Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Pluto Was Removed As a Planet

Ever wondered why Pluto was declassified as a planet in 2006?

The largest known trans-neptunian objects.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto was classified as the ninth planet in our Solar System. This would be taught in classrooms for nearly a century, until science began having a better understanding of what shape our Solar System really has and how it works.

In 2006, Pluto was declassified as a Planet because of new definitions set forth by the IAU (International Astronomical Union), which listed three mandatory rules in order for a solar object to be classified as a "planet" in our Solar System. In order to be classified as a planet, the object should:

1) Be in orbit around the Sun,
2) Has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a round shape), and
3) Have "cleared the neighbourhood" around its orbit.

Pluto failed to meet the standards of rule three, which essentially means that the solar object must have sufficiently much larger mass than its neighboring bodies. For example, Earth's mass is much larger than the moon and other neighboring bodies that are around a radius close enough to Earth.

The reason why Pluto failed to meet the third rule is essentially because of the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a large "ring" of asteroids and other foreign objects that orbit our Sun, but are outside of the general Solar System's vicinity. The green marks below identify objects that are in the Kuiper Belt:

The Solar System and the Kuiper Belt.
Wikimedia Commons

Contrary to what astronomers originally thought, Pluto was not orbiting the Sun on its own. It was among thousands of other objects, some near the mass of Pluto, all orbiting the Sun in the Kuiper Belt. By studying the trajectory of these objects in the Kuiper Belt, astronomers were able to understand that Pluto was simply a larger mass that stood out among the other Kuiper Belt objects.

A large reason why the search for a 9th planet was started was due to the fact that Neptune's orbit is not currently completely explained. This is because Neptune's orbit is more skewed than it should be due to Uranus--meaning that something with a large mass--further out of Neptune's orbit is acting on Neptune, changing its trajectory. This search for this "Planet X" continues to this day. Scientists have identified a few new "plutoids" such as Eris and Sedna. However, they do not have the mass necessary to cause the skew in Neptune's orbit.

Pluto was simply a misidentification by scientists in the search for Planet X which is responsible for the skew in Neptune's orbit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oil Breaks $100 a Barrel

Yesterday, U.S. oil prices settled at $98.10 a barrel. This is an increase of 2.8% from the day before. A more important numerical barrier was reached, as U.S. Oil broke $100 a barrel during trading.


The increase in price can be attributed to the large amount of unrest in Libya, Bahrain, and other countries wherein protests are continuing with no end in sight. It is estimated that Libya has cut off around one-third of its daily oil output--a major revenue generator for the country.

Historically, Oil remained between $70 and $85 between September 2009 and November 2010, according to Wall Street Journal Market Data. However, with the recent crisis in Egypt, followed by a trickling effect in nearby countries, Oil is expected to spike in the near future.

Many can remember the high Oil prices in October 2008, when U.S. prices were so high, some people avoided driving altogether. In fact, this Tuesday was the first time that U.S. prices touched $100 a barrel since October 2008.

Some nations are attempting to help with their own Oil output in response to Libya's sharp decline in Oil exports. However, Libya's crude Oil is of a higher quality--so demand is still there for crude Oil, however supply is limited.

Commodity prices have been skyrocketing recently, with Cotton (great article on it here), Soybeans, and Cocoa all trading much higher than initially predicted. Now it appears that Oil can be added to that same list.

Let's just hope that these trading prices are only temporary and not long-term.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Three Useful Windows Shortcuts

I wanted to mention three useful Windows shortcuts in today's post. Some of these you may already know, some you may not. However, they are all very practical and useful, so read on!


The first shortcut is a classic take on the CTRL + ALT + DEL shortcut to open up task manager. The original CTRL + ALT + DEL was made so that it would require two hands to execute the shortcut.

In newer versions of Windows, CTRL + ALT + DEL takes you to the user page instead of opening task manager.

Shortcut 1: To quickly open task manager, try CTRL + SHIFT + ESC on the left side of the keyboard. This saves time and opens up task manager as before.

The second shortcut is useful if you have a lot of windows open and simply want to view your desktop. In Windows 7, this can be done by clicking the little rectangle near the clock. However, a faster way of doing it is as follows:

Shortcut 2: To "minimize" all windows and show the desktop, do WINDOWS KEY + D. This will quickly show only your desktop and minimize all of the windows. Very useful if you multitask a lot.

The last shortcut is pretty common knowledge, but I will share it since not everyone may know. It is an easy way to browse between your open windows to choose which window(s) you want active.

Shortcut 3: Press and hold down the left ALT key while pressing the left TAB key to browse through your open windows. Keep pressing TAB until you get to the window you want to open, and then release both the ALT and TAB keys and the window will be active.

There you have it. Three simple but useful shortcuts for Windows!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Problem with Black Holes

We've all heard of Black Holes and how their massive weight and gravitational influence shape our galaxies. In fact, it is now estimated that most galaxies have a supermassive black hole residing at their centers which may have played a large part in facilitating growth at the early stages of the galaxy's formation.

A Black Hole's gravitational pull is strong enough to prevent light from escaping it. Light travels at approximately 299,792,458 meters a second (~186,000 miles per second). One can only imagine what type of extreme gravitational force would be necessary to keep even light from escaping the depths of a Black Hole.

An artist's conception of a Black Hole. Source:

However, more intriguing than the Black Hole's massive gravitational pull and weight is its size. What many don't seem to know about a Black Hole is that it is infinitely small. In fact, a Black Hole is smaller than a grain of sand. Doesn't make sense, does it? How something so small can weigh so heavy? That's the exact problem with Black Holes that physicists have been working on for years now.

There are two types of theories at work at the inside of a Black Hole, which makes it more unique than almost any other interstellar object.

Atomic properties at the quantum level. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The first is that since the Black Hole is nearly infinitely small, physicists must utilize the laws of quantum mechanics in order to understand the properties at the tiny level. For those of you who don't know, quantum mechanics is the "weird" world of physics where particles don't behave as we would expect them to in the macro world. For instance, random occurrences occur that have probabilities attached to them; however, their nature still appears somewhat random to scientists. This causes a problem because as we move up the ladder and look at what is going on at the macro level, patterns appear (i.e., electrons and protons, their respective behaviors).

A conceptual image of the laws of general relativity (ball rolling and curving space-time). Source:

The second theory important to the study of Black Holes is general relativity. A theory by Albert Einstein that revolutionized our understanding of the universe; it plays an important part in understanding Black Holes due to their gargantuan mass. General relativity is necessary in order to understand how massive objects such as stars, planets, and other objects in the universe move due to curvature in space-time. And due to the fact that Black Holes have such high masses, the laws of general relativity are important in understanding how they should behave. This brings us to the main problem with Black Holes.

Quantum mechanics and general relativity do not seem to like each other mathematically. They are in a sense, almost two different instruments that are playing their own tunes to the universe. They both have this harmonious way of summarizing how things act in their respective worlds (microscopic level for quantum mechanics, macroscopic level for general relativity. However, both theories seem to hate each other mathematically when brought together. Things don't quite add up--the math falls apart. And the problem with Black Holes is that they are infinitely small and infinitely massive--meaning that we would need to use both theories in order to understand Black Hole entirely.

Many physicists are working on a grand unification theory to help solve this problem in Physics. Theories such as String Theory and "The God Equation" are constantly being worked upon by physicists around the world in order to reach a grand unification theory that would bring together the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity in one. Until then, we can only imagine how harmonious and powerful such a unified theory can be.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We use 100% of our brains, not 10%

I was surprised when I heard from a student in a classroom once that "we use 10% of our brains". I thought this myth was already widely known to be false.

The 10% myth can be attributed to a study that was done in the late 19th to early 20th century which discovered that only around 10% of the total neurons in the brain fire simultaneously. This led to the widely held misconception that humans use only around 10% of their total brain.

Source: TopNews Health

Think about it: controlling our breathing rate, blood pressure, digestive enzymes, pH level, muscular systems, auditory and visual systems--all with 10% of our brain power. And this is without any "thinking" or other "voluntary" functions such as talking or writing a term paper.

There are many webpages on the Internet which dispel this myth. One such website is here.

In addition, there are many arguments against the 10% theory. Take for example injury to the brain. The brain is very sensitive to injury, and almost any area in the brain, if injured, leads to a loss of abilities from that respective area. The brain compensates for this by recovering itself, and usually redirecting the abilities that that area was responsible for to another area in the brain. If the 10% brain theory was true, then if most areas of the brain were injured, it would not be harmful since only 10% of the brain is utilized. This, although not my favorite argument, is an example for the types of arguments against the 10% brain theory.

Not to mention that modern science has dissected the brain thoroughly to find that nearly every part of the brain has a specific function amidst a labyrinth of other functions.

I just wanted to put it out there for those who do not know yet. We do not use 10% of our brains.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fragmentation and Solid State Drive Prominence

Ever threw your clothes around in the room, and regretted it when you came home and had to find that one piece of clothing you wanted to wear?

That's pretty much what your traditional hard drive has to go through every day when you use your computer. It happens because of file fragmentation. In order to retrieve information for a single file, that file may be broken into several "parts" which are stored on different parts of the hard drive. Once the hard disk spins enough times for the head to read all of the parts and "find" the file, you're probably wondering why your computer is getting slower.

Fragmentation is common on almost all applications. From databases to consumer computers. Defragmenting a computer is usually the first and most reliable solution to fix this solution. Think of defragmentation as if a maid always stayed in your room and kept your clothes organized (wouldn't we all love that?). The problem with defragmentation is that it usually takes a long time.

However, with Solid State Drives--which are quickly gaining prominence--defragmenting the drive takes much less time than a traditional hard drive. Since there are no moving discs in a Solid State Drive (think of it like a giant flash drive), the problem with the head "searching" for the missing parts no longer occurs. Technically, it does still occur, but with significantly less delay. In addition, SSDs are simply much faster with fragmentation than traditional hard drives, because of their non-moving spindles and memory modules.

Top: traditional hard drive. Bottom: Solid State Drive. Source:

When SSDs first came out, they were very expensive with little capacity. Recently however, SSDs have finally been introduced into laptops as part of a standard configuration for some models. As SSDs gain more market share, we can all be guaranteed a smoother computer experience, as read times are significantly reduced with SSDs (near instantaneous program starts, boots, and other things we do every day).

Today, an average SSD costs more than the average hard drive. Is it worth the current price premium? I think it is. When SSD prices drop even further, the choice will be almost no choice at all as SSDs do nearly everything better than traditional hard drives.

Originally designed by IBM in 1954 (yes, 1954), the hard drive is old technology.

The good news is that I believe we are all seeing the transition of another obsolete medium for storing and retrieving data, being replaced with something significantly better in performance.

Who knows, maybe one day you can tell your kids: "Can you believe it? We used hard disks that actually spun inside our computers at your age."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Google vs. Apple in Electronic Media

In the competition between corporations over electronic media distribution over tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices--a new system is in to compete with the dominant player: Apple. It appears that Google is offering a new payment/distribution service for publishers wanting to get their media onto tablets and smartphones. It's called Google One Pass.

The main difference between Google One Pass and the Apple iTunes App Store is that Google One Pass takes 10% of their revenue from the sale while Apple iTunes App Store takes ~30% of the revenue from the sale. I for one am glad to see Google stepping it up to compete against such a big controller of the market for tablet PCs and smartphones.

And with Borders filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just today, it looks like the competition is only going to heat up among electronic distribution in the coming years. Electronic-only publications like "The Daily" which introduced itself on the Apple iPad recently are also gaining popularity among consumers. If Google is able to gain a strong percentage with publishers, then the market will only become more heated up--since Google has its own Android platform to compete with Apple's proprietary Apple iPhone platform (iOS).

Looking forward to seeing how this one turns out in the long run.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Whole 4G Mess

I don't understand why so many people are getting hyped on this "4G" revolution. Federal regulations don't have a standardized meaning for what speeds "4G" can be, and so it is possible for any telecommunications corporation to advertise "4G" speeds.

Take for instance, AT&T's new recent renaming of their 3G service into 4G, covered in the Wall Street Journal article here, where the title reads "AT&T Relabels Wireless Network, Speed Up Next Generation Rollout".

The key here is the word "relabel". It is very easy to misinform consumers into thinking that a company's "4G" speeds are significantly faster than their 3G speeds, when little or no changes have been made to support such a claim. However, some companies are in fact rolling out faster connection speeds for mobile phones. One of the nation's biggest cellular carriers, Verizon Wireless, has been working on their new LTE network, which is schedule to go live later this year. Such networks do have significantly faster speeds--but it makes me wonder if they will be called "4G" or tagged along with some other term to lure consumers in. Verizon apparently is calling their new network "4G LTE"--just the right combination of new technological terms (LTE) and old favorites (X-G speeds).

It gets even more interesting when looking at the overall picture and the cellphones that will have to advertise "4G Capability". In that perspective, the entire market seems to be pushing for faster network speeds; whether or not any of the titles slapped onto these networks are genuine indicators of their speed is another story. However, if there's a demand for faster speeds, you can sure bet that corporations will supply consumers with that speed. It's just a matter of who rolls out the faster network first.

In a way, it can be called a race for telecommunications corporations to win the speed race.


China and the World

So all the talk has been about China and its increasing rank in the world’s economic super powers. Just today (February 14, 2011), Japan released its Q4 GDP report which formalized the fact that China is now the world’s second largest economy by GDP.

This is quite a significant leap for a country that has often been looked upon as a place to simply outsource your labor onto. However, with China’s control on rare-earth commodities like neodymium, its increasing middle class, as well as its population muscle power–it seems like China is going to soon obliterate the decades-old perspectives that others have about the ancient country.

What does this mean for the global economy? Well, for one thing, people will have to pay more attention to China–politically and financially. With recent photographs of China’s new built-from-the-ground-up stealth fighter named the J-20 Prototype, it is clear that China has the not only the manpower, but the knowledge to support its rise to power, as manufacturing a stealth aircraft fighter from the ground up is one of the most sophisticated tasks in terms of national defense.

Then comes the commodities. China controls nearly 90% of the world’s neodymium output. Neodymium is a rare earth metal which is used for its strong magnetic properties. You can find neodymium in many appliances and operations–from the dynamic driver speaker in your earphones to the motor of a hybrid vehicle. In fact, many hybrid cars or complete electric vehicles depend heavily on neodymium for their parts–a problem due to the fact that this metal is controlled largely by China. This means price increases on hybrid and electric vehicles, such as Chevrolet’s new Volt. And with China limiting their annual neodymium output, getting your hands on the rare metal can be more of a concern of yield than price.

China clearly has a lot ahead. Projections by many financial firms forecast that China’s GDP will overtake the United States in the next 20-30 years, a significant landmark by any country. Currently, if China and Japan’s GDP’s are combined, they do not equal the boastful ~$14 trillion GDP of the U.S. However, this is what makes the #1 GDP spot such a landmark to break. And with China just surpassing Japan–a country with familiar names such as Sony, Honda, Toshiba, and Toyota–the long-term tensions between the two countries may have to settle purely for economic reasons. In 2007, China surpassed the U.S. in terms of receiving the most exports from Japan–another indicator that close ties are required between the two prominent east-asian countries in order to maintain economic balance. In the race for the #1 GDP spot, it seems that everyone is contending.

What does China’s position in the world mean today? Second largest GDP country in the world, growing middle class, largest luxury car importer, and a population more than triple that of the U.S. It means power; power in a long-winding race for economies of the world.

And in this race, it seems like the entire world has their eyes on what was once the underdog for decades: China.



So I’ve made this blog to speak about a variety of topics, ranging from Finance, the Japanese language, web-design, audio gear, and much more.

I also have a YouTube channel wherein I post videos pertaining to the same themes. Feel free to check out my videos if you’re not in the mood for reading.

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I’m currently a student in New York City majoring in Finance and minoring Japanese. If you have any questions about my blog posts, videos or anything in general, feel free to comment or send me a message on YouTube or Twitter. I will be glad to help you.

- Salman