Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Here are some of the main points in this must-read article about the future of the Russian Space program. They truly sound light years ahead of the rest of the world.

  1. De-dock the Russian portion of the International Space Station and use that piece as the cornerstone of a new Russian space station as the ISS’s lifespan goes no further than 2020.
  2. Build the components of the new station with the understanding that each component has a lifespan and can and should be replaced. However, this does not mean the entire station should be destroyed. Rather, the parts should be constantly renewed.
  3. Without the Russian portion of ISS, there is nothing physical keeping  the ISS in space. Uh oh, that could get ugly.

And the rest sounds like pure science fiction. And very exciting. I highly recommend reading the article. Via the BBC.

With the first launch of the new Russian spacecraft optimistically set for 2018, it would probably reach the launch pad by the time Nasa ends its support for the ISS.

Unlike the ISS, which was advertised primarily as a platform for scientific research, Russia’s future space station, dubbed the Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex (OPSEK), would have the main goal of supporting deep space exploration.

Behind the scenes, Russian engineers have drawn up ambitious plans for orbital stations around the Earth and the Moon, and eventually in the orbit of Mars. These would be linked by re-usable tugs, shuttling between them continuously to support the sustained exploration of the Solar System.

After separation from rest of the ISS, the station’s 20-tonne service module could eventually be replaced by a 40-tonne living quarters launched by a new family of rockets.

In turn, this module could ultimately serve as a construction site and a base for the Martian expedition complex, which could be assembled in Earth orbit in the mid-2030s to carry the first humans to the Red Planet.

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The Implied Observer apologizes for being offline for so many days. I was moving this weekend and then unpacking. Just about the only thing I managed to do that was fun was see the new Star Trek movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then please do not read on. There will be spoilers a plenty.

Overall the movie was a fun two hours plus. I should add the disclaimer that I am not a huge fan of the original series, though I do like The Next Generation. So I should be in no way beholden to the original series like my friend Tom. And yet…..

Spock is not supposed to have emotions, and presumably the fact that he does not makes him a fun character. That’s why everyone loves Spock. And that’s why everyone loved Data in the TNG. So why would you take that one great part of the character and compromise it? Spock has a girlfriend? The girlfriend is Uhura? Again, not beholden to the original but this seems pretty out there and I don’t think it added anything to the film.

There was an utter lack of science fiction in this film. This is an adventure film pure and simple. All of our current technologies are replaced with newer technologies, but somehow those newer technologies don’t seem to change any aspect of human nature or cause people to reflect differently on how things are done. This is futuristic but it is not science fiction.

I think Leonard Nimoy was completely wasted and it was kind of embarrassing to watch.
One thing that was fun was that they appeared to make a conscious effort to cast actors that looked like the original actors. I especially enjoyed the guys they got to play Dr. MacCoy, Chekhov and Scottie. Sadly Sulu was the weakest link. Whether that be because they gave the actor nothing to work with or all his stuff ended up on the cutting room floor, I won’t try to guess. As for Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike? Fun, but minimal.

So have you seen the new Star Trek? Any thoughts?

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This study came out last week. I may be overstating it a bit to call it explosive, but I think it could spark a big change in what type of contraceptives women use.

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Young women who use oral contraceptives (OC) may not get as much out of their weight-lifting routine as women who are not on the pill, according to a study released today, which suggests that OC use impairs muscle gains from resistance exercise training in women.

“The factors that explain the differences in the magnitude of the responses to resistance exercise training between individuals are largely unknown,” Chang-Woock Lee, from Texas A&M University in College Station, told Reuters Health.

“The present study is meaningful in that we have identified a potential new factor that may be independently associated with the characteristics and variability of muscle responses to a controlled resistance exercise training program,” the researcher added.

In the study, 73 generally healthy women between 18 and 31 years old participated in whole-body resistance exercises three times per week for 10 weeks. Thirty-four of the women used oral contraceptives and 39 did not. The women were encouraged to eat enough protein to promote muscle growth.

In the article, which I highly recommend, they posit that women taking the pill may not have enough testosterone to build muscle.

Why do I think this is explosive? The pill is most popular with young women. Young women are more likely to care about their appearance and weight in such a way that they would be reluctant to use the pill as their contraceptive if it negatively impacts their workout routine. Think I am painting a vain and petty portrait of young women? Perhaps.

But given that the pill is advertised to women in such a variety of  petty ways, the advertising companies at least believe women would make their contraceptive choices on even flimsier grounds. Like the pill that will help with acne. Or the pill that you take once a month. Or every two months. Or every two weeks. Or every year. How about patch? Or a ring? Or an implant under your arm? It’s just so dang difficult to take a pill everyday. The pharmaceutical companies have taken one drug and turned it into a million different varieties of the same thing thereby creating multiple patents.

Will this lead  to an increase in non-oral contraceptives? More children? More abortions? I think it’s too soon to tell, but I’m interested in following this.

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Random thoughts

It’s been really hard posting lately. Work has been somewhat difficult and then there is the fact that I am once again moving. The third time in less than 2 years.

What have I read lately that I like? Well this was a great Explainer article at Slate about preventing flu. On the same topic of science you can read about the rise and fall of high fructose corn syrup, also on Slate.

Everyone says the film Bob Roberts is very poignant right now. I’ve never seen it. Care to recommend it to me?

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Pink Elephants

More on the BBC.

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Last year I posted about Bushman, the most misunderstood gorilla in the world. This year again we humans have again missed the point:

Many zoo visitors have witnessed chimpanzees throwing, uh, stuff, in the direction of people, but a particular chimp in Sweden has the scientific community abuzz because a study released Monday shows that primates possess the ability to plot and execute plans.

The report, in the journal Current Biology, cites the actions of Santino in the Furuvik Zoo near Stockholm. The 31-year-old alpha male was observed beginning preparations before the zoo opened. It collected rocks and other debris and stored the cache in a strategic location until midday, then opened fire on visitors beyond a moat.

“These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way,” the report’s author, Lund University doctoral student Mathias Osvath, told the Associated Press. “It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events.”

I can just imagine the thoughts of these chimpanzees: What is wrong with these humans? Can’t they get the point? I’m throwing rocks at them and yet they seem to bother me even more than before. What does it take with this species? Can’t they get the f—ing hint? Lord almighty just shoot me down now why don’t you.

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A friend once told me that if I wanted to brought down from my temporary high of Barack Obama’s election and what it said about America, to just look take a look at the Department of Homeland Security’s website. It did the trick.

This is perhaps an even more potent tonic. How can you defend a country full of people like this?

Darwin still making waves 200 years later

A century and a half later, the legacy of history’s most noted naturalist continues to make headlines.

After a contentious debate, the Texas Board of Education is set to vote in March on how evolution should be taught in the state’s public schools. Last week, actor-comedian Ben Stein backed out of giving a commencement speech at the University of Vermont because of student complaints about his views challenging the theory of evolution.

The most recent Gallup poll on the issue, conducted in May, found that only 14 percent of Americans believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. Forty-four percent believe that God created human beings almost overnight within the past 10,000 years, and another 36 percent believe that God guided humans’ evolution from animals over a much longer period of time.

“The problem is, there are a number of fundamental people on both the left and the right extremes,” said Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which seeks to find common ground between scientists and the clergy.

Yeah, those extreme scientists. Who do they think they are explaining the world, finding cures for diseases and all. I sure wouldn’t want to be in a room with one of those crazies.

Evolution is only contentious because American fundamentalists make it so. There are plenty of religious countries around the world where you don’t see these statistics.

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People who drink alcohol — even the moderate amounts that help prevent heart disease — have a smaller brain volume than those who do not, according to a study in the Archives of Neurology.

While a certain amount of brain shrinkage is normal with age, greater amounts in some parts of the brain have been linked to dementia.

“Decline in brain volume — estimated at 2 percent per decade — is a natural part of aging,” says Carol Ann Paul, who conducted the study when she was at the Boston University School of Public Health. She had hoped to find that alcohol might protect against such brain shrinkage.

Yeah, no kidding.

Here’s the logo from a local Seattle beer.

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Here’s an interesting study that suggests genetic mutations usually come from older men fathering children. The fact that older men are fathering fewer children today may account for a halt in human evolution:

Human evolution is grinding to a halt because of a shortage of older fathers in the West, according to a leading genetics expert.

Fathers over the age of 35 are more likely to pass on mutations, according to Professor Steve Jones, of University College London.

Speaking today at a UCL lecture entitled “Human evolution is over” Professor Jones will argue that there were three components to evolution – natural selection, mutation and random change. “Quite unexpectedly, we have dropped the human mutation rate because of a change in reproductive patterns,” Professor Jones told The Times.

“Human social change often changes our genetic future,” he said, citing marriage patterns and contraception as examples. Although chemicals and radioactive pollution could alter genetics, one of the most important mutation triggers is advanced age in men.

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Here’s an interesting article on parents who use corporal punishment in order to discipline their children. Instead of looking at the psychological affects on the child, it looks at the psychological and “addictive” affects on the parent.

But parents keep on hitting. Why? The key is corporal punishment’s temporary effectiveness in stopping a behavior. It does work—for a moment, anyway. The direct experience of that momentary pause in misbehavior has a powerful effect, conditioning the parent to hit again next time to achieve that jolt of fleeting success and blinding the parent to the long-term failure of hitting to improve behavior. The research consistently shows that the unwanted behavior will return at the same rate as before. But parents believe that corporal punishment works, and they are further encouraged in that belief by feeling that they have a right and even a duty to punish as harshly as necessary.

My parents very much believed in corporal punishment. In fact, I love the scene from Mommie Dearest with the wire coat hangers because it gives me slight vindication thinking that my mother’s proclivity to hit me with wire coat hangers is considered so bad that it’s the most crucial scene in a film about abuse. Does that make me weird?

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Bye bye Kelloggs

Yum, Roundup-Ready beets for sugar. Because you always want to eat something with an adjective that refers to pesticide. I guess this means no more Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies or Coco Puffs for me.

The Organic Consumers Association has called for a boycott of Kellogg’s products because the company indicated it won’t have a problem using sugar from genetically modified sugar beets.

The issue grew out of a November New York Times article noting that farmers will, for the first time, be planting “Roundup-ready” beets engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. No one is using the sugar yet, including Kellogg’s, but the opportunity is on the way.

The interesting point to me is that Kellogg’s told the consumers group it would not use GMO sugar for products sold in Europe. All of its European products are “free of any ingredients derived from biotech sources.” But they don’t think U.S. customers care, and “consumer preference is the critical factor Kellogg uses in determining the products being provided in every market.” In short, if we objected to genetically modified food the way Europeans do, they wouldn’t put it on our food either.

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Here’s a shout out to a great post on the wordpress blog Later On. Anyone interested in evolution, creationism or science should take a look.

“Ask and it shall be given,” as Jesus said. You have asked (repeatedly) for transitional forms in the fossil record, and more and more are found. These provide strong evidence of Evolution, which I assume you will now accept.

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The 115 year-old brain

I love reading the news when you get this little nugget of humanity mixed in amongst a pretty straight forward article. Here’s the story of a Dutch woman who died at age 115. She donated her body to medical science and scientists have found her brain to be in excellent shape refuting beliefs that Alzheimer’s is inevitable. But what I loved about this article was the story of the woman.

At age 82, the Dutch woman made arrangements to donate her body to science after death. She contacted Holstege when she reached age 111, worried that her body was too old to be useful for research or teaching purposes. The neuroscientists reassured her that, contrary to her belief, they were particularly interested due to her age.

“She was very enthusiastic about her being important for science,” Holstege and his colleagues write in the journal article.

Neurological and psychological examinations were performed when the centenarian was 112 and 113 years old. The results were essentially normal, with no signs of dementia or problems with memory or attention. Her mental performance was above average for adults aged 60 to 75.

When the woman died at age 115, her body was donated to science. Holstege’s team found no signs of narrowing of the arteries, called atherosclerosis, and very few brain abnormalities. In fact, the number of brain cells was similar to that expected in healthy people between 60 and 80 years old.

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Electronic Waste

Green-minded consumers beware. Free electronics collection events touted as planet friendly aren’t always as ecologically sound as they seem, says a watchdog group focused on preventing the export of dangerous e-waste.

The trouble is it’s nearly impossible for well-meaning consumers to know what happens to the pollutants in the products they’re dropping off. The products can be shipped all over the world and pass through multiple handlers before reaching their final resting place.

I have to admit I’ve wondered this also. We took our stuff to recycle to a place that was packed absolutely to the brim with electronics. Every minute another customer came to drop something off. With all the stuff I was looking at, I wondered how they would be able to recycle everything and still keep the shop open.

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Sleep Away Extra Weight

I love sleep and I want to lose weight. It’s like a dream come true.

An extra hour between the sheets at night might be the key to shedding excess weight and fighting obesity, according to recent research.

Two key hormones produced at night which help regulate appetite were at play, she said.

Grehlin makes people hungry, slows metabolism and decreases the body’s ability to burn body fat, and leptin, a protein hormone produced by fatty tissue, regulates fat storage.

“We have shown that less sleep (two four-hour nights) caused an 18 percent loss of appetite-cutting leptin and a 28 percent increase of appetite-causing grehlin,” she said.

Such hormonal changes made people hungry for foods heavy in fats and sugars such as chips, biscuits, cakes and peanuts, she added.

The sleep loss caused a 23 to 24 percent increase in hunger, Spiegel said, translating into an extra 350 to 500 kilocalories a day, “which for a young sedentary adult of normal weight could lead to a major amount of added weight.”

This reminds of the Saturday Night Live spoof of Nyquil called Hibernol where Chris Farley sleeps away the winter in order to not suffer during the flu season.

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Remember the story about the guy who purchased a device on Ebay that made traffic lights green? These devices are used for emergency vehicles; I’m not sure why this idiot thought his commute was so dang important.

I just found out Seattle Metro buses apparently can use this technology too. I’m painfully aware how late Seattle Metro buses are.

Metro also applies other strategies to keep the buses running on time. In arrangements coordinated with city traffic engineers, some buses are equipped with devices that send a signal to traffic-light controls when nearing an intersection so that the light will stay green for a few extra seconds to let the bus through.

Other bus-borne devices can trigger a red light for the curb lane to turn green a few seconds before all lanes get the green light, allowing a bus to pull away from the curb and merge into the travel lanes ahead of the traffic flow.

Very weird. Technology scares me.

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Scientists plan to put one of the twin Mars rovers to sleep and limit the activities of the other robot to fulfill a NASA order to cut $4 million from the program’s budget, mission team members said Monday.The news comes amid belt-tightening at NASA headquarters, which is under pressure to cover cost overruns of a flagship Mars mission to land a Hummer-sized rover on the Red Planet next year.

Let’s hope this is some ploy to get more money for the project.

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From wired.comThe BBC does a good job explaining exactly how this seed vault will work.

The vault is intended to act as insurance so that food production can be restarted anywhere on Earth after a regional or global catastrophe.

Built deep inside a mountain, the structure will eventually house a vast collection of seeds; safeguarding world crops against possible future disasters including nuclear wars and dangerous climate change.

It does say a lot about our species that we can rationalize so well our problems that we create a doomsday deus ex machina to save our ability to make food at the same time as we destroy our food.

In Jared Diamond’s Collapse, one of his students poses this question in regard to the Easter Island inhabitants who used all of their trees to create statues when their food supply was dependent on trees:

“What went through the mind of the person who cut down that last tree?”

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Here is an excerpt from the fabulous book The Trouble With Physics The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of Science and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin:

I recently met a lively group of people standing in the aisle on a flight from London to Toronto. They said hello and asked me where I was I was coming from, and when I told them I was returning from a cosmology conference, they immediately asked my view on evolution. “Oh no,” I thought, then proceeded to tell them that natural selection had been proven true beyond a doubt. They introduced themselves as members of a Bible college on the way back from a mission to Africa, one purpose of which, it turned out, had been to test some of the tenets of creationism. As they sought to engage me in discussion, I warned them that they would lose, as I knew the evidence pretty well. “No,” they insisted, “you don’t know all the facts.” So we got into it. When I said, “But of course you accept the fact that we have fossils of many creatures that no longer live,” they responded, “No!”

“What do you mean, ‘no’? What about the dinosaurs?”

“The dinosaurs are still alive and roaming the earth!”

“That’s ridiculous! Where?”

“In Africa.”

“In Africa? Africa is full of people. Dinosaurs are really big. How come no one has seen one?”

“They live deep in the jungle.”

“Someone would still have seen one. Do you claim to know someone who has seen one?”

“The pygmies tell us they seem them once in a while. We looked and didn’t see any, but we saw the scratch marks they make eighteen to twenty feet up on the trunks of trees.”

“So you agree they are huge animals. And the fossil evidence is that they live in big herds. How could it be that nobody but these pygmies have seen them?”

“That’s easy. They spend most of their time hibernating in caves.”

“In the jungle? There are caves in the jungle?”

“Yes, of course, why not?”

“Caves big enough for a huge dinosaur to enter? If the caves are so big, they should be easy to find, and you can look inside and see them sleeping.”

“To protect themselves while they hibernate, the dinosaurs close up the mouths of the caves with dirt so no one can tell they’re there.”

“How do they close the caves so well they can’t be seen? Do they use their paws, or perhaps they push the dirt with their noses?”

At this point, the creationists admitted they didn’t know, but they told me that “biblical biologists” from their school were in the jungles now, looking for the dinosaurs.

“Be sure to let me know if they bring out a live one,” I said, and went back to my seat.

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When Bush pushed Ethanol for the global warming that he doesn’t believe in, you knew something was up. Ethanol is made from corn, and agro-business is a immensely profitable industry.

They had these during the first Iraq war.

It seems a study has been published that argues Ethanol may actually increase global warming:

The researchers said that past studies showing the benefits of ethanol in combating climate change have not taken into account almost certain changes in land use worldwide if ethanol from corn _ and in the future from other feedstocks such as switchgrass _ become a prized commodity.

“Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate global warming,” concludes the study published in Science magazine.

The researchers said that farmers under economic pressure to produce biofuels will increasingly “plow up more forest or grasslands,” releasing much of the carbon formerly stored in plants and soils through decomposition or fires. Globally, more grasslands and forests will be converted to growing the crops to replace the loss of grains when U.S. farmers convert land to biofuels, the study said.

Technology does not have a very good track record of getting us out of problems. Each technological invention meant to prevent waste, will produce its own waste in a different way. Ethanol as a replacement for oil is doing just that.

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Click here.

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I’m going to start out by apologizing for my lack of understanding on any faith that thinks cutting off a portion of the male genitalia makes you closer to God. No, I don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will.

And the so-called “health” benefits from circumcision are nothing but a desperately scientific justification for an already deeply held belief. If God said his covenant involved not getting circumcised you would see “health” arguments for the same.

Here’s a case where a divorced couple are fighting over whether or not the custodial father has the right to have his son circumcised in order to convert to Judaism. Mother claims son doesn’t want to be circumcized; father claims the opposite.

She alleged that M had told her the day before the planned circumcision that he did not want to be circumcised. She also asserted that M had said that he was afraid to contradict his father regarding the circumcision. Mother averred that, “I hope that ultimately the court will be able to interview [M] in chambers so that his true feelings about this can be determined.” Finally, mother expressed concern that a flawed circumcision could result in permanent injury to M.

Can the court or anyone else ever really determine if this kid wants the surgery or not? If I were that kid I’d be deeply conflicted. I say wait until he is 18 and he can have it done then if he still wants to. As children are incredibly impressionable this might give him the chance to decide if it’s something he really wants. I think God will wait.

Any adult circumcision experiences out there that someone wants to share?

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Was Hillary the first man on Mt. Everest? Could you climb Mt. Everest in plain wool clothes? The answers are here:

The results of a unique experiment on Mount Everest confirm that the clothing of the 1924 climbers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine would not have prevented them from reaching the summit, as many had believed.

Wearing replica gear made from gabardine, wool, cotton and silk, he wanted to disprove the common myth that the 1920s climbers were ill-equipped to reach the summit.

Hoyland also discovered that the clothes were more comfortable to wear than modern day gear.

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This article brings us yet another way our species is negatively impacting the planet. While the earth will most likely eventually recover from whatever we throw at it, we will not. We can’t grow food if we have no top soil in which to grow it.

“Globally, it’s clear we are eroding soils at a rate much faster than they can form,” said John Reganold, a soils scientist at Washington State University. “It’s hard to get people to pay much attention to this because, frankly, most of us take soil for granted.”

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I’m constantly reminded how I can’t count on the government to, well, do anything. In this case, provide a safe work place and safe food. Since 2000, some pop corn factory workers have required lung transplants because they developed cancers from diacetyl an artificial butter flavoring.

Only after a diligent doctor revealed that a consumer of popcorn had contracted the lung disease did this issue suddenly start some stirrings of action.

“I said to him, ‘This is a very weird question, but bear with me. But are you around a lot of popcorn?’ ” Dr. Rose asked. “His jaw dropped and he said, ‘How could you possibly know that about me? I am Mr. Popcorn. I love popcorn.’ ”

The man told Dr. Rose that he had eaten microwave popcorn at least twice a day for more than 10 years.

“When he broke open the bags, after the steam came out, he would often inhale the fragrance because he liked it so much,” Dr. Rose said. “That’s heated diacetyl, which we know from the workers’ studies is the highest risk.”

Of course, ConAgra immediately denied the link, and then immediately pulled diacetyl from its product.

It turns out that restaurant workers are exposed to a comparable level of diacetyl as the factory workers. This is from standing over a hot griddle spraying butter flavoring grease. So now finally Congress is looking into the matter.

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