October 23, 2014
Somewhere, Thor Heyerdahl is Smiling
In the 1940s, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian anthropologist (and scourge of Nazi super science) postulated that there had been travel and trade between South America and some or all of Polynesia.
He based this in large part on studies of artifacts and cultural aspects found on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Opinion of the day was that the Amerindians were incapable of such voyages and that Heyerdahl was a nut. The famous Kon Tiki expedition was intended to test the feasibility of Hyerdahl's theory and address his critics objections to it.
April 28, 1947 Kon Tiki sets sail from Callao, Peru
Kon Tiki was a replica of an ancient Peruvian balsa raft and constructed with no metal aside from a radio in the hut. It sailed from Peru all the way to Ramoia in 101 Though the voyage was successful, (and a huge, international sensation) Dr. Hyerdahl himself was quite clear that the voyage did not prove his theory but did indicate that it was possible.
Thor Heyerdahl's theory was widely criticized and fell out of favor, in part because it was misunderstood. He did not posit that Polynesia had been populated from South America, only that there had been some cultural exchange between the two.
Well, it appears that Heyerdahl, was, at the very least, on the right track.
Recent genetic evidence has concluded that the inhabitants of Rapa Nui are indeed the product of interbreeding between Polynesians and Native Americans.
Genetic data on 27 Easter Island natives indicated that interbreeding between the Rapa Nui and native people in South America occurred roughly between 1300 and 1500."We found evidence of gene flow between this population and Native American populations, suggesting an ancient ocean migration route between Polynesia and the Americas," said geneticist Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, who led the study. ['quote]
What's more, at least one Native American tribe was originally completely Polynesian.
A second study, also published in Thursday's issue of Current Biology, illustrates another case of Polynesians venturing into South America. Two ancient human skulls from Brazil's indigenous Botocudo people, known for the large wooden disks they wore in their lips and ears, belonged to people who were genetically Polynesian, with no detectable Native American ancestry.
If this data pans out, then it sure looks like Thor Heyerdahl nailed it!
October 20, 2014
Congratulations to Nigeria and Senegal!
Astoundingly good news! Nigeria and Senegal seem to have licked Ebola for now. It still might flare up and refugees might reintroduce it, but both countries got on top of it by taking it seriously and acting diligently.
Meanwhile, Ebola Tan discusses current events with a colleague .
September 30, 2014
This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, this is unlikely to be the only case like this we see.
Ebola is a spectacularly nasty disease and causes much alarm. Given the spread in Africa it is certainly cause for concern. However, it is not terribly contagious. This isn't even a remarkable situation as other, similar diseases like Lassa Fever and Marburg have entered the US recently with little fanfare and no apocalypses.
This situation is not to be taken lightly, but the greatest danger with this particular bug is panic. In the areas of Africa where panic has taken hold the outlook is quite grim . However, despite (and in some ways because of) its horrifying mortality rate, this disease can be brought under control much easier than, say, the flu. Indeed, the outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria seem to have been brought under control even as the situation deteriorates elsewhere.
Be aware. Don't be stupid. Above all don't panic.
Also: A sense of humor can help.
As terrible as this disease can be if it gets out of control, I'm actually more concerned with a couple of other pathogens that are already becoming well established here.
On the other hand there is this ray of sunshine:
A former Food and Drug Administration chief scientist and top infectious disease specialist said that several people were exposed to the Ebola virus by the unidentified patient in Dallas, America’s first case, and it’s likely that many more will be infected.
There is also this Politico piece, which is very detailed and paints a particularly grim picture of the situation in West Africa.
Nevertheless, the best advice remains as follows...
...but stay informed.
September 28, 2014
The Limits of Knowledge Don has some rather scary footage taken by via a cellphone on Mount Ontake when it suddenly erupted. As many as 30 other hikers may be dead. I gather that there was some festival going on and there were a great many hikers on the summit. Japan monitors their fire mountains quite closely for obvious reasons, and yet this mountain had not given sufficient warning to close it to the public.
I suspect that there will be some recriminations over this. Seismometer readings, temperature sensor records and the recordings of instruments monitoring gas discharges will be examined and someone will be found to have dropped the ball and not detected that which will be determined to be obvious with 20/20 hindsight.
Decisions, however, are not made in hindsight. Nature is unpredictable and vulcanism in particular is a chaotic process that experts are constantly making discoveries about. It is highly likely that this was one of those discoveries.
The unexpected can befall us at any time, and it is good to be prepared, but all the preparation in the world will do little good if the earth suddenly explodes under one's feet.
As to how one might prepare for this...If there is any "lesson" to be learned here I think it would be to carry a few dust masks when climbing a volcano. They won't protect one from lava, asphyxiation or a pyroclasm, but the ash itself is quite deadly.
A life worth living carries a certain amount of risk. It is, therefore good to live it well while one has the chance.
September 24, 2014
Do so very much want.
Of course this is likely to be rather more my realistic.
September 09, 2014
One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of SCIENCE! Babes sends us this video from her research into the effects of comparatively small volcanic eruptions upon merchant shipping.
The Hephestian hoopla was caused by Mount Tavurvur in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on the 29th of last month.
August 21, 2014
One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes seems rather embarrassed to report that Rule 34 applies to vulcanology.
You see, Carl over at Volcano Cafe has discovered two Icelandic volcanoes having sex under a glacier. Carl explains in graphic detail at the link below.
TRIGGER WARNING! VOLCANO SEX! If you have ever been traumatized by pervy puking Plinian precipices procreating, then you should think long and hard about clicking here.
July 24, 2014
I Had NO Idea This Thing Was Real Do want!
I'd seen this thing in some TV shows but I'd always thought it was a special effect.
The Williams WASP was designed to meet an Army from the 1970's. It actually fulfilled all the requirements but twas not adopted as the Army beleatedly decided that the requirements were ill-considered.
Good grief! With a range of 30 miles it's really not all that much more impractical than a motorcycle for commuting. It can fly above traffic and the fact that it flies means it's significantly less dorky than a Segway.
This is the future we were denied!
Someone must make this happen.
July 22, 2014
Meanwhile, In China
Quite possibly less annoying than ants.
Two of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes bring us the latest in entomology news from China....
"Don't just stand there! Close the window!"
Oh. It appears they are having some minor difficulties with their discovery, so let us reassure you that these huge Dobsonflys are basically harmless. In fact, they've been know to the locals for some time and are recognized as a leading indicator of high water quality, which means that if current trends continue these magnificent animals probably won't be startling anybody for much longer.
July 21, 2014
95 Years Ago Today Wingfoot Air Express was a passenger dirigible that ran a route between Grant Park in Chicago and the White City Amusement Park south of the city.
The dirigible was one of several aircraft that operated from a short airstrip and a pier in the big urban park, which, being right next to The Loop, provided air service directly to and from downtown Chicago.
On July 21st 1919 this all came to an end when, shortly after takeoff from Grant Park, Wingfoot Air Express caught fire directly over the Chicago Loop. The crew and passengers attempted to use their parachutes, but only the captain and mechanic survived as the dirigible exploded, fouling the other chutes in the collapsing rigging or setting them afire.
However the disaster was about to get worse. Even given the fact that a position directly over the Chicago Loop is a most unfortunate place for an aircraft to explode, what happened next was improbably bad. The flaming dirigible crashed directly through the skylight of the Illinois Trust and Savings Building, rupturing the ships gas tank and spewing flaming gasoline all over the interior of the building.
Pic and caption via
37 bank employees and customers were burned, hit by debris or both. 10 of them died.
The reaction from the city was swift. All air operations out of Grant Park and over the city were banned. An airfield was built outside of town but Chicago's unique and growing air commuter businesses were all shut down as a result of the tragedy.
June 03, 2014
Mt. Pavlof Goes "Boom!" Quick! Someone call Don.
Alaska's rambunctious Mt. Pavlof is having a fit. Fortunately, the volcano is in a sparsely populated area and is unlikely to menace anyone on the ground with except unwary vulcanologists. However, it may well disrupt air travel between North America and Asia if the wind shifts and trends continue. The observatory page for the mountain is here. I was previously unaware that there are actually 4 Alaskan Volcanoes that have alerts issued for them right now.
May 23, 2014
On This Day In Aviation History On May 23rd 1908, John Morrell prepared to conquer the skies in an airship of his own design. At 450 feet long, and filled with about 500,000 cubic feet of illuminating gas, the vessel was actually longer than any of the German Zeppelins that had flown. It was also a much more powerful ship as well, with five engines against the two in the German craft.
In front of 15,000 citizens of Berkley California, the ship was made ready for flight. The crew of 15 boarded the vessel and manned their stations. 4 photographers were along as well to record the historic event. With everything secured, the mooring lines were set loose.
Morrell and his crew then sailed into aviation history.
Not only was this the largest airship built up to that time, the 20 people it took aloft were by FAR the largest number of people that had flown in single aircraft. One might note that 15 + 4 does not equal 20, but that is because the ship had another aviation first. An Australian aeronaut, a Captain Penfold, had somehow managed to sneak on board, conceal himself (somehow) and thus became the first stowaway in the history of powered aviation!
The mighty dirigible began to cruise over the city at an altitude of 300 feet. The airship undulated regally for a while, as Morrell and his crew began to perform maneuvering tests. However, as if to reinforce the unfortunate imagery, after an unsatisfyingly short time, there emanated from the bow, an Earth shattering "POP!".
The forward end of the envelope burst open and deflated, beginning a rapid decent, while the stern remained aloft. Those in the bow had a remarkably gentle landing....for a brief moment....
...until the rest of the crew...and the engines fell on them as the gangway became vertical. The engines equipment and crew coalesced into a modernist sculpture of metal, blood, expletives and compound fractures.
Miraculously, although there were a LOT of broken bones, no one was actually killed. Morrell himself sustained a dislocated hip, broken leg and internal injuries. Capt. Penfold , the stowaway, was drug from the wreck with two broken ankles.
The stern remained inflated and partially aloft for some time as a mute, Freudian testimony to the truly epic level of ignominy that Morrill and his intrepid crew of dildonauts had achieved....on this day in aviation history.
May 01, 2014
Preparing the "SPLODY!" These three videoes of nuclear tests are pretty dry, as they deal mainly with the preparations for the tests, but they are also facinating as they give a detailed oveview of how these test were conducted and how scientists were able to get a detailed picture of the progress of these horriffic explosions at intervals measured in millionths of a second.
The first video (Tumbbler/Snapper) gives a very neat overview of the gadgets involved in monitoring these tests. It seems that a previous test had demonstrated vastly lower blast effects than predicted, indicating that their computer models, and more importantly their field manuals on how to use these weapons were completely wromg. The film goes into surprising detail about how they went about testing various theories on the cause of the anomaly and the mechanics of the devices used. Those smoke trails one sees in test footage...they were smoke rockets intended to give a visual reference for the blast wave...also the trees one sees getting all abused in test foottage are not native to the Nevada test site, but a transplanted forest.
Two of these tests were very small (1 killoton) and aren't particularly impressive visually, but there is a satisfying 30 killoton blast at the end, so our tax dollars weren't completely wasted. Amusingly, there is a bit of audio censorship at 24:10 and 26:20. "We used a normal casing because of its...."
The second test, Teapot, three years later elaborates a bit on the techniques used to gather the data with 1950's technology and is also interesting because it is the test that involved the metal sphere experiment that ended up inspiring Project Orion. (Stanislaw's Balls can be seen at 19:07) At the time the film was made no one knew the significance of this test and it's presented as a curiosity.
The final test lacks the engineering detail of the first two, but is also quite interesting, being a VERY elaborate civillian nuclear test by the civil defense authorities. Operation Cue was nominally one of the operation Teapot series of tests, but this particular test was administered by civil defense authorities and was intended to observe the effects of a nuclear bomb on civillian structures, provide a civil defense rescue and response drill under realistc conditions, and evaluate construction techniques to mitigate blast and radiation. Various civillian contractors were invited to test out their ideas. Operation Cue involved building a suburb and industrial park, populating it with manequins and dropping a 30 killoton bomb on it. Cue followed on the heels of several military tests that investigated such effects as an aside and made use of lessons learned in those.
One sobering detail is the somewhat more elaborate nature of the PPE in the Teapot tests.
One unrelated, but still interesting thing I noted thanks to Epic's tracking monitor is that when one looks at nuclear test footage on you tube one is beset by about an order of magnitude more trackers than is normal for a you tube video.
March 31, 2014
And Now A Moment of "PEW! PEW! PEW!" A working gauss gun.
OK, it doesn't penetrate the laptop screen, but the damage it does to the cans argues against shooting it in the apartment. I'm guessing it doesn't have much velocity but those long pellets might tumble quite effectively.
March 30, 2014
And Now, A Moment of 'Splody While looking for something completely unrelated to all that stuff that's happening, I unwittingly blundered into this....
These are both brief but they are REALLY good clips of Upshot Grable, better known as the atomic cannon test. The second is from the film Trinity and Beyond. In general this particular test is known from a clip that was filmed near the cannon itself. These short clips however, include footage from the hardened effects cameras in the target area. Note that while this is about the same size as the Hiroshima bomb, it has much greater blast effect over a smaller area. It was a very low airburst. Note too that the bomb is so much brighter than the sun that it gives the impression of a nighttime shot, whereas it was a daylight test as one can tell from the second clip.
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