Browse Category

Science

The First 24 Hours at Fukushima

Interesting report is out today from the IEEE Spectrum about the first 24 hours at Fukushima.  While TEPCO has been rather quiet about the goings on, the authors and nuclear engineers have tried to ‘reverse engineer’ what happened by putting together public statements and other data.

One of the more interesting tidbits came a few hours into the disaster, when the control room couldn’t even get power to turn on the lights, let alone look at the monitors that were reporting how data from sensors within the reactor.  The crew scrambled for an emergency solution, to the point they ran out to the parking lot and grabbed car batteries from various vehicles and hot-wired some form of power to get the machines back online.

As the operators surveyed the damage, they quickly realized that the diesel generators couldn’t be salvaged and that external power wouldn’t be restored anytime soon. In the plant’s parking lots, workers raised car hoods, grabbed the batteries, and lugged them back to the control rooms. They found cables in storage rooms and studied diagrams. If they could connect the batteries to the instrument panels, they could at least determine the water levels in the pressure vessels.

TEPCO did have a backup for the emergency generators: power supply trucks outfitted with high-voltage dynamos. That afternoon, emergency managers at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters sent 11 power supply trucks racing toward Fukushima Dai-ichi, 250 km away. They promptly got stuck in traffic. The roads that hadn’t been damaged by the earthquake or tsunami were clogged with residents fleeing the disaster sites.

A tad technical at times but definitely worth reading.

 

 

Boeing 747-8i rollout video

The crowd is in a frenzy of funky violins with football clappy things, and then the curtain drops and we see the future. Maybe.

The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental was introduced this week in Seattle. It’s got an extended upper deck as you can see, and is about a dozen feet longer than a standard 747.

No idea when I’ll get to ride on one of these. There is talk that this might become the new Air Force One (or the 787 if that gets off the runway eventually). I say just keep going and rebuild the entire upper deck the length of the plane (take that Airbus!). You know there are some engineers who have tried that in the lab. Wonder if it would work.

Spy satellite NROL-32 logo and purpose

The US launched NROL-32the largest satellite” in the world the other day but won’t tell you what it is going to be used for. However, if you are curious, you can find the logo / patch online.

In case you are wondering, Annuit Coeptis (I can’t type the exact characters) is roughly translated as “Providence favors our undertakings” or “Providence has favored our undertakings.” Just to give a little Masonic twist onto the NRO’s satellite mission (yes, these are the same words that are over the pyramid on the US dollar bill).

So what does NROL-32 do? Probably electronic eavesdropping. The size is mammoth, rivaling the ISS Space Station so amateur satellite trackers will likely be able to see it:

“I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion, which gather signals intelligence from inclined geosynchronous orbits. They are among the largest satellites ever deployed,” said Ted Molczan, a respected sky-watcher who keeps tabs on orbiting spacecraft.

Destined for geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the planet, this new spacecraft supposedly will unfurl an extremely lightweight but gigantically huge umbrella-like antenna to overhear enemy communications and aid U.S. intelligence.

Keep watching the Skies!

A brilliant idea, but…

question-mark1Lots of startup excitement around the house this weekend, and a bit of cussing.

Over the last few days I’ve been researching an untapped area of the ‘Green tech’ movement.  Something that would make quite a bit of sense, would be quick to market, and something that would have multiple channels to revenue, let alone venture capital.  I queried some of my friends, including some successful entrepreneurs in San Fran, a couple of PhD’s in Silicon Valley, an electronics company VP in NY, and two electricians wearing NASCAR hats down at my local electronics supply company (who actually had some interesting insight).

On the plus side–everyone said this is needed and must be built.

On the down side–someone else is doing it already.

So I’m not sitting here thinking ‘is there room for a second mover’ in a field that could be huge, though one in which I’m about six months behind the curve.  I have an idea that could leapfrog them, but I’m not sure how technically feasible it is (the physics is there, but is the manufacturing base–I don’t know).

So I’m off to CES to talk turkey with the guys from China.  Folks who are in the shop building things like that which I want.  We’ll see if I come back with a new start-up company, ready to be formed and funded, or if I look for another ‘new new thing’.

Science textbooks for modern kids

My dad’s books didn’t have this many pictures.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to learn about Molecular Biology from a dancing pixie fairy type girl.

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology (Manga Guide to Science)

lrg
Learn about DNA from pixie fairies.

 

Rin and Ami have been skipping molecular biology class all semester, and Professor Moro has had enough-he’s sentencing them to summer school on his private island. But they’re in store for a special lesson. Using Dr. Moro’s virtual reality machine to travel inside the human body, they’ll get a close-up look at the fascinating world of molecular biology.

Join them in The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology, and learn all about DNA, RNA, proteins, amino acids, and more. Along the way, you’ll see chemical reactions first-hand and meet entertaining characters like Enzyme Man and Drinkzilla, who show how the liver metabolizes alcohol.

Together with Ami and Rin, you’ll learn all about:

  • The organelles and proteins inside cells, and how they support cellular functions
  • The processes of transcription and translation, and your genes’ role in synthesizing proteins
  • The pieces that make up our genetic code, like nucleotides, codons, introns, and exons
  • The processes of DNA replication, mitosis and cytokinesis
  • Genetic technology like transduction and cloning, and the role of molecular biology in medicine

Whether you need a molecular biology refresher or you’re just fascinated by the science of life, The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology will give you a uniquely fun and informative introduction.

 

And when you are done with that, check out:  The Manga Guide to Calculus

I might actually buy one just for the heck of it, given that I slept through most of my math classes in school.

Is Turkey Frying healthy?

IMG_0545I honestly don’t know, but at the local gas and sip I came across these huge bottles of oil for turkey frying ($24.99 in case you are wondering).  It was about 4.5 gallons worth of oil, but what really struck me was the “Nutrition Facts” on the side of the box.

Serving size:  1 Tablespoon

Servings per container:  1,134

Total Fat per serving:   22% of the Recommended Daily Allowance

Total Fat in this monstrosity?  250 days worth of fat…

Yuck
IMG_0544

The War on Science and Rational Thought. Time to join the fight.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve discovered the war.

Not Iraq or AfghaniPakistan, but the war going on right here in our country.  A war against science and rational thought.

Sure there have been battles and skirmishes over the last few decades.  My father’s science textbooks were the subject of many a creationist’s ire.  But what was once scoffed off as ‘a bunch of religious folks’ or ‘just a snake oil salesman’ has now grown into a fully functioning army of ‘arrogant ignorants’.  

The battle being fought now is over the H1N1 vaccine.  Like many a parent, I thought it only my duty to investigate some of the claims being made, from corporate conspiracy to anti-freeze in the vaccine (I kid you not).  But what I discovered was not only answers to these silly questions, but a debate on the entire process of enquiry that quite frankly, is pretty scary.

I posted this message on a messageboard earlier today in response to a woman who wasn’t sure who to believe–the doctors or the anti-science folks.  

I am open minded. and this is a perfect example of what I mean. No one seems to have a clue what is best. you have one “expert” saying no, while others “experts say yes.

Who do you trust? I lean towards some opinons and lean the other way on other things.

 

My Answer:  It’s tricky. You want to stay open to new ideas, to treat other opinions with respect, and most importantly, do the right thing for your children. You wish there was a black and white solution to the problem, but even an honest scientist would tell you when you get philosophical nothing is black and white, right or wrong, it’s just what we can observe and what we cannot.

“We don’t know” has been the rallying cry of nearly every critique of science in the last 500 years. “We don’t know if man causes global warming”, “we don’t know about evolution because there is this missing link”, “we don’t know if the planets revolve around the Sun.” But the reality you should really confront yourself with is “do we know enough”?

With the case of the H1N1 vaccine, I’d say we certainly know enough to make this statement: your chances of a serious complication from the flu is far GREATER than your chances of a serious side effect from the vaccine.

There is a lot of frustration on one side in that this really isn’t a battle on whether or not your get your kids vaccinated. Honestly, I differ from some in that I don’t care what the end result is for your kids. Like your calculus teacher, the answer is not ‘the answer’ but the process by which you came to that answer. It’s a battle about how we, as a civilized society, think. How we process information and how we come to conclusions and decisions.

Scientific discovery is based on a process, a way of thinking that has developed many of the great advances of the last century. A simple idea, run up against an experiment, results determined and conclusions developed. Presented and reviewed by their peers, and contrasted with different conclusions presented when different sets of behavior is noticed and evidence studied. The view that is accepted is the view that can be repeated and reproduced by all. Skepticism, distrust, disagreement are CORE VALUES in this process, and respected when backed with the proper evidence. A friend of mine doing some graduate work at Hopkins told me as to this debate “these people simply don’t realize that scientists are some of the most skeptical people on the planet.”

Unfortunately, recently there has been rash of skepticism developing into a type of ‘pseudo-science’. Of amateur professionals waxing on about their own theories, shoddily researched and rife with hyperbole, festering the development of ‘FUD’–fear, uncertainty, doubt that has no basis in reality. We now live in a world populate by legions of “Army of Ones”–folks armed with the Internet and a distrust of all things ‘establishment’ that have mobilized against ‘the old order’ that is responsible for all the ills of ‘Big Pharma’ and is in a conspiracy to keep corporate profits high and the people in the dark. There are no clinical studies for them, they refuse to participate in the peer review process, and they have played on the fears and doubts and brought us back to the age of the snake-oil salesman.

I think some of the frustration you see on messageboards about the flu is one side literally banging their heads against the wall trying to reply to the same old random (and incorrect) factoids from the FUD-meisters thrown up about vaccinations. There is, for lack of a better word, a war against science going on in this country, and at an even deeper level, a war against rational thought underway that quite frankly scares some people, myself included. We now have doctors such as Paul Offit who must travel with bodyguards because of the death threats. The very idea that my children may be living in a world that is intellectually regressing from scientific advancement is what has spurred me on to post so frequently on this subject.

This is an interesting article as it summarizes what has been going on of late. It is only tangentially about the battle of H1N1, and is more focused on the war that is fully underway.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/11/the_anti-vaccine_movement_cranks.php

That’s a tad long but it really summarizes the whole war to date. There is a shorter version written recently in the LA Times about the journalist who wrote the Wired piece “The War on Science” and how she is now on the receiving end of threats and accusations and even some harsh personal attacks.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-onthemedia4-2009nov04,0,2848133.column
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience

You are asking who to trust and honestly, we can’t tell you. We can ask you to trust the scientific processes, that which has developed a flu shot in a tried and true manner, replete with regulations and procedures that have been in place and functional for nearly five decades. I read somewhere that 14,400 articles have been written about influenza vaccines, and over 1,100 clinical trials over the years. H1N1 is not a new vaccine, it is merely a different strain worked into an established vaccine making process, the same as other strains are worked into that same process every year. If it was discovered a few months earlier, it would have been in this year’s seasonal flu shot and we wouldn’t have had this whole parade of silliness.

In the end, talk to your doctor, not just a messageboard. Think plainly and rationally about your children and their safety during not just this flu season but as they are growing up in the world with the medicines we now have available. Try not give into the ‘zinger’ arguments that this celebrity or that celebrity whips out on Larry King or Oprah, but take the time to process information clearly, rationally, even coldly–devoid of emotion and then come to a conclusion ‘do I know enough’ to make this decision comfortably.

I wish you well with your enquiries, and of course, if you come across something quite startling, feel free to post it and we’ll try to provide additional information if possible.