March 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


'Nanorefrigerator' is cooled using sunlight (Tushna Commissariat, Mar 29, 2012, Physics World))

Researchers in Belgium have drawn up plans for an electronic "nanorefrigerator" device that is driven by high-energy photons, and so could potentially be directly powered by the Sun. The device consists of two electrodes, one of which is cooled by replacing hot electrons with cool ones via photon absorption. While this is definitely not the first system that applies the "cooling by heating" concept, it is the first that can be applied for a nanosized device, with no moving parts or electrical input, allowing a lower temperature to be achieved at the nanoscale.

Cooling with heat is not a new idea - the simplest description of the concept would be "sweating" or more scientifically evaporative cooling. While physicists have been using coherent laser light to cool gasses since the 1980s, a theoretical method for cooling a quantum system with noncoherent light, by using an "optomechanical device", was proposed only last year.

What Bart Cleuren and colleagues at Hasselt University, Belgium, have proposed is a rather simple solid-state device that would potentially use solar energy directly to cool. While that might not sound immediately impressive - many houses that run on solar energy have a refridgerator - what is new about this device is that it does not first convert solar energy into electricity. Rather, the device bypasses the need to generate another form of energy - which usually results in some amount of energy loss.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Of Monsters and Men stopped by The Current studios to play a few songs and chat with the Morning Show's Jill Riley.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Is Conservatism Our Default Ideology?: New research provides evidence that, when under time pressure or otherwise cognitively impaired, people are more likely to express conservative views. (Tom Jacobs, 3/29/12, Miller-McCune)

A research team led by University of Arkansas psychologist Scott Eidelman argues that conservatism -- which the researchers identify as "an emphasis on personal responsibility, acceptance of hierarchy, and a preference for the status quo" -- may be our default ideology. If we don't have the time or energy to give a matter sufficient thought, we tend to accept the conservative argument.

"When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient," the researchers write in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. "These conditions promote conservative ideology."

Eidelman and his colleagues' paper will surely outrage many on the left (who will resist the notion of conservatism as somehow natural) and the right (who will take offense to the idea that their ideology is linked to low brainpower). The researchers do their best to preemptively answer such criticism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Irish is third most used language in the country - 2011 Census (RTE, 29 March 2012)

Nearly 82,600 people - or 1.8% of the population - speak Irish every day outside of school according to the first definitive results of the 2011 census, making it the third most used language in the country.

The census figures, released by the CSO today, show that 119,526 of people in Ireland speak Polish at home... 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Canada Eliminates Penny Costing Penny-and-a-Half to Make (Jacqueline Thorpe, Mar 29, 2012, Bloomberg)

Canada will withdraw the penny from circulation this year, saving taxpayers about C$11 million ($11 million) annually and forcing retailers to round prices to the nearest nickel, the government announced in its budget today.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


The Supreme Court should have taken a pass on Obamacare: Health care reform isn't much different from abortion or deadlocked presidential elections -- the constitutional basis for the justices weighing in on it is scant. What ever happened to judicial restraint? (David A. Kaplan, 3/29/12, Fortune)

After all the chatter about the Commerce Clause and federal power run amok, the case argued this week at the Supreme Court is pretty much just another example of losers in the political arena racing to the courthouse to undo their defeats. Just as the Court should have taken a pass on abortion, just as the Court should have left the presidential deadlock to Congress, so, too, should the justices leave health care to elected representatives.

The core problem with the justices being involved isn't so much how they in fact rule. At the end of the day, it's that they shouldn't be players in a political process. When they are, they make us a little, or a lot, less democratic. When some counter-majoritarian principles are involved -- free speech, safeguards for criminal defendants, anti-discrimination -- the Court's anti-democratic prerogatives are a valuable brake. Health care is hardly in the same category.

Conservatives love to rail about "judicial activism." Some justices themselves made it to the Court by preaching "judicial restraint" and deference to other branches of government. Now would be a fine time to see such slogans actually honored. Now would be a fine time to see the triumphalist legacy of Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore broken at long last. The Constitution would rejoice.

...the Court ought to be able to simply vacate the rulings of lower courts which have chosen to intervene in such cases.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


In cancer science, many "discoveries" don't hold up (Sharon Begley, Mar 28, 2012 , Reuters)

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 "landmark" publications -- papers in top journals, from reputable labs -- for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"It was shocking," said Begley, now senior vice president of privately held biotechnology company TetraLogic, which develops cancer drugs. "These are the studies the pharmaceutical industry relies on to identify new targets for drug development. But if you're going to place a $1 million or $2 million or $5 million bet on an observation, you need to be sure it's true. As we tried to reproduce these papers we became convinced you can't take anything at face value."

The failure to win "the war on cancer" has been blamed on many factors, from the use of mouse models that are irrelevant to human cancers to risk-averse funding agencies. But recently a new culprit has emerged: too many basic scientific discoveries, done in animals or cells growing in lab dishes and meant to show the way to a new drug, are wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


10 Weirdest Last Words (MELANIE JONES, 3/29/12, IB Times)

Convicted sex offender and child killer Jesse Joe Hernandez, 47, was executed Wednesday in Texas for the beating death of 10-month-old Karlos Borja. [...]

But Hernandez is making news less for his grisly death than for what he reportedly said before losing conscious: a shouted tribute to his favorite football team.

"God bless everybody. Continue to walk with God," Hernandez said, before shouting, "Go Cowboys!"

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Saudi Arabia will act to lower soaring oil prices (Ali Naimi, 3/28/12, Financial Times)

There is no lack of supply. There is no demand which cannot be met. Total commercial stocks for OECD nations are within target, and there is at least 57 days forward cover, enough to handle almost any eventuality. [...]

Saudi Arabia's current capacity is 12.5m barrels per day, way beyond current levels demanded, and a reliable buffer against any temporary loss of production. [...]

For the record, as things stand today, our inventories in Saudi Arabia and around the world are full. Our Rotterdam inventory is full, our Sidi Kerir facility is full, our Okinawa facility is full - 100 per cent full.

It should also be noted how other Opec members, such as Libya, Iraq and Angola, have also taken positive strides forward in increasing output and they are well poised for further advances. If you look towards Canada and the US, these nations are increasing oil production this year and beyond, and further supplies are being contributed from Russia, South America, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

So the story is one of plenty. Supply is not the problem, and it has not been a problem in the recent past. There is no rational reason why oil prices are continuing to remain at these high levels.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Nudge nudge, think think: The use of behavioural economics in public policy shows promise (The Economist, Mar 24th 2012)

 The idea of nudging is based on research that shows it is possible to steer people towards better decisions by presenting choices in different ways.

That theory is now being put to the test. One of the book's co-authors, Cass Sunstein, has been recruited by Barack Obama to the White House. Richard Thaler, the other co-author, has been advising policymakers in several countries including Denmark, France and, above all, Britain, where David Cameron has established a Behavioural Insights Team, nicknamed the Nudge Unit.

The Nudge Unit has been running dozens of experiments and the early results have been promising*. In one trial, a letter sent to non-payers of vehicle taxes was changed to use plainer English, along the line of "pay your tax or lose your car". In some cases the letter was further personalised by including a photo of the car in question. The rewritten letter alone doubled the number of people paying the tax; the rewrite with the photo tripled it.

Changes to language have had marked effects elsewhere, too. A study into the teaching of technical drawing in French schools found that if the subject was called "geometry" boys did better, but if it was called "drawing" girls did equally well or better. Teachers are now being trained to use the appropriate term.

Another set of trials in Britain focused on energy efficiency. Research into why people did not take up financial incentives to reduce energy consumption by insulating their homes found one possibility was the hassle of clearing out the attic. A nudge was designed whereby insulation firms would offer to clear the loft, dispose of unwanted items and return the rest after insulating it. This example of what behavioural economists call "goal substitution"--replacing lower energy use with cleaning out the attic--led to a threefold increase in take-up of an insulation grant.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs dies at 88 in Tenn. (CHRIS TALBOTT, 3/29/12, AP)

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Earl Scruggs to American music. A pioneering banjo player who helped create modern country music, his sound is instantly recognizable and as intrinsically wrapped in the tapestry of the genre as Johnny Cash's baritone or Hank Williams' heartbreak.
Scruggs passed away Wednesday morning at 88 of natural causes. The legacy he helped build with bandleader Bill Monroe, guitarist Lester Flatt and the rest of the Blue Grass Boys was evident all around Nashville, where he died in an area hospital. His string-bending, mind-blowing way of picking helped transform a regional sound into a national passion.

"It's not just bluegrass, it's American music," bluegrass fan turned country star Dierks Bentley said. "There's 17- or 18-year-old kids turning on today's country music and hearing that banjo and they have no idea where that came from. That sound has probably always been there for them and they don't realize someone invented that three-finger roll style of playing. You hear it everywhere."

Country music has transcended its regional roots, become a billion-dollar music and tourist enterprise, and evolved far beyond the classic sound Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys blasted out over the radio on The Grand Ole Opry on Dec. 8, 1945. Though he would eventually influence American culture in wide-ranging ways, Scruggs had no way of knowing this as he nervously prepared for his first show with Monroe. The 21-year-old wasn't sure how his new picking style would go over.

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