This is not a new argument; I remember reading something like this in one of Richard Dawkins books, or it may have been Steven Pinker. Next time I catch the quote I’ll update this blog.
In the meantime today’s Toronto Star has a link to a healthzone.ca article “ Don’t let fear of cancer stop you from fighting back “.
Disclaimer: If you have lost someone close to you through cancer, so have I. I am not belittling your loss, merely embedding it in some logic.
Back to the healthzone article which states in part:-
Indeed, as we live longer, we give cancer more and more opportunity to intrude and to flourish. “It becomes common only when all other killers themselves have been killed,” explains Mukherjee.
Consider this: Thousands of years ago humans died younger, around age 40. Right at the end of women’s reproductive cycle. Men failed to outrun tigers. And humans died of various diseases, infectious and not.
Then we started recognizing solutions to some healthcare problems; those of us who might have died from dehydration after dysentery survived by drinking lots of water; those of us who might have died from smallpox were inoculated and survived.
As the years went by, more and more killer-diseases were, have been, thwarted. Wonky heart? Get a replacement. Blocked arteries? Cut down on fats, exercise, and take these pills.
Little by little causes of death have been eliminated or postponed to the point where we now expect to live to be 70 or 80.
And causes of death we never experienced thousands of years ago (when we toppled at age 40) are now uncovered.
I am reminded of the wheat belt of Western Australia where, year by year, the soil blows away, the ploughs dig deeper, and mallee roots continue to erupt from the ground to be stacked and burned.
It can be argued that cancer is the number one killer nowadays because all the other obstacles have been removed.
And what when we “defeat” or “solve” the cancer problem?
There’s going to be another major hurdle. We may not meet it until we all start living past 150 years or 200 years of age, but it will be there.
Cancer used to be a minor disease. It tends not to kick in until we are after 40 (Snap quiz: List the age of every person known to you who has died of cancer; I mean known to you, not read-about-in-the-paper).
Now that we live until well after 40, cancer moves into the footlights.
Cancer can now be seen as a perfectly normal consequence of living past 40; just like baldness or sterility.
Disclaimer: If you have lost someone close to you through cancer, so have I. And so has everybody. The time will come when we all die of cancer, or perhaps some of us will be taken by an as-yet undiscovered disease before cancer grabs us.
Then the new disease will be given the aura that cancer has today.
Monday, March 21, 2011
I’m being generous in assuming that The Toronto Star merely copied-and-pasted the text that appears in its story “ Nuclear plant operator missed inspections before disasters ”.
I’m being generous too in assuming that no editor proof-read the story for logic.
“Japan’s nuclear safety agency criticized the operator of the country’s troubled nuclear complex for repeatedly failing to make inspections of critical equipment in the weeks before it was crippled in this month’s massive quake and tsunami.”
Leaving aside the grammar, most stories about Japan’s second nuclear tragedy (the first occurred before I was born) make it clear that equipment performed as it should during the earthquake. Reactors shut down automatically, on cue, as the tremors were detected.
It was the Tsunami that messed things up and washed away the fuel tanks that powered the backup-electricity generators.
Strictly speaking it wasn’t “this month’s massive quake and tsunami” that caused the problem at all, it was “this month’s massive tsunami”.
Japan’s Nuclear industry should be credited with its successful nuclear plant strategy that coped very well, thank you, with a massive earthquake.
My second quibble in logic is the idea that “the safety agency has pointed to one mistake — backup generators were stored in the basement and so were easily swamped”.
I fail to see how this is linked to a schedule of regular inspections.
Storing the diesel generators in the basement is a design flaw, not an operational flaw, and as such ought not to have been committed to blueprint, let alone steel-and-concrete.
But regular inspections, once the plant is operational, are meant to identify operational problems.
As an aside, I was listening to a podcast from TVO’s Steve Pakin, specifically the Duncan Hawthorne episode, and it seems to me that a really good design for nuclear plants would be to site them on the shore of any large body of water, but below the water level, and permit instant flooding in the event of an emergency.
True it would kill off seaweed and fish in the vicinity, but it ought to permit near-instant cooling without the ridiculous images of helicopters trying to drop buckets of water from 300 feet in the air.
Images and movies from the Sendai earthquake flood the web like a tsunami, sweeping everything off the face of the front page.
Here are four images I culled from the debris:
This image makes me think, just for a second, of the Desktop Wallpaper genre of images, or perhaps of the container yards in the industrial areas of nearby Mississauga and Brampton.
This image makes me think of the back corner of a suburban garden late Saturday night when the toys are swept into a pile near the sandbox as the toddler is led inside for the evening bath.
And this reminds me of the recycling wheelie-bins outside my apartment building, crammed full of plastic bottles which someone, somewhere, has to sort through.
Take another look at the fourth image.
Not the largest ship in the world, but bigger than anything you’ve ever sat in.
The ship sits on its keel inland I’d guess at least a kilometer from the sea or deep river, maybe farther. It looks like a residential area of town to me
How would you go about removing it?
You can’t float it out; there’ll not be another wall of water like that heading in the opposite direction. It’s entropy, time-travel. The greatest energy is available at the start, and then the energy available to do work diminishes over time, so that at the end, when the ship is stranded, the energy is all but gone.
You just can’t get that initial burst of energy (remember that the energy of a moving body of fluid is proportional to the CUBE of the velocity) coming from inland. It will never happen.
The energy to re-move (literally) the ship will have to come piecemeal. Chunks the size that can be loaded onto a truck by a crane will have to be carved and chipped away one at a time.
And you can’t put a decent crane and truck close enough to a ship that size without first bracing the ship.
And you can’t bring the truck, crane and bracing in until the roads are clear and rebuilt. And even then you need to wait for the timber baulks to be cut and fetched from the forest along the roads which, nearby, have ceased to exists.
The bridges must be checked before heavy loads are allowed.
And no, you can’t just cart the pieces of ship back to the ocean and dump them in. You must cart them to a scrap yard, recycling plant or steelworks, none of which are operational right now.
Then there’s the labor. Who is interested in working when their family has been swept away? Bring in workers from elsewhere? Sure. No emotional ties there. But where will you house them, and how will you feed them?
Multiply all this by every large vessel swept inland from the coast and coastal rivers (image #2).
Re-examine Image #1 and try not to think of the childhood game of spillikins (or “pickup sticks”). Think of 5-ton pickup sticks, wedged together, often crumpled together, locked together by the forces of flowing water.
It’s not just a matter of a crane lifting them off one by one, PacMan-like gnawing away at the edges. Someone has to inspect each container and determine the most suitable sequence, and stand back! These things might topple.
And those tanks? What is in them?
Think only of how to move them.
It’s not about technology.
It’s about mental processes.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Then this morning I find that The Telegraph has assembled a gallery of 30 photos of stranded ships and boats; lest you think this is a minor problem.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
The Toronto Star tells a story of the continuing woes of Toronto’s stagnant public transit system.
In this case, why the escalators don’t work to get you up and down to track level.
“Even on the TTC’s newer Sheppard line, all the escalators are being overhauled — an eight-year process that will be complete in June because of a costly fiasco in which European-built escalators had to be taken apart and reassembled by unionized TTC workers. But they weren’t properly installed and are being rebuilt again.”
As usual I think of The Mikado and how one could Make the Punishment Fit the Crime.
Bear in mind that There are No Corporate Decisions . Only decisions by humans.
Why weren’t the escalators properly installed?
Did the unionized TTC workers goof off?
If so claw back the salaries of those workers for the interval during which they worked on the escalators.
Were the unionized TTC workers improperly managed?
If so claw back the salaries of those managers for the interval during which they managed the escalator project.
Can’t decide who was responsible?
Apply the punishment to both.
I confess to being swayed by my recent re-reading of Robert Massie’s “Peter The Great”.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
The Toronto Star runs a follow-up story to the most recent bone-crushing physical assault in ice-hockey.
“While the concussion debate in hockey has largely focused on rules of the game, engineers and designers believe the real answers to life-altering head injuries lies in the laws of physics.”
The engineers quoted here are wrong; totally wrong.
The laws of physics (Energy = ½ mv^2) apply for sure. Travel twice as fast and you have four times the energy; three times as fast nine times the energy. And the laws of physics tell us that energy will be absorbed by the bones, which will then break.
Helmets can absorb some of that energy, reducing the likelihood of bone- and nerve-lacerations, but that’s not the solution to the problem.
To find the solution to the problem we must first identify the problem.
The problem is high-speed (ice-skating, remember?) physical assaults by huge hulking guys ( 6’ 9” and 255 lbs ) and a human body that has not evolved to deal with high speed impacts.
The solution is to do one or more of three things.
(1) Reduce the speed; unlikely to happen; it’s ice skating, remember?
(2) Reduce the mass (or weight, if you prefer); unlikely to happen. It’s a physical sport, remember?
(3) Reduce the incidence of assaults. Ah hah!
Try to imagine, you can do it if you try – the impact (nice choice there, Chris!) of a serious penalty for every body-check.
Suppose that when one player made contact with another player – of either team, then that player and another player from the same team was suspended for 5 full games plus the remainder of the current game.
Sure, there’d be a few grey-area incidents – did they make contact or was the “victim” engaging in a bit of creative drama?
But the obvious contacts, instant off-the-ice and take one of your buddies with you.
Hockey teams would be forced then to draw on their less-able players (assuming that they field the best players to win a match), and that would give the non-assaulting team a slight advantage.
A side-benefit is that slightly less-able players would have an opportunity to showcase their skills.
Just as car-insurance policies, winter-tyres, ABS systems, air bags and seat belts encourage us to push the envelope a little bit more, so we see the same number of collisions, so too will improved helmets (pads etc.) encourage players to push the envelope of aggression, with the inevitable results.
I was watching some Aussie Rules highlights two nights ago. Now THERE’s a rough sport, the more so because it is non-stop action with no protection. Check it out .
New research shows that we make better decisions when our bladders are full.
The grant-seeking scientists are on the loose again, causing havoc on our roads.
“Tuk came up with the idea after drinking several cups of coffee in an attempt to stay alert during a long lecture about whether biological factors have a detrimental impact on self control.”
Tuk’s idea is that we make better decisions when our bladders are full.
Show me a car driver with a full bladder and I’ll show you a driver who is weaving in and out of highway lanes without signaling, cutting-in to leap-frog just one more car, tailgating me all the way down a residential street, and finally swerving into their driveway, leaping out of the car, racing in the front door, down the hall, …
Do us all a favor – go to the washroom BEFORE you leave the office or the party. And sip only enough to replace regular dehydration while breathing.
The Toronto Star reported on a failed rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
You already know my views on Global Warming.
- After two years of tests and three successful trials, the failure is “quite painful,” said Mike Luther of the Science Mission Directorate.
“Hooray” I say.
Let’s not waste more money tackling the non-problem of Global Warming (Summary: the earth has been growing warmer for the past 11,000 years; we already know that).
Instead let’s focus on the real problem: Human population which leads to pollution and reduced access to fresh drinking water.