Category Archives: Science

Piggies Across The Pacific

Scientists are tracking the dispersal of humans across the scattered islands of the Pacific Ocean by following the genetic markers of feral pigs. While pigs can swim, the distances between the islands are too great, meaning their porcine subjects could only have arrived via human effort. And what they have found is a clear link between pigs in Vietnam and Indonesia with pigs in Oceania. This goes against the traditional view that the Pacific Islands were peopled by humans from Taiwan and the Philippines.

One Last Thing On This Pluto Business

Skimming through the internet, I’ve seen all sorts of complaints about Pluto’s demotion, and last week there were all these complaints about the addition of more planets. I don’t get the problem here. People didn’t complain when chemists isolated the periodic table of the elements did they? Or where there protests about how all we really needed was the original four?

A Life Told In Bone And Stone

Dr. Gary Heathcote sent me a link to his report on the Taotao Tagga’, the remains of a Chamorro male on display at the CNMI Museum of History and Culture. He lived on Tinian in the 16th century, during the end of the latte stone period and the beginning of the Spanish conquest of the islands.

Dr. Heathcote examined the skeletal remains are draws some conclusions about his life and occupation. In a word, Taotao Tagga’ was very robust, showing telltale signs of a lifetime spent quarrying and transporting heavy stone. He was gravely wounded earlier in his youth, but survived and lived a relatively long and healthy life.

It is a very interesting report, and Dr. Heathcote concludes with some remarks on Guam’s failure to create a museum of similar caliber with the CNMI’s. He has a valid point, which could be extended to the library and schools. It seems as though the civic will to create and fund these bastions of community does not exist on Guam. The museum is in cardboard boxes in a warehouse, the library is in a state of disrepair and the school system is just a complete mess. The cohesive bonds that create a polity are frayed on this island, but this is vital stuff, the very lifeblood of a society. I know it is hard to see the value in these things when the power grid is fragile, villages go without water and there aren’t enough cops on the street, but things like museums, libraries and schools represent an investment in the future. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul to neglect them during these tough times.

Pluto May Yet Be Knocked Off The Planetary Roll Call

Wait a minute astronomy buffs! I reported just the other day about the proposed new planets in the solar system, but on Friday a competing definition of what makes a planet was put forth by a Uruguayan astronomer. Under this new proposal, a planet is an object that is “by far larger than the local population.” So Pluto is out, since it is so much smaller than the other planets and similar to the Kuiper Belt objects that are popping up in astronomer’s telescopes.

Seems some scientists are turned off by the possibility of hundreds of planets in our solar system some day, most of them being tiny snowballs at the extreme edge of the sun’s demesne. And Pluto is the prototypical snowball at the chilly edge of the solar system, with it’s cockeyed orbit and icy consistency.

And for what it’s worth, check out Stephen Colbert dogging the new planets with Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium.

Say Hello To Your New Planets

Pluto gets to stay a planet, but 3 additional objects get an upgrade to planetary status. Under a proposal by the International Astronomical Union an attempt is being made to define what exactly is a planet. Until now it has been a touch and go classification. But now astronomers are trying to use gravity as the basis of planetary qualification.

  • The object must be in orbit around a star, but must not itself be a star. In other words; no moons, no matter how large.
  • It must have enough mass for the body’s own gravity to pull it into a nearly spherical shape. That means no oblong asteroids; an object must be larger than about 500 miles in diameter to assume a spherical shape.

Say hello to your new planets, Ceres, Charon and 2003 UB313 aka Xena. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, with a diameter of 512 miles. Pluto and its moon Charon are roughly the same size and will become the solar system’s first double planet, and 2003 UB313 is even larger than Pluto.

New Solar System

What this does not do is recognize large moons like our own, Saturn’s Titan or the Galilean Moons of Jupiter as planets. Just does seem fair that barren little Ceres is a planet while great big honking Ganymede or Titan, both with diameters of roughly 3200 miles, are denied worldly status. But the definition is explicit; Ganymede and Titan orbit their parent worlds, not the Sun, and thus they are moons.

Cloning Neanderthals Is A Bad Idea

A time traveler from the year 2116 has startled scientists with dire warnings about the future of Mankind a little more than a century into the future. Arriving in a ball of blue plasma outside the White House, the naked man was taken into custody by secret service agents. Some members of the press were present for an unrelated event and managed to take a few pictures, which were promptly confiscated. However, witnesses report hearing the man screaming, “Cloning Neanderthals is not cool, man!”
Time Traveler From Year 2116 Warns Scientists

Did Hell Just Freeze Over?

So now suddenly Pat Robertson is sidling up to the godless environmentalists and liberals in his acceptance of global warming? Is this some sort of joke? Not two weeks ago he ran an interview with Senator James Inhofe, implying that environmentalists were in league with Al Queda and sacrificed babies to Satan, to say nothing of conclusively proving that the Lord Almighty did not see fit to cause global warming. Guess that’s a 360° in world view, or maybe a change of heart. Anyway, welcome aboard Pat, though I don’t know how assassinating Hugo Chavez will reduce global warming, your welcome to try.

Random Links

Time for a flurry of random, unrelated links to marginally interesting stuff. Behold the power of the internets!

  • Mapping Medieval Townscapes – An atlas of the towns founded by Edward I between 1277 and 1303. That’s Edward Longshanks, the evil king from Braveheart. Make no mistake, these villages were founded in Wales for the exact purpose that Israel plopped down all those settlements in the West Bank.
  • Nazi aircraft carrier located – A Polish oil exploration outfit has found the wreck of Nazi Germany’s only aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin. The ship never saw action in World War II, and there is some speculation about how it was sunk.
  • Book of Psalms found in Irish bog – A thousand year old copy of the Book of Psalms was discovered by a construction in a peat bog.
  • Virtue Desktops – If you own a Mac, this is worth it’s weight in gold. This gives you four different virtual desktops to play with, just like any other Unix/Linux system. VirtueDesktops is the bee’s knees. I can’t sing it’s praises enough.
  • 86400 Moments – An interesting photo exhibit, documenting a day in Joshua Tree National Park.
  • Apple Support Specifications – Can’t get enough information about current and older Macs? Check out Apple’s support pages with details about every Powerbook, iMac, iBook, iPod, eMac, PowerMac, AirPort, MacBook, Mac Mini or display Apple’s ever made.
  • Mechanical Turk – Looking to make a few bucks doing a mindless job for Amazon? Turns out it is a lot easier for them to pay scads of people a bit of money to identify stuff (pink shoes, jazz records, tabby cats) than to write software to do the same thing. Get in on the action and earn a couple bucks today.
  • Underground Russia – Morlocks
  • Rachel Ray and the food snobs – Just digging through the long tail here folks. I think she looks cute, though maybe a little too perky.
  • Underground Japan – More Morlock technology.
  • Camera phones are ‘obstruction of justice’ – This guy was arrested for taking a picture of cops in a drug bust on his street.
  • Pat Robertson and Senator James Inhofe on the threat of environmentalism – Whoa. That just creeps me out.
  • The Eco-Bubble – Speaking of the environment, maybe it is starting to look like the tech bubble of the nineties. But that ain’t exactly a bad thing.

Alaskan Volcano

I mentioned the lucky happenstance of the space station capturing the Mt. Augustine volcano erupting in the Cook Inlet of Alaska a couple weeks ago; now via Derek Miller’s redoubtable Penmachine blog, here are some more great pictures of this photogenic mountain.

See Mt. Augustine at Flickr

These photos come from a great photo set on Flickr by AKDave, a professional photographer for an emergency services department in central Alaska. Sounds like an exciting job to me.

See Mt. Augustine at Flickr

There’s even a webcam on the island to catch the eruptions. Cool.

A Ring Tone Meant For Deaf Ears

I think I already mentioned this entertaining story about teens using ultra high frequency noises as ring tones for their mobiles, frequencies that older adults can no longer hear. Well the New York Times ran a story on the ring tone yesterday, and they provided a sample of this ring tone for teens only. That set me off on a search for other people talking about this ring tone and I found this, which led me to this. Ochen K. was curious just how high he could hear this noise, and he created a sample of sound files at progressively higher frequencies. I can hear the noise up to 16,000 Hz, then nothing at 17,000. Absolutely nothing. A man’s got to know his limitations.

The Kircher Code

I forgot to mention this interesting article last night in connection with the Da Vinci Code. Instead of Leonardo, why not pause to give Athanasius Kircher a moment’s notice. Kircher was Jesuit priest and genuine Renaissance man who taught mathematics at the Collegio Romano in the 17th century. He also ran the museum at the Vatican. A case could be made that we owe Kircher a far greater debt than Da Vinci. While Leonardo encrypted all his thoughts in private notebooks, Kircher was a prolific publisher. He was the prototype of the modern university professor, though with a polymath’s myriad fascinations. Archaeology, alchemy, biology, mathematics, history, languages, and cryptography, Kircher was truly ecumenical in his tastes and interests.