Chris Hadfield Not Done Exploring

I doubt anyone expected Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield to have a traditional retirement.  But his latest project makes that clear.  Hadfield is currently on an Arctic icebreaker expedition traveling Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada.  Besides the paying passengers, joining Hadfield on the expedition is the cast of another edition of Hadfield’s Generator touring show.  (Those who miss the Arctic stops can see the program later this year in Canada).

Hadfield intends to have some aspects of this trip – through the Generator cast – presented to a broader audience than those on board the icebreaker.  Exactly what form this takes won’t be clear until after the expedition, but nearly all of the Generator artists joining Hadfield have significant video experience, so I’d expect the output to be heavy on the visuals.  Regardless, I’m looking forward to it.

USPTO Opens Patent Data For Cancer Purposes

Yesterday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a Cancer Moonshot Challenge.  It runs from now until 5 p.m. Eastern on September 12.

The Challenge involves using a curated data set of nearly 270,000 patent documents going back to 1976.  The goal is to analyze, sift and visualize this data to see what insights might be there to speed up progress on cancer cures.  Entrants will develop a visualization to represent these insights, along with a story (1,000 words or less) that supports the visualization and access to the visualization for testing purposes.

Submissions will be judged on five criteria (each weighted equally):

  • Creativity and Innovation – how unique is the approach to the issue and/or the issue itself
  • Evidence Base and Effectiveness – the strength of the evidence and the impact the story has on cancer R&D and/or the public policy process
  • Value to Public – how much value is provided to policymakers and stakeholder communities
  • Usability – visualization should encourage engagement by policymakers and the public
  • Functional Product – visualization should be interactive and function as described

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of August 22

The summer reruns will end soon-ish (none make the list this week).  The Comedy Central programs are off until after Labor Day, and The Nightly Show is already off the schedule.  Of note is that twice in its final week of shows it aired two segments that engaged with a topic that involved science.  One of host Larry Wilmore’s favorite segments was about food deserts, and it was re-run on the August 16th show.  The program took another Super Depressing Deep Dive, this time on opiod addiction.  The show’s previous Super Depressing Deep Dive, on lead poisoning, is perhaps one of the best science-themed segments the show ever did.  As is this latest (and sadly last) Deep Dive.

Two of the cast of Mr. Robot, currently in its second season on the USA Network, appear this week.  Tonight (Monday) Grace Gummer is on Late Night.  She is an FBI agent and new to the program this season.  Rami Malek, who plays the main character (a hacker and activist) is on with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday.

Kate Mara, one of the lead actors in the science fiction film Morgan, will be on The Late Late Show Thursday.  The title character of Morgan is a young girl who was created and developed in a lab, growing up faster than normal.  As you might imagine, things go wrong, and Mara’s character has to come in and assess the situation.  I’ll put the over/under on Frankenstein allusions at 12.

The most interesting science and technology guest this week will probably be Werner Herzog.  He’ll be on with Conan Wednesday night to discuss his latest documentary, which focuses on the influence of the Internet on people.

2016 National Book Festival Continues Trend Of Many Science Offerings

Earlier this month the National Book Festival organizers announced the full slate of authors scheduled to attend the Festival.  Those who will be in the Washington, D.C. area on September 24th can see the Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Once again there is a strong slate of science books featured at the Festival (more on them in a bit).  In addition, there will be a panel at the International Stage on the work of Italian scientist and author Primo Levi.  The Library of Congress – the main sponsor of the event – will have a number of special exhibits of note, including several on the Library’s digital projects.

The authors on the Science Stage are:

James Gleick – a science author who has covered information, chaos theory and Richard Feynman in previous works, tackles time travel in his latest work

Michael Hiltzik – a journalist and author has occasionally dealt in technology topics, with his latest work on Ernest Lawrence

Peter D. Kramer – an author and practicing psychiatrist, his latest book is on antidepressants

Janna Levin – an astrophysicist and author, Levin’s latest book deals with the quest for proof of gravitational waves

Joseph Mazur – a author and mathematics professor, his latest book addresses probability and so-called flukes

Amy Ellis Nutt – a reporter for The Washington Post, Nutt’s latest book covers how one family deals with the gender transition of one of its members

Mary Roach – a science writer who frequently writes about stuff that might be considered gross, is promoting her latest book, which focuses on science and technology developed to support the soldier

Eliezer Sternberg – a neurologist with training in philosophy, Sternberg writes about how what we know about the brain can explain how we make decisions

Eric Weiner – a reporter whose latest book combines travel writing with a history of creative places

Some other authors at the Festival tangle with science or technology matters.  Gene Lueng Yang’s latest Secret Coders work gets into computer programming.  Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez’s latest children’s book covers shipbuilding.  Andrea Beaty’s latest book is about a young scientist.  Holly Robinson Peete co-wrote a book about living with autism.  I’m certain I’ve missed some work featured at the Festival.

Marvel Covers Its STEAM Interests

This week Marvel announced that several of its titles will have STEAM-themed variant covers.  Readers are likely familiar with the STEM acronym – science, technology, engineering and math.  STEAM adds art to the acronym, and can be favored by some advocates (who are generally objecting to the crowding out of many subjects in American education).

In November Marvel will issue variant covers for five of its titles, each one corresponding to a category in STEAM.  As of this posting the images for four of the five titles are available, with the Engineering-themed Iron Man cover not yet available.  Each of the four titles available features a younger superheroine or superheroines, likely intended to appeal to the young people Marvel wants to see in STEAM fields.  The four other covers are:

Science – Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Technology – Spider-man
Arts – Champions
Mathematics – The Unbelievable Gwenpool

While I don’t know enough about comics to be certain, Marvel has perhaps more than its fair share of scientists and engineers who support superheroes or are ones themselves.  While some might complain that the titles selected are relatively obscure, I think most of the Marvel characters that have featured in the last decade of films were obscure as well.

Regardless, this is not the first time (and probably won’t be the last) that Marvel has tried to promote STEM or STEAM disciplines in connection with its comics.  For some of its recent films Marvel has held contests to encourage students (often with an emphasis on girls) to develop projects and/or inventions using STEM skills.  I suppose if someone inspired by these covers or film contests manages a scientific or technological breakthrough, they might get drawn into a panel or two.  Maybe even their own title?

Herzog Documentary On The Internet Out Now

Documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog has released his latest film today, and it focuses on the Internet.  Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is in theaters and available for download. If you don’t recognize Herzog’s name, you still might have heard his voice (or a parody thereof). Check out the trailer and find out.

Herzog’s film is primarily interested in the impacts – actual and potential – of the Internet on our lives.  The film is constructed in short chapters or snapshots, and may not break new ground in terms of history.  It does appear to provide a different way of looking at the wonder of the Internet (both good and bad) and trying to be a bit more reflective about it.

It’s worth noting that the film is presented by NETSCOUT, a company delivering network and application performance and assurance to businesses.  It seems that a senior executive at the company thought Herzog would make an interesting film about the Internet based on his previous film on texting and driving.

It’s Too Early To Get Used To Yet Another SpaceX Landing, Right?

I know, frequent landings of reusable rockets are critical to the long term business plan of SpaceX.  But I think it’s a little too early to think that time has come.

Yes, the company had its sixth successful landing early Sunday, August 14.  Yes, the company’s landing success rate this year is close to 70 percent.  But we do not yet have reusability.  The next step toward that comes next month when SpaceX intends to re-use one of its previously landed rockets for a satellite launching mission.

Here I’ve focused on how SpaceX missions have been doing on the landings, but there’s news on the docking front.  On Friday astronauts on the International Space Station will be installing an International Docking Adapter.  This will facilitate the docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule (as well as the Boeing Starliner) for when U.S. craft will once again be ferrying astronauts to the ISS.

There’s still a lot of new to all of this, after all we’re in the first year of landings like this:

If I found this ordinary today, I’d be worried that I’m tired of life.  I think I’ll need at least another year or two of regular landings for me to find this ordinary.