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Archives – May, 2010

Top Kill Dies

I feel very sad writing this post about the news that the most recent effort by BP to control the spill, failed this Saturday. ‘Top Kill’ is dead and with it died many hopes of fishermen and other people living in the affected coastal areas in Gulf of Mexico. With it also died countless organisms living beneath the ocean, not to forget several other much more visible organisms on the surface including sea turtles, birds, crabs, fishes etc. The whole ecosystem is in a mess and there seems to be no end to the dark poison being spewed continously since April 20th. President Obama is enraged and disheartened with this latest failed effort. So are we and we need some quick results. It amazes me that with such advancements in technologies in various fields from space missions to Mars and Saturn, to creating artificial cells, we can’t cap a damn leaking oil well. Why aren’t scientists allowed to work with BP to come up with some solutions? Does BP own that part of the ocean to do whatever experiments they want to do? Did they never think , even as an afterthought, what to do if some pipe starts leaking under the sea? Or were they just busy spending money in Beyond Petroleum campaign and forgot to allocate funds for disaster control?

I got this news after i read a page long advertisement by BP in Wall street Journal that they care and they will clean this mess without using taxpayers money and beyond the cap regulations. As I finished reading this adv, my friend Arvind told me that Top Kill failed. So here I am expressing my frustration. BP (should I start calling them British Polluters as Grrenpeace been calling them, suits well right) announced that after this failure they are back to work on their new experiment which they are hopeful of working but can’t guarantee. Ofcourse you can’t , even if you guarantee, I won’t believe a word of it until you show some results BP. In the new approach, they are going to cut the faulty riser, which has been gushing oil, and put a containment and seal it. Experts believe, this can further worsen the situation as a bent in the riser has somewhat restricted the flow, cutting it and failure to contain it spells further disaster. Relief wells which can guarantee controlling the spill won’t be ready till August and till then…. To add to the woes, Hurricane season starts June 1st which can further worsen the situation. I don’t know what else to write, I am sad, I am pissed off and I share the hopelessness of humans and birds and sea organisms affected by this disaster.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Noah Scalin

Leave a Comment May 30, 2010

Weekend Video: Alma & Electropolis

This weekend I am posting two animated videos. I am sure you will like both of them. Most of the videos I post here are independent creative works of individuals or groups uploaded on vimeo. Enjoy the videos and have a nice weekend!!

About Alma: Alma is Rodrigo Blaas’ first short film as a director. Originally from Spain, Rodrigo Blaas has worked in animation for more than ten years, in Spain and in the United States.Seizing the possibility of directing his first independent short film, Rodrigo Blaas asked some of the best artists in their field to take part in this independent project: French animator Bolhem Bouchiba, character designer Carlos Grangel and Sergio Pablos, ArtDirector Alfonso Blaas, music composer Mastretta and sound designer Tom Myers.

About Electropolis: The product of roughly 7 months of work from 13 students in the 3rd year of the BAA Animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Leave a Comment May 29, 2010

Meet Rhea, Janus, Mimas and Many More

The names I mentioned in the title are the names of few of the moons of Saturn. NASA’s Cassini-Huygen mission has been sending back spectacular images of Saturn and it’s moon and has been revealing many of it’s secrets. For today, I will just post few of cool picture sent by Cassini and will try to write in detail about the findings in my later posts. The picture above is the most recent one and shows moons Rhea and Janus along with the Saturn rings. The moon above the ring is Janus ( diameter 178 kms) which is at a distance of 1.1 million kms from Cassini spacecraft while Rhea (diameter 1,528 kms), the larger of the two moons is about 1.6 million kms from the spacecraft. You can see how lumpy is Janus while Rhea is spherical in shape. The explanation for weird shape of Janus can be in it’s small size. When the body mass is huge, self-gravity plays an important role in shaping the object. Gravity acts inwards towards the center thereby making the shape of the object relatively spherical; larger is the mass, larger is gravity’s effect in shaping the object. That can be one of the explanations for as to why Janus with a diameter of 179 km is lumpy while Rhea with diameter of 1528 km is spherical.

This is another recent image sent by Cassini. The image is of the largest moon of Saturn, Titan with a diameter of 5,150 kms. The image shows darker side of the moon and on the top, you can see the light scattering from Titan’s atmosphere resulting in amazing shining ring.

This is again an awesome image. The larger moon is Rhea while the smaller moon is Epimetheus ( diameter 113 km). When this picture was taken, Rhea was at a distance of 1.2 million kms while Epimetheus was about 1.6 million miles from the Cassini spacecraft. If you look closely , you can again see lumpy features of the smaller moon as was seen in Janus image. Saturn rings can be seen in the background as well.

The above image is of moon Mimas ( diameter 396 km). You can clearly see a huge crater on it’s surface. The crater is named Herschel crater and is about 1/3rd the diameter of the moon itself. The size of the moon is not large enough for it to be spherical, in fact the shape of the moon is more of oval in shape with dimensions being 209 x 196 x 191 kilometers. The impact which created this huge crater, also caused fractures on the other face of this moon, as a result of shock impact. Mimas and Rhea are said to be most cratered bodies in our solar system.

Last image for today’s post is of moon Prometheus (diameter  86 kms) and you can see some of its craters as well as its unique potato like shape. There are some more cool images of many other moons including some temperature data, icy plumes, and colorful Saturn rings which I will post in later posts.

Photo and information: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

1 Comment May 29, 2010

Top Kill Is On


After many failed attempts, BP today started working on a risky procedure to stop the oil gushing out of the well in Gulf of Mexico. The procedure called “Top Kill” basically involves pumping large amounts of mud and dense fluids at high velocity into the wellhead. This dense mixture  is expected to push back the oil and gases back into the wellhead and when that happens, the well will be sealed with the cement. The whole process is very tricky and requires a great deal of coordination between different processes, but let’s hope for best at this point of time. BP claims that the procedure has 60-70 % probability of succeeding and we will be able to know about it’s success in few hours. If this procedure fails, next in line is something called “Junk Shot” where pieces of debris of various shapes and sizes consisting of things like golf balls, shredded tires, ropes etc will be used to clog the well. If that doesn’t work, then only resort left will be to bore relief well which will take another two-three months or the well dies by itself. I am assuming, the relief well is being already drilled in case everything fails.

You can watch live streaming of the video from the seabed. Video streaming stops from time to time, so if you see a dark screen, try reloading the page and hope it works. I am hoping to get some good news when I wake up in the morning!

Video streaming courtesy NPR/PBS

UPDATE: Recent reports and video view suggest that the top kill procedure is going as planned and might have reduced or stopped the oil flow, at least temporarily. As seen in the video, most of the stuff is now muddy, but its difficult to make sure just from the video. Everyone is cautious in declaring this as success, the operation will be completely successful once the well has been cemented.[ Newsweek, LA Times, NY Times]

President Obama suspended all the offshore drilling contracts/permits for atleast next six months, which he announced in today’s news conference.

Govt scientists today admitted that BP spill has been underestimated  and the amount of oil spilled is 2-3 times more than Exon Valdez disaster, making it biggest Oil spill disaster in US history.

Elizabeth Birnbaum, Head of Mineral Management Services, which oversees the rules and regulations for drilling operations, resigned today; some say she was fired.

Picture: Big Picture/REUTERS/Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Leave a Comment May 27, 2010

The Moral Life Of Babies

It’s just a coincidence that the titles of my three continuous posts are similar. But the title of this post has been taken exactly as the article in New York Times about a new study on babies. The study being conducted in Yale university, tries to answer the psychological as well as the philosophical question of morality, and whether the idea of being moral or being able to decide between good and bad is in our genes? Are we genetically coded to be moral right from birth or we acquire it during our development. To tackle this issue, psychologist Paul Bloom and his group designed a set of studies involving puppet shows where the toddlers or the “baby scientists” were shown some puppet shows which consisted of a “good” puppet and a “bad” puppet. You can watch the video below and see how they define good and bad puppets. When the baby has seen the show many times, he/she is asked to choose between the puppets, and as their results show, 80% of the babies choose the good puppet. You can read the complete NY Times article here.

As for me, I am a bit skeptic about this study. I am not sure if the experimental conditions provided cues to the babies to choose a a particular puppet, either due to color preferences or cued by parents or the experimenter. For me, when the baby is born, it is still assimilating huge amount of information from the world, and the idea of morality, which is defined by society, still takes time to sink in. Babies are smart, and they assimilate information much faster than we adults do, but being born with the idea of morality- it is difficult for me to digest. Make your own conclusions about this study and comment if you want.

Video: NY Times

Photo: Flickr user creativesam | used under Creative Commons License

Leave a Comment May 25, 2010

The Mortal Life Of Cells

I came across an interesting fact about how our cells grow and function, so thought of writing a quick post. Our body has close to 40-50 trillions of cells (most of which are Red Blood cells, while solid tissue cells consists of roughly 10% of the total cells). On an average we lose 2-3 million cells every second (a very crude estimate). But these cells are replenished by mitosis process where chromosome is replicated and cell divides into two and that’s how we keep growing and maintain the balance of cells. But the question comes how many times a particular type of cell can divide? Are they immortal and will they keep dividing for ever or is there an upper limit to it? The answer lies in something called Hayflick Limit , named after scientist Leonard Hayflick. According to this limit, a cell can divide only up to a certain number of times, after which it stops dividing. How many times a cell can divide depends on “telomeres” length which is a region of DNA  towards the end of chromosome. Every time a cell divides, telomeres gets shortened and the new cell has shorter length of telomeres. As the process continues, daughter cells have even smaller length of telemeres and eventually when telomeres is completely gone, cell division stops and that particular cell starts dying in our body. That’s how we age, and that’s how our body controls any malfunction or malignant growth too. Cancer cells have enzymes called  telomerase which is able to restore the telemeres length and thats how the cancer cells keep growing for ever. So, if scientists are somehow able to control the enzyme action in cancer cells, probably we will have cure for cancer someday. So, Hayflick limit is a good thing for us. Researchers who work in field of anti aging, are working on developing some chemicals or enzymes which can slow down the telomere depletion rate or in other words increase the Hayflick limit. But if asked to me, I will prefer to keep my natural Hayflick limit rather than induce some changes in my body by these chemicals or enzymes whichmight alter the Hayflick limit in such a way that my cells can become immortal.

People who work in field of cells must have sure heard the name of HeLa cells, the first line of immortal cells which have been extensively used in research. These are the cancer cells taken from a poor tobacco farmer Henrietta Lacks, without her knowledge, and has been used in research all over the world since 1951. These cells are still alive, even after Henrietta died in 1951, and recently a book was published by Rebecca Skloot- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. You can watch Rebecca’s interview talking about the book in the video below. Interestingly, one of the recent episodes of Law and Order titled “Immortal” ripped off the story of Henrietta Lacks, call it immortal or immoral? HeLa cells have been used for past 60 years for so many scientific discoveries including polio vaccines and many cancer related studies, without properly acknowledging Henrietta or her family, forget about any monetary benefits. More than 60,000 research papers have been published based on HeLa cells research. If you want to take a look in various scientific fields where HeLa cells have been used, click this image showing the flow chart of various research based on HeLa cells since 1951.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Rebecca Skloot

Photo Credit: Flickr user pong; used under Creative Commons License

1 Comment May 24, 2010

The Courageous Life of Sophie Scholl

While wandering in the blockbuster last Saturday night and unable to find any interesting title, I went to the international section and picked up a German movie– Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – The Final Days). I am glad I got that movie. As the title says, the movie shows last five days of Sophie Scholl before she was beheaded on Feb 22nd, 1943 on charges of high treason. Now, who is Sophie Scholl? Sohpie Scholl was a member of non-violent student resistance movement against Nazi rule in Germany. The group called itself “White Rose” which was mostly based in University of Munich campus and its main activity was printing and distributing leaflets denouncing Hitler’s rule, which was equivalent to asking for death sentence in Hitler’s regime.

White Rose consisted mostly of students, including the Scholl siblings, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl. Sophie was younger sister of Hans Scholl; earlier Hans wanted to keep Sophie separate from the White Rose’s activities in order to protect her, but Sophie joined the movement anyhow. On Feb 18th 1943, Hans and Sophie carried suitcases full of the sixth leaflet and placed it in different locations in University of Munich, but unfortunately they were seen by one of the janitors and ultimately handed over to Gestapo for interrogation. Over the last year, the leaflets distributed by the group has caused a stir in the Nazi regime and they were looking out for the group members. Sophie bravely faced the interrogations, and the ideological discussions between her and the prosecutors/interrogators are interesting to watch in the film. She was just 22, and the whole life was ahead of her– her boyfriend, her loving family– but she heard the voice of her conscience and did what she felt was right thing to do. We live in a relatively free world, where we are free to to say or write anything we want. Anyone can write a blog expressing his/her ideas, opinions, start a petition and so on, so it might be difficult for us to understand how much courage it took to write and distribute a leaflet in Nazi regime when one knew the consequences of getting caught- a certain death. Yet Sophie and her friends did, because they believed in an idea of free Germany, free world and equal rights for all, and they took actions on what the believed in. Sophie died as a martyr at the age of 22, Salute to her and her courage to stand by her ideals!! Grab the movie, if you get a chance. Here are few of Sophie’s quotes:

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

“I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.”

“How can we expect fate to let a righteous cause prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up undividedly to a righteous cause?”

“It was a sunny day, I was carrying a child in a white dress to be christened. The path to the church led up a steep slope, but I held the child in my arms firmly and without faltering. Then suddenly my footing gave way … I had enough time to put the child down before plunging into the abyss. The child is our idea. In spite of all obstacles it will prevail.”

1 Comment May 23, 2010

Weekend Video: Logorama

Enjoy the Academy Award winning short animation film “Logorama” this weekend. The film uses more than 2500 logos and mascots to build up the whole story which includes McDonald’s clown and Michelin mascots as the main characters. Have a nice weekend!!

2 Comments May 22, 2010

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October 21, 2020
1833 Alfred Nobel
1868 Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton
1926 Leonard Rossiter
1940 Manfred Mann
1940 Geoff Boycott
1940 Natalia Makarova
1942 Sir John Stevens
1954 Eric Faulkner
1956 Carrie Fisher
1962 David Campese
1966 Bjork
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