Nature is the Artist's Eternal Muse, We Must Protect It
Neonicotinoid chemicals where invented to allow farmers to spray their crops once only as seeds in an indoor environment. The novel pesticide was designed to protect the plants through-out their life but to not spread excess poison into the environment. This would ensure that only bugs affecting the crop plant would be dosed. It sounded great and farmers around the world all signed up to take part in this seemingly eco-conscious alternative.
Then the bees started to die, not just a bit but in serious numbers. Estimates have predicted extinctions within our life-times if trends continue. The major change in the world of flowering plants that coincided with this sudden decline was the introduction of the neonicotinoid pesticides. A casual relationship at first, with no proof of a genuine link, the world of agriculture wiped their brows and continued to apply the new chemical.
Environmental groups began to apply pressure, and with studies undertaken to show the link between neonicotinoids and the bee deaths mounting up, eventually a few and by no means all global administrations agreed to curb their use. The problem didn't go away, and the deaths are still affecting us on a global scale. Pollinating flowering plants is a vital function of flying insects and without them we'd lose many fruits and seeds.
As recently as last October, a paper was released in the journal Science which showed proof that neonicotinoid molecules were present in honey. This is the product of bees that we eat ourselves, and knowing it contains this pesticide is a little off putting. Perhaps that's why this discovery wasn't made big news as our farming communities probably need the sales.
This is something of great importance though, as the knock on effects of losing bees would be extremely harmful to our ecosystem. Using natural methods to eliminate pests is of course the best way to do so, and by remembering that not all mini-beasts want to eat the crop but what lives on them can help us find ways of attracting the right communities that keep things in check.
Finding ways to protect nature and keep our greedy hands from damaging what is left of it is something that most of us want to do, and so politicians find ways of promoting this ethic in order to win votes. It's no coincidence that Brazil are about to have elections this year and that their government exceeded their promise to protect a certain quota of marine life by protecting not one but two sites of extreme importance.
What was once a meagre 1.5% of protected waters has now been increased to a much more promising 24.5%. The Convention of Biodiversity recommends a manageable 10% for all coastal nations by 2020 so this makes the South American giant a true world leader in the promotion of this modern and vital world view.
The surprising and much needed announcement was made during the 8th World Water forum, which took place last Friday March 23rd, hosted by Brazil. The United Nations Environment Executive Director, Erik Solheim, was present to receive the fantastic news. It is hoped that this inspires other nations to also take the lead in this area.
The protected areas lay in remote areas away from the coast of main Brazil. An archipelago chain at Sao Pedro and Sao Paulo receive the special treatment as do a volcanic island chain linking Trindade Island to the Martin Vaz Archipelago. The exquisite array of marine life that lives there include three species of turtle, twelve species of whale and dolphin, and several types of shark and ray.
We can all do our bit to protect the environment, and help it along as well. Many people set up one of these bee homes at the back of their garden. It gives them somewhere to hide and stay warm.
It's another level of technology compared to the computers we are all used to. Giving the world quantum computing will change how computers operate on a fundamental level. Everything will pretty much have to start again, new languages, new models, and new research.
Computers of the modern day work on a voltage based system in which there is either a voltage or there isn't. This reveals a binary code of yes/no which is then streamed in long lines which each instruct various parts of the computer to operate and how. Machine code is the step-up language from binary and this is often how the first computer programs are made. Linking the machine code to binary commands is a job for the pioneers in technology development. Higher level languages use the machine code to form larger and more complex functions that can be called with new commands.
Quantum will change all this. Traditional computers store binary in bits, which are either on or off. A quantum bit or Qubit can be on and off at the same time, thus holding much more information. They do this by storing information in the form of a photon of light with particular quantum qualities. The various qualities of the photon determine the state of the Qubit, and therefore what information is represents to the machine. By storing information in much smaller packages, the efficiency of the machines stands to improve greatly. But this isn't the only thing we can expect. Faster, more efficient, and completely different looking hardware are one aspect but how can this be applied in the best way, what will we actually do with it?
The most obvious area of research that quantum computers are going to be best at is particle physics. Because of the very nature of their mechanics, the devices themselves act as particle physics experiments. Once they are completely compatible and predictable, they can be used to run further particle physics experiments and then compute the data using a particle physics based system. This will keep the data in a true to form state. The physics involved in particle equations is nearly always highly detailed and complex. It's clear that anyone who can do the equations is highly intelligent in this area so the computers will be able to do what the majority of us can only dream of.
Weather prediction is something that famously takes us a lot of computing power. Successfully modelling the Earth's atmosphere in a mathematical and dynamic way is still an area of serious research. Although the weather can be predicted fairly accurately for a few days, any more time adds huge amounts of uncertainty. Quantum weather computing will be able to manufacture weather maps based on a much higher level of data which will ultimately reduce the scope for error. The limitations on weather prediction are always enforced by how much data there is. We know the formula and we know the processes but we can't say how they will happen and when without having the right information. Predicting this accurately will be easier once the machines can do more sums with more variables.
The banking sector uses computing to predict markets and artificial intelligence is already being used to choose which investments to make or break. The systems are becoming even more accurate with each new wave of technology, and much like weather prediction, predicting the financial climate can also be done with quantum computers. Of course we cannot predict unforeseen circumstances which arise in business all the time however with the markets in question, the majority of businesses run in predictable and extremely well-managed ways. Famous examples of this not happening are known. This can also be plotted into the data with contingency plans artificially formulated that ensure longevity of the investment scheme. This will hopefully lead to a much more stable and prosperous economic climate.
The reason encryption works so well is that in order to crack the code with traditional digital computing, the computer would need to spend a lot of time in doing so. A quantum computer will speed things up to such an extent that even the hardiest of encryption would be crackable. This will make a lot of how we encrypt our data obsolete. Finding new ways to make things secret and non-readable to outsiders is going to be paramount to make businesses and governments safe. Knowing this fact is part of the problem already solved, and research is ongoing to find encryption methods which cannot be broken by even quantum machines. Using the technology against itself is one area open to study, and quantum entanglement has been shown to operate distant apparatus, opening doors to new types of quantum key.
Laboratories are always looking into new molecules that can perform various functions for us. These can be in industry, farming, medicine, food, etc. Quantum computers will be able to model the functions of complex molecules to much greater clarity than a traditional system. The science of many sectors will be given a massive boost by the ability of new quantum computers to design molecules and chemical amalgams which can do even more jobs that we either can't do or want to do better.
Perhaps the most important part of the whole quantum computing project is the scope for artificial intelligence. Some people have likened our own brains to quantum computers, and so it can be imagined that when we increase the cognition resolution of a machine to a high degree, extreme intelligence can be produced. Rather than a human brain that is linked to biological systems and full of information that perhaps is not all accurate or helpful, a quantum intelligence will have just one purpose and only the right information. This intelligence will no doubt then be linked to all the other pre-mentioned areas of research to fully utilise this modern and world-changing way of doing mathematics.
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It's that time again, and the daffodils and buttercups are almost ready to show themselves. We've had a really cold winter in many parts of the world this year, so having dashes of colour dotted around will really refresh the senses. Many of us love to snap the dragon-snaps, myself included, and making images that people love is extra rewarding.
When getting up close and personal with the pansies, make sure that the camera is set to macro. This tells the software to pay particular attention to detail. It won't like taking shots of landscapes in the mode, it's designed to make the most of the close up shots. Even a smartphone with a macro setting can take a great image, however the bigger and better the camera, the more scope and depth to the photographs.
If the shade from the camera is spoiling the flower, or if there is a shadow in the shot somewhere because of how close you are, just take a step back and apply the zoom. A tad of digital zoom won't do much damage, or if you have optical then take as much slack as you need. It's better to get a perfect image without the shadow. You can always turn around and face the flower from another direction, if its facing the right way. Placing the sun behind the flower brings out different qualities than from when it is in front or to the side.
Look for the weather conditions. Different light levels and sky colours will bring out various aspects of the flower, as will moisture in the air. Sometimes raindrops can make a great addition to plants in photography. Some photographers bring a spray bottle to moisten the plants before shooting them.
Make use of manual focus. The smart software will choose what it thinks is the best focal length, and we have the option to over-ride this function. Usually the smart focus does a good job but when we are taking a shot of something like a flower, the differences in length between various vital parts of it are very small. This makes it a bit trickier to find the perfect focus and so we can choose to set it ourselves. Just adjust the setting while watching the image and stop when it looks the best.
Focus stacking is a technique used when taking highly detailed shots. The camera is placed in a fixed position and then several photographs are taken at increasing degrees of focus. This then brings out the varying degrees of the image one at a time. This series of images can then be merged to produce one image in which all the clarity of each focal point is allowed to dominate. This requires software and a bit of experience working with layers. Some cameras have auto stacking functions which cut out all the hard work.
Play with perspectives. Sometimes a direct shot only gets the surface of a thing, and when we look at something from an unusual or stylised angle, the personality of an object can be revealed in better detail. The surroundings will change as the angle is altered, lines will flow and shading will evolve. Watch for correlations in the lines of the object and the lines of the background and see if there are any alignments that can be captured.
Last of all, have a lot of fun!!
Love to paint? This ideal 4 station art easel for children will keep them busy for hours. Why not join in?
Far out exploration space-craft New Horizons has a new destination. In 2019, the flying science experiment is due to meet up with Ultima Thule. Otherwise known as 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object orbits the Sun at around one billion miles from Pluto. All Kuiper Belt objects are found beyond the range of the main planets, however Ultima Thule luckily lies in the same flight path of our clever hand-made meteor.
The New Horizons probe was originally sent to examine Pluto in 2006. It got there in great time, thanks to a boost from Jupiter's gravity in 2007. It has delivered a stunning selection of images which enthrall astronomers and space fans around the world. Now that the craft has flown past the planetoid, the new destination was chosen to further build on our understanding of this outback part of our solar system.
No scientist has ever taken data from such a distant object up close, only our telescopes give us clues about what can be found beyond. This fly-by will give us an immediate view of the distant object which gives us much more data to read. The new nick-name for MU69 was decided by a write in system. Over a hundred-thousand people wrote in with suggestions, and after much debate the name Ultima Thule was chosen. It wasn't the most popular name, which was in fact the name of Thor's hammer Mjolnir. Perhaps unsuitable for this small rock over a billion miles away, Ultima Thule ranked in at seventh just above Tiramisu.
The name is historical, and it means Beyond the Known World. In antiquity, it has been used as a name for the British Isles, Norway and Iceland. Now adopted for the next thing in distant places we can just about get to, it does seem fitting. A permanent name will be chosen once the data has been collected in 2019. With billions of known but unnamed objects in the catalogue, perhaps there could be a way of giving everyone a chance to put their name on the map.
Feral dogs can be a problem, they breed freely and invade people's space. Abandoning animals is wrong, pet owners who dump their dogs are just as much to blame for the problems these animals cause as the animals themselves. Something I did a few years ago was to release a non-profit poetry book which directly funds an animal rescue project in Bulgaria. That's one way to help solve the problem of stray and feral dogs, and one I think is very worthwhile.
However,in India around 200,000 people die each year from rabies. This infection is most commonly passed on by feral dogs who bite people. It is a difficult illness to cure and prevention is not easy. It has been shown though that leopards who live in or nearby cities have diets which include these troublesome animals. As citizens often fear the big cats, they are considered as unwelcome visitors by many. Yet if the word can get out that these predators are reducing rabies in a big way then nature can come to the rescue.
The data gathered by Chris O'Bryan and Alexander Braczkowski from the University of Queensland showed that 35 leopards living in Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park were eating around 1500 dogs a year. The New Scientist reported that estimates predict this prevents around 1000 rabies infections a year. A natural remedy for a real problem has already been secretly saving lives, and now research has shown it, steps can be taken to help it along.
How would you feel about letting your children play outside if you knew there were leopards prowling the streets? Any more fearful than with rabid dogs? I'm not sure. If a person is brought up with these things as the norm, then it simply is a matter of life like a fast moving truck. We generally know how to avoid them.
Back when birds had teeth and clawed fingers, when neighbouring dinosaurs munched on the trees, there was an egg. This particular egg hatched into a species of baby bird that has not graced the skies for 66 million years. For nearly 200 million years, this family of feathered ancestors bred and flew among the great beasts of legend.
The fossil contains one of the rarest bird species known, and the fact it is a baby makes the specimen one of the smallest in the world. Perhaps their size made it easy for them to be scavenged or destroyed by some other means which makes finding their fossil skeletons extremely tricky today. Enantiornithines like this fossil are not identical to birds of the modern day but their lineage is direct which makes studying them useful in the quest for understanding how birds evolved.
Fabian Knoll of ARAID-Dinopolis and the University of Manchester has been leading a team of researchers in the process of examining the fossil. A multi-national team of specialists from the UK, USA, Sweden, and Spain have been using cutting edge technology to see details never before examined. Particle accelerators were used to finely scan the skeleton and this determined that the chick's sternum or breastbone was still made of cartilage, meaning it was unable to fly.
The chick is reported to be around the size of a little finger, and weighs ten grams. It appears to be fresh from the egg, with little post-hatching development. This snapshot of a newly hatched prehistoric bird gives evolutionary scientists further insight into how these creatures became so successful. Their strength as a species extended as far to which many of their features are still used in today's birds.
The debate is open as to whether this type of bird was born mobile like a chicken or blind and bare like a blackbird. With the type of conditions the creatures may have lived in, perhaps only a fast developing baby would have had the ability to flourish into adulthood and leave a legacy spanning millions of years.
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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