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Naoki Watanabe
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Big Tape

If you've ever seen an old movie featuring a big computer in the background chances were you saw two big open reels of tape winding back and forth. These magnetic tape systems were, amazingly, the best thing going at the time. Early IBM 360 (2401) mainframe nine-track tape systems came in a cabinet and had a staggering 140MB of storage capacity and had transfer rates of up to 1.25MB/s. Of course if you were at the end of your tape and needed to read something from the beginning you had to wait 4-5 minutes to rewind it all.

These sorts of tape systems were huge in the 70s and 80s but declined steadily over the years with the introduction of much faster floppy/hard disks until in 2002 when the last nine-track tape came off the last assembly line.

However, tape never actually died. Smaller, higher density formats were developed and they actually have a lot of use in backup systems and cold (offline) storage. 

IBM continues to research tape because it is still just so much cheaper than other methods of storing a lot of data.

Their latest announcement is a whopping 220 terabytes on a single cartridge. Top put that in other terms it's the storage capacity of 1,718.75 top end iPhone 6s.

http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2403498/ibm-creates-teeny-tiny-220tb-tape-to-entrench-a-trillion-texts
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Their latest announcement is a whopping 220 terabytes on a single cartridge.

Crap, and we just bought 10 T10K-D drives that store 8T per cartridge.
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Cloning a wooly mammoth

Wooly mammoth carcases turn up frozen in permafrost and finds really started to hit the news in 2013 when talking of possibly cloning them started. Since 2013 Russian scientists have been working toward a goal of de-extinction. The process would taking DNA extracted from the carcasses and implanting it into elephant egg cells, which would then be given to an elephant surrogate mother (who could be quite surprised). The animals would finally be introduced into the Pleistocene wildlife reserve in Siberia.

Well it seems some progress has been made but using a different, more direct process. While not yet published or peer tested one Harvard team claims to have spliced (using CRISPR technique) some genes related to cold resistance, hair and ears inside a living Asian elephant. 

Exciting work! 


https://richarddawkins.net/2015/03/woolly-mammoth-dna-inserted-into-elephant-cells/
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Oh Ray Romano, what have they done to you?
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Genetic engineering of humans - lets do it

Sometimes people can be put off by this idea and cite arguments such as "playing god" or it is "unsafe". Although if you frame genetic engineering in terms of a medical cure they become a lot more positive and less scared about it.

"Should we allow the genetic engineering of humans?" A lot of people say no.

"Should we develop a cure for Cystic Fibrosis?" Almost everybody says yes. As they should.

So assuming for a second we live in a world where we can dismiss the irrational arguments for the ethical greater good how do we stamp out genetic disorders? Lets take the Cystic Fibrosis example.

We can perform what's known as somatic gene therapy, somatic cells are the non-sex cells that make up almost all of your body. Any cell that isn't a stem, sperm or egg cell.

A therapy to address a genetic disorder in your somatic cells might include introducing an engineered virus that can enter your cells and delivery a new gene to replace the faulty one causing CF. Non-viral techniques (including the awesomely named "gene gun") show advantages are also being heavily researched.

So far so good but since this was only a somatic gene therapy you still carry, and pass along, the defective gene(s) in your germline cells. The sex cells such as sperm and eggs.

There are techniques, namely CRISPER-Cas9, which have the potential to alter these sex cells too. If we developed this technology not only would we be able to cure the individual but also they would not pass along the disorder to their children, or their children and so on until eventually the disease or disorder would be wiped out for good.

I imagine a world completely free of;
- Huntington's
- CF
- Hemophilia 
- Tay-Sachs disease
- Polycystic kidney disease
.. and of course many more.

Weirdly to me there are a number of people who actually dislike this idea. Scared it would lead to a new form of eugenics. Trying to improve the human race. Well, we've been doing that since the ancient Egyptians started a public health system over 5,000 years ago (and performed the first known surgery in 2750BC).

This fear though is so prevalent though that about 40 countries have discouraged or outright banned this work. Two Nobel prize winners say "scientists should accept a self-imposed moratorium on any attempt to create genetically altered children until the safety and medical reasons for such a step can be better understood".

That's creating a catch-22, you cannot stop working on something until it's tested and safe until you have a therapy.

Sensible and ethical medical trials require you develop something and then test with willing volunteers who perhaps have little no alternatives left. You slowly increase the number of patients in the trial until you have something ready for the general public. You don't stick your head in the sand and stop working on something with massive potential for widespread good because you think somebody might one day do something negative with it. You approach the technology sensibly and regulate as necessary.
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Australia hosts largest impact crater yet discovered

At roughly 450 x 300 kilometers wide it is massive enough to take the crown away from South Africa's Vredefort crater. Indications are an asteroid of about 20 kilometers across broke into two halves before slamming the earth and creating a mass extinction event in the process.

The age of the impact so far remains a bit of a mystery but expect something on the order or 300 million years ago or more.

http://www.popsci.com/worlds-largest-asteroid-impact-crater-found-australia?dom=fb&src=SOC
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Living in lava tubes on the moon

Our moon was formed 4.5 billion years ago when a planet the size of Mars had a glancing collision with Earth. Both the Earth and the debris that eventually formed the moon were left in a molten state.

The Earth being larger and of a somewhat different composition was perhaps the luckier of the two. It has a big molten core, an atmosphere, running water, volcanism and plate tectonics. It's always recycling itself and changing. 

The moon though lacking all this activity stays essentially the same (outside of asteroid impacts).

New simulations show due to the moon's molten past and low gravity it could host massive, and I do mean really big, lava tubes. There could be structurally stable pockets of up to 5 kilometers wide, big enough to house entire cities. They would also have the benefit of protecting residents from cosmic radiation.

http://phys.org/news/2015-03-theoretical-huge-lava-tubes-moon.html
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Baby formula set to improve

In a recent study on the molecular composition of human and macaque milk differences were observed giving insight into how the 1,606 proteins in human milk help infants absorb vital nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12 and D. And which are related to gastrointestinal tract, immune system, and brain development. 

These differences are due to human infants being born at an earlier stage compared to other primates and the new understanding will help in a range of areas including development of better baby formulas.

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/pr501243m
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The continued rise of the electric car

Combustion engine cars
1901: Wilhelm Maybach's first Mercedes has 35 HP
2005: Bugati Veyron 16.4 is built with 1,001 HP
2009: Koenigsegg creates the CCXR with 1,018 HP (on biofuel)
2010: Bugati makes the "Super Sport" version with 1,200 HP
2012: Hennesy built the Venom GT with 1,244 HP
2014: Koenigsegg's Agera One:1 comes with 1,341 HP (1kW)

Electric cars
1999: GM's EV1, considered the first modern electric car, had 137HP
2004: Tesla's Roadster came with 248 HP
2010: Tesla's Model S is propelled by 416 HP
2015: Tesla revised the Model S up to 691 HP
2015: eO PP03 race car has 1368 HP (1.02 kW)

Now a Latvian EV will compete in the Pike's Peak hillclimb where electric cars and motorbikes are already hounding the competition due to the wonderful advantage of losing no power as altitude rises. And at a weight of only 1200 kgs this PP03 blows away even the mighty $1.5 million dollar One:1's power to weight ratio. 

Pike's Peak master and multi-decade champion Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima set a new record and won the EV class in 2013 with his custom built E-Runner. With a sub-10 minute run he matched the 2012 unlimited class. In 2014 the unlimited class winner set a time of 9m 05s. The EV class winner had a time of 9m 08s (you can watch Greg Tracy doing his run here: http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/videos/a8311/greg-tracy-demolishes-pikes-peak-ev-record/).

I think this year we will see EVs take home the absolute win.

http://www.electricautosport.com/2015/04/worlds-first-1-megawatt-all-electric-race-car-to-compete-at-pikes-peak/
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Does welfare incentivize laziness?

We often hear from the political right about how welfare encourages people to be lazy, entitled and it stifles the economy. While if we greatly reduced or even removed welfare altogether it would encourage people to go out and get work.

This is clearly a broken argument for a number of reasons;

1. It assumes there are jobs to get (which is generally very wrong in times of high welfare assistance such as our recent recession).
2. It ignores the fact that low income groups put their money straight back into the economy much of which is then drawn up in tax revenue. It does not drag down the economy in any devastating way.
3. The social and law enforcement costs of high crime resulting from not having any safety net are huge.
4. The argument is not an economic one and is simply one of human psychology, "I didn't get any help therefore nobody else should".

So the GOP stance on welfare has been well and truly debunked for decades (at least) but what if we did analyze their claims objectively..

Well, then they are still wrong.

"Survey responses from 19,000 people in 18 European countries" taking into account the "amount the country spent on welfare benefits and employment schemes, while taking into account the population differences between states" found "the more a country paid to the unemployed or sick, and invested in employment schemes, the more its likely people were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not."


http://phys.org/news/2015-03-welfare-benefits-people.html
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Posted on phys.org?  I guess they do have that "other" category.
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Fun science fact - genome sizes

Humans rank only fifth on the list of largest genome sizes. The top five are;

- #1 Polychaos dubium amoeba (670,000,000,000 base pairs)
- #2 Japanese-native pale-petal plant (150,000,000,000 bp)
- #3 Fritillaria assyrica plant (130,000,000,000 bp)
- #4 Marbled lungfish (130,000,000,000 bp)
- #5 Humans (3,200,000,000 bp)

If you think being 4% different to a Chimpanzee is interesting remember that humans have been to the moon while #1 on the list has a DNA sequence over two hundred times larger than ours and looks like a snot.
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I would imagine a plausible mutation for a genome is to accidentally keep around two copies of a chromosome instead of one (or even double the entire genome by accident).  Instead of counting base pairs, it would be more interesting to count unique genes, or some other measure of information-carrying unit.
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Opportunity has finished a marathon

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover has just completed a marathon. It has travelled 42.195 kilometers on the red planet.

Its time - 11 years, two months (and some change)

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2015-097&rn=news.xml&rst=4521
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Electric cars can reduce heat island effect

When your car is 85-90+% efficient it pumps out less waste heat than a combustion engine car which is ~25%. The cumulative effect of this over millions of cars can have a pronounced effect.

Researchers studying Beijing during the summer of 2014 found replacing traditional cars with electric cars could reduce the heat intensity by 1 degree C. Residents would have to use less air conditioning and all up 14.4 million kW-h would be saved translating to 11,779 less tons of CO2 per day for knock on environmental benefits.


http://phys.org/news/2015-03-hidden-benefits-electric-vehicles-revealed.html
Electric vehicles are cool, research shows. Literally. A study in this week's Scientific Reports by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) and in China add more fuel to the already hot debate about whether electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles by uncovering ...
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You are correct, unless the grid electricity to charge BEVs is generated almost exclusively out of natural gas, nuclear, hydro/water dynamic, wind, solar, geothermal, or a combination of those, driving a BEV will cause a much greater environmental health impact than driving a conventional gasoline car:

<< We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline. Conversely, EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water, or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50% or more >>
 . . . 
<< We use a spatially and temporally explicit life cycle inventory model (22) to estimate total fuel supply chain air pollutant emissions for scenarios where 10% of US projected vehicle miles traveled in year 2020 are driven in 1 of 11 types of passenger cars: (i) conventional gasoline powered vehicles (abbreviation: “gasoline”); >>
 . . . 
<< The difference between the least- and most-polluting electricity generation options for EVs increases almost sixfold when air pollution damages are considered alongside climate impacts, instead of when climate impacts are considered alone. Our findings thus reinforce the benefit of pairing EVs with clean electricity (3, 5). >>

<< 22. Tessum CW, Marshall JD, Hill JD (2012) A spatially and temporally explicit life cycle inventory of air pollutants from gasoline and ethanol in the United States. Environ Sci Technol 46(20):11408–11417. >>
URL: 
pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es3010514 

— Tessum CW et al. Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (2014) vol. 111 (52) pp. 18490-5
pnas.org/content/111/52/18490.abstract 
(ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25512510)


The authors also had the good sense to include the environmental impact of producing the batteries of the EVs (including local pollution or its absence):

<< Based on prior research, we assume that the difference among scenarios in emissions from manufacturing and disposal of vehicles and from upstream infrastructure is small relative to differences in vehicle operation emissions (8, 23, 24) with the exception of lithium ion EV battery production. To highlight battery-related impacts, we analyze them separately from fuel-related impacts. >>
 . . . 
<< EV battery production is unique among the life cycles investigated here in that up to about half of all emissions occur outside of our spatial modeling domain and are thus excluded from this analysis. We test the impact of this exclusion by doubling the impacts from EV battery production (Fig. S3). We find that this increases damage costs for EVs by $0.08 per gasoline gallon-equivalent, which is between a 4% increase for the coal EV scenario and a 57% increase for the WWS EV scenario, but does not change the rank order of air quality impacts among scenarios. >>
 . . . 
<< and (xi) wind turbines, dynamic water power, or solar power (“EV WWS”). >>
 . . . 
<< The updated emissions estimates, better spatial resolution and coverage, better disaggregation of process locations, and more detailed air quality impact analysis incorporated here yield different overall conclusions from a similar recent study by Michalek et al. (8). For instance, when only air quality impacts are considered, Michalek et al. found that WWS EVs increase impacts by 160% compared with gasoline, whereas we find that WWS EVs reduce impacts by 70% compared with gasoline. Two major factors contributing to this difference are our use of a more recent version of the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model and Michalek et al.’s assumption that all emissions from EV battery manufacturing are colocated with automobile manufacturing facilities; our more detailed analysis places many of the most polluting processes in the battery production life cycle in remote areas. >>
 . . . 
<< We do include, however, production of EV batteries, which we model as a separate scenario to show explicitly the contribution of EV battery manufacturing to total impacts. We model the emissions from the production of enough lithium ion batteries to power our functional unit of 10% of the projected year 2020 US vehicle miles traveled by expanding GREET-cst to include the GREET2 vehicle cycle model, version 2012 (23). We do this step using the methods of Tessum et al. (22) and including additional spatial data on the locations of aluminum manufacturing (43), copper manufacturing (44), plastics manufacturing (38), steel manufacturing (38), and battery assembly (38). Table S2 shows, for each process, the fractions of emissions from battery production processes that are excluded from the analysis because they occur outside our spatial modeling domain. Information on international fractions for other processes is reported by Tessum et al. (22). Fig. S2 shows amounts of domestic (included) and international (excluded) emissions from battery production. Full GREET-cst results for battery production are included in Dataset S1. We use the GREET2 default EV battery life assumption of 160,000 miles. >>

— Tessum CW et al. 2014.


"Why an electric car may be much dirtier than a petrol one"

<< DRIVING an electric car confers a badge of greenery, or so the marketing departments of their makers would have you believe. Yet a report which analyses the life cycle of car emissions (ie, all the way from those created by the mining of materials for batteries, via the ones from the production of fuel and the generation of electricity, to the muck that actually comes out of the exhaust) presents a rather different picture. A battery-powered car recharged with electricity generated by coal-fired power stations, it found, is likely to cause more than three times as many deaths from pollution as a conventional petrol-driven vehicle. Even a battery car running on the average mix of electrical power generated in America is much more hazardous than the conventional alternative. >>

Cleaner than what? (From the print edition: Science and technology). The Economist. December 20, 2014.
economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21636715-why-electric-car-may-be-much-dirtier-petrol-one-cleaner-what 
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Impressive artificial skylight recreates the sun and atmosphere

"The CoeLux light uses nanoparticles to do this scattering and essentially compresses the six miles of Earth’s atmosphere into a few millimeters. An LED projector shines in full spectrum white light to create the sun, which in the videos appears far away in the sky. This last trick depends on "a sophisticated optical system" that wasn't explained in detail"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ4TJ4-kkDw&t=146
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