Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Scientist: I am Legion

Microbes make you who you are today. Down to the last cell of your whole body. I found that hard to believe so I read on. It seems that germs, which we believe are the cause of many diseases and infections, are not our enemies after all. They do in fact, shape our physical and mental development. A single human being is a large ecosystem for the bacteria and other microbes which function according to its conditions. This may be an explanation as to why sometimes, germs actually cause symptoms that may seem like a disease which may in actual fact be just a misunderstanding of species since each has a specific niche in the environment.

The most prevalent bacteria are in our gut known as E.Coli. They hydrolyse several carbohydrates and proteins so they can be absorbed by the body and in turn receive their own specific nutrients. This is defined as mutualism or a symbiotic relationship of sorts. The average human is home to 100 trillion microbes. Mostly harmless bacteria but it is still a large number.They outnumber your own cells 10 to 1 mostly due to human cells being much larger due to being eukaryotic. It may also be possible that different strains of bacteria develop in different human beings due to variations in diet and lifestyle in general. Of course we must also take into account that the immune system must be able to distinguish between between our own microbes and foreign ones. This must mean that we have it built into our would-be programming to recognize particular microbes and reject others.

This new knowledge may change the way we think of infectious diseases as well the microbes which cause them. We must be extra vigilante to recognize this particular difference.

It seems that New Scientist has now instituted a login and password to read their articles so I urge all of you to make an account there.

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Scientist: Beam Riders

The dream of making space commercially attractive has been on the minds of many investors over the years. Space hotels, mining operations on the moon, all of it can become economically viable if lasers and microwaves come into action. Usually it takes a large amount of oxidant and fuel to bring a rocket to escape velocity thus increasing the costs ten-fold. And the cost per kilo of cargo is enormous over 10k dollars. In order to reduce these costs beamed propulsion is the key.

Two different theories have been developed and even put into practice small scale to solve this problem. The first one involves a heat exchanger which uses microwaves or lasers to trap their energy. This is then converted to kinetic energy as the hydrogen atoms inside the tank expand rapidly and escape through the exhaust. By using this method the speed of the rocket increases exponentially(from 4400 meters per second to 7000) and the weight decreases as well. The best of both worlds. However there are still some disadvantages to this particular method. Any beam is diffracted by air as the distance from the source increases. The longer the wavelength the worse the effect. To counteract this the wavelength must be very small and the dish used for the laser very large.

The second way is to use a "lightcraft" that is much much smaller than all types of rockets and creates a plasma of superheated plasma to fly. The trick of this vessel is that it uses the surrounding air as fuel as it travels only requiring an internal fuel tank for its last jump. I won't go into much more detail because I don't understand some of it myself, so let's just say that both require ground laser to function.

As we can see the amounts of new ideas and theories that surround our world is enormous. Whoever said that the modern age is a stagnant age should really read this article and reflect on their opinion. And our dreams of sending our children to space may not be so far away as we think.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

New Scientist: Covert Fragmentation helps embed secrets

Encryption has always been the most important way of hiding all type of data either on servers or on your own computer. However these encryptions are becoming old news. Most hackers notice the encrypted files due to the completely random information they portray. As Hassan Khan of the University of Los Angeles says: It's a dead giveaway. New methods are now being developed that involve hiding information in plain sight, in other words, altering the position where the hidden file is not its contents. A hard drive stores data in chunks known as clusters where space is available. Form what I understand the code depends on sequential clusters, meaning the way the clusters are arranged. The coding also depends on whether the clusters are adjacent to each other or not assigning each of them a binary 0 or 1.

The most interesting aspect of this type of fragmentation is that an investigator cannot distinguish between the coding and the deletion and addition of files which cause the same effect on the clusters. The use of steganography (hiding in plain sight) will be open source which leads me to believe that it has been in the hands of military and intelligence agencies for some time. This means that there are ways to hack it otherwise they would not have released it to the public so easily.

It's been a long long time since I last posted something on the blog. I have had an immense amount of school work that has taken up most of my time. Now, with exams coming up I wanted to make this one last post before they start.