Sunday, December 26, 2010

This Week's Compendium

So my hiatus from the net has lasted a bit longer than I had planned and things have been quiet around here for a lot longer than I had hoped. But the good news is that means that I have loads of stories to catch up on once I manage to free up a little more time. In the meantime, I did manage to keep up with Compendium this weekend, complete with a horrible x-mas theme.

I began with Team Unicorn's "Very Zombie Holiday", a field guide to surviving a zombie filled holiday. Next I suggested an alternative source of protein for this years x-mas dinner ( think Soylent Green), we go X-mas caroling with GWAR, hunt for pooping peasants in Spanish nativity celebrations, I introduce your children to the Krampus and more.

So please, if you have not done so before, go and check out Compendium oF Strange on tumblr and if you see something you like help me promote the sight(s) by sharing it with your friends using the tweet and like buttons I have provided on both individual posts as well as for the blog as a whole both here on Geek Blog and on Compendium. Sorry to go all self-promotional on ya from time to time, but while I genuinely enjoy working on the blogs, it's all kind of pointless if no one's reading it. So please help spread the word.

Thanks in advance, and I promise there will be much more science, skepticism and more here in the very near future.


If you're already on tumblr you can follow the Compendium directly, if not, then you should use THIS LINK to join so the Compendium gets credit for the referral, or you could just follow me on twitter or like my musician page on Facebook to keep up with all my blogs, bands, etc. Thanks and enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas With The Devil

As you may have gathered, I'm not much for x-mas. But being the happy little pseudo-satanist that I am, I can't help but enjoy corrupting the day with as much evil as possible. So I can't imagine a better theme for the day than Spinal Tap's own pseudo-satanic x-mas carol, "Chsitmas with the Devil". Unless of course someone were to record a really cool jazz version of the song, that would be amazing...

Turns out someone did, and by someone I mean singer songwriter Judith Owen and comedian, writer, musician, actor, voice actor and Spinal Tap bassist (amongst many other things) Harry Shearer.

I think I may actually like this version better than the original.

Very cool, enjoy!

Posted by Youtube user:MyDamnChannel

For the tragically uncultured amongst you, here's a link to the original: Spinal Tap:Christmas With the Devil, You're welcome.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lunar Eclipse Time Lapse

Tuesday marked the first time a full lunar eclipse had occurred on the winter solstice since 1638, (which I'm sure was a sign of the end of the world or the return Cthulhu or something, but nothing significant came up when I did a search, so maybe all the crazies missed this one) which I missed because..well, I forgot. But that's okay because it's going to happen again in 2094 which is great because I'll only be...Okay, I'll be dead.

Fortunately, that doesn't really matter much because a full lunar eclipse happens every year, they just don't happen on the winter solstice very often, which isn't really all that significant other than the fact that it makes for an extra long dark night. Even better, University of Florida professor and science photographer William Castleman managed to catch a time lapse of the event and posted it on his Vimeo account and now, I'm posting it here. Very cool.

The music is really nice as well,Claude Debussy Nocturnes: Sirènes. enjoy.


Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

Source: I09
Image credit: Thomas loupe

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Matt Ridley and Richard Dawkins on DNA, Extraterrestrial Life and More...

Posted by YouTube user:AtheistMediaBlog

Since we've been discussing astrobiology and genetics over the past few days, now seemed like a good time to share this video of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins ( that's right kids, he's more than JUST an atheist) and journalist Matt Ridley discussing Alternative biochemistry, extraterrestrials, DNA, synthetic life, artificial life, and all sorts of other interesting things relating to biology, evolution, and life in general. It's very, very, cool and I think you will enjoy it, so check it out!


Friday, December 3, 2010

NASA Press Conference Disappoints Many, But it Really Shouldn't Have

[*UPDATE*]Turns out, not only have NASA's observations NOT been confirmed by any other researchers, but there's also been no shortage of scientists coming forward to criticize the conclusions as well as the methods of NASA scientists. Some have even gone so far as labeling the entire thing one big publicity stunt and given this new information, I largely agree. So maybe we should have been disappointed after all. [*UPDATE*]

In case you missed it, yesterday NASA held a press conference to announce the discovery of a bacteria (GFAJ-1 of Halomonadaceae) living in the highly alkaline waters as well as in the mud surrounding Mono Lake in California. Lab tests showed that this bacteria is capable of not only surviving in an environment saturated with arsenic, but that it can actually incorporate the normally highly toxic chemical into it's DNA and use it in place of phosphorous.

One would be hard pressed to exaggerate the "wow-factor" of this discovery from a biological stand point as it is a real life living breathing example of an organism capable of sustaining it's existence by utilizing a biochemistry unlike any other organism on the planet. As far as the impact this finding will have on astrobiology- The search for life on other worlds has to begin by looking for the conditions necessary to sustain life as we know it and this discovery helps to expand our understanding of the conditions under which life can exist. In short, the space agency made good on it's promise to deliver something which would impact the field of astrobiology and this organism itself is an astonishing discovery well worth the attention it received.


To the average person, this discovery probably doesn't mean much, and it certainly isn't as cool as it would have been if this same discovery had been made on another planet; which is obviously what the majority of people thought was going to be the case. I myself was aware of the existence of organisms capable of surviving on arsenic ( the part about the DNA is new microbes living on arsenic is not) and that the subject of the press conference would most likely focus primarily on some terrestrial finding. But even I assumed that the topic would be somehow tied to a specific discovery on another world and it is, in a fundamental non-specific sort of way. But still, a lot of people were both disappointed and even irritated by the subject of the conference and quite frankly, I don't blame them.

To be fair, 99% of the hype about alien life came from outside NASA. But when the general public(right or wrong) sees your organization's primary mission as the search for extraterrestrials, you have to know that holding a special event to share an announcement relating to astrobiology is GOING to generate hype, speculation, and ultimately resentment when reality doesn't live up to their expectations.


Source: Bad Astronomy

For more about the true significance of this find check out Nancy Atkinson's article on Universe Tody.

Among those deeply disappointed by the way NASA handled the release of this information, Justin from Weird Things TV:

Posted by YouTube user:weirdthingsTV

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oxygen on Rhea and NASA's Big Astrobiological Revelation

The Cassini probe was recently sent to analyze the atmosphere of Saturn's second largest moon Rhea, revealing the planet to be covered in a thin veil of oxygen (70%) and carbon dioxide (30%). This finding represents the first ever confirmation of the existence of oxygen in the atmosphere of any world other than our own.But it's the presence of carbon dioxide that peaked most peoples interest in this story as one of the possible causes for the gas is of course, alien biology.

Though Rhea's low surface temperature -ranging from -281 f to -364 f- the exceedingly thin nature of it's atmosphere, and the subsequent lack of liquid water, make it an unlikely home for any form of life as we know it. But Cassini's find does place the planet's name on an ever growing list of recent discoveries which show that elements essential for life as we understand it actually exist in often surprising quantities and concentrations on planets throughout our solar system.

In fact, the discovery of elements and conditions potentially conducive to life on our neighboring bodies has become so common place, that I have actually stopped writing about many of them. Not because they're not intriguing scientific discoveries, but because the story pretty much always goes the same: I tell you planet X displays a chemical or environmental anomaly which COULD -after years worth of additional analysis- prove to be signs of life on another world. But until that analysis is done, we'll all just have to go with the odds and assume that it isn't. I say, wouldn't it be cool if it was, make a logical argument for why it could be and we all move on to something else.

Well, according to NASA, by this time tomorrow there just might be something new to say about the potential for life on other worlds, as earlier this week the space agency announced it's plans to hold a conference tomorrow at 2:00PM ET, during which it promises to: "discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life."

Pretty much since the moment the press conference was announced the speculations have been flying, the most popular and outrageous of which being that the agency plans to admit some previously withheld knowledge about contact with little gray men. But being the logical creature that I am, I'm going to follow Phil Plait's lead and side with in guessing that the people scheduled to be involved in tomorrows press conference make it likely it will have something to do with previous discoveries on Titan, at least in part anyway.

But who knows, maybe they have somehow confirmed the existence of some sort of extraterrestrial microbes thriving on arsenic on the surface of mars or some alien fungus living off acetylene in Titan's lakes of methane. But while Id be lying if I said I wasn't waiting eagerly to hear just what this new discovery is, if you're holding out for the big "We come in peace moment" in tomorrows press conference, I would say you should prepare yourself for disappointment.


Source: New Scientist, Bad Astronomy

Image credit: NASA, Voyager, Copyright Calvin J. Hamilton