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Yes, I Believe in UFOs and It Turns Out So Does The U.S. Navy

Ever since I’ve been a kid my fascination with space and the universe has been quite strong. I’ve always paid attention to and that only accelerated when I first watched Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos.

Sagan was always teased about his answer to the question: How many galaxies and planets are there? His answer was always “billions and billions” which is, in fact, a best-guess correct answer. Astronomer’s educated estimates are that approximately 100 billion galaxies exist and our own Milky Way galaxy could contain 300 billion stars with a possible 30 billion planets surrounding them!

The University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy gets a little more detailed than Sagan did in his answer:

In terms of the number of solar systems present in the universe, there are something like 300 billion stars in the Milky Way, so if 10 per cent of them have planets there are around 30 billion planets in our galaxy alone, and there are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe for a total of something in the order of 10^21 (that’s 1 then 21 zeros) planets in the observable Universe.  There is still quite a bit of uncertainty in that number however, and we don’t yet know how many of them would look like our solar system.

So from the time I was a kid until now as an adult, I’ve always believed that it would be quite likely that there could be trillion’s of planets in the universe and therefore very unlikely that ours was the only one in the universe with intelligent life.

Bear with me as I disclose my own UFO encounter, discuss a recent Netflix documentary, and close with the U.S. Navy patenting what is believed by many to be reverse-engineered alien propulsion technology.

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Why We Should Accelerate the Use of Nuclear Power

Yesterday’s post about our solar installation got me to thinking more deeply about the overall problem of renewables and that they are unlikely to be able to keep pace with the accelerating demand for energy.

The only place I differ with many environmentalists is that, while renewables make so much sense and we need to embrace them, I believe we also need to fully utilize nuclear energy. It turns out that there are ‘safe’ alternatives — and emerging innovations — to huge nuclear power plants and the threat of nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Doing so can ensure we have a steady, reliable, demand-meeting, nighttime using, energy grid that doesn’t spew carbon in to the atmosphere.

Heck, even Stewart Brand, a guy who helped shape environmental consciousness back in the 1960s and 1970s, began calling for nuclear energy back in the early 2000s to be rekindled and used once again:

Brand calls for the rapid deployment of a new generation of nuclear power plants to combat global warming, arguing that technological advances have made nuclear energy safer and any potential danger from nuclear waste pales compared to the damage inflicted by burning coal.

“The air pollution from coal burning is estimated to cause 30,000 deaths a year from lung disease in the United States, and 350,000 a year in China,” writes Brand. “A 1-gigawatt coal plant burns three million tons of fuel a year and produces seven million tons of CO2, all of which immediately goes into everyone’s atmosphere, where no one can control it, and no one knows what it’s really up to.”

Co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has also called for nuclear energy and has helped drive forward the current bipartisan legislation surrounding energy research:

If dollars were votes, newly reintroduced legislation aimed at boosting nuclear energy innovation and advanced reactors would be a winner, thanks to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ strong endorsement today.

The world’s second-richest person is the founder and chairman of Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, a startup that’s working on next-generation nuclear fission reactors. Back in December, Gates listed nuclear energy research as one of his top policy priorities, and he reportedly followed up by promising lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money and line up another $1 billion in private capital if federal funds were approved for a TerraPower pilot project in the United States.

In the past, Gates has also tweeted this and others that are similar:

“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.” – Bill Gates on why he believes in the potential of nuclear. https://bit.ly/2DSSXUS

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHY NUCLEAR ENERGY NOW?
Here is a very good overview from Vox media that is worth a few minutes of your time to watch:

We Are All Connected

Always thought I was mostly German because my paternal great-great grandparents emigrated from Germany in the mid 1800s. But my own research, including the 23andMe results you see in the photo, show I’m more than 50% Irish and British because both sides of my ancestry had roots in what’s now the United Kingdom.

The more I learn about DNA, the more certain I am that we are all connected. There are humans living today, with whom I share DNA, in a whopping 67 of the 195 countries in the world (including China, Nigeria, India and more). Of course, the ancestors of all of the people with whom I’m connected here in the United States were immigrants. Just sayin’ for all the “immigrant haters” that might read this post.

My maternal grandmother, Laura

Today I reached out to a woman I’m connected with on 23andMe since we share 3.5% of our DNA and are considered second cousins.

It turns out our maternal grandmothers were sisters! That’s opened up a new discussion about family history that I’ve just begun to explore.

Yes, there are some geneticists debating how precise these geographic disbursed results are, but virtually everyone I’ve connected with so far prove to me that it’s pretty dang accurate.

As an aside, there is a very interesting piece over at Harvard University’s blog called “Science in the News.” The post is an opinion piece about How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century if you are at all interested in how our learning about our connectedness is continuing to provide fact-based evidence against prejudice and racism.

A Gene Story by Lynn Fellman

dnaIn the not-too-distant future your genetics will inform and guide your healthcare and those that treat you. Your genetics will outline your risk factors. How you will react to medications. What is the optimal course of treatment for all the variables that make up you.

Even though I’ve had my own DNA sequenced and learned a lot about my own makeup, I know so little about the current state of applied genetics as it is applied to one’s personal healthcare that I wish someone would write a book about where the science is at, what is up with all that DNA stuff, and where the science is headed.

Someone is creating that book: Lynn Fellman.

lynnfellmanI’ve known illustrator, author, artist, podcaster, and genetic communicator Lynn Fellman since we met in the early 90s in an interactive multimedia group. She’s spent the last decade plus learning about, and communicating on, everything DNA and genomics. To say this woman knows A LOT about genomics is an understatement. So much so that she’s been on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow (and other radio interview shows) since she can speak so eloquently about the science, and the meaning of, genetics and what it means for all of us.

To show you I’m not the only one that sees the powerful interpretive value Lynn brings to the science, she was recently recognized and granted a Fulbright Scholarship award to Israel for 2014-2015. Lynn will be working with Professor Dan Mishmar, evolutionary biologist at Ben Gurion University. She will be developing a video and lecture about Prof Mishmar’s research in the mitochondrial genome.

With all she knew and all the scientists and genetic leadership organizations Lynn was connected to, she was in for an unpleasant surprise. It happened when she learned she had cancer and needed a personal medical breakthrough. That’s when everything she’s learned came full circle: Lynn realized how far the science has come with genetics, but yet how far it has to go in order to directly benefit those of us who need it.

So Lynn is doing exactly what needs to be done for herself, for the science, and for us: She’s applying all of her media and communication expertise to create an ebook that is perfect for parents, children and even for use in schools! Right now she has a proposal out to various leadership organizations involved in advancing medical genetics in order to obtain full funding to complete this work. (By the way if you, or someone you know, is interested in finding out more or reviewing her proposal, please email Lynn directly).

lynn-fellmans-ibook

When finished this will not be some ordinary ebook. I’ve seen a significant amount of her (already pretty far along) ebook prototype and it is a beautifully illustrated, interactive journey through the science…but written as her own adventure and search for genetics application for her situation. The ebook is an adventure we’re on with her and the byproduct (intentional, of course) is that we learn an incredible amount about genetics, all wrapped up in an engaging and delightful story we want to keep reading.

ABOUT THE EBOOK (from Lynn’s website here)

The electronic book titled “Gene Stories” is about genomic science and how it is expanding our ideas about who we are. Blending narration, digital paintings, scientific content and story, the presentation appeals to both parents and their children.

With the advance of whole genome sequencing, the complexity of our genetic ancestry will gradually be understood. Will this knowledge expand our self-perception and cultural identity? This project explores innovative ways to encourage curiosity in our multifaceted ancestry while appreciating the beautiful complexity of human evolution.

The project received support by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) during my residency at NESCent. Designed with iBook Author for viewing on iPads, the book will be available in the iTunes Bookstore in 2015.

If you would like to be informed when the ebook is available for preorder and release, please email Lynn.

Sleep Makes You Creative

One of the things I love is the acceleration in what brain scientists are learning about what makes us tick. With fMRI and other methods neuroscientists are really pushing the knowledge envelope and uncovering all sorts of cool stuff about how that mass in our skulls works and allows our minds to function (or not function, if one has a mental illness). One of the findings presented in this video is that yes, sleep enables your brain to be more creative when you’re awake but sleep does a lot more for us.

This GoogleTechTalk is with Matthew P. Walker, PhD, who is an associate professor in UC Berkeley’s Psychology Department Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. He covers topics such as the impact of sleep on human brain function, especially in learning and memory; brain plasticity; emotional regulation; affective and clinical mood disorders and aging.

This video is a bit long but worthwhile if you have an interest in this topic like I do. NOTE: Usually I watch these using my $99 AppleTV box and its YouTube app. Since I’ve subscribed to this GoogleTechTalk “channel” on YouTube I can simply select it and away I go. Much better than sitting at my computer for over an hour!

Don’t Believe in Climate Change?

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Source: NOAA)

Must admit I’m still stunned when I talk to an actual human being (one who seems intelligent) and they tell me that they do not believe in climate change. Anyone with an 8th grade education who can read should be able to figure out that the evidence is overwhelming.

NASA has this Global Climate Change website and the graphic above comes straight from their page entitled “Evidence.” With all of that extra CO2 in the air — a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and is a concept even an 8th grader who has been in a hot car could understand — the evidence goes beyond what we can see and experience ourselves. Seeing, analyzing and cataloguing the data from space and satellites is an amazing set of tools to collect it all and prove climate change is real. 

From NASA’s Evidence page:

  • normPage-3Sea level rise: Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Global temperature rise: All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.6 Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
  • Warming oceans: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • Shrinking ice sheets: The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  • Declining Arctic sea ice: Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
  • Glacial retreat: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
  • Extreme events: The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.
  • Ocean acidification: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.12,13 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

It might be too late to stop the acceleration in global CO2 levels. When it comes to climate deniers, maybe they will wake up when their crops whither and die due to abnormal heat and little rain, or when the oceans rise and either they’re inundated with water or millions of refugees flood their towns and neighborhoods. 

What is Light?

As someone with a high degree of interest in quantum physics—as a lay person and certainly not as a scientist—I’ve always been fascinated by the double slit experiment (video) and how matter and energy can display characteristics of both waves and particles in what is known as the wave–particle duality.

Is light a bunch of particles like we’ve come to believe (think “photons”)? Or is light a frequency wave (think the “electromagnetic spectrum“)? 

I came across the video below that demonstrates the properties of light, using the double slit experiment, with “real” people on the street. Usually these videos belittle people and their lack of science knowledge, but this one was done in the spirit of fun, being informative, and truly showing how light behaves. (via HighT3ch)

Imaging at a Trillion Frames per Second

In this TED video, Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, presents femto-photography, a new type of imaging so fast it visualizes the world one trillion frames per second, so detailed it shows light itself in motion. This technology may someday be used to build cameras that can look “around” corners or see inside the body without X-rays.

Fail. Fail. Fail. Learn.

Can the lessons learned from video games point the way to a new fail, fail, fail and learn model for K-12 education?

Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, parent or teacher, employer or employee, trainer or trainee, one thing is clear: traditional models of learning are being attacked from all corners as broken, virtually unchanged since the 1890s, and desperately in need of fundamental reform.

You’ve seen or heard the statistics about India’s top 10% of K-12 students being more in number than all the students in the U.S., and that the Asia Pacific region graduates more PhDs in one year than the U.S. does in 10. 

Questions abound about how to fix it:

  • With the world’s information increasingly at our fingertips with an internet we’re connected to with computers, smartphones and tablets — at home and mobile — how much information do we need to pack in to our brains like traditional K-12 models emphasize?
  • Now that cognitive scientists, psychologists and education-oriented startups are gaining new insights in to ways in which students can learn and do so quickly, what are the right models?
  • With gaming and game theory being viewed by many experts as the best way to move in to a model of fail, fail, fail and learn…what works? Will all our kids be taught with Halo3 or other off-the-shelf games?

What’s the fix? This is a complex question and I’ve watched several talks, by experts in the field, and a new Minnesota startup (CogCubed) has compiled several videos on one page here that you should watch if interested. What’s pretty clear after watching them all (which I’ve done over the last few years) is that there are some great ideas out there but few ‘platforms’ upon which people can build fail, fail, fail, learn applications.

Let’s face it: without platforms (e.g., computers, the internet, desktop & now ebook publishing) and higher level tools and approaches, new innovations and industries struggle to emerge, even with great ideas and directions!

What was a big surprise this morning was discovering just such a platform company for new ways of enabling students to engage in learning that encourages play, manipulation, failing and ultimately learning. Sifteo is a “…venture-backed startup based in San Francisco, California. We make Sifteo cubes, an interactive game system designed for hands-on fun and Intelligent Play. We also make a growing number of unique and exclusive games for Sifteo cubes.

Rather than me telling you more, go view those compiled videos above and then watch this very short introduction by David Merrill about Sifteo. If you don’t come away with interest, intrigue and the ability to visualize new emergent models of learning, I’ll be even more surprised:

To learn more, here is David Merrill’s talk at a recent TED conference or just go to their website.

Is Walgreens anti-health?

 
UPDATE on April 3, 2014: No-Shit-Sherlock: Yes, Walgreens is anti-health and clearly prefers short-term revenue over the health of their customers. 

See CVS Quits for Good and then skim this article at Motley Fool about how, “Walgreen said it’s going to ignore the pressure for the time being and continue selling cigarettes to its customers”Walgreen Ready to Smoke CVS With Tobacco Sales.

Check out this Twitter direct message stream from Walgreens social media that just came in at 10:45am on 4/3/14

Check out this Twitter direct message stream from Walgreens social media that just came in at 10:45am on 4/3/14. CLICK FOR A LARGER VERSION


 

17 years ago my Mom died of lung cancer at 62 years of age after a lifetime of smoking. My Dad, 85 years old, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which has slowly robbed him of his breath. So to say that I’m biased against smoking, I’d have to agree but also point out that I side with virtually every health professional and medical organization in the world who looks at the science of smoking-related illness and sees it as the #1 most detrimental-to-health addiction known.

To say smoking is anti-health is an understatement. To consider a retailer with health at its core making that #1 anti-health product widely available in their stores, is unconscionable. 

A few weeks after my Mom died I happened to be in a Walgreens where I was acquainted with the manager. “Why do you sell health as an organization and yet sell cigarettes?” He had no answer other than to lean forward and whisper, “Because we make A LOT of money off of them.

A cool smartphone user smoking. She’ll look like 10-miles-of-bad-road in just a few years (like most smokers do)

Stopping off this past week at a Walgreens near my Dad’s house to pick up a few things for him, I saw a young man in front of me buy two packs of Kool menthol cigarettes. When it was my turn I asked the older woman cashier, “Why does Walgreens promote health and yet sell cigarettes?” Sheepishly she averted her gaze and in a low voice said, “I know its wrong…but I just work here and we sell alot of them.

To Walgreens leadership I say: Be a leader in health and get rid of the cigarettes or don’t bullshit us with stuff like this on your website in your “health encyclopedia” about the hazards of smoking and how to quit which, ironically, contains solid information about smoking’s detrimental impact on health which you published.

It’s been 17 years since my Mom died and I haven’t become an anti-smoking crusader by any means, but I like and shop at Walgreens so want to see you take a position for health!

I’m sure you make money on supplying tobacco, a clearly addictive, health destructive product. Walgreens also has a Respiratory Services group for which, I’m fairly certain, helps people who’ve damaged their lungs through smoking. But if all you want to do is make money, why not sell porn? Malt liquor? Some constantly morphing designer drug brand just one-step ahead of the Drug Enforcement Agency?

There is absolutely zero argument that a leader of a 7,500 store “health” chain could make to justify carrying a highly addictive, irrefutable cancer-causing product like tobacco. Unless Walgreens thinks that selling cigarettes might ensure long term growth in Respiratory Services and other products? Even a sometimes cynical guy like me would have a hard time believing that so to Gregory Wasson, CEO of Walgreens, I say, “Show some leadership and get cigarettes and other tobacco products OUT of your stores…now.
 
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