Tag-Archive for » natural sciences «

Launch every ‘Zig’ for great justice

cyborg_beetleAlthough this has just brought our world one giant leap closer to an enormous insectoid apocalypse (as envisioned in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers), there is something kinda cool about a big scary cyborg bug.

Give it a theme song full of wailing guitars and you’ve got the makings of a kickass Saturday morning kids cartoon.

If I see that thing in the kitchen though, I’m killing it.  Jus’ sayin.

(Via Instapundit.)

Keep swine flu in perspective

Keep your thinking cap on when you’re reading breathless media accounts of “swine flu”, a.k.a. influenza A virus, subtype H1N1.  We are a long, long way from it being an “oh my G-d, we’re all going to die” pandemic.

I have a hard time getting worked up over a flu where the vast majority of its sufferers recover, and whose only confirmed North American fatalities are twenty unfortunate Mexicans.  That’s a small number.  Tragic for those families, but still small.

By contrast, over 2 billion people (one-third of humanity!) have contracted hepatitis BThat’s a pandemic.  About 84,000 people die every year from hepatitis B (and complications arising from it).  Hep B will kill far more people in your lifetime than swine flu ever will.

UPDATE:  As my wife mentioned to me this evening, remember that SARS thing back in 2003?  Forty-four people died in Toronto due to that respiratory disease.  Remember how the world media was freaking out about it, and WHO instituted a travel warning?  Remember seeing tourists on the subway wearing surgical masks, even though 99% of the city’s population had never, ever been exposed to SARS?  And then the number of tourists that showed up took a giant nosedive?  95,000 people in the tourism industry laid off, 30-40% decline in hotel occupancy rates, etc cetera.

Well, that’s how Mexico is feeling right now.  Except the impact to tourism will probably be much more catastrophic in some areas.

Category: Current Affairs, Media  Tags: , ,  Comments off

Up from the depths, 30 stories high, breathing fire…

I suppose it’s a sign of the jaded times we live in that when I saw this sequence of photos, my first reaction was “Huh, another Godzilla movie.  Which monster is that?”

Undersea eruption near Nuku’Alofa, Tonga, on March 18th, 2009.  (Dana Stephenson/Getty Images)
(Via Alan Taylor. Boston.com, The Big Picture, March 19th. 2009.
Category: That all men may know His works  Tags: ,  Comments off

One small step for a bat, one giant leap for batkind


A bat that was clinging to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission remained with the spacecraft as it cleared the tower, analysts at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concluded.

Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit.

— Siceloff, Steven. “Bat Hung onto Shuttle During Liftoff“, NASA/John F. Kennedy Space Center, March 17th, 2009.

bat_sts_external_tank02But oh, what a death.  A free-tailed chiroptera, immortalised forever in the annals of spaceflight.

Interestingly, this is not the first attempt by the flying mammals to get into orbit. A previous bat-astronaut landed on the shuttle Columbia during the countdown for STS-90, but aborted his ride-along when the engines ignited.  This latest hitchhiker apparently stuck to his mission profile, at least past the launch gantry.

NASA was not able to confirm whether the bat made it into space, or was sloughed off as the shuttle accelerated through supersonic and hypersonic flight on its climb to low earth orbit.

What is clear though, is that on that glorious day of March 15th, 2009, this bat went higher, farther and faster than any other chiroptera.  And for a brief moment, he became the greatest bat-pilot anyone had ever seen.


“In the hours before Discovery’s liftoff, NASA’s Final Inspection Team (called the “ICE team”) investigated whether the creature would pose a risk to the shuttle if its body impacted the orbiter’s sensitive heat shield tiling. Ultimately, NASA officials signed a waiver confirming that the bat was safe to fly with.

“The bat eventually became ‘Interim Problem Report 119V-0080’ after the ICE team finished their walkdown,” the memo said. “Systems Engineering and Integration performed a debris analysis on him and ultimately a Launch Commit Criteria waiver to ICE-01 was written to accept the stowaway.”

This isn’t the first time a bat has attempted to travel into space. Another bat was seen clinging to the side of the external tank attached to the shuttle Endeavour on its  STS-72 flight in 1996. That one maybe have been a bit more cautious, though: It flew away to safety right before launch.

Coincidentally, an astronaut aboard that flight, Koichi Wakata of Japan, also flew on Discovery this week, making him the first spaceflyer to share two rides with bats. Discovery’s STS-119 mission is headed to the International Space Station to drop off the final segment of the lab’s backbone truss and set of solar array panels.”

— Clara Moskowitz.  “Bat’s fate after shuttle launch appears grim“, MSNBC/Space.com, March 18th, 2009.

Go with God, 119V-0080.

The Earth-Mother will Kick Your Ass

Fight Nature before Nature gets You!

More hilarious alarmism from the Globe and Mail.  Look, non-native species migration is a problem, but it’s not like you can erect giant Star Trek forcefields and keep them out.  Nature is red in tooth and claw—which means Nature fights in the Octagon, ignores the ref, and uses brass knuckles and shivs, whether you like it or not.  Species are going to go where the climate and food chain are favourable.  And our efforts to introduce other non-native species to keep them in check usually backfires and bites us in the ass.  The successful species on this planet adapt and evolve to new environments.  The unsuccessful ones stay put and circle the drain as their ever-shrinking turf runs out of time, food and ideas.  I’m just sayin’.

I particularly like how the Globe goes on to freak out about other invasive species moving northward, particularly European fire ants.

Well I have news for you, fellas.  Fire ants are already here.  They’re in Phippsburg, Maine, which is a mere three minutes north of Toronto in terms of latitude.  Hell I got stung by a fire ant this June—on the Don Valley Parkway—during the Becel Ride for Heart.  Took about 3 weeks for the sting marks and itching to go away.

I’m not allergic to them, but damn, stinging insects are annoying as hell.  Nothing makes me angrier than having a stupid six-legged stinging idiot crawl up your shirt and get angry about it because their primitive compound eyes are too blind to find the way out.  And they build in much higher densities than Toronto’s zoning regulations permit.  Half the time their homes are illegal shantytown tenements built onto or within a properly-zoned existing structure.  And they contribute to the city’s budget problems by refusing to pay property taxes.  Which is why I am going to fund a titanic James-Bond-supervillain project to rid the world of the entire Apocrita sub-order.  If you donate now, I will name a giant insecticide-spraying zeppelin after you.  Or some kind of nano-weapon that performs regicide against wasp and fire ant queens.  It’s a valuable investment opportunity—don’t miss out!