Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Naked Scientist: An earthlike planet found! (Planet X revealed)

Looks like I'm returning to one my deepest roots. It has been ages since I last listened to a podcast, mostly due to time constraints, so today I thought, why not? I of course selected the best science podcast out there in the void of the world wide web: The Naked Scientist. The intrigue that captivates me during such a broadcast is astounding. The questions asked, by what I can only assume are vivid fans of the show, are quite frankly deep and outstanding as always.

The first topic that was discussed was about something that I did not expect to hear about for another couple hundred years. A planet not too far way (about 40 light years) has been analyzed to contain a viable atmosphere, optimum water levels and potentially similar life to our own. Such a discovery nearly threw me off my chair.

This Planet X as scientists call the model Earth was detected by observation of the nearby star which emits vast quantities of light. A small irregularity first suggested that a planet exists in that particular solar system. The gravitational tug of the planet from its star is also a sign of its existence. It's about 20 times the radius of earth and does not spin on its axis. This means that one side of the globe will be in sunlight all the time while the other in complete darkness. However there will be areas adequate for living quite comfortably with a nice climate and liquid water on the surface.

If we send a vessel equipped for the journey at this instant in time, it will take a long time to reach it but the rewards for our future generations will be great. It is said that there may many more planets like ours in the Milky Way just waiting to be discovered. About 20 % of all solar systems contain such a planet in its orbit.

From now on I have resolved to listen to these podcasts every week. The website also contains various transcripts of their most famous articles so I would suggest visiting it (http://www.thenakedscientists.com/
My voyage to Poland will be on the 27th of December. I will be there for a week, a change of setting will do me good. Hopefully the European airports will be blizzard-free and open for business.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wired.com: Military Bans Disks, Threatens Courts-Martial to Stop New Leaks

The military has taken action. Relating to the Wikileaks incident, the Pentagon itself has now banned any sort of removable media to be attached to computers connected with the SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network). This of course comes as a shock to no one. Whenever an attack is made a retaliation occurs. Military tactics 101. After the admittance of Pfc. Manning to the US supreme court last November, the military has been hard at work improving their security protocols regarding transferring confidential data. Pfc. Bradley Manning says he downloaded hundreds of thousands of files from SIPRNET to a CD marked “Lady Gaga” before giving the files to WikiLeaks.

Such a ban was attempted once before in 2008 when a computer worm infected the whole military network: hundreds and thousands of computers were out of action for many personnel. The ban was lifted this February after the final cleanups were complete. That is when Manning started to transmit file dumps to Wikileaks. The Pentagon has also disabled the ability of classified computers to copy data to external drives as well as creating a special HBSS (Host Based Security System) designed for the exact purpose of detecting such leaks.

Julian Assange - founder of Wikileaks
 These measures will make life harder for the soldiers struggling in the field. Most of the times, transferring data between machines via pen drives was a much easier and faster process. Internet connection is not always readily available, no backups can be made and this means loss of time for operatives. In the long run lives could be lost.

Although I applaud Wikileak's efforts at making many classified documents, that disclose valuable information about governments (conspiracy theories must be booming right now) readily available, I have to question the motives. Is Wikileaks just one journalist (Julian Assange) or a whole organization? How can we absolutely trust every single document if all media is supposedly at some level corrupt? But most importantly how can we trust soldiers in the field anymore after the Manning situation? Some secrets should never be told


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wired.com: WikiLeaks Attacks Reveal Surprising, Avoidable Vulnerabilities

Due to all the commotion surrounding it I decided to finally visit the Wikileaks website on Friday the 3rd of December. As it turned out it was down due to a new DoS attack apparently aimed at the DNS provider, EveryDNS. Of course that did not stop me from looking at the cache that Google keeps of all sites available through their search engine.

It seems that after publishing a new document surrounding diplomatic cables between embassies around the world, somebody or probably some government decided that this was too much. Of course to hack the website was not too complicated. Wikileaks used a free DNS provider which is extremely unstable and it resulted in a crash of many servers holding key information that the site supported. After this short-lived incident Wikileaks switched to Amazon’s EC2 cloud-based data-storage service that almost immediately booted the server due to violation of its terms and conditions. It would seem as if the site could not catch a break until the very morning of this day when it suddenly reappeared as if nothing happened.

It would seem they did this through a series of donations obtained as leverage from their twitter account.

"Rather than tweeting the IP addresses of WikiLeaks hosts, which would allow visitors to continue to reach the site uninterrupted, WikiLeaks initially used the outage to encourage donations, tweeting instead: “WikiLeaks.org domain killed by US everydns.net after claimed mass attacks KEEP US STRONG https://donations.datacell.com/”

Normally I would applaud their defiance against the government but using such weak website protections would seem as if they wanted to just to get their donations. There is no proof in my claim but its an awful set of coincidences. It also seems that Wikileaks got their hands on some very sensitive information that the government does not want anybody to know. The site itself is nothing to be proud of since there about 200 thousand documents and no summary for any of them. I don't think everyone is going to go through them just for some conspiracy stories.

Whatever its purpose one thing is certain. WIkileaks has decided to defy order and put forth freedom of speech in a new way. And this is something to be proud of and benefit from. I also urge all of you to check out the wired.com websites since it has enormous amounts of news both scientific and not.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Getting into Medical School: Personal Opinion

It is one of the most complex and difficult of sciences. It is personal at so many levels. One of the most respected and longest-standing professions of all time. I am of course talking about medicine. Nowadays competition for a place in a medical university is notoriously high. I won't even talk about any specific values since it will probably disincentive many of you readers from such a career. It will be untruthful of me to say that I have always wanted medicine as a future career. Many of my close friends and colleagues believe that this choice has been influenced by my parents who are both respected medical officials. I won't deny that their perseverance towards their job was what first made me seriously consider medicine as a potential future.

I have been reading many guides towards making yourself a perfect UCAS application in order to get an interview. And let's just say that the standards for getting an interview have seriously gone up. Not only do you have to achieve the highest possible marks for all A levels, you also need to have prior working experience. One candidate had such a big curriculum full of amazing achievements such as working in hospitals part-time, being leader in all types of societies and even one part where it almost seemed as if he found a cure for cancer. I actually found myself becoming more and more in doubt whether I really wanted this amount of work just for a place in an university in the UK. Already I have been to many MUN conferences (http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/modelun/index.asp) here in Portugal as well as being part of INTERACT (http://www.rotary.org/pt/studentsandyouth/youthprograms/interact/pages/ridefault.aspx). They have proved to be useful experiences but they are not enough to guarantee even an interview.

As a result of these expectations I am facing the biggest dilemma of my life. Whether to continue down this road, work non-stop for a reward that might not even be much different than university's in Portugal or in Poland. Whatever my future choice will be, I do know one thing. That I will make the best selection because it is my opinion that counts in the end.


Friday, November 19, 2010

TIME : The 50 Best Inventions of the Year

As my little unplanned hiatus from post-writing draws to a close, I find myself captivated by the shear amount of news that has flooded the world. The most astounding perhaps is TIME's 50 best inventions of 2010. Before we get started on the list however we must remember the words of Galileo: "Doubt is the father of invention". To strive towards creating something new and unexpected is one of the most daunting experiences of all time. I applaud all the inventors that have realized our deepest cravings and dreams. Even though those dreams may not be apparent at first they are fulfilled. Many reasons have pushed people to invent stuff, in the modern age this is mostly sloth or laziness such as the English-teaching robot. Others have surfaced from sustainability issues about the environment. Some have even been motivated by frugality or in other words 'discoveries by complete accident using home-available products' such as chrome-cleaning baby oil. Enough introductions it's time to announce my favorite inventions of the year. Eureka!

1. First Synthetic Cell
To be honest, the idea already came to my head a few years ago but never would I have thought that it would be possible. It took J. Craig Venter 15 years to finally achieve a living bacteria. Such synthetic life would in fact make it possible  to generate new biofuels as well as improve bacterium-induced processes such as yogurt production.

2. eLegs Exoskeleton
Most likely inspired from popular game cultures such as Halo, this suit serves its use perfectly. Paraplegic patients are now able to stand up and even take a few steps. The robotic legs even use artificial intelligence to analyze the wearer's arm gestures via a set of crutches. Even though this will not be available for many year's to the public marker it is a big step forward for the mentally handicapped.

2.5 Iron Man Suit
In demonstration videos users that wore this incredible armor were able to lift 90 kg weights without even breaking a sweat. Another example of how science fiction is becoming a reality.

3. Martin Jetpack
The jetpack. Most likely the stuff of dreams for most nerds and scientists alike. The ability to simply fly into the sky with nothing but a propeller is simply outstanding. It is quite literally the depiction of the future. Although the Martin model is an enormous, 200 horsepower flying beast and costs roughly 100 thousand dollars a piece it's still an awesome patent that must have been made by some kind of genius.

4. Google's Driverless Car
Already discussed in a past post, this ingenious device is able to pilot itself through traffic over long distances with no assistance from the driver whatsoever. http://views-on-science.blogspot.com/2010/10/international-herald-tribune-google-car.html

5. Body-Powered Devices
I have always thought of the human body as an immense factory producing and using energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triophosphate). Now it seems that using particular piezoelectric crystals in a rubber-like material we can in fact generate power due to the body's metabolic reactions. Such devices may produce enough electricity to power personal electronics such as pacemakers.

However there were also many inventions that did not spark any interest in me. Some should not have even made it to the best inventions of the year. One such example is probably the most hated product on this website : the iPad (http://views-on-science.blogspot.com/2010/02/tech-review-apples-vision-of-future.html)
Others include the Oakley 3D glasses (seriously how many people could possibly have a 3D television in their homes? not many I believe) and the Lifeguard robot (complete unnecessary won't even discuss)


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Zeitgeist : The Greatest Story Ever Sold

For generations the world has studied religion to its greatest depths, whether it was Christianity or Islam. Historians have tried countless times to explain the true nature of the one and only all-seeing God. It is acknowledged by most of the citizens of Earth that a force greater than themselves exists. That particular force created the Big Bang, so it was sentient enough to create life as we know it. In this particular film that I viewed not too long ago was pretty much astounding. Inconceivable similarities between religions and its connections to astrology. I have never thought of religion having anything to do with astrology but I'm glad that I was wrong.

Perhaps the most enigmatic of all religions, that which most of the humans walking this Earth believe in is Christianity. The religion centers itself around our savior called Jesus Christ who was born of a virgin mother, had 12 disciples, performed miracles such as reviving the dead and walking on water and upon his death by crucifixion he was resurrected. Little do we know that these god-like qualities are already shared by many other important and religious figures. Many thousands of years before the era of Jesus, in particular in Ancient Egypt there was already a God with such events in his life: Horus, the god of the Sun.

After this comparison the film focuses fully upon the connection with astrology. Jesus was born on the 25th of December when a star in the east, also known as Sirius, positioned itself directly in the path of three other stars (the 3 Kings). All of these pointed directly at the Sun, which is considered to be God or in this case Christ. A few days before the Birth of Christ the Sun had dropped to its lowest point on the horizon. It would not rise or fall until the 25th signifying the birth of the Son of God.

"The Bible is in fact an astrotheological literary hybrid developed from many different religions before it"
The movie goes on to tell us what we already could have guessed from the beginning. Christianity is just not based on any historical facts. It is fueled by its believers nothing more, nothing less. Most of the points mentioned throughout the video were negative such as the Dark Ages and the Crusades. But I beg to differ. Religion has brought hope to the poor, the sick and many others during the ages of mankind. Without religion we would have destroyed each other during the early stages of our development. I urge every one of you who watches this video not to take each world literally.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

TIME: Alzheimer's Unlocked

After years of research and study, the Alzheimer's disease continues to be shrouded in fear and mystery.We have yet to fully comprehend the extent of damage and loss that this disease causes ,over all of us, not just those who are the sufferers. Trial upon trial of treatments and vaccines have proved innefective in fighting this disease and have just made things worse for the test subjects. It is classsified as a degenerative brain condition that causes loss of memory and dementia. Over the long term death is imminent.

As it has been repeated by countless scientists for many generations: There is no cure. Although therapies that supposedly battle the condition and reverse it over time do exist, they are not effective in any way. All they can do at most is delay the the onset of memory loss. There isn't even a definitive test for Alzheimer's.

But all that is about to change, at least according to the neurobiologists that are studying the disease at this very moment. This mental condition was thought, until recently to be caused by the build-up of protein-based plaques in the brain called amyloid. Cellular debris such as dead or dying neurons can also form leading to impaired neurological transmissions and reduced brain activity. Agents, devised by doctors, have been produced in order to eliminate this plaque and prevent it from occuring ever again. Alas, the chemicals have been fraught with failure upon failure. It was concluded after many tests that the plaque was not in fact the only cause of Alzheimer's. Some other factor or factors must be involved as well.

"We spend $5.6 billion a year funding cancer studies, $1 billion a year heart disease ... and $500 million to study Alzheimer's" Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic for Alzheimer research.
In order to properly study Alzheimer we must focus upon the genes and their irregularity. If the particular gene that codes for Alzheimer can be isolated and studied then a much humanity will have a much better chance of stopping this essence-ridding disease. A potential protein that codes for a gene is apolipoprotein E which in certain forms may promote the formation of amyloid. Another possible treatment would be preventing the breakind down of the protein tau, which stabilizes the neuron and the microtubules within. The bottom line is that for now, Alzheimer may be diagnosed before the first symptoms have even made themselves visible.

A large amount of the article was not as expected, dedicated to the science behind the disease, but rather to the many people who are experiencing it at this precise moment. I find it touching and moving that such people struggle to defy nature and win the struggle for their minds. Included in my article are the many accounts of Alzheimer sufferers.

What I found most definitive about this paper was that according to many studies, a larger number of people is affected by Alzheimer than by cancer. Surely that cannot be true. I will check this theory and report back next time.

UPDATE: Just discovered that in fact this theory is correct. I'm pretty much flabbergasted to tell the truth. It is however only by an extremely small margin (cancer - 24 million recorded cases and Alzheimer - 26 million on average)



Saturday, October 16, 2010

International Herald Tribune: Google Car that Drives Itself through Traffic

Quite recently my father has been collecting some regular black and white newspapers to read. Most of them are international since my father travels a lot. A lot of the time I just glance through them but a particular article in the Herald Tribune (international version of the New York Times) caught my eye. Google was the word that I saw first. Thinking it would be some other mad world-wide web invention such as Chrome I was about to move on. That's when I read the first word: car. I was astounded that I eagerly read on. And this article was nothing short of eye-opening and amazing. A vehicle that drives itself through traffic... Who would have thought that Google could come up with something like that!

On second thoughts, I've always thought of Google as the new-age entrepreneur, trying to decipher life's great mysteries and help any bystander along the way. Although these autonomous cars are years from mass production (at least 10) it does not deny the fact that the company is thinking ahead and expanding into new territories. A Toyota Prius made a journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles through the torrential traffic virtually unaided by any human source. The scientific reason for this achievement is artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.

According to Google engineers robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated. It does seem like a dream come true doesn't it? Especially for truck drivers I bet. Now you can really go to the back seat to make yourself a sandwich. Of course supposedly there must always be someone behind the wheel in case of an unexpected detour (the original test encountered a biker running a red light). But this was one occasion on a half an hour test drive so there is no cause for worry.

“Can we text twice as much while driving, without the guilt?” Dr. Thrun (43-year-old director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a Google engineer and the co-inventor of the Street View mapping service. ) said in a recent talk. “Yes, we can, if only cars will drive themselves.” 
The car knows the speed limit, roads and everything else geographical from the GPS system and its driving mode can even be programmed from aggressive (more likely to go first) or cautious (more likely to yield the road to another car). I wonder who will really choose the cautious personality. I don't think there are many such people.

The most problematic thing about this project is driving laws. Who will be liable in case of an accident: the driver or the car? Although this particular test drive was considered legal because there was still a driver behind the wheel, in the future some of these laws may have to change. There is even the farther-off prospect of cars that do not need anyone behind the wheel. That would allow the cars to be summoned electronically, so that people could share them.

Although the situation is not perfect as with any situation Google does have an opportunity to shine once again. If it decides to further develop this technology and then afterwards sell it as a prototype to any car manufacturer it will profit immensely. Such was the case with the Android operating system for cell phones.
Whatever the circumstances will be Google is sure to perform the best it can and "drive" us all to another new technological era.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How it Works: Titan - Saturn's Largest Moon

Well here I am once again bringing you the finest news and views from the world of science magazines. I must admit that maintaining this blog to its standards has been quite a challenge for me. As I am now knee deep in my A level year (I am doing A2 Biology, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Environmental Management if anyone's interested) every single day I find myself being flooded with work. Although I know that this is just the beginning of hardship. However, I am wasting your time here so, on with the show!

As a promise to myself, I try not to be biased or overexcited about any news I hear. Take for the example, the swine flu 'epidemic'. Everyone started panicking about whether or not they would receive their shots and some even started wearing hospital masks wherever they went. Before jumping to conclusions I analyzed the data and concluded that it was all an elaborate scheme made by pharmaceutical companies in order to make a giant profit for no expense whatsoever. It turned I was right although no government has admitted it to be true, since they themselves were fooled in this master plan. I find myself intrigued by what the world media will think of next in order to fuel consumption of a particular product or scare innocent watchers.

That is why I have decided to adequately describe Saturn's moon, Titan, not as the mythical planet X but as a celestial body similar in composition and appearance to Earth. I has clouds in its atmosphere that produce rain, large lakes of water at its poles, wind patterns, volcanoes and even plate tectonics. This seems like good news but in the end it does not matter. Titan is unfortunately to far away from the Sun and has a quite dense atmosphere so only 1% of sunshine makes it through. This leads to an average temperature of about -179ºC. Not the Caribbean climate we were looking for I'm afraid. Also, Titan's would-be rain is actually not composed of water but of methane which scorches out ridges, dunes and valleys on its surface.

Several missions have been recorded to Titan mostly fly-bys by probes and small reconnaissance spacecraft. A joint NASA/ESA mission has been proposed to launch in 2018. During this mission two different types of probes would land on Titan and analyze more thoroughly its atmosphere and land.

Despite all its flaws, Titan does show promise to one thing. A similar planet to Earth is somewhere out there. We just have to find it. It may take time, but the human race has persevered in the past and it will in the future as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How It Works: Heatwaves

Have you ever heard a broadcast on the radio telling you to stay indoors due to hot weather? I know I have. Many times in fact. In Portugal, as in many other Mediterranean nations, dry heat waves are common place in the summer and even early autumn. Most of times however we enjoy a cool breeze from the Atlantic ocean that sooths the temperature into the low 20's. An optimum climate to survive and to thrive. It took many years to adapt to such a climate since Poland's temperatures rarely go above the 30's in the summer. In the winter let's just say its pretty unlivable to my new standards. In accordance to the MET Office (UK meteorology center) a heat wave that is above the high average in any country can not only cause damage to a health's population, but also on business and infrastructure. There does not seem to be any descriptions on how exactly this happens but I expect that it has to do with the amount of power used for air conditioning.

In scientific terms, heat waves are caused by a system of higher atmospheric pressure, where air from upper levels of the atmosphere descends and rotates out. The outward flow, meanwhile, makes it difficult for other systems such as rain and snow to enter the area. The lack of clouds means that the place is stuck with strong sunlight all day. For example in Yuma, Arizona the area enjoys a whopping 4,300 hours of sunlight per year. If a year has 8,765 hours, give or take a few hours, that's almost half the year. Now that's what I call a sunny place.
"A heat wave is a period of unusually hot or humid weather that lasts at least two or three days"

The effects that this type of climate has on the human body is quite astounding. At 35ºC heart rate and sweating increase exponentially as does water and salt loss. At 40ºC the body starts feeling tired and nauseous. And last but not least, 45ºC. This is where the real dangers are getting quite obvious. Fainting, organ damage and even death is possible.

The MET office has, however, put in place some measures to prevent these severe health problems from occurring. A heat health watch warning system has been put in place for such occurrences. Let's just hope that this extends to more volatile countries rather than just the United Kingdom.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Book Review: Origins by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Now that I have settled back into the day-to-day life of school, I can calmly return to writing. I will do something I have done before and it really tested my scientific beliefs. An in depth analysis of the book of choice for a general look at cosmology. Origins is a book that has long been talked about by many contemporary scientists and researchers across the planet. While reading the first few chapters, I discovered that it is extremely well-written, to-the-point prose that binds all the files and data related to cosmology and defines it as a science subject. However at times it does prove to be hard reading. Never before have I seen such a inaccurate description on the back cover of a single book. It is not an adequate book for the average reader. It contains a lot of complex terms and information that take some time to mull over. That is probably why I'm dividing this review in parts. Don't know how many there will be in fact. I've only reached chapter 5 and it's been 3 weeks.

Most of the text has been enlightening to say the least. I have learned more from this book than I have from school in 3 years of non-stop studying. Not only does the book include the standard scientific fact but it is also interlaced with many other hard to read messages and opinions. Unlike the Bill Bryson novel I have reviewed some time ago it does not feel like a novel with story. It is more of a textbook with smaller letters and no pictures. Ok, maybe there are some images in the middle but they do not correlate with the rest of the story, if I can even call it such.

As science books go this one had a clever twist to it. From the Big Bang it described every millionth of a second in astounding detail. The authors try to reconcile two of the most incompatible branches of physics: quantum mechanics and general relativity. Although I do not know these theories in much detail I have a gist of it. By the looks of it I still have much to learn. Another great point that the book makes is antimatter. Each particle of ordinary matter contains a antimatter particle. Both of these particle destroy themselves leaving behind nothing but photons. Thankfully, there are about a millionth of a percent more ordinary matter. This makes the universe the way it is. The concept and discovery of CBR (Cosmic Background Radiation) is also one of my personal favorites.

 "The tone is informational, aimed at high clarity, and laced with giddy humor. The authors continually refer to the reach and limits of science, explaining, as they offer a chronological tour of cosmic history, just what they think science can tell us and what it can't (as they end the journey, focusing on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, they deliver several sharp blows to true believers of UFOs). "
The above extract is from the publisher's own description of the book. The first sentence in itself is aimed for marketing purposes since it is completely and outrageously untrue. The giddy humor is what made me start laughing in the first place. Good job publisher! The next part is somewhat true even though I have not reached the end of the book, so I don't know if they do make a convincing statement about aliens. I will not read to find out. On a positive note, the authors do find the perfect balance in shaping the enormity that is the universe and how it was formed.

I am terribly sorry that this post is so short I will try to make up for it next time. This book has been an interesting reading experiment but I would not recommend it to anybody. Buy at your own expense and displeasure. Although if you are a rocket scientist this will probably be the book for you. If not stick to what works. Mags.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

20th Post Anniversary: Facebook - Genius or Disaster?

For me, it was quite an enlightening trip. I saw things that I never expected to see in my lifetime. After such a large break devoid of writing I have been itching to make a new post as soon as possible. And what better way to return than to an anniversary? Well I'm not sure whether 20 is such an important number but it is for me. I started this blog on the 12th of January this year and I have had quite a positive feedback. What I wrote during these 9 months and even during my examinations continues to astound me in a positive way of course. But enough flashbacks, its time for what you came here to read.

A year ago, is probably the time when Facebook took over my life. It started the way it always starts. Slow. My colleagues were talking about it, telling me that everyone already had an account. I tried to avoid the peer pressure but with no luck. A few days later I had an account with all my personal information on it. This, it seems, is the main problem that the executives at Facebook have to deal with. It so easy for strangers to find your profile, learn your name and see your personal photos. In an attempt to solve the problem, privacy options were made available. Although this secured most accounts from identity theft, it did not prove to be the solution. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook has continually appealed to users about fixing the site's mistakes. Even though some users continually have strangers commenting on their profile photos they continue to be oblivious to it. 500 million people are using Facebook worldwide. That, my friends, is almost twice the population of the United States. Most of these people use it an average of 3 hours per day. The biggest proble is teenagers such as myself. They spend more time on Facebook these days than outside of the house. I thank God that I came to my senses.

I cannot argue about the positive points that Facebook developed during it's 6 year life. Connecting people across the world from China to Brasil. Wherever you are, at any time, you can always find people to talk to and share your experiences. There is a huge risk in that but people have been aware of it ever since the World Wide Web came into existence. People are not what they seem over the Internet.

However if you mull it over Facebook has not introduced much in the way of new things. It has just grouped many of the services that have been available on the internet  for some time in one single place. MSN was the first in the way of almost instantaneous chat. MySpace had been founded a year before Facebook was although it is now less popular than the latter. I always wondered what the difference between the two is. I'll probably never find out.

Spend too much time on Facebook - and this is what

What I found most addictive was probably the flash games that are available free of charge to every user. These would-be mmo's include Farmville, MafiaWars, Cafeville and many others that are known to all the readers. Just as 500 million other people I got myself addicted to these games. I simply could not stop playing them even though many people such as my parents told me there were dumb. And they were right though I did not realize it at the time.

And it stayed this way for 4 months. For all that time I did not even make a single attempt to restrict my time on the website. Finally on the fateful day of Christmas my parents made me close my account.It was quite painful and almost impossible to do. Such a simple task requires you to click about one thousand ACCEPT and two million ARE YOU SURE? YES!! Quite a mystery why registering is a much easier process hmm?

So is Facebook good or bad? I'll let you decide dear reader. All of you are probably already registered so I plead with you to restrict the time you check your status or the time you spend 'poking' someone. Do it for your well-being.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How It Works: Oil Formation And Why It's So Important

It seems that I'm stuck at oil for a while there is so much about it to cover. Probably what most people are asking themselves when they see gas prices go up is : "Where does oil come from?" OK, to be absolutely truthful they probably yell : "Why the hell did the price go up again?!" This applies to all people around the globe especially Americans who guzzle oil like they do soft drinks. All over the world oil prices are rising and we can do nothing to stop it. Most of the oil available commercially is found in Middle Eastern countries where civil wars and terror have shifted the benefit of such a resource to a precious few. Some oil is already being extracted in Alaska as well as the Atlantic Ocean though this is not enough to satisfy the consumer demand of even the United States much less Europe. Oil has been fought over in many wars and will not be forgotten in future international conflicts, an example being the Gulf War and Desert Storm.

"Crude oil (petroleum) forms when carbon-rich organisms die and get compressed within an oxygen-starved environment over millions of years"
The official explanation of how oil is formed. Probably the most important thing that we need to remind ourselves from this statement is "over millions of years". At the rate which we are currently consuming oil-based products scientists estimate that they will run out in the next 60-80 years. Although this an opinion of only a few since new sources of oil are being discovered around the globe everyday. I'd estimate the real value at around 200 years even if our consumption increases exponentially. We just need to dig deep enough. Of course coal and natural gas are two other polluting substitutes there are not so efficient in their exothermic reactions. Petrol is composed from 83% carbon, 12% hydrogen  as well as from many other elements though in much smaller amounts. This makes oil a hydrocarbon meaning it can be burnt to release energy in the form of heat which can heat water to turn turbines generating electricity.

 Under the seabed plankton and other dead organisms are compressed into sediment under extreme pressure. After a large number of complex chemical reactions the lighter molecules form natural gas and the heavier ones: liquid petroleum.This oil is then extracted and refined for use in generators and vehicles. Of course a much complex process is involved in the making of petroleum but in this post I'm just covering the basics. Trust me when I say that nothing is more important in the modern era than oil. Many international powers such as Russia and China are emerging as the highest producers of oil even larger than Middle Eastern countries. We shall see what the future holds in store for us in terms of power production. We shall see.

Its off to the States for me tomorrow! I will try to procure some interesting magazines so that I may extend my ring of scientific knowledge even further.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How It Works: Cleaning up an Oil Spill (Deepwater Horizon)

Whatever way we think about it oil is damaging to the environment. Sure when its underground, buried beneath thousands of layers of sand, nature tends to ignore it but when it is above the earth things get a little shaky. The largest companies in the world have made their fortune through the extraction and refining of petroleum ( from the latin petra rock + oleum oil). This viscous liquid is considered to be the most important natural element in the post-modern era. Without it electricity production would fall by 70%, petrol for vehicles would be virtually inexistent and we would fall back to the 19th century in terms of power consumption. Nuclear power is thought to be the only substitute power source that might be able to, in a few decades, compete with petroleum. What we are here to discuss however is the careless way with which these firms treat our precious resource. Although each company clearly states that it has imposed severe rules over the handling of oil over land and sea, disasters of the largest proportions have continuously happened in recent industrial history. 

During the Gulf War up to 460 million gallons of oil were deliberately spilled by the Iraqi army in Kuwait. In 1989 around 40 thousand tonnes were lost as the Exxon Valdez hit the coast of Alaska. And of course the most recent one, Deepwater Horizon. It is the largest accidental oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. On the 20th of April 2010 a massive explosion was seen on the oil rig and a quick response team was sent to assess the damage. Over the course of the next few months the oil slick spread to cover an area of 2,500 square miles. The company responsible for it , BP, was rightly persecuted and are still today attempting to contain the damage. A number of methods used to reverse the spill include: containment and skimming (Booms, vacuum skimmers and curtains), sorbents that do not dissolve in water and can be scooped up mechanicaly and biological agents (natural biodegradation of oil).
 "Flammable toxic oil can gush out and combust, resulting in a massive fireball" 

The effects of such a spill are both widespread and terrifying to say the least. The tourist industry in the affected area will fall dramatically, the impact on wildlife will be catastrophic and the economical disadvantages will tear the commercial world apart due to higher prices and low availability of oil. BP will have to work as hard as they can to get such a spill under control if they ever want to regain the trust of their shareholders and customers. And of course to return the environment to its original state - oil-free.

 UPDATE: As I glanced through this post a second time I realized that I have fallen pray to what many journalists and speakers called bias. I completely disregarded another fundamental article about this matter. I don't remember from which mag it was but it went against everything that I have stated in this post. Supposedly almost no environmental damage was caused upon the Mexican Gulf. I will have to remember to be more thorough next time.


On a side note, I have just ended my sojourn to Poland where I spent a marvelous time with my friends and family. This mag that I brought in Frankfurt airport is one of my best so far. Count on more posts from the same mag soon. Some new features have been added to the website and its general performance level has been updated. I will post another entry on Tuesday and then I will depart for another voyage to the United States. So long!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Knowledge & Life Continued: Floods in Pictures

Many times throughout our lives we have in contact with water. Our body physicly and chemicly depends on water for lubrification, as a substrate for chemical reactions and during the metabolic processes. Metaphorically speaking the human shell contains as much as 40 litres of water (applied to a regular male at ideal mass according to height). Water has provided a source of food and hygiene for generations. In some places in the world water is so scarce mothers are forced to give up drinking water to save their children's lives from dehydration. However water in unamiganably large quantities can be a great hazard for life as we know it. A flood according to wikipedia is an overflow of an expanse of water that submerges land. This is one of the most common natural disasters all over the world, sometimes bringing benefits when small and localized but mostly submerging land, buildings and people. In the last decade floods have affecte 1.5 billion people which is quite a heavy amount.
What follows below in my first photography post is the most deadliest and famous floods of all time. The horrors and losses that these innocent people experienced and dealt with is quite frankly beyond me.

Madeira, Portugal February 2010
Yizhou, Guangxi Zhuang, China June 2008
St.Louis USA August 1993

Machu Picchu, Peru January 2010
Jakarta, Indonesia February 2007

Des Moines, USA June 2008

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Knowledge & Life: The Temple Of Wind

This post is coming to you directly from my grandparent's cottage in the middle of nowhere. The Internet is so slow that I have to wait for the text I write to appear on the screen. It is quite extraodinary how such slow internet connections still exist, in a world as technoligically advanced as our own. But to more important matters... I recently picked up a polish science mag to experience their views on today's science.  I was not surprised to see that they as BBC Focus before them also believe in false promises of scientific endevours. I shall translate as best I can. Also forgive my spelling errors, there is no spellcheck on this computer and no author finds all his mistakes. I shall try to show you these childish scientific promises one by one. 

Wind. Earth. Sea. Sun. All of these are interconnected forces of nature that make our world turn around. Without them there would be no life. We depend upon them. They serve us and we them. I plan to make a series of posts about these powers. Today I shall start with wind...

"By the year 2020 one fifth of the electrical energy consumed by euro citizens will come from renewable sources"

How wonderful and lovely does this sound now doesn't it? Of course if we follow our recent history of energy consumption (first decade of the 21st century) we realize that this plan is doomed to fail. Not only are we increasing our renewable energy too slowly, we are also increasing our fossil fuel consumption far too much.

However, back to wind energy. You have probably already seen those bright white turbines that are scattered throughout the countryside. Although many people think of them as nuisances I quite like the look of them while driving through the monotonously green rural areas. Well nowadays these wind farms are also present at sea. Norway it seems has big plans for these turbines as they seek to build as many of them as they can across their vast and quite windy coastline. A good idea one might say. But let's take a closer look. Wind turbines have so far proven to be very costly ventures both due to the building cost and their low power output. Well from where do these funds come from? From the cheap source of oil located in the Norwegian sea. They even say this in the article. How do they hope to achieve green energies if they still depend on the old ones? It's another paradox.

If the Norwegian plan  comes to fruition (very unlikely but possible, governments still give big funding to such projects so anything may happen) the total amount of power that Norway will benefit from amounts to: 329Mw.
Enough to power 120 thousand households. That may seem much in Norway but not in countries like the U.S. where 120,000 households is a small city. Whatever way you put it, wind energy will not be the ultimate power source that will be present in the future. It will be somewhere in the shadows outshined by nuclear and fossil fuel power. No miracles, just simple reality.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BBC Focus: The "Would-be" Future Investigated

So, I'm back again (finally...) to writing, after another long delay which I cannot properly explain. But let's not dwell on the past, which is kind of ironic since this post will be about a magazine that was published a year ago. Whilst reading this mag again after a year, I noticed that not a single announced invention ( such as an universal charger compatible for all types of phones) was available commercially nowadays. This strikes as one more proof that after the great boom in technologies (20th century: internet, television etc.), our civilization has become stagnant, too enveloped in developing known devices instead of thinking outside the box. 

Who needs a new and revised version of an iPhone for the 4th time? (http://www.apple.com/iphone/) Who will pay the extra 200 dollars for a slightly larger screen, a better video camera and graphics? The impulsive buyer that's who. Those who spend money on the "newest" devices with only fashion in their minds who will throw these electronics away as soon as a more flashier model was available. I have tried through my whole life not to become one of these people. Never have I bought a product on its official release date. Even if a product becomes obsolete in its primary functions (which is happening quite regularly in the 21st Century), I always try to find a secondary use for it.  I admit that I did buy an iPod Touch as soon as it came out. I do however mark this as an exception. For me the iPod Touch is one of the greatest inventions in the last decade even if it is a commercialized product with a very high retail price. However it is of the utmost importance that this is regarded as an exception. Most of the laptops and hand-helds being released nowadays are almost and I stress the word almost exact copies those available a month or year ago. Large companies and multi-nationals have been quite effective for some time in promoting their products through various advertising techniques which attract the higher income consumers very easily.

Further on I read something that amazes me still : 
"Work has begun on Spaceport America, the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport. The facility is being built in the New Mexico desert and work is due to be completed in 18 months time"
 It was hard for me to believe thiswas actually true a year ago but I accepted it blindly. And now, it's been 12 months and I have not heard, seen or read a single word about this proposed spaceport. Just to be clear, I read a lot of different news magazines so I am sure that I did not miss it.

One of my favorites however must be the solar powered airplane: 
"A team of european engineers are taking a completely different approach to aircraft pollution by designing a plane that can fly day and night using only solar power"
 The idea was very positive and full of merits. While reading I wished them all the best luck. It also said that in 2010 the first test flight would be conducted. Another bit of news that probably slipped the papers.

From where do all these projects come and to where do they go after being announced? Most likely they get cancelled because of financial problems or the magazine itself may be reporting a project that is still in its planning stages unaware that some readers such as myself will remember the edition a year later. All in all I have discovered a valuable piece of information from this magazine. Do not trust every single article in every single science review. You do however have to trust my view on science.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BBC Focus: The World's Greatest Paradoxes

I'm all tired out from my exams. Although I had to study for 3 months straight, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Not everyone could keep to the books throughout such a long period and then benefit from it. At least, I hope the results will be good! As much as I'd love to keep on talking about this, I have a post to do, so I'll get on with it.

What in fact is a paragraph? According to Wikipedia, my primary source of information in the Internet, a paradox is a statement or group of statements that leads to a contradiction or a situation which defies intuition. Yes, quite an adequate definition in my opinion. A paradox can be both right and wrong depending on how you look at it. A classic example is the Liar's paradox which involves the use of the statement: "This sentence is false". If this statement is considered true then it is also false. It does require a higher level of thinking, probably philosophical but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. 

Focus however, has a much less deep view of paradoxes. Most of those described affect our daily lives. The most interesting one of all is Murphy's law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". Haven't we all heard it's effects: if toast tumbles off a table, will it fall butter-side down? Although we can try to make an experiment out of this (not recommended during breakfast if you're hungry) the law itself cannot be proven. If the process of proving the law can go wrong then it will go wrong meaning we can never assume that it is either wrong or right. I still cannot believe that I'm able to think so philosophically. Amazing really...

Some other paradoxes are right in front of us even though we don't realize it. If for example a government builds more roads to ease traffic congestion, it will in fact increase it. As taxes increase, the less money a government receives. And most mysteriously of all less complex organisms such as the amoeba have 100 times the DNA that we humans possess!

All these and many more intricate paradoxes await us in the 21st century. As the human race grows and develops we can expect many more unanswerable questions and doubts lying in wait. Times are changing. Technology is evolving faster than ever before in human history. It is only natural that some things remain in the shadows waiting for the right moment to be discovered.

Robert Matthews

Friday, April 9, 2010

TIME: The Perils of Plastic

I'm sure that right about now all you Apple haters are expecting another rant about the iPad that came out this week. All in due time my friends. Today however I'm bringing you quite an interesting bit of reading about the dangers of plastic. "Plastic? How can it be in any way harmful?" you say. Prepare to be amazed dear reader.

The chemicals in plastic, as well as in many industrial man-made products, have been a nuisance to many scientists over the decades. Studies that were made concerning the contaminated plastics found that the quantities that were present in the many food packagings and containers were not high enough to pose a problem. Not anymore. A host of modern illnesses have been tied to plastics: obesity, diabetes, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among many others.

During recent years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been making many failed attempts at preventing chemicals in plastic from reaching the world population only managing to restrict a small percentage of them. The most dangerous substances by far are bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates( present in Polyvinyl chloride) which may affect the endocrine system by mimicking or changing the concentration of hormones, which are powerful chemical messengers capable of initiating long-term effects such as growth.

"It's not the environment that's contaminated so much, it's us"  Dr. Bruce Lanphear, director of the Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health Center

For example, not so long ago, scientists learned that the safe limit for lead levels, which can directly reduce IQ, is much lower than other studies have shown. Another example is BPA which has been found to be present in 93% of the modern world population. The problem is that BPA is a synthetic estrogen which can influence the production of adrenaline or testosterone in the human body causing numerous changes in behaviour and appearance. These chemicals not only affect our own bodies but our future generations as well. Children are much more susceptible to disease due to their growth.

All in all, it has been shown that we can no longer ignore the danger of plastic. The EPA has been slow to implement successful strategies for the banning of the chemicals, but progress has been slow. A worldwide consensus must be reached if we are ever going to manage this potential a,nd at the same time, quite real threat to our health. "There'll be a day in the future when all chemistry is going to be green," I and many others are probably asking: When?

By Bryan Walsh Thursday, Apr. 01, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TIME: Anxiety of Influence

DNA. The final frontier. In 1953 James D. Watson and Francis Crick suggested what is now accepted as the first correct double-helix model of DNA structure. Their double-helix, molecular model of DNA was then based on a single X-ray diffraction image. Deoxyribonucleic acid makes up all the characteristics in our body from our height to the color of our eyes.

All our offspring carry genetic information from both parents: half each actually. However it does seem to many people that children more from one parent than the other. Such is the case in this article. What intrigued me most while reading was a genetic-serving service, that takes your spit and from it tells you your genetic makeup. You may discover some very curious things about yourself: how sensitive you are to pain, how high your IQ is etc.

Although my father believes these tests are a miracle of God, I, personally don't believe in them as much. They do seem to help in the long-run: they may tell if you can develop cancer before it actually starts developing. However, I'll reserve my judgment until it is publicly employed.

The text in itself is quite humorous with well-structured arguments both against and for these tests. I will always read Joel Stein's articles from now on. Throughout it he used his own experiences to describe the spit tests. I will end this post with funniest thing I have ever read in TIME :

"Too bad there's no gene for awesomeness" Joel Stein

Friday, March 19, 2010

Time: Generation Next

Have we ever wondered why our elder are so slow at operating and successfully using an computer or iPhone? Why do they seem to know more than us in terms of scientifical knowledge but less in technological terms? 
The gap between the elders and the youngsters is diminishing: more and more old adults are becoming technologically aware, for example 1 in 3 adults in the U.S always carries an iPod on his person. Young and old adults are now more than ever in recorded history extremely alike: they dress the same, they listen to the same music etc.
"They [millennials] are the most likely of any generation to think technology unites people rather than isolates them, that it is primarily a means of connection, not competition."
Will this rapid decrease in the differential gap between elders and millenials (as the youngsters of 2000 millennium are being called) aid the development and constant upheaval of society as we know it? It is because of the influence of millennials that we will observe the emergence of new ideas and technologies unlike anything that was previously seen during the 80's and 70's. Young people are now more educated, more diverse, more optimistic and unfortunately  less likely to have a job than previous generations due to the increase in expectations.

When asked about their goals in life, they weren't so much different than the generation before them: being a good parent, having a successful marriage. However they are much more politically progressive than their elders: they may support gay marriage, something unthinkable during the early 50's. 1 in 4 millennials shows no religious affiliation at all while the other 3 probably don't practice their religion very often.
What I believe is their most important characteristic is their ability of hopefulness. That is the greatest divide between the two ages. The millennials show an uncanny ability for diversification and for working as a team unlike their earlier generations which focused more on personal success and gain rather than on the advantage for the society as a whole. This is the most important factor for the future, if we want to survive any coming disasters or bridge any gaps in our way. We need youth.

Next Generation by Nancy Gibbs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

It has been some time since I wrote a post so I thought I'd start out with a little something I have been reading for some time now. Bill Bryson's book is everything that one could hope for: a simplified and exemplary sort of encyclopedia of all that is and was science. From the Big Bang to tiny quarks and electrons the book describes and explains it all, using a clear method to make it more accessible to the general public.

The book was an instant bestseller either due to the simplified language or the success of Bill Bryson's other creations including The Lost Continent and Notes from a Small Island. Bill Bryson wrote this book because he was dissatisfied with his scientific knowledge, mostly due to boring and uninteresting lessons at school. He sought to improve this knowledge for himself and for the whole world by use of this book.

For me this story of science has been a magnificent travel through space and time, something that Bryson was born for. It creates an atmosphere of interest and discontent among its readers due to their ignorance for the basic facts of science and of life itself. A short history provides a cure for such ignorance accompanied with a humorous yet factual style of writing that only Bill Bryson can provide.

"It was as if [the textbook writer] wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable."
Bryson, on the state of science books used within his school.
 In my opinion, the book has been an interesting read either because of its ground-breaking writing or due to its scientific facts accompanied with soapy stories of Bill Bryson's past. However I will not attempt to force this book on anyone with a short attention span. Trust me, even I have dozed off when reading it sometimes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

New Scientist: Friendly bacteria keep your skin's defences in check

Bacteria are, and have always been, considered unpleasant. Bacteria live on the whole Earth: from the blizzards of Antarctica to the rainforest's of the Amazon. They cause a number of number of diseases including tuberculosis and pneumonia. It is not a wonder why they are despised and eradicated by us, humans. However we may have just found a 'friendly' bacteria living very close to you... That's right, on your skin.

These bacteria play a vital role in regulating inflammation triggered by injury and unwanted bacteria. This means that when we apply soap or any other moisturizing cream we not only remove damaging bacteria but helpful bacteria as well.  The study of these bacteria found that one molecule stopped skin cells from releasing chemicals that trigger inflammation. "Lipoteichoic acid" as the bacteria is called causes the human immune system to react quickly to the threat of enemy bacteria.

This helpful protection does not occur only on the skin:
"In the gut, friendly bacteria control inflammation, while in the mouth they may kill strains that cause decay and halitosis" 
I, of course, was one of those ignorants who believed that bacteria are all bad. Well, this article has cleared my mind of that. The next time you think of scraping yourself clean of all bacteria, think again, some of those bacteria will save your life.
23 November 2009 by Linda Geddes
Magazine issue 2736.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tech Review: Apple's vision of the future

What must it be like to work at Apple? A well-payed job that's for sure, but at what mental cost? Apple has become the leading innovator when it comes to technological advancement. The iPhone is just the icing on the cake. The company has clearly revolutionized the concept of the portable computer, music player and much more.

However, in my most humble opinion, Apple's latest invention, the iPad, is a complete opposite of what I was expecting from the foremost expert on technological innovations. The iPad is basically a bigger version of the iPod Touch: the screen is much bigger (9.7 inches). Apart from this the iPad is no "tablet savior" of any kind. Features that have already been associated with the iPod are all present and accounted for: WiFi (models only shipping in March!), Music player, video viewer, accelerometer, app store and of course the touch screen.  Please Mr. Jobs the touch screen has been around for more than 3 years! I expected something bigger.

The only new addition that Apple has come up with the iBooks which is essentially the App Store but for books. However, unlike most other eBook readers ( Kindle by Amazon, the Sony eReader) you cannot transfer books from your computer, you can only buy them from iBooks. Each book is retailed for $12.99! This a huge price when compared with paper books that not only sell for 1-15 dollars at most on Amazon.com, they also don't damage your eyes.
" The stripped down 16-gigabyte model starts at $499; the biggest iPad holds 64 gigabytes and costs $829"
 I love the first statement on the Apple website about the iPad: "With a revolutionary, 9.7 inch touch screen, and amazing new apps, it does things no tablet PC, netbook, or e-reader could." What "things" Apple?! Does it provide a better Internet surfing, movie viewing, book reading or music hearing experience than other competitor brands? They haven't proved it to me yet.

Of course not all is bad about the iPad. It does give you many features on one single device, rather than having an mp3 player, a dvd player, a laptop and an ereader. I also like the idea of app games on the iPad. With its big screen it can be home to a number of different family games.

With a new decade looming ahead I believe that Apple will have to rethink its marketing strategies if it wants to continue to maintain its overall economical superiority over its competitors.


Friday, January 29, 2010

New Scientist: Stem cell debut set for 2010

Stem cells. You've probably heard about them sometime or another. It is one of the most controversially discussed topics in recent years. It's protests range from religious to ethical grounds. Should stem cells grown from human embryonic stem cells be used to cure various diseases by producing new tissue in dead cells? I was quite divided over the topic, what with all the pro's and con's flying about. This article however has completely refreshed my mind when it comes to the possibilities of stem cells.
"Human embryonic stem cells are unique in their ability to grow into all 200 types of human tissue."
There have been many hurdles in the progress of stem cell research mostly due to cut funds, though most developed countries continue to have their program up and running. The most dire problem with inserting stem cells into a human body is it's unpredictable versatility.

If a few hESC's (stem cells) failed to differenciate between the desired tissue and healthy tissues the cell may disrupt the body's processes and even cause cancer.
Quite recently the FDA ( U.S. Food and Drug Administration) won the approval of using stem cells to treat rare eye conditions, spinal cord injuries, diabetes (by turning stem cells into insulin-producing beta cells), heart and coronary artery problems and even to produce new skin for people with burns and scars.
All these disease and injuries could be cured in an instant with stem cells. Although some of these treatments are still to be perfected and approved some have already been tested on human subjects with progressive results such as in Advance Cell Technology of Worchester, Massachussets.
However in matters as dangerous and sensitive as these safety is of the utmost importance.
"Safety issues, while still there, are tractable." Alan Colman, Institute of Medical Biology in Singapore
25 November 2009 by  Andy Coghlan
Magazine issue 2736.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Audio Review: The Naked Scientists

I recently browsed through some of the free podcasts available on iTunes and this one caught my eye... or ear in this case. The Naked Scientists is a very fun and easy to listen podcast which provides insightful and resourceful knowledge in a new way. Solely through the power of hearing, the cast of the Naked Scientists answer such ill-ridden and "never-thought of that" questions that they make listeners (or in this case, me) hang onto their every word.

Does farting make you weigh less?Can we create artificial nerve signals?, Do all satellites around a planet, star, etc orbit in the same direction? If so, why?
These are only some of the questions being asked and answered on the show. I myself am intrigued every time I hear an out of this world question that is easily answered by one of the "naked scientists".
Another interesting part of the podcast is Kitchen Science. This consists of scientific experiments with real meaning that may be conducted in your own home. Examples of this include: Melting Ice with Salt and Build your own helicopter guide.

The cast of the "Naked Scientists" are fun and humorous especially when they are in the middle of a Kitchen Science experiment.
I would definetly recommend this podcast to anyone interested in rarely asked scientific research and of course an open mind. I try to be as open-minded as possible but I must admit the science does sometimes make me... doze...off...

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Scientist: The Calorie Delusion

For years I have tried to decipher the calorie enigma. People always talk about calories: how much that burger you're eating has, their daily intake and the most important thing of all - how to reduce the number of calories per food. At this point you should probably concentrate on eating rather than listening.

This article does clarify on how different foods have different amounts of calories as all calorie articles should. However it the text tells us that " calorie estimates on food labels are based on flawed and outdated science and provide misleading information..." Who would have thought? Rejoice all you diet freaks who think that just one calorie over the daily intake will kill them.

"Some food labels may over or underestimate this figure by as much as 25 per cent..." The old way of calculating the energy given to the body by foods was developed in the late 19th century. The cehmist in charge, Wilbur Olin Atwater, calculated the energy content of various foods by burning them and measuring how much heat energy was given out. Atwater then calculated the amount of energy lost as undigested food in faeces, and as chemical energy in the form of urea, ammonia and organic acids found in urine, and then he subtracted these figures from the total. This gave him some approximate values known as the metabolisable energy.

This method has now been proved wrong. Three new factors have now been added to the equation: Texture, Type of Sugar and Cooking. Let's compare two foods: a granola bar and a brownie. The granola proves more difficult to chew so it uses up more energy to be digested than a brownie. The brownie contains refined sugars and flour which is much easier to break down than complex carbohydrates in the granola bar.
Of course we will not be able to use this example for cooking so let's take another one: a steak. If the meat is ground and cooked it will digested easily by the organism unlike raw and intact meat.

From all this we can put in perspective the amount of changes in the nutrition facts of every product. According to The UN Food and Organization (FAO) "the problems and burdens ensuing from such a change would appear to outweigh by far the benefits". Next time you think of having that steak well-done, think again. You might just save a bit of calories.

15 July 2009 by Bijal Trivedi
Magazine issue 2717.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BBC News: Life in extreme cold around the world

Due to the recent record breaking low temperatures around the globe (mostly in Norway where thermometers recorded an all-time low of -45ºC), I have decided to search the Internet for more ground-breaking temperatures. BBC provided me with the best possible article filled with unimaginable records.

The lowest temperature ever recorded has been in Vostok, Antarctica : -89.2ºC. Of course no one lives there so how and why this temperature was recorded is a mystery.
Most interestingly however there is a populated village (Oymyakon, Russia) with an average winter temperature of -45ºC. Schools only shut down when temperatures are below -50ºC. The English should be ashamed of closing schools when there is a large snowfall or -20ºC outside. According to the article, glasses cannot be worn outside as they freeze to your skin forever. I don't know why people would live there.

Nearby there is actually a large population center: Yakutsk which possess two airports, an university and several schools. Its average is about -40ºC. Of course these temperatures are not restricted to Russia. In the Western hemisphere temperatures are not too shabby either. International Falls, Minnesota has a mean yearly temperature of 0ºC. It has been considered the coldest city in the Americas.

I however do not have any experience with such matters (Here in Portugal people are shocked when temperatures reach 0ºC). However I will say this: next time you find that your car's windshield has frozen or that your best route to work is closed because of snowfall, be happy. At least your glasses haven't glued to your nose.