Monday, May 24, 2010

Advancing the Science of Climate Change

Human attention span is limited. Modern news media's non stop presentations of crisis shift us from one major event to another. Earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, flood, political violence, wars, financial volatility, sensationalized many other news stories compete with one another in a never ending battle of grabbing human emotions in ultimate frenzy of putting one interest over another. The news of climate change was no different, it was pushed back from the visible horizon of attention spectrum, many other immediate chaos, natural, man made, and fabricated, took its space with relative ease. But that does not mean the climate change problem has disappeared for good. The National Academy of Sciences "offer persuasive evidence that it would be folly to put off dealing with the problem any longer".

Here is the introductory remark from Advancing the Science of Climate Change document:
"A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. As decision makers respond to these risks, the nation’s scientific enterprise can contribute both by continuing to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change, and by improving and expanding the options available to limit the magnitude of climate change and to adapt to its impacts. To do so, the nation needs a comprehensive, integrated, and flexible climate change research enterprise that is closely linked with actionoriented programs at all levels. Also needed are a comprehensive climate observing system, improved climate models and other analytical tools, investments in human capital, and better linkages between research and decision making."
Links:

1. National Academy of Sciences: Advancing the Science of Climate Change
2. New York Times Editorial: Are They Paying Attention

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oil Spill and More

I used to be familiar with that part of Gulf of Mexico years ago. Blue, serene ocean, sometimes tumultuous with stormy waves and flashing froth, and sometimes so somber and calm, that only the slightest wave movements could be visible. It used to take about two hours, more or less, in a helicopter ride from New Orleans to the seismic exploration vessel I was working in, exploring oil and gas in the middle of seemingly no where, with kilometer after kilometer long cables, four and sometimes six of them in parallel, sprawling on the ocean water supported by buoy and electrical "birds" to keep all the geophones and other signal sensory equipments in balance.

To me it was amazing how the science and human ingenuity worked like magic, using sound reflection and refraction technology to map the sub surface layers of rocks under ocean, measuring the differences in densities and seismic velocities, called acoustic impedance, and plenty of mathematics and computer algorithms to decipher the wiggly meanings from subsurface seismic reflection and refraction data.

Some of these memories still feel so fresh and vivid as if it happened only yesterday.

The images now I see in the news, the oil spill known as the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the same vicinity of the ocean I was familiar with is heartbreaking, as "the oil making its way ominously and relentlessly, like an invading army, toward the area’s delicate and heartbreakingly vulnerable wetlands".

I would not blame the columnist Bob Herbert describing the latest catastrophe in following terms, "The risks unleashed by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are profound — the latest to be set in motion by the scandalous, rapacious greed of the oil industry and its powerful allies and enablers in government. America is selling its soul for oil." - but would have definitely like to ask him what is the alternative to oil and gas for our energy hungry world where the very civilization we all feel proud of and take as granted? Can we sustain our levels of ease, comforts and ways of life if the supplies of oil and gas suddenly cease to exist? The answer would be a resounding no I believe. Our world, and us the human populace is ill prepared to face the very much inevitable, because the fossil fuel is not infinite.

It is not to say that there are no alternatives. Alternative fuels are talks of the day, at least they used to be only a few months and years ago, especially in the summer of 2007 and 2008 when the oil price jumped high like a rocket, and it has the possibility of doing so in not so distant future unless the world slides into a greater depression that everyone seems to be fearing about. Even if the depression lasts longer than expected and anticipated, when the economy rebounds and the hunger and demands for energy multiplies many folds, the price of fossil fuel will jump again to record high, that's possibly a high probability. The question that bothers me more these days is whether the nations, and their governments, are doing enough, in unison, to support the scientific communities, universities and research labs to deliver the world the required alternative fuels, that will be eco friendly, and desirably has less or no damage to the environment and health, and is equally important factor is that they are affordable to masses and easily available. These are all complicated problems to resolve, not by any one nation or corporation, but by global unity and cohesion.

Perhaps someday the world conscience will wake up to the call of real urgency.

Link to Bob Herbert's article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/22/opinion/22herbert.html

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Different Routes to the Same Destination

Kathleen Parker's article in The Washington Post notes some "startling conclusions" from Barbara Bradley Hagerty's book "Fingerprints of God", where the author "couldn't accept mainstream science's answer that we are "a collection of molecules with no greater purpose than to eke out a few decades." Instead, she sought out spiritual virtuosos (people who practice prayer, religiously), as well as neurologists, geneticists, physicists and medical researchers who are using the newest tools of science to discern the circumstantial evidence of God".

"circumstantial evidence" - what does it mean really? Per the legal definition it is the indirect evidence. No direct evidence exists, hence the indirect way to proving a fact or facts. For many, especially the scientists, it may sound a bit far fetched, perhaps too much assumptions in it.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty's research "led to some startling conclusions that have caused no small amount of Sturm und Drang among those who believe theirs is the one true way. She found that whether one is a Sikh, a Catholic nun, a Buddhist monk or a Sufi Muslim, the brain reacts to focused prayer and meditation much in the same way. The same parts light up and the same parts go dark during deep meditation" -- the "same parts" of brain of every human beings in prayers or meditation, regardless of any specificity of religion or mode of spirituality practiced, light up and go dark.Thus, the following observation by Kathleen Parker / Barbara Bradley Hagerty is profound, "spiritual experience is a human phenomenon, not a religious one. Different routes to the same destination."

Centuries after centuries, so much bloodshed, destruction and devastation occurred from heartless religions invoked warfare and violence, whilst the very basic essence of humanity was and still is trampled in the name of meaningless "superiority" of one deity or rituals over another, though the destination of human beings remains the same, either extinction by way of being originated from simple arraigned molecules and in the end disarrayed or disassembled into some other organic or inorganic forms or beings, or perhaps elevated to heavens or demoted to hells. Who knows? Perhaps not the the mortal beings in this world. Perhaps some truths are indeed too "sacred / divine" or outright ridiculous to comprehend. Like the author Hagerty, I also feel optimistic and inclined to believe the power of science, that "science eventually will demonstrate that we are more than mere matter. In the meantime, it would seem imminently rational to presume in our public affairs that God does not play political favorites with His creation" 

Link to Kathleen Parker's article in The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/07/AR2010050704065.html

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Single Molecule Can Calculate Thousands of Times Faster Than a PC

In its infancy though it is, this news on molecular computation is simply outstanding. Here is the quote:
"An experimental demonstration of a quantum calculation has shown that a single molecule can perform operations thousands of times faster than any conventional computer.

In a paper published in the May 3 issue of Physical Review Letters, researchers in Japan describe a proof-of-principle calculation they performed with an iodine molecule. The calculation involved that computation of a discrete Fourier transform, a common algorithm that's particularly handy for analyzing certain types of signals.

Although the calculation was extraordinary swift, the methods for handling and manipulating the iodine molecule are complex and challenging. In addition, it's not entirely clear how such computational components would have to be connected to make something resembling a conventional PC.

Nevertheless, in a Viewpoint in the current edition of APS Physics, Ian Walmsley (University of Oxford) points out that the demonstration of such an astonishingly high-speed calculation shows that there is a great deal to be gained if physicists can overcome the difficulties in putting single-molecule computation to practical use."
 This reminds me a book by Ray Kurzweil, "The Singularity is Near". Here is a quote from the author's website:, "The Singularity is an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today—the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity."

Is the human civilization approaching that "singularity"?