Monday, January 30, 2012

Our Hold on The Planet

A little Robert Frost for Evan's Birthday

We asked for rain. It didn't flash and roar.
It didn't lose its temper at our demand
And blow a gale. It didn't misunderstand 
And give us more than our spokesman bargained for;
And just because we owned to a wish for rain,
Send us a flood and bid us be damned and drown.
It gently threw us a glittering shower down.
And when we had taken that into the roots of grain,
It threw us another and then another still
Till the spongy soil again was natal wet.
We may doubt the just proportion of good to ill.
There is much in nature against us. But we forget:
Take nature altogether since time began,
Including human nature, in peace and war,
And it must be a little more in favor of man,
Say a fraction of one per cent at the very least,
Or our number living wouldn't be steadily more,
Our hold on the planet wouldn't have so increased.

Stripes Had Better Be In

On Friday Dave took me to the beach. The water was a bit chilly. I know this because I took off my shoes and played tag with the ocean. I also picked up a rock. It has stripes.

You know what else has stripes? The sky. 

Last week the sun blasted us with charged particles. It disrupted high frequency radio waves for two days. The sun is beginning a cycle of regular solar storms, which should occur about once a month through 2013. They won't all hit us, of course--the sun is a sphere and could hiccup in any given direction, towards the Earth or not. These light shows--called aurora borealis in the North and aurora australis in the South--create some of the most beautiful skies ever visible on Earth.

Awesome thing number one: one charged particle is just a charged particle. But a collection of charged particles is actually plasma. A lot of science fiction stories include plasma guns--weapons that spout ionized gases that disrupt robotic systems, destroy living matter, and generally cause all sorts of excited chaos. Well guess what. The sun does this to us all the time.

Awesome thing number two: the sun does not hate us (or love us, take your pick)--other planets have auroras too. Jupiter continues to be my favourite planet. Check out this sweet picture of Jupiter's aurora:

 That made me think, "I wonder what our aurora looks like from space?" Someone else thought of that too. Someone who actually gets to go to space.


Awesome thing number three: sometimes the Sun practices exploding. On these nights the Earth dresses up, like for a fancy dress party, sparkling with gems and plasma jewelry, the princess of the solar system. And we are just little germs, scurrying around on the surface building castles and highways, afraid that our communications systems will be disrupted by the sun.

One day I want to go to Alaska. I will plan my trip around projected solar flares. If I do it right, maybe I can see the aurora over the ocean. I'll take my striped rock and wear pinstriped pants and a striped scarf. If I'm lucky, stripes will even be in that season. Otherwise I will have to be uncool. Uncool, perhaps, but happy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Canning Peaches in the World Inside My Head

In my head is another world. This world is a magnet for thoughts. It's a world that draws people who think so much that they forget to shower, who think so much that they look like they're floating somewhere else, who think so much they don't notice they've been standing in the middle of the sidewalk for fifteen minutes. Here people keep swarms of stinging insects in boxes and use shopping carts like summertime sleds and find ways to rappel from the clouds. Instead of metal and paper, currency is made of ideas.

In my world you can see the stars and no one is afraid of the dark. When the sun comes up, the sky changes into a thousand colours before it balances out into just one, and when it goes down in shatters into a different million coloured pieces that fly out into the vast expanse of everywhere and light up the dark with shining pricks of white light, a hundred billion miles away.

The trees are triangular. There is grass too, almost the same wavering green and winking lavender as the trees, and it spreads out from your feet in every direction, as if you are its source. It pours down the hill, spiky and filled with life and pizzazz. There are little flowers, blue ones. They look like your eyes, sparks of colour, sparks of life in the endless green. I can hear a river. It swishes an hiccups and bellows. It spins and tangles with the earth; it ducks under bushes and careens around trees. And then it takes a mad leap into a different large bit of water that's just biding its time until the dam breaks.

The sun is a square, if you look at it for too long. The clouds float around masquerading as rabbits and flying horses and Jesus' face. The people that live here have black skin, as black as the night sky and more beautiful than the earth itself, and white skin too, and all different shades of brown.

My mother and father live here, and sometimes I help Mom can peaches. It is very satisfying to have the peach juice running down your arms and the slices of peach splop-ing into the bowl of lemon juice. I like the way the boiling hot peaches almost scald your hands when you hold them tightly, and how the skins just slide off into a sticky, sweet blog of peach. The smell is there too, potent and alluring and delicious; and every so often some of the peach doesn't come off the pit and I can BITE it and the sweet juice runs down my throat and chin. Then, when all the peaches are peeled and sliced, Mom comes along and puts them in jars and heats the jars until the're really, really hot and the lids seal themselves. Then we put them in the basement and can eat them all winter long. The bits of peach stick to my skin and dry, and the smell lingers on my hands and arms for hours an hours, no matter how hard I scrub them--except I don't scrub them because no smelly lotion in the world is better than the scent of fresh peaches.

And in my world, while I'm helping my mother, sometimes the wind howls and roars, and the rain attacks with the fury of the gods. Pools form and water tries to race uphill, and the street lights sparkele and dim in the wild torrent of air that billows and gusts and bellows. Occasionally it simmers down to a whisper, but only to gather strength before launching another massive attack on the trees and the houses and the people who were standing on the sidewalk and thinking so hard they forgot to go inside.

Then I realize that the world inside my head looks and awfully lot like the world outside me head, so I move from my spot on the sidewalk to go explore this world instead.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top Ten Reasons to Become an Astronaut

NASA just posted a blog titled "Top Ten Reasons to Become an Astronaut". Their top ten reasons are great. But here are my top ten reasons. They are better.

10. You get to eat freeze dried food.
9. You get to go to space.
8. You get to wear a really classy, sexy suit sometimes. You get to be a rocketman!
7. You get to go to space.
6. It's confirmation that you're an intelligent, valuable, and wanted member of society.
5. You get to go to space.
4. You get to ride in or drive the fastest vehicle in the known universe. A ROCKETSHIP.
3. You get to go to space.
2. You get to see the world, FROM SPACE.
And the number 1 reason: 

I realize there are dangers: exploding spaceships, loss of oxygen, aliens attacking your vessel, crazy mutant diseases that sneak into the water supply. But here's the thing: have you ever watched a scifi show? Or read a scifi book? Would any one of the characters in those shows say it wasn't worth all those dangers to go to space?

No. It's worth it. Let's go to space. Everybody.

For your convenience I have links to four different companies with space program job openings. If you're qualified, then by all means: APPLY. Speaking Russian is also a plus.

Joining the Military might also be an option. But talk to a recruiter. Be smart.

One day, I'll be carried away...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rutherford the Unicorn-Sheep Goes on a Date

This post has been moved. Check it out at: 


Fission Rockets. Deep Space. Opportunity.

Technology is a weird animal.

Look at some of these recent headlines:
"NASA Rover Spends Winter Probing Inside Red Planet"
"Beijing Releases Air Pollution Data""
"Nike Unveils Wristband that Measures Athletes' Movements"
"Congress Shelves SOPA, PIPA"
"Project Bitfrost: Rockets of the Future?"
"Internet Uprising Shuts Down Piracy Bill"
"1st Private Rocket Launch to Space Station Delayed Until March"
"Rescuers Use Explosives to Open Costa Concordia Wreck"
"Senior Al Queda Figure Killed In Drone Strike"

Talking about it can sound like a foreign language, but technology allows us to do an awfully lot. We can change the structural shape of our faces. We can travel anywhere--to China, to Antarctica, to the top of Mount Everest, to the bottom of the ocean, to space. We can make the blind see and the deaf hear. We can destroy entire cities. We can build entire cities. We can build machines to do our work for us--from calculators, to computers, to oil drills, to remote surgery, to robots, to space probes.

But you know where we've failed? Rockets.

Look at it this way: if you bought a computer last year, it's already old. This form of technology is progressing so rapidly that in the last fifteen years we've gone from giant clonky old things with very limited storage space and processing power to the average consumer having instantaneous access to information and being able to store multiple terabytes of it with their own equipment. The phones we carry around with us everyday have more processing power than a room full of computers did in the 1980s. Playing music in the last twenty years has gone from 8track tapes to regular tapes to CDs to ipods.

But since the Cold War, since we put Buzz Aldridge and Neil Armstrong on the moon, how far has our rocket technology come? To answer this question, let me quote Tabitha Smith, research lead for project Bifrost: "The rockets that sent men to the moon were powered by chemical combustion, which in its most powerful form ignites hydrogen with oxygen. The space shuttle main engine, essentially the state of the art for rocket propulsion, uses the same chemicals." In other words, this technology hasn't progressed very far. This method of propulsion, while it does its job getting us beyond the atmosphere and into the empty space beyond, can't take us very much further.

Rockets are not only used for spaceflight but for war. We use rockets for warheads and rocket sleds, fireworks and ejection seats, satellites and jet packs. So why have we neglected research in this area? Probably because it's expensive.

There are new technologies on the horizon. Currently, scientists are working on Project Bifrost, which is a method of rocket propulsion that uses fission instead of combustion. If this technology succeeds, it would allow scientists to man deep space missions, to go search for and visit all the new planets the Kepler telescope is finding, to explore nebulae and galaxies and to experiment with time by orbiting a black hole.

I want to go to space. But more than that, I want us to go to space. I want humans to spread out and multiply, to occupy other planets, other galaxies, other worlds--to explore the universe.

Here's why:

It's beautiful, it's magnificent, it's breathtaking. It's a risk--one that I hope we are willing to take.

Build Fission Rockets, Become Aliens

Rockets are the key to getting into space. Not the kind of key you keep in your pocket which allows you to access your house, but the kind of key which you keep in a giant laboratory that allows you to access the entire universe. Until now we've only used combustion rockets to do anything--destroy cities, launch missiles, power jet packs, send men to the space station and the moon. But now the anonymous "they" are working on fission powered rockets.

What is special about those? you ask. 

Well, think bigger. Think bigger than Earth, think bigger than Jupiter (my favourite planet), think bigger than our star or our solar system--think deep space. Millions and billions of stars occupy our universe. And dozens of planets orbit those stars--totaling dozens of billions. Imagine that we can fly out into nowhere, soar among the stars.

Whenever I hear someone use that phrase, I always imagine standing among trees or among a crowd of people, except instead of people or trees there are stars. But it will be nothing like that. To soar among the stars is to fly between them with millions of miles between, seeing their glow on the other side of the dark matter that surrounds us, on the other side of the vacuum filled with rocks and dust that sits between our tiny vessel and them. It is to be alone in the dark, always moving forward, always searching.

Sounds lonely. But it also sounds amazing. So what are we waiting for? Let's build those fission rockets and get going. Let's give our scientists jobs. Let's catapult the best and the brightest of the human species out into space to start looking for other places to go, to live, to populate. Instead of waiting for the aliens to come here, let's go be somebody else's aliens.

It's our new mission: build fission rockets, become aliens.

Here is a video in honor of Carl Sagan, one of the greatest thinkers of our time. Enjoy. And go be an alien.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Peter!

In honor of my father's birthday, I am writing a blog post about everything my dad likes.

#1. Mom is great! She's super good at sewing and cooking and editing and being a mom.
#1.5 Us kids! I think we're pretty great, too. That's me, in the front there, then Evan, then Gary.

#2. Bees! Bees are insects that fly around and make honey and sting people. Specifically, my dad likes honey bees (not wasps or hornets or anything), so here are some interesting facts about honey bees you probably didn't know.
  • After mating with the queen bee, the male bees, or drones, die.
  • Skunks eat bees, and bears are just as likely to eat the larvae as the honey.
  • Buy honey locally! Here's why.
  • To learn more about bees, you can check out my brother's website!
#3. Lumber! My dad sells lumber. I promise: the last thing you want to do on a Saturday afternoon is stack a thousand board feet, but that doesn't stop him. In fact, not only can he tell you what type of wood he's holding in his hands by looking at it, he can tell you by smelling the board, and is correct at least 20% of the time! If you're looking for North American hardwoods, check out Garreson Lumber.

#4. Literature! Dad is pretty smart and he'll read anything from bad novels by me to Ana Karenina to Tarzan of the Apes to the diaries of William Ryder, itinerant Methodist preacher. He's read a bunch of my college required reading, just because I thought it was interesting (and handed him a copy). :)

#5. Science-y stuff! Dad and I like to discuss aliens (see guest blog by dad about aliens here) and evolution and insects and the expanding universe and all sorts of things. He and I went to a honey bee convention (see point #2) together, too, and learned all about different types of bees.

#6. Animals! Over my life we've had four dogs, three kids, a bajillion cats, turtles, peacocks, snakes, rabbits, pigeons, pheasants, a goose, and who knows what all else. In fact, once, Turtline, a turtle we found wandering down the road, disappeared somewhere in the house. She reappeared a few months later, having hibernated in the back of one of our closets. Now they're down to a few peacocks, three cats, and a dog.

Anyway, Dad, I think you're pretty great, and I hope you get your birthday card today because I put a lot of effort into getting it mailed on time. Either way, I have a special message for you--it came from an alien.

"Hey Peter, it's your birthday! I'm in charge of the stars and I'm here to say, hey Peter! You're the big star! Today! My name is Zoom and I live on the moon! And I came down to Earth just to sing you this tune! Hey, Peter, it's your birthday, today! A present for you I wanted to find, an outer space creature, a one of a kind! A wild whop or a kucklechoo, an appledrop or a buzzardstew! Or maybe a three eyed tickleshay for your birthday. ...but those aren't special. So how about a song just from me? And so tonight, while you're in bed, I'll be singing to you as I ZOOM overhead, hey Peter, happy birthday, to you!"

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Closet Full of Teleports

I used to have this closet--just a little bit bigger than a shower. At first it was filled with my parents' stuff. After a fair amount of begging, my parents let me move their stuff into a different closet. In place of their stuff I put two bookshelves--each filled with books (naturally). 

The thing about books is that they're filled with stories--and not just stories, but whole worlds with their own laws of physics, their own gods, and their own fantastic people--and books allow us to enter their worlds, learn their physics, meet their gods, and watch their people.

It's like having a closet full of teleports.

I organized my books by colour. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, then black, grey, white, and brown. I knew every book I owned personally. I knew what colour it was. I knew what characters were in it, who wrote it, what happened in it, the laws specific to its universe. I read them over and over--and not just my favourites--all of them.

That said, my favourite books did get special treatment: I probably read Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) eight times (and the rest of the series almost as much), and I read Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine, don't watch the movie) four times a year for at least six years--and I still read it at least once a year. The first chapter of Emily of New Moon (L. M. Montgomery) always made me feel better when I was irritable (it still does), and just this weekend I finished The Runaway Princess (Kate Coombs) and The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (Gerald Morris), both for the nth time.

My favourite author of all time is Terry Pratchett, partly because his sarcasm is fantastic and partly because his universe is so huge and likeable. Every book I've read by Neil Gaimon has piqued my interest, and Wordsworth is my favourite poet. Or maybe it's Coleridge... ("I fear thee ancient mariner! I fear thy skinny hand!")

Then I went to college. And you know what? I took my books with me

But there are so many--J. R. R. Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Lobel, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Christopher Paolini, C. S. Lewis, Rudyard Kipling, William Shakespeare, Michael Crighton, James Herriot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franz Kafka, A. A. Milne, Tamora Pierce...

Go read them all.

Each book is a little piece of the universe (or parallel universe)--it's another place, another time, another world where anything can happen--since I myself cannot go whirling through the stars, I send my brain on extravagant journeys with hobbits and dwarves, or sit down to eat breakfast with a Wookie and a Martian. I even feel this way about text books. Even though I am not experiencing mysterious places and creatures, I am visiting my own world with new eyes and from an untried perspective.

A closet full of teleports. 

Now I keep them everywhere: in my kitchen, my living room, my bedroom. I leave piles of them on the floor next to my bed and scattered over my couch--on the coffee table, by my desk, in the bathroom.

This way, if I ever want to go somewhere, I don't have to go very far.

Because I have a house full of teleports.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's Friday the 13th: Cow Terrorism!

Happy Friday the Thirteenth! There are three of these in 2012: in January, April, and July. That is as many as possible in one year, which is more evidence in favor of the end of the world happening in 2012. It might be cheaper if you started purchasing your dehydrated food now. And for all of you with friggatriskaidekaphobia, stay indoors.

Because of this auspicious date, I am going to use this as an opportunity to get the word out: Cow Abduction. This is a very serious problem. There have been 1,545,590 cow abductions to date. This is cattle terrorism. Spread the word.

 So today, keep an eye on your corn fields, don't let out cows, and especially don't let out your children.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You Never Know What Might End Up In Your Backyard

I like to think about the universe. It's big and dark and full of mysteries. Lots of people think there can't be aliens because we haven't heard from them by now. But what if we are the oldest species in the universe? Somebody had to be first, and they say that our universe isn't very old. And who knows how old universes have to be to have babies? Or maybe we're not babies: maybe we're fleas. Either way we have to expand outwards. If we're babies, we have to grow up. If we're fleas, we have to hop to the next planet over--because that's what fleas do.

Here is a picture of an alien that I drew. It might be smart, it might not be. But I like the horn:

Whether or not aliens are real, there are some very alien-like things right next to you. For example, NASA found an arsenic-based life form out in California. Now we all know some crazy life forms live in California, but up until recently, they were all thought to be carbon-based. This has forced NASA "to redefine the quest for other life in the universe." Or how about this: they recently found a rare mineral, previously thought only to exist in moon rocks, in Australia. Other alien things include bees, dead spiders, coffee, the British, teenager's bedrooms, Obama, and pickled watermelon rinds.

As the oldest species in the universe, we should constantly be on the alert for life, intelligence, and the pursuit of alien beings. In the Milky Way alone there is the possibility of 100 billion Earth-like worlds. Imagine the possibilities--recently, a black hole shot two "cosmic bullets" from it's terrifying depths. No one knows what these are. My guess? Spaceships. Intelligent life from somewhere else in the universe: they've found a way to travel via black holes.

So watch out. You never know what might end up in your back yard.

Monday, January 9, 2012

On Second Thought, the End of the World Might Actually Happen.

Swing dancing. It's one of my favourite things. It's also like being in an asteroid belt. Picture this:

A dimly lit room, music. Two hundred people dancing in pairs, spinning around each other, stepping on feet. Sweat, smile, rock-step. Repeat. Chaotic rhythm and a jumble of bodies, all moving in a similar way, trading partners, drinking water. Chaotic rhythm and a jumble of rocks, sweating, spinning, bumping into each other--

--rocks--people--basically the same thing.

Some people believe that the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter is actually the remnant of a planet which collided with something--another planet, perhaps?--and broke into a million little pieces. Now they fly in an orbit, being chased by a glowing tail and losing bits along the way.

The belt could be a conglomeration of materials that never became a planet. It may even be our solar system's junk yard. Or perhaps it is our way of making the solar system look thin, as belts are often used for. I, however, feel that these rocks are probably the remains of Niribu, the planet which supposedly flew by us 3000 years ago and if it weren't destroyed before completing it's super-long orbit, would be due for a return in December. I imagine the Anunnaki built a spaceship to come visit us, accidentally initiated the nuclear battery startup before stabilization, and it exploded, taking the planet with it. That said, such a superior species should have known better than to use a nuclear power source. Or perhaps they got into a war over whether or not to stay on Earth, which ended in a hundred thousand little pieces. Or perhaps their orbit shifted just a fraction of an inch, and they hit a moon. Either way, now they are just a ring of asteroids flying 1,118,468 miles an hour in a never ending circle around the sun.

This does not mean that the Anunnaki are all dead. Perhaps there are habitable asteroids where tiny groups of Anunnaki are waiting for us to develop enough to rescue them--or they've been cryogenically frozen and need us to unfreeze them. Or maybe they think we exploded them (because we all know the ancient Sumerians had nuclear technology) and are forming a massive army of armed asteroids to attack us. At any rate, don't listen to NASA, the asteroids are definitely the planet Niribu--it does exist, it's just in a hundred thousand little pieces.

Next December, expect an emergency broadcast stating that 1,500 asteroids have suddenly veered off from their orbit and are heading towards Earth, with giant guns aimed right at us. I hope you have moved to Russia before this emergency broadcast, because by then it will be too late.

Asteroids: the perfect disguise for the end of the world.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How to Survive the End of the World

The first trick to surviving the end of the world is knowing exactly what will happen--telling the future, if you will. Luckily, I, by my great mental prowess and my ability to use Google Search, know exactly what will happen in 11 months and 14 days.

First, the Mayan Calendar will end on December 21, 2012. The calendar began in 3,114 BC and has not stopped ticking for over 5,000 years. Its end marks the Y2K of multiple millenniums as well as the end of the human race, a polar shift, violent earthquakes, and a Venus transit (Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun).

Next, the planet Niribu will return, a planet with a super long and super elliptical orbit that passes through every 3000+ years. On this planet lives a race called the Annunaki, a race who long ago encouraged us to be more civilized, after they enslaved us. They will probably enslave us again. If not, then the return of their planet will probably throw Earth off its axis or they crash into us.

As Niribu approaches, the sun will begin to have massive solar storms. These massive solar flares and spouts will have a dreadful impact on our communications networks and our satellite systems. The massive disruptions in the sun's magnetic field will cause a magnetic field about-face here on Earth. This will cause nuclear power plants to meltdown. That can't be good. For your instruction, take a look at this picture of the sun, borrowed from the National Geographic website:

It's beautiful. But it will probably kill us.

(On the bright side, we are sending the first commercial flight to the space station next month!)

The end of the world promises to be horrendous. But I promised you a method for survival. And I have one. It is so great, so stupendous, that no one has thought of it before. It is a method that is beyond comprehension:

Move to Russia.

Why? Russia is a massive continent with few people and a lot of bears. It is frigidly cold, and has large quantities of untapped resources. But really, why Russia?

If the sun explodes, it won't matter where you live. If the sun flares--well, there's no cell phone service in Siberia anyway, so the it won't disrupt communication. If the planet heats up a lot, well, it's cold up there, so it should just warm up to tolerable temperatures. And if there's a nuclear meltdown, the effects probably won't reach all the way up there. And if the Annunaki come to enslave us, they'll go straight to NYC and Tokyo, because that's where all the people are, while you are building the resistance in the middle of nowhere. Plus, you'll have bears on your side. If the poles switch, your compasses will simply aim at the rest of the world instead of spinning around in circles. Earthquakes? Russia's smack dab on the middle of the Eurasian tectonic plate, so they'll just float around while the rest of the world is torn to shreds.

Learn how to farm, move to Russia, and you can ride out the calamity like a surfer on an epic wave.

I will see you there.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Science, Bacteria, and Possibly Invisible Fish

I write about space a lot. I like the idea of wide open emptiness, giant balls of dirt or gas or fire floating in a vast vacuum, whirling around each other at unfathomable speeds unfathomably distant from one another. Thus I tend to ignore a plethora of interesting things that are tiny.

Take for example the mimic octopus, also called the thaumoctopus mimicus. It has the ability to mimic other fish. It copies their shape, movements, and color in order to swim in the open waters with little fear of being eaten. Scientists have observed it mimicking a lionfish, a flatfish, and sea snakes. An octopus playing copycat with fish--now add this: a black marble jawfish mimicking the octopus. Which mimicks other fish. It's like a bunch of four-year-olds playing in the yard, except four-year-olds don't generally get eaten.

Now, if fish could manipulate time, they would be immeasurably safe from their predators. At Cornell University (where my uncle went!) a group of researchers managed to disrupt the flow of light for a fraction of a second. Anything that happened in that fraction of time was completely hidden from observers. If a fish could disrupt the flow of light as it reached our eyes, we would never know it was there. Imagine how many species could be wandering around unfettered, unnoticed, unhindered because they had the innate ability to disrupt the flow of light.

You know you're always missing one sock?--an invisible sock eater that can warp light. Poltergeists?--time travelers with a light warping film all over their body.

But let's go smaller than fish, because magnificence and spectacularity don't stop at fish-sized. Take bacteria. They're fantastic creatures that can survive all over the place--they eat iron, arsenic, and who knows what else. What can we do with them? We can kill them--in fact, we're quite good at that in most cases. But apparently, they are also the key to the future of space: microbial fuel cells may be the new batteries for our robots and rovers and things that go to space. But why stop there? Perhaps microbial fuel cells will also power our invisibility cloaks and time machines. They may even be the future of entertainment: scientists have recently created LED-like screens out of living, glowing bacteria.

In the novel "Hogsfather" by Terry Pratchett (one of my favourite authors), Death said quite sagely, "Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom."

We're so silly.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Random Blog on a Wednesday About Penguins

I don't usually write on Wednesdays. Not that it's never been done, but if you go back through my posts, you'll find it's a rare thing.

This morning, however, I thought was an ample time to discuss penguins, as it is currently 7 degrees outside my apartment right now and even with the heat on, I am cold. Also, there is no snow, which makes this cold all the more irritating.

I wonder if penguins can get cold. One moment--let me go find out.

I'm back. I hope you weren't worried. That took longer than expected. At any rate, penguins have a layer of fat below their skin that keeps them warm. They also have feathers which help when they're on land, blood circulation to help their feet, and methods such as standing on their tiptoes to avoid touching snow. Males watching the eggs huddle. So I guess the answer is that yes, penguins can get cold, but they don't very often.

My friend Leslie has a trash can shaped like a penguin. The difference between her trash can and a real penguin is that it doesn't steal babies. If a baby penguin dies, its mother steals someone else's baby. Perhaps we should attempt this child swap in human society--life would be a very different animal. Other things about penguin: they have no knees, they walk faster than humans, and the males take care of the children... insert gender joke here.

For your entertainment I have included a picture of a bagpiper and a penguin, and a video of a penguin going shopping.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Coming Soon: Nibiru and the End of the World

As the end of the world rapidly approaches, panicky rumors spread faster than a rabbit with a  stick of dynamite tied to its tail. My favourite is this: a mysterious, wandering planet with an orbit of 3,600 years, said to be inhabited by intelligent beings who procreated with the apes to create humans last time their planet passed by, will slip between Earth and the Sun, blocking the Sun's light, throwing off our orbit, shortening the length of our day, and causing a sudden pole shift--the end of the world.

Nibiru is the home of the Anunnaki, a race of extraterrestrials who first enslaved us, then tried to kill us, then decided to bring our civilization into maturity, and then left. If you are having trouble remembering this, it's because it happened during the Sumerian Empire. Many people are certain that this planet will return in 2012 and cause the end of everything. In fact, this is so disconcerting that some people can't sleep at night for fear of the future. One belief is that the newly discovered Eris is actually Nibiru:
"...however Eris does exist and I see they were going to call it Xena... planet X... Will Eris do a flyby since it is considered a planet and the 10th one?...Could this even be possible that we would be thrown off our axis? Are Pluto and others really slightly of their normal gravitational paths because of this planet that is supposedly coming toward us? Why do they say time is speeding up because of the magnetic pulse this planet is creating? Is this true that there are only really 16 hours a day now because time is moving faster? ...Why do the days seem so much shorter? I am scared about this whole 2012 thing. Eris seems to be in the position that everyone says Nibiru is and the same size. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking about Eris and not Nibiru. Thank you for your time as I am scared to death!" (This is an excerpt from this fantastic article about Nibiru).
What is the evidence for this mysterious planet? It's this: the orbits of Neptune and Uranus supposedly wobble slightly, therefore there must be another planet, larger than Earth, that exerts gravitational pull. Also the Mayan Calendar is ending.

There seems to be a rather large number of people who think that this mysterious planet has been secretly observed and tracked by NASA for several years. And what would life be without conspiracies? David Morrison, a respected astrophysicist at NASA, was sent this message by a rather irate individual:
"So if you all are watching Eris and it’s trajectory, why can’t you tell us about how it’s going to come between the sun and the earth? Where is the info on your webpage of the true trajectory which will cause the perturbing of all our solar system heavenly bodies? If this is nothing to worry about, then why don’t you talk about its trajectory? Why don’t you have people partnering to watch it, track it and be actively talking about this huge new planet that is coming? Why are you so quiet about this new discovery? Your behavior is suspicious and your actions will be discovered soon so I would suggest a full disclosure."

I imagine them yelling this: "Why don't you talk about it's trajectory?" It cracks me up.

People are great. Without imagination we would all still be nomadic hunters. Not that there is anything wrong with nomadic hunting, but 7 billion nomadic hunters might be a few too many. I must say, however, that imaginary planets do not make me lose sleep. Leaf Blowers make me lose sleep. My cat makes me lose sleep. Caffeine makes me lose sleep. Right now, however, I am awake, and the only planet that makes me lose sleep is Jupiter, because it's never in the same place! (Ha! Space joke!)

So I don't recommend worrying about the end of the world, but I do recommend buying stock in companies that sell generators and dehydrated food. That way, next year, you'll be rich enough to buy your freedom when the Anunnaki enslave us. Again.