EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Yearly Archives: 2012
Monday, December 31, 2012
As the year comes to a close it’s fascinating to look back at some of the most breathtaking science of 2012.
The image above is of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Evidence from Cassini spacecraft, which took this remarkable image, suggests a deep salty ocean beneath the frozen surface that periodically spews out icy particles into the space. Many scientists believe that Enceladus is the best place to look for signs of life beyond Earth within our Solar System.
Read the entire article following the jump.
Image courtesy of Cassini Imaging Team/SSI/JPL/ESA/NASA.
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Sunday, December 30, 2012
Many of us harbor dreams, often secret ones, of becoming a famous rockstar. Well, if you want to live well passed middle age, think again. Being a rockstar and living a long life are not statistically compatible, especially if you’re American. You choose.
From ars technica:
Hedonism. Substance abuse. Risky behavior. Rock stars from Elvis Presley to Amy Winehouse have ended up famous not only for their music but for the decadent lifestyle it enabled, one that eventually contributed to their deaths. But how much does the rock lifestyle really hurt?
Quite a bit. That’s the conclusion of a new study that tracked nearly 1,500 chart-topping musicians and found that their life expectancy after fame really was lower than that of the general population. North American solo musicians seem to have it especially bad....read more
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Now is the time of year to review all that has passed during 2012. You know how it goes: celebrity marriages, celebrity divorces, extreme weather records, deaths, best and worst movies. Our favorite moments come courtesy of postings on Craigslist. Annually, Craigslist users nominate their favorites for inclusion in the “Best Of” category. A recent favorite of ours from Pensacola, Florida:
guy with skid mark, bought gallon of whole milk, circle k – w4m
i was in my bikini at the circle k, you came in with your short shirt and your bike shorts on. they were white and you had a pretty sexy skid mark staining your behind. you got 11 sticks of beef jerky and a gallon of whole milk, then rode off on your bicycle. i will know its you because you paid in pennies.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
LincRNA that is. Recent discoveries hint at the potentially crucial role of this new class of genetic material in embryonic development, cell and tissue differentiation and even speciation and evolution.
From the Economist:
THE old saying that where there’s muck, there’s brass has never proved more true than in genetics. Once, and not so long ago, received wisdom was that most of the human genome—perhaps as much as 99% of it—was “junk”. If this junk had a role, it was just to space out the remaining 1%, the genes in which instructions about how to make proteins are encoded, in a useful way in the cell nucleus....read more
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Recent census figures from the United Kingdom show that Jedi is the seventh most popular faith overall, with just over 176,000 followers.
While this is down from a high of around 400,000 in the previous census (2001) it does suggest that George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars franchise, would still be a good stand-in for God in some parts of the U.K.
To learn more about Jediism point your browser here.
From the Telegraph:
The new figures reveal that the lightsabre-wielding disciples are only behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in the popularity stakes, excluding non-religious people and people who did not answer.
Following a nationwide campaign, Jedi made it onto the 2001 census, with 390,127 people identifying themselves a decade ago as followers of the fictional Star Wars creed.
Monday, December 24, 2012
However, the image is not of an earthbound river at all. It’s a recently discovered river on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. And, the river’s contents are not even water, but probably a mixture of liquid ethane and methane.
This image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows a vast river system on Saturn’s moon Titan. It is the first time images from space have revealed a river system so vast and in such high resolution anywhere other than Earth. The image was acquired on Sept. 26, 2012, on Cassini’s 87th close flyby of Titan. The river valley crosses Titan’s north polar region and runs into Ligeia Mare, one of the three great seas in the high northern latitudes of Saturn’s moon Titan. It stretches more than 200 miles (400 kilometers)....read more
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Two common complaints dog the sustainable energy movement: first, energy generated from the sun and wind is not always present; second, renewable energy is too costly. A new study debunks these notions, and shows that cost effective renewable energy could power our needs 99 percent of the time by 2030.
From ars technica:
You’ve probably heard the argument: wind and solar power are well and good, but what about when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? But it’s always windy and sunny somewhere. Given a sufficient distribution of energy resources and a large enough network of electrically conducting tubes, plus a bit of storage, these problems can be overcome—technologically, at least....read more
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Bored with Google’s homepage? Paranoid over Google’s omniscience? If so, take a break from the omnipresent search engine and visit some of Google’s lesser known relatives. Our two favorites below:
More Google parodies after the jump.
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Friday, December 21, 2012
In case you missed all the apocalyptic hoopla, the world is supposed to end today. Now, if you’re reading this, you obviously still have a little time, since the Mayans apparently did not specify a precise time for prophesied end. So, we highly recommend that you visit one or more of these beautiful places, immediately. Of course, if we’re all still here tomorrow, you will have some extra time to take in these breathtaking sights before the next planned doomsday.
Check out the top 100 places according to the Telegraph after the jump.
Image: Lapland for the northern lights. Courtesy of ALAMY / Telegraph.
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Thursday, December 20, 2012
It’s very likely that you have taken the test at some point in your life: during high school, or to get into university or to secure your first job. The test categorizes humans along 4 discrete axes (or dichotomies) of personality types: Extraversion (E) and Introversion (I); Sensing (S) and Intuition (N); Thinking (T) and Feeling (F); Judging (J) and Perceiving (P). If your have a partner it’s likely that he or she has, at sometime or another, (mis-)labeled you as an E or an I, and as a “feeler” rather than a “thinker”, and so on. Countless arguments will have ensued.
From the Washington Post:
Some grandmothers pass down cameo necklaces. Katharine Cook Briggs passed down the world’s most widely used personality test....read more
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
If you’re an office worker you will relate. Recently, you will have participated on a team meeting or conference call only to have at least one person say, when asked a question, “sorry can you please repeat that, I was multitasking.”...read more
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Associate professor of philosophy, Firmin DeBrabander, argues that guns have no place in a civil society. Guns hinder free speech and free assembly for those at either end of the barrel. Guns fragment our society and undermine the sense and mechanisms of community. He is right.
From the New York Times:
Monday, December 17, 2012
Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog is a fascinating resource for those who dream of starting a new life on a distant world. Only into its first year, the catalog now lists 7 planets outside of our solar system and within our own Milky Way galaxy that could become a future home for adventurous humans — complaints from existing inhabitants notwithstanding. Although, the closest at the moment at a distance of just over 20 light years — Gliese 581g — would take around 200,000 years to reach using current technology.
From the Independent:
An ambitious project to catalogue every habitable planet has discovered seven worlds inside the Milky Way that could possibly harbour life.
Marking its first anniversary, the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog said it had far exceeded its expectation of adding one or two new planets this year in its search for a new earth....read more
Saturday, December 15, 2012
We love stories of dystopian futures, apocalyptic prophecies and nightmarish visions here at theDiagonal. For some of our favorite articles on the end of days, check out end of world predictions, and how the world may end.
The next impending catastrophe is due a mere week from now, on December 21st, 2012, according to Mayan-watchers. So, of course, it’s time to make final preparations for the end of the world, again. Not to be outdone by the Mayans, the British, guardians of that very stiff-upper-lip, have some timely advice for doomsayers and doomsday aficionados. After all, only the British could come up with a propaganda poster during the second World War emblazoned with “Keep Calm and Carry On”. While there is some very practical advice, such as “leave extra time for journeys”, we find fault with the British authorities for not suggesting “take time to make a good, strong cup of tea”.
From the Independent:
Friday, December 14, 2012
The old adage, “be careful what you wish for, lest it come true”, shows that desires may well come to fruition, but often have unintended consequences. In this case, for the White House. A couple of years ago the administration launched an online drive to foster dialogue and participation in civic affairs. Known as “We the People: Your Voice in Our Government” the program allows individuals to petition the government on any important issue of the day. And, while White House officials may have had in mind a discussion of substantive issues, many petitions are somewhat more off the wall. Some of our favorite, colorful petitions, many of which have garnered thousands of signatures to date, include:
“Legalize home distillation for home spirits!”
“Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.”
“Nationalize the Twinkie industry.”...read more
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Commentators of all political persuasions often cite Jefferson to add weight and gravitas to further a particular point or position. Yet scholarly analysis shows that many quotes are incorrectly attributed to the Founding Father and 3rd President. Some examples of words never spoken or written by Jefferson:
“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
“The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.”
From the WSJ:
Thomas Jefferson once famously wrote, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”...read more
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
It’s no surprise that in our daily lives we seek information that reinforces our perceptions, opinions and beliefs of the world around us. It’s also the case that if we do not believe in a particular position, we will overlook any evidence in our immediate surroundings that runs contrary to our disbelief — climate change is no different.
From ars technica:
We all know it’s hard to change someone’s mind. In an ideal, rational world, a person’s opinion about some topic would be based on several pieces of evidence. If you were to supply that person with several pieces of stronger evidence that point in another direction, you might expect them to accept the new information and agree with you....read more
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
One hopes that Google’s intention to “organize the world’s information” will remain benign for the foreseeable future. Yet, as more and more of our surroundings and moves are mapped and tracked online, and increasingly offline, it would be wise to remain ever vigilant. Many put up with the encroachment of advertisers and promoters into almost every facet of their daily lives as a necessary, modern evil. But where is the dividing line that separates an ignorable irritation from an intrusion of privacy and a grab for control? For the paranoid amongst us, it may only be a matter of time before our digital footprints come under the increasing scrutiny, and control, of organizations with grander designs.
From the Guardian:
Monday, December 10, 2012
Simon Coonan over a Slate posits a simple question:
“How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness?”
In his scathing attack on the contemporary art scene replete with Twitter feeds, pool parties, and gallery-curated designer cheese, Coonan quite rightly asks why window dressing and marketing have replaced artistry and craftsmanship. And, more importantly, has big money replaced great, new art?
As an example, the biggest news from Art Basel, the biggest art show in the United States, is not art at all. Celebrity contemporary artist Jeff Koons’ has defected to a rival gallery from his previous home with Larry Gagosian. Gagosian to the art cognoscenti is the “world’s most powerful art dealer”.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Golden Spike, a Boulder Colorado based company, has an interesting proposition for the world’s restless billionaires. It is offering a two-seat trip to the Moon, and back, for a tidy sum of $1.5 billion. And, the company is even throwing in a moon-walk. The first trip is planned for 2020.
From the Washington Post:
It had to happen: A start-up company is offering rides to the moon. Book your seat now — though it’s going to set you back $750 million (it’s unclear if that includes baggage fees).
At a news conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Washington, former NASA science administrator Alan Stern plans to announce the formation of Golden Spike, which, according to a news release, is “the first company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon.”
“We can do this,” an excited Stern said Thursday morning during a brief phone interview....read more
Saturday, December 8, 2012
A diminutive stellar blob some 450 million light years away seems to be a young star giving birth to a planetary system much like our very own Solar System. The developing protostar and its surrounding gas cloud is being tracked astronomers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. Stellar and planetary evolution in action.
From New Scientist:
Swaddled in a cloud of dust and gas, the baby star shows a lot of potential. It is quietly sucking in matter from the cloud, which holds enough cosmic nourishment for the infant to grow as big and bright as our sun. What’s more, the star is surrounded by enough raw material to build at least seven planetary playmates.
Dubbed L1527, the star is still in the earliest stages of development, so it offers one of the best peeks yet at what our solar system may have looked like as it was taking shape....read more
Friday, December 7, 2012
Chances are that you have a pet. And, whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, or a bird fancier or a lover of lizards you’d probably mourn if you were to lose your furry, or feathery or scaly, friend. So, when your pet crosses over to the other side why not pulverize her or him, filter out any non-carbon remains and then compress the results into, well, a diamond!
Natalie Pilon’s diamond is her best friend.
Every time she looks into the ring on her finger, Ms. Pilon sees Meowy, her late beloved silver cat. Meowy really is there: The ring’s two diamonds were made from her cremated remains.
“It’s a little eccentric—not something everyone would do,” says Ms. Pilon, a biotech sales representative in Boston, whose cat passed away last year. “It’s a way for me to remember my cat, and have her with me all the time.”...read more
Thursday, December 6, 2012
The little space probe that could — Voyager I — is close to leaving our solar system and entering the relative void of interstellar space. As it does so, from a distance of around 18.4 billion kilometers (today), it continues to send back signals of what it finds. And, surprises continue.
From ars technica:
Several years ago the Voyager spacecraft neared the edge of the Solar System, where the solar wind and magnetic field started to be influenced by the pressure from the interstellar medium that surrounds them. But the expected breakthrough to interstellar space appeared to be indefinitely put on hold; instead, the particles and magnetic field lines in the area seemed to be sending mixed signals about the Voyagers’ escape. At today’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union, scientists offered an explanation: the durable spacecraft ran into a region that nobody predicted....read more
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Are Canadians as a people more emotional than Brazilians? Are Brits as emotional as Mexicans? While generalizing and mapping a nation’s emotionality is dubious at best, this map is nonetheless fascinating.
From the Washington Post:
Since 2009, the Gallup polling firm has surveyed people in 150 countries and territories on, among other things, their daily emotional experience. Their survey asks five questions, meant to gauge whether the respondent felt significant positive or negative emotions the day prior to the survey. The more times that people answer “yes” to questions such as “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”, the more emotional they’re deemed to be....read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
In 1988 marine-biology student made a stunning discovery, though little publicized at the time. In the coral blooms of the Italian Mediterranean Christian Rapallo found a small creature that resembled a jellyfish. It showed a very odd attribute — it refused to die. The true importance of this discovery did not become fully apparent until 1996, when a group of researchers found that this invertebrate, now classified as a hydrozoan and known by its scientific name Turritopsis dohrnii, could at any point during its lifecycle revert back to an earlier stage, and then begin its development all over again. It was to all intents immortal.
For scientists seeking to unravel the mechanisms that underlie the aging process Turritopsis dohrnii — the immortal jellyfish — represents a truly significant finding. Might our progress in slowing or even halting aging in humans come from a lowly jellyfish? Time will tell.
From the New York Times:
Monday, December 3, 2012
Despite what seems to be an overwhelmingly digital shift in our lives, we still live in a world of steam. Steam plays a vital role in generating most of the world’s electricity, steam heats our buildings (especially if you live in New York City), steam sterilizes our medical supplies.
So, in a research discovery with far-reaching implication, scientists have succeeded in making steam at room temperature without actually boiling water. All courtesy of some ingenious nanoparticles.
From Technology Review:
Steam is a key ingredient in a wide range of industrial and commercial processes—including electricity generation, water purification, alcohol distillation, and medical equipment sterilization....read more
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Chronobiologist, Till Roenneberg, debunks 5 commonly held beliefs about sleep. He is author of “Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.”
From the Washington Post:
If shopping on Black Friday leaves you exhausted, or if your holiday guests keep you up until the wee hours, a long Thanksgiving weekend should offer an opportunity for some serious shut-eye. We spend between a quarter and a third of our lives asleep, but that doesn’t make us experts on how much is too much, how little is too little, or how many hours of rest the kids need to be sharp in school. Let’s tackle some popular myths about Mr. Sandman.
1.You need eight hours of sleep per night.
That’s the cliche. Napoleon, for one, didn’t believe it. His prescription went something like this: “Six hours for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.”...read more
Saturday, December 1, 2012
For thousands of years people have fasted to cleanse the body and the spirit. And, of course, many fast to lose (some) weight. Recently, a growing body of scientific research seems to suggest that fasting may slow the aging process.
From the New Scientist:
THERE’S a fuzz in my brain and an ache in my gut. My legs are leaden and my eyesight is blurry. But I have only myself to blame. Besides, I have been assured that these symptoms will pass. Between 10 days and three weeks from now, my body will adjust to the new regime, which entails fasting for two days each week. In the meantime, I just need to keep my eyes on the prize. Forget breakfast and second breakfast, ignore the call of multiple afternoon snacks, because the pay offs of doing without could be enormous....read more
Friday, November 30, 2012
Brooke Allen reviews a handy new tome for those who live in comfort and safety but who perceive threats large and small from all crevices and all angles. Paradoxically, most people in the West are generally safer than any previous generations, and yet they imagine existential threats ranging from viral pandemics to hemispheric mega-storms.
Never in our history have Americans been so fearful; never, objectively speaking, have we been so safe. Except for the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the destruction of the World Trade Center, war has not touched our shores in a century and a half. Despite relative decline, we are still militarily No. 1. We have antibiotics, polio vaccines, airbags; our children need no longer suffer even measles or chicken pox. So what are we all so frightened of?...read more