Friday, October 17, 2014

Painting and "mommy groups:" findings on early humans

Time again for Science Friday.

Since I recently posted a...shall we say, contentious...theory of human origins, I thought that I would take a look at actual verified advancements in the field.

Like most kids, prehistoric life fascinated me during my formative years. This primarily means dinosaurs but I also enjoyed the Hollywood "lost world" milieu as seen on Skull Island in King Kong and the underground world of At the Earth's Core.  One glaring scientific inaccuracy (among many) that these settings featured was a duple depiction of Earth eras.  There were "cavemen" or loose-knit tribes of primitive humans that lived alongside the dinosaurs in a Flintstone's-like existence. Unless you're a fundy, you know that such cohabitations never happened and that any depictions thereof are for the purposes of pulpy entertainment only (granted the native islanders of King Kong were not "cavemen" but the ethno-insensitivity of the times made them transparent stand-ins, I would argue.) Fortunately, the realities of what early hominids were like are far more interesting and multi-faceted than their cheesy Hollywood reflections.

It is now speculated that mothers among early hominids raised their young collectively. "Momma groups," so to speak. Examining already existing research, a team consisting of academics from Harvard, the University of Utah, and the University of California have found that mothers of those species began to give birth to larger babies. These children were also more dependent. It is therefore thought that they could not have been raised alone and "care networks" of sorts formed between mothers.

Doesn't surprise me. We're constantly told (especially by corporate leaders and conservatives it would seem) that our natural, Darwinian state is one of survival of the fittest and kill or be killed. Yes, there is truth to that both with humans and elsewhere in nature. However we neglect the numerous examples where organisms cooperate in order to survive. Not only survive but to prosper as a matter of fact. This is yet another case of that and the fact that it was women who were the pioneers likewise does not surprise me. It would seem that they would naturally see the strength and advantage in collectivism. I'll just drop it here before someone gets bent out of shape about "It takes a village..."

Elsewhere, what are thought to be the world's oldest examples of human art have been found. The insides of a cave of Indonesia showcases a montage of water buffalo, warthogs, and even handprints rendered in ochre, a reddish natural pigment. At least a few of these are thought to be 40,000 years old. Stylistically, the depictions are similar to those found in Europe, the previous crown-holder for the oldest-known human art. Primal humans were painting what they saw, namely wild animals. As they no doubt were sources of sustenance, they loomed large in human existence. I am also intrigued by the handprints. To me, they suggest a search for identity. "I am aware I exist and I'm trying to figure out why. In the meantime, I mark my place here." Just my thoughts.

In a similar vein, I'm wondering if we are about to find that humanity, in one form or another, has been around much longer they we've ever suspected. Discoveries such as this those in the caves keeps overturning the previous paradigm. How sophisticated were we? Well...I don't think I'm ready to say that there were advanced civilizations lost to us by flood or something (e.g. Atlantis), but you have to wonder.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Big advancements in nuclear fusion

We need alternative energy sources.

Right now our world is hopelessly dependent upon energy resources that are finite, that don't burn clean, thus polluting our world and leaving far-reaching consequences. Wouldn't it be great if we had a resource that burned clean and was nearly limitless? Good news: we might be closer to that than we think. Bad news: right now it's being developed for military use. Well that's not really bad as it does help us and the energy source should eventually filter out for civilian use, but you know what I mean.

Lockheed Martin announced it has made great progress towards nuclear fusion. Fusion is the process that fuels the stars. Atoms are smashed together at high temperatures, thus producing new particles and tremendous amounts of energy. Many a science fiction spaceship has been powered by a fusion reactor, but the idea Lockheed is after is to have Navy ships, submarines, and drones be able to operate for a nigh unlimited amount of time before conking out and doing so on a very tiny amount of fuel.

One of the obstacles to fusion reactors, aside from the high temperatures required to have a sustained reaction, has been magnetic confinement. When atoms break apart into separate particles inside the high temperatures of the reactor, high-energy plasma is released and it would need to be kept away from the metal edges of the reactor. It is this very magnetic field generator that Lockheed claims to have developed. An important point in this story is not that a sustained, controlled fusion reaction has been achieved, but rather that we now have the magnetic gear for containing the plasma once we get the reaction business sorted.

But it wouldn't have been the first time somebody claimed a fusion reaction. In 1989, the team of Drs. Pons and Fleischmann announced that they had developed "cold fusion," a fusion reaction at temperatures far lower than what was thought to be needed. Too bad it turned out not to be true. Not that the men hoaxed it or perpetrated a fraud. Certainly not. They were simply mistaken.

Fusion claims still persist. Coast to Coast AM recently featured Sterling Allan of Pure Energy Systems. On C2C, Allan talked about a cold fusion reactor that has run for 32 consecutive days, producing 3.5 times more energy than what was put into the system. He speculates we could make "refrigerator-sized" cold fusion reactors available to power houses in the next five to ten years. Wouldn't that be nice?

If that's the case, then both Lockheed Martin and DARPA are seriously wasting their time. After all, if fusion power is just sitting around and about to be marketed for personal use, then why continue their research? Guess we'll have to see.

Because that's the dream, right? Enough energy to leave my computer, my smartphone, and multiple gaming platforms plugged in and active at all times without worrying about the electric bill? Or the guilt over the environment? Might even get me to actually hang outdoor Christmas lights.

Here's to hoping.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guy claims "Humans are not from Earth"

It seems that we keep discovering more and more exoplanets each year.

One of these days, humanity may even find the planet we originally came from.

At least that's what Dr. Ellis Silver claims. In the ecologist's aptly titled book, Humans Are Not From Earth, Silver points to what he sees as being illogical developments in human evolution that suggest we are not from around here. Let's start out with sunburns.

Yes, according to Silver, sunburns are a sign that our race hails from elsewhere. Where, he basically wonders, is the logic in living on a planet where you can't be exposed to the sun for too long? Personally I think it might have much more to do with the fact that many humans migrated out of Africa and lost our protective pigment against UV rays, but let's try to stay with Silver a bit longer on this. Another sign of our extraterrestrial origins is the fact that so many people suffer with back pain. This is due, he postulates, to the fact that humans likely emerged on a planet with lower gravity. What's more, the fact that childbirth causes so much pain is evidence to Dr. Silver that we're not from around here. The fact that a baby's head is so large and difficult to get through the birth canal is downright illogical in his theory.

He has a point, but I just seem to think that anything of any real size trying to get through that tiny opening is going to cause some degree of pain. Am I right, ladies? Plus, I don't see how this quirk of human anatomy translates to "aliens."

Anyway, when does Dr. Silver think we were first dropped off here? Well the linked article says perhaps as recently as 10,000 years ago, but I didn't find a justification for that figure other than Silver saying that the afflictions he cites are "modern conditions." Think this all sounds kooky to you? It gets better. All of these maladies we suffer may be due to the fact that Earth was intended to be a prison planet. Silver points to humanity's violent nature and seeming inability to get along with one another. This suggest that we might be the cosmic equivalent of Australia, at least in terms of origins. Our species might actually be kids in a time-out.

A really big time out.

"Mankind is supposedly the most highly developed species on the planet, yet is surprisingly unsuited and ill-equipped for Earth's environment: harmed by sunlight, a strong dislike for naturally occurring foods, ridiculously high rates of chronic disease, and more," he told Yahoo.

So in other words, we were put here to suffer. Guess that would explain a great many things. In terms of exobiology, that might even explain why people claim to see bipedal aliens when all statistical probability should be against it. There are still versions of and variations upon ourselves out there in space. This might make for a good book or short story. But I digress...

Your natural tendency (and who am I kidding, mine as well) might be to see Dr. Silver as quite the mythomane. I am going to argue that he is correct...from a certain point of view. This is where I insert the quote, "a great many of the truths we cling to depend upon our point of view."

Humans do come from space. Every element in our body, everything that goes into what makes us physically who we are, has its origin in the core of stars. We came from out there.

Just probably not in the way that Silver asserts.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

At Earth's Core!

Over the weekend, I was reintroduced to a science fiction film from my juvenescent days.

It's called At Earth's Core. It was loosely based on a science fiction book by Edgar Rice Burroughs and starred the ominous Peter Cushing, the hottie Caroline Munro, and leading-man-guy Doug McClure (no, not Troy). As you might have deduced from the fact that it's an ERB book, the whole thing takes place in the late 19th Century Britain, giving the film a sort of steampunk appeal.

A British scientist (Cushing) backed by an American financier (McClure) has brought about a marvelous technological advancement. Called the Iron Mole, it's an enormous drilling machine that was intended to revolutionize the mining industry. They decide to test it out and drill a gigantic hole in the Welsh countryside. What they end up doing is tunneling into a strange, underground world that is populated by dinosaurs and cavemen. Please note that I abhor using the word "cavemen" but in Hollywood terms, that's exactly what they were.

Living in prehistoric times would be anything but salubrious. For these underground dwellers, however, things are made far more complicated by beings called the Mahars. These are giant flying reptiles with telepathic abilities. Many of the primitive humans are being kept as slaves and thralls by the Mahars via mind control. Unfortunately, the crew of the Iron Mole are taken prisoner by the Mahars and brought to the capitol city.

There, Doug McClure's character meets the beautiful Princess Dia (Munro) and falls in love. But oh despair! Dia has been selected by the Mahars to be a human sacrifice! Can the visitors from the topside world gather the enslaved humans and inspire them to revolt?

As a kid, I was pretty much a sucker for any movie that included dinosaurs. At Earth's Core was no exception. Making it even more appealing was the fact that it featured a race of intelligent, telepathic pterodactyls, reminding me of Sauron from Marvel Comics. Viewing the movie through my contemporary eyes, I can't help but think about the Hollow Earth theory.

This is a paranormal speculation that asserts that the Earth is something of a hollow sphere wherein an entire underground civilization flourishes (and you thought it was just lava beneath the ground.) The so-called Shaver Mysteries are an account of one man's paranormal experiences after exploring caves and encountering denizens of this civilization. No, no Mahars but he allegedly came across beings called "Deros." It is also speculated that underground dwellers may account for the origins of "little people" folklore such as gnomes and leprechauns.

While few today would place any scientific credence in such a theory, it was once widely entertained and by brilliant minds no less. The notion of a hollow Earth anyway, if not the "hidden civilization" aspect.  Astronomer Edmond Halley, the discoverer of the famed Halley's Comet, once postulated that unpredictable fluctuations in the Earth's magnetic field must be due to the fact that our world has a hollow center. He also thought that life "undoubtedly" flourished in the deep down there.

If you're looking for an entertaining book on the subject, might I recommend The Hollow Earth by Rudy Rucker? Once you've read the original Shaver Mysteries that is. It's a book that the cheeky Rudy the Elder claims is based off of an original Edgar Allen Poe manuscript found tucked away since antiquity. It tells a story similar to that of Poe's novella, The Narrative of Gordon Arthur Pym (which you should also read) where Poe accompanies an explorer named Jeremiah Reynolds to Antarctica. There beneath the ice, both men stumble upon an underground civilization full of life and humans. It's a "mirror Earth" where a "mirror Poe" writes all the surface world's Poe stories...and cashes in on them. Writerly jealously ensues. Awesome stuff.

Then again, since I know reading is becoming quite the arcane activity in America, you might just watch At Earth's Core. Quite entertaining but nowhere near as satisfying as any of the books I've just mentioned.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 13, 2014

"10 mile long spacecraft" on Moon

Special thanks to David Paquette for the heads-up on this story.

In preparation for our November unit on space, I told my science students they needed to spend the next four weeks observing the Moon.

They groaned at the news.

Perhaps they will perk up a bit when I show them that the Moon has a 10 mile long spacecraft parked on it.

That's what Michael Salla, guru of "exopolitics," is considering, anyway. His article for Examiner features photographs of the Moon taken in 1968 by the probe Lunar Orbiter III. Resting inside Crater Manilus is where the article asserts that you can see a spacecraft approximately 10 miles in length. To his credit, Salla does point out the very real possibility (in fact I'll go so far as to say probability), that the shape is in fact an optical illusion. Another likely explanation would be a "rock that's just shaped that way" as so many right here at home are, but I digress.

Salla dismisses the illusion theory, claiming that the "contours of the object as it meets the shadow cast by the sun from the crater’s rim, however, appears to rule out such an explanation." He goes on to point out that the images have been studied and discussed at length on "online forums" such as UFO Sightings Daily blogspot. and that users have concluded that the most likely explanation for the photos is that there is an alien presence on the Moon. Well, that cinches it, I guess.

What's more, the alleged spacecraft is not the only oddity to have been photographed on the lunar surface. There is what appears to be (to certain sectors of the online public at-large, anyway) a "60 mile long highway" that shows up in another photo. The "road" is rather straight to be a natural formation and it covers the entire width of the photograph. I'd like to point out that at least a few other unmanned probes went to the Moon before 1968 and that at least a few of them were rovers. Might it not be more plausible that the "road" is really a set of tracks from one of these autonomous devices? Sure, it's not as sexy as the "60 mile road" theory and I know I've just sent a frigid mistral into the collective, throbbing crotches of alien devotees, but it just seems to be the more practical explanation.

I am actually intrigued by the idea of searching for alien artifacts within our own solar system. Perhaps our most conclusive evidence for the reality of alien civilizations will not come from deep space but will be found much nearer to home. There are any number of anomalies on nearby planetary bodies that deserve investigation (like what is with this perfectly spherical rock on Mars?) but I just don't see these Moon photographs as being among them.

That's not as exciting to consider as the idea that Lunar Orbiter III was really sent to study this alien spacecraft ahead of the Apollo landings or that when Apollo 11 did arrive, Armstrong and Aldrin both encountered two enormous alien spacecraft.

Yet I'm going to put a five on it and say the photographs actually depict fairly boring things.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Drone Brother is Watching You

The above graphic is from DeviantArt.

They are watching, you know.


"They." The ones that conspiracy theorists always point towards. "They" killed Kennedy. "They" conceal the truth about the UFO crash at Roswell. "They" are putting Fleetwood Mac back on tour. You can feel "they" out there, right? Watching you?

Now they're watching you with drones. Yeah, those small, unmanned, robotic aircraft carrying cameras. The ostensible purpose for the fleets of these things that already exist in places like Miami is "safety." The drones can carry out tasks such as monitoring traffic, serving as "eyes in the sky" in the event of a disaster, and monitoring for crimes. Not everyone is happy about this development, arguing that this is adding to an overreach of "the powers that be." After all, many cities in Britain and the United States already have Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras positioned in strategic locations. These cameras that feed in to a (or several) central monitoring station(s) at the police department watch for, again, criminal acts or even mere infractions such as the running of red lights.

While justification for this sense of paranoia has its varying degrees of merit, I saw something in personal technology that made me think about this issue in a new light. A tiny drone named Nixie has been developed.  It weighs less than a tenth of a pound and sits on a strap on your wrist. Flick it into the air and it deploys into a quadcopter aircraft that is equipped with a camera. The idea, I guess, is to have the drone capture HD images and send them to your smartphone while you can be active doing something else. I suppose one could get the ultimate selfie this way.

So my line of thinking is this: if this technology already exists for the consumer market, what do law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies have at their disposal? I do not say that out of any kind of paranoia (well maybe just a little) but rather a fascinated speculation. Just how "tiny" can drone technology go? Senator Dianne Feinstein said that she encountered a drone "inches from her face" outside the window of her home. This should give us pause for perhaps a few reasons.

The drone in question was obviously large enough to be seen. What about those such as Nixie that wouldn't necessarily be readily observable? Also, if a high-ranking government official is being monitored, what's happening to the rest of us? In the case of Feinstein, the drone originated from protest kids outside her house. Or were they?? Okay, okay, enough of the conspiracy talk.

There have been "voices of reason" amid all the frisson and chatter that drones will soon cloud our skies, watching our every movement or just delivering my order from Amazon. Several obstacles exist that would need amelioration before we'd ever see that. Among those barriers are FAA regulations for what is already crowded airspace. That and as mentioned previously, many are against drones by nature and have even fired shots at them (I'm waiting for the first conspiracy nut to take one out with a homemade rocket launcher.)

That said, a drone of Nixie's miniature size would not have those problems. They might well be in the air right now and we would not necessarily be any the wiser.

For me, my immediate interest in the matter has to do with UFO investigation. To the public at-large, many will see a drone and be convinced they're encountering a UFO, thus instigating more wild goose chases. One such sighting was recently posted to The Black Vault. While the verdict is still out on that case, I can't shake my gut feeling that it's just a drone. A previously not-known-to-the-public drone, but a drone nonetheless. A sighting of a UFO over protesters in Hong Kong has also garnered a bit of attention. Video and photographic experts are tending towards "drone" in that case as well. Between drones and video editing software, it's going to get even more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to UFO sightings and that has me quite concerned. Far more so than I am with all of this piddly "civil liberties" business, anyway.

I kid.

Sort of.

It is true that surveillance drones are something that not even George Orwell imagined. At the same time, I think that Orwell might've gotten a perverse sort of enjoyment out of the idea of an autonomous device only slightly larger than your wrist that can fly and send live video of you back to the high muckymucks. It's almost perfect.

I still think I want a Nixie. Mostly because flinging my own autonomous camera drone into the air to seek out its target would pretty much be the closest I'll ever get to being Batman.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets