Charity ebook for AL tornado relief‏

In the wake of the destructive tornadoes which ripped through Alabama on April 27th, 2011, I am proud to be included in Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction, a charity anthology ebook. All profits will be donated to The American Red Cross to aid disaster relief efforts.

To purchase, please go to and click on the ebook cover art or any of the title links. This will take you through to the publisher and links to Amazon and Smashwords, where you may select your preferred e-format.

Keep in mind, none of us that have works published in this ebook will be getting a penny – it all goes to the Red Cross for disaster relief. And in this time of disastrous storms, both here and in other states, it is much needed. Help us make a significant contribution to the disaster relief efforts, and enjoy some good writing into the bargain.

And thank you. So very much.

-Stephanie Osborn

(This blog post also published at Stephanie Osborn’s Comet Tales blog,

Anti-Nuclear Fear Mongering at IEEE Spectrum

IEEE Spectrum is facilitating the blog of a global warming activist – William Sweet. Now Bill is anti-coal but is somewhat ambivalent about oil. He basically ignores oil, to trash coal. He supports nuclear, but in such a way that the arguments for it always look suspiciously weak compared to the arguments against it. He has bought into the BIER IV report, despite the fact that they had to add cardiovascular problems onto likely radiation effects…. Cardiovascular effects? Yes, the survivors of Nagasaki died from heart problems at a greater rate than the poverty stricken peasants of the previous decades… This was such obvious crap that they have neglected to present it at any professional forum.

This is a standard dose vs. Risk graph. “If R(d) represents the age-specific instantaneous risk at some dose d, then the excess relative risk at dose d is [R(d) − R(0)] / R(0) (which is necessarily zero when dose is zero).”

To explain: If 2 people in 100 get cancer, R(0) is 2. If the measured group at a specific dose has 3 people with cancer, then the (3-2)/2 = 0.5

The Real problem is that for dosees up to about 0.2 Sv, the 95% statistics have a cancer enhancement very close to 0. The real problem with this form a statistics is the uncertainty bars are trouble near zero. This isn’t in their favor.  Even at 0.5 Sv, an area with SEVERE acute effects, there is next to zero cancer or leukemia enhancement. As an example, the K-19 survivors didn’t die of cancer. Those that survived the traumatic acute damage, did not suffer any long term effects.

So, now Bill is trying to pin 20,000 deaths on Chernobyl and projects similar death rates for Fukushima. Way down at the bottom left of that graph, they are assuming a minor cancer enhancement for any exposure to radiation. In Russia, exposures of this level are common in the mudbaths taken as a restorative cure.  The fact is, when you are taking doses of less than 0.01 Sv (100 mSv) there is no measurable long term effect.

I don’t recommend doses above 20 mSv for any non-health purpose, but there is plenty of evidence from space travel of 40 – 100 mSv doses with no significant long term effects. Frankly, that Bill pushes a negative article in IEEE every month on such a bogus topic indicates that he is a fear monger.  I should give him a break for his 2006 book “Kicking the Carbon Habit: The Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy” but he really doesn’t make a case in that book for anything but higher carbon taxes. 

No, IEEE is letting itself be an AGW and Anti-Nuclear mouthpiece. It needs to get its act together.

K-19 the Widowmaker

K-19 The Widowmaker was probably the most boring movie that Harrison Ford ever made (60 on rotten tomatoes isn’t fatal). Ya know, if you want a cold-war, war movie, then the submarine corp is not where the excitement was. Movies like Red October are a lot more exciting (95 on rotten tomatoes), but are complete fiction.

The difference is, of course, that k-19 really happened. What happened? The Soviet Union decided that it needed to build a nuclear submarine which would carry a ballistic missile to American shores. The work was rushed and shoddy. The people who were in charge were immune to criticism, so they made decisions based on schedule and parts availability, not the time necessary to complete the job and what parts were necessary.

SO: The K-19 has a crappy reactor, not a modern (1960) design. They did have better designs, but not any available. It needed significantly more coolant to stay safe, it was not built into that design, so the NECESSARY backups were not installed on that submarine…because on the correct reactor they would have been secondary backups.

People died during construction. This isn’t usually a big thing in Russia. When you have drunks doing welding of giant steel plates, people die. When the workers are assigned a job based on which admiral was given command, not on previous work on submarines… significant work fatalities

They didn’t have a lot of necessary radiation gear placed on the K-19… they used chemical gear instead. A ridiculous exchange. They could have done as well with swimsuits.

The commander was a hard-ass Russian, he was a patriot who took orders, and didn’t run home to port at the first sign of trouble. A bit of a mistake that.


Well, the story isn’t completely over according to Google Earth. The ship has been decommissioned and is going to be a bar or motel for retired submariners in Moscow. The ship used to film the movie was sunk, raised, caught fire, and sank again. Looks like trouble followed it home.

The USSR did a lot of damage to the planet. By igniting a nuclear warhead under a US Cruiser and a NATO base, K-19 could have started WWIII. Looks like we lucked out on that one.

Salton Sea – An Engineering Failure

Engineers can confidently do the wrong things, sometimes. We have a good grasp of what we are doing, but we aren’t gods or psychics. We hope to predict the effects of what we do…but…

I have a bit of a problem with my professional society, IEEE. They apparently have become tools of the anti-nuclear lobby. They pick up a “big story” about how nuclear is a failure and doomed about once a month. You have to understand that there are people counting on “green” dollars that they don’t want the nuclear industry taking from them.  They also seem to have collected a bevy of anti-nuclear activists who parade EE credentials as “scientists” when they are anything but. The IEEE timeline

There are other nay sayers:

Why nuclear power will never supply the world’s energy needs 
Is a clear example of the “scaling failure” art form. An example: Building a car in your garage would cost years and tens of thousands of dollars…so the world could never have sufficient cars for the whole population, as each car would require 3 months and 20 thousand dollars, there just aren’t enough man-hours or dollars available to make it work. Clearly a false conclusion from an example.

Here he takes 2 outliers, Chernobyl and Fukushima, and makes the case that these show the inherent weakness in doing large scale nuclear power. Clearly there are problems to be solved, or which have been solved since Chernobyl was built.

Overall, big truth. No, I cannot guarantee that no one will ever lose their life to nuclear energy. I shouldn’t have to. Nobody claims coal is death-free, we have miner accidents on an annual basis. How many miners should die for coal? Over 200 years of digging coal, and we still kill people. Oil? My granddad worked oil and it killed by the thousands. If you count the idiot wars in middle eastern countries, it is even more deadly today. Solar, Wind? Great! I am happy to do my part to reduce my load on the grid…but it is just a tax on the extremely wealthy. Poor people in the US can’t afford solar, much less other countries. Yes, China manufactures 1/2 the solar panels in the world today…and sells most of them to the US and Europe…where people can afford such things. In China they use gas and oil.  Heck, I think it is still leaded gas.

Fear of radiation is misplaced. It is less harmful than you imagine. Oh, a power plant has plenty of ways to kill you, I wouldn’t go near one without a radiation moniter…but worrying over a few millirem of Cesium is crazy. You eat processed sugar, for goodness sake, it is significantly more harmful.

A Reality Test

It won’t be the first time, but facing reality is a rare event in physics. In the last century, very few results have had to actually be tested. Oh, the defenders of the atomic physics charts like to point to all the corroboration of the collider tests, but the numbers they predicted all had big constants, which were adjusted after the tests to make sure the results matched.

What is a real test? Ok, transmuting elements through exposure to neutrons. That proves the periodic chart! But there aren’t a lot of tests in nature for the physics predicted in the atom. One prediction involves microscopic black holes. These things could be as small as an atom, smaller even. The black-hole atom was believed to interact with the outside world in such a way that it “bled x-rays” finally dying in a flash of x-ray energy.  

If you can create microscopic black holes…then you should be able to see the x-rays. We don’t see them in the lab, so we aren’t creating black holes…or they aren’t dying. So far, the math still points to black holes of all sizes…so why aren’t we seeing little ones?  

Because they don’t evaporate. I love Stephen Hawking’s books, but his theory on evaporating Black Holes may be wrong. Sorry, but it happens to the best of em. (Which would be him.)

Ok, maybe they don’t exist. BUT, they are a primary candidate for Dark Matter. And, the math that points to large scale black holes also works for small scale black holes. (We can’t figure out how to make Medium sized black holes, but they should exist as well.)

Figure 1. IR view of a distant, active, galaxy. Lots of action at the core, where there is very likely a black hole.

Ok, So, there is a lot of evidence for BIG black holes, but no evidence for SMALL black holes. Either, again, they don’t exist, or they are hard to detect.

Figure 2. Plotting the path of stars at our Galaxies’ core, extremely strong evidence of a black hole at the center of the galaxy.

Massive, Hard to Detect…. could be Dark Matter.  However, not impossible to detect. 
New Paper making the rounds

Structure and Mass Absorption of Hypothetical Terrestrial Black Holes

Mini black holes that look like atoms could pass through Earth daily

Ok, First, mini-black holes could pass through the Earth with essentially no effect that we could measure. That sounds reasonable. Second, mini-black holes could bind atoms in the same way atoms bind electrons. That isn’t as reasonable, but … well … might work. I’ll have to read the paper to see the math.

Third, if matter is bound to black holes, then it should be stripped by passing through the Earth, and then the matter re-bound when in space. This stripping/binding process should release … a gamma ray? … which should be detectable. Interesting theory, and one which can be tested. Good luck.

Very likely the Large Hadron Collider is busy making TINY black holes. These would have next to no mass, or size for that matter. You could get shot with a near infinite number of them before they hit an atom, much less “took it out.” But the jetting (non-equal actions in polarized behavior, with significantly more North than South emissions) observed in the laboratory reminds me strongly of large black hole behavior, and is entirely unpredicted by Quark-Gluon plasma theories.

Figure 3. Giant jet emerging from M87, likely the tail of a Black Hole moving out of the galaxy.

I would hate to be proven wrong about Dark Matter. I don’t believe it exists, but mini-black holes may be a reasonable candidate. I’ll continue to “hate” on the whole concept and hope with religious fervor that String Theory will have a better answer. But that’s science…we really do get excited about our pet theories.


Quantum Calculations Can Make Atomic Clocks of the Future Far More Accurate

Lovely article in Wired, but the takeaway is simple. The current atomic clocks might lose a second every million years or so. Probably not for 10’s of millions. The new generation of atomic clocks won’t lose a second in the next 20 billion years. um… kay..  That was when I had my root canal  scheduled for, so I can be sure I won’t be more than ! 1 ! second late.  eh.  Is that overkill by anyone else’s definition?

This brings us to the Einstein proving experiment, Gravity Probe B. A lovely experiment to prove the Frame Dragging aspects of Relativity. Look, if you know what that is, they were working on measuring it. If you have no idea what it is… well … it was an experiment using 4 golf balls (ok, perfect quarts spheres), liquid nitrogen, and a really good clock. Oh, and I worked on it for a year when I was at NASA Marshal.

It had tons of funding issues, but one of the issues they don’t want to talk about is: Facilities on the ground are good enough to measure this without sending a satellite into orbit. Eh? Yeah,  you don’t really need a satellite for a lot of the work being done in space. Turns out that there is sufficient vibration and angle control (and accurate temperature measurement) that you can measure this in a laboratory. There are plenty of orbit problems that couldn’t be fixed, so they ended up having to solve a lot of major equations to dig out a very small result.  Partly, that result was calculated (and measured) on the ground, and that “signal” was used to remove a lot of noise.

Crap like this is a legacy of the very expensive ISS program. I love ISS, but thousands of NASA scientists attached themselves to it, and worked completely different projects. They designed a ton of great and worthless projects when there was money to burn. When the money got tight, well, some of them had bad priorities. They wanted their cool satellites.  Well, they have em…

As an ongoing example of this, NASA Goddard continues to launch a ton of Earth Monitoring Satellites. They frequently do some hand-waving to show that this is tons cheaper than sending people all over the globe with instruments. Cell phones and Weather stations have consistently proven this wrong. They just want their cool satellites. 

satellite.jpgAn Orbiting Carbon Observatory – a double boondoggle, as it measures an easily measured substance ($840 pen-sized probe) And it will be used to justify taxing gasoline, which will cost us more than the damn satellite.

Vaisala GM70 CARBOCAP® Hand-Held Carbon Dioxide Meter

Well, science trudges on, and we get better and better tools. Some of this is a waste of good money, some of this is necessary to making the next technological advance. Not like I can tell the difference from here, I thought the Internet was a cool way to pick up chicks! (In 1985) Now we know that it is … a really bad way to pick up chicks…  Technology is always going to surprise us.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday Fun Stuff

Ok, so what is with the world this year?

Mrs. Osborn being searched like a terrorist!

Tornadoes ripping up my town!

Dr. DNA teaching college! (oh wait, that has been going on longer than this year.)

Still, a terrible prophecy must be about to unfold, or I’m going to be funded for testing, or something equally portentous for world security. I’m retaliating from near certain peril by posting less than serious bits of fluff.

(Yesterday was Monte Python day, if you missed that then you have had your head in a can or something.)

“Just a bit more peril?”

Ok, this is very cute. Yes, I get the politics, but hey, its funny.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Is Dead, Vader Says


Figure 1. Thor Doing Intense

Go See Thor. Look, its a movie, so don’t expect Shakespear. Still, I thought character development was quite nice, especially on Loki, Heimdal, and Lady Sif. Action is well developed without question. The plot is moderately predictable, but it is fun watching them get from Point A to Point B. I love Lady Sif, if she will marry me my wife will sign the papers. (Of course, she wants Thor. Apparently he is “pretty.”) Thor is an Ass, the frost giants aren’t much of an enemy, and his warriors three are about as shallow as possible for characters with speaking parts. Overall, I didn’t feel like I wasted an hour. It has a similar feel to the Iron Man first film, a good bit better than IM 2. Captain America looks like it also will be worth watching.

What is different between this and the older superhero films?
 Look, nobody really bothered acting in Superman. I mean, the girls were there to speak lines, Supes was date candy, and there was a fistfight or two. The film basically sucked. Batman… look, I like Batman films, but they all basically sucked. There wasn’t 10 minutes of acting in 2 hours. Dark Knight was a bit better, but everybody knew it was Camp, and just didn’t turn on their “A game.”

Starting with Spiderman – some of these films have gotten serious. Sure, some of the actors are there for camp, and really don’t act worth a damn, but a lot of the actors bring their A game. Makes the film a lot more watchable. As an example, Anthony Hopkins has an A game which is a ton better than his Odin performance. But, a B game from AH is still quite good, and about par in this movie. Natalie Portman doesn’t have an A game, but her B game is fun. She can do intense well, which helped the serious scenes, but doesn’t have a lot of range well developed. Tom Hiddleston takes the weak-link part and makes it soar. Loki is amazing. I don’t want Loki as a villain, I want him as a hero…anti-hero… can he have his own film?

There, I performed my “movie review” function as promised. I’d review the only other movie I have seen in the last month, but it was the other Natalie Portman film “Your Highness” and I don’t write penis jokes. Oh wait, yes I do…

Figure 2. Jane Foster doing Intense

Your Highness is contains roughly 1 hour of penis jokes. There are approximately 30 minutes of girl’s boobs and Miss Portman’s butt. I liked it, but hey, I’m a guy, what else do you want?

Figure 3. Natalie Portman’s acting assets.

The Basics of Modern Transistors

This is a goofy video put out by Intel. It is very useful if you don’t know much about how Transistors work. I you do, well, not a lot of info. Still, the new TriGate chip is very interesting. Can’t wait to see how it reacts in a radiation environment. (cue evil laugh)

Airport Security – A True Story

I recently had occasion to “check out” the new airport security scanning techniques while the TSA checked me out. And in the process found myself embarrassed, humiliated, threatened, and my privacy invaded.

I was traveling home from Penguicon in Troy, MI when I encountered the new “nude” scanners in the Detroit Airport. Images posted at the scanners plainly depicted the full extent of the scanners’ capabilities: Unlike the television images, which were blocked out, it turns out, to MAINTAIN TELEVISION CENSOR STANDARDS, the scanner depicts EVERYTHING – buttocks, breasts, and genitals. The only thing it does not depict is the face of the “scannee.” My alternative was an invasive, full-body pat-down. When I protested that this was a gross invasion of privacy, I was told that I “would not be flying, then.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I had major surgery (as in removing a 25lb, 4-6L cyst from my abdomen) last August, and only a couple of months ago got the go-ahead to exercise at all, let alone fly. I have a full-abdominal incision scar that runs from my pubic bone up to only a couple of inches from my sternum. It is not pretty, and involves staple and large suture scars in addition to the incision scar. Because I could not use my abs or obliques for fully 6 months, and because the scarring is prone to forming keloids, I often wear a body wrap akin to the commercial “Spanx” products. This not only keeps the scar tissue relatively flat, it supports my back in its efforts to stabilize my torso. Had I not had this wrap, my back would have gone out months ago and I would be invalided. As it is, my back is chronically in pain.

But the wearing of this wrap also makes it difficult to keep my jeans up. My body is still changing shape as swelling, etc. decreases, and the wrap is made of slick lycra material. Belts are a necessity, but I usually wear woven cotton belts – which I did this day. Minimal bulk, minimal hardware.

So I stripped off jewelry, pocket contents, wristwatch, shoes, and cell phone, dumping them all into a tub with my carry-on. I stepped into the “nude” scanner (having been given no other choice to get home) and “assumed the position.” (Yes, the position for scanning is the same as the one assumed when being placed under arrest – spread-eagled, hands in the air.) The scan took place, I stepped out…

…And was promptly detained.

I had to take off my belt. Scanned down to skin, but they took objection to my belt. My COTTON belt. I explained that I had had surgery and needed it to keep from losing my jeans, but it didn’t matter. I was taken into a small room off the screening area, where two women in latex gloves stood and watched while I raised my shirt and removed my belt. One patted down the belt while another patted down my midsection. Finding nothing, of course.

THEN came the coup de grace.

“What’s this?” the woman patting me down asked, tugging at my wrap.

“My surgical wrap.”

“Does it come off? Is it down in your pants?”

“It comes off, but it goes down in my pants and it’s difficult to remove.”

“Let me see, please.”

I was forced to unfasten my jeans, dig the bottom of the wrap out, and raise it up, openly displaying my badly scarred abdomen TO PROVE I WAS TELLING THE TRUTH. There was no chance that such a form-fitting garment could be concealing anything, but my privacy was invaded just the same, to prove some sort of point which I couldn’t see.

Before I could get myself fully dressed again, the TSA agent who’d patted me down opened the door into the main area and walked out, calling back, “I have to go have the gloves checked. Keep her.”

Once I was covered, I was led back through the still-open door by the 2nd TSA agent into the main security screening area, where I was held – still without shoes, jewelry, cell, etc – until the first TSA agent could have her latex gloves screened for contraband chemicals.

Only when that was okayed was I allowed to complete dressing and leave for my concourse.

Never before have I been submitted to a body search DOWN TO THE SKIN by anyone who was not a doctor. And then, only with my consent. I find this to be a serious violation of my rights as an American and as a human being. As a scientist and former reserve police officer, I can say that this is not a reasonable, efficient method of security screening – and it is sliding down a steep, slippery slope toward the abrogation of our rights and freedoms.

(Also posted at the author’s home blog at