Okay, to keep y'all rolling toward holidays with family & friends... a few updates from recent science & tech news...
= The Past Speaks! ==
Strong evidence suggests ‘biblical” scale sky-brimstone actually happened in the region spoken-of in that ancient compilation. In appears that in ~ 1650 BCE (~ 3600 years ago), a cosmic airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a leading Middle-Bronze-Age city in the southern Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea. "The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Siberia, where a ~ 50-m-wide bolide detonated with ~ 1000× more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A city-wide ~ 1.5-m-thick carbon-and-ash-rich destruction layer contains peak concentrations of shocked quartz; melted pottery and mudbricks; diamond-like carbon; soot; Fe- and Si-rich spherules; CaCO3 spherules from melted plaster; and melted platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite, and quartz." Heating experiments indicate temperatures exceeded 2000 °C. Other evidence includes: “ extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans…” Woof.
Okay... I just gotta finish the rest of the abstract here: “An airburst-related influx of salt (~ 4 wt.%) produced hypersalinity, inhibited agriculture, and caused a ~ 300–600-year-long abandonment of ~ 120 regional settlements within a > 25-km radius. Tall el-Hammam may be the second oldest city/town destroyed by a cosmic airburst/impact, after Abu Hureyra, Syria, and possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that was written down (Genesis). Tunguska-scale airbursts can devastate entire cities/regions and thus, pose a severe modern-day hazard.”
Oh my. That oughta get the paranoid author juices flowing!
Zooming ahead to a slower apocalypse. A core visible trait of our planet - its albedo -- is changing before our eyes, literally. The Earth is ‘dimming.” Our planet is reflecting about half a watt less light per square meter than it was two decades ago.
In ‘light’ of this news, I recommend a wonderful - nerdy - song by Vangelis - “Albedo”. A stirring recitation of traits of our beautiful planet. This video is also gorgeous. Note that even when this music was composed, in the 1970s, of all the distantly visible traits Vangelis recited, he knew that only one was changeable by humanity… the one he recites at the end.
And at the end of this love ode to Earth, you will realize what so many knew even then.
Though yes, I have posted an analysis of how many of those other traits actually can be changed buy us and our descendants, across tens of millions of years.
== Our busy brains ==
French researchers isolated some of the neural pathways in our brains – specifically the hippocampus - that are responsible for recording and recalling the sequence of time.
“Farther than we’ve ever imagined we could go”: Researchers have given a paralyzed man some ability to speak by decoding signals between his brain and mouth. In other words… the “subvocal” device in Earth (1990) that I predicted would start appearing just about now. After months of adjustments to the system, the man was able to generate a word reliably every four seconds, or roughly 15 words per minute."Normal speech is on the order of 120, 150 words per minute, so there's a lot of room to improve," a lead researcher says.
Apparently listening to musical melodies activates an intriguing prediction/recognition system. When there is a pause between notes, the brain makes a prediction about the next note to come and we derive a teensy jolt of pleasure when the prediction comes true… but sometimes a different kind of pleasure jolt from puzzlement, when prediction fails! (I’m looking at you, Weird Al!)
For insight into the brain, decision making and critical thinking: a new book just released by Steven Pinker: Rationality: What it is, Why it seems scarce, Why it matters, a follow-up to Enlightenment Now. Pinker delves into conspiracy theorizing, fake news and medical quackery, exploring why humans so often seem to make decisions that seem irrational and illogical.
== Take that spider! Elephants don't have to be melancholy... ==
Do spiders record useful memory information outside their bodies, in their webs, the way we did with oral traditions, then books and e-media? See: Spiders weave a web of memories. Interesting, if true. (If you want to read a vivid tale of highly-evolved (uplifted?) spiders, try Children of Time, by Adrian Tchikovsky.)
Guy I know suggested taking this concept of externally-stored memory, which helped launch human civilization, to a new level by giving tools to other creatures on this planet. For example, already there are dolphins who have regular access to touch screens.
So,how about erecting monoliths across elephant foraging grounds and migratory paths? Not just passive obelisks, but sturdy, active interfaces where they could manipulate simple abacus-like objects... or else touch screens... or even just a chalkboard, that one elephant might alter and leave in some kind of order for the next one - or herd - to come across.
On the first order, how much fun just to see if they develop a habit of some kind of "messaging?" But the number of follow-on possibilities seems endless. I think such a project would be fantastic!
== And biology(!) miscellany... ==
We already knew that the chloroplasts in plants use some quantum effects in converting sunlight to chemical energy. Roger Penrose and associates suggest that certain tiny rods inside neurons may do similar tricks with quantum computing. Now, researchers suspect that some songbirds use a “quantum compass” that senses the Earth’s magnetic field, helping them tell north from south during their annual migrations… “that a protein in birds’ eyes called cryptochrome 4, or CRY4, could serve as a magnetic sensor.”
From Siberian ice, a 24,000 year old rotifer was revived.
And speaking of the (semi) small… researchers examined data from 3,200 species and discovered a governing principle that determines sperm size in a species: Females with small reproductive tracts drive the production of bigger sperm. On the other hand, the need to spread sperm far and wide shrinks sperm across evolutionary timescales. “For instance, the parasitoid wasp Cotesia congregata produces little swimmers that are less than one-thousandth of a centimeter long, while fruit flies make sperm with 2.3-inch (6 cm) tails that coil tightly to fit inside their tiny bodies.”
Were dinosaurs already in decline before the asteroid struck? The debate continues.
== Sewer bots ==
And I just found out that one of my weirdest ideas from the 90s - that I thought would never be implemented - actually was done a while back!
Back then I was pondering one of the most powerful economic assets… Rights-of-Way (RoW). MCI & Sprint shredded the old AT&T monopoly on long distance by laying fiber along railroad and gas-line RoW. Around 2000 I consulted and published on missing RoW opportunities, like ways to enhance local RoW use in the developing world, in ways that might benefit the poor.
There are two other types of RoW that have not yet been utilized for fiber/data and all that, Rights of Way that run all the way into every city and even into almost every home! First of these is water lines… but those have many valves, making fiber laying impossible. But the other one... can you guess?…
...yep… topologically, sewer lines are open all the way! No valves or doors or gates. You could in theory deliver fiber all the way to every toilet in every home in the nation or world!
Um, that would take a helluva robot! But it appears the concept was actually applied, to a limited degree! Indeed, it seems Sewer robots from Ca-Botics have successfully installed fibre-optics in some of the world’s major cities, including Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto. I wonder if those old musings of mine were picked up…
wouldn’t be the first time.
And finally... Vernor Vinge's great classic Rainbows End speculated on the effects of haptic feedback suits providing a real person with virtual 'touch." As did I in several stories ranging from "NatuLife" to EARTH and EXISTENCE.