Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ring of Fire...

The Moon’s orbit about the Earth is not perfectly circular, so that at different times the Moon can be slightly closer or further away than usual. This composite shot shows the progress of an annular eclipse in May 2013.
Credit: Jia Hao | The National Maritime Museum | Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2013
The sun will look like a ring of fire above some remote parts of the world next Tuesday (April 29) during a solar eclipse, but most people around the world won't get a chance to see it.

Whereas lunar eclipses occur only when there's a full moon, and solar eclipses only happen during a new moon. Half the world saw a lunar eclipse during the full moon on April 15. When a lunar eclipse occurs, it usually means there is also a solar eclipse at the preceding or following new moon.

Tuesday's solar eclipse is known as an "annular" — rather than "total" — lunar eclipse. That’s because Tuesday's eclipse will occur when the moon is close to its farthest distance from the Earth, making it too small to cover the sun completely. The resulting effect looks like a ring of fire, called an “annulus,” appears around the silhouette of the moon. ['Ring of Fire' Annular Solar Eclipse of April 29, 2014 (Visibility Maps)]

But most people won't see the whole eclipse. The only place in the world where this annular eclipse will be visible is a small area in Antarctica. However, partial phases of the eclipse will be visible in other places. Most of those areas are in the ocean — rarely traveled ocean, in fact — but the entire continent of Australia will get a good view. Solar Eclipse Will Transform Sun into 'Ring of Fire' Next Week, Geoff Gaherty

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Internet of Things...

With the advent of the Internet of things, potentially billions of devices will report data about themselves, making it possible to create new applications in areas as diverse as factory optimization, car maintenance, or simply keeping track of your stuff online. But doing this today requires at least some degree of programming knowledge. Now Bug Labs, a New York City company, is trying to make it as easy to create an Internet of things application as it is to put a file into Dropbox.
Source: Solid State Technology

With a new service called Freeboard, Bug Labs is giving people a simple one-click way to publish data from a “thing” to its own Web page (Bug Labs calls this “dweeting”). To get a sense of this, visit with your computer or mobile phone, click “try it now,” and you’ll see raw data from your device itself: its GPS coordinates and even the position of your computer mouse. The data is now on a public Web page and available for analysis and aggregation; another click stops this sharing.
Satlz TPM

Freeboard, expected to be launched Tuesday, makes sense of such streams of data. A few more clicks create quick graphical displays of the shared information, such as location, temperature, motor speed, or simply whether a device is on or off. “We are trying to make the Internet of things far simpler, and far more accessible, to anybody,” says Peter Semmelhack, CEO of Bug Labs, a business that initially focused on the development of open-source modular hardware (see “Bug Labs Adds New Modules”), but which now develops software platforms.

MIT Technology Review: A Dropbox for the Internet of Things, David Talbot

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Two...

Kepler-186f, shown in this artist’s concept, is the first Earth-sized planet discovered in its star’s habitable zone. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech
From a comic book nerd perspective, it's neat they found a planet in the possible "Goldilocks habitable zone." It is however, 500 light years away, meaning that even if we had rocket ships that could get to 99.9999% of c (speed of light), it would take several human lifetimes to get there. If we had the propulsion systems of SyFy lore, the important point would be the "when" in its planetary development we arrive - dinosaurs or primitive hominoids - and whether we'd treat them like H.G. Wells' Martians in "War of the Worlds" (he gleaned from the real events of the British crown's expansion and the subjugation of Aborigines) or a more contemporary comparison - Native Americans. A prime directive assumes we evolve beyond our current brutality.

Exoplanets are fun and all, but those hot Jupiters and super Neptunes and such are kind of beside the point. Everyone knows the real search is for a planet like ours: rocky, smallish, and capable of hosting liquid water. And now scientists have found one, named Kepler-186f — an Earth-sized planet in its star’s habitable zone, the area where conditions aren’t too hot or too cold, but just right, for liquid water to be possible.

Planet Profile

The planet orbits a star about 500 light-years away called Kepler-186 and was discovered by the Kepler telescope (and then confirmed at the Keck and Gemini Observatories). The discovery technically includes four other exoplanets found around the star, but Kepler-186f is the only one in the habitable zone. Scientists found them all using the “transit method,” which is just basically looking at stars and waiting for planets to pass in front, dimming the star’s light a little bit.

Discovery: Possibly Habitable Earth-Sized Planet Discovered, Bill Andrews

Monday, April 21, 2014

No Compromises on AFM...

JILA's modified AFM probes measuring DNA molecules. The older mod (long cantilever, right) eliminated the usual gold coating to enhance long-term stability. The latest version (left) retains the gold coating where needed to reflect light but maintains excellent stability. Researchers also removed a large section to reduce stiffness and friction near surfaces. The new probe provides precise results much faster than before, while reducing “noise” (colored squiggles).
Credit: Baxley/JILA
JILA researchers have engineered a short, flexible, reusable probe for the atomic force microscope (AFM) that enables state-of-the-art precision and stability in picoscale force measurements. Shorter, softer and more agile than standard and recently enhanced AFM probes, the JILA tips will benefit nanotechnology and studies of folding and stretching in biomolecules such as proteins and DNA.

An AFM probe is a cantilever, shaped like a tiny diving board with a small, atomic-scale point on the free end. To measure forces at the molecular scale in a liquid, the probe attaches its tip to a molecule such as a protein and pulls; the resulting deflection of the cantilever is measured. The forces are in the realm of piconewtons, or trillionths of a newton. One newton is roughly the weight of a small apple.

The new probe design, described in ACS Nano,* is the JILA research group's third recent advance in AFM technology. JILA is jointly operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado Boulder.

No Compromises: JILA’s Short, Flexible, Reusable AFM Probe, Laura Ost

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Nation of Warring Tribes...

See previous: "Weaponized Pseudoscience" yesterday. Quoting part of the post: "we're in the aftermath of 'created realities,' and I fear this self-willed ignorance of science is slowly unraveling our nation." We are the sum of the stories we tell of ourselves, some noble; some salacious; some shameful. Some of them are best left unsaid...
Post 2012 election tweets

This is the eventual culmination of pseudoscience run amok - it metastasizes as a weapon: societal instability reaching for an "ideal" that never existedThe rude, reintroduction of  pseudo social science hack Charles Murray as adviser to Gregg Abbott in Texas politics; the so-called "debate" on climate change; the age of the universe (6,000 versus 13.8 billion) and evolution versus "intelligent design" are not designed to enlighten: they are to evade, obfuscate inducing ignorance, an effective method of control. When science and critical thinking skills are properly taught, you ask questions of authority, and authoritarians don't want that. They'd rather you memorize a Bible verse (many they've never read, but their marketing departments find useful in their machinations); they'd rather you repeat a Jingoism/slogan/talking points - thinking is out of the question since it will begat questions. This is no better than the "conspiracy theories" that bloviators use to whip their audiences on right-leaning AM talk radio to frenzied mania, high profits and a spot on network news.

These are the "chickens coming home to roost" of the "Southern Strategy," this is what dog-whistle politics reaps after it's sown in the wind. This is when your ratings are dependent on making everyone afraid of "the other," and that larger-than-life other happens to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "I want my country back": the 'good old days' for some; the bad ones for everyone else that they don't give a damn about. Meanwhile, we have two years to obsolescence on the global stage when "Made in America" becomes a rarefied artifact.

Never mind that human life originated in Africa; that the oldest known footprints of Homo Erectus happens to have been found in Kenya. It makes us all African, this expressed malady over class, place and pigmentation a form of melanin-envy and self-loathing.

Never mind that hate is not an election-winning strategy and that Karl Rove waisted a lot of billionaire's money trying to throw the election from "We the People" to the oligarchs.

We worship money as a national deity, and no other god really. We're supposedly divided between "makers and takers" and the self-labeled makers seem to have no problem taking another tax cut. Their recipe for job creation has so far equaled Marie Antoinette's famously attributed comment (actually by Maria Theresa 100 years before in Spain): "let them eat cake." There is no room at the oligarch's Inns, mansions, wealth seminars or dinner tables.

Princeton and Northwestern now says the previous experiment in self-governance is over, and is at its inevitable conclusion: we are an oligarchy, well before Putin could reestablish it in Russia. It explains why the authoritarians here so admire his veracity; his bare-shirted cowboy diplomacy - to hell he might cause World War III:

Cliches like, "itchy trigger finger" and "tall in the saddle" and "riding off or on into the sunset." Cliches like, "Get off of my planet by sundown!" More so than cliches like, "he died with his boots on." Marine tough the man is. Bogart tough the man is. Cagney tough the man is. Hollywood tough the man is. Cheap steak tough. And Bonzo's substantial. The ultimate in synthetic selling: A Madison Avenue masterpiece ? a miracle ? a cotton-candy politician...Presto! Macho! (Gil-Scott Heron, "B Movie")

THIS IS A MENTAL DISORDER and psychological warfare foisted writ large on the American public through echo chambers and so-called "think tanks" under the clever auspices of "maintaining traditional values" while in the full spirit of Orwellian doublespeak, annihilating  them. On the day Jared Lee Loughner was sentenced to 7 consecutive life sentences plus 140 years (gees), we'd be mindful that this information age may be overloading weaker minds (he was told "don't retreat: reload" and that he did to disastrous effect). Thus, birth certificates in short or long form; Harvard transcripts and passports demanded by bloviating reality-show hosts that could spend $50 on a good toupee versus 5 million on an empty stunt are irrelevant when you've already a made-up mind that what facts don't agree with your skewed worldview will be judged false. Fear is a political motivator, but moribund when you actually try to run a country on it as well as magical thinking. It worked really well up to 2008 (being facetious), and I'm not inclined to see if repeated, it will self-correct in 2014 or 2016. I end paraphrasing Albert Einstein's observations on the nature of insanity, and quoting verbatim Nietzsche:

“Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

TPM: Harder to Handle; More on the Fox Effect, Josh Marshall

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weaponized Pseudoscience...
I've used this photo on a previous post. However, we're in the aftermath of "created realities," and I fear this self-willed ignorance of science is slowly unraveling our nation.

Weaponize (n): to adapt for use as a weapon of war; first known use of Weaponize: 1957 (Merriam-Webster)

A pseudoscience is a belief or process which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve on its own terms; it is often known as fringe- or alternative science. The most important of its defects is usually the lack of the carefully controlled and thoughtfully interpreted experiments which provide the foundation of the natural sciences and which contribute to their advancement.

Reference: Pseudoscience: What is it? How can I recognize it?

In "Ode to a Distant Prospect of Eton College," Thomas Gray says a great many things that if you can decipher the old English and British countryside references, (the Thames is mentioned twice), the beginning is essentially the plot of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

The ending is the origin of "ignorance is bliss":

Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.

The blissful ignorance is their eventual fate with entropy: aging with associated pains and eventual demise. Ignorance is not a way to run a republic.

Yet lately, I've seen ignorance forged into the weapon of pseudoscience on the anvil of suspicion, anger, rage, huckster-foisted conspiracy theories, division and racial animus.

Bill O'Reilly tried an "old shtick" (quoting Joan Walsh, see Salon link) with basketball coach John Calipari: “I mean, you are a good guy, coach, but, hey, now the culture has coarsened,” said O’Reilly. “I don’t know if you listen to this rap stuff and the hip-hop stuff. Has that changed their attitude? I mean, how do you impose discipline on kids who are pretty much gonna do what they want to do?” ( Coach was there to discuss his book; O'Reilly was riling up his base of older, whiter viewers that feel their country slipping away in a deluge of demographics and diversity. If the big-O and the fogies stopped and did the math, most won't be around in 2042 when it does occur. The question is, will the country still be?

Cliven Bundy hasn't paid his cattle grazing fees in 21 years, or $1.2 million dollars of tax payer money. He's lost every court case he's tried to defend himself, saying he doesn't "recognize the sovereignty of the federal government." He just uses their/our land; their/our roads to get his product to market; their/our electricity; their/our power; their/our computer systems to balance his books, in essence: Cliven Bundy is a "taker" supported by the echo chamber that birthed the Tea Party April 15, 2009.

Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, founder of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan murdered three fellow humans opening fire outside a Jewish Community Center and a nearby retirement community. He managed to kill two Methodists: a doctor and his fourteen-year-old grandson and a woman visiting her aged mother.

Tomorrow: "A Nation of Warring Tribes"

Friday, April 18, 2014

Micro Robotics...

Building big: A team of three small, magnetically steered robots worked together to build this structure from toothpick-sized carbon rods.

Someone glancing through the door of Annjoe Wong-Foy’s lab at SRI International might think his equipment is infested by ants. Dark shapes about a centimeter across move to and fro over elevated walkways: they weave around obstacles and carry small sticks.

A closer look makes it clear that these busy critters are in fact man-made. Wong-Foy, a senior research engineer at SRI, has built an army of magnetically steered workers to test the idea that “microrobots” could be a better way to assemble electronics components, or to build other small structures.

Wong-Foy’s robotic workers have already proved capable of building towers 30 centimeters (two feet) long from carbon rods, and other platforms able to support a kilogram of weight. The robots can work with glass, metal, wood, and electronic components. In one demonstration, they made a carbon truss structure with wires and colored LEDs mixed in to serve as the lab’s Christmas tree.

“We can scale to many more robots at low cost,” says Wong-Foy, who thinks his system could develop into a new approach to manufacturing. Many electronic components are the right size to be handled by his microrobots, he says, and teams of them might prove a good way to lay them out onto circuit boards.

MIT Technology Review:
Tiny robots that work together like ants could lead to a new way to manufacture complex structures and electronics, by Tom Simonite