Saturday, April 30, 2011

Endeavor to deliver stamp sized "Sprite" micro-satellite experiment to ISS

The Space Shuttle Endeavor currently sits on the launch pad awaiting her final launch. On board is a tiny experiment that, if successful, could become a new and inexpensive tool for the exploration of space.

The actual size of a Sprite satellite.

Developed by Cornell University's Space Systems Design Studio, these postage stamp sized satellites named "Sprites" are to be mounted on the International Space Station's (ISS) Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8) pallet. They will be mounted externally so that they may experience the full affects of space. They will then be sent back to Earth in several years to study how they withstood the rigors of space. Three nearly identical Sprites will be mounted on ISS with the only difference being that each will transmit with a unique radio signature so that they can be told apart by researchers on the ground.

Other than their size, what makes Sprites so unusual is that they do not use an active form of propulsion. In fact they have no propulsion device mounted at all. Instead, the chip and the sun are its propulsion. Relying on solar winds, masses of these satellites could drift on the sun's currents of particles like bits of space dust.  While the concept of solar sails was firs proposed back in the 1920's, the concept was recently proven by the Japanese probe IKAROS.

Once the Sprites reach a planet (or even released near one by a larger craft), they would be able to take a wide variety of readings such as atmospheric pressure, radiation, and chemistry, amongst others. Some could drift down through the atmosphere, transmitting back their readings while others could ride the electro-magnetic currents that surround many planets. With each transmitting with different signatures, large masses of data could be transmitted at once giving a wealth of information.  And all done for less than it would cost to launch a single traditional satellite.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Hubble

Hubble's Deep Field image

Other than the plentiful chocolate available, there is something else worth celebrating today. 21 years ago, NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope, arguably one of its most important endeavors to date.

With an originally expected life span of ten years, Hubble has amazed everyone by more than doubling this. While Hubble's beginnings were uncertain once a defect was detected in the lens, once this was corrected Hubble quickly became one of science and the public's most cherished tools. Granting us images both scientifically rich and stunningly beautiful, few, if any, events since the initial moon landing has captured the attention and imagination of the public. With images that today are considered high art, immediately recognized anywhere and still inspiring people across the globe to look to the wonders of the universe as they can be unveiled through the lens of science, the Hubble Space Telescope has far out-shined even the most optomistic of expectations.

For this occasion, Life has posted a collection of many of the more impressive images taken by this extraordinary telescope. Last year to mark this occasion, Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, compiled a list of "10 Things You Don't Know about Hubble".

While the Hubble is reaching the end of its existence with no more planned servicing missions, it is certainly one experiment that will be synonymous with humanities curiosity and the universes' undeniable beauty for years to come.
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Happy Zombie Jesus Day!

Ah, Easter, yet another Christian holiday designed to confuse young believers. A day when Christian parents once again bribe their children with gifts to keep them interested in religion. It is also further proof that these people could never come up with an interesting holiday on their own.

Christians have an odd relationship with holidays. With the early church even more obsessed with suffering than it is now, they were hard pressed to come up with a holiday that would grab the attention of the masses. They tried with Good Friday, but a day traditionally celebrated with self-flagellation just didn't have the pull they were looking for. So upon realizing that self mutilation was no way to gain converts, some enterprising Christian decided to just steal a good holiday from one of the less depressing religions.

They looked to the Saxons for their solution and decided to hijack the day dedicated to their goddess Oestre (AKA Eostre or Eastre depending on the translation). Realizing that the name of the goddess for the sunrise, spring and fertility sounded better than "Jewish Zombie Day" and parties celebrating life were far more fun than going to church all day, they ran with it. While this little bit of information has been consistently kept from the young Christians, the kids have always guessed something was up. But thankfully due to the candy induced diabetic comas, they soon forget that neither rabbits nor long dead rabbis lay eggs.

Though proving that Christians cannot be trusted to market anything properly, what should be their most important holy day is always overshadowed on a child's list of holidays by Halloween which not only is more fun, has far better candy. Though I have to give this day some props for giving us those amazing creme-filled chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits large enough that they must legally be sold with a syringe of insulin. But other than this all kids have to look forward to is running around aimlessly for a while looking for brightly colored eggs. Eggs that are probably plastic because no child knows what to do with an egg anymore and because parents got tired of their kids finding one weeks later and it filling the house with noxious fumes.

Many Christians complain about how Easter doesn't have enough about Christ in it anymore. That the world is missing an 'amazing' story that, in all honesty, sounds kind of like one that got rejected from Tales From The Crypt. But it is their fault really. They chose to try and steal a day devoted to the yearly renewal of life and sex. Unless Jesus can do something really special with those holes in his hands, he has no chance of competing with a fertility goddess.
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Monday, April 11, 2011


Ah, the Raëlians. A group who no one can quite agree as to whether they are a religion or not. Sure, they have all the crazy beliefs of a religion, but at the same time, they claim not to believe in any gods or the existence of the human soul. While it is technically possible to have a religion without a belief in either of these, they tend to help. Most governments view the Raëlians as a cult and to be honest, I don't blame them.

Describing Raëlism is not an simple task. Especially if you like short, easy to digest comparisons. But I'll try, just because the idea of my readers looking confused entertains me. Imagine what would happen if a Mormon and a Scientologist had children, raised them to be hippies and then the confused offspring founded a UFO cult. If only I could see all of your dumbfounded looks right now. Perhaps I should attempt to explain things in a bit more depth, unless that actually made sense to any of you (in which case I fear for your sanity).

Like all good crazy cults, it has a crazy leader. In this case, Raël, or Claude Vorilhon as he used to be called. But apparently Claude doesn't sound mystical enough so he adopted the name Raël. Names like that get you instant street cred with the New Agers. According to Raël, he was informed that he was to be the final prophet of humanity by Yahweh. He was told this aboard a spaceship that he encountered in Clermont-Ferrand, France near a volcano in 1973. Wait...since when did the Judeo-Christian god get his own spaceship?

Well apparently it wasn't that Yahweh, but he was an Elohim in the Mormons sense...kinda. While the Elohim of the Raëlians are also space dwelling super-beings, they are not the god...things of Mormonism. Instead they are proper aliens who apparently look like vertically challenged humans with green skin and big eyes. Almost like the "Grays" of modern alien mythology, only apparently constantly nauseous in a cartoon like way.

Anyway, Yahweh informed Claude that he was to be the last in a long line of human prophets chosen by the Elohim. He was to join the ranks of such heavy hitters as Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, Joseph Smith and a few others. All of the messages of these previous prophets has apparently been distorted into the modern false beliefs that they are now. He was told that there is no god and no such thing as an eternal soul. Things like this make Raëlism rather odd as there are going to be parts here and there that an intelligent person will agree with...unfortunately it is just a piece of logic floating in a confusing soup of idiocy (so in that sense I guess it is more like a religion).

So why did these aliens have an interest in the mostly hairless apes of this planet? Well it seems they created us, and all other life on Earth. Yes, Raëlism is technically an atheistic version of Intelligent Design. They even use the term for the most recent title of one of their books Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers, formerly titled The Message Given to me by Extraterrestrials (once again showing that the name Intelligent Design can make anything sound less crazy at first).

The Elohim, finding Earth a barren, lifeless world used their technology to terraform the planet (they terraformed Terra?) engineer all of the life on this planet in hopes that their most important creation, humanity, would one day join them. But instead of being attentive parents they, I don't know, got distracted or something. So other than the occasional prophet, they left us alone. But Raël claims that if we can only stop killing each other and establish an Embassy for Extraterrestrials (that is the real name, by the way) in Jerusalem then they will totally let us in on their awesome party they have scheduled for 2025.

With this information in hand Claude was transformed from a failed sports writer and race car driver into Raël, "The Prophet for the Third Millenium" and he began his quest to get people to give him 10% of their income and gather his own personal harem...I mean, spread the good word.

Like any cultist who has dreams of sleeping with woman out of his league, Raël supports the idea of free love. While I can support their idea of seeing sexuality between consenting adults as just another part of what makes us human as well as their view that sex work is just, well, work, the fact that these people are utterly nuts kind of makes it hard to get behind them. I'm further confused by the groups logical reasoning when it comes to things like genetically modified organisms and their outcry against the crimes committed by the Vatican and its cover-up of molestations by Catholic clergy.

But just when I start to think that they might be making a bit of sense for once they start trying to talk about scientific concepts. Like every other newage group out there, they enjoy taking scientific ideas and getting them horribly wrong. The best example of this is their views on cloning and genetics. The Raëlians gained some acclaim a few years back when their company Cloneaid (I imagine this should be the name of a futuristic juice drink) claimed to have cloned a human being. Granted their claim was utter bullshit, but it garnered them plenty of attention and probably quite a few converts. They believe that cloning is the key to human immortality as well as a way to resurrect the dead. You see, they believe that things like memory are encoded in our DNA. So all you have to do is get a cell culture of a dead person and they can be cloned and the resulting individual would actually be the person who died, not just a genetic copy. They hope to one day perfect the process and grant immortality to the human race.

They also believe that the Elohim have distant computers that record the memories and DNA of every person who ever lived and that one day a Judgment will occur where the dead are resurrected though such cloning to atone for or be rewarded for the lives they lived. Though if they believe that DNA records our memories I wonder why they have to record our memories separately. This inconsistency is also shown in their punishment of those they deem deviants. Such people can be excommunicated for seven years, after which they can be taken back into the fold. The reason for the time of seven years has to do with their belief that the human body regenerates itself every seven years and by then they will have purged themselves of the 'sin'. This seems to be a bastardization of the fact that it takes about seven years for the human body to replace all our parts with new cells or cellular components.

All in all the Raëlians are little more than a bunch who use technobabble as an explanation for religion as well as one bored man's attempt to get rich and live a life filled with orgies.
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thank you everyone who has donated

First of all, I would like to say that I am an idiot. I do not know how many have donated nor do I know how long ago it was that someone did. I had previously linked my Paypal account with my bank account yet for some reason thought this was all I had to do. So on a whim I check my Paypal balance to find it at $77.08. Needless to say I was a bit shocked. Here I thought no one loved me only to find out that there are those of you who do and I am just a moron.

For everyone who has donated, while it may have taken a while for me to recognize it, I thank you all. Any amount will be helpful as I am still under a severe financial crunch (I may have to take some time away from blogging due to it actually as things are getting a bit desperate).

Again, I thank you all so much and feel honored that you would find my random rants worthy of your own hard earned money.

My deepest thanks,
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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Molly Zenobia - Porcelain & Mermaids

Molly Zenobia is a genius. I stumbled upon her music by chance and got lost both in her music and her voice. While her albums have a cohesive feel to them, the individual songs are anything but identical. They each have a sound, an emotion and often a story of their own. When listening to her music it is easy to just forget what you are doing and get lost in the beauty of it all. Some tracks can hardly be made through without tears at the lyrics, Molly Zenobia's voice and her piano work. Other times you find yourself feeling a fire welling up within you that is driven by the chords of the music. Picking a single song to display by this amazing artist was impossible so I have included two from her album Wind Chains.

First we have Porcelain, this is one of my favorites and no matter how many times I listen to it I can hardly control the emotions it brings forth. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness in this song, yet it won't leave you depressed. It brings forth images of a fragile person who can hardly deal herself. Someone who wants an escape, yet at the same time wants nothing more than to have someone there with her as she flees, to have someone who knows her fear and wants her to stay despite everything.

Next is Mermaids. This song invokes the very kind of imagery as the name suggests. There are no lyrics, just Molly Zenobia's haunting voice sounding both powerful and distant. This one is much harder to describe without actually hearing it as it is entirely about the images it spurs in the listeners mind. It has a feel of being alone, lost in some watery world with only the occasional creature floating past to keep you company.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

100 sextillion stars wasn't enough
100 sextillion. Or if you like visual aids 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This has been the estimated number of stars in the visible universe. Or at least it was until recently. A study by a team headed by Van Dokkum, using Hawaii's Keck Observatory, has just tripled this number.

Using the spectrometer at the Keck Observatory, the team analyzed eight near by elliptical galaxies. When it comes to galaxies, the term 'near by' can seem a bit misleading. In this case they were between around 50 and 300 million light years away. In these, the largest of galaxies, the team went looking for Red Dwarfs, relatively small stars with long life-spans. In the case of stars, the smaller the star, the longer the life span. This is due to the effects of gravity spurring on the fusion that rules the lives of stars, with a size of .075 solar masses, this makes for an increadibly long life. Due to the vast distances involved, the signatures of Red Dwarfs were previously impossible to detect. To get around this problem, an estimate of the number of Red Dwarfs in our own galaxy was taken and this number was extrapolated to other galaxies.

In our own galaxy, the Milky Way, there are about 100 Red Dwarfs for every other star. However this new data revealed that the far larger elliptical galaxies had closer to 1,000 Red Dwarfs for every one other type star. In an article at, Van Dokkum stated:

Elliptical galaxies are some of the largest galaxies in the universe. The largest of these galaxies were thought to hold more than 1 trillion stars (compared with the 400 billion stars in our Milky Way). The new finding suggests there may be five to 10 times as many stars inside elliptical galaxies than previously thought, which would triple the total number of known stars in the universe.

Besides the obviously implications about the prevalence of star formation in massive galaxies, there are two other important extrapolations from this data. This first being planet formation. It is already known that planets can and do form around Red Dwarfs. Recently a Venus like "Super-Earth" was found orbiting one of these small stars. With such a grand increase in the number of available stars, the number of planets is increased dramatically as well. While there is still some debate as to the habitability of planets orbiting Red Dwarfs, some hope is given in their long, stable lives. Where as our own star, Sol, has a life span around 10 billion years, the average Red Dwarf is expected to maintain fusion for 10 trillion years.

The next repercussion has to do with a quandary involving Dark Matter. Before this discovery, the amount of Dark Matter in elliptical galaxies was thought to be higher than in other types of galaxies. This was detected by the strong gravitational lensing seen around such galaxies. Gravitational lensing being the effect of light being bent around massive objects, the greater the bend, the more massive the object. But with the mass of the increased number of Red Dwarfs factored in, the amount of Dark Matter seems to be more along the expected amounts.

van Dokkum, P., & Conroy, C. (2010). A substantial population of low-mass stars in luminous elliptical galaxies Nature, 468 (7326), 940-942 DOI: 10.1038/nature09578
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Tim Minchin - Storm

Tim Minchin, who is absolutely hilarious and brilliant in his music, recently made a short animation. Now this alone would warrant a post, but the content of the short makes it even more important for me, personally, to write something about it. The reason being is I have done this very thing on more then one occasion. I shall let you watch it before continuing on.

Now that you have had a chance to watch it, my following rant will make a bit more sense.

I cannot stand misinformation (or even more egregious, disinformation). I would rather listen to someone carve out a lecture with a knife onto a chalk board than have to sit through such stupidly wrong garbage as was quoted by the character Storm in this short. It sets me off like few other things can. Now if it is an honest mistake, I can stay calm easily enough and just provide the accurate information and why it is right by current standards. But if it is the kind of newage crap as this was, my brain just wants to projectile vomit.

It is even worse when I'm in the company of others who also have to listen to this idiocy. Because part of my mind is always afraid they will think "they have a point...". The worry that this kind of moronic meme will continue to infect other and subdue minds is more than I can bear. I have to do something to stop it.

So I all to often go into a rant about how utterly wrong whatever it was they just uttered was and why it is so off base. If the facts could simply speak for themselves to your average person, all I would have to do is explain them simply and all would be right with the world. But unfortunately for me and every other rational mind on this planet, people are often painfully stupid. So much so that they listen more to how something is said than what is actually said. Granted I will still present the data as I believe this is key. But a good mocking doesn't hurt either. Not to mention it gets rid of some of that pent up rage brought on by such inane babble.

As I stated earlier, if it is an innocent mistake or misinformation that a person heard and is just parroting, I am generally more kind. This is a mistake that all humans, including myself are guaranteed to do at some point in their existence. And if I know the person and can see that they have just been led astray by others with wrong information. I too tend to be calm and reasonable in my replies. But if it is someone whose words are so coated in smug that I need a shower after hearing them, it gets a bit hard not to see what their bowels look like after I verbally eviscerate them.

Now perhaps this isn't always the best route to go. But I have found more often than not that if you can destroy such an opponent with skill in front of others, whatever they said has far less impact upon those listening. In fact the only ones who tend not to change their view are those, like Storm, who are so ensconced within their stupidity that they are beyond reach by any sane mind.

One of the reasons I react so powerfully to such stupid is that it makes no bloody sense to me. As Tim Minchin stated, "Isn't this enough, just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable natural world?" There is nothing I find more amazing than this universe and the fact that we can understand even an iota of it. The fact that we are constantly moving forward, uncovering more wonders than we could have ever hoped to conceive of on our own, is utterly astounding to me. This universe, and all the knowledge within, is the closest to the platonic archetype of beauty that I am aware of. Yet people such as Storm and the others like her are completely unable to see it, either through ignorance or fear. But they are not content with just missing the stunning beauty, no, they have to taint the image for others as well. They have to drag others down into their dank pit of ignorance and relish in their own stupidity. They shun true beauty for the imaginary and want as many others as they can infect to do the same. They are the very reason our species is not further along than we are. They are the ones who feed off fear, they are the ones who feed off ignorance, they are the very cancer of the mind that has kept us trapped where we are for far too long. They are the enemy of reason, of thought, of wonder and of freedom. And they are as annoying as all hell.
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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Toxoplasma gondii

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasitic protozoan whose primary hosts are cats; however they can infect most warm-blooded organisms, though generally are not able to propagate in many of these hosts. In their hosts they encyst within both muscle and brain tissue. Because they live within the cells themselves the immune system generally will not notice them. They then pass their oocytes (egg cells) out through the feces of the cat. It is here where it can infect its next host. Its prime intermediate hosts are rodents such as rats and mice. In these, they display the best known form of mind control.

Naturally rats are afraid of the smell of cats, especially certain chemicals in their urine. But once Toxoplasma takes hold, infected rats actually will go seeking out this scent and hang around the location as if they are waiting for the cat to show up. And once a cat does, instead of following its instinct to run like hell they have been known to even walk right up to them. The cat, being slightly confused, decides not to look a gift rat in the mouth and eats the brain washed rodent.

This adorable image brought to you by a mind controlling parasite.

But evolution wasn’t satisfied with just fucking with the brains of tiny rodents. Remember that thing a bit ago about Toxoplasma being able to infect most warm blooded animals? Well for those of you who didn’t flunk biology, you might be saying to yourself “Wait, I’m a warm blooded animal”. Not only would you be right, but there is a pretty good chance you have a very personal relationship with this tiny monstrosity. The numbers are a bit sketchy but some studies hold that about 50% of humans are infected with Toxoplasma. The less paranoid of you may have come to the seemingly rational conclusion that while this is a terrifying number, they are, with few exceptions, not a rat and therefore safe. Well I hate to be the one to tell you but studies have shown that Toxoplasma may very well be affecting you too. Studies have shown that this parasite has been linked with distrustfulness and greater risk taking behavior in males as well as causing females to be more outgoing and warmhearted. It has even been suggested that if the parasite is passed on to the fetus it may increase the probability of schizophrenia in the child. So the next time you are caught talking to the voices, just tell the people in the white coats that a tiny parasite living in your brain made you do it, I’m sure they will understand and let you go.

Insanity:  tiny kernels of green corn living in your brain.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Bacterial Dirigibles

At the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, William E. Bentley, Ph.D. and his study group unveiled what he calls "Bacterial Dirigibles". The name choice comes from the bacteria used. Being Bacillus bacteria (rod shaped) the reference to the great airships such as the Zeppelins seemed natural

The concept behind such Bacterial Dirigibles is simple. We already use genetically modified bacteria to produce insulin, antibiotics and many other drugs. Why not put them to use in the patient instead of just in giant steel production drums? Take the genetic modifications that have made such bacteria such a wonderful producer of drugs and set them loose in the body. Even better, attach a sensor array and you have a targeted drug nano-factory.

The targeting can be accomplished easily enough with a genetic circuit. Bacteria are able to naturally find their way through the body by using the identifier proteins on cells. By combining this with an engineered switch that only activates when then bacteria has located its target, it can effectively produce the necessary drug only at the needed location to treat a wide range of diseases.

This technique could be used to treat cancer, infection, diabetes and a wide range of diseases caused by the lack of a certain protein. As for the engineered bacteria being destroyed by the patients body, slap on the right identifier protein and you are good to go. That is, if you want them to stay. Having them eventually cleared by our immune system means that we don't have needless amounts of these engineered bacteria running throughout our body. But In some cases, having them as permanent residents could be useful.

With this we are seeing the first steps in augmenting our own immune system. While wholly biological, it is still a step in the direction of improving the human species. Such treatment may become mainstream in the years to come, letting other organisms do the fighting for us.

American Chemical Society
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Sarah Palin...and this all I have to say

Sarah Palin. Do I really need to say much more? The name itself invokes facepalms worldwide. She is like Dan Quayle and George W. Bush were at one point (except more lonely Republicans masturbate to Palin...I hope). The fact that she gains any media attention other then from her copious fails is a testament to the idiocy of the masses. People make drinking games out of speeches made by Sarah Palin just to be able to tolerate the idiocy.

Once again this zenith of media stupidity has given us reason to question the functionality of her gray matter. Appearing on that cesspool of conservative television, Fox News, Palin yet again proves that she has the attention span of a meth addicted rodent.

Thankfully Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks is here to make this experience just a bit more tolerable. His mocking of the situation is the only reason anyone should be able to sit through the source video clip without pounding their head into the nearest hard object to relieve the pain.

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