Sunday, 27 September 2015

Entertainment stuff from the week 21-27/9/15

Hi people-wagonners,

'Rumors are that it will be a disastrous week'

If you survive to read this article, then remember this: you're available to be shafted all over again, by some astrological bozo with a mind that's in 'retrograde' at the moment, and permanently :o)

Wow, Volkswagen. You dun goofed.

'VW Caught Cheating on EPA Tests'

Volkswagen's been caught employing software in its cars, developed specifically to corrupt reports of nitrite and nitrate emissions from them (known as NOx collectively) to levels 40 times below their actual emissions.

This software applies to a range of cars, built between 2008 and 2015, under the VW and Audi brands, in the USA. Cars already on the road, and fitted with this software, will be difficult to trade in, or sell at price, and all breach the Clean Air Act, developed to protect people from air pollution.

It's not yet known whether VW has been perpetrating a similar deception in other countries, than the USA and Germany.

Bloody hell, VW - this is the kind of thing conspiracy theorists have wet dreams about - a genuine corporate conspiracy to deceive the public, in order to foist shonky goods (and poisonous chemicals) on them!

'What we know: the Volkswagen emissions test fraud scandal'

The uncovering began in 2014, when an environmental group tested some of a couple of VW's designs, and presented their data to the USA's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) which was followed up on, and an official statement made by the EPA, this September.

The way VW did it, was to use software that manipulated the cars to emit less NOx under test conditions, than they would do under real-world driving conditions.

It should be noted that the USA's restrictions on NOx pollutants are more stringent than in Europe, where diesel-powered vehicles are more common, and less well regulated. VW simply wanted to avoid having to raise its game.

VW initially claimed only 500,000 vehicles in the USA would be affected, but they have since admitted that a more realistic figure is 11 million vehicles, manufactured since 2008, as well as 2.8 million vehicles in Germany. Those vehicles will likely have lost value, and it could take more than a year for VW to carry out any repairs/reparations for owners.

In light of what's happened, VW's share price has fallen by a third; it's been threatened with a fine of up to US$18 billion; and consumer groups and shareholders are threatening to sue. The actual fine is likely to be much smaller - VW has apparently set $7.3 billion aside to cover all of its related costs.

In order to avoid progressive change, VW has issued an apology, it's CEO has fled the ship, and it's recommended suspending "some" anonymous employees. If identified, everyone responsible could face criminal charges, under German law.

The tactics employed by VW's leaders, are classic blame-avoidance manoeuvres. By dumping all of the blame on a few individuals (most unnamed) who make apologies and then disappear into the night, many are fooled into thinking that something substantial has changed.

Nothing substantial has changed. Apologies are excuses for not changing. This is a mistake that humans make, time and time again - forgiveness is a mechanism that absolves people, not of their guilt (past events can't be undone) but instead absolves them of their motive to do better in the future.

For the EPA's part, it has said that it will now do road-based emissions tests, to make this kind of deception more difficult. It is, as yet, unknown how many other companies might have been plying the same ploy.

On the subject of EU-USA regulations comparisons...

'Study comparing of crash risk of EU and US motor-vehicles indicates differences in performance'

This industry-funded study found that EU regulations on car design are better than the USA's. They result in cars that are safer, when it comes to lane changes, and to front and side-impacting collisions.

The only thing American cars scored better on, was in rollovers, which are much rarer, but more exciting to watch on TV.

The results of this study could inform the development of the TTIP, which threatens two things: consistency of legislation, for trade purposes, and the abolition of legislation for trade purposes.

The first seems relatively sensible (although naive to adaptation to circumstance) and the second is a big problem.

Such trade agreements can be held in secret, because they're 'only' treaties, and yet can impact huge numbers of people for the worse. If the EU gets sued for having better road safety legislation, that keeps human beings safe, then people will pay for it, twice over!

'NOx gases in diesel car fumes: Why are they so dangerous?'

To put it bluntly: acid rain, suffocating smog, breathing problems, headaches, eye irritation, loss of appetite, corroded teeth, chronic breathing problems, heart and lung disease, lung cancer, and the deaths of at least 24,000 people per year, in the UK alone.

Compounding the more direct affects, nitrates and nitrites harm other species, including plants and therefore the wider health of the environment. This means negative effects on farming, and inevitable decreased biodiversity, which is crucial for collective, biome-wide disease resistance.

The last factor is one that generally gets dismissed, because it's difficult to put numbers to, but it still matters. Flu pandemics are the go-to example of what happens when biodiversity falls for too long - Spanish Flu bred in the trenches of WWI (young men and rats only), Swine Flu in the sprawling pig farms of Mexico, and many Avian Flus, in the bird markets of East Asia, where birds are kept in a monoculture of single species.

NOx isn't entirely to blame for all of that, but the general theme is that anything harming the environment, and thereby biodiversity, can come back to bite us!


It's the 20th anniversary of the first synthetic production of antihydrogen at CERN, and the 50th anniversary of the first observation of antihydrogen, and the start of the study of antimatter as a subject.

In other news:

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is morphing before our eyes! Well, Rosetta's, anyway. As 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko approaches the Sun, the heating is warming its icy surface, and Rosetta's OSIRIS narrow-angle camera has caught evidence of surface changes, over the last few months. The feature changes are quite distinctly visible in the enlinked photos. The hypothesised process, is that water sublimating from the surface gives the dry matter a chance to move around, and the water then freezes back onto the surface. This provides an explanation for how dark 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is - all of the pictures of it have to be brightened hugely, in order to make any features out. The sublimation of ice from the surface, where light lands, leaves a layer of dry matter, up to several centimetres deep, which absorbs all optical light, and creating a very dark surface. Where the surface is more wet, light doesn't reach, and so these patches are less visible anyway. The end result, is a very dark object, that absorbs the sun's heat, to sublimate large plumes of icy dust into space, but mostly looks dark and dry, when not heated by sunlight.

Why have some butterfly species lost their scent pads? In butterfly species, it's the females that choose the males, for reproduction purposes, and so the males are under evolutionary sexual selection pressure. This means they have to stand out, amongst their peers - not just of their own species, but also of other species. If females pick males of another species, then the offspring might be infertile, leading to extinction, so there's strong evolutionary pressure for the species to develop species-denoting characteristics. This is where the scent pads come in. When multiple butterfly species are living close to each other, the scent pads evolve, to help the females distinguish males of their own species, from males of other species. And when that species competition isn't there, the scent pads atrophy, to save energy.

Ever since the FSM first invented eyes, more than 540 million years ago, there's been a charlatan willing to sell you the idea that 'eye exercises' can make your vision better. Even in the age of primitive synthetic lenses, Charles Dickens conducted a rigorous regime of eye-usings, in the belief that they would have a therapeutic effect. In the 21st century, it's only the smokes and mirrors that have changed. Carrot Neurotechnology Inc has agreed to pay $150,000 for selling an app on the claim that it can 'sharpen your eyesight'. Unfortunately, changes to eyesight mean changes to the shape of the eyeball, or condition of the retina, that no amount of 'exercise' can change. Fortunately, this means most eye conditions are easily corrected - with glasses - and that it's generally not possible to harm your eyes by using them. Watching TV can't make your eyes go square, LOL. Burning the retina, with direct sunlight, or a LASER, are the only looking-based threats.

Wow. Just wow. A teacher at a school instructed a boy in her class to write with his right hand, because she thought left-handedness was "unlucky", "evil", "sinister", and that "the devil is often portrayed as left-handed"! You can't prove her wrong, LOL. And because she didn't actually beat the boy, that means she's a 'moderate' :-D

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has broken the world record for quantum teleportation. They've transferred quantum information across 100 km, along an optical fibre, from one photon to another - four times further than the previous record.

Have you ever heard a giraffe hum? Do you think you could? Well, giraffes do in fact hum, but mostly only at night. This is thought to be so that they can keep in touch, while they can't see each other. The cause for giraffes' general noiselessness, is thought to be that their long necks make sonic control difficult.

Paleontologists claim to have found the origin of enamel - in skin! Enamel - the hardest substance of the human body, found on the teeth - is made of apatite (calcium phosphate) encrusting a substrate of proteins. Two fossil fishes, Psarolepis and Andreolepis, both more than 400 million years old, both have enamel on their scales/face, but of course, they have no teeth. The modern, but archaic, gar (Lepisosteus) which lives in North America, has an enamel-like substance called ganoine in its skin. The researchers have concluded, from all of this, that enamel originally evolved for toughening skin, and the genes for its production became reused, after teeth-like structures evolved.

If you took a photograph, who would get the Intellectual Property rights - you, or your camera? That would be you, right? So, if someone took your camera and used it, then they should get the IP for the photos, right? OK. So what if that person was actually a macaque, that took selfies of itself, using your camera? Well, PETA (the organisation that thinks it's OK to kill humans, but not other species) has already funded and won a legal case, granting a macaque called 'Naruto' the IP for two selfies it took! Does this mean Naruto's the first non-human to own IP? I want clarification.

The European Commission has referred Malta to the EU Court of Justice, over its continued support for avian animal abuse, every Spring. It's a tradition there, to 'hunt' migrating birds, before they've had a chance to reproduce. If there were a rationale for doing it, there would be no need to call it a tradition.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'How to make REAL Transparent Aluminium!'

'High speed footage of Potassium explosion'

'ScienceCasts: Total Eclipse of the Harvest Moon'

'U-Tube on YouTube - Periodic Table of Videos'

'cycling in the radioactive Pripyat Hospital 126 at the dead of night'
Probably one of the more bizarre videos you'll see this week :o)

'What Scientists Are Seeing Over Greenland 4k'

'Image: Athens in colour'

'Image: Unprecedented detail in enhanced high-resolution color image of Pluto'

'Perplexing new 'snakeskin' image of Pluto terrain from New Horizons'

'Bean beetle reveals prickly penis before violent sex'

'Good Thinking Investigates: Faith Healer Peter Popoff'
Marsh went into more detail on this, on the SwaK podcast.

This is why superstitious belief should not be tolerated in public practice, let alone respected

'10 Amazing Optical Illusions (and how to make them)'

'"Give Measles a Chance" by Roy Zimmerman'

'Cassetteboy vs David Cameron - Gettin' Piggy With It'

'Nerd³ FW - Universe Sandbox ²'
Best. Game. Everrrr [drools]

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: badinage -- humorous or witty conversation

Etymology Of The Week: tot -- meaning 'little child', comes from 18th century Scottish, possibly from Old Norse 'tottr' which was the nickname of a dwarf; not to be confused with the German word 'tod' pronounced similarly, which means 'dead'

Quote Of The Week: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." - Richard Feynman, from the Rogers Commission report (Challenger explosion)

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'It's OFFICIAL I Am the Worlds BEST Total War Player!'

'Van Halen - Eruption - Toy Guitar Cover'

This guy has a great channel. It's well worth listening to his serious stuff :)

'Pingu Theme Tune - Guitar Cover'

'Happy Feet - Far Cry 2 (Glitch) - GameFails'

'Blender - Mad Max (Glitch) - GameFails'

'Supersonic and subsonic ammo through a suppressor'

'The Goodies - Gender Education'

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