Friday, April 18, 2008


Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life?

Why are we here?What are we here for?
What is the origin of life?
What is the nature of life (and of reality itself)?
What is the purpose of, or in, (one's) life?
What is the significance of life?
What is meaningful or valuable in life?
What is the value of life?
What is the reason to live? What are we living for?

Friday, April 11, 2008

I'm F*cking Obama

The PLB - Risk Mitigation for Adventurous People

Boating, camping, four-wheel driving, hiking, off-road motorcycling, snowmobiling – they’re all fun to do, and they all carry considerably more risk if you’re on your own – break a leg, sprain an ankle, get bitten by a snake or a spider, and suddenly you may not be able to get out without assistance. The availability of the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) changes that – it’s risk mitigation for adventurous people. Set off your PLB and it transmits your location (GPS coordinates) on internationally recognized distress frequencies monitored by the likes of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System (SARSAT). In the event you’re under the canopy and GPS isn’t acquired, they can still calculate your position through Doppler Shift.

If you’re going somewhere remote or dangerous on your own, take heed of the following parable. During a three-day span last month, two separate outdoors enthusiasts ran into life-threatening situations in the wilderness and used Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) in order to survive.

Even though the circumstances of each rescue were different, one involved a hiker and the other an ATV rider, their outcomes were very similar – two lives saved.

PLBs are proving to be valuable emergency life-saving devices for outdoor activities of all kinds. Since the first of this year, 18 people in eleven incidents have used PLBs to signal for help in the U.S.

“A continued increase in PLB registrations in the U.S. last year indicates a growing popularity and consumer interest in these locator beacons, especially among hunters, campers, hikers, climbers, skiers and boaters,” said Paul Hardin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for ACR Electronics, Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based manufacturer, which introduced PLB products to the U.S. in 2003.

PLBs, unlike other recently introduced personal tracking gadgets, transmit signals on internationally recognized distress frequencies. The 406 MHz signal is monitored by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System (SARSAT) detects and locates distress signals. GPS coordinates greatly assist search and rescue crews, and in the event GPS isn’t acquired, position can be calculated through Doppler Shift as a reliable backup.

NOAA has reported that in 2007, PLBs assisted in the rescue of 88 people in 38 incidents. In 2006, PLBs assisted in the rescue of 37 people in 22 incidents. PLB registrations in 2007 showed a 66.85 percent increase over the previous years’ total. Worldwide, the COSPAS-SARSAT 406 MHz satellite system, which is celebrating 25 years of operation, is credited with rescuing more than 23,000 people since the program’s inception in 1982. Of that number, more than 5,000 persons were rescued in the U.S.

James Langston, Search and Rescue (SAR) Program Coordinator for Arizona’s Division of Emergency Management, directed the March 18th rescue of ATV rider James Tibbetts, a 65-year-old Las Vegas retiree, in the northwest corner of the state. Langston personally owns a PLB and wants people who venture into the backcountry to know about the usefulness of the beacons. “If we get a call from the RCC (Rescue Coordination Center) about someone being in a life threatening situation, then we respond. If people need help, there’s a spirit of cooperation among all the rescue agencies.”

Langston recommends that once victims determine that all means of self-rescue have been attempted and assistance is needed, then they should not hesitate to activate a PLB. “I don’t want people to wait until they are on the verge of death to seek help. They need to know that are we (SAR) are already out looking for them by then,” he said. “That’s what the beacons are for. I’d rather they set it off sooner than when they get to the verge of death.”

On March 15th just three days before this rescue, Dr. John Vaughan and his son, Scott, both experienced hikers from Southern California, activated their ACR MicroFix™ PLB during an ill-fated hiking trip in the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles. It was a complicated and technical rescue involving severe injuries to Dr. Vaughan and 15 ground responders who climbed to 8,500 feet in the middle of the dark, snowy night to carry the victim down on a litter.

Dr. Vaughan said he had decided a month earlier to purchase an emergency-locating mechanism of some kind because he often hikes alone. His busy medical practice makes it difficult to pair up with other hikers. He went online to research what was available and found that a PLB was what he needed. “For people who backpack, a PLB is an excellent device. In looking at the other devices on the market, I saw that they do not connect up with national government services, like NOAA and the Air Force. After reading reviews, they also showed that they had spotty connections. There is a fair amount of information written up on it.”

ACR Electronics, Inc. (, a Cobham plc Company, designs and manufactures a complete line of safety and survival products including EPIRBs, PLBs, SSAS, AIS, SARTs and safety accessories. The quality systems of this facility have been registered by UL to the ISO 9001:2000 Series Standards. Recognized as the world leader in safety and survival technologies, ACR has provided safety equipment to the aviation and marine industries as well as to the military since 1956.

Quick PLB facts:

* Works in concert with the COSPAS-SARSAT System. Dedicated global satellite SAR system * Serious Life Saving Equipment. Designed to work when all else has failed. Approved to International Standards for life saving equipment. * SAR agencies: NOAA, USCG, US Air Force and NASAR (National Association of Search & Rescue) * Emergency signals received by two satellite groups: GEOSAR (stationary/provides immediate alert) LEOSAR (provides location/orbits every 100 minutes) * User Fee: NONE (tax payer supported system) * NO annual subscription fee * Three redundant methods of pinpointing location: 406 MHz/Satellite Triangulation, GPS transmission and 121.5 MHz homing frequency * Alert notification 50 seconds with GPS; one hour without GPS * Lithium batteries with 11-year shelf life * Antennas: 1 for GPS and 1 for distress message * Cost: US$499-$$699 (one time cost/no annual subscription or special user fees)

Dear God

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Aerogel has been around for decades. It's the lightest substance ever created, being 99% air. It's strong, light, translucent and is excellent for sound-proofing. But the really exciting thing about aerogel is that it insulates 37 times better than fiberglass. Using aerogel as insulation in walls, ceilings, and (as it's transparent) even between double-pained windows, could drastically reduce the amount of energy used in heating and cooling.

Unfortunately, aerogel isn't easy to make. In fact, it costs about $1,300 per pound to produce. But a Malaysian researcer at the Universiti Teknologi, Dr Halimaton Hamdan, has led a team of researchers who have created a way to produce aerogel that will be 80% cheaper.

What's more, the new aerogel is produced from rice husks, a discarded agricultural product. As you might expect, Malaysia has plenty of rice husks, so they're pretty excited about the possibility of turning them into something valuable. As such, the government has given Hamdan a $65 M grant to help develop a technique for the large-scale production of the new aerogels.

Hamdan's breakthrough was at first accidental. She wanted to do research on silica, but was having a hard time finding the raw material. One night, she saw a television program on the difficulty of disposing of rice husks. And rice husks, it turns out, are 20% silica. After eight years of work, Hamdan finally found a cheap way to produce pure silica from rice husks. And once the silica is acquired, making the aerogel is a cinch.

If Dr Hamdan and her colleagues are able to use that $65 M to scale up production of this material, we should soon be seeing it everywhere. If that happens, the energy savings would be incredible. As a bonus; the production of Maerogel (short for Malaysian Aerogel) would also make use of an abundant natural waste product.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Building Blocks of the Universe

Ever wonder what the universe is made of?

Your first answer probably goes to things such as atoms and photons and maybe even the undiscovered Higgs boson particle. But what the hell are THOSE things made of? Everything is made of something else, right?

So where does the trail end? (If this question seems familiar, it’s because I wrote about it in my book God’s Debris.)

I think if you could answer that question, even at a high conceptual level, you would have the answer to whether God exists, or whether we are a hologram programmed by someone else, or if all of this is just lucky random combinations.

If you keep drilling down to find out what the smallest things are made of, would you eventually find just one thing that everything is made of, guided by some sort of universal rules of physics? That’s my guess, but only a guess. It feels right.

In a longer post I could explain that such rules of physics would qualify as God. Those rules plus the basic particles eventually created the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the Koran and the rest of the universe as we know it, while working in undeniably mysterious ways. If that isn’t the definition of God, what is?

I know some of you will say, “People wrote the Bible.” But that view would be based on the superstition of free will. The “stuff” of the universe and the rules of physics wrote all of our books. People were just an interim step we happened to label.

I can’t imagine that the universe is made of things that are made of other things and so on to infinity. That seems absurd. If it turned out to be true, I would favor the theory that we are a hologram and our creators programmed the truth of our nature to be forever beyond our grasp. I don’t get to that conclusion by logic. I feel this way because if I wrote the program myself, it’s the sort of thing I would do. The hypothetical programmers are presumably like us in some ways, so they might think the way we do. Therefore, if it looks like someone is yanking your chain, maybe someone is. Maybe someone like you, only real.

I’m watching the construction of the Large Hadron Collider with interest. If it works, we’d possibly unlock the secrets of the universe. If we really are a hologram, look for the collider to get stopped by legal action or an earthquake before the truth of our nature is revealed. Either that or the particles they discover will spell “hello.”

Total Isolation... Research on Sensory Deprivation

'God Particle' Expected to Be Found Soon

GENEVA (AP) -- The father of a theoretical subatomic particle dubbed "the God particle" says he's almost sure it will be confirmed in the next year in a race between powerful research equipment in the United States and Europe.

British physicist Peter Higgs, who more than 40 years ago postulated the existence of the particle in the makeup of the atom, said is visit to a new accelerator in Geneva last weekend encouraged him that the Higgs boson will soon be seen.

The $2 billion Large Hadron Collider, under construction since 2003, is expected to start operating by June at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (known as CERN).

It likely will take several months before the hundreds of scientists from around the world are ready to start smashing together protons to study their composition.

Higgs said Monday the particle may already have been created at the rival Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago, where the Tevatron is currently the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

"The Tevatron has plenty of energy to do it," Higgs said. "It's just the difficulty of analyzing the data which prevents you from knowing quickly what's hiding in the data."

The massive new CERN collider, which has been installed in a 17-mile circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border, will be more powerful still and will be better able to show what particles are created in the collisions of beams of protons traveling at the speed of light.

The new Geneva collider will re-create the rapidly changing conditions in the universe a split second after the Big Bang. It will be the closest that scientists have come to the event that they theorize was the beginning of the universe. They hope the new equipment will enable them to study particles and forces yet unobserved.

But Fermilab still has time to be first if it can show that it has discovered the Higgs boson, Higgs said.

Nobel laureate Leon Lederman has dubbed the theoretical boson "the God particle" because its discovery could unify understanding of particle physics and help humans "know the mind of God."

Higgs told reporters he is hoping to receive confirmation of his theory by the time he turns 80 in May 2009.

If not, he added, "I'll just have to ask my GP to keep me alive a bit longer," referring to his general practitioner, not the God particle, a term he does not embrace because he fears it might offend some people.

Higgs predicted the existence of the boson while working at the University of Edinburgh to explain how atoms - and the objects they make up - have weight.

Without the particle, the basic physics theory - the "standard model" - lacks a crucial element, because it fails to explain how other subatomic particles - such as quarks and electrons - have mass.

The Higgs theory is that the bosons create a field through which the other particles pass.

The particles that encounter difficulty going through the field as though they are passing through molasses pick up more inertia, and mass. Those that pass through more easily are lighter.

Higgs said he would be "very, very puzzled" if the particle is never found because he cannot image what else could explain how particles get mass.

Higgs said initial reaction to his ideas in the early 1960s was skeptical.

"My colleagues thought I was a bit of an idiot," he said, noting that his initial paper explaining how his theory worked was rejected by an editor at CERN.

He said a colleague spent the summer at CERN right after he did his work on the theory.

"He came back and said, 'At CERN they didn't see that what you were talking about had much to do with particle physics.'

"I then added on some additional paragraphs and sent it off across the Atlantic to Physical Review Letters, who accepted it. The mention of what became known as the Higgs boson was part of the extra which was added on."

Roxy Presents.... Shimmer

Sunday, April 6, 2008

We Think

Top 5 Recreational Drug Experiments

Recreational drugs are a ridiculously fun topic for scientific research. They could also be the inspiration for powerful new medications. We are often amazed by the fascinating, and sometimes hilarious, stories that make their way into peer-reviewed journals. Here are some of our very favorites:

5. Harvard Scientists Build a Device to Smoke Weed During a Brain Scan
To better understand addiction, and how to treat it, scientists need to get a better look at the human brain as it is under the influence of weed. Unfortunately, smoking weed inside the narrow chamber of a functional MRI is not easy. To prevent smoke damage and allow their research subjects to puff without moving around too much, Blaise Frederick and his team at Harvard built what amounts to a giant bong.

4. Stanford Chemists make THC from Scratch
Since 1965, chemists have been trying to make the active ingredient of marijuana [pdf]from scratch. Back then, the researchers could only make tetrahydrocannabinol along with its enantiomers -- impurities that have the same chemical composition, but a different shape. Then, in 2006, a pair of chemists from Stanford University used a Molybdenum catalyst and other sophisticated techniques to produce the coveted molecule in its pure form. Despite their discovery, mother nature is still the best chemist and closets with high-intensity lamps will outperform the most sophisticated laboratories.

3. Researchers Learn How Salvia Works
Diviner's sage contains a powerful hallucinogen that may someday inspire a new class of depression, pain, and addiction medications. In at least one instance, a woman has used the substance to rid herself of depression. Tests on animals have shown that the Oxaccan plant, a relative of the culinary herb, can also control pain.

Last year, Catherine Willmore and her colleagues at Ohio Northern University ended a controversy about how the drug works. In the Sep. 2007 issue of Neruopharmacology, she confirmed that the active chemical, Salvinorin A, binds to signal-carrying proteins called kappa opioid receptors.

Willmore and her team trained rats to recognize the sensations caused by a well-understood drug that also targets kappa opioid receptors. It is impossible to know exactly how the rats felt during the test, but they could not tell the difference between the active chemical in sage and the one they had been trained to identify. Since the drugs feel the same, both of them must activate the same target.

2. British Army Tests LSD on Soldiers

1. Researchers Combine Chemicals from Sea Urchin Eggs and Weed to Make Powerful Painkillers
Scientists at organix, a small research and development firm, made hybrid molecules which resemble the euphoria-causing compounds THC and anandamide. In the Dec. 2007 issue of Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry they explained that both drugs have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Anandamide starts working faster than its marijuana-derived counterpart, but it is more quickly destroyed by the body. A fusion of the two chemicals may last longer while maintaining an equal or stronger effect.

Although the researchers at Organix did not comment on the recreational potential of their new chemicals, their data makes it very clear that the new drugs push the same pleasure buttons as THC and anandamide.

Thursday, April 3, 2008