Tater’s Takes

May 30th, 2011 by Potato

What a crazy couple of weeks. This last week in particular featured back-to-back all-nighters as I tried to finish my thesis revisions. The crazy thing is the revisions weren’t even that bad, I just have enough trouble writing the fluffy bits that go around the sciency bits the first time around, and re-writing them seems to completely drain me. Since this week was largely fuelled by my discovery of delicious home-made onion rings, I’m afraid to even step on a scale to see where I’m at now. Anyway, it’s over, the latest revised version is out of my hands, and I just slept 24 of the last 30 hours; feeling much better now. I’ve got the penultimate exam to study for now, and hopefully a week of working out to make up for the weeks featuring dozens of hours in a chair per day…

On with the links!

The Neurologica blog has a few neat posts, including a follow-up to the CBC Marketplace report on homeopathy. A homeopathy advocate complained to the CBC, but their review found that the report was fair. “The achievement of balance does not mean mathematical equivalence; rather, the important principle is that different views are, in the words of the CBC policy, “reflected respectfully.” Also, a post about human echolocation.

A pair of articles in the Financial Post on condo speculators and using the housing bubble to sell out and fulfill your dreams. I know a few people my parents’ age who realized in the last few years that they could sell their house and retire off the proceeds if they moved even just a little ways outside the GTA. I’m surprised it hasn’t been more.

Google’s using its search data to discover interesting trends, such as uncovering the spread of flu-like symptoms. There are a lot of other possibilities for the correlation of search terms with real-life events, like getting a leading indicator of unemployment.

The CDC has created a clever page to use the threat of a zombie plague to inspire disaster readiness for more mundane emergencies.

Via BoingBoing, an interesting case in Texas on radiation in the drinking water, and the implications of margin-of-error. On the one hand, I can see the rationale for using the most liberal interpretation of the stats: who wants to tell a bunch of Texans that there’s slightly elevated levels of radioactivity in their drinking water (less than the margin-of-error above the limit), especially if the regulatory thresholds are set conservatively anyway. But, it’s not proper to consistently subtract the margin of error like they did. That’s the most optimistic interpretation of the data, but not actually the correct one. If it was a one-off reading, you could perhaps make that argument, but when it consistently happens then no, you know that the “true” value you’re measuring is indeed above the threshold.

Germany has decided to shut down nuclear power by 2022. I find that surprising: that’s a big shift to make in a deceptively short time period. According to the article, 23% of Germany’s power came from nuclear prior to the Japanese tsunami. In the wake of the fear that followed, Germany promptly shut down its 7 oldest reactors, and I’m surprised to see that sentiment following on for so long to have this much impact even on their newer reactors. 23% is a lot of power to have to find elsewhere. For comparison, roughly 8 years ago Ontario vowed to shut down our coal plants within 5 years, and it was a challenging goal to meet — indeed, the goalpost was moved to 10 years down the road pretty quickly (2014). We’re pretty close here in 2011: 8 of 19 units have been shut down, and the remainder are seeing less utilization. And coal was just about 20% of our energy mix before the phase-out. So the Germans have some pain ahead of them, and some hard choices: what on earth are they going to use to replace that much baseload power? Or will they have to pick one fifth of their things to turn off when the brownouts and rolling blackouts threaten?

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