Tag Archives: science

A Tail of Two Cetaceans

Just when you thought the NOVA implosion was history, along comes a new one, this time exploding right from the start. It’s a real blast from the past – perhaps a millenium ago – whose light was discovered less than a week ago by an astronomer in Yamagata.

Nominally visible to the naked eye, Nova Delphini, in the minor constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, is the first such unaidedly eyeable cosmic event in six years. If you look toward the Summer Triangle, find the apex, the bright star Altair. Continue past the apex, and the Dolphin is basically swimming a short distance beyond (“above” the isosceles triangle vis-a-vis its short base between Vega and Deneb).

I harbor no illusions that the flecks in this iPhone photo are much of anything but “noise,” but the four-star diamond shape in the cloudy area does have a resemblance to the Dolphin. The nova itself probably isn’t visible here.

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I used a delayed shutter release, long-exposure app called SlowShutter, mounting the phone on a stable surface before the shutter opened, then deliberately covering the lens before “releasing (not plunging) the plunger” (picking the phone up to tap the shutter closed; the longest automatic alternative to the open-ended “bulb” setting is only 15 seconds). This exposure was 102 seconds at ISO 3200 (also set in the app), edited again afterward in the iPhoto app for exposure, resulting in the purple hue.

This was a couple nights back. Now that the moon is rising later, Nova Delphini might be visible until midnight or beyond. If you’re really interested, getting out into the country where there’s less ambient light would be worthwhile.

Are We Having Fun?

Jumping from one dolphin dispatch to another, the caption/comment on this Facebook post resonated with me, though some subsequent commenters jumped to the conclusion it was anti-science in tone. It wasn’t necessarily. And though there is potentially great value in analyzing phenomena like fun and play, I think there is something to the comment. I don’t know about the actual porpoise of the writer, but there are a least two kinds of people who might say what the writer did: those who are indeed making a facile anthropomorphic assumption, and those, in all likelihood a little more educated, who with affected humbler-than-thou self-effacement tend to assume only humans are capable of whimsy, or for that matter, evil. And let’s face it: Fun is generally not so fun when you stop to over-analyze it, though the devil of “over-” may be in the d(olphins’) tails. For now, I do think one thing we can rest assured humans fortunately maintain a sovereign, inalienable right to is the bad pun. No other species would touch that.

Through the Roof for Good Measure

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Like the city workers from the last entry, these high school students were also out measuring rising temperatures today with this high-flying contraption, possibly as part of their summer homework. They also seemed to be lowering something on a string below the bridge. I learned they were measuring the difference between asphalt-level and other air using the giant foil-wrapped phone receiver/steamship smokestack/tuba bell things hanging from the tall bamboo pole. All well and good, but it does seem everybody’s taking the temperature and nobody’s doing anything about it.

Window Dressing

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And as long as it’s a late summer slow news day the heat is making me repeat myself, here’s the stationary parasol of choice in these parts, a sudare screen, in this case one I put up at work next to our new covered deck to battle blinding sunset light. Naturally, just since I put it up, the sun seems to have started setting Stonehengelike behind a big building across the river, making my lean-to lattice largely moot.

Quick, Give Me a Title Before I Lose This

If you watch this TED video from Zurich (where a good chunk of the world’s wealth may be concentrated, now that I think about it), you’ll see what I mean when I speak of power being concentrated in the hands of a few being an emergent phenomenon rather than a conspiracy cooked up in some smoke-filled room somewhere. James B. Glattfelder’s agendaless type of approach is based in scientific curiosity that’s also cognizant of the need to deal with immediate if mundane matters of human affairs before answering bigger, more enticing cosmological, “pure science” questions. Not being ideology-driven, it may have the potential to bring ardent 99-percenters together with actual power-holders to discuss what needs to be done to avoid economic calamity, which, after all, would take everyone down. 99-percenters get to place responsibility on the one percent, and the one percent avoid being characterized as greedy conspirators (well, we may still reserve the right to think they’re greedy, spoiled, cold and out-of-touch (gee, it’s hard to resist a few zingers, though, isn’t it?), but not as bad as Marie Antoinette. It’s an evolution. I actually think the top fifteen or twenty percent has a lot of responsibility). And the world averts financial doom. Not bad. The idea of being too connected is interesting, too.

Anyway, I’m so sleepy now, I’d better post this before I go deleting something like a rogue trader vaporizing billions in wealth. Late-night iPad/iPhone sessions carry that risk for me. I’ll probably at least wake up to a few glaring misspellings. ñ. I kid you not – that one just popped in there just now (the period might have been reflexive sleep-tapping). Anybody else experience these sleepyheaded slips of the finger? Okay. Post.

Power to the People

Field of Nightmares

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Sounding, when you think about it, like a movie plot, transformers (largely out of view here, if you can imagine) dominate the landscape in Kasugai, along with a cellphone tower and plain old gargantuan power line towers, and even the moon in the top left corner like a mothballed insect in a spider’s web.

This is one of the favorite stops on local tours given to giant prehistoric fire-breathing monsters and menacing megamoths visiting from Pacific islands for the holidays. Don’t worry, they’ve all returned by now, ready to go back to their nine-to-five drudgery of centuries-long hibernation spent dreaming up new ways to wreak havoc on innocent civilian populations.

I had a car whose frame actually used to act as some kind of radio receiver and hummed when I drove through the electrical fields, kind of like when Laurie on The Partridge Family gets braces and they pick up radio signals. YouTube video here for those needing a convenient excuse to revisit their childhood idolatry of Susan Dey interested in wave propagation theory and the Piebald Syndrome (they say dental fillings and shrapnel can tune you in as well. There’s even a World War II urban legend about Lucille Ball picking up Japanese spies in her mouth). Yes, girls, Danny Keith is there in the video, too.

Much to See Aport

Though Gifu is a minority landlocked prefecture in this long-seafaring island nation, Nagoya is of course a major seaport. One popular place to go I’ve never mentioned is the Nagoya port area, left of the central part of town on a map.

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Besides the marine park featuring Nagoya iconic shachi, or killer whales, there’s plenty to see within easy walking distance from Nagoyako station on the Meiko/Meijo subway line. Above, the cruise ship Asuka II awaits boarding passengers after getting some paint touch-ups.

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Nearby that berthing in the Port Building is a maritime museum with lots of models and interactive displays teaching visitors about nautical history, fishing, shipping and import/export infrastructure, particularly as it relates to Japan and, of special interest locally, ceramics and auto manufacturing.

Above, from the museum, ancient ceramic urns brought up from Mediterranean shipwrecks. The seventh floor of the ship-shape building has a scenic panoramic promenade from which to view the entire port and much of Nagoya.

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Also right there is the a unique floating museum of the Japan Antarctic Research Expedition ship Fuji. The photo above is from her decks looking toward the marine park.

Cold Comfort

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You can take a self-guided tour on board the ship and really get a feel for what life must have been like for the crew, officers and scientists. Above are some of the main crew’s sleeping eighths sixteenths quarters. I won’t mention anything about sardines.

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Above, a well-used tracked vehicle that once ferried researchers across the Antarctic ice. Below, one of the rare rock samples on display. Meteorites and actual ice can be seen as well. It’s as close to the polar continent as many of us are likely to get.

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The Fuji, promenade and maritime museum can be visited by separate admission, or you can purchase an overall pass for ¥700. A very nice way to spend a day, and I guarantee you’ll learn something.

What Are the Chances?

By way of the Annals of Improbable Research, the people behind the Ig Nobel Prizes, I learned of random.org, where you can get much more truly random numbers than computers generate, and learn about randomness in general. Interesting material. Now I’m looking forward to an occasional “Three Little Words” blog incorporating their engine – that explains why my previous random posts were so crummy.

Intersections

At another Softbank wi-fi hotspot, this time the Starbucks adjoining the Tokyu Inn Hotel in Nagoya. Still must go through the usual hoops to make use of the connection. Inactivity for maybe ten minutes results in a logout and mor of the same rigmarole. I’ll have to go through and see if there’s some setting I should change. This particular store is usually less hectic than some of the other Starbucks around Sakae. I’m glad I chose it.

Here’s a commentary on a book by Jonah Lehrer stating the case for the improving communication and interaction between those in the arts and those in the sciences. It’s one aspect of one of my major concerns, interactivity across boundaries of all sorts.

Who You Callin’ Wishy-Washy, and the Marvelous Human Brain

A couple of reactions to something I read within the past day about the death of conservative pundit/blogger/activist Andrew Breitbart. I’m not making any comment about the late publisher himself, just about an article I saw.

What I read mentioned that he was actually a former liberal. I’d like to say, sometimes the most intractable conservatives are indeed former liberals. I don’t know about Breitbart’s particular case, but these people are often too new to the idea of seeing that extreme liberalism isn’t the best way to go, to see that going the other extreme isn’t good either. It’s a classic oversimplification. The key is to realize the two extremes are not the only two possibilities; to hold both of these realizations at the same time, within the same individual.

Another thing the article I read (sorry, I’ve lost track of it) had was a quote from someone on the left saying something to the effect that, “At least you knew where Breitbart stood; he meant what he said.” I resent what may or may not be implied here, but at any rate sometimes seems to be implied when extremists speak of extremists on the opposite side: that moderates either have no opinion, can’t make up their minds, are hedging their bets, preferring to sit on the fence until a likely winner becomes apparent, are apathetic/wishy-washy/not passionate about their opinions, or only speak of being moderate but in fact are extremists in disguise. These are appallingly ignorant blanket assumptions that only confirm some extremists’ lack of careful thinking.

For the record, I’ll only say I’m neither an extremist on either side, nor a straight-down-the-middle moderate. And I’m well aware things aren’t necessarily limited to a purely two-dimensional spectrum anyway. But at any rate, I am where I am because of, if I may say, experience, non-fair-weather dues-paying, and critical thinking.

That article also mentioned that Breitbart’s father-in-law was the actor Orson Bean. Oddly enough, within the past week I was watching some public domain videos of the old “To Tell The Truth” TV game show, on which the witty Mr. Bean was a regular panelist when I used to watch. The episodes were from the sixties, and, among other same-era clips I was watching, amazed me at how some things, like specific lines in TV commercials or jingles, come back clear as a bell decades later. Even though these memories have been locked away untouched for so long, and in fact you didn’t even know the memories were there, they’ve been there as some sort of bioelectrical configuration in your smaller-than-a-head-of-lettuce brain all this time, when you’ve been occupied with a million other things. And there they show themsleves, completely intact. Amazing.

Cultural Leaps Lead to a Metro Museum of Mural Memes

Another quick reaction piece, this time about what are sometimes too-quick reactions to observed “phenomena” in language and culture. Here’s the article, from the The Crux blog at Discover.

This seems to be a reassuringly sensible consideration of what are sometimes surprisingly sloppy and specious leaps of reasoning not only concerning posited connections between language and culture, but about comfortable characterizations of aspects of particular languages themselves. Though I do think language does affect the way we think.

It can actually be taken as a cautionary tale about maintaining objectivity and rigorous scientific discipline in general, not just as it pertains to language study (geez this is stilted. Sorry), but for any curious and critical mind hoping to make some sense of the world and apply lessons learned to make it better. And once again, someone also highlights the need to distinguish between causation and other types of correlation. Perhaps as readers and viewers of the stories that make themselves increasingly easily available in the news, commentaries, magazines, and the Net, we can be too accommodating to the black and white before our eyes (we overestimate and assume others, particularly specialists, are being as careful thinkers as we are), and this reminds us to be more circumspect.

My quickie here isn’t so much a reaction as just pointing you toward something worth remembering. When it comes in the form of a link, I guess they call that kind of thing curating these days. I just got a notion here – How about a physical museum space whose changing exhibits on the walls are giant screens with curated web content like we read on nicely formatted readers like Filpboard, Zite, Pulse or Readability?

Sure, we’re putting the choice of content in other people’s hands, but that’s what happens at any museum, and we can choose to go or not, and to make what we will of what’s there. The operation would sink or swim financially like any other entity in the marketplace of ideas. Or it could be crowdsourced, though I’m not so sure about that – fifty million Facebook likes do not necessarily a good movie (or political candidate) review make. Masses sometimes take whatever opiate they’re given. Sorry if I’m overstating. Just writing. Good thing nobody reads this.

And sure, it’s not private/sav(e?)able/browsable in the normal sense (though it could be set up to allow patrons to easily save/comment/share), but who says it has to be? This would be a different kind of experience anyway. You’d walk around, perhaps sit, in a large space, maybe contemplating. A place people could go to when they have bit of free time, in the city maybe. An alternative to handheld, heads-down browsing. Kind of a third place, if mostly one-way.

The exhibits would be ephemeral, changing daily or hourly. And this is getting way out there, but maybe someone could even write the text content by hand, using a large brush or something (in keeping with the non-virtuality of things). Old stories’ hanging paper sheets could be archived, recycled or cut up as souvenirs. Not eco-friendly enough? We could use a 3D printer to print the whole thing in New York Cheesecake (Times New Roman, 240 pt.) or Lime Jello or Silly Putty. In any case of course you’d have to read as opposed to just look at artwork or artifacts, but maybe that would be interesting. What else do we currently read at such a scale besides billboards, jumbotrons, posters and road signs?

Okay, my thinking out loud is starting to turn questioning heads and bother the other museum-goers, and my quickie is starting to quicken and get a bit thick in the graham cracker crust, so I’ll hop over the velvet cordon and skedaddle. Thank you for visiting, and please feel free to linger at your leisure. Refreshments, including yeaterday’s post printed in All-Bran, are available in the first-floor cafe.

Human and Machine

Taking a minute now to think about yesterday’s quotes (the post’s title was a reference to Ray Kurzweil’s potentially disturbing concept of “singularity,” basically computers and humanity becoming one), I have no idea about the state of computer science or artificial intelligence, or likely future developments, but I thought these ideas were worth remembering. It was nice to see someone else was thinking the same thing.

The idiosynchratic whims and foibles of our brains, the spacing out, the lateral thinking, the intuition, the emotion, the hunches, which may best be left unexplained, could even literally be (probably not, I admit) our own natural way of navigating a multi-dimensional universe. There isn’t much doubt that though they can get us into trouble, they can also create shortcuts to new solutions. How and to what extent we can let machines take advantage of this, I don’t know.

And I don’t think we as individual humans should deny the role of our physical needs or sensations in our consciousness. It might be difficult for computers to achieve the same kind of awareness.

But it doesn’t even necessarily matter whether machines manage these capabilities or even more. Regardless of what computers end up being able to do, we can ourselves strike a balance between these more “human” traits and more strictly “logical” thinking. And we can keep an open mind as to just what, proportion-wise, that balance should be. And, as always, not think too much. Or too little. Just keep playing it by ear. Maybe if we all do that and remember that humans matter, whatever happens as far as the details, computers will have a proper place in the world.