More good stuff on the open frontiers – 2-7-14

More good stuff on the open frontiers of energy, space, education, and publishing. Good info but only time to summarize in a paragraph. A few tidbits:

  • Study claiming fracking causes cancer is totally bogus
  • Ambulance drones?
  • Primer on MOOCs
  • The 1st amendment applies to everyone, even bloggers


1-17 – AP – Court: Bloggers have first amendment protections – I don’t understand the case, but the point appears to be that bloggers are recognized as having constitutional protection when addressing public issues or public persons. Very cool.

But then since I’m writing on a blog to discuss this article I obviously have a dog in this fight.

1-17 – The Volokh Conspiracy – Bloggers = Media for First Amendment Libel Law Purposes – That’s the headline from the attorney who represented the defendant. Here’s a quote from the court’s ruling:

The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable:

Let me rephrase in simpler language: the constitution protects everyone. What a quaint concept. Yes, that’s sarcasm. And well earned.


2-6 – The Economist – Massive open online forces – Good description of MOOCs, possible direction for them to develop, and pressure they put on brick-and-mortar universities. If you haven’t read about Massive Open Online Courses, this would be a good place to start.


Uh, oh. Jade Rabbit in trouble. 1-27 – NewScientist – China’s Jade Rabbit rover may be victim of moon dust – News is scant, but the lunar rover isn’t doing well. It may not have survived the 2 week lunar night.  The lander is successfully sleeping again but the rover isn’t.  The Chinese space team may learn more when this lunar night ends. I hope they can revive the rover. If not, see next article….

Outer space is dangerous – 1-30 – USA Today – Space Casualties a Necessary Tragedy – Exploration of hostile environments, whether on the ocean, under the ocean, above the ground, or outer space is dangerous. In January we remember the loss of Apollo 1 (3 bold explorers in ‘67), Challenger (7 adventurers in ’86) and Columbia (7 adventurers in ’03).

Space is dangerous. As we move into more space travel, which will be planned, designed, built, and funded privately, we need to remember space is dangerous. It is worth the risk. Onward and upward!


1-15 – Popular Science – Video: A Marine With a Prosthetic Hand Controlled By His Own Muscles – Instead of sensors on the surface of the skin, these sensors are implanted into the residual muscle.  Instead of motion in one axis at a time, this prosthesis can flex the hand, rotate at the wrist, and flex fingers & thumb simultaneously and independently. Extremely cool.  Thanks to SSGT Sides for his service and willingness to be a test bed. The bionic man of sci-fi is getting closer.

1-30 – Popular Mechanics – Ambulance Drones are Almost Here– Cool concept for a battlefield – drone that can get you out of a tight spot while people are shooting at you – transport short distance to where medics are available and less shooting. Very cool that something like this is even in testing. Cost? $2.5M.  I wonder what does a Blackhawk cost? Probably a multiple of that. Plus a trained crew.

The rate of change is staggering – 2-4 – Wall Street Journal – It’s the Year of the Horsepower for Many Chinese Travelers– Number of miles of highway in China has increased by a factor of 4 since 2000. Number of privately owned vehicles is over 85M. According to the article that is an increase by a factor of 14 in a decade. Up from about 6M to 85M in 10 years. Wow. Long distance road trips, according to the article, are a bit unpleasant, especially during the New Year crush of travelers.


1-15 – Spiegel Online – Green Fade-Out: Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals– Germany individually and the EU collectively are backing away from their very aggressive goals for green energy. May open the door to fracking in many countries. I don’t understand European politics well enough to know if this is a trial balloon, advocacy by one faction in the EU, or the first real step to not paralyzing the EU economies with extremely high energy costs.

1-30 – Energy In Depth – Colo. Health Department Disavows Activists’ Favorite Fracking Researchers – State health officials have shown a popular study allegedly “proving” fracking increases cancer risk is, umm, worthless.

The alleged study sort of forgot to consider whether people who got sick smoke or drank. They forgot to distinguish between active and inactive wells. Or between horizontal or vertical wells. Or consider whether the mom received good or poor pre-natal care. Or where the mom lived in the first trimester. Oh, and the health differences they noted are barely above the statistical significant cutoff. Oh, and the authors of the alleged study didn’t even claim to identify causation; they only claimed to find correlation.

I’m not a research scientist, so I can’t provide the theoretical reasons why that makes the study invalid and worthless, but based on the comments by public health officials, it sure sounds to me like the study is completely without value.

1-30 – Dickinson Press – Right-of-way access may pose biggest delay in capturing gas – Everyone knows too much gas is being flared in North Dakota, even the companies who are burning money from their wells. Big obstacle is getting permission from all the landowners needed to install each gathering line and transmission line.

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