Archive for July, 2009

Musical minds

Posted in Music, Technology, Video on 2009/07/22 by iyokobat

Brain scan

Apparently our brains, or at least the one that belongs to Oliver Sacks, can distinguish subtle differences in music, even when the conscious mind cannot. In an MRI, Oliver’s brain showed more activity when listening to Bach (his favorite composer) than when listening to Beethoven. This occurred even when Oliver was unable to tell which piece was Bach and which was Beethoven. Sorry Ludwig.

I’d be interested to see what this experiment would reveal with additional test subjects and varied composer preferences. Check out the ~4 minute Nova video.

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SpaceX successfully launches its first satellite

Posted in Science, Technology on 2009/07/22 by iyokobat


Kinda old news here, but still worth posting:

The Malaysian satellite RasakSAT was launched on July 14th on a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket. This was the first successful satellite launch for the SpaceX company and also the deployment of the world’s first remote sensing satellite to operate in Near Equatorial Orbit (NEqO). The satellite will be used by Malaysia and other countries to monitor fires, illegal logging, and for mapping geographical information.

The Falcon 1 rocket is also contracted by NASA to haul cargo to the International Space Station. I think this is a good shot in the arm for the private space industry and I wish SpaceX and other companies like it, (e.g. Scaled Composites) more successes in the future. On a side note, the CEO for SpaceX is PayPal co-founder Elon Musk.

New Scientist: SpaceX launches first commercial satellite to orbit

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Pink Floyd – “Moonhead”

Posted in Music, Space Exploration, Video on 2009/07/21 by iyokobat


July 20th and the 40th anniversary for landing on the moon are almost over. (It’s already July 21 in Greenwich.)

There have been numerous commemorations on the internet, in print, and on television (including an excellent presentation at NASA), but this one is interesting and unique.

Unbeknown to yours truly, the Pink Floyd played for BBC live coverage of the Apollo 11 event in 1969. Thanks to udor1962 for posting to youTube, and thanks to Robert Mackey of the New York Times for bringing this to my attention.

I don’t know how this will affect the debate for resuming manned missions to the moon, but maybe it will increase the demand for improvisational space-blues.

Pink Floyd Moonhead

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Theoretical upper limit for existing black holes: ridiculously stupidly big

Posted in Astronomy, Physics on 2009/07/15 by iyokobat


from Luke McKinney at the Daily Galaxy:

Scientists have determined the mass of the largest things that could possibly exist in our universe. New results have placed an upper limit on the current size of black holes – and at fifty billion suns it’s pretty damn big. That’s a hundred thousand tredagrams, and you’ll never get the chance to use that word in relation to anything else.

Read more here:  50 Billion Suns -The Biggest Black Hole in the Universe

This just in: Scientists not on the public’s radar

Posted in Science and society on 2009/07/13 by iyokobat

Fritz Zwicky

Do you know a scientist? Do you know anyone who does? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, ‘cuz apparently it’s not uncommon.

Peter N. Spotts, of the Christian Science Monitor, says

That acquaintance gap symbolizes a broader cultural gap between many scientists and the rest of the public.

On the one hand, the public generally has a very favorable view of scientists, despite the political tugging and hauling over global warming or teaching evolution as the last theory left standing to explain the emergence and development of life on Earth.

Some 67 percent of respondents said that while science conflicts with their religious beliefs, scientists make significant contributions to society’s well-being. Slightly fewer (63 percent) of those who take a literal, biblical view of creation also acknowledge science’s general contribution to society.

Science ‘popularizer’ Neal deGrasse Tyson has said that he worries less about the public being unable to name a scientist, than he does about a general lack of good scientific understanding. (or something along those lines. I can’t find the clip).

Some have blamed Hollywood for maligning the public perception of scientists. Who was the last “cool” scientist that you can remember in popular fiction? Dr. Peter Venckman, Dr. Ian Malcolm, or Beaker? I think filmmakers and screenwriters probably have a difficult time in creating meaningful “science guy” or “science gal” roles, so they opt for the easy approach: ‘Make them nerds’.

Scientists and the public often don’t see eye to eye

BTW, the image of the cranky scientist guy is Fritz Zwicky. His acidic demeanor and often unsociable characteristics were probably not helpful in the Science public relations department. A notable astronomer, but not likely a good spokesperson for science.

First light from Herschel Space Observatory

Posted in Astronomy, Technology on 2009/07/13 by iyokobat


Launched earlier this year, the Herschel Space Observatory has successfully conducted the initial tests for three of its instruments, (HIFI, PACS and SPIRE). If all goes as planned, the first scientific results are expected before the end of 2009.

Less than two months after a flawless launch on 14 May, the Herschel Space Observatory has passed a number of key milestones. Amongst these are the ‘first light’ observations obtained by each of the three instruments. The images and spectra clearly demonstrate that the main scientific objectives of the mission – photometric surveys of the galactic and extragalactic sky; detailed studies of the physical and chemical composition of gas, dust and the interstellar medium; spectroscopic and photometric studies of Solar System objects – are on track.

European Space Agency – Herschel’s ‘first light’ promises superb science

The null hypothesis: what skepticism reveals about science

Posted in Science on 2009/07/03 by iyokobat


Michael Shermer has published his 100th opus in Scientific American and on his own blog. Dr. Shermer has effectively described why the scientific method is our best tool at distinguishing shinola from bullcrap.

The postmodernist belief in the relativism of truth, coupled to the clicker culture of mass media where attention spans are measured in New York minutes, leaves us with a bewildering array of truth claims packaged in infotainment units. It must be true — I saw it on television, at the movies, on the Internet. The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, That’s Incredible, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, Loose Change, Zeitgeist the Movie. Mysteries, magic, myths and monsters. The occult and the supernatural. Conspiracies and cabals. The face on Mars and aliens on Earth. Bigfoot and Loch Ness. ESP and PSI. UFOs and ETIs. JFK, RFK and MLK — alphabet conspiracies. Altered states and hypnotic regression. Remote viewing and astroprojection. Ouija boards and Tarot cards. Astrology and palm reading. Acupuncture and chiropractic. Repressed memories and false memories. Talking to the dead and listening to your inner child. Such claims are an obfuscating amalgam of theory and conjecture, reality and fantasy, nonfiction and science fiction. Cue dramatic music. Darken the backdrop. Cast a shaft of light across the host’s face. The truth is out there. I want to believe.

I don’t think that Dr. Shermer hates entertainment, but is probably tired of entertainment devices being the sole means of enlightenment for much of the public.  In my opinion, entertainment has a purpose in stimulating our imagination, but should not typically be the basis for believing in extraordinary, hard-to-believe claims and concepts.

Read more on Shermer’s blog and sharpen your skepticism skills.