The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, September 23, 2016
Economics/Business ... Politics ...

Have you heard anything lately or read much about “political economics”? If you attended college, you may have taken a Political Economy course, or you might have heard the term used in a high school civics class. But then you got out into the real world, and you almost never hear these two words used together. You heard a LOT about politics, and almost as much about the economy. But political economy?

Nevertheless, politics and the economy have a whole lot to do with one another. In reality, they are just about tied at the hip. President Clinton the First realized this and had a saying about it . . . remember “it’s the economy, stupid”? (This somewhat irritating motto was coined in 1992 by Clinton campaign strategist James Carville). So, what can we take from the “political economy” viewpoint to help understand what’s going on today on the political scene? The biggest happening over the past two years has obviously been Donald Trump. But following not too far behind in black swan-dom was Bernie Sanders. Can we relate Trump and Bernie to what’s going on in the American economy today?

A senior and very well respected American political journalist named John Judis recently published a good article that did just that. The article is called “All the Rage“, and is available on the New Republic web site. It’s a long read, but worth every word. There have been a whole stack of articles over the past few months attempting to explain why Trump and Sanders came out of nowhere and surprised everyone on the political scene. For now, we’re through with Bernie Sanders, but the Trump drama obviously continues to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:44 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

It hasn’t been a very good season for my outdoor mini-garden. Once again, the landlord had no objections to my cultivating a few square yards of land along side of the backyard parking lot; and so back in March, I once again invested in a few bags of fertilizer and black soil, got out the shovel and hoe, and prepared a seed bed. I also prepared 7 or 8 clay pots for growing herbs (basil, sage, oregano, parsley and mint). By late April, I had a variety of flower seeds planted, including my usual morning glories and moonflowers and recently adopted nasturtiums. I’ve had mixed success getting sunflowers started, but I was ready to give it another go, having bought 3 or 4 different varieties of seed. And I wanted to try something new and supposedly easy to grow, so I added 4 O’Clocks to the routine this year.

Well, the morning glories eventually took hold, although it took several tries (I would start the seeds indoors and then transplant the seedlings into the backyard). The moonflowers seemed to take pretty well, and the nasturtiums got going right away. But as to sunflowers, I just couldn’t make them work. I tried planting new seeds every few weeks from April thru early June, but it was always the same; the seedlings would poke thru and seem to thrive, then after a few weeks  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:29 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Current Affairs ... Science ...

I’m in the mood for another science post right now, so . . . what to talk about? OK, maybe space exploration. NASA had a good rocket launch this past Thursday of the OSIRIS-REx spaceprobe, which hopes to fly out to a big asteroid called Bennu and grab a small sample of rock or dust or whatever from its surface. If all goes well, OSIRIS-REx will return this sample to earth in 7 years. It will take OSIRIS-REx about 2 years to reach the asteroid, which orbits the Sun in the space between the Earth and Mars.

It takes a long time for spaceprobes to get anywhere in the Solar System. We don’t have rockets big enough to launch a probe with all the heavy-weight scientific do-dads that you want it to have, and at the same time give it enough fuel to keep on accelerating towards its intended destination. Most long-distance probes, including OSIRIS-REx, have to loop back towards the Earth over the first few months of its flight so as to get a “fly-by” boost from the Earth’s own gravity. This is in ingenious way to get the speed needed to sling a spacecraft out of the Earth’s neighborhood, but it sure makes the flight take a long time.

NASA and other nations and organizations concerned with sending space missions across the Solar System would love to have a light-weight method of continually accelerating a spacecraft after we launch it into space, so long as it doesn’t use much power and thus won’t take up a lot of room and weight for extra fuel or batteries. Even if the thrust amount was tiny, so long as it was continual it would gradually build up speed in the probe, faster than a loopy fly-by could do. You could cut off a number of months, maybe even more than a year, from a mission like OSIRIS-REx, if you could tack such a device on it (again, so long as it didn’t significantly add to the size and weight of the spaceprobe).

That’s why there has been so much buzz in the last few weeks amidst the space-heads and with interested physicists in general, regarding a possible way of doing exactly what I just described. The new “device” is generally know as “EM Drive“. The more precise name is “radio frequency resonant cavity thruster“. I’m not going to try to explain precisely what this is and how it supposedly works, but it has to do with microwave generation, using the same kind of “magnetron” that’s inside the microwave oven right there in your kitchen.

Your own microwave oven creates  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:05 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Science ... Zen ...

Way back when I was in high school and college, I took a handful of courses on chemistry. And I thought they were generally interesting, although to really understand chemistry and get a good grade, you had to put in the time and get your mind up to speed on a lot of different scientific concepts. And then figure out how they interact and come together in making up the raw materials that form the world around us. That’s chemistry — pretty neat, and the labs can be fun, but still a lot of work.

I don’t have much need to understand chemistry in my old age, but once in a blue moon I might still come across a factoid or two that renews the bond that I once felt for the subject of chemistry (recall that a big part of chemistry involves how the “bonds” between atoms and molecules work . . . so yeah, this is a rather feeble attempt at humor on my part). I’m still an “eternal student” and I still watch or listen to the recorded courses offered by The Teaching Company; right now I’m half way through “The Origins of Life” by Professor Robert Hazen. I thought that this course would be a sleeper, but Dr. Hazen makes the subject surprisingly interesting. His enthusiasm for the work and research that he does in the scientific field of how living things work and how they got started eons ago really comes through. (Here’s a 1-hour You Tube freebie from Hazen on this topic; so I’m not shilling for TTC here, but if they’d like to make me an offer . . . [SMILE])

In Dr. Hazen’s enthusiastic quest to help eternal students like myself learn more about how living cells may have first formed back when the earth was young, he has to tell us about the most important chemicals that make life on earth possible. And one of the top 3 chemicals for that is water — agua, good old H2O. (Carbon is certainly also in the triumvirate, and the third member could be iron — which is what makes your blood red and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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