Monthly Archives: August 2015

Science Thursday: Thursday, August 20

Welcome to this weeks edition of Science Thursday. This is a special edition of Science Thursday, as it is the last that will be found here, on my personal blog. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Science Thursday is growing up, and getting it’s own website. Next week, tune in to sciencethursday.org and find the same old Science Thursday in a brand new place. This week we have some downright exhilarating news, starting, with our favorite comet lander and orbiter.

On August 13, Rosetta reached perihelion coming to within 186 million km of the Sun. For reference, this is about 1/5 the optical diameter of Betelgeuse. The linked article has some photos of what the comet looked like during the event. Evidently, it is spewing 300kg of water vapor out into space every second. This was an exciting day for the comet. As the saying goes, it’s all downhill from here.

In an article posted in CBC News, we find that there is an automated lawnmower with U.S. approval. this is good news to all those children out there who are forced to mow the lawn. One day, sooner now, you will be able to just set the robot lawn mower off, and go back to watching the shitty cartoons on tv or playing your gamebox or twitting on faceplace or whatever kids do nowadays instead of mow lawns. Incidentally, this is also good news to most parents, who just want their lawns mowed, but bad news to the parents who viewed lawn mowing as a rite of passage type of thing. Maybe the new rite of passage can be fixing robomower when it breaks? Time will tell.

Oh boy, do I have a whacky conspiracy for you. Evidently, Mars is going to be as big as the moon. Except for one small thing. No. Just, no. It’s not. No. It is that time of the year again, the time of the Mars hoax. Normally, I would have just discounted this as a bunch of whackadoos who we let onto the internet as the name would lead you to believe, but this hoax is a little different. For starters, it has it’s own, relatively credible Wikipedia page. Also, it has a mostly credible (so far)NASA webpage. Evidently, an email went around back in 2003 (yes kids, there WAS email in 2003) which stated that mars would be the same size as the moon when mars was viewed with 75 power magnification. The 75 magnification bit may or may not be true, depending on which website you read. What is definitely not true is Mars looking the same size as the Moon from Earth. To put a slight spin on this, a way Mars would actually look as big as the Moon does on Earth is if we actually send people there. On the way, for an instant, Mars will appear exactly as big as the Moon does from your back porch. So let’s step to it NASA, and make this myth come true. For a select few astronauts. Briefly.

Here is some news for octopus fans. The octopus genome has been mapped. Finally! There are many novel genes that scientists found in the octopus genome that are responsible for things like octopus’ ability to change color. Which, I think, is pretty cool.

That’s it for this week’s Science Thursday. See you next week on the new website, sciencethursday.org. Thanks for reading. Until next time.

Science Thursday: August 13, 2015

Welcome to this weeks edition of Science Thursday. I’ve sort of fallen into a routine of doing these every other week during the summer, due to a myriad of reasons such as me traveling and whatnot, so hopefully these will start becoming more regular again as the summer winds down. That, however, implies some sort of routine to my daily life, which at this moment, is about to become rather non-existent for a little while, so we’ll all get to see about it together. This two weeks, we have some exiting news about robots, Rosetta, and

So to start something from last week. There is a hitchhiking robot in America. Or, rather, there WAS a hitchhiking robot in America. The little robotic traveller started in Salem, Mass. and was vandalized in Philadelphia, after successfully making it’s way across the entirety of Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. This was basically a giant fuck you to the robot community from America, and something that makes me a little sad to be an American. This guy traveled across three whole countries and couldn’t even last two weeks here, because of some stupid ignorant dumb-asses in Philadelphia. In other news: the Philadelphia police are still not entirely sure that the vandal wasn’t Donald Trump…

In an update to this story, a tech group from Philadelphia has offered to help repair hitchbot, in an effort to prove to the rest of the world that America is not all full of idiotic scumbags like the republican presidential candidates want you to believe.

Something else from last week that is of note, NASA is putting the wreckage of Challenger and Columbia on display to the public for the first time ever. Prior to this, the Challenger wreckage was buried in an abandoned missile silo on the grounds of the Canaveral Air Force Station, and the Columbia wreckage was kept in office space at the Kennedy Space Center according to NBC News.

Also from last week, this is the closest upset photo of a comet ever taken. It was taken from a range of 9 meters by the lander Philae as it made it’s descent.

So, there has been a spike in the number of authors of scientific papers recently. Why exactly this is, is unclear. But there are huge projects, such as the LHC at CERN, where there are many many many people who are working research that is published. The bigger issue, as reported in the article, is a physicist crediting his pet hamster as a co-author on a physics paper (H.A.M.S. ter Tisha…cute.)

There were several other relatively interesting things in the news this week, including this piece about astronauts eating vegetables grown in space, the Perseids meteor shower, which I believe you can still see some bits of.

Also this week, an interesting discussion of your privacy in main stream operating systems (namely Windows 10), this super kick-ass humanoid robot punching through a wall, and Lawrence Lessig announcing he is raising money to run for President of the United States, just so he can resign.

That’s all for the past two weeks, hopefully you have learned something from this week’s edition of Science Thursday. Thanks for reading, and see you next time.

The Thing About Sloths

I recently read The Salmon of Doubt, published posthumously from the hard drives of one Douglas Noel Adams. It is the last addition to the brilliant canon of a brilliant man. I for one did not truly realize the breadth of his intelligence until I read some of the more candid bits that are contained in this final volume. There is a quote buried somewhere in the book, amid an article regarding, among other things, palmtop computers, typewriter keyboards, and Branwell Brontë. The quote is:

“My favourite piece of information is that Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantle piece, in order to prove it could be done.

This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favourite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.

However, this is not relevant to what is currently on my mind because it concerns sloths, whereas the Branwell Brontë piece of information concerns writers and feeling like death and doing things to prove they can be done, all of which are pertinent to my current situation to a degree that is, frankly, spooky.”

Now, you might read this and think to youself, ‘No way! How did I not know that bit about sloths!’, and then go on happily with your day. Or, like I did, you might think to youself, ‘No way! How did I not know that bit about sloths!’, and drive your little web browser over to Google or Yahoo! or some such search place (Just not Bing, for goodness’ sake not Bing), search the bit about sloths, and find that it’s totally bogus. There is no scientific evidence for it.

Of course, this piece of information made it onto the internet, and has been passed around and around by those who either a) believe it, or b) appreciate it. (Notice there is no c) believe it and appreciate it) Which brings up an interesting point, regarding bits of information. People around the internet seem to be all in a tizzy because little sloths don’t actually mistake their arms for trees. Which, I mean, even for a sloth, is daft. Arms and trees are rather different. One is furry and hurts when you pinch it, and the other doesn’t drop you 90 feet onto the ground when you grab at it. In hindsight, having believed this bit of information for a couple seconds, I feel a little silly. Of course baby sloths don’t actually do this. Sloths live in the trees. If they constantly grabbed their arms and fell out of them they wouldn’t have survived this long.

At this point, I was beginning to feel a bit sad. I mean how could Douglas Adams, the brilliant man that he was, have gotten this wrong? (The answer is actually quite simple, but we’ll get to that later.) Then I realized, that it didn’t actually matter. Read the quote again. (The whole thing, if you like, or if you are an efficient sort of person, just the middle part.) Never does Mr. Adams actaully assert that this is a fact. All he says is that it is his favorite piece of information. And here we get to an intersting point about information.

You see, to be information, there is no actual requirement that it be true. This is something that I think many people forget, which is interesting, because there is certainly more information available to us now than there has ever been. We live our lives in a constant state of information overload. It’s everywhere. Phones, emails, every where all over your laptop, on the television, on the radio. All that information about you on the internet that is false, is still information about you on the internet. With information being literally everywhere, it’s important to keep the possibility that the information is false in mind. Now, there are obviously places where it is assumed that information is true. When you’re reading BBC news bulletins. Or Aljezeera. Even NPR. The job of these organizations is to provide you with things that are factually true. When you’re reading other sites on the internet, such as Fox News, or an internet blog, a little more critical thinking is requried.

All of this being said, I do not know if Douglas Adams knew this information to be false when he wrote it. There are lots of pieces of information that are out there. For instance, Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable. Pigs are the only other animal besides humans that can get sunburnt. It is illegal to hunt camels in the state of Arizona. The Bible is the most shoplifted book in the United States. Nutmeg is extremely poisonous if injected intravenously. If you spell out numbers, you have to get to one thousand (1000) before you use the letter ‘a’. (For more like this, you can visit this website, or use your favorite search engine to find random pieces of information.) Now, are all of those pieces of information true? I have no idea. (Except the letter ‘a’ one, I know that one is actaully true.) But they are, in fact, pieces of information. Some of them, like the camel hunting ban in Arizona, are on my top 20 list. Some of them, like the one about Canada accidentally putting an American flag over their parlament building on their two dollar bill, are false, yet I still like them. Others, like the one about Canada putting the American side of the Sault St. Marie locks on the four dollar bill in 1900 instead of the Canadian side, by accident, are true (google it, but google it wisely), and I like them anyway.

The thing about sloths is: regardless of the fact that the bit about sloths isn’t true, just try and get the image of a baby sloth mistakenly grabbing its own arm and falling out of a tree out of your head. You can’t do it. I’ve tried. It’s just hilarious. The little guy is just sitting there and then fwoomp! It’s brilliant. And you probably smiled thinking about it. Douglas Adams was a satirist, a script writer, a novelist, and brilliant by all accounts. This little bit about sloths is one of my favorite pieces of information as well. Because it is a great piece of information, and also, (this is the bit I said we’d get to later) it means that Douglas Adams wasn’t always right. Which, I think, is one of my favorite things about him.