Behind the Times

30 June 2012

One Second at a Time

Which is to say that June 30th 2012 was 86,401 seconds long. An additional leap second was added to account for the slowing of Earth’s rotation, and to ensure that our atomic clock and the solar Year are in synch. Fortunately, theAbysmal Calendar allows for such adjustments without throwing off the perpetual year (although a leap second is hardly as disruptive as daylight savings). Any adjustments to the calendar year, whether leap seconds or days or what have you, can be added to the New Year’s Day (equivalent to December 21st), without changing the other 364 days of the year.

from the cbc

June 30, 2012 will be exactly one second longer than any other day this year, according to the world’s timekeepers.

Horologists will be adding one “leap second” to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) this weekend to compensate for the very gradual and unpredictable slowing down of our planet.

Basically, there are two main standards for measuring time on earth: solar time, based on the rotation of the earth, and International Atomic Time, which relies on the pulsation of atoms to measure time with near-perfect accuracy.

The earth takes just over 86,400 seconds for a full 360-degree revolution, but the gravitational pull of ocean tides, the sun and the moon all affect its rotation ever so slightly.

This has led to a creeping discrepancy between the two times, which the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) decided to start fixing in 1971 with the introduction of leap seconds. A total of 24 leap seconds have been added to the clock since.

These leap seconds must be inserted every 1 to 2 years to avoid solar time and atomic time from spreading too far apart, according to the IERS.

However, due to an unusual temporary acceleration of the Earth, no leap seconds were needed between 1998 and 2005. The last leap second occurred at the end of December in 2008.

This weekend’s leap second will effectively make the last minute of June 61 seconds, instead of the standard 60 – meaning that you have one extra second to enjoy this Canada Day long weekend.

174 Days to Dec 21st 2012

First “successfully” Genetically Modified Humans [tm]

29 June 2012

Even a slippery slope can take all the fun out of sex.

I keep expecting to see this in the Onion, and if it is a joke, it is decidedly unfunny. After modifying the genetics of animals and plants, and feeding them to animals and humans, this was the next step. I can’t wait until humans are modified to be tolerant to pesticides and GMOs, so that we never have to revisit the foolhardiness of industrialized agriculture.

In terms of human reproduction, I have wondered why we don’t take infertility as a symptom of a much bigger problem (human bodies full of pesticides, for example), and instead of treating the cause (i.e. cleaning up where we live), we continue to treat the symptoms. If you can’t have babies, it is the surest sign that you shouldn’t have babies.

World’s First GM Babies Born

The world’s first geneticallymodified humans have been created, it was revealed last night.

The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments in the United States provoked another furious debate about ethics.

So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three ‘parents’.

Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey.

The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive.

Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults –two women and one man.

The fact that the children have inherited the extra genes and incorporated them into their ‘germline’ means that they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring.

Altering the human germline – in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species – is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world’s scientists.

Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.

Writing in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers, led by fertility pioneer Professor Jacques Cohen, say that this ‘is the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children’.

Some experts severely criticised the experiments. Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC yesterday: ‘Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.’

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: ‘One has tremendous sympathy for couples who suffer infertility problems. But this seems to be a further illustration of the fact that the whole process of in vitro fertilisation as a means of conceiving babies leads to babies being regarded as objects on a production line.

‘It is a further and very worrying step down the wrong road for humanity.’ Professor Cohen and his colleagues diagnosed that the women were infertile because they had defects in tiny structures in their egg cells, called mitochondria.

They took eggs from donors and, using a fine needle, sucked some of the internal material – containing ‘healthy’ mitochondria – and injected it into eggs from the women wanting to conceive.

Because mitochondria contain genes, the babies resulting from the treatment have inherited DNA from both women. These genes can now be passed down the germline along the maternal line.

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates ‘assisted reproduction’ technology in Britain, said that it would not license the technique here because it involved altering the germline.

Jacques Cohen is regarded as a brilliant but controversial scientist who has pushed the boundaries of assisted reproduction technologies.

He developed a technique which allows infertile men to have their own children, by injecting sperm DNA straight into the egg in the lab.

Prior to this, only infertile women were able to conceive using IVF. Last year, Professor Cohen said that his expertise would allow him to clone children –a prospect treated with horror by the mainstream scientific community.

‘It would be an afternoon’s work for one of my students,’ he said, adding that he had been approached by ‘at least three’ individuals wishing to create a cloned child, but had turned down their requests.

175 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Garbage in Garbage out

28 June 2012

or, Garbage out of the factory, into the store, out to your house, and into the landfill.

I was asked to post this image after I posted The Story of Stuff in How Did All this Stuff get Here? I’ve heard tales of young activists following recycling trucks to the landfill because the city wasn’t prepared for the huge response to its recycling program. They have since cut back on the types of plastic they will process (and are currently making a mess of a centralized green bin “composting” program). Ottawa may be Canada’s political capital, but it lags behind in any kind of sensible urban development. Truly, it is run in short-sighted planning that has the next election cycle as its goal. Truly a pathetic spectacle.

Further, the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, are often reduced to one: Recycle. Reducing the amount we consume, and reusing what we have is often left behind for the disposability that comes along with consumption. A fourth R has been suggested: Refuse. Refuse plastic bags when offered. Refuse to shop at disreputable sites. Refuse to drive a car. Etc…

I’m moving, yet again (that’s 25 residences and counting), and am giving stuff away (books to the library, plants to friends, clothes to charity), selling stuff (furniture mostly), recycling electronics (through approved channels), and throwing out an awful lot of other stuff for which I cannot find a home, or have no use. Over all these moves, I have pared down my possessions with each move, and yet I never seem to keep on top of it. I’ve shredded all kinds of documents that I couldn’t simply recycle (sensitive information and all), and this alone has greatly reduced the weight I have to carry.

I think my ideal situation is living in a treehouse with enough comfort for myself, a few visitors, and foster pets or something. I’m growing a few trees, but it will be well over a decade until they are large enough to support a house. I suppose I should start scouting out the arboretum.

In any case, I think that any new product (and old ones, why not), cannot be put up for sale unless there is a sustainable plan for their lifespan, from material acquisition to disposal. I doubt plutonium would have been approved under such scrutiny.

Anway, here’s something about garbage.

Life of Garbage
image by:

176 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Crafty Sundial

27 June 2012

Once upon a time…

from NASA’s astronomy picture of the day

What time is it? If the time and day are right, this sundial will tell you: SOLSTICE. Only then will the Sun be located just right for sunlight to stream through openings and spell out the term for the longest and shortest days of the year. And that happened last week and twice each year. The sundial was constructed by Jean Salins in 1980 and is situated at the Ecole Supérieure des Mines de Paris in Valbonne Sophia Antipolis of south-eastern France. On two other days of the year, watchers of this sundial might get to see it produce another word: EQUINOXE.

177 Days to Dec 21st 2012

That’s All For Today

26 June 2012

178 Days to Dec 21st 2012

3 D Universe

25 June 2012

Where can I get one of these?

It drove me mad for the longest time, trying to find a coherent description of the solar¬† system’s place in the universe. I did manage to get ahold of this excellent visual (see below), and this particular TED lecture is just the thing.

179 Days to Dec 21st 2012

Super Slo Mo Water Dropping

24 June 2012

I swear I should already have known about this.


180 Days to Dec 21st 2012