Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Strange quantum things - experiments with light and the quantum eraser

Since this blog is about science AND science fiction, I thought maybe we'd explore a subject that is a little bit of both.

Quantum physics.

Quantum physics deals with a realm we can't measure with comfortable instruments like tape measures or stopwatches. Most of it isn't even physical, or at least what the ordinary definition of physical is, and all we can define it with is mathematics. And the math can be very strange.

In the quantum realm, all sorts of oddities take place and are perfectly normal and one of the oddest experiments up to this point is something called the quantum eraser experiment.

Before we go any farther, you have to understand that one of the basic principles of quantum mechanics is that variables come in pairs that compliment each other. However there is a certain amount of unpredictability built in. The more precise your knowledge of one member of the pairs is, the more unpredictable the other member is.

As an example, a pair might be the position and momentum of a particle. The better we define the position of the particle, the less we know about it's actual momentum.

This never works in the world we inhabit, this macro-realm. If you want to know the position and momentum of a car, you're never prevented. You can map out exactly where the thing is and exactly what it's momentum is with no problem. GPS units do it all the time.

But particles in the quantum realm don't play by our rules. It's almost as if there's a law in effect that says the act of observation is disruptive, and in order to keep order from breaking things, the more order is forced in one spot, the more chaotic it'll become in another.

Back to the eraser experiment.

A classic experiment with light concerns a screen with 2 slits in it. When the light passes through the screen, wave-like interference patterns occur. This odd behavior, which happens with all particles, not just protons, happens even when it's just a single particle that is sent through the slit. The particle winds up in 2 places, going through 2 slits at the same time, still making the wave-like interference pattern as if it were interfering with itself. Wrap your mind around that one.

Knowledge of what path the particle is going to travel is the compliment to the appearance of the wave interference and there's a very complicated mathematical formula that explains it. Enter the uncertainty principle which says that nothing can be measured so carefully that it won't disturb the thing it's measuring, thus throwing off the results. The upshot though, is that the more carefully the particle is observed going through the slit, the less of the wave-like pattern of interference there is.

You might think about that the next time you stretch a tape measure across a board and mark where you're going to cut. Are you SURE that line's in the right spot?

Anyway, back to the realm of quantum physics and the odd things that go on there.

In the eraser experiment, scientists managed to find out which way the particles were going without disturbing the wave interference pattern that they were making. Particles come in sets which are tangled up and even when they're moved apart, what one does affects what the other does. The eraser experiment showed that if the observation/measurement information was erased from the system after it happened, then the particles acted as if they'd never been observed.

Are you totally confused yet?

No? Then think about this:

Let's bring the idea of a particle up to our normal level. Now, instead of a blip of energy, you're holding a baseball. You throw it and watch where it goes, where it hits, how fast it traveled. Then you time jump back, and stop yourself from watching it and... I can see your eyes crossing now :) How can you possibly erase the observation of something after you do it?

We have to get a little more technical here so stay with me. In order to measure what is going on, we have to have some sort of apparatus to measure with and something to measure. In the original experiment, scientists used beams of atoms. Subsequent versions of the experiment used various beams of light. A tightly focused laser shot photons through the double-slit curtain where they impacted a beta-barium borate crystal, one crystal for each slit. This sort of crystal has a special optical property - when it absorbs a photon, it re-emits from the exact same point a PAIR of entangled photons going in opposite directions. This allowed the scientists to figure out what the path of the original photon was without measuring IT.

All of this is interesting, of course, but the real question is:

What is it that's going on in the quantum realm that:

1. Allows a particle to interfere with itself and be in two places at the same time?
2. That forces an increase of chaos in one place to make up for order being imposed in another?

Scientists may never know, but they're certainly trying to figure it out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The 2010 Hall of Fame inductees

From the folks @ IO9 I read:

The 2010 Hall of Fame inductees are:

A Day in the Life of a Pet AT AT

Now here is a cute video that doesn't ascribe to anything more than it truly is...a piece of whimsy what ifs... So if you were a kid and you had a pet and it just happened to be an AT AT...what would your best summer afternoon be like...and what of the AT AT? Here is a genius short film that if not answering the question...gives you the idea. Patrick Boivin, has the inside track on what makes a summer afternoon special.....

100 SF Films - Free to watch - online

Amanda Harris sends in a list of science fiction (used rather loosely here) 1oo in all, that can be watched online for my favorite price point, zero!

Films range from the 1980s to films from the early part of the 1900s. Movies like A Trip to the Moon 1902 to 2010: The Year we Make Contact from 1984.

Plenty of good stuff here so if interested, check it out!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lungs, Grown in Lab, Function!

From Science Now via Dvice comes news of a development that has the potential to put the transplant business out of business. Well as far as live donors are concerned. What's all the hullabaloo? Well for the first time, rats are taking breaths and oxygenating their blood with lungs that are not original equipment. Said lungs are not mechanical nor are they organs from another rat, but LAB CULTIVATED!!!

Biomedical engineer Laura Niklason of Yale University are using a technique called decellularization which involves stripping an organ of all its cells leaving a fibrous scaffold on which donor cells can be encouraged to grow. Eventually you have a functioning organ that the patient's own body will accept as his own.

Your Face IN Space!!!

Now here is just something that is fun and cool at the same time. Wana go to space?
NASA wants to put a picture of you on one of the two remaining space shuttle missions and launch it into orbit.

If this sounds like just the thing, or like my wife who did it for me because the last flight is right around my birthday in November, go to the faceinspace page on NASA and follow the instructions for getting your pic on one of the last two shuttle flights.
  • The first thing you do is upload your pic and name to NASA
  • Then NASA has you Print and save the confirmation page with your flight information
  • After the launch, return to the NASA site to print your Flight Certificate
Face in Space Page

Nephew - Science Fiction & Familien

Science Fiction & Familien by Nephew

Who is "The Visitor"?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do astronomers have the right to keep their findings secret?

From Smart Planet
Honest! As weird as this sounds, it is going on right now. From the article:
  • The Kepler mission is a NASA program designed to find other possible Earth-like planets orbiting stars outside our solar system. The team involved have painstakingly scoured a patch of space for the tiniest signs of small planets ... and were due to release their findings June 15th–but, ... have not.
The reasoning? The Kepler people and NASA agreed:
  • to delay the complete release of their findings by six months, due to launch delays and other various problems that left the team with less time to analyze their findings
Their reasoning is that there is a high risk of false positives and they want time to refine their findings. But this is when it gets a bit weird:
  • The team is releasing a list of 350 possible planets, but keeping their best 400 secret for a few months for further analysis.
You just have to think that the conspiracy nuts will have a field day with this decision! Does NASA really think that their decision will limit the controversy?

You be the judge. Click the article title for the complete work.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Episode 214 is online!

The newest episode of Beam Me Up in online. Click Episode 214 to go directly to this week's episode.

Here is this week's show description:
  • show 214! Plenty of material for a show that I thought might turn into a vast wasteland! We start off with an ethereal piece of music for Boa called Duvet which is the opening music for the anime series Lain. Tim Sayell submits a new Bradley Brackett episode, arena of the Blood Moon and this is episode #9! Great retro fun this! I finish off with a follow on story from Merurio D. Rivera called Dear Annabels which is in the same universe as his wildly inventive "Snatch Me Another" which I played last month. This time he plays with the idea of what would a Dear Abby style of program work in a universe that has snatchers in it. The results are stunning! Plus I have some news on books and news from the blog. In the end it sees there was plenty of stuff! Go figure.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review: Serenity


directed / writen Joss Whedon

Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz

For those of you that have lived in a cave for most of the last decade Serenity is the feature film of the short lived Fox series Fire Fly.

Fire Fly was very much a standard big interplanetary federation and the fringe worlds at the edge of federation space where a man with a bit of imagination and maybe somewhat fluid idea of what is right and wrong, can find a niche to make a living with a fast ship and a brave crew. Many are veterans of a war between the fringe worlds and the federation, others live in the fringe for their own reasons.

Into this melee comes a mysterious girl/woman and her brother. The girl is not all she seems and the core worlds /government is bent on getting her back.

That was the major arc of the first season which played out pretty much as we have seen in other variations....Star Wars, Farscape, Andromeda and others.

The theme was very Star Wars Hans Solo Millennium Falcon feel to it, but if anything a bit more western. Where Roddenbery may have tongue in cheek called Star Trek Wagon train to the stars, Fire Fly really felt more like that....a true star faring western, but done in a believable manner that was easy enough to buy into.

But just as quickly as it came it went. Fox abandoned it prematurely leaving fans to languish. Joss on the other hand had other ideas. His vision was a movie that picked up some time after the end of the first season's arc. Things are not going well for the Serenity crew, moral is low, far from being a tight nit crew, some have left others are obviously totally disenchanted.

Once again, River's brother manages to rescue her and bring her back into the fold of Serenity. So the first season's arc is pretty played out again on the big screen. This time however, we learn more about everyone, the war, Reavers and of course we discover just exactly what River really is and it is spectacular, though to be a bit of a spoiler, if you were a fan of the Sarah Connor's Chronicles you know what Summer is capable of and how she is utilized better in the movie.

I don't know why I avoided the film. Maybe I thought I knew all I wanted about Fire fly. I know I was nightly disappointed when the series ended and going back to the movie I knew would be a bit painful just knowing that this is the last we shall see of the Serenity's crew put me off for a number of years. But then I watched a couple of sections of the film available online and even went so far as to look for more material. Then I just had to see how Joss handled the blu-ray.

And it is loving and masterful use of the medium. Out-takes, extended scenes, cast commentary, director commentary, picture in picture, full use of the blu-ray remote, Added media just to make the disk more entertaining, videos and even online material.

The film looks great in Blu-ray. Had to have been remastered because the detail is seriously past DVD.

I think the film is a solid 9....a bit off just because there really isn't ANYTHING original here, but it is so damn well done! As for the extras on the disk? Anyone that is going to put out a Blu-ray needs to take notes because if this could have been better, I can't see it. Yeah, I give the disk a 10 so that is a 9.5. Yeah, I have seen blu-ray fall completely (why did they even BOTHER) flat most have been lack luster, Serenity if not the best I have seen for extras and features, its damn close.

So if you can lay your fat little fists on the blu-ray of Serenity, you will be a happy camper if you are a fan. If not a fan, then it won't be the disk letting you down. This is worth the effort.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hayabusa returns!

Here is a short youtube video of the re-entry of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa capsule. This spectacular finish to a mission that started in 2003 to visit and sample the near-Earth asteroid, Itokawa, and return those samples to Earth. Hayabusa was also a test bed to research several new engineering technologies such as electrical drive engines and autonomous navigation plus many new technologies for retrieving and returning samples to Earth. Hayabusa is the first craft to visit, land on an asteroid and return to Earth.

from boing boing

Monday, June 14, 2010

MARS!, by Joe Bichard and Jack Cunningham

MARS!, by Joe Bichard and Jack Cunningham, is a short piece of animation that takes a pretty scathing look at human interplanetary exploration. All done in block animation and for all the world I think this is 8bit sound! But far from taking away from the film, it seems to add to the noise and confusion and in the end......

MARS! from Joe Bichard and Jack Cunningham on Vimeo.

Found on Vimeo and I first found it on SF Signals

Did the Chicxulub impactor have a BIG brother?

It is a fairly universal fact that the impactor 65 million years ago that happened off the coast of Mexico at Chicxulub played the death knell for many plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs. However there are still that remaining nagging few who say that the Chicxulub object could not have done such a devastating job all on its' own. They point to the Deccan Traps area that underwent bouts of volcanic activity between 68 and 64 million years ago. The thought is that this activity would have blocked so much of the sun's energy that most plants would have died and along with it the animals that depended on the as well.

There is however a problem. Such a large area of volcanic activity usually is attached to a tectonic plate's rim. Not so in this case. It was one of the odd hot-spot breakouts like Yellowstone or the Hawaiian island chain. But again there is a problem. These hot-spots are relatively speaking fairly small. The Deccan Traps covers a staggering 500,000 square kilometers! Weirder still, lava that makes up the Deccan Traps is high in iridium, not common in the Earth's crust but very common in yep, you guessed it.... meteorites. And such a meteorite! If the measurements are even close, we may find that the Earth was struck, at about the same time as Chicxulub, by an unbelievably huge 30km impactor!

I am only taking a small part of the really fascinating article in IO9. It reads like the best mystery novel. Check it out HERE

Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man

Here we have Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man
Now I know....not strictly speaking science fiction....but then, all the elements are there. Yeah, maybe the overall story is a fantasy tale, but let's let this little piece of brilliance be judged on it's own merits. It is exceedingly well done and is a quiet sad tale that is guaranteed to touch your heart. My hat is off to director Brandon McCormick. I found this rather indirectly on Vimeo.com where there is a great selection of just about anything you can imagine. Enjoy

Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man from Brandon McCormick on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

First-Ever Solar Sail Deployed

Wired has an article on the recent developments of the Japanese IKAROS spacecraft. The diminutive craft is the test bed for a feasibility study on "Solar Sails". The picture from JAXA shows the sail as it begins to deploy. Controllers are being cautious in stating that it will be a few weeks before they know anything at all of the sail's performance because of the variable in the system. First the structure is fantastically lightweight, being only as thick as a red blood cell and over 600 square feet in size makes it incredibly susceptible to damage. Even a slight breeze would tear the sail to shreds. Since there are no "breezes" in space, that is not a concern. What can damage the sail according to those in the know said “The things we’re watching for are all their dynamical behaviors that you ultimately can’t model and that might cause undue stress on the material,”

The sail will use the minuscule force imparted by a photon, which isn't much but adds up in time. It is hoped that this type of propulsion will be used on long duration mission.

Wired article here

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

DIY Sci-Fi Trailer for Technotise. It's GREAT!

Jaron Pitts is at it again with a spec trailer for a live action version of the animated Serbian sci-fi film Technotise: Edit & I. Pitts previous project was a fake Green Lantern trailer by cobbling together scenes from Firefly and sci-fi movies, which in and of itself was a stunning effort. I think you will find the same ethos here (plus recognize many pieces of your fav sci-fi films) as well as just stunning visuals and sound. Like Pitts earlier work, Technotise trailer has caught the eye of more than a few of the Hollywood type. It might not lead to anything but as it sits now, but Scott Glassgold, co-chief of IAM Entertainment, who just purchased the Technotise remake right received loads of offers from studios, producers and agents interested in developing the project. Very interesting and encouraging news I would say.
The complete article in Wired is here

Mars Has a Monolith?!

Or more accurately Mars' moon Phobos has a structure photographed on it's surface that looks suspiciously like one. This is according to an article in the Daily Galaxy here and of course on the suggestion of Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

From the Daily Galaxy article:
  • ... Aldrin, ... alluded to a monolith detected on Mars' moon Phobos. (Aldrin said) "We should visit the moons of Mars. There's a monolith there - a very unusual structure on this little potato shaped object that goes around Mars once every seven hours. 'When people find out about that they are going to say, "Who put that there? "
Who indeed, check out the photo and click the link for the complete story.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Broken Bells music video

Kinda interesting is this vid I found on IO9 called Broken bells. Here is some info on it according to the IO9 article.

Starring Mad Men's Christina Hendricks (aka Firefly's Mrs. Reynolds!) and now it's here. Watch the android Christina dismantle her own body aboard a spaceship bound for stardom.

Stardom? ehhhhh but the music and the video is diverting....somewhat.

Got a spare 4 Trillion? Let's go to Neptune!

Check list:
magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters - Huh? what? What's that?
Oh about 4 trillion dollars....

Been yearning to visit the outer solar system planets? Well start saving now and when you get to about 4 trillion give the boys at Johns Hopkins a call. Seems they have been thinking about what it would take to make the trip. First thing on the agenda is a seriously improved thrusting system called magnetoplasmadynamic. Oh and set aside about 5 years for total mission time. Now before you start thinking that's way too long, look at how long it took earlier craft to make it that far. No, 2 years out to Neptune is fast.

From the Article:
  • For example, the New Horizons probe currently en route to Pluto-the fastest man-made object in space-has reached the distance of 16.74 AUs from the sun as of this writing. That took about 4.5 years, and it's only a little more than halfway to Neptune
The head of the group formulating this plan is Ralph McNutt. His paper on the project can be read here.

Cassini find something strange on Titan?

Tim Sayell just wrote in with an article that I have been seeing a lot of lately. From Yahoo News

comes a report that NASA's probe Cassini has found something strange on Saturn's moon Titan. The new data rekindles speculation that Titan may harbor some sort of life all its own.

Chemical analysis of data returned by Cassini suggested that hydrogen was flowing down through Titan's atmosphere and disappearing at the surface. First thing is that this really shouldn't be taking place, second, what IS then causing the discrepancy. Some scientists speculate that there may be a strange life form responsible.

From the article:
  • Another study investigating hydrocarbons on Titan's surface found a lack of acetylene, a compound that could be consumed as food by life that relies on liquid methane instead of liquid water to live.
Of course there are many explanations on what these could be. Read the Yahoo News article and you decide.

Review: Gattaca


Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Gore Vidal, Loren Dean, Blair Underwood, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Shalhoub

What would a world be like if you were judged at birth to be suitable to be the recipient of societies benefits or unfit?

I was all set to dismiss this movie as a bit of mean spirited anti everything movie. You know the type, rave about surveillance, security, pollution, on and on and on.

Then I started paying attention to the overall ambiance. Things stopped adding up. Although it appeared modern time frame or even future, the architecture was decidedly 50s, Dress was conservative even for that time, maybe 20s? Tech though advanced seemed almost steam punk in nature. What I realized was that we have a brave new world / 1984 type of thing going on here - almost an alternative or parallel Earth mind set. Then the 40s perfect genome perfect baby mentality starts to make a whole lot of sense. It's Earth, perhaps, just not quite OUR Earth. Everything is this surreal perfect generic low-tech high-tech uber surveillance society and everything stays in the 30s/40s double breasted button down motif right to the end. Space suits? Seat belts? Nope, 3 piece suits, ties, high-backed seats in a circle and the launch techs? Right out of a Russian 60s propaganda film.

In the middle of this is a "genetically undesirable" who's only option is menial labor who dreams of the stars. I wouldn't think of ruining the twisted hiding in plain sight that is the pivot for this movie, and the obligatory reversals are very much in evident, perhaps to a fault, but the one thing that does happen with these "twists" is that it is extremely difficult to predict the ending. You will find yourself at the last few moment in the film muttering...didn't see that coming.

Gattaca is of course a movie with a bit of age on it being filmed in 1997 which when put into perspective was incredibly forward thinking in ways that as breath taking as they were, movies like Blade Runner, could not hope to be. There is no question that Gattica is still very timely in the subject matter it addressed.

The Blu-Ray is every bit an addition to the movie experience. We have an out take reel, and several featurettes that explain the original vision, the making of thought process and strangely enough a separate science of DNA.

Now I am going to warn you that if you are planning on watching the movie for the first time, it does carry a fairly strong "message" but no more so that some of the totally self serving disingenuous crap that we see lately that is only politically correct for the dollars sake. With Gattica they went so far as to cut the most troublesome messages out of the general release because the didnt want to pound us over the head with "the Message" so that is a serious kudo for me.

I don't know why I let this one go when it first came to the big screen or why I never pursued it in the intervening years, but I have got to say that Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law really do excellent jobs and when you consider the time frame and some of the neat info from the short films you appreciate just how good this movie is.

The movie is an 8 solid and the special extras are 9 (why a 9? because I have kinda grown to like the feature with the director voice over...didnt get that) so Gattaca is a solid 9 in my book. Being a message movie, you may feel it a bit heavy handed and some might be put off by the age, but considering that alien and 2001 Blade Runner and their ilk still hold their weight, this has got to be a film in their league.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Space X launches Falcon 9

Whoooooooo hooooooo talk about a great launch! Here we have Space X launching their Falcon 9 two stage rocket into Earth orbit. According to Dvice the launch from Cape Canaveral was a picture-perfect liftoff. The Falcon 9 launch vehicle carried a payload called the Dragon cargo module. The system is being built by SpaceX with a mission to deliver supplies to the international space station and bring back equipment and experiment samples to Earth. With this successful launch Space X now has a contract of 12 flights first of which is a resupply mission. The system is unique as it is largely reusable which in theory should keep the cost down. Below is the launch with a dummy payload that did make it into orbit.

ABH news article

Dvice article

Space X

Wiki on the Falcon 9 launch system

Friday, June 04, 2010

RIP: author Jeanne Robinson

Author Jeanne Robinson died on May 30 after a long battle with a particularly nasty and virulent form of biliary cancer. Jeanne was undergoing treatment but toward the end the cancer was not responded to treatment.

Robinson, the wife of Spider Robinson, co-authored the Stardance novels and won the Nebula and Hugo Awards in 1978 for the original novella, “Stardance.” Robinson has also been a dancer and choreographer. At the time of her death, she was working with James Sposto and David Gerrold to bring Stardance to the screen.

Jeanne Robinson was born in 1948 and passed at the age of 62.

Boing Boing article

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Issue 144 of AntipodeanSF is now available

The newest issue of Antipodean online magazine is online and ready for you all to read. Editor Nuke writes that this is issue 144. The entire magazine is here for you to read online.
Nuke has given us an excellent cross section of the newest in speculative fiction.


What The Pauper Did Next By RJ Astruc

Last Man Standing By Lily Mulholland

Brain In A Vat By Violette Rose-Jones

Depopulation By Jamie Richter

Family History By Shaun A. Saunders

Clarity By PM Freestone

Envy By JL Cooper

Resplendis By Suzanne J. Willis

Collapsing The Wave Function By Kevin J. Phyland

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Virtual Reality short film

World Builder
About this video:
"A strange man builds a world using holographic tools for the woman he loves.

This award winning short was created by filmmaker Bruce Branit, widely known as the co-creator of '405'. World Builder was shot in a single day followed by about 2 years of post production. Branit is the owner of Branit VFX based in Kansas City.

More info, background and info on future releases can be at http://www.facebook.com/pages/World-Builder/73936485659 Become a fan and keep in touch."