Home' Greymouth Star : March 28th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Tuesday, March 28, 2017
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uLetters to the editor
1791 - Convicts Mary and William Bryant,
their two children and seven other convicts
escape from Port Jackson in open boat to
Timor but are recaptured there.
1797 - American Nathaniel Briggs
of New Hampshire patents a washing
1868 - Death of the Earl of
Cardigan, British general who led
the ill-conceived Charge of the
Light Brigade against the Russians
during the Crimean War.
1920 - Two of Hollywood ’s
greatest stars, Douglas Fairbanks
and Mary Pickford, marry.
1930 - The names of the Turkish cities
Constantinople and Angora are changed to
Istanbul and Ankara.
1941 - British novelist and critic Virginia
Woolf commits suicide in England.
1969 - D wight D Eisenhower, World War
Two general and US president from 1953 to
1961, dies aged 78.
1987 - Maria von Trapp, whose life
inspired the Rodgers and Hammerstein
musical The Sound of Music, dies in the US,
2004 - Death of British actor and
playwright Peter Ustinov, aged 82.
2013 - British actor Richard Griffiths, who
played Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter
films, dies aged 65
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Raphael, Italian artist (1483-1520); Maksim
Gorky, Russian writer (1868-1936);
Michael Parkinson, British tv
personality (1935-); Neil Kinnock,
former British Labour Party leader
(1942-); Ken Howard, US actor
(1944-); Dianne Wiest, US actress
(1948-); Salt (real name Cheryl
James), US rapper of Salt-N-Pepa
fame (1966-); Vince Vaugh, US actor
(1970-); Nick Frost, British actor and comedian
(1972-); Nathan Cayless, former NRL player
(1978-); Lady Gaga, American singer (1986-).
“ You can’t shake hands with a clenched
fist.” — Indira Gandhi, Indian prime minister
and His grace toward me has not been in vain.”
— 1 Corinthians 15:10).
uFood for thought
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hen will the universe
Is it possible to
know when — and
how — our universe
It all depends on unravelling the mystery
of the intriguing materials that make up
95% of the universe, which we now describe
as dark matter and dark energy.
World-renowned United States
theoretical physicist Professor Brian Greene
says there’s a “very good chance” scientists
will have identified dark matter within the
next 20 years.
“My guess is it ’s going to be an exotic
particle of some sort. We have ideas but no
evidence yet one way or another,” he says.
“And the grander mystery is to figure out
what the dark energy is.
“This is energy that fills space and which
was learned about in the late 1990s, but
nobody knows what it is or where it comes
The Large Hadron Collider in
Switzerland, the world’s largest and most
powerful particle accelerator, is one tool
that might help scientists gain fresh
“But there are a number of dark matter
experiments around the world today that
are basically just trying to capture a dark
matter particle that is wafting through
space and goes by the Earth, as opposed to
trying to produce it in a collision, which is
what the collider does,” Greene says.
“And there is a chance that those
experiments will turn up, finally, some
“ We have been going for a long time and
are yet to find anything, but in 20 years,
one way or another, I think we will learn
whether that approach is effective.
“My guess is that we are going to find
Greene considers dark energy to be a
more difficult problem.
If scientists could fully understand what
it was, they could work out what the fate of
the universe would be.
“If the dark energy is weakening over
time, it’s possible that the universe will
expand for a while, reach a maximum size
and then collapse back on itself.
“On the other hand, if the dark energy is
growing over time in strength, then it yields
a far less comfortable future — a future in
which we imagine that the expansion will
speed up so violently that even matter itself
will get caught up in the expansion and be
“So those are the two alternatives: Do
things end in a big crunch or do things end
in a big rip?”
Nanoparticle body patrols
Picture an army of microscopic, man-
made particles marching around our bodies,
picking out potential problems.
This is something Greene believes could
be reality by 2037.
“I think there’s a real good chance that in
20 years, our bodies will be under constant
sur veillance by nanoparticles in the
bloodstream,” he said.
“In the best of all variations of this, any
time some disease starts to take hold, the
nanoparticle patrol will be right there to
stem it before it spreads.”
One particular area of exploration into the
idea of using nanoparticles in the body is in
In mice studies, scientists have
investigated particles that, when injected
into the body, attach only to cancer cells
that have specific antibodies they are
These nanoparticles could be heated by
shining light on the skin surface until they
reached 50degC — enough to kill the cells
the particles were touching.
Already by the turn of this decade,
scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology had designed nanoparticles
targeting the walls of the arteries around
They bind specifically to the proteins that
stick out from the inner lining of these
blood vessels only when they are damaged.
Each nanoparticle was built to target
a specific part of the body and to release
drugs in a controlled manner over a given
period of time. They were so small that
millions of them could be injected into
the bloodstream without harming healthy
Once the nanoparticles took up position
in the diseased arteries, they were
programmed to release small quantities
of drugs over weeks or months to help
cardiovascular patients to recover without
having to expose other parts of the body
to much higher doses of potentially toxic
But Greene envisages nanoparticles that
constantly swam around in our bodies,
running a 24/7 diagnostic check.
“ What I read about suggests that ’s a
reasonable possibility, which would change
the way medicine is administered.
“ We would already be under sur veillance,
as opposed to having to go through the
The recent discovery of Proxima Centauri
b, an exo-planet orbiting within the
habitable zone of the closest star to the sun,
predictably brought up again two questions
long facing scientists.
How many Earth-like planets are there in
Are any of those planets home to
Whether it will be intelligent or not,
Greene says it is not outlandish to think
the next two decades may yield the first
confirmed evidence of extra-terrestrial life.
“As we all know, the number of exo-
planets we have discovered has grown
enormously, even in just the past few
years, and with the ability to measure the
atmospheric chemical makeup of these
exo-planets, we may be able to see the
telltale signatures of biological impact on
“It ’s even possible that we’ ll find evidence
for some kind of microbial life even on
Mars. This really has not been ruled out.”
Even more exciting but more complicated
was the prospect of discovering a form of
life radically different from ours.
“This is not impossible, either, and
that will show that life doesn’t have to
take a unique biological chemical form,
which would change our perspective on
Just how we might find other life is hard
But Greene thinks it unlikely that it
will be using radio telescopes such as the
gigantic Square Kilometre Array being
built in Australia and South Africa.
“The universe is such a big place that for
us to tune in and capture radio signals that
happen to be sent our way — while exciting
and something we definitely need to look
for — a lot of pieces need to fall into place
Not only would this require
extraterrestrial life — which no one has yet
confirmed the existence of — but would
also require that life form to have the
intelligence and technology to transmit
“I don’t think bacteria are likely to be
sending out radio signals that we can
capture,” he said.
“But I love the idea that we are looking
“Do I think it ’s possible to find it in
the next 20 years? Absolutely. But the
uncertainty is enormous.”
Man on Mars
Former President Barack Obama touted
taking the ideas in films like The Martian
and Red Planet from science fiction to
science reality as the “next chapter of
America’s story in space”.
The ultimate colonisation of Mars is also
a goal of SpaceX, the company founded by
billionaire Elon Musk and headquartered
in California. Musk has said he hopes to
send humans to the red planet ’s surface
within 20 years.
Greene is convinced the Obama
administration’s vision — sending humans
to Mars by the 2030s and returning them
safely to Earth, with the ambition to one
day remain there for an extended time —
was a likelihood in the next two decades.
“No doubt. I think there’s enough will
and interest that I do think we’ll have a
presence on Mars in the next 20 years,” he
“But scientifically, that ’s a dubious
proposition as the technical details and the
danger and cost of sending humans to Mars
is unclear. As is whether it gives enough
scientific benefit to make it all worth it.”
The Martian environment is extremely
inhospitable. It has Antarctic temperatures,
no water, little oxygen and gravity, and
deadly amounts of carbon dioxide — not to
mention that the Sun’s UV radiation would
fry exposed skin.
But first, colonists would have to get
there, making a 225 million kilometre,
eight-month journey in a craft yet to be
Just breaking free of Earth’s gravity
requires an escape velocity of 40,000kph, or
11km a second, but our planet ’s orbit would
mean the spacecraft would be speeding
around the Sun at 150,000kph.
Although unmanned craft have arrived
at Mars at a speed of 20,000kph and
used a heat shield for initial deceleration,
a solution to landing humans safely on
Martian soil is still not obvious.
“But certainly from the standpoint of
excitement, there’s nothing that can beat
moving on to the final frontier,” Greene
“So I think there will be widespread
support to do that and I think it ’s likely we
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a cute thing
to consider: Think Rosie from The Jetsons,
or the burger-flipping robot that this
month completed its first day on the job at
a restaurant in California.
But the certainty of a future of daily
interaction with intelligent machines
can also be terrifying, especially when we
ponder the kind of AI being designed by
Cambridge and Microsoft engineers —
potentially advanced enough to write its
It is a short step from the creepy concepts
explored with Skynet in Terminator or
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Then there is the emerging topic of robot
Recent research by consultants McKinsey
and Co found nearly half of jobs in the
United States could be automated by
technology that already exists.
Whatever its form, Greene says it is very
likely, in the next 20 years, that we will have
truly functional artificial intelligence as part
of our daily lives. “ That ’s both exciting to
some and frightening to others,” he said.
“My personal view is that there’s nothing
particularly special about intelligence that
resides in the wet, smooshy, grey thing
inside a human skull.
“And if we are able to generate a version
of intelligence that lives within a different
environment, a mechanical, a silicon, or
any kind of version of a computer-based
intelligence, to me that ’s an exciting step
“I do think that within the next 20 years
we are going to make incredible strides
toward that. And we may encounter the
interesting situation of having interactions
with artificial intelligence.”
In the year 2037
Will we land on Mars? Discover other life forms? Usher in the age of artificial
intelligence. Celebrity scientist Professor Brian Greene talked to JAMIE MORTON of
the New Zealand Herald about five big developments we can expect in the next 20 years.
‘ Tv burglars’ forsook
their sets sometime
over the weekend
and paid considerable
attention to the Greymouth offices of the
Social Security Department. They did more
note-writing than burgling.
“ Would you believe this safe was opened
with a crowbar?” “Would you believe 10 tons of
TNT?” “Would you believe a tin opener?”
These were just some of the notes on the main
safe, which had in fact been prised open.
“They were obviously not experts,” said a
rueful registrar Mr R D Magon today. “ They
made a real mess.” But so far Mr Magon and
his staff can discover nothing of value that has
been taken though it will take some time to
check all the files.
To date some 149 Post Office staff members
have attended briefing courses on decimal
currency and 80 have been through cash
handling courses. By June 23, all staff in the
Greymouth postal district which extends as far
south as Okuru will have been instructed in
decimal currency to assist the public after the
changeover on July 10.
“The Post Office is expected to assist the
public in any problems with decimal currency,
and preparations have been going on for three
years,” chief postmaster Mr M R Terry said.
Peter the white heron is back at the
Gladstone home of Mrs E D Muir for the 14th
consecutive year and, as usual, is being treated
Peter’s favourite diet is a mouse and any
trapped by neighbours are produced for the
heron. Usually he eats bullock’s liver sliced in
thin strips, sliced herring and whitebait.
After Hurricane Sandy battered New
York in 2012, American entrepreneur
Ramsey Green and his partners came up
with an innovative way to protect houses
from extreme weather — one that would
also be affordable for their occupants.
The startup My Strong Home, which
works in the coastal areas of Alabama,
Louisiana and South Carolina, allows
homeowners to pay for a new, reinforced
roof out of savings from the lower
insurance bills they get thanks to their
dwelling being safer.
Green estimates that potential losses in
a storm would be 30 to 60% lower in the
strengthened homes. The work, carried
out by the firm’s contractors, typically
costs around $10,000. Participants make
a down-payment of between $2000 and
$3000, and pay back the rest over five to
“There is also a public benefit in terms of
people not being displaced in a disaster,”
Green said this month at a New Orleans
conference on resilience, which tackled
how to fund projects that help cities,
communities and individuals stand up to
disasters and other threats.
When it comes to reducing risks, the
problem is not a shortage of ideas but
rather a lack of cash to put them into
practice, said experts in the city that has
largely bounced back from the destruction
wrought by deadly Hurricane Katrina in
Phillip Kash, a resilience consultant
with urban development group HR and
A Advisors, said it remained a challenge
to turn into revenue the gains from
equipping real-estate developments and
other infrastructure to better withstand
storms, floods and other natural hazards.
“The resilience benefits are not the
benefits that are paying for the projects
yet,” he told a discussion on bankrolling
That is why philanthropic dollars
from organisations like The Rockefeller
Foundation — which backed the
development of My Strong Home —
or government grants such as the US
National Disaster Resilience Competition
are key to making the case that investing
in stronger property and community
cohesion yields financial returns, he added.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
said it was still harder to persuade elected
representatives to pay for measures to
reduce disaster risks before a crisis than to
get them to appropriate money to clean up
“ We haven’t done a good job of telling
that story of why it makes no sense not
to invest upfront in resilience,” he said.
Having concrete examples of the financial
benefits of doing so to feed into public
policy discussions would help, he noted.
Efforts are under way to quantify what
has been labelled the “resilience dividend”,
with the New York-based Rockefeller
Foundation leading the charge.
Together with the RAND Corporation,
a non-profit research organisation, it has
developed a model to value the economic
and social worth of resilience work, in
the hope of enlisting more support from
In one case, RAND assessed projects by
aid agency Oxfam in south-east Pakistan
that aim to cushion farmers from the
negative effects of food price swings.
To cut their reliance on loans from
middlemen and crop losses due to extreme
weather, farmers received a season’s worth
of agricultural inputs, while grain banks
and co-operatives were set up.
RAND estimated Oxfam’s inter vention
increased agricultural income by
approximately 20% — or $400 — per
household in the year after it was made,
enabling families to spend more on farm
equipment and goods at local businesses,
or on their children’s education.
Longer term, farmers changed the way
they worked, using new fertilisation and
cropping practices, it found.
At the New Orleans conference,
Janice Barnes, global resilience director
with architecture and design firm
Perkin+Will, emphasised the importance
of understanding how risks can escalate
In a community that is regularly flooded,
for example, mould in homes may lead
to chronic disease problems, making it
a public health issue that goes beyond
Identifying good reasons to prevent
flooding — in this broader sense — can
help open up more funding streams and
a wider range of potential backers, she
Jeff Herbert, chief resilience officer for
New Orleans, said cities should try to be
creative with the existing cash in their
municipal budgets rather than always
seeking new sources.
“ Look at the large amount of money
you already have. Figure out how to
programme that in the ways that make
sense to build a more resilient city — and
then also add on the funds you want to get
outside of that,” he told the conference.
New Orleans, for example, has an annual
budget of over $1 billion which can be
used to boost the city’s resilience across
the board, Herbert said. But it has also
won a national government award of
$141 million to demonstrate how building
green infrastructure in one district can
reduce flooding and improve well-being.
As cities are waking up to the need to
bolster themselves against the growing
risks of climate change and surging urban
populations, more are earmarking funds
for that purpose.
Almost 30 of the 100 cities in a network
backed by The Rockefeller Foundation
have pledged to commit 10% of each year’s
budget towards resilience-building goals
and projects without raising additional
funds or taxes, noted Samuel Carter, the
foundation’s managing director.
Meanwhile, New Orleans has recently
adopted a policy that all municipal
departments should consider how they can
help meet the goals of the city’s resilience
strategy when planning budgets, he added.
“That is transformative,” he said.
Staying safe from disasters
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
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