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-Save the whales—collect the whole set is even easier now with advanced satellite imagery. In the past whale counting was done from ships and was obviously inaccurate, not to mention mistaking one species for another. But now with high resolution satellites it is possible to increase the accuracy of surveys to help scientists learn about migrations and preserving populations. The prohibition on whaling enacted in 1986 has allowed a resurgence of the whales and now we can actually see how far the species have come back.

-There is another reason to watch the whales—sadly they to have fallen prey to a very persistent parasite, toxoplasma gondii. Toxo, known for causing rats to become less cautious and also instigating schizophrenia in humans was recently found in some Beluga whales. Ice is great natural barrier to the transmission of many harmful diseases, bacteria and parasites. With the melting of the Arctic ice, these areas are now susceptible to incursions by previously unseen pathogens. While it is uncertain how the parasite reached the whales, researchers believe that it maybe due to the introduction of domesticated cats. While the parasite lives happily in a number of different warm-blooded animals, it can only reproduce in cats. Another concern besides the species crossing is the fact that the native Inuits often eat Beluga raw which aids in the transmission of the parasite. Since it is known to affect the behavior of those infected, it is a good question how Toxo may alter the behavior of the Beluga whales.

-Whales can get tans just like us and sadly that also means that they can get skin damage. Recently whales were observed that had blistering on their skins which provoked research into the cause. Scientists can observe the amount and penetration of UV radiation into their environment by observing the effects on their skin. To investigate further researchers are cataloging whale genomes to compare mitochondrial damage and potential skin cancers that may occur. The effects on whales serve as indicators of larger changes in our environment.


February 2014

-We’re going to Mars, so we might as well look good, right? Dava Newman, Professor at MIT has taken some ideas from the past, some looks from the future and come up with a space suit that may just make us the coolest, most comfortable explorers on Mars. The BioSuit is a more form-fitting design that applies the concept of mechanical counter pressure in the form of semi-rigid ribs all over the wearer. This vastly improves the mobility of the wearer and reduces the weight of the suit. Another big improvement is the nature of the material which unlike current suits can be easily patched. Add to the form fitting look of the suit with its crisscrossed layering a pair of boots, kneepads and a pair of gloves that look like they would be at home on a dirt track racer and you have a good idea of the BioSuit. Also the suit has a clear bubble helm that goes straight back to all of those pulp covers from the Golden Age which would allow the wearer a great deal more peripheral vision. There is still work to be done in development but it’s good to know we’re not waiting till the last minute.

-The ISS got an additional 4 years to its lease on life. The expectation was that the station would be closed down in 2020 (shades of Bablyon 5). Much like that other station, the ISS is a symbol of what nations can accomplish together. It encourages opportunistic development of technologies as well. So when the current administration decided to add 4 more years to the ISS’s life, we can only hope that something can change in the meantime to keep the station flying for longer.

-In India the native tigers are becoming infected with a disease that effects many dogs, canine distemper. In the big cats the disease is deadly. As India rapidly develops its land to support its massive population more canines come in contact with tigers. Sadly there is no vaccine for tigers only dogs.


November 2013

-In consideration of the Holiday shopping mayhem that will soon ensue, here’s an interesting look at how stores keep track of you when you shop. Retail wants to know what you want and they’ll use your high tech devices to find out much as facebook and Google place appropriate ads on the sideboards. Nordstroms was actually pinging cell phones via wifi to get a map of where customers were in the store. With smart phone shopping apps and coupons you are also giving away your shopping habits for free.

-You can save the bees and Open Tech Forever is giving away the plans to beekeepers and apiary enthusiasts. The Open Source Beehives provides plans that can allow you to use your computer to track the health of your hive. Not only does the information go to you but also to the network, which allows them to look at the collective whole. So not only do you get a way to keep track of your hive’s health, you help further research into the issue of the decline in bee health.

-The average American eats about 200 lbs of meat in a year and our ability to produce is not keeping up with the demand. So how do we resolve this? Beyond Meat thinks that their chicken substitute constructed from peas, soy and amaranth could do the job. What’s interesting here is the result has a similar nutritional value to poultry and the texture of the meat is surprisingly similar. Beyond Meat’s product uses 1.1 lbs of ingredients and 2 liters of water compared to the 30 liters and 7.5 lbs of feed to produce a similar amount of chicken.

-In shades of Skylab, a one ton satellite owned by the European Space agency came down on 11-17-13. Largest chunks of the satellite were estimated at around 200lbs as the debris came down in the Atlantic Ocean near the Falkland Islands. The GOCE was studying ocean currents and the Earth’s gravity.


October 2013


-TDK is heating up the competition for greater storage on hard drives. The ability to reverse or create a magnetic field is easier to cause if the temperature is higher. This in a nutshell is how information is written to a hard drive or extracted. So if you can make a very small localized area hotter, then the read and write process becomes easier. The real trick here is that you have to do this over a very small area so that you don’t unwrite other information you want to keep or overwrite other information. In fact the attenuation of the laser beam used must be 1/10 that which used required for blu-ray, in the range of tens of nanometers. TDK believes they can have working versions as soon as 2015 which could extend the storage of range of hard drives as far as 40 terabytes.


-Some of the holes in Mars may not be due to meteorites. When we think of volcanoes on Mars, it’s very difficult to get past Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system. However, we tend to overlook the very large volcano in our own backyard, the Yellowstone caldera for the same reason that other volcanoes on Mars have been missed. On Mars the nature of an exploded caldera volcano is very similar to an impact crater, except they do not have the distinct upraised edges and the wash of ejecta surrounding the depression of the central crater. Astronomers are now revisiting the surface of Mars and discovering what looked like impact craters in some cases are collapsed calderas. One such area is called the Eden Patera. In this case the perimeter of the depression has an odd convoluted shape that does not follow typical impact results. Now that astronomers know about the calderas they realize that the vulcanism that Mars experienced years ago was different than expected and may even explain some of the current state of the planet.


-Dragonflies are rather amazing creatures but one doesn’t usually associate them with the advancement of robotics. Apparently it’s all about one looks at things or rather how a dragonfly does. Light and dark are processed in a unique way by the insects optics and scientists David O’Carroll and Steven Weiderman from the University of Adelaide believe the ability of the dragonfly to locate dark objects in motion can aid in robotic targeting. Most vision is processed in two channels which perceive light and dark separately referred to as “ON” and “OFF.” Typically vision is the result of a combination of ONs with ONs or OFFs and OFFs but the dragonfly can see using ONs in combination with OFFs. This allows them to be able to find dark colored prey and the scientists hope to be able to create visual circuits which can allow robots or drones to take advantage of this unique ability.

-It could be that this new visual acuity might be just what it takes to allow the pizza drone to find your home. Right now the FAA is taking their time about deciding the freedom of drones in our airspace, but in the future it could be that drones will become the busy delivery bees that bring us our needs. Imagine an emergency delivery of insulin taken to someone with limited mobility. Small items like this could be easily transported by drone. Drones are programmed with better avoidance systems than human reactions so concerns about having multiple drones in the airspace maybe moot. It remains to be seen if a drone could get your pizza to you in 30 minutes or less without being pirated by the nerds next door.

-The Department of Transportation and the EPA have decided we’re going to have amazing gas mileage, but we may have to wait awhile and the car companies may not go about it in the way we’d expect. The gas mileage expectation is set to 54.5 mpg to be accomplished by 2025. One way of achieving this would be building micro cars similar to the smart vehicles however it sounds like manufacturers are planning on using direct fuel injection and turbo charging to make smaller more efficient engines. Engines will be reduced to 1 to 2 liters and range from 125-350 horsepower. The true key to this is greater efficiency means less carbon footprint and more money saved for the consumer.

Life in the Clouds

Iain M. Banks’ novel Player of Games’s primary setting is the Small Magellanic Cloud, which is a satellite of our own Milky Way. The Cloud is an irregular galaxy about 7,000 light years across which may have once been a barred galaxy. It is 200,000 light years from the Milky Way and visible to the naked eye, but unfortunately it is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere. The Cloud is joined to the Large Magellanic Cloud by a band of gas. The Magellanic Stream was originally discovered in the 70’s but recent photographs from the Hubble Space telescope are helping to confirm theories about its origin. Most of the matter is from the smaller of the two galaxies which was the loser in the gravitational battle when they passed near each other. Astronomers also believe that the Stream will eventually be pulled back down into the Milky Way. The influx of gas could even start a new round of stellar birth. Astronomers also believe that the Small Magellanic Cloud is actually two clouds. The very reaction which caused the Magellanic stream may also have budded of what has been named the Mini Magellanic Cloud. The Mini Cloud is situated behind the Small Cloud so it is not visible to telescopic observation. With their location near the Milky Way, the Clouds make excellent examples of the structure and composition of other galaxies. Given the number of planets being discovered in our own galaxy, the Small Cloud must also possess similar solar systems, making it a very interesting location for Bank’s fictional Azad.




-The Canadian AeroVelo team members have taken the Sikorsky Prize for the creation of a human powered helicopter. The 250K prize has been offered for 33 years and requires that the vehicle ascend to a height of 10 feet for over 60 seconds and remain within a set boundary as well as be maneuverable. AeroVelo’s Atlas is a rather amazing device with four rotors and required an indoor soccer field to test. There were some rather horrific crashes before achieving success that did dramatic damage to the gossamer structure of the Atlas, but their team member recently pedaled the bike located at the center of the Atlas to success.


-NASA has upgraded its first planned mission for the Orion capsule in 2017 to a destination 40k miles beyond the moon in preparation for the Asteroid Redirection Initiative. This would be an unmanned expedition and the destination is the parking spot picked for the 2021 ARI mission. Designated EM1, the mission serves as a precursor to EM2 which would be a manned mission to the redirected asteroid.


-On Mars, Opportunity is celebrating the 10 year anniversary of its launch toward the red planet as it continues towards its next destination Solander Point. Opportunity has spent 3360 days on Mars. Now scientists are hard at work designing the next rover for a 2020 launch. This time there several important goals: looking for signs of past life on Mars, gathering samples for later collection, collect information that will aid human onsite exploration of Mars. Right now the first goal is very difficult to achieve with Curiosity because its instruments do not have sufficient resolution. The 2020 mission will be designed with a new instrument package, but will use a vehicle format similar to Curiosity. In addition to that it is planned to include a Returnable Cache of up to 31 samples. While it will include the cache, there are no current plans for a delivery system to actually send back the samples. The complexity and cost of such as system has caused this aspect to be left on the drawing board several times.



-3D printing is a technology that seems to develop a new use everyday. Now Doctors saved a young Ohio boy from spending all of his days in a hospital by printing a plastic splint. Kaiba was diagnosed with an incomplete bronchial tube and needed to be kept on a breathing machine. Doctors created a splint, which surrounds his bronchus to keep it from collapsing. The ingenious part it that the splint has a slit in it that allows it to expand as the child grows. The plastic of the splint is actually biodegradable and will be absorbed in Kaiba’s body as healthy tissues grows into its place.

-The Scottish Center for Regenerative Medicine has been approved to begin work on testing synthetic blood created using human stem cells. This would allow blood banks around the world to be able to supplement or perhaps eventually even replace their supply with a compound, which would not carry any potentially infectious agents. The synthetic blood will have to be tested and approved but the UK Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory agency has already approved both human trials and potential mass production. With recent court cases, there is some concern if the SCRM decides to treat the synthetic blood as a commercial commodity and seeks to patent the process.

-Getting off Earth can be hazardous to our health in the long run and scientists may have found an unlikely solution to shield cosmic rays—plastic. Cosmic rays are typically very high energy and pass through most materials and high doses over long times cause cellular damage increasing the chance for cancer. A moon base, an asteroid mission or a flight to and exploration of Mars represent serious risks due to cosmic rays. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has on board an instrument known as the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation or CRaTER which was used to study cosmic rays impacting a plastic that is comparative to human tissue. Comparing this with experiments done on Earth, scientists now feel confident they can produce lightweight effective shielding. Prior to this tests were also done using Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector.


-Quantum is one of those words that implies a certain significance to whatever it describes. So it seems a little odd when the recent news that Los Alamos National Labs has been using what equates to a quantum internet for 2 years, the announcement was almost an aside. Now the important aspect of a quantum internet is its security. Much as the nature of a particle is altered when one attempts to ascertain both its position and momentum, if a quantum internet connection is interrupted by someone trying to gain access to the information, it will collapse. Now the labs were using a work around by running connections to a central hub which then redistributed signals to their destinations. That’s important because typically the idea behind a quantum internet implies that it can only run between two points because, as mentioned above, any alteration in the nature of the signal causes its state to collapse into noise. So merely telling it to go from one location to another breaches the security. So instead signals are sent to a central router which then redirects them. That does mean that the router is a weak point, but the whole concept of the protecting the signal in transit is sound.

-Antimatter may be the opposite of matter but there are some very good questions about how it reacts with the forces that are present in the universe. CERN is presently beginning to set up experiments that will measure the effects of gravity on antimatter. While there are no expectations that antimatter will react in a directly opposite manner than ordinary matter, it does make scientists wonder if the established laws of gravity will be born out in their experiments. CERN’s experiment will start by generating anti-hydrogen which will be contained in a magnetic bottle. The scientists will then observe which of the walls of the bottle the anti-hydrogen will collide with in order to establish a pattern. Since antimatter reacts violently with matter and releases a tremendous amount of energy upon contact it could be used for energy production or possibly even propulsion. However, in order to use this effectively we need to understand the nature and properties of antimatter which is where CERN’s research comes into play.

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