Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Archdruid picked a good year to be down on science

One of Greer's overarching themes for the past year has been that technological and scientific progress has become a secular religion and that the failure of actual technological progress to live up to expectations is causing people to lose faith.  He called that faith Technological Superstitions and told people they should give A Pink Slip for the Progress Fairy.*  In particular, he thinks that science as currently practiced is a doomed cultural project, a thesis he stated explicitly in The Suicide of Science and elaborated upon in Dark Age America: The Sharp Edge of the Shell.  He had pointed things to say about the future of science in both.  In "The Suicide of Science," he made the following forecast:
What Oswald Spengler called the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of religion in the declining years of a culture, could have taken many forms in the historical trajectory of industrial society; at this point I think it's all too likely to contain a very large dollop of hostility toward science and complex technology.
He expanded on the form that rejection would take in "Dark Age America: The Sharp Edge of the Shell."
Modern science is extremely vulnerable to such a turn of events. There was a time when the benefits of scientific research and technological development routinely reached the poor as well as the privileged, but that time has long since passed; these days, the benefits of research and development move up the social ladder, while the costs and negative consequences move down. Nearly all the jobs eliminated by automation, globalization, and the computer revolution, for example, used to hire from the bottom end of the job market. In the same way, changes in US health care in recent decades have benefited the privileged while subjecting most others to substandard care at prices so high that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US today.

It’s all very well for the promoters of progress to gabble on about science as the key to humanity’s destiny; the poor know that the destiny thus marketed isn’t for them.  To the poor, progress means fewer jobs with lower pay and worse conditions, more surveillance and impersonal violence carried out by governments that show less and less interest in paying even lip service to the concept of civil rights, a rising tide of illnesses caused by environmental degradation and industrial effluents, and glimpses from afar of an endless stream of lavishly advertised tech-derived trinkets, perks and privileges that they will never have. Between the poor and any appreciation for modern science stands a wall made of failed schools, defunded libraries, denied opportunities, and the systematic use of science and technology to benefit other people at their expense. Such a wall, it probably bears noting, makes a good surface against which to sharpen oyster shells.
"A wall made of failed schools, defunded libraries, denied opportunities, and the systematic use of science and technology to benefit other people at their expense"--those look like things I've been worried about since the very beginning of this blog.  At least Greer and I agree on a common set of perils to civilization.

That written, it turns out that the year coming to a close was a good year for Greer to pick the topic of loss of faith in science.  While it had its scientific triumphs, it also had its very public failures, such as the two I described in A bad week for private space.  USA Today, as seen in the Guam Pacific Daily News went so far as to declare Science took a step back in 2014.
In 2012, scientists finally cornered the elusive Higgs particle, essential to explaining the most fundamental forces of nature. In 2013, we learned the Voyager spacecraft had reached the space between stars. As for 2014 - well, some years are best forgotten.

The year now winding down has seen its share of trailblazing scientific developments. But it has also had more than its fair share of disappointments and goofs, led by the retraction of two ballyhooed stem-cell papers from the top journal Nature and backtracking on a spectacular astrophysics finding announced at a press conference in March.
Even the technologically boosterish Wired acknowledged the public embarassments in The Best and Worst in a Tumultuous Year for Science.
It’s been a roller-coaster year for science. It started with what looked like a remarkable breakthrough in stem cell science, which was soon followed by a stunning announcement by cosmologists: the first detection of gravitational waves, direct evidence for a popular theory of how the universe began. But as the year draws to a close, the first of these discoveries has been thoroughly discredited, and the second appears to be on the ropes.

That’s not to say it was all bad. In October, scientists landed a spacecraft on a comet for the first time ever. And the year saw other interesting breakthroughs in everything from synthetic biology to anthropology. Here are our picks for the best and worst of science in 2014. If nothing else, they remind us that while science often moves in fits and starts, and sometimes stumbles, it keeps pushing forward.
I'll get to science's successes in a later entry.  For now, follow over the jump for more examples of the past year's goofs, failures, and downright frauds in science.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The limbo bar drops to $1.95 plus 2014 in energy and environment

Last Friday, the news was $1.99 gas arrives in my neighborhood.  Today, the price at all four stations is $1.95.  Yesterday, the three stations down the street lowered regular to that price while the corner station was at $1.99.  Today, the corner station matched them.  I expect that's where the local price of gas will end the year.

Gas Buddy supports my expectation, as the national average rose slightly from $2.27 yesterday to $2.28 today, a move mirrored by the Detroit average, which also rose slightly from $2.02 to $2.03 today.  I suppose the price could drop to $1.93 tomorrow, but that would be both counter to the trend and unexpected heading into a holiday.  Maybe Friday or Saturday, should the metro mean remain steady.

Oil-Price.Net suggests that one or two price drops are possible, as both crude oil indexes (indices?) have broken through support.  WTI dropped below $55 while Brent fell through $60.  However, both may have hit bottom as both rose today, WTI $0.51 to $54.12 and Brent $0.02 to $57.90.

Speaking of the low price for oil, it was one of the top, if not the number one, energy story of 2014.  Follow over the jump for the relevant links and excerpts.

Monday, December 29, 2014

SciFi is Now: Energy and other technologies for 2014

Continuing the retrospective of the year about to end that I began with Ebola best and worst for 2014 and Happy to rewind 2014 in entertainment and social media, I'm going to run with the "sustainability with a science fiction slant" that I use to describe this blog on its Facebook page to repeat another catch phrase of mine, "we live in science fiction times."*  I begin with Marianne Lavelle of National Geographic News describing Four 2015 Energy Ideas 'Back to the Future' Got (Almost) Right.
Hoverboards, flying cars, and auto-fueling are closer than you think, and garbage energy is here.

Energy is so cheap and easy in 2015 that we all have flying cars and robot gas attendants. That's not the reality as of New Year's Day, of course, but rather the "future" depicted in the hit 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II.

It's easy to feel bitter that we're still stuck in traffic on the ground, pumping our own gas, and now worrying about climate change, to boot.

Director Robert Zemeckis never intended to paint a realistic forecast, but it's amazing how much of his vision of energy is taking shape. Science is trying to deliver not only skyward transport and renewable fuel, but also efficiency and solutions to lower greenhouse gases.
So we're not quite getting flying cars, but we are getting self-driving cars, a necessary precursor.  That's a science-fiction idea will make car travel safer that isn't a massive energy hog, which is good enough for me.

Follow over the jump for more science fiction technologies that have come true.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy to rewind 2014 in entertainment and social media

For my Sunday entertainment entry, I begin by once again rewinding the year on YouTube.  This year, the video is YouTube Rewind: Turn Down for 2014.

YouTube Rewind 2014. Celebrating the moments, memes, and people that made 2014. #YouTubeRewind
I had to watch a bunch of the top music videos for 2014 to appreciate this video.*  Good thing I did; I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around.  If those aren't enough, check out the popular non-music videos mentioned in WXYZ on 2014 in social media.

Follow over the jump for more from Facebook and Google on the year just past, along with another video in the footnote.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ebola best and worst for 2014

The Ebola epidemic brought on the best and worst in people this year.  The best was recognized by Time Magazine, who designated The Ebola Fighters as "The Person of the Year."
The ones who answered the call
By David von Drehle, with Aryn Baker / Liberia
Dec. 10, 2014

On the outskirts of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on grassy land among palm trees and tropical hardwoods, stands a cluster of one-story bungalows painted cheerful yellow with blue trim. This is the campus of Eternal Love Winning Africa, a nondenominational Christian mission, comprising a school, a radio station and a hospital. It was here that Dr. Jerry Brown, the hospital’s medical director, first heard in March that the fearsome Ebola virus had gained a toehold in his country. Patients with the rare and deadly disease were turning up at a clinic in Lofa County—part of the West African borderlands where Liberia meets Guinea and Sierra Leone. “It was then that we really started panicking,” says Brown.

Even in ordinary circumstances, the doctor’s workday was a constant buzz of people seeking answers: Can you help with this diagnosis? Would you have a look at this X-ray? What do you make of this rash? Inevitably, Brown would raise his eyebrows and crease his forehead as if surprised that anyone would think he might know the answer. Just as inevitably, he would have one.

Ebola was different. On this subject, Brown had more questions than answers. He knew the virus was contagious and highly lethal—fatal in up to 90% of cases. But why was it in Liberia? Previous Ebola outbreaks had been primarily in remote Central Africa. Could the disease be contained in the rural north? The membrane between countryside and city in Liberia was highly porous; people flowed into Monrovia in pursuit of jobs or trade and flowed back to their villages, families and friends. “Sooner or later,” Brown remembers thinking, “it might reach us.” And what then? A poor nation still shaky after years of civil war, Liberia—population 4 million-plus—had just a handful of ambulances in operation. How could Liberia possibly deal with Ebola?
It also brought out the worst or, at least, the most mendacity in people.  Follow over the jump for how misinformation about Ebola was recognized as the lie of the year and which person spreading that misinformation was recognized as singled out for doing so.

Friday, December 26, 2014

$1.99 gas arrives in my neighborhood

While the corner station did the expected since Good economic news on Christmas Eve 2014 by matching the three stations down the street at $2.07, those three outlets did the unexpected by dropping their price for regular to $1.99.  That's some after-Christmas sale!*

While I was surprised, Gas Buddy shows that I shouldn't have been, as the Detroit average was $2.09 yesterday and $2.10 today.  $1.99 is exactly what I should have expected.

As for whether prices will continue falling, Oil-Price.Net suggests that they are near a bottom, as it looks like crude oil has finally found a support level.  WTI has been bouncing off of $55 for two weeks and Brent has been hitting downward resistance at $60 for almost as long.  Besides, the week between Christmas and New Years is usually when prices hit bottom for the year and begin rising.

I'm not alone in thinking so.  Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy told WOOD-TV a similar story in Gas prices drop below $2 in GR, Kzoo a few days ago.

Gas prices fell below the $2 mark in parts of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo on Tuesday. (Dec. 23, 2014)
Like DeHaan said, enjoy this while it lasts.

*I was planning on posting about the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsumami, but I'm just not up to that much gloom right now.  Maybe later.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Science for Christmas from Discovery News

Merry Christmas!  I'm marking the holiday today by recycling the theme of Discovery News on the Holidays for Christmas Eve, Holiday leftovers from DNews and Tipsy Bartender,* and Dangerous holidays and Thanksgiving leftovers from Discovery News, the science of the holiday season.  What do you expect, I'm an environmentalist, I recycle!

First, Trace and Amy demonstrate something near and dear to my heart, the science of music,** in How To Impress Your Family At Christmas.

Want to impress your family this holiday season? Amy and Trace are here to teach you the science behind singing glasses.
Follow over the jump for more of the science the holidays from Discovery News.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good economic news on Christmas Eve 2014

Gas got even cheaper since WXYZ on lowest gas prices in five years, plus more on lower oil prices, when all the neighborhood stations were selling regular at $2.15.  Yesterday, the corner gas station dropped to $2.08, while the three stations down the street undercut it by a penny to $2.07.  That wasn't the only good news yesterday, as the Dow broke 18,000 for the first time ever.  WXYZ has reports on both.  First, Millions traveling for the holidays.

The narrative of people being grateful for low gas prices and using the savings to either spend money on other things or traveling, thus fueling the consumer economy, continues.

Next, Financial analyst Rick Bloom comments on Record-breaking day on Wall Street.

Again, low oil and gas prices are good news for the economy if one believes in Business as Usual.  Bloom obviously does, and so do a lot of investors.  The market and economy might just improve throughout 2015, although I expect either 2016 or 2017 will tell another story, as I wrote in PBS NewsHour on lower oil prices.  In the meantime, Merry Christmas!  Enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dr. Evil airs his grievances for Festivus plus bonus cybersecurity news

Happy Festivus!  To celebrate the holiday this year, I'm giving a platform for someone else to air his grievances.  Take it away, Dr. Evil!

Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) interrupts Sam Smith's (Taran Killam) Christmas special to address North Korea and Sony Pictures directly about the hack.
Thank you, that was a beautiful airing of grievances.

On a more serious note, follow over the jump for cybersecurity and cybercrime news since Labor Day from colleges on the campaign trail and the bowl hunt that I originally included in Overnight News Digest at Daily Kos.

Monday, December 22, 2014

WXYZ on lowest gas prices in five years, plus more on lower oil prices

I described the state of the local gas war on Saturday in Falling gas prices make news in Michigan, again.
Thursday, the three stations down the street lowered their price for regular to $2.25, while the corner station remained at $2.29.  I expected the corner station would match them.  Instead, it undercut them, dropping its price all the way down to $2.17.  In response, the three stations down the street lowered their prices to $2.22.  That's about what should be expected from Gas Buddy, as that is a dime below the Detroit average of $2.32 on Thursday.  However, the corner station seems to have anticipated a further price drop that arrived Friday, when the Detroit average fell to $2.29.  A dozen cents lower at $2.17 doesn't seem that out of line.
The corner station remained at $2.17 throughout the weekend, then dropped one more notch down to $2.15, matching the three stations down the street.  Since this might just be the low for the year, I filled up the new car with midgrade at $2.25 per gallon.

WXYZ reported on the low gas prices in two videos.  This morning's clip was Lowest gas prices in five years.

As the reporter pointed out, the Detroit average is currently $2.25, so the neighborhood price of $2.15 is perfectly in line with the historic pattern of being a dime lower.

This afternoon, Andy Choi's location shot was Falling gas prices.

In both clips, the customers interviewed expressed joy and relief at the lower prices.  That's exactly what I expect will goose the consumer economy for the next year until gas prices start rising year-over-year.

Follow over the jump for some links I've been storing up about the effects of lower oil prices from New York Magazine, Econbrowser, and the Los Angeles Times.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

All about that space base bass

After I wished all my readers a Happy Winter Solstice 2014, I told them to "stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment entry."  Since I'm in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time" mood, I'm engaging in a bit of memetic mutation involving Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass."

I begin with NASA's All About That Space (Updated with video from

"All About That Space" is a volunteer outreach video project created by interns at NASA's Johnson Space Center. It was created as a parody (to raise interest and excitement for Orion's first flight) of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass". The lyrics and scenes in the video have been re-imagined in order to inform the public about the amazing work going on at NASA and the Johnson Space Center.
In case you're experiencing déjà vu, the 2012 class created and performed a similar parody that I featured in NASA Gangnam Style two years ago.

Follow over the jump for another parody and the original, along with two space basses, one fantastic and the other quite real.

Happy Winter Solstice 2014!

The Huffington Post: Winter Solstice 2014: Shortest Day Of The Year Marked By Pagan Celebrations
By HuffPost Religion Editors
December 20, 2014
In 2014, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will begin on Dec. 21 at 6:03 p.m. EST. To calculate the turning point in your time zone, click here.

Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solstice until the summer solstice in 2015.
That's today.  Happy Solstice!

Stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment entry.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Watch this building go boom

Last Sunday, the college where I teach imploded an old office building on a property it acquired.  I could have gotten up early and watched it in person, but I decided to sleep in and hope that the demolition would be such good television that I could watch it on YouTube.  I was not disappointed.  There were quite a few videos of the event.  The best one so far is the following from Controlled Demolition, Inc., the company that set the explosives, which shows the implosion from multiple angles.  It also includes the sounds of the countdown and the spectators cheering.

Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI) of Phoenix, Maryland, USA (acting as Implosion Subcontractor to Main Demolition Contractor, North American Dismantling Corp. of Lapeer, Michigan) performs the successful explosives felling of the 17-story, structural steel North Park Plaza building in Southfield, Michigan at 8:30 AM on Sunday, December 14, 2014.
The next best was shot from a drone that overflew the building during and after the implosion.  In my opinion, it does the best job of showing the aftermath.

The implosion and aftermath of the North Park Plaza skyscraper in Southfield, MI USA. Filmed via DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter.

The North Park Plaza was a 42 year old 17 story office tower which had been vacant for several years. It was purchased by Oakland Community College (OCC), which is currently planning future uses for the soon to be vacant land.
That pile of rubble was what greeted me as I drove into work the next day.  I'm still getting used to the building being gone.

It turns out that OCC is not the only college that will demolish a former commercial property it now owns.  Follow over the jump for news from the other side of the state.

Falling gas prices make news in Michigan, again

I expressed my astonishment in the opening of PBS NewsHour on lower oil prices.
Gas prices have continued to fall since yesterday's WOOD-TV on lower gas prices.  The neighborhood stations blew right through the $2.35 and $2.32 price levels I expected to $2.29, lower than I would have forecast for this week.  I'd be tempted to call a low for the year, but there is still another week that prices could fall before they historically begin to rise again.
I was wise not to call a bottom, as prices kept falling since then.  Thursday, the three stations down the street lowered their price for regular to $2.25, while the corner station remained at $2.29.  I expected the corner station would match them.  Instead, it undercut them, dropping its price all the way down to $2.17.  In response, the three stations down the street lowered their prices to $2.22.  That's about what should be expected from Gas Buddy, as that is a dime below the Detroit average of $2.32 on Thursday.  However, the corner station seems to have anticipated a further price drop that arrived Friday, when the Detroit average fell to $2.29.  A dozen cents lower at $2.17 doesn't seem that out of line.

Both WXYZ and WOOD-TV have noticed the latest price drop.  First, WXYZ reports, a few days later than WOOD-TV, that Gas prices drop to under $2 per gallon in Michigan.

That station is only a few miles away and might just pull down prices of stations nearby, so I'm still not calling the bottom yet.

Follow over the jump for WOOD-TV's reporting on low gas and oil prices.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Hanukkah from Michigan!

Since I love holidays, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hanukkah here at Crazy Eddie's Motie News.  It turns out that I've only done so once before, so I have been remiss.  To make up for forgetting last year, here are two videos from Michigan about the holiday.

First, WXYZ with Menorah lighting celebration at Campus Martius.

The next evening, my wife and I saw a procession of cars with menorahs on their roofs driving down Woodward in Royal Oak.  I'd never seen anything like it before.  It would have made good television as well.

The equivalent in Grand Rapids was less showy, which is probably why WOOD-TV also included footage from the menorah lighting in Washington, D.C., in 2014 First Night of Chanukah in Grand Rapids.

Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

WXYZ on 2014 in social media

Today is another Throwback Thursday on Facebook, which makes it an appropriate day to post the first retrospective of the year just past.  WXYZ has helped make it easy for me with four videos about 2014 on social media.

First, What we talked about most on Facebook in 2014

Next, You Tube's Most Watched Videos of 2014.

I'll have more about the year on YouTube from YouTube itself in a later entry.  Meanwhile, follow over the jump for two more videos from WXYZ about Facebook and other media.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

PBS NewsHour on lower oil prices

Gas prices have continued to fall since yesterday's WOOD-TV on lower gas prices.  The neighborhood stations blew right through the $2.35 and $2.32 price levels I expected to $2.29, lower than I would have forecast for this week.  I'd be tempted to call a low for the year, but there is still another week that prices could fall before they historically begin to rise again.

PBS NewsHour has noticed the precipitous decline in oil prices and analyzed the implications of them in Is there a bad side to the recent plunge in oil prices?

Over the last few weeks, the price of oil has dropped dramatically. While this may be good news for consumers, for Wall Street the numbers tell a different story. The Wall Street Journal's Nick Timiraos joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C. to help make sense of the downward trend.
The result looks like the beginning of the popping of shale oil bubble forecast by Kunstler in The Instability Express and Crash-O-Matic Finance and Greer in Dark Age America: The Hour of the Knife.  I summed up my take on the financial chaos that could result in a comment at Kunstler's blog.
[T]he weakness in oil is pulling the market down.  What is good news for consumers is not good for investors, and I suspect that the increased spending on consumer goods may not be enough to make up for the bursting of the shale oil bubble.  This is not good, as Wall Street has a way of inflicting its pain on Main Street.
There are other moving parts that intersect with the falling price of crude oil, as PBS NewsHour explains in Sanctions, cheap oil take toll on Russian ruble.

Russia's central bank hiked a key interest rate nearly 7 points overnight in a dramatic move to stabilize the economy. The ruble has lost 60 percent of its value since January, and Russians have been feeling the economic pinch of inflation. Jeffrey Brown reports how the falling price of oil and Western sanctions have hurt the Russian economy.
Hurting Russia and Iran might be a good thing from the perspective of both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, but it might come at a high price in terms of loss of American oil production.  Elaine Meinel Supkis thinks this will backfire with Russia coming out OK and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia harming themselves instead, but I think she's lost it and she is too wedded to a model of the world that doesn't work.

As for what I think will harm us, follow over the jump.

WOOD-TV on lower gas prices

Much has happened since I posted The return of $2.50 gas.  For starters, the price for regular in my neighborhood has fallen three times in less than a week, first to $2.45 last Friday, then to $2.39 by Monday morning, and again to $2.37 Monday night and Tuesday (the three stations down the block in the evening, then the corner station the next day).  WOOD-TV has noticed the fall in gas prices on the west side of the state in two videos.  I begin with gas prices fall below $2 in Greenville.

For the first time in more than five years, gas prices have fallen below the $2 mark in West Michigan. (Dec. 16, 2014)
Patrick DeHaan of does a very good job of explaining the effects of local competition, which is one of the reasons why gas prices are so low in my (soon to be former) neighborhood, and why diesel prices have not fallen along with gas prices.  I had ascribed the price rigidity to inflexible demand; DeHaan added the effects of low supply from reduced refining capacity, exporting diesel to foreign markets, and competition between diesel and heating oil.  Thank you, Mr. DeHaan; I learned something.

DeHaan makes a cameo in the next video, as he's the expert who predicts gas will stay below $3/gal until late winter.

Prices continue to drop at the pump, with the cost of gas as low as $2.14 per gallon in West Michigan on Sunday.
The woman being interviewed is giving exactly the kind of reaction that people who want good news want to see, delight at lower prices and plans to spend the money for the holidays.  As for DeHaan, he's saying the same thing about gas prices that I've been saying, that gas won't rise above $3.00 until March or April.  I'm sure he's looking at the same thing I am, the RBOB futures.

Speaking of which, Oil-Price.Net shows the spot price of RBOB is $1.58 along with WTI at $55.91 and Brent at $61.06.  I'd like to say these are the floors for these commodities, but I've been consistently surprised at how low they've gone for the past few months.*

Finally, I expect prices at the pump to go down at least one more time, as Gas Buddy displays a Detroit average of $2.42.  The local stations could go down another five cents to $2.32, although I expect them to pause at $3.35 first.

*I plan to post more about the effects of lower oil prices later today.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bottled water: student sustainability video festival 31

I've submitted all my grades, so it's time to wrap up the series for the year with the videos from the topic my students voted number one over Box Jellyfish, bottled water.

First, Know More TV asks Is Your Bottled Water Safe?

KnowMore's Registered Dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade explains why you need to steer clear of Bisphenol-A in plastic water bottles.
Next, the entertaining and informative Tamara Lay presents Tap Water Vs. Bottled Water.

Tap water or bottled water? Have you ever wondered which is REALLY better for you? Well, I did... and I found out.
For more on this topic, see 'Tapped': Student sustainability video festival 23.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Box Jellyfish: student sustainability video festival 30

George Kourounis starred in the second video I featured in The Door to Hell; I noted that he'd show up again.  Here he is in Stung by a Box Jellyfish, the video used in one of the two presentations that tied for second most popular among my students.

Adventurer and Angry Planet TV show host, George Kourounis finds out what it is like to be stung by the deadly Box Jellyfish, possibly the most venomous creature on Earth.
Between this and climbing into the Door to Hell, Kourounis demonstrates his taste for risk and adventure.  Even so, he didn't want to do that again!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tales of two trailers: James Bond and Star Wars

For the Sunday entertainment entry I promised, I'm following up to one of the two trailers I mentioned two weeks ago and another one announced last week with two videos from Discovery News.

First, DNews explains Why We Can't Have Lightsabers.

The new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released last week, and it got us thinking: Why can't we have lightsabers?
The lightsaber with the cross guard in the trailer certainly made an impression.

Follow over the jump for the latest news about the next James Bond film, along with another reaction from DNews.

The Door to Hell: student sustainability video festival 29

The same day that one of my students showed her video about Fukushima, another gave a talk about The Door to Hell in Turkmenostan that included these videos.

First, The Door To Hell - Top 10 Secret World Wonders[HD]

The Door To Hell in Turkmenistan is one of the top 10 secret natural world wonders. In the middle of the Karakum Desert, the small village of Darwaza is home to less than 350 people. It's also the home of one of the most magnificent and incredible lesser-known wonders of the world, the "Door to Hell." The creation of this particular spot wasn't natural at all but its amazing and inexplicable composition is. In 1971, Soviet geologists accidentally discovered a cave filled with natural gas when the ground beneath their oil rig collapsed, uncovering it. In order to protect the locals and prevent intoxication from poisonous gas, the geologists decided it best to light the gas on fire and burn it away. That large crater, 70 metres in diameter, has been burning ever since.
Next, One Man Decided To Explore The 'Door To Hell'

The Darvaza Crater, which is the actual name of the 'Door to Hell', has sparked the curiosity of many over the years, but George Kourounis became the first to actually step in.
Kourounis will show up in a future video.

Stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment entry.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

12-13-14, the last sequential day of the century

Jessica Contrera of The Washington Post has the story in On 12/13/14 one last chance to indulge in sequential date frenzy — this century, anyway.
It’s the very last sequential day of the century. We are already out of triple dates, the 11/11/11s and 12/12/12s, and Saturday we run out of 1/2/03s and 4/5/06s.

There is no 13/14/15! And there won’t be anything like it until the year 2101!
Journalists have been reporting on these special dates — calling wedding planners and casinos and numerologists and “scientists” — and maybe exaggerating the details of the situation a bit, but we’ll get to that — for 14 years.

So to celebrate this century’s last hurrah, this final quirk of the calendar, let us compile all the essential ingredients for the ultimate 12/13/14 sequential date story.
Of course, if one writes dates the European way, the last sequential day using consecutive integers passed last year on 11 December 2013.

Follow over the jump for sequential days using numbers other than consecutive integers.

Fukushima: student sustainability video festival 28

Continuing on from Recycled orchestra: student sustainability video festival 27, I present a video one of my students created herself from clips of news programs about the disaster.

I might recycle this for the fourth anniversary of the Fukishima earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The return of $2.50 gas

In Headlines for 12/10/14 give me a to do list, I "answered the implied question I asked in Retail gas prices drop as commodity prices bounce, 'Stay tuned to see if Tuesday's price moves signal a bottom or were just a coordinated dead cat bounce.'  They were a dead cat bounce, one that took the rest of the markets down with them."

Yesterday, those lower oil prices appeared at the pump, as all the neighborhood stations lowered their price for regular to $2.49.  Between the lower oil prices and the Detroit average from Gas Buddy, which fell from $2.62 two days ago to $2.58 yesterday, I was not surprised.  $2.49 was the next logical step.

Speaking of which, remember when Newt Gingrich campaigned on $2.50 gasoline?  President Obama dismissed it at the time, but he now can claim credit for achieving it, although it's really Saudi Arabia's actions that allowed it to happen.  Just the same, I won't let this opportunity to pull out the taunting macro go to waste.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Clapping for the Progress Fairy

I included a programming note in Halloween drinks from Tipsy Bartender.
In case you're wondering what Inna's costume is, it's a pink fairy, as she explains in the Outtakes.  I'll embed that in a future entry, as it ties into another topic.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, as a fellow dachshund owner, I love her dog!
Here's the video I promised more than a month ago.

Inna's costume reminded me of Greer's A Pink Slip for the Progress Fairy.  He meant firing the mythical figure, but something more literal occurred to me.  I didn't respond to that image then, but I did two weeks later in after watching Inna in Dark Age America: Involuntary Simplicity.
Greer: By the way, a thank you and apology to all who posted comments to last week's essay here.

Me: I never did follow up on my promise to critique your future history, and I won't do it tonight.  Instead, I was wondering if any of your readers had another image when they read your title--giving a female fairy a pink slip to wear as a present.  That occurred to me, but then I recalled that lusting after the fair folk tends to be bad for one's health, safety, and sanity.  Think about the metaphor that alternative interpretation yields!

Greer: Pinku-sensei, yes, I thought about five seconds after posting last week's essay that some people might think I was talking about rose-colored underthings for a minor figure out of the writings of L. Frank Baum. The GDP material makes perfect sense to me!

"[A] minor figure out of the writings of L. Frank Baum."  I had in mind a supporting character from the works of J.M. Barrie.  So, how many people are clapping for the Progress Fairy to keep her alive?

Greer: Pinku-sensei, too funny.
So, who wants to clap for the Pink Progress Fairy?

Headlines for 12/10/14 give me a to do list

I promised a "more substantial entry later tonight" in Recycled orchestra: student sustainability video festival 27.  I have my pick of subjects, all of which made PBS NewsHour's News Wrap: Detroit emerges from bankruptcy.

In our news wrap Wednesday, a federal judge approved plans for the city of Detroit to shed $7 billion of its $18 billion in debt, clearing the way for an end to the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. Also, a national Brazilian commission released a report on systematic torture and killings committed during nearly two decades of military dictatorship.
The first item answered the implied question I asked in Retail gas prices drop as commodity prices bounce, "Stay tuned to see if Tuesday's price moves signal a bottom or were just a coordinated dead cat bounce."  They were a dead cat bounce, one that took the rest of the markets down with them.

That's one item crossed off my to do list.  Follow over the jump for more topics I realize I should be tackling.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Recycled orchestra: student sustainability video festival 27

I just gave my final lecture of the semester and I'll be giving my first final exam tomorrow morning, so it's time that I resume where I left off in Mole people and meth chemicals: Student sustainability video festival 26 with videos from student presentations.

For tonight's installment, I present Landfill Harmonic - the "Recycled Orchestra".

An inspiring story about a group of young adults who transformed trash into a full orchestra's worth of musical instruments.
Stay tuned for a more substantial entry later tonight, but most of the rest of the entries between now and next Tuesday will be light on text and analysis.

Retail gas prices drop as commodity prices bounce

$2.59 gas came early on Saturday.
All four stations lowered their price for regular to $2.59 today.  Surprise!
Yesterday, the price of gas fell again, as the corner station and one of the three stations down the street lowering the cost of regular to $2.55 and the other two stations to $2.52.  Unlike last time, this price drop wasn't such a big surprise, as Gas Buddy showed the Detroit average falling from $2.70 to $2.63 on Sunday and then to $2.62 yesterday.  It was time to prices to drop to $2.52.

The lower price at the pump reflects lower prices for crude oil and RBOB with Oil-Price.Net showing WTI closing at $63.82, Brent closing at $66.84, and the spot price closing at $1.72--and those prices were all up from their closes on Monday.  Stay tuned to see if Tuesday's price moves signal a bottom or were just a coordinated dead cat bounce.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dangerous holidays and Thanksgiving leftovers from Discovery News

The final round of holidays is coming, so it's time to present another sequel to Discovery News on the holidays and Discovery News on the Holidays for Christmas Eve.  This time, it's a countdown of the five holidays most likely to result in death from Discovery News: Top 5 Deadliest Holidays.

Holidays can be fun, but they can also be deadly. Trace is here to rundown the top 5 deadliest holidays.
I shouldn't be surprised at 4th of July, what with all the driving, but I had a feeling Christmas was one of the worst.

Follow over the jump for two videos on the science of food from DNews.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Social media tracking Ebola and fighting air pollution

I promised something more serious to follow Marching band momentsOvernight News Digest: Science Saturday (Orion test mission) did the work for me, providing me three stories on a common theme, the use of social media in research, activism, and education.

First, Carolyn Shapiro of the University of Vermont describes The Social Contagion of Fear: Clark Analyzes Ebola Discussions on Twitter.
As the Ebola epidemic expanded overseas and reached U.S. shores in late September, concern – and misinformation – flew across social media networks.

Twitter lit up with references to “virus” and “death” and descriptions of “scary” and “terrifying.” Some less-worried tweets mentioned “cure” and even “jokes.”

These words became building blocks for Eric Clark’s latest “social contagion” study. A mathematician and doctoral candidate working in the University of Vermont Department of Surgery, Clark is finding ways to use data-processing power and social media to take the public’s temperature on health issues and current events. He works under the mentorship of Assistant Professor of Surgery Christopher Jones, Ph.D., director of the Global Health Economics Unit in the Center for Clinical and Translational Science.
As I wrote in Ebola news from campuses on the campaign trail and Discovery News, the message from the authorities remains "Don't Panic."  Now that there are no longer cases in the U.S., people have stopped freaking out--for now.*

Follow over the jump for two more uses of social media.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marching band moments

Instead of posting about something collapse-and-decline-related for my Sunday entertainment entry, I'm going to go with this month's Joy theme and post about marching band, something that brought me joy.  Here are three videos and a news item from the tip jar for last week's Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Orion test flight next week) on Daily Kos about marching band.

First, Rutgers Marching Band Takes You Behind the Scenes

Can you imagine performing a new show in front of over 50,000 fans with just six hours of practice? That's what the Rutgers University Marching Band does for each home football game. Watch our video to see how 250 people become one at halftime on Saturdays.
The answer is that I don't have to imagine.  I know what it's like.  I did that for four years while I was in the marching band at UCLA.

Follow over the jump for comparable videos from the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

$2.59 gas came early

I forecast the next sales price for the local stations in Corner station wins battle in gas war with new low price.B
oth the local and national average prices from Gas Buddy continue to drop.  Both the national and Detroit averages are at $2.70 and falling.  At this rate, the next stop is $2.59, which I expect will happen next week.
All four stations lowered their price for regular to $2.59 today.  Surprise!

The drop in gas prices gives me an opportunity to share WXYZ's Gas prices fall in metro Detroit.

Enjoy the low prices while they last!

Orion mission looks like a success

Orion’s first flight on This Week @NASA

The successful first flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on Dec. 5 not only was a historic moment for the agency – but also was a critical step on NASA’s Journey to Mars. Orion rode to space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a Delta IV heavy rocket with no crew, but loaded with about 1,200 sensors. The flight test basically was a compilation of the riskiest events that will happen when astronauts fly on Orion on deep space missions. Also, Journey to Mars briefing, 1st SLS flight barrel and Commercial crew milestone.
It turned out that Orion's first test flight was on Friday, not Thursday, but it still took place and, as far as outside observers can tell, was a smashing success, as the spacecraft launched, it followed its intended flight path, and the capsule returned on schedule and on target.  As Mirium Kramer of reported, NASA's Orion Spaceship Test a 'Textbook Spaceflight'.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA's first capsule built to take humans to Mars aced a seemingly flawless first test flight on Friday (Dec. 5), with the space agency overjoyed with the spacecraft's performance.

The Orion spacecraft appeared to function spectacularly during the risky unmanned test flight in space, and also as it came back through Earth's atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Some people are comparing this historic capsule to the capsules flown during the Apollo program that brought NASA astronauts to the moon for the first time.

"It was just such a textbook spaceflight," said NASA astronaut Rex Walheim, who worked with the Orion team to develop the spacecraft. "That's what we want for our first flight."
As I said, it looked like a smashing success.  That written, even the engineers and scientists will be very busy examining the data to see how much of a success the flight really was.
Although the test flight appeared to go off without any serious hitch, engineers can still gather useful data from the flight, NASA officials said.

"We didn't see anything major; that's clear," Mark Geyer, NASA's Orion program manager, told during the briefing. "It looks like it flew very close to what we expected, but we have 1,200 sensors, thousands of pieces of data that we're going to get back, and I'm sure we're going to find some very interesting things about how it behaved."
Here's to finding all the bugs and improving the spacecraft for the next flight.

Follow over the jump for videos of the testing that lead up to yesterday's mission, along with launch and splashdown.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Corner station wins battle in gas war with new low price

I buried a prediction in the middle of Saudi Arabia opens a trap door on oil prices.
The national average has resumed its decline and is now at $2.76, while the Detroit average has fallen through $2.80 on its way to $2.79.  That means that the next stop for regular gas in the neighborhood is $2.69.  That could happen this week.
It did.  Tuesday night, at least one of the three stations down the street had lowered its price to $2.69 (the other two were closed), while the corner station was still at $2.75.  When I checked again on Wednesday evening, all three stations had matched that price, while the corner station remained at $2.75.  Thursday night, the corner station decided to see the price drop and "raise" the bet by lowering its price to $2.63, a new low for the history of this blog.  Today, it got the other three stations to respond as they lowered their prices back to $2.65, exactly where they were when Gas bounced off the floor.

Both the local and national average prices from Gas Buddy continue to drop.  Both the national and Detroit averages are at $2.70 and falling.  At this rate, the next stop is $2.59, which I expect will happen next week.  After that, prices only have a week or two to reach their lows for the year, as retail prices for gas usually start to go up between Christmas and New Years Day.

Crude oil is finding new multi-year lows, with Oil-Price.Net showing WTI selling at $65.84 and Brent closing below $70 at $69.07.  The spot price and the January futures for RBOB continue to plummet with both closing at $1.77.  Futures for RBOB are still below $2.00 through March.  Expect prices at the pump to remain below $3.00 until at least March, if not later. analysis of the November election

Richard Bernstein, shown here in 2011, won his election for Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.  Getty Images.
Washtenaw County helped Democrats do better in 2014 than in 2010
Despite the loss of the four statewide offices at the top of the ballot, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State, Democrats did much better in November's general election this year than four years ago, when Republican candidates won election to every single statewide office.  This election cycle, Democrats won election to eight statewide offices, nine if one counts Gary Peters' victory over Terri Lynn Land for U.S. Senate, to seven for the Republicans.  Even two of the losing efforts for Democrats, Governor and Attorney General, were closer than four years ago.

Democrats earned wins for two members of the State Board of Education, two University of Michigan Regents, one Michigan State University Trustee, two Wayne State University Governors, and one Michigan Supreme Court Justice.  In addition to Governor, Lieutanant Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State, Republicans were able to put one Michigan State University Trustee and two Michigan Supreme Court Justices into office.

Four years ago, Washtenaw County bucked the statewide trend by giving all but one Democratic nominee majorities or pluralities in a losing effort.  The one Republican nominee who earned a plurality in 2010 was a Supreme Court Justice.  This year, Washtenaw County repeated this pattern, down to giving one Democratic candidate for Supreme Court a plurality, but this time its votes helped Democrats earn their way into office.  In two of these contests, Washtenaw County's voters were able to provide more votes than the candidate's statewide margin of victory.
More at the link in the headline.  Consider this article a follow up to Why the well-off turn out to vote and what happens when they do.

I just celebrated my fifth anniversary writing for  It would have been a shame to have lost my position by not writing.  I managed to beat the deadline by mere hours.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Orion's first test flight today

Today, NASA tests what it sees as its next giant leap, Orion.  Under the "if it moves, it leads" guideline, PBS NewsHour gets the honor of going first with Before NASA pioneers to Mars, Orion spacecraft faces tests.

NASA envisions a human presence on Mars in 20 years. But how will we get there? The Orion spacecraft, an unmanned capsule, will launch on its maiden voyage as an important test for future missions. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports on the engineering hurdles as well as the budgetary ones.
CNN has more in NASA 'go' for its next giant leap into space.
It's the biggest countdown for NASA since the shuttle era ended in 2011. The space agency's new Orion spacecraft is scheduled to lift off on an uncrewed test flight at 7:05 a.m. ET Thursday from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"We haven't had this feeling in awhile, since the end of the shuttle program," Mike Sarafin, Orion flight director at Johnson Space Center, said in a preflight briefing on Wednesday. He said it's the beginning of something new: exploring deep space.

Orion looks like a throwback to the Apollo era, but it is roomier and designed to go far beyond the moon: to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

"It is, I think, consistent with those -- the beginning of shuttle and beginning of Apollo," said Mark Geyer, NASA Orion program manager. "I think it's in the same category."
NASA has its own video about the launch: Orion Trial By Fire.

For a more comprehensive look at the mission, Charlie Jane Anders of io9 reports Everything You Need To Know About NASA's Next Deep Space Mission.
NASA is dreaming big and working hard. Orion is the result, the first step in opening up deep space exploration to humans — and hopefully, bringing people to Mars. The spacecraft undergoes its first test flight next week, and here's everything you need to know about it.

Meet Orion, NASA's New Deep Space Explorer

The largest rocket on the planet is about to carry NASA's dreams into a highly inclined orbit around the Earth. Exploration Test Flight-1, the first uncrewed full-system test flight for the new Orion spacecraft is December 4th. Here's what it is, why it's awesome, and how it's the first step in NASA's Next Giant Leap.
Follow over the jump for more from NASA, along with all of the Orion-related news I've included in Overnight News Digest on Daily Kos since NASA's next giant leap and other space and astronomy news.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Worksheet help for my students

This week and next, I'm showing "An Inconvenient Truth" to my students again, so I'm linking to A review of entries about 'An Inconvenient Truth', which lists all of my blog entries that contain answers to the worksheet for the film and links to them.

My students are also asking for help finding answers to the worksheet for "The End of Suburbia".  To help them, I'm linking to both Student worksheets for the second and third year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News and Guide to entries that contain answers to 'The End of Suburbia', both of which lead to posts with most of the answers.  My advice to my students is to follow all the links and be sure to read the comments, where I post updates.  Just to make sure my Geology students don't feel left out, I'm also linking to 'End of Suburbia' for Geology, even if I'm not showing it to them this semester.

Good luck to my students and happy surfing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

HIV news for World AIDS Day

Yesterday (which is still today from Chicago west to the Aleutians) was World AIDS Day.  I marked it a week late last year, when I posted AIDS: The pandemic in our midst. This year, I'm observing it along with the western two-thirds of North America and all of the eastern Pacific, so I'm not completely tardy.

Like last year, I'm sharing the news stories from Overnight News Digests, this time going back to The Archdruid on Ebola and other epidemic news, the last time I mentioned the disease.  I begin with two stories about in utero HIV transmission.

SUNY Stony Brook: Dr. Sharon Nachman Leads Network Involving NIH-Sponsored Study that Identifies Superior Drug Regimen for Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission
Stony Brook, NY – November 24, 2014 – The results of an international clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that taking a three-drug regimen during pregnancy prevents mother-to-child HIV transmission more effectively than taking a single drug during pregnancy, another during labor, and two more after giving birth.

“This study will help us to understand the safety and toxicity of these specific regimens in HIV positive pregnant women and their children,” said Dr. Nachman, Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Medicine, and the Principal Investigator of the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials (IMPAACT) network, which conducts the PROMISE (Promoting Maternal Infant Survival Everywhere) Study. “As these women and children are followed, we will learn more about the long-term issues that may arise from these medications.”
Wayne State University: Research shows anti-HIV medicines can cause damage to fetal hearts
Just-published findings in the journal AIDS raise concern about potential long-term harmful impact of “antiretroviral therapy” on in-utero infants whose mothers are HIV-positive, but who are not infected with HIV themselves.
November 19, 2014
DETROIT, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 – A study by a Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Detroit Medical Center research team is shedding new light on the troubling question of whether the drugs often given to HIV-positive pregnant women can cause significant long-term heart problems for the non-HIV-infected babies they carry.

The study recently published in the journal AIDS shows that while the HIV medications have been successful in helping to prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to infant, they are associated with persistently impaired development of heart muscle and reduced heart performance in non-HIV-infected children whose mothers received the medicines years earlier.

“What our study indicates is that there’s potentially a long-term price to be paid for protecting the children of HIV-infected mothers from the virus,” said Steven Lipshultz, M.D., pediatrician-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and chair of pediatrics for the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Dr. Lipshultz is a specialist in the study of long-term toxic cardiac effects among children affected by cancer and HIV drug therapies.
Follow over the jump for more stories from the past three months in reverse chronological order.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Saudi Arabia opens a trap door on oil prices

It's time for me to make good on two promises.  First, I concluded Tales of two trailers by telling my readers to "stay tuned for a new Nablopomo theme and a post about this weekend's oil news.  The gas price rollercoaster is set for another drop."  Second, I made a prediction to close Gas bounces off the floor.
The neighborhood price should be no lower than $2.75.  That's where I expect all the stations should be within a week, possibly even by next Monday, when the opportunity presented by Thanksgiving travel will be over.  As for $2.65, that might just be the low for the year.  Don't expect to see limbo kitty again until prices fall to within a dime of that price.
The corner station was at $2.75 yesterday after passing through $2.77 on its way down.  That may not be a four-year low for the neighborhood, but it is the lowest the corner station has been since the beginning of this blog.  It's also within a dime of the low price of $2.65, so limbo kitty has returned.

Prices are likely to go even lower.  Follow over the jump to read why, as well as how this price drop is setting up the trigger for the next recession.

Nablopomo for December: Joy

December's NaBloPoMo Theme: JOY!

From the email:
Soft fleece pullovers. Cinnamon tea. Reading while curled up on the sofa under a blanket. Snow days. These are a few of my favourite things. What are yours?

Because that's sort of the point of this month: to figure out what makes us joyous. To write out all the things that we know make us happy (as well as thinking up a few things we can do to make other people happy) and carry that list with us into the new year. After all, if you know that chocolate, writing, and trips to the beach make you happy, why wouldn't you schedule those things in for 2015?

Because here's the thing: while we want to be happier, our personal happiness usually gets pushed to the back burner. We make sure we take care of everything and everyone else and then we work to make ourselves happy. But this NaBloPoMo, we're going to make sure that you rethink that plan and start scheduling in joy time so you can do the things that make you happy and kick off 2015 right.
You can read more about the new NaBloPoMo theme on our opening post.
That opening paragraph makes me want to embed "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.  I'll refrain.

Follow over the jump for more.