Lstrblg

Grg Lstr's linkdump and thoughts on science, family and things in the ocean that would kill you if given the opportunity.

Category: Rant/Rave (page 1 of 16)

New to Me in 2018: Camera Thief

So, I get to cheat a little with this one. Joe Duffey and his brother Brendan aren’t new to me. I see them all the time all over town. Joe saved my [soccer] life this year as we started up a new U11 travel team. Joe’s music isn’t all that new to me either, as his previous band, Underwater Window Garden, released a fantastic album a few years back entitled The Greatly Divided, which you should buy.

Joe is a great guy, and I’d be a fan of him whether or not he played in band. As it is, his new band Camera Thief crushed it at the local arts fest this year. They’re working on a new album, but its increasingly looking like it won’t happen in 2018. Fortunately, they’re on SoundCloud with a handful of songs now.

This one, Starting Fires, legitimately gives me chills:

I love this video because a) public domain Superman from Fleischer studios,  b) it is a good tune and, c) Joe did the editing himself. See for yourself:

New to Me in 2018: The Beetle

Hey kids, what was the top-selling horror novel of 1897?

No, not that one…the other one: Richard Marsh’s masterpiece, The Beetle

Like this but bigger, is occasionally trying to kill you and is often a person

What? Never heard of it? Don’t worry, outside the UK, which occasionally reinterprets it as a radio play, it really hasn’t lingered in the popular culture.

The Beetle is a complex telling of a simple revenge tale with a whole lot of themes of sex and gender identity running throughout. It will remind you of Dracula, but I think it is a tad easier for modern readers to grasp. Instead of ancient vampires you get an ancient Egyptian pagan cult prone to orgies, human sacrifices, and werebeetlery.  It begins with mind control, nerve gas and a comedy of errors, and ends with a chase that must have made British trainspotters squeal with glee. I enjoyed it, and I suspect you might as well, if you are into this sort of thing.

Structurally, it is told as four entangled tales told in the first person. Marsh does a good job of developing unique voices for each of the characters, although the story threads are interwoven functionally but not necessarily smoothly.  In fact, each narrator is a fun little archetype: the doomed, noble bum; the mad inventor; the rebellious young woman trying to find love, identity and purpose in an honor-driven patriarchy; and a hard-boiled detective. Good stuff, generally well told.

You can find it in a variety of formats on   Project Gutenberg and listen to it on LibriVox. I have a fondness for public domain fiction, particularly that of the horror, scifi and weird variety, so this ranks right up there. One of my goals of 2019 is to start up a podcast on the topic. Of course, that was also a goal of 2018.

 

Baffled Report: Who Mourns for Adonais? Edition

The rules: “Scientists are baffled” is one of those phrases reporters and headline writes love to overuse. In most cases, the scientists aren’t baffled, per se. In many cases, its just the opposite, but its a cheap shorthand to use when you want to get across the notion of a mystery. Bonus points if they use the phrase “Boffins Baffled!”

Dead ‘Hand of God’ star leaves astronomers baffled by its shape .

Really High Five

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has showcased the telescope’s talent with an image showing the energized remains of a dead star, a structure nicknamed the “Hand of God” after its resemblance to a hand.

So, celestial objects looking like things is nothing new, like the famed “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula, which always looked like something, erm, different…ahem…to me. The phenomena is called paredolia–the way your mind looks for familiar shapes in patterns, whether its a picture of a nebula or the pattern that appears on your toast. I guess its a handy (ha!) way of naming things.

In this case, however, it appears the “hand” is imparting some useful information:

The new “Hand of God” image shows a nebula 17,000 light-years away, powered by a dead, spinning star called PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short.

The dead star, called a pulsar, is the leftover core of a star that exploded in a supernova.

The pulsar is only about 19 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter but packs a big punch: it is spinning around nearly seven times every second, spewing particles into material that was upheaved during the star’s violent death.

These particles are interacting with magnetic fields around the ejected material, causing it to glow with X-rays. The result is a cloud that looks like a hand.

One of the big mysteries of this object, called a pulsar wind nebula, is whether the pulsar’s particles are interacting with the material in a specific way to make it appear as a hand, or if the material is in fact shaped like a hand.

“We don’t know if the hand shape is an optical illusion,” Hongjun An of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, said.

“With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues,” An said.

Nice description. I’m going to say that this is Not Baffling.

See also:

see also:

Experts baffled by quake-formed island except…you know…they’re not

This is what gets me about the “Baffling” meme in headline writing. Inevitably, the story reveals that, no, its a nifty, curious, uncommon thing, but rarely baffling.

Here’s the headline in question:

Experts baffled by quake-formed island

As you can imagine, the story is about a new island formed off the coast of Pakistan by a recent, massive earthquake in the region. The article embeds this nifty video from the Telegraph:

 

It takes about five paragraphs before the article contradicts the headline:

Such islands are not entirely unusual to scientists who study the earth and its sometimes violent movements.

Marco Bohnhoff, a professor of seismology at the German Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam said there are two ways such islands can be created.

So…essentially, its prolly a mud volcano:

It RISES!
Click for source.

The Top 10 More Bester Fictional Labs

A friend sent a link at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, which you should read, that links to a Popular Science article, which is kind of meh, purporting to list the 10 Best Fictional Laboratories.  Its a click-bait article, as most of these Top X things are.  I can’t even disagree with their list, but it felt a bit lazy in their descriptions and their justifications, which just linked to other PopSci materials.

To save you from hitting the NEXT button nine times:

  1. Bat Cave
  2. Dexter’s Laboratory
  3. The Dharma Initiative from LOST
  4. “The Portal Lab” (C’mon, they mean Aperture Laboratories. I never even played the game and I knew this.)
  5. The “Jurassic Park Cloning Place” (For crying out loud InGen–International Genetics Technology–was the company!)
  6. The TARDIS (Really? I don’t recall any R&D occurring there. Weak.)
  7. The “Iron Man Lab” (Sigh. They should have gone with Stark Industries.)
  8. The Breaking Bad RV (Cute.)
  9. The Holodeck (That’s a stretch, but I guess they did some science there.)
  10. Frankenstein’s Laboratory (Strong finish, at least.)

Of course, this should be in descending order, but its easier to just hit the list button.

Its not overly objectionable, but I think I can do better for you.

The 10 Bester Fictional Laboratories

 

10. Veridian Dynamics

Veridian Dynamics was the all-encompassing R&D megacorp from the short-lived workplace sitcom, Better off Ted. It was full of wide-eyed, earnest scientists and evil corporate stooges looking to cure the world’s ills, especially the ones its marketing department created. It was surprisingly science literate for a sitcom, but my favorite bits were their parodies of corporate branding advertisements.

9. Global Dynamics

 

The winter before last I came down with pneumonia and spent the week watching Eureka on Netflix and vomiting so hard I burst the blood vessels in my eyes. (Those two things are related, mind you.)

Global Dynamics: Blowing Up Weekly

The central conceit of the series is that it took place in a secret government-funded laboratory/think tank (and accompanying small town) where researchers worked to create all sorts of sci-fi gadgets and gizmos to both destroy and create. Good times. Global Dynamics was the RAND Corporation-like home of the lab with seemingly infinite resources. A handsome Secret Service agent turned Sheriff was at hand to apply common sense solutions to the experiment gone awry-of-the-week

8. Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems

 

This one is a personal favorite. In one fictional universe, Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems is the New Jersey home of the evil Red Lectroids of Dimension 8 in the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. They arrived on Earth just before the Halloween of 1938, landing in Grover’s Mill, NJ, after being exiled from their home dimension.

Led by the evil Lord John Whorfin (they’re all named John in Dimension 8), they learned to channel their evil in the most direct way possible, by becoming a post-war government contractor.

In another universe, Yoyodyne is the government contractor featured in Thomas Pynchon’s V. and The Crying of Lot 49, which inspired the reference of the name in Buckaroo Banzai, but also in the TV show Angel, Start Trek: The Next Generation and others.  There’s even a real Yoyodyne in New Jersey, a motorcycle parts manufacturer in Morristown.

 

7.  The Fortress of Solitude

 

An icy fortress where one superhuman goes to think and conduct research for the benefit of mankind. I know what you are thinking: Superman, really? Just because PopSci included a DC comic book reference, you can’t tell me that Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is a better laboratory than the Bat Cave! 

And you are right, my straw reader, quite right. But I’m not referring to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, I’m talking about the original.

The Fortress of Solitude of Doc Savage, the pulp polymath himself, predates Superman’s Fortress by at least a decade. Like Supes’, its in the arctic and its where an impossibly perfect hero goes to find comfort, rest, and work on engineering and medical projects. The Fortress is where Doc Savage created such amazing inventions as the automatic transmission, night vision, machine pistols and the answering machine, long before they were created in the real world.  When back amongst us mere humans, Savage had a cool lab/apartment/office on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

Unlike the Man of Steel, the Man of Bronze earned his physical toughness through a steady regimen of workouts and healthy eating. Superman’s a poseur in comparison.

6. S.T.A.R. Labs

 

If we are going to invoke DC Comics, we should recognize the foremost laboratory in their universe: Scientific and Technological Advanced Research (S.T.A.R.) Labs. Not only is S.T.A.R. home to some of the greatest minds in Research and Development, its also a franchise! Nearly every popular location on Earth (or Earth 2, depending on whether or not DC has gotten mired in its own backstory again) has a local S.T.A.R. lab outlet. Convenient!

7. Daystrom Institute

The Daystrom Instiute Motto: Conatus sum et defecit

 

Dr. Richard Daystrom had a vision: What if we could take all the fun out space exploration and just let drone starships do the work for us? It will leave us free to do…I dunno…something.

In the classic Star Trek episode “Ultimate Computer,” Daystrom creates an artificial intelligence to automate the USS Enterprise (with Starfleet’s blessing), which quickly goes out of control attacking and destroying the USS Lexington and USS Excalibur during war games (without Starfleet’s blessing).

Despite Dick Daystrom’s failure, his legacy carried on in The Daystrom Institute, a center of advanced learning, the particulars of which were never quite clear yet seemed to be quite prominent in Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent series (and their novel tie-ins).

4. Torchwood Institute

 

To be honest, I never liked the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, but the concept was cool. Beneath Roald Dahl Plass stood a secret institution first created by Queen Victoria (to prepare against the Doctor, mind you, but later co-opted by pro-Doctor forces) to create defenses against alien invasion. They’d apply alien artifacts, recovered on Earth, to the defense of the planet…and further the glory of the British Empire. The Institute’s rich background history really added a great dimension to Doctor Who (and later its own, rather icky, series).

3. The Banzai Institute for Biomedical Research and Strategic Information

 

I can’t reference Yoyodyne without including the The Banzai Institute, home of Buckaroo Banzai, later responsible for the downfall of the Red Lectroids. Adding to the circular nature of things here, Buckaroo Banzai was created as a modern take on Doc Savage. Like Savage, he was a physician, physicist, inventor, musician, adventurer and all around awesome guy (Buckaroo lacked the physical perfection of Savage, but played the micro trumpet really well).

Unresolved: The Deal with the Watermelon

Where Savage had the Fabulous Five (companions who were all the tops in their respective fields, except where that might have overlapped Doc Savage’s awesomeness), Banzai had the Hong Kong Cavaliers, who helped create his oscillation overthruster (enabling Buck to cross dimensions) and also formed his backup band.

Syncopated music, baby.

 

The Banzai Institute was Buckaroo’s home base for both science and adventure. Other than the rocket car, brain surgery and the dimensional thing, they never really got into the goings on at the Banzai Institute. All you have to know is that it was impossibly awesome.

Best. End credits theme. Ever.

2. Baxter Building

This place has got everything.

 

Where PopSci goes for Iron Man, the true genius of the Marvel Universe is Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. They make their headquarters at the Baxter Building, which serves as both Reed’s lab (where unstable molecules rule!) and the launch point of some wacky out-of-this-world adventuring.

Once, Doctor Doom launched it into space. Iron Man’s Malibu home could barely withstand a mere rocket attack. Advantage: Fantastic Four.

Too bad their movies were just awful. The FF work best when they’re out gallivanting across dimensions, not when they’re in some crummy action flick.

1. The Wildfire Laboratories

 

From Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain (and the movie of the same name).  Wildfire was a government program that led the study of the deadly alien microbe “Andromeda” that murderized everyone in Piedmont, AZ. Fortunately, the microbe mutates to a nonlethal form, so Crichton had to throw in some panic, some random epilepsy, and a nuclear bomb to spice things up.

Oh yeah, some science getting done here.

Beneath an unassuming USDA agricultural station hid the Wildfire Laboratories, a high tech labspace that rivaled the Baxter Building for its impressive features and the USS Enterprise for its use of the self-destruct button.  The Wildfire Laboratories were designed in that cool, white and futuristic  60s-70s’ Tomorrowland sensibility. Dig it.

When they designed the new vivarium at work, I was disappointed the decontamination chamber didn’t involve stripping naked to be irradiated by exfoliating UV light. Oh well.

 

Dr. Leavitt, don’t look at the light. Oh, its facing the other way? Why the seizure then? Oh, and you’re no longer a man in this version!

 

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