Saturday, September 20, 2008

Who Discovered The Telescope?

Controversy Over Telescope Origin -- BBC Science

New evidence suggests the telescope may have been invented in Spain, not the Netherlands or Italy as has previously been assumed.

The findings, outlined in the magazine History Today, suggest the telescope's creator could have been a spectacle-maker based in Gerona, Spain.

The first refracting telescopes were thought to have appeared in the Netherlands in 1608.

But the first examples may actually have been made for Spanish merchants.

The inventor, according to historian Nick Pelling, could have been a man called Juan Roget, who died between 1617 and 1624.

The idea subsequently travelled north to the Netherlands, where, in 1608, three separate individuals claimed the invention as their own.

Read more ....

Futurologist Predicts The Trends That Will Shape The Next 50 Years

From The Telegraph:

What's going out and what's coming in?

Going out: • Letter writing • The idea of 'normal' weather • Personal privacy • Ashtrays • Milkmen

Coming in: •Truth sensors • Wearable computers • Dream machines

Going out: • Getting lost • Thank-you letters • Landline telephones

Coming in: • A human settlement on the moon • Disposable mobile phones • Intelligent cosmetics • Hotels just for sleeping

Going out: • Post offices • Free parking • Survivors of the First World War • Unfenced beaches • Secretaries • DVDs • Democracy in Russia • Telephone directories • The idea of a proper retirement • An independent Taiwan • State pensions •

Coming in: • Surgery carried out by robots • Artificial eyes

Going out: • Proper spelling • Driving on the road for free • Desktop computers • Work-free weekends • The Maldives • Paris Hilton

Coming in: • Hydrogen-based fuel stations • Offshore prisons • 'Mindwipes' to remove the memory of a bad day at the office • Sensory internet

Going out • Reality TV • The Great Barrier Reef • Trade unions • Inheritance tax • Taking a proper lunch • Wrinkles, thanks to cosmetic surgery

Coming in • Robots to take care of young children • Virtual holidays • A ladder into space • Artificial memory enhancers • Self-driving cars • Artificial bacteria

Going out: • Children playing without supervision • Coins • Oil • Microsoft • The middle class • Low-cost travel • Bangladesh

Coming in: • Self-repairing roads • Diets based on your individual genome • 3-D printers • Virtual reality windows

Going out: • Banknotes and wallets • Petrol engines • Addiction and deafness - both will be cured • National currencies • Free public spaces • The idea of saying 'sorry' • The European Union

Coming in: • Factories in space • A single global currency • Wallpaper that plays videos • Countries used entirely as prisons

Going out: • Any remaining monopolies • Ties • The British monarchy • Natural childbirth

Coming in: • Individual taxes based on the amount you pollute • Invisibility cloaks • A man on Mars

Going out: • Household chores • Belgium as a unified country • Incurable blindness • Google • Any survivors of the Second World War

Coming in:

• Tiny robots for pest control • Brain transplants • Downloading of memories • Global ID cards, elections and taxes • Warp drive • Robot policemen

and beyond...

Going out: • The idea of ugliness • Nation states • Death - unless you want it

Coming in: • Artificial brains • Mining asteroids • Web 4.0 • Clothing that monitors and controls your stress levels

Where Is Human Evolution Heading?

From U.S. News And World Report:

The race's DNA is changing faster than ever; what it means for our descendants

If you judge the progress of humanity by Homer Simpson, Paris Hilton, and Girls Gone Wild videos, you might conclude that our evolution has stalled—or even shifted into reverse. Not so, scientists say. Humans are evolving faster than ever before, picking up new genetic traits and talents that may help us survive a turbulent future.

Much remodeling has gone on since the dawn of agriculture about 10 millenniums ago. "People who lived 10,000 years ago were much more like Neanderthals than we are like those people," says John Hawks, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. "We've changed."

Hawks is among a growing number of scientists who are using whole-genome sequencing and other modern technologies to zero in on just how we've changed. Their research is helping illuminate not only how humans became what we are but also where we might be headed. For instance, some scientists speculate that changes in human mating patterns may be contributing to the increase in autism. Others track how humans have morphed in response to changing circumstances, including enhanced abilities to metabolize sugar and fight disease. Some people are genetically more resistant to the HIV virus, for instance, and that trait should become more common in the future, as those people are more likely to survive and have children who are resistant. Yet for some people, the makeover isn't big enough or fast enough. Some parents have started using DNA testing to choose the genetic makeup of their children, rejecting embryos with inherited flaws or embracing those with desired traits—such as being the right sex.

Read more ....

Why Presents Become Less Exciting As You Get Older

From The Independent:

The reason children tear open their Christmas presents in a frenzy of dawn excitement while grandparents leave theirs until after lunch comes down to how the ageing brain handles rewards. Scientists have discovered that a chemical in the brain governing the delivery and feeling of reward is altered physically as a person grows old, which explains why opening presents becomes less exciting.

When young people are involved in receiving prizes their brains become highly activated before and after being given them. This contrasts with the chemical activation in the brains of older people, said researchers at the US National Institute for Mental Health .

"Knowing how key brain circuits change as we get older may help us to rise to the public health challenge of ageing successfully," said Karen Berman, whose study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more ....

Meet Wilma: The Face Of Neanderthal Woman Revealed For The First Time

From The Daily Mail Online:

Artists and scientists have created the first model of a Neanderthal based in part on ancient DNA evidence.

She has been put together using analysis of DNA from 43,000-year-old bones that had been cannibalised.

The model has been nicknamed Wilma after she was found to have red-hair like the Flintstones character.

The findings had suggested that at least some Neanderthals would have had red hair, pale skin, and possibly freckles.

Created for an October 2008 National Geographic magazine article, Wilma has a skeleton made from replicas of pelvis and skull bones from Neanderthal females.

Read more ....

CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Broke Down Last Week -- An Investigation By AP Broke The Story For The Public To Know

Transformer Glitch Shuts Down Biggest Atom Smasher -- AP

GENEVA (AP) — The world's largest particle collider malfunctioned within hours of its launch to great fanfare, but its operator didn't report the problem for a week.

In a statement Thursday, the European Organization for Nuclear Research reported for the first time that a 30-ton transformer that cools part of the collider broke, forcing physicists to stop using the atom smasher just a day after starting it up last week.

The faulty transformer has been replaced and the ring in the 17-mile circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border has been cooled back down to near zero on the Kelvin scale — minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit — the most efficient operating temperature, said a statement by CERN, as the organization is known.

When the transformer malfunctioned, operating temperatures rose from below 2 Kelvin to 4.5 Kelvin — extraordinarily cold by most standards, but warmer than the normal operating temperature.

Read more ....

Excellent commentary from Greg Laden's Blog.

CERN: Damage To New Collider Forces 2-Month Halt

In this file photo dated May 31, 2007, part of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is seen in its tunnel at the CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, Switzerland. The world's largest atom smasher, which was launched with great fanfare earlier this month, has been damaged worse than previously thought and will be out of commission for at least two months, its operators said Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini, File)

From Yahoo News/AP:

GENEVA - The world's largest atom smasher — which was launched with great fanfare earlier this month — has been damaged worse than previously thought and will be out of commission for at least two months, its operators said Saturday.

Experts have gone into 17-mile (27-kilometer) circular tunnel housing the Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border to examine the damage that halted operations about 36 hours after its Sept. 10 startup, said James Gillies, spokesman for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

"It's too early to say precisely what happened, but it seems to be a faulty electrical connection between two magnets that stopped superconducting, melted and led to a mechanical failure and let the helium out," Gillies told The Associated Press.

Gillies said the sector that was damaged will have to be warmed up well above the absolute zero temperature used for operations so that repairs can be made — a time-consuming process.

Read more ....

More News On CERN

Atom-smasher out of action for two months: CERN -- AFP
CERN: Damage to new collider forces 2-month halt -- San Francisco Chronicle
Fault shuts Large Hadron Collider for two months -- The Guardian
Hadron Collider forced to halt -- BBC
CERN delays atom-smashing over magnet fault -- Times Online

Video - On Dancing Air: The Story of Wind Power

A very cool video from Live Science. The link is here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Can 'Small Wind' Reap Big Rewards?

From CNN:

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Micro wind turbines are beginning to pop up all over our urban and rural landscapes. But is it worth investing your hard-earned cash in your very own wind machine? In short, it depends. Take a look at our quick guide to see if "small wind" could help you reduce your energy bills and your carbon footprint.

What is available?

There are plenty of small wind turbines on the market. Most are the more traditional horizontal axis -- which have two or three blades. But some are vertical-axis which look a bit like the beaters on a food mixer. Micro turbines can be as small as 100 to 500 watts and can be mounted on the side of a building. Larger models -- 2.5 kilowatts to 50 kilowatts -- need to be mast-mounted.

How much do they cost?

Prices vary a lot. One kilowatt models range from $1500 to $3000. More powerful models will cost considerably more. A six kilowatt machine will set you back $45,000 and 15 kilowatts a hefty $70,000. Prices generally include installation but other essential kit -- you will need a battery and an inverter if you are off grid --may not be included. With regular maintenance, turbines can last over 20 years.

Read more ....

Planet Is Running Out Of Clean Water, New Film Warns

From CNN:

(CNN) -- One sixth of the world's population does not have access to clean drinking water. More than 2 million people, most of them children, die each year from water-borne diseases.

Water-related problems aren't restricted to the developing world. A harmful pesticide, banned by many European countries, remains widely used in the United States, where it runs into rivers and streams.

And one expert estimates California's water supply will run out in 20 years.

These sobering statistics come from "FLOW," a new documentary film about the world's dwindling water supply. The filmmakers and their sources argue a combination of factors, including drought and skyrocketing demand, have created a looming global crisis that threatens the long-term survival of the human race.

After premiering in January at the Sundance Film Festival, "FLOW" opened September 12 in New York and Los Angeles, California, and expands to more cities this week. The New York Times called the documentary "less depressing than galvanizing, an informed and heartfelt examination of the tug of war between public health and private interests."

Read more ....

World Faces Global Pandemic Of Antibiotic Resistance, Experts Warn

All antibiotic use "uses up" some of the effectiveness of that antibiotic, diminishing the ability to use it in the future, experts warn, and antibiotics can no longer be considered as a renewable source. (Credit: iStockphoto/David Marchal)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 18, 2008) — Vital components of modern medicine such as major surgery, organ transplantation, and cancer chemotherapy will be threatened if antibiotic resistance is not tackled urgently, warn experts on

A concerted global response is needed to address rising rates of bacterial resistance caused by the use and abuse of antibiotics or "we will return to the pre-antibiotic era", write Professor Otto Cars and colleagues in an editorial.

All antibiotic use "uses up" some of the effectiveness of that antibiotic, diminishing the ability to use it in the future, write the authors, and antibiotics can no longer be considered as a renewable source.

They point out that existing antibiotics are losing their effect at an alarming pace, while the development of new antibiotics is declining. More than a dozen new classes of antibiotics were developed between 1930 and 1970, but only two new classes have been developed since then.

Read more ....

The 10 Worst U.S Natural Disasters

From Live Science:

Throughout modern history, the failure to prepare and cope with Mother Nature has resulted in catastrophic consequences, from wrecked economies to thousands of lives lost. Even as modern technology improves forecasts, Nature still gets the upper hand every now and then. Considering both human and economic costs, we present 10 of the worst all-time disasters to strike the United States. - Tuan C. Nguyen

Read more ....

Skeleton May Be Early TB Victim By LiveScience Staff

A close-up of a skeleton dating to A.D. 302 that archaeologists say bears evidence of TB. Credit: Sarah Mitchell/University of York

From Live Science:

The skeleton of a man discovered in a shallow grave on what is now a college campus in England could belong to one of Britain’s earliest victims of tuberculosis.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the man died in the fourth century, around A.D. 302, when Romans ruled the region. He was interred in a shallow scoop in a flexed position, on his right side.

The man, aged 26 to 35 years old, suffered from iron deficiency anemia during childhood and at 5-foot, 4-inches, was shorter than average for Roman males.

The first known case of TB in Britain is from the Iron Age (300 B.C.), but cases in the Roman period are fairly rare, and largely confined to the southern half of England. TB is most frequent from the 12th century A.D. in England when people were living in urban environments. So the skeleton may provide crucial evidence for the origin and development of the disease in this country.

Read more ....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So Much For Trends Towards Global Warming

Arctic Sea Ice Melt Season Officially Over; Ice Up Over 9% From Last Year -- Watts Up With That

We have news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). They say: The melt is over. And we’ve added 9.4% ice coverage from this time last year. Though it appears NSIDC is attempting to downplay this in their web page announcement today, one can safely say that despite irrational predictions seen earlier this year, we didn’t reach an “ice free north pole” nor a new record low for sea ice extent.

Here is the current sea ice extent graph from NSIDC as of today, notice the upturn, which has been adding ice now for 5 days:

Here is what they have to say about it:

The Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era. While above the record minimum set on September 16, 2007, this year further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past thirty years. With the minimum behind us, we will continue to analyze ice conditions as we head into the crucial period of the ice growth season during the months to come.

Despite overall cooler summer temperatures, the 2008 minimum extent is only 390,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles), or 9.4%, more than the record-setting 2007 minimum. The 2008 minimum extent is 15.0% less than the next-lowest minimum extent set in 2005 and 33.1% less than the average minimum extent from 1979 to 2000.

Read more ....

Why Do We Believe Impossible Things?

From ABC News: Science & Technology

Why do so many people hold beliefs that are clearly false? A recent story on said 80 million Americans believe we have been visited by aliens from another planet, and numerous studies show that millions of people believe in ghosts, extrasensory perception and, of course, alien abductions.

According to biologist Lewis Wolpert of University College, London, all those beliefs are clearly false, and they all share a common beginning. It may well have started when the first human realized he, or she, could make a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

Wolpert is the author of a new provocative book exploring the evolutionary origins of belief, called "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast." The title comes from Lewis Carroll's classic "Through the Looking Glass," when Alice tells the White Queen that she cannot believe in impossible things.

Read more ....

Smithsonian To Put Its 137 Million-Object Collection Online

From CNN Science:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Smithsonian Institution will work to digitize its collections to make science, history and cultural artifacts accessible online and dramatically expand its outreach to schools, the museum complex's new chief said Monday.

"I worry about museums becoming less relevant to society," said Secretary G. Wayne Clough in his first interviews since taking the Smithsonian's helm in July.

Clough, 66, who was president of the Georgia Institute of Technology for 14 years, says he's working to bring in video gaming experts and Web gurus to collaborate with curators on creative ways to present artifacts online and make them appealing to kids.

"I think we need to take a major step," Clough said in an earlier interview. "Can we work with outside entities to create a place, for example, where we might demonstrate cutting-edge technologies to use to reach out to school systems all over the country? I think we can do that."

Read more ....

No Plant CO2 Relief In Warm World

From The BBC:

Plants are unlikely to soak up more carbon dioxide from the air as the planet warms, research suggests.

US scientists found that grassland took up less CO2 than usual for two years following temperatures that are now unusually hot, but may become common.

The conclusion parallels a real-world finding from Europe's 2003 heatwave, when the continent's plant life became a net producer, not absorber, of CO2.

The latest study is published in the scientific journal Nature.

Researchers extracted four intact segments of grassland, about 3 sq m in area and weighing about 12 tonnes each, from the prairies of Oklahoma, and placed them in special chambers at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada.

Conditions in the chambers, such as temperature, moisture and sunlight, could be precisely controlled.

Read more ....

Doctors To Study 'Out Of Body' Experiences Of 1,500 Near-Death Heart Attack Patients

A team of doctors will study the 'out of body' experiences of 1,500 heart attack patients

From The Daily Mail:

A team of British and American hospital doctors will study the near-death experiences of 1,500 heart attack patients.

The research into 'out of body' experiences is due to take three years and is being coordinated by Southampton University.

Some people who have nearly died report being able to soar out of their bodies and look down on themselves and medical staff.

Doctors will place images on shelves that are only visible from the ceiling. They will see if the patients can recall the images and analyse their brain activity.

Dr Sam Parnia, an expert in the field of consciousness during clinical death who is heading the study, said: 'If you can demonstrate that consciousness continues after the brain switches off, it allows for the possibility that the consciousness is a separate entity.

'It is unlikely that we will find many cases where this happens, but we have to be open-minded.

'And if no one sees the pictures, it shows these experiences are illusions or false memories. This is a mystery that we can now subject to scientific study.'

Read more

Improving Our Ability To Peek Inside Molecules

Massively parallel holography at high resolutions. (a) A lithographic test sample imaged by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) next to a 30-nm-thick twin-prime 71x73 array with 44-nm square gold scattering elements. The scale bar is 2 mm. (b) The diffraction pattern collected at the ALS (1 x 106 photons in a five second exposure, 200 mm from the sample). (c) The real part of the reconstructed hologram. d) The simulation with 1 x 106 photons. The grey scale represents the real part of the hologram. (e) A simulation with the same number of photons, but a single reference pinhole. (f) Line through the two dots indicated in image (c). (Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 18, 2008) — It's not easy to see a single molecule inside a living cell. Nevertheless, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are helping to develop a new technique that will enable them to create detailed high-resolution images, giving scientists an unprecedented look at the atomic structure of cellular molecules.

The LLNL team is collaborating with scientists across the country and in Germany and Sweden to utilize high-energy X-ray beams, combined with complex algorithms, to overcome difficulties in current technology.

The work began more than five years ago as a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project, headed by Stefano Marchesini. He has since transferred to Lawrence Berkeley Lab (LBNL), leaving the project in the hands of Stefan Hau-Riege, a materials science physicist at LLNL.

Read more ....

Dogs Catch Human Yawns

This Hungarian Vizsla is either really sleepy or just spied its owner yawning. Credit:

From Live Science:

Spying someone yawning often makes us yawn. Now, a new study shows your canine buddy can catch yawns from you, too.

The results suggest domestic dogs have the capacity for a fundamental form of empathy, the researchers say.

The phenomenon, called contagious yawning, has been found only in humans and other primates such as chimpanzees and is thought to relate to our ability to empathize with others. Past studies, however, involved yawning within one species at a time, so for instance chimps that triggered other chimps to yawn and humans prompting yawns in other humans.

Read more ....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Aquaflow Strikes Oil With “Green Crude” From Algae

From Gas 2.0:

Do you remember going to the local pond or lake as a kid and swimming around without a care in the world? Do you remember the feel of the algae between you’re toes? Well if New Zealand company Aquaflow Bionomic has anything to say about it, we may be using that same algae to fuel our vehicles.

The company, founded in 2005, says that it has produced the first samples of green crude oil at a commercially competitive price. This could be great news for a lot of Bio-Fuel “Flip-Floppers.” The question of utilizing land based crops producing Ethanol, or animal / vegetable oil based Bio-diesel, may be coming to a close with this new contender.

Green Crude is made from wild algae grown on human sewage, and as such, would not use valuable acres which could then be used to, say, grow more food instead of fuel.

The company states that Green Crude produces 90 per cent less emissions than regular diesel, and in addition, it produces a great byproduct, clean Water for irrigation or industrial re-use.

Read more ....

New Oil-Extraction Technology

Petrobanks Capri / Thai Processes For Upgrading And Recovering Oilsands And Heavy Oil -- The Next Big Future

Graphics and information from the Sept 2008 Petrobank investors presentation (48 pages) If the Capri/Thai processes are successful then Canada's oilsands, other oilsands and heavy oil deposits around the world will have higher recovery rates using a more economic process and the oil will be upgrading in the ground to a higher and more valuable quality. This would be the technology that would crush peak oil for several decades and allow an orderly transition to a post oil world. The processes would enable trillions of barrels of oil to be economically accessed. In a few months the Capri process could be proven out and the energy world would be changed. Oil technology would change the world by unlocking the oilsand and heavy oil around the world. Trillions of barrels of oil would become economically feasible. It would be a and game changer. More projects like the one in would go ahead to access 3-4 billion barrels of oil at 120,000 bpd within 5 years.

Petrobank aims to upgrade oilsand bitumen before it ever comes to the surface. Petrobank will soon launch the CAPRI component of its in situ toe-to-heel air injection production technology. Upgrading the oil in the ground avoids the delays and costs associated with building refineries and transporting the bitumen to upgraders.

Read more ....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hubble Finds Unidentified Object in Space, Scientists Puzzled

From Gizmodo:

This is exactly why we send astronauts to risk their life to service Hubble: in a paper published last week in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists detail the discovery of a new unidentified object in the middle of nowhere. I don't know about you, but when a research paper conclusion says "We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class" I get a chill of oooh-aaahness down my spine. Especially when after a hundred days of observation, it disappeared from the sky with no explanation. Get your tinfoil hats out, because it gets even weirder.

The object also appeared out of nowhere. It just wasn't there before. In fact, they don't even know where it is exactly located because it didn't behave like anything they know. Apparently, it can't be closer than 130 light-years but it can be as far as 11 billion light-years away. It's not in any known galaxy either. And they have ruled out a supernova too. It's something that they have never encountered before. In other words: they don't have a single clue about where or what the heck this thing is.

Read more ....

Why People Ignore Hurricane Evacuation Warnings

Boats and debris are piled up Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008 in Galveston, Texas after Hurricane Ike hit the area. AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool

From Live Science:

As Hurricane Ike's floodwaters begin to recede from Galveston, Texas, and other areas of the Gulf Coast, emergency responders are surveying the storm's damage and rescuing thousands of residents who ignored evacuation orders.

There are many reasons why some people don't heed evacuation notices — some think they can ride out the winds and surging waters, while others simply have nowhere to go and no way to leave. Still others remember unnecessary evacuations from botched forecasts and enter a "boy who cried 'wolf'" mentality.

"And then some people just don't perceive the risk to be that high," Rebecca Morss of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told LiveScience.

Read more ....

Google's Decade

Ten Reasons Why Google Is Still Number One -- Technology Review

David A. Vise is a Pulitzer Prize winner and coauthor of The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of Our Time, published by Delacorte Press (Updated edition 2008).

1998: Yahoo and others pass on the chance to buy new search technology developed at Stanford University for $500,000. Their rationale: "Search doesn't matter. Portals do."These rejections forced Sergey Brin and Larry Page to reluctantly take a leave of absence from Stanford (both wanted to become college professors, like their dads) to see if they could turn Google, their new search engine, into a business.

1999: A year later, Google garners $25 million from Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins, even after Brin and Page insist that each venture-capital firm would only be allowed to invest half the money. This "divide and conquer" strategy leaves the denizens of Sand Hill Road to squabble with one another while Brin and Page retain control over their nascent enterprise. It also enables them to frustrate the moneymen by refusing to deface the most valuable piece of real estate on the Internet--the Google home page--by loading it up with ads, and by turning away numerous CEO candidates.

Read more ....

Universal Flu Vaccine Enters Clinical Trials

From Futurismic:

It’s that time of year again, when doctors recommend everyone from children to old folks get jabbed with the latest influenza vaccine that may or may not actually be effective against this year’s strain. And it’s that time of year again when people start worrying about the presumably inevitable next great ‘flu pandemic, which many fear could be coming as avian influenza continues to mutate.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just get a single shot that would protect against multiple types…including the possible bird ‘flu pandemic?

Clinical trials of just such a vaccine have begun at Oxford University, led by Dr. Sarah Gilbert of the Jenner Institute. (Via PhysOrg.)

Read more ....

Delaware Offshore Wind Farm Pattern For Future?

From Future Pundit:

A New York Times article on the politics of wind power looks at the long fight for political approval for an offshore wind power project off the coast of Delaware. The Mid-Atlantic Bight region has large quantities of fairly stable wind power.

The amount of power Dhanju was describing, Mandelstam knew from Kempton, was but a small fraction of an even larger resource along what’s known as the Mid-Atlantic Bight. This coastal region running from Massachusetts to North Carolina contained up to 330,000 megawatts of average electrical capacity. This was, in other words, an amount of guaranteed, bankable power that was larger, in terms of energy equivalence, than the entire mid-Atlantic coast’s total energy demand — not just for electricity but for heating, for gasoline, for diesel and for natural gas. Indeed the wind off the mid-Atlantic represented a full third of the Department of Energy’s estimate of the total American offshore resource of 900,000 megawatts.

Wind projects do not usually operate at nameplate (i.e. max) capacity for most of the time. An onshore wind project might average one third of max output. But wind offshore blows more consistently. I would like to know what average capacity utilization is expected for this Delaware project. I would also like to know how vulnerable a project like this is to a category 3 or 4 hurricane.

Read more ....

Monday, September 15, 2008

Popular Hallucinogen Faces Growing Legal Opposition In U.S.

Nathan K. calls his use of salvia "just a very gentle letting go, a very gentle relaxing." (Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times)

From The International Herald Tribune:

DALLAS: With a friend videotaping, 27-year-old Christopher Lenzini of Dallas took a hit of Salvia divinorum, the world's most potent hallucinogenic herb, and soon began to imagine, he said, that he was in a boat with little green men.

Lenzini quickly collapsed to the floor and dissolved into convulsive laughter.

When he posted the video on YouTube this summer, friends could not get enough. "It's just funny to see a friend act like a total idiot," he said, "so everybody loved it."

Until a decade ago, the use of salvia was largely limited to those seeking revelation under the tutelage of Mazatec shamans in its native Oaxaca, Mexico. Today, this mind-altering member of the mint family is broadly available for lawful sale online and in head shops across the United States.

Read more ....

Health Officials Fear Spread Of Lung-Destroying Pneumonia

From The L.A. Times:

Deaths from the combination of a skin infection and the common flu have increased, authorities say.

Health authorities have detected the emergence of a rare but deadly lung-destroying form of pneumonia, sparked by the combination of a skin infection and the common flu.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 22 deaths among children last year from the dual infection.

Numbers from the 2007-2008 flu season won't be released until next month, but officials say deaths have increased. The CDC has just begun tracking cases among all age groups.

The number of fatalities, though low, is a sharp increase from previous years, and infectious disease experts worry that an ongoing epidemic of skin infections could drive the numbers higher.

The double infection has appeared before: It was the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia deaths during the 1957-1958 flu pandemic, which killed 2 million people worldwide, including about 70,000 in the U.S.

Read more ....

Internet Users Need Help To Separate Fact From Fiction As Web Is Full Of Lies, Says Its Inventor

Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes the web spreads too much disinformation

From The Daily Mail:

The internet spreads too much disinformation and needs to be labelled in a way that will help users separate science fact from fiction, the creator of the World Wide Web said.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee sent the first successful communication between an http client and server via the internet in 1990. Now there are more than a 100 million websites in operation.

'One of the things I always remain concerned about is that that medium remains neutral,' the acclaimed British scientist said.

'It's not just where I go to decide where to buy my shoes which is the commercial incentive - it's where I go to decide who I'm going to trust to vote.

'It's where I go maybe to decide what sort of religion I'm going to belong to or not belong to; it's where I go to decide what is actual scientific truth - what I'm actually going to go along with and what is bunkum,' he told BBC News.

Sir Tim was speaking ahead of the launch of a website vetting Foundation he has helped create, which will brand sites it finds to be trustworthy sources of information.

Read more ....

Astronomers Capture Image Of Alien Planet Orbiting A 'Sun'

From The Telegraph:

Astronomers believe they have captured the first picture of an alien planet in orbit around a star that is similar to our own Sun.

Images of a young star and what is thought to be its companion planet have been taken by astronomers using the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

However they are puzzelled by the distance between the two.

Located around 500 light-years from Earth, the planet in the snapshot is around eight times bigger than Jupiter, the biggest in our solar system and lies more than ten times further from its star than the sun does from Neptune.

Even though the likelihood of a chance alignment between such an object and a similarly young star is thought to be small, it will take up to two years to verify that the star and its likely planet are moving through space together.

The parent star - called 1RXS J160929.1-210524 - is similar in mass to the Sun, but is much younger.

"This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our Sun," said David Lafrenicre, one of the three University of Toronto scientists who describe the fascinating object in a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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A Biological Clock for Dads Too

From Time Magazine:

Turns out women aren't the only ones with an expiration date on their fertility. An emerging body of research is showing that men, too, have a "biological clock."

Not only do men become less fecund as they age, but their fertility begins to decline relatively early — around age 24, six years or so before women's. Historically, infertility has been seen as a female issue, as has the increased risk of Down syndrome and other birth defects, but studies now also link higher rates of autism, schizophrenia and Down syndrome in children born to older fathers. A recent paper by researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute found that the risk of bipolar disorder in children increased with paternal age, particularly in children born to men age 55 or older.

It used to be that "if you had hair on your chest, it was your wife's problem," says Barry Behr, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Stanford Medical School and director of Stanford's in vitro fertilization laboratory. Even now, he said, though about half of infertility cases are caused by male factors, such as low sperm count or motility, there are many more tests to evaluate a woman's fertility than a man's.

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Testosterone Levels 'Affect Sexual Attraction'

From The Independent:

Women with high levels of testosterone are more attracted to masculine-looking men like James Bond actor Daniel Craig, scientists said today.

Meanwhile men, whose levels of the hormone are increased, are more attracted to feminine faces like Hollywood actress Natalie Portman.

Researchers at Aberdeen University Face Research Laboratory carried out the first study into the role testosterone plays in attraction between the sexes.

During the study, men and women completed four test sessions each conducted a week apart. In each session volunteers provided a saliva sample which was used to measure testosterone levels.

Researchers found that when asked to choose between different types of faces in each session, the subjects' attitudes changed depending on their testosterone level.

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Should Naples Fear A Big Bang From Vesuvius?

From New Scientist:

RESIDENTS of Naples, take note: the hazard posed by Vesuvius may have to be rethought after the discovery that its magma chamber has been moving upwards towards its mouth.

Bruno Scaillet at the University of Orléans, France, and colleagues studied the proportions and types of crystal in rocks erupted from Vesuvius on four different occasions: 7800 years ago, 3600 years ago, 1929 years ago (Pompeii) and 1536 years ago. This allowed them to estimate the pressure, and hence depth, that each sample crystallised at.

By combining this with results from previous research, they were able to show that Vesuvius's magma chamber has moved upwards by between 9000 and 11,000 metres over the last 22,000 years (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature/07232). It isn't clear why the magma chamber has shifted, but possible reasons include changes in the shape and size of Vesuvius's mouth, a decrease in magma density, and earthquake movements.

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Giant Honeybees Use Shimmering 'Mexican Waves' To Repel Predatory Wasps

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 15, 2008) — The phenomenon of "shimmering" in giant honeybees, in which hundreds—or even thousands—of individual honeybees flip their abdomens upwards within a split-second to produce a Mexican Wave-like pattern across the bee nest, has received much interest but both its precise mode of action and its purpose have long remained a mystery.

In a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE this week, researchers at the University of Graz, Austria, and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK, report the finding that shimmering—a remarkable capacity of rapid communication in giant honeybees—acts as a defensive mechanism, which repels predatory hornets, forcing them to hunt free-flying bees, further afield, rather than foraging bees directly from the honeybee nest.

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Fear Of Physics

From New York Times Science:

The new particle collider in Europe hasn’t hurt anyone there yet, but all the talk about a “doomsday machine” seems to be taking a toll elsewhere, according to Reuters (hat tip: Charles Mann). It reports from Bhopal that Indians were so alarmed by reports that the Large Hadron Collider could destroy the world that they flocked to temples to pray and fast. One teenage girl traumatized by the warnings on television committed suicide, according to Reuters, which quoted her father: “We tried to divert her attention and told her she should not worry about such things, but to no avail.”

My colleague Dennis Overbye has done a good job of debunking this week’s fears, and Ron Bailey of Reason Magazine has done a nice analysis of the odds.

For further reassurance, I recommend an analysis by Max Tegmark of M.I.T. and Nick Bostrom of Oxford University. (Dr. Bostrom was featured in my column last year about the possibility that we’re living in a computer simulation.) Dr. Tegmark and Dr. Bostrom estimate, based on the relatively late evolution of life on Earth and on what we observe in the rest of the universe, that the annual risk of our planet’s being annihilated by high-energy particle collisions (or, for that matter, by an asteroid or by extraterrestrials) is one in a trillion.

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Top 10 Human Inventions of All Time

Language Is The Number #1 Invention

From Top Tenz:

This list can’t help but be relative and therefore controversial. As always be kind and appreciate the effort even if you disagree.

Although humans are not alone as tool using animals, we are definitely the planet’s designated experts in the field. Our use of invention, or the innovation of altering an object or process in new ways, may be what truly defines us as a species. Every once in a long while, something is invented which changes, in some small way, the very nature of our lives. Over time, this has made us unique among the animals. While little inventions come out every day, it is these big ones that move us forward into whatever the destiny of mankind turns out to be.

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Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps

From IT Security:

IT Security Editors

Depending on which feature you use, Google Maps offers a satellite view or a street-level view of tons of locations around the world. You can look up landmarks like the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China, as well as more personal places, like your ex’s house. But for all of the places that Google Maps allows you to see, there are plenty of places that are off-limits. Whether it’s due to government restrictions, personal-privacy lawsuits or mistakes, Google Maps has slapped a "Prohibited" sign on the following 51 places.

Read more and check out the following 51 places ....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Science Of Glass

The Nature of Glass Remains Anything But Clear
-- New York Times Science

It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries.

Well known, but wrong. Medieval stained glass makers were simply unable to make perfectly flat panes, and the windows were just as unevenly thick when new.

The tale contains a grain of truth about glass resembling a liquid, however. The arrangement of atoms and molecules in glass is indistinguishable from that of a liquid. But how can a liquid be as strikingly hard as glass?

“They’re the thickest and gooiest of liquids and the most disordered and structureless of rigid solids,” said Peter Harrowell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney in Australia, speaking of glasses, which can be formed from different raw materials. “They sit right at this really profound sort of puzzle.”

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The Science Of Lightning Strikes

Struck By Lightning -- The Walrus

In the summer of 2002, I was camped at the mouth of the French River, lying on my Therm-a-Rest waiting out a thunderstorm, when my tent was struck by lightning. It was over before I knew what had happened, before adrenalin had any role to play, before fear took over. My tent poles took the charge and I was spared, completely. The narrow escape got me asking around. How often does this happen? It turns out everybody has a lightning story.

Floyd Woods, a retired truck driver from Ardbeg, Ontario, was twelve years old in 1943 when his house was hit. The strike shot through the radio antenna, exploded in the living room intoa blue fireball that roared down the hall, lifting up the linoleum runner by the tacks, ripping the nails out of the floor, splintering the house walls as fine as kindling before it ran off over the bedrock outside and died. Woods’ guitar was hanging on the wall over his bed. Sixty-five years later, he still shakes his head: “That strike burned the guitar strings off, bing, bing, bing, threw me right out of bed and across the room so I ached for a month. Nothin’ will move you faster than lightning. Nothin’.”

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How Quickly Can Sharks Detect Blood In The Water?

From The Straight Dope:

Dear Cecil:

We've all seen it in a movie: A small group of people are swimming in the sea. Someone gets hurt, blood touches water, and instantly sharks appear who then devour the party in a ruthless and very painful way. But how fast does the odor or taste of blood go in water? Am I right to believe that it takes a while for a shark a mile away to taste it?

— David, Belgium

Cecil replies:

I'll confess I haven't seen a lot of Belgian shark movies, David, but virtually any Hollywood studio exec would see a major problem with the treatment you've outlined above. If the shark shows up the second the hemoglobin hits the water, where's the unbearable tension? What we're missing is that excruciating interval of stillness between the close-up of slowly seeping blood and the moment the here-comes-the-shark music kicks in. You're right, though, to suspect that this interval does tend to run a little shorter on the big screen than in real life.

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Scientists: Is Sleep Essential?

From Med Gadget:

Writing in the latest PLoS Biology, researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison are wondering whether sleep is really a biological necessity, or maybe it's just a function created by evolution to kill time and avoid stress.

From the article in PLoS Biology:

Everybody knows that sleep is important, yet the function of sleep seems like the mythological phoenix: “Che vi sia ciascun lo dice, dove sia nessun lo sa” (“that there is one they all say, where it may be no one knows,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte [1790], Così fan tutte). But what if the search for an essential function of sleep is misguided? What if sleep is not required but rather a kind of extreme indolence that animals indulge in when they have no more pressing needs, such as eating or reproducing? In many circumstances sleeping may be a less dangerous choice than roaming around, wasting energy and exposing oneself to predators. Also, if sleep is just one out of a repertoire of available behaviors that is useful without being essential, it is easier to explain why sleep duration varies so much across species. This “null hypothesis” would explain why nobody has yet identified a core function of sleep. But how strong is the evidence supporting it? And are there counterexamples?

So far the null hypothesis has survived better than alternatives positing some core function for sleep [8–10]. In what follows we shall test the null hypothesis by considering three of its key corollaries. If the null hypothesis were right, we would expect to find: (1) animals that do not sleep at all; (2) animals that do not need recovery sleep when they stay awake longer; and, finally, (3) that lack of sleep occurs without serious consequences.

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What Stuff Is Worth More Than Its Weight In Gold?

From Evil Mad Scientist:

It's a common figure of speech to say that x is worth its weight in y, where y is usually (but not always) gold. But most of us don't buy and weigh gold very often, so how do you connect that to real life? Does "worth its weight" in pennies or $100 bills make any more sense?

We have collected here a bunch of examples for different things that represent a wide range of monetary value per unit weight, in what might make a useful calibration chart for your future idiomatic usage.

Let's start this off with a down-to-earth question. Which has a higher monetary density: dimes or quarters? In other words, if you had to carry around $1000 worth of either dimes or quarters, which should you ask for?

Item -- Price per pound
Gold -- $12,000
Platinum -- $20,679
Fifty Dollar Bills -- $22,680
Cocaine -- $22,680
Hundred Dollar Bills -- $45,359
Rhodium -- $77,292
Good-quality, one-carat diamonds -- $11.4 M
LSD -- $55 M
Antimatter -- $26 Quadrillion

Read more ....

Top 10 Amazing Physics Videos

From Wired:

Tesla coils, superconductors, and hilarious music videos are great reasons to be excited about physics. Here are some of our favorites.

Read and watch the videos here ....

Ten Things You Don’t Know About The Earth

From Discover Magazine:

Good advice from the 70s progressive band. Look around you. Unless you’re one of the Apollo astronauts, you’ve lived your entire life within a few hundred kilometers of the surface of the Earth. There’s a whole planet beneath your feet, 6.6 sextillion tons of it, one trillion cubic kilometers of it. But how well do you know it?

Below are ten facts about the Earth — the second in my series of Ten Things You Don’t Know (the first was on the Milky Way). Some things I already knew (and probably you do, too), some I had ideas about and had to do some research to check, and others I totally made up. Wait! No! Kidding. They’re all real. But how many of them do you know? Be honest.

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The Rise And Fall Of The Space Shuttle

From American Scientist:

Since NASA's creation in the 1950s, its history has followed a course that calls to mind the Greek tragedies—tremendous early success, followed by a series of catastrophes and failures, which share the same root cause. Nearly 40 years have passed since NASA had its most notable successes, which culminated in Neil Armstrong's walk on the lunar surface. Since then, the agency has struggled to come up with meaningful goals that could take advantage of the sustained political support the agency has enjoyed over the decades. NASA has a rich tradition and employs the world's best scientists and engineers. Yet in recent decades its most notable moments have come in the form of disasters and their aftermath. And the institutional and cultural problems that led to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 went largely uncorrected for 17 years and contributed to the Columbia accident in 2003. The agency's identity crisis continues and will stretch into the next presidential administration and perhaps beyond. How the story of its space shuttle program will end remains highly uncertain.

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