Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wednesday, May 1st Post moving to Friday, May 3rd

As I'm embroiled in finals, I am moving tomorrow's post to Friday, and doubling up with the update originally planned for that time. We will be back on schedule for next week.

I apologize for the inconvenience, and am looking forward to updating Friday!

Monday, April 29, 2013

This Week On Runicfire: April 29th — May 5th

This Monday's links cover the utility of emerging 60-GHz WiFi, political contention over global warming despite scientific consensus and an increasing overabundance of evidence, and the duration of the longest sunset you can see while driving on Earth.

Wednesday concludes "The Case for Global Warming." In Part 3, I explore the consequences of allowing global warming to continue, with an emphasis on a 2012 report by the World Bank.

And on Friday I share some of the recent work done for my novel.

Please stay tuned!

Monday Links: WiFi to Replace Cables, Global Warming Denialism, and the Longest Sunset


The Economist predicts that 60-GHz range WiFi will quickly replace cables for transferring large amounts of data between home electronics. The obvious objection to using WiFi to connect your computer to monitors, keyboards, phones and printers is that others can eavesdrop on those signals and hack into them. Oddly enough, engineers have a solution for that. While the article in The Economist lacks specifics, I’m curious to see if its predictions pan out.

On Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait discusses global warming denialism and disinformation in politics and the media. His recent post delves into the origins of the term “climate change” as a politically correct euphemism, which ironically happens to describe the effects of global warming pretty accurately. Another post from last week highlights a video lambasting Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge the facts of the matter, as well as a link to a study confirming the accuracy of the “hockey-stick” graph.

And on a more serene note, this week’s “What if?” on xkcd tries to figure out how long the longest sunset on Earth can be.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Hopeful Yet Dismal Science of Hydrogen Fuel Cells


Last week, I discussed how biodiesels carry promise as a transitional fuel in a more environmentally conscious economy. However, biodiesels do not seem a viable long-term alternative to gasoline or diesel due to its difficulty in fulfilling demand, not to mention the fact that it can only mitigate emissions—not eliminate them. There is another technology that could prove to be a fitting long-term solution, and that technology is the hydrogen fuel cell.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Case for Global Warming, Part 2: How We Know It's Us

In Part 1 of “The Case for Global Warming,” I presented an overview of the evidence that the Earth is indeed warming, and at a rate unprecedented in over 10,000 years. Today, I cover the evidence that we are its primary cause, and how, as a species, we manage to accomplish such a task.

There is no doubt that the globe is getting hotter, and at a brisk pace. But what is the underlying cause? The evidence points unambiguously towards human interference. Nonetheless, how are we, weak, half-naked apes that we are, able to affect climate on a global scale? Isn’t it a little arrogant to think we have so much power?

Monday, April 22, 2013

This Week on Runicfire: April 22nd – April 28th

Monday's links: astronomy, a short PDF from my biodiesel research for last week's post, and the tragic suicide of a young woman from the Bay Area.

Wednesday will see part two of "The Case for Global Warming," in which I explain the greenhouse effect in detail, and how we know that humanity is the cause of global warming.

Friday was originally slated to be on hydrogen fuel cells, and may still be. However, I may swap it out with another post whose subject is closer to home.

As always, please stay tuned!

Monday Links: Double Super-Earths, Biodiesel Cheat Sheet, and a Tragedy Close to Home

This week's links involve good news, and then far more tragic news.

The fun bits first: astronomers have detected two planets near Earth's diameter orbiting the star Kepler-62. The star is a slightly more orange cousin of the sun, and the planets orbit within the habitable zone. The Bad Astronomer has the details.

Continuing from last week's biodiesel discussion, I'd like to share this publication from the US Department of Energy. It's a two-page PDF that covers much of what I went over in my post, and a convenient cheat sheet for the present use of biodiesel.

I'm at a loss at what to say about this last link. I actually feel a little bad for including it with two other links, because it's not just a tragedy: it's a tragedy close to home, and I want to give it its own post once I've emotionally processed it all. Audrey Pott, a teenage girl living in Santa Clara County, committed suicide days after three teenage boys raped her and posted pictures online. Her rape and suicide happened last fall. Authorities are only now making arrests.

The sheer cruelty of the boys is mind-boggling. The slow pace of law enforcement infuriates me. The practice of slut-shaming—in short, harassing women for possessing sexuality—feeds into this crime, especially as it manifests itself in youth social-media culture. It is a double standard that harms women, and seeing it at work here drives me to rage.

But what sickens me the most about this incident is the fact that I live in Santa Clara County. One of my best friends from middle school graduated from Saratoga High School, which two of the boys who raped Audrey attended. Had I been born a decade later, I might have known Audrey.

I might have also had the displeasure of knowing the boys who demolished her life. Three misogynistic boors who thought their maleness gave them the right to violate and humiliate an innocent youngster. Why the hell do we let these things happen?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Biodiesel:An Alternative Fuel With a Foothold


Seeing the effect we’ve had on the world through industry—in particular, the burning of fossil fuels—can be depressing. With the world’s temperature increasing faster than it has in millennia, and our continued, voracious consumption of our rapidly depleting fossil fuels aiding that rise, despair seems the natural recourse. Nonetheless, countermeasures exist, and to my surprise one of them—the use of biodiesels as a fuel source—is gaining traction.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Case for Global Warming, Part 1

This is the first in a series of blog posts on anthropogenic global warming, or global warming caused by humans. Today, I introduce the subject and establish the existence of a sudden, unprecedented warming trend. I will discuss the subject in more detail in future installments.


I have not always believed that global warming was real, or of concern. For a period spanning my late elementary school days to the freshman year of college, I regarded the idea with a heavy dose of skepticism. In fact, I suspected it was false, and either a hoax or, more likely, an overreaction.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Links: Informal Segregation in Georgia, The Devil's Kimchee, and Star Trek Set Gags

This article on a high school in Macon, Georgia shocked me. Apparently, Wilcox County High School still has a "whites-only" prom, in addition to an integrated prom. They can get away with this, apparently, because the prom nights are arranged by the community and not the school itself. Nonetheless, it's frightening to see the vestiges of segregation persist today, and the school's failure to condemn the segregated prom amounts to tacit approval. This is an injustice the district should not condone.

On another subject entirely, I recently learned of another frightening matter: FOOF. Also known as Dioxygen Difluoride, or "the Devil's Kimchee," it's apparently the worst thing you can create with a pressure cooker. Also, even chemists don't want to work with the stuff, as the xkcd article will also tell you. Why is that? Probably because when it heats up above 90 kelvins (-180° C, -300 °F), it starts setting things on fire. What things? Everything. And I have every reason to suspect that Michael Bay is made of the stuff.

Lastly, Phil Plait brings up an interesting sight gag in an old Star Trek: Voyager episode. It's subtle by design, and a lot of production designers and workers on set add in hidden jokes such as these. Animators used to hide incredibly naughty jokes in their work (such as this NSFW example from The Rescuers) until VHS and DVD introduced concerned parents to the frame step button. The rest, of course, is history.

This Week on Runicfire: April 15th - April 21st

Via this Monday's links, we learn of segregation's lingering ghost, the Devil's Kimchee, and jokes hidden in old Star Trek episodes.

The more I hear about the environment, especially the melting of arctic ice, the more alarmed I become. I also find it surprising how many people remain skeptical of global warming, or that we are causing it, so on Wednesday I will review the case in favor of the theory, including how I came to be convinced of the matter.

In the same vein, I've been wondering about biodiesels and have not checked up on the technology in some time. I'll be writing about my research on Friday.

Please stay tuned!

Friday, April 12, 2013

An American Accident: How Columbus's Landing Amounted to Sheer Luck


In the popular culture, we afford Christopher Columbus a peculiar degree of reverence. My childhood books and history lessons portrayed him as a visionary, fighting against the ridicule of ignorant, flat-Earth scholars and kings to sail West to India, and who through grit and perseverance achieved both the discovery of the Americas and that the world was round. This, of course, is nonsense—which, I’m happy to say, most adults I’ve met seem to understand. Scholars knew the earth was round since antiquity, and the Renaissance was no different in this respect. Furthermore, while Columbus may have been ignorant of the Americas’ existence, I do believe the Aztecs, Mayans, Inca, Mississippian and various other inhabitants of this land were quite aware of the fact.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ullamaliztli: The Mesoamerican Ball Game, and Waging War with Sports


The Aztecs called it ullamaliztli, but the game is older than the Aztecs. Adopted by the Mayans and likely pioneered by the Olmec, today’s historians, in a stroke of un-inspiration, call it the Mesoamerican Ball Game. The game was a blood sport: a brutal contest where two teams kept a ten-pound rubber ball in play with only their hips and elbows (or, if they were lucky, a wooden racket). Sportsmen would suffer such heavy bruises that many, according to Spanish explorers, had to have said bruises drained to prevent infection. (Wikipedia, 2013) Plays within single games could last hours, and in later incarnations the game only ended when one team hit the ball through a narrow stone ring on the opposite end of the court. (Aztec-History.com, 2012)

Monday, April 8, 2013

This Week on Runicfire: April 8 - 14

Monday's links include the Aztec ball games, USDA studies on how children in some schools have learned to enjoy and partake in vegetables, and an inspiring essay on space travel.

Wednesday has more on the Aztec ball games, with an emphasis on human sacrifice—and its history worldwide.

And on Friday, I talk about how much of what we're taught about Columbus in school is false.

Please stay tuned!

Monday Links: Mesoamerican Ball Games, Kids Liking Veggies, and Meditations on Space Travel

I found this site while doing research on the ball games played by the Aztecs, Mayans and other Mesoamerican civilizations. It seems to be someone's personal site, so I'm not sure I'd consider it the final authority on anything, but it gathers a fair amount of interesting material on the Aztecs in one place, as well as the ball game itself. I already noted in a tweet that the (vaguely understood) rules of the game resemble Quiddich from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. I smell a plot, but it might just be some interview I missed revealing the whole scheme.

On The Pump Handle at Scienceblogs, Kim Krisberg has an article on a study by the USDA on its Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The study indicates that in schools that provide fresh produce outside of mealtimes, children eat more fruits and vegetables and report more of a taste for such foods. Their total calorie intake remains the same, but nonetheless it is a pleasant surprise.

Finally, Ethan Siegel meditates on how far we've come as a species, and the way forward in the millennia to come. It's a heartfelt and moving piece, and I recommend you read it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Fiction – Excerpt from Rosaria of Venice

This weekend, I will be shooting part of the Kickstarter video for my novel, Rosaria of Venice. With that on my mind, I thought I would share an excerpt from the opening with you today. You may read it here.

As I am still revising the novel, I'm very interested in hearing feedback anyone might have on this chapter. In any case, I hope you enjoy the read!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Devil in the Details: How Contact with the Americas Affected World Cuisine


Historical fiction—even alternate history—poses a unique challenge to authors: the ordinary circumstances of the past are not those of the present. In writing my novel, I came to a scene where the protagonist jury-rigs a primitive battery. This being 15th century Italy, this is a fairly impressive feat. I was ready to detail how she affixes wires to a potato and exploits this household root to produce a current.

Then I stopped. I had forgotten one important fact: there were no potatoes in 15th century Italy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday Link: More Herman and Chomsky, the Fermi Paradox, and a Timeline of Food

In researching some of last week's posts, I happened upon this article reprinted on Noam Chomsky's website. I have yet to read the report in its entirety, but it is an interesting look at both criticisms and defenses of the Herman-Chomsky propaganda model of mass media. The author (who is not Chomsky or Herman) also clarifies some of the particulars of the theory in the process. If you have the time, I'd recommend the read, even though it's a very academic paper.

On a more science-y front, Ethan Siegel explains the difficulties in guessing at whether aliens exist on Starts With a Bang. The Fermi Paradox — the question "If alien intelligences exist all around us, why haven't we heard from them?" — has been a focus of searches for extra-terrestrial intelligences for decades. Siegel's piece is a concise explanation of why, with our limited knowledge, it's nearly impossible to provide even a tentative answer. My personal suspicion? We're either the first, or one of a very few firsts in the galaxy.

Finally, I leave you with a culinary curiosity in the form of a timeline of food I found while searching on Google. The design may not inspire confidence, but the timeline is comprehensive and thoroughly sourced. I expect I may refer to this timeline, or similar resources, frequently in times to come: when you're writing a book that takes place before European contact with the Americas, you have to be careful not to include foods that only developed after that interchange.

Bon App├ętit!

This Week on Runicfire: April 1 - 7

I hate doing anything important around the first of April. It always makes me feel silly. But with that aside, here's this week's schedule.

Monday's links cover a little more on the propaganda model of mass media, the Fermi paradox (or why we haven't made contact with aliens yet), and the history of food.

Wednesday continues the food discussion as I explore how contact with the Americas altered Western cuisine, and Italian food in particular.

And Friday, I have some more fiction to share with you.

Be well, and please stay tuned!