2020 posts

The Great Conjunction 12.20.2020

It's a once in a lifetime event — Jupiter and Saturn are nearly aligned in the night sky. Get out sometime in the next few nights to have a look. The closest approach is on Monday. (On the solstice — How cosmic!). But if you miss it on Monday, the two will still be "nearly conjoined" for several more nights. Thought not essential, using a pair of binoculars can enhance the viewing. (You might be able to make out Jupiter's moons or maybe even see the elongation of Saturn rings.) Wikipedia has more technical details and list of past and future conjunctions.

What color is 10 kΩ 10.02.2020

For 201 and 333 students: An old tale of product failure due to wrong resistor color codes.

October surprise 10.01.2020

I wonder if he was surprised?

Schadenfreude is one of those toxic emotions, like vanity or jealousy, that we should try to avoid. But, boy, sometimes the course of events makes it hard.

What President Trump's Taxes Reveal 10.01.2020

A good podcast from On Point discussing the complicated messiness of DJT's tax returns. Two things to take away (both of which have been obvious for a long time): He is an horrendously bad businessman. And our tax system is profoundly unfair and probably stifles economic development. Or read the whole NY Times expose.

The Debate 09.30.2020

The Penguin v. Batman. Even a Gotham City arch-villain can debate in a civil fashion. (Albeit while doing dastardly things behind the scenes.) I wonder how Batman would fare in a debate with DJT?

We're number 1! 09.01.2020

I knew we could do it. Here are couple of snippets from today's NY Times COVID tracker page: where it is bad now and where it might get worse. You might notice a common factor shared by these various towns.

Steve King — out. 06.03.2020

Finally, our district ends the embarrassment of being represented by Steve King. We have to put up with him for another 7 months, and who knows what kind of replacement we will end up with, but at least he's on his way out.

The Battle of Lafayette Square. 06.03.2020

Stopping police violence. 06.03.2020

From Samuel Sinyangwe, a twitter thread with observations and ideas for reducing police violence. These notions seem like they would a good place to start. These were tweeted last October.

The Dragon has docked. 06.02.2020

In a tiny glimmer of good news amongst all the gloom, the SpaceX rocket finally lifted off and docked with the space station. Other than the weather issues, it appears to have been a completely successful mission. It gives us a bit of hope — if things really do go to hell here on Earth, there might be a means for us to pack up and get out.

Confluence of chaos. 06.02.2020

It's seems like we are simultaneously re-experiencing some of the worst episodes of U.S. history: the virus pandemic of 1918, the economic calamity of 1929, the civil unrest of 1968, and the presidential leadership of 1857. Will the country survive? Probably, but we are surely being tested. To be fair, the current Covid19 is not as severe as the Spanish flu, the current economic mess is not (yet) as bad as the Great Depression, and the current riots are not (yet) as bad as those of 1968. (Little remembered historical factoid — there was a flu outbreak in 1968 that killed 100,000 Americans.) On the other hand, James Buchanan comes off looking like political genius compared to our current provocateur-in-chief.

Two old "gray beards", Dan Balz of the Washington Post and Paul Krugman of the NY Times comment on our current malaise.

Wise words among the chaos. 06.01.2020

It's hard to know what to say in these incredibly unsettled times. But some are some speaking eloquently about recent events — Trevor Noah riffs extemporaneously on YouTube and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in LA Times.

Not surprisingly, perhaps the best words are from Martin Luther King. Listen to the short video. The snippet of his speech is bookended by two important ideas: "A riot is the language of the unheard." and "Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention...". Even after a half century, King's words still resonate. (That is simultaneously a testament to his genius and and an indictment of our lack of progress.)

Try try again. 05.29.2020

The first attempt at launching the manned Crew Dragon capsule was a bust due to bad weather on Wednesday. They are trying again on Saturday at 2:22 p.m. CDT. Let's hope they can launch and everything goes well. We could really use a bit of good news.

The next manned space launch. 05.26.2020

Don't forget to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule on Wednesday. The launch is set for 3:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time. This is a big deal — the U.S. is finally getting back in the game after nine years on the sideline.

A quantum mechanics podcast. 05.26.2020

Another podcast to try: Ezra Klein interviews quantum physicist Sean Carroll. Klein is extremely smart, and he's eager to understand more about the quantum world. But he is a journalist and political commentator — not a scientist or engineer — and it's endearing to hear his questions as he struggles to wrap his head around some of the more mind-boggling aspect of Q.M. I know a little bit about quantum mechanics, but thinking about multi-verses and quantum entanglement makes my head hurt, too.

A Tesla podcast. 05.26.2020

Here's an interesting podcast about Tesla (the man, not the car company) made by former student and current patent attorney, Tyson Benson. It's Tyson's first podcast, and I think that he did a great job. Maybe someday he'll land a podcast deal like the one that Joe Rogan just signed with Spotify. When hearing about everything that Tesla did, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he invented podcasting, too.

Watch a guy solve a sudoku puzzle. 05.26.2020

I saw this mentioned in a couple different places, and my reaction was "Who would be stupid enough to spend a half hour watching someone solve a puzzle?" Me, as it turns out. It seems dumb, but it's quite compelling. In EE 201, I sometimes describe analyzing a circuit as akin to solving a sudoku — there are some rules and some hints, and given enough time, we can figure out everything about the circuit. But I don't think I would last a half hour watching someone solve a circuit. (And from my perspective at the front of the class, none of you can, either.)

We're Number 1!! 03.26.2020

In a dramatic push the front, the U.S. has taken the lead in the Covid contest, leaping past both Italy and China to move into first place. I'm sure that our fearless leaders are proud that we are now leading the pack.

Planes are flying, even though nearly empty. 03.26.2020

Ages ago, I remembering occasionally being on a flight where you could have three full rows of seats to yourself. Of course, that hasn't happened in years. To bad that there is no where to go now — flying might actually be fun again.

Drone tour of San Francisco, seemingly abandoned. 03.26.2020

I'm sure there are similar scenes in most bigger cities. Oddly enough, here in Ames, you wouldn't know that anything terrible is happening. To keep from going cuckoo, I get out of the house once a day for walk or a bike ride, and I'm amazed at the traffic in the streets and the numbers of pedestrians on the walkways. My usual routes, where in normal times I would never meet anyone, now seem to be filled with people walking dogs and pushing baby carriages. It is weird. Perhaps everyone has left the city and come to Ames. So much for social distancing.

A normal, boring country. 03.26.2020

Everything is virtual now, including travel. Especially travel. This is a fun graphical tour of Estonia, one of my all-time favorite countries. After all this is over, it might be nice to reside in a normal boring country.

The Great Empty. 03.23.2020

More photos of empty spots from around the world. In a few years, when we are able to look back at these trying times, these are the images what will likely come to mind.

Looking at these empty spaces reminds me a book I read several years ago: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. It speculates on what would happen to all of our stuff if humans suddenly disappeared from the earth. It is a very interesting notion to think about. If you are looking for something to do besides watch NetFlix and play video games, you might consider reading this. I often think about how things will disappear once we are all gone. (Hopefully not too soon.)

Life accordion to Trump. 03.22.2020

I hadn't laughed much since March 11, but I busted a gut when I stumbled across this old YouTube. I'll never again be able to see our fearless leader without a squeeze box between his hands.

Of course, there is the always good State of the Union — bad lip reading. This is from the 2019 SOTU. The best part is the banter between Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi.

Traffic and pollution are down in the U.S., too. 03.22.2020

A few days ago, I linked to an article describing how pollution levels in China have reduced dramatically since coronavirus shut down the economy. The same thing is happening in the U.S. (and probably everywhere). I don't know — maybe we will get used to these things like clear skies and drivable roads. I'm not sure how we will eat, but there are some a couple of definite upsides to the "great emptying".

Interview with Larry Brilliant. 03.20.2020

He helped eradicate smallpox and was a technical advisor for "Contagion". He has spent his career thinking about and trying to prepare us for exactly the situation we are in. He shares truly useful information. You might have a look at his TED talk from 2006. (A link is in the article.)

The exponential curve. 03.20.2020

Dr. Drang has plotted the growth of Covid-19 in the U.S. over the past couple of weeks. It is a classic exponential curve. The time constant works to out to be 3.3 days. (Meaning that the doubling time is 2.3 days.) If we don't "flatten the curve", the U.S will have 1 million cases in about 2 weeks. He says that he will update the graph every day, so we can watch to see how things develop — speeding up or (hopefully) slowing down.

The hammer and the dance. 03.19.2020

Tomas Pueyo on how things might go for us over the next few weeks, if we take the proper action. It is a good read.

Epidemic calculator. 03.19.2020

You can play arm-chair epidemiologist and look at various pandemic scenarios. It gives some appreciation for how various parameters affect the exponential curve, and particularly how much difference early intervention can make.

Visual history of pandemics. 03.19.2020

This provides a bit of perspective to our current travails. A real eye-opener is the R0 ("R-naught") for the various viral killers. The value for measles is 16! How is it possible that some people think that vaccinations are a bad thing?

Animated explanation of the SARS-CoV-2 attack. 03.19.2020

Kurzgesagt just published their hastily made video explaining how the nasty virus invades our bodies.

Coronavirus counter. 03.12.2020

Johns Hopkins has a handy coronavirus data collector and visualizer to help us track the coming dystopia. They are counting every reported case of Covid-19 in every country. I've been watching the map for few days, and it looks like a slow-moving video game for a zombie apocalypse. The infected parts of the world are blobbed out in red dots, and the dots are getting bigger. East Asia is a covered and has been for a while. Europe is quickly turning red. The U.S. has been doesn't look too bad yet, but spots are growing ominously. South America and Africa are relatively clear now, but you know that they — and everywhere else — will be blobbed out soon enough.

Pandemics are good for us? 03.11.2020

Also from Kottke, a post about one side effect of the current outbreak. The stifling of the economy in China has led to a rapid and significant improvement in air quality in Chinese cities. This, in turn, may save many lives. Ironic. If you have time, you might want to read the linked article form the Stanford professor.

Exponential growth. 03.10.2020

Kottke has a good post that uses the embedded YouTube to explain the startling behavior of exponential growth. Even for EEs who deal with exponential phenomena everyday (diodes, BJTs, RC transients, etc.), the properties of exponentials can still be surprising.

Empty spaces. 03.09.2020

From The Atlantic: Empty plazas, empty restaurants, empty stadiums, empty classrooms, empty shelves, empty canals. The public world is disappearing as everyone retreats to their homes.

Why don't blue whales get cancer? 03.06.2020

Another whale story: Kurzgesagt (YouTube channel) has made one of their distinctive and fun videos discussing blues whales and cancer.

Detailed images of the sun's surface 03.06.2020

Another sun story: Images and video taken with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope show the sun's surface in greater detail than ever before. When I first glanced at an image of the still video, I thought that it was a bucket of corn. It turns out that the "kernals" are the size of Texas.

Sunspots cause whale strandings? 03.06.2020

Sunspots indicate heightened solar storms, which mess with the Earth's magnetic field. Many animals, including possibly whales, seem to navigate using the Earth's magnetic field. So the theory is that when there are more sunspots there will be more whales becoming stranded on beaches. It's a theory and needs more work to verify, but this is one more example of how seemingly disparate things can be connected.

Amazing aerial views of oceans & beachs. 03.05.2020

But you should look at all of his aerial photos. Awesome.

Our national parks get one star. 03.04.2020

Some people just aren't that impressed with national parks. Amber Share is making postcards based on a actual one-star reviews of some of our parks.

A different way to multiply. 03.03.2020

Kottke's post has an embedded video that shows the "Russian" or "Ethiopian" method for multiplying two numbers. Nothing profound, but fun to see. It turns out that it is just binary. But Kottke makes a great point — being able to solve a problem in more than one way is powerful. (For example: node-voltage, mesh-current, and superposition.)

100 most spoken languages. 03.02.2020

A nifty infographic showing common languages and how they are related.

Recent deaths of notable people. 02.29.2020

It's palindrome day. 02.02.2020

Today is a three-fer: Super Bowl Sunday. Ground Hog's Day. (Both tiresome annual events.) And a perfect palindrome date, which is much more rare and interesting. (At least for math nerds.)

Erasing carbon footprints. 02.02.2020

Microsoft plans to offset its carbon footprint — future and past. Good on them. Obviously, this is easier for a software company to pull off than it would be for most others, but it is still a laudable goal.

The Michael Jordan of dogs. 02.01.2020

As a (partial) antidote to the ickiness of the professor stories, try this dog video.

Strip club research. 02.01.2020

Here's an example of a truly upstanding EE professor. (A department chair no less.)

This Harvard chemistry professor gives the Drexel guy some competition for "smarmiest science/tech professor in 2020".

And, of course, there are the two wanna-be Walter Whites from Arkansas.

A climate diet. 01.04.20

A slightly different New Year's resolution — go on a climate diet. Is it possible to get yourself down to 3 tons of CO2 emission for the year? In America, it is probably tough, but an interesting first step would be to quantify your own carbon footprint.

Banning natural gas furnaces. 01.06.20

Interesting: Some cities are contemplating the curtailment of natural gas heating as a means for fighting climate change.

Aerial view of urban development. 01.03.20

I love this kind of stuff — beginning-of-decade and end-of-decade views showing how landscapes are transformed by urban development. No mater whether you view urban development as good (necessary consequence of our advancing of our civilized existence) or bad (urban sprawl unnecessarily gobbling up natural ecosystems), the images are remarkable. (Navigation note: To get the images to switch back and forth, watch the dots on the right-hand side of the photos — these move up or down as you scroll. It took me a bit to figure this out. But maybe I'm dumb.)

It isn't all bad news.< span class="date">01.02.20

Future Crunch has a list of 99 good news stories from 2019.

Nicholas Kristof gives his annual recap of how the world is much better than it was one year ago. As gloomy as the "first world" seems right now, for large portions of the world's populations, life keeps getting better and better. As an added benefit, most of these people — who are no longer in grinding poverty, who will not die from terrible diseases, who are becoming better educated, and who have greater access to clean water, sanitation systems and electricity — have probably never even heard of Donald Trump.

Apocalypse Now 01.02.20

But on the flip side, 2020 may be the year that climate catastrophes actually become a bigger story than the sad state of our politics, meaning that dealing with climate issues will become much worse for us than dealing with pin-headed elected officials. Krugman gives his take.

Year-end (and decade-end) photo lists. 01.01.20

At the end of the year, it is a requirement that all publishing venues put out "best of" lists. (Or "worst of". Given recent history, it's probably easier to come up with those.) This year we are getting a double helping, since it's also the end of the decade, ane we must have lists for that, too. It's fun to read these, but my favorites are the photo galleries. Here are some that I enjoyed: