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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

A Festive View of the Universe

Given the current festivities, those less likely to be drawn into the “God made the lot” view may well get there share of wonder by taking a look at this video, which starts off with a close-up view of the earth and as scientifically accurate as possible, zooms out to the very edge of the known universe. What’s REALLY impressive is that we’re actually capable of making something like this in the FIRST place. If you have the bandwidth, view this in HD and full screen. Very impressive.

Avatar – the Best Movie Ever?

Despite atrocious weather and the worst flu I can recall which has been pestering me for days and has now caught Maureen, we headed off to the new MetroCentre Imax cinema last night to see the long-awaited AVATAR movie.

So there are two aspects to this – the new Imax cinema and the movie itself. Despite a completely misleading picture in the local Journal newspaper recently, showing a normal cinema screen, the new digital Imax screen did not disappoint. For those living on an island for a generation, Imax cinemas traditionally feature MASSIVE screens using an ultra-wide film format to provide the best cinema that money can buy – this is NOTHING like your parent’s cinema – we’re talking huge screens with virtually perfect imagery. While the MetroCentre is not the largest Imax I’ve seen by ANY stretch of the imagination and it’s digital, not film, the results can still be described as totally realistic and “awesome”. So if you’re an old hand at Imax theatres you might want to try to get to London or similar monster varieties of Imax but if you’ve never been to an Imax before – the new MetroCentre complex will blow you away. Seats were comfortable, price was no more extortionate than usual and the only let-down was the exceeding TIGHTNESS of the person providing my Nachos with Jalapenos. None of the cinema staff at the MetroCentre seem to have been taught how to pronounce Jalapenos (“Jaleepeenoz” as they call them or “hah-lah-PEHN-yo” as the rest of us call them) and you’d think they were in short supply. As were were a tad late I let them get away with it – I’m normally prepared to start world war III over being cheated.

Then there is the movie. Again for those who don’t get out much, Avatar is James Cameron’s new outrageously expensive movie set on a distant planet in the very near future where we’re off pillaging as we’ve used up our own resources – and that’s the one thing about the movie that got me – I felt a TAD as if I was being lectured – the people who need lecturing are some of our third world friends who think that global warming is a Yankee plot – not us!

And that’s it, that is the ONLY complaint I can make about a movie that is totally mercerising, totally believable, has utterly believable aliens the likes of which you’ve never even remotely seen before, which features total 3D throughout and which had me choked up on several occasions as the story line was also (unlike many sci-fi movies) an absolute classic. Thanks to the 3D you’re in the jungle right next to these creatures so close you can see the hairs – and they STILL look “real”. Amazing and somehow exhilarating.

Put it this way, if Avatar does not win every award it is possible to win, I’ll consider there’s been a stitch-up. If you do nothing else this winter break, get down to the cinema, preferably a 3D Imax cinema and watch this feast of imagery. Make sure they don’t cheat you on the food though!

When Star-Trek first came out (not that I’m making any other comparison) nearly every aspect of it was science fiction – flip-phones did not exist, plug-in memory modules did not exist, touch tablets did not exist – all of which featured on the original shows as pure fiction… and so on. Ignoring the more exotic items like warp drive and the transporter, the majority of innovations that viewers saw on the original Star-trek either now exist or have been considerably bettered…. and so it will be with Avatar. As you watch the movie, only the brain-dead will fail to be moved by the totally believable 3D displays, manned robots, the Avatar system and more – and I confidently predict that by the time my grandkids grow up, virtually everything we saw in Avatar will be either common-place or old-hat. Maybe we’ll find a habitable planet, maybe not, but the rest – definitely.  You just HAVE to see this.

Masters of Robotics

I am not prone to hero worship, not in any shape of form but you may remember me pointing out BIGDOG from Boston Dynamics, the most amazing 4-legged walking machine EVER…

Well, they’ve done it again with PETMAN – take a look at this amazing video and pay particular attention under half way through when the operator tries to push this work of art over.

You don’t need much imagination to see where this is going…

The scale of things

I  hadn’t planned on learning anything this morning.

In fact, the scale of my ambition was merely to get up and have a cup of coffee on this fine Saturday morning. Having just returned from a trip to Blackpool my laptop was sitting on the table next to the coffee..and as you do I turned it on.  I have an excellent time-wasting program on the laptop called StumbleUpon which as in the last led me to all manner of excellent websites, anyone reading my blogs will recall the “10th dimension” videos… one minute you’ve no idea how a multiverse might work, the next you’re on the road to further learning.

And so it was this morning. Just HOW small are things like the flu viris… do you have a mental model in your head? What about a water molecule – sure, it’s small but do you have any kind if idea how small. I didn’t really. But now that’s all changed thanks to a superb piece of FLASH. Check this magnifier out, it’ll only take you a few seconds.

Meanwhile…. a laugh…

Dumb Cat Can’t Figure Out How To Drink – Watch more Funny Videos

Two-Wheeled Robotic Table

I had to put this in here. Wouldn’t you just love one of these….

Global warming

On the subject of Global warming and what part we play – I found this item very interesting. Worth reading to the end… http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3460191.html

10 Dimensions

For believers it’s probably easy… God created the lot – end of story. For the rest of us, the choices are simple – either don’t think about the origins of the universe and “get on with  life” – or occasionally come back to thinking about the absolute absurdity a big bang, with all the matter in the universe popping out of no-where – “just like that” . How can something “pop out of no-where” – you may as well just say “God created it”.

There IS a better way to at least start thinking about all of this but it does take a little effort. You and I live in a 3-dimensional world – and most of us can’t think outside of that – except perhaps to grudgingly admit that time is the 4th dimension of a sort. So how is it that current theories demand 10 dimensions and how can we possibly imagine that?

“With difficulty” – just as imagining “infinity” can only be done with difficulty – because we are simply not biologically wired to handle such things – what would be the point… Thankfully there are some tools out there to help you get a glimpse of what this might all be about even if they are not perfect. One such example which really has proven an eye-opener for me is “Imagining the 10th dimension”.  Here is a 2-part video I recommend watching twice, or more.. it really does answer some questions.

Pay particular attention to the 2-dimensional flat-lander.

How Bacteria Communicate

Eh… what? Has Peter lost the plot? Biology lessons?

No actually. As someone who long ago gave up hoping I’d ever learn anything sensible on TV, it’s become a bit of a hobby scouring the web for stuff that makes me think, that gives a new perspective – on the other hand I’m lazy – it has to do this without too much effort.

As someone who took biology for, erm a year I think, I’ve never really thought too much about bacteria – phrases like “single-cell gloop” come to mind generally – responsible for diseases – and also keeping our guts in good order… but that’s about it.  But some time ago when sitting in a hotel, bored, I started to wonder how something as simple as a bacteria actually managed to do such orchestrated damage… and so out came GOOGLE and I ended up as I so often do, looking to see what’s on offer at TED… and hit pay dirt.

Bonnie Bassler has managed to explain in a short talk how bacteria communicate. It’s not technical, not gobbledegook and if you take the time to listen to her short talk, it is INCREDIBLY enlightening and offers hope for the most amazing developments in the future.

REALLY worth watching…

Lunar Rainbow

Lunar Rainbow by Peter ScargillHow often do you see one of these? Most likely not very often. This is not what it looks like… a rainbow, but a moon rainbow or “moonbow” taken around 8pm on 12th of January 2009 in pitch black in Wark, Northumberland (UK). Apologies for the less than ideal focus, in each case these shots took 10 seconds exposure with a handheld camera propped against something solid.

My thanks to neighbour Chris for pointing this out to me and challenging me to take a photo. I can’t overstress that this was out in the country in absolute pitch black. We were in a rush to go out and the camera batteries were flat – which is a shame because as we headed off west up the military road – again, out in the wilds, you could not only CLEARLY see the entire 180 degrees of rainbow, but notice in the photo it seems to be “filled in” with a lighter colour. In fact when we saw the whole thing away from streetlights that was indeed the case.

Exactly like a normal rainbow and again as you can see in the image, this one contains the full spectrum of colours from red on the outside through yellow, green, blue.

Meanwhile over to the east we had a full moon surrounded by clouds which again had a variety of colours you would not normally see. This entire phenomenon lasted for at least an hour, maybe more and could be readily visible to anyone looking up at the sky.

Apparently the conditions for such an event include the moon being less than 42 degrees high and the sky much be dark.

Each to their own – are we all born equal?

How many times have you had discussions as to whether or not people are born equal?
Personally I thought the argument in favour of NO was long-since won, but apparently not. Having managed to get part way through Stephen Pinker’s book "The Blank Slate" only to give up as it was a couple of inches thick and he’s not the most engaging writer, I happened to stumble upon a video in my favourite "hall of learning" – TED.

The video is embedded below in case you’re interested but in essence he puts a very clear case to say, well, NO, we’re not born equal or anything like it. Amazingly however the myth has persisted for largely political reasons – if we’re not equal, then that makes discrimination ok… or at least to some. Another burning reason to pretend we’re all equal is the title of Stephen’s book – the blank slate. If we’re all a blank state then it is perfectly legitimate to use social engineering to "perfect society".

Personally I’ve never accepted the premise that we’re equal. Firstly modern genetics tells us that some people are predisposed to various diseases and defects – so that’s the PHYSICAL side of equality out of the way. You can’t be equal if you’re more likely to die early or less likely to develop muscles than someone else…. which leaves the mental side. We’re animals, right? and we’ve all watched endless shows on TV that show fairly simple creatures who you would not expect to think beyond lunchtime, live their lives as if there was a purpose… birds migrate, deliberately, exactly, generation after generation. Do they plan this out with Google maps? No. Do they plan at all, I don’t think so. They use instinct, in other words some things are genetically imprinted on animals and are passed from generation to generation.

We are predisposed to verbal language, we are predisposed to swimming and walking…. this is not all LEARNED behaviour, there is something in there that tells us what to do – pre-programming if you like – and that means some will be better than others, not because of schooling or parenting – but because some will have more finely developed instincts than others.

In one example in his video, Stephen Pinker describes the comparison of identical twins separated at birth meeting up as adults wearing the same clothes, same hairstyle etc. It’s a stereotype but studies repeatedly show that in these circumstances, twins really DO retain similar if not identical mental characteristics despite wildly different upbringing and social lives. Quite the opposite is true of adopted children who may live in the same house with the same parents and same friends but end up wildly different as adults.

It seems to me that the evidence is crystal clear and irrefutable – we are not all born equal. I would not go so far as to endorse every word in the video, I can tell you that it is interesting and worth the button-press.