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What we're talking about Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Planets, Planets Everywhere

The Pale Red Dot project has found a planet. It is a terrestrial planet, orbiting in the formal habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Solar System. Proxima Centauri is a low mass red dwarf, and is part of a triple system, the other two stars being α Centauri A and B,…

The star that is nearest our own has a planet that could be habitable by Earthlings. This is very important news. The news comes to us from this research paper in Nature: A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima Centauri by Guillem Anglada-Escudé, Pedro J. Amado, John Barnes, Zaira M. Berdiñas, R.…

“Our existence in this place, this microscopic corner of the cosmos, is fleeting. With utter disregard for our wants and needs, nature plays out its grand acts on scales of space and time that are truly hard to grasp. Perhaps all we can look to for real solace is our endless capacity to ask questions…

The European Southern Observatory made headlines last week with their discovery of an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting our nearest neighboring star. On Dynamics of Cats, Steinn Sigurðsson writes: "ESO researchers, using the radial velocity variability technique, have detected a quite robust signature of a planet with a mass of 1.3 Earth masses, or more, in a 11 day orbit around Proxima Centauri." The planet is within the red dwarf's habitability zone, but we don't yet know if it harbors an atmosphere or liquid water. Greg Laden writes "now that we have an Earth-like planet in our sights, perhaps there will be impetus for both funding and effort to squint really really hard at it and see if any life is there." Ethan Siegel says "we can use giant ground-based telescopes for high-resolution spectroscopic images of these worlds. We can use space-based telescopes with coronagraphs or starshades to image these worlds directly over time. Or we could undertake a journey across space." Reflecting on the number and quality of exoplanets discovered in the last few years, Steinn Sigurðsson concludes "What a nice Universe." Amen.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

The latest in GMO technology: Photosynthesizing Human Beans! This is silly, but makes some good points. May be good for teachers in your biology class:

Wildlife of Southeast Asia by Susan Myers, is a new pocket identification guide covering “wildlife” in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, West Malaysia, and Singapore. It covers birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs, and invertebrates. Considering that there must be tens of millions of inverts in Southeast Asia, the coverage here is very minimal, just the highlights,…

Physical Science

“Otherwise we are trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t exist with a system which doesn’t work.” -Philip K. Dick When it comes to the now famous “Alien Megastructures” star, the observations didn’t add up. There were huge, irregular flux dips, but not a hint of infrared radiation that would indicate a circumstellar disk. Infrared radiation…

“These galaxies are among the most massive galaxies in the universe and are believed to have rapidly formed their stars a long time ago. However, how these galaxies formed and why have they stopped forming new stars remain mysteries.” -Tao Wang, lead author on this new study There was once a time early on in…

“How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only…

Environment

Hawaii is tiny. And huge. Look: Hawaii is larger in land area than Rhode Island, Delaware, or Connecticut, but smaller than all the other states. The big island is a bit larger in land area than all the other islands put together. Yes, the entirety of Hawaii covers a huge area of the Pacific. The…

Our latest Ikonokast Podcast is up; an interview with agriculture and ecology expert Emily Cassidy! Organic vs. industrial, GMO vs GnMO, Food vs. Fuel, how to regulate (or not) farming. All of it. The Podcast is HERE.

A lot of higher education institutions are old, and back in the day, things were different. Not only were most schools simultaneously on top of and on the bottom of great snow covered hills, but they were often surrounded by nearly medieval settlement, or at least, pre-industrial ones, that lacked things like central heat, electricity,…

Humanities

Restaurant workers in California experience severe injuries and disability; OSHA pushes back against a judge’s ruling in poultry plant inspection case; Gov. Chris Christie vetoes a $15 minimum wage bill; and the women making Nike products in Vietnam often earn poverty wages and face grueling production expectations.

The centerpiece of the latest Star Trek film is a bright celestial bauble, a tremendous re-imagining of a Federation starbase, named Yorktown. Yorktown is on the scale of a Death Star, but instead of incinerating worlds it is presumably dedicated to a lot of peace-mongering bureaucracy and some very nice apartment buildings. To quote Memory…

The verdict on whether electronic cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes is still very much out. However, a recent study found e-cigarette emissions contain a variety of concerning chemicals, including some considered to be probable carcinogens.

Education

One of the real highlights for me every year is the late-summer announcement of the Lane Anderson Awards short list. Celebrating science books is a good thing. Celebrating Canadian writers is a good thing. Somehow in 2016, sunny ways and all, celebrating Canadian science writers seems like the best thing of all. Some info on…

Classes start on Monday. I knew that intellectually, of course, but I had it brought home to me a few days ago when I innocently drove onto the campus, only to find a traffic jam and crossing guards directing the cars. Students were moving into the dorms, you see. Higher education is beset with problems…

A disproportionate percentage of Islamist radical actors, including suicide bombers, come from an engineering background. Why? Right wing and Islamist extremism seem to share this and other traits, while left wing extremism is more commonly associated with individuals from the humanities and social sciences. This is what we learn from “Engineers of Jihad: The Curious…

Politics

The most recent annual Federal OSHA evaluation report of Cal/OSHA highlights progress made in some areas, but continuing failure to meet several minimum federal benchmarks as well as requirements of California law.  The underlying causes of these ongoing problems are chronic understaffing of field compliance officers and a lack of political will in the agency’s leadership. 

Restaurant workers in California experience severe injuries and disability; OSHA pushes back against a judge’s ruling in poultry plant inspection case; Gov. Chris Christie vetoes a $15 minimum wage bill; and the women making Nike products in Vietnam often earn poverty wages and face grueling production expectations.

Two decades ago, President Bill Clinton signed the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” (PRWORA) and heralded the end of “welfare as we know it.” The law lived up to that promise, but the outcomes for families who depend on it have been problematic.

Medicine

One of the great things about having achieved some notoriety as a blogger is that readers send me links to articles that the believe will be interesting to me. They usually come in waves. For instance, after anything having to do with Stanislaw Burzynski, “right to try,” particularly egregious antivaccine idiocy, and the like hits…

About three months ago, I was displeased to see in a normally reliable source of medical news (STAT News) a story about a patient of cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski, Neil Fachon, that fell victim to every trope that Burzynski’s used for 40 years to present himself to the press as a “brave maverick” doctor and…

Stem cells are magic. Stem cells cure everything. They are the next big thing in medicine. That’s the narrative one frequently hears about stem cells in the press and courtesy of offshore stem cell clinics in places such as Italy and direct-to-consumer marketing of stem cells in the US. Of course, stem cells aren’t mystical…

Brain & Behavior

On the question of whether a soda tax can actually reduce the amount of sugary drinks people consume, a new study finds the resounding answer is “yes.”

Researchers from Friedrich Schiller University (Jena, Germany) and Heinrich-Heine-University (Düsseldorf, Germany) teamed up to test whether a heart failure medication that is currently being tested might also improve blood flow in the brain. Their findings were published last month in the American Journal of Physiology, Heart and Circulatory Physiology. According to the study authors, the small blood…

I was checking out the award-winning American Physiological Society’s I Spy Physiology blog and came across a couple of really interesting posts about animals: “If Only Birds Could Compete in the Summer Games” This post reported a study of how frigatebirds manage to sleep during flights out at sea that can last for weeks. By measuring brain activity, the…

Technology

Want to make your own robot? You can do this the easy way, or you can do this the hard way. Or, both, if you like. The basic home made robot is a robot because it moves around, and the way that is usually achieved is with two independently powered wheels, a third wheel (or…

This is a blog rant. But first, a bit of blog appreciation to the select number of individuals who suggested to us that the Shark was the best vacuum cleaner for us, in a recent Facebook Discussion. I have to say, that when I saw S.H. suggest the Shark, I figured that the chances were…

Huxley and I like to make Arduino projects. If you know what that means, your geek cred is good. If not, I’ll explain briefly. Arduino is an Italian based project that produces circuit boards that are controllers. A controller is a small highly specialized computer thingie that can be programmed to have various inputs and…

Information Science

One of the real highlights for me every year is the late-summer announcement of the Lane Anderson Awards short list. Celebrating science books is a good thing. Celebrating Canadian writers is a good thing. Somehow in 2016, sunny ways and all, celebrating Canadian science writers seems like the best thing of all. Some info on…

I have a son who will be finishing up his undergrad in physics this coming school year with an eye towards possible graduate work in math. As you can imagine, I occasionally see a link or two on the web that I think he might particularly interesting or useful. Thinking on that fact, I surmised…

Are We Feeling Collective Grief Over Climate Change? Astrophysicist wins Twitter burn of the year with her reply to climate change skeptic The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here Dazzling blue lakes are forming in Antarctica — and they’ve got scientists worried The Galileo gambit and other stories: the three main…

Jobs

The most recent annual Federal OSHA evaluation report of Cal/OSHA highlights progress made in some areas, but continuing failure to meet several minimum federal benchmarks as well as requirements of California law.  The underlying causes of these ongoing problems are chronic understaffing of field compliance officers and a lack of political will in the agency’s leadership. 

Restaurant workers in California experience severe injuries and disability; OSHA pushes back against a judge’s ruling in poultry plant inspection case; Gov. Chris Christie vetoes a $15 minimum wage bill; and the women making Nike products in Vietnam often earn poverty wages and face grueling production expectations.

The EEOC alleges in a lawsuit against Wayne Farms, a poultry-processing company, that its attendance policy results in injured workers being fired. That’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.