Saturday, August 29, 2015

                     POWERS  OF  TWO

The comments at this blogs idiotarian namesake are a constant reminder of late great AI icon John McCarthy who observed:
"Those who refuse to do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense." 
Sadly, this applies equally to zealots pro and con in most matters environmental- as surely as half the electorate have two digit IQ's, the majority of  Democrats and Republicans are mystified by numbers larger than their digit count.  

Aspirant PBS producers may script films entitled 'Powers of Ten", but know from bitter experience that the question of American numeracy is better addressed by "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?"   Public television should instead focus the unreasonable power of Sesame Street mathematics  on the looming radioactive apocalypse,  using powers of the largest number generally seen in political advertising: 2.

While the very phrase " order of magnitude" puts ubergeeks to sleep, talking powers of two may,  half the time,  leave a quarter of the audience awake for eight seconds. Mention  half-lives, and that fraction falls by a factor of  four times four or more, raising the sixty-four dollar question of why environmental activists are not terrified  of all thecarbon 14 atoms in sustainable fuels ?

If , as is a known fact,  one atom of plutonium can kill you and radium is even worse, imagine how unimaginably lethal a radioisotope with a half life of just 5,000 years must be ! 

Thank god that, unlike nuclear bomb and reactor radwaste,  nature has given fossil fuels millions and billions of years to cool off ! Thanks to the passage of time, coal, oil, and gas have seen their once lethal carbon 14 decay away,  the numbers of life threatening 14C nuclei cut in two like clockwork every 5,730 years, so that after a mere 114 millennia, scarce one atom in  a million remains.

But wait a minute: as surely as climate change is caused by cosmic rays , the pesky things are constantly creating Carbon -14 atoms in the atmosphere, so that land sea and air , the Earth today contains some 50 tons of the stuff. Taking calculator in hand ( who the hell knows how to divide by 14 ?) and Googling Avagadro's Number, one soon discerns that billions of trillions of trillions of the death-dealing atoms are runing amok in the environment.

While all Fox viewers realize CO2 is plant food , neither plants nor the peple who eat them seem aware of the danger carbon 14 poses, it is clear that a lot of vegetarians are going to die, but what about the rest of us? 

Who will save carnivores from microagression by diminutive but irate carbon 14 atoms when  in the name of sustainability, carbohydrates get turned into gasohol, spewing 14 C into the very air  breathed by chickens, cows, ducks, Miss Piggy and Kermit himself- the whole Green food chain is detectably awash in radioactivity.

But wait a minute- if carbon 14 atoms are  dying like flies, surely  the day must come when the last nucleus standing croaks? Back to the calculator: if only one in a million makes it to the ripe old age of 114,000 years , and one in two million to 228,000, how long will it take to get to the end of the line? 

As twenty powers of two equal six powers of ten,  a scant hundred powers of two should put paid to the problem-  just sit back and wait for half a million years and the problem will take care of itself: not one in 1,267,650,600,228, 229,401,496,703,205,376  carbon 14 atoms will remain !

All antinuclear activists need do to survive the radioactive biofuel apocalypse is retreat to their population bomb shelters , and instruct their posterity to spend the next twenty thousand generations replenishing their vital bodily fluids with vegetables raised in greenhouses fed CO2 from pure fossil  fuels.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Heartland Watermelons Flee Vegan Werewolf Apocalypse

The Heartland Institute faces a mass resignation of its stalwarts in sultry Battle Ground, Indiana, where denial of climate change induced animal  behavior  has  ceased  in the  wake of  bizarre changes in the eating habits of the area's newly re-introduced Gray Wolf population.

Deprived of their customary diet of climate scientists, passenger pigeons and Underground Railroad refugees driven across Ohio River ice floes by whip-wielding slave traffickers,  the ferocious former carnivores have become militant vegans, and taken to savaging  anything  green on the outside, and red on the inside.

Security forces at The Guardian and The Nation Institute have been alerted to this alarming development, and The Southern Poverty Law Center is mounting an investigative fund drive. 

Sporty Daily Telegraph readers have reportedly petitioned the Quorn to make James Delingpole Master of Wolfhounds, and dispatch him with a twenty couple pack to deal with the Battle Ground horror en route to his next Heartland speech in Las Vegas.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Hyperbolic as the President's claim to see and feel the half degree of  warming the globe has experienced in his lifetime may be,  he may indeed be able to taste it. 

A generation ago, the problem of alcohol in wine was largely one of  grapes insufficiently ripe, and alcohol levels too low. Traditional regulations tied designations of wine quality to alcohol levels - to be a “reserve”, a Rioja had to have a higher level of alcohol than a mere crianza, and to be reckoned Superiore, a Valpolicella needed more alcohol than a local vino di tavola. 

Today , as  climate change driven degree-day and sunshine creep  pack more sugar into grapes the world over, vintners face the antithesis of their old complaint. Average alcohol in Napa Valley Cabernet used to be in the 12% range. Today it is well over 14%, creating a disconcerting 'tropical' style- the Fruit Bomb.
At the time of the first great  German vintage I enjoyed, climate rarely allowed grapes there to yield 11 % alcohol, and delicate Moselles ran as low as 7.5 %. Thanks to warmer average conditions, most of the Riesling consumed in Germany today runs closer to 13%.  Meanwhile back in coastal California, Pinot Noir is beginning to present too much alcohol to technically qualify as table wine. Some I've just cellared makes ideal summer drinking because at 14.5%  it takes a hefty ice cube to bring a glass down to normal Burgundian strength !

The International Wine Review  recently examined :
the strategies and techniques used by winemakers in the vineyard and the winery to reduce excessive alcohol levels in wine. In excess, alcohol destroys the more delicate aromas and flavors in wine and undermines elegance and balance.
Today’s attempts to reduce alcohol in wine, and the controversy around some of the techniques, should be seen in context. Winemakers have long manipulated alcohol levels to achieve a particular, consistent style. Chaptalization—adding sugar to wine to increase alcohol levels—has been employed in Europe for centuries, resulting at times in violent protests1. Winemakers may also add alcohol to yield a strong, age-worthy wine. Port producers, for example, fortify red wine with brandy to raise alcohol, retain residual sugar, and yield a robust, long-lived wine. Conversely, Champagne producers purposely pick grapes with lower sugar (and potential alcohol) so that when the wine produced from them is put through secondary fermentation in the bottle, the increase in alcohol will not be so high as to make an inelegant, unbalanced sparkling wine. 

Reducing Alcohol Levels

Today’s winemaking toolkit allows a producer to control alcohol by using traditional means such as picking the grapes earlier with lower sugar levels or blending less strong wines with richer ones, or by employing highly technical and sophisticated means such as reverse osmosis. 

In the Vineyard 

Spinning Cone ColumnSpinning Cone Column
To control excessive alcohol potential in warmer areas and with global warming issues, alcohol management begins in the vineyard. Leaving a larger crop on the vine can slow down ripening, thus producing lower sugar in the grapes. Or, as has been shown at some properties in Napa [Dominus comes to mind], by decreasing the height of the canopy (and therefore fewer leaves), potential alcohol level was reduced by up to .75% in the wine. Viticultural techniques to slow vines down such as less vigorous rootstocks, later ripening clones, or a move to cooler areas, are key propositions for managing alcohol in today’s climate.

In the Winery 

Winemakers also have options for reducing alcohol in the winery. The simplest, if illegal in some places (not in California), is to dilute the must with water (Jesus juice). This works of course, but it also dilutes fruit extract and changes the acid balance in the wine. Blending less alcoholic wine into one more so is also a time-honored tradition; no need for fancy equipment! Blending is an extremely important tool, particularly for wineries that bottle large volume cuvĂ©es, where the penalty for high alcohol is very large. One example serves to demonstrate. Columbia Crest may bottle 200,000 cases of Grand Reserve Cabernet in a given vintage. If the wine’s blend remains below 14%, the approximate federal tax is about $578,000; if it is over 14% that figure rises to $780,000 plus!
Yet today’s wine market still has a “jones” for rich, fleshy, ripe and fruity wines. Getting those flavors in warmer areas like Napa Valley generally requires later harvesting, waiting for the phenolic maturation to catch up to more rapid sugar accumulation and high alcohols. In cooler places or vintages producers, as in Bordeaux for example, have a different problem; their wines need concentration due to lack of sufficient sugar/alcohol in the wine to balance. What’s a winemaker to do? Enter the machine--spinning cones, reverse osmosis, cross-flow filtration, and who knows what’s next! 
Spinning Cones. The Spinning Cone Column was developed in Australia by ConeTech. It consists of a vertical stainless steel cylinder that uses centrifugal force and vacuum to remove alcohol. Wine is fed into the top of the column and works its way down through a series of inverted cones, converting volatiles into a vapor stream, which is then condensed in a concentrated liquid form. This is followed by a second, higher temperature pass of the liquid through the cones to extract up to 1-2% alcohol. 
Reverse Osmosis. Reverse osmosis machines have been used in Bordeaux for at least four decades – larger chateaux like Leoville Las Cases used them for years to concentrate dilute musts by removing a percentage of water, concentrating the remaining juice. [However, with today’s warmer temperatures, the Chateau no longer needs to employ it.] Removing alcohol in a percentage of blend (often no more than 10% of the total amount of juice) and blending back in the low or no alcohol permeate to the whole, may be all that is necessary to make a balanced wine that is more expressive and harmonious.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


The principle that ' Physicists do not shoot other physicists ' evidently does  not  extend  to  some  Theologically Correct  archaeologists.

Last week ISIS beheaded  Khaled Asaad, Palmyra’s  retired chief of antiquities  for “working with idols” leaving his mangled body dangling from a Roman colonade for terrified residents to view.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency reports the 82-year-old archeologist was killed after refusing to divulge information on “specific archeological treasures” , and cites Syrian antiquities minister, Maamoun Abdulkarim as saying  that the militants crucified Asaad’s body “on colonnades in central Palmyra.”

A  Twitter photograph shows a body hanging on a street lamppost, with a sign  describing his killing as punishment for revering pagan artifacts, and the New York Times reported yesterday that
His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on,  
The author of dozens of scholarly articles on Palmyra, Asaad teamed with archaeologists from  Harvard's Peabody Museum and elsewhere to excavate the six millennium old city’s tombs and temples.

Viewing virtually all pre-Islamic artifacts and symbols as idolatrous, the wannabe Wahabi caliphate's sweeping anti-idolatry campaign has laid waste to architecture and artifacts from Babylonian Mesopotamia to the Gandharic Buddhist monuments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A glance in Bond Street gallery windows reveals that ISIS decalred distaste for human antiquity has not deterred it from financing its operations by the sale of museum-quality art.

A video released in February purports to show the group’s militants sledgehammering statues in the museum of Mosul, In March, bulldozers  flying its green and black banners leveled the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, and in June, two shrines dating to the first millennium BC were blown to smithereens in Palmyra.

The aspirant  caliphate has none the less spared the age-old  entrepot's answer to Rome's Colosseum. In July ISIS propagandists gathered in the amphitheatre to produce a video of child  soldiers of the regime systematically executing 25 Syrian soldiers in high gladiatorial style.

At this rate , I may never get to Baalbek- last time I got as far as Cyprus before the Alawi, Israelis, Hamas and Druze started shelling each other in earnest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015



Sunday, August 9, 2015



As Nasa's art director's didn't want the Apollo astronauts stumbling around in the dark,  all the manned moon missions landed on Luna in broad daylight,  which while grand for doing geology,  put the kibosh on photo opportunities involving the dark far side of the moon,  which, despite all  the mind-bending pictures of Earthrise, never found its way on to the back  cover of The Whole Earth Catalog, or into the popular imagination  

Which may have done space exploration a good turn. Much as it must cheer CBS execs to know their logo has been on view for 4.7 billion years,  the partial eclipse of the Earth is not the stuff creation myths are made of, witness this stunningly unanticipated image from the 4 megapixel Whole Earth camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory  parked by NASA  orbiting the Lagrangian gravity well a million miles out , between the earth and the sun:

Tip of the hat to Al Gore for sheparding the DISCO satellite's funding across the fiscal dance floor through the doldrums of the Space Age.