Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tricorder is Coming

Remember the Tricorder in the original Star Trek? You know, the device McCoy would use to discern any disease or malady that has befallen an unfortunate whether it be man or alien. Well folks, said device is almost here.

University of Toronto researchers have used nanomaterials to develop a microchip sensitive enough to quickly determine the type and severity of a patient's cancer so that the disease can be detected earlier for more effective treatment.

Their groundbreaking work, reported Sept. 27 in Nature Nanotechnology heralds an era when sophisticated
molecular diagnostics will become commonplace.

"This remarkable innovation is an indication that the age of nanomedicine is dawning," says Professor David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto and a professor of medicine. "Thanks to the breadth of expertise here at U of T, cross-disciplinary collaborations of this nature make such landmark advances possible."

The researchers' new device can easily sense the signature biomarkers that indicate the presence of cancer at the cellular level, even though these biomolecules - genes that indicate aggressive or benign forms of the disease and differentiate subtypes of the cancer - are generally present only at low levels in biological samples. Analysis can be completed in 30 minutes, a vast improvement over the existing diagnostic procedures that generally take days.

"Today, it takes a room filled with computers to evaluate a clinically relevant sample of cancer biomarkers and the results aren't quickly available," says Shana Kelley, a professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and the Faculty of Medicine, who was a lead investigator on the project and a co-author on the publication.

"Our team was able to measure biomolecules on an electronic chip the size of your fingertip and analyse the sample within half an hour. The instrumentation required for this analysis can be contained within a unit the size of a BlackBerry."

Science Fiction yesterday, Science Fact today and so it goes.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2012 - Post No. 500

According to the Mayans, 2012 is the year the world ends as this is the...

"end-date of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which is presented as lasting 5,125 years and as terminating on December 21 or 23, 2012, along with plenty of speculation, such as interpretations of assorted legends, scriptures, numerological constructions, prophecies, and alleged channeling from extraterrestrials."

Knowing this, it only takes a short amount of time for enterprising humans to capitalize on 2012 by cultivating a vast array of interpretations of same to include a blockbuster movie,

"informative" tv shows, "serious" web sites and "solemn" books telling us this dismaying news may be, in fact, true, a notion this writer finds somewhat puzzling as the indeterminacy of quantum physics, the law of initial conditions/chaos and the relationship of fractals to the Theory of Everything clearly proves, AFAIK, that predicting the future is simply impossible.

Because Black Swans exist, there is no doubt a plethora of disasters can befall us in the year 2012 whether it be an asteroid from space, the potential eruption of Yellowstone or the mega tsunami threat from the Canary Islands but predicting these and other maladies based on ancient calendar predictions is specious at best and deceptive at worst. As entertainment, it's interesting as the great Mayan Civilization, with it's obsession on human sacrifice (to appease the Gods/Aztecs were far worse) and calendars (obsession with time), pulls us toward the year 2012 and the apocalyptic vision it portends with great power and forbidding mystery.

“There comes a moment in the day when you have written your pages in the morning, attended to your correspondence in the afternoon, and have nothing further to do. Then comes that hour when you are bored; that's the time for sex.” - H.G.Wells

Hard to believe but 2012 is post no. 500 for BRT. Somehow it seems appropriate if you know what I mean. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sustaining Life

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to a talk by Eric Chivian on life, sustainability and medicine, subjects that have interested me for over 45 years as writer, designer and one who has always been fascinated by science and the research that comes from it. Witty, intelligent, perceptive and wise, Eric took us on a journey of just how interconnected we are on planet earth and how we must make the effort to protect the planet and the life it supports before it's too late. One of best parts for me was his discussion about how everything has a cost, something BRT has talked about at length as there is no free lunch when it comes to technology and how it impacts civilization.

To illustrate this fact, Chivian eloquently described how "the vultures of southern Asia, for instance, are threatened with extinction because their natural diet-carrion-has been poisoned with medicine routinely prescribed for livestock and humans." something not envisioned by the creators of the drugs intended to improve the health of cattle prior to their going to the great beyond. Because nature abhors a vacuum, Eric told us how feral dogs took the vulture's place, thus altering the environment and people's lives in ways unimagined as long as the law of unintended consequences (Blowback + The Butterfly Effect) is not factored into the equation.

Other topics covered included biodiversity and the immense impact it has on medicine, man's place in nature and the vastness of the cosmos. His take on Cone snail toxins, frog poisons and the relationship of same to pain relief, cell specificity and cancer reminded me of the Random Walk and how scientists use it as a powerful research tool to better understand the inner workings of economics, ecology, physics and computer science.

Chivian's ability to link medicine to ecology was absolutely the best in showing how scientists at the highest level are, in fact, artists, insatiably curious to learn how the world works and willing to take chances to see where deep relationships lie. From this perspective, it was refreshing to hear someone talk of holistic connections and why the concept of Consilience ("The word is borrowed from William Whewell, who in his 1840 synthesis The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences spoke of consilience as a "jumping together" of knowledge by linking facts and theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation) is more than just a valid approach to improving man's lot in the world in which we live.

The end of the talk really hit home and I quote:

"Look again at that dot, That's here, That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives....Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary master of a fraction of a dot.... Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity,in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves....It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits that this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." - Carl Sagan.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bipartisan Enterprise

Seems the only enterprise truly worth of gigantism is that of Wall Street and the power it wields over America.

"Bailing out the US banks need not have meant bailing out the bankers, their shareholders, and bondholders. We could have kept the banks as ongoing institutions, even if we had played by the ordinary rules of capitalism which say that when a firm can't meet its obligations to creditors, the shareholders lose everything.

Unquestionably we should not have allowed banks to become so big and so intertwined that their failure would cause a crisis. But the Obama administration has created a new concept: institutions too big to be resolved, too big for capital markets to provide the necessary discipline. The perverse incentives for excessive risk-taking at taxpayers' expense are even worse with the too-big-to-be-resolved banks than they are at the too-big-to-fail institutions. We have signed a blank cheque on the public purse. We have not circumscribed their gambling - indeed, they have access to funds from the Fed at close to zero interest rates, and it appears that "trading profits" have (besides "accounting" changes) become the major source of returns."

And this...

"Here's how economist Dean Baker recounts what transpired last September 15: (2008)

"Last September, when he (Bernanke) was telling Congress that the economy would collapse if it did not approve the $700 billion TARP bailout, he warned that the commercial paper market was shutting down.

This was hugely important because most major companies rely on selling commercial paper to meet their payrolls and pay other routine bills. If they could not sell commercial paper, then millions of people would soon be laid off and the economy would literally collapse.

What Mr. Bernanke apparently forgot to tell Congress back then is that the Fed has the authority to directly buy commercial paper from financial and non-financial companies. In other words, the Fed has the power to prevent the sort of economic collapse that Bernanke warned would happen if Congress did not quickly approve the TARP. In fact, Bernanke announced that the Fed would create a special lending facility to buy commercial paper the weekend after Congress voted to approve the TARP." ("Bernanke's bad Money", Dean Baker, Counterpunch)

The reason Bernanke did not underwrite the commercial paper market was, if he had, he wouldn't have been able to blackmail congress. He needed the rising anxiety from the crisis to achieve his goals."

And finally...

"President Obama’s speech yesterday was disappointing. As a diagnosis of the problems that let us into financial crisis, it was his clearest and best effort so far. He didn’t say it was a rare accident for which no one is to blame; rather he placed the blame squarely on the structure, incentives, and actions of Wall Street.

But then he said: our regulatory reforms will fix that. This is hard to believe. And even the President seems to have his doubts, because he added a plea that – in the meantime – the financial sector should behave better.

The audience was comprised of our financial elite, but the Wall Street Journal reports “not one CEO from a top U.S. bank was in attendance” (p.A4). How’s that for demonstrating respect, gratitude, and a willingness to behave better?

Louis Brandeis, of course, would have seen things differently. The author of “Other People’s Money: And How The Bankers Use It,” was under no illusions concerning the underlying financial power structures and how they operated. He would have regarded an appeal to the better nature of bankers as somewhere between humorous and sad."

Lying to Congress used to be a big deal unless you're Treasury and the Fed, Right?

And the beat goes on and on and on...ZZZZZZZZZZZ

In the Pursuit of Knowledge

It's amazing people still question Evolution and Darwin. Common sense is not the purview of evangelicals based on the uproar Creation has had amongst the flock.

"However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.

Movieguide.org, an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as "a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder". His "half-baked theory" directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to "atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering", the site stated."

Another blurb cleverly points out the fact the BBC might be hyping this christian tempest in a teapot to drum up support to get a US distributor for Creation in order for us non believers to go straight to hell when we see how man is, indeed, the descendant of apes. :)

"To be fair, we probably can't entirely blame Christians. While the Christian media outrage machine is pretty formidable, it's doubtful the U.S. movie industry has been cowed by some ranting on Christian comment boards, or the prospect of a boycott (that's why Hollywood still produces slightly more movies with sex and violence, rather than Jesus, as their major themes).

Probably a bit of cost benefit analysis going on: despite the free publicity generated by riled-up Christians, people will hardly flock to a British-y movie about a 19th century scientist -- at least not enough to outweigh the branding headaches created by screaming, sign-wielding Christians. So, this is your fault too. Or, perhaps the savvy BBC producers are playing up the controversy to trick you into going to a smart movie about history and science. Let's hope for the latter."

"Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range... within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here spread out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact – that mystery of mysteries – the first appearance of new beings on this earth."

..."one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends." - Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

In other words..."False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness. " - Charles Darwin

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Same as It Ever Was

"Backstopped by huge federal guarantees, the biggest banks have restructured only around the edges. Employment in the industry has fallen just 8 percent since last September. Only a handful of big hedge funds have closed. Pay is already returning to precrash levels, topped by the 30,000 employees of Goldman Sachs, who are on track to earn an average of $700,000 this year. Nor are major pay cuts likely, according to a report last week from J.P. Morgan Securities. Executives at most big banks have kept their jobs. Financial stocks have soared since their winter lows.

The Obama administration has proposed regulatory changes, but even their backers say they face a difficult road in Congress. For now, banks still sell and trade unregulated derivatives, despite their role in last fall’s chaos. Radical changes like pay caps or restrictions on bank size face overwhelming resistance. Even minor changes, like requiring banks to disclose more about the derivatives they own, are far from certain."

Note: "Derivatives created by the 5 biggest Wall Street Banks tally over 180 trillion dollars while the world's GNP is 56 trillion."- BRT

And last but not least, the masters of the universe continue to fiddle with our money with no regard to the inevitable impact of Blowback or the Law of Unintended Consequences.

"Simon Johnson, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, said that the seeds of another collapse had already sprouted. If major banks are allowed to keep making bets that are ultimately backed by taxpayer guarantees, they will return to the practices that led them to underwrite trillions of dollars in bad loans, Professor Johnson said. “They will run up big risks, they will fail again, they will hit us for a big check,” he predicted."

Click on the NYTimes graphic below to see why banks are the real owners of this country and why politicians are but well paid indentured minions who do as they are told.

Had to add this little gem about the Fed and Goldman. Priceless.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Peak Oil Redux

I know no one wants to hear about Peak Oil and the implications thereof but the beast will not go away and one Robert Hirsch is a guy who knows the drill, pardon the pun, on why it's real and, like global warming, will not go away.

"Peak oil is a bigger issue than health care, than federal budget deficits, and so forth. We’re talking about something that, to take a middle of the road position—not the Armageddon extreme and not the la-la optimism of some people—is going to be extremely damaging to the U.S. and world economies for a very long period of time. There are no quick fixes.

Question: How do you describe your key take-away from your 2005 study?

Hirsch: What we did was to look at a world-wide crash program of mitigation. We were interested in the very best that was humanly possible. That was the limiting case. There are lots of reasons why, under the best of conditions, things can’t and won’t go as fast as we assumed. We knew at the outset that the energy system was enormous and that the amount of oil-product-consuming end-use equipment was enormous. We knew it could not be changed quickly, and that in a number of cases, there was nothing to change it to – no alternative to liquid fuels. We also knew that energy efficiency could make a big difference, but we were surprised to learn that improving vehicle fuel economy would take much longer than we had imagined prior to doing our analysis. We found that because the decline rate in world oil production was going to be in multiple percents per year, it was going to take a very long time for mitigation to catch up to the decline in world oil production. Basically, the best we found was that starting a worldwide crash program 20 years before the problem hits avoid serious problems. If you started 10 years before-hand, you are in a lot of trouble; and if you wait to the last minute until the problem is obvious, then you’re in deep trouble for much longer than a decade. As it turns out, we no longer have the 10 or 20 years that were two of our scenarios."

Any questions?

A New Model?

Could this be a new model to save the dying newspaper industry? Enter Google Checkout, a nascent competitor with PayPal but with Google's intense content handling capability.

"In the document which you can download here, Google outlines its “vision of a premium content ecosystem” that includes subscriptions across multiple news sites, syndication on third-party sites, accessibility to search, and various payment options, including small fees for access to individual pieces of content (known as micropayments). The company says:

Google believes that an open web benefits all users and publishers. However, “open” need not mean free. We believe that content on the Internet can thrive supported by multiple business models — including content available only via subscription.'"

One can only hope.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Light Fantastic

The future of light is coming and it's organic, flexible and, when perfected, will change how man illuminates the world. The world of OLEDs is almost here and, I, for one, can't wait.

Type OLED in Search to see in-depth BRT posts on this rapidly evolving tech which will also change all things digital within the next 5 years. Who knows, the wall size screen depicted in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 will be everywhere, seamless, soft and possibly ever present. Not a good thing perhaps but everything has a cost without exception, even tech as cool as this.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hip Videos for Curious People

Learning about Physics & Chemistry has never been easier or cooler. For physics, check out the University of Nottinham's Sixtysymbols.com For chemistry, go to the sister site Periodicvideos.com. In both venues, watching YouTube videos to the max is a good thing for the brain, don't you think. :)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Follow the Money

"The film MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE reveals how a profit-hungry medical-industrial complex has turned health care into a system that squanders millions of dollars on unnecessary tests, unproven and sometimes unwanted procedures and overpriced prescription drugs. "

Sound Familiar? Looking at how Obama's plan is shaping up, it's going to be the same old crap with big pharma, heath care providers and insurance companies making big money on something that should be Single Payer. (Medicare anyone?) How much longer do we put up with this nonsense while congress continues with their Single Payer gig. Another question we should ask, why should we pay for their healthcare? They don't pay for ours. Ironic isn't it?

“Money-Driven Medicine is one of the strongest documentaries I have seen in years and could not be more timely. The more people who see and talk about it, the more likely we are to get serious and true health care reform.”- Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers is a prince among men.

End of rant.