Thursday, July 28, 2011

Point of Inquiry (UPDATED)

This afternoon, I spoke with Chris Mooney and David Frum for a "Point of Inquiry" podcast hosted by Mooney. It's a program produced by the Center for Inquiry, part of the skepticism/science/humanism complex that produces Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry magazines. Our topic was "conservatism, science and reality," and I'm told the podcast will be available online by late Monday.

UPDATE 8/1: Here it is, with audio file.

UPDATE 8/2: I have some more at FrumForum: "Can Conservatives and Scientists Get Along?"

UPDATE 8/5: See also Mooney's later post and the writeup at ClimateCrocks, which includes a YouTube excerpt:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Save JWST art

The saveJWST Art Initiative has presented some artworks aimed at promoting public support for the James Webb Space Telescope. I particularly like the tagline "For when you positively, absolutely have to understand the universe." I described the telescope's political travails and what's at stake here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

FrumForum note

FrumForum has a new design, which makes it look more blog-like, one might say. I expect there will be more fine-tuning, as the only constant on the Internet is change. My posts are collected here, and there will be more to come. My latest piece, on the James Webb Space Telescope, continues to draw comments, including some pretty impressive ones. I like to think that when JWST is finally deployed, it will have been my post that tipped the balance in the delicate political situation and made it all happen. But I like to think a lot of things.

Monday, July 18, 2011

On not joining Google+ (UPDATED)

The advent of Google+ is going to cause some people—it’s doing this for me—to mull over just how many social networks they should be on, and how much time and energy such media merit. For now, I’m content to let Google+ go its way without me, though I’ve never been an early adopter of these things anyway.

Currently, I am on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, besides having an oar in the blogging stream here at Quicksilber as well as another at FrumForum. All of these serve distinct purposes, albeit with some fuzzy edges. For me, Twitter is primarily for communicating with people in their capacity as readers and writers; Facebook is primarily for keeping in touch with friends and relatives; and LinkedIn is for business contacts (albeit for me, in my present use, LinkedIn is pretty much for nothing).

Most of the above has had considerable benefits for me in maintaining or forming contacts I wouldn’t have done otherwise, in getting people to read my writing, and in learning things I would otherwise have missed. But there are real downsides of social media, such as being time-consuming and occasionally causing frictions such as when someone has blocked you or unfriended you, etc. If Google+ is all it’s cracked up to be, I’ll probably be there at some point, but let it not be soon.

UPDATE 7/19: Julian Sanchez has some interesting thoughts about Google+ and other networks' uses, privacy issues and the tradeoffs involved.

UPDATE 7/21: So much for that -- I'm now on it. I got an invite from someone at my current primary employer, and came to think I'm better off having some capability to use it. So much for the plan to start just in time for the election of 2028.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


At FrumForum I come to the defense of the endangered James Webb Space Telescope. Excerpt:
JWST would operate about a million miles from Earth (Hubble is just a few hundred miles up) using advanced instruments to detect light from distant and faint objects; the far-off locale would provide excellent conditions for avoiding unwanted light and heat. The telescope would be optimized for infrared observations, enabling it to peer through dust clouds into the birthplaces of stars and the origins and early development of galaxies. No less exciting, JWST would be aimed at taking images of planets beyond our solar system and seeking signs of water and other factors relevant to possible life.
Whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eclectic links

I wouldn't call it the "coolest war ever," but the War of 1812 gets an interesting and exuberant writeup from Jonathan Rauch, one of my favorite writers. Here's my recent piece on how the abolition of the U.S. central bank shortly before the war almost caused it to be lost.

Todd Seavey gives Gillespie and Welch's book The Declaration of Independents a glowing review. Here's my comparatively less phosphorescent one.

An extensive new blog network has opened at my sometime employer Scientific American. Among various items that caught my interest, I recommend this sci-fi story by Charles Q. Choi and this post by illustrator Kalliopi Monoyios on science art and what cameras can't capture.

UPDATE: More on 1812.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Modest telescope proposal

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), flagship mission for U.S. astronomy, is in danger of cancellation. If that happens, I hope there's a plan to use the expensive hardware that's already been built as a lawn ornament somewhere, perhaps on the Washington mall as a monument to congressional shortsightedness. After all, the Saturn Vs that never flew have brightened up grassy areas in a few states and there's always a need for new public art.

For more on JWST's travails, see here, here and here. For my piece from a few years ago, on who James Webb was, see here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Central bank history

I've got a piece at FrumForum on the First Bank of the United States and the first George Clinton.