Monthly Archives: February 2015

Science Thursday: February 26, 2015

It is really neat when I observe how writing these little science articles about bigger science articles has made me appreciate science even more. The fact that we have science, and that we have it at the level that we do is something that should really never be taken for granted, and yet, it is taken for granted every day. Not everybody should be a scientist. It takes a certain type of person to devote their entire lives to a discipline. However, everyone should be interested in science. It is literally all around you, every single day. That was on my chest, and I had to get it off…you know, so I could breath and whatnot. Now, for this weeks cool science things, that I thought were cool.

CBC (like BBC, but Canadian) has published an article this week, which is kind of cool. As it turns out, the Black Plague is no longer being blamed on rats. Scientists have discovered that it was actually giant gerbils from Asia who were responsible for starting the global epidemic. The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Oslo, working with the Swiss government. The gerbils, which the article claims grew to up to 20 centimeters (8 inches), brought the disease over sporadically from Asia, most likely via the silk road. The plague was then passed to humans by fleas. In other news, rat families around the world are celebrating after many long years of oppression for their alleged crime…

Some astronomers have discovered a massive black hole, that is some 3000 times larger than the one at the center of our own galaxy. Also, there is a black hole at the center of our own galaxy. They found this dark star in a galaxy that is being observed only 825 million years after the big bang. Science Magazine’s Daniel Clery writes, “To have grown to such a size in so short a time, it must have been munching matter at close to the maximum physically possible rate for most of its existence.” Which, if you ask me, is pretty cool.

And now to those mystery dots.  They actually might have volcanic origin. The higher resolution photos that were taken as the Dawn spacecraft neared the planet revealed multiple spots in the same basin, which could point to the cryo-volcano theory. However, the photos are still not conclusive enough, and so we’ll have to wait until the spacecraft gets even closer to find out more.

Coming back to Earth…kind of…author John Norman wrote a series of 32 novels that are set on a planet which is on the other side of the sun. Our sun. The planet is called Gor. The basic idea is that this planet is in an orbit that is linearly opposed to the Earth’s, meaning that this planet is always behind the Sun in the Earth’s sky. So, if it’s constantly behind the Sun, then the people on Earth would never see it, know it exists, and more importantly, be completely unaware of any life that may or may not have evolved on it. Sounds…almost believable, doesn’t it. Well, Universe Today’s Fraser Cain decided to publish an article and a video about it. Could this mysterious planet exist? I’ll let you find out for yourself.

Something to piggy back off of the Mars One theme from last week. Mars One has lost it’s television deal. There is hope for humanity. According to Space News, the non-for-profit could not reach an agreement about the contract with the television company Endemol. The CEO of Mars One, of course, said that they still plan to go ahead as scheduled, although their schedule is very ambitious. They will also have to respond to this paper, written by MIT students, who are usually very smart.

Finally, a word on the internet. Because, if it were not for the internet, how ever would you read this blog? The republican opposition to net neutrality .has ended. This means, that today, the FCC approved net neutrality. This, if you don’t understand Washington legislation language — and, let’s be honest, who does? — a good thing. Evidently, John Wheeler, the man who John Oliver called, “link a dingo”, is in fact not a dingo. Just like he he said he was. Or maybe he is a dingo. Who really knows.

Welp, that’s that for science Thursday. Thanks for reading, see you next time.

Science Thursday: February 19, 2015

Welcome to Science Thursday, February 19th edition. For those of you still in the Valentine’s Day mood, even though St. Valentine has little to do with, say, movies about bondage disguised by a false sense of decency, here are some TED talks about love, and psychology, and…love. Kind of. See what I did there? Conned you into sciencey things by talking about bondage. You can call it…50 shades of science. Ok, now for some science things.

So here’s a cool thing. Human DNA enlarges mouse brains. Whoa. So what this is saying, more or less, is that human DNA that was introduced into mouse fetuses created mice with larger brains. This is important because we don’t really know a great deal about how brains develop. The article that I’ve linked to does a much better job at explaining all this, because biology is not really my strong suit.

Google! Google’s youth science fair is pushing environmental entries this year. Google, while they do help the government with your data, does do some pretty cool things, and the kids who enter this science competition do some pretty cool things as well. The winners of this years science fair can win some pretty cool stuff as well. According to Engadget, submissions are due by May 18th, and a winner will be announced sometime in September.

Mars One, the enticingly dangerous ploy to attempt to send humans to Mars, has suspended work on two robotic vanguards that were set to launch in 2018. Mars One handed out some contracts to aerospace companies like Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. and Lockheed Martin, but little followup contracts have bene handed out. In other Mars One news, they have selected finalists for their one way mission. Interjecting my own opinion, I’m all for going to Mars, someday, but I think Mars One is going to make a complete hash of it, and as a result, people are going to die. Since their whole plan is for a one way mission, I’m forced to amend that statement. They’re going to die of unnatural causes. It’s going to be ugly, and it’s going to be very, very public. We absolutely need to be exploring space, but funding it under the guise of a reality television program is foolish, irresponsible, and downright dangerous. Space colonization is a thing humans need to do, but we’re not nearly there yet. We’ve much exploring left to do first.

In another SpaceNews piece by their talented writer Jeff Foust, people are skeptical of private human spaceflight, and divided about government space exploration. I can’t even begin to describe how sad this is, and so I’ll probably write a whole blog post on this subject at some later date.

Since I am reading The War of The Worlds for the first time (gasp..I know…get over it), this is kind of funny and chilling simultaneously. Some mysterious gas plumes have appeared on the surface of Mars. What’s more, nobody knows what they are. There are several guesses, all outlined in the linked article, but what is known, is that these plumes have been observed since 2012, and nobody actually knows anything about them. So, if things start falling from the sky, and giant three-legged metal beasts emerge from them, I guess we’ll know for sure.

Finally, that little thing you’ve all been waiting to hear about anxiously…Rosetta! Yes! Rosetta is still a thing, out there, orbiting comet 67P/C-G. This week, it took some incredible images of the comet, giving us some fascinating pictures. These images reveal to us just how dynamic the surface of a comet actually is, which is incredible. We used to think comets were simply bad omens from the heavens, and know we know they have hills on them.

Aaand an update on that SpaceX launch: It launched, and soon there will be a spacecraft flying a million miles away from which you can see a live streaming picture of Earth, but the boat landing had to be aborted due to high seas. The first stage had a successful soft landing however, which means that the odds are pretty good the next time there is SpaceX launch with better sea conditions something pretty cool will happen.

Ok, well, that’s this weeks edition of Science Thursday. It might be a little shorter than usual, which is because my class schedule is picking up, but in any event, thanks for reading. Keep sciencing, and remember, space is awesome and we should go to there. But not like Mars One. Ok have a good week of science! Bye.


Everyone who has ever lived to see their 20th birthday has passed through something we call, the teen years. Those crucial, awkward, magnificent years. The ones where we go through high school, the first years of college, or a job, or the military. Puberty. Cracking voices. Discovering what masturbation is. Well, with the availability of pornography on the internet, that might not still be a hallmark of the teenage years. There’s a wonderful short story by David Foster Wallace that describes a 13-year-old boy’s journey through some of those things which is one of the most beautifully penned pieces of writing I’ve yet to come across. It’s called Forever Overhead, for those of you googley inclined. We take all this for granted now, kids become teenagers during which time they will be evil reckless beasts, and then they’ll “grow out of it” and go to college, and live their lives. Actually, I know several who have gone to college and are spending the rest of their lives attempting to recreate the reckless teen years, with pitiful results, but that is neither here nor there. What I find the most interesting, and what I’ve never thought about until it was pointed out to me in a class I recently sat through, is that the “teenager” is only an idea some 70 years old.

This may sound like a lot, but there are people reading this who are probably older than that. Ok, ok, we’ll say more experienced. That’s what I’d want to be called. Which means, there were no teenagers fighting in World War I, or the Civil War. There were no teenagers that came across the atlantic on the Mayflower. My potentially amazing film/book/play idea Jesus: The Teenage Years suddenly had the wind taken out of its sails. Because none of those people were ever teenagers. Romeo and Juliet is a story of two young adults trapped in a deadly romance. Now, all of the people whom I just mentioned did go through the ages 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19. (Except Romeo and Juliet, who died young.) But, they were never teenagers.

The term “teenager” is a product of the 1940s. The teenage mindset and image began forming in the 1920s. It had to do with one up and coming invention, another thing that we all take for granted nowadays. The automobile. Back in the day, (probably, a Tuesday), it used to be a whole big thing to date someone. It was called courting, and there were many courtship rituals. All this stems from the protestant christianity which actually shaped much more of western culture than I think people realize, myself included. Sex before marriage was taboo, the liberal dating philosophy of the mid 20th century was taboo, and the “hookup culture” that is emerging in the 21st century is probably the work of Satan himself. A young man’s love life was easily controllable because the young man was pretty much stuck in one place. So a courtship would actually take place largely in the company of the young woman’s parents. (Forget about gay romances…it’s 2015 and we still haven’t gotten over that one.) The relationship was heavily supervised; a couple might only spend a couple of minutes alone on the front porch at the end of the evening. This was the way. It was just, “the way we do things around here.” With an automobile, young people had a tool to break free from the constant supervision.

This of course, lead to kids growing independent. They could go on dates without being watched by their parents. They could drink alcohol. They could rebel against the ways of their parents, often viewed as strict and idiotic. They could play loud music, drive their cars too fast. They could experiment sexually. GASP! They could form their own little cultural niche. Which has existed in various forms through the present day.

The word teenager was invented in the 1940s by advertisers who realized something incredible. They could actually market to this emerging niche culture. Which they did, in force, and still do today. Teenagers suddenly had their own movies, like Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. They suddenly had their own music, their own gangs, their own styles of dress. The people in the teen years stopped being smaller versions of adults, wearing “grown-up” clothing, and started grasping their own image. It was only a matter of time before the good christian matured parents of America started retaliating.

Starting in the ’40s, and continuing through the ’50s and onward, parents began feeling disconnected from their kids. (I have no idea how connected they were before, but I think during this time, they started noticing it. Whether that’s a good or bad shift in culture, I’ll let to you to decide.)

Another factor in the rise of the teenager was high school. In the 1940s there was a dramatic rise in high school attendance, and graduation rates. With more advanced transportation came more centralized schools, which many students travelled to. It brought people together who would have been separate before. It gave way to all the teenage fads, teen consumer culture, many of the things the people in my parents generation grew up with. They were living through these things about 40 years after their conception, and I suppose you could try and make some comparisons with that, and kids a little younger than me and the internet, but I won’t do that here.

The simple fact is, that kids didn’t used to be treated like kids. Kids used to be treated like little adults. They would work hard jobs, often dangerous ones, because they were little and could fit places adults couldn’t, like chimneys. Now, because of sciences like psychology, we know that kids are very different from adults. Their brains are developing, their bodies are growing, they’re being shaped and molded into whatever they end up being as adults. Even through the teen years, their brains develop still. Their bodies develop through the teen years into that of men and women, in all their magnificence. We live in a world where teenage culture is so much of a norm, and yet, it is less than 100 years old. Written records go back some 6000 years, and teenagers have been around for some %1 of it. That’s just after humans invented writing.

So that’s a cool thing I didn’t know about until a little while ago. Thanks for reading.


Science Thursday: February 5, 2015

Welcome fellow people of the internet, it is another day. Yep, that’s what it is. Another day. Actually, right now, where I am, it’s night. But that doesn’t matter, because on the internet, it can be in anonther star system, another galaxy, another universe. Actually (again), I don’t even know what that means, because I can barely comprehend our own galaxy, let alone our universe. But, what the hell, we’re all trying, right?

We need to take another moment to talk about something we talked about for a moment last week. I didn’t take the time to put two and two together. You see, this past week, we had the anniversary of all three spacecraft-related tragedies that this countries space program has endured. February 1 marked the 12 year anniversary of STS-107 , which broke apart during it’s reentry after a two week long science mission. Astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, and Ilan Ramon, all perished during reentry. January 27th, the day before the anniversary of STS-51L, the crew of Apollo 1 (AS-204), Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White all perished in a fire that broke out in the crew capsule during a plugs out test on the launch pad. To explore the borders between the places humans have been to before, and those places we have yet to go is to accept a certaint level of risk. All of these individuals accepted that risk. Let us remember them, and not let that diminish the yearning and the need to keep pushing those borders outward. This article posted on Universe today tells of the remembrance that NASA paid to these men and women.

Now, the spacecraft Dawn has gotten closer to the dwarf planet Ceres, and has released some new photos. What these photos reveal is that the body has more than one mysterious white spot on it’s surface. What this means is either that the dwarf planet is covered with craters, or moutntains, or some other extrageological (I think that’s correct?) feature that we either have observed on other bodies or is new to science (people science)…or alternatively, Randall Munroe was wrong, and it was inspected multiple times. I guess those of us whom are not astronomers or astrophysicists will just have to wait and see.

Coming back to earth, we find this. This rodent was discovered in 2007, according to the BBC. A skull has found that scientists have discovered belonged to this animal, which they estimate to weight around 1000 kg. (For my American readers, that’s about 2200 pounds.) They have actually done some structural analysis of a CAD model of this rodents skull (this is the kind of thing my aerospace structures class is missing), and found that the front teech were quite a bit over-engineered, which leads them to believe that the rodent’s primary weapon for fighting, was it’s front teeth. I guess they were really all it wanted for christmas, which leads you to ponder the fact that this creature died out some 1.9 million years before that holiday’s name-sake was born.

Some not-science news that was turned into science news, a Metro-North Train collided with a jeep, killing six and injuring 15. This has lead to an article on Scientific American that talks about the science of railroad crossings. There has been an effort for the past several years to update crossings called at-grade crossings, that is, intersections between railroads and roadroads where one does not pass above or below the other. These at-grade crossings can be improved using aspects of the design of the crossings, making trains about to cross the road more visible from the road, and even by implementing GPS based in-vehicle alert systems. The accident in New York State is still being investigated by the authorities.

In other news, SpaceX will be launching a rocket on Sunday at around 6 p.m., so if you are so inclined and able, go out and watch it, or watch one of the many live streams. I’m tired right now, so you can find it by copying and pasting into google: “Spacex launch live stream”.

Thanks for reading, keep contemplating the universe.