Water World

Now, if you’ve just seen the title of this post, you might be thinking it was concerning the film “Water World” starring Kevin Costner, but that isn’t the case here. If you’re into astronomy then this post is certainly for you.

Scientists have apparently discovered a new type of planet — a steamy water-world if you will, that is larger than the planet Earth but smaller than Uranus. … that’s right, get your laughs in while you can.

The standard-bearer for this new class of exoplanet or extrasolar planet is called GJ 1214b, which was first discovered by astronomers in December of 09. New observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope suggest that GJ 1214b is a watery world blanketed by a thick, steam-like atmosphere. “GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of,” study lead author Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement. “A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.”

To date, astronomers have discovered more than approximately 700 planets beyond our own solar system, with about 2,300 more planet “candidates” awaiting confirmation. These planets are incredibly diverse. Astronomers have found one planet to be as light and airy as Styrofoam, and another as dense as iron for example. They’ve discovered several worlds that orbit two suns, reminiscent of something right out of science fiction movies.

GJ 1214b though, which is located 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer), is “something new altogether”, said researchers. This super-earth of a planet is about 2.7 x Earth’s diameter and weighs nearly seven times as much. It orbits a red-dwarf star at a distance of 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometres), giving it an estimated surface temperature of about 446 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius), certainly too hot to sustain life, as we know it at least.

Scientists first reported in 2010 that GJ 1214b’s atmosphere is likely composed primarily of water, but their findings were not definitive. Berta and his team used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to help dispel any of their doubts. Hubble watched as GJ 1214b crossed in front of its host star, and the scientists were able to determine the composition of the planet’s atmosphere based on how it filtered the starlight. “We’re using Hubble to measure the infrared color of sunset on this world,” Berta said. “The Hubble measurements really tip the balance in favor of a steamy atmosphere.” Berta and his colleagues’ results are reported online in the Astrophysical Journal.

Since astronomers know GJ 1241b’s mass and size, they’re able to calculate its density, which turns out to be just 2 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cc). Earth’s density is 5.5 g/cc, while that of water is 1 g/cc.GJ 1214b thus appears to have much more water than Earth does, and much less rock. The alien planet’s interior structure is likely quite different from that of our world. “The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like ‘hot ice’ or ‘superfluid water,’ substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience,” Berta said.

GJ 1214b probably formed farther out from its star, where water ice was plentiful, and then migrated in to its current location long ago. In the process, it would have experienced more Earth-like temperatures, but how long this benign phase lasted is unknown, researchers said. Being that GJ 1214b is so close to us, it’s logically a prime candidate for study in the near or not so near future. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is supposed to launch some time in 2018, may be able to get an even better look at the planet’s atmosphere, according to researchers.


Gadget Corner

Whenever I come across tech things, I feel the unwavering need to share them with the masses…or at least as many of the masses as will read this.

1. The Smallest Live-Streaming Video Solution- Contour announced a partnership with Japan-based Cerevo to unveil the world smallest and least expensive live-streaming video solution. Contour is a hands-free video camera maker and in 2011 they released the Contour+ and ContourROAM cameras.  The Contour+ works seamlessly with the Cerevo LiveShellfor live streaming video solution.

The Contour+ weights only 5.3 oz and has a 170° wide angle lens. It delivers HD video up to 1080p at 25/30 fps or 720p at 50/60 fps. With the new Contour Connect App any iPhone and soon Android can be used to stop and start and recordings. Contours exclusive Bluetooth technology allows Contour Connect to turn the users cellphone into a wireless viewfinder, so the user can adjust shots in realtime. There are multiple mounts available allowing the camera to be attached to almost anything. What the Contour+ was missing was the ability to stream directly to the Internet.

That is what Cerevo adds to the equation the Cerevo LiveShell. The Cerevo LiveShell attaches to the Contour+ by HDMI cable and then it can send out a live stream either by wired LAN or 802.11 b,g and n compatible wireless LAN. The Cerevo LiveShell can run for 2 hours on batteries. You can control the LiveShell thru a Web-based application on a smart phone or computer. The LiveShell has a maximum resolution of 480p. It is the first device that was given the “Ustream Compatible” seal of approval by Ustream. It does come with a power adapter allowing for 24/7 stable broadcasting. If you want to see an example, the Cerevo LiveShell is currently running in Akihabara, a section of Tokyo, Japan. The Cerevo LiveShell works not only with Contour products but a multiple number of video cameras, including cameras with analog inputs.

The vision for Contour began in 2003 out of the University of Washington business plan competition when two undergraduate students and avid skiers, Marc Barros and Jason Green, devised a simple helmet camera to record their exploits. The two wanted to share video of the thrills and spills of their downhill skiing adventures with their friends and family, but they couldn’t. The frozen mountaintop was a grueling and unforgiving environment for video camcorders. Besides, when you’re zooming downhill, crashing through trees with ski poles in your hands, holding onto a camera is the last thing on your mind.

After winning third place in the competition and enough money to afford the rent on a chilly warehouse, the two friends began building and selling the Twenty20 Helmet Camera. Over the years Contour has introduced a series of innovations to make storytelling easier for outdoor enthusiasts.

Cerevo is a Tokyo, Japan based company started in 2007 they specialize in live streaming. The Contour Connect is currently available in the iTunes store and should be coming to Android 2.2.1 and above in April. The app is free. The Cerevo LiveShell was launched in Japan in November 2011 and will be available through the Contour Web site starting February 1, 2012. If you want to stream your adventures live to Ustream than you need to take a look at both the Contour+ and their new partner Cerevo LiveShell.

2. Griffin’s Gadgets on the Go- Griffin has one of the best  ranges of accessories for smartphones of all kinds, as well as MP3 players and tablets, so it’s no surprise that they’ve got a few additions to their product range. This year they’re announcing  two in-car mounts, some power solutions and a mount for air travelers.

First up, if you have a car that has an aux port (3.5 mm socket), then the WindowsSeat 3 Handsfree is the windshield or dashboard mount for whatever your drive. It comes with a combined aux cable and microphone that that can be used to make handsfree phone calls and stream music/navigation commands through the car speakers. WindowSeat’s mounting cradle holds iPods or iPhones in most shell- or skin-type cases, as well as a similar sized MP3 players and smartphones, including some popular models from BlackBerry, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung.

If you don’t have  an aux jack, the AirCurve Window Mount is the alternative. This windshield mount is designed as an acoustic amplifier which can raise the volume by as much as 25 dB without any batteries or cables. Designed for the iPhone 4 / 4S, simply put the smartphone in speakerphone mode and chat away.

Griffin’s PowerBlock range has been updated with new models –  PowerBlock Reserve, a wall charger for iPod and iPhone that can be plugged into any AC wall outlet to provide a quick boost of power that also has a built-in rechargeable 2,000 mAh lithium-ion battery pack for charging on the go. The PowerBlock Reserve Universal, is the same concept but quickly charges any USB device. Both models charge their own batteries at the same time they’re charging connected devices, which is often not the case with competing models. A row of LEDs serve as a power gauge, indicating how much charge is left.

Finally, Griffin is bringing a new product to the market in Q2 of 2012 with a Tray Table Latch Mount. Specifically for the air and rail traveller, the mount is designed to be compatible with 90% of the world’s airline and commuter rail tray table latches and holds your eReader, tablet or smartphone at eye level for comfortable viewing. Very handy.

3. Blue Mic’s New Microphones- If you are a Podcaster you are familiar with Blue Mic. Founded in 1995 they sought to improve the front-end of audio recording by utilizing the increased bandwidth benefits enabled by digital technology. Advances in digital processing (e.g. extended frequency response, dynamic range, project recording capability) have fundamentally changed the recording process as well as the potential for the performance of microphones. Basing many of their concepts, designs, and technology on knowledge gleaned from years of repairing and improving classic microphones from a wide variety of manufacturers, but by simultaneously integrating new technologies, materials and a first-hand knowledge of today’s recording process, Blue began to pioneer the perfect analog input devices for the digital age.

They are the maker of the Yeti and Snowball mics. This year at CES 2012 they introduced three new mics, the Spark Digital, the Mikey Digital and the Tiki.

The Spark Digital is a studio grade condenser mic. It allows for high fidelity recording. There is an onboard control for volume, gain and instant mute.  There is a headphone jack for realtime monitoring.  It connects to both the iPad and a USB device easily. It is plug and play and has LED meter which provides visual feedback. It comes with an adjustable stand.

The Mikey Digital is made for the iPod touch 4th generation, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPad 1 and iPad 2. It allows for automatic or manual gain control. There is a three gain setting. It is set up to allow for stereo recording. It has a 230 degree rotating design and comes with a built-in USB charging port.

The Tiki is an intelligent ultra-compact USB microphone. It has voice isolation and noise cancellation. It can eliminate constant background noise by the use of intelligent muting. It is optimized for podcast and music recording. It improves voice clarity for Skype and iChat.

All three microphones work with most recording software including Garageband and should be available soon. If you are a fan of USB mics, I’d suggest taking a look at these three.  Blue Mic provides quality at a reasonable price.


Zombie Apocalypse/Zompocalypse 101

In an earlier post of mine entitled A Geek Peek at 2012, one of the things I discussed, though briefly was the Zombie Apocalypse. In a comment to that post, someone stated that they didn’t understand the Zombie Apocalypse, so I figured I’d take the time to try and explain it to all those who may not be familiar with it.

The Zombie Apocalypse is defined as being a particular scenario of apocalyptic literature . In a zombie apocalypse, a widespread rise of zombieshostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization.

In some stories of zombie apocalypse, victims of zombies may become zombies themselves if they are bitten or scratched by zombies; or if a zombie-creating virus travels by air, sexually, or via water source. In others, everyone who dies or has died in the past, whatever the cause, becomes one of the undead. In some cases, parasitic organisms can cause zombification by killing their hosts and reanimating their corpses, though some may argue that this is not a real or traditional zombie. In rarer cases, possession by a demonic spirit or demonic spirits (released through some ancient tome, rite, or incantation) has caused the long since dead and or the closest living being to become a zombie. In the latter scenario zombies also prey on the living though their bite may not always cause an infection that kills and reanimates. In either case, this can cause the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading “zombie plague” swamps law enforcement organizations, the military as well as health care services; leading to the panicked collapse of civil society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain. Basic services such as piped water supplies and electrical power shut down, mainstream mass media would no longer function and the national governments of affected countries collapse or go into hiding. The survivors usually begin scavenging for food, weapons and other supplies in a world reduced to a mostly pre-industrial or possibly post apocalyptic, hostile wilderness.

Now fiction aside, there are reasons such an event could actually take place in the real world. Here are 5 reasons.. 5 scientific reasons backing up a Zombie Outbreak/Zombie Apocalypse:

5.  Brain Parasites- A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. Brain Parasites are the same as any other sort of parasite, though they feed off of either chemicals produced by the brain, brain fluid, or other things related to the brain. In nature there are many parasites. One such being toxoplasma gondiiToxoplasma gondii is the causative agent of the toxoplasmosis disease. In summary, extensive studies carried out under different experimental conditions suggest that T. gondii changes the behavior of rodents so as to make them more likely to be predated on by cats, the parasite’s definitive host.

From cracked.com Chances this could cause a zombie apocalypse:
“Humans and rats aren’t all that different; thats why they use them to test our drugs. All it takes is a more evolved version of toxoplasmosa, one that could to do us what it does to the rats. So, imagine if half the world suddenly had no instinct for self-preservation or rational thought. Even less than they do now, we mean. If you’re comforting yourself with the thought that it may take forever for such a parasite to evolve, you’re forgetting about all the biological weapons programs around the world, intentionally weaponizing such bugs. You’ve got to wonder if the lab workers don’t carry out their work under the unwitting command of the toxoplasmosa gondii already in their brains. If you don’t want to sleep at night, that is.”

4. Neurotoxins- Poisons that act on the nervous system. Certain neurotoxins can slow your bodily functions to the point that you’d be considered dead. The poison from fugu (Japanese blowfish) has the capability to do this. The victims of neurotoxin poisoning can then be brought back under the effects of a drug like datura stramonium or alkaloids that leave them in a trance-like state with no memory. In this state they are still able to perform simple tasks like eating, sleeping, moaning and shambling around with their arms outstretched.

There are reported cases of this actually happening in Haiti, which is where the word “zombie” comes from. Some of the most famous books on the subject are by Dr. Edmund Wade Davis: “Passage of Darkness” & “The Serpent and the Rainbow” Clairvius Narcisse was declared dead on 2 May 1962, and yet in 1980 returned alive to his home village of L’Estère in Haiti. After investigating reports of “zombis” (including Narcisse and a handful of others), researchers believed that Narcisse received a dose of chemical mixture containing Tetrodotoxin (pufferfish venom) and bufotoxin (toad venom) to induce a coma which mimicked the appearance of death. He was then allowed to return to his home where he collapsed, “died” and was buried. Ethnobotanist Wade Davis, who did the research on Tetrodotoxin explains that a Bokor would have given Narcisse a powder containing the Tetrodotoxin through abraded skin. Narcisse fell into a comatose state, closely resembling death which resulted in his live burial. His body was then recovered and he was given doses of Datura stramonium to create a compliant zombie-like state and set to work on a plantation. After two years, the plantation owner died and Narcisse simply walked away to freedom. Though there is no way to necessarily make this sort of zombie aggressive or cannibalistic; if such a thing was able to happen and on a wide enough scale.. we would certainly have a zombie problem.

3. Rage- A feeling of intense anger. It is associated with the Fight-or-flight response and oftentimes activated in response to an external cue, such as the murder of a loved one. The phrase, ‘thrown into a fit of rage,’ expresses the immediate nature of rage that occurs before deliberation. If left unchecked rage may lead to violence. Depression and anxiety lead to an increased susceptibility to rage.

In the movies 28 Days Later & 28 Weeks Later, the Rage Virus is a virus that turned human beings into mindless killing machines and is the cause for the zombie outbreak and subsequently the Zombie Apocalypse. Now, while the rage virus may not exist in the real world, we do have a series of brain disorders that do the same thing. They were never contagious, of course. Then, Mad Cow Disease came along. It attacks the cow’s spinal cord and brain, turning it into a stumbling, mindless attack cow. Combine the Mad Cow Disease with some people’s predisposition towards violence and there you have it.

2. Neurogenesis- The process by which neurons are generated from neural stem and progenitor cells. Most active during pre-natal development, neurogenesis is responsible for populating the growing brain with neurons. Some would even word it as being the method by which dead brain-tissue can be regrown.

Science can pretty much save you from just about anything but brain death; they can swap out organs but when the brain turns to mush, you’re basically dead. Right? Well apparently a dead body can be kept in a state of suspended animation to be brought back later. That just seems like it’s leading to bringing the dead back to life.. as long as they’re freshly dead. ya know.?. As nice as it sounds to have your loved one brought back from death’s very doorstep, the process of “reanimation” could cause a problem. The brain would die from the outside in. The outside of the brain, being the cortex, the part which makes people…. people. That would basically leave an individual a husk of their former self. Though the cortex isn’t needed for survival, you would be left a mindless shambling…zombie(for lack of a better word.). Take one freshly dead person, use the techniques of neurogenesis to regrow the dead brain-tissue or the brain stem and you have a living dead person, devoid of thought or personality.  All it takes is someone with considerable time, resources, and a need for a totally mindless workforce to obey their every wish.

1. Nanobots- Very small self-propelled machines, esp. ones that have some degree of autonomy and can reproduce. Basically they’re microscopic machines that can build or destroy anything.. in a matter of speaking.

Scientists have already created a nano-cyborg, by fusing a tiny silicone chip to a virus. One of the first things they found out was that these cyborgs can still operate for up to a month after the death of the host. Who knows…within a decade they may have nanobots that can crawl inside your brain and set up neural connections to replace damaged ones; rewiring your thoughts. Ask yourself…what could possibly go wrong with that? Nanobots in your brain after you’re dead… keeping your body moving and functioning and moving till there’s nothing left to move.  The nanobots would be programmed to self-replicate of course, and the death of the host would mean the end of the nanobots. In order to preserve themselves, they’d be forced to transfer to a new host. Therefore, the last act of the nanobot infested zombie would be to bite a hole in a healthy victim, letting the nanobots steam in and start the whole process all over again in the new host. Once in, they could shut down the part of the brain that resists (the cortex) and leave the brain stem intact. They would have added a new member to their undead ranks.

There you have it. Science has proven the possibility, feasibility, and the reality(No matter how unlikely it may be.) of a zombie outbreak.

All that’s left is surviving a Zombie Outbreak/Zombie Apocalypse. Good Luck.