Sci Station Canada

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Infertility and The Mark of Gideon.

In Star Trek the Original Series, there was an episode entitled "The Mark of Gideon" where a planet was threatened with extinction because of overpopulation. Could this be the fate of the Earth? It is a complex question, but one of the factors in that equation is fertility rates. In news calculated to make my male audience reflexively cross their legs, the 18th World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, IFFS 2004, which convenes this week in Montreal is including in it's focus male infertility.

"Over the past 50 years, sperm counts have been declining in humans, in animals, even fish," [Serge Belisle, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Centre hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal] said. "It's a reality we have difficulty grasping because it's a new reality for us. Now, 50 per cent of the problem is male. (But) we know more about the biological prerequisites of conception from the female standpoint than the male."

The drop in male potency is believed to be related to environmental toxins and drugs in the drinking water that are responsible for the "feminization" seen in animals and fish. While environmental toxins adversely affect sperm production, lifestyle habits can have an effect, too.

"Tobacco is a major killer for sperm," Belisle noted.

Other factors include sexually transmitted diseases and delaying childbirth to later years. The quality of human eggs and sperm declines with age. In Canada, one couple in five between the ages of 22 and 40 will have difficulty conceiving. For those older than 40, the difficulty jumps to one in every two.

This is one reason why concerns about the overpopulation of the planet are not a cut-and-dried equation.

In my opinion the quantity of the Earths population is not going to be a real issue in this century - The quality of our lives will. Poverty, malnutrition, disease ... we have enough Horsemen of the Apocalypse waiting in the wings already.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Canada rises above the USA

More Plate Techtonics a little closer to home this time ...

The United States is slowly sinking, and Canada is on the rise – all thanks to a glacier that melted over 12,000 years ago. Scientists have discovered that the melting of North American glacial sheets is still shifting the makeup of the land. For one thing, the shift is causing Canada's Great Lakes to slip slowly southward. Chicago, for example, is sinking at a rate of 1 millimetre a year. At current rates, Chicago's Sears Tower will be below water in approximately 462,686 years.

This is according to Seth Stein, a Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) geological science professor who helped organize the new study. According to Stein, "Over 20,000 years ago the glacial sheets created depressions and other natural features in the North American landscape, including the Great Lakes. When the ice began to melt – a process that began 12,000 years ago – the land slowly began to “rebound” and return to its original shape.

"Rebound"? OK, the earths crust is elastic, but surely it still needs a force? Perhaps upward thrust from the core or (more likely, IMO) the lightening of the load on the Canadian crust with the retreat of the ice & glacier coverage?

Professor Richard Peltier, a physics professor at University of Toronto and leading expert in field ... said he had been predicting the shifting elevation patterns for years and was happy they had finally been confirmed.

Queen's University's part in underwater volcano discovery

Sometimes one door will open when another closes. A US National Science Foundation expedition to investigate why the massive Larsen B ice sheet collapsed and broke up several years ago has made an unexpected discovery.

Queen’s geographer Robert Gilbert, the only Canadian researcher on this project led by Eugene Domack from Hamilton College in New York State, says that severe sea ice conditions prevented reaching the primary sites at Larsen Ice Shelf, so the researchers diverted to the sea mount where conditions were more favourable, to assess whether an anomaly recorded on the sea floor during a 2001 expedition was indeed a volcano.

...The volcano, which has yet to be named, is unusual in that it exists on the continental shelf, in the vicinity of a deep trough carved out by glaciers passing across the seafloor. Dr. Gilbert ... says the volcano may partially or completely post-date the last glaciation making it a relatively recent phenomenon, perhaps less than several tens of thousands of years old.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

More Entangled Quantums

Seems everyone is into Quantum entanglement these days =) This is from ScienceDaily...

University of Toronto physicists have developed a way to entangle photons which could ultimately lead to an extremely precise new measurement system.

Their findings could ultimately prove useful in developing ways to measure gravitational waves or the energy structure of atoms, and could also help in the development of "quantum computers." (Quantum computers work according to the principles of quantum mechanics, which describes atoms, photons, and other microscopic objects.)

Previous studies have theorized that quantum computers using entangled photons could perform calculations far more quickly than current computers. "We know that today's computers are approaching limits of size and speed," says lead author and post-doctoral fellow Morgan Mitchell. "Quantum computing offers a possible way to move beyond that. Our research borrows some tricks from quantum computing and applies them to precision measurement."

Hmmm ... Would the experimental rig they have the Photons run around on be a Holodeck? ... and if you thought that was so bad a joke you had to say something, you'll notice I now have a comments facility for feedback.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Transporter or Replicator?

In what is billed as a true multinational effort, a collaboration between the University of Calgary, and the Australian National University (ANU) Quantum Optics Group have scored a new world first for the rarefied field of quantum physics by teleporting a laser to three recipients. This follows the major breakthrough two years ago when members of the Australian National University (ANU) Quantum Optics Group demonstrated teleportation of a laser beam between two points.

However the information is only recoverable if any two of the recipients collaborate, in what's called quantum secret sharing. Group leader Dr Ping Koy Lam said it would be expected that each of three recipients would gain one third of the information. But in quantum physics, that's not what happens. Rather, each has nothing. But by combining their efforts - in this case their laser beams - any two can recover all the information.

"That's the magic of it," he said. "If any two get together, you get back 100 per cent of the information."

Hmmm ...Does this mean that if I feed McCoy into one end I can get 100% of him from two stations? =) Just joking! This only works with Lasers and it is not expected to be able to be used for solid objects.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Da Vinci and Cape Kindersley in Saskatchewan

SCOTT SIMMIE of the Toronto Star has done an excellent feature on the effect that the Da Vinci X-Prize attempt will have on Kindersley — a town whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed with the oil that's pumped from beneath the parched land of southwestern Saskatchewan ... [it is] potentially unbelievably lucrative. A bare minimum of 5,000 space visitors are expected (about 100 more than Kindersley's population). Then there are the hordes of media, the X Prize officials and sponsors (numbering 1,000), plus Brian Feeney's entourage.

"Just between myself, my friends and my family it'll be quite a platoon," laughed Feeney during a recent interview in Toronto. In total, the invasion could reach 50,000, perhaps even more.

"It's huge. Really huge," says Brenda Burton, development officer with the Regional Economic Development Authority. ... The town has only 300 hotel rooms and a handful of restaurants. "Nowhere near what you'd need to feed that many people. So it's a big undertaking,"

What is even more enlightening is further down the page ...

Feeney knows people are waiting. But it is, after all, a high-stakes race. As much as he'd like to, he just can't give anything away. There are others after this prize, too, including American aviation ace Burt Rutan (considered by some to be the front-runner).

"I can appreciate that everyone wants to know. I'd love to tell them," said Feeney, who does have a date scheduled. But he won't even confirm if, as local rumour has it, the launch will take place `in a month that starts with J.'"

"We want to beat Mr. Rutan," said Feeney. "If we come out with a date any sooner than we absolutely have to, it's like: `Here's our date, come and beat us.'"

As I suspected Feeney is on the final approach in stealth mode - I'll lay any odds you like he does have a launch permit in his pocket!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A Cyborg in New Brunswick?

-- With his new space-age arm, nine-year-old cancer patient Nicholas McConnell-Kinney is the ultimate "bionic" boy. The New Brunswick child underwent four hours of surgery Friday in a ground-breaking operation that replaced 15.5 centimetres of cancerous bone in his upper arm bone with a spring-loaded titanium and plastic rod that will grow as he grows.

The operation has been performed about 20 times in the United States. But Friday's surgery at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax was a medical first for Canada.

Good luck with your recuperation, Nicholas. Just think of all the arm wrestling you'll win - "Resistance is Futile!"

How close is Da Vinci?

Once again we have the media saying that Da Vinci have a launch Licence. This time it is the BBC

Other teams are also poised on the verge of a serious launch attempt. In particular, the Canadian Da Vinci team, which uses a balloon to help its craft reach altitude, is said to be making substantial progress ... The Da Vinci team has already obtained a launch licence in Canada.

Just how close is Da Vinci? is Brian Feeney playing his cards close to his chest?

Canadian Arrow announces test launch plans

The Canadian Arrow team is making plans - first reported in the London Free Press for the first test flights of its rocket this summer.

"We're planning unmanned flights over a four-month period, beginning in August," said Geoff Sheerin, Arrow team leader.

The Arrow team is completing arrangements for tests at an Ontario location, he said ... The tests will include high-altitude flights, trials of a launch pad abort system, separation of the nose cone from the crew cabin, deployment of parachutes for recovery of the nose cone and crew cabin, and evaluation of aerodynamics to ensure the craft can maintain a correct flight path and altitude.

Arrow uses a splashdown recovery system, so the nose cone and cabin crew may have to be dropped in warmer waters off the eastern coast of the U.S. if the manned flight occurs in cold weather, Sheerin said.

"I'm sure Canadians would understand if we have to do that to beat the deadline and win the race," he said.

That last sentence sounds awfully like Sheerin saying that if he doesn't get the support he needs he will take the project elsewhere - remember he has to look for new premises anyway.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Canada moves to protect world fish stocks

last week the Fisheries Minister was reported as saying that there will be a small cod fishery this spring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where a year ago his predecessor expressed doubt a commercial harvest would reopen in his lifetime. Newfoundland and Quebec fishermen will be allowed to land 6,500 tonnes of cod in the northern and southern sections of the gulf ... A moratorium is still in place for northern cod.

He followed this later in the week with an announcment of expanded Canadian patrols to "police" the moratorium on dwindling fish stocks on the Grand Banks off the Newfoundland and Labrador coast.

"It is our hope that harassing these international, modern-day pirates on the sea with further boardings and inspections.. will help to keep them away." In the past, European fishing nations have ignored quotas set by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). The quotas are set because of concerns over low stock levels. Canada hasn't arrested those on board the boats. It doesn't have the jurisdiction outside of a 320-km fishing limit. However, new rules give Canada the right to seize vessels outside that zone if it suspects illegal activity."

Although it has been suggested that these moves have a political motivation there should be no doubt that the dangers of commercial extinction of fish stocks are very real and scientifically verified. Take for example Last years study that showed that 90 percent of all large fishes have disappeared from the world's oceans in the past half century. Or look back to the furore in Europe over the EU's attempts to regulate the fishing inustry in 2002.

Unfortunately in any discussion of issues such as this where the solution to environmental concerns involves a threat to peoples livelihoods, it is very hard to remain unemotional. On the one hand we have radical "Greenies" [no denigration intended] who believe vehemently in the protection of the environment and on the other Trade Associations that see conservation as the commercial destruction of their industry. Any answer needs to take into consideration the concerns of both sides as is suggested by the recent call for the creation of an ocean policy trust fund to funnel billions in oil and gas revenue toward state and federal environmental programs, ocean education, science and exploration.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Shakespeare under the microscope

This isn't new, but I saw a recent review of a book by Stephanie Nolen - "Shakespeare's Face" which is an in depth study of a portrait of William Shakespeare purported to have been done by John Sanders and had been kept in the Sanders family ever since, coming with them when they emigrated to Canada. When it had been originally appraised by A.M. Spielmann, a London expert on Shakespearean iconography, in 1909 he had dismissed it as a 17th century fake.

Modern scientific techniques and a reapraisal by other experts have left the door open to conjecture. It is now the centre of controversy - is this the face of genius? I doubt if there will ever be a definitive answer, but I know that I would like it to be genuine!

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Canadian Arrow Road Show!

In the same X Prize newsletter (April 2004) we got the latest on Canadian Arrow ...

In coordination with the X PRIZE Presenting Sponsor, Champ Car World Series, X PRIZE participated in the Champ Car Long Beach Grand Prix. An estimated 75,000 viewers had a chance to appreciate the size and design features of the 54' long Canadian Arrow full-scale mockup as it was on display in Long Beach last weekend during Champ Car's Grand Prix Race event. Race-goers and exhibitors alike were both inquisitive and complimentary of the X PRIZE/ Canadian Arrow presentation, and volunteers from both the Team and the XP Foundation were on hand to answer questions and promote the X PRIZE Space Race.
Lori Sheerin and Lou van Amelsvoort, of Canadian Arrow, drove over 3000km with their rocket ship in tow, generating comments and gawks along the way. US Customs good-naturedly insisted on processing the rocket through their "WMD Screening" upon crossing the US border. The Canadian Arrow later turned heads parading up and down the "Strip" in Las Vegas, after which they were shown on one of the local morning TV shows.

I particularly liked the photo at the bottom of the page that showed the Canadian Arrow mock-up parked in front of a petrol bowser. Just imagine the driveway attendants expression if you asked him to check the oil and water as well!

After successfully testing its 57,000-pound thrust engine, the Canadian Arrow team is now developing the equipment needed for landing its X PRIZE vehicle. "We are now working on our recovery equipment since the main engine is finished and operating," said team leader Geoff Sheerin to journalist Leonard David of "We just performed some successful drop tests of the crew cabin to measure water impact deceleration."

Elsewhere on the Web I note from the Brampton Guardian that Canadian Arrow, ...will be on display tomorrow, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at St. Marguerite d'Youville church on Sandalwood Parkway E.
Hmmm .. Brampton ... why does that ring a bell?

Dave - have you thought of inviting Arrow to one of your charity events? =)

da Vinci close but ...

In the latest X Prize Newsletter - available from the subscription link on the X prize home page - they expanded on the situation as regards the da Vinci Launch licence ...

Brian Feeney, of the da Vinci Project, indicated that his X PRIZE Team's launch license under the Canadian CLSO, their AST-equivalent governmental launch office, is anticipated soon. da Vinci has completed its required application process and is well into the task of coordinating ground and air operations for their launches at Kindersley, the Saskatchewan site chosen for Canada's first manned space launch.

So last weeks quote was a slip of the tongue! ... but they're not far off! They go on to say ...

The Canadian da Vinci Project is pressing forward with the building and testing of its X PRIZE entry "Wild Fire MK VI" vehicle. Recent activities include sub-assembly installations inside the capsule. The project's flight simulator became operational about six months ago, and da Vinci is in the process of adding refinements to the trendicators that will aid in determining role, pitch and yaw rates, as well as to the pilot's flat screen display.

The Global Star satellite network is being used on the Wild Fire vehicle as the primary tracking data and audio link to the spacecraft and balloon. The tracking data shows up on a moving map display based on precise airborne GPS and INS equipment. Mission control receives the primary feed from the network's hub while mobile satellite receivers used by ground recovery teams have a direct tie into portable PC's. The result is real-time tracking in remote locations, ensuring that the recovery teams are directed to the spacecraft hardware as soon as it lands. Global Star satellite transmitters and receivers are undergoing system bench testing at the da Vinci facility in Toronto prior to installation in the spacecraft.