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Reinhard Kargl

 

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FORWARD TO 2008

December 31, 2007

THE YEAR'S TOLL

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, 86 colleagues were killed while on assignment this year. Also murdered were at least 20 people who assisted the media. About two dozen killings during the year remain under investigation. More than 30 journalists died in Iraq, which continues to be the most dangerous place for members of the media. Asia also remains extremely hazardous. Huge increases were reported in Africa and, as a consequence of the increasingly violent drug trade, in Mexico.

135 journalists are known to be imprisoned. More and more, private individuals who publish their thoughts on the Internet are threatened, harrassed or imprisoned. There are 65 known cases of jailed "cyber-dissidents" and many more who lost their jobs or were sanctioned in other ways.

December 24, 2007

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

(The Kinks: Father Christmas)

December 21, 2007

LIGHTS OUT AT THE NUWILSHIRE

Much to my dismay, one of my favorite neighborhood movie theaters has just gone dark.

The building was constructed in 1931. For decades, the Santa Monica Art Deco structure was has been leased by Landmark Theaters.This chain specializes in international and independent productions, as well as documentary films.

Apparently, the 740-seat Nuwilshire was not losing money. But the property owner figured he could charge more rent if the building is converted to upscale retail space. This means another chain store -- a familiar story in Santa Monica, where real estate prices are among the most expensive in the world.

The theater closed all of a sudden and without any public annoucement. The reasons are clear: the property owner intended to take public interest groups and community activits by surprise. The L.A. Conservancy is reported to study the situation, and it may well be that an application for landmark status will be filed. This may curtail or at least delay the owner's plans to convert the building.

December 21, 2007

GLACIER ON MARS

The series of exciting discoveries on Mars continues. This time, European Space Agency's Mars Express team has found what seems to be an active glacier in the Deuteronilus Mensae region between Mars' rugged southern highlands and the flat northern lowlands. The frozen water may have come from underground sources. If confirmed, this location would be a prime spot to look for remnants of life.

December 18, 2007

RAIN AND WRITERS' STRIKE

Tonight L.A. is being doused with the second major storm front of the season. We could certainly use the rain, because water levels in the reservoirs supplying Southern California have fallen quite low.

I like rainy days in Los Angeles -- as long as I don't have to drive anywhere. Traffic here gets out of control as soon as the first drops hit the roads. Drivers here are not used to wet conditions; the roads here are generally very poorly maintained and lack proper drainage.

After the first storm (Dec. 6 to 8) the mountains surrounding L.A. were capped with snow. Palm trees in the foreground and sugar hooded mountains in the background are a spectacular sight.

Meanwhile, the WGA writers' strike is continuing in full force. Negotiations with the studios have broken down again. The Writers Guild has just upped the ante. Their refusal to allow any material over which it has jurisdiction to be used in this year's Golden Globe and Academy Awards shows will cause huge damage to these properties and deal a painful blow to the networks. Both shows are extremely important to the studios not only for the advertising revenue, but also for their marketing campaigns.

Some estimates say that so far, the industry has lost about $500 million. More than 50 shows have halted production, although a few hosts have just announced that they will return to the air without writers after the year is over. For Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien, this will be a tricky walk, since nobody wants to be seen as crossing the picket lines. But Leno and O'Brien in particular don't own their shows, like Letterman does, for instance. This means that their networks can just lay off or suspend the entire production personnel, down from the producer, and play re-runs. This apparently can go on for a while before viewers tune out, which shifts most of the burden back to the production staff.

Motion picture production is continuing so far, because production companies always have huge stockpiles of scripts. But they too will run into problems, because all-important re-writes and adaptions have ground to a halt.

I am only indirectly affected -- mostly because the entire media industry is slowing and trying to preserve money. But several of my colleagues who do more fiction are beginning to get nervous. The last strike (in 1988) lasted for 22 months. So far, nobody wants to believe that we might be in for that long a haul.

November 29, 2007

PLANETQUEST

Our Milky Way is just a plain old galaxy like billions of others. And our Sun is just a plain old regular (and very common) star. Do other stars also have planets? You bet! (When I was going through school, no one could say for sure. Some astrophysicists even argued that the chances would be slim to none).

Since then, more than 260 extrasolar planets have already been discovered in orbits around stars. More planets are found almost every month. Frankly, I've lost track -- and I'm not the only one.

Luckily, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory here in Pasadena maintains a great web site on the subject. Here, you will find a continuously updated database of extrasolar planets, with star images, planet system visualizations, and graphics comparing other planets to those in our own solar system. There is also a desktop planet counter "widget" for your PC or Mac desktop, which keeps up with the current tally of newly-discovered planets. In addition, the site has games, movies and simulations to immerse you in the world of interstellar exploration, as well as a map of planet hunters: an interactive global view of scientists and techniques involved in searching for another Earth.

http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov

By the way: all newly discovered planets are in very close proximity to our Sun. That's because our current instruments are not yet sensitive enough to find planets that are further away. And it will be a few years before we can reliably spot earth-sized planets. Until then, we simply need more money for better telescopes.

The number of planets near the Sun is quite amazing. Consider this: our galaxy contains between 200 and 400 billion stars. And there are thought to be at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Now that we know that planets are quite common and rather the norm -- how many planets could there be? And what are the chances that among these trillions of planets in the universe, only our Earth would be conducive to life? I'd say: slim to none.

November 25, 2007

Highly, highly recommended!

 

 

HOW TO COOK YOUR LIFE

a documentary film

written and directed by Doris Dörrie

produced by Megaherz Film and Fernsehen

Germany 2007

 

November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving meals not yet digested, a shopping frenzy befalls most Americans come Friday morning. During these days, I usually avoid stores like the bubonic plague, but yesterday I ran out of some essentials and had to visit my local grocery store. During the entire time I was there, cheesy pop versions of Christmas songs were blaring over the speakers. The annual circus begins again.

Here in Los Angeles we had a couple of cooler weeks with fog in the coastal areas. But now, the hot and dry Santa Ana winds from the deserts inland are back again. And this means: wildfires. This time, fire fighters were already deployed in advance. They were right on the money.

.

Malibu and Santa Monica Mountains as seen from the air. (Photographer unknown).

At 3:30 am this morning, another fire broke out in one of my favorite hiking areas -- the Santa Monica Mountains. This was this year's third significant fire there and the worst in 15 years. By afternoon, 5,000 acres of wilderness and 49 homes were destroyed. Thousands of Malibu residents had to be evacuated. 1,750 firefighters, at least 45 fire engines, two fixed-wing planes and 23 water-dropping helicopters saw action. Even such formiddable force barely makes a dent. What usually slows the flames is a weakening of the Santa Ana wind, which allows humid air from the ocean to drift inland. This happened today in the late afternoon and early evening.

I took the following two shots at Santa Monica Beach this afternoon. The first shows the plume of smoke drifting west from the Santa Monica Mountains, over Malibu and out to sea. The second shows the early "sunset", which happened as the sun disappeared in the smoke.

Photos: Reinhard Kargl, 2007

November 16, 2007

ICE ON MARS

Another amazing space picture! This one was captured by Mars Express, the European Space Administration (ESA)'s spacecraft orbiting Mars. It shows a crater with water ice, looking East. Meanwhile, researchers studying images sent by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found strange black dots, which might be entrances to underground caves.

November 14, 2007

EARTH RISES

The unmanned Japanese spacecraft Kaguya has recorded the first high definition video footage of the Earth rising on the moon. Kaguya (also called Selene) has been orbiting 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the moon since Oct. 18.

This amazing image is a still from the HDTV video footage. In the foreground is a region of the moon's surface near its north pole. The Arabian Peninsula and Indian Ocean can be observed on the Earth.

Kaguya is a project of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and perhaps the country's most ambitious mission in space to date. The Kaguya web site is here.

November 12, 2007

To gain the friendship of a cat is a difficult thing.
The cat is a philosophical, methodical, quiet animal,
tenacious of its own habits, fond of order and cleanliness,
and it does not lightly confer its friendship.
If you are worthy of its affection,
a cat will be your friend,
but never your slave.
He keeps his free will,
though he loves,
and he will not do for you what he thinks unreasonable.
But if he once give himself to you
it is with absolute confidence and affection.

Théophile Gautier, 1811- 1872
French poet and novelist

November 4, 2007

Enjoyed an afternoon party at the headquarters of the Carnegie Institution Observatories. The picture shows our small delegation in the machine shop in Pasadena, in front of the Planet Finder Spectrograph. This intrument (currently under construction) will aid in the search for extra-solar planets. It will be finished in a few months and will be installed in one of the Magellan Telescopes by July 2008.

(From left to right: Fabio Altenbach, Thor Dockweiler, Reinhard Kargl, Robert Lozano, Jed Laderman; photo by Robert Storts)

We cannot yet observe such foreign planets directly. But when a planet orbits a star, its gravitational influence causes the star to "wobble" very slightly. The wobble can be detected by repeatedly measuring the star's velocity over a period of time. These cyclic velocity changes can then be analyzed to estimate the size and orbital parameters of the planet.

PFS wil be cabable of measuring a star's velocities down to 1 meter per second (2.2 miles/hour), which is incredible precision considering that the measured object is many light years away. This accuracy will be 3 to 5 times greater than current instruments of equal light capturing ability.

November 3, 2007

50 years ago today, topping the spectacular success of Sputnik 1 (see my entry on October 4), the Soviet Union again amazed the world with the launch of Sputnik 2. This satellite was much larger than its predecessor, and it carried the first living passenger to space: Laika the dog. The mission paved the way for human spaceflight by proving that life could be sustained in space.

Ever since I was a boy I have been wondering what happened to Laika. My books only reported that she did not survive, but did not give any details. Unfortunately the truth of the matter is rather sad and shocking. I believe Laika’s fate should be mentioned.

At one time, she was a mongrel stray dog wandering the streets of Moscow. She ended up in an animal shelter, and was one of several dogs picked up for the space program. Her age was estimated to be around three years, and she weighed 6 kg (13 pds).

During her training, Soviet personnel called her "Kudryavka" (Russian for "Little Curly"), "Zhuchka" ("Little Bug") and "Limonchik" ("Little Lemon"), but somehow "Laika" stuck. In addition to her, two alternate dogs were being trained: Albina and Mushka.

The dogs were subjected to noises and forces similar to what they would experience during launch. In order to adapt the dogs to the tiny confines of Sputnik 2, they were kept in progressively smaller containers for up to 20 days. Of course all this meant tremendous stress for the dogs, who stopped urinating and defecating and deteriorated physically. The dogs were trained to eat a gel food, presumably because it produced little bodily waste and was easy to transport and dispense.

The schedule was extremely tight, because Nikita Khrushchev wanted a launch on or before Nov. 7 (the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. It would have been impossible to design a re-entry and landing system in such a short time. As a result, Laika’s flight was planned to end in a fireball. But before re-entry, Laika was meant to be poisoned by remote control.

After the final selection was made, Laika was placed in the satellite three days before launch. Just prior to launch, her fur was sponged in an alcohol solution and iodine was applied. Electrodes were attached to send back telemetry of her bodily functions.

The data showed that during peak acceleration of the launch, her pulse rate increased from 103 to an incredible 240 beats per minute. The poor dog’s breathing quickened to three to four times the normal rate. After engine cut off and in the weightlessness of Sputnik 2’s orbit, she relaxed somewhat, but it took three hours for her life signs to return to normal. She was clearly agitated but appeared to be eating her food.

There had been a problem during launch: one part did not jettison properly, which prevented the climate control system from functioning properly. As a result, the interior of Laika’s vehicle reached 40 °C (104 °F).

Soviet sources gave many conflicting accounts of what happened next, but fact is that Laika passed away. Perhaps the most authoritative (and most recent) account is contained in a paper submitted by Dr. Dimitri Malshenkov to the World Space Congress in Houston, Texas, in 2002. It asserts that Laika died from overheating between the 5th and 7th hour of the flight.

Laika has not been forgotten. Her name lives on in numerous books and articles, on postage stamps from various countries, in brands of consumables and in pop music: iTunes currently lists about 200 items containing “Laika” in either the artist name or song title.

October 31, 2007

 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore -
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“T’ is some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.”

 

(From: Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven)

October 30, 2007

As the Santa Ana winds are subsiding, the terrible wildfires which have been burning all over Southern California are now also dying down. At their peak, more than half a million people had to be evacuated. More than a dozen human lives were lost, and well over 1,000 buildings were destroyed. It is too learly to estimate the total damage, but it will be in the billions of dollars.

The airborne ash and nitrous oxides are bad for our lungs but at least they make for wonderful sunsets. (It is quite amazing how far microparticles can travel. A few years ago, pollution form wildfires in Asia was found in the air in America).

(Photos: Reinhard Kargl)

Thanks!

http://www.jesusandmarychain.org/

October 22, 2007

When I went to the beach yesterday, I observed huge clouds of smoke drifting from the Santa Monica Mountains and into the Bay. As the sun sank behind the billowing smoke in the late afternoon, the beach was bathed in an eerie light, and the sun itself turned into a blood red orb before its light was completely swallowed up by the billowing smoke. People at the beach were staring in fascination and cameras kept clicking away.

The smoke came from brush fires in the mountains, which were fueled by the dry and hot Santa Ana winds which make for great beach weather even this late in the year, but also set the right conditions for fires.

There are currently a dozen fires in seven different counties buring in Southern California. 100,000 acres have already burned and 250,000 people have been evacuated, mostly in the San Diego area.

Photo: Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times

 

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

October 18, 2007

How often does one get the chance to attend someone's 100th birthday party? Tonight I was excited to join the crowd gathered to celebrate Virginia Davis. She was born in 1907. (I have a special connection with her late husband).

Virginia seems to be fit as a fiddle. She is in good spirits and a pleasure to be with. She remains active, lives by herself and independently and gets around by bus. What an amazing lady!

Pictures from the party are here.

October 16, 2007

I have always thought one can never do enough research for a story. Looks like I have to revise my opinion.

(From today's L.A. Times)

October 4, 2007

So dependent are we on space technology today that world commerce, communications, navigation, entertainment, aviation and as a result, our entire lifestlye would grind to an immediate halt without it.

The "Space Age" began on October 4, 1956, when the Soviet Union surprised the rest of the world with its launch of the first man-made object in orbit around the Earth.

Sputnik 1 was rather primitive and cobbled together in less than three months. The reason for the great hurry was that Soviet intelligence had overestimated American ambitions and anticipated that the U.S. was about to launch a satellite very soon. (In reality, the American space program at the time was disorganized and struggling. Large scale rocketry was a military affair, and there was little interest in launching satellites. President Eisenhower was holding back the group of German rocket scientists working under Wernher von Braun, who had far loftier goals).

Earth's first artificial moon consisted of a polished aluminum sphere. The inside was pressurized and held a payload of two radio transmitters. On the outside of the sphere were four antennas. The rocket carrying it had originally been designed as a vehicle for nuclear warheads. But the warhead program had run into a snag, and the rocket had power to spare. Powerful enough to deliver a warhead to another continent, the designers calculated, it was also capable of accelerating a smaller object to orbital velocity.

Sputnik 1 was 58 cm (about 23 in) in diameter and weighed approximately 83.6 kg (about 183 lb). It transmitted radio signals for about three weeks before falling silent. After three months, it re-entered the atmosphere and burned up. All in all, it circled the Earth more than 1,400 times, taking about 96 minutes per orbit.

It was the brainchild of Sergei Korolyov (also spelled "Korolev"), whose idendity was kept a state secret by Soviet officials. While his counterpart in the West, Wernher von Braun, would go on to become a world famous celebrity, Korolyov was never mentioned in any contemporary accounts. His key role was known to only a few officials and space designers. Von Braun and his ideas were widely published in the popular media. Korolyov, meanwhile, was only allowed to publish his non-sensitive research under the pseudonym "Professor K. Sergeyev." One reason for this was the communist idea that Soviet scientific achievements should not be attributed to one person. But the most profound reason must have been the (certainly justified) fear that Western intelligence would target key personnel.

Khrushchev reportedly took the news of Sputnik's launch in stride and at first did not fully understand the impact it would make on the world. The first account of the launch was only a small article buried in Pravda. But the news touched off an avalanche of world publicity. Excited by the global furor, Khrushchev ordered Korolyov immediately to launch a new satellite, this time, to mark the Nov. 7 anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

Interested in a commemorative T-Shirt? An acquaintance of mine sells them here.

September 28 - October 1, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO

Tried out Virgin America, the new airline flying from LAX to SFO. The planes are brand new Airbus A-320s. It was a pleasant flight, except that on the return trip my luggage got lost and was accidentally sent to Washington DC. Luckily this didn't happen on the way to S.F. I had business meetings and a black tie gala event to attend and would have been embarrassed without proper clothing. Apart from the mishap on the way home, everything went well and I had a good time.

Here are some pictures.

September 23, 2007

PHOTOGRAPHIC FILM FAR FROM OBSOLETE

In a recent survey, 75% of professional and semi-professional photographers said that they expected to continue the use film along with digital technology. 68% said they preferred film over digital for a variety of applications. Many cited film’s superiority for shooting larger-format and black & white pictures, film’s adaptablility to a wider variety of light conditions as well as archiving advantages. The survey contacted 40,000 of the nation’s estimated 64,000 full and part time professional photographers, of which 9,000 responded.

35 mm, the world’s most commonly used film format, was first brought to market by the Eastman-Kodak company 126 years ago. Because of Eastman-Kodak’s restructuring and transition to digital technologies, its workforce will continue to fall to 34,000 by the end of this year. (This is roughly half the number of employees of five years ago).


A great photograph is like a great novel. You’re one person before reading it and a different person afterward. (Peter Fetterman, gallery owner and collector, Santa Monica)

September 1 - 3 , 2007 - LABOR DAY WEEKEND

All of Southern California has been baking in a heat wave. Lightning ignited several brush fires, but they seem to be under control now. And as usual on these occasions, we are afflicted by electricity supply problems of the sort commonly experienced only in developing countries. Since our infrastructure has not kept up with population growth and development, peak demand on days such as these can lead to system collapses, so-called "brown-outs". Whole areas went dark for hours at a time, and about 85,500 housholds were temporarily left without power.

Luckily for me, temperatures near the coast were nice and tolerable, and once again I am grateful to be living by the ocean.

I snapped this shot at sunset on Santa Monica Beach. To the right are the Santa Monica Mountains -- my favorite hiking grounds. (Click here for more pictures).

Photo: Reinhard Kargl

PS: Contrary to the popular myth, summer does not end with Labor Day!

August 28, 2007

LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: RADIOACTIVE CONTAINER BREACHED

The general public is widely oblivious to the fact that dangerous radioactive materials frequently travel by plane and with minimal security and shielding. Because of the rapid decay time of certain isotopes used for medical and industrial applications, transportation by air is often the most practical way. In order to minimize weight, shielding is so minimal that it must be questioned whether personnel and passengers are adequately protected from radiation. The containers are not designed to withstand a fire or a plane crash, and protection from theft varies greatly.

I believe that this practice is highly dangerous and that procedures and safety measures should be scrutinized. Case in point is the August 25 incident at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). As 8:10 pm, a forklift damaged one of three boxes containing radioactive substances. They had been flown in on a Lufthansa cargo jet and transferred to a Delta Airlines storage area. The force of the forklift impact was enough to pop open the lid. The Los Angeles Fire Department responded but could not find any radioactive contamination. 31 workers in the area were checked for exposure and released.

August 24, 2007

YAHOO, MICROSOFT WILL CENSOR FOR CHINA

Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other providers of blogging and Internet services have agreed with the Chinese government to perform censorship and collect personal identification information of the users of their Chinese web services. Earlier, these companies have actively cooperated with the U.S. government by supplying data about users to U.S. government agencies, which had obtained sweeping and general subpoenas.

Privacy and anonymity on the Internet, as well as free and worldwide expression are surely becoming a thing of the past.

PS: A U.S. lawsuit brought against Yahoo Inc. alleges that personal information released by Yahoo to the Chinese government led to the arrest and incarceration of regime critic Wang Xiaoning and journalist Shi Tao. Both are now serving 10 year sentences in China.Their crimes? Xiaoning had advocated democratic reforms in articles circulated on the Internet. Tao had detailed government restrictions on journalists in connection with the 15-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. (Yahoo says its Chinese subsidiaries were just complying with Chinese laws).


MORE ATI: iPHONE FREED FROM AT&T

I have earlier commented on the rising importance of what I coined ATI (“asymmetric techno intelligence”). A large number of enthusiasts, working independently but linked through the Internet, is remarkably successful and quick when it comes to breaking codes and deconstructing and reverse engineering proprietary technologies.

Today AP announced that 17-year old George Hotz of N.J. has found a way to hack the iPhone so that it works with other cellphone providers and not just with Apple’s partner AT&T. The procedure is moderately complex and involves both hard- and software. However, it is likely that it will give rise to a new cottage industry. Hotz says he collaborated online with four other hackers, two of them in Russia. He published his method on his blog:

http://iphonejtag.blogspot.com/

In the U.S., no law seems to make it illegal to unlock cell phones to work with other carriers. Apple had no comment, but its stock rose about 3% today after this story broke.

August 21, 2007

NOT A NATION OF READERS

According to a recent poll (AP-Ipsos), one in four American adults has not read any book last year. The study reveals a nation in which reading is no longer commonplace.

Non-readers tend to be older, male, less educated, less religious, have less income, belong to minorities and live in rural areas. Interestingly, there is a clear trend toward sharp polarization. Many in the survey reported reading dozens of books. The median for males was five books and nine for women.

Overall, the publishing business is not in bad shape. Global sales totaled $35.7 billion in 2006, which is 3 percent more than in the previous year. About 3.1 billion books were sold, an increase of less than 1 percent. (Source: Book Industry Study Group).

August 16, 2007

OFF THE ROAD (AGAIN!)

A few weeks after a $4,000 overhaul, the engine completely seized after a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Now what?

Photo: Reinhard Kargl

August 13, 2007

JOURNALIST KILLINGS

An arrest has been made in the August 2 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey. Police said 19-year old handyman Devaughndre Broussard confessed to shooting Bailey because he was upset about Bailey’s investigating the finances of Your Black Muslim Bakery, the organisation he worked for. The police have not yet determined whether Broussard acted on his own. Two other employees are being questioned about their suspected involvement in the recent abduction of a woman.

Last week two well-known Somali journalists were killed. Radio Capital Voice director Mahad Ahmed Elmi was shot dead on his way to work in Mogadishu. Ali Iman Sharmarke, director of Horn Afrik, was killed by a bomb soon afterwards.

According to reporters sans frontieres, this brings the number of journalists killed this year to 72.

August 12, 2007

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO,

the seventh Spanish Mission in a chain of twenty-two spread out over California, was founded Nov. 1, 1776 by Fr. Junipero Serra.

The 10 acre Mission grounds included workshops, dormitories, storage rooms, gardens and chapels.

Approximately 2,000 people, mostly Juaneno Indians, were laid to rest here.

On Dec. 8, 1812, an earthquake shook the Great Stone Church during morning mass. The walls crumbled and domes caved in, killing 42 worshippers. The church was never rebuilt.

San Juan Capistrano is also the home of the oldest in use building in California, the Serra Chapel. Constructed in 1782, it is the only original California Mission church still standing in which Fr. Serra is known to have celebrated the sacraments.

The area was the site of both the first vineyard and first winery in California. Adjacent to the Mission is California's oldest residential neighborhood, Los Rios.

(Click on pictures to enlarge. © Reinhard Kargl 2007)

August 11, 2007

THE STUFF WE ARE MADE OF

I am fascinated by the most recent advances in cosmology and particle physics. We now know a great deal more than when I went to school. And we have realized that things are a lot more complex than we had anticipated. New theories are introduced almost daily, and figures are being shifted and adjusted with each turn of the scientific debate. Perhaps the currently most widely accepted numbers are as follows. The mass of the universe consists of:

Visible Stars
1 %
Intergalactic Gas (such as hydrogen and helium)
14%
Baryonic Dark Matter (MACHOS, etc.)
1%
Neutrinos (Hot Dark Matter)
0.4%
WIMPS (Cold Dark Matter)
84%

MACHOS = Massive Compact Halo Objects, such as black holes, dark dwarf stars
WIMPS = Weakly Interacting Massive Particles

In other words: stars make up only a tiny fraction of the cosmos (1%). Not considering the at least partially understood neutrinos, black holes and other non-light emitting matter, this leaves at least 84% of the known universe's mass completely invisible. We know practically nothing about it. Some argue that it isn't there. But if this were correct, we would run into a vexing problem. Without the mass of this Dark Matter, Newton’s and Einstein’s gravity models would not work and thus, our most accepted theories of the universe would be completely flawed. And then what?

August 5, 2007

At the Los Angeles Valley College observatory and planetarium.

August 4, 2007

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, with a group of friends. My first time watching a baseball game! (I don't normally follow sports as a spectator, but prefer to be active myself). That night, the Dodgers played the Arizona Diamondbacks and lost 8:7.

Photo: Reinhard Kargl

July 27, 2007

75-YEAR OLD HAS FASTEST INTERNET SPEED

A 75-year old Swedish lady now has the world’s fastest Internet access. Sigbritt Löthberg enjoys a connection thousands of times faster than that of the average user. At a blistering speed of 40 gigabits/second, Löthberg could watch 1,500 TV channels in high definition. If she gets bored with TV, she could also download a full HDTV-DVD in about two seconds.

The demonstration project was initiated by her son, Peter Löthberg who is a Swedish Internet expert. The technology behind his mom’s ultra-fast connection is based on a new modulation technique and fiber optic cables. This allows data to be transferred directly between two routers up to 2,000 kilometres apart. "I want to show that there are other methods than the old fashioned ways such as copper wires and radio, which lack the possibilities that fibre has," said Peter Löthberg, who now works at Cisco.

The U.S. has fallen behind other industrialized countries in Internet access speed and ranks at the bottom of technologcially advanced nations. (See my posting from June 26, 2007).

July 26, 2007

ROCKSTAR / ASTROPHYSICIST

People who have remarkable skills in only one, narrow field have never impressed me. My ideal has always been the homo universalis or “Renaissance man”.

For instance, take Brian May. He became world famous as guitarist of one of the most successful rock groups of all times, Queen. The band included Freddy Mercury (who died from AIDS in 1991), Roger Taylor and John Deacon.

Now that May has turned 60 and has more time on hand, he is returning to his original career plan. Before he joined Queen in the early 1970s he was an astrophysics student at London’s Imperial College. May never lost interest in the universe. In addition to recording several solo albums, he co-wrote the book Bang! The Complete History of the Universe, which was published in 2006. May is currently doing scientific work at the observatory of LaPalma on the Canary Islands. He is about to submit his Ph.D. thesis, entitled Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.

May's web site: http://www.brianmay.com

Out yonder was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal.

First published in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp

July 6, 2007

iPHONE HACKED

It took just five days. Already, a Norwegian hacker has published a procedure which allows the use of iPhone as Internet devices, data managers and iPods without paying for the AT&T-only phone service. Again, this demonstrates the power of what I earlier called "asymetric techno intelligence".

July 2, 2007

DISECTING THE iPHONE

Last January, I posted a blurb about Apple’s iPhone. Never before has a phone caused such a frenzy. Now that it is in the hands of the public, the real fun has started.

Within hours, techies were at work disassembling the devices with surgical precision. They are studying each component and the way they were put together. Videos and high quality photographs of the tear down process and individual parts are already plastered all over the Internet.

Who cares about what’s in it? Plenty of people. For example, investors are interested in finding out who supplies the components. (Stocks of the parts suppliers already saw healthy gains in trading this week). And the competition wants to know how it works and how much it costs Apple to make each phone. Meanwhile, aftermarket suppliers, users and hackers are trying to figure out ways to make the phone do things Apple never intended – such as working with networks other than AT&T. And of course, crooks want to know how to initialize stolen phones or steal valuable information from them.

Sure, the reverse engineering of products is nothing new. It used to be done in secret, by companies competing against each other, by the military, and sometimes by government entitites. But in today's world, it is less of a coporate and organized effort. Rather, thousands of people work independently and out in the open. The information is shared instantly among millions on the Internet.

Here are some links: iSuppli.com, iFixit.com, ThinkSecret.com. Other companies: Portelligent and Semiconductor Insights.

I predict that such "asymmetric techno-intelligence" will play a huge role in the future.

June 26, 2007

AMERICA FALLING BEHIND IN INTERNET SPEED

The country that invented the Internet is now left in the dust by other nations when it comes to broadband development. The average Internet speed in the U.S. is now 1.97 megabits/second. (In California, home of Silicon Valley, the average speed is only 1.52 mb/s). Canada clocked in at 7.6 mb/s, Sweden at 18.2 mb/s, Finland at 21.7 mb/s, South Korea at 45.6 mb/s and Japan is currently offering service at 61 mb/s for the same price U.S. users pay for their “snail-net”. More data at http://www.speedmatters.org.

June 23, 2007

There is really nothing you must be.
And there is nothing you must do.
There is really nothing you must have.
And there is nothing you must know.
There is really nothing you must become.
However,
it helps to understand that fire burns,
and when it rains, the earth gets wet.

(Japanese Zen Scroll)

June 22, 2007

ATLANTIS LANDS IN CALIFORNIA

Because of inclement weather in Florida, the space shuttle Atlantis landed at California's Edwards Air Force Base at 12:49 pm local time today. (I have visited the base on other occasions). As Atlantis was coming in, I was at home, listening for the characteristic twin sonic booms. Unfortunately, I could not hear anything this time. This was the 51st shuttle landing in California.

Last night I attended a screening of In the Shadow of the Moon, an excellent new 100 minute documentary on the Apollo program. I hope the film will go into theatrical release in the U.S.

June 18, 2007

DIESEL-POWERED RACING CAR WINS AGAIN

For the second year in a row, a diesel-powered racing car has won one of the world’s greatest car races: Les 24 Heures du Mans or the “24 Hours of Le Mans”. (See my entry on Sept. 15, 2006).

The concept behind this legendary race is simple: Winner is the team whose automobile covers the greatest distance within 24 hours. Since the race’s first run in 1923, performance has risen dramatically. Maximum speeds are now topping 400 km/h (250 mph), and the fastest teams are traveling more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles).

A record braking crowd of 250,000 turned out to witness the event. This year, Audi faced another turbo-diesel powered competitor: Peugeot. For 23 hours, the two sides dominated the race and battled each other fiercely through all kinds of calamities and unstable weather. Audi had entered three cars, but one crashed in the 4th hour, and another on Sunday morning. One of the two Peugeots succumbed to engine problems in the afternoon. In the 23rd hour, while Audi was leading again, the organizers decided to halt overtaking because of a rain front. The second Peugeot passed the finish line in second place. Les Mans is the world's most grueling circuit race for drivers, mechanics and machines. Of the 50 entered cars, only 25 made it to the finish.

Overall, this was the 7th Le Mans victory for the German Audi team, which now ties with Jaguar in the number of victories.

Diesel-powered race cars would have been unthinkable a few years ago. They are evidence of how far diesel technology has progressed during the last decades.

More information on the 24 Hour of Le Mans:

www.lemans.org (the official race site)
http://www.answers.com/topic/24-hours-of-le-mans
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/24_Hours_of_Le_Mans

June 8, 2007

LAUNCH DATE SET FOR SERVICE MISSION TO HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

Today it became official: The launch date for the fifth (and final) servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been set to September 10, 2008. What a relief!

This space shuttle flight almost didn’t happen, which would have meant “lights out” for the HST. After the last shuttle disaster, NASA deemed it “too risky” to fly one of their vintage shuttles to the HST. (The flight path makes it impossible to escape to the International Space Station (ISS) in case of trouble).

This line of reasoning drives me crazy. Spaceflight is unsafe by its very nature! So what? The Hubble Space Telescope has been a gigantic leap for mankind. It has been one of the most fruitful science projects of the 20th and 21st centuries. Exploring our world has always involved risks, and if we fail to march boldly into the unknown, we will give up part of our human nature. Besides, astronauts are all volunteers, and there are plenty of qualified applicants who would be eager to fly this mission at any time.

A worldwide outcry from the public and howls of protest from the scientific community finally knocked some sense into the chickens who run NASA these days. (I was one of the howlers).

If the servicing mission is as successful as the previous four, Hubble should remain fully operational until at least 2013.
I propose – and again this is a long shot NASA does not want to deal with – that after 2013, the HST should be boosted into a higher orbit for safekeeping. After the space shuttle fleet’s long overdue retirement in 2010, there will be no immediate capability to bring the HST back to Earth. Boosting the HST into higher orbit will at least ensure that it does not drift back into the atmosphere. With the HST preserved in space, future generations will have the option of returning it to Earth and to put it where it truly belongs: the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

April 27, 2007

IF THE EARTH WAS A DOT

The Sun contains the mass of about 1 million Earths. It is in an orbit around the center of our galaxy, which is shrouded by dust clouds and believed to consist of a Black Hole. We can’t really see it, because the gravity there is so strong that not even light can escape its pull. The Sun completes an orbit every 240 million years. This means it has been around a few times. How big is the galaxy? Imagine the Earth would be as big as the dot at the end of this sentence. Then, our galaxy would have the diameter of North America.

April 15, 2007

LUNAR SAMPLES

Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted some moon rocks. Last Friday I got my hands on some. As part of a talk for my astronomy group Don Sweetnam, Genesis Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory brought a specimen of aerogel, various meteorites and the moon rock and soil samples I am holding in this picture. They were taken to Earth by various Apollo missions. I wish I could have kept them.

(click on picture to enlarge)
Photo: Reinhard Kargl

April 14, 2007

NOT IN MY CHOCOLATE

Here is a real crisis involving something serious: chocolate. Legally, what is called “chocolate” must be made with cocoa butter and real milk. But two trade groups, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Chocolate Manufacturers of America, are petitioning the government to allow a substitution of cheaper ingredients such as “vegetable oil” and “milk protein concentrates”. An analyst for the market research firm Mintel International assures us: “If you take the cocoa butter out of an inexpensive candy bar, most people probably won’t notice.”

Really? The FDA has invited public comment on the issue before April 25. You can do so at

www.DontMessWithOurChocolate.com

By the way: Americans consume 3.6 billion pounds (or 12 pounds person) of chocolate annually.

April 14, 2007

KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON

Still don’t believe that L.A. is on the way to become a Third World city? For years, whenever it gets too hot, too windy or too rainy, we’ve been having trouble keeping the power grid going. No exception this time. Two days of windy conditions were enough to leave 110,000 residences and businesses without electricity. Power could not be restored to 30,000 users even after several days of trying. L.A.’s crumbing infrastructure cannot sustain its rampant overpopulation. While most industrialized countries have now moved their electric wires underground, L.A. still relies on ugly poles and open wires, which of course are prone to take damage from the elements.

March 19, 2007

According to a study released today, 36% of the people living in Washington D.C. are "functionally illiterate". This means that they are having trouble reading and writing the most simple texts. Nationwide, the rate is 21%. The study was conducted by the State Education Agency, which is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.

March 15, 2007

The European Space Agency announced today that instruments aboard its Mars Express spacecraft have found large amounts of water ice on the planet. There appears to be so much water ice on the southern pole that if temperatures were warm enough, the entire planet would be covered in 30 feet of water. Mars Express remains in orbit around the planet.

January 24, 2007

Local law enforcement has traditionally relied on technologies which were already available. And yet, cops are asked to become ever more efficient.

My latest feature story looks into the future of local law enforcement: unmanned aerial vehicles, local digital networks, amazing sound projectors, technologies that disable vehicles remotely, radars which look through walls, and a variety of non-lethal weapons will open up a whole new world for local law enforcement.

The article made the February 2007 cover story of Popular Science. (Established in 1872, Popular Science is the world's largest science publication, with a circulation of 1.450,000 copies).

For the online version of the article, click here.

January 20, 2007

January 17, 2007

In 1918, a particularly nasty strain of flu caused 50 million deaths worldwide in what became known as the "Spanish flu pandemic". In what should be considered highly questionable research, scientists are now actively experimenting with reconstructions of this highly dangerous strain. An accidental release of this virus could have devastating effects. But it appears that there are some payoffs. The latest experiments have shown that the strain causes the immune system to react excessively, which results in a destruction of the lungs within days. It now appears that the immune system is actually contributing to the lethality of the virus.

The authors of a new study released in Nature believe that H5N1, the "bird flu" virus, has a similar effect on the human body. It is feared that H5N1, which currently does not jump from birds to humans very easily, could adapt itself better to human hosts. If it becomes more infectious, it would have the potential to cause a pandemic similar to the 1918 outbreak.

The new study suggests that the key for treatment may lie in a modification or suppression of the body's excessive immunological response.

While it is certainly important to understand why the 1918 strain was so lethal, this knowledge could also lead to the development of even more lethal biological weapons.

January 10, 2007

APPLE INTRODUCES iPHONE

The Apple community has been awash in rumors for months, but finally the official introduction of Apple’s iPhone took place in San Francisco. With suggested retail prices beginning at $500 (plus Internet access and phone charges), this gizmo carries a stiff price tag. But it also makes competing products such as the Palm Treo or the Blueberry look like yesterday’s fossils.

Personally, I believe the name was ill chosen, because this is not just a phone. The device reflects the long anticipated merger of digital information, mobile communication and portable entertainment technologies to a degree never seen before. It’s a phone, a wireless telegraph, an Internet terminal, a camera, a navigation device, a mobile music player and a camera. It displays photos and videos, syncs with a computer, displays maps, a calendar and time planner. Third party software will probably offer games and other features. The possibilities seem endless.

The iPhone has no buttons but is controlled by touch (and probably voice, at some point). The entire front is a screen capable of displaying the control interfaces, videos, photographs, an Internet browser as well as user data.

In typical Apple fashion, the designers paid attention to the little details. For instance: When the phone is raised to the ear, a proximity sensor shuts off the screen to conserve power. And to lower service charges and increase speed, the phone switches from cellular wireless to a local WiFi network when in range. And finally, someone realized that it is possible to teach a handheld device “up” and “down”. Switching the display screen from vertical to horizontal view requires only a flick of the wrist.

There are some deficiencies, however. For a device that expensive, I would have expected handwriting recognition, a stylus and more sophisticated data management and time planner functions as you would find them on a Palm Treo or on other Palm organizers. What a shame that Apple abandoned the PDA market years ago by discontinuing their groundbreaking Newton. With mothballing the Newton, Apple spun off and later gave up its Claris division, and with it the Claris Organizer software, which is now (essentially unchanged) the basis for the Palm desktop application. (I believe it is still the best personal database and time management software available and would have been wonderful in combination with the iPhone). There already is a huge selection of third party software available for PalmOS, and it will be a long time before the same will be true for the iPhone.

Some questions remain open: Will the iPhone have built in satellite navigation and “know” where it is? Can maps of its location and directions to a destination be easily accessed? Will it connect with standard USB printers? Will it be possible to print photos directly from the iPhone? Will it incorporate Apple’s sudden motion sensor technology? (This detects sudden bumps and free falls and instantly protects the spinning hard disk). Can the battery be changed when it wears out? (A big problem with the current iPods). But most importantly: Will it prove to be reliable, and will it last for more than a few years?

PS: Apple's visibility is startling. News of Apple's announcement at the MacWorld fair in San Fancisco has stolen the stage from this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which is also taking place this week. CES coverage is almost wiped out today. Apple stock shot up by almost 8% and hovers at record high levels. The company renamed itself to "Apple Inc." (formerly "Apple Computers"). By comparison, Microsoft has seen better days. Zune, its entry into the personal music player field, was met with yawns and apathy.

PPS: According to insider information, the iPhone will have four buttons (or switches) after all. There's a "home" button on the face below the screen. Volume can be set by "up" and "down" buttons. Finally, another overdue feature: a simple switch on the side can set the phone to either ring or vibrate. All other functions are controlled by virtual on-screen buttons.

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