Monday, 29 February 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 22-28/2/16

Hi fenestration addicts,

I've been pondering Windows 10, this week.

Being a Windows 7 user, i've been getting the offers for a free upgrade, for a while now, so i thought i'd give myself some time to think - the offer runs out on the 29th of June.

Having read a variety of different reviews, it seems to me that Windows 10 is good.

But not good enough.

It might be great for yuppies with several different devices - PC, tablet, smartphone, etc - who feel cramps of ennui without being as permanently 'interconnected' as the marketing tells them to be; but...

Windows 10 doesn't appear to be any better than Windows 7 at being an Operating System on a PC.

You might be surprised to read that i don't own a single non-PC device except an mp3 player. Even my phone's a bronze-age thing that comes with two games: blocks, and tetris.

To me, any other device is a distraction. I spend most of my time working at a computer, and frankly, i have things to do, that don't involve electricity at all, when i'm away from it. They would be purely for procrastination.

But in this crazy crazy world of "wow, my phone knows my name!", "i found that out before you", "can you get a connection? i can't get a connection" and the occasional "bloody hell, someone's stolen my identity, my life is ruined, ruined, RUINED!!!" Microsoft clearly sees the demand for a Douglas Adams style 'fundamental interconnectedness of all things'.

So Windows 10 seems deliberately developed to accommodate that interconnectedness. At the cost of functionality as a PC!

All of the "may i publish all of your personal data to the world wide web?" settings are currently opt-out - you don't get asked the question, you have to ask it yourself.

The other part of Windows 10, which i think is what's attracted the big businesses, is the intention to make it a definitive jack-of-all-trades operating system, requiring one big update, every now and again (at Microsoft's whim) to ensure pathogenic security is maintained to the best of Microsoft's ability.

Those security updates, by the way, are obligatory - you're going to lose hard drive space, whether you like it or not.

But to big businesses, with lots of little franchises, the idea that responsibility for keeping everything updated has been left in the hands of Microsoft, is a very attractive one. There'll be no micro-management to do :-D

In fact, even The Pentagon has decided to make a huge leap toward Windows 10, with 4 million devices requiring the upgrade. For them, i think economy is the reason.

And maybe surveilling the members of their staff, who haven't changed their privacy settings ;-)

So while reviews (and narky remarks in comments sections) have given me the impression that Windows 10 is leaps and bounds ahead of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, i think i'll be sticking with Windows 7 for now, thank you very much.

It has all the mod-cons, and none of the added data security flaws.

Maybe Microsoft should develop a two-pronged OS mission, with two products, for those who wish to stick to PC work, and those who wish to 'go public'?

They could call the respective operating systems 'Windows Private' and 'Windows Public' :-D

Uber or Taxis? Which is the goody, and which is the baddy?

If you believe the taxi industry, you might think Uber is the worst thing since Hitler invented genocide; but in reality, there's no genuine evidence that Uber drivers are any more dangerous than old-fashioned cabbies.

'Which is safer—Uber or a taxi? There's no clear answer'

Like with the wine industry in the first half of the 20th century, the taxi industry has sought glamorous claims of horrendous violence, to foment hysteria about their competitors... for profit.

For the wine industry, it's the spirits industry, and for the taxi industry, it's Uber. Jean Lanfray's serial killing as an absinthe drinker got the drink banned across Europe, and around the world, and crimes by Uber drivers have been used as arguments to condemn Uber itself. But Lanfray drank a lot more wine on his fateful night, than he did absinthe, and taxi drivers, too, have been responsible for many crimes toward their customers, over the years.

Are we really expected to believe that this is about safety, and not about established companies objecting to their financial models being undermined by competition?

Taxi drivers, for example, currently have to be fingerprinted and databased; but only because taxi drivers have a history of crime toward their clients! With all the same regulations applied to Uber drivers, what would really be the difference?

I permit myself to suggest, that Uber drivers come from the same cultural population as taxi drivers, and so there is no essential difference between them at all. If anything, Uber just needs more regulation.

Evidence for animosity toward Uber:

According to the Daily Fail, "Facebook has a similar effect on your brain as COCAINE" with the implication that this makes Facebook something to fear.

'Brain scans used to see if Facebook is addictive'

The Torygraph, Metoo, and Dependent, echoed the same warnings. I'm surprised more 'papers didn't go with this story. The implication is clearly a factionalist one: "Facebook (social media) is bad for you, so get all your beliefs from us, instead".

Aside from the Ocean Dilemma in the study itself - it was not possible to work out whether high activity in the ventral striatum was causing Facebook usage, or a consequence of it - this spurious correlation seems convenient propaganda fodder for the recently-passed Asceticist's Charter (the Psychoactive Substances Bill) which pre-emptively bans anything that might make people think/feel anything.

This, of course, includes both cocaine and Facebook. And newspapers.

'It may be impossible, but it's the law'

The bill is so shoddily defined, and incompetently produced (exclusively by a small band of Conservatives) that efforts have been made to specifically exclude certain substances from it, as if this eternal opt-out process could possibly be practicable! Imagine becoming an MP and finding yourself emburdened with the task of exempting everything in the world, in turn, from a stupidly pseudoscientific bill that your PM refused to revoke in its entirety!

The exemptions, of course, have been given not to genuine medicines, but to quackery (for example, Homeopathic fraud) and to the most dangerous drugs that are available in the UK at the moment - caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

Because they are so much more abundantly consumed, they do vastly more damage than any fatuously-titled 'legal high' has ever done. Wine, for example, caused Jean Lanfray to murder his wife and children; and has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people since, by poisoning, dangerous behaviour, liver disease, and a variety of other medical ailments.

Alcohol is exempted from the Psychoactive Substances Bill!

‘Drugs Ranked According To Total Harm’

And it's the exempted alcohol, that has been similarly exempted from any kind of moral accountability, for decades, as this graph shows:

‘Comparison of alcohol-caused liver disease in the UK, and in the EU’

Since the availability of cheap booze has sky-rocketed, so has the abundance of liver disease. It's not the 'legal highs' that are the problem - it's lax regulation of legal drugs.

What kind of a government opts for prohibition, in favour of the evidentially-proved-to-be-effective minimum alcohol unit price?

What kind? A government of cretinous imbeciles.

In other news:

Not content to be in the news for just the one bullshit medical story, the Daily Fail has gone with these wonders, to whet your epicaricatic appetite: "Indigestion pills taken by millions 'could raise the risk of dementia by 50%'". There's no evidence that they could or do.

"Men who talk on their cell phones for an hour a day 'are twice as likely to have low sperm quality'". The study actually found that, in small numbers of hypofertile men, mobile phone use does not correlate with semen quality. It did not compare with healthy men.

"Desperate to lose weight?... Eat almonds! Handful a day 'wards off hunger and replaces empty calories from junk food'" The study, funded by the Almond Board of California, failed in its aims of showing improved bowel function, better bacteria in the gut, and signs of improved immune status. Megafails all around, then :-D

"Air pollution is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK"... oh, wait, that's the BBC. And it's actually true. And the figure doesn't include effects from indoor pollutants. The report, by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, states that gains have been made from cutting the combustion of solid fuels, like coal, especially in the home, but that pollution from road traffic poses a greater threat as road traffic's increased. Gas cookers, cleaning products, damp and mould, carbon monoxide, and of course cigarette smoke, can all contribute to ill health, in the forms of lung damage, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, type 2 diabetes, brain damage - retardation and dementia, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. All of these conditions take years to show affect, so are easily underestimated. The authors of the report estimate these quiet costs to be worth £20 billion to the economy, which is just under 16% of the current annual NHS budget. The authors also estimate that the costs of reducing air pollution would be lower than the costs of treating the resultant medical conditions.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives (one of the executive bodies of the USA's government) has passed a blood sports bill, stripping endangered wolves of federal protection, extending protection for the use of lead bullets, diverting funding meant for conservation, and allowing imports of ivory from African elephants! The UK's Cammers Wammers Hammers, being an olde-worlde Tory, is a keen fan of blood sports, and proponent of blood sport legalisation, so it seems the deranged are no different on the other side of The Pond! Their excuse, too, was the English "you townies don't know our country ways" rephrased as "By overregulating, these bureaucrats do a lot of damage to our fishermen, shooters and outdoor enthusiasts, stopping perfectly legal and safe outdoor activities. Washington regulations should enable access (to public lands), not stop it." Enable access to lands, so that they can be shot by frothing-at-the-mouth bloodsports enthusiasts? Unfortunately, it's not your life you're gambling with.

In the same week that it's revealed that the French finance ministry is demanding €1.6 billion from Google, in unpaid taxes; the UK government is put under pressure for bowing out with a pathetic £130 million payoff! Google has received profits of at least £106 million, on revenues of £1.18 billion in Britain in the last 18 months alone. The Labour Party's equated this to a 3% tax rate - less than the starting rate for a UK taxpayer!

Sexist research has found that feminist fear-mongering is likely to be pushing women into abusive relationships. This research has found that the more women fear crime, the more they seek 'dominant' males as socio-sexual partners. This is seen in many species, as a risk-balancing strategy - go with a weak male, and retain your freedom; or go with a strong male, and be bullied by them instead - but not by the other species, or members of your own species. Ambient danger determines whether it's worthwhile. So the more feminist propaganda there is, telling women that they're walking rape-fodder, and The Patriarchy's pushing them down, and they're horribly oppressed, and the whole world's out to get them, the more fear they will feel; and the more fear they feel, the more they will desire a risky, strong male to spend their time with; and the more they do that, the greater the risk of being abused by the person that they are subject to. So the horrid irony is that the ideological, unwarranted-by-evidence fear that feminists profit from, by inculcating it into women, is probably actually endangering the women they purport to be defending. Fears are self-destructive if they're not proportional to the threat - they must be warranted by evidence, and not by paranoid, hysterical prejudice. You might be wondering, however, why i called this 'sexist research'. Well, it doesn't really change the conclusion, but it was a study entirely aimed at vulnerable women - it didn't study mate-selection in fearful men - and for no apparent reason, didn't measure rapes committed by women, to judge the genuine abundance of crime in the women's home locations. Why? Because Hannah Ryder et al didn't think it worth researching, i presume.

Transexual athletes are no longer required to have surgery, to compete in Olympic events. Women who are transitioning toward being men, are free to compete in Men's events; but men who are transitioning toward being women, must show hypo-testosteroney feminine physiology to compete in Women's events. Why do non-men have to do this? Because sex segregation in sport compels this silliness. The only reason Women's events exist, into the 21st century, is because women have got used to having competitions that they can win, and past winners often go on to advocate for their sports, and adopt positions of power in regulatory bodies. Consequently, they don't want to end the segregation, that supports this dual system, where the 'best of' of womankind never (well, rarely) directly competes with the 'best of' of mankind. They would, of course, routinely lose. Sport is essentially a test to see who's the butchest person in the room. So men who transition toward being women, have a physiological advantage, and that's why they're not allowed to compete in Women's events - the 'proper' girls want the glory for themselves. I wonder whether the intent to accommodate intersex athletes will lead to the eventual demise of subjugative Women's events, and sex segregation in sport, entirely? I foresee decades of awkward wrangling and moaning, before that might happen.

There is now sufficient wealth in enough Chinese households, that the Chinese are importing goods from Australia in vast quantities. Unfortunately, according to this article, much of the benefit appears to be in the quackery sector, with 'organics' benefitting, fraudulently-marketed honey glooping off the island continent, and vitamin supplements going from Oz to China. Quack supplements going into China? That's like selling coals to Newcastle, surely?! Caveat: there might be other, more respectable, products being imported from Australia, but the sample bias of this particular article could be leaving them out.

For those who need a little introduction to systematic bias, this is how to do it: Hong Kong's 'Chief executive' (leader) is apparently more unpopular than Donald Trump. How's this known? By counting the number of emojis left on his Facebook page. This might be good enough to judge that he's disliked by some people, to some amount, but it can't be used to compare subjects of emoji campaigns in different spheres of life. The kinds of people who dislike Trump, Cameron, or Obama (also mentioned) are far less likely to use emojis, because they'll live in cultures in which emojis are far less popular as a means of communication. So is "Hong Kong's beleaguered leader [] nearly 100 times more unpopular than US presidential hopeful Donald Trump" as the article says? The evidence simply doesn't warrant the claim. Hong Kong's 'beleaguered leader' might be unpopular with some people, but this evidence can't say whether he's more or less unpopular than Trump.

Dental microwear texture analysis - a method of 3D scanning objects - has been used for the first time, to safely reveal children's diets. Not living children, of course - children who died centuries ago, between the 11th and 15th centuries CE. Dietary analyses from teeth are usually destructive, but this technique could tell us more about our ancestors' diets while preserving their skeletons.

Researchers have found that a dinosaur unearthed in Arizona, back in 1942, has retrospectively set a record for number of injuries and bone growth problems. The Dilophosaurus wetherilli specimen had eight bone breaks and infections, including a fractured left shoulder blade, a fractured left radius, an infection in its left ulna, two areas of damage due to bone infection in its left thumb, an injury to its right humerus, and two examples of osteodysplasia, where the bone was deformed due to unusual growth. The researchers concluded that the injuries were likely all caused by a fight, which it survived. Hence the development of infections. Evidence has shown that, unlike mammals, dinosaurs could not regrow lost bone, so the deformed bone growth might not have been caused by its conflict.

Glyptodonts were among the megafauna of South American wildlife, thousands of years ago, and coexisted with humans for at least 4000 years. They were a family of huge armadillo-like species, with rounded shells, and some with spiky tailclubs. But it wasn't until DNA from a specimen's carapace was used to analyse the two families' ancestries, that the relatedness of these giant armadillo-types to modern armadilloes could be calculated. It turns out that they genuinely have common ancestry, that diverged no later than 35 million years ago. Their divergence in form has resulted in a mass range of 6 to 2000 Kg. This DNA evidence is in accord with the available fossil record.

Why aren't the Burgundy Truffles, that grow across central Europe, more radioactive than the measured amount? In the wake of fallout from the Chernobyl Disaster, many studies have been made, of the distribution of Caesium-137, across the continent, which renders plant and fungal species noticeably radioactive. This follows through, into the bodies of animals such as deer and boar. But the Burgundy Truffle, despite living in the contaminated topsoil, shows little contamination itself. All 82 Burgundy Truffle samples, collected between 2010 and 2014, in this study, found negligible amounts of Cs-137, rendering them safe for human consumption. The quest continues, to discover what truffles to differently, that leads to them soaking up so much less Cs-137 than even other fungal species.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Male sand martin birds filmed having sex with a dead male'

'Eastern Rosella'

'ScienceCasts: Horn-rims and Funny Stockings on the Space Station'

'Science Bulletins: Shedding Light on Type Ia Supernovae'

'Being an atheist doesn't mean you're rational' - potholer54

[video] 'Seeing cancer cells in 3-D'

'Image: The ice fields of Patagonia'

'Image: Jarosite in the Noctis Labyrinthus Region of Mars'

'Image: Cassini captures group photo of Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas'

'Image: ESA Cluster's 16-year-old webcam restarted'

'ATLASGAL survey of Milky Way completed'

"Socialist" by Roy Zimmerman
This is the replacement for last week's 'You're A Socialist - Improv' link, that doesn't work anymore.

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: costard -- a large cooking apple; or a person's head (humorous)

Unsurprising Press Release Claim Of The Week: An Organics Industry funded study has 'found' that organic stuff is healthier than tawdry non-organic shit. No, just no. The term 'organic' is a marketing con.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'¡Muere, estúpido cerebro!' (Die, you stupid brain!)

'Reacciones químicas asombrosas' (Amazing chemical reactions)

Monday, 22 February 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 15-21/2/16

Hi Mockingbirds,

As if a poem in itself, one of the faces of egalitarian literature died, this week, while a face of anti-egalitarian xenophobia claimed victory.

Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, told the (fictional) story of a Black man, put on trial in the USA, for a non-crime (baselessly accused of rape) and treated as a criminal, simply because he wasn't 'one of us'.

By an artefact of history, the people who had the power, in the story, didn't think they had to care about the Black man.

They thought they human decency didn't apply.

They thought they didn't have to care.

They thought the niggers were just there, being non-sentient burdens.

And they thought they could claim anything they liked about them, because it didn't really matter.

And where are we today? With a Prime Minister of the UK, returning to blighty, so proud of himself that he's managed to guarantee 'his nation' concessions, from the EU.

And what might that prejudicial treatment from the EU involve?

Well, of course, they mean his government doesn't have to care about the local niggers - immigrants - quite as much as they used to. They don't have to provide welfare to the needy; they don't have to care about children; they don't have to be a good example to the rest of the world.

They think they can afford to be nationalist isolationists - that if they just build a big wall around 'Fortress Britain' then there's no way the grimey outsiders can harm 'us'.

By an artefact of history, the people who have the power to erect such a wall, don't think they have to care about the Immigrant man.

They think that human decency doesn't need to apply.

They think they don't have to care.

They think the immigrants are just there, being non-sentient burdens.

And they think they can claim anything they like about them, because it doesn't really matter.

"They're bringing problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, i assume, are good people" - Donald Trump

Is this racist rhetoric? Or nationalist rhetoric? Or religious rhetoric? Or even sexist rhetoric? The bigotry is generic.

How different are Trump and Cameron really? Apart from the British megalomaniac being less orange?

Harper Lee could write so eloquently about the conditions of racist factionalism, because she was well aware of it. She even lived it.

When she was a child, she saw, through her father's newspaper, the reports of Black men, who'd been sentenced to death, for raping White women, who thought they didn't have to care about what would happen if they falsely accused someone who wasn't 'one of us'.

To this day, there are bigots in the so-called 'developed' world, who think that it's OK to defaultedly believe rape claims. Even in the USA. "Listen and believe" - Sarkeesian.

When there's a demography-defying report of rapes in a German city, the rational thing to do, is to query whether they're even sincere. You don't promise Darlene that you're off to prepare the hanging tree!

When Harper Lee was 10 years old, a woman near Monroeville accused Walter Lett of raping her. Lett was convicted and sentenced to death. After a series of letters appeared, repudiating the claim, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He wasn't even let off.

You are a fool, if you think that you are ever warranted in unleashing firey vengeance on anyone, when there isn't even substantial evidence that they've done anything.

This is a travesty of justice. A travesty facilitated by factionalistic thought - by the truncation of compassion to those within 'our' walls - real or metaphorical.

Sure, it's motivated by fear. But fear is just an emotion. Emotions are stupid. Fear doesn't know whether it's justified or not - whether it's a real snake or a fake one. And people who act emotionalistically - irrationally - will inevitably act stupidly.

All the bovine rhetoric of the nationalists is generic, superstitious emotionalism, and is the genuine threat, pointing its gnarled finger at the impoverished and vulnerable.

Why don't the perpetrators of this xenophobia consider their victims? Because they think they don't have to.

And they think they don't have to, because they think their victims aren't worthy of compassion.

“The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry” - Richard Dawkins

The stupidity is self-perpetuating.

Because they refuse to look, they don't realise there was anything to see, and so they continue, blinkered, unaware that there was ever a moral obligation on them at all.

I remember, back in 2010, Stephen Fry saying that the presiding feeling of living under a Tory government, is one of shame.

Shame that we're all, collectively, responsible for the insidious and pernicious presence of conservative solipsism, gradually soaking its way through statute and society.

When the Prime Minister of one of the richest countries in Europe demands that he be granted the 'right' to turn away the poor and needy, for the sake of that country's bank balance, shame has surely got to be a popular emotion.

Add to that, the demand that Team GB be paid a rebate from the EU, for the privilege of having the UK's stinking, poorly-regulated corporations screwing the rest of the EU over, year after year after year.

The idiom 'adding insult to injury' seems highly apt!

'How satellites can help control the spread of diseases such as Zika'


The 15th of February marked the 28th anniversary of the first ever broadcast of Red Dwarf. As this anniversary comes to pass, work is under way to record the 12th series of the show, which is predicted to be broadcast in 2017.

In other news:

According to an online survey, there are roughly 5 million people in the UK engaged in the 'gig economy', also called the 'sharing economy', 'crowd working', 'platform capitalism' and even 'uberisation', where financial engagements are found through websites. What this means, is that people who are conventionally employed by a company, and covered by various restrictions and privileges for doing so, are instead doing the same work as a self-employed person. With the UK's Conservative Party dominated government imposing more and more bureaucratic penalties on the Unemployed, and desiring fake glory, many people there have shifted from registering themselves as 'Unemployed' with the DWP to registering themselves as 'self-employed' which means they still get some maintenance payments, but have a lot less hassle from the DWP, and therefore a lot more time to do actual work in! The benefit of this system, is that it's easier for the people involved to get some financial support, but the cost is that they are left vulnerable to dodgy clients and financial 'cashflow' problems. From those clients/employers' point of view, this means accessible labour, and probably cheaper labour, but also unreliable quality of work. And for the government that presides over this, it means an artificially lowered Unemployment figure, where millions of people are just as poor as they were before, but don't count, under the figures.

The Mexican State has sued VW Mexico $8.9 million for selling 45,494 vehicles without certificates proving they comply with emissions standards. The Mexican investigation into VW Group's industrial emissions deception between 2009 and 2015 is separate to this, and still ongoing.

Suspiciously self-defeating campaign of the week: TED Prize-winning Sarah Parcak's bid to put all as-yet-unresearched archaeological sites on a centralised internet database, in a bid to prevent people from looting precious artefacts. She is known as the 'Indiana Jones' of archaeology. Hmmmm. When was the last time you saw Indiana Jones recover an artefact without leaving a trail of destruction behind him? Archaeologists are generally small, disparate groups of researchers, with small amounts of funding, and a low ability to respond to an archaeological discovery in a short period of time. Looters, however, are often companies, that are already rich, through criminal activities, and are immediately available to plunder any site that they hear about. Historical artefacts are big business. By assembling a gigantic internet database of plunderable sites, identified and located by satellite surveillance, the power would be shifted from the archaeologists to the looters. All they have to do is 'log in'. It is imperative, with rare finds, that they are kept secret, until after they have been excavated. It would be much wiser to run a site like LootBusters, that catalogues stolen artefacts, so that it's more difficult for looters to sell them on, thereby undermining their profit motive. Poorly done, TED, for rewarding a truly bad idea.

A new vaccine takes advantage of the body's own immune system, to undermine opiate addiction. It contains a molecule that mimics the core structure of fentanyl - one kind of opiate that has an analgesic affect 50 to 500 times more potent than morphine. When given the vaccine, the immune system is 'trained' to produce antibodies to neutralize it. The idea, of course, is that if the fentanyl doesn't interact with the person, and thereby doesn't cause happiness, then patients and abusers will lose motive to use it. This would, i think, work; but what of the people who self-medicate depressive mental illnesses, with elative drugs? While there is a demand for elation, there always be a demand for things that cause it. The only benefit to pushing people off fentanyl, would be from pushin them onto something safer.

It's a new world record! January has set a new record for highest average temperature in the month, continuing a trend of highest-for-the-month records that's run for 9 months in a row! But 2016's January wins two records, according to NASA - one for being the hottest January on record; and one for being hotter than 'normal' by the largest margin on record. NASA disagrees with the NOAA on this measurement, but the trend toward hotter temperatures is clear - NASA says January 2016 had the hottest margin, whereas the NOAA says December 2015 had the hottest margin.

Three scientists who used to work for the New York State Police crime lab have sued the agency, alleging that they were put under pressure to fabricate substantiation for prosecutory claims, in court. NYSP has apparently rejected new software called 'TrueAllele' that reduces the chances of an erroneous prosecution through dodgy DNA analysis, and fired/displaced the three scientists who objected to the inferior, old method, that would have convicted innocent people. They say they were singled out in an internal investigation, and cited for 'ethical violations' because of their outspoken criticism of the old analysis method, which was used as a pretext for silencing them and blocking the new program.

The hoax of the week appears to be a rumour of an asteroid, carooming toward France. No surprises then, that the rumour originated in France. Apparently, it was started by computer gamers, looking to start a trending topic: cheeky #haveawank style, or gaming industry PR ploy? I do not know.

It was an insect's penis in amber, last week; and this week, it's a plant's penis. Well, not quite - it's a flower, with its pistil held prominent. The flower is a never-before-identified species of the genus Strychnos, preserved in amber for at least 15 million years. It took a lot of leg work to check whether it was a known species - there are currently 100 known species of Strychnos, and 200 more that haven't yet been delineated into concise species.

Think your brain's special? Think it's new and modern and amazeballs? Well, think again. Brains have existed for hundreds of millions of years, and the RIKEN Evolutionary Morphology laboratory and other institutions of Japan have found that they've even existed with a complex division of lobes, for different functions, for more than 500 million years. This means complex brains have been around for longer than jaws have. Embryonic research at RIKEN has found that modern lampreys and hagfish, which are jawless, do have genes encoding for the development of brain regions that simply don't grow, suggesting that their ancestors had the complexifying genes, but have simply been unexpressed in modern hagfish and lamprey lineages.

Tardigrades - those wonderful water bears - have set a new record, having been awoken from a frozen slumber, that they were in for 30 years. A moss sample collected in Antarctica in November 1983, was thawed out in May 2014, having been stored at -20°C. Astonishingly (though maybe not if you're familiar with tardigrades' other achievements) two little critters were fine, and immediately engaged in a furious reproductive frenzy, though i don't know whether they were fertilised before the cryptobiosis began. The record for animal cryptobiosis (dessication and freezing) actually lies with nematodes, who survived 39 years, according to a report from 1946. Recovery did take multiple weeks, however, and one of the three did die. You can see a video of them wriggling about, embedded in the linked article.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Surprises in dismantling a sodium streetlight!'

'Captive corals spawn in artificial reef'

'David Colquhoun on cough medicines'

'Which bounces better? Super-balls or Marbles?'

'Lithium into 7 Up - Periodic Table of Videos'

'Sodium gas... OMG ITS PURPLE!!!!'

'The Food Babe Has Her Head in the Clouds'

'World of Batshit - #6: Sphereless'

'Putting Pluto's geology on the map'

'Pluto's 'Hulk-like' moon Charon: A possible ancient ocean?'

'Romance isn't dead'

'10 Amazing Bets You Will Always Win (Ep 15)'


'You're A Socialist - Improv'

'Come Home (Cardinal Pell) - Tim Minchin'

'Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast - with Richard Bacon #100'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Quote Of The Week: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” - Atticus Finch, in To Kill A Mockingbird

Expression of The Week: adding insult to injury -- the worsening of a situation, by exacerbating the pain already caused by some other loss or indignity

Word Of The Week: compassion -- sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others; an ability to understand the experiences of others; a motive to care about others, and help them out of their austerity

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'The Shocking Ingredients Petco Is Selling For Your Pets'

There's never a handy bottom when you need one :-D

'J. S. Bach, The Musical Offering'

Monday, 15 February 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 8-14/2/16 (Gravity Wave Special)

Hi spacebenders,

Late last year, Lawrence Krauss tweeted the rumblings from within LIGO, that gravitational waves had been found, and that a Paper was pending.

Well, that Paper has now been published, and is undergoing critical analysis as we speak/read.

'Lawrence Krauss Reveals All - Gravitational Waves'

But what is it? And what are these 'gravitational waves'?

Are they colloquialisms for the silent applause, delivered by fans at gravy-making championships - the Gravy Invitational waves??

No :-P

So what are they? Well, a friend asked for a layman's explanation of what gravitational waves are, via Facebook, and this is what i said:

[What 'gravitational waves' means is that] even the effects of gravity are affected by the spacetime constant 'c', commonly known as the 'speed of light'. So, if something with mass moves, then it'll take time for something somewhere else to notice. Hence the idea of ripples. If you throw a stone in a lake, it'll take time until a little plastic solider gets hit by a ripple, on the shore.

If two really massive (heavy) things spiral in towards each other and eventually collide, they'll be moving backwards and forwards very quickly, and so any LIGO you happen to have somewhere, will be most able to see the step down/up of gravitational tug as the masses move away/closer, to your position. The ripples are biggest, on the flat metaphorical lake of our cosmos, when the most massive things move about.

But in fact, even these ripples are far too small to observe directly, even coming from black holes, so LIGO has a huge array of mirrors and LASERs instead. Any gravitational wave, passing through, would ripple (distort) the 4km-across laboratory, causing the LASERs to get out of phase.

In the experiment's interferometer setup, the LASERs are made to deliberately destructively interfere, which means the output signal shows nothing at all. Unless the laboratory itself is warped, in which case the light doesn't fully cancel out, and so some light is seen.

And that's how they can find gravitational waves.

Is that all clear now? :-D

I should take this opportunity to correct a nuance in what i wrote two weeks ago - LISA Pathfinder is not actually involved in finding gravitational waves itself - Pathfinder is doing fundamental physics, studying the nature of gravity, under microgravity conditions.

ESA's eLISA (Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) is to be launched in the 2030s, when Pathfinder's done, and will be doing what LIGO does now, but on a much larger scale - over 5 million kilometres. To notice gravitational waves, you need something a lot bigger than the Pathfinder experiment's tiny craft - you need a huge interferometer.

You can easily look up video demonstrations of how an interferometer works, on the interwebs, including a demo by one of the guys who founded the LIDO experiment itself.

But then, why bother searching for that one, when i've linked it here? The man in the video is Rainer Weiss, who appears in the video below - 'The Announcement...'

The reason that LIDO is an L-shaped laboratory, is to detect gravitational waves, coming from either direction, or some angle in-between. If it were practical to build a third arm, going 4 kilometres up in the air, orthogonal to the ground-based arms, then they probably would have built that too.

LIDO, by the way, stands for the 'LASER Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory' which is currently situated in two sites, in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, so that results collected by each can be compared.

If they both see the same squiggles on their graphs, then the chances of their observations being a fluke are much, much lower. Use only one LIDO, and you don't know what you're comparing to - the universe, or a truck rolling past the building :-D

I should point out that the Paper in question - this paper - was actually contributed to by LIGO, and VIRGO - two international collaborations involving more than 1000 researchers, employed through funding from the USA's NCS, the UK's STFC, the Max Planck Society of Germany, and the Australian Research Council. Like with the discoveries of CERN, using the LHC, this has been a big project.

In a few years, other sites in Europe, Japan and India are expected to join the search, which will use evidence of gravitational waves to infer the presence of black hole systems, across the universe, and the cosmic machinations that they are involved in, in greater detail.

Another benefit of having more sites, is that they can be used to increase precision of origin calculation. Currently, the position of the black-hole-smashing event that produced these famous gravitational waves, estimated to be in 'the banana' in this diagram - somewhere in the direction of the LMC (Large Magellanic Cloud).