Edge of our Solar System

Ever wondered what would it be like to travel to the edge of our Solar system? Or what is the stuff between Solar system and our next stellar neighbor, littered along the expanses of inter-stellar wilderness? As Voyager I explores beyond Solar system, NOVA takes us through this amazing story. If you haven’t read about this before, please go ahead. Here is the link to the NOVA program. Prepare to be amazed.

Image courtesy: NASA

Jonah Lehrer


I was and continue to be a big fan of Jonah Lehrer. He is a popular journalist, who wrote for Wired as well as New Yorker. Before that he used to host his blog “Frontal Cortex” at ScienceBlogs.com.  I regularly followed his blog. I devoured his book “How We Decide” and earmarked “Imagine: How Creativity Works” for this summer. Whenever he was aired on Radio Lab (NPR), I listened – intently.

Lately, I came to know that he lost his job at New Yorker for self-plagiarism (whatever that means). Two of his best sellers (both “How We Decide” and “Imagine”) were pulled from shelves because of fabricated quotes that he used in those books. There would be no exaggeration, if I said that I was disappointed. I wish he didn’t demolish his career in such a disgraceful manner. I wish he hadn’t lost a platform like New Yorker to express his ideas. I wish he writes more, but genuinely and shows us authentic bodies of work. I wish such talent doesn’t go wasted in utter shame and despair.

And I wish Albert Einstein really said “Creativity is the residue of wasted time” I loved this quote, when I first heard it from Jonah Lehrer, who attributed this quote to Einstein, but I believe this too was a fabricated one :(

Redundancy for Humanity

In a world, where everyone is frenzying about reducing cost, cutting corners, and increasing efficiency and productivity, the term redundancy tastes a bit sour. But if you discuss redundancy with a systems engineer or a data center administrator, you could earn points. In systems world, redundancy is inevitable. It is our sure-fire insurance against disaster.

A few of days ago, a space rock zipped into Earth’s atmosphere and created havoc in a small town in Russia. We got lucky that the meteor was sufficiently small enough to become merely an interesting news. According to Washington Post, it measured just 15-20 feet across and exploded 18 miles above Earth’s surface. To get some perspective, the meteor that wiped out dinosaurs during the K-T event 65 million years ago, probably measured 6 miles across. We are very lucky. So far.

A big question shouts for a response. What is the contingency plan for humanity? What are the available options for redundancy for our species? If such an event happens, certainly most of us will be annihilated at a moment’s notice. But the humanity must survive. And we should act, not later, but right now. Stephen Hawking once said “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.” According to him, we may just have a few hundred years left before a catastrophic event.

There were some initiatives to address this issue before. Some suggested to build a comprehensive data center for all of our knowledge located on the moon. European Space Agency is planning to send a 3D printer to the moon to build a lunar center by 3D printing it. NASA’s mars missions get better in every iteration. All of these are interesting initiatives. I sincerely hope that we are moving in the right direction and fast enough.

Let us not drop this basket.

Book Review: The Happiness Advantage

I just finished an intriguing book named “Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. This book goes beyond a regular self-help book. It explains how the positivism and happiness precedes success rather than the other way around. The arguments are well laid out and substantiated with contemporary research data.

 

“Food” for Thought

Recent research, according to the latest Scientific American issue, suggests that the food that we eat has more influence on our DNA than we thought we knew. It seems that the micro RNA from our daily food can interact with our genes and determine how those genes “express”. As an example, the article suggests that microRNA from rice could inhibit our ability to control LDL (bad cholesterol) in our food.

 

This finding resonates with my scientific and health interest equally. As a long time rice eater, what could be the impact my has on my LDL? What other traits could be attributed to micro RNA of the traditional food that I consume every day? Can micro RNA cause organisms to adapt? If microRNA could not code for proteins, how could it influence co-evolution (as suggested in the same article).

 

From an angle of pure logic, natural selection should have favored a mechanism for genes to adapt to changes in environment and change its behavior, instead of purely depending on “random” changes and natural selection of appropriate traits from the mix. With billions of years of evolution, it is quite possible that genes adapted to adapt to environmental pressures and pass on to its copies. Are these research findings point to such possibility?

Article Abstract from Scientific American

How to Protect Apple Slices from Browning?

As a parent, who often worry about packing healthy snacks to my children to school, I did not consider apple slices as an option. Reason? Apple slices turn disgustingly brown after a few hours. If I can trust my gut, children don’t want to eat anything that doesn’t look good.

Why do apple slices turn brown? Apples, peaches, eggplants and even potatoes contain chemicals called polyphenols (polyphnenol oxidase). When knives slice through apple cells, polyphenols get out of the cell walls and get exposed to oxygen in the air. oxygen breaks down the polyphenols through a process called oxidation and creates chemicals that are colored.

How can you prevent browning of apples? Answer is simple and straightforward – limit the amount of oxygen that gets exposed to the polyphenols and thus oxidation itself. You can use expensive kitchen gadgets to pack apple slices and then squeeze air out. Or if you are like me, take a fun route to achieve similar results using every day kitchen stuff. Raw materials: plastic straw – 1, ziploc sandwich bag – 1. And this is how:

Slice an apple and quickly put them into the ziploc sandwich bag. Insert the straw into the ziploc bag and zip it. The place where the straw goes in, will not be closed tight but that is okay. Using the other end of the straw, use the good old method of sucking the air out of the bag as much as possible. While you are keeping the air out, quickly pull the straw out and lock the zipper. The trick is to have only minimal or no air trapped inside the ziploc bag. Lesser, the better.

Try this out at home next time. How long does apple stay fresh this way? Any other method did you discover?

 

Happiness at Work?

These days, I have been reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achors. It is an incredibly well written and well researched book with a touch of humor wherever is possible. One important thing he points out is that the happiness is not a static state but largely a variable of our attitudes. I have been wondering how do we determine if our work is really not fulfilling or if our attitude needs an adjustment towards positivism?

At what point, one can say that the problem is out there, not in our minds? What do you think?