Archive for March, 2011

THE MISSING ROBOTS OF FUKUSHIMA (ADDENDUM)

Posted by on Tuesday, 29 March, 2011

The calvary are coming! (About time!)


THE MISSING ROBOTS OF FUKUSHIMA DAIISHI

Posted by on Monday, 28 March, 2011

TOO TOXIC FOR THIS ONE

Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Living hell for workers. Gamma rays galore.

Frail human bodies are battling to tame the damaged (and lethal) nuclear power plants. MRS ScienceAintSoBad would NEVER let ME do such a thing. (“Forget it, hero boy.”)

It’s inspiring. It’s amazing. It’s just.. the only word that comes to mind is..

ROBOTS! Where are the GOSH DARN robots??? This is Japan? This is Sony? This is Toyota? What’s the deal? Where are your tractor tread Nuke-agons?

BrianVastag (Washington Post) explains something that’s been bothering me throughout this crazy (and very sad) crisis. The robotics industry of Japan just never focused on high hazard applications. In retrospect? Yea-ah. It woulda been handy.

In Japan, there are elegant, versatile, humanoid robots around practically every corner but throw a few rads at one and that’s it for the warranty.

Fine.

Maybe the domestic robotic industry didn’t have the foresight to prepare for a thousand year meltdown, but why not utilize specialized robots from other friendly (heck – even hostile) countries?

Vastag says there are a few such devices on premises; it’s not clear what they’re doing though. If anything.

(See why I’m confused?)

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RADIATION’S GOOD FOR YOU?

Posted by on Monday, 21 March, 2011

A LEAP INTO SCIENCE

ANN COULTER EFFECT

Conservative author Ann Coulter read an article ( Science Section of the New York Times) which, she says, shows how a certain  amount of nuclear radiation’s okay. Healthy, even.  She said most physicists are on board with this.

Which they’re not.

Coulter’s confusion (?)  isn’t hard to understand. Science is a slippery thing.

In an interview with Bill O’reilly, Ms Coulter says “It’s not me I’m citing, it’s a stunning number of physicists”. She said that there’s science going WAY back about how low doses of radiation may be a good thing.

What IS she talking about?

HORMESIS

Ms Coulter is referring to a “scientific” idea known as hormesis. It is the brainchild of  Dr. Abraham Lessismore (Montgomery Junior College) who tried to poison some  geese which were despoiling his dock. Couldn’t get rid of them. Tried everything. Finally decided it was time to stop foolin’ around.

Lessismore, a graduate student in 1998, couldn’t afford the recommended 10 bags  of  Gretchen’s Goose Killer so he only bought one . “I figured it might not kill ALL a those sonna bitches but even two or three would make me happy.”

Lessismore spread the Goose Killer stuff  and watched the geese peck at it while he crouched behind his fake coyote to enjoy the dying paroxysms of these horrible creatures.

When they had finished eating the Goose Killer, they stood around. Lessismore, thought the fat one looked bad.

It wobbled.

Then it turned turned toward him, locked eyes,  and pooped.

Large one.

It  fluffed its wings, and waddled away.

After some time, it occurred to Lessismore that the poison hadn’t harmed the geese at all. If anything, the flock appeared sturdier than before. They had  more energy. The one with the growth on its neck? Was he imagining it? Each day, the growth appeared smaller. Eventually, the growth disappeared and that goose turned up leading a group of new hatchlings.

Undaunted by his failure to roust the geese, Dr. L turned to the scientific implications of what he had just witnessed. Giving the geese a reduced dose of a toxin didn’t result in reduced casualties and, instead, seemed to have some kind of curative effect. This, it seemed to Lessismore, could be a new scientific principle. Thus was born the idea of “Hormesis”.

(If you don’t believe my goose story, here’s another version of the thing.)

Seriously?

Are things that are bad  in large doses, good  in small doses? Sure. That’s why medicines have labels. A truck full of aspirin would probably give you a REAL headache, wouldn’t it?

Researchers such as Edward Calabrese   believe toxins in low doses stimulate some kind of protective reaction without doing real damage. The problem? The evidence is weak and confusing which isn’t surprising. There’s always a “signal to noise” issue when you’re measuring something very small.

And some of the researchers may be a little  “intense”. One wore a radioactive vest around for its health benefits . Enthusiasm amok.

Here’s the deal. There IS a lot of info about hormesis. If you google it, you get the impression that hormesis is the real deal.  In fact (and strangely) you don’t find much serious criticism. Not in the first 25 hits, anyway.  So I don’t blame Ann Coulter.

Not really.

Unfortunately, Googling isn’t always the best way to settle a scientific question. Sometimes you just need someone you trust and, yes, I do hope MISTER ScienceAintSoBad’s on your list.

The  basis for hormesis is pretty sketchy. Even if it is, ultimately, confirmed, it will only apply to some stuff.

What about radiation?

Let me put it this way, most physicist do NOT walk around wearing radioactive vests.

Trust me on that.


HOW TO SURVIVE AN EARTHQUAKE

Posted by on Monday, 14 March, 2011

WHAT THE HECK? IS THIS THING BROKEN?

QUAKES, TSUNAMIS, POWER PLANTS

Yesterday an earthquake and a tsunami hit Japan.  The earthquake (magnitude 9.0) was a THOUSAND times more powerful than the one that killed 2 percent of the population of Haiti.

And  Haiti didn’t have tsunamis. Or exploding  nuclear power stations which are thought to be melting down.

As I’m writing , they’re still searching for victims so the number of injuries and deaths is still growing. The excellent planning that the Japanese do for such disasters should help. If the sympathetic hearts of others makes any difference, that’ll help too.

SCIENCE ISN’T AN EXACT SCIENCE

Probably yer thinking “What’s WRONG with those guys? If they can make something as good as a Toyota, why can’t their power plants stand being bounced around ?”

Not fair.

I especially didn’t like that little Toyota dig, but I’ll let it pass.

Here’s the thing. Engineers  don’t know fer sure the worst disaster that’ll hit their projects, do they?  So how does an engineer know how strong to make a bridge. Or a house? Or a nuclear power plant? How does he.she know what size earthquakes, winds,  waves, and so on, a power plant will have to deal with in its lifetime? This, after all, is the “loading” to which it must be designed.

You’re not gonna like this, but it’s  a game of chance.

A building, a bridge, an airplane, is designed to handle everything that gets thrown at it.

Almost.

Course, no matter how tough you make the design, there’s always something worse. A 10 ton meteor will NOT bounce off of yer roof and leave it undented. Sorry to say. Honestly? Your roof wasn’t even designed for 14 feet of snow. If you and your house live long enough, you will GET 14 feet of snow. It seemed like we got that much in Boston this winter. Or, if you don’t live where it snows, your house, for sure,  isn’t designed for a category 7 hurricane.

Always something!

Engineers try to anticipate everything that’s likely to happen. Then they throw in a little extra. But what about spectacularly awful things that only happen every 100 years? Or every 1000 years? How unlikely and how huge an event should you build for?

Magnitude 9.0 earthquake don’t occur in/near Japan very often – certainly not accompanied by a massive tsunami.   Very rare. So if you DO beef up your power plant design  for these conditions which include a 30 foot tsunami, what about the possibility of a 35 footer?

See what I mean? You gotta stop SOMEWHERE or you’ll NEVER get a mortgage on that overbuilt monstrosity.

It’s called engineering. Balancing practicality against perfection.

WAS IT A SCREW UP?

I’ll get back to you on that. If the designers simply failed to take tsunamis into account, you bet it was. If they designed for big, bigger, and biggerer but this was biggereryet, it’s just one of those things.

WHY USE URANIUM BASED NUCLEAR POWER?

Is there a way to make nuclear power plants that can’t melt down? Of course.

BACK TO EARTHQUAKES

Now it so happens that I have a lot to say about earthquakes. Because I definitely have an app for THAT. Our product, resQvox ( US Patent 7,839,290) will save your butt next time YOU’RE in one. We’re just in the beginning stages of looking for a licensee (interested?).

Here’s how it works.

You find yourself trapped in the rubble of a collapsed structure, right?

Talk about sucky! The first 24 hours you’re down there are the critical “Golden Hours”. After that first day, your chances of getting out alive get so poor that if they DO happen to drag you out of there with a heartbeat they will describe it as a “miracle”.

Maybe it is.

Anyway, here’s the catch. In most places where there’s an earthquake, it takes LONGER than 24 hours for  the pros to show up. They have to get notified, grab their equipment, search dogs, supplies, and whatnot, and get transport to the disaster site. While this happens, you’re down there under a filing cabinet getting weaker and weaker and weaker.

What to do?

That’s where resQvox comes in. It’s aimed at attracting the attention of the “locals” – the “guys in the neighborhood” – who’re running around trying to dig people out with anything at hand – garden spades, rakes, even bare hands. They don’t have infrared detectors or search dogs. Just their eyes and ears.

Like smoke detectors, resQvox locators are small and inexpensive and are positioned in key spots around a building. Its  sensors tell it if a building collapses (so do yours, but that’s another story) and it uses its speech capabilities to chat up survivors, reassuring, describing survival techniques, and collecting info on their condition. Then, no matter what shape they’re in (maybe drifting  in and out of consciousness or sleep), resQvox uses its “sonic beacon” to draw rescuers to the location  and to help  “triage” based on the condition of the survivors and the number in each location.

Here’s how it works . (You can contact us at scienceaintsobad@gmail.com).

SceinceAintSoBadRating = 10 (I’m a little prejudiced).

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Credits: Top photo of the earth (modified by MISTER ScienceAintSoBad) is from NASA. Cartoons’n such are my own handiwork.