Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.

The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.

via Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine.

Purely awesome.

Synthetic Biology Incubator Launches

Yes, an incubator! Just for synthetic biology! It’s being hosted at Singularity University in Silicon Valley. Does anyone need any more convincing that there is a huge future in synthetic biology, through big leaps in both innovation and technology? The way we work with biology is changing, evolving, from observation to invention.

Looks like the incubator is providing resources, mentoring, and stipends for their chosen startups. Hopefully it will be like what tech incubators such as Y Combinator have done for computer startups – no doubt that many will fail or have to change their business plans and project ideas, but at the very least, there will be increased coverage and education about what synthetic biology is capable of.

“Teeming with ambitious ideas and some pretty futuristic potential, synthetic biology is an emerging multidisciplinary field in which the principles of genetic engineering are coupled with genome design software to capitalize on the plummeting cost of DNA analysis and synthesis. The approach is to construct artificial biological systems in a similar way that computer chips are made. The result is a broad array of potential technologies that could lead to a radical transformation across a variety of sectors, including medicine.”

There’s a great video at the end of the article that gives an intro to synthetic biology, too.

Source: http://singularityhub.com/2012/05/29/inaugural-synthetic-biology-incubator-synbio-launches-at-singularity-university/

Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

“Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too. You don’t have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.”

WSJ Soapbox piece on food, sustainability, local diets, and the environment by Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. He discusses his opinions on what is best for humans to eat – best for us in a way that is healthy, and best for the earth in a way that is sustainable and logical – based on nutrient cycles, tracing the energy flow, and the inputs and outputs unique to different areas and their soils, as well as culture and our biological needs. Interesting ideas on “ecological intelligence” and an argument against vegetarianism (it’s always good to hear the reasoning behind both sides!).

“What I don’t like about sustainable foodies—and I’m considered one of them—is that we carry an air of preachiness about food. (No one wants to be told what to eat, whether it’s by your mother or by a group of holier-than-thou chefs.) But true sustainability is about more than just deciding to cook with local ingredients or not allowing your child to have corn syrup. It’s about cuisine that’s evolved out of what the land is telling you it wants to grow. As one farmer said to me, Food systems don’t last; cuisine does.”

Source: Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

Colors and their names

Aatish Bhatia, a PhD student at Rutgers blogging at the Empirical Zeal, gives us a very fascinating read on how naming colors has affected our perception of colors and our visual worlds. A little bit of linguistics, a little bit of color theory, a little bit of visualization, a lot of interesting science. Think about it: we gave colors discrete boundaries and names, but they are more of continuous, fluid things.

Here’s some of the introduction that gets you started on thinking about how we partition color:

“Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being – midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

“One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

“In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.”

Source: The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part I)

Read part II here.

Genome Compiler is released!

Genome Compiler‘s first public release just came out, as announced by Omri Drory, the founder and CEO of Genome Compiler. It’s a software tool for designing and debugging synthetic DNA, and ordering it, too! Haven’t played around with it yet but I’m excited to (update later after I try it out). Everyone is starting to make big, visible steps towards making synthetic biology more accessible, modular, and highly functional. Hopefully this will lead to many more awesome developments.

The Vertical Forest

“More and more people believe that access to a garden, and to gardening, is a basic human need. But is the answer a traditional house and garden or should we be looking at gardens in the sky?”

Dubbed “Flower Towers” by the Financial Times, these fluffy green buildings designed by architect Stefano Boeri are currently rising in Milan. Photos show that the skeletons of the buildings are up, an intricate maze of balconies and jutting gardens designed to insulate the building, counter air pollution and support reforestation, work towards sustainability, and maintain biodiversity and a functioning ecosystem, all suspended 110 meters into the air. These microclimates ideally would maintain their own energy and water usage and recycling, including using repurposed grey water from the building to feed the plants.

The floor layout with plumbing detail makes the building look like an Escher piece. 900 trees of varying heights and structural types will be used to make a diverse wall, both for the biology of the building and for coating the sides of the buildings more fully. The finished product, which when flattened, is equivalent to 15,000 square meters of land and 10,000 square meters of forest, and is intended to counteract the growth of Milan’s rapid urban expansion.

Eco-cities coming of age?