Last week there were two deaths, close together; one, a class mate of mine from my school and college days; the other, a senior colleague, recently retired. Both untimely and both sudden. When in the thick of work, with the hours rushing by, as I get engrossed in files and meetings, the thought of the fragility of life never enters my mind. And why should it, I wonder: there are certain duties assigned to each of us and performing these duties is at the core of the meaning of life, as I see it. And so I, living life from minute to minute, caught in the moment, ignore tomorrow, ignore the uncertain and the unknowable.

Read the article: Our precious lives

Human survival depends on space exploration – Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking says the colonization of outer space is key to the survival of humankind, predicting it will be difficult for the world’s inhabitants “to avoid disaster in the next hundred years”… Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.

Read the article: Human survival depends on space exploration, says Stephen Hawking

Women are rejecting marriage in Asia. The social implications are serious.

A lot of Asians are not marrying later. They are not marrying at all. Almost a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are unmarried; probably half of those will always be. Over one-fifth of Taiwanese women in their late 30s are single; most will never marry. In some places, rates of non-marriage are especially striking: in Bangkok, 20% of 40-44-year old women are not married; in Tokyo, 21%; among university graduates of that age in Singapore, 27%. So far, the trend has not affected Asia’s two giants, China and India. But it is likely to, as the economic factors that have driven it elsewhere in Asia sweep through those two countries as well; and its consequences will be exacerbated by the sex-selective abortion practised for a generation there. By 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than women in China and India.

Read the article: The decline of Asian marriage: Asia’s lonely hearts

Existential Angst Factory

A widespread excuse for avoiding rationality is the widespread belief that it is “rational” to believe life is meaningless, and thus suffer existential angst. This is one of the secondary reasons why it is worth discussing the nature of morality. But it’s also worth attacking existential angst directly. I suspect that most existential angst is not really existential. I think that most of what is labeled “existential angst” comes from trying to solve the wrong problem.

Read the article: Existential Angst Factory – Less Wrong

Bilingual brain affects research

“The very act of being able to speak, listen, and think in two languages and of using two languages on a daily basis appears to sharpen people’s abilities to pay close attention to a aspects of tasks relevant to good performance,” she added. Research carried out already had also shown having two languages helped protect against the decline in the brain’s abilities when ageing,” she added. “We already know that language processing is one of the most complex activities that our brains carry out.

Read the article: Research to find effects on brain of bilingualism

Is the Bloom Box energy nirvana?

A Silicon Valley inventor claims that a new technology called the Bloom Box will revolutionize how households use the electrical grid. The Bloom Box is a fuel cell that converts oxygen and an energy source – natural gas, biofuels, or even solar – into electricity. K.R. Sridhar, former NASA scientist and founder of Bloom Energy, revealed the technology Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” and plans to hold a news conference Wednesday in San Jose. He envisions every house having a Bloom Box power plant installed in the back yard.

Google, eBay, and FedEx are currently testing the Bloom Box. The prototype devices are the size of refrigerators and cost around $700,000. eBay claims the Bloom Box saved the company $100,000 in annual energy costs. Details on operating and maintenance costs, however, are sketchy. Fuel cell technology has been around for a long time. It normally requires precious metals such as platinum, making it too expensive for widespread applications. Bloom Box fuel cells are constructed instead with ceramic wafers coated with a special ink.

If Sridhar has truly discovered a way to make fuel cells affordable, it will transform the electrical grid. If not, the Bloom Box could be a bust.

Read the article: Bloom Box: Segway or savior?

MIT designs viruses to grow “greener” batteries

Researchers constructed a lithium-ion battery, similar to those used in millions of devices, but one which uses genetically engineered viruses to create the negatively charged anode and positively charged cathode. The virus is a so-called common bacteriophage which infects bacteria and is harmless to humans. “The advantage of using genetics is that things can be made better and better”…

Read the article: Virus battery could ‘power cars’

How Much Energy Goes Into Making a Bottle of Water?

Researchers have calculated that the energy required to produce bottled water is up to 2,000 times more than the energy required to produce tap water. Most people who buy bottled water have access to clean drinking water virtually for free (in the US, tap water costs less than a penny per gallon, on average). Nevertheless, the consumption of bottled water continues to grow, far surpassing the US sales of milk and beer, and second only to soft drinks.

Read the article: How Much Energy Goes Into Making a Bottle of Water?

Are bad sleeping habits driving us mad?

Take anyone with a psychiatric disorder and the chances are they don’t sleep well. The result of their illness, you might think. Now this long-standing assumption is being turned on its head, with the radical suggestion that poor sleep might actually cause some psychiatric illnesses or lead people to behave in ways that doctors mistake for mental problems. The good news is that sleep treatments could help or even cure some of these patients.

Read the article: Are bad sleeping habits driving us mad?