Archive for April, 2013

Apr 09 2013

Assessing Solar Energy

Published by under Technology

I’m a big fan of solar energy, and specifically photovoltaics (PV). The earth is bathed in free clean energy, far more than we need to run our civilization, and all we have to do is harvest it. But, of course, it’s not that simple.

There are many ways to calculate the efficiency and effectiveness of PV technology. One way it to calculate its cost-effectiveness compared to other forms of energy. The bottom line for any consumer is this – if you install PV in your residence, what is the total cost of installation and maintenance compared to the cost savings of the energy produced?

You can also think about the energy efficiency of PV – what is the total energy cost of manufacturing, maintaining, and disposing of PV across its lifetime compared to the amount of electricity it generates.

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Apr 08 2013

What Was in Patent Medicines

What was actually in Thompson’s Cattle Powder, Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, or Hamlin’s Wizard Oil?

Prior to regulation by the FDA, over-the-counter medicine in this country was largely a creation of small businesses. There was a large variety of so-called “patent medicine,” each a proprietary blend of – what?

The term “patent medicine” has nothing to do with being issued a patent. The term refers to a letters patent, which is  essentially permission to use a royal endorsement. Most patent medicines were not actually patented mainly because the promoters did not want to disclose their ingredients.

Instead, such products were branded and their brand heavily marketed.

As a result the ingredients of these patent medicine products were largely unknown. Compounding pharmacists were familiar with the ingredients, however, and often sold cheap knockoffs, making it all the more important for promoters to protect and promote their brand.

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Apr 04 2013

Vaccines are Gay

It’s always amusing to see two pseudosciences combined into one greater pseudoscience – it’s like chocolate and peanut butter. It’s not uncommon because those who would embrace one pseudoscience are likely to follow the same flawed logic and process to accept others. My colleague David Gorski has termed this effect “crank magnetism.”

Take, for example, Gian Paolo Vanoli. He has been making international headlines recently because of his claim that vaccines cause homosexuality, which he insists is a disease. The story appears to have been first picked up in English by the Huffington Post – all other reports of this story I have found cite this article as their source.

Because of the date of this article (4/1) I wanted to make sure I had another source, but the only other sources are in Italian. The story does seem to check out – here is one article: Gian Paolo Vanoli: Cricket on the urine that has been around the world. 

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Apr 02 2013

SBM Temporarily Down

Published by under General

This is just a quick note to inform my readers that the SBM website is temporarily down. There appears to be an automated bot attack trying to hijack our servers. We thought we fixed it yesterday but it went down again overnight. Troubleshooting is commencing. We will have it back up as soon as possible.

Update: SBM is back up, and fully functional. You will need to reset your password to sign in and comment, however. Sorry again for the inconvenience.

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Apr 02 2013

Crank Theory of Everything

Published by under Pseudoscience

I am fascinated by the mind of the crank. Cranks are their own species of pseudoscientist – they are generally intelligent, full of information, and highly creative. There is something malfunctioning in their process, however.

Cranks tend to be far too enamored of their own ideas. They are loners who don’t have the patience to justify themselves to the barbarians who occupy mainstream science.

Their fatal flaw, however, is that they are not skeptical of themselves and their own ideas. They see endless beauty and elegance in their own theories, and then enthusiastically seek to confirm them, without ever truly asking the question – but is it real?

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Apr 01 2013

Brain to Brain Interface

We are seeing the beginning of technology to interface computers and brains. I have been writing about brain-machine-interface (BMI) technology, and brain-machine-brain interface technology. Now we have a report of brain to brain communication, which is currently as close as we can come to telepathy.

Actually, the technology is – brain to machine to another machine and then to another brain – technology. Imagine having a computer chip implanted in your brain that can read your brain activity. This information is then transferred to a computer chip implanted in someone else’s brain, who can then access that information.

If this exchange were happening in real time through wireless transfer with sufficient resolution, that would essentially be telepathy.

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