31 October 2006

Hubble Saved!


It's official, there's going to be one more mission to service Hubble in 2008!


As I described in more detail elsewhere, there's a few things that I feel are crucial to a useful mission:

  1. Boost the telescope's orbit

  2. Replace the dying batteries

  3. Replace the dying gyroscopes

Things like upgrading cameras are a bonus. Also, keep in mind that this mission does NOT solve the issue of what to do when it "dies" - re-enters the atmosphere. Parts of the main mirror will probably survive re-entry (that is, not burn up), and it's been estimated that there's up to a 1 in 700 chance of human fatality from an uncontrolled descent. NASA still has not addressed that concern.


26 October 2006

Science:1, Vampires:0

A cute little fluff article over on NY Times about why vampires and ghosts can't be real, just in time for Halloween. The link they give for the actual paper itself is incorrect, it can be found here instead. It's also not at the highest level, being more about physics ed than hardcore physics, but still amusing.

22 October 2006

Accessable Evolution!

Not only are the entire works of Charles Darwin being scanned, converted to text, displayed side-by-side, and translated, they're also being made available in mp3 format for people with visual disabilities, or if you just want to listen to them on your iPod while jogging. Awesome!

Now if only they'd do the mp3's as a podcast so it'd be easier for me to download them all at once. :-P

20 October 2006

Antibiotic Resistance iff Evolution

It's in print now, and as my friend who works at a dictionary company tells me, having something acknowledged in print is what it takes.

Bacteria have been steadily evolving to evade the action of antibiotics and infections are becoming more difficult to fight.

For instance, the CDC said, in 1972, only 2 percent of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria infections were drug-resistant but in 2004, 63 percent were.

In a few cases, no available antibiotics can cure an infection, and many more resist methicillin, a later-generation type of antibiotic. [ref]


This is not just a science issue for me, this one is PERSONAL. And I'm sure I'm repeating myself now, so feel free to skip. I've got a (non-contagious) skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). Part of this involves bacterial infections in my apocrine sweat glands, primarily caused by staphylococcus aureus (staph). Staph is actually very common, something like 80% of the population have it sitting passively on our skin, and it doesn't do anything bad to them, but in me it gets inside my sweat pores and my body overreacts. So killing the staph should help treat my HS.

Keflex (cefalexin) is in the class of antibiotics called cephalosporins, which are part of the larger group called β-lactams. All β-lactams act by messing with bacterias' cell walls. I think I was prescribed Keflex when in my teens and college a few times, but it hasn't worked for ages. Amoxicillin is another type of β-lactam, and it used to work on me when I was in college and grad school, but sometime around 2004 we realized that it wasn't really doing anything anymore.

In case you're curious (or even if you're not), the term "penicillin" actually refers to a category of antibiotics including the originally discovered penicillin, and various derivatives of it including amoxicillin and methicillin. The penicillins and the cephalosporins are related in that they're both β-lactams and both act by breaking bacterial cell walls. Methicillin isn't actually used today, though it has lent its name to methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, resistant staph). MRSA is actually any staph that's resistant to the penicillins.

Waitasec, amoxicillin is a penicillin. Amoxicillin doesn't work on me. I have staph. Holy smokes, I have MRSA! But wait, amoxicillin used to work... *thinks* *lightbulb!* Holy darwinism, Batman, I've evolved MRSA under my skin! ...ick... Yeah. And to make matters worse, having that MR stand for "multiple resistant" might be a more accurate description, b/c you may recall (or skim upwards) Keflex isn't a penicillin, it's a cephalosporin. And that too used to work but now doesn't, so my pretty pretty staph evolved that during my lifetime too.

THIS is one of the top reasons why I get really REALLY pissed when people deny evolution.

What I use these days is Levaquin (levofloxacin), part of the category of fluroquinolones, which is part of the quinalones. Unlike β-lactams, quinalones act by messing with the DNA and DNA transcription of bacteria. Interestingly, the use of Levaquin reveals another interesting feature of my MRSA: the FDA does not recommend Leva for MRSA, but only for the methicillin suscpetible strains. There is widespread incidence of quinalone resistant staph, possibly by overusage in European livestock. And yet, the MRSA that are in me are not resistant to quinalones despite being resistant to multiple forms of β-lactams. I see this as more evidence that my MRSA have evolved within me, though I haven't confirmed this with my dermatologist.

*sigh* That's enough ranting for me. Maybe I should take some microbiology courses. ;)

Geekin' in the free world

Woot, I just edited the Wikipedia pages on Mauna Kea Observatory and the 2006 Hawaii earthquake to contain the relevant overlapping information. I'm such a dork. :-P

DNA technology

I'm continually amazed about how DNA sequencing has (1) revolutionized the forensic science field, and (2) become so commonplace now. And yet, there's limits to what it can do.

Five years after 2,749 people died in the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, families of about 1,150 victims still do not know whether their loved ones' remains were recovered.

During the excavation of the 110-story twin towers, which began the evening of the attacks and lasted for nine months, about 20,000 pieces of human remains were found. The DNA in thousands of those pieces, many small enough to slip into a test tube, was too damaged by heat, humidity and time to yield matches in the many tests forensic scientists have tried over the years.

The city told victims' families last year that it was putting the project of making identifications on hold, possibly for years, until new DNA technology was developed.

That's a shame, that even thought they started work on recovering remains the very same day, still by the time they got to lots of it, it had been too long and the evidence was too damaged to positively identify much of it. And it continues to amaze me that they can then just put all the evidence on ice and wait until technology catches up to where they are now! It reminds me of "corpsicles," people cryogenically freezing themselves at the instant of death, hoping for a future reprieve of their illness.

I wonder if there's a way that the identification of these remains can go "open source," such as creating a SETI@Home-type project that runs automatically on your computer, or a Stardust@Home where humans volunteer their time to perform simple easily-trained tasks that will progress towards the final goal, or even just making all the data public domain and letting people try whatever they want with it, like HST or Spitzer data are public.

1,000 words or less

19 October 2006

Earthquakes and telescopes

After jetheral pointed out this article to me but before I even read it, I realized that earthquakes can be devastating to telescopes - and perhaps the world's best observatory is at Mauna Kea. To start off, I can't really picture telescopes being mounted on shocks or something b/c the pier's supposed to be directly into bedrock so no building vibrations mess with the image. Add to that, that if the location of the telescope (or the whole island) shifts in an earthquake, something will need to be fixed to account for that.

And in fact, I'm right on that last one - one of the tele's shifted by as much as an inch, and they're going to have to recalibrate a crap. Thankfully no mounts or optics were damaged, my collaborator tells me that there actually were some stabilizing equipment on Keck 2 that probably saved it, only things like encoders (tell position), breaks, and the location calibration. I'm curious as to how long that'll all take to fix, b/c those telescopes with damage are useless until that happens.

Ooh, and I know major telescopes are insured by Swiss banks or whatever, I wonder if they get to collect here.

ETA: The CFRT is back online! The Kecks are not (as of Fri Oct 19).

LJ Feed

If any of you use LJ, I have created a syndicated feed of this blog over there so you can follow it more easily. While I plan to try and watch comments there, I do not get automatic emails if you comment there like I would if you comment here, so I do not guarantee (sp?) that I'll catch anything you say there.

18 October 2006

Colbert vs. Dawkins

I've never really liked Colbert, and sadly here he gives me more reason to not like him. I'm not entirely a fan of what I've heard of Dawkin's book "The God Delusion" either, but.... *sigh*

Link gotten from Fundies Say the Darnedest Things, with quotes that make me alternate between laughing hilariously and wanting to cry at their willful ignorance of how science works.

17 October 2006

Pluto Fallout

Never has an astronomy topic infiltrated pop culture quite the same way.

It's a T-shirt!
Planetary Status (pluto crying)

It's an old Song!
Planet X by Christine Lavin (© 1997) with a URL sung in it.

And it's a new song!
I'm Your Moon by Jonathan Coulton, song playable online for free, downloadable for free thru his podcast.

16 October 2006

E is for Electromagnet

Yoinked from jrtom, it's the baby geek alphabet! I agree with him that Z should be for Zooplankton.

14 October 2006

Cockatiel Colorations

I was writing a post elsewhere on the pigments involved in cockatiel colorations, and I thought it might be of interest to y'all to have it in one place. Genetics and breeding dictates which pigments each 'tiel has, but I haven't yet looked into that, just where the color originates within one individual.

Cockatiels have two pigments that cause color in them: melanin causes the gray, and lipochrome causes yellow and orange. Peeper (right, photo by me or my dad) was a typically colored cockatiel (called gray), and posessed both melatonin and lipochrome.

Lutino (like Gabe, left, photo by Tammy) is a mutation where they don't have the melatonin, kinda a "half-albino," so anywhere they would've been gray is white instead, and his eyes are red (even without the flash) instead of brown. They still have the lipochrome so retain the yellow head and tail, and orange cheeks. Whiteface cockatiel

Whitefaces (right) do have the melanin so they have gray backs and sides, but don't have the lipochrome so their heads are pure white.

Trina, albino = lutino + whitefaceIn order to get a true albino (Trina, left, photo by ), they need to crossbreed the lutinos and whitefaces to get an even more mutated bird without either lipochrome or melanin.

There are actually many more colorations to 'tiels than just these four that I mentioned, but they're a basic start.

And just because no list of bird photos is complete without it, here's some babies!

The above photos for normal gray and lutino were of my own birds, the albino is 's, and the whiteface (and lutino babies) were random ones on the 'net. If you've got a good photo of a whiteface you don't mind me using for this, post a link in the comments and I'll update the post. ^_^

11 October 2006

Punctuated Equilibrium

A group in Europe thinks they've found evidence that the mass extinction of mammals wasn't caused by comets, nor even ultimately by ice ages, but instead by periodic wobbles in the Earth's orbit and axial tilt. The Nature article says more about how they got the data, including fossil dental records I think...

03 October 2006


Eeee! Threadless needs to start a wishlist feature like Amazon has. I want! This too.