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Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Sagan’s “Cosmos” Getting a Sequel…on FOX?!?

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

In some very interesting news, the classic PBS documentary ‘Cosmos‘ starring Carl Sagan will be getting a sequel in 2013.

It will star Neil deGrasse Tyson, whom you may recognize from the PBS show NOVA scienceNOW!

File:Neil deGrasse Tyson - NAC Nov 2005.jpg

Neil deGrasse Tyson. Photo: NASA/JPL

The new Cosmos show will be produced by ‘Family Guy’ creator Seth McFarlane, who is well known to be frustrated with the scientific literacy of the United States, or lack thereof.

What is especially interesting about this is that the special will be aired on FOX, which has never been known to support scientific literacy of its audience. Fox News in particular comes to mind…

Anyway I hope this actually goes through and we get to see it. It probably won’t top the old-school charm of the original ‘Cosmos’, but should be great nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

Does TV Watching Make You Sick? Not Exactly…

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment
File:Televison Hungarian ORION 1957.jpg

Beware! It might kill you! Photo Credit: Istvan Takacs

I’m a little annoyed with some headlines hitting a few news websites today:

TV Watching Raises Risk of Health problems, dying young

Excess TV time linked to early death

TV time tied to death, diabetes risk

The stories are talking about a study getting published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association

The study is a meta-analysis of 8 studies over the past 40 years which look at the correlation between watching television and risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study found, unsurprisingly, that increased television watching was correlated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The pooled relative risks per 2 hours of TV viewing per day were 1.20 (95% CI, 1.14-1.27) for type 2 diabetes, 1.15 (95% CI, 1.06-1.23) for fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease, and 1.13 (95% CI, 1.07-1.18) for all-cause mortality.

In layman’s terms, this means that for each 2 hours of television watched per day, risk of type 2 diabetes increased by about 20%, risk of developing fatal or non-fatal heart disease increased by about 15%, and risk of dying of any cause increased by about 13%.

So does watching TV make you sick? Not exactly.

I’m not doubting the results of the study, though they should be taken with the usual grain of salt that should be taken with all epidemiological studies.

They are observational studies, not controlled studies in a lab. There are many variables which can influence the results.

That being said, the results of the study are not surprising and I have every confidence that there is truth in there.

But the media takes these types of studies, gives them a sensationalized headline and doesn’t put them in the proper context.

Watching TV does not make you sick; being lazy makes you sick. What this study is really showing is that watching TV correlates to a lazy lifestyle.

There’s nothing wrong with kicking back and watching some Star Trek reruns or even *groan* Dancing with the Stars. Just make sure you go out for a jog now and then. Or play some basketball. Or just do anything that isn’t sitting around and being lazy!

I’m sure snacking is a big factor in the results of this study as well. No doubt increased time in front of the TV leads to eating more unhealthy foods.

But if you sit in front of the tube and eat baby carrots or oatmeal, then you are probably not at a huge risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

So if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not necessarily going to die young because TV doesn’t make you sick.

But if you eat a lot of junk food and don’t exercise, then you might die young. But then again, THAT’S not exactly news, is it?

“If Undergrads Are Our Future, We’re All Doomed!”

June 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I love the comics strip “Piled Higher and Deeper”

It depicts the trials and tribulations of being a graduate student. Even though I ditched the life of a grad student after my masters, I can still remember the horrors I experienced. And now, A MOVIE!

Is this “squee” worthy? I think so… SQUEEEEEEE!

 

Shock wave from a Trombone Caught on Film

May 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The weak shock wave emanating from a trombone was captured on film and presented at the 161st Meeting of the Acoustical Society for America in Seattle.

The researchers used schlieren photography to capture the images. This method is able to image fluids through the changes in their refractive index and is used largely in aeronautical engineering to study air flow around airplanes.

It’s also wicked-cool :)

So Its The End of the World…

May 20, 2011 3 comments
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Photo by Bart Everson

As you are no doubt aware, tomorrow is the rapture.

Yes, Jesus is going to return to Earth tomorrow to take all the good people with him to heaven. This has been predicted by a multi-millionaire radio station owner named Harold Camping.

How did he make this prediction? I’ve actually seen a couple derivations from Camping on this, but an excerpt from FamilyRadio.com states:

Holy God reminds us that one day is as 1,000 years. Therefore, with the correct understanding that the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years, we learn that when God told Noah there were seven days to escape worldwide destruction, He was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day.

Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000

Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the 2nd month, in the year 4990 B.C.

God is proving to us that we have very accurately learned from the Holy Bible God’s time-plan for the end of the world.

So there you have it, irrefutable proof that the world is ending tomorrow.

Sorry :(

So what will become of the sinners? Well we are going to be left behind to think about what we did…until October.

On October 21st, the world will actually be destroyed by fire.

Now, at first I thought that I might be able to escape judgment. I mean, I’m not a bad guy. I donate to charity, I’ve helped old ladies cross the street, and I’ve never murdered anyone.

But then I realized how horrible a person I really was. I eat meat on Fridays. I don’t go to Church every Sunday, and I’ve been spending the past 5 years living in sin with the love of my life.

Not only that, but I believe that homosexuals should be allowed to get married! What was I thinking?!? Camping has clearly pointed out that it is the gays who are to blame for this horrible upcoming Judgement.

Camping says God will punish America and the rest of the world for Gay Pride and same-sex marriages, just as Sodom and Gomorrah were punished with fire and brimstone in the Old Testament.

I should have known better.

So now the only question is: What am I going to do with my last night on Earth before Jesus metaphorically (or perhaps literally) bitch-slaps me?

A good question. I should probably get drunk. But then, it is May 2-4 long weekend, so that was probably going to happen anyway (for my non-Canadian readers, May 2-4 is the colloquial term for Victoria Day, a national holiday in Canada).

I could repent, but that somehow feels like giving up.

I could sell all my possessions and spend it all on strippers and drugs. But then, I might catch a nasty disease and have to spend my last few months on Earth suffering more than I should.

Well I guess I will be getting drunk. If I wake up tomorrow before Jesus arrives, I will blog again. Otherwise, this may be the last time you hear from me. Thanks for being such loyal readers!

How will you all be celebrating Judgment Day?

Sloooow Going

May 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Posts have been slowing down a little as of late. This is due to a number of factors including my training for a 10 km run (6.21371192 miles for my American readers) which I completed in 1 hour and 2 minutes! I was hoping to get in under an hour, but considering a year ago I could barely run 2 km, this was a pretty big accomplishment for me!

Hurray for strengthening your cardiovascular system!

Posts have also slowed down because I’m actually get to do some physics-related stuff at work. We are developing a new toy for inspecting pipes and I get to look at data and read about Faraday’s law and play with magnets!

While completely fake, this explanation is still better than Insane Clown Posse's explanation of magnets working by "miracle"

But I could never forget about you guys. I still love reading and writing about science and that will never change, so I’ll be back to full form in no time.

But in the meantime, here’s 31 bad (and therefore, awesome) jokes for nerds. Enjoy!

Land Mine Detection With Stuff That Smells Good

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Punta Espora, Chile, Tierra del Fuego side of the Strait of Magellan - minefield warnig near the ferry terminal

At the March meeting of the American Physical Society, an abstract was presented entitled “Detection of Nitro aromatics via fluorescence quenching of pegylated and siloxanated 4, 8-dimethylcoumarins”.

The BBC reported that this study utilized curcumin, which is found in the spice turmeric and is one of the key ingredients in many curry powders.

Now, I wasn’t at the meeting so I may be wrong, but the abstract does not describe using curcumin, but coumarins. Coumarin is also a fragrant chemical compound, but it is not found in turmeric. It is actually used as a rodenticide and was banned as a food additive in the United States in 1954.

If I’m lucky enough to have a reader who knows more about this work, or was at the conference and saw this talk, I would very much appreciate a clarification. In any case, the research is still pretty interesting.

The abstract described the work of a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The group reported their research into using optical sensors to detect chemical explosives, such as those found in land mines.

Optical sensors work by reacting the molecules released into the air of the chemical explosive. The optical properties of the sensor material changes after interacting with the explosive. Measuring these changes in optical properties is called fluorescence spectroscopy.

The group created co-polymers and tested their use in fluorescence quenching, which means that when you shine a light on these polymers in the presence of explosives such as trinitrotoluene (TNT), the light given off by them would dim.

The BBC also reports that

The team, which is funded in part by the US government, is already in discussions with a company to develop the technique into a portable detector device.

which, given the huge problem of land mines in war-torn countries, could turn out to be very useful.

The Globe and Mail Fails Again

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Globe continues its descent from decent reporting to tabloid-like fear mongering. The culprit this time is a completely unskeptical article containing a condensed interview with Paul Connet, “a U.S. academic and public-health advocate”. He has recently penned a book called ‘The Case Against Fluoride’.

The article is available here, but I was so disappointed with the article’s lack of counter evidence or even discussion, that I feel the need to provide such commentary here. Let’s look at a few of the questions that were asked:

Before you became involved in this issue, you were skeptical that fluoride was harmful and thought critics of the practice were misguided. What changed your mind?

There were two things. The first was that fluoride interfered with hydrogen bonds, which are common in proteins and other important molecules in our bodies. That sent alarm bells ringing through my head. The second was that the level in mothers’ milk was incredibly low. When you see what nature’s take on it is, which is don’t give the baby much fluoride, then I felt this doesn’t make any sense to add it to water.

Hydrogen bonding is a form of attraction between the positive hydrogen atom and an electronegative atom. Connet is referring to a paper written in 1981 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The paper found that hydrogen bonds are quite strong in a fluoride-amide solution and that this may affect proteins. Amides also appear in proteins, and he believes that this will have some kind of biological effect. I have not found, however, any papers finding that this effect can be extended to fluoride detrimentally affecting human proteins in vivo. In fact, it is fluoride’s effect on hydrogen bonding that may be part of the reason it is beneficial to tooth enamel.

His second reason for fearing fluoride just seems silly. It’s not in breast milk therefore we should not use it? This just flat-out doesn’t make sense. We have evolved to a point where we can use medicine and vaccines to improve our health beyond that which has naturally occurred through evolution. To deprive an infant of these advantages because they are not in mother’s milk is ridiculous.

In the case of fluoridation, the water supply is being used as a drug-delivery mechanism to treat a medical condition. Why is this wrong, in your view?

It violates people’s right to informed consent, which has always been the strongest argument against fluoridation. We’ve never done it with other drugs. Since fluoridation began in 1945, not one other substance has been added to the water to address a health concern. You shouldn’t use the water supply to deliver medication, for obvious reasons. You can’t control the dose. You can’t control who will get it. There is no individual supervision. The whole practice doesn’t make sense from a medical point of view.

True, we have never use water to deliver other drugs. But we have in salt. Iodised salt was introduced in the United States in 1924 to help prevent goiters and iodine deficiency. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the lack of goiters.

Dose control is a noble concern, but not relevant. So long as the fluoride concentration is controlled and tested regularly (about 0.5 to 1 mg/L), it would take an unfeasible amount of water ingestion to even have a chance of causing any detrimental health effects.

The right to informed consent is actually the one argument I think has merit. However, people are always informed if fluoride is added to their water supply and do have the option to get a water filter to remove the majority of it if they wish.

The first U.S. fluoridation trial began in the mid-1940s. Would fluoridation pass a modern, drug-style clinical trial or risk assessment?

There is no way on planet Earth that you could get fluoridation through today. It’s only because it’s been an inherited practice and so much credibility is at stake for the medical community that keeps it going.

This is just flat-out wrong. Studies on the effect of fluoride have never stopped and continue to be updated. The consensus remains the same: fluoride is an effective and safe means of preventing dental caries.

What are the health dangers from fluoridation?

I think we’re going to pay a huge price. I’m convinced, based on animal studies, clinical trials and epidemiological studies, that drinking fluoridated water for a whole lifetime will increase your risk of arthritis and also increase your risk of hip fractures, which is very serious in the elderly. The reason for these problems is that half the fluoride people ingest is stored in the bone. We may also have a problem with it lowering the IQ of children. There are 23 studies from four countries that have found a possible association between drinking naturally fluoridated water and lower IQ in children.

Regions which have artificially fluoridated water, that is, water in which the fluoride concentration is controlled, show no significant correlation between arthritis or hip fractures. The statement that “half the fluoride ingested is stored in the bone” is not necessarily true. 75-90% of ingested fluoride is absorbed and in adults about 60% of absorbed fluoride is retained. Connet’s concern about the IQ of children comes from studies of naturally fluoridated water, that is, water which does not have the fluoride added by the city, but comes from natural sources or fluoride pollution. These naturally fluoridated waters supplies usually have much, much higher concentrations of fluoride than artificially fluoridated sources.

A lot of these concerns are based on flimsy evidence and straw man arguments. There are however, a couple of things I do actually agree with:

1. Naturally fluoridated water supplies are a problem because the concentration are too high and may cause adverse health effects. However, this concern should not be unfairly extended to artificially fluoridated water supplies.

2. The argument about informed consent is a valid one. But if you don’t want fluoride in your water because of this reason, don’t argue it based on health effects; argue it based on an informed consent platform.

Oh and one more thing. I am actually worried about the fluoride in MY water supply. The reason is because Calgary has voted to remove it.

I will definitely be making sure there is fluoride in my toothpaste.

Canadians are the World’s Biggest Net-Nerds

March 9, 2011 2 comments

A report released yesterday by ComScore has found that Canadians spend more time online, about 43.5 hours per month in 2010, than any other country! Hurray!

The United States was second with 35.3 hours per month, followed by the UK with 32.3.

Some other notable statistics were that there was a 12% growth in Canadian users in the age group of 55+ in 2010 compared to 2009. Keeping in touch with the grandkids I guess.

And while traffic to Social Networking sites like Twitter and Facebook went up 13%, visitors to blogs went down by 9%.

C’mon people, close down your TweetDeck and drive up the site stats on my blog would ya?

I’m not really sure if Canadians should be proud of this or not. Does this mean we are the most tech-savvy of all nations, or that we have nothing better to do?

Of course it does get pretty cold up here in the winter time, so I’d rather be watching stuff on YouTube than braving the -25C weather in Calgary. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, right?

Science in the Courtroom: Is Pizza a Solid?

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Defense attorneys will use whatever trick or loophole they can for their client. But this one was maybe not such a great road to go down.

It seems that in October of 2010, one William James Fennie III threw a slice of pizza at an oncoming car on East Market Street in West Chester, PA. This act was witnessed by Officer Stuart Smith. According to the court document:

Officer Smith contacted the Defendant and asked for identification, a request with which the Defendant repeatedly refused to comply. When advised by Officer Smith that he was under arrest, the Defendant physically struggled and resisted to such an extent that Officer Smith used a taser to subdue him.

Fennie’s lawyer tried to convince the judge, one James P. MacElree II, that the arrest was unlawful. This is because the law states that it is illegal to throw any “solid object” at a roadway, but pizza may not qualify as a solid object.

The judge was not impressed by this argument, but endeavoured to perform his own scientific analysis of the problem to reach a conclusion.

Using NASA’s explanation of the different phases of matter, the Judge systematically tested the properties of pizza to determine its phase. So, using his “own funds” he ordered a pizza for delivery.

The first thing I noticed is that it came in a box (a.k.a. container). It was resting in the bottom of the container, held in place by gravity, and did not take up the shape or full volume of the container. I therefore concluded it was not a gas.

That’s one phase of matter down. But is it a liquid?

My  next experiment was to attempt to slice the pizza into six pieces because I was not hungry enough to eat eight pieces. I observed that the slicing process actually  produced six separate and distinct pieces which did not re-form to take on the shape of the bottom of the container.  I therefore concluded it was not a liquid.

Perhaps in my university days, when I was about 25 pounds heavier, I could have eaten 8 slices of pizza. But I think 6 is a reasonable amount. Oh, and it turns out that pizza is NOT a liquid.

But is it a solid? The Judge decided to attempt to eat the pizza in order to find out.

I was able to bite off one piece which required some chewing before I could swallow it. I put the remainder on top of a paper towel and observed that it stayed in place, did not spill onto my desk, and held its shape (less one  bite).  I therefore concluded that it was  a solid.

So, while dripping with sarcasm, the judge’s decision is actually a useful exercise in basic critical thinking and the scientific method.

But what did the Judge think of the defense attorney’s arguments after having performed these lengthy experiments? In short, he was not pleased…

I would  like to thank the esteemed defense attorney for giving me the opportunity to order an early lunch and  spend the rest of my lunch time writing this extremely weighty opinion.  I hope his client enjoyed paying his lawyer for the time used in making his completely frivolous argument. I am inclined to assess the defense attorney a $500 summary penalty for advancing such frivolity which wasted the time of the District Attorney, the police, and the Court. (emphasis mine)

Mmmmm. Justice tastes almost as delicious as pizza.