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Yeah, so I haven't been blogging for more than a week. Sorry 'bout that; I had a guest blogger lined up for while I was traveling, but they turned out to be a no-show and I was too busy to take time out from work.

This week's excuse is that "The Delirium Brief" is being typeset twice—separately for the US and UK releases—and the US page proofs landed in my inbox with a thud and a very short deadline which is going to keep me busy for the rest of this week once I'm over the jetlag.

Note that this isn't a separate edit; the US and UK editions were edited and copy-edited in a common process and share the same spelling, grammar, and word-shaped objects. But the US and UK publishers (who are two different companies who just happened to buy the respective territorial rights to publish the work on their own patch) decided to typeset the copy-edited manuscript independently of one another, which means I need to check a second set of page proofs for errors. It a while to plough through a 400 page book; even if you're just treating it as a reading text and can read at a page a minute, that's nearly seven hours—and checking page proofs for typos and errors is somewhat slower and more laborious. (Normally one publisher takes the lead on production and the others just buy in the typesetting files, but because of [REDACTED] that ain't viable this time round, hence the last-minute round of extra work.)

So normal blogging will probably wait until next week, and I'm going to be scarce in the comments for a bit.

Oh, that reminds me: some of you are wondering if I had any trouble entering the United States, right?

The answer to that is "not really"—the usual questions asked by the Immigration officer at the airport has merely grown by one ("Have you visited any of these countries: Syria, Iraq ..."), and by the time my interrogator got to "Afghanistan" I was visibly finding it so hard not to snigger that he just shrugged and waved me through.

But leaving the United States was a little more troubling.

I always opt out of being scanned by a body scanner on general principle; I think it's an annoying, ineffective, intrusive waste of time and I want to signal my disapproval by not cooperating. The TSA have a set theatrical routine for dealing with opt-outs that requires you to stand in the naughty corner while someone shouts "we've gotta male opt-out!" and some other poor guy has to pull on latex gloves and give you a massage.

It turns out that a couple of weeks ago the TSA rolled out a new pat down process that seems designed to ... well, some folks would pay good money for it, but the main effect seems to be intended to embarrass and deter body-shy people from opting out. I am not body-shy, at least in well-understood/controlled circumstances like a search at a security checkpoint or a naturist club, so the main effect in my case was to embarrass the dude following the orders to pat down my crotch.

But I think it's highly suggestive that this idiotic measure surfaced while everyone was agitated over Trump's ban on people entering the USA from majority-muslim countries that weren't major Trump business partners, and I am now wondering: what other low-key "administrative measures" slid by under the radar while we were all distracted by one act or another in the Washington DC puppet show?

208 Comments

1:

I can't recall where I read it originally, but a fun idea would be to take a Viagra before the TSA full-body massage...

2:

Sure. Sitting in waiting chairs then airplane seats for an hour or few like that might remove that fun.

4:

Considering such an encounter, something in me wants to do a Sally-style fake orgasm from "When Harry Met Sally"

Yeah, that's really dating me...

5:

Actual laugh, because that's very nearly the same thing I said to the screen when I got to that bit of Charlie's post.

Charlie, it is good to see you back safe and sound. I did have the odd spot of worry, especially when it transpired that you had apparently been redefining "Ford Orion" as an update of one of their fifties concepts rather than an Escort with a boot (or something of the kind...)

6:

Yes, but I'm probably not going back to the USA this year. And possibly not next year either. Ask me again in 2020, election results permitting.

7:

Eh? Ford Orion? Where? (I know what a Ford Orion was; I seem to recall I drove one for a bit. 1980s Escorts; just say NopeNopeNopety.)

8:

Was tempted to make a joke about "pussy grabbing" as new TSA search method, but that just ain't funny. Though your tweet about the groping was amusing, along with some of the reactions.

I wasn't too concerned about you having trouble, unless you made a fuss, but I assume that's not terribly likely.
Meanwhile the sister-in-law's mother is due to fly back in a week, from Iraq with a Green Card. Hopefully she'll make it before the Idiot in Chief's next go at a travel ban.

9:

No. Slightly deeper, faster breathing, and an intent stare at a point about a handspan away from the bridge of the searcher's nose, doesn't matter what point on that circle so long as you keep it consistent. A slight whimper when they touch some part of you that cannot possibly be construed as an erogenous zone. A subtle half-smile when they're done. Make the "thank you" sound heartfelt. You're aiming for subtle hints, here.

And, you know, you might get a phone number out of it.

10:

Well, that was the inference I drew from the tantalising hint posted by Kyle Wilson in the preceding thread. I immediately had a vision of a safe (FSVO) nuclear car engine that achieves fission by the extreme compression for nanosecond periods of what would normally be a subcritical mass - by means unspecified. Of course this is to jump a very long way to a very particular conclusion on the basis of very inadequate data, but the concept was somewhat compelling.

1980s Escorts = Dairylea cars: the outside is made of tinfoil and the bits it covers are made from cheese...

11:

Glad to hear you made it home safely. fwiw, the Canadian government is working to pass a bill that will allow the U.S. border folks to detain me without right of appeal on Canadian soil; this will replace the current system, in which I can opt out and leave the airport. You can bet I wrote nasty letters to my member of parliament and Justin Dear about this. And I too will suspend travel to the U.S., other than for inescapable family matters, until the situation improves.

Like you, I politely ask for a pat down rather than the scanner, but for slightly different reasons: a former brother-in-law who worked for El Al security made it amply clear to me that there was no substitute for a pat-down by someone who knows their business. I politely explain this to the security guy, apologize for making them do extra work, and thank them for their efforts*. And I make sure (without shouting) that fellow travelers [sic] hear that message.

* Can you tell I'm Canadian yet? *G*

Let's be fair: these employees didn't set the rules they must live by**, and they have a shitty job, with essentially no upside potential (unless they happen to catch a real terrorist) but huge downside potential (in case they miss one). All the ones who have patted me down thus far have been polite, courteous, and largely unembarassing -- though I don't fit any of their scary profiles, which undoubtedly helps.

* Yeah, they could always resign. Because there are so many equally high-paying jobs in the U.S. for people with their academic background. And if the ones with strong moral principles resigned in protest, that would leave the dregs and the jackbooted thugs. Not an improvement imho.

Yes, it would be nice if the security system were more sensible. But in the real world, we have to make the best of the craziness we've been handed.

12:

Re: the goddamned scanners. I've gotten my chiropractor to write me a note that says I have rotator cuff injury, and I can't lift my arm high enough to be scanned properly. Since there's a medical exemption to the scanner, TSA just puts me through the metal detector and wipes down my hands for explosive residue. No pat down. And usually they don't even ask for the Dr's note. Your mileage may vary at different airports (I've noticed that that TSA's procedures can vary from airport to airport).

Frankly, I don't trust the scanners. The California Board of Radiologists complained that they hadn't been adequately tested, and that they should be regarded as a health risk until proven otherwise. Two radiologists I know won't use them, either.

13:

was going to point out a missing in this blog post, but on second thought save those neurons for your pay copy

14:

beowulf888 @ 12:

Were the radiologists talking about the x-ray backscatter scanners or the millimeter wave scanners? The former were removed from service in US airports in 2013, while the latter to the best of my knowledge are most likely to harm you by causing localized heating.

15:

Repeating what I said several posts back, with an addition:
February 10, 2017 22:48 | Reply
1:
Good luck with DHS!
Come back safe.
Tell us all about it.
In that order, of course.

Good to have you back with us, & welcome home!
I assume, we will get a status report on what "liberal" ( i.e. non-fascist ) "America" is thinking, feeling & doing, later?

P.S. Admittedly, we suspected this anyway

16:

I've not traveled much by air since that change, and I probably couldn't distinguish one machine from the other anyway. Is there any assurance that the changeover is complete?

Knowing the nature of these bureaucracies, I would suspect that there are any number of unsafe machines still humming along, likely mixed in with the millimeter wave units. Depending on which entry lane you choose, you may either get a gentle radar ping, or a deep tissue microwaving.

17:

[REDACTED] is starting to become an obscenity, replacing fuck, shit etc., which are now quite commonly used ....

18:

Welcome back, Charlie! I'm glad to see that I managed to underestimate reality this time.

19:

Tom M @ 16:

If you have to stand inside a clear tube that has scanning arms spin around you it's a millimeter wave machine. If you have to stand between two boxes it's a backscatter machine. The backscatter machines were yanked because the vendor wasn't able to upgrade them in time to comply with the privacy provisions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Given they by definition were seen by the public and continued use violated federal law it's unlikely any were overlooked. Since the removal the contracts have only been going to millimeter wave suppliers.


And for a bit of levity, here's what it's like going through Fargo airport security with a Nobel Prize:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/what-it-s-like-to-carry-your-nobel-prize-through-airport-security/

20:

In the background to all of this was an interesting (to a biologist, anyway) study done in Rome some years ago and copied all over the world with similar results, which aimed to study what amounts and types of illegal drugs were being consumed by looking for drug metabolites in sewage.

The estimated drug consumption levels were consistently several times those guesstimated by Government sources, indicating that the importation of drugs was a much bigger business than hitherto thought, and that the best efforts of Customs, TSA and Police count for exceedingly little in terms of stopping drug importation.

In other words, that intrusive chap busy scanning you for weapons and confiscating nail scissors as though they were deadly dangerous instruments of mass destruction is, at best, an irritating twerp. At least some smugglers know how to get around him and his ilk, and if it can be done for drugs, it can be done for pretty much anything.

21:

Of course an alternative interpretation is that the models used to predict how much of the drugs consumed end up in sewage are incorrect, and the amount of drug use is overestimated.

One of the two interpretations can be used to justify spending extra resources on law enforcement.

22:

Oh crap. You mean there is strong circumstantial evidence for The Clan actually being a thing? Charlie's penchant for front running reality in his novels strikes again!

23:

Nope nopety nope, you got the wrong idea completely!

(Was brainstorming a possible power source for a steampunk secondary world that makes sense, i.e. not coal-or-wood-burning but relies on steam, and $COMMENTER mentioned an article in Analog a while back about steam as a lifting gas for dirigibles, which works great as long as you can generate a lot of it on demand ... which isn't a problem in the context of fission-powered zeppelins (with no milquetoast nonsense like shielding, of course — we just rely on Officer Country being a long way from the boiler room).)

24:

I assume, we will get a status report on what "liberal" ( i.e. non-fascist ) "America" is thinking, feeling & doing, later?

If you're on twitter you don't need it. Shorter version: it's Brexit syndrome, writ large.

25:

In this case, it means "details withheld to prevent embarrassment to business associates who I hope to continue to be able to work with in future". HTH.

26:

The TSA aren't totally incompetent, I'm afraid ... they found the baby multitool I travel with and had forgotten to move to my checked bag on my way through security. Gave me a choice of going back out and spending $25 to mail it home, or discarding it: I opted for discard (to save queuing repeatedly on a dodgy knee — it costs barely more than $25 to replace).

Of course, they missed the other, stealthier, tool I always carry. But then, security at Tel Aviv missed that one, too ...

27:

"Was tempted to make a joke about "pussy grabbing" as new TSA search method,"

Nothing new there. My sister confirms that that was already happening last year before Trump got elected. No pussyfooting about if you'll excuse the pun, a full grab down there.

Sod 'em. Lots of world left to visit that isn't doing a CFIT into Mount Fascism...

28:

My Twotter account just about works on this machine, if I really need to send a ,essage.
It's utterly borked on my phone ( No idea why)
And, anyway. I regard it as so much empty chatter, though nowhere nearly as pernicious as Arsebook.

@ 26 - made of wood &/or plastic I assume?

29:

I hope this won't offend anyone.

What's the earliest reference people can think of to the concept of a mobile hologram that can actually interact like a solid object? My earliest thought is of a "hard light (hologram)" in Red Dwarf.

30:

Certainly a number of criminals have worked out how to obtain industrial amounts of these illegal drugs, in a way not easily stopped by Customs and the police. The only real question is how this is accomplished.

Possibilities include chemically altering the drugs for the transport part of the process, then reversing the transform at the other end, magical Clan transport systems, and even a novel method of production that doesn't involve transporting the actual chemicals at all.

31:

The "projections" in the E. E. Smith "Skylark" books is the earliest I can think of.

32:

And here I was expecting a scene out of Spinal Tap, although the red-meat-eating TSA probably wouldn't recognize a cucumber in the first place...

33:

Perhaps not totally OT, whatever it is, but the US Congressional Research Service just emitted a FAQ/primer on the European Union for the benefit of the congresscritters -- perhaps it would be of interest for some here. Commendably, the author's email is provided, so comments and suggestions for improvement could be submitted.

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21372.pdf

The European Union: Questions and Answers
Kristin Archick Specialist in European Affairs
February 21, 2017

34:

Oh, yes, YES, OH, *Y*E*S*!!!

Reading the cmts, I'm thinking I might as well opt out... because they have to pat me down *every* time, anyway - both knees have partial replacements.

But if I get one that's intentionally intrusive.... YES!!!

mark

35:

Really? In the US, it's usually back-out-or-they-take-it-forever.

mark

36:

Confirmed: at BOS I was given the option to go back outside, mail it to myself, then come back in through security.

Mind you, for a TSA checkpoint obeying the TSA goon squad rules, they were remarkably human.

37:

(unless they happen to catch a real terrorist)

It would be interesting to see statistics on how many real, verified, no-fooling terrorists have been caught by TSA airport checks since 2001. Of course, I suspect that such statistics are closely held for reasons. I also suspect that the answer, were it to be known, is not much different from "none".

38:

Every check point I've been through for several years now has a self serve kiosk where you can mail things. Not cheap but an option. And I've been offered the option to back out and deal with "it" or throw "it" away each time I've messed up. I mean I could have checked my 2nd carry on if I had wanted a few times. (My son never did say why he had put cork screw in the camera bag. I tossed it.)

39:

Confirmed: at BOS I was given the option to go back outside, mail it to myself, then come back in through security.

Mind you, for a TSA checkpoint obeying the TSA goon squad rules, they were remarkably human.

We recently had a similar experience at KCHS involving a jar of fig preserves. The TSA guy was quite nice and when we elected to leave the jar expressed regrets that TSA rules forced them to discard it.

41:

I'd rather not be flying with people carrying these things.
http://blog.tsa.gov/2017/02/tsa-week-in-review-feb-6th-12th.html

Your preferences notwithstanding, does that have anything to do with how many actual terrorists TSA has caught?

42:

Last I read the TSA hasn't caught any terrorists at all.

As for David L, there were already plenty of security checks in place to catch people illegally carrying handgus onto planes. The issues here are not just that there are more checks which are less likely to catch anyone, (Regular readers will be aware of the concept of Security Theatre) but that the people doing the checking are poorly paid and permitted to be nasty to people as part of their job.

43:

Tales from the Troubles...

During the 1970s and 1980s, and before the plentiful availability of reliable airport X-ray machines, flights to and from Northern Ireland were... restrictive. As a schoolchild travelling from Edinburgh to Belfast, unaccompanied, this was an experience.

As in, "we'll open all your bags, in front of you, at check-in, don't wrap your Christmas presents" (the old Gate 1 at Edinburgh). Or "No hand luggage on the flight - handbags for ladies, nothing for men". Note that this wasn't a search to keep the flight safe - it was also a search to detect items of interest. Parts of things, bits for radio-controlled aircraft, etc.

Belfast Airport was even more fun - searches for everyone on entry to the airport, not just those going airside. This presents a problem for a parent, armed with a personal protection weapon, in civilian clothes, entering the airport to pick up your arriving son. Do you:
a) leave the weapon in the unmarked car, at risk of loss, while leaving yourself unprotected if your location has been predicted?
b) wave your military ID in front of a large room full of unknown people, some of whom would be very interested to associate face with job?
c) carry the smaller weapon that day, watch carefully, pick the long queue with the hassled staff and the hurried searches / poor search skills, and carry the weapon in, stuffed down the front of your crotch - with b) as a fallback option?

It wasn't a) or b)...

Hand searches are fairly meaningless unless they're thorough. And thorough means searching the crotch. Think of that "grope" as a reassuring sign that the searchers are high-quality and serious (I actually congratulated the last searcher who pulled me for a spot check, he did a very good job of it).

44:

Considering the existence of 3D printed guns why carry a gun at all when not on active duty/assignment if you can print a gun or carry the parts and assemble only when needed.

45:

Females at risk of being targeted by security ... There's a large disparity in IUD usage in the US (2%) vs. Europe (27%). IUDs are usually plastic/copper or plastic/hormone and (as the category name says) are implanted within the uterus. Curious about how this messes with airport security esp. since it's mostly non-USians who would set off the machine.


Seriously ... with more metals and plastics used in medicine, security needs to find a better way of identifying potential problem passengers.

46:

That's a silly comment, although maybe i am misunderstanding.

For starters, the period in question was an active shooting war in Norther Ireland. Early in the 1990's (or maybe late in the 1980's) a couple of unarmed soldiers had been lynched after taking a wrong turn in their car. Then there was the lack of 3D printing at the time. Plus, if the military have 3D printed guns and related stuff, how long before one of them or the equipment makes it into the wrong hands? Not long at all, if you are using thousands of people to cover a large area, e.g. Northern Ireland.

Then if we assume you mean if someone is a modern day security or assassin type person, why would you even travel with disassembled parts until at the moment you need them. If you are offical security you can leave your gun with someone safe, or in the case of NI, you can do that but doing so means someone will realise you are real army and thus a potential target.

47:

Okay, Trappist-1. Who's astronomically minded enough to tell me how prone to flares the "ultra-cool," high metallicity red dwarf 2MASS J23062928-0502285 is?

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRAPPIST-1)

NASA announced today that TRAPPIST-1 has 7 terrestrial-sized planets orbiting it (stats at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/6286-ssc2017-01f-TRAPPIST-1-Statistics-Table), three of which are thought to be in its habitable zone. It's 39-ish light years from Earth.

48:

Meant current days (not NI troubles times) also am assuming scenario is of a secret type assassin bad-guy working solo and not on a team.

Already fallen into the wrong hands as per article below dated Aug 2016.

http://gizmodo.com/bad-news-tsa-found-a-3d-printed-gun-in-a-carry-on-1785040682

49:

This looks almost like a synthetic/manufactured system ... amazing.

Excerpt:

'In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky.'

Better than Niven's Ringworld, and probably easier to engineer.

50:

Sorry, but that is an urban myth. They don't have any problem with watches, including my 4 oz of stainless steel (including strap) or metal glasses. It's just belt buckles, credit cards, banknotes and handkerchiefs. No, I am not joking.

51:

I happened to notice that Amazon UK are scheduling the paperback of The Delirium Brief for one week earlier than either the hardback or the Kindle edition. Can I trust my eyes?

52:

Oh, right! Yes, pretty neat. And just about possible using natural-uranium oxide and natural graphite from a high-purity deposit. Of course, it does make it a lot easier for people to luck on to the phenomenon if the time between the initial supernova and the evolution of intelligent life on the planet condensed from its debris is a few billion years shorter than in our own case - which also makes it more plausible that they didn't just use methane, which is nearly as good as steam and easier to deal with than uranium.

53:

None. Ever.
The TSA isn't a security agency, it's a theatrical agency.
They want people to FEEL safe, and people feel safer by doing a little chicken dance before they get on the airplane.

The actual safety comes from the Black Chamber spying on everyone, armored cockpit doors, pilots who don't come out and passengers who jump weirdos who might be terrorists.

Remember: REAL security is professional, and therefore costs more then $10/hr.

54:

There's a paper at http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1706/eso1706a.pdf which mentions the system is not dissimilar to a scaled up Jupiter and the Galilean moons. It also concludes the system ought to be unstable on the megayear timescale, but as it's there the stability model seems to need work...

55:

That thing looks like it'd be more dangerous to the person firing it than the person they were firing it at. I'd expect the same to be true of any such device unless the 3D printer was special enough that it'd cost as much as an entire arsenal.

It's also rather pointless when you can make something quite a lot less likely to blow up in your face from a bit of wood and some water pipe. The US Army Improvised Warfare Manual contains a tediously large number of near-identical sets of instructions for minor variations on that theme, and since I managed to read it in the original "before the internet" I'd be amazed if there weren't zillions of copies online now. Not that you really need it since they're all so dead simple a chimp could almost come up with the same idea.

56:

What was it like if you travelled in a civilised manner, ie. train and ship?

57:

I think that tales of ghosts that can actually do things probably go back pretty well as far as tales do. It's just the explanation of how they work that changes according to what the culture they're told in finds plausible.

58:

Don't know enough about guns to even guess at how dangerous a 3D printed version would be to the user vs. the target.

Have seen ads for at-home 3D printers for under $300USD that look as though they're probably for making toys. Suspect that this tech will probably follow the regular (paper) printers marketing model where the manufacturer almost gives away the machine in order to charge an arm and a leg for the 'ink/toner'.

59:

If I've skimmed the Oklo wiki page right you don't need graphite you can use water as the moderator (and shielding?) potentially from recycling the steam in a closed system. Although actual power output from Oklo seems like it was low - less reactor more nuclear kettle.

60:

Thanks for the link to the paper!

Read it ... and hope that Neil deGrasse Tyson covers this soon so that I can better appreciate/understand what this paper means and points to. Would enjoy a documentary with in-depth interviews with these scientists (who btw work in/represent several different countries/institutions) describing this study including their moment of realization that this was big news, and that it was for real.


Congratulations to all participating scientists! Now get this show out on the funding circuit so that we can get some in-depth detail!

62:

That worked for Oklo because it was operating a very long time ago and the concentration of 235U was higher. The half-life of 235U is about 7e8 years, that of 238U about 4.5e9 years, so over the lifetime of the planet the proportion of 235U to 238U has declined quite a lot. When Oklo was operating the concentration of 235U in natural uranium was comparable to its artificially-enhanced concentration in what we call "LEU" for reactor fuel today. It is possible still to build a reactor that will run on natural uranium, but the only practical moderators are heavy water or high-purity graphite; ordinary water absorbs too many neutrons and you can't get it to go.

Water (or other chemicals containing a lot of hydrogen, such as polythene) can be a useful component of shielding because once neutrons have been slowed by passing through it they are much more readily absorbed by some more exotic material like boron in the next layer out, so that layer can be much thinner. It also scatters back into the core some of the neutrons that would otherwise escape. It doesn't do much for gammas though so you still need a layer of dense material outside that.

63:

Considering the existence of 3D printed guns why carry a gun at all when not on active duty/assignment if you can print a gun or carry the parts and assemble only when needed.

Because he was on active duty - as pointed out @46. My apologies, I assumed "The Troubles", "Belfast", and 1970s-80s would be a commonly understood reference. Because soldiers and policemen were constantly at risk, many carried weapons off duty as well as on duty. At the time, we lived on an Army housing estate, that in 1970 had seen the addition of some concrete blocks to the back road, and some light barbed wire around the edges (enough to prevent someone from claiming "they were just taking a short cut through the estate").

Regarding "3D printed guns", even if you've 3D-printed your firearm, where will you get the ammunition? I wouldn't trust them to do much more than either blow up in your hand, or be accurate beyond a few meters range. These are smoothbore devices, and 3D printers don't typically produce metal parts capable of operating safely at a 35,000 PSI chamber pressure (the 9mm NATO proofing test will take that up to 45,000 PSI).

The reason that there is a Proof House in the UK (and the CIP houses elsewhere) is from the days when amateur manufacturers were churning out cheap junk that endangered the user; see:

http://www.gunproof.com/Proofing/proofing.html

64:

I don't know much about guns either but I do know that the pressure from even a small cartridge reaches thousands of bar, and you want something a bit more substantial than a Christmas cracker toy to contain that. And as you suspect, Christmas cracker toys are all that the thing most people think of as a "3D printer" can produce.

You can get 3D printers capable of producing pressure vessels, but unless you're Bill Gates or someone you're not going to have one in your shed.

That inkjet model, I'm surprised it hasn't disappeared up its own arse yet. I surely can't be the only one to have noticed that in many cases it's cheaper to buy a whole new printer with ink included than to buy a set of replacement cartridges, and it's been like that for at least ten years. The production engineering on inkjet printers is such that they do probably only cost pennies to make, but it'll still be much more than the cartridges, so the model still seems to have gone so far as to have become self-defeating.

65:

Backscatter X-ray and T-ray scanners are intentionally non-penetrating, so an IUD will not show up on them.

Metal detectors ... unlikely; they're very small, and if spectacle frames/small wrist-watches don't trip a metal detector, an IUD won't either. (Remember, the metal components of a handgun or knife are on the order of 100-2000 grams.)

Cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators are a special case because (a) they include electrically conductive wire loops, (b) electronics, and (c) they're in direct contact with sensitive cardiac tissue: the induced current from a metal detector is enough to trigger cardiac arrest in some cases(!) hence the warnings.

Artificial hips or other joint replacements aren't liable to kill you if you go through a magnetometer, but they're massive (compared to a small wire) and can cause false positives. Ditto artificial limb armatures.

66:

Probably: remember, the UK publisher is Orbit and the US publisher is Tor.com Publishing (a close sibling of Tor).

67:

Note that armoured cockpit doors have killed at least 121 people (Helios 522) and possibly another 227 (Malaysian Airways flight 370). Not to mention the 150 who died on Germanwings 9525 due to pilot suicide-by-plane. And probably others, where a prompt intervention by cabin crew — or even passengers — could have prevented a disaster due to suicidal CFIT or pilot hypoxia.

Indeed, likely as not, armoured cockpit doors are on track to kill as many people as hijacking incidents like 9/11 when you average them over time.

68:
That inkjet model, I'm surprised it hasn't disappeared up its own arse yet. I surely can't be the only one to have noticed that in many cases it's cheaper to buy a whole new printer with ink included than to buy a set of replacement cartridges
Allow me to confuse the issue further: the cartridges in new printers are only 1/3 to 1/2 full, so generally you at worst come out even buying new cartridges. But do they tell anyone this?
69:

The US Army Improvised Warfare Manual contains a tediously large number of near-identical sets of instructions for minor variations on that theme, and since I managed to read it in the original "before the internet" I'd be amazed if there weren't zillions of copies online now. Not that you really need it since they're all so dead simple a chimp could almost come up with the same idea.

I'm tempted to make some remark along the lines of, "Have you met some of the guys in the Army?"

Slightly more seriously, it saves a lot of time (particularly when time is short and people are under great stress) to have successful recipes spelled out in idiot-resistant text with helpful pictures. Working out a gadget from first principles is a fun passtime when you're relaxing at home; when unfriendly strangers are shooting at you, you just need something that works.

70:

You don't need Bill Gates money to gain access to a CNC lathe. I'm not sure about polycarbonate, but a single use wooden device could easily be constructed without raising too much suspicion. I think the only reason that's not a problem is that most people just want to build things because they can, and then they want to continue building more things because it's fun :D

71:

I would be more interested in what the "terrorist" was carrying and why they defined him/her as a terrorist. Even during the very worst terrorism episodes imaginable the number itself would be statistically microscopic.

72:

a single use wooden device could easily be constructed without raising too much suspicion. I think the only reason that's not a problem is that most people just want to build things because they can

I had the benefit of growing up in a relaxed country with ample access to the outdoors and other resources. Making firearms using common household chemicals{tm} is not especially easy, but if you have the resources available to a teenager a "spud gun" or propane cannon is straightforward. It's not especially difficult to build one capable of lethal force, either. The main issues are things teenagers are less worried about - the device exploding, misfires and delayed detonation. Portability is only an issue in militarised areas where it's likely to be easier to obtain a proper firearm. Spud guns, in other words, are not limited to mashing potatoes.

Actually making a proper firearm is mildly tricky due to the specialised tools - boring a proper gun barrel using tools you made yourself can be done, but it's a lot of fuss. Just making a single-shot sawn-off shotgun or pistol is fairly easy though. Or a sten gun can be made using very basic tools (as popularised in WWII). Modern fibre tape will give you some time to notice that the metal chamber has failed, making them much safer today than they used to be.

A real b'stard would make a mid-tech (oversize) ceramic one, because all you need is a kiln and a couple of chemical supply places for the materials. Which are commonly used in a variety of applications, so they're not especially hard to get hold of. They're also fairly affordable, so you can make a few and destructively test them (early tests will definitely be destructive). Making a single-shot "vase" would be one likely mechanism, and using ceramic ammunition would mean they'd have to detect the thing chemically (assuming the carry-on x-ray will spot the slug... and that's easy enough to test). Likewise, a silicone or rubber "spring" firing mechanism avoids the other easy detection option.

I'm not saying it would be easy, and I've never gone beyond thinking about it, but it doesn't seem wildly impossible.

Another nasty trick would be one of the composite used by scuba fans. Their failure mode is unpleasant for bystanders but they're very hard to see in an xray. Small ones will fit in hand luggage... 9.4kg is pushing the weight but otherwise fine http://www.nauticexpo.com/prod/interspiro/product-21455-229023.html

73:

growing up in a relaxed country with ample access to the outdoors and other resources. Making firearms using common household chemicals{tm} is not especially easy, but if you have the resources available to a teenager a "spud gun"

Yes, exactly!

74:

Charlie @ 65:

I have a quarter-pound stainless steel plate in my arm. Not once in 15 years has it set off a metal detector, airport or otherwise. Just to prove your point.

76:

It's worth remembering that "cool" ( M? ) red-dwarves have a much longer lifespan than even G-types like Sol, so there is a much greater chance of live arising & evolving.
This is surely going to be a boost for a super-sized extra-atmosphere telescope, so that we can observe said planets directly?

[ Stars, remember: O, B, A, F, G, K, M (r & s - I'm not sure if the last two classes are used any more?)
Look up Hertzprung-Russell ]

77:

I flew to Germany from East Anglia twice in a week and after I returned from the second trip I found a stiletto-like screwdriver in the torn lining of my laptop case. I thought I'd lost the screwdriver months earlier. One journey involved two stages so that was six flights in all.

78:

It seems that modern assassins don't read Guns and Ammo. They read Walter Jon Williams, Ken MacLeod, and OGH. They use proxies and squirt-guns, or special materials in the sushi. I don't think they're tooling up with zip guns like a 50s rumble.

79:

Ah, I see ...
"R" & ""S" have been renamed: "L" & "T"
Here for more info

80:

re: R & S -> L & T

Bah !

40 years ago the mnemonic was

Wow, O Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me Right Now Sweetie


Its political correctness gone mad, I tell you, mad !

81:

Cheers; I should have thought of them, but my memory is that they're always described without ever being given a handy name.

82:

Yes, I remember that one, too - except that the last word was - SMACK(!)

83:

I also suspect that the answer, were it to be known, is not much different from "none".

...and the number of successful hijacks since 2001 is likewise low, alongside the number of thousand-plus-casualty events caused by airliners flying into cities...

Remember, the whole point is deterrence. Rather like my poor choices in summer vacation clothing (they keep the stampeding elephants away, you know). Airliners are no longer a convenient and mostly-unstoppable way for a resource-poor terrorist group to deliver a shedload of flammables and kinetic energy onto a critical site without warning.

Vectors of terrorism have been addressed in the UK through similar logic (also known as closing the empty stable door); mostly by traffic planning and urban furniture. It's rather difficult to get a parking spot within X meters of a government building, or to find an unobstructed road access to an airline terminal, or to get a large vehicle into the City of London without the attention of a lot of cameras...

...it just took an awful lot of deaths in the Continental US to realise that their airport security was rather basic compared to Europe. Remember, US security levels were rather low pre-2001; no mandatory matching of luggage to people, limited physical searching before crossing airside. To these eyes, the US airport security precautions were more like a Western European railway station (it's hard to divert a hijacked train, after all).

84:

@ 83:
(it's hard to divert a hijacked train, after all)

But the idea did make for one of the more entertaining Frank Sinatra movies:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Ryan%27s_Express

85:

"Vectors of terrorism have been addressed through similar logic ..."

Oh, really? The methods I thought of by which the IRA could cause chaos in England have not been closed; none need any significant amount of money, and many don't need even military or even mining/quarrying equipment. What they do is require significant (usually non-military) skills, good organisation and serious attention to secrecy. Because of the latest terrorism act, I shall not describe them.

The thing that is actually preventing such attacks are the fact that virtually all non-IRA terrorist attacks in the UK were (and I assume are) performed by the, er, intellectually challenged who are in desperate need of psychiatric help. If there really were any terrorist conspiracies of the sort that the war-on-terror polemic claims exist, we would be in a very different position. Inter alia, look at how few of the incredible number of terrorist conspiracies that are claimed to be detected end up even in court appearances.

86:

Nor has my watch, which is 100g, mainly of stainless steel. If keeping things internal really does prevent their detection, we need only one person or group to be seriously ingenious to start demands for more invasive body searches on, say, people suspected of Muslim tendencies.

87:

I might be more concerned about low level biological effects of body scanning systems at airport security, if the next step wasn't a doubling of daily exposure by boarding an airplane and climbing to ten thousand metres.

Elsewhere, this BoingBoing report from 45's recent Florida rally seems rather Apocalypse Codex ...

http://boingboing.net/2017/02/22/not-today-satan.html

88:

I now have a large chunk of titanium down my femur. It has a roughly 1 in 4 rate of pinging the old style gateways depending on how sensitive they have been set, but will always trip the handheld scanner. It's not usually the IM nail which sets it off, that's inside the bone. Rather it's the two bolts that lock it in place, and each of those sticks out the side enough to trip.

On the other hand the newer stand and wave your arms machine they put in at Gatwick has not pinged once. I miss travelling with the crutch - I could leave my belt on.

89:

If keeping things internal really does prevent their detection

All the more so if the thing in question is nonmetallic. 250 g of C4/Semtex has a volume of ~160 cc, which can be accomodated in a standard-issue body cavity and is enough to do lethal damage to an airplane if used properly.

A number of years ago a friend who worked as a DARPA program manager and I were having a discussion along the lines of this thread. I suggested that DARPA start a Body Cavity Initiative, but the idea didn't seem attractive. If it ever becomes a real problem, some form of CT or MRI imaging seems to be the alternative to invasive physical searches. CT uses x-rays, so MRI looks like the likeliest possibility. Maybe ultrasound.

90:

What they do is require significant (usually non-military) skills, good organisation and serious attention to secrecy.

Agreed. The secrecy thing was what forced PIRA into a cell structure; and then restricted its freedom to operate. After twenty years of intelligence-gathering, you should have a reasonably good idea of the players. One quote I've seen elsewhere is "touted to f**k". The security forces might not have owned or controlled their sources outright, but they did know most of what was going on - mostly afterwards, unfortunately.

Note for the unaware: AIUI the intelligence database run in Northern Ireland was huge, and took huge effort to maintain; but it worked... and in a reassuring way, got abandoned as too expensive to maintain (man-hours and resources) after peace broke out.

virtually all non-IRA terrorist attacks in the UK were (and I assume are) performed by the, er, intellectually challenged who are in desperate need of psychiatric help

I'd suggest that 7/7 was quite successful in its aims. The Glasgow Airport attack was planned and performed by a graduate, but limited by access to materials.

The question is "what effect are you trying to achieve"? If it's to wage a PR war by making people worry, then 7/7 was a success; brown faces carrying rucksacks caused mistrust. I wonder whether your "methods to cause chaos" aimed to wage economic war through damage to critical infrastructure.

Different groups will use different techniques to further their aims; the means to achieve those aims may be different:

- PIRA had a clear political end-state in dealing with UK Govet, had a centralised control over its operations, had access to reasonable levels of funding and people, and was willing to negotiate. It wanted to create the image of a "military" campaign, "legitimate" targets, etc.

- The terror groups since have had little consistent or credible political goal in the UK; little or no centralisation or control; near-zero access to weaponry and explosives; a pool of recruits that are either angry, stupid, or both; and an unwillingness to negotiate. Why be surprised that the aim is simply to create fear among everyday life? It's cheap, minimises the need for resources, peopl, and planning. Two (very expendable) blokes with knives killing a single off-duty soldier occupied the news for weeks.

I'm not surprised that the bulk of cases don't appear in the national news; if you're fighting to keep normality, then publicising credible risks to life is doing the terrorists' work. The downside of the legal approach is that it gives away the capabilities of the Security Services. I do wonder whether someone having a quiet chat along the lines of "don't be an arse, we've told your Mum and your Imam" is a good early-stage intervention for the wannabe hard-liner; it's certainly less likely to create martyrs, or to freak out Liberty / Amnesty.

91:

MRI has the problem that you need facilities to do head X-Rays available, unless you're willing to accept welders suing for eye injuries sustained in the machine.

92:

"touted to f**k"

I can just hear it in the local accent. Brilliant!

93:

Regarding non-PIRA terror in the UK, it might be useful to note the helping hand the UK state itself provided for that sort of thing (try that in the local accent, hi).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Banner#Collusion_with_loyalist_paramilitaries

94:

Also #83

Or, indeed, just disable the dead man and set the throttle wide open https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unstoppable_(2010_film)

95:

MRI is a total non-starter for airport security! Or any kind of security for that matter, barring a magical technological breakthrough that's not on the horizon.

Your MRI machine needs to be inside a Faraday-caged room b/c of the full-digit Tesla magnetic fields. It needs emergency ventilation capability (blow-out doors, windows, and roof) in event of the main magnet quenching inside a Dewar of liquid helium. It needs a magnetometer outside the door just to stop people carrying keyrings or dentures or anything ferrous inside the room. Welders with metal fragments in their eyes are just one of the hazards; any body implants, body jewellery or medical, are likely to be ripped out.

And then, to make the scan work? You need to hook the subject up to an IV line and infuse them with heavy water as a contrast medium (costing on the order of US $1000 per litre).

96:

MRI is a total non-starter for airport security!

So, assuming DARPA or somebody doesn't come up with several magical technological breakthroughs and penetrating x-rays are also out, what's left? Ultrasound, maybe, but I doubt it could be made to work through clothing absent, again, serious technological advances. I also question that chemical sniffing would be reliable for detecting a sealed bag of $SUBSTANCE in the cavities under consideration.

97:

For a bit of light(?) humor related to internal smuggling, there is this recent case from Canada. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/royal-canadian-mint-employee-convicted-of-theft-after-smuggling-out-162k-in-gold-nuggets-inside-his-butt

I have been to private sector competitors of the Mint and security was much, much tighter. By far, more than recent airport screening as a traveler or entering a maximum security prison as a contractor.

98:

A fair point. I should have excluded them, too, though they were a damn sight less organised than the IRA.

99:

Ultrasound needs direct skin contact and some kind of acoustic coupling — usually a gel — and is really blurry: I can't see minimum-wage TSA drones being trained up to do the job of a hospital radiologist!

Chemical sniffing, however ... received wisdom in pharmaceutics in the 1980s was that the only type of packaging that was really impermeable to molecular diffusion of drug molecules (which are frequently of the same size as explosive compounds): glass ampoules. And the sensitivity and specificity of modern GC-MS kit is really high.

100:

It's often hard to hear the local accent from Loyalist paramilitaries over the sound of heavy breathing and the scrape of knuckles on the floor.

101:

it just took an awful lot of deaths in the Continental US to realise that their airport security was rather basic compared to Europe. Remember, US security levels were rather low pre-2001

I remember being surprised at how lax US security was in the 1970s. You could just walk onto a plane and they checked your ticket once you were on board. Meanwhile in Canada you passed through security before entering the waiting area, ticket checked, bags inspected and x-rayed, etc.

And then after 9/11 we had to spend billions upgrading our security to meet American demands, while their upgraded security was less than what ours was before the upgrade…

An acquaintance in Canadian counter-terrorism said that it was all politics, a cheap way for American politicians to be seen to be tough without spending American money (and apparently much of the required equipment is only available from American sources, so a gift to American companies).

102:

While you're perfectly correct about the unsuitability of MRI for airport security, I don't believe heavy water is a common MRI contrast agent. My wife (a radiologist) usually mentions gadolinium being used.

BTW, PET scans (Positron Emission Tomography) use sugar tagged with a short-lived radioisotope as a contrast agent. Why patients are not required to sign a release recognizing that they might develop superpowers as a result of the scan is beyond me.

103:

Good grief! Is this all we can talk about? Getting improvised munitions past airport scanners?

--We've got a weird-ass exoplanet system (three planets in the habitable zone), and that thread died.

--We've got 60.25" of rain this season at Big Sur south of San Francisco, with resulting semi-catastrophic damage (not that it's easy to tell the difference in that area). That gets reported in the Guardian, not so much in the US papers outside the California central coast, because Trump (I guess).

--We've got Los Alamos publishing some interesting *predictive*, possibly path-based models, of when we'll hit various climate thresholds if we follow paths.

--We've got at least one study about how nonviolent action is considerably more effective in achieving its goals than violent action, yet in SF, nonviolent action means stunguns rather than strikes.

Oh well, I guess it beats blathering on about Brexit.

104:

Exactly; metal objects being torn out of people's hands when the MRI is switched on is NOT fiction!

105:

Re: 'Chemical sniffing, however ...'

In addition to dogs, some countries are now using specially trained (African) rats to sniff out bombs. The rats are trained from birth and work for rewards/food. These rats are somewhat bigger with larger less pointy snouts/faces so more cuddly looking than the urban or lab rats I'm familiar with. In fact, they look as though they would make good pets.

The Bomb-Sniffing Rats Saving Lives In Mozambique
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1O_vtfX1sY

You could probably train such animals to sniff out any chemical. Would probably be very economical and reasonably quick to send in a rat-patrol into the cargo hold to locate various drugs by having each rat sniffing for a different drug category/signature.

106:

1- Hey, I'm excited about the NASA news! And if you've got any additional tidbit to offer about what that news means, please share.

2- What's the deluge doing around your ground level area, or are you unaffected (for now)? What are the intermediate and long term worries about this?

3- Any chance you could summarize the Los Alamos news? Ditto for non-violence findings ...


This would save time and effort on the part of readers ... Thanks!

107:

-We've got Los Alamos publishing some interesting *predictive*, possibly path-based models, of when we'll hit various climate thresholds if we follow paths.

Then, you can bet your boots that Trumpolinbi & his greedy Poisoning bastard friends will cut off the funding to shut Los Alamos up, really quickly.

Yes, it's getting that bad.
We are very close to a planetary tipping-point for our species & it's going to go very close to the wire & the USSA under DT goes one way & everyone else tries the opposite.

Second SFr's comment#106 - all subsections

108:

Any chance you could summarize the Los Alamos news?
Good summary here (phys.org):
Computer model predicts the likelihood of crossing several dangerous climate change thresholds
A new computer model of accumulated carbon emissions predicts the likelihood of crossing several dangerous climate change thresholds. These include global temperature rise sufficient to lose the Greenland Ice Sheet and generate seven meters of long-term sea level rise, or tropical region warming to a level that is deadly to humans and other mammals.

...

109:

So far as the Los Alamos predictive model, the phys.org article is at https://phys.org/news/2017-02-likelihood-dangerous-climate-thresholds.html. I just got my hands on the actual article (http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/115007/meta), and I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Where I am in San Diego, we've gotten about a normal year's worth of rain so far--14" and very welcome. Even without climate change, California has always gotten hit every few decades by atmospheric rivers that turn the Sacramento Valley into a big, shallow lake for about six months. That's what's happening now. There's even a book (Battling The Inland Sea by Robert Kelley) about how efforts to keep all the gold rush towns from flooding (Sacramento went under 10' of water in 1861) led, after 50-odd years of failed free market solutions, to the complex system of dams, levees, and aqueducts that we've got now. Anyway, if you google I-5 Williams underwater, you'll get some neat videos of how bad the Sacramento Valley is right now.

As for the nonviolence quote, I'm currently working my way through Chenoweth and Stephan's Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. They analyzed a database of 323 violent and non-violent campaigns from 1900 to 2006. To quote, "[t]he most striking finding is that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts." This is a sociological study, not a handbook. I've linked to a bunch of handbooks in my latest blog entry at heteromeles.com.

As for TRAPPIST-1, I don't have any more information on it yet. It would be nice to know if the star is well-enough known that we can talk about how often it flares. If it's a calm star, then the chance of complex life on at least one of those planets may be quite high.

Getting back to nonviolent conflict, there's probably a nice discussion to be had about why SFF tends to go with violent tropes, and nonviolent warfare tropes tend to get short shrift (with notable exceptions, such as Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean). This isn't about drama or storytelling, as the romance genre and much of mainstream literature prove that you don't need violence to generate drama or create an excellent story. Why does SF attempt to satisfy the very human desire for peaceful ends to violence with unworkable technological solutions like stun-rays, rather than with the very real and very effective plethora of strikes, boycotts, and other denials of service, obedience, and support? Is the problem that it was too left-wing for Campbell, and we're still living in his world, or is it just that engineers don't strike because of cultural norms? It's not like right wingers can't use the very same techniques. Look at the success of the American Tea Party and industrial FUD campaigns. What's going on here?

110:

Well, the original post was (in part) about airport security procedures.

On a climate note, what do you think of Alfred Twu's geoengineering game?

http://www.californiarailmap.com/geo101

Very simple, which is perfect for classroom use. I'm thinking of using it with Hot Earth Dreams for looking at possible futures.

111:

Citation needed. I had a MRI last week, no heavy water or IV lines were involved. All I had to do was lie very still for 20 minutes.

112:

Thanks for the link Robert. I hadn't seen that game before now. Offhand, it looks like a reasonable pedagogical game. What education level are you working on with it?

113:

Depends entirely what they are looking for. I had an MRI of a broken shoulder, and the bones clearly stand out from the flesh so I didn't need anything. On the other hand a friend had an MRI to determine the nature of a particular lump that couldn't be got at easily, and she had some sort of contrast medium injected to make the tissue of the lump easily differentiable from the tissue around it.

If you're trying to tell what is inside someone's body cavity, and it is of a similar density to tissue ... good luck with that. Especially if the shape isn't obvious.

114:

" only type of packaging that was really impermeable to molecular diffusion of drug molecules (which are frequently of the same size as explosive compounds): glass ampoules. And the sensitivity and specificity of modern GC-MS kit is really high."

Maybe a gelcap of sodium bicarbonate ten minutes before check-in would speed up sample extraction for a chromatograph reading. Imagine overheard remarks in the boarding area: Sorry I'm late, got stuck farting around with security.

115:

You understand correctly.

Further, you don't WANT to use graphite as your moderator and water for your cooling. If you lose your cooling, you still have your moderation, and the nuclear reaction continues. This is the runaway mode that resulted in Chernobyl.

If you use water both for moderation and cooling, then losing your water also kills your moderation, which shuts down the nuclear reaction. This is why Three Mile Island didn't go Chernobyl when it lost its water.

It is also why the RBMK (Chernobyl) design is banned in the United States. The guys who wrote the rules knew about the runaway problem.

For more information, google "void coefficient RBMK". "Voids" are steam bubbles in the water. Roughly, "void coefficient" describes how changes in the number of voids affects power output of the nuclear reaction. If the sign of the void coefficient is positive, then an increase of voids increases the reactor power output (leading to more heat, more boiling, more voids, more power, more heat, more voids... positive feedback -> runaway). If the sign of the void coefficient is negative, then an increase in voids damps the reaction down (reducing power, reducing heat, reducing boiling, reducing the number of voids, increasing power, increasing heat... negative feedback -> self-stabilizing control).

(It is amazing the amount of information you can pick up if you read widely and randomly.)

116:

(Not sure if you have me on block.)
Thanks for your piece on heteromeles.com; some (OK most) resources are new to me, and just bought the cited book.

Here are some pieces specific to the US on citizen-lobbying (US Quaker lobbying organization):
ADVOCACY TOOLS & PROGRAMS
e.g. How to Lobby Congress
(I have no excuses any more; need to visit my (Democratic) (House) representative soon, an office about 10 minutes away.)

117:

I have two artificial hips and a hardware store in my left ankle.

I set off every airport security screening metal detector on the planet.

Everywhere I've been but the US, it is not a problem. They wand me, confirm the metal is where I said it was, do a quick patdown (maybe), and send me on my way. In the US, they either give me the full patdown, or send me through the nude-o-scope. Unfortunately, the hip prostheses look, on the reduced quality scope, just like handguns, so I get a pat of both hips.

Every time.

Between that, and the CPAP, and TSA's insistence on hiring the cheapest help they can get, flying around the US is not much fun. Everywhere else I've been is at least competent, and far more professional. With the specific exception of Frankfurt, Germany, EVERYWHERE ELSE is more polite.

Tokyo Narita is far more polite. The first few times I transited Narita, they had Sweet Young Things in what looked like airport uniform at each intersection, who smiled, asked to see itinerary or boarding pass, and said "OK, you go that way." It wasn't until I'd been there a few times that I realized she and her sisters were in fact first-line security: as long as I went the way she pointed, I would never even see her armed brothers, who were just around the corner the other way, out of sight.

Security check at Narita is thorough, professional, and, above all, POLITE. They have a job to do, and part of their job is making the process as painless as they can, while still being thorough and professional, and POLITE. TSA could learn a lot from them. (Did I remember to say they were POLITE?)

118:

One of Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" short stories had that particular mnemonic as a critical plot device.

120:

Grade 10, so 15-year-olds.

121:

It depends on what they are looking for. I too had a scan a little while ago. My scan was as part of a really through sequence of medical procedures that commenced after a really painful skin condition caused me to take a little too much codeine, which in its turn triggered a bleed. So I was sent off by a local GP for what I would call triage and then sent by the Consultant for an endoscopic procedure - on a Sunday morning! - in a very modern surgical screening wing in the local hospital, and, after several small polyps were removed from my colon the young surgeon told he that he was leaving the main large polyp in place until his boss could review my case. Shortly afterward I was told that the Consultant Surgeon intended to do my next endoscopic procedure himself and the medical staff kept telling me how experienced the Consultant was. Put another way? I was in trouble with a capital T ..onward to the scan .. and,Yep I did have the procedure as described by Charlie. It was not a happy fun experience and so maybe you don't get the full English Breakfast of scans on a routine basis. Afterwards the second endoscopic procedure and thorough biopsy of the removed thingy followed by a Very Happy consultant surgeon giving me the news that I didn't have cancer of the colon. I suspect that the Consultant might have had a really bad day giving people Bad News and I was his light relief. They got to me in time ..my sister wasn't as lucky the year before. I had yet another procedure a while later to check up on the surgery and I'm due a forth later in the year. They got very cagey when I asked whether or not this would be the final procedure. As you might guess I did do a bit of research on the medical scanning stuff and Charlies description is pretty accurate in my opinion ..though you need to bear in mind that Charlie is a highly qualified medical specialist and he does know more about this sort of thing than I am ever likely to know even give the, er,incentive, that I had to do little research. " Injections before the scan

You may have an injection of a dye (called contrast medium) just before the scan. This helps to make the body organs show up more clearly on the scan. You have the injection through a small plastic tube (cannula) in your arm. This is usually kept in for about 15 minutes after your scan, incase you have any problems after having the injection. The radiographer removes the tube before you go home.

The contrast injection may cause side effects in some people, but these are usually mild and only last a short time. Some of the more common side effects include pain at the injection site, feeling or being sick, skin reactions, a headache or dizziness." http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/tests/mri-scan#prep_for_sun

122:

I remember reading somewhere that people given petty power and no respect tend to use the power they have in arbitrary ways, while people with the same power but respect don't wield it unless necessary. Might have been about WWII, as I remember the phrase "Little 'itlers" used.

I wonder how much of the TSA rudeness can be explained with the psychology behind this situation? (Leaving aside poor training, muddled directives, etc.)

123:

Re: Chernobyl

After 30 years Chernobyl finally is entombed. Mention this because as Heteromeles says, we're not being mindful of what else is happening on our planet. BTW - this article which provides an excellent historical summary of this project first appeared Jan 3 2017 yet I only heard about it this week. (Mea culpa.)

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170101-a-new-tomb-for-the-most-dangerous-disaster-site-in-the-world

'In total, around a million men and women from across the Soviet Union were brought in to help with the initial clean-up and containment.'

Anyone here regularly look at/work with census data? Because I'd really like to get an accurate timeline of Russian population figures incl. births and deaths (all causes, by cause). A couple of weeks back I looked up some info about Tsarist Russia (prompted by something I read on this blog) and noticed that total pop in 1910-17 was in the 150 million range. I then recalled having posted here that the current Russian pop was about 143-150 million depending on sources. Considering that the world population quadrupled between 1910 and 2017 ... what the hell happened in Russia? Where did all of those folks go that should have/probably had been born? No way is this discrepancy explained by the pogrom ... the Jewish population wasn't that big. Even the Lysenko failed wheat experiment can't account for this size of missing population. Worst of all: Is this population story what DT admires about Russia?

BTW - there's a significant dip in the population figures for Russia from 1980 to 1990 ... maybe Chernobyl, maybe other additional factors. Even so, the arrivals outnumber departures showing a net increase in pop (see below). At the same time though the pop'n mix shows a steady decline of various non-Russian ethnic groups over time. (Wonder how fudged their demo data are.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Russia#Historical_perspective.5B74.5D

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Jewish_pogroms_in_the_Russian_Empire

'Two million Jews fled the Russian Empire between 1880 and 1914, with many going to the United Kingdom and United States.'

124:

Hey - it's all in what the critters are trained to sniff out ... erm. Love gerbils - would probably ask if I could pick it up to play with and coddle - they're very unaggressive creatures. Maybe we need a potentially more aloof animal like, say, that death-sniffing cat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_(therapy_cat)

125:

Well, Wikipedia gives the World War2 dead as 26.6m for the USSR, given that 10m were Military casualties who would have been in or near prime reproductive age I think we can hazard a guess as to where part of the population loss came from.

126:

There is also the Great Famine and Civil war to include in the population losses-I am not sure if there are any reliable figures for these catastrophes.

127:

1. WWI: 1.7 million to 2.25 million
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

2. Russian Civil War: 1.5 million
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Civil_War

3. Spanish Flu

4. Stalin: Up to 3 million
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge

5. WWII: 26.6 million

6. Russia's life expectancy was far lower than the West's even in the Soviet Union. Deaths due to alcoholism still remain a huge problem. For men, it was 65 years of age in 1990
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_Soviet_Union#Life_expectancy_at_birth

7. Deaths after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I don't know how many that involves

8. Suicide: Russia is 14th with 19.6 suicides per 100k people. I don't know if this number is better or worse than the Soviet Union.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

9. Higher "background" deaths not counted in those statistics.

128:

Heteromeles wrote: Why does SF attempt to satisfy the very human desire for peaceful ends to violence with unworkable technological solutions like stun-rays, rather than with the very real and very effective plethora of strikes, boycotts, and other denials of service, obedience, and support? Is the problem that it was too left-wing for Campbell, and we're still living in his world, or is it just that engineers don't strike because of cultural norms?

I think you're being unfair to written science fiction. There's been quite a lot of books without violent conflict or where non violence succeeds, from Isaac Asimov's Foundation ("violence is the last resort of the incompetent") to everything by Ursula le Guin to Fred Pohl's Gateway to Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars. And these books win Nebulas and/or Hugos.

Maybe our perception of science fiction is shaped more by TV and film? And in these visual mediums, like computer games, it's very difficult to portray non-violent conflict. We don't have access to the character's thoughts, and there's a severe time limitation.

129:

I rather like the idea of a Sniffer Bear .." According to the number of scent receptors, the bear has the best sense of smell of all terrestrial mammals. Black bears have been observed to travel 18 miles in a straight line to a food source, while grizzlies can find an elk carcass when it's underwater and polar bears can smell a seal through 3 feet of ice. "

130:

You mean, Red Mars, where the novel ended with them blowing Phobos off the end of the beanstalk during a war and wrapping said beanstalk around the planet twice? Where Green Mars is about a guerilla war ending in the liberation of Mars? Where Blue Mars has, near the end, a coup to retake Mars?

Yeah.

Now I will grant you much of Ursula LeGuin's work or the Gateway trilogy, but seriously, how many books don't have guns in them? If there's a conflict leading to regime change, how often is it done at the point of a gun, and how often is it the result of something like a general strike? How often are the heroes being clever at disarming weapons or having their weapons, rather than simply making it clear to their opponents that if they kill them all, there will be no one left to serve them?

I'd also point out that there's a common trope in the real world that carries into books. When a violent revolt fails, it is generally portrayed as the rebels being overmatched/incompetent/whatever. When a nonviolent revolt fails, it's generally portrayed that nonviolence doesn't work. You cite a couple of authors, and say that therefore science fiction is nonviolent? You might want to ask around.

To pick a strict comparison, Dr. Slonczewski reportedly wrote A Door Into Ocean as an anti-Dune, where the women of the ocean planet win through non-violence, rather than the men of the desert planet winning by violence. IIRC, A Door Into Ocean has had one sequel and is occasionally reprinted (despite being considered a classic), while Dune has, what, 18 sequels and three movies, with the possibility of a fourth? Again, what's going on here?

131:

Never mind the implants, what about medical isotopes?

I'm just past the end of the consultant's advised "ask me for a letter before flying" period with another couple of months of "take the dosage card with you, just in case" following a sip of I-131.

I think I can trust the average airport security station to have experience of innocent bipedal gamma emitters, but at one time a proposal was aired for a spin-off from Operation Cyclamen to provide roving armed response units of the Met with handheld gamma detectors.

132:

Thanks!

Russia: Suicide rate bobbed up and down - strong relationship with state sponsored anti-alcohol campaigns (down), plus other issues - socio/econo/politico problems (up). Also wonder whether military service is/was also a factor considering their prolonged involvement in Afghanistan etc. (Guess militaries don't share this type of data.)

http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2000/HighDeathRateAmongRussianMenPredatesSovietUnionsDemise.aspx


BTW, suicide rate has also increased in the US. Not mentioned below but combat soldiers and vets have highest suicide rates. (Death by suicide is higher than death in/by combat among this group.)

Wikipedia:
'In 2013 the suicide rate in the United States was 13 per 100,000 people, the highest recorded rate in 28 years. The U.S. suicide rate also rose 24% over the 15 previous years (1999-2014),[1][2] In 2009, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death for males and the 16th leading cause of death for females. ...'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_the_United_States

Hugh (128): Okay - any more examples of more contemporary SF please because Robinson's Mars series (the most recent in this list) dates back to 1999.

133:

Titanium doesn't affect imposed magnetic fields and since it has quite a high resistance it doesn't generate induced magnetic fields very well either so it tends not to trip metal detectors. Stainless steel isn't steel, it's usually an alloy of chromium and nickel and the same thing applies (there are some stainless steels that do have ferrous content, they are more visible to metal detectors).

Apply a strong enough oscillating magnetic field close enough to most metals and there will be some induced magnetic field in the metal that can be detected. Generally high-conductivity metals like copper and gold are easier to detect than non-ferrous metals like titanium though.

134:

Via a friend-of-friend, David Brin is trying to get in touch with fan groups (and possibly bookshops for signings) in the UK in April. His public post is at

https://www.facebook.com/thedavidbrin/posts/748377169026

- he's already been pointed at Transreal and Edinburgh University skiffysoc, and it looks like more comments are rolling in at the moment too, but I wondered if any commenters have other possible names or contacts for Glasgow, Cambridge, and the other cities he mentions?

135:

Again, what's going on here?

American cultural values?

Most of Arthur C. Clarke's fiction didn't involve guns. Ditto for a lot of British SF I read as a kid. Virtually all the Chinese SF I've read has been non-violent (or the violence has been treated as a force of nature the characters must survive rather than something the characters do themselves).

No firm numbers on this, just recollections. But I suspect that "violence is a solution" is an unwritten Done Thing in American SF, just as "have a happy ending with everything resolved" is in Hollywood.

136:

And thinking about it, most of my SF reading was a generation ago*, so the cultural norms may have shifted.

*Except for the Chinese stuff, which is current.

137:

We've got 60.25" of rain this season at Big Sur south of San Francisco, with resulting semi-catastrophic damage (not that it's easy to tell the difference in that area). That gets reported in the Guardian, not so much in the US papers outside the California central coast, because Trump (I guess).

Hey. I've been keeping up with your interesting water news and I live in the eastern half of the country. But yes DT and his circus has been drowning out much of the "normal" news for the last few weeks.

138:

if you google I-5 Williams underwater, you'll get some neat videos of how bad the Sacramento Valley is right now.

Actually if you do this then select images you get a huge collection of pics of Esther underwater. :)

139:

You may be right that they were complaining about the older backscatter technology. However, as a friend of mine (who is a retired radiologist) pointed out, the the millimeter wave technology is classified by WHO as possibly carcinogenic to humans. He's concerned that most of the energy is absorbed by the dermis, and could possibly increase the risk of skin cancers. This is basically microwave radiation, and there have been worries about microwave radiation being carcinogenic since the 70's. Maybe the millimeter wave technology isn't dangerous, but no one has done a thorough study on humans to see if it is. Likewise, I'm getting enough extra radiation flying at 10 or 12,000 meters, why do I want to expose myself to extra radiation pre-flight?

140:

I'm inclined to agree. In Britain most people would never even have seen a gun close up, and it wouldn't make sense for more than one or two characters with special permission for official reasons to have one, unless things had escalated to an actual war situation with the military getting involved. In British fiction (with or without the "science" prefix) people may get punched, but outside a particular subset of crime fiction they don't generally get shot unless there is actual war going on. It's also much less believable for someone to shoot someone and get away with it without legal consequences.

141:

What you say is true, but it is only tangentially applicable to the situation under consideration, ie. how it might be possible for people to get things going as an energy source in a pre-scientific era by pissing about with stuff they could relatively straightforwardly get their hands on. (Much as the development of the steam engine got as far as revolutionising industry and making mass transport commonplace all on the basis of people pissing about with stuff without understanding the science; railways were all over the place before Carnot did his stuff, and it still took decades afterwards before steam engine design was generally carried out on a scientific basis; in some corners that never did come to pass.) Designing for safety is something that comes later, once you've got to know (a) what the failure modes are and (b) what to do about them (again, compare steam power and boiler explosions).

If all you have to hand is natural materials and just about enough empirical chemistry and physics to purify ores, then you have to use graphite for the moderator, as it is the only practical material available that absorbs sufficiently few neutrons to enable a chain reaction with natural uranium. Ordinary water won't do. Heavy water will, but again, in a largely pre-scientific era you aren't going to know it exists.

142:

"Ultrasound needs direct skin contact and some kind of acoustic coupling - usually a gel - and is really blurry: I can't see minimum-wage TSA drones being trained up to do the job of a hospital radiologist!"

On the other hand, you could get a lot of people actually enjoying going through airport security if they got to swim with a bunch of trained dolphins...

143:

Errr ... no
Stainless Steels are real actual steels, that is remanufactured Iron, with added extra ingredients. In the case of "Rostfrei", it must include Chromium, IIRC.
Remember, all steels are metallic mixtures, like Brass, or Bronze.

144:

Current news:
The use of an internationally-banned weapon of Mass Destruction will have aroused, er, "Interest".
I would assume that the guvmint of the PRC will be highly unamused - they will have lost serious "face" over that - but what can they do, realistically to the gvumint of the DPRK?

Other, worrying current news:
Bannon going on about Trump's campaign rhetoric IS is policies"
If so, I I was Hilary Rodham C, I would get out now, ditto the Obamas ....

A tiny ray of sunshine ... UKIP lost out.

145:

Aside from the list of causes Ioan provided, large border shifts have a corresponding influence on a country's population. That tsarist Russia population figure would have included most of the population of the soon-to-be USSR. So, the "Russian" population despite the various megadeath declines grew to ~290 million by 1991, but then dropped due to changes in citizenship to ~140 million in 1992. (After which, both groups continued declining in population until around the mid 2000s, and are currently very slowly rebounding.)

146:

When Clarke was writing, almost everybody in the UK had some familiarity with guns; what the country never developed was the Merkin gun fetish (archaetypically, owns more guns than books). Many of us were brought up with guns around the house, and learnt to use them very young, but also learnt HOW to use them and (most importantly) when NOT to use them. As I have posted before, they are a sod-awful form of personal self-defence, and are almost always counter-productive in a civilian context.

147:

Yes. There are both magnetic and non-magnetic stainless steels, and even a few non-magnetic, non-stainless steels.

148:

I'm so glad that someone took up the link to Chenoweth and Stephan that I put in a few threads back. Thanks for the piece on your own blog as well!

149:

"R" & ""S" have been renamed: "L" & "T"

No, they haven't.

Right from the very beginning of spectral classification (Fr Angelo Secchi, 1860s) it was recognised that some cool stars were qualitatively as opposed to quantitatively different from most cool stars. Secchi called them Type IV, as opposed to ordinary cool stars which were Type III, and correctly identified their principal spectral features as being due to carbon.

When the Harvard spectral classification was developed during the period 1890–1920 or thereabouts (it went through several iterations), Secchi's Type IV became Harvard class N. By the time of the final classification, it was recognised that OBAFGKM is a sequence of decreasing temperature, but RNS (class R is a hotter analogue of class N; class S is like class M, but with ZrO bands replacing M class's TiO) didn't belong in the sequence and instead represented differences in chemical composition.

R and N were subsequently combined into class C (for Carbon: these stars have atmospheres that are carbon-rich rather than oxygen-rich—"rich" being a relative term since all normal stars are overwhelmingly made of H and He). Class S still exists, with a complicated system of subclasses.

L and T, on the other hand, are extensions to the OBAFGKM temperature sequence, introduced to describe brown dwarfs. L class stars have lithium lines (any star that gets hot enough to initiate fusion rapidly disposes of its lithium through reactions like Li + H → 2 He); T class stars have methane bands.

As for TRAPPIST-1, the name comes from a very contrived acronym for Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (no idea how they justify the "i"—honestly, astronomers are worse than us particle physicists for contrived acronyms). It's class M8, i.e. it is a real, if very low-mass, star not a brown dwarf. It has Hα emission (Schmidt et al. 2007) so it probably is a flare star (Hα emission indicates an active stellar atmosphere), but note that the planets will most likely all be tidally locked so there is a sheltered side.

150:

Conversation was discussing fission in the context of a secondary world where the relative abundance of 235U in uranium ore was 2-10 times higher than is the case on Earth, i.e. 0.4 - 2% (putting it well into the range where Oklo-type natural light water reactors would be a thing). Figuring out how to poison/control a reactor would be more important than figuring out how to use carbon or water as a moderator.

151:

Yes, stainless steels all include lots of chromium—that's what provides the corrosion resistance. They don't all include nickel: there are three basic classes, austenitic, ferritic and martensitic, and only the first class contains nickel.

See this page for a table containing more than you wanted to know about stainless steel composition!

What may have confused Nojay is that the standard descriptions of stainless steel composition, including the table above, don't actually mention iron—it's tacitly assumed that iron makes up the balance of the composition.

152:

VX is not a binary agent.

In general, binary precursors are (a) intensely toxic (just less so than a first-rank nerve gas) and (b) probably require organic or corrosive solvents and special handling facilities, such that anyone trying to deploy them in a plastic squirt-bottle is a Really Bad Idea for the deployee ("agh, this spray-bottle just melted and now my hands are on fire! And why am I shaking and twitching?") ...

Also, the Malaysian police are not poster-children for well-informed, non-sensationalist, scientifically-informed commentary.

153:

...

And now I get to eat my hat: VX apparently takes some time to penetrate the epidermis, so if you get some on your skin but wash it off promptly you should be okay.

(And it can also be produced from binary precursors — but I'm pretty sure the reaction is violently exothermic and requires the happy fun conditions of a reactor vessel that is a pressurized artillery shell in flight with a rupture disk between the two reagent chambers, so that's a lot less likely.)

154:

Ah well, that makes it a doddle then :) Oklo used to shut itself off periodically when it had boiled its moderator off, so you have the negative void coefficient concept handed to you on a plate.

(Point of order: 235U is currently 0.7% of natural uranium on Earth, so I make 2-10x come out at 1.4-7%. Even better!)

155:

Heteromeles @ 103: Let's not forget the news from down under, where half the country is on fire (eastern half, this year) while the other half is getting flooded out (western and northern halves this time around). We've apparently had one of the wettest wets on record in the northern half of the country, with a lot of Western Australia's northern towns getting the equivalent of a year's rainfall inside a month. In addition, we got a real deluge down my end of the state not long ago - enough to flood pretty much the whole of the south-west (we had flood warnings on the Swan, Murray, Blackwood and Avon rivers in the middle of flippin' FEBRUARY, which is practically unheard of), while the tiny town of Ravensthorpe, which isn't quite in the middle of nowhere, but which has spectacular views of the place (nearest town in Hopetoun to the south, nearest major centre is Esperance to the south-east, next stop west is Jerramungup, and next stop north is Lake King if you're paying attention[1]) got completely cut off from everything - every single road in every direction cut by flood waters, and at least one of the bridges was swept about 800m down the river.

It was a tad damp, you understand.

Anyway, our farmers are doing their usual thing of submitting the "which natural disaster is it this time?" paperwork to the state and federal governments (the options tend to be fire or flood, although occasionally it's also cyclone or cockeyed bob[2]. Rain of frogs or volcanic eruption are a bit unusual.) and farming until the money runs out. Again.

[1] You have to be paying attention, because Lake King is literally a "blink and you've missed it" hamlet (one general store, one sporting ground/primary school classroom, one pub) situated at the crossroads of two country roads. If you're not paying attention, you can miss it, and thus miss the turnoff either to Ravensthorpe or Perth entirely (depending which direction you're travelling in).

[2] Tornado. Or willy-willy, to use the other local name for 'em.

156:

Heteromeles wrote You mean, Red Mars, where the novel ended with them blowing Phobos off the end of the beanstalk during a war and wrapping said beanstalk around the planet twice? Where Green Mars is about a guerilla war ending in the liberation of Mars? Where Blue Mars has, near the end, a coup to retake Mars?

Yeah I do. The Mars books cover two entire planets and many many years, so of course there's some violent conflict. But I think you've just managed to list every such conflict in one paragraph - try the same with three Dune books, or three books from the Expanse, and you'll blow your bandwidth limit :-) And consistently throughout the Mars books the people who adopt violent approaches never achieve their long term goals and only sometimes short term success. On both Earth and Mars it's the negotiators, the compromisors, the scientists, the builders who are both the "good guys" and the eventual "winners".

You cite a couple of authors, and say that therefore science fiction is nonviolent? You might want to ask around.

No no no, I would not claim that at all. I do claim that there are significant (and not so significant) science fiction books that are non-violent, and that have had critical and popular success. Enough to keep the people who prefer that kind of fiction in reading matter.

And another whole sub-genre I'd forgotten about are the scientific problem solving stories. From Heinlein's Man Who Sold the Moon through to whole collections of Larry Niven short stories, no violent conflict at all. Just solving engineering or scientific problems, or discovering something new.

157:

SFReader wrote:Okay - any more examples of more contemporary SF please because Robinson's Mars series (the most recent in this list) dates back to 1999.

Two examples from Hollywood rather than the written world: Her from 2013 and The Martian from last year. Both science fiction, completely non violent.

158:

In New Zealand, I came across a "keep your eyes peeled and you will miss it", er, location. Something or other (Orari?) Bridge - the place was on the map, but there wasn't even a label on the bridge, which itself took some spotting.

159:

The Martian was a novel first; the film came later.

160:

So my cousin grew up in Perth, and I always remember a photo she had from some ~30yr ago taken out the window of the ute coming back from some rural visit, showing a line of marker posts that were the indicator of the side of the road as the only things showing above the water. The road was a foot or so deep underneath, and a good 6-8ft above the plains. The calm water stretched as far as you could see in all directions, with a long ripple from their ute as the only movement.

When Australia does rain, it really doesn't mess around.

These days she lives in Brisbane, where last time around the river tried to say hello to her property after the Wivenhoe dam operators screwed the pooch. I think at the time an area of the state roughly France and Germany combined was underwater. Ironically I think Victoria was on fire at the same time as well.

161:
Now I will grant you much of Ursula LeGuin's work or the Gateway trilogy, but seriously, how many books don't have guns in them? [...] How often are the heroes being clever at disarming weapons or having their weapons
You're being unfair. If nonviolent struggle has to clear those bars then the Civil Rights campaign doesn't count, to start with.
162:

:95

You mean the scan for bombs, I hope. I've had two MRIs recently (very unpleasant, requiring staying immobile for 30 minutes). My doctor's MRI is in its own room, and I had to remove all items and leave them outside the room. And I was asked if I had any implants - seems like my doctors would already know that.

But there was no IV or heavy water infusion.

163:

It's not that the population failed to grow, it's that Russia got a lot smaller.

Russia in 1910 included all of the former Soviet Union plus Finland and a large chunk of Poland. Wikipedia suggests that the population of the former USSR on its own is 292 million; Finland adds another 6 million, and Poland has 37 million, of whom I'd guess more than a third probably live in what used to be the Russian part. So a like-for-like comparison would be ~150 million in 1910 vs. ~310 million today.

Of course, world population has considerably more than doubled since 1910, so this is still lower than you might expect - but it's not ZPG either.

164:

I've only been to Tokyo once - and you're right; I never dreamed those young ladies were part of security. But while waiting to leave Japan, I was called up for a security check, apparently at random. I had brought my walker and my daughter speaks Japanese, and I was in business class, so I shouldn't have triggered anything.

They looked at my passport and said "Thank you". The whole thing took about two minutes.

165:

Err ... I don't think I mentioned "Binary Agent" anywhere ( did I? )
But agreed that VX is really, horribly nasty & lots of people & states are going to be royally pissed-off with the DPRK for this trick

166:

Does defending yourself against violent attacks, initiated by by other count as violence, then?

167:

I just took myself to the movies Sat, and saw Arrival. The 2-minute (1-minute?) violence was all there was.

Btw, I walked out poleaxed, that was so good.

168:

About Trappist-1... we *know* the name of one of the planets. It's *obviously* Darkover.

And Alpha Centuri's habitable planet is Rann, thankyouverymuch....

mark "where's that damn zeta-beam?"

169:

Thanks!

However I did specifically look for Russia (not USSR) population data, i.e., Tsarist vs. present eras, in order to do an apple-to-apple comparison.

Yes - I know that the borders shifted for Poland-Russia (as did Germany-Poland) but so did almost all of the populations that had lived on the land specific to those new borders: they were very strongly urged to get the hell out. And most did because if they had stayed on the land of their birth (now considered part of a different country), they would have been treated as foreigners, the enemy, etc.


Note: Have relatives who were born in the same house but different years and whose birth certificates identified them as nationals of different countries depending on year of birth. I've seen their birth certificates/passports, this is for real.

170:

For the Partitions it looks like closer to 45% for the Russian sector and again there are general uncertainties in the numbers and all kinds of assumptions underlying any specific count/model.

171:

VX apparently takes some time to penetrate the epidermis, so if you get some on your skin but wash it off promptly you should be okay

Which is why you would want your victim to breathe it, or take it in through the eyes. Hence the attack to his face, if the initial reports are true. The use of nerve agents in murder isn't new; some of us are old enough to remember Aum Shinrikyo and the Tokyo subway attack...

IIRC, the recent BBC documentary on Porton Down (not sure whether it's still available on BBC iPlayer) showed them working with some VX; at the time, I was surprised at the level of personal protection for the chemist involved, as it was lower than I expected...

172:

VX was developed as part of pesticide research. Turns out it's super deadly to large mammals, but the PPE level is about what you'd expect for any other organophosphate that's mostly bad only for bugs.

173:

For a bureaucratic culture, Soviet records are crap on some topics. As per relatives: churches kept the most reliable birth, death, marriage, land/residence and occupation/social status records. Unfortunately most churches that were destroyed or severely damaged during the various wars were officially neglected so that any restoration and rebuilding had to be done unofficially as a grassroots project. Usually it was up to the priest to (literally) hold on to the parish records book.


Was trying to locate names of once-destroyed churches rebuilt since Putin came to power to use as concrete examples but kept getting search results about massive efforts to build bomb shelters in Moscow and other major Russian urban centers. Anyone know what this is about: real or conspiracy wingnut stew?

174:

Then you get to factor in what did the various governments consider as a live birth. I read years ago that the USSR didn't record someone as being born until 7 days after the biological process took place. And that this was one reason the USSR looked good in various rankings regarding such things.

I've always wondered if this was true, an urban legend, or maybe disinformation.

175:
Oh, that reminds me: some of you are wondering if I had any trouble entering the United States, right?

Today, this: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-25/mem-fox-detained-at-los-angeles-airport-by-us-officials/8303366

Mem Fox is a children's author. Seems like goons at the border took issue with her visa, and humiliated and harassed her for two hours. (Other, browner people copped worse apparently.)

So it looks like Charlie was right to have some concerns. I think I will stay away from the US for a while.

176:

I understand the 'pat-downs' are quite gropey. I wonder if there is legislation that excludes this from being treated as sexual assault. What do they do if a child opts out of screening?

177:

The thing is, 125 million was the population of the entire Russian Empire - including Poland, Finland, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and all the rest - as of its only census, in 1897. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Empire_Census . The population of present-day Russia must therefore have been considerably less than that. The post-WWII border changes aren't at issue here: Tsarist Russia also included places like Warsaw, which remained in Poland after 1945.

178:

Minor mistake: the Russian Imperial Census included Poland and Ukraine and the rest, but for some reason not Finland. And the number of Russian native speakers it found across the Empire was only 55 million, vs something like 150 million today - so that gives some idea of how much populations have grown...

179:

US native-born citizen ( Born in Philadelphia ) detained & harassed for 2 hours +
Admittedly, even though the son of a very famous father he's brown & his name is ALI
Really, really not good.

180:

Glad you got back safely.

Re the Nobel Prize in airports. There's an even funnier story about carrying an Emmy, which has two prominent highly pointed wings. Rob Burnett, producer of Late Night with David Letterman, told it in The New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/10/07/carry-on

wg

181:

It could be true. Many countries have such rules. However you do it, distinguish failure to implant from early miscarriage from late miscarriage from stillbirth from perinatal child death from a 'normal' death is entirely arbitrary. And there are variations, too. What most people miss is that only about half (if I recall) of human fertilisations are fully viable, and increasing the rate that the borderline viable ones reach independent existence is not a good idea.

182:

I was surprised at the level of personal protection for the chemist involved, as it was lower than I expected...

You probably know some/most of this, but ...

There are plenty of things we work with in the chemistry lab that are as nastily lethal as VX, in similarly small quantities, and in many cases without any known antidotes. Take dimethyl mercury, for example. Or rather, don't take it. It's fuck-all use as a weapon because it's hard to disperse, NBC suits can't keep it out, it doesn't degrade — once the environment is contaminated with that shit it stays contaminated — but it takes weeks to months to kill, so it doesn't confer any tactical utility. If you're going to use a chemwar agent, you want it to kill or disable the opposition more than it hampers your own activities: pure lethality in terms of LD50 takes a back seat to controllability and differential lethality.

VX degrades in UV light (daylight), is an oily liquid at room temperature (so when you work with it in the lab it has a low vapour pressure — you don't need breathing gear as long as you take reasonable precautions like a fume cupboard with filters), if you drop it on your skin by accident you don't go the way of Karen Wetterhahn as long as you wash it off, and so on. But you can aerosolize it (and it's incredibly lethal by inhalation — kills within minutes), or adsorb it onto powders and disperse it (thereby making it impossible to operate in an area without NBC precautions, degrading mobility).

183:

An even sillier story, about an 86-year-old retired US Army general (bad enough hassling someone like that in the first place) who was given a hard time about a pointed object he was carrying. What was it? His Medal of Honor.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/military/airportmedal.asp

It seems that the movie "Airplane" had it right. With allowance made for the exaggeration for comic effect, of course.

184:

Thanks for the info ... that part of the world was almost constantly being partitioned making comparisons over time difficult to calculate.

Found this world map showing countries sized by their populations (c.1900). Russia is shown as having a pop'n of 50 million vs. Poland with 25 million.

http://www.worldmapper.org/posters/worldmapper_map9_ver5.pdf

185:

Re: '... degrades in UV light (daylight),'

So, maybe airports will also start installing sunlamps in their wait areas. Can sell this as: Let NSA help you start working on your tan before you get to your vacation destination. Of course this means that all such travelers will now be darker skinned upon their return, resulting in even worse delays at arrivals. And then the Colleges of Dermatologists and Oncologists will get in on the act (becuz skin cancer) to the point that the POTUS threatens them with lawsuits and/or cutting them out of medicare-covered specialties.


Geeze ... so-o-o-o easy to develop a realistic-sounding nightmare scenario these days.

186:

That inkjet model, I'm surprised it hasn't disappeared up its own arse yet. I surely can't be the only one to have noticed that in many cases it's cheaper to buy a whole new printer with ink included than to buy a set of replacement cartridges
Allow me to confuse the issue further: the cartridges in new printers are only 1/3 to 1/2 full, so generally you at worst come out even buying new cartridges. But do they tell anyone this?

Epson did introduce the EcoTank range with more expensive printers upfront and much cheaper ink (2-year refillable tanks) but they didn't make a huge impression. I think home users print very little so ink costs don't matter (I've printed a Groupon and an Amazon returns label this year) and for businesses laser printers start very cheap now even for colour.

187:

Several years ago I bought a colour laser for the cost of two sets of toners, and the two sets were included. Grand total of about 120 quid. 6 months ago it started whining that the black toner was low, so sometime in the next couple of years I need to find out where I put the second set. They'll be somewhere safe I'm sure...

188:

A friend of both Charlie and I got to carry a Hugo rocket back from the States in his luggage a few days after 9/11 happened. You can imagine what that looked like on an X-ray machine.

189:

Allow me to confuse the issue further: the cartridges in new printers are only 1/3 to 1/2 full, so generally you at worst come out even buying new cartridges. But do they tell anyone this?

Yes. At least in the US. They are called "Starter cartridges". It's typically on the outside of the box and in any online descriptions.

190:

In New Zealand, I came across a "keep your eyes peeled and you will miss it", er, location

Anglonesia has a lot of those, and I suspect anywhere white and rural is the same. Farms keep getting bigger, as does farm processing. What used to take a processing plant every day or so by horse is now one or two plants in a state. So there's lots of "used to be a fruit packing plant and a school" that's now just an intersection. Or in mining areas, "used to be three pubs, a brothel and a church, now just a graveyard".

I bought five houses at auction once for basically the value of the removable parts. Once the houses were sold for parts the "town" consisted entirely of some empty sections noted on a council plan, there wasn't even an intersection. I only bought them so I could have somewhere to put a letterbox (actually a solid concrete "box" about the size of a WWII machinegun post). It fit a bicycle and had a hatch for mail, but it was on the main road where mail actually went rather than 20km up a gravel road where my "driveway" started (a gate leading into a paddock). Something like this

191:

I think home users print very little

Most do, so the smart ones use their local library - even 50c/page is cheaper than $50 for a printer that you'll only use for 20 pages before it stops working. Sadly the world is full of the functionally innumerate or hopelessly optimistic, so those printers sell like hotcakes.

OTOH, I was looking for an A3 sheet fed scanner and couldn't find one under $1000. So I bought an A3 MFD for $200, and it's so far scanned more than 500 pages. And unlike the library, it has no complaints when I scan the entirety of a publication (I bought it specifically for the scan part of "rip scan and dump" my CD collection). On that note, CDs are often really annoying because the inserts unfold to longer than even A3. And sadly my MFD has a continuous feed mode that is limited to the length of an A3 page.

192:

People I know who print a reasonable amount at home buy laser printers. I don't print much, and my printer is a 15 year old deskjet.

193:

Antiquercus wondered: "I understand the 'pat-downs' are quite gropey."

Not in my experience. The staff have been remarkably professional and have not touched anything too sensitive. (Presumably because nobody's figured out how to smuggle a handgun or stiletto in their testicles or penis.) Also perhaps because I don't register in single digits on the scale that rates levels of "I'd sure like to cop me a feel of that". The agents have all been careful to ask whether I had any sensitive/painful areas and careful to prep me with "now I'm going to touch your..." statements. If you're body shy or touchy about your personal space, I imagine it would be unpleasant; I'm not, and while I wouldn't seek out the experience, I've never felt uncomfortable.

YMMV, of course, if you're not a middle-aged straight white male who is pleasant, friendly, cooperative, and Canadian-polite. (Or if you rate in double digits on the "I'd sure like to..." scale.) I've always made it clear to the staff that I appreciate their extra effort and their efforts to keep us safe. Which I fully mean and fully believe. I don't have any illusions the overall process is foolproof, but having seen the wall of shame* at (Phoenix? Tucson?) airport, I have to say we're safer than if we didn't have security theater.

* Which includes items confiscated from carry-on and checked baggage. It's been a few years, but if memory serves some of the standout items were belt-fed machine gun ammunition, a Braveheart broadsword, and hand grenades. Plus handguns, of course, though in a part of the country where concealed carry permits are common, I can easily see someone forgetting they were carrying.

On the subject of dangerous awards, Allen Steele has a wonderful story about how he got in trouble one year after winning the Hugo. It's been a while since he told me the story (and Allen's a wonderful raconteur), so here's my version with the essence if not the details correct:

The convention organizers, having a clue, wrote a letter to the TSA managers at the local airports to alert them in advance to the fact that several authors would be passing through the airport clutching like grim death what would look like an RPG on the X-ray machine. They even included pictures so the staff would know what to look like. But on the day Allen passed his bag through the scanner, he forgot to hand them the award so they could check it manually, and the young scanner operator had apparently not gotten the memo and quite properly freaked right out. She yelled for her supervisor, who eventually calmed her down and explained the situation; the award was examined and admired by all and sundry, Allen was congratulated, everyone had a good laugh -- and then he proceeded to walk through the metal detector with his pocketknife, which he'd forgotten to put in his checked baggage. Oh well...

194:

""I think home users print very little"

Most do, so the smart ones use their local library - even 50c/page is cheaper than $50 for a printer that you'll only use for 20 pages before it stops working. Sadly the world is full of the functionally innumerate or hopelessly optimistic, so those printers sell like hotcakes."

Because obviously my local library is open at 6 in the morning and 8 at night when I want to print things. Or open at all for that matter. At least I've still got one, on the days the volunteers turn up, unlike people in all the neighbouring villages.

Hint: before you start throwing terms like "functionally innumerate" around just consider, for one tiny moment, that not everybody lives in exactly the same set of circumstances (geographical, national, family, political, social) that you do.

195:

I've run CONSIDERABLY more than 20 pages through my cheap desktop inkjet printers, with no issues other than ink refills.

The previous one lasted several years and I have no idea how many pages before developing a problem that, while almost certainly repairable, is not economically so: it is cheaper to replace the printer with a newer, more capable model (that includes a scanner!).

I've already run considerably more than 20 pages through the replacement, with no issues. I've already had to refill the ink in it.

196:

Printer refills: first, there are *plenty* of aftermarket kits to refill ink cartridges.

Second: at work, I'm in charge of all our network printers. I *don't* put in requests (I can't actually order, but I can set up the PO for my mgr), but I *always* order compatibles, rather than OEM ink or toner.

A non-paid ad:five or so years ago, I found a place online called tonerprice.com (don't know about UK shipping), but they have *very* good prices, they actually know what their job is, and are competent at it. In '12, I think, I ordered what turned out to be more than one pallet of toner. I was so impressed by the prices and service that when my HP LJ1018 needed toner, I ordered from them... and got *exactly* the same service.

From them, OEM toner for my little printer is about $82. Including shipping, the "compatible" was about $32. Neither at work nor at home have we had *any* issues with the compatible toner.

mark

197:

Life of ink jet printers.

Epson printers used to (and the better ones may still) have separate print heads from the ink carts. This allowed for much better quality of output but meant that if you only occasionally printed your heads might clog up and you get to waste 1/3 of an ink refill on cleaning cycles to unclog all the heads.

HP printers had the head as a part of the cartridge which meant you got a new print head with each cartridge. Harder to maintain alignment and so IN GENERAL print quality was less than Epson.

Other brands did one or both of these.

My point is that it's hard to generalize about the effective life of ink jet printers or cartridges without discussion how the are built and the intended market.

Now this is old knowledge on my part as I long ago moved to toner based color and B&W printing. IMNERHO ink jet printing for most people (in business and at home) is a scam to sell ink for years after practically giving away the printer.

198:

I bought a Brother HL-LB350 laser printer which comes with toner cartridges that will do up to 1500 pages, and cartridges are available that will do up to 3500 pages. The up-front cost was substantial, but the operating costs are amazingly cheap.

199:

Because obviously my local library is open at 6 in the morning and 8 at night when I want to print things.

If you regularly have urgent printing needs then you're not in the "print very little" category, I would have thought.

I freely admit to not having any experience of life in the UK or US, so I take your word that there's no way to pay someone to print a page or two for you in your area. It does make me think that where you live sounds awful in the Thatcherite sense of "there is no community".

Down here most small local businesses are more likely to say "you want to give me money? Excellent". At least in my experience, having needed a bank form printed overnight last year and I also vaguely recall wandering round one suburb looking to get a page printed and finding a real estate agent to do it for us (no charge, even, IIRC).

200:

A friend of both Charlie and I got to carry a Hugo rocket back from the States in his luggage a few days after 9/11 happened. You can imagine what that looked like on an X-ray machine.

Anyone who knows military technology but not science fiction awards is likely to see the business part of a sabot round, which is really handy for removing unwanted armored vehicles but not something anybody needs in their carry-on luggage.

Having gotten to fondle both a Hugo Award and an anti-tank kinetic penetrator, I can tell you they're surprisingly similar for things of such different purposes.

201:

"Epson printers used to (and the better ones may still) have separate print heads from the ink carts. This allowed for much better quality of output but meant that if you only occasionally printed your heads might clog up and you get to waste 1/3 of an ink refill on cleaning cycles to unclog all the heads."

Having had a use pattern of printing nothing for months on end and then printing lots and lots of high-res full-colour full-coverage A3 images, I have had a fair bit of experience of that, and also of the similarly large amount of waste involved in purging airlocks after refilling or replacing cartridges (and it is infuriating when you think you've got it and then 7/8 of the way down the page the colour goes up the creek...).

So I derived a couple of fixes:

For clogged heads, the thing is to make a thick, uniform pad of absorbent material, like some old underpants. This is then soaked to dripping soddenness with meths, the head lifted up and the pad placed underneath. The thickness of the pad needs to be such that the head presses uniformly and reasonably firmly on it when let down again. The next day it is all black and gacky with ink and it's time to take it out and run a few cleaning cycles and test pages. It still requires a lot of repetition of the cleaning cycle before everything is fully back to normal, but not as much as it does just relying on the cleaning cycle alone, and the result is more dependable.

For ink use, the answer was a continuous ink supply system. This has a set of transparent 100ml ink tanks that sit next to the printer and are connected by silicone rubber tubes to a dummy cartridge. The tanks can be topped up at any time so once it's set up there should be no need to actually run out of ink at all. And I found one for under 20 quid including a full charge of ink.

202:

Buying a laser seems a lot easier. :)

I bought a HP Color LaserJet Pro 3600 8 years ago or more on closeout. It came with full toner carts. 6000 pages for black. 4000 pages for each of the others. These lasted for about 4 years then I spend a reasonable amount for some higher quality re-manufactured carts and it is still going strong on those. (Since my kids are gone my need for color has gone way down.)

The original cost of the printer was $250 on closeout. I spent about that on the replacement carts. So that means I've spent about $65 per year for quality color. Assuming I never print on it again.

Biggest drawback is the space required.

203:

I've got an HP colour laser printer. I suspect it's on its last legs, as when I print I hear ominous noises now. I run though 1-2 complete sets of cartridges a year, mostly for work-related printing*. I suspect that HP will stop making the cartridges soon anyway.

Definitely not a typical user.


*Which should be done at work, yes**. Except we only got a colour printer for the peons this year, and printing on it means sending a print job, sprinting down the hall and hoping no one else sent a job before I get there to put in my paper***, and repeat for every copy (as the colour printer is set to only print one copy at a time). It's registration sucks, which means I can't double-side even manually without leaving lots of slack for drift.

**There's a reason our Prime Minister put in a tax deduction for teachers and classroom supplies. Being a teacher himself, he knows that schools don't have enough supplies for actual use, or the board supplied ones are so poor quality that we end up buying our own.

***If I'm printing on cardstock, which I usually am for manipulatives.

204:

Oh there's plenty of people I can pay to do it in town. But they work normal office hours, and so do I. And town is between where I live and where I work - it's not just a "nip out for 5 minutes at lunchtime" job.

Yes, I could do it when, once every few weeks, I go into town for something the supermarkets or the open-late corner shops don't sell. But that's not suitable not just for "urgent" but for anything other than "totally laid back".

I don't have to put any significant cash value on my time or on hassle-removal before having my own basic printer makes economic sense*.

This is not being "functionally innumerate". It's making sensible cost/benefit assessments.

* - Just as, for example, I don't change the oil on my car myself any more. I can use the time for things that I attach a higher value to than the money I'll spend to get that time.

205:

Unless you live right next door to a garage, that cannot possibly be true. Chances are it'll take as long just to drive to the garage as to change the oil, and once you add on the time spent driving back again, and the time spent hanging around like a spare part while they change the oil, it's taken far longer than it would to do it yourself.

Indeed, especially that last one, because they won't be able to do the actual operation any quicker than you can, and they won't start doing it the instant you get out of the car.

And also the time spent doing it yourself is actually less than the time the operation takes to complete - the explanation of this paradox being that since you're at home, you can go and do something else while the oil is draining. Whereas if you wait at the garage you spend the entire time getting bored, and if you try and go to do something while the car is at the garage it'll still take you longer to walk to wherever you need to be than to perform the operation yourself.

206:

The HP Color LaserJet Pro 3600 was apparently about half a grand when it was available new, about a ton on ebay now. It doesn't do A3, and at a guess an A3-capable equivalent would have been about three times as much, if not more - given that we're talking a few years ago now - and certainly not something I'd have been willing to take a gamble on it genuinely being capable of full photographic quality printing.

First A3 colour inkjet I had was an HP forgetthemodel for 20 quid off ebay. Built like a tank, obviously designed for heavy office use, print quality left something to be desired. The one I was talking about above is an Epson 1290, cost zilch off freecycle, and print quality is excellent.

I do have a B&W laser for ordinary printing - in fact I have 4, the newest being an HP LJ6MP, the best an Epson EPL5200 which is the dog's bollocks for printing PCB transfers and which I reserve for that use because its toner is nearly out and genuine Epson original replacements which can be trusted to be what they say they are are like hen's teeth (that application being extremely fussy about the toner).

That printer also provided a remarkable demonstration of the self-mobile and anti-gravity properties of pigeon shit. Lacking space to store it I put it in with the pigeons, upside-down so the blank baseplate was the exposed surface and all the holes and gaps were pointing downwards. When I came to recommission it a few years later, I found that all the interior space was packed with pigeon shit and it was even adhering to what had been the downward-facing sides of surfaces. Instead of simply wiping down the outer surfaces as I had expected, I had to take it completely apart down to the last tiny screw and scrub every single component (including the circuit boards) in hot soapy water. And it still worked beautifully when reassembled.

207:

Only, of course, I'd have to make a trip to buy the oil - which is some sort of weird synthetic stuff - I'd have to look up what it is, and the filter. And another trip to dispose of them properly afterwards. And change into dirty clothes and back, and scrub my hands for ages afterwards. So even if the rest wasn't true the calculations are nowhere near as favourable as you make them.

Actually I do live very close to the garage. Close enough that if I ask them nicely they'll pick up the car when I'm away on business. Even if not, I can drop it off in the morning, they lend me a car to take to work and I repeat on the way home. All the time the oil is draining, I'm earning.

And, anyway, I tend to combine this sort of thing with other work (we have annual car tests that it has to go into the garage anyway) - so I'm paying those time overheads for things I can't do myself.

I do change the oil on the canal boat because the nearest boatyard is several hours and locks away from where we moor. The calculations work out differently in that case.

208:

You're making lots of assumptions there. When I get my oil changed I take along marking, sit at a table, and get work done while someone else is changing the oil and washing my car. (And doing an inspection as well.) Given that I don't have to spend time cleaning up, and that I'd have to spend the time making anyway, I'm further ahead having someone else do it.

(Time driving to the garage? Right by a grocers where I can buy food, so no extra time used there.)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 21, 2017 7:15 PM.

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