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Entry 777, on 2008-05-23 at 21:06:53 (Rating 2, Science)
I spotted various interesting technical and science news items today that I would like to share here. There's plenty of commentary already on the (New Zealand government's) latest budget so I will avoid that and move on to more important things!
A new theory attempts to explain the mysterious bands of shadow which are sometimes observed before and after a total solar eclipse. The theory says the bands are caused by infrasound (very low frequency sound) generated by sudden cooling of the atmosphere as the Sun's light disappears along the line of the eclipse. Other researchers have cast doubt on the idea and the current theory that the bands are caused by diffraction effects caused by light from the thin solar crescent reaching the ground through multiple paths is still favoured. Whatever the answer, its interesting that a phenomenon like this still holds some mystery.
Researchers have moved a step closer to developing the ultimate energy source by using a laser to generate a petawatt (1,000 trillion watts) of power which heated an area about 0.01 mm across to a temperature of 10 million degrees for one picosecond (one trillionth of a second). For that brief time there was 100 times the world's total energy production in that one small spot! The temperature is almost equivalent to the center of the Sun but on Earth fusion would require a temperature about 10 times greater because the pressure is so much less. But interestingly researchers expect to demonstrate energy production from laser driven fusion between 2010 and 2012. That's impressive because fusion has been "5 to 10 years away" for about 30 years now!
With the release of the latest Indiana Jones movie there is bound to be a renewed interest in the subject of crystal skulls and their mysterious powers. I hate it when that happens! The most famous skull has been shown to be completely fake because the owner got it through an auction, not from underneath an altar in an ancient Aztec or Mayan temple! According to modern research some were made in a garage using modern power tools, and none are as ancient as claimed. Also the claims of magical powers such as always maintaining the same temperature don't turn out to be true (at least not for the skulls the owners have allowed to be tested, because most owners refuse testing the skulls' claimed properties).
Microsoft's move to adopt an open format for documents created by its (unfortunately) ubiquitous Office product have been met with skepticism in some quarters. I haven't really seen anything specific which would cause this doubt, but I suppose there's no real need for that. Microsoft has a well established history of stifling innovation and making life difficult for competitors because of its monopolistic tactics. They've done that so often that our default position should be that they are likely to do something similar again. Either they will delay introducing interoperability or they will make the tools required so unreliable or badly designed that no one will want to use them. Maybe I'm wrong on this one. I hope so.
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