Scientia Pro Publica 32: Biology Overload

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 07, 2010 03:01 in General , evolution , physics , biology , astronomy , news , anti-science , medicine , paleontology , sci-fi , public science , climate , scientia pro publica

Welcome to Scientia Pro Publica, 32th edition!

Scientia Pro Publica logo

Scientia Pro Publica logo (C) by Flickr user jmarcx via loryresearchgroup. (Hotlinked by my usual policy)

This round, it seems that the name of the game is biology. Submissions really ran the gamut in biology, including some delightfully from-left-field posts. Bryan Perkins having some fun with embryological development, and Amanda Morti shows us why we have actinomycete bacteria to thank for that fresh rain smell (and for throwing off Latinate intuition - anyone else read "actinomycete" and think muscley whale?). Speaking of whales, David "WhySharksMatter" Shiffman does a great bit of ResearchBlogging and reminds us why not all fish (fine, non-sarcopterygian gnathostome) stock are created equal - sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) are closer in population dymanics to bowhead whales and other balaenids than cod.

That wasn't the only bit of ResearchBlogging this time around (Hey! ResearchBlogging! Stop hating my feeds!). Kelsey has a great post about the intraspecific male competition among red-eyed treefrogs. Sure, they amplex for dear life, but what about before that? Turns out that ... they shake their butt (Does that mean that the frog Sir Mix-a-Lot is a lady?). Madhu R-Blogs over at Reconciliation Ecology takes the opportunity to do a great smackdown on a pet peeve of mine — evolution is not a "ladder" or any such silliness. It is blind and targetless. It was a statement from a Stanfurd professor, though, so what can you expect (Go Bears!)? But before we get ranty, Luigi diverts our attention from critterland and the rivalries of my alma mater to teach us about why Kibale's Wild Coffee Project didn't get off the ground, concluding that scientists, once again, just can't do "messaging".

Illustration: Peter Trusler for Wildlife of Gondwana/NOVA (PBS). From Grrlscientist's post.

Thonoir continues to take us down our diversion away from Critterland, showcasing two sets of endangered non-metazoans, and my total ignorance of plant/photosynthizing phylogenies. We don't stray from Critterland for long, though, as John at Kind of Curious details a very interesting ponderous borer. Emily talks about sensationalism, mountain lions, and that Fox, even as they get extirpated from areas densely populated by a certain primate. Which, as Amanda points out, is no good thing, and there are difficulties restoring predators to ecosystems that they have been extirpated from (trust me, a one sentence synposis does not do that entry justice). The great Grrlscientist brings us some aborignal rock art possibly depicting Genyornis newtoni (Dromornithidae, incomplete phylogeny link (Anseriformes)). This is both the oldest paintings in Australia at 40,000 years (predating the earliest European cave paintings) and is of something that can be loosely imagined as an ostrich-sized duck, which simply can't be awesome.

Now, we don't end here. Oh no. That was just organismal biology and evolution. How about a dose of medicine? Michelle Dawson is better than Mary Poppins, because her post about circadian rythyms certainly doesn't need any sugar for you to take it down (and introduces you to an interesting side effect of autism-spectrum disorder). Scientific Chick writes about cell phones improving mental performance in Alzheimered mice. Meanwhile, Wendy at Bioloser gives us the physiological background of shock, and a shocking description of shock in a man nearly severed in half.

The larger constructs of medicine were not neglected, either. Bradley Kreit discusses the fact that we need to accept our intellectual limits, while Luke examines the crazy in large groups, looking at HIV denialism and Ryan looks at child mortality.

Bisected men and child mortality? Lets get a bit more lighthearted. Jessica Drake at Soilduck ponders what makes a scientist a scientist, and Romeo Vitelli tells us how subliminal messaging was an advertising gimmick (how many levels of fake-out is that?). Adam Park redeems some sci-fi stories with various predictions made therein that have come true today. Of course, Asimov gets a mention for the mention of pocket calculators in Foundation, but Asimov also nailed our reliance on them as time went on in The Feeling of Power (psh, arithmetic).

BP, the Gulf, and the utter dismaying farce of the spill have been in the news, and oil makes its showing in Scientia this time around. Scienceguy238 gives us a history leading up to the spill, and Grrlscientist looks at the ethics involved with oiled seabirds. Jeremy at The Voltage Gate writes about how the Saudi coast has recovered, 20 years later, from the 11-million-barrel (1.2 GL, or 1.2e6 m3) spill. A decade afterwards, 1 million cubic meters still persisted. Every spill is different, though, so hopefully ours won't be as bad.

You know you love it.

Finally, we round out with the physical sciences, which didn't get much love this time around. Lab Rat talks about bacteria and climate change, while Matt Wills talks about the more metaphorical breathing Earth, Charles Lyell, and mollusk damage in Greek columns. Finally, Sarah Kavassalis gives a great article on one of my favorite subjects: special relativity, astronomical distances, and the meaning of "now". After all, if a star (super)nova's in the distance, but you don't see (E&M) or feel (gravity) it, has it gone? She even does it without the inevitable jargoning I'd go into!

That does it for this round of Scientia Pro Publica! This was my first blog carnival, so I more than welcome suggestions. Hope you all enjoyed it!

If you want to learn more about this carnival, head over to the carnival's website. Be sure to check out the next round hosted by Andrew over at Southern Fried Science, on June 21st. And remember — this is a blog carnival! Submissions and hosts are wanted! If you're interested in hosting, check out the current schedule on the official schedule thread and drop Grrlscientist a line (or leave a note in the comments). If you find a cool article, submit it! Send a link via this submission form. Thanks again all!

Star Trek - Sunday

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 12, 2009 01:26 in General , sci-fi

And the wrap-up photoblog from the Trek Con! I'll have some commentary up later this week, I think.

Be sure to check out the original photoblog post over here.


Zachary Quinto / Spock [ 2009 Movie ] / Sylar [Heroes]


William Shatner / James T. Kirk


William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy / Spock


Natasha and I before leaving, with Photoshopping to remove the insane amounts of red. Go mixers and curves!

You can read Natasha's impressions of Saturday and her impressions of Sunday — she's definitely more on the ball about posting than I am!

Star Trek - Saturday

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 10, 2009 13:50 in General , sci-fi

Quick photoblog of the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention — to be updated as I upload the remainder of my photos still on my camera, an a real blog entry later. Sadly, the often long distance and often poor lighting means these aren't the best photos ever...

Currently, these photos are from Saturday only:


Linda Park / Ensign Hoshi Saato


Voyager Panel — Left to Right, Robert Picardo / the Doctor, Roxanne Dawson / Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres-Paris, Ethan Phillips / Neelix , Tim Russ / Lt. Cmdr. Tuvok.


Random Klingons and random cute girl dressed in 2009 movie EVA/Skydiving jumpsuit (pretty amazingly done!)


George Takei doing signatures (Sulu)


Some random nerds.

Warp Drive in the Headlines

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 15, 2009 15:05 in physics , news , sci-fi

Alcubierre metric

Alcubierre metric. (CC-BY-SA) Allen McC.

Slashdot brings up another resurgence of Warp Drive in the media. While it'd be amazing, it's still at the theoretically interesting stage. Though the theory is good, it requires a lot of energy. While before it required energies similar to that of the universe, now it seems like it will need only about 1045 J. This is in the ballpark of about 5.9 jovian masses. So, better, but still pretty impractical.

The figure at the right pretty cleanly describes the effect. In essense, spacetime is compressed and expanded around the ship so it can "surf" on a wave of expanding spacetime, which itself "moves" faster than c=299792458 m·s-1, but the spaceship itself remains stationary and thus violates no physics. It is, in a fairly literal sense, a warp drive. It is perfectly valid for space to have superluminal expansion rates; distant objects in our Hubble Volume recede from us at apparently faster than light, and the hyperinflationary epoch was defined by an incredible, superluminal spacetime expansion.

The whole thing is based on the Alcubierre metric, described by

Alcubierre metric

Alcubierre metric. Variable definitions as used by Alcubierre available at Wikipedia

In a very technical sense, this is not a solution to the Einstein Field Equations, but rather has ADM forms that can be adapted to various observers that are actually not physically distinguished from each other. However, as a Hamiltonian formulation, the solution is not exactly one to the EFEs, but is much easier to work with and is often used in practical and theoretical studies.

This was probably one of my "denser" posts, so for those of you that understood it, I give you an icon to use:

Star Trek: The Review

Posted by tigerhawkvok on May 11, 2009 02:16 in General , sci-fi

So, I finally saw Star Trek. Time for a review!

--Warning: Gratuitous Spoilers--


Physics of Star Trek

Posted by tigerhawkvok on May 11, 2009 02:15 in General , physics , sci-fi

So, I'm sitting in the Berkeley BART, soon to head off to Pleasanton to go catch Star Trek with Jessica and some others (it occurs to me this is one of my few friends without a blog or site to link to!). Since I will have a lot of down time, and probably 3 hours of battery on my Eee PC, I decided I'd throw some "Physics of Star Trek" out there.

VOY: "Blink of an Eye"
Case: Time-Distorted Planet
Plausibility: Highly unlikely

While a nice episode with an interesting premise, the catch here that prevents it from entering the realm of plausible is the fact that time went faster for those on the planet, rather than Voyager. General Relativity provides for various forms of time dilation, including gravitational an other odd spacetime constructs that distort spacetime. However, all of these distortions increase your dilation, as "neutral" is flat, empty space. For your rate of passage though time to increase, your speed would have to be imaginary, so that when squared (IE, when calculating your spacetime interval along a Minkowski metric), you need to increase your rate of passage through time to be greater than unity (or c, depending on how you look at it).