Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them – The New Yorker

Astronomers have discovered gravitational waves, and in the process opened up a brand new realm of astronomy. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

The LIGO scientists have extracted an astonishing amount from the signal, including the masses of the black holes that produced it, their orbital speed, and the precise moment at which their surfaces touched. They are substantially heavier than expected, a surprise that, if confirmed by future observations, may help to explain how the mysterious supermassive black holes at the heart of many galaxies are formed. The team has also been able to quantify what is known as the ringdown—the three bursts of energy that the new, larger black hole gave off as it became spherical. “Seeing the ringdown is spectacular,” Levin said. It offers confirmation of one of relativity theory’s most important predictions about black holes—namely, that they radiate away imperfections in the form of gravitational waves after they coalesce.

Source: Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them – The New Yorker

The Bishop’s Boys

Just finished the excellent biography by Tom D. Crouch of the Wright Brothers called The Bishop’s Boys. A few things I came away with after reading this book:

  • The Wrights may not have been the first to take to the air, but they were indeed the first to do so in a controlled, purposeful manner. That’s the difference between a glider and an airplane.
  • They stood on the shoulders of giants. The Wrights gathered up all the research they could find on the efforts to build an airplane and added their own to it. Granted it was pretty important stuff, stability and all, but they didn’t start exactly from the ground-up as I always imagined they did.
  • Though they shared many of the same unique qualities that aided their invention, the airplane started as Wilbur’s project and Orville joined in later. Wilbur primarily worked out the engineering problems and Orville’s mechanical skills transformed them into a working machine. They worked jointly on both but these were the strengths of each.
  • The brothers considered themselves to be failures, lacking ambition in life, before they were inspired to build the airplane.
  • Science said an airplane couldn’t be built. Engineering proved it could. According to the book, science couldn’t even explain how an airplane worked until a quarter-century after the first one took to the skies.
  • The Wrights were top-notch engineers. Smart, knowledgeable, intensely curious, and exceedingly careful. They really wanted to know everything that went into making an airplane fly. They didn’t take anyone’s word for anything. This is partially why they succeeded without killing themselves in the process, unlike so many of their contemporaries.
  • Once their airplane flew the Wrights became essentially arms dealers, selling it to the highest bidders among various governments. There isn’t much discussion about the moral repercussions of having their invention become a weapon of war. The Wrights seemed never to have a second thought about this, nor was there any apparent push to have it used primarily for peaceful purposes. The Wrights were too eager to cash in, in my view.
  • Orville Wright nearly died from typhoid fever in 1896, seven years before the first flight.
  • The Wright Brothers take to the air for the first time, Dec 17, 1903.

    The Wright Brothers take to the air for the first time, Dec 17, 1903.

  • Both brothers were high school dropouts.
  • Both were thoroughly unfazed by the rich and powerful. They were called on by kings and presidents and treated them the same as anyone else.
  • The Wrights never would’ve gotten off the ground if it were not for the selfless assistance of their unsung sister, Katherine. I suppose “The Wright Brothers and Sister” didn’t have the same ring to it.
  • For several years after their first flight, the world considered them frauds and liars. It was only several years later that the Wrights’ airplane was publicly demonstrated.
  • As Orville mused later in his life, he and Wilbur might never have created the airplane if so many circumstances hadn’t lined up precisely the way they did. The book is an entertaining account of how fate did line up.

    Fearing the radio

    Console radio

    Console radio

    News and Observer reporter John Murawski wrote today of a group of electricity customers who fear that the smart meter Duke Energy uses is poisoning them with radio-frequency (RF) radiation.

    Andrew McAfee of Raleigh submitted a 45-page filing, noting prominently: “Sent from a cabled computer with the WiFi turned off.”

    “Your body basically becomes an antenna,” he said from his landline phone last week. “I immediately feel a tingling, burning sensation on my scalp.”

    “These meters are designed to burst a radiation signal out a couple of miles,” McAfee said of smart meters. “Imagine every house in your neighborhood blipping out these things all day.”

    Apparently, people don’t understand that radiation of the RF variety is not the same as radiation of the nuclear variety. One is a known carcinogen. The other brings you Fox News (whether Fox News is a carcinogen is post for another day).

    Blaming RF (which I’ll call by their better-known name, radio) for something is akin to blaming sound: it all depends on what the sound or radio is. Listening to music with your ear placed on the grill of a 1000 watt audio amplifier will likely cause you injury, whereas the same music at a reasonable volume on your stereo at home can be safe and enjoyable.
    Contine reading

    Feeling the Yern: Why the Kids Are All Right About Bernie Sanders | Village Voice

    Great perspective of a young feminist who supports Bernie Sanders.

    There seems to be no shortage of bizarrely sexist assumptions as to why I, a Millennial feminist, am not voting for Hillary Clinton. But speaking as a Millennial feminist, let me assure you: None of them is accurate. Granted, the span of my political biography is only as long as it took Howard Dean to go from human rights crusader to insurance lobbyist. But the reason for my political disaffection is plain: I’ve spent my entire Millennial life watching the Democratic Party claw its way up the ass of corporate America. There’s no persuading me that the Democratic establishment — from where it sits now — has the capacity to represent me, or my values.

    Source: Feeling the Yern: Why the Kids Are All Right About Bernie Sanders | Village Voice

    “Intelligent people know that the empire is on the downhill”: A veteran CIA agent spills the goods on the Deep State and our foreign policy nightmares –

    I first heard Ray McGovern speak on a country road in the New England hills. This was courtesy of the admirably dedicated David Barsamian, who broadcast one of McGovern’s talks on Alternative Radio in late-2013. Reception up here being spotty, I pulled over and sat watching the autumn clouds drift by for the full hour McGovern stood at the podium of a Methodist church in Seattle. I was rapt.

    What a lost pleasure it is in our indispensable nation to be in the presence of someone who thinks, acts and speaks out of conscience and conviction. Even better, these were precisely McGovern’s topics that day three years back: The necessity of careful thought, of honoring one’s inner voice, of acting out of an idea of what is right without regard to success or failure, the win-or-lose of life. One way or another, these themes run through everything he has to say, I have since discovered. At an inner-city church in Washington, McGovern teaches a course he calls “The Morality of Whistleblowing.”

    Source: “Intelligent people know that the empire is on the downhill”: A veteran CIA agent spills the goods on the Deep State and our foreign policy nightmares –

    After the Black Hawks Arrived: In Somalia, a History of US Meddling Continues

    An interesting look at Somalia’s recent past and current outlook.

    I was a shivering in bed on my first night in Mogadishu. At 3:30 am, I killed the air conditioner. Moments later, the room felt stuffier than a London subway. I got up and paced around, wondering if it was safe to keep the balcony door open.

    A few months back, al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda faction, had stormed Jazeera Palace Hotel, where I was currently staying, and sprayed a group of Chinese diplomats with lead. Now the building was secured by a street blockade, a double-gated check-in, blastproof walls, two dozen armed men and Abdullah, the small, wiry gentleman with an AK-47 outside my door.

    I took a peek into the corridor and caught Abdullah dozing off. He was balancing on a tiny wooden stool, with the rifle propped between his legs.

    Source: After the Black Hawks Arrived: In Somalia, a History of US Meddling Continues

    Enhancing Cognitive Function with Pregnenolone – Life Extension

    I’m participating in a VA research study on pregnenolone and its helpfulness in treating Gulf War Illness.

    As a result of normal aging, key hormone levels decline, resulting in a detrimental impact on memory and cognitive function. Scientists believe that the hormone pregnenolone has vast potential for maintaining healthy cognitive function and may be “the most potent memory enhancer yet reported.”

    Pregnenolone is the first hormone in the pathway that generates a host of key neurohormones in the brain that are known to affect nerve cell growth and to modulate various moods. Pregnenolone therefore has a dominant effect in a wide range of nervous system functions. This is borne out in research that has demonstrated pregnenolone’s ability to reduce the risk of dementia and improve memory, while also alleviating anxiety and fighting depression. Increasing cognitive function is a key goal for any aging baby boomer.

    As natural levels of pregnenolone fall, ensuring optimal levels may represent a crucial cornerstone to every adult’s cognitive wellness program.

    Source: Enhancing Cognitive Function with Pregnenolone – Life Extension