Monday, 1 August 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 25-31/7/16

Hi solarangutans,

Solar Impulse 2 has arrived!

'Historic solar flight marks first round-the-world journey'

It's the end of the flightpath for SI2, which has completed its 40,000 km, around-the-world journey, powered only by sunlight, collected using 17,248 solar cells, and connected to four electrical motors.

The project has demonstrated that it's not an impossibility to travel huge distances without fossil fuel. Depending on the rate of technological process, all aircraft could soon be competing with electric versions of themselves.

NASA has its own New Aviation Horizons initiative, to develop all-electric aircraft. For more on higher-speed shorter-distance electric plane technology, see 'Electroflight' from three weeks ago.

'GMOs lead the fight against Zika, Ebola and the next unknown pandemic'

'Zika: What You Need to Know - AMNH SciCafe Special Event'

Has an orangutan really demonstrated primitive human-like speech?

'Orangutan "speaks"' - New Scientist

The recordings exhibited above might be dubious, and certainly brief, so unrepresentative of the entirety of evidence, but assuming that it is representative...

I don't count wheezing on cue as "an ability to emulate human speech"

Communication yes, but speech no. To me, it sounds like the researchers are the superstitious pigeons in this scenario.

In the 'superstitious pigeon' research, a pigeon was persuaded to accept any one of a variety of increasingly bizarre choreographies, in order to get a reward. In this case, the researchers have accepted any one of a variety of vowels, which they perceive as the reward itself.

So all the orangutan has to do is breathe out the right way, and the researchers give it a treat. There's definitely training in there, and also communication, but i'm not convinced that it can really be described as 'speech'.

The researchers appear, according to the video, to have accepted a wide variety of vowels as evidence of speech. Personally, i think your arrow has to hit the right target, or you don't get the points :-P


The 1st of August marks the 20th anniversary of Frida Boccara's death. She would have been 70

In other news:

Do you remember the Cancer Research UK sun-safety guide that i posted a link to, about a month ago? In case you don't, i'll remind you that the number one, most effective method of avoiding skin damage, disease and cancer, is to stay out of the sun entirely. Especially between 11am and 3pm. Next, is covering up with loose-fitting clothes, and third is sun-screen. Well, a Business and Engineering student has come up with a device that tells the wearer how much UV they're currently being exposed to, so that they can deal with the first, most effective method. But the problem, is that there's no detail of how it warns the wearer. Dose makes the poison, as the old adage goes, so hours of mild sun will do more damage than 30 seconds of intense sunlight at 1pm. If it doesn't calculate UV exposure during the day, it'll be an expensive waste of money.

In a follow-up to the Tesla autopilot death report, it has been confirmed that the driver was indeed breaching the speed limit when the accident happened. The investigators haven't yet assigned a cause for the fatal collision, but the National Transportation Safety Board has said that the vehicle was travelling at 74 mph (119 kph) in the 65 mph zone, when it happened.

Do journalists have a sense of humour? Maybe only when their editors aren't watching. The 'science' correspondent for the Torygraph has unthinkingly reported the facetious 'findings' of statistician David Spiegelhalter, last month, producing an article that was then churnalised numerous times. The problem, was that the claim they quoted as 'fact' was a joke, and clearly a joke. It was a comic extrapolation of sex surveys (see last week for my piece on surveys) that predicted no-one would be having sex by 2030 - a trend correlating with TV ratings, and blamed on Game of Thrones. What kind of a person sees a claim like that and doesn't laugh? What kind of a po-faced cretin doesn't think "hang on - is that even serious?" The 'science' correspondent for the Torygraph, apparently. And everyone who copied-and-pasted the 'story' with the exception of 'JV Chamary' who wrote their article for Forbes magazine, and actually spotted the humour.

The Daily Fail, Torygraph, BBC and Grauniad, think that "adults who sit down for at least eight hours every day must do at least an hour's daily exercise to undo all the harm" (the Fail's words) because they found a press release for a systematic analysis that found that total exercise is inversely correlated with life expectancy. In other words, the less exercise you do, the sooner you'll die. The two major errors of thought in this reporting are: a false duchotomy - the reality is not a case of 'exercise or don't', it's 'the more exercise you do, the healthier you'll be'. And secondly, it's the back-to-front analysis that is also responsible for 'superfoods' such as the Torygraph was claiming oily fish to be, a couple of weeks ago. Eating more oily fish will make you fatter; it'll only make you healthier, if it displaces other things from your diet, that you previously ate too much of. For example, red meat. The generic advice has been 'eat a healthy balanced diet' and 'pretty much anything's OK, in moderation' for as long as i can remember. A healthy diet isn't about picking out individual 'superfoods' and gorging on them - it's about having a diverse diet, without too much of one particular thing, and too many calories overall. Being inactive, sitting down, is only a problem when it's usurping time that should be spent being active. A common problem with modern lifestyles is lack of low-intensity daily exercise, not the existence of chairs.

And while i'm at it, i might as well clear up rumours you might have heard about Public Health England's advice for people to consider taking 10mg vitamin D supplements, every day, during the autumn and winter. The statement was a suggestion to consider it, not an instruction, Daily Diana and Daily Fail. And it certainly wasn't yet another superfood advert, Grauniad. PHE suggests considering daily 10 milligram vitamin D supplements, during the autumn and winter, for anyone over one year old, if they're not getting enough from their diet. The UK being at a high latitude, many people would be wise to get more through their diet, during the winter; but because they won't change their diet, PHE has suggested small amounts of supplements instead. That's it. TYVM.

Was it a Russian agency that hacked and leaked the Democratic National Committee of the USA's documents? Hillary Clinton has concurred with multiple cybersecurity firms, that it was 'the Kremlin' that leaked DNC documents, and attributed the blame to an intent to help Donald Trump win the Presidential election. You can see the logic behind the narrative: elect Trump, and he'll bring the USA to its knees, on his own, so the Reds don't have to. But a narrative is all that is, and a probability is all the accusations toward Russia are. Other parties have argued this same point, including Julian Assange, and other 'Intelligence' companies. As well as detecting threats, cybersecurity companies have a motive to encourage scary narratives, because fear solidifies their careers, and possibly inflates their pay-packets too. Was it a Russian agency? Probably, but not necessarily.

Qualcomm has been fined $19.5 million, in a class-action lawsuit, in which a male lawyer represented 33,000 women employed by the company, who claimed they should be given more money. Well, it seems like they've got it. Unfortunately, this press release doesn't present any substantial basis for genuine masculist sexism at Qualcomm, even if it does exist. The closest they get, is an observation that the company favours working late, but not working early - coming in before 9am - with fiscal rewards. But why would this press release not present actual damning points, if they are around, to be presented? As far as i can see, Qualcomm's biggest condemnation for oppressing 33,000 women by employing them, is that their response was "[we] has strong defenses" but they weren't going to use them. Evidence-or-GTFO, to both sides!

An actual study, that actually compares one case to another (a test and control) that can actually show evidence of sexism when it's there (which is not survey based) has found that STEM students seeking teaching positions, in France, are favoured when they're female. The girls get better scores in their oral exams, when their voice gives their sex away, than in the written exams, where it doesn't. I think it's quite reasonable, in this case, to expect consistency from people of their age, when it comes to comparison between written and oral communication skills. Somewhat jaw-droppingly, the researchers who did the study, and found the bias in favour of females, still suggested that bias be introduced into the teaching system, to make sure that more girls choose STEM, before the biased tests can favour them, years later! I don't know about you, but i find the idea of making decisions about the careers that other people are going to do, when they're still little kids, is slightly creepy, if not outright immoral. So why do people not think it's wrong to suggest that girls be coddled into certain fields? Inspiration is not the same as manipulation.

Where is Australia? Apparently, it's about 1 metre further north than satellite navigation systems think it is. Due to tectonics, the Australian continent drifts 7 cm north every year, so some update is going to have to be made, at some point, so that satnavs don't get confused. This isn't a major problem, as satellite navigation systems aren't actually that accurate - they fudge their location measurements to fit in with nearby landmarks, and to preserve continuity. If you drive off the road, you can get as far as 10 metres away, and it will still say you're on the highway, due to the uncertainty in its calculation of your position. So Australia's still in the Southisphere, and satnavs there aren't going to go bonkers, any time soon, but with the increasing precision of modern gadgets, complacency might start to matter.

Two more spiky ant species have been discovered in the Papua New Guinean rainforests, along with a discovery about their internal physiology. Micro-CT scans have been done on both species, revealing their insides as well as their outs, including the muscles that are inside their hugely elongated spikes. The researchers suggest that the evolution of their strange morphology might have had a second cause - the provision of bigger anchor points, for their neck muscles, so that the soldier ants can hold their heads up. You can see an embedded video of the 3D scans of the ants, if you follow the link.

Gold, you might not be aware, is not generally magnetic, or ferromagnetic (responsive to a magnetic field) unless it's put in a powerful mangnetic field, in which it will repel magnetically. To get gold to produce its own magnetism when the field's turned off, it has to be mixed with iron, but even at 20% iron, the alloy has to be cooled for anything to happen. But this study has found that a temperature change can induce magnetism into gold. As long as the gold is increasing in temperature, it produces the Hall Effect in a magnetic field, meaning it's producing a counter-field inside the one that it's being subject to. The output of current in the heating gold, that the researchers saw, indicated to them that the pure gold was exhibiting ferromagnetism.

SCUBA surveys around the southern Japanese island of Okinawa have been the first to discover a solitary individual polyp for more than 100 years. The zoantharian 'Sphenopus exilis' was almost completely buried in the sands of the seafloor, with only its oral disks and tentacles protruding into the waters. Zoantharia are related to, and look very similar to, anemones, and are generally found in groups, but these zoantharia were also found to lack zooxanthellae - single-celled organisms that typically live in symbiosis with their hosts.

A team of international researchers claims to have found the oldest geological preservation of trapped atmospheric gas, in the world, in halite (rock salt) from Australia. Because the air mixture was trapped in there, when the rocks were formed, it tells us what the composition of the atmosphere was, 815 million years ago, when they formed. Some studies have suggested that there wasn't enough oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere for animals to flourish, until much later, but according to this sample, there was. Of course, there can easily be local variations in composition, that can lead to samples that are unrepresentative of the global atmosphere. This particular sample led the researchers to declare a 10.3 to 13.4% composition of oxygen, compared to 20.9% today.

Four 'sisters' of Dolly the Sheep have recently reached their ninth birth anniversaries. Unlike Dolly herself, Debbie, Denise, Dianna, and Daisy, have all lived healthily to a mature age... for sheep. Dolly died young, of osteoarthritis, prompting suggestions that clones can't live long, because their 'body clock' has not been reset from their parents'. But it's now clear that that isn't true. The researchers had great difficulty getting their SCNT technique (where the nucleus, with the genome in, is taken from the 'mother' cell and displaces the nucleus in a 'daughter' cell) to work, requiring 277 reconstructed embryos to produce just Dolly. The difference in success might be purely down to the pragmatics of getting the technique to work. The researchers are continuing to investigate the causations that contribute to the healthy development of a cell, into an adult animal - something that can help non-engineered animals too. To see the 'Nottingham Dollies' happily grazing (and being scanned) click on the top link, below, for embedded footage.

Here's another citizen science project: get counting Weddell seals, in the Antarctic, using satellite images, on the website Tomnod, linked at the bottom of the article, and here.

Barnacles, it seems, are polyphenic (last week's 'word of the week') as their penises change according to the environment, including the changing seasons of the year. This research has shown that they can change the shape, size, length and girth of their organ, and even degenerate and shed it, during the first post-mating moult. It grows back, of course, for the next season :-D

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

Word Of The Week: undernutrition -- a medical condition in which insufficient intake of nutrients hampers physiology, including lethargy, depression, and especially the functioning of the immune system. Undernutrition is one of the two forms of malnutrition. Overnutrition is where the intake of nutrients is too high. The most common form of overnutrition is obesity, but supplement abuse can cause damage to the liver, too.

Fact Of The Week: There is a gargoyle on Washington National Cathedral, sculpted in the shape of Darth Vader's head. It was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter and carved by Patrick J Plunkett. Star Wars is not as good as Star Trek. And Star Trek beyond is much, much better than The Force Awakens, so QED.

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

'The Hyperloop: BUSTED!'

And double-busted...

'Elon Musk's Hyperloop: BUSTED!'

'Quick D: Ambiguous Cylinder'

'6 dumbest ideas politicians have about science'

'View Under the Antarctic Ice - Sixty Symbols'

'Infinite fractions and the most irrational number'

'Image: Dust storm over the Red Sea'


'Product vs Packshot: On The Go Pasta | The Checkout'

'Signs of the Time: Series 4 Episode 7 | The Checkout'

'ABSOLUTE MAYHEM! Totally Accurate Battle Simulator Gameplay'

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