It seemed inevitable that Elon Musk would eventually get into a Twitter war over whether Mars can be terraformed. When you’re on Twitter, he told Businessweek in July, 2018, you’re “in meme war land.” “And so essentially if you attack me,” he said, “it is therefore okay for me to attack back.”

Musk, the CEO and lead designer of SpaceX, wants to “make life multiplanetary,” starting with Mars. “Public support for life on Mars is critical to making it happen,” he tweeted last week. The red planet is relatively close to the Earth and once harbored surface seas and rivers, and it still has ice and a subsurface lake. Its weather is surprisingly workable, too. Mars’ surface temperature range (–285 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit) isn’t too far off from Earth’s (–126 to 138 degrees Fahrenheit). The problem is Mars’ atmosphere now has 0.006 bar of pressure, where one bar is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth. Not only does this mean that dangerous levels of radiation reach the surface unchecked, but humans need at least 0.063 bar to keep our bodily liquids from boiling (this is called the Armstrong limit).

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We all laughed when the physicist Alan Sokal wrote a deliberately silly paper entitled Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity, and managed to get it accepted by a journal of social and cultural studies, Social Text.

But in 2002, on the 22nd of October many of us began hearing rumors that two brothers managed to publish at least five meaningless papers in physics journals as a hoax - and even got Ph.D. degrees in physics from Bourgogne University on the basis of this work!

The rumor appears to have begun with an email from the physicist Max Niedermaier to the physicist Ted Newman, and it spread like wildfire. I received copies from many people, and soon there was a heated discussion of what this meant for the state of theoretical physics. Had the subject become so divorced from reality that not even the experts could recognize the difference between real work and a hoax?

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Over the centuries the huge, naked, club-wielding giant carved into a steep hillside in Dorset has been thought prehistoric, Celtic, Roman or even a 17th century lampoon of Oliver Cromwell.

After 12 months of new, hi-tech sediment analysis, the National Trust has now revealed the probable truth and experts admit they are taken aback. The bizarre, enigmatic Cerne Giant is none of the above, but late Saxon, possibly 10th century.

Martin Papworth, a senior archaeologist at the trust, said he was somewhat “flabbergasted … He’s not prehistoric, he’s not Roman, he’s sort of Saxon, into the medieval period. I was expecting 17th century.”

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Archaeologists in Italy recently unearthed the remains of at least nine Neanderthals in Guattari Cave, near the Tyrrhenian Sea about 100 km southeast of Rome. While excavating a previously unexplored section of the cave, archaeologists from the Archaeological Superintendency of Latina and the University of Tor Vergata recently unearthed broken skulls, jawbones, teeth, and pieces of several other bones, which they say represent at least nine Neanderthals. That brings the cave’s total to at least 10; anthropologist Alberto Carlo Blanc found a Neanderthal skull in another chamber in 1939.

Italy was a very different place 60,000 years ago. Hyenas, along with other Pleistocene carnivores, stalked rhinoceroses, wild horses (an extinct wild bovine called aurochs), and people.

“Neanderthals were prey for these animals. Hyenas hunted them, especially the most vulnerable, like sick or elderly individuals,” Tor Vergata University archaeologist Mario Rolfo told The Guardian. The archaeologists found the Neanderthal remains mingled with the bones of rhinos, giant deer, wild horses, and other hyenas. Predators and scavengers tend to leave behind different parts of the skeleton than, say, flowing water or simple burial—and tooth marks are usually a dead giveaway.

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Though the song, set to an upbeat melody, appears to satirize Americans, it is today treated as a patriotic anthem. Anyone who is not given proper context—that “Yankee Doodle” was originally created by the British to ridicule Americans, and that American soldiers reclaimed it during the Revolutionary War—might well question the point of the song.

But perhaps the most confounding part of “Yankee Doodle” is its opening. To the average listener, the first verse appears to describe an American man who confuses a feather for a piece of pasta:

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The 1949 letter by the physicist and Nobel laureate discusses bees, birds and whether new physics principles could come from studying animal senses.

It’s a position still being realized within physics to this day, with a growing body of research and understanding of how animals such as birds and bees find their way around.

Now a study led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, discusses how recent discoveries in migratory birds back up Einstein’s thinking 72 years ago.

The previously unpublished letter was shared with researchers by Judith Davys—Einstein had addressed it to her late husband, radar researcher Glyn Davys.

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Scientists monitoring the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine have discovered fission reactions erupting within an inaccessible chamber in the ruins of the complex, raising concerns that a further explosion at the site could take place.

Medieval authors have had their work brought back to life with 21st century technology in an unexpected collaboration at the University of St Andrews.

An archive of the works of medieval English authors, which revealed an unanticipated international outlook in medieval writers, had fallen into disuse.

Created in the 1990s, the loss of the ground-breaking Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database in 2018 made it virtually impossible once again to trace the precise borrowings within the early medieval literary heritage of the British Isles.

However, in a multi-disciplinary project involving medieval scholars and computer scientists, researchers and enthusiasts of the period can once again cross-reference medieval authors with their global counterparts from whom they often ‘borrowed’ long passages in pre-plagiarism times.

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In an online session of the Russian Geographical Society last month, Shoigu, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested using the DNA of 3,000-year-old Scythian warriors to potentially bring them back to life. Yes, really.

First, some background: The Scythian people, who originally came from modern-day Iran, were nomads who traveled around Eurasia between the 9th and 2nd centuries B.C., building a powerful empire that endured for several centuries before finally being phased out by competitors. Two decades ago, archaeologists uncovered the well-preserved remains of the soldiers in a kurgan, or burial mound, in the Tuva region of Siberia.

Because of Tuva’s position in southern Siberia, much of it is permafrost, meaning a form of soil or turf that always remains frozen. It’s here where the Scythian warrior saga grows complex, because the frozen soil preserves biological matter better than other kinds of ground. Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu knows this better than anyone, because he’s from Tuva.

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A team of researchers has discovered a fossil they are describing as a leftover fall event in which one creature was in the process of eating another creature that was not consumed. In their paper published in the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology, the group describes the fossilized find and what it taught them about behavior between ancient cephalopods and vertebrate predators.

Over the course of many years, archeologists have unearthed fossils of creatures that were interacting at the time of their death—one such type of interaction involves a predator capturing prey. Prior researchers have called fossils of creatures just prior to being consumed “pabulites” (Latin for “leftovers.”) In this new effort, the researchers studied an ancient crustacean pabulite that was about to be consumed by an ancient squid-like creature called a belemnite.

The combined fossils were discovered by an amateur collector who found them in a quarry in Germany. Recently, one of the members of the research team happened across the collection and arranged for the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart to purchase the specimens. Soon thereafter, a research team was assembled and the group began studying the find.

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The postage stamp looks like a postage stamp is supposed to look: white, perforated edges, and part of a circular cancellation mark in the corner. It also has the country and postage clearly printed, though its depiction of the pirate Blackbeard during an attack might be more dramatic than most philatelic subjects. But it’s not a postage stamp, not really, because its country of origin is Sealand—a metal platform about the size of a tennis court, off the English coast. Sealand is one of the quirky, strangely numerous states known as “micronations,” or self-proclaimed polities with no legal recognition. Some of them, to simulate legitimacy or at least make a little money, have issued their own flags, passports, coins, and yes, postage stamps.

Laura Steward, curator of public art at the University of Chicago, who organized an exhibition at the 2020 Outsider Art Fair in New York of stamps from micronations and other dubiously defined places, believes that these tiny squares are more than a toss-off: They’re art, proof of imagination, and rather sophisticated bids for public recognition. “A postage stamp is a small but mighty symbolic emissary from one particular nation to the rest of the world,” Steward writes in text accompanying the exhibit. “A functioning postal service, made visible in stamps, is an unmistakable expression of national legitimacy…. As a result, the postage stamp is an excellent vehicle for spurious, tenuous, or completely fictitious states to declare their existence.”

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“Following the science” to minimise certain risks while ignoring others absolves us of exercising our own judgment, anchored in some sense of what makes life worthwhile. It also relieves us of the existential challenge of throwing ourselves into an uncertain world with hope and confidence. A society incapable of affirming life and accepting death will be populated by the walking dead, adherents of a cult of the demi-life who clamour for ever more guidance from experts.

It has been said, a people gets the government it deserves.

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Like Europeans who ventured into Indian country, Indians who traveled to cities often did so warily. Hostile populations, both Indian and white, might render their journeys perilous, especially in times of war. After the Oneida chief Shickellamy died in 1748, his son John (Tachnechdorus) served as the Iroquois representative in the Susquehanna Valley dealing with Pennsylvania. But the French and Indian War in the mid-1750s shattered earlier patterns of coexistence; now war parties ravaged the frontier and the Pennsylvania government offered bounties on the scalps of Indian men, women, and children. Traveling between the Susquehanna and Philadelphia, John Shickellamy was cursed and insulted by “fearful ignorant people” who told him, “to his face, that they had a good mind to scalp him.” Animosities toward Indians during the American Revolution were so charged that Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia had to order militia companies to protect Cherokee delegates on their way to Williamsburg from “a design of assassinating those chiefs,” and several groups of backcountry settlers planned to murder a Delaware delegation on its way to Philadelphia in 1779. And in the midst of war with the western tribes in 1792, the United States government assigned officers to help get Iroquois delegates safely through the Susquehanna Valley settlements. As if escalating interethnic hostilities did not pose danger enough, travelers on the roads near Philadelphia also faced the threat of highway robbers.

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Humanity has sent around 30 spacecraft and landers to the Red Planet since the space age began. Now, we know which microbes might have survived the trip, says geneticist Christopher Mason.

May 11

The Colonial Pipeline, which transports about 45 percent of fuel consumed on the East Coast, shut down over the weekend due to a ransomware attack.

It carried out the shutdown to prevent hackers from accessing its operational technology.

On Monday, the company behind the pipeline said it would take “a phased approach” to restoring service and hopes to “substantially” restore its operations by the end of the week.

Instances of government relief to the poor can be found from the earliest times. Though the records are vague in important particu­lars, we do know a good deal about what happened in ancient Rome. A study of that case may enable us to draw a few lessons for our own day.

Sima Qian is sometimes called the “Herodotus of the East.” It’s a fair title. Herodotus is one of two men who can claim to have invented history. Sima Qian is the other.

This is a rare feat. It was accomplished in exactly two places. Herodotus did it in Greece; Sima Qian did it in China. Of the other great civilizations—the Mesoamericans, the Egyptians, Summerians, and their descendants, the Andean kingdoms, the early rulers of the Eurasian steppe, the great empires that sprouted up along the Indus and Ganges rivers, along with their cultural satellites across South and Southeast Asia—history is nowhere to be found. I remember my shock when I discovered our knowledge of ancient India relies more on ancient Greek historians than ancient Indian historians. Traditional Indic civilization simply did not have any. In ancient India, playwrights, poets, lyricists, grammarians, philosophers, story-tellers, mathematicians, military strategists, religious authorities, and religious upstarts all put pen to palm frond, leaving a treasury of Sanskrit literature for the future. This literature is sophisticated. It is meaningful. Even in translation, much of it is beautiful. But search as you may, nowhere in this vast treasury will you ever find a work of history. That a great thinker could profitably spend his time sorting through evidence, trying to tie together cause and effect, distinguishing truth from legend, then present what is found in a written historical narrative—it is an idea that seems to have never occurred to anyone on the entire subcontinent. Only in Greece and in China did this notion catch hold. The work of every historian who ever lived finds its genesis in one of these two places—and with one of these two people.

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Astrobiologists with the Breakthrough Listen project have released the preliminary results of a SETI survey, in which the team hunted for radio signals along a line of sight that extends toward the galactic center.

Interesting

Random things that are interesting.

Created on Aug 31, 2020
By @gurlic
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