Monday, November 20, 2017

The Stars Overhead

I love stargazing. Using telescopes and binocs to look at the stars is great, but something about looking at the stars at night with your own eyes is just magical. It reconnects us with ancient people, who knew the heavens above so very well, even if we have more knowledge now about what those stars really are.

As a communicator of science, I've been slowly building up my set of tools to use to share science in various ways. One things I've been wanting to do for a long time, but just haven't accomplished is producing videos of my field work, videos about science, and videos about the awe and wonder I feel in the presence of thinking about the universe and that I know many others likely share as well. So I've decided to start doing it! I'm going to be producing videos (hopefully one each week or two) to share these things.

The first one to get started with is a video about the stars you can see overhead at night. I'm still finding my voice and my style, but, if you have a moment, give it a watch and, please, let me know what you think. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Humanity, Technology, and an "Einstein Quote" that Einstein Never Said.

I was recently thinking about the film Powder. Released in 1995 and starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Mary Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, and Lance Henriksen, Powder was about a young albino man, nicknamed Powder, with unique capabilities of intellect, telepathy, and paranormal ability. The man is an outcast due to his differences, and the film explores some of his interactions with others. The tagline for the film was "An extraordinary encounter with another human being!". Here's the trailer for the film:

It's definitely worth a watch. I remember being quite moved by it when I was a kid (I was 12 when the film came out). There's one scene in particular that stuck with me and comes up in my thoughts from time-to-time. Jeff Goldblum's character, Donald Ripley, is supportive of Powder and awed by Powder's abilities. In the scene that I still remember so well, the following exchange is had between the two of them:

Donald Ripley: “It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

Powder: “Albert Einstein.”

Donald Ripley: “I look at you, and I think that someday our humanity might actually surpass our technology.”

Beautiful, right?! I loved that scene as a kid, and I still love it now. However, something very interesting that I just learned is that the first part of the quote ("It's become appallingly clear...") isn't actually a quote from Albert Einstein!

Folks at Quote Investigator and Snopes have tried to track down this claimed Einstein quote and have found that the first instance of the quote in known history actually is the movie Powder! The quote was written into the script as being from Einstein even though it wasn't actually an Einstein quote. Later, due to the film, others began using the quote and misattributing it to Einstein (such as DeAnna Emerson’s "Mars/Earth Enigma: A Sacred Message to Mankind" in 1996 and Nina L. Diamond's "Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers, and Healers" in 2000).

It's still a great quote and a moving sentiment. It reminds me of what I found to be the most powerful line in Martin Luther King Jr.'s essay "The World House":

"When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."

Of course, the quote from Powder sounds like something that Albert Einstein would have said. And, even though I think it's good to be aware of things like misattribution, there's also something interesting about how we often will begin building legends around famous people from our past (and even present) and can slowly attribute talents, spoken words, and acts to those legends that may not have been true of the actual people the legends are based on. 
Maybe it doesn't matter that Einstein never actually said that. Maybe part of the legend of Einstein, the myth of the man, is that we build him up and attribute sayings and deeds to him that weren't really his. Even though I prefer knowing the truth in this instance, it might just be part of our human nature that we build our legends up in such ways. It's definitely something to ponder.

I'll leave you here with a quote that is pretty surely actually from Einstein:

"The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

(Of course, many have shortened the quote to say "The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think". Oh well.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Und Here Ve See zee Illusive Anglerfish!

Anglerfish are some of the most bizarre creatures on our planet. They sport the well-known fleshy lures, dangling from the front of their bodies to entice prey organisms to come in close for a better look (and, then, only to get chomped on). Their bodies tend to be compressed, making them weirdly blobby or weirdly elongated (depending on the species). Some of them also have some of the strangest sexual dimorphism, where the male of a given species may be incredibly small compared to the females. 

I just stumbled upon the video below on the Facebook page for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). They captured a video of an anglerfish 600 m (1968.5 ft) down in the ocean using the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. Take a look at the bizarre creature as it swims among the marine snow, sporting its "luminous lure at the tip" (as it was described by MBARI's Bruce Robison).

Here's the description offered by MBARI for the video:

"Deep-sea anglerfish are strange and elusive creatures that are very rarely observed in their natural habitat. Fewer than half a dozen have ever been captured on film or video by deep diving research vehicles. This little angler, about 9 cm long, is named Melanocetus. It is also known as the Black Seadevil and it lives in the deep dark waters of the Monterey Canyon. MBARI's ROV Doc Ricketts observed this anglerfish for the first time at 600 m on a midwater research expedition in November 2014. We believe that this is the first video footage ever made of this species alive and at depth."

Still haven't had enough? Check out a longer, narrated version of the video from MBARI here:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Grace in Flight with Maja Kuczyńska

Image: Red Bull athlete profile for Kuczyńska
I've tried indoor skydiving once, and I most certainly wasn't as graceful as young Maja Kuczyńska, a competitor in the growing sport of indoor skydiving. Indeed, when I tried it, my long beard flew up over my face and gave me a ninja mask! Kuczyńska makes the sport/art look so smooth. Check out one of her videos below:

You can also check out more of Kuczyńska's videos and pics from indoor skydiving competitions on her Instagram. Happy flying!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

'An Arctic Whirlpool" pic by Daniel F.

An Arctic Whirlpool by Daniel F. on

This stunning gem shows a majestic pool waterfall dropping into a blue pool of what I can only imagine is some chilly water for a dip. Dig it? Check out more of Daniel Fleischhacker's photography. He's got some amazing photography skills.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Stunning Timelapse Video from the Deck of a Cargo Ship: Night, Day, Stars, Storms

JeffHK has some incredible videos from his maritime adventures (and some awesome photos as well!). The video below is stellar, literally. It's a 4K vid of a 30-day timelapse from the deck of a cargo ship during JeffHK's watch as they make their way along the route from the Red Sea, to the Gulf of Aden, to the Indian Ocean, on to Colombo, then Malacca Strait, hitting Singapore, on to the South East China Sea, and, finally, Hong Kong. During the video, you can see the clouds coming and going, rains falling, thunderstorms raging, the stars and the Milky Way streaking along the heavens as the ship makes its way through the open ocean, and the process of docking and unloading/loading the cargo ship. It's a stunning video and one that you can just sit and watch and let yourself go with. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Who's The Most Stupid Here?" - a test of your bias in viewing a problem

I've seen the following picture pop up a lot lately in my social media feeds:

What do you think?

It seems like a lot of people instantly answer "4" and move on, but I don't know if the answer is all that simple. Let's consider what might actually be happening to everyone in the picture.

Number 1, the guy in the blue shirt who kind of looks like he's probably the kind of guy who smokes a pipe, is sitting on a branch doing nothing while numbers 2 and 3 are both trying to make him fall. We don't know how high the branch is, so the fall may cause minor injury or it may kill. Either way, number 1 is doing nothing to act against those who are trying to harm him. Is he a pacifist or is he just not paying attention to the world around him? Hard to say. If he's aware of what's happening but does nothing to stop it, then I'd say that's pretty stupid. If he's simply unaware of what's happening then he's also pretty stupid. Inaction, by choice or due to ignorance, is not a strong position to me.

Number 2 has the look of a guy who was once a high school bully but now is the old balding asshole who still takes pleasure in hurting others. We don't know why number 2 is sawing off the branch on number 1. The smile definitely makes it look like he's being a jerk, though it's also possible that, say, number 1 is a pedophile and number 2 is helping society make a hard but righteous decision. Again, it's hard to tell. However, since number 2 is looking at the branch he's sawing, we can say that he's aware that he's about to injure or kill number 1. Without having any justifiable reason for doing this, we can assume that 2 is a jerk. However, 2 also seems unaware that 3 is sawing the branch on which both he and number 1 are seated. Although the thickness of the branch may suggest that 2 will saw off number 1 long before 3 can saw off number 2, it still seems like 2 is oblivious to the fact that 3 is sawing the branch. His ignorance to his own situation while harming number 1 is pretty stupid, if you ask me.

Number 3 is the guy I'm most worried about here. We can't see his face, though he may be wearing a suit (maybe he's a Martin Shkreli executive asshole, kind of guy). Number 3 is sawing the branch of 1 and 2. Number 3 is not in danger himself (as far as we can tell). Number 3's action here will directly cause harm to 1 and 2 (well, as I said above, it may be more likely that 2 harms 1 first and then, after 1 falls, 3 will harm 2). Number 3 is looking at the branch he's sawing. He seems like he might be aware of the harm he's about to cause. What I see here is that 3 is about to injure or kill one or two people by choice. There could be good reason for it. What if 1 and 2 are both CEOs for health insurance companies that have been preying on the weaknesses of the nation while making themselves uber rich? Or, what if they're both serial rapists? However, without knowing more, it seems like 3 is the biggest jerk of them all. He's targeting others for harm.

Number 4, the one a lot of folks seem to think is the dumbest of the lot, is sawing his own branch and appears to be aware of it. He's looking down at the branch while sawing. However, he also has a smile. He could be unaware of the fact that his own action is about to cause him harm, but his smile makes me wonder if he knows what he's doing. Maybe he's committing suicide. Maybe he's harming himself on purpose. Maybe he knows the drop isn't very far and just wants to get away from the other idiots. Again, hard to say. If number 4 is unaware that he's sawing his own branch, then, yeah, he's pretty fracking stupid. However, if 4 is aware of what he's doing, then he may be the least stupid of them all. He's making a choice to do something (action), this something will not harm anyone else (1, 2, and 3 are not in danger through 4's actions), and he appears to be happy with the choice (not necessarily a good thing, but it could mean that he's found resolution in this choice). So, the only way 4 is the dumbest of them all, as most people say, is if he has no idea what he's actually doing. But we can't know that based solely on the picture.

So the choices become a little more difficult then. Which is dumber: inaction in one's own demise (number 1), causing harm to another while being unaware of your own danger (number 2), harming others outright (number 3), or harming yourself (number 4)? A lot of people think that 4 is the dumbest of them all, but I think that's only possibly the case if 4 is unaware of what he's doing. However, if 4 knows what he's doing, then I think 1, 2, and 3 are all far dumber than he. Number 1 is going to be harmed through inaction, number 2 is causing harm while seeming to be unaware of his own danger, and number 3 is about to harm others. But that's just my take on this situation (and making a lot of assumptions). What do you think?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Luca Stricagnoli's new video for Now We Are Free

I love Luca Stricagnoli's music! He's a fantastic guitar player, using all of his fingers to strike up beautiful tunes on his guitars. I've previously shared his covers of Thunderstruck and Sweet Child O' Mine. Now, Stricagnoli has a new album out, featuring some of his own original music as well as come more of his covers. I thought I'd share one of his new videos here. For your aural enjoyment, here is Luca Stricagnoli with Meg Pfeiffer covering "Now We Are Free", a song that Hans Zimmer composed for the film Gladiator:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Microbial PacMan

Micromaze under electron microscope (via Micromazes Facebook Page)

Stop what you're doing and watch this video of microorganisms flitting about in a PacMan maze right now!

Ah, wasn't that just a little extra awesome! Learn more about Micromazes at their Facebook Page.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A brief bit about my field site using only the thousand most common English words

To say a lot with a little is harder than you may think. 

Words are important, but what if you only had
a small number of known words with which to speak?

Chris Trivedi (right) and Graham Lau (left) at Borup Fiord Pass in 2014.

The Up-Goer Five Text Editor, created by Theo Sanderson, is a web-app that challenges you to type using only the one thousand most common words in the English language. It's intriguingly far trickier than you may think. I gave it a go, in an attempt to explain the reason that my colleagues and I went to Borup Fiord Pass to conduct our field research in 2014. What d'ya think?

On the top of the round world where we live, lies a land with ice and cold. In this land there is a piece of ice, long and thick, and covered in a color that does not seem right in such a place. This color let us know that something important was on or in or around that colored ice. We went to that place to find the colored ice and learn more about what made the color, to learn about why this place is just so cool. In the ice I found something important about fire's friend in the book of one god. This friend of fire as spoke upon before, was to be found in new forms within the ice, and of this I wrote with my friends. Now we know more about the stuff that causes the colors of the ice in that land with ice and cold that lies so far to the top of the round world where we live.