Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Aliens pwn us!

 Hey guys, haven't been blogging in a while as I have been on a break! Now i am back so expect more daily!

In movies humans fight off alien occupation forces, explode alien ships, and mind-control aliens with the power of love. How on earth can we think that would happen?
In Falling Skies, Noah Wyle is all set to fight off an alien invasion with the power of being a gosh darn nuisance. It's actually one of the more realistic takes on a way to stop occupation. What's unrealistic is the idea that occupation would occur in the first place. They'd just destroy us, and although it wouldn't be a fun ride, it would make for an interesting few hours of television. Instead, we have to watch good, old-fashioned earthling spunkiness take care of a vastly superior force.
One of the primary ways we stop an alien invasion in movies and television is by finding the alien's one big weakness. There's some hinting at that in Falling Skies. "These things can be hit," a gruff man with a gun says, "And they can be hit hard." They have a vulnerability. In Skyline — spoiler alert — it was true love. The problem with every such One Big Weakness is the audience starts picking apart why the key was that one weakness and no other.
In Signs it was water, but did it have to be fresh water? Wasn't it raining anywhere? Snow? And what about the water in the human body? Even though most of the body's water is suspended in cells, there's a lot of moisture left over. What happened to the aliens whose victims cried like a baby and wet themselves - as I most certainly would if I were being attacked by a clawed chameleon alien. Did those aliens die?
And what about the other people in Skyline? Did they not love anyone enough to take over their brain-eating alien hosts? The One Big Weakness is a tiny crack that is meant to end the movie happily but instead bursts it to pieces.

Sure, we're all happy to suspend our disbelief - with a crane if we have to - because laser fights and big alien ships are cool and we like to watch them. But any alien force so advanced that it can cross vast reaches of outer space would make short work of us. Remember, we're not just talking about technological advancement here. Space travel comes with a whole host of chemical, physical and biological challenges that have to be met.
How does this alien race combat bone loss, exposure to cosmic rays, cramped quarters on a ship, and perfectly recycling its waste while on board a space craft? If its technology allows it to shorten the voyage, how does it keep all outside contaminants out, and can it use that technology against us? If its tech forces it to take long voyages across space, how does it keep its immune system — and those of its offspring — going strong, and could it use that against us? An alien-invasion film might simply be a film in which every human on the planet dies within 24 hours, and just as the last person's eyes are closing in death - they see an alien ship land and an alien creature step out of it to plant a flag in the dirt. We may all be dead before we even know they're here.
When it comes to actual technology, we don't even have to consider. Independence Day is and shall remain an object of ridicule for saying that alien ships can be given a virus via a laptop, and that alien ships which can survive a nuclear attack can't put a shield on the one area of their ships vulnerable to a crop-duster. Any way you slice it, they have interstellar travel and we have iPads. There's not even a contest.
The biggest problem with most alien films is the assumption that they'd want anything that might keep us alive for even a second. There's a possiblity they'd want slaves, pack animals or meat, but what are the chances we'd be any good to them at all? Life is a light dust of carbon between an nitrogen-oxygen vapor and an iron core. Our biosphere would probably be a nuisance to them. It's hard to match complex biology. It's easy and profitable to harvest elements, though, and if they came across space, that very well might be what they were looking for. Perhaps the best, most realistic, movie that could be made about alien contact is the two hellish hours a small band of survivors of the initial strike would last as they saw the planet ripped apart and broken down under them.
The point is, if they don't want us alive, we won't be. We can fight and we can hack and we can find weaknesses and we can band together. We can do whatever we'd like. We'd still all be killed.

I think this is quite interesting, I will see alien movies much differently now haha.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama watches mythbusters!

Hey guys, got some cool Obama related mews today. Obama has requested the Mythbusters to bust a myth related to the olden days.
President Obama has a personal request -- to once again test the myth of Archimedes' solar death ray. As legend has it, using only mirrors and the power of the sun, Greek scientist Archimedes is said to have set fire to Roman ships during the siege of Syracuse.

The Mythbusters have busted the myth before, but could hardly refuse Obama's challenge. This time, instead of using stationary mirror tiles focused at wood, they took a different tack. "The big question was: could you have shields from soldiers polished to a mirror finish, and get them to set something on fire," Hyneman explains to NPR's Neal Conan. "That's a whole different thing."

Five hundred students from the school where Hyneman's wife teaches science stood in for soldiers, and they conducted the experiment on "the perfect shoreline" in Alameda, Calif., says Savage. They won't say whether the legend held up or not -- but you can find out for yourself on Wednesday night, when the episode airs on the Discovery Channel.

I have been a fan of the mythbusters and am very excited for this episode, it's kind of like a celebrity special haha.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Toxic gases good for you

Hey guys, got some cool health news again!
When belched out of cars and factories at high levels, the noxious gasses nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide are deadly poisons. But scientists are finding that, in miniscule doses, those same gases can serve as medicines.

"There's been an explosion of work in the last decade looking at these molecules in terms of therapeutics," says Dr. Mark Gladwin, a lung specialist and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

These unwholesome components of smog, automobile emissions and industrial exhaust also happen to be essential chemicals in the body, where they exist in minute amounts. Called "gaseotransmitters," they lower blood pressure, block inflammation and regulate oxygen use.

That makes researchers optimistic that these gasses can be put to widespread medical use. Drugs that use nitric oxide are already common. Carbon monoxide is poised to help transplanted organs settle into their new homes. And hydrogen sulfide produces a Sleeping Beauty-like state of suspended animation in animals that might be useful in keeping trauma patients alive until they reach a hospital.

The difference between deadly fumes and life-saving medicine comes down to dosing, says David Lefer, a cardiovascular physiologist at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The levels in the body are thousands-fold lower than the industrial toxic levels."

All three gasses function as chemical messengers, similar to hormones. After they enter a cell, they seek out and turn on proteins. These proteins, in turn, activate or deactivate others, allowing a message to move from protein to protein like a line of falling dominoes. The final result is a change in the amount of energy a cell produces or the genes it activates. Gaseotransmitters also open doorways in the cell's membrane, allowing energy-carrying molecules to pass through and alter the cell's metabolism.

Nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide share many functions. Lefer thinks nitric oxide may be the primary gaseotransmitter, with the other two serving as backup.

Nitric oxide (not to be confused with the laugh-inducing nitrous oxide at your dentist's office) is the best understood of these gases, and is already the basis for several medicines. Its main effect is to turn on chemical pathways that widen blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure. Since 1999, doctors have used the gas to treat newborns who have high blood pressure in the lungs.

Other medicines are not made of nitric oxide but rely on it to work. Nitroglycerin, once inside the body, is metabolized into nitric oxide, which opens blood vessels and soothes angina. The most famous nitric oxide moderator is Viagra, which amplifies the effects of the body's own nitric oxide to increase blood flow and tumescence at the desired location.

Scientists are now studying possible nitric oxide therapies for sickle cell anemia, heart failure, wound healing and a host of other possibilities.

Carbon monoxide has many functions; among them, it appears to dampen inflammation. The gas binds to proteins that contain metals — such as hemoglobin — and changes their shape, leading to a cascade of changes that suppresses the body's inflammatory response.

Organ transplants are one area of great interest, since the immune system's natural instinct is to attack a new kidney, heart or liver, causing inflammation. Carbon monoxide appears to stifle that inflammation, says Leo Otterbein, a physiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Researchers also are scrutinizing the gas' activity in conditions as varied as malaria, arthritis and cancer.

In a paper last month in the American Journal of Transplantation, Otterbein and colleagues reported on pigs that received kidney transplants with or without carbon monoxide treatment. Pigs that breathed plain air turned on more inflammation-related genes than animals that inhaled carbon monoxide.

Their new kidneys started working sooner too. When the scientists measured blood markers for kidney function, the gas-treated animals were back to normal within six days of their surgeries, when animals in the plain air group still had subnormal kidney function.

In an unpublished safety study, researchers recruited healthy people to inhale carbon monoxide at a dose of 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per hour — far below the levels found in the environment. There were no severe side effects, and a clinical trial of carbon monoxide for kidney transplant patients is now underway at several hospitals around the country, Otterbein says.

The newest gaseotransmitter is stinky hydrogen sulfide, which slows the cell's energy-producing machinery, thus lowering metabolism. With metabolism running at hibernation-like levels, an animal can survive with very little oxygen.

This suspended animation works in worms and mice, but no one has succeeded in larger animals such as pigs, Lefer says, so he's doubtful it would work in people. But he believes it is possible to slow down individual organs, and he envisions a targeted hydrogen sulfide therapy to help people recover from heart attacks.

The idea is to dial down the heart's energy needs so the organ requires less blood to survive. Lefer and colleagues found that injections of sodium sulfide — which the body converts to hydrogen sulfide — protected cardiac muscle in mice who had heart attacks. The next day, the area of damage in treated mice was only one-quarter the size found in untreated mice. And when the researchers performed echocardiograms, they found that the hearts of sulfide-treated animals functioned better, according to a 2007 report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"That was really able to salvage the heart cells from death and improve the pump function of the heart," Lefer says. "The animals survived."

In another experiment, published this summer in the journal Circulation, he and colleagues found that daily sodium sulfide injections improved heart function in mice with heart failure.

Given the toxicity of gaseotransmitters, scientists are taking great care as they investigate new treatments. Companies such as Ikaria Inc. in Clinton, N.J., are working on equipment that will stringently regulate a person's intake of a gaseous medicine. Other drugs will likely be available as gas-releasing pills or injections, which would be more convenient for patients.

Because the potent gases travel and act throughout the body, side effects are also a concern. However, Gladwin adds, some of those side effects might turn out to be beneficial. A case in point: Viagra was discovered as an unexpected side effect of a drug designed to treat high blood pressure.

This is pretty cool, I have always thought that the carbon monoxide i was breathing in the garage was really bad for me!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pandas are coming back!

Hey guys, haven't been posting in a long time because I was busy all week.  So, for all you panda lovers, this is some interesting news!

Conservationists say they have perfected the difficult task of reproducing pandas, having reached their target of successfully raising 300 of the bears in captivity.
The breakthrough, mainly by scientists at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre, China, should lead to the first panda being reintroduced into the wild within 15 years.
Female pandas are only on heat for 72 hours a year, and can only actually become pregnant during a 12 to 24 hour window during this time.
The revelation comes after documentary makers were given unprecedented access to the research centre to film captive breeding activity over two years.
Just a few thousand wild pandas survive at best, and the species is classified as being Endangered.
In a bid to protect the animal, scientists have attempted to breed captive pandas since the first such cub was born in 1963.
But many obstacles stood in the way of achieving a stable captive panda population.
The first was the very short window of opportunity provided in the panda's natural reproductive cycle.
Pioneering research has overcome the poor sexual performance of captive pandas
Female pandas are only on heat for 72 hours a year, and can only actually become pregnant during a 12 to 24 hour window during this time.
In order to correctly interpret the bears' breeding potential, caring for captive female pandas required close observation including daily urine samples to monitor hormone levels.
Understanding the giant panda's natural patterns of reproduction was only the start of the challenge.
'Turned off'
Despite conservationists' best efforts to encourage mating, pandas were seemingly "turned off" by captivity.
In Chengdu, the world's most successful panda breeding centre, researchers attempted to entice male pandas with the scent of suitable females on bamboo poles, mimicking wild scent-marking behaviour.
Rare interactions between aroused pairs often ended in disappointment, however.
Male pandas have proportionately short penises meaning pairs must adopt a very exact position in order to mate.
During their observations, researchers found that pandas demonstrated poor knowledge of this position.
Breakthroughs in captive panda breeding herald new hopes for wild populations
Researchers then employed methods ranging from sex education videos to viagra in order to stimulate natural behaviour.
Most techniques failed, and many encounters between pandas turned aggressive and violent.
Scientists therefore had to rely upon artificial insemination, but their efforts were again subject to the pandas' peculiar reproductive cycle.
Panda pregnancies can last anything from 11 weeks to 11 months and can remain undetected until shortly before birth.
So researchers had to pay close attention to pandas following insemination procedures, ready to perform a crucial intervention whenever cubs were born.
Crucial intervention
The boon in panda numbers at the Chengdu centre has largely been attributed to the innovative "twin swapping" technique.

Pandas feed exclusively on bamboo
It is so low in nutrients they need to eat 20kg per day
In the wild they spend at least 10 hours a day choosing the best bamboo

More than half of pandas give birth to two cubs at a time but only care for one.
It is assumed that as pandas cannot store fat, they lack the milk or energy to care for more than one cub at a time.
Whenever a cub was abandoned after birth, keepers at the Chengdu centre swiftly moved it to an incubator.
Panda mothers were tricked into caring for twins as staff stealthily rotated them between their mother and the incubators.
The survival rate of cubs rose to 98% through this combination of maternal care and artificial support.
By the end of last year, the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre alone had raised 168 cubs since its inception in 1987.
Hopes of reintroduction
Conservationists now believe captive numbers are strong enough to seriously consider wild reintroduction programmes.
Using the profits made from loaning their pandas to zoos worldwide, pioneers have purchased precious panda habitat in the Sichuan mountains, southwestern China.
With the goal of 300 captive pandas achieved, construction has started on the country's first dedicated panda reintroduction facility.

This makes me happy to be Chinese again, although I hope they stop supporting North Korea.  That is all, I hope you guys enjoyed reading, if you did at all!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Liquid in the beginning?

Hey guys, I have some more "questions of the universe" blogs for you guys.  This is for all you physics nerds out there, like myself.
After colliding lead ions at close to the speed of light, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) using the ALICE detector have discovered the Universe acted like a fluid in the moments immediately after the Big Bang. Also, the ATLAS and CMS detectors have observed a phenomenon known as "jet quenching" for the first time.
Until recently, the LHC only accelerated protons and collided them inside the particle accelerator mainly to search for the infamous Higgs boson and other exotic particles. But earlier this month, heavier lead ions were injected into the LHC. This is when the quantum party really got started.
SLIDE SHOW: Top 5 Misconceptions About The LHC
Smashing Lead
For three weeks, lead ions have raced around the accelerator ring at relativistic speeds, crashing head-on with other lead ions traveling in the opposite direction.
Lead ions are significantly bigger than protons, so they carry more energy. When they collide, they release so much energy that physicists often refer to the lead-lead collisions as "micro-Big Bangs."
Each ion collision can, quite literally, recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, some 13.75 billion years ago.
For a brief moment, these mini-Big Bangs flashed up to an estimated temperature of 10 trillion degrees Kelvin (that's more than 500,000 times hotter than the center of the sun), giving the ALICE detector a peek into how matter would have acted right at the Universe's superheated birth.
INTERVIEW: The Higgs Boson Hunter: Jonathan Butterworth
Quarks and Gluons, That's All
It is already known that high-energy collisions in particle accelerators can produce a strange, primordial state of matter. A "quark-gluon plasma" can be created if the collisions are energetic enough, a state of matter that existed during the high-energy conditions just after the Big Bang.
During this time, the Universe would have been so hot and energetic that the particles making up the elements we know today were unable to form, leaving the constituents to float "free" as a primordial soup.
Quarks and gluons were only able to condense into larger particles when universal energy conditions were low enough. Hadrons (i.e. particles made from quarks; including baryons like neutrons and protons) were only allowed to form 10-6 seconds after the Big Bang.
But what was the nature of this quark-gluon primordial soup? Was it a gas or a liquid? What was the Universe actually like 10-6 seconds after the Big Bang (apart from being really, really hot)?
The ALICE experiment has confirmed the quark-gluon plasma is a ultra-low viscosity liquid at these energies. From this finding, physicists now know the newborn Universe acted as a perfect fluid.
Although the U.S. Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory has already carried out similar experiments to arrive at similar conclusions, the LHC has done it at much higher energies.
This result has surprised many scientists who predicted the LHC would generate a plasma that acted more like a gas than a liquid, but the results recently published show strong interactions within this primordial soup that resemble a perfect fluid.
WIDE ANGLE: The Large Hadron Collider
The "Big Bang Machine"
Although it's only been three weeks, the lead-lead collision experiments in the LHC have already ruled out some theories about how the early Universe behaved.
"With nuclear collisions, the LHC has become a fantastic 'Big Bang' machine," said ALICE spokesperson J├╝rgen Schukraft. "In some respects, the quark-gluon matter looks familiar, still the ideal liquid seen at RHIC, but we’re also starting to see glimpses of something new."
Other observations in the CMS and ATLAS detectors have provided a fascinating look at how this primordial matter interacts with itself.
Immediately after lead ions collided, jets were created by the quarks and gluons blasting away from the micro-Big Bangs. By monitoring how these jets formed, physicists were able to see how the intensely chaotic turmoil evolved.
During proton-proton collisions, these jets are very basic and often form in pairs. In ion-ion collisions, many more particles are generated, producing a huge number of jets. As they tangle together, jets lose energy through interactions scientists are only just beginning to understand. This loss of energy is known as "jet quenching."
I think we are only just witnessing the tip of the iceberg insofar as LHC discoveries, but as we collide particles at higher and higher energies, we peel back the history of the Universe one microsecond at a time.

This is quite amazing, how the LHC is discovering all this stuff.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Texas = Electric Cars?

Hey guys, got some eco-friendly news for you today.  If you live in Texas, this is affect you, unless you don't drive.
When power plant heavyweight NRG Energy announced yesterday that it would invest $10 million in the rollout of the nation’s first privately-finance electric vehicle charging network it also revealed that the city it would debut in would be … Houston, Texas.
Um, what?
Houston (pictured) is known as the nation’s oil capital, and as a resident, I can’t say I disagree with that assessment. It’s also in a state where oil is still cheap compared to other parts of the country, and the same is true for electricity costs. At nearly 15,000 square miles, it’s purported to be bigger than Maryland, and is known for bad traffic and long commutes. And despite its traffic and air pollution issues, Houston has been reluctant to adopt mass transit.
But NRG president and CEO David Crane tells me the company actually believes Texas is a better market for electric vehicles than it gets credit for, which I was skeptical about after test-driving the Ford Focus Electric in Dallas. In fact, Crane says they’ve been actively talking to Nissan about allocating more of its limited-supply, all-electric Leafs to Texas, which the automaker passed over when choosing its first-launch markets. (As part of the rollout, Nissan dealerships in Texas will sell NRG’s monthly charging packages to Leaf buyers).
Keep in mind that NRG is parent to Texas-based electricity retailers, Green Mountain Energy and Reliant Energy, so it has close Texas ties. Crane says he’s interested in pursuing and developing a similar network in California — after all, NRG is in the business of selling electricity, and more electric vehicles on the road means more electricity sales for power providers. All that aside, here’s Crane’s reasoning for why Texas makes sense for an electric car network:
This is could be the next step to saving the Earth, we will save a lot of oil.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Science changing Thanksgiving

Hey guys, this is sort of a misleading title, I didn't know what else to call it.  So, its Thanksgiving for most of you guys; us Canadians have already had Thanksgiving. 

Since they were introduced 15 years ago, genetically modified foods have taken astonishing hold in North America. This time of year, the result is a Thanksgiving menu that may, on the surface, look much the same as the one your grandma cooked 20 years ago. But at the genetic level, it is very different, and it's a far cry from the fabled feast shared by the pilgrims and American Indians in the 17th century. In celebration of Thanksgiving, the most food-focused day of the year, here's a look at how biotechnology is changing the way we eat.
Before it reached the grocery store — even before it reached the farm — your turkey, turducken or tofurkey likely started out in a lab, with scientists in white coats peering at PCR data and tinkering with plant genomes to produce traits that nature never intended.
Let's start with your morning coffee. Unless you buy organic, your milk and half-and-half most likely comes from cows that have been administered synthetic hormones. The hormones rBST and rBGH let cows grow bigger faster, and allow them to produce more milk. Do you use soy milk instead? It's probably from GMO soybeans. How about sweetener? Fully 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop is genetically modified, and half the nation’s sugar supply comes from beets. What about high fructose corn syrup? Of course. About 85 percent of American corn is genetically modified. Even sugarcane is genetically altered.
Starting with breakfast and ending with dessert, if you live in North America, you most likely eat transgenic foods every day.
Genetically modified crops usually contain genes from other plants to produce unique traits. In most cases, splices of bacterial genes are used to insert the new traits, like pest or disease resistance. Companies such as Monsanto and Bayer alter plants to resist their proprietary blends of weed killer, while other crops are modified to resist pests, fungi or bacteria; produce higher yields; or survive environmental conditions like drought or salty soil. GM food advocates say it’s essentially no different than selective breeding to obtain desirable qualities.
Consumer groups and natural-food advocates, on the other hand, say bacteria-enabled “Frankenfood” has no place in a healthy diet. They say genetically altered crops have not been sufficiently studied, and they worry that their effects on the environment and human health are unknown. Several court cases are progressing that seek to prevent future plantings of genetically modified crops, or at least subject them to stricter federal review.
Some groups maintain lists of non-GMO food sources; the Institute for Responsible Technology even has a non-GMO shopping guide iPhone app, or you can download the printable shopping list.
The easiest way to avoid genetically modified food is to buy organic — foods labeled organic cannot intentionally have biotech ingredients. But note the word intentionally. Seeds blow in the wind, so even fields used for organic farming may contain genetically altered crops. In a study this summer, GM canola was found growing in the wild throughout South Dakota.
Despite opposition, the vast majority of North American row crops are now grown from genetically modified seeds.

Sorry for the "boring" post, thanks for reading it anyways.  Who here learned something like me?  Finding out that genetically modified foods have been introduced 15 years ago.