“It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.” -Mark Twain

It’s an exciting time for Zoology and Animal Behavior science. Scientists keep finding new ways to communicate with animals, which means we’re one step closer to interspecies relations like this:

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Though hopefully without the dead, soulless eyes.

Okay, to be fair, it takes most of these scientists years (sometimes decades) of research to figure anything out, and even then the findings can be tenuous. Still, exciting advancements have been made.

The most recent was just posted last week, when Catherine Hobaiter and her team released the findings of their 18-month study of wild chimpanzee interaction. They recorded 4,500 exchanges and were able to  assign what they call “true meanings” to 36 gestures. By studying these animals in their natural habitat, they have laid the groundwork for Human-chimp relations.

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Just in time, too. Those mind-melds weren’t working very well.

You probably don’t need to worry about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes becoming a reality just yet, though it does kind of sound like a chimp is responsible for that title. Hobaiter’s team does admit that there is a lot of room for error in their study, that some gestures could have multiple meanings and/or some meanings could use multiple gestures. However, the progress is very exciting. Hopefully with this new information we could interact with wild chimps without needing to do all that training ahead of time. Also we can learn useful things like, “Climb on my back,” and “Don’t rub your feces on my shirt.”

The other really exciting innovation in human-animal relations is in regards to dolphins.

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Yeah, these little shits.

Everyone knows that dolphins are pretty dang smart, but even though everyone knows this little piece of trivia, every news article ever written about dolphins includes the phrase “Dolphins are widely considered to be one of the smartest creatures on the planet…” Seriously, take a minute and search for a news article about Dolphins. I promise you they’ll lead off the exact same way, or at least it’ll be mentioned in the first paragraph.

While a lot of people are aware that we recently found that dolphins get high recreationally (because nothing says “interspecies relations” like a bonfire and a drum circle), some of us are more intrigued by the new finding where the people from the Wild Dolphin Project have developed a human-dolphin translator that successfully identified a whistle as the word “sargassum.” Like a boss.

Think about it: We have translated a dolphin-word. As in, we have separated a meaningful sound from all the inane clicks and whistles that these adorable little jerks make all the time. Meaning we could reproduce said word, and dolphins would understand it means “sargassum” or at least “seaweed.”

Now, I don’t know a lot about it and I have a lot of questions since the study was of one single pod of dolphins, and while 25 years is a lot of time to study something, I would like to be sure this isn’t limited to that pod. Still, it’s really, really cool, and I can’t wait to be able to talk to dolphins. Also, as a linguist, it strikes me that humans might not be the only species with a predisposition for language. Like, holy crap. Language might be inherent in all intelligent species, and that’s kind of amazing.

“If you live to be one hundred, you’ve got it made. Very few people die past that age.” -George Burns

You probably don’t know this, but this is my 100th post! At five posts per week I should be at 20 weeks, though that won’t be until Friday because I have had 2, two-post days. You may think this means I’m cheating but to me it just means I get to celebrate twice in one week!

Since my post count has reached 100 I figured I would celebrate other things that there are 100 of, or that have turned 100 (yes, I know my blog isn’t turning 100, but since that is fairly unlikely to happen…) No, I am not going to do 100 items.

So here we go:

1. There are 100 US Senators.

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Hmm, not starting off very well with my celebration, am I? But at least Congress serves to employ a bunch of unqualified and unskilled people, right? Moving on to something more exciting and infinitely more useful…

2. There are 100 turns of thread on a spool.

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See? Much cooler! Isn’t that just an interesting fact? And now you know it! Even if you wish you didn’t.

3. There are 100 ways to love a cat, apparently.

I didn’t know this was a thing, but apparently the Internet has determined the 100 different ways to love a cat. Which is what the internet is good for, it seems.

4.  There are 100 pence in 1 pound sterling.

Well, since the UK went decimal, there are. The old UK system used to have 240 pennies in a pound. If you’re confused as to what I am talking about, just know foreign money is always more fun. And they have funny names!

5. Dubliners, by James Joyce, turned 100 this year (published 1914.)

So did Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Two great literary contributions, though they live on differently.

6. The Dodge Challenger released it’s 100th Anniversary model.

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No, they haven’t been making Challengers for the past 100 years, but the automotive company has been around since 1914-ish, which is good enough for their marketing team.

7. There are 100 cL in a Liter.

Okay, you knew this one. But I don’t think at this point I want to make a whole post complaining about how the US doesn’t use the metric system, so I’ll allow a little blurb here. Wouldn’t it be so nice, though, if everything was just divisible by 10? Wouldn’t that make sense for your measurement system?

*Ahem*

8. When you collect 100 coins in each stage of Mario 64, you get a star.

But you knew that already, right? Right?

(I’m not a loser I promise.)

9. July 2014 was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

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Um, no. Close, but no cigar. Franz Ferdinand was the Archduke of Austria, making his name and title an alliteration double-whammy. Also, he was assassinated (see above) in 1914, which is commonly regarded as the even that started the first World War.

10. I just switched to Ubuntu, which is 100 x better than Windows 8.

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Seriously I can’t imagine actually using that thing. Where is my start menu? What are all these apps supposed to do? Also Ubuntu is open source and awesome.

 

Well that’s it. If you all hated this, I may never do it again. But it was fun for me. Thanks for reading my 100 posts!

“Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.” -Kingman Brewster, Jr.

After growing up using primarily Apple devices, I recently purchased a little Asus laptop from BestBuy and begun my adventure with Windows 8. I’m familiar with Windows through school and work, but 8.1’s obnoxious apps screen has started to wear on me. So the other day I decided to try out Linux, because knowing how to actually work your computer is for little babies. Just last week I successfully installed Ubuntu on a flash drive, which was about as much of a headache as I had expected. But now at least I can try it out.

There’s still a lot about Linux that I don’t understand. I’m perfectly aware that Linux OS is a work in progress, and which largely appeals to a tech-savvy crowd who prefer a hands-on approach to their personal computers. I also know I’m clever enough to figure it out. Yet somehow I feel I am encountering some unnecessary hang-ups.

This is when I realized it was all the damned jargon.

Jargon is natural, I know. Trust me, I’ve been working in the medical field, and there’s a heck of a lot of jargon to learn. I was even farther behind because I don’t really have a medical background. I still get plenty lost when clinical staff is talking shop, and it’s my freaking job to know what it all means. Jargon is incredibly necessary in a medical setting. No one wants to have to spout off “electroencephalogram” when they could just say “EEG.” And that’s not even considering all the Latin.

Jargon can also be a hindrance, like in my case, as I was on the outside of a fairly specific body of knowledge. In the process of figuring out the different components of the software and following link after link on Ubuntu’s website in an attempt to find an installation guide appropriate for my hardware, I turned to the forums for advice, which is rarely a good idea.

They were using jargon to explain other jargon, and I knew I was in trouble.

In the midst of deciphering the Jargon-ception (We have to go (D:)eeper!) I am pretty sure I found a line that read “connect the BFG to the hyper drive and reverse the polarity,” though I could just have dreamed that after my eyes crossed and I dropped unconscious. At some point I’m pretty sure I was learning how to input source code manually, and don’t worry, I don’t know what that really means either.

Regardless, I eventually figured it out, and now I have a shiny new Ubuntu OS sitting on my flash drive. In case you’re still lost, this is an exciting thing to have. The operating system itself is very intuitive, though I still need to find the appropriate applications to flesh-out my computing capabilities.

So even though I may jokes about it, I guess I am just showing off my own ignorance. Still, I can’t help but feel that though jargon is very useful for quickly expressing a specific body of knowledge, creating impermeable walls of abbreviations and techno-babble only really serves to create exclusivity amongst computer geeks.

Also I say “geeks” the only way it should be said: Lovingly and with great respect. And a little bit of fear.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” -George Bernard Shaw

We need to redefine our idea of a role model.

Growing up, I idolized Luke Skywalker. And Han Solo. And Aragorn. And Indiana Jones. As I grew older, I noticed my peers transferring their adoration to athletes, which I was told is normal. But I always thought it was weird because no matter how well Peyton Manning plays Football, he’s not a Jedi. He’s just a guy who’s good at playing Football. “That’s fine,” I thought, “they can love Manning. I’m going to stick with the guys who beat the Sith Empire.” So maybe my idea of a great person is skewed by the fact that my idols were fictional.

But is that such a bad standard? Probably, yes. It’s not fair to hold actual human beings to the standards of archetypal paragons of virtue. They will never measure up, because Skywalker holds the advantage of not actually having to be a real person.

However, this doesn’t mean that your role model shouldn’t be a good person.

Peyton Manning seems to be a pretty good person, but I already said I don’t really identify with athletes. Like anything, you have to focus on what’s important to you. For me, a role model is someone who uses their intellect and resources to try to make the world a better place. Elon Musk is quickly proving to be one such person.

Musk is the CEO and Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors, the automotive company that recently released the Tesla Model S, a fully-electric luxury sedan. There’s an excellent and amusing review done by The Oatmeal, so clearly I can’t help but love it. It’s like a law or something.

Elon Musk was also the co-founder of Paypal, and got a cool $165 million when it was sold in 2002. He then took that money and sunk into a new company, SpaceX, whose goals are as follows: 1. Reduce the cost of space transportation. 2. Colonize Freaking Mars. Talk about a lofty goal, pun intended. Also there is no “3. Profit,” no cash cow to this operation, and they’re succeeding anyway. NASA gave them a contract in 2006 to resupply the International Space Station, and in 2014 they succeeded.

What I am getting at is that, between Tesla Motors and SpaceX, the companies Elon Musk gets invests in are not only successful, but prove there is a better way to work. They blatantly disprove people’s objections concerning expense and practicality. They push us forward as a species.

Want more proof? Tesla Motors just released all their patents for their electric automobiles, according to Elon Musk (again, CEO) because, “If we can do things that don’t hurt us and help the U.S. industry, we should do that.”

Honestly, I don’t know if Elon Musk is a good person. I don’t know that much about him (though I do know he has and still is donating his own money to save Nicola Tesla’s laboratory and turn it into a Nicola Tesla museum, which is really awesome.)

What I do know is that Musk is taking on all comers, because he can do it better. He’s proven it. And he’s going to drag you kicking and screaming into a better tomorrow.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” -Wernher von Braun

Just in case I haven’t been clear, I love science. I think advancements in technology and medical practice and space exploration are amazing. I like to read about discoveries and projects and generally geek out a lot.

But like anything I love, I also enjoy laughing at it.

And you can totally laugh at science. There have been a lot of goofy and strange events that have shaped modern theory and application. There’s a lot of trial and error, and that’s what makes science great: it can be wrong. A scientist or a theory can be mistaken, and a new one is built-in place of the old. It’s not the end of the world. Unless, you know, you were theorizing that your doomsday device would not end the world.

I believe it’s a great thing that we can laugh at some of the most intelligent and awesome people who exist in the world today. So here’s a short and non-comprehensive collection of weird and silly moments in science:

1. Astronauts feel the need to compensate.

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Yeah, these guys. You know, the most badass nerds ever? (Especially Chris Hadfield, who is a personal hero of mine.) Everybody wanted to be an Astronaut at some point, and if you’re like me you’d be strapping on a spacesuit before someone even finished asking you to join NASA. Which brings me to the best thing I’ve heard in a while:

NASA changed the names of the sizes for their Maximum Absorbency Garments (or MAGs, also known as space diapers) because none of the male astronauts wanted to admit they were a “small,” or “medium,” and instead opted for “large,” which I am assuming led to a lot of embarrassing accidents involving flooded spacesuits.

Just wrap your head around that: Our best and brightest were more willing to, uh, “wet the spacesuit” than admit they weren’t a “large.”

2. Rubber Ducky teaches us about the ocean.

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In 1992 a ship traveling across the Pacific Ocean from Hong Kong lost a shipping container of 28,000 rubber ducks, which were then free to float around between the US and Japan. I can only assume the incident was either unnoticed, or the sailors saw it break open, spilling rubber ducks everywhere, and said, “Nah, not worth it.”

Aside from the potential damage to our oceans, these duckies have taught us a lot about the flow of the ocean. They’ve been found on the shores of Hawaii, Alaska, the Arctic, Newfoundland and even Scotland. It’s also believed there are over 2,000 of them caught in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, which to my understanding is a continuously whirling vortex of water. But after roughly 20 years in a whirlpool, some or all of them have kind of miraculously managed to escape their swirly fate.

3. Huge evolutionary find preceded by intense dung-fight.

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There’s literally no way to say this that doesn’t sound ridiculous: Respected paleoanthropologist Andrew Hill was doing research in Laetoli, a hominid archeological site in Tanzania, when he decided to get into an elephant-dung-throwing war with his colleague. In the process of dodging a stinky projectile, he dove into the ground and found a trail of hominid footprints that were later dated as 3.6 million years old.

Talk about a lucky break.

4. “Did you say ‘Taste’ or ‘Test’?”

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In 1976 Shashikant Phadnis was working under scientists Tate&Lyle when he was told to “test” a chlorinated sugar compound. Phadnis mis-heard, and after apparently deciding he was okay with the rather strange request, he reported it was “exceptionally sweet.” I can only figure Phadnis either 1.) knew it wouldn’t hurt him, or 2.) was just very hungry. Or maybe he was aiming for some sugar-based superpowers, which he unfortunately did not get. Instead, we just ended up with a sugar substitute that perfectly mimics the taste of self-loathing.

Hope you enjoyed it. Also, I’m extending the challenge for another day because I’ve only had two submissions. So please, give me an inanimate object and I’ll Haiku it for Thursday!

“I think Australia has to be a country which has the ‘Welcome’ sign out.” -Paul Keating

On Monday I mentioned that Australia has some of the craziest animals to be found on dry land (Don’t even get me started on the Lovecraftian horrors found in the ocean again.)  So it should surprise no one that Australia has been on my mind lately, which is because one of their universities is second on my list for graduate school. But anyway, I figured it might be fun to visit some of the delightful fauna of this continent, which will put you six feet down-under.
Okay, yeah, that joke was bad. But seriously these things will straight up face-murder you:
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This is a Sydney funnel-web spider, and it is now part of your nightmares. It can get up to 5cm wide (which is roughly 2 inches if your country is like mine and has a terrible measurement system) and has enough venom in one friggin’ bite to kill a human being. Good news though, it’s only found in a 100km radius of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. But if you live there, I guess that’s bad news.
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Snakes. Holy crap does Australia have snakes. This is the Inland Taipan, otherwise known as the most deadly snake in the world. One bite is estimated to have enough venom to kill 100 fully grown men.
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This is the Box Jellyfish. Their nickname is “sea wasps,” and everyone knows wasps are evil. Box jellyfish are some of the most venomous creatures in the world, and have been known to leave huge, disfiguring scars on survivors.
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Tag teaming with the Box Jellyfish to prove that all things terrible come from the depths of the ocean is the Blanket Octopus. This piece of hellspawn rips poisonous stingers off of Man O’ War Jellyfish and kill things with them. Also they can get up to two meters (6.6 feet for us unfortunate colonists.)
Okay, no more, I promise. Please take a minute to finish quaking in fear.
Better? Good.
So yeah, Australia is pretty much where all terror resides. Between the wildlife, the heat, and the fact that only like half of the continent is even habitable, the people of Australia have to be the hardiest, don’t-give-a-crap badasses to have ever lived. If Hell literally broke loose in Australia I don’t think anyone would notice. The locals would just show Lucifer a Sydney Funnel-Web Spider and he’d run screaming. And his demons would all be killed by drop-bears or something, I dunno.

“Don’t point that gun at him, he’s an unpaid intern.” -Bill Murray, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Like many of you and, well, pretty much everyone, when I was younger I was introduced to the platypus, Australia’s strange aquatic mammal that looks like it’s made up of spare parts. I spent most of my childhood thinking, “well, that’s gotta be the strangest animal in the world.”
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Can you blame me? Look at that thing. It’s got a duck’s bill, a beaver’s tail, and webbed feet. Plus it can release venom through spurs on its hind limbs during mating season. Even though these are all practical evolutionary aspects for the platypus’ habitat, it’s still a pretty crazy-looking animal. What child-me didn’t know yet was that the platypus isn’t even the weirdest thing living in Australia (They have five out of the top ten most venomous snakes!), not to mention the whole planet.
As we’re all aware, there’s a whole lot of strange and scary stuff in the ocean, including the Mantis Shrimp, and that’s just from what we actually know about. We have only discovered about 5% of the ocean, and it’s already scaring the pants off people. Our planet is 71% water, and who knows what’s out there?
On that note, I present this thing:
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Mother Nature, you crazy.
This is a Pyura chilensis, which is also called a “living rock.” No, that’s not photoshop. Aside from looking like a rock filled with someone’s intestine, Pyrua chilensis is an animal that eats microorganisms by filtering them out of water it sucks in through its ground-beef-esque skin, and produces a rare mineral called vanadium. The local people of Chile and Peru put it in stews or even eat it raw. What?
If you’re asking yourself “What did I just read?” Congratulations, you are sane. I’m all for trying local cuisine in new and foreign places, but this is even a little out of my comfort zone. Plus tourists describe it as “bitter” and “soapy” and “having a weird Iodine flavor.” So yeah, not on my list of snacks at the moment.

“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” -Lao Tzu

We interrupt the regularly scheduled silliness to talk about something serious.

Seriously awesome.

As you may or may not be aware, depending on your interest in astrophysics, we recently figured out why the supernova PS1-10afx was so much brighter than normal. About 30 times brighter than normal, specifically.

It turns out it’s not a new variety of supernova, but instead a visual trick. Don’t lose interest, the explanation is still awesome. The supernova was so bright because there was a galaxy right in front of it. We couldn’t see the other galaxy even though it was literally in the way. This actually makes sense because the supernova was brighter than the older stars of said galaxy.

In turn, PS1-10afx was being magnified by the galaxy’s gravitational lens, which split the supernova into four images. Meaning instead of seeing one massive supernova we were seeing four supernovas. Supposedly the images all blurred together because of interference from our atmosphere.

If you want to read the article, the link is here.

If you want to learn more about gravitational lenses, there’s a video here.

Just to mess with your mind further, consider this: The light from the supernova PS1-10afx was split by the lens galaxy’s gravitational forces nearly a billion years ago. This means the light took nearly a billion years to reach earth, to be observed by our astronomers (which really should be called sky-entists.) Plus we didn’t figure out what was happening until it was over, and we were able to observe the lens galaxy.

So, because a star went into supernova stage about a billion years ago, and we just happened to be able to observe it when it got here, we figured out a lot about lens galaxies. And now we’re going to use that knowledge to measure the expansion of the universe.

If that doesn’t give you hope for the future, I don’t know what will.

“Isn’t this post a little hypocritical after your complaints about journalism yesterday?” You ask. No, because I’m not a news source (or at least I shouldn’t be.) Also, I talked about how awesome it was first.

“Inner space is so much more interesting, because outer space is so empty.” -Theodore Sturgeon

I need you to take a moment to think about space.

You’re reading my blog, so you clearly have nothing important to do. Or you’re procrastinating. Regardless, stop what you’re doing, and think about everything you know about space. Think about how space is huge, like incomprehensibly large. Just try.

Got it?

Wasn’t that exciting? Or scary? Or probably both? Space is amazing, and if you’re like me you know very little about it compared to quantum physicists etc. And those people, scientists and geniuses and all, know very little about space compared to what all there is out there.

So we’re pretty much never going to stop learning about space and how it is awesome and wonderful and terrifying.

Which is why it’s still exciting when we discover new things, like the planet closest to the conditions of Earth that we found recently.

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Above: definitely Earth, and probably not actually Kepler-186f

Even though we’ve found a couple hundred of planets which are close, this one is the closest to having the conditions to support life, specifically liquid water. Based on the type and size of the star, orbital distance, mass of the planet, and probably a whole bunch of other factors, the planet we have named Kepler-186f is a really exciting find.

Don’t go hopping into your spaceship quite yet though. Despite being right in the correct part of the “Goldilocks Zone” (not too hot, not too cold), Kepler-186f’s mother star’s propensity for solar flares present a problem. Still, it drew a lot of attention and got a lot of people thinking, which is great.

So if you weren’t sure, I don’t agree with the quote above.

Oh, and I hope no one is mad I broke my streak of talking about meaningless stuff on Mondays. But then, if you don’t want to start your week off by thinking about how space is wicked awesome,  you’re reading the wrong blog.

“The Internet is a telephone system that’s gotten uppity.” -Clifford Stoll

Can we talk about how excited I am that we keep making awesome technology things? Because it’s getting awesome and exciting.

First off, we’ve had pretty amazing voice recognition software publicly available in things like iPhones (2011) and the Xbox Kinect (2010) for the past three years, which makes fictional inventions like Tony Stark/Iron Man’s JARVIS super freaking believable, and come on, you know you want an Iron Man suit.

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Though RDJ wears it better than I would.

The other still-recent-but-widely-known product is the Google Glass, which developers have been, well, developing since 2013 and is supposed to become available in 2014. Glass uses voice recognition software as well, and I think it looks really fun to use.

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As long as you’re okay with looking like this guy.

Glass is awesome to me because it’s the first personal-computing system you can actually wear, which has been a sci-fi staple for as long as I can remember. So yeah, I nerded out a little bit back when they were first announced.

The other most recent thing seems to be virtual reality devices, which Facebook and Sony have certainly latched onto. I’ve wanted a virtual reality simulator for home use since I was a kid, so needless to say I was pretty pumped to see this stuff in the news.

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So, clearly, there’s only one thing to do with all this technology: Combine it. If I can’t have my own Iron Man suit, at least I should be able to simulate one.