CHATTING WITH THE GUYS FROM NASA

When I worked with NASA — a long time ago now — I had to do a large, complicated study on what kind of unit they should design to retrieve satellites in space. The NASA guys believed anything with fewer than three arms would be worthless. It turns out satellites do interesting things. Not just rolling, but doing a sort of shimmy — like a spit ball in space. Despite more than 700-pages of diagrams and explanations, the financial wizards decided on only two arms. Which, as their own scientists had noted, didn’t work.

Neptune from 1989 Voyager

They were still putting all the space travel stuff on television, so when the “satellite catching” event came up, I had to watch it. “Hey,” I told Garry, “I was the lead writer on the study for this device.” I was, too.

The multi-million dollar satellite catcher did not work. Eventually, the astronaut grabbed the satellite with his arms and pulled it in. It turned out, they didn’t need any kind of special catcher because even very big things are weightless in space. So much for a lot of scientists, artists, writers, and editors working on this monumental study. I worked 7-days a week for five weeks. Which was seriously good overtime money, even if the study was a bust.

1989 shot of earth’s arctic ice

The really interesting thing — other than the complete waste of time that the project represented — was I got to talking with my NASA scientist. It was 1988. They already knew about things like anti matter — something I thought was a science fiction thing.

My guy said “Oh, no. We know it’s there. We just have to figure out how to get some.”

I said “Well, what would you do with it?”

Yes, we CAN!

He laughed. “Oh, I don’t know. Destroy the world. Maybe the universe.” And he wasn’t kidding. A very little bit of that could go a very long way towards un-glueing our universe.

Soon thereafter, I quit that job. It had begun to make my brain do barrel rolls in my head. I had nightmares. Every now and again, I still have those nightmares. Because sooner or later, those scientists will find a way to get their hands on some anti-matter. A slip of the finger later …

U.S. AND ITS HUMILIATING WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS ACCORD

We pulled out of the Paris Accord, a decision which may be the worst ever by any American president. No one but our Republican party fails to believe in the changing climate.

National Geographics map

The good news is that this pulling out on the part of the United States is not really going to change anything.

Coal is not coming back. We would all like the miners to have jobs, but they aren’t going to be digging a lot of coal. There’s a simple reason: coal isn’t clean and people don’t want to breathe it in or have it hanging in the air. They have been closing coal-burning power generators including two this week and this isn’t going to stop. Coal is dead. The miners really are going to have to find another way to earn a living. This has happened to many people including me and my son. The world changes and even miners are going to have to change with it.

Vehicles will continue to become more efficient. Slower than we’d like, but that was set in stone before this horrendous, almost mind-boggling decision. The army is deadly serious about dealing with climate change and they’ve got a big budget to use to work on it … and they will.

Map: Boston University

All the west and east coast states are deeply concerned — for obvious reasons. All have comprehensive plans to deal with reality and what Trump says will not change their intentions. No one is going back to pollution. Been there, done that. No thanks.

Corporations working towards being cleaner will continue to do so, regardless of what the First Asshole says. It will be years before we will be out of this accord. Since it never actually passed through the Senate, it really isn’t an accord, or at least not in any legal sense. It was an agreement designed loosely so the United States and other industrialized countries wouldn’t need to vote on it in order to agree to it. Which is also why Nicaragua didn’t sign on. Nicaragua felt the looseness of the agreement was too favorable for wealthy countries — and they were probably right.

So — practically speaking — nothing will change. Except that every other country in the world is laughing and sneering at us. It is embarrassing to be us. Humiliating and so incredibly, breathtakingly stupid.


And just this final note from Pittsburgh’s mayor:

Donald Trump: “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Bill Peduto (Mayor of Pittsburgh): “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future. Pittsburgh stands with the world & will follow Paris Agreement “

TECHNICOLOR DREAMS & GENETIC NIGHTMARES – TOM CURLEY

RADIATE!

A few weeks ago my old friend Ben Taylor sent me a very interesting link to a story about archiving technologies . The story was about how all of our storage media eventually degrades. Film, tape, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, and so on all decay over time. Technicolor, the company that makes films so, technically colorful, has figured out a way to encode and store media on a DNA molecule! Here’s the article.

Basically, it’s not complicated. All of our media is now digital, encoded as a really long string of ones and zeros. DNA is a double helix molecule made up of four proteins CGAT. Cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine.

teravivos.com

They can combine in an infinite number of combinations, which is why DNA is such a handy way to store all of life’s genetic information. We also have machines called genetic sequencers that can both read a DNA molecule and build one.

DNA-O-MATIC! web.uri.edu

So, what the TECHNICOLOR people did was figure out how to encode the ones and zeros onto a DNA molecule, then build that DNA molecule. How do you play back the material? Build a player that reads the DNA molecule and converts it back to ones and zeros. Burn it onto a DVD and put it into your Blue Ray player.

The cool part is that you can store over 700 terabytes of information on one DNA molecule! Which is pretty much every movie and TV show ever made. The other reason they did this was because they say the DNA molecule is stable and won’t degrade.

But here’s the problem.

DNA MUTATES!!!!!!!

rbssbiology11ilos.wikispaces.com

That’s how evolution works!

If DNA didn’t mutate, we’d still be four-legged lungfish crawling up out of the surf, looking up at the sky, land and saying: “Well, this is different. Hey Phil! Come on up here. You gotta see this!”

land fish

Now at this point you could argue that DNA usually mutates when cells reproduce.  Sometimes the DNA copies are n’t perfect and that’s what causes the mutation. But the Technicolor DNA molecules are just sitting in a test tube. They are not replicating.

Technicolor-DNA-Archive-2

That’s true. However — there are other things that can make DNA mutate, like radiation. A stray alpha, beta, or gamma particle could come along, hit the molecule, and knock out a quinine here, a cytosine there. After a while, things could change. Not immediately, but after a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand years?

A thousand years from now a group of historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and movie critics could get together to examine a recently discovered cache of late 20th Century movies and TV shows. They were  found buried in a vault archived with a quaint technology utilizing DNA by a long-forgotten company called Technicolor.

theshoreways.com

HEAD SCIENTIST: As you all know the discovery of this cache of ancient media has given us an unprecedented opportunity to measure the accuracy of our historical records against actual recordings of history.  You’ve all had a month to watch and review media from the last millennium. What have you found?

SCIENTIST #1: Well, actually some their movies are quite good.  I just watched two fantastic movies, “Ishtar” and “Waterworld”.

HEAD SCIENTIST: Hmm. Our records indicate they were two of the worst movies ever made.

SCIENTIST #1: I can’t understand why. Did you know that Ishtar was the movie where Betty Davis said “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.!”  It only makes sense since they were all riding camels.  And Waterworld!  At the end, when Kevin Costner helped ET get back to his spaceship? I have to admit, I cried.

HEAD SCIENTIST: I see. What about “Star Wars’?

SCIENTIST #2: I saw the first three movies starting with “The Phantom Menace”.

HEAD SCIENTIST: And?

SCIENTIST #2: They were really good!  And funny! Casting Groucho Marx as Obi Wan Kenobi and Robin Williams as  young Anakin Skywalker was inspired!

HEAD SCIENTIST: And the next three in the series?

SCIENTIST #3: Not so much. Darth Vader and the Emperor win in the end and destroy the rebellion. It was really depressing.  The only rebel left alive was Jar Jar Binks.

HEAD SCIENTIST: What about “Citizen Kane”? Our records show that as being one of the greatest movies of all time.

SCIENTIST #4: I don’t know why sir. In the first place somebody named Jackie Chan played the part of Kane. He spent the whole movie kicking people and riding on a sled. But he did do his own stunts!

HEAD SCIENTIST: What about “Casablanca?”

SCIENTIST #5: Horrible! Ronald Reagan as Rick and Joan Rivers as Ilsa? What were they thinking? No chemistry!

HEAD SCIENTIST: OK, what about television?

SCIENTIST #6: Quite frankly only one show stood out and it was brilliant.

HEAD SCIENTIST: What was it?

SCIENTIST #6: “Gilligan’s Island.”  Orson Welles as the Skipper, Brad Pitt as Gilligan, Marilyn Monroe as Ginger,  Sally Field as Mary Ann, Helen Mirren and John Barrymore as the Howells and  John Wayne as the professor! Brilliant casting. And who knew Arthur Miller could write comedy!

sitcomsonline.com

What have you done Technicolor?  What have you done?

 

THE FIVE SECOND RULE – RICH PASCHALL

A few curious thoughts by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


Admit it!  You have probably invoked the five second rule many times in your life.  Maybe you tend to do it when no one else is around, but you do it nonetheless.  No matter what some in society may say, you can not help yourself.  You may think it just a little bit evil, but you do it anyway.  You may even do it openly, not caring what others may think.  Don’t worry.  They do it too.

In case you are one of the few who have not heard about it and have not followed the widely disputed practice, the “Five Second Rule” is the belief that if you drop some food on the floor, it is alright to eat if you pick it up right away, say in five seconds.  While common sense may speak against such a practice, some science seems to be coming down in favor of what once was folklore or an “old wives’ tale.”  A recent study seems to suggest that a few seconds on the floor does not matter much.  Your wet gummy bears are not likely to pick up much in the way of bacteria if you pick them up right away.the special

Unbelievably, dropping food on your carpet seems to pick up less bacteria than dropping it on your tile or linoleum floor.  Of course, if you own a dog or a cat, the food item may pick up some animal hair or dander you might not want to pop in your mouth.

No matter how clean Fido looks to you, all that rolling around on the floor is not good for your dropped food.  Also, you have to consider that Fido might beat you to the item, in which case your dog has the treat you lost and let’s face it.  Your dog never seems to get sick after eating food off the floor.

While I would not care to eat off my floors, considering what I know, I may be less reluctant elsewhere.  You may have heard that Aunt Matilda’s house was so clean you could eat off the floors.  That may literally be true, although I do not think I would try that on a dare.  She might slap me.  Still, it is good to know that your odds of puking later are greatly diminished according to modern-day science, if your food is not down there too long.

Who funds this type of study, you may wonder?  Who cares?  This particular science is extremely important when you consider the amount of people who drop food on the floor, then pop it in their mouths.  Isn’t it time we got the answer to the age-old question, “Does the five second rule really exist?”  Now we know (perhaps).  There are, of course, studies that say the exact opposite (see link below).  We will ignore them for now.

Life itself also has a rule like the Five Second Rule.  It goes like this. The longer you are down, the more likely you are to pick up dirt.  When you fall down, get knocked down, get tripped up or whatever it is that causes you to land on your butt or your face, it is best if you get right back up and get going.  The world just does not look as good when you have fallen to the floor.

No scientific study is needed here.  Hopefully common sense will tell you. The quicker you get up and clean yourself off the better it is for you.  If it has been a particularly bad day, it can be hard to convince yourself to get off the ground.  You may wish to wallow in whatever is down there.  Just like the food in the study, more is likely to jump on you if you stay put.  It is the nature of life.

There is one more thing to consider while we are invoking scientific studies.  It is a known fact that if you fall and stay down, you will look like a dropped treat to people-eating Cyclops.  In that case one of them is likely to scoop you up and pop you in his mouth.  Another thing to know from the most recent study is that Cyclops have a much longer time, a 5 day rule perhaps.  In that case, wallowing in the muck with one of Fido’s playmates is likely to do you in.  Being chomped on by Cyclops is far worse than eating candy off the floor.  You have been warned.

See also:
“Does the five second rule really work?”  howstuffworks.com/science

TACHYON WAVES, WARP DRIVES, AND A TOASTER OVEN

Garry and I binge watched the entire “Star Trek: Next Generation.” On Netflix. We had missed the show’s initial run. 1987 through 1994 were busy years full of work, moving houses, digging into careers. Getting married. Moving again. Watching TV wasn’t a priority back then.

BBC America showed the series last year, but not in order. When Netflix gave us the opportunity to catch up, we did, viewing two, three, four episodes each night.

star trek next gen cast

There’s a lot of tech talk on the Enterprise. No problem. Pass the warp drive. I’ll have a side of tachyon particles. I understand their science as well as I understand anything. Which is to say, not at all. I understand the engines on the Enterprise as well as I understand my toaster oven.

Tachyon energy is crucial to all kinds of weaponry and fuel. They are part of what powers the warp engines on the Enterprise. The warp engines are what lets the Enterprise be the Enterprise, travel at speeds faster than light … fast enough to explore the universe. Slither through wormholes. Travel through time.

For your information, a tachyon particle moves faster than light. The complementary particle types are luxon (particles which move at the speed of light) and bradyon (particles which move slower than light). If you live in the Star Trek universe, tachyon particles are as common as dirt. Or electricity.

enterprise next gen

Effectively, life and everything in it is a giant mystery to me, yet I feel as if I understand it. When they talk about it, I nod because I get it. I’ve been listening to this mumbo jumbo for so many years, it has achieved a pseudo-reality. Because when I look closely, there’s nothing there. I understand the technology of the 24th century exactly as well (and as much) as I understand the technology of the 21st.

How many of you know how the stuff you use works? Some of you do, but most of us know how to use our devices and gadgets, but have no idea why or how it works. I know how software is designed, how code is written and compiled. I used to know a little coding. In the end, though, I have no idea why code does anything. Why, when you compile a program, does it work? It’s just text. Why does it do what it does?

Why does anything work? Tachyon particles, warp drives, internal combustion engines, electricity, cell phones, WiFi. It’s all the same.

Magic.

And now, back to the Enterprise, already in progress.

THEY’RE BACK! RETURN OF THE GYPSY MOTH

It’s going to be a big year for the gypsy moths. They never really leave, but some years are really bad compared to other, relatively light years.

gypsy-moth-caterpillar

This is going to be a bad year. One side of my house is covered with caterpillars. Garry had to dig his car out, as if from under snow. They’ve been coming into the house via the dogs. A few hitched a ride on some Amazon deliveries. I’m spooky about bugs of any kind though I’m not actually afraid of caterpillars, per se.

Unlike spiders and other crawling insects, my heart does not threaten to seize in my chest when I find one. Unfortunately, my startle reflex doesn’t know what’s crawling on me. I only feel something crawling and I do the knee jerk EEK, YOW, UGH, YUK before I ultimately recognize the culprit.

It’s not only that the gypsy moths are creepy pests. They are an invasive pest that consumes oak trees. They have been known to wipe out entire hardwood forests. They’ve almost killed off the black oaks in Pennsylvania.

They aren’t even pretty. No redeeming features that I know of and no natural enemies, either. A pest of the first magnitude with the distinction of being number 1 on our national list of destructive invasive species.

gypsy moth adult

As you’ve probably guessed by the repetition of the word “invasive,” gypsy moths are not native to these parts. Originally a European pest, they took to the New World with a vengeance as soon as they got a bite of it. They’ve been in New England since 1869. at which time they were accidentally introduced near Boston, Massachusetts. Normally, we are happy to have visitors to our fair shores, but not these guys.

In their 150 years on these shores, they have made their way from Massachusetts to Canada,  down to Florida, then back up the middle to Wisconsin and beyond. It’s only a matter of time before they are literally everywhere there is food they can eat. They prefer hardwood trees, but in a pinch, will eat literally anything that grows.

On a purely person level, this means that I won’t go outside unless I must until the moths retreat. We haven’t had a really bad gypsy moth invasion in a few seasons. Probably the exceptionally cold, snowy winters kept them in check.

They are back. I’m so very sorry to see them again.


NOTES:

1: In case you’re interested, click on “gypsy moths” here or at the beginning of this post. It will take you to a link where you can find out more than you ever wanted to know about these nasty, hungry pests. Yuck.

2: Don’t forget the ants. Just because caterpillars have arrived, it does not imply the ants have departed. Have I mentioned how much I hate the bugs? This is not going to be my favorite summer.

3: Sometimes, life in the country is way overrated.

TECHNICOLOR DREAMS AND GENETIC NIGHTMARES – BY TOM CURLEY

A few weeks ago my old friend Ben Taylor sent me a very interesting link to a story about archiving technologies . The story was about how all of our storage media eventually degrades. Film, tape, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, and so on all decay over time. Technicolor, the company that makes films so, technically colorful, has figured out a way to encode and store media on a DNA molecule! Here’s the article.

Basically, it’s not complicated. All of our media is now digital, encoded as a really long string of ones and zeros. DNA is a double helix molecule made up of four proteins CGAT. Cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine.

teravivos.com

teravivos.com

They can combine in an infinite number of combinations, which is why DNA is such a handy way to store all of life’s genetic information. We also have machines called genetic sequencers that can both read a DNA molecule and build one.

DNA-O-MATIC! web.uri.edu

web.uri.edu

So, what the TECHNICOLOR people did was figure out how to encode the ones and zeros onto a DNA molecule, then build that DNA molecule. How do you play back the material? Build a player that reads the DNA molecule and converts it back to ones and zeros. Burn it onto a DVD and put it into your Blue Ray player.

The cool part is that you can store over 700 terabytes of information on one DNA molecule! Which is pretty much every movie and TV show ever made. The other reason they did this was because they say the DNA molecule is stable and won’t degrade.

But here’s the problem.

DNA MUTATES!!!!!!!

rbssbiology11ilos.wikispaces.com

rbssbiology11ilos.wikispaces.com

That’s how evolution works!

If DNA didn’t mutate, we’d still be four-legged lungfish crawling up out of the surf, looking up at the sky, land and saying: “Well, this is different. Hey Phil! Come on up here. You gotta see this!”

land fish

youtube.com

Now at this point you could argue that DNA usually mutates when cells reproduce.  Sometimes the DNA copies aren’t perfect and that’s what causes the mutation. But the Technicolor DNA molecules are just sitting in a test tube. They are not replicating.

Technicolor-DNA-Archive-2

That’s true. However — there are other things that can make DNA mutate, like radiation. A stray alpha, beta, or gamma particle could come along, hit the molecule, and knock out a quinine here, a cytosine there. After a while, things could change. Not immediately, but after a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand years?

A thousand years from now a group of historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and movie critics could get together to examine a recently discovered cache of late 20th Century movies and TV shows. They were  found buried in a vault archived with a quaint technology utilizing DNA by a long-forgotten company called Technicolor.

theshoreways.com

theshoreways.com

HEAD SCIENTIST: As you all know the discovery of this cache of ancient media has given us an unprecedented opportunity to measure the accuracy of our historical records against actual recordings of history.  You’ve all had a month to watch and review media from the last millennium. What have you found?

SCIENTIST #1: Well, actually some their movies are quite good.  I just watched two fantastic movies, “Ishtar” and “Waterworld”.

HEAD SCIENTIST: Hmmm. Our records indicate they were two of the worst movies ever made.

SCIENTIST #1: I can’t understand why. Did you know that Ishtar was the movie where Betty Davis said “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.!”  It only makes sense since they were all riding camels.  And Waterworld!  At the end, when Kevin Costner helped ET get back to his spaceship? I have to admit, I cried.

HEAD SCIENTIST: I see.  What about “Star Wars’?

en.wikipedia.org

en.wikipedia.org

SCIENTIST #2: I saw the first three movies starting with “The Phantom Menace”.

HEAD SCIENTIST: And?

SCIENTIST #2: They were really good!  And funny! Casting Groucho Marx as Obi Wan Kenobi and Robin Williams as  young Anakin Skywalker was inspired!

HEAD SCIENTIST: And the next three in the series?

SCIENTIST #3: Not so much. Darth Vader and the Emperor win in the end and destroy the rebellion. It was really depressing.  The only rebel left alive was Jar Jar Binks.

twitter.com

twitter.com

HEAD SCIENTIST: What about “Citizen Kane”? Our records show that as being one of the greatest movies of all time.

SCIENTIST #4: I don’t know why sir. In the first place somebody named Jackie Chan played the part of Kane. He spent the whole movie kicking people and riding on a sled. But he did do his own stunts!

HEAD SCIENTIST: What about “Casablanca?”

SCIENTIST #5: Horrible! Ronald Reagan as Rick and Joan Rivers as Ilsa? What were they thinking? No chemistry!

HEAD SCIENTIST: OK, what about television?

SCIENTIST #6: Quite frankly only one show stood out and it was brilliant.

HEAD SCIENTIST: What was it?

SCIENTIST #6: “Gilligan’s Island.”  Orson Welles as the Skipper, Brad Pitt as Gilligan, Marilyn Monroe as Ginger,  Sally Field as Mary Ann, Helen Mirren and John Barrymore as the Howells and  John Wayne as the professor.! Brilliant casting. And who knew Arthur Miller could write comedy!

sitcomsonline.com

sitcomsonline.com

What have you done Technicolor?  What have you done?