Monday, May 3, 2010

How the Universe Works: Black Holes

Here are five incredible things about black holes that may blow your mind:

(1) A new black hole is discovered every day from telescopes on Earth, making it appear that black holes are actually not rare, and that there are billions of them scattered across the cosmos. (How do we see "black" holes in deep dark space? We see gamma ray bursts and quasars, the two most powerful concentrations of energy and light in the universe, and infer from their existence the presence of black holes.)

(2) Because the gravity beyond the event horizon (the threshold between a black hole and the rest of space) becomes exponentially more immense, if you were to fall in feet first, your toes (the part closest to the black hole) would get stretched must faster than the rest of you (the parts farthest from the hole). This would turn you into an odd looking disproportionate piece of spaghetti (not to mention resulting in a medieval style demise).

(3) The sands of time become suspended as if in glass once you have crossed the event horizon. So, from the perspective of the outside observer, nothing is ever actually consumed by a black hole. That is, whatever is moving into the hole just freezes in perpetuity at the event horizon. But, from the perspective of the object entering the hole, although time technically stops, it keeps moving into a world of which we know absolutely nothing.

(4) When a black hole sucks in tons of gas and star dust and the like, where does it go exactly? Some physicists are now speculating that on the other side of black holes are "white holes" that burst out all of the matter and energy which are flooding into the black hole at any given moment. So, if you could somehow place this entire process in a single image, you might see a black hole gobbling up matter on one side, while spewing it out at unfathomable speeds on the other. If this is true, it might mean that there are as many independent universes existing as there are black holes (look back to number 1)! Even more compellingly, it may suggest that the Big Bang which begat our universe might be a white hole, and thus our flesh and blood may originate from a black hole in another universe possible inaccessible and unknowable to us.

(5) The moon revolves around the earth, the earth revolves around the sun...and the sun revolves around? Yes, you guessed it - our sun, and our solar system for that matter, spin around a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Scientists now maintain that many of the galaxies out there contain at their hearts a black hole of some size (from 20 miles across to millions of times the mass of our sun), which is also the progenitor of the galaxy itself.

So, are black holes the builders or the destroyers of our reality? It would appear that actually they are both, murdering all matter within their sphere of influence, while sporadically breathing vitality into old dead star particles in perhaps both this universe and the next.

Sources and related reading:

How the Universe Works, Discovery TV series
Life inside a black hole
Black holes: Dark and deadly
Universe is not a black hole

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looking IS Healing: Nature

"Demonstrating that we have a biologically programmed positive response to nature is more difficult, because we don’t respond as dramatically to something that’s not a threat.

But numerous studies since the 1970s suggest the subtle power of natural scenery to heal both body and mind. Texas A&M researcher Roger Ulrich, for instance, has shown that people who watch a calming nature video after a stressful experience have markedly lower muscle tension, pulse, and skin conductance activity after less than five minutes. This translates into significant medical benefits.

Ulrich monitored patients after gallbladder surgery and found that those assigned to a room looking out on trees needed far fewer painkillers than patients in rooms that faced a brick wall.

Heart surgery patients in rooms with nature scenes on the wall experienced less anxiety and smoother recoveries than patients with blank walls or abstract art.

Likewise, cosmonauts confined for months in outer space quickly lose interest in video programs and other diversions. They prefer to stare out the window at the untouchable Earth."

Source: The Natural History of Art

Friday, February 13, 2009

Over Half the World Now Considered Middle Class

“We expect a lot from the middle classes,” say Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, of the Poverty Action Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following the historical examples of Britain and America, they are expected to be the dominant force in establishing or consolidating democracy. As a group, they are meant to be the backbone of the market economy. And now the world looks to them to save it from depression. With the global economy facing the biggest slump since the 1930s, the World Bank says that “a new engine of private demand growth will be needed, and we see a likely candidate in the still largely untapped consumption potential of the rapidly expanding middle classes in the large emerging-market countries.”

In practice, emerging markets may be said to have two middle classes. One consists of those who are middle class by any standard—ie, with an income between the average Brazilian and Italian. This group has the makings of a global class whose members have as much in common with each other as with the poor in their own countries. It is growing fast, but still makes up only a tenth of the developing world. You could call it the global middle class.

The other, more numerous, group consists of those who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world but not the rich one. Some time in the past year or two, for the first time in history, they became a majority of the developing world’s population: their share of the total rose from one-third in 1990 to 49% in 2005. Call it the developing middle class.

Using a somewhat different definition—those earning $10-100 a day, including in rich countries—an Indian economist, Surjit Bhalla, also found that the middle class’s share of the whole world’s population rose from one-third to over half (57%) between 1990 and 2006. He argues that this is the third middle-class surge since 1800. The first occurred in the 19th century with the creation of the first mass middle class in western Europe (see chart 1). The second, mainly in Western countries, occurred during the baby boom (1950-1980). The current, third one is happening almost entirely in emerging countries. According to Mr Bhalla’s calculations, the number of middle-class people in Asia has overtaken the number in the West for the first time since 1700.

At a certain stage it starts to boom. That stage was reached in China some time between 1990 and 2005, during which period the middle-class share of the population soared from 15% to 62%. It is just being reached in India now. In 2005, says the reputable National Council for Applied Economic Research, the middle-class share of the population was only about 5%. By 2015, it forecasts, it will have risen to 20%; by 2025, to over 40%.

Homi Kharas, of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC, argues that the point at which the poor start entering the middle class in their millions is the “sweet spot of growth”. It is the moment when poor countries can get the maximum benefit from their cheap labour through international trade, before they price themselves out of world markets for cheap goods or are able to compete with rich countries in making high-value ones. It is also almost always a period of fast urbanisation, when formerly underemployed farmers abandon what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life” for the cities to work in manufacturing, boosting their productivity many times over. Eventually this results in a lessening of income inequalities because the new middle class sits somewhere between the rich elite and the rural poor.

Marx on the Phenomena of the Middle Class:

"Historically it has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations…It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals…The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country…All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life-and-death question for all civilised nations…In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes…National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature. The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation."

Source: Burgeoning bourgeoisie



The great rising of the middle class as now the dominate class worldwide, and no longer the poor is indeed one of humanity's most profound triumphs. The progress which an achievement highlights is ever-more intriguing in noting its exponential nature.

Now that they world is more middle class than ever before, more people than ever are getting BAs, MAs and even PhDs. What impact is this Intellectualization having on social activism, art,

More and more people now know more and more...what is done with all of this, to what end...just to get paid more, go skiing every other weekend and have a vacation spot in the topics?

Is this monumental social mobility creating anything other than just more superficial, mindless pleasure seekers...sybarites? If not why, and will it eventually?

If so, WHAT is emerging...for it is this very EMERGING that will define human progress for many decades to come...and studying this may lead to some great research that helps humans understand what's happening in this vast almost imperceptible flash of change, and as a result, learn to harness the goods and make them great.

Also, is all of this sustainable, or are we just reaching this burgeoning point that will cause the collapse as modern society and capitalism as the world's fulcrum??

And then what?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Utilities Turn Their Customers Green, With Envy

Stickers for Green Behavior

A frowny face is not what most electric customers expect to see on their utility statements, but Greg Dyer got one.

He earned it, the utility said, by using a lot more energy than his neighbors.

“I have four daughters; none of my neighbors has that many children,” said Mr. Dyer, 49, a lawyer who lives in Sacramento. He wrote back to the utility and gave it his own rating: four frowny faces.

Two other Sacramento residents, however, Paul Geisert and his wife, Mynga Futrell, were feeling good. They got one smiley face on their statement for energy efficiency and saw the promise of getting another.

“Our report card will quickly get better,” Mr. Geisert wrote in an e-mail message to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The district had been trying for years to prod customers into using less energy with tactics like rebates for energy-saving appliances. But the traditional approaches were not meeting the energy reduction goals set by the nonprofit utility’s board.

So, in a move that has proved surprisingly effective, the district decided to tap into a time-honored American passion: keeping up with the neighbors.

Last April, it began sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy.

Customers who scored high earned two smiley faces on their statements. “Good” conservation got a single smiley face. Customers like Mr. Dyer, whose energy use put him in the “below average” category, got frowns, but the utility stopped using them after a few customers got upset.

Does it work?

When the Sacramento utility conducted its first assessment of the program after six months, it found that customers who received the personalized report reduced energy use by 2 percent more than those who got standard statements — an improvement that Alexandra Crawford, a spokeswoman for the utility, said was very encouraging.

The approach has now been picked up by utilities in 10 major metropolitan areas eager to reap rewards through increased efficiencies, including Chicago and Seattle, according to Positive Energy, the software company that conceived of the reports and contracts to produce them. Following Sacramento’s lead, they award smiley faces only.

The Motivation: Competition over Common Sense

Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University, studies how to get Americans — even those who did not care about the environment — to lower energy consumption. And while there are many ways, Dr. Cialdini said, few are as effective as comparing people with their peers.

In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.

“It is fundamental and primitive,” said Dr. Cialdini, who owns a stake in Positive Energy. “The mere perception of the normal behavior of those around us is very powerful.”

Source: Utilities Turn Their Customers Green, With Envy