Tornado Time

“By the grace of God almighty, and the pressures of the marketplace, the human race has civilized itself. It’s a miracle.

Roger Waters

Well, this isn’t good:

New Tornado AlleySome of the deadliest tornadoes have hit far east and south of Tornado Alley, which may be in part due to higher population density in some of these areas than in rural plains regions. After a rash of tornadoes killed more than 300 people in the Southern and Eastern U.S. in 2011, researchers questioned Tornado Alley’s traditional boundaries.

Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that severe tornadoes extend far beyond the plains, from the Midwest to the Deep South, according to a 2012 report from the research firm CoreLogic. Most of the Eastern half of the country is susceptible to tornado damage, with significant parts of 15 states facing extreme tornado risk.

Hall and Diehm

CoreLogic, as a point of reference, is the latest iteration of a growing real estate information enterprise. With an eye toward real estate, insurance, and development clientele, the firm concluded:

Record-breaking severe weather outbreaks and destruction, particularly in 2011, have
changed how insurers define high-risk areas beyond Tornado Alley and measure damage from all levels of storms. Insurers are now placing particular emphasis on improving their understanding of the geographic distribution and frequency of tornados and hail storms, which in turn provides a more accurate and complete analysis of risk potential. As more precise geospatial hazard risk modeling is used to fine tune this risk analysis, the way in which policies and rates are constructed will be affected.

Something about the private sector goes here. To the other, one can certainly see their interst; CoreLogic found “extreme tornado risk” in at least twenty-six states, and the company is not at all shy about its pitch to customers. Call it what you want, but it’s a starting point for … er … ah … well, some useful discussion, we might hope.


But Does It Work On Ducks?

“So, a fake force is a force that is not an interaction between two objects. Rather it is like duck tape (I refuse to call it duct tape because it isn’t good for ducts) on your accelerating frame.”

Rhett Allain

Coriolis diagramWhat? I mean, it’s an obvious question, right?

Er … never mind*. But the consideration of physics in a game show context, from 2011, is still worth a read. Today’s discussion of gravity in a space movie is just as rewarding.

* I know … I know, I know. I just needed a title. Or, okay, to be honest, it was the first one that occurred to me.

IBM’s Atomic Punks

We will let Gareth Halfacree explain this coolness beyond cool:

IBM’s research arm has been playing with atoms in order to create what is officially the world’s smallest stop-motion animation feature.

A Boy and His AtomDubbed ‘A Boy and His Atom,’ the animation combines 242 frames of action into a short advert for IBM’s expertise in all things tiny – and does so by having a stick figure befriend a single atom. Oh, and the atom is real: in fact, everything in the animation is constructed from visible atoms, magnified 100 million times using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to make the normally invisible building-blocks of matter visible.

Technically, the blobs that form the pixels of the animation aren’t single atoms but molecules of carbon monoxide – a single carbon atom joined to a single oxygen atom. Using the STM and an ultra-sharp needle hovering just one nanometre from the surface of a copper plate, the team is able to attract the molecules and drag them to specific locations – using the unique sound they make to figure out how far the atoms have been moved.

It sounds like a mantra: Study hard, and you, too, can make movies out of atoms when you grow up. But it’s not just about the exponential coolness:

IBM is hoping that the technology used to create the animation will pave the way forward for novel computer circuits that can bypass the rapidly-approaching physical limits that threaten to put an end to Moore’s Law – the observation, made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, that the number of transistors in a circuit, and therefore its relative performance, doubles roughly every eighteen months. The team behind the animation has already created the world’s smallest magnetic bit, constructed from just 12 atoms – compared to the million atoms a traditional bit takes up on a mechanical hard drive.

Yeah, saving the world by being cool, one atom at a time.

Okay, so the world will do fine without 128 zeptobyte data storage in our wristwatches, but still ….

Sheep Trip

“From another direction he felt the sensation of being a sheep startled by a flying saucer, but it was virtually indistinguishable from the feeling of being a sheep startled by anything else it ever encountered, for they were creatures who learned very little on their journey through life, and would be startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by all the green stuff in the fields.”

—Douglas Adams

And now they glow in the dark. No, really. Okay, only sort of:

Scientists in Uruguay have genetically modified sheep to glow in the dark. The fluorescent sheep are a world first, the scientists report.

GlowSheep-greenThe flock of nine lambs was born last October at a farm belonging to the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay, an nonprofit organization affiliated with the Pasteur Institute’s genetically modified animals unit. The laboratory incorporated a green fluorescence protein into the genes of the sheep, which will glow when exposed to certain ultraviolet light, making the the ruminants easily identifiable as genetically modified.

Other than glowing green in UV light, the sheep look and behave normally. Scientists modified the sheep’s genes with the fluorescent protein of the Aequarea jellyfish.

“We did not use a protein of medical interest or to help with a particular medicine because we wanted to fine-tune the technique. We used the green protein because the color is easily identifiable in the sheep’s tissues,” said Alejo Menchaca, the head of the research team.

And there you have it.

(We might also note that it makes a decent pitch to the younger generation: Study hard, and you, too, can make random animals glow in the dark. I mean, come on, with that kind of career path? Boundless potential.)