Finding Earth’s Twin.

Everyone knows that Earth will someday be inhabitable. It’s going to be awhile, but someday it’ll happen. I think it’s fairly presumptuous to assume we’ll still be around when it happens, but whatever. The point is that when it happens, whoever is still around is going to need somewhere to go. That drive, plus humanity’s imperialist/exploratory instincts have us constantly searching for Earth’s twin. The headlines around such discoveries are fairly commonplace, but yesterday we might have taken another step forward.

Kepler-186f, named in part for the NASA Kepler satellite that helped find it, is a planet about 500 light years away that scientists put in the “Goldilocks zone" - meaning it’s not too hot, not to cold, and could potentially support water. 

But here’s the problem. Finding Earth’s twin is nearly impossible. While it might seem like our abundance of life is an indicator that the whole process is fairly easy, the exact conditions on our planet haven’t been found on any planet besides ours, anywhere ever. Earth-like planets are common, but earth-like doesn’t equate to a place we could pack up and move into. So while Kepler-186f is possibly the closest scientists have ever found to our own planet, questions still abound. 

First off, the planet gets less stellar energy than Earth which means it’s cold. How cold? Scientists estimate it’s colder than Mars. They’re also unsure if Kepler-186f suffers from tidal locking - a term that basically means it doesn’t rotate during its orbit. If that’s the case there’d be no day/night cylce; one side of that planet constantly faces its star (which is a red dwarf by the way, which means its cooler and smaller than our sun). To summarize: the climate would be nothing like ours. Scientists are also unsure if life could even survive there in any capacity. Oh, and the “500 lights years away” thing makes a potential move challenging as well.

Sadly, it seems any colonization of an Earth-like exoplanet will remain in the pages of science fiction for now. But it’s still fun to tilt your head up, look into the night sky and wonder. We’ll get there someday.  

Wanna get away?

It might surprise you, but even with our country’s four million miles(!) of public roads there are still places in the continental United States where you won’t find a soul. 

Earlier this week, USA Today highlighted a few such spaces “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” It’s an inspiring list. 

Perhaps most surprising, is there are still places you can go in this country of ours where those four million miles of public roads haven’t - and won’t - ever touch. A few years ago, the Fort Collins Science Center created a map of the United States that, through various shades of green, blue, purple and yellow, demonstrates where one can go to truly get away. 

So if you’re feeling hemmed in by the growing world around us, don’t despair. Just look at all that green. 

Scientists “reactivate” a 30,000 year old virus, chaos does not ensue…yet.

A collaborative research team of French and Russian scientists recently discovered a 30,000 year old virus locked away in Siberian ice. Then just to scare the pants off science fiction fans, they “woke up” the virus, reactivating it like it had just replicated yesterday.

Here’s the good news: the virus, named Pithovirus sibericum, seeks out amoebas. People aren’t amoebas, so we’re fine. The virus poses no risk to humans or animals.

However, here’s the problem: according Time, the researchers who revived the virus say “60 percent of its gene content did not resemble anything on earth.” Knowing that - and given we still have trouble with some viruses our doctors literally see every day - we can logically assume that if this was an ancient virus that could impact humans, we’d likely be unsure of how protect ourselves against its wrath.

Furthermore, taking a big picture view, to assume Pithovirus is a lone survivor in the Siberian permafrost would be ridiculous. 

"This is an indication that viruses pathogenic for humans or animals might also be preserved in old permafrost layers," one of the study’s coauthors told CNN. “Including some that have caused planet-wide epidemics in the past.”

Sleep tight.

When graduation isn’t guaranteed.

Archeologists have discovered remains of the first gladiator school ever found outside of Rome or Pompeii. The site, still underground at Carnuntum, outside modern-day Vienna, was mapped completely using ground-penetrating technology.

Thanks in large part to Hollywood, the lives of Roman gladiators have been highly romanticized. The current site serves as a reminder that gladiators were Roman slaves or convicted criminals. They were designed for one purpose: the empire’s entertainment. 

"It was a prison; they were prisoners," University of Vienna archeologist Wolfgang Neubauer told National Geographic. “They lived in cells, in a fortress with only one gate out.”

For gladiators, training was key to survival. They rarely fought each other, and were highly valued. So while remains of the latest gladiator school paint a hard portrait of life training for whatever battle loomed in the future, the alternative - certain death - seems far less pleasant.

Inserting some analog into this digital life.

Earlier this year on a particularly long run, the iPod Touch I’d used for years in the gym finally died.

Bzzt. Done. Fried.

No big deal, though. I had an old iPhone 4 I bumped up to the varsity squad. I didn’t miss a beat. Everything I needed was in the cloud, that great server in the sky that holds the pieces that can combine to make us whole again.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I stood in a garage with my father-in-law helping him sort photographs, newspaper clippings and records kept by his mother. She’d passed away a few years prior and now, newly retired, my father-in-law had been sorting through bins of “stuff” she’d kept along the way.

I watched him get lost in the bins, just like I imagine he had the first few times he went through them. He showed me some of the photos, pointing out who people were or where he thought they’d been at the time the photo was taken. I didn’t know any of them, but I got lost too. I dig history, but there was more to it than that. What was in those bins was irreplaceable.

My father-in-law’s mother had no cloud. She had no old iPhone to bump up to varsity. The bins held the only pieces that could combine to make his mother whole again. What those bins held gave her a permanence that could never be replicated.

With a second daughter arriving in May of this year, I’ve been reflecting on my permanence as a person. As a father. It troubles me I have no bins.

Read More

The Human Brain > Humanity’s Supercomputers

If you’ve ever wondered how long it would take a supercomputer to model one second’s worth of activity in the human brain (and of course you have), we now have the answer: 40 minutes.

Oh, my apologies. One second of activity in one percent of the human brain.

The effort was carried out by Japan’s K computer. Only three computers in the world are more powerful, two in the United States and the Tianhe-2 in China.

According to Matthew Sparkes, of the UK’s Daily Telegraph, the point of the exercise was to test the computer’s limits and gather the type of data that will someday allow researchers to develop computers designed to mimic the power of the human brain. 

Some believe such computers are less than a decade away. Clearly we still have a way to go. 

Photo via the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Boston.

Intel shows up to CES 2014 with a smarter earbud (and a smart business plan).

Intel surprised a lot of people on the first day of CES 2014 when they unveiled Smart Earbuds - earbuds that can measure your heart rate through your ears, thus opening the door for smarter devices that can adapt to their user.

The concept isn’t mind blowing, but for anyone who has tried to power through a workout when a low-energy song finds its way into your playlist, the product will be most welcome.

Apps that structure music playlists around a user’s mood aren’t anything new. Spotify, iTunes Music and a host of others already do this. The key will be creating a process independent of any physical, purposeful action by the user.

For people running at 7 mph on a treadmill, automation is a good thing. Devoting energy and focus away from the task at hand to flip through a 300+ song Spotify playlist isn’t ideal, if not flat out dangerous.

Sarah Power at PRWeek also makes another good point: for a company that many believe missed mobile almost completely, the market entrance and companion product/wearables approach seems like a wise one for Intel. According to Forbes, Intel also demonstrated a SmartWatch with independent connectivity.

Interestingly, they also might have beat Microsoft to the punch on the adaptable earbud; it was reported in October 2013 that the Redmond, WA tech giant was researching such a project, but hadn’t closed in on a launch date.

Microsoft being late to the party wouldn’t necessarily be newsworthy at this point, but rather it shows Intel’s ability to push a product quickly from concept to launch which is key in the mobile technology wars of today.

Don’t forget about traditional media.

Communications professionals would be wise to continue working traditional media relations into their strategic communications planning. As it turns out, traditional media might not be going anywhere, despite reports for the better part of a decade to the contrary. 

According to this piece on PRWeek by Lisa Noble of integrated marketing and communications agency Cramer-Krassel, not only is American consumption of media on the rise, but many of us are headed back towards the trusted brands dominating the landscape for years. She cites CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, who last summer told Forbes that the big three - ABC, CBS and NBC - added more than a million viewers combined to their evening newscast numbers in the previous year. 

There are a host of reason’s why people are returning to traditional media. Noble outlines a few of them. I also suspect that the rise of social media coincided with a number of embarrassing journalistic gaffes, fueling the beating drum announcing the death of traditional media.

Now, in 2014, many of those issues are behind us. When was the last time you thought about Dan Rather and George Bush? Exactly.

I imagine most people find comfort in the journalistic standards that (most of the time) hold our evening news more accountable then some of the blogs or websites we find on our Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds. Many now strive for a mix of digital and traditional media.

At the end of the day, the point is simple: media strategies need to be targeted and should capitalize on any form of media that can reach your audience, wherever they may be. 

Read Noble’s full piece here

Tumbling tumbleweeds.

You might not have ever given any thought to tumbleweeds. But this National Geographic feature about the invasive species, which originated in Russia, is worth a read.

According to the author, Sante Fe science writer George Johnson, tumbleweeds - a plant formally known russian thistle - has become a symbol of the vast western half of the United States. Yet while it’s often romanticized in cinema and photographs, the species has wreaked havoc for farmers or residents in states like South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Johnson writes:

"An invader from the Eurasian steppes east of the Ural Mountains, Russian thistle has shown an appalling ability to thrive in its adopted land. Every winter the plants die, and the stems become brittle, breaking with a gust of wind. Then they go rolling and rolling, merging into masses of ugly, brown thorn clouds that can bury a house or feed the fury of range fires. Good for almost nothing, the biggest plants—they get as large as Volkswagen bugs—can scatter as many as 250,000 seeds along a path extending for miles. The seeds then lie in wait, preparing for the next wave of the invasion."

Check out the feature. It’s a great read on one symbol of America that maybe we could have done without.

Photo above via National Geographic. Photo credit: Diane Cook and Len Jenshel.

Look down.

I first noticed this photo on Instagram, where @santteestilo posted it. Didn’t look like an original so I googled “Transparent canoe kayak.” Turns out, you can buy this from Hammacher Schlemmer. The price: $1900.

Glass bottom boats aren’t uncommon, but this looks like it takes things to another level. Looks like all you would need is some clear water, a reef and some interest in exploring to get a whole different kind of perspective.