Sunday, February 28, 2010

Conservation thought of the week #1

I'm going to start a series, hopefully weekly, of conservation thoughts. This one actually has two subjects.

Subject one is coffee stirrers. I was at a big meeting this past weekend, where the coffee breaks had lots of wooden stirrers. It occurred to me that the stirring ends of the stirrers never touch anything except coffee or hot water/tea, and that the hot water would probably kill a lot of bacteria (not sure about viruses) anyway. So the sole reason to use use-once stirrers is that fingers touch the other end.

Couldn't we come up with a mini-hand held stirrer, maybe? Just put the mixing end of the stirrer into the cup and let it spin the coffee, cream, and sugar for a few seconds. Put a little anti-bacterial goo on the handle and save a lot of wood. (And I have to wonder how much wood gets turned into use-once stirrers. Maybe they could at least make biochar out of it.)

Subject two is paper towels. A lot of these automatic paper towel dispensers provide a paper towel of a certain length. Most of the time this length is not sufficient to adequately dry a pair of hands. If the towels could be made more absorbent, I suspect that ultimately less paper would get used for hand drying.

Those electric dryers... rarely work, and usually men end up wiping their hands on their slacks (if they actually washed their hands after excretions). I don't know what women do. I've occasionally encountered electric dryers with a particularly high througflow, and these actually do a decent job of hand-drying. But given the amount of air they move, I imagine that they're energy hogs.

I'd be interested in an energy breakdown on paper vs. electric. If paper towels for hand-drying were made of recycled content, then it wouldn't seem so wasteful. But I don't know how much recycled content is in most paper towels.

Subject for research... when my busyness ebbs.

The woes of Ashley Cole continue

Not surprisingly, Cheryl Cole plans to divorce her highly talented (in soccer/football) husband Ashley Cole.

This is a lesson. When one philanders on one of the most desirable woman in the world, she's going to boot your butt. It's happened far more often than one would think it should.

I have a theory about how this happens, based on deprivation of consort. But still, I'd take the consort. More on this later.

Olympic hockey wrap-up

I felt the entire country of Canada collectively get heart palpitations when Zach Parise's last minute goal tied the gold medal game. But things got put right for the host country when quickly-becoming-legendary Sidney Crosby banged home the golden goal in overtime.

It was a pretty surprising tournament. I think the biggest surprises had to be the U.S. preliminary upset of the Canadians (without which they wouldn't have gotten to the gold medal game, I don't think) and the Canadian mauling of the Russians. Proves you have to be ready to go when the puck drops, I think.

Consider this a big favor

I haven't said much about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue yet; I still have to do a thorough review. But I did discover this:

Abbey Clancy's bodypaint feature

Click it and you'll thank me, but not on company time. She's got a very cute demeanor in the video, and lots and lots and lots and lots of cuteness elsewhere.

In the 1-30 photo section, I particularly am engaged by #16, #22-24, with an emphasis on 24, and #29, which emulates the photo in the magazine print issue.

Her tummy is totally tasty.

Picture #24 answers a particular pertinent question.

Ohhhh, to be a paintbrush with a fate like that...

Note: Melissa Satta is pretty strong as well, with fabulous hair to go along with a marvelous bosom. And I mean that in just the right way.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Surprised by Olympic hockey?

I'm still following the Olympic hockey tournament -- amazing how Russia got dumped by an inspired and on-mission Canada team, and very surprising how Slovakia broke through the Lundqvist wall.

But it's hard to see how Canada won't beat Slovakia. Now, the U.S. game against Finland is more of a question; Finland appears to be playing all for Teemu Selanne, but if Finland upsets the U.S., then they'll probably end up playing Canada in the gold medal game.

If it goes true to form and the U.S. plays Canada for the gold, it will be LOUD!!

Fun to watch, I'll say. So's the short program for the ladies set to James Bond music by Kim Yu-Na. I do hope she wins and makes up some for the judges robbing the SKs in the women's short-track relay.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quick Olympics observation

Wow -- Apolo Anton Ohno and Andrea Fischbacher sure showed how to recover from near-disaster and get a medal (Fischbacher's gold in the women's Super-G, Ohno's bronze in the men's short-track 1000m). Experience means you can keep your cool when all around are losing theirs.

We'll see who keeps their cool in USA vs. Canada hockey -- good job by the Russkies to check the Czechs and get into the quarters. I want to see a Canada-Russia final!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Christina Hendricks is curvaceous

Christina Hendricks demonstrates what God and man hath wrought:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B (or is that double D?)


The world still has surfing dolphins

Gorgeous amazing pictures of dolphins just having fun:

Dolphins surf en masse off South Africa

Makes you want to be one for awhile, doesn't it?

Plastic pollution pervasive

We somehow need to come up with a better way to clean up all the plastic bits floating in the ocean:

Global efforts to clean oceans have failed

"More than 6 million tons of plastic wash into the seas each year, floating on the surface or trapped below the surface. The U.N. Environment Program says that, on average, around 18,000 visible plastic parts are floating on a square kilometer of ocean."


Brief break

If anyone's paying attention, I'll probably be taking a week hiatus from posting here. I don't know if the world cares or not, but that's the way it is. I wish I had more time to comment on all the things that are happening in the state, nation, world, and universe. But I can only write a few things at a time. Above this are a couple of comments on the world's state of affairs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My favorite Saturnian moon

Ever since it was first imaged by the Voyagers, my favorite Saturn moon has been the "Death Star" Mimas. Cassini just did a Mimas fly-by. Below are two pictures of the moon at medium resolution. The big crater is named Herschel.

For comparison, here's the Death Star:

First picture from Cupola

The bay window on the ISS has been installed. Here's the first view looking down:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An article about the new NASA direction I agree with

Shortly back, I wrote in "Asteroid collisons and directions in space"

the following:

"The change of direction taken by NASA, if it works out, could be healthy; what needs to be developed are the following:

1. a capability to take humans to the Lagrange (L5 points);
2. a capability to take space repairmen to geostationary orbit to repair or de-orbit defunct communications satellites;
3. a plan to deal with orbital debris and defunct LEO satellites that could either be repaired or need to be de-orbited (the latter could be dealt with by a remote deorbital booster, but grappling with a variety of satellite configurations is a problem; and
4. a capability to rendesvous with a near-Earth asteroid."

So in an insightful editorial, Jeff Volosin echoed my thoughts (which I am sure are not unique, of course):
Some thoughts on the NASA vision
"3) For those who have a passion for the human explorer. For now, why not focus these astronauts on the one activity that has actually captured the interest of a good number of average Americans - satellite repair. Based on our experiences with the Hubble Space Telescope and other Shuttle based repair missions - and the construction of the ISS, we are perfectly positioned to be the country that leads the way in developing large human tended satellites of the future for Earth and Space Sciences that can be serviced and expanded over time to increase their data gathering capabilities. We could even react to specific threats (hard power threats) by changing out sensors and components on military satellites as well - creating a much more adaptive system in space than any other country. Going even a step further - with the bazillion satellites sitting in GEO that provide critical communication services - isn't it time to develop a way to repair and upgrade these expensive assets - human ingenuity and creativity would be much more valuable for these tasks compared to robots."
and then this, too:
"4) Along with this new mission for humans in space - NASA should - for the millionth time - drive toward development of a single-stage-to-orbit capability for crew. Imagine a day where astronauts file a flight plan prior to jumping into their spacecraft (which can be parked on the flight line of any major airport in the country) and take off (in any weather - without the need for a Mission Control) to go up for the day to service a satellite in LEO or GEO or to visit the ISS. Again, highly reactive - mega soft power - maybe even a bit of hard power capability. I don't think that commercial providers are ready to take this step without NASA leading since a great deal of the ideas for getting people into orbit commercially leverage simpler technology solutions developed by NASA many years ago (like a capsule on a rocket)."
My feeling is: if you can get to geostationary orbit, you can get to a Lagrange point or to a near-Earth asteroid. Developing the capability to get there has real commercial payback. Having the capability to get there has scientific and technical rewards.

So do it that way, already.

Obama sets financing for two Georgia (the state, not the country) nuclear reactors

The Prez is providing a loan guarantee to jumpstart to new nuclear power reactors in Georgia, which he says will add jobs:

Obama Says Expanding Nuclear Power Will Add Jobs

They've got loan guarantees to give out from the Energy Department for many more.

Let's go fissioning.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Amazing Sakurajima volcano photo

Some amazing photos from "volcano chaser" Martin Rietze


like this one of Sakurajima (Japan)

More problems for Ashley Cole

Cellphones seem to keep getting people in trouble. Now Ashley Cole, sidelined from the Premier League with an ankle injury that might keep him from playing in the World Cup, is in a pickle. Apparently some naked pictures he took while having fun in a hotel room (which can happen to anyone, of course) got sent to a glamour model, who sent some back.

Cole claims that he gave the pay-the-freight phone to a friend, who gave it to a friend, who sent the pictures for fun.

Well, that's an interesting story. I think he should explain why he had a pay-as-you-go phone, don't you?

Ashley Cole's cellphone problem

Some things are just mesmerizing

... such as, Megan Fox in a lingerie commercial for Armani:

Megan fox advertises undies

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SpaceX starts Falcon 9 launch vehicle integration

SpaceX is starting to integrate the Falcon 9, which will be a private space venture (very popular these days) to supply the International Space Station. The progress can be followed on their Web site, complete with action-packed videos:

SpaceX updates

England's World Cup team in disarray

In case you haven't heard, former England captain John Terry got canned for having an affair with a close friend's girlfriend (but he's still on the team). I may write more on that later. Now Ashley Cole has a broken ankle with a three-month healing time -- cutting it awful close to World Cup time:

Ashley Cole faces World Cup fitness fight

But with Ashley home, he and Cheryl could work on that baby thing. It worked for Tiger Woods... well, maybe that's not the right example to use...

But speaking of injuries, they sure do happen at the wrong time. Lindsey Vonn was a virtual lock for a few medals at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and not it's not certain if she can even make it down a run.

Here's what it looks like round these parts from space

NASA's Earth Observatory has an image taken from space of the snowfall that has been somewhat vexing since last weekend (this was acquired before the blizzard that hit Tuesday-Wednesday; I was stuck in Baltimore and my family had to dig out by themselves):

Heavy snow around U.S. Capital

Baltimore really doesn't rate; the snow was heavier up near Baltimore than around the Washington Beltway.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mission to the Space Station provides a new view

One of the new installations on the ISS (that's International Space Station) will be Cupola, which will provide a panoramic view of the Earth. All the better for space tourism.

Here's what it will look like. Endeavour's on the way to the ISS with it.

Here's what the view from Cupola will supposedly look like:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Two new tomatoes

News out that there's two new tomatoes soon to be available (some places they already are) for consumption. One is the Sugardrop, a cherry tomato that's much sweeter than the norm. The other is the Moruno, which has a whole lot more lycopene than the norm. Lycopene is supposed to be many ways good for you, including fighting prostate cancer.'

Ready to try the world's sweetest tomato?

The SUPER-TOMATO that may reduce the risk of prostate cancer

There's one thing I don't get from this second article, though:

Analysis of the Mediterranean diet suggested that cooking tomatoes with olive oil further improves their potency.

Lycopene and beta-carotene are broken down by heating, and are soluble in oil but not water, so cooking tomatoes in olive oil prepares these beneficial chemicals perfectly for absorption by the body.

If lycopene is broken down by heat, should it be cooked, or not?

More research is needed. Check back here.

There are good reasons to ... engage in it

According to this article in Elle (I found the link), having sex is a good idea when your partner wants to have sex with a reasonable frequency, like 3 times a day. Otherwise:

As distraught as she may be over her lax libido, the partner whose drive is lower is the one holding the cards; if he or she doesn’t want it, it doesn’t happen. Natalie says her husband “would have sex with me every day if he could.” When she began turning him down in their second year together, “he wanted to talk about it all the time. But the more we talked, the less I wanted to do it.” The longer they didn’t do it, “the more anxiety there was around the act itself,” she says. “If you already weren’t excited about it, now you’re even less so.” Tom married her without pushing the point, but she says he still hasn’t given up: “He just gets more and more frustrated when he doesn’t have it.

”Weiner Davis is frank about the bargain these women are driving. “They expect their spouses to (a) not complain and (b) be monogamous,” she says. “That’s really an unfair and unworkable relationship.” She says some women write off their partner’s needs as “scratching a biological itch,” when in fact he wants to feel “wanted, loved, important, connected. Some women don’t get this because, for us, feeling connected often comes through conversation and spending time together.” Rejection, of course, has a host of consequences. When Georgia State University researchers studied 77 “involuntarily celibate” individuals, they reported frustration, depression, feelings of rejection, difficulty concentrating, and low self-esteem.

So find the happy medium. Since it's hard to get off ... leave work, before breakfast and after dinner work for me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

We CAN look for planet-endangering rocks

It wouldn't be hard to make a telescope to look for the unfound asteroids that might pose a danger to the cities and march of civilization, according to this article:

New Space Telescopes Could Spot Dangerous Asteroids

There's actually two separate ideas for these telescopes, which explains the "together" that leads the following:

Together, they could act as silent sentries in space, scanning the solar system for hazardous asteroids. Each proposed telescope, by itself, could help find more than 90 percent of nearby asteroids that are 460 feet (140 meters) across or larger, as the U.S. Congress directed NASA to do back in 2005.

That's the smallest size though to pose a real impact threat to Earth. The catch? Building them both would cost $1.1 billion.

Now, there's an interesting part to this idea:

The first proposed space telescope, a $500-million mission put forward by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., would take advantage of one of several sun-Earth Lagrange points. These are locations where the gravitational forces of the sun and Earth perfectly balance out the orbital motion of a visiting telescope or spacecraft.

In a previous comment on NASA, I noted that one thing that should be developed is the capability to get to the Lagrange points to service the important satellites (like this telescope, or SOHO) that are accumulating there. So that would be something that humans, or maybe humans working with humanoid robots, or maybe even the humanoid robots, could do. But I think it would be more fun and more interesting to kids if humans went. With the Space Shuttles retired, maybe there will be less chances of re-entry incinderization.

Indeed, Robots

NASA and well, General Motors (this already doesn't sound like a fruitful partnership) are going to develop better humanoid robots.

They look like this, maybe:

I think, considering that manned space flight is going to be conducted on the cheap (if at all), sending robots that look like humans into space might be the next best thing. And we cry a lot less if they get incinderized on re-entry.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More on the NASA budget

Second try for Orbiting Carbon Observatory

Even if we aren't going to the Moon anytime soon, they're going to try to fly another OCO:

The new NASA will look back at Earth

This mission would be a "carbon copy" of OCO.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

I'd call it Copy-of-Orbiting-Carbon-Observatory. Acronym:


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Green" desalination plant opens to service Sydney

Desalination plant opens for Sydney -- did they really need it?

Sydney desalination plant cost $1.7 billion

Sydney's desalination plant splits opinion

Sydney desalination plant to pour its first glass

Desalination plant 'a monument to stupidity'

Why does this bother me?

Russia and Iran teaming up on a nuclear reactor:

OK, I'm obviously a nuclear power proponent. But something about putting the combination of "Russia", "Iran", and "nuclear" together gives me a minor case of the willies. Here's hoping this works out without any "complications".

But apparently this might be an important element in getting Iran to ship out its uranium for enrichment, so if powering up the plant gets us there, well, I'll take the willies.

Iran nuclear enrichment -- no probs for Ahmadinejad

Not to go into all the news reports, but Western nations are still a bit skeptical about this. We'll have to see.

This could put the biofuel train on the tracks

Microbes produce fuel directly from biomass

This version of Esterichia coli converts biomass (that's leftover vegetation, grass, corn stalks, etc. -- including food leftovers, one of my pet peeves, I'd imagine) directly into diesel fuel.

"Engineering E. coli to produce hemicellulases enables the microbes to produce fuels directly from the biomass of plants that are not used as food for humans or feed for animals," Steen says. "Currently, biochemical processing of cellulosic biomass requires costly enzymes for sugar liberation. By giving the E. coli the capacity to ferment both cellulose and hemicellulose without the addition of expensive enzymes, we can improve the economics of cellulosic biofuels."

But it's not going to happen next year:

"Productivity, titer and efficient conversion of feedstock into fuel are the three most important factors for engineering microbes that can produce biofuels on an industrial scale," Steen says. "There is still much more research to do before this process becomes commercially feasible."

Still, this amounts to very, very good news for the transportation industry. Combine hybrid vehicles with nuclear power (to charge the batteries) with biofuels to keep them running on the road, and this would make a SERIOUS cut in the fossil fuel needs of cars and trucks and even boats.

Asteroid collision and directions in space:

Thinking back to "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back", Han Solo famously had to maneuver the Millenium Falcon through a very thick asteroid patch (which engendered the immortal dialogue: C-3PO: "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one!" Han: "Never tell me the odds." ).

Well, the asteroid belt in this Solar System is not nearly that crowded, but there are plenty of planetesimals out there, and the heavy cratering that's seen on all of them what's been seen is evidence that they do get banged a few times.

So this image, which has been making the rounds (already got into the inestimable Daily Mail) shouldn't surprise us. It's apparently the debris tail from one asteroid what got smacked by another asteroid.

And it's also a testimonial to the amazing power of the Hubble; (standing by for the Pluto pictures) the Hubble is one of the best and most remarkable UNMANNED benefits of a robust U.S. space science program that combines robots with humans in low-Earth orbit. The change of direction taken by NASA, if it works out, could be healthy; what needs to be developed are the following:

1. a capability to take humans to the Lagrange (L5 points);
2. a capability to take space repairmen to geostationary orbit to repair or de-orbit defunct communications satellites;
3. a plan to deal with orbital debris and defunct LEO satellites that could either be repaired or need to be de-orbited (the latter could be dealt with by a remote deorbital booster, but grappling with a variety of satellite configurations is a problem; and
4. a capability to rendesvous with a near-Earth asteroid.

If we could do all that, we can successfully explore the planets with robots, and maybe eventually with the right powerful propulsion systems, then send people to Mars. But the robots are doing pretty good, except for the occasional sand trap problem.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Humboldt squid invade California waters

I read about this in my normal outlets, but I hunted around and found a good in-depth (laugh track) story about the Humboldts currently swarming off of California. It even includes a video. Squids are pretty amazing creatures; I've seen a squadron of them (normal size -- smaller than the Humboldts) moving in concert while snorkeling off Bermuda.

Predatory jumbo flying squid invade California waters

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wind patterns in the clouds from space

Beauty in the clouds where islands (in this case, the Juan Fernandez islands in the southeastern Pacific) disrupt the flow of air over the oceans:

What's ESBWR?

It stands for "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor". Read more about it in the short PDF here:


This is important because they're going to build one near Detroit:

GE-Hitachi, Detroit Edison Reach Deal For Nuclear Plant