A Bright Climate Future Shines in ‘What’s Possible’

Created specifically for, and presented to world leaders at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit in New York, this cool short film portrays climate change as a challenging, but solvable problem. Written by Scott Z. Burns, and produced by Lyn Davis Lear, it features the narration of none other than Morgan Freeman and stirring music by composer Hans Zimmer. Its hopeful tone reminds me of the reboot of Cosmos which recently aired on FOX which also dealt in-part with global warming.

By itself, ‘What’s Possible’ is just a single, small step on our journey to dealing with man-made climate change. Hopefully, the world leaders who experienced it, understood its message and what it means for future generations. Time is growing ever-shorter to deal with climate change which will surely be humanity’s defining challenge for the next 50 years. As Carl Sagan said in his famous essay The Pale Blue Dot:

“The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”

Will our species stand up as Carl said, or will we continue to be consumed with short-term monitory greed and political posturing? I prefer to think we’ll come to our senses and do, not only what’s possible, but what’s right.

Fox’s Cosmos Isn’t About False ‘Balance’

degrassetysonquote_science_fullI really had to do a double-take when I read last week that the creationist group Answers in Genesis recently complained Fox’s prime-time science show, Cosmos, lacks scientific “balance”. The group criticized host Neil deGrasse Tyson and the creative team behind the show because it provides no alternatives to the theories of evolution or the Big Bang for like-minded fundamentalists like themselves. The irony is so thick in this story you could cut it with a knife. For those people who continually ignore the scientific method and established facts about our world and universe to suddenly complain because they themselves are being ignored is nothing short of poetic justice. What makes it even better is that Cosmos would indeed cover the creationist viewpoint if there was any scientific substance to it what-so-ever, but there isn’t.

Creationism is not science, it’s religion pure and simple. There is nothing that can be quantified, tested or proven when it comes to religion, by definition it’s a matter of faith. If science could be applied to the concept of an all-knowing intelligent designer, it certainly would have been, but it cannot and so a portion of religious believers cry foul. What I think truly irks them however is not simply being left out, but being excluded from such a genuine media event as Cosmos. Such science series air pretty much weekly on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Science Channel and others but we hardly hear so much of a peep from the hard right as we have now. The fact the reboot of Sagan’s science series airs on a major network such as Fox, and in prime-time to such critical and popular success is the straw that broke the creationist’s camel’s back.

As far as I’m concerned Danny Faulkner and his creationists group have as much right to complain about not being given air time on Cosmos as flat-earthers have on the NASA channel. Evolution is a proven scientific theory. It happened and is still happening today. It has withstood decades of rigorous tests and is the fundamental foundation of all biology on earth. I’m personally tired of the pressure put upon the media by conservatives to give false balance to any and all issues in today’s society. 2 + 2 isn’t 5, men really did set foot on the moon and the earth isn’t a mere 6,000 years old. If you cannot understand those simple scientific facts, change the channel, Cosmos isn’t your cup of scientific tea.

UPDATE: The creationists are back after last night’s episode dealing with Edmond Halley and the origins of comets. Yes, they apparently even have an issue with the science behind comets. All kinds of problems arise when your belief system centers around young earth creationism. Anyway, head on over to Mother Jones to read more about it.

My Anti-Anti-Vaccination Post That Wasn’t

I had been writing a post about the growing anti-vaccination movement in my head for the past few days. I was figuring out how to structure my argument about why parents who decide not to vaccinate their kids against preventable diseases like measles, mumps, polio and whooping cough are endangering not just their own kids, but our society as a whole. Then I got into an online argument with the husband of a family friend on the topic and I’ve decided to take a pass. Not because he convinced me that not-immunizing his kids was the right choice, scientifically, no.

I’m not going to bother because it’s obvious there’s really no point. Anti-vax parents are just as dead-set in their belief system as flat earthers or climate deniers. They tend to ignore the bulk of the science as well as the overwhelming good vaccines have done that say immunizations are not only safe, but save thousands upon thousands of lives each year. At the same time, they are motivated in their deep-seated belief by the well being of their child, which is the first tenant of any good parent, and so I cannot fault them for that. But trying to convince them, in any way, that their decision not to protect their children against potentially deadly diseases was the wrong one will fail each and every time. This is a conclusion that the CDC also recently reached themselves which spells trouble for any hope of stopping the very recent rise of preventable diseases in the United States.

The more I think about it, the only way I see to slow the growing anti-vacination movement is to discover the true cause (and eventually the cure) for autism. The ever-increasing numbers of children diagnosed with autism in this country is the catalyst that fuels these parents and rightly so. Autism is a scary neurological condition that places heavy burdens on both the afflicted and their families. Until the true causation for the condition is known, vaccines will continue to be blamed, and more and more outbreaks of preventable diseases will occur. We can (and should) pass laws that mandate vaccinations but even those won’t completely work because there will always be parents who will willingly break such a law to “safeguard” their child. Unfortunately, the cause(s) of autism may never be found and that, more than anything else, is what scares me most.

Cosmos Mobile Wallpaper

I’ve created a simple, fun wallpaper for your iPhone or iPad to help commemorate the premiere of the new Cosmos series on Fox. If you love all things space, head on over to the updated Goodies page to download the wallpaper for your iDevice of choice. Don’t forget to also check out my profile on Dribbble for more fun iOS downloads.

The Cosmic Voyage Begins

I first wrote about the upcoming reboot of Carl Sagan’s landmark PBS series, Cosmos, back in July of 2013. To say I’ve been waiting patiently is an understatement. The new series is set to air this Sunday night, March 9th at 9pm and is hosted by noted astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The trailers we’ve seen over the last few months look impressive and both Fox and the show’s producers have been in full PR mode on Twitter and social media promoting the series premiere.

When the series first aired back in 1980 I was enthralled by its scope and soaked up every bit of spacey goodness in the 13 part series. Like the original, the new Cosmos series promises to take us both to the far reaches of the universe as well as examine the human condition right here on Earth. We’ll examine how life on our planet started, where we’re headed and beyond. As I’ve learned about this new series I’ve gained a new respect for producer, Seth McFarlane who was also a huge fan of the original series and wanted to help bring its message of discovery to a whole new generation. The fact that he and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, were able to convince Fox to broadcast Cosmos during prime time is nothing less than a minor miracle. I sincerely hope fans everywhere tune and and prove to Fox their faith in an educational series in the meat of their line-up was not misplaced.

Tyson and McFarlane have said that the series contains a bounty of new information about our universe so this won’t simply be a re-telling of Carl’s original journey. The series will draw inspiration from his teachings but the state of human knowledge has advanced considerably in the last 30 years so there should be plenty of new ground to explore. I also hope that the show’s creators take their time and explain complex concepts in ways that average people can understand. One of the best parts of the original Cosmos were segments when Sagan would simply sit and tell a historic story or explain the origins of complex theories like evolution or the formulation of the Drake Equation. I’m really hoping the new Cosmos isn’t edited like a music video, going from cut to cut trying to keep kids from losing interest in the face of all that science.

As a fan I’m glad our wait is finally over and the journey is about to begin. Tyson and company have some huge shoes to fill but something tells me they’ll do just fine. If you’re a fan of science, NASA, the human condition or you are looking for a great way to spend some time with your kids, tune into Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey this Sunday night on Fox. Then be sure to leave a comment here and let me know how you liked it.

UPDATE: You can now buy the soundtrack to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey by Alan Silvestri on iTunes. Cool!

COSMOS Is Coming

I’ve been a fan of the late Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking PBS TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, ever since it first aired in 1980. When the news came last year that FOX was teaming up with National Geographic, executive producers Seth MacFarlane, Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and Neil deGrasse Tyson to remake the series in 2014, I was over the moon. Now we have an official trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con and it’s positively astounding. From the trailer we can see Neil will re-introduce viewers to the Spaceship of the Imagination, the cosmic calendar and other scientific concepts that made the original both fun and educational. Because the series will air in prime time, FOX is giving Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey an amped up, epic treatment that’s sure to lure new viewers both young and old. As far as I’m concerned, 2014 can’t get here fast enough!

My God, It’s Full of Stitches!

What do you get when you combine subjects like science and crafting? If you’re tumblr user pardalote, then you turn your considerable embroidery talents towards the heavens and the results speak for themselves. The level of detail contained in this amazing chain stitched version of the planet Jupiter was recently featured in MAKE craft zine and it’s easy to see why. The creator used images from NASA as a reference to capture the subtle colors and swirls of the gas giant in way that reminds me of van Gogh’s Starry Night. Even though the work is not for sale it’s safe to say any space geek would be proud to display this in their home. Check it out. Wonderful!

One Small Step…

Aldrin took this picture of Armstrong in the cabin after the Apollo 11 EVA

Sad news today that the first man ever to set foot on the surface of the moon, Neil Armstrong, has died at the age of 82. Armstrong recently underwent surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries but died today as a result of complications. Ever since I was a boy and first learned of he and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin’s voyage to the moon, I’ve been fascinated with all things NASA. Both his name and the famous words he spoke as he stepped off the lunar module will forever be taught to children around the world. Indeed, the name of Neil Armstrong is surely one of the most recognized in human history along with other men of discovery such as Sir Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus and Charles Lindbergh.

The historic irony is that for the last 20 years of his life, he did his best to stay out of the lime light. He refused to sign autographs after 1994 and in 2005 became embroiled in a legal battle with his barber after Armstrong discovered the man sold a lock of his hair to a collector for $3,000 without Neil’s knowledge. Many have sought to use his name, and likeness for their own personal agendas but in the end Neil remained a man of dignity and quiet restraint. I can’t imagine what it what was like for him to become one of the most famous men in history overnight, but I’m sure the pressures to live up to other people’s expectations were intense.

It is also ironic in that Armstrong might not have been first to set foot on the moon if it were not for a series of random factors that resulted in he and Aldrin’s mission being selected to actually land. There’s a wonderful scene in Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s epic mini series, From the Earth to the Moon, where Deke Slaton gathers all of the astronauts to let them know that one of them will be the man to actually be first. Although he did not know it at the time, Neil Armstrong was to be that man. The sense of history and significance that this realization represents is incredible and if you’ve never seen the mini series before, now would be the perfect time to check it out.

Today Armstrong passes from the realm of the living into those remembered, but even as he does so, it is certain his name and deeds will never be forgotten. I hope we one day set foot in the Sea of Tranquility again or perhaps upon the plains of Olympus Mons and remember all the small steps taken by men like Armstrong. Isaac Newton famously said “If I can see further than anyone else, it is only because I am standing on the shoulders of giants”. Armstrong was one such giant. Farewell Neil, we’ll miss you.

A Good Day for Physics

Amazing, historical news today from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), who says a new particle they’ve discovered fits the description of the elusive Higgs boson. If true (scientists are almost 100% certain), the discovery will likely unlock new age in the field of physics and greatly expand our understanding of how mass and gravity work. The so-called “God Particle” has implications for scientific discovery that I don’t pretend to even *begin* to understand, but I do appreciate the magnitude of today’s announcement. Although researchers stressed the preliminary nature of the results, the findings will most likely be supported by more data later this year.

The geek in me is overjoyed that the efforts of the CERN team in Europe have been realized, and that the discovery, first proposed by physicist Peter Higgs in the 1960′s has been made within his lifetime. I can only imagine how satisfying it must have been to see the results of these experiments confirm a theory you’ve held your entire life. About the only question left in my mind is how producer/writer Bill Prady will work the announcement into next season of The Big Bang Theory. Doctor Sheldon Cooper will be beside himself, and that’s no bazinga!

Thinking Critically

The older I get the more difficult it becomes to separate emotion from logic when making an argument. I find my increasing experiences and biases towards aspects of religion and politics and even science have made it more and more difficult to look at the world objectively. This is particularly acute when I get upset about political arguments made by those who lean right, be they on Twitter, on radio or TV. I’d like to think of myself as an open-minded person who takes in as many of the available facts before making a judgement on a particular subject, but that’s not always the case.

So when I came across this excellent series of videos by TechNYou dealing with critical thinking, I absorbed the presented information like a sponge. If you need a refresher on how to make an argument logically or how to recognize confirmation bias in your day to day life, I highly recommend them. Each part is very short so you can watch the entire series in no time. Enjoy and remember to ‘Think Critically’.

Part 2 – Broken Logic
Part 3 – The Man Who Was Made of Straw
Part 4 – Getting Personal
Part 5 – The Gambler’s Fallacy
Part 6 – A Precautionary Tale

Greenland’s Disappearing Ice Lakes

While the battle rages between climate deniers and the consensus of the scientific community, strange things are afoot in Greenland. The PBS series NOVA documents the country’s rapidly changing landscape with the help of survey photographer James Balog. Extreme Ice is broken into six parts but the most ominous segment deals with Greenland’s strange disappearing lakes.

In recent years the summer melt season in Greenland has grown hotter and now lasts two weeks longer than it did only a decade ago. This has resulted in huge, fresh water lakes forming on the ice sheet surface. Some of these lakes are miles in diameter and up to 50 feet deep. Although these melt lakes contain hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, satellite imagery has recorded their disappearances in just the span of a few hours. Years ago it was believed the water was simply re-absorbed into the surrounding ice, but recent surveys have discovered something more dangerous. The water is boring down through the ice to the bedrock below and lubricating the entire ice sheet of Greenland. The implications of this, if true, are staggering.

One such amazing lake event was witnessed first hand by the NOVA team and documented for the special. The entire 60 minute broadcast is available on the PBS website and is worth your time. Watching these incredible frozen landscape melt away is strangely beautiful but deeply unsettling. As climate skeptics dominate the media and introduce measures in government bent on denying action to stop the effects of man-made warming, Greenland is slowly but surely slipping away. The debate about what’s causing climate change may never end, but the real question now is what are we doing to prepare for the coming disaster?

The Tiny Stuff of Nightmares

When I was 5 or 6 years old, my parents took me for vacation to Hawaii. It was the first time I remember going someplace other than Disney World and the whole trip is full of wonderful memories, except for one fateful encounter that happened on Oahu. While playing on the beach, I strayed from my parents for just a few moments and happened to come across an amazing discovery. There, being washed in from the ocean was a beautiful iridescent balloon that looked like it was made from glass. I ventured closer to claim the fascinating treasure for my mom & dad and when I reached down to pick it up, my nightmare began.

Of course the balloon was nothing of the kind, but was in fact a Portuguese Man o’ War which had washed up on the beach. When I touched it I was immediately stung and ran screaming for my parents. I don’t remember much after that, but my parents tell the tale of how they rushed me to the local hospital where they spent the rest of the day in the emergency ward with their frightened son, in great pain as I dealt with being stung by one of the scariest creatures in nature.

That is unless you’ve encountered the tiny Irukandji jellyfish (pictured here) as did a man from north-east Queensland, Australia last week. The man thought he had taken the proper precautions by donning a full-length “stinger suit” which covers everything except the hands and face to protect against jellyfish stings. As fate would have it, he dove head first into the water and was immediately stung in the face. Since there is no antivenom, victims must endure excruciating pain, muscle spasms, vomiting and in some cases, death. Blood pressure can rise as high as 280 over 180. The little creatures are so deadly in fact that in 2002, two tourists were killed in two separate incidents of the coast of northeast Australia. All this from an animal no bigger than your thumb.

At last report the man was in serious condition at Mackay Base Hospital, 600 miles north of Queensland. I can only imagine what he’s going through right now and I wish him and his family well. Sitting at our computers, playing with our cell phones and watching TV, it’s sometimes easy to forget the awesome power of nature. We watch the Discovery Channel in HD and sometimes they even show us the amazing life cycles of these creatures, but few of us ever actually encounter them. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say I’d like to keep it that way.

New Blue for You

The New York Times reported this past week that chemists at Oregon State University have created an all-new, extremely durable and intense blue pigment. Like so many other famed scientific discoveries, this one came as a complete surprise to Mas Subramanian, a professor of material sciences, who was attempting to make new compounds for use in electronics.

Subramanian and his fellow professors discovered that by mixing manganese oxide with other elements and heating them to very high temperatures (2000 degrees F), crystals were formed that reflected only blue light. The potential uses for this new pigment are vast, especially since so many of the modern blues in use can fade or, in some cases, are toxic. The only stumbling block seems to be the use of an expensive chemical, indium, which the researchers are now attempting to substitute for a less expensive component.

I love stories like this because it reminds us that science isn’t always about creating super conductors or finding a cure for cancer. Although such discoveries are important in their own right, finding a new blue reminds us that chemistry is the basis for everything in the natural world, including the colors we see each and every day. An awesome, elegant and artful combination.

What’s Wrong with the Radish?

Something’s wrong with the humble radish. When I was a kid I remember these funny little root vegetables burning my face off from just a single bite, but lately I’ve found they have no more kick than a cramped kangaroo. Part of me suspects that the heat of the modern day radish has somehow been bred out of it for a wider appeal to mainstream American consumers. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that there are no less than 10 common varieties of radishes. The Cherry Belle is the version most often purchased in North American grocery stores. From the taste and smell of them they must be some of the blandest radishes on the block.

I first became addicted to radishes when I was very young. My aunt grew them in her garden and would often give them to me and my cousins to chomp on along with freshly dug carrots. Aunt Lorraine’s radishes were strong enough to put hair on your chest and I loved them to death. I also remember the veggie from the Passover celebrations in my church. Part of the ritual involved eating “bitter herbs” and although radishes were probably not historically accurate, I distinctly remember eating slices of radish on pita bread while listening to Fiddler on the Roof. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why our Catholic parish ever celebrated a Jewish event, but I’m glad we did because that’s where I learned to love radishes.

These days radishes might as well be turnips or potatoes because they have about as much flavor. I’ve searched high and low for radishes with heat and not found any in years. The topic came up at lunch today with the guys from work and David suggested checking out the locally grown radishes of the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market. I’ll be heading there this weekend to do some research and hopefully return home with my hot-headed pearls. If all else fails, you can be sure I’ll be sending away for my own super-hot radish seeds next spring. By hook or by crook, the heat will be on!

Unburdened by Evidence

Human beings love conspiracy theories. We are all born and raised with certain biases that taint our world view, so when events unfold in ways we don’t agree with, we tend to make up reasons to bargain away the result. True believers of two such conspiracy groups have gained media attention in recent weeks – Obama “Birthers” and those who insist the Apollo moon landings were faked.

Those who subscribe to these conspiracy theories have several legs up on reality that make them both frustrating and infuriating to try and deal with. Their foremost advantage is that, in scientific method, it is difficult to prove a negative result. This is doubly so when the people in question refuse to acknowledge the rule of law, insist on approaching the argument from preconceived viewpoints or simply make facts up to suit their needs. All three which are routinely done by birthers and moon hoax believers.

In the case of Obama Birthers, as they are called, despite piles of physical and legal evidence that Barack Obama was born on August 4th, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii (one of the 50 United States) these fringe elements insist that Obama is not a citizen. When one fact is presented, such as the authenticity of his birth certificate (certified by the Republican governor of Hawaii herself) the birthers shift gears and instead claim Obama is trying to block the document’s release. Or they claim that since Obama’s father wasn’t a citizen at the time of his birth, than means neither is Barack. Forget the fact that simply being born in the U.S. grants one “naturalized status”, or that 2 separate Hawaiian newspapers announced Obama’s birth on the same day in 1961. None of this evidence meets their warped criteria of truth.

Then you have disturbing people like Bart Sibrel, a total nutjob who insists that NASA faked the Apollo moon landings in order to beat the Russians in the eyes of the American public. As we approach the 40th anniversary of this landmark event in human history, mainstream media feels the need to shine the spotlight on people like Sibrel. It is true that millions of Americans living today have no memory of the actual event, but that makes it no less factual than Lindbergh flying solo over the Atlantic or the Wright brothers flying at Kitty Hawk.

Many people find the idea of Sibrel’s beliefs disgusting and disrespectful to the dedicated men and women of NASA. Not to mention the over 400,000 people who worked for the better part of a decade to land men on the moon and return them safely to the Earth. Professing the moon landing hoax also denigrates the memory of those lost in the attempt like Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee who died on the launch pad of Apollo 1 early in the program.

For birthers and moon hoax pushers, reality doesn’t come into play. No amount of evidence would ever be enough to assuage them from their pre-held beliefs. This is the root of their fallacy – that they purport to be interested only in the truth, yet when directly presented with overwhelming piles of it, retreat to the excuse of conspiracy. Some say we shouldn’t confront such fringe elements, that they don’t deserve the legitimacy our attention pays them. This may indeed be true, but simply ignoring the screaming man in the corner doesn’t make him go away. He’ll still be there screaming and he’ll get louder the longer you ignore him. No, the answer is to confront these kooks head on and if reason won’t work, as Astronaut Buzz Aldrin will tell you, try a good right hook.

Wilkins Ice Shelf Close to Collapse

News today that scientists in Antarctica are reporting that the Wilkins Ice Shelf is “imminently” close to breaking away from the Antarctic Peninsula. The shelf, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, has been destabilizing for the past 20 years and is now on the verge of collapse.

Since the mass is already floating, the breakup won’t raise global sea levels, but it is none-the-less distressing. Wilkins, like all ice in Antarctica, is formed over thousands of years by accumulated and compacted snow. Surveys of the ice shelf over the past century reveal that it had been stable until the 1990′s. In February 2008, the shelf dropped 164 square miles (425 square kilometers) of ice. In May it lost a 62-square-mile chunk.

Meanwhile a new joint report by Muyin Wang of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean and James E. Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory says that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than expected. Overland and Wang combined sea-ice observations with six complex computer models to predict a decline from about 2.8 million square miles normally to 620,000 square miles within 30 years.

Despite all of the apparent evidence, recent polls indicate that fewer and fewer Americans are concerned with global warming. While its difficult to focus attention on environmental matters in the midst of a planet-wide recession, climate change is indeed happening and will continue unless action is taken. The science is speaking to us, we’re apparently just not listening.

UPDATE: It’s happened. The BBC is reporting that according to satellite imagery taken on Sunday, April 5th, the Wilkins Ice Shelf finally snapped. You can watch their report regarding the break up at The Huffington Post.

The Vatican Goes Green

In a wonderful example of leading by example, the Catholic Church this past week took its first steps into the foray of “green power” with the activation of a new solar energy system. The massive grid of 2,400 photovoltaic panels sits atop the Vatican’s “Nervi Hall,” where the Pope holds general audience and concerts are performed. The system will save 80 tons of oil per year, or 225 tons of CO2.

The efforts to advance renewable energy sources for the Catholic church have been lead by none other than Pope Benedict XVI himself, who has long stated his church’s commitment to the environment. It’s a remarkable example of an ancient institution taking a progressive stance to attack a problem head on, and I applaud the effort whole-heartedly. In addition, since the summer of 2007, the Vatican has also been involved with an eco-restoration company to restore an ancient forest in Hungary, and more projects are in the works.

By far, the most hopeful part of the Vatican’s efforts have been its willingness to spread the word about climate change. The Vatican has hosted a scientific conference to discuss the ramifications of global warming, blamed on human use of fossil fuels. If a conservative organization such as the Catholic Church can spearhead protection and education of the environment, then perhaps the right can take its first steps to realizing that climate change isn’t a liberal or a progressive issue. It effects us all and we need to start dealing with it. Thankfully, the Vatican, led by Pope Benedict XVI, realized this a long time ago. Now it’s time for other conservatives to catch up.

Sunshine Day

In what may turn out to be one of the best examples of timing in the last quarter century, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have made a major breakthrough in the field of solar energy. The scientists there have invented a coating that not only boosts the amount of light rays able to be absorbed by photovoltaic cells, but that also allows light to be absorbed from almost any angle.

An untreated solar cell only absorbs 67.4 percent of sunlight that strikes it. In terms of efficiency, this wasted energy is one of the major reasons why solar power has not had widespread adoption. Once a silicon panel is treated with the new coating, researchers say the amount of light absorbed is boosted to an incredible 96.21%. Not only that, but the energy captured was consistent across the entire spectrum of sunlight, from UV to visible light and infrared. Because of the wide angle of absorption, the discovery could instantly make panels that automatically track the sun obsolete. Non-automated panels mean less expense, more energy is harvested and solar power becomes more viable.

The best bit is that this discovery comes just as a new administration is about to take office. One of Obama’s initiates as President will be to boost production of renewable energy sources including solar power. Rensselaer’s coating most likely would have fallen on deaf ears during Bush’s tenure at the White House, but now this new discovery could be a key component on road to U.S. energy independence. I love it when a plan comes together!

It’s a Science Experiment!

Inspired by a recent episode of Mythbusters, I’ve decided to undertake a small science experiment. I want see how many more miles I can get out of a full tank of gas simply by changing my driving habits. It’s a documented fact that the more aggressively you drive, the more gas you waste. As Kari, Grant and Tori showed on Mythbusters, driving stressed out or angry used up to as much as 1/3 more gasoline as when speed limits, traffic signs, etc. are obeyed. Now, I wouldn’t call myself an overly aggressive driver, but I do exceed posted speed limits from time to time, and if you ask my wife, she’ll gladly tell you that I take corners rather hard. So when I filled my tank on August 8th, I made a mental note that I was going to “go to my happy place” while driving around town. I would then compare my average milage during my experiment with what I’ve been getting over the last 10 fill-ups. Fortunately, I’ve been keeping track of my average miles per gallon since May for just such an occasion.

Using the data I’ve collected over the last ten weeks I’ve determined that I get an average of 258 miles to a single tank of gas which is about 21 miles per gallon. I rarely do highway driving so my around-town trips fall squarely at the low end of Honda’s 21-23 MPG rating for the Civic. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, I can increase my average miles per gallon simply by becoming a more responsible driver. Even if I don’t manage to get much more bang for my mileage buck, I can say without a doubt that I’ve actually enjoyed driving more these past few days than I usually do. Since I know I can’t speed, I plan my departure accordingly and give myself plenty of time to be places. This results in a more relaxed pace and a more enjoyable experience behind the wheel.

One unexpected side-effect of my experiment is that I can see how I must have been driving. When not on my bumper or passing me at dizzying speeds, other motorists have been generally cranky as I obey traffic signs and speed limits. It’s funny because I drive along and think “there but for the grace of God, go I”. As of today, my fuel gauge is reading half empty and my odometer says I’ve gone 153 miles. Pretty good, but as a friend pointed out to me, my car’s fuel tank is not symmetrical so the lower half of the tank probably holds less than the upper. This means we’ll have to wait for the experiment’s conclusion to see just how I did. I’ll be sure to do an update when I have the final results.

When this trial is over, I’ll probably go back to my lead-footed ways, but if I can get 10-20 more miles out of a tank of gas simply by obeying posted speed limits, I may take up permanent residence in my driving “happy place”. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Well the results of my experiment are in. After running all the way past “E”, with no extra highway driving, I managed to get a full 278 miles out of my fill-up. That means that simply by obeying speed limits and curbing my aggressive driving, I managed to get a full 20 more miles from my car than normal. I increased my average miles per gallon from 21 to 23 which just about equaled an extra gallon of gas. Hooray for science!

New Pieces of the Climate Puzzle

News out of Moscow this morning that Russian scientists are evacuating a research station near the North Pole early due to the increasing effects of climate change. Usually the floating ice station is abandoned in late August, but this year the 21 researchers and two dogs will leave now, in mid July.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the earth, satellite photos of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica reveal that the huge tract of ice is “hanging by a thread”. Neal Young who is a glaciologist with the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart, says the breakup of the Wilkins Ice Shelf is inevitable and could lead to the de-stabilization of the entire peninsula.

Just two more examples of what is happening around the globe due to climate change. And while the ice caps melt, species die and we continue to pump out millions of tons of pollutants, George Bush has decided that his administration can’t be bothered to do anything about it. Not only that, but we have discovered that Vice President Dick Cheney edited a recent EPA report on greenhouse gasses, and just today Bush lifts the executive ban on off-shore oil drilling. Instead of funding new research into alternative and clean energy sources, this administration continues its long conflict of interest with big oil and the fossil fuel industry to help pollute our environment while contributing to global warming.

Worst. President. Ever.