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!