Monday, June 4, 2012

Recent Reasons for Optimism Reloaded

I know "Reloaded" was the second movie, and this is my third Recent Reasons for Optimism entry, but... yeah, I don't have a good reason, so on to the optimism! Space news dominated the week, but there are also reasons to be optimistic about agriculture, health and the economy.

1. For starters, Joshua at PostLibertarian has his own list of reasons for optimism, including SpaceX's success with the Falcon 9, Cubify's new 3D printer and the lowering of legal hurdles for driverless cars. Also check out his previous reasons for optimism, including lower child mortality and improving technologies, among others.

2 Speaking of space, SpaceX has also just signed their first commercial contract for the Falcon Heavy rocket. The Falcon Heavy is basically three Falcon 9's strapped together. When completed, it will be able to take 58.5 tons into orbit, more than double the shuttle's 26.8 tons at less than a quarter of the cost.

3. SpaceX isn't the only good news in space. A company in the UK has announced plans (ht One Per Cent) to launch nanosatellites that, once in orbit, can dock with each other in novel configurations. One of the benefits would be easier in-orbit upgrades to satellites equipped with the technology. In a perfect example of the Matt Ridley quote in the sidebar here, the nanosatellites would use Kinect cameras to sense each other and make docking possible. "The more we invent, the more inventions become possible."

4. Just one more about space: Virgin Galactic has been granted an FAA permit for the first rocket-powered tests of SpaceShipTwo, which will eventually carry tourists into space. They plan to begin those tests this year, with an eye to actual tourist flights starting in 2013-2014.

5. The Free Exchange blog at The Economist reviews two recent books, one painting a picture of an America in decline, the other the opposite. In blogger R.A.'s words, "To spin a story of decline, one has to demonstrate that policies are considerably worse than they used to be, and that they're unlikely to improve. It's actually quite difficult to do this." While there are looming problems, R.A. says, "these issues, and other worries as well, are not being ignored or greeted with complacency," and "American innovation is proving as impressive as ever."

6. Two studies covered at World Climate Report (ht @mattwridley) portend good news for crop yields. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide helps rice out-compete weeds and encourages more photosynthesis in wheat. Higher temperatures also improve wheat water use efficiency. The scientists predicted that by 2050, global warming would raise wheat yields by about 5.8% in lower altitudes and more than 10% in higher altitudes.

7. A ten-year-old girl, Sammie Hicks, was until recently only able to hear with a hearing aid. In April, she was given a cochlear implant and recorded for Youtube the moment it was finally turned on in May. She jumps as the sounds come in, and adjusts to hearing herself breathe for the first time. In the video, she starts crying, and later said, "It was overwhelming. But the reason I really cried? I couldn’t believe all the stuff I was missing." In a later video, she talks about hearing pencils writing at school, and the wind on her way home.

8. Paralyzed rats with "severe spinal injuries" were effectively cured of their paralysis, regaining the ability to walk after 2-3 weeks and achieving "100% recuperation" after 5-6 weeks of treatment, including a special stimulating device and the ratty equivalent of physical therapy. A similar treatment for humans could be available within just a year or two.

9. The plural of anecdotes is not data. However, anecdotally, in my little corner of the world, the economy seems to be improving. People I know who have been unemployed, some for a very long time, over the last few weeks have been finding jobs. Walking down the street this past week, I've seen "Now Hiring" signs in the windows of local businesses. There are fresh faces working at businesses I frequent, and even the local mall is expanding.

10. With Friday's disappointing employment numbers from the establishment survey, you'd be forgiven for thinking the economic data is all doom and gloom. However, the household survey told a different story. While the establishment survey measured only 69k new jobs, the more-accurate household survey picked up 422k.  Even the establishment survey looks better when you look at the private sector, which is where we want the growth to happen anyway. And while the unemployment rate ticked up from 8.1% to 8.2%, this was because the labor force grew by 642k as the long-term non-employed start looking for work again. That's not a bad thing!

11. Finally, a note on optimism itself. The CultureLab blog at New Scientist interviews Elaine Fox, author of the book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain. Fox believes that we can retrain our brains to become more optimistic. She also cites research on the benefits of optimism, saying, "The research shows that, as long as they are realists too, people who have an optimistic mindset and feel like they are able to cope when things do go wrong benefit in all sorts of ways. The evidence is also quite strong now that an optimistic mindset is beneficial for our health. People with optimistic mindsets are also more successful in business, and seem to live longer."

1 comment:

  1. Great links, I hadn't heard about a lot of these.