A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2010

[LINK] “2010 Isn’t What Many Futurists Of The Past Imagined”

Linton Weeks’ NPR essay “2010 Isn’t What Many Futurists Of The Past Imagined” says what needs to be said of futurology, namely, that the futures predicted often reflect the fears and hopes of contemporaries as much as anything else.

In 1983, the Science & Technology Agency in Tokyo polled 2,000 experts — university professors, government officials and business thinkers — in more than a dozen fields about 800 technological categories. The Japan Economic Journal reported on the results and what life in 2010 would be like “if all the new technologies and innovations actually materialize as planned.”

Japanese seers got some things right. Ordinary households, according to the report, “would enjoy all kinds of information thanks to the development of digital communications networks.”

They missed on a few things, too. “The three most pernicious adult diseases — cancer, cerebral apoplexy and heart ailments — would be conquered.” We wish.

And the futurologists imagined the skies in 2010 alive with orbiting factories and experimental laboratories “floating around in space, producing new pharmaceuticals, alloys and other substances, taking full advantage of the absence of gravity.” They also believed that satellites would generate power from solar rays to be used by earthlings.

[. . .]

So many wild predictions from the past about 2010 have come true so fast, it does seem like we already live in the future. Robots clean the floors and serve drinks and bark like pet dogs. Google’s self-driving cars are cruising the streets. A reporter from The New York Times has risen from the ground with a jet pack on his back.

But what about all the predictions that didn’t come true? What can we learn from them?

Maybe by looking back at the predictions — realized and unrealized — we can glean something about life in the past. What the predictors longed for. What they wanted. What they feared.

Those 2,000 Japanese futurists in 1983, for instance, predicted that by 2010 it would be possible to successfully predict earthquakes. The country was still grappling with the tragic results of the Miyagi earthquake of 1978 that caused massive mudslides and more than two dozen deaths.

The Japan Economic Journal also reported that the futurists believed “prevention of cold damage in agricultural areas would come to light by the year 2010.” The winter of 1981 was particularly harsh in Japan. Some 48 people died during the heaviest snowfall in nearly 20 years, The Globe and Mail of Canada reported.

Go, read.

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Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 11:59 pm

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[LINK] “New Planet System May Be Most Populated Yet Found”

National Geographic has more news about the very dense planetary system of the very Sun-like star HD 10180, 127 light years away. The reported innermost world–not yet confirmed, mind–is a world just 40% more massive than the Earth, but orbiting its star at only 2% of the distance between Earth and Sol. This would make the world a super-Io, tide-locked, molten on the sunwards face and volcanic on the dark side.

At least five Neptune-like planets have been spotted orbiting the star HD 10180—and there’s evidence of two more worlds, one farther from the star and another closer in.

If the latter observations can be confirmed, the innermost planet may hold the record for the lowest-mass extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, seen to date.

[. . .]

The five established planets are between 12 and 25 times the mass of Earth and are all roughly around the sizes of Uranus or Neptune, meaning the newfound worlds are most likely icy gas giants.

The five planets are huddled close to their star, with orbits ranging from 0.06 to 1.4 times the distance between Earth and the sun. A sixth, yet to be confirmed planet that’s 65 times the mass of Earth is thought to be orbiting farther beyond the group, at about 3.4 times the distance between Earth and the sun.

But it’s the seventh planet that has astronomers most excited.

At only 1.4 times the mass of our home world, this exoplanet is what astronomers call a super-Earth. The planet hugs its star at just 0.02 times the distance between Earth and the sun, likely giving the world—if it exists—a hellish environment.

[. . .]

The team is right to be guarded in announcing the discovery of a super-Earth, said planet hunter Jaymie Matthews, principal investigator for Canada’s Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars, or MOST, space telescope.

[. . .]

Lovis and colleagues “are being cautious, as they should be and as they must be after their public comments on Goldilocks world, which is a similarly weak signal,” Matthews said.

“But if [HD 10180’s super-Earth] is real, it’s almost certainly a terrestrial world with a metal core and rocky mantle,” based on the estimated size and mass, he said.

The implications for the formation of planetary systems are also significant.

Planets are thought to form from disks of debris that surround young stars. In this case, the planets probably didn’t form where they are now, Lovis said, because there wouldn’t have been enough solid material in the inner regions of HD 10180’s protoplanetary disk.

“More likely, they originated from the outer, colder regions of the disk, where they could accumulate large quantities of ice and rocks to grow,” and then the planets migrated inward, Lovis added.

The big question is how did seven planets migrate together in an orderly fashion without colliding with or ejecting each other?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm

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[LINK] “Race, roads, or regulation? Canadian and American cities”

Over at The Power and the Money, Noel Maurer engages the peculiar nature of Canadian cities.

Consider the differences between Seattle and Vancouver. For an American city, Seattle is very white and disproportionately childless. The city, however, splatters across the horizon, with few high-rises outside the central business district, while Vancouver is relatively compact and its proliferating residential towers reach to the sky. All this despite geography in Seattle that should encourage density!

The Seattle-Vancouver comparison alone should make you doubt the validity of the “white flight” hypothesis. There are other reasons, however, to reject it. Until 1990 none of Canada’s metropolitan areas declined in population — the country didn’t see shifts in economic geography like what turned cities like Buffalo, Detroit, New Orleans, Flint, Akron, Pittsburgh, Dayton, and Syracuse into what they are today. (The 1990s recession changed that, but the places that shrank tended to small, and located in Atlantic Canada or northern Ontario and Quebec.)

More importantly, white flight can’t explain why the nonblack sections of American cities look rather different from their Canadian counterparts. Nor can white flight (by itself) explain why American suburbs strongly resist residential high-rises, whereas Canadian ones (Montreal excepted) take to them with relative zeal. For example, Chicago’s North Side does not look like Toronto, save for a belt along the lake. Nor does Boston’s central and northern urban area — Back Bay, South End, North End, Southie, Brookline, Allston, Brighton, Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, Watertown, Arlington, Belmont, Charlestown, and East Boston — look much like East York or Scarborough. It is true, of course, that the great American ghetto is an American phenomenon, created by America’s strange racial caste system, but racial tensions don’t explain why Houston looks very different from Calgary.

Explanations which rest on more extensive highway systems, he judges, miss the point; Toronto’s population is as dense as Los Angeles’. He, and some of his commenters, suggest that the key is to be found in the relative weakness of the Canadian municipality; existing on the sufferage of the provincial government and barely considered separate entities by the federal, zoning regulations may allow for more mixed-use neighbourhoods while–critically–investment in public infrastructure like schools and consistent city-wide or region-wide planning is considerably easier than it would be in the United States.

Thoughts?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 9:31 pm

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[LINK] “Expansion of Bike Lanes in City Brings Backlash”

This is such a familiar story. Torontonians are dealing with the same issues as New Yorkers! (Doesthis flatter us?)

Over the last four years, the streets of New York City have undergone a transformation: More than 250 miles of traffic lanes dedicated for bicycles have been created, and several laws intended to promote cycling have been passed.

The efforts by the Bloomberg administration have placed the city at the forefront of a national trend to make bicycling viable and safe even in the most urban of settings. Yet over the last year, a backlash has taken hold.

Bowing to vocal opposition from drivers and elected officials, the city last week began removing a 2.35-mile painted bike lane along Father Capodanno Boulevard on Staten Island. In Manhattan, a community board held a special hearing this month for business owners to vent about problems posed by a new protected bicycle lane on Columbus Avenue — in particular, the removal of parking spaces and the difficulty of getting truck deliveries.

In Brooklyn, new bicycle lanes have led to unusual scenes of friction. Along Prospect Park West, opponents protested last month alongside supporters of the lanes. And last year, painted paths along Bedford and Kent Avenues in Williamsburg caused disagreement between cyclists and Hasidim. The lane on Bedford Avenue was later removed.

[. . .]

The City Council will hold a hearing on bicycling on Dec. 9 to address balancing the needs of cyclists with those of other road users, said Councilman James Vacca, the chairman of the Transportation Committee. The hearing will also look at how well the Transportation Department has worked with community boards to review large-scale road changes.

Police and transportation officials, meanwhile, have begun a crackdown on bicycle-related traffic violations amid complaints from some pedestrians.

[. . .]

“It’s easy to focus on some of the conflict and friction,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group that has seen its influence grow under the Bloomberg administration. “But that’s always going to happen when you’re changing the geometry of something as dear as the asphalt. It takes some adjustment, and we’re definitely in that adjustment phase.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 8:02 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] On the new UPEI president and a new pattern of globalization on PEI

Chain migration has started up for reasons less significant than this.

Frederick E. Hyndman, Chair of the UPEI Board of Governors, announced today that Dr. Alaa S. Abd-El-Aziz has been selected as President-designate of the University of Prince Edward Island.

“The presidential search committee unanimously recommended Dr. Abd-El-Aziz to the Board of Governors and I am delighted that the board has supported that recommendation,” said Hyndman. “Dr. Abd-El-Aziz is a talented academic and a successful university administrator. His considerable accomplishments and qualifications, his infectious enthusiasm, and his collaborative experience in developing scholarship are all qualities that are essential for UPEI’s continued positive development.”

Dr. Abd-El-Aziz is the Provost of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, which he joined in 2006. As Provost, he provides leadership and direction in the areas of planning, policy development, and resource management. His responsibilities also encompass the Okanagan campus’ academic and research mandates. Throughout his administrative career, he has remained actively engaged as a chemistry professor and has made significant contributions to research and teaching in his field.

[. . .]

Dr. Abd-El-Aziz received his BSc and MSc degrees from Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, and his PhD from the University of Saskatchewan. After completing an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto, he joined the chemistry department of the University of Winnipeg, becoming a full professor in 1997. He served as Dean of Science, Associate Vice-President of Research and Graduate Studies, and Vice-President, Research, International & External Affairs.

Two of the six commenters so far at the corresponding CBC article mourn the fact that the president won’t be Canadian, even from the east coast. One CBC article suggests that Abd-el-Aziz’ appointment may mean that more Arab students will come to Prince Edward Island. (Of course, the sole commenter on that article wonders why UPEI should be particularly attracting Arab students, as opposed to students from elsewhere in the world.)

It’s worth noting that Lebanese-Canadians have for a long time constituted the only ethnic minority on Prince Edward Island neither northwestern European background nor First Nations, a relatively successful mercantile minority that even produced the Ghiz political dynasty (two premiers so far!).

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 4:55 pm

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Is there a ninth planet?

Indications of a real planet, not a mere dwarf planet like Pluto or Sedna, may have been discovered by University of Louisiana astronomers John Matese and Daniel Whitmire. Wired Science’s Lisa Grossman has the details.

In 1999, Matese and colleague Daniel Whitmire suggested the sun has a hidden companion that boots icy bodies from the Oort Cloud, a spherical haze of comets at the solar system’s fringes, into the inner solar system where we can see them.

In a new analysis of observations dating back to 1898, Matese and Whitmire confirm their original idea: About 20 percent of the comets visible from Earth were sent by a dark, distant planet.

[. . .]

The cosmic snowballs that form the hearts of comets generally hang out in the Oort Cloud until their orbits are nudged by some outside force. This push could come from one of three things, Matese said. The constant gravitational pull of the Milky Way’s disk can drag comets out of their icy homes and into the inner solar system. A passing star can shake comets loose from the Oort Cloud as it zips by. Or a large companion like Nemesis or Tyche can pull comets out of their comfort zones.

Computational models show that comets in each of these scenarios, when their apparent origins are mapped in space, make a characteristic pattern in the sky.

“We looked at the patterns and asked, ‘Is there additional evidence of a pattern that might be associated with a passing star or with a bound object?’” Matese said.

After examining the orbits of more than 100 comets in the Minor Planet Center database, the researchers concluded that 80 percent of comets born in the Oort Cloud were pushed out by the galaxy’s gravity. The remaining 20 percent, however, needed a nudge from a distant object about 1.4 times the mass of Jupiter.

“Something smaller than Jovian mass wouldn’t be strong enough to do the deed,” Matese said. “Something more massive, like a brown dwarf, would give a much stronger signal than the 20 percent we assert.”

Matese and Whitmire propose the name Tyche, “the presiding tutelary deity that governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny,” as name for this planet.

Whitmire’s website links to the arXiv-hosted paper where they set forth their theory in detail, “Persistent Evidence of a Jovian Mass Solar Companion in the Oort Cloud.” Their abstract?

We present an updated dynamical and statistical analysis of outer Oort cloud cometary evidence suggesting the sun has a wide-binary Jovian mass companion. The results support a conjecture that there exists a companion of mass ~ 1-4 M_Jup orbiting in the innermost region of the outer Oort cloud. Our most restrictive prediction is that the orientation angles of the orbit normal in galactic coordinates are centered on the galactic longitude of the ascending node Omega = 319 degree and the galactic inclination i = 103 degree (or the opposite direction) with an uncertainty in the normal direction subtending ~ 2% of the sky. A Bayesian statistical analysis suggests that the probability of the companion hypothesis is comparable to or greater than the probability of the null hypothesis of a statistical fluke. Such a companion could also have produced the detached Kuiper Belt object Sedna. The putative companion could be easily detected by the recently launched Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

I lack the mathematical skills necessary to evaluate this paper. Going into the paper, they suggest that Tyche’s orbit may be quite distant indeed from the heart of the solar system. According to the inverse-square law, in order to exert the same gravitational force on the eight planets and various dwarf planets and comets that Matese and Whitmire’s theory predicts, the closer the planet orbits the sun, the less massive it would have to be. Existing surveys of the solar system in infrared and other frequencies also limit Tyche’s parameters (if it exists). The maximum distance predicted–30 000 AU–isn’t different from the ~0.237 AUY that separates Proxima Centauri from the Alpha Centauri A/B binary to which it seems gravitationally bound.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 11:58 am

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[LINK] “Targeting the Public”

Landscape+Urbanism, based in the American city of Portland, has an interesting post reacting to the recent discovery of a plot by a local teenager to stage a terrorist attack in the central square. What becomes of public space in this age in an era when it becomes a venue for attack?


Does this change the essence and usage of public spaces, transit, or other significant targets, or is it something that is impossible to think about and lead a somewhat normal existence? It’s heartening to see that the law enforcement and intelligence is working to find these plots and protect people from all areas from danger. It is easy to become complacent as residents (and maybe that’s a good thing, as living in fear of the possible dangers would make it hard to leave the house in the morning) – so the hidden network of danger seems to become distant – happening elsewhere around the world, or sometimes creeping into the large cities of the United States. Oklahoma City proved that high profile targets are sometimes not what we think, and the enemies may not come from outside. The danger, everywhere is real.

Beyond the continuing efforts of law enforcement, how, if at all, do we react, and how does this impact the form and function of cities? Do we evolve more security and barricades? Disallow the gathering of large groups? Do public spaces become less public?

More cameras, surveillance, metal detectors? Is transit, which creates density of people, perceived as dangerous – making people flee to the ‘safety’ of the singular car? While not the Green Zone in Baghdad, it’s interesting to see how this shapes the modern city. The securing of buildings has definitely received plenty of attention – and the ability to control access points, beef up materials, essentially defend an object. While much has been made of federal building security, making a better, more stylish bollard, is still using a bunker mentality that isn’t really applicable for public spaces.

It’s a bit different when operating in open space, as there are infinite entry points, making the perimeter harder to defend. I was thinking of precedents, and immediately looked at the well-publicized, award-winning security measures for the Washington Monument. While inventive in the way it doesn’t detract from the monument itself, and while technically more open, this is merely a different version of the bunker protecting an object – not a way to secure outdoor public space – surrounding walls, underground tunnels forming a perimeter around the monument.

In the end, the author concludes that public space is too important to abandon for fear of attacks. Community matters.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

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