World Solar Challenge head to head: USA Challengers

The World Solar Challenge is an exciting race to find the best solar car in the world. That makes for serious competition between countries. But there are also some interesting contests within countries. The most obvious is between Nuon (3) and Twente (21), who came first and second in the Challenger class last time.

Within the USA, Michigan (2, Novum, above) has generally been the best, although Stanford (16, Sundae, below) has recently been close behind (see chart at top). This year, Michigan has “thought outside the box.” If their unusual design succeeds, they could win. If not, Stanford could take over as “Best in the West.” What will happen?

Troubles at Evergreen

The Evergreen State College (photo: “kelp”)

I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the protests at The Evergreen State College in Washington State, which were triggered when biology professor Bret Weinstein objected to the 2017 version of a college event called “Day of Absence.” This event was described by organisers with the words “We are having people of color stay on campus and we are encouraging white staff, faculty, and students to go off campus in order to make the space at Evergreen more centered around people of color.” Weinstein, who is Jewish, objected to this in an internal email (using what seems to me very polite language), noting that “On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.” No doubt he saw some disturbing historical precedents.

Protests snowballed, however, taking a rather anti-White, anti-Jewish, anti-Asian, and anti-Science turn. One of the activists suggested that “Hopefully, long-term we can just weed out people like Bret.” It’s not clear to me what “people like Bret” means. I do note, however, that protestors vandalised both the college’s natural history museum and its scientific computing facilities, so I suspect that not only Weinstein, but scientists in general, were a target. That seems an unfortunate situation in an educational institution (even one that accepts 98.9% of applicants). No doubt there’s more here than meets the eye.

Girl, flaunt those hoops!

American private liberal arts colleges constantly seem to be in the news (not, unfortunately, for their educational successes). Pitzer College, located in Claremont, California (and ranked 44th among liberal arts colleges in the United States by Times Higher Education), recently made the news when a college Resident Assistant announced that “white girls” should not wear hoop earrings.

Left: Greek hoop earring with lion head, 4th century BC; Right: Italian (Lombard) hoop earring with basket, 7th century AD

The strange thing is that hoop earrings are almost a cultural universal. They have been worn across the world, including in Europe and the Middle East. And not just by “girls” with skin of various colours – men have worn them too.

I must also say I’m grateful that the Greeks haven’t stopped the rest of the world from “cultural appropriation” of their philosophy, mathematics, and democratic ideals.

Left: Croatian hoop earring, 14th century AD; Right: Egyptian hoop earring, Roman Period or later

What happened to

A number of people seem to have become concerned about changes to the website. In fact, this website belongs to the current US president, and (as far as I can tell) he can fill it up with nothing but cat videos if he so desires. However, it generally hosts a mixture of current administration policy and praise for whoever the current president happens to be.

Back in October 2016, Kori Schulman, Special Assistant and Deputy Chief Digital Officer for Obama, told us exactly what was going to happen: “Similar to the Clinton and Bush White House websites, President Obama’s will be preserved on the web and frozen after January 20th and made available at The incoming White House will receive the domain and all content that has been posted to during the Obama administration will be archived with NARA [here].

I’ve heard particular concerns about the “open data” section of the old site. This was archived as well. Not that it was all that exciting – there were several spreadsheets, like the salary data I used to produce the histogram below. Most were poorly documented. US government datasets are generally maintained on specific agency websites and at In particular, the White House staff salary data is available in a better-organised form at It is not clear what is happening with the developer website at

On the whole, it seems to me that there are far more serious issues in US politics at the moment than this one.

American Solar Challenge 2016 Race Route

These are the main stops on the route for the American Solar Challenge 2016. See also the route map and route notes. The route covers 1975 miles (3178 km) altogether, with the four stages being, respectively, 23%, 26%, 43%, and 8% of the total.

Stage 1 (Sat, Jul 30) – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

This location in Brecksville, OH marks the race start.

Stage 1 (Sat, Jul 30) – Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

This checkpoint is where the Wright brothers began. There will be an independent overnight stop in the evening.

Stage 1 (Sun, Jul 31) – George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

This location is a stage stop.

Stage 2 (Mon, Aug 1) – Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

There is a checkpoint at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis, MO. There will be an independent overnight stop in the evening.

Stage 2 (Tue, Aug 2) – Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

This location is a stage stop.

Stage 3 (Wed, Aug 3) – Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

There is a checkpoint at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, KS. There will be an independent overnight stop in the evening.

Stage 3 (Thu, Aug 4) – Homestead National Monument of America

There is a checkpoint at the Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, NE. There will be an independent overnight stop in the evening. Some cars may arrive here on Wednesday, August 3.

Stage 3 (Fri, Aug 5) – Scotts Bluff National Monument

This location on the Oregon Trail is a stage stop. Some cars may arrive here on Thursday, August 4.

Stage 4 (Sat, Aug 6) – Wind Cave National Park

This location in Hot Springs, SD marks the finish line. The awards dinner and ceremony will be at the end of the day.

A journey that celebrates both the future of technology and the history of the USA!

Donald Trump and Demographics

It has been pointed out in recent times that the death rate for Non-Hispanic White males and females in the USA is now higher than for the general US population (data above from the recent US National Vital Statistics Report). In fact, in 2013, age-adjusted death rates for Non-Hispanic Whites actually rose (by 0.6, from 876.2 to 876.8 per 100,000 for males, and by 0.8, from 637.6 to 638.4 per 100,000 for females).

A recent article in PNAS shows that this apparently small increase results from a substantial increase in death rates among middle-aged Non-Hispanic White men and women (ages 45-54), and blames an increase in drug and alcohol poisonings and in suicide. The increases in death rate and in poisonings and suicide are particularly pronounced among Non-Hispanic White men and women without a college education. The chart below shows the crude death rates over time for Non-Hispanic White men and women in this age group, but does not reflect the impact of level of education (data from CDC WONDER Online Database):

The NY Times is among those that has run the story, and it has also been pointed out that the increases appear to be greater among women than men, greater in Southern states, and partly due to a reversal of progress against diabetes and other diseases.

This tragic phenomenon seems to be linked to a loss of blue-collar jobs in the USA, and a lack of access to affordable healthcare (which, in the USA, is often linked to employment). The map below shows the overall death rates for Non-Hispanic Whites in this age group by state (data from CDC WONDER Online Database, averaged over 2010–2014):

Jeff Guo at the Washington Post demonstrates that it is this group of people who are voting for Donald Trump. This group seems to feel that both major US political parties have ignored their very real problems. The Guardian describes what some of those problems are. The support for Trump appears to be a case of desperately clutching at straws, but will presumably continue until the major parties (1) acknowledge that these people matter and (2) come up with a plan for addressing their problems.

US counties by poverty rate (image by “TastyCakes”)