Tag science

Poor old Spirit

Stuck, at last, in the sand. Mind you, they’ve given it a good go trying to get it out for the past nine months or so. And what’s really amazing is that it was supposed to last only 90 days, and has been going for six years. And it hasn’t stopped yet – most of the kit on board is still working, it’s just stuck. An amazing feat of engineering.

The last word, though, has to go to Warren Ellis on twitter: "Martian rover Spirit stuck in sand for good: which is of course what happens when you give a human’s job to a skateboard."

rapamycin – an anti-aging drug from the soil? Sounds familiar…

Intriguing stuff, especially for me – I’m on immunosupressants anyway, so a change in prescription might not be a bad thing. It does sound familar though – a drug from the ground, which has geriatric properties…

The spice must flow!

A Thinking Ape’s Critique of Trans-Simianism

From Dresden Codak. Excellent.

Notice that Klomp cherry-picks discoveries to better support his argument of an exponential growth. It took more than a million years to develop fire and the hand-ax, and yet Klomp believes simply because it took only 2,000 years to develop bows and arrows that new inventions will spring up in even shorter timeframes. This theory is an expansion of "Morg’s Law," which states that since a sharpened rock can in turn become a chisel to make an even sharper rock, that the sharpness of hand-axes will increase exponentially over the span of tens of thousands of years. While Morg’s Law has so far proven accurate, Klomp can’t escape the reality that there is an upper limit, namely that a rock can only become so sharp. We have already noticed a slight decline in the growth of hand-ax sharpness, but Klomp insists that when the potential of stone axes becomes exhausted, new materials will be discovered to replace the rocks and continue the exponential trend of sharpness. As of the time of this article, however, he has provided no evidence of what these miracle rocks are. Klomp also argues that there will come a time when we will use tools to create other tools, though naturally this is a laughable fiction since there has never been any recorded evidence of a tool making another tool, or even any records for that matter.

Miss Tilly’s Orifice

Today I think I’ll tell the story of Miss Shilling’s Orifice.

Back in the Second World War, during the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire fighters with their powerful Merlin engines and their elliptical, highly-maneuverable wings did marvellous things above the skies of England. Unfortunately, there was a wee problemette with those engines: they had old-fashioned carburettors instead of fuel injection, relying on gravity to pull fuel into the engine – so if you went into a steep dive, the fuel supply to the engine would briefly cut out. Not good. If you carried on in your chosen maneuver, the engine would then be flooded. Very not good.

Enter Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling, a young engineer (and motorcyclist) who had the clever idea of popping a little metal disc with a hole in the middle into the carburettor, to restrict and regulate the fuel flow and stop the flooding. It worked like a charm, and those mustachioed fly-boys soon dubbed it ”Miss Shilling’s Orifice”. Or just the Tilly Orifice. It’s official name, incidentally, was Miss Tilly’s Diaphragm.


falcon 1 in orbit

Also via Ellis, this piece of news that’s gone under most people’s radar – SpaceX’s Falcon 1 has, on the fourth launch attempt, successfully reached orbit and had a nominal shutdown. They also performed a successful second-stage reignition and burn. So that’s the first privately developed liquid-fuelled rocket to get up there.

Here’s a aerial view of the launch site – and another view from Google Maps. Basic, eh? Just goes to show.


First beam today, well done to them. I’ve been making up conspiracy theories by juxtaposing news stories:

is a good pairing, of course – he turns out to be a CERN scientist last seen checking the beam lines earlier this morning… Or even:

Can’t quite get that one to work…

Gamma-ray annihilation lasers?

Scientists in the States have succeeded in creating dipositronium, a key step in constructing a gamma-ray annihilation laser. And that is possibly the most science-fiction sentence I have ever written. And also possibly one of the scariest:

"The difference in the power available from a gamma-ray laser compared to a normal laser is the same as the difference between a nuclear explosion and a chemical explosion," said Dr David Cassidy of the University of California, Riverside, and one of the authors of the paper.

bad journalist! naughty journalist!

Scientist in "pissed off by ill-informed, sensationalist, lazy journalism" shocka!

That’s all to do with this thing you may have seen in the news about a system supposedly capable of diagnosing genetic problems through analysis of facial structure. I didn’t even bother following the link, to be honest; I’ve read too many stories based on journalists’ misreadings of research and this sounded like another one.

Seems I was right, but the scientist in question also sounds like a damn fool, reportedly telling the journalist in a phone conversation that "you can spot a kid with Down’s syndrome a mile away." Which is true in that Down syndrome has a certain distinctive set of facial markers; but is a pretty insensitive thing to say. He denies saying it, but the journalist in question swears blind he did. Perhaps it was just an off-the-cuff comment by an enthused researcher – the sort of thing you absolutely have to be on your guard against in an interview.

Thing is, it’s probably not a terribly important piece of research, but when you take all the statistical hedging out – all the ‘science’ if you like – it sounds tremendous. And the press love that.

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