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Mutual Inspiration

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how science and science fiction continually inspire each other. Science comes out with a new discovery that revolutionizes the way we view things, science fiction takes that idea and runs with it. The converse is true, too! Doubly so!

Some examples:

The Submarine – American inventor Simon Lake had been captivated by the idea of undersea travel and exploration ever since he read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. Lake’s innovations included ballast tanks, divers’ compartments and the periscope. His company built the Argonaut—the first submarine to operate successfully in the open ocean, in 1898*

The Rocket – Robert H. Goddard, the American scientist who built the first liquid-fueled rocket—which he successfully launched on March 16, 1926—became fascinated with spaceflight after reading an 1898 newspaper serialization of H.G. Wells’ classic novel about a Martian invasion, War of the Worlds. As Goddard would recall later, the concept of interplanetary flight “gripped my imagination tremendously.”*

The Cell Phone – Martin Cooper, the director of research and development at Motorola, credited the “Star Trek” communicator as his inspiration for the design of the first mobile phone in the early 1970s. “That was not fantasy to us,” Cooper said, “that was an objective.”*

Quicktime – Apple scientist Steve Perlman says that he got the idea for the ground breaking multimedia program QuickTime after watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” wherein one of the characters is listening to multiple music tracks on his computer.*

* = Nicked from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Ten-Inventions-Inspire…

The list doesn’t end there. Space exploration owes quite a bit to dreamers who imagined what may be on neighbouring planets. The more we discover about our universe, the more fiction we write; the more fiction we write, the more inspiration there is to fledgling scientists.

This is the only feedback loop that matters, all boiling down to inspiring our youth and fledgling scientists to make more and more discoveries about the universe and our place within it.

What are your thoughts?

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From Apollo to Fox

January 24, 2013 2 comments

The Apollo missions were the result of a political response to the Cold War with Soviet Russia, this everyone knows. But if not for this reason would we have gone at all? Would we have gone by now? This question is certainly unknown and quite possibly unknowable altogether. It’s frustrating that such endeavors were the result of super-powers flexing their political muscles instead of genuine curiosity about the universe, but nonetheless, it got us to space and has spurred many missions since. In fact, the first (and subsequent only) scientist on an Apollo mission was the very last one sent up the night of December 7th, 1972.

Forty years since we had lost interest in going back to the Moon. Until now. Various privately owned companies have expressed interest in sending missions to the Moon and beyond; NASA announced of its plans to head back, including missions to Mars by 2030. But will this happen? I can honestly say that I believe it will. Thanks to the help of great promoters like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and many others, the public’s interest in space has never been so high.

Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy), who is a BIG fan of science, has great sway with prime-time television. He has personally backed the reboot of Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. He’s teamed up with Ann Druyan and Neil deGrasse Tyson and has convinced Fox to air all new episodes on their prime-time viewing hours. This is absolutely unprecedented! Science programs have pretty much been limited to the Discovery Networks, PBS or various other strictly educational channels…. But not any more!

I think that this will be a turning point in TV programming, I really do. You know how major networks are – they always compete with each other. One airs a new show about police detectives and the other responds with their own version. I think that the very same will happen once Cosmos airs, and I really hope that other networks will respond and jump on the bandwagon.

I know this entry has been pretty scatter-brained, but this is something that excites me. I look forward to the public getting bombarded with more science and less reality TV, which I think is the reason why we’ve become a dumbed-down society.

So You Care About the Polar Bears?

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s impossible (and unfair) to expect everyone you meet to have abundant knowledge on science and current events.  I do, however, wish that I would not have to explain that my dedication to climate change research has nothing to do with the polar bears.

What do I have against polar bears?

I love polar bears.  The one at the zoo is adorable, and I do hope that his feral buddies have long happy lives and produce many, many children.  I just don’t believe that the polar bears are the larger concern when it comes to climate change.

I’m mostly worried about the water.  Projections for global water resources are becoming increasingly dire within a rapidly changing environment.  Water resources define human – political, economic, and social – vulnerability in many regions of the world today.   Certain alpine regions are particularly vulnerable, as rapidly retreating glaciers provide the primary source of fresh surface water downstream.

One such region is the Rio Santa watershed, which drains the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Ancash, Peru.   The Cordillera Blanca contains the world’s highest concentration of tropical glaciers – nearly 600.  The glaciers provide a hydrologic buffer during the austral winter dry season, seasonally supplying between 40 and 60 percent of the region’s water resources.  As the glaciers retreat, a process begins in which meltwater discharge first increases and becomes much more variable, and then decreases and eventually ceases to supply the local rivers altogether.  Most of the glaciers in this region are in the later stages of the process, which poses some major problems for the developing and rapidly-growing populations downstream.   The consequences of reduced water resources in this region are numerous, and Peruvians have been and will be required to adapt under a rapidly shifting regime.   The figure below shows the various ways in which this glacier-dependent region uses water (click to embiggen).

Image

Climate change is an issue that is here and now.  Mitigation is important, but I think our focus should be on how we’re adapting, managing, and planning for a problem that is already upon us.

For a better-written article about Peruvian glaciers and people:

Indian Country: Melting Andes Glaciers Worry Indigenous Peoples

And for those of you who think that gritty science papers are sexy:

Mark et al. (2010). Climate Change and Tropical Andean Glacier Recession: Evaluating Hydrologic Changes and Livelihood Vulnerability in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

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Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings

August 16, 2012 1 comment

I came across an article which concluded that non-human animals are indeed conscious beings. For many pet owners, this finding is not surprising whatsoever; I myself am the proud owner of a few beautiful animals and know them to be very conscious and sentient in their own right. But this entry isn’t really about the findings of science on this topic, but more on the reaction some people have that any research was needed at all.

I had posted the article on my personal Facebook account and received a comment on it.

I really hate when tons of money is spent on stupid research….it’s like researching whether pavement is really better for cars to drive on than the bare ground or whether the sky is really blue to the human eye. Useless. Having had tons of pets growing up, I could have easily told them this and bet my life on it.”

 

I have to admit, deep down this is pretty much how I feel about, too. However, even though this is a kind of truth any pet owner could recognize just by thinking about it (once called “meta-physics”), one has to understand that every contention in science must be proven, no matter how much the topic seems to fall under “common sense”. Invariably there are the skeptics that must be convinced of a claim, so a mere say-so is never enough. Can you imagine if we lived in a world where contentions were left unchallenged, even if they were trivial ones? That does a disservice to us and to the methods of science.

Are these types of research a waste of money? Again, I would argue that they are not. Not everyone is inherently convinced that animals are conscious beings; the whole argument of it being a waste of time and money hinges on the assumption that it is “common sense” that animals are conscious. No matter how trivial an assertion may be or how sensical it may sound to the vast majority of us, it must be tested and challenged through research. Only after the evidence is collected can we say with certainty that a claim is true.

After all, it was once common sense that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

New Additions!

August 8, 2012 1 comment

New Additions!

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to two new contributors to the blog! Please welcome David (davidcurry348050155) and Alex (sassymaps)!

Together we have a wide-range of interests that will be covered in the future; some will be editorial and opinion on various topics, others will be cut-and-dry coverage of the latest scientific discoveries. Either way, we hope that you will enjoy what we have to offer!

Categories: All, Ramblings

Why Do We Explore?

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Why Do We Explore?

Ever since humanity first understood that other lands existed across vast oceans, we’ve been cursed with an everlasting itch to see what was there. Regardless of the perils, countless brave men and women set their sights on traversing immense distances in their ships, all for the chance to be the first people to set foot on foreign territory. Some were in search for new foods or spices, others for flexing their military muscles in dominance.

For the most part seeking new lands was a bargain, especially if the waters were uncharted. They did not know if they would succeed and return home or fail and perish at sea. The uncertainty of their fate, I imagine, is what drives people to try their luck. The hazards involved are an inseparable component of the potential glory.

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Curiosity is the driving force behind exploration. Most of the Earth (save for the ocean bottoms) have been visited, mapped and studied. Our playground for learning exploring is growing smaller. Where else is there to look but to other worlds? We are destined for the stars.

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How lucky we are…

July 31, 2012 Leave a comment

How lucky we are to live in this time; the first moment in human history when we are, in fact, visiting other worlds.”

Carl Sagan said these words in his hit TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which first aired on PBS in 1980. 30 years later, not only is Cosmos still one of the most-watched PBS series, but these words still ring true as our exploration of the universe continues. What was once a fantastic idea, purely in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking, is now upon us. With new explorations come new discoveries. I may not personally have a direct connection with these missions, but the emotional connection one gets through the act of collective discovery is immense. The sense of elation for me is no different than for those who pour through the data collected; I’ve shared in celebrating wonderful successes to mourning when something goes wrong.

I, like Dr. Sagan, consider myself very lucky to be alive at this point in time where we are learning new and exciting things and probing the unknown. Even though we’ve been at this for a number of years, space exploration is still technically in its infancy and will only grow from here. How wonderful would it be if I could share with my grand kids some day that I was around when we discovered life on another world? We’ve already discovered thousands of other planets orbiting other stars, what will be next?

There’s nothing like the idea of telling these stories to the next generation and being able to say, “Yeah, and I was there when it happened”.

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