Category Archives: Science

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five linkery!

Programming note:  This coming weekend Mrs. Animal and yr. obdt. will be on the road to see one of our daughters graduate college, so Monday May 13 and Tuesday May 14 will be fulsome totty placeholder posts while our family is celebrating this milestone.  Meanwhile, for today, let’s look at some tidbits from the morning news crawl.

DNA-based AI robots may be frighteningly close to alive.  Color me skeptical.  Life is tremendously complex and almost impossible to simulate; even the simplest life on this planet is the result of four and a half billion years of a drunkard’s walk through a chaotic and endless changing environment.  I’m not overly worried about accidentally producing that in the lab.

Ticket prices plunge for Her Imperial Majesty and the Prince Consort’s speaking tour.  This is a pretty good indication that even the Democrats wish that the Clintons would just please, finally, shut up and go away.

Welcome to the new Cold War, same as the old Cold War.  Between this, Russia’s meddling in Nicaragua, and China’s meddling elsewhere, it seems the Monroe Doctrine is well and truly dead.

Welcome to the new crazy, same as the old crazy.  I’m all in favor of the ‘whatever floats your boat’ theory of living, but this really strikes me as being a little self-obsessed.  Oh well.

A silicon factory blows up in Illinois.  Purveyors of fake boobs hardest hit.  (I prefer the natural kind, myself.)

Speaking of crazy… Seriously, what’s wrong with these people?

And on that note, we return you to your Monday, already in progress.

Animal’s Daily World’s Most Expensive Fish News

Not a salmon, but what the hell.

Check out my latest over at Glibertarians; this is the first in a series on the history of bolt guns.  Also, our thanks as always to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Moving right along, ever-more-loony Californey has produced the world’s most expensive fish, at (minimum) $178 million per fish.  Excerpt:

Threatened Central Valley Chinook adult salmon have returned and spawned to the San Joaquin River!

For some, it’s proof they have been able to avoid predators and multi-billion dollar infrastructure that keeps millions of humans alive.

It has been nearly 65 years since the species has spawned in the San Joaquin. And the news this week follows major political and environmental action.

After being released in 2017, the salmon made it hundreds of miles to the Pacific Ocean, and have found their way back to the San Joaquin River.

The total yield from the Bureau of Reclamation: five so far. One died, but for the sake of argument, I’ll call it five.

There are more to critical issues than a feel-good attitude just because it’s nice to see threatened salmon in the San Joaquin River.

It can’t be overstated the cost and effort it took to make this happen.

Here’s a recap of that effort:

Taking the conservative cost estimate, each of the five fish caught cost taxpayers and water users $178,000,000.

And each of those fish needed 50,000 acre-feet of water per year.

I won’t even stress the cost of pumping, aquifer consequences, fallowed land, and – lest we forget – lost jobs. Many politicians aren’t either.

H.L. Mencken famously said that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”  While the United States is not a democracy but rather a Constitutional Republic, California increasingly practices direct democracy with their initiative program; but the cause of this kind of lunacy is something else, specifically, the California Democratic Party’s re-jiggering of the election system to ensure one-party rule for eternity.

This is just one example of what happens when you have one-party rule.  In a state where there is an effective political opposition,  these types of shenanigans would at least be more difficult to pull off; at the very least, the opposition party would be able to run on a platform of defunding lunacy and have a chance of winning.

Not so under California’s jungle primary system, which frequently results in a general election where both candidates are Democrats.  From the shit-stained streets of San Francisco to the nine-figure fish of the San Joaquin River, the once and former Golden State’s voters are reaping what they sow.  Mencken has been proved right.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks once more to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Meanwhile, now this here is some stupid shit.  Excerpt:

A group calling itself Genesis II Church of Health and Healing plans to convene at a hotel resort in Washington state on Saturday to promote a “miracle cure” that claims to cure 95% of all diseases in the world by making adults and children, including infants, drink industrial bleach.

The group is inviting members of the public through Facebook to attend what they call their “effective alternative healing” at the Icicle Village Resort in Leavenworth on Saturday morning. The organizer of the event, Tom Merry, has publicized the event on his personal Facebook page by telling people that learning how to consume the bleach “could save your life, or the life of a loved one sent home to die”.

The “church” is asking attendants of the meeting to “donate” $450 each, or $800 per couple, in exchange for receiving membership to the organization as well as packages of the bleach, which they call “sacraments”. The chemical is referred to as MMS, or “miracle mineral solution or supplement”, and participants are promised they will acquire “the knowledge to help heal many people of this world’s terrible diseases”.

In a world where people still profess belief in a flat earth, UFOs, chemtrails, Bigfoot and socialism as a workable economic system, it’s not so surprising that some morons would believe that drinking bleach can cure all the world’s ills.  I mean, what do they put in water to purify it for drinking?  Chlorine.  What’s the primary component of most bleaches?  Chlorine.

By that logic, since alcohol is used to kill germs, I should drink more whiskey and then I’d never get sick.

Here’s what I see as the real crime here, and it’s not mentioned in the article; I’m pretty damned certain that the assholes that run this “Genesis II Church of Health and Healing” don’t really believe any of this horseshit, and I’m damned certain they aren’t drinking this toxic crap themselves.  They are soaking idiots for $450 each to drink bleach, and excusing it by calling it “religion,” which, of course, is crap.

Now, I’m a staunch minarchist.  But even in a minarchist system there are protections against fraud.  It’s important to remember that there are only three ways to conduct an economic transaction; by choice, by force, or by fraud.  This is a perfect example of the last of those.

Animal’s Daily Freeze-Dried Mammoth News

Thanks as always to our blogger pal Doug Hagin over at The Daley Gator for the linkback!  If you aren’t reading his blog daily, you should be.

Now:  Clever those Japanese, now they are one step closer to cloning a mammoth! I’ve written on this subject before, but this is a new step forward, and a neat one.  Good news, I want to go mammoth hunting one day.  Excerpt:

New findings indicate that the resurrection of mammoths is not a fantasy, a research team including members from Kindai University is saying, after cell nuclei extracted from the 28,000-year-old remains of a woolly mammoth were discovered to retain some function.

When placed in the ova of mice, the nuclei developed to a state just before cellular division, according to a paper published Monday in the British journal Scientific Reports.

The team includes researchers from Japanese and Russian universities. It has been working for about 20 years on a project to use cloning to resurrect mammoths, an animal that has long been extinct.

The cell nuclei used in the team’s recent findings were extracted from musculature and other tissue from Yuka, an about 3.5-meter-long female woolly mammoth excavated nearly intact in 2010 from permafrost in Siberia. When inserted into mouse ova, five out of 43 nuclei were observed to develop to a point just before the nuclei would split in two as a result of cell division.

Now, this is still the longest of long shots, to be sure.  But I’m excited at the prospect.  And no, I don’t think this falls into the “just because we could, doesn’t mean we should” category.  This isn’t a T-rex or a genetically engineered monster; it’s a mammoth, something that went extinct within the last few thousand years, something that co-existed with our species, something our ancestors occasionally laid their jaws on.

And jokes about mammoth hunting aside, it’s not like these critters will be turned out to fend for themselves in Alaska or Siberia.  The recreated mammoths would be the most valuable,  pampered, coddled, protected and cared for animals in the history of livestock.

But mammoths.  Imagine that.

Animal’s Daily Brain Chip News

Thanks as always to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links! Also, go over to Glibertarians to read the first in my History of Lever Guns series.

Moving right along:  One of these days you might be able to get a brain chip to make you super-intelligent.  I’d settle for just making most folks a little less stupid.  Excerpt:

In as little as five years, super smart people could be walking down the street; men and women who’ve paid to increase their intelligence.

Northwestern University neuroscientist and business professor Dr. Moran Cerf made that prediction, because he’s working on a smart chip for the brain.

“Make it so that it has an internet connection, and goes to Wikipedia, and when I think this particular thought, it gives me the answer,” he said.

Cerf is collaborating with Silicon Valley big wigs he’d rather not name.

Facebook also has been working on building a brain-computer interface, and SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is backing a brain-computer interface called Neuralink.

“Everyone is spending a lot of time right now trying to find ways to get things into the brain without drilling a hole in your skull,” Cerf said. “Can you eat something that will actually get to your brain? Can you eat things in parts that will assemble inside your head?”

It sounds mind-blowing. Relationships might be on the line.

“This is no longer a science problem. This is a social problem,” Cerf said.

The article goes on to bemoan the possibility of an intelligence gap, compounding the problems we apparently already have with “racial, gender and financial inequalities.”

You know, just once, it would be nice to see an article about a technological advance without a lot of Social Justice Warrior fainting-couch horseshit thrown in.

Anyway…  I can see how this would be a good thing, but I can see how it could go sideways, too.  Pearl-clutching by Dr. Cerf aside, I’m not so sure sticking a chip in your brain is that hot an idea.  From what I understand our understanding of how the brain produces consciousness is roughly at the same stage as when astronomers thought the moon was a light shining through a hole in the roof.

It would be interesting to have an IQ of six thousand.  But I’m not so sure the risks are worth it.  I think this falls into the “if it ain’t broke” category.

Of course, we could always bechip Congress.  There’s too many folks there who, if they were half as smart as they think they are, would be twice as smart as they really are.

Rule Five Fake Doctors Friday

There are, unfortunately, many more kinds of pseudo-scientific health care woo floating around out there than just Gwyneth Paltrow’s specific form of bullshit.  Charlatans come in all shapes and sizes; here are some good tips on how to spot these assholes.  Excerpt:

The latest in a sadly recurrent theme of people posing as doctors when they have no such background or training is that of a Florida man who donned a white coat in advertisements that proclaimed he could cure diseases. He declared he could “treat hernias, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthrosis, renal failure, vision problems, and a host of other health issues.” After the reality was uncovered by investigators that he never held a medical license in the state and he was subsequently arrested, he maintained “he did not believe he needed a license to practice medicine. He said he was a lab technician in Cuba and got his certificate for Iridology, herbology, and nutrition when he moved to Florida.

Here’s what this asshole did:

In this particular scenario, the accused did the following:

“arranged to meet a patient at a home…and, when the patient arrived, he was asked to fill out papers and pay $160…then checked the patient’s blood pressure and then put a band around his head and asked him to hold a metal rod connected to a machine on a table that began making beeping noises once it was turned on. Deputies say he told the patient he was testing his heart, brain, intestinal system, bones, nerves, and “everything else.” After the “test” was complete… told the patient he had diabetes, osteoporosis, and that he was not getting enough oxygen to his brain, among other ailments. He said that for only $2,000, he could cure the patient’s diabetes by using a treatment that would include injecting the patient with “his own blood.”…told them [deputies] he draws the patient’s blood, then injects the same blood he just withdrew because he says it “combats” the blood cells and boosts the immune system…Deputies say he also told the patient he cured the homeowner of his diabetes and called him on the phone to get his testimony.”

Now, as I’ve said many times in these virtual pages, there comes a point where fools and their money deserve to be parted; but I don’t think this is necessarily it.  I will say that the way to combat this sort of horseshit is not regulation but education; promoting articles like the one linked here far and wide, to reduce the number of the ill-informed for people like this Cuban lab tech to prey on.

Which is, of course, one of the reasons I linked it here.

It’s a little baffling that anyone would go to a health care provider and not at least glance at the diplomas on the wall.  Granted, I suppose it’s possible to fake those certificates.  But falling for a line of woo from some asshole whose claim to competency is flat-out stating that he was a “laboratory tech in Cuba”?  That’s a whole ‘nother level of stupid.

I’m fortunate in having had the same primary physician for almost thirty years now.  He knows me, I know him, he knows how much he can pester me about my cigar smoking or my weight, I know when it’s time for me to shut up and listen to him.  We’ve known each other a long time and understand each other.

I understand that few people nowadays have that kind of long-term relationship with a physician, and that’s too bad.  But it’s also too bad that anybody falls for snake-oil salesmen – whether they be lab techs from Cuba of air-headed actresses from Hollywood.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Reindeer cyclones are a real thing.  Who knew?  Excerpt:

Vikings hunting reindeer in Norway were once confounded by “reindeer cyclones”; a threatened herd would literally run circles around the fierce hunters, making it nearly impossible to target a single animal.

Filmmakers recently captured incredible aerial footage of one of these reindeer cyclones, which aired Feb. 13 on PBS in the documentary “Wild Way of the Vikings,” a program about Vikings and the wilderness they inhabited around A.D. 1000. [Photos: Ancient Arrows from Reindeer Hunters Found in Norway]

One of the documentary’s most striking scenes shows a re-enactment of a Viking hunt interspersed with real footage of reindeer herds. Reindeer were important to the Vikings for their meat, hides, antlers and bones, according to the film.

In the cyclone scene, a lone hunter (an actor playing a Viking) approaches the herd; he notches and releases an arrow. The footage that follows shows an actual herd of reindeer running in circles. As the swirling mass of bodies thunders along a circular path, an overhead camera reveals that the herd’s momentum follows a spiral shape, drawing tightly toward the cyclone’s “eye” at the center.

Faced with this spinning reindeer stampede, any predator — wolf, bear or human — would have a very tough time targeting and overpowering a single reindeer, making this a formidable defense strategy, according to a statement from PBS.

Here’s the image of just such a reindeer cyclone:

That’s actually a pretty great defense against wolves, bears or men armed with primitive weapons.  It’s not bad against a modern, ethical hunter either, as it makes singling out an animal for a clear kill impossible.

Against a hunter or two armed with firearms, hunters who (unethicall) don’t give a shit about how many animals they injure in the process and who are willing to fire indiscriminately into the mass, not so much.

But what I find fascinating about this whole thing is the resemblance to a school of fish, using a very similar, albeit 3-D, schooling tactic to prevent a predator from picking out a single fish.

Nature doesn’t always repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes.  This is a really neat example.

Rule Five Hot Stuff Friday

Most folks who live in the West know about Yellowstone, and how the entire park sits in what is essentially a titanic volcanic caldera.  Most folks who live in the West and pay any attention at all know that if the Yellowstone megavolcano blows, it’s bye-bye North America.  So here’s an interesting piece on how geologists are monitoring this big volcano and the lake of red-hot magma that fuels it.  Excerpt:

The Yellowstone volcano has erupted three times in history – 2.1 million years ago, 1.2 million years ago and 640,000 years ago. Scientists have previously revealed that, should an earthquake occur, it could take less than two weeks before a catastrophic reaction event with the potential to wipe out three-quarters of the US is triggered. Now, it is the job of geologists to “intensely monitor” a large area of molten rock directly below the surface of the supervolcano, it was revealed in a documentary.

Volcanoes typically erupt when molten rock, known as magma, rises to the surface following the Earth’s mantle melting due to tectonic plates shifting. 

This act creates a series of small earthquakes, fracturing the rock above it days or even weeks before the main eruption. 

Robert Smith, from the University of Utah, is in charge of the seismometers around Yellowstone National Park.

This technology is designed to detect any change in activity, and give anyone in the immediate area some valuable time to evacuate.

Here’s the likely result of a major eruption:

Should the same (eruption) happen again, the ground around Yellowstone National Park would rise upwards forming a swarm of earthquakes.

Then, following the eruption, enormous pyroclastic flows would blast their way across the park. 

This mixture of ash, lava and superheated gas exceed temperatures of 1,000C and can move at speeds of up to 300mph. 

They are predicted to spread more than 100 miles out from Yellowstone, burying states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in three feet of life-extinguishing volcanic ash.

They mention evacuation, but it’s hard to say where folks around Yellowstone – or pretty much anywhere in the Mountain West – should evacuate to, as a major eruption would pretty much wipe out much of North America.  Further, the results of billions of tons of sulfuric acid and volcanic ash in the atmosphere would screw up the weather for quite a few years, likely making crop growing difficult if not impossible.

So, yeah, I’m in favor of keeping an eye on it, even though there wouldn’t be much we could do about it if it happened.  Personally I’d like to have a little notice.

I’ve had folks ask me if the idea worries me.  It doesn’t.  I reserve my worries for things I can change.  But if my world is about to end, I wouldn’t mind a little warning.

Animal’s Daily Snake Eyes News

Timber Rattlesnake.

Way back when, snakes may well have helped primates develop our visual acuity.  Excerpt:

In 2006, I published a new idea that could answer that question and more: the ‘snake detection theory’. I hypothesised that when large-gaped constricting snakes appeared about 100 million years ago and began eating mammals, their predatory behaviour favoured the evolution of changes in the vision of one kind of prey, the lineage that was to become primates. In other words, the ability to see immobile predatory snakes before getting too close became a highly beneficial trait for them to have and pass on to their descendants. Then, about 60 million years ago, venomous snakes appeared in Africa or Asia, adding more pressure on primates to detect and avoid them. This has also had repercussions on their visual systems.

There is a consistency between the degree of complexity in primate visual systems and the length of evolutionary time that primates have spent with venomous snakes. At one extreme, the lineage that comprises Old World monkeys, apes and humans has the best vision of all primates, including excellent visual acuity and fully trichromatic colour vision. Having evolved roughly at the same time and in the same place as venomous snakes, these primates have had continuous coexistence with them. They are also uniformly wary of snakes.

And:

What is it about snakes that makes them so attention-grabbing to us? Naturally, we use all the cues available (such as body shape and leglessness) but it’s their scales that should be the most reliable, because a little patch of snake might be all we have to go on. Indeed, wild vervet monkeys in Africa, for instance, are able with their superb visual acuity to detect just an inch of snake skin within a minute of coming near it. In people, electrophysiological responses in the primary visual area reveal greater early visual attention to snake scales compared with lizard skins and bird feathers. Again, the primary visual area is highly sensitive to edges and lines of different orientations, and snake skins with their spades offer these visual cues in spades.

The product of snakes.

Speaking as a guy who grew up in rattlesnake country, yeah, we do tend to notice snakes, especially the ones with sharp bits that inject poison – and a big timber rattler can kill you if it strikes too close to your chest or head.

Primates do have an unusual visual acuity as mammals go.  They can see more color, our daytime vision is much better than most mammals who sacrifice some color vision for improved nighttime vision.  But then, lots of mammals are nocturnal or crepuscular.

Primate color vision, by the way, is also really useful for determining which fruits are ripe and therefore good to eat.

Now, if only they could find a way to reverse-engineer my farsightedness.

Rule Five Living Dead Friday

Thanks to all for the kind words and messages after yesterday’s post about my mother.  Your thoughts and kindnesses mean more than I can say.

But life goes on, and as my parents were both history buffs, they would have found this interesting.  Alexander of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, having conquered much of the known world, was renowned as one of the greatest generals of the classical world – until he died at age 32.  Legend has it that his body lay uncorrupted by decomposition for six days, which was cited as proof of his status as a divine figure.

Now one researcher has a more plausible theory; Alexander may not have decomposed for six days because he wasn’t dead.

Ouch.  Excerpt:

The death of Alexander the Great – general, king, conqueror – has been a mystery for over 2,000 years. Was he poisoned? Too much booze? Or actually malaria or typhoid, both rampant in ancient Babylon at the time?  

Now, a new theory has been put forward that is somehow even worse than all of those. Legend has it Alexander’s body didn’t show any signs of decomposing for six days after his death, a sign the ancient Greeks took that their warrior hero was a god. A new explanation is that he suffered from a rare autoimmune disorder that rendered him paralyzed and unable to communicate, although still compos mentis, right up until his death six days later than thought.

Dr Katherine Hall of the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago, New Zealand, argues in The Ancient History Bulletin that Alexander may have suffered from Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rapid weakening of the muscles caused by the immune system damaging the nervous system, and that may explain the conflicting evidence of how and when he died.

“His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded,” she said.

Here’s the onion:

“I have worked for five years in critical care medicine and have seen probably about 10 cases [of GBS]. The combination of ascending paralysis with normal mental ability is very rare and I have only seen it with GBS,” Hall told Fox News.

“His sight would have been blurred and if his blood pressure was too low he would have been in a coma. But there is a chance he was aware of his surroundings and could at least hear. So he would have heard his generals arguing over the succession, hear the arrival of the Egyptian embalmers, hear that they were about to start their work.”

Now, just for a moment, put yourself in Alexander’s sandals here.

You’re paralyzed, likely unable to see, unable to speak, but you can hear, and you will certain still feel pain – including the pain of those wacky Egyptian embalmers when they start cutting you open to remove your organs.

One suspects this sort of thing happened more often than we might imagine, given our modern medical sciences.  The legend of vampires, after all, may well have begun by burying a comatose patient, who recovered underground, in the coffin; some time later, for whatever reason, the coffin was disinterred and opened, only to reveal the desperate scratch marks on the lid made by the “undead” person trying to get out.

Honestly – one wonders if having history venerate you as a demigod would really be worth all that.