Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Today (only?): more science; less nonsense

I'm seldom an advocate for more regulation, but there are exceptions. The proliferation of drones, and the lack of enforcement for the few drone-centric regulations that do exist, brings me to exception territory. Drones free to interfere with civil aviation -- intentionally or not -- is a Certified Bad Idea. And so, I was pleased to see that "Federal regulators to require registration of recreational drones."

No rules. How scary is that?
Consider merely these few excerpts:
Pilots of passenger planes and other aircraft are reporting more than 100 sightings of or close calls with rogue drones a month, according to the FAA.
Nobody knows exactly how many of the robotic aircraft are already flying around, but most estimates top 1 million.
U.S. hobbyists are projected to buy about 700,000 drones this year, a 63 percent increase from 2014.
Here's hoping the FAA succeeds in getting registration in place before holiday gifting. The first step toward enforcing rules is knowing to whom the rules apply -- and those folks knowing it, too.

Wonder how they got the name?
Doubtless, (responsibly) flying drones can be a fun and educational hobby. Here's another: flying satellites. For bright, ambitious high schoolers of your acquaintance, consider: "Museum of Science Fiction Partners with Universities for CubeSat Competition to Build and Launch Spacecraft."

Cubesats, if you're unfamiliar with them, are standardized, kit-based little satellites. The smallest cubesat is (roughly speaking) a 10-cm cube; larger ones are a few interconnected such modules. Cubesats often fit into the nooks 'n crannies of unused payload space aboard rockets launching bigger, commercial satellites.

Interested? Proposals are due by January 31, 2016. Winners will be announced on July 2nd.

(And in breaking news, we're still learning just how small you can go. Just yesterday I saw: "Tiny 'ThumbSats' Aim to Bring Space to All.")

Model of a carbon nanotube
And speaking of small ... several years ago I attended a nanotech conference at which a significant concern -- not on the agenda, but freely discussed in social settings, like lunches -- was that nanoparticles might turn out to be serious health hazards. Why? Because nanoparticles weren't part of the environment for which we evolved. The analogy sometimes drawn was to asbestosis and mesothelioma -- medical complications of crumbling asbestos insulation -- whose root cause wasn't widely recognized until  years, even decades, after that material was widely deployed in construction.

Fast-forward a few years. Carbon nanotubes are turning up as urban pollution -- but not how you might have expected. This isn't an instance of nano-manufacturing somehow running amok. No, these nanotubes are an accidental byproduct of catalytic converters, the nanotubes spewed out in car exhaust! See "Carbon Nanotube Pollutants Found in Human Lungs." Is carbon-nanotube pollution a medical problem? It's too soon to say. 

This next news item isn't so new -- in fact, it's now the better part of a year old. I'm sorry this got lost in my talk-about-this-sometime file, because (although we're again concerned with matters at the molecular level) it's a Big Deal. "Scientists unveil map of 'epigenome,' a second genetic code." Very briefly, epigenetics is the study of chemical factors that can switch our genes on and off (behavior that sometimes varies by cell type). It turns out some environmental effects are inherited -- without modifying DNA -- in the form of an epigenome.

As the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences put it: If the genome is like a biological "hard drive," the epigenome is like a computer program that provides instructions for translating genetic information into action. Recent insights about how the epigenome affects our health are leading to a new way of thinking about environmental exposures.

All in all, fascinating stuff ...

I've posted before (see: "Notes from *far* outside my comfort zone") about the importance -- nay, criticality -- to authors of Amazon reviews, and I've griped about purchased reviews. So: I was happy to read "Crackdown: Amazon sues to stop phony product reviews."

Do you have favorite authors? Give 'em an early holiday gift and review one or more of their books. For real.

1 comment:

Keith Kenny said...

This only makes sense. One person (or AI) exercising their rights shouldn't imperil another. Drones are flying robots and many of them have some level of self managing software, e.g., object avoidance—mountains, flocks of birds, etc. Self driving cars are another robot that will certainly be regulated. There will be others.