Archive for January, 2012

Picturing Phobos-Grunt’s Sad Final Days

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Looking more like a religious icon than a once-ambitious interplanetary probe, Phobos-Grunt is getting renewed attention as it approaches its upcoming crash.

German researchers captured this fiery image of the ill-fated Russian Mars probe, Phobos-Grunt. It doesn’t actually look like this. Yet.

The radar image was captured by the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques. No word on why the scientists decided that campfire-orange was the best tint to give the digital image.

Regardless, Phobos will indeed be that color in three to five days, when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. Paranoia surrounding the failed mission goes beyond worries about being hit on the head by flaming debris. Some think Phobos was attacked by U.S. energy beams.

The Workers’ Paradise Has It All. Including Pickpockets?

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Are these guys biding their time until they can grab their socialist worker-sister’s pocketbook?

Let’s list what is odd about this photo taken in a North Korean rail station:

  1. You could eat off the floor of the station
  2. All the men have exactly the same haircut
  3. Seven people, 0 iPhones
  4. People are doing something that I think used to be called reading a newspaper

What about that woman on the right? She’s wearing her backpack backwards. Any photo of any public space anywhere in the world will include bunches of people, usually women, doing the same thing. They do it to foil pickpockets.

North Korea has pickpockets?

Looking beyond the obvious — that the workers’ paradise isn’t — what could a North Korean have to pick? Doesn’t look like she has a lot of wheat or rice in the bag. Mass cards from Kim Jung-Il’s funeral? It’s damn sure not an mp3 player or a wallet full of credit cards.

The only thing that makes sense is maybe tranqs. Living in the treads of your glorious leader’s boot has got to be immeasurably stressful.

The bigger mystery, however, is her footwear. White soles on black shoes. White?

Chemist Finds Evidence That God’s A Programmer And You’re His PC

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran on True/Slant in 2010. Not knowing when or if the archive of this defunct brand will be deleted, I’m moving some stories here.

I sympathize with people who look at science’s explanation of life and find it too fanciful to be true.

A navy of invisible granules with long tails swim out of a penis and up a vagina, through an unremarkable opening, into a lightless cavern, seeking something they have never seen before — an egg. There they get really frantic, trying to get through the egg’s wall, spit out a chemical code and die. As improbable and herculean as this mission is, it succeeds often enough that humans are in danger of stripping an entire planet of its resources.

And it all happens without a guiding hand.

The alternate theory, explained to me by the severe Sister Julie in an especially stern mood, is that God looks at every man and woman and decides whether they should get a baby.  If yes, He touches the woman’s belly once, to create a child that would be a blessing for the parents. Or He touches her belly twice, to create a child who’d be a lifelong trial for the parents, their family and friends and their community. Sister Julie told me God had touched my mom’s belly three times, and while she didn’t explain what three pats meant, I was sitting facing a corner at the time, so I assumed I might grow up to be a complete blight.

That to me seems a little fanciful, too, and equally exclusionary in terms of integrating any other sources of possible wisdom.

Now before any Crusaders climb on a horse with a sword, there’s a new theory that we should consider, one proposed by Dr. Pallacken Abdul Wahid Ph.D., an expert in agronomy and crop science and a retired dean at India’s Kerala Agricultural University.

Wahid says the story of life is true to the Quran, the Bible and a junior college Comp Sci 101 class syllabus.

According to Wahid, God created Adam by breathing nafs into clay. Nafs has been translated as “life”, he says, but that’s wrong. God was huffing “biosoftware.”

Unmistakable proof that God breathes life into each chromosome.

Specifically, He installed biosoftware in Adam’s chromosomes. (The Bible makes more sense, he says, when you know that it uses “rib” as a metaphor for chromosomes throughout the texts.)

We know this is true because in one orientation, a chromosome looks like a sky view of two ribs connected to the spine. That and the fact that the Bible says Eve was made from one of Adam’s ribs/chromosomes.

By extension, a computer is more than the sum of its parts. It’s artificial life:

The invisible “soul” of the computer is its software. Likewise the invisible soul of an organism is its biosoftware. The Quran tells us that at death the nafs is removed from the body (Q. 6:93).

Wahid  spent too much time in the sun, but he does ask old questions in interesting new ways.

Having earned his doctorate in chemistry, he wonders how the genome can be so central to many people’s description of life.

The fact that [a] living cell and its dead counterpart carry the same genome is chemically untenable.

In other words, the genome of skin cells that we slough off every hour should be different than the cells that replaced their fallen comrades if it is the genome that describes life.

And this ties in nicely with Thomas Edison’s notion that everything living is made up of autonomous, thinking cells. But wouldn’t God have to breathe nafs into every cell of every being everywhere?

How To Put Climate Deniers in Their Place

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post first ran on True/Slant in 2010. Assuming that its archives will be deleted at some point, I’m moving some of my True/Slant articles here.

Climate scientists themselves figured out that disastrous claims about Himalaya glaciers were seriously wrong. It’s a matter of public record.

Climate deniers want you to believe that predictions of a glacier-free range by 2035 were deliberate lies, and that those lies were uncovered by right-thinking people.

That’s why deniers are calling this Glaciergate, thereby implying a coverup like the original Watergate scandal.

The whole back-and-forth is like an ax manufacture who chops the base of an enormous oak to prove that clouds hold trees upright.

THOK! See? The clouds won’t let the tree fall. THOK!

Another man runs from his home to the tree and back with math showing  how clouds are too high and can’t pull trees up. More math: Leaf movement is due to wind. More math: Wind is part of atmospheric pressure differences that are related to the creation of clouds. More math: Clouds can create wind, which blows leafs, but only after atmospheric conditions have created the clouds.

THOK! I’ve been chopping this tree for 20 minutes, folks, and the tree is still standing, because the clouds are holding it up. THOK!

So, how do you compete with the jerk with the ax?

One school of thought is to fight fire with fire. Challenge everything the opposition says.

Can they demonstrate – with the same confidence and transparency employed by scientists working for the IPCC – that the danger of doing nothing is negligible and that greenhouse gases pose no risk to the planet? Could their arguments withstand the same rigorous examination that took place during Glaciergate?

via Glaciergate was a blunder, but it’s the sceptics who dissemble | Robin McKie | Comment is free | The Observer.

Won’t work. The class brain can’t face down bullies by asking them to prove scientifically that he’s a gaywad.

Sorry. I’m analogy-happy today.

The answer is what it’s always been.

1. Put out your peer-reviewed findings as fast as you like and transparently as you can. Openly state probabilities, alternatives and doubts.

2. Have a phalanx of communicators who make the findings real to non-scientists. These people liaise between the public and the experts, so they better know almost as much as the front-line researchers. (How are the efforts to clone Carl Sagan going?)

3. Have a core of eminent experts who are always connecting the dots and solidifying the science foundation. Problems they spot are transparently fed back to the researchers. Loan these people and the communicators to media, schools, Meetups and the like.

4. Feed contradicting information into the communications assembly line.

5. Always, always be feeding the assembly line so there’s never a gap in solid, relatable information with which to make the case.

6. Build this system now as the present process is phased out. There’s no committee for changing leaf matter into fertile dirt, and that seems to work pretty well.

If climate change is a important to humanity as it seems to be, it’s worth expanding the scientific process to include simple but rigorous communications principles.

The Glamour of Science: Researchers Search Poop for Evidence of Illicit Drugs

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Who knows when they will wipe their archives, so I’m moving some of my posts here.

Scientists say they’ve found a better way to map the use of drugs over entire regions — sample untreated human waste for traces of illicit compounds.

The goal of the research is to better quantify drug use. Today, people mostly look at aftermath events like drug-related arrests, ER visits and deaths investigated by medical examiners.

But some have contended that those practices inaccurately skew stats toward urban communities.

study published last year could prove them right:

Researchers studied wastewater samples from 96 municipal water treatment facilities throughout Oregon. These represented one-day snapshots of 65 percent of the state’s population’s sewage. The results show that drugs are found in all sorts of communities — everywhere from small, rural towns to suburbs and inner cities.

via Sewage as a Measure of Society’s Drug Use | DrugReporter | AlterNet.

The cities and towns agreed to take samples at about the same time on March 4, 2008, and the specimens were tested for traces of ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Also among the findings: Meth is used everywhere — on farms, in suburbs and in the projects. Coke is more popular in cities, as is ecstasy, though fewer than half of the communities tested showed any evidence of ecstasy use.

Before anyone starts building latrines, the scientists say it’s impossible to link drug compounds with individual people. Drugs are chemicals and DNA is a biological molecule, which, they say, means you can’t tie poopy coke (or cokey poop, depending on the habit) to the actual excreter.

We’ve Hired an Efficiency Expert — Meet Physarum Polycephalum

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Not knowing when they might delete their archive, I’m moving some here.

Researchers have turned to a slime mold for tips on work efficiency. While that’s just another day at the office for me, the researchers seem impressed.

They say Physarum polycephalum built a replica of the Tokyo train system in 26 hours that’s just about as efficient, reliable and “expensive” to run as the real thing. It could be the ultimate outsourcing strategy, but Japanese and British scientists see another opportunity.

First, some background.

The journal Science reports that the scientists created a map of the Tokyo metro area using oat flakes for the major cities. Then they put a gelatinous blob (technically, a plasmodium) of Physarum on “Tokyo,” and sat back to see what would happen.

Within about 12 hours, the mold had covered the area with a thin and wet veined sheath of itself. By the 26th hour, the sheath was gone, replaced by mushy tunnels connecting the flakes. The tunnels mimicked Tokyo’s transit system.

This either means that slime mold is pretty damn smart or Japanese engineers are pretty damn dumb.

Either way, the scientists think they can take what they’ve learned about self-organization from the slime mold and apply it to the construction of communication networks and other similar systems.

Could engineers one day be taking orders from the lunches in the breakroom fridge? Stranger things have happened.

It’s more likely that the rules that Physarum follows to find and colonize food sources will be written into software that builds, maintains and expands networks on the fly. Engineers wouldn’t be directed by slime mold.

They’d be designing cushier fridges for them.

The full story is in the Jan. 22 issue of Science, but treat yourself by reading author Philip K. Dick predicted this in 1964.

Your Soul Is Genetic And It’s Making You Crazy

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This post originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. Assuming they will delete their archive at some point, I’m moving some articles here.

Don’t freak out, but the voices you hear in your head are real.

A video stuffed with more pseudo-science than a Sedona, Arizona, crystal shop makes the case that your genes have a brain that’s filled with the ongoing thoughts of your ancestors.

It’s that or your soul has a brain, and your soul is passed down cumulatively from your ancestors. I can’t be sure even after repeatedly watching Dattatreya Siva Baba describe his new science, “soul genetics.”

Either way, your deceased family is standing between you and happiness by trying to make sense of your world with their experiences.

“The thoughts you are thinking may not even be your own thoughts,” according to Baba. Keep that in mind should someone trace the awful smell in the neighborhood to your basement.

The good news is that 2012 is close, says Baba. Far from being the end of time, he says, the end of the Maya calendar is the dawn of a new era, when new sciences like soul genetics will come to fruition.

We’ll be better able to tell our cranky ancestors to pipe down so we can concentrate on driving, for crissakes.

Women’s Suffrage Part Two: Let Girls Get Pregnant!

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Note: This story originally ran in 2010 on True/Slant. I assume they’ll kill off their archive sooner or later, so I’m migrating some pieces to my site.

Proving that extremely learned people can hold unbelievably ignorant notions, an acclaimed British novelist, Hilary Mantel, says that men are holding girls and women back by discouraging teen pregnancy.

Mantel, whose first novel is titled ‘Every Day Is Mother’s Day,’ told London’s Sunday Telegraph that she was “perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14.”

And why didn’t she? I mean besides laws, policies and the presumed commonsense of her parents?

Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society’s timetable,’ she said.

via Booker-prize winning artist claims girls are ready to have children at the age of just 14 | Mail Online.

Where she says “women,” in that snippet, read “girls.” And where Mantel says “in the interests of society’s timetable,” read “by male dominance.”

So, in the interest of liberating all females, men should be allowed to have sex with children who themselves should be encouraged to have children, a situation that historically has impoverished and disenfranchised women.

That could be called holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously in one’s mind. Often, being able to do so is a mark of intellectual sophistication. But Mantel’s two ideas don’t conflict so much as they annihilate each other.

Mantel might want to look around at the hyper-sexualized images of teens (or faux teens) in ads everywhere. Or even around the country clubs to see how young the trophy wives are.

I’m not so sure that men have sex with young women in order to liberate them, and I’m even less convinced that any significant segment of girls want a birth certificate more than they want a driver’s license.

What possibly is significant is that Mantel suffers from endometriosis, a terrible and incurable condition that turns her menstruation process inside out. It has prevented her from having children.

What she has gone through no doubt has added to her writing — writing that many feel is brilliant.

But anytime you find your opinions on maturity in synch with Jerry Lee Lewis, Bristol Palin and Drew Barrymore, it’s time to re-evaluate your values if not your prescription mood stabilizers.

We’re Levitating Flies To Be Sure They Can Go To Mars With Us

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012
micrograph of fruit fly

Because it’s exhausting to buzz your face until you move.

Even Marvel Comics’ Magneto had to start somewhere, first moving small coins, for instance. On an even humbler scale, British scientists say they’ve used powerful magnets to levitate fruit flies.

Three questions:

Fruit flies can, of course, fly, taking some of the cool factor out of the feat. Why fruit flies? Just thinking about levitating similarly tiny insects that can’t fly — spiders, fire ants, the Olsen twins —  results in psychosis-inducing nightmares.

The Olsens: Twice the tragedy

We’re not emaciated husks. We’re just small-boned.

Why levitate bugs at all?

Far as I’m concerned, I was sold on the critical nature of this research while trying to read a Space Travel article about it through a squadron of the jagoffs. I’d love to be able to move them outside, Magneto-like, with a wave of my hand (albeit via some kind of controller).

As it turns out, there are better reasons. From the Space Travel story:

 …in our future endeavours to explore space, setting up permanent bases on our Moon, or Mars for example, or other planets, it will be crucial to understand the effects of weightlessness on all living organisms: our long-term survival will of course require us to take with us many different biological organisms.

Last question: Who’s getting paid to make a list of Earth pests we are taking to Mars?

Oh. Right.


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