Monday, December 18, 2017

NORAD's December 24 Watch

It all started when Sears misprinted a phone number. Instead of a kids' telephone line to Santa, it was a national security "red phone".

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Cradle of Life on Mars?

NASA scientists believe they've found evidence of ancient hydrothermal vents on Mars. This is newsworthy because hydrothermal vents are also likely locations for the earliest life on earth.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Expired Drugs Probably Aren't

All those medications have expiry dates. Did you ever wonder what they mean?

They  mean that during the approval process someone showed that the drug could last this long without degradation. If the drug is manufactured in 1990 and in 1992 it was tested and it contained enough of the drug, the U.S. FDA will allow the manufacturer to claim a two year shelf life. It does not mean that anyone ever showed any drug degradation after two years.

That test is rarely done. When it is performed, tests regularly show shelf lives of four years beyond the advertised life. What's more, even if the drug decays, that is not evidence that it has become harmful. The two doctors in this article (Cantrell and Clancy) have never heard or read “of anyone being harmed by any expired drugs”.

Monday, July 24, 2017

I Could Outrun a T-Rex

Two studies say that the Tyranasaurus Rex could not have been the fiercely fast predator shown in Jurassic Park. One says he would have run out of energy before he got up to speed. The other says his bones were not strong enough to handle the weight at high speeds.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sex Differences in Sports

Here is a run-down on male-female differences and how they might affect sports performance.

Oh, and here's one comparing athletes' bodies to average men.

The Secret History of SCUBA

Chris Lambertsen started working on underwater breathing as a teenager in the 1920s, on the beaches of the Jersey shore. He pursued this vision to become a doctor, inventor and have a few other adventures along the way.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Original Earth Day

Whew! If you think the future is bad now, be glad it isn't 1970.
Thirteen predictions* from Earth Day, 1970.

(more Earth Day predictionsSimon and Ehrlich's famous bet)
*(Apr'17) Mark Perry says: eighteen.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Spring 2017 Bridge Contest

The whole class was very good at making bridges this year.
(And very bad at choosing the better of two bridges.)

This year's strongest bridge collapsing in slow motion.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Something From Nothing

One of the weirder ideas of Quantum mechanics is that empty space is not empty at all. No matter how empty you make a space, pairs of particles and and anti-particles will spontaneously come into being move around for a while, then touch each other and disappear.

Apparently physics equations predict that this could happen. We just haven't had any evidence for it...and no idea how we could possibly get evidence. A few decades ago someone suggested that if it happened close enough to a black hole one half of that particle pair could be sucked into the black hole while the other half moved away and became permanent new matter in the universe.

This year, a team from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope found visual evidence via a phenomenon called vacuum birefringence.

Synthetic Blood

Scientists in England have isolated stem cells and persuaded them to produce red blood cells. The first goal is to get them to make complicated and rare blood types.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Farming Isn't What It Used To Be

Underwater farms...protected by robot shepherds
...that guard their flocks autonomously

The twenty-first century is here and it's awesome!


In 1797, Henry Cavendish performed one of the ten most clever science experiments in history by "weighing the earth".

Last month, John Walker recreated it in his basement.

A Winter Jacket winter, a spring jacket in spring.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Visiting Other Stars

The Breakthrough Starshot project has a realistic plan for humans to have a spacecraft inside another solar system in 20-30 years. Their idea is to make a swarm of tiny vehicles. They would be thrown into space somehow and propelled onward using a lightsail. Power for the lightsail doesn't need to be stored on the ship. These ones would get little power from the sun. The light would come from a massive laser on earth. The physicists figure they can  achieve speeds of 1/5 the speed of light or 60,000 km/s.

Each ship would have a mass of a gram or two. It would be a couple of cm in size but have a light sail that folds out to an area of 4m x 4m.

There are a lot of challenges: powering a computer for 30 years; recording, storing and transmitting photographs and video; cosmic rays; dissipating waste heat and impacts with space debris.

Ultimately, after all that journey, the craft would spend about two days travelling the distance of the earth's orbit.

If you want a ship that can take up orbit around the next star, that will take 100-150 years.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bellyaching about Autism

Now there's a claim that gut bacteria is related to autism.
Apparently gastrointestinal  problems are common among those with autism. This study claims that a transplant of fecal microbes reduces gastrointestinal problems 80%, not too surprising. More remarkable is that it improves social and sleep habits by 20%.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dinosaurs Had Feathers

We have long imagined dinosaurs as mighty lizards: scales and all. Every once in a while it is good to be reminded just how little of what we know is fact and how much is speculation.

Our beliefs about dinosaurs are based on reconstructions of skeletons or parts of skeletons. No one has ever seen dinosaur skin. (Whoops, we have, or at least impressions of dinosaur skin.)

Only now, it seems we may have seen the tail of a dinosaur, down to the smallest detail of texture, possibly even some hints of coloring.

(Jun'17 - ...or maybe not.)