Archive for February, 2009

Life, the Universe, and Everything by Lucie Stein-Cartford

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

There’s a lot of information out there about space travel, space stations, the Big Bang, and how Pluto is no longer a planet (much to my chagrin). I am quite fascinated by space in general, but I get bogged down with all the math. That’s why I decided to talk about my favorite take on space travel, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams.

Douglas Adams Hitchikers Guide

Douglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guide

Douglas Adams created one of the most accessible media around for people interested in space. His characters are normal humans caught up in the mysteries of the galaxy, and they react in spectacularly funny ways. One of the main characters, Ford Prefect, writes for a book called the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (hence the title), which provides the average traveller with tips and tricks for surviving their trip. Although the Guide doesn’t include formulae or numbers, it is in fact a very thorough look at the endless possibilities of the galaxy. It makes a nice change from hyper-scientific science fiction, which practically requires a degree to be understood.

The broad appeal of Hitchhiker’s Guide has increased recently, with the production of a movie:

Featuring Mos Def, Alan Rickman, and Martin Freeman, and with a screenplay by Douglas Adams himself, the movie further illustrates the broad appeal of space. Although the movie can’t possibly encompass the broad scope of the book, it provides the viewer with a teasing glimpse of the endless possibilities. In fact, rather than having a hyper-drive engine, or something similarly Star Wars -oriented, the spaceship is powered by an Improbability Drive, opening up an entirely new set of ideas.

Abstract:

Since literacy became widespread, books have provided a means of escape for thousands of people; film has done the same, but in a different format. I propose to create a device that will allow readers to enter and physically experience stories, as seen in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. This will not only provide a cheap, varied source of entertainment, but will also encourage readers to view situations from other perspectives. This will inspire tolerance, and increase literary awareness and knowledge; it will also allow users to see a huge variety of places they would otherwise be unable to access. New horizons will unfold for readers and lovers of film everywhere.

week 8_ the universe and life, by ilona chadwick

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

 

a star nursery

a star nursery

In class, we discussed the numerous efforts of humankind to explore and learn about space.  In particular, we focused on space travel, and the space race.  This makes me wonder about the limits of human curiosity.  Since ancient times, people have studied the world around them, the sky, the sun, and the stars.  Astronomy has made many discoveries over the world, about the structure of our own solar system, our galaxy, and the universe as a whole.  Physics has contributed greatly to these findings, as its theories of light and matter can be used to interpret observations.  The blurred line between the fields of study has lead to some scientists to simply call themselves astrophysicists.  For example, I have heard many times about astronomers studying the wavelengths and intensities of light coming from distant stars, and they can determine when a planet passes over the star, eclipsing its light to us, and when a star wobbles due to planets orbiting around it. This website explains some of the details of how planets can be detected by examining the wobbling of stars.

 

One thing I have always been rather curious about is the overall shape or structure of the universe.  But, when you think about it, can the universe even have a shape?  To observe the shape of the universe, you would have to look from a point outside of the universe, which by definition does not exist.  But then, is there only a certain area where galaxies and matter exist, within an infinite void?  I found this video, which visually simulates what the universe looks like at an extremely large scale (2.4 billion light years wide), which it claims is less than 1.5 percent of the actual size of the universe.  So, the creator of this model seems to believe that there is a defined size to all that exist.  But then, there’s that extra layer of complexity: it’s expanding.

 

Astronomy on such a massive scale can sometime be difficult to imagine.  This difficulty is probably justified, because, as this webpage explores, space is changed by time, and either can be bent, curved, or warped.  For example, what is going on in black holes?  How can matter just “disappear”?  Why is the universe expanding?  One thought is that perhaps the universe is expanding, and its entropy is increasing, because time is passing.  I’m no astrophysicist, so I couldn’t say exactly why space and time are so related, but it has been shown in many places that they must be.  Another consideration is where the higher dimensions and multiple realities fit into this.  If quantum physics is correct, an infinite number of realities exist.  So, even if the universe is not infinite, there are an infinite number of universes.

 

The question, then, is whether human curiosity will ever be satisfied.  If there are an infinite number of things to learn about, then it can’t be.  However, sometimes we can find generalizations, patterns, and formulas that explain a large number of things, without actually knowing the details about each one.  If we could do this on a literally universal level, then we might finally be able to answer questions such as whether life exists on other planets, and what “shape” the universe is.

 

by ilona chadwick

 

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Final Project Abstract: “Human Night Vision”

 

Currently, we use night vision goggles to be able to see better in the dark.  However, these goggles are often large, heavy, and expensive, making them impractical.  An alternate solution to the poor night vision of humans is genetic modification.  The aim of this project is to research genes for eye formation in owls, and use these genes to improve how human eyes are formed.  Overall, the project should enable people to see in nearly any lighting conditions, and even see more accurately during the day.  This improved vision could have many practical applications, from military tactics to, if the changes became widespread, saving electricity as lighting at night becomes unnecessary. 

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Also, Please post your extra credit assignments to the category entitled “Extra Credit Blogs”

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Hello All,

For this week please comment on the material we saw in lecture Tuesday and Thursday.  Feel free to visit Gil Kuno’s site www.unsound.com :)  Also, remember to include a short proposal (111 words) for your final project - it can be based on your midterm.

Thanks!

The Tom Cruise Video & Adderal

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Basically to sum things up about this video; Tom Cruise is out of his mind.  Although agree electro-shocking is kind of weird for psychiatry.  However I strongly disagree when he talks about parents drugging their children without knowing.  A good friend of mine was diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, and auditory processing when we were twelve years old.  I remember the day he told me about the medication he took in the morning.  He said, “for some reason my mom is coming in my room in the morning with a spoon full of ice cream with something called adderal on it.”  Being twelve i did really know what adderal was.  However when we were older my friend learn what it did and he told me about how adderal was able to make someone with his ailments completely vanish.  In this circumstance i feel that parents had the right to give their child some help.  These days many of the top schools are extremely competitive so its only fair to give everyone a fair chance.

In response to Tom Cruise’s comment that ridelin is street drug;  This is probably a true fact.  After two quarters hear at UCLA i’ve heard a lot of talk about adderal.  If someone needs to get a paper done fast, adderal.  Intensive studying, adderal.   Students take adderal.  So technically according to Tom Cruise’s logic adderal is a street drug too;  But Again, this is probably true.  I believe that although it may be wrong that people with prescriptions just sell pills to others, the consumption of adderal for a good purpose with good intentions is not wrong.  if Adderal can make person with ADHD, Dyslexia and Auditory Processing focus at a normal level, imagine what it could do for someone was already at a socalled, “normal” level.  It could have the potential to unlock more advanced thinking and thusly bring society as a whole to new technological levels.  For students to be taking the drug with good intentions its not really all that bad.  Is it so wrong these days to do whatever it take succeed?  It shouldn’t be, although one could argue that this is similar to the steroids controversy.  Steroids effect the body physically, Adderal on the other hand effects the body mentally.  thats like comparing three hundred pound gourilla to kitten.  Students should be aloud to take adderal with good intentions.

The real bottom line here is this, Tom Cruise is a crazy Scientologist / Actor / Someone who probably did a lot of drugs to get that crazy.  Scientology was invented by a guy who wrote sci-fi novels.  Doesn’t that sound just a tiny bit crazy?  My last thoughts on this video are this, it is totally irrelevant video.  This video literally should have got no attention but it did anyway.  I don’t understand why anyone would believe the garbage coming out of his mouth in the video.  There is no reason to do anything because Tom Cruise told you to do it.  Its that simple.

Week 7: Are We Really Conscious? by Selenni Cisneros

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Professor Vesna presented the definition of consciousness in her power point. Consciousness– a) the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself, b) the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact, c) awareness. Also, Consciousness is a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other. The overall idea of consciousness caught my eye and I decided to Google the question “What is Consciousness?” Exactly 33,700,000 results were found on the search engine. Beginning my quest to learn more about “consciousness,” I stumbled upon a few websites on the subject of consciousness and autism. These websites stated that people with autism lack self-consciousness compared to “normal” people. Self-consciousness is being aware of one-self, such as whom you are, your characteristics, your emotions, etc. This study was done with 18 adults with high-functioning autism and 18 normal adults. The subjects were asked three different types of questions– phonological, semantic, and self-referent. For example, they could have been asked, “Does the word (blank) describe you?,” while using adjective and self-describing words. The website claims that “behaviors that seem to indicate deficits of self-consciousness, such as talking about oneself as if speaking of others, are often observed in people with autism.” In other words, it has been noticed that people with autism tend to talk about themselves as if they were not themselves; they do not say “I went to…” when talking about what they did, for example. Studies have also been made on children with autism; it was found that they have impairment on self-consciousness. All of these studies talk about people with autism and how they have less self-consciousness than “normal” people. Well, the thing I’m thinking is… “normal” people can have a low self-consciousness as well. Who really and truly knows who they are? Usually everyone goes through a period where they’ve lost themselves, where they are finding out who they really are, where they change and become different. The definition of consciousness says “the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself.” But, I myself am not “aware” of some of the things I do. Or what does the word “aware” really mean? There have been times I’ve said cruel things, without realizing they were cruel, without being aware that they were cruel. Does that mean that I wasn’t conscious of my actions then? Because I wasn’t aware the words were cruel, until someone who was not me told me they were cruel. I wasn’t conscious about my actions until an outside source shone the light on it. On another note, many people live their life unconsciously. To me, being completely conscious means being aware of life. So many people go on living, without really living. So is one unconscious even when we appear to be conscious? If consciousness is a mental state, then compared to autistic beings, other “normal” people are in the same boat– they also lack the “normal” self-consciousness. But then what really is normal? There must not be a normal, because at one point or many points, we walk around oblivious or like robots and do not live and walk around unconscious in our conscious times.

by selenni cisneros

Website: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/159/8/1422

Extra Credit: Professor Jim Hutchinson (Dwayne Myhre)

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The lecture by Professor Jim Hutchinson from the Department of Chemistry was very interesting and provided quite a lot of insight into the world of nanotechnology.  Essentially, there was much that I learned from listening to him because I have no background with nanotechnology.  For one, nanotechnology consists of so much power contained in a small entity.  With this power, there is much that can be done such as new discoveries in medicine, improvements in energy production, and advancements in electronics.  According to Professor Hutchinson, many companies add silver into their clothing to help prevent bacteria.  Unfortunately, by rinsing the clothing with water, the silver comes out and thus defeats the purpose.  Rather than using water, there is another method to cleaning clothing.  This is done with antimicrobial fabrics, which can remain within the realms of nanotechnology.  Antimicrobial fabrics posses high antibacterial activity and are coated with a solution of a silver salt.  As a result of this, the growth of microbes is inhibited and microbes that exist are killed off.

Professor Hutchinson’s main focus for his lecture was around two ideas.  These were the desires to use nontechnology in order to design ways for waste reduction, thus creating a greener world, and to design safer nanomaterial.  In order to tackle the idea of designing safer nanomaterial, there are two processes; to either focus on the hazard issue or to focus on the exposure of nanomaterial to people and the public.  This is because the risk of using nanotechnology results from the hazards and exposures of nanotechnology.  According to the lecture, Professor Hutchinson believes that it is more practical to focus on minimizing the hazard issue rather than the exposure.  This is because by focusing on the hazard, one will most likely find success in lessening the threat of nanotechnology.  Also, the disadvantages of focusing on the exposure includes a possible failure overall because there are so many branches of exposure that scientists may end up focusing on the wrong commodity of exposure.  Thus, there will be a ton of work with no result.  Concerning the idea of greener world with waste reduction and creating a safer nanotechnology, Professor Hutchinson offers several solutions.  It should be noted that nanoparticels can be prepared by ligand exchange, which is able to bind to and form a complex with a biomolecule to serve a biological purpose.  Because of this ligand exchange, several ways to safer nanotechnology include ultracentrifugation, dialysis, chromatography, or stirred cell filtration.  The other, similar, idea is diafiltration, which is the best solution for getting rid of organic materials.  Diafiltration is a process where the pore size of the nanoparticle determines the retention or transmission of solution components.  Essentially, diafiltration is a fast pump-driven method, which includes aspects of membrane pore size and a continuous flow in order to purify a nanoparticle.

Dwayne Myhre

A link where I found some more information
http://www.nsti.org/Nanotech2008/showabstract.html?absno=416

Week 7_Drugs and Tom Cruise’s interview_by Nikolaos Mouchtouris

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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In the discussion, we watched a video on Youtube, in which Tom Cruise shares his opinion about the effect of drugs on humans and whether they actually treat diseases or not. I would like to talk about this video in this blog because it is very controversial, but it still having a couple good points; plus I grew up in another society where the beliefs concerning this topic are very different.

Medicine became distinctively more accurate than religious treatments/sorcery the in treating patients the moment drugs were mass-produced and used. Penicillin is one of the most important drugs as it helped numerous people to survive. Since drugs were very effective, scientists increased their efforts of discovering more and better drugs that can cure every possible disease. Except for the physiological diseases though, whose symptoms are most of the times, apparent, there are other disorders, psychological, which are more complicated and the prescription of drugs is not 100% the correct way of treating a patient.

In the video, Tom Cruise does not agree with the administration of drugs to patients, who for example believe that they have ADD, as he states that usually there are not tests carried out or any evidence for ADD, yet the doctors immediately prescribe drugs to young children. Personally, medicines have changed the life of many patients who suffer from a mental disease and have enabled them to enjoy their time as much as that is possible. However, Tom Cruise has a point believing that drugs are not always the solution. What if these drugs do not actually help the patients improve, but they “shut them down” so that the patients do not show any signs of suffering to the outer world, simply making the people around them happier? It is hard to figure out the exact percentage of the cases where the patients do not get cured, but instead they cannot function at all, supporting Cruise’s argumentation and frustration in general.

However, his behavior on stage is exaggerated and perhaps appalling. Being famous for his movies, and not for his research in psychology, Tom Cruise should have some doubt instead of attacking the current beliefs of a society. The policy about drug administration and the method of treatment are the result of thousand studies throughout the years and cannot be disproved that easily by a single person who has no experimental proof but simply states a couple theories which though may be true.

I grew up in Athens, Greece, and the first time I heard of ADD was a few months ago, when I came to the United States. I am sure there are students who have ADD and perhaps take Ritalin, however, it is not a common disorder, and nobody complains about it. In the United States, Ritalin is the easy solution that everybody seeks; it perhaps relieves the small problem experienced, however, it may have more serious side effects in the future. Moreover, when a young student learns that there is a legal drug that a friend of his takes and it makes him more focused and happier, then he will want to take that drug too. Once he is used to taking Ritalin, he will soon give up trying to concentrate on his own and expect the drug to save him. <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:”"; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –>

. Sometimes, everything really depends on our expectations; if a person who is bored and does not want to study is made to believe that he has ADD he will never try to concentrate because he feels he is expected not to be able to focus.

Nikolaos Mouchtouris

Week 7: Memory & Consciousness - by Adam Parker

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Memory is a curious subject, mainly because we don’t know enough about it. The human brain is extremely complicated and we might never understand its full potential. Talking about memory always reminds me of one of my favorite movies - Total Recall.

Total Recall - Trailer

This 1990 film is based on the story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick (whose other stories were adapted into movies such as Blade Runner, Imposter, Minority Report, Paycheck, and A Scanner Darkly). Total Recall toys with the idea of memory implants and memory removals. In the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the main character, must decides to buy a “vacation memory” from a company called Rekall. This company implants fake memories into your brain to fool you into thinking the events actually occurred.

Now I don’t want to ruin the movie for those who haven’t seen it so I won’t elaborate, but definitely put it on your list. The reason I bring up this movie is because of the hypotheticals that arise from the idea of memory implants. Think about it: as long as you have the memory of an event (and you don’t remember getting the implant) does it really matter whether the event actually occurred? To put it in simpler terms, would it be necessary to spend a couple thousand on that Hawaiian vacation when you could have the vacation implanted in your head for 1/100 the cost? This is a hard question to think about because it is difficult to imagine messing with our brains like that.

If you’ve seen the movie The Island, which you should have, memory implants also take place. In the scene which we viewed in class that one day, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson end up in a humongous room deticated to placing memories in the clones’ minds. This procedure gives the clones an entirely fake past, but a past nonetheless. The clones obviously did not have these experiences, but they can’t tell the difference. And neither would we.

If we dig further into this possible world of memory implants, we also come across the idea of memory alterations and memory removal. Now I know experiences make us who we are and we all learn from the past and so on, but what if science had the power to erase a horrible event from someone’s life? If a 12 year old girl was raped, and we had the medical ability to erase that memory from her mind, should we do it? This terrible event could scar her for life and change her for the worse. On the other hand, removing the event entirely could change her back to “normal”. She could be the person she was supposed to be.

Anyway, we probably don’t have to worry about all these questions because it will be a while until we figure out how to mess with our brains like this. And even if we did figure it out, there would be way too many problems and ethical questions to make it legal. For instance, if you did buy that Hawaiian vacation and legitimitely thought you bought the plane tickets and the whole shindig, what would happen when you looked at you bank statement and the tickets were never purchased? Your head would probably explode from the inconsistencies. Well, until science catches up with our imagination, I guess we’ll have to leave it to the cinema to portray these wild ideas.

Week 7_Little ants are conscious too_by Cheng-Kuang Liu

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I am fascinated with the animal examples that Dr. Ramakrishnan brought up when he talks about consciousness. It is amazing how an elephant is able to recognize its mirror image as a reflection of itself. I have seen video clips or heard stories of how other kinds of animals behave when they see a mirror—they either get ready to “fight” the mirror image as a competitor, or they show affection for the reflection as another one of its own kind. None of them realize that the mirror images are actually themselves. It is interesting how the elephant is able to recognize it.

I am inspired to think of other animals. Ants, for example. Ants are stereotypically thought to be a “two-dimensional” animal—because they crawl around on a plane, and since they are so small, they must not have much perception of height. When mathematicians explain what a 2-D world would be like, they often use ants as examples. Indeed, if the observer is small enough, any surface is locally approximately two-dimensional. Yet look at the ant nests they build—so three-dimensional and so complex (http://thinkorthwim.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/ant-nest-plaster-cast.jpg). It is as if there is a mastermind behind the entire construction, having a complete blueprint in mind when the nest was built, but this is not the case. The nest is built by small ants who are not supposed to know what is happening anywhere else other than the very location that it currently is. They are not even supposed to be able to perceive a third dimension beyond the plane that they crawl on. Or, at least that what we humans think. The sheer grandeur of the ant nest’s construction shows that there must be some kind of consciousness among these ants—a consciousness for the rest of the colony, for the rest of the nest construction, and so on. What a fascinating fact! Ants are so small, and their brains are even smaller, yet there is such unity among them all. Furthermore, how does each ant know its own duty? If each ant simply acts on its own accord or simply respond to needs as they arise, with the massive number of ants in a colony, there would be utter chaos. On the contrary, their tasks are very finely broken down, and each ant has its specific duty. At the proper times, a proper number gather food, a proper number build, a proper number fight, and a proper number reproduce. There is such intricate coordination among the ants, even though an ant does not even cross paths with most other ants in the colony. Scientists now know that ants could communicate chemically with pheromone, but still it is mind-blowing what complexity there is in an ant society.

The ant society resembles the human society. To a certain extent, each human acts on his own accord. Yet on the other hand, each person has a very specific set of duties outlined, in the context of the society. And whether or not we are aware it, the fact is that we are constantly conscious of one another and our actions mutually affect one another. If one could zoom out and look at the human society as we look at an ant colony, one would too exclaim how intricate the fabric of society is. Even though a person may only cross paths with finite individuals in a day, there is nevertheless an intangible coordination that links all our lives in harmony.