Sunday, 17 April 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 11-17/4/16

Hi rhythmic solar-powered thorium nanoprobes,

First up: Q-Dragon's kickstarter for a project he's been working up to:

'Cacao Cultured Kickstarter'

Secondly, a warning: this one goes a bit meta, at the 5 minute mark :-P

'Solar FREAKIN' Thorium roadways!'


'SFN #160: Nanoprobes to the Stars?; Kepler Has a Problem; More Water on Europa?'

Nanoprobes to the stars? Hmm...

You might have heard of this scheme, to send solar sail-powered nanoprobes, approximately 1 cm across, to nearby stars, by propelling them with a ground-based LASER array, aimed at the sails around them.

The practicality of travelling to even the nearest stars (besides Sol) prohibits large masses, such as human-carrying spaceships, from traversing the vast distances in any less than thousands of years.

But these proposed probes would be very light, which means they can be accelerated faster (both because of the mechanics, and also because medical effects of g-forces don't have to be regarded) and so they could reach the Alpha Centauri star system (Sol's nearest stellar neighbours) in ~20 years.

At least, according to the people who want it to happen. But i see a bigger problem than the practicality of crossing so much space.

When you look up at the stars, they sometimes appear to twinkle. This is because of a thing called 'seeing'.

Fluctuations in the atmosphere (known to some as 'wind') mean the amount of atmosphere you're looking through, at a particular star, at a particular moment, fluctuates too. Imagine waves in the sea: somebody looking at the seafloor is looking through more water when they're looking through the peak of a wave.

This means light from the stars is being refracted by the atmosphere, so nights of good 'seeing' are nights when this happens least, so you get better images through your telescopes. And it also means there's a huge benefit to putting telescopes in orbit around Earth, such as Hubble, and the awaited JWST.

Now imagine that you're trying to shine LASER light ground-to-sky instead of collecting light sky-to-ground. The same problem imposes itself.

If the light hitting the sail is uneven, the position of the probe will be rotated, causing it to shoot off into deep space, at the wrong angle. And when you've got multiple light years of space to travel, a tiny error can leave you a long way from collecting any valuable data.

Plus, the probes will be going so fast that they'll have very little time to collect much data when they reach Alpha Centauri. This, however, i suspect to be a minor concern, technology-wise. It's the seeing that i perceive to be the biggest hurdle.

I imagine many of them will have to be launched at once, as a proportion are expected to be destroyed or critically damaged by dust and protons (cosmic rays) while hurtling through space.

If they manage to get this project working, i might still be alive to see the data come back.

[hopes] :-)


Series 16 of The Unbelievable Truth. Wow! It's approximately half a century behind ISIHAC, though :-D

In other news:

How do echidnas survive brush fires? Well, by tracking echidnas during and after a brush fire, some by the tracking devices that they had already been fitted with, researchers in Western Australia found that the more interesting subject, is what they do when the fires subside, rather than what they do when the fires are raging. Echidnas are already known to find hollow logs to hide in, but the tracking revealed that they do very little eating and drinking in the weeks after a fire. This might seem unintuitive, but with smoke lingering, oxygen in the air at ground level being low, and food and drink being rare too, it's actually a good tactic. The researchers observed the echidnas in torpid hibernation-like states for days at a time, after the fire, allowing the animals to survive on little oxygen and food and water, until the three essentials became plentiful again.

Was the Loch Ness Monster revealed this week? It was a movie prop made for the 1969-made film 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes'. Apparently, the removal of the model's humps also removed its buoyancy, and so the object sank to the bottom of the loch. The Loch Ness Monster is one of the world’s most famous hoaxes, invented by Marmaduke Wetherell, and published under the pseudonym ‘Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson’ in 1934, so
'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' was almost a 'retro' film, for its day :-D

Exxon Mobil Corporation's fighting against justice, it seems, with its exposure for covering up data that links fossil fuels to climate change. Originally, Exxon Mobil's board thought it would gain a market advantage by knowing about climatic change before the other fossil fuel companies, but then it realised the truth would siren its doom as a going concern, so they covered up the data they'd collected, potentially putting energy industry reform back decades. See 'Peter Sinclair on What Exxon Knew' for more information.

Effects of vitamin D for heart failure far from 'stunning'. This is NHS Choices' ascerbic title, for their article - not my own wording! According to the Dependent and the BBC, Vitamin D supplementation has a profound therapeutic effect on the heart, even though the study in question showed no benefit to the people involved. The participants were all people with heart failure - a condition in which the heart doesn't pump blood effectively enough, resulting in tiredness, breathlessness, and ankle swelling. The pumping of the heart's required to lift blood against gravity, right? That's why cosmonauts get thin legs and puffy faces. Apparently, many people with heart failure are also Vitamin D deficient (Ocean Dilemma pending) so 229 participants were given either Vitamin D or an (unidentified) control. The only correlant was with left ventricular function, meaning more blood was being pumped with each heartbeat. However, they showed no improvements in the main symptoms of heart failure (including those known to be associated with Vitamin D) or improvement in walking distance over 6 minutes. In conclusion, it's more plausible that heart failure is a consequence of long-term Vitamin D malnutrition, than a short-term effect, so acute exposure is unlikely to repair decades of harm. Beyond a certain amount, Vitamin D supplementation is known to achieve nothing at all, anyway. More research is necessary, to find a method that does work in repairing heart damage that has already occurred.

Replacing the traffic lights on food packaging with estimations of exercise needed to burn off the calories? No, no, no. As confusing as people might find traffic lights to be, surely throwing an infinite variety of integers at them is going to be worse. The suggestion in question, is that the calorie content of a food/drink product should be replaced with text, for example "an apple (93 calories) – this would take 21 minutes of brisk walking or 13 minutes of running to burn off". Let's leave aside how you'd fit all of this on a little oval sticker ~1cm across, and think about the psychology of it. You pick up the apple, you read the label, you think "ah, one apple, one snack, 21 minutes of exercise. I'll do that" and then you buy the apple, go home, eat the apple, get distracted, and forget to do the exercise. I've been 'planning' exercise for years, but i never get around to it, because it's not in the schedule of my day. With a traffic light system, you make the decision there and then, and you don't have to worry about it again. With an add-up-the-numbers-and-plan-to-walk-it-all-off-again plan there's no immediate necessity to contemplate the expense. It's too easy to say to yourself "so, that's 329 minutes of walking shopped up, so far. Yeah, i'll get around to it" and then forget. That's why i think this is a bad idea. The benefit of a warning system, is that it means boffins in an office can do the number-crunching, making it easier for shoppers to make decisions. Even when it's boffins doing their own shopping. If they have to number-crunch while they're standing with their basket, they'll be more prone to misjudgement. I'm giving this suggestion a red light :-P

According to The Sun, the 'rhythm method' is better than The Pill... when an app's involved. For those who don't know, the 'rhythm method' is an archaic method of avoiding pregnancy, by only bonking during the phases of the menstrual cycle when fertilisation's least likely; whereas 'The Pill' is a chemical contraceptive that actually works. The study that the claim was based on, didn't actually use data that was intended for measuring pregnancy-likelihood, so it is of doubtful validity. Especially given that the variables selected were temperature readings, which are associated with menstrual variation, but also with many other things. Even so, they found an unsurprisingly high 'failure' rate, with 143 unplanned pregnancies occurring during the study period. 34% of the participants actually dropped out of the study, so the full number of pregnancies is unknown. As a proportion, use of the app would be expected to result in 7 out of every 100 women experiencing accidental pregnancies, each year. And none of this takes into account the complete inability of the 'rhythm method' to prevent the spread of STDs. The motive of the researchers was apparently to 'provide' a tool for weirdos who think that the rejection of contraceptives is compatible with the avoidance of pregnancy. Oh, and they sell the product they researched. Of course they do. So all of the numbers should probably be revised upward, to account for systematic bias introduced by them. Ultimately, the best advice for anyone is: get some condoms. Nothing counters STDs and pregnancy better than them.

According to a Paper, yet to be published in the open access journal eLife, a group of tropical birds have been found to have the fastest limb muscles in any vertebrate. But they're not for flying - they're for courtship displays. Male red-capped and golden-crowned manakins move their wings about six to eight times faster than the 8 hertz (Hz) that Olympic athletes move their legs at, during a 100m race. The golden-collared manakins hit their wings together, behind their backs, to produce loud mechanical sounds. The red-capped manakins slap their wings against their sides, producing similar sounds. In both these two, and three other species, the muscles used have been found to be separate to those used in flight, meaning they lose no motile capability, for the sake of their displays.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Revealing the South Pole - Sixty Symbols'

'Green Fluorescent Protein | What is this Thing?!'

'Weird But Fair Dice (plus the D120) - Numberphile'

'Cat Lover's Guide To Chakra Healing - Myles Reviews'

'Signs of the Time Season 4 Episode 2 | The Checkout'

'Tricks of the Trade Mags | The Checkout'

'The Checkout - Season 4 Episode 2'

'siagomphus reinhardti: A newly discovered insect'

'Image: Mosaic of Ireland from Copernicus Sentinel data'

'NASA image: T-38C passes in front of the sun at supersonic speed'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: dais -- a raised platform, plinth, or table, used akin to a stage - to aid visibility to whatever might be on it - a speaker, official, or object of interest; pronounced 'day-us'

Quote Of The Week: "If you go to a clairvoyant, who do you see, sitting around the table? Women. If you go to a fortune teller, who do you see? Women. When a woman picks up a newspaper, she doesn't read the headlines, she goes straight to the horoscopes. Women are much more concerned about the future than men. I suppose they have to - they live longer" - Dave Allen

Fact Of The Week: 'Plato' was actually the nickname of Aristocles, as the Greek 'platus' means broad/wide. He was called such either because of the breadth of his body, forehead, or eloquence.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff


'GODZILLA v T-REX?! Planet War Total War Mod Gameplay (Mulitplayer)'

'GaB streams DISTRAINT'

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