science

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

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Everything I know about black holes and a lot more that I don’t and made up anyway

a writing prompt challenge

When is a hole not a hole? When it is a Black Hole.

It’s a misnomer but what ought it to be called? A Black Attraction. A black hole, hypothetically, is where everything that’s lost in the Universe might end up: A rogue planet; the Death Star; Voyager I; the boy with the face on the milk carton; Lord Lucan; last Tuesday; and your car keys, but don’t go thinking that’s the last place to look for your lost car keys because black holes are so literally massive, not only will your insignificant keys remain lost, even if you luckily found them, you would find it impossible to return to where you left your car. You would, in essence, be lost too.

The Black Nowhere? They say that even light cannot escape a black hole but what do they say about time? Time will not escape a black hole. You can lose your watch in a black hole and what would it matter?

The Black Nowhen? I have no idea whether these things move through space or whether they’re so big they stay put, not at all influenced by anything around them. What if two black holes came close to each other, would they battle it out? Maybe all the lost stuff in the lesser would get sucked out by the greater. Freedom! Maybe not. I wouldn’t want to risk it.

(231 words)


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge prompt #82 – “Black Holes”

image: black hole at the centre of galaxy, “M87”, 55 million light years from Earth, taken from data amassed by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – not a telescope exactly but an array of many radio telescopes covering the whole Earth.

Tingles

Could it be that we are bombarded with so many ideas these days that one phenomenon that’s been going on for years has only today come to my attention?

ASMR: have you experienced it and, if so, does it work for you?

In case, like me, you haven’t a clue what it is, it stands for a therapeutic exercise called “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” and it’s a response to certain focussed sensations, in particular amplified sounds such as tapping a hard surface, the clip of scissors, the hiss of gas on opening a beer bottle, or a human whisper.

Some people don’t get it and the last of the above examples really doesn’t do it for me. I detest noticeable sibilancy – that “sssss” sound the English language makes which normally goes unnoticed by native speakers but becomes exaggerated in recordings and whispers.

I think it was in a history of native Australians that I read of their distrust of English colonists when they heard them speak. They couldn’t understand what they said, of course, so it sounded to their ears like a bunch of snakes. I understood that in many aboriginal tongues, there is no such sound.

Apart from that one, does any of the rest produce “tingles”? And why?

They seem at pains to exclude the likelihood of sexual responses to the stimuli. I’m a bit sceptical about this. The other thing which is likely, I think, is good old nostalgia. When I came across the Soundcloud site, I played around with a bunch of sound clips to make a personal piece of nostalgic sounds. These sounds, some of them rarely heard now and some forgotten, do evoke pleasant memories for me, a kind of tingle, I suppose. I think we all have them, the sounds of waves lapping over pebbles, the noise of children playing, ducks squabbling over breadcrumbs, a light aircraft passing overhead, the sound made by a manual typewriter… Maybe the tingles are the same as when detecting the presence of any ghost.

However, returning to the sexual/non-sexual issue, are we in any doubt as to the intention in this 2019 beer commercial? Nope.


ASMR: Science – How Stuff Works

ASMR: It helps people, it’s not sexual (BBC)

Monochrome Dreams

Did you know we dream only in black and white?

No? Neither did I.

I’ve been reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the one which begins with him taking mescalin, and in that book he claims this is the case. Apparently, dreaming is nearly always about symbolism and symbolic stories don’t need colour as it’s irrelevant.

I’m not so sure but being one who rarely remembers dreams upon waking, I have no personal evidence. The trouble with TDOP for me is as soon as Huxley thinks of something and writes it down, it becomes fact. He sees no need for explanation or evidence.

I wondered if this monochrome dreaming was influenced by black and white movies and telly. His mescalin experience took place in 1953. Most western people’s exposure to imagery would have been black and white ones and so, when dreaming then, it may have played out like a typical movie. This could mean that nowadays, it’s likely we dream in full colour. But I don’t know.

Where Every Day Is Everyone’s Birthday

One thing sure to boggle my mind is an extraordinary planetary fact, and I forgot to mention one picked up from the podcast about planet Venus.

A day on Venus is slightly longer than its year.


The image is a Gif made to illustrate the Transit of Venus last seen from Earth on 8th June 2004 – basically stop-frame animation. The online app – ezgif.com – also allows resizing the finished image. This avoids having to use the WP image editor which rarely works well for me. Time permitting, I could refine it but…life’s too short.

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

Metaphors

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble, or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

This is Sir Isaac Newton reflecting on his life’s work. The great ocean of truth is a fairly good metaphor something which to my observation is as rare as a hen’s teeth. Mostly metaphors are employed to exaggerate or embellish the fact, occasionally playing it down as in the simile of the boy-like Newton playing on the beach. He didn’t see himself as struggling with mathematical and scientific problems. Of course, he believed he had help,

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

The metaphor of human intellectual progress being viewed as dwarves standing on giants, implicitly themselves standing on bigger giants, and so on all the way down to ground zero, is attributed to Bernard de Chartres, a 12th Century French scholar and a man of some intellectual standing, I imagine.

And so what of the poor soul carrying the burden of the whole world on their shoulders? Should they imagine themselves as the mightiest giant of all rather than the smallest of dwarfs? Either way, it’s likely to be a metaphoric exaggeration.


See, these two metaphors walk into a bar and the one says to the other,

I feel this bar reflects our world, the drinks on offer are our opportunities; we must drink sensibly but also show an adventurous spirit in our choices. Shall we try an ouzo from that bottle at the back of the shelf?

The other metaphor peers at the dusty, grey, half-empty bottle and after short consideration replies,

Nah, I’ll just have my usual – and a packet of dry roasted mixed nuts.


A guy walks into the bar and asks, Do you serve metaphors?

Sure!, says the barman, What’ll it be?

The guy looks at the the row of bottles and finally says, What’s that one like?

The barman says, Sorry, that’s a simile.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #55 – Metaphors

Strap yourself in, please, you’re the passenger now

This may come across as a bit of a moan – and I’m deeply sorry for that – but actually it’s just vaguely related stuff that pin-balled around the old noggin today. Maybe try reading it while humming Iggy Pop’s The Passenger? Otherwise, just wait a while and they’ll be another post along shortly…


I had half an eye on the telly the other night when a Star Trek movie came on, and I watched it long enough to see how ridiculous it has become compared to the original. What I saw was an over-the-top action movie, set in space, of course, but all the science is superficial. It’s just a fantasy war film.

Given the real trajectory of technological progress in evidence, it seems unlikely that the final frontier will be patrolled by a military class of slightly maverick warriors. If people are in attendance, I think they will more likely be scientists and academics, possibly a few diplomats, but they will be travelling through the cosmos as passengers. Computer technology will be driving the ship and evading potential dangers and hostilities, even though the risk from alien adversaries is slight.

But, no doubt, movies in the future will still show seemingly intelligent beings destroying each other in balls of flame and, lastly and when all else fails, good old fashioned hand to hand combat. No one sits down to watch the grass grow.


This week, a nice engineer took time to explain to me the procedure for getting an add-on piece of software to calculate some element sizes. Basically, it amounted to putting your faith in the code writer’s unseen algorithm and clicking a “button”. I did ask some questions: whether it took into account this or that, really. In short, how it performed the calculations. After all, it should be ultra-accurate and comprehensive if anything, otherwise what’s the point? The engineer didn’t know. Faith is blind.

Okay, I used to be one of the old school guys who had to work everything out from basic principles. I didn’t do it out of love, there wasn’t a choice. Drawings, calculations, all done long-handed with equations and reference tables. When they came along, I was one of the first in my firm to use a computer; I really took to it. As an undergrad., I could easily have swapped courses and tried computer programming instead had I not been sponsored by my firm specifically to study the course I was on. Computers offered speed and efficiency over hand drawing and calculations, their place is indisputable. But in later years, I’ve begun to miss the old school methods; I think they made you think more, and thinking, as Descartes suggested, is crucial to human identity. Pressing a button, any fool, or even non-human, can do.


It’s coming to the time when we’re thinking about replacement cars. We have one each but, if I quit work, we may only need the one. My wife suggested an “automatic”. Apparently, all her friends are looking into them. Coincidentally, my Dad told me he was thinking about getting one too. Why?

My wife said, with an automatic, you don’t have to think about changing gears. Okay, but with a manual (stick shift), I don’t have to think about changing gears either, I just do it – automatically. She wasn’t impressed. Still, soon we’ll all be getting into driverless cars and you know what that’ll mean: we’ll all be passengers.


images:

Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, (1950 – 67), created by Frank Hampson.

America’s Power Companies’ advert for driverless car, from 1956.

The Passenger by Iggy Pop (youtube)

When we eat

I am a breakfast man. It gives me great pleasure, when holidaying, to find a good spread put on for our morning meal. The best of these must have been the chain hotel we stayed in in Stockholm a few years ago. It was a buffet breakfast, eat as much as you like, and I was like a kid given a free pass in a sweet shop.

Though not formally so, I made it a five course meal: Fresh fruit salad;, Muesli and yoghurt; bacon, egg, mushrooms and tomatoes; Toast and marmalade; Sweet Pastries to go. And, of course, orange juice and fresh coffee refills. I also like the regional variations you sometimes find: lavabread, black puddings, smoked fish, cheeses, hams and charcuterie.

It’s a pity our conventional timetable, in England and much of the West, doesn’t allow the leisure of a good breakfast every day of the week. Instead, our main meal is shunted to the far end of the day, along with most of our leisure time. I am told the Industrial Revolution is to blame for this convention, and how it caused everyone to toe this line against the previous millennia of human evolution. And all subsequent technological advancements, business strategies and politics went along with the trend, alienating ourselves from our nature.

I saw today on a BBC news site, there’s a thing called Chrono-nutrition which is basically studying what time it’s best to eat. What do you know, they reckon it might be the morning – breakfast! Our evening meal, whether restaurant dining or family sit together, is looking a bit bad. It appears our circadian clocks don’t want to know late in the day.

It’s all very well but how on earth are we supposed to turn this drifting oil tanker around? Should we even try? Don’t get me wrong, I said I love a grand breakfast, but I also love a good dinner too. And I won’t pass up a decent lunch come to that. There’s something these nutritional articles and studies never seem to take into account when telling us what is good or bad for us: pleasure. We are human beings, not merely biological machines.


BBC News: Are we eating at the wrong time?