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2014 News

13 December 2014 – Like birds pooping in their own nests

A study in the journal PLOS One has conservatively estimated that about 268,000 tonnes of plastic is floating in the world's oceans. The average piece is less than the size of a grain of rice, with a calculated 5.25 trillion pieces of floating plastic. But that doesn't count the plastic floating in the water column beneath the surface, or plastic which has fallen to the sea bed.

An interactive map has been produced showing the distribution of floating plastic.

2 December 2014 – An update on DNA codons

It has been known for decades that different codons result in amino acids being made at different speeds, but it is only recently (as I mentioned on 18 September this year) that it has been shown that these differences allows the necessary time for proteins to be folded correctly. An update on this has been posted on Answers in Genesis.

If “synonymous” codons (meaning they code for the same amino acid) are not redundant, degenerate, and functionally equivalent, but instead have purposeful redundancy in order to provide the building blocks for another code, then the notion that the genetic code is a product of random evolution becomes even more untenable. And if the structure, mechanism, and essential purpose of the secondary code are discovered — as this study suggests — then the observations of science support the fact that life was created by our intelligent Creator. And it is the latter that the study uncovered — not just the way the second code works but also what kinds of instructions it is giving and their vital purpose.

18 November 2014 – Iridium flares this week

A couple of particularly bright Iridium flares over the next week.

At 8:20pm on Saturday 22 November the Iridium 97 satellite will pass over Auckland making a flare that will get to a maxmimum brightness of magnitude -8.5. This is particularly bright, so worth going outside to have a look at if the weather is half decent. It'll be almost straight up.

At 9:53pm on Monday 24 November the Iridium 86 satellite will pass over Auckland making a flare that will get to a maxmimum brightness of magnitude -8.1. It'll be quite high (47°) in the eastern sky.

See the Iridium flare page for more information on Iridium flares and a link to find flare details.

24 September 2014 – India gets into Mars orbit

India has successfully inserted a space probe into Mars orbit, becoming the first nation to do so on its first attempt. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched on 5 November 2013, with the purposes of showing off India's space tech, practicing the huge number of things needed to get a probe to Mars, photographing the red planet, and searching for methane in Mars' atmosphere. For more information see this article.

18 September 2014 – DNA even more complex

Two years ago I reported how "junk" DNA has been found to have important roles in gene regulation. New discoveries have shown that DNA is even more complex, and "degenerate" DNA is not degenerate. From Answers In Genesis:

There are four nucleobases used in DNA. ... With four nucleobases ( “letters”) available to code for twenty amino acids using three-letter codons, there are 4³ = 64 possible codons, so there is plenty of room for redundancy—and as it turns out plenty of room for life’s Designer to use that redundancy to create a whole extra set of instructions right on top of the first.

Simplistic thinking would suggest that if a codon codes for the same amino acid, then a protein made using that substitute should work just as well. But that is not the case. Though certain codons appear to be simple synonyms coding for the same amino acid, in reality the “choice of word”—the particular codon—used in the gene (and in the mRNA matching it) varies the rate at which the ribosome builds that protein.

As ribosomes build proteins, they pause when they encounter signals formed from these “degenerate” codons, researchers report. These “translational pauses” allow “the necessary time to mechanically perform folding operations” on the protein being synthesized. Proper protein function depends on proper folding, so this extra layer of code is very important.

... The folding is so complex, however, that it cannot wait until synthesis is complete to be folded. Unlike sheets coming out of your dryer, complex protein chains must be folded even while they are being assembled.

Update posted on 2 December.

11 August 2014 – Science Fair coming up soon

Entries to the 2014 NIWA Auckland City Science and Technology Fair close one week away on Monday 18 August. The science fair itself is an Friday 29 August and is open to the public free of charge that evening and on Saturday 30 August.

If you are a student at a school which does not participate but still want to enter, contact me immediately.

30 July 2014 – Electron configurations

Electron configurations have been added to the pop-up information in the Periodic Table.

5 July 2014 – Men prefer pain to thinking

A recent study (reported here) found 12 out of 18 men preferred shocking themselves to being alone with their thoughts for a few minutes.

When it became clear that people were desperate for distractions, the researchers decided to give them one. "It dawned on us: If people find this so difficult," Wilson said, "would they prefer negative stimulations to boredom?" He gave them access to a device that would provide a small electric shock by pressing a button. It wasn't a very strong shock, as the device was built around a 9-volt battery. "But we weren't even sure it was worth doing," he said. "I mean, no one was going to shock themselves by choice."

But they did.

Only 6 out of the 24 women shocked themselves. One man (whose data was not included) shocked himself 190 times in 15 minutes. That's more than once every 5 seconds.

13 February 2014 – Colin has "no friends" but gets 1.6+ million "likes"

So what does a modern American mother do when her son tells her he doesn't want a party when he turns 11 because he doesn't have any friends? Set up a Facebook page, of course.

I am Colin's mom, I created this page for my amazing, wonderful, challenging son who is about to turn 11 on March 9th. Because of Colin's disabilities, social skills are not easy for him, and he often acts out in school, and the other kids don't like him. So when I asked him if he wanted a party for his birthday, he said there wasn't a point because he has no friends. He eats lunch alone in the office everyday because no one will let him sit with them, and rather than force someone to be unhappy with his presence, he sits alone in the office. So I thought, if I could create a page where people could send him positive thoughts and encouraging words, that would be better than any birthday party. Please join me in making my very original son feel special on his day.

It made the TV news and went viral. The Facebook page now has more than 1.6 million likes (and increased by 20,000 just while I was typing this), which should be quite a surprise for Colin and makes me think of this song.

Update 17 March 2014 – 2.1 million likes, Colin has had his birthday and is slowly working his way through his birthday cards.

4 February 2014 – Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate viability of creation model

Tomorrow Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, is debating Bill Nye, TV personality "the Science Guy", on the topic Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?

The debate will be moderated by CNN correspondent Tom Foreman. Immediately following the debate Bill Nye and Ken Ham will be interviewed for the Piers Morgan Live program on CNN.

The live stream starts at 12:55pm Wednesday 5 February 2014 (NZDT). The recording will afterward be available on YouTube. More info here.

28 January 2014 – school abandons playground rules, gets less bullying

When it took part in a study by AUT and Otago University, Swanson Primary School didn't expect the beneficial side effects. The school abandoned playground rules that outlawed physical activities like climbing trees and bullrush (!), and ended up with less bullying, and bettor attention and behaviour in class. To quote a Stuff.co.nz article: Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

The article also explains some of the benefits of risk taking: Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. "You can't teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there."

The conclusion? Principal Bruce McLachlan: "We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over."

20 January 2014 – bookings for tutoring being taken

Tutoring slots for 2014 are being reserved already. For enquiries use the email link at the bottom of the page.

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