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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Electronic Nose

The Lewis Group a division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech have a working model of an electronic nose. The efforts of Cal Tech scientists has led to an array of simple, readily fabricated chemically sensitive conducted polymer film.

An array of broadly-cross reactive sensors respond to a variety of odors. However, the pattern of differential responses across the array produces a unique pattern for each odorant. The electronic nose can identify, classify and quantify when necessary the vapor or odor that poses a concern or threat.

The electronic nose responds much like the mammalian olfactory sense produces diagnostic patterns and then transmits the information to the brain for processing and analysis. The range of uses for the electronic nose in a commercial setting is phenomenal. The electronic nose could provide a remote sensing device for oil and gas exploration, generators, electrical generators and any type of manufacturing setting where an odor or vapor may be the first signal of a malfunction.

The Caltech Nose has shown the ability to function well in normal room temperatures and varied setting. It can detect an odor and then by robotics turn its attention to the odor or vapor it identifies as a concern.

The research with the Caltech Nose is continuing and currently is combining efforts with NASA and other engineering groups who specialize in VLSI and integrated chip design. A series of queries are being tested by the Caltech Nose team. One inquiry is can one assign a numeric factor for the human judgment of smell. Other inquiries involve calibration and sophisticated application of the innovation.

Posted by Ajay :: 5:44 PM :: 0 comments

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Full Moon Enjoy While Dogs And Cats Fear

Injuries and illness among dogs and cats seems to be higher during full moon than at other times of the month, a new study finds. But researchers don't know why.

The study, reported in the July 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, finds emergency room visits for these pets increases during or near the full moon. In studying 11,940 cases at the Colorado State University Veterinary Medical Center, the researchers found the risk of emergency room visits to be 23 percent higher for cats and 28 percent higher for dogs on days surrounding full moons.

The types of emergencies ranged from cardiac arrest to trauma.

"If you talk to any person, from kennel help, nurse, front-desk person to doctor, you frequently hear the comment on a busy night, 'Gee is it a full moon?'" said study leader Raegan Wells of the university's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "There is the belief that things are busier on full-moon nights."

Belief does not make for good science, however. And despite the newfound numbers, Wells doesn't know what sort of lunacy is at play.

"It is difficult to interpret the clinical significance of these findings," she said.

Research into mysterious lunar connections has a long history of baffling and mixed results. A pair of studies in 2001 looked into how many humans are bitten by animals during full moons. British researchers found a lunar link, while the separate study in Australia uncovered no connection.

More recently, scientists found that beach pollution is worse during the full moon. That discovery, however, is linked to real variations in tides related to the lunar cycle.

Pinning animal and human behavior to the moon's movements has proved elusive. One suggestion for some observed changes is simply that more people (and pets) are out during the full moon because the night is bright and good for walking. This could lead to more mischief, too, and could explain the recent decision by some British police departments to increase patrols during full moon.

Posted by Ajay :: 5:36 PM :: 0 comments

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Is America Transforming?

The US may be one of the most religious countries in the West but is it undergoing a period of doubt.
A few days ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend who died far too young, of throat cancer. The service was held at a history museum, and it was packed - standing room only.

What was curious, initially, was the lack of any reference to religion. My friend had left a final set of instructions: he wanted to be remembered first as a husband to his wife of more than 20 years, and second as a citizen of his city, and third as a lover of history.

During the tributes, there were many references to how the past can inform our decisions in the present. There were nods to reason and friendship and love.

The closest anyone came to mentioning God or spirituality was when someone told the widow, as an aside, that you often visit the deceased through dreams - when they can appear at no particular prompting.

America seems to be experiencing an atheist moment

Even if the formal religion was absent, the habit of expressing a hope for spiritual optimism remains. The secular funeral is still somewhat of a novelty, at least to me.

But it may be something that we see more and more of in the future - particularly on the West Coast, the most unchurched part of the United States.

It may be daring to say it but America seems to be experiencing an atheist moment. Although "In God We Trust" was declared the national motto by an act of Congress more than 50 years ago and has been stamped on the currency for longer than that, some considerable doubt has developed of late.

If you look at the bestseller list over the last year, you'll find a number of books on atheism - to the surprise of the publishing industry.

God has always moved in not-so-mysterious ways when it comes to the literary world. He can sell books, especially ones that foretell an apocalyptic ending just around the corner.

The so-called Left Behind books, a series of novels envisioning the Rapture, when the good are separated from the evil in a fiery judgment day, sell in the millions. They are not for the faint of faith.

Another genre, self-help books that invoke God for the sake of making money, losing weight or finding a date, have a permanent home on the bestseller list. God is kept very busy with this segment of the market.

But until this year, there was thought to be little support - or audience - for tomes by the anti-religious. Several books changed that.

On the academic side, we have God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger and Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli.

The three most popular books are God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the newly-Americanized Christopher Hitchens, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

Hitchens, the pied piper of non-believers
These bestsellers are not cursory academic surveys; they are full-bore polemics against religion, challenging the very idea of God.

Hitchens, with his quick wit and his quiver of quotes from long-dead British luminaries which he carries over from his schoolboy days in England, seems to be having the most fun and the most effect.

You could call him the Pied Piper of non-believers. He makes it a point to debate with a cleric in every city he visits, and is a frequent guest on conservative and religious radio stations.

The premise of his book is that while religion may have served people well in the age of ignorance, now that science can explain the world there is no reason to attribute the sun, the moon and forces like gravity to higher beings.

As he says, the nine-year-old knows more about the natural world now than the leading scholars of a thousand years ago. What has rankled his critics most is his suggestion that religion is usually a force for bad.

More than anything, people without faith hate the description of them as empty or soulless

Believers point out that people of faith have been at the forefront of significant improvements in human rights and in caring for fellow humans over centuries - everything from abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement in this country, to church-led efforts to reduce starvation and disease in less-developed countries.

I ran into Hitchens not long ago at a book festival where he was jousting away and getting rich in the process. He looked just as the New York Times Book Review had described him: "A village atheist standing in the square trying to pick arguments with the good citizens on their way to church."

I asked Hitchens why he thought his book had such a sudden rise to the top of the bestseller charts when polls show that - at most - barely one-half-of-one-percent of Americans call themselves atheists.

He said that the polls were misleading. There is a large and fast-growing segment of the population that is lapsed or well onto its way to atheism but is afraid to admit it.

"If you're a lapsed Catholic," Hitchens told me. "You're part of a very large and fast-growing group."

Many of those people, of course, might be agnostic rather than atheist?

Revulsion at zealots

More than anything, people without faith hate the description of them as empty or soulless. They have long been singled out for a special kind of hell.

The constitution of the state of Texas, for example, allows discrimination against atheists in employment or jury duty - provisions that have been nullified by federal laws.

And even my mother used to lower her voice in the kind of whisper reserved for people with terminal brain cancer when she described a neighbour as.... an atheist.

Non-believers say they have also been aided by the revulsion of fair-minded Americans to the religious zealotry behind the September 11 attacks and the subsequent violence on behalf of radical Islam.

The latest round of atheism books point to countless wars, slaughters and massacres done in the name of My God is Better than Your God. The 9/11 attacks got people thinking about what sort of God could be summoned for such awfulness.

Obama has talked about his faith
Social critics, dating to at least de Tocqueville and Dickens, have always marvelled at the pure number of passionately religious people in this country. Indeed, no Western democracy has so many devout churchgoers, by percentage, as the US.

On the face of it, the numbers do seem to indicate that the United States is a Christian nation, as politicians often say.

The latest surveys by the Pew Centre show that 76% of the population - upwards of 230 million people - call themselves Christians. Jews make up 1.3% and Muslims are under one per cent - though fast-growing.

Atheists are near the bottom. There are seven times as many atheists in Europe as the United States, by percentage. But the second largest group, categorized by belief, are those who call themselves secular or non-religious. They make up 13 percent of the population.

It is this group that has perhaps been afraid to call themselves atheists, for fear of shunning or other censure. They could be largely undecided or they could be searching or they could believe, as some friends say with a wink, in the Church of the Outdoors, or the Church of Baseball. They are also the people buying these books.

But while atheism may have made its way into the public discourse, it remains strictly verboten in our politics. Even though a majority of people say in surveys that a person can still be a good American without Christian values, to be an atheist and run for high office is to wear the scarlet A.

Among the presidential aspirants, half the Republican candidates do not believe in evolution, a view bounded in their religious faith and the imperatives of running in a primary heavily dominated by evangelicals.

Democrats 'more open'

One contender, Senator John McCain of Arizona, made headlines this month when he said the American founders meant to establish the United States as a Christian nation.

In truth, the constitution expressly prohibits establishment of a state religion. The founders were trying to avoid the entanglements of church with state. And perhaps the best known founder, Thomas Jefferson himself, may have been an atheist, in the view of many scholars.

No matter. The Democrats, scorned by a huge sector of the electorate for their perceived secularism, have become more open about faith this time around. Both Hillary Clinton, and Senator Barack Obama frequently mention God on the campaign trail.

But they also put some distance between themselves and the religious. Senator Clinton said last week that if she were president she would shield science and research into such things as stem cells from religion and politics.

The United States may never be as secular as Europe. If you sample even a small share of the reaction, on blogs or Christian talk radio, to these new atheist books, you sense how strongly people feel about their faith. It's not passive or abstract.

But, perhaps we have arrived at a moment where doubt is having its day - and for a time, atheists are coming out of hiding.

Posted by Ajay :: 10:06 AM :: 0 comments

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