The Wing-Friends and Other Books

In Blogger's slideshows images are greatly reduced, so lose much of their impact. And captions added to them in Picasa Albums vanish, so the images shown above are: the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula, Earth, Earth with New Zealand circled, New Zealand, Auckland & the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island, some native NZ forest, a Fantail and chicks, various doves, etc.

(If you want to see the first ten images in their original size, they are in a posting made on the 24th of November 2011.)

My book The Wing-Friends is an imaginative tale of a small brave boy, a magical adventure, a magnificent Pegasus and the wonderful Kingdom of the Pegasi. It has been given very good reviews, and virtually every reader on Goodreads has so far awarded it five stars. It is available here. Some of my other writings are available as e-books, such as The Lower Deck, which is an over-the-top take on Waiheke happenings--sort of.

Sunday, 30 June 2013


Girl Running through a Forest in a White Dress


A test for the presence of bacteria that takes minutes not days or weeks:
'Researchers at EPFL have built a matchbox-sized device that can test for the presence of bacteria in a couple of minutes, instead of up to several weeks. A nano-lever vibrates in the presence of bacterial activity, while a laser reads the vibration and translates it into an electrical signal that can be easily read. The absence of a signal signifies the absence of bacteria. Thanks to this method, it is quick and easy to determine if a bacteria has been effectively treated by an antibiotic, a crucial medical tool especially for resistant strains. Easily used in clinics, it could also prove useful for testing chemotherapy treatment.'

Quantum-tunnelling outsmarts chemistry:
Chemists have discovered that a reaction thought impossible at cold temperatures actually occurs with vigour, which could change our understanding of how alcohols are formed and destroyed in space.

Diamond catalyst shows promise for cheap fertiliser etc:
'Like all chemical reactions, the reduction of nitrogen to ammonia involves moving electrons from one molecule to another. Using hydrogen-coated diamond illuminated by deep ultraviolet light, the Wisconsin team was able to induce a ready stream of electrons into water, which served as a reactant liquid that reduced nitrogen to ammonia under temperature and pressure conditions far more efficient than those required by traditional industrial methods.'

Friday, 28 June 2013


New fibre-optic technology can increase bandwidth dramatically:
'...1.6 terabits per second, the equivalent of transmitting eight Blu-Ray DVDs every second.'

Two carcinogens present at 'safe' levels double the risk of cancer:

1977 and still going--Voyager spacecraft have almost left the solar room:
'Data from Voyager 1, now more than 18 billion kilometres from the sun, suggest the spacecraft is closer to becoming the first human-made object to reach interstellar space (for the metrically-challenged that's 11 billion miles).
'Research using Voyager 1 data and published in the journal Science today provides new detail on the last region the spacecraft will cross before it leaves the heliosphere, or the bubble around our sun, and enters interstellar space. Three papers describe how Voyager 1's entry into a region called the magnetic highway resulted in simultaneous observations of the highest rate so far of charged particles from outside heliosphere and the disappearance of charged particles from inside the heliosphere.
'Scientists have seen two of the three signs of interstellar arrival they expected to see: charged particles disappearing as they zoom out along the solar magnetic field, and cosmic rays from far outside zooming in. Scientists have not yet seen the third sign, an abrupt change in the direction of the magnetic field, which would indicate the presence of the interstellar magnetic field.'

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Grey-and-White Farmhouse in Green Fields 


The brain's garbage-disposal system may hold the key to treating Alzheimer's etc:
'In a perspective piece appearing today in the journal Science, researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) point to a newly discovered system by which the brain removes waste as a potentially powerful new tool to treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease. In fact, scientists believe that some of these conditions may arise when the system is not doing its job properly.'

Prevailing view of brain-wiring wrong?
'A series of studies conducted by Randy Bruno, PhD, and Christine Constantinople, PhD, of Columbia University's Department of Neuroscience, topples convention by showing that sensory information travels to two places at once: not only to the brain's mid-layer (where most axons lead), but also directly to its deeper layers. The study appears in the June 28, 2013, edition of the journal Science.'

Key step in protein synthesis revealed:
'Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have trapped the ribosome, a protein-building molecular machine essential to all life, in a key transitional state that has long eluded researchers. Now, for the first time, scientists can see how the ribosome performs the precise mechanical movements needed to translate genetic code into proteins without making mistakes.'

Humans caused Australia's 'angry' summer:
'Human influences through global warming are likely to have played a role in Australia's recent "angry" hot summer, the hottest in Australia's observational record, new research has found. The research led by the University of Melbourne, has shown that global warming increased mored than five-fold the chances of Australians experiencing record hot summers such as the summer of 2013.'

Wednesday, 26 June 2013


Green Field and Coming Storm


Lamark would love this: 'Elephants shaped their own evolution'

Broadband satellites aim at 3 billion people:
Four satellites soared into space Tuesday (June 25) on top of a Soyuz rocket launched from the jungle of South America, beginning the assembly of a fleet of spacecraft equipped to beam broadband connectivity to billions of people beyond the reach of affordable high-speed Internet services.
O3b Networks homepage is here.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


A rise in sea-levels of up to 10 metres possible:

'Climate change could be putting the planet on a path to an era not seen for 3 million years, a New Zealand scientist has warned. Professor Tim Naish, director of Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre, said sea levels in 2100 could be alarmingly higher than today if carbon emissions continue at their present rate. Today, atmospheric CO2 has just reached 400 parts per million due to human emission, and the last time the planet experienced such levels was 3 million to 5 million years ago, during the Pliocene era, when the climate was 3°C warmer.... both the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and parts of the East Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets had melted and sea levels were at least 10m higher.'

Obama's radical plan to tackle climate-change (text and video):
But will it get anywhere in a nation infested with petrol-heads, oil moguls and rabid climate-change deniers?

The Hydrogen House Project:
Hydrogen fuel-cells driving a house and car. Solar cells split water to make the hydrogen.

Monday, 24 June 2013


Mount Cook in the South Island of New Zealand (New Zealand's highest mountain)

Sunday, 23 June 2013


Climate-change equals four Hiroshima bombs per second:
'The planet has been building up temperatures at the rate of four Hiroshima bombs of heat every second, and it's all our fault, say climate scientists.
Hurricane Katrina and super-storm Sandy are just two examples of how extreme weather will intensify, Australia's Climate Action Summit has heard.'

Friday, 21 June 2013


Menya River, Papua New Guinea


Are blind, starving cheetahs the new symbols of climate-change?
'The world's fastest land animal is in trouble. The cheetah, formerly found across much of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, has been extirpated from at least 27 countries and is now on the Red List of threatened species.'

Beyond silicon: transistors without semiconductors:
A new nano-techology exploits quantum tunnelling at room temperature.

The gene associated with getting old also regulates the body's circadian clock:

Why jumping genes do not cause meltdown:
'The study reveals for the first time how the movement and duplication of segments of DNA known as transposons, is regulated. This prevents a genomic meltdown, and instead enables transposons to live in harmony with their hosts -- including humans.'

New method of magnifying images 700 times faster:
Aránzazu Jurío-Munárriz, a graduate in computer engineering from the NUP/UPNA-Public University of Navarre, has in her PhD thesis presented new methods for improving two of the most widespread means used in digital image processing: magnification and thresholding. Her algorithm to magnify images stands out not only because of the quality obtained but also because of the the fact that it executes 700 times faster than other methods that obtain the same quality.

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Huka Falls on the Upper Waikato River, North Island, New Zealand


The quantum secret in photosynthesis uncovered:
'The efficient conversion of sunlight into useful energy is one of the challenges which stand in the way of meeting the world's increasing energy demand in a clean, sustainable way without relying on fossil fuels. Photosynthetic organisms, such as plants and some bacteria, have mastered the process. In less than a couple of trillionths of a second, 95% of the sunlight they absorb is whisked away to drive the metabolic reactions that provide them with energy. The efficiency of photovoltaic cells currently on the market is around 20%. What hidden mechanism does nature use to transfer energy so efficiently?'

Table-top particle accelerator opens a new chapter in research:
'Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have built a tabletop particle accelerator that can generate energies and speeds previously reached only by major facilities that are hundreds of meters long and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. "We have accelerated about half a billion electrons to 2 gigaelectronvolts over a distance of about 1 inch," said Mike Downer, professor of physics in the College of Natural Sciences. "Until now that degree of energy and focus has required a conventional accelerator that stretches more than the length of two football fields. It's a downsizing of a factor of approximately 10,000." '

Thirdhand tobacco smoke causes DNA damage:
'A study led by researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found for the first time that thirdhand smoke -- the noxious residue that clings to virtually all surfaces long after the secondhand smoke from a cigarette has cleared out -- causes significant genetic damage in human cells.'

And gets more harmful over time. And is very hard to remove from surfaces and materials.

Total amount of exercise important, not frequency:
'A new study by Queen's University researchers has determined that adults who accumulated 150 minutes of exercise on a few days of the week were not any less healthy than adults who exercised more frequently throughout the week.'

What do memories look like?
'Oscar Wilde called memory "the diary that we all carry about with us." Now a team of scientists has developed a way to see where and how that diary is written.'
' "When you make a memory or learn something, there's a physical change in the brain. It turns out that the thing that gets changed is the distribution of synaptic connections," '

Global Climate Analysis for May 2013 - NOAA's Nationals Climatic Data Centre:
* The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for May 2013 tied with 1998 and 2005 as the third warmest on record, at 0.66°C (1.9°F)) above the 20th century average of 14.8°C (58.6°F).
* The global land surface temperature was 1.11°C (2.00°F) above the 20th century average of 11.1°C (52.0°F), also the third warmest May on record. For the ocean, the May global sea surface temperature was 0.49°C (0.88°F) above the 20th century average of 16.3°C (61.3°F), tying with 2003 and 2009 as the fifth warmest May on record.
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the March–May period was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F), tying with 2004 as the eighth warmest such period on record.
* The March–May worldwide land surface temperature was 0.97°C (1.75°F) above the 20th century average, the 11th warmest such period on record. The global ocean surface temperature for the same period was 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the 20th century average and tied with 2001 as the seventh warmest such period on record.
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–May period (year-to-date) was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average of 13.1°C (55.5°F), the eighth warmest such period on record.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Huka Falls near the top of the Waikato River, North Island, New Zealand


A new drug reverses the loss of brain-connections in Alzheimer's (in mouse models):
'The first experimental drug to boost brain synapses lost in Alzheimer's disease has been developed by researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. The drug, called NitroMemantine, combines two FDA-approved medicines to stop the destructive cascade of changes in the brain that destroys the connections between neurons, leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.'

Hydrogen-sulphide confirmed as a signalling gas in the body:
'A new study confirms directly what scientists previously knew only indirectly: The poisonous "rotten egg" gas hydrogen sulfide is generated by our body's growing cells. Hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, is normally toxic, but in small amounts it plays a role in cardiovascular health.'

'H2S--along with nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and others in this emerging class of gaseous signalling molecules--assists the body's large proteins.'

Jail reckless bankers, UK standards commission urges:
Senior bankers guilty of reckless misconduct should be jailed, a long-awaited report on banking commissioned by the government has recommended. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards was set up by Chancellor George Osborne last year after a number of scandals involving the industry. It was highly critical of the banking industry.

Pioneers of photography (BBC video):

Latifa Nabizada - Afghanistan's first woman of the skies:

Monday, 17 June 2013


Waikato River, North Island, New Zealand (from Reid's Farm). 


Unusual changes in the jet-stream caused record melting on Greenland:
'Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that unusual changes in atmospheric jet stream circulation caused the exceptional surface-melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) in summer 2012.'

Tianhe-2, the new Chinese supercomputer is twice as fast as its nearest rival:


Friday, 14 June 2013


Electric cars much cheaper than you think:
US Department of Energy charts shows that fuelling an electric car costs about a third as much as fuelling a bang-bang one.

Antarctic ice being melted from beneath by warmer water:
'Ocean waters melting the undersides of Antarctic ice shelves, not icebergs calving into the sea, are responsible for most of the continent's ice loss, a study by UC Irvine has found.'

Thursday, 13 June 2013


Grand Tetons Under a Stomy Sky


Getting water to march in single file:
'Aquaporins are a bit like bouncers at a club. These proteins span the cell membrane, forming an hourglass-shaped core that allows water molecules to enter, but excludes ions, such as protons or hydroxide.
'Without aquaporins, cells wouldn't be able to properly regulate their water intake and salt balance, and diseases such as some forms of diabetes and bipolar disorder can result when there are defects in these channels.
'Now researchers have created the highest resolution crystal structure of any membrane protein—an aquaporin from yeast—and revealed the trick to its selectivity. The structure, reported online today in Science, shows how amino acids in the protein's core use hydrogen bonds that they share with water molecules to orient the waters in just such a way to allow them to zip through in pairs. And because charged ions can't form these same bonding arrangements, they are shut out.'

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


Wild Sky


BPA linked to the risk of obesity in girls around the onset of puberty:

Girls between 9 and 12 with higher-than-average levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) in their urine had double the risk of being obese than girls with lower levels of BPA according to a Kaiser Permanente study.'

The study is the latest by the same researchers examining the effects of BPA in humans:
* A 2009 study found that exposure to high levels of BPA in the workplace increased the risk of sexual dysfunction in men.
* A 2010 study found that increasing BPA levels in urine were associated with worsening male sexual function.
* A 2011 study showed that increasing urine BPA levels were significantly associated with decreased concentration, total count, vitality and motility of sperm.
* A 2011 study showed that parental exposure to BPA during pregnancy was associated with decreased birth-weight in offspring.
* A 2011 study found that in-utero exposure to BPA was related to anogenital distance (the physical distance between the anus and the genitalia) in male offspring.
* A 2013 study showed that male workers exposed to BPA in a chemical plant for 6 months or more had lower testosterone levels in their blood than with those who were not exposed to BPA in the workplace.


Wild Horse in Sepia, Contra Jour (Against the Light)

Friday, 7 June 2013


Wild Horses in Sepia


The 'electric cars aren't green' myth debunked:
A detailed international analysis, showing the countries in which electric cars are far more carbon-efficient than internal-combustion cars, all the way down to where they only are on a par.

Fossil-fuel bosses say the darndest things on climate-change:
'Given that poorer countries are likely to be hit hardest by the impacts of climate change from burning all that coal, the idea that they so desperately need fossil fuels feels a little like selling cigarettes to lung cancer sufferers.'

Thursday, 6 June 2013


Wild Horses of Assateague Island


New all-solid sulphur-based battery outperforms lithium-ion technology:
'A new all-solid lithium-sulphur battery developed by an Oak Ridge National Laboratory team led by Chengdu Liang has the potential to reduce cost, increase performance and improve safety compared with existing designs. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have designed and tested an all-solid lithium-sulphur battery with approximately four times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion technologies that power today's electronics.'

Atomic bombs help solve brain mystery:
'The mushroom clouds produced by more than 500 nuclear bomb tests during the Cold War may have had a silver lining, after all. More than 50 years later, scientists have found a way to use radioactive carbon isotopes released into the atmosphere by nuclear testing to settle a long-standing debate in neuroscience: Does the adult human brain produce new neurons? After working to hone their technique for more than a decade, the researchers report that a small region of the human brain involved in memory makes new neurons throughout our lives—a continuous process of self-renewal that may aid learning.'

MRI study shows that breastfeeding boosts babies' brain-growth:
'A study using brain images from "quiet" MRI machines adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding improves brain development in infants. Breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula, which produced better development than formula alone.'

The wiring in our biological clocks has been mapped:
'The World Health Organization lists shift work as a potential carcinogen, says Erik Herzog, PhD, Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. And that's just one example among many of the troubles we cause ourselves when we override the biological clocks in our brains and pay attention instead to the mechanical clocks on our wrists.

'In the June 5 issue of Neuron, Herzog and his colleagues report the discovery of a crucial part of the biological clock: the wiring that sets its accuracy to within a few minutes out of the 1440 minutes per day. This wiring uses the neurotransmitter, GABA, to connect the individual cells of the biological clock in a fast network that changes strength with time of day.'

'These synchronized networks are very precise, says Herzog. If you let them free-run in constant darkness they will lose or gain only a few minutes out of the 1,440 minutes in a day. So they're accurate to within 1 or 2 percent. But they're ever so slightly off the 24-hour cycle tied to one turn of the planet on its axis. Over time they would drift far enough off that cycle to be of little use to us, unless they also had some means of synchronizing to local time.'

Metal-free catalyst outperforms platinum catalyst:
'Researchers from South Korea, Case Western Reserve University and University of North Texas have discovered an inexpensive and easily produced catalyst that performs better than platinum in oxygen-reduction reactions. The finding, detailed in Nature's Scientific Reports online today, is a step toward eliminating what industry regards as the largest obstacle to large-scale commercialization of fuel-cell technology.'

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Stormy Sky and Blue Sea


Roman concrete better than today's:
'The chemical secrets of a concrete Roman breakwater that has spent the last 2,000 years submerged in the Mediterranean Sea have been uncovered by an international team of researchers led by Paulo Monteiro of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

'Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete was superior to most modern concrete in durability, why its manufacture was less environmentally damaging -- and how these improvements could be adopted in the modern world.'

Monday, 3 June 2013


Mountains and Sea in a Silver Light


Electric car fallacies and fables:
'The more I go into the pros and cons of electricity versus the internal-combustion engine purely from the point of view urban transport and of relative carbon footprints, toxic emissions and so forth, the more it becomes clearer to me that in spite of electricity being "dirty", the whole process of getting a vehicle to get from point A to point B leaves the electric vehicle a winner by a large margin.'

Blood-vessels in the eye linked With IQ and cognitive function:
'Having wider retinal venules was linked with lower IQ scores at age 38, even after the researchers accounted for various health, lifestyle, and environmental risk factors that might have played a role. Individuals who had wider retinal venules showed evidence of general cognitive deficits, with lower scores on numerous measures of neurospsychological functioning, including verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and executive function. Surprisingly, the data revealed that people who had wider venules at age 38 also had lower IQ in childhood, a full 25 years earlier.'

He said 'one small step for a man' not 'for man':
'When Neil Armstrong took his first step on the Moon, he claimed he said, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" -- but many listeners think he left out the "a." A team of speech-scientists and psychologists from Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing and The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus is taking a novel approach to deciphering Armstrong's quote by studying how speakers from his native central Ohio pronounce "for" and "for a."'

Sunday, 2 June 2013


Mountains After a Storm


Mission to Mars:
'Astronauts on a Mars mission would spend 500 days on the planet and 360 days on the round trip. The first people to make the perilous journey will have to cope with long periods of boredom, the constant worry of returning safely and the joy/pain of each other's company. And according to the latest research into long-duration space travel, they will also endure the sort of radiation exposure that few people of Earth have experienced.'

Specific changes in brain-structure after different forms of child-abuse:
'Different forms of childhood abuse increase the risk for mental illness as well as sexual dysfunction in adulthood, but little has been known about how that happens. An international team of researchers, including the Miller School's Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has discovered a neural basis for this association. The study, published in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, shows that sexually abused and emotionally mistreated children exhibit specific and differential changes in the architecture of their brain that reflect the nature of the mistreatment.'