gushee

A while ago a local news station had a poll that went something like “are curfews only for those of certain ages discriminatory?”. My reaction was – that is a terrible question to poll people about. One of the definitions of “discrimination” is to make a distinction between. By definition a curfew that applies to some ages and not others is discrimination, you don’t need a poll for that. What they really wanted to know, of course, is if people thought such curfews were wrong or unjust. But that isn’t what they said.

The law is usually more precise, forbidding discrimination based on X, Y, and Z, sort of implying thereby that there is a lot of other discrimination going on that is just fine. But the two definitions (basically “recognize a distinction” and “make an unjust distinction”) are often mixed, quite intentionally at times I think by people who want to create confusion of thought and draw people to their side (“it’s unjust discrimination”) without ever having to make an argument for why it is. (And mixed unintentionally at other times by people whose thought is simply, by now, thoroughly confused.) Therefore I am happy to see careful thinkers pointing this out and insisting on more precision.

7. 10 Steps to Fix a City

Throw out your parking ordinances.  Dramatically simplify your zoning.

8. Freshwater jellyfish discovered in Michigan lake

The non-native species is home to one region in China, but they have been reported in Michigan since the 1930s, according to the United States Geological Survey. Experts said these penny-sized invertebrates are not dangerous to humans nor Michigan’s ecological system.

This week brought to you by aurora north of Lansing, Michigan.


Links I liked, July 19-25 (Bicycle Physics, Hungry Cleaner Shrimps, Family Bikes)

1. The Bicycle Problem that Nearly Broke Mathematics

Terrible headline here, but pretty cool story that goes to show that just because a device is very common, doesn’t mean it is well understood.  A couple snips:

In April 1970, chemist and popular-science writer David Jones demolished this theory in an article for Physics Today in which he described riding a series of theoretically unrideable bikes. One bike that Jones built had a counter-rotating wheel on its front end that would effectively cancel out the gyroscopic effect. But he had little problem riding it hands-free.

This discovery meant that there was no simple rule-of-thumb that could guarantee that a bike is easy to ride. Trail could be useful. Gyroscopic effects could be useful. Centre of mass could be useful. For Papadopoulos, this was revelatory. The earliest frame builders had simply stumbled on a design that felt OK, and had been riding around in circles in that nook of the bicycle universe. There were untested geometries out there that could transform bike design.

2. Trump: Tribune of Poor White People

Everyone was passing around this piece of political/cultural analysis last week – give it a read if you haven’t seen it, any excerpt can’t do it justice.  But I’ll drop one anyway:

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

3. What Happened With the Library Millages

This is a local story but… I bet this sort of thing happens all the time.  City passes millage specifically for library that should increase their “intake” by about $2,000,000 – but actual intake only increases by about $250,000 because the city decreases the amount of money given the library from the general fund.  There is an obvious incentive here to pass specific millages for popular programs (like the library), to free up more general fund money for less popular stuff.  Be aware…

4. A Brief Word to J.I. Packer on His 90th Birthday

Thomas Aquinas died at age 49.  John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards died at 54.  Charles Spurgeon at 57.  Martin Luther at 62.

5. Facebook Messenger Hits 1 Billion Users

There is nothing deep and complicated about this article just… whew.

More than 10% of voice over IP (VoIP) calls occur on Messenger, and 17 billion photos are sent on the app each month. And interactions with businesses have risen sharply. People now exchange 1 billion messages with businesses every month, a figure that has more than doubled in the past year.

6. Heavy Boots

To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question: 1

1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it
a) float away,
b) float where it is,
or c) fall to the ground?

About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:

2. You’ve seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall off?

About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing heavy boots.”

7. Cleaner shrimp stuffing his face at feeder ring

OK personal video here – I don’t know how common this is, but our cleaner shrimp has learned that me opening the top of our saltwater aquarium means food is coming, and he’ll now run up and over to the feeder ring and start grabbing food!  On the plus side his actions help the sinking food sink, which I suppose the other fish appreciate.


8. This man rescued a bear from the jaws of a cheese puff bucket

Man sees bear with cheese puff bucket on head.  Man lassos bear.  Man and bear roll around on the group together for a couple minutes (but bear cannot bite man because cheese puff bucket).  Bear gives up and climbs tree, man ties rope to tree, calls authorities to come help bear.

9. Taga 2.0: The Ultimate Most Affordable Family Bike

At the risk of totally getting sucked in by advertisement… this seems like a pretty awesome idea.

10. As More People Get High in Colorado, More Kids Head to the Hospital

By itself, not an argument against legalization perhaps, but legalization proponents like to pretend there is no downside, and that needs to be pushed against.

Although cannabis poisonings in children are not common, the incidents have definitely increased following Colorado’s legalization of recreational use in 2012. The rate of increase in hospital visits is considerable—it doubled between 2009 and 2015—but the overall numbers remain small: 1 child per 100,000 people before legalization and 2 children per 100,000 people after legalization. Numbers of poison control center calls, though still small overall, increased by more than five times.

11. 7-Eleven Delivered a Slurpee via Drone Without Dropping the Scoop Straw

Title says it all.

This week brought to you by blue jays in our backyard.