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Saturday, March 19, 2005

What's New

Dr. Robert L. Park from U. of Md. and the APS does a weekly roundup of physics news (always with a touch of snark). This week he hits energy and natural resource topics on all cylinders.
WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 18 Mar 05 Washington, DC

Described in media stories as a Johns Hopkins physicist, Michael D. Griffin is at the Applied Physics Lab, a government contract lab far from the campus, and although he has a B.A. in physics, his Ph.D. is in Aerospace Engineering from the Univ. of Maryland. During the Reagan years he was Deputy for Technology of SDI (Star Wars), which managed to squander $30B on mythical weapons. Eighteen months ago, Griffin testified before the House Science Committee on "The Future of Human Space Flight". He began by invoking Queen Isabella and Columbus. OK, so he's not very original, but the Columbus mission was to find a short cut to plunder the riches of the East. That is just the sort of sound conservative economics the universe needs. But maybe, before we settle the rest of the solar system as Griffin proposes, we might want to ask our robots if there are any riches out there to plunder. Meanwhile, it probably wouldn't hurt to take better care of this planet. These other places don't look that great.

The Index of Forbidden Books was abolished by Vatican II, but Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who used to be the top enforcer in the Vatican, still harbors nostalgia for the old days. "Don't buy and don't read" The Da Vinci Code, he instructed Catholics. That should help sales, as though it needed help. Some scientists would put Michael Crichton's novel, State of Fear, on an Index. It's standard Crichton, i.e. the bad guys are scientists. In Jurassic Park, for example, scientists discovered the secret of life and used it to make a theme park. Scientists in State of Fear predict global-warming catastrophes; when it doesn't happen, they create disasters. Well, at least scientists are powerful bad guys. But Crichton laced the book with genuine citations and graphs from the literature, creating a sense of authenticity, but some say, crossing a line. It is pretentious, but it's fiction.

Everyone has seen the horrifying film of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. A 1/28 scale model of the giant airship, made for a Hollywood movie, hangs in the National Air and Space Museum. A plaque said "It's hydrogen exploded." That's incendiary language to the National Hydrogen Society, which promotes hydrogen as a fuel. Dr. Addison Bain, a founding member, undertook his own investigation of the accident, declaring, "Hydrogen does not explode." He claimed it was the fabric covering the airship that burned. The Department of Energy bought it, the Air and Space Museum revised the plaque, the media did specials on it. Alex Dessler, a physicist and former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center did not buy it. He led a group that found Bain wrong on every point. So who is Dr. Addison Bain? Stay tuned.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.
Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN
I had also long heard the argument of the Hindenburg's fabric catching on fire (as opposed to the hydrogen sparking). The rationale seemed fairly reasonable. But I had no idea that hydrogen apologists pushed this counter theory. But like Park implied, you can readily find sites such as the National Hydrogen Association (!?!) webpage and dig out this kind of statement:
The Hindenburg fabric was found to be made of a cotton substrate with an aluminized cellulose acetate butyrate dopant. The observations of the fire listed above, in fact, are consistent with a huge aluminum fire.
So, it was the extreme flammability of the Hindenburg’s fabric envelope which caused the disaster and not the lifting gas inside.
Oh, the humanity! Why does Dr. Park hate humanity?

In the world of soft sciences, I happened to catch V.V. Chari, a U. of Minn. economics professor and consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, on a Furitan radio talk show today. He had this quote (paraphrased):
The reason for the media's interest in the shrinking (U.S.) dollar is the same as there is interest in the Laci Peterson case: It is a slow news week.
What a tool, I suppose a big news week in Chari's circles occurs when Greenspan cryptically farts in tongues.


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