Archive for November, 2010


Posted by on Monday, 29 November, 2010



Be good if there was a green box with a red light and a buzzer. Bomb goes by? The buzzer buzzes, the red light blinks.

Like that.

Wouldn’t that be nice? It would change so many things and, maybe, tilt the advantage in the terrorism struggle back to the guys who call themselves the good guys.

Or is that the other guys?

Whatever! You know what I mean, right?

An Israeli team’s announcing an electronic explosives detector. Works for all SORTS of explosives. TNT, too. It’s very portable, very fast,  and can identify explosives that’re some distance away – a nice feature if you don’t wanna keep hiring new people to replace the ones that got exploded.  The lead researcher, Dr. Fernando Patolsky (Tel Aviv university), says there’s a need for this.

Well.. yuh!

Yer gonna find lots of troops in Afghanistan who think so. When you never know WHAT’S gonna blow, you get a little jumpy. This sounds like just the kind of device that could make a real difference . The nano sensor based device is the instrumentation equivalent of human/animal smell. I’ve called  this kind of thing an artificial nose, in the past,  because it “sniffs” the air that contains the molecules of the thing you’re looking for. No nostrils. No bump on the bridge. Probably no embarrassing hairs but nose-like in what it does.

Patolsky says it’s better at picking out explosives than dogs. That makes my eyes water. I happen to know how good dogs are at this particular job so that’s REALLY impressive!

You gotta think there’ll be interest from Homeland Security and the Military.


Photo credits Mark Watson (kalimistuk)’ photostream

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Tuesday, 23 November, 2010



Mister ScienceAintSoBad loves resuseable grocery bags. They’re just nice. They have logos. They don’t fall apart. You can haul yer pet to the groomer in one. And they’re good for the environment, right?

What if they’re not good for the environment? Does that mean the concept of reusable bags blows up?

Before I go on, I should say I hope I’m not trying to be mean. I don’t LIKE discouraging people who are trying to do good but I signed up for science and technology.

My job.

So – the facts.

Let’s start with a widely read journalist who specializes in this stuff, Bob Lillienfield (Use Less Stuff report), who says that even if EVERYBODY used reusable bags, it wouldn’t much matter:

The bag is not the environmental bogey-person that everybody thinks it is,” he says. “If you look at the entire grocery package that you bought, the bag may account for 1 to 2 percent of the environmental impact.

1 or 2 percent? And, maybe 12% of shoppers use ’em? Gee. Let’s look a little deeper into this environmental miracle.

How long do they last?

Maybe MISTER ScienceAintSoBad’s not as careful as he should be but reusable bags seem to wear out  in as little as 15 uses (holes in the bottom) and since the bags are much heavier and fatter than regular plastic bags, they take more space in a landfill and more space in the trucks that carry them (which then  use more fuel per bag). They’re designed to be degradable and that could be a good thing. But we know that even paper bags don’t degrade significantly faster than their plastic cousins in a landfill. Not enough info on reusable bags yet but MISTER ScienceAintSoBad isn’t real optimistic about them, either.

Then there’s food poisoning.

Which only happens if you let yer bags get nasty.

By reusing them.

Karen Hawthorne (National Post) says we should wash ’em with bleach each time to minimize the chances of getting sick. She describes a study by Sporometrics in Canada. Most of the bags were contaminated. Some were pretty bad.

Wash them? Bleach? EACH time? Electricity, detergent, and bleach? HOW much energy did you say these bags save?

And what about your time? That’s worth nothing?


These bags’re good for all kinds of things. But, if you’re motivated by environmental concerns, they’re a bust.


You’re mad at me?

I’m not surprised.

My wife, best friend and, (she’ll be surprised to learn) editor, hasn’t let me run with my religion article yet. She says I gotta tone it down. Too edgy. Easily misinterpreted. Which really surprises me since it’s very supportive of religious belief and believers (it says, mainly,  that the clash between science and religion is overplayed and overly simplistic).

Well, if you think religion is a touchy area, how about environmentalism?

Screw with those guys and out come the tar pots!

I know it isn’t nice to diss the sacred renewable bag and MISTER ScienceAinSoBad wishes he could be more positive.

You want to register your opinion, here’s a good resource for tar. Feathers are available lots of places, but you can try this one.

Our rating for reusable shopping bags: ScienceAintSoBadRating = 2

(And  that’s generous).

That A Doctor In Your Pocket?

Posted by on Friday, 19 November, 2010


I guess you’ve been watching all the smuggies with their smartphones.

You can live without one, right?

Till now.

Here’s an app so good you gotta buy a phone to carry the app around.

I think I’m serious.

Healthagen developed this thing called iTriage


iTriage’s brilliance is the way it puts a simple interface over medicine. Your phone becomes your Startrek Tricorder. The pain’s in the biceps? All the time? Just at night?

Click “look up symptoms” to search an ordered list of likely symptoms.

Once you think you know what’s causing the problem, you can “Find Medical Treatment” or “Learn About Procedures”.

You can even “Find A Doctor”.

If you don’t understand a medical term you can look that up.

I was chicken to try the “Emergency” button . Was it gonna make an entire team of paramedics materialize right out of the phone? What would I tell ’em? Just looking?

Is iTriage the ultimate “Doctor In A Box”?


Look up “cough” (under symptoms) and you find “ACE inhibitor use”,” atypical pneumonia”, “bronchial asthma”. Lots more. But you don’t find “allergies” (allergy is listed under diseases but you gotta be able to make the connection, yourself). Look up “hearing” or “hearing loss” – nothing. “Ear” gets you to “Ear problem” but you won’t find hearing loss, deafness, or presbycusis  or sensironeural hearing loss (which affects about 300 million people). Not in diseases either.

No step by step instructions for thoracic surgery, either. Could be MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is expecting too much from a new (and free) app.

Itriage is available on Android phones, the Iphone, and on the web. An educational and fun beginning.

By next year you should be able to toss the Tricorder and rely solely on yer phone.


By the way, you like cool interactive ways to learn? Try this INTERACTIVE BOOK .


Posted by on Wednesday, 10 November, 2010



Got a letter from one of my fans.

MisterScienceAintSoBad, you wrote that the manned space program is “stupid”. I think YOU’RE stupid.  – GottaBeHonest41

OK for you, GottaBe. I appreciate your candor. I guess I have been kinda rough on the manned space program. Quoting myself, quoting myself, I did say (talking about a Mars mission):

I don’t want to sound like a broken blog, but this isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the expensive conceit of sending humans to Mars. Quoting myself, “Throughout NASA’s history, there’s been considerable tension between those who believe in the symbolic importance of getting our human butts out there and those who feel that the astronomical (good word here) costs and barely manageable risks aren’t justified when robots are proving themselves so capable.”

You’re not gonna like this much, GottaBe, but  Sara Yin describes (PC Magazine)  a 1000 day project to send an astronaut-like mechanical gizmo to the moon, inspired by the practical reality that we can’t AFFORD to send humans up there during an economic recovery that most people seem to think is still a recession.

Don’t get me started.

In the past, the human or “manned” program had two things going for it:

1. No other choice since, at the time,  robots weren’t good enough.

2. Very dramatic since death always lurked round the corner.

Kept up the public’s interest, it did. A good thing since politicians could leverage the heroics of astronauts to win more public funding for pet space projects. But not much money in the pot these days and new missions are even more dangerous and problematic. Is it even possible to survive a Mars trip? Politicians are being forced to act (relatively) rational. Skip the heroics. You wanna do space? Here’s what I got. What can you do with it, pal?

NASA, it seems, got the message and it’s up with the hardware, down with the fleshware (hence NASA’s humanoid robot). The robot they came up with looks like a spaceman.spacewoman. A dead ringer for a person that’ll be able to use tools designed for human hands.



So. MisterScienceAintSoBad says we should give the robot a name and enough personality for the public to identify with. Big doe eyes too, okay?

I guess I AM kinda pleased to read that NASA has decided to send a robot to the moon all dressed up like an astronaut. There’re about 76 good reasons to do space explorations with robots instead of people at this point.  It’s cheaper, it’s safer, and it advances the art of robotics.

Must be 73 more.

ScienceAintSoBadRating for robotic space missions in lieu of human ones? Why a 10. Of course.

Drawing credit:

By Walké (Image crée à partir de Image:Bote Boas Vindas2.png) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons