Archive for January, 2009

Eleventh Hour: The Cord-Blood Panacea

By Eric Wolff | January 30, 2009 5:45 pm

Screenshot from Eleventh HourWhile last night’s episode of  Eleventh Hour never specifically discussed the ethical quandaries of a private company storing umbilical blood, but we get a pretty good idea of the writers’ opinion when the owners of a cord-blood storage firm turn out to be corrupt stem-cell stealing scumbags. Naturally, Hood and Young sniff them out and they get busted in what I must admit was a pretty snazzy chase scene through the SoCal countryside, but they did it without ever discussing the questions raised by medical organizations about these companies.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology, TV

Knight Rider: Seeing Through Walls With Infrared Glasses?

By Eric Wolff | January 29, 2009 3:32 pm

Knight Rider LogoWill someone please explain how this whole infrared-can-see-through-walls thing got started? It comes up everywhere: James Bond used it, One of the iterations of  CSI used it, then KITT used it on last night’s episode of the New and Improved Knight Rider (now with more humor!). Not that I particularly blame Knight Rider, because it’s such a common meme. So, for the record, infrared cameras cannot see through walls. These cameras, like night vision goggles, pick up lower wavelength electromagnetic signals that we sense as heat. But the insulated walls of buildings are  designed to block heat from escaping, essentially forming a…well, a wall between the camera and person in the building. Luckily, there are many excellent real ways for KITT to see through walls.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics, TV

A TARDIS Of Your Very Own

By Stephen Cass | January 26, 2009 6:43 pm

USB hub in the shape of a TardisAnother science-fiction CES item–a USB hub in the shape of The Doctor’s TARDIS. And the best thing? Plug in a device, or press the button where the telephone sign lives, and the light on top lights up along with the VWORP! VWORP! sound effect. You can pick one up at Think Geek for $30.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Utter Nerd
MORE ABOUT: Doctor Who, USB

Eleventh Hour: It Ain't Heavy. It's My Water.

By Eric Wolff | January 23, 2009 8:05 pm

Eleventh Hour LogoIn last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour, a doe-eyed lad suffering from kidney cancer started drinking from a natural spring he discovered while fleeing a flash flood. he drank the stuff for three weeks, and during that time his advanced kidney cancer vanished, poof! Local news media told his story and soon the little Montana spring near his home was the destination for desperately sick people from all over the country.   Our hero, Jacob Hood, FBI scientist, read about the miracle water and dashed to the scene to debunk the myth, for fear that sick people would skip their treatments in favor of the magic. Along the way he discovered that some domestic terrorists were trying to make a dirty bomb in the basement of the local hospital. To process their radioactive material, they needed heavy water. It was the heavy water that cured the boy.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology, TV

Knight Rider: What Michael Knight Forgot

By Eric Wolff | January 23, 2009 12:30 am

All that build up for an episode about KARR, and that’s it? In last night’s episode of Knight Rider, a dangerous robot went on the rampage, and all we get is a turbo-boosted kill shot from KITT, and KARR is no more? Sheesh. Now I almost wish I could just forget the whole KARR plot— kinda like Michael Knight did.

Early in the episode, the late Dr. Graiman tells Knight, via hologram, that he was actually KARR’s first driver. As we know, KARR started programming himself and became a killing machine, forcing the government to scrap the program and build KITT.  To prevent Knight from spilling the beans, they wiped Knight’s memory.  Induced amnesia is a classic of Sci Fi—and of soap operas, and who knows what all— but can it actually be done?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Chemistry

Sanctuary And The Real Science of Abnormals

By Stephen Cass | January 21, 2009 9:04 pm

Cover of Freaks of Nature by Mark S. BlumbergSanctuary finished up its first 13-episode run last Friday in classic cliffhanger fashion, with humanity on the verge of a war with the mostly hidden population of abnormals. The show had a strong first season (personally, the show had me when it brought on Nikola Tesla as a character. Tesla frequently makes cameos on science fiction shows as some kind of genius who turns out to be a century or two ahead of his time, but making him a vampire on top of everything else was a master stroke.) But turning back to the premiere, and the premise, of the show, there was an early scence where Helen Magnus, the central character of Sanctuary, tries to describe what she does to her bemused soon-to-be-protege Will Zimmerman. She claims to be a student of teratology, which she explains as the science of monsters. Now, in his recently published book Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution, Mark S. Blumberg takes us on a tour of real-life teratology, and how understanding abnormalities is casting new light on the relationship between the genetic and non-genetic forces that shape us all.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology, Books

Eleventh Hour: Chlorine as both floor wax and dessert topping

By Eric Wolff | January 16, 2009 7:19 pm

An element so rarely gets singled out from the periodic table for its own star turn, and even less often when that element isn’t even radioactive.  But last night’s episode of Eleventh Hour sent chlorine down the catwalk in two of its many guises.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology
MORE ABOUT: Chlorine, Eleventh Hour

From Muscle Mapping To Robot Control, The Future Of Sports

By Eric Wolff | January 16, 2009 12:49 am

When I was but a wee nerd, when Star Wars was driving people to buy VCRs the way The Matrix would make them buy DVD players years later,  a friend introduced me to the wonders of anime by playing a bootleg VHS tape in which two robots, piloted by people,  battled for supremacy in outer space. (Describing an anime film like that is like trying to identify a specific Tom Cruise film by explaining that he plays the cocky young guy, but I digress).

What made this movie stand out for me was how the robot was controlled. The pilot stood in a cokpit in the robots torso. He was attached to the robot by a series of straps that connected directly to the robot through the walls and ceiling. When he moved, the robot moved. Since he was some kind of martial arts super star, his robot was about as fine a defender of the universe as one could hope for, as long as the hero could overcome his psychological issues and fully self-actualize (If you recall the name of this anime, please oh please, comment and let me know what it is).

So, obviously, we still haven’t gotten around to inventing battle bots that can fight our wars for us, but if we did, we’d have a much better system for controlling the robot than silly straps. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Robots

Science Fiction Goes Vegas, Baby!

By Stephen Cass | January 14, 2009 7:39 pm

New Star Wars and Star Trek slot machinesWhile DISCOVER was in Las Vegas last week covering the Consumer Electronics Show, I noticed two science-fiction themed slot machines. The Star Wars machine has been out for about 18 months, the Star Trek machine was only unveiled about six months ago.

Even though my perfectly reasonable request to DISCOVER’s powers-that-be for a small research fund to investigate these machines was mysteriously refused (it’s all office politics here), I still felt obligated to try them out on your behalf, loyal readers, so I pulled up a chair and stuck in my hard-earned.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mathematics, Utter Nerd

Eleventh Hour: Hydrogen Sulfide, A Stinky Way To Hibernate

By Eric Wolff | January 13, 2009 6:11 pm

The voyager space probe took a year to get to Saturn and four to get to Jupiter. If I’m planning a trip to those two planets, I jsut don’t have enough reading material (or video games and movies ) to keep me entertained for that long. But nothing makes a flight go faster than sleeping through it, right? So how about finding away to spend most of that in some kind of hibernation, instead of rereading the Sky Mall for the 10,000th time. This is probably why a recent episode of  Eleventh Hour (last night was a rerun, so I’m talking about  “Flesh” in this article) had our crime fighters chasing down a NASA-developed germ that put it’s victims into a state of hibernation (it also was sexually transmitted and flesh-eating, but more on that another time).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Aging (or Not), Space Flight
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