- Magnetic 'superatoms' promise tuneable materials
- Search for dark matter goes deep, with Earth as a blocker
- Space rock yields answers about origins of life on Earth – Welcome to Earth, formic acid.
- Space shuttle exhaust hints comet caused Tunguska blast
- University of Texas at Austin 'Picosatellite' To Be Launched from Space Shuttle To Begin Milestone Small-Satellite Mission – Just testing the basics.
- NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day: Sarychev Peak Eruption, Kuril Islands – Be sure to follow the link to the original image.
- Mars Rover Yielding New Clues While Lodged in Martian Soil
- Next Mars Rover Gets Huge Heat Shield – …and a nifty "sky crane."
- Images Taken By KAGUYA (SELENE) - 3D movie composition using Terrain Camera Images during controlled impact operation – Watching the moon go by before colliding with it.
- Scrappy Post-Apollo Lunar Science Sets Stage for New Missions
- Biofuels could clean up Chernobyl 'badlands'
- Newly Uncovered Enzymes Turn Corn Plant Waste into Biofuel
- Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel – Methane clathrates, a vast store of untapped energy. I gather that they're also a ticking environmental time bomb, because rising temperatures could cause such methane to revert to its gaseous form, and methane is a much more troublesome greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
- Methane controls before risky geoengineering, please – Speaking of methane....
- Can Captured Carbon Save Coal-Fired Power? – Not so much "clean coal" as "less filthy coal."
- Car Exhaust Associated With Premature Births in Southern California
- Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells –
One specific inert ingredient [of Roundup], polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself [....]
- AIDS denial: A lethal delusion
- Help wanted: A new project for your home computer to help beat HIV, Alzheimer's and other conditions – How participating in this distributed computing project, as opposed to Stanford's long-established Folding@Home is not explained, but should have been.
- Dreaming of Nonsense: The Evolutionary Enigma of Dream Content
- Animals that count: How numeracy evolved
- Dinosaurs actually slimmer than we thought, say boffins
- Email patterns can predict impending doom
- 'Secret' questions leave accounts vulnerable
- Kodak to retire Kodachrome film – An era ends.
- "Hitler's Stealth Fighter" Re-created – Beautiful, but evil, engineering.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Stanford University is operating the "Folding@Home" distributed computing system to try to develop a better understanding of how proteins fold, or misfold. This may sound extremely esoteric, but as their disease FAQ points-out, this understanding is relevant to Alzheimer's, Huntington's, cancers associated with malfunctions of the p53 protein, Osteogenesis imperfecta, and the development of antibiotics.
The existence of this project is old news to a lot of us—it's been going on since 2001 at least—but it stands to reason that most of the Internet community is still unaware of it, so I wanted to give it a plug in case it happens to be news to anyone reading this. Having lost one friend to cancer this year, and watching another one fighting it, the cancer-related work of this project has acquired new meaning for me.
Anyone with a Macintosh, Linux, or Windows machine can download and run the Folding@Home software, as can owners of PlayStation 3 game consoles, and begin contributing your computer's spare time to shed light on the aforementioned diseases, and many other problems.
As a technological aside, here's hoping that they produce a client that will use the OpenCL technology in Apple's forthcoming Snow Leopard operating system (Mac OS X 10.6) to harness the power of the GPUs in Macintoshes (something that the project has thus far neglected, as, indeed, they neglected to ever take advantage of the multi-CPU PowerPC Macs).
Monday, June 22, 2009
- The Dirt on Biofuels – There's also this Guardian article, and a summary of a few more related articles can be found in Carfree Times no. 51, in the section titled "Rich Drivers Starving Poor Families."
- Latest Efficiency Directive: Low-Resistance Tires – Good idea. (Naturally, the tire industry opposes it.) And while we're legislating about tires, could we follow European standards and limit their maximum sound output to 70 dB? I've routinely measured more than 80 dB from cars on a 30 mph road at one of my bus stops. That's a significant civic noise pollution source.
- Did the Rat Island restoration effort kill 41 bald eagles? – Getting rid of the rats was still a good idea.
- Why Japan's whaling activities are not research – Not that there was any doubt.
- NASA Successfully Launches LRO/LCROSS for Return to the Moon
- SpaceX Update: Falcon 9 Flight 1 – Encouraging progress. Good luck, folks.
- Wayne Hale: Its your choice, really – On the value of exploration. If some of the logic is left a bit fuzzy, it's made up for by the Chinese history lesson.
- Grey hair may be protecting us from cancer – Oh, well, that's all right then.
- Sleeping on a complex decision may be a bad choice
- Smaller reactor design for fusion may work in a "pinch" – Another potential route to fusion power. So, is research in this direction getting all of the funding it needs, or are we keeping all of our eggs in the ITER basket?
- Physicists create 'black hole for sound'
- The Rain's Maintained Speed Strain Is Now Explained – Rain? I've heard of that....
- Nine extraordinary clouds
- University claims Apple's glossy screens may cause injury – Can't stand those pro-glare screens, personally. And, yes, I've seen them used at awkward angles to try to avoid the glare/reflection problem. That's bad on the face of it, but the absurdity is compounded by the fact that all LCD displays have limited viewing angles (some very limited, especially on lower-cost equipment), beyond which many severely distort, or even invert, the colors they display. Which, to my mind, puts the lie to the "glossy screens look better" claim. Under ideal circumstances, they may look better, but in the real world, things are more complicated.
- Pentagon Wants Cyborg Insects to Sniff WMD, Offer Free Wi-Fi
- Krugman: The Big Hate – And some related items bear mentioning: McVeigh did not act alone, there was Terry Nichols, and there've been suggestions of militia groups providing support, as well. Then there was the maniac who crashed a light aircraft into the White House. And the maniac who sprayed the White House with (if memory serves) AK-47 fire. I believe there were other incidents in that period, but the specifics aren't springing to mind.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I just received my copy of Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts. Haven't read it yet, but I ordered it for the pictures, not the reading, and I am suitably impressed. One could easily wish the book were twice, or four, or ten, times as long, but, well, wow.
I can still clearly remember a day in elementary school when one of the moon missions was due to launch, and I pleaded with the teacher to let us watch the launch on television – to no avail. I still find that situation unfathomable, and I'm not sure I ever did get to watch a launch live.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
- Ares I-X Puzzle Pieces Coming Together
- Ares I-X slips to September 18 as processing edges towards stacking
- Ares I: Dual-Plane Isolators Emerge as Most Promising Thrust Oscillation Fix – Or how to fit your rocket with shock absorbers.
- Article says Air Force doubts Orion can escape an Ares I disaster
- A Closer Look at the Max Launch Abort System – The other Orion escape system moves quietly toward testing.
- Orion Crew Modules from Coast to Coast – With all of the testing going on, there's getting to be quite a collection of full-size mockups around the country. (But none in my neighborhood, darnit.)
- New cleaning protocol for future 'search for life' missions – No point in searching for life (or organic molecules), if you might have brought it with you. Which has always looked to me like a complete show-stopper for human exploration of Mars.
- One fifth of humanity deprived of Milky Way – The stars at night are not big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, no matter what lies we Texans like to tell ourselves. And the rest of the developed world is about the same.
- Military Hush-Up: Incoming Space Rocks Now Classified – Oh, good. We certainly wouldn't want to utilize all of that taxpayer investment to learn anything.
- German lad hit by 30,000 mph meteorite – Of course, it wasn't going 30,000 mph when it hit him.
- A smashing end for Japanese lunar orbiter mission
- Seven things that don't make sense about gravity
- Getting a theory of everything by ditching tenet of physics – Lorentz Invariance? We don't go in for that sort of thing around here.
- First new element for five years makes periodic table – Welcome, element 112.
- ITER fusion project faces more delays – So much for "first plasma" in 2016. I'll say it again: all of our eggs should not be in one basket where a game-changing technology like fusion is concerned. We know it's possible. We know it'll completely transform our global energy situation if we can harness it. Having multiple teams pursuing multiple approaches would be worth every penny.
- NASA working on 'open rotor' green (but loud) jets – Trading one kind of pollution for another: Decreasing carbon dioxide pollution by increasing sound pollution.
- Ekranoplan Showcase Part 2 – (From Jay Lake's blog.) Like Jay, I have a soft spot in my heart for the wonderfully weird Soviet technology that is the Ekranoplan.
- Human subjects have human rights – As Daniel Everett asks: “Did Jared Diamond libel Papua New Guineans in a high-profile article? I don't know. And, most likely, neither do you.” – An interesting issue. Also, I can't recommend reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, or Daniel Everett's Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes too highly. And while you're at it, Mark Plotkin's Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice is a "must read." In fact, read it before you read Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes.
- Does Military Sonar Kill Marine Wildlife? – In short: yes.
- Snow Leopard Pictures: Rare Snow Cats Caught by Camera Traps
- Rare Amazon Animal Photos: Giant Armadillo, Bush Dog, More
- Amazon deforestation leads to economic boom and bust – No good comes of it. But lots that's bad does.
- Scientists Create a Form of Pre-Life
- At Last, Facing Down Bullies (and Their Enablers) – I went to one junior high school, and three high schools. Two of those schools were in rich white people areas of Houston, Texas. Two were in the poorest black communities of Houston's inner city. At one of the latter two schools I was the victim of a coordinated attack that left my jaw broken in three places, and subsequently wired shut for seven weeks. That was a picnic compared to life in the rich white people schools. (From Jay Lake's blog.)
- 72 Years of Happiness – Or not.
- Searching for Afghanistan's Third Giant Buddha – This may take a while....
- Carfree Times, June, 2009 – Always worth a read.
- US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive – Because sprawl costs.
- Once-Parched Ranch Is Conservation Model – A good article about David Bamberger's work. (Thanks to Brendan Boerner for finding this.)
Sunday, June 7, 2009
- Boffins: Ordinary Lightbulb can be made efficiently, cheaply ...and quickly (in one femtosecond).
- Laser-etched metal makes liquid flow uphill – Another interesting use for femtosecond lasers.
- Thin-film solar cells flex into the future
- FTC forces hive of scum and villainy ISP offline
- Landmark study: DRM truly does make pirates out of us all – And don't get me started on DVD region codes.
- Google to slip SVG into Internet Explorer – Neat trick, that. Beats the heck out of me how they'll do it, though.
- Remembering the true first portable computer – Self-portable, no-less. Just tell it where you want it to go.
- Homebrewed CPU Is a Beautiful Mess of Wires – Bravo!
- New Technique Promises Billion-Year Data Storage – Dependable storage is always useful, but in a billion years (or thirty) will any computer still support the necessary serial, parallel, SCSI, FireWire 400/800/…, USB 1/2/3/…, etc. interface? And how do you make a storage device recognizable as a storage device over the course of a billion years? Still, one problem at a time.
- Particles Larger Than Galaxies Fill the Universe? – Now, that's a neutrino!
- Stuck Mars rover peeks beneath its belly
- Astronauts suffer 'exploding' space headache – Ouch!
- NASA falling further behind – Orion milestones slipping. More headaches for astronauts (and engineers, and NASA and contractor workers, and policy makers, and…).
- Space Monkey Pictures: 50-Year Anniversary – I knew that Ham had tested Mercury/Redstone for Shepard and Grissom, but somehow had never heard of Enos, who tested Mercury/Atlas for the other members of the Mercury 7.
- "Extinct" Beavers Back in U.K. After 400 Years – Nice start, UK. Here in North America, we need to get busy with the beaver re-introductions, too. Although we retain native populations, the species was once everywhere from Canada down to northern Mexico. So, my fellow N. Americans, if there's reliable water in your area, and there aren't any beavers, things are not as they should be.
- Scotland's only wallabies face extermination – Meanwhile, France's kangaroos have been doing fine.
- The koala who thought he was Goldilocks
- Dolphin-Inspired Man-Made Fin Works Swimmingly – Old news, but I was recently reminded that I'd love to try these things.
- Jet Cyclist Hits 73 MPH and Lives to Tell the Tale – I like a good pulse jet as much as the next guy (combustion on a hypersonic wave-front, if memory serves), but bicycles powered by nothing but humans reach those speeds regularly. My personal record is only 57.3 mph (92.2 kph), but I ran out of gears (despite pedaling ≥140 rpm). Also, I've never had, for instance, an Alp to descend.
- Mystery Ingredient Cleaning Earth's Atmosphere
- Estrogen in Waterways Worse Than Thought
- Earth Gets Billion-Year Life Extension
- How Antarctica grew its ice – and lost its hanging gardens
- Royal Navy warship almost fires on UFOs – In which we find that neither the Telegraph, nor the Royal Navy, is well equipped to handle this sort of thing.
- Construction Crew Severs Secret ‘Black Line’ – When spooks lose their connectivity. (Beats the heck out of Time Warner technical support.)
- Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech
- Goodbye, GM – “It is with sad irony that the company which invented "planned obsolescence" -- the decision to build cars that would fall apart after a few years so that the customer would then have to buy a new one -- has now made itself obsolete.”
- Illness Behind Most Bankruptcies …and because financial ruin is so important in building character, we certainly don't want any sort of national health insurance.
- Texas Governor Perry makes Rush Limbaugh an honorary Texan – In Texas' defense, it's worth noting that the vast majority of Texas voters voted against Perry.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Bacon lovers in the audience may find the title too good to be true, but fat-free bacon was invented, and it was my grandpa who did it.
I've never found a good excuse for telling this story in writing (though my good friend Jay Lake's occasional bacon references have tempted me), and, as you'll find out soon enough, it deserves a better story teller than I, but since nobody else is ever likely to record these facts, the duty seems to fall to me.
My Grandpa Johnson died when I was three, so I was told, and thus memory provides me not a single recollection of him. But I remember being told at least two things about him. The first was that he wrote a book, and one that was published, no less. Even as a kid that amazed me and made him stand-out from all the other members of my family as the only person who'd ever done anything that really mattered. I mean, a book. He wrote one. Someone published it. He added something very concrete to the sum of human knowledge, for it was a volume of facts, rather than fiction. That has never ceased to impress me. (Had it been fiction, I'd still have been impressed that he'd added something concrete to human culture, but then the rest of this story probably never would have happened.)
The book was Animals in the American Economy by John A. Sims & Leslie E. Johnson. (ISBN 0813802458.) I was told as a kid that the co-author was the man who'd finished the book after grandpa had unexpectedly dropped dead. So, if there was ever a promotional tour, sadly, grandpa missed it, along with any chance of a shot at the best seller list. I am assured that life is not fair, albeit usually by the people who are making it unfair, but this must surely constitute some independent proof of that assertion.
The second thing I was told about Grandpa Johnson was that he'd inventend fat-free bacon.
If it should seem surprising that he, of all the grandpas that the world has ever created, should choose that particular book to write, or that he should be the one to set out to create fat-free bacon, it may be helpful to know that he was Head of Animal Husbandry at South Dakota State College, and, ultimately, Head of the Department of Animal Husbandry at Iowa State College. Because of his latter affiliation, I was dumbstruck many years ago when I searched for him on the Internet and found that he had a web page – dead for 25 years when the Web was invented, but he still had a web page. Neat trick. For a man who could pull that off, presumably a book was no problem. Fat-free bacon was another story, however.
The invention of fat-free bacon was handed-down in family legend, and if the legend was ever rich in detail, those details didn't manage to penetrate my young skull. Nonetheless, I choose to believe in the invention, (1) because it's a good story, and (2) because his resumé says he was just the man for the job. Which is to say that he was a man with both the means and the inclination to breed swine. And none of that "let's just mate a few pigs to get a few more" sort of swine breeding, but controlled breeding, with the resources of a state college at his disposal. Which state college that was, will have to remain a matter for historians.
Historians aside, I was assured by family legend that grandpa bred generation after generation of swine in his determined quest for the culinary holy grail of fat-free bacon. And after years of breeding just the right sow and whatever-they-call-a-male-pig, his program of old-school genetic engineering was at last a success. He had one of the resulting pigs slaughtered and the hog belly cured. Once that was done, he presumably went home proudly to present the slab of bacon to his good wife for cutting and cooking. The family gathered—surely this is the sort of thing for which families cannot help but gather—and, I imagine, sat anxiously around the dinner table listening to it cook, and hungering for the first taste of the bacon to which human civilization had been leading. Soon, I expect, a plate of the sizzling miracle meat was placed before them on the dinner table and quickly portioned-out to everyone.
And that's pretty much where this combination of speculation and family legend ends. For, by all accounts, the bacon was terrible; unpleasantly dry for a start, and I recall nothing good being said about the flavor.*
A technical success, but a practical failure, the bacon project was abandoned there and then, I was told. And so it was that that thread in the weave of the 13,000 year history of the pig was abruptly cut, and its dangling end vanished into the mists of time. Until now.
Know ye, History, that Leslie Eckroat Johnson invented fat-free bacon, and tremble.
* How this bacon differed from back bacon, which is naturally relatively low in fat, yet tasty, I do not know. Perhaps it was the difference between being "low in fat" and truly "fat free" that was crucial.