“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Magnets aren’t miracles, but neither are they a phenomenon that physicists completely understand. Particularly big magnets, like the sun. Until recently, the annals of research failed to completely explain how massive currents blooming on the sun’s surface burst into solar flares, releasing incredible volumes of energy in short time frames.
Peter Sweet was vexed by this problem when, in 1956, the English physicist traveled to Stockholm for a meeting of the International Astronomical Union. He presented a partial solution: When two magnetic fields meet, a current sheet forms between them, and plasma (fiery blobs of energy) erupts at the seam. An American physicist named Eugene Parker saw Sweet’s presentation, and worked out the math on his flight back to the states. For fifty years, their Sweet-Parker model has been crucial for explaining not just solar flares, but other large-scale magnetic activity, like Earth’s aurora.
However, Sweet-Parker is too slow. Under that model, solar flares would take weeks to burst. “Imagine you have many persons in a room, but just one door to exit,” says Luca Comisso, a heliophysicist—sun scientist—at Princeton University. “The rate at which they can leave is fixed, so it takes a long time for them all to leave.” But solar flares discharge their energy in minutes. The problem is Sweet-Parker assumes magnetic fields remain stable when they meet. Like sophisticated guests at a society ball, the accumulated quanta of energy would exit the current sheet in orderly fashion.
IN ONE CORNER of John Knoll’s office at Lucasfilm stand three racks of imposing black computer servers. The sleek 6-foot-tall towers, complete with mechanical switches and fans, flash blue LEDs. Each bears the insignia of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars and a name—Death Star 748, Death Star 749. Imperial computers, these are.
As impressive and menacing as the machines appear, they aren’t real. They’re just faceplates wired with Arduino controllers to make the lights blink and flutter like actual computers. They are, in other words, visual effects—and a look into the mind of Knoll, the 54-year-old chief creative officer of Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm’s famed VFX arm.
A museum’s worth of movie props and models decorate Lucasfilm’s labyrinthine halls—the flotsam of Star Wars, Star Trek, E.T. … a half century of iconic cinema. But Knoll’s servers (or, rather, faceplates) aren’t from a movie. They’re what made the movies. They come from the machines that spent roughly 13,000 hours rendering digital effects for the three Star Wars prequels, on which Knoll was a lead effects supervisor. The march of Moore’s law turned the server farm that created those movies into scrap. Or, for Knoll, a project.
Jill Stein calls for recount in order to verify US election result
More election security experts have joined Jill Stein’s campaign to review the presidential vote in battleground states won by Donald Trump, as she sues Wisconsin to secure a full recount by hand of all its 3m ballots.
Half a dozen academics and other specialists on Monday submitted new testimony supporting a lawsuit from Stein against Wisconsin authorities, in which she asked a court to prevent county officials from carrying out their recounts by machine.
Stein argued that Wisconsin’s plan to allow automatic recounting “risks tainting the recount process” because the electronic scanning equipment involved may incorrectly tally the results and could have been attacked by foreign hackers.
“There is a substantial possibility that recounting the ballots by hand will produce a more correct result and change the outcome of the election,” Stein argued in the lawsuit in Dane County circuit court. A copy was obtained by the Guardian.
Have you ever looked up at a glowing city skyline and wondered, even though it’s pretty and all, why so many offices stay lit up all night long?
It’s hardly an idle question. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, commercial buildings account for nearly a fifth of America’s energy use. A sizable portion of that energy—up to 43 percent for office buildings—goes toward lighting. That generates a collective bill of upward of $27.3 billion a year. In 2015, commercial structures were responsible for sucking up 258 billion kilowatt-hours for lighting alone, creating the same planet-warming emissions as nearly 40 million cars.
The environmental concerns go beyond wasted energy: The glow is also not good for nocturnal critters. Over the past 50 years, cities have increased in brightness by an estimated 5 percent every year, drawing in rising numbers of night-migrating birds, disorienting them, and causing them to collide with buildings or circle to the point of exhaustion. A 2014 study estimated that as many as 1 billion birds die each year after hitting buildings. Artificial light can also prevent sea turtle hatchlings from finding their way to the surf line, and make it harder for prey animals to escape their predators, throwing off entire ecosystems. It can cause trees to bud early, leaving them more susceptible to frost damage. Yet “human beings imagine light as a really positive thing,” says Christopher Kyba, a physicist who studies light pollution at the German Research Centre for Geosciences. “It’s hard to imagine that it has any negative impacts.”
Federal and state governments offer tax breaks to some building owners who reduce their energy use, so flipping the switch off at night seems like a no-brainer. But it’s not that easy, says Luigi Polese, an engineer who works on energy at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Few office workers take it upon themselves to turn off the lights when they leave—and even in buildings that have light and motion sensors, the technology is notoriously wonky: They can turn off the lights if someone is standing still or working at a computer, so office managers often override the sensors. What’s more, some businesses intentionally leave lights on for security purposes (though the jury is out on whether this actually reduces crime). Cleaning crews remain in buildings well into the night, and more and more people are working nontraditional hours. Coordinating all those people is complicated, says Polese. “People don’t pay much attention to the fact that leaving lights on is wasting energy.”
Embargoes allow journals, universities, nonprofits, and corporations to decide what’s important — and when. That should be up to journalists.
A lot of the power of embargoes would go away if journalists stopped believing they had to publish a story or post a blog the minute a new study came out. Annette Elizabeth Allen
This Thursday, dozens of news outlets will publish stories on the same new study in the journal Science. On Friday, many of those same news outlets will all report on a study in the medical journal the Lancet. These newspapers and magazines will largely talk to the same sources, and many of their stories will be nearly identical.
The reason for this synchrony is embargoes — agreements between reporters and sources that the former can have access to information from the latter, but not publish anything until a time the source has determined in advance. Nearly all of the major scientific journals use them and send the studies out to journalists five or so days before they lift.
Embargoes have become the focus of attention in recent months because one of the main clearinghouses for them, EurekAlert, was hacked — and because of some fairly shocking revelations about how the US Food and Drug Administration has used them to manipulate journalists.
As part ofa scheme called a “close-hold embargo,” federal agencies offer a small group of reporters early access to information, but only if they agree not to try to obtain outside comment before the embargo lifts. That effectively turns journalists who want to publish the minute the embargo lifts into stenographers, printing whatever the agency wants (not much different from relying solely on a press release).