Category Archives: Science

Rule Five Neanderthal Language Friday

I’ve been interested in paleoanthropology since I was a little kid, having picked up the bug from my Dad, who was likewise interested. Dad and I spent many a happy hour talking over the latest finds and the latest results of the analyses of those discoveries.

One of our favorite topics was our close cousins, the Neanderthal. The notion that we shared much of Europe and the Middle East with these people, who were people but not us, for so long is intriguing.

Now we see a new study on Neanderthal language abilities that presents some interesting possibilities.

New anatomical evidence indicates the Neanderthals had vocal tracts and auditory pathways not significantly different to our own, indicating that, from an anatomical perspective, they were as capable as us at communicating through speech. The discovery of Neanderthal genes in our own species indicates multiple episodes of interbreeding, which implies effective inter-species communication and social relationships.

The discovery of Neanderthal wooden spears, and the use of resins for making tools from separate components, have also enhanced our views of their technical skills. Pendants made from bird talons and the likely use of feathers as body adornments are claimed as examples of symbolism, along with geometric engravings on stone and bone.

The most striking claim is that Neanderthals made art, painting red pigment on cave walls in Spain. But several of these cave art claims remain problematic. The evidence for Neanderthal cave art is compromised by unresolved methodological issues and is unlikely to be correct, in my view.

Here’s the fun part of all this: It’s pretty much accepted that the Neanderthal were able to speak.  The difference seems to be in what they had to talk about; this piece refers to the use of metaphor being an indicator of a capacity to understand symbolic logic, on which the jury is most decidedly out, where the Neanderthal is concerned.

But there’s a more interesting issue, as far as I’m concerned; the differences in brain wiring may make it difficult to even communicate with a Neanderthal.  Fundamental differences between the two species may make learning each other’s languages difficult, if not impossible.

It’s not a topic that’s liable to come about outside the realm of science-fiction, sadly.  The chances of cloning a Neanderthal as so slim as to be practically impossible, and even if we did, the resulting person – for it would be a person, even if not us – would have no grounding in what being a Neanderthal was like.  We are products of our genes but also of our environments, and that poor cloned Neanderthal would be the loneliest lonely person that was ever lonely; they may have other humans around, but they would likely be humans so different as to be, for all intents and purposes, aliens – and no one around to teach that unfortunate man or women about being a Neanderthal.

So all this language work is interesting speculation – but it’s probably best that it stays that way.

Animal’s Daily JBERBear News

Before I get into this tidbit, check out the latest chapter of Barrett’s Privateers – Unrepentant Sinner over at Glibertarians.

Now then: Check out this fence-scaling critter, who (as Must Read Alaska’s Suzanne Downing puts it) puts the “bear” in “JBER.”

A black bear scaling the fence at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage was caught in the act by a passerby with a video camera, who posted the evidence on social media of the trespassing bear scaling the fence and then tightrope walking on the barbed wire.

It’s a Derpbook video so I can’t embed it here, as I don’t do the Book of Face, but even without a Derpbook account, you should be able to view the video at the link.

Black bears are amazing animals. They are adaptable, can eat almost anything, and do very well near human habitations. Along this stretch of the highway near JBER it’s not at all uncommon to see blacks waiting to cross the highway or just feeding on grass and forbs along the road.  We have them here in our Susitna Valley homestead as well, although they usually just pass through spring and fall, going between their winter dens in the hills and the rivers and streams where they feed in summer.

It’s not clear what this bear was looking for. But it’s a safe bet it was after food – and for bears, everything’s on the menu.  Including, sometimes, us.

Rule Five Cow Cuddling Friday

Oh, for the luvva Pete, how could people get any more ridiculous? Now there is, apparently, such a thing as “cow cuddling,” and the aficionados of that nonsense are worried that the latest in avian influenzas might spoil a good thing for everybody that… likes to cuddle cows.

I can’t believe I’m seeing this.

Paying farmers to snuggle up with half-ton heifers is all the rage in the United States thanks to social media. For visitors, cuddling dairy or beef cattle can be therapeutic, or simply an adventure for city dwellers looking for good old country fun.

But this practice of opening the barn door to the public is facing a new risk, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed bird flu in dairy herds in nine states.

Scientists have said the outbreak is likely more widespread across the nation’s more than 26,000 licensed dairy farms based on findings of H5N1 particles in about 20% of milk samples. One Texas dairy worker tested positive for the virus, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have monitored more than 100 people who have been exposed.

Government officials say the risk of human infection is low. But state and federal government officials are urging cattle and dairy farmers to limit outside visitors as much as possible.

I have a rather vivid memory – and some flat spots on the bones in my right foot to prove it – of rather stupidly going into a stall with a steer to check its ear tag, which I couldn’t see from the aisle.  The steer chose that moment to have a nice comfortable lean against the boards, with me in the middle. I had a shingle nail in my pocket, so as I could feel my guts being squeezed into goo, I got the nail in my right fist and proceeded to pummel the steer.

He ignored me.  I probably wasn’t bothering him any more than a mosquito.  But my uncle heard me yelling, came over and grabbed the cow’s tail and moved it – and then chewed me out for being dumb enough to go in a stall with a steer.

These damn things aren’t cuddly.  They are big, powerful, with skin damn near an inch thick, and they are stupid and frequently mean.  Some cattle are really mean; when I was a kid, a neighbor had a blue-ribbon Holstein bull he called “The Antichrist,” and it was a killer; the farmer who owned it didn’t trust it any farther than he could throw it.  “Give him half a chance,” he once told a group of us boys, “and he’ll kill you.  Mean as a snake, that one.”

And these urban (they’ve got to be urban) nitwits think they are cuddly.

It was Linda Pachl, Joey’s mom, who first saw a post about Luz Farms’ cow snuggle sessions on Facebook – and suggested the idea to her son. Joey asked the farmers if they could make up a banner in Emma’s school colors that said, “Prom?”

A week later, as country music crooned over the barn’s battered radio, the banner was slung over the body of Yogi, a calf on the farm. Pachl nudged girlfriend Emma Maiers’ shoulder. “Well?” he asked.

“I love cows!” squealed Maiers, 16. Pachl grinned. Not exactly the answer he was expecting, but he figured she meant yes.

To Linda Pachlm her son Joey, and Joey’s girlfriend Emma, I can only say this:

You’re all idiots.

Animal’s Daily Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat News

Before I get into this, check out the latest chapter of Barrett’s Privateers – Unrepentant Sinner over at Glibertarians.

Now then: If this shit doesn’t piss you off, you haven’t been paying attention; college sports, under the NCAA, have been letting dudes compete on women’s teams, and now we see another case where a mediocre dude decided he could claim to be a girl and win bigly. And they let him.

Transgender college runner Sadie Schreiner won three women’s events at the Liberty League championship meet (Division III) on Saturday.

Schreiner, of the Rochester Institute of Technology, won the 400 meter with a 55.07, and the 200 meter at 24.14.

Both times would have been last in the men’s races at the meet, yet were school records in the women’s category, according to the site that lists the results of the meet.

The 200-meter time also is now a Liberty League conference women’s record (beating Schreiner’s own previous record of 24.50 set earlier this season).

Schreiner was also the anchor leg of the 4×400 that won by nearly three seconds – they were in fourth place when Schreiner received the baton, but she ran the fastest anchor leg of the race.

Schreiner’s leg was clocked in at 54.91 seconds, by far the fastest anchor leg of the race.

I’ll say it: Schreiner is a cheating cheater who cheats.  I don’t believe for a nanosecond that this asshole is actually transgender, any more than that cheating cheater who cheats “Lia” Thomas is.  These are men, who couldn’t compete with other men, who saw an opportunity in the current fucked-up state of women’s sports and took it.  This has nothing to do with people suffering from gender dysmorphia: I don’t believe these guys are.

I think they are just cheaters.

Again, this has nothing to do with gender dysmorphia. Whatever one’s psychological state is, there are physical differences between boys and girls that are always there, including, yes, before puberty.  Those differences make this practice, of allowing young men to claim to be women so they can compete against women, hideously unfair.

I could point you to my grandson Moose as an example. The kid has a chest like a beer keg; his fists are damn near as big as his head, and he is as solid on his feet as a pile-driver.  He’s three.

This stupidity has to stop.  It’s holding girls out of sports championships and scholarships that should go to girls, not dudes in drag. It is, as I said, hideously unfair. The NCAA should be ashamed of themselves.

Animal’s Daily Recreational Use News

Before I get into this uplifting story, check out the latest chapter of Barrett’s Privateers – Unrepentant Sinner over at Glibertarians.

Now then: If you’re using Viagra for “recreational purposes” (why else would you be using it?) you may want to re-think that.

It’s a big problem — and it’s growing even bigger.

Social media users are being bombarded with advertisements for easy access to erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra and Cialis, along with affordable generics — and men hoping to improve their sexual performance are taking their chances.

That’s a hard no, Cleveland Clinic urologist Raevti Bole, MD warns.

Just because these medications are easier than ever to access doesn’t mean you should fall for the hype.

Recreational use of the drugs can carry significant risks, the pro warns.

Here’s why.

Recreational use, one would presume, is the use of Viagra and Cialis by men who do not suffer from erectile dysfunction (as opposed to electile dysfunction, last observed in November of 2020) and who are, instead, using it as a boost to something that’s already working – sort of a sexual turbocharger.

Viagra, Cialis and their generic equivalents are what are known as phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors.

They open up your blood vessels and can be used in a variety of ways, including the treatment of pulmonary hypertension, or urinary problems.

These days, they’re most famous for being so-called magic cures for erectile dysfunction, or ED. Popping a pill leads to increased blood flow, which means better erections that last longer.

I can vouch for this; Mrs. Animal, who has a chronic cardiac condition, takes a very low dose of sildenafil, which is Viagra’s generic name, as a vaso-dllator that allows her heart to work more efficiently.

In general, it’s not a good idea to take any prescription drug when it’s not needed, no matter how much one might want to impress a new gal with one’s prowess in the sheets.  However if someone insists on that boost, I do happen to know that Viagra, in Mexico, is an over-the-counter drug.

Rule Five Climate Rule Friday

Well, sometimes there’s cause for hope.

In Kentucky, a judge, one Benjamin Beaton of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, slapped down the Biden administration’s rule clamping down (again) on emissions from motor vehicles.

In a sweeping judgment late Monday, Judge Benjamin Beaton of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ordered the Federal Highway Administration to stand down on the rules, which the agency finalized in November. The ruling represents a major victory for the State of Kentucky, which challenged the regulations alongside 21 other states.

“President Biden’s radical environmental agenda has lost touch with reality, and Kentucky families, farmers and workers are paying the price,” Republican state Attorney General Russell Coleman said on Tuesday. “Like all Americans, Kentuckians love our trucks, cars and vans. With this victory in court, we’re slamming the brakes on the Biden administration’s politics that make no sense in the commonwealth.”

It’s a start.  And the basis of the suit is that the Biden administration’s rule exceeds statutory authority, nothing new for this administration.

Kentucky filed the lawsuit in December, one month after the FHWA finalized the regulations. According to the lawsuit, the FHWA overstepped its legal authority in attempting to regulate vehicle emissions since it attempted to force states to implement federal regulations.

Beaton agreed in his ruling, declaring that the regulations exceed the FHWA’s statutory authority and are “arbitrary and capricious.” Instead of granting plaintiff states’ motion for preliminary injunction – which would have blocked the rule during litigation – he granted their motion for summary judgment, vacating the rule immediately.

OK, that’s great, and it’s a step in the right direction; the Biden(‘s handlers) administration has been ignoring any statutory limitations since, well, the day they took office.  But there’s a bigger issue: What about the constitutional issues?  Why is nobody talking about those?

Here.  Show me anywhere in there where the federal government is authorized to pass laws or make regulations governing the emissions of privately owned vehicles.  Go ahead, have a look; I’ll wait right here.

Back already?  OK.  You didn’t find it, did you? That’s because it’s not there.  Now, square that lack with the 10th Amendment:

Amendment X: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Why is nobody bringing this up?  Why is nobody – well, almost nobody, since obviously here I am talking about it – talking about this callous disregard for the Constitution, which is supposed to be the highest law in the land?  We can amend it, but we cannot ignore it – and yet the federal government has been ignoring it since at least 1860.

This ruling is a good start.  But at some point, it has to come back to the Constitution.

Animal’s Daily Nuclear-Powered News

Before I get into this, check out the latest chapter of Barrett’s Privateers: Unrepentant Sinner over at Glibertarians.

Now, I don’t mean the kind of nuke that goes BOOM, but I did run across an interesting piece on the next possible wave of nuclear power.

Although solar and wind energy installations are increasing at an accelerating pace, they are inherently unreliable due to their intermittent nature. Unlike traditional power sources, such as fossil fuels or nuclear energy, solar and wind technologies cannot generate electricity consistently throughout the day and night. In today’s interconnected and technologically reliant world, there is a pressing need for dependable, dispatchable electricity generation facilities to ensure continuous power supply.

Advanced nuclear energy is essential in our energy portfolio, and TerraPower’s plant represents cutting-edge innovation in this exciting industry. It will be the world’s most advanced nuclear facility, paired with a molten salt energy storage system that is capable of increasing output for over five and a half hours during peak demand periods. This project, with an estimated cost of around $4 billion funded by both governmental and private sources, marks a significant step towards sustainable energy solutions built on a foundation of nuclear power.

Read the entire piece; it’s got some great information on not only the nature of nuclear power and how it is essential to the continuation of our modern, high-tech society but also some neat stuff on some ground-breaking new reactor designs.

There is still and likely always be a need for natural gas and gasoline. There are just too many places where electric vehicles aren’t practical or even possible.  But nuclear power is an essential part of our energy future.  It’s time to streamline the regulatory process and get cracking on building reactors.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to The Other McCain, Bacon Time, Pirate’s Cove, The Daley Gator, and Flappr for the Rule Five links!

I’ve often found the idea of a “generation ship” interesting, at least from a sci-fi standpoint.  While in my own work, I tend to lean on the likely-impossible idea of superluminal travel (see: Device, Plot, 1 each) an enormous ship capable of sustaining a population for several generations is a more likely way of scattering human populations among the stars.

The idea of having multiple generations of humans live and die on the same spacecraft is actually an old one, first described by rocket engineer Robert Goddard in 1918 in his essay “The Last Migration.” As he began to create rockets that could travel into space, he naturally thought of a craft that would keep going, onward, farther, and eventually reach a new star. More recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA launched a project called the 100 Year Starship, with the goal of fostering the research and technology needed for interstellar travel by 2100.

Here’s where I see a problem: By the time our population of humans gets to their destination, they will have changed, culturally, maybe even physically.  Maintaining a one-gee simulated gravity wouldn’t be easy; one would think that the best a ship could do would be some fraction of one-gee, which would result in later generations being taller, slimmer, and more lightly built.  And consider our own society a hundred years ago; things were quite a bit different than they are now.

The result of this, if it succeeds, would be populations of… well, humans, but not humans like the ones that live on Earth.  The result would more likely be planets, separated by decades of radio or laser signal, likely by centuries of travel, and those populations would be so widely spaced that they would gradually become unrecognizable to one another.  Languages would diverge, and humans physically may even diverge due to differing conditions on other planets, to the point that there are far-flung speciation events.  The people on those planets would still be human – but not H. sapiens anymore. Maybe they would be H. taucetiensis, maybe something else.

It’s an interesting problem.

 

Animal’s Daily Superconductor News

Before I start on today’s tech stuff, check out the final chapter of Barrett’s Privateers – Plague Ship over at Glibertarians, and stay tuned over there next week for another tale of the adventures of Captain Jean Barrett and her crew.

Now then: A superconductor breakthrough at MIT may have implications for the development of practical fusion power. Wait – where have we heard that before?

More than two years since MIT claimed its scientists achieved a breakthrough in fusion energy, the university is claiming that new research “confirms” that the magnet-based design used in those tests isn’t just impressive in a lab setting, but is practical and economically viable, too.

These findings come from a comprehensive report which features six separate studies published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity this month, assessing the feasibility of the superconductor magnets used by MIT scientists in their landmark test conducted in September 2021.

“Overnight, it basically changed the cost per watt of a fusion reactor by a factor of almost 40 in one day,” Dennis Whyte, former director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and a professor of engineering, said in a release. “Now fusion has a chance.”

Uh-huh.

Fusion has had a chance for quite a while now, and yet it hasn’t been used for anything other than bombs yet; it seems that industrial-scale fusion power is and always has been ‘thirty years away.’  Granted my scientific background is in biology, not physics, but I’m skeptical that this breakthrough in superconductors, interesting though it may be, is going to result in an explosion in fusion power plants dotting the landscape and providing abundant, cheap, clean energy.

Now that I’m in my sixties, I’m pretty resigned to the idea that I won’t live to see a working, production-scale fusion reactor. My grandkids might. I hope they do.  But in my lifetime?  Best to keep those fission plants running, along with coal and gas, because no matter what MIT may be working on, we still need electricity now.

 

Rule Five Hydrogen Boondoggle Friday

It seems the bottom has dropped out of the hydrogen-car market. This should, of course, come as a surprise to no one. MasterResource’s Robert Bradley Jr. has the details:

EVs compete against hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles–at least in California where some one hundred hydrogen dispensing stations are. The range and fill-time of HFCVs is quite competitive with EVs. But it is downhill from there–and a major mess for sellers and buyers. The California Energy Commission (remember Methanol?) has failed again.

Consultant James Carter on LinkedIn summarized a recent article in Jalopnik, by Logan Carter, Toyota Offers $40,000 Discount On A Car Most People Can’t Fuel Up.” His autopsy (verbatim): 

  • Toyota’s innovative Mirai might just be the best deal on the car market right now, but access to hydrogen fuel is getting harder.
  • Even with ~$60,000 in total discounts, Mirai is still a BAD deal.
  • “The $40,000 cash incentive deal is limited to 2023 model year Mirai Limited models, and includes zero percent financing for qualifying buyers. All new Mirais include $15,000 in complimentary fuel at the time of sale.”
  • I’ve been around automotive for a long time, but I’ve NEVER seen incentives that represent 90% of new vehicle price. For a Toyota, 10% is the most I’ve seen. Yet, this is exactly what’s happening for the Toyota Mirai.

The incentives – taxpayer money, in most cases – are there because nobody would look twice at these cars without them.  Free markets are a great thing, but when it comes to these green boondoggles, of which hydrogen cars are but one example, the market is anything but free.

But wait! There’s more!  Here are the details of the costs of operation:

Vehicle: $66,000, less $40,000 discount

Finance: $6,500 interest, less $6,500 discount

Fuel for 5 years /15,000 miles annually: $45,000, less $15,000

So, in total, this car will cost you $56,000 over 5 years, which is roughly the same as a Model Y Performance mostly charged from home. Perhaps add $5k for interest payments for the Y.

Here’s the rub: At the end of 5 years, that Model Y will be worth about $25,000. The Mirai? Likely $2,000 to $3,000, based on history. In other words, that hugely discounted Mirai is still a BAD DEAL.

Why is it still bad? Because the only Hydrogen stations are in California, and all suffer very irregular supply. In other words, there’s no guarantee you’ll get fuel when you need it. Which, unfortunately, is rule #1….

The reason to have a private auto is so that it will be available when you need to use it, and so that you can go where you need to go.  In this, the various hydrogen autos fall short.  Not only are they prohibitively expensive without subsidies, they don’t age well.

What’s not mentioned here is the production of hydrogen: That takes electricity, and plenty of it, and sufficient power won’t be supplied by windmills and solar panels; meanwhile, the same people pushing these green boondoggles are opposing nuclear power.

Granted, new technology always gets cheaper and more efficient over time.  But this seems like a stretch, to try to lay in an entirely new infrastructure when we already have an established infrastructure, mature and efficient, that delivers gasoline and Diesel fuel when and where we need it.

Maybe someday there will be an unsubsidized market for hydrogen-powered vehicles. But that day is not today, and it won’t be tomorrow.