Assorted links

by on January 13, 2012 at 11:41 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Thomas Quasthoff to retire from singing.

2. High MP animals.

3. Why is Mexico losing its war on drugs?  And how well is Colombia doing these days?

4. The dangers of mental substitution, and if you wish to read optimism about the eurozone (pdf).

5. Superheroes and intergenerational mobility.

6. Update on claims about the new cold fusion; if nothing else this is worth reporting in expected value terms.

Nick Bruner January 13, 2012 at 11:59 am

The Jupiter’s Children comic project does sound intriguing, although I don’t know what to think of the mix of creators. Mark Millar is the Michael Bay of comics writers, specializing in the big and loud (in a genre where he has a lot of competition), while Frank Quitely is one of the most nuanced of artists in the superhero world, with an unparalleled ability to convey emotion through facial expressions and gestures.

Andrew' January 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Never, ever compare anyone to that no-talent ass-clown. He’s the reason I came up with the idea of consumer franchise equity. Similarly, he’s also a good example for the destruction of capital. If I were Brewster in Brewster’s Millions I could have made it a short story by hiring Michael Bay.

msgkings January 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Come again? I’m no fan of Michael Bay, but his movies by and large make oodles of profits. Destruction of capital?

CBBB January 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Destruction of Brain Cells

albert magnus January 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Here’s a link to a fuller description of Widom-Larsen theory:

http://www.newenergytimes.com/v2/news/2010/35/SR35913widomlarsen.shtml

There doesn’t seem to be anything terribly unscientific about it.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm

It’s interesting, Krivit seems hell-bent on discrediting Rossi but is in favor of W-L. It’s quite the scientific soap opera. Probably that would seem stranger to me were I not reading Quicksilver.

Robert Arbon January 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Some claims about Andrei Rossi (the inventor of the latest power plant running on cold fusion):

Rossi has been awfully secretive about the e-cat, and all of the “demonstrations” performed are awfully suspicious to me. What do I mean? Just a sampling:

Rossi has never published a peer-reviewed paper on how his device works, either theoretically or experimentally.
There are only very rough schematics publicly available, and they are all from the Journal of Nuclear Physics, which is Andrea Rossi’s own private journal. But doesn’t Journal of Nuclear Physics sound reputable? Not quite: it was founded just last year, in 2010. Don’t confuse it with the real journal, which is simply Nuclear Physics.
Andrea Rossi had a company in the 1980s, Petroldragon, which claimed to turn garbage into oil. Sound too-good-to-be-true? Andrea Rossi went to jail for this scam, although he gives his own version of the events.
The first reactor, scheduled to be built for Defkalion in Greece, was mysteriously cancelled at the last minute by Rossi. Although initially no explanation was given, he recently made this (perhaps foolhardy) statement:

Talking of Defkalion, Andrea Rossi says that he led the company a false trail. They took the bait, thinking that he would be selling small eCats in October. In doing so, it wrong-footed them and upset their plans to present a fake version of the same.
No one observing these tests has ever been allowed to “look inside the Turk,” so to speak. In other words, no one — other than Rossi himself — has any idea what the internal design and mechanism that result in the claimed nuclear fusion (and energy production) actually is.

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/11/cold_fusion_is_it_possible_is.php

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Rossi’s past is a bit checkered, but it should be understood that he is an entrepreneur, not a scientist.

And it’s true his demonstrations have not exactly met the gold standard of proof. Still, unless he’s quite a brilliant con artist, it’s hard to see how his machines can go on these long runs. Looking at them from a chemistry perspective, even assuming a large error in measurement, chemical reactions should not be able to power runs as long as those that have been observed.

That’s not to say, though, that Rossi necessarily has a correct theoretical basis for his machines.

JWatts January 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm

“Rossi’s past is a bit checkered, but it should be understood that he is an entrepreneur, not a scientist. ”

No, he’s an actual con artist. He was convicted and went to jail.

“Looking at them from a chemistry perspective, even assuming a large error in measurement, chemical reactions should not be able to power runs as long as those that have been observed.”

In pretty much every ‘demonstration’ he has left a power cord attached to the device(s). Which he declared was not actually powering it, but of which there was no independent observation from a non-biased source.

Cold fusion might exist. The odds that Andrea Rossi has discovered it seem remote. If his device showed a fraction of the results that he claims it did, he could publish the results and collect his Nobel prize. And since he could simultaneously patent the results he would also guarantee himself billions. Since he hasn’t he’s either a con artist or the stupidest genius alive.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Rossi_%28entrepreneur%29

He also invented a process to convert organic waste into oil for which, in 1978, he founded a company named Petroldragon. In the 1990s, following the collapse of the company, he was jailed for environmental crimes and tax fraud, serving time in prison. He was later acquitted.[3][4] He holds several patents in chemistry and physics.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

he could publish the results and collect his Nobel prize.

This reminds me too much of the similar claims re climate skeptics. Science doesn’t usually work that way. The guy who won the Nobel Prize this year for quasicrystals discovered them back in the 1980s and was laughed at for quite a while.

Which he declared was not actually powering it, but of which there was no independent observation from a non-biased source.

The tests weren’t great, but his customer in the Oct tests were presumably competent enough to discern the large difference between a 470kW generator running at power, and idling. I mean, it’s pretty damn obvious. So, to believe this, one must believe his “customer” was in cahoots. This is where the skepticism starts looking a bit like a conspiracy theory…

JWatts January 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

“Science doesn’t usually work that way.”

Ok, but even if he didn’t get a Nobel Prize next year he’d immediately be the most famed scientist on the planet. The man who provided the fix for Global Warming, gave us cheap energy and reduced or eliminated half of the energy extraction operation on the planet in one fail swoop. He’d be placed immediately on the same tie as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein or Newton in the minds of the general public.

“The tests weren’t great, but his customer in the Oct tests were presumably competent enough to discern the large difference between a 470kW generator running at power, and idling. I mean, it’s pretty damn obvious. So, to believe this, one must believe his “customer” was in cahoots. ”

Which customer? The one who’s identity is a secret. I’m sorry, but the claim that an unknown person from an unknown organization is an unbiased observer is not very credible.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Well, if he’s right, he will be famous and celebrated in a few years, and rich to boot.

He also almost certainly cannot patent his device in the U.S. Even relatively mainstream fusion approaches like Polywell have been rejected by the patent office because the patent reviewer doesn’t believe it can work. They would laugh at nickel-hydrogen fusion.

I think Rossi is correct when he says the real proof is commercial. In a year it should be pretty obvious whether Rossi’s customers are getting what they paid for.

It’s possible his first customer is fake, but it seems unlikely. We really only give the notion credence because the alternative (that Rossi has discovered the holy grail of energy production) seems even less likely. But I think when we talk about the possibility the customer is fake we have to remember how much more elaborate that makes the whole deception, should it turn out to be such.

Alan January 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Ask Rossi why the ratio of Cu-63 to Cu-65 is the same as natural copper. Ask him where the gamma rays went. Ask him to disassemble his machine and show the components. If you want to talk about expected value, the sooner this cold fusion scam artist is discredited, the better.

http://www.newenergytimes.com/v2/news/2010/35/SR35913widomlarsen.shtml is a load of claptrap, a compost heap of words that sound scientific to impress the scientifically illiterate.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Rossi has been asked, his dodge has been that for “confidentiality” reasons he cannot say. Foucardi apparently says the ratio should look more like 80/20 than 70/30. This is certainly one of the more glaring unanswered questions.

I asked Defkalion about the gamma rays a few weeks back, they say there is a multi-part reaction which is (of course) proprietary info. Based on the shielding in Foucardi/Rossi’s design, they certainly do not appear to expect anything more energetic than x-rays as final products.

Both of these make me think perhaps Rossi has a machine that does what he says it does, but perhaps not for the reasons he thinks.

Rahul January 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

This has all the makings of a gigantic hoax. What has the guy shown so far that would make the device credible? We have a ton of reasons why this shouldn’t work and none really that say this should!

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

It’s certainly possible, otoh the demonstrations are difficult to explain.

There’s an interesting divide — people on the chemistry side tend to believe Rossi, because they look at the masses and energies involved and conclude these energies cannot be produced chemically and would be difficult to fake. Nuclear physicists tend to roll their eyes because theory says the Coulomb barrier should be impossible to scale at low energies.

Cliff January 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm

The mechanical turk was pretty hard to explain as well

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm

“There’s a guy in the box” was pretty obvious and pretty much everyone suspected it. The only real trick was the optical illusion that you could see through the box.

Rahul January 14, 2012 at 1:38 am

I’m not even going into the physics and chemistry. I’m not convinced those reported energies are actually coming out of it; it’s mostly hearsay. Forget how it works, I just want a reliable, careful, black-box audit.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Ah, it appears Rossi claims this is because he enriches certain nickel isotopes. Still seems a bit convenient.

Matt January 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm

3. Because the gangsters are better armed and organized than the authorities.

FYI January 13, 2012 at 1:12 pm

We actually had US personnel (mostly CIA) in Colombia helping some of the operations. I think this has been much more limited in Mexico. Also, the proximity to the US helps the gangsters more than it helps the mexican military.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

3. Is anyone winning?

The Original D January 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Gangsters, alas.

Brian Moore January 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm

From the last paragraph of the Columbia/Mexico piece #3:

“Yet if there is a lesson to be learned, perhaps it is as much for the United States as it is for these theaters of the drug war: the violence won’t stop until the narcotics trade does. Short of that, all that Washington—or anyone—can hope for is damage control. Off the main streets of Bogota and Mexico City, the damage is real. And not even Uribe knows the cure.”

Everyone knows the cure; just no one wants to implement it. Sure, it wouldn’t be perfect, Mexico and Columbia would still have problems, and some of the cartels would move into other industries, people would still get killed, but this is as close to an easy win as we get in public policy. And it’s proof that our government has no real desire to fix these problems at all.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm

You’d think we’d have learned the obvious lesson from alcohol prohibition.

If the U.S. had to deal with all the fallout south of our border the drug war would have ended decades ago.

anonymous January 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

Just like it was naive to think that an all-out drug war could cure the problem, it is equally naive to think that legalization will cure it. The cartels are too adaptable, too powerful: they would make up for lost drug income by aggressively expanding into hitherto unaffected economic sectors and geographic regions. As they are in fact already doing.

Historically, the only proven “cure” against a Latin American guerrilla insurgency was guerra sucia: ignore human rights and just kill and disappear anyone you even remotely suspect of actively resisting. This is of course completely unacceptable — and yet this dirty war is already happening in many places. It’s just that it isn’t the government that’s waging it.

Technological innovation often has far-reaching long-term effects. The invention of gunpowder, for instance, was the death knell for feudalism, because castles and fortifications became vulnerable and useless. I can’t help but wonder if recent technological trends, in some as yet poorly understood way, spell the end of modern liberal democratic nation states.

In business, small startup companies often outperform stodgy old large companies. They are more agile and innovative, they are unencumbered by bureaucracy, they are quick to harness new technologies. Well, what if nation states are the sclerotic old companies and “Taliban and Zetas” are the aggressive startups challenging the legacy monopolies-on-use-of-force? Creative destruction takes on a new meaning.

Rahul January 14, 2012 at 1:42 am

What if there comes along a cheap, reliable pharmaceutical solution to drug addiction?

NAME REDACTED January 14, 2012 at 9:12 am

There did, it was called heroin.

TallDave January 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm

This has to be one of the weakest arguments against legalization — we are granting them a monopoly. If they did not have that monopoly, they would lose their rents and be no different than the other economic players.

christian January 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

#6 I still wonder, if and how it would be possible to power an aeroplane with a technology like that.

Jamie_NYC January 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

What the jet engine does, it adds head to the air, which then expends in the nozzle. The head does not have to come from combustion.

Jamie_NYC January 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm

That would be “heat”, not “head”.

Foster Boondoggle January 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

As some of the comment threads suggest, you can *never* argue the true believers out of some piece of horses**t like cold fusion. There’s always some story of a scientist who was *right*, dammit, but everyone laughed at him and then he showed them.

The slide at the link is full of prime quality bogosity. You can tell from the buzzphrases – like “mass renormalized polariton” – designed to bamboozle the hoi polloi.

Was this meant to be a joke? Or does TC’s phrase “expected value terms” imply that he’s using some version of Pascal’s wager?

JWatts January 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

“Was this meant to be a joke? Or does TC’s phrase “expected value terms” imply that he’s using some version of Pascal’s wager?”

This is probably completely wrong, but I read that to mean that while the chance of “cold fusion” panning out is very low, the payoff is very high. So it’s ‘expected value’ is at least nominal. Nominal to what? Maybe to the average thread on this blog at a guess.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm

In this case, it’s apparently NASA you’ll have to talk out of it.

There’s always some story of a scientist who was *right*, dammit, but everyone laughed at him and then he showed them.

Well, that’s actually how we got a lot of new science — plate tectonics, quasicrystals, angiogenesis being just a few of the better-known examples. Crichton gave some more examples in a great talk on this at Caltech: http://s8int.com/crichton.html

Cold fusion may not pan out, and skepticism is certainly warranted, but there’s a fairly significant pile of evidence suggesting something may be going on, irrespective of the merits of the theories being thrown around to explain the results. Here’s a pretty good recap of the experiments to date: http://www.22passi.it/downloads/WSEC2012%20Present.pdf

Foster Boondoggle January 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm

NASA’s website has a couple of references to tests of LENR that they’ve supported. But there’s nothing to indicate that anyone except maybe some program manager is persuaded. Here’s the opening sentence from a summary of the LENR meeting last fall: “According to a slide presentation given by NASA engineer Michael A. Nelson, which New Energy Times obtained under a FOIA request, “Energy Catalyzer” inventor Andrea Rossi failed to conclusively show that his device produced excess heat from a nuclear energy source.” [http://blog.newenergytimes.com/2011/11/10/nasa-engineer-explains-why-rossi-demos-failed/]

It’s extremely rare for an experiment to overturn strong theoretical considerations in an area as well-understood as nuclear physics. And 20+ years of experiments on “cold fusion” have repeatedly failed to provide a convincing experimental demonstration. As for quasicrystals, while the recent stories around the Nobel have played up the theoreticians’ skepticism at the time, I was in physics grad school then and I remember a fair bit of excitement and theoretical toying around to explain it. Penrose tiles were already known, so it didn’t seem particularly far-fetched.

JWatts – that’s what I meant by Pascal’s Wager. Except that for Pascal, the cost of belief was very close to zero, while for us it’s whatever NASA decides to spend on this.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm

But why does NASA suddenly produce a video suggesting LENR is going to change the world? It implies someone there believes. Maybe they’ve seen something to merit that belief..

Be careful when you quote Krivits, he has a very large axe to grind in this (and is himself a CF proponent, just of a different flavor). Read the source — Nelson doesn’t actually say Rossi failed, he just sets a higher bar (some would argue absurdly high) than Rossi has demonstrated publicly. The discussion at Vortex gave short shrift to the notion of chemical trickery at the length of the runs observed, and they did a better job of showing their work than Nelson.

Many aspects of nuclear physics are supported by large numbers of observations, but many aspects of plasma physics and fusion physics are rather poorly understood and have tended to surprise us over the past few decades. And there are of course considerable differences over how economical hot fusion might be achieved — tokamaks, field-reversed configurations (Paul Allen is backing these), Polywells, plasmoid focus, even mechanical compression are all taken seriously to varying degrees. While unlikely, it is possible there is some esoteric surface effect that overcomes the Coulomb barrier even without overturning any well-established physics. Obviously if LENR does work under certain conditions those conditions are exotic and difficult to replicate, but a href=”http://www.22passi.it/downloads/WSEC2012%20Present.pdf”>there are some experimental demonstrations.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm
JCE January 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm

We’re doing pretty badly thank you very much. The more drug producers and dealers we capture and/or kill, the more they pop up everywhere.
We win every battle, but we’re losing the war.

here’s some recent research done in colombia about the economics of the drug war http://ideas.repec.org/f/pme228.html

Todd January 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Too bad Thomas Quasthoff is retiring. He has such a rich, beautiful voice and I’m sure the classic music buffs will miss him! I know I will :-(

Orange14 January 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Given the disability he has had to overcome, it makes his career all the more amazing. One of the great singers of our time no question about it.

Claudia January 14, 2012 at 8:34 am

thanks for celebrating success against the odds (and beautiful music) in #1 before reminding us of the sad realities and suffering in #3

DK January 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Rossi does everything a man who actually holds a secret to infinite cheap energy would NOT do. If his claims were true, he would setting up power stations all over the world and be busy collecting billions in no time. Instead, he spends his time generating hype and conducting suspicious tests that culminate in one US$ million sale.

I’d be willing to literally bet my house that it’s a con.

TallDave January 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm

How would he set up these power stations all over the world if no one believes his method works? Someone has to buy them, you know.

I’ve seen the scammers — Sonship “free electricity”, BLP — and Rossi seems a bit different. Typically what the scammers do is ask for money up front and then never deliver. Rossi, otoh, does not get paid until his customers are satisfied. If it is a scam — and I’m still allowing it might be — it’s a very strange and elaborate one.

But I keep telling people, if you’re really sure try to get an Intrade established for Rossi’s failure. There are enough people that believe that you could probably bet your house, though you might have to give 10:1 odds.

JWatts January 14, 2012 at 1:01 am

Actually, when I was reading this story it made me think of InTrade. I’d like to bet against Rossi being successful. Alas, no current Trade exists for E-Cat.

Rahul January 14, 2012 at 1:46 am

Yep; I had the same thought. There’s a bet for cold-fusion but it’s doing terribly right now.

Floccina January 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm

+1

DK January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm

It is VERY EASY to make everyone believe that it works IF it really works: 1. Patent the technology properly, 2. disclose it, 3. conduct tests that are not looking like black box setups. Bingo. Humans want free energy very much and humans are not so stupid to refuse it. For the man who made perhaps the biggest invention in the history of human civilization, Rossi’s inability to accomplish these simple steps looks very damning of his claims.

TallDave January 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Well, again, it’s very difficult to patent ideas that don’t have a well-established scientific basis, and even if successful that tends to open up the possibility of copycats who make minor changes.

It makes as much or more sense to demonstrate the tech only to the satisfaction of people who are buying it, while maintaining trade secrets.

It’s possible Rossi’s wrong or a fraud, but his actions aren’t irrational enough to dismiss him on that basis.

DK January 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm

it’s very difficult to patent ideas that don’t have a well-established scientific basis,

Not true. Five patentability requirements in the USA:
1. Patentable Subject Matter (E-CAT: yes)
2. The Utility Requirement (yes)
3. The Novelty Requirement (yes)
4. The Nonobviousness Requirement (yes)
5. Adequate Description Requirement (no).

Adequate description requirement means a disclosure. I.e., that a person who knows what he is doing can make the subject of the invention. You can’t get public protection of something that public is unaware of. Theoretical understanding of the invention is not among patentability requirements.

TallDave January 16, 2012 at 10:44 am

In practice, you need a plausible theory of your device under #5, or it will be rejected. Bussard ran into this problem trying to patent Polywells, even though they are quite mainstream compared to LENR.

BLP also had this problem. They were initally granted a LENR patent (also for nickel-hydrogen fusion) but it was later withdrawn and was still being litigated last I checked.

Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) January 14, 2012 at 7:50 am

OK DK put your details in an email to me and we’ll see if you’re so cocky when we sort out the brass tacks.

Jamie_NYC January 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm

+1

anonymous... January 14, 2012 at 1:27 am

6. NASA does not have a great track record on investigating cold fusion. At the time of the original Pons-Fleischmann claim in 1989, newly retired NASA administrator James Fletcher expressed strong belief and support and was reportedly slated to lead the University of Utah effort to further develop the technology.

TallDave January 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm

OTOH it’s not certain the P&F results were wrong, as opposed to being unexpectedly difficult to replicate (P&F were undoubtedly wrong to publicize before they understood their experiment well enough for others to easily replicate). CF proponents today will tell you the problem was the replicators did not understand the need to load hydrogen.

Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) January 14, 2012 at 7:48 am

The E-CAT is much more robust than the shrill materialist scientific establishment cries circling the wagons to protect thermodynamics when the whole point of CERN is to tear apart the standard model. The sheep are comfortable when the shepherd plays with fire but not the plucky innovator.

Tick tock tick tock…..

Rahul January 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

I don’t care about the theory. Let’s just have some credible engineering company audit and verify the energy balance of the black box.

TallDave January 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Defkalion supposedly has something like that in the works. We shall see.

http://ecatnews.com/?p=1683

jkl January 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm

And how well is Colombia doing these days? far better than Venezuela

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