The Carrington Event: not something to worry about

One of the things that is widely regarded as a menace that might destroy civilization, or at least be enormously damaging, is a repeat of the "Carrington Event", the September 1859 geomagnetic storm. Back then there was hardly any electrical infrastructure, but there are stories of telegraph offices catching on fire and telegraph operators experiencing electric shocks. Now, it is said, with all our electronics, we'd be devastated. Even NASA has gotten into the act, forecasting trillions of dollars in damage from a repeat of such an event, and talking about it "disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket". But taking a hard look at the mechanism for such harm, really the danger is quite small.

Testing some expired iodine stuff

I got to looking at my "prepper" sorts of supplies recently, and found I had some well-out-of-date iodine products -- out of date enough that back when I bought them the movement was called "survivalist" rather than "prepper". So out of curiosity I decided to test them to see whether they were still any good.


5G, the "fifth generation" cell phone standard, has been in the news a lot. There are people suspecting 5G of causing the coronavirus, and even reports of some of them burning cell phone towers in the UK. But this bizarre suspicion was by no means the start of the bullshit about 5G. Indeed, it's a natural reaction to the previous over-hyping.

Detonation engines for rockets are bunk

One thing I didn't understand until recently was why there was any interest in detonation engines for rockets -- those being engines where the fuel is not burned smoothly but rather mixed and then detonated. I'd heard of the idea before, but it seemed such a bizarre concept that I didn't pay it much attention. Yet there is considerable interest in such engines; they're currently making headlines as a new, promising way to increase the specific impulse of rockets, and well-funded teams have been working on them and reporting successes. Specific impulse (\(I_{sp}\)) is the most important figure of merit there is for a rocket engine, and increases of 15% or even 25% are talked of. The concept is not really new: they've been talked about since the 1950s, and have been promising (and not delivering) for all that time. On looking into the concept, it seems to me that even the theory is in error here, and that scarcely any improvement is in fact possible.

The futile proofs of high school

There are two math subjects taught in high school which involve the students doing a lot of proofs: geometry and trigonometry. Advocates say that it's important for students to do proofs, since they are the bulding blocks that are used to construct the whole edifice of mathematics. Though the latter is true, the former does not at all follow from it. The edifice has already been constructed; students can simply live in it, rather than being tasked with rebuilding it. And the proofs taught in those two classes are amazingly useless.

Putting a vaccine out quickly, part 2

As I argued a month ago, there's no fundamental reason that putting out a vaccine for the coronavirus should take the "more than a year" or "at least 18 months" that is commonly quoted; those numbers come from the assumption that we'd follow the usual rules. At the same time, though, there's considerable experience and wisdom incorporated into those rules; the idea shouldn't be to discard that wisdom, but rather to understand it and adapt it to the emergency.

Asymptomatic transmission

A critical question as regards the new coronavirus has been to what extent it is transmitted by asymptomatic people. But really there isn't just one definition of "asymptomatic". Instead, there are several possible definitions, each of which is useful in a different way:

The Maidan infantry assault

Since hearing that there'd been 47 protesters killed in one day on the Maidan in Ukraine, shortly before President Yanukovych was forced from office, I'd idly wondered how it happened. Then, a couple of years ago (this blog is seldom timely), I ran across the video compiled by Evelina Nefertari which takes video clips taken by wide variety of people on that day and combines them into a single time-synchronized video stream showing many clips simultaneously.

The killings are commonly described as a massacre, but watching the video (and viewing maps and summaries of the action), a very different phrase seems much more apt: an infantry assault -- and not an assault on the protesters; an assault by the protesters.

Losers' histories

The phrase "history is written by the winners" is commonly uttered these days, which goes to show how many people repeat things without thinking about them, since a moment's thought would reveal that it is incorrect. Plenty of history has been written by losers, for any and every meaning of the word "loser". Many histories of the Civil War were written by the defeated Confederates, and the influence of those histories continues even today. Defeated Germans likewise wrote memoirs of their World War II experiences -- memoirs which have not always been believed by the victors, but which in some respects have been and deserve to be.