Civilization Narrowly Misses being Knocked Into Dark Ages

In 2012 a massive solar flare, or coronal mass ejection (CME), narrowly missed Earth. Just one week sooner and we would have been square in the path:Magnificent_CME_Erupts_on_the_Sun_-_August_31

The power of this ejection would have raced across space to knock us back to the Dark Ages. It’s believed a direct CME hit would have the potential to wipe out communication networks, GPS and electrical grids to cause widespread blackout. The article goes on to say it would disable “everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.” …

“According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.”

Whew! No worries now, right? Not exactly:

Physicist Pete Riley, who published a paper titled “On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events,” has calculated the odds of a solar storm strong enough to disrupt our lives in the next 10 years is 12 percent.

“Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct,” says Riley. “It is a sobering figure.”

However, the CME that almost battered us was a bit of a freak occurrence as it was actually two ejections within 10 minutes of each other, plus a previous CME had happened four days earlier to effectively clear the path.

Sleep well, everyone.

I think not. How many times do we ignore threats and hope it doesn’t hit us?

Time to spend some of that money they keep printing on job-creating infrastructure improvements, don’t you think?


Posted July 27th, 2014 Filed in Science & Technology

The Shrinking Great Red Spot of Jupiter

Jupiter’s famed Great Red Spot has long been a defining feature for the gas giant, attracting many an astronomer’s eye and more than a few NASA flybys. But recently, the spot has been shrinking. What was once a huge area almost 25 thousand miles across has shrunk to a bare 10K across.

Obama is making the preservation of the Great Red Spot a pivotal centerpiece in his Climate Change strategy:

What we see happening on Jupiter is nothing short of a cataclysmic change that is just as serious as the retreat of the glaciers and rising of the oceans here on Earth. The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is smaller than at any point in history and the rate of shrinkage is accelerating; it may disappear altogether in as little as 17 years.

Just 400 years ago the Great Red Spot was 40 thousand miles across. Today, it is barely wider than the Earth. We cannot ignore the fact that the spot started shrinking as the industrial revolution began, and that the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that Man produces the faster the Red Spot shrinks.

The fringes of the scientific community have proposed that solar flares are responsible for the heating of the Earth. But it is now apparent that Mankind’s activities are having a devastating effect that extends outside of our own atmosphere. It may very well be that the larger our carbon footprint, the more unstable the sun’s activities, leading to more solar flares and shrinkage of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

No longer is Mankind’s disregard for the environment limited to the Earth. We must end our quest for resource consumption, pursuit of technology and creation of a viable economy in order to save the entire solar system.

Indeed, another case of correlation equating to causation.

Posted May 17th, 2014 Filed in Global Warming, Science & Technology

Genetic Disposition for Liberalism and Other Psychological Disorders

Nature or nurture? A little of both, as it turns out:

By matching genetic information with maps of the subjects’ social networks, the researchers were able to show that people with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults, but only if they had an active social life in adolescence.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter affecting brain processes that control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience pleasure and pain. Previous research has identified a connection between a variant of this gene and novelty-seeking behavior, and this behavior has previously been associated with personality traits related to political liberalism.

Note that an earlier study found that variation of the DRD4 gene correlated with alcoholism, sex addiction and gambling, not to mention attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Further, polymorphism in the gene sequencing of DRD4 is associated with reduced ability to experience disgust as well as a number of other mental disorders:

The DRD4 polymorphism has been studied in association with illnesses like schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive with tics, bipolar manic-depressive disorder, in addition behavioral traits such as novelty seeking. The DRD4 gene is a genetic marker that could play a role in etiology of different mental illness, and behavioral traits, and its polymorphism can be used in association studies, epigenetic and pharmacogenomic analysis for help to understand the genetics basis of both mental disorders and traits.

You can’t argue with science.

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Newt: Support Obama’s NASA Plan

Newt Gingrich and Robert Walker coauthored an article in which they say that “the Obama administration’s budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration deserves strong approval from Republicans.

Reliance on commercial launch services will provide many other benefits. It will open the doors to more people having the opportunity to go to space. It has the potential of creating thousands of new jobs, largely the kind of high-tech work to which our nation should aspire. In the same way the railroads opened the American West, commercial access can open vast new opportunities in space. All of this new activity will expand the space enterprise, and in doing so, will improve the economic competitiveness of our country.

The pair make a strong argument for privatization of parts of the space program. And he’s right — Republicans should support such efforts.

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Posted February 14th, 2010 Filed in Science & Technology, Space Exploration

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

This month is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Consider that:

  • One in every 330 Americans develops cancer before the age of 20.
  • On the average, 36 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer every day in the United States alone.
  • On the average, one in every four elementary schools has a child with cancer. The average high school has two students who are current or former cancer patients.
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the United States.
  • Childhood cancers affect more potential patient-years of life than any other cancer except breast and lung cancer.
  • The causes of most childhood cancers are unknown. At present, childhood cancer cannot be prevented.
  • Childhood cancer occurs regularly, randomly and spares no ethnic group, socioeconomic class, or geographic region. In the United States, the incidence of cancer among adolescents and young adults is increasing at a greater rate than any other age group, except those over 65 years.

Despite these facts, childhood cancer research is vastly and consistently underfunded.

The mission of St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital is to find cures for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Besides being a world class research facility with researchers from over 80 countries, St. Jude treats thousands of children every year. No child is ever denied treatment because of a family’s inability to pay. If insurance doesn’t cover it, St. Jude does.

While great progress has been made increasing the survival rate of childhood cancer patients, there is much, much more to be done.

Consider making a donation to St. Jude.

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Posted September 2nd, 2009 Filed in Science & Technology

400 Years of Telescopes

400 years ago today Galileo demonstrated his telescope to a group of Venetian merchants.

A refinement of models first devised in the Netherlands, Galileo’s slim, brown stick was puny even by the standards of something one might buy in a hobby shop today. But his eight-powered telescope, and the more powerful models he soon produced, when pointed skywards led Galileo to a series of groundbreaking conclusions.

The moon was not, as long believed, completely smooth. Another planet, Jupiter, also had moons. Meanwhile Venus showed a range of moon-like phases, something which could not happen if both it and the sun orbited the Earth.

This latter phenomenon had been predicted by Nicolaus Copernicus when, nearly a century before, he had proposed the notion of a planetary system with the sun at the centre, not the Earth.

HT to Google, whose main-page logo commemorates the event.Technorati Tags: ,

Posted August 25th, 2009 Filed in History, Science & Technology

100 Lessons Learned for Project Managers

The NASA web site lists 128 hints for Project Managers. Although clearly written from a build perspective, all can be generalized to any industry.

There are lessons that most of us have learned the hard way:

  1. A [project] manager who is his own systems engineer or financial manager is one who will probably try to do open heart surgery on himself.

To those that are obvious but bear repeating:

  1. The source of most problems is people but damned if they will admit it. Know the people working on your project, so you know what the real weak spots are.
  2. Most managers succeed on the strength and skill of their staff.

To tips and tricks:

  1. Know who the decision makers on the program are. It may be someone on the outside who has the ear of Congress, or the Administrator, or the Associate Administrator, or one of the scientists — or someone in the chain of command — whoever they are, try to get a line of communication to them on a formal or informal basis.
  1. The amount of reviews and reports are proportional to management’s understanding, i.e., the less management knows or understands the activities, the more it requires reviews and reports. It is necessary in this type of environment to make sure the data is presented so that the average person, slightly familiar with activities, can understand it. Keeping the data simple and clear never insults anyone’s intelligence.

To the obvious but humorous:

  1. Next year is always the year with adequate funding and schedule — next year arrives on the 50th year of your career.
  1. Bastards, gentlemen, and ladies can be project manager. Lost souls, procrastinators, and wishy-washers cannot.

But my favorite has to be:

  1. Make sure everyone knows what the requirements are and understands them. Much easier to say than do. … You have to have the right people look at requirements. A bunch of managers and salesmen nodding agreement to requirements should not make you feel safe.


Hat tip to Timothy M. Rooney, PMP, CPM via a LinkedIn posting.

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Posted April 26th, 2009 Filed in Science & Technology

Lay Off the Artificial Sweeteners

Yet another study, this one performed with an MRI, suggests that even though your mouth can’t taste the difference between Splenda and sugar, your brain can. The study indicates that while the brain’s reward system is activated by the artificial sweetener, it isn’t satiated, leading researchers to theorize that the artificial sweeteners don’t lead to satisfying the craving. Moreover:

Recent research indeed suggests a correlation between artificial sweetener intake and compromised health. In one large survey, diet soda consumption was found to be associated with elevated cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk. A different study reveals a possible mechanism behind this effect: rats that were fed artificially sweetened yogurt in addition to their regular feed ended up eating more and gaining more weight than rats that ate yogurt with real sugar. The study’s authors suggest that exposure to an artificial sweetener may undermine the brain’s ability to track calories and to determine when to stop eating.

Eat (and drink) the real thing.

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Posted June 5th, 2008 Filed in Science & Technology

Green Scorpion

Scorpion SportscarThe little beauty pictured at right is a Scorpion, a 300-horsepower bit of technology that runs on gas and . . . wait for it . . . water.

That’s right, the Scorpion carries a gas tank and a 1½-gallon water tank. An onboard unit splits water molecules and mixes the hydrogen with gasoline to create a 40% hydrogen/60% gasoline mix.

Not only does this unique approach give the vehicle at least 40 miles per gallon, the hydrogen consumes the carbon waste which further reduces emissions.

Although using hydrogen is not new, Ronn Motors is taking a new approach by producing the hydrogen on board, eliminating the need to find a gas/hydrogen station in the neighborhood:

This hydrogen on demand system uses dual computer processor controls to produce hydrogen and induct it through the air intake manifold as required, meaning there is no need for high pressure storage tanks or hydrogen fueling stations, just a small on board water tank. . . .

The Scorpion will feature a hand built carbon fiber body over a chrome-moly chassis powered by an Acura V-Tech, V-6, Type S, 3.5 Liter power-plant with a close ratio six-speed transmission. Highway fuel economy is predicted to be in the 40 mpg range but there will be plenty of power when required – estimated at 289 horse in stock form but with a twin turbo option producing 450 hp. Other design highlight include Lamborghini style doors, carbon fiber center console and steering wheel, paddle shift, Bose audio system and on-board GPS guidance system. For further specs check out the Ronn Motors site.

You can buy one beginning in December for a mere $150,000.

Let’s see, if I get 20 additional miles to the gallon and drive 15,000 miles per year, I’ll make up the difference in price of my current car in just 36.6 years.

Hmmm. I don’t think AlphaWife will go for that one.

Posted June 4th, 2008 Filed in Science & Technology

Bionic Eyes for Everyone!

Electronic contact lensImagine a contact lens with electronic circuitry and light emitting diodes embedded right in the soft, flexible surface.

That’s just what the University of Washington has created.

Applications for this exciting new technology is seemingly unlimited. They are talking about heads up displays for use in everything from manufacturing to combat. Overlay displays to enhance the viewing experience of everything from watching a sporting event to visiting a foreign country("augmented reality").

They’re talking about "bionic eye" capabilities, making it so you can magnify close objects or zoom in on distant events.

But there’s even more:

"There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation," Parviz said. Future improvements will add wireless communication to and from the lens. The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens, Parviz said.

Contact lenses that talk to the computer you are wearing. It’s a brave new world, my friends.

The heck with flying cars. I want a bionic eye!

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Posted January 22nd, 2008 Filed in Science & Technology