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.