If it woes, it leads

We’re backing into the climate future/present with woes leading the way. It’s the perfect media framing and supports the status quo – yes everything is awful. We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas, let’s see how we can keep cheap gas going a little bit longer. It’s this way, in part, because ALL of the progress is boring. For instance, wide bandgap:

Silicon and silicon carbide are useful in electronics because they are semiconductors: They can switch between being electrical conductors, as metals are, and insulators, as most plastics are. This ability makes semiconductors the key materials in transistors — the fundamental building blocks of modern electronics.

Silicon carbide differs from silicon in that it has a wide bandgap, meaning that it requires more energy to switch between the two states. Wide bandgap, or WBG, semiconductors are advantageous in power electronics because they can move more power more efficiently.

Silicon carbide is the senior citizen of WBGs, having been under development as a transistor material for decades. In that time, engineers have started using younger upstart WBG materials, like gallium nitride, or GaN. In the 1980s, researchers used gallium nitride to create the world’s first bright blue LEDs. Blue light comprises high-energy photons; gallium nitride, with its wide bandgap, was the first semiconductor that could practically produce photons with the sufficient energy. In 2014, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for that innovation, which became ubiquitous in devices like TV screens and light bulbs.

Lately, researchers have started using gallium nitride to improve power electronics. The material reached commercial fruition over the past few years in adapters for charging phones and computers. These adapters are smaller, lighter, faster-charging and more efficient than traditional ones that use silicon transistors.

“A typical charger that you buy for your computer is 90 percent efficient,” said Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian company that supplied the transistors in Apple’s gallium-nitride laptop chargers, which were released last fall. “Gallium nitride is 98 percent efficient. You can cut power losses by four times.”

Keep going, science.

Public Financing of Elections

The competition remains open, and fierce, but this has to be the single worst blow to representative government since at least the Iran-Contra scandal, BCCI, the Keating Five, Long Term Capital Management ever:

This, as much as anything else, is why our Congress is both dysfunctional — legislators have no clue what they’re voting for or against most of the time — and so attentive to the priorities of the very wealthy.

Newt Gingrich completely dismantled the internal institutions that used to provide Congress with objective information and research, both because that information frequently contradicted conservative dogma and because he knew that doing so would force Congress to rely on outside (ideological) organizations for information, which would strengthen the corporate-funded policy shops and think tanks that powered the conservative movement. Now nearly everything Congress “knows” about policy comes directly from self-interested, industry-funded groups. Simultaneously, as Lorelei Kelly recently wrote, congressional staff began shrinking, which means expertise was, once again, outsourced — now, increasingly, lobbyists perform the educational function that well-versed staffers used to.

In a way, the practice of representatives unstudied on the issues but nonetheless voting to effect our future circumvents the need for corporate whoring by thoroughly corrupting the entire operation, thereby rendering the need for further duplicity redundant. Efficiency! Kind of.

Easy to Miss

Linda Greenhouse is one of the top journalists who cover the Supreme Court – so many of the other few are also women, why is that? Anyway, there is much you just cannot explain to yourself or others without knowing (sounds axiomatic, I swear I wish it was), and Greenhouse brings some light to recent heat in this column:

You remember Lilly Ledbetter, the poised grandmother who addressed the 2008 Democratic National Convention. A native of Possum Trot, Ala. And a former overnight-shift manager at a Goodyear tire factory, where she was the only woman in her job category. Ms. Ledbetter learned only as she neared retirement that despite promotions and regular raises, she was being paid much less than any of the men. The Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 5 to 4 that she should have figured that out years earlier, and threw out her sex-discrimination lawsuit because she was too late in filing a formal complaint.

Two women, a generation apart: one disrespected by the three-day rant of a thuggish talk show host, the other dissed by five members of the Supreme Court. Each is an accidental heroine (as was Anita Hill, more than 20 years ago) whose plight touched a nerve already inflamed by deeper concerns roiling the public sphere.

In Lilly Ledbetter’s case, it was a mix of old and new: the old concern about equal opportunity and fairness in the workplace given new urgency within the Democratic base by distress at the Supreme Court’s abrupt rightward shift following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and her replacement by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. It was Justice Alito who wrote the majority opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber.

The decision interpreted the 180-day statute of limitations in the country’s basic law against job discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court held that the 180-day clock for reporting incidents of discrimination starts running with the initial discriminatory act – in this case, the long-ago decision to pay Ms. Ledbetter less than her male peers. The majority rejected her lawyers’ argument that the clock should be deemed re-set with every subsequent paycheck that reflects and carries forward the original discrimination.

Sandra Fluke didn’t ask to become a cipher for contraception, so it’s important to know that more than a woman’s personality stands behind the significance (and durability) of this issue. Same with Lilly Ledbetter; why do you need to understand what the above court case is about? Tell me again, what does green mean?

Affluence Using Less

Way less. Of everything. Isn’t that what greater efficiency in allocating increasingly scarce resources – and why we’re opposed to it – is all about? We’re scared of being poor. Any way we slice any of the barometers – peak oil, greenhouse gases, climate change… this seems to be why we (Americans) oppose any remedies – they will necessarily lower our quality of life, which to us means necessarily less stuff. Considering the literal impact of that statement, this is saying quite a lot. I always make the point that by driving less, eating less, living in cities and towns instead of ‘burbs, we’ll be changing the things we should want to change. Like Gang of Four sings – open up up the till and give me the change you said would do me good. Well, this is it.

Okay, so not everyone agrees that less stuff would be better. Some posit that we’re the best and this is the best it’s ever been. Driving, getting enraged by talk radio, slurping H-F corn syrup, ahh… passion and freedom twisted around Zion, with sprinkles. Not only that, some think, nay fear, that this is the best things’ll ever be and agitators like me are just trying to bring you all down. whatever. I am. Your mileage may vary on what qualifies as ‘down,’ and the case could be made that this qualitative dissonance is source of many ills. Unless we try to figure who and why it is that our way can’t change or we’ll suffer – god forbid! – we’re only convincing ourselves. And I think we’re already convinced.

So let’s get a beat on people who think things – especially quality-type things – are being taken away from them in the name of planetary-mindedness. Who equate less with poorer and… lower. Yeesh, we’ve got some twisted brethren.  Anyway, biking and eating fresh food from the market is for pinko commies and euro… what a minute, a lot Americans like euro-whatever – remember this? or this? There’s a thousand things those Euros like that seem cute but… well… What’s that saying, a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there? You wouldn’t? What’s wrong with you? Do you think of those people as poor or bereft? I know you could, but let’s unpack this. And while we’re at it, stay a while.

This is just to point out that the only way to know about any other places (places with different and less stuff) other than the place you live is to… go other places. The 15% of you who already have passports can go back to watching the game.

And that these things are connected.

Science… So What?

principal drawing of a caisson. cc wikimedia
principal drawing of a caisson. cc wikimedia

So Everything. Thus spaketh this fancy new U.K. site. Whether you’re wondering why the sky is blue or arguing with your friends at the bar over what a caisson is*, it seems like a good place to go for answers, as well as explanations for why science is important. As if anybody would possibly need that. The site seems to be predicated on being a destination/resource for kids, but I really don’t see how we’re availed of such distinctions.

*Actually, if your barman isn’t handy with a Webster’s Dictionary to settle such fraci – which can escalate – you should seek improvement in your level of watering hole.

Changing Planet

I write and link here about many of the observable effects of ‘green’ marketing campaigns and energy initiatives. By hook or crook, we’re all learning the implications of societal progress on natural the world, perhaps most visible right now upon the so-called intellectual order. It is important to remember in the middle of all of this that the world is changing. Sometimes we overlook this perspective of change from the ones who will feel it the most, or at least, more than today’s adults. These people walk and crawl among you today – they’re in everything from diapers to seventh grade right about now. Their perspectives will be far different from the ones enjoyed/indulged just a few short years before – and while they may be revolted by corporate subservience and climate denierism of their elders, they will likely be more empowered to something a little more active than resentment. While we contemplate change at the margins, these folks will likely have the knowledge, gumption and evidence for the necessary actions.

That may sound hopeful, but take a look a this Climate Change, Wildlife and Wildlands Toolkit for Formal and Informal Educators. This is the kind of knowledge is power take on climate change that will lead to sober solutions and clear thinking about the challenges ahead. It doesn’t say but I don’t think there is any age limits on its impact or usefulness.

Encoding the Model of the Object

Whether that object be of desire… of derision… of worship… of my affection… of a preposition. Staying with the quantum mechanics meme (and why shouldn’t we?), there comes the matter of no small consequence surrounding the, what’s the scientific term… uh, bizarro quantum world condition by which, even if you already have all of the possible information that is allowed to be known about a certain activity or event, you can still only talk about the probability of the event happening. Same for coin flips as a nanoscale bridge.

Quantum mechanics operates in a bizarro world that includes superposition, where atoms can maintain more than one state at a time. Matter can also become entangled so that it remains connected across vast distances — a ghostly phenomenon dubbed “spooky action at a distance” by Albert Einstein.

So, yes, the model of the object, a Hamiltonian; no, not that one. This one:

The energy conservation (quantum) law written with the operator H as the Schrödinger equation is fundamental in quantum mechanics and is perhaps the most utilized, mathematical computation device in quantum mechanics of systems with a finite number of degrees of freedom. There is also, however, the alternative approach in the Heisenberg picture, or formulation, in which the observable and other operators are time-dependent whereas the state vectors $ psi$ are time-independent, which reverses the time dependences betwen operators and state vectors from the more popular Schrödinger formulation.

It’s the thing, in other words. That says whether you’re talking about an electron or a bicycle. The first piece of information you need is the Hamiltonian of an object.

Ah, the rush of knowing… feels the same even when it’s about all you don’t know.

Now… there is an implication to the above, and I won’t say what it is, that is completely deterministic about the future. Do I already know what that is? Maybe. But since time is merely one factor among many, there’s really no rush.

Building a Staircase

They call this a WWIII propaganda poster. Okay. So if it’s a how-to kind of day, plus it being summer and the height of the vacation season, maybe we turn to the Lawrence Durrell Travel Reader. This one is How to Buy a House, from Bitter Lemons, 1957.

SABRI TAHIR’S OFFICE IN THE TURKISH QUARTER of the Kyrenia bore a sun-blistered legend describing him as a valuer and estate agent, but his activities had proliferated since the board was painted and he was clearly many things besides. The centre of the cobweb was a dark cool godown perched stategically upopn a junction of streets, facing the little Turkish shrine of some saint or warrior whose identity had vanished from the record, but whose stone tomb was still an object of veneration and pilgrimage for the faithful. It stood under a dusty and desiccated pepper tree, and one could always find an ex voto or two hanging beside it.

Beyond was a featureless empty field of nettles in which stood a couple of shacks full of disembodied pieces of machinery and huhe heaps if uncut carob and olive, mingled with old railway sleepers and the carcasses of buses which turned up her at the end of the trail, as if to some Elephants’ Graveyard, to be turned into fuel. Sabri’s empire was still in an embryonic stage, though ti was quite clear that he was speculating wisely. A circular saw moaned and gnashed all day in one of the shacks under the ministrations of two handsome Turkish youths with green headbands and dilapidated clothes; a machine for making cement blocks performed its slow but punctual evacuations, accompanied by a seductive crunch.

Sabri could watch all these diverse activities from the darkness of his shop…

On that first morning when I stepped into the shadows of his shop, the headquarters of the empire, he was sitting dreamily at his desk mending a faulty cigarette-lighter. His good morning was civil, though preoccupied and indifferent; but as I approached he paused for one instant to snap finger and thumb and a chair materialized from the shadows behind him. I sat down. He abandoned his task and sat silent and unwinking before me. ‘Mr. Sabri,’ I said, ‘I need your help. I have been making inquiries in Kyrenia and on all sides I am told that you are the most untrustworthy man of business in the place – in fact, the biggest rogue.’

He did not find the idea offensive so much as merely interesting. His shrewd eye sharpened a trifle, however, and he lowered his head to scan me more gravely. I went on. ‘Now knowing the Levant as I do, I know that a reputation for being a rogue means one thing and one thing only. it means that one is cleverer than other people.’ I accompanied this with an appropriate gesture – for cleverness in the hand-language is indicated by placing the forefinger of the right hand slowly and portentiouusly on the temple: tapping slightly, as one might tap a breakfast-egg. (Incidentally, one has to be careful, as if one turns the finger in the manner of turning a bolt in a thread, the significance is quite different: it means to be ‘soft in the head’ or to ‘have a screw loose’.) I tapped my skull softly. “Cleverer than other people,’ I repeated. ‘So clever that the stupid are envious of one.’

He did not assent or dissent from the proposition. He simply sat and considered me as one might a piece of machinery if one were uncertain of its use. But the expression in his eyes shifted slightly in a manner suggesting the faintest, most tenuous admiration. ‘I am hee,’ I went on, convinced by this time that his English was good, for he had followed me unerringly so far, to judge by his face, ‘I am here as a comparatively poor man to ask you a favour, not to make you a business proposition. There is no money to be made out of me. But I want you to let me use your brains and experience. I’m trying to find a cheap village house in which to settle for a year or two – perhaps forever if I like it enough here. I can see now that you I was not wrong; far from being a rogue you are obviously a Turkish gentleman, and I feel I can confide myself entirely to your care – if you will accept such a thing. I have nothing to offer except gratitude and friendship. I ask you as a Turkish gentleman to assit me.’

Sabri’s colour had changed slowly throughout this harrangue and when I ended he was blushing warmly. I could see that I had scored a diplomatic stroke in throwing myself completely upon the iron law of hospitality which underpins all relations in the Levant. More than this, I think the magic word ‘gentleman’ turned the trick in my favor for it accorded him an unaccustomed place in the consideration of strangers which he certainly merited, and which he henceforward lived up to in his dealings with me. By a single tactful speech I had made a true friend.

The negotiations continue from there, but you get the idea. I had to look it up but a godown is a kind of warehouse or other storage place. Which completely makes sense. Once again, knowledge wins!