Saturday, 21 September 2013

That Adam Savage Video is Online

This is the video of the talk from Adam Savage outlining his rules for success. Yes they are aimed at Makers, but I think the same rules work across the board.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Don't Touch Lizzy, You Don't Know Where She's Been

From New Scientist

Just as the Bank of England announced it was considering phasing in plastic pound notes in 2016 a study announces the fact that some bacteria tend to survive for longer on plastic than other currencies.

Habip Gedik at the Okmeydani Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, placed bacteria such as E.coli on differing currencies (the euro, US dollar, Canadian dollar, Moroccan dirham, Croatian kuna, Romanian leu and Indian rupee) and had volunteers handle these notes. The time between dosing the dosh with bacteria and handling was differed.

The best anti-bacterial notes was the euro, with the U.S money coming up second. The worst was the Romanian leu, with a large amount of bacteria being transferred to the handler after the most amount of time. The Romanian leu is similar to the New Zealand and Australian notes and we should all beware.

Still, it's probably less bacteria than the amount on your keyboard right now.

"I was amazed to see that some currencies act like breeding grounds for bacteria while others seem to be auto-sterilised," says team member Andreas Voss of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Book Review: 'Galileo's Dream' by Kim Stanley Robinson

I finally braved getting this large tome out of my to-read-pile. It's not that it scared me, I have pretty much adored all that I have read of Kim's, it's just that I'm busy researching at the moment and I knew that this would eat up my time and imagination. And it did, but it did not interfere with my work at all. I'm glad I pulled it out. It really was the best book at the best time.

'Galileo's Dream', although being fiction, is 70% biographical. The story is essentially Galileo's life from his work on telescopes up until his death. We see him rise to fame for his mathematical work and his work with telescopes, his writings on the Copernican universe, and his downfall and judgement by the Catholic Church.

Interspersed in this non-fiction are little snippets of fiction that Kim has placed in Galileo's story. Each section fits into the truth so well and mirrors excerpts from Galileo's writing. As to what they involve, well you'll have to read it yourself; but Kim is a science fiction writer at best.

Just like Galileo the book is intelligent and funny with a great amount of detail being given on politics and his everyday life. Each character is unique and you get to experience many wonderful personalities. The imagery in this book is wonderful, sumptuous and beautiful, full of the observations of an early scientist.

At the heart of the story is the story of science and one of it's founding giants, a man who connected what he could see and observe to mathematics, and looked to see if these results were repeatable and consistent. The fiction of the story is a further exploration of science and philosophy which is powerful and a great enough story in itself.

This really is a wonderful work which gives me a great respect for Galileo and has encouraged me to read further into his story and see how much the details in the book are true. Kim has risen to new greats in my respect also. This one one of those rare treasures of a book that spoke volumes to both my mind and my heart. It would definitely be in a top 20 book list of mine and may even make it to a top 10. It deserves all 5 of those elephants.

Book Review: 'My Brief History' by Stephen Hawking

Thanks to and Random House Publishing Group for a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

I have never read  any Hawking before *gasp*, so what a place to start, on his autobiography. Titled 'My Brief History' is really is brief and to the point.

The style of this autobiography is terse, to the point, and mainly about his academic achievements. His children and wives get a brief mention, which is reassuring, with the only other personal story being that of the onset of his disability and the management of it. Which is also brief in comparison to the rest of the story.

I have thought about why this style may have come about and I have several theories, each may play a role. Foremost, he is a scientist, and has given us the facts of his life. There was no embellishment, because scientists don't tend to go for all that touchy-feely stuff.

It takes a lot of effort for Stephen to write. He says explicitly that he manages three or four words per minute using his speech system. This short autobiography translates to many hours of work. Give the guy a break.

He is a private guy, and would prefer not to have all his washing hung out. Although you do get snippets now and then. For instance, when he thought he was dying in the 70s and his children were young, he and his wife decided upon a future father and husband after he was gone. The man that was selected moved in to get better acquainted with the children. Stephen's condition did not go according to what the doctors predicted and months later his marriage was over. It is obvious he did this out of love for his wife and children. It is tragic as to how it turned out.

The closest autobiography in style to this that comes to mind is Roald Dahl's 'Boy' and 'Going Solo'. Both authors give brief tales that are full of facts and not much feelings.

So a nice quick read that gives us a look at the personality and work that the amazing man has done over the last 50 or so years. Just be careful about your expectations of what this autobiography will give you. It will not give you an in depth warts and all account of his whole life. But still well worth the read if you are a fan or a fellow scientist interested in how famous academics live and research. It has given me the inspiration to move his other works up my to-read list.

Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689

2.25 billion light years away lies Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689, a region of the universe thick with dark matter. Each dot and swirl you see in this image is not a star, but a galaxy, 100 billion stars each. 
What is so special about this far away cluster is the amount of globular clusters surrounding these galaxies. Globular clusters are old stars that orbit outside the main region of a galaxy and are thought to be leftovers from galaxy formation. The Milky Way is thought to have about 150 of these regions, but Abell is thought to have 160,000. Why is a good question and it seems to be linked to dark matter. According to NASA: 

"The research team found that the globular clusters are intimately intertwined with dark matter. "In our study of Abell 1689, we show how the relationship between globular clusters and dark matter depends on the distance from the galaxy cluster's center," explained team member Karla Alamo-Martinez of the Center for Radio Astronomy and Astrophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Morelia. "In other words, if you know how many globular clusters are within a certain distance, we can give you an estimate of the amount of dark matter."

From Hubblesite and io9

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Parbuckling of Costa Concordia

Remember the Costa Concordia that run aground in January 2012?

Well this week it's finally getting salvaged. Sounds like a difficult job, and it is even more so due to it's location in the Tuscan Marine Sanctuary, a rare area where dolphins and whales still frolic near the European shoreline. Because of this, the ship cannot be broken up, nor can the tonnes of fuel it carries be let into the environment. Added to this, the vessel is precariously situated upon the edge of a steep underwater slope.

Titan Salvage, the company conducting the operation has already started on an ingenious plan to re-float the vessel. They have built an underwater platform for the ship to be turned over upon and then re floated. The turning over of the ship is scheduled for this week.

Take a look at the plans at the Titan Salvage website.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Kim Stanley Robinson's New Novel

It's on it's way and I'm getting it for my birthday next week.

Instead of the future Kim is going 32,000 years in the past. Instigated by Otzi and visits to the Chauvet caves in France. And featuring Neanderthals.

Van Gogh Painting Found: Confirms Doctor Who Exists in the Real Universe

Remember that wonderful season 5 episode, "Vincent and the Doctor", where the Doctor and Amy visit Van Gogh to discover his mental state was under alien influence? Sounds lame, but it was a highlight episode of the season.

Meanwhile in the real universe (this one), an original Van Gogh has been recovered from sixty years in an attic and recently confirm by experts. "Sunset at Montmajour" was placed by it's owner and collector in his attic in 1908 after being told by an art authority that it was a fake. It turned up in an estate sale in the seventies and has only now been confirmed as a real Van Gogh.

So what does that have to do with Doctor Who? Well remember how the episode features a Van Gogh with the TARDIS? Take a look at the recovered painting.

No that isn't a nearby abbey. That's the TARDIS dammit!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Book Review: 'A Universe From Nothing' by Lawrence M. Krauss

I guess everyone could have predicted that I would give this book 4.5 stars, if not at least agree with it's theories. Being a forthright atheist and scientist I was bound to love this book right? Well that argument could be made, but I refer you to my ratings for other atheist works such as "The God Delusion", which I must admit deserves a reread and possibly an updated higher score in retrospect, and Hitchens' "God is Not Great" which I thought was relatively poorly argued due to being essentially "look at all these bad things that religion makes people do", which anyone with any education will conclude with "no shit Hitch, but what about whether God could and may exist?".

But this book isn't really an atheist agenda, as it only answers the question of how a universe could come into existence from nothing, no energy, no trigger, no cause. This is a question I ask as a scientist an non-believer, but it also gives an answer that happens to contradict most theological thought. Coincidence? Well I guess most theories based upon the observed data over the last few centuries have done this and in effect God has been pushed further and further away until has has been left with the role of the spark. Now Lawrence is taking away that role and it pisses people off.

I guess that even though 95% of this book is purely cosmological with the only agenda is to illuminate, it is hard to not go into a science vs theology argument here as the reviews for this book on, and I would surmise "The God Delusion" follow a similar pattern. 

Poor reviews for this book tend to fit into the categories:
* I did not get it (it was written with too much jargon and with a steep learning curve)
* People who are offended that he had a go at philosophers.
* Religious people who tend to say "While the cosmology was interesting his conclusions were ill-found and the afterword by Richard Dawkins was just offensive."

I guess you could also argue that good reviews tend to be from scientists and atheists.

So despite being one of the best atheist arguments I have read in print, it is not going to achieve any change at all in the religious 'head-in-the-sand' type. If you are religious, don't read this book. Don't try and argue against it as you will look the fool. If you are an atheist or a scientist give it a go. It is a hard slog in sections, but it is rewarding.

I adored this book as it educated, enlightened and reconfirmed the power of science and reason.

Book Review: 'Doctor Who: The Ripper' by Tony Lee, Andrew Currie, Richard Piers Rayner, Tim Hamilton

This collection proved to be a great little distraction when putting in long hours in the lab this week. I could dip in and out of these stories in between various tasks.

The first story is a fun little romp where Rory gets his hands on that mobile phone that works throughout space and time and downloads spam into the TARDIS. The situations are quite hilarious.

The second story deals with the Jack the Ripper murders. In the outset this annoys me as it has already featured twice before in Doctor Who print and will probably come up again and again. By the way, I think "Birthright" did the Ripper murders best.

So this story doesn't feature the best of plots, but again, it fits in with the TV series well as each character is consistent and the words that come out of their speech bubbles seem entirely plausible.

So while this is a slight dip in quality for the IDW Who comics, I'm still a convert and a fan.

Voyager Has Left the Solar System. No Seriously, This Time It's True.

So yet again comes the news that Voyager has left the Solar System. But this time it's a bit more reassuring as it comes from NASA itself.

But you could not be faulted for believing over the last couple of years that:
  • Voyager is lost and too masculine to ask for directions.
  • The edge of the solar system consists of a series of alternating stripes of Solar System and Non-Solar System.
  • Spacetime is a massive degree.
  • No one has any fucking idea where the Solar System starts and when it ends.
The last one is the closest. It seems that there are differing definitions upon what should constitute the edge of the solar system and these guesses end up being not so easy to be defined and measured.

I guess it's kind of like saying "Today a certain molecule of water passed from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean". Sure these oceans have their own currents, differing salinity levels, temperatures, etc so how would you define an edge between them both? Say there was a major difference in salinities, where would you define the boundary? The average value of salinity content between the two? Sounds like a great idea but this will not give one definite line (an isosaline?) between Africa and Antarctica.

Back to space and we start defining regions by the density of ions, plasmas and the presence of magnetic fields. The main area around the Solar System is defined as the heliosphere, where the Sun's magnetic influence is strong and the area is streamed with charged ions from the sun.

Beyond the heliosphere is interstellar space, where the suns magnetic and ion influence drops almost altogether, and a high concentration of interstellar plasma takes over. The transition happens over a wide concentration gradient called the heliopause. 

Looking back upon readings from August, NASA confirms a change in magnetic influence on the craft and a much greater concentration of plasma in the surroundings. I guess that NASA has made the calling that Voyager is in the latter of the heliopause if not in interstellar space. It just goes to show, definitions are hard to make.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nugget of Wisdom from Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Man, a collaborator with Richard Feynmann and Nobel Laurate, talks about his expectations upon graduating from Yale with a physics degree and applying for PhD positions.

The great advice is don't commit suicide until you have tried the thing that you are dreading. This is a great piece of advice and ranks up there with Pauling's Golden Rule of doing 25% better to others as they do to you to account for subjective error.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Walter Potter: Taxidermy of the Weird

Walter Potter was a 19th century self-taught taxidermist who made wonderfully weird anthropomorphic displays of dead animals partaking in everyday activities. His collection was housed together in a local museum until the early 2000s when a lack of funds caused the collection to be split up and sold at auction. A documentary about his work has been made and a preview is shown below.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special Poster Released

No spoilers. 
The Beeb released a poster and running time details for the 50th Anniversary episode yesterday. Tennant's hair is not right. It may be more now, but he was more then.
Below is a closeup of the non-Doctor Doctor, with some hints surrounding him.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Underground Nuclear Bunker in Las Vegas Straight from The Brady Bunch

Got a spare US$1.7 million?

You could own yourself a unique property in the heart of Las Vegas. Sure it's 10 metres underground but the Las Vegas summer is warm and I'm sure this place has great insulation. This house was the Bluth equivalent for the nuclear age. Entrepreneur Girard B. “Jerry” Henderson, built this wonderland in the mid 70s as a prototype to launch his luxury bunker company, Underground World Home Inc.
The house boasts a heated pool (with a water fountain), a four-hole putting course, Jacuzzis, a bar, and a dance floor. Then there are more unusual features, like the sky control system—a dimmer that can be set to "morning," "dusk," or "night," which activates the "stars" embedded in the ceiling. Just above them, a thick concrete shell protects this perfect suburban simulacra from impending nuclear doom.
What you end up with is 'The Brady Bunch' meets 'Blast From the Past'.

Book Review: 'Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal' by Mary Roach

Mary Roach has written yet another winner here. Her early books "Bonk" and "Spook" were a little flat and derivative, but ever since then she has delivered.

Yes, she chooses deliberately risque subjects and yes there is always a chapter on farts, but damn she can make things interesting. It seems she can make the fine balance of making a scientist such as myself happy, while also placating my inner 8-year-old. And really, all she is doing by telling us how artificial farts are made, and the size of Elvis' colon is saving us time; I know I'd be looking up articles to see if anyone has gas chromatographed a fart after reading this. Mary has already done the Not Safe For Work googling for us.

Mary's books are great for everyone. You do not have to be a scientist to enjoy them, and you do not need to be an 8-year-old boy either. If you are a bit squeamish and delicate about bodily functions, read this, get over yourself and enjoy the wonderful piece of biology that you occupy.

So everyone, get out there and read some Mary Roach. You'll laugh, learn, be amazed and there will be plenty of WTFs. May we have many more wonderful Mary Roach adventures!

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Martian Southern Polar Cap

From Bad Astronomy Blog

This is a composite image of the south polar cap of Mars by Riding with Robots creator Bill Dunford using images taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express Orbiter. Most of the white mass is frozen water permafrost covered in a few metres of frozen carbon dioxide, which melts and refreezes during the long martian seasons. The melting of this few metres of carbon dioxide during the summer is enough to noticeably thicken the atmosphere of that hemisphere.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Worlds Largest Volcano Discovered Under the Pacific Ocean

Confirming the old saying that we know more about other planets than what is happening on the ocean floor, geologists announced this week that Earth's largest volcano is under the Pacific, to the east of Japan.
Don't get me wrong, these guys didn't just stumble upon a huge active volcano while on an underwater stroll. The area known as Tamu Massif was previously thought to have been a series of volcanoes, just like Hawaii and Iceland,  instead of what has turned out to be one significantly large volcano. Oh and don't worry about activity. The area was formed 145 million years ago and went extinct quite soon after. So while plesiosaurs would have been freaked out by it, there is no need for you to be.

William Sager of the University of Houston headed this 15 year study which composed of a large series of sonar mapping and drill cores concluded that all flows in the area originated from one source and not several as a series of volcanoes would present. Sager states: "Before this we weren't sure that we had single volcanoes that could grow to this size. Now we do."

The world’s biggest active shield volcano, Mauna Loa on Hawaii, has an areal footprint just 15% of Tamu’s — but Mauna Loa is taller, rising 9 kilometres from sea floor to summit.

The knowledge that volcanoes this large can and have formed on Earth previously has led researchers to rethink and reassess whether other presumed series of extinct volcanoes may actually be large singular volcanoes as well.  Sager believes another candidate may be the Ontong Java plateau east of the Solomon Islands, which has similar features to the Tamu Massif. "It's being investigated by Japanese researchers," he says, "so the Tamu Massif might not be the last word."

Book Review: 'Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea' by Barbara Demick

 I have read very little directly related to North Korea over the years, picking up tidbits here and there referenced in broader works, where I have got the gist of the general history of the nation. But a recent article in New Scientist by an environmental scientist invited to a conference in the country astounded and intrigued me all once. The author described a landscape that has been scavenged bare by generations of a poverty stricken population. I guess the state of the country described by an environmental scientist was something new and appealed to a fellow scientist.

I saw this book on iBooks, and decided to give the preview a try (previewing, one of the reasons why I am an eBook convert of sorts), and after reading I was hooked and purchased the book (instant purchase of books, another reason of conversion).

Barbara tells the story of six North Korean refugees reconstructed from interviews she conducted. The stories are centred upon everyday life, but they are closely interwoven with the larger history of the country. Each story is personal and different, and you feel yourself empathising with this people, no matter how naive, brainwashed or anti-establishment they were. The imagery of the stories is strong; Barbara paints wonderful, yet ugly scenes. You can see the desolated countryside, the decaying silent factories and the gaudy statues.

The narrative takes the reader through the beginnings of the nation, under the rule of Kim Jon Il-Sung, through the rule of his son, Kim Jong-Il and onto Kim Jong-un. You experience the draconian laws effecting the lives of the citizens such as factory workers and a doctor. A highlight is the tales centred around the death of Kim Jong-Il and the fanfare that surrounded it.

A beautiful yet saddening non-fiction book recommended to both those who know little of the history of North Korea and those who may know the history but wonder about the people and their lives. An eye opening account of people living in a  totalitarian state.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Climate Change Reveals Ancient Norwegian Artifacts

Original article from Antquity

Rapid climate change has been a boon for archaeologists in cold climates. Each year more and more ice is melting and revealing artifacts Bronze Age artifacts. The most famous case of this being the revealing of Otzi, a preserved Bronze Age man found in the Swiss/Italian Alps approximately twenty years ago.

Recent finds from record snow melts in Norway have revealed other interesting artifacts. This tunic was found exposed on the Lendbreen glacier, bleached by sunlight and wind exposure. It is made from lamb's and sheep wool with signs of patchwork and repair. It has been dated to 230-290 AD.

A set of arrowheads were found in a snowbank nearby that are dated to 6000 years old. The author of the paper writes:

"The number and antiquity of some of these artefacts is unprecedented in the almost century-long history of snow patch surveying in the region. At the same time, as the climate continues to heat up and the snows melt away, one wonders what long-term price there will be to pay for these glimpses of the frozen past."

DNA From The Elephant Man

From the BBC

From his death in 1890 and for most of the 20th century Joseph Merrick, otherwise known as the Elephant Man, was thought to have suffered from neurofibromatosis type 1, a disease upon which his case typified. However, research in the 1980s proposed that Merrick suffered from Proteus Syndrome instead and later research has questioned whether he was afflicted with both. It looked as if the syndrome Merrick defined was not the syndrome he may have had.

The early 2000s saw DNA testing on hair samples and bones samples that proved inconclusive due to the influence of preservation techniques. Professor Richard Trembath, vice-principal for health at Queen Mary University of London, and the custodian of Merrick's body explains the problem.

"The skeleton, which is well over a hundred years old now, is actually very clean. This represents a significant problem. On a number of occasions over the years the skeleton has been bleached during the preservation process. Bleach is not a good chemical to expose DNA to. It gives us an added problem in trying to extract sufficient quantities of DNA in order to undertake sequencing."

Currently, Dr Michael Simpson from King's College London is tackling the problem of extracting useful DNA from Merrick's bones.He is working on new techniques of DNA extraction from sample bones of the same age that have been bleached.

The hope is that new techniques can verify exactly what syndrome/s Merrick had and possibly discover a well documented case where the patient suffered from two in dependant syndromes.

Friday, 6 September 2013

'Ask a Slave' Comedy Series

Azie Mira Dungey has created a web series based upon the questions she was asked playing George Washington's slave housemaid at a popular U.S. historical recreation site. The videos are hilarious on many levels. Of course you get stupid questions from the public, but Azie is quite hilarious and cutting in her responses.

Ask a Slave Website

"When the Saints Go Marching In" Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong

A little Friday evening cheer for everyone.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

How Many People Are There In Space Right Now?

I often find myself wondering this.

Lucky you can just go to:

There are more details such as their name, mission and how long they have spent in space.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Adam Spencer TED Talk on the Raw Sexiness of the Primes

The Parisian T-Rex

A 6 metre tall sculpture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton has been installed on the Seine river in Paris. Philippe Pasqua moulded 350 bones in chrome to make this magnificent beast.

Photographs by Anthony Gelot.

The Curious Case of Phineas Gage and the Rod That Pierced His Skull

On the morning of September 13th 1848, Phineas Gage, a railway worker was involved in a mishap. One that would change his life and personality as well as the fields of neurology and psychology.

Gage was involved in blasting rock at the time which involved boring a hole into the rock, adding blasting powder, a fuse, sand and finally compacting this all down the hole using a tamping iron, a long iron rod.

It is believed that Gage neglected to put sand in one bore hole and when tamping down the lack of sand allowed for the creation of sparks.

So ignited explosives + long iron bar come together and poor Phineas had his head right in the trajectory. The rod passed through the right side of his face, behind the eye and out the top of his head. The 32 mm diameter, 1 metre long rod was recovered 25 metres away and looking quite gruesome.

Despite the injury, he seemed to have small convulsions and then proceeded to talk normally. He then sat in the back of a cart and was transported to the nearest doctor.
Doctor Edward H. Williams noted:

"When I drove up he said, "Doctor, here is business enough for you." I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. The top of the head appeared somewhat like an inverted funnel ... as if some wedge-shaped body had passed from below upward. Mr.Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr.Gage's statement at that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr.Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head. ... Mr.G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor."

Gauge's physical injuries healed over time, but people close to him noticed a distinct change in personality. Doctor John Martyn Herlow studied Phineas over a period of decades afterwards and reported:

"The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifest­ing but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was "no longer Gage"."

In February 1860 Gage started to suffer seizures and died in May of that year, 12 years after his initial injury.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Life From Mars?

No, this is a scientific entry. I'll save my love for Bowie for another time.

Two  prominent scientists has come out and stated that life would have more likely developed with the conditions on Mars four billion years ago, rather than Earth. They both forward that old conjecture, that life started on Mars and was seeded to Earth (panspermia is the term, work that very carefully into workplace conversations).

One chemist postulates that for RNA to develop a certain environmental concentrations of elements such as molybdenum, boron and oxygen needed to be at a certain level which was happening on Mars at that time, but not on Earth. RNA plays a role in coding, regulation and expression of genes and is believed to predate DNA in development. It is believed that very early life was governed by RNA reactions.

While the scientist puts forward a good argument that conditions were ripe on Mars at that time for life to spring forth, I think it is a large jump to assume that life could not also independently arise on Earth. The panspermia argument seems a stretch since that means this RNA would need to survive an impact of an asteroid on the surface of Mars, transportation through the vacuum of space (huge amounts of radiation), entry into Earth's atmosphere and finally impact on the surface of Earth. Not the most likely of events.

Another scientist has stated that the large concentration of phosphates on Mars would have promoted life to flourish there. This is another great argument for life arising independently on Mars, but not panspermia.

Phosphates are chemical compounds that contain phosphorus and oxygen. They are very common in all life, with the framework of your DNA being made of phosphate chains, as well as phosphates being used to deliver energy into your cells. You can see the power of phosphates upon life when you see the runoff of agricultural phosphate fertilisers hit large water bodies. You get algal blooms. The bacteria and algae go batshit crazy for the stuff.

So even if it is a stretch to reason that Earth life was seeded from elsewhere, all this evidence for great conditions for life on Mars means that our searches may not be in vein and that some form of life probably did flourish on Mars at one time.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Rise of Element 115

The limits of the Periodic Table of Elements (that other less famous table) continue to be pushed with a Swedish group from Lund University reporting the manufacture of element 115. This is the second group to do so, with a Russian group previously having their work being ruled 'incoclusive' by the Chemistry Gods, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

Element 115, or as it is known until it is properly named, Ununpentium, is manufactured, it does not occur naturally. No element beyond Plutonium the 94th element has been found naturally. Every element beyond this point has been made by slamming together two smaller nuclei and crossing fingers. The nuclei of these elements are so unstable that they break apart easily and give off other energy such as X-rays and other radiation. These elements have a very short lifetime (on the order of nanoseconds) and decay very quickly.

So why are we manufacturing these elements?

Firstly because we can.

I could end this argument here. Surely that is enough reason. But wait there's more.

The relationship between the structure of these nuclei and their lifetimes has been explored for several decades now and scientists has extracted patterns. They have postulated that although instability has increased in the elements 94-110, there will be a shift towards stability in elements from 110-120 or so. They named this region "The Island of Stability", and have created the treasure map below.

  Theories suggested that elements like 115 and beyond would have an unprecedented amount of stability, with lifetimes lasting seconds, and even postulation that we may see superheavy elements in this region that do not decay at all (or so slow we would not notice). So we would have a new super heavy element that in large samples may have properties we would not be able to imagine (no, not Flubber).

Alas the work on element 115 by the Swedes has measured one lifetime at 200 milliseconds. While very stable compared to other superheavy elements, I will not be constructing my giant dinosaur robot out of it.

2013 Hugo Award Winners Announced

The Hugos, the Academy Awards for science fiction and fantasy literature, were announced over the weekend.
I only tend to follow a few categories, which I have put below. For all categories and winners, check out the page.

Best Novel
  • Winner: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)
  Seeing as I have only read 'Redshirts' from this list, I guess I cannot offer an opinion on this selection. I should get around to reading '2312' real soon. "Redshirts" is a lot of fun if you're a Trek fan.

Best Graphic Story
  • Winner: Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
  • Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
  • Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

    I am a fan of 'Saga' and 'Locke and Key' and I probably would have like to see 'Locke and Key' win. But oh well. I need to get around to reading 'Saucer Country' as I am a fan of Paul Cornell's Doctr Who work.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Winner: Game of Thrones: “Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)
  • Doctor Who: “The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who: “Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who: “The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
  • Fringe: “Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)

    I really don't like the 'Game of Thrones' TV series, but I do understand it's popularity. I would have much preferred Fringe or Doctor Who winning. Being said I have not watched the last season of Fringe yet, and out of the three Who episodes, "The Snowmen" was the better. I really did not appreciate "The Angels Take Manhattan".

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Try-Out Outfits for the Eleventh Doctor

The Doctor Who Tumblr has revealed photos from the Eleventh Doctor costume fitting back a few years ago. How different could the Eleventh been with a different outfit?

Also, this is what Peter Capaldi is probably doing right at this moment.

Hipster Piratey