US physicists just revealed plans to build the most viable nuclear fusion devices ever

From Science Alert:

ScreenHunter_2185 Sep. 01 23.22While nuclear fission requires things to be heated to just a few hundred degrees Celsius, nuclear fusion machines have to recreate conditions on the Sun, so we’re talking several million degrees here.

And because nuclear fusion machines are basically starting their reactions from scratch, we first need to achieve temperatures far hotter than those estimated to exist in the centre of the Sun – at least 100 million degrees Celsius.

So far, the closest anyone’s gotten to the dream of limitless energy is a team of physicists at the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, and researchers at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) – both of which have been trying to hold onto the super-heated plasma that results from the fusion reaction.

“During the process of nuclear fusion, atoms' electrons are separated from their nuclei, thereby creating a super-hot cloud of electrons and ions (the nuclei minus their electrons) known as plasma,” Daniel Oberhaus explains for Motherboard.

“The problem with this energy-rich plasma is figuring out how to contain it, since it exists at extremely high temperatures (up to 150 million degrees Celsius, or 10 times the temperature at the Sun’s core). Any material you can find on Earth isn’t going to make a very good jar.”

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Capitalism and democracy: the strain is showing

Martin Wolf in the Financial Times:

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Democracy is egalitarian. Capitalism is inegalitarian, at least in terms of outcomes. If the economy flounders, the majority might choose authoritarianism, as in the 1930s. If economic outcomes become too unequal, the rich might turn democracy into plutocracy.

Historically, the rise of capitalism and the pressure for an ever- broader suffrage went together. This is why the richest countries are liberal democracies with, more or less, capitalist economies. Widely shared increases in real incomes played a vital part in legitimising capitalism and stabilising democracy. Today, however, capitalism is finding it far more difficult to generate such improvements in prosperity. On the contrary, the evidence is of growing inequality and slowing productivity growth. This poisonous brew makes democracy intolerant and capitalism illegitimate.

Today’s capitalism is global. This, too, can be regarded as natural. Left to themselves, capitalists will not limit their activities to any given jurisdiction. If opportunities are global so, too, will be their activities. So, as a result, are economic organisations, particularly big companies.

Yet, as Professor Dani Rodrik of Harvard University has noted, globalisation constrains national autonomy. He writes that “democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three but never have all three simultaneously and in full”.

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Rhino-escape tips to omelette Viagra – 14th-century Arab encyclopaedia published in English

Alison Flood in The Guardian:

UntitledDealing with everything from “the Classification of Names of Dust and its Qualities” to “Poetic Descriptions of the Down on the Young Male Cheek”, via the ingredients of an omelette which increases sexual potency, a 14th-century Egyptian scholar’s attempt to catalogue all knowledge has been translated into English for the first time. Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri lived from 1279 and 1333. He was a civil servant in the Mamluk empire until he retired from government service in the 1310s and decided to catalogue everything known to exist, in an encyclopaedia which eventually spanned more than 9,000 pages and 33 volumes. Penguin Classics, which publishes the first ever English translation of The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition in October, said that the compendium of knowledge from the classical Islamic world was “as important a work to civilization as Pliny’s natural history”, and “an astonishing record of the knowledge of a civilization”.

…His goal, al-Nuwayri writes in a preface, was “securing the essential and banishing the incidental, adorning it with the necklace of my own sayings, and the pearls of my predecessors”. “My own words in it are like the night clouds leading the rain clouds, or the patrol followed by the squadron. They merely interpret the book’s contents and frame them like eyebrows over the eyes,” he writes, adding, warningly, “I have followed the traces of those excellent ones before me, pursuing their path and connecting my rope to theirs. So if there should be any complaint, the dishonour is upon them and not me.”

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Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World

Amara D. Angelica in KurzweilAI:

In the movie “Lo and Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World,”, legendary documentarian Werner Herzog discovers and explores the internet in a series of ten impressionistic vignettes. These range from internet pioneers (Leonard Kleinrock, Robert Kahn, Danny Hillis), AI/roboticists (Sebastian Thrun, Tom Mitchell, “Raj” Rajkumar, Joydeep Biswas), and Mars explorers (with Elon Musk — Herzog volunteered to go) to dystopians — how a solar flare could crash our internet-based civilization in a few days, electrosensitive hermits living off the grid, online-game addicts, black-hat hackers (Kevin Mitnick), government intrusion (Jonathan L. Zittrain), a family cruelly harrassed by trolls, and smartphone-obsessed Tibetan monks. KurzweilAI readers may not find much new in the film, but I found it compelling anyway, thanks to explorer-poet-philosopher Herzog’s soft-spoken, quirky humor (“Does the Internet dream of itself?” was one question he asked) and unrushed, contemplative — almost meditative — style, plus awesome, unobtrusive music.

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Camera-phone Lucida

UnnamedJacob Mikanowski at The Point:

Forty years ago, the great art historian Michael Baxandall introduced the idea of the period eye. Renaissance viewers, for instance, brought a world of experience to bear on paintings. They were used to estimating, assessing and appraising. They shared a visual language, in which meaning was expressed through color harmonies, costly fabrics and metaphorical meanings. When they looked at a painting of the Annunciation, they priced out the cloth on the Virgin’s table, guessed the number of hogsheads of grain that would fit in a baptismal font and recognized the allusion to the Neoplatonic doctrine of forms concealed in the stained glass of the apse. Few among us now measure the world in casks of wine or yards of taffeta. But the broader point stands: vision is not neutral but shaped by our historical moment.

Today, we look at Instagram feeds with the same level of scrutiny as the Renaissance merchants who converted their Madonnas into ducats. Only the criteria of judgment have changed. Does the user obey the unwritten laws of adult Instagram, posting less than once a day, avoiding too many shots of their face, going easy on the hashtags? (Teen Instagram rules are different, if even more stringent). How are their vacations? Do they inspire envy in a way that’s beguiling, or merely crass? Are they eating in the right places? Instagram can seem like an index of mores in the age of self-branding and self-surveillance. But even as we look and like, we often fail to see to what extent our present image-world is rooted in the past. Instagram hasn’t yet introduced much that’s new to art, or even to vision.

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the great dying

ImagesJohn Bannigan at the Dublin Review of Books:

Catastrophic extinctions like storms or earthquakes vary in scale but of the twenty that have occurred since the beginning of the Palaeozoic five are singled out as massive because the extinction rate exceeded seventy-five per cent. The Worst of Times describes the eighty-million-year time span from the mid-Permian to the mid-Jurassic, during which two massive extinctions occurred as well as four of lesser magnitude. Wignall gives a detailed account of the most massive one of all, in which ninety-five per cent of all life perished 250 million years ago. This was the second in the series and occurred at the Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) boundary. The account is based largely on field studies in which he has had major involvement over twenty-five years.

The main argument is that the extinctions were due to enormous episodes of volcanism and that their severity was intensified by the peculiar geography of the planet at the time. Wignall begins with the geography. In the Palaeozoic nearly all the land of the earth was concentrated in a single super-continent called Pangea. Shaped a bit like an irregular fat letter C, Pangea stretched from pole to pole. The shallow concavity of the C was open to the east and enclosed the Thetys Ocean with the equator on its southern shore. The Panthalassa Ocean occupied the rest of the planet. Pangea was the last of a series of super-continents formed by cycles of coalescence and fragmentation resulting from movements of the earth’s tectonic plates. The volcanism was caused by columns of magma ascending from the core-mantle boundary of the planet.

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Rereading Patricia Highsmith’s eerie romance-as-thriller

51xOraJSN9LTerry Castle at Bookforum:

Much as I love this dizzyingly erotic book, there’s something magnificently bogus about this ending: an inauthenticity that becomes even more glaring when one sees the events recast in précis. The Price of Salt was partly inspired by a chance meeting Highsmith had while working at Bloomingdale’s in December 1948, an episode that in real life went nowhere. A glamorous blonde in furs asked Highsmith for assistance, and Highsmith at once became almost insanely infatuated, making two unsuccessful stalker-like trips to New Jersey to find (and presumably spy on) the object of her coup de foudre. The novel is exactly what didn’thappen between Highsmith and her own “Mrs. Aird.” And the fantasy goes still further: It emerges that not only is newly divorced Carol gorgeous, rich, and the proud possessor of a chic new apartment in uptown Manhattan (so long, New Jersey suburbs), she’s also a scholarly expert on antique furniture and plans to set up her own upscale shop. Simultaneously, a series of lucrative set-design gigs with renowned avant-garde Russian directors in exile fall into Therese’s lap. You can easily conjure up the future iterations of such mutual good fortune: Therese and Carol—artsy (if still discreet) power couple of lesbian Manhattan! Yum.

In an intriguing aside in The Talented Miss Highsmith (2009), the second and far more freewheeling of the two Highsmith biographies to date, Joan Schenkar notes that lesbian producer-director and Actors Studio member Terese Hayden wished, somewhat perversely, to adapt The Price of Salt for the stage as a heterosexual love story, in which the Carol figure would be changed into a man named Carl. That the idea fizzled is a good thing: Making the story over into banal heterosexualia strikes one as bathos exemplified.

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