Monday, November 14, 2011

Earth from Space

Right click on the image for a full screen view or more options. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Risk, Wisdom and Whining in the Space Age

I'm thrilled to live in New Mexico which has been in the forefront of many scientific advances. We're also a western state where the wild, wild west with all it's amazing Indian cultures; mythic gun fights and noble, heroic cowboys and settlers are part of the landscape.

I'm not so thrilled with what has happened to our national attitude toward space exploration, NASA and where our priorities should lie. It's incredibly short-sighted and narrow-minded to say that space exploration is a waste of money. Worse, it's a lie. The list of innovations and advances space exploration has brought to us is long and impressive. 

New Mexico's former Governor Bill Richardson ran a corrupt administration marred by foul pay-to-play politics and spendthrift ways that left the state treasury in the hole. Not everything he did was bad, but not everyone agrees with everything he did "right." Breaks for the movie industry being one of the decisions people have argued about. Another is the space port. Spaceport America. The verdict is still out on that one, but I think in the long run, it's a wise investment. Innovation and risk taking are two of the pillars that lead to prosperity for all people, not just the people who have the cash to fund such things.

Space, or any kind of exploration for that matter, has always been a risky business. In the past, government has been good at taking on risky business. But lately, the zeitgeist of safety and security takes priority over all other concerns murdering the zeitgeist of innovation, risk taking and liberty. Safety and security is boring and stifling, which then generates a rebellious mood amongst youth who have been blinded to other options, so they launch futile protests against things and persons they don't understand. The safety and security mind-set leads to the regulation mentality that leads toward autocratic government and ends liberty. Forget risk taking. Persons who take risks are punished under autocratic systems, if they can obtain the where with all to even imagine taking any risks. Too much regulation which always includes reams of poorly written and poorly thought-out law by people ignorant of the fields they are trying to regulate stops innovation.

The last moon launch was canceled because the zeitgeist had shifted. It didn't matter that the money had already been spent, that if the launch didn't go through it would be wasted. Even though the way the money had been used was ostensibly the point, it really wasn't. The objective was change and power. While the zeitgeist that ruled during our quest for the moon may have had its problems, no zeitgeist of any era is perfect, I prefer it to the soft, whining zeitgeist that reigns now. The present ruling mood, an offspring of the one that shut down the last moon launch, has underlying it, not just ignorance, but an inherent lack of wisdom, which is worse than ignorance. These people don't understand where their food comes from; they don't understand what it takes to be free and they don't understand where prosperity comes from. For some unaccountable reason they seem to think prosperity is evil and that somehow, even though prosperity is evil, they will have pleasant lives without it. Too many have become a bunch of babies whining for their bottles.

"Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law (God's Law)," Proverbs 29:18. 

Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." 

Rather than taking risks in areas where it could do the culture good, the push is toward willful rejection of the familial, political and cultural structures that have been built over the course of 2000 years. Without a comprehensive understanding of why those systems, values, mores and methods were constructed in the first place, this course is not only stupid, but far more dangerous to the culture than the sorts of risks human beings used to take all the time, risks which governments so thoroughly strive to protect us from now. Casting off social restraint, tearing down the old ways and replacing them with disastrous new ones will make a society incapable of innovation and advancement. Few kids from broken homes or raised by almost exclusively by women alone become the sort of adults who generate innovation, scientific advancement and exploration. They have to spend their lives sorting through the basics of living--if they get that far. Reflecting the rebellious, underlying attitude all people gravitate toward, government breaks its own laws on a daily basis and practice arbitrary law enforcement according to some bureaucrat's whim further punishing innovators and risk takers. And, because so many of the people who are making the most noise, or rather, listened to so thoroughly by the press (and this shows the wisdom of the press), lack wisdom, they are inviting destruction upon themselves and the rest of us if we can't stop the slide into dependency, ignorance and poverty.

The spaceport in New Mexico is a step forward even in the midst of this era of whining, diapered babies. Someone had vision--Governor Richardson and Richard Branson and Burt Rutan and all those who've played a role in this adventure into space. This effort sends a huge message of hope which the press in their typically near-sighted way has largely overlooked. Diapered, whining babies have no big dreams, they have no grand vision. Their dreams are small and their vision is petty. The main things they seem to want are student loan forgiveness, expanded welfare, more months of unemployment, free healthcare and the collapse of capitalism, though they actually have no idea what results that collapse would entail for persons like themselves who don't know how to work, don't know how to farm and have no useful skills. Small dreams lead to small accomplishments, they can do nothing more.

Chaos seems to loom on the horizon. But in the midst of chaos is also great opportunity, therefore, anyone who has a great vision and big dreams may have to be more creative, but the chance for huge achievement is available. The spaceport and the sub-orbital ships that will be launched there are steps in that direction.
Spaceport America, photo credit: Virgin Galactic

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Robots and Robot Aides: The Science of Over the Edge

Robots, robotic aides and/or bionics figure in Over the Edge, but they're in the background, like toasters or refrigerated air units: they're not missed until they're broken and not seen until they're necessary to the story. That's the way technology should be, actually, it shouldn't really be a character in a story (well, humanoid robots who think and have feelings may be the exception).

Probably the most dramatic bionic use found in Over the Edge is a character's ability to save to an electronic medium images captured by the eye, sounds heard by the ear and thoughts recorded and verbiage stored as text documents. No privacy if someone's got the access codes. Add the ability to access that saved information at any time from anywhere, total, literal recall, and the power to control a spaceship by thought command, a spaceship captain finds his ship an extension of his own being. This happens to a lesser extent when people drive. Experienced drivers naturally extend their concept of personal space and boundaries to include the vehicle they're driving. They become attuned to the normal rattles, clicks and rumbles of their healthy machine and take note when sounds change. Well, some of us do. Others of us don't pay that good attention, not even to our own bodies. But that's another subject.

The article posted below from National Geographic highlights how robots or robotic aides are already integrating into human life and what may lie in the future.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Over the Edge Romance series: What Does A Guy's Car Say About Him?

Unlike most previous posts, this one is just for fun. The Over the Edge Sci Fi Romance series tell the stories of ordinary women who meet and (maybe) fall for men from space. While they're on planet earth the guys have got to have something to drive. What will they choose and what does a guy's vehicle choice say about him?

What Does a Guy's Car Say About Him?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

What Would Spaceship Launches Really Look Like?: The Science of Over the Edge

This post is just for fun, although it does plug into the Science of Over the Edge features which appear here every so often. What does it look like when a missile is launched? Well, here's a photo:

This image is from a blog on the Discover web page titled: Awesomely Weird Expanding Halo of Light Seen from Hawaii This picture is a still taken from a video by Kanoa Withington. It shows the beginnings of an expanding halo--watch the video on the blog link posted above--probably created by a missile launching into space from California. Check out the blog post.

 This next photo is also from the same blog, but you may have seen it awhile back, the weird spiral over Norway. Here's a still image of that:

This turned out to be an out-of-control rocket booster jetting into space. Video of that incident is posted below.

Google "weird spirals over Norway" for more videos.

Here are some more links from Discover magazine online about werid sightings:

Falcon UFOs

Great Balls of Fire Over Australia

Russian UFOs

So what would it look like if earth had a sure-enough space port where real spaceships going places distant and amazing launched? Maybe very much like these images--well, except for the out-of-control rocket, hopefully a person wouldn't see many of those.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nanotechnology: The Science of Over the Edge

Nanotechnology is the technology of manipulating matter at the scale between the every day world--the big, visible stuff--and the world of the quantum--the teeny, tiny. "A nanometer is about the width of a strand of DNA," says Discover magazine, July/August, 2010, issue. Nanometer, abbreviated nm, is a name derived from the Greek word for midget, nano. Each nanometer is only three to five atoms wide, 40,000 times smaller than the width of the human hair. Nanoparticles contain tens of thousands of atoms and straddle the world of Newton and the world of quantum mechanics.But nanotechnology is not new.

Human beings have used nanotechnology in sunscreen and ink-jet printers. But medieval stained glass nanotechnologists have probably created the most amazingly beautiful nano-tech products to date: stained glass colored with gold. The medieval art of making stained glass reached its peak in the years between 1100 and 1500.

Most of what we know about medieval stained glass was recorded by a monk who called himself, Theophilus, in his book titled On Diverse Arts. He wrote that powdered metals such gold, copper and silver were used to color molten glass. Gold particles were simple spheres about 25 nanometers in diameter. At such a small size, gold no longer glitters. The beautiful red of stained glass was created when gold chloride, a compound of gold and chlorine, which was prepared by passing chlorine gas over gold powder, was mixed with molten glass turning gold into tiny spheres that sloshed in unison and absorbed blue and yellow light while allowing the longer wavelength, red, to shine in a rich ruby hue. To achieve a bright yellow hue, nanoparticles of silver were used. Change the size of the gold nanoparticles and a different color is achieved. With today's more sophisticated tools, nanotechnologists can make particles of many different shapes and sizes. Larger gold spheres create green and orange hues. Small silver ones make blue. Changing the size and shape of a gold or silver nanoparticle can produce every color of the spectrum.

In a New York Times article, titled, "Tiny is Beautiful: Translating 'Nano' Into Practical," Dr. Chad A. Mirkin, a director of Northwestern University's Institute for Nanotechnology, said "everything, regardless of what it is, has new properties" because of the changes made in quantum mechanical and thermodynamic properties at the nanometer scale. He added, this is "where a lot of the scientific interest is." Dr. A. Paul Alivisatos, a professor of chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, stated, "instead of changing composition, you can change size."  Dr. Alivisatos, founding scientist of Quantum Dot Corporation, works with nanoparticles, called "quantum dots" made of semiconductors and gallium arsenide. The size and shape of the quantum dots can be manipulated to fluoresce specific colors. In a medical application, current dyes used to light up proteins fade quickly, but quantum dots could allow tracking of biological reactions in living cells for days.

Kenneth Chang, author of the New York Times article mentioned above, wrote, "Other applications of nanoparticles take advantage of the fact that more surface area is exposed when material is broken down to smaller sizes. For magnetic nanoparticles, the lack of blemishes produces magnetic fields remarkably strong considering the size of the particles. Nanoparticles are also so small that in most of them, the atoms line up in perfect crystals without a single blemish"

Dr. David F. Kelley, a professor at the University of California, Merced, is researching the chemical, optical and electronic properties of semiconductor nanoparticles and electron transfer reactions involving inorganic dyes. He's interested in nanoparticles because of their possible applications in regenerative photocells, photocatalysis and in electroluminescent devices. He seeks to come to understand size-dependent spectroscopy and photophysics on a nanoparticle level. This research may be applied to create solar cells that would allow electrons to hop more easily between particles due to the flawless structure possible on a nanoparticle scale.

Dr. Yi Lu, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois. He uses DNA as a building block for nanoscale components. His primary areas of research include: DNA mediated assembly and growth of nanoparticles, directed nanoscale self-assembly on a DNA scaffold and reversible cell-specific drug delivery with Apatamer-functional lipsomes. He takes advantage of the color changes that occur at the nanoparticle level to create a test for hazardous levels of lead. DNA molecules attached to gold nanoparticles, tangle with other specially designed pieces of DNA to make clumps that appear blue. Lead causes the connecting DNA to fall apart cutting loose the gold nanoparticles and changing the color to red.

Dr. Mirkin uses gold nanoparticles as a connecting point to build disease sensors. He attaches a gold particle to an antibody and adds snippets of DNA that act as bar codes. This approach has produced a test for Alzheimer's disease by measuring minuscule amounts of a protein in spinal fluid associated with the disease. His company, Nanosphere Inc. is working to bring this technology to market.

Dr. Naomi J. Halas, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University, has invented a type of particle she's dubbed "nanoshells," which are hollow gold or silver spheres wrapped around a filling of silica.These may be used to treat cancer by applying the ability of nanoparticle-sized hollow shape to increase gold's efficiency in absorbing light energy. When these nanoshells are injected into a tumor and infrared light is shined on them, they heat up and kill the tumor. Researchers in Dr. Halas's lab have demonstrated nanoshells unique ability by inserting nanoshells into uncooked chicken parts and then shining a near infrared laser at the chicken. Since water does not absorb much infrared light, the light passes through most of the meat without having any effect, but the nanoshells heat up, cook the chicken, then start smoking and catch on fire. In actual treatment, lower intensity of light would be used to avoid cooking the patient. See also Dr. Halas's associate's site: Nanospectra and Nanomedicine Targets Cancer.

Shrinking medication to nanoparticle size will improve effectiveness. Altair Nanotechnologies of Reno has developed a possible drug for kidney patients: nanoparticles of lanthanum dioxycarbonate. This chemical binds to phosphate which builds up in failing kidneys and prevents it from entering tissue. A small amount with each meal can have a huge beneficial effect.

Discover magazine article by Nayanah Siva titled Smart Bandages Nurse Your Wounds reported Toby Jenkins and colleagues of the University of Bath in England, are working on self-medicating bandages that promise to keep serious wounds free of infection using nanocapsules that release antimicrobials when bacterial toxins appear in a wound. Harmful bacteria will also cause the dressing to change color alerting care takers that a problem exists. This could be especially helpful for burn victims. Nearly 50% of all burn-related deaths are caused by infection. This new technology will allow fewer bandages to be used which will reduce scarring and speed healing.

Siva writes, "Cell biologist Paul Durham and his team from Missouri State University are working on a multitasking bandage layered with antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory agents for use on a variety of wounds, including deep cuts and punctures. In the initial prototype, a battery-powered time-release mechanism will dispense the medications, but ultimately the researchers hope to incorporate chemical sensors that will trigger drug release in response to changes in the wound."

In a January, 2000, issue, Wendy Marston reported in Discover online Future Tech article sub titled: Can we interest you in a suit that banishes dirt, sweat, and germs, sir? nano-tech mills could completely change how clothing is made. David Forrest, president of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, says that nano-mills will create custom fabrics assembled atom by atom using contraptions the size of photocopy machines. "Raw materials such as nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen will be put into a desk-size unit which will rearrange the elements and control the trajectories of all the molecules" in order to fabricate the material. He also plans to incorporate sensors to detect rips and tears which will alert parmecium-size robotic crews to fix the holes by means of atomic manipulation. Gain a few pounds? Electro-mechanically controlled molecules in the fibers could change the shape of a garment with the touch of a button. Nano-manufactured clothing might even launder itself using nano-sized, micro-maids to remove dirt to a collection area where it will be picked up. "Robotic devices similar to mites could periodically scour the fabric surfaces," says Forrest. Mico-maids would also handle the rinse cycle. "It may be extraordinarily difficult to do this," he says, "but there's no scientific barrier."

Nanobots that clean spaceships, nano-drug-delivery systems and nano-manufactured textiles, clothing and facsimile copies of documents identical to the originals from the molecular level up are features of the Over the Edge science fiction series. In one scene a character uses a nano-heart attack to assassinate a criminal. Nanobots clean spaceships and check them for hazardous particles or micro-organisms and out-of-place insects, threads or buttons and report their findings to ship's captains.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Thought Controlled Vehicles: The Science of Over the Edge

Captain Reeser Peland controls his space ship using his mind. He can do this while either in the ship or while on a planet's surface. German innovators have developed a mind controlled car. Of course, the assumption is such a car is not safe for normal driving, and maybe it isn't, but typically we humans always vastly underestimate each other and ourselves. The answer is to expect more from one another, not less.

Watch: German engineers test drive mind control car