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postcard7 concerts on 7 continents on 7/7/07

some of you may already know about the Save OurSelves LiveEarth concert series this summer, “the concerts for a climate in crisis”. Ever wonder who in their right mind would do the concert in Antarctica? Turns out it’ll be the scientists themselves. us science folks are pretty versatile it turns out. Gore has personally recruited the local little band named Nunatak.

and now you know…the rest of the story. 6 years ago

postcardnew scientist

now has a digital only subscription option (from newsstand.com). my home is cluttered with stacks of old issues that I never had time to read, and i couldn’t justify resubscribing at their increased rates. so this makes me pretty happy. 6 years ago

a man named LewWoody Allen

Photons have mass? I didn’t even know they were Catholic.

I saw this in Marcus Chown’s book. 6 years ago

a man named LewUntitled

This should include awareness of Advanced geometry of Islamic art7 years ago

a man named LewUntitled

It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based upon evidence, not on authority or intuition. Bertrand Russell

The same applies to women of science I imagine:) 7 years ago

a man named LewUntitled

In the UK it could be that Melvyn Bragg is seen as someone to take the mickey out of (I’m thinking Spitting Image), but for In Our Time I think it should be hats off to Melvyn Bragg.

Just look at the science topics they have covered, each show being a discussion of the idea involved with experts in the field.

I’m fascinated by the fact that we live in a time when so many people are doing fantastic work, and thinking in areas which it’s not remotely possible for me to keep up with and these people are prepared to talk about it. They’re prepared to come on In Our Time and other programmes on Radio 4 and try and talk to the rest of us.7 years ago

postcardlions and tigers and bears

more proof that wild animals are not pets: Exotic pets pose health risks.
just ask Paris:

Another newly discovered threat involves a current rage among exotic pet owners: a small carnivorous mammal with sharp teeth called a kinkajou. The nocturnal, tree-dwelling animals originally from Central and South America’s rain forests have a dangerous bite — as Paris Hilton recently learned. The actress used to carry her pet kinkajou named “Baby Luv” on her shoulder as she partied. This summer, Hilton landed in an emergency room when Baby Luv bit her on the arm. The concern about a bite is real. In 2005, a kinkajou bit a zookeeper in England on the wrist. The keeper’s hand became infected, and she almost lost her fingers, said Dr. Paul Lawson, a University of Oklahoma microbiologist who first identified a new bacterium specific to kinkajous. The first antibiotics doctors prescribed didn’t work, so a combination of several was used to stop the aggressive infection.7 years ago

postcardonce upon a time

in a catholic high school, i took an advanced biology class and had to write an essay in response to this question: Does punctuated equilibrium exist? Yes or No and explain your answer. i wrote a brilliant essay defending the idea of punctuated equilibrium, only to have it returned to me with a failing grade and one sentence written in red: punctuated equilibrium is impossible.

and thus began my determined and defiant career in biology, and my equally determined and defiant dissection of religion.

thank God for that priest. 7 years ago

postcardtwo birds, one stone

this sounds promising. gotta wonder how stable the system would be over the long term though.

Pumping carbon dioxide through hot rocks could simultaneously generate power and mop up the greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuel power stations, according to a new study.

source7 years ago


since evolution seems to be all the rage these days.

from an article in the latest issue of Discover, called DNA is not Destiny:

“Gene as fate” has become conventional wisdom. Through the study of epigenetics, that notion at last may be proved outdated. Suddenly, for better or worse, we appear to have a measure of control over our genetic legacy. [...] Until recently, the pattern of an individual’s epigenome was thought to be firmly established during early fetal development. Although that is still seen as a critical period, scientists have lately discovered that the epigenome can change in response to the environment throughout an individual’s lifetime.

The even greater surprise is the recent discovery that epigenetic signals from the environment can be passed on from one generation to the next, sometimes for several generations, without changing a single gene sequence. It’s well established, of course, that environmental effects like radiation, which alter the genetic sequences in a sex cell’s DNA, can leave a mark on subsequent generations. Likewise, it’s known that the environment in a mother’s womb can alter the development of a fetus. What’s eye-opening is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the epigenetic changes wrought by one’s diet, behavior, or surroundings can work their way into the germ line and echo far into the future. Put simply, and as bizarre as it may sound, what you eat or smoke today could affect the health and behavior of your great-grandchildren.7 years ago

postcardS.E.A. questionaire for political candidates

some issues to consider before voting next week.

Scientists and Engineers for America(SEA) Candidate Questions:

Dear Candidate,

I am a registered voter in your district, and I want my government to use good science in formulating policy. Please answer the following questions, so I know how to vote on Election Day.

1. Do you support the Science and Engineering Bill of Rights (www.sefora.org)?

2. Do you support lifting the President’s ban on the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research given appropriate ethical guidelines?

3. Should emergency contraception as recommended by FDA scientific staff and advisory committees be available over the counter for all women of childbearing age?

4. Do you endorse immediate and significant actions to diminish the effects of global warming caused primarily by burning fossil fuel and other human activity?

5. Should the research budgets of federal research agencies be increased substantially?

6. Do you support the teaching of Intelligent Design or creationism as an alternative theory to evolution in science classes?

7. Do you support strengthening the science and engineering advice for Congress by creating an organization to replace the Office of Technology Assessment (abolished in 1995)?

8. Should the United States ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stop all work on new nuclear weapons?

9. Should the United States adopt visa policies that encourage highly skilled scientists and engineers from around the world to study and work in the United States?

10. Should there be a significant increase in federal funding for training science and mathematics teachers and development of high-quality curricular materials – including teaching materials that use new information technologies like the Internet?7 years ago

postcardcarbon dioxide and global cooling

From Science Daily

The weathering of the mountains pulled carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, causing the opposite of a greenhouse effect—an “icehouse” effect.

Scientists have suspected that our current ice age, which began 40 million years ago, was caused by the rise of the Himalayas. This new study links a much earlier major ice age -one that occurred during the Ordovician period - to the uplift of the early Appalachians .

It also reinforces the notion that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are a major driver of Earth’s climate.7 years ago

postcardphysics, time, and quantum entanglement

(two physics articles.)

do the laws of physics change with time? originally from NewScientist

Some have been tempted to say that reality is the whole timeless history and that any sense we have of a present moment is some kind of illusion. Even if we don’t believe this, the fact that one could believe it means that there is nothing in this description of nature that corresponds to our common-sense experience of past, present and future. This is called the problem of transience. The sense of the universe unfolding or becoming in time, of “now”, has no representation in general relativity. But in truth the problem was always there in Newton’s physics and it is there in any theory in which some part of nature is described by a state that evolves deterministically in time, governed by a law that dictates change, but never changes. The philosopher Roberto Unger of Harvard University calls this the “poisoned gift of mathematics to physics”. Many believe that mathematics represents truth in terms of timeless relationships, based on logic. It allows us to formulate physical laws precisely: this is the gift. By doing so, however, mathematics represents paths in configuration space unfolding in time by logic, and this logic exists outside of time. The poison in the gift is the disappearance of any notion of the present or of becoming.

teleportation progress from Reuters

“It is one step further because for the first time it involves teleportation between light and matter, two different objects. One is the carrier of information and the other one is the storage medium,” Polzik explained in an interview on Wednesday. The experiment involved for the first time a macroscopic atomic object containing thousands of billions of atoms. They also teleported the information a distance of half a meter but believe it can be extended further. “Teleportation between two single atoms had been done two years ago by two teams but it was done at a distance of a fraction of a millimetre,” Polzik, of the Danish National Research Foundation Center for Quantum Optics, explained.7 years ago

postcardthe secret life of coma victims

Try stretching your mind to comprehend that reality: a technology that stretches reality to comprehend your mind. Outside the scanner, your thoughts are invisible, immeasurable, meaningless. Inside it, they’re visible, measurable, real. One minute, you aren’t there. The next, you are. Would you pull the plug on a 24-year-old relative with a rich and responsive but unconscious mental life? Go ahead, raise your hand. Or just think about raising it, and we’ll record your vote by brain scan.

which further begs the questions: if there’s a person in there, can we get them out? if we can, what’s next? this could open a big pandora’s box of literal ghosts in machines. 7 years ago

cranberrygoddessGroundbreaking Research

The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute

Megan S C Lim, research assistant1, Margaret E Hellard, director1, Campbell K Aitken, senior research officer1

1 Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health Research, Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health, GPO box 2284, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001, Australia

Correspondence to: C K Aitken aitken@burnet.edu.au


Objectives: To determine the overall rate of loss of workplace teaspoons and whether attrition and displacement are correlated with the relative value of the teaspoons or type of tearoom.

Design: Longitudinal cohort study.

Setting: Research institute employing about 140 people.

Subjects: 70 discreetly numbered teaspoons placed in tearooms around the institute and observed weekly over five months.

Main outcome measures: Incidence of teaspoon loss per 100 teaspoon years and teaspoon half life.

http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/331/7531/1498 7 years ago

cranberrygoddessBird Flu Hits Disneyland

Figure 1: photographic evidence. 7 years ago


A major research institution has just announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named ‘Governmentium’.

Governmentium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A minute amount of Governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete, when it would normally take less than a second.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of four years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each re-organisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as ‘Critical Morass’.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element which radiates just as much energy, since it has 1/2 as many peons but twice as many morons. 7 years ago


I used to work for a science centre that did just this. www.questacon.edu.au . They are really creative at making science interesting for kids without dumbing it down too much. If only the school system could do the same. 7 years ago

postcardbionic limbs

This is good news. right?

UK scientists have developed technology that enables artificial limbs to be directly attached to a human skeleton. [...] The work paves the way for bionic limbs which are controlled by the central nervous system.7 years ago

postcardweather control

is still only make-believe. 7 years ago

postcardi would love

to contribute to this study.

The study, to start next summer, will focus on how storm systems stir up ice on the upper ocean, drawing water from the warmer middle layers of the Arctic Ocean to the surface. That heat, if released, is enough to melt all of the sea ice in the Arctic.7 years ago

postcardstrange days on planet earth

interesting national geographic documentary series hosted by fight club guru and environmental advocate Edward Norton. seems a little alarmist at times, with somewhat reductionist science, but fascinating and accessible all the same.

Where are we headed? What can we do to alter this course of events? National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth, premiering in Spring 2005 on PBS, explores these questions. Drawing upon research being generated by a new discipline, Earth System Science (ESS), the series aims to create an innovative type of environmental awareness. By revealing a cause and effect relationship between what we as humans do to the Earth and what that in turn does to our environment and ecosystems, the series creates a new sense of environmental urgency.

4/5 stars for a general audiences
3/5 for a scientific audiences

been renting quite a few of these national geographic and NOVA documentaries lately. good stuff. 7 years ago

postcardfree will

(unlinkable – sorry – but a really interesting article i thought)

Free will – you only think you have it

04 May 2006
Zeeya Merali
New Scientist Print Edition

“WE MUST believe in free will, we have no choice,” the novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer once said. He might as well have said, “We must believe in quantum mechanics, we have no choice,” if two new studies are anything to go by.

Early last month, a Nobel laureate physicist finished polishing up his theory that a deeper, deterministic reality underlies the apparent uncertainty of quantum mechanics. A week after he announced it, two eminent mathematicians showed that the theory has profound implications beyond physics: abandoning the uncertainty of quantum physics means we must give up the cherished notion that we have free will. The mathematicians believe the physicist is wrong.

“It’s striking that we have one of the greatest scientists of our generation pitted against two of the world’s greatest mathematicians,” says Hans Halvorson, a philosopher of physics at Princeton University.

Quantum mechanics is widely accepted by physicists, but is full of apparent paradoxes, which made Einstein deeply uncomfortable and have never been resolved. For instance, you cannot ask what the spin of a particle was before you made an observation of it – quantum mechanics says the spin was undetermined. And you cannot predict the outcome of an experiment; you can only estimate the probability of getting a certain result.

“Quantum mechanics works wonderfully well, but it’s not complete,” says Gerard ‘t Hooft of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1999 for laying the mathematical foundations for the standard model of particle physics. One major reason why many physicists, including ‘t Hooft, yearn for a deeper view of reality than quantum mechanics can offer is their failure so far to unite quantum theory with general relativity and its description of gravity, despite enormous effort. “A radical change is needed,” says ‘t Hooft.

For more than a decade now, ‘t Hooft has been working on the idea that there is a hidden layer of reality at scales smaller than the so-called Planck length of 10-35 metres. ‘t Hooft has developed a mathematical model to support this notion. At this deeper level, he says, we cannot talk of particles or waves to describe reality, so he defines entities called “states” that have energy. In his model, these states behave predictably according to deterministic laws, so it is theoretically possible to keep tabs on them.

However, the calculations show that individual states can be tracked for only about 10-43 seconds, after which many states coalesce into one final state, which is what creates the quantum mechanical uncertainty. Our measurements illuminate these final states, but because the prior information is lost, we can’t recreate their precise history.

While ‘t Hooft’s initial theory explained most quantum mechanical oddities, such as the impossibility of precisely measuring both the location and momentum of a particle, it had a major stumbling block – the states could end up with negative energy, which is physically impossible. Now, ‘t Hooft has worked out a solution that overcomes this problem, preventing the states from having negative energy (www.arxiv.org/quant-ph/0604008). “It was an obnoxious difficulty,” he says. “But having solved it I am more and more convinced that this is the right approach.”

Essentially, ‘t Hooft is saying that while particles in quantum mechanics seem to behave unpredictably, if we could track the underlying states, we can predict the behaviour of particles.

Others are impressed. “This is a very beautiful theory that tells us about the world on the smallest scales,” says physicist Willem de Muynck at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. “But these are scales that current experiments cannot reach, so if anything the theory is before its time.”

As enticing as ‘t Hooft’s theory may be to physicists, it has an unexpected and potentially frightful consequence for the rest of us. Mathematicians John Conway and Simon Kochen, both at Princeton University, say that any deterministic theory underlying quantum mechanics robs us of our free will.

“When you choose to eat the chocolate cake or the plain one, are you really free to decide?” asks Conway. In other words, could someone who has been tracking all the particle interactions in the universe predict with perfect accuracy the cake you will pick? The answer, it seems, depends on whether quantum mechanics’ inherent uncertainty is the correct description of reality or ‘t Hooft is right in saying that beneath that uncertainty there is a deterministic order.

Conway and Kochen explored the implications of ‘t Hooft’s theory by looking at what happens when you measure the spin of a particle. Spin is always measured along three perpendicular axes. For a spherical particle, the particular axes that you choose and the order in which you carry out the measurements are up to you. But are your choices a matter of free will, or are they predetermined?

What the mathematicians proved is this: if you have the slightest freedom to choose the axes and order of measurement, then particles everywhere must also have the same degree of freedom. That means they can behave unpredictably. However, if particles have no freedom, as implied by ‘t Hooft’s theory, the mathematicians proved that you have no real say in the choice of axes and order of measurement. In other words, deterministic particles put an end to free will (www.arxiv.org/quant-ph/0604079).

Arguments about free will are as old as philosophy itself, and ever since quantum mechanics was proposed people have attempted to connect free will to the indeterminacy at the heart of this theory. “We’re proud because this is the first solid proof relating these issues,” says Conway.

Kochen and Conway stress that their theorem doesn’t disprove ‘t Hooft’s theory. It simply states that if his theory is true, our actions cannot be free. And they admit that there’s no way for us to tell. “Our lives could be like the second showing of a movie – all actions play out as though they are free, but that freedom is an illusion,” says Kochen.

Since the mathematicians believe that we have free will, it follows for them that ‘t Hooft’s theory must be wrong. “We have to believe in free will to do anything,” says Conway. “I believe I am free to drink this cup of coffee, or throw it across the room. I believe I am free in choosing to have this conversation.”

Halvorson says the debate really boils down to a matter of personal taste. “Kochen and Conway can’t tolerate the idea that our future may already be settled,” he says, “but people like ‘t Hooft and Einstein find the notion that the universe can’t be completely described by physics just as disturbing.”

For philosophers, both arguments can be troubling. “Quantum randomness as the basis of free will doesn’t really give us control over our actions,” says Tim Maudlin, a philosopher of physics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “We’re either deterministic machines, or we’re random machines. That’s not much of a choice.”

Halvorson, however, welcomes the work by ‘t Hooft, Conway and Kochen. “Philosophy has separated itself from science for far too long,” he says. “There are very important questions to be asked about free will, and maybe physics can answer them.”7 years ago

postcardscience matters

i’m in the midst of applying for a teaching position and recently learned that one of the books i would have to teach from is Science Matters, which is a book explaining the importance of scientific literacy. :)

it’s a job after my own heart i tell you. 7 years ago

postcardThe Lunar Society

i’ve joined a science community over at LJ called The Lunar Society. they have some pretty intriguing conversations if anyone is interested in visiting. 7 years ago

postcardreal genius

NASA lauched a couple of high end climate satellites today to look at various levels of the atmosphere, predict weather, and chart climate changes. i just finished reading Deception Point recently, so this is kind of amusing to me.

in other space news, MASA is one step closer to reality.

which reminds me, hundreds of dead dolphins washed up in Zanzibar today. quote: Zanzibar residents were seen taking dolphin meat home. yum. i forsee similar things happening this summer in my area with the birds.

if that’s not bad enough for you, there’s a water mold on the east coast that’s causing lesions in fish.

in less gross and happier news, The Gaurdian reports that Scotland will be host to Europe’s biggest windmill farm. you can always count on the scots to be ahead of the game. ;)

I read this Arthurian lengend type book once, Taliesin, that linked Scotland and the King Arthur story to Atlantis. today i read on Archaeology.org that the Bosnian Pyramids may also be linked to Atlantis. It was a neat discovery while it lasted.

and lastly, two unrelated stories. some country’s airports are going to start charging a tax to collect medical funds for poor countries . the US isn’t one of them. can you imagine the outrage?

virtual reality has shown that people utilize their mental maps more when given a limited view of their surroundings. the interesting thing in this article was actually the mention of combining smart tiles with virtual reality. reminded me of the otherworld books. and the thing with the added sixth sense through the tongue that i read about in Slate. 7 years ago

clarriethings my 5 yr old knows that everyone should know

spiders are not insects. Penguins do not live with polar bears. 8 years ago

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