Tag Archives: science

Civilization vs. Technology

I read that the ozone layer depletion has been halted: this week, UN scientists published a report that the ozone layer should restore itself by 2050. This reminded me of one of the most obscure collaborations in musical history between singer Michael Stipe and rapper KRS-One, which is a song, or rather, an agitprop rap, warning against the dangers of the depletion of the ozone layer, commonly attributed to the use of CFCs and industrial pollution. The general consensus is that the 1987 ban on CFC production contributed to the slowing down of the depletion.

Which brings us to today’s ‘Past The Bridge’ posting, the track ‘Civilization vs. Technology’ which features Harmony, Jane Scarpantoni, KRS-One and Michael Stipe (
30+ sample mp3). I’m extremely mixed about this song (or rap): it’s the better track of the record with the same name, but, the production of it seems half-baked. The excellent use of cello (Scarpantoni) sounds fragmented. The same can be said for the lyrics: Stipe’s contribution is fairly limited (but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote the majority of the lyrics). The song slightly veers back on rails during the second verse and after but, yeah, the overall result is half-baked.

So, while I don’t think Michael Stipe and KRS actually stopped the ozone layer from depletion personally, they do deserve credit for creating awareness: I don’t think too many artists have raised this issue in the 80s or 90s. That is, not that I can remember. It’s a kind of sad that the rest of the tracks on the Heal project’s ‘Civilization vs. Technology’ album are of such dubious quality that they make the contributions from Billy Bragg, Ziggy Marley, Michael Stipe and Tina Weymouth fall into obscurity. Good intentions (generally speaking) but bad execution.

add1: HEAL project previously discussed on xsamplex

The light

A couple of days ago, I was thinking of mankind’s efforts to make an invisible cloak: I’m not sure why I came up to that subject, but, at one time, I remember trying to explain someone what light is and the duality of matter and energy (I guess I should link to the double-slit experiment as well). Anyway, to stay on topic, I read that researchers are getting closer to making such a cloak, and this time it doesn’t require heavy use of metals: by manipulating the optical density of an object (the ‘amount of refraction of an object’) they were able to transform the path of light.

I also read that researches have drawn up a genetic map of Africa, which shows that continent (besides being the origin of humans) is more genetic diverse than initially expected. Additionally, the study seems to confirm the location of the origin of human migration, which is in south-west Africa.

A week ago (or so, according the news sources), astronomers watched the explosion of the oldest object (for now) in the universe. The best estimations are that it exploded 13 billion years ago, which makes the object approximately ‘only’ 600 million years old or so. The gamma ray burst, detected by SWIFT (which some news sources fail to mention), confirms what most astronomers already suspected: that stars can form within 600 million years.

The Fighting Windmills Squadron

News Find the 10 differences outlet AFP reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has accused the Netherlands of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

The Dutch [project] aimed to encourage sexual and moral deviation in society

I’d like to hear what kind of moral and sexual deviation they are talking about.

Alfons linked to a piece I’ve never heard of (not that I claim to be an expert in Spanish/Mexican style music..), the ‘Huapango’. Full orchestral work linked here (Berlin Philharmonic, YouTube, 9 minutes). Excellent material.

Via, uh, MetaFilter, I listened to Bonnie Bassler’s TED presentation (18 minutes) about how bacteria communicate. The thing that struck me the most was how she explained how we ended up with resistant bacteria:

“We’re running out of anti-biotics. Bacteria are getting increasingly multi-drug resistant, and that’s basically because all the anti-biotics we use kill bacteria… […] and that selects the resistant mutants.”

They have a name for that: it’s called evolution.

Update 1: Bassler’s name corrected (was ‘Bartlett’, who was actually an actress in St. Elsewhere). My bad.

Green as grass

Grass has this amazing ability to survive the most bizarre weather conditions: the yellow (but slowly turning green) grass patches on the (still) frozen ground in our yard are a testament of the species’ resilience. I find it a kind of funny that despite it being one of the longest surviving plants, Wikipedia’s entry on grass is a bit dull:

Many types of animals eat grass as their main source of food. These animals are usually called “herbivores”, although certain herbivores are more inclined to eat leafy plants, and some omnivorous or even primarily carnivorous animals have been observed eating grass on occasion. Some of the most familiar grass eaters include cows, sheep, horses and rabbits.

Oh. No really? Zzzzzzz.

I was reminded of a silly Dutch tradition: The ‘Palm pasen’ parade. I think only the first two grades (primary school) do this (@Flickr) and I can’t remember exactly what this is all about (Dutch Wikipedia to the rescue) but kids are supposed to make and decorate a cross, nail a piece of bread (the shape of a chicken, I believe) to it and then parade around the neighbourhood or school. Thinking of it, I can’t imagine why public schools would do this to their kids.

Then, somehow, I got here, “Almost Perfect”, which is a personal witness account of the rise and fall of WordPerfect. What can I say about WordPerfect? It went from de-facto standard to obscure word processor. Sure, one can blame Microsoft for aggressively throwing Word at OEMs.

And last but not least, via this (“Neither have you tasted my Jesus”), I ended up looking at this excellent series (“From Big Bang to us – Made Easy”) about the universe, evolution and mankind. If you’re scientifically inclined (and I assume you are), you may just as well subscribe to the creator’s the Youtube channel.


I can’tSomething red recall the link to this specific page where I took that screenshot, but yeah, it’s about the colour red and the emotions it invokes in men. I think the link was originally coming from Reddit (or Digg), but I’m pretty sure it’s old news because I read about this a year ago. That said, red is for “Scarlett Johansen” and “meet local snowboarders”. Really.

There are rumours that Oracle might be willing to acquire Red Hat and this probably makes sense, because installing Oracle (XE) on Debian isn’t the administrative task you’d be wanting on your plate.

Alaskan volcano ‘Redoubt’ finally erupted, exactly a month after Republican maverick Bobby Jindal’s sneering remarks about Democrats’ spending on ‘volcano monitoring’. Also, the name Redoubt reminds me of other stuff than forts and volcanoes.

Update 1: Pretty pictures at National Geographic.

Update 2: Not related, WHO issues pessimistic TB report.

A bang.

Via New Scientist:A Big bang researchers have worked on a (computer) model that suggests that our universe could have emerged from another collapsing universe. The researchers based their model on a theory called the Loop Quantum Cosmology, which was (originally) proposed in 2003. At the end of the article, there’s a funny quote about how these physicist came up on LQC:

“From a physicist’s point of view, it is fully justified. Mathematicians perhaps would not be amused.”

I hear that if you give mathematicians a couple of beers, you can convince them that the Earth is only 5,000 years old. I’m not joking: please try it on your local math teacher!

This is important news: there’s finally empirical evidence that our galaxy, the proud Milky Way, has a white creamy coconut center and a soft crunchy chocolate crust, that melts in the mouth, not in your hands. Or as astronomers would say, a black hole in its center. I may have mentioned this a couple of years ago, but this black hole story is actually old news, I mean astronomers were already convinced that our galaxy had a black hole in its center. Obviously, it took many years to collect the evidence for this. Additionally, witness the smartness of the Slashdot crowd:

When i heard that there were black holes in other galaxies, i was fine with that, since they are so far away. But now i hear there is one in OUR galaxy? That’s kinda scary, since its so close to us!

Oh: this Hubble telescope that they launched in the 80s, yes? It still seems to be hitting the news: this time, astronomers managed to find CO2 in the atmosphere of a planet circling around a star, what, 65 million light-years away.

And hanging around the Discovery site: Did you know that 2008 will get one extra second? I remember this happened years ago too, which is exactly the reason why I tend to be at work 2 seconds later than normal. Who else can I blame for this?

Update 1: Weird The Onion picture about science.

Update 2: Related: Astronomers dissect a black hole with. What?

On. I think.

Meteorites collectors, astronomers and researchers are trying to pinpoint the track of the meteor that lit the Prairies’ sky, last week. According to the latest calculations (Newtonian, hahaha), the meteor had a mass of 10 tons. I say, it was probably a good thing the meteor hit a not-so-densely populated area.

Cancer rates are down in the US, and hopefully, the same is true for other areas in the Western world. As for the US, maybe this is tied to the ‘Obama’ effect?

I’ve been carrying a virus with me the last couple of weeks and it appears that my immune system is slowly getting a grip on it. I’ve not been sick that often as relatives know: I’m fairly resistant against colds, but when it gets to me, it gets me. Maybe my system got too comfortable.

This also means that I postponed some of my coding projects, including the ‘safe translation’ of DAWG from Delphi to C#. I’m surprised how popular my wordfinders are, and have been, the last, what, 6 or 7 years? I’ve been planning to slowly move these applications over to something more reasonable, but never had the time to work on the newer algorithms. Sooner than soon, I hope.

Planet 9

US astronomers have made the first photo of an exoplanet that makes it rounds around the star Formalhaut. It took a couple of years (and a lot of patience) to actually confirm the planet though. Additionally, another team of astronomers made a picture of 2 planets orbiting a star called HR8799 (Washington Post report). Generally, it seems. it was a good week for astronomy.

New Scientist had an article about a theory that the Earth might be in the center of a void: at the heart of the discussion is the 1998 discovery that some galaxies seem to have been racing away from us instead of slowing down. This discovery is currently explained by introducing ‘dark energy’, the energy that tends to accelerate the rate of expansion of the universe. The new theory proposes that our universe (the Milky Way) is surrounded by a ‘bubble’ that causes photons to lose energy but gaining energy while leaving this bubble.

I also read that India has succesfully landed a probe on the moon. For the next couple of weeks, the probe (‘Chandrayaan 1′), will measure the composition of the moon’s thin atmosphere.


You can get out of your bunkers now: I hear that the first test run at the LHC was a smashing success. The actual smashing happens later this year, so you may want to keep an eye on any black holes originating from Europe. If you’re into big explosions and that (I’m looking at you Dr. Horrible), maybe you should consider a career in Quantum Physics.

This leaves me wondering about the current (and future) state of science in the US: the LHC was built and mostly funded by European countries. The lab has attracted over 1000 US scientists, who according to previous linked Globe and Mail article, ‘feel strongly that the United States is no longer a place to practise massive-scale experiments’. You may wonder if this has to do with the last 8 years of the Bush administration, where science didn’t seem to be of importance. That is, unless you count the president’s vision for ‘the moon and Mars’ as a scientific milestone.

Update 1: Some 500 kms south, another physics experiment seems to have stalled (via Three Quarks)

Update 2: BBC documentary ‘The Big Bang’.

Same old. Same old.

This week, the New England Journal of Medicine reported about a small success in the fight against (skin) cancer: An Oregon man diagnosed with skin cancer, was injected with a couple of billion of cloned T-cells of his own and saw his cancer go into complete remission.

Via Slashdot (thread), it appears the old adagio holds true: Bad boys get all the girls. I also hear that thrill-seeking male humans have a shorter lifespan, or, eventually shut themselves out of the mating process because of a lack of other useful skills needed in societies driven by the sciences. This is old news: your mom (and dad) warned you to stay clear from people like these. Also: what about bad girls?

The best part is last: CNN has a whole bunch of sections dedicated to ‘busy moms and parenting’. The one article that attracted my eye was the one about mothers with twins, which reads as a proof that humans have lost the ability to provide and care for twins. Hey: In general, twins can perfectly take care of themselves, particularly when they’ve figured out how to communicate with each other.


After seeing a picture at Reddit (a biblical person riding a dinosaur) with a long winding comment thread, I found myself looking for statistics about fossil finds. More or less, I’m looking for the answer to the question of “Which continent has the most fossil finds?”.

The web is not particularly helpful: Enchanted Learning has a couple of pages dedicated to specific dinosaur finds per continent: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antartica.

Looking (skirmishly) at the Asia page (above), it seems to tell me that hardly any gigantic dinosaurs were found in that Middle East region, but, I guess, maybe this explains why there’s so much oil overthere (reminder: how oil forms). Additionally, it appears that most of the dino fossils appear to have been found in North America. You can make up your own mind about that.

Them links

Via Suzanne Vega’s site, I found out that she nowadays (also) blogs for the New York Time’s ‘Measure for Measure’ periodical. There are other musicians writing for that very same blog: the only (other) familiar author is Roseanne Cash.

You’re probably aware that music and mathematics are quite related: Pythagoras was quite interested in music and his theories form the basis of current musical notation. Anyway: Three music professors have come up with a new way to analyze and categorize music and notes.

I forgot to mention it in earlier (Ubuntu) entries: In a couple of days (5 to be exactly), the new Ubuntu is to be released, properly named ‘Hardy Heron’ (or rather 8.04). You can download (complete) test versions (RC3, I believe) from the ‘Ubuntu testing’ website. You can also upgrade your current 7.10 (“Gutsy Gibbon”) to this test version using Ubuntu’s Update Manager. If you’re curious what’s going to be new, here are “Hardy Heron”‘s release notes.

Update: I just updated to the RC of Hardy Heron. You should definitely install the compiz graphical effects manager by invoking ‘apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager’. The manager will appear in your System menu: have fun playing with the options.

Words to watch for

TheA Synchrotron words (or rather terms) to watch for in the next coming years are:

  • Gravitational Lensing: I’ve mentioned this topic before, and trust me, it’s the most discussed topic in my neighbourhood. Better yet, every morning, I wake up to the tune of the Gravitational Lensing-nettes. On the serious side, gravity appears to be one of the most successful methods to detect exoplanets: Just recently, astronomers found the first ever mirror solar system using this technique.
  • Synchrotron: The first time I read about this machine was on April the first and that, sir, is no joke (Slashdot thread). Actually, I’ve been planning to build one of those things in my backyard (what backyard, muhahaha), but like all things “cirque scientifique”1, these things just take time to build. That being said: A synchrotron is literally a particle accelerator that (in the end) produces high-intensity X-rays. I mention this word here, because, just today, thanks to the synchrotron, we’ve finally found the very first snake with legs.

In any case, if you were thinking about starting a barbershop quartet or something, I hear that the name “The Synchrotronnettes” is still available. That is, if you can actually pronounce it flawlessly.

1 If I think of ‘cirque scientifique’, I keep thinking of this video, “Breaking Down Science”, brought to you by the Everett Dance Theatre.