Friday Fun: Elephant Playing with a Smart Phone
Posted on March 30, 2012 Comments (4)
An elephant plays with a smart phone (Samsung Galaxy Note).
Related: Friday Fun: Cats and Kids with iPads – Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant – Crow Sledding, Flying Back Up and Sledding Down Again – Cat Toy: Robotic Ball You Control with Your Smart Phone
Dangerous Drug-Resistant Strains of TB are a Growing Threat
Posted on March 28, 2012 Comments (1)
Dr Paul Nunn, head of the WHO’s global TB response team, is leading the efforts against multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Nunn said that, while TB is preventable and curable, a combination of bad management and misdiagnosis was leaving pharmaceutical companies struggling to keep up. Meanwhile, the disease kills millions every year.
“It occurs basically when the health system screws up,” said Nunn. “Treating TB requires a carefully followed regime of medication over six months. In places where health services are fragmented or underfunded, or patients poor and health professionals ill-trained, that treatment can fall short, which can in turn lead to patients developing drug-resistant strains. It’s been estimated that an undiagnosed TB-infected person can infect 10 others a year.
We tend to do a poor job of dealing with systemic effects of poorly functioning systems. Direct present threats get out attention. And we are decent at directing brain power and resources to find solutions. We are not very good at dealing with failures that put us in much worse shape in the long term. For small threats we can wait until it becomes a present threat and then deal with it. There are costs to doing this (economic and personal) but it can be done.
Some problems though become enormously complicated to deal with once they become obvious. Global climate change, for example. And often, even once they are obvious, we won’t act until the costs (economic and in human lives) are very large. It is possible that once we decide to get serious about dealing with some of these issues that the costs (economic and in human lives) will be catastrophic.
The failure to use anti-biotics medicine properly is a very serious threat to become one of these catastrophic societal failures. While tuberculosis failures may be larger in poorer countries, rich countries are failing probably much more critically in the misuse of anti-biotics (I would guess, without having much evidence at my fingertips to back up my opinion. I believe the evidence exists I am just not an expert). These failures have huge costs for all of humanity but we are risking many premature deaths because we systemically fail to deal with issues until the consequences are immediate.
Related: Extensively Drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB) (2007) – What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? – Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes – Overuse of Antibiotics (post from 2005) – CDC Urges Increased Effort to Reduce Drug-Resistant Infections (2006)
Google Lets Servers Stay Hot, Saving Air Conditioning Costs
Posted on March 26, 2012 Comments (0)
The electricity to run huge server farms is enormous. One of the significant cost is air conditioning to cool down the server rooms.
For the vast majority of the year, the climate in Belgium is cool enough that this design works with no problems. When it gets hot in Belgium, the temperature inside Google’s data center warms beyond the facility’s desired operating range
During these periods, the temperature inside the data center can rise above 95 degrees.
“We’ve had very few excursion hours, and they don’t last long, so we let the site run right through them. We ask our employees to go in and do office work. It’s too warm for people, but the machines do just fine.”
Google’s experience is the latest affirmation that servers are much tougher than we think. Many data centers feel like meat lockers, as servers are maintained in cool environments to offset the heat thrown off by components inside the chassis. Typical temperature ranges in data centers often range from 68 and 72 degrees.
In recent years, rising power bills have prompted data center managers to try and reduce the amount of power used in cooling systems.
The temperatures in Fahrenheit obviously. I was surprised that the servers don’t seem to need to be chilled to perform well.
Is Dirt Healthier Than Broccoli?
Posted on March 24, 2012 Comments (2)
That dirt I ate as a kid is maybe why I have been relatively healthy. Ok, probably that hasn’t been the most important factor. But it may be that some dirt and germs (kids licking their dirty hands and the ice cream melts on it, etc.) is actually more important for their long term health than finishing off the broccoli (of course, a healthy diet requires eating a bunch of vegetables, more than most kids eat).
The hygiene hypothesis has become a popular explanation for the boom in asthma, allergies and other health problems. Boiled down to one sentence the hypothesis is that exposure to germs early in life creates a healthy immune system and too little exposure results in a hypersensitive immune system (that is not as effective and leads to things like allergies).
A recent closed science paper, Microbial Exposure During Early Life Has Persistent Effects on Natural Killer T Cell Function, found mice exposed to more germs early on where healthier:
The microscopic battles waged in our bodies every day and over our lifetimes are amazing.
Lean Science: Using Cheap Robots to Aid Research
Posted on March 21, 2012 Comments (3)
Fun video showing how scientists use Lego Mindstorm robots to aid research into creating artificial bones. Lego Mindstorm robots are useful at a very reasonable price.
The webcast also includes this practical quote from Michelle Oyen, lecturer in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University: “without your bones you would be a pile of goo lying on the floor.”
The thinking discussed in the webcast echos the lean manufacturing principles discussed in the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog: finding good solutions to aid people in doing their jobs. The type of custom solutions they discuss here are great.
This type of use of technology is great. One of the problems we often see with technology solutions though is when they are imposed on the workplace in a way that doesn’t aid people. There is a big difference between what Toyota does (using robots to make people’s jobs easier) and what others do in trying to copy Toyota (using robots to eliminate jobs). Lean manufacturing stressed the importance of using brainpower people bring to work every day. You want to use technology to enable people. These scientists understand that. Unfortunately many managers don’t.
Photosynthesis: Science Explained
Posted on March 20, 2012 Comments (1)
Another very good webcast on a science topic from Crash Course. It is packed with info, thankfully you can pause and rewind as much as you need. Well normally you can, YouTube decided to not let me do that just now
Related: Exploring Eukaryotic Cells – Science Summary: Photosynthesis – Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Science – Gamers Use Foldit to Solve Enzyme Configuration in 3 Weeks That Stumped Scientists for Over a Decade
Friday Fun: Monkey and Kitten Playing
Posted on March 16, 2012 Comments (2)
If somehow you need more to entice you to watch the webcast, there are even cameos by a dog and people. But if you need to know more than kitten and monkey maybe you need to connect to your inner 5 year old self.
£50m Package to Attract Scientists and Boost Welsh Economy
Posted on March 15, 2012 Comments (0)
our network plans will enable us to attract more talent to Wales to help drive this figure up and in due course create more high quality business and research jobs in Wales.” The strategy sets out three key areas to boost research and businesses – the life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment; and advanced engineering and materials.
The Welsh government said it wanted to see more industry-academic partnerships like SPECIFIC led by Swansea University with Tata Steel UK. The £20m project aims to turn homes and businesses into self-generating “power stations” by developing a special coating for ordinary building materials, such as steel and glass, that traps and stores solar energy.
The USA dominated the practice of attracting leading scientists a few decades ago. In the last decade or two Europe stepped up and was able to attract global talent. Lately Asia (Singapore, Korea, China…) has been spending to attract leading scientists. I believe Asia will continue to do so and the benefits of doing so will pay off handsomely for Asia (at the expense of Europe and the USA).
Intel Science Talent Search 2012 Awardees
Posted on March 14, 2012 Comments (0)
Nithin Tumma, whose research could lead to less toxic and more effective breast cancer treatments, received the top award of $100,000 at the Intel Science Talent Search 2012, a program of Society for Science & the Public. Other finalists from across the U.S. took home additional awards totaling $530,000.
The Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious pre-college science and math competition, recognizes 40 high school seniors who are poised to be the next leaders in innovation and help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.
Nithin Tumma, 17, of Fort Gratiot, Mich., won the top award of $100,000 from the Intel Foundation for his research, which could lead to more direct, targeted, effective and less toxic breast cancer treatments. He analyzed the molecular mechanisms in cancer cells and found that by inhibiting certain proteins, we may be able to slow the growth of cancer cells and decrease their malignancy. Nithin is first in his class, a varsity tennis player and a volunteer for the Port Huron Museum, where he started a restoration effort for historical and cultural landmarks.
Second place honors and $75,000 went to Andrey Sushko, 17, of Richland, Wash., for his development of a tiny motor, only 7 mm (almost 1/4 inch) in diameter, which uses the surface tension of water to turn its shaft. Born in Russia, Andrey worked from home to create his miniature motor, which could pave the way for other micro-robotic devices. Andrey, a long-time builder of small boats, recently filed for a Guinness World Record for the smallest radio-controlled sailing yacht.
Third place honors and $50,000 went to Mimi Yen, 17, of Brooklyn, N.Y., for her study of evolution and genetics, which focuses on microscopic worms, specifically looking at their sex habits and hermaphrodite tendencies. Mimi believes that through research such as hers, we may better understand the genes that contribute to behavioral variations in humans. Mimi was born in Honduras and is fluent in Cantonese. She plays French horn and volunteers to prepare and deliver meals to people with serious illnesses.
These finalists join the ranks of other notable Science Talent Search alumni who over the past 70 years have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, four National Medals of Science, 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and even an Academy Award for Best Actress.
“We invest in America’s future when we recognize the innovative achievements of our nation’s brightest young minds,” said Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini. “Hands-on experience with math and science, such as that required of Intel Science Talent Search finalists, encourages young people to think critically, solve problems and understand the world around them. Rather than simply memorizing facts and formulas, or repeating experiments with known outcomes, this competition engages students in an exciting way and provides a deeper level of understanding in such important but challenging subjects.”
Related: Intel Science and Engineering Fair 2009 Webcasts – Girls Sweep Top Honors at Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology – Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Awards 2006
Thorium Nuclear Reactors
Posted on March 13, 2012 Comments (0)
Kirk Sorensen is founder of Flibe Energy and is an advocate for nuclear energy based on thorium and liquid-fluoride fuels and author of Energy From Thorium blog.
He also taught nuclear engineering at Tennessee Technological University as a guest lecturer. He is active in nonprofit advocacy organizations such as the Thorium Energy Alliance and the International Thorium Energy Organization. He is married and has four small children.
See another video with him on why the thorium molten-salt reactor wasn’t developed (from a Google tech talk).
Science Continues to Explore Causes of Weight Gain
Posted on March 12, 2012 Comments (0)
Science is amazing when it explains very cool ideas. It is also very interesting (if a bit frustrating) when the scientific inquiry process is ongoing and open to debate. Weight gain is one such area that is of great concern and large amount of study but some issues are still unclear. I have discussed this before. I think that calories in compared to calories consumed is a good first approximation. I believe it makes sense that the efficiency of our bodies at capturing the calories and turning them into weight gain could be affected by things other than the total calories in. It might be the type of calories or it might be other factors (bacteria or chemical present)…
A widely reported study that came out in January in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) would seem to dispute this finding: it confirms the belief in the energy balance model, and has been cited as proof by many researchers working in the field. I asked an author of the study, Dr. George Bray, professor of medicine at Louisiana State University, about the myriad of additives and industrial ingredients in our food that were not accounted for in this study. “It doesn’t make any difference,” he said in a telephone interview. “Calories count. If you can show me that it doesn’t work, I’d love to see it. Or anybody else who says it doesn’t — there ain’t no data the other way around.”
It seems to me that it certainly makes sense to reduce calories if you need to lose weight. And it sure seems the strongest evidence is for calories being the most important factor.
I also believe exercise is good, for overall health. It also seems more and more evidence is being found about how difficult it is to lose weight which reinforces the importance of preventing the weight gain in the first place.
Related: Healthy Diet, Healthy Living, Healthy Weight – Study Shows Weight Loss From Calorie Reduction Not Low Fat or Low Carb – Study Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as Smoking – Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. – Obesity Epidemic Kind of Explained