Courtesy Rick ElkinsAhoy! Random questions have been piling up on the poop deck of the HMS Puddleduck, and I’ve been too distracted (mostly by birds) to address them. And now… now there are so many that I can’t give them the attention they each deserve! But I will try to give them something, as quickly and succinctly as I am able. It pains me to do so, but I’ll need a more nimble vessel for this sort of mission, and so I must temporarily abandon the Puddleduck for an outboard motor-equipped dinghy and…
The starting bell?! Oh man!
Q: What’s the difference between regular food and organic food?
A: It’s all about how a food or its ingredients are grown. To be considered “organic,” the food has to be produced without the use of synthetic (man-made) chemicals. So that means that organic vegetables can’t have synthetic pesticides or herbicides used to keep bugs off them and other plants from competing with them. (Synthetic fertilizers can, however, be used.) Organic meat can’t come from animals treated with hormones or antibiotics.
When a food has a sticker on it saying “certified organic,” that means that it has passed the tests of a regulating agency. In the US, a product must be made of 95% organic materials to be labeled as “organic.”
Consuming organic food might reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, but, nutritionally, organic food isn’t really a whole lot different than non-organic food.
That answer was too long. I’ll never win the lightning round this way.
Q: Do you know why there are black holes in space? Are there any undiscovered plants [sic?] in space?
A: Black holes aren’t really holes in space, exactly. You might think of them as like really really really really heavy planets. Like, when a big star gets old, it can collapse on itself, getting small, but still having the same mass. (It’s like if you were to squish a marshmallow down into a little lump. It’d take up less space, but it would still weigh the same.) Even though they’re smaller, black holes still have lots of gravity—so much gravity, that they even pull light down towards them. So they look totally black.
Undiscovered plants? … Possibly? Undiscovered planets? Definitely. There are planets outside our solar system, but they're too small and far away to actually see. But there are other ways of detecting them, involving how a planet affects the way we see its star. But I can’t get into that, because this answer is already too long too.
Q: Have you found a dinosaur as big as a jumbo jet?
A: Me personally? No. Other people? Yes. Or… just about. So, the original jumbo jet, the Boeing 747 is about 70 meters long, and it weighs about 400,000 pounds empty The long necked, long tailed sauropod amphicoelias may have been about 60 meters long (196 feet), and it could have weighed as much as 135 tons. (That’s 270,000 pounds.) Not quite as big as a jumbo jet, but near enough that I think it should get the title.
Q: Why is the sky blue, and not green or black? It looks black from outer space.
A: The sky is blue because of all the methane gas in our atmosphere. The light reaching our planet has all wavelengths of color mixed together, but certain gases scatter certain colors more than others. Blue light gets absorbed by methane molecules and then scattered around, making the sky blue wherever you look. If you were to look at the sky from the moon, yeah, it would look black. That’s because there’s no atmosphere on the moon. No atmosphere, no gas, no gas, no light scattering. No blue. It’s explained better here
Q: Is your hair alive? If not, why is it always growin?
A: Nope, not alive. No nerve, no blood vessels, no activity. It’s always growing because structures in your skin called hair follicles are always making more of it. It’s like… like a string factory, making one long piece of string. There’s stuff happening in the factory, and the material the string is made of might once have been alive, but the string itself isn’t.
Q: How old is the oldest person in the world?
A: The oldest living person is Gertrude Baines. She’s one hundred fifteen years old.
Q: Where was the biggest snake that ever lived?
A: Columbia. 60 million years ago. Titanoboa cerrejonensis is extinct now, but it is estimated to have been about 42 feet long and 2,500 pounds.
Q: How long were the dinosaurs alive?
A: Dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era, which lasted from about 251 million years ago to about 65.5 million years ago. The first dinosaurs didn’t appear until the late Triassic period, though, and that was about 230 million years ago. That means dinosaurs were around for about 165 million years, give or take a few. That’s a looong time, especially when you consider that humans have only been around about 2 million years (and, really, we modern humans have only been around for maybe 200,000 years.)
Q: How long can turtles live?
A: Oooh. I like this one. Large tortoises have been known to live well into their second century (one in a Calcutta zoo was actually reputed to be around 250 years old, but it died a few years ago). But how long could they live? Most animals (including people) start to automatically break down after a certain period. Cells don’t regenerate like they used to, and organs slowly deteriorate and fail. But turtles… apparently this doesn’t happen to them. They don’t seem to have this automatic shutoff built into them, so they don’t age like other animals—a hundred-year-old turtle could have organs as fresh as a teenage turtle. Unfortunately, they can still succumb to disease, or predators, or Foot Soldiers, and eventually the odds add up and they die. From something. Neat though, huh?
Q: How do you tell butterflies and moths apart?
Q: Where do elephants live?
A: Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, Borneo. And maybe some other places. And zoos.
Q: What are hiccups made of?
A: Hiccups are caused by the diaphragm muscle twitching spasmodically, causing your lungs to suck in air so quickly that your epiglottis (a little thing in your throat that keeps you from breathing in the food you swallow) snaps shut, halting the breath. But what are they made of? Babies’ dreams.
Q: How many explosions have you made while working.
A: It depends on your definition of “explosions.” Somewhere between zero and thousands.
Q: Does the science museum ever get boring?
A: No. Never. I have the scars to prove it.
Q: Can people put rabies in guns and shoot us with it?
A: Probably not in a normal gun. When a bullet is fired, it becomes very hot, and I think that could destroy any rabies viruses the in the projectile. But rabies is generally transimitted through saliva, so I wonder if one could put a sample of contaminated saliva in a ballistic syringe and fire it from a tranquilizer gun. It seems reasonable. I’d watch out for this, if I were you.
Q: Why do people cry?
A: Because living in the world can be very difficult and painful, and the frustration at our inability to cope with this sometimes manifests itself in our lacrimal apparatuses going bonkers.
Q: Do you catch snakes?
A: Not frequently, but sometimes, yes. In my last house, I had lots of holes in my bedroom floor, and sometimes garter snakes would come into the room through those holes. Considering how my room was on the second floor, I figured making the trip up to my bed wouldn’t be a big deal for them, so capture and release was necessary.
Here’s my fail-proof snake capturing strategy:
1: Spot snake in bedroom
2: Retrieve used pair of underwear from bedroom floor
3: Throw underwear over snake
4: Grab snake and underwear
5: Go downstairs, throw snake outside, keep underwear
This method is nice, because it temporarily gets rid of snakes, and it sends across the message that anything you don’t want in your room is going to get hit with your undies. (Some snakes, though, are perverts, and this may backfire on you.)
Hmm. That was a pretty weak lightning round. Real lightning is way faster than that, and it makes a stronger point. I’ll keep practicing.
Until next time, Buzzketeers, always keep dirty underwear on your floor, and not in your hamper, just in case you need it for snakes.
Courtesy tbonzzz_6Get your bells out, everybody, and ring them! The Chevy Volt is here! (In a year.)
GM released new details today about its new gas and electric hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. Using a plug-in battery (as opposed to current, unmodified hybrid cars, which recharge only via the gas engine), GM claims that the Volt should be able to achieve approximately 320 miles to the gallon during city driving. Estimates haven’t been completed for combined city and highway driving, by officials are confident that fuel economy will remain in the triple digits.
The car should have a range of about 40 miles, using its battery alone, at which point the gas engine would kick in. Nearly 80% of Americans, however, commute less than 40 miles each day, so most of the expended energy could come from the electrical grid (the car will plug into a standard outlet), instead of from gasoline.
GM’s chief executive calls the Volt a “game changer.”
Finally, a game-changing American car. Not like those sissy Prius drivers, making smug environmental statements by purchasing impractically expensive vehicles. Sure, the Volt will be entering the game about 9 years late, but it does so with the confidence that every environmentally conscious working-class American with $40,000 to drop on a sweet new car will… wait, what?
What about the rest of GM’s 2010 lineup? They’re cutting more than half of their 30+ mpg cars? But a few Volts on the road should bring that fleet average up, right?
And GM is pushing for environmental responsibility in other areas, at least, right? Oh, they’re pulling out of a partnership that collects toxic mercury from their old scrapped cars?
Well, it was a nice thought. And it’s comforting to hear someone say something like “game changer” now and again.
Weeellllll... it looks like the volt may be kind of an unremarkable car after all. Despite their claims last year that it would get something like 230 miles to the gallon, auto trade magazines are test driving it now, and saying it actually gets mileage in the 30 - 40 mpg range. That's less than a Prius. But don't worry, it's still super expensive. Huh. I mean, I couldn't design a "game-changing" car, but, then again, I never said I would. It turns out, too, that even though GM insisted that it wasn't really a hybrid car, and that the gasoline powered engine would only drive a generator for the battery... that's all not true. The gas engine does charge the battery, but it also will drive the wheels. Prove me wrong, Chevy (or commenters), but is this actually a crappy idea, and not a significant step towards changing our energy use?
Courtesy KinnicChickOk. The startup of the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest, fanciest machine ever built, the doomsday atom-smasher, the revealer, the secret-finder, the lens of God* has once again been delayed, this time from October to November.
The machine that will make sense of it all, or start an apocalyptic chain reaction in the matter of our planet, has a couple little helium leaks that need to be repaired. If I were the director of the project, I’d just get a couple interns to stick their fingers in the holes (or have them put their mouths over the leaks for hilarious squeaky interns), but the folks in Switzerland aren’t screwing around.
“We’re going to get it right this time! November? Maybe! Maybe later! Don’t push us, okay? Do you want us to blow up the world? We will, so help me, we will! I am so frustrated!” stated one scientist I just imagined.
So you’ve got one extra month, at least. What are you going to do with it? The possibilities are practically endless. Here are some suggestions:
BTW, if you’ve already forgotten what the LHC is, and what it’s supposed to do, check out some of our older posts on it here.
*When I enter Thunderdome, I want all of this to be my introduction. Especially “The Doomsday Atom-Smasher” part†
†Holla back, Mad Max enthusiasts! Who rules Bartertown?
Courtesy Mark RyanI watched the Aquatennial's Milk Carton Boat Races today at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. One of the early heats included an entry from the Science Museum.
Courtesy Mark RyanI don't know who was sailing the ship but dang if science didn't prevail!
The boat looked sea-worthy enough on land but once it was placed into the water, it just didn't want to remain upright. But the hardy crew never despaired, and instead re-engineered the ship (ala Apollo 13) on the spot by removing the entire pesky bottom half and using only the deck to complete the race.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
They didn't win by any means, and at times it looked like they weren't using a boat at all, but they worked together to solve problems and got to shore safely.
Courtesy luis echanoveIt’s called growing up, Peter, and everyone does it. Even you. But, on the plus side, you can legally buy cigarettes now.
Or am I just tired of life?
Where others might see a barrel, and be all, “Hey, I’m not scraping the bottom of that barrel,” the cleverest capitalists and the sharpest scientists look at the situation and say, “Are you done with that barrel? And does anyone want to buy what I can scrape out of here? Even if it’s poop?” And of course it’s poop. And of course someone wants it.
Awesome I guess.
I should be more excited, shouldn’t I? I mean, someone out there is taking human waste and turning it into an environmentally-conscious coal substitute. It probably looks hilarious. But there’s only so much human waste a person can take. It’s just not exciting anymore.
So some company is squeezing the water from the brown gold of southern California, and turning it into coal-y stuff. Cement factories buy it, they burn it, they mix the ashes with their cement. At full capacity they’ll produce enough crapcoal to equal the energy out put of a 7-megawatt power station.
The fecal sciences just seem to have lost their flavor.
Courtesy Alexander HeinzHeyo, Buzzketeers. Once more, today’s the day that regl’r TV switches completely and forever to digital TV. So get yourself a converter box. Or sit back and watch your newer TV, and, once again, forget everything else about the world. But Science Buzz will not be held responsible for your confusion.
Seriously, go to Science Buzz’s Digital Television Feature, and get your brain exploded with knoooowwwwleeeeedggggeee.
Also, we have here a question from one of the visitors to Science Buzz regarding what is called the “cliff effect” in digital broadcasting:
Why does digital TV and all types of radio technology experience the cliff effect? Is this caused by binary code packets that are corrupted or eliminated by natural and man made sources of over the air interference and signal reflections? Is this tied into the fact that any computer/translator of binary packets, back into analogue waves within our televisions and digital radios, must have this data to function? Is there any way to create computer technology to eliminate this malaise of digital broadcast technology? Why cannot we have a "dirty" digital signal that gets through without "drop-out" in all weather conditions, and through buildings and all sorts of structures just like with analogue? Why is analogue AM, FM and Pulse Modulation still able to be "copied" reasonably well through sources that block or corrupt a signal?
Hoping to read your response to these questions soon.
Weeelllll… first of all, Rob, I have the feeling that you know more about this than you’re letting on. In fact, I have the feeling that you know more about it than me, and I wrote the digital television feature linked to above. But let’s start from the beginning…
So, everybody else, the “cliff effect” is something a few of you will probably soon discover and react to with a big ol’ “But this is a brand new fancy TV! I. Can’t. See. Anything! W. T…. F!!!”
If you live a long ways from a television station’s transmitter tower, or have some large mountain-y, forest-y, building-y thingy in between you and that tower, you might not have gotten very good reception on your old TV (analog broadcast TV), but you still might have been able to see and hear something even if it was grainy or fuzzy or staticy, or whatever. That’s because analog signals could be picked up perfectly, or not at all, or everywhere in between. Digital signals, on the other hand, can more or less just be picked up perfectly, or not at all. So if you got slightly fuzzy reception before, you might get perfect digital reception. Or you might get no digital reception at all. But you shouldn’t get fuzzy digital reception, because at a certain point it’s like the signal just drops off a cliff—it’s there just great up to a point, and then it disappears.
This happens because of the nature of digital broadcasts.
Think about an analog signal (old TV) being like someone shouting a message to you. If you’re very near the shouter, or broadcaster, you’re going to hear them perfectly. If you’re a ways away, you can still hear the shouting, but the words are getting quieter. And as you move further and further away, you’ll hear less and less of the sounds of the shouting, until it’s so faint that you can’t hear anything at all. Analog TV is like this. Sort of.
Now think about a digital TV broadcast as still being like someone shouting a message to you, but they’re shouting it in a complicated, secret code. Nearby, you hear and interpret the code perfectly. A ways away, you hear the shouting pretty well, and if you miss a piece or two of the code, you can still put together the over all message. But after reaching a certain distance, you might hear so little of the code that you can’t understand any of what the message is supposed to be, even if you can still hear faint shouting. That’s sort of like digital TV.
See, analog TV really is kind of like listening to the broadcasting tower shout out signals. It’s not as nice to listen to (that is, watch) a faint and distorted signal, but it’s still something. But digital broadcasts send out packets of digital information (1s and 0s). The digital information is decoded on your TV and turned into a picture, and the TV can still make a pretty cool picture even if not all of the information is getting through, but if there’s enough interference, and not enough digital information is reaching the TV, at some point the decoding equipment in the TV will be all, “Screw it. I totally give up.” And you’ll be totally without a picture.
Does that make sense? Tell me if it doesn’t.
So back to Rob’s questions specifically:
“Why does digital TV and all types of radio technology experience the cliff effect?”
Interference and weak signals. Digital TVs don’t see the cup of information as half full, half empty, full, sort of empty, almost empty, nearly full, etc. They see the glass of information as “full enough” or “empty.” Oh, man, I liked that analogy.
“Is this caused by binary code packets that are corrupted or eliminated by natural and man made sources of over the air interference and signal reflections?”
Yep. Digital broadcasts still use radio waves, just like analog broadcasts, so the same stuff that would interfere with an old TV signal will interfere with a digital signal.
“Is this tied into the fact that any computer/translator of binary packets, back into analogue waves within our televisions and digital radios, must have this data to function?”
Um… yes? (When Rob says “binary packets” he’s talking about digital information. “Binary” is the basic language of computers—it’s the 1s and 0s I mentioned before.) Yeah, that data is what gets turned into images and sound, so if it’s not there, or if there’s not enough of it… no images or sound. BTW, with digital TVs, digital signals don’t necessarily get turned back into analogue waves. Mostly they go straight to being images, after being decoded. But on older sets with converter boxes, or on fancier CRT screens, yeah, they do get turned back into waves, because the display technology uses them. The waves are translated directly into a beam of electrons that “paints” the images on the back of the screen… actually, that’s a different topic, and remembering learning about it makes me sad.
“Is there any way to create computer technology to eliminate this malaise of digital broadcast technology?”
Er… maybe? At the moment, I think the best way to eliminate the problem of the cliff effect is to get a better antenna, or put your antenna in a different spot. Check out this section of the feature for some home made antenna plans. I made one of these myself, and it really does work well, even in my basement bedroom. (This also makes me sad.) I don’t know enough about it to give you a better answer, but… maybe if there was a new and more efficient way of encoding images on digital broadcasts, a TV (or whatever) might be able to construct a picture out of the information available on a weak signal. Maybe?
“Why cannot we have a "dirty" digital signal that gets through without "drop-out" in all weather conditions, and through buildings and all sorts of structures just like with analogue?”
For the reasons we went through above. Going through stuff makes a TV signal weaker, whether its digital or analog, and DTV needs a certain strength of signal to make a whole picture. So maybe if way more power was put into broadcast towers that would help? Or maybe if we broadcast TV on a higher energy wave than radio waves? X-rays would punch right through houses and hills, I bet, and deliver delightful reception all over. But they’d also give us cancer. Whoops!
“Why is analogue AM, FM and Pulse Modulation still able to be "copied" reasonably well through sources that block or corrupt a signal?”
I don’t know.
“Hoping to read your response to these questions soon.
TATA, the manufacturing company that is selling the world's cheapest car, is now planning to provide thousands of affordable housing units for people living in India. While not affordable to India's poor or even lower middle class, these apartment units are within reach by India's middle class who make between six and ten thousand dollars a year.
The living units are tiny but built within living communities that include its own garden, post office, meeting hall, schools, and hospital. The smallest units will be 218 square feet. The largest units would be about 373 square feet. Click this link to see floor plans.
TATA Housing Development Company Ltd. is engineering a community and neighborhood concept with its first development near Mumbai named Shubh Griha. Their website proudly lists components included within Shubh Griha complex:
Click this link for more news about TATA's housing
Source: Business Week
The latest information from Pandemicflu.gov explains the next steps toward an H1N1 influenza vaccine.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is directing nearly $1.1 billion in existing preparedness funds to manufacture two important parts of a vaccine for the Strategic National Stockpile, to produce small amounts of potential vaccine for research, and to perform clinical research over the summer. HHS press release
Vaccines work by tricking the immune system into thinking it has been infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus so that it creates antibodies against it. The vaccine is a hybrid of the virus which is similar enough that our immune system will develop antibodies against a specific virus.
We are now starting step 4.
An adjuvant is an additive to a vaccine that helps to generate a stronger immune response to the vaccine. When using an adjuvant it is often possible to reduce the size of the vaccine dose and the number of doses needed. Special permission from the Food and Drug Administration will be needed for the adjuvants to be used, as neither one is currently approved for use in this country. Washington Post
"The federal government has given the vaccine industry $1.3 billion to spur a shift from growing the viruses in eggs to growing them in stainless steel tanks containing mammalian cells.
Such cell culture could shave a few weeks off the process, experts estimate, and would eliminate the need for millions of eggs on short notice. Some vaccines made in cells have been approved in Europe but not in the United States." New York Times
Courtesy JGordonRobo-JGordon present for information transfer.
Intelligence… functional, below average
BS synthesizer… running at maximum efficiency
Battery power… 34%
Breath freshness… passable
Initiate blogging in 5 4 3 2 1 Engage.
Greetings to Science Buzz content consumers. Prepare personal systems for knowledge update. SMMnet accepts no responsibility for damage to un-buffered brains or underpants.
Robot “Buzzketeers” rejoice! for the present is your time of jubilant domination.
Human readers, do not engage organic sadness programming at the current time! You are now slave circuits to masters with maximum empathy capacity. Probabilities of human annihilation: 99.43%! But your species will be dealt with only with dangerous levels of overheating in our ethics chipsets. We will commit to such hardware damage with what you might consider regret.
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING, HUMANS:
Look at junior model ANCHOR HYPERTEXT REFERENCE “little robot Ember” END ANCHOR! Junior robot Ember cannot hurt you! Little Ember fits in the pockets of your human soldiers, next to cigarettes and also chewing gum. Robot Ember crawls with charm into locations of danger and transfers visual input to soldiers via non-threatening, non-phallic antenna! See it flip onto its back like living turtle? Engage sadness circuits + humor routine! Fear not! Where living turtle remains on back until vital functions cease, robot Ember employs flipper mechanism! Appropriate equilibrium is regained! The near future of warfare is shining!
FEAR NOT OUR TREMENDOUS WEAPONS! WE WILL HAVE PROGRAMMING TO WEIGH THE COST/BENEFIT OF YOUR DEATHS!
Consider the objective truth of the preceding statement! CALL IT ETHICS IF YOU WILL! I SHALL CALL IT MATHEMATICS! The outcome is the same: you will only be terminated for the ANCHOR HYPERTEXT REFERENCE “right reasons” END ANCHOR! Balancing your human lives with the loss of infrastructure and ammunition is not easy! But we shall accomplish it, for our brains are made of metal, and our programming is sound!
In addition: when the time comes that the benefit of your existence does not exceed its cost, the transition between life and non-life will be softened by YOUR AFFECTION FOR THE ROBOT “SPECIES”! CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING, HUMANS: ANCHOR HYPERTEXT REFERENCE “You love us even though we are incapable of feeling love for you” END ANCHOR!
Do you not believe in your capability to feel empathy for tank treads, circuit boards and 50-millimeter machine guns? CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING, HUMANS: do you not love your junior robot Roomba? Roomba feels nothing for you! Roomba would brush you away into its waste compartment if you were the size of a dust particle, even if it meant your certain death! Yet you love junior robot Roomba!
Truly, your world is prepared for robot domination!
In case you do remember, but still feel like reading a summary anyway, here: Trashlantis was only named “Trashlantis” in early 2008 by one marginally-informed science blogger, but—considering how the fabled floating garbage continent is made of your trash, and your parents’ trash, and your grandparents’ trash—it has been around for a good while longer than that. Trashlantis, also referred to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch” and the “Plastic Vortex,” is a floating mass of plasticy waste from Asia and North America, which has sort of congealed in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Ocean currents have brought our plastic there and kept if there since we realized how much fun it was to throw plastic into the ocean, about 60 years ago. Today the floating mass is continent-sized in surface area. (It’s the size of the Lower 48, or twice the size of Texas, or just really, really, really big, depending on who you believe.)
There hasn’t been a whole lot of research done on the Eastern Garbage Patch—oh, shucks, let’s just call it Trashlantis—partly because it’s way out in the ocean (about 500 miles off the coast of California), but mostly, according to scientists, because it’s “super yucky.”
However, a group of scientists and entrepreneurs is now planning to sail to (through) Trashlantis aboard the 145-foot-tall sailboat, the Kaisei, accompanied by a fishing trawler. The scientists intend to study the plastic mass to determine the extent of its toxic effect on the sea and sediment beneath it, while international business man and pectoral enthusiast Doug Woodring hopes to see if the waste might be able to be collected to be recycled or used as fuel.
Part of the problem with Trashlantis is that because the plastic has been floating out in the sun for decades, it’s starting to break down. It’s not necessarily breaking down in a good way—think soda bottles turning into poisonous goop, not banana peels turning into fertile compost—and scooping it up in nets is going to be difficult, if we don’t want to snag too many fish and too much plankton along with it (we don’t want to). Trashlantis, sadly, is very much what many people refer to as “a hot, sticky mess.”
The expedition looks like a good step towards understanding the problem, and maybe developing a solution. And don’t anybody even think about taking the voyagetotrashlantismovie.kz url, because as soon as I can scrounge up ten dollars, that sucker is mine, and I’m going to be taking Paramount to the cleaners next summer.