Monday, April 28, 2008

Scary Thoughts

Finally, a radical but valid approach to dealing with mental illness may be at hand if researchers are right about infection and the body's immune response to microbes that attack the brain.

Bugs and the Brain
To this writer it makes a great deal of sense as the brain would react to illness in ways different from every other part of the body because of it's configuration and connects to the five senses.

No doubt there's resistance but...Doctors have known for many years that microbes such as syphilis and Streptococcus can, if left untreated, lead to serious psychiatric problems. Now a growing number of scientists are proposing that microbes are to blame for several mental illnesses once thought to have neurological or psychological defects at their roots. The strongest evidence pertains to schizophrenia, but autism, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder have also been linked to bacterial, viral or parasitic infections in utero, in childhood or in maturity. Some of these infections can directly affect the brain, whereas others might trigger immune reactions that interfere with brain development or perhaps even attack our own brain cells in an autoimmune mistake.

To see some other ground breaking research on mental illness, click here.

With a bit of luck, the end game of Cuckoo's Nest will wind up in the dustbin of history.

If he's crazy, what does that make you?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

CO2 Breakthrough?

There might be a breakthrough in dealing with greenhouse gases if British scientists findings prove to be right. The Newcastle University team, led by Michael North, Professor of Organic Chemistry, has developed a highly energy-efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemical compounds known as cyclic carbonates. The big deal about this centers on the monies that can be made as Cyclic carbonates are widely used in the manufacture of products including solvents, paint-strippers, biodegradable packaging, as well as having applications in the chemical industry. Cyclic carbonates also have potential for use in the manufacture of a new class of efficient anti-knocking agents in petrol. Anti-knocking agents make petrol burn better, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing CO2

As stated before in BRT, solutions are in the lab able to deal with climate change and sustainability. The question about scaling this tech to real world levels and the will to make it happen must be answered if we are to survive as a viable species on planet Earth.

Picturing to Learn

Just saw a charming MIT site called 'Picturing to Learn' Check this out to discover how science works. In fact, kids of all ages should check this out. I did and learned a lot in the process.


Photosynthesis Universalis

A couple of months ago, Scientific American posted an outstanding article titled The Color of Plants on Other Worlds. The part that impresses centers on the section titled Harvesting Light ... The way plants harvest sunlight is a marvel of nature. Photosynthetic pigments such as chlorophyll are not isolated molecules. They operate in a network like an array of antennas, each tuned to pick out photons of particular wavelengths. Chlorophyll preferentially absorbs red and blue light, and carotenoid pigments (which produce the vibrant reds and yellows of fall foliage) pick up a slightly different shade of blue. All this energy gets funneled to a special chlorophyll molecule at a chemical reaction center, which splits water and releases oxygen.

The funneling process is the key to which colors the pigments select. The complex of molecules at the reaction center can perform chemical reactions only if it receives a red photon or the equivalent amount of energy in some other form. To take advantage of blue photons, the antenna pigments work in concert to convert the high energy (from blue photons) to a lower energy (redder), like a series of step-down transformers that reduces the 100,000 volts of electric power lines to the 120 or 240 volts of a wall outlet. The process begins when a blue photon hits a blue-absorbing pigment and energizes one of the electrons in the molecule. When that electron drops back down to its original state, it releases this energy—but because of energy losses to heat and vibrations, it releases less energy than it absorbed.

The pigment molecule releases its energy not in the form of another photon but in the form of an electrical interaction with another pigment molecule that is able to absorb energy at that lower level. This pigment, in turn, releases an even lower amount of energy, and so the process continues until the original blue photon energy has been downgraded to red. The array of pigments can also convert cyan, green or yellow to red. The reaction center, as the receiving end of the cascade, adapts to absorb the lowest-energy available photons. On our planet’s surface, red photons are both the most abundant and the lowest energy within the visible spectrum.

Because photosynthesis is a quantum mechanical process able to function under different star types (Click on the above graphic to see Sciam's take on this.), the chances of finding life on other worlds should not be a big deal save for the fact man will finally know that he is not alone.

When this process is combined with chemosynthesis, the possibility of life existing on other worlds really takes off as the need for sunlight disappears and, as Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park, Life Finds a way.

For other BRT blurbs on this subject, The Goldilocks Zone and Life Finds a Way indicates that thinking earth is the only place where life resides is somewhat far fetched to say the least.

Regarding intelligent life, I agree with Stephen Hawking in that it's rare but not beyond the realm of possibility because if it is, then nature has paid a cruel joke on this universe by having us as it's sole representative of intelligent life.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spore, Finally!

Spore is almost ready for prime time and I, for one, can't wait. Click here to see a BRT post talking about a game that's taken years to create. Based on what's on the Closer Look page, it's worth the wait as playing God, as stated before, is a pretty cool thing to do.

Your universe awaits.

Music of the Spheres

The figure shows how geometrical music theory represents four-note chord-types -- the collections of notes form a tetrahedron, with the colors indicating the spacing between the individual notes in a sequence. In the blue spheres, the notes are clustered, in the warmer colors, they are farther apart. The red ball at the top of the pyramid is the diminished seventh chord, a popular 19th-century chord. Near it are all the most familiar chords of Western music. Credit: Dmitri Tymoczko, Princeton University.

Well it seems the ancient Greeks were right about tying geometry to music as three music profs have connected sophisticated 3D modeling techniques to musical components to come up with a powerful new way to analyze music. "They take sequences of notes, like chords, rhythms and scales, and categorize them so they can be grouped into "families." They have found a way to assign mathematical structure to these families, so they can then be represented by points in complex geometrical spaces, much the way "x" and "y" coordinates, in the simpler system of high school algebra, correspond to points on a two-dimensional plane. "

What they found was pretty amazing in terms of how easily "western" composition could be transformed into really interesting geometric shapes (including spheres), something that Thales and his student Pythagoras, used in developing number theory to describe how reality worked. "The (Pythagoreans were) ... the first to take up mathematics ... (and) thought its principles were the principles of all things. Since, of these principles, numbers ... are the first, ... in numbers they seemed to see many resemblances to things that exist ... more than [just] air, fire and earth and water, (but things such as) justice, soul, reason, opportunity ..."

What's also fascinating about the Greeks is the fact they hated the concept of Zero. "The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped it, and the Church used it to fend off heretics. Now it threatens the foundations of modern physics. For centuries the power of zero savored of the demonic; once harnessed, it became the most important tool in mathematics. For zero, infinity's twin, is not like other numbers. It is both nothing and everything."

Any questions?

Addendum: Check out Zeno’s Paradox to see what happens when Zero is left out of the equation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On the Proper Use of Language

Language shapes an individual's view of reality because without it, there is no ability to communicate what that person's view may be. At the same time, the way any given language is constructed skews the interpretation of reality the individual will have because of the form the language takes. In tech, Kanji, the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing, became the driving engine for Japan to design high resolution displays due to the fact Kanji has from 50,000 to 80,000 characters (depending on who's doing the counting), thus requiring a new approach to designing hardware to enable the Japanese to participate in the world wide digital revolution that was taking off in the mid 1970's.

At the same time this was going on, modular western languages like English, Russian and French took precedence in software development as complex algabraic expressions could be easily codified into the machine language of 0s & 1s used in telling what a computer should do with data, sound and images. (Modular Alphabet/Assembler = 0s & 1s. High level programming languages like Fortran, Cobol, Java and others work on top of Assembler to enable humans to build apps like Word, Photoshop and Excel.)

The reason for the foray into language was instigated by Dick Cavett's insightful Memo to Petraeus & Crocker: More Laughs, Please

To whit: (As speakers, both Petraeus and Crocker are guilty of unbearable sesquipedalianism, a word wickedly inflicted on me by my English-teaching mother. It’s one of those words that is what it says. From the Latin, literally “using foot-and-a-half-long words.” We all learned the word for words that sound like what they say — like “click” or “pop” or “boom” or “hiss” — but I’m sure the mercifully defunct Famous Writers School surely forbade using the “sesqui” word and “onomatopoeia” in the same paragraph. (You can have fun with both of them at your next cocktail party.)

But back to our story. Never in this breathing world have I seen a person clog up and erode his speaking — as distinct from his reading — with more “uhs,” “ers” and “ums” than poor Crocker. Surely he has never seen himself talking: “Uh, that is uh, a, uh, matter that we, er, um, uh are carefully, uh, considering.” (Not a parody, an actual Crocker sentence. And not even the worst.)

Here is where it gets serious: "Petraeus commits a different assault on the listener. And on the language. In addition to his own pedantic delivery, there is his turgid vocabulary. It reminds you of Copspeak, a language spoken nowhere on earth except by cops and firemen when talking to “Eyewitness News.” Its rule: never use a short word where a longer one will do. It must be meant to convey some misguided sense of “learnedness” and “scholasticism” — possibly even that dread thing, “intellectualism” — to their talk. Sorry, I mean their “articulation.”

No crook ever gets out of the car. A “perpetrator exits the vehicle.” (Does any cop say to his wife at dinner, “Honey, I stubbed my toe today as I exited our
vehicle”?) No “man” or “woman” is present in Copspeak. They are replaced by that five-syllable, leaden ingot, the “individual.” The other day, there issued from a fire chief’s mouth, “It contributed to the obfuscation of what eventually eventuated.” This from a guy who looked like he talked, in real life, like Rocky Balboa. And there’s nothing wrong with that."

While reading this, I remember George Orwell's great essay Politics and the English Language whereby he discusses the literary techniques politicians (and others) use in stating policy or soliciting support for some god forsaken initiative (Iraq etc., etc.)


OPERATORS, or VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: RENDER INOPERATIVE, MILITATE AGAINST, PROVE UNACCEPTABLE, MAKE CONTACT WITH, BE SUBJECTED TO, GIVE RISE TO...

The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as BREAK, STOP, SPOIL, MEND, KILL, a verb becomes a PHRASE, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb as PROVE,
SERVE, FORM, PLAY, RENDER...The passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (BY EXAMINATION OF instead of BY EXAMINING). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -IZE' AND 'DE-' formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the NOT 'UN-' formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as WITH RESPECT TO, HAVING REGARD TO, THE FACT THAT, BY DINT OF, IN VIEW OF, IN THE INTERESTS OF, ON THE HYPOTHESIS THAT; and the ends of sentences are saved from anti-climax by such resounding commonplaces as GREATLY TO BE DESIRED, CANNOT BE LEFT OUT OF ACCOUNT, A DEVELOPMENT TO BE EXPECTED IN THE NEAR FUTURE, DESERVING OF SERIOUS CONSIDERATION, BROUGHT TO A SATISFACTORY CONCLUSION, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like PHENOMENON, ELEMENT, INDIVIDUAL (as noun), OBJECTIVE, CATEGORICAL, EFFECTIVE, VIRTUAL, BASIS, PRIMARY, PROMOTE, CONSTITUTE, EXHIBIT, EXPLOIT, UTILIZE, ELIMINATE, LIQUIDATE, are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgment.

Sounds familiar doesn't it especially when anyone in power uses language like this. When combined with the fact this biased information is constantly pumped out 24/7 by the multinationals that own the media, one stops to consider if Orwell's vision of 1984 is possible. Click on the chart to see just how concentrated the media really is. Note: The chart is somewhat out of date.)

Who knows, 1984 may already be here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kind of Blue Plus Significant Others

Kind of Blue, the quintessential jazz masterpiece by Miles Davis, shows just how rare perfection truly is. Elegant, understated and above all else, supremely confident, this first great group of Miles shows just how powerful improvisation can be when played at the highest level.

This kind of subtle craftsmanship shows up in unexpected places as well as seen in the Paul Newman flick, Nobody's Fool, a story about "a rascally ne'er-do-well approaching retirement age."

Sully: I can't believe it's gonna take you that long to get me out of jail.
Wirf: Don't blame me, I'm a Jew. They're not my holidays.
Sully: A Jew? Really? I didn't know that. How come you ain't smart?
Wirf: How can I start getting you out of jail when you won't go in?

An all too tiny sampler of others too good to miss.
The Good Shepherd

Bull Durham
The Elements of Style

Three Musicians, Picasso, 1921

Etc., etc., etc.

And so it goes....Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

The Fine Structure Constant

Graphene, the new wonder boy on the block regarding tech, computation and science, has a new arrow in it's quiver, the art of enabling researchers the ability to see how the Fine Structure Constant operates in real time.

The FSC "is the measure of the strength of the electromagnetic force that governs how electrically charged elementary particles (e.g., electron, muon) and light (photons) interact.

"...researchers have found the carbon monolayer is not crystal-clear but notably opaque, absorbing a rather large 2.3 percent of visible light. The experiments supported by theory show this number divided by Pi gives you the exact value of the fine structures constant.

The fundamental reason for this is that electrons in graphene behave as if they have completely lost their mass, as shown in the previous work of the Manchester group and repeated by many researchers worldwide."

Note: The photon is the carrier of electromagnetic radiation of all wavelengths, including gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared light, microwaves, and radio waves.

Now that scientists can actually see how light (photons) interacts with the fast and seemingly massless electrons in Graphene, the ability to design truly efficient solar collectors may be at hand, thus ushering in an age of clean energy that can change how man does business on planet earth.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Devil Made me do it

Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco
Formed to Honor George W. Bush

Click on the image below to see where the GWB site will reside.

"Why? To honor our current leader of the free world with an "appropriate and enduring legacy, for no other president in modern American history has accomplished so much in such a short time."

Time Keeps on Ticking, Ticking into the Future

Just linked to a really interesting site called World Clock, (via an RSS feed from created by Poodwaddle, an outfit that creates some very cool apps to plug into your website. World Clock shows the current status of earth in real time. In some ways, the information displayed indicates why no truly advanced species should give us a close encounter of the third kind experience until we learn how to be better stewards of the planet.

As an aside, Time keeps on Ticking... comes from a classic from Steve Miller called Fly Like An Eagle.


Black Ops

Well, you can't say Black Ops organizations don't have a sense of humor or esprit de corps as seen by the patches depicted above, courtesy of Trevor Paglen, the author of a fascinating new book titled:
I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World

When you consider just how big the budget is for Black Ops, the reason for all this joie de vive is rather obvious.

The classified budget of the Defense Department, concealed from the public in all but outline, has nearly doubled in the Bush years, to $32 billion. That is more than the combined budgets of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Those billions have expanded a secret world of advanced science and technology in which military units and federal contractors push back the frontiers of warfare. In the past, such handiwork has produced some of the most advanced jets, weapons and spy satellites, as well as notorious boondoggles.

What makes this NY Times article so interesting is the book's source of inspiration...

What sparked his interest, Mr. Paglen recalled, were Vice President Dick Cheney’s remarks as the Pentagon and World Trade Center smoldered. On “Meet the Press,” he said the nation would engage its “dark side” to find the attackers and justice. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows,” Mr. Cheney said. “It’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

God, I feel safer already! Don't you?

Addendum, Click on the image below to get a dose from The Space Review, this time, the focus in on Black Ops and the Final Frontier.