Unlike religion, Science brings so many heartbreaks!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010 01:26 by salim

So much is happening in the world of science these days with new claims of discoveries and inventions, breaking and formation of new theories, wild hypothesis. In an earlier age, people outside the academia could only get, often mistimed, almost always distorted view from the media.

Now, we have an almost immediate access to most of this information, in many cases, the original papers that describe the finding. There are many science blogs that provides background information and further reading guides. This has given me, and I am sure it is a shared feeling, a real glimpse into the process of science in action. Instead of discoveries and inventions being a bunch of static text in a text book or magazine, I can see each of these ideas evolve, painstakingly. It is like watching a live telecast of (substitute your favorite sports here) with continuous upsets and miraculous moves.

So, here is the short history of Gliese 581g, the earthlike, goldilocks planet from last couple of weeks. Here is one of the many overblown press reports (Gliese 581g).

It really was a wonderful feeling to know there is this planet that could potentially harbor life (well, other than say Io, Titan etc. We still have a problem defining the parameters of life, but that is another story). And the best part, it is only 20 light years away. Think about it, if there is a planet that can support life (as we know) right at our neighborhood, then chances are that there are many more around us.

The scientists Steven Vogt, Paul Butler and possibly a large unnamed gang of doctoral and post doctoral scholars analyzed 11 years of data available on Gliese 581 to arrive at the conclusion that there could be up to 6 planets orbiting this star with one possibly at the goldilocks zone potentially with liquid water. This planet could have a minimum of 3 times the mass of earth.

The frenzy followed this included someone in TV saying that it is only 20 light years away and if we trash earth, we could go there. This is true, if you have 180,000 years or energy equivalent of total earth consumption for several thousand years. So, we are not going there anytime soon.

Then came the shocking news. A SETI scientist from Australia Ragbir Bhathal had detected a strange pulse from this planet 2 years ago. This however did not impress Drake!

Speculations, stories, visitations from beings live in Gliese 581g, psychics who claim they are in communication with the great king Atutoao of Gliese 581g, and finally…

You know, there might not be a planet at all…

This is the problem with science. You cannot have faith in anything scientific. The moment you start believing something, there comes an experiment, an observation, a mathematical proof that force you to change.

Unlike religion, where it takes a few hundred years for a mistake to be admitted, and the only thing valid is faith.

Strangely though, I love the heart breaking, invigorating, wondrous feeling of awe, every day is a new day. Nothing remains unquestioned, no truths remain unchallenged.

Brooklyn has a space program!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010 01:03 by salim

Amazing video captured by an amateur space program in Brooklyn, NY

Space is so close!

Categories:   Science | Space
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Spirit Doesn’t Return NASA’s Calls; Rover Might Be Gone for Good

Tuesday, 3 August 2010 19:07 by salim


Spirit Doesn’t Return NASA’s Calls; Rover Might Be Gone for Good | 80beats | Discover Magazine

Categories:   Science
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A small incident in science and feminism

Monday, 19 July 2010 22:46 by salim

A few days ago, a self proclaimed atheist writing a self professed atheist blog (whose link is purposefully excluded from this post) came out with a list of 15 sexiest scientists.

He probably wanted to have a fleeting fame. Apparently he actively sought opinions from the people on the list, asking them, are you offended!

Since I am an uptight nerd, i will not be using nor repeating any of the right adjectives given to this person. However, I will list a bunch of posts that looks at it from a larger perspective of feminism.

I want to comment on two specific things. Over at rambling perfectionist, this guy laments that according to the “feminists” there is no way one can escape the sexist label. My answer to that kind of argument is that, men are by default, sexists and it takes a lot of effort to be not one.

The other is about feeling sexual desirability at the sight of a woman.

There are several occasions when I felt uneasy because the person I am professionally interacting with is perceived by me as sexually attractive. I do not know if female professionals feel that way or feel it as frequently as I do.

Someone in these posts talk about silencing as an intentional failure to recognize the communicators intent. It is very natural for men to do. The history and the reinforcement of status quo by media constantly works to reinforce this tendency. The result, most men cannot imagine why a woman should refuse sexual advances!

One of the aspects discussed in these posts is about how female scientists should dress. It was funny that we have to discuss “how to dress properly to work” at scienceblogs! I was surprised to see many women have a “practical” approach in the sense that, they chose casual, mostly gender neutral (jeans and shirt, jacket) attire so as not to cause an additional issue to handle at work. Which sadly is true, as I stated above, I might find someone sexually attractive if they come in enhancing their sexual desirability. So, it is easier for me to support the idea of “dressing properly” for work and dress to your fill during weekend days away from work. But, that is just reinforcing the patterns.

As a man, I have absolutely no say in this regard. But, there is something I can do about it. That is to reinforce the fact that, all women are sexually uninterested in me unless otherwise they explicitly states it in no unclear terms! Most of the time I will require signed documentation, but during the lean days, just a polite “would you like to have intercourse with me?” would suffice.

Here are the posts I found interesting in this debate.

  1. Sheril Kirshenbaum
  2. SeXy Science- You’re Doing It Wrong by rocketscientista
  3. Because You Think Being A Girl Is Degrading by Nerdista
  4. Sexism and Objectification by ramblingperfectionist 
  5. I have been objectified! by PZ Myers
  6. If You Think I’m Sexy And You Like My Data by SheThought.com
  7. Hot Scientist Babes Gate by Physioprof
  8. Save us from the armchair philosopher with a blog. by Janet D. Stemwedel
  9. Top 15 science hotties and labia-punching by Evil Monkey
  10. Sex(ism) in Science by AmoebaMike

Amazing illusion!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010 16:00 by salim

I have always wondered how people, especially the UFO/Ghost Hunter/Sasquatch crowd give so much importance to eye witness reports of events. This is really an eye opener. Our eyes are only the beginning of vision. It is our mind that creates the image!

Categories:   Science | Nature
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Ah.. my dear Drosophila!!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010 23:46 by salim

Drosophila Melanogaster (Fruit fly) is very dear to me. In my early school years, it was the answer to a quiz competition that put me in front of my arch rival. From that day onwards, I have had this warm feelings for this small fly. It probably is the most used fly for genetic research and has produced enormous contributions to science.

Photographer: André Karwath aka AkaBut, now, the cruel International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature rejected a petition to protect the name despite the confusion about the genus. The full article is here (http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100407/full/464825a.html)

According to the new taxonomy, poor Fruitfly will be, possibly, called Sophophora Melanogaster!

All I can say is, you will always be my beloved Drosophila Melanogaster, whatever the big wigs of the commission says.

Categories:   Nature | Science
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ABE Lost in Sea

Thursday, 11 March 2010 23:24 by salim

ABE (Photo courtesy Discover Magazine)ABE (Autonomous Benthic Explorer), which pioneered so many discoveries from deep sea was lost in the depths of pacific. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/03/11/pioneering-deep-sea-robot-is-lost-to-a-watery-grave/)

This robot was instrumental in mapping the mid-ocean ridge and studying the strange life that flourish in the volcanic vents.

Deep sea exploration (well, easy chair exploration in my case) is such a fascinating area. The secrets deep ocean still keeps are as big as any other secrets in the universe.

It is a shame that the resources we spend on exploring the seas is meager compared to what is spend on space exploration. The technical challenges it faces are much more than space exploration as well.

Robots like ABE and its newer cousins are valuable assets to scientific exploration and in understanding the largest areas of our own earth. Wired magazine called it one of the 50 best robots ever.

The robot is assumed to have succumbed to its death due to an implosion of its glass domes followed by a cascade failure of other domes.

Categories:   Nature | Science
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Don’t want to ask for directions? Message the Nokia Sign Board

Thursday, 4 February 2010 15:28 by salim

This signboard will tell you direction by pointing. All you have to do is send it a message. Now, that is something I can use. Even with a Garmin GPS, I manage to get lost all the time.

Categories:   Science | General
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NASA and the Moon

Wednesday, 3 February 2010 01:54 by salim

After the announcement of 2011 budget by Obama administration, a lot of people who love science, technology and space travel (like me) has been complaining about the lack of funding to NASA to pursue the back to moon program. These comments were anywhere from mild protests to complete denouncement.

I got to thinking! Is NASA the right place to innovate? It is basically a huge bureaucratic conglomerate involved in everything from Defense research to space flight. It is completely dependent on the government to fund, which, in turn has a very low tolerance to failures. Over the years, it has made NASA into this overly protective, extremely secretive organization with very low risk thresholds. It is not the bunch of mavericks from the 60s who were driven by the nationalist agenda of beating USSR.

On the other hand, I do not think the commercial ventures are going to be the way either. There is still a lot of basic research and technology development needed in space travel. The current industrial climate, which only rewards quick money making schemes with a potentially prolonged recession is not the most conducive of such research to be undertaken in private sector.

May be what we need is a global agency that operates in a very transparent way. Currently national space agencies work in extremely secretive manner. This causes a lot of duplication (reinventing the wheel) and sub-optimal production processes. If there was a global agency, even with a fraction of the money that all the nations spend on space research, we could have achieved much more. Especially if the agency works in a transparent manner with as much participation from everyone.

There is also the question of manned versus robotic missions. Here too, I am not sure which one is better. It is true there are so many things a human being can do on the surface of mars than a robot like Sprit or Opportunity. But, there are a lot of things a robot like the MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) can do that no human beings could ever. Our robotic and remote sensing capabilities are growing exponentially (sadly powered by the wars) and there are a lot of things a robot can do that human beings cannot in remote planets. For e.g. I would be more excited to hear the mission to Europa to explore the underlying ocean (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1786) like Endurance.

But again, is space research the right priority? We are still struggling to get a consensus on climate change and how to resolve it. Going to mars is a very good thing. Going to Alpha Centauri phenomenal. But I am sure we can wait a few more decades to do all that. They are not going to go away.

Will knowing about life in other planets finally make us think more rationally? Most of the religions will have a problem to accommodate extraterrestrial life. Undermining religion is always a good thing. May be, it is worth to look for ET.

“Do you speak Indian?”

Monday, 18 January 2010 22:11 by salim

This is a question I have encountered several times during my time in the US. Most of the time I get by saying I don’t. But, in some cases I try to tell them the linguistic diversity in India and how there is not, and there probably will never be a unified language called Indian.

But, when I try to explain this, I always had only anecdotal evidence, telling that the states are divided by major languages and then there are several minor languages, which, are not dialects of the same language etc.

Today, I found this very interesting visualization that shows the linguistic diversity of countries. The chart is here http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/visualizations/linguistic-diversity-by-country

The darker the country’s color is, more linguistically diverse it is. The nominal value of the index is the probability of two random people in the same country speaking two different language.

The website Many Eyes is a wonderful place for collaborative data visualization. I can see myself playing around with the wealth of data and very creative visualization tools.

Categories:   IT | Science
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