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The Dictator Myth That Refuses to Die

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Last week, at a Fox News town hall (where else?), former President Donald Trump called China’s despot, Xi Jinping, a “brilliant” guy who “runs 1.4 billion people with an iron fist.” Lest anyone doubt his admiration, Trump added that Xi is “smart, brilliant, everything perfect. There’s nobody in Hollywood like this guy.”

Trump is not alone. Many in the United States and around the globe see the allure of a dictator who gets things done and makes the trains run on time, no matter the rules or laws that stand in the way. According to repeated polling, roughly one in four Americans agrees with the statement that a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress and elections” is desirable. A much higher proportion of citizens agrees with that sentiment elsewhere, including in some of the most populous democracies: 55 percent of Indians, 52 percent of Indonesians, 38 percent of Nigerians, and 31 percent of Japanese.

This grass-is-greener view of authoritarian rule tends to emerge most often where governments are failing to meet popular expectations. When democracy delivers, dictatorship doesn’t seem like a rosy alternative. Only 6 percent of Germans and 9 percent of Swedes are seduced by strongmen.

[Brian Klaas: Democracy has a customer-service problem]

Admiration for autocracy is built on a pernicious lie that I call the “myth of benevolent dictatorship.” The myth is built on three flimsy pillars: first, that dictators produce stronger economic growth than their democratic counterparts; second, that dictators, unswayed by volatile public opinion, are strategic long-term thinkers; and third, that dictators bring stability, whereas divided democracies produce chaos.  

Two decades ago, the United States and its Western allies became embroiled in Iraq and later blundered into the financial crisis, leading think tanks to begin praising the “Beijing Consensus,” or the “China Model,” as an alternative to liberal democracy. Critiques of democracy surged in popularity in the era of Trump and Brexit. In the United States, intellectual publications ran articles arguing that the problem was too much democracy. In 2018, The Times of London published a column titled “Our Timid Leaders Can Learn From Strongmen.” China’s state media, capitalizing on the West’s democratic woes, argued that democracy is a “scary” system that produces self-inflicted wounds.

But events and new research in the past several years have taken a wrecking ball to the long-standing myth of benevolent dictatorship. All three pillars of the lie are crumbling. Every fresh data point proves Winston Churchill right: “Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Let’s start with the myth that dictatorships produce stronger growth. This falsehood arose from a few well-known, cherry-picked examples, in which despots oversaw astonishing transformations of their national economy. Starting in the late 1950s, Lee Kuan Yew helped transform Singapore from a poor, opium-filled backwater into a wealthy economic powerhouse. And in China, per capita GDP rose from nearly $318 in 1990 to more than $12,500 today. Those successes are eye-popping.

But a systematic evaluation of the overall data reveals another reality. Even with these outliers of strong growth, most rigorous studies have found limited or no evidence that authoritarian regimes produce better economic growth than democratic ones. Some researchers, such as the political economists Darren Acemoglu and James Robinson, have found compelling evidence that the inclusive political institutions of democracy are one of the strongest factors in producing stable, long-term growth.

When authoritarian regimes do succeed economically, they often do so at a cost, because even booming dictatorships are prone to catastrophic busts. As the political scientist Jacob Nyrup has written: “China has within a 50-year time frame both experienced a famine, where 20-45 million people died, and an economic boom, where hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty.” The rosiest interpretation of the authoritarian economic data, then, is that autocrats may sometimes preside over marginally higher growth, but with a much greater risk of economic collapse. That’s not a wise trade-off.

However, the myth of strongmen as economic gurus has an even bigger problem. Dictators turn out to have manipulated their economic data for decades. For a long time, they’ve fooled us. But now we have proof: The reason their numbers sometimes seem too good to be true is that they are.

Every government has motivation to fudge its economic data. But democracies have institutions that provide oversight and block politicians from that impulse, ensuring accurate figures. No such checks exist in dictatorships.

That difference led Luis Martinez, an economist at the University of Chicago, to test whether despots were overstating their growth rate. He did so with an ingenious method. Previous studies have verified the presence of a strong, accurate correlation between the amount of nighttime light captured by satellites and overall economic activity. When economies grow, they emit more nighttime light (which is why you can clearly pick out cities on a nighttime satellite image, and why the density of light is so much lower in Africa than, say, in Europe or on the American East Coast). High-resolution images allow researchers to track changes in nighttime illumination over time, and the detailed, granular data these images produce are nearly impossible to manipulate. Martinez discovered an astonishing disparity suggesting that dictators have been overstating their GDP growth by about 35 percent.

And the more the numbers are checked, the more manipulation is exposed. In Rwanda, where The New York Times has named President Paul Kagame “the global elite’s favorite strongman” because of his apparently brilliant record of economic growth, the government claimed that it had decreased poverty by 6 percent from 2010 to 2014. Researchers found that the inverse was true: Poverty had actually surged by 5 to 7 percent. Fittingly, the notion that Benito Mussolini made the trains run on time was a lie; he built ornate stations and invested in train lines used by elites, but the commuting masses got left behind.

[Read: The undoing of China’s economic miracle]

Even China, the apparent authoritarian economic miracle, is showing signs of slowing down, its growth model no longer so well matched to the global economy. Such cracks in growth are an innate feature of autocracy. Because dictatorships criminalize dissent, normal mechanisms of economic feedback are broken, and the system doesn’t self-correct when blundering into economic mistakes. Beijing’s quixotic quest to maintain perpetual “zero COVID” was a case in point. Autocrats are adept at building ports and roads and mines. But thriving modern economies are sustained less by open mines than by open minds, of which dictatorships, by design, have a limited supply.

Advocates for the myth of benevolent dictatorship conveniently ignore a crucial fact, which is that much of the growth in autocracies comes either from manufacturing products that were invented in the more open societies of the democratic West, or from exporting goods to rich democracies. (The top destinations for Chinese exports are the United States, Japan, and South Korea.) In that way, even the outliers of autocratic growth depend for their success on the innovation and consumer wealth of democracies. Would China have lifted millions out of poverty through export-led growth quite so fast if democratic America hadn’t become an economic powerhouse first?

The myth’s second pillar turns out to be no less rickety than the first. It holds that dictators are more strategic long-term thinkers than democrats because they’re not beholden to fickle public opinion. But this lie is believable only if you don’t understand how most dictatorships actually work.

Over more than a decade, I’ve studied and interviewed despots and the henchmen who surround them. One conclusion I’ve drawn is that making decisions based on bad information is an intrinsic feature of the systems dictators run. The longer despots cling to power, the more likely they are to fall into what I call “the dictator trap,” in which they crush dissent, purge anyone who challenges them, and construct their own reality through propaganda, all to maintain control. Speaking truth to power in such a system can literally be deadly. As a result, dictators are told only what they want to hear, not what is true, and they begin to believe their own lies. Vladimir Putin’s catastrophic war in Ukraine is a tragic illustration of the dictator trap: Putin got high on his own supply, and innocent Ukrainians are the victims of his power trip.

Despots often use their power not for long-term planning, but for short-term self-glorification, as no end of examples can attest. Turkmenistan’s former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov blew millions to build, in his own honor, a golden statue that would rotate to always face the sun. In another stroke of genius, he closed all rural hospitals so that the sick could have the privilege of being treated in his pristine marble capital of Ashgabat. Most of the population lived outside the city, and countless thousands likely died because they couldn’t reach a hospital in time. His successor erected an enormous golden statue of his favorite breed of dog. Thankfully, democracies have checks and balances to suppress such narcissistic whims.

The most persistent pillar of the myth, however, is the one that holds that dictators produce stability. Some dictators have hung on to power for decades. Before his death, Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years. Paul Biya of Cameroon, an 89-year-old despot who had no idea where he was during a recent event, took office during the Vietnam War. Putin has been in power for more than two decades; Xi has ruled for only one so far, but he appears prepared to retain his position indefinitely.

To stay in power, authoritarian leaders face constant trade-offs. If they strengthen military or paramilitary leaders, they face the risk of a coup d’état. But if they weaken their men under arms, then they can’t protect themselves from external invasion. To keep their elites happy, despots need to make them rich through corruption—usually at the expense of the population. But a ruling class awash in ill-gotten gains could inspire a revolution, or a wild card: assassination. Autocrats appear stable, but they’re not. They’re constantly vulnerable, forced to make every decision based on what will stave off threats to survive in power.

The stability that does exist in autocracies is, ironically, derived partially from the trappings of democracy. Recent research has made clear that dictators have developed mechanisms to “mimic democracy to prolong autocracy.” Most authoritarian leaders now hold elections, but rig them. Some use parliaments or courts to enact unpopular decisions while avoiding blame.

[From the December 2021 issue: The bad guys are winning]

Eventually, though, dictatorships tend to fall apart. And when they collapse, they really collapse. Elections in democracies change governments, not regimes. Personalist dictatorships, by contrast, often implode. When Qaddafi was killed, Libya disintegrated. He had deliberately designed the political system to function only with him at its center. The same could be true of Putin’s Russia. When he is toppled or dies, the country won’t have a smooth, peaceful transition.

The often-disastrous demise of autocrats creates a negative feedback loop. Nearly seven in 10 leaders of personalist dictatorships end up jailed, exiled, or killed once they lose power. While in power, many despots are aware of this grim fact, and so they use violence to stay in power, often growing more extreme as they lurch toward their downfall. The effect can hardly be called “stability,” even if the same person occupies the palace for decades.

For anyone who still clings to the illusion that dictatorships are likely to be prosperous, strategically wise, or internally stable, I propose a simple test. Imagine that someone wrote down the names of all the countries in the world on little slips of paper and then separated them into two hats: one for democracy, one for dictatorships. You would select one of the two hats, draw a slip of paper from it, look at the name, and then spend the rest of your life living in that country. Who knows, maybe you’d get lucky and end up in an authoritarian regime that seems stable and is producing steady growth. But I know which hat I would choose. And even if you fantasize about finding the unicorn that is a benevolent strongman, I suspect you do too.

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325 days ago
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Is a Glass of Wine Harmless? Wrong Question.

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Not so long ago, alcohol was good for you. In a 1991 segment on 60 Minutes, a French researcher claimed that red-wine consumption was responsible for good health in France. This argument proved popular with the wine-consuming public, and prompted academic papers positing an inverse relationship between red-wine consumption and cardiovascular disease. Scientists even put forward a mechanistic theory for why red wine was healthy, involving a compound called resveratrol.  

But others soon cast doubt on the possibility that red wine could really have any causal relationship with longevity. The “alcohol is good for you” narrative eroded and, in the past year, seems to have fully collapsed. A number of researchers are now arguing that basically any amount of alcohol is bad for you; a New York Times article from January was titled “Even a Little Alcohol Can Harm Your Health.” Some—including the Canadian government—are now suggesting that, as a result, the safest choice is not to drink at all.

Excessive alcohol consumption clearly leads to significant problems, physical and emotional. That is not up for debate. However: Recent rhetoric, veering in the direction of abstinence, goes well beyond the sound advice to avoid heavy drinking and ignores the value of pleasure.

[Read: A daily drink is almost certainly not going to hurt you]

In fact, a pleasure-agnostic approach to health advice is now in vogue even outside the domain of alcohol, and is filtering down to the general public with sometimes absurd results. Recently, a reader asked me: Is there any data on health benefits to orgasms? I am not aware of reliable data from randomized experiments suggesting that having more orgasms improves health. That isn’t the point of orgasms, anyway. The point of orgasms is that they are fun. We do not need to prove health benefits to want to have them.

Public-health advice is sometimes based on a “lexicographic” standard—putting the effects on health first, second, and third, and ignoring other considerations, including enjoyment. A lexicographic standard applied to, say, meat consumption would hold that we must always eat burgers well done, because that is the best way to avoid any risk of E. coli, even though well-done burgers are tasteless. More generally, some in public health avoid discussing the negative unintended consequences of absolutism. During the coronavirus pandemic, some officials advocated strongly for long-lasting school closures, arguing that keeping kids at home was the only way to prevent in-school spread among students and teachers. That was, in a technical sense, true, but this recommendation failed to consider the enormous costs to children of those closures, which should have been weighed against any benefits.

Coming back to alcohol, pleasure-agnosticism could make sense if the best available evidence indicated substantial harm from even moderate drinking. It does not. I should also stress that the data are fundamentally flawed because the largest, most commonly cited studies we have are observational, not randomized. And the characteristics of people who consume alcohol in moderation are different from those who do not.  

In 2018, The Lancet published a comprehensive study on the link between alcohol consumption and cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses. It is an extraordinary work of scholarship, combining hundreds of previous papers. And the results indicate an upward trend in cancer, in particular, as alcohol consumption increases. But the effects at moderate levels of drinking—say, one to two drinks a day—are very small. For heart disease, we see the typical decrease in risk at moderate drinking levels, and increases with higher amounts.  

[From the July/August 2021 issue: America has a drinking problem]

None of these results are convincingly causal. It seems very likely that all associations—positive and negative—are overstated relative to the truth. Generally, when researchers are able to adjust for some demographic differences, the relationship between alcohol and health gets smaller. This, in turns, suggests that if they could adjust for more differences, it would get smaller still. Whether these relationships would be smaller but still positive, or really zero, is something we cannot know from the data we have.

We cannot conclusively prove that moderate alcohol consumption is totally benign, much less beneficial. Based on the data we have, it also seems extremely unlikely that moderate alcohol consumption is fully “bad” for your health.

If you do not enjoy, or actively dislike, alcohol, then the abstinence standard might be the right one for you. But many people do enjoy a drink from time to time: a beer with friends, a cold glass of rosé in the summer, a hot toddy in front of the fire, even just a glass of white wine while cooking at the end of a long day. If we accept that pleasure has value, and that the data are muddy, then the moderation standard makes more sense.

The pendulum on alcohol has swung too far from the 1980s. Alcohol is probably not the key to longevity. But it’s not arsenic, either. In the immortal words of Cookie Monster, it’s a sometime food.

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Secrets of Professional Photography: Tomas Grim Interview

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Photos of wildlife are taken in the wild. But... is that always the case? Sometimes it's just the opposite, as revealed today in my interview with Tomas Grim. Tomas is a scientist, traveler, and photographer who enjoys turning the concept of "wilderness" on its head.

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The ‘Israel Model’ Won’t Work for Ukraine

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At the Vilnius summit, the United States and Germany have led the coalition of the squeamish in opposition to announcing a timetable for Ukrainian membership in NATO. They have some modestly plausible reasons, including fear of an automatic commitment to immediate war with Russia and reluctance to bring in a country whose territory is still partially occupied and whose institutions are not fully reformed.

Other arguments suggest a less thoughtful view. Ukraine has to show that it can handle modern military technology, or that it is a thriving democracy? Compare it with militarily negligible and politically contemptible Hungary, and the absurdity of these kinds of requirements becomes clear. One might infer from some official pronouncements that NATO membership is like joining a snooty club to which only those with good pedigree, clean shirt collars, and immaculately shined shoes need apply. It is not. NATO membership for Ukraine is a guarantee of Western (and not only Ukrainian) security and stability. It is not a favor to Ukraine but a move to avert another big European war.

The notion that NATO membership cannot be given to a country at war means that Russia has every incentive to keep the war simmering, no matter the cost. Similarly, the idea that a country that is partly occupied and whose borders are not universally recognized cannot be admitted will cause Russia to cling desperately to any piece of Ukrainian territory it can hold. Let it be noted that Germany joined NATO while under occupation by both the Soviet Union and the Western allies, and before it had acceded to its post-1945 borders.

[Ivo Daalder: Let Ukraine in]

The alternative advanced by President Joe Biden in a CNN interview is the so-called Israel model, in which the West, led by the United States, arms Ukraine to the teeth, guaranteeing the country, as an act of Congress put it with respect to Israel in 2008, “the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors.”

Making strategy by dubious analogy is a bad idea. The historical differences are both illuminating and cautionary.

America extended its guarantee of a “qualitative military edge” to Israel in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In other words, it came after Israel had defeated its Arab enemies in four major conflicts (1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973), in part by taking the war into their territories. Israel staged bombing raids against targets deep in Syria and Egypt, including their capitals, from the 1960s forward, and unlike the Ukrainian drones flying to Moscow, these were not mere symbolic strikes. The Six Day War, in 1967, was an overwhelming Israeli victory, which involved the annihilation of its neighbors’ air forces and the advance of Israeli armor and infantry across the de facto 1949 border. The 1973 war similarly ended with Israeli forces within artillery range of Damascus and on the verge of destroying half the Egyptian force that had crossed the Suez Canal. Is maintaining that kind of capability and superiority what Washington and Berlin intend for Ukraine? Do they understand what it would require?

Ukraine, at present, has no comparable edge over the Russian military. It is struggling to expel the Russian invaders from territory they seized in 2022, let alone 2014. Ukraine undoubtedly has an edge over Russia in motivation, skill, and determination, but nothing like what Israel had already demonstrated in 1967 and would do again in 1973 and 1982 against Syria.

Military superiority rests on demography and economics. Over the course of its existence, Israel’s population has grown (1.3 million in 1950, 3.1 million in 1970, nearly 10 million today). Its economy, which was just under a third the size of Egypt’s in 1960, is now substantially larger. Ukraine has been, in essence, bankrupted by the war, and has had a quarter to a third of its population displaced—this on top of a declining birth rate. One projection has Ukraine’s population shrinking (and aging) from 41 million in 2020 to 35 million in 20 years. In short, it cannot tap the demographic and economic vitality that helped make Israel a going military concern.

A series of conventional victories brought a cold peace to Israel’s frontiers after the 1973 war, just as the societal and economic forces that underlay Israel’s military edge were beginning to open the gap with its Arab neighbors. Ukraine’s advantages over Russia are proportionally much less.

Israel’s relatively peaceful accommodation with its neighboring states had one other large element: its nuclear arsenal. By most accounts, Israel developed nuclear weapons as early as 1973. Indeed, during the most intense period of that war, it may have signaled its preparedness to deploy, if not use, them. Even by that year, neither Egypt nor Syria believed, as they had in 1967, that the destruction of the Israeli state by conventional means was possible; their territorial ambitions were strictly limited.

A Ukraine that has no allies pledged to come to its aid in the event of war, whose demographic prospects are poor, whose economy has been devastated not only by brutal battles but by deliberate and massive Russian sabotage and destruction, would be foolish not to pursue nuclear weapons. It has the technical skills not only to build the bombs but to construct delivery systems for them.

That is an outcome no one should want. The Russians might very well be tempted to strike at such a program preemptively, and if the Ukrainians were to get the jump on them, Kyiv might very well detonate a nuclear weapon as a warning against proceeding further.

Ukraine is a large country with few natural borders and a powerful enemy that is likely to attack it again absent NATO membership. The immensity of Russian oil and gas reserves means that Russia can eventually rearm; the stubbornness of the Russian elite’s belief in an imperial state and its rejection of Ukrainian sovereignty suggest its intent to do so. The position, in short, is entirely different from that of Israel versus its immediate opponents in the 1970s and ’80s.

The only security commitments that can give Ukraine some prospect of peace are those that guarantee the active and effective support of Europe and the U.S. in the event of a renewed invasion. Bilateral guarantees, however, simply take the burden off America’s NATO allies and are hostage to the vagaries of American domestic politics. Far better to achieve the same result by bringing Ukraine into NATO as soon as possible. Let it be remembered, too, that in the three-quarters of a century it has existed, NATO has had a 100 percent success rate in deterring conventional Russian attacks on its members, including postage-stamp-size Estonia and other states, like Ukraine, that were once subject to rule from Moscow.

At the 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO declared that it supported Ukraine’s application to join the alliance. We know what good that did. Regrettably, the 2023 Vilnius summit has simply reaffirmed the same in language of comparable mushiness, removing only one bureaucratic hurdle for Ukraine without solidifying its prospects for joining the alliance.  A firm invitation to join NATO and a deadline by which that will occur would have been infinitely preferable, and would deny Russia indefinite time and latitude to prolong this war.

Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty declares that an attack against one member is an attack against all, a fundamental premise of the alliance. But it only commits the alliance and its members to undertake “individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” It does not, in other words, cause an automatic declaration of war against Russia—but it is a high and demanding commitment to Ukraine’s security. It will thereby be a far more effective deterrent against future Russian aggression, which otherwise is a virtual certainty in the years to come, with all the risks that adhere to that probability.

[Anne Applebaum: Multilateral man is more powerful than Putin realized]

Has NATO membership for Ukraine been excluded for good by the Vilnius summit? No more than the supply of vital weapons to Ukraine was by Washington’s reluctance to provide HIMARS or tanks or Patriot missiles or F-16s, or by Berlin’s initial belief in February 2022 that providing 5,000 surplus helmets to Ukraine was enough of a contribution for it to make. Time and again NATO’s largest members have been pulled—hesitantly, sometimes morosely and resentfully—into doing the right thing by allies closer to the front or with stronger spines and clearer vision. In this case Poland, the Baltic nations, and other frontline states have been joined by Britain, France, and other NATO members in arguing for moving on Ukraine’s membership firmly and quickly.

There is another moment ahead: the 75th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, which will be held in Washington in 2024. On that occasion President Biden can be the statesmanlike leader NATO needs in ensuring European security for decades to come by admitting Kyiv to the alliance.

Unless, of course, he prefers to be the father of the Ukrainian atom bomb.

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338 days ago
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A Crash Course On How MRI Machines work

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Of all the high-tech medical gadgets we read about often, the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine is possibly the most mysterious of all. The ability to peer inside a living body, in a minimally invasive manner whilst differentiating tissue types, in near real-time was the stuff of science fiction not too many years ago. Now it’s commonplace. But how does the machine actually work? Real Engineering on YouTube presents the Insane Engineering of MRI Machines to help us along this learning curve, at least in a little way.

Both types of gradient coil are stacked around the subject inside the main field coil

The basic principle of operation is to align the spin ‘axis’ of all the subject’s hydrogen nuclei using an enormous magnetic field produced by a liquid-helium-cooled superconducting electromagnet. The spins are then perturbed with a carefully tuned radio frequency pulse delivered via a large drive coil.

After a short time, the spins revert back to align with the magnetic field, remitting a radio pulse at the same frequency. Every single hydrogen nucleus (just a proton!) responds at roughly the same time, with the combined signal being detected by the receive coil (often the same physical coil as the driver.)

Time taken for the perturbed spin to return to magnetic alignment

There are two main issues to solve. Obviously, the whole body section is ‘transmitting’ this radio signal all in one big pulse, so how do you identify the different areas of 3D space (i.e. the different body structures) and how do you differentiate (referred to as contrast) different tissue types, such as determine if something is bone or fat?

By looking at the decay envelope of the return pulse, two separate measures with different periods can be determined; T1, the spin relaxation period, and T2, the total spin relaxation period. The first one is a measure of how long it takes the spin to realign, and the second measures the total period needed for all the individual interactions between different atoms in the subject to settle down. The values of T1 and T2 are programmed into the machine to adjust the pulse rate and observation time to favor the detection of one or the other effect, effectively selecting the type of tissue to be resolved.

Time taken for the relative phasing inside a tissue locality to settle down to the same average spin alignment

The second issue is more complex. Spatial resolution is achieved by first selecting a plane to virtually slice the body into a 2D image. Because the frequency of the RF pulse needed to knock the proton spin out of alignment is dependent upon the magnetic field strength, overlaying a second magnetic field via a gradient coil allows the local magnetic field to be tuned along the axis of the machine and with a corresponding tweak to the RF frequency an entire body slice can be selected.

All RF emissions from the subject emanate from just the selected slice reducing the 3D resolution problem to a 2D problem. Finally, a similar trick is applied orthogonally, with another set of gradient coils that adjust the relative phase of the spins of stripes of atoms through the slice. This enables the use of a 2D inverse Fourier transform of multiple phase and frequency combinations to image the slice from every angle, and a 2D image of the subject can then be reconstructed and sent to the display computer for the operator to observe.

See? It’s easy.

We cover MRI technology from time to time, here’s a little update on state-of-the-art resolution for those wishing the dig a little deeper.

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401 days ago
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WordStar Reborn

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Wordstar was the word processor that helped sell the personal computer. At one time, it was ubiquitous, and many authors had a hard time giving it up. Some, like George R. R. Martin, apparently are still refusing to give it up. But most of us have moved on. Thanks to an open-source clone, WordTsar, you may not have to. This is a modern interpretation of our old friend.

Programmers that write were especially fond of WordStar since it had a non-document mode and was often the best text editor you had available for writing code. Being able to do your documentation without switching brain gears is useful, too. Touch typists love the efficiency of easy control of things without resorting to cursor keys or a mouse — the same thing vi and emacs fans enjoy but in a different way.

The software runs on multiple platforms and has some new features. Installation on Linux is easy because it is packaged in an AppImage file. Of course, you can also fire up your best CP/M machine, replica, or emulation and run the real WordStar, but — honestly — WordTsar seems more practical if you wanted to go back to using this kind of wordprocessor or editor for everyday use.

Of course, some word processors were actual hardware. If you want some cheap CP/M hardware, that’s easy enough, too.

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401 days ago
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