Some of Us Are Really Smart!

I think we all knew it, deep down inside: Those of us with desks that look like cyclone hits, who swear “too much,” whatever that is, and who stay up way too late and get up late, too… yeah, we’re smarter than you neatnik clock-watching do-gooders. Arwa Mahdawi says so in The Guardian, and why wouldn’t you trust her?

“I’m very intelligent. I’m also extremely creative and have a vocabulary that could be described as voluminous, venerable or very large. But don’t just take my word for it: science says so…” [read more]

Here’s proof of my own smartness. (I neatened it up some.)

And here’s the inevitable kibitzer:

“Aren’t you supposed to be working?”

March for Science, Boston

The Boston branch of the March for Science drew a gratifyingly large and diverse crowd to Boston Common. I decided it was time to get out there and put my feet where my mouth is (not in my mouth; you know what I mean), and I’m glad I did. Here are some pictures to tell the story.

 

 

 

I don’t know who any of these people are, just that they cared enough to come out in support of science, clear thinking, and the welfare of our planet.

Happy Earth Day!

How Can You Not Like Tardigrades?

I have just finished our taxes, and in celebration I am toasting the tardigrade! This hardy little critter can survive the vacuum of space, the cold of near absolute zero, and temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. These little extremophiles are tough! All it asks is some moss to suck on. How can you not admire the tardigrade, who is sort of cute, in the same way certain breeds of dogs are cute.

You’ll like this short video about them on Curiosity.com. (I couldn’t find a way to embed it here.)

Are tardigrades the secret to panspermia, the seeding of life through the universe? I wonder.

 

Science Proves Dogs Understand Words the Way Humans Do

MRI scans of dogs brains show them responding not just to a speaker’s tone of voice (right brain function), but to the meanings of spoken words (left brain function). Now, this is cool—if perhaps unsurprising to dog owners. Nice to see it confirmed by a brain scanner, though! And those are some adorable-looking dogs. Read more about it in Science News. (Update: This Washington Post article has more information, including some video of how they did the research.)

Picture by ENIKŐ KUBINYI

 

 

Optimism Makes Us More Adaptable, Says Carver

smiley-frowny-face-smNo, that’s not me I quoted in the title. But Prevention magazine, in an article titled, 9 Traits Optimists Have In Common, quotes extensively from noted University of Miami psychologist Charles S. Carver, who says that optimists, compared to pessimists, tend to be:

  • More resilient
  • Less likely to quit
  • Quicker to forgive
  • Less stressed

and five other more or lesses than. Yay! (I tend to be pretty optimistic. Although I can’t vouch for the “sounder sleepers” item; I don’t sleep soundly at all. But I think a lot of the other traits quoted in the article fit.)

And now maybe I should read the linked article, 7 Reasons You’re Tired All The Time. (I wonder if optimists are more tolerant of listicles. Hm. Nah.)

Charles S. Carver, by the way, is my big brother. Ironically, I think he’d probably call himself a pessimist, but that may just be my view as the younger sib.

Do the Funky Conch Hop

posted in: nature, science | 0

A conch is a kind of snail, right? And snails don’t jump; they ooze, right? Well, not always, it turns out. Here, from Science News, is a story about the motion of Gibberulus gibberulus gibbosus, aka hunchbacked conch.

To quote: “The sea snails save their jumping for conch emergencies, such as when they detect dissolved body odor from the deadly cone snail Conus marmoreus. Cone snails glide rather than jump. But if a cone snail gets close enough, it harpoons the conch with a long, venom-delivering proboscis that is as agile as an elephant’s trunk. Then it reels in the paralyzed conch like a fish on the line. Such threats favor epic jumping in spite of the conch circulatory system…” [more]

Watch this conch jump. (It’s small in the screen, so click in the lower right corner to maximize.)

Braided Clouds, from Space

This NASA image caught my eye on The Atlantic’s website. (Click the link if this embed code doesn’t work. Ah, nope, it doesn’t. Click the link.) Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean, from NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of sea ice off Heard Island on Nov 2, 2015 at 5:02 AM EST (09:20 UTC). A cloud vortex- the circular pattern seen here- is produced by the flow of air in the atmosphere. Heard Island (visible in the lower right portion of the image) is located in the Indian Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to Antarctica. The island is uninhabited by humans, although it is home to many birds and seals. Heard Island is rugged and mountainous, and is mostly covered with ice. It is also home to an active volcano, Mawson Peak. The island has been a territory of Australia since 1947. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team #nasagoddard
A photo posted by NASA Goddard (@nasagoddard) on

The Cat’s Still Alive (and Dead)! — Schrödinger Sessions

Not really Schrödinger’s cat, but she is in a box.

I’ve just come back from an incredible weekend at the Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, near Washington, D.C. The JQI staff hosted just over a dozen SF writers, and for several days stuffed our heads full of information about quantum physics. It was head-exploding. But in a good way!

Here are some of the things we learned from Chad Orzel, Steve Rolston, Chris Monroe, and others:

  • How to become quantum (which only works if you are very small, much smaller even than I was when I was at my low weight).
  • How (if you can master the first step) you can be in two places at one time—and also how to collapse that state so that you’re just in one.
  • How to trap a single charged atom (ion) in a vacuum trap and cool it to just a whisker above Absolute Zero. (And we leaned over and didn’t touch! equipment that does just that.)
  • How to quantum-entangle two or more particles in the above-mentioned apparatus. (Okay, I still don’t really understand how to do that.)
  • How to make light disappear with two polarized filters, and reappear with the addition of a third. (I sort of understand that.)
  • That sometimes the answer to the question “Why?” is “Just shut up and calculate.”
  • That probability is not a definition of a thing, but a statement of our knowledge of a system.
  • That probability is not a definition of knowledge after all, but of our ignorance about a system.
  • That there are two rules of quantum mechanics:
  1. Quantum objects are waves, and can be in states of superposition (more than one position at a time).
  2. Rule #1 holds as long as you don’t look!

Professor James Gates (familiar from countless PBS documentaries) told us why he doesn’t buy the extra dimensions suggested by most string theorists.
Professor Raman Sundrum (of the Randall-Sundrum Model) told us why he does, and furthermore why it’s possible we’re living in a holographic universe.

I learned that quantum physicists say “I don’t know” a lot.

There was tons more, presented by a bunch of professors. I hope I can remember it. Or most of it. Or some of it.

Part of it, in fact, plays right into what I’m trying to do in The Reefs of Time. So I really hope I can remember that part.

Maybe I’ll buy the book by Chad Orzel, one of the workshop leaders, How to Teach [Quantum] Physics to Your Dog.

Down in there is a glowing cluster of verra verra cold ytterbium atoms.    
 

Space-X Explosion: Even the Students Feel the Pain

posted in: science, space | 0

Julia Powell, age 15, is in high school. Her group’s science experiment was on its way to the International Space Station aboard the Space-X rocket when it was blown to smithereens by the failure of the Falcon 9 booster last Sunday.

That’s got to hurt.

What’s got to hurt even more is that it was the second time her experiment was blown up in a launch failure. Yes, she and fellow students had their first space-bound experiment aboard the Antares rocket that exploded on launch last October.

Those students are learning just how hard spaceflight can be. But God bless them, they’re not giving up. You go, girls and guys.

Riding a Comet!

The successful landing of Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the European Space Agency is a welcome bright spot in this month’s space news. Bright for science, and bright for the spirit of exploration. Well done, ESA!

As I type this, I don’t know if Philae has yet run out of battery power. In case you’ve been living in a mine this week, Philae dropped across space to a landing, but took a few unfortunate bounces and ended up resting on a precarious spot with too much shadow for its solar cells. I wish we could send it a light! I’d even contribute my Stanley car jumpstart battery, if it would help. Well, I’m sure Philae’s clever scientist-parents will make the most of it. And I can’t wait to find out what they learn. [Update: Apparently it has run out of battery power, after drilling into the comet, but before sending data back. Ow, that hurts. But there may be opportunity for it to recharge slowly, in the coming months, and maybe come back to life for a while. Let’s hope.]

It’s amazing how little we knew about comets until we started visiting them in robotic person. We used to think they were basically dirty snowballs. Now we see that they’re much more like asteroids, but with some snow and ice to provide outgassing for the halo.

As I looked at the pictures of the comet, I found myself thinking of John Bandicut, fictional space pilot in my novel Neptune Crossing. John had to smack just such a comet really really hard, to keep it from hitting Earth. Looking at those pictures of a real comet, I reflected on how Bandie was one mongo brave dude to do such a thing. Even if he did have alien science working for him, and was half out of his mind with silence fugue. When I wrote the scene, I knew he was brave. But I don’t think I knew just how brave.

Thanks, Bandie, for riding that other comet!  (Even if you are fictional, and in the future.)

I like XKCD’s view of the landing:

http://xkcd.com/1446/

1 2 3 4 10