Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

DOG LEGGED GATES, MYSTERY SONG, MURDER MOST FOUL, AND APE SCIENCE

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I started writing about Iraq, but it got really depressing. So maybe I will finish it later, for now, random comments on random news items. Bernie Sanders had a mild heart attack. Will be interesting to see if he bounces back. I’m rooting for him, he’s the best of a bad lot. Trump is still hanging in there, though showing signs of strain. He really wasn’t cut out to be POTUS, granted few people are. I’m wondering if his fellow Republicans in Washington are starting to turn on him. Ships, sinking, etc. He’s not exactly a consensus builder. I could see him being driven out of office one way or the other in time for Pence to step up and run. If the Dems self-immolate, again, Pence could win. Fun times.

In music news (No, I don’t think I’ve ever typed that before) I came across the curious story of an unidentified song. As in, no one knows who wrote it, played it, sung it. Recorded it. And this isn’t something from ancient history, it originated from around 1984. I may once have been a demo by some Eartern European band.  It got played like once on some English radio station, and it’s only a fluke that a recording came to light. And at this point the search for the originators has gone viral and still no one has a clue. It does sound hauntingly familiar, as many have observed. Anywise, read the story and listen to the song here.

Another experiment has indicated that some apes have “theory of mind.” A long time favorite topic of mine, as my two or three long term readers might remember. How to explain theory of mind? Well, if someone realizes a mirror reflection is themselves, they are self aware. Humans, apes, elephants, porpoises, some birds seem to be self aware, theory of mind is the next step, knowing that not only you exist, but that other people are also equally self aware. It means the ability to “put yourself in another’s head,” to think about what other people are thinking. It’s actually devilishly hard to pin down in experiments. Most lay people seem to think apes have theory of mind, and apparently the scientific consensus is leaning that way. I’m still unconvinced. Read about it here.

In today’s “Um, that doesn’t sound right” file, Joshua Brown, a key witness in the Botham Jean murder case, has been ambushed and shot to death. OK, Amber Guyger was a white Dallas police woman who ‘accidentally’ went into a neighbour’s apartment thinking it was her own. She encountered the occupant of the apartment, Botham Jean, a black man, and shot him dead. She was recently convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. Joshua Brown’s testimony helped convict her, he was a neighbour of them both. Joshua was an upstanding man, and his killing seems senseless. So many people have concluded that Joshua was murdered by the Dallas police in revenge for helping convict one of their own. Sadly it’s all too possible, a wild west mentality is still deeply entrenched in parts of America. Something Canadians, Western Europeans, and others probably have a hard time comprehending. And, frankly, America’s penchant for gun violence is hard for many Americans to comprehend.

While going through Hieronymus Bosch paintings, always a great source of images for Doug’s Darkworld, I came across the image above. It looked strangely familiar, something about the gate. Turns out I’ve used written about it before. The gate, not the painting, in “The Mystery of the Dog Legged Gate.” Nine years ago, sheesh. I was such a fool then. Now I’m an older fool. There’s less of me now though, by a stone or two. So does that mean my fool density is higher? Or does fool density remain the same despite body size, so I’m a stone or two less foolish? Why does science never tackle important questions like this?

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Sorry about the short post, decided best to post on time rather than scramble for something, anything, I could segue to from dog legged gates. Have a great week everyone. (Every time I type that now a little in my head screams “But I’m not a Trump supporter!” Sheesh.)

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: ‘The Wayfarer’ painted circa 1500. Credit: Hieronymus Bosch. Being painted over 500 years ago the copyright has long expired. Unless Congress has changed copyright law to benefit corporations once again. Knock on wood.)

Written by unitedcats

October 7, 2019 at 4:28 am

Posted in Crime, gun control, Science

THROUGH THICK AND THIN

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OK, just couldn’t get into the police dog post. Maybe someday, maybe not. Discussion of the meme in question got a little heated in the Doug’s Darkworld Facebook group, and my tolerance for drama of any sort is reaching new lows. Life’s too short. So maybe a fun post. Puppies! Oh, wait, I don’t like puppies. They have sharp teeth and they smell funny. Worst of all, like some sort of reverse butterfly, they turn into dogs. Then they have sharp teeth, smell funny, and destroy any nearby furniture, walls, tools, appliances they can get their teeth into. Actually, whatevs, I don’t mind a good dog. If I ever live out in the forest again I might have a dog.

Moving right along, things haven’t gotten worse in the Middle East. Global Warming is getting worse. Things are getting ugly in Hong Kong. My attempts at baking are one for three. Yeah, not going to bake anymore, it’s clearly not my forte. Even the animals outside wouldn’t eat my last batch of attempted muffins. I looked up what happened in history October 2nd, not much hope there. An odd assortment of the usual calamities. In 1187 Salladin captured Jerusalem, which the Crusaders had held for 80 odd years. The Queen Mary chopped a Britsh Cruiser in half during World War Two.  One good Omen I suppose, The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2nd, 1959. And in 1996 an airliner crashed because a mechanic forgot to remove some duct tape. Usually duct tape fixes things, not this time.

Speaking of fixes, this weeks Skeptoid is about how to fix global warming. It is fixable, but like so many of humanity’s problems, fixing it would slightly inconvenience a handful of people who already have more money than they could spend in a hundred lifetimes. They won’t stand for that of course, and claim that them making slightly less obscene profits would wreck the economy. As a general rule anytime one hears “But it would wreck the economy!’ what is really being said is “But the super rich would have slightly less money!” The sad thing is that a lot of the people being exploited by the rich parrot the same tired argument. Sigh. Anyhow, read about it here without my ranting.

And when we’re not avoiding fixing a problem, there’s people actively making them worse. I’m thinking of the anti-vaxxers. The good Dr Novella makes a case for mandatory vaccinations for school kids. Why this even has to be debated is maddening. I remember the sixties and seventies, the only blatant science deniers were cranks. I don’t recall any major social movements completely at odds with established science. It’s not like there’s any doubts, measles caused nearly 3 million annual deaths in 1980. It’s lower than one hundred thousand now. And no, it wasn’t the widespread introduction of handi wipes, it was the MMR  vaccine. And that’s just one of many diseases vaccines radically reduced or even eliminated by vaccines.

Strange times indeed. So politics. IDK. Electoral politics get more like sportsball every day. Everyone gets really excited about their team, or obsessed even, but in the final analysis who wins the Super Bowl or the World Series doesn’t mean anything. So, I have no meaningful comments. And I’m actually going to some political stuff. Meetings. Things. I can’t even make an order in Starbucks, let alone describe what goes on in local electoral politics. Good people trying to make a difference, God bless em.

In the “You can’t make something foolproof because fools are so ingenious” file, people are trying to get their self driving cars to run them over. That’s up there with eating Tide pods, how the hell did I end up on this planet? Didn’t I have any other choices? But yes, at least one youtuber posted his attempts at running himself over. The whole self-driving feature is already a nightmare for insurance companies. Who is at fault when a driver summons their car and it hits someone? Lots of fun to be had. Lots of lawyers will get richer.

Lastly, a scientist has published a paper making the case that aliens are watching us. Seriously. This is because there is a tiny (about twenty known) population of asteroids called Near Earth Co-Orbital Objects. These little guys don’t orbit Earth, but they share the same orbit around the Sun. Dance partners with Earth so to speak. And physicist James Benford suggests they would be the perfect place to keep an eye on Earth from. He suggests we observe them closely looking for any kind of radiation, and scan them with radar to boot. And maybe send a probe? Why not?

Why not indeed. They are both very close to Earth, and at least as scientifically interesting as any other object orbiting the Sun. We find out new stuff every probe we send. And indeed China is actually planning a ten year mission that would not only include visiting 2016 HO3, the nearest of these asteroids, the mission also includes sample returns. Read about it all here. Personally I think the aliens, if they exist, are already here on Earth. And no, they didn’t teach us how to make pyramid shaped piles of rocks. Another post, someday.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Man enjoying view from beach. Credit: Wallpaper Abyss.)

Written by unitedcats

October 2, 2019 at 4:19 am

Posted in History, Science, SETI

ÖTZI

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(Image credit: Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons, License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

A few days ago on Facebook I posted about the anniversary of the discovery of Ötzi in the Ötztal Alps. Those are the Alps between Austria and Italy. (Yes, that’s how he got his name.) Pictured above in all his reconstructed glory. He was discovered on 19 september, 1991. He is Europe’s oldest known natural mummy, over 5,000 years old. And a number of my Facebook readers had never heard of Ötzi, much to my amazement. Even better they thought his story was fascinating. And I thought, what a great topic for a blog!

So yes, nice couple out for a stroll in the Alps in 1991. They stumble across a body half frozen in the ice. They, and pretty much everyone else, figured it was some recent victim (as in years or decades old) of the dangers of travelling in the Alps. Such discoveries happen all the time. Fairly quickly it was realized Ötzi was older, much older than the usual crop of dead bodies found in the Alps. Thousands of years older in fact. I have followed Ötzi’s story from the beginning. What follows is partly from memory, partly from recent internet research. Enjoy.

So, he died about 5,250 years ago. At first it was thought some mishap had befallen him, or maybe just cold and exposure. Eventually though, it was determined to be murder most foul. OK, maybe a hunting accident, who knows. He had been struck in the back with an arrow, and bled out fairly quickly. Probably was murder though, his body had some other wounds indicating he had been in a fight or fights before his death. One study indicated that the blood of four different individuals was found on his weapons. No one was ever able to replicate the study though, so maybe not. The shot that killed Ötzi was a great shot, fired from considerably below him. Might explain why his killers didn’t get to his body and take his stuff.

And he had some great stuff, he was fully kitted out. Bow, arrows, knife, clothing, first aid kit, and niftiest of all, a copper axe. Yes, humans had started smelting and casting copper. Every copper axehead ever found was polished to a mirrored sheen, a labor intensive undertaking in the era before emery cloth. Thus the axe likely marked Ötzi as a high status or wealthy individual. Or a thief I suppose, “Shoot him, he’s got my axe!” Anyhow, a tremendous amount was learned from his possessions. One thing that stuck out for me in particular, there were over a dozen items made from wood. And every single item was made out of the exact type of wood best suited for the item in question. The same goes for the items made from animal hide. These people were plenty smart.

In some ways his stuff was the most important thing about him. This wasn’t some guy buried naked in a bog, or a body in a grave. This was a guy with all his possessions with him. In fact archeologists were so interested in that aspect that they went up and excavated everything around where Ötzi was found down to bedrock. And counted every seed, whatever. They got most of his hair and two of his fingernails doing this. Anyhow, here’s an article listing all his stuff with pictures.

Ötzi was about 45 at the time of his death. So he’d been around. Five foot three inches tall. Wiry, in good shape. Suffering from parasites and recurring bouts of a serious illness. Lots of tattoos, over fifty. All soot tattoos, just black lines. He is in fact the oldest known tattooed person. They may have been for medical pain relief or acupuncture type healing, as most of them were found on places like joints or his spine. His previous few meals were still in him, ibex, red deer, and chamois meat. Bread, roots, veges. His DNA shows he was lactose intolerant, so lactose tolerance was still not universal in Europe. They were also able to tell from his tooth enamel that he grew up about 50km south of where he was found, but later in life he moved to the region where he died. His bones also showed he spent a lot of time climbing up and down steep slopes, unusual for any era. So he might have been a mountain shepherd.

Whoever he was, Europe was a very different place then. There certainly were little villages, but no real towns as we would know them. It would have been mostly wilderness, though some agriculture had started.  There were dogs, but no cats yet where he lived. The bread Ötzi ate was apparently from cultivated grains. There had been standing stones and such in Europe, but Stonehenge was still centuries away.. Ötzi had likely never seen anything bigger than a wooden hut or hall. He might have heard tell though. The world’s very first cities were springing up in the Middle East, though the first pyramids were still centuries away.

Ötzi’s DNA shows he was most closely related to people who now live in Corsica and Sardinia. And interestingly enough scientists found 18 people currently living in the Alps who were descended from Ötzi, or a close male relative. His mother’s DNA didn’t live on, but his father’s did. Kind of wild knowing some of the people still living in the region are his direct descendants. Immortality in several ways. His DNA lives on, and countless millions of people know of him. It would have been very difficult to explain to him today’s world.

And no matter what we learn, we can only guess at who Ötzi was. His dreams, memories, fantasies, loves and all that made him human died with him on that cold mountain. We can only wonder. RIP Ötzi, long gone but not forgotten.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Otzi kitted out. Credit: The author Thilo Parg has licensed this file under license CC-BY-SA-3.0 to Wikimedia Commons. This means that a free, even commercial use is possible if the following conditions are met:

Online media:

Clearly legible indication of the author next to the picture: “Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons”

Readable license name next to the image: “License: CC BY-SA 3.0”)

Written by unitedcats

September 27, 2019 at 4:33 am

CORRECTIONS

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tornado

OK, the Democrats have opened an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s purported action in Ukraine. Big news, sort of. I doubt I can get a whole post out of it, so just a few quick thoughts. Keep in mind that I am deeply committed to my cynicism about the circus that is now the American political system. So my first thought was, what is this supposed to distract us from? Then of course I realised, the usual. That our laws and regulations are written at the behest of big money, and both parties are in on the farce. The farce being that the government is supposed to rule for the best for everyone, not just the people at the top. They still pretend to do so, and people keep voting for them, so their act is working.

Anyhow, back to Trump’s impeachment. The purported case is that while talking to the president of Ukraine, Trump threatened to cut off some US aid to Ukraine unless they launched some sort of criminal investigation into Joe Biden’s son’s business in Ukraine. Trump and his supporters deny it, and make counter claims about Biden when he was vice president. If the allegations against Trump are true, yeah, probably violates all sorts of laws, and could easily fall under the rubric of treason. Who knows, I’ll wait and see what sort of evidence comes to light. Not that evidence means anything these post fact days. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming …

Normally when one sees a post titled “Corrections” one would be safe to assume the author is correcting mistakes made in previous posts. Those would be other authors, since the only time I was ever wrong was once I thought I was wrong, but it turned out later I was right. (And did my august father realize that every dad joke he told me as a kid would be remembered and recycled by me forever?) No, we are talking about corrections to reality. Came across several cases recently where scientists said “Oops, we got that one wrong.” That’s the beauty of science, unlike ideology, it evolves and gets more accurate.

Firstly, turns out we may have free will after all. I never had any doubt, but philosophical issues aside, some years back a famous experiment seemed to show that our brain waves change before we make a conscious choice. Thus indicating that we actually weren’t making conscious choices. This experiment got great street cred so to speak, and it is not unusual to hear people say “science has proved there is no such thing as free will.” Referring to this experiment, even if that was all they knew. A recent paper was published that made a good claim that the original experiment was flawed, and it proved nothing of the kind about free will. I don’t see any point in going into details I would have to research to even get started, so read about it here if one wants the nitty gritty.

In the “well, this is embarrassing” file, turns out the “sonic attacks” on the US embassy in Cuba were, drum roll, mosquito spray. Sigh. One could write a book about the times America has invented or wildly exaggerated the threats it’s faced. Reminds me of the commie “nerve gas attacks” in Cambodia that turned out to be bee poop. The paranoid empire. Keeps people scared of course, and were long past having a mainstream media where obvious questions like “What possible reason could Cuba have for doing this? They want better relations with the US, not worse.” We’ll see, the sonic weapons thing never made any sense, but in the manufactured Cold War narrative that infects Washington, the world is filled with people plotting evil against us. And if we can just embargo and bomb them enough, they’ll stop! I claim T-shirt rights on that one.

OK, enough of that. Some good news! An extinct cat may not be extinct after all. There appear to be credible sightings of the Formosan Clouded Leopard. Woohoo! Read about it here. That would be great. Note I said would. I try to be precise with language. I suspect it won’t pan out. A really heavy duty trap cam program failed to find a single one. So my guess it is indeed extinct until we get pics or other evidence. Witnesses just aren’t reliable, period.

Here in Iowa, tornado watch. Keep my shoes on, window open to hear the town alarm. We have a basement. Tornado country, different than earthquake country. There you made what preparations you could, and there were quite a few, but there were never scientific warnings as such about impending earthquakes. Here, there’s bad weather or a tornado watch, one keeps an eye peeled. Next blog, more bad news!

So wait, if I just recorded my blog, it would be a podcast?

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A tornado. Credit: Snappygoat.)

Written by unitedcats

September 25, 2019 at 4:03 am

Posted in Impeachment, Iowa, Science, Trump

ANOTHER INTERSTELLAR VISITOR, AND SO SOON!

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Comet-C2019Q4-Orbit-20190914

Back to science! (For now.) Space exploration more specifically, possibly my all time favorite branch of science. Well, second favorite. Molecular gastronomy is probably the ultimate science, though I’m really only interested in its results. Moving right along, Comet Borisov. It was discovered by Crimean amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov on August 29. He quickly realized it was a previously unknown object. His first calculations indicated it might come close to Earth, so he posted about it on the web. Other astronomers began observing Comet Borisov and determined it posed no danger to Earth. Phew, a 2 plus km comet hitting Earth would rival the worst impacts in Earth’s history. And within two more weeks astronomers had determined it was interstellar in origin, Borisov would sweep past the Sun never to return.

So far Borisov looks like a “normal” Oort Cloud comet. Its size is 2-16 km wide. The rest of this year it will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere, around December it will peak in brightness. After which it will head out of the Solar System, visible from the Southern Hemisphere as it departs our Solar System. It’s not going to come anywhere near any planets, and sadly will require at least an eight inch telescope to see. Poot, it would have been neat to lay eyes on an interstellar object, even if with binoculars.

Astronomers will no doubt point every available instrument at Borisov to learn whatever they can. Alas, a probe to it seems out of the question because of its velocity and direction of travel. If we had spotted it a few years earlier we might well have gotten a probe to it. Not surprisingly, since Oumuamua flew by in 2017, a lot of high IQ brainstorming has been done on how to intercept an interstellar flyby object.  In fact it still seems possible to send a probe to catch up with Oumuamua, and there’s been some talk of that. The big problem isn’t catching up with it, it’s being able to slow down enough to actually study it. Fodder for a future post.

Anyhow, I’m excited. Our second interstellar visitor in two years. I will post as more is discovered. Unlike Oumuamua, which was basically an unusual rock, Borisov seems pretty comet-like. So there likely won’t be much speculation about it being an alien probe or such. Except at the fringe of course, there’s never a fringe too far. So just for fun, here’s my theory on what the aliens are up too. Tongue seriously in cheek:

A few years back humans detected the very first known interstellar object flying through the Solar system. The odd asteroid-like Oumuamua. There was a certain amount of speculation that Oumuamua was artificial, but the science showed pretty clearly it was just a rock from the void. Oumuamua was discovered by the Pan-STARRS telescope, a telescope that just came on line in 2010. A telescope designed to watch the sky and spot small objects like Oumuamua. Before Pan-STARRS Oumuamua would have flown undetected through the Solar System. It was speculated that objects like Oumuamua are flying through the Solar System undetected all the time.

And now, a few years later, comet Borisov. Another Pan-STARRS find? Nope, big bright comet, of the type we have been spotting for centuries. Over 6,000 of them to date. And Borisov is the very first one of interstellar origin. It’s an interesting, but almost certainly meaningless coincidence. What are the odds? Well, at least 6,000 to one. However many rocks are flying through the Solar System, large interstellar comets are pretty rare. And speaking of odds, apparently the odds of Oumuamua passing so close to the Sun were like 100 million to one.

Then there wasTabby’s Star two years earlier in 2015. This was a nearby star that was dimming at irregular intervals, like nothing that had ever been seen before. At first there was speculation that the dimming might be caused by artificial orbital megastructures orbiting the star. It was pretty wild speculation, but fun while it lasted. Soon enough it was established that the dimming was caused by natural processes.

So in conclusion, in 2015, 2017, and 2019 humans have discovered unusual objects of interstellar origin, at least two of which hinted at the possibility of intelligent aliens. And the odds of these three-in-a-row almost simultaneous events are astronomical. (Sorry.) So … what if there are intelligent aliens watching us, and this is their way of breaking us in slowly to the idea? Presumably alien anthropologists are well versed on how catastrophic it can be for primitive societies to be contacted by technologically superior societies. At least if human history is any example. So if my hypothesis is correct, either something about Borisov will hint at alien origin, or something else interstellar will happen in 2021.

Maybe that’s when the mother ship arrives. Things always happen in threes though, so maybe Borisov is the mother ship. Queue music. Scientifically speaking, my guess is it will be comet like, but also unique in ways no one expected. Always a safe prediction when a brand new astronomical phenomena is investigated.

More on Saudi Arabia soon. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Pompeo is calling the attack an “act of war.” That can’t be good.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

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(Image: Borisov’s path through the Solar System. Note Borisov is travelling almost perpendicular to the plane the planets orbit on, so it will be well “below” Mars. Credit: NASA. This file is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted”.)

Written by unitedcats

September 20, 2019 at 3:21 am

APHANTASIA, LIFE WITH NO MIND’S EYE

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All my life people around me have talked about visualizing things and the mind’s eye. I remember in a college class we were all told to visualize a lovely lake surrounded by forest. It was a meditation exercise (Hey, it was the 70s.) Then and every other time I just assumed “visualize this” was simply a figure of speech for “think about.” Because when I close my eyes I see … my eyelids. IE nothing. Or reddish nothing if the lights are bright. Recently I came to understand that that’s not normal, apparently most people can close their eyes and see pretty much anything they want. I can’t imagine what that’s like, because I have no mind’s eye. I have what psychologists call aphantasia.

When I mentioned this to some friends, they were quite surprised. As if they had suddenly discovered one of my limbs was missing. I guess being able to visualize stuff is taken for granted by people who can visualize stuff. They were curious about  what it’s like, so here I am blogging about aphantasia to the world. Or my select collection of readers, most of the world has never heard of me. Probably a good thing.

The first question that always gets asked, do I dream? Yes, yes I do. Quite vividly and lucidly at times. Though I can’t really control the dream environment even when lucid. And in a hypnagogic state (nearly asleep) I can watch beautiful things, often lovely fountains and pools decorated with gems. In fact in this state I sometimes try to control what I am seeing, or figure out how I’m doing it so I can learn how to visualize things. No dice so far.

And while writing this, keep in mind I’m writing about an ability I simply don’t have, so I could easily be describing it wrong. Like a psychopath trying to describe feelings. Well, something like that, I don’t know. Moving right along, I’m also asked if I can recognize faces. Yes, though I’m not great at it when I first meet someone. If I spend enough time with someone their face gets very familiar and I can easily spot them in a crowd. I couldn’t describe their face beyond vague generalities, and I certainly couldn’t draw it. I’ve always wondered how people could draw such accurate lifelike faces, maybe visualization is involved? Beats me.

I’m not disabled me in any way I know of. Aside from having to fake it in meditation class I suppose. I work in the trades and can build or assemble complicated things. Though I often make or look at drawings. Hell, I used to paint watercolor landscapes. I loved to draw and paint as a kid. I can’t think of a single way this has ever been an issue for me. No doubt why I never realized I was missing something.

I joined an Aphantasia support group on Facebook. It really didn’t do much for me. What’s to say other than, hey, I too have aphantasia. And some of the people in the group did feel they were disadvantaged somehow. I guess. I never missed my mind’s eye until I found out it was missing. That huge numbers of people have had aphantasia throughout history without anyone ever really noticing argues to me that it’s not a handicap in any real way.

Aphantasia was first described and named in 1880, but was essentially forgotten until a study in 2015 brought it back into scientific currency. A few more studies have been done, scientists suspect what part of the brain isn’t working right. At least one book has been written, and the Wikipedia article links to various articles and studies. In the original study the article describes I would have scored 16. IE for any of 16 objects I was asked to visualize, my answer would be “no image at all, you only know that you are thinking of the object.” At least I’m consistent.

On the plus side, and I suspect it’s related to aphantasia, I don’t get earworms. A clear evolutionary advantage in the modern age. Have a great week everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A lake surrounded by forest. Credit: Snappygoat image, public domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

August 26, 2019 at 4:40 am

ISS SPOTTED OVER IOWA

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I watched the ISS fly over the other night. That’s the International Space Station. It was just a bright star crossing the sky, but to space exploration nerds like me, twas a noble sight. We’ve come a long way since the Space Race of my youth. If the gentle reader wants to check the ISS out for themselves, this site shows the viewing times from almost any city. And thus one more item crossed off my bucket list. Do people even say “bucket list” anymore? Next item: Seeing a tornado live. That’ll make for a fun blog post. Or amusing tombstone epitaph, it’s win win! In any event, I have been saving space exploration links for awhile now, here’s some cool stuff in recent space exploration news.
An exotic yellow glass found in the world’s deserts in and around Egypt has finally had the mystery of its origin solved. Well, partly solved, science is annoying that way. The glass has been used for decoration since at least ancient Egyptian times, and dates to about 30 million years ago. The question has always been, was it formed in an asteroid airburst, or an asteroid impact event? The jury is now in, examination of the glass has revealed a mineral that can only be formed in the high pressure created in an impact event. The crater where it came from, doesn’t look like that is known. At 30 million years of age, geologic forces might have obliterated it by now. And while this glass is cool stuff, we’d rather avoid another impact event that would create it. NASA has got it covered.
A solution to transient lunar phenomena may be at hand. Basically since at least the 1960s astronomers have observed odd flashes or discoloration on the surface of the Moon. They may be brief or persist for a few hours. And after they are gone the Moon’s surface appears unchanged. The best guess is that they are gases being released by geologic activity, but no one knows. So a new telescope is being trained on the problem, and hopefully it will get to the bottom of it. With manned lunar outposts on the drawing boards, kinda important to know.
Japan is planning an ambitious mission to explore the moons of Mars. Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. Were they created by an impact event on Mars, or are they captured asteroids? Or maybe one of each? Astronomers don’t really know, but this ambitious mission that includes sample returns and a rover might reveal the answer. The plan is to get there in 2024, so soon enough. This would be the first rover on a minor Solar System body. And aside from the plain scientific curiosity about how the moons were formed, the moons may one day be used as manned way stations for the exploration of Mars. So the more we know about them the better.
That’s because the current long term thinking for humans exploring the Moon and Mars is to have large manned space stations around each. With some sort of shuttle to get to and from orbit. Then build ships to travel between the Moon and Earth or the Earth and Mars. Such ships wouldn’t have to take off or land, massively simplifying their design and allowing them to carry vastly more cargo. They would be human’s first true spaceships. It’s going to rock, I hope I live long enough to see it. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first, and with global warming advancing by leaps and bounds, that might be an optimistic assumption.
Even sooner than the Japanese mission, the biggest best rover ever is going to land on Mars in 2021. And it includes a helicopter! Yes, the first helicopter to fly off Earth. Mars only has about 1% the atmosphere of Earth, so its rotors are going to be really spinning. It will carry a little camera and a solar navigation system. Basically it’s a proof of concept mission, it will fly around and do some neat scouting and picture taking, but that’s about all. If it works, bigger better helicopters will go on future missions to Mars and other targets with atmospheres. The Drone Age is beginning in space as well as on Earth.
The 2020 Mars rover is going to be bad ass too, it will also be searching for life, and stashing samples for a possible future sample return mission. It’s also got new instruments, like a core drill and a mini bar. I will likely write a dedicated post about it as the launch date gets closer.
And turns out I had more space exploration links than I thought. So this post I just covered exploration of the Solar System. Next time, the rest of the Universe! Aliens! Cosmology in crisis!
Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.
(Image: A Facebook Meme. Credit: Unknown, used without permission. If anyone knows who to attribute it to, glad to comply. Or remove it as needed.)

Written by unitedcats

August 7, 2019 at 4:30 am