How Many Stars Are There?

October 9, 2017 at 11:28 am | Posted in Science, Space, uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ve always enjoyed things that bring perspective on our place in the universe and the nature of space around us. I’ve posted on The Ultra Deep Field, How Our Solar System Actually Moves, Lanikea: Our Home Supercluster, Across the Universe, Quite Enough (on scale), and more.

A new treat: The European Southern Observatory is hosting a Gigapixel image of the Milky Way. You can shift it to full screen if you like. As you zoom and zoom, more and more stars show at every point. You can click and drag the image or use the tools across the bottom. Consider this a photo of our galactic neighborhood. It gives you more of a sense of just how large it is. Many of those points of light have planets.
David

 

Clean Disruption: Energy & Transportation

September 28, 2017 at 9:32 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

I recently gave a short talk on the three aspects of new transportation technology that are coming together to change the industry dramatically – even as far as how we get around. Will “driving” and car ownership be only for serious hobbyists?

In this talk, Tony Seba goes much further plus he explores the changes in the energy sector as well. He shows the science behind the changes underway and how some of this is already happening today. For the most part, the changes mean a cleaner environment and lower cost energy and transportation. But there will be a lot of job changes in the process.

If you’re drafting a 5 year plan, you need to see this.

On YouTube

David

3D Doodling

July 26, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ever wished you could make something with silly string? Have more control over the spray? Or a glue gun? How about a pen with a controlled output? That allows you to draw in the air. This video illustrates:

Note that it’s not wireless. And like a glue gun, you put the coloured plastic in the back that the pen melts for you to form as you choose. They currently offer 3 kinds of plastic to use for different kinds of projects. For example, plastic that sticks to a surface like glass and plastic that doesn’t, for making panels. You can trace structural drawings and them assemble them. You can even use it on clothing or to make clothing & wearables.

This is similar in concept to a 3D printer only it’s pen style – a little less precise but also less expensive and more creative.

The sticks are about .40 each (depending on type) so cheap for a little fun but could add up for a larger project. They also have additional nozzles and a pedal control. The site has lots of video tutorials including using the tool, getting started, welding plastics, etc.

I notice there are some online sites offering an earlier version or the plastic refills for quite a bit more $. So it pays to compare prices.
David

CHIPping Away

May 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

I wrote previously about CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) and some of the science behind CHIP. I also wrote a related article on Minimizing Cancer Risk, basically with much the same recommendations.

The first articles were written early on in the course. As the course has progressed, we’ve gone into much more detail on various things, like the value of fibre and micronutrients vs calorie-dense foods. We’ve explored the major effect lifestyle has on issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer plus cleared up some nutritional myths about protein, calcium, iron and vitamins.

If we look at the bigger picture of our health and well-being, it works out that about 70% of it is determined by our lifestyle choices. In other words, the bulk of our health is in our hands.

Another 10% is influenced by our genetics. But more important than our genes is gene expression. The study of gene expression is known as epigenetics. Just because we have a gene doesn’t mean it will be expressed.

For example, every cell has the entire set of genes. But an ear cell doesn’t need to express any of the genes that create proteins specific to brains, gut or eyes. Those genes are turned off. And the largest influence on gene expression? Nutrition.

Makes sense if you consider that our diet is what gives the body both it’s building blocks and many of the challenges it has to deal with. Change the gene expression and it changes your body. This is why even identical twins get increasingly different over their lives – small differences is choices. They add up. And you have a choice.

Sometimes you see diseases that are “passed down” in families. We may blame genetics but what is something else we pass down? Lifestyles, including diet and activity levels. These typically have a stronger effect on our life than our genes themselves do. In other words, it’s not so much what we have but how we use it.

We also explored how beliefs drive feelings and feelings drive behaviour. Becoming conscious of some of our old beliefs around food and exercise can be very useful. Say for example, “I hate broccoli”. I certainly once felt this way. But finally as an adult I discovered that I don’t actually, especially if it’s served with a squeeze of lemon.

Another common example is around exercise. Many of us have tried exercise routines that became difficult or a chore. We then associate exercise as unpleasant and something to avoid. And yet gyms are full of people who get a high on it.

The key with making changes to diet and exercise is to make the process pleasurable. Otherwise, you’ll develop an aversion to it. The key challenge is moving past the initial inertia in getting your body moving again. Once you do, then it becomes pleasant. When you get into the zone, pleasurable. The it becomes much easier to establish it as a habit.

As most exercise and goal setting programs tell you, take it a step at a time. Grow into it.

I’ve been really enjoying the walking and notice I’ve gradually increased how far I go effortlessly. And the program has now upped the ante. They noted that exercising an hour a day and then sitting 10 hours will not help your health as much. We have to break up all that sitting. Key is adding routines, like a stretching program and a gentle resistance/ strength training routine. In other words, building a more well-rounded exercise routine.

This increases fitness further and helps with weight loss and health maintenance.
We’re in the last 1/3 of the course now…
David

DNA Testing – Part 2

March 1, 2015 at 11:46 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

In the first part of this series, I talked about personal DNA testing and the available options. I ended up choosing 23andMe to include the health markers.

It’s worth noting that humans are 99% the same genetically. What the tests look at is parts of the 1% of genes that vary person-to-person. The different organizations vary on the focus of the genes they read. 23andMe looks more at health while FTDNA more at the family tree, as per their name.

The process is straightforward. As noted, you buy a test kit and they mail it to you. You take the simple sample and register the kit to yourself on their web site. And you mail it back in, prepaid. They let me know when it is received by the actual lab. (from Canada, they appear to gather the samples and batch ship them across the border) 4-6 weeks later, you get notified of the results on-line. And there is quite a bit of info.

This includes detail on quite a few areas. There’s your Maternal and Paternal (if you’re a male) lines (Haplotypes), genetic risk factors, drug response, inherited conditions, and traits. There is general ancestry info and and some ancestry composition. I was amused to see a connection with Doggerland, a now-submerged area that once connected France and England.

They accurately named eye colour, hair colour, blood type, and more. Birth weight range was wrong. I saved over 2 dozen reports. Even got to download the “music” of my DNA. Keep in mind that much of this is still quite early on but is growing rapidly.

They also have some experimental tools for exploring health and ancestry in various ways, like comparing your DNA to someone you’ve agreed to connect with. Once you’re in the system, information will be updated as new studies are integrated.

There are also various quizzes to help add support the research. And permission requests to share your DNA anonymously with researchers. You have control how much sharing is done at all points and can change your mind. And you choose if you want to even see some of the heath reports.

Because close relatives had already done the test, I didn’t expect surprises and there were none. Pretty generic average health stuff which I realized was a very good thing. Hardy stock, as they say, that was “successful”.

In my case, I elected to connect with genetic relatives, which includes the ones I know who have tested. And they show up in the system so you can invite them, connection by connection, to compare where you’re in common. This is quite distinct even from sibling to sibling. There was a small number of close relatives, some I don’t know, then hundreds of 4th and further cousins.

I’ve also uploaded my DNA to another system and will have those results in a couple of weeks. FTDNA can’t take the new V4 chip version of 23andMe but can accept older V3 results. I plan to research several other sites mentioned in the first article and may do a follow-up article here after more of this is digested.

It’s a fascinating exploration. And the more people that test, the more results they’ll have and the more research is supported.

Meanwhile here’s an interesting story where DNA results revealed that siblings were not related to the rest of their family. Turns out, their father had been switched at birth.
David

Windows 8 Revisited

February 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

Back in the day, I wrote an article on Windows 8 and decided to avoid this Windows version. Many others did the same. It was designed for touch devices and I’m still very much a desktop keyboard & mouse power user. I’m used to multitasking various system intensive programs like PhotoShop, optical disc burning, and so forth. My tablet (Android) mostly gathers dust, though would see more use for reading had I the time. It’s also great for photo albums and other causal uses.

Recently however, the laptop I got for grad school has been running hot, a little burdened by years of long days. Windows 7 is now being phased out and is just getting security fixes. Windows 10 is yet to come (later this year). Other OS’s would require a major investment in time and money to shift to. And in the meantime, some of the tech authors who balked at Windows 8 originally have gradually shifted to it themselves. Especially with some of the fixes of v8.1.

Key to a reasonably happy transition is a few key changes. On a non-touch device you want to default to the desktop. And you want a Start menu to get at stuff in familiar ways.

There are several Start menu replacement programs out there that shift the startup to the desktop. Well recommended is the $5 Stardock Start8. I decided on the free Classic Shell as it has a few specific features I like, like a File Explorer toolbar. Both allow lots of customization to taste with several style options. For really simple, you can just r-click the Taskbar/ Properties/ Navigation tab and select to default to the Desktop. But I think you’ll find the Start menu useful unless you use very few programs.

Then there’s just a few small adaptations, like finding “Charms” where a lot of settings are found – the top right corner of the screen or by pressing Win-C. Win-X brings up a power users menu, with access to many back end settings. Win-F brings up Search.

Windows 8 starts Much faster than Win7. Add in an SSD (solid state) for a boot drive (recommended) and the difference is astonishing. Install your programs on the boot drive and keep all your bulky data on a second traditional hard drive. This is how I’ve organized things for years anyway – separating programs from data. As I’ve discussed prior, it makes backup much simpler – image the boot drive, file copy the data for easy access if the system ever goes down. This is backup that works in real world scenarios.

The Modern/Metro Apps will also tend to drive power users crazy, again partly because they’re touch-designed. For example, there’s no close button – you have to click and hold the top edge and drag it to the bottom. On a large screen this is excessive compared to a click. And who needs a calculator that fills a large screen? What if you want to see the spreadsheet at the same time, without splitting the screen? You can also click in the top left corner to switch back to the desktop but this leaves the app running – handy only if you want to go back and forth. Back to the top left and right click to close it. Clicking a program on the taskbar is easier.

In many cases you’ll want full versions of desktop software, not MS apps. So you’ll want a PDF viewer, an image viewer, a calculator, and so on. Lame when these have been built into Windows for many years but MS apps are not built for mousing and big screens.

Win8 requires you use a Microsoft Account for initial login. Because it uses this for on-line services like Skydrive and app purchases, it should have a long, complex password. But for routine login people will tend to use something easier to remember, sacrificing their on-line security. There is however alternatives, like using a Local Account (scroll down to the Local Account section). You’ll still need to occasionally connect on-line but can then use a password manager to handle the complex password for you. This does mean creating a new User and making all the settings, etc. so you want to do this sooner rather than later.

Another privacy issue is internal computer searches going on-line. In Charms/ Settings/ Change PC Settings/ Search and Apps/ Search: Turn the “Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing” off.

Another gotcha is the Skype app – it wants to convert your Skype account to your system Microsoft account. They offer no choice. Annoying if you use Skype on multiple systems and don’t want it tied to one. Like Local Account above, this is a privacy issue. This is a widespread industry trend of account merging. It makes it simpler for end users but vastly increases user tracking and personal security & privacy vulnerabilities.

I later installed Skype for Desktop and it worked with my old account just fine. And all the features I’m used to were back, unlike the dumbed-down app.

I also found I needed to change the Theme colour as the windows all seemed to merge together and it wasn’t clear what to select. The 3D edges are gone. After years using Win7, there’s a lot of tweaks and settings in a lot of software to migrate. I didn’t find the “Easy Transfer” software very useful.

I am finding it much faster than Windows 7, partly due to a faster system and partly Windows 8. There’s lots of small things I quite like and other things that are annoying or dumbed down. But at least I have a current OS, for now.
David

DNA Testing – Part 1

January 20, 2015 at 10:36 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 3 Comments

One of the more remarkable developments in recent years is personal DNA testing. With new chip technology and for an increasingly reasonable price, we can trace family history, both fathers and mothers lineage, ancestral origins, genetic health markers, and contribute to a growing body of research.

This is of particular value for people unaware of their roots or genetic make-up. But anyone curious about these things will find a fascinating trove of information. However, there are a few caveats. You may discover unexpected ethnic roots or unwanted connections, like unknown links to an “illegitimate” family branch.

The services do give you the option of not accepting connections from genetic relatives who have also tested but that choice tends to happen before you know what sort of connections exist. Here’s an article talking about some of the pros and cons.

Genetic discrimination is another growing issue as testing becomes more common – both personally and for medical reasons. For example, you can have the marker for an illness that never manifests yet it may be used as a reason to deny you insurance.

In my own case, I’d rather be informed and prepared. However, I have little concern over health surprises due to my age and because close family members have already been tested.

There are now both DNA testing sites and post-test sites for further research.

The best known and original testing service is 23andMe. They offered both ancestry and genetic health traits. The US banned health results in 2013, evidently because it was considered “diagnosis”. But this is still available from them for those in the UK and Canada. For ancestry reviews, 23andMe has been suggested to be the most accurate. This would partly be due to their sample size from prior tests.

Another option is FamilyTreeDNA. This is more focused on ancestry, genealogy (cousin matching in the test population) and history. They offer specific tests for the male line (y, only men have), female line (mitocondrial), and the usual autosomal (genetic markers). They’re also available in packages. The other services mentioned have a single package. FTDNA also have a feature to upload your test results from other services, adding to the “worlds largest database”. If you use another service, this gives you more cousin matching and another ethnicity report for comparison. (the more they have, the better the results for everyone)

The big family tree service Ancestry.com now has a DNA service called AncestryDNA, tracing your genealogy and ethnicity. Some features are only available to their subscribers so this choice is best if you already use their services.

And most interesting is the National Geographic Genographic survey. Their focus is human origins or deep ancestry and the kit has been on sale lately. It checks the largest number of genes overall and is inclusive of 4 tests but has the smaller population base so offers less useful recent ancestry data. However, it also tests ethnicities not available elsewhere. One option to support them is to do the test here, then load it onto FamilyTreeDNA above that they partner with.

Not all of the tests are as clear as FamilyTreeDNA for what is included so comparisons can be tricky. Understanding the terminology is another issue. I found this wiki with detailed comparisons quite useful. It gives you a much better sense of the features included in each and their unique offerings.

Each service has background to help understand the reports you get and they vary somewhat by emphasis and what is being tested. The test itself is either a small saliva sample or inside cheek swab. On purchase, they send you the test package. You register on their site and send the easy sample back. Then they notify you when the test results are available in a few weeks. The DNA test data can then be used for further research at other sites.

Some of the post-test services include GED matchYSearch (for men) has affiliated with FamilyTreeDNA.

To compare your family tree with the genetic results, you need a gedcom file from family tree software. If you don’t have that, you can enter it here to get the file.

If you have British Isles history, this site helps use your DNA’s dominant surname to track place of origin. And many more options.

Here is a web site discussing the available services and research. And a blogger who did all 4 tests and compared them for ancestry data.

Results are based partly on comparisons with prior testers so the more testers, the better. Some parts of the world have a lot less data and so results may be misleading. If this is the case for you, try to get more family members tested.

I’ve ordered the 23andMe kit due to the inclusion of the health markers. I’d like to take advantage of that while it’s available. I’ll write a second part in a few weeks when I have the results.
David

Magnificent Nature

November 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

A video from Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg at a TED talk on Pollination. He reminds us of the importance of pollination for our survival. The clip of time-lapse photography on the “intersection between plant and animal life” gives us a rarely seen glimpse of nature.

(the YouTube clip without his intro has over a million hits)

Inside the Space Station

March 24, 2009 at 11:08 am | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

A cool clip of life aboard the space station. Work? Note how they have to hook their feet or zip up to stay put. Gives new meaning to what a food fight could be. And how relative ideas like “up” and “down” are.

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