Podcast Episode 027 – Pirate Asteroid Vaping

Today, we have pirated science, cinnamon vaping, nuking asteroids, disintegrating ice shelves, the end of Moore’s law, along with Today I Learned. And a new feature, Tech I Bought.

ETHAN: Remember the ridiculous song, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? There’s more to it than just silliness. Wikipedia tells us more.

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a song from the 1964 Disney musical film Mary Poppins. The song was written by the Sherman Brothers, and sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. It also appears in the stage show version.

According to Richard M. Sherman, co-writer of the song with his brother, Robert, the word was one that the two knew in their youth. In a 2007 interview, Sherman indicated that the final version of the word was produced by the two brothers over the course of two weeks during the songwriting process, indicating only that the origins of the word were in their memories of creating double-talk words in their childhood.

The roots of the word have been defined as follows: super- “above”, cali- “beauty”, fragilistic- “delicate”, expiali- “to atone”, and -docious “educable”, with the sum of these parts signifying roughly “Atoning for educability through delicate beauty.” According to the film, it is defined as “something to say when you have nothing to say”.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was first added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.”

This is the Citizens of Tech podcast, and we are your supercalifragilisticexpialidocious hosts, Ethan Banks and Eric Sutphen. You can follow us at @ecbanks and @zutfen, and you absolutely should. You can follow the show @citizensoftech, or by visiting CitizensOfTech.com.

Eric, what have we got on the show today?

ERIC: Today, we have pirated science, cinnamon vaping, nuking asteroids, disintegrating ice shelves, the end of Moore’s law, along with Today I Learned. And a new feature, Tech I Bought.

And hey – we’ve launched a Patreon page!

And we have a special guest! Greg Ferro from Packet Pushers joins us.


Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge


  • 48 million journal articles are available online, courtesy of a researcher in Russia, neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan.
  • She’s being sued by Elsevier, a huge medical and science publishing company.
  • A New York district court has ordered her to take the site down. Of course, she’s a Russian, and has no US assets. So…neener neener.
  • The question is…why? Why is this such a big deal? Because research papers are big, big business. “Journal subscriptions have become so expensive that leading universities such as Harvard and Cornell have admitted they can no longer afford them. Researchers have also taken a stand – with 15,000 scientists vowing to boycott publisher Elsevier in part for its excessive paywall fees.”
  • The site is http://sci-hub.io/.
  • Sci-hub describes itself as, “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.”
  • So no matter what side you come down on an issue like this — I see it both ways — go getcha some science.

E-cigs shut down hundreds of immune system genes—regular cigs don’t


  • Vaping is supposed to be healthier than smoking cigarettes. There’s liquid, it gets heated up and atomized, you get your nic fix, and hey, it’s not that awful carcinogenic tobacco.
  • But this liquid ain’t just water (I thought it was, shows you what I know).
  • It’s some chemical brew that seems to do other sorts of bad things to you. “After comparing genetic information swabbed from the noses of smokers, vapers, and non-users of both, researchers found that smoking suppresses the activity of 53 genes involved in the immune system. Vaping also suppressed those 53 immune genes—along with 305 others.”
  • If your immune system is suppressed, you can get sick more easily.
  • Some vaping flavors are worse than others. “The flavorings that seemed to have the most potent gene-altering effects were additives that taste like cinnamon—cinnamaldehyde—as well as butter flavors.”
  • We actually don’t know nearly enough about the stuff being inhaled when vaping. “The concern was echoed by clinical pharmacologist Neal Benowitz of the University of California, San Francisco. “E-cigarettes are not one thing,” he said, noting that the devices, liquids, and flavorings vary widely. “We’re really in the beginning of understanding the toxicity.””


Russians Want To Launch An ICBM At A Near-Earth Asteroid And Nuke It In 2036


  • What do you do with an aging fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles? You aim them at asteroids that threaten the planet. (Duh.)
  • The Russians want to use an ICBM to launch a nuke against “Apophis, a well known near-earth asteroid that will pass close to Earth in 2036.”
  • ICBMs work well for this application because they are solid fuel — ready to go in an instant. Most rockets work via boiling fuel, and fueling them takes 10 days or so. A little late if the planet goes on high alert due to an unexpected inbound asteroid.
  • Not all scientists think nuking the asteroid is a good idea. I mean, let’s say it works. That breaks the asteroid up into a bunch of smaller pieces. In theory, they all break up in the atmosphere, but what if we just end up with a chunks that make a scattered landfall, and things are worse? The alternative is to use, “gravitational tugs, kinetic impacts or even the solar wind to push killer asteroids off course.”
  • Learning how those might work take time, though too. And hey, we already know how to blow stuff up.

A full catalog of the Antarctic ice shelves that should terrify us



  • Antarctica houses a huge amount of the water that’s in the world. It’s a massive continent, covered by miles of ice in most places.
  • As the world continues to deal with climate change, science observes the polar regions to see how ice is changing. We’ve talked before on the show about massive ice shelves calving, etc.
  • So, there’s some new and interesting data to discuss. Let’s set it up. Ars points out that Antarctica has 4 different kinds of ice.
    • Large ice sheets. “Inland, there are large ice sheets, some of which sit above sea level, others below.”
    • Glaciers. “Some of the ice in these sheets flows to the coast through exit glaciers, which often pass through narrow valleys on their way to the sea.”
    • Coastal ice shelves. “At the coast, you’ll find the third type: permanent floating ice shelves, which can extend for miles into the ocean.”
    • Seasonal ice. “Beyond those, you will find seasonal ice, which expands in the southern winter but contracts again when summer arrives.”
  • The ice shelves regulate glacier flow. If the shelves diminish or disappear, the glaciers can flow into the ocean faster.
  • Scientists have constructed a model that lets them test what happens to glacial flow if shelves break off. And it’s a little scary. “The [glaciers] emptying into the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas are at the edge of instability. There’s little that will stop continued retreat of Antarctic glaciers. … It’s bad news in the sense that the glaciers in that area lead to ice sheets that sit on land below sea level. Invasion of that area by sea water could potentially lead to a relatively rapid rise in ocean levels of more than two meters.”
  • Is 2 meters a lot? National Geographic suggests that it is. “A recent study says we can expect the oceans to rise between 2.5 and 6.5 feet (0.8 and 2 meters) by 2100, enough to swamp many of the cities along the U.S. East Coast. More dire estimates, including a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, push sea level rise to 23 feet (7 meters), enough to submerge London.”


Moore’s law really is dead this time



  • In 1965, Gordon Moore noticed that transistor density in integrated circuits was doubling roughly every 12 months. Throw a bunch of stats at this, and this translated into “Moore’s law.”
  • This was not about science. More of an observation.
  • By 1975, Moore himself said it was more like a doubling every 24 months. And so it was, that making everything smaller and smaller allowed the density doubling to continue every two years until roughly 2000.
  • An illustration on the Wikipedia page shows, “An Osborne Executive portable computer, from 1982, with a Zilog Z80 4 MHz CPU, and a 2007 Apple iPhone with a 412 MHz ARM11 CPU; the Executive weighs 100 times as much, has nearly 500 times the volume, costs approximately 10 times as much (adjusted for inflation), and has about 1/100th the clock frequency of the smartphone.”
  • In the 2000’s, the industry turned to other techniques.
    • “At 90nm, strained silicon was introduced.”
    • “At 45nm, new materials to increase the capacitance of each transistor layered on the silicon were introduced.”
    • “At 22nm, tri-gate transistors maintained the scaling.”
  • We’re straining the limits of photolithography now. “The photolithography process used to transfer the chip patterns to the silicon wafer has been under considerable pressure: currently, light with a 193 nanometre wavelength is used to create chips with features just 14 nanometres. The oversized light wavelength is not insurmountable but adds extra complexity and cost to the manufacturing process. It has long been hoped that extreme UV, with a 13.5nm wavelength, will ease this constraint, but production-ready EUV technology has proven difficult to engineer.”
  • Even if we can resolve the photolithography issue with extreme UV, we’re getting into circuits at the atomic scale. We don’t know that it’s going to work right. “Even with EUV, it’s unclear just how much further scaling is even possible; at 2nm, transistors would be just 10 atoms wide, and it’s unlikely that they’d operate reliably at such a small scale.”
  • Oh, and did we mention Rock’s law? Money is becoming a problem now. “Rock’s law, which observes that the cost of a chip fabrication plant doubles every 4 years. Technology may provide ways to further increase the number of transistors packed into a chip, but the manufacturing facilities to build these chips may be prohibitively expensive—a situation compounded by the growing use of smaller, cheaper processors.”
  • There’s other practical problems, as well.
    • Clock speeds are stuck due to heat.
    • Core performance doesn’t get much faster that it is.
    • Instead, we have multiple cores. But…we don’t always have software that can take advantage of it.
  • Now chips are headed in the direction of being multifunction…not just faster or more transistor-dense.
    • RAM
    • Power regulation
    • Analog components for GPS, cellular, and Wi-Fi radios
    • Microelectromechanical components such as gyroscopes and accelerometers
  • Silicon itself is just about dead. Intel will switch to another material when they get to 7nm. “Intel has already announced that it will be dropping silicon at 7nm. Indium antimonide (InSb) and indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) have both shown promise, and both offer much higher switching speeds at much lower power than silicon. Carbon, both in its nanotube and graphene forms, continues to be investigated and may prove better still.”
  • Will we ever go back to the good old days? Maybe. “The use of alternative materials, different quantum effects, or even more exotic techniques such as superconducting may provide a way to bring back the easy scaling that was enjoyed for decades, or even the more complex scaling of the last fifteen years.”

Tech I Bought

Nulaxy Wireless In-Car Bluetooth FM Transmitter Radio Adapter Car Kit


    • What is it? It’s an FM transmitter that talks Bluetooth to your phone, and sits in the power receptacle of your car.
    • Why do you want it? Because you have an old car with no AUX inputs and want to listen to music or podcasts from your phone, and not use the wired headphone jack. It’s a cheap stopgap for replacing an old head unit with something modern. Since I’m still fighting check engine light troubles and replacing O2 sensors, etc. I will have to wait on the audio upgrade project for several months or a year a the slush fund is depleting.
    • What did it cost? $22, with free shipping for Amazon Prime members.
  • Is it any good?
    • It broadcasts as low as 87.5MHz, which means no interference from terrestrial radio stations if your radio can tune below the common limit of 88.1. Mine can. Lucky me.
    • No power switch, so you have to unplug it from the power socket unless that socket is switched. Mine is switched, so I don’t have to worry about that.
    • The unit has a little head unit with a screen that gives you information about broadcast frequency, input voltage, and pairing status. You can also play/pause and skip tracks forward and back. Handy.
    • It sounds okay. I am noticing the head unit complain that it’s in and out of stereo, but the antenna in my car is printed on the back glass. Could be reception is a little wonky. But I can’t hear any difference in the audio, like you often can with a marginal FM signal. It’s not static-y at all. But I’m honestly not sure if I’m getting stereo or mono without experimenting more.
    • Supposedly, you can use it as hands-free phone. I haven’t tried this yet, but I don’t have high hopes. The socket is low in the console, down around the shift level. The mic just can’t pickup very well from there. But I’ll try it and see.

Today I Learned

A feghoot “is a humorous short story or vignette ending in a pun (typically a play on a well-known phrase) where the story contains sufficient context to recognize the punning humor.”


For example, you might say that Mahatma Gandhi was a “super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis”.

A comedian accidently became a politician in Denmark when his joke political party managed to get a seat in parliament.


He made the following promises in the 1994 election:

  • Tail winds on all cycle paths
  • Better weather
  • Better Christmas presents
  • More whales in the fjord of Randers
  • More pieces of Renaissance furniture in IKEA
  • 8 hours of spare time, 8 hours of rest, 8 hours of sleep
  • Nutella in army field rations
  • The placing of a public toilet in the park in Aarhus where he spent his state party funding on serving beer and sausages to his voters after each election.
  • More bread for the ducks in parks – he actually achieved this one.

Textiles have been made from spider silk.


“In 2004 a textile designer, Simon Peers, and an entrepreneur, Nicholas Godley managed in three years work and using 1.2 million Golden silk orb-weavers (collected in the wild and released some 30 minutes later after they produced the silk) to produce a shawl that was as exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History in 2009. By 2012 they managed to produce a second, bigger garment, a cape, that, together with the shawl, were exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.”


We close the show today, as we opened it — with a bit of techie trivia from the 1964 classic Disney film, Mary Poppins. These points come from IMDB.

  • “For her interaction with the animatronic robin, Julie Andrews had yards of control wires hidden under her costume and running up her sleeve.”
  • “Over 100 glass and matte paintings were used to recreate the London skyline of 1910.”
  • “The wires holding up the flying Mary Poppins were darkened with shoe polish to reduce the risk of reflection from the studio lights.”
  • “The houses on Cherry Tree Lane were built on a diminishing scale, getting smaller as the lane progressed.”
  • “Filmed entirely on soundstages under heavy studio lighting.”
  • “The Disney studios’ first DVD release.”

That’s all for today, fair Citizens. We’ll see you next week!

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