science

Spaced out – a blog rant because it’s been a while and I’m a bit rusty

(Disclaimer: This is my first blog in a few months, I have dropped/sprinkled some f-bombs but I’m hoping they fit the ranty style)

I love all things to do with space; fact, fiction and everything that has yet to be classified. So I was there watching the live stream of SpaceX fist true payload test flight yesterday. Let’s just say it was more exciting than the cyro test for the James Webb telescope.

In years to come it will be interesting to see what people recall of Elon Musks – SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, more significantly the ‘dummy payload’. I used to be a bit meh about Musks plans of getting to Mars, I felt there were things we should tend to here first (like a lot of people I suspect). However I think once humanity gets to Mars and realises what a shit hole it is (sorry Mars, you lost your magnetic field, had your atmosphere stripped, your oceans boiled away and more than likely the only life is bacterial) it will hopefully be the wake-up call needed to stop shitting where we eat.

But back to that payload – the cherry red Tesla Roadster with Starman at the wheel, blasting out David Bowie I have to say ‘classy dude…nice choice’. For everyone wringing hands about ‘space junk’ (here comes the rant) CHECK THE FUCKING TRAJECTORY! It is metaphorically the same as me going to a river picking up a stick and chucking it in a stream to see where it might end up out at sea, then people screaming about polluting the river. It is (was!) headed for Mars, not orbiting earth, but overshot (too much power Elon – I feel myself channelling Scotty from Star Trek ‘I’ve given it all I’ve got captain’) and is going to make it to the asteroid belt – yes a massive collection of debris. They had to put a payload on the end to test it. Picking a car as others have said is a better representation of actual payloads – not the usual block of concrete or steel. Why not test and have a bit of fun? The Starman suit is also a genuine suit soon to be used so – yeah – it also serves a purpose…and it’s FUN! It should not have to be an ‘either/or’ choice when it comes to science and technology pushing ideas or the environment. Tesla has invested research into alternative energy – again – how about checking with other big companies about their commitment to sustainability.

Speaking of sustainable, the rockets – reusable. So to all those complaining about pollution, space-junk etc, how’s your recycling going? Sure Tesla might get some marketing out of it – and why the fuck not! He took a huge gamble.

No – of course the car is fucking next to useless in space, orbiting Mars – wherever – so is a massive piece of steel and concrete. Oh and let’s not forget there are meteors bigger than The Roadster hurtling toward daily, so please (to those concerned hand wringers) STFU about shit from space – space is full of stuff, all sorts of stuff and who knows some of that stuff might have come from previous Mars civilisation wondering if it could send someone to Earth….ponder that.

Next stop – the Flat Earthers…not sure when I will get ‘round’ to that. I sphere I may go round in circles.

 

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Land of the long well-endowed?

Let’s start with a joke to warm up.

How many Freudian analysts does it take to change a light bulb?

Two – one to turn the light bulb and the other to hold the penis – ladder! – I mean ladder.

Yes the penis has featured a little too frequently in my media sphere this week, and the NZ Herald chimed in twice. Puns and jokes aside, I’m a bit fed up with Freudian fences containing concepts of sexuality and scientists are earnestly backing this up by doing important research into penis size. It seems working out what is normal or statistically average took just 1500 participants to drop their pants and submit to the measuring tape, wonder what lucky research student got that job. I’m not sure whether it is women who have the envy because quite frankly it all seems a little (or largely) over rated.

But science is going a step further with the possibility of growing these essential organs in laboratories, so in the future people could get an upgrade. Maybe technology will merge with sexual functioning at some point as well. Perhaps sending ‘attachments’ might take on a whole new meaning.

For me a sign of an advanced civilization is one that doesn’t need to talk about who has what bits and how they look. For now we are left with Freuds phallic fence posts, well – this horse has bolted. So that’s it. What? you were expecting more? Well – it’s not the number of words that matter its how you use them.

Spaced Out

People have stared up at the sky and wondered for millennia about our place in the universe. We seem to be torn as a species between wanting to claim some exclusive specialness of being the only ‘intelligent’ life and hoping we are not alone. Of course we’ve made up plenty of stories to reassure ourselves of what makes us special along with enough rules to spend our short lives living in fear of getting it wrong.

With telescopes moving from simple lenses in the 17th century to the monster of Hale in the early 20th century, onto Hubble and soon the James Webb, our eyes have opened to the possibility of other planets existing beyond our solar system. It was always only a matter of time (and space) that science and maths would collide in an epic mind job. The numbers are staggering, the Drake equation is starting to look a bit like the homunculus theory of reproduction. Regardless of the formula the probabilities range in the billions of earth like planets in our solar system. Now of course that doesn’t necessarily mean with advanced life (I’d caution using humans as a yardstick). But someone else has done some number crunching that goes something like this:

  • For every star in our galaxy there is another galaxy in the universe. For every grain of sand on earth there are 10 000 stars
  • If 5% of those are like our sun – that is 500 billion, billion suns like ours
  • At least 1% of all stars in universe have earth like planet = 100 billion billion earth like planets
  • So, there are 100 earth like planets for every grain of sand
  • If we assume only 1% have intelligent life – (advanced civilisation), 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the universe
  • Scaled down for our galaxy that becomes one billion earth like planets and 100 000 advanced intelligent civilizations – just in our galaxy.

 

Humans are a sad contradiction – afraid to die, and too afraid to truly live. Life is the rule in the universe not the exception. Science has eaten humble pie before although it tends to be laced with amnesia (on a brain that apparently isn’t quite as gendered as first thought).

I kind of imagine with 100 000 advanced civilisations we are well past little-green-men.

A Plutonic Relationship

It has taken nearly 10 years for the New Horizons to reach Pluto. Radio signals take four and a half hours to get back, nothing new if you’re used to trying to get a response from a call centre. Pluto represents a threshold of sorts. Probes are the new ships of discovery at the mercy of Newtons laws and the winds of political and scientific change. Billions of kilometres travelled and yet not even a stones throw from our door step. On the same day another group of physicist discovered a new quantum particle, a pentaquark. Pluto or particle these are moments of wonder to expand our still limited and sheltered understanding of reality. But as we look outward and beyond or inward I can’t discern the difference. I feel simultaneously a drop of water in the ocean and the ocean. However above all else seeing other planets that have no life as we know it living on them reminds me of how absolutely insane the human race is. Our relationship with the world we inhabit is nothing short of psychopathic. We are not custodians but criminals at best. There is only one thing driving the ecosystem to the brink and it is us. If there was a lonely planet guide for the earth it might read something like:

“The jewel of this system with liquid water and amazing biodiversity. However it is currently experiencing a human plague so best to give a wide berth as they are hostile and paranoid with egos and childlike needs for power. Their selfishness and fear is matched only by their untapped creativity and love. The level of contamination and destruction of life this one species has created in the name of what they call progress suggests they will either destroy themselves along with this wonderful one of a kind world or die trying. Explore the rich ocean life while you can. Remember they believe they are the only intelligent life to have ever existed so best to go incognito. If you intend to stay for a while masquerading as a scientist is easy just do not tell them they are wrong about anything and best not to leave anything behind they could blow themselves up with, they discovered nuclear power and still haven’t learnt their lesson. The best example of a human disguise is going by the name Steven Hawking, however the physiology did not merge so well in the end. Finally you will need to get used to the concept of money. Again, do not try and convince them do not need it to survive”.

Thanks science for the amazing pictures but what really needs a good probe is us.

counting for something

Here I am closing in on my 100th blog. I feel a bit like a cricket player nervously perched on the edge of my crease wondering if I should play conservatively or just cut loose, throw caution to the wind and smash it out of the park. But it’s just a number and part of me is also intrigued by our relationship with numbers, statistics and putting numerical values on things. The saturation of data available and our reliance on numbers to define the boundaries and boarders of what becomes significant value doesn’t add up. Data can be forgotten, omitted, discarded and interpreted more ways that you can shake a bit of willow at.

I suppose I have an aversion to the normal curve anyway so its probably no surprise I’d rather use it as a moustache, slide, or bow and arrow or something similar. People love to throw numbers around to get their point across or claim some for of truth status, especially if has been ‘scientifically proven’. Padded up and staring down someone charging into a conversation I sometimes wonder what on earth I should do – I don’t want to be caught on the back foot but learning to anticipate what might be coming down gets easier if you do your research. Sometimes the best way to play a shot is to take the momentum and simply redirect it.

I was always a pretty average batter but I wasn’t a bad wicket keeper, catching people out. Get to know what shots to play depending on the kind of data thrown down. Some will have more spin on it than others so you need to be quick on your feet. Being stumped isn’t the best feeling but it isn’t the end of the world.

Things aren’t always what they seam . Time to run that single – Howzat.

Sink or Swim? It’s a current affair

It’s tragic. Another life lost in the waters off the coast of NZ, it’s almost a daily occurrence at the moment. Kiwis have an affinity with water that runs deep. It represents so much of our identity as a nation. It feeds us, we play in it, compete on it and in it, enjoy it’s sounds and being an island nation, there is quite a lot of access to it. Do we respect it? Do we have a collective arrogance or sense of entitlement around our water ways?

The few times I have ditched my preferred agnostic spiritualist beliefs and fully embraced Jesus have been in the sea, usually the west coast. I’ve had a couple of ‘OMG I’m going to (or someone I know is going to) die – moments’. Panic is perhaps one of the biggest risk factors, that and a lack of ability and competency in the water. Personally, I believe we have a tendency to confuse water ‘confidence’ with ‘competence’. I think being a ‘strong swimmer’ is a very lose definition that can range from ‘I can doggy paddle across a pool so long as I can touch the bottom’ to ‘I can swim a couple of km while carrying a sack of bricks’.

But what about the organisations charged with providing the information to help people understand the risks? Well I checked out the Water Safety New Zealand site and I have to say it’s a bit wet. The Water safety code gives 4 guidelines that are in my opinion pretty weak and non specific.

1: Be prepared – simply learn to swim, survive, set rules, use correct equipment and know conditions
2: Look after yourself and others – play ‘close’ attention to children, swim with others and between flags if patrolled. We could do better NZ supervising children in the water.
3: Be aware of dangers – enter water feet first and obey signs, don’t swim if drinking alcohol– that’s it?
4: Know your limits – probably the most subjective and problematic guideline

So what is it exactly that people just don’t ‘get’? Well I have a hunch that many people rarely consider the hydrodynamics (beyond rips) of water to be lethal. A lot of the worry and fear about swimming in the sea is about sharks or sting rays, when realistically the chances of death by shark pale in comparison to drowning. We should just break water safety down into pure science. Here are my personal choices for addition info:

1Litre of water weighs a Kg (roughly…there are a few variables to consider). Extrapolate that to 1cubic meter we get 1000kg or a metric tonne. So when water moves it has momentum – mass x velocity. I think Tsunami are perhaps the best example of the concept of inertia to devastating effect. I’ve struggled to keep my footing in water below my knees at Piha, and I am not lacking mass, imagine how a small body would fare. Now if you are struggling to visualise that you could think of the ocean as a sea of vehicles. Some have heavy traffic-heavy trucks for example, some light-cars, motorbikes, some just bikes and skate boards. If you heard someone telling kids to go play in front of the trucks or on the train tracks, I’d hope most people would find a way to politely suggest it isn’t safe. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell from just looking.

Then there is the density of water. There is a curious thing about water, when it is full of bubbles (aerated) it loses it’s ability to keep things afloat like bodies. So when the surf is pumping and there is lots of white water – it is bubbles and so you sink due to the temporary lower density! Those not wearing a wetsuit or using a board of some kind will definitely find themselves struggling to keep on the surface. This little piece of info is sorely lacking and probably explains why those who are generally ‘strong swimmers’ come to grief especially if alcohol is added in.

Alcohol and swimming do not mix at all. But I need to put my hand up and say ‘I’ve done it’. Aside from the decision making impairment, alcohol does interesting things to blood, but specifically it reduces its ability to carry oxygen efficiently. This is kind of important if you need to do some serious swimming.

More explicit information needs to be available in many languages…including drunken westie. Ok enough making waves for today.

Paleo – The new hunger games

O Paleo, Paleo! Wherefore art thou Paleo? I had assumed as I typed Paleo into google that it might be referenced in terms of Paleolithic era but it wasn’t until I got the ‘L’ in there that google got away from diet references into the actual era referred to, in fact I would challenge anyone to define Paleolithic outside of modern diet fashion discourse! I’ve seen a few diet fad’s come and go, of course the trick is for it ‘not to be a diet but a ‘guide’ or a ‘template’ even a ‘lifestyle’. I’d very unscientifically suggest there might be a correlation between ardent cross fit fanatics and paleo…but it’s just a hunch based on the fervent social media activity I see online.

It seems a bit like that curious phenomenon of galvanising, take the hard core steel of obsessive body perfection and dip it in hot new ideas and here is your shiny thing. I’ve found myself on the other side of the fence for once – being the skeptic. So whilst zealous frenzied calls are made that the ‘end is nigh…it’s the diet apocalypse’ I quietly slipped into research mode to check out what I might be missing . But actually when Paleo is stripped back by people who know their stuff, like poor quality galvanising – it all starts to get a bit flaky.

Scientific America have better credentials and pull paleo apart like a half starved carnivore. Some of the most salivant points are:
• It isolates one epoc of human evolution and fails to see adaptations made through the course of the stone age
• The Plaeofantasy is based on an assumption that we were in harmony with nature – only if you consider constantly living hand to mouth and trying not to be another species meal harmony
• The human genome has changed very little therefore only thrives under ‘similar conditions’ – not true
• Every single species of plant and animal alive today is vastly different to those of the paleolithic period
• Lifespans were vastly shorter 40 was it – 15 middle age and a miracle if you got there
• There is no clear information exactly what was consumed and in what amounts
• Just what part of the world are we taking our info from? An Inuit Paleo will have little in common with a ‘Hadza’ or ‘Kung’ (so do we put it all in a blender? Seal and fruit smoothie anyone?)
• People were healthier?…they were not.

It occurred to me that the construction of knowledge or epistemology is a bit of a selective diet itself–– choosing to incorporate some bits – trimming the fa[c]t to get the lean sometimes thin stringy bits of relevant information. Garnish with some decent marketing and presto! A fully digestable meal to satisfy the ego and produce enough flatulence to power a small city. In fact of all the bits that bother me the most it is the snarling, sneering wild judgement of those following any sort of ‘better than others’ practice of life, be it diet or exercise or oral hygiene. Talk about de evolution. But while the construction of knowledge might be in question, equally the process of constructing ignorance or agnotology, should give all of us pause to think about how do we ‘know’ what we do not know. The tobacco industry exploited this for years and I think the diet industry might well be next in line for some careful tooth picking.

Eating chemically laden, processed, sugar loaded food from nutrient depleted soil covered in toxic spray isn’t good for us. Nor is our vastly sedentary lifestyles where we live in a chronic state of stress that is nothing like the stress of our ancestors. Eating food that is as close to it’s natural state as possible is probably better for you than eating poison…do we really need more research on this?

So here is an alternative marketing approach for those wanting to promote their Paleo produce in the wider market say restaurants. If restaurants are themed and have dress codes, why not do the Paleo dress code – fur or animal skin only, with authentic seating – rocks, logs. And of course everthing would be either raw or char grilled…I’m up for that. Then if you wanted to take that al fresco – you could throw in some wild animals just to up the ambiance.

Personally – I am sure I have seen a cave drawing somewhere of an antelope type animal being carved up and put in a pie – so nomnom pie is paleo.